Saturday, December 22, 2007

Merry Christmas

Well here is our family Christmas Picture for 2007! These kinds of moments are always a chore and quite a project as we all know. This snap shot comes from our annual Thanksgiving gathering at our home. We all try to make for Thanksgiving and sometimes we can all get together at Christmas. This year we will all make!

Sandy and I always look forward to these special moments in the year. The older we grow the more special they become! Life is short! These moments are special and are to be savored for all they are worth! Being mom had dad has been a pleasure over the years and becoming grandparents was an even deeper experince of love and amazement. How special little children are!

I kind of know what Jesus meant about the Kingdom when He compared it to being child-like. What precious and loving creatures children are! Yes, they have their moments as do we all, but by and large their innocence and joy are so much more a part of their nature.

Little LoraLei Rose is our new addition for this Christmas. Having a baby present at Christmas is really over the top in experiencing the joy and awe of this Holy Season. The Son of God came as a baby, that will never cease to amaze me!

Take time to enjoy a child this Holy Day. Remember, God graced us with His presence in the form of a squiggly baby. Cool huh.

From all of the McFarland's, Have a great Christmas!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Heart to Heart

Just finished our first "week of prayer" at Maryland Community Church. Wow, what a mixed bunch of feelings and thoughts I have. Doing anything new is always a challenge and this certainly was no exception.

First, the Heart Center, two of our conference rooms turned into a 24/7 prayer station was really wonderful. Thanks to Steve Trine, Missy Konkey, Roberta Adams and Jack Fox! Great spaces to pray with artwork and helpful prayer guides. Many commented on how pleasant and powerful the room was for them to pray in. We had a 12 hour prayer watch yesterday and it was good but I always anticipate more people praying than actually do----a pastor would!

Our special prayer focuses had mixed reviews as would usually be the case; different topics and different leaders always lead to differences upon reception. We had a good variety of things for people to participate in and learn from. The Encounter time on Wed. night was special. Not in numbers but in atmosphere and response. This worship prayer based model is so great in providing ways for people to engage each other and the Lord.

Some things are just unknown. I am wondering how many within MCC truly have been seeking the Heart of the Father and then are taking the time to lay it over their heart. That is the spiritual goal of such activities. I know activities don't always do that, but sometimes, some people experience that. We will have at ime of GAP this Sunday---God Answers Prayer. We may hear of some great stories!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A new grand baby!

Wow! What a thrill to hold a newborn baby! She is the absolute most cutest and precious baby in the whole universe! I suppose you expected that from a granpa, but hey, that is what I am.

Loralei Rose Hevesy came into this big world on July 23 and I am a much better man for it! The wonder of life is so real in the touch of a newborn. Life is so precious and so soft. Sandy and I are just soaking in the pure joy of the experience and loving every miinute of it. Loralei's big sister and big brother are pretty impressed too.

A piece of my history there in my hands! It is hard to remember Cady being that little, but she was, now look at her, a mommy! Wow, how time flies! It is good, God is good. Life is good.

I am sovoring the moment. Jesus loves the little ones and yiou sure can see why! Oh Father, guard and protect the little ones. They are so helpless, they need you! Such is the Kingdom of God! How helpless are all of us compared to our God.

Well, grandpa needs to go back to cooing!

Monday, May 28, 2007

Global Day of Prayer--Terre Haute

Wow! What a day! Check it out:

Words are hard to describe how I felt as I worshiped in song and prayer on Sunday May 27 at ISU's Memorial Stadium. This kind of event is always difficult because it is hard to communicate what it is and why it is being done. It is so Christian counter culture.

No big names, not big agenda's for any particular church or denomination. Just simply gathering together in a public arena to praise and worship God together simply as the city-wide church. This is a great Kingdom idea and agenda! Seven pastors prayed, no names announced, no churches announced. A worship band composed of members from throughout the city; no names; no billboard!

It was a hard day because not only was in Pentecost and Memorial Day in Indiana, it was race day and a rainy day to boot! I must say, I did pray for a two hour window off opportunity. We had thought that outside in a stadium was a great venue for this event. But, outside has its problems! We ran into those for sure in threatening weather and a lack of promised personnel to get the electricity we needed, but it all came together!

I was so blessed to see hundreds, maybe a thousand people from many different churches gather and worship together in one voice for the cause of Christ to sweep the world! The songs were great, the fellowship was awesome and the prayer time powerful. Seven different people used seven different languages to read the world day of prayer; prayer. It was pretty amazing and quite contagious to hear the world pray!

