Monday, December 23, 2013
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Saturday, December 7, 2013
Hope to 'see you' at church Online tomorrow!
Friday, December 6, 2013
How can you help? We need help with kids, guest services, parking, etc. If you'd like to help, contact your ministry team leader or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sunday, December 1, 2013
My mentor, Dr. Cecil Sherman, used to say, "Brian, don't waste Christmas. Challenge your people to give at Christmas so that the world is made a better place. They will rise to the occasion!"
Dr. Sherman's challenge was that I give a gift to help others in an amount equal to or greater than the largest Christmas gift I would give to a family member or friend. He urged me to urge people around me to do the same.
When I think about how much I have to eat, the cars I drive, the nice home I inhabit... When I consider my climate control, internet, satellite TV, tablets, cell phones, and closet full of clothes... When I look at the gold wedding band on my finger, the 600 thread-count sheets on my bed, and how much money we spent eating at Chick-Fil-A last month...
All of those things and a hundred others remind me that I live like a king, compared to 99% of the people on this planet. You do, too, frankly. I don't know why God has blessed me (and you) like He has...but I know this: Our wealth is not simply for our pleasure. We are supposed to be agents of change in the world. We represent the Kingdom of the Prince of Peace.
So, let this be our challenge. Let us put our first world problems into perspective, appreciate just how great we have it, and help some other people who can't even remotely relate to our level of blessing.
We can do all of these at the same time, with a sacrificial act of generosity. Give a gift that is as large as your largest Christmas gift this year. Help us fund the work of PCC's missions efforts here and around the world. Your gift will directly affect someone's life - put food in their mouth, shelter over their head, rescue them from human slavery, and introduce them to Jesus Christ.
You can go learn more about the causes we support and make your gift here.
Let there be Peace on earth. Through us. Amen.
Monday, November 25, 2013
Each of us is gifted the exact same amount of time every week. There are 10,080 minutes spanning every seven rhythmic days. Regardless of your wealth, health, family size, workload or responsibilities - we all get the exact same amount of time every week - not a second more or a second less.
What is particularly shocking to me is how few of those precious minutes we spend investing in our marriages. People squander time here and there, investing discretionary minutes in many areas of their lives that will yield far less of a return than if that same time were invested in their marriage. Seriously, very few things offer even a remotely similar benefit of a fully functioning, healthy, God-honoring marriage.
And yet, so few married couples actually achieve that kind of marriage.
Those who have a not-so-great marriage (which represent the majority, by the way) blame all kinds of things - incompatibility, a past mistake, their parents, their kids, their boss...
But for many (not all, but most) couples, the true source of their less-than-fantastic marriage is a lack of willingness (by one or both spouses) to give the time that is needed to have the marriage they say they want.
- We go to school for 13 years to graduate from high school. That's an investment!
- We go to college for 4+ years to get a degree. That's an investment!
- We go to training to learn a skill - and continuing education to keep our skill sharp. That's an investment!
- We practice for countless hours to learn our sport or instrument. That's an investment!
But it's not. Funny, that is.
Last week, Susan and I went away together for the 3rd or 4th time this year. Just the two of us. Two days, in the mountains. Yes, it cost real money that I had to scrape to find. Yes, we left our kids at home. Yes, there was undone work on our desks. Yes, there were a thousand things we needed to do at home.
But we believe that the greatest return for our time can be found by investing it in our marriage. So we do whatever it takes to make that investment. And as a bonus, we're teaching our kids what a great marriage looks like! (Did you know that your kids will very likely have a marriage like yours because it's all they know? Would you be pleased or dismayed if your kids had a marriage like that?)
For the record, the odds were stacked against Susan and me. We were married very young (19), and we had a child 7 months later (no, she wasn't premature). And we had no money. I worked 3 jobs and went to school full time and we barely saw each other. It was a rocky start!
But some people mentored us and helped us to see that we had to invest in our marriage - regardless of the cost. We had to read books about marriage together (one every year). We had to go away together (3-4 times a year). We had to go to marriage retreats together (once a year). We had to spend dedicated time together (a date every week). We had to get tools to help us hone our skill as husband and wife.
I'll share some of those tools with you in another post this week. But right now, I'm asking you - if you are married - to find some time - no, to MAKE some time - this week to talk about your marriage and to make some plans to go away. Even if it's January before you can do it - even if that IS your Christmas gift to each other - it could be the best gift the two of you have ever given. It's the gift of a great marriage.
And the only way to have one is with time!
Sunday, November 17, 2013
Here are 5 things you need to know about PCC right now:
#1 I don't care about being a big church. I mentioned today that last Sunday was our largest non-holiday attendance ever. Over 1,600 people came to one of PCC's campuses last week. And we have consistently been over 1,400 for several weeks before that. It can seem to the casual observer that all we care about is numbers.
We do. We care deeply about the numbers. Every single number is a person that Jesus died for. Every one of those people is someone God wants. Every one of them can only find their most fulfilling life potential when they dedicate their lives to Jesus Christ. We care about every single person because God cares about every single person. And we won't rest until every person around us has been introduced to the Truth and is a part of the movement called the church.
But I don't care about being a big church. I care about reaching people and guiding them to become a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ. If we are a big church as a byproduct of that goal, then so be it.
#2 You will never be a fully devoted follower of Jesus sitting on the sidelines. If you are not using your gift, skill, talent and time to serve people, you are not reaching your full potential. God didn't give you the special makeup you have so that you can use all you have for your own benefit. In Matthew 20:28, Jesus states that he did not come to be served, but to serve others. If you want to be like Jesus (which should be the goal if you are His follower), then you have to serve.
But there is a bonus. Yes, there is a cost. But the benefit is that you get to be used to change the course of someone's life. And we get to see glimpses of those results along the way.
There IS a place for you at PCC. And we're not interested in sucking the life out of you. We want to use your gifts, skills, passion and talent in a way that gives life to others and is life-giving for you at the same time.
