Friday, September 28, 2007
It seemed like a risk to get married so suddenly, but we both felt God made us for one another. The time has amazingly flown by. If we did not have a 9 year old son (who just turned 9 last week!), I'm not sure I would believe this! She has also given me 2 other boys as pictured to the right (and a cat, the only other girl in the house).
We didn't have a honeymoon right away. I spent 2 of the first 3 weeks of our marriage on a business trip in Ireland. It was tough being apart so soon after getting hitched. We finally took our honeymoon trip in December to Australia. Seth was actually "Made in Australia." The other two came as great surprises along the way, and we stopped after Luke.
The balance is almost fair now... the 3 boys and me combined are almost as much a man as she is a woman. She is lovely, and sexy, and witty, and inventive, and caring, and creative, and nurturing, among other things. And she can cook, which proves she is also teachable (thanks, moms!). She has a smile and charm that wins everyone over, especially me. She has patience to love me unconditionally, and I am thankful she appreciates me and encourages me. She is giving and sacrificing to others, volunteering at a local women's shelter, to bring a smile to someone else's face. Every time our kids cry "Momeeeeeeeee!" I am especially thankful for her, and that they know her soft comforting hugs and love, just as I do.
I think the secret to our marriage is that we allow one another space to be ourselves. We don't so much try to change one another, as we have grown to appreciate the unique qualities and attributes God made in us, and that any individual problem or issue is not a deal-breaker.
I credit Lori with bringing me back to God. We talked about our faith when we were dating, though mine was questionable at the time. Later, we joined a church, and she encouraged me in Bible study, sharing of my journey with Christ with others, and giving. We have had many special times praying together and living through our faith challenges.
In hindsight, we probably have an improbable relationship. But by God's grace we have made it this far, and I love her more each and every day. This has been, by far, the best 10 years of my life.
Sunday, September 23, 2007
On the way home from Danville, which is mostly rural country roads, Luke asked, "Are we in the middle of somewhere?" That one was tough to answer. I think I said, "Yes, but not for long."
Today in Sunday School, Lori said they were naming animal sounds. What does a duck say? What does a dog say? Etc... When they were asked "What does a cow say?" Luke answered, "Eat mor chikin."
Today, Caleb had a "date" with a girl/friend in the neighborhood. I gave him the big lecture beforehand about being a gentleman, and using manners, etc. When Lori picked him up, the mother told her about how wonderful and nice Caleb was! Said he was much better than any other child who had visited before. As Lori was telling me this on the phone on the way home, Caleb heard the bragging about him, and promptly asked his mom, "Can I have a dollar?" (I guess he's considering an allowance again!)
Saturday, September 22, 2007
The whole strategy and foundation of Acts29 is that church planters need to be gospel-centered and preach such that everything that is said or done through and by one’s church ties back to the over-arching story of Jesus. That story is simply this: Jesus was God’s son, sent by God to live and walk among people 2000 years ago. Jesus was fully God and fully man. Yet, he suffered the punishment of death on a cross, which he did not deserve, taking our place instead, as we deserved to be there because of our own sinfulness. In return, we get eternal life and his holiness, which we did not deserve – because three days later, he arose from being dead and is alive today. It is through faith in this man & God named Jesus, not through any effort or qualities of our own, that we are redeemed and have life to the fullest, as we are now sons and daughters of God.
It is the challenge of Acts29 that every bit of everything we do as a local church point back to that storyline. Based on my understanding of church history and my own experiences, this is not new. This is how churches are supposed to have been operating all along. But this is not just a formula for success, as Acts29 expects this to really be engrained in the DNA of the people who lead and participate in the church. It’s not just that preachers preach about the gospel, but that they are humble men, who submit themselves to scripture, and live it out themselves. They even encourage pastors in this network to voluntarily establish accountability circles where they are regularly challenged to be faithful and pure in their relationship with their wives, families, and Christ. Acts29 paints a high-standard for the local church and her pastors, and that’s how it ought to be.
Mark Driscoll challenged these 200+ men who attended this conference that being a church plant pastor is going to be extremely difficult, and only those with intestinal fortitude and fervent gospel-centered leadership qualities will survive. And he’s so right. Even before the going gets tough, there will be temptations. At the conference, Driscoll talked about the typical temptations that bring down many people, regardless of vocation, such as sexual immorality, greed, addictions, or neglecting family to achieve career success. Pastors are far from immune, as there is an adversary in Satan working against them 24 x 7, and building the church seems like a higher calling than being a husband and father. (It is certainly not, Driscoll states.) Succumbing to those types of temptations typically leads to failed ministries, and often busts up marriages and families.
