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

by Brian C. Hughes, Senior Pastor

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Hebrews 8: better ministry, better covenant, better promises

I had an Old Testament professor in seminary (Dr. M) whom I grew to greatly respect. He was one of the smartest people I ever met and he was a stereotypical professor type with small glasses, poor posture, big words, and a pacing-while-looking-at-the-floor style when he lectured.
And he had a sincerely, grand passion for the Old Testament.* He felt strongly that typical preachers at most churches spent far too much time in the New Testament and far too little in the Old.**

I can assure you that Dr. M inspired me to learn more about the Old Testament. His excitement for the teachings there was contagious and they way he applied them was compelling. There is no question in my mind that the OT is a critical part of God's word to us. The call from some Christ followers to ditch the first 39 books of the Bible and essentially ignore them is irresponsible. They are foundational, needed and valuable. God put them in the Bible for a reason. We must spend time there.

But the Writer of Hebrews takes a firm stand on their 'placement' in terms of importance.

"But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises. For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another." (v.6-7)

Wow! Dr. M would not like this conversation! Nor would any OT professor, I suspect. The Writer basically says that, 'When compared with the Old Days, Jesus has a better ministry, offers a better covenant, and makes better promises. There was something wrong with the first covenant. This one is perfect.'

I can assure you that this would make every OT scholar's blood boil.

But there it is...right in the Bible.

Now, let's be fair. The Writer is not specifically talking about the entire Old Testament. He's talking about the covenant that God offered to Abraham and passed down to his children. He's referring to the Law that God gave to Moses (loosely referenced in v.6 and v.10). Still, it's not hard to make the practical application here.

It's not that God is changing what is right and wrong. It's that, through Jesus, God is changing his delivery system of that law and code and the method of salvation that is final. It used to be we required a priest to stand in for us, but because of what Jesus did, that system is obsolete (v.13).

There is no doubt that the Writer is talking to a Jewish audience here, trying to convince them that what Jesus brings is superior to the old law, better than the old prophets, greater than the old promises. It may not sit well with lovers of the OT, but it's an indication of we are to approach the Bible.

What's the practical application? For me, I want to be sure I keep a good balance. While the OT takes 60% of the Bible's pages, I want to be sure that I lean into Jesus. (NOT to the neglect of the OT. It's still VERY important). The truth is, if I was stranded on a deserted island and could only take 3 or 4 books of the Bible with me, there wouldn't be any OT books in my selection.

I think the Writer would agree!

*Scholars - especially OT scholars - don't call it the 'Old Testament'. They call it the 'Hebrew Scriptures'.

**This is because the OT makes up about 60% of the Bible, but most teaching pastors only give it 20-30% of their attention from the teaching platform. I am also in this 20-30% range, intentionally, and I think Hebrews 8 describes why I feel that is appropriate.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Hebrews 7: Connecting the Dots

I'm beginning to really like the Writer of Hebrews. He's far more creative than I previously thought. In chapter 7, he returns to Melchizedek, this time with a full explanation, and he connects dots for us that are not made anywhere else in the Bible. Melchizedek is not only a powerful person, symbolically referring to Jesus, but Melchizedek is also an important literary device - a refrain, if you will - for the structure of the book itself.

One other note, before we get into the chapter. To this point, our chapters have been short and easy. That is not the case with chapter 7, where we dive deeply into complex theological concepts. It's clear that the Writer was serious when he demanded that we leave elementary teachings (see ch.6) and move onto maturity. This chapter will help propel us there.

So, Chapter 7 starts with an explanation of Melchizedek. Don't be afraid of it, but don't try to speed-read it, either. It's hard. I had to read it a few times. It DOES sink in, it just takes a little extra effort and come concentration. That's ok. You would demand such focus from your college student or high schooler. Why should you be any less attentive when studying to know God himself?

