Sunday, October 28, 2007


Isn't it amazing? In our culture, it's acceptable to celebrate something as menial and trivial as the Red Sox taking a commanding three games to zero lead in the World Series (I mean, in the scheme of things, how important is it, really?). But to celebrate what God has done among us is somehow strange and excessive. It's ok to be a sports nut, but to pour that kind of emotion into a spiritual celebration makes you a religious nut, and that's definitely not ok, according to the world around us.

Well, around here we like to turn conventional thinking on its head. We think that God is a lot more important than baseball, much more worthy of being celebrated, and infinitely more deserving of our time, attention, devotion, and enthusiasm!

Here's some of the great things to celebrate over these last 40 days:

  • Over 85% of our church in small groups
  • More than double the kids in Awana compared to last year
  • A new Awana Commander, Larry Burman, who comes with a passion for God and a love for kids
  • Increase in adult leaders for Awana
  • Lots of new faces in Youth Group, as the kids have been reaching out together to invite their friends
  • Double the number of adult leaders for Youth Group
  • All kinds of Small Group Service Projects ministering to people and meeting tangible needs in all sorts of different ways--distributing food, clothing kids for winter, providing childcare for single moms, helping maintain property at a camp for at-risk kids, and more!
  • Some of these groups are going to be involved in on-going ministry beyond the 40 Days of Community Campaign
  • Advancement in our Vision--in January 2008, I'll be contacting pastors of other churches to invite them to partner with us to plant churches in Jackson County. We want to ignite a spiritual movement--a saturation church-planting movement in Jackson County to reach the 100,000 people here with no church family.

God is so good! He deserves shouts of Hallelujah! and Hosanna! Let's get excited about what God is up to in our midst! Let's thank him and praise him! Let's use these 40 days as motivation to continue striving toward being the kind of church he calls us to be. Let's devote ourselves to intense prayer, as we know that Satan wants to oppose anyone who would actually undertake a real effort to advance the kingdom of God. Let's celebrate!

This evening, Pastor Brent said, "This is a good time to be a part of this church." I couldn't agree more! God is doing stuff--he's changing hearts and calling us to greater devotion, greater obedience, and greater blessing.

The 40 Days is over, but this is certainly not the end!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Worshiping Together

I said some pretty extreme things about worship this morning:
  • Worship is the number one purpose of our lives.
  • Every other Christian activity--fellowship, outreach, discipleship, service--is included in and exceeded by worship.
  • Worship is the fundamental activity of a Christian.

It's no accident that I didn't say any of these statements about any of the other topics we've addressed over the course of these 40 days. Nothing is as important as worship.

At our church, the worship service plays a central role in helping us accomplish our mission: To meet people where they are on their spiritual journeys and lead them to become fully devoted followers of Jesus. We present our worship services in such a way that they are interesting, intelligible, and instructive to unbelievers, without sacrificing the needs of believers. Thus, we minister to believers, but we use the same service to be an invitation to unbelievers to join with us on this Pathway of faith.

How do we do this?

  • We don't skimp on worship music, but we do choose songs that are easily understood. Some seeker-sensitive churches have only 1 or 2 songs in which the congregation is invited to sing along. Instead, they focus on cultivating a concert or performance atmosphere, since that is what unchurched people are more familiar with. However, we believe that worship music instructs us about who God is and our rightful relationship with him. If we want spiritual seekers to consider the Christian life, we should demonstrate to them what that looks like--and it is a life of worship, ascribing praise, honor, glory, and strength to God; acknowledging him as the source of life, love, fulfilment and joy. Even so, we avoid the songs that use archaic words and grammar, and we employ musical styles that unchurched people are familiar with.
  • We don't dilute the message, but we do make it relevant. Some seeker-sensitive churches concentrate only on "felt needs," which are the needs that spiritual seekers already know about and currently feel in their lives. They reduce the good news about Jesus to a self-serve, self-help seminar--here, try this and see if it makes your life better. Now, that is part of the good news--Jesus does make our lives better--but it's only part. We also talk about struggles, sacrifice, suffering, pain, and doubt. We talk about relinquishing authority and submitting to God's will and God's plans. These are not popular ideas, but they are essential for understanding what the Christian life is all about. Even so, when we deal with these ideas, we put them in terms and talk about life situations that non-Christians can relate to.
  • We don't teach concepts, but we do challenge assumptions. Well, ok, we do teach concepts, but not just that. We don't have services that are just educational (e.g., "Here's a 5-part series on the soteriology of the apostle Paul"). Any teaching that we give is actually applied to life the way we live it every day. So there's often not a lot of content--you could usually sum up each week's message in one sentence. Instead there's a lot of application and a focus on what this really means for us if we take God's word seriously. Very often we find that the word of God and predominant American culture are at odds with one another, and our job is to conform to God's instructions, not our culture's expectations. The emphasis is on living in accordance with God's direction, not absorbing knowledge.

