Month: August 2008

5 Ways to Avoid Being Sued

The verdict is in the Victoria Osteen case. A jury of her peers (I assume all wives of wavy-haired televangelists) deliberated two hours before finding her not guilty. So, the Osteens’ three-year legal nightmare has come to an end. However, if they had asked me how extremely rich, incredibly photogenic megachurch pastors could avoid being sued, I’d have given them this advice:

  1. Never fly first-class. This has not been a problem for me, even when I was flying to China on a fairly regular basis. I did earn enough miles to fly business one time, but mostly I was in the cheap seats with the cages of chickens, and other cargo. We seldom saw a flight attendant, much less got close enough to one to engage in a little dust-up.
  2. Wipe up your own spills. Apparently the entire lawsuit was over a spill on the arm of The Rev. Victoria’s seat. Again, never fly first class because in coach the armrests are not big enough to spill anything on. But, if you do, remember what your mother told you — “Clean up your mess.” Good advice for 3-year-olds and televangelists.
  3. Don’t say, “God will get you for this!” Of course, I’m basing this on complete hearsay. Not that we all haven’t thought, or wished, that God would get folks who make us really mad, but let’s keep things in perspective. God may be busy getting other people for other things we don’t even know about.
  4. Have a net worth of $13.47. The flight attendant was suing for 10% of the Rev. Mrs. Osteen’s net worth which is larger than the gross national product of Bolivia. Now, this is not a problem for most of us small church pastors. My net worth is about $1.97, so I’m not exactly a hot target for a lawyer if money is what they’re after. But wait ’til my book comes out.
  5. Stay in your seat. The pilot is just kidding when he says, “It’s safe to move about the cabin now.” Your lawyer would advise you otherwise. Maybe there’s a lot more room in first-class than coach, but where are you gonna move to anyway? Those photographs of everyone standing around the grand piano on a 747 are fakes. Why would you put a grand piano on a plane? But, I digress. Stay put. Don’t spill you orange juice. Keep your hands to yourself. Do not shake your sunglasses at the flight attendant. That, according to the FAA, constitutes interfering with a crew member, for which Victoria was fined $3,000. Expensive spill.

Oh, and the best part. The Osteens say they’ll fly Continental, again. Must be the peanuts.

Zogby: Small, real churches are the future

Today I bought pollster John Zogby’s new book, The Way We’ll Be, subtitled, The Zogby Report on The Transformation of the American Dream. Called a “super pollster” because he uses innovative methodologies in his polling work, Zogby sees a very different future for the US than you might imagine.  Here’s what he says about the future of the church:

“The church of the future will be a bungalow on Maple Street, not a megastructure in a sea of parking spaces.  It’s intimacy of experience people long for, not production values.” — The Way We’ll Be, p. 215.

In a previous chapter, “One True Thing,”  Zogby says that people are “searching for authenticity in a make-believe world.” That’s what will drive the tremendous growth of house churches in the coming years, especially among the demographic he calls ‘First Globals” which others label Millenials.   Zogby quotes one house church enthusiast, “What is so exciting about doing small-group house church is just the chance to be real.”  Authenticity, not high production values, is what First Globals are seeking.

If you want an excellent book to give you a professional pollster’s take on where we’re headed as a nation, especially in understanding First Globals (Millenials), buy Zogby’s book.  If you’ve read unChristian or They Like Jesus But Not the Church, you need to read this book, too.  Add to your reading Strauss and Howe’s books on Millenials such as Generations, The Fourth Turning, and Millenials and the Pop Culture, and you’ll be well on your way to understanding developing trends in our society.

If Your Sermons Were on TV

If your sermons were on TV, like those of Reverend Jeremiah Wright or John Hagee, how would you come across to the watching public?  Neither Wright’s nor Hagee’s preaching, at least the soundbites we heard, sounded very attractive to the general public which is why the media had such a field day with them.

Which brings us to our preaching each Sunday.    Probably none of us have endorsed a major presidential candidate, but we still have the same choices Wright, Hagee, and others have.  First, we can choose to “preach to the choir” by hitting the chords we know will generate “amens” from our hearers.  Of course, reading the New Testament, it’s hard to find Jesus getting a lot of amens from his preaching and teaching.   The most benign response he got was the unknowing blank stares of his own disciples; the most violent when the mob tried to grab him and throw him off a cliff.  Now that’s some sermon!

