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

by Brian C. Hughes, Senior Pastor

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

HELP! You can make a difference this Easter...

You probably already know this, but just to say it anyway...


...for a church, that is.

We have prepared to pull out all the stops and have the best Easter services ever at PCC.  Seriously, it's going to be incredible!

We're also preparing to have the biggest crowd we've ever seen in a single day at our church.  There's a decent chance that more than two thousand people will come to one of our four physical services, plus we're hoping for a record attendance online.  Here's the service matrix:  Powhatan Campus - 8, 9:30 and 11:15am; Westchester Campus - 10:30am in the BIG theater; Online Campus live broadcast at 11:15.

If you are part of PCC, we need your help!  We will have LOTS of guests on Easter Sunday. Here's how you can help make the experience great:

1) Pray for our church and for the people who will come!  Praying will help prepare you and just possibly will open someone's heart up to the life changing message they will hear that day.  Pray for the  people who will come and for all of the people involved in helping make our services happen.  If you know someone specifically, pray for them by name.

2) Leave the aisle seats!  Why?  People who don't regularly come to church are often a little intimidated by church.  They're anxious and nervous about what to expect.  Believe it or not, giving them an aisle seat makes them feel more comfortable, because it allows them to feel like they can bolt if we bring out the snakes!  (In case you are reading this and don't come to PCC, that's a joke.  We don't do that!)  First time guests want to know they can make a quick getaway if things get weird.  Let's give them the aisle seats.

3) Give guests the premium parking spots.  Every Sunday, I park in the farthest spot away, so that someone else can have the best spots.  At our Westchester Campus, this might mean simply leaving the very front spots for them, since there is a big parking lot.  But regardless of the campus you attend, think about rolling out the red carpet for our guests even before they get out of the car.

4) INVITE someone to church!!  Most folks who don't regularly go to church are very open to coming on Easter.  They're waiting for an invitation, so give them one!  And don't just invite them, but give them someone to sit with by inviting them to come with you!

5) Serve somewhere.  We need all hands on deck, and if you can serve, it would make a real difference.  We need folks in children, guest services, shuttle drivers, parking cars, etc.  Contact your team leader, campus pastor or just let me know and I'll get you to the right place.

6) Take the shuttle at the Powhatan Campus.  Especially for the hundreds of people who are serving this week, if you are serving at the Powhatan Campus, it would be very, very helpful if you would consider taking the Shuttle from the middle school.  I'll be riding the shuttle just like everyone else.  Please consider this, because parking is going to be crazy! (Isn't this a GREAT thing!?)

7) If you are a part of the Powhatan Campus, consider the 8am service.  Yeah, I know it's early, but freeing up some seats at our other two Powhatan services will help ensure we don't run out - especially at 11:15.

Easter 2013 will be a phenomenal day at PCC!  Thanks for doing all you can to make it great!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Starting Well Right Now

To finish well, you have to start well.  And you can start well right now.

I made that declaration several times today.  It reflects one of the foundational ideas that I believe about God.  Regardless of where you are or what you've done, He is the God of the second chance.  It's never too late to begin start over...and to start well.  Jesus modeled it.  We can live it.

What I find is that many people often have a hard time keeping their commitment to God and keeping their faith strong and vibrant.  Many times, blame is assigned to God.  "He's not speaking to me." "He's not telling me what to do." "He's allowing bad things to happen to me."

But there is also a frequent pattern of neglect on our part.  We expect God to do all of the work, while we sit in our spiritual LazyBoy.  But that's not how it works.

In the Old Testament, there is a very conspicuous characteristic to the covenant that God made with His people.  It went like this:

If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands...I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people. (Lev 26:3,12)  

But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul. (Deut 4:29)

 I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.
 Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come." (Gen 17:7,9)

Notice that there are two sides to this commitment.  God does His part.  But to keep the relationship healthy, God's people have to do their part, too.  And this give-and-take relationship seems to continue even after Jesus came:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28) Note that we have to 'come to' Jesus.  That's our part.

"Come near to God and he will come near to you." (James 4:8)  Again, note that we have to come to God.  That's our part.

We have a part in the relationship.  We're not passive, but active participants.  Like any relationship, it takes TWO!  God is not going to force you into a healthy relationship with Him.  If He did all the work, it wouldn't be healthy!

But the good news is that God allows for a fresh start.  If you've neglected to invest in your relationship with Him, you will find Him waiting for you - excited to have you back and excited to be back in your life!

So, grab your Bible, get a little note pad and start reading.  Start in Matthew and Go!  Also, sign up for the daily Bible reading reminder by texting "pccwired3" to 41411.  You'll get a text every day with what to read, and you can also read with online by clicking here.

