Actively Engaged

A decade and change ago, I found myself laboring away on a pair of fronts; leading a growing church seeking to find a new identity and vitality, and the looming challenge of a doctoral dissertation. Something had to live at the intersection of the two, if not for the sake of the ministry, at least for my sanity and need to multi-task.

I found that sweet spot in the oddest of places – The Gallup Organization. Yes, that Gallup. With trips to their office in D.C. and the headquarters in cold and windy Omaha, I began to ingest all the data I could from their research on church engagement. Little did I know that it would profoundly affect my philosophy of ministry and put us ahead of a coming curve in the way congregations measure and strategize for what passes for success.

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As a kid, I paid a lot of attention to the halfway markers that seemed significant to me. I forget when half-birthdays ceased being a bit thing. End of the first semester meant that, with one more of those, a year would end and I would – hopefully – be given a new designation that would make me feel infinitely older and wiser. The All-Star Game was halfway to a pennant and July 4th started the march to Christmas. You get the idea.

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FBC By-Laws

Some weeks when I sit down to pen these lines, I am directed by what I think and feel and write with great generality to all who run across my words. Last week was an example of that, and I thank you all for the gracious response to my tribute to Billy Graham. Words and word pictures cannot do such a legacy justice, but I tried and I thank you for taking time to read over my ponderings.

Other weeks, I used this forum to communicate to you things that are going on within the life of the church. Those take the shape, in their best form, of a letter from home. They are at the very least announcements of significant projects going on within FBC. This is one of those.

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Billy Graham

Hero. Model. Living Hope.

“And the King said to his servants, “Do you not know that a prince and a great man has fallen this day in Israel?” 2 Samuel 3:38

He was our hero. Our model. Living hope for every young preacher that, despite our fears and foibles, God’s declared word does not return void. As a child, our house stood still when the crusades were beamed through our just-becoming-color televisions. As a young seminarian, I spent hours in the Billy Graham room in the Southern Seminary library, just hoping that a measure of his spirit might wonder my way through the artifacts of his life and ministry. Years later I stood behind his sacred desk, a portable pulpit that accompanied him around the globe. I felt awe and perhaps again beckoned some blessing for just being there. And I was neither the first nor the last preacher to foolishly borrow his voice until I could find my own.

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Pick Something Up

Seems God has a thing about rocks. They aren’t specifically mentioned in creation, but they show up literally and figuratively most everywhere else in the Bible. When Moses needed water, he struck the most unlikely source, a stone. When Jesus was reaching for a metaphor to describe his hopes for the fisherman he called to found the church, He called him Peter, which means rock. Not surprisingly, God gets referred to as one of those rather often. To the psalmists, He is the everlasting rock, rock of strength, and the rock of our salvation. Blessed be the rock indeed. When our feet are in the miry clay, he puts them on the solid rock on where we can sing and stand. And when our souls need hiding and protecting, the cleft of the rock is where He hides us, a powerful hymn and image plucked right from the headlines of the prophet Isaiah.

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Dr. Andrew Bush

This Sunday we welcome to our worship my dear friend Dr. Andrew Bush. Andrew is a unique person with special gifts and a ministry journey unlike any other I know. For the past twenty years, he and his wife Karen have served as missionaries on the Arab West Bank. Their love and commitment to these “least of these among us” has born much fruit for the gospel and provided more stories of courage, love, and grace than one can imagine. His ministry-reach stretches from the slums of the Philippines to the Gaza Strip to the halls of academia in the States and beyond. And since the fall of 2000, I have been blessed to be a part of his life story, and he an integral part of mine.

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Our Journey with the Followers

As I have been working on our current sermon series “Followers,” it has been enlightening to me to pay attention to the relationship between a person’s personal encounter with Christ and the sacrifices made when answering the invitation “Follow Me.” Time after time, Christ engaged interested people. Sometimes he took them unaware, sneaking up on them in the middle of ordinary life. Others he engaged with in conversation surrounding their most personal pondering or deepest needs. Sometimes miracles occurred and lives were immediately and radically changed. Others were simply met with a gentle wave and a lean towards a new direction. But whatever the nature of the encounter, the climax was almost always the same. They were either going to follow or not. And it was going to cost them something – sometimes everything. And the divine invite never promised them the following would be easy, only worth it.

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I’m sitting before a white screen pondering the word and theme to build this blog around. Here it is. Transition /tranˈziSH(ə)n/ – “a process or period of changing from one condition or state of being to another.” Sunday marks one of those for our church. And for our dear friends Phil and Carol Lilly.

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Our December Finish

There are rare occasions when the title and the theme of my blog go hand in hand. Today is one of them. As we moved towards the end of the year, we all were encouraged to come on strong in our giving to the Lord’s work through FBC. I am happy to report that our December finish was the strongest in years. That was much appreciated, and much needed as we carry forth the ministry God has called us to at FBC.

I am especially happy to report that our contributions to mission ministry beyond these walls were stronger than it has been in many years. In the weeks ahead, we will highlight the lives that have been changed and the difference made by our focus beyond ourselves. I do believe that God takes notice of these things, blesses us, and presents us with more opportunities to extend the gospel and the kingdom. As a church family, we should be proud of and increasingly committed to funding and participating in such worthy ministries.

I do want you to know as we move ahead, the need to fully fund the ministry we envision here will only grow. And it should. I would hate to think that we would have so little vision, so little boldness and commitment that we would be limited by what feels easily within our capacity. In fact, that is the heart of the matter. No ministry whose scope is determined by what a church is easily willing and capable of doing will approach that to which God designs. And where God provides, God provides. And most often, he uses his people to do it.

In this coming year, I am increasingly committed to boldly setting forth the directions that God would have us go and the mountains he would have us climb. I believe with all my heart that God has a special mission in mind for this church in this place and this time. But it is not a mission we will stumble into or realize on our own. With God’s direction and the aggressive faithfulness of his people, his will will be done. I believe that. And it will take far more than money to bring it about, but it will not happen without significantly more financial resources than we have now. That’s just the truth. But so too, is it true, that with increased success, excitement over wins great and small, changed lives and marked progress, God’s people are more than apt to step up and fulfill our God-sized challenge. I believe it because I believe in God and the work he has specifically called us to. And I believe in my people. Looking forward to the journey ahead, all it will bring, and all it will demand.

Following Christmas

There’s a unique song on Kyle Matthews’ Christmas album. I think it is the last song on there – if not, it should have been – and behind some killer piano licks, he talks about the days following Christmas. He reckons, as do I, that the days following Christmas are days meant for following Christ. We have spent a month or better getting to and from Bethlehem. Now what? In a word – FOLLOW.

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