Thursday, March 30, 2006

Friday Fun . . . . Store Wars

There's been a couple of folks who've been asking me to address more environmental issues from the pulpit. I actually think the Bible does speak to this issue. Way back in the "Heaven" series, I developed this some. When we come across relevant texts, I'll be sure and tackle it. In the meantime enjoy this. . .

Store Wars

My kids just watched Star Wars for the first time on our trip to Shaver Lake a few weeks back, so they just loved this. They laughed and laughed. Your kids will love it, too.

Last Call. . . for Child Dedications

Not only are our clocks "springing forward" this week, but we're also dedicating children and parents to the Lord in our Sunday services. It's still possible to join us in dedicating your kids and yourself to the task of Biblical parenting, but we need to hear from you TODAY... like RIGHT NOW! Call the church office at 805.543.2358.

Sunday we're looking at Joshua 3-5. . . .such a cool text. Take a peak in advance.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

"Christianity doesn't begin or end with John 3:16"

Circling back around on some of my recommended resources this week. . . I guess.

World Magazine just celebrated its 20th Anniversary in its March 18, 2006 issue.

So I sat down and read the issue cover to cover. . . . a rare treat indeed! Fascinating history. They've published 885 issues over that time. (That's a lot of issues!)

Anyway, if you're looking for a great weekly periodical to subscribe to, check out these two links to see what World is all about. . .

The Next 20 Years

'A Perilous Venture'

The second link is a collection of congratulatory letters from well-wishers on World's 20th Anniversary including John Piper, R.C. Sproul, Cal Thomas and others.

It was Chuck Colson's note that jumped out at me. He articulates much of what I believe about Christianity and the cultural challenges facing us in these days. . .

Christianity is a worldview. The story starts with God, who spoke into being and who cares for all his creation. Our role is to cry out "His."

Ah shucks, just read Colson for yourselves. . .

"WORLD Magazine has been in the vanguard of a crucial movement in recent years to awaken the church to its full biblical responsibilities and engage the culture.

"Many evangelicals have comfortably assumed that the task of the church is just to get people saved and discipled. We’ve often measured success by how many contented churchgoers we can create. But as Francis Schaeffer once said, Christianity doesn’t begin or end with John 3:16. To think that way is like opening a book in the middle. The story starts with God is, who spoke us into being, and who cares for all of His creation.

"My mantra has become the statement by Abraham Kuyper, the great theologian and once prime minister of Holland, “There is not one square inch in the whole domain of human existence as to which Christ who is sovereign over all does not cry out ‘Mine!’ ”

"And if Jesus, looking at all of life, cries out ‘Mine!’, the church’s task is to cry out ‘His!’ Increasing numbers of evangelicals, thanks in good measure to the editorial leadership of World, have begun to understand that Christianity has something to say about every area of life; law, politics, science, arts, community, and so forth. This means that Christians have not just the Great Commission to fulfill, evangelizing the lost, but a cultural commission, to multiply and be fruitful, to occupy, to cultivate and till, to see, as Cotton Mather once put it, that the blessings of God show forth in all of life.

"In short, Christianity is a worldview. It answers all the questions humans ask—where do we come from? Why is the world in a mess? Is there any way out? What is our task?

"What most WORLD readers surely understand is that we are in the midst of a brutal clash of civilizations. On the one hand, as Harvard professor Samuel Huntington predicted, the great titanic struggle of the 21st century is between Islam and the Western liberal democracy shaped by Judeo-Christian tradition. When he prophesied that in the 90s, not many people paid attention. 9/11 awakened us. We are in a life and death struggle with radical Islamo-fascism, which is dedicated to destroying Christians and Jews. This great struggle, understood only in historic and religious terms, will be with us for generations.

"At the same time, there’s a clash within our own civilization. On one side are secular naturalists, who believe that life arose out of the primordial soup, that it has no transcendent meaning, that the task of government is to protect people from having any infringement on their desire to do whatever they choose to do, that truth is merely a preference; and on the other side are those who believe in overriding natural moral law, a created order, the knowability of truth. The so-called culture war involves abortion, gay “marriage,” cloning, and the like; but at a far deeper level it forces us to face the question of who we are, what it means to be human, whether it is possible to continue to enjoy ordered liberty.

