January 25, 2015

In the business  world growing your business is always important.  This also includes growing the business in its internal functionality and constantly improving equipment to maintain the competitive edge.  It also includes constantly maintaining solid relationships with existing customers and seeking out new customers.  The key to the success is the people who work for the company, and the key to their success is their boss, and it does not matter how big the company is.

If the people doing the work believe that those higher up only care about their compensation, i.e., salary, bonuses, then those they will not be any different.  The worker-bees will grumble and morale will be low.  If it seems like the bosses like the status quo and don’t like to push people to get better then people are going to do the bare minimum needed to keep their jobs.  If your boss is a micro-manager, how is he or she ever going to instill confidence if he or she is constantly looking over your shoulder and changing things.  That’s the fact of human nature and human interaction.  People get their cue from those who are supposed to be leading them.

It is the same for the church.  A church should grow spiritually and in members.  It should not remain stagnant in its growth.  If it is remaining the same with the same people coming every week then something is wrong with the leadership.  When people show up to see what the church is about, and they see everyone grouped together and they are left alone, guess what? they are not going to come back.  They will find someplace where they will feel like the people already there want them to join them.

This culture is a result from the leadership of the church.  If the pastor seems to be “mailing it in”, the congregation is going to know it.  I am a firm believer that a pastor should develop his own messages with the bible as his primary source and inspiration, and use what other people have written as a way of support.  It shouldn’t be that a pastor reads a book by someone and bases a series of sermons on that book.  The same goes for the leadership of the church.  If the only time you see or talk to them is Sunday morning then that is a problem, too.

People need to feel like the leadership cares.  If the people in the seats get the impression that those up front are just showing up on Sundays and doing their own thing during the week, then that is what they will do, too.  We need to get back to breaking bread in one another’s homes and have fellowship.  There are many reasons (which I will address in other blogs) but the people who are in leadership must show leadership if they want any hope of their church to grow.

Colossal waste

I like watching the Food Network.  Mostly, I like watching competition, it’s just that now I like watching a competition that has to do with food.  I like food in general and I really love cooking myself, although I don’t have the time to do as much I would like to do.  I like watching Chopped and Diners, Drive-ins and Dives and a lot of other shows (I don’t like watching some of the stuff Andrew Zimmerman eats).  I love cooking above all and I like competition.

But, it amazes me how much food they waste.  During the time leading up to Christmas the message from the network was child hunger.  I am watching show after show of expensive food items being cooked for people, who are then judged about their technique and presentation and blah, blah, blah…  I enjoy these shows but they just sound so pretentious and out of touch.  This world, centered around a profession that generally works eighteen hour days, seven days a week, and really take some time before they get anywhere.

Isn’t that what television is about?  Isn’t that what we have become as a country?  One big colossal waste after another?  Wasteful

government spending here, excessive college tuitions costs, entirely completely wasteful.  I throw away far too much food and spend entirely too much money on food.  Sometimes I feel guilty about how much I dump in the trash but it is not often enough.  And I watch a television network that tells me that 20% of America’s children go hungry (which cannot be entirely true since I never see malnourished children even in the streets of Boston) while they throw away so much food.

I don’t know what to do with how I feel about all this.  Right, now I feel like a hypocrite more than anything and someone who far too often takes for granted what this country has to offer.

Why can’t I keep it straight

Dear Jesus,

I have read bible and the lives of those who you called on to save Israel or reign as kings.  David had many wives, committed adultery and murdered the husband thinking he could hide his sin.  Solomon had a thousand wives and three hundred concubines.  Gideon, Samson, and others who did a lot of acts to cause Israel to return to God had multiple wives.  All had multiple wives.

And then the New Testament dispensation began.  It was now exposed as a sin to desire more than one woman.  It has been wrong all along but now it was out in the open when You taught about it when You were here.  It was intended all along for one man to have one woman, since the garden before the fall.  And we screwed it up.  And now I am screwing up.

I don’t understand why I cannot be delivered.  I hear about so many other people who have been delivered from sinful habits.  One is delivered from alcohol, another from drugs, another from smoking cigarettes, another from bad dreams that caused problems when awake, I don’t know I cannot overcome what plagues me, what has plagued me since my childhood.  Will You one day please take away what causes me to stumble and fall?

Grieved,

Mike

January 24, 2015

When people consider the passion of the cross and the days that led up to Jesus’ being nailed to that tree, they usually focus on the whipping, the beating, the mocking, the kangaroo court, the betrayal, the abandonment of His friends, the humiliating march through the streets, the taunting of the crowd, and finally the nailing to the cross.  Then the cross is plunked into a hole and He hung there, taking all the wrath of His Father, dying on the cross, stabbed in the side with a spear, placed in a cave, locked in and then He rose from the grave, giving us victory over death.

