Monday, December 22, 2008

Merry Christmas

We are several days away from Christmas Day and the whole month of December has been a whirlwind, a beehive of activity, but it has been good. It seems like only yesterday that it was December 1. It has been so hectic that I have written a post since the end of November.

School is out for the holidays. I think students and teachers were looking for a break. It came at just the right time. The activities at church were inspiring. It started on December 7 with our church-wide Christmas Banquet sponsored by the Women's Division. The next weekend it continued with the Worship Ministry Banquet and the Children's Ministry Banquet. Yesterday, our Sunday Morning Bible Class held a Christmas Brunch and last night 33 Miles was here in concert. It was a free concert from our church to the community. It will end on Christmas Eve with our traditional service of Carols, Candles, and Lord's Supper.

We all know that the history of December 25th was pagan. By the time that Rome ruled the world, December 25th was the biggest pagan holiday of the year. You see, it evolved over the centuries to be the day it became.

By the 4th century, the Roman Catholic Church adopted December 25 as the date for the birth of Christ. No one knew the exact date, so this seemed to be a logical date to them, even it was the biggest pagan day in the history of paganism! Maybe they thought, while the pagan world was doing their thing, the Christian world would celebrate Christ the Lord. That is probably giving them too much credit.

Then there was St. Nick in the same 4th century. By the early 1800's St. Nick came to America and by the 1860's St. Nick evolved into Santa Claus. By the 20th century, America seemed to need a break from the long, bleak winter season and big business climbed all over it. The rest is history.

I am fully aware of the world's position on Christmas. I know that we celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25. We are Christians...Christ followers, disciples, believers, He is our all in all. We live in the world and yet we are not of the world. Sprinkled among us are those who celebrate a much different season. Yet, this is where we find people without Christ.

As we celebrate the birth of Christ, shouldn't we be reaching those without Him, where they are? Just like we do the other 11 months a year? We seem to separate ourselves when the world needs us the most.

If there had not been the birth of Christ, there would be no discipleship today.

Merry Christmas and may God bless you abundantly in the new year.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

It Is Now Christmas At the Mathews

Just thought you might like to know that it was not all that bad decorating the Christmas tree. The tree is about 8 feet tall and we used 13-15 strands of lights. I think it looks better than any tree we've ever had, but Patti says we say that every year. Maybe so. I don't remember a lot about Christmas decorations from 2007.

Patti has been putting up other decorations all day long. I think the only break she took was during the Alabama-Auburn game. Alabama won after losing six years in a row. It was kind of one-sided, 36-0, the biggest margin of victory since 1962. Now Florida is on the horizon next Saturday for the SEC Championship.

Patti is really into this seasonal decorating. The second floor of our garage is full of "hundreds" of those storage containers. They are all sorted according to the different holidays of the year and there are multiple containers for each holiday. There are probably 15+ containers of just Christmas decorations. Our house just turned from a Thanksgiving motif to Christmas in the last 12 hours. The transformation is amazing. I give Patti a hard time about it, but I like it.

Hope you will get into the Christmas spirit as we enter December, if you are not there already!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Goodbye Thanksgiving...Hello Christmas

Thanksgiving 2008 is now history, but I think it was a great day, or should I say a very good couple of days. How can you leave out Thanksgiving eve as your prepare for the big day and family members arrive?

We had family and friends with us on Wednesday and Thursday nights, so it was a special two day period. This morning we went out to a Christmas Tree Farm and cut down our Christmas tree. It was fun. Tomorrow morning I get to decorate the tree, not exactly one of my favorite things to do. Maybe this year will be different!

Tomorrow is also the Alabama-Auburn game. Only a person familiar with Alabama sports can realize the magnitude of this game. Alabama has lost six in a row to Auburn during its "down and out" years, but I'm hoping that this skid will come to an end tomorrow.

On paper it looks like Alabama should win tomorrow, but you never know when two rivals like this play each other. It has so much emotion connected to it. Players on both sides have known each other for years and have probably played against each other in high school. If you are bored tomorrow afternoon, take a look at this game. It should be worth your time.

I'm still waiting on two bids to get my backyard fence replaced. I should get them tomorrow. It is great to know that I'm the only one on my block who has not had their fence repaired or replaced. Maybe it will get done over the next couple of weeks. I still want a wrought-iron fence across the back, but I guess it will depend on how the bids come in.

Well, everything now points to Christmas. It's not that far away and my calendar is already starting to fill up. By December 7 the Christmas season should be in full gear and full speed ahead. Don't forget to stop and smell the roses, instead of starring at the poinsettias.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Thanksgiving Thought

Today I spent some time cleaning out old stuff from in and around my desk. I discovered a journal I had written when my son-in-law and I went to England and Italy in early 2002. It was fun reading it again and seeing things that I had forgotten Here's a synopsis of what I experienced:

Our trip was only five months after 9/11 so nobody was on the plane with us...we each had three seats to ourselves, which makes for good sleeping.

  • Four days of sightseeing...we saw all the John Wesley sites, plus the London the world sees

  • Two stage plays

  • Trip to Oxford to see the "Soul Survivor" Church, which is located outside the city. It is where Mark Redmon wrote a lot of his music that we've been singing for the last 10 years.

  • I realized today how fortunate I was that Steve took me to the Soul Survivor Church.

  • The highlight of Rome was the Coliseum and St. Peter's...drizzle went everywhere with us.

  • Rode a Euro Star fast train to Florence and then on to Venice. Not too excited about Florence, but loved Venice.

  • Met a couple by the name of Loftus, which was my mother's maiden name. They were from the same county in Ireland that our family was from. I was probably related to them in some way.

The whole trip was a wonderful experience and it was great to be with Steve, who would later become my son-in-law. They are with us during this Thanksgiving holiday and I am thankful to God that we started working together in 1994 and he is part of our family now. You never know what will happen!!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Thanksgiving Week Is Upon Us

Four more days and counting...until Thanksgiving Day, but that means we are in the season. School is out next week, so I will only be working my church job. It will allow me to sleep past 5:30 a.m. for a few days. That will be wonderful!

Going back to my earliest recollection, family being together has been the most important element of Thanksgiving to me. I remember what it was like when I was just a little boy being around the extended family during Thanksgiving. I knew it was special. It was special for me to be around all of those people and to know that I was part of what was represented. My feelings about it have not changed to this date.

I fondly remember the "Turkey Bowl" that we played for several years in Mobile, Alabama. Norvelle Sawyer and I were opposing quarterbacks. Our kids were divided up on both teams and then the neighborhood kids were also placed on both teams. It was just one of those fun times when the Sawyers and the Mathews got together and did the unusual. Norvelle and I must have been in our late 40's---maybe our "prime"--well, maybe the end of even being able to play the whole game! It was fun. I will remember it the rest of my life.

I am spending time each day this week, leading up to Thanksgiving Day, just being thankful for something special in my life. Here's the schedule I'm on. No particular importance to the ranking. I have felt like I was on holy ground each day so far.

7 days and counting...Thankful for Patti's good health after double cancer 23 years ago

6 days and counting...Thankful for my grown children whom I can relate to as adults

5 days and counting...Thankful for friends, a rare breed, who will stick by you no matter what

4 days and counting...Thankful for the opportunity to teach and shape young lives

3 days and counting...Thankful for my grandchildren (3 with one on the way in three years)

2 days and counting...Thankful for living long enough to see dreams of previous churches realized
1 day and counting.....Thankful for Rebecca Jones and family as Terry rehabilitates

I hope this gets you thinking about what you are thankful for this week. Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Which One? Alabama or Troy?

Last night was one of those "decision" times when you are forced to take the best of two options. One option was to watch the Alabama-Mississippi State game. The other option was to watch the LSU-Troy game.

Alabama is my favorite college team and Mississippi beat them the last two years. Alabama had not even scored an offensive touchdown in three years. Troy University is where I went to school and they were playing LSU, a golioth to them. Troy had already been beaten by Ohio State and Oklahoma State this year.

It really wasn't a big decision. I watched Alabama beat Mississippi State on CBS and switched back and forth to stay up to date on the LSU-Troy game. Troy unexpectedly was ahead 31-3 at half time. I thought the game was over, as did half the crowd, who went home.

While Alabama was beating Mississippi State and putting the game out of reach, LSU dominated Troy in the second half, completely turned it around and won the game in the last few minutes. I was disappointed that Troy blew the huge lead and lost a chance to beat an SEC school, but Alabama won their game that keeps them #1!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Is the Church Losing Ground?

I read that there are two "extreme" type of churches today.

