What's Next?

With the news that Zach and Adriane and their children Eleanor, Clara, and James are moving to a new ministry in Tennessee comes the question what next? Here are my answers:

First, gratitude and thanks.  Zach and Adriane came among us three and a half years ago and immediately impressed us with their love for Jesus, love for Scripture, love for teaching and discipling, and love for the church.  Zach showed himself to be an excellent teacher and preacher.  Adriane fed us on sourdough and charm.  The kids have just been too cute for words.  Thank you, Zach and family, for the depth and Christ commitment you have shown everyday we have known you. You’ve made us better and we love you for it. 

Second, stepping up.  There are and will be people stepping up to fill in the gaps Zach’s absence leaves and there will be many.  There is Sunday School to teach, youth worship on Wednesday night, and youth small groups that happen in the Café on Sunday evening. There is Disciple Now, scheduled in March. Beyond that there are all the fellowship, outreach, and recreation events which are a part of a healthy ministry to  young people.  All those things must continue and must be done with all the excellence we can give them.  Who is going to do those things.  A whole team of members of FBC which are right now being put in place.  As we face this time we must remember one reality.  Ministry belongs to the church.  The church and its members minister.  Staff gives guidance.  The people carry on the ministry.  We will lean on you to do that for the foreseeable future and beyond.

Third, we will stay the course. We will each recognize that this is temporary. Leadership will emerge from our people, and new staff leadership will be called.  This is a time for people, all of us, to recommit and reconnect with our, emphasis on our, church.  We need you.

Fourth, a search process will begin.  Our teens, and our children too, and the families of those teens and children, need and deserve a minister and a ministry that helps them become more like Jesus and helps reach out to the young people around us.  Both are critical needs.  Our church needs this.  Wayne county needs it.  Young people around us are embracing a hostility towards faith in Jesus with alarming speed.  We need to have people in place who can effectively speak to young people about why Jesus matters.  Our Administrative Team will soon have a called meeting to select a search team to begin looking for exactly the person who can meet this need.  Stay tuned.

Fifth, we will all pray our way through this process and through this time. I am confident in Jesus. I am confident all will be well.  I am confident in you, too.  I know we will meet this challenge together.

It's Time to Check Your Investment

January brings with it a focus on finances. A credit card bill comes in the mail and we realize Christmas was fun and expensive, too. Other bills bite holes in our budgets. We remember we have taxes to pay and, maybe, think about putting something into an IRA to reduce those taxes and to invest for tomorrow.

Invest. I just looked at the definition of that word. It means “to expend with the expectation of achieving profit.” Investing is sacrificing in order to gain. Without fail we see that sacrifice as something good. When our youngest son was five he’d gotten some money from a grandparent, and we wanted him to put it in the bank. He couldn’t quite see how giving his money to someone else was a good idea. I explained the concept of interest to him. Put money in the bank. They give you more. He said, “You mean they just give you more money? Well what are we waiting for, let’s go.” After I quit laughing we went to the bank and he made his first investment.

We are all investors whether we have a bank account or not, an IRA or not. Another relative was nearing marriage. Her fiancé raised the money question and said maybe they should talk about what each has, investments and the like. She took him to her clothes closet and said, “Here are all my investments.” We are each investing in something. You are expending money. You are spending your life.

Not long ago I read someone who was writing about their church and their involvement in it. They said, “If I am going to invest my life here,” and then talked about how they were involved and why. I was captured by the idea this person saw their church as an investment. He made sacrifices. He put time and money and effort into what his church was doing. He took time away from hobbies. He sacrificed weekends at the lake. He invested effort greeting guests, teaching three year olds, being involved in outreach to the spiritually and materially needy. He invested money and gave. He saw his life as a legacy. He knew he was giving it, spending it, and this, the church, was the place he chose to give it. Now listen, it wasn’t for him a painful sacrifice. He enjoyed investing his life with his church. An investment costs us, yes. It means putting off and doing without. I can buy a boat or I can invest so that tomorrow there will be gain. Gain is the key. This individual expected that investing his life would produce good; gain for him, but also for others, too, as the church reached out, did missions, and carried on the work of Jesus. “Whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel will find it,” Jesus said. And, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You were faithful with the little I gave you. I will put you in charge of much.” That’s gain. That’s what happens when you make an investment.

Ask yourself: Is church, to me, an extracurricular activity to which I will give whatever I can or is my church, and Christ, something in which I will invest my life? The difference is huge and visible.

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

The Colors, The Glory, The Wonder of Christmas

The Colors, The Glory, The Wonder of Christmas

There is something about Christmas that requires beauty. Everything about this holiday calls for beauty.  And so we are preparing. As I am writing a score of people have fanned out across our campus and are decorating. Trees are being erected.  Colors, red and green and gold and silver are everywhere. Our already beautiful place where we worship is becoming more so.

Why this need for beauty? What is it that makes us crave such beauty, especially at this time of year? The first Christmas was probably not pleasing to the eyes.  Mary and Joseph wore no bright colors. The birth took place in what to us would be a place of no beauty at all. The shepherds who appeared later were no doubt poor and ragged and dirty. Why the beauty? Why do we want it?

