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

by Brian C. Hughes, Senior Pastor

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Great Gift

Right now, in front of each of us, is a real opportunity. A great gift. If you think about it, it's pretty incredible. In fact, every time I sit down and mull it over, I'm overwhelmed with the privilege that's been given to me. It really is an incredible gift.

What am I talking about? Wealth. I know you probably don't think you're wealthy. I don't feel wealthy usually. But all you have to do is travel outside of our country to developing what we used to call a "third world" country...and you'll have a new perspective. You and I are rich in comparison to 99% of everyone else in the world. Something like one third of the world's population lives on $1 a day or less. Whatever Congress does or doesn't do, we'll all still be rich. That's the truth.

The gift that you have is the chance - not only to ENJOY what God has given you - but also to GIVE some of that blessing away. When I say give, I don't mean token giving. I mean lavish giving! The kind of giving where you know you were really a part of making a difference.

After years of spending all my money on myself, borrowing all I could and hocking my future, I looked back and saw how greedy and selfish I had been. I didn't trust God. I trusted myself, the bank, the government...pretty much everyone except God. I hadn't been a part of what God was doing. I wasn't really giving. I was pretending to give.

Then I lost almost everything. It was my own fault, but God used the experience to allow me take a hard look in the mirror. You know what? I really didn't like what I saw. I vowed I would never be like that again. Once you lose it all, living on 90% or less of your income is a cakewalk. Seriously. Now, even though we make a modest income, Susan and I give like we're rich! And it's a great gift...not to the church or to the others who receive the gift as much as it is to US! WE GET TO GIVE! That means we have it, God blessed us with it! It's a whole new way of living and thinking. It's freedom. Our money never belonged to us, so giving it away isn't a chore or drudgery, it's FUN! I'm not kidding.

Plus, we still get to use most of it and enjoy what it brings. It's the best of all worlds. And it's NOTHING like the way we used to live. NOTHING!

You can live like this, too. Change your thinking. Re-orient your paradigm. Seriously. I know the misery of living for myself. If you're there, I feel your pain. Get out of it. It only gets worse. It's a house of cards. Start giving. Give more. Give lavishly! And get out of credit card and other consumer debt! It will kill you! Here are four ideas for you:

  1. Read Matthew 25:14-30 and Malachi 3:8-10, What does this parable say to you about what God expects of you regarding the money He put in your care? What does the promise of Malachi 3 assure you will happen if you give like you should give?
  2. If you have not been giving generously, consider making an end of the year gift to PCC. For some ideas you might get excited about, click here. And if you donate online, at church on Sunday 12/30, or postmark it by 12/31 it will count as a charitable donation for the IRS in 2012.
  3. Consider increasing your giving in 2013.
  4. Think about taking Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University in the Winter Small Group Semester. Catalogs will come out in January.
Here's the truth: Giving is as much a gift to the giver as it is to the receiver. Ask someone who gives a lot and they will tell you. I've lived both ways, and I can assure you. There is only one way to live: Give like God owns it all, and He will bless you like you're a trustworthy and faithful servant. That IS the story of my life and many others.


Friday, December 21, 2012

Why You Should Read Acts

I had another one yesterday.  Another conversation with another person who told me about how their life was changed because, for the first time ever, they were reading the Bible.  I now have this conversation about 3 times every week.  Since we started doing this 6 weeks ago at PCC, it has been the most phenomenal thing.  On a scale I can't ever remember seeing, people's eyes are being opened to God's involvement in their lives.

Like everyone, I know you have a lot going on right now.  December - especially this final push towards Christmas - is insanely busy.  As we speed closer, more and more things get pushed aside.  I get it.  

But believe it or not, hundreds of people are somehow still reading the Book of Acts with us right now.  And it's not too late for you to read it with us.  If you read Mark with us first, Acts is a logical next step.  Let me tell you a few reasons why:

  • While Mark (as well as Matthew, Luke and John) all tell the story of Jesus' life, ministry and death, Acts is the only book in the Bible that tells about what happens in the days, months and years immediately following Jesus' resurrection.  It's critically important to our understanding and instruction.
  • It's exciting!  So much happens so never gets boring.  At times, you can hardly put it down.
  • It's applicable.  Ok, there are some times when you think, "I've never seen God work like that in my life or in others around me." But most of the time, I think we can apply what happened in Acts to what's happening in us.

