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The 99 or the 1?

Posted: June 6, 2012 in Uncategorized

I’ve been thinking an awful lot lately about all of the people that God has put in my life.  These include people within my family, within my church and within my life as a whole.  Every single one of them is important to God and ought to be more important to me.  That’s the problem…that’s what I’m thinking a lot about…that’s the subject of this blog.

A few weeks ago we did a sermon in our church about the shepherd who went after the one lost sheep.  He left the 99 that were found to find the one that was lost.  That’s a concept in and of itself that really isn’t conventional wisdom.  Who would leave 99 perfectly good sheep to go after one that is somewhere in the hills, maybe even one that wandered off itself.  I felt so convicted when I was preaching this sermon.  It’s much easier to tell others to do this than to do it myself.

Let’s face it, we love hanging around with the “found”…with our peeps…the ones that are just like us…that accept us and look just like us…that know our language, our likes and dislikes.  I’m comfortable with my people…the found, just like me.  But I have forgotten that I haven’t always been found.  In fact, just being considered “found” means that I once wasn’t…I once was lost.

The interesting thing about this parable (and the one that follows about the woman who swept her house clean to find that one lost coin) is that the statistics are wrong.  99% is where we want to put our energy.  No one thinks of a dime, when they have a dollar.  This is what we are taught and how we end up living our life.  But it all comes back around when we realize that the lost sheep is us..we were the 1%.  The lost coin is us, just worth a fraction.

Here in New Hampshire the lost sheep and the lost coin are more in the 80%-90% range which could even make it harder for us to go to them.  When we become such a tight knit group and become comfortable, it’s even more difficult to seek those who are pretty easy to find.  They are all around us.  We don’t have to get down on our hands and knees and sweep the whole living room clean to find that coin.  We don’t have to journey that far out of town to find those sheep who are lost and caught up in briar patches.  There they are.

The bottom line for me on this is that I need more of the heart of the Father.  My heart needs to break with the things that break the heart of God…that’s the lost.  He loves the found and cares for us deeply, but He longs for the lost to become found.

How about you?  Are you more comfortable around the “found”? Do you have the heart of the Father for others?

-Peter

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

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.

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

I’ve always been amazed at how some pastors can seem to manage massive growth in their churches.  We are in New England where mega-churches are more myth than reality.  Often I’ve thought if that has more to do with the post-Christian landscape of the northeast, but lately I’m wondering if it’s more to do with a higher emphasis on community and being real than some of our big city and Bible belt neighbors.

I can’t imagine being a pastor that is unfamiliar with a vast number of the folks who I am called to lead.  I know that some would say that I really have to change and get over the fact that if we want our church to grow into the thousands then I have to look at my role as more of a pastor of leaders or CEO type than a shepherd/teacher.  I just can’t do it.  Yet for some strange reason we have seen our church continue to grow and now are moving into a multi-site model of ministry that keeps our pastors knowing the people who we serve.

Have you ever felt like you have to compromise who you are as a pastor to grow the church?  I like knowing people’s names, although I am not really great at it, especially as we have seen growth.  So should I just face the fact that I can’t know everyone and stop trying?  Instead I encourage the church as a whole to be relationally driven. True, I can’t take everyone out for coffee, but I can some.  Andy Stanley recently said in a message I heard, “do for one what you wish you could do for many.”  To me, that’s the heart of a pastor.

I want to be normal, not supernatural or separated from the people I am called to pastor.  I don’t want to run backstage after the service or be whisked away by bodyguards because I’m so in demand.  Yet, I desperately want to see our church grow with new believers who are becoming followers of Jesus.  Growth is good when it’s not about me.  So maybe I do have to get over my tendency to want to know everyone and just get on with breeding a culture of community that includes my limitations.  Growth will never take the pastor out of who I am.

-Peter

I am not the type to say that the end of the world is coming.  Yet I can’t help to think of a story I heard that reminds me of where we are today as a nation, as a world…and mostly as the church. 

A priest and pastor and rabbi are standing by the side of the road holding up a sign that reads, “The End is Near! Turn yourself around now before it’s too late!” They planned to hold up the sign to each passing car.”Leave us alone you religious nuts!” yelled the first driver as he sped by. From around the curve they heard screeching tires and a big splash.”Do you think,” said one clergy to the other, “we should just put up a sign that says ‘Bridge Out’ instead?”

I don’t know how close we are to the end, but I really believe that there are a lot of bridges out today.  Whether we put our trust in the economy, the government, our jobs, our portfolios, our education, our families or even those things that have always worked for us in the past…we are headed on a road that is going to end up coming to a dead end.  My big concern is for those of us in the church that are not much different from those who don’t claim to follow Christ.  As Francis Chan recently said in a quote I heard, “those of us with the Holy Spirit, ought to think and behave differently than those without the Holy Spirit.”  Do we?  Really?