The other choice we have is to just tell the story.  Sometimes the gospel story really excites folks and we get a lot of “amens.”  Sometimes, as a preacher friend of mine says, we only get “oh me’s.”  But good preaching, I heard a preacher say years ago, ought to “warm your heart, stretch your mind, and tan your hide.”  Seems like a good balance to me.  What do you think?

Mission and maintenance

Tall Skinny Kiwi (aka Andrew Jones) had an interesting post today titled “Baby or Bathwater or both,” referencing Jonny Baker’s post. But, TSK also picks up a quote from the same issue of Encounters by Jonathan Ingleby, who says:

My answer to that question is another question: can we begin to think seriously about ‘low-maintenance’ churches? Also, is this possibly one of the things that ‘emerging church’ is about? We are simply being crushed by the weight of the structures we have created in order to maintain our church life. People find they cannot take the weight and are slipping out to look for something which meets their spiritual needs and to which they can contribute something, but which does not weigh on them so heavily. Viewed from within the church, this is the familiar dilemma of ‘mission versus maintenance’. We are putting so much energy into maintaining the structures that we have not got time for anything else.

Which reminded me of our situation: we are looking for children’s Sunday School workers, and a SS director. We’re spending lots of time and energy to maintain the organization, and less on our mission of transforming our community. I’m beginning to think that “low maintenance” church is a great idea, but that is not an excuse for do-nothingism.

Low maintenance is the opposite of the mindless sustaining of institutional structures that no longer serve their purpose. If we channel all that spiritual energy into mission — real life-changing events focused outside the church walls and members — that would be more true to the tasks to which we are called. Problem is — institutional structures are hard to kill or abandon. Why? Because we’ve always done it like that. And the beat goes on.

Sermon: On Your Lips and In Your Heart

Here’s the sermon I’m preaching Sunday, August 10, 2008, from Romans 10:5-15. I hope you find it helpful. Have a great Lord’s Day!

On Your Lips and In Your Heart
Romans 10:5-15

5 Moses describes in this way the righteousness that is by the law: “The man who does these things will live by them.” 6 But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7“or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: 9 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. 11 As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

Looking for God

Last year, Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Eat, Pray, Love, was a national bestseller. In case you missed it, it’s the story of how Elizabeth found really good food in Italy, had an awesome spiritual experience in India, and found love in Bali, Indonesia. Elizabeth was on Oprah, which is always good for selling books, and her book sold hundreds of thousands of copies, which in the book publishing world is a major success.

I think part of the reason for the book’s amazing sales was that it touched themes common to all of us. We all enjoy a good meal, want to be spiritually alive, and are suckers for stories of true love. So, Eat, Pray, Love was a runaway bestseller. Listen to what Elizabeth Gilbert says about her search for contentment –

“I have searched frantically for contentment for so many years in so many ways, and all these acquisitions and accomplishments — they run you down in the end. Life, if you keep chasing it so hard, will drive you to death. Time — when pursued like a bandit — will behave like one; always remaining one country or one room ahead of you, changing its name and hair color to elude you, slipping out the back door of the motel just as you’re banging through the lobby with your newest search warrant….At some point you have to stop because it won’t. You have to admin you can’t catch it. That you’re not supposed to catch it. At some point…you gotta let go and sit still and allow contentment to come to you.” Eat, Pray, Love, p. 155

Elizabeth Gilbert tells the story of how she found her contentment both spiritually and emotionally by traveling to Italy, India, and then Indonesia. But, Paul tells us how we can find ours, without traveling at all.

Remember we’re in Romans, and Paul is talking about faith. In chapters 9-11, Paul specifically is talking about his people, the Jews. And, he’s explaining the difference in trying to live by the law and living by faith. Paul says the law of God is a good thing, because the law was meant to bring us to God. But somehow the law has become an end in itself — God’s chosen people have thought that the law was salvation, that living by the law was their ticket to favor with God. Paul thinks they missed the boat. And so in this passage, he talks about how we really find God.

We Don’t Find God Someplace Else

Have you ever traveled a long way for something you really wanted. I must confess that when we lived in Nashville, I would stop at the coffee shop, at least twice a day. There was a little place, Zoe’s Coffee Shop, right around the corner from our little office, and I would make a coffee run about mid-morning, and then about mid-afternoon. Then we moved to Fayetteville, TN 80-miles south of Nashville, and no coffee shop. Withdrawal was hard, gas was cheap and I drove 80-miles to the nearest Starbuck’s one day because I was desperate for a grande soy latte. Which might not mean much to you, but was very important to me at the time. But it gets worse. After a few months here, I drove to Lynchburg to the new Starbucks that had just opened on Wards Road. Sometimes distance makes us want things all the more, but Paul reminds us that we don’t have to go to exotic places looking for God.

