Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Sixty-Six Reasons People are Leaving the Church! (this is going to be good;)

Sixty-six reasons people are leaving the church today…kind of catchy isn’t it. Do I have sixty-six reasons to write down…maybe, but my ADD would kick in way before I could get to ten so let me just confess to you that I am trying to ride the wave of popularity right now. Yep…I am going to throw my hat into the ring as an expert on why people…young…old…black…white…you know, people, are leaving the Church. First off, the people leaving are obviously not Calvinist because they would know they are pre-destined to be in church…well, maybe they are pre-destined to leave. Oh, this gives me a headache. Let me start over. I am a persistent checker of all things Facebook, which may be my biggest problem, or at least does not help. I would say on the average I will see one or two posts a day where someone is posting an article on why people are leaving the church…or not worshipping…or why men hate it…or why women hate it. You get the point. The Church is a mess. I get it. I think I can help out here a little bit…not a lot but I think I have some deep insight into the problem with the church. I know who to blame here, who has screwed it up. Could it be the “seeker sensitive” church? Or the crazy “charismatics”? Maybe the traditional churches with their hymns and liturgy? The ones where the sermons are too long…or maybe where they are too short? Where they preach the real word of God, the Bible…or the guys who are nicer and use the Message? 

Listen can I take a short cut here and just get it out in the open? The real reason people are leaving the church…well other than they are spoiled? The problem with the church: People. Yep, that is it. The church is full of people…if we can clear them all out the church will be a much better place. Think about it. If you have left the building it is because of a person…someone did not preach good enough, no real fellowship, the music was too loud or they sang it in too high of a key. No one said hello to me or too many people said hello, some fellow human failed you. Most likely it was the Pastor…he let you down. 

So that leads me to the second problem: it is run by people, kind of similar to the first I suppose. Pastors, Reverends, Priests, Ministers, whatever you call them are first and foremost…people…human beings. I am going to blow the cover off a deep, hidden secret…we are not special because we are Pastors. Now I know this will offend some of the people in this group but get over it…you are human. Sure the church is messed up…God left it in the hands of people. I am pretty sure I am the number one reason people leave our fellowship…I could give you a litany of reasons but for my sanity I won’t. As I see it God is not the problem…so it has to be us…people…and pastors are a big part of it. If only when a person said yes to being a pastor the Spirit would swoop in and do a total make over. We could be Billy Graham, Andy Stanley, T.D Jakes, Joel Osteen all rolled into one. We would have all of John  Maxwell’s leadership principles memorized and worked out, we could walk on water if need be and turn water into wine for communion. If only…He doesn’t. So let’s quit beating around the bush on why people are leaving…just come out and say it…people are leaving because of…people…humans in leadership has to be a problem. There…it is out in the open…maybe now we can see the end of the seven reason why articles. The elephant in the room has been revealed. 

As a pastor I take this seriously and personally. I spent the first half of my life as a Jesus follower not as a pastor but as a participant. We served wherever needed. Later in life I responded to the call or maybe I just filled a need but I became a pastor. Funny thing is, I never wanted to be one…that was never a goal. And even funnier, God did not “fix” me when I said yes, He took me as I was. I surely was not perfect. There were much better prospects out there besides me…and we have to know that is how it is in every church. Every leader is just human…not super-human…human. With cracks and flaws. I think then as we try to make up for our flaws, if we are not careful our role becomes more important than God’s role. We are not the head of the Church, Jesus is. I am not that important…He is. When I read criticism of the Church, I do take it personal and I am offended when we try to fix it with new gadgets and ideas. The Church belongs to Jesus…it is His. I think maybe we should give it back. I think when I read the criticisms they reek of our selfishness and if we could stop for a moment and remember the Head we might see our criticism is pointed towards Him. I love the line, “I love Jesus just not the Church.” Tell me…how does that work? I try to imagine me going to Barb and saying, “ I really love your head, but the rest of you is not so good.” After I picked myself back up off the floor I could try to explain myself…or just see the idiocy of the comment. So you can take the Head…just leave the body flop around on the ground. Sounds weird to me. “If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. (now that is not very kind John) For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.” 
1Jn.4:20  I will get accused of taking this out of context but read it again…John is writing to the Church…he is taking away your/our right to say, “I love Jesus just not the church.”  Let me close with the words from a modern poet.

