Monday, March 31, 2008

Neo-Natal ICU for New Believers

I taught my first Sunday morning Bible study 36 years ago. I've been leading small groups for more than 20 years. Yesterday I started a new small group and something happened that I've not experienced in all of those 20+ years. No one showed up. Now that was a strange feeling. This morning I realize that I've learned things from yesterday's experience that would rank right up there with some of the best things I've learned over the years.

It has solidified in my brain that new believers are a different kind of breed. They need special handling. An invitation will not necessarily get them to attend. A face to face invitation may not get them to commit, but it is moving in the right direction. It seems to me that maybe they need a large group experience of explaining what one is trying to do and then a follow-up, more personal approach. I will have to chew on that for a while. Share anything you can with me.

Then I learned that maybe I can't do everything by myself. I think I knew that, but was trying to do it anyway. To build the kind of structure that I'm trying to put into place is not a solo event. It is probably going to require a steering group and volunteers at every major level. When you consider that I'm trying to put it into place working part-time, I must be out of my mind, or just plain need help.

What I've described was an eye-opener to me. I'm not sure I ever wanted to do it all by myself anyway, but yesterday solidified that for me. It was a defeat and yet a giant win if I can revamp my organizational structure and fill slots to make it all happen. I don't think there is any other choice for it to ultimately be a success. Thank you Lord for removing the cataracts from my eyes.

Last week my granddaughter was born. They put her in the nursery, under constant care and observation for the first four hours. They say that this four-hour period is the most critical for newborns. Then they brought her to her mother and she began feeding right away. The bonding experience began, or should I say, continued to a new level. Now that baby will need a mother's constant care for weeks to come.

The physical birth of a baby is a beautiful picture of the birth of a new believer. They need constant care and observation. I'm beginning to believe that it may be four weeks, rather than the first four hours. Mike, you mean that a new believer needs more care than a newborn baby? No, but you take a newborn baby home with you. A believer returns to their previous environment. This idea has solidified in my brain, heart, and spirit.

One last thing for today. A human baby is in trouble if a mother and daddy do not bond with that baby from the beginning. There is a time period when that bonding has to take place. The same thing happens with a new believer. They profess their faith in Christ. They follow Jesus in baptism and join the community of believers. What happens if bonding does not take place? The new believer begins to pull away, looks for it elsewhere, and often disappears in a matter of weeks.

With what I have learned over the past week and in particular over the weekend, I am determined to set in motion whatever it takes to care for the newborn child of God.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Is Change Like Castor Oil?

About a lifetime ago, back in the early 80's, God called me to a specific ministry. I grunted, moaned, kicked my feet, and went into a childlike tantrum over several months. Some are called to preach, others to teach, some to provide pastoral care like no one else, but I was called to be a "Change Agent".

I can't remember when I heard the term Change Agent for the first time, but it was after God called me to do the work. I knew who I was, whom I belonged to, but not that I was called anything in particular. When a tag was put on what I do, I knew that was me. I remember saying to myself, "Is that what I'm called?"

Change Agents can be scary people. We define what is going on, devise a plan to improve it, and then set about implementing the plan over a period of time. It usually involves change and most of us do not like anything about our lives messed with, or changed.

I began reading a book about five years ago. It was entitled How To Change Your Church (without killing it) by Alan Nelson and Gene Appel. Little did I know how much my life would change in the next 30 days. I got as far as page 130 of the 329 page book. I think I will start reading it again.

Change means to cause to turn or pass from one state to another; to vary in form or essence; to alter or make different.

The authors of How To Change Your Church tell us that pure status quo is a myth. If everything around us is changing, even when we think we are staying the same; as people evolve, we may no longer be in tune with them and are likewise changing in a way that might be more difficult to reach them.

On my birthday the other day, my pastor gave me a printout of what took place on my day of birth. I'm sure you have seen some of these. Allow me to show you some 1945 prices:
Bread: $0.09/loaf Milk: $0.62/gal.
Eggs: $0.64/doz. Gas: $0.21/gal.
Car: $1,250 House: $10,131
Stamp: $0.03/ea. Average Income: $2,807/yr.
Minimum Wage: $0.40/hr. DOW Average: 193

I think you would agree that there have been substantial changes during our lifetimes. I remember paying around $0.21/gal for gasoline while I was in college and during gas wars it even got less. I remember paying about $2,800 for my first new car in 1972. I remember paying $18,000 for the first new home that I built around the same time. Obviously massive
changes took place following the mid 70's.

