Monday, January 31, 2011

Grace Values 1, 2, 3

As we have embarked on launching Grace Harborcreek - one of the exercises that has been very valuable for our leaders is re-clarifying our values as a church. These are the things that define us, that carry our DNA, that ensure that whether you walk into Grace McKean, Grace Harborcreek, or any of our future campuses that you will recognize the church as distinctly Grace. In my State of the Church sermon I talked through these 9 values and will briefly outline them in this 3 part series of blog posts.  

1. We worship and pray to a big God who has big plans.
  •  Worship is not just music, it's the full trajectory of our lives.  
  •  In corporate worship at Grace our goal is to ascribe greatness to God. Our hope is to create an environment where people can connect with God in all His glory.
  •  The book of Acts provides a great study of the church at prayer- their prayer was defined by a sense of desperation for God to show up.  
  •  God's people must pray bold prayers because God has bold plans for us. 

2. We teach the Bible - even the tough parts.
  • Our commitment at Grace is to teach Bible.  We have a high view of the Scriptures and won’t pull punches or water it down when we teach it. 
  • We're also committed that the scriptures are not only taught by the Pastors but from one to another within the church.  
  • Those who are more mature should be instructing the next generation in the ways of faith.

3. We grow in our faith. There's always a spiritual next step.

  • There is an expectation throughout the scriptures that true followers of Christ will be making consistent spiritual progress. The theological term for this is progressive sanctification.  
  • We recognize that every faith journey is different and there is no such thing as assembly-line spirituality. God is a hand-crafter, not a mass-producer.
  • But there is something common common to all Christ-followers no matter how new or how mature, there is always a next step toward Christ-likeness.
  • Our commitment at Grace is to provide spiritual coaches to help at every step as people pursue spiritual maturity.  We've identified some of the common characteristics of growing disciples as 
    • L   ive in community
    • I   nvest in others
    • V  olunteer your time
    • E  quip yourself

You can find values 4, 5, 6 here and 7, 8, 9 here

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Game Day Thoughts

Sunday is Game Day.  Not because of the NFL or NBA or any other sports. But as a Pastor, it's the day the church convenes for worship.  It's the day our staff plans for all week.  It's the day our teams at Grace are on high alert and in full-service mode.  It's game day. Here are a few of my highlights from today:

  1. Grace Harborcreek Worship Team- Whoa ... I'm not sure what to say about this. I was so blown away by the quality and presence of this team of musicians. This is the team that will lead worship at our brand new campus in Harborcreek launching this Easter. This was their first time playing together, they practiced for about 90 minutes on Saturday, and then just blew the roof off the place this morning. Each member was in their element.  It was like a microcosm of the whole church - everyone playing their part, fulfilling their role.  It was a beautiful picture.  I was near tears several times.  It was also a great reminder that when we step out and take risks as a church, that people will step up to the plate in roles of leadership.  God brought the perfect people to this team. Even people who had been at Grace for a long time and never been involved in our music ministry. Suddenly this new initiative compelled them to get involved.  I'm excited to see more of that as we move forward. You can follow progress with Grace Harborcreek and stay up to date on all our prayer needs at the Facebook page here.  (You can also see a clip of today's worship team in action). 
  2. Open Sourced Service - I was really happy with our grand experiment to open source our services. I was so burdened this past summer with how to involve more people in our worship gatherings. So we opened it up - asked people to submit life stories, home made videos for calls to worship, offering moments, invited the people of Grace to give feedback on which songs to sing and some input on my sermon content. I loved the involvement - I loved the variety - I loved the energy from the guys at Mercyhurst College who called us to worship, the honesty of Nikki as she shared about a strained relationship with her mom, the faith of David who talked about God's faithfulness after his recent decision to be generous, Matthew's heart-felt prayer for me at the beginning of my sermon. I loved what God did in our midst through the people of Grace. 
  3. Commons Service - If you don't know - we have 2 services happening at 9:15 every Sunday. Our service in the Commons worships in a more traditional style than our Worship Center venue.  They typically receive the sermon by video on the big screen in there.  There are some amazing Godly people who worship with us there.  I'm excited for Pastor Al to bring ongoing leadership to that congregation as we move forward. We had some special guests, the FOCUS Quartet, leading worship this morning.  It was fun to peek in and see nearly 100 people worshiping God in that room.  God has big plans for our Commons Service. 
  4. State of the Church - On the week of our nation's State of the Union Address - I thought I would give a State of the Church Address.  To be honest it was an uphill battle all week in preparation.  I couldn't tape on Wednesday as I normally do because it was coming so slow. We postponed taping until Friday.  When I went in to my computer on Thursday afternoon at 4:30 to put the finishing touches on it - I discovered that all my work (nearly 20 hours) was gone - totally deleted.   I won't bore you with the details, but after an hour on the phone with our I.T. guru it became apparent that it was totally un-recoverable.  So on Friday morning I started from scratch, and worked until Saturday night at 6:30 when I taped the sermon for the Commons. Needless to say I took about a 2 hour nap this afternoon!  Anyway- it was a blast to unveil our 9 values at Grace as we head into being a multi-site church. Although I had a few difficult things to talk about, as usual, the people at Grace were gracious in receiving the word, and motivated to action.  The texts and emails are rolling in already from people who are ready to step up.  I love our church and can't wait for the next chapter together.  If you're interested you can check out the sermon here (you can also find some resources for personal study and for group study).  I will also post a 3 part blog series this week covering our 9 values. 
On to a new week - I'm ready for it!