Paul’s argument begins here in verses 5 through 7:

5 Moses describes in this way the righteousness that is by the law: “The man who does these things will live by them.” 6 But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7“or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).

Paul is actually quoting from Deuteronomy 30, which reads —

11 Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. 12 It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 13 Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?”

Moses is speaking to the people, laying out God’s expectations for them. God expects them to obey Him, to follow Him, to love Him. In return, God will bless them. If they don’t obey, follow, and love God, they will not be blessed. As a matter of fact, in Deuteronomy 28-29, Moses predicts that the nation will not obey, follow, and love God, and will not always dwell in the land of promise, but will go into exile until they return to God.

So, Deuteronomy 30 is a reminder that obeying, following, and loving God is not beyond our reach. We don’t have to go to heaven to get the instructions, we don’t have to cross the ocean in search of God’s plan. Now, when Paul quotes this passage, he changes it a little. Paul says we don’t have to go to heaven to bring the Messiah down, nor do we have to go to hell to bring the Messiah up. So, he makes the illustration, the reference to Deuteronomy 30 fit his argument. Every devout Jew knew Deuteronomy 30 — the promise that God was near. Paul says this promise is found in the Messiah who became the law and satisfied the law. All very complicated and a little boring to us, but very important for devout Jews who wanted to live by God’s law.

The bottom line — You don’t need to look for God in some far off, remote, impossible to access place. God is here — the word is near you, on your lips and in your heart, Paul says.

We Are Wired For God

Paul says, “the word is near, on your lips and in your heart.” I like that phrase. Our ability to find God is right here. Not in Italy, India, or Indonesia, but right here. As a matter of fact, we are wired for God. Rick Warren calls it our purpose in his book, The Purpose-Driven Life. We are made to be tuned in to God. To get what God is saying to us.

Next year, 2009, broadcast TV will change from analog to digital. What that means is the TV you have now, unless it is high-definition ready, will not be able to receive the signal from the TV station. Now, there are various ways around that — you can get a converter box, or you can subscribe to cable TV. But, without doing something, you won’t be able to watch television. (Which actually is not such a bad thing. We’re into almost 1-year without TV, and we’re surviving quite well, thank you. But, that’s not my point.) My point is, the new TVs will be hardwired — designed intentionally — to pick up the new digital signal from the broadcasters. We’re like that — designed, hardwired — to tune into God.

The French philosopher Blaise Pascal said, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man and only God can fill it.” When our granddaughters were here this summer, Vivian brought a 150-piece puzzle to work. It was some Disney princess — Ariel, I think — and lots of seaweed, bright colors, and sea creatures. So, she asked me to help her work the puzzle, and we set in. The thing about puzzles is, their puzzling. Even to grandfathers. So, I was relying heavily on the picture on the box, but still things didn’t seem to fit together. Until we found a key piece that unlocked the mystery to almost half the puzzle. Once we had that piece in the only place it would fit, everything else came together. Paul says, “God has given you the key piece of the puzzle. It’s on your lips and in your heart. Now use it.”

Say the Secret Word, Win $100

Speaking of TV, when I was a kid, Groucho Marx hosted a game show on TV called, “You Bet Your Life.” Now, I didn’t know who Groucho Marx was — I was really young — and I thought the show was kind of boring. Later I would develop an appreciation for the movies of The Marx Brothers, but as a 6-year old, I wasn’t that impressed. But, I do remember one part of the show. There was a secret word each episode. And Groucho would usually remind the contestants, “Say the secret word, win $100.” A hundred dollars was a lot more money then, than now. And, when a contestant inadvertently said “the secret word,” a bird with a cigar (or was that Groucho with the cigar?) would drop down on a wire, with the $100 in its beak. TV was a lot slower then. But you get the idea.

Paul says there is a “kind-of-secret-word” that’s on our lips — “Jesus is Lord.” And that by saying, “Jesus is Lord” we are saying the word that brings us into a new relationship with God. And remember, he’s talking about the Jews specifically, but it also applies to non-Jews he says later.