"The stakes could not be higher. Christians can no longer be content retreating into their sanctuaries. Instead we have to be self-conscious about our responsibilities, learning to defend truth, to winsomely work for justice and righteousness in the midst of an apostate world, and seek to become the businessmen, doctors, lawyers, artists, movie producers, literary critiques, academics, and leaders who shape the culture in which we live.

"I salute WORLD on 20 years of pioneering vision and advocacy of a biblical view of all of reality. The magazine does a superb job reporting on films, music, politics, and energizing readers across the board to winsomely engage the world."
—Chuck Colson is Founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries

That rocks! Amen! Let's not retreat into our sanctuaries. Let's winsomely engage our world.

Your thoughts?

an assignment for the week

I've recommended Mars Hill Audio Journal to "life together" readers before. I love it! I'm sending the latest issue down to the church library for your listening pleasure. (Are the other Journals on the shelves yet? I'll have to go check!)

On the latest issue, these two terrific and thought-provoking articles are referenced as the authors are interviewed. . .

A Very Long Disengagement: This arcticle talks about the disengagement of college students and the demise of the liberal arts. Very relevant in our college town.

The Numbing of the American Mind: This article looks at the dizzying speed of our image-based culture and how it numbs us. Do you feel the numbness?

So what I'd like you to do is to spend 15 minutes reading them and responding to them. And in particular, I'd like you to tell me what they have to do with our 75th Anniversary Celebration. Ready. . . GO!

slo stats

At a recent Chamber of Commerce breakfast, results were shared from a recent county-wide poll conducted by a local polling company called Opinion Studies ( I seem to remember that the survey consisted of 1000 folks and was conducted by phone.

These stats are a nice complement to yesterday's post which really got us going...

Who are we?

Work full time 43%
Retired 29%
Households with self employed 29%
Self Employed Income: % Earning $50K+ 71%
Government/Education Income: % Earning $50K+ 67%
Other Employed Income: % Earning $50K+ 57%
Own their own home (excludes students) 71%
Lived in SLO County less than 20 years 55%
Moved from So. California 21%
Moved for the Bay Area 11%
Moved from other state 10%
Moved from Central Valley 6%

Planning to move out of the county in the next 2 years 14%
(excludes students)
Planning to stay 86%

What do we think?

Businesses in county meet all or most of needs 62%
One store we want most: Target 12%
County has put too much emphasis on environmental issues 25%
County has put too much emphasis on economic issues 19%
Traffic is an “extremely serious” problem 11%
Don’t know their county supervisor 63%
Quality of life in county is a “10” on a 10-point scale 31%

So what do you make of these stats?

Many thanks to Opinion Studies for granting permission to use the stats!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Changing SLO Demographics

Catching up on my Tribune reading since I was gone over the weekend, I spotted this front page article in Sunday's paper entitled Younger Working Class More Likely to Leave.

Here's the bottom line. . ..

Younger, working-age people are twice as likely to leave San Luis Obispo County over the next two years as are residents over 45, according to a new survey.

The two main reasons: the cost of living and the lack of affordable housing.

What does this mean for Grace over the long haul? Is the rest of California really any less expensive?

Curious for your thoughts?

Monday, March 27, 2006

75th Anniversary is almost here. . . so what?

I'm hearing great things about Steve's sermon yesterday. I give thanks for the chance to get away, knowing that God's Word will be preached in my absence, as well as in my presence. I don't worry, I don't fret, I just pray. Thanks Steve.

Steve is also doing a great job helping the folks he works with understand the value and purpose of our 75th Anniversary.

(Its obvious that some just still don't get it? How about you? Perhaps, you'd find it helpful to listen to the message the message where I laid out our vision for the 75th Anniversary!)

Here's an excellent post and a comment from the college ministry blog, "the source" . . .

The closer we come to the the 75th Anniversary, the more I am convinced of the power of this time of remembrance and celebration and ministry to reform and renew our lives individually and corporately. In a recent discussion with Ted Malley I was reminded that I need to continually keep the purpose of the 75th before us all that we might might be stirred to action because of God’s faithfulness. Thank you for the humble reminder Ted! I think this is true for you our students especially as your time at Grace tends to be shorter. The purpose of the 75th celebration is to look back upon God’s faithfulness to past generations that we might reorient ourselves in the present and continue a legacy of faithfulness for future generations. Remembering what God has done reforms us in this moment the Lord has given us that we might pass the baton to others.

