Sunday, December 30, 2007

A New Year

Tomorrow is New Year's Eve! This is the time of year when most people (Dilbert notwithstanding--see comic below) reflect on the year that's past--what went right, what went wrong, what was unavoidable, and what could have been done better--and look forward to the year that's still unblemished. Many people use this time to make plans about what will be different in the new year, and they set goals, or "resolutions."

Half of all Americans will resolve this new year to lose weight, but only 2% of Christians have set any spiritual goals for themselves. I'm all for losing weight (in fact, I'm going to try to drop about 20 pounds myself), but if we're going to experience all that God has for us, we need to make our relationship with him a central focus for our lives.

Next week, we're kicking off a new series called "God's Gym," and we're looking at what we can do to become spiritually fit. This is a three-part series that focuses on the three core components of the Christian life--our relationship with God, our relationship with the church, and our relationship with the world. This is the same as Pathway's Key Three--Real Spirituality, Real Community, and Real Story.

Here are some of the goals that I have for this coming year in leading the church:

  • Reducing my number of regular church meetings. In particular, the elders will be meeting every other week (instead of weekly), and the Worship Design Team will meet monthly (instead of bi-weekly).
  • Establishing an interdenominational LEAD Team in Jackson County. Reducing meetings will free me up to meet with area pastors to put together a LEAD Team of churches that will work together to plant churches in Jackson County and reach the 100,000 people with no church family. If the team is established in 2008, we should be able to plant our first church in 2010.
  • Composing and offering the Journey 401 Class. This class will be focused on how to build relationships with unbelievers, how to steer conversations to spiritual topics, and how to share your faith. With the completion of this class, we'll have our first group of people who have completed "The Journey," the four core classes of Pathway Community Church, and we will recognize them as "360-degree disciples."

Here are some goals that I have for my personal life as a follower of Christ:

  • Become more consistent in my personal prayer and Bible study. Aha! I bet you thought you were the only one who struggled in this area! This is an area I've grown in steadily over the past several years, and it has become an anchor for my life. Nevertheless, I find that there are still those days when "something comes up" to take me away from it. I occasionally even find a stretch of days when I get out of the habit. I'm still looking forward to the year that I have a quiet time with God every single day.
  • Become a more effective leader in my family, in my church, and at Olive Garden. A leader is a person that others follow, a person with influence. I want to lead more effectively so that the people around me are drawn closer to Christ.
  • Lead two people from Olive Garden to faith in Christ. I have spent the last six months establishing and building relationships. I now have several people that I can talk to on a serious level about life, God, money, family, goals, and priorities. I will be praying that God would open doors for at least two of my coworkers to respond to an invitation to make God the boss of their lives, and that I would be wise enough to discern when those doors are opened.

What do you want to do this year for God? You might consider one or more of the following ideas:

  • Attend a worship service every single Sunday unless you're sick (or you have to care for a sick child). That includes vacations (they even have churches in Orlando!) and when you're "really busy."
  • Join a small group. If you're not part of a small group, you're getting only half of the benefits of our church. A small group that you meet with regularly is where you really get to build relationships, get to know other people, and see up-close what faith looks like where the rubber meets the road. One of our small groups is starting a study this week--Just Walk Across The Room. Email Pastor Scott, or call the office (78-5388) for more details.
  • Take the next Journey Class. If you've taken 101, take 201. If you've taken 201, take 301. If you've taken 301, take 401. If you haven't taken any, take 101 and consider joining the church. These classes are chalk-full of practical help on how to live the Christian life.
  • Find a ministry. If you don't serve anywhere in the church, you're missing out on an important way to grow spiritually. The Bible says that all of us are intended to do our part, and that God wants to teach us something through our service, in addition to helping others.
  • Start tithing, or regular financial giving. The Bible says that we ought to give God at least a tithe, or 10% of our income. There are lots of benefits that come to us as a result (we cover these in the Journey 201 class), but the biggest is that we let God take first place in our lives instead of money. Without tithing, we will always find ourselves chasing after money instead of God.
  • Bring a friend, neighbor, or family member to church. Reach out of your comfort zone, and tell someone about what you've gained as a result of your relationship with God, or why you like our church, and invite them to join you. Be sensitive! Realize that they may be scared or unsure about what they'll find here. Keep on talking, and keep on inviting; share about things they might find funny, interesting, or comforting. And above all, PRAY!

