Archive for the ‘church’ Category

Conventional wisdom tells us that we are supposed to become better at things we are not that good at.  However there’s another school of thought in leadership circles that says to focus on our strengths.  In a recent video series called Trombone Player Wanted, Leadership guru Marcus Buckingham shows how a young boy is yearning to play the drums yet he seems stuck as the trombone player.  It’s something he does well, but not great.  His real passion are the drums.  The video is really well done and the point is very powerful…do what you are passionate about, do what you are really, really good at, follow your strengths.

I get the point.  Don’t just be mediocre at everything, try to be great at one thing.  Unfortunately for many people this is a luxury.  Wouldn’t it be nice if all we had to do at the office or the home was what we were great at?  Forget making the bed and keeping the house clean because I’m just not that good at it!  If you are a student in school you could skip Algebra but attend Art classes all day.  Is “well rounded” a thing of the past with the advent of finding your strengths?

As a pastor who works with people who have various levels of talents and passions, this is a really important concept for me to grapple with.  There are many who want to serve in areas where they may not quite be up to snuff compared to others.  Perhaps they are new to a certain ministry or have never been given an opportunity before.  Then there are others who are just going through the motions…volunteering without passion.  Do I push these folks to only do what they are really strong at?  Do I help them discover their true passion?  What if they are passionate about teaching but they can’t hold anyone’s attention?  How about if they “love love love” singing but they can’t hold a tune?

Maybe the question is not so much what are you passionate about or what your strongest at right now…but what has the Lord called you to?  And even beyond that, where have you been faithful whether or not you love it?  I appreciate the way that the apostle Paul said to Timothy that he should “entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified…”(2 Timothy 2:2).  It’s as if we need to emphasize faithfulness and commitment and serving above everything else.  After that, God equips and raises us up.  Then we are strengthened and even looked upon as individuals who are truly qualified, truly gifted.

What do you think?  Is it more important to focus on your strengths or to grow in areas where you are weak?  I think we all can agree that whatever the Lord truly calls us to…whatever ministry He asks us to serve in, or to whomever He has sent us to reach…that He will strengthen us if we are faithful to Him!

-Peter

The first church I went to was in Miami Beach Florida.  It was mostly a group of young Jewish believer who knew how to practice community and grace in a way that I had never seen before.  I gave my life to Jesus there.  It was during the worship time while the music was playing and the people were singing in a decidedly messianic fashion.  The narrow storefront church was filled to capacity and everyone was participating vigorously in the service.

The next week at church I remember wanting to sing along with the same gusto as everyone else, except I didn’t know the words.  I don’t think we had an overhead projector back then, but I seem to remember that we just had to learn the words as we sang them…learning them by heart.  There was another thing that was quite different than my church today-  hand held instruments.  Some people brought their own fancily designed embroidered bells and tambourines, others borrowed the ones in a box as you came in.  Since I barely knew any of the songs, I thought a good way to participate would be to grab an instrument from the box.  For the next several months I would be the “unofficial” percussionist on the wood blocks.  I had never done anything like this before, tapping away on beat and even adding an extra whack here and there.  I don’t think I was any good, but no one seemed to mind.

Fast forward to today in our church.  We don’t encourage people to bring their own music makers.  First off, we think that it’s a bit distracting and attention gathering.  Unlike my Miami Beach days when everyone was playing something in that small storefront church one or two wood block players or tambourine shakers would really stand out.  In our church it’s the worship team and singers up on the platform that help lead the rest of us in song pointing us to the Lord.  And they are pretty good at it…which is the second point.  Rarely have I heard someone who brings a tambourine to church really sound good, keep beat and add to the experience.  My guess is that they probably wouldn’t make it on the worship team so this is an easy way to bypass the auditions.

I know some of you may be thinking, what’s the big deal…let em shake that thang. And I would if it worked.  If people weren’t looking their way, thrown off by the beat, and instead were encouraged by their enthusiasm…maybe I’d reconsider.  But the bigger issue is one of being willing to lay down your tambourine at the altar and not press the issue. If the tambourine or anything else is connected to who you are as a worshipper, that’s not good.

Back to Miami Beach…One particular Sunday I came into worship and realized that someone had taken the wood blocks out of the instrument box before me.  I felt a little lost, a little out of place.  This was my comfort zone.  I didn’t know the words…now I didn’t have any way to worship.  That morning was a turning point because I began to sing, I put my  hands together to clap and realized that worship wasn’t dependent on my music maker, but on me.

How about you…do you need a certain kind of music to worship?  Do you like tambourines?  Does your churches’ worship team encourage you to connect with God when you sing?