#3 We are planning to launch a 3rd service at the Powhatan Campus soon. When? As soon as we can do it well - but hopefully before Christmas. We've been very crowded for the past few Sundays. Obviously, we don't want someone to come to church and not be able to sit or sit together with their family or friends. It's a GREAT opportunity for us to create another service and add capacity for you to invite folks to church.
This will probably make for some adjustment in our current service times to make room for a 3rd service. We're working now with Campus Coordinators from all the ministry areas to figure it out. This is very exciting, because it means that God is bringing people who are investigating spiritual Truth to PCC.
#4 Christmas Eve will be AWESOME!!! We're have an incredible Christmas Eve experience planned, with services starting at 2pm and the last service starting at 10pm. We'll have something great for all three physical campuses, so keep your eyes open because tickets are free, but you will need to get them!
#5 You can still get a T-Shirt!
We thought that giving away shirts would be a good gift AND a good way for folks to start conversations about PCC. We scraped together all the funds we could find and bought all the shirts we could afford. I know we ran out and I know we didn't have every size. If you weren't there today or if we didn't have the size that you need, you can still get one at our cost. We don't have any more to give away, but we won't make any money on any we sell. I'm personally going to buy a few for some folks in my family and a few friends. You might want to do that, too.
We are setting up that link right now, and I'll have it for you in a couple of days, as soon as it's available.
See you next week!
Thursday, October 31, 2013
But each of us has at least one God-given gift. One Divinely-infused genius that is beyond the norm. Most of us have marveled at a particularly gifted carpenter, artist, architect or musician. I can think of moments when I was awestruck over the ease at which a colleague broke a project down to all its working parts, the full color gantt chart on display like it was a Rembrandt. Who can't remember that one incredibly gifted teacher who made their subject come alive for us? Or that one skilled manager who inspired us to accomplish more than we thought we could? Or the athlete who plays your beloved sport at a level that is truly magical?
Whether you know your gift or not, I believe that everyone has one. And my one gift is writing and communicating spiritual truth. I wouldn't call it genius, but I think I'm learning to do it well, at least better than I used to.
The downside for what I do is that I feel the weight of enormous pressure every single week. See, Truth can be taught in a way that is engaging...or in a way that is boring. We can teach it so that it's relevant or we can fail to connect the dots between Truth and life where we live it.
I often imagine people coming to church, inviting their friends. I envision them saying as they leave, "well, I don't know what happened today....Brian is usually better than that." and sheepishly asking, "Wanna come back next week and try again?" The image in my mind is of an embarrassed PCC'er and their unchurched friend who is now firmly convinced to remain...unchurched.
So every week I feel pressure to be Biblical, engaging, fun, serious, funny, relevant, challenging, authentic, truthful, self deprecating and humble - all at the same time and in every single message. I know the need to connect the dots for folks, have them leave having the Bible come alive for them and encountering God in a new way. I want folks to leave saying, "I can't wait to come back!" and "I wish he would have taught for longer" rather than "If only he had quit 10 minutes earlier!"
That brings me to this week. With a deadline looming, and Sunday racing towards me, I could not make the words happen! Call it writer's block. Call it a lack of inspiration. Call it laziness. Call it a lack of faithfulness. Call it whatever you want. I call it misery! I hear the tick-tock of the clock on my desk reminding me one second at a time that the moment I've always feared is now coming: That I would walk on the platform and have nothing to say.
Yesterday was a really bad day. Grumpy doesn't adequately describe it, but - since I quit cussing - I have no better word that I can use. It was one of those days when I hate this gig, just to be honest. ('hating this gig' doesn't happen very often, but it does happen) Sure, I can write something. But who cares if it's not worth hearing!
So here's what I did: I came to the Powhatan Campus yesterday evening. I knew that there were some small groups that met in the building, and I knew that they started their time as one big group, worshiping together. So, at 6:30, I slipped into the big room, the simple sound of a keyboard and guitar calling out into the atrium as I approached. I stood in the back, away from the crowd. I didn't need to have a conversation and I didn't want to be the pastor. I just needed a moment with God.
So I hid behind a wall and closed my eyes and basked in the presence of God through song.
He wraps Himself in light,
And darkness tries to hide
It trembles at His voice
Trembles at His voice
How Great is our God - sing with me
How Great is our God - and all will see
How Great...How Great is our God.
Age to age He stands
And time is in His hands
Beginning and the end
Beginning and the end
How Great is our God - sing with me
How Great is our God - and all will see
How Great...How Great is our God.
As I sang, an amazing thing happened: God met me there. And I noted something else: when others use their gifts, it often inspires us to use ours. Not in a competing way, but in a complementary way (See 1 Cor 12) so that the Body of Christ is complete.
Beth's voice led me to God's voice. The genius of Beth's gift and the genius of Matthew's gift led me to practice my gift.
When the music was over, I slipped quickly out of the room, down the hall, into my office, closed the door, opened my heart and the words began to pour out. It was almost as if I simply needed to let the pressure go long enough to simply stand in the presence of God and acknowledge who He is. And once I did that, I could accept that my gift really isn't my gift, but a reflection of the very Greatness in which I stand. Then and only then can the Genius of God be seen in me.
And in all of us.
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Several people have asked me variations of the same question: Is it ever ok to share information about someone else? The short answer (in my opinion) is yes, but only with the right heart, for the right reason, in the right circumstances. For example:
- Let's say you know that your co-worker is doing something unethical or illegal while on the job. Shouldn't you tell the boss?
- A friend mentions, "I was thinking about using Judy as a babysitter," but you used Judy to keep your own kids and you know that she's not responsible.
- You get a call requesting a job reference for someone you know, and the relevant information you have is not positive.
- You know that a genuine friend in your small group is participating in destructive behavior and you will need help from another group member in order to intervene. Should you tell them what you know?
When I say "I don't talk about someone else when they are not around to defend themselves" I am talking about malicious or negative conversation that has no other good purpose than to simply gossip about them. The examples above are some of the instances when there is a often a clear and good purpose for sharing information.