It's not too late.  We're not that far into the book.  You can catch up by reading Acts 1-8 (which won't take you long).  Then you can get a daily reminder of the scripture by texting "pccwired2" to 41411.  Also, we post the scripture each day, along with some helpful questions (usually) at our blog.  Some people just go there and read each day.  

So come along and join the adventure.  

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

5 Great Christmas Gift Ideas

Like you, I often struggle with good, creative gifts to give the people I love.  Do you really want to give them a picture frame?  A 6 pack of socks or underwear?

If you're looking for something truly honoring, creative, or helpful, try one of these gifts this year:

  • A Life Application Study Bible, New International Version What I've given you is very specific.  There are other kinds of study Bibles.  Some of them are good, but the Life Application Study Bible (LASB) is, in my opinion, the best non-academic one out there.  The New International Version (NIV) is the most popular English translation of the Bible.  You can get the LASB in other translations, but I'd get it in the NIV.  Finally, you can get this Bible in all kinds of bindings - leather, hardback, etc. - which will effect the pricing.  But however you choose it, it will make a fantastic gift.  You can find one of these Bibles at most bookstores, on Amazon, Lifeway, etc.

  • Sponsor a Child in Tanzania in honor of someone.  Seriously, does your grandmother really need another coffee mug?  As I get older, I realize that I have most of what I need, so take my word for it:  Most people would be truly honored if they knew you gave a gift like this.  Most kids in Tanzania don't go to school because their families cannot afford to send them.  The average family lives on less than $1 per day.  But PCC partners with Together for Tanzania to help support as many of these kids as possible, and Susan and I will be sponsoring one of these children this year.  $150 will completely fund a year of one child's primary school education.  Click here to find out more. 
  • A Weekend at PCC's Marriage Retreat.  You wouldn't believe how many wives have approached me lately and said, "I really wish my husband would take me on this retreat."  Fellas, she really wants this for Christmas.  I don't care what race is that weekend or what hunting season is in on that Saturday.  She's your wife!  Mom's and Dad's, you can buy this for adult children, too, and throw in a free weekend of keeping the kids.  The retreat is Jan 11-12 and you can find out the other details by clicking here and then scrolling down the page a little until you see it.   
  • Deep and Wide.  I'll have a lot more to say on this later, but if you know someone who is really passionate about PCC - I mean really loves this church - than this might be a great gift for them.  Right after the first of the year, I'll be talking a lot about this new book and asking leaders and folks who are vested here to join us in reading this with us.  I've read a lot of books on churches like ours, but never one as good as this.   

  • Finally, one more book.  For any leader or entrepreneur anywhere, at any level in any organization, I highly recommend Jim Collins' new work:  Great By Choice.  It's a fantastic look at why some organizations seem to thrive in spite of chaotic and uncertain circumstances, while others falter. I've learned a lot from this book already and I'm trying to apply and adapt.  It's worth the read and I know it's a valuable gift.
Hope this helps all you last minute shoppers like me!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Mixed Day, GREAT Team

Today at PCC would allow for a string of adjectives.  Tragic.  Inspiring.  Sad.  Hopeful.  Somber.  Joyful.  Heartfelt.  Passionate.  Authentic.  Exhausting.  Emotional.

There are more words.  You can add your own.  It's a long list and a mixed bag.  Perhaps you still left with a lot of questions (me too, for the record).  But many of us also left with a firm resolve:  Jesus did not prevent the darkness, but He did defeat it.  His resurrection overcame death so that death would not have the final say and so that a madman would not have the last word.

When people ask me why I can follow God when such tragedy exists in the world today, I remind them that the alternative is to follow someone who is still dead, or will be dead one day.  I follow the only One who made a way for death to not have the last word.  His name is Jesus.  If you can find someone who can do better than that, I'm open.

