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

by Brian C. Hughes, Senior Pastor

Monday, April 29, 2013

Where I was last Sunday & why

Last week, I led a four day Revival series for Chesterfield Baptist Church.  Several folks have asked me what a "Revival" is and why I would accept an invitation like that.

The word 'Revival' can mean several different things.  However, in the Southern U.S., a Revival is typically a series of church services that spans several days (usually 3 to 6) for the purpose of helping the members of the congregation re-gain excitement about the church, focus on their relationship with God and ignite spiritual fervor.   Topics for a Revival series can span the spectrum, but often include a 'call' to members of the church to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world (see Matthew 5:13-16).

**See the addendum after this blog post for a little interesting history on Revivals.

Each year, I get invited to do speaking engagements at churches and other organizations.  Though it really is an honor to be asked, I can't accept all them all.  Specifically, Revivals typically end with a Sunday morning church service, so this is obviously something I think and pray hard about, because accepting a Revival invitation means I will have to be away from PCC.  As a general rule, I only speak at other churches two Sundays per year.

Chesterfield Baptist Church's invitation was intriguing to me for several reasons.  First, I know some people there. Also, they have a strong and effective leadership and a long-term, dedicated and skilled pastor for whom I have great respect.  

But the thing that excited me the most was CBC's strategic location.  They are right on route 360, in the path of the massive growth that has been moving westerly in Chesterfield County along Hull Street.  That church is positioned geographically to literally reach thousands of people.  I felt that I could perhaps help inspire them, sharing a little of PCC's story and crack the door open to a possible new vision for them.  As I've often said, I'm not the most profound teacher.  I'm not the smartest guy from seminary (not even close!).  What I do bring is to the speaking event, though, is a lot of energy.  Hopefully I helped raise some excitement about the possibilities for them and their future.

So, starting last Thursday, I taught at their Revival for four days in a row, finishing Sunday morning.  Some folks from PCC's band did the music there at the Friday night service, and it was extraordinarily good.  And a few PCC friends were there most nights.  It was nice to have some familiar faces in the room!

The people of Chesterfield Baptist Church were warm and receptive.  I was glad to be able to do it and I think it was a good, Kingdom investment for me and for PCC.  

Plus, I've heard a TON of great responses and positive feedback about Angie Frame's message...Wow!

But having missed two weeks at PCC in April, I'm excited about settling in for a good stint at home now!  In fact, I'm really excited to teach at PCC this weekend on something I've been learning that I've not really ever seen before.  Hope to see you there!!!

**If you'd like to know more about Revivals, keep reading.

Revivals today are different from Revivals that happened 50 years ago.  Let me explain.

In previous generations in the U.S., most Americans had some exposure to church.  In fact, from the early days of our nation until the 1960's, most people went to church most weeks.  It was actually frowned upon to not attend church.  Church was a part of the social fabric of our society.

Because of that, most people had been exposed to the teachings of Jesus and the basic claims about him as the Son of God.  It wasn't offensive to discuss Jesus with just about anyone.  Even people who didn't follow Jesus were respectful of Him and of the church.

Skilled evangelists would travel from town to town and preach for several consecutive days in a series called "Revival".  Because people looked fondly on the church and on faith in general, it didn't require any arm-twisting to get people to come to hear Billy Sunday (yes, that was a real Evangelist - the predecessor of Billy Graham) or some other evangelist preach at the local Revival.

And since people had been exposed to teachings about Jesus, they were mostly open to an impassioned plea  to 'give your life to Christ'.  Hundreds and thousands would have an encounter with God at these events, and receive God's grace and salvation.

But the culture began to shift dramatically in the 60's and 70's.  Not only did it become socially acceptable to not go to church, but it actually became someone odd if you did go.  And because fewer and fewer people were exposed to basic church teachings, Revivals became less effective for evangelistic purposes.

Whereas churches still certainly hope that the spiritually curious will come, it rarely happens in any church Revival.  This is because of the huge cultural shift away from church in general.  People who don't go to church are somewhat open to going to a weekend service (Saturday or Sunday), but are rarely open to going at any other time.

