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

by Brian C. Hughes, Senior Pastor

Monday, August 29, 2011

Not Religious?

Yesterday I made a statement that always raises a few eyebrows. I said, "I am not religious. I don't really care for religious people and, to be honest, I don't think Jesus really liked religious people, either." (if you missed it, click here to see the service. My message begins 33minutes into the service)

When I read the Scriptures, I see Jesus being patient and compassionate with people who had spiritual questions. I see him inviting people who were of questionable character to be with him. I see Jesus teaching and mentoring and enjoying the company of anyone and everyone, except those who were pious, righteous and religious. Even Nicodemus, who comes to see Jesus in the shadows of darkness was questioning his religiosity. Jesus would invest in someone like that. But Jesus railed against those who were more interested in rules than people; more passionate about regulation and reputation than they were caring for people and meeting real needs.

Those who are indignantly religious may think they are God's agent. In fact, though, they are hurting our cause.

Why? Because it's easy to see that people focused on religion are uninterested in them.

This is not a case against ritual. Don't confuse the two. Ritual is an important part of our lives, especially when it comes to matters of faith.

Religion, though, in it's adulterated form, is an abuse of what God had in mind. God is real. He's alive. He's not a statue or a crucifix or a cup and saucer. He's not a book or a checklist. He's not a clothing style or a language. He is personal. He is loving. He is near. And He cares. The question is: Do we?

The kind of faith that Jesus had in mind brings heaven to earth - not out in the future, but in this moment right now. That kind of faith speaks into people's lives in a relevant, personal, caring way that is both tangible and spiritual. That's why I'm not a religious person. But I am passionate about Jesus.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Need a Shower?

I spent my week meditating on this text:

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. (Ephesians 5:17-19, NIV)

What does it mean to make the most of every opportunity? I'm talking about that today at PCC. Really looking forward to sharing what God spoke into my life through the Bible.

But there is a practical application. We have an opportunity to make an offer, and we're going to do just that. With tens of thousands of people around us without power, we are opening the doors of the Powhatan Campus today. We have a men's shower and a women's shower. We have electricity, running water and hot water. We will be here, at the Powhatan Campus today from now through 7pm. Anyone is welcome to come and clean up, take a shower, even lounge around and enjoy some A/C.

If you'd like to come or let someone else know about it, you don't need to call. Just come. I don't suspect many will come, but you do need to know that we only have one shower for me and one for women, so it's possible that there may be a wait.

Spread the word. Make the most of every opportunity.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Cancel Services tonight

Because there is a good bit of concern regarding Irene, we are going to cancel the service tonight at PCC. This decision was not easy to make, but we are leaning onto safety for our folks as a precaution.

We WILL have services tomorrow at Powhatan and Westchester. See you then!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Free to Write

I learned something over the past two weeks about productive message preparation. I came back from a substantial break and, expectedly, had a sizeable backlog of messages in my email inbox and Facebook. There were also a few lingering questions that folks had held until my return, so I had a lot of cleaning up to do.

I felt like I couldn't possibly really get to it all in a week, so I attempted to inter-mingle 'catching up' with writing for the weekend. But I could never really clear my mind. There was a constant nagging about what crisis or urgent situation needed my attention that I was neglecting. I learned that, for me, writing with stuff like that hanging over my head does not work well.

Every week, my standard operating procedure is to begin my week by going down my emails and messages and to-do list and addressing anything that is urgent. That normally takes until mid-day on Monday, if I start working on it Sunday afternoon.

THEN, when I'm finished addressing urgent things, I close gmail, close facebook, close twitter, close my reader, calendar, picasa, docs, blog, etc, etc. I shut it all down. Often, I will actually go through the formal 'shut down' process on my laptop - a psychological exercise that makes its point.

With a clean screen and LOGOS (my Bible study software) and a Bible next to my laptop, I write. My mind is uncluttered. I'm not worried about lingering things that I should deal with because I KNOW I've already addressed everything that cannot wait.

Normally, this buys me enough time for a rough draft. Then I open a few windows and step back into the world of 'important but not yet urgent'. When I do this well, I finish writing by Wednesday afternoon, and move into lots of other things Wednesday evening and all day Thursday. I take Fridays off and work most Saturdays.

So, I learned that my routine works for me, and that trying to put it all into one big calendar casserole doesn't.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Reputation and Mission of God Formula

I introduced a formula at church today. Sometimes I think in formulas and over the course of many hours pondering Ephesians 3-4, this one kind of emerged. It makes sense to me.

