Friday, August 31, 2007

The First One is Sweet

As I have mentioned recently, I am coaching Junior Varsity Volleyball at our local High School this year. I have coached a lot of things in the past, but never volleyball. Last night was our first match of the year. It was a doubleheader, simply meaning we played a match and then turned right around and played the same school in a second match. This team has already played 4 or 5 matches. We looked bad in the first game and got beat 25-12, we improved a lot in the second the game but still lost 25-16, thus we lost our first match of the year. In the next match we won 25-16 and controlled the game from start to finish. The next game was back and forth and went overtime, with the score 27-25 we won. That means we won the match! We are officially 1-1, but feeling very good because we improved in each game.

We didn't always play great technically but we really hustled. We have a lot to work on, but all in all it was a good night. We won a match, I didn't make a fool of myself, the girls really hustled, we had some people attend and make some noise, the team we beat is in our conference. Did I mention that my Junior Varsity team is made up of 9 freshmen and only 4 sophomores?

We have a lot to work on in practice today, but it will be easy to keep their attention after last night. My voice is a bit raspy from, well let's just say from coaching. I feel much better about this whole coaching thing after last night and am really looking forward to the year.

Here's hoping you find something to excited about today. If not, just rejoice with my team.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

What's the Order?

In a restaurant that question means what do you want to eat? In church it means what is the chronology of songs, announcements, offering, specials, sermon, etc...? The truth is that in many churches you would never have to look at an order of the service because it is nearly identical each and every week. That may provide some personality type with a warm and fuzzy sense of security but it can also lead toward mindless ritual or just being mindless period. I quit printing a detailed order of service in the bulletin (the church bulletin that is a subject for another post, don't let me forget to do that one) when I observed a couple of years into my first senior pastor position. The reason I quit doing it was that observed people looking at the order and moving ahead to the next song before we were finished with the current one. Mind you this was back in the day before we used power point and projectors, even before the overheads on the wall. We held books and people were turning ahead to the next song without thought of finishing the current one. Being a patient and thoughtful person I wrote a note right then that the order would no longer be printed for the bulletin, and it wasn't.

I spoke with Dad about it that week (he was a pastor for 44 years in case you have forgotten) and he told me of something he did early in his ministry. He was pastoring a church that was really into the ritual of their order but kept verbalizing that they were very flexible. So my Dad tested their flexibility without informing any of them in advance. He didn't receive the offering. That's right he never called for the ushers to come forward. They sang, the ushers got up after the magic number of songs and stood ready, but they Dad had them keep singing and other stuff. The ushers stood there, then waved their hands at him, then they waved the offering plates at him, people began looking around wondering where the ushers were and all the while my Dad just kept going. He even preached his entire sermon and announced the benediction. That's right no offering. As people began to file out, he announced that people could place their offerings in the plates that the ushers were still holding in the back of the sanctuary on their way out. That shook things up more than a little in that church.

Recently we have planned our worship with my message in the middle of the service instead of the end. The couple of times we have done it there have people who got ready to go when I finished only to hear the worship team start leading the congregation in more singing. We have received generally positive comments the times we have done this, but they still have that "normal" order ingrained in them. Guess we will have to do a few more shake-ups to get us to be aware and attentive.

Why does it matter? It matters because God is not limited by our order, but we must attentive to His order. We need to not mindlessly move ahead in our walk with Him, but always be expectant and anticipating what the next exciting thing is that He desires to bring into our lives. We need to quit being so comfortable that we nod off in His presence. We need to on the edge of the seats of our lives expecting great and awesome things. We need to have the mindset that God is not limited by our plans, but that we must be available for His plans, even when it doesn't fit our order.

So what's your order? What is your ritual that you have attempted to squeeze God into? How is that going? Here's to being open to His leading and His order. Here's to shaking it up a bit in your church. Here's to exciting worship. Here's to having an expectant mindset.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Monday Morning Musings...

