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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Stopping the downward slide

In two years of commuting to Stone church, I have put 30,000 miles on my car. Being that I do have the commute (which is probably fairly short in comparison to some of the commutes you might be facing) I am listening to books on CD.

One of the books I am listening to is George Barna's well documented book, "The Seven Faith Tribes."

It's a resource book that share the research Barna has made regarding what he calls, "the 7 Faith Tribes that the majority of Americans belong to".

One of the 7 faith tribes is the "casual Christian" tribe of which approximately 66% of all Americans purport to belong to.

That is 2 of every 3 Americans. Casual Christians, as opposed to Captive Christians, are defined in the following way:

"Christianity is a low-risk, predictable proposition for this tribe, providing a faith perspective that is not demanding.

A Casual Christian can be all the things that they esteem: a nice human being, a family person, religious, an exemplary citizen, a reliable employee – and never have to publicly defend or represent difficult moral or social positions or even lose much sleep over their private choices as long as they mean well and generally do their best.

From their perspective, their brand of faith practice is genuine, realistic and practical. To them, Casual Christianity is the best of all worlds; it encourages them to be a better person than if they had been irreligious, yet it is not a faith into which they feel compelled to heavily invest themselves."

Barna goes on to write, "Casual Christians like their brand of faith because of the comfort that this approach provides.

It offers them life insights if they choose to accept them, gives them a community of relationships if they desire such, fulfills their inner need to have some type of connection with a deity, and provides the image of being a decent, faith-friendly person.

Because Casuals do not view matters of faith as central to one’s purpose or success in life, this brand of Christianity supplies the multi-faceted levels of satisfaction and assurance that they desire."

Are you a "casual Christian"?

There are times in my own life where I sense myself sliding into that category.

That's why we have what we typically call "Revivals" which are not so much to connect the non-churched to Christ as they are to "revive" our spirits and stop the carnage of our flesh winning the battle for our soul.

Okay...let me give you a is not meant to be "in your face" but it shows how much Christ takes this stuff seriously.

Jesus said in Revelation 3:15-17, "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I would that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. ‘Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked"

My desire is to be more than a "causal" Christian but a "captive" Christian - totally sold out to Jesus Christ.

How about you?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Those closest to us - resentment

Last Sunday, I shared in the first service from Matthew 18. I didn't get to it in the second service.

Let me reiterate one point that I believe is important for us to understand.

In the context of a brother or sister who sins against you, wounds you, offends, you, Jesus gives what some theologians call, "the parable of the unmerciful servant."

After Jesus explains the way to confront someone who has hurt you, Peter asks, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times."

throughout the years I have taught that Peter was speaking of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

But.....could he not also or in fact directly be speaking of his brother "in the flesh" or Andrew?

Perhaps Peter is speaking literally here of his brother from birth.

Perhaps Andy didn't put the fishing nets away when he was asked to.

Perhaps he was always borrowing Peter's old navy jacket.

Perhaps he was constantly borrowing shekels from Peter to go to Taco Bell and never paying him back. get the idea.

90% of all resentment occurs with those closest to you: in your family, at work, or in the church.

Why? Because only those closest to us can hurt us the most.

You don't carry resentment if someone cuts you off on the Dan Ryan Expressway do you? Not if you are emotionally healthy you don't.

Or if someone jumps ahead of you in the line at the checkout counter at the grocery store. Oh, you might feel a temporary sense of anger, but you let it go.

However, it's not the same with those whom we love.

We expect more. We, many times, are blindsided by the hurt that comes from someone that we trust.

So what to do?

Peter says, "do I forgive seven times?" Three times, according to O.T. law was the max. Peter is feeling magnanimous and so doubles it and adds on one.

He's probably thinking, Jesus is going to think, "Dude, you are the man."

Jesus responds, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times."

Which speaks of an unlimited number of times. Which speaks of a lifestyle of forgiveness even more than a one time act.

Difficult stuff when you are walking through hurt and offense.

But ultimately, there is no other way to go.

Just some thoughts for a Tuesday.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Thoughts from the weekend

Thoughts from the weekend:

This past week, Debbie and I have had the privilege of "breaking bread" with John and Lynn Whittal (in their home on Thursday evening),Larry and Marie Anich (in their home on Saturday evening) and Phil and Leisa McNamara (at the Patio yesterday).