I remember back in the late 80's that there seemed to be a new trend taking place in church music around the country. There was an emerging movement toward contemporary Christian music and away from the old gospel hymns. Now, just stating this trend opens up a whole can of worms, but my point is that some people thought it would never come to their church. It is one area of change that they could never visualize. By the 90's change was on the horizon, if not taking over like a tsunami and by 2000 music had really changed.

Nelson and Appel tell us that "All churches either change to continue prevailing or they change by becoming irrelevant to people and eventually disappear."

The Barna Research Group has revealed a staggering fact: "Most people who come to Christ in American churches leave within the first eight weeks." This is one of the most startling facts that you will probably read this week. Barna goes on to say, "The faith of most people in the United States who claim to be Christians is shallow and not very significant in terms of impacting their behaviors." Now imagine, if long-term Christians have a shallow faith over-all, what kind of shape is that new believer in? I think he is ready to dig, if we will give him the tools!

Lots of life-change has gone on. Where we live is not the same as it was even 25 years ago. Yet, the people around us have the same needs. They need Christ and they need to be discipled. Isn't it time that we change clothes and do something different than what we've been doing? It hasn't worked has it? Obviously NOT.

Our methodology needs to change in 2008, but the gospel never needs to be compromised. If we can deal and struggle with that, then maybe we can get out of our comfortable cubicles and really change lives for the sake of Christ.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Do You Expect Service?

I returned a Home Theater System to one of the major Big Box stores around the end of January for warranty repair. I was informed that they don't do the repair work. It would have to be sent back to the manufacturer. I was not a "happy camper".

I contacted the manufacturer and was told that I would absorb the shipping to them and they would pay for shipping back to me. How nice...what a deal! So I spent $31.51 to send it back. The manufacturer received the shipment on February 8 and I was told to expect a 7-14 day turnaround. Not in this lifetime. After several e-mails asking for a status report and no response, I called them. Now they offer me an exchange and they will send the offer in 48-72 hours. I would then need to accept it, or reject the offer. Not on planet earth.

Today I called back and explained all the details. They looked me up and guess what? The new unit is on its way and is scheduled to arrive Tuesday. Now, do I believe this? Not today...maybe next Tuesday. Was this good customer service? Not from my perspective, but maybe too many businesses are just like this. Will I do business with the local retailer again? Not even when they have a closeout sale this year. I've been reading that they are just about to go under.

I really believe in good customer service. When someone trusts one enough to make a decision to make a purchase, I think that we had better come through. It is true in business and it is true in our spiritual lives. Let me explain.

You build a relationship with a person. Trust develops between the two of you. You introduce Christ to them. The person trusts your judgment and then trusts in Jesus Christ. They are baptized and brought into the church, the community of saints. How many churches provide warranty service to them? All parts and all labor. What do you mean?

Do we tell that precious new believer that this is just the beginning? Do we inform them that there is more after the beginning? Or, do we infer that you can now dive right in, there are really no expectations for you, and you are part of the "club" your dues and do what you please? Not unless we want the "spiritual consumer" to start shopping somewhere else. If we do, they will all of a sudden disappear and we will wonder what happened.

By mid-year I hope to roll out a Life Track for New Believers at FBCP. Each new believer will be discipled One-on-One for the first 30 days. Then they will have the opportunity to attend two back to back basic courses and then join a small group tailored just for their needs for about 12 weeks. After these courses are completed, we will have developed a Sunday morning study just for them. This latter study will transition them to the mainstream Abundant Life University and other discipleship offerings for the entire church. But, they will have been discipled and protected for about six months before being thrown into the community to learn a variety of behaviors.

Why would we offer such a track? I have watched people for over thirty years enter the church and not receive the guidance they needed. Many were new believers who may have had a spiritual IQ of 50. Others were so-called Christians who had never grown spiritually and would probably disappear inside 90-180 days. Still others were a little more spiritually mature, but were headed for disappointment if they repeated the same old patterns.

