Saturday, December 18, 2010

Book Review: Sacred Meal

Rating: three stars out of five.

Thomas Nelson Publishing has recently put out a series of books that deal with different spiritual practices. I've already read the book on tithing (reviewed earlier this year) and look forward to reading the one on sabbath (coming soon). But I just finished the book on communion called Sacred Meal by Nora Gallager.

Sacred Meal wasn’t what I was expecting. Maybe that’s why I only gave it three stars. Nora Gallager is actually an excellent writer. I really enjoyed her style; very easy going reflective thoughts. She weaved her personal experience and personal thoughts in and out of the topic of communion which was often very insightful.

But being more of a linear student type of a reader I was expecting a book that brought more history and biblical teaching to the subject. That’s not what Sacred Meal is about but that doesn’t make it any less valuable. To be fair, the quality of the book is five stars if you are looking for this style of work. (Although, my guess is that some conservative readers will feel like she totally missed the mark since her writing is based more on story than biblical teaching.)

Another curve for me was that Nora comes from the Episcopalian stream. That was interesting to me as someone who is not from that spiritual background. It’s always interesting to see how God works through different groups of people. On the other hand, I felt like she missed a lot of my experience coming from more of the Baptist/Pentecostal tradition. I would have liked to have heard more from other people with various communal experiences. But that’s really not her intent with this book.

Whether or not you should buy this book is based on what you are looking for. If you want in depth teaching on communion or a well balanced discussion from a variety of spiritual streams then this isn’t the book for you. But if you enjoy reading an excellent writer exploring her own thoughts and experiences from her particular church tradition then I highly recommend Sacred Meal. Nora is a gifted writer with a tender spirit who is able to use her life experiences as metaphor for God’s activity in life.

Note: I review books from Thomas Nelson Publishing in exchange for free books. But I’m not required to give their books positive reviews.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Let's Bless Others This Christmas

There's a good chance you missed Sunday because of the snow. I talked about adding some "legs" to our words, that is, adding action to our faith.

I mentioned in the second service that I'm an activist by nature. I don't do well just watching. I'm a "roll up your sleeves and get dirty" kind of guy! And that's the kind of church I want Cedarbrook to be. The saddest thing to me would be for Cedarbrookers to simply be satisfied with attending a service now and then and calling that "good". In contrast, the best thing would be if we came together to bless others.

That's what the Advent Conspiracy is all about. We are working at creating a new Christmas tradition of blessing others rather than simply blessing ourselves with presents and parties. I hope you'll download my message. The audio has my interview with Joe Draxler who has helped to dig wells this past year with Living Water.

My challenge to the church is for each one of us to set aside a portion of our Christmas fund to donate to either:

1. Stepping Stones Shelter here in Menononie, or...

2. Living Water International. We want to raise $10,000 to dig two wells this year. One in Honduras and one in Haiti.

Thanks so much! We will collect the money on Christmas Eve as well as the Sunday before and after Christmas.


Monday, December 06, 2010

Do You Come From The Land of Losers?

I really enjoy the story of Ruth. It's a classic gospel story of how God takes someone who society rejects (Ruth came from Moab...the land of losers) and makes them a faith hero.

We often sing about God being our Redeemer...but do you know what that is? My sermon outlines it for you. Boaz redeemed Ruth, pouring out his love on her in such an abundant way that she became a blessing to others. That's the effect God wants to have on us.

Ruth's story reminded me of Jesus honoring the Roman soldier who believed Jesus for his daughters healing. Jesus told him that he had never seen such faith in all of Israel. Wow!!!!!!!!!! That's like a major diss to the Israelites but a HUGE compliment to the Roman. Jesus took a spiritual outsider and made him a faith hero with his simple declaration.

It reminds me of what he said about the rocks. If God's people don't praise him, the rocks (Romans, Moabites, losers of this world) will praise him.

And the apostle Paul talked about how God has grafted on branches (non-Jews) onto God's vine.

Isn't it great to know that no matter how far from God you might have been or may even be yet today that you can be an insider RIGHT NOW by faith? I hope you'll let God "redeem" you fully so you are so blessed that you can't help but bless others.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Book Review: Your Money God's Way

If you are a person of faith and find yourself falling into money problems on a regular basis, Your Money God’s Way, might be a good shot in the arm. Amie Streater is a pastor who works full time at a megachurch teaching financial principles and counseling people in financial trouble. Her book is filled with anecdotes from her interaction with hundreds of people.

Amie is a straight talking, in-your-face kind of coach. I appreciated her directness and willness to call stupid stupid. Some church people can talk themselves into buying just about anything and even go into debt and then justify it either with the Bible or convincing themselves that “God told them to do it.” Streater doesn’t put up with such silliness and tackles seven myths, or what she calls “counterfeit convictions”. An example of just one is “I can’t really afford this, but I’ll just put it on my credit card. When the bill comes, God will provide!”.

I struggled a bit with the style of the book. Maybe it was because I was expecting something more along the lines of Dave Ramsey with principles and practices. But Streater’s book is more like sitting down with a wise counselor who isn’t afraid to tell you what’s wrong with your thinking and then gives you a laundry list of what to do at the end of each chapter.

Overall, I think it’s worth the read…especially if you have trouble making common sense financial decisions. This book will set you straight!