Many churches, instead of ceasing the practice of having an annual Revival, simply shifted the purpose away from evangelism and towards the encouragement of the core congregation.  This is what typically happens in a church revival.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Skill of Listening

Sunday, I talked about one of the most important teachings in the Bible: Listening.  I believe listening is a critical life skill that, sadly, is rarely formally taught.  Therefore, many people go through life perplexed at all of the difficulty people have communicating - at work, at home, in Washington.  The source of this trouble is often misdiagnosed, but it's really not that complicated:  People just don't listen.  It's not because they don't want to.  Instead, it's mostly that they just don't know how.

"My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry..." James 1:19, NIV

If you weren't at PCC on Sunday, I would highly recommend that you watch or listen to the message.

I heard from folks that they took my advice, went home and turned off phones.  Couples asked each other, "Do you feel like I understand you?"  I'm confident those were productive conversations.  But there is more to say about listening, so I wanted to provide some additional training for those brave enough to really work at this skill.

Empathic Listening is the practice of listening for feelings and reflecting them with words.
You may have heard of reflective listening.  Empathic listening is different.  When you are reflecting, you simply repeat back the words you hear.  "I had a bad day," she says.  You reflect, "So, what you're saying is that you had a bad day?"

Sometimes, in very tense, highly charged conversations, we have to resort to reflective listening.  Do this when there is a total, complete breakdown in communication.  But normally, this is a little insulting.  In the conversation above, she would reply, "I just said that!  Are you mocking me?"

Empathic listens with the eyes, as well as the ears.  It seeks out the underlying feeling behind the words. "I had a bad day," she says.  You see that her shoulders sag, her eyes stay on the floor, she falls onto the couch and puts her hand on her head.  You respond, "You seem exhausted."  or maybe "You must be frustrated"  or angry or upset or 'at the end of your rope' or whatever you sense is the feeling underneath of her words.

Here's the key:  When you reflect the feeling you think they have, they will respond in one of two ways:  Yes or No.  They will either confirm what you said, "I am exhausted.  I'm just so tired of working these long days."  Or, they will correct what you said, "No, I'm not so much exhausted as I am just frustrated.  I mean, I love what I do, but my boss is just so hard to get along with!"  Do you see?  They might say that they are tired, but what's behind it could be a frustration with a person or a particular event or whatever.

Every time the person who's talking says something - or even when they don't say something - I'm going to reflect their feeling, as I perceive it. And they will either confirm or correct the feeling I named.

And here's the good part:  They will usually add to it, giving you a slightly deeper layer to their feelings.  If you do this well, they will usually take you on a journey, and you'll find the end of it often being a place that is completely different than where the conversation started.  Here's a hypothetical situation that could have gone ballistic, but because she listens well, the bomb is diffused and the heart of the issue is mutually discovered:

Bob storms into the house:  I cannot believe that I had to move the bike out of the driveway AGAIN!!!

Kim:  I know you're frustrated.  [Note that Kim doesn't say that she'll call the kids and lecture them and she doesn't say, 'well, boys will be boys' and she doesn't say, 'what's the big deal?'  She simply reflects his feeling.]

Bob:  I've asked him over and over again not to do that!

Kim:  You feel like he doesn't listen to you.

Bob:  He doesn't listen to me!  It's almost like he ignores me.  But I'm his Dad, and he just cannot ignore what I tell him to do!

Kim:  He doesn't respect you.  [she says this not as a statement of fact, but just giving air to Bob's feelings, as he expresses them.]

Bob:  That's right. He doesn't.  I don't know...I've yelled and yelled about this.  Maybe I'm just not spending enough time with him.  I've been working so much and I feel like the only time I see our son is when I'm reprimanding him. 

Kim:  You feel like a bad parent.

