Friday, November 30, 2007

Imagine this...Christmas

This weekend we kick-off a brand new series called "Imagine this...Christmas." It is so easy to get caught up in all of the chaos and craziness of this season. However, we are supposed to be using this time to prepare for the coming of Jesus.
What would happen if we tried to imagine living into the real point of this month? This week we will look at moving from the chaos put on us by culture and living into the peace of Christ.
This is a great time to invite those people in your circle of influence at work, school, or your neighbor. People are more open to attending a worship service during Advent than any other time of the year. Take a risk and invite someone to join you this weekend in worshipping God at Charter Oak Church.

Different Way of Thinking

As I work through Dallas Willard's book The Divine Conspiracy, I am struck time and time again with a different way of thinking about God, the Bible, and my role in the whole Kingdom of God. Here's what I was reading this morning that really grabbed me...

"A short while ago the Hubble Space Telescope gave us pictures of the Eagle Nebula, showing clouds of gas and microscopic dust reaching six trillion miles from top to bottom. Hundreds of stars were emerging here and there in it, hotter and larger than our sun. As I looked at these pictures, and through them at the past and ongoing development of the cosmos, I could not help but think of Jesus' words before he left his little band of students: 'In my father's house there are many places to live. I go to get some ready for you.'"

My small thinking of what Jesus is preparing for me and for you has just been blasted out of the water!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

November 2007 Worship at a Glance

November 3/4 - Dave preached
694 in worship (8.4% increase from 2006)
279 in Sunday school (2.2% increase from 2006)

November 10/11 - Mark preached
718 in worship (19.9% increase from 2006)
256 in Sunday school (.7% increase from 2006)

November 17/18 - Mark preached & Youth Musical
1038 in worship (63.2% increase from 2006)
163 in Sunday school (57.6% decrease from 2006)

November 24/25 - Dave preached
694 in worship (2.4% increase from 2006)
256 in Sunday school (18.5% increase from 2006)

Our year to date average attendance is 21% higher in 2007 than the year to date average attendance for 2006. That's 40% growth over the last two years!

Keep inviting your friends, neighbors, co-workers, and family members. They matter to God!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Book #16 - Mavericks at Work

Over Thanksgiving I finished reading Mavericks at Work: Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win by William C. Taylor and Polly LaBarre. I loved this book because it pushed me to think - really, really think about being different. In a world of churches that all look exactly the same, and is often more interested in copying other churches, how can we stand apart and do only what God is calling us to do at Charter Oak Church? What would happen if we started thinking differently about how we fulfill the call God has placed on our hearts? What if we believed - really believed - the transformational truth of Jesus Christ was to be made available to all people no matter what? What if that call burned passionately within us to the point that it was the only thing we could think about?

These are the questions that began to form in me as I read this book. Good stuff.

Gospel of Sin Management

As I was reading The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard this morning, this really jumped out at me.

"The current gospel then becomes a 'gospel of sin management.' Transformation of life and character is no part of the redemptive message. Moment-to-moment human reality in its depths is not the arena of faith and eternal living.

What right and left have in common is that neither group lays down a coherent framework of knowledge and practical direction adequate to personal transformation toward the abundance and obedience emphasized in the New Testament, with a corresponding redemption of ordinary life."

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Day 6 - Thursday

Thursday was a big coffee making day! Our team ordered over 150 pounds of coffee that was grown in the Harmons community. Part of Wednesday and all of Thursday, and in to the night, was devoted to making coffee. A group of Jamaican men cooked the coffee right in front of us as we finished up the last details of putting the green house together. You have no idea how good roasting coffee smells! A group of ladies from Charter Oak Church helped to cool, bag, and sew on the labels of the coffee.

The final details were also being completed on the house we were building, a group went to the local elementary school and actually taught because a couple of teachers didn't show up for work, and the medical team open the clinic at the Harmony House for the very first time.

After lunch, everyone went to the house dedication. We all climbed up to the top of the mountain and dedicated the house to the glory of God and handed over the keys to the owners. We presented them with a Bible, a bag of rice to share with their friends, a flashlight, and a weather gizmo that would warn of coming storms. (The house we built was to replace the one the family lived in that was destroyed by a hurricane.) This is a picture of Woppy, the owner of the new house. BTW, that night we celebrated his birthday and my birthday.

Thursday night was dinner at a Jamaican's house. We were divided into groups of about 5 or 6 people and were sent to have dinner in the homes of some local Jamaicans. The food was sent by Won by One to Jamaica ahead of time. The host family prepared the food the way they wanted to and then we all ate together. The group of people I was teamed with went to the home of a single mom with one teenage son. She had a small house that was constructed a few years ago by Won by One to Jamaica. The Americans sat at a kitchen table, but our host had to sit on her bed because there wasn't enough room for her at the table and she refused to let us squeeze her in. The food was very good and it was awesome to spend some quality time building a relationship with her. She was laughing when she found out that I am a pastor. She said, "I always get the pastors!"

After dinner we had a powerful closing time that brought closure to our time in Harmons.