Disclaimer: I review books for Thomas Nelson in exchange for free books. But I am not required to give them a favorable review.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Meet Kyle Gunderson our new Associate Pastor

I'm excited to announce that our search for an associate pastor has resulted in calling Kyle Gunderson to Cedarbrook. I think he and his family are a very good fit for our church family.

Kyle Gunderson is only 29 years old but has ten years of youth pastor experience. He pastored at both Maple Grove Covenant, a church of 700 people and then International Falls Covenant, a church of about 300. In both churches he took struggling youth groups and grew them. His current youth group is at 80-100 students.

Kyle attended Bethel University for his undergraduate studies and is just now returning to Bethel for his Masters in Biblical Leadership (distance learning program). He is married to Anna and they have three boys ages 5,3 and 1 (Andrew, Joshua, Caleb).

Kyle wasn’t looking for a new job. The Covenant leaders called him and suggested he consider our position because they felt he would be a great match. All three Covenant executives told me that they consider Kyle to be the best youth pastor in the Northwest District. They speak very highly of him and are excited at the possibility of him joining a growing church like ours.

Kyle is very relational, a strong leader and shows good organizational skills His Strengthfinder (a type of personality test) strengths are:

· WOO- Winning Others Over. Everyone he meets he views as a potential friend.

· Belief- He is passionate about his beliefs.

· Positivity- He is quick to smile and have a word of encouragement

· Includer- He always wants to “add one more” to whatever is happening

· Self Assurance- He is confident of both is abilities and judgment

Kyle is filling a new full time position at Cedarbrook, that of Associate Pastor. Christine Ruth filled this on a part time basis a few years back but Kyle’s role will be much broader being full-time. His primary focus will be to develop and oversee the Youth Ministry but he will also assist me in general pastoral oversight of the church along with preaching on a regular basis.

Kyle’s current church requires a three month notice so he will not be able to join us until mid-February at the earliest plus he has a house to sell. Please pray for both his transition out of his current position as well as his transition into Cedarbrook and Menomonie. Change is stressful! But I think it will be a good change.

I think Kyle is a high capacity leader that will bring a lot of good to our community. Thanks in advance for welcoming him to Cedarbrook.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Why does God kill people in the Old Testament?

While I'm into answering hard questions (see earlier post) I might as well tackle another one. With our current overview of the Bible on Sundays you can't help but notice a few people dying as a result of God's anger. Most people quietly ignore this and hope that nobody notices or dares to ask but, come on... something's not right here. At least that's the first thought.

So, what's up? Well, there are some easy answers that many people quickly opt for.
  1. The Bible is wrong. God never did this. So forget the Bible. If you must believe in it, believe the good parts that work with your spirituality.
  2. The Bible is right and therefore God is crazy, angry and hates people.

Forgive me if I don't go down those roads. I try to see the Bible through the eyes of Jesus. He didn't jettison the Old Testament and I think he had a little clearer picture on things than any of us. So that leads me to believe that we must be missing something. Now, what we are missing...I'm not sure. I can only speculate. So that's what I'll do here just a bit...
  1. God kills people to make a point in a very barbaric culture to very barbaric people. This is a culture that killed people over a donkey. If you were going to communicate to people that you were holy and not to be messed with, how would you communicate that? With note cards? God tends to relate to people throughout history in different ways based on the context. Note how in the New Testament this only happened with Ananias and Saphira. It just happened once in a limited way...just enough to remind people of his holiness but not willing to "go there" as a regular practice.
  2. Judging God's actions through the eyes of our culture is impossible. We have no idea the context of the times. We can only guess. It's interesting to watch Moses have a change of heart in Exodus. God tells Moses to get down from the mountain because his people were worshipping a golden calf. God wants to wipe them out and start over. So Moses begs for their forgiveness. He even offers to die on their behalf. So God forgives them. But what does Moses do when he actually gets down to the pagan party? He gets angry enough to break the Ten Commandment tablets. My point is that even Moses had a change of heart when he saw what was really going on. He got angry just like God did. My guess is that if we were there we would see things differently.
  3. As I mentioned in my post below, I don't think the death of people necessitates them going to hell. God is making more of a point about himself than he is of the people. He is holy and blatant sinfulness cannot stand in his presence.

As I said, I don't really have the answer. But I think we have to be careful before we are quick to assume that the Bible is wrong or God is crazy. It is just possible that we don't see the full picture. The Bible's overall message is consistent enough that when I see something that I don't understand that I simply put a question mark by it and trust that someday things will be made clear.

Sin, the Ten Commandments and Hell

In our study of the Ten Commandments recently one small group had questions about what I said about breaking them. I said that breaking the Ten Commandments doesn't disqualify you from heaven. It disqualifies you as God's agent on earth, being his representative. I said this in reference to the 3000 people that were killed by the Levites who worshipped Aaron's golden calf. I guess that this thought was so foreign to some people's previous understanding that it threw them for a bit of a loop. They had always assumed these people, and others like them, were destined for hell.

The simple answer is to look at Aaron himself. Not only did he worship other gods but he was responsible for creating a graven image that led people astray. But not only was Aaron not killed in Moses' assault but Aaron became the high priest. So, if Aaron didn't die and became high priest I'm guessing that the 3000 that died that day didn't go to hell. They were just taken "out of the game". This is a testimony to God's mercy.