But you won't.  Because He's the Only One.

What an incredible team!
Let me turn our conversation something a little more practical.  Do you have any idea what the creative folks of PCC did to make today's service happen?  In 36 hours, 2 campuses - two completely different bands - ditched their previously memorized and thoroughly rehearsed music, started all over - from scratch -  charted, sang, practiced, rehearsed and memorized an entirely new set of music.  New creative elements were written.  New lighting maps were created.  Mandy James crafted a dance.  New scripture slides had to be built into the system by the graphics folks.  The candles had to be bought and people recruited to light them.  Transitions considered, offering, there time for people to mourn?  breath? Is the service too heavy?  Not somber enough?  Are we singing too much?  Not enough?  What are people wrestling with? What are their questions? What do we need to address? Is there a song or a poem that gets to what we're feeling?  You might not know how long it takes to find just the right element, but it's not as quick as you think.

All of these things and more were the task of a highly dedicated group of people - both technical and creative.  This weekend, these people put their families aside...for you.  I never heard one person complain.  They mopped floors.  Moved chairs.  Decorated.  Turned knobs. Replaced batteries. Cooked.  Cleaned. Played.  Rehearsed.  Sang.  Spoke.  Gave.  Cared.  Served.

There is an army of them.  But I'd like to name two.  Beth Stoddard and Sammy Frame.

Christmas is a full time for Beth.  As the head of all-things-creative for PCC, December is probably the most exhausting month for her, so timing wasn't so good for a full-scale abort on a weekend service.  But she went all-in, and her skill and talent proved, as always, invaluable.  She asked me yesterday as we sat at a working-breakfast table, "What do you want me to do?" "I want you to do what you do best," I replied.  "I want you to be Beth Stoddard." She knew what I meant.  Nobody - and I mean nobody can do what Beth can do like Beth can do it.  She's just that good.  God gave her a great gift, and I sure am glad she uses it at PCC.

The other person is Sammy Frame.  Sammy and I co-wrote the message for today and we did something we've never done before:  we each taught it live at our two PCC locations.  I was at Powhatan and Sammy was at Westchester.  I decided to do this because I felt like each campus should have a live teaching pastor for a service like this who could also be there when it was over to offer care.  It was an unusual circumstance.

Anyway, Sammy wrote some of the best parts of today's message, and he is one of the finest communicators anywhere.  He is considered by many (including me) as the resident expert on the Bible at PCC, and it was an honor to work with him in this way this weekend.  Sammy gave up a great deal of time with his young family to make today happen.

It was a great day at PCC.  If you weren't there, it was a day worth watching online, which you can do here.  And Angie Frame wrote a really great post about today, which you can catch here.

I hope you'll join us for church next week.  And invite someone to come.  See you then.

Friday, December 14, 2012

A Special Service of Response This Sunday

Early in the day, the news began to come.  Then a few Facebook posts.  The more we learned, the more heavy it became.  Twenty Seven people murdered.  Twenty of them children.  Elementary school children!

I was on the phone with good friends inside and outside our church, trying to figure out what we should do.  Beth and Sammy and I agreed that we couldn't just have a normal day at PCC.  We have to respond.

I use that word deliberately.  I'm not entirely sure I have answers.  How do we speak to the enormity of a tragedy like this and have the audacity to suggest that we have some kind of easy, satisfying resolution?

As I rode in my car and heard the reporters and imagined the scene as some of the children spoke into the microphones, I couldn't hold back the tears.  "These are our children!" I thought. 

Tonight, those parents grieve like most of us have never known.  Their kids went to school this morning with their bologna and cheese sandwiches and their Transformers lunchboxes.  They had appointments to see Santa this weekend.  Those Moms and Dads were doing the finishing touches of the shopping and making final arrangements on the travel plans.

Instead...tomorrow...they'll just make the final arrangements.

Twenty Seven Sets of Final Arrangements.

And because of today - and days like today that we remember all too well because they were all too recent - the whole world has questions.  Spiritual questions.  And No churchy, cheesy, canned, memorized, Sunday School answer will do.  We have to do better than that.  Maybe all we can do is cry out to God.  Maybe that's all we will do.  I don't know.  But you can be sure we won't belittle the pain by dumbing down the response.

