Monday, March 31, 2008

My Verse for Today

"Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law." (Romans 13:8)

Competing Voices

This weekend, Bill and Karen Thompson, announced in a formal way the launch of our next capital stewardship program - Unlocking the Future. For those who have been around Charter Oak Church for a while, this next stewardship program is not a surprise. We had to borrow $3.4 million to build our new facility. We knew that we didn't want to take away from ministry and missions, so we need a second stream of income to pay our mortgage.

At our one year anniversary we announced to the congregation that we were in the preliminary stages of designing the second phase of our master building plan and we would be building again in the near future to accommodate our numerical growth and to make room to ensure that we could continue to grow. Then about a month ago we introduced the leadership team of the Unlocking the Future program. As we introduced the leadership team we also shared the vision and purpose of the program.

Even though we have been communicating clearly along the way and even though we have shared that we will answer any questions along the way, people still choose to say things that are not true or act in an un-biblical manner. This breaks my heart as a pastor. Instead of asking me or someone on the leadership team to answer a legitimate question, they choose to make things up. It seems to be easier to justify it in their minds than to get to the truth.

This weekend we are giving a packet of information to every household connected to Charter Oak Church. The information will again explain what we are seeking to do through the Unlocking the Future program. It will challenge the people of Charter Oak Church to seek God's will for their lives. It will lead us through a discernment process by reading scripture and prayer. I also hope that it will help people to know the truth and not make speculations.

There are no competing voices at Charter Oak Church - there is only One. We follow God. I am looking forward to the spiritual journey that we are about to embark on as a faith community to do all God wants us to do and to be a part of the incredible things that He is already at work doing.

New Appreciation for Life

I knew yesterday was going to be a long day - teach at our three morning worship services, meet with the leadership team of a local congregation who is going to be building soon and wanted to spend some time with me, having a very late lunch or early dinner with my district superintendent, and then some work at home. I never got the chance to do the work at home because I received a call that one of our members had a heart attack after worship this morning.

When I finally made it to the hospital, Jim was already in surgery. They were going to do five or six by-passes. That meant that all of the arteries coming out of Jim's heart were almost completely blocked. This is a strong, healthy man. He loves his wife and his daughter. He works very hard at his job. And bam! everything is changing for them now.

I immediately thought of my 30 Days to Live series that I kicked off the year with. It is times like these that people get a new appreciation for life. And because I get the privilege of walking beside them in some small way, I also get a new appreciation for life.

The doctors told Jim he could never eat meat again - not even fish. That's a drastic change. But I think about the change that we are asked to make as followers of Jesus. We are to be transformed. We aren't asked to be a little bit different, but instead we are invited to be like Jesus. I am praying for Jim and Susie, I hope you will too. They have a new appreciation for life and I believe for the amazing grace and love of God that has sustained them through this.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Character of Daniel

My wife, Kelli, is in a Beth Moore Bible study right now on the book of Daniel. Every time she watches the DVD and does the corresponding work, we have some pretty incredible conversations. I have read the book of Daniel many, many times. She was pulling out things that I hadn't heard in a while or never thought of. This morning I have spent some time reading the first six chapters of Daniel.

One of the things that jumped out at me more than anything else is the character of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. These are men after God's own heart. Time and time again they are given the opportunity to choose a different path than the will of God, but at every turn they are walking with God, even when it can cost them their lives. They take the narrow road. They always give God glory and never take it for themselves.

I love what people said about the character of Daniel. "The administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent." What a statement by a group of people who hated him. This made me realize that my true God-centered character is revealed by what people who don't love me or care for me say about me. It may come out negatively as did it against Daniel. But the root cause of it is because Daniel's heart and life was with God. That's right where I want to be.


Yesterday I was given the opportunity to step into a God moment. I didn't really want to step into it. I wanted to be praying because I was praying. I needed some one-on-one time with God. But a man in our community that I have been building a relationship with for two years came to see me yesterday. He knew I was praying. He scratched on the window to get my attention, but I wouldn't look up. He knocked on the door, but I wouldn't look up. He finally came in and started talking to me.

I often challenge the people of Charter Oak Church to say yes ,when by the power of the Holy Spirit, God prompts us to step into a moment he has prepared for us. I didn't want to step into it yesterday, but God was not going to allow that to happen. I am glad that God's faithfulness is much greater than my obedience!