Once again, I just love the guys I prayed with! These guys are awesome and so humble to pray in this fashion and to surrender personal preferences for the cause of Christ and His Kingdom. We represented various churches and many different ways of worshiping, but on this day we were one! We shared hopes, dreams and hurts.

Thank you God for putting together that party! It was amazing! I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did!

300 million children all gathered across the world to honor their Dad, enough said!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Spiritual Diversity

I have been doing a teaching series on "What We Believe" at MCC over that past four weeks. This kind of series is always hard for an independent non-denominational leader. I don't the luxury or difficulty in saying what my "group" says I ought to say. Our type of congregations try hard to do their theology in real time and in the context of community.

Community among believers has always been complicated; just look at Acts 15 if you don't think so! The issues of salvation and following Christ daily have always been caught up in culture, time and space. The same is true with us today living right here in Terre Haute Indiana. What one member of our community believes is constantly connected with what others believe. Sometimes those are pretty universal and ordinary; but at times it can get complicated and quite touchy.

I always use the examples of baptism, communion, eternal security and the gifts of the Holy Spirit as examples of those touchy kinds of beliefs. I historically like the challenge of trying hard to understand what is essential and what is not in regard to these beliefs. It is a challenge, it is not always a slam dunk.

Can Jesus remain the core of these issues? That is what is essential. Some times people equate Jesus with doctrine and that can be a huge mistake. He is not just a doctrine or a teaching! That would be to make him into what the Pharisees and others of the Jewish community tried to do. Jesus is a living person who interacts with us regularly in time and space, yes in scripture but also in life. I know that is a little scary for some believers, but none the less true. Look at Hebrews 4:12 and see it beyond scripture.

Now, how do we as a community relate to the "tertiary" issues of the faith such as speaking in tongues and the other miraculous sign gifts? I would hope we can take the same position as the Southern Baptist Mission Board and try hard to see some things as not necessary to separate us. Should any means of prayer divide believers? I don't think so! Yes, we may have our preferences, even those things we believe strongly, but not to such a degree we refuse to fellowship with each other!

I have lived the "fear" of those "weird" people who spoke in tongues! I have even been misinformed about the priority of such things. Honestly, wasn't that the core of what the Apostle Paul was battling in Corinth? That battle hasn't changed much at all. Just because I don't speak in tongues does not make it wrong for someone else to do so.

The real error in dealing with non-normative miraculous spiritual gifts is the personal experience weight of evaluating them. If "I don't" or I can't" then no one should! How prideful! How narrowing can you be in the body of Christ! The whole point of Paul's teaching was "some."

It is the "some" that makes us strong! We are a unique and diverse body, not a body of all who do certain things. This is the challenge of denominationalism and the comfort in such things. When we all believe the same thing there is comfort, but I wonder if there is power! I wonder if there is true equipment! I do believe it is disfiguring to what the body of Christ is to look like!

It is an honorable discomfort to be a member of a group of people who work hard at what is essential and allow for diverse beliefs in spiritual gifts. It is so hard in our culture to believe and live in a way that acknowledges the supernatural. But necessary. I challenge believers to believe and to live in ways that make power and spiritual encounter a regular part of their lives.

As Paul said, "He is able!" And as I would say, we are not! Never lose sight of those two facts of scripture and life.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Journeys take various paths and go at a varying speed. We are reminded in scripture that we are in a marathon and not a sprint! I have to remind myself of that once in a while, don't know about you. I have been on a journey of following Jesus for over thirty seven years, it has been quite a trip. I have personally had my ups and downs and needless to say so have the folks who have been following their leader! Pastors are fellow journeymen if you will.

I believe every follower of Jesus is on a quest for a perfect relationship with Jesus, or at least a really great one! We have our moments, those are the bumps and obstacles we hit simply due to the fact we are not the best of companions. Humanity always fails in relating to divinity! It is not the other way around.

I must confess that as a leader in the body of Christ some similarities exist in the relationships we call a fellowship or the church. I honestly believe that most pastors and most church members want a great church; not a perfect one, but a really really good one. We fail at this too for the exact same reasons I mentioned above. Every fellowship of believers is made up of frail imperfect people.