Melchizedek, according to the Writer, is much more than a man. In Hebrew (which is the same as 'Jewish') law, 1 of the 12 'Tribes' of Israel were appointed as priests. (read note 1 below for more info) The priests had to come through the Levitical blood line. If you were not a descendant of Levi, it didn't matter if you were gifted, you could not be a priest. That was the law.

So why is Melchizedek a priest of God Most High? According to Writer, because God Himself sent Melchizedek. In fact, the Writer hints that Melchizedek may even BE God, in a physical form. (see v.3 and 11).

He perfects his argument in v.11-22, saying that Melchizedek is a precursor - maybe even a prophesy - about the coming of Jesus.

And he really ticks off Old Testament scholars, saying that the 'former regulation is set aside' and calling it 'weak and useless' (v.18). Through Jesus, he says, 'a better hope is constructed, by which we draw near to God.' (v.18) (see note 2)

People say they want to know what Jesus is like, and there is a very nice and concise summary in v.26.

The Writer's overall theme here is this: We don't need rotating priests anymore. That made sense when we had priests who DIED, but now we have one who lives forever and continues to be able to intercede on our behalf. Why don't we have sacrifices anymore? Burnt offerings? Slaughtered Cattle? Because the sacrifice of Jesus is perpetual. (v.23-25).

He is ABLE to do what we need.

This is really deep stuff! Hope you dive in and follow along! There is still time to catch up.

Note 1: in Genesis 36, we read that Jacob had 12 sons. When Israel occupied the 'promised land' that God gave to them, each tribe was given land, except the Priestly tribe - called the Levites. They were responsible for interceding with God on the People's behalf, and they were paid with tithes and offerings, and had no land.

Note 2: there are other examples here where the Writer slams the OT and lifts up Jesus over it. Can you find them?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Hebrews 6: College Level Spirituality

My daughter is in her 3rd year of a 5 & 1/2 year degree program where you graduate with a bachelors and masters at the same time. Until now, she's taken mostly basic, entry-level courses. But this week, we helped her make some decisions as she registered for degree-specific classes. She is our oldest child, so the last time I made this transition from 100-level classes to 300-level classes was...well...a long time ago.

The lecture was simple: Mary Ashleigh, the classes you've been taking were basic. There was a good bit of review tacked in. They were foundational, but also elementary. They were easy. Now you are an upperclassman. Your courses will be more challenging, require more time, take more effort. But there is a reward for this: they lead to specialization and expertise. And because you are interested in the subject matter, they will largely be highly interesting to you. Still, you can't just show up for these. They require some work.

As Chapter 5 ends and Chapter 6 opens, The Writer tells his audience that they've been stuck in the basics and he encourages them to take some upper-level courses! (If you haven't read chapter 6, go read it). The first verse of 6 is a run-on sentence. I had to read it several times to get what he was saying, but I understand now. He's saying, 'look, by now in your journey as a Christ follower, you ought to no longer need teachings on the basic stuff. You already know how to read and right, now you need some calculus, chemistry, statistics, engineering or some other more challenging teachings.

The foundational stuff is critical. The Writer is not discounting the importance of the resurrection, baptism or faith. He's saying, "When are you going to grow up and grow past the foundation???'

Do you want the practical application of this? For some folks, the answer is 'No'. No, you don't. Because moving past the elementary stuff requires a higher level of commitment, more time, more study, more discipline, more energy. Many people just don't want to put more of there life into it.

Practically speaking, moving on to maturity means taking responsibility for your own growth. It means that you stop whining that 'the church is not giving me enough meat' and you start cooking your own meat! You become a 'self-feeder' as you read your Bible every day, digest the words and let them nourish you. Get to a passage you don't understand? You go get some resources to help you and you dig in and dig down.

The Writer is talking about discipleship - real, meaty Jesus-following stuff - and he's saying "if you committed your life to Christ but didn't grow up from there, it's not only the Church's's also yours."