-Peter

Easter 2012 is in the rear view mirror.  Sunday was an incredible day in the state of New Hampshire.  The reports of places of worship being overflowing has caused all of us to be happy.  In our church, twice as many people attended and most of those people came as invited guests.  It was a grassroots explosion that can only be explained by God’s Spirit softening hearts and giving us all a passion for our friends and family.  I say all of this on the heals of the new Gallup poll that says we are among the least religious state in the country.

While it may be true that going to church on Sunday is not a normal activity here in the Northeast compared to the South or Midwest,  I’ve got to believe that something is changing in people’s hearts.  If this Easter is any indication, we are seeing something of an awakening take place.  Take, for instance, a church in Manchester, NH  that held their Easter service in the Verizon Arena.  Take, for instance, the many churches that added multiple services throughout the state.  And take our own situation where just one year ago we launched a new campus of Grace Capital Church in Laconia…and this Easter over 450 people attended.  In challenging people at our church that One Invite Can Change a Life, over 2200 people gathered in one of five different services.  This is not normal for NH.

But here’s the main thing…what happens to everyone now that Resurrection Sunday is over and it won’t come again for another 12 months?  This is the true test- the power of the gospel and the influence of our story upon others.   I’m hoping that no one will be like the two who walked with Jesus on the road and didn’t even recognize Him…that people won’t remain oblivious to Him working and calling and loving them.  Instead, like the two at the end of the story, their hearts will burn with His grace and they will respond. Because it’s not enough for Jesus to be alive…He wants to be alive inside of us.

God burns in hearts causing eyes to be open.  Everyday.

I’m so used to being up early on Sunday that I don’t think anything of it.  Rain, snow, sunshine, daylight savings-time I’m up and out the door because I’m a pastor and that’s what we do.  Early Sundays are no-brainers for me…and so are long Sundays.  But perhaps I’m so desensitized to what I do every week that I forget that this is not “normal” in our culture, and certainly not here in New Hampshire.

Most people take advantage of Sunday as a day off to rest, sleep in a little extra, go to the kid’s soccer games, or take advantage of the nice weather and make a trip to the mountains or beach.  They may even wake up early just like me, but have different plans and no intention to sit in a building for a couple of hours.  Yet…that’s what we try very hard to get people to do.  And I think it’s a good thing to try.  But as we are trying, let’s also remember that this is cross grain to what non-churchgoers and even many pro-churchgoers are thinking.  A church service is not very high on the priority list for a great majority of people.

Once I heard about a guy who just didn’t want to wake up for church.  His kids came in the bedroom all dressed and ready to go, but he just covered his head with a pillow.  His wife kept yelling for him to get ready, but he acted like he didn’t hear her.  Finally, she came in and said, “you’ve got to wake up and get ready for church.  People are expecting you to be there.  After all, you are the pastor!”  Okay, maybe I’ve felt like that once or twice, but honestly I look forward to Sundays to be with the people who are a part of my life and my community.  I enjoy being part of the church and for me that includes leading as a pastor and waking up on Sunday morning and serving.

As Easter approaches, churches across the nation will see their numbers swell.  Some will make annual pilgrimages, others will be doing what they do religiously each week.  For me and for our church, I pray it will be a day to connect people to a God who never slumber or sleeps.  He’s the one who created the ocean, the mountains, and time itself…even Sunday mornings.

What do you do on Sunday mornings?  If you wake up and go to a church building, why do you do that?

-Peter

 

I found myself welling up with hatred.  Strange thing to hear from a pastor, but it’s true.  As I was watching a basketball game, the team I was cheering for (my college team) was struggling to stay in the game.  Playing in their conference tournament in what was supposed to be a neutral venue, the fans started turning on “my” team with incredible intensity.  Most of the loud crowd showed up at the end of the game preparing for the next matchup that featured their college team, which happened to be, located only 30 miles away.  So much for a neutral venue!  You see, they wanted my college team, the favorite and number one seed,  to lose so that their team would have an easier road to the Big Dance.

Even watching on TV, I saw how mean these fans were.  They were against the better team winning and I took it personally.  I felt like they thought they were so against us and that really really peeved me.  It even seemed like the officiating was biased.  After all, these were probably some of the same referees that worked the games of the team only 30 miles away from this “neutral” venue.

These are people I don’t know and that made it easier to not like them.  I found myself justifying it in my heart and  I became a hater of the entire state where this game was being played.  “I’ll never step foot in that state,” was one of my thoughts.