In any event, don't let this new year go by without making it an opportunity to grow closer to God. Find a way to get more of him into your life, and discover the joy and peace he brings to us as we keep advancing in our spiritual journeys! Happy walking!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Merry Christmas

The last week has been very "interesting" for me. Last Sunday, we canceled services due to the weather. That left me to figure out how to condense two weeks of content down to one week for today's message, and also where to put songs, skits, videoes, etc. for the last two weeks of the series--in addition to planning the Christmas Eve service tomorrow, of course.

I got that all arranged and felt good about it, when we lost electrical power today--right in the middle of the second song of the first service!--and had to pull the plug on some of the content that relies on electricity to run (i.e., video projector, CD player). We just made up a new order of service on the fly. Needless to say, I was feeling a little frazzled, and I'm sure that some of you noticed.

Fortunately, power was eventually restored, and we are still planning on having a great Christmas Eve candlelight service tomorrow night at 7:00pm. Of course, with this wind blowing (and more tree limbs crashing??), who knows what we'll end up having!

In all of this, I've been thinking about how it seems at Christmas time there's always something to distract us, calling our attention away from Christ. There's a mythology about what Christmas is supposed to be, and then there's what we really experience:

We Say Christmas Is:
About Christ
For Family Gatherings
About Giving
The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year
But Christmas REALLY Is:
About Shopping
For Family Fighting
About Showing Off
The Most Painful Time Of The Year

And it seems to me that we expend so much energy trying to make Christmas into what we say it is--trying to pretend that the reality of Christmas measures up to our mythology about Christmas--when what we ought to be doing is getting out of the Christmas hamster-wheel.

When we spend so much time on stuff that's not Christ--shopping lists, parties, gift exchanges, Christmas cards, cookies & goodies, and so forth--how is there room to squeeze him into our lives? How can we say the holiday is about him? How could he possibly be the focus, when all the activity doesn't have anything to do with thinking about him, or acting like him?
  • Jesus was born in Bethlehem! Did you get your kid a Nintendo Wii gaming system?
  • God made a way for us to know him! I think I'll buy a new TV!
  • God expressed his infinite love for us! Let's brag to everyone we know about all the great things we did this year in an impersonal letter!
  • The hope of all people was fulfilled in Jesus Christ! Will (insert family member) be upset if we don't (insert outrageous holiday demand)?

There's always other stuff that's going to compete for our attention. But who is in charge of your attention? Only you can give your attention to something. What are you giving your attention to this holiday season? Consumerism or Christ? Holiday mayhem or the manger?

Keeping Christ in Christmas doesn't have anything to do with sticking a sign in your yard or what your family chooses to do with Santa Claus. It has everything to do with how we order and prioritize our lives. I hope you can come to the Christmas Eve Service on Monday at 7:00pm, and if you've been distracted by other stuff, you can start over. But even if you can't make it for the service, it's never too late to turn our attention to Jesus! There's still time to focus on Christ--who he is, what he has done for us, and what we owe him. Even if you can't get time until after Dec. 25, that's fine. What's important is that we make sure we have Christ at the center of our lives year-round, and if we find at any time we've gotten away from that, we get back to it as quickly as we can.

Have a Merry Christmas, as you focus on Christ, not the spectacle that's grown up around this holiday.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Winter Storm!!!

UPDATE: WE ARE CANCELLING ALL ACTIVITIES TODAY. I found out that many major county roads are still unplowed, and some vehicles without 4-wheel drive are getting stuck in the snow. All activities are cancelled--9:30, 11:00, Awana, and Youth Group. Stay warm & safe!