“I never understood why going to church made you a hypocrite. Because nobody goes to church because they are perfect. If you’ve got it all together, you don’t need to go. You can go jogging with all the other perfect people on Sunday morning. Every time you go to church you’re confessing again to yourself, to your family, to the people you pass on the way there, to the people who greet you there, that you don’t have it all together. And that you need their support. You need their direction. You need some accountability. You need some help.” - Rich Mullins    

Obviously I have about sixty-four more reasons to point out…so maybe I will re-visit this subject again. But let me ask some of you a favor…especially if you are one who has posted the famous “Seven reason why” posts…re-post this. Maybe Charisma News will notice…or Christianity today. This could be my be break…and if you will not re-post this…then stop posting the others. It really does not help.


Friday, December 12, 2014

Ian teaches on leadership

A while back my grandson Ian and I wrote stories together about our adventures. He would take them in to have his grade school teachers read and we got great reviews;) I am going to share a few of them on my blog and work them into some leadership thoughts. Here goes!

A long, long time ago there was a man called Papa…well that is what his grandson, Ian called him. Ian and his mom lived with Papa and grandma for a while and there was a special bond between grandpa and grandson. Now there is a special bond with all grandkids and grandparents but, I have to admit, a little more when they are under your feet, I mean roof. I am Papa…and I want to talk a little about our story…Ian and me. See we did lots of stuff together, vacations and mowing the grass and even writing some stories. I wish we had written more…see when you have a little boy or girl they do not stay little for long. They grow up and move to bigger and better things. Oh, I see him a lot but it is different…he is getting older. But we have great stories. Stories of snake catching (Ian not me), rafting down a river, fishing for flounder late at night. Lots of stories. I am sure I taught Ian a lot of things but he taught me a lot also. 

Let me tell you about the fishing for flounder night…in Papa’s eyes an awful night…in Ian’s…an adventure. 
One evening, in North Carolina, everyone was sitting around doing very little when all of the sudden Chris brought his big, flat boat up to the dock. He said he was going fishing for flounder and wanted to know if anyone wanted to go. Of course Ian said yes and grandma said she did but Papa, well I said no thanks. As I looked out towards the boat I saw Grandma coming back.  “Aren’t you going out on the boat?” I asked. “No,” she said, “ they are going to be out way too late for me.” Well, I could see Ian still wanted to go so I grudgingly headed out to the boat. Uncle Butch and John were going and Ian was already in the boat so I thought I better go so I could be with Ian.Now looking for flounder is kind of a slow thing to do and takes a lot of patience. You go out at night in a boat with these big, bright lights that shine in the water. Flounders lay on the bottom and if you spot one you take this long spear they call a gig and you plunge it into the water and try to spear the fish. We had to point the boat towards the shore and then just drift along the shoreline with the lights shining in the water. Chris would shut the boat motor off and then start a generator on the boat to send electricity to the lights. The generator was loud and the heat from the motor was blowing right on me. Butch, John and Chris were pushing the boat along the shoreline with their long poles. Ian was up front watching everything going on. They saw crabs, cans, cups, bottles, and some fish but no flounder. John speared cups and cans but no fish. Ian then came back to where Papa was and laid down and fell asleep. The heat and the roar from the motor put him to sleep. He slept and slept. My back ached, I could not move, the hot air off the generator was blowing right on me. Finally we headed back with no fish. Hallelujah! Next, I had to carry Ian out of the boat, up the steps and into the bedroom with grandma and great-grandma. Grandma asked me how it went. I said it was awful. It was hot and it was noisy. It was boring and I never want to do it again! I was kind of cranky that she had tricked me into going. I left the room and grandma asked Ian what he thought. Ian sat up and said it was awesome. He saw crabs and he saw fish and he saw cans and bottles and he saw a stingray. It was so much fun! He loved it! It was a big adventure and in his eyes it was an amazing trip.  Great-grandma and grandma laughed and laughed. It was as if Ian and I had been on two different trips but they had been on the same one…the same boat! Ian saw it through the eyes of a young adventurer and I saw it through the eyes of a bored adult. I wished I could see through Ian’s eyes because those are the same kind of eyes God Himself has. We all need to see this wonderful world through the eyes of a child filled with wonder. Jesus said we are to come as little children…and I think he means like Ian…eyes filled with wonder and awe. Filled with innocence and joy. I learned so much from being with Ian. 

That story right there is filled with patience, wonder and awe. I find as I move along in life, wonder and awe can be taken from you so easily. We take the beautiful sunrises for granted or the colors of the trees in Fall. We see through eyes that have been trained not to trust anything or anyone. Loss of innocence. That is what being with Ian helped me hang on to I think…innocence…child like trust. 