Here we go with another Monday of reflecting on a very good Sunday. I am really starting to enjoy reflecting back on good Sundays. Yesterday is above the good level, but doesn't quite measure up to the great level, but it is very close. The atmosphere and spirit of the day was very good. In the morning we had very good attendance again, not just good attendance for an August Sunday, but good attendance for us in any month. We had a lot of visitors, some of whom have their own church and just happened to be with us yesterday. But still visitors is always a good sign. We had a baby dedication in the morning and that always helps the atmosphere, and I love doing baby dedications. Then to the evening, well actually the afternoon. We had an outdoor baptism service. Man I love baptism services anytime, but I especially love doing them outside in a pond or lake. We had 7 get baptized and 4 of them were adults. The testimonies of those getting baptized brought tears and cheers. (The testimonies is my absolute favorite part.) One had grandchildren there to witness their baptism. There was a husband and wife who got baptized. There was one who just accepted Christ as their Savior less than 2 weeks ago. Then we enjoyed a picnic with people hanging around for 3 hours talking, truly sharing, fishing and swimming. On second thought maybe it was a great Sunday.

We have had a very good summer. We have seen a significant number of visitors. We have really made an impact in our community with our service projects. We have really touched many of our own people through cards and visits on our Dare to Care nights. We had a very good Vacation Bible School through our Mega-Sports Camp. We saw, and heard about, significant spiritual growth. We had an outstanding baptism service. Our attendance was very good and the atmosphere in our church is really on the rise.

Here's hoping you will encourage someone today. Here's hoping you will see God working in your life this week. Here's hoping you realize that you are not alone, the Lord is with you and there are people nearby who care about you.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Hit It Harder ...

Hit it, hit it harder. That is a statement I have said a lot in the last week in a half. Don't panic, I am coaching volleyball. I am the Junior Varsity coach at a local High School. How did this happen? I did premarital counseling for the Varsity coach and during that time we all talked about sports and volleyball in particular. I offered to help in practices and at matches for the next season. About a month and a half ago the coach contacted me about being the JV coach and here I am.

I am learning a lot. One of the things I am learning is that some the girls need to be encouraged to really hit the ball. Oh, they aren't afraid of hurting the ball or even themselves but rather they are too worried that they will hit the ball out of the court. Then there are the girls who just swing with all they have. The irony is that the girls who are worried about hitting the ball out rarely hit it in the court. The ones who swing hard hit it out sometimes but they also hit a lot more winners.

I started thinking about how this applies spiritually. (Hey, I'm a pastor and we are also looking for transitions, illustrations or just great life applications.) There seem to be those who are obsessed with not making a mistake and therefore rarely do much of anything to make a difference for the Lord. Then there are those who are always trying to do something for the Lord, at times they seem to go off in many different directions at once, but they also seem to learn, grow and help others in the process of trying. They are not as focused on what to avoid as they are on what the Lord wants them to do for Him.

Don't have a hissy fit, I know that as followers of Christ there things we are to avoid. But the point is that if your whole focus is on identifying what to avoid you will rarely recognize what to do. So I want to be more like my volleyball girls who are swinging hard trying to hit winners rather than the ones who are so afraid of making a mistake that they never hit a winner.

P.S. Remember me as I try to coach and be the example I need to be for these young ladies and their families.

P.P.S. (or should it be P.S.S.) Hit harder and enjoy the results.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Monday Morning (Noon) Musings ...

We had an unusually cool and rainy day yesterday. I don't think it ever got out of the 70's and we are in the midst of a lot of rain. I don't know if it was the weather or just one of the last Sundays before school starts, but we had a lot of people gone and attendance was the lowest it has been since the July 1. Even with that it was still slightly higher than the same Sunday a year ago. We had a wonderful spirit in our services all day. People seemed to really be into worship as they sang, during prayer times and during the preaching. We had people who responded to the message by coming to the altar and some great conversations as a result of the message following the service. We received 5 new people into membership and then had some ask about joining after the service. 2 more people stated their desire to be baptized next week. On Sunday evening we had a celebration of recent service projects, our Mega-Sports Camp VBS and other reasons to give praise. Many shared testimonies and shared of the impact of our service project last Sunday evening.

It was a good day, but as I already posted not everything is rosy. But that is life and especially life in ministry.

We are still celebrating the great week of Vacation Bible School, in this case we replaced it with Mega-Sports Camp. We had good numbers. We decisions for Christ. We had/have good contacts with unchurched families. We had a great number of people help for the week. We had a lot of parents, or family members, attend a special presentation on Friday evening of the camp. We had a lot parents and siblings arrive early enough each night to hear the main lesson for that night. It was a very encouraging week.