As I began to reflect on this, I was convicted and I began to realize something.  What I was feeling was no different from how many people outside the church feel about some of us who call ourselves Christians.  It could be because we often look at ourselves as competitors…and as better than the other team.  It’s the church vs. the world.  I’ve heard from non-believers that they feel like Christians are opposed to them and are “cheering against them.”  Some of this may be because we hold up a standard consistent to God’s Word that causes offense, but some of it may be purely out of our preference.  It’s one thing for me to believe that abortion is biblically wrong, it’s another thing for me to show unbiblical anger toward anyone involved in the pro-choice movement.  Another less extreme example would be the debate over climate change.  Somehow the church has been portrayed as anti-environmental and uncaring toward the earth.

The result…the folks in the grandstands that are not in the church look at all of us who are in the church as enemies.  Many hate us.  The people we are called to love and reach to and bridge the gap for, see us as opponents in the arena of life. I’ve heard that in Israel there are two words that Jewish followers of Jesus avoid using because they have a negative connotation there.  These words are Christian and church.  I wonder if the same is true where we live, and if it’s part of our mission to help people see us not as enemies but as friends.

Have you ever had someone say that “you’re one of those Christians” meaning that you are against them?  What have you done to change that?  Let’s put ourselves in others shoes and see whether or not they feel loved, accepted and forgiven…or if they feel like we are opposing them and rooting for their defeat.

-Peter

It happened to me this past Sunday.  I met a new guy in our church who told me that he and his family had just moved here to New Hampshire from Iowa.  Since my wife is from Nebraska, we talked a little about farms and the Midwest and the Cornhuskers.  Then the big question…how do you like New England?  His answer didn’t surprise me.  “To be honest, the people here are really different.” And he wasn’t just referring to the amount of Dunkin Donuts coffee we drink!

Are we really so different in New England?  After all, people are the same everywhere right?  The same needs, challenges, desires, opportunities and attitudes…right?  Maybe not.  New England is a unique region of the country and if there’s one statistic that can prove that out, it’s in the area of church attendance and how many people identify themselves as Christians.  In fact, a huge percentage of people in New England would fall into the category of non-religious.  Spiritual maybe, but non-religious. 

I was reminded by a wise woman today that the thing that sets our region apart from many other places in the country is that we are still here.  Unlike the pioneers and early-adopters that moved West, our forefathers didn’t budge.  This is as good as it gets.  No need to change.  Maybe that’s why we have such an aging population in places like Vermont and Maine and New Hampshire.  The younger generation is out of here, looking for new opportunity and experience.

Several years ago, I invited a neighbor to church.  His response stunned me, telling me no and asking me not to talk to him about it again.  He was fine.  “All set,” were his exact words.  As a typical New Englander, in his mind I was intruding into places that were private.

I have spoken to friends and others outside of New England that don’t really get it.  They believe that people are people, and New Englanders are no different than Southerners or Left Coasters.  While it is true that we all need Jesus and we all need community, how you go about relating to folks from my neck of the woods is a world apart from how you relate to someone from Dallas (bless your heart) or LA (hey dude). In my opinion the difference requires an investment in the person that cannot be merely casual or temporary.  This costs something that many of us are not willing to spend- our time, our friendship, our trust, and our love.

The neighbor I talked about…well 15 years later, he and his family are a part of our church, they love Jesus and they are serving others.  But first we had to love them and serve them with no strings attached.  Are New Englanders really that different?  What do you think?

-Peter

The difference between what I want and what God wants is one of the hardest things to discern.  I’m not talking about the obvious things that are clearly against God’s will- the “sin” things or the “self” things.  But it’s the good thing that often gets in the way of the best thing that God wants for us.

I was having this conversation with a friend of mine recently and we both realized how often opportunity comes our way.  This can be flattering and fulfilling, but that should never be our reason for deciding on it.  We are tempted to validate the opportunity when it validates us.  In other words, if it’s something that we truly feel “fits us” we can easily make adjustments in our lives to make it work.  This is especially true when it’s something that I am passionate about.  But I’ve learned through the years that my passion for something doesn’t always mean that this is what God is up to.

Certainly the apostle Peter was passionate about keeping Jesus from going to the cross, but that wasn’t God’s will. And Judas seemed to be passionate about helping the poor instead of wasting precious resources, but we all know how that turned out.

What are you passionate about?  Is it your passion or God’s?  Could it be that in order to get God’s best, we must let go of our good and noble desires?  I believe that this is the starting place, and that regardless of how long we have been serving God, we have to keep coming back here.  So, let’s take an inventory of our passions of the good things we are pursuing and lay them on the altar, right beside the things we already know are not good, and ask God to burn away the chaff and return something pure, something that He wants for us.

-Peter