If you were at Grace this weekend - what were some of your highlights?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Some thoughts on envy

This past weekend I spoke on envy. Envy is an interesting sin because it's sneaky.  People are often embarrassed to admit or acknowledge it because it feels a little Jr. High-ish. An overly simplified definition of envy is 'desire mixed with resentment.' Somebody close to you has experienced an advantage or benefit in life that you desire, and you also resent that they are enjoying it and you aren't.  That's envy.  It usually expresses itself in one of the following areas: money, possessions, position, and appearance. The main text I used was James 3:13-18.  Here are a few of the main points. 

1.  Envy is the result of a fallen heart and mind (3:13-15)

  • James places envy squarely in the category of "earthly wisdom" 
  •  It proves to be a heart issue because it can't be solved in the external ways that people usually attempt. It isn't solved simply by getting more.  If suddenly you had more, your envy would just shift to somebody else.  There are always a bigger fish. It is also not solved by blaming or distancing ourselves from the people we are envious of.  The problem isn't them - it's us - it's a heart that hasn't been fully changed by God.
  • It is also an issue of the mind.  In order to conquer envy -our minds need to be renewed and transformed (see Romans 12:1-2)
  • Dr. Archibald Hart says “We cannot control our emotions directly, but we can influence how we are FEELING by changing our THOUGHTS.”

2.  With envy comes chaos (3:16)
  •  Envy will never produce harmony or love because it’s proud, self-seeking, self-serving, self-indulgent.  It destroys intimacy, it destroys love, it destroys unity, it destroys fellowship, it brings discord, it brings absolute chaos.
  •  It brings personal chaos - things like emotional restlessness, depression, consumerism and debt, prayerlessness. 
  •  It also brings relational chaos - it causes a distancing and pulling away from others, gossip and slander, and secretly rejoicing when the other person fails.
  •   Envy is actually the sin that got Jesus killed (Matthew 27:18). It causes people to do all sorts of crazy things. 

3.  The antidote to envy is Peace (3:17-18)
  •  Peace with God - Really, you're not upset with the person you're envious of - you're upset with God. At its heart envy says "God owes me."  When you have the guts to get on your knees and say, “God I think you ripped me off,” is when you will begin the process of getting envy under control.  
  •  Peace with others - when James uses the word 'peace' in this passage - he is not talking about 'inner tranquility' like we think of peace.  He is talking about a  socially oriented drive that sought and valued harmonious living. More than just being happy with what they have, James is calling his readers to obsess about something larger and more noble than their neighbor’s property, or status, or spouse. Then there will be no room left in our hearts for envy.
I'm looking forward to another great weekend at Grace as Pastor Al closes out our series on "FEAR"

Monday, January 17, 2011

Before MLK got to the "I have a dream" part...

I love words. And I love it when people use them with skill and passion. Martin Luther King Junior was a genius when it came to the words that he used to convince a nation that the time had come to change our perspective on the issue of segregation in this country. If you haven't read the speech in a while, I would encourage you to take a few moments and read the full text of his "I have a dream" speech here or you can watch the full 17 minute video here. The last half of the speech contains the most famous content.  But the beginning is equally as brilliant.  I've included below a few of my favorite sections from the lesser-known first half of the speech.

  • We refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us, upon demand, the riches of freedom and the security of justice.
  • Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.
  • In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.
I pray that we will continue to make progress in the areas of justice and racial reconciliation in America. I'm so grateful for the work of Dr. Martin Luther King and the change that his words and his example enacted. 