I know many people who are stuck. The only time they read any of the Bible is when they come to church, but then they'll blame the church for not going deep enough.** Are you kidding??? The Writer would say, "Grow Up!" Go to the bookstore or to Amazon and buy a study guide, take a 300 or 400 level course. Commit to it every day, 5 days a week, for 45 minutes or an hour. Get into a small group that goes deeper into the Bible than you've been before and learn with them. Treat your journey like you would a training course for work or a college class. Be dedicated. Grow up!

At the end, it's not all about the commitment, but also the reward. Because moving on to more challenging scriptures and spiritual topics means you know God better, draw closer to him, develop skills that really can help other people and, because you are interested in the subject, you actually enjoy the journey most of the time!

Hebrews 6 helps us see that our greater maturity will lead to changed behaviors and ends with a reassurance that God is faithful to his promises. I hope you read it. It's very good.

**this is not just a phenomenon at PCC, but happens in many churches.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Food, Fun, and HELP!

In case you have not heard, we are having a little fun while we do a little work on the Powhatan Campus building tomorrow (Friday) evening. PLEASE COME if you can. You don't have to be there the entire time. Dennis Green put this together and is coordinating. If you have questions, please contact him at Here are the details:

PCC Friday Night Food, Fixin', and FUN!

July 22, 5:00 - 8:00 PM, Powhatan Campus

Bring a dish to dogs and drinks will be provided.

Our building at the Powhatan campus looks GREAT, but there's still work to be done. Join us on Friday night, July 22 for some food, fixin' up of our building, and fun times together!

No particular skills are needed, BUT if you have interior trim experience or wood-staining experience, we need you!

Children will enjoy supervised opportunities to help out, as well as some fun activities!

Monday, July 18, 2011

21 years ago today

Twenty-one years ago today, I became a dad. The advent of that event was...unorthodox, the circumstances less than ideal. I had far more questions than I had answers. But she arrived anyway. Late in the evening on July 17, Susan had been having a few contractions. Some friends were over for a pizza dinner and someone had heard that taking a walk might initiate the full-blown labor, so we did. Shortly after midnight, we were on our way to the hospital. Later that evening, at 6:56 on July 18, Mary Ashleigh Hughes came into our world and changed it forever.

I will never forget that moment, or that little girl. She was full of life and energy. Everywhere she went, she made people smile. We ran her up and down the road, she logged more miles than a long-distance truck driver, taking her to see every relative - distant or close - it didn't matter.
It doesn't seem like it's been 21 years. Many things have changed since then, but some things have not. Mary Ashleigh still brings life and energy into everything she touches. What a great blessing she has been to me.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Hebrews 5: Priests, Melchizedek and Growing Up

Before I start here, I want to remind you of something that is easy to forget. When the Bible was written, it was NOT written in chapter and verse. In other words, the original human hands who penned the words of the Bible (under the inspiration of God), wrote in narrative form, or some poetic form, but did not divide their writings into chapters and verses. Those were added later.

The transition from chapter 4 to chapter 5 is one of those places where you can't just start reading in 5:1. The Writer is saying something that is a conuous thought and to read 5 without the context of 4 is to not gain the full meaning. Chapter 4 ends by telling us that we have a high priest who is able to understand us completely - including our temptations - but who never experienced sin. Therefore, we can approach God with confidence, knowing that He can and will issue grace and mercy with a total appreciation for our circumstances.

Chapter 5 is a continuation of that thought. Every high priest is selected from men (at the time, only men could be priests), and his role was to 'stand in' for ordinary people. The high priest was a mediator between regular sinners and God. There was a chasm: people who fell short of God's glory stood on one side, God who is flawless on the other. And never the twain shall meet. The role of the priest was to be an intercessor on our behalf, offer sacrifices for our sin, and, in the words of the Writer, to 'represent' us before God. Until Jesus, the high priest was one of us - selected among men. But in Jesus, we get a High Priest who stands on BOTH sides, and brings them together. He was called of God and is now our 'priest forever' (v.6). No longer do you require the pastor, a priest, the bishop, deacon, elder or Pope. You only require the representation of Jesus Christ, to whom you have access.