Since that conversation I have spent time in reflection and prayer over how to keep the biblical nature of such a celebration before us. I’ve decided over the coming weeks to share a passage of Scripture each week that is relevant to remembering God’s faithfulness. In addition to the passage, I will write a brief devotional thought on it to cause us to reflect on God’s Word and His steadfast loving-kindness toward us His people. I have been richly blessed through this exercise already and am eager to share some of what God has revealed to me.

Before I share some thoughts this week, I commend the following passages to you all to reflect on God’s call on our lives to remember and reflect on Who is and what He’s done:

* Genesis 9—God’s covenant of the rainbow which symbolize His covenant of mercy and grace toward every living creature.
* Exod. 12:14-32—The Feast of Unleavened Bread which celebrates Israel’s redemption from slavery.
* Exod. 31:12-18—The Sabbath commanded as a covenantal reminder that the LORD is Israel’s God—the One who created the world.
* Numbers 15:37-41—Tassals placed on the Israelites clothing that they would remember God’s commands.
* Deut. 16:1-21—the Feasts of Passover, Weeks and Booths—Reminders of God’s acting in their midst.
* Josh 4:1-13—Memorial stones that commemorate Israel’s crossing of the Jordan. A physical reminder so that their children would ask “What do these stones mean?”
* 1 Chron 16 (note esp. Vv. 7-36)--The Ark is brought to Jerusalem with celebration of God’s glory, delivery, covenant, provision of the Land, creation and everlasting loving-kindness.
* Neh. 1:4-11—the memorial power of God’s Word to point His people to Himself.
* Psalm 42—Remembering God’s faithfulness in the midst of trouble, harm and distress.
* Psalm 77 & 78 (A powerful duo!)—77—Remembering God’s mighty deeds in the face of feeling forgotten by God. 78—God’s mighty deeds of redeeming His people despite themselves—God’s faithful loving-kindness is certain!

Reflections on God’s Faithfulness

Throughout the history of Redemption God has used memorials and celebrations to stir His people to renewed and continued faithfulness. May the 75th do the same for us! I was particularly struck by Deut. 16:1-21—the Feasts of Passover, Weeks and Booths—Reminders of God’s acting in their midst this week. We may ask if God’s people should make such a big deal and throw lavish parties to “remember God’s faithfulness.” Deut. 16 speaks to that very issue. Here are three God-ordained lavish parties designed for God’s people to remember His faithfulness.

The Feast of the Passover was intended to recall the specific events by which Israel was redeemed from Egypt. For seven days the people were to eat unleavened bread to remind them of the fearful haste with which they left Egypt. Then they were to sacrifice the lamb and eat it.

The Feast of Weeks followed the Passover as a feast of thanksgiving. The point here is for the people to remember their former slavery in Egypt and to bless the needy—the Levites, foreigners, orphans and widows. The people were to bring an offering in accordance with their blessing—no determined amount!—with which to feast and joyously celebrate God’s good gifts to them. While the Passover is a solemn affair, the Feast of Weeks was an extravagant party in which all the people rejoiced.

Finally, the Feast of Tabernacles was a seven day camping excursion to remember God’s provision during Israel’s time in the wilderness. Again, this was a happy celebration for God’s people to celebrate His sovereign provision. Again the needy are pointedly to be remembered in this occasion. Israel is commanded here to annually rejoice in acknowledgement that their blessings are from God. For seven days they were to feast and be full of joy because of God’s provision.

As I think of the 75th—from our special weekends to our celebration dinner at the end—I think of it’s parallel to these feasts. May we remember how God has delivered us from our slavery to sin and death. May we remember our own neediness and God’s intervention for us that it may spill over to others. May we rejoice and celebrate the Lord’s provision of our property, the facilities, financial blessing, ministry opportunities and the resources with which to pursue them for 75 years! May this serve to stoke our own faith in our generation. May the Lord be pleased to empower Grace so we continue to see lives, families, our community, and the world transformed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

May our college-age community join in with us!

And the comment from a college student . . .

I must say that I was skeptical when I heard about the 75th anniversary plans. Even more so when I learned how much of the budget was being poured into this endeavor. Couldn't the money be put to better use elsewhere? Have we solved poverty and disease and can now divert that money to church celebrations? It seemed to me to be a waste of my tithes.