In each circumstance, we had a great time, and it reinforced to us that we have a lot of great folks in our church!

At each home there was something special (each meal was delicious).

I loved the English tea served at the Whittals (served in the English style with milk).

Larry barbecued some ribs that were just out of sight.

We immensely enjoyed each meal and each time of fellowship.

I am grateful for all of the dedicated, faithful people who attend and serve Stone Church. We have a core of church family members that is as solid as a boulder of granite.

Something to build on.

Something to move forward on.

We rejoice at God's goodness to us - but at the same time we strive for more. We want to reach more people for God, we want to see more people connect to Christ, we desire that more people come, not just to fill up empty chairs with people, but to fill up empty lives with Jesus Christ.

I see us (as we move to 183rd street) providing a sane (as opposed to goofy and "off the wall", balanced approach to the Pentecostal experience. We desire to be who we are - Christ followers, who also believe that their is a Spiritual Power that we can tap into as believers that aids us in our walk and witness.

Yet at the same time, in conjunction with being Pentecostal, we desire to be culturally relevant.

Our church is going to be in between Family Harvest Church and Parkview Church. But even more than geographically, I foresee us being in the middle philosophically and practically as well.

Parkview is huge - a "seeker friendly" church.
Family Harvest is big - a "ultra faith" church.

Both of these church are great churches.

However, we can't expect to be Parkview Church or "Out Parkview" Parkview church.

We can't expect to be Family Harvest Church or "Out Family Harvest" Family Harvest Church.

We must be ourselves. We must go to our distinctive, not as a weakness but as a strength.

We want to be "seeker friendly" to the extent that we desire to see people connect to Christ.

We want to be "people of faith" to the extent that we are constantly desiring to be in a position as a church where we are participating in a vision that takes God, and God moving in us for it to happen.

So what will be our niche?

What will attract people to our church - that might not be drawn to either Parkview or Family Harvest?

Well, these are guesses at this point, but something to ponder (and not given in any order of importance or rank).

We believe in times spent in the presence of God before and after the presentation of the message.

We believe in the spiritual use of a prayer language, both privately and corporately in worship settings, as well as the initial step of being "baptized in the Holy Spirit."

We believe in healing.

We believe that God heals today.

We believe in signs and wonders.

We believe in strong discipleship times.

We believe in relationships through life groups.

We believe that to serve is the highest expression of my love for Christ.

I think that people are going to find that we (for the time being) will be small enough to minister to them personally, but large enough to minister to their family.

At any rate, each church is part of the body of Christ. My prayer is that we will all work together in advancing His Kingdom.

And...while I welcome all kinds of church growth techiques and one, two, three, four, five steps to becoming a larger church, I do know that ultimtaely it comes down to being led by the spirit, walking in the spirit, and operating in the pwoer of the Spirit of the Living God.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

I wouldn't want to be in first place over God.....

American Idol has been a hit show in our country for several years now. The "star" of the show is its creator, Simon Cowell.

His criticism or praises can make or break an upcoming performer.

In a recent poll, it was found that Simon Cowell is more famous than God or the Queen.

The National Kids' Day survey asked 1,600 under-10s from around the United Kingdom who they thought was the most famous person in the world.

The "American Idol" ("X" factor) judge came first, with God and the Queen in second and third place.

Does that not show how far down on the totem pole God as fallen? Second to Simon Cowell?

It brings to mind the quote from John Lennon in speaking of the Beatles. He said back in 1966, "Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn't argue about that. I'm right and I will be proved right. We're more popular than Jesus now. I don't know which will go first - rock n' roll or Christianity."

Fourteen years later, Lennon was shot dead by Mark David Chapman in New York City on December 8, 1980.

If I were Simon Cowell, I would not want the "honor" of being more popular than God.

Isn't one of the ten commandments, "You shall have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:3)?

What that commandment means is that God, and only God must be first place in my life.

God says, "I deserve to be number one. I created you. Put me first in your activities, put me first in your time, put me first in your relationships, put me first!"

When General Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, was asked, what had been the secret of his success, he replied, "From the day I got the poor of London on my heart and a vision for what Jesus Christ would do for them, I made up my mind that God should have all of William Booth there was; and if anything has been achieved, it is because God has had all the adoration of my heart, all the power of my will and all the influence of my life."

As I sometimes pray, "More of God, less of me." Will you join me in that prayer today?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

When your spouse doesn't believe in God

I've been a pastor for a long time.