“Jesus is Lord” means to us that Jesus is God, that Jesus is the ruler of our lives, that Jesus is our savior. But, in Paul’s first century world, to say “Jesus is Lord” carried serious significance. Paul, a Jew, is a Roman citizen. He is writing to Christians in Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire. Caesar is head of the empire, and the appellation given to the emperor, and required of Roman citizens at least once a year was the tribute, “Caesar is lord.” Meaning that Caesar was the supreme authority, the head of everything there was, the ultimate ruler, the giver and taker of life, the supreme political personality, the source of prosperity, the author of justice, and the deliverer of retribution. Caesar was all. And, Romans knew it well. Time is too short to discuss the intrigue of the Roman system, the attempted coups to displace emperors and the revenge of an emperor over his enemies when those plots failed.

So, to say, “Jesus is Lord” meant that Caesar was not. To say “Jesus is Lord” meant that there was a higher power, a supreme ruler, one above the emperor, an absolute Lord who demanded total allegiance from those who followed him.
And, this confession was made possible by what the confessor believed — “That God had raised Jesus from the dead.” Not that Jesus had died on the cross. There were witnesses to that event, as important as it was. But that God had raised Jesus from the dead. Why?

Because in the resurrection, God vindicated Jesus. The Romans threw at Jesus the worst they had — death by crucifixion — and seemed to be victorious. They killed Jesus, took his body down off the cross, laid it in a tomb, and sealed it with the seal of the full authority of the Roman Empire.

But God wasn’t finished. God raised Jesus from the dead. God brought Jesus back through the dark door of death which had previously been a one-way door. Now death is vanquished. Life is victorious. And Life, God’s life-giving power, life in the resurrection is the indication that the Kingdom of God has come. That Jesus is really God’s son, that God has broken into history to make all things new.

In Deuteronomy 30, Moses says –

Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the LORD your God will gather you and bring you back. 5 He will bring you to the land that belonged to your fathers, and you will take possession of it. He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers. 6 The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.

So, that word “Jesus is Lord” that is on your lips, comes from your heart. The Jews thought that physical circumcision was the mark that distinguished them as God’s people. But, even Moses says to them, “God will circumcise your hearts” — God will change your heart and that will be the sign that you are God’s people.

The Divine Surprise

Then, Paul asks a very famous question?

14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

About right now you are expecting me to break into a rousing chorus of “So Send I You” or “Who is on the Lord’s Side?” or any of a number of hymns that challenge us to go and tell, or send missionaries to go and tell the gospel story. And that’s what I had always thought Paul was saying here. “Let’s send some missionaries to the Jews!” Or anyone else who has not heard the gospel. And, the lectionary framers were also convinced that this is what Paul had in mind, because the revised common lectionary reading stops right here. End of story. Send the Light! Spread the word! Send some preachers!

But, remember Paul is talking about the Jews first. Here’s what he says in verse 18, as he answers his own question –
But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did:
“Their voice has gone out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.”[i] 19Again I ask: Did Israel not understand? First, Moses says,
“I will make you envious by those who are not a nation;
I will make you angry by a nation that has no understanding.”[j] 20And Isaiah boldly says,
“I was found by those who did not seek me;
I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.”

Kind of changes things, doesn’t it? “Did they not hear?” Paul asks. To which he answers, “Yes, of course.” And then he says two things — the Jews and heard, and even those who did not seek God, God revealed himself to them, too.

Isn’t that amazing? The Jews have heard. And, to make things even better, God has also revealed himself to others who were not even seeking him. In other words, the Gentiles.

So, what does all this mean? Here it is, in the Reader’s Digest condensed version –

  1. God is really close by.
  2. God has given mankind the capacity to recognize and follow him. Jesus is Lord, because God raised him from the dead.
  3. God has put the word out. To the Jews first, but also to those who aren’t even seeking him. God is far more eager for us to know Him than we can imagine.

Now, that doesn’t mean we don’t need to tell, to go, to send missionaries, and all of that. But, it means that God is the first missionary. God sent Jesus — God in the flesh — because God was so eager for us to know Him. God sent Jesus to the people God made, the people in whose heart a puzzle piece was missing. God sent Jesus to fill that empty spot in our hearts, to follow with our lives, to love with our being.

So, we don’t have to go to Italy, or India, or Indonesia to find God. He is here, showing himself to us, in a thousand ways, calling all persons to himself. And for what? Paul says, “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

We think that means going to heaven when we die, and it does. But that’s only part of it. “Salvation” — soter in Greek — meant to be saved from danger, but it also means to be made whole, to be made well, to be restored to health, to be what we are supposed to be. To be saved is to be healed, to be made whole, to be made our true selves — persons made in the image of God, who one day will be with Him in glory.