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Game Day Thoughts

Sunday is Game Day.  Not because of the NFL or NBA or any other sports. But as a Pastor, it's the day the church convenes for worship.  It's the day our staff plans for all week.  It's the day our teams at Grace are on high alert and in full-service mode.  It's game day. Here are a few of my highlights from today:
  1. One of those "God is at work" moments - It doesn't happen all the time.  In fact I would say there have only been about a dozen moments in the last 15 years of my ministry like today. About 1/2 way through the sermon at 11:00 I just had the sense that God was at work in the room. Eyes and hearts were locked in and there was a sense that people were doing business with God and He was pressing them forward. It's very humbling to be in that moment. People responded with abandon at the end of the service. I could sense that people were ready to go earlier in the service when Brian and his team led us through The Stand.  It continued on through to the end. 
  2. Membership - it's always awesome to receive new folks into membership.  We have a powerhouse group coming in this time.  I'm always on the edge of my seat to see how God will use the new folks that join our church.  God is an expert at making churches and He knows just who we need right now. Congrats to those of you who joined our community today!
  3. Offering moment by Danielle - This probably seems like a weird one - but one of my close friends and colleagues, Danielle, hosted our service today.  She did an amazing job introducing the offering time. She explained how the offering isn't like membership dues, and it's not a tax, and it's not an insurance policy to get something that we want from God.  We don't give so that we can receive - but we give because we have already received. Danielle accepted Jesus when she was a high school student in my youth group. I have had a front row seat to watch her grow and thrive over the years.  Now she is on staff at Grace and it was so cool to watch her challenge and teach the church today during that time. Loved it!
I will post a recap of the sermon and some other stuff later this week.  If you were at Grace this weekend - what were some of your highlights?

Friday, January 14, 2011

A parenting conundrum

So take this 'totally hypothetical situation' and tell me what you would do.  Let's pretend that your 13 year old son came home from ski club last night in 13 degree weather.  And this same son told you that when they had arrived at the slopes earlier in the evening he found out his friend had forgotten a stocking cap, so he let his friend have his while he went without one for 4 hours of skiing.  Would you:

  1. Praise him for seeing a friend in need and meeting that need. 
  2. Punish him for being an idiot.
  3. Mumble something under your breath in total confusion at the moral dilemma and kiss him goodnight. 
For the record, I did #3.  I'm a horrible father. 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Simple questions for debriefing an event

Today our staff will gather.  It's our first meeting since Christmas and we'll be doing some evaluating of our Christmas services. We have used these simple questions to debrief events for a few years. They seem to allow us to get the necessary stuff on the table without getting too far off track. 
  1. What went right?
  2. What went wrong?
  3. What was missing?
  4. What was confusing?
Ok - I know that was four things and I usually do things in three... we'll all survive!  I wish I could give credit here because these questions came from someone I talked to somewhere (I didn't come up with them myself) - but I have no idea who!  If it was you, feel free to claim them.

Do you have any good debriefing questions that have worked well in your organization?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Counterfeit Forgiveness

We talked about anger and forgiveness this past week at Grace. I didn't have time to get into some material that I would love to have dealt with.  One of the topics I left out was the temptation of counterfeit forgiveness. That is, the stuff that feels like forgiveness but is only a cheap imitation.  My thanks to Dr. Ralph Wilson for this excellent material. 

Counterfeit 1: Excusing

Forgiveness is the opposite of excusing. It reaches beyond excusing. As CS Lewis says, Forgiveness says, “Yes, you have done this thing, but I accept your apology; I will never hold it against you and everything between us two will be exactly as it was before.” But excusing says, “I see that you couldn’t help it or didn’t mean it; you weren’t really to blame.” If one was not really to blame then there is nothing to forgive. In that sense forgiveness and excusing are almost opposites. Of course there may be a mixture of the two. Part of what at first seemed to be the sins turns out to be really nobody’s fault and is excused; the bit that is left over is forgiven. If you had a perfect excuse, you would not need forgiveness; if the whole of your actions needs forgiveness, then there was no excuse for it.

Counterfeit 2: Minimizing the Hurt

If our primary reaction when we're harmed by another is to tell ourselves feebly, It really didn't hurt that much, there are times it just doesn't wash. Unless we see the difference between acting as if the injury is minor, and pardoning one who has hurt us deeply, we will eventually find ourselves unwilling to "forgive."

Counterfeit 3: Blind Trust

Forgiving isn't the same as trusting.  Forgiveness is given, but trust is earned. To someone faced with a person who perpetually breaks his promise, C.S. Lewis prescribes forgiveness: "This doesn't mean you must necessarily believe his next promise. It does mean that you must make every effort to kill every trace of resentment in your own heart--every wish to humiliate or hurt him or to pay him out."  But to trust again, well now that may take some time.