Leaders tend to lose their innocence pretty quickly I think…if we are not careful the disappointments of this world make us skeptics. We become cynical and view things through a dark colored lens. Hanging out with kids helps me to lose some of my cynicism…I remember the movie “50 First Dates” where everyday the girl woke up not remembering anything from her past. It was frustrating for the boyfriend  but think about not having to unpack all the things we have been through to see the world the way Ian did…it was a blast. Why? His lens was not corrupted…I think a leader has to fight to keep our lenses clean of the past to enjoy each day for its own. Thanks Ian! I will never forget that trip…though I have tried;) 


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Friends Matter

Well…it has been quite awhile hasn’t it? While I think things are going quite well since my parents passing it is also obvious there is still some more of the journey ahead. Anyway Barb and I just finished a 3500 mile ride to the Florida Keys and back, with stops in Charleston and the Outer Banks and more with some great friends. To be honest I wondered how I would physically fair on such a ride since I had never attempted anything that long before. We had done rides that were 250 to 350  miles in a day before and by the end it was kind of hard getting on and off the bike. We had a great time! My bike is 12 years old so I wondered how it would do…it did fine…used lots of gas towing a trailer behind it but it was cool. Our guide, Ray, did a nice job keeping the days manageable and yet making nice progress. 

There were four of us riding down together from Kentucky and this made it enjoyable and challenging. We had some interesting moments as one bike would lose power going up large hills in Kentucky. Doing 75 or 80 and then all of the sudden he drops back a ways…then as we slow down to wait he would blast past us once he got it going again. (yes I did say 80 mph…our leaders idea…not mine;) Then…we hit Atlanta…at rush hour…I do not know why they call it rush hour when the traffic comes to complete halt. It was warm…very warm and one of the bikes clutch began to overheat so we pulled over in a divide in the highway…and sat and waited for the clutch to cool down. Now here is where I began to think about a few things. I know the guy whose bike it was begins to feel bad because he is holding us up…but not really…the traffic was crawling! But you do feel the pressure of being the guy whose holding things up. In this time as we waited for the bike to cool off we worked on another plan to get out of Dodge, I mean Atlanta. Danny, (I might as well use names here) took the lead with his trusty GPS and led us away from the traffic.

It was a moment when you realized you needed to slow down or even stop so you could come up with a better plan…to adjust and find a new way. I think life is like this…moments when it seems like we are going nowhere may be the times where we can make more progress by re-thinking our situation. And the guy who felt like it was his fault for us stopping then leads us through an unknown city to a better place. Maybe he was not holding us up but helping us reboot the system and move forward. 

So we moved along…until Ray’s trailer began swaying wildly on the highway. We all pulled over and discovered he had a flat tire. Not good when you only have two to begin with and you do not get to carry a spare on a motorcycle. We put some air in the tire and limped to the next exit. Joe had a repair kit so we looked and found the nail and did a quick repair. I found it so comforting to not be alone on this journey. How would you react to this on your own? Ray did not even know the tire was flat…Danny got his attention. Someone else looking out for you on the road…someone else to notice you have a situation going on you were not aware of. So many want to travel this journey of life alone…not to be bothered by others. Sure where you travel with friends sometimes their breakdowns becomes your breakdowns. Their emergency stops demand you stop also…but sometimes you are the one who needs to be surrounded by others who care enough to stop with you. Even if they cannot fix it, which it ended up we could not do with Ray’s tire, you are not alone as you ponder the next step. I found it refreshing that even in the breakdowns along the way there was much laughter as well as care. 

At one point I became the guy holding things up…I ran out of gas. Sigh…a half mile from a gas station…two miles from our destination that night. After a long day of riding in hot weather I run out of gas…not smart. No one said much. Ray stayed with me as Joe, Janice and Danny went ahead to the gas station. They come back with a brand new, red gas can and a gallon of gas for my bike. Of course they bungeed the red can to the back of my bike so I could be reminded of my mistake. But again much laughter and much help….traveling together…with friends. In my time of need they came through for me…no judging….a lot of teasing….my wife did have to post on Facebook my dilemma. She was hungry and I was holding up dinner:) 

I always come away from our rides feeling much wiser and much more connected. I cannot imagine not having these rides to look forward to…the conversations…the laughter…the tears. All part of the package…I tend to want to be alone…to not bother anyone and maybe even not to be bothered. In this journey we are on following Jesus…we are a body…connected by our hearts to one another. Some look at the Church like it is “the” problem…its’ leaders also. I see the Church as something miraculous that only God could have imagined…and I see so many of the leaders as people like me…broken…but being put back together by Jesus. No one is claiming perfection…only healing. Like the bikes on the trip…I can over heat…be flat…run out of gas…but as long as I am traveling in a group…I can get back on the road again. The longer I journey with Jesus the more I realize I am desperate for Him…and need His Body to walk with. As a leader I don’t think we are called to walk alone or to have all the answers. I think as a leader you have to know who you are…and who your friends are…and let them speak into your blind spots…and be a source of comfort when you need comfort.       

