Malcolm Tyree

A collection of thoughts on things that matter

Archive for the category “spirituality”

Pastor Appreciation Month: Brad Kendall

My time was nearly complete. I had reached that place that many 20-somethings dream of: I was in my final semester of college. In looking over my graduation requirements, it turned out that I needed to complete not only the courses I had signed up for, but I also needed one more community service project. Yes, the private Christian college I attended had each of us serve somewhere around 15 hours a semester for six semesters of our enrollment as a graduation requirement. In looking over my records, it turned out that I had satisfactorially completed the requirments of level II and level III service projects, but I was only half way there on a level I project. For those of you who were there during that time or who have known me, I know you are struggling to imagine that I had only partially fulfilled the level I type project. After all, level I is the observation level. I am quick to move from observation to action and this proved true during my years at Mid-America Bible College (now Mid-America Christian Universtiy).I was a senior, what was there left for me to observe? Hadn’t I seen it all already? After 21 hours of college credit under Cliff Sanders; multiple hours with professors Greg Robertson and Marvin Middlebrooks; countless hours volunteering on campus; working with a small congregation 20 miles from the college; hadn’t I served and learned enough? What more was there for me to see? Yes, I can be a bit over-confident in my abilities and knowledge.

Fortunately, my good friend, Shannon Smith, was short on the same type of service that I was. We both needed a level I observation style community service project. Shannon was older and smart enough to know when to sit back and take an easier path. He was married and had three kids. The last thing Shannon was looking for was a service project that would eat up too much of his time. So, I signed on board with Shannon and the two of us began our semester of community service level I: observation.

The question remained, what would we observe? We both knew we would be graduating soon and that meant we would be potentially entering into ministry employment, church work. What would it look like to start a new role at a church? What would it be like to be a new pastor? What would some of the transition issues be like? How would a pastor shape his staff? How would the congregation respond? These questions led us to the newest Church of God pastor in Oklahoma City: Brad Kendall.

 

Brad and Kristel Kendall

Brad and Kristel Kendall (picture from Facebook)

Brad was in his first months of serving as the new senior pastor for Shartel Church of God. He had come from Indiana after serving as senior pastor there. Brad was well connected in the Church of God. His father, Paul, had been a Church of God pastor. His brother, Gary, and his brother-in-law, Rolland Daniels, were each well respected pastors in the movement. Brad and his wife Kristel had the right pedigree of Church of God heritage and connections.

Shannon and I chose to observe Brad.

We met multiple time throughout that semester trying to get a behind the scenes look at what the transition looked like. We heard about the meetings with the board memebers. We witnessed the hiring of staff and the stuggle of what to do with exisiting staff who were well loved but not fully in alignement with Brad’s style of leadership. We began to grasp how a family would be welcomed into a congregation as its leader.

Brad had a unique style of humor and was big on smiling. He was not quick to dismiss others and really wrestled through the struggle of trying to bring people together. Brad worked long and hard to please others while being faithful to his calling as a minister.

After my semester of community service, my wife and I stayed a part of Shartel and Brad was our pastor. As I wrestled through my search for a place of ministry, Brad was there. He prayed and encouraged us in the process. He knew how hard it was to find a congregation. He knew the challenges before us. As we announced our impending move to Odessa, Texas, Brad celebrated with us. As we packed up, Brad and the Shartel Church, blessed us with a baby shower for our first born who wouldn’t arrive for another 6 months.

Brad was the last pastor I sat under week to week, voluntarily, for 12 years. Since then I have only chosen to sit week to week under two other pastors. Both of those proved to be temporary in arrangement as I would soon be employed in church ministry after listening to each of those men for a short season of six months or less.

Brad is now a chaplian in Texas. I am looking forward to the days where our paths cross in this great state.

One of the things I learned from observing Brad was that there is still more to learn, even when you think you’ve reached the end.

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Pastor Appreciation Month: Cliff Sanders

College can be an intimidating place. You walk into a lecture hall, the podium up front has a microphone and there’s a large screen on the wall for a series of points to a lecture. The professor starts up, “Ahem!”
Profs with a hoary head of gray hair, goatees, and spectacles tend to capture the imagination of their students. When the prof has a commanding presence and leads you to see a subject or an idea in a different way, it’s really easy for the student to fall into awe of the prof. You can almost see the prof as beyond human. That is until you have lunch with them.