What are some other counterfeit forms of forgiveness?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Anger and Forgiveness: Sermon Recap

I spoke on Anger and Forgiveness this week at Grace.  The over-arching question of the morning was Do you control your anger or does your anger control you? Anger can be good – it can even be godly, but it can also be very destructive.  We looked at Ephesians 4:26-32 to gain some perspective and explored 3 contrasts to help with a biblical understanding of anger. 

1.     Righteous vs. Unrighteous Anger

  • Ask yourself: what kinds of things make me angry?
  • Unrighteous anger = silly things like getting mad about sports and grocery store lines and self-centered things like jealousy and revenge. 
  • Righteous anger = deep-seated, determined and settled conviction –it is anger when God’s name is being scarred
  • Takeaway: your circumstances don’t produce anger, your heart does.  Let God change your heart. As our hearts are changed - so too will be the kinds of things that make us angry. 
2.      Responding in Anger vs. Reacting in Anger 

  • Ask yourself: how does my anger express itself?
  • Anger is an emotion, not a behavior. We may not choose the emotion, but we get to decide on our behavior.  An initial feeling of anger may rise, but we are not obligated to respond in an reactionary way.
  • If you find yourself reacting with rage or bitterness or slander - it's a warning sign that something unhealthy is going on in your heart. 
  • We are like God when we’re "slow" to anger. 
  • Takeaway:  Slow down your anger - create some space- and then remove the unhealthy behavior and replace it with healthy actions.  If you get physical in your anger then find a positive physical alternative - if you are verbal, find an outlet for verbal positivity.

3.      Forgiveness vs. Un-forgiveness

  • Ask yourself: What do I do with my anger?
  •  Forgiveness is the antidote to anger - it is the key to relational healing  even when, and maybe especially when, other person doesn't deserve it at all.
  • Forgiveness is the way Jesus. When we don’t forgive we are out of step with our leader.
  • When we hold on to anger it is like keeping an open account that says "you owe me." Forgiveness says "I’m deciding that you don’t owe me anymore."  Forgiveness closes the account and breaks the power of anger.  
  • Walking in un-forgiveness is lethal. It's like taking poison and expecting the other guy to die.
  • Takeaway:  Don’t carry anger for another season...cancel the debt.  Go directly to the person - make a phone call, send and email, set up a time to get together.  It's time. 

Dangerous questions I asked my kids last week

  • Did you kiss a girl this week?
  • What do I do as a dad that you can't stand?
  • What do you think mommy and I are thinking when we look at each other?
    What are some questions that you ask your kids to help you stay engaged in their lives and/or to keep you growing and improving as a parent?

    Sunday, January 09, 2011

    Game Day Thoughts

    Sunday is Game Day.  Not because of the NFL or NBA or any other sports. But as a Pastor, it's the day the church convenes for worship.  It's the day our staff plans for all week.  It's the day our teams at Grace are on high alert and in full-service mode.  It's game day. Here are a few of my highlights from today:

    1. Open Sourced Service - we let the cat out of the bag about our open sourced service on January 30. I'm really excited - I'm not aware of another church like ours trying it. In recent months, I've been really convicted about the need for the people of Grace to participate more in our corporate worship experience and to take 1 Cor. 14:26 seriously. So we're going to try it! If there is a passage of scripture that has been meaningful to you that you'd like to share, maybe a story of something that God has been up to in your life, even an encouragement for the church before the offering time we'd love to hear it.  You also have the chance to give some feedback for my sermon and to help select the songs we do that day.  Check it out.
    2. Pre-Marriage Class -I love each time we launch a new pre-marriage class. Nearly a dozen couples coming together for an 8 week experience of learning and growing together in preparation for a life of marriage.  It's always so awkward the first week - it's funny.  Soon they will be talking and laughing and learning together with Scott and Miriam at the helm. I heard the other classes launched well this morning too.  It's not too late to get in on one of them that's of interest...
    3. Second date - I'm so proud of this team that helps people connect at Grace each month - I peeked in on them after 11:00 and it is such a blast to see vibrant and meaningful conversations going on in an effort to help newer people to find their way into the community at Grace.  The Second Date team is only about a year old and has launched this brand new ministry.  They have successfully made changes and adjustments as needed to make Second Date a very meaningful experience for people. 
    I love my church!  Week 2 of this series on Relational Healing was very cool as we explored Anger and Forgiveness.  I'll post sometime this week on a little sermon recap and some additional material that I didn't have time for today.  

