Monday, August 25, 2008


The last three Sundays, I've been incredibly honest with the congregation. I guess if you can't be eloquent or insightful, at least be honest, huh? It's not that easy to bare your soul before a group of people, especially not 3 Sundays in a row, but that's what God has been leading me to do.

On the 10th, I shared openly about Erin and my struggles with infertility. Although I cried while writing the message, I didn't feel much emotion while preaching it. I could sense the empathy pains others were feeling, though. You can listen to that message here.

Two weeks ago, God completely changed what I was going to say on Saturday morning. And to freak me out even more, God kept me from preparing a message and instructed me to spend time in prayer, instead. The next morning, I made a few quick notes before heading to worship. I was completely terrified during the music and wanted to hop in my car and drive home. I then shared very openly and honestly about the challenges (how they freak me out) we're facing as we move to a new school and the opportunities (how they pump me up) that we're facing as well. Just as the church is stepping out into the unknown, God lead me to do the same thing with my message. listen

This last Sunday, I had to be honest in an entirely different way. I was preaching on Matthew 6:19-34, explaining how Jesus' expectation that we're generous with our money is what sets us free from extreme worry and extreme consumerism. My good buddy, Joe Kumor had some nice words to say about that message - link. Since Joe is one of the most generous people I know, it's not surprising that message would get him all excited.

Preaching about money is never easy for me to do, I'm pretty much assured that someone in the congregation is getting angry with me as I speak. I didn't hold back on Sunday, though. A couple main points from that message:
1) Jesus doesn't give an "if you can afford it" clause. He expects EVERYONE to be generous. He was speaking to some of the poorest people in the world.
2) Generosity is what sets us free from worrying about whether we have enough to fit in (the image of the flowers) or whether we have enough to survive (the image of the birds).
3) If you think TFC is just after your money, give your money away somewhere else!
4) Life doesn't always turn out the way we think it should; birds die and flowers get cut down, but we still keep God first.
5) God wants your heart above all else, but since money represents security and independence, God's path to your heart goes directly through your wallet.
6) I also shared a very personal story about a recent event in which God asked (told) Erin and me to give away a significant amount of money, something that had never happened before in our lives. This was the most difficult thing for me to share out of the past three messages. It's one thing to share your struggles or concerns, it's another thing to share something good that God has done through your life. I took the risk of sounding like I was bragging to let people see our internal struggle. I hadn't planned on ever sharing that story, but as I was working on the passage, I sensed God guiding me into a place of honest vulnerability - again.

To hear the message, click here.

TFC has been responding to my honestly. After Sunday's message, we had a time of prayer. We gave several ways to respond. Answering reflection questions from the weekly, lighting a candle as a prayer, writing your concerns on some paper on the wall and being prayed for by our prayer teams. There was a powerful sense of the Holy Spirit moving among our congregation on Sunday. It was great!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Tony Campolo on the Colbert Report

One of the preacher/ authors most influencing my thinking currently is Tony Campolo. Back during my "Ditto-head" days, I wrote Campolo off as a bleeding heart liberal. But I then began doing something that most right-wing Christians appartently don't do - I started reading the Bible! Sarcasm aside, it's amazing what reading the Bible will do for your theology and your political views.

I would strongly encourage you to go to Campolo's website and subscribe to his podcasts. You can also enjoy this video from the Colbert Report.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Why we started TFC!

I didn't know Marty and Lindsay until Easter Sunday, but I knew they were couples like them out there, but if we were going to reach them, it would require a unique approach to church. This is EXACTLY why we started this church and why we do what we do EVERY single Sunday! I LOVE it!

I also love the relational chain that happens here. Travis gives his life to Jesus, invites several friends to TFC, one of those friends make a dramatic turn-around. Now Marty and Lindsay have been inviting a lot of friends to TFC, too. Haven't seen a dramatic turn-around among them yet, but it's coming.

Even though I did the interviewing for this video, tears still came to my eyes as David showed me the final version. We're going to be showing this on our 3rd birthday, but I couldn't wait that long to get it out there. Enjoy.

If for some reason, the embed code doesn't work, you can watch the video at this link.

Story 1 - Marty and Lindsay from David Brush on Vimeo.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

World War I

I just finished the book, An Illustrated History of the First World War by John Keegan. It was a pretty depressing book. WWI was a futile and brutal war. Millions dead and nothing at all gained (if there really are gains from war).

The war didn't really need to happen. Most people know that the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Franz Ferdinand by a Serbian activist, Gavrilo Princip was the event that plunged Europe into war but the assassination didn't mean the war was inevitable. In fact, the assassination occurred on June 18th (1914) but Austria-Hungary didn't send their impossible demands back to Serbia (the demands were really just something they'd been trying to force Serbia to do anyway and they used the assassination as an excuse) until July 31st. Based upon some national law or policy, July 31st was the last day Austria-Hungary could respond to the assignation, so they waited until the last minute.

Then Russia, who was worried about Austria-Hungary and German military might decided they needed to posture themselves, so they mobilized troops on July 31st. Germany, who had become the bully on the European 'block' had to flex their muscles, so they declared war on Russia and France on August 1st.