Bob:  No, I feel like I've turned into my father - and I swore that would never happen!  I promised I would be better, spend real time, have real conversations and a real relationship.  But the truth is, none of that has happened.  

Kim:  You think you are failing him as a father.

Bob:  I do.  Something has to change....

Certainly, kids should do what they are told and not leave bikes in the driveway.  However, that wasn't the real issue.  Bob wanted to talk about something else, even though he didn't know it or couldn't articulate it.  Because Kim cared enough to  listen empathically, Bob was able to flesh out the root of his frustration, which wasn't his was Bob himself.

You may say, "This is not realistic.  Nobody has conversations like this!"  But I've seen and been a part of this kind of conversation many, many times.  Healthy people with healthy relationships DO talk like this, especially when there is clearly an emotional response underneath of the words being spoken.

The rule here is 'Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood."

So, when you are the listener, don't make it about you.  Don't fix it, explain it, correct it or even analyze it.  You're simply trying to get to the feeling that the other person has and name it.  When you do that, it gives them relational oxygen, and it shows how much you care about them.

This is especially helpful when someone is upset with YOU.  You feel defensive and want to correct the allegation, but when we come back with our response, we're not listening.  Someone has to listen.

Once you think you're at the core issue, sum it up like this (going back to the conversation with Bob and Kim)

Kim:  It seems like the real issue for you is not the bike or our son, but that you are frustrated with yourself as a parent.  Do I have it right?

At this, Bob will either say, "Yes, that's it" or "No...", but then he'll correct again.  You keep going until your summary produces a "That's it.  You've got it"  response.  And then, you get to speak about you, your perspective.  I usually begin with an expression of regret, sorrow or apology (whichever is appropriate).  "I'm so sorry.  I know you wanted your relationship with our son to be different."  But then, you get to add your thoughts and ideas.  You understood Bob, now it's your turn to be understood.  So, you can say, "I have some thoughts on some things we could do that might turn this around, if you're open to hearing them."

Do you think Bob will be open?  Almost 100% of the time, he will. Why?  Because you cared enough to listen - really listen - you earned the right to speak into the situation.

If you will practice this, intentionally, and tell people around you that you are trying to get better at it, you will find that your skill level increases rapidly, and your relationships change and improve.

If you want to learn more about this, I recommend The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey.  Habit Five is his training on listening.  The entire book, though, has been formative for me, and I listen to the entire audio version of the book every year as a part of my personal growth plan.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Our Calling

The room was filled with teenagers. They talked and laughed and whispered. Some of the girls flirted with some of the boys. If it wasn't for the fact that they spoke a different language, you could have easily mistook them for the kids in your neighborhood.

But they aren't.

I sat in the back of the room and tried hard to watch the movie projected on the wall. It was difficult because, though the movie was in English, it was dubbed in Russian. But I had seen this movie before. The Blind Side. A true story about a kid from the hood in Memphis who was abandoned by one family, but loved by another. People who were total strangers found him, took him into their home, made him feel important, and showed him love like he had not seen...ever.

In one scene, this Mom in this family (Sandra Bullock) is moving Big Mike from the couch to a bedroom, a step that would make him more 'family' than 'guest'. In this scene, Big Mike is standing there, lost in a gaze.

She asks him, "What's wrong?"

He says to her, "I've never had one before."

She asks, "You mean your own room?"

He looks at her, embarrassed, "No. A bed."

Slowly, she realizes that she can make a difference - a real difference. At one point, she's having lunch with some other ladies and one says, "You're really changing his life!" But she replies, "You've got it all wrong. He's changing mine."

That's what God wanted to do with me on this trip. He wanted to change my life so that I could up the ante on changing others.

I sit and watch from the back of the room, fighting hard not to cry, but knowing that God was breaking my heart again - in a good way. I've needed to see and know and experience the heart of God and how His heart breaks for the forgotten, the disenfranchised, the poor, the orphans.

I began to see that not all of us are called or able to invite a stranger into our home or adopt a kid, like happened in the movie. And not everyone is able or called to travel to Tanzania or Belize or Moldova. Many of us may not even be called or able to go and feed the homeless in Richmond.