Over the years, one of the greatest needs that have presented themselves to Debbie and I is this question, "What do I no - my spouse doesn't believe in God?"

This week I was walking through the foyer of our church (it's also called the "narthex" or even the "lobby" depending on the part of the country that you live in) and found an article about this very situation in the Assemblies of God periodical called, "Live".

Let me summarize their thoughts and add some of my own.

If your spouse is not serving the Lord - know this:

Take the responsibility off your shoulders.

I also say (and share this quite frequently), "we are responsible to people but we are not responsible for people."

In other words, I can't change anybody.

I can't save anyone. Only God can. Only the Holy Spirit can bring people to Christ.

As the article states, "there is a (huge - my word) difference between feeling burdened for your spouse's salvation and shouldering the load for their decision. The first leaves room for joy; the second produces misery."

What then is the responsibility of the godly spouse? To live a lifestyle of holiness and to accept God's forgiveness and cleansing in their own life.

Also....Separate out the actions of your spouse from your reputation.

If you think that your reputation is somehow tarnished or ruined because your spouse is not a Christian, it might lead to anger when they resist the Gospel or act unspiritual at the worst possible moment.

Does it then become concern or pride?

Here's an interesting point.

Don't idealize Christian spouses.

In other words, realize your spouse's connection with Christ will not eliminate every problem that you have in your marriage.

Here's a great understatement: Even Christian marriages aren't perfect.

Kathy Miller writes, "When I speak on the theme of contentment at women's retreats, I often say, "If you're thinking you'll be happy if you could be married to your wonderful pastor, don't tell his wife. SHE'LL GIVE HIM TO YOU."

Even pastors (Or should I say especially pastors) can have problems in their marriage.

Understand the two biblical principles:

Submission (if you are the wife)

Treating your spouse as Christ loves the church (if you are the husband)

Being a submissive wife is not being a doormat.

Treating your wife as Christ treats the church does not mean that you are her Lord and Master.

Finally, two more thoughts:

1. Focus on the positive and pray.

It's easy to focus on the negative side of anyone in life - especially a spouse that is not connected to God.

But I have seen a lot of non-believing spouses who can still be great mates in a marriage....wonderful mothers, fathers, considerate and kind.

Here's a suggestion: try complimenting them instead of criticizing them.

2. And this is maybe the most important. Ask God to change you.

More than, "God change my spouse," the beginning point of conversation with God on this subject is the prayer, "God change me."

Here's what the author suggests.

1. Am I leading a life that representing Christ?
2. Even if my spouse forbids me from going to church services, do I continue to read the bible and pray?
3. Am I growing in my knowledge of the gospel so I'll be equipped to share?
4. Am I becoming strong enough to resist discouragement?

Some insensitive Christians might say, "If you were the Christian you should be, your spouse would be saved."

That can cause discouragement.

Know that God is working behind the scenes, and be encouraged - He has everything under control.

Ask these questions:

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Grateful for all our volunteers

One thing that has struck me lately is to be thankful for what we do have - and not focus in on what we don't have.

Let me say that I am grateful and thankful for all who minister in our church. Many go beyond the "call of duty" to provide acts of service to our church family.

Many are faithful, week in and week out. For that my heart is full of gratitude.

The fact of the matter is - that we couldn't minister as we do at Stone Church without our volunteers.

So - if you are reading this - and are a volunteer minister at our church - let me say to you - thank you very, very much.

The kingdom of God is built upon people such as yourself.

I trust that will be an encouragement to you today. What you are doing in ministry has eternal consequences and not "just" temporary ones.

Listen to this story:

"Nearly 3,000 athletes take part in the summer games of Michigan's Special Olympics. The Special Olympics slogan is "Caring is more important than winning." This is especially true of those competitors who are mentally impaired.

The events at the Special Olympics are like any other track meet with one major difference. At the finish line is a group of volunteers the Olympic Committee calls "huggers." Their job, in addition to calling out the winners, is to encourage one of the competitors throughout the race and to greet him or her at the finish line with a big hug.

In Romans 16, Paul gives special recognition to the men and women in Rome who had been diligently "running the race" for the Lord. He remembered them by name. Paul would have made a good "hugger." (Actually the Greek text mentions kissing, but you know how cultures change.) You can be that kind of encourager too. Make those around you feel like winners."