The Writer invokes the memory of Melchizedek. This is a largly legendary and mysterious figure who shows up briefly in Genesis 14. (you should go read it). Abram (who later becomes Abraham) had just rescued his nephew by defeating some armies in battle. Melchizedek, who is the 'Priest of the Most High God' and the King of Salem, meets with Abram, who gives Melchizedek a tenth of everything he has, presumably as an act of worship. Incidentally, this represents the first tithe and is an indication of Abram's devotion to God and God's representative (the Priest). Melchizedek is mentioned once in Psalm 110 and then by the Writer of Hebrews. That's it. Much has been written about him, but its largely speculation. We only know what is written in the few verses of Scripture which name him.

The chapter closes with some hard words about growing up and maturity. The Writer says, "look, I'd like to explain these truths better, but you can't handle it. You ought to be able to track with me, but you are are still acting like babies. In fact, you need to go back to basics and re-learn the elementary truths of God all over again!" It's a harsh teaching, here. But let's consider the practical application. I will pose these as questions for reflection you should ask yourself and ask God to reveal the truth to you about them:

How mature am I when it comes to matters of faith?

How dedicated am I to learning spiritual truth?

How much time do I devote to studying and learning (reading, reading the Bible, studying the Bible with friends - maybe in small group, etc.)?

Do I allow myself to be stretched by new experiences that God wants to give me, or do I stay comfortably in my safety zone?

What is one thing I could do in the next week that would take a small step of growth towards maturing in my faith?

What is one thing I could do in the next month that would represent a step of moderate growth towards maturity?

What is one thing I could do in the next year that would be a huge step of growth?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Hebrews 4: Enter the Rest

Right now I am having a pretty uncanny experience. It's Divine...a bonafide confirmation that I have heard from God in the past couple of days. And it has everything to do with Hebrews 4. Let me explain.

Last night, I sent an email to some of the leaders at PCC - specifically the Steering Team - and shared with them some of the anxiety I'm having on my study break. I'd like to share wiht you a piece of what I said:

"Just a quick note to say I'm still alive.  It's starting to feel a little painful on my end to be gone for so long with no gear-up in sight.  This is an important part of the process for me, though.  I start to get a little scared about PCC - attendance is dismal, etc. - and I want to come rescue the church.  But then I remember...this is not my church.  PCC belongs to God.  He can handle the ups and downs and manage just fine without me.  And He can do whatever He wants with it anyway.  So, being away from weekends for a few weeks is healthy for me and I'm convinced it's healthy for our church.  But that doesn't make it easy..."

Then I went on to share what I had accomplished so far on my study break and what I still hoped to accomplish in the next 2 weeks.

So, today I opened Hebrews 4 and, though I had read it many times, the words jumped off of the page.

Hebrews 4:1-2 "Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard it did not combine it with faith."

Now the Writer here goes on to use the Sabbath as a word picture to represent something larger. (read the rest of the chapter). He's talking about relying on yourself and your own effort vs. relying on God and His. He's saying that the truth about God is THE Truth, regardless of whether you believe it or not. However, that Truth is only a benefit to your life if you receive that Truth with faith and allow the Truth to direct every part of your life.

So, some heard the Gospel, but they didn't receive it on faith. Therefore the Good News (which is what 'Gospel' means) was of no value to them. Instead, they insisted on doing things their own way, in their own strength, relying on their own effort.

Sort of like I do sometimes when I feel the need to rescue the church. Or my family. Or some problem or challenge.