Here's hoping you hear from the Lord this week. Hint: make sure you are listening, it really aids in your ability to hear. Trust me, He is speaking.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Contradictions ...

Contradiction is an interesting word isn't it? I think it is, there are certain words in the English language that are just interesting by their sound or the way you have to form your mouth to say them. I think that contradiction is one of those words. But it is even more interesting when you consider it's meaning. "A proposition, phrase or statement that asserts or implies both the truth and falsity of something; a situation in which inherent factors, actions or propositions are inconsistent or contrary to one another."

Why bring up contradictions? Because Sunday was a day of contradictions. We had some great stuff happen (I'll post more about that in my Monday Morning Musings.) but there were some undercurrents of not so postive stuff. There was a great spirit in our worship services but there was an obvious spirit of resistance at work as well. By this I mean that there were people who are upset about some stuff that seemed to really be resisting everything that was happening. Maybe I was the only one who noticed, but it really created a battle within me as I worshipped and preached.

It has also really been gnawing at me that so often in the church we claim to desire to see the lost found and saved but are not willing to make ourselves uncomfortable in order to reach them. In other words we are not opposed to the lost being found so long as it doesn't interfere with anything we like in the church. Such as styles, times, and location just name a few. In other words we are a contradiction.

Now I can't find any way to justify this contradiction when I read in the Bible how Jesus went among the lost to reach them. He went on their schedule to their places, at their times in order that they might be found. I mean come on, if they are lost do we really expect them to find themselves and show up at our places all polished up?

Contradictions, there are a lot of them and unfortunately they are alive and well in the church as well.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Tuesday's Thoughts (Usually Monday Morning Musings) ...

Sorry for messing with your calendars by doing the Monday Morning Musings on Tuesday, at least for the 4 of you who regularly read this post. Sunday was another good day. We changed up our "normal" order of things during Worship and I preached the message in the middle. The Spirit was great and many people said they were really moved during the service. Our attendance was strong again, 44 more than the same Sunday a year ago. A new family returned for their second Sunday with us. God is really doing some neat things among our people. Sunday evening was the last of our Service project nights for the summer. We went and helped repair the BMX dirt race track at our local park. It had a lot of erosion from all of the rain the last couple of weeks. We had over 40 people out working on that track on a very hot and humid day. That was with several people being at church setting up for Mega-Sports Camp (our Vacation Bible School this year). It was a good day.

Our VBS kicked off last night. We are doing it different this year by doing sports training in soccer, basketball and cheerleading for elementary kids and blending it with great lessons from the Bible. We had 72 kids in attendance last evening and the energy in the building was awesome. There were some 35 adults and youth helping in various areas of the camp, how cool is that?

In the midst of all the good things there have been some difficult stuff as well. But as I say to young pastors often, "Welcome to ministry, it comes with the territory".

Here's hoping you are finding ways to make a difference where you are in someone's life. Just look around you will find someone you can touch and encourage this week. You could be the highlight of their week if you will do it.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Change is Emotional ...

Change creates all kinds of reactions and emotions no matter what is being changed. The old saying is "the only person who is excited about change is the baby with a dirty diaper." I am not ready to go that far, but it is a concrete fact that change will cause reactions. Change in the church seems to elicit big reactions and emotions. I don't know why that is true, but after 24 years of pastoral ministry I can assure you it is true. It doesn't always have to be big changes for big reactions and often times I am surprised by what causes the biggest reactions.

My observation tells me that we, yes that includes you, tend to applaud change in other people. We tend to think that there are changes that need to be made in other people, or in areas of the church, and when these are proposed we think it is a great idea. However we tend to be less enthusiastic when changes are proposed for us, or our area of the church.

