Thoughts on life, leadership and the movement called the church by Brian C. Hughes, Senior Pastor

by Brian C. Hughes, Senior Pastor

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Baptism is Coming - You Can Help!

by Rachel Huff, Team Leader for PCC Care Ministries and today's guest Blogger

Has there been a time in your life when God reached out to you through another person?

Has there been a time in your life when you longed for an expression of God’s love but didn’t receive it?

These experiences should motivate you to do something! And you have that opportunity right now to one of the many people considering baptism this June.

I promise: if you step out on faith, you will make a difference, and you will be blessed. Send an e-mail to for more information.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Need Mothers Day Pictures!

We are doing a really cool element on Mothers Day where we'll put pictures of PCC Mom's on our screens behind a fantastic song. If you can please send a picture of the Mom in your life (or YOU if you are a Mom, surrogate mom, grandmom, etc.) The picture needs to be a jpeg at least 400x400, but the higher quality, the better.

We may not be able to use all pictures, depending on quality and quantity.

Please email them to

Thanks for your help. Mothers Day at PCC is going to be awesome!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Final Day: John 21 and some thoughts on Easter

What an awesome day we had yesterday! Easter Weekend Services at PCC saw almost 1,900 people physically come to one of our 5 services. It was really incredible. The band was really rockin', and I LOVED the B.B.King tune that they opened with. The choir was great. The 'Welcome to our Church' video was really cool. The dance was moving. And the twist at the end with the cross was a fitting end for the day, and for the series. And this doesn't even mention the dozens of other things that need to go right in order for us to experience what we experience - lights, cameras, sound, parking folks, greeters, PCC Kids folks, Online transmission, shuttle drivers, guest service food, coffee, Bibles, book store, Green Room, Student room, traffic control, grass cutting, building clean up and lock up, signage, information desk, ushers...the list goes on and on and on. I'm sure I've left some things off as I just try to think about all that it takes.

A large team of skilled, dedicated and very committed people put PCC together every week. A guy I know who's been coming to PCC for a while, recently started serving in the 'booth', learning to run sound. He said to me several times yesterday, "I just had no idea how much goes into making these services happen. You guys put in a LOT of time up here!" Yes, we do. Not just staff folks, but servers who volunteer hundreds of hours because they believe in what we do. If you believe in what we do and you call PCC your church, we need your help. Let me know - email me at and I'll help get you plugged in.

But after a day like yesterday, I find myself exhilarated and exhausted at the same time. So, I think I'm going to take the day off today and go fishing.

Which is exactly how we find Peter as John winds up his book. Peter had been hearing the reports of Jesus appearing. In fact, Peter had actually seen Jesus twice already (see ch.20). But the events of the past few days also left him in need of some re-group time. After the unbelievable events Peter had witnessed, including his own personal failure of denying Jesus in the moment when Jesus needed him most, Peter was a blender - spinning on high speed - churning a recipe of guilt, wonder, excitement, regret, anticipation, guilt, questions, fatigue, and fear. Can you imagine just how he felt? He needed to clear his head.

"I'm going fishing" he said.

I guess his friends could relate. "We'll go with you" they said.

That was probably the quietest fishing trip in history. I bet nobody said anything. They were all thinking, processing, and not catching a thing - which didn't really matter much...or maybe it did.

I wonder if the fishing was really about a decision. Think about this now. Jesus was gone. They knew who they were with him, but who were they now that he was gone? The temptation, of course, was to return to the way things were, and they were fishermen. There was a pull there for them. It would have been easy to just go back to the old life - the old habits, the old ways of thinking, the old 'me'.

If they had caught a boatload of fish that night, I bet their minds would have started to resolve to 'go back.'

But they were reminded, for one of the final times, that Jesus' resurrection leads to His presence. He is alive, but He is not gone. He is here. And His presence should make every difference to us. In a tangible way, Jesus demonstrated that to Peter and the gang that day. He told them to cast the net, even though they had caught nothing. They complied and caught the mother load. Then they knew: I can't go back to the old life. Living life with Jesus is better that the old life. Far better.

For me, there is an occasional tug to live the way I used to. Sometimes, I fail. I lashed out at a friend last week. That was the old me. I still sometimes neglect my family. That's the old me. I'm not always as devoted to what God wants me to do as I should be. That's the old me. The tug is there.

But I think, in hindsight, I'm becoming more like the person Jesus wants me to be over time, even it the progress is slow...even if I take 3 steps forward and a step or two back. That's still moving in the right direction.

So, I'm going fishing today. But not to wonder about the old life. Rather, I'm going because my family needs some time. Because I need to reflect and think and ponder and pray. And in it all, I know this: Jesus' presence makes all the difference. The question is: Am I responding or ignoring? Am I casting my net when He tells me to, or am I looking the other way?

Are you?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter Soul Prep Day 20

It's pretty difficult to read the Easter story with fresh eyes, isn't it? Even for folks who don't have a long background in church, it's still fairly familiar. And for those who have been in church for a while, you've likely heard it so many times that you can recite much of it from memory. It's not that you've tried to memorize it, but it's like watching a movie over and over again. After some time, it just kind of sinks in to a permanent part of your memory.

For me, that's what John 20 is like. I find myself skipping words or even full sentences. I've read it so many times. On the one hand, it's a blessing. On the other, it's kind of a hindrance.

So, lets see if we can somehow find John 20 with fresh eyes.