When I went to Mid-America Bible College (now Mid-America Christian University) in the fall of 1997, I enrolled in a required course for all traditional students at MBC; Biblical Life & Witness. The professor was in his mid 40’s and loved tweaking with the minds of the incoming Freshmen. Unbeknownst to me or my classmates, we were about to embark on an upheaval of the way we perceived God and ourselves.

 

picture of Cliff Sanders

Cliff Sanders, D. Min. (photo from Facebook)

 Cliff Sanders was my professor at MBC. In my time as a student, I had seven course with Cliff; 21 undergraduate hours. From Introduction to Old and New Testament and Biblical Life & Witness to the three inductive Bible study method classes and How to Teach the Bible, Cliff shaped (warped) my mind into a new way of viewing the sitz im laben of the scripture stories and how to draw out practical applications for today.

I admired Cliff and thought one day I might be like him; a college professor shaping young minds. Cliff had served as a pastor prior to coming to MBC and carried with him real world thinking as well as what I perceived to be a solid rational thinking about how to interpret the Bible. With his Masters of Divinity and efforts at earning his Doctorate in Ministry, I found myself looking at Cliff and wondering what it would be like to be him.

Part of what drew me to Cliff was his willingness to go beyond the classroom and lecture hall. Cliff would eat lunch with the common folk. Nearly everyday, Cliff would hold court at a table in the cafeteria. Carefully wrapping his salt and pepper shakers with a napkin as he seasoned the “delicacy” of the day, Cliff would joke, laugh, talk smack, and engage students, staff, and faculty around the table. It was at those many roundtable lunches with Cliff that I first experience the power of eating together to form community.

Even though Cliff was working on his doctorate, he was more than willing to have lunch with 18-22 year old punk, know it alls, like me. He welcomed us to the table and treated us as equals. He did not come across as “better than us.” Sure, Cliff would brag a bit too much about the Texas Longhorns in the room filled with fans of SEC teams or that University just south of the campus; mocking the fight song “Boomer Sooner” in a horrid cry. I am sure the cafeteria staff was glad to see the table empty of Cliff and his fans because it meant the room would quiet down and they could finally close up for the day. But as a member of the table, I miss those lunches.

Cliff carried such influence for me, that I went a step further in my gluttonous learning from him. I asked Cliff to provide pre-marital counseling for me and Christy. He was quick to sit us down and tell Christy how difficult it was going to be for her. He recounted stories of how he could see similarities between me and him, and therefore knew some of the challenges we might have. Cliff shared how he had to learn to love his wife, Becky. He was straightforward with me about how I would have to be intentional not to “forget” Christy in my daily life.

Though Cliff was not formally my pastor, he was one of my pastors during my years at MBC. 

I was honored to serve at MBC alongside Cliff when I graduated and worked in the Campus Ministries office. I remember being a part of the faculty and staff prayer time each week as we would pray with one another. I watched Cliff wrestle with Becky’s cancer battle. I was allowed to see my professor as vulnerable and transparent. We had grown beyond the loud antics of lunch and the debates in the classroom to the place of colleagues, friends, sharing life together. 

In many ways, my relationship with Cliff has helped me move from being intimidated by God to seeing that I am welcomed at his table, for lunch, prayer, and friendship.

Pastor Appreciation Month: Steve Williams

“Do you wear blue jeans?”

That was it. That was my brilliant question to ask in the candidate forum for the new pastor for the First Church of God in Clarksville, Tennessee.At the time I asked the question of the candidate, I was one of the youth leaders, the guy who mowed the church lawn, and who changed the sign. I had become in the mind of some “the church mouse” as I had worked and found my way around everything at the church’s building. It seemed like I was there nearly all the time. This was an awkward season for First Church. The long time, well-loved pastor Gene Lanham was retiring (or so he thought) and the congregation was looking to find a new pastor. The transition schedule was like you might expect for the President of the United States. We, as a congregation, were filtering through candidates, and then voting accordingly, while expecting that Bro. Lanham’s last Sunday would be followed by the next pastor’s first Monday.

The candidate was like most pastoral candidates, different than the previous guy. Bro. Lanham was like a grandfather; the candidate was a young 30-something father of two. Bro. Lahham was comfortable and easy going; the candidate quick and intense. Bro. Lanham was walking on the journey; the candidate was a crusader.

If you know much about me, you can likely see why I would have been drawn to the candidate. 