But we are all called to help in some way. We are all called to remember. We are all called to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

When we fund the mission work that PCC has so carefully investigated and vetted, we are giving these kids the bed they never had. We're literally giving them the clothes on their backs. We're not just talking a good talk, we're living what we say we believe: That God gives us resources so that we can change people's lives in Jesus' name.

Like never before, I see now that we do. We do change lives. Not just in Powhatan, but all over the world. Before I came here, I couldn't fully connect the dots. But I can now.

We change lives through benevolence grants PCC gives to help people in our area who have no heat or food.

We change lives every Saturday because we support Backpacks of Love. Through our partnership with them, kids in Powhatan eat on the weekends who would otherwise go hungry. That's not an exaggeration. It's the truth.

We change lives because we support Together for Tanzania. Through our partnership, people in that country have access to medicine, food, education and mosquito nets. People are alive today because we helped.

We change lives right now through our work in Belize. We are revitalizing the community by rebuilding the church and funding the only youth center around. That church would not be standing today, growing and reaching people if we had not responded.

We change lives through CERI Moldova and the Transitional Care program here. There are kids sitting 5 feet from me right now who would have quickly spiraled into another nameless, faceless statistic if we had not helped. And we did more than just delay the inevitable...we offered them the chance to change their lives in a sustainable way forever. Forever!

Because we - the people of God - stepped up and became the hands and feet of God, people's lives will never be the same.

We give to these causes out of the offerings and donations we receive every week. When you give to PCC, you are making life changing things happen in our community and around the world. You may never travel where your giving impacts, but that doesn't mean your giving isn't potent. It is. Powerfully so.

I'm convicted that we can and should do more. A lot more. We're going to send more people and give more money. We're going to feed more people, clothe more people, lead more people to Jesus Christ and change more lives for this life and for the next.

I don't always listen well to the voice of God. I'm sorry to say that I don't always obey when I hear Him speak. But this time I did, and I'm so glad. He's moved in me and taught me and shown me things that have changed me, and I will never be the same.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Heartbreaking Story

Today we traveled 2 hours south to the city of Cahul to visit the tiny CERI operation there. Just 20 kids in the Transitional Care program - kids who were either orphaned or abandoned, but were over 16 years old, making them ineligible to live in a state run orphanage.

I got to meet these kids today. They were working in the city park on a community service project - which they volunteered for - painting all the benches, trashcans and a few other things. They chose the paint colors themselves and decided on the colors in the Moldovan flag. They didn't speak English, but you didn't have to hear them speak to hear their hearts.

After a few minutes in the park, we took them out for pizza - an unusual treat for them - and then we went to the CERI office for a 1-on-1 with the case worker. She told us stories of success, and how the conversation with these kids went from hopelessness and de-humanization of themselves when they entered the program to completion of 4-year University degrees just a few years later. There were many stories like this. What I asked her was this: What would happen to these kids if we didn't help? If the sponsorships dried up and churches like PCC withdrew, where would these kids be? Her response: Lost. They would be lost. There was no other help, nowhere else for them to turn.

PCC is the 2nd largest church sponsor of CERI Moldova. When you give at PCC, part of your giving helps change these kids' lives. That's not a platitude. It's tangible, measurable and as real as the smiles on their faces and the food they eat every day.

I came here an agnostic. I will leave a believer, and determined to do more, because we can make a significant, immediate, substantial and life changing difference here. And we're not just feeding them...and we're not just teaching them how to feed themselves...we're also teaching them about Jesus Christ.

One story, then a big picture PCC Missions note to follow. The kid in the picture below is named Dima. They found Dima when he was a kid in a dumpster, trying to get warm. No one knows who his parents are, no relative ever came to claim him. He's a anybody.

But he's worth something to God.