Last quarter I decided to start reading through the entire Bible starting with the beginning. That endeavor(I'm not quite done yet) has been one of the most rewarding things I've done in awhile. One of the things I realized while reading changed my view of the 75th celebration.

Those poor Israelites could not keep it together. It seemed like every other chapter, they were turning away from God to pursue their own interests. Why? It's because they forgot the wonders and miracles God had performed in the past. So, once they turned away, God needed to remind them once again. Often this came with a deadly cost.

Then I thought about my own life. The times when I am most discouraged or likely to abandon my walk with the Lord is when I am too caught up in the things of this world and lose sight of where God has brought me. Remembering God's blessings and provisions is one of the key elements in keeping me walking with Him.

It is important to remember what God has done not only in my life but the church as a whole. Hearing about God working in other's lives is just as encouraging.

What is the greatest commandment? Love the Lord with all your heart, soul and mind. A key ingredient in working toward this is to remember.

What's Up with Ordination?

This last weekend we had a chance to return "home" to the church where I served for 10 years, the Evangelical Free Church of Laguna Hills. It was the first time we'd been back in over 3 years. The occasion was the Ordination Service for Tim Culling, a guy who worked along side me as the Adult Ministries Intern and then took my place as the Pastor of Adult Ministries. Tim, like myself, is the recipient of God's grace and goodness to find himself in a such a great "incubator" to love, be loved and learn a historical but dying model of ministry.

For us it was a great weekend to see old friends and return to our roots. I sat there with a big smile on my face, in the same old seat next to my friend and mentor, Don Smith. Such a special place. Such a big impact on my life and ministry.

(BTW, I was floored to have multiple folks tell me they regularly read "life together." I've got to keep this thing going!)

Pastor Don knows how to do an Ordination Service. . . . because he believes in the power of the Gospel, because he believes that God calls men to the pastorate, because he believes in pastoral ministry, because he believes in ordination for the man and for the church.

Here's the text of his challenge to Tim Culling. . . .it was good to be reminded of my own calling. . . .

Tim Culling, sometimes affectionately called 2nd Timothy, is being ordained to the ministry as a shepherd of Christ’s church. This is not a call to a profession, but a call to a life of sacrificial service. Today, as in the days of early Christianity, there is an urgent need for pastors with a shepherd’s heart. Therefore, he is laying aside all other pursuits to fulfill this mandate. This is to be his calling, purpose, and passion in life.

We don’t need more humorists, psychologists, political analysts or pragmatists in the pulpit. Instead, Christ is calling men first to Himself and then to the pastorate. We don’t need more slick programs, more religious consumer surveys and self-help gurus. What the church needs is a man of God who has a consuming passion to know Him and seek His glory above his own. What the church needs is a shepherd whose holiness can be explained no other way than as a result of spending a lifetime looking into the face of Christ. What his flock needs to see, hear and feel is a man not caught up in the applause and acceptance of others but a man caught up with the love and majesty of God. The church needs pastors on their knees interceding for their flocks and longing for the souls of the lost. They must know God is committed to deepening their faith before He broadens their ministries. He has called and gifted His shepherds to fulfill all that He ordained for them before the foundation of the world.

Shepherds who have a consuming passion for God’s glory must also have a burning desire to preach the whole counsel of God without compromise in every generation. Before he ascends to the pulpit to preach he must be convinced the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. What the church needs from its shepherds is not more simple formulas and principles for success learned from the works of men but shepherds convinced from the bible that God’s grace is sufficient not only for salvation but for all the pressures that befall them. He must discipline himself to be a lifelong student of the Word, knowing long tedious hours trying…. to discover the mysteries of God for His people. He must fight off the tug of an entertainment-driven culture to tickle their ears. His duty is to help form in the mind of the flock an adequate and appropriate view of God. He should aspire to preach Christ from every book of the Bible in his lifetime. He need not fret trying to discover a clever message but discover the message of the biblical text. He is to trust God to produce in his congregation’s ears Gods’ chosen purposes for them-irrespective of whether the results are visible or not. Nothing is to be more relevant and transforming than a message about which he can confidently say, “Thus saith the Lord.”

