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...