As John said in his gospel…there are many more stories that could be told but not enough room in one blog. He did say something like that right? 


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Thoughts while living in a fog

A friend suggested I write about my journey in life since mom and dad’s passing. I tried…did not go so well. I think it may have helped me some, but nothing I felt was readable. I came to realize it is hard to write…think…lead when you are in a fog. Mentally. That is what it felt like…a thick fog. The kind that if you were driving your car you would feel like you might need to pull over and stop…but where? You cannot stop in the middle of the highway and you are not sure what it looks like on the side of the road. You miss the exit signs because of the fog so you keep moving along. Slowly but moving. Really wanting to get off the highway for a moment…but cannot find your way off. 

Then there is the tired feeling…being exhausted…and yet you still keep moving. Sometimes the tiredness was almost physically painful…you felt like it hurt to move…so you don’t…can anyone say “couch potato”? And we don’t even watch TV! But there was an overwhelming desire…to not move. You live in a fog and you are exhausted. A great combination…especially for a leader to have. Follow me! Where? I am not sure…the fog is thick. Follow me! Where…you are not even moving. Well, it should be easy to keep up then. Soon I will move…soon.

The guilt you end up feeling when you know you are supposed to be leading others and you cannot find strength to lead yourself is off the charts. Romans seven takes new life during this time…what I want to do I don’t do…and what I don’t want to do…that is what I do. I think pastors suffer guilt in an area like this more than other leaders…but everyone goes through similar things…I am  not trying to say mine is worse than yours…just different. If I was leading a business the fog and exhaustion would still have been real…and I would have had to go to work every day. I know. I think as a spiritual leader it becomes difficult when you think everyone is depending on you to be there and to be strong. 

During this time we had at least one family leave our fellowship…people do leave. They did not talk with us but through to the grapevine we heard they did not like the “new direction” the church was going in. I must admit it caught me off guard…I did not even think we were moving and now I find out we have changed direction. Maybe in the fog we were moving. I did not think so. Sooo they leave…and no matter how you cut it…I take the blame. It must be me…what else could it be? This is the struggle…should I have pulled off the road…taken some time away…to be able to let the fog lift? Would that have made a difference? The life of a regular guy…in leadership. 

The strange thing is I thought I was prepared for my parents dying. Really, I did. Mom had been kind of gone for over three years and my dad, the strongest guy I have ever known, was slipping away pretty quickly. I wrote about how they died, dad passing away pretty quickly and then when mom found out he was gone she died within twenty four hours, some of her last words being, “I’m coming dad, I’m coming.” Gone. One week end and both parents gone…I do think the trauma of it all was deeper than I thought at first. Getting the news mom was gone while at my dad’s showing was strange and difficult for sure. Watching my daughter in agony over losing her best friend and not being there with her was awful…and my sister. Awful. Kind of wanted to get angry with mom….really mom…you could not wait another couple of days? But she couldn’t…and I don’t blame her. 

Anyway I thought I was prepared…not so much. Well, I was and I was not…who could be really? So the fog settles in…and you go through the holidays, your first holiday season without your parents. Emotions all over the map. I was able to step back from preaching at the church. Other leaders stepped up and helped out. Then we move into the New Year…and into one of the worst winters on record. Snow…cold…really cold…lots of snow…every Saturday and Sunday. For many this means nothing…for a pastor it means a lot. I would get calls, texts and e mails, “Are we having church?” It had not even began snowing yet…do we or don’t we? Should we or shouldn’t we? We did. But this all added to the fog…thinking about attendance…finances…etc. Dark cloudy days…so cold you did not want to go outside anyway…even if you were not in a fog and tired. 

One of the things that really helped get me through these dark days was definitely God inspired. We begin the New Year as a church family on a 21 day fast, just focusing in the Lord. During this time we send out daily devotions that, in the past, I and a team of writers would contribute writings to be sent out in e-mail form. This year I felt like the Lord wanted me to do the writing and I was not really sure why. We have some very talented people. Now I see it was as much to encourage me as it was to lead the people. At the end of the 21 days I kept writing, short, simple devotions built on God’s word. I did cut it down to five days a week not writing on the week ends. It has had a two fold effect. One it has kept me in a devotional state of mind…each morning, me sitting with the scriptures seeking out what the Spirit is wanting to say…to me…to others. Most are really sparse. I felt like this was not a teaching time, a time to make a point theologically, but a time for connection. With God. So it has kept me connected deeply and quietly when I felt like I could not see two inches in front of my face. So even on Sundays I could speak out of an overflow of my heart not a deficit. Not re-hashing old messages just to get by. 