What I worry about for these young pastors is something perhaps as bad as a social moral fall, and that is when familiarity begins to breed contempt - when you remain in ministry, have the appearance of success, and yet somehow have distorted, compromised, avoided, or added to the gospel. I think there is a spectrum of ideology that exists in the Christian church today. In the center is the gospel as it was, is, and is meant to be - relevant, available, helpful, convicting, correcting, connecting, graceful, merciful, and loving all at once. But on the left is a concept often referred to as “watering down the gospel,” and on the right is a concept often referred to as “cultural irrelevance.”
Where church leaders think they themselves are on that spectrum will determine how they assess and compare themselves to other churches and pastors, and vice versa. The center leads to humility, the left, compromise, and the right, pride. There certainly are cases where churches water down the gospel, where they abandon conservative biblical principles in order to appease culture or church plurality, or preach a “prosperity gospel” where the listener learns how to get rich quick in the name of Jesus, or temporarily avoid the existence of the Trinity, in favor of a more widely-accepted, cross-cultural, international, United Nations-approved “God.” Likewise, there are churches where culture and the people in it are ignored unless they conform to the religious practices and traditions in the church. And where hellfire and brimstone and good works are preached, and love and mercy and grace are absent. I think both of these are the extremes, and I believe are the exception to the rule in the Christian church today. What I now believe to be mostly a waste of time is evaluating and wrongly pigeonholing other churches or pastors into either of these extreme groups based solely on reputation or out-of-context information marks.
One type of pigeonholing is this: When a person critiques a church or pastor to the left of where he or she is, it is often evidenced by surreptitiously rebuking the church or leader, sometimes while piously quoting scripture out of context. I have heard many Bible-quoting brothers and sisters automatically equate “watering down the gospel” with any and all of the following: drinking beer or wine, using secular resources in church, being "seeker-sensitive", using business principles to operate a church, serving coffee in church, having a mega-church of thousands of people, advertising, holding attractional events, not having an alter call every sermon, playing rock-style worship music, not using hymns, not having a choir, using resources from other churches or pastors, not saying “Jesus” or “sin” enough in a sermon, using resources from the Internet, not affiliating with a denomination, having church services on December 24 but not December 25, having fun in church or enjoying church in any manner (lest it be branded entertainment), preaching that is topical and not expository, preaching that only uses one verse per sermon, preaching that uses many verses per sermon from different parts of the Bible, preaching a topic that addresses a felt need of the congregation, preaching with a goal of life change (ie. transformation) over Bible knowledge transfer, not having Sunday School, having a church that is culturally “hip” or “cool,” and last but not least, playing cards. It’s as if there is a scorecard, and once you meet 3 of these criteria, you’re automatically a “cult” that “waters down the gospel.” In these cases, in the heart of the critic, the gospel has simply been enhanced with legalism. Critiques like this are often prideful, and serve only to attempt to set oneself apart from “that church” by "out-gospelizing" it.
The other type of pigeonholing, which I confess I have been guilty of, is being critical of churches to the right of the gospel that are irrelevant and inward focused, that hold to tradition and avoid change like the plague. These are churches that are potentially not on mission. It’s convenient, and probably incorrect, to automatically brand these churches as irrelevant just because they have a choir but not a praise band, play an organ, display Jesus pictures on the walls, sing from a hymnal, won’t use Powerpoint to display lyrics, dress up for church, use the King James Version, preach only expository, have a Vacation Bible School program, proclaim drinking beer or wine as sinful, belong to a denomination, hold evangelism fairs, have a steeple on the church building, have Sunday School classes, leave gospel tracts at restaurants instead of tips, or teach information from the Bible without tying it to today’s application. Again, it’s not necessarily a “3 of these and you’re guilty” scenario. There are good churches with good traditions that are reaching people and helping to transform lives in the name of Jesus. And while I don’t personally prefer some of these traits, it is true that tradition without substance can be a significant deterrent for non-believers, just as style without substance can be an inhibitor for truth, conviction, and real transformation.