So, as the congregation assembled to ask questions in the open forum for the candidate, I couldn’t think of anything particularly deep or theological. My question was practical. Looking back on it, the question was theological. At the heart, I was asking the candidate “are you like me?”

A few days later, we voted yes, and that fall, Steven Williams became my new pastor.

 

picture of Steve Williams

Steve Williams in 2014 picture from Facebook

 
Steve was my first glimpse of what it looked like to be a pastor and a dad at the same time. Stephanie and Luke were young kids. I don’t think Luke had quite started school. Luke was a bit of a challenge at times. I remember him going pee outside the church’s office one day because he was too impatient to wait for the restroom to become available. I also remember Steve having to step down in the middle of a sermon, escort Luke to the lobby, and then return a few awkward moments later to finish the sermon. The tears in Luke’s eyes indicated that Steve had quickly switched from pastor to dad back to pastor.

Steve was a crusader. He was passionate about the Church of God Reformation Movement. He ran a publishing company out of the church’s attic where we would reprint and ship classic Church of God writings by the likes of FG Smith, Lily McCutchen, Arlo Newell, and others. He was also heavily involved in the conservative association of ministers known as Pastors’ Fellowship. Steve’s publishing company worked closely with Pastors’ Fellowship to distribute the early teachings of the movement.

Steve was a fiery preacher. His passion for truth and commitment to the teachings of the church came through again and again. Steve also loved Bus Ministry. He introduced that chaos to our congregation and I gladly jumped in. Steve wanted to see a men’s ministry happening to compliment the Women of the Church of God (WCG) that met regularly. I was glad to see this take off. We needed a college-age Sunday School class, after all we had an emerging group of 20-somethings; so I stepped in to offer to lead it. An opening came in the Children’s Church; Steve tagged me to lead it. Needless to say, if there was an opportunity, Steve knew he could ask and I would likely say “yes.”

Steve saw a willingness to serve in me. He challenged me to consider going to Bible College to get a degree so that I could professionally serve in the church. He encouraged me to head off to Mid-America Bible College (now Mid-America Christian University) instead of floundering around at the state university in town. 

I knew Steve to be hard charging, passionate, and motivating. He pushed me out of the comfort of Clarksville, Tennessee, and into the adventures that I would experience because I went to Oklahoma City and Mid-America Bible College.

After I left in the summer of 1997, things with First Church and Steve began to change. The passionate charging ahead began to wear folks down. Steve’s marriage was hurting too. Near the end of my first year at Mid-America, Steve discovered his wife had been having an affair. It was heart breaking for everyone. Steve resigned and moved.

Steve has since remarried, become a grandad, and is still a crusader. Steve was my pastor who challenged me to go.

Oh, yes, Steve did wear blue jeans.

Steve sliding

Steve having fun in recent days, much like we did in Clarksville together. (picture from Facebook)

A Taste of Things to Come: a Wedding

(John 2:11)

When you’ve gone to church for a long time, or you’ve read through the Bible repeatedly, it is easy to miss “the first time” something happens. We miss it because we are really familiar with the story. It seems we are so familiar with the story that we focus on the end and not the beginning. 



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Members of New Life Bile Fellowship reenacting what the wedding crlebration could have looked like



As Jesus turns some 120 gallons of water into wine, we marvel at the fact that he did the miracle, but we can lose perspective easily, after all what is water into wine compared to the cross?

Did you catch it? 120 gallons! I’m not a wine drinker, I’m pretty much a tee-totaler in my lifestyle, but 120 gallons seems like a lot of wine to me. How many people were at this party? How much longer would it be lasting? Did Jesus really need to make that much more wine or was he just showing off for his mom and these first disciples?

I realize that it sounds heretical to say Jesus may have been “showing off.” The whole testimony of Jesus is that he was “sinless” and showing off seems a bit like pride and that is one of those “seven deadly sins,” right?

It is quite possible that Jesus was showing off, in a good way. After all, looking at his miracles, they’re supernatural. Isn’t that in and of itself showing off?

What if Jesus was showing off so that his disciples and family members, and even those low servants, who knew what had happened, could get a taste of things to come?

Imagine if Jesus is showing off because he gets excited about weddings? He is a single guy, betrothed (we know this because we know the full story) and preparing for his wedding day. Imagine if his participation in the celebration is his way of saying, “just wait, there’s more to come!”