If you were here right now I would just give you a big hug in thanksgiving!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Sticky church - part six

We continue our discussion this week concerning our life groups - and look at a chapter in Larry Osborne's book, "Sticky Church," entitled, "Entry Points and "Escaping routes".

What I am noticing is that not everybody connects with small groups. While it is the desire of our church community that everyone does, not everyone will.

And here is Larry Osborne's point - we need to make it as painless as possible for those who try a life group and don't connect - or don't try it at all.

It avoids what he calls the "weasel factor". He writes, "...people won't stick with things or with groups that are uncomfortable. Maybe they should. But they don't. So they weasel out. If you've ever been weaseled on or been the weasel yourself, you know it's a miserable experience filled with lame excuses, awkward silences, averted glances, and ofttimes a giant elephant in the room. Is it any wonder that people who've gone through it once seldom sign up to go through it again?"

So what do we do to avoid the "weasel factor"?

We make it as painless as possible to try a group by a pain-free off-ramp and then have easy escape routes, and many of them.

Part of that process is to make sure that we limit our groups to specific time frames. Our time frame is that we go until December, take a break for Christmas, pick it up in January, go until May, and break for the summer.

I believe the break is healthy. It also gives new members time to decide whether ot opt in for the rest of the semester or bail out. No questions asked, no drive-by guiltings.

We also want to make it as guilt free as possible if some desire to try a different group. That might be "ego busting" for some of us who lead the groups, but a necessary step in realizing that each life group (in the positive sense) has their own unique addition to the kingdom of God.

How do our groups grow deeper. Here's a key that I am learning. EACH GROUP MUST GROW AT THEIR OWN PACE.

Relationship can't be forced, neither can spiritual depth.

The Holy Spirit is a big, big factor in play here.

We can't push our groups to grow spiritually too fast - no let them lack behind and become spiritually lazy.

Again, "simple church" is not "lazy church," in that we must continually strive to grow deeper in the Lord.

In almost every case, the growth of the life group relationally will find itself take place in due time. That's because sooner or later life will happen. When it does, tings get real - real fast, as Larry Osborne writes.

An unexpected trial or a significant crisis changes everything. Groups that were previously static, and I quote Osborne here, "superficial, or even bored with one another go deep practically overnight. Forced to become the hands and feet of Jesus, they live out the body of Chris metaphor as a daily reality. And when they do, "my small group" quickly becomes "my family."

While, as a life group family, we obviously do not ask for trials, nor do we obviously fabricate trials just to solidify the relational aspect of our groups, we must take advantage of them and allow them to be an opportunity for spiritual and relationship growth.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

sticky church - part cinq

I like the five "W's" that Larry Osborne gives in his book "Sticky Church".


(I love the alliteration).

These are the marks of a healthy church.

How are we doing in each one of these categories?

I would appreciate your viewpoint on this.

So many times, (as you have heard me say, perhaps in a different way, but still the same thought is there) we desire to do all five on Sunday mornings between 9:00 A.M. and 10:15 A.M., or 10:30 A.M. and 12:00 P.M. (depending on the service you are in).

The thought is that for a lot of people, this is the only contact they have with the church, so we need to "make hay while the sun shines" to you an old cliche.

Realistically, the two values we can obtain on a Sunday morning are Word and Worship.

I believe we do a great job at this. People study the Word during the Adult Bible Fellowship Hour, we worship God in a powerful way, and we hear the Word every Sunday (if not steak every Sunday - at least some hamburger - either way it's meat).

So where can witness, warmth and works take place?

Let's define those before we go on.

Witness - sharing our faith with people on a relational and personal basis.

Warmth - having deep relationships with those in our body.

Works - reaching out to those in our body with care, love and affection.

That might surprise some of us. Works, for the longest time in our churches has been, "what can I do when I come to the building on 127th street?"

While those who work (Minister) on Sunday mornings to make it happen and in other ministries in our church - while they are invaluable and needed, the works we are talking about are those times when we visit someone in the hospital. Bake someone a pie who is hurting, well you get the idea.


Where can we experience warmth, witness and works? In life groups. Surrounded by people within our community that we are intentionally drawing closer to.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Sticky church - part quatre

Before I get into a discussion of life groups and the book "Sticky church" let me describe to you a clip that I saw on ESPN.

