Stinky Church

There was a popular series a few years ago for church leaders called, “Sticky Teams,” “Sticky Church,” you get the idea. I actually liked most of what was shared, after all we do want people to “stick” when they come to our churches. However, at times much of what we in, swallow for the “gospel” of church growth just doesn’t quite line up with what Jesus said.

I want my church, and yours to grow, be a powerhouse for redemption and hope in our communities. I want all of us to be healthy, happy, and hopeful that our local church will be a place where lives are changed, where people begin to follow Jesus with passion and finish their race as in love with God as the day they took their first step. And there is no end to the “professionals” that will tell you exactly how to do that.

One of the things we are told we must do is clean up the mess. I have to be honest…I hate mess. I like a clean building, clean classrooms, clean restrooms, clear & simple instructions, and a neat service with everything in place. I do not mind interruptions as long as they are meaningful, intentional, inspirational and …clean. I like things clean. But people are rarely clean…enough for some among us.

In Proverbs 14:4 we read, “Where there is no oxen, the manger is empty, but from the strength of an ox come abundant harvests.” In other words, where you have a bunch of restless animals gathered into one location, if there is any strength in them at all, you will have a room full of crap. That’s right. No crap, no oxen. It comes with the territory.

Since I like smooth clean stalls, this verse is not my favorite. Much like Martin Luther wanted to excise the book of James from the scripture, I would like to delete this one. However, I didn’t have the last word.

Yes, we want people to “stick” with us. We want a sticky church. If your stall is empty, you’ll have a clean stable. Just beautiful. Something to show off. But if you want some raw material to work with, you won’t get that without the stink. And after all, that stink does stick. If there’s enough manure shoveled into the right places, that stink can become the key to an “abundant harvest” That smell? It’s the fragrance of heaven, the kingdom of God (Matt. 22:9-10). Don’t fear the funk, go get you a stinky church!

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Thankful Revisited v2

This morning as I begin my new week, I want to say that I am thankful for laughter. Nothing brightens my day, lifts my spirit, changes the environment like laughter. It can whisk you away, at least for a few minutes, to another land; a land where friends smile together, the load is lifted, and hope begins to break forth over the horizon like the sun coming up on our beach. Being around people who don’t take themselves too seriously is a medicine, a balm to my driven, perfectionist tendencies. You lead me to the waters of laughter and feed me with the cool, refreshing taste of “all is well.” Today, I am grateful for laughter.

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5 Things I’m Thankful For

I read recently that if you journal briefly, just one sentence for each of the five things you’re thankful for, once a week, for two months, your optimism will increase dramatically. As a matter of fact, you will feel happier, have fewer health problems, and even spend more time exercising. There is no downside to becoming a thankful person! So here goes mine. I’m going to use more than a sentence to start my journal with:

1. Christ – I am so thankful for Jesus having revealed himself to me all those years ago, at that surfing contest on that Saturday night. It is as real tonight to me as it was that night (41 1/2 years ago!). I will never get over it. It changed the course of my life forever, here and for eternity. Thank you, Jesus. I run out of words to express. I still don’t get it…why you saved me. But I am grateful, forever grateful.

2. Karen – Thank you God for my wife of 41 years, girlfriend of 43 years, and best friend for my entire adult life (it’s the same woman!). You did a good thing when you made her, and I will forever be grateful for the kindness, grace, love, acceptance, encouragement, faithfulness, integrity, trustworthiness, character, beauty, honesty, and authenticity that she continues to show me. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

3. Family – My brothers are a source of deep pride and affection as I see your kindness expressed to me in allowing me to have such men in my life. Thank you. My father, who has taught me what integrity, fidelity, and a healthy work ethic is; thank you God as you gave me a true rock that cannot be moved, who was always there for his beloved wife & boys. And for my children who are always in my heart & prayers. Jason, Rachel & Aaron (and Bobbie), you are the trophies of my heart. They have given me more joy than I deserved, and continue to do so. Grandkids? Wow…Jesus you hit it out of the park with them! Mom…I miss you. I will see you soon. Thank you Lord, thank you, thank you.