By the way, I've been in circumstances that resemble each of these examples.
- Once when I worked for a large corporation, I knew that a coworker was massively violating company policy with very large amounts of cash entrusted to her.
- I've been asked about babysitters that we've used who were unreliable or didn't care well for my kids.
- While most of the people I've employed have had high character, competency and chemistry with other team members, there are a couple who I wouldn't hire again or recommend to other churches.
- I once had a very good friend in a small group many years ago (in another church) who was dangerously close to having an affair. The other 4 men in the group (including me) collaborated and formed a plan to physically remove him from her presence.
So, when I call to check references, I sure hope the person on the phone shares honestly about a potential hire's character. And when I ask a friend if they had a good experience with a babysitter (assuming I need a babysitter), I sure hope they tell me the truth. And if I'm about to mess up my marriage, I sure hope my friends talk to formulate a plan to rescue me from my own stupidity. And, for the record, everyone on PCC's staff has heard me say that if they have some reason to believe I've run off with the church's money, they should go straight to the Steering Team (my boss) and tell them.
These things are not malicious or intentionally hurtful...they are speaking the truth, surrounded by love. Ephesians 4:15 says "God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love..." (The Message). A few years ago, I did an entire teaching about being truthful and doing so surrounded in love.
If you are spreading information about someone - even when it's true - with malicious intent or no good purpose, that's truth...but not truth in love.
On the other hand, genuine love doesn't ignore the truth, even if sharing it at appropriate moments has uncomfortable or painful consequences.
We should always think before we say something about someone else. Often, we'll determine that we should just keep our mouth shut. But telling the truth in love is always the right thing to do.
Monday, October 28, 2013
The tongue has the power of life and death...(Proverbs 18:21, NIV)
Yesterday at PCC, we talked about the Power of Words and the Pressure we all face to use our words as a weapon. (you can watch the service here or listen to it here). I shared some tools that I have developed and employed over time to help me lean into the good that my words can do and away from the potential harm they can cause. Those tools included:
- Taking a deep breath (yes, this actually makes a difference!)
- Believing the best in people
- Not talking negatively about others when they aren't in the conversation
- Praying for people and letting them know that I did it
- Sending a note of encouragement and affirmation
There are other tools I use and other 'rules of life' that I try to practice with words. Also, some of my practices have raised some very good questions. Today, I will share one other tool with you. Tomorrow, I'll address a few questions and objections that have been posed to me. (I welcome your questions, by the way!)
Here's another helpful tool you might consider:
I try very hard to say something positive before I say something negative.
In fact, my goal is to balance negative comments and complaints with positive and encouraging statements in a 1:1 ratio. For every negative thing I say, I want to say at least one positive thing. I debunked the myth yesterday that "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." I said, "No disrespect to your Mamma, but that's just not true."
On the other hand, here's something I think Mamma did get right: "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." In almost every situation, you can say something positive before you voice your concern.
We joke about this in the hallways of our offices. If something went wrong with an element in our services or we just didn't communicate well or any number of other things, I will often say, "First, let me say that your hair looks great today, I love that outfit, you must have washed your car, that perfume smells awesome, your desk sure is organized..." We'll laugh together until, finally, the person I'm talking to will say something like, "Just tell me what I did already!"
But when the mistake or oversight or dropped-ball is something more costly and not-so-light, I take this rule very seriously. I think about what I can say that will honestly affirm the person and/or what they do. I want them to know that my concern isn't the end of the world...that it's not all bad...that there are noteworthy good things.
I appreciate it when someone does this with me.
There are those who say that that they would prefer I skip over the touchy feely stuff and just 'get to it' and tell them what they did wrong, register my complaint, voice my concern. All due respect, I don't comply with their request. Jesus said that we are to treat others the way we want to be treated. I don't appreciated it when someone walks up to me and, with no warning or warm-up just tramples on my self-esteem or dumps their truckload of grievances. I prefer a bit of honey before I get stung. A little lovin' goes a long way.
When you say something positive, you are affirming the person. In this way, you gain respect because you are showing respect. NEVER do this dishonestly. But you can always find something good to say.
Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. (Proverbs 12:18, NIV)
Saturday, October 26, 2013
But honestly, I didn't really expect to learn anything at this event. Mark would be talking about some of the concepts from The Circle Maker, which I've read twice and relied on heavily during a series we did on prayer. I knew it would be fun, but I didn't have high expectations on learning.
Why is it that I can so easily forget: I am always learning. I can learn in every setting, in every situation, at any moment. In fact, it seems to be a rule of life (for me) that whenever I set the bar low, God shows up and shows off. (That phrase came from Batterson, by the way)
Specifically, I was reminded that I need to spend time every single week watching and listening to great communicators, because I want to be a great communicator too. Think about how a football team watches film every week. They watch film of their own games, but they also watch film of other teams in other situations. Granted, they're doing this to win - as in a competition - but shouldn't we want to win, too?
Whatever your skill or talent or gift is (and everyone has a gift that God has given them), isn't winning - at its core - becoming the absolute best you can be at that one thing that God made you to do? When I watch other communicators, hear how they handle questions, analyze how they measure pauses, consider the way they utilize silence, space, humor, unexpected technical challenges, gestures, notes, eye contact and material content, it's like a football team watching film. I make notes (mental and on paper) about the things they do which I can apply. Occasionally, it's something I note: "Don't ever do this!" More often, it's something that I can use that will improve and hone my skill.
So, this is a renewed part of what I'm going to do now, as I build into my schedule between 30 and 60 minutes each week to watch a great communicator and learn from them!
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
When we were building the Powhatan Campus, folks from that church came and helped. And when PCC celebrated our 10-Year anniversary, the folks from PMC came and served and kept our children so we could all be a part of that incredible evening.