It shows a young father catching a foul ball, turning to his right and handing it to his little girl who promptly throws in away.

But also notice his response. One of surprise, but then he puts his arms around her and continue to love her.

I couldn't help but think that sometimes we don't realize what we have - and we throw it away.

Our health, our relationships, our money, our job, and even our relationship with God. When it comes to God, even after we have thrown the ball back, God will put his arms around us and love on us, as we turn to him.

Let's all pause for a moment this day and realize what God has given us. And be grateful and thankful.

Anyhow.....back to our discussion of life groups.

This part is important.....and challenging....

It's what we talk about quite a bit in the kingdom but what find hard to implement.

You've heard me nod to this on Sunday mornings. I trust that you are catching this part of our vision.

We are all busy. Hyperbusy and most of the time overcomitted.

Between jobs, church, family, soccer practice, piano, ballet, etc, etc, we are really busy.

How can we minister effectively in our fast paced culture?

Are we in the church really doing everybody a favor by adding on one more thing to the docket?

One more ministry? Have we taken into consideration that maybe, just maybe, people have a full plate as it is?

But it's more than being less busy ("simple church" is not "lazy church"), it's being busy doing the right things. How can you and I build relationships, if I am always "doing" something at the church?

How can you and I have a cup of coffee and talk about the real issues that you are dealing with if we are running from one committee meeting to another? One ministry practice to another?

Here's the deal: we must adjust our ministries to this reality.

So, we must ask ourselves. What is in "competition" with our desire to A. Come on Sunday mornings. B. Participate in a life group. C. Serve in a ministry?

What is "good" in our church that is keeping us from being the "best" we can be.

I can see you nodding now, but what if we talked about the ministry that you are participating in and hold dear to your heart?

It's hard. I know that.

From Sunday School classes, choirs, special midweek children's programs, Saturday morning prayer meetings, to women and men's events, there is a hosts of competitive programs, all begging for workers and attendance from our church family.

The hard part is that they are all great ministries in and of themselves.

But when you put them all together, it brings forth a pie of busyness and lack of intimacy in relationships in the body of Christ.

I can serve in a ministry and become connected with people in that ministry and never get to know those around me on a Sunday morning. Instead of my ministry being a piece of the pie (I'm getting hungry talking about pie so much) it becomes the whole pie, with the rest of the church on the outside.

Here's what I know: many people pick the ministry they enjoy the most, not the ministry they need the most.

We must simplify our process and go back to doing one or two or three things and doing them well.

This coming year (September 2009 - May 2010) will be one more year of transition.

How long will the transition take to go from a busy church to a "simple" church?

There is no easy answer, outside of "as long as possible", at a pace that is led by the Holy Spirit and guards the unity of our church.

I encourage all of our ministry leaders to really give some conversational energy with God as to this question: "Is what I am doing adding to the vision and mission of our church?" Or is it adding on one more thing to keep the church busy?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Stick Church part trois

Why do some life groups jell and some don't? The answer isn't found in a specific format, procedure or administrative structure.

It is found in the process.

It's all about people relating with people.

To be an effective group, the group needs to be the right size.

When it comes to small groups, size matters.

If a group is too small, it has a hard time surviving. It it is too large, it has a tough time remaining sticky.

What is the right size?

It depends upon people's comfort zones.

Larry Osborne writes, "A group needs to be small enough that everyone has a chance to contribute, but large enough that no one feels forced to speak up or share more than they want to."

When it comes to small groups, the right people matter.

I have caught myself thinking, if not saying, that if any group of Christians get together, they ought to be able to jell because we are all one in Christ.

But that simply doesn't play out in real life.

Deep relationships are built on strong commonality.

Friendships can be deepened by those who are new to one another in relationship (I have experienced that) - but the basis of that is some kind of common interests, values or experiences (i.e. married couples, singles, single again, married couples with children, etc.)

My only concern is that life groups based around common interests further promote the cliquishness that we sometimes see in church life.

Here's a question. Do we assign or arrange our groups around neighborhoods or cities where people live or do we assign or arrange them around shared interests or a common station in life.

I would venture to say that the answer can be both. However, in might be that shared interests life groups would be the most effective.

I would like to see us reach the point where we have "shared interests" groups in each area of the Southwest side of Chicago that we are trying to reach. That way both ideals would be achieved.