And the crown of thorns on His head.  I remember a sermon when I was a very young.  A preacher actually a replica of a crown of thorns and the thorns on vines were about two or three inches long.  And they were jutting out in different directions.  Not much is said except that it was forced onto His head because He claimed to be the King of the Jews, the Promised Messiah.  I have not heard anyone explain the significance of the thorns.  Why not a crown of twisted metal with spikes, like barbed wire?

The significance of the thorns is that they were part of the curse.  They were part of the consequences of Adam’s sin,

Genesis 3: 17-18:

17 And to Adam he said,“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you,
    ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you;
    in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
    and you shall eat the plants of the field.

The thorns were part of the curse that had to be a part of our redemption.  Jesus had to have the thorns placed on His head.  Our sin is our curse and Jesus took on all of our sin.  The crown of thorns was a symbol of the sin He was nailed to the tree to redeem.  The crown of thorns was not just a mockery of His claim to be the Heir to David’s throne.  It is a reminder of how our sin had cursed the earth which was also was redeemed when He was crucified.  He is our Redeemer and King, and He wore that crown of thorns for His glory to come and His glory to share with us.

January 23, 2015

I was watching a TV show with a typical ending that speaks to the inconsistency of contemporary thinking.  A man was in bed with a former girlfriend (now married).  A woman he has been seeking a relationship with at work shows up at his door wanting to start a relationship with him, something that has been going back and forth for most of the show.  She sees the other woman walk into the room covered in a sheet, shock, disappointment, confusion and anger soon follow.

What this reflects is man’s desire to commit adultery and fornication in conflict with the law of God written on man’s heart.  Of all the Ten Commandments the one concerning adultery is the one we want to eliminate.  We want free sex with anyone, at anytime and anywhere.  We want it to be inclusive not exclusive.  We want no strings attached and to be able to walk away.

But then one of them gets this peculiar notion of exclusivity.  They don’t want to share.  What they thought would lead to a long term relationship leads to heartbreak when the other is in bed with someone else.  In context with man’s desire, the one caught with another woman should not feel guilty because the other woman wanted an exclusive relationship and was angry because of what she stumbled onto.  In fact she had no right to any expectations of the sort from him.

So where does the hurt and betrayal and other emotions come from?  It comes from the law of God written on our hearts.  We must to reason, philosophize, or simply say God doesn’t exist but the fact remains that evidence to the contrary is everywhere.  If we were just animals, not made in His Image and moral creatures, none of those emotions would surface.  But they do come, hard and fast.  We can come up with theories, alternative fictional stories about the origin of man, or just simply deny that God exists, but the evidence of emotion to being wronged points to a moral Creator and a God who will hold us accountable to that evidence of His existence.

Further digression

I ask that you indulge me just a little bit longer.  At this point, you are wondering how I knew what type of culture this particular church had?  How did I know about how cold they were and about the gossiping and the lack of genuine concern for anyone outside of their little cliques?  And how did I know how most just vanished out the door before the echo of the song of benediction stopped ringing in the corners of the sanctuary?  I guess I will have to explain that.

I wasn’t hired in the usual way.  What happens is the church assembles a pulpit committee or a search committee in order to fill the senior pastor’s vacancy.  They gather a group of names, interview them and decide who they want to present before the congregation via a sermon.  Kind of like a working interview at that point.  He would preach, the congregation would ask him questions about what he believes and decide via a vote.  I was hired in a less conventional way.

You see, I was spending the summer in the town where my family vacationed in the summer.  It was up in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, a beautiful part of the state.  Well, I was a year removed from Gordon Conwell seminary.  I had interviewed at some small churches but always seemed to fall flat in my sermons.  I was spending time at the summer place of my parents when the nearby church had an emergency of sorts.  The pastor had taken ill.  He had let a cough progress into mono.

The people in the church were familiar with me because this was the church that was our home away from our home church, so to speak.  Well, now they were in a bind so they asked me to fill in while the regular pastor recovered.  I said not a problem.  And I did pretty well and I suppose it was because there was no pressure on me.  I knew I was not interviewing for the position so I felt free to speak and to preach, and essentially practice for a later position in the ministry.  So I gave everything into each sermon.  Because of that time I grew quickly and became more proficient in my preparation and presentation.

Now it during this time that an elder of my church happened to hear me preach while on vacation.  He didn’t speak to me other than when he was leaving when I greeted everyone as they left.  It wasn’t much, just a hello and he commented that it was nice sermon from a young preacher.  I said thank you and he left.  It was about a month later I saw him again and he had about a dozen other people with him.  I didn’t think anything of it.  My sermon that day was taken from the third chapter of Romans.  I had started my summer in the first chapter of Romans.

After the service the group hung around for the after church dinner.  The elder who had come before had asked if I could spend some time with him and the other people with him.  So I said sure, just let me mingle with the members of the church first and then we could have the whole rest of the afternoon.  So I did, spent time talking to the people and they waited.  Some talked with the members of the church and some of the church came over to talk to them.