I was on the phone with my good friend Jeff Boggess from Atlee Community Church when the President came on.  We hung up so we could listen and I called Jeff back when it was over, surprised that the speech was so short.  But then I said, "You know, when you think about it, this is really not the President's job.  This is the church's job.  This is a spiritual question, because at issue right now is:  Where is God?  People wonder in a moment like this how such a tragedy could happen, and it isn't the President's job to's ours."  

I hope we're up to the task.  

Tonight, I hope you will pour your heart in prayer out for those families who lost someone today.  And I hope you will invite someone to church on Sunday.  Folks want to know where God is.  Somehow, we're going to help them find hope and peace.  Somehow, we're going to at least give them a reason to believe that God is still God, even when we can't see or understand.  We'll give folks permission to be real and authentic and genuine, a chance to pray, and, as always, they'll be glad they came to church.

See you Sunday, and thanks for praying.

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Very Special Christmas Gift You Can Give...

What to buy for my wife???
What to buy for my grown kids???

I know this is not always an easy question to answer.  Sometimes, it's just downright hard.  But it doesn't have to be.  And this year, I can actually help make it easy.

Listen up.  I'm going to solve your shopping problem quicker than you can say Gift Card.

What your wife really wants...What your grown-up, married kids really want is...


Time together.

Time with each other.

The truth is that most marriages survive on leftover time. Tired time. Half-awake time.  Distracted time.  While we're 'together', we're also checking email, folding laundry, looking at Facebook, doing work we brought home from the office or helping kids do homework.

Fellas, what your wife would LOVE for you to give her this Christmas is the gift of time.  Parents, what your adult kids would love for you to give them this Christmas is the gift of a weekend away and to keep the kids while they go.  Here's how:

Join us for a weekend away at a the VERY Elegant Boar's Head Inn, just outside of Charlottesville, January 11-12.  That weekend, Susan and I will lead 
PCC's Marriage Retreat, which will include some fun conversation about some marriage related subjects and include lots of time for you and your spouse to spend together.

The cost $199 includes the room, a book, all the sessions and snacks, but does not include the cost of meals.  Registration is due by December 27.  You can email or FB me or call the church office for info or questions.

I have some tips for husbands below, but let me add a few more comments for everyone.

I ran into a friend not long ago who had been married for 30 years.  His youngest kid just left for college and he was telling me that he and his wife just went away for a week for the first time since they had children.  I looked at him and said, "You have lost your mind!" And I'm serious.  If you aren't investing serious time in your marriage, your marriage will never be great.  It never has a chance of being great.  'Good' is highest possible potential, and I don't think the odds are very high for your marriage to even reach that.  Time invested is the only way marriage becomes great.  There are no shortcuts.

There are all kinds of reasons for you to take advantage of this pre-packaged weekend experience.  Yea, it's a lot of money, but a great marriage is worth the investment! And we blow all kinds of money on all kinds of things - let's be honest!  How much money are you sowing into your marriage?

For the record, Susan and I are paying to go on this weekend experience...and we're leading the sessions!

(Special tips for Husbands are still hang in there with me.)

Over the years, we have had to make tough choices to invest in our marriage.  It's not always an easy decision.  But the best gift I can give to my kids is to show them what a great marriage looks like, because they're going to probably have a marriage just like ours, for better or for worse.  And besides, one day they'll pack up and take off, leaving us alone...together.  Do we want to be strangers?

What if there was a way for your marriage to be the kind of marriage where you could be in love - really?  Like you were when you got married?  Except deeper.  Better.  That's what God had in mind.  That's excellent marriage.  It's the kind of marriage that is no comparison.  And it can be yours.

So Susan and I cherish our time together.  We work hard, but along the way we also get away.

And you should too!

