Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Changing bulbs

Changing bulbs

It seemed like a radical idea. Last week we decided to transition all of the incandescent light bulbs in our home to the new earth-friendly CFL bulbs. I am not under the delusion that this will somehow "save the planet", but they last ten years and use 1/4 the power. I can live with that!
I was able to get a great deal on a whole bunch of them on Ebay. We changed every bulb in the house for under $35. I should recover those costs in a little over a year. After that, it's all gravy! I am more than willing to have others consider me environmentally responsible, but I must confess that my real motivation was capitalistic!
The question my kids and wife had was "will they be as bright as the old bulbs?" As I installed the first few new bulbs, I got a little nervous. They were definitely not as bright as the old ones. In fact, they were downright dim! Instead of being praised for such a responsible carbon-neutral decision, I would now be mocked for my foolhardy scheme. Oh the shame.
But alas, I soon noticed that the bulbs were brightening. In fact, they were clearly brighter than the old incandescents, and my fear turned to brimming pride. My daughter came out of the bathroom and said, "I can see myself in the mirror better than before!" Case closed.
You see, the new bulbs start out slow, but after less than a minute they warm up and outperform the old bulbs easily. We are now bathing in cheaper, stronger light, and we won't have to change bulbs for another decade!
Now for the metaphor.
We are in the midst of a huge shift in our culture, and in how the church functions and fulfills its mission in the world, especially here in America. There are many of our colleagues who fail to see how to make the necessary changes to transition their flocks. They are used to the yellow incandescent glow, and cannot imagine trying something new.
I must admit that initially the results of the changes we are making (Penn Del C3, attractional to missional, corporate to apostolic) look a little dim. My belief is that we are in the warming period. The full glow will not be seen for some years, but I am certain it will come if we stay on course. We must continue to change to stay on course. It's fluid.
I sense God's hand in it, and His pleasure as I let go of my tried and true formulae and grab a hold of His mighty coattails for a free ride into the light. I sense it when I share what God is doing and saying with a group of pastors. They either lean forward and their eyes light up, or they look away, fearing what the changes might mean for them and their church.
We were promised boldness when the spirit came upon us. Lord, deliver us from fear, and propel us with missionary zeal to embrace your change. These are radical days and they call for radical measures. I don't care to bask in the afterglow of dying embers when the Lord is starting a new fire. (sorry, I guess I switched metaphors there :))

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Conflict = Intimacy

I listened to Nancy Ortberg at the Catalyst Labs in Atlanta a few weeks ago. Her workshop was titled "Authentic Leadership" and was good, but one sentence became defining for me this past week. "Conflict is the only way to intimacy." I was intrigued by it at the time, but it has come to embody so much of what we have been through for nine years.
I am not drawn to categorical statements like this one. I tend to see things in shades of gray rather than black and white. "Conflict can't be the only way to intimacy," I thought, there must be some other paths. There may be, but we experienced the power of conflict in a leadership meeting last week and it did bring us to the place of intimacy. And there are other applications as well.
The first and most obvious reality here is that the determinate conflict of the cross produced the ultimate opportunity for intimacy for the entire human race- any who will respond. The battle raged in the twisted and bloodied body of the Savior and broke a course for us to enjoy the real and awesome, intimate and personal presence of the Father.
Likewise, a birthing mother emerges from the grueling battle to tenderly embrace the little one in the epitomic act of intimacy. Without her struggle there would be stillbirth. Her conflict forces life out of her and into the child. We pray for her in the struggle, and celebrate with her in motherhood.
I am testing this truth in other places too. As I enter the conflict of my 50th winter, with all it's winds and bitterness, I do so anticipating the tender quiet walks in the warming spring air that will inevitably be possible on the other side. The conflict helps me appreciate the peace and growth that will surely come.
Our church is located in an old coal mining culture that has made an art out of conflict. Our church family has been through some major battles in the past 25 years, and some casualties have fallen. Having weathered some conflicts here myself in the past nine years I have wondered if anything good can ever come from the splits and quarrels that have sometimes divided us. Now I have some hope that we can transition into a culture of peace and close realtionship, modeled by our leadership, if we will learn to allow the conflict to create intimacy.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Disturb me Lord

Craig Groeschel of made reference to an old prayer by Sir Francis Drake while speaking at the Catalyst Conference in Atlanta last week. It's good...