You see, the Writer here takes a moment to refer to the Sabbath to make a point: It's really not about our effort. It's not about how strong we are, how educated, how fit, smart, trained, experienced, well read or prepared. Of course, these are all good things. I'm certainly not arguing that we don't give our best to the church, our employer, family, etc. But at the end of the day, we don't enter the rest God promises until we acknowledge and accept the Power God promises. It's not about me. Or you. It's about what only God can do.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Hebrews 3: Jesus is better than Moses

So far, the Writer is making an overarching superlative-style point. Chapter 1: Jesus is better than angels. Chapter 2: Jesus is better than humans. Chapter 3: Jesus is better than Moses. Now, there's a little more to it than that, but I'm looking at the big picture for a second. The Writer wants to be sure we know: nobody trumps Jesus. Not the senior angel, the greatest human, the most legendary figure in Jewish history. Nobody.

In chapter 3, we are admonished from the very first words to focus on Jesus Christ, not any person, not even Moses himself. This would have been a pretty provocative statement to make to a Jewish audience, since Moses was the person who led the single most defining event in Jewish history - the Exodus from Egypt (you can read about this in the book that bears that event's name - the second book of the Bible). Moses encountered God in a very unusual way, was chosen by God, spoke on behalf of God, performed miracles to display the power of God, and recorded the Law of God. Nobody - and I mean NOBODY - had the kind of memorial power that Moses did. in a way that is far beyond what most of us can comprehend, the Jewish people revered him. Think George Washington (to all of us who are Americans) or Henry Ford (for the innovators) or Michealangelo (for artists) or Beetoven (for the musicians). Now, multiply the feelings that person's name invoke in you by a thousand. Now you're somewhere in the vicinity of how the Jews felt about Moses.

For someone to be superior to Moses would be...blasphemy. unspeakable. unthinkable.

But Jesus is better than Moses. He's higher than and superior to Moses. The Writer says, 'hey, who's greater: the house or the builder of the house?" And he answers his own question: the builder, of course. Moses is a created being - a GREAT created being, but a created being nevertheless. Jesus is the CREATOR.

Now, there is a curious part of Hebrews 3 that most leaders in the Church today want to ignore. I admit that I want to ignore it, too, because it messes with my theology of salvation (what it means to be 'saved' and assured of heaven). I believe, based on other texts, that if you sincerely give your life to Jesus, ask for forgiveness, and dedicate yourself completely to him, you are saved, forgiven of your sins, and guaranteed a place in heaven when you die. But the Writer opens the door to the notion that salvation can be 'lost'. 3:14 "We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first." And v.6 "...And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast." Personally, I don't like these 'if' statements. But it doesn't really matter what I like, what matters is truth. And this is a link in our pursuit of truth.

Honestly, I'm not sure what to do with these texts, but they require more research than we can do here. One application is easy, though: Stay close to Jesus Christ and hold firmly to the commitment you made to Him! Ask God, "What does it mean that I promised you my life? How can I live out that promise more fully right now?"

Friday, July 8, 2011

Fields of Gold

I finished reading the small but potent book today called Fields of Gold by Andy Stanley. It's a book about giving and it's one of the best books on the subject I've ever read. It's a quick read, but extremely powerful. In typical Andy fashion, the book includes moving illustrations and begins with THE best story related to why we should give that I've ever heard. (you have to wait all the way to the epilogue to see how that story gets resolved, and it's a real gem if you do!).

So, I highly recommend this book. Even if you are a long-time giver or tither, you would still benefit from it.

It's available in paperback or for your Kindle, and you can get it be clicking here.

When I read, I underline, highlight, dogear pages, make notes, etc. Here are a few of the notable quotes (for me) from Fields of Gold:

* I already mentioned the opening story, beginning in chapter 1 called "Dust in the Wind" and resolving in the Epilogue. Don't miss it. It's awesome.

* "...doesn't that make it irrational to trust God for your eternal destiny, yet decline His invitation to direct your finances?"

