Nov 30, 2012

Starbucks...Relationships...Church...Familiarity Matters

I have a daily Starbucks ritual.

Every morning, I take the kids to school and then I go to Starbucks.

I order my Grande Pike, open my Bible and journal, grab my pen and I spend about an hour reading, reflecting, and planning the day before I head into the office.

I love my Starbucks mornings!

But something about this Starbucks ritual has me really puzzled. There's always a buzz of background noise of coffee grinding, people talking, and music playing at Starbucks and it's never bothered me.

It's not just me. Lots of other people seem not to be bothered by the background noise.

While background noise at Starbucks is easy to ignore, the background noise at home and in the office drives me nuts. When people are talking at home or outside my office I can't read, I can't think, I can't write. Background noise is totally disruptive at home or in the office.

Why is that?

Here's my best guess.

The background conversations at home and in the office are distracting because of their familiarity.

The voices at Starbucks blend into the background and can be tuned out and ignored because they are unknown voices to me. But the voices in the office and at home are not only known to me, but because they belong to people whom I love and care about, as hard as I might try to block out those voices they simply cannot be ignored.

They demand my attention.

If I'm right about this, there are two huge implications of this truth.

First, each of our voices are unique and beloved to God. So while we may only hear an indistinguishable jumble of voices as millions of prayers are lifted up, to God, each voice is indispensable and impossible for him to ignore because our voices are not only familiar to God but because these voices belong to his beloved.

I love that!

Second, for those of us who are part of a local church, familiarity absolutely matters.

Get involved. Engage. Get to know folks. Your engagement is absolutely essential. I don't think there's a single pastor or church who goes out of their way to ignore someone who is hurting. Every church and pastor wants to minister to those in need. That's why we do what we do!

However, no church or pastor can address needs that are unknown to them. We're not God. We're human just like you.

Familiarity absolutely matters.

So, do it. Engage. Get involved. 

Nov 29, 2012

All I Need to Know In an Uncertain World

Got off a lengthy conference call today with folks from across the country to discuss the goings on in the Presbyterian Church (USA).

We, evangelicals in the PC(USA), certainly find ourselves living in interesting times!!!

As I've been reflecting on where I am and where our church is in relation to our denomination, there are way more questions than there are answers.

But these things I know:
1. God is in charge. No matter what, that will never change. Thank God for that!

2. God doesn't expect any of us to have the answers. What God does expect is our faithfulness.

There are times we can be absolutely faithful and still have no clue what to do about the future. That's where many of us find ourselves today.

  • We hate the thought of leaving the denomination we have been a part of for so long, and yet, continue to find ourselves feeling pushed out. But we don't even know where we're to go. Such is the life of an evangelical in the PC(USA) landscape today. 

3. But it's okay that we don't know what the future holds.

Abraham didn't know where he was going when God called him either. He just knew that God told him that God would show the step at a time. And that was enough for him to embark on a journey that would eventually change everything.

I'm good with that.

I have no idea what the immediate future holds.

I have no idea how everything's going to shake itself out.

But I know God's in charge and that he will continue to show the way.

That's all I need to know. 

Nov 28, 2012

A New Old Thought

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May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord. (Psalm 19:13).

I've read and heard this verse hundreds, if not thousands of times.

Because I've heard it so often, when I do come across the verse, it has a tendency to get tuned out.

For whatever reason, as I was sipping on my coffee this morning, the truth of this verse struck me like a lightning bolt.

Imagine what your day would be like if every word you spoke and every thought in your heart today was pleasing to God!!!

Seriously...spend a moment thinking about your day...imagine every word that comes out of your mouth being pleasing to God...just think on what it would be like if every thought in your heart was pleasing to God.

Think on that and chew on that thought for a while.

Why, I bet you would have one of the greatest days ever!

I bet, you would live such a life that the people around you couldn't get enough of you, because every word you spoke was pleasing to God, and because your disposition was so God-honoring because every thought was captivated by what would be pleasing to God.

So make this your goal for the day.

I am. 

Nov 27, 2012

The Joy of Ministry...Wouldn't Want to Be Anywhere Else!

As I sit at my desk in the office...
- my head hurts
- my heart aches

What a day this has been!

I prayed earlier, "God, you must think I can handle all this stuff!" Glad at least someone thinks I can. I can't get through this stuff on my own. You better show up and lead cause I surely don't know what to do with all this stuff!

But you know what? 

I couldn't imagine doing anything else.

Wouldn't want to be doing anything else!

I love the ministry!!!