This is all predicated on Abraham's covenant with God. God's covenant was "one-way", meaning that even if Abraham (or his people) failed God that God would not fail him." As Paul said to Timothy...though we are faithless He remains faithful.

Now, if Aaron absolutely rejected God, then I can't be so confident of his arrival in heaven. God won't drag anyone there who doesn't want to be there. But clearly God forgave him and gave him another chance.

On a similar note and larger scale...people often misread the teaching of the Kingdom of Heaven in the New Testament. People often assume that to not be included in the Kingdom of Heaven means someone will not go to heaven. In some cases this might be true but primarily it means that a person has not embraced the moral teaching of Jesus on earth. We too often think of the Kingdom of Heaven as a place apart from earth. But Jesus and the apostles spoke of the Kingdom of Heaven as the place on earth where people are obeying God. This might throw you for another loop but you can be a believer and not be in the Kingdom of Heaven. You can be "saved" (that is, you'll be with Jesus when you die) but not be living out the Kingdom lifestyle on earth. They are two different things just like Abraham and Moses' covenants were both different. You could be a Jew who didn't live out the Ten Commandments but you are still God's child.

I realize that these thoughts might be brand new to some. But that's just because the Kingdom has not been taught well in most evangelical churches. Nor has salvation. Salvation and the Kingdom of Heaven have been seen as being in the next life. But Jesus said that they both start now. Eternal life starts the moment you believe. We bring the kingdom of heaven to earth to the degree that we obey Jesus' teaching. But just because we fail to live out the teaching doesn't mean we'll miss out on heaven. And the opposite is true, just because we obey his teachings doesn't mean we'll make it to heaven. The Kingdom of Heaven is more than a moral code. It's a relationship defined by a moral code.

My point in bringing this up is that it equates well to living out the Ten Commandments. The better we live them out the better we represent God and bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth. But failing to live them out doesn't send us to hell! You and I can be glad for that!

I hope I haven't only muddied the waters. But if nothing else I've pointed out that things aren't as simplistic as the church has often painted them. Let's be careful with our assumptions about hell and who goes there.

Monday, November 08, 2010

The Greatest Day in History?

Here's a bit of Bible trivia that I find interesting. I noted yesterday that Jews see the giving of the Ten Commandments as the greatest day in history. One reason is that God spoke to ALL the Israelites at one time rather than to just one person. In their opinion this only happened once in all of history and never again. Therefore it is the greatest day (plus THEY were the ones chosen to hear from God, making it extra special!)

But Christians believe that there is another day that God spoke from heaven. Do you know when that was?

The gospels report that God’s voice spoke to everyone at Jesus’ baptism saying, “This is my son in whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:17. This is an interesting comparison since Jesus is considered the Word of God come in the flesh. In other words, both times God sent his Word he spoke from heaven to all people.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Is Your Heart Hard to God?

One question that people often have with the story of Moses and the deliverance from Egypt is the hardening of Pharoah's heart. It seems wrong that God would do that. Let me give you a couple of ideas as to why that is...

First, I think the hardening of Pharoah's heart is a natural process that we've all seen (in our life or others). People know what the right thing to do is but they ignore it. At first they feel guilty but over time the guilt wears off and they become apathetic. They really don't care if their behavior is right or wrong. Their poor moral choices cause a slow hardening of their heart. They indict themselves and incur the "judgment" of the consequences that often follow their choices. So the Bible might frame the story as "God hardening Pharoah's heart" (because the writer wants to show God's sovereignty) but I also think it has a lot to do with Pharoah's choice.

Second, the writer (as I just noted) is trying to communicate something to us about God. The writer wants us to know that God is in control and we never have to worry about evil shutting God and his purposes down. Nothing can thwart God's kingdom and his purposes on earth...even the most wicked king on the planet is like putty in God's hands. God will even harden his heart if necessary. But note that Pharoah had more than enough time to change his mind. His heart didn't begin to harden until after he had refused to obey God.

I think one reason people wonder about Pharoah's hardening is they fear that God might harden their heart and they will be left out. I think that should concern us all to some extent and motivate us to never turn a deaf ear to God. You never know when you will stop caring. But I always tell people that if they are worried about their heart being hardened it's not hard yet! If your heart was hard toward God you wouldn't care. The fact that people are asking the question tells me that they are still interested in God.

If you want to hear more of this discussion come out to the Wednesday night class at the church building (6:45pm). The text and audio from Sunday's sermon on Moses should be posted some time today.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Church; sinful and saving

In reading the story of Jacob it's a wonder that God's people didn't die out with him. What a loser! How could God build on his foundation? But in thinking about Jacob it dawned on me that the church has been a "Jacob" all along. The church has been the "embarrassing uncle" you don't want people to know about and hope doesn't show up at the family party. It's always been that way and we still read embarrassing things in the newspaper every week about the church. How can it misrepresent God like that? ! Yet God seems pleased to use the church in spite of itself, much like Jacob. And as Jacob proved that he could have his finer moments so does the church. That's what keeps me engaged...wanting those "finer moments" to become more the norm than the exception.

Henri Nouwen's devotional continued to speak on the church today and I pass it along to you...

Over the centuries the Church has done enough to make any critical person want to leave it. Its history of violent crusades, pogroms, power struggles, oppression, excommunications, executions, manipulation of people and ideas, and constantly recurring divisions is there for everyone to see and be appalled by.