4. Friends – What can I say? I have the best, most faithful & loving friends a man could ever have. When I have been down, they have been there to lift me up. When I needed a smile, they made me laugh. When I couldn’t even bring myself to paddleout in the ocean I love, they dragged me out and made me surf. When I was without a job, they offered to create jobs at their businesses for me. You have expressed your love to me through my friends, and I thank you. For my friends at church, I thank you, Lord. They pray, serve, reach out, give, lead, care, come alongside, heal, repair, keep things going, forgive me, put up with me, strengthen me, teach me, stand in the gap, dream with me, and bring those dreams to past. Thank you God! I love my church. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

5. Surfing/Music (I had a tie) – Surfing & music probably saved my life. Music kept me in love with rhythm, mystery, the groove, at a time when the world seemed to be imploding. It brought beauty and stability to my life when so much was chaotic, and it became a source of worshipful expression when I became your follower. It has calmed my life, given expression to pain and hope, and continues to be a vehicle that I can climb in at anytime for a new and fresh ride. Thank you! Surfing is what you used to reach me. Thank you. The rhythm of the ocean, like music inspires and empowers me. The moment my toes touch the wet sand my soul is released, and I experience a freedom unlike with any other medium. Thank you. It has kept me physically fit, and my soul is the better for it. Thank you. For 55 years I have been playing music. Thank you. Give me a few more. For 50 years I have been a water rat. Give me a few more.Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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You’re Never Too Veteran

I had one of those moments of clarity last week. A friend had driven in to share with our Mission’s Team how to get involved with what we call in the Vineyard, a “Missions Partnership.” All was going well, people were asking questions, and I was enjoying watching our team have an exchange with a veteran mission’s guy. Then it happened.

He turned to each person and asked why they were interested in missions. One by one they answered. Some were nurses who had been out on the field using their discipline to help others. Some were contractors, builders, who like to see things created, especially for those who have very little. Others were simply compassionate people who love to share Christ by meeting necessary needs. They also shared their experiences, as many had been to various countries before. I didn’t expect him to actually ask me. After all, I’m a freakin’ pastor! But he did.

Now I have been to Thailand twice, Singapore, Portugal, and a few other countries, but mostly for surfing. But what came out of my mouth surprised me. I said, “I want a spiritually healthy church. We can’t be healthy thinking all there is to our faith can be found in our church. We need exposure to our brothers and sisters in other cultures and countries if we have any chance of really growing up spiritually.”

Okay, maybe you’re thinking, “What’s the big deal?” Well, I would have normally answered with a comment that voiced a concern for the poor people out there who haven’t heard the Gospel, and who need food, shelter, and water. Now that’s all well and good. But when I said I what I did, I realized I really am a pastor.

Go ahead, laugh. I’ve been at this well over 30 years and you would think I would have settled that, huh? But one of my complaints to God over these many years has been that when this all started for me, I just wanted to share Jesus with one more person. That was it. That was the way my life with Christ started, and somehow it has ended up with me pastoring all these many years. There’s a lot of crap that comes with pastoring, and there have been times when I’ve lamented that “crap.” It goes something like this, “Lord, I just wanted to share you with one more person. Now I have to look at budgets, prepare sermons (which I’ve come to love), pay bills, listen to complaints, smile when I want to throw up or throw down, and sometimes I’m not sure how this happened. Did I take a wrong turn somewhere?”

But last week I heard God come out of my mouth. Well, I heard the calling of God come out of my mouth. My concern is for my church (yes, I said “my” church). I really desire that we grow up, mature, become a community of faith that can not only survive hard times, but thrive through them. I want this community of faith to have a deep appreciation and affection for what God is doing elsewhere in His Kingdom. My reason for being there last week was as a pastor. I love my church, this wonderful group of diverse people from so many walks of life. It’s funny. I’m from an Irish family that has resided in the south since the 1700’s, but my church is made up of 94% northerners. God’s humor? Or God’s calling? Funny…some of us just take longer to obtain that firm grasp of the obvious.