At one extreme is the "feel-good" church that promises health and prosperity. It is a name it and claim it environment. Everybody is happy and not much is demanded of the person who attends. In some cases, there is even a fast food mentality. Have a cup of coffee and a doughnut while you're listening to our super teaching pastor and we'll have you out in less than 55 minutes. You will experience the best cutting-edge technology you've ever seen and it will fly by so quickly that you won't realize that you were in church.

At the other end of the extreme is the church that isn't even sure that they like the idea of growth and they are not growing. They may even think that they are being more doctrinally pure by sitting back and doing nothing. This kind of church is dwindling in number and growing older. In many ways, they are still living in the twentieth century.

The largest arena is the churches in between these two extremes. These churches gag at the "feel good" mentality. They don't know who they are trying to reach. They would say, "We go after everybody...that's what Jesus would do." They preach sin and forgiveness, but fail to reach their target (what target?) where the people are. It would never enter their minds to get you out in an hour (we're not McDonald's), or any time frame. It would not be a spiritual thing to do. These churches have become stagnant and since it is not showing itself in an obvious way, they are not thinking what life could look like by the time the next new president is elected.

What is needed to be an effective church if you are in the large center group? I guess a book could be written as an answer, but let me take a stab at it in a few paragraphs. I wish it was that simple.

In 2008-2009 the individual church must identify who they are. They could say that they are a solidly orthodox church that believes in biblical fidelity and is trying to proclaim the gospel, while leading people to an understanding of the lordship of Christ. Now I know that was a mouthful, but many church do what I just did. If the average person in the pew cannot articulate that in every day language and live it, that church is still not getting any traction.

Today, it is vital that churches articulate a vision of what they are all about. If I don't have a vision of what I want to do with my life, then I don't know where I'm going and cannot plan on how to get there. I have to allow "life" situations to dictate it for me. Without a good vision, my wife won't know where we are going either. It will affect her. With a vision and a plan we can move from 2008 where we are right now to where God would have us be 10 years down the road. Don't sit back and wait for something to happen.

Is the church losing ground? No, we are just in a holding pattern as we get caught up in time and methodology. We are like the airliner that is circling the airport. The fog is heavy and visibility is poor. Will we try a visual landing, or rely on instruments? We could be in this holding pattern for several years, but we will come out of it and be stronger than ever.

This did not do the subject justice in such a short space, but maybe it got you to think!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Give Them A Reason

I have heard all my life that you must meet the needs of people before they will hear the gospel.

See, we realize that the need is the gospel, but if a person is starving to death, or sleeping on the street, they may not see it the same way. We seem to understand this concept when we apply it to a third world country, but we miss the point at home. Why? We think we live in a land of plenty, but most of the needs around us are as important to people as a basic necessity overseas.

When a family crumbles and falls apart, that is a life-altering situation that leaves a hole in life. When a person loses a job, their self-worth is destroyed. When a person loses a loved one, the whole world caves in. When a person fails another, the disappointment can be devastating. Contrary to what we might want to believe, any of these people will have to be ministered to and loved before they may hear.

I like what George Barna said in "Rechurching the Unchurched". "Millions stay away, because they cannot make the value equation work. When they calculate the amount of time , money, and energy they would have to invest in a church, they do not see a reasonable return on the investment. Most of the unchurched figure they've gotten along just fine without the church for a long time, and until someone gives them reason to feel otherwise, they will remain spiritually unattached."

Do we think they will come to hear a sermon? Obviously not. Do we think they will come to experience good praise and worship? Obviously not, or they would be coming to many of our churches. Do we think they will come for their children? That may be 90's thinking. If it was true our churches would be full of young couples with young children. People can listen to polished speakers on television, attend concerts with all the flair of a great spectacular, and spend money to provide interesting venues for their children.

But, are they really building true relationships out in the world, or are the so-called relationships really nothing more than acquaintances? Are they surface friendships with neighbors, co-workers, other parents in extra curricular activities, and even PTA at school. These same busy people may be starving for some real relationships.

Are some of the people I've been talking about hurting? Is there a void that can't seem to be filled with anything they try? Are they going through the motions of life without anyone knowing how they really feel? We know the answer is Jesus, but will you have the stage to present Him?

Let's give them a reason to change their next step and to do that, we've got to change first!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Complacency Takes Over Top Spot

I have been watching for the BCS rankings to come out every Sunday afternoon with much anticipation. Several weeks ago Alabama took over the #1 position in the BCS standings after Texas fell to Texas Tech.

Now I guess Alabama controls its own destiny. All they have to do is win against Mississippi State this week, beat Auburn two weeks down the road, defeat Florida in the SEC Championship and Alabama is in the National Championship Game. The latter will be a huge obstacle, but I think Alabama may match up to Florida better than many teams have done this season.

Speaking of taking over first place...I think "complacency" has taken over as the biggest culprit in the Christian hemisphere. Complacency creates more paralysis than any disease that I can think of. What is complacency?

According to Webster, complacency is the calm or secure satisfaction with oneself or one's lot. It is self-satisfaction accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies.

Mainstream America seems to be far too complacent as we get into the early years of the 21st century. If relationships in the family unit seem to be in place, dad sits in his easy chair as if things could not be any better. If mom is satisfied, she goes shopping and says to herself, "Only in America." If the children's lives are stable, little Johnny proceeds with his game on Play Station as if this will go on the rest of his life.

If dad can go hunting every fall, sit in front of his new big screen plasma TV every weekend, and play softball a couple times a week, life doesn't get any better than that. If mom can buy Christmas presents for everyone this December and plan a family vacation for next summer, what else could you want? If our personal and family schedules are full to overflowing every week, isn't that all part of the American dream?

Those of us in the ministry think we are called to orchestrate the Sunday morning rush in and out of the auditorium. It is so important that we use parking lot greeters, door greeters, and hospitality ambassadors throughout our buildings. The celebration worship service has become central focus rather than a venue to corporately worship.

The fellowship hall where meals used to be served has been remodeled into something else and is just full of dust from non-use. We have acknowledged that people may not have time to come to a mid-week prayer service. There are dance classes, soccer, softball, and special band rehearsals. Weekdays are meant for work, school, extra curricular activities, and catching up on what did not get done yesterday. Sunday is reserved for God, unless The Houston Marathon is being run, or the Outer Mongolian Fine Arts Festival is being conducted. Mark something else on your calendar--I want to take my son to the Antique Car Show that is held every year on Easter Sunday, but hey, "That will make room for someone who is not in church two Sundays a month like I am."

Everything is about ME. My work usually comes first, followed by my leisure time, maybe my family, and then I'll squeeze God is there somewhere...maybe even being part of the church where I belong. Don't ask me to do anything outside of Sunday morning. I'll usher if you need someone. I'll sing in the choir, but no mid-week rehearsals. And the walls continue to be built as each month rolls on.

When paralysis sets in, one's limbs become useless. That is what is happening across America and complacency becomes more deeply embedded because I am trying to satisfy myself with what the world is offering. I become more and more blinded and I can fail to see the dangers that lie ahead at a so-called "dead man's curve".

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Roll Tide Roll

The Alabama-LSU game ended about four hours ago. Alabama did not play well, but LSU played better than they have played most of the year and the game was tied at the end of regulation. I told my son, Jared, that LSU probably outplayed Alabama in the first half, but Alabama may have been the better team in the second half.

The game went into overtime and LSU got the first opportunity from the 25 yard line. Alabama intercepted in the end zone. Alabama got their chance from the 25 and scored on a quarterback sneak to win the game. The score was 27-21.

The six year drought is over. Alabama beat the mighty Tigers at home in Baton Rouge. I feel a sense of respect again. It feels more like 12 years since Alabama could walk into Death Valley and have a chance. I think the announcers said that it was the first time that Alabama entered the field at LSU as #1 going back to the Bear Bryant days in 1980. I feel a sense of relief that it is over and we won.

Now Alabama is 10-0 with Mississippi State and Auburn remaining on the regular schedule. Both will be gunning for Alabama. Both could beat Alabama. Mississippi State's coach is an alumnus of Alabama and I think they beat Alabama last year. Then it's the Iron Bowl and I've heard that Auburn has to beat Alabama for the Auburn coach to keep his job. This will be Auburn's big bowl game. There will be a lot riding on this game against two in-state rivals.

Alabama has not won the SEC West and will be playing in the SEC Championship game in Atlanta. It would be nice to be 12-0 at that point. Looks like we'll be playing Florida in that game. We'll meet that game when we win the next two ballgames.