Can we believe that this is the same Church that carries in its center the Word of God and the sacraments of God's healing love? Can we trust that in the midst of all its human brokenness the Church presents the broken body of Christ to the world as food for eternal life? Can we acknowledge that where sin is abundant grace is superabundant, and that where promises are broken over and again God's promise stands unshaken? To believe is to answer yes to these questions.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Nouwen on Believing in the Church

I get a daily email devotional with thoughts from Henri Nouwen taken from his numerous writings. Today's post on "believing in the Church" is good. I heard Greg Boyd (author and pastor at Woodland Hills Church, St. Paul) say once that one of the biggest obstacles to his faith isn't miracles or the resurrection,etc. but the church. The church doesn't always live up to its calling and that has caused him to doubt God. Maybe you can relate.

With that background listen to Nouwen's words on believing in the church.

The Church is an object of faith. In the Apostles' Creed we pray: "I believe in God, the Father ... in Jesus Christ, his only Son - in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting." We must believe in the Church! The Apostles' Creed does not say that the Church is an organization that helps us to believe in God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. No, we are called to believe in the Church with the same faith we believe in God.

Often it seems harder to believe in the Church than to believe in God. But whenever we separate our belief in God from our belief in the Church, we become unbelievers. God has given us the Church as the place where God becomes God-with-us.

I'm often tempted to give up on church but I feel God continually challenge me saying, "If everyone gives up on the church then it will NEVER be what I called it to be." So I'm all in and I want others to be all in with me. People are waiting for God's church to rise up and BE JESUS to the world. By God's grace it's possible. I'm game. How about you?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Book Review: Out Live Your Life

I’ve read a few Max Lucado books and I haven’t decided if I like his style or not. I can easily see how some people do. Maybe it’s just an acquired taste. I like that he’s a story teller. He loves to add the flourish and embellish every story with word pictures and specially crafted words that add flare. But I’m a “get to the point” kind of guy so some of those flourishes strike me as self indulgent and not always helpful. But it’s a personal thing. I guess I just get lost in the details of his description some times when I rather be learning.

In his latest book, Out Live Your Life, Lucado offers a lite version compared to other books I’ve read of his. Sixteen chapters of five to six pages each touch on the highlights of the book of Acts in the Bible. Six pages isn’t enough to tell much of a story. It’s not enough to do much teaching either. It’s just enough to whet your appetite and then bring home the point.

But given that format, I think Lucado does a good job of giving the reader a sense of what the church was meant to be; real, passionate, accepting, humble, and prayerful. Lucado gives special attention to the importance of the church confronting issues of injustice in the world. Lucado says… “None of us can help everyone. But all of us can help someone. And when we help them we serve Jesus” (page 172). When we live out our calling in this way we will outlive our life by leaving a legacy.

This book is a quick read but not superficial. I think it would make for a “lite” version of some of the themes in a deeper book like Rich Stearns “Hole in the Gospel” which takes a very thorough look at how the church can address issues of injustice in the world. Out Live Your Life would be a nice gift book or daily devotional for someone who wants to be inspired but not weighed down with heavy teaching.

Disclaimer: I review books for Thomas Nelson Publishing in exchange for the book itself. I’m in no way obligated to give the books I read a favorable nod.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Book Review...The Butterfly Effect

Andy Andrews has just written a small gift book but don’t confuse size with impact. The Butterfly Effect will change your perspective on how you live your life. You’ve probably heard about the butterfly effect theory…that when a butterfly flaps its wings on the other side of the world it can actually impact your life in some significant way. This theory was laughed at when first suggested but thirty years later scientists have verified its legitimacy and turned it into The Law of Sensitive Dependence Upon Initial Conditions.

Andy Andrews takes the principle and shows how it’s true with people as well as butterflies. His main story references the battle of Gettysburg where Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, a colonel in the Union army faces continuous charges from the Confederate Army. Down to his last 80 men Chamberlain had to decide whether he would retreat or take one more charge. To the dismay of his troops and the surprise of the Confederates he led a charge capturing 400 of his enemy and securing the win for the North.

One decision. One battle won. But more than that. Gettysburg determined the fate of the entire war. And had the south won the nation it would have surely split the nation into two countries, or worse yet, thirteen. And if that had happened, would Nazi Germany have been defeated?

One decision can change the world forever. Andy Andrews makes us think twice about the “little” decisions we make every day and how they can impact people for decades to come.

I highly recommend this as a gift of encouragement to your friends or even yourself.

Note: I review books for Thomas Nelson Publishing in exchange for books but I am not under any obligation to give them a positive review.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Book Review: Everyone Communicates. Few Connect.

Reading a John Maxwell book is deceptive. There’s a tendency to think that it’s too simple. That it’s nothing new and you’ve heard it all before. It’s just common sense. But don’t be fooled. That’s the sign of a good teacher. John puts things on the lower shelf so it is accessible and readily applicable.

I enjoyed reading Everyone Communicates, Few Connect because my job (pastor) is all about connecting; whether that’s one on one or to hundreds at a time. I think the first decade or two I thought communication was enough. But the last few years I’ve realized the value of connecting. In fact the truth is…until you connect you won’t ever truly communicate.

I appreciate how Maxwell explores all sides of connecting; one on one, in small groups and speaking to crowds. He shares his personal insights and experiences in a variety of situations. Connecting is really an art and John takes you through the full gamut of what it takes to truly connect; creating influence, focusing on others, bringing energy, finding common ground, keeping it simple, creating an enjoyable experience, inspiring others and modeling your message.

