the nearness

Our current teaching series at Maranatha Church, “The Nearness”, continues on Sunday. I hope everyone has enjoyed the challenges that have been issued regarding our opinions of and participation in worship. The whole idea is that God has promised to be among us when we meet together and He expects some type of response from us. What response is appropriate?

This week, we will look at two stories in the New Testament that tell the story of worship. John 12:1-8 gives the details of how Mary worshiped Jesus by pouring expensive perfume on the feet of Jesus. Judas complained about it because he was a thief. But Mary knew that Jesus was worthy of this offering and so much more. Mark 5:1-6 tells the story of the demon-possessed man who came to Christ. One detail is that, when the man saw Jesus, he ran to him and fell at his feet. I think the guy was surrendering in worship.

The three major points that I hope to make about these two characters are: they knew who Jesus was; they knew themselves; and they totally surrendered to Christ. The result was true worship. I am hoping that we can make the connection for ourselves and also resolve ourselves to be true worshipers of Christ. I also hope that this teaching can assist us as we take our corporate worship to the next level.

If you are at one of our worship services or if you listen online, let me know what you think.

today’s hike

I spent part of my day off hiking. The Loxahatchee Riverbend Park is a beautiful place with lots of wildlife. The weather was cool and it was very peaceful, I was able to put in a few good hours. I am preparing for my Inca Trail hike in May and there is no substitute for walking with a loaded backpack.

I hope you enjoy a few of the pictures from today.

the verge conference

A couple of weeks ago, Letha and I were privileged to attend the Verge Conference in Austin Texas. This was a “missional community conference”. 2,400 Church leaders from around the country came together to dialogue about our responsibilities and opportunities to share the love of Christ outside of the confines of our churches.

We had an excellent time. The weather in Austin was yukky and I broke my laptop computer while we were there, but the conference was well worth the hassle.

In my heart, I am processing what we heard and saw there. Challenges were issued that need to be addressed. Speakers told us that we need to put the direction of the Spirit ahead of what is popular in our churches. Those who led sessions told us that we may have to let go of our big church buildings if we plan to really reach our communities. We were told that we should give more to unreached people groups in strange countries than we do to our programs. These things are challenging to hear and even more challenging to implement.

My head is still spinning but I am getting used to it. I had some great discussions with some of the staff at Maranatha about what this may mean for us. Although they were not with us at the conference, they “get it” and seem excited to process the concepts.

I would like to thank the organizers of the event at The Austin Stone Church. Fantastic structure and leadership! Thanks, also to the speakers. Some of the best were: Dave Gibbons, Alan Hirsch, Neil Cole, Frances Chan, Ed Stetzer, Hugh Halter, Dave Ferguson, Matt Carter, John Burke, George Patterson, Jeff Vanderstelt, David Watson, and David Garrisson. The music was amazing, provided by Arron Ivey and band. You guys did an incredible job, thanks!

The Missional concept is not just another fad that will pass through the American church. This thing is real and has the potential to bring sweeping change to the way we do church. Whatever happens to the American church, I plan to continue to adjust my approach. Jesus wants me to be missional.

the gym, the inca trail and needy kids

I am in training mode for an upcoming trip to Peru. The last week of May, my daughter Jessica and I are going to Peru to hike the Inca Trail. This is a four day trek through the Andes Mountains, ending with a sunrise entrance to Machu Picchu, one of the most famous Inca ruin sites in South America. This is a fairly demanding hike, with altitudes of over 13,500 feet. My gym time is being spent trying to increase my stamina and get my heart ready for the lung-crushing that lack of oxygen provides. I have climbed a volcano of 9,000 feet and visited Pike’s Peak in Colorado which has a peak of 14,100 feet. Believe me, this will be more than just a stroll in the park.

I had this idea to try to make the trip more than just a vacation. I contacted a good friend, Dr. Richard Waldrop, who works in missions in South and Central America and asked him if he knew of a ministry to children in Peru that could use a helping hand. He told me of a pastor in Lima who works with needy children, feeding, educating and providing spiritual training. Pastor Dario Lopez currently helps over 330 children on a daily basis. These children are impoverished and in need of the care that Pastor Lopez and his group provides. Dr. Waldrop informed me that, as it turns out, Pastor Lopez is currently trying to gather the funds to complete a much-needed building project that will make their work much more effective. I have had email contact with Pastor Lopez and it looks as though we are going to be able to partner together to help the children.

I feel like this is an open door for us.

Here is my idea: I plan to take pledges from my wealthy North American friends (we are all wealthy by the standards of the rest of the world) that will pay a certain amount of money per mile of the trek. The distance of the hike is about 25 miles. If I can get some friends to pay me to climb mountains, the kids in Lima will get the help they need. So a few weeks before we leave, I will be hitting up the people around me … be on guard.