It wasn't really the assissination but the arms race and political posturing that lead to the war. The assissination simply gave Germany and Russia the excuse to do what they'd been working toward for almost two decades; declare war on each other. Around the turn of the century, Germany began exponentially building up their military strength, which made France and Russia very nervous. Germany had possession of lands that Russia and France believed was rightfully theirs, taken during wars in the late 19th century. Compared to their size now, it's hard to believe how big the German empire was before the end of WWI. It's also amazing when you realize Germany had the military strength to fight Russia on the Eastern front and France/ Germany on the western (same was WWII). Germany was the world's military 'big boy' for almost half of the 20th century. On a funny side note, Germany tried enticing Mexico onto their side toward the end of the war, promising them they could have Texas, Arizona and New Mexico back after the Allies were defeated.
The war was started by a bunch of politicians wanting to save face, prove their military might and expand their nation's boundaries. Pathetic little men, is what I think. Here's what their stupidity brought about:
  • 60 million soldiers fighting in the war with over 20 million civilian and military deaths.
  • The "lost Generation." A term that refers to all the young men who died in the war. 1/3 of all able-bodied German young men died in the war. Millions of men plucked away from European civilization.
  • The fall of empires that had stood for centuries and the birth of evil regimes such as Lenin's Communist Soviet Union and Hitler's Third Reich.
  • The West's over-involvement in the Middle East, resulting in the hostilities (read terrorism) we still experience today.
  • The development of more brutal and efficient forms of killing each other; tanks, machine guns, gas and bomber planes. Based upon all their previous wars, the European politicians actually believed it could be a short war, they had no idea what would happen over those 4 terrible years. The machine gun inflicted casualty numbers never before seen while they didn't yet have the technology or military tactics to counter that weapon. The Allies were able to turn the war to their favor in the summer of 1918 because they had put forth the effort to develop tanks during the war (and because President Wilson finally committed the US to the Allied side) while the Germans had depended upon their superior field tactics. It's amazing the technological advances that take place when we're trying to find more efficient ways to kill each other...
  • The October Revolution. Russia fell apart during the war, gave up in 1917 and was plunged in to a 4 year civil war that took the lives of 10 million Russians. The result of the Civil War was the rise of communism.
  • 100,000 US dead. 50,000 were killed in action and 50,000 were killed by the Spanish flu that swept Europe near the end of the war. The bombing of US ships by German U-boats, eventually persuaded President Wilson and US Congress to declare war. While the US didn't have the heavy machinery Britain and France had developed during the course of the war, they did have a million fresh troops.
    When Germany realized what the US's entry in the war would mean to the balance of man-power, they gave one last effort to push through Allied lines into Paris during the summer of 1918 to win the war before the US could mobilize its full force of soldiers. While Germany came close, they made a few tactical errors that slowed them down and since they no longer had any reinforcements to bring to the war (they'd used every single available man) and the US was now replenishing Allied armies, they eventually gave up. The US's doughboys and the leadership of John Pershing finally ended the 4 year war.
  • The guarantee that WWII would happen. The Treaty of Versailles, which ended the war, was used by the Allies to punish Germany. Germany tried to hold out as long as possible but the starvation of German people brought about by the Allies blockade of Germany forced them to sign. The Treaty forced Germany to surrender most of their land, disband their army and pay reparations to Allied nations. The terms of this treaty plunged Germany into economic depression and political chaos. It also brought about the rise of Adolf Hitler, The Nazi Party and the Third Reich. Hitler was a WWI vet who united Germany under an "us vs. the world" mentality, which wasn't entirely inaccurate. The Allies harsh treatment of beaten Germany guaranteed Germany would come back to fight the world again. In fact, one scholar believes there wasn't really two world wars, but one world war separated by two decades. That sounds logical to me.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Well, ya' got trouble, my friend

I've finally got the video of our "Trouble" filmed by _____ (it's a secret) up on youtube.
So if you'd like to see the classic song from The Music Man, click here.

I did mess up a bit on this song. Counting practices, it was the first time I'd messed up for weeks and it had to be during an actual performance. The rhythm was pretty difficult on the song and just as I jump down off the stage, I got a bit off. But the pit stopped and we got back together. Annie, our music director told me, "anyone can do it right, but it takes skill to fix a mistake mid-stream." While that felt good, she was probably just being nice.

While seeing if my video came up during a youtube search, I found this parody of "Trouble" from a church. This is good stuff, link.

God has spoken!

I broke my fast last night because my time of prayer, dreaming and planning ended Tuesday afternoon. It was a really good time. In fact, I've never done this before. I'd never gotten alone for an extended period of time to seek God's vision for TFC's future and to then work out a plan to move toward that future.

On Monday, I spent time asking this question, What would it look like it TFC had matured as a church? I then wrote out what we'd be like as a church if we'd grown in each of the 5.

My question on Tuesday was, How do we get to that place of maturity? I worked out an action plan to move us toward that place of maturity.

I sent out my thoughts and plan to the Point Team last night. We're meeting again this Sunday afternoon to work toward a consensus on goals and action plans. The next step will be recruiting leaders to help TFC take these steps.

It's going to be awhile before we roll this whole thing out before the church. We've got a lot of work to do still, the last of which will be developing our strategy for communicating this vision to the entire church, as well as calling people to commitments.

Thanks for praying for me the last two days. Please be in prayer for our current leaders and the future leaders it will take to begin moving the church in this direction.

Sunday, August 17, 2008


I'm almost totally exhausted right now. Although I've gotta leave in a little bit for my niece's 4th birthday party, which should be a good time.

