Monday, March 31, 2008

Monday morning quarterback

What a rainy and cold weekend we just experienced! The good news is that spring weather should be here in a day or so. South Carolina is one of those rare places where you get the chance to run your heat and A/C on the same day. Lots of stuff in my mind today, here's some:

- The way God speaks through scripture continues to amaze me. I was reading through 1 Timothy this morning when a verse jumped off of the page at me. 1 Timothy 3:16 says, "Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great...".

I was reminded of how my normal desire is for all of life to be neat and tidy, but it rarely is. The whole path that God wants us to walk down is full of mystery and awe. Even our best efforts at godliness and understanding who God is can be full of surprises. I have read Timothy many times before, but today God used part of one verse to remind me of why I'm here. That's amazing.

- Baseball's back! The Braves lost their opening game last night, but Chipper Jones hit a home run. If he plays a full season without injury or time off this year, he is on pace to hit 162 home runs! That would shatter the current record! Seriously, I'm excited about the Braves chances this year, but it's a long season.

- This isn't important in the grand scheme of things but, I saw a commercial for Toyota trucks yesterday that uses the REM song "I Am Superman" for the background music. Is anyone other than me surprised that they would allow one of their songs to be used to sell trucks? I'm not saying they shouldn't, it just surprised me. I was just as surprised when John Mellencamp did the same thing.

- Pray for other new churches this week. Beginning Freedom has taught me that we are part of a much bigger movement of planting new churches across the state of South Carolina. I just found out that a friend of mine who started a new church in Lexington a couple of years ago made the tough decision to close down the church. Almost half of all new churches die within the first three years. One thing that is true is that every time a new church begins, people's lives are changed. Here's a list of some guys I know who are starting new churches, pray for them by name. Ask God to use them to reach as many people as possible. Maybe the day will come when no more churches close their doors.

Carl Martin
Michael Green
Jonathan Everette
Sammy Clary
Art Fulks
Jim Reppart

Thanks for reading. Be sure to leave a comment. I'd love to hear from you!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

No more Chikezie and other random stuff

If you are a regular comment leaver on this blog (thanks Dave, Chip & Blake!) you have noticed that I now have things set up where you leave a comment, and then I decide if it should be published. I had to make this change because I got two Spam comments that if you clicked on them it tried to load some type of software on your computer. Despite that, I love for you to comment on anything I write. I believe it makes things much more interesting.

Now on to what's on my mind this morning:

- It was a sad night in my home last night due to the American Idol results show. My main man Chikezie was sent home. I had a feeling that the end of the line for him was near, but I really thought that the blond country girl or even the dude with the dreads would go first. By the way, what was that move that Chikezie's Mom was doing while he sang last night? Too bad he's gone, now we won't get to see anymore of that.

- NCAA tournament games start back tonight. I'm hoping Western Kentucky and Davidson both make it to the Final Four. Plus, I'm waiting for Bobby Knight to have an in-studio meltdown over something Digger Phelps says. Maybe he could rip that highlighter out of Digger's hand and throw it at the camera. That would be great television.

- We'll be finishing up our series on "Uncensored Grace" this Sunday. You will want to be sure and bring your friends. The message for this week is based on Galatians 2:21. Check it out before you arrive on Sunday.

- Sherry is going to a women's event at the Bi-Lo Center on Friday night, so I am planning on renting a manly DVD. I am thinking of getting either, "No Country for Old Men" or "We Own the Night". If you've seen either one of these let me know what you'd pick.

- Here's something cute Grace said the other day, "Daddy, I know that dogs are color blind, but are they color deaf?" That one really made me laugh.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The indestructible church

I recently read a very realistic and moving description of the church. It was written by Rob Bell who is a pastor and author. I thought it might be something you'd like to read so here it is:

One of the central metaphors for God and His people throughout the Bible is that of a groom and his bride. God is the groom; His people are the bride. I like this because it makes the church a "she".