Some questions come to mind that I've not considered:
  • Why did Mary Magdalene run back as soon as she saw the stone was rolled away? (I think the possibility that Jesus had risen never entered her mind, which is remarkable given her devotion to him.)
  • What were Peter and 'the other disciple' thinking as they ran to the tomb? (The other disciple is John, by the way. He is the 'one that Jesus loved'.)
  • Why wouldn't John go into the tomb when he got there?
  • A very odd thing happens at the end of v.8. "they saw and believed". Believed what, exactly? Because in v.9, John tells us that they still didn't understand.
  • Mary seems to be completely overwhelmed, and John and Peter aren't very pastoral because they just sort of leave her there and run back!
  • Mary finally sticks her head in and there are 2 angels sitting there. There is some significance to their placement, too. John wants us to know that they were seated at either end of the table where the body was - one at the head, the other at the foot.
  • Jesus' appearance had somehow changed, because Mary didn't recognize him. However, she DID recognize his voice and the way he called her name (there is a LOT wrapped up in this!)
  • Jesus insists that no one can touch him. Why did it matter that Jesus hadn't returned to the Father? Was he afraid they'd dirty his clothes? I think here we get a glimpse of John's major concern that he wants everyone to know: Jesus was REAL. Not a hologram. He could physically be touched. (See one of the early posts in this series about that)
  • v.22 is kind of unusual. It suggests that there is someone who stands in between me and God. If I petition God for forgiveness of a sin, but the disciples refused to forgive me, would God say to me, "well, Brian, I'd love to do it, but you HAVE to convince John. He's being a little obstinate right now..."
  • Three times Jesus says the phrase "Peace be with you!"

I guess you can see a familiar story with fresh eyes, because most of what I put here in these bullets are new and fresh observations to me. And any one of them is worth digging into. What is God saying to you on Day 20?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Easter Soul Prep Day 19

'You can't have it both ways' is a phrase we use as a way of saying, "you might try to play both sides, but you ultimately have to decide where you stand, who's side you're on, which side of the fence, etc.

There are 2 people in John 19 who stand in startling contrast. Both tried to have it both ways, play both sides, have their cake and eat it, too. When the chapter is over, one has made a firm choice. The other is still playing, but he doesn't know it.

First, Pilate. Pilate is the Roman governor. He is not a Jew and he didn't particularly like the Jews, but he oversaw the legal affairs of the area. Jews were not legally permitted to execute someone - and the Jewish leaders very much wanted Jesus to be executed - so they had to persuade Pilate to do their bidding.

Pilate wants to have it both ways.

On the one hand, there is a delicate political balance. If the Jews pitch a fit, Pilate's superiors may think he cannot control the territory and remove him. So he wants to appease them. On the other hand, he really doesn't think Jesus has done anything worthy of execution.

So, he cheats.

After repeated attempts to persuade the Jewish leaders to set Jesus free, Pilate turns Jesus over to soldiers with an order of Crucifixion. But he accepts no responsibility in the matter, essentially abdicating the responsibility for the decision to the Jews. (19:6).

Then there is Nicodemus. We first met him in John 3. He's one of those Jewish leaders. Nicodemus visits Jesus under the cover of darkness in order to also have it both ways. He wants to meet Jesus, hear from him, know him...but he also wants his affiliation to be kept secret, private, and in the dark. Nicodemus argues on Jesus' behalf in John 7, but is still careful about what's happening in his heart.

But now, Nicodemus comes out of the dark and goes public with his allegiance: He has chosen a side and is a full-fledged, card-carrying bonafide follower of Jesus Christ, and he doesn't care who knows about it. I can only imagine the looks on the faces of his former colleagues on the ruling council, glaring at Nicodemus has he helps transport the body. He has now drawn a clear line and is standing on the other side of it.

Have you?

Like Pilate and like Nicodemus, you can't have it both ways, either. You may say that you are a Christian, but are you really following Jesus? Do you live your life in such a way that you are completely living a sold-out, public, unashamed commitment to Jesus Christ?

Or are you trying to have it both ways?

Ask God today, "Is there any place in my life, Lord, where I need to be more fully devoted...where I'm trying to have it both ways?" He'll tell you if you want to know. Then, do what He says.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Easter Soul Prep Day 18

Have you ever had a really special place - a place where you could go and clear your mind, think with precision, gain perspective? For me, that place is on the water. I grew up about 25 minutes from the ocean and about the same distance from the Chesapeake Bay. For someone who lives life at 100 miles an hour, having life slow down to a stop from time to time is very important. On the water, especially on my boat, is where that happens for me.

For Jesus, it was this olive grove called the Mount of Olives.

Now, personally, this doesn't look all that awesome to me. Then again, it probably was somewhat different then. In any event, John tells us that Jesus and his friends frequented that place, which made him easy to find for Judas and the Roman soldiers.

There is a good bit of speculation around v.6. No one really knows what happened there. It might be a good place for you to spend some time meditating and praying.

I also find the story of Malchus very interesting (v.10). Only John tells us his name. And only Luke tells us that Jesus heals the guy's ear. We can read between the lines by what is there (in the text) and by what is not in the text. John wants us to know the injured soldier's name, but doesn't find it important that Jesus puts his ear back on. Why would these two things be significant? And rest assured - they ARE significant. They go to John's message. See if you can discover some answers. Ask God to help you.

Note also that Jesus - who has avoided capture to this point - now embraces it, knowing that he has to 'drink of the cup'.

Chapter 18 is consumed with capture and trial. It is the at the heart of the Easter story as we know it. You should read chapter 18 and know the characters and the 'plot line' of the story.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Easter Soul Prep Day 17

Anticipation is one of the things that makes life exciting. The weeks that lead up to a very special vacation or your wedding day (or your child's) are filled with anticipation. Or perhaps it's the anticipation of having a baby or asking 'the' question or graduation day. The anticipation a soldier and his/her family must feel as they near home after a long deployment. The anticipation of a second date after the first one was magical.

We also anticipate difficult moments, and that anticipation comes with some level of anxiety. Exam day. The last day of a job (or the first). The move from home to the college campus. A meeting with the boss that he asked for 2 weeks ago and made you wait for and you've been anticipating it every day. The final weeks and days of a good friend's life as they slowly succumb to cancer.

When we get to these moments, when they finally come, and we say, "It's time."

John has been concerned - even obsessed with - time throughout his book - from the opening verses. Along the way, Jesus kept insisting, "my time hasn't come" or "it isn't time". But as we begin the prayer He prays in ch17, he acknowledges the moment with the fateful statement, "the time has come."