Finally, set aside some time to pray.  Just talk to God and allow Him to speak to you.  He will influence your thoughts, nudge you about things, offer corrections, promptings and direction.

You won't regret the investment.  Remember, you can't finish well if you don't start well, and you can start well right now!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Hardest Kind of Forgiveness

I've been thinking for a while about what happened at PCC two weeks ago. We talked about some of Jesus' last words where he asked God to forgive the people who beat him, rejected him, turned their backs on him, chanted 'Crucify him!".   We learned (or re-learned) that the same forgiveness Jesus offered then, he still offers now.

At the end of the service, we gave folks a chance to write a little note on a card about something in their life or from their past for which they have a hard time accepting God's forgiveness.  It was one of those unusually powerful moments when God was very clearly working to stir something in a lot of people.  I was honestly surprised by how many folks were moved.

Accepting the forgiveness that God offers us through Jesus' sacrifice is difficult for many people.  I suppose the regular reminder that "you can never go too far, commit one too many sins or do something so bad as to put you beyond the reach of God's forgiveness" is something we just need to hear again and again.

But it also occurs to me that there is another kind of forgiveness that's even harder to accept, at least for some folks.  You might think that I'm talking about the ability to forgive an egregious offense against you - like severe abuse or sexual abuse or things that we don't even want to think about.  But I don't even think that is the hardest kind of forgiveness.

The hardest kind of forgiveness is the forgiveness of self.

I have watched many people wrestle for years with the mistakes they've made or the sins they've committed from their past. In many cases, everyone around them has extended forgiveness and grace and love.  They even know and believe that God has forgiven them.  But, often, they are held hostage by what they did.  They become stuck, unable to move forward - save for small, incremental steps - because they just can't forgive themselves for their past.

This is a chronic condition for some, affecting every other area of their lives.  If this is you, allow me to give you some advice.

1) Get some counsel.  I'm a big fan of a good counselor.  Personally, I have seen the benefits of what a skilled counselor can mean.  And I've seen many others experience the same blessing.  A good counselor is often the difference between staying stuck and moving forward.  It's worth the time and money, but you have to have the right one.  More on that in a later post.

2) Consider what you are saying when you refuse to forgive yourself.  Essentially, this is a way of saying, "God, your forgiveness of my past isn't good enough.  Or big enough."  This may sound harsh, and I don't mean it as a reprimand.  Rather, I want folks to consider the full view, the big picture.  For those of us who are followers of Jesus, self forgiveness is linked to how we understand God's forgiveness.

3) Get it out.  For most people I know who struggle with forgiveness of self, they treat their past or their sin like a big secret.  They don't really tell anyone (except possibly their spouse) or talk about it.  Like a bad infection, it festers inside of them, eating them from the inside out.  Part of the remedy for this is often a willingness to talk about it to a few other folks.  Get it out!  Tell your small group or some trusted friends.  I know it will be hard and you'll be nervous, but healing will come.  Hear from them as they extend you grace and watch as they don't change the way they see you.  Why?  Because they can relate!  We're all broken, we all have a past, and yours really is no worse than mine or anyone else's.  You'll start to feel better as you release the burden you've been carrying for a long time.

Whatever you do, realize that if you've been carrying around the burden of unforgiveness of yourself, that burden is unlikely to be lifted unless you change course in some way, which will involve some stretching, discomfort and risk.

But you can do it, it will be worth the effort. And you can finally be free.

Monday, March 4, 2013

A BIG Secret Revealed

I'm going to tell you a BIG secret and how it relates to what Sammy Frame taught us yesterday at PCC...

A couple of years ago, my family was on vacation and we were shopping at some touristy outlet.  There was a store that sold all kinds of 'magic act' stuff.  Trick cards and vanishing handkerchiefs.  It wasn't a cheesy store - this was the real deal!  Some of the things were selling for hundreds of dollars and there were a couple of guys behind the counter showing off their merchandise.  It was very impressive.

So my youngest son, Joshua, uses some birthday money and buys a deck of cards.  Part of every purchase included a private instruction from the 'Master' magician.  So they took Joshua to the end of the table and put up this little partition so you couldn't see their hands, and in a few minutes Joshua went from ordinary kid to Magician Extraordinaire!    

He still has that deck of cards and still brings them out and does his tricks.  Frankly, it is impressive!  And when I ask how he does it, he says, "You know, Dad, a magician never reveals his secrets!"

I think that a lot of people feel that preachers and pastors go to seminary, where they teach us little tricks about understanding the Bible, and before they let us graduate we are sworn to secrecy!  "Don't every let them know our secrets" is the perceived mantra.