Anyway, it finally came time to sit down with them.  As it turns out, I sort of interviewed with them that day.  The elder had brought the other elders and the search committee to hear me preach.  It was backwards, sermon first and interview second, but it worked best that way.  I am terrible at interviews.  And they were interested in taking me on as their new senior pastor.  They wanted a younger person who bring a little bit of passion and fire to his sermons.

I asked for a day or two to think it over and seek some advice.  I went over to the pastor’s house, the sick one, the next day.  He was almost fully recovered and ready to return to the pulpit.  He missed it but he needed the time off.  Anyway, I talked to him about it and he made a suggestion.  He suggested that I take the position on the condition that I be able to attend the church for ten weeks as a parishioner to observe the culture of the congregation.  They agreed.

So, that’s how I knew about the church and how I knew about the culture I was walking into.

I must digress

I apologize if what I am relating to you about my story seems to be all over the place.  My thoughts have been scattered a little.  I have had time to think as I sit in this room and I tend to write my thoughts down as I write them.  From this point I will make an effort to try to keep the events in chronological order and elaborate where I feel it is needed.  My story is an interesting one and I really think people need to hear it.  But I want people to hear it not because it is my story but because it is something the Lord did through me.  It was a lesson I learned and everyone needs to read.

Now what I have written up to this point is in relative order.  I did see that the church began to grow as members began to reach out to people they didn’t really know.  This wasn’t limited to new people who came to a service.  This also meant people who they have seen at church many times before but just never talked to them.  It was amazing to me that so many of the original hundred or so members were still essentially strangers.  They exchanged greetings and such but they didn’t know much beyond their names and what type of car they drove (funny, people always seem to notice and remember what type of car others drive as if it really was a matter of importance).  They had never been to each other’s houses or anything.

What I originally found disturbing was the amount of gossiping that went on in the church.  There were groups of couples and families, cliques if you will, and they would gossip about people they barely knew in passing, and speak as if they were an authority on the topic.  Most of what they talked about was hearsay and rumors, and only half true.  Nobody went to the target of the gossip to get the real story.  Why?  I presume it was more fun to talk about it amongst their friends and speculate on the circumstances, and then add their own commentary.  It was sad and pathetic, and completely wrong in light of what I knew about what the bible said about gossip and the community of believers.

I know we are supposed to be a family, and families gossip.  But a church family should learn to rise above the gossip and bring to those who are the target of the gossip a sense of support, love and acceptance.  I believe that when we gossip about someone we are actually rejecting that person as a valuable person.  I suppose one could argue that Jesus sounded like He was gossiping when He warned His disciples about the Pharisees and scribes, but what He said in private was tame compared to what He said to the Pharisees in public.

Needless to say, atmosphere in the church was one that was considered somewhat cold and standoffish.  It was a culture that had to be changed, and in order to change it when I first got there I had to essentially shock them and get them to question, and squirm, their attitudes.  We are all brothers and sisters in Christ, and we are to be as one body and one family.  Not as a blood related family that remembers all offenses, slight and immense, and brings them up or allows them to taint relationships.

How do I know that this was the culture in the church?  In order to tell you that I must digress a little bit further.

January 22, 2015

Are we to do good works then?  Are we to help the sick, feed the hungry, give shelter to the homeless, visit those in prison, or just do what simply needs to done for those who have a need?  Have we neglected spirit of the law as we appear to be minding the word of the law?  Are we moving out of our comfort zones and doing things that make us uncomfortable, getting dirty?  Are we waiting for God to bring the needy to us instead of going to where the needy are?  How much do we really care?

We have been saved by grace through faith, and not by our works (Eph 2:8-9) so we cannot say that we earned our spot in heaven.  We were born in need of a Savior and we cannot escape that need.  We cannot build enough homes for the homeless or cook enough meals for the hungry to overcome the deficit of our sin in the debit column of God’s book.  Only Jesus living within us can move our name from the book of wrath and have it entered into the Book of Life.  I cannot build a portfolio of works and give a killer interview when it is time for my judgment.

Now that I am saved, do my works matter?  Absolutely they do!  Paul tells that before the foundation of the world we who are saved were destined to be saved.  We were predetermined to be adopted by the Father.  And just we were destined to be saved, the Father has also predetermined a list of good works for us to complete.  We do not know what these works are or when we should do them, but when it is time to do them the Holy Spirit will tell us.  It will be unmistakable.

When I was younger, I was attending a college-aged church group at another church.  At the beginning they made an announcement about an upcoming mission trip to Honduras to help a missionary build a building for a church he had planted.  As soon as I heard the person speak, I knew I had to go to Honduras, and I do not regret the decision.  Even though I got violently sick with Montezuma’s Revenge, it did not alter my view of the trip.