Day 5 - Wednesday

Day five we continued to work on the green house, building the walls of the house we were carrying all of that maul up to, other odd jobs, and the medical team also saw between 125-150 people in the morning. We worked until about 1:00, took a break for lunch, then we headed off to the Infirmary.

Every time I have been to Harmons and have gone to the Infirmary, it has been the most intense part of the trip for me. The Infirmary also called the Poor House is where people are placed that have no one to take care of them. It is a very large, one level structure made of concrete block painted white. It is very institutional looking. Most of the people are either elderly or mentally unable to take care of themselves.

We were there to spend time building relationships with people who don't have anyone else in their lives. Some on our team sang songs with the residents. Some read scripture. Some prayed. Some even handed out candy (that was very popular). As I watched our team serve "the least of these" my heart was filled to bear witness to the fact that they were way outside their comfort zone and right in the middle of God's will.

I spent my time with two elderly gentlemen. Talking about the love and grace of Jesus and reading scripture with them. I was blown away by how much they knew by heart. I don't really know if I added any value to them, but I know that they did to me. I was blessed to sit with these two men for the cause of Jesus.

Wednesday night was ladies night. They invited the local Harmons women to come and be pampered by the ladies from our group. Men were not allowed. It was a great opportunity for our ladies to build one on one relationships as they did their hair, nails, etc.

What I learned on Wednesday...
  1. It is very hard to really get out of our comfort zones, but it is when God takes over and we live right in the middle of his will - there is no better place, scary, but good.
  2. When a group of God's people live in this zone of the unknown and allow God to work through them, the potential is limitless.

Op-ed Piece in the Post Gazette

Here's a link to an article written by a woman who is a relatively new member of Charter Oak Church. My favorite line in the article is "Underneath the shiny surface, what the people at my new church do right is Jesus."

Check it out here.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Book # 15 - Resurrecting Excellence

I am very shamed to type that I finally finished my 15th book of the year - Resurrecting Excellence: Shaping Faitrhful Christian Ministry by L. Gregory Jones and Kevin R. Armstrong. I have been asked to join a Leadership Incubator for our denomination and this was the required reading. The book was fine. It isn't something that I would read on my own. I liked the section on the intersection of our faith and what that means for me as a pastor. Here's the quote...

"Resurrecting excellence in ministry happens in intersections, and the pastor leader is not simply a crossing guard. The pastor is an artist of the intersection, seeking connections among the often paradoxical dimensions of life - ancient texts and current dilemmas, inner experience and public responsibility, what has been an d what yet might be."

Even though I haven't finished any books lately, I am reading four books right now. I am almost finished with Mavericks at Work (love it!) by William C. Taylor and Polly LaBarre. I just started reading Rules for Revolutionaries:The Capitalist Manifesto for Creating and Marketing new Products and Services by Guy Kawasaki. I am also reading The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcom Gladwell. And I have committed to taking a year to read The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God by Dallas Willard as an act of faithful discipleship to take my spiritual journey to another level. I hope to get the other books finished by the end of the year.

Day 4 - Tuesday

On Tuesday I was assigned a new project once again. This time Rusty and I were given the task of building a green house. This was such an incredible project. The green house we were to build really is very different than the ones that are built in the US. In America, green houses are constructed to keep the heat in. In Jamaica, we were building a green house to keep the heat out. The material we used was a white mesh that would reflect the sun and let the wind pass through. One other very important component - we had to build it so that when a hurricane or tropic storm hit the island, it had to be able to be torn down quickly.

Here's the really cool part of this project. The green house will be used to grow tomatoes and peppers to be sold at the high end restaurants in the resorts on the north shore of Jamaica. Won by One to Jamaica will employ single moms (who typically are the last to get employment) to raise the crops and do all of the work within the green house. The proceeds from the sale of the vegetables will be divided up to pay the single moms a living wage, pay for the running of the green house, and to do more ministry in Harmons. What a great vision to impact a region!

After working all day our team came together to talk about what God thinks about the poor. It was a great conversation.

What I learned on Tuesday...
  1. Cast a big vision and empower people to complete it. The green house project will have far reaching implications for a long time.
  2. I'm still afraid of heights. I hated being up on top of the green house.
  3. Listening to everyone's thoughts on the poor really opened my eyes to how people think and it caused me to think theologically about where I really am on my understanding of the poor and what is God's call upon my life and Charter Oak Church in response to that call.

Day 3 - Monday

We carried maul all morning long! It was my job to shovel the maul from the huge pile along the road into the burlap bags to be carried up the hill to the house site that we were building. It was some where between 90 and 95 degrees that morning.

We stopped for lunch and I was given a new assignment - build a wall at the Harmony House that would close off a space that was going to become the storage area for their coffee production. Just as we were starting to get to work - the power went off and stayed off, all afternoon and into the evening. We started up the generator and had to share power with a couple of other people who were also working at the site. It wasn't exactly the fastest work, but we make good progress.
Monday night was men's night. We played dominoes with the local men, both teens and 20 somethings. I had never played before, so I received a quick lesson and then went to playing. We were paired up - one American and one Jamaican against the same team set up. Our team won the first game, then we lost the next 15. During those games, I finally learned the strategy, I guess I'm a slow learner. Then our team won the next 15 games. It was a great night to get to know a couple of Jamaican guys and to build a relationship with them.