    If you attended church this weekend (even if you weren't at Grace) What was a highlight for you?

    Thursday, January 06, 2011

    Haven't heard from God in a while? ... try this

    Sometimes we need conversation starters with God. Like a divine ice-breaker. Often our prayers are very one-sided with us asking for a bunch of stuff and then getting mad at God when He doesn't give it all to us. I have enjoyed some incredible times of "listening prayer" armed with only these three questions, 30 minutes of silence, and a pen and notebook.  Ask the question and then listen for what He says, listen to how He prompts you, write everything down and sort through it later.
    1. What is the next step in developing my character?
    2. What is the next step in my family?
    3. What is the next step in my personal ministry?
    Do you have any questions that help you listen to God?

    Wednesday, January 05, 2011

    Questions small group leaders should be asking

    If you lead a small group at your church, here are a few questions that you should ask on a regular basis:

    1. What are the various needs within our group and how can we collectively meet those needs?
    2. What needs to be encouraged and what needs to be confronted within our group?
    3. Where does the Word of God need to be brought to bear?

    Tuesday, January 04, 2011

    How can you Love your Enemy?

    I think one of Jesus' most difficult commands is to love your enemy. Do you have a family member, a co-worker, an acquaintance who you can't stand? They are the person who opposes you, or annoys you, or thinks they're better than you, or who has hurt you deeply. Here are a few practical suggestions to begin the work of forgiving them... it may even lead to loving them.

    1. Determine what you think they owe you and then cancel the debt - Decide what it was that they took from you. What do you believe they owe you? Be honest, there is probably nothing they could do to make it right. The work of love and forgiveness is up to you. So, make a list...then cancel the debt, decide to forgive. Take list and burn it – bury it. Determine that he/she doesn't owe you anymore.
    2. Speak kindly to them and about them - I heard one time that when it comes to conflicts that rage like fires, each of us carries both a bucket of gasoline and a bucket of water. We get to choose which bucket we'll use. Our words can ignite the flames of anger or they can begin resolution. David, when he spoke about Saul (who was trying to kill him), was overly gracious with his words.
    3. When the opportunity presents itself to take them down ... don’t. There will come a time, in many cases, when the person who hates you most, the person who has hurt you, gossiped about you, spread lies about you... there will come a time when you will have an opportunity to take them down - to deliver the kill shot to their reputation. Don’t do it. That’s the time you must be a blessing.

    This is the meaning of Christian love.

    Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For, "Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech." 1 Peter 3:9-10

    Thanks to John Ortberg for his inspiration for this post. 

    Sunday, January 02, 2011

    Why I go to my own Church when I'm on Vacation

    I attended church at Grace this past weekend. This is not earth-shattering news since I'm the Senior Pastor there. What makes this time different though, is that I was on vacation. Many Pastors use their vacation time to visit other churches. I do this on occasion too. There are tremendous advantages to attending other churches while on vacation. You can relax, not feel the crunch of people issues and worship details, you can scout out what other churches do well and bring some of those ideas back to your own church (and if you attend another church locally, you can also say hello to folks who have left your church to attend that church - which is always an interesting encounter!) But when I'm in town I love going to Grace as a normal attendee because...
    1. Community -I'm not just the 'hired help' at Grace, but I'm part of the covenant community there. I absolutely love my church and I miss it when I'm not there. I miss the people, the corporate worship, the preaching. When attending Grace while on vacation, I get to sit out in the seats in a different section of the worship center, and worship alongside members of my church family. (I almost scared the life out of one guy who came in late and scooted in next to me without realizing it- you would have thought he saw a ghost when he finally looked over and saw it was me).
    2. Family - I love going to Grace with Kim and our kids while on vacation. It demonstrates to them the value of covenant community. But more practically, usually I have to leave early to get to church, so I'm not part of the pre-church routine with Kim. But on vacation weeks I can go into their rooms and wake them up, make them pancakes, help get them ready, drop them off at the front door while I park the car, etc. I know many people take these moments for granted... but not pastors. (I also found out the hard way that it's not acceptable to offer all the kids gum in the car on the way to church... it's the little things!)
    3. Team Support - I love to come to Grace and support our teams while on vacation. It allows me to experience the friendliness of the ushers when we walk in and the hospitality in our children's ministry. I get to fully participate in worship (and sing especially loud) without having to think about what's coming next, and I get to sit under the teaching of some of our great pastors. It's a different perspective and vantage point by which to experience the life and character of our church.
    I would highly recommend that all pastors carve out at least one or two weekends a year where you use your vacation to attend your own church.