Now...TIPS FOR MY FELLOW HUSBANDS: (Ladies, you can log off now if you'd like)

Fellas, I'm on your side, and I've been married for almost a quarter of a century, so take my advice!  Follow these instructions carefully:

1) Make the arrangements for the kids.  Don't get your wife to do that.  Do it yourself.  And don't tell her.  Make it a surprise.  And don't leave them with Attila the Hun.  Leave them with someone nice...someone your wife would approve of, so she doesn't worry about them all weekend.

2) Get a sappy card.  The one with lots of words like "love" and "can't imagine life without you" and "if I had to do it over again, I'd still choose you" etc.  That should get you started.

3) If you haven't bought her a card in a while, get two of them.  See #2 above.  OK, this might be a little too much.  Skip this one and move on to #4.

4) Write your own note in the card.  No, this is NOT too much.  I'm serious.   Tell her that you have arranged for the most awesome weekend with her at a very fancy hotel and spa.  Say 'I know we can't afford it, but you're worth it...'  Something like that.  Tell her you can't wait to invest in your marriage, and that you've taken care of the arrangements for the kids.  Remind her how much you love her.

5) Don't spill the beans!  Make it a special gift for her on Christmas day, or whenever you normally exchange gifts!  Make it special - it's not silly or funny, it's serious!  So take it seriously!

6) When the weekend approaches (Jan 11), if it is at all possible, take Friday, Jan 10, off from work - don't work all day.  Buy her some flowers, get her another card.  Get her a special gift.  If you can afford it, buy a second night at the hotel - YES, you can skip church on Sunday (watch online!)

You won't regret this.  I'm serious.  Join us for this weekend.  Give her a special and most excellent gift this Christmas!  See you Jan 11-12 in Charlottesville!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

How Could I Possibly Forget?

These past few weeks have been filled with days of extreme workloads.  Beth, Angie, Chauncey, Susan and many other leaders from PCC will - if pressed - admit to working far beyond what we should.  Honestly, I hear almost no complaining.  We LOVE what we do.  Where else could we get to make the kind of difference we make?  People's lives are being radically changed in the most positive and incredible ways.  Eternity itself is being altered.  Families are being healed.

But can I tell you about my favorite three moments in the past 2 weeks?

The first was a movie I went to see.  (What made it great had nothing to do with the movie.)  It was a Friday.  Susan and I had spent precious little time together in the previous weeks. It's just been one of those seasons.  So, we went to dinner at Carrabbas - which was so good - and we get to the theater, get some popcorn and find our seats.  It was crowded.  People were on both sides of us.  As the lights dimmed, I took my right hand and reached for her left hand and held it.

Two and a half hours later, I was still holding her hand.  We had never let go of each other.  I remember thinking about that a few times, "I wonder if she will keep holding my hand for the whole movie."  I hoped that she would.  Having been so far apart for so long, that small gesture just meant so much.

The second was the concert.  I blogged about it, but we when we went to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, we were 'alone' in a crowd.  I was able to snuggle up next to her, we drove downtown together, it felt special.  Though we spent a ton of time together this past summer, it seems like an eternity ago since we came back on September 4.  Getting to go out on a special date together now really is...well...special.  And rare.

The third was last night at Blue Christmas.  Since Angie Frame was the Teaching Pastor, I decided to be the chief greeter and be sure that anyone who came to the service a little late was warmly welcomed and  received a candle.  For a few minutes, I was by myself.  But Susan wasn't needed for childcare upstairs, so she was able to come to the service.  So, we were surprised with a very rare opportunity to attend a service and serve together at the same time.  As people came, I would greet them with the basket of candles and she would open the door to the auditorium.  In between, we sat on stools and watched on the big screen, worshiping together as Beth and Angie and Eli led us towards God.  We never do that together anymore.

Sometimes I get so caught up in the excitement of what God is doing at our church that I forget what God has done in my home and in my marriage.  The greatest human gift He gave me was in the one who held my hand, sat next to me in a coliseum and served grieving people with me last night.  She's the love of my life and my very best friend, and she makes the best of my life's moments.

How could I possibly forget?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Don't Stay Stuck!

We Finished!  You can FULLY connect with God, and get your spiritual life moving again.  You need all five of these things working in your life, though.  Not just 2 or 3.  4 out of 5 won't do.