Now, Powhatan Mennonite Church is celebrating their 50th Anniversary and dedicating their new building. And they have asked for our help. On Saturday evening, November 2, they need some help with parking cars for about an hour and they need some folks to help with kids on the playground from 5pm until dark. They also are looking for a few folks to help at their celebration on Sunday, Nov 3.
If you would be willing, please contact Leslie Mann at email@example.com or 804.598.1174 and let her know. We can give back and help a friend who has been so influential helping us!
Thank you for your help!
Saturday, October 19, 2013
So today, we set aside our long to do lists, email inboxes and social media to take Joshua canoeing. We drove to the Front Royal Canoe Company, rented a three person canoe and took a 7-mile trip on the Shenandoah River. It was a perfect day. We had a picnic lunch, navigated some low-key rapids, saw some fish and turtles, played word games and - most importantly - we actually had some meaningful conversation! No electronics, no interruptions. Just us and our undivided attention on each other. It was some of the best parenting we've done in a long time.
It's so easy for us to slip into 'he's practically a teenager' as an excuse for allowing Joshua to not be with us and not talk to us. "He'd rather watch his TV or play his games or be with his friends" we say. But it's not true.
Yea, he protested before we left. He asked us to let him stay home...alone...again. But the secret that he doesn't want me to tell his friends is this: Joshua enjoyed the day with his parents. I'm glad, because the feeling is mutual. And of the 1899 days we have left, we made this one count. May these kinds of days increase, because the amount of time we have left with him won't.
Here are a few pics, in case you're interested.
Monday, October 14, 2013
I'd like to add a little to that message by talking about our ability to recognize when we are being tempted. I call these 'Temptation Indicators', and they may be more subtle than you think.
In economics, there are certain measures that analysts look at to determine what may be coming in the near future. Consumer confidence, for instance, tells us how optimistic or pessimistic people are about the coming months. If they're scared, they'll tighten up and spend less and vice versa.
If the cancer is in remission, regular testing often provides indicators that the disease is becoming active again, allowing the doctor to begin treatment before the patient is symptomatic.
When a husband and wife look at their schedules together for the coming month, if they have not blocked any time for an investment in their marriage, it's likely an indicator that 6 weeks later they'll be snapping at each other and generally grumpy about it!
And it occurs to me that there are some 'Temptation Indicators', too. These red flags should give us pause, allowing us to stop what we're doing and re-evaluate before we do something that is costly to us and those around us.
What are some Temptation Indicators? I'm glad you asked!
- When you say, "I want" in front of a decision you are about to make.
- "I want to buy that house/car/boat/_____."
- "I want a divorce."
- "I want to quit."
- "I want a lot of money."
- "I want _____________."
- The inappropriate affectionate relationship we have with that person at work or neighbor or other friend. Maybe it hasn't become sexually intimate yet, but if you wouldn't want others to see you flirting, that's a secret. And it probably means you are being tempted.
- The covert way you slip down to the dealer, in the dark, to get your next fix. You've hid it from your parents, friends, family. The hiding of your secret is a temptation indicator.
- Deleting your browsing history to cover your tracks is a secret.
- Telling others that you only have one or two a night instead of 2 or 3 times that many is a secret.
- Lying is, by it's nature, attempting to keep something a secret. If you are lying, you might be in the presence of the Tempter!
- Make a commitment that I won't do anything unless I honestly believe that I'm doing what God wants, not just what I want.
- Do a 'gut check' by asking a few close friends to pray with you and for you to see if they can confirm the direction you are considering.
- If you are about to do something that you wouldn't want anyone to know, RUN to the nearest friend and dump the truck. This is called accountability, and it's a very effective tool for repelling temptation.
- Don't give in to the temptation to create a secret.
Friday, October 11, 2013
We do this once or twice every year, usually for around six weeks, and it's always a great experience.
This week, the topic is 'The Pressure of Trials'. As I did my own small group work and studied the first four verses of James, and as I listened to Chip Henderson (the author of our study guide) talk on DVD and read what he wrote, I could not help but ask,
- Did God cause the trial? Was He directly involved in the creation / execution of the trial that came on me?
- Could God prevent the trial? Did God have the power to save me from the trial before it happened?
- Or, was God more like a gatekeeper? Imagine that your life is like a house in the middle of a property surrounded by a fence. There is a gate that opens to let things into your life and closes to keep other things out. The one who opens and shuts the gate doesn't really cause the stuff that comes in, but he controls the passage. So, is God sort of the passive gatekeeper, allowing trials to enter my life for some kind of Divine purpose?
Sunday, September 29, 2013
We know this is true, yet we often stick with our current script, even though we know it won't lead us to the story we really want to tell with our lives. Why?
Because staying where you are is much easier than doing something different. There is familiarity in the known. As someone once said, "Most prefer the certainty of misery to the misery of uncertainty." When we make decisions that put our lives on a different path, we are moving into uncertain territory. This can be so frightening that we just stay put.
Which is why we really need to hear from God. If God is the one guiding us in the decisions we're making, we can be sure that our future will be great. Not easy. Not without trouble. But great, nonetheless. That's because we're following the only One who knows what the future holds!
The possible decisions we explored were an exercise in paradox. You can't Go and Stay at the same time. Stopping seems the opposite of Starting. And if you consider it all at once, you could go crazy trying to stop, start, go and stay all at the same time. So, below is a list of things you may consider. Read these phrases with a posture towards heaven. Let God speak to you as you ask Him for guidance. Tell Him that you'll do anything He asks. Ask God to speak to you clearly.
God, should I stay in my current job?
- Should I stop drinking?
- Should I start going to a recovery group?
- Should I stay with my husband or wife, even with the challenges we face?
- Should I go on a mission trip?
- Should I stop looking at porn?
- Should I start giving money to worthy causes or start giving more than I do today?
- Should I start going to a small group and connecting with some new friends?
- Should I stop neglecting my family?
- Should I go see an old friend or a relative with whom I've lost touch?
- Should I start taking classes?
- Should I stay in school?
- Should I start making church a priority?
