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February 2014

Posts from January 2014

Every American Should Do This!

This morning we closed the office at our church. Employees were still paid and they arrived early, but we closed the doors and left the property. We traveled together to the Duval County School Board building in Jacksonville. It was here that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) was hosting a naturalization ceremony for those becoming United States citizens.

One of our custodians (Adriana Vasquez) and her daughter, an active member of our collegiate ministry and children's ministry small group leadership team (Laura Serna-Vasquez) were being sworn in as citizens. IMG_2376

This long journey was coming to a close and Adriana and Laura had worked hard to pass the requirements and claim citizenship of this country. Believe me, the steps of becoming a citizen are not easy, and I wonder how many born in this nation could pass the tests? Click the image below to read a little more on this process.

Screenshot 2014-01-30 13.19.03

The representatives from USCIS led the meeting. Following the playing and singing of the National Anthem, a video message from President Obama and the taking of the oath of citizenship, each person was introduced, brought to the front of the room and welcomed as a citizen of the United States. Flags were being waved. Tears of joy were present and family members and friends were celebrating the culmination of a long journey for these people.

In all, there were 52 people from 21 countries welcomed today as  new United States citizens.

It was the first time I had the opportunity to experience this and I stand by this statement - EVERY AMERICAN SHOULD ATTEND SUCH A CEREMONY! God has blessed us and continues to do so. 

Adriana and Laura were legal immigrants and are now legal United States citizens and will experience all the rights and privileges of that title. We are proud of you and excited to be able to step away from the office for a few hours to celebrate this moment with you.

(They even played Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA" and you haven't heard it until you've heard 52 people born in other countries sing it together.)

 


The Grammys Are Over. And You Expected What, Actually?

The 2014 Grammys are over. When I first saw who was nominated and going to appear on The Grammys this year, I thought someone had accidentally pulled up the roster from 1986 - Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Chicago, Black Sabbath, and even Led Zeppelin?

GrammyThen, Mr. Roboto showed up and won. They may go by Daft Punk, but as any fan of Styx knows, they are really just the next generation of Mr. Roboto. (Domo arigato.)

The annual ceremony intended to honor and celebrate those who have excelled in the music industry, but left many wondering "What just happened?"

No, I didn't watch much of The Grammys. I wasn't so much a personal protest as it was the fact that our small group was meeting for Bible study and playing games and we just didn't think about it being on. (This statement makes me sound really super spiritual, but is soon negated by the fact I know the words to "Mr. Roboto", right?) The other reason I didn't record the broadcast or watch the entire presentation is that, for the most part, I'm just not a fan of the artists being highlighted. . .and I was tired and ready to go to bed. However, once our small group left, we did turn on the television just in time to see Queen Latifah oversee a ceremony where thirty-three couples exchanged rings, declared their love for each other and entered into holy matrimony. It was a spectacle for sure, and while Macklemore and performed his popular anthem for gay marriage "Same Love," couples of many varieties (heterosexual, biracial, old, young, gay, lesbian, etc.) were married before millions.

The culture shift is immense. Ed Stetzer wrote clearly about this in his excellent post from yesterday. You can read it by clicking here.

Christians are appalled, and I get it. Sin is appalling and yet, the vitriol I am hearing based on this awards ceremony from many seems to be affirming a false stereotype of Christianity as a religion of hate and anger. 

To be clear, that which was done on the stage of the Grammys was appalling. It was ungodly and worldly. In many cases, it was sinful. Katy Perry's "casting of a spell" and jumping in the fire while dancing with a broomstick illustrated anything but godliness. The performances and ceremonies of the night were mostly social statements and were strategic and intentional.

And. . .it shouldn't surprise us at all.

Without sugar-coating what is happening and white-washing sin in any way, the church is faced with a decidedly different cultural landscape than even just a few years ago. Each year the statement "It's worse than it's ever been" continues to be a banner we gather under to lament and weep, but at the same time, we often miss the reality that God is ever-present and still sovereign.

Was God at the Grammys? Well, of course He was. 

Dr. William Brown of Cedarville University stated it clearly here. . .

Screenshot 2014-01-28 23.00.59

The Christian Response

"What are we to do?" many cry out. 

For starters, we must be "in Christ" and live as His disciples.

That means many things, but primarily it is a calling to die to self and live for Him.

It entails loving God and others. It involves being able to discern sin, but not just the sin of others. . .and not just the "obvious" ones. It means to love in spite of sin - not overlooking it, not affirming it, not accepting it - but seeing the person, the image-bearer of God as His lovely creation in need of rescue and a relationship. 

When the "marriage" took place on the floor of the Staples Center, like many, I tweeted my thoughts. 

Screenshot 2014-01-28 22.36.51I stand by that tweet because it is true. That is why the matrimony entered into last Sunday evening would not be categorized as "holy."