For about 45 minutes the man and I had an incredible conversation about faith, family, and life. He walked away from God after 9/11. He has had a major problem with God since then. But he knows that there is something or someone missing from his life and from the life of his family. He wants a change. He needs someone he can put his entire life, family, and trust. He needs Jesus and deep down inside he knows it.

This man took a risk to come see me yesterday. I wasn't open like I should have been, but God intervened and a man and his family's life trajectory is now changed. Everything changed on Easter morning and this man who felt unlovable and untouchable has received both.

Thank you God for not giving up on me and even more so on him.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

After the Resurrection

What happened after the resurrection in the disciples' lives? What was going through their minds? What did they do the day after, the week after? I've been studying the aftermath of the resurrection of Jesus because that is where we are now. We call Easter weekend the Super Bowl of the church - more people and more excitement than any other time of the year. The weekend after Easter is often called the Great Letdown because those same people who had such great excitement a week before aren't back.

As I read the four Gospels, I don't think we are so different from the disciples - we should be because time gives us perspective, but we aren't. Check out what each describes as happening after the resurrection:

Matthew 28:8-20 has Jesus appearing and wanting to meet the disciples in Galilee. The religious leaders want to play down the "disappearance" of Jesus so they bribe the guards. Then we get the Great Commission.

Mark 16:9-20 gives us a bit more information. Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene, then appears to two of them, then he appears to them all because they lack faith in his resurrection. We get another Great Commission and a promise of signs and wonders. Finally, Jesus ascends to heaven and the disciples go to work spreading the Gospel.

Luke 24:13-53 begins with the walk to Emmaus as Jesus joins two of his followers, but they are going away from Jerusalem, not in the direction that he asked his disciples to go. Then Jesus appears to the disciples, but they are not heading to Galilee as instructed. He appears to them again and opens their minds to everything he needed them to understand. Finally, Jesus leads them to where he is going to ascend to heaven. After he goes the disciples stick around for a while and worship.

John 20:19-21:25 has Jesus appearing to the disciples behind locked doors, telling them to receive the Holy Spirit and to forgive one another. Then Jesus appears two more times and then to Thomas who is doubting everything going on post resurrection, but believes after seeing Jesus. Then we get the story of the disciples fishing and Peter jumping into the water when he recognizes Jesus. It is here that Jesus and Peter have a one on one session where Jesus asks Peter if he loves him three times to represent the three denials of Peter before the crucifixion.

All of these accounts are fascinating to me. I ask myself - what do we learn from this? The life, death and resurrection of Jesus really happened, but we don't stay where we are. We are called to obediently continue the work that was started in Jesus and has now been passed on to us - that the world may know the Good News of Jesus.

What does that mean for you and me? What's our next move after the resurrection? Do we allow the resurrection to transform us? Or do we go back to our everyday, ordinary lives as if nothing happened? Our response to the resurrection today shows where our hearts are with God. It means everything, because everything changed on Easter.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Easter Weekend

What a great weekend of worship we had at Charter Oak Church this Easter. We celebrated the resurrection of Jesus. We celebrated that on that first Easter morning when the tomb was empty - everything changed! My challenge to the people of Charter Oak Church was/is - have just a few things changed in your life or has everything changed? Are you transformed?

Even our time leading up to Easter weekend was special. On Thursday night Pastor Dave led the Maundy Thursday worship by talking about the impact of Jesus washing the disciples' feet. Then in groups of 12 we sat around a table to share in Holy Communion. Last year we had 120 people, this year we had 178! That's a 48% increase. On Friday night we celebrated the Tenebrae service. 160 people heard the scripture readings of the betrayal, abandonment, and death of Jesus. Then over Easter weekend 1,245 people worshipped together as we magnified the risen Savior - a 10% increase over last year. What an awesome opportunity for us to join our hearts together and press play on the soundtrack of God in this world!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Who Are You Inviting

There is no better time to invite someone to church than Easter. You have a circle of friends that matter to you and more importantly, matter to God. These are people you do life with. Why not invite them into a journey that will transform their life forever?
It's a simple ask. A phone call. An email. A text message. It may be the most important thing you do this entire year. Go ahead, take the risk, invite someone to worship with you at Charter Oak Church this Easter.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Book # 7 - Sex God

I just finished reading Rob Bell's book Sex God: Exploring the Endless Connections between Sexuality and Spirituality. Everything I read or watch (Nooma videos) by Rob Bell challenges me to think differently and to know why I believe what I believe. I always learn something new about the Bible and what was really happening behind the words - because there is almost always something else going on behind the words. And I always learn something about myself - why I believe something or why I don't.
This book is about sex, but it is about so much more than just sex. I would put this book in the hands of every couple getting married and those who have been married, and for that matter - the hands of single people too.
The end of the book really nailed it. Marriage, God, bride of Christ, death, resurrection, wow - good, good stuff. Read it.