* "When you give away something valuable, it feels like a loss. You had something. Now you don't. And that can be a tremendous disincentive to give more. But Paul (2 Cor 9:6-11) puts this concept in a completely different light. He says that giving to God's work is not giving something away. It's an investment, not a loss. The farmer who sows doesn't lose seed. He gains a crop." What rational farmer would say, 'I'm afraid to sow my seed because then I won't have the seed anymore? What will happen if I need this seed?' Any farmer knows that if he wants a crop, he's got to sow his seed. It doesn't benefit him to stuff his pockets full. Neither does it do any good to pray, 'Oh God, please give me a crop. I'm not sure I'm ready to sow any seed, but God I'm trusting You to get involved. And I'm holding onto my seed just in case.'"

* "True wealth is having everything you need when you need it. And God is able to give you all things, at all times - all that you need."

* "The fact is, God can be sitting on the sidelines watching you struggle financially, or He can be actively involved as your financial partner. It all depends on what kind of steward you are....I think you already believe that God can intervene directly to change your financial picture. Here's why I think this. As a pastor...I've never heard anyone pray: 'God, as You know, I've withheld from You all these years while I followed my own plan. And sure, I've gotten into this financial catastrophe while on my plan, but I still think my plan can work. So I'll figure things out here on my own, and You can go help somebody else.' No. When the bottom drops out, we suddenly what God involved in our finances.

There is a LOT more that is notable here, but hopefully this has wet your appetite. Go get the book and read it!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

5 minutes for Every Leader

For years, communications at PCC has been haphazard. At times, we have done it better than others. Mostly, it's been hit or miss (with a lot of misses). We just couldn't quite put our finger on how to communicate like a big church.

But I am really happy to say that we have now jumped the hurdle. Thanks to the efforts and skills of Lindsay Harris, we have one of the best, easiest, clearest communications strategies I've ever seen at any church anywhere.

Invest 3 & 1/2 minutes watching this video, even if you're a leader at another church, and especially if you are a PCC'er. It's in full form below, or you can click here to link to it.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Hebrews 2: Making it very personal

There are two things that jump out at me as I read the 2nd chapter of Hebrews a couple of times, and they bookend the chapter.

The opening part reminds me of the familiar scene of a Mom telling her misbehaving child, "Just wait until your father gets home!" When I was growing up, both of my parents could be stern disciplinarians. Mom was swifter to punish. We grew up getting a good spanking when we needed it (and we were NOT abused because of it). Dad issued spankings much more sparingly, but when he gave one, you tended to remember it. (we STILL weren't abused).

The Writer of Hebrews starts out chapter 2 by saying, "look, in the old days, angels delivered messages on God's behalf. Those messages were important, carried the weight of law and the punishment for violating the law. Now, if you couldn't escape the punishment from ignoring them how much worse is it going to be if you ignore God Himself?"

It really isn't intended to be a scare tactic as much as it is a compelling reason to pay attention. The Writer has already established (in Chapter 1) that Jesus is greater than the angels. Now he insists that his words and actions are greater than the angels' words and actions.

The chapter closes with something very personal. Let me illustrate first from my own experience.

I am particularly good friends with some other pastors. Some other senior pastors, to be specific. Now I have some close friends who are not senior pastors, but the truth is that very few people really get me like they do. When Hank, Jeff or Mark say, "Hey, brother, I know exactly how you feel" or "I know exactly what you're going through", they mean it and they do.

There are countless situations I don't understand.

I have no idea how it feels to be a resident physician and work those crazy long hours.
I have no idea what it's like to put on 100 pounds of gear and run into a burning house.
I don't know the pain of divorce (from a spouse's perspective) or the loss of a spouse.
I have no real reference point for being very poor or especially rich.

In any situation you can name, when we struggle, it's always helpful to be able to connect with someone who really understands because they've been where we are. That's why our recovery groups include people who have been through what we're going through. It just helps to know we're not alone in our struggle.

The Writer wants us to know that Jesus knows our struggle. Verses 14-18 are heavy and require a little concentration to understand, but they basically mean that Jesus became like us so that we could know He understands us and so that He could save us.