Disturb me, Lord, when my dreams come true, only because I dreamed too small.

Disturb me when I arrive safely, only because I sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb me when the things I have gained cause me to lose my thirst for more of You.

Disturb me when I have acquired success, only to lose my desire for excellence.

Disturb me when I give up too soon and settle too far short of the goals You have set for my life.

Sir Francis Drake

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Catalyst Labs stimulate and challenge

The annual Catalyst Conference here in Atlanta is always preceded by what are called Catalyst Labs. These are workshops with amazing speakers (last year I got to meet Eugene Peterson among others) and I find it more helpful and exciting than the arena event which attracts 11,000 people. Here is a bit of my experience. Click here for Catalyst site

First of all Catalyst Lab speakers included Mark Batterson, Chris Seay, Matt Chandler (he was great), David Batstone, Leonard Sweet, Ron Martoia, Jud Wilhite, Nancy Ortberg, Reggie McNeal, Tim Elmore, Brad Powell, Ed Stetzer, Gabe Lyons, Rick McKinley, Shane Claiborne and many more.

I am always alone when I come here so it can be hard because I am a social creature. I long for discussion and fellowship but have to be satisfied with information and inspiration. Fortunately, as we were waiting to enter the venue for the evening session on Wednesday I asked the man next to me where he was from. "Newfoundland" he said. I was thrilled because we have a lady in our church from Newfoundland. But it got better because he was from the Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland, serving as their Secretary/Treasurer. Turns out he had no transportation to and from his hotel, so I had a spirit-filled buddy for the next two days!

I love this conference because of the diversity, not just in subject matter, but also in terms of attendees. There is also a sense of expectancy and excellence that I rarely find elsewhere. A man named Reggie Joiner always opens with a Pre-Lab session, and he is very creative. He shared is views on ministry and used ten words to characterize the transitions we need to make in the coming years.
  • From focus on Students to focus on Leaders. We need to begin to see those who sit in our classes as potential leaders being trained for ministry instead of mere pupils being filled with our great wisdom.
  • From Content to Experience. It's the difference between a classroom and an apprenticeship. We must flesh things out and show how the scripture works in the real world.
  • From Production to Relationship. People are more important than the show we perform each week.
  • From Age-focused to Family-focused. We must stop dividing families during the church ministry time and give parents tools to share their faith with their most important mission field- their children.
  • From Growth to Service. We must mobilize to serve a broken world and leave the growth to God.
    Reggie Joiner is head of RETHINK, and is worth listening to.

I love Leonard Sweet's brilliance. He is a futurist and is always thinking in terms of what is next. His job seems to be to prepare and warn the church so we can be more effective and not miss the waves of change that come like continuous ripples, faster and faster it seems. He explained how the classic bell curve with it's large middle and diminished ends has been replaced by the "well curve" with almost no middle and large ends. We see it in economics (the diminishing "middle class"), politics becoming polarized, and even in the church where we have mostly large or small churches, but very few medium sized churches. He encouraged us to build bridges between the ends, because that's what Jesus would do. He also called us to be MRI- Missional, Relational and Incarnational. Leonard Sweet

I came away from the Labs with many good ideas, but more importantly I am reconsidering the way we do things at Mountainside. I can see more clearly where we ought to be going and how we might get there. All I ask of a conference or gathering these days is two simple things. I need to be inspired to give my life more fully and purely to the cause of Christ, and some effective and meaningful ways to motivate others to do that with me.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

A Little Company

Anyone who has been involved with church planting on any level knows what a gargantuan task it is to plant and grow a young church. The handbooks for how to do it are as the sands of the sea, but the multiplicity of contexts for this missionary work makes them only marginally useful.
Likewise with church transformation. The task of taking a church from stagnation to genuine life is herculean at the least. A bit of simple and sound advice and encouragement according to Biblical patterns is welcome indeed.

I found such help in the timeworn and humble pages of Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary and it has helped clarify my vision. Here is what good Brother Henry said in his commentary on Acts Chapters 1:12-14:

"A little company united in love, exemplary in their conduct, fervent in prayer, and wisely zealous to promote the cause of Christ, are likely to increase rapidly."