My original post appears below. Some of the information is now inaccurate. Please understand that as you read further:

Hey all! Just wanted to let you know, we are calling off the 9:30 service this morning. We will still have the 11:00 service.

I went out for a little drive this morning, and the main roads I drove on (Lansing Ave. & Parnall Ave.) were in pretty good shape. It was clear that the plows had been working all night long. All four lanes on both roads were open and moving fairly well (there was other traffic out, besides me). I think most people should be ok if they can get to a main road.

My philosophy on calling off church is this:

  • If it is absolutely unsafe to travel, I will cancel everything because I want to protect the people who have to be there--the praise team, sound & video techs, teachers, etc.
  • If the weather will significantly impact attendance, I will cancel the first service only. I cancel the first service, and not the second, because it gives more time for plows & salt trucks, as well as just general traffic beating the snow down & cutting tracks through rarely-traveled areas.

Some people feel guilty if they stay home when church is not cancelled. They would rather I cancel church for everybody, and then they don't have to feel guilty. However, I take a different perspective. I think each family should decide what is best for them since each family's situation is different.

  • Some have to drive a long way, while others live literally around the corner from the church.
  • Some have small children, while other households are composed entirely of adults.
  • Some people are uncomfortable driving in winter weather, while others look at every winter storm as simply one more challenge to be conquered.
  • Some are just getting over colds or other sicknesses, or beginning to come down with them, and don't want to get out in the weather.

So you have to decide what's best for you and your family. Just because church is going on, that doesn't mean that you're necessarily wrong not to stay home. Nobody will think any less of you, or call you up in front of the congregation to confess your sin. :) However, for the people who want to come and are able to come, we want to provide them the opportunity to gather with the family of God and worship.

See you at 11:00!! (...or not)

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The Bi-Vocational Life

Every once in a while, someone will ask me if I'm still employed at Olive Garden, and how that's going. My response is always to say that things are going well (which is not a lie), but I expect oftentimes that people would like to know more about how I'm able to manage a family and two jobs (one of which is ministry, which is a very huge one!). So I thought this would be a good week to share with you some of the adjustments I've made to make things go more smoothly, as well as some of the challenges that we deal with in trying to make it all work.

As soon as I found out we were implementing an emergency budget and that my salary would be reduced by 15%, I went out and found a supplemental job. Tanya and I had already run the numbers and realized that we would not be able to make a pay cut work for us, so I asked the elders for permission to get another job once we enacted the emergenecy budget. Since that time, I've been working about 15-20 hours a week at Olive Garden as a cook, and I've cut back to about 35 hours a week at the church. Here are some of the things that help:

1) Olive Garden has been extremely understanding regarding my schedule, and this makes planning possible. When I was hired, I told them that I would never be available to work on Sundays, but that I could work any other days. When I was training, they had me working doing lots of different things--opening, lunch, dinner, split shifts, whatever. I conveyed to them that it made it difficult to schedule meetings, etc., when I didn't know from week to week which evenings I'd be working. They quickly moved me to a set schedule, and as a bonus they didn't have me work any evenings at all, so that conflicts would never be an issue. My OG schedule is now pretty much always the lunch shift Monday through Thursday. Knowing what to expect makes it much easier to plan my weeks and set appointments.

2) Early on, I discovered that composing my messages each week was suddenly much more difficult. Prior to working at Olive Garden, I would block out an entire day (usually Tuesday) to write the bulk of my message. Occasionally, I would tweak it in subsequent days as I had new thoughts or insights, but by and large the message was established by Tuesday night. Since I now work Monday through Thursday for 3-5 hours right in the middle of the day, I can't just block out an extended time for message preparation. Initially, I was grabbing a few hours here or there as I had opportunity, but this was becoming more and more of a drain, and consuming a huge part of my week. In August I asked (and received from) the Church Council permission to take a week of from OG (which they agreed to) and collect my original salary for one week's time. During that week, I was able to compose messages for August, September, October, and November (in varying stages of "done-ness"). For those four months, I had at least partially finished messages to work from, and that helped immensely. Having now run out of those messages, I can tell a huge difference. This last week, I worked on my message from Monday night through Thursday morning. This coming week is another week of just working on messages again (Pastor Brent is preaching on Sunday), so I'm hoping to have another several months' worth ready to go again.