She's a mystery, isn't she? Still going after all this time. After the Crusades and the Inquisition and Christian cable television. Still going. And there continue to be people like me who believe she is one of the best ideas ever. In spite of all the ways she has veered off track. In spite of all the people who actually turned away from God because of what they experienced in church. I am starting to realize why: the church is a double-edged sword. When it's good, when it's on, when it's right, it's like nothing on earth. A group of people committed to selflessly serving and loving the world around them? Great. But when it's bad, all that potential gets turned the other way. From the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. Sometimes in the same week. Sometimes in the same day.

But she will live on. She's indestructible. When she dies in one part of the world, she explodes in another. She's global. She's universal. She's everywhere. And while she's fragile, she's going to endure. In every generation there will be those who see her beauty and give their lives to see her shine. Jesus said the gates of hell will not prevail against her. That's strong language. And it's true. She will continue to roll across the ages, serving and giving and connecting people with God and each other. And people will abuse her and manipulate her and try to control her, but they'll pass on. And she will keep going.

I thank God for the church and that He allows me to be part of it!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

You only get one chance...

Seth Godin is a businessman and author who has written books with unique titles such as, "Purple Cow" and "Meatball Sundae". He also writes a blog that I read regularly. Check out what he wrote recently about customer service here.

That reminds me of something I heard Perry Noble say once about first impressions of church. He talked about how as church leaders we always want to be sure that everything goes well on big Sundays like Easter or close to Christmas. We do that in order to make a good first impression for guests. Then he said, "we remind ourselves that every Sunday is somebodys first visit to our church."

We get one shot at that first impression and, we should prepare as if every week is Easter, or as Seth Godin says, "you can't have a bad table."

Monday, March 24, 2008

Monday morning quarterback

Yesterday was unbelievable! It was amazing to celebrate the resurrection with you. Here were some highlights for me:

- Once again our band did a great job of helping us worship through music. What better songs to sing to Jesus on Easter than "Glorious One" and "How Great is Our God", and I always get emotional when we do "Jesus Paid it All". When Rhett was belting out that last part about Jesus paying our debt and raising us from the dead I could have gone home to Heaven right then!

- Our new welcome team is fantastic! Amber Ploof has done a tremendous job of organizing, recruiting, and training this team so that they are prepared to make sure each guest who walks in the doors on a Sunday morning feels at home. That makes a huge difference in whether or not our guests will continue to come and hear the message that can change their lives.

- Seeing the video of people being baptised while Dan and the band sang "Happy Day" reminded me of why we need to continue push forward with the message of Christ. There are so many more who need their lives transformed!

- All of you did a tremendous job of inviting your friends. We had more people in worship yesterday than ever in the short history of Freedom. Our previous high was 389, yesterday there were 468 people who heard the story of the cross and resurrection! Keep inviting your friends, every Sunday is a celebration of what Jesus has done for us!

- Our crew that teaches our preschoolers worked especially hard yesterday. There were lots of babies and toddlers at Freedom yesterday, and our preschool team handled the extra pressure extremely well. I know that some of you got recruited from worship to help at the last minute, thanks for pitching in!

Overall, yesterday was one of those Sundays I'll remember for a long time. God is up to something big here at Freedom. Let's keep riding the wave and see where He takes us!

Friday, March 21, 2008

A little perspective makes a big difference

It's amazing how much clearer things appear to us when we look back. More often than not, the circumstances we find ourselves in at any moment can seem much better or much worse than they actually are. No matter who we are, we all benefit from a little perspective.

We call today Good Friday because from where we sit we can see the importance and the impact of Jesus' death on the cross. In fact "good" seems a little low key to describe what this day represents. Maybe we should refer to it as, "Amazing Friday" or "History Changing Friday" or even "The Friday That Gives My Entire Existence On Earth Significance". That last one doesn't roll of the tongue as smoothly as "Good Friday". Of course, to the disciples and the other followers of Jesus who were there when He gave His life away, I'm sure that Friday seemed very far from good. I read the scripture and it amazes me that the disciples couldn't see it coming. Jesus had told them repeatedly that He would be arrested, beaten, and killed. Why were they surprised? Then I remember that I have the benefit of perspective. It's easy for me to see because I know how the story ends. I know that the tragedy of Friday led to the victory of Sunday!