We tend to see Jesus as uptight and unemotional. Allow your imagination to fill out the picture of who Jesus really was/is. Imagine Jesus excited about weddings, grieving at funerals, and enjoying parades. Could it be in each of these, he is helping us get a taste of things to come?

On an application side, if Jesus gets invested in these things, shouldn’t we? Maybe that is what he meant when he later tells the crowd that he has come to give life to the fullest (John 10:10). Let your marriage show off God’s power. May your funeral be a testimony of your commitment to Jesus. Throw a parade celebrating a better day to come! If we live this way, we live as appetizers, giving others a taste of things to come. And maybe, we will be reminded of what it was like to experience Jesus for the first time.

A Quick Review of the Books I Consumed in 2014

Books have a way of opening our mind to experiences beyond our day to day lives. They allow us to think from different perspectives and glean from the learnings of others. I do enjoy fiction books, I principally take in non-fiction works.

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Here is a run down of the books I’ve worked through in 2014.

41 – George W. Bush’s look at his father’s life. – This was a fun and insightful look into this family which has dominated the political landscape for a generation or more. Without a doubt, George H. W. Bush has lived an amazing life and W paints the story well. I took a particular liking to the way W describes the family’s time in Odessa and Midland, Texas. Oh, if you’re looking for great quips, W quotes Barbara Bush in all her honesty and humor.

You Heard Me – Colin Cowherd of ESPN rants about his observations on life and sports. I like the way Cowherd is able to draw understandings about systems and approaches to life through breaking down sports. His unique perspective of being on the other side of sports industry helps us to see, it’s just life. If you like his radio show, you’ll enjoy the book.

Daring Greatly – Brené Brown’s stellar work on living life full on is my book of the year. Brown works through the paralyzing nature of shame and how it keeps us from living full lives. Her insights into vulnerability and courage will make you weep and inspire you to dare greatly.

A Farewell to Mars – Brian Zahnd walks through his understanding of how Christ-followers should live an alternate lifestyle when it comes to war and violence. This book will challenge your patriotic and American system sentimentalities. Zahnd sees our worship of war and violence as being an act of idolatry.

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt – Edmund Morris walks us through the extraordinary life of Teddy Roosevelt as he makes his way to becoming President of the United States. Seeing sickly Roosevelt overcome one adversity after another to become the man of courage and strength was exciting and it is easy to see why he is among America’s favorite Presidents. He was bull headed, fiercely devoted, and unwavering. Morris describes him as the embodiment of America at the turn of the 20th Century.

Zealot – Reza Aslan’s look into the life of Jesus was a insightful perspective into some of the political tensions and class systems of the First Century. I was intrigued in how Aslan sought to uncover the “true” Jesus, one he describes as more of a political revolutionary than a religious leader. For me, I found his description of James and Paul’s relationship to be some of the more challenging features. I does not appear to me that Aslan has a great appreciation for Paul’s contribution to the understanding of who Jesus was/is.

Leaders Eat Last – Simon Sinek’s exploration into how a leader’s behavior influences his followers is extremely insightful. Using examples from the Military and other fields, along with working through the chemical reactions that occur within our bodies, Sinek paints a picture in which servanthood really is the best form of leadership, especially when the servanthood is inspired by a greater purpose. I highly recommend this book.

Divergent – Veronica Roth’s post-apocolyptic teen drama is filled with a gritty world that wrestles through relationships and morals. The way Roth wrestles with the temptation to play each of us in our categories is quite interesting, especially since we are a mix of so many factors and features, so of which are in great conflict with one another.

Short Stories by Jesus – Amy-Jill Levine seeks to unpack some of Jesus’ parables a part from the anti-Jewish sentiment that they are often interpreted through into the church today. She seeks to show us how First Century Jews would have connected the words to other stories, events, and situations of their day.

Overrated – Eugen Cho is one of my favorite guys to follow on Twitter. I appreciated Cho’s call for us to be more than just talk regarding our Christian convictions, but to actually recognize that some of the difficult situations we find ourselves in are a part of how God is providing an opportunity for our convictions to be lived out. Cho pushes us to do more than just love the idea of changing the world, but to actually live out the process, even though the only world that changes may be our own.