Now here is the kicker, when we stop being spectators in the church pews or comfy seats, stop listening to others tell their stories of how God blessed them when they believed they were on the giving side, not the receiving.  Because when we give in the name of Jesus we receive from Him more than we gave.  I cannot explain how it is but it is nevertheless true.  The act of ministry is never a one-sided transaction as we tend to believe them to be.

I ask you to pray as I try to remember to pray that I will act when I feel the Spirit prompting me to act, and for opportunities to act in His name.  I am not as active as I should be but I am becoming more amenable to putting myself out there.  As a Christian we are told to live out our faith in the works the Father has set before us because faith without works is dead.  I do not want Jesus to tell me, “Depart from Me for I never knew you.”  Do not be one who makes it into heaven as one who barely passes through the refining fire.

Don’t be fooled, part 6

There is all this wonder and amazement at why the Left does not speak out against jihadists, and why they love Socialism and Communism.  It is really simple, so simple that this blog will be a short one.  They are envious of all of them.  All incorporate absolute power to the few who are in charge.  The Left wants absolute power over this country.  They put forth these dependency programs and call them programs of compassion.  They are tools for enslavement.  Get people dependent on the government handouts and then they can be controlled.  Is it much different than Pavlov’s dog?  Look at the chaos they enflame with race-baiting and their protests and all the other nonsense.  They ring the bell and all the same people talk about how much whites hate blacks on the talk shows and news shows and newspapers and any other outlet they can exploit.

They want chaos and violence and crowds out of control.  Is it too far to think that there exists a possibility that the reason why people are taught to distrust the police is get them to not respect them?  And if they don’t respect them, even hate them, they certainly will fight against them when the police show up to control a crowd.  And if that happens and it gets really out of hand, here comes the National Guard.

One day martial law will be called upon because people will be out of control and order will need to be reestablished.  And then the Left won’t be too far from their ultimate goal, absolute power.

The Excitement

My preaching did not immediately take off.  It took several months of study and prayer.  The Elders and other leaders would come by once a week, on a Thursday night, to pray for the direction of the church and for the effectiveness of my sermons.  During these meetings we would also discuss future topics that I would propose and we would discuss and pray over.  It felt like the Spirit was moving.  Some of the Elders commented that there seemed to be a vibrant buzz, for lack of a better term, moving within the church, something they have not felt in some time.

In addition to Sunday mornings I led a Wednesday night study and prayer time.  This was a more informal setting.  People were able to interact as we discussed the scripture we were studying.  People were excited and during the prayer time we could feel the presence of the Spirit filling the room.  I would prepare a separate study for Wednesdays but the research was not as time consuming as it was preparing for a sermon, but at times it did infringe into time.  But it was exciting and fresh and authentic.

By the eighth month of my tenure in the church I started to see a change.  I usually sat in the front row next to my wife during the worship time.  We had a small group leading the worship, an acoustic guitar player, a person on the piano, the bass and a small drum kit (at the beginning we didn’t always have a drummer though) to start.  The team did an excellent job leading us in worship.  Their worship usually gave me that extra gusto I used to preach my sermon.  I got a little more fired up and excited to preach.  During this time we started to get more consistency in members of the worship team, and always had a full team leading the worship.

After the offering and announcements it was time for me to preach.  As I said, it was during the eighth month that I noticed a change.  I began to notice that the sanctuary was beginning to seem fuller.  We usually had empty seats nearer the front.  When I took a moment to survey the room as I prepared to begin, I noticed some of the seats usually empty were filled with the “regulars” and I saw the newer faces in the back.  This excited me.  My sermons were starting to gain momentum and word of the preaching spread.

My first series I preached was on the community of believers.  I stressed that, as a new pastor, I believed that I needed those who were regular attendees to become more involved.  If they wanted to see growth within their church they were going to need to step out from their comfort zones.  They were going to be more open and friendly to visitors and others.  The church would not grow if most of the congregants simply strolled in at 9:55am and left within two minutes of the last note of the last song.   They must interact and get to know one another.

It worked.  This was how the growth started.  It was sporadic at first, a trickle.New people came to hear the new preacher.  They stayed because of the people in the congregation.  It was not an immediate success.  Only a few of the regular people bought into what I was preaching.  Some moved on to other churches because they wanted to be anonymous non-participants, but most stayed.  I made an effort at the end of the service to greet anyone I didn’t know, setting an example for the leaders of the church to do the same.  Those who stayed saw the new people but did not engage with them in conversation.  When some noticed they didn’t return, they changed and began to talk to the new people.

So this is now the eighth month and I began to see results.  People were coming to hear my sermons and the people in the seats began to welcome them, and the Spirit moved.  It was an exciting time of watching the Spirit generate genuine fellowship in my flock.  And it did not stop for some time.