Our worship service is designed to be the main entry point for unchurched people to come into our church. They can come through an activity, like Trunk or Treat. They can even come through a small group. But most people will come into our church by being invited by someone else to join them at a worship service. If they keep coming, after a few weeks, they should begin to understand that God is our rightful authority, that he has revealed his will for our lives through the Bible, that it is our obligation to follow his instructions, and that we can understand the purpose of our lives only if we follow him.

These are the lessons that are observed from watching God's people worship, which includes fellowshipping with other believers, reaching out in love to our community, growing closer to God, and serving him.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Serving Together

This morning we talked about how we all pitch in together. In the church, we each contribute our part, and God turns the whole thing into a wonderful instrument of his power. We shared about how every ministry is missional--that is, it advances the mission of the church, "to meet people where they are on their spiritual journeys and lead them to become fully devoted followers of Jesus."

This doesn't happen by accident. It happens by design. It's something we have to be intentional about. Instead of departments, our church is organized into ministries. Instead of committes, we have teams. What's the difference? Isn't it just semantics? No! A department selfishly hoards resources; a ministry selflessly serves others for a purpose. A committee discusses and decides what other people can and can't do; a team actually does it.

And all of our ministry teams are integrated into one seamless process that advances our mission:
We serve together on teams, and our teams serve together to advance the mission of the church. And now our church is going to be serving together with other churches to accomplish our vision "to become actively involved in planting new churches to reach the 100,000 people in Jackson County with no church family."

We'll be talking more about that next Sunday, but I'm really excited about this new direction that the vision is taking because it is an extention of this highly biblical principle that we are BETTER TOGETHER! God wants to bring his church together!

This 40 day focus on community is not a study about how we can just enjoy a great spiritual community for our own gratification (in fact, if that were the point, it would turn it into something other than a spiritual community!). Instead, we are partners with a purpose, a community with a cause, an organism with an objective. We are united by our mission, vision, and values, which is more powerful than anything that could ever divide us.

Today's Ministry Fair was a great opportunity to plug into service (and to eat Hinkley's Donut Holes!); I hope you didn't miss it! If you did, it's not too late. Send me an email and let me know what area of ministry you might want to help with, or if you don't have any idea, we can just start at square one and start talking about what might be a good fit for you. (And make sure you get to Hinkley's early--they're always busy!)

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Growing Together

This week, our theme is about how we grow spiritually better together. This is one that is very important to me because it flies in the face of much of contemporary Christianity, which has allied itself against the Bible and in favor of American values of self-reliance and self-sufficiency. Today's Christian says, "Leave me alone! I don't need you in order to have a growing relationship with God!" How sadly false.

Until I entered the ministry, I never would have guessed at all the professing Christians who don't attend church. Whether they actually possess an authentic relationship with Christ, I'll leave up to God to determine; what I do know is that they are disobedient and not following what the Bible lays out for us in terms of how to live out the Christian life. For example, Hebrews 10:25 says, "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another."

But these "Christians" (in quotes because they don't actually follow Christ's teachings) claim to worship God best on a golf course, listening to a CD, in a deer blind, in their living room with a TV, or some other place where they "experience God."

