There is a huge elephant in the room at ebc right now. It’s an imposing gray color with long, white tusks protruding from both sides of it’s enormous trunk like civil war cannons. Sometimes the elephant moves and when it does everything shakes. It’s instinctive to grab on to anything that feels stable to make us feel more comfortable, to help us feel at ease. Occasionally the elephant snorts and swings its massive head and when it does we just want it to go away. The last thing we want to deal with is the mess of this imposing pachyderm with its leather-like skin, sometimes pungent odor and ever present uncertainty.
But, alas the elephant is here. As a family we stand gloriously at the precipice of a future filled with more fruit for the glory of God than we’ve dreamed possible. But between the familiarity of today and the promise of tomorrow is this big stinking elephant. We see it everywhere we look and sometimes all we can see is the big gray blob.
Transition, change, improvement always brings with it a big ugly elephant that plants itself right in the middle of the room. Everybody has to walk around it and deal with it standing there.
But you can control the elephant. You can’t control that its there, but you can control your response to it. You can choose to see past the elephant and focus on what is just behind it. Do you see what is behind this big elephant at ebc right now? Just beyond that big thing is a church reaching even more people up and down the Susquehanna Valley. It’s a church that has solved its facility issues and has the capacity to reach two to three times as many people as its reaching today. It’s a church that is reaching out to children and students and has the capability to meet them where they are and help them meet Jesus. It’s a church that has even more stories of marriages healed, addictions defeated, new life received. It’s a church planting new churches in under served areas around north east and central Pennsylvania. One thing ebc has done a lot of in the past 13 years is deal with the elephant in the room. This one is nothing special. We know how to do this, we’ve done it before and this time will be no different.
The mission is too important to let an elephant stand between us and more aggressive pursuit of those who most need new life. The best is yet to come. I know that ebc is going to thrive, just as it has in the past, for the glory of God and joy of his people. And, I’m grateful that you’ll be a part this great journey.
Here is my encouragement to you from God’s Word:
Ezra 10:4: Rise up; this matter is in your hands. We will support you, so take courage and do it.
I can’t wait to start preaching again this weekend. Our new series is called “Habits of Happiness” and it will take us through a really cool letter Paul wrote to some friends in a major city called Philippi. We usually do one or two book studies each year and I had decided several months ago that this fall we’d walk through Philippians. Then my circumstances changed. I had been promising Bren for some time that the year I turned 50 I would follow up on some neglected medical stuff. I’m not much for bothering doctors. I figure they have important stuff to do and my little aches and pains weren’t all that important. Well, as it turned out there were four things that needed surgical attention in my abdomen. So I spent this summer having blood work, and tests, and more tests, and sitting in doctors offices. Finally a few days in the hospital put me on the road to a new me. It wasn’t how I envisioned my summer and I didn’t always choose a good attitude about it all. Bren tells me I’m not a very good patient.
However, because I knew I would be preaching through Philippians this fall I spent a lot of time just reading through that letter. The more I understood the circumstances from which Paul was writing (he’s in prison, among other things) and the attitude with which he wrote, the more impressed I became with how he chose to be happy in spite of his circumstances. So I started looking for the clues to Paul’s incredible ability to choose to be happy no matter what. Paul’s faith was so transformational, his attitudes were so shaped by his identity and position in Christ that he developed a sturdy and unshakable attitude that enabled him to thrive no matter what was happening around him.
I already have the first couple talks written and I can’t wait to get to them this weekend. I think God is going to do some great things in the next nine weeks as we walk through Philippians from the perspective of learning from Paul about how to be happy. I’m certain this series will encourage you if you know Jesus. If you don’t know Jesus yet this series will help you understand some of the key differences between walking alone and walking with Him.
I hope you’ll invite your friends because I’m praying that God is going to use this series to reach a lot of people.
Thanks for the honor of being your pastor, see you this weekend!
I can’t wait to get back with our ebc family this weekend. I’ve been working part time for the last few weeks and I’m healing wonderfully! Thanks so much for your prayers, for the cards and notes!
I’m really excited about the “Habits of Happiness” series that launches next weekend. It’s a verse by verse walk through a very personal letter written by Paul to a church he planted. I hope you’ll invite someone to join you as we learn how to develop habits that create happiness!