You have to have all 5, or you'll get stuck and stay stuck.

Here are the 5 critical elements.  Helpful tools and links follow the list.

      1) Read Your Bible
      2) Pray
      3) Small Group
      4) Serve
      5) Give

Now for quick links, a few words and some help on each of these:

Read your Bible

Don't buy the myth that says the Bible is just a big mystery, you can't understand it, you can't trust it, or it's boring.  None of that is true!  Yes, there are some very hard parts, but much of the Bible is fantastically fun and easy to follow.  And all of it is helpful for connecting with God in some way.

We have several tools for you.

1) You can get a text message from PCC every day to remind you of some verses to read.  This way, we're reading the Bible together.  Several folks said this was very helpful as we've experimented with it.  Text  "pccwired2" to 41411 for your daily reminder.

2) We have a blog set up where we will post the entire text of the scripture each day and allow you to ask your questions and respond to questions that others ask about the Bible reading we're doing.  You can find this at

3) I've written several past posts about the Bible.  One about the different kinds of Bible translations you might want to read is here.  Another about why I don't read the King James version of the Bible is here.  Here's another post that I wrote that deals with the fear we often face when it comes to reading the Bible and gives some helpful hints at starting to read it.    

4)  The first service in our Stuck series was about the Bible and can be seen here.


Praying can feel a little strange for folks.  But God really is there, with you, listening.  Still, He doesn't just want to hear you, He also wants to speak.  And He will, if we'll give Him room.  We have to learn to quiet our soul and clear the voices that are clamoring inside of us so that God's voice can be heard.

I have learned that prayer is not just something that must be done, but also a skill that must be learned.  On the day I got married, I became a husband.  And yet, over time, I have developed some skill at becoming a good husband.  On the day my first child was born, I became a dad.  But over time, I have learned how to become a good dad. (I think I would prefer to say that I am still learning to become a good dad and husband, but you get the point).

So, sure, anyone can open their mouth and talk to God.  Technically speaking, anyone can pray.  But over time, if we're intentional and we practice, we can also learn how to be good at praying.  We probably don't need much practice at the talking part, but we need to work on how to listen.

You can watch the service we did on this here and read the post I wrote about it here.  In that post, I referenced a book you might want to get.  Thomas Keating has written many books on this topic.

Small Group

You weren't meant to journey through your spiritual life alone.  God intended for us to do this together.  We're better together.  Acts 2:41-47 is just one of many places that bear out what it looks like when we do this.  We need each other.

Angie Frame's most excellent message about this can be seen here.  And you can still be a part of a small group!  See the current small group catalog here.  You can sign up  for a small group here.


God has you here for a purpose.  He can use your skills, talents, passions, experiences...even your mistakes and sins - all for a good purpose.  You can't get unstuck if you aren't giving your time.

We did a service last year called Get in the Game that was a lot of fun and it was about this topic.  You can watch it here.  You can also email Susan Hughes if you have questions about where or how to get involved at PCC.  She's at or, if you're ready, you can sign up here.


This is the hardest part.  People are willing to do the other 4 before this one.  But God gives us a grand promise...and I've seen this play out in my life.  Many others bear witness to this promise being true in their lives, too.  It goes like this:

"Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it."  (Malachi 3:10, NIV1984, emphasis mine)

You can experience the full force of God's promise, but you have to overcome your fear and trust Him.  Begin by making a commitment to God with giving.  Commit to give a percentage of your income to the church that stretches you.  While the tithe is 10% - and that should be your goal - I encourage you to start somewhere.  If that means 1% or 5%, fine.  For the long time tither, you might need to up your giving to 11% or more.

Whatever it is, STRETCH!  Make a commitment! And keep your commitment.  Then, when your timeframe is up (6 months or so), evaluate to see if God has kept up His end of the promise (which He will), and up your commitment for the next season.

You can watch today's service here.

So Get Unstuck!  Take the challenge!  Implement all 5 of these things in your life for 90 days and see what happens.  It will be like life as you've never known it before.