Thursday, February 28, 2008

Letters I never sent

Today I was in a bad mood and I wanted to write and send an e-mail to a certain someone who had rubbed me the wrong way. I was given some advice from this person who seems to care, yet just doesn't quite get me or the vision God has given me for church planting.

So I set out to write this e-mail. I had written several paragraphs of complaints and things I disagreed with. For about an hour I poured over the words I had written, adding and editing as I went along. By the time I finished writing the e-mail something had happened inside of me; I was no longer angry and I ended up deleting most of what I had spent an hour writing. The e-mail I ended up sending this person was vastly different than the one I started to write. I ended up sending him a short note thanking him for his concern and assuring him that my family and I are doing great, and that God continues to supply our every need, and then some.

I was thinking about all of this as I was reading through Psalm 69 in my daily devotions. A portion of this Psalm, vv. 22-28, is what is referred to in theological terms as "imprecatory,"which literally means to curse others. Here in these recorded verses David is actually praying to God to curse those who have "shamed, scorned and disgraced him" (v.19-21).

At the end of calling down curses upon his enemies David returns to praising God for rescuing him. He poured out his complaint and the anger and bitterness towards his enemies went away. It's kind of like that e-mail that I wanted to send. I wrote it all out and by the time I got to the end of it my negative human emotions were replaced by God's amazing power to love people and realize they are no more perfect than I am.

Would God really cause my enemies to go blind, kill their children and erase their names from the book of life simply because I am angry and overwhelmed by my emotions? He might. God does defend His children against their foes. He will certainly frustrate the plans of those who intentionally set out to hurt us.

Would I really want my enemies to go blind, lose their children and have them permanately eliminated from the Book of Life? Jesus says we are to love our enemies, and bless those who persecute us and spitefully use us. So, what am I to make of things like "imprecatory Psalms?" Just because David complained about his mortal enemies before God doesn't mean God was obliged to wipe them out. Our God is a big God who can handle our anger, our frustration, our bitterness towards those who rise up against us, etc. We can turn to Him and pour out our own complaints. When we do, He will take away all of those negative, potentially harmful emotions and replace them with His spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23)

My Daily Summit with the Living God: overwhelmed by sin and temptation

Today in my daily devotions I came to Psalm 69. As I was reading through this Psalm I saw several things that jumped out at me. As always I had to ask God, "How does this apply to my life as I continue in my daily summit with the living, triune God?"

Have you ever had one of those moments when it seems like the whole world is crashing down on you? It seems like everywhere you turn, danger lurks around the corner. There is an intense battle raging all around us, like swarming floodwaters, seeking to pull us under.

Here in Psalm 69, David seems to be having one of those days. No matter how hard he tries, nothing seems to turn out right, and everyone is out to get him. There are times in our lives when we can become overwhelmed by temptation and sin. The devil is our real enemy who uses whatever he can to trip us up and hold us down. However, like David, we can call upon God who will save us by His mighty power.

1 Corinthians 10:13 says,

The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.(1 Cor.10:13) NLT

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Is Evangelism a dying art?

Evangelism as a dying art?

I don't think evangelism is dead, just the old ways we've been doing it. Once we get past the erroneous idea that evangelism is a program that we and/or our local church does then we can start making some real progress. No matter what approach we are using, if it is not real then it won't be truly successful.

I think, for the most part, that evangelism has become a program that pastors and church people are uncomfortable with. Most people just don't like throwing out the sales pitch, then clinching the deal with a sinner's prayer. This is not what evangelism is or was ever meant to be. Evangelism should flow out of one's personal relationship with the living God. It's not about four laws, or the ABC's of salvation. It's about me sharing a real, personal relationship and experience with other people who are hurting and or experiencing turmoil and hardship in their lives.

