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.