- Should I stop spending money I don't have?
- Should I stay with this friendship or should I stop it because it's unhealthy?
- Should I start a new habit with my family?
- Should I start praying every day and reading the Bible?
- Should I stop working so much?
Monday, September 16, 2013
Yesterday, PCC had our second baptism of the year. Over 600 people have been baptized in 11 years, but I can honestly say that it never gets old to me. Never. Yesterday, 36 more people made the most important proclamation of their lives, and I stood on holy ground, heard their statements loud and clear, and marveled anew at the reality that what God did in me long ago, He was now doing in these folks, too.
I often think, "Why would God use someone as screwed up as I am...who has done the things that litter my past?" Baptism reminds me - No matter what you've done, how far you've gone or how long you've been there, God never stops longing for you to come home. And He is always willing to do great things through you if you will give your life to Him.
It never gets old. I think about the journey that many of the folks who were baptized yesterday have traveled. Through trouble. Through family meltdowns. Through the death of a spouse. Through loss. Through wandering. Through sin. Every journey is different...unique. But every one of these people have this one thing in common: They stood in the water in front of hundreds of people and proclaimed that Jesus is Lord.
Jesus is Lord.
Paul said in Romans 10:9 that "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."
I believe that this is the way Jesus wants it. Baptism was - and still is - the first way God wants His people to go public with their faith. It's not the only way, but it is a major, critical, and required way. Jesus, in some of his final words to his closest followers, said it like this: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
When we baptize people, we are standing in a long line of sacred tradition that began with Jesus. As I like to say: PCC is not traditional, but that doesn't mean we're anti-tradition. Particularly when it's something that Jesus himself commanded, championed and exemplified, it has to be a cornerstone for our own spiritual lives. Baptism is one of these things.
The symbolism of baptism is rich and multi-layered. Water is cleansing for our bodies. When we're baptized, we are symbolizing the cleansing of our soul that God provides for us in Jesus Christ. 2Corinthians 5:21 says, "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." and Galatians 3:27 teaches, "for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ."
What this means is that baptism symbolizes the reality that because of what Jesus did for us, and because we have received His gift and made Him the Lord of our lives, God no longer sees the sins we once carried. We have 'clothed ourselves' with Jesus. When God looks at us, He sees the perfection of Jesus on us.
The immersion in the water is symbolic, too. Paul says in Romans 6:4, "We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life." So, when someone is baptized, it's an acknowledgement that we were dead without Jesus, but because of him, we're alive! That's why, when I baptize someone, I say, "buried with Christ and raised to newness of life!"
God has blessed PCC with a unique mission and calling, and because of that we are able to reach people, introduce them to Jesus, and help them find the new life that only He offers. It never gets old to God. It should never get old to us.
Thursday, September 12, 2013
Anyone who knows me knows that I'm not a big fan of country music. It's nothing personal. The reason is simple. It's the same reason I don't like brussel sprouts, okra, tomatoes and oysters: I just don't. It's about your 'taste' for food, music, climates, colors and cars. Some people like blues, some like rap, some like county. The latter is usually not for me.
But I DID have a GREAT time at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville on Tuesday night this week. You might be thinking, "Wow...Brian has serious issues. Does he not know that the Grand Ole Opry is pretty much all Country Music?" Actually, I do.
See, while the music wasn't necessarily my preferred style, what I appreciate even more than a bullseye genre of music is live music that is done with excellence. And I assure you that the Opry specializes in excellence! Every performer or group did three songs. Usually one was a big hit - either today or in a day gone by. Often one was a recently written song that they were hoping would make it big. But all three were done with the highest levels of skill. The singers were incredible. The musicians were off the charts good. And there wasn't a single band that wasn't awesomely good. Every one of them was incredible.
Truth be told, I didn't recognize any of the names. Not a single one. But I DID recognize one or two of their songs. Craig Morgan was there performing, "That's What I Love About Sunday" and we got to see Thompson Square do "Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not?". But I didn't know who those people were before Tuesday.
What I also found interesting was the alternating of eras. One group would be a traditional, old school country music band. The next would be new, modern country. Then they'd have a bluegrass group. Then another new, up and coming group. Back and forth it went between new and old, new and old.
This was fascinating to me, and it reminded me of an old German theologian named Jurgen Moltmann who famously said that for a revolution to last, it must "revere the sacred symbols of the past, all the while ruthlessly revising them." The Opry has thrived through multiple generations because it does exactly that. It doesn't discard the sacred symbols of country music. But it doesn't cling to them with unchanging stubbornness, either. It reveres it's past, but ruthlessly revises the symbols and traditions to make way for the future. To do otherwise is to become obsolete.
Excellence and Relevance are two things that the Opry has figured out, and it's why my time there was a great treat - a true gift - even if it was Country Music!
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Susan and I are in Nashville this week. Every year, a group of senior pastors from high impact churches from all over Virginia gather together for 3 days. I was invited to be a part of this Transformational Pastors Network a few years ago. It was a great honor to me and to PCC for me to get the invitation, because the pastors present are seriously heavy hitters. They are high capacity leaders representing churches that are reaching large groups of people. We meet in September and our gathering happens in various places around Virginia. This is the first time we've gone out of our state.
One of the great benefits of coming to Nashville is that we get to spend some time with Ed Stetzer, who lives and works here. Ed is an internationally recognized author, pastor and blogger who is an expert in cultural trends in America, especially as those trends relate to matters of faith. You can find out more about him here.
Ed is a regular interviewee on major national news networks and a sought after speaker at all kinds of conferences and events all over the world. He has a huge following and we were blessed to get to spend a lot of time with him.
In my experience, people who study data and statistics are usually not very engaging as communicators. But Ed Stetzer is one of the most entertaining communicators I've met. He has a way of connecting the relevant parts of the numbers with where I live, lead, and do church.
One of the things that he did yesterday and today was to debunk some commonly quoted, but factually incorrect 'statistics'. Here are a few examples:
- Megachuches are NOT slowing OR declining. For the past few years, some voices have declared the impending death of large churches. There is no factual evidence that this trend actually exists.