At that first Christmas night heaven and earth mingled one becoming indistinguishable from the other. Angels, bursting with glory, stood among shepherds and then surrounded them. The glory of God engulfed these common men.  Who knows what glory rested upon them transforming them into something more glorious than the angels even.  Brightness, that the earth had not seen before was revealed and in that revealing the dull colors of earth took on glory, shining with radiance they had not seen in the long forgotten eons since Eden. And there was singing.  Multitudes of angels, a chorus which our choir is intended to replicate sang out words we repeat now in our carols. This is what happens when heaven and earth come together, as they were intended to be, as they once were, as they will be.

So we are lighting trees in our sanctuary. It’s not too far off to say that in this place where we worship we are creating burning bushes to remind us of the glory of God that can be glimpsed if we open our eyes and we look. We are bringing out our best colors. Look, there you’ll see an angel and over there another. Maybe there are more. Look again. Look harder. The shepherds are here. So is Mary and her husband Joseph.  Have we any wise men able to see and understand what is happening here?

We are bringing heaven and earth together just as it was on that long ago night.  There is only one thing we need. All this we do, all this we have done is a prompt, an inducement. You see there is one place, surely, where heaven and earth come together and the favor and the glory of God rests. That place is you. We need you.  The focal point of all this beauty, all this glory, is you. We need you to be here so that the glory has a place on which to rest truly, the place it belongs.  We need you.

Come. Come and see. Come and see what Christmas is, what it looks like. Come and see what happens when the Son of God is born.

The Basics

A question. When was the last time you picked up your Bible, read something in it, and thought “I need to change.”? Or when was the last time you listened to a message in church and walked away saying, “I’m going to do what the message said.”? Has it been a long time? Then you need to change. Change what? That. That resistance to hearing and then following through with life change.

The Bible, nor messages preached from it, have their final goal being to make you smarter. The goal is to make you like Jesus. It is to change you. Messages preached, too, have a goal of changing you. Every message preached, whether it’s me or one of the other ministers on staff preaching it, is constructed around two guiding questions we ask ourselves while preparing. They are: What do I want people to know and what do I want them to do. You are to do something. Listen hard for what that change is.

The Bible is full of this counsel. You’re studying James in Sunday School. James says we are to be doers of the word not just hearers. It says if we look intently into the word, and continue to do this, and do what it says we will be blessed in what we do, meaning our attempts at obedience will be helped. Jesus said that everyone who hears his words and puts them into practice is wise. He said everyone who hears but does not put his words into practice is a fool. Jesus said that members of his family were only those who “hear God’s word and put it into practice.” I am assuming that you want to be blessed, be wise, and that you certainly want to be a member of Jesus’ family. Then practice what is preached. Some might object, saying, “Yes, but the Sunday morning message isn’t Jesus’ words, they are your words.” At the risk of not being humble I object. Listen to what scholar Ian Pitt-Watson says, “The Word of God comes to us in three ways: first, In Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh; second, in the written Word of Scripture…, but third, is the Word preached….preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God.” Or listen to I Peter 4:11, “If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God.”

Recently, in the series on Reconnecting we’ve been asking you to do some thing, to reconnect with basic habits. Pray. Are you having a daily time of prayer. Worship. Are you coming to worship together with us every week? Community. Are you showing up for Bible Study? Evangelism. Are you telling someone about Jesus? Service. Are you using your gifts to glorify God in serving the church? Stewardship. Are you bringing to God what is already his, the tithe? Doing these things is not the mark of super sainthood, meant only for the few. Doing these things is basic discipleship. It’s what being a member of the family is.

This Means You

Here’s a thought.  What if you actually did the things we talk about? What if when you hear a teaching in Bible study or heard a message from the pulpit on Sunday you actually decided to do what it said? Listen, this is important.  What we are doing is not entertainment. What we are doing and saying is intended to make a change in your life. Listening to teaching and preaching is not about whether you enjoy the message. It’s about whether or not you hear it and then do what it says.  The Bible is pretty plain about this. Hearing and not then doing is a sign of self deception.  Either we think we don’t need to do what is said because we are good enough as we are or we think the purpose of what is said is for our enjoyment and not for our instruction.  Both are wrong.  Hearing does not become listening until we are living, or trying to live, the truth you’ve heard.

We are actually expected by God to live lives like those described in the pages of Scripture. We are to live lives that are marked by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.  We are to be like Jesus, and like Peter and Paul.  We are to be like even those unnamed people in Acts who are living extraordinary lives that can only be explained by saying that these people were invaded by God himself.   We are to do extraordinary miracles.  We are to love as widely and as ridiculously as God does and include people we would, unless God were at work, consider to be enemies.   We are to live as if heaven has already come here. 

Scripture and preaching and teaching can transform us into these people if we let it. This means that when you hear you must take time to consider what you hear.  Let the words, the thoughts, linger. Compare yourselves to what you hear.  How do you measure up? Do you need to stretch, to try something new and different? Do you need to let go of something? Whatever it is do it. Do not be satisfied with the partially made being you are.  Listen. Hear. Obey. Live.

There is an old preacher’s story I’ve used from time to time. It’s a story about a church who’s membership was ducks. Every Sunday the ducks waddled down to church and filled the sanctuary. The duck pastor would preach stirring messages.  He’d say, “Ducks, you have wings!” The ducks would quack “amen.”  “Ducks,” the pastor would say, “you are made for the sky!” More approving quacks. “Ducks!” the pastor would continue, “Spread your wings and soar!”  The ducks would all stand and raise their wings to the sky and quack and quack amens.  And then the benediction would be said and then all the ducks would waddle home.

It sounds funny when we tell it about ducks, doesn’t it?