This ceremony was a mockery due to the fact that a miraculous relationship created by God and defined in Scripture became little more than a social statement. Was God there? Well, He's everywhere as Dr. Brown stated, but I don't think He was invited to the wedding, per se.

It occurs to me that not only was this wedding little more than a show and a facade of that which God designed, but so too are other weddings that take place outside the limelight and awards ceremonies when God is not honored. This could be the wedding between non-believers, between a Christ-follower and one who is lost, and maybe even between those who wrongly believe themselves to be the "star" of the wedding and utilize the church as little more than a backdrop for wedding photos.

The Grammys show us that culture has shifted, but maybe not as much as some would think. Oh, it's true that which was appalling just a few years ago is not the norm, but all is not lost.

Even in a world where it appears most have forsaken biblical truth, it is becoming evident that God is raising up a generation of men and women that He will use as His ambassadors to a culture far from Him. A hunger for Truth and God's Word is growing and, while it may not be easy for all to see, rest assured. . .the best is yet to come. That's becoming clear through my small group where the vast majority of attendees are in their young twenties.

How do we respond to a culture so far from God?

With grace, love and truth. 

This much has never changed.

Maybe the more things change, the more they stay the same? Since the 1980s are now the "good old days" of nostalgia, I think I'll go listen to my "Chicago" Greatest Hits CD.


It's the Year of the Small Group

It's been evident in my articles and messages this year that a greater emphasis is being placed upon the growth and multiplication of small groups in our church and community. While small groups (i.e. Sunday School classes, discipleship classes, etc.) have always been a part of our church and a strong emphasis, the sad reality is that over the last few years a stagnation has developed in this area of ministry. It was most clearly evidenced in our "state of the church" address at last week's quarterly family gathering.

In 2013, our church saw a record number of baptisms (71.) We experienced a strong increase in new members and worship attendance (at least in one of our services) increased substantially. However, the number of small groups and the number of small group attendees and members stayed the same and decreased (number of group essentially remained the same while average attendance decreased.)

Numbers never tell the full story, but in this case they reveal a negative trend.

As stated in a previous blog posting (linked below) I shared why my wife and I started a collegiate/young adult in our home five weeks ago. We are now multiplying that group beginning Sunday. It's been a good ride and as we grow in this area, God is revealing some elemental (and not new) truths to us.

Here are some. . .

  • New groups create new fellowship patters and can thus move a church from an inward focus to an outward focus.
  • Those in new groups regularly are more likely to share the gospel with someone other than church members. 
  • Those in new groups are more likely to invite an unchurched person to church than other church members.
  • Those who spend time together studying and talking about the Bible are most likely to show a number of signs of spiritual growth.
  • Those active in starting new groups are less likely to be a divisive force in the church. They're too busy doing ministry and building community with their groups.
  • New groups, like new churches, reach more people.
  • New groups, like new churches, reach new people.
  • New groups, like new churches, release new leaders.

These points are compiled from articles by Thom Rainer and Robert Logan. They may seem far-fetched, but over time, these are observable aspects of growth and health within a church.

IMG_2265

What does this mean for your small group (Sunday School class)? Well, it doesn't mean abandon it. That would be counter-productive. However, it is time to ask the question "Are we reaching new people, growing leaders, sending out group planters, living missionally, living in community, not allowing people to fall through the cracks, etc.?"

Every group is called to disciple, fellowship and grow the kingdom. Sometimes our models perpetuate stagnation. Perhaps it's time for some who have been sitting in rows for years and listening to a lesson to step forward and lead, or at least open their homes to a new group?

Here's the reality for 2014 - new groups will be started and the majority of them will be outside the church building walls and at a time other than Sunday morning. And. . .THAT COUNTS!

The group that I have led (and the new one I'm beginning this Sunday) target collegians and young adults. Some have said "He's only doing that because of the age of his children." 

My answer to that is "Well, duh! Yes, that's absolutely why. In fact, it was my daughter who begged me to start the group."

Every person should be in and/or lead a group relevant to their life-stage and chapter in life. Eventually, I'll be leading a group for empty nesters. Maybe in a few years for grandparents (we're not rushing that) or for young parents who need some wise counsel. 

Nevertheless, we (each pastor on our staff) will be an active part and/or leader of a small group this year. Yet, our pastors are nothing more than leader equippers. We will lead, train and then step back to allow new leaders to shine.

It's going to be a good year.

The collegiate group is already talking about how to get 500 collegiate/young adults involved in small groups in our county this year. I think they'll soon discover their numerical goals are too small. Looking forward to following their lead.


The Church According to Winnie the Pooh

Have you ever noticed the decidedly unique personalities of the characters in the "Winnie the Pooh" stories? Okay, maybe you're like most people and just watched the cartoons as a child, or with your child, simply for entertainment purposes. Perhaps it bothers you when people analyze simple childhood characters to discover deeper meaning. If that's the case. . .sorry, stop reading now and go watch an episode of Spongebob Squarepants (did you ever notice how each character in Spongebob represents a unique personality trait. . .oh, never mind.)