Any thoughts?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Sticky Church - part deux

Let's continue our thoughts from the book "Sticky church" by Larry Osborne.

He asks, "why do lots of front-door churches start out fast and then suddenly stall out?"

I agree with his statement that, "as long as the front door remains larger than the back door, any church will appear to be growing. But sooner or alter the front door can't get any larger; either the budget or the skill set runs thin."

So what happens then?

Hopefully, the leadership team beings to take a hard look at what they are doing, and how and why the church stopped growing.

Finally (and hopefully) they will come to the realization that the back door was always large - that as long as more people were coming in the front than going out the back - no pays much attention to it.

Don't you think that this is the reason why some churches "stall out" at 400 in attendance, and then at 800 or even at 1200?

Some might even grow in small spurts, but then that growth is followed by another small decline - like a slow lead in a tire. You pump it up and figure you are ready to go, only to come back in a few days and find it flat again.

So the question becomes, how do we close the back door?

Again, through life, lot's of churches have small groups. But, if the truth be known, most churches use them as an add-on to their existing ministries, rather than a churchwide priority.

We desire to transition from a Sunday morning church that does small groups on the side, to a church of small groups that meet once a week on a Sunday morning to celebrate what God has done in our midst throughout the week.

Let me suggest to you one way that we can disciple new Christians in our church. One way might be to have your small group "sermon based" in that your group discusses the notes from the sermon given either that day or the week before. This allows new Christians (or everyone for that matter) to digest the sermon in a deeper way - and here's the key - to learn how to apply it to their lives.

It also gives continuity to the teachings and discussions taking place in life groups themselves.

Tomorrow we will look at why some groups jell and some groups don't.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

sticky church

I am reading a book entitled, "Sticky Church" by Larry Osborne.

Interesting stuff.

His thesis is that we give a lot of energy to seeking out ways of bringing people into the church. But how much time to we give to keeping them there?

He writes, "many of our churches seem more like Teflon than Velcro."

Are we a sticky church?

I agree with him that if the back door of our church is left wide open, it doesn't matter how many people are coaxed into coming in the front door - or the side door for that matter.

I also agree that we at Stone Church need to be "stickier."

Every church does.

Stickier churches are healthier churches. Why? Because they not only draw people to Christ - they lead them to maturity.

Isn't that what Jesus called us to do?

In Matthew 28, Jesus didn't say go into all the world and draw big crowds and see how many people we can sign up. He told us to make disciples.

That takes time. A lot of energy.

I can't tell you how many people I have met over the past almost two years at Stone Church (hard to believe) who have mentioned to either Debbie or I, "We used to go to Stone Church."

I was on the table, about ready to get my colonoscopy, when the nurse said to me, "you're the pastor at Stone church? I used to go there."

(I can hear you now, you're saying, that's "too much information).

What is the one way that we can get people to stick?

Here is comes. You have been hearing a lot about it recently. It's part of our three fold challenge to our congregation.

Small groups. Life groups.

We slam the back door shut by integrating people into our life groups.


If someone comes because of some big "blow out" at the church - than in all probability those same kind of "blow outs" are what will be needed to keep them coming.

But if someone comes and experiences a life group, and sees real people, there is no "bait and switch" approach (howbeit with pure intentions) where they come and experience something at the church and the next week are disappointed by something different.

I guess what I am saying is that I am learning that connecting people to Christ must be natural and birth in the context of our every day lives, and in every day places.

The follow-up must be natural as well, inviting someone to a home for a time of food and fellowship.

And...finally, the assimilation will be, here's our word of the day, natural as well, since friendships will be established and connections will be made with real people in real settings outside the natural (couldn't help but use the word again) confines of our friendly building itself.

More to come next week.....

Wednesday, September 09, 2009


Perspective is huge in life. One person's difficulty is another person's delight.

I continually try to remember and encourage others to "not obsess about what you don't have but to be grateful for what you do have."

Friendship. Love. Unconditional love. Family. God. Eternal life. Health.

Here's a story that was sent to me today which really reinforces the idea that perspective is important.

"One day, the father of a very wealthy family took his son on a trip to the country with the express purpose of showing him how poor people live.

They spent a couple of days and nights on the farm of what would be considered a very poor family.

On their return from their trip, the father asked his son, "How was the trip?"
"It was great, Dad."

"Did you see how poor people live?" the father asked.
"Oh yeah," said the son.