Roll Tide!!!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Tomorrow Is the Big Day

Tomorrow is the Alabama-LSU game at 2:30 on CBS. This is the game that I've been looking forward to for a year. If the tickets were not so expensive I'd be in Baton Rouge on Saturday, but instead, I'll be on the 50 yard-line in front of my Samsung.

Why is it such a big game? Well, Alabama is ranked #1 and they haven't been in this kind of a position since the early side of the 90's. It is LSU that they are playing as a #1 team. That is big enough all by itself. See, for years Alabama owned the series, even in Death Valley. But, for the last six years or so, LSU has owned Alabama and the Crimson Tide has not even been in the running in the SEC West.

Everybody that knows SEC football knew last summer that this was going to be a really key game. Everyone expected LSU to be highly ranked and maybe a 10-15th ranked Alabama would come to town. As it turns out, it is exactly in reverse of what everybody thought.

This Saturday will be the first time that Coach Nick Saban returns to the LSU campus. I think it becomes a bigger game in this regard for LSU than it does for Alabama, but hype is hype and some sports "experts" will do anything to get the fan excited. Know one thing, by kick-off time Coach Saban will have relived the past and will really be into the game!

There will be a big birthday party at our home tomorrow. It is Kasen's 1st birthday (actually the date was the 4th) and we are celebrating it tomorrow. Both our kid's families will be here and we will celebrate during half time of the game and then following the game. We are all looking forward to the party and it just happens to be on the day of the Alabama-LSU game.

The only time that I have been in Baton Rouge for a game was in 2002. It was Jared's last year there, so we decided to attend the Alabama game. It was during the time that Alabama was not fielding very good teams. No one in Tiger Stadium expected Alabama to be in the game after the opening kick-off. Alabama won 31-0 in a route and I will never forget that atmosphere and the thrill of winning such a game.

Alabama went 10-3 that year, but was on probation and not eligible for a bowl game. Dennis Franchione left Alabama for Texas A & M in December and they were "blessed" with him until his departure. He was so eager to get to College Station that he failed to tell his players good-bye. Now that is a class act!!!

Well, I hope Jared does not get to celebrate tomorrow like we did six years ago. The next 24 hours should tell the tale.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

It's A Monday-Saturday Remedy

When you are trying to emerge from a no-relationship atmosphere, it has to start with leadership. It starts with the inner circle. If it was the inner circle of Jesus, it would start with the twelve apostles. If it is a business, it would start with upper management. It starts with leaders.

I remember a television commercial a few years ago that really got my attention. It showed a CEO calling his major leaders into a Board Room for a meeting. He told about how they had forgotten their best customers and had lost some and were on the verge of losing others. He gave each leader an airline ticket and told them to call on them and win them back. Now that is a highlight of the commercial and may not be covering it real well, but it left an indelible mark on me. They were starting all over again by winning back the customers that they could and building relationships from that point on.

In most of our churches, we need to re-build some relationships that got away, or were never developed in the first place. It cannot be done on Sunday. It must take place during the week as life rolls along. Maybe it takes place over a cup of coffee. Maybe relationship building happens when we work on a project with another person. Maybe it takes place when we go somewhere with another person and find out who they really are. However it takes place, it requires a committed effort and must be an authentic reach to another human being. It will take time and cannot be rushed. Real relationships are built over time by real people.

Not until some real relationship building takes place, will people eagerly and genuinely become part of an organized small group. That may be why small groups have failed to succeed in some places. It didn't have a chance of making it as a real small group. In my particular setting, it might take 100-150 "in relationship" to turn from status quo to the entrance of excellence, or where you can move on with continuous relationship building that spawns other types of movement.

If you don't have small groups and you are living in a no-relationship atmosphere, you've got to start somewhere and I think it is starting with one individual building a relationship with another. Before you know it, you will have a foundation on which to build. Until then, nothing will seem to work and you will be one frustrated person.

Steve, thanks for getting me to think about this subject. I think it is one of the most valuable things I've read in a 2008. It put some things in focus for me, when it was a little blurry.

How Important Are Relationships?

I just found a comment that my son-in-law left on one of my earlier posts. It is so good that I've got to share it with you. It will make you think. I am going to spend a lot of time digesting it myself, because I think Steve has the handle on it. He is part of his comment:

I agree Mike, but what do you do? You offer deeper things, but people won't come and if they do, they won't do the required reading/homework. And so true habits are never formed. I'm wondering if the whole system is failing somehow? Are we accidentally communicating to our people that this is all there is? Are we, as leaders going into the depths and living as testimonies saying there is more? What are we doing (or not doing - my bet is it's more the not doing, not risking, not stepping out in faith, etc) as a church that communicates status quo?

The people in our church seem like they've been lulled into this complacency - complacency for church, for worship, for discipleship, even for God Himself. There's something in me, (maybe the Spirit) that says they'd get off their rear ends and do something if they truly understood/believed/experienced the God that you and I know when they did come to an event - even if it was just a "successful garage sale."

How do you turn the corner - well get others to turn the corner into lifestyles of discipleship? How do we gain that kind of influence with the people we serve? How can we give them their little "soul massage" in such a way that they want deeper things - like "soul surgery or life replacement?"I think it ultimately has to come back to relationships. When we get involved in peoples lives beyond Sunday morning, when we share not just the Gospel but "our lives as well" like Paul describes. . . .I think that's where influence grows.

I appreciate what Steve said so much. When the church family arrives on Sunday morning, we are coming together to worship God corporately. The church is returning to be together for a couple of hours to praise God as a larger group of believers.

We have made Sunday morning our "all in all". Sunday morning has become the "beginning and the end". As Steve would say, "Are we giving our people the idea that Sunday is what matters and everything else is secondary? No wonder they will not support other opportunities that we offer like we think they should. We have sent a message and they have received it and applying it to their lives. We didn't intend that to happen over the past decade did we?

I totally agree with Steve. It does come back to relationships. Many of our churches need to punt and turn it over to the defense to stop this trend where it is in this first decade of the 21st century. I'm afraid that many of our churches need to spend the next few years developing relationships that we failed to do for so many years.

How we develop these relationships in a "no relationship" atmosphere is good fodder for my next post. This one is getting far to long. Think about it...

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Story of the 21st Centruy (Part 2)

Can we break the cycle? It's the cycle of becoming a church member somewhere and never getting off of the religious merry-go-round where we keep seeing the same landscape on every revolution. It is the life that never grows spiritually. It is the life that looks for fulfillment and finds it in getting involved in doing good deeds, very seldom ever taking a spiritual risk, and never questions why they are only religious.

Let's go back to the stereotypical 24 year old college graduate who is in their first job after finishing college. Maybe they too were won to Christ during their latter teen years, or while in college. Their minds have been shaped by the world, their expectations set by worldly standards, and goals for life set by a world that can only identify success by what it sees in the world.

There are a number of professions that have a real advantage over most other vocations. Take for example the medical professional. They are not expected to have their lives together until they are 30+. Why? It takes eight years of education, not counting internships and residencies, much less specialties. Why don't we level the playing field and let all grads know that they don't all have to have it together the summer after they graduate. Why can't they use their mid and late 20's to find themselves in the profession that they have chosen?

There is a spiritual correlation to the above "vocational lane". We are going to call that 24 year old "Jed". Jed has become a new believer. He doesn't know what is expected of him. It is a lot like his profession--he is starting at the bottom--it is a whole new world. Where does he go from here? Sometimes he feels like one person in a sea of people in downtown Houston at noon. Many of them are going in one direction, so he decides to join them and begins walking with them. They are headed to the underground tunnels and he doesn't know what's there, or where the tunnels will take him.

Spiritually speaking, why can't Jed be discipled over the next five years and have an opportunity to grow and mature in his faith. It would teach him about abundant Christian living and he would be able to experience it through the life of someone who is ahead of him, but walked the same surface. Why don't we provide that? You say, "Some churches do provide discipleship." Sure they do, but not near enough. It is almost like we are afraid to raise the bar of expectation because we might run them off and then they will go somewhere else.

If we truly discipled Jed, say from 24-29 years of age, he could probably look after his own road map for growing from that point on. During that period he would probably find a wife and they might even have a couple of children, but he would be growing during that period. He would be ready to be a good husband and father. He would be learning how to be a leader and would probably find his niche in the church as well. If he continued to grow, his years after age 30 would probably be the most productive of his life.