I believe in this so strongly because it will guarantee these new believers that they will be under a spiritual warranty program for at least 6 months and the church is dedicated to taking care of them at this important junction in their lives. They will not get lost in the shuffle because mentors will be looking after them. When they need attention, they will get it.

I'll keep you posted on how this develops and the impact it has on the lives of new believers. Does God expect us to provide the best "service" possible? You bet He does!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Four Hectic Fulfilling Days

It has been rather hectic these past four days and I didn't get anything written. I'll try and bring you up to date with this post.

Sunday was the finest Easter worship experience that I've ever been a part of in all of my years. It exceeded my expectation of how good I thought it could be. The drama I told you about was excellent. The music, live acting, and video clips was absolutely awesome. Then Pastor Sonny shared his inspired message and people gave their lives to Christ. What more could you ask for?

Sunday afternoon our family came together and I grilled steaks, hamburgers, and hot dogs. There were 11 of us and we had a ball. They celebrated my birthday, which was the next day and I blew out a candle on two pies and something called Mississippi Mud. It was a good day and went on past 7:00 P.M.

Monday was my actual birthday. Patti spent the night at Miranda's in Lake Jackson and I worked the 12-9 shift. It was not much of a day, but I certainly had everybody with me the day before. It was my 63rd birthday...I must be getting old. Actually, I think it is all a state of the mind. I am chronologically 63 now, but don't feel like it. If I live to be 83, I wonder if I'll feel that chronological age doesn't matter then either. I hope so.

Tuesday morning I went into the church office and as I was deep in thought, Janice(my secretary) and her husband walked in and put a large oblong Pyrex dish in front of me. She had made a dessert out of ice cream sandwiches. It was wonderful and the whole staff had some before and after our staff meeting. That was such a thoughtful thing to do. It really put a smile on my face.

Tuesday at 12:47 P.M. Jared and Tiffany had their baby. Her name is Kallie Grace. She weighed 7 lbs. 11 ounces and was 19.5 inches long. Kallie has blue eyes and dark hair. Jared told me this morning that she is feeding well and starting to open her eyes more. Both the baby and Tiffany are doing well.

Tuesday afternoon all the family met at our home and we went down to the hospital to see Kallie, Tiffany, and Jared. It was another of those times when it is so great to be together. The concept of family comes through so vividly. It was wonderful to look around the room and see the way everybody was relating to each other. God made us for each other, as well as Himself.

Wednesday was another day at the office. I got a lot done and felt so much satisfaction. I usually meet Patti for dinner at IHOP on Wednesday night before church. She called and said Reid was still napping and she would skip dinner and feed them at home. Reid woke up kind of cranky about 6:00, so Patti decided to stay at home with him. The Prayer Meeting was great and I got home just after 8:00. It seemed like a long two days and I was tired.

This morning Patti left for work about 6:30. Reid woke up about 7:30. I fed him breakfast, read a book with him, got him dressed and we headed to his Day Care Center. It was fun to be with him this morning, even if it was only for an hour.

We'll, I've brought you up to date. I'll try to get back into the groove of my writing starting tomorrow. Sometimes one can journal a little too much. Sometimes we need a little substance with the details of daily living.

Remember who you belong to today.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Spring Ushers In Potential Change

Spring has arrived and Patti was out of school on Spring Break. She had some dreams she wanted to put into place concerning our landscaping. Last Saturday evening we made a trip to Lowe's and bought out their Outside Gardening department. I'm just kidding of course, but we did purchase 25 bags of mulch, 40 stones to enclose a flower garden, many plants, and various other items. Needless to say, both SUV's were packed to the hilt.

Patti started her project on Monday by putting out all the mulch, planting flowers, laying the stones for the flower garden and who knows what else, but she literally changed the appearance of the front and back yards.

On Tuesday she reorganized our walk-in pantry. Now that was a scary place before she got in there. I had already had two bouts with that room. First, I knocked over a large can of cayenne pepper. Imagine that all over the floor. Then, several weeks later, I knocked over a large bottle of syrup! There was no comparison between the pepper and the syrup. All I can tell you is that it was a nightmare to clean up. So now, Patti has completely reorganized the pantry and it is not a scary place anymore, but I still think about my experiences whenever I go in there. Actually, I try to stay out of it as much as possible.