Let me give a run-down of the last 36 hours or so. I woke up on Saturday morning, all ready to finish working on the message I'd prepared for today. But before doing that, I spent some time in prayer. In the middle of the prayer, I started taking a serious look at the challenges that face our church as we prepare for our move to Pioneer Ridge Middle School and I began to panic. We're about to take a leap out into the unknown and instead of looking out into the future, I began looking down. I began worrying about the challenges we face as we move to PRMS. Now, I know fear isn't from God but it wasn't going away. So, I called a good friend, Dale, with whom I went to college and is a bit ahead of me on the church-planting journey. Dale talked me away from the cliff and talked me through some steps we can take to prepare for the future.

In the midst of this prayer time, I sensed God telling me to change things up for the message on Sunday, in a big way. I've NEVER before had this happen to me, but I sensed God asking me to completely change what I was going to say. I'm a meticulous planner, especially when it comes to preaching, so this really freaked me out.

From my conversation with Dale, I knew I needed to talk through call of Abraham. So, I read through the first part of Genesis 12 and then made some notes. As I went to open my computer, though, I sensed God telling me "no." So, I thought maybe I should spend some more time reading the passage. When I started to prepare the message again, I sensed "no" even stronger this time. I sensed God telling me not to prepare and to rather spend that time in prayer. So, I prayed for about 3 hours yesterday. I walked around the house, lied out flat on the floor in my office and even biked around PRMS; all the while praying about this morning and about our church's future.

When I woke up this morning, I understood the reason for not preparing any notes. Just as our church is about to step out into the unknown of a new facility, so God was calling me to step out into the unknown of an under-prepared Sunday message. I kept hearing, "I'll catch you, just trust me and jump."

So, as soon as the announcements were over, I 'jumped' into the unknown of a message I'd never practiced and just that morning written down a few quick notes. This stuff has been burning inside of me for so long that it just came out. I thought maybe I'd just sit down after 5 minutes, but I actually spoke for over 1/2 hour. Wow, don't know what to make of that...

The one part I want to share, you can listen to the rest (minus the beginning) here, are the challenges we're facing with this move. We could remain complacent; nice and comfy here in Madison Elementary. But I believe God has bigger things in store for this church. If we're going to live into what God has for us, then we need to turn these challenges into opportunities for growth.

1) Assimilation
2) Volunteers
3) Attendance
4) Finances
5) Prayer
6) Leadership
7) Evangelism

I'm going to spend the next two days out the office. I'll be alone with my bible, a notebook and maybe a book to spur my thinking; praying and fasting (I hate fasting) as I seek God for a vision for our church's future.

Please be praying for me these next two days. Our newly assembled Point Team is also in this journey. We discussed some of this today and will be meeting next Sunday so I can share whatever God says to me over the next two days.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Quite the day

I was jogging after work today and this Coldplay song came on the ipod. video lyrics

I finished my jog while the song was still playing. I leaned against my car and thought, "yep, that's pretty much how I feel." Stuff happening to my friends, my wife, me. It all seems to be piling up right now and I don't know what to do about it. I watched this video over and over, praying the words to God and over these situations and people.

God, why don't you just fix it all?

"Don't you work?"

I had my first bible study with Jake today. When I texted him last night to see what time we could meet, he told me, "whatever works for you?" When I responed with 10 AM, he asked, "Don't you work."

It was a pretty funny question (although I didn't tex "lol" back). I texted, "my job is to talk with people about God, pretty good job."

Have I mentioned lately that I love my job?

Close Call

Last night, Erin and I went for a bike ride/jog; she biked while I jogged. We decided she didn't really need a helmet, since we were just riding along the sidewalk...

At one intersection, a small pickup truck pulled up to turn at the same time we approached the intersection. I went behind the truck, Erin decided to go in front of the truck. The guy didn't see either of us. Just as Erin went in front of him, he pushed the gas pedal. Erin says she heard him accelerate and thought, "oh, crap!" (My wife is so profane...). The guy ran right into her, knocking her over and he pushed her just a little bit. Thankfully, he realized it very quickly and let off the gas.

All the while, I'm behind the truck, so I didn't see it. I heard the truck stop and then Erin cry out, "Donnie!" It felt like an eternity until I came back from behind the truck to see what had happened, or how badly she was hurt.

Thankfully, Erin was only a little scraped. We straightened out the handlebars, put the chain back on the bike and Erin was able to ride home. Really, really amazing that nothing serious happened. It almost makes me cry thinking how close that was and it seemed surreal to be able to just go home, almost as if nothing happened. In talking with the guy, it seemed he was a few sticks short of a load, which means it's even more fortunate nothing serious happened.

Erin plans on wearing a helmet next time we ride bikes.

Back to School

I got some bad news the other day, I won't be getting the opportunity to coach this fall. The head coach at WMS (and a teammate of mine at MNU), Brian Essex said they had enough teachers apply for the coaching positions that they couldn't offer the position to a non-teacher, per district policy. He said if it was just on merit, they'd hire me. He said his vice-principal and athletic director told him the same thing. Well, I guess that answers that big question.

I had already decided if I didn't get to coach, I was going to enroll in a French class at JCCC. Which I did, not long after I found out I wasn't coaching. In fact, I applied to JCCC on Wednesday evening, the application was finished by Thursday afternoon and I enrolled in FL 140 (French I) about 3 hours before the first class. So, last night I went to Aquinas High School for my first French class. This song kept running through my head as I tried to find my classroom.

The professor said she'd let us out early because we'd all be crying pretty soon, which was true of me. The fact that she went so fast, I hadn't been able to buy a book yet and others in the class seemed to already know some French made me completely lost. We had to walk around the room and do some dialogue; it was quite humiliating. I'm a visual learner, so I got NOTHING out of the hour of listening to her talk. Once I get the book, though I can start to learn.