As I have recently wrestled with some "emergent" and "missional" stuff as a leader I have to admit it gets a little challenging at times. Why not just be satisfied with what is? Why rock the boat? Isn't what we have ok? I sure have to admit, we have a good fellowship at Maryland but I must admit the "great" and "perfect" goal is still out there! As much as I personally want to be a better follower of Jesus, I want Maryland Community Church to be a better bride of Christ.

I kind of like what I read a few weeks ago from a blogger who was wrestling with the same kinds of things. He said, "Give me a church that has a dash of the attractional, a piece of the emergent, a block of the missional and yes, throw in some missional!"

He was just simply trying to communicate something I have aimed for in my leadership; balance. He was trying to say that all the ingredients that go into a really great church have the best of all of those church worlds and not just any one in particular. That is hard to believe at times for most of us leaders and it certainly is hard to try and develop! It is easy to me narrow and single eyed in leadership sometimes. It has to be this way or else! You can call it leagalism or whatever ism you want, but God is a whole lot more whole than we give him credit for at times!

Wholeness is what I want. I want the whole thing! God's wholeness is and always has been the goal of God's people. A united view of the whole universe, a whole concept of Man and a balanced fellowship that sees all the needs of people. Worship and Mission are not either or! Attracting people and Seeking people are not opposites! Fellowship and Outreach are not enemies! Service and being Healed are not mutually exclusive. Get my drift?

I hope so, for His sake.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

I had a great time at another Pastors and wives gathering at Mt. Pleasant a few nights ago. it was at least a year in coming! We had some reps from the Anderson IN churches come and share with us about their city-wide church efforts and what Fusion ministries has done with them to help.

The two pastors who came and shared with us were at their congregations for 25 and 30 years each! Long term guys who have seen a lot come and go. They encouraged us and our efforts by reminding us it is a marathon and things do come and go as fellow pastors come and go. They have about 120 churches in Anderson and about 80% of those are on their email list. They ahve about 40 active pastors in their group. They have a leadership team of seven pastors. This prayer leadrship is a distinct group from their ministerial group. They shared their joint efforts with racial reconcilliation (CURE); and their efforts to work with a specific elementary school that was having a lot of problems and effecting the whole district.

I was especially excitied about a phrase the Fusion rep made. He said, "You are not to be pastors of congregations, but co-pastors of a community!" Kingdom stuff; no turf management. Seeing the big picture. He stressed the importance of relationships gained through praying together. They do so every other week and have a monthly gathering at a non-church locaation downtown. They also have regualr GAP meetings (God Answers Prayer).

I enjoyed getting to meet a new pastor in our city, Evan Casey, at Northside Christian Church. He and his wife Tricia are excited about their new ministry with this congregation. They showed a lot of enthusiasm for the church and for the community of pastors they saw in Terre Haute. I am always excited about meeting new pastors who want to join us in our city-wide effort. BUT especially one who likes a good cup of coffee and palys golf! Way to go God! Welecome Evan!

I am teaching on Prayer and Unity this Sunday from John 17. I have been living out the possibilities of this teaching for nearly 21 years here in Terre Haute. We began with three guys in the basement of the old MCC building on seventh street; praying at believe it or not; Tuesday mornings at 6:30 am! Things have come a long ways! They still have a long way to go!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

I am sure that most of you reading this are aware of a term called "church growth." It is not often that you talk positively about "church shrinkage!" But let me digress.

It all goes back to about seven years ago as I dreamed, prayed and worked hard on the design of a worship environment for our new sanctuary. You have to understand, we were about 400 strong in a room that seated 450. We strained to get people seated, the parking lot emptied and usually chastised people for coming to more than one worship gathering! I lovingly and sometimes not so lovingly asked our core group of folks to "sit up front, park way out, and give up your seat!" Oh how I longed for bigger parking lots and more seats!

When we were nearing our move it was pretty clear that our evening worship group called Exchange would need to do something really strange. We would close off half the new space so the 300 or so could fit better for community rather than be scattered among the 1400 seats. We did that, it worked well and the community grew for all kinds of really good reasons. We eventually opened up the other seats and gave some space. Good church growth!

However, our Sunday morning community, called EPIC suffered from some "shrinkage" for some really bad reasons. Wow, what a bummer and what a challenge! We had filled up our space pretty well for a couple of years. Then gradually and in some spurts the numbers dropped and people were comfortably spread all over the place. For years our leaders and staff struggled with some constant comments of; "we don't feel as close, we don't know anyone, something just isn't the same."