The rest of the week Patti continued her project in the yard, even buying more mulch and plants. Then on Friday morning I cut the grass, edged, and weeded. She added more plants and now it is looking good!

Now, why did I tell you all that? I thought you needed a good laugh about the syrup and pepper, but there was a reason for the Spring story. Change is taking place in our weather. The days are getting longer, the average temperatures are rising, the grass is greening and plants are beginning to bloom. It is obviously a time of change and we can take advantage of that in many ways.

In addition to doing a Spring clean-up, or rejuvenating your plants, or fertilizing your yard, or any number of other Spring projects, why not give your life a change spiritually? Why not spruce up that spiritual life that seems to have gone into hibernation? It needs some attention doesn't it? Now is a good time, right along with taking care of the outside of your home.

How about re instituting that Quiet Time with the Lord that was so important to you just a few months ago, or that you remember from just a few years ago? Could you get up 15 minutes earlier than usual and spend that time with the Lord? Pick out a book in the Bible and begin systematically working through it as a devotional each morning. Spent some time talking to God after you read His Word. Then, as much as you like to talk, just shut up, get quiet, meditate on the communication you just had and let Him speak to you. Warning: That 15 minutes will fly by and perhaps turn into 20 minutes!

You might say, "I really don't have time to add another 15 minutes to my already early wake-up time." I can understand that, but let me tell you a story. My son's employer just moved from League City to The Woodlands. Jared joined a 24 Hour Fitness just across the street from his new office location. He gets up at 4:45 and three days a week works out before going to the office. Do you realize how many people all over the Greater Houston area do something just like that?

If we can get up earlier to have a workout for our bodies, why can't we get up earlier to have a meeting with the Lord? Maybe we don't put both of those events on par with each other. How sad for us. Our bodies are more important than our souls. Our physical well-being is more important than our spiritual well-being. See what I mean? Anything worth doing will require some changes in our lifestyle. It's Spring...let's use that concept to add some things to our lives that will change us on the inside and not just what people see.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

What Does the Next Week Hold?

Yesterday was one of those long days. We got home just before 10:00 P.M. It was after a day at work, Wednesday Prayer Meeting, and then dress rehearsal for our Easter Sunday morning drama. After being involved in the retail environment during Holy Week the past five years, I forgot how hectic it can be leading up to Easter Sunday.

The drama was written by our own people and is absolutely awesome. The drama includes film footage of two scenes, inspiring music, and of course, live action. The message is dynamite and will be a terrific lead-in to our pastor's sermon. I am proud of what our creative team has done with the whole production and the technicians and actors are outstanding. Can't tell you anymore than this, since some of the people who will see it may be reading this post. My lips are sealed!

I am looking forward to a wonderful weekend. It will be the first Saturday and Easter Sunday that I've been off in five years. I'm going to watch some of the March Madness games on Saturday and then we are going to have a dress rehearsal on Saturday night. On Sunday our family will all be together after church. I'm going to cook on the grill and Patti will do her thing inside. These family gatherings that we have is something that I've dreamed about for years. It is now happening.

Next week, following Easter, should be a time of new birth and renewal. Tiffany will probably have her baby on Tuesday. The baby is about 42 weeks in size and they will do an amniocentesis on Tuesday to see if they can take her early. Based on those test results, Tiffany could be scheduled for noon Tuesday. The baby's name will be Kallie Grace (Tiffany will kill me if I've misspelled that first name). Anyway, we are looking forward to next week with great expectation.

If you are not sure where you are going on Easter Sunday morning, join can sit next to us! Happy Easter wherever you are.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

What Kind of Christian Are You?

Last week I was reading a post of my son's Sports blog. He was asking the question: "What kind of sports fan are you?" It got me thinking that the same question can be asked of us spiritually.

Using my son Jared's rationale, we could also look at ourselves in three categories using a 1-10 scale.

First, you could be a Super Spiritual person (don't get hung up on the title) and this would put you on the scale somewhere 8-10. This person lives for Christ daily and is dependent on Christ every moment of the day. It is as if Jesus were this person's constant companion.

The person I am describing is in the process of being discipled and they understand that it is a life-long process. They have a vibrant prayer life, witnessing is just a part of their daily life, Christian fellowship is vital to their existence, and the Word of God is increasingly valuable to the very heart of their being.

