Monday, July 21, 2014

Three Tiny Books with Mega Messages

I love to read. I really do. I just don't do it much anymore. I don't know if that's because I don't make the time, I'm a slow reader and thus it takes more time than I have (or am willing to commit), or I simply can not find books that hold my waning attention, but I read very few complete books anymore. Oh sure, I read lots of "parts" and "sections" - my bookcase is full of those - but no so many that I've spent time with from cover to cover.

That's why me reading three books this past week is huge! Yeah, I know - for some of you that's just a good day, but not for me. And who's counting how short the books were (102, 122 and 126 pages respectively) - these were three powerful books that made me think about stuff that really matters! If I don't read another book during my break, these three have given me quite enough to dwell on and try to live out in both my life and ministry. Rather than do any kind of review, here are just a few quotes and thoughts from each book that I personally believe are worth remembering:

Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 Ways to Keep Yours Alive (Thom Rainer)
  • "As many as 100,000 churches in America are showing signs of decline toward death."
  • "It is rare for a long-term church member to see erosion in his or her church. Growth may come rapidly, but decline is usually slow... the members have no sense of urgency to change."
  • The nine major chapter titles speak to many of the causes: 1) The Past is the Hero, 2) The Church Refused to Look Like the Community, 3) The Budget Moved Inwardly, 4) The Great Commission Becomes the Great Omission, 5) The Preference-Driven Church, 6) Pastoral Tenure Decreases, 7) The Church Rarely Prayed Together, 8) The Church Had No Clear Purpose, and 9) The Church Obsessed Over the Facilities.
  • Rainer's estimates of existing American churches are that 10% are healthy, 40% are showing symptoms of sickness, 40% are very sick, and 10% are dying.
  • (BTW, this was the July assignment for my Fusion small group. I rarely finish the month's assigned reading but instead "skip" to my section - just being honest - but this month I am so ahead!)
  • RCC's elders have long-discussed having a tool to create conversations with potential church elders. I think this might be it. I read the book in a single sitting (but I'm not going to tell you how long that was) but was taken in very early when Rinne said, "Though elders are typically godly and well-intentioned, they are often confused about what being an elder entails."
  • "Almost all of the New Testament authors address elders. There are more than a dozen texts. It became clear to me that Christlike elders are not an optional church feature; they are central to God's plan for shepherding his churches."
  • Again, the major chapter titles speak to the characteristics of elders (both paid and unpaid): 1) Smell Like Sheep (engage in relationships with individuals), 2) Serve Up the Word, 3) Track Down the Strays, 4) Lead Without Lording, 5) Shepherd Together, 6) Model Maturity, and 7) Plead For the Flock.
  • While I don't personally have the title, I took the following as a personal challenge: "Your congregation needs to see not only a godly elder, but a growing elder."
  • "When we are crazy busy, we put our souls at risk."
  • "For most of us, it isn't heresy or rank apostasy that will derail our profession of faith. It's all the worries of life."
  • "The disorder of daily life is a product of disorder in the innermost places of the heart," including the many manifestations of pride - people-pleasing, pats on the back, performance evaluation, possession, proving myself, pity, poor planning, power, perfectionism, position, prestige, and posting (social media).
  • "Taming busyness is not as simple as saying no to everything and refusing to please anyone. Real life applications get tricky..."
  • "We get worked up and crazy busy in all the wrong ways because we are more concerned about looking good than doing good."
  • "It's okay to be busy at times. You can't love and serve others without giving of your time."
  • "[Jesus] did not try to do it all. And yet, he did everything God asked him to do... He was busy, but never in a way that made him frantic, anxious, irritable, proud, envious, or distracted by lesser things... He was not driven by the needs of others... He was not driven by the approval of others... Ultimately, Jesus was driven by the Spirit."
  • "We don't expect to be able to buy anything we want, because we know there is a limit to our money. But somehow we live as if time knew no bounds, when in fact time is much more limited than money."
  • There is no such thing as multitasking - "We can do two things at once [only] when one does not require mental effort." (Interestingly enough, we watched a BrainGames episode last night that verified this.)
  • "We don't realize we have to work hard just to rest."
  • "What if pastoring a congregation is supposed to be challenging?"
  • "If God expected us to do nothing but sit cross-legged on the floor and journal, the Bible could have been much smaller. Mary's example is not a summons to the contemplative life in a cloister. But it's a pretty strong reminder that we had better keep first things first."
Pick one, or read all three... but if they deal with any areas of your life where God wants to speak, get ready to be challenged!

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Power of 32

32 is really quite an impressive number. In mathematics, since 24 + 42 (or  xy + yx) = 32, it is what's called a Leyland number. In science, in degrees Fahrenheit, it's the freezing point of water at sea level. In music, it is the number of completed, numbered piano sonatas by Ludwig van Beethoven. And in sports, it's the jersey number worn by so many greats - Sandy Koufax, Jim Brown, and Dr. J, just to name a few. 32 is the number of teeth in an adult human (including wisdom teeth), the average number of pages in a comic book, and, in case you were wondering, the code for international direct dial to Belgium.

32 is also the number of days remaining in my summer well as the number of days since my sabbatical began. So, I'm halfway. Halfway finished... halfway just getting started. Half empty... half full. For once in my life (and hopefully it becomes a new POV), I'm going to go with the "half full" on this one, you know, Philippians 3:13 and all.