The second effect is that even in my foggy state of mind I could still pastor my friends. I could share my devotions with others…and let them in on this journey with me. I know everyone does not get the e-mails or even if they do will read them but many do. I get feedback that lets me know they are connecting…even from people who are not part of this body but have visited or see them on Facebook. God moves in mysterious ways…and by this simple discipline of writing a devotion the fog has begun to lift. I have my prayer people praying for me…I have family support…and I know God still moves in and around me. Nice. Without this writing I would have slipped into a deeper depression I think…I would have lost my early morning time with God. I would have. But instead of me trying harder God moved closer…much better. I could come get a drink and then share it with friends. It has been a good thing…a real good thing.

You know, as a pastor in a fog, no one hits a pause button on life…saying we will wait for you to get out of the fog before we tell you the wheels have come off our marriage. Or we are moving…or leaving…not you it is us. People don’t stop having hard things happen to them…family members dying…losing jobs…getting sick. Life still happens. No one says, “ I bet Bill is still struggling with grief…maybe that is why we seem to be moving in a new direction.” Nope…just good bye…well not even that. Just gone in 60 seconds. I know people leave the church…every day…I can tell myself that. Does not help much. 

If this sounds like I am feeling sorry for myself, I am not really. I can introduce you to many friends who have had much harder things than this happen to them. Much harder. It is not that. I just want to say I think, well I know, the fog is lifting. It does lift. It tries to come back but it cannot stay as long as it would like. Energy comes back too, though I have never been an over energized person anyway;) 

I am coming out of the fog and I know when I do come out I will be a different person, pastor. I love it where Jesus says, “The Father is always working.” He is always working…on me and you. He is not working in me because He is disappointed in me or I am such a mess He is embarrassed by me. He works in me because He loves me…deeply. One last thought and i know this is much longer than I like to write. Worship. Worship helped me along the way. To be able to worship with friends on Sunday was life giving. God met me over and over again in worship. The fog lifted as I worshipped. It might come back…not during worship. It may have been selfish of me at times but I would let worship go on and on because I could be in His presence again. Like in the mornings but different. I think because many of my friends were there with me…and it was safe. 

Anyway there some thoughts form a regular guy… 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

wisdom, courage and kindness...word for today's leaders

The National Director (not a real fancy title is it?) of our Association of churches delivered a message to the leaders of the Vineyard a few weeks back in St. Louis. Barb and I heard the message again in Sunbury, Ohio at a conference there.  As we listened to the message it became obvious this was a very timely, prophetic word to the Church...not just our Vineyard tribe but even the larger Church needs to hear it. 

Some background material, Phil Strout, the National guy, told us that the Lord had given him three prayers to pray in his life. The first one he prayed for about eleven years and the next one twenty plus. As He and his wife assumed the national role the Lord woke him up and said he had another prayer for him to pray. The Spirit told him he would need to pray for three things in this next season of life. That sounded fair enough and he asked the Lord what that would be. The Lord said he would need to pray for wisdom, courage and kindness as he moved forward. I know as you first read these words we might say, “Of course we need to pray for that...well the kindness thing seems a little out of place. But wisdom...courage sure.” But that is the beauty and wisdom of the whole message. Wisdom but no courage or even courage but not wisdom really does not make much of an impact...especially for a leader. Then kindness wraps it up in a package that communicates the Lord’s message so well. Who is not tired of angry faces and words depicting who the church is?

Sure, in Phil’s role as a national leader this makes sense but I think it is an important word for any level leader today. We are seeing whole denominations bow to the culture...exchange the truth for a lie. Calling evil good and good evil. Leaders by the hundreds are taking non-biblical stances to appease those around us, as if that would win them over. Wisdom, courage and kindness is exactly what will be needed to journey in and communicate with a culture that is bent on defying God and His way of life. I know of leaders in our own tribe caving to the pressure thinking it is the kind thing to do, to be accepting and affirming. Paul says, “God’s kindness leads us to repentance.” not acceptance. 

Phil referenced Joshua 3:1-5 as he talked about all the Lord had showed him. One thing to point out, this was not a light hearted word the Lord delivered to Phil. He laughs some now but as he received it it was heavy word that he did not share with Jan for a few months. Joshua three is when the children of Israel are preparing to enter the promise land and the Lord gives Joshua some directions on how to go. The priests and the Levites would lead carrying the ark of the covenant, which is the Lord’s presence. He told Joshua to stay back a little to keep an eye on the ark to know where to go. Verse 4 says, “Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before.” The key message...Phil, you have never been this way before. Key message to the Church...Church you have never been this way before. What would we need to go, to lead, in a place we have never been before? Wisdom, courage, and kindness. 