Wherever you are today remember that no matter how desperate your current situation may seem, God has not forgotten about you. He wants to bring a victory out of what seems to be certain defeat, and He will do it if you allow Him to. Then after it's all over you can look back and wonder why you couldn't see it then. It's all about perspective and knowing who brings the victory. Enjoy your weekend. I can't wait to worship together with you this Victory Sunday!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Easter invitations

My friend Jerry Chapman gave me this encouraging statistic: 82% of unchurched people invited to church by a friend will actually go. Keep that in mind as you continue to invite your friends to join you at Freedom this Sunday. The odds are are in your favor! Invite everyone in your office. Invite everyone in your class. Invite everyone you play golf with. Wouldn't it be amazing if every seat was full this week with people who need to hear the story of Easter? Keep up the good work. I can't wait to see you on Sunday.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Fun with March Madness

I promised yesterday that I would tell you my simple rules for filling out the brackets, so here they are:

Only one sheet is allowed - There are actually people out there who will fill out several sets of brackets. If that's what you enjoy then I'm happy for you, but don't tell me that you picked UMBC to upset Georgetown because you had it on sheet #32! Even if you fill out multiple brackets you have to choose one to go with before the games begin on Thursday.

You can't choose all four #1 seeds to be in the Final Four - Last Sunday night I watched ESPN's bracketology show that came on right after the seedings were announced. At the end of the show the panel (Jay Bilas, Hubert Davis, Digger, Dickie V, Bobby Knight) all revealed their choices for the Final Four. Jay Bilas went first, and he chose all four #1's to be the last four teams. Not only that, but he choose the four #2's to round out the elite eight. What wimpy picks! First, all four #1's have never advanced to the Final Four, and second it's too easy to pick like that.

No matter what you've written on your sheet, you still must pull for the underdog - This rule is in place to enhance your enjoyment of the tournament. The best part of March Madness is the first weekend of games, and getting to see some team you've never heard of advance to the sweet 16. Even if you have Texas winning the whole tournament on your (one) sheet, you still have to pull for St.Mary's to win if they are leading the Longhorns in the closing minutes of their second round game. It's just more fun if those lesser known teams win.

Leave school loyalty at the door - My loyalty wants me to pick Clemson to lose in round one against Villanova, but I have chosen them to be in the sweet 16. You've got to try and be realistic. Even though it might hurt.

So there they are. Follow those rules and your enjoyment of this year's tournament will increase exponentially. By the way I've got UNC, Georgetown, UCLA, and Texas in the Final Four with UCLA winning it all, but I'd really rather see a Final Four consisting of St. Mary's, Davidson, San Diego, and Boise State.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Looking towards Easter

I have spent a large part of today working on Sunday's message, and I am feeling a little overwhelmed. I know that all of you are doing a great job inviting your friends to be at Freedom on Sunday, so I want to be sure that the words that come from my mouth are exactly what God wants me to say! Pray that God will make very clear to me His direction for the message, and also pray that He would be working in the hearts of the people you are inviting. The fact is, God is the only one who can change a heart, so His presence in the lives of your friends is more important to their understanding of the message than the way I deliver it.

Donny and I were talking today, and we both believe that God is about to do some big things at Freedom, and I think that it could really get started this Sunday. We want to be a part of God changing people's lives, and you can have a huge impact in that area by simply inviting someone to join you! I am thankful that God uses us to accomplish His purpose on earth, and that He doesn't do it all by Himself. He could you know, after all He is God.
Tomorrow I'll run through the NCAA bracket rules, and tell you who I've picked to be in the Final Four. If you pick the exact opposite of me you should do great.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Monday morning quarterback

Between yesterday's worship, our trip to Columbia, the NCAA tournament, and Unleash, there's a lot rolling around in my head. Hold on while I try to take you through it.