If you didn't see that, read it again. Read it slowly. Pray first and ask God to show Himself to you.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Birthday America

I got an email today from a good friend today who is a helicopter pilot stationed in Iraq. He helped remind me about how important this day is to our way of life. Below is an excerpt of my reply to him, and it expresses my own feelings of gratitude for our unbelievable country.

I'm probably not unlike many Americans who particularly think about our incredible blessing to be a citizen of the USA on this day every year. Conversations are everywhere today and the sense of national unity is high - even if only for the day. My Dad is here visiting with me today - a Vietnam Vet, with a purple heart, who should have died when he stepped on a landmine, but didn't. Our conversations are usually about the state of our country, the future for our children, and the political mess that seems to be getting worse in Washington, not better.

But behind it all is the consideration of true, honorable national heroes. You are one of these. We are anticipating your return safely, and I believe that will happen. But you can be breathing and still give up your life. You have done that - you have given huge portions of your life for us. It's hard to really grasp, and emotion wells up inside me to think of it. Why would someone do what you are doing now?

The answer is hard to swallow: You do it because you believe in us. You believe in our cause. You believe in our future.

Ironically, because of your courage, we believe in it, too. Regardless of the disgust that I and many others have over our political processes and the politicians that drive them, we remain firm in our belief, resolved to our cause. America: Where government is for the people, by the people. Where the land is free and the brave make their home. Where heroes are born and give themselves to a cause larger than the horizon, greater than life itself.

We believe in you, and we are profoundly grateful for what you do for us.

Looking forward to your safe return.


Sunday, July 3, 2011

An Answer to Prayer

Last week, we had that big meeting at PCC (which you can learn about by clicking here) and just before it started, Mandy James shared something urgent and asked that we pray. There had been a mixup with the travel agent and Natasha, Caroline and Gareth Stewart had not received their visas. After months and months of work and preparation and fundraising, they were hours from departing, but they could not go without a visa.

Getting the visa at that point seemed impossible for a number of reasons. And no one ever gets a visa as fast as they needed one, through multiple bureaucracies and 6-hour differences in time zones, basically starting from scratch a process that normally takes weeks.

So, we prayed. On behalf of everyone in the room, my words were something like this, "God, when the Stewart family gets their Visa's, we're going to give you the credit for it, count it as a miracle, and be thankful for your intervention."

Well, check out this picture...

After they traveled to DC and spoke directly to the US Ambassador from Macedonia, God orchestrated the miracle we asked for, and the Stewards got their paperwork in literally record time! And now they are in Macedonia with the rest of the team.

Thanks, God, for your work in this situation. We trusted that you were Good either way, but we're very grateful that you made a miracle happen.

TWO Teams on Mission right now!

In case you didn't know, we actually have TWO teams out this week on mission! One is in Belize and one is in Macedonia. And 2 weeks ago, almost 100 PCC'ers went to Chesapeake for the World Changers Mission there. It's VERY exciting for our church to have so many people do mission work. This is a part of the calling of every Christ follower (see Matthew 28:18-20). Not everyone is called to go to every place, but we are all called to go. Where is God calling you?

By the way, when you give to PCC, you are supporting missions in our backyard and around the globe. We make a difference when God takes our tithes and offerings and multiplies them to change the world.

You can follow the Belize team's blog at or by clicking here.

You can follow the Macedonia team's blog at or by clicking here.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Hebrews 1: My Dad is better than Your Dad

I know the title is a little inflammatory, but I couldn't resist. You might remember being a little kid and comparing fathers (I guess we compared our Mom's, too, but I don't ever remember telling someone "my Mom could beat up your mom.")

The writer of Hebrews (I will call him 'the Writer", and in spite of lots of speculation, we don't know who he is) opens his sermon with a few 'better than' comparisons.

1) Jesus is better than the prophets. In the past, God spoke to our parents and grandparents through the prophets. It was nice and good and important. BUT NOW, God has spoken through His Son, who "sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven". In other words, Jesus is better.