Planting Missional Churches – Ed Stetzer is another guy I follow on Twitter (along with almost anyone else interested in church planting and leadership). This book is a reminder that so much of what we have done in the past is try to extract Christ-followers from their neighborhoods and points of life and bring them into the church, when in fact we should be helping Christ-followers see how they are to be incarnational in the places they already live.

Family-Based Youth Ministry – Mark DeVries seeks to offer a different way of youth ministry because there is a rising understanding that the traditional youth ministry model is not producing adult disciples of Jesus. DeVries is challenging the short-term nature of Youth Ministry and is hoping to help us place youth ministry within a greater context of discipleship, particularly as a part of the family’s discipleship.

One Man, One Time – Kelly Barcol is a friend and fellow church planter and this is his story. Barcol takes a honest look at his faith journey and how it is so strongly related to the time that one man, one time, loved him enough that Barcol was able to see Jesus.

The Purpose Linked Organization – Alaina Love seeks to help individuals and organizations work within their strengths. This take on personalities and strengths was helpful for me to cast in a fresh light the type of personality, temperament, and perspective I have when it comes to work. I working hard to keep my preferences (purposes) in alignment while not imposing them upon others.

Flesh – Hugh Halter is one of those guys who is just flat out honest. Yes, Halter is a pastor and church planter, but he is also someone you’d expect to find at the MMA fight or at the local pub more than leading people to follow Jesus. I guess that’s what we really need isn’t it? More regular people leading other to follow Jesus. This is as much an autobiography as it is a how to book.

Viral Churches – Ed Stetzer & Warren Bird remind us that following Jesus should involve a multiplication of followers of Jesus. Essentially, as individual grow as disciples they in turn will lead others to be disciples, which will lead to the need for more congregations/churches. So the key for the church expanding and going viral is not programs and events, but disciples making disciples.

Counterfeit Gods – Tim Keller is one of the leading Christian apologetics in the United States. Living in the heart of a culture capital, Keller sees clearly how money, sex, and power control our lives making them gods that we pursue. Keller writes, “When we are completely immersed in a society of people who consider a particular idolatrous attachment normal, it becomes almost impossible to discern it for what it is.”

Better Together – Jim Toberlin and crew explore the dynamics of a church merger. Using case studies they identify the marks that lead to a healthy merger, while being honest in stating there’s not just one type of merger. The indicators are that more churches will merge in the coming years so this is a helpful read for those exploring or leading others through this process.

So that’s what I have consumed in 2014. I’m working through Rob Bell’s book The Zimzum of Love. This book is about marriage and how we feed it to strengthen it.

In case you are wondering, I finished most of these. I either read these via Kindle or listened to them through Audible.

I Love a Good Fight!

I’ll admit it, I love a good fight!

Sometimes my wife doesn’t appreciate my passion for this. Sometimes my kids find this exasperating. I’ve been known to wear out my colleagues in a meeting because of this. What can I say, I’m a passionate guy. 

Sometimes, I get carried away. I remember chaperoning a trip to Six Flags with some teenagers. The boys wanted to ride the “Tea Cups” and see how fast we could go. It’s hard for me to back down. I made sure we went as fast as I could get us. I was on the brink of throwing up, but I wasn’t going to quit. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who was feeling queazy. On the next ride, one of the boys tossed his cookies because of the fight at the Tea Cups.

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Simon Sinek recently tweeted:

Fight against something and we focus on the thing we hate. Fight for something and we focus on the thing we love.

Wow! I’m not sure it could be said any better.

I recently read a blog about all the things the church is doing wrong. Ok, I’ve read several of those blogs (too many to link to). Without a doubt, these bloggers are right about almost everything they post. Some are posting out of their disgust of the church, others are posting out of their disgust for how off track the church has become. There are even a few that are posting as prophetic voices for the church. My favorites are those who are clearly posting because they love the church. Let’s fight for the church!

I along with many others have retweeted, blogged, and posted about #Ferguson and the racial challenges in our society. The fights displayed on this issues have stirred us. What we need to ask ourselves is have we stirred one another to know what we love or what we hate? I want to fight for equality!

I took the #IceBucketChallenge and didn’t fight against the negative sides of the trend. I fought for those need awareness raised about ALS.

Over the past two years, I spent a great deal of my time fighting in a struggling school district. The school district my family was a part of had a huge gap in parental and community involvement. I believe this greatly influenced the struggling test scores and overall impression of the school district. I fought for greater participation and involvement. I entered this fight with the PTA of our school, county, and state. Why did I fight? Because I believe in education and I believe in bettering things. I fought because I love seeing things get better.