Volumes spoken, few words employed

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Tenured bigots in ivory towers

George Barna recently revealed that things are worse than we thought. Young people have a very low opinion of evangelical Christianity. Barnasurvey

Barna's revelations regarding evangelicals' abysmal reputation among the young is bolstered by the fact that a recent study found similar views are held by most college faculty members."In a recently released scientific survey of 1,269 faculty members across 712 different colleges and universities, 53 percent of respondents admitted to harboring unfavorable feelings toward evangelicals." This study was not funded by a group of right wing group of "nutjobs", but by a Jewish group looking for anti-semitism! The study found that faculty harbor ill feelings toward Jews only 3% of the time.see complete article at Thefire
Most of us have known that strong anti-Christian sentiment exists in the ivory towers of academia, but now there is proof. College campuses remain a chief battleground for the hearts and minds of our most precious commodity- the young.
Another example comes from my alma mater, Lehigh University in Bethlehem. This now secular campus was founded on Christian principles, but their most promoted project for 2008 is a week-long religious seminar taught personally by the Dalai Lama! In addition, all incoming freshmen were required to read the Dalai Lama's autobiography. Though alumni fight bravely to restore some vestige of her proud Christian heritage, hope grows ever more dim.
There are implications for our evangelistic efforts in the months and years ahead. We have yet to see any "method" for reaching the young rise to the top of the heap, but there is hope. Fervent prayer, coupled with strategic evangelistic efforts by persevering saints will win them one at a time. Commitment to a creative, humble and power-filled presentation of the Gospel is ground zero.

Monday, September 24, 2007

He should have stayed home?

Sometimes we go to church and it's just church, nothing remarkable happens, but it's still good. Then there are other times when the day at church impacts someone very deeply, sometimes it impacts all of us very deeply. The awesome part for me is that, as pastor, I get to be in the middle of it.

We had a missionary today. His name is Jeff Friedman and his calling is to the Jews of the world. He traveled almost three hours after sundown on Saturday night after observing Yom Kippur in Philadelphia to arrive here in our little coal town.

When he showed up early for Sunday school and started setting up I asked him how things were going. He said things were okay, as he struggled to piece together his display which had somehow come unglued.

Then it happened. He said that yesterday, Yom Kippur, his mother-in-law had died. I immediately thought to myself "what is this man doing here?" So I asked him why he did not call and cancel. He explained that his wife was already in Alabama where the funeral will be held, and that he would be going with his children tomorrow. His mother-in-law was a believer so there was a certain amount of peace, but you could see the weight upon him.

As the day unfolded it became more and more clear that, although it was counterintuitive, Jeff Friedman belonged with us today. We are in the middle of our missions emphasis and his message was very timely and something we needed to hear. But Jeff Friedman needed to be in our church because God wanted to bless us by allowing us to bless and comfort him. The blessings just kept coming.

Ours is not a wealthy church, but this is an old coal mining town and our people are known to respond to genuine urgent needs. We normally take a benevolence offering on the third Sunday of the month. Today the Lord led me to receive this offering for Jeff Friedman and his family as I sensed that the financial burden for six people to fly to Alabama and back would be very heavy. The people responded as I knew they would and we raised enough to pay for several plane tickets. But there was more.

As I spoke about the offering I watched as this dear brother put his head in his hands and wept. You see, he was fulfilling an obligation, maybe by rote, by coming to our church, but I think he was a little surprised that God showed up too. But there was more.

After service I spoke to the elders about the possibility of taking Jeff on for monthly support. I mentioned a monthly amount but they thought it was too low. So Jeff left with not only a cash gift, but healthy monthly support too. But there was more.

I was able to give him several gift items including a book from my library, and he also got a few "Pentecostal handshakes". But there was more.

At the Chinese buffet restaurant after service we filled him up real good and he was getting ready to leave. Just then our Sunday school superintendent walked in and called me to the side. She asked if it would be all right if the Sunday school gave an offering to Jeff Friedman. I said amen, but noticed that she gave him two checks not one.

During the Sunday school hour at the beginning of the day Jeff Friedman told our people that God blesses those who bless the Jewish people. It was so easy to bless this man today. The Lord has already blessed us back by knowing that we eased our brothers burden, and made his trial a bit easier.

Next time I'm thinking about staying home I hope I remember Jeff Friedman.