Why am I doing this? I'm not totally sure but I know I've had the desire to learn French since we visited France two years ago. When a professor of mine from college, Randy Beckum, told me that I could teach at European Nazarene University with only a master's, I decided that someday I'd love to spend a sabbatical teaching at the EUNC extension campus just outside Paris and then maybe take a month to tour France. I wouldn't mind buying a retirement home in the south of France, either. Maybe Provence or the French Riviera?
I'll also be fulfilling one of my final New Year's Resolutions.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

"I need God in my life!"

Wow! The last two hours have been such a whirlwind, I'm not sure where to start telling the story.

The last Friday night before our musical, Erin and I had the sense that we needed to go watch a kids dance recital that our friend Franci was directing and some other musical friends were involved with. We hung out for awhile afterwards and then had the chance to go hang out at Austins. At 11:00, some of the people we were hanging with went over to Wally's to drink some more beers and sing karaoke. Now, I like singing Karaoke (I sang my favorite that night, "She thinks my tractor's sexy") but I don't stay out that late usually. Erin was really tired, so I took her home but I felt (again) that I needed to be at the bar that night. So, I hung out there until 1 AM.

After being there about an hour, this guy with us named Jake, turned to me and said, "You know, when I heard you were a pastor, I prejudged you. But you're a pretty cool guy (you may not agree with that assessment). But know that I'm NOT religious, even though I was forced into Catholic school as a kid." Yeah, that was a powerful conversation.

A few days later, Jake told me his Grandma passed away, he was late to practice because of a funeral. Again, I sensed that I needed to tell him I was praying for him (and actually do it). That was spiritual conversation number two. Again, nothing earth-shattering.

Tonight at 5:00, Jake calls me, almost trembling on the line, "Donnie, we need to talk. I need to talk about God." So we set an appointment for 7:00.

While sitting at the Gardner Arby's, Jake unloads on me. He told me all kinds of stuff he's been going through, some things from his past he's not proud of and the dramatic ways God has been getting his attention. All along, I could tell he was waiting for me to judge him or react in a negative way. I never did (I had no reason to), so he kept opening up more and more.

Several times during the conversation, Jake said things like, "I need God in my life" or "things need to change" or (my favorite) "I need to turn around." I was determined to take it slow, to let Jake lead and not force him into a decision, but Jake was begging me to share with him what it means to turn to Christ and be made new. I even asked clarifying questions like, "you're telling me you want to turn from your own life and give your life to God?" Every question was answered in the affirmative.

So, I pulled out the pad of paper and pen I'd brought just in case I needed it and drew him the famous "bridge illustration." Explaining the ideas of sin, cross and repentance. We also read from 2 Corinthians chapter 5 a few times. When Jake was ready to give his life to Christ, we went out to my car and prayed together.

I try not to get too emotional during this, so people don't get carried away by the emotions which could cause them to give up when the emotions fade. So when Jake told me, "I feel different inside, something has happened" it wasn't because I manipulated him or anything. The Holy Spirit filled that guy!

I brought along some bible studies and a copy of the New Living Translation, which I gave to Jake. We plan to meet on Friday to start working through them. I brought them along because I had the feeling Jake was ready to make this decision and he needs to start growing right away.

After praying, I told Jake that I've prayed this prayer with a lot of people. Some people make the decision to follow Jesus and their lives are completely changed. Some people fizzle out after awhile. I told him the choice is his, but God wants to transform him into a new person. I also shared the part of 2 Corinthian 5 that tells us we're a new creation so we can help others become new, too. I challenged him to share his decision with some friends.

Please be praying for Jake. He gave me permission to put this on my blog and he wants your prayers. He's 3 hours into his walk with Christ; he needs your prayers.

God answers prayers!!!!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Heart Wounds

I shared on Sunday what happened to me last Thursday evening. How seeing brand new parents glow as they held their newborn baby brought tears to my eyes. More and more, as I see new or happy parents, while I'm glad for them, it feels like someone has stabbed a knife into my heart and given it a twist. That experience alone took a lot out of me on Thursday evening.

But there was another heart wound that was opened up on Thursday night. While I'd had my suspicions, I was surprised to know that a wound from two years ago was still so painful. There's been a scab over the wound (emotionally speaking) but I've never really dealt with the incident so it hasn't really healed.

My good friend and mentor, Dave Thornhill, founding pastor of Grace Point Church in West Shawnee, told me that the first people to get excited and jump on board for your new church could very well be the first to leave. At the Ordination Service last Thursday night, I saw a family that fit this description.

They joined TFC's launch team back in the fall of 2004, during our early stages. They joined our new church because they believed that being in a church closer to their neighborhood, they'd be better able to invite their unchurched neighbors. They were hard-working, dependable and had a lot of leadership potential. And in the early days they did exactly that, lead and served in some major ways. About 3 months after we launched however, they started to have serious issues with my leadership style and methods. I must say that they handled everything with high integrity and with Christ-likeness. Rather than telling everyone else about their frustrations, they came to me about them. In challenging my methods, they forced me (along with other leaders) to ask again why we do what we do. Being only a few months old, this was a great conversation and it solidified missional strategies we're still following 3 years later. After sharing my heart and reasoning with them, they realized their perspectives weren't compatible with mine and the left TFC.

We've had people leave TFC for incredibly immature reasons. I won't list them, but they'd make you laugh (or cry). That doesn't really bother me much because I know their real issue is disobedience to God but they're blaming me. It hurts however, when mature people with good intentions just can't wrap their minds around what our church is about.