A shepherd of God’s flock must not only have both a consuming desire for God’s glory and a burning desire to preach the gospel, he must also nurture a compassionate heart for Christ’s flock. He is not to think of his people as intrusions into his busy day; He is not to consider them hindrances to his professional reputation; He is not to think of himself as a manager of a corporate business nor a therapist for a counseling center. Instead, Christ’s shepherds are called to care for hurting broken lives, to pursue lost wandering sheep, to protect vulnerable sheep from wolves in sheep clothing, to feed hungry sheep from the pastures of God’s Word, to be there with them from birth to the grave and to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. And after an exhausting week spent studying and preparing for his sermon, meeting with various committees, answering phones, writing letters, counseling the bereaved, conducting a funeral and preaching on Sunday, he must learn to smile with those who joke, “Why don’t you get a real job” and “It must be nice to work only one day a week and keep your lawn green.” This is when his sense of calling must drive him back into the Scriptures on Monday to repeat the whole routine again and be grateful for his calling.

Christ’s Shepherd must also care for his own wife and family. He must learn to say, “No!” to some church commitments so he can say, “yes” to his family. He must share with his family the joy of serving Christ’s Church and not bemoan the smell and bite of ornery sheep. He must constantly remind himself that those he has charge over are called by Christ... “Saints” whom Christ declared holy and blameless; “Adopted sons & daughters” whom God chose in Christ before the foundation of the world; “the Bride of Christ” whom He clothed in His righteousness; and “brothers and sisters” whom Christ united together into one forever family. He must be willing to invest his life in others and then send them into the world to serve others. He must be willing to be rejected by friends and parishioners for preaching what others fear to say. He must be willing to sit before his critics and objectors with the intent of reconciliation, not triumph over them. He must be slow to anger and quick to forgive. He must be a leader of leaders, a leader amongst leaders and a servant of all. And he must constantly have an eye on eternity where the greatest reward for service will be to hear the Chief Shepherd say, “Well done thy good and faithful servant. Enter into the pleasures of my kingdom.”

Tim Culling, those seated before you recognize and celebrate God’s call on your life. Today we lay our hands of affirmation and blessing on you. Therefore, I charge you to faithfully declare the whole counsel of God; to proclaim the holy birth, the perfect life, the atoning death, the bodily resurrection, the glorious ascension, the providence & sovereignty of God and the personal return in judgment of the Lord Jesus Christ; to faithfully administer the ordinances instituted by Christ; to uphold the work and worship of the church that He who is the great Head of the Church may be glorified.

I give thanks for Don Smith and my time of training at the Evangelical Free Church of Laguna Hills!

Monday, March 13, 2006

Parable of the Gracious Landowner

Yesterday we looked at my favorite parable, the Parable of the Gracious Landowner, where we saw the seeking grace of God, the sovereign grace of God and the inexplicable grace of God. We ended our time with the Lord's Supper where all these truths take shape and form.

I think this message is "essential listening" for all those who are committed to life together at GraceSLO. The grace of God is at the very heart of the Gospel. The Gospel is at the center of our church. If you missed it, will you please take the time to listen

I pray that our Growth Groups have and excellent time talking it out this week.

Here's a quote I used in 1st and 3rd but overlooked in the 2nd. . .

Are there problems raised by this Biblical doctrine of the absolute sovereignty of God in providence and grace? Of course there are. Everything that god reveals of Himself transcends man’s comprehension; every doctrine, therefore, must of necessity terminate in mystery, and man must humbly acquiesce in having it so. God does not tell men more of His purpose than man needs to know.
--J.I. Packer

What difference should these truths about the grace of God make in our lives this week?

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

love it. . . hate it

I love ministry in a university town. College students add a life and vibrancy to the life of a church. It's exciting to see them grow and step out in their faith and recognize they are making decisions now that will impact the rest of their lives. Ministry in a university town is strategic for worldwide impact for the kingdom of God. Young people who come here for school leave here and go to places all over the world where they'll be salt and light and ambassadorss for Christ. I love it!

And I hate it. I've had several students in recent weeks remind me that they will soon be graduating and how much they'll miss Grace. I hate it that college students leave Grace. It feels like we're losing a limb or vital organ. It feels like we're losing part of who we are. I don't like it all.

The Lord is faithful. They are His people, not ours. And so we send them with blessings and great expectations into mission fields, occupational callings and other churches where they can give as they have received. . .

I'm getting all sentimental. Yikes.

Anyway, one of our college students, who is planning to go on a short term missions trip to Holland this summer, sent this great email to our missions board inquiring about prayer and financial support. When I read this note, I was so encouraged to see how God has been at work in this young gal's life through the ministry of Grace.. . . to God be the glory. . . .