2) Jesus is better than the angels. You think the archangel Gabriel or Michael is impressive? God never said to them, "You are my Son" or "Let all the angels worship him" Regardless of what an angel of God can do or how awesome they are, they are nothing compared to him. Jesus is better.

Now, these are the two explicit comparisons that the Writer makes. But there is, underlying these, an implicit comparison:

3) Following Jesus is better than the Religion of Judaism. I'm sure this will upset some folks. It sounds judgmental. It's not meant to be. The Writer is writing to people who are either considering following Jesus and/or Jews who currently follow Jesus, but are considering a return to becoming Jews again. Why would they do that?

1) Judaism was safe. If you were a Jew, you knew exactly what to do and what not to do. No fumbling around with asking God for direction. Through the prophets, God had given some instruction. Through the priests and religious teachers, they had 'expanded' on that instruction and developed an elaborate set of do's and don't's.

2) Jesus had not come back. When he departed at the end of Luke (24:50-53), the assumption was that Jesus would return. He said he would do this (See John 14 for just one example). But to Jesus' original hearers, the assumption was at the return was imminent. Clearly, from our perspective, that's not what Jesus meant. But by the time Hebrews is written, Jesus has been gone for 20 or 30 years. The Jews who decided to follow Jesus were beginning to question if Jesus really was coming back.

3) There was intense persecution. A hunt was on for followers of Jesus. There was a powerful political determination to root out the infection called 'Christianity'. Anyone who followed Jesus was at risk. Going back to being a Jew or just staying away from Jesus was an easier pill to swallow for many.

The underlying theme the Writer wants to debate - and prove - is that following Jesus is far superior to being Jewish or irreligious or following another religion. His opening words are powerful, inflammatory, but (can I say it?)...TRUE.

Would love to hear your thoughts and comments on chapter 1.

Journey through Hebrews

I had hoped to study a book of the Bible with you on this blog beginning June 1, but I just couldn't settle on the right book. Not that there aren't enough to choose from (there are only 66 books in the Bible), but I wanted the ONE that fit this moment.

Anyway, I have landed on Hebrews and am really enjoying reading through it a few times. There is SO much to be gleaned from studying this book!

Beginning today, I'll blog about a chapter every 2-3 days (there are only 13 chapters in the book). I might write about some chapters more than once.

IMPORTANT NOTE: For you to really benefit, you can't just read what I write! In fact, what I am going to say is nothing compared to reading the Bible for yourself. Look, we're talking about a very small commitment - like 5-10 minutes a day. But you will grow if you will approach those few minutes with an open heart and a prayerful spirit. I like to pray something like this,

"God, I really want to know you. I trust that you gave us the Bible for a reason, that you want me to invest some time reading it, and that you will speak through it. So, here I am, Lord. Show me something today that I've not seen before. Teach me something about you. Give me an application to make to my own life. And whatever happens, I'm grateful to spend a few minutes with you today."

So, go get your Bible. Read Hebrews Chapter 1, and then come back to this blog. In a few minutes, I'll post some thoughts on chapter 1.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Sending my kid to the other side of the world

Seems like we're not parents of little kids for very long. Just a few years ago, this is what my children looked like.

But today, Daniel (who is on the right side of this picture) travels to Macedonia...without us. Half way around the world, for ten days, with $100 in cash, a passport, and a lot of prayer.

As parents, these are scary moments. But they are also moments that give us pause. My family is changing. It's a part of life. My kids are growing up, but there is much to celebrate along the way.

Like today. Daniel raised his own money to go on this trip (well, mostly :-) He's handled himself responsibly and as a respectful, respectable young man should. I'm proud of him, and I really do trust that God will do great things through Daniel and the team today.

He looks a little different these days. (Daniel's the tallest one in the picture). It's a good moment to look at my family and be thankful for all that God has done and for the unspeakable privilege of being an entrusted with their lives, even if it has been for such a short period of time.