It is time.

Jesus' prayer here is powerful. How he prays for his friends, for God to bring the fullness of His Glory, and how He prays for you and me. Did you see it? v.20-21 (and perhaps beyond).

Read between the lines, now. What are the things Jesus prays for? What is absent from his prayer? Is this prayer a model for us? What does it teach you about your own prayer - something you should do differently, perhaps?

Can you feel the anticipation in Jesus - the anxiety and urgency of his prayer. He didn't just say his time had come...he knew it.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Easter Soul Prep Day 16

Talk about pulling the rug out from underneath of you...I love how chapter 16 begins.

'Look, they're going to drag you out of church, kill you, and think they're doing God a favor by doing it. And I would have told you this earlier, but decided to wait until now, when they are about to do it to me. Now, when it happens to you, I want you to remember this moment as you take your dying breath. Oh, and one more thing: I'm leaving and it's for your own good because I'll send my replacement after I leave.'

This is not exactly the pastoral comfort we hope to get in a moment like this! I can only imagine the thousand questions that Jesus' first hearers of these words must have had.
  • Counselor? You think I need a Counselor?
  • Execution I can handle, but they're going to think they're doing God a favor?
  • They're going to HATE me? I'd prefer if everyone LIKED me!
John gives us a hint of a few of the questions they ask in v.17. Clearly, they just didn't understand. I can relate.

His final words are some of my favorite, they give me hope: In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.

What kind of trouble, persecution, or challenges have come to you because you follow Jesus? I can think of some for me, but I'd like to hear from you.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Easter Soul Prep Day 15

Though I can think creatively, and enjoy doing that, I naturally am wired to think linearly. That means that I want to connect the dots.

If A leads to B leads to C leads to D, then we can conclude...

Well, Jesus sometimes thinks in a linear way, too. In fact, I think what He wanted to do was to communicate with all kinds of thinkers. In John 15, he's thinking about the logical-type in an agricultural society.
  • 'If you have a branch on a vine that isn't bearing fruit, you cut it off'
  • 'Branches that stay connected to the vine bear a lot of fruit'
  • 'Branches that are not connected to the vine cannot accomplish their intended purpose (bearing fruit)'
If you obey my commands, you remain in my love. If you Love each other like I loved you, you are obeying my commands. Putting aside your life for your friends' lives is how I loved you. You are my friends if you obey my commands. My command is this: Love each other.

Do you see? It's very linear.

But that doesn't mean that questions don't abound:
  • Jesus says in 15:5 that 'apart from me, you can do nothing.' But people who don't follow Jesus do accomplish things...good things. So, what does he mean by that?
  • What exactly is the fruit Jesus is talking about?
  • Am I bearing any of that kind of fruit? Are you? (this is rhetorical, but for your self-reflection).
  • Do I really love the people around me the way that Jesus wants me to?

Juxtaposed to this is the second half of the chapter, which talks about hate. You should love each other, but the world will hate you.

And finally, some relief. Jesus promises the Counselor.

There are many, many questions here. Lots of places for God to speak into your life.

Why don't you take a few minutes today and spend them alone with God, asking Him some of these questions. As a matter of fact, I'm going to grab my coffee right now and take a walk and ask Him where I'm not fully living a life of love towards others and how I can be better connected to the vine so that I can bear more fruit.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Easter Soul Prep Day 14

John 14 is one of the most recited, and therefore most known, chapters in the Bible. You hear Jesus' words here at many funerals.

But familiarity does not necessarily equate to clarity. In fact, Jesus' statement that he is going to 'prepare a place' sounds more like he's got to go clear the land, survey, lay the foundation, frame it, etc. Is that what he means? Is there a physical place He's building...currently under construction? If you really get underneath His words here, you'll find a lot of questions.

Questions are good. They help us dial into the heart of God. So I'm not attempting to be sarcastic or irreverent here. Just asking good questions.

14:6 is one of those texts you ought to memorize, in my opinion. What does it mean that you can only get to the Father through Jesus? Practically speaking, how does that work?

I also find Jesus' statement in v.12 to be shocking - that we would do even greater things than Him!? But then you find Peter in Acts 2 and Paul healing people and fast forward to people like Craig Groeschel reaching 100,000 people every week on the internet and the millions to whom Billy Graham has preached live.

Vs. 15 & 23 are convicting for me, and there is a measure of accountability in them, too. If I love Jesus, I will obey what he commands and I'll obey his teachings. Do I always do that? What does my measure of obedience say about my love for Him?

There is much more here, as I say every day, but it's Sunday, so I'm glad it's a short chapter!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Easter Soul Prep Day 13

If you haven't been following along, or if you've fallen behind and gotten discouraged, now is a great time to join us in reading John, one chapter a day, through Easter Sunday, when we will finish the book.

Today, we're on John 13 (I didn't do a chapter yesterday).

Have you ever had to say goodbye to someone? My most difficult goodbye actually happened with my wife, Susan, before we were married or knew we would be. It was the end of our freshman year of collage, and she was headed home for the summer. I was positive that Susan was the one for me, but she was still trying to decide. I sat in the car and cried so hard I thought my eyes would come out. I just knew it was the last time I would see her.

Jesus' knew he was coming to the end of his time on earth as a man. (v.3) (Note, once again, John's obsession with time, citing it again in 13:1). He's trying to figure out a way to say goodbye that will have a lasting impression. In John 13, he finds 3 ways to do that.

1) He gets up from the table, strips down to his underwear (to display vulnerability), washes everyone's feet (to display humility), and drys them with the towel around his waist (to display complete sacrifice).

You think they ever forgot? We're still talking about it!

And the moral of the story that he leaves is not some abstract lesson, but simply this: "Now that I, your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet." (v.14).

Some churches take that as a literal mandate - an ordinance, in addition to Communion and Baptism. But I see it more as a symbolic lesson. We are supposed to be serve each other with vulnerability, humility, and sacrifice. No job is 'below' me.