Now, I have a favor to ask of you. A request, if you will. Most everybody knows ebc is working through some options to position our church to continue to reach people in a vibrant way for many years to come. In a few weeks the elders have to make a decision between three options that have been laid out in the “Living Beyond Ourselves” series. The first option is to retool and reorganize from the inside out. The second option is to develop a strategic partnership with another church and the third option is to merge with another church. Before making a decision the elders are meeting with everyone that’d like to meet with them to hear advice and answer questions. Over the next two weekends you can chat with them after the Saturday evening gatherings, or during the 9:30 or 11:00 gatherings on Sunday. Special meetings have been set up with each ministry department to meet with leaders and volunteers. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to let the elders know your perspective. And by all means ask any questions you have.
But, I want you to understand that this is the only the beginning of the communication. After the elders make a decision a whole new round of opportunities will take place to answer questions and hear feedback. Ultimately, even though our bylaws don’t require it, we’ll be giving the whole family an opportunity to affirm the decision recommended by the elders. If you haven’t seen the two talks that are a part of “Living Beyond Ourselves” please go to our web site and catch up. We want you to be a part of every step we take.
This is a great time to be a part of ebc! We are one of the 100 fastest growing churches in the U. S. and God has placed at a perfect place to stoke the fire to reach the whole Susquehanna Valley! Our best days are yet ahead and God has placed you here at a crucial point in our history.
I love our church, thanks for the honor of being your pastor.
I turned 50 on Sunday. I’ve never thought much about birthdays but this one felt a bit different. Don’t get me wrong, it was fun. I spent Sunday morning preaching and then when I got home Bren had black balloons around the house and she had put about 100 sticky notes all around the house celebrating things about me. That was awesome, probably the best birthday present ever. Fifty. People older than me tell me I’m middle aged and those younger tell me I’m officially old. Whether I’m middle aged or or old I know that I want my next 20 years to be more productive than the last 20 years.
I’ve not done a very good job of taking care of myself. While I have always exercised quite a bit I’ve never really eaten well and until this summer I hadn’t officially been to a doctor since the 90′s. I promised Bren and myself that when I turned fifty I’d get things checked and make sure I’m on track. I also promised I’d do whatever it took to learn to have a more functional relationship with food. I’ve always been a bigger guy, but the last decade brought with it forty pounds! So, I visited a doctor friend and we talked about my history and various symptoms that I’d been ignoring. I also visited a counselor and a nutritionist to start the journey of changing my relationship with food. A few tests later I was on high blood pressure medication and in line for a couple surgical procedures that are going to change my lifestyle moving forward. My gall bladder is coming out, for a couple reasons I’m having a gastrectomy (part of my stomach is being removed) and a couple hernias need to be repaired. Basically, next week, I’ll be getting my oil changed so I’m good to go for another 20 years, hopefully, in high gear.
I share this here so our whole family can have the same information. It’s been funny. As word got out that I was having some testing done I learned from different folks that I had some kind of liver disease, others told me my problem was my kidneys and someone even had me dying (which, I guess I am). None of my “issues” are serious and I’ll be up and running like new in a couple weeks or less.
I’m all in at ebc for the next phase our mission. I’m getting tuned up to run hard, and I’m more excited than I’ve ever been to walk by your side as we pursue this mission for God’s glory and our joy.
Thank you for your ongoing grace as I serve as your pastor. I’m the luckiest guy I know!
ebc is a gift. It is a trophy of God’s grace. That means that we don’t deserve to be the growing, vibrant church family that we are, but God chose to make it happen for his glory.
As a leader, working with the elders, it’s my job to constantly look toward the future and ask the question “What do we need to do now so we’re ready for what will happen down the road?” All of our easy growth and impact has happened. Our building is serving far more people than it was designed to serve. Our staff is doing an incredible job serving our family through systems that were designed for far fewer people. For well over a year the elders have been praying through our options as a family for our next steps. One key event that I now see as hinge point in our discussions happened through a mentor that God provided for our elders. His name is Bernie May Jr and he is a missionary kid who recently retired as a Vice President of State Farm Insurance Company. Bernie is a gifted organizational thinker who has helped a number of Christian non-profits. He loves the Lord and graciously volunteered his time to serve our elders. He even paid his own travel expenses from his home in Ohio to come on a few occasions to spend time with our men. Bernie challenged our elders to think of their organizational responsibility as representing the interests of the owner. What outcomes does the owner desire? What policies should be in place that guide how those outcomes would be achieved? What key personnel need to be in place and what authority do they need to accomplish those outcomes? What kind of monitoring and accountability structures would the owner want?