In Joshua one the Lord tells Joshua to be strong and courageous, then he amps it up a bit and says to be strong and “very” courageous. That makes you pause a moment doesn’t it? But Joshua also had this promise from the Lord, “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you or forsake you.” Josh.1:5  You really have to know the faithfulness of this God we have been called to follow...to be able to lead others in their journey with God. Courage...not heroism or bravery...courage. John Wayne, that great theologian, said, “Courage is being scared to death, but still saddling up.” (OK i am not sure this fits or not but I liked it!) Maybe courage is just knowing Who has your back...or Who is out in front. I suspect as a pastor it is knowing Whose Church it really is. Whose word it really is. Who stands behind it all. This is not a time for the Church to bow to culture like it is cultures lap dog! (Phil said this too...I like it.) I am not advocating picking a fight...I am saying let’s trust Jesus when He said the gates of Hell would not prevail against His church. Let God be true and every man a liar…in Joshua 1 as God is giving Josh instructions His main message was “stay true to the word.” “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night.” Josh.1:8  I am sorry, well not really, but this is what I see so many doing…leaving behind the words of God to make culture happy.

for wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her. Prov.8:11 Wisdom is a precious gift to the church...James says to ask for it...Paul says Jesus has become our wisdom...Proverbs is all over wisdom. I think at times operating with wisdom would mean asking better questions and listening more intently. I find reading the Gospels inspiring when I see the questions Jesus asks at just the right time. Sometimes His questions just quiet all the commotion around Him...shuts down His accusers. Sometimes the questions lead the person to the answer they were searching for and maybe did not even know it. In the garden God calls out to Adam,”Where are you?” It was meant to bring Adam out into the light...then a series of questions happen...to help Adam see what has happened. 

Jesus asked brilliant questions...and did give wise answers. In the time and season we live in, to respond, “The Bible says.” brings derisive responses...outside the church...and in. I am not saying we back away from the scripture but we need to lean into it and know it and faithful to it. Jesus lived it from the inside out. Yes He could quote it…but He also lived it. We need to be able to communicate to a people who do not believe in the scriptures the truth of the scriptures. Proverbs 1:20,21Wisdom calls aloud in the street, she raises her voice in the public squares; at the head of the noisy streets she cries out, in the gateway of the cities she makes her speech.”  

Wisdom has a voice...makes some noise...tries to get our attention. Will we listen? We will attempt to hear? In a time when knowledge is glorified wisdom is needed. I have watched attempts by many to use tools of secularism to reach the culture. Business models and such...not all bad...until those practices take precedence over scripture. Then it goes bad. Some of my peers are now taking positions that cannot be supported by scripture...so scripture is explained away. I have to ask...if the church and its‘ leaders don’t place a high value on scripture...who will? Paul said he “became all things to all people.” and I don’t think he meant he discarded scripture to reach everyone...I think he discarded religion. 

God's kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? Rom.2:4  Kindness...not to be confused with being nice. I can remember reading a statement from John Wimber and I do not have it exact but in a time when he was getting a lot of criticism he reminded others, “Our brother is never our enemy.” To be heard and to live with wisdom and courage in this season will take the kindness of God in our words and deeds to be heard and seen. In a culture that screams at you how tolerant it is...we know it is not. When debate has been handed over to bullying it will take radical kindness to reach others. We are not conservative talk show hosts whose job is to talk over the other opinion and try to overwhelm them with our volume of words and sound. As Steve Sjogren has said...it will take a Conspiracy of Kindness.  

A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare. Prov.15:1

Folks...the prayer God gave Phil is not for him alone...it is for all of us. Whatever our role is in the Church...it is going to take wisdom, courage and kindness to be able to point people to Jesus. I cannot remember a message that has so stirred me like this one has...I hope the leaders in our tribe who heard it will pass it on...duplicate it. I know I have only given a small glimpse in...so much more to be said...and heard. 

Courage will allow us to stand in the face of a culture demanding we bow to it…wisdom will give us the questions to ask and the answers to give…kindness will allow it to be heard. When you read those verse in Joshua three as Joshua works through the crowd of people he says “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.”  Josh.3:5  Who does not want to see God do amazing things among us? Then let us lead with wisdom, courage and kindness…and see what the Lord will do among us. 

If anyone would like to hear the message in its fullness you can go on the Champaign/Urbana Vineyard website click on the tab take the best and go and then click on the one with Phil’s name in it and watch Phil deliver it in January or go on the Sunbury Vineyard website and listen to it.   


Thursday, February 13, 2014

I Am Sorry…And Then I am not!