Brian Jones tells a remarkable story in his book, Getting Rid of the Gorilla. In his short story, “The Capital of the World,” Ernest Hemingway describes this event.  Hemingway wrote —

“Madrid is full of boys named Paco, which is the diminutive of the name Francisco, and…a father…came to Madrid and inserted an advertisement in the personal columns of El Liberal which said:  “Paco meet me at Hotel Montana noon Tuesday.  All is forgiven.  Papa.”  So many young men went out to greet their fathers, eight hundred in all, that an entire police squadron had to be deployed to restore civil order.”  — Getting Rid of the Gorilla, p.201

That is the God we owe our lives to.  The one who constantly seeks us out.  Who reveals himself to us.  Who longs to forgive his people and make them whole again. 
The journey is not a journey to find God. The journey we are on is a journey with God. And He’s waiting for us not in Italy, or India, or in Indonesia, but right here in Chatham. Waiting for us to speak that word that is on our lips and in our hearts — “Jesus is Lord.”

Loaning books

I have a thing about books.  I like them.  A lot.  And like many preachers, I have dozens — actually, hundreds — of books.  Most of which I have read — except the reference books, of course.  (I consider any book longer than 200 pages to be a reference book.)  Tonight as I write this, I have an order from Amazon in transit.  My second this week.  My name is Chuck: I am a book-aholic.

Okay, so that said, what could be the most difficult thing for a bibliophile to do?  Part with some of his little “friends” is what.  (I used to have a framed quote from Emerson that said, “In a library we are surrounded by many hundreds of dear friends.”  Or something like that.)  I almost always never loan out my books.  Mostly because I have in my personal library books others have loaned me.  My thinking goes, “If a preacher doesn’t return books he borrowed, what hope is there for getting a book back from a layperson?”

This thinking is warped, I admit, but then I am not rational when it comes to books.  If I were I would have never bought “The Bible and Flying Saucers.”  I am not making this up.  I no longer possess that volume because I think I loaned it to someone who actually believed the title — the flying saucer part.

But, you know what’s really scary?  And this has happened to me twice, I promise.  I walked into my office in North Carolina one Sunday to find a man perusing my bookshelves.  “Just looking for something good to read,” he said.  When I nervously offered to loan him one of “my books” he was amazed, saying, “I thought this was the church library.”  Same thing happened here right before a funeral.  Either my office looks like the messiest library you’ve ever seen, or this line is a clever dodge that booknabbers use to throw bibliophiles off their trail.  (I’ve just re-read that last sentence, and I think I might need professional help.)

Anyway, today was a glorious day.  Two long lost friends, given up for dead, were returned in a little gift bag, set carefully outside my office door, like a lost puppy waiting to be let in.  Inside the bag, another item I had loaned — a DVD.  Not the same, but glad to have it back as well.  So, tonight all of my friends are safe and secure, lining the shelves of my study, dining room, a bedroom, the den, the living room, and the guest room.  Except for two G. Campbell Morgan books I loaned my Dad, who is also a minister and doing an interim pastorate at age 88.  I’m sure he’ll give them back to me.  After all, I know where he lives.

If only one person gets saved, is it worth it?

“It will be worth what we’re spending if only one person gets saved.” That comment came from a deacon when I was serving a previous church.  He was referring to an expensive project we were undertaking. I nodded in agreement because his sentiment seemed so right. But after thinking about it some more, I decided he was wrong. Here’s why:

  1. Good stewardship demands good planning. Throwing money at a project without careful planning can’t be justified whether it’s done by a church or government. Even if a church has plenty of money (most small ones don’t) adequate planning must be done to assess need, plan action, and specify outcome.
  2. Return should be proportional to investment. For instance, we did a mailer to our entire area for a Christmas program 3 years ago.  The direct mail piece, postage, and other expenses ran about $2,500.  We mailed to 5,000 households expecting a 1-2% “return” of folks actually attending the program — in other words, 50-to-100 new people attending.  Our normal attendance for events like that is about 100.  Our actual attendance that night was 188.  So, we were right on target with our goal.  The next year we did a similar mailout which produced very little response.   We dropped the mailers after they did not produce the results we sought.
  3. Limited resources should be employed to produce the highest result. Often there are cheaper ways to accomplish the same thing.  Rather than use a mailing list or service, have your church members develop your own mailing list.  Or better still, have your members mail personalized cards or invitations to their circle of influence.