One thing that can be very hard for church leaders is balancing the tension that exists between the various constituencies that are served. Long term members have different needs and desires than those yet to be reached. Volunteers make everything happen and have different needs and expectations than employees on staff. Balancing the tensions can cloud the decision making process. With the new clarity afforded by the priority of representing the interests of the owner the elders were able to begin to see more clearly. They established three distinct options which I blogged about here.
No decisions have been made. And, over the next two weekends we’ll be talking about our future and the issues and options that we’ll face as a family. We’ll be starting a conversation. I hope you’ll be able to make it. Our best days are yet ahead and you’re here for the launch of a very special chapter in the life of our ebc family and the Susquehanna Valley.
There has been no getting away from the events of Furgeson, Mo. this week as a young black man was shot and killed during an encounter with a police officer. Riots and looting have consumed the narrative of our country while our culture becomes increasingly polarized. In spite of the reality that the facts of what actually happened during that encounter have not been uncovered or released everyone from the talking heads on news shows to regular folks on facebook have been trumpeting their opinions as if somehow they have the last and final word on the tragedy.
How can we as followers of Jesus charged with reflecting his glory navigate situations like this without becoming part of the problem?
First, James nails it when he wrote (1:19) be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to get angry. Isn’t it amazing how loudly we can express strong opinions without even knowing what actually happened? I’ve been purposeful to watch news coverage from a few different organizations as they report about what’s happening in Ferguson and I’ve been amazed at how radically different perspectives can be based on personal bias.
So first, be quiet. Our opinions are not as important as we think they are. In fact, our opinions just add to the polarizing of our culture and accomplish essentially nothing else.
Second Listen. We are horrible listeners. We’re too busy talking, and when we are listening we’re usually listening to someone we agree with which emboldens our perspective even more. The truth is I’m a white middle class male. I have had opportunities that have come to me because of that. I just have. All three of my sons were raised as white middle class men. Partly because of their cultural heritage, they all have college educations and one of them is a police officer in a metro area. There is no way I can look at the events surrounding Ferguson objectively. I don’t need to saturate myself with more of what I already know. I need to try and empathize with what it might be like to grow up as a poor African American in the inner city. The truth is that these situations are never as cut and dried as we want them to be. Reality is always messier than the polarizing arguments we use to describe it.
Justice really matters to God. He invented it. Pray for it. But in the midst of praying for justice, show mercy to everyone. You can’t take a breath without mercy from God. Every second of every day you exist you drink deeply of mercy because God has chosen not to give you what you deserve. We have an opportunity to bring much needed refreshment to our culture by being merciful in the midst of a emotionally charged circumstance.
I’m breaking my own rule again. I’m going to address something that is far too complex for a short blog post, but heck, rules were made to be broken. There has been much in the news in our area lately about the owner of a bridal shop who refused to sell a wedding dress to a lesbian couple. Not surprisingly, the outcry has been loud and polarized as we tend to have a really hard time talking to one another when we feel strongly about things. The engaged couple just wants to get married and the couple that owns the bridal shop just wants to be faithful to how they understand their faith. I know that the couple that owns the bridal shop has received vicious communications and threats (I don’t know them personally). That’s probably true of the engaged couple too. We’re really good at demonizing people rather than talking to them.
As followers of Jesus, how do we navigate issues like this?
The Apostle Paul was a guy who hated Christians until he became one. He was a very well educated and bright man. He wrote a letter to a church that gathered in a place called Corinth. They were having huge problems. People were getting drunk at communion, they were discriminating against poorer people, and there were some major sexual sins going on in the church. Here is a section of what he wrote (5:9-12): When I wrote to you before, I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin. 10 But I wasn’t talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or are greedy, or cheat people, or worship idols. You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that. 11 I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people. 12 It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning.
There is a place for holding people to biblical standards and that place is the church. There are people to gently, graciously and patiently hold accountable to biblical standards and those people are Christ followers. I affirm that a business owner ought to be able to do business with whomever they want. That’s a business decision and if a company is privately held the owners are free to make those decisions and to live with the consequences whether they’re profitable or not. But to deny service to a particular group because of a particular sin is a very difficult thing with which to be consistent. Should a Christian restaurateur refuse service to a glutton (sheesh, most churches I know don’t think anything of gluttony)? Should a bridal company owned by Christians sell to divorcees?
Peter gives us a very succinct principle for how to navigate the complexities of society (1 Peter 2:9b) …you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. He then goes on to say (v.12) Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world.
The truth is that we can’t impact people with whom we refuse to be in relationship. Jesus was constantly in trouble with the religious leaders of his day for hanging out with those who really needed him. As the church we need to be really careful about asking people to behave like we think Christians should behave when they may not even be Christians (truthfully, we don’t behave like Christians very much either).