Dima has a hard time staying motivated. He frequently wonders why he should even try to succeed. He has often expressed the heartfelt and logical conclusion that nobody cares and nobody wants him. But these CERI people have the most amazing resolve I've ever seen in my life. They encourage him, got him a sponsor who really, really cares about him, and they say to him, "When your sponsor comes to visit, let's show them the things you've achieved!" So, little by little, Dima makes slow progress and stays with the only people on the planet who care.

I think 999 out of 1000 people would have given up on Dima, but these folks just don't quit, and they rarely give up. Dima - and the 5,000 kids here like him- is why I'm motivated to up the ante in Moldova.

Closing Note: Tomorrow, I'm going to talk about missions on a big picture scale at PCC on this blog. So, if your passion is in Tanzania or Belize (our other 2 international partners) or with the local need in our area at home, you'll want to read tomorrow's post.


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Teaching, Being Taught, a new friend, & a new thing

Tony Tomandl asked me an interesting question on the plane as we traveled across the Atlantic a few days ago. He asked, "So, what do you hope to accomplish on this trip?" My answer was simple. We weren't coming to Moldova to do a 'project' or a camp for kids. We weren't building anything and I wasn't doing any leadership training with church folks waiting for me to come teach them. I've done all of these kinds of things before on mission, but this was more 'touching and feeling'. I was simply trying to get to know the people, the organization, meet some of the beneficiaries...basically size the thing up.

"I want to better understand what we are supporting and hopefully gain some passion for our work in Moldova and our ministry partners there," I said. That was entirely true. That's what I intended and it was my end goal.

But so much more happened. God planned special, life giving encounters I would have. He knew in advance what would happen. But I had no idea that on this trip I would be taught so much about me and about PCC. And I had no idea that I would have a chance to teach so much to others.

Being Taught

David Saathoff and I hit it off from the start. Our planes met in Atlanta after my journey from the north and his journey from San Antiono, TX in the west. Pastors have notable stereotypes: Some pastors come from a tradition that ingrains them to be stuffy and stiff. Some big church pastors are arrogant. Some strictly theological pastors are constantly wanting to exegete some piece of Scripture. Some pious pastors are always wanting to spiritualize everything.

David wasn't any of these things. Though he pastors a megachurch of 7,000+ people, he treated me like an equal. He's fun and fun to be around, joking and laughing. He could be serious when the situation required it, but it was obvious he placed a high value on making things fun.

And he was humble. I would ask a question, with a notebook and pen ready to record his latest wisdom gush, and I would tell him I wanted to learn from him. He'd begin with a sincere 'we can learn from each other', and then he would answer my question. I filled PAGES AND PAGES of notes from the things he said - relevant things about where PCC is as a church, where I am personally and in my leadership, and what we need to do to get to the next place. PCC is pushing on the 1500 barrier, and Dave assured me this was the hardest barrier to break. But he planted his church (click here to see their website) and he led them through the barrier that is now holding us back. He's done it, and he assures me we can do it, too.

In addition to giving me extremely practical, technical advice and tools, he was also extremely encouraging. "Given what you've told me about yourself, your willingness to share your struggles and pain, and your history with PCC, I think you have the potential to lead the largest and most potent church in Virginia."

I didn't receive his words with pride or ego, but simply as an honest assessment from someone who has been where we are. I was moved by his affirmation that we are headed somewhere great. The end goal is not to have a big church, but if we accomplish the mission God gave us, the byproduct of reaching that many people will be a big church.

Dave was helpful to me in ways I can't describe, but will unpack as I travel home. We exchanged emails and began making plans for Susan and I to spend a few days with him and his wife in San Antonio when, in addition to some fun, I will attempt to suck everything he knows from his head and put it into mine.

Finally, Dave and I agreed to a template for returning to Moldova and do a leadership training venture for church leaders and pastors here that will equip them to reach the many broken and lost folks who are all around. I was honored that he invited me to co-lead that with him. And frankly, I can't wait!