The book is so practical that I’m taking one of my staff members through it to help them move beyond communicating to truly connecting themselves. I think this book will help anyone advance in their career or relationships as a result of reading it.

Disclaimer: I review books for Thomas Nelson Publishers in exchange for books but I am not obligated to give their books favorable reviews.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Restoration and the return of the blue birds...

The bluebirds are back.

When we bought our land five years ago there were a number of bluebird houses and bluebirds all around. I loved watching them. Somehow with fence line clean up the houses got removed. For months the bluebirds remained but a little confused. Where had all the houses gone? But the next year the bluebirds were nowhere to be found.

That bothered me. I felt like we had destroyed something beautiful. I'm an outdoorsy person. I majored in Biology! I see the wonder of God in everything outside.

Our little bluebird mishap reminded me of the nature of humanity in general. We tend to screw things up! We tend to undo what God did when he spoke the world into existence.

But the great thing about God is that he restores and renews. And he's handed that job over to the church. Our job is to restore beauty to an earth that has been messed with. We are to restore beauty to relationships, to nature (the oceans would be a good place to start these days), to art, to education, to war torn countries, to abandoned cities, to overbuilt suburbs, to sin torn lives.

When we moved onto our property this spring I asked Jim and Darline Thompson to build ten bluebird houses. They did and what do you know. The bluebirds are back! It's a little thing. But I think it's very symbolic of our ministry as a church...restoring what is broken. Bringing beauty back to where it belongs.

Now, look around. What can you do to restore God's beauty around you?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Back to "Normal"

The past three months have been a whirlwind for me, our staff and many volunteers as we have pushed hard to move from the mall to our building. I feel like we did a good job. Going into a move you never know what will happen but our church community REALLY CARES and it showed. People stepped up in every area to make the move a great success. Thanks!

The physical move went well. It will take a year or more to know if we made the emotional and spiritual move well. If, in a year, we are back on track...growing spiritually, growing in our relationships and reaching more people, then we can call the move a total success. We need to keep working at that though.

Right now I'm eager to get back to "normal". For me "normal" means building friendships and helping people know God in a way that produces lifechange for them. It means looking outside of our community to help others in significant ways. To some degree that has all been put on hold while we packed and moved boxes and greeted people who are new to Cedarbrook. It's been one big party...but parties can be superficial. You can't party forever and I'm starting to feel that now. I'm ready for normal. I hope you are too!

The reality is that we'll be greeting new people for months to come. We've always been a church with lots of newcomers. We are a big target right now and many people are checking us out. So we need to find a way to welcome newcomers and keep moving forward with our mission. We need to find a way to incorporate newcomers so they can become a part of our mission and not just be observers sitting in the bleachers watching the rest of us.

So please invite people to join you in your small group, on your ministry team, on your mission trip. They may not know it but they are looking for more than a Sunday meeting. They are looking for something that will change their life and finding a purpose outside of themselves that helps others will do that for them.

Join me this Sunday as I start my new series... REthink Church...learning from the early church in Acts.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

On the Eve of the Grand Opening

People ask me all the time how I feel about the Grand Opening. It changes every minute!

Part of me is just tired! We've been at this for so long. I'm looking forward to getting back to life as normal. But that's just the whiner in me.

Part of me is afraid. I'm afraid that we'll have more people come than we can welcome well. So much of who we are is relational. I don't want people to feel like just another person in a mass of people. I want people to feel like they matter to us and God when they walk through our doors. Right now I'm not so sure that's what people are feeling. But what REALLY encourages me is all the people pitching in to help make Cedarbrook welcoming. We've got people volunteering to manage our facility and people volunteering to clean and people volunteering for the Welcome Team and people who just up and do what needs to be taking on the job of bringing in gravel to create 40 more parking spots. How cool is that!

Part of me is excited. I've already seen so many new people checking out Cedarbrook. It gives me a glimpse of all the new life change that is about to take place as people start to experience God and community in new ways. And that's what we all change. So that's what keeps me going.

Part of me feels displaced. I'm just not used to nice things. We've been pioneering for so long. I feel like I'm in someone else's building and someone will come and say, "Okay, Remy, your time is up. It was fun to dream but now you have to go back to reality." It will take time for the new building to feel "normal".

And a big part of me is overwhelmed with thanksgiving. I have to just stop every so often and pinch myself to reflect on what God has done. I saw a picture the other day of our "nursery" back at the theater. What a joke! We created a wall of gates, boxes and garbage cans to keep the kids from running around. We've come so far so fast. How can you not see the hand of God in all of this????

So...I'm a basket case, huh! I've heard that others are struggling with a mixture of emotions as well. It's all a part of the transition that I warned us about two months ago. It will pass and good things will come through all of this. Thanks for being a part of it all.

I hope you'll go out of your way to welcome our guests in the coming weeks!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

First Service...Surreal

The first service at our new home was great...really fun to see the excitement in everyone's eyes. It was great to hear the singing after eight years of the sound being absorbed by our bad acoustics! The crowd was quite large and parking was a fiasco but solvable. Thanks for coming out if you were in the crowd.