So maybe we can take a breath and remember our purpose for being in the world as Christ followers in the first place.
Our church is a missional church. To us, that means that we don’t exist for ourselves we exist for a mission that is outside of ourselves. We exist not to satisfy our own theological curiosity or to supply a pleasant social life with like-mined Christian people. We exist to introduce the communities we serve to God and to help them live life in response to his revelation of himself.
Fundamentally, that’s what is different about us. Often, churches drift toward being about themselves. They’re about pleasing the people that are a part of the group by giving them what they want (that’s why churches fight so much, it’s hard to agree on what everyone wants). I’m not saying that is necessarily a bad thing, it’s just not us. It’s not what God is asking us to do. And it’s certainly not something to which I’m willing to give my life. My guess is you’re not either.
So, why are we a missional church? Or maybe a better way to say it is why must we be a missional church? Or still better, why can’t we be anything but a missional church?
The short answer is this: It is inappropriate to separate the mission of God from the study of God.
Far too often the church has separated theology (the study of the character and nature of God) from missiology (the study of God’s mission).
God has revealed himself in his Word. Through the Bible we know that God is holy, sovereign, all-knowing, omnipresent, gracious, just, loving and all-powerful. Knowing those truths about God is important. Having a sense of the vast, perfect nature of God is vital to following him. It’s a good thing to study God’s revelation about himself and we should do that.
However, it’s worth asking why God chose to reveal himself in his Word. Is God’s desire that his creation be able to have some intellectual understanding of who he is, or is there something deeper involved?
Here’s the thing. The Bible doesn’t just present a God that is. The Bible presents a God that is on a mission. The Hebrew Bible (OT) and the New Testament alike reveal that God’s revelation of himself is for the purpose of inviting us to a relationship with him (Duet. 6:5; Luke 10:27). The invasion of earth by God himself in the form of Jesus shows that God is not only on a mission, but that he is willing pay dearly for that mission.
God reveals himself to invite us to love him, to find, in him, new life. Better life.
A missional church refuses to separate what God reveals about himself theologically from what he does missionally. In fact, our theology gets wacky (that’s a technical term) when it’s separated from the mission, and our mission gets soft when it’s separated from our theology.
When my goal is simply to learn God becomes an abstract figure to be studied. When my goal is only to help people I have nothing of substance to offer them that has any real hope for them (except just becoming like me and who would want that?!).
But, when I learn about God in the context of his passionate mission to save me I become consumed by a relationship that changes me as I offer a hand to others who need the same thing.
That’s why we’re a missional church and we refuse to be anything but a missional church.
I pre-recorded my talk for last Sunday at ebc (I was live on Saturday) so I could join the elders on another field trip. All five elders, myself and some of our wives traveled to Lansdale to visit LCBC’s Branch Creek campus. They are a church very similar in size to us. We have been intentional to see as much as we can see and learn as much as we can learn as we pray and think through a number of very important issues for our church family.
We have some very important decisions to make. This summer our attendance is more than 20% higher than it was last summer. People are meeting God for life and our church is growing and that’s awesome! We still have a great deal of work to do and our best days are yet ahead. But, in order to continually improve and reach more and more people with the one thing that can save them we have some big decisions to make.
The number of people that use our building is way beyond what it was designed for. It is not uncommon for us to run out of water during peak usage times and some of our key equipment is in need of repair or replacement. Our worship, Kidz Zone and Student Ministry facilities are inadequate. Making the building what it needs to be for our future will cost several million dollars. That being the case, should we put that much money in our property or should we consider moving to a location better suited for reaching more of the Susquehanna Valley?
But there is more. As ebc continues to grow we need to put policies into place that govern our employees. We need to find ways to provide employee benefit packages which, at this point, we don’t do. Further, in order to reach more and more people we have to re-think the procedures that have been serving us for several years. We are basically still functioning with the procedures of a church with 500 attendees. That means our staff just keeps doing more and more, which is unsustainable long term.
I remember when my oldest son Jake was about ten years old. Often he’d come to me after being in bed for a few hours with tears in his eyes, describing knee pain or elbow pain. We had some special fun things we’d do to take his mind off of the pain and he’d go back to bed. They were growing pains. Growing is wonderful, but sometimes it includes pain.
The elders have been visiting other churches and welcoming the visits of other churches to our church to help us understand how best to continue to improve and more forward. It’s an exciting time.