I think the depth of the wound comes with where this family landed. Of course, I'm not going to give the name of the church but it seems to go against what I thought to be their reasons for joining TFC. It hurt when they left and it hurt deeper when I heard where they landed.

I shared all of this with a good friend who was sitting next to me at the Ordination Service that Thursday night. He said he can tell the exact same story about a family that used to be in his church. I was also reminded of an article written by Adam Hamilton of the Church of the Resurrection how even as his church has grown, it's still very painful for him when a family leaves. It's good to know I'm not alone in feeling this way.

I'd think though, that after two years I would've dealt with it. But while standing in a crowd of people that Thursday night after the service, I saw one of the family members through the crowd and I immediately turned away before they made eye contact. I then gave a quick goodbye to the friend I was talking with and walked outside to my car. As I was crossing the College Church parking lot I was wondering why in the world this two year old wound still feels so fresh.

Leadership is not for the weak. It took a lot of strength to prepare emotionally for this past weekend.

Sometimes crap happens

On Sunday, I shared with honest about the pain that Erin and I have been going through. I just heard a podcast from Woodland Hills Church on this same topic. Powerful, powerful message. To listen, click here and find the message "Held" from July 6th. Wow.

I listen to Greg Boyd all the time. He might very well be the best preacher I've ever heard! That dude challenges me.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Are you a giver or a taker?

I was talking with a good pastor friend of mine about his experience at breakthrough. At the end of their several weeks together, they had to go around the room and tell every person in their group, face-to-face, whether they believed that person to be a giver or a taker. We then talked about how to manage the givers and takers in our churches.

We all take at times. Every single one of us needs to receive from others. Erin and I have received from others while going through this and other difficult times. When a person is new to following Jesus, they NEED to take more than they give, if they're maturing, that ratio will continue to move toward giving more.

What can worry me as pastor, and require some people management, is that there seems to be a pattern of people who almost alway give and those who almost always take. My challenge as pastor is to keep the givers from burning themselves out, making sure they get breaks and are energized. If the ratio of givers to takers is way off balance, though, that can be difficult. There are some people who seem to ALWAYS be in the nursery, ALWAYS at set-up, ALWAYS giving regularly and to special offerings. These people get it Jesus' expectation that we serve and give, but they must be protected from burn-out. These are the same people who ALWAYS help out the family in need.

There also seems to be people who just don't seem to understand that someone plugged in the speakers at 8 AM so they could hear the guitars, someone staffed the nursery so they could drop off their kids, someone gave financially to pay the rent bill, so they could enjoy worship on Sunday morning and be a part of such a wonderful church. Things can get way off balance if takers always expect givers to bail them out whenver they're in a crisis. A church can't be healthy if takers are always feeding off givers. Nor can it be healthy if givers are never receiving.

On the same day I had that conversation with the pastor-friend, I started reading a great book entitled, Confessions of a Pastor by Craig Groeschel. (I LOVE this guys' blog!) In his chapter, "I can't stand a lot of Christians" (what a chapter, huh?), he wrote this.

"Something just happened that made me stop and think. I was sitting in my office, typing away, when Package Delivery Guy dropped off a package. (I know his name, but I'm guarding his anonymity.) I like this guy a lot. I see him often, and he's really cool, but he just said something that makes my skin crawl.
Package Delivery Guy told me, 'I finally found me a good church.' (This is after several years of church hoping and shopping.) 'All the other ones didn't meet my needs, but this one does.'
Why would I shudder at that statement? Think about it. I've heard it hundreds of times: I'm looking for a church that meets my needs.
Can you admit for a moment how incredibly unbiblical that statement is? When did we, as Christ followers, start to think that church exists for us? When did we forget that we are the church? And that we're here for the world?
Before I was a pastor, I used to think that church should serve me, until I let God change my attitude. I was a taker, not a giver. I wanted a church that would provide what I needed. I was the spiritual consumer - an observer, not a participant.
If that's you, let me encourage you to stop observing and get in the game. Reach out. Use your gifts. Give recklessly. Serve passionately. Make a difference. Love those whom others reject, even those who aren't like us - especially those who aren't like us. Love not only nonbelievers, but also 'second-class Christians.' Jesus did; so should we."

The challenge is to find balance. We all go through seasons where we need to receive more than we give. We also go through seasons where we give like crazy. If you're a giver, you must be practicing Sabbath and establishing healthy boundaries. If you're a taker, you must work to put yourself in a healthy position so you can give to others. If we're not balancing our giving and taking both our church as a whole and the individuals in our church will be living with an unhealthy balance.

TFC is growing up!

We'll be three years old next month. We're taking some steps that will allow us to mature spiritually and organizationally. Here are three big steps we're taking.

1) We're giving a full tithe plus a 3% offering. A sign of spiritual maturity is when a person is giving a full tithe to God. While we were giving away between 3-8% of our income before, we're finally going to be giving away a full 10%. In addition to that tithe, we'll also be taking some offerings during the year to hit our goal of giving away an additional 3% to our denomination's overseas mission efforts.

On Sunday, David Brush shared this with the congregation.

In 2 Corinthians 8:3-5 we have a story of the early church. The Christian church in Jerusalem was racked with poverty and Paul is urging his church plant in Corinth to give sacrificially to those that were in great need. In this letter Paul shares the story of another one of his church plants in Macedonia:

3 For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford, but far more. And they did it of their own free will.4 They begged us again and again for the privilege of sharing in the gift for the believers in Jerusalem.5 They even did more than we had hoped, for their first action was to give themselves to the Lord and to us, just as God wanted them to do.