As crazy, mind-numbing, heart-breaking, and messy pastoral ministry can be, there's no other place I would rather be.

For who else, but Jesus through his church, can bring healing to people hurting?

Who else can bring clarity to messed up and hopeless situations like Jesus through his church?

Who else can change evil to good, hurt to joy, tears to laughter, tragedies into testimonies? 

Who else?

None but Jesus.

And we in the church get to be a part of this awesome HOLY ministry.

Thank you God!

Thank you Jesus!

Thank you Holy Spirit!

Nov 15, 2012

The "Gaming" Reality and What Parents Can Do

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Read something quite shocking this morning.

Jim Denison writes:
When typical Americans reach 21 years of age, they have spent 10,000 hours "gaming".

By comparison, a person with perfect attendance in middle school and high school would have attended class for 10,084 hours.
- 92% of two year olds play video games
- 99% of boys 18 and younger play video games
- 94% of girls 18 and younger play video games

We have a couple of choices. We can cry and bemoan these realities. We can do that. That's what older generations typically do.

Or, we can accept this reality and impact what games and how games shape our young people.

I would rather be a part of shaping a new reality of our young people.

I'm no expert in video games and the psychological, emotional, social impact they have on kids, but I do think I have some common sense. So here's what I do as a parent with four kids under the age of 18 who play video games.

  1. I choose with them the games that are appropriate for them. It doesn't matter if all their friends are playing a particular game. It doesn't matter that certain games are the most popular game in the history of human kind. Helen and I get to choose what is appropriate at our home. Just as we monitor and determine what and television shows are acceptable, the parents determine what is appropriate for our kids.
  2. Our kids are only allowed to play video games on non-school days and after they have completed their homework and chores. 
These two rules seem reasonable to Helen and me. 

That kids are playing video games is a reality. However, parents can and should still shape how they interact with video games. 

Nov 14, 2012

If We Are Generous, God Will Bless Our Generosity

This is the first guest blog entry on my blog site.

This was written by Deanna Price, a member of "The Hole in Our Gospel" small group at the Little Church on the Prairie. Deanna wrote this piece for the church newsletter. She's given me permission to add it to the blog.

Here it is:

FOCUS Group #6 "The Hole in Our Gospel" by Deanna Price.

The last meeting of FOCUS Group #6 was billed by Pastor James, our group leader, as a celebration dinner and what a celebration it was, but let me start at the beginning.

Our group read "The Hole in Our Gospel" by Richard Stearns, president of World Vision. Using Isaiah 1 as an example, Mr. Stearns posited that God is tired of people and churches who just "go through the motions" of their faith. The hole in our gospel, he says, is that we, as individuals and as churches, are not reflecting God's love for us to others. We should be doing this by showing compassion to those in need, not only locally, but around the world.

The book and accompanying videos were very thought-provoking and impactful. 

As a group we decided to donate toward what world vision calls, "micro loans". These loans are given to individuals or groups in Third World nations who have been screened by World Vision to start or grow a business. The recipients pay back the loan to World Vision over time and World Vision then uses the money to fund more worthy business ventures.

As a group we donated $1,075.00 and decided we wanted to help a woman or women in Mexico. We were excited to find that we could fund four businesses. And then Pastor James noticed that an anonymous donor had agreed to match funds that were donated. 


We now had double our money in essence. In total we funded seven complete loans and donated toward an eighth. What a lesson for us all. If we are generous, God will bless our generosity.

Nov 13, 2012

Behold A Virgin Shall Be with a Child...

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It's baaaaaack!

That's right. It's that time of the year again.

Of course I'm talking about Christmas.
  • The crowds
  • The shopping
  • The same ol' Christmas carols over the loudspeakers for the thousandth time
For pastor types, it's time of the year where we're left praying and wondering, "How can I make the same ol' Christmas message new and wonderful again this time?!"

In the midst of all this...cough,, do remember it's CHRISTmas Season!!!

Seriously, can you imagine a time or a world that needs what only Christ can bring more than our world right now?

More than ever our world and our church needs to hear the good news, "Behold, the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel - which means - God with us."

More than ever our we need God in our lives. We need Jesus.

It's back!

It's Christmas!

Let the world know! 

We are not alone!

God is with us.

His name is Immanuel! God with us!

Merry Christmas!

Nov 9, 2012

There is No Budget Crisis in the PC(USA) nor Her Presbyteries

There is no financial crisis facing the PC(USA) and her presbyteries.

No, I'm not crazy nor have I been sipping on happy juice.