2) He completely transforms the Passover meal - THE most important ritual celebration in Jewish life. He re-connects new meaning to it, by making himself the sacrifice, his blood the symbol that would save people from death, his broken body as needed for a transferring of God's judgment. It was revolutionary for Jesus to do such a thing. It was a powerful way to say goodbye, and we're still talking about it to this day.

3) Jesus makes his departure very personal for Peter. By predicting Peter's three-fold denial, Jesus is making one last effort to show Peter that he knows all things. Plus, he is providing Peter with a redemptive opportunity later in John's final statement in chapter 21.

I realized today that Jesus also talks to the small group (foot washing), the masses (through the passover), and the individual (the encounter with Peter) in this triplet of parting acts.

Wow. I think John 13 is now one of my favorite chapters in the Bible. What do you see in these 38 verses?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Easter Soul Prep Day 12

As I began reading John 12, I went back just to set the scene, and read the last part of chapter 11. I hadn't seen before that it was Caiaphas the high priest who was really the instigator of the plot to kill Jesus. I've read it before, but it just kind of struck me this time.

As I've mentioned before, timing is very important to John. So, the opening verse of Ch12 begins the countdown...6 days to the Passover. The rest of John's book will deal with the final week of Jesus' life.

Another thing I hadn't really noticed before was that the event where Mary pours perfume on Jesus' feet was actually a dinner given in honor of Jesus. I presume that it was a way of thanking him for raising Lazarus from the dead, since they were in Bethany (where Lazarus lived).

One of Jesus' most troubling statements happens in John 12:8. I've read plenty of commentary on it, but none is all that satisfying. I'm just not sure exactly what Jesus is trying to communicate. Perhaps the easiest explanation is the best one: Jesus meant exactly what he said.

And another thing I saw this time that hadn't registered with me was that Lazarus was also an assassination target (v.10)

Note the incredible indictment against the Pharisees in v.42-43. Wow! "for they loved praise from men more than praise from God." This is also a word for us. It begs the question, "Who am I trying to impress...God or people?"

My final comment about John 12 - and it is a fascinating chapter - is about an unanswered question. Some Gentiles try to see Jesus in v.20. Word is passed up the chain of command, if you will, until the request is made of Jesus.

But he never answers the question. It's very interesting and leaves a lot to our imagination to read between the lines.

Tomorrow, we clean feet and have the Last Supper.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Easter Soul Prep Day 11

As we have already discussed, John is very concerned with ensuring there is a fully documented reason to believe that Jesus IS the Son of God...that he is God. The "I Am" statements would have been startlingly recognizable. The conversation with Nicodemus in chapter 3. The testimony of the blind man in 9 and the question in 9:35. From the very beginning of John's account (see the prologue to John and Day 1), John has been trying to tell us that Jesus IS God - in the flesh - with all the powers of God.

Now, he will demonstrate that in the most profound way.

Perhaps this is why we only get this story of Lazarus in John. I'm sure the other Gospel writers would have found it compelling to tell, but for John, it is especially apropos his central theme.

There are some things worth noting that aren't on the surface:

1) John refers us to Mary in v.2 as the same Mary who 'poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair'. But that hasn't happened yet in John's account. He's referring to chapter 12. As a writer, he's trying to tie up the loose ends for us so that we can connect the dots.

2) I have always found a lesson in the 2 confrontations that Jesus receives - one from Mary, the other from Martha. Each of those ladies said the exact same words to Jesus, which means they had been talking about (badmouthing) him to each other. I'm sure this wasn't lost on Jesus.

3) This is where we get the famously noted shortest verse in the Bible, "Jesus wept" (v.35). I've done an entire message on this that I adapted from the renowned Pastor/Preacher James Forbes entitled, "Why did Jesus Cry?". It's worth asking: What was so upsetting to Jesus? He knew Lazarus would come out of the grave. So, why was he so emotional here? I'll leave that with you.

4) Jesus deliberately lets Lazarus die, and names the reason: "it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it." This adds fuel to the fire for those who believe that God causes bad things to happen. Like with Job, God stirs the pot (or participates in the stirring), and stands back to watch the fireworks before coming in at the last minute and saving the day. But that's not what happens here. Jesus isn't saying that the sickness was created so that God could look good. He was talking about it not ending in death. Lazarus was sick. God didn't cause it. But He sure was going to use it. The fact that death would not have the final word would bring Glory to God's Son. That's what he intended to do with this situation.

It reminds me of Paul's words from 1 Corinthians 15:35-58 and specifically Paul's reference to Hosea 13:14. And, of course, there is an underlying building here to Jesus' own resurrection from the dead.

There is so much more that could be said. We could write an entire book on John 11, but I will leave that to you. Talk to you tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Easter Soul Prep Day 10

In Jesus' day, a shepherd's life would have been familiar to most everyone. Of course, not everyone was a shepherd, but most folks knew one or two...probably had one in the family somewhere.

The word picture Jesus gives us in John 10 of Jesus as the shepherd and his followers as sheep is pretty compelling on several levels. I'll name a few:

1. Sheep don't think a lot. OK, let's tell the truth: they're downright stupid. I don't have any sheep...never owned any sheep. I petted a sheep at the zoo a few times, but that's about the extent of my sheep exposure. However, I do have chickens. I know, one's a bird and the other is a mammal, but in terms of intelligence, I think they're probably pretty similar. My 8 hens walk through their water bowl EVERY time and then look at me like, "hey, the water's dirty!" If I didn't have them in a pen, they'd all be dead, because they're really easy prey for hawks, coyotes, foxes, etc. Even the way they look at me, you can tell there's just not that much going on upstairs. They require someone to look out for them, protect them, provide for their needs. And in spite of their laughable ignorance, they know my voice and come running when I'm near.
That's what Jesus is talking about with the sheep. We might think we're smart, but for'smart' people, we sure do get ourselves in a lot of trouble. We do stupid things and for all our knowledge, we really don't know all that much.