In a couple of months, I plan to attend Fight Night with my wife. This marriage enrichment session with Les & Leslie Parrott should be fun. I will fight for my marriage.

This fall, I will enter into a fight with 9 others as we fight to award grants designed to help change the world.

Throughout my life, I want to be known as someone who fights, who loves a good fight! I want my fights to be for things, not against things. I want to be remembered for loving not hating.

Where are you fighting? Is it against something? Are you helping people hate? Or have you chosen to fight for something? Have you inspired them to love?

Go on, jump out there! Start a fight! But make it a good one!

(Think Mel Gibson, Braveheart, “I’m gonna pick a fight!”)

Share your thoughts in the comments. Tell me where you are fighting. Maybe I can encourage you in your fight.

Breaking the Curse: Disney Rediscovers True Love

Driving home from the drive-in, my 11yr old daughter states:IMG_0780

“I really like how in the last two Disney Princess movies they’re not making true love all about a guy.”

Spoiler Alert: Frozen and Maleficent are not about romantic love.

Frozen has been an unbelievable breakout success. The music runs through our heads, over and over again. The parody videos get millions of hits on YouTube. Yet for me, the beauty of the story is how it defines love. Love is sacrificial.

Maleficent is a new telling of the old Sleeping Beauty story. This new telling cast the wicked fairy has not only the villain but the hero too. Remarkably, to break the spell, true love’s kiss is not about romance, but about something deeper and more meaningful, family.

In both movies, there is a curse that can only be undone by true love. For years, Disney movies have portrayed love’s power over the curse, but only in the romantic love fashion. Now after 70+ years of romantic love being displayed as the ultimate saving power, Disney is breaking the curse.

I don’t mean to belittle romantic love, but I want to put it in it’s proper place. For nearly a century, we’ve elevated romantic love to the ultimate place and we’ve been cursed by it. As the masses have pursued romantic love, they’ve been disappointed because they’ve failed to find their happily ever after in the process. Instead what they’ve found is that the feelings of romance pass and it is too easy to fall in love with someone new.

We’ve been cursed with a pursuit that never meets our expectations. It turns out romantic love is more like lust than love. Lust is a funny thing. Whatever the object of our lust, once we have it, the object fails to fulfill us as we thought it would.

As a result of the curse, countless marriages and families have been harmed and destroyed because of the false sense of romantic love being the ultimate.

Sacrifice and family are better expressions of love by far. They carry with them a greater depth that like romantic love is hard to explain in words. Yet, sacrifice and family are not reduced to sentiments of the moment, but carry forward beyond the moment. These expressions of love actually create legacies for others to live within.

As Disney and others rediscover true love and tell the stories, I applaud them. I don’t expect the curse to be broken overnight nor in just two movies. There are also the lasting consequences of the activities carried out under the curse. The good news is in this rediscovery, we are finding new hope and greater love!

So I join in with my  daughter, Caitlyn, “I’m glad in the last two Disney Princess movies they’re not making love about a guy,” but about a greater love.

No Prayer at Graduation

This year’s graduation ceremonies in at least one Texas school district were the subject of the latest round of censorship. Or maybe not!

The school district announced a week before graduation that it was changing the program and the selection method for students participating in the program. The district would no longer schedule an invocation or benediction. And students would no longer be voting on whom among their peers would deliver these prayers.

Effective immediately, the district would comply with state guidelines and randomly select a graduate to deliver opening and closing remarks. If the students who are randomly selecting choose to make their remarks a prayer, that is perfectly acceptable.

As one might imagine, there was a bit of a dust up in the community concerning the change in the official programming of the ceremonies. Some cried “foul!” Some cited this as one more level of “religious persecution.”

My guess is, if the district had not announced the change, very few, if any would have noticed that no one was officially praying at the ceremony.

Without a doubt, I’m in favor of prayer. Yet, I question the use of it in per functionary ways. Invocations seem odd to me, especially when trying to get the Christian God’s attention. Didn’t he say he’d always be with us?

And when the occasion is a mix of belief systems, how do we respond when the person praying is of a different belief system?

Prayer is a conversation. I agree we should be thankful and offer prayers accordingly. But the prayers don’t have to be public or for show.