Now I will not even begin to say that space is the ultimate reason for all of those things. But in my 37 years of pastoring I have learned a few things about space. It can and does many times dictate "feelings." Close if a proximity thing you just have to design at times. This is true whether you are teaching, small grouping, or worshiping. If interaction and relationship are key it is important for people to be close; not too close of course, but close.

It is sort of like when I used to be at home with my parents around the dinner table; seven of us. When all five boys were gone, I notice mom and dad moved their usual chairs and got closer. Not because they had to, but because they wanted to. I sometimes watch good teachers in a large room move their students closer. It just kind of makes sense.

BUT, we like birds, nest! I find my space, my spot, my seat and I like it. All of us are like that. In one of my classes at church the other night it was a real object lesson. We have 22 students that have met for 8 weeks. We all have "our seats." On this one particular night, my friend Ed came early and sat in my seat up front. He said he needed to in order to help the speaker. Well that was ok, but you know, it felt kind of weird for me to move a row back. But the real amazing thing was the "dominoes" that fell! In the end, we all sat in different seats! There was a real different "feel" that night. Not good or bad but just different. Yet the difference brought some new interaction with other students-----that I believe is good.

I am going to do a really huge thing in a couple of weeks at EPIC Sunday Morning worship gathering. I am going to centralize our seating by cutting it in half. We are going to try a bit of "closeness" for 5 weeks or so and see how it feels. Now dont' get me wrong, I know initially it won't feel good or even be perceived as good. But like in the class, I think given some time it will do the same kind of thing. People meeting and talking with some new people and maybe even feeling a little closer.

I remember visiting a church in Indianapolis a few years back with my wife Sandy. We kind of looked the room over, chose two seats we thought were nice. In a few minutes a very unhappy women approaced us and said, I quote, "you are in my seat." Hum, I didn't know people owned seats in a church! My mistake for sure.

May I call on our community to grow a little by shrinking! Let's be courageous and see what this new environment might do to help us relate to each other God maybe a "little" better. Maybe not a big thing, but who knows, could be.

I sign out today as "the big bird" in the stressed flock hoping we can nest in a new spot!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

The Missional Journey

In my journey to transform my own thinking about "doing church" if you will, it has become even more challenging to think about mission. I don't mean missions in the traditional sense of the word, but "Mission" in the sense of the purpose of the local church. A local church on mission must look and act differently than one that is totally driven by programs and performance.

I realy liked the steps a church in Texas took in order to revitalize their congregation:

1. To be honest about our current condition. This can be hard for a church with such a storied past.

People kept asking: Why have our long-term members left? When are things going to get back to the way they were? What's wrong with us?

Such questions can squelch even the most sincere brainstorming sessions. The hard truth we've tried to communicate through all of this is that the glory days of the past are exactly that—past glory days. We're not to try to return to them. Garnett will never again be the church it once was. We have to do the difficult thing of letting go of our former glory in order to allow God to do a new thing in us.

2. To relinquish our rights as members to a church building that we are no longer able to pay for by ourselves. The Garnett Church of Christ building is becoming the Garnett Event Center.

Already, several other churches are using our facilities on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon: a Messianic Jewish community, a charismatic Hispanic church, a rock church called Rolling Stone, and a new church plant.

3. To recognize that the most life-giving activities of our church aren't necessarily going to happen in our facility. Church leaders in event-driven and personality-centered churches tend to gauge success by headcount, the number of people who show up. This is what leaders talked about, and subsequently members tended to judge success by how pews and collection baskets were filled.

With Michael Frost (author of Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture) and Alan Hirsch (The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st Century Church), we have been forced to ask new questions: What if events of church, personalities of church, and Sunday assembly went away? What would be our view of the Christian life? What would we do as Christians, and who would we be?

4. To learn to be missionaries in our own culture. "we want to be a better neighbor to you and this community." And really, that's the first step to becoming missionaries: getting to know our neighbors' needs.

That's what we're determined to do: equip our congregation to be Christ to neighbors, co-workers, and family members, rather than trying to coax people into signing up for every church program possible and burning families out with church involvement.

Anything aside from a Christ-centered approach is out in favor of teaching one another how to be incarnational presence of Christ, in practical ways in our jobs, neighborhoods, PTAs, and sports teams.

These four steps are challenging; much easier said or written than done!

A way that the missional church is described by some is in "dimensions."