Several years ago I had accepted a call to a church but had not yet arrived. In communication with some of the church leadership prior to my arrival I informed them of some changes I would be making as soon as I arrived. This was as per our agreement during the whole interviewing, praying, calling, accepting part of the process. The leadership had stated that they knew they needed to make a lot of changes to reverse the decline in the church and that they wanted me to have the freedom to make whatever changes were necessary. Everyone applauded this statement. That was until some of the changes were made known. I will never forget hearing of one man who came to a leader to express his "concern" (means he didn't like the change) over one of the changes. When he was reminded of the statement and agreement for me to make whatever changes were necessary. He responded with a classic, and I must admit very honest, explanation. He said I know he change things, I agree he should change things, I just didn't think this would be one of the changes. To that man's credit he was one of my biggest supporters while I pastored that church. But his response to that first change hits the typical feeling when changes are made in the church. "I think there are things that should be changed in this church. Let's change these things, as long as it not in my area or doesn't create change for me."

It has taken me several tries to create this post and I am still not satisfied with it, but it will never be perfect in expressing my thoughts so here it is. What do you think? How do you handle change? What is your default response to change?

We must continue to change to grow in our own spiritual life, in our relationships and in our church. We don't need to compromise the truth of the gospel, but we must keep changing our methods, our tools, our appearance and many other things if we want to be heard by the world we have been called to reach.

So here's to change. Here's to lively discussions about change. Here's to being open to considering change, even in ourselves.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Do Over ...

Remember when you were a kid and playing a game and your attempt didn't go they you planned and you would call "Do over"? I remember those times. You usually had to give a reason for the need of a "do over", in other words it couldn't just be that you didn't like the results of your first attempt. You know, the sun in your eyes, someone in your way, someone made you laugh by doing ... well you can fill that one in depending on how proper your friends were, as for my friends ... you had to rationalize your need for a "do over". This would sometimes result in a senate chamber type debate of the validity of your position and every once in a while you prevailed and got a "do over".

What a great feeling that was, to know that your first attempt that failed, or at the very least didn't go the way you envisioned, didn't count. To know that you got a fresh start and your first attempt was being held against you. You probably think I am going to now wax eloquently (Although if you have read this blog often you know I rarely wax eloquently. What exactly is waxing anyway?) about some spiritual application of God's forgiveness. Actually that would be a very good lead in to a post about that, maybe I will do that sometime, but not this time.

This time I wish I could call "do over" to a discussion I was a part of recently. I really blew it. I mean we are talking blow as in the hurricane or atomic category of blowing it. I mean I really ... enough of that, let's get to the "do over". The difficult thing for me is realizing that I don't get a "do over" on this one. I am going to have the discussion again to try and clarify, but I can't go back and start fresh. You see I didn't prepare as well as I knew I should have and I didn't read the atmosphere the way I know is necessary when introducing major change. In other words I have no one to blame but myself and myself blew it. Did I mention I blew it?

Now comes the even harder part of trying to explain not only the potential change, but to heal some of the damage done in previous attempt. I sure wish I could call for a "do over". Instead I must remember the way this feels and use it to do so much better in the future. I realize that I am dealing with good people who love me (That's my story and I am sticking to it.) and really don't want me to blow it the way I did recently. But the stench from that first attempt is still lingering in the air. I can't close my eyes, click my heels together and wish it would go away. I must stand up and admit my errors (That's right, there are more than one of them.) and do the hard work of repair and moving forward in spite of myself.

Then again maybe I will try closing my eyes, wishing I was on the empty lot back in Anderson with the gang, and yelling at the top of my lungs "Do Over!!!" What do you think, will it work?

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Happy Anniversary!!!

Today is my 32nd wedding anniversary, and coincidently it is my wife's 32nd anniversary as well. I can remember sitting in our 10x50 (or 60 can't remember for sure, hey it was 32 years ago) trailer, in "Trailerville" at Olivet Nazarene University and talking about the 10 year mark. We were excited to be married, and excited to start that run toward 10 years which seemed like such a long time. Now we are past that one 3 times over and our son and daughter-in-law have already celebrated their 10th anniversary. You can look at these facts and conclude that we are getting old and we have been married a long time. Or, you can recognize that we are getting older and have been married a long while and are more in love today than we were in the beginning. How cool is that?

I had a great example watching my parents and grandparents. I was taught by action that marriage is great and should continue to get more exciting. When I would come home to visit after getting married I noticed that there were more cards and flowers around the house that they had given to each other than when I was living at home. What a great legacy.