The person who scores an 8, 9, or 10 is always seeking the Will of God for their lives in every aspect of life. They are involved in ministry to others as they grow in their own faith. This person regularly attends corporate worship with other believers, grows with fellow believers in some kind of small group, and is a supporter of their church and its leaders.

Second, you could be a Casual Spiritual person and this would put you on this fictitious scale somewhere around 5-7. This person has given their life to Christ. They see Him as being there when they need Him. They call upon Him when the going gets tough and they can't handle it humanly.

This Casual person is probably also casual about their own personal spiritual growth. They may see growth in terms of Bible knowledge and even being part of a Sunday morning Bible class. Spiritual growth is not a part of their thinking at this point in their lives. This person prays when they need God to intervene and "bail" them out of life's situations. Witnessing is for that small percentage that they see as bold. Christian fellowship would not rank toward the top of their "To Do" list. Many of their closest friends do not attend their church, or maybe any other church. They support their church and leaders when the going is smooth and upbeat. They join the naysayers when things are not going so well. They are often "used" by power people.

Third, you could be a Super Day "Spiritual" person and this would put you on the scale of 1-3. This person may, or may not have given their life to Christ. They see Jesus, or God as somebody "up there", as opposed to being with them in daily life, every minute of the day. They may see themselves as a good person. They may call on God when calamity hits them broadside. Oftentimes they just try to handle it themselves.

This Super Day person has never heard of discipleship. They wonder if there is anything that "comes next" in spiritual life, but often are so wrapped up in their own humanness that spiritual thoughts take a back seat. They pray occasionally, but wonder if anyone even hears them. They would prefer that someone they respect prays for them. They don't believe that they have a testimony. Jesus is so far removed that they don't believe there is any such thing as witnessing, or it is just for the Super Believer. They seem to feel ill at ease in Christian fellowship settings.

The Super Day person attends worship on Easter and Christmas Eve, or when the extended family is in town, or other special days that seem to come up and it feels like you should be in church. They are passive in support of their church and can be used by the Casual person when circumstances align themselves and these folks need to be used.

It gives me a sad feeling to press the keys that produce these words and sentences. Is it true? It is too close to reality. Maybe most people fall in between each of these groupings, but does that make it any better? You say, how could anyone fall in between that scale of numbers? I don't know, but it is so difficult to identify ourselves that too many look for any way to make it seem better.

If we are aware of what I have just written, don't you think that God would call each of us to turn it around? I believe that it means that we all start the life-long discipleship process, bring others on board as we begin to understand, and lead others to Christ to complete the circle.

Jump on board. The Lord is waiting on you. Someone that can mentor you is waiting. Someone who is as "lost as a goose" is waiting for you and they don't even know it right now!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Instant...The Falicy of the Early 21st Century

I thought of something this weekend that was somewhere in the far reaches of my brain matter. Here goes...

Back about 45 years ago McDonalds made their french fries from fresh Idaho potatoes. It was a five-step process starting with (1) putting these very large potatoes into an automatic potato peeler. The art was knowing the right moment to dump them out of the peeler into the sink. You wanted to lose the least amount of potato while taking off about 98% if the peel. The process continued with (2) the potatoes now being gigged and placed in a cutter one at a time. The better potato processor could do this with very good speed. (3) After one had a half a sink of cut potatoes, they were washed to remove as much starch as possible. You would use the full-length of your arms to turn the potatoes over and over again. (4) The potatoes were then blanched four baskets at a time, which was like a pre-cook process. (5) The potatoes were placed in the shortening for the final frying as needed.

The process that I've just outlined usually took an employee about three hours to get enough ready for half the day. The other half was done in the afternoon for the rest of the day. There was nothing easy and instant about the process. If any step in the process was not done right, the quality of the final product was diminished. It was work, but the end product was very good.

Why did McDonalds stop producing the french fries made from fresh potatoes? Part of the reason was to cut down on the man-hours that it took to produce that product. It also took space to store the potatoes. It broke down the shortening faster, so higher costs there as well. The list could probably go on and on. The change took place when they thought they had produced a frozen product that was almost as good as the fresh and created savings in other ways.