1) upward focused- on God in worship that is passionate
2) inward focused- on community among believers taht is demonstrated in relationships of love and compassion
3) outward focused- on a world that does not yet know God

I have especially been wrestling with the two great obstacles to becoming missional.

1) self-preservation
2) church growth

These obstacles are qute common in making any kind of major change in a local church.

Self-preservation is a huge anchor to the past and to our comfort zones.

Church growth is a huge wall that prevents us from crossing over to transformation rather than attraction.

I have always tried as a leader to help followers see the "both and" as opposed to the "either or" of choices. The three dimensions of a missional church are totally right on and make the local church a powerful force in society. It sort of deflates when only one or two of the dimensions are real.

I know the journey I am on to become more like the original intent of the church rather than the cultural wrapper it now comes in is a marathon and not a sprint! Seems like it is composed of small baby steps. I hate that! But I realize turning around a large congregation like the one I am leading just doesn't react quickly to major changes.

As is always the case, it needs to start with leaders and then work its way to followers. I am reading, praying and intentionally trying to activate plans that will make me more missional. This in turn will be the catalyst for change among followers.

Forgive me Lord when my worship is passionaless. Forgive me Lord when my relationships are not marked by love and compassion. Forgive me Lord when I care more about those who know God rather than those who do not. Break the stronghold of self-preservation in me! Crusth the tendency to be more concerned about attracting people to a building than I am about engaging them in the community.

Daniel Henderson said, "I often tell pastors that the only way to see a turnaround in the church is to focus first on personal renewal and leadership renewal, and then congregational renewal and that will result in mission renewal and structural renewal."

So let it be!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Encountering God

We use several words around MCC that describe our relationship with God and our fellow followers. Words like; connect, fellowship, community, walk, and journey. But this word “encounter” kind of has an ominous ring to it doesn’t it. It has the feel of tension and struggle and fight. It is almost the kind of thing we would normally try to avoid!
God is complicated, kind of like the people he created! There are times when he is safe and comforting and gentle. Then there are times he is not safe, in fact dangerous and angry! I have always loved the picture of God in the writing of C.S. Lewis. The concept of a Lion is kind of amazing isn’t it. We like Lucy at times wonder if he is safe or dangerous when we approach.

Approaching God is to be a daily task, and I do mean task, it is not easy or always safe. I think that is why we ignore him a lot! We can simplify approaching God that is for sure, I hear people do it all the time and I at times have to correct myself in making it so simple. Here is what I mean.

As followers of God we at times talk like God talks to us all the time. We also talk in ways that make him our buddy and closest friend. Yes, those things are true but at times we really over play that kind of talk. We walk a fine line between “the holy other” and “he walks with us.” I need both in my life but most of the time I really don’t want to encounter the holiness of God!

The bible is full of examples where common ordinary people just like us encountered the holy God. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Elijah, and Isaiah just to name a few. Our problem is that we don’t think of these people as someone “just like us!” You mean to say that I could hear God, I could see angels, I could see a bush burning and not burn up, I could pray and ask God for big things and have it happen? That is exactly what James the apostle said!

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.” (James 5:16-17 NIV)

I know that not everyone who comes to a Sunday worship gathering intends to encounter God. They, we, come for lots of reasons and not always encounter! But, at times, people do. Sometimes an encounter takes some effort as I have mentioned. Sometimes it takes an intentional search kind of like Dr. Henry Blackaby taught us when he was here. He reminded us that we should “seek him while he can be found!”

If I wanted to encounter Tiger Woods it would take some specific and intentional actions on my part. I would put God in an even higher status and degree of difficulty at times! Don’t you find it hard sometimes to find God? I do. Not always, but sometimes. When we have those times it is good to know we have somewhere we can go.

For us here at MCC it would be a place called “Encounter.” This place is in its early stages of development but it is real. There is a group of people who meet together in the Prayer Room every Wednesday night at 7 pm to seek God and find his heart. You can come for all kinds of reasons, but it is to seek the one who really matters in life. We are working on making this environment a safe place to meet a dangerous God so he can make us dangerous in our world. Why not come join me in this encounter some time? The encounter is worth it, people who meet God are never the same.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The EPIC Walk

When you look at how our relationship with God is described one particular picture comes to mind, walk. In the Garden of Eden God walked with Adam and Eve, a picture of personal relationship for sure! Enoch and Noah had their relationship with God described as walking with him (Gen. 5:22,24, 6:9).