Jesus challenged his listeners to pray in secret and not on the corner for all to see. (Matthew 6:5ff)

Prayer has not been outlawed. Instead, prayer is encouraged rather than required.

Possibly, this type of prayer will be more genuine , especially when willingly offered by a randomly selected High School Graduate if he or she so chooses.

Asking Too Much From Christian Believers (part 1)

It’s interesting to me that we’ve established the standards for elders and deacons, given by Paul to Timothy, as the standard for all believers.

This is a trustworthy saying: “If someone aspires to be an elder, he desires an honorable position.” So an elder must be a man whose life is above reproach. He must be faithful to his wife. He must exercise self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation. He must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must be able to teach. He must not be a heavy drinker or be violent. He must be gentle, not quarrelsome, and not love money. He must manage his own family well, having children who respect and obey him. For if a man cannot manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church? An elder must not be a new believer, because he might become proud, and the devil would cause him to fall. Also, people outside the church must speak well of him so that he will not be disgraced and fall into the devil’s trap.
In the same way, deacons must be well respected and have integrity. They must not be heavy drinkers or dishonest with money. They must be committed to the mystery of the faith now revealed and must live with a clear conscience. Before they are appointed as deacons, let them be closely examined. If they pass the test, then let them serve as deacons.
In the same way, their wives must be respected and must not slander others. They must exercise self-control and be faithful in everything they do.
A deacon must be faithful to his wife, and he must manage his children and household well. Those who do well as deacons will be rewarded with respect from others and will have increased confidence in their faith in Christ Jesus.

(1 Timothy 3:1-13 NLT)

It seems to me, this is creating an unnecessary hurdle or barrier for many to feel as though they can follow Jesus.

Certainly, these standards are preferred for believers, but Paul does not seem to indicate they are required for everyone. Rather, Paul is distinguishing the difference between leader-servants for the church and all of those who are a part of the church.

Additionally, Paul does not seem to indicate that those who don’t meet these standards are ineligible to serve within the church. He is saying that to be a deacon or elder requires meeting these standards.

This leaves us, from an application point, wrestling with questions like these:
What are the markers of a disciple or believer of Jesus?
Are there markers for ordinary Christians?
What does a deacon do?
What is the role of an elder?

This may be an issue only for those of us in evangelical churches. It may be an outgrowth of the premise of “the priesthood of believers.” There are many issues that play into this practice of expecting all believers to behave as elders or deacons.

It just seems to me that we are asking and even expecting too much of the average believer.

What say you?

End of a Season: The Closure of Grace Point

 “For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.” – Ecclesiastes 3:1

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Sunday, March 23, 2014, is Grace Point’s Finale. After 390 weeks, the experiment is coming to a close.

In early February, I sat and watched this year’s Super Bowl contest as the Seattle Seahawks overpowered the Denver Broncos, I was disappointed. The Broncos season was filled with so many highlights that it almost seemed inevitable that they would win the big game. Yet, as more than 111 million people watched, it became evident that the league’s best offense was struggling to produce any positive momentum. One could argue that it was the efficiency of Seattle’s Defense that stymied Peyton Manning and the high scoring Broncos. It could also be said, they just had a bad game. Either way, the game is over and a new season of football is in the waiting. Yet, it is still tough to go out on a defeat.

Football is one of the most popular things in our culture today. As NFL games continue to draw tens of thousands to stadiums and millions through TV audiences, it makes for an easier illustration. From the flag football games for grade schoolers, to Pop Warner Tackle for those in late elementary and middle school, to the JV and Varsity squads of High School, to the ranks of college, semi-pro, and elite levels of the NFL, football is all around us. Living in Odessa, Texas, home of “Friday Night Lights” it is even more apparent that football is everywhere.

The expectations to win are huge. Every player, coach, management team, and fan wants their team to walk away with the championship. We know these expectations will leave most of us disappointed. After all, not every team will win the championship. Some players won’t finish the season. Coaches will be let go. Teams will dissolve. Players will be traded. Fans will find new teams to rut for. Not every play leads to a touchdown and you don’t win every game or every season.

Needless to say, there is a lot we can learn about life by playing and watching football.

As a pastor and church planter, I struggle with the expectation to win. I feel like I am playing for the greatest reasons – the Kingdom of God. Sometimes my zeal can be a bit over the top, but I love what I do. Yet, just like a football game, not every situation leads to a score or victory and at some point you need a rest or a season to end.