While I firmly believe that one can experience God practically anywhere, enjoying a day of golf is no substitute for corporate worship in the company of brothers and sisters in Christ, or a Bible study with a small group. They're not the same thing.

Here's what never happens on a golf course:

  • God's word is not taught, explained, or applied.
  • One is never challenged to greater obedience or deeper faith.
  • No one is there to point out sinful attitudes, ungodly behaviors, or dishonoring habits.
  • There are no spiritual standards or expectations--no demands (except greens fees).
  • No one tithes to a golf course.
  • There are no stories of inspiring spiritual examples to emulate or pattern oneself after.

Here's what does happen:

  • We grow smug and arrogant, self-satisfied with our superiority over all those losers who need the church.
  • We learn how easy it is to compromise our integrity when no one objects.
  • We congratulate ourselves on what we do well and ignore our spiritual failures.
  • We live in utter obliviousness of our blind spots.
  • We dwell on the failures of others, the hurts that others have inflicted on us, and the injustices done toward us--and we hang onto them as justification for our withdrawal from a spiritual community.

A "pick-your-own" spirituality is just another form of self-worship. We set ourselves up as the authority, instead of God. We bend the rules to conform to our wishes, instead of bending ourselves to conform to God's standards. We follow the example of Satan (who in his heart desired to be like God), rather than the example of Christ ("who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped" Philippians 2:6).

The fact is that we need each other. When we face challenges, we need each other. When we sin, we need each other. When we hurt, we need each other. When we have victories, we need each other. When we have questions, we need each other. When we don't want to be with other people, we need each other.

That's why every one of us needs a small group. We need to stop hiding from one another and start growing together. Are you a baby Christian? You need a group! Are you a mature Christian? You need a group! Are you a stuck Christian? You REALLY need a group! We grow better together!

Monday, October 1, 2007

Fellowshiping Together

This week during our worship services, we had a crash course in relationships. We learned about the things that destroy relationships and how, instead of destroying our relationships, we can build them up! I don't think I ever used the word, but what we were really talking about was fellowship.

One of the best definitions of fellowship I ever heard is "two fellows in the same ship." When you're in the same ship with someone, you have a common direction, a common destination, a common vehicle to get you there, and you share a common fate. Ideally, if you're in the same ship, you're pulling together, working together, communicating, and probably having fun doing it as you build your relationship with one another.

So often we drain the word fellowship of its meaning by limiting it to potluck dinners and coffee in the lobby. Real fellowship can happen during those times, but most of the time it doesn't. Those interactions tend to be surface-y and unremarkable. But real fellowship is anything but unremarkable!! Most of the time, true fellowship occurs outside of the church building, on a day other than Sunday, as we share our lives with one another--discussing our personal thoughts and feelings, sharing our fears and hopes, carrying each other's burdens, encouraging, supporting, praying for each other, and helping each other.

Fellowship happens in the context of strong relationships, characterized by unselfishness, humility, love, and forgiveness.

So, let me ask you, do you have fellowship with anyone? Is there anyone else you've revealed yourself to, anyone you've shared your innermost thoughts and feelings with? Is there anyone you've cried with, prayed together with, and shared life with? Is there anyone you'd lay everything on the line for?

If not, you're missing out on one of the reasons you were created. This is the kind of deep, fulfilling, satisfying, purposeful relationship that should characterize a church body. We can't have that kind of deep relationship with every single person in the church, but every single person in the church should have that kind of deep relationship with somebody.

And this is the kind of relationship that the world is dying for! Do you remember the memory verse from week 1? "Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples" (John 13:35). Our relationships are THE central aspect of our faith. It's not our knowledge, not our deeds, not our gifts, not our accomplishments, not our words that matter to God; it's how much we love other people.

"If I speak the languages of men and of angels but don't have any love, I've become a loud gong or a clashing cymbal. Even if I speak God's Word and know every kind of hidden truth and have every kind of knowledge, even if I have all the faith to move mountains but don't have any love, I'm nothing. Even if I give away all I have to feed the hungry and give up my body but only to boast and don't have any love, it doesn't help me" (1 Cor. 13: 1-4).

Are you ready to love? It's the only thing that matters.