The Unleash conference at New Spring was amazing: I don't know of any other pastor in this state that has had to endure more criticism than Perry Noble. I have a message for all those out there who are throwing rocks at him and at what God is doing at New Spring, "chill out". I mentioned briefly in Friday's post that one of the main feelings I had after Unleash was encouragement. It was obvious that Perry loves to see churches fulfilling the high calling God has given us. It was also obvious that he has a passion for pastors, and wants to do all he can to equip and encourage them to keep running the race. The final session of the conference was the most uplifting message for pastors that I have ever heard. When I left the conference I was ready to be the pastor at Freedom forever! By the way, we are going back next year, and we want as many of you as possible to take a day off of work so you can be there too.

Taking the Lord's Supper yesterday was very special: I thought that our worship team did an awesome job of song selection and arranging the elements of the service yesterday. Everything pointed us to the importance of the cross, and when we took the bread and the cup the experience was overwhelming. That is where our freedom comes from! Jesus did it for us!

We had a great time in Columbia: We enjoyed bowling, the zoo, my twin nephew's soccer game (they each scored!), and just hanging out with Gran and Grandbob. Other than driving home in a torrential downpour it was a very relaxing trip.

The brackets are out: Between now and Thursday me and the girls will be filling out NCAA bracket sheets. I will let you know later who I think will be in the Final Four, and what I think are some rules for filling out the brackets. The last couple of years I have been way off on my predictions so I am hoping to make a comeback this time around.

One last thing, there will be another important meeting in the morning concerning possible land and buildings for our church. Pray that everyone involved will hear God's voice and have the wisdom to follow Him.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Unleash - Unbelievable

Donny, Blake and I spent the day at New Spring Church in Anderson at their Unleash conference. The whole experience was great and the overall feeling I got from hanging out there today can be summed up in two words: excitement and encouragement. I'll share with you in more detail how God spoke to me. If you'd like an overview of what Perry Noble shared during the main sessions check out Tony Morgan's blog.

We're heading to Columbia in the morning to see my folks. We are looking forward to spending time with them. We will be back and ready to go for worship on Sunday morning. I hope you are already inviting your friends to join us on Easter. It is just over a week away!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

An equal calling

I read a blog recently from another pastor that kind of struck me the wrong way. The guy who wrote it is the pastor of an amazing church, and he is leading his congregation to do things that are truly kingdom sized. He is also smart and has tremendous insight into leading a church, so I don't want you to think that what I am about to say means I think he is a bad guy or an inadequate pastor.

He wrote on his blog about some things he thinks he should pay closer attention to now that he is a pastor. The actions on his list are pretty tame, things like the way he dresses, and how clean he keeps his car. He never says that he thinks these are things that all pastors should do, so why didn't I enjoy reading his opinions on the subject?

I guess it's because I have never been comfortable with the idea that there are separate standards for following Jesus based on what your job is. I know that the scripture says that with leadership comes responsibility, and I have certainly lived in that reality for the past 15 years. I also see in scripture where Jesus called all kinds of people to follow Him (fishermen, government employees, blind beggars, etc.) and He called them all to the same path. I believe Jesus expects all of us to represent Him well to the world we live in, not just the guys like me who stand and give a message on Sunday mornings.

It reminds me of a conversation that one of my best friends (who is on staff at his church) had with a woman in his church a few months ago. This lady was upset with him because he was making plans to see Van Halen in concert. He had known this lady before he was on staff at the church, and she had never had a problem with him seeing Van Halen in concert then. She believed that going to see Van Halen is appropriate behavior for a normal follower of Christ, but for a pastor it was wrong. I don't believe that kind of thinking is fair to the pastors or the non-pastors of the world. When my friend asked me my opinion I responded by asking, "Did you get me a ticket?"