Psychologists have written about the residents of the Hundred Acre Wood for years.  You may not be aware of this, but Google it, you'll see.

As I look at the characters in the world of Pooh (that phrase makes me cringe just typing it) I think it's fair to say that the members of the Hundred Acre Wood and members of most churches have much in common.

Now, if this offends you. . . well, it shouldn't. If you get angry, just look at the picture of Winnie the Pooh and friends below. That should make you smile and enable you to get through the rest of your day in good spirits.

258px-Winnie-the-pooh2011

Winnie the Pooh - Some say Pooh has an eating disorder, but we know he just loves potluck fellowships, as long as the pots are filled with "hunny." The joke for years is that we will know we are Baptists by our doctrines and casseroles. Winnie is also a very nice guy and a friend to all. He would be on the "First Impressions" team, but we'd probably opt to not allow him to wear a name tag that said "Winnie." That's just a . . . well, interesting name for a man.

Piglet_2011

Piglet - This little piggy suffers from panaphobia. This is the fear of everything. He's afraid to join a small group, leave a small group, change his small group, volunteer to serve, shake hands during the greeting, drink out of the water fountain, fill out a "Welcome" card, ride in the parking lot golf cart, talk to people, pray out loud, read Scripture out loud, etc.

Tigger

Tigger - This ball of energy is everywhere! He volunteers to serve, "amens" loudly during the services (at the wrong time, mostly,) signs up for every trip, event, mission, project, etc. He's a bundle of energy that starts many good things. However, he rarely finishes them and you just can't count on him to be where he says he will be. His ADHD is real or at least appears to be. He can't help that he's all over the place, but the good thing is that even though he's loud, sometimes obnoxious, draws attention and what not, he's still fun to be around. He has charisma, some would say.

Rabbit 1

Rabbit - This wonderful church member is the resident OCD example. He would say it's just the spiritual gift of administration, and that may be true, but you can rest assured that if he is teaching a class, every poster, video clip, handout, illustration, etc. will be perfect. If the schedule says a service should start at 9:15am, then it had better not begin at 9:16am. He's a stickler for details and is needed. It's just that sometimes he can get so caught up in the details that he misses the bigger picture. That's why God always bounces a Tigger into Rabbit's world.

Owl_new

Owl - This is the person who has it all together. He's probably the most theologically sound and wisest person in the church. . .just ask him. Yeah, he's kind of his own greatest fan. He's a spiritual narcissist. The fact is, he is pretty smart and he does know much, but he's not much of a team player because. . . well, when you're perfect, you don't need anyone else. Eventually, these owls burn out and sometimes disappear for a season. Owl has much to offer the Kingdom, but needs a good dose of humility.

Kanga

Kanga - She is a loving parent and cares greatly for her child. This is admirable and honorable. Kanga would be serving in the preschool or children's ministry and most likely would be ensuring the safety and security of the children. She is the type of person who would willingly settle for less within the church so that the children could have more. She is selfless. You know, she's a Proverbs 31 kangaroo.

Roo

Roo - I love Roo. Just talked to a couple of "roos" a few minutes ago. These kids are not the future of the church. They're the present church. God fills growing churches with roos and gives us the joy of seeing them come to know Him. There's energy here. They'll break things, say dumb things, be where they're not supposed to be at times, but they're learning and growing. We raise them in the way they should go, you know. 

Eeyore

Eeyore - This guy is depressing. We love him, but don't want to hang out with him. He's like an emotional cancer that brings everyone else down. He needs help. Perhaps there was a light of joy in his past, but due to some personal pain or being let down by others, he has a hard time seeing anything positively. To Eeyore the church is a mess. Nothing is working. "Woe is me" is his theme. Some of what he sees is real. There are always problems. No one wants a Pollyanna view, but to always be down is a problem too. Eeyore has lost his first love. He needs to be on the prayer list.

Christopher Robin

Christopher Robin - Here's your dreamer. He sometimes sees things that others cannot. Sometimes he imagines things to be true that aren't as well. Seriously, this kid imagined his stuffed animals were real. Yet, there's a need for a Christopher Robin in the church. Dreamers see that which others can't and can be vision casters. The downside is the vision casters sometimes can't see the reality of now and miss what God is doing today. 

So. . . do you recognize any of these characters? Are you any of these? Truth be told, we all have probably been like one of these at some point or another. The church is made of God's people, not cartoon or children's book characters, but it's interesting to note how easily we see ourselves in these caricatures. 

No, we're not changing the name of the church to "Hundred Acre Church" and please don't call me Pastor Pooh. That's just wrong.

Heffalump-winnie-the-pooh-6512166-385-426

P.S. I never saw the Heffalump movie, so I'm not sure what that thing is or his/her character traits. Maybe the heffalump represents those outside the church we're called to go find and bring into God's church? Or, maybe it's an imaginary purple elephant? I'm not sure.