- Among evangelical* churches, less than half of youth drop out as adults. The common myth is that all the young people are leaving. But in healthy churches that are passionate about reaching and growing people in faith, that's not true.
- The biggest trend among yound adults is the move from small & medium churches to large, evangelical nondenominational** churches. They are going to the Perry Nobles' , to Andy Stanleys' to Steven Furticks' of our day.
- Christianity is NOT collapsing in the U.S. and Evangelicalism is not really in decline.
- Only 4 to 5% of all Americans are athiests, and that has not changed in many years. There IS NO growth in atheism, but their voice has become more prominant and socially acceptable.
- 90% of young people say that they are open to spiritual conversations and over 60% of all adults say the same thing.
So, I'm learning a lot here about how our church can continue to reach a large population of people who are still very open to spiritual matters.
More later...(we meet with Eric Geiger later today!)
* When I use the word 'evangelism' or 'evangelistic' it refers to a mentality and focus on reaching people and helping them to come to know who Jesus is and to commit their lives to HIm.
* Most people no longer care about denominations. That does NOT mean that the church can't affiliate with a denomination (PCC associates with Virginia Baptists and others). But it does mean that denominationalism cannot be the forefront of the conversation.
Sunday, September 8, 2013
Today, we launched our third physical campus - PCC's Riverside Campus - in Fork Union. This campus has a reach into parts of three counties: Fluvanna, Buckingham and Cumberland. It was a vision we first caught two years ago, and confirmation that God has been in it is as visible as the full parking lot and standing-room-only auditorium that was filled beyond capacity today. This campus was the buzz of the community and I think people are calling their friends and family tonight, telling them they have to come next week. I heard about someone eating lunch in Dillwyn in Buckingham County (which is 20 miles from Riverside). He said PCC was all the talk of the place. The official tally today was that 238 people came to church at our new campus, including 36 kids!
And we had strong attendance at our Westchester and Powhatan Campuses, too, as well as online. There were lots of new families at every campus, and I've gotten reports of many fantastic conversations with people who needed a church just like ours. I personally talked with many people today who said, "We've been waiting for this church to come." Wow!
But, as I said, the profound truth of this day goes far beyond the numbers and it goes even beyond the great conversations and the new families. When we launched in Powhatan eleven years ago, we had no idea what we were doing. We fumbled our way along, and God honored our faithfulness, but we were clueless.
By the time we launched our Westchester Campus three years ago, we knew how to do church...but we didn't know how to do multi-site church. So we found ourselves - yet again - stumbling our way through cluelessness. God honored our faithfulness, but it was only the sheer will of our Westchester Core Team that made that campus a success. Westchester was our multi-site learning campus. The folks there were determined that I and others on our staff were going to learn how to do multi-site church well. They endured a lot of our mistakes, and they patiently, lovingly coached us to success.
Because of the grit, tenacity and patience of our Westchester folks, today at Riverside was almost indescribable. When I walked into the auditorium at Riverside today, I thought to myself, "This is as good a campus launch as any big church anywhere!" I'm not kidding...the lighting was incredible. The sound was awesome. The chairs had been set up just perfectly. The signage was stellar. The kids rooms were fantastic. From early in the day, it was obvious that we had our act together - from the parking lot to the atrium to the coffee to the Bibles to the welcome bags to PCC Kids to the worship in the big room.
When Chauncey stood on the platform, taking the mantle as the Campus Pastor, I marveled at his words - which I did not coach or review in advance. He said, "If you are here from another church, we're glad you're here. But you're not why we're here. We're here for your brother. For your sister. For your children. For your neighbor and for your co-worker. We're here for people who don't go to church." I couldn't have written it better myself. Reaching people who don't go to church is what we do!
Today it was obvious: We've learned how to do church in an excellent and God-honoring way that is comfortable for the unchurched person. That isn't to say we have it all figured out or that we have nothing to learn. It IS to say that - through the pain of trial and error, and the endurance and patience of a lot of people - PCC is acting like an experienced church movement now. We're acting like a seasoned multi-campus church. We are One Church in Multiple Locations!
I believe that today is the day PCC's impact became exponential. I think the next 16 months will see a huge wave of people coming to church - at all of our campuses - and I believe we're about to make history again, as God does a new miracle through us. I believe that we're about to experience a new harvest for the Kingdom.
So to all of our folks who poured out blood, sweat, tears, time and a ton of money to make Riverside happen - I just can't thank you enough. It was a great day and we're off to a great start and God is going to do a great thing.
And to every PCC'er at every campus: Hold on to your hats, because I believe that God is about to do something that will blow our minds and blow the doors off of our church!
Wednesday, September 4, 2013
If you are able and willing, here are Four ways you can help
1) There is a substantial list of things that still have to be done to be ready for Sunday. You don't have to have any special skill. You just have to be willing and give some time. If you can help, there are people up there right now and all day and all evening today and tomorrow. You don't even need to call. Just show up and someone will get you going. Even if it's just a couple of hours, that would be a major help. If you can help Friday or Saturday, please call Chauncey Starkey at 804.598.1174. Leave him a message if you don't get him and he'll coordinate with you.
2) We still need folks to help serve for our first month (4 weeks)...especially with PCC Kids. If you are willing to serve once or all four weeks, let Susan Hughes know at firstname.lastname@example.org
3) I feel very confident that we will have a LARGE crowd on the first Sunday. We've sent two mass mailers and our launch team there reports that their phones are ringing steadily with friends and colleagues asking about the service time, children's ministry, what to wear, etc.
SO....if you are already a PCC'er and you would just like to come check out our Riverside campus to make sure there are plenty of people there the first day...I'm asking you to wait until the second or third Sunday. The first Sunday is when all of the curiosity seekers from the community will come. Some are part of another church and have no intention of staying at PCC. Some are not connected to another church, but are steeped in church tradition and just won't like what we do, so they won't come back. There may even be a county official or two - just supporting the new church in town on their inaugural Sunday.