When I hear Christians talking about the upcoming presidential election as the answer to our issues, (if only we get the right man or woman in office then things will turn around)…I am more concerned than where we are today.  Politics are not going to save us, they’ve never changed a human heart, it’s just ups and downs much like the history of the kings of Israel.

I’m not fearful though.  I’m not discouraged.  I’m not preaching gloom and doom.  But I do feel like we need to get our house in order spiritually and practically.  If we are not doing what we know to do, we’ve got to change that.  If we are walking in ways that are selfish, we must get out of ourselves.  If we are not in true community, then we need to ask the Holy Spirit to change our independent hearts.  You see, it’s not really about those who don’t know Jesus…but about those of us who do.  Like Scripture says, we are to pray for blessings in our cities, for the people around us and for the nation that we live in, for their peace (Jer 29:7).  But we are to be the peacemakers that are living out the truth of the gospel in such a way that they will “see our good works and glorify God.”  We aren’t to curse and be angry and join in the rage against the machine…but blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.

The other day I received a very sobering email from another pastor.  At first I wasn’t inclined to read it because it came as a mass distribution list email.  I don’t like those and I really don’t like it when I’m not blind-copied, which I wasn’t.  But something (namely the Holy Spirit) pressed me to read and ponder.  I want to just quote a small section of this email, which I read as a prophecy to the church today, the body of Christ here and now:

One of the greatest areas where we American Christians fail is our firm belief that America is such a blessed nation that we will never suffer judgment at the hand of God.  Throughout our history, we have known blessing upon blessing– even through our country was severely tested in a great civil war.  Today we think that we are being carried forward on the strength of all those past victories.  What slavery, greed, racism, Nazism, and communism failed to do, we are accomplishing all by ourselves by ignoring the warnings contained in God’s Word.  We desperately need to listen to what God is saying and respond to Him, personally and not politically. (Edmund C. de la Cour, Jr., First Baptist Church of Pocasset, MA)

It’s not gloom and doom…it’s warning lights, opportunities for mercy, chances to be the very light in the darkness that Jesus says we are.  But we must get right…get our houses in order.  We must do things like simplify, stop living for self, stop complaining and becoming depressed when things don’t go our way, stop comparing and building our own personal kingdom come.

The end my not be near, but the bridge is out…let’s slow down and find out His will for our lives, our church, and then the nation will follow.

Remember Repent Return

Posted: May 4, 2011 in Uncategorized

I was thinking a lot over this past few weeks about how easy it is to get busy for God and forget why.  I know that is symptomatic of being someone who “makes a living” in the ministry, but I don’t believe that it is limited to pastors like me.  There’s this fine line between doing for God and doing because we know God’s love for us.  One is routine and dry, the other is relationally driven.

Husbands and wives know this tension.  When my wife and I were first married, we just longed to be together, look in one another’s eyes, enjoy conversation and plan for our future together.  It was all we had really!  We were just starting out and had no house and no kids.  I think back to those days with joy.  Even when things were difficult (and, ask her…there were many times like that), we worked things out together by praying and forgiving.  Although every season of our marriage has been wonderful (brownie points), it really all started when all we had was God and one another.

Maybe that’s why Jesus reminds us to return to our “first love” when He is speaking to the church of Ephesus in Revelation 2.  This was a great church that had pure doctrine and faithfulness.  They resisted the false teachings and endured hardship.  This was a church that was planted by the Apostle Paul and later pastored by Timothy.  Imagine sharing that tidbit with your neighbor when they ask you to tell them about the church you are a part of.  Yet…in spite of all the good and noble things, they were called out for walking away from what it was all about.  “You have left your first love…remember…repent…and do the things you did at first.”

When our “doing” is not about what why we do it, we need to repent.  When we are running around for Jesus and fail to connect with His love, we miss the whole point.

Martha gets a bad rap.  I mean, if you know the story she’s the one serving Jesus and the others when He comes over their home.  Meanwhile Mary is sitting at his feet soaking it in.  Back and forth, out of the kitchen and into the living area, finally Martha gets fed up with it.  “Tell her to help me?” she says to Jesus.  I would do the same thing, and you would too.  But Martha gets a bad rap because it’s not about her serving Jesus that is the issue, it’s about why she is serving.  Perhaps it’s out of duty, or because it’s necessary, or just because that’s her type A personality.  Do the things you did at first, Martha! (replace your name here).  Serving is part of the deal, but it’s a response to His love for me.

I have to keep coming back to this.  To remember, repent and return to my first love- to His love for me before I could do a thing to earn it!  When it’s all boiled down, the thing that we should be known for is this: we are people who love Jesus, and who are loved by Him.  Anything else morphs into religion.  Rules without a revelation of God’s love becomes dead religion.  I don’t want that…I want a freshness that causes me to look into His eyes again and experiences His mercy, new every morning.  Selah.