In too many cases, Jed becomes a Sunday morning attender and never grows beyond his "baby formula" spiritual existence. Jed may become a success in the world, because that is how he has been groomed by the world. He never becomes a spiritual leader in his home, while his wife is looking for some kind of leadership. He thinks being a great provider is what life is all about, while his children beg for attention. Life may fill with some cracks and yet Jed does not know where to turn. People don't know Jed, so his life rolls on almost unnoticed. It is a critical stage for him and for his family. If he survives this period of his life, there will probably be similar "emergencies". How many can he survive?

If Jed keeps being revived time after time, he goes into his 40's, then 50's, then 60's and life has not changed. Now Jed becomes an usher in the church and he's a good usher, but that is the apex of his spiritual life. There has to be more than that! We must do more!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Story of the 21st Century

I've been thinking about what happens to a young man after he receives Christ and the link that may tell us why he doesn't become the disciple that Christ expected him to become.

When I received Jesus Christ I was a college student. I was baptized the next Sunday evening. Then I asked a number of people, "Now, what is next?" College came after high school...there must be something that comes after a monumental decision like this one.

No one seemed to be able to give me the answer about what comes after my public declaration of my faith and baptism. Several adults told me that I was now a member of their church. A few more told me to join a Sunday school class. I never attended a class on Sunday morning, but I did attend worship my entire senior year.

After graduation I joined the military and got lost in the world for the next few years.

I'm afraid that what happened to me is multipled thousands of times each day. A young man or woman receives savior of the world, but never makes Jesus the Lord of their lives. Those last few words are foreign lingo to them---nobody ever helps them past first base!

About this same time in the life of this 20 Something, he is trying to find his place in the world. He or she may have a very good job, but they are trying to figure out how to get ahead. Maybe they are dating, or even recently married. They are searching for meaningfulness and can't seem to define it.

Let's assume that this ficticious person attends a worship at a contemporary church and thinks it is a pretty cool place. He enjoys the praise singing, the different styles of visual presentation, and the messages seem to be so practical. He can apply so many of them to his work environment and the people he is meeting. He gives a token offering each pay day and thinks everybody does the same thing.

Now, ten years pass by. The young man is now 35 years old, married to a great woman he met through a mutual friend, and they have two beautiful children. They both have very good jobs and are "rising stars" with their respective corporations. They make more money than they ever thought possible. They are very good parents and dad looks forward to coaching both kids in soccer and baseball in just a few years.

They both decided to get involved in the church "for the sake of the children". So they chose a church that would be "new" to both of them. They now attend large "First Church" where all the up and comers rub elbows with each other. Sunday morning worship is rather traditional and somewhat stuffy, but they are always bringing in nationally known speakers like Bill Gates. Our young man gave $50 a pay period for several years, but since their income increased so dramatically, they have increased their giving to $75. There has not been much of a change in their lives religiously.

If everything remains the same in this family's life, the chance for genuine change and growth is alarmingly low. By the time the kids become teenagers, the parents will be busier than ever and the whole family will be driving themselves as hard as they can. When the kids leave home and the nest is empty, nothing will really change, except maybe the hole created by the missing children. When they become grandparents life will probably be not a whole lot different. Maybe now "Jed", our main character will be an usher or greeter for the church.

Stay tuned for the next installment and see what could have been for Jed and his family.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

What Is Missing Today?

I wake up in the morning and go to bed at night thinking about discipleship. I can't tell you how many times a day I think about how we can help Christians grow in their spiritual lives. I believe the lack of personal spiritual growth is the primary reason that so many of our churches seem stagnant. We lack the power to do what is needed for the new believer and as a result, many of these new believers drift into oblivion, or become supporters who do nothing significant in the church.

What are we seeing today? Too many people who want to come to worship on Sunday morning for a little "soul massage". They want to hear good praise music, view different forms of media that connect with the theme of the day, and experience how others are relating to over-all message. Too many folks do not see themselves in the equation at hand. They do not want to be expected to act on anything they hear.

I guess it bothers me to watch people who act religiously on Sunday morning, but there is no fruit eminating from the Sunday morning buds! They want to look religious on Sunday, but the fervor is not translated into the other six days a week. They are not making an effort to grow themselves, much less reaching out to minister to others. Their hands go up in surrender on Sunday morning, but they escape into the world during the week. They stand on Sunday to honor our Lord and maybe be seen by others, but sit down and blend in with others the other days of the week.

We need discipleship, or spiritual growth to be the primary goal of the next decade, probably across the country, if not the world. Without this kind of emphases, evangelism will diminish and probably is on a decline right now. We may see people who are willing to do some street ministry once a month, but it will never become a lfestyle. We might get a few people to take an annual mission trip to the other side of the world, but they will do nothing with their new-found passion when they get home. There will be little outreach from a Sunday school class if the folks are not growing. There will not be a passion for the needs of others, if it cannot be handled by a checkbook or debit card. Do people help others during times of tragedy? You bet we do, but what about some on-going ministries>

I think you get the picture. This is why we need to offer what will grow our people over a 3-5 year period of time. It is one thing to offer the opportunity. It is something else to motivate them enough that they will want to participate. It has to be at the top of one's agenda, People have to understand that you feel that it is of absolute primary importance. It is looking down the road for results and change, not for a successful garage sale this Saturday. We, too often, want the quickie and discipleship does not work that way.

If your church is not investing in discipleship and valuing it as primary, I would bet that most of the plans that you see are short-term in nature, only have a partial, spiritual, emphasis, and may not be affecting human lives, especially people who do not know Christ.

I feel strongly about our ineptness in the 21st century concerning spiritual lives and the impact it has on other people and our churches. Maybe we need to re-evaluate everything about ourselves and re-write where we are going and how we will get there. I would challenge every person who reads this to not blow it off as we often do things, but to let it linger in the reaches of our minds for a period of time. But, BEWARE: it may create a new way of thinking and a new way of looking at the world around us,

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Tide Is Now #2 and #4

One more post about Alabama football and then I will have it out of my system for the week.

Patti just looked up the new rankings for Week #5. I heard a scream come out of the office. I knew it was a good kind of scream. Alabama is #2 in the AP poll and #4 in the important Coach's poll. They jumped from 8th to 2nd in the AP and 10th to 4th in the Coach's poll. LSU and Missouri are ahead of them.

Oklahoma (#1) will be playing Texas (#7) on October 11 and then Missouri meets Texas the week following. I wonder if Texas could beat both of them??? That may be asking too much out of that young team. I'll be rooting for them anyway.

I can say something that I've not been able to say for a long time. I think Alabama will play one game at a time the rest of the season. Any team can get beat on any given Sunday. That's what parity has done for us. I hope I can enjoy each week for the next month and a half! This week I just need to enjoy being #2 and #4 for a change.

We had a great evening last night. Our Children's Pastor, his wife, and three children joined our kids and their three children at our home for the game last night. There were 14 of us all together--8 adults and 6 children. It was a great group. I cooked hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill and Patti fixed several other dishes. A good time was had by all, except maybe the Georgia fans who were in attendance.

Today I've already had a noon luncheon where we trained mentors for out new New Believer Track. I will go back to church in about an hour and a half for the Alpha class. I should be out 8:00-8:30, so it will make for a long day. Then tomorrow it will be back to the teaching routine again. I can't wait to sleep again until 7:00 or 7:30. I guess Saturday will arrive in another 6 days.

Hope you have a good week coming up.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Big Game Is Over

It is late on Saturday night and the 2008 edition of the Alabama-Georgia game is now history. Alabama won 41-30 and dominated the first half with a 31-0 shellacking.

Alabama did not play well during the second half. They looked like a team coasting with a big lead. They won it just the same and will probably rise in the polls, hopefully to #3 just behind LSU.

I felt all week that Alabama could whip Georgia convincingly if they came to really play. I just couldn't bring myself to say it out loud. I don't think anyone gave us a chance I think we really are that good, we just can't seem to play for 60 minutes. Like, where were we during the 3rd quarter?

Tonight the ESPN crowd told us that nobody would have expected Alabama to turn around this quickly. They started out the season at #24 and by the end of the month, they will undoubtedly be ranked in the Top 5. That is a quick rise by any one's standards.

Maybe Alabama has made a "return" to the SEC West.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Roll Tide!!

My family and extended family was at our home yesterday for an NCAA Football Tripleheader. We started out the day with the Alabama-Arkansas game at 11:30. I wore an Alabama t-shirt and cap. Patti also wore an Alabama shirt.

Arkansas has always been a real competitor for Alabama down through the years. There were some real duels even before Arkansas joined the SEC. Yesterday I thought it would be another battle to the end. ESPN broadcasters said it would be Alabama by two touchdowns. I wondered if Alabama was ready to win by that much in SEC competition in Arkansas.