Lest anyone think I am a heretic, it does disappoint me when pastors and believers miss opportunities to knock a home run in the name of Jesus. Jesus and the gospel is the distinctiveness of our faith. It is the key that unlocks doors and answers life altering questions. Jesus and the apostles spoke challenging and convicting words to people in sometimes gentle and creative ways, and sometimes pointed and unfiltered ways. We need a balance of both in our churches and relationships. We are Christ’s ambassadors here on earth. Some will do it better than others. Some will be more or less accurate and pure than others. Some will get it wrong sometimes. Some will avoid hard truths and preach only love and mercy. Some will avoid love and mercy, and preach only wrath and judgment. Neither of those alone is right, but it doesn’t mean that Christ can’t or won’t use the “fruit” of those churches. It is not our obligation to avoid being like those churches, or to tear them down in public blogs and at conferences. It is our obligation for ourselves to focus on being like Christ and our own churches to be gospel-centered churches. Jesus says in Matthew 16:18 that he will build his church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it! That is a HUGE promise. Perhaps not every product of an imperfect church will be for naught! Let’s stop spending our precious ministry time comparing ourselves and our churches to others, and compare only to the One who is incomparable. And I’m saying this not only to others, but to myself.
Mark Driscoll has said, “The benchmark of what we do is, ‘Is it faithful to scripture and fruitful for people?’ What matters is people meeting Jesus and Him changing their life.”(1) I think that hits it spot-on. Driscoll also said, “The best way to have unity – is to have a bunch of people who are repentant and humble.” That is my prayer for all pastors and believers, not just those at the Acts29 conference. Let’s develop ministries that are faithful to scripture and fruitful for people, and be people who are repentant and humble. That’s the center.
1. Mars Hill Church Sermon Audio, 1 Corinthians 1:10-17, Jan 22, 2006
Thursday, September 20, 2007
The speakers at this conference were several Acts29 network pastors, including Scott Thomas, Chan Kilgore, Daniel Montgomery and our local pastor, Tyler Jones. Additionally, we had the Acts29 founder and church plant hero second only to Jesus, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Mark Driscoll (pictured), as well as renowned missionality author and LifeWay staff member, Ed Stetzer.
One distinctive of this conference is that I probably heard the words "Jesus" and "gospel" more times in the last 2 days, than in my prior 42 years combined. It was a good thing, and I will blog more about that later. I've walked out of other conferences fired up and energized. From this one, I walked out stirred up and mesmerized.
In this post, I am just going to include some funny and/or clever comments I heard today from Driscoll and Stetzer...
- Mark Driscoll (MD): I am a functional charismatic with a seatbelt
- MD: Elder should be able to teach and connect everything to Jesus.
- MD: Elder likes his bible - that's his default source for answering questions
- MD: pastor should not touch the church secretary or church money
- MD: discouraged use of website sermons - should study bible until it convicts you, and then preach out of your own experiences - this will show church body that YOU too have applied the scripture to yourself.
- MD: preach not for information, but transformation
- MD: church planters are not wusses
- MD: church planters are farmers who yell at the dirt "GROW!" (2 Tim 2:6 The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops.)
- MD: key characters of church planter: patience & humility
- Ed Stetzer (ES): Churches should be biblically faithful, culturally relevant, countercultural communities
- ES: churches should be "seeker-comprehensive" because sometimes the gospel is not "sensitive"
- ES: preaching against culture is like preaching against a house - it's where you live - it has sin and it has righteousness
- ES: if a pastor rejects (or does not embrace) accountability, it is a mark of immaturity, not leadership
- MD: First things a young pastor should do: 1. get a wife 2. read the bible 3. sleep with wife 4. get her to read the bible.
- MD: key attributes of a church plant core group: leaders, servants, givers, gatherers. Don't plant a church with needy people such that they consume the church's resources (like all the pastor's time, for counselling)... they need to be leaders, servants, givers, and gatherers.
- MD: roles of a pastor in priority order... Christian first, then husband, then father, then pastor.
- MD or ED (can't remember which): every sermon needs to include some tie to the over-arching theme of the gospel... the gospel is the storyline of the bible
Monday, September 17, 2007
Caleb is my middle son, and is full of personality. He's the one in front in the beach picture. He's 6 and is not easily bribed. I have been offering him an allowance for over a year, but he never wants it. I have previously thought that he just didn't understand capitalism. Recently, we were at a store where Seth (behind Caleb at beach) was spending the allowance he had saved, and was buying things he wanted. Caleb wanted something too, but I told him that he didn't have any money. I asked him again if he wanted to receive an allowance like Seth. He agreed that time. So as we were driving home, he asked, "Dad, when do I start getting my allowance?" I said, "Well, the first thing you have to know is that in order to get your allowance every week, you are going to have to mind your mann-" Caleb interrupted, "That's OK," sensing the strings attached. In other words.... "Nevermind." To this day, he still doesn't receive an allowance. I have to give him some credit for not selling out to the man.