Whoever we are whatever we do, Jesus has called all of us to follow Him completely. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in the "Cost of Discipleship", "When Christ calls a man He bids Him to come and die." That call to give up our own rights for the exciting life Jesus offers is the same for everyone.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Leave these five alone

Tonight on American Idol the contestants will all be singing Beatles songs. Even though I was zero years old when the Beatles recorded their last album, I have listened to and loved their music as long as I can remember. I don't want to seem like a snob who places the Beatles on some pedestal of superiority, but if I were in charge of the show there would be several songs that would be off limits. Here are five:

Strawberry Fields Forever: This song has reached iconic status, and is regarded by many people as John Lennon's best work. As far as I know, the actual Beatles never performed this song live, so I don't think Amanda Overmeyer or even Chikezie should be allowed to.

Let It Be: Paul McCartney wrote this song after a dream he had about his mother. It was during a turbulent time in the history of the band, and he dreamed that his mother, Mary, was telling him that everything would be alright.

All You Need Is Love: John Lennon wrote this song for a television program called "Our World" which was the first ever live global television show. The producers of the show wanted the band to perform a song with a message that people all over the world could understand.

A Day In The Life: I don't think we have to worry about any of the contestants attempting this one. I think that they would be crazy to try. This song is really like two separate compositions that are linked together by huge orchestra sections. If anyone tries this one my guess is that Simon will hate it no matter how well it's done.

Eleanor Rigby: I believe this is one of the most moving songs ever written. If you can hear the lyrics about loneliness and not feel something, you need to be sure you're still breathing. I guess it's because I'm a pastor but the line that says, "Father McKenzie writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear" always gets to me.

Your thoughtful comments are encouraged. :)

Monday, March 10, 2008

Monday Afternoon Quarterback

When I arrived at the office this morning, I discovered that we still have some internet issues. As a result, Blake and I left the office after lunch to find a working internet connection. We are currently siting in the "theology room" of The Silver Chair coffee shop on Poinsett Street with a strong Wi-Fi connection. If you haven't checked out The Silver Chair yet, you should stop by. It's owned and operated by Joffre, a very nice guy who moved to the area to help start a new church. Here's what's on my mind today:

- This month's message series about Uncensored Grace is helping me to be more aware of God's immense love for us on a daily basis. It's easy for me to think about how much God loves me, and the lengths He goes to show me that love when I am preparing a message or reading the bible, but in the everyday grind of life it can be easy to forget. Since we have been focusing this month on God's uncensored grace, it seems that I am able to recognize God's presence in my day to day life much more easily.

- I mentioned during yesterday's service that we are currently looking very seriously at a land opportunity for Freedom. Continue to pray for wisdom as we will be meeting in the morning to discuss some of the options.

- I spent the first part of last week at the beach hanging out with some other pastors of new churches. I always am encouraged and challenged when I get to talk, laugh, and learn from guys who have been doing this longer than I have. I especially learned a lot from Eddie Cox about how to deal with ADD. I don't know if I really have ADD, but I do know that I have hard time concentrating. Eddie shared with me some things he does to improve his ability to concentrate on what he should be doing, and I've already put some of those things into practice today.

- Last but not least, I discovered in Sunday's paper that Chikezie's last name (which he doesn't use on American Idol) is, Eze. I am assuming that Eze is pronounced the way it's spelled. If that is the case, his name is Chikezie Easy! I thought it was awesome that he didn't use his last name, now I'm not so sure.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Time Change! Don't forget!

I have a lot to tell you about, but it will have to wait until next week. I have been out of town for most of this week, and I know that the dozen of you who read this blog daily have missed me! For now, the important thing to remember is that this Saturday night before you go to bed, be sure and set your clocks forward one hour. We will be sure and have extra coffee available Sunday morning in the atrium to wake you up. See you then!