Just like the churches started by Paul, at Trinity Family one of our five disciplines is sacrificial giving. We urge those of us that call Trinity Family home to make it a priority to give a full tithe of 10% or to be working towards it. I am proud today to say that this year as a church body we are making a commitment as an entire community to give sacrificially.

As part of the Church of the Nazarene, Trinity Family will be giving away 10% of our income. That means for every 10 dollars we receive as a local church we will be giving away one dollar. Out of that dollar 16 cents goes to providing a pension package for our ministers. 30 cents goes towards helping fund our regional educational institution MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe. 24 cents goes to support the work of our local Kansas City district to do things like help fund the start of new churches. And 30 cents goes toward the world-wide evangelism of the Nazarene Church. Whether it’s providing education to women and children in Africa, to operating hospitals in Papua New Guinea, the World Evangelism department of the Nazarene church is among the most effective of any denomination.

But here is where it starts to hurt, at Trinity Family we truly believe that sacrificial giving is truly a sacrifice. To that end Trinity Family will be giving an additional 3% of our income away to the World Evangelism fund. We will be taking a few special offerings during the year to help raise the money we need to support the world-wide ministry of the Nazarene church. Please be looking ahead to Advent later this year and Pentecost in 2009 as special times to meet this additional challenge.

At Trinity Family we want you to know the joy of giving until it hurts, and we are prepared to lead by example. In 2 Corinthians 9:6-8 Paul says:

6 Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. 7 You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don't give reluctantly or in response to pressure. "For God loves a person who gives cheerfully." 8 And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.

This is really going to stretch us financially, but I'm trusting, no I KNOW, God WILL provide!

2) We're moving into a bigger facility. Yep, we're stepping out in faith and moving to the auditorium of PRMS. This COULD backfire on us, but I'm trusting it will enable us to grow. I believe God has called us to do this, so it's His responsibility to meet our needs. I KNOW He'll do it!

3) We're restructuring our leadership team.

We're structuring our leadership team (from here on out called our "Point Team") around The Five. We'll have a leader for each of our Five Marks of a Christ-follower at TFC. Our previous leadership team was called our Advisory Council, and while each member was a leader in their own right, we weren't structured around their particular leadership gifts. I'm trusting this reordering will help us grow in each discipline as a church as well as helping us function at a higher level as a team.
I got the idea when our Advisory Council was reading the book, The 5 Dsyfunctions of a Team together last year.

Our leaders aren't yet all in place, but here's where we're at so far:
Worshipping God - David Brush
Serving Others - Heather Tinker
Connecting with Believers - Joshua Vance

Please be in prayer for our new Point Team. As well as for the future leaders of the other two disciplines.

Powerful day today

I think today was a pretty powerful time of worship. It usually seems that when someone opens up and gets vulnerable, people respond. It was my turn to be vulnerable today. I was preaching on Matthew 7:24-27 and sharing about Erin and my infertility struggles. I really don't like to talk about it much, but felt like it was the right thing to do. One guy gave me and Erin a hug afterwards, thanking us for leading through our vulnerability. For some reason, I'm never able to cry in public. Despite the fact that I prayed numerous times while writing and practicing my message, I showed basically no emotion while preaching. Not sure why I'm that way.

If you'd like to listen to or read the message, you can do so here.
A couple other notes from today:

- I got smoked in guitar hero by Chris Billings. I knew it was coming. It's amazing I made it this far in the summer tournament. This picture was taken by my brother-in-law, Steve as I was warming up by playing Chris' daughter, Cailey. Cailey also smoked me; she also rubbed it in!

- We sent out Mike Palmer in style! Mike's moving to his home church in St. Louis to start a ministry that will reach out to the 9 secular college campuses in the St. Louis are. Mike's a great guy and will succeed in this ministry because of his love for God and love for people. Mike told me just this morning that his year with TFC has made a HUGE impact on his life and ministry. That's a high compliment from such a high character/ skill guy. We'll really miss Mike and he'll miss us.

- I LOVE the fact that our set-up/ tear-down crew is large enough to allow me to sleep in and talk with new people after worship. I no longer have to help before or after worship. We were set-up by 9:00 and loaded back up by 12:20. These guys have gotten REALLY good! You guys are the work-horses of TFC!

- I mentioned in my message that Emily Crow took a big step of faith this week. In a recent email, she told me this. Had I read this earlier, I would've used it in my message. This is EXACTLY what I preached on today.
Actually I wrote in my journal about these verses not that long ago...I related the verses to the story of the 3 little pigs. How really the importance of it all is to build a solid foundation and home (aka...your heart). A big bad wolf or storm....or test or trial can come at any time in our lives and blow everything away. But our foundation...our heart...if strong, and built on the solid foundation of God's won't crash. It may take a beating, it may get hurt...but God, he's a pretty strong dude and He won't let it fall down. A wise man (or woman mind you) who has God as their foundation...has the foundation within themselves to withstand even the toughest trials, and misfortunes this world can throw their way. A strong foundation, doesn't mean perfection or that it's flawless...even the toughest homes leak, become infested or need to be repainted or re-shingled at times. That's prayer.
As I shared this morning, I'm learning the truth of those words.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Feeding yourself

Thankfully, I haven't heard it much, but a few times I've been fed the line of crap that is, "Trinity Family isn't feeding me spiritually." We do our best to lead people in worship and study the scriptures the one time a week we're together, but one meal a week, no matter how good it is, isn't enough. It's not the church's job to feed you, it's the church's job to give you a fork and a meal plan, so you can feed yourself! This is why we've implemented the SOAP plan this year.
To follow our SOAP plan, check out the SOAP Blog that Derin Beechner consistently updates.