I did a similar project in 2001. I ran a marathon (26.2 miles) and collected money from generous donors. We collected over $10,000 and paid for the construction of a church in El Cristo, Cuba. I hand-delivered the funds there and was changed forever by what I saw and experienced. The money that was committed was a major incentive to me as I trained for and completed the marathon. I am hoping for the same kind of motivation this time around. I am hoping that we can change the future of some of these children.

So I am training. It is difficult to prepare for high altitudes when you live at sea level. But I am committed to the project.

Take a look at some pictures of the kids that Pastor Lopez sent to me. And be ready to give a few bucks that will help to change their lives.

OK, I promise to be nice…

I am glad to know that last Sunday’s message is sticking with some people. I preached part one of The Nearness: Responding to God’s Presence. The topic is worship and I am trying to increase our awareness of God and how we react to Him.

I guess I got a little pushy when I told the people that if we believed that God was actually with us in our worship experiences, we would not stay home or do other things besides be involved in worship. I actually said, “if we really believed that God is here, we would not come in late or go to sleep during the service or daydream about the Superbowl”. It is nice to know that people are paying attention. I have received several comments this week, people wondering if I was mad or frustrated. I think this results from people not being accustomed to being confronted. My preaching has apparently been out of balance. I need to speak more directly about issues that need to be addressed and corrected.

So, I promise to be nicer tomorrow. By “nice”, I don’t mean I will make everyone feel good about themselves. By “nice”, I mean that I will be careful how I express what is on my heart. I won’t beat people up. I won’t be rude. I will not use the Bible as a club.

But I will speak the truth, will confront when necessary and I will not worry about whose feelings get hurt. Although I will be nice, I will also be direct. Directly nice. How’s that?

Join us tomorrow for part 2 of The Nearness. I plan to continue a deep look into Romans 12:1-2.

It will be a nice experience.

what it’s all about

I had a meeting last night with a newer guy in our church. He had sent me an email and hesitantly asked to sit down with me to discuss what was going on in his life. Understand that when this happens, I am generally hoping for something good but prepared for the opposite. Too much of the time, when people want to talk to me personally, things aren’t going very well. (Could give me a complex!)

This guy was so excited to tell me that, in a recent worship service at Maranatha, he had made the decision to give his life to God. He had accepted Christ and his life was in the process of being completely transformed. He was meeting with me to tell me that God was asking him to do some things with his life and he was completely surrendered to the plan of God. He was asking me for direction and advice. He was presenting himself for accountability.

Was I ever glad to hear that! In the middle of a strenuous week, when I wasn’t necessarily seeing a lot of positive results from our efforts, God sends a guy along to, in essence say, “it is working!”.

This is success. This makes us know that we are doing some things right. This inspires us to pick up the pace.

hooked on sex

While trying to decompress from a long day yesterday, I watched a little 20/20. They were discussing the increase of people who are struggling with sex addiction. This appears to be a new phenomenon that is growing in our culture, or at least someone decided that it is time to give it a lot of coverage in the media. Of course, Tiger Woods leads the field of the poor souls who can’t control their sexual behavior. But recently some other high-profile people have checked into rehab to get treatment for the problem. Steve Phillips, a former ESPN sportscaster, is the latest “victim”. There is a center in Mississippi that is getting a lot of press, and making a lot of money as the “go-to” place for the stars who are hooked on sex.

I will try to temper my cynicism. The stories that are being featured are about married men who have cheated on their wives several times because of their addiction. My response: give me a break. Guys have had girlfriends for a few thousand years now. Men have been hooked on sex since God created it. There is nothing new about sleeping around. We should be sensitive to the victims of extra-marital sex, but we need to identify who the victims are. A guy who sleeps with anyone other than his wife is not a victim of an addiction, he is an adulterer. The victim is the innocent ones(s).

I am disturbed that our culture is letting these guys off the hook by labeling this sin as an addiction. This seems to be an attempt to say, “It’s not my fault” or “I can’t help myself”. Hey Tiger and Steve, It is your fault and you can help yourself. Honor your wedding vows and respect your wife. You may indeed be addicted. But be a man and deal with it in a mature and responsible way. Keep your pants on until your get home. And treat your wife with honor.

Drug treatment and therapy seems to be helping in some cases. Tiger is out of treatment and is rumored to be back on the PGA tour soon. Steve is on national talk shows saying that he is doing better. (I predict a book written by one, if not both of these guys.) I am thinking of some other treatments that may be equally as effective as drugs and counseling. Mrs. Woods golf club therapy seems to be what got Tiger thinking straight. Steve’s loss of employment worked well to motivate him to stop acting like a hormone-driven teenager. I think if our culture stops propping these guys up and starts letting them suffer as the idiots that they are, behavior will improve. If that doesn’t work, maybe a few minutes alone in a locked room with the husbands, fathers and brothers of the women they violate would help. Sorry for my reversion to caveman methods, but they have been proven to work quite effectively.

Yes, I realize that women are also guilty of this behavior. But we can’t let athletes and actors and rock stars get by with acting irresponsibly because they are famous. Grow up, guys. Deal with your “addictions”. Accept responsibility for your behavior. Be a man.