I've heard a few people use the word "surreal" to describe the new building and the first service. Surreal means surpassing reality, other worldly, a bit strange. Yeah, that's how I've been feeling too and I think it has to do with the abrupt change that comes with transitions. Even though you see it coming for a long time the change takes place so fast.

It's like when I got married. I knew it was coming. I prepared for it. But then one minute I went from single to married and it was just a little weird. It took time to adjust to my new status.

I think that's why biblical Jews had rituals for days of mourning when someone died and seven days of festival and celebration when something good happened. They knew that you don't just flip a switch and keep going at your same rate of speed. It takes time to readjust.

So even though we are all excited and thankful for our new will still take time to reorient ourselves. So don't feel bad or guilty if you are feeling a little askew. You'll come around. I think when I see new people engaging and getting involved at Cedarbrook I'll feel like we are more back to normal and less in the production mode.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Book Review: Bonhoeffer...pastor, martyr, prophet, spy

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a young pastor during the rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany. He led a movement called the Confessing Church which encouraged German Lutheran churches to break away from the state church because of its support of Hitler. He joined the conspiracy to kill Hitler and eventually paid for it with his life.

I’ve read a bit about Dietrich Bonhoeffer as well as two of his books (Cost of Discipleship and Life Together) but this book was very illuminating. It goes into great depth about Bonhoeffer’s life as well as his theology, which I found very interesting (although the average reader may find that the theology and the discussion of the Confessing Church is more than they want to know). The author drew extensively from letters that Bonhoeffer, friends and family wrote as well as his writings and journal entries which gave the book a high level of credibility.

If you’ve seen the movie Valkrie then this book will fill in a lot of the back story behind the failed assassination attempt on Hitler. It reveals that the conspiracy ran much deeper than the movie implied. And the fallout was deeper too…with about 1000 people being implicated, tried and killed.

The book gives interesting detail of Bonhoeffer’s last days even though we have no writings from him at that time. One of his fellow prisoners wrote about it extensively.

Bonhoeffer is an inspiration. He was a man of great conviction and as the subtitle suggests, a prophet. He knew where Hitler was taking Germany long before most people has any clue. While the nation was embracing Hitler, Bonhoeffer was warning the nation and the church of where things were headed. Though cumbersome in some parts I think this is an excellent read.

Disclaimer: I review books for Thomas Nelson in exchange for free books. But I’m free to write anything I want about the book, good or bad.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Confessing my poverty mentality...

I had a strange feeling as I sat in our conference room with our staff yesterday. We were in an adequately sized room with furniture that wasn't cast off from someone's tired living room. The air conditioning was keeping us cool on a hot day. The room was well lit and...I felt guilty. What was that all about????

I thought...oh no, I'm not going to be able to function here. It's too nice. We've always been "lean and mean" when it came to purchasing. Scrimp, scrimp, scrimp. How can I justify anything this nice? But then I realized what I was doing. I was revealing the poverty mentality that pioneers often have. It's this weird blend of pride and self righteousness that says... if you really love Jesus you won't buy anything new. You'll just get by with what you can.

This attitude appeals to pioneers. We are wired to get by on very little and we tend to think that because WE feel this way everyone else should too. But not everyone is wired that way. They see the worn out furniture and wonder if we take ourselves seriously. They wonder if we really believe in our vision. They wonder if we care about others and not just your spiritual pride. They look at something like meeting in a mall and wonder if we have any sense of permanence and tradition. I think these are fair questions that pioneers need to answer.

You see, pioneers are not more spiritual than settlers. Even pioneers have to settle down at some point. And when they do...they need to deal with their pride. I know I do.

I would have loved to have had our new building for Brian Hartz's funeral...a place to welcome his family and friends...a lobby where they could all gather in couches and tables to talk and reflect. With our new building we can offer funerals, weddings, baptisms and every Sunday morning.

Nice is not the enemy of spirituality. Nice can bring welcome and comfort. I mention this because I know many of us at Cedarbrook are pioneers and we will struggle with having a quality building with nice furnishings. But's not about's about our guests. I really believe that our new building will send a strong message to our community that we value them and have done our best to create a welcoming environment for them to encounter the living God.

Join me in shedding pioneer guilt and being thankful for all that God has given us...for HIS glory.

Monday, May 24, 2010

One week to go...

We closed out our time at the mall yesterday. Transitions are so odd. There comes a time when there is a break from the past. You see it coming, coming, feels like you will always be in that in-between state...and then there is a break...a final act...and the past drops away like fuel tanks on a rocket ship as it goes to Stage Two.

Yesterday was that break. We packed up the stage, sound equipment and final kids equipment. We stacked the chairs one last time and now our mall days and mobile days are over. So final.

Some of us will miss the's casualness and accessibility. I personally tend to live in the future a few months. I've been holding services in my mind at our new building for so long that it will feel fairly normal to be there! But I'll always remember the mall. The theater days were days of new beginnings. We were cutting our teeth and just trying to pull off a Sunday service. But the mall is the place where I believe we became a community. That's where a lot of us got to know each other. That's also the timeframe that we added a number of staff. So I'll always carry memories of those years with me.

We did a good job of celebrating the past service...good food and great stories. But now it's time to move on. God has called us to become rooted to reach more people and offer them the same Life that we've been given. I'm ready. I hope you are too.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Fasting for God's Name

It's May and we turn the corner on finishing off our building. I was there today with our designer (Tracy Taylor) going over the colors and furnishings one last time (I hope!). It's all coming together.