Jesus is saying that we are like sheep. We need care and protection. If we'll do what He tells us, we'll be spiritually safe and nurtured.

2. There is only one way into the pen. People really struggle with this, and I'll talk about it further in chapter 14, but I think Jesus is talking about the 'way to God' here. He's saying that He is the Son of God, and you only get in through Him. He'll affirm this elsewhere in John.

3. The shepherd's life was the most humble of any family position in society. It was a dirty, nasty, uncomfortable job. Jesus lived a life of humility, and he's the example we follow. My attitude is supposed to be one that says, "I'm not above anything that God wants me to do."

4. Shepherds protect the sheep at all costs. Hired hands do not. I used to own my own business and I had some great managers along the way who worked for me. But at the end of the day, nobody cared about my business like I did. It was my baby. I'd go way above and beyond any normal requirement for it. Others cared, yes, but at the end of the day, it was still just a job for them.

I know this is long already, but let me also alert you to one other thing. In v. 22, there is a reference to the Feast of Dedication. This feast is a result of the cleansing of the temple by a man named Judas Maccabeus in 164 B.C. You will not find this story in the Bible, unless you have a Catholic Bible. There is a body of around 14 books that were of questionable spiritual value and, therefore, not included in the Bible. These make up a body of work we call the Apocrypha. Some of these books are far out. Bel and the Dragon, for instance (No, not puff the magic dragon). But other books DO give us important historical information would would otherwise not have. This is the case for the the Maccabees series. There are 4 books (1Maccabees, 2Maccabees, etc.). I own an Apocrypha, have read it more than once, and refer to it from time to time. I do not preach from it, though, as it is not the Canon (THE Bible).

All that is to say that you would benefit from having one and reading it, just so you can know what's there and how it affects the thinking and teaching in the rest of the Bible. Some important history happens in the Apocrypha that answers some questions for us. But this reading is really for those who have a good grasp of the Bible and want to really understand what's going on.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Easter Soul Prep Day 9

Some of you have made very insightful comments on previous days. You are asking questions, seeing things you hadn't seen before, and learning to read between the lines. You are hearing tone and visualizing the scene. You are digging deeper into the background, culture and historical context. THIS is the BEST of great Bible study...Way To Go!

Lately, God is doing something in me where He is bringing to my mind many other parts of the Bible as I read. For example, Jesus says in John 9:5 "While I am in the world, I am the light of the world." That leads to the question: 'Well, Jesus, who's the light of the world whey you are not in the world?' And I immediately thought of Matthew 5:14 when Jesus clearly says, "You are the light of the world." and John repeatedly uses light as a metaphor for direction, goodness, God's presence, truth, etc. See chapters 1, 3, 5, 8, 9, 11 & 12.

The question that is asked by the Pharisees in v.2 would be a normal, common assumption. Disease or affliction was deemed to be the result of someone's sin. Your life circumstances were in a cause-and-effect relationship with your goodness.

Jesus dispels this kind of false assumption. Things are often broken because we live in a broken world. Sometimes, we can draw a straight line from our actions (sin) to our circumstances (consequences). Other times, like the devastation of a natural disaster or many diseases, etc., you cannot do this. It just is. Nobody caused it.

Jesus' response, though, in v.3, reminds me of Romans 8:28.

What follows is a witch-hunt. The Pharisees are really upset about the healing and are looking for someone to be a scapegoat. Note that man's defense in v.30, which is really funny, by the way.

The entire chapter is centered around this one healing and the fallout that comes behind it. It is fascinating and there are many lessons to come from it. What are some of the things you see or some of the ways you feel God is speaking to you out of this?

(By the way, it does have a lot of relevance to last weekend's services at PCC, doesn't it!?)

Friday, April 8, 2011

Easter Soul Prep Day 8: Would the REAL Bible please stand up!

We're having a good conversation about John, and I haven't responded yet to all of the comments or discussion, but I will do that in the next few days.

John 8 is most known for the opening 11 verses. Depending on the translation of the Bible you have, you will have some kind of note like: "The earliest manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53-8:11."

This requires a much more in depth discussion, but let me attempt to put it into a concise few statements. At the heart of the matter is this question: How did we get the Bible we have today?

1) The Bible is a compilation of many different parts. For the New Testament, there are many letters and historical accounts. Each was written at a different time, in a different place, on a different piece of papyrus.
2) We do not have any original pieces of those parts. The earliest pieces we have were copies of copies. These weren't scanned or xeroxed. They were hand copied.
3) In some cases, we have multiple fragments of the same letter or account. Mostly, they are the same. Sometimes, they are different. Which one is the 'right' one? Which one reads like the original?

At the heart of this, we want to know 2 things:
1) What John said. If someone else added to it later, it's not part of what John originally said.


2) What God wants us to know. This is more important than what John originally said or didn't say. But the it's much more subjective.

What this note in your Bible means is that John's original Gospel probably did not include this account of the woman caught in the act of adultery. Does that mean it didn't happen? NO. It simply means it probably wasn't in the original manuscript that John wrote.

This is NOT the only time this happens. We've already noted it in 5:3 (same thing). You can see another example in Matthew 18:11 and in what we call the 'second ending of Mark', where the earliest manuscripts end Mark with v.8, but others keep going.

So, what are we to do with these texts?

I believe that none of them are inconsistent with the message that Jesus gave us or the word God wants to give to us now. I have taught about John 8:1-11 many times and I personally believe it's a story that really happened.

But you shouldn't proceed in ignorance: there are some texts in the Bible that are worth looking at with extra effort. What we want to know is what God wants us to know. No more and no less.

John 8 doesn't end with v. 11. It continues with some very rich teachings. Note especially v.58. when Jesus says "before Abraham was born, I am!", he is clearly communicating his status as God. It would be worthwhile for you to look at Exodus 3:13-14. These verses would be well known by the Pharisees and other faithful Jews, and they would immediately come to mind as Jesus spoke those words. They knew exactly what he was implying.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Easter Soul Prep Day 7

I apologize for getting this done so late today. My own Easter Soul Prep was...delayed.