I just heard an incredible message by the pastor from whom I got the idea for SOAP, Wayne Cordiero. To hear the message, follow this link and listen to the sermon entitled, "One Prayer: Make Us Wise, Guest Wayne Cordiero." I love his point about how he fed his kids when they were babies, but as they grew up, it became their responsibility to feed themselves.

Monday, August 4, 2008

No Perfect People Allowed - Chapter 10

Tribal Truth: Creating the Culture of Incarnational Truth

Here are some quotes from the chapter.

From a skeptical friend invited to Gateway church, "The main thing I've liked about the atmosphere here and in the small groups is that this church is more like a teaching church. It's okay to ask questions and people will explain if they know, but they're also comfortable saying, 'I don't know on that one.'"

Taste of Community is a six-week, no obligation try at a small group. Good idea

I found out that battling with ups and downs was normal and even the path to spiritual growth.

Most people do not realize that intellectual arguments are almost never the final bulwark of resistance to God's leadership. Fear that God's way will be a net loss of life tends to be the final barrier.

Better to lead people through questions, beginning where you have common agreement, so that they come to their own conclusions. Even though you directed them through the questions, they will be more willing to accept your conclusion because you helped them engage in discovering it for themselves.

Many people process truth in community. Many times spiritual seekers change tribes before they change beliefs.

While new Christ-followers need new spiritually supportive friends around them, if encouraged to live out their faith boldly without disconnecting from the old tribe, many see whole groups of friends eventually find faith.

The best measure of Christian community is whether people experience what Jesus is like through our skin.

So when we are functioning as the community of Christ, his Body, people experience the Truth as he makes himself known through his community, and many beleive and follow! This incarnate Truth overcomes postmodern relativism, agnostic cynicism, and pragmatic skepticism.

Maybe only person-to-person is the truth accurately re-presented: that there is a God who loves you, and he will teach you to love others as you follow him.

Coach or not to coach

I've got to make a big decision within the next week or two. I've already asked my prayer team to help me seek God's guidance, but I wanted to throw this out for everyone else, too. The question is "do I coach again this fall?" Before I break down the decision, I have to add the qualifier that getting hired depends upon whether there are enough kids out for football to justify Coach Brian Essex adding a 5th coach (me). But lets assume I get offered the position like last year.

Reasons not to coach
1) TFC is growing and will require more time. Many of you may not know this, but last fall I was pretty discouraged about what was happening in our church. We weren't really growing and we'd only seen one conversion over about a 9 month period. I was questioning myself as a leader and wondering whether Gardner was really the right place and whether TFC needed a better pastor. I'm not looking for sympathy, just sharing what was happening.
Coaching gave me a needed shot in the arm. It gave me a new outlet for my leadership (even pastoral) gifts. It gave me an enthusiasm that I wasn't getting from pastoring at that time. Most importantly, it strengthened my belief that God has called Erin and me to Gardner. The opportunity to coach football in this town helped me fall in love with Gardner all over again.
Now, as we're entering the fall of 2008, things are a lot different at TFC. We've got people coming to Christ left and right and new families showing up every Sunday (5 new families just this past Sunday). This means I've gotta give more time to assimilation and discipleship. As much as I LOVE coaching football, disciplining a new Christ-follower is exponentially better.

2) I could train for the KC half-marathon. Not a big deal, but if I'm not coaching 3 hours a day, I'd have more time to run. I'm getting soft around the middle. Ashley Vance's dad wants me to run it with him.

3) Coaching did not have the direct impact upon TFC as did the Gardner Musical From the Chamber of Commerce, to coaching, to the 150 Committee and other activities, I've continually tried to find ways to get into the community. My intention was to serve the community, not grow TFC. Although, if new families came into TFC, that would certainly be a bonus. None of my previous community activities have had as direct an impact upon TFC as the Gardner Musical; illustrated by the fact that we had FIVE families from the musical at TFC on Sunday. In addition to the new families that have come to our church, I just love doing it. (Music and football are the two things I've really missed from High School and College). For this reason, Erin and I have joined the Gardner Community Theatre leadership board. This will obviously take time and we'll be start working on the Best Christmas Pageant Ever sometime in the fall.

Reasons to coach
1) I LOVE it! When we ran onto the field for our first game last September, I had to fight back tears of joy. I know that sounds pathetic, but I LOVE the game of football. I'm also good at it! Seeing our team improve over the year confirmed that I've got some skills necessary to coach. Coaching a team is just like leading a church; many of the leadership skills are very similar. Substitute prayer with yelling and they're about the same job, well, maybe...
A great thought is that God's calling for our lives happens at the intersection of the world's need and our passion. Which leads me to the second pro.

2) I was able to love on some needy kids I'm thinking of one kid in particular. He was a terrible football player, but part of his lack of motivation came from his rough home life. We were able to have some really good conversations in which he opened up to me and I was able to build him up. I encouraged him in his school work and was really proud to see his grades coming up by the end of the season. It breaks my heart to see how some of these kids are treated by their parents. It's a high honor to be able to invest in them just a little bit. I also love getting to talk with them around town, like at GEHS varsity fb games.
Coaching could be like our Love Wins ministry or our service projects. We don't do it to grow our church but to spread the love of Jesus without using words.