Wow! We just got back from a conference that was a Vineyard sponsored event. Off the charts good...and I do not even like conferences...Barb makes me go! This was different. I knew much prayer and hard work had gone into this conference. There was anticipation that God would do amazing things here..power stuff...and reconciliation stuff. I knew the teams heart was to invite the Holy Spirit back to the center of the movement...not off to the side...out of the picture. He has been kind of an after thought...oh if you asked we could say He was right front and center...but really He was treated like the relative you like but knew he might offend others. Some will accuse me of longing for the “good old days” and that could be true...they were fun. I suspect it is more wanting to be a part of the “good new days.” 

 I am not after “manifestations” either...I mean I never fall down, shake or quake. I cry some...but as people of His presence I know when He is moving. I do want Him to move among us...I do think being cool is on its way out...and being real is coming back to the forefront...authentic. I have been reminded of a couple of things I heard or read John Wimber say. One was, “Can I have my Church back?” which is quite sobering. Another was, “I have seen your ministry...would you like to see mine?” Both of these statements moved John powerfully...as they would any leader...or should. I suspect for every leader this sounds and looks differently...plays out different...but they are still valid questions. 

A few months ago I wrote blog kind of calling my tribe on the carpet for drifting away from the “main and plain” of scripture. I was critical of our new leadership for what they put out as “talking points” but they were not talking points. They wrote a clarification on where we stood on the LGBT subject...and in my boldness I criticized them...and I was wrong. Really wrong. I have had friends reach out to me and tell me how they had appreciated the stance our leaders took and I had to sit back and rethink my statements..and I came to this conclusion...I was wrong. I hate being wrong...well not really hate...I am wrong enough I know what I need to do when it happens. Admit it...and apologize. I do apologize to our leaders who have worked hard to form a biblical stance on a very politically hot subject. They do so knowing they will be criticized more than thanked...accused of being unloving and legalistic...of not having the heart of Jesus on this matter. They did it...they are still doing it. So I want to take a moment and say thanks...now I know on this small blog it won’t make a huge splash...and most of them won’t even know I said it...I will. Maybe 30 or so others. 

I am sad that we are even having this kind of discussion at this early juncture of our existence. I think our National leaders feel that sadness also...why are we here? I, and this is my own thought, suspect that when we moved from being a presence driven movement to a more acceptable, calmer, brainy movement...it was only a matter of time. We had moved away from a stance of “come Holy Spirit” to one of...I better stop. I really do not want to be critical...I love my tribe...and I only want the best. 

I suspect my disappointment from the letter our leaders sent out was I was looking for a more defined statement of “those who don’t believe like this are out!” Fortunately our leaders are a bit more gracious than that...but still clear enough that we can know where we stand on this touchy subject. A friend of mine in town led his church out of the ELCA (Lutheran) denomination after the denomination decided to move away from scripture and to become more accepting. What he would tell his church family is,”The denomination changed, we did not.” I am watching a collision about to happen and my advice to the leaders who have changed their mind concerning the LGBT question, “You changed, we did not.” 

Bonhoeffer wrote this, “Do not try to make the Bible relevant. Its relevance is axiomatic. Do not defend God's word, but testify to it. Trust to the Word. It is a ship loaded to the very limits of its capacity." For the last 15 years I have heard the cry to make ourselves and the scripture relevant...I get it...but what do we sacrifice at the altar of relevance?  I was listening to Tim Keller recently on a podcast and he said this concerning the call of Jesus to us. He said, “When you run into the real Jesus and the real gospel it shocks us in two ways. It demands more than you thought and it offers more than you thought.” We live in a time where we see no demand from Jesus...we say yes...pray the prayer...live the way we want to. No demands...and so it does not offer much either.

Keller points out the story of the rich young ruler...give it all up and start over. We think well that is one story. How about Nicodemus...you must be born again...what? How could that happen? Isn’t it the same story? Give up what you think is working for you...because it is not working...and come to me. How did I get here from there? To be relevant today...we sacrifice the amazing message of Jesus and what He offers...and demands. Why do we desire to make this life safe for people? Why do we bow at the altar of relevancy or being culturally current? Shouldn’t we of all people know to Whom we bow? Are we in such a difficult time with culture that God is overwhelmed? 

I am grateful for our National Director...and I pray for him...and the board. I hope as a movement we can get back to the main and the plain of scripture. I hope we rediscover Wimber’s favorite prayer...well right after “HELP!” Come Holy Spirit...come Holy Spirit. 



Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Maybe I think too Much

I love the whole Church...I really, really do. I try not to belittle how others go about church but I know at times what I believe to be real can come through in a negative way. I despise that really...if I make a comment it is not to disparage or to discredit but to challenge, as I have been challenged. If we are not being challenged we may be in trouble because I am sure we are not doing all things perfectly. 