"So, tell me, what did you learn from the trip?" asked the father.

The son answered:

"I saw that we have one dog and they had four.

We have a pool that reaches to the middle of our garden and they have a creek that has no end.

We have imported lanterns in our garden and they have the stars at night.

Our patio reaches to the front yard and they have the whole horizon.

We have a small piece of land to live on and they have fields that go beyond our sight.

We have servants who serve us, but they serve others.

We buy our food, but they grow theirs.

We have walls around our property to protect us, they have friends to protect them."

The boy's father was speechless.

Then his son added, "Thanks Dad for showing me how poor we are."

Isn't perspective a wonderful thing?

Makes you wonder what would happen if we all gave thanks for everything we have, instead of worrying about what we don't have.

I would suggest that we all should appreciate every single thing we have, especially our friends!

Someone once said, "Life is too short and friends are too few."

May you be blessed with friendships this day.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Thoughts from the weekend

Thoughts from the weekend:

Well, it's 5:20 on a Tuesday afternoon, and I am just now getting around to blogging about the weekend. Been busy today - trying to cram two days work into one.

Great weekend.

I studied Saturday morning, and then went to a White Sox game with Mickey, Art and Kyle from our church.

We won. Paul Konerko hit a home run that bounced off the left field foul pole. Bam. Hit it head on. I had never seen that in person before.

Sunday morning was fantastic. Another great time of worshipping God. It trust that many received their prayer language. Several stood to start a connection with Christ. Wonderful stuff.

And, of course, Debbie and I went to Grand Rapids and saw Andrew, Christie and our granddaughter, Georgia.

She is just...I am trying to find the words to describe her....she is beautiful. People are just attracted to her.

I'm happy that I will get to see her once a month for the next three months.

She brings so much joy into my life.

Never knew grandparenting could be so tremendous - and it is.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Not wanting to go to church

We all have those Sundays when we would prefer to stay home and have a cup of good coffee and read the Sunday edition of the Chicago Tribune. For me they are rare (I guess that's a wonderful thing for a pastor to say), but every so often, I'd just as soon stay home.

Yet at the same time, it generally is that one Sunday where I wanted to stay home, but came anyway (of course for me that is not a choice)and God moved not only in our service in a powerful way, but in my own heart.

I can't tell you how many times over the years that has happened.

A few times recently someone has come up to me and said, "I didn't really want to come today - but the worship and the teaching really spoke directly to my heart."

I'm not quite sure why it happens that way, but maybe it's the Holy Spirit saying to us, "just when you least expect it - I am going to move in your life."

I found this story today that describes one child's efforts in not going to church. It's a little extreme, but shows what lengths some will go to avoid coming.

"Despite the best efforts of pastors and Christian educators, many children in America still don't enjoy going to church. These kids usually reveal their discomfort through one of a few predictable habits. Some fidget in their seats; others doodle or draw; still others try to sneak in a comic book or portable video game.

But a 7-year-old boy in Plain City, Utah, recently broke the mold and attempted to avoid the ecclesiastical experience altogether. To that end, he hopped in his parents car early on Sunday morning, pulled out of the driveway, and took off down the road.

Not long after, local police began receiving complaints about an erratic driver in a white Dodge Intrepid. When deputies located the vehicle and turned on their flashers, the boy refused to pull over, instead leading police on a low-speed chase through the streets of Plain City.

Sheriff's lieutenant Matthew Bell believes there is a practical reason the boy never exceeded 40 miles per hour: "His speed was slow, but erratic," Bell said. "He would kind of scoot down lower to push on the gas, and kinda sit up on the seat more to see where he was going."

The chase finally ended when the boy pulled back into the driveway of his suburban home, hopped out of the car, and fled into the garage. Later confronted by police, he finally explained the motivation behind his unexpected joyride: it was just too hot to go to church."

I guess the lesson is (for those of you who have children) - don't leave your car keys out in the open.

But even more importantly - at that moment when you don't want to come - that's the very Sunday morning to come - and experience what God has for you in your life.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Chicago and stress

It's official according to Forbes magazine: Chicago is the country's most stressful city.

Sinking property values, high unemployment and prices, and poor environments add to the pressure felt by residents in our fair city.

Few enjoy their commute.

Do you?