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4 Things I Would Have Done Differently

Just a short list of reflections on what I would have done differently if starting a new church…

1. Worried less – When we trust God, we worry less. But trusting God is no substitute for hard work. So, we work hard while deeply trusting in God. I found that I worry a lot more when I trust God less; that I also waste much labor when I worry, trying to make up for that distrust of God. Relax…then join God in what He’s already doing.

2. Laughed more – When you worry, you laugh less, which causes more worry and less laughter. It’s a vicious cycle. Listen, this is serious business I know, but the fact is pretty soon you and I will be gone and all but forgotten. So, laugh. Laugh at how serious we take this thing, give yourself a break, smile, and get back to enjoying what God has called you to.

3. Prayed more – When we worry our prayers turn to desperate pleas for rescue, respite, something to dull the pain & fear that threatens to encapsulate us. I love the Jesus Prayer, and I pray it many times a day but if starting over, I would have prayed more about enjoying the good things and people that were around me in the journey at that time. Worry-prayer can consume you until there’s no joy-prayers. And you know what that leads to…more worry.

4. Pandered less – I would not have been so concerned about, and pandered to, every living body that showed up to our early meetings. If you’ve planted a church (I have planted two personally, helped plant many others) you know what I mean. We think we need every person that comes through our doors, and we will kiss…whatever to keep them in that lonely seat so we won’t feel like failures. We allow the unconvicted & unconvinced to rob us of the passion needed to recognize and recruit the repentant & ready. Don’t do it! Most of the time the harder we work to keep someone from leaving the more we will regret it in the end. Learn the art of a healthy good-bye early on… and hello to less worry.

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The Amazing Human Species

If you want to see the creativity of God, lead a small group. And if you truly want to learn to appreciate the grandeur, the artistic fine print, of God, listen to your small group. It’s almost like watching a room full of painters at their easels and with every word, expression, volume change, another stroke of color is added. Some leave more white space, and some fill their entire canvas within minutes, but all of them reflect the life they’ve lived and the Creator that is at work in them.

Or maybe music is your medium. Having played in an orchestra many years ago, as well as many bands (both worship teams and R-n-R bands), you come to appreciate the tone, the tenor, the volume, the character of each instrument as it contributes to the whole. Sure, some instrumentalists, some painters take a more chaotic approach to their expression, but still who can’t learn to appreciate Radiohead or a Jackson Pollock? Indeed, there’s gold in them there hills, if you’re up to the mining.

So, next time you’re with a small group, listen, watch, take in all the beauty that is the human expression and celebrate the creativity that God has brought to your life.

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Why Worship?

As I was standing, singing during the introduction song, a few young surfers walked past me, gave me a shaka (you’d have to be a surfer to understand), grinned, and took their spot nearby. As we sang I reflected on how cool it was that I still worship with my bros and sisters, those generations younger than myself, who love the sport God used to reach me. People who know me, know I love surfing. I mean I love it. No, let me be clear…I really love it.

Many ages ago when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I had a job that wasn’t church related, and the surf was good, I would actually have stomach cramps, get physically ill if I couldn’t get off work to go. I know, dumb. But what can I say? Passion is a rare commodity, and having a deep commitment to someone or something that affects you mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically is a strong motivating force.

ETV did a documentary on the “History of Surfing in SC”, a few years back. Since I am now old enough to be considered an “historical find,” they asked to interview me, along with some friends who have been around since we carved the first surfboards out of the Redwoods, or I mean cypresses (around here). To end the segment my friend described surfing as, “I guess it’s just a bad habit I picked up as a kid.”

A bad habit. When I started to preach my sermon on “Why Worship,” it suddenly came back to me – my wedding. At my wedding, after the vows, I leaned over to my beautiful 19-year old wife and whispered in her ear, “Don’t ever ask me to choose between you and surfing.” I told the church this, and then asked, “Who, what did I really love at that moment?” Of course they said surfing. But the fact was, I loved myself. I loved what made me feel good, what gave me prestige, what insulated me from the world everyone else lived in and I wanted no part of; it was all about me.

When it comes to worshiping God, let’s face it, it’s usually all about us. We look at God on Sunday mornings, and go, “Don’t ask me to choose between you or me.” Unless I feel like it, I won’t worship. Unless all is well with my relationships, I won’t worship. Unless the music style is just right, the volume just right, the musicianship just right, the temperature just right, if I’m rested, have the time, etc.