I find a few things about John 7 to be interesting.

Timing. Note the reference in v.6 "My time is not yet here." That's familiar. Jesus said in John 2, regarding his mother's request for a miracle, "My hour has not yet come." (2:4). And later, the authorities were somehow restrained from seizing Jesus because 'his hour had not yet come." (v.30) John is concerned about timing and wants us to know not only who Jesus is, but also that God has a plan worked out and a timing schematic laid out for that plan.

Living Water. Note the reference in v.37-38 and how similar the symbolic meaning of water is to 4:10-14.

The World's View of Christ Followers. I find Jesus' statement in v.7 to be somewhat perplexing. Speaking to his disciples, he says, "the world cannot hate you..." Really?

Not Going Public. The disciples want Jesus to 'go public'. But Jesus isn't ready. He avoids Judea, goes to the Festival 'in secret' (v.10). How, exactly, an electrifying figure like Jesus 'secretly' goes to a party is worth pondering. And why? That's worth asking, too.

Who Is Jesus? John 7 has a recurring question throughout: Who is Jesus? Is he a good man (v.12)? Is he demon possessed (v.20)? Messiah (v.26, 41)? The Prophet (v.40)? This is THE question that John deals with in his Gospel, and it is underneath of the entire writing. From the very beginning of Chapter 1, John wants to tell us who Jesus is, and he wants us to know that people are divided over the question of identity.

Who do YOU believe Jesus is? That's the question.

Note the ending of Chapter 7 as Nicodemus shows up again. He was in chapter 3 creeping around in the dark and we will see him again.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Easter Soul Prep Day 6: Visualizing the Shot

When I used to play golf a lot (I wasn't any good then, either), I utilized a common golf technique in my warm-up routine: visualizing the shot. I would step up, practice my approach, practice my swing and hold it. I would look out and, even though I had not hit the ball, I would see it in my mind. Standing there, with my clubhead behind my back in the finish position, I imagined the ball's perfectly designed travel. A little draw, 210 yards in the air, rolling another 60 on the ground and settling 5 feet from (and below) the cup for yet another routine birdie putt.

Of course, it almost never worked out that way. If only I could have written down my imaginary score!

Fortunately, though, the repetitive practice of that technique gave me some tools that translated into my own Bible study, and the results were much more...promising. In encourage you to 'see' what is happening in scripture with details the words alone often leave out.

For example, in John 6, Jesus tests Philip, "Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat." John tells us it's a test and that Jesus knew what he was going to do. Can you see Jesus' face as he asks Philip the question? Can you? I can. He's got a half smile; His eye's are bright and wide with the anticipation of the big thing God is about to do; but those eyes also scan the faces of the other disciples - the smile never leaving - to see if anyone might get this right.

And then, imagine this scene: Philip responds with a little attitude about the expense of buying so much food, while Andrew drags some kid up to Jesus with a $4.99 Long John Silver's special of fish bites & hushpuppies - as if that will make a dent in the problem. Can you see it? Now, do you see Andrew as sincere or sarcastic? What was he thinking? Did he have some kind of Divine tap on the shoulder...did he somehow know that Jesus was due for another miracle?

Ahhhh....maybe Andrew noticed the little half smile on Jesus' face and thought, "Yep. I've seen that look before!"

There is NOTHING about reading the Bible that excites me more than doing this kind of reading between the lines and visualizing the picture.

John 6 comes at just the right time. After the....uhhhh....confusing and difficult ending we had in chapter 5, we now find Jesus back on tangibly solid ground in chapter 6. That is, of course, until he's walking on water! Speaking of which, note what's missing in the John account: Peter doesn't get out of the boat, and therefore doesn't sink. And John doesn't tell us why they were scared when they saw Jesus (other Gospel writers tell us it was because they thought he was a ghost). Because John was written later than the other Gospels and because he was there when this happened, we know he knew all the details. So, why did he feel those were unimportant to tell his audience?

Lots of great stuff here. I could write all day. Hope you take some time to read John 6 today and, most importantly, spend some time with God!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Easter Soul Prep Day 5: Working on the Sabbath

I want to get very practical regarding the Sabbath. In the first part of John 5, Jesus has this exchange with a man who has some kind of disability. Note that John 5:4 is missing from many Bibles. This is because most of the earliest manuscripts we have of John do not include this verse, and it is unlikely that John actually wrote the words that are in verse 4. If your Bible does not have v.4 in the body of the text (mine does not), than you can find it in a footnote at the bottom or in the margin.

But the gist of what happens is that Jesus heals the man on the Sabbath - the Holy day of rest. He does this knowingly and willingly. There is a need in front of Jesus. He can't ignore it. So, he goes to work on his day off, so to speak.

I struggle with Sabbath days. I really love relaxing and taking time to relax, but there is so much to be done, and there is always some kind of crisis on the table. There is never a moment when there is no fire to put out, not emergency, no urgent need to tend to. Never.

The tension I feel over this causes more than a small amount angst. God created the Sabbath. He gave it to us. It's suppose to be a gift, a time to focus on God, to refresh our spiritual lives.

Yet, Jesus didn't always observe it. Sometimes, he gave it up for the need staring him in the face. Should we not do the same? How much is too much? If we adhere to Sabbath without flexibility, wouldn't that be a sin, too?

There is so much more to be said about John 5. The strange comment Jesus makes in v.14 makes you wonder 'what was the guy doing?' And AFTER the reprimand, the man 'reports' him. And the long response of defense Jesus gives from v. 19 on. Tons and tons of things to unpack there.

Hope you are enjoying the journey. Tomorrow, we eat!

Monday, April 4, 2011

The CORE and Strategy

I loved being able to do a Q & A time last night at the CORE meeting. In case you didn't know, this is the gathering of PCC folks where we share info about where we're headed, what's been going on and update changes, etc. We do this 3 or 4 times a year, and the next one is scheduled for Sunday, September 25, at 6pm.