Dr. Donald McGavran founded the church growth movement out of a desire to see specific results and measurable outcomes from field mission work.  McGavran thought there should be some accountability of effort-to-outcome on the mission field.  I’m not sure how Dr. McGavran would have answered the question “Is it worth it if only one person gets saved?” but I think he would have wanted to fix a system that only produced one convert in the face of disproportional expenses.  What do you think?  I realize I’m going to get lots of comments on this one, so please be kind. 🙂

The right way to do church?

Maybe there is no “right way” to do church. That thought occurred to me the other day while reading Mission in the 21st Century by Andrew Walls and Cathy Ross. The “right way” to do church may be the way that is authentic to the group of Christians at any given location and time. For instance, the first followers of Christ were Jews. They went to the Temple, they observed Jewish dietary laws, they avoided eating with non-Jews. But Paul was quick to tell non-Jews they did not have to do “church” like the Jewish Christians. Gentile Christian churches took on a markedly different style, form, and practice than Jewish Christian churches.

The same thing is happening today. A smorgasbord of church polity, practice, and priorities are evident across the Christian community today. Churches in the two-thirds world exhibit authentic spiritual vitality in forms unlike their Western counterparts. Maybe there is no right way to do church. Maybe the right way depends upon the context, witness, and authenticity of the group from which it emerges. Or, to put it another way, maybe all churches aren’t driven by the same purposes. Which means, not one cookie-cutter approach, but the rainbow richness of God’s Spirit moving in various ways in various places. What do you think?

Make a commitment, the details will follow

We had a long and intense discussion in a committee meeting tonight at our church.  The subject:  how can we reach more families and children?   My challenge to the group was to lead the church to make a commitment as a congregation to the “what” — reaching families and children.  If we make a commitment to “what” we want to do, we can then all work together to figure out the details of “how” we’re going to reach more families and children.  The “what” commitment comes before the “how.”  Most of the time we get it backwards.  We want to talk “how” before we decide “what.”  Then, when our “how” fails, we abandon the “what” along with it.  Commit to “what” you want to do — the “how” will follow.

It’s not too late

In leading your church, have you ever thought “it’s too late” to start a new class, solve a problem, or try a new church strategy? Or, “we missed our chance?” Or, the best one — “we tried that once and it didn’t work?” Well, let me tell you a story from our garden.

You might remember that we started our vegetable garden early in the spring. We had never planted a vegetable garden before, so this was a new experience for us. We ordered seeds, and sprouted plants in plastic trays behind our couch in March. Over 100 tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and other plants got off to a good start. Next we built our raised bed frames, cleared an area for the garden plot, and fenced it in. We even built a garden gate for our version of “The Garden of Eden.”

The big day came in mid-April as we transferred the seedlings to our raised beds. We transplanted our little “couch” tomatoes to the raised beds, along with some cabbage and cucumbers and broccoli. We also planted beans and some other stuff from seeds. Everything looked great, but unseen problems were ahead.  Our raised beds began retaining too much moisture. About three weeks after planting we were growing more mushrooms than vegetables! We realized we needed better drainage for the raised beds, so we scraped out drainage holes from under the beds. The moisture problem was solved — mushrooms disappeared, and the plants put out buds.

But to make sure we had some veggies coming up, we planted more tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, squash, cantaloupes, eggplant, and okra in the perimeter around the raised beds. Well, the raised beds recovered and the new plants began to thrive also. As our garden began to grow, we decided we wanted to plant more stuff, just to make sure we had something at harvest time. So, we planted more beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, and watermelon. That was June 15th. Plants were flourishing in the Chatham “Garden of Eden.”

Then one day I decided we needed some potatoes. Everybody told me that you plant potatoes in February. It was late June. But I talked to some very nice potato farmers in Maine and they assured me I could plant potatoes in July. And so we did. And while we were at it, we planted more (you guessed it) beans, tomatoes, and celery. We’ll see how it all works out.

My point in all this is — it’s never too late to start something worthwhile. If you wait for the perfect time or conditions you’ll never get anything done. When we encountered the drainage problem in our garden, we could have given up on the raised beds and scrapped the whole garden. We could have told ourselves we didn’t know what we were doing. We could have been discouraged by our mistakes. But instead we planted more stuff. Why? Because we wanted the garden to grow and produce.

Church is just like that. Okay, maybe not just like that, but close. Things don’t always work out like we hope. We make mistakes, circumstances change, and we face unexpected problems. But back up, fix what you can, and start again. I learned that lesson from George Ernst who said, “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” Good advice for churches, too.

For more about our vegetable garden, visit our other blog Eden’s PathThanks.