Having critical mass on day 1 won't be a problem. The curious and the one's who are looking for something more traditional will, by and large, not be back the next week. (By the way, this is typical in every launch).
So, if you are coming just to show your support, we still need you to do that! But if you are willing, we need you to do that on September 15 and 22 and 29 instead of September 8.
4) IF we do fill the big room up (it seats 210), Chauncey or I will make a statement like this, "Wow! This is really great! There are a lot of people here today! Let me ask you if everyone would shift towards the middle, fill the empty seats and open up some chairs so that our ushers can seat some folks looking for a place to sit." When that happens, that's a special cue - code language, if you will - for folks who are already a part of PCC to just get up and give up your seat. Stand in the back or go to the atrium, where we will have overflow chairs, a big screen and sound so that you can watch the service. I know this is a sacrifice, but it will be a blessing to the first-time guests. They won't come back if they can't sit down.
At ALL Three of our physical campuses and online, Sunday is going to be a great day! So, which ever campus you attend, come to church this Sunday. And while you're at it...invite a friend!
Monday, September 2, 2013
I was the pastor of a small country church in the northwest corner of Powhatan, near the Cumberland County line. The church building rises from the horizon as you drive towards it, surrounded by farmland and timber as far as the eye can see. It's a stunning sight, really. I learned a lot at that country church, but since I really didn't grown up in church, I seemed to connect especially well with people all around who didn't have much of a church background either. Over a couple of years, I came to realize that God was calling me to start a church just for them. It would be a church that didn't ask outsiders to conform to lots of traditions they didn't understand, wear clothes that they didn't normally wear or fake their way into churchlife by hiding who they were or pretending they didn't have problems.
Instead, this new church would specifically target people who didn't go to church, but who were still interested in spiritual things. We guessed (correctly, it turns out) that if the church could learn to speak their language, we could re-engage the church in the spiritual conversation that was happening outside of the church.
We knew that we were going to attempt something that was controversial and unprecedented in our area. But on paper it also appeared to be reckless. We had no money, no people and no planning. Let me explain....
My last day as the pastor of my former church was the second Sunday in August, 2002. One week later, Susan and I hosted a meeting at the Powhatan County Library for anyone interested in helping launch this new adventure. About 60 people came. To this day, I'm still not sure how some of them found out about it.
I stood in front of those folks and told them we would plant a church like none of them had ever seen. They all nodded their heads like they knew what I was talking about, but not one of them had a clue. I didn't either, really.
Two weeks after that meeting, with almost no planning, no money and a very small group of people, we stepped into the greatest act of faith of my life, and on September 1, 2002, we had our very first Sunday service. 148 people came that day and I still don't know how most of them heard about it.
The second Sunday, we had 189. Then we settled to around 130 and grew like crazy from there. Some years we grew 70%, 50%, 60%...it was an intense insanity that was fun like I never knew, because people were coming to know Jesus like I had never seen.
We knew pretty much nothing about starting a church, so we were winging it for just about everything...making decisions like soldiers on a battlefield in real time, based on actual conditions - which changed by the day. We were nimble and were able to size up every situation quickly and pulled the trigger on whatever we had to do. We all ran around like people needing a double dose of Ritalin!
It became obvious on that first day (and pretty much every day since then) that God was in this new and crazy idea. He brought people to PCC - many of whom had either never gone to church or had not been in many years. I remember meeting a young, single mom in her early 20's who had never been to church in her entire life. She was the first of her kind at our fledgling congregation, but she would not be the last! Our dream and prayer of reaching many people who wanted to know God but didn't feel welcome at 'normal' church was becoming a reality.
Fast forward 11 years. Over 600 people have been baptized. In 6 days we'll have three physical campuses and an online campus averaging 1300+ people in church every week, including almost 300 kids. We've learned more than we could cram into 3 books. For example, we learned how to do church on a ridiculously small budget. We learned how to make good music. We learned how to reach teenagers. We learned how to raise up a fantastic staff and leadership. We learned how to deal with a crisis. And we learned how to analyze and respond to the culture.
We have a lot still to learn, and there is still a lot we don't know. But we're sure of this: God is still in the dream, and He is still answering the prayer!
So I just wanted to say Happy Anniversary PCC! I'm so thankful that I get to be a part of this movement, and I'm totally excited about what God is going to do next!
Friday, August 30, 2013
I hate that.
While I do occasionally like to be spontaneous, I mostly like to live in the steady rhythm of a (relatively) predictable routine. I like to make a plan, fine tune it until it's operating at a precision level, and ride it out until it has come to the end of its usefulness. When that happens, I repeat the process. Note that in this equation, I'm the one controlling most of the operation and changes in my life.
But this summer, I didn't initiate change. Change came as an unwelcome guest. No...it wasn't a guest. It was more like an intruder. Honestly, it resembled a thief, and it had many thief-like qualities - stealing time, strength, resources and energy from me so that I couldn't allocate those things to the people and projects that I had planned on.
Isn't that how we often view change? Someone or something comes into our lives - completely uninvited - and we grow to resent its presence and the change to our lives it brings.
And yet, we know that this is a basic rule of life: Life is always changing. And we are NOT in control of much (or most) of that change, contrary to what we like to think.
But what happens when unwanted or unwelcome change comes? Honestly, we often get stuck.
- We glorify the past: "Life was so much better before this happened."
- We blame someone else: "My life would be better if my boss wasn't a jerk."
- We skip today and simply dream about tomorrow: "When I retire" "When we move" "When I get that promotion" "When the last kid graduates" "When we pay off our debt"
I think what keeps us from getting stuck is a growing ability to adapt to change. Sometimes we like the change. Sometimes we don't. But for me to live to the highest potential that God intends, I have to learn to adapt to the constantly changing conditions around me - whether they were invited or not. And to do that, I have to rely on a skill that I've been refining my whole life: Listening to the voice of God.