The game was over early as Alabama destroyed Arkansas 49-14! I was surprised at what Alabama did to them, but maybe it showed what Alabama was capable of doing, at least to an inferior opponent.

Next week we play Georgia. Then we will find out if we are really any good this year. Maybe it will show us how far we have come after one season with a new coach. Even if that coach is Nick Saban! He was the one this month that became the first coach in the country to ever adorn the cover of Forbes magazine.

Anyway, we have moved up to #8 in the AP poll and we will be playing Georgia, who remained at #3. They beat us in overtime last year, so I am really looking forward to Saturday night's game. Pastor Travis Duke, our Children's Pastor, is a grad of Georgia and is a huge bulldog fan. I warned him this morning that this is the week before the big game and I'm going to give him a hard time. He will probably be the one who gives me the hard time!

After Alabama won its game on Saturday, we tuned into the Florida-Tennessee game and it looked to me like Florida really is as good as we thought they were, if not better.

Whoever wins the West division will more than likely have to face Florida in the SEC Championship game. Imagine having to face Tennessee, LSU, and Auburn before you even get to the championship. There are certainly other teams that could take you out that are not even the above caliber, but they can beat you on the way to one of the "big" games.

Finally last night we watched LSU-Auburn. As an Alabama fan, I always want Auburn to get beat. As the father and father-in-law of LSU graduates, I changed out of my red t-shirt and cap. I then put on a purple t-shirt and sported an LSU cap for the evening nightcap. LSU came from behind 14-3 to win the game. It went right down to the end.

That was a full day of football, but we are huge college football fans. I know that I'm in the minority, but I enjoy college football more than I do the NFL. I have already checked out tickets for the LSU-Alabama game in November, but I think the cost is too rich for my blood. I may just have to settle for a 50 yard-line seat in front of the TV. But, there is something about being on the LSU campus when underdog Alabama comes to town. It is magic for the college football enthusiast.

Well, you know where you'll find me next Saturday night. The sound coming from our den will probably be heard at the front of the subdivision!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Fried Chicken Anyone?

Today was my first day back at work at the church. We have electrical power, including computer capability. Sunday will be a normal day for us, so I wrote an e-mail to our Abundant Life University and Alpha leaders, filling them in on what was happening. Only God knows how many will get the note.

Some of the major fallen utility poles on 518 were resurrected today. Next will come electricity, businesses opening, and gasoline pumps up and running. I think we will see a major difference on 518 by Monday.

Patti cooked for the family tonight--six adults and three children. Patti surprised all of us with fried chicken! That may not be much of a shock for you, but Patti has not prepared fried chicken in more than 30 years! Our kids have never tasted her fried chicken. They were as flabbergasted as I was. Patti said she was just tired of eating food off the grill when we were without electricity.

We had a great time together. We ended up going over to Tiffany and Jared's house because that's where our family's four dogs were being lodged. We had coffee and ice cream over there and watched a movie together.

Now it is about 11:00 and my eyes are telling me that I am tired. Whoever reads this, I hope you have a blessed Friday and weekend coming up.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Day #5

It is just past noon on Wednesday. As I look out beyond my backyard, it is a beautiful day with cool temperatures of 75 degrees and blue skies with high clouds. I just saw a butterfly flying around Patti's flower garden. Still, disaster is all around us.

I heard this morning that 60% of the Greater Pearland area still does not have electricity. I wish that were the worst of the problems. As we view television reports, it is obvious that some folks have lost everything they have, thousands are receiving food and water, while huge problems plague Galveston to the point of increasing fear of disease. It is bad.

I spent some time this morning working on lesson plans for next week. We assume that school will be back in session by Monday, but who knows? I'm just trying to be ready and it felt good to be doing work like that again.

I am looking forward to being at church tonight for our Wednesday night Prayer Meeting. We are going to meet in the Fellowship Hall. We lost our church steeple during the storm and that allowed water into the auditorium. Electricity was restored yesterday. It smells musty as you walk through the building. I'm looking forward to seeing my fellow staff members, as well as our members. It will give us an opportunity to just be together, hear from each other, and pray together.

God bless you wherever you are!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Four Days Into Ike

This morning we returned to our home and we found that the electricity had been turned on. That was a fantastic sight! We walked inside and felt cool air. We got the refrigerator going and it wasn't long before we were back in business again.

Patti spent the day clearing the ground floor of our garage. The middle of the floor has been filled with boxes since we moved in over two years ago. Not any more. We could park a car in there now and two cars if I rearrange the yard equipment.

I've had more than 30 boxes stored for over five years. The boxes mainly contain books and office knick knacks. I went through every box today. I finally ended up with five boxes that I want to take to my church office. I discovered one box that had my most valuable certificates and knick knacks in it. That put a smile on my face.

There are still a lot of homes in a Pearland tonight without electricity. Maybe tomorrow will be the day to get their power back. There are more fences down than I've ever seen and of course, many trees and utility poles. Some of Pearland looks like it was hit by a tornado, or several of them. Not many businesses are open. A few grocery stores, a couple of drug stores, and a few convenience stores pumping gasoline with long lines. It will be awhile before life returns to normal, whatever normal happens to be.

Monday, September 15, 2008

"Ike" Was Here

It is about 60 hours since Hurricane Ike left Pearland. I didn't care for Friday night or
Saturday morning in the least. It was a long night of listening to the loudest howling sound of wind that I've ever heard. I haven't been in the middle of a hurricane in about 20 years, but Ike will last me for a long time.

Friday morning was beautiful. I cut the grass and spent most of the late morning outside. The sky was blue with few clouds. By 1:00 the clouds began to take over. As each hour passed, we knew that the storm was getting closer.

Sometime between 6:00 and 7:00 we began to lose our electricity. It would go out and then come back on again. About thirty minutes later it went out for the last time. By this time the wind was whipping up pretty good.

About 10:00 we went to bed. The house was warm. I had covered all the windows with plywood 24 hours earlier, so we couldn't tell what was happening outside. The sound of the wind was ferocious on the north side of the house, but our bedroom was a little bit quieter comparatively speaking. The sound of the wind was awful. We had a battery-powered radio going in the bedroom.

I think I must have dozed off and then woke up about midnight. They were saying that the eye wall was approaching the coast, but the center of the eye was still two hours away. I realized that we may have still been 2-4 hours away from the worst. That was a difficult conclusion to swallow if it seemed that bad at that moment.

I guess I woke up every two hours or less after this point. I remember how they described the havoc that Ike was having on Galveston. It sounded really bad. When I woke up about 4:00 I wondered if our homes would stay together. It really was worse than I had expected!

We got up about 7:00 and went out to the back of the house. The fence was down across the north, backside of the lot. It was a terrible site, but when we reviewed the rest of the house, we knew how grateful we needed to be.

We have two pine trees in the front yard. I guess pines are known for shallow roots. These two trees were planted a little over two years ago. I was surprised to see them still standing and not even slightly bent. Many newer pines in our subdivision did not fare so well. I guess out roots were just deep enough and strong enough to hold during this stressful time.

I am reminded that we also need to have some deep roots when the going gets tough. We had better know where our strength comes from, whose we are, and who is our strength. If not, we will just lean over during the "storms" of life. That is a simple rendition of a complex truth.

Most of Pearland is still without electrical power. It is terrible to be in the dark! That is really true spiritually isn't it? Yet, life goes on and hopefully we will learn some valuable truths from this experience. Thank you Lord for being with us and so many people along the Gulf Coast.

Friday, August 29, 2008

This week has been one of the most fulfilling time periods in my life.

I can only think of three time periods that have been better than this week. The best week of my life was the week that I married Patti and I am reminded of it every time that I look at her. The next biggest times were when my children were born. Like Patti, I'm reminded of those special times every time I'm around them.

This week was my first week as a teacher. It was a little different than I expected, but in a very good way. It was a hectic week. I got every morning at 5:40 so I could arrive at school early. Then it was go, go, go until 5:00 that evening and then it was several hours of preparation. I usually got to bed after 11:00. I have a new respect for teachers. Patti always made it "look" so easy, I guess I didn't realize all prep that went into it.

I am spending about an hour per class doing lesson plans and then gathering materials. I made four tests for today and a Powerpoint presentation for the Jr./Sr. High class. I should be able to diminish the time it takes me to put the lesson plans together, so that should save me some time.

Having said all that, I have some of the greatest kids that I've ever been around. They are eager to learn and they give me all of themselves every day. I guess that is my biggest surprise. Each class seems so unique and I can't wait to walk into each classroom.