What I'm Praying for this Easter

As I have been preparing for this weekend, I have been praying some very specific prayers that I would love for you to join me in praying.
  1. I'm praying for those in this region who do not go to church for whatever reason. Some of them have stepped away because of a bad experience in a former church. Some just fell away because of the speed of life. Some are new to the area. And some have never even heard the name Jesus. I am asking that God will soften their hearts, minds, and even their souls to his tender voice to seek him this Easter. I am praying that when people from Charter Oak Church invite these people they will say yes.
  2. I'm praying for those who call Charter Oak Church home. We have many people who consider this church the place they connect with God, but they don't show up on a weekly basis. There are also those who are here every week or some where between the two. I am praying that this Easter will be a brand new experience for them. I am praying that they will have new eyes and ears. I am praying that they will be open to what God wants to do in them and through them this weekend and beyond. I am praying they will have courage to invite those in their circle of influence that do not go to church to worship here this weekend.
  3. I'm also praying for myself. That may sound selfish to many, but I need God, probably more than any other weekend, I need God to be the point. I am praying that it will be God that speaks and not me. I am praying that I will have God's energy, passion, excitement, wisdom, words, and love. Mine are not enough. Without God I will fail. There is too much hanging in the balance - people's eternity, for me to try to do this on my own. So I am praying for myself to bring all that God has for the people of Charter Oak Church this weekend.

I hope that you will join me in these prayers. Your authentic words to God on behalf of the people of this region, the people of Charter Oak Church, and me, will make an eternal difference.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Easter at Charter Oak Church

This weekend I am starting a new series called "Transformed." This past weekend Bill Gates put together a video teaser for the series using movie clips from Transformers. He did an awesome job setting up the series. The tag line for the movie and the cartoon it is based upon is "more than meets the eye." What would happen if we as followers of Jesus went deeper than just what people see? What would happen if we lived into the Easter miracle of a transformed life - not just parts of us. I'm talking about a complete overhaul - we were once living our own way and now we are living the way of Jesus.

This Easter is a great time for you to invite the people in your circle of influence to check out God and see what God is doing in this place. Most people are open to an invitation by a friend on Easter. I am asking you to prayerfully consider who you will invite and then give them a call, go see them, stop by their office at work, send then an email or a text message. Whatever it takes because the people in your circle of influence matter to you, but even more, they matter to God.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Eyes Wide Shut

On Saturday Charter Oak Church did what it has been doing for years once a month - open our doors as a distribution center for the Westmoreland County Food Bank. We now serve over 110 people each month. On the same day we were opening our doors, our local newspaper ran an article about the hungry in Westmoreland County. Right now about 15,000 people are served through the Food Bank. However, they estimate that an additional 40,000 are eligible to receive services.

That number completely blew my mind. It haunted me through the weekend - 55,000 people in Westmoreland County potentially need help putting food on their table. That really bothers me. I don't know if it bothers me because I don't have a solution to fix it, because I don't want to become an enabler of unemployment. I don't know if it bothers me because I don't have a solution to fix it, because it would mean that the church (all churches) would have to come together in unity to meet the need. I don't know if it bothers me because I don't have a solution to fix it, because I want to get to the root of the cause and I don't think I'm going to like what I find if I can get there. So I think I am like most people and I shut myself away from the truth.

More and more God is pressing on me that "where much is given, much is required." I cannot begin to list all the ways that we have been given much at Charter Oak Church. But at the same time we are not expected to be the only church in the arena. What I am wrestling with is how we can be leaders in the arena that will cast a vision that other churches will join us in the arena and we will see God at work at His best through His bride - the church.