The elders have identified three options for us moving forward.
First, we can get some help to restructure our staff and establish procedures necessary to continue our mission. This would include launching a capital campaign to raise funds to make our facility what it needs to be to reach more people.
Second, we can partner with another church that has grown through this stage and adopt their procedures and accept their help in moving forward.
Third, we could merge with another church of identical DNA to make us more powerful together than we could be apart.
There is one option that is not on the table and that is to continue as we are just hoping to be able to manage as best we can. Staying as we are does not demonstrate faith, nor is it a way to produce more fruit for the glory of God.
Given where we are as a church and the fact that we’re going to need to be intentional about pursuing all God is calling us to do may I ask you do join in the process with us?
Will you pray? The issues the elders are working through are exciting and complex. We have one goal. We want to produce as much fruit for the glory of God as possible. Which option seems to give us the most opportunity to do that? Please pray.
As we move forward we’ll be asking our family to help us think through these options. Will you take advantage of opportunities to get informed and then pray with the elders about which option seems best? Change is always hard, but change is necessary for us to continue helping more and more people meet God for life. Change always brings pain to some degree and all of our options will include pain. The goal can’t be to chose the path of least pain, but to find the path that seems to provide the greatest potential for creating fruit for the glory of God.
ebc doesn’t belong to any of us. It’s God’s alone. Our job is to steward it for his glory. It is a tool. God has chosen in his grace to bless ebc with more ministry. Our job is to pursue every opportunity we can to help people meet God for life.
I am sure of at least one thing. There is no place I’d rather be and there is nothing I’d rather be doing than working on this mission with you. Our best days are yet ahead and I’m excited to be a part of them.
Let’s be honest. The truth is that most of us aren’t very passionate about God. We have to try to muster up the desire to spend a few moments with God once in awhile. And, as long as we’re not walking through some kind of really bad crises, our faith is something we wear next to other things that have a place in our lives. If we’re honest we’re pretty apathetic about God and our faith is mostly a yawn.
The problem is two-fold. First, most of us feel like we’re really not that bad. We look around and we can easily find lots of people that are a lot worse than we are. Most of us don’t go to the doctor when we’re pretty sure we’re not very sick. If we’re religious we feel smug about the stuff we do in the faith. We might know the Bible and we take pride in that. We might be generous and volunteer our time and do other religious stuff and we feel pretty good about that.
If we’re not religious we tend to feel proud of the fact that at least we’re honest with ourselves about the fact that we’re not religious. At least we’re not hypocritical like all those smug religious people. The Bible calls that kind of pride, for the religious and the not-so-religious, self-righteousness. We tend to tell ourselves that we’re less proud than we used to be, but the point is to be humble, not less self-righteous. But our self-righteous pride is not the only problem. I said the problem was two-fold (Boy there are a lot hyphens in this blug huh?)
The second problem is our view of God. Most of us don’t relate to the God of the Bible. We relate to the God of our imagination. He’s usually sort of like a divine Mr. Rogers. We ask him to change traffic lights when we’re late. We ask him to give us more money when we spend foolishly. You get the idea.
So if I’m really not that bad, and God is really a big divine Mr. Rogers anyway it stands to reason that I’m not going to run to him with great passion. I don’t really need him all that much most of the time and he’s basically a cosmic grandfather anyway.
Our perceptions are broken.
The truth is that you suck. You are so desperately, saturated in putrid sin that you’d puke if you could see yourself accurately. God’s standard is not how much better than someone else you might be, but how perfect you are. He measures what you do, why you do it and what power source you use. That means that you only do what is loving, you do it for God’s glory alone and you are empowered by the Holy Spirit rather than gritting your teeth and toughing it out. Anything less than absolute perfection in all three spheres, all the time, and you’re sunk. Like I said, you suck. And, God’s no Mr. Rogers. God is Holy. Because of that holiness God can’t tolerate sin in any measure. His white hot wrath against sin will endlessly incinerate any unforgiven sin in any form.
May I be frank? If God’s holiness in response to your sin saturated self doesn’t drive you to God you’re stupid.
Fortunately God loves us enough to sacrifice his own, perfect, son. Jesus took your bullet. But until you feel the passion of death row, you’ll never enjoy the exhilaration of your pardon.
So go ahead and ask God to show you your sin. It’ll make you nauseous. But then, take a swim in mercy and grace, drink it in. All of it. Grace is not so much a concept to be understood as it is a pardon to be experienced.
See ya this weekend… thanks for the honor of being your pastor.