I guess I am writing this to tell myself what I've felt this week and what I've experienced. You just get to hear what I'm saying to myself. Welcome to my world.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Are You In A Rut?

It has been a hectic weekend. I just completed my first Teacher In-Service week. I learned so much and got a lot accomplished as well. School starts Monday. I'm just nervous enough to make it interesting.

I came up with an awesome thought this week. I don't know a Student Pastor, or any other staff member that gets to teach students five days a week. That thought blew me away. If you had told me 30 years ago that I'd start teaching school at 63 years of age, I would have had a good laugh. The Lord must know what He's doing and has a great sense of humor as well.

School starts and the football season begins this week. Alabama is playing Clemson on TV this Saturday. So, we'll be watching LSU first and then Alabama. Everybody will pick Clemson to whip us, but you never know what will happen in college football.

We are still registering people for Abundant Life University. It has not gone so well, but this is the Sunday before school starts. If we don't get a significant number of new registrants this weekend, we probably won't make up for it on Labor Day weekend. We continue to receive new folks for Alpha. Both programs begin September 7, so not a lot of time remains.

I don't know who said this, but there is not truer statement:
"Without assimilation the opportunity for ongoing discipleship training will not exist."
Churches that major on Sunday morning worship at the expense of a healthy over-all ministry often end up building what we used to call a "Sunday Morning Chapel". The people are usually not assimilated into the church and therefore never become the body of Christ. The church is a place to come to on Sunday morning and feel good, or get refueled, not to be ready for the week to come, but to survive the week before. They seldom become a church family, assimilation does not take place, and so there is no chance of being discipled. Discipleship ends up not existing. The people do not grow spiritually and nothing changes. The lost are not reached because the body is so weak and there is nothing for people who stumble into the chapel service. It becomes an endless orbit going nowhere and touching no one.
There is hope. You can break out of this endless circle, but it will take effort, prayer, and dedication. What does one do?
First, create a vision of where you want to go. Nail it down. Then share that vision with your staff, key leaders, natural leaders, and the church as a whole. Plant the vision as many ways as humanly possible with as many people as possible. Keep spreading the vision until people start laughing about it. Then you will know that the word is out. Keep going.
Second, create harmony and teamwork. Use bonding opportunities to pull people together, think together, and enjoy being together. Move from individuals to a team approach. Plan together, make things happen together, and analyze together. Since everyone is now thinking as one, they should be doing everything together as well.
Third, create an infrastructure that will accommodate the new vision and dedication to make it happen. Without an adequate infrastructure, nothing can happen except the hatching of new and great ideas. The ideas will never get off the page.
Lastly, how can I tell if I am in a rut and going no where? If you are judging the success of your ministry by the success of programs, you are in this rut. Why? Because the programs are probably not doing as well as you would expect. Your judgment is is based on failing programs
that are doomed before they start. Therefore, you feel like a loser...defeated...alone.
Take a risk and step out in faith. Change your direction and your M.O. Lay leadership "metabolism" will change and you will feel like you are in a different environment. Now the real work begins and the new plan continues. You are on the road and discipleship will become real as you evolve.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Fall In the Mathews Household

Sunday is the first day of the week. It is the day we give to the Lord. It is a day of corporate worship. Sunday is a day of rest. Sunday is a day for the family. It is the most special day of the week. Nothing compares to it.

The second best day of the week offers something special during the fall of the year. The day of the week is Saturday and during the fall of the year there is NCAA Football. I will put away all of my work on Saturday afternoon and evening. Why? Patti and I are some of the staunchest Alabama Crimson Tide fans in this country, who never attended the University of Alabama.

Patti and I have been Alabama fans forever. When you grow up in the state of Alabama, you are either an Alabama fan, or an Auburn fan. My son grew up in an Alabama household that went crazy every Saturday afternoon. Then he graduated from LSU and you'd never believe that he grew up in our home. We also have a dear friend, Heather Zempel, who grew up as a die hard Auburn fan, but received her degrees from LSU. Now she lives to see Alabama destroyed in Death Valley this November. I still love both of them. They are just misdirected.

So, Patti and I will be in front of our Samsung every Saturday this fall. If you call me, you might get a recorded message, but you probably won't get me. We start out the season with Clemson, who should beat us, but we will lose our voices sometime in the second half. We will probably win only half of our games, but every Alabama fan knows that getting better is just a matter of time. LSU will probably beat us in Baton Rouge, or any other place we might play, but we will give them a good fight. If you want some good entertainment, stop by our home on that Saturday...just join in the fun.

Now you know what my whole week will be like this fall. If you ask my family, they would say that I would say, "It doesn't get any better than this."

One Step At A Time

I have spent several hours today working on lesson plans for four grade levels and rewriting a syllabus for Junior/Senior High. It took about an hour per lesson plan. After I finished, I asked Patti how long it takes to complete her lesson plans. She said, "I've been working hard on it and I've got it down to about 45 minutes." I knew this lesson plan writing was going to end up being a real learning curve, but boy do I have some things to learn...but I'm pleased with what took me four hours to do!

Now it is Saturday evening and I'm switching gears. Now I'm reviewing power point material for a Teachers In Training class tomorrow morning. Later tonight I'll switch again and zero in on reviewing material for our Alpha training that will begin Sunday afternoon.

My plate feels fairly full, but I could not be happier. In September I'll replace the TNT class with a regular Sunday morning Bible study. I'll be leading The Good News class until we find an appropriate replacement. Then I'll trade the Alpha training for teaching a class during Abundant Life University. I'm going to be leading the study of Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire by Pastor Jim Cymbala of the Brooklyn Tabernacle Church. These two classes should keep me pleasantly busy.

Can I prepare to teach six classes a week? I am going to find out! I think I can.

What else will be going on at the church? We will begin preparing for the next ALU which will begin next February. We will also plan for a new Alpha Course that should kick off in February as well. We will also plan new discipleship adventures for 2009. My week should be full.

Pray for me that I will take one step at a time.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Fall Discipleship Just Around the Corner

We are about three weeks away from a huge discipleship thrust. It will begin in early September and be fully implemented by the end of the month. What is it?

We will kick off our second semester of Abundant Life University on September 7. We are offering six courses that will run from 8-13 weeks. We are in the registration process right now. Then we will order the books and be ready to start on the Sunday evening following Labor Day.

Alpha will start on September 7 as well. It will meet in the Fellowship Hall, while ALU is meeting on the first and second floors. The people who have been invited and have committed to attend, seem very excited to get underway. They have built a fire of excitement around everybody who has anything to do with Alpha.

While Abundant Life University and Alpha are being conducted, there will be two choirs offered for our children from Pre-school to sixth grade. The kids will be presenting their music in December after ALU and Alpha have concluded. There will be something for everyone.

In mid-September we will be Mentor Training. The mentors will be assigned to new believers. The mentors will shepherd those who profess their faith in Christ for a period of six months with less and less supervision as other leaders take their place. You can look on our web site to see how it actually operates. The mentors will receive their first students beginning September 28.

Once we get these Fall pieces activated, the basics of discipleship will be in place. Then in 2009 we will add the final two new dimensions to the existing structure. The 2009 dimensions are designed to further mature the growing Christian by exposing them to ministries.

What happens after 2009? 2010 comes along. Just kidding. We will add supplementary learning experiences that we discover are needed at FBCP and fine-tune what we already have in place. Discipleship is never stagnant. The methodology is always changing and improving.

I am excited to see our discipleship thrust expanding. 2009 will also be the time period when we will have to bring more people on board to make it all happen. At the rate we are going, discipleship should be a vital part of the FBCP landscape within a five-year period. Let's shoot for 2012!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Relearning About Life

I spent part of Monday and Wednesday this week at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. It is a huge complex in the Texas Medical Center, which must be one of the largest medical centers in the United States. M.D. Anderson is absolutely huge, with over 17,000 employees. It is like a little city.

Thirty years ago was the first time I ever visited M.D. Anderson. I was doing a clinical internship at Southwest Memorial Hospital and went to the Medical Center to use their medical library. I remember the many people that I saw with cancer, but they were surrounded by the most caring medical personnel I had ever been around. It was an amazing place and still is.

When I visited MDA this week it had been five years since I had been on the campus. It looked completely different, except for the original lobby in the main building. Today you've got to get on the right bank of elevators, or you will never find where you are going. It is quite impressive and specialized to the inth degree.

I sat in the Surgical Waiting area and watched people. Some families received the news they were hoping for. Other families received the news they expected, but was not the news they hoped for. Still others were talking about treatment and what might lie ahead. The need was beyond comprehension.