3) I've found that being in the office less forces me to be more efficient when I'm there. I just don't have time to spend on stuff that isn't necessary. So that's been good as well.

4) I absolutely refuse to work more than I do. If something doesn't get done, then it just isn't done, and the world will go on. I make sure that I am with my family at least three evenings a week, and I don't work anywhere on Saturdays. That time is sacred time, and I don't let anything impinge on it. Without a fierce devotion to my family time, this could be a real timebomb, but the fact is the only things more important to me than the church are my relationship with my family and my relationship with God.

5) I know that many of you continue to pray for me and my family. I want to thank you so much for that. I believe that prayer makes all the difference in the world, and that God will continue to give us the grace we need to make it through this time for as long as it lasts.

Here are some of the things that I still wrestle with:

1) I don't have much time for long-range planning, goal setting, or leadership development. These are extremely important, and it will eventually harm the church if I have to push these priorities off indefinitely. However, they are time-consuming, and I find myself often having to attend to more urgent matters.

2) Due to my OG schedule, Debbie and I are hardly ever in the office together. We leave notes and so forth, but oftentimes office communication is difficult. In addition, now that her hours have been reduced from 20 to 12 under the emergency budget, she is able to do less for me. I often have to do work that I would rather hand off to a secretary because she is so restricted in her time.

3) Pastor Brent and I have eliminated our weekly staff meeting. It's amazing how well we still keep in touch with all the things that are going on between us; however, it was in our staff meetings that much of our brainstorming, planning, and goal-setting took place.

I still haven't figured all these things out, but I guess there's no way to make a less-than-ideal situation suddenly become ideal. It is a challenge, but things are also going well, and we've put some tools in place to help it be that way.

The main thing is that we continue to stay faithful to Christ and to where he calls us, and he will give us the grace to meet the challenges that face us on the way.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Christmas II: The Sequel

Next week starts a new series we're calling "Christmas II: The Sequel". You already know about the first Christmas--angels and shepherds and wisemen, oh my!--but did you know there's going to be a sequel? We're taking a look at when Christ comes back to earth, and what that means to you and me.

Many Christians know that Jesus is coming back again someday, but that fact is little more than an interesting trivia item when it comes to their daily living. OK, Jesus is coming, so what? What does that have to do with me in the here and now? Well, the Bible tells us that this knowledge should make a dramatic difference in how we live out our everyday lives.

How? You'll have to come to the worship services and find out. Here's a link to the church website, which lets you know what we're going to be talking about each week of the series.

In the meantime, here's some factoids to ponder:

  • The word "Christmas" comes from the combination of two words: "Christ" and "mass" (the Catholic celebration of communion or eucharist). "Mass" derives its origin from the Latin word for "send" or "dismiss." So "Christmas" literally means "The sending of Christ." The Father will send Christ to earth again, so that's why we're calling this series "Christmas II: The Sequel"!
  • The period of time leading up to Christmas is often referred to as "advent." You may have advent calendars or advent candles in your homes. "Advent" means "coming" or "arrival", such as when we talk about the advent of the computer. This term refers not only to the first coming of Christ, but also the second. That's one reason we chose to do this series at Christmas time, to link the two advents
  • We'll be talking about both Christmases, the first and the second, how they're similar and how they're different, and what it means to live between the Christmases.

I'm really excited about this series, and I hope you make a point to be at church this month, as we talk about something that I believe very few Christians really understand--the significance of the second coming of Christ for our daily lives. Don't miss it! This time... it's for eternity!