My name is Arijaan Bulk and I am currently a 3rd year at Cal Poly, studying to be an elementary school teacher. I have attended Grace church upon starting college and certainly consider Grace "my home" during my years on the central coast. Along with attending the main service weekly I got involved with the college group my freshman year; however, as I am very involved with Campus Crusade (I am currently leading a Bible study for freshmen girls) I knew that college group wasn't where the Lord could use me most at Grace. I jumped into children's ministry and was a helper in the toddler room my 2nd year and currently am teaching Kindergarten Sunday School during the 11 o'clock service. I have also attended various women's functions (salad suppers and the retreat in 04) as well as went as staff to Mexico with Pastor Ken and the high schoolers in 2004. The Lord has really used Grace Church as a training grounds for a deeper understanding and application of the gospel in my daily life. I am very excited to share with you that I have been called by the Lord's perfect will and timing to do mininstry in Amsterdam, Holland this summer. I will be working along side a Christian Youth Hostel organization that seeks to reach the tourists, travelers, and locals that come to Amsterdam by clearly sharing God's love through action and word (check out their extensive website: The Lord drew me to this opportunity in part because of my passion for that country and the people - my parents are Dutch immigrants and all of my relatives still reside there. As a result, I also prayerfully look forward to reaching out to my lost family members as well. First and for most I am very excited to share this with you because I covet your prayers during this time. The Lord has powerfully used the body at Grace to bring me to the point where I find myself today and I want all to know how grateful I am to Him for you! I am also interested in knowing your policies for financially supporing short-term missionaries. I will need to be paying for the cost of the flight as well as medical insurance. I know that Grace is committed to seeing the gospel spread and I would love to come along side of the church and be the hands and feet for many as I prepare for this adventure. I will also be talking to those at my church at home, the Oakdale Community Christian Reformed Church. Regardless of your ability to provide for me finincially I trust fully that the Lord will provide all that I need and honestly primarily dsire your prayers. I hope that you are encouraged to hear that the gospel is alive and well in my heart . . .

You go, Girl!

Monday, March 06, 2006

life is messy. . . "life together" is messy

I resist the urge to try and offer answers to all the questions that are raised in the comments section at "life together." I resist the urge to rush in and make peace between folks who respectfully disagree. Sometimes things do indeed get a little heated.

I confess it's not always easy for me.

But I've decided I like the messiness of "life together" . . . the loose ends, the dialogue, the unanswered questions, the squabbling between brothers and sisters. Real life is just like this. . . messy! I hope you embrace the messiness with me.

Let's think hard, be straight-up with one another, keep sharing our thoughts and lives, but work hard to love and respect one another with Gospel grace.

Hope you're having a good Monday!

Those Bloody Presbyterians

I have mixed thoughts and feelings about the emergent church movement, but I read Mark Driscol's "Resurgence" blog. Mark is the pastor at Mar's Hill Church in Seattle.

This guy's posts almost always make me smile. Anyway, here's a very thought-provoking post about the contrast between big and small churches, liberal and conservative churches.

Lifted from. . . Those Bloody Presbyterians | Resurgence

Apparently a number of churches in the Presbyterian USA denomination are slowly bleeding out. While the denomination does have some godly pastors and churches that still believe the Bible and preach the gospel without wincing and apologizing, things don’t look good overall.

According to the guys with calculators at the denomination’s headquarters, membership loss for the denomination in 2005 was estimated at sixty-five thousand, followed by an eighty-five thousand projected loss in 2006. According to The Layman Online, “Both the projected losses in members in 2005 and 2006 would be higher than any prior year's downturn since the reunion of the northern and southern streams of the mainline denomination in 1983. The projected 2006 loss would represent a single-year decline of 3.7 percent, the highest percentage loss in the denomination's 216-year history.”

Curiously, no explanation was given for the continued decline of the denomination. Perhaps that is because such an explanation would require repentance for getting off track of the mission of the gospel to fight over such things as homosexuality and feminism. These cancers are eating away at many liberal denominations and are now spreading to younger emerging-type Christian networks caught driving around the same moral and theological cul-de-sacs that a previous generation wasted their life on while failing to do evangelism and plant churches.