So here's to my bride of 32 years. I love you. I love you more today than I did on that Saturday in Michigan when I said "I do". I love you more because I know you better and we have lived life together for these 32 years. I love you more because we have gone through some difficult times and some incredibly exciting times and we are still together by choice. I love you and that is as good as I can say it.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

What Are You Afraid Of?

There would be many different answers to that question of "What are you afraid of?" if all of you were to post your answer. I know that my youngest daughter would have to have spiders near the top of her list. Spiders would be on my wife's list, but not at the top. A lady in my church would have midgets near the top of her list of fears. Many would list speaking in public as a top fear. Another lady just told me that she is afraid of lakes and oceans because she can't always see the bottom. I saw a very athletic young man recently run screaming like a school girl at the sight of a harmless little snake. My heart speeds up considerably at sight, or even the thought, of a rat. Some are afraid of the dark, for others being in a group of strangers will cause render their anti-perspirant useless and the list goes on. There seems to be some type of phobic word for nearly any fear these days.

Why all this talk of fear? Well my wife posted on her blog recently about the fact that pastor's wives deal with a lot of guilt. Wondering if they are doing the right thing, doing the expected thing or not doing the expected thing and what will that mean to her or husband. What she wrote is not only true but a wide spread struggle among pastor's wives regardless of age or denominational affiliation. That got me to thinking about my, and other pastor's, struggles. I think I have settled on the emotion of fear. Don't get me wrong, guilt is a big issue for pastors too, but I think fear is bigger.

The fear of nobody showing up for a service or meeting. Fear that you will go completely blank while attempting to preach. Fear that you will say the wrong thing, or say the right thing and be misunderstood anyway. Fear that people will not follow you. (An old chinese proverb says that "he thinks he is leading and has no one following, is merely taking a walk".) Fear that they will miss a meeting, a surgery, a paycheck, a visit from their District Superintendent or Bishop and you can fill in the blank on other things they fear. Fear that they will lose their family because of the time invested in their ministry. Fear that they are not really supposed to be a pastor in the first place. Fear that .... I think you get the idea.

Fear is a very real emotion and can be healthy. For instance my fear of going blank while preaching causes me to study harder. A fear of certain types of danger can cause us to make better choices. It can be healthy but fear can also paralyze and cause us to not do what we should.

In the Bible there some 365 references about not fearing, or to be strong and courageous. So there is at least one reference for each day that encourages us to not give in to the unhealthy fears and to do what we know God's will is for us. Therefore, each day I get up and give it a shot, but I'll be honest I still battle the fears.

How about you? What causes fear to rise in you?

Monday, August 06, 2007

Monday Morning Musings ...

It is going to be brutally hot and humid this week. We got some much needed rain yesterday, but it didn't cool things down and the humidity went through the roof, actually it went everywhere but you get the point. Yesterday was a very good day in our church once again. The excitement is building, and in the summer no less. We had some struggles musically and technically, but still had a great spirit throughout the service. A highlight personally was having both daughters, son-in-law and our youngest grandchild in attendance. A bonus was that my son-in-law sang, he did great. He sang wonderfully, but more important he really ministered as he sang. We had several at the altar at the conclusion of the message. The message was about "Together", not getting it together but really doing together. Together in purpose and fighting the same fight. In our marriages, our friendships, our church and in our relationship with Christ. Our attendance was outstanding again, we had 27 more than the same Sunday a year ago. We are having a very good summer, Praise the Lord!

The atmosphere around our church is really changing for the better. There is a lot more excitement, there are more new people showing up. We are having many good, to great, services. We have many more people going outside the building to do ministry. I saw a sign on another pastor's website recently that said, "the church has left the building". I love that image. The church is not be about the building only, and the church is certainly not to do all of their ministry in the building. We are to be out touching people's lives and being Christ to the world.

Our church is shaking things up again and doing Vacation Bible School differently. Understanding the high interest in sports we are doing a 5 day sports camp for soccer, basketball and cheerleading with lessons on biblical principles and of course on salvation. The kids will get a t-shirt and everything. The interest is higher outside of our church than it is inside. To which I say "Great", that is who we are trying to reach.

Here's hoping you find some way to stay relatively cool this week, physically that is, and that you find someone you can encourage.