I think you'll be surprised at the look. It doesn't look like a church...not at all. It looks more like a lodge, not only on the outside...inside too. The colors are warm earth tones and we'll have cafe tables and couches throughout the lobby. Field stone accents the lobby and auditorium. We intentionally made it very warm and welcoming because most people expect the opposite from church! We hope people will come early and stay late talking. Church is not a meeting. It's not the building either. It's people in relationship. But a good building can facilitate relationships and I think our building will do that.

If you've been tracking with my recent sermons series (Transitions) you've heard me say that our purpose as a church is to make God's name great. I want so much for our existence to do that for God. And to pray to that end I'm fasting in May as my way of dedicating myself and the church to that goal. Each week of May I'll change the fast and break it on our opening Sunday, May 30th. I'd love to have you join me for a meal or all 29 days! Here's my plan;
  • Week One: no sweets or coffee
  • Week Two: above plus no meat
  • Week Three; oatmeal for breakfast, beans, rice and lettuce for lunch and supper
  • Week Four: liquids, fruit juice, tea, Slimfast

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Book Review: Tithing...test me in this

Who would have thought that a book on tithing could be a page-turner? But Tithing...test me in this, was just that. Douglas LeBlanc's interview with individuals or couples about their experience with tithing (giving away 10% of their income) was an easy read that inspired me toward generosity.

LeBlanc starts the book with a simple overview of the practice of tithing which I found very helpful. He quotes a number of early church Father's showing that tithing was the norm for the early church showing that it wasn't abandoned because of the New Testament teaching of grace. He said that tithing is like prayer in that God doesn't need our help but welcomes our joining him in his kingdom work. When we open our grip on money we invite God's blessing on us but when we tighten it we miss an opportunity to join God at work.

Each interview flies by as people relate how they came to be tithers and how they see God has blessed them for it. It's more of a book of stories than teaching but each chapter teaches you about the discipline of tithing through the people's experiences with giving.

LaBlanc interviews some notable people, one being Ron Sider, author of the classic, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger and Randy Alcorn, author of a number of books including The Treasure Principle, a helpful book on principles of generosity from the Bible.

Many people referenced Malachi 3:10 as an inspiration for their tithing practice. This is where God told Israel that if they tithed on their income that He would bless them. And God even said..."test me in this". In other places God says that we should not test him but we are given the right to test God in one area; tithing. Give to God his ten percent of your income and see if God is not faithful to meet all of your needs.

Some commons themes that came up from different interviews was that:
  • tithing is a simple matter of obedience to God. It was never meant to be an option.
  • tithing is the beginning, not the end of generosity. Tithing is a discipline that gets our generosity wheels turning when our natural selfishness would cause us to keep everything to ourselves.
  • tithing acts like training wheels on a bike. It gives us guidance in our early days of giving. As time goes on giving 10% is kidstuff compared to true generosity. After awhile we stop thinking about how much we are giving and think more about how much we keep for ourselves.
  • tithing was never done to receive a blessing but nearly every interviewee talked about seeing God bless them in many ways both tangible and intangible. Frederica Mathewes-Green said..."When we tithe, the blessings keep flowing in faster than we can bail them out again!" page 13.
The church has gotten a bad rap for "always talking about money". Tithing...test me in this, bypasses this complaint and shows how tithing is an invitation to share in the character and joy of God through generosity. If you are currently tithing this book will remind you why you do. If you are considering the practice it will convince you to take the risk.

Note: I review books for Thomas Nelson Publishers for a chance to read free books!

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The Reality of Walking with God

I've been enjoying the Lenten posts from Larry Crabb's devotional that I recommended in a previous post. He's been hitting the theme of what it REALLY means to walk with God. It's not all fun and games. He's not a God who runs around keeping us from scraping our knees and wiping our nose. He's a God of great purpose and wants to include us in that purpose. But he doesn't always include us in on all the details and we need to learn to humbly accept that fact.

Here's part of his post from today. Click the link at the end to read it all or to subscribe yourself...

The Book of Jonah

God says, you are growing up. You can no longer celebrate My love the way a little boy celebrates the care he receives from a good mother, from a tender woman who provides her child with a nutritious meal and a sweet dessert and then, after an hour of play and reading, tucks him into a warm, comfortable bed with the promise of another fun day tomorrow.

Part of growing up, of seeing Me as I am, tempts My followers to run from Me, to establish a safe distance from the distinctly unsafe and inexplicably disagreeable ways I sometimes involve Myself in the lives of those I love.

You are growing up. Your days of naïve worship and shallow but exciting intimacy are
over. It is always difficult for a child to become an adult, to draw close to Me as I AM. read more...

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Celebrating Lent

Lent is the 40 days that lead up to Easter. The word simply means "spring" since it is during springtime. Christians have used this time, like Advent before Christmas, to prepare themselves for Easter.

Someone asked me the other day if we celebrated Ash Wednesday (the start of Lent which was last Wednesday). I said...not yet. She wondered why we didn't and I told her that most evangelical churches (as compared to the mainline denominations) dropped some of the traditional church calendar observances as a reaction against an overly ritualized church. The services lost their meaning and people were staying away in droves so they were simply dropped.