Join me in praying that God will reveal to us where He is already at work in this region alleviating poverty so that we may join Him in that work and help lead others to that place as well.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Book #6 - 7 Practices of Effective Ministry

While on study leave I re-read Reggie Joiner and Lane Jones' great book 7 Practices of Effective Ministry. I didn't include Andy Stanley as an author because he only has the introduction in the book, the rest is written by Reggie and Lane. I am sure that it was Andy who authored the whole idea of the 7 practices, but the book itself was written by Reggie and Lane.
I have read this book just about every year since it first came out. This time I read the book with our Senior Management Team and Church Council. I can't tell you how good it is to read the same book as the key leaders in your church. We all have a common vocabulary now. We all are starting on the same page. I would highly recommend to other pastors and leaders to read books together with your teams. I know our Senior Management Team and Church Council will be talking about this book for a very long time.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


What can I do with my obsession
With the things I cannot see
Is there madness in my being
Is it the wind that moves the trees?
Sometimes You're further than the moon
Sometimes You're closer than my skin
And You surround me like a winter fog
You've come and burned me with a kiss
And my heart burns for You
And my heart burns...for You
And I'm so filthy with my sin
I carry pride like a disease
You know I'm stubborn, Lord, and I'm longing to be close
You burn me deeper than I know
And I feel lonely without hope
And I feel desperate without vision
You wrap around me like a winter coat
You come and free me like a bird
My love burns for You
And my heart feels for You

(David Crowder)

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Study Leave

From time to time Jesus would slip away for some one-on-one time with His heavenly Father. It gave Him a chance to be reminded about God's plan for His life and it re-energized Him for doing day to day ministry. I am going to follow in the footsteps of Jesus this week. I am going to the mountains for a week of one-on-one time with God.
With the speed that we do life, what would happen if we all ordered our lives after the example of Jesus? What if we really took a day of rest? It was designed with you and me in mind - to help us to re-connect with God on a weekly basis. What if we slipped away from time to time to spend long time chunks with God? Many will say, that would be impossible with my schedule. Well, if you looked at my schedule right now, you would realize that I could say the same thing. As a matter of fact, I had someone ask me how I could go away now with everything that is going on at Charter Oak Church. I simply responded that if I didn't go away, we wouldn't be able to do everything we are supposed to do going forward. We make time for what's important.
How can you schedule time to be alone with God?

Friday, March 7, 2008

Strategic Planning Process

Tomorrow morning our Church Council and Senior Management Team will join together to begin the process of creating a strategic plan for the future God has designed for Charter Oak Church. I know God must be planning some very big things because I haven't had a more difficult week in ministry in a very long time. I am asking all of you who read this to be in prayer for our time tomorrow and the entire process. We want to be right in the middle of God's will. I know there is a deceiver who does not want us to be there. Please pray for me through this, I need it right now.
The scripture I have just kept in my mind is from Ephesians 4, "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand."
Please stand in the gap for me, our Church Council, and our Senior Management Team.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Communicating Information

On Tuesday our Senior Management Team spent a couple of hours talking about communicating information to the people of Charter Oak Church. We listed all of the ways we currently communicate with people:

  • Worship Folder

  • Circuit Rider (newsletter)

  • Platform/Stage

  • Announcement Slides

  • Web Sites

  • Seed Planters (children's ministry newsletter)

  • Blogs

  • Email

  • Team Meetings

  • Phone Calls

  • Letters

  • Brochures/Pamphlets

  • Information Center

  • Well-Informed Leaders

We have a variety of ways to communicate information around Charter Oak Church, and yet, often times we hear that people don't know what is going on. I scratch my head and wonder why. I was taught that you have to say something six different times in six different ways for someone to really receive the information.

I am beginning to wonder if we don't have too many lines of communication. What if we really began to narrow our focus of what we are trying to communicate and how we communicate it? If people were not inundated with information and instead given the opportunity to have just a few places to go to get that information and then only the information that is important to them.

I have two places I go to get news - the newspaper and the Internet. And then I narrow it from there. I read the newspaper from cover to cover, but I don't read everything, just that which is important to me. I would not be happy if the newspaper didn't cover all of the news that it does, but I get to choose what I read. The same goes for the Internet. I have a news site I read a couple of time a day and I go to a few times a day. I don't read everything that is there, I just read what I want.

We need to learn from those who are distributing information as their primary purpose in life. If we can learn from them, I believe we will be able to communicate information in a way that will help the people of Charter Oak Church know what's important to them.