Have you ever thought that we like our spiritual lives the same way? We desire to instantly grow spiritually. We don't obviously and consciously make that decision, but we want our spiritual lives to be like the fully-processed frozen potatoes. Let me explain.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could grow in Bible knowledge without being in a Bible study class, or studying on our own? Wouldn't it be simple if we never needed to take a course on prayer, or witnessing, or stewardship, or any other spiritual discipline. Wouldn't it be nice to mature in our faith by osmosis? People often do not want their spiritual lives getting in the way of their life in the world. They separate both spheres and look at it as individual parts of the whole.

Someone says, "They are offering a course on prayer at our church on Monday evenings. I could really use it, but Monday night is family night and I've got to honor that." The problem is that Tuesday night is the ESPN Basketball doubleheader; Wednesday is the day our extended family goes out to eat; Thursday is the night I take care of the kids so my wife can play bingo; Friday night is Kids Night Out for our family; Saturday night I usually go with the guys to some kind of ballgame; and Sunday...well, you know, it is suppose to be a day of rest."

Too many people do not care if they grow or not. Others want their growth to come easily, without work, or even instantly. It really is a process, a life-long process that we call discipleship. It is meant for every Christian and it is the way we grow spiritually.

We have instituted a process in our church family that is akin to processing fresh potatoes. One begins by exploring the Christian faith. Our primary vehicle will be Alpha. Then there is the acquisition phase. Our primary vehicle is the Abundant Life University, where we offer a multitude of courses twice a year. In 2009 we will add the emanation phase, which is intended for those who want to practice life together with other believers. It is putting what we learn into practice. In late 2009 we will add the infusion phase which is intended for the person who wants an extended ministry to others. Bypass one of the dimensions and the quality of the maturing process is diminished and the cost is higher than any batch of potatoes!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Spiritual Growth: Necessity or Perk??

Is spiritual growth a necessity in the Christian life, or is it a perk that we can choose, or disregard? If it is not a necessity, then it is a premium, or an extra, or even dessert following a gourmet meal. I will say right up front that spiritual growth is part of the entree. It is part of the main course. It is a necessity for the disciple, or Christ follower, like oxygen is to the human being for life.

My most recent grandson, Kasen, was born on November 4, 2007. He is almost five months old. Since that Sunday in November his nourishment has been milk. Lately, he has been trying cereal and fruit. It won't be long until vegetables will be added. Then these babies take on more advanced baby food and before you know it, they are eating from the table! There is a progression as they grow and are able to add different types of food.

Wouldn't it be a tragedy if a toddler was still on a milk diet and when he started pre-school? He moves on to elementary school, then junior high, and high school and still he is on a "milk only" diet. He would not weigh much. There would be deficiencies in that weak body. He would be excused from physical education, much less organized sports. Life would be radically different for that little boy.

That is a picture of the believer who never grows in Christ. It is a picture of a person who is never discipled. Maybe they attend worship most weekends of the year. Maybe no one ever tells them that there is more. But, you know, most of us have an innate sense within us that there is more. We just elect not to pursue the exploration. We never grow. We are like the baby I described. The difference is that we remain a "baby" Christian.

As a spiritual babe, we never learn to pray like a growing disciple. Our prayer life consists of asking God for things for self and we usually only go to Him when there is danger. As a babe, we never get into God's Word with any depth. Our exposure is through a scripture used in a sermon, what we hear at a relative's funeral, or a devotional book that a friend gave us. We never realize how valuable fellowship with other believers can be, because we still hang with our old lost friends. We never share a simple witness concerning what lead us to Christ in the first place. The most basic elements of the Christian faith are left like unseen dust on a table. Naturally, we never get beyond the basics because we never got to the basics in the first place.

Abundant Christian living becomes a scriptural term, print on the page of a book, or a concept that we see in others around us, but have no inkling to what it is that makes life so different for them.

How can we expect a baby to stretch out of its cocoon when it does not have the muscles to break free? How can we expect a baby to join an advanced Bible study when they don't even know the basics? How can we expect a baby to go to Bangladesh with the gospel when they are still confined to their little world? The effects of this "stunted growth" impacts the Christian world and those needing the touch of Christ every single day!

Is spiritual growth an option for the believer? No, it is a necessity for the individual and for countless others who will come in contact with that person over the course of a lifetime.

We have a mission to disciple those closest to us and then reach out to a dying world with the Good News AND disciple them!