But like anything, we need to revisit past decisions and see if they are still accurate...still relevant. Sometimes we just need a break from ritual to make it fresh again. There's nothing wrong with ritual as long as it's meaningful. Every Sunday service is a ritual no matter what kind of church you have. Some rituals are boring and some are kept fresh.

So for those of you that like ritual and are able to keep it fresh, take heart. We might add other church calendar days back into our schedule if we sense a passion for it. Moving into our own building will help because we've only had the banquet center available to us on Sundays and Good Friday. I'd be interested in knowing your thoughts.

By the way. If you are interested in receiving a free daily devotional during Lent from Dr. Larry Crabb click the link provided. Dr. Crabb sends this out daily and each devotional summarizes a book of the Bible and spoken as if from the mouth of God. It's short. You can read it in 60 seconds. Almost 100 people have signed up for it already.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Book Review

I have agreed to occassionally review a book for Thomas Nelson publishing. Here's my latest review on the book; Finding Purpose Beyond Your Pain by Paul Meier and David Henderson, both Christian psychiatrists.

When I sent off for the book, Finding Purpose Beyond Our Pain, I was looking forward to reading it. I’ve known about one of the authors (Paul Meier) for years and have enjoyed hearing him on a radio show. He gave very practical advice. As a pastor I have had the opportunity to counsel many people through painful episodes in their lives and I was looking forward to the insights that two Christian psychiatrists would bring to the issue. But the book was a bit of a disappointment to me. They underplayed their psychiatric knowledge and overplayed on their biblical knowledge so what the book ends up being is good common sense wisdom that might come from most seasoned Christians. It’s not a bad book. I’m sure that it will be helpful to many. But it’s not the in-depth look at the issue of pain that I was looking for. As a result, I felt like it slipped into Christian cliché at times, giving the standard answers that I’ve heard all my Christian life. Again, that’s not necessarily bad…I was just hoping for a fresh perspective from two doctors.

The book is broken into seven parts, each focusing on a different pain with four chapters per issue. The seven pains discussed are; injustice, rejection, loneliness, loss, discipline, failure and death.

Dr. Meier occasionally broke into story telling about his life which I found very engaging. I wished he had spent more time drawing on his personal life experiences rather than both doctors spinning a variety of anecdotes in each chapter.

If you are a relatively new believer this book might be just what you are looking for. But for more mature believers I think it will leave you wanting more.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Podcasts on Marriage and Faith

I download sermon podcasts all the time to hear from some of the better preachers in the country. Andy Stanley and John Ortberg usually serve up some pretty good stuff...practical, biblical, clear.

This past week they both had series posted that I think you'll find helpful:
  • iMarriage- a three part series on marriage by Andy Stanley.
  • Can Smart People Believe in God? - a three part series by John Ortberg. The second session was John interviewing theologian Dallas Willard with some tough questions about faith. The link takes you to a video but you can also download mp3's. If you go to itunes and search for Menlo Park Presbyterian Church you can get all the services that Dallas spoke at. He answered different questions in each service. Good stuff for people that struggle with questions regarding faith, God, the Bible, etc.
Both of these series can be accessed through iTunes as well. Enjoy.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

How to Make Resolutions that Stick

I'm not preaching this week. It's amazing what I have time for when I don't have to prepare a blogging. I would like to do it more.

I get blog updates from Michael Hyatt, president of Thomas Nelson books. Today he sent out a helpful post on how to make your New Year resolutions actually happen. I thought you might appreciate his advice...

In order to make your resolutions stick, you need to employ four strategies:

  1. Keep them few in number. Productivity studies show that you really can’t focus on more than 5-7 items at any one time. And don’t try to cheat by including sections with several resolutions under each section. This is a recipe for losing focus and accomplishing very little. Instead, focus on a handful of resolutions that you can almost repeat from memory. Mine fit on one 4″ x 6″ card.
  2. Make them “smart.” Resolutions are really just annual goals. But like all goals, they should be s-m-a-r-t:
    • Specific—your goals just identify exactly what you want to accomplish in as much specificity as you can muster.
    • Measurable—as the old adage says, “you can’t manage what you can’t measure.”
    • Actionable—every resolution should start with a verb (e.g., “quit,” “run,” “finish,” “eliminate,” etc.)
    • Realistic—you have to be careful here. A good resolution should stretch you, but you have to add a dose of common sense.
    • Time-bound—every resolution needs a date associated with it. When do you plan to deliver on that resolution. It could be by year-end (December 31) or it could be more near-term (March 31).
  3. Write them down. This is critical. There is a huge power in writing your resolutions on paper even if you never develop an action plan or do anything else. Henriette Anne Klauser documents this in her fascinating book, Write It Down and Make It Happen [affiliate link].
  4. Go public. Tell your family and friends what you are committed to achieving. Better yet, post your resolutions on your blog like my son-in-law did. Going public creates accountability and leverage. Several years ago, I blogged about my goal to run a half marathon. Once I did that, there was no turning back. People would ask, “So how’s your training going?” I wanted to have a good answer, so I would haul myself out of bed and go run.
  5. To illustrate, I have five resolutions for this year:

    • Read through the entire Bible by December 31, 2010.
    • Finish the second draft of my new book by March 31, 2010.
    • Mentor eight men, once a month, beginning on January 12, 2010.
    • Write 208 blog posts (four per week) by December 31, 2010.
    • Run the Country Music Half Marathon on April 24, 2010.
You can read the full post here.

Michael's blogsite home is here.