Why do I think this?  Well, frequently, I'll teach on some passage from the Bible and people will say to me:  "How in the WORLD did you get ALL THAT from that ONE piece of Scripture?"  They usually follow the question with some statement about how they love the teaching and appreciate how I've made it easy to understand.

Wrapped up behind the words is the sentiment that I have some special gift for understanding the Bible and they do not.

But it's not true!  And the BIG secret was really revealed in the teaching that Sammy Frame gave us at PCC yesterday.  (watch it here)

Are you ready?  Here's the secret:  When most of us 'read the Bible', we read for 10, 15, 20 or even 30 minutes.  Even in 10 minutes, you'd be amazed at how much territory you can cover.  We feel a sense of accomplishment, and say things like, "I read 5 chapters today!"and "I finished reading the book of Luke!"

I'm with you, and part of my routine is to read the Bible for 20 minutes every day.

But 'reading' the Bible in large portions like this (which is important) is NOT the same as meditating on it. When I read a large swath of it, I get the big picture, which is needed.

But when I take the time to reflect on some small part - 1 verse or  a part of a verse or a few words - I start to let it become a part of me.  I chew on it, read between the lines, focus on what's not said, in addition to what is said.  I ask questions - LOTS of questions.  As Sammy put it, I'm letting it marinate in me.

That's how I can take a single verse and get so much from it.  And this same reflective conversation with  the God of the Bible is available to YOU, too!

Want an example?  OK, try this:

What does it mean that "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me." (Ps 23:4) Why did David not just say, 'When I'm about to die, I won't be afraid?' Was he simply being poetic?  What's the real picture being painted?  Is this a resolve - something David is talking himself into or trying to convince himself of...or is it a statement of David's actual experience?

The shadow of death...  Shadows in the dark are frightening.  They are elusive and mysterious.  And valley's are, by definition, surrounded by mountains, meaning that there are shadows all around, even when it's not nighttime.  There are ALWAYS shadows around somewhere when you are in a valley.

And then there's the valley.  I've been in life's valley's before.  We all have.  They're no fun.  They're spiritually dark and emotionally wrenching.  In the valley, we can feel alone, desperate, depressed.  Our spirit is dark, like the shadows that lurk around us. We wonder, 'how long will I be here?'and 'Will I ever get out?' I might think about a specific valley I've been in and reflect on the journey - into, during and out of that valley.

And the reason David says he won't be afraid is because God is with him.  What does it mean for God to be with me?  How can I know?  What can He do?  How can God help?  If I was in the valley, would it matter if I wasn't alone?

There are many more questions and thoughts I could add to this one single verse if I spent time reflecting on it.  These are just the ones that quickly come to mind.

This is the secret of how we grow to understand the Bible and, more importantly, the God who is revealed through the Bible.  But you can't get here if you don't spend time reflecting.

For those who are still reading this post, let me give you a current example.  This morning, I was reading in Judges and this grabbed my attention:

"The Lord replied, “When the Egyptians, the Amorites, the Ammonites, the Philistines, the Sidonians, the Amalekites and the Maonites oppressed you and you cried to me for help, did I not save you from their hands?  But you have forsaken me and served other gods, so I will no longer save you. Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen. Let them save you when you are in trouble!”

But the Israelites said to the Lord, “We have sinned. Do with us whatever you think best, but please rescue us now.”  Then they got rid of the foreign gods among them and served the Lord. And he could bear Israel’s misery no longer." (Judges 10:11-16, NIV)

I thought about this text a lot today.  When have I turned my back on God?  God reached his limit with the Israelites and their fickle following.  What is His limit?  Have I gotten close to it?  How can I avoid pushing God's buttons like this?  And what does it mean that God can be so frustrated with people - His people - that he will withdraw his protection from them?!

But mostly, I think about the reality that God could bear their 'misery no longer'.   No matter how far I've gone or how mad or frustrated God gets with me, his love and compassion for me ultimately wins the day.  When I turn back to Him, get 'rid of my foreign gods and serve the Lord', God meets me on my journey home.

And I begin to reflect on the times this has actually happened in my life.

There is a lot that could be said...I could write a sermon about this...but you get the point.  And the point is that you can do this too! And you should! some time for reflection! Meditate on the words of the Bible.  Take a verse or two and let it become a part of you.  Ask good questions and let God speak to you.  Meditate on who Jesus is and what He means.  Let God change you during your reflection.  

And you will be better because of your time well invested!

The secret is out with you.  Would that it would no longer be a secret for anyone seeking God!