Stephen Dinwiddie, M.D., a psychiatrist at the University of Chicago writes:

"I think anybody who, like I do, commutes on the Kennedy on a daily basis knows exactly what stress is," he says, of his daily home-to-work commute on Chicago's expressway that extends from the Chicago Loop to O'Hare International Airport. "It takes anywhere from 30 minutes to several centuries—at least subjectively."

The Forbes article goes on to state:

"But more pressing factors make Chicago for the second year in a row the country's most stressful city. Crowding, poor air quality, a high 11 percent unemployment rate and free-falling home values have created a cocktail of constant worry affecting many in the Windy City."

All this was confirmed today as I drove to work. A woman pulled out in front of me in an SUV going 25 miles an hour, all the while drinking a cup of coffee.

I pulled up next to her and looked over and she was smoking a cigarette in one hand, picked up her cell phone with the other hand and made a call. And then drove off.

No wonder we deal with stress here in Chicago.

Peter writes that we can "cast all of our cares and anxieties upon him (God) for He cares for us." I Peter 5:7.

Maybe some of that would be good for us today - as well as taking a few deep breaths, "breathe in, breathe out."

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Grace and Ted Kennedy

Grace. Grace. God's Grace.

I am thankful for God's grace.

I connect with God through asking forgiveness for my sins and receiving God's pardon. His forgiveness is unconditional and immediate.

I don't have to earn it. It is because of the sacrifice that Jesus made as he died on the cross that day, taking upon Himself my sins, my mistakes and failures as well as yours.

Nothing more. Nothing less. I can't add to or take away from God's grace.

It is not predicated on who I am or who my parents are or whether I am a good looking guy or not. It's not based on what I have or haven't done in life. It's all based on what Jesus did. It's only through Jesus that I can have access to God the father.

John writes in the Bible, "For God so loved you and I that he sent, gave, his one and only son, that whoever believes in him (Jesus) will have eternal life."

He writes later on, "If we confess our sins, God is faithful to forgive us for our sins and cleanse and purify us from all of our mistakes."

There has been a lot made of the letter that the late Senator Edward M Kennedy wrote to His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI. In the graveside interment ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, retired Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick used the brief rite as an opportunity to read much of the contents of the letter:

"Most Holy Father, I asked President Obama to personally hand deliver this letter to you. As a man of deep faith himself, he understands how important my Roman Catholic faith is to me, and I am deeply grateful to him.

I hope this letter finds you in good health. I pray that you have all of God’s blessings as you lead our Church and inspire our world during these challenging times.

I am writing with deep humility to ask that you pray for me as my own health declines. I was diagnosed with brain cancer more than a year ago, and, although I continue treatment, the disease is taking its toll on me. I am 77 years old and preparing for the next passage of life.

I have been blessed to be a part of a wonderful family, and both of my parents, particularly my mother, kept our Catholic faith at the center of our lives. That gift of faith has sustained, nurtured and provided solace to me in the darkest hours. I know that I have been an imperfect human being, but with the help of my faith, I have tried to right my path.

I want you to know, Your Holiness, that in my nearly 50 years of elective office, I have done my best to champion the rights of the poor and open doors of economic opportunity. I’ve worked to welcome the immigrant, fight discrimination and expand access to health care and education. I have opposed the death penalty and fought to end war. Those are the issues that have motivated me and been the focus of my work as a United States Senator.

I also want you to know that even though I am ill, I am committed to do everything I can to achieve access to health care for everyone in my country. This has been the political cause of my life. I believe in a conscience protection for Catholics in the health care field and will continue to advocate for it as my colleagues in the Senate and I work to develop an overall national health policy that guarantees health care for everyone.

I have always tried to be a faithful Catholic, Your Holiness, and though I have fallen short through human failings, I have never failed to believe and respect the fundamental teachings. I continue to pray for God’s blessings on you and our Church and would be most thankful for your prayers for me."

I'm not writing to bang on the writings of a dying man. Nor am I wanting to take on the theology of the Catholic Church. But I am saying that, again, my relationship with the Father, with Jesus Christ His Son, and with the Holy Spirit is based on the cross. I ask for forgiveness, acknowledge my sins, God forgives. I experience eternal life.

Would you like to do that today?

I encourage you to pray this prayer:

"I know that I am a sinner and need Your forgiveness. I believe that you died for my sins. I want to turn from my sins. I now invite You to come into my heart and life. I want to trust You a Savior and follow You as Lord. Amen."