I ended the day on the other side of the table. I worked directly with 2 CERI leaders, peeling back the layers, with their permission, and helping them understand themselves, their families, and their struggles. Sometimes, when you do something all the time, you don't really realize the expertise you have acquired. By using my knowledge of family systems theory, birth order theory, models for functional teams, laws of leadership, good counseling practices and empathic listening, I helped these two people see some things they had never considered. It reminded me that I have gotten good at some things, and that I'm a steward of these gifts to be used to help leaders and their organizations and families be the best they can be.

So, at the end of the day, I look back and see that some things DID get built today and some leadership training DID happen. Something was built into me and something was built through me. Leadership was sowed into me and leadership was sowed into others by me.

God has really filled this trip with surprises. Honestly, I had zero motivation to get involved with Moldova as of 5 days ago. But today...the complete opposite. Also, I see that God want to continue the great work at PCC - that our new structure and PlayBook are ALL on the right path, and that we can enhance the effectiveness of our work with just a slight adjustment in a couple of strategic places. And I see how he wants to use me in our missions endeavors - all of them - at PCC.

To say this trip has been revolutionary for me would not be far from true. God is really doing something in me here and through the experience, and I'm excited to share it soon with our church.

Sunday, April 14, 2013


A few months ago, I couldn't tell you where it was or find it on a map. And I knew very little about the country or its people. But today I am beginning to understand the desperate need here.

Moldova. A landlocked sliver between Romania and Ukraine, and just a short hop to Russia. It was a part of the Soviet Union before its historic breakup in the 90's. Now, Moldova is a small, struggling, independent democracy with a declining population. It's claim to fame is that it is the poorest country in Europe AND the poorest of the former Soviet block countries.

Poverty is a massive problem here. And no one has it worse than the orphans - defined as those kids who have either lost their parents to death OR been abandoned by them. Believe it or not, abandonment is common here. It's almost cultural to drop your kids off, sign a paper saying you can't support them, and leave the country to never be seen again. In the U.S. this is rare, but here t's an epidemic.

Government run orphanages are...well...let's just say that you and I would never tolerate such conditions for kids - ANY kids - in the U.S.

But the worst part is what happens when these kids turn 16. At the completion of the 9th grade, the kids are simply thrown out. That's right, they are put on the streets, with nowhere to go and no one to help. They become quick and easy targets for human trafficking, the sex trade, gangs and drugs and alcohol.

Moldova is one of the biggest sources of human trafficking in the world. Between 200,000 and 400,000 Moldovan women have been sold into the sex trade since the fall of the Soviet Union. Boys are often sold into the human slave trade. It has to stop. It's an affront to humanity and the ministry we support here helps stop it before it begins.

I came here because PCC give significant support to a ministry I knew about from a distance, but wanted to know first hand: CERI, which stand for Children's Emergency Relief International.

CERI has several programs, but the one we're involved with is called the Transitional Care, where kids who have aged out of the government run orphanages are rescued and given educational and life skills support as well as housing and food while they stay in school. You can learn more about it here and here.

One of the transitional apartments I visited today was an abandoned building that had been converted into living space, but I assure you that none of us would live there. The boys told me - with no small measure of joy - that they got hot water one day per week. Tony asked, "Only one day a week, even in the winter?" The teenaged boy replied, "No, we don't have it at all yet. We were told we'd have hot water one day per week next year." And it's COLD here. I can't imagine living like this. I can't imagine ANYONE living like this. I wanted to dump out my wallet right there and tell them to go get some hot water or go get a room at the Hilton.

As we learned of each kid's story (we visited boys at the boys apartment and girls at theirs), my heart just broke at their pain. Abandoned, lost, unwanted, dehumanized, no where to go, no options. No hope.

Except us. The local church is the hope of the world.

What I wanted to know was if our investment of Kingdom resources here really mattered. All I can say is that I am overwhelmed with the difference PCC is making in these lives. I met with the staff of CERI today and heard them tell story after story of kids who would have never had a chance were it not for support from churches like PCC. These were stories of success and joy and life out of poverty, darkness and hopelessness.

But the best part was this: CERI is not only humanitarian, they are deelpy committed to the spiritual needs of those in the program. They have Bible study with these kids each week, and they pray for them every single day as a staff! At the massive summer camps, kids made decisions about following Jesus every year, and many times in between. We visited some of these kids today, and there is a free flowing conversation about matters of faith. These people at CERI really get it!

The bonus for me on this trip is that I'm connecting with and getting to know the pastor of a HUGE church in Texas - David Saathoff. Too humble to admit he's a really big deal, Dave has been invited to speak at some of the most prestigiuos events in the country. He planted his church 20 years ago and grew it to 7,000 people today. I really like him and he's teaching me all kinds of things about church, growth, leadership, etc.

I think God had multiple reasons for me to come on this adventure, and I'm excited to see what the next 3 days hold before I come home.



What I re-learned at church in Moldova

We went to two different church services today in Moldova. They were polar opposites - one very big, the other very small. I want to tell you about the first one - Jesus the Good Shepherd Church.

There were less than 25 adults, plus a few kids. We met in the upstairs room of a building that looked a lot like a house from the outside. The rectangular room was smaller than my living room and had been converted into a sanctuary. Chairs were set up 7 to a row, parting in the middle to create an aisle and all facing the small platform where there was a podium and a keyboard. A simple wooden cross faced the crowd, and it had a simple shaw draped along its beam.

The service began with a welcome and then, with words projecting on the wall behind the platform, we sang and worshiped together.

Except it was ALL in Romanian. Oh, I forgot...some of the songs were in Russian. But there was a good reminder in it that God wanted me to see and experience.

I sat in the back, singing in English if I recognized the tune and just humming when I didn't. Mostly I watched 25 individuals worship as one single church. Though I couldn't understand the words, I could join my heart with theirs and worship the same God at the same time. We aren't citizens of the same country, but we are followers of he same God, and His Name is Jesus Christ.

Fii Glorificat
Fii Glorificat
In veci de veci
"Glorify your Name, Glorify your Name, Glorify Your Name in all the earth!"

All the earth.

Not all of just Powhatan, Cumberland or Midlothian.

Not all of only Buckingham or Fluvanna.

Not all of Virginia. Not all of America.

But all the earth.

So, I was reminded again today that we at PCC are connected with churches all over the world by our common active and passionate faith in Jesus Christ. This is one of the most important purposes for international missions. People like me (and most of you) live the bulk of our lives in a bubble. Without being conscious of it, we live out our faith in Jesus as if we're the only ones on the planet.

But we're not.

We're connected. We're a part of something larger and greater than ourselves - the Body of Christ that surrounds the globe. And that body has richness we cannot imagine or conjure until we go and experience it ourselves, first hand.

So, we receive a great blessing when we visit churches in another culture and country. But we also GIVE these churches a great blessing. We're telling them "You are not alone! We care! We love you! We are brothers and sisters - Family together!"

We're better when we serve Jesus together than we are when we serve Him in isolation, as if we're the only churches in the world, or the only country with churches in the world. I believe this reminder is one of the things God wanted me to see, and one of the reasons He told me to come on this trip.

As a footnote, I was had the privilege of preaching at the largest Baptist church in the country this evening. It was a big deal, and I was honored to be invited. The truth is that my words will quickly be forgotten, but the Word of the Lord - which transcends language and race and nation - will endure forever. And the Word of the Lord is lived out most notably in His church throughout the entire world!

"Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father." (Phil 2:9-11)

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Why I am 6000 miles from home

A few months ago, I started sensing that God was saying something to me. I felt He was telling me to plan a visit to each of PCC's international mission partners. In case you don't know, PCC supports ministries in Belize, Moldova and Tanzania. In addition, God has led us to two local ministries helping people in our local community, too. (I'll talk more about that in a later post)

To be completely transparent, I pushed back on God at first. I had no idea where Moldova was and I didn't really want to go there. I was slightly more open to going to Tanzania, but not much. (I've been on mission with our team to Belize before, and I know some of the folks down there, and I was already excited about going.)

What I felt God saying to me was this: 'Brian, I have entrusted you with leadership in My church. You are a steward of the investment of Kingdom resources (people, money, time and expertise) in these places. I want you to go to them, encourage the people there, learn more about how I'm working there and about the need. I want your heart to be broken like Mine is for these places and these people, and I want to show you how you can do more and help others get excited about how I am touching and changing lives around the world.'

So, over time, I prayed sentiments like this: "God, I serve You. I don't want to go, but it's not about what I want. It's about what You want me to do. I'll do anything you say, whether I want to or not."

When you pray prayers like that (yes, this applies to you, not just me), you'll likely find yourself having more than just a grudgingly obedient heart, like "Ok, God, I'll go. But you can't make me like it!" Instead, you'll find that God often actually changes your heart, so that the thing you didn't want to do often becomes the thing you actually look forward to!

That's what happened to me, and I began to anticipate that God was about to do something dramatic in me, through me, and through our church.

So, in the next 18 months, I will visit all of our mission partners in these three countries. My adventure to the first stop began yesterday, with a long and tiring travel day from Richmond to Atlanta to Frankfurt and, finally, to Chisinau, Moldova.

I know you're dying to know what ministry we support here. And I'll have more to say about that in my next post.

Oh, and thanks for praying for me while I'm gone. I'll be back at our church on April 21. And in case you are wondering, Sunday April 14 is going to be a fantastic day at PCC, so don't play hookey! :-)

Monday, April 8, 2013

Doubt vs Belief

One of the things that frustrates me about long standing norms in churchlife is the assumption that doubt is the opposite of belief.  The implication is that, if you have any doubts at all about anything, you must, therefore, not be a believer.  For many reasons, this is unreasonable and not biblical.  

But it is important that you settle on the foundational questions of faith:  
  • Is God real?  
  • Was Jesus the Son of God...God in the flesh?  
  • Was Jesus, who died a physical death, resurrected from the dead?  
  • Is Jesus still alive? 

These are important questions to wrestle with, investigate, ponder and pray about.  But at the end of that investigation, you have to choose.  To continue pondering into perpetuity is to choose not to believe.  I know this is harsh, but consider Jesus' words to Thomas in John 20:  "Stop doubting and believe!"  

Jesus' imperative to Thomas is the same thing He is saying to many people today:  "Stop doubting and believe!"  Jesus was (and is) talking about the belief that Jesus is alive.  That he rose from the grave.  That he is God!  Thomas' words at the revelation that Jesus was alive reflect the response that we are also to have at the same revelation: "My Lord and my God!"  

Many people I know start out their spiritual investigation with great fervor.  They are on a mission to discover the Truth about God.  But over time, the zeal fades and with it, the need to come to a conclusion.  So, many of these folks continue to come to church out of habit or because their family does or because they genuinely enjoy the services.  But the sense of urgency to make a decision is gone.

I think yesterday reveals the urgency from God's perspective.  Is it ok to doubt?  You bet.  As I said, the story of Jesus IS a tough pill to swallow.  

But you also need to come to a moment when you realize that you will never satisfy every question with a concrete, provable answer.  The belief in Jesus cannot be proven, at least not all of it.  That's why we call it faith!  It takes faith to believe that Jesus is alive.

It reminds me of when Moses was about to lead the people of God out of Egypt.  God said to Moses:  “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.” (Exodus 3:12)  It's not much of a sign, is it?  The sign would happen AFTER Moses responded in faith!  Then, after he followed God, Moses would be proven right.

The same is true for you.  AFTER you set aside your doubt and choose to believe in and follow Jesus Christ...AFTER you go all in, you will know and experience His presence like never before.  Few people got to touch him like Thomas.  But Jesus says to us, "Blessed are those who have not seen, yet have believed."  

It's time to cross the line of faith for a lot of people.  Stop doubting and choose to believe.