There is an ever increasing list of “other loves” that try to dictate to us, like a bad habit, what we will give our affections to. I’m just glad Jesus didn’t look at me and say, “Don’t ever make me choose between the cross & heaven.”

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The Emotionally Expressive Church

Sunday I tried to open the door for our church to better emote their affections to God. Not sure how successful I was, I mean how do you measure it? By tears, by laughter, by smiles, by dancing, what? Jonathan Edwards was probably the first to take a deep look at how important our emotions are in our walk with God. Yet in our Greek infused culture the average, respectable church doesn’t appear to be very free, at least emotionally.

All of us carry the hurt, the pain, the scars of a fallen race where relationships have been bruised, battered, discarded, and distorted; it has left us mangled emotionally. Out of this comes fear, self-hatred, self-loathing, pride, loneliness, phobias, addictions, etc. I’m not so sure a double dose of Greek dualism is what we need to combat such deep gashes in our psyche.

George Campbell said back in 1776, “To say that it is possible to persuade without speaking to passions is but, at best, a kind of specious nonsense…Passion is the mover to action, reason is the guide.”

Passion. How can you not “feel” passion. As one theologian said, “Christianity without passion is powerless & lifeless.” Maybe the key to unlocking our healing lies in part with the unleashing of our affections upon God.

When John saw Jesus in Revelation 1 he fell at his feet as if dead…out of dread. But Jesus lays his hand, his right hand, the hand of affection upon John’s head and says, “Fear not, I am…” Could it be that as we bring our dread to the Lord, we too can hear his voice, feel his touch of affection and feel the release of those chains that have held us hostage for all too long?

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Monday Reflections On Sunday

Funny how our two morning services are so different. I’ve tried to analyze it, change it,
tweak it, even disregard it, and yet the peculiarities are obvious. The first service is
larger in number, ready to worship, are engaged (they even laugh at my dumb jokes)
and seem to “get it” when that moment comes in the service.

Now the second service is much more dialed back, maybe even a bit sullen, a little less
in number, and a little less engaged. And the biggest hurdle…they don’t get my jokes.
What makes the difference? Newer people in the second service? Maybe it’s that the
younger people have been dragged kicking & screaming to church by their parents and
everyone is ticked off by the time they get there? Of course as a preacher, I’m
“evangelastically” speaking…we are known to stretch things to make a point (by the
way, Jesus did the same thing). But don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for every one of
those folks. I’m just wondering if I need to adjust the service at times to fit the

Are people having a tough time this morning? Are people struggling with their
relationships, even as they enter the doors of our building? Are people still tired from a
Saturday of either working overtime to take care of their families, or maybe played so
hard for so long on Saturday they are worn out? Maybe they are the “hesitant
worshipers” that are touching their toes in the waters once again, carefully, to see if it is
worth a “jump in.”

Or does it even matter? People have come out, given their precious Sunday morning, a
morning at the beach, to gather with other tired, hungry, disillusioned, seeking, excited,
bored, people who have a sneaking suspicion that their Creator has made a grand
gesture so profound that it motivates them to come and see…could it be?

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The Morning After

Once again many mainstream Christians placed themselves at the mercy of the media, buying into an “all or nothing” type of political soup that never pleases anyone. It’s almost comical, and sad, how quiet Twitter has been from folks who were all a chatter about how evil Obama was and how he was going down.

Why do we do this? I say “we,” because I have so many friends, nice people, who seem to just set themselves up for a letdown. Neither candidate was perfect. Neither candidate was so “Christian” that every Christian could endorse them. Maybe we should learn something from this & learn to listen more than we critique. Is it possible you and I have wonderful brothers & sisters who simply disagree with us on some things, but we can all still agree on Who the real King is?

I am grateful the election has come and gone…no more talk radio exaggerations and innuendo; now only blaming & pessimism, which makes it so easy to turn the radio/internet off. Maybe we should spend more time talking to God, and listening to our brother & sister. We might just be better off.

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