Tonight as I was putting Luke (photo of Luke eating taken by Caleb) to bed, he asked, "Did Jesus make everything?" "Yes," I said, and so I started to read the first few verses from Genesis 1 - as much as I could see from the ambiance of a night light and no reading glasses. A moment later he asked, "What does Jesus do when..." (and I'm thinking this is going to be a huge theological question) "... when I fall on the sidewalk?" "I figure he's probably sad when you fall and get hurt, but he knows you will get better," I answer. Then he says, "Does Jesus make costumes?" The key to answering this question is pointing out that people make costumes and God makes people, so for the purposes of this discussion, the answer is "yes." Then, "Does Jesus make... feet?" "Yes... Time for bed, Luke."
Thursday, September 13, 2007
- Don't Misunderstand Me - Rossington Collins Band
- Ridin' the Storm Out and 157 Riverside Avenue - REO Speedwagon
- Boom Boom Out Go the Lights - Pat Travers
- The whole Cheap Trick Live at Budokan album
- On the Loose and Wind Him Up - Saga
- I also got a Captain & Tennille song, but please don't tell anyone!!!
I wrote my friend Scott and he helped me remember a few more of my favorites...
- Blinded Me with Science - (I've got all the Thomas Dolby CDs!)
- Boomtown Rats - (Tell Me Why) I don't like Mondays
- Train, Train - Blackfoot (good ole' southern rock!)
- Molly Hatchet - Flirtin' With Disaster
- Rubber Biscuit - Blues Brothers (Elwood!)
- Asia - Only Time Will Tell, Heat of the Moment (ah those trips to Myrtle Beach!)
- Duran Duran - Hungry Like the Wolf - NCSU Wolfpack '83 National Champions!!
- Flock of Seagulls - I saw them in concert... nice hair!
- Men at Work
- Jefferson Starship - Jane (of course!) Scott wrote that, not me.
- RUSH - I am the #1 Rush fan (in my house)
- Steve Martin
- Weird Al -- if you haven't heard it yet, download, "The Saga Begins"
- Chris Cross - Ride Like the Wind (for old time's sake)
So I had a lot of that, but I did download Train, Train and a bunch more!!!
Man I remember in 8th grade (I think)... some guy playing that in the back of the room in English class, and the teacher couldn't figure out where those harmonicas were coming from!
Saturday, September 8, 2007
So here are the highlights, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, 2007... Our pastor and long time good friend did not feel God was calling him to pastor a church plant any more, and he was called elsewhere. We weighed options regarding partnering with another church startup, or simply shutting down, and coordinating how we might scatter to other churches. We had about 80 or so adults, and probably 50 kids. We made some calls, and ultimately, Vintage21 convinced us not to close down. Their lead pastor Tyler Jones said we have 1 million people in the Triangle who did not yet know Christ, and that we needed all the churches we could get in neighborhoods around the area.
Vintage21 is a church in Raleigh, the capital city. Most of their church body is under the age of 30, and the pastors are about 32. This worked out well for us at The Journey, because we still wish we were under the age of 30, and we sort of remember being 32. So after all sorts of debate and analysis and discussion of questions and gnashing of teeth and writing of notes and FAQs, the merger was approved about a month ago. Among the people remaining by that time, it was actually approved overwhelmingly. It's amazing how secular businesses merge all the time, yet churches seem to have a hard time pulling it off. So we're learning as we go, for sure. We've had some hiccups along the way, and we still have not signed all the legal documents required by the state... but that will come.
I'm so used to looking at this from my perspective. I am one of the leaders at The Journey, so I'm usually thinking selfishly as in "What does this change mean to me? Or us? Will my needs and preferences be met?" Right now, I am just thankful we've made it this far. If I look at this from Vintage21's perspective, here we have an established church that has grown 100% a year for each of the last 4 years. I'm sure they had quite a platefull for 2007 already. When we came along in May, they were just beginning a construction up-fit in a new location and former bar downtown called Jillians. They just moved into the building and are still working out the kinks with that process. They are active in Acts29 and are hosting a boot camp later this month. They are allowing the city to use their space to host a creativity conference called SparkCon this month. They planned a grand opening to welcome the downtown communities into their place.