I Broke It

Here's a picture of the x ray of my broken foot.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Day 2 - Sunday

Did you know that roosters in Jamaica don't know the difference between dawn and 3:00am? It's true. Did you also know that dogs don't like to be awakened in the middle of the night? They don't and they let everyone know about it. I'm very thankful that I took ear plugs.

Sunday we began our time in worship with Mark and Emily. This past summer Mark and Emily moved to Harmons to live for as long as God wants them to be there. They are a young couple who love Jesus and love the people of Jamaica to such an extent that they left everything in America behind to follow God's call upon their lives. That's some serious faith!

After worship our team took a walk around Harmons. For people who had never been to Harmons before, this was a major shock as they witnessed the living conditions of the people of this small community. We talked to people living on the side of a mountain. We handed out candy to small children. It was our first time to have our hearts touched by the great need we were sent to aid and to start building relationships.

After lunch, the medical team began sorting all of the meds we brought down and the rest of us went down the road about a mile to start hauling maul. I'm not sure if that is the correct way to spell it or not, but it is the sand-like substance that is used to mix with cement to build the house we were task with for the week. We carried 10-20lbs bags of maul with out team for about 3 hours in the 90 degree weather. The work was at hand! We carried these bags about 300 yards - all up hill. There was one hill that was probably at least a 45 degree slope. There was a second hill that we could not scale, someone had to stand at the bottom of the hill and throw the bags up about 20 feet to the top. It was intense work. But good to work out the kinks of the long flight the day before.

After dinner, we had team building and then we turned up the music in the courtyard and spent the rest of the evening getting to know the locals. What a great day!

What did I learn on Day Two?
  1. No matter how hard the work - when you are working with a team of people, it is always much, much better.
  2. I love Jamaican food.
  3. Our experience in Jamaica was well put together by Won by One to Jamaica.

Day Two complete.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Day 1 - Travel

We met at 3am in the parking lot of Charter Oak Church to carpool to the Pittsburgh Airport. When we arrived at our gate, I was extremely surprised to meet a very good friend of mine, Rusty Orner, from when I was serving as a pastor in the Du Bois area. The day was starting off in the right way.

We flew from Pittsburgh to Houston, Texas. It was a 3 hour flight and they actually gave us real food on the flight! Way to go Continental!

We had a quick layover in Houston and then on to Montego Bay, Jamaica. It was a three and a half hour flight so we had real food again and then we were able to watch the latest Harry Potter movie.

When we arrived in Montego Bay, we went through immigration and then on to pick up our luggage. One small problem, our luggage didn't make it. It took our team two plus hours to get all of the paper work filled out. Without luggage it was very easy to go through customs!

After all of the airport stuff we met Josh, Henry, Lloyd, and Leslie the team of leaders from Won by One to Jamaica and the other half of our mission team from the Kansas City Area.

We all jumped on to one of two buses and we started the four hour drive through the mountains of Jamaica to get to Harmons.

We arrived without any problems and we started to unpack and get settled. My head hit the pillow at about 11pm and I was one tired puppy.

What did I learn on Day One?
  1. A simple meal on an airplane makes a lot of people happy.
  2. Customer service or lack thereof can make or break a company or church's reputation.
  3. There's nothing better than good friends.
Day One complete.

Jamaica Recap

Unfortunately I was not able to blog while I was on my mission trip to Harmons, Jamaica. The power was spotty and the Internet connect that was at the Harmony House was by satellite and it rained every day. So over the next few days as I re-enter the American mindset, I will try to capture what happened while we were on our trip.

Thursday, November 1, 2007


I just read this blog and I had to copy a section for you to read. Check this out...

Audacity is a practice, not a quality
There are fewer prerequisites for achieving your goals than you might first think.

You don’t need to be a great writer, or an expert at creating posts that get Dugg. You don’t need to have a network of influencers, or dozens of killer posts, or years of experience, or formal credentials.
In fact, I’m beginning to think that audacity is the most important habit a blogger can develop.

If you’re not afraid to be rejected, you keep putting your hand up. If you’re not afraid to be ignored, you keep putting yourself out there. If you’re not afraid to be criticized, you do exactly what you want. If you’re not afraid to make contact with someone more successful than you, you’ll create your own opportunities.

Whenever you find yourself thinking: “I’m just not good enough,” replace that sentence with “I’m just not being audacious enough.”

The best thing about audacity is that it’s not a quality you either possess or you don’t. It’s not the same as beauty, or a gorgeous singing voice.

Audacity is a practice. Do audacious things, and you become audacious.

The audacity of… failure
Part of being audacious is being ignored, or rejected, or brushed off, or criticized. You will sometimes fail. You’ll certainly make mistakes. I’ve experienced all of those things, and if you’re audacious, you will too.

Thankfully, both Albert Einstein and Michael Jordan (strange bedfellows, no?) have a few words of wisdom on that point:

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”– Michael Jordan

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”– Albert Einstein