Tuesday, October 27, 2009

What I Learned in Louisville

For those of you who don't know, last week I went to the Leadership Conference at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY. This was their first conference in five years, and it was worth the wait. I've been to their conferences twice before, and one thing that impressed me then continued to impress me this year and that is ANY size church can benefit from the principles that Southeast is committed to and has built upon. Not once did I ever get the impression that I was a small fish in a big pond or that "well, yeah, of course you can do that, you have an army of volunteers" feeling. The stress was always on the principles of a healthy, Biblical Church. I just wanted to share a few reflections, or lessons, from my experience.

LESSON 1: It's not the size of your congregation, it's the size of your God that matters. If we believe that God is all-powerful and can do anything, then we must believe that He wants His Church to prosper and that He can enable it to succeed. I am not saying that every church must be 18,000 members in order to be considered faithful. That is a ridiculous assumption. Take the congregation I serve as an example. There is not a population base nearly large enough to warrant that size of a congregation. I don't think there are 18,000 people in a 10 mile radius of where I sit right now! However, I believe God wants us to grow and reach people with the Gospel, and if we believe in His power, we must put faith into action and try some things that stretch our faith and will fail if God is not in it with us.

LESSON 2: God cares about lost people, and so must we. Every community, large or small, has people who are outside of Christ. When's the last time you wept for them? I'll admit, until this month as I prepared a series of sermons on God's prodigal prophet, Jonah, it had been a long time since my heart was broken for the lost. All too often we make excuses, "what can I do?", "I might offend someone," "evangelism is not my gift," "isn't that the preacher's job?" I'm so glad Jesus didn't make excuses. Imagine if He told God, "I might offend some people, and it will hurt, and death just isn't my gift, especially death on a cross, and it's not my problem anyway, I didn't sin." God has a passion for the lost, and that passion must be translated through us into our communities as we meet needs and proclaim Jesus.

LESSON 3: Everything we do should be done as an act of worship to God. As I mentioned before, this was my third trip to Southeast. I have also had the privilege of attending their worship services there occasionally, and for a brief period of time my sister called this congregation home. I have yet to see any church more committed to excellence than Southeast. Whether it is their music, videos, teaching, preaching, greeting visitors, childcare or simple building maintenance, Southeast is committed to doing everything with excellence. Why? Some say it's a show. Others say it's all to get numbers. But when you talk to the leadership, the real reason is because they love God and want to give Him the best they can humanly offer. In other words, it's about worshiping God. I challenge you to approach every task as an act of worship. Meeting a deadline is being obedient to your boss, a principle found in scripture. Do it, not because you might get fired, but because you love God and desire to obey God. Not only will you meet the deadline, but you will do better work. This principle applies to everything, from family to financial to free time, everything can be an act of worship to God and thus it deserves your best effort. When this principle is applied and practiced in our churches it results in a congregation that not only works together, but worships together, and that unity attracts people to the God we worship.

LESSON 4: It's God's Church. If there was any one thing that struck me more than anything else, it was the humility of the elders and lead ministers. Not one of them had the attitude of, "That's the Southeast way!" or "Look what we've accomplished." Rather, they were humbled that God had used them to help build what is now the largest church in our brotherhood and one of the largest in the world. They all gave credit to God, and continually mentioned how they always sought God's will above their own in each and every situation. God honors such humility, and we would do well to remember that the Church is God's. Our opinions should take a backseat to what Christ desires for His bride. Jesus once said, "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few." More than once I have heard of or even experienced the damage that can be done when the "vocal minority" forces their agenda above God's in a small church. Let's not play politics and give to God what is rightfully His to begin with.

LESSON 5: Truth matters. It's human nature to second-guess success. When an athlete has a better-than average year we wonder if he's using steroids. When somebody strikes it rich on a business deal we assume they had insider information. Even long and sustained success brings out the inner skeptic as we question business practices and integrity. Unfortunately the same is true of churches. We see a large church and are tempted to assume they have compromised on some Biblical truth. It was refreshing to see such a large church that had so many "traditional" elements. Many of our churches have done away with the invitation at the end of the service. "We address those issues in small groups, etc." is the explanation given. Not at Southeast. They still believe in the power of preaching, and offer an invitation. Some of our brotherhood churches have adopted the denominational practice of having "baptismal services." Now in a church plant or building where a baptistry is not readily available, this is understandable. But Southeast believes in having baptisms as part of their worship service. Not only is it an act of obedient worship, but it becomes a teaching moment for all who are in attendance. I was privileged enough to witness 6 new births into Christ. Southeast's commitment to truth stands as a testament that truth does not need to be compromised in order to achieve growth.

These are just a few things I picked up while in Louisville. I already find myself looking forward to next year!

Some more pics from my trip are below.

The Main Worship Auditorium, seats 10,000+

Exterior of the Worship Center, all 7 stories

One side of the Student (High School) Center, aka "the Block"

The other side of "the Block." Seats 1,000+

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Faith that Climbs Mountains

Last weekend Mandy and I took the girls for a drive through the Blue Ridge Parkway to enjoy the glory of God's creation in Autumn. The trees, not quite to their full splendor, were beautiful nonetheless. As we hiked to Indian Rocks, an outcropping of some very large rocks and boulders off the Parkway, our three-year old informed us she was going to climb a mountain. Then, with a confidence that only comes from being the youngest of four and having to prove yourself, she sprinted to the rocks.