The scripture came from Ephesians 3:20-4:13. You can hear the message by going to

Here are a few notes:

1) Glory = Doxa, which means 'reputation'. Jesus is the Doxa of God. Now, we are to be the Doxa of Jesus.
2) PB = Personal Behavior
3) IC = Individual Calling
4) EL = Equipping Leadership
5) FP = Focused Purpose.

For completely non linear people - total abstract types - this might bore you to death. I kind of live with a foot on the creative side and one on the concrete side. This computes in my mind. Hope it helps you, too.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Case for Church - Hebrews 10

Hebrews is an interesting book. I've never really studied it until these past few weeks. I have read it, of course. And I've looked at and taught on pieces here and there. But digging in is where you get something else...something more.

The entire book seems to be about the contrast between the Law of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and the Promise of Jesus. The Writer is constantly pitting the two against each other, much to the dismay of his contemporaries I'm sure. Many today would also have heartburn over this.

But I don't think that the Writer is trying to disrespect the Law or Moses or the history. I think he's saying it's evolved, improved, and culminated in the Person of Jesus Christ. So, in chapter 10, he points out that the sacrifices under the law were required, but were not sufficient. Then he quotes and commentates on Jeremiah like this: " 'Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.' And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin." This is a RADICAL change for former Jews who now follow Jesus.

Which makes the famous verses 24-25 more meaningful to me: "Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another..."

Apparently 2011 is not the only time in history when going to church was an easy habit to quit. What was important about church then is STILL important about church now. We 'spur' each other on. We offer encouragement. We connect with God. For some of us - and perhaps for all of us from time to time - church is the only time during the week we read the Bible, pray, or hear from God.

To me, going to church is kind of the foundational element of my spiritual discipline. It's NOT enough, but it IS essential. What I mean is that I also need to have deeper relationships than I can get by going 'to church'. I have to be in a small group where I can talk about me, pray for others personally, and hear from them. But attending church and participating in it is the rallying cry that we have in common, and it came with many benefits.

The Writer knew this. We should, too.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Help

I went to see 'The Help' today. Half the people I know are reading the book, including Susan (my wife), who just finished it. I didn't have room in my reading right now for a novel, so I opted for the movie. Susan and I normally take Fridays as a Sabbath and we often see a movie - something we both enjoy.

Wow. First, to my brothers out there, this is not just a normal chick-flick. It is a cultural statement about the realities of our past without making an indictment on our present. It's a documentary, a family video of our grandparents that we didn't know existed. The Help is one of the most moving films I've ever seen (and I've seen a LOT of films).

Being relatively tender hearted, I was moved to tears several times. But I think this movie could move the hardest of hearts. It left me ashamed that we treated people like that, even though there was no accusation made in the movie. Again, it was so carefully done so as to avoid any kind of 'statement'. It just painted the picture and left the emotions with the audience to go where they might.

This movie makes it into my top 10 list, and I highly recommend it to you.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Hebrews 9 and Ephesians 2

I have not been very faithful to this study of Hebrews. Just a confession. I started saying, 'Well, it's summer...let's take it slow and casually and I'll do a chapter every few days.' I should have known better. I'm not that disciplined. I need to do something every day or every other day with regularity or it just won't happen.

So, with a certain level of guilt, I opened up Hebrews 9 today. What a great surprise! After studying Ephesians 2 and having this image of an impenetrable wall, Hebrews 9 paints a picture that is very similar and is too close to be coincidental.

The Writer begins by comparing the 'old' worship with the 'new' worship. Only priests could get near to God and only the High Priest could enter the place where God dwelt and then only once per year.

But not, because of Jesus, there has been a permanent breach in the barrier that separated us. Verses 24 and 26 summarize: "For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf...As it is, he appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself."

Verse 12 says that Jesus "entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption."

Jesus breached the separating barrier! Maybe I just see walls everywhere now!

Take a look and see for yourself.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

5 Reasons why I love Leaders

Today we attended the first day of the Willow Creek's Leadership Summit. I've been coming to the Summit for 11 years and it has been an essential part of my leadership development for every one of them. More than fifty leaders from PCC (including a couple of local pastors we invite to come with us) are part of this year's Summit.

Leadership is always on my mind, but never more than while I'm at this annual event. I looked around today and considered the leaders gathered here at Atlee. I thought, "I really love being with these people!" Which begs the question: Why? What is it about leaders that endears me to them, draws me to them?