So with all this on their plate, along comes The Journey needing help in late May! Right away, the pastor began driving to our site to teach at our service, in between their #1 and #2 services. They brought down a site pastor from Richmond to help us out during our initial transition. So tomorrow is the soft re-launch, when we will likely have a few new elements that make it feel like Vintage21. I think the big re-launch is being discussed for January. I think this amount of time will give them more ability to work with the Cary site to plan the big day.
But for now, we have the soft re-launch, which I pray will be a burst of momentum. We sure need it.
Saturday, September 1, 2007
Dan, one of our leaders, had talked on the phone with Tyler Jones at V21 on Thursday before Memorial Day, and he said that the conversation was pretty encouraging. The Friday before Memorial Day... literally at 5:30pm... we met with Tyler at his home right in the middle of downtown Raleigh... ok a few blocks east... right near the Raleigh Rescue Mission. I am not kidding... I went with Dan and another leader, 100% convinced that we were closing the doors after the coming Sunday. Within 60 seconds, Tyler spoke words that completely changed my heart and mind. He put wind back in my sails that I had not felt in years. He was encouraging, positive, biblical, humble, confident, firm, and gracious all at the same time. It was absolutely amazing.
Our theory was that there was not a market in Cary for another church like Hope Community, or Crosspointe, or Hope Chapel. Tyler disagreed... He said that there are a million people in the Triangle who don't know Jesus, and that it is NOT true that we have enough churches. We need all the churches we can get. We need churches in every neighborhood across the Triangle.... The local church is the best way to reach our communities and neighbors and friends for Christ. It was so refreshing to hear a leader who is convinced of their mission, and is non-compromising about executing it.
As it turned out, Tyler was in the midst of his first 3-week vacation in years, and had the coming Sunday off from preaching. (I believe this was God's providence.) So he agreed to come to West Cary on his day off, on a holiday weekend, the day that our pastor resigned. Our pastor gave his talk. Then I talked a bit, and then Tyler came up and breathed the same level of excitement and encouragement into what he said to our congregation. He recognized and affirmed our pastor for his service and courage to heed God's calling to step down. And he talked of the mission of the local church. After he was done, people were SOOOO pumped up and excited! So, on what was intended by the enemy to be a day of defeat for the kingdom, I truly believe was a major day of victory!!! I strongly encourage you to listen to this audio 5/27... You will readily hear the humility and the passion and the biblical leader qualities that we heard... http://thejourneycommunity.net/html/sermons_online.html
So we started out with this try-and-see relationship with Vintage21. From that point forward, Tyler and Vintage21 changed their schedule such that he preaches service #1 downtown, then drives to WCMS, then preaches at The Journey, then drives right back downtown to preach service #2 there. Then he preaches in the evening there, too. The Vintage21 elders were always very humble and seemed to be such passionate followers and imitators of Christ, we could not help but think God was at work.
During that time, we met with Hope Community. While I would say that The Journey had a lot more in common with Hope Community, and they agreed to help us in some ways, there was not a sense of us being a part of a larger kingdom vision with them. There wasn't the same level of urgency and vision about keeping The Journey open that we experienced at Vintage21. I think the proximity of The Journey at West Cary was too close to Hope (I think it's 8 miles) and I also think they were already busy with another church plant.
During all this time, the V21 elders were fasting and praying about our situation. They came to us with a proposal: Let's merge!!! We would remain in Cary, and Tyler would continue to preach for us. They would staff a site pastor who would serve to care for the families at the Cary site. So after much discussion, The Journey partners overwhelmingly voted for the merger in late July. We have a site pastor, Robert Greene, who is currently commuting from Richmond to Cary 2x per week to be with us. He has a long-standing relationship with Vintage21 and Acts29 and has been hoping to formally get into those organizations.
One thing we're surely missing is a youth group. We have, literally, a handful of youth. And that is important to parents who have youth. Tyler challenged our folks and said, "When you're 13, you are old enough to labor with us and build the youth ministry from the ground up!" He really believes in people taking ownership in the kingdom and not just being served. AMEN!!!! Despite all the hurdles like these, I am convinced that we are in God's will, and that He is going to work out something super great in the end.