That is the passion that I've carried around for the past couple of decades. I've simplified it to a great degree, but I think you see the picture. Have a great Friday and I hope you will go to bed tonight with these thoughts. They are life changing!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

You Made the Cut

When I received a certain book as a gift it caught my attention. It was Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell. My first thought was what an unusual title. It sounded kind of foo-foo to me. Then I wondered who in the world was Rob Bell?

Rob Bell is the founding pastor of Mars Hill in Grandville, Michigan and he grabbed my attention from the opening page. It is a book that talks about what it means to live the kind of life that Jesus teaches us to live. Warning: Once you begin reading it, you will not be able to put it down!

At one point in the book, Rob gives some insight into the spiritual lives of young Jewish boys at the time of Jesus. At around fourteen or fifteen, the best of the best would apply to be a disciple of one of the noted Rabbis. The goal of a disciple wasn't just to know what the Rabbi knew, but to be just like the Rabbi. This level of education was called Bet Midrash.

If the Rabbi thought that young man had what it took, he would say to him,"Come, follow me."

Bell talks about Jesus calling the first disciples. Peter and Andrew were fishermen. Why? Because they weren't disciples. They were not good enough. They had not made the cut. Jesus said, "Come, follow me." Why would they drop their nets and leave fishing behind? Because the Rabbi said you can be like me. You would drop your net too.

Now, what does this have to do with us today? Christians are people learning who they are in Christ. We are being taught about our new identity. Rob says that if people were taught more about who they are, they wouldn't have to be told what to do.

This is the core of discipleship. Who are you right now in Christ? What are you all about because of Christ? Because of who you are, what are the implications of daily living?

Why do we see churches full of people who do not seem much different than their counterparts in the marketplace? They have not figured out who they are. They have not figured out that they are a disciple of the Rabbi. They haven't decided that He has called them to follow Him in every aspect of life.

I'm excited. I've just invited 12 new believers to join me in a small group environment. We are going to look at who we are and why community is so important. I want to pour myself into this group and lead them to see Jesus and His calling on their lives. I'll fill you in as we go along beginning the end of March.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Can You Laugh At Yourself?

I ask that question because it begs a follow-up question: Do you ever do anything in life that others could think, just for a moment, "Is he crazy?" Then they could possibly laugh at you, but can you laugh at yourself?

Mark Batterson shares some thought-provoking ideas in his book, In A Pit With A Lion On A Snowy Day. He writes, "Faith is the willingness to look foolish." By how you live life, do you ever look foolish? Are you willing to look foolish? Then where is faith in your life?

Batterson writes, "Noah looked foolish building an ark in the desert. Sarah looked foolish buying maternity clothes at ninety. The Israelites looked foolish marching around Jericho blowing trumpets. David looked foolish attacking Goliath with a slingshot. But, that's the essence of faith. And the results speak for themselves."

"Part of spiritual maturity is caring less and less about what people think about you and more and more about what God thinks about you," says Mark Batterson.

See how the above two paragraphs fit together. You can be doing something that looks absolutely foolish to the world, but as you mature in your faith, you will care less about how stupid you may look to the world. Your focus has changed. You care about what God thinks!

"But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise..." 1 Corinthians 1:27 NIV

I remember about 20 years ago coming up with a really pregnant idea. I was pastoring a downtown church that had probably experienced its best years, unless it was willing to change. I had a dream to show the community that old First Church was still alive and kicking.

The idea was to film a Christmas Eve Special and purchase local TV time to show it about 11:00 P.M. All the film footage could be shot in the early fall, edited, and put in final form long before the airing date. We would create an audience using various media prior to the event.

The dream simmered for several months. One day a member walked into my office and said, "You must have a dream...every pastor has a dream. Here is a sizable check that should more than cover your dream. I was speechless and almost couldn't speak for several hours.

I contacted a local advertising agency and they developed my dream into a plan of action. I shared the plan with our congregation. We had Christmas in September and filmed at least 50% of what we needed. Then a few "leading" members put the brakes on the project. It came to a sudden screeching halt.

The advertising agency came up with an alternative plan. We had shot more than enough footage for another project. We would turn selected footage into 30 second spots, purchase time on 5-6 cable stations, spread the spots over the entire day for the month of December.