3) It helps financially The denomination encourages churches to give their pastors an annual pay raise, the minimum being enough to keep up with inflation. Last year, I turned down a pay raise, this year we're struggling to pay rent, so we certainly don't have the money to give me a pay raise. All the money I earned (well, maybe minus the price of a Hawkeye football game ticket and tithe/ giving) is going into our Roth IRA. The few grand I get paid for coaching will have turned into a lot of money come retirement. While we don't need to money to pay everyday bills, I'd been counting on it for our 2008 financial plan.

4) It's good exercise I try to run sprints with the kids and I love being outside during the fall.

5) I get in free to GEHS events Yep, with my cool USD 231 employee badge. This probably saves us $40 for the year. Okay, so that's not a big deal.

6) I'd still be able to lead 6:00 and 7:00 meetings in the evenings Other than some crazy nights, I should be able to be home in time to continue my usual schedule of leadership and discipleship meetings. So maybe it wouldn't infringe upon TFC as much as I'm worried it might.

Sorry this is so long. I'd like to have some of your input as I work through this decision.

What a day!

Sunday was an incredible day! A really unique day in the history of our church. First of all, I tag-team preached with David Brush. Even more so that last week, when I preached with Mike Palmer, David and I literally tag-teamed the sermon, complete with slapping hands as we switched.

Since we preached on Matthew 19:13-15, we had the kids in worship with us. Borrowing an idea from Mars Hill Bible Church, we had the kids down front working on drawings during the message. I would periodically stop and check out the drawing, paper-airplanes, paper mache during the message, which was both fun and engaged the congregation. I must say, it was a challenge preaching over the constant dull roar of the kids. It was also quite humorous when a Kelvington twin (I still can't tell them apart on the spot, which is pathetic on my part) started talking with me right while I was preaching. My little niece, Tricia was also pretty intrigued when I was telling a story about her. But I believe the entire service, while a bit wild and chaotic, was very powerful. In fact, I received an email from a new family telling me how much they appreciated it. Another first-time guest told me we should do that every week; I think I just laughed.

One thing I think I did wrong however, was having too many ways to respond. Just as I was explaining communion, our prayer teams and the reflection questions, the nursery kids were being brought in so we could pray together as families. I don't think anyone heard my explanations of the various ways to respond. But the Holy Spirit was still working, which is the way it always goes!

During our last performance of The Music Man last Sunday, a lot of people were expressing sadness over not seeing fellow cast-members much anymore. Well, I think we seem to have found a partial solution to that concern; we can all just be in the same church! We had five families from The Music Man at worship on Sunday. That's really awesome! At "Trinity Family East" (Gambino's Pizza) after worship, we were discussing our next program, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Erin and I went to the Starlight Theatre performance of the Music Man last night. While I do think I did a few little things with the character better than the guy playing Harold Hill, it was amazing to watch the Broadway actors put on the show. Doing the show myself gives me a deeper appreciation for their incredible talent.

I didn't personally invite any of the families who came on Sunday, they all asked me about church first (or just showed up). I think it's pretty amazing that as Erin and I build relationships, other people trust us enough to think our church must be a good place, too (which it obviously is). I consider that one of the highest compliments we could ever receive! Our good friend and the GCT director, Franci, was telling us how her sister wants to come, too. Man, that pumps me up more than I can explain!

We also had another very special guest on Sunday; Charlotte Rebbecca Vance (Josh and Ashley's newborn little girl). When I introduced them, Josh held her up in "Lion King" fashion, it was pretty funny. I think that introducing new babies is one of the things I enjoy most about leading a congregation.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Look out David Grohl!

Two weeks ago, I watched the Foo Fighters. Last night, I went to the Mission Theatre to watch A Dire New Hope - myspace page. Now, even though I've played a con-man musician on stage doesn't mean I'm a qualified music critic, but I'll try. The lead singer Alex Goering, proved his vocal gifts aren't limited to the tight barbershop harmonies we heard during The Music Man. As indicated by the humor by which he handled his equipment malfunctions, Alex is a natural entertainer. I was also quite impressed by the power of Alex Latham's guitar chords. The drummer for the evening was filling in for their regular drummer, who decided (for unknown reasons) just not to show up. What most impressed me about ADNH is that they write all their own music. They had some really good songs. My two favorite were from their new album, "Fade Away" and "Farewell to Arms." You can listen to both songs (and others) on their myspace page. I couldn't help but wonder if the title "Farewell to Arms" is a back-door type of tribute to Metallica. If you can figure that out, post a comment to let me know.

ADNH opened for a two-piece band from New York, Victor Bravo. I must say I was pretty impressed by VB, too. They had a very full sound, considering they were just two instruments. The drummer was INSANE! His long arms were moving so fast I could barely see them move, which filled out the sound. I have to give the nod to VB over ADNH simply because they gave away free CD's. If Alex G really brings me a CD to our party tonight, I'll change my verdict.

On their very last song (the name of which I don't really want to write on this blog), I began acting about half my age and started a mosh pit. I pulled Matt Jordan out into it, too, getting him to act about 1/3 his age! As always happens with a mosh pit, something got broken. Matt slammed Alex L into a keyboard leaning against the wall. We had to tone it down a bit when some girls jumped into our 4 man mosh pit.

Some good pictures of the band and our mosh pit were taken last night. I'll post them as soon as I receive them. ADNH will be playing this Saturday evening at the teen center of Grace Community CON in Spring Hill.