Life was seemed to be in "suspended animation". Normal eveyday life was on hiatus as families were fighting the disease with their loved ones. It felt like there were thousands of people with similar struggles in common. They were behind the walls of these multiple buildings fighting cancer as the world went on outside.

That's the way it is in the spiritual realm as well. Catastrophe strikes. It might be tragedy, disappointment, disillusionment, disease, or even sin. There are so many other possibilities. The person can feel all alone. They can feel separated from friends, relatives, and any other important people in their lives. They can even feel cut-off from God. They don't know where to turn. They just float as if in a gravity-free environment.

What does a person in suspended animation need? Contact would probably be #1. Without contact nothing else will happen. They need someone to really listen to them. They need to know they were heard. They may need a gentle, loving, caring person to respond to them where they are. They need someone to go slow with them. You may be just the person that God could use to bridge a gap that would unite Him with someone really estranged.

What have you thought about while reading this post?

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Goose Is On the Way

Mark Batterson's new book, Wild Goose Chase, will be released on Tuesday, August 19. I can't wait to read it. It should be in your favorite bookstore in just a few days.

Mark's first book, In A Pit With A Lion On A Snowy Day, was an absolute hit. When I offered the book study in early 2008, the folks who took the course were really inspired by it, but the people in the community who heard about it was the surprise to me. They all wanted to know how to get a copy of the book.

Here's some book bytes from Wild Goose Chase:

I wonder if churches do to people what zoos do to animals. We try to tame them in the name of Christ. We remove the risk. We remove the danger. We remove the struggle. And what we end up with is a caged Christian.

Jesus didn't die on the cross to keep us safe. He died to make us dangerous. I would like to think that when I pronounce the benediction at the end of our church services, I am sending dangerous people back into their natural habitat to wreck havoc on the enemy.

I don't know what Mark will do with the above book bytes, but I have a few ideas of my own. Have you ever been to a major zoo? I guess I've always enjoyed going to the zoo. In the past year I've been to the Houston Zoo and The National Zoo in Washington, D.C. I would rather see animals in a "natural" habitat than behind the bars of a cage.

I must agree with Mark, at least on the surface of these bytes. We do try to tame people and they end up being caged Christians. They get so accustomed to their caged environment, they are not much good out in the "wild". We try to purify their environment to such a degree that they find themselves straddling both hemispheres and they lose in both worlds.

Jesus prepared the disciples for three short years. Then He sent them out into the world. The early church discipled the new believers and they lived and reached others in their natural habitat. They did not have to be perfect; they were just Christ followers, who loved the Lord and wanted to share Him with others. They wanted to see those new Christians discipled and the circle continued.

When will we return to the New Testament model in America? Is it too late? Definitely not! Why do we keep passing on the "zoo" concept, rather than the "natural habitat" environment? In my lifetime, leaders have passed on what they received from leaders that they respected and we seem to have produced "religion". We can see it in other realms, but not our own. We are blind to see the cages that we have created and perpetuated.

See why I can't wait to read Mark Batterson's new book? He has such great insight into an ecclesiastical world that wants to spray a sanitizer rather than live with less than an antiseptic environment. We want to protect people from what they might hear, rather than leading them to Christ and growing them in their new found faith,

Friday, August 8, 2008

My Retail Career Has Ended

After being in the retail environment for four years, it came to and end last night. I left The Home Depot to begin teaching Bible at EHCA this month.

I am looking forward to teaching this fall. It will be a challenge to teach such diversified age groups from 4th-10th grade(there are no 11th and 12th graders). I am diligently preparing to teach four classes and I am on schedule for where I want to be.

It was bitter-sweet to leave The Home Depot last night. I had built up some wonderful relationships and it was hard to say good-bye. I felt myself choking up several times. Everyone was so wonderful. I will miss them. I guess you can tell I'm talking about relationships more than anything else.

I have about 10 days to finalize my school preparations before Teacher In-service days begin. Then the following week school begins for the kids. Then it is sink or swim time. I've been teaching for about 35 years, but the 4-6th graders will be a new challenge. I look forward to it.

I will remain on the staff at First Baptist Church Pearland. I will be working in the church office everyday when I am not in a class. The church will get more hours out of me and the school will be pleased with my schedule with them. It looks like a win-win-win.

I am excited about our church web site.It has taken a year to prepare the material and then get
the discipleship info on the site. I printed the pages today and it needs some proofing and minor changes, but it is now current. Give me until next Tuesday/Wednesday when I work again at the church and I'll get it right. Then click on and take a look. You will see what has been developed in these first 12 months. During 2009 the other two segments will be added. Not too shabby for a part-time project!

I am amazed. How many people get the opportunity to disciple elementary aged children, junior/senior high students, and adults all in the same week?

I will keep you up to date as fall arrives and my daily life changes drastically.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Pearland Town Center Is Awesome!

The Pearland Town Center was more impressive than I had imagined. It is far bigger than I thought it would be, but the atmosphere is what blew me away. I would compare it to a beach resort area in the late afternoon as people are mingling, heading for dinner, and moving around after dinner having fun. If those who manage the Town Center can build on that atmosphere, it will be the weekend place to be! If you haven 't experienced it, don't wait.

You won't believe this. Someone from the Tomball area responded to yesterday's post and they spotted my Morgan Freeman look-a-like at a Quiznos. I didn't tell you this, but this man had freckles just like Morgan Freeman and the person responding to me mentioned that little fact. I really didn't expect to hear anything from anyone. I was amazed. Thanks for taking the time to respond.

Promotion for our Abundant Life University started in earnest today. We handed out a 12-page brochure that described the whole discipleship thrust and gave information on the classes we will offer this fall. Registration will begin big time this Wednesday night and run about two weeks. Now all we need is a good response.

One of the courses we will offer in ALU is Financial Peace University by Dave Ramsey, which could be our largest class. Other courses include Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire by Jim Cymbala, The Wonderful Spirit-Filled Life by Charles Stanley, So You Want To Be More Like Christ by Charles Swindoll, Divorce Recovery, and Exploring Worship. I think we are offering some good courses for those who want to spiritually grow.

I have a busy week ahead of me. My last day at The Home Depot is this Thursday. We continue working on The Alpha Course, slated to begin on September 7, along with ALU. I'm also trying to schedule a class for those who want to mentor new believers. I am teaching during the Sunday school hour and planning for school to start soon. As the wise man said, "IT'S ALL GOOD"!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Looking for A Morgan Freeman Look-A-Like

The weather forecast just flashed on the television screen. Channel 11 says that they are expecting the temperatures to hit 100 today and 101 tomorrow. That is pretty hot. It even has that look of being hot as I look out the study window.

Our children and grandchildren will be here in a little while. This weekend is the Grand Opening of the Pearland Town Center. I think there are 80 stores on some tremendously large parcel of property. A lake separates us from the backside of the shopping area. They have put in a sidewalk all the way around the lake with lights every 100 feet or so. It is rather pretty.

Anyway, we are all going shopping and then eat dinner at the Town Center. I hope to spend some time at Barnes & Noble, but I'm looking forward to seeing the whole thing. He is a simple fact that will show you how my mind thinks: It is one minute and forty seconds from our driveway to the parking area around Dillards Department Store. Now that is a worthless piece of information, but it is me, non-the-less. You don't care if it is one minute, or ten minutes away and I really don't either, but that's how I think. Aren 't you glad you're not like that!

I guess you could say that I'm really enjoying this Saturday off business. I worked on Saturdays for so long in retail that I'm still getting used to having the day off. I will enjoy this afternoon with my family.

I went with Patti yesterday to Tomball Regional Hospital for her colonoscopy. She left me about 10:00 and I didn't see her again until about 1:00. Something went wrong with this first patient and it threw the line-up off. During the wait, I met a long-time resident of Tomball in the waiting room and our conversation was worth the whole wait. I wish I had got his name. It would have been nice to contact him from time to time. He looked just like one of my favorite actors---Morgan Freeman---and even sounded like the character he played in Shawshank Redemption. So, if you know someone in Tomball who fits the description, please let me know.

I hope you have as good a day as I hope to have.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

"Can I Broaden Your Horizons?"

That is exactly what I said to my son Jared, a little after 1:30 today. I wanted to do something just for me today and I asked Jared if he wanted to go with me. He was not overly excited about the prospect, but decided to go with me.

My favorite novelist, Daniel Silva, was in town as part of his 33-city National Book Tour. He was scheduled to be at Murder By the Book at 3:00 P.M. I did not want to miss this opportunity. I had met Mr. Silva during a similar book signing about three years ago and I've read all of his books.