Haven’t you heard at some point this description of a good follower of God, he “walks the walk and talks the talk.” In other words, he lives and says the things that mark him as a follower of God.

When I personally think of walking I think of exercise, health and going slow! Now when you think about it, those aren’t bad ideas of describing a walk with God. Walking should get your heart rate up, get your muscles moving and all of those things are good for your health. If I were to think of getting somewhere quickly it wouldn’t be walking! Walking is going slow, it is watching, it is thinking, it is journeying at a pace you can see and hear well.

The way we describe our relationship with God and with our fellow followers is that of journey. One biblical example of this whole idea of walk is found in Luke 24. Here we find some guys walking from a place of huge meaning, Jerusalem to a place of not much significance, Emmaus. These guys in their walk will encounter the living Jesus Christ. Quite a surprise on their walk! They certainly didn’t expect that, in fact they were engulfed in disappointment, grief and loss.

In their walk, these guys discover that Jesus is not dead! Hie is alive and walking with them! As some of you may know, this event has been made very relevant for people today in a retreat format called “The Walk to Emmaus.” It is a time in a person’s life that they too discover that Jesus is alive and that he can and does walk with us in our every day lives.

The heart of the real walk was the experience of seeing and experiencing Jesus in the breaking of bread. At some mystical moment while they ate together the men on the walk understood that the stranger that had joined them was Jesus, the one who had been crucified. He was alive and then took some time to inform them about all the prophets and the meaning behind what those words really meant about Messiah. Their hearts were warmed and their lives were changed!

Having lives changed today does take place in many retreat settings like an Emmaus Walk, but also in everyday walking through life. If we slow down enough, walk and not run; if we focus on things around us, if we get our hearts warmed it could be that we too might experience the living presence of Jesus right there with us. I am convinced that the times Jesus feels more distant are the times I am in a rush, not really looking and listening and definitely having a cold heart.

Some of the ancient ways that people were taught to walk with God centered on the very practical model. Walk “with” God, look, listen, and feel the presence. This sort of mystical approach has some real tangible means of experiencing the grace of God. It could be described as learning to walk with God.

Our walk, or journey in life, must be characterized by “quiet” and “focused looking and listening.” A quiet time is thus a time to look and listen for the voice of God. The most objective and real way of hearing God is found in our reading, thinking, praying and obeying scripture. As simple as this sounds, it takes years usually to get very good at this sort of thing. Practice if you will.

Some have found that writing while walking with God is a way to slow your thoughts and heart down enough to allow times of change. This is why journaling or writing your thoughts and prayers can be very good exercises. Other kinds of exercise here include doing these things “with others.” Relationship or community. Living and learning together.

Obedience is also a key in our walking or journeying. Obedience is like a super GPS system or compass that keeps us going in the right direction. Scripture and community guidance help us make good and healthy choices in our living. Obedience can be described in many ways; but it contains first fruits (stewardship), gathering for worship and instruction in apostolic teaching (See Acts 2:42-47).

One of the big changes that people in our generation must change in order to get more out of their walk with the Lord is the understanding of a point in time and eternity. The point in time is our accepting Christ as Savior; having our sins forgiven; being justified. The time in eternity is following Jesus as Lord. This is a continual daily journey, not something you do once and then it requires no more. Salvation is both the point and the eternity. Heretical for some, but I would challenge you to walk with Jesus for a while and see if that isn’t true. The difference between just taking a walk and taking an “EPIC Walk” is the eternity piece. It is living a powerful world changing life led by the living Christ and not just passively relying on some kind of spiritual life insurance.

Those who walk with Jesus change the world!

Monday, January 01, 2007

A New Year!

2006 has been one of my most difficult years as a pastor at Maryland Community Church. I have had harder ones for sure in the early years of recreating a dying church, but this was one of the most disappointing years. Two kinds of difficult!

This past year was a compendium, collection if you will, of bad things and bad timing. In addition to some hard times with staff members there was the overwhelming influx of selfishness that characterizes our culture. To say we suffered from a "mechurch" attitude is a grave understatement. A sad truth I have learned in cases like this is that we never "lost people" we actually "never had them!" True community is not about, "I will love you as long as you please me!"