Interestingly, this is what I talked about at PCC last Sunday. Followers of Jesus aren't supposed to focus our lives on everything that is happening around them. Not that we are oblivious or unaware, but the focus of our lives is on the ONE person who is entirely consistent. When I Focus on Jesus, I can adapt to any change happening around me and even thrive through it!
So, when I blame my entire upended summer on my injury and start groaning that three months of my life were wasted, I've taken my focus off of the One who redeems all of life - the parts we planned, and the parts we didn't.
I hope I remember that. I hope you do, too.
Friday, August 2, 2013
Even if Riverside isn't the campus you will attend, you need to know what we're doing there!
Susan and I have visited that campus every week for three weeks and what is happening there is amazing! We're in the home stretch to launching now, and it's time for everyone to help. We need people actively, passionately praying for the Eight Thousand people in that areas who don't go to church anywhere. That's why we're putting a campus in Fork Union. We're after every one of those people who want to know God, but haven't looked to the church for help in their spiritual journey. WE KNOW how to reach people like that because many of us WERE people like that. We found new life in Jesus Christ. Now we're doing what God called us to do - we're reaching the world on his behalf!
On AUGUST 17, we will have a MAJOR event on that campus. (you can get directions here) We'll have a 20+ foot Rock Climbing Wall!
We'll also have several inflatable things for kids, and we'll give away hot dogs and drinks, let people tour the building, hand out brochures and answer questions. Earlier that week, we'll mail to all the homes in a 20 minute drive radius to let them know about our launch date - September 8 - and the August 17 event. Make plans to come, support what we're doing and get excited about it! And by the way, we could use some help with traffic control, greeters, hot dog servers, and all kinds of things. If you'd like to sign up to help, click here.
Here are a few pics for you from our visit yesterday.
|This is the auditorium from the platform|
|This is a view of the platform from the sound booth|
|A closeup of the platform|
Riverside will have an auditorium that seats 210 people, a full PCC Kids that includes PowerJam and First Steps. And, of course, we'll have free gourmet coffee! The campus will have the look and feel of any PCC Campus, and the Sunday morning experience will be signature PCC, with a smokin' band, killer graphics, video and lighting, and shock-n-awe in the PCC Kids area! We think we'll fill it fast and hope to go to two services there in a hurry.
(Our Westchester Campus has the luxury of moving into bigger and bigger theaters before we have to launch a second service there. And, in case you didn't know, Westchester is the fastest growing PCC campus, by far, right now!)
We are going to have to paint the inside of this building ourselves, so if you're willing to help give a few hours, email email@example.com and let him know.
I'll give you more info in another post, but I wanted you to know that things are really heating up for our new campus that will reach people in Fluvanna and Buckingham. I'm so excited, and I hope you are too!
Monday, July 29, 2013
No doubt about it, my friends and family and our incredible church family have all gone way above the call of duty to take good care of me. My injury - painful and long recovery as it is, is pretty low-key, as medical situations go. I can't imagine what would happen if I had had a heart attack or something life threatening. You guys are just WAY too good to me. And for all the good food, the best part of all is that you have gone out of your way to tell me one thing that really matters to me: You care.
Thank you for caring for me and for praying for me. I heard a story tonight about a little girl in our church. She's 11 years old and prays with her family every night before she goes to bed. They each pray - Mom, Dad, and this little girl. Her dad told me that she insists on praying for me every single night, without fail. I asked him to assure her that I was grateful. I know of two other kids who insist every night on praying for me. I know others are praying too, and I just can't tell you how that warms my heart.
The short update of my tale is that I'm currently approaching 14 days past the surgery date. The nerve pain is completely gone. There is occasional pain in my neck, but it's rare and it's minor when it happens. The biggest problem now is this monstrosity of a collar that I have to wear 24/7 - except when I'm in the shower, of course. But it gets old, it's uncomfortable, and it makes me a little self-conscious wearing it.
In the scheme of things, what's the big deal? I have a condition that will be totally cured and in another 4 weeks or so, my collar will be memorabilia or possibly target practice for Joshua's new pellet gun hobby. So, I try to temper my griping.
AS FOR PCC, here's some info you may want to know. Normally, every summer I am gone for 6 straight weeks (last year was unusual). During these 6 weeks, I take 4 weeks for study break, where I can do some praying, studying and planning for our church from 10,0000 feet. That is to say, I step back and get the big picture perspective and see what I don't normally see while in my normal work. My condition and recovery came just as I was about to begin my break, and Angie and Sammy were already lined up to be the teaching pastors, plus one guest, for the six week period.
But this year, my two weeks of intense pain, surgery and recovery wreaked havoc with my plans. I had to bail on my mission trip to Belize, ditch a week of vacation and spend most of my time reclined in a chair, with narcotics and Valium practically on an IV. Not much studying has happened, though I have managed to get some work done.
But my time off - unexpectedly different as it was, is coming to an end, as my recovery is entering into era where my pain is reducing and my pent-up desire to DO SOMETHING is increasing. This week, I am claiming back my study break, and intend to work 50-60 hours - all of it for the purpose of critical planning, learning, and hearing clearly the voice of God for where he wants PCC to focus. I'll do this for the next two weeks.
Then, because of the generosity of a good friend, we will redeem our family vacation on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. We will return home in time to attend the MAJOR RIVERSIDE event on August 17 - hope you can be there!
I will return to my regular duties at PCC on Sunday, August 18, and will be the teaching pastor that day.
This coming week, August 4, Angie Frame will give you another dynamic and applicable message and on August 11, my good friend, Mike Abbamonte from Atlee Community Church will be our guest speaking pastor. You'll enjoy and benefit from both of these great speakers and teachers.
Help keep our church strong this summer by coming to church, participating and serving where you can, and by giving regularly. We ARE making a massive difference in peoples lives - stories I hear almost every day. I'll share a few with you soon.
Thanks for continuing to pray for me!