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June 2011 entries

"Next!"

First of all, before I proceed, I want you to know I am not sending out personalized invitations to my pity party. I've had my share of those and they never really end well. I do want to give you a little insight into a pastor's world.

I just completed Wednesday Bible study notes to teach tomorrow evening. Now I am preparing to close my door to the outside world and study for Sunday. Typically, this is about a 10 to 12 hour total effort from reading the Scripture, mind dump (writing everything I can think of about the subject on piece of paper, mind map (organizing the mind dump into a logical sequence),  sending first draft off to an assistant, asking myself the eternal question "so what?" about what I have written, finalizing the notes before I go over them with the two campus pastors in case of emergency. All of that is before I even get to the platform on Sunday to deliver the message to the people. (You know those who just copy their sermons from a book or from the internet may be on to something after all.)

I get a copy of the order of worship about Tuesday from the worship leader's assistant. It is revised a few times before Sunday. I get a weekly report on financial contributions so that I may know whether to challenge or compliment the congregation as to their willingness to cooperate financially in the work of the kingdom on Sunday. 

It's summer, so I am also concerned with the budget for our next fiscal year. It begins September 1 so we have to get it done over the summer months so we may present it to the church in August. It is never easy. Even in the best of years there is not enough money to do all the Lord has laid on my heart. It's even harder this year in that I had to tell the staff I could not recommend an increase in their salaries this 2011 - 2012. I also secretly worry about it's presentation. While we haven't had an ugly ministry meeting in years when we vote to approve the budget, it is always in the back of my mind.

In between studying and preparing for this weeks sermon, I am planning for the next series. I am always reading ahead. I have three file folders going right now with thoughts and resources for my next three series. In between all of this I am praying with people who are sick, abused, in a spiritual battle, in marital distress, and in many cases all of the above.       

So what did you notice was missing? Worship! Even Sunday's when most of Dallas Bay is enjoying a great time of worship I am thinking about how the message will be received that morning. Or, if the baptistmal candidates showed up. Or, if the sound system is going to act up again. Often the morning quickly passes by and instead of being refreshed I am beat knowing it all begins again Monday morning.

As I was reading in Leviticus this week, I began to understand the text a little better. I began to put myself in the place of the priest standing at the entrance to the temple. There are several chapters dedicated to descibing how Israelites were to bring their offerings to the Lord. For the first time I looked at the scene from the perspective of the temple priests. Each pilgrim came forward to present their offering for the forgiveness of their sins, or to thank God for a good crop, or to dedicate a newborn member of the family. This was deeply spiritual experience for each one of them. But all the priests could see is people lined up as far as the eye could see tethered to lambs, goats, bulls, or carrying pigeons or doves in baskets. Each one would be handed to them to have it's head wrenched from it's body or the neck cut by a sacred knife. The blood would have to be appropriately drained and offered on the altar according to the Levitical law. While the one bringing the sacrifice to the priest would walk away praising God, I can imagine the lips of the bloody and tired priest could only utter, "Next!"

I love what I do and consider myself a fortunate man. But occasionally I would like to be that person who walks up to the priest with offering in hand and leaves praising God, instead of always saying, Next!"  Until then I hang on to this promise.

Revelation 14:13 (NKJV)
13 Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, "Write: 'Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.' " "Yes," says the Spirit, "that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them."

Talk to you soon. I've got to close my door now and get started on Sunday' message.

 

    


Christian Culture or Real Faith

Forgive me for not sharing my thoughts in a couple of weeks but I have been predisposed. I spent last week at our middle school beach retreat and had a blast. While 90% of my time was spent with other helpers in the kitchen preparing food for the youngens', the remainder of my days were spent getting to know the kids better. In a church such as ours I don't get to spend much time with them. It must have gone ok because I have been asked to be friends with several of them on Facebook in the last couple of days. How cool is that? Middle schoolers wanting to be friends with their pastor!

But that's the reason I haven't written recently, not the reason I am writing today. I feel compelled to express my thoughts today on what I consider the second most important task I have as pastor. That would be casting our vision. The most important, is of course, teaching the Word. Earlier today I had someone stop by my office to ask a simple question that was bugging her. "How can people who claim to be Christians be so mean?" Not being from the South, I tried to explain the difference between real faith in Christ and Christian culture. Real faith transforms a life from the inside out. The Christian culture masks the real content of a person's heart in a deluge of Christian vocabulary and activities. True faith in Christ treats people as God's highest creation with worth and purpose. The Christian culture, particularly in our part of the country, finds it easier to put others down than take a serious look at ones self. Real faith in Christ actually directs a persons words and actions. Cultural Chritianity is often totally divorced from a person's actions. It is enough to just "look good" rather than "be good."      

The conversation gave me a reason to relate my philosophy of ministry. You see 21 years ago when I became Dallas Bay's first pastor I decided to do things differently. Because I had grown up in and around the Christian culture of the South I understood it's faults. I understood that many people lived one way on Sunday and a completely different way the other days of the week. That was acceptable. It was a given. (Please note I said this was many people, not everyone. There have always been strong faithful followers of Christ even in the midst of our Chritian culture.) I had seen how the preacher was held to a higher standard of conduct than anyone else in the community. His job was to live above reproach and then admonish his congregation to live as pure as he said he did. The church would thank him after the service for stepping on their toes. They would secretly would wish they could achieve the high moral standards as the pastor, but doubted it would ever become a reality in their lives. Sadly, if the pastor were to be totally transparent about his own struggles, he would lose his job and the respect of the Christian culture where he served. Not necessarily in that order. The church would just call another pastor and continue to play parts in their comfortable and assigned roles.

Unfortunately, a lot of people came to the church to find real answers. Many of them came from outside the Christian culture. They were not content to play games. They understood they were broken and were looking for help. They did not live under the pretense that a weekly Sunday service would cure what ailed them. The were looking for a deeper walk with God that was 24/7. Where people could talk about their faults and their sins without being judged. Where transparency was more important than hypocrisy. They had even looked for God once or twice before, but were told by members of the culture that He could only be found Sunday morning at a designated place and at a designated time. Often times they went their to find that they were judged by their thoughts and their appearance. Mostly they found people who wanted them to conform to their culture, rather than be transformed into the image of God.

So, as I told this person, I set out at Dallas Bay to elevate a real relationship with Christ above a Christian culture. A place where people could talk openly about their struggles and not have to pretend to be better than they are. We bucked tradition for and opted for substance. A place where it is important to be the same person on Monday as you were on Sunday. And it's not ok to be mean to people.  A real and daily relationship with Christ will not allow you to be.

Well, I think I may have told her more than she was expecting to hear with her question. But it  made me revisit our vision and why it is so important to the ministry of Dallas Bay. I don't want us to ever slip into the mentallity of so many others where we just hide our faults and pretend. It seems God has blessed us for being who we are. I'm glad and thankful for that!