I readily acknowledge that most of the presbyteries in the PC(USA) find themselves strapped for cash as their incomes have been radically reduced.

But I still contend that there is no financial crisis facing the PC(USA) and her presbyteries.

Let me explain.

The primary way the Book of Order describes the function and the mission of presbyteries is in its administrative and judicial functions. Look at G-3.0301 - G-3.0307 in the Book of Order.

If this is what presbyteries would actually do, most presbyteries could do this with minimal staffing and expenses.

However, the problem with the finances arises because of the way most presbyteries are structured and budgeted. Many of our presbyteries find themselves in a budget crisis because they are structured and budgeted to do far more than they have been charged to accomplish. Most presbyteries are budgeted and structured as if they were the mission and ministry accomplishing entity.

That's neither the charge nor purpose of presbyteries.

G-3.0101 says, "Councils of the church exist to help congregations and the church as a whole to be more faithful participants in the mission of God."

The Book of Order and our constitution rightly recognizes the local congregation as the primary locus where ministry and mission is accomplished. The councils exist to enable ministry.

The problem is not a lack of funds or even the reduction of funds at the presbytery level.

The problem is that today's presbyteries are structured and budgeted to do far more than its primary role to fulfill the administrative and judicial functions of a regional area.

If our presbytery's budgets and structures reflected this primary function, there is no budget crisis.

It's not that the income of presbyteries is shrinking, the problem is that the structures of presbyteries are unnecessarily large. It needs to be pared down to its original administrative and judicial functions as prescribed in our constitution, the Book of Order.  

Nov 8, 2012

Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing: A Parable of the Life Saving Station

This is the parable of the Life Saving Station I shared this past Sunday.

On a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks often occur, there was once a crude little life-saving station. The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat, but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea and with no thought for themselves went out day and night tirelessly searching for the lost. 

Some of those who were saved, and various others in the surrounding area, wanted to become associated with the station and give of their time and money and effort for the support of its work. 

New boats were bought and new crews trained. The little lifesaving station grew.

Some members of the lifesaving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea. They replaced the emergency cots with beds and put better furnishing in the enlarged building.

Now the lifesaving station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they decorated it beautifully and furnished it exquisitely, because they used it as sort of a club.

Fewer members were now interested in going out to sea on lifesaving missions, so they hired lifeboat crews to do this hand work. The lifesaving motif still prevailed in the club's decorations, and there was a miniature lifeboat in the room where the club initiations were held.

About this time a large ship was wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in boatloads of cold, wet, and half-drowned people. They were dirty and sick, and some of them had black skin and some had yellow skin. The beautiful new club was in chaos. So the property committee immediately had a shower built outside the club where victims of the shipwreck could be cleaned up before coming inside.

At the next meeting, there was a split in the club membership. 

Most of the members wanted to stop the club's lifesaving activities, since they were unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club. 

Some members insisted upon lifesaving as their primary purpose and pointed out they were still called a lifesaving station. 

But they were finally voted down and told if they wanted to save the lives of all the various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own lifesaving station down the coast.

They did.

As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old. It evolved into a club, and yet another lifesaving station was founded.

History continued to repeat itself, and if you visit that seacoast today you will find a number of exclusive clubs along the shore. 

Shipwrecks are frequent in those waters, but most of the people drown.

Church, never forget to Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing.

Nov 7, 2012

We Can Learn A Lot from Kids...

Some of you are elated for your "man" won last night.

Some of you are deflated for your "man" lost last night.

Most of us are just glad that the negative campaigning has come to an end.

No matter what, I think we can learn a great deal from Pastor Jim's 1st grade grandson.

Pastor Jim Probert shared a story with me about his 1st grade grandson, Nate.

Nate and his friend were working in their classroom when the conversation somehow turned to religion and God. A little boy turned and looked at Nate and crinkled his nose and said, "I don't believe in God. I don't believe in that stuff, and I don't know anyone who would!"

Nate sat quietly, looked at his friend with a smile and said, "Well, I believe in God. But I'll still be your friend."

Love it!!!

America could learn a lot from Nate.

Whether your man won or lost last night, it's time for Americans to get behind our president and start doing what's best for America. This won't happen until we put partisan politics aside and put America first.

So, whether your "man" won or lost last night, I'll still be your friend.

Now, together, let's start building a better America!

Nov 1, 2012

Check Out What God is Doing through the Little Church on the Prairie!

This is the powerpoint we showed at the Stewardship Celebration Dinner to celebrate all that God is doing through the ministries of the Little Church on the Prairie.

As the video says, this is just the beginning...