And yet, I don't want to rush past "what's behind" because I feel like the first 32 days were phenomenal! Granted, my plan was to not really have a plan, so while the number of items on a checklist might be minimal, the "intangibles" are numerous. Here's just a quick list:

Family (1st half):
  • Spent the majority of my evenings with Kerri and Wyatt
  • Helped out more around the house
  • Visited Lowe's more than ever before in my life because I...
  • Started and finished the project of extending my backyard fence and laying a patio

Personal (1st half):
  • Read through the Gospels
  • Read three other books (but none that I would recommend)
  • Had a Dr.'s appointment with my lowest recorded blood pressure in months
  • Received invaluable training from Morris Proctor on Logos Bible Software
  • Found 20 geocaches while traveling to the NC mountains and the Pacific Northwest and Canada and spending some time with good friends
  • Was generally a more pleasant person to be around (or so I'm told), being more relaxed with much more energy
  • Worshiped with six separate church families (three local), each being a very different but blessed time
  • Began a personal challenge to eat one of every hot dog featured on Sonic's "Dog Days of Summer" menu (21 different varieties - of course, I started with the Peanut Butter Bacon Dog)
I began this post with a "Ministry" column, but I believe that if God grows me personally, that will automatically reflect a difference in how I serve Him in ministry.

As I move into the "half full" weeks ahead, I hope you will pray that my plans are not just mine, but God's plans as well. I plan to...

Family (2nd half):
  • Invest as much time as possible with Kerri and Wyatt, doing whatever it is they want to do
  • Spend an afternoon with my grandmother
  • Continue to help out more around the house
  • Enjoy a unique vacation with my family on Mackinac Island

Personal (2nd half):
  • Read through the Psalms
  • Read other books, including 30 WordsChurch Elders, Crazy Busy, and Pursued 
  • Memorize John 14-16
  • Spend two separate days at St. Francis Springs Prayer Center
  • Worship with at least four more different church families
  • Do more geocaching, including a possible trip to the NC coast
  • Exercise daily (please see last item under "Personal" above for explanation)
  • Allow this unique time of rest to reflect in my attitude towards those around me and myself
Oh yeah, there's still plenty left in the sabbatical glass! As I've said all along, the next few weeks have the potential for the most good in both my ministry and me. May God make it so!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Go West (not so) Young Man!

When I first starting planning a sabbatical, I initially thought about traveling to the Four Corners section (where AZ, UT, CO & NM meet) for hiking and geocaching. However, as the plans began to progress, I found an opportunity to travel to northern WA for some much-need training on Logos Bible Software. Although Week 3 was a busy one (one of my two main travel weeks of the summer), it basically boiled down to three things - geocaching, sight-seeing, and Logos (four if you count cross-country travel round trip). Here's some of what Week 3 was about:

Geocaching: After arriving in Seattle late Sunday night, I drove south until midnight so that I would be within 75 minutes of Portland on Monday morning. Waking up early, I began driving south on what some refer to as the geocaching pilgrimage - to the site of the very first geocache. Although it's no longer there, there is a plaque commemorating the event and some nearby caches to find. Not only was I able to visit the "original stash plaque," but Tuesday was the day when I got to cache in Fremont, WA (northern suburb of Seattle) and visit Geocaching Headquarters! Finally, to add to my first caches in OR and WA, I crossed the border to White Rock, British Columbia for my first Canadian cache.

Sightseeing: This was a trip I did with my best friend, Scott Patterson. While he didn't travel to Portland with me on Monday, we planned to meet up later that day. On the way to meet Scott, I did my first non-geocaching sightseeing - Voodoo Doughnuts. Later that day we toured the Space Needle and went to the Red Sox-Mariners game. It's not often you get to see a team bat around in a game, but the Mariners did it twice - in the 4th and in the 7th. CF James Jones led off both innings and made the final out in both innings as well, going 1-4 in the two innings with a double to lead off the 7th. While in Seattle we also spent some time downtown at Pike Place Market and the original Starbucks.
Logos Bible Software: I have had this software on my computer for years (actually, since 2003 - thankfully as well, I wouldn't be able to afford it now!) and have even done a little training with it, but what I learned on Wednesday through Friday should prove to be invaluable when it comes to both personal study and sermon preparation! This program is amazing! We also got to take the tour of Logos' offices as well.

Coming home was a LONG day. I left the hotel in Seattle Saturday at 5 AM and landed in Charlotte at 10 PM. While I had planned to drive home to Reidsville, the spirit was willing but the flesh was definitely weak. I stopped just north of Charlotte (didn't get that far, did I?) and worshiped on Sunday at Lake Forest Church. I originally visited the campus a couple months ago for the Sticky Teams Conference and was curious what Sunday was like. It was what I imagined - great worship with a very laid-back atmosphere (complete with full coffee bar). I really liked how a child read the story of Noah from the Children's Bible to introduce the teaching.

All in all, it was a busy, fun, and productive week... but I'm glad to be back home. This week I'm praying for our student ministry MOVE trip, for the RCC family and their known needs, for our staff and elders and their leadership, and for God to be at work in each of our lives!