Would you like to know what happened? I looked crazy. There were TV spots all day long on multiple stations all during the month of December. People in the whole area heard about old First Church for four weeks. We had a great Christmas Eve service and people heard that the church was alive, or at least conscious.

I was willing to look foolish, think outside the box, and use the originality of my personality to give a church an opportunity for new life, change, and vitality. Did they take it? No, but I did what needed to be done.

What about you? Have you dared getting out of that box that you put yourself in so long ago? Are you willing to look foolish to the world and maybe your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ? If you will stretch yourself, then you will be able to laugh at yourself and do something great for the Kingdom of God.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Phase 1 Completed

Last night we finished the winter semester of Abundant Life University, which is Phase 1 of our total discipleship program. ALU was a 10-week semester in which we offered 11 different courses.

The subjects covered in this first semester were Experiencing Prayer with Jesus, How to Study Your Bible, Daniel, Survey of the Old Testament, DNA of Relationships, Rivers of Living Water, Discovering Your Spiritual Gifts, In A Pit With A Lion On A Snowy Day, Jewish Roots, Your Life in Christ and You Must Be Born Again.

We will offer the next ALU semester in the fall and phase in the other three major phases over 2008-2009. It ought to be an exciting time.

We will offer a course called Christianity 101, which will be the basics of the Christian faith. This course will be offered in April and I will be leading a small group March 30-May 4.

I've got three major projects from May-December:

We will be kicking off a Track for New Believers effective May 1, where we will offer a mentor program, special short courses, a new Sunday morning class just for the new Christian, and additional small groups. It will begin a discipleship process from Day 1 of their conversion and "protect" them for about their first six months. Then they will enter the regular discipleship emphases of our church.

The second major project will be to introduce Alpha to our congregation. This will be accomplished over the next six months before we begin our first course in September. I'll tell you about it as we go along.

The third major project will be to organize a new semester of Abundant Life University for September.

I think these three projects, plus the implementation of our new major phases of the Discipleship program will keep me busy. I am working at the church three days a week and at The Home Depot three days a week. My plate is full, but we are making inroads and we will have a complete discipleship program(whatever that is)by the end of 2009.

Jared, Tiffany, and Reid live in the adjoining subdivision. They are expecting their second child toward the end of March. Jared works for American Financial in the Woodlands and Tiffany teachers Junior High in Manvel. Reid will be two years old in April and usually spends Friday nights with us. I get to cook breakfast on Saturday mornings.

Steve and Miranda live in Lake Jackson. Steve is a Youth Pastor and Miranda is the principal of a Day School. They just had their first-born named Kasen, who was born in November. One of these days, maybe, Kasen will be spending Friday night too. That will be fun.

What do we enjoy most? Having everybody together at the same time. As I say, "It doesn't get any better than that!"

Have a great day!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Babies Are Meant To Grow

Have you ever seen a seven pound baby with bulging biceps, six-pack abs, and wearing a diaper? Have you ever seen the same seven pound baby and found out that he is 40 years old? As you look closer, it appears that this middle-aged baby is still drinking formula and needs the constant attention of those around him. What a sight! It is almost like a cartoon character.

Unfortunately, this scenario plays out every day. A 20 year-old receives Jesus Christ. He does not realize that this is the beginning of a life-long journey with Jesus. It is the beginning of what we call discipleship. Every living, healthy organism is expected to grow and will grow if their environment is conducive to allow it to grow.

This same 20 year-old may attend church services regularly and enjoy every facet of the worship experience, but it does not put him in a growth posture. He may attend a Sunday morning Bible study, but he doesn't seem to lose the baby bottle.

They typical Sunday morning Bible study reaches 50% of its constituency on a typical Sunday. The next Sunday morning the 50% remains constant, but the mix is a little bit different. In the best situations they are taught the Bible, but sometimes have difficulty applying it to daily living.

Discipleship courses provide various disciplines of the Christian faith and reach 70-90% week in and week out. The participants learn to apply the truths of the faith to daily living and all of a sudden they begin to grow.

I want to share with you why discipleship is so important to the growth of a Christian, what I am doing to enhance personal growth and what is happening across the face of our globe.

"Spiritual Babies" are meant to grow and become stronger and stronger as each day passes.