Up, over, around, always a step ahead of her mother and I, she climbed until she ran out of rock. She then boldly proclaimed, "I climbed the mountain!" Now you know and I know that she only climbed a rock, but in her mind, she scaled Everest itself. All the way home she spoke of how she climbed a mountain with Mommy and Daddy. Mandy asked her why she climbed it, to which Charley answered, "Daddy said I could do'd it, so I do'd it."

We often quote Jesus when He told us that "If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can tell this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move." (Matthew 17:20). In fact, we often come to God, as we should, asking Him to move the mountains in our life.

There's a Kilimanjaro of debt that looms before us. (move it Lord)
The Matterhorn of cancer blocks our way. (please, move it)
A Mt. Vesuvius, smoking with doubt and worry, chokes our faith. (O God, please move it)

But what if some of these mountains we are meant to climb, instead of move? What if God wants us to stand at the summit in victory and triumph over that which blocked our way? What if the mountain is there to make us stronger?

Travel with me to a garden nearly 2,000 years ago. There, in the midst of a grove of olive trees, stooped over with a burden of prayer is God in the flesh. He has a mountain looming before him. Physically speaking, it's more of a hill, but historically, spiritually and emotionally speaking, Mt. Calvary casts a long dark shadow that rivals our highest peaks. Listen to His prayer. Three times He asks the Father to move the mountain. Three times the Father says, "Climb."

So the next day, Jesus climbed Golgotha. His back is bent under the weight of our sin. Still He climbs. His head is pained by the thorns that came into being because of sin (see Genesis 3). Still He climbs. His steps are heavy with burdens that we should bear, but he bears them in our stead. Still He climbs. Up, over and around, He climbs, until at last, He reaches His goal: the place of crucifixion. To this day, the sign of a cross on a mountain is not a sign of defeat, but one of victory. There, on that mountain, Jesus defeated sin and Satan.

What mountain are your praying for God to move? Perhaps it hasn't moved yet because God is waiting for you to climb it. Not alone, but with Him. So get climbing, after all, your Father says you can do it, so do it!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Search for God and Guiness by Stephen Mansfield

Stephen Mansfield invites you to take a look at history through the lens of beer in his book, The Search for God and Guiness. Mansfield masterfully tells the story of the Guiness family's work and impact over the last 250 years. The story begins with entrepreneur Arthur Guiness and his twofold pursuit to not only provide his countrymen with a safe alternative to hard liquor and contaminated water, but to also produce a superior product. To quote Mansfield, "In the minds of most of the people in the world, Guiness is beer and that is all there is to the story. But this is far from true." To prove his point, the author paints a picture of generosity and faith passing from one generation to the next, and as the family business grows, so does the giving.

This work conveys the importance of the lost art of handing down a trade through the generations. It also shows how the values of hard work, commitment to excellence, generosity to the poor and innovative thinking all stemmed from a deep faith in God and a sense that a man can fulfill God's calling in any chosen profession. The epilogue was a refreshing call to return to ethically sound business practices which contrasts greatly with the greed that preceded our current economic state. This book would be a great read for anyone looking to practically live out their faith and their calling.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Wonder Lamb

Every morning I drive my three-year old to her pre-school. Usually the radio is off as I listen to her chatter and sing to herself. This morning was no different. She sang some of the usual songs, 'Jesus Loves Me' and 'Itsy-bitsy spider'. As I listened I took a certain amount of joy in her unashamed expressions of what was in her heart. To me it's a picture of what worship is supposed to be: the overflow of joy from a heart filled to the brim by a love and dedication to God.

Then she started singing a different song. "Mary had a little lamb," has long been a nursery rhyme staple and some have even attached theological undertones to the song. Charley sang and, as often is the case with three-year olds, fumbled with the words. I listened as she tried to find a word or words with the correct number of syllables that would fit for the word she forgot. The solution she came up with was at once cute, bemusing, and profound. She began to boldly sing, as if her word was the right one all along, without doubt or fear of rebuke. I smiled and was humbled as the depth of her "new song" hit me, "Mary had a wonder Lamb."

My mind swirled with the implications of her unintentional revelation. Was this how John the Immerser felt when he saw his cousin coming toward him, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!"

Behold the wonder-lamb.
Behold the perfect sacrifice.
Behold the sinless Son.
Behold the Hands that created all we see as they willingly allow nails to pierce their flesh.
Behold the eyes that have seen the darkest depths of our soul and are wet with tears of compassion.
Behold the feet that once walked the streets of heaven, now covered with the blood and grime of our sin.
Behold the lips that spoke the universe into existence as they now pronounce forgiveness for all who have fallen short.
Behold the sin-taker.
Behold the cross-conqueror.
Behold the death-defeater.
Behold the hope.
Behold the grace.
Behold the Lamb... the wonder-lamb.

Let me ask you, when was the last time you felt wonder? When was the last time your heart was filled with awe over the grace of God? We lose the wonder in the mundane. Every-day life ceases to amaze us. But think about this: God's grace reaches to us every moment of every day. The Christian doesn't merely have everyday life, he has everyday grace, and believe me, there is nothing mundane about grace.

So take some time to be amazed. Take some time to behold the Lamb. After all, He is wonder-full.