Anyway, during the Q & A, there were a few questions that warrant a little more clarification.

First, the easy one. The PCC Concert raised $3,724. Every dollar of that will go to helping us pave the parking lot.

Second, I was asked a great question about strategy that was something like 'Given the growth of PCC, what is our strategy as we look out in the 3, 5, or even 10 year range?' I think I fumbled the answer a bit. Let me see if I can clarify.

Part of the culture of PCC, and one of the things that is a signature for us, is that we really do try to stay in tune with the winds of the Spirit of God. I know that sounds churchy and maybe even over-the-top, but it's true. We have, so many times, done things that were counterintuitive, with very little preparation, simply because we had a strong sense that God was moving. When we first went to 2 services, the auditorium at the High School was not even half full, but we sensed it was time. When we moved into the High School. When we bought our land. The launching of Westchester. Recently, I would put our Saturday night service into this list. And there are other decisions, too, but you get the point.

This is not an argument for intentional poor planning that we conveniently blame on God. I think it's smart to have an idea of where we think God is taking us. For PCC, I would say I think God is leading us to more campuses, more venues at our existing campuses (won't it be neat with WC has 2 services, Powhatan has 5 weekend services, etc.). I feel a pretty strong tug to begin doing some preliminary work to the north and to the west on that. And I could easily see a Sunday evening service and another Sunday morning service or two at Powhatan, as well as 2 services at WC. I can see us begin to explore different stylistic choices - a country or bluegrass venue, for instance. Or a cafe style venue.

Yes, there are hundreds of unanswered questions with all of these options. But that's the point of following God. We are on a need to know basis.

My foundation for this kind of thinking is not entirely limited to faith-based thinking. The secular world makes a similar argument, albeit one that does not overtly include God.

Jack Welsh, the legendary former CEO of GE, wrote the best management book I've ever read, and one of the best leadership books I have, called Winning. He has an entire chapter on strategy and here are some notable quotes:

"Forget the arduous, intellectualized number crunching and data grinding that gurus say you have to go through to get strategy right. Forget the scenario planning, yearlong studies, and hundred-plus-page reports. They're time consuming and expensive and you just don't need them.

"In real life, strategy is actually very straightforward. You pick a general direction and implement like hell."

"The more you think about it, and the more you grind down into the data and the details, the more you tie yourself in knots about what to do. That's not strategy, that's suffering."

"Most managers I know see strategy as I do - an approximate course of action that you frequently revisit and redefine..."

Welch goes on to lay out a very simple, three pronged approach:

1) "Come up with a big aha for your business - a smart, realistic, relatively fast way to gain sustainable competitive advantage."
2) "Put the right people in the right jobs to drive the big aha forward."
3) "Relentlessly seek out the best practices to achieve your big aha, whether inside or out, adapt them, and continually improve them."

All that is to say, our strategy is to be relentlessly focused on our niche: reaching people who don't go to church through innovation, technology, creativity, excellence, and rooted firmly in the Bible. Our strategy is multi-site, multi-venue, and completely following the winds of the Spirit.

That's the best I know about strategy at PCC.

Easter Soul Prep Day 4: The Samaritan Woman

So far, every chapter of John has a substantial and notable story for us. In fact, each chapter has more than 1. I think I could write a book on John 4 alone. And the implications for us are huge. I'll try to be brief. My hope is that YOU are engaging with God through this journey. Ask questions of Him. "Lord, how do you want to change me because of this text? What should I do differently? how should I think differently?" What does the text teach you about Jesus? What does it teach you about you? Get inside of the story. Read between the lines.

The story of the Samaritan Woman is one of the most famous in the Bible, at least inside of the church.** A Jew would go out of his way to avoid Samaria. Samaritan Jews had inter-married with their Assyrian conquerers 700 years earlier. From a purely Jewish perspective, Samaritan Jews were half-blooded, which made them dirty and defiled. They were worse than enemies. They were traitors.

So I find John's language interesting in v. 4 "Now [Jesus] had to go through Samaria." That's just not true, from a purely geographic perspective. One could go around Samaria, and most Jews did exactly that. I think John is not referring to mapquest, though, but rather to Jesus' calling. He was compelled to go. Jesus knew who he would find there.

You should read the story for yourself, but I did see this time something I hadn't noticed before: the woman came to get water, but left her jar after the encounter with Jesus and ran back to town without it (v.28). Indeed, she had drank for the first time from the 'living water' Jesus talked about.

It made me think of this lady I met once in Amelia. She might still be there for all I know, though it's been years since I've talked to her. She carefully searched for a particular property - one that had a natural spring on it with a large volume of water. Once she found it, she bought the land and started bottling the water and distributing it for sale. Whereas most ponds or resevoirs are dependent on water sources outside of the property boundary (like streams or rivers or runoff), the property she bought was not dependent on outside sources. She had all she needed inside of what was hers.

That's what Jesus was talking about here.

Funny that this lady goes back and tells some folks about her encounter with Jesus and more people are introduced to Him as a result, and then they have their own encounters and claim a faith that is their own, too.

From that day to this one, faith happens like that. You and I encounter Jesus, we testify to what God has done in our lives and how we have been changed, others are curious and they investigate, which leads to their own encounter and life change and on and on.

More than the Samaritan Woman happens in John 4, and you should read it all and spend some time with God talking about it.

Tomorrow, John 5.

**We actually did a video element at church this weekend that was a modern way of seeing her. Go 18:20 into yesterday's service (you can get there by clicking here) to see it.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Reflections on an incredible weekend at PCC

EASTER SOUL PREP: In our study of John, chapter by chapter, as Easter Soul Prep., today is one of the days I'm skipping. My guess is that I'll do that on the Sunday's from here to Easter, but we'll see. In any event, I'll do chapter 4 tomorrow.