I was out walking the other day and I began thinking about a wedding Barb and I were attending. We met three or four couples that evening that we knew from prior church experiences and the others were people that our friends a the table knew from their prior church experiences. We were all from different charismatic type churches and we are still in that type of expression. As I thought about it was kind of odd as every couple that we connected with somehow of course the question would come up, “Where are you attending church now?” All of the couples were now in what we refer to as “seeker” churches. Most in the biggest one nearby.  A great church, growing  and expanding. But I find it so interesting that you would kind of go away from a worship setting where there is freedom and the things of the Spirit. I know they will tell me about all the people being baptized and we surely cannot over look that...but still. 

Again please do not read this as a critical essay on the seeker church...it may be more on what the charismatic churches did to to drive these folks away? First I can say this...most of the churches these folks were part of do not exist today. What we experienced back in the day was a lot of young leaders who did not know what they believed and they experimented on many of us. There were some dynamic churches and leaders, don’t get me wrong, but little theological framework for many of them to lead from. So there was a lot of strange things taught and practiced...and much good also. I suppose the bad outweighed the good in many instances. But some of these people were immersed in it and to walk away...just seems strange to me. 

As we came into a more charismatic experience, and I choose these words over “Spirit filled” because I think much of the trouble came from some elitist, divisive terminology. But as we came into the experience the object that captured me was worship...the active, intimate worship of God. I love the prophetic and the practice of all the gifts...for me they all flow from having hearts of worship...His presence...I cannot imagine leaving that behind to attend church. Now I can hear some saying we worship...and I am sure you do...even in our own Vineyard family there are groups that limit worship...time wise...experience wise. Sad. 

I do know that the more seeker church does strive for excellence, as we all should...but I cannot wrap my mind around a program driven body over a presence driven one. I guess I wrestle with “what is the Church?” Is it a Sunday meeting? A building? Is it bound to a personality? Do programs make the church? Does liturgy? I think this is my hearts burden to know “what is the Church?” Micah 6:8, “What does God require of you?” I so wish Jesus or the Father had simply said this is church...this is what I expect. He does not really, although I suspect much of what we do as Church is not really Church. I wish a dialogue could happen where we could sit down and talk about this subject...where we could get together and not defend what we do but look and see what does God require. Do we do church? Or are we the Church? Why the terms clergy and laity? 

We have taken on the task of being presence driven or steered for a lack of a better term. We want His Presence to direct where we are going and what we put our hands to...I suppose that could lead to some programs and it could also lead to stopping some programs. I suspect some of the people I met were driven away by the busyness and demands of those old churches. I do remember being in meetings a lot..lots and lots of meetings. I regret how many times I left my kids with sitters, mostly their grandparents which was a plus. But still...meeting after meeting. Then I saw the whole hierarchy kind of deal going on...titles being handed out or taken away..new titles monthly. A kind of corporate ladder to be climbed...at the cost of family and friends. That was sad for sure. Maybe I do get it. Our heart is to not keep people busy doing things in the church but to give them the freedom to be the church, on the job, in their community and, most important, in their family. 

Now I am drifting...but I do think on this a lot...who are we? Did Jesus leave us here to do a church service? Or does the Church gather to celebrate? Are our times of getting together to win the unchurched? Is every meeting evangelistic? A friend of mine nearby has a church where they are going for all the things of the Spirit God has for them and they are seeing people confess Jesus every week. Is it really either/or? Can’t it both/and? Are we looking for converts? Or disciples? Is there a difference? I understand Jesus never said to anyone bow your head and pray...but we all need a starting point I guess. I told you I had questions! Paul talks of confessing Jesus as Lord...Bonhoeffer ran with what he called the “confessing” church. 

I am not here to promote what we do or how we lead...but I will say we all need to be before God everyday seeking His face and His will. We all know we can do church without Him...that is the scary part of what we do and who we are. I remember John Wimber saying that in one encounter with the Holy Spirit he heard the Spirit say, “I have seen your ministry...would you like to see mine?” (that may not be the exact words) John replied that yes he wanted to see the Lord’s ministry. So do I. I know what I can do...it is not much...I want to see what the Lord will do. 

So, as Paul would write in 1 Corinthians about some following Apollos or Peter or Paul and some even saying they followed Jesus to the point of much division, I don’t want more division or to be seen criticizing another part of the body. I only want to be found doing what the Lord has asked me to do...and do it well. I need the liturgical Church, the emerging church, the seeker church...I need it all...so I can continue to lead where I am called. I learn from all...this is what a leader does I think...I know a follower of Jesus is like this...a student...a learner. At the end of the day don’t we all want to see Jesus ministry? His Church not ours?