Staff difficulties are always hard because even if staff members detest the fact that some people will leave a church because of a staff members leaving it does happen! Sometimes this snowballs as it did in our case. We did not as a congregation exhibit great forgiveness or great perseverance, we in the case of many fell victim to "I'm mad and I'm not going to take it any more! I would rather leave than forgive!"

As bad as this was, and it was bad, we had something much more sinister happen. Our very nature as a "community church" for "everyone" was attacked from the a variety of directions. We were too big, not big enough, too friendly, not friendly enough, we were a church with music that was too loud, not loud enough, we were too pentecostal and at the same time not penecostal enough. The pastor wasn't deep enough, he wasn't personal enough, he wasn't honest enough, he was too open with his thoughts. And of course, all we ever talk about is money! Just to name a few!

Since our first week in our new location we had been through an attendance spike with at lot of lookers and shirt sleeve relatives to a down turn of almost 250 people each Sunday. Those slides are hard emotionally and spiritually. No one likes the appearance of failure in the face of great success! Least of all me! I have to really watch it when my happiness or sadness revolves around how many bodies are sitting in chairs on Sunday!

The thing I want us all at MCC to spiritually discern this coming year is the deep meaning of success and failure. As easy as it is to say that the ABC's of church don't necessarily dictate success it very hard to hold to that fact in the middle of an onslaught of criticism and arm chair quarterbacking. Attendance, buildings and cash are not the key components of success in the Kingdom. They may be in the world, but not the Kingdom! If we are to sincerely seek His Kingdom and not worldly success then we are up against a real spiritual challenge!

I can and sure have second guessed myself on a lot of things as a pastor over this past year. So much of a pastor's "worldly esteem" comes from the the ABC's of church growth. Even when you know it is wrong! It is a battle of Pauline proportion! As Paul wrestled in Romans 7 with knowing to do good and not doing it, so do I as a pastor at times. I know my esteem comes from Christ and His approval or disapproval with my character, faith and behavior. History proves God doesn't always get excited about the ABC's of His people. He evaluates the heart, the mind and the faith of his leaders. I ask His forgiveness and yours for times I have given in to a wrong view of my esteeem.

Now don't get me wrong, I know the temporal value of a crowd, a great building and lots of cash! In and of themselves they are not all bad, it is when we place our value on them rather than the organic Kingdom based values of God's people. Can a church have a lot of people, a huge new building and lots of money and still be out of God's will? Of course they can! Those measures don't measure faithfulness or being Kingdom focused. Being a large church does not equal greatness; never has, never will.

The real questions are: 1) Are we on mission? 2) Are we faithful in worshipping God the Father, Christ the Son and the Holy Spirit? 3) Are we as members of the body of Christ living in ways that give God glory? 4) Are each of us as members of the body of Christ pointing non-believers to the saving grace of Jesus Christ through meaningful relationships?

We must refocus on Kingdom Growth: The tendency of every congregation is to be overly concerned with “their world” and not “God’s world.” In the same way individuals can be selfish so can congregations. Our perspective is that of a “World view” and not just a neighborhood. We have a city target and not just a certain segment of our community. This is what we mean by “missional.”

The missional church is a community where all members are involved in learning to become disciples of Jesus, this community seeks to discern God’s specific mission in the city it serves and the personal mission of all its members to proclaim the gospel to the whole world.

This next year; we need to care for each other and tighten up our connections as family (community). We need to encourage and challenge each other in our walk with the Lord (journey) and refocus ourselves on our kingdom priorities (mission).

Here is a new years resolution of repentance for all of us: 1) I will stop being critical of other Christians, Churches, pastors (including ones right here at MCC!) 2) I will pray intensely and seek the Lord for my personal growth and the growth of His Kingdom. 3) I will consciously seek the will of God rather than my personal need; if it really isn't about me, then it must be about Him!

There are nearly 70,000 unchurched people in are county. While we want our church to grow, we want His Kingdom to grow even more! Wouldn't it be awesome if every Christ following church in Vigo county grew over the next year! Now that would be real success! If that were happening, then I am sure that our crime rate would fall, our enconomy would flourish and we would enjoy great times of transformation as churches, a city, and a county!

Let's pray to be dangerous in 2007! Not just safe, but dangerous. We want to strike fear into the heart of the enemies of God! Our greatest defense is to overcome personal satisfaction as our daily goal; the bible calls this carnality or taking care of our own flesh! Our greatest offense is this; join the Father in changing the world one person at a time, one city at a time, one nation at a time.