While the truth will be received by some as warmly as water on a cat, the stats bear out that churches with a high view of Scripture, a high view of Jesus, and an ongoing call for people to repent of personal sin and trust in Jesus tend to grow while their counterparts do not. Why? Because there is power in the gospel, and the church has no power when it walks away from the gospel. As the PC-USA is discovering, churches marrying the spirit of the age instead of Jesus end up being widowed. The only hope is repentance, which is the key to all of the Christian life, and not merely another year of stats without an explanation, repentance, and a renewed sense of mission.

According to Lyle Schaller in The Very Large Church, there are multiple variables that help churches grow. The following eight variables are some of the most pertinent in light of this discussion:

1. Larger churches tend to have higher expectations for their members’ active participation than smaller churches.
2. Larger churches tend to be more conservative in theology and more liberal in practice, while smaller churches are often more liberal in theology and more conservative in outward practice (e.g., liturgy, hymns, and vestments).
3. Larger churches tend to be non-denominational and function as independent churches or as members of loosely affiliated networks.
4. Larger churches tend to present clear, authoritative teaching from Scripture while theological pluralism tends to thrive in smaller churches.
5. Larger churches are governed more by local leadership in the church while smaller churches often rely more on regional or national leadership for their direction.
6. Larger churches tend to have a smaller number of leaders making decisions while smaller churches are either in theory or practice more committee and congregationally governed.
7. Larger churches tend to listen to a small and influential number of church members for direction while smaller churches tend to give ear to most everyone.
8. Larger churches tend to hire more from within while smaller churches often hire from the outside and often depend upon schools and denominations to replace their pastor(s).

In conclusion, the way out of this sort of mess calls for theologically conservative Bible teaching, real church members actively doing ministry, drifting from national denomination leadership to more local authority, raising up pastors from within, and ignoring the parade of fools who will shrill at such changes.

Let me know your thoughts!

Thursday, March 02, 2006

some thoughts on church membership

I recently received an email and have had a couple of convos with folks asking questions about our vision for church membership because of some comments that I made in a message a few weeks back. So here some things to throw in your hopper as we think about this controversial topic together. Let the comments begin. . .

  • Church membership is nothing to be afraid of. It's merely a shepherding tool. Abuse is always a possibility, but Biblical shepherds are to be gentle. Our desire is not to create an "inside" and an "outside" here at Grace. Nor to track tithes. Nor to compel Sunday morning attendance. Nor to control people's lives in an authoritative or heavy handed way. Our desire is to simply covenant and commit ourselves to one another.
  • Presently, Grace is nuts in a good way. It's hard to know and track who's here, who's just passing through and who's "just looking." We don't want to just care for some and neglect others, but we do want to know who's committed to Grace. Church membership provides a means to know who's here and who's committed, so we can provide appropriate pastoral care for all.
  • Membership provides a screen for those who want to serve in teaching roles. We need to know that those who are teaching Sunday School to our kids have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and that they are committed to the vision, direction and statement of faith of Grace Church. We need to protect the flock in this way. Yet at the same time, we don't want folks to have to be here for 10 years before they are "known" and can serve. We want to streamline and speed-up the process of integration into full and involved body life and service here at Grace. Church membership can help us both protect the flock and employ the flock, as God has gifted each.
  • As I mentioned in that sermon on Matthew 18, sometimes the Scriptures call for the church leadership to humbly confront sin in believers' lives. Yet, we feel like folks need to give the church leadership permission to humbly confront them when they wander. We don't want to assume or presume. Church membership again can serve as a "permission-giving" tool.
  • All of these issues become more acute as God continues to grow Grace. Our desire is to be as open, welcoming and hospitable to new folks, believers and unbelievers alike, as we can possibly be to help them first come to know Christ as their Lord and Savior and then to find their place in the body of Christ.
As we get nearer to our implementation plan, we'll work to clearly layout the reasoning for this move. If you've got concerns, you're not alone. Pray for the Elders, as we try to provide Biblical oversight of the flock of God here at Grace, which He purchased with His own blood ! (Acts 20:28)

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

3 Years

It's March 1st, my three anniversary here at Grace. I had no idea what I was getting myself into when we responded to the Lord's call. It's been a wonderful season in our lives.

We love Grace. We love the people of Grace. We love SLO and the Central Coast. We feel like we're drowning in God's blessings. It just keeps getting better.

Thanks for loving us. Thanks for opening up your hearts and your church to us! We give thanks to God for His leading and blessing. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen!