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

by Brian C. Hughes, Senior Pastor

Friday, May 31, 2013

You can make a MAJOR difference this weekend!

For some kids, the only substantial food they get is the lunch they eat while at school.  There are government programs for these kids that pay for all or a substantial part of the cost of their lunch.  

For many, food at home is scarce and meals are rare.  They just go hungry!  Most of us have no idea what that feels like.  Most of us cut back by eating out less and at home more.  These kids' families  cut back by not eating at all.

You can help!  And it will cost you very little.

This weekend, Susan and I will be going to shopping - not for ourselves - but for these kids!

One of PCC's primary mission partners is Backpacks of Love.  Every Friday, backpacks are delivered to each Powhatan school and distributed confidentially to the kids who receive meals subsidies. There are about 144 backpacks going out each week, and over 5,000 meals have been delivered so far since this movement began just a couple of years ago.

The stories we have heard take my breath away.  These kids can't wait for their backpack every Friday, because for many, it's the only food they get all weekend.   It breaks my heart.  With all the resources we have in our families and in our homes, we shouldn't allow a single child to be hungry!  And with summer coming, there is a group of kids who will come to summer school who will need our help.

So - at both of our physical campuses - PCC is doing a food drive!

We need to raise a summer's worth of food, and we can do it!

Below is a list of items that are needed.  Why not load up some extra stuff this weekend and bring it to church?  We'll still be collecting food on June 9, too, if you want to bring your stuff then.

On behalf of hungry kids who need our help, thank you for feeding them!

‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?...The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:37,40)

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Introduction to Joshua

Introduction to the Book of Joshua

I read the Bible just about every day.  Sometimes I'm following someone else's prescribed plan.  Often, I'm reading this book of the Bible or that one, choosing the next book based on where I think God is leading me.  A few months ago, I had spent a heavy amount of time in the New Testament and felt I needed to balance my study with a return to the Old Testament.  Joshua is where I began.  I had read it before, but it came alive for me in so many ways this time.  I felt that God was speaking to me profoundly with every turn of the page.  That's how this series we're doing at PCC came to be.

There are so many practical applications from the life of Joshua for you and me, I have had a hard time deciding on a few texts to cover in our Sunday morning services.  But this blog is a way that you can encounter God personally, by digging into the text for yourself.  I'll guide you a little along the way, but make no mistake about it:  The God behind the events in the Bible is the same God who speaks through the Bible.  You can hear from Him, but you have to dedicate a little time and focus.

To get us ready, let's peer into a little of Joshua's background and set the scene.

In case you don't know, the Israelites are the people God chose as His special people.  Abraham was the first, then his son Isaac, then Isaac's son Jacob.  God changed Jacob's name to 'Israel', which is where we get the name we use for the Jewish nation to the this very day.  ('Israelite' and 'Jew' and 'Hebrew' are all  interchangeable in the Bible and represent the same people group).

The opening lines of Exodus tell us that the Egyptians felt threatened by the Jews and took them all as slaves and put them into hard forced labor.  God answered their cries for help and sent Moses to deliver them from captivity and into the land God promised to give to Abraham's descendants.

But those same people who had witnessed God's power and His miracles later rebelled against Him.  So, God's judgment was that they would not enter the 'Promised Land', but their children would.

Joshua is one of only two adults who had the distinct privilege of walking in the 'Promised Land' who had also personally experienced slavery in Egypt (Caleb was the other one).

So, who was Joshua, exactly?

Well, what we know for sure is that Joshua was Moses' aid and second in command.  He had been tested and mentored by Moses and proved himself to be coachable, loyal, strong and courageous.

Just for one example, let's take a look at Numbers 13-14.  Moses sent twelve men to scout out the territory of the Promised Land.  They came back and said, "...We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large....We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size..." (Numbers 13: 27-28, 31-32, NIV)

But not all of them agreed.  "Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had explored the land, tore their clothes and said to the entire Israelite assembly, “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good.  If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us.  Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.” (Numbers 14:6-9)

Joshua was proving himself able to withstand the pressure from the outside - pressure from the people - even before he was appointed the leader of the nation.

Joshua wasn't simply a 'yes man' for Moses.  He was trained to understand that the real power wasn't in Moses hand, but in the Hand of God.  For example, take a look at what happened in Exodus 17:9-13

Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands.”  So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill.  As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset.  So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.

This account becomes legendary, and you can be absolutely sure that Joshua knew it.  Joshua was able to accompany Moses part of the way up the mountain when God delivered the Law to Moses.  What do you think they talked about on the way down?!

Joshua was being groomed for years - decades even - to lead the people.  Why was he so effective?  Because he was coachable.  He never developed an "I know everything there is to know" mentality.  He never coveted Moses' position and secretly wished he would just get out of the way.  No, Joshua coveted Moses teaching and was grateful for the investment that Moses made in him.

Perhaps, as we begin this journey, you can consider the people who God has put in your life to pour into you.  Is your attitude right...good...grateful?  Have you thanked them - ever or lately - for their investment in you?  Do you ever tell them the difference they have made in you - how they have helped you be a better person and follower of God?  Shouldn't you?

On the flip side, who are the people around you that God has put in your life as your 'Joshua'?  Are you taking the responsibility to pour into them seriously?

My prayer is that we all have a 'Moses' and a 'Joshua' somewhere in our lives.  I do, most of the time, have a few folks I'm really investing in and pouring into - these are Joshua's.  They are moldable, coachable, and they soak up what I teach them.  I also have one or two 'Moses' types, who are coaching me.

I hope you'll reflect on that now, but also as we continue this journey.  Tomorrow, we'll dive in to the Book of Joshua!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Why Churches are Dying

I had two very interesting conversations today.  I say 'interesting' because they came immediately after yesterday's timely topic at PCC, but were with people who aren't PCC'ers!  Neither of these folks has ever been to our church, but I know both of them from some other circles.  AND... they were completely independent of each other.  AND...both wanted to talk about why some churches grow and most don't.

One is a committed member of another church in the area.  He's a friend and we often talk, but not always about church.  He was shocked when I shared the statistics:  less than 1 in 5 Americans go to church today.  The number of people who don't to church grows by one million each year.  He asked, "Is that because people are less moral and don't want to hear the church's positions?" His question was honest.  He genuinely wanted to know why fewer and fewer people are going to church.

"Not really," I said.   People want to live good lives and do the right thing.  They are highly spiritual, and are generally open to God and the truth about Jesus. But they no longer see the church as a legitimate partner in their spiritual journey.  Why?

There are lots of reasons that people give.   If you ask someone why they don't go to church, they might say things like:

  • I don't have time to go to church, or 
  • Church is boring, or 
  • All the church wants is my money, or
  • The church is full of hypocrites, or
  • I feel beat up and judged when I go to church, or...
I've heard all of these answers, plus a lot of others.  I ask people all the time.  And an increasingly common answer is given to me in the form of a question:

Why should I go to church?

From their perspective, the church doesn't care about them...the church cares about insiders, not outsiders.  Think about it:  the church speaks its own language, has its own insider culture, its own dress code and procedures.  Everyone knows when to stand up, sit down, bow and pray.  Everyone knows the words to the Lord's Prayer, the Doxology and other ceremonial rituals.  When the pastor says, "Turn in your Bible to the book of Habakkuk", he's making a subtle statement:  you should have brought your Bible.  If you didn't, people are looking!  So, everyone opens their Bible and turns quickly to Habakkuk.  An outsider - IF he brought a Bible at all, is still in the table of contents by the time the Scripture reading is over!  And when the pastor says "sanctified" or "justified" or "holified", everyone nods in affirmation, unanimously affirming that they know what those words mean.  (holified is not a real word, by the way, in case you were wondering!)

The outsider often feels embarrassed at best or like an idiot.

So, if you come to church as an outsider, you are identified - either overtly or subtly.  You are noticed.  You might even have to stand up and tell everyone, "Hi, I'm Bill.  I'm not a churchgoer."

Who likes to feel like an outsider?

And guess what?  Bill doesn't HAVE to feel like an outsider!  He thinks, "Why would I want to do that when I can hang out with the fellas or my family?"

You see, when the church quit caring about meeting people where they are (see Sunday's message here), it lost its privilege to speak into peoples lives.  And now, people see the church as completely irrelevant.  Their question could come another way:  What does the church have to do with me?

In other words, they're giving fewer excuses and, with bewilderment, saying, 'Why are you even asking me this question'?

A couple of generations ago, EVERYONE went to church.  You were looked down upon if you didn't go.  There was peer pressure from the entire community to attend.  Today, just the opposite is true.  People can work, play, sleep in, do their home repairs, go to the river, watch the game, cut the grass.  THAT'S NORMAL TODAY!  And with all of these things, what they are saying is, "I find more value in investing my time in those activities than I do in investing my time at church." They are prioritizing their time, just like you and I do, and doing what they see as most valuable.

What the church has to do, if it wants to regain the privilege of speaking into people's lives, is become a valuable resource.  We have to be something brings so much value, they'll choose to come invest an hour or two of their time with us...choosing church over the river, chores, work, sleeping in or watching the game.  We have to meet people where they are, just like Jesus did. Just like He wanted His church to do.  Just like the early church did.

Until it didn't.

This is why we do music styles that are current or classic instead of dated.  It's why we deal with topics, life stages, events, circumstances, emotions and issues that people are dealing with or thinking about and that can help them live better, more healthy, more God-intended lives.  It's why we pay attention to new cultural patterns, how people learn and engage today in different ways than they did in the past.

Our message will never change:  Jesus is alive!  He is God!  And the only way to a full, rich life (this life and the next) that reaches the zenith of its potential is through Him!

But our methods will always be changing, so that we can meet people where they are...just like Jesus did, and His first followers, and the Apostle Paul and the early church.  This is how we become part of the spiritual conversation again, and it's why people are discovering the truth about Jesus at PCC.

When people ask me, "Why is PCC able to get people to come to church?" my short answer is this:
We quit caring about what WE wanted.  We lay down our own preferences and desires and live into this one truth: Jesus died for us.  Our lives are FULL because of Him - regardless of what kind of music is playing!  We care about what Jesus cares about - people!  People who are far from Him, desperate for Him.  We care about helping them live life to the fullest, which can only happen when they discover Jesus Christ and they will only discover Jesus Christ when the church starts meeting them where they are.  That's what we do.  And may it ALWAYS be so!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

A Day with KIDS!

Fridays are usually my Sabbath.  I'm a strong believer in taking a Sabbath every week.  I think we should take more seriously the 4th Commandment (See Exodus 20:8-11) and remember that we weren't supposed to work 7 days a week.

It's easy to say, but life is more complicated than that, isn't it?  It's HARD to be disciplined enough to look at your long and growing to-do list and set it aside for 24 hours so that you can focus on God and family and rest your body, mind and soul.

I try really hard to do this.  Most every Friday, I try to not work at all.  Most of our staff at PCC also shut down on Fridays.  People who do vocational ministry don't have typical or predictable schedules.  This is not to say that we're completely unique.  I know lots of people - from business owners to emergency professionals to teachers to homemakers - who all have crazy, erratic schedules.  There is always something that needs to be done and there is always a crisis.  You can probably relate.

That's all the more reason for you to take a time-out!  I like to say that you cannot give what you do not have.  Rest is important for your body.  Focusing on God and remembering His goodness is important for your spirit.  And playing - just raw, plain ol' fashioned fun - is good for your soul.

So, yesterday I had a chance to play hard for almost the entire day.  First, I let my boys play hookey from school and I took them to Busch Gardens.  We met my Mom and stepdad there, along with our daughter and her fiance, my brother, and another brother's two small kids, Max and Ava.  While the big kids went to ride rides, Susan and I stayed with Mom and Bob so that we could take the little kids on the little rides.
Yesterday at Busch Gardens, our 3 kids:  Daniel-18, Joshua-11 and Mary Ashleigh-22
I have to say that I originally thought this would be a chore...kind of like something I had to do, even though I really wanted to ride the big rides, I had to stay in toddler land and help with the...toddlers.

But I actually had a blast!  I forgot how fun it is to take little kids (Max is 3 and Ava is 2) to a place like Sesame Street Forest of Fun.  I rode with Max on his first roller coaster ride and both kids were mesmerized by pretty much everything.

We left the park early so that Susan could get ready for a MAJOR event at church last night - something we've never done before:  The Edge Half Nighter!  The Edge is the 5th and 6th grade group.  These are the kids that are not really little kids anymore, but they're not teenagers yet, either.  This Edge is fun and spiritual exploration and Bible study and small group - all tailor made just for them.  And last night, I got to spend a couple of hours having a blast with about 50 of them.  

For example, we played hide and seek in the Powhatan Campus building.  It was AWESOME!  Some kids found the most creative hiding places and they were so good, I actually started to worry.  "Have we ever lost a kids permanently playing this game?" I asked.  But once we started looking in every remote place, we uncovered their very good hiding places!

And of course, there was the Velcro Wall!  That thing is really cool, and was a big hit with the kids.  It was a really great day.  Check out these few pics...