Eight years ago, I experienced the end of a season of leadership in a struggling congregation. As pastor, I had poured myself into the efforts of turn around and seeking for a win. After 42 months, the management team of the congregation felt it was time to go different directions. I was let go. My season was over.

Within six months, I was on board with a new team. This was a start up team. In many ways it was a research and development group or experimental program. I was leading an effort to plant a new congregation.

In the effort to be new, we worked hard to not get caught in the patterns of “the way things had always been done.” We created an atmosphere of acceptance, casualness, and inspiration that attracted a lot of people from our city. We tested the boundaries of what could be done and experienced moments of impact. Over seven and a half years, we sought to be a group that would make a difference.

Today, it is hard to say, but it needs to be said, the season for Grace Point Church has come to an end.  Like the many teams, this is not how we had hoped our season would come to an end. As the founder and pastor, I had hoped we would have a longer and fuller legacy, but I know the time has come to move on.

For just a moment I want to applaud the amazing group of people who were willing to experiment with us. Through the years, on a meager budget of less than $80,000 a year, our team accomplished a number of good things.  Here are a few of the highlights:

  • Beautifying local school campuses
  • Inspiring other congregations in efforts of community engagement
  • Training worship leaders
  • Engaging children into the life of the church
  • Providing backpacks to school children in need
  • Serving the community through partnerships with local non-profits
  • Empowering international missionaries to translate the scriptures and raise up indigenous leaders
  • Assisting in planting other churches across the United States
  • Supporting orphans through child sponsorships and special projects
  • Providing curriculum to other congregations unable to purchase it for themselves
  • Offering cups of hot chocolate to families out on cold, windy days at the park and stores
  • Equipping people with the necessary skills to manage their finances
  • Allowing people to explore their faith
  • Introducing children and teens to Christian principles
  • Teaching people how to understand the Bible as it relates to how to live
  • Celebrating with one another as babies are born, marriages restored, and victories won
  • Mourning with one another as loved ones passed, marriages failed, and defeats were experienced
  • Baptizing new believers in swimming pools, hot tubs, and water troughs
  • Exposing people to the message of Christ that reminds us he loves less than perfect people
  • Loving one another, regardless of background or life choices

There are a variety of things that led to this decision to disband. Some of the challenges included:

  • An overemphasis of the worship gathering
  • An underemphasis of mentorships
  • An inability to fully create a shared “3rd place”
  • A demanding economic environment which leaves little margin in personal schedules
  • A limited number of core members
  • A sense of “if we preach the right message, God will bring the right people”
  • An assumption that we knew how to disciple
  • A failure to develop deeper friendships beyond the casual Sunday greetings
  • A lack of emphasis on stewardship

There are other things that we might add to the list, but I don’t believe it is necessary to list each of them today. Over time, I hope to explore each of the successes and failures and extrapolate lessons learned from each. For now, it is fair to say we got off the sidelines and did the best with what we knew and what we had.

There are a multitude of people who have made this season of my life possible. I could not list all who were involved without forgetting someone. Let me mention a few. First, Christy, Caitlyn, and Andrew. Their willingness to open up our home, chase after me because I forgot something, and release me to meetings, events, trainings, and more, have been overlooked. They have allowed Grace Point to be a part of our family and it will be hard to not have this a part of us any longer. Second, the Gregg family. This family is now more than one family, but to me, they’ll always be one I treasurer. The Greggs have walked with me throughout this season. The truth is I’ve run so fast at times, I’ve taken for granted that they would catch up. They’ve filled the gaps for me on so many occasions. Third, my Tuesday Lunch Crew. The conversations that I have had with a group of five other pastors in my city have allowed me to sustain and thrive. I can’t express how much they have “normalized” my feelings and fears. Finally, to the countless others who have prayed, supported, encouraged, and fought for and with us! This is where the list gets really long! Thank you to each of you. I know your names, I see your faces. I know this season of life was possible because of you.

Now, some of you maybe wondering what is in store for my next season. Outside of being a husband to Christy, father to Caitlyn, Andrew, and now Breanna, and a faithful follower of Christ who serves the church and loves the people of this world, I don’t know. We are waiting for our next appointment/assignment.

Thank you for taking the time to read this note. Thank you for the investment you’ve made in us. Thank you for this season of life.

“Now, all glory to God, who is able, through his might power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to Him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.” – Ephesians 3:20-21

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