This weekend has been one of the best I've had in a long time. PCC was filled with all kinds of great and awesome events during the past few days. Let me highlight a few that I know about.
  • Dinner theater. Wow! That is a good way to describe it. First, there were around 250 people who came to the dinner. To have that many people eating at tables in the big room was an awesome sight to see. It was pretty packed. The food was awesome (Carrabba's), and the play was extremely well done, too - very well acted and very entertaining. For me personally, it was a unique chance to meet folks who were checking out our church. For many people, it was an opportunity to invite their friends and neighbors to see our facility in a very non-threatening way. I met several families who were in the building for the first time and who seemed genuinely interested in coming back for church. Plus, we raised a good bit of money for the Macedonia mission trip.
I also had the privilege of watching my 16 year old son, Daniel, wait on tables and serve people. I'm really proud of him and the young man he is becoming. Though, as a parent, I have some apprehension about him going to Macedonia (he's never been out of the country without us), I know God will do great things through him and the others there.

  • PCC's SECOND Saturday night service. Well, VCU was in the Final Four, and the game started at the same time as our service....AND 41,000 people ran in the 10K in Richmond, including a lot of PCC folks, that morning...AND many of our folks had worked in or attended the Friday night dinner theater. SO...We knew we wouldn't be setting any attendance records! Still, almost 130 people were there! And the service was good. And we were able to use the recording in front of a live crowd for our Westchester Campus. Normally, I record the message for them on Wednesday (which I did as a backup). But this week, we experimented with the Saturday night service recording, which I have heard went very, very well at WC.
  • Church today was outstanding. God really moved, and we've seen and heard about that from lots of people as the feedback keeps coming in. Today was one of those 'moments' that was life changing and which many of us will never forget. I'll never read Acts 10 the same way again.
  • 101 part 1 happened right after church. I heard one story after another from folks who testified to the unique, refreshing, life-changing work that God is doing through our church. It never gets old, and I was blown away (again) at what a huge difference PCC is making in our community. God is so good to include us in what He is doing.
  • The CORE meeting tonight was sooooo cool! Beth and Lindsay - they may not appreciate your songwriting abilities in Nashville, but we liked it just the same! The student band was very good and the refreshments for those who came out were excellent (special thanks to Cathy Rusch). Being online and being able to interact with a live crowd and an online community was very innovative. I felt like what we did tonight was creative, warm and casual, and really, really US! It was very PCC!
So many people work so hard to make PCC happen. Even as I write this, Jon Messer and Tom Lewis are still at the building taking down some lighting apparatus so we can make some maintenance repairs. It's humbling to be around such dedicated folks who believe so passionately in what we do.

So, after a long but fruitful weekend, I think I'm going to take the rest of the day off! See you tomorrow when we talk about John 4...

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Easter Soul Prep Day 3: Nicodemus

I am really enjoying this journey through John. My own feeling of growth during these past few days is confirmation for me that I heard from God in the first place on this little journey.

John 3 divides nicely into 2 separate but related sections. The first is about Nicodemus. The second deals with John the baptizer. Though there is much to be said on v.22-36, I'm only going to comment on the first 21 verses here.

Nicodemus (I'm going to call him Nick) is the first century night traveler who comes to see Jesus under cover of darkness because he's got some questions, isn't yet sure, and doesn't yet want to be identified as a Jesus-seeker. Note that Jesus doesn't condemn or reprimand Nick's desire to be discrete. Jesus never pushes him, either. He just tells Nick the truth and let's him make his decision in his own time.

This may sound a little self serving, but I find this text a refreshing reinforcement for me and the practice of NOT having an 'invitation' or 'alter call' at our services. In fact, I've met Nick many times. He slips into a service and slips out just as quickly. Last one in, first one out. He comes once. A month later, he slips in again. Always sits in the back. Near a door. Over time, using back channels, he asks a question or two. First, the question is benign. Then they become deeper. Finally, Nick is on an all out search for Truth. We let this person move at their pace, not ours. If they want to be anonymous, it's just fine with PCC. Nicodemus slipped in at night so he could hide. Plenty begin their faith journey today the same way. We're good with that.

The message Jesus gives is compelling. There are 2 worlds: physical and spiritual. You can be in one and not the other. If you want to have a life with Jesus Christ, you must be 'born again'. This is where we get that phrase that has long been used to identify religious extremists within the Christian faith. Jesus didn't intent for it to become a phrase of manipulation or one wiht negative connotations. He simply meant this: If you want to live the Jesus life, you've got to be willing to let God make a new person in you. It reminds me of Paul's words in 1Corinthians 15:39- where he talks about different kinds of bodies.

So, if someone asked you, "are you born again?" What would you say? Personally, I dislike the phrase because of all the negative baggage that modern history has assigned to it, but in it's purest form, I would have to say, "yes, I am." Or, maybe it would be more accurate to say, "I am still in the process of it."

Friday, April 1, 2011

Easter Soul Prep Day 2

(If you didn't read yesterday's post, it might help you know what we're doing. Click here to read it.)

John 2 is notable for several reasons. Jesus' first miracle is recorded at Cana as he turns water into wine at a wedding. He also makes the bold and inflammatory statement, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days." Of course, he wasn't talking about the brick and mortar structure, but the pharisees didn't know that. If you wanted, you could spend a lot of time unpacking the notion of the 'temple' and all the symbolism there. I would encourage you to go deeper if you feel nudged.

What struck me in chapter 2, though, was the tension between 2:11 and 2:22. In the former, after the miracle in Cana, Jesus' disciples 'put their faith in him.' But then John tells us in v.22 that after Jesus was crucified and resurrected, then 'they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.' So which was it? Did their faith happen early in Jesus' ministry or did it happen after He rose from the dead?

The answer, of course, is...yes. Both.

This is helpful to me, and I'll consider it a word from God. My faith is real, potent, formative in my life. I have seen God move, seen Him do miraculous things, seen him change me. But that same faith is also still progressing, still maturing. It is not fully developed, not fully believing. I am not all that God wants me to be yet.

So, this little conflict between John's 2 verses is refreshing. I have faith. But not all the faith I need. More faith is still coming.

Chapter 3 tomorrow.