I thought I'd share some thoughts about that here.

1)Leaders see what is not, but what could be. At lunch today, one PCC leader pitched to me an initiative that was beyond bold, beyond even imaginable in my mind. At first, I thought, 'he's crazy!' and then I thought, 'No. He's a leader.' That's what leaders do. They see what is currently not, but what could be. They envision a future of "what if's".

2) Leaders rally others to their vision. I'm not the only visionary at PCC. Within our clear mission to reach people outside of the church are particular visions that will reach the world. Lots of leaders speak vision into our mission. I love them for that.

3) Leaders make things happen. They are catalysts. They are unhappy with stagnation, unsatisfied with the status quo, unwilling to 'live with' less than our best. All day, one PCC leader after another has come to me and said, 'I've been thinking about...' This statement is followed by their assessment of some area that needs to be shaken up, changed, pushed, altered, fired up, etc. They don't just make suggestions, they make solutions. That's what leaders do.

4) Leaders grow. A real leader never says, "yea, I know what I need to know and dont' really need any more training." No, a real leader craves getting better, reaching new levels in their leadership. That is contagious. In fact, there is a certain conviction that happens here (in me). I hear these leadership gurus like Seth Godin talk about how to stretch to the next level and it makes me say, "My team is counting on me to grow. They won't tolerate me getting stale. They're growing. I've got to grow, too." This kind of accountability is good and it makes us all better.

5) Leaders know it's not about them. Real leaders care more about the cause than they do about their preference. Many people say, "I like..." "I want..." "I need..." But leaders say, "Forget what I want, this is what will make the organization better" "My need isn't as important as the needs of the people we're called to serve". The leaders at PCC have that kind of attitude

There are more reasons, but these are a few of the major ones. I stand in awe that these folks gave up 2 days of vacation and a hundred bucks, some are missing family events and other things. Bill Hybels says, "The local church is the hope of the world and it's future rests primarily in the hands of its leaders." I believe that.

And we are in good hands.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


I'd like to coin a new term: Blogation. I guess if you coin a new phrase, you get to define it, so here goes:

Blogation: 1) A temporary hiatus from regular blogging. 2) A Vacation from blogging.

That's sort of what I've done for the past 2 weeks. I intended to do that in week one. I took a Blogation to coincide with my Vacation. But last week was more of an out-of-habit experience. I was in a pretty good rhythm of blogging but once I lost the beat, the music stopped.

So today I return from Blogation. I'll be back on the Hebrews series this week (and we'll finish in a week or so), post about leadership and some PCC things, too.

Ahhh...I think I'm hearing the beat again!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

It sure does feel good to be back

I came back to work today. I was out for 6 weeks - 2 weeks of vacation book-ending 4 weeks of study (click here for more info about my study break). Technically, I returned to my regular work on Sunday. But even that wasn't 'normal' because we had a mini-retreat planned with our senior staff (which we call the 'Blue Team'). So got home from vacation on Saturday and spend Sunday through Tuesday away on that retreat. Today, I finally got to my office after a long time away. There was some surprise waiting. Here's a sample of what I saw when I opened my door:

Everything had been wrapped in toilet paper and plastic! It was pretty funny. I guess I've been gone so long, they had to shrink-wrap the room!

But the favorite think I found was inconspicuous. It would be easy to miss by the average person. It looked like this:

So what...just a nickel. Can't even buy anything with it anymore. What's the big deal? Well, a few years ago, a group of guys at our church went to a men's rally in PCC kind of put together. They brought in a great speaker who challenged them in many areas. One of those areas was to pray for their pastor. His symbol was a nickel. "Pray for your pastor 5 days every week and give him a nickel every week when you do. I have a special flask in my study at home where those nickels have accumulated and grown into substantial collection now. Most Sundays, 1 or 2 or 3 guys (and occasionally a lady who found out about this ritual) will just walk up and hand me a nickle. It means a lot to me.

This nickel on my desk was put there for a reason. Someone - and I don't know who - is sending a message to me. They're saying, "even when you are away and not bringing us messages and making us laugh, I'm still praying for you." I can't tell you how much that means to me.

So, for all the saran wrap and toilet paper, I sure do appreciate the person who also sent a fun message that simply said 'I love you enough to pray for you regularly'.

Looking forward to diving back in really hard today.