I printed up a map on how to get to the bookstore on Bissonnet and headed over to pick up Jared. Now what I'm going to tell you is so much like me. I left the map and directions in the printer! Called Patti and the way and had her verify what I believed to be the way to get there.

There were about 150 crowded into that small bookstore, half of them standing. We joined the throng. A few minutes after 3:00 Mr. Silva was introduced and kept us spell-bound for about 50 minutes. I don't know if Jared was spell-bound, but I thought the author did a great job of informing us about how the book was written and answering questions.

The event closed with the book signing. There was only one problem. I was #92! After the first 40 had their books signed, we found two vacant chairs and were finally able to sit down. Then we stood in line with those in the 90's to have our books signed.

After reading all of Silva's books and really digging into his major reoccurring character, Daniel Silva seems like a friend. When we were driving home, I realized that I was glad that I didn't skip the event and I was glad that Jared got to experience something in life that he had never tried...a book signing. I will not forget that even for a long time to come.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

These Are Busy Days

I have two major projects that I'm working on for about the next three weeks.

One project is rolling out another semester of Abundant Life University for the church and launching the first Alpha Course. Both are scheduled to begin on September 7. I will be facilitating the study of Jim Cymbala's Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire and leading part of the Alpha Course. They will be held on the same evenings, so that should be a challenge. I think we have it worked out.

The second project is getting ready to teach four daily classes: 4th grade, 5th grade, 6th grade, and a Junior/Senior class. I am presently designing a syllabus for the Jr./Sr. High class and will follow it up with some lesson plans. Then I will do the same thing for 4th, 5th, and 6th grades. This is a whole new learning curve for me, but I am enjoying the opportunity to be creative.

In between these two major projects I'll be teaching a "Teachers In Training" class for prospective teachers and substitutes during August and then I'll be filling in for one of the Sunday morning Adult Bible classes for at least the month of September.

I think my schedule this fall is pretty well filled up. I guess it could be a little overwhelming, but I learned a long time ago to just take one step at a time and that is what I'm doing. I'll fill you in as the weeks roll out. I am looking forward to the next three months!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Lombard Street

Life is often like Lombard Street is San Francisco. Lombard is the crookedest street in the world. It is steep, full of hairpin curves, and can even trap some vehicles as they attempt to descend it's crooked path.

Lombard has some of the finest Victorian homes in the city. Some time ago, the residents of Lombard Street completely changed the configuration of the road in front of their homes. They constructed it at their own expense to lessen the increasing number of vehicles that passed their homes bumper to bumper. The crooked road became so unique that it increased the amount of traffic and had just the opposite effect than what its designers had intended.

Life is like Lombard Street. Life is full of steep inclines, surprising curves, and runaway descents. We will run into a variety of obstacles along our journey in life and we have to navigate it, but without the Lord as our navigator, pilot, and everything else that is important, we can end up at the wrong destination.

Four years ago I began working in retail. For four years I've sold appliances at Best Buy and then The Home Depot. It has been a wonderful experience in so many ways. I've had the opportunity to observe people out in the world, where they are comfortable. It is a different view than from the pulpit, the walls of a church office, or even the cubicle of a hospital intensive care unit. I have had the opportunity to really listen to ordinary, everyday people. The experience has changed me, opened my eyes, and has made me a better minister.

About a year ago, First Baptist Church hired me to head up education, or as I would prefer to call it, discipleship. It has been a challenging year for me and yet, I have grown through it as well. We are a long way from making discipleship real in people's everyday world, but it will come.

Earlier this month I was asked to teach Bible in the Christian School that is part of the ministry of FBC. I will be teaching 4th, 5th, 6th, and Junior/Senior High. I am looking forward to this challenge, doing what I think I do best.

Today, I gave notice at The Home Depot. My last day there will be August 7 and New Teacher Orientation begins on August 18. I have a lot of work to do to get ready for the start of school on August 25. I've got to plan curriculum for each of these grades and write lesson plans. I'll have a "learning curve" there, but I've been through that a lot of times in my life. I've even got to send off for transcripts tomorrow. And I thought those days were over!

Life has been like Lombard Street for me the past four years (I guess we could say that all of life has its curves and we sometimes get stuck), but it feels like I've been in the middle of Lombard for these four years. That is not something that is just can't see the bottom, or a clear view of where you're going. God knew and I followed. What an education! God had me on course, within the parameters of His Will, even when I didn't understand. I am in awe of Him.

Maybe it is dark and you are on Lombard Street right now. Stop and look around. Get your bearings. Depend on your supernatural compass. When daybreak comes, you will know where you are! Life is a journey. It has a beginning, a huge middle, and a wonderful ending.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

What Will 2008 Hold for You?

I was watching television tonight and was slightly bored when I began thinking about 2008. Allow me to share a few of these thoughts with you.

2008 will be remembered for many things, but let me mention just a few:
$4.00+ a gallon gasoline
Escalating food prices
Airline Industry chaos
Massive foreclosures
Declining home values(that could have a double message)
Investment losses
Layoffs leading to higher unemployment

And this is just a few of the could probably list even more. Just these few downturns can be devastating to many people. They can think their lives are over and life is not worth living. It can and has changed life for many as they have known it.

What if we can recognize some things irregardless of our circumstances?
1) What if we recognized that what the world gives is secondary to our happiness and has nothing to do with our joy?

2) What if we recognized that Jesus is with us despite the world's worst conditions and that He will sustain us?

3) What if we recognized the need for a changed life that would produce abundant Christian living and we make the change?

Then life really will be different and we will find ourselves on a plane above the world's values and aspirations. We would find what we didn't even realize that we were looking for.

We may never make the money we once did; we may live in a rent house, drive a used car, have no retirement account, but life would be abundant because our focus has changed.

What will you remember 2008 for five years from now? Will it be the world in terms of a recession, a bear market, losses we sustained and maybe never recovered from, or will it be the changed life that produced life that touched other lives??

There are five months left in 2008. Make them count!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Two Funerals In Last 24 Hours

Dr. Michael DeBakey passed away at the age of 99 and his funeral was held today. They said Dr. DeBakey was the pioneer of medicine in the 20th century. He was a hero and changed the world!

We lost one of our family members yesterday at the age of 112. She had no impact on the world, but had a wonderful impact on our family. She changed the context of our world. We knew death was not too far around the corner. She lost her eyesight during the past year and was starting to get pretty frail. I just wasn't ready for her death yesterday.

Pixie Mathews came into our lives back in 1993 when we were living in Texas City. One of Patti's students offered her a puppy and Patti accepted it, much to the surprise of the rest of the family. Patti said she would never have a house dog and we all knew she was partial to cats. This addition to our home was a tremendous surprise.

Pixie was Pomeranian/Pekingese and the runt of the litter. She lived with us in six houses over a 15 and one-half year period of time. She became a family member and a "house" dog, I might add. The kids left home for college, got married, and started their own families, but Pixie remained and was one of the constants in all of our lives.

Pixie, like many dogs, loved us unconditionally and we loved her. It seems like any dog owner would have to learn about total acceptance from their dog. How could they not apply that to the acceptance and love God has for us. He sent His only Son to give His life for us. He paid the penalty for our sin. You can learn a lot from a dog, but it pales in comparison to how much God loves us. Dogs stay with us during all the ups and downs of life, but God even more so. They are faithful to the fullest extent of the word, but God is faithful beyond what we can even imagine.

When I came in from church last night, Patti said, "I think Pixie is dead." I was shocked at several levels, but it was not a 100% surprise either. There was no heart beat, the warmth had gone out of her body, rigor mortis was setting in, and when I looked into her wonderful eyes, no one was home. It was the look I had never seen in her. I was the one who bathed her from the time she was a pup. The life that I had held so many times was gone.

We both know that a dog does not have a soul, but Pixie had a spirit about her, a personality that is no longer with us. She loved to be in the back yard and feel the gentle breeze blow in her face. She would close her eyes and look like she was in total relaxation as the wind blew her hair. She thought she was a watch dog--her bark did get people's attention, but her 8# physique gave her away.

Today, there is a big hole in our lives and something missing in our home. When I look on the floor of our bedroom she is not there. When I shaved this morning, she was not looking at me like she did yesterday morning. When I cut the grass this weekend, she will not be in the backyard with me. She is not around in all the old familiar places. Patti says she doesn't want another animal...I's the grief of life.

Now, if we can love an animal like that and receive her much more should we be able to love a human being that has a soul that Jesus died for?