I think the days of vocational pastoral leadership are over. It has gotten to the point where many clergy see their calling as their job, so they tackle their pastorate from a professional point of view. Many are gifted and trained in the area of administration and teaching, a few are gifted evangelists. Many, at least the pastors I have met and talked to, see evangelism as another program on their menu of church activities. Most pastors have no problem with talking about the gospel, one on one, on a personal level over coffee. But organizing a regular program of evangelism is a major struggle because for years evangelism has been an unnatural thing that we do in church.

Pastors and church planters of today need to be missionaries, training their congregation to live and think like missionaries in their own neighborhoods and circles of relationships. Real, Biblical evangelism takes place almost naturally as we live out our faith daily in the communities where we live.

As a pastor/church planter/missionary this means sending my children to the local public elementary school, which gives me immediate access to 90% of the families who live in my community. Also, allowing my children to particpate in community activities like scouting and sporting activities such as Little League baseball, etc. and then getting involved in these organizations as volunteers. How can my family and I get to know other families in our community if we keep to ourselves and send our kids miles away to the nearest Christian school? Through the public school and community organizations we are involved with, we have been able to meet many families that we have more than a few things in common with. We have been able to start building friendships, and our neighbors (especially the kids my two boys have befriended) are responding as they share their lives with us.

Evangelism isn't a dying art. However, like most forms of art, the art of evangelism needs to be reshaped from time to time. For me, it merely means being who God re-created me to be in the community He has place me in.

How about you?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

My Daily Summit with the Living God: my tongue

Today in my daily devotions I came to Proverbs 25. There are many great pieces of wisdom in this chapter, but a few in particular caught my attention, with a common theme centering around the tongue and how I use my own.

As always, I found myself asking, "How does this apply to me in my daily summit with the Living, Triune God.

Here's what I came up with.

Gossip, rumors, slander, lies and self-control

Proverbs 25:9-10, 18, 23, 28
9 When arguing with your neighbor,
don’t betray another person’s secret.
10 Others may accuse you of gossip,
and you will never regain your good reputation.

18 Telling lies about others is as harmful as hitting them with an ax,

wounding them with a sword,

or shooting them with a sharp arrow.

23 As surely as a north wind brings rain,
so a gossiping tongue causes anger!

28 A person without self-control
is like a city with broken-down walls.

I was thinking about how easy it is for me to join in with others as they talk about people who are not present; talking about them behind their back. I can easily get caught up in this type of conversation.

"Oh, did you hear about what happened to so and so?" That's how it starts. So and so is not present, and others, either out of concern, or simply to pass along information others may or may not know, feel it is their obligation to inform others.

Gossip is simply sharing information about another person, without their knowledge or consent, usually when that person is not present.

The Bible is very specific about the sin of gossip and the harm it can cause others as we share their secrets and personal lives with others. At times we may think we are doing someone a favor by sharing their news, good or bad, with other people who may be concerned.

Example: someone shares with me a personal struggle or problem they are having and they have asked me to pray for them. Without asking if I may share this with others, I go and tell others, "Oh, pray for so and so, he's having family and financial problems." The next Sunday in church, half a dozen concerned people approach so and so and tell him,"We prayed for you this week. How are your family and financial problems working out?"

I could have avoided embarrassing this man by either asking if I can share his personal stuff with others who might also like to pray for him. Sometimes people don't want others knowing everything they're going through. He may say,"Yes, but not all of the details, " or "No, keep it between you and me."

Then there are rumors, which is a form of gossip that may or may not be true. The conversation may start as simple gossip but progresses as tid-bits are added to the conversation. Sometimes we may talk just to talk, and listen in as people are gossiping about others, and then it's our turn to add something to the conversation; something we might know about the person everyone is talking about. It is so easy to get pulled into such a conversation. Often we don't even think about it until we're in the middle of the conversation.

Slander is a form of gossip, but with malicious intent. The person who starts the gossip may be venting their anger against another person, so they start a juicy rumor that soon spreads. Other things get added, such as outright lies.

Proverbs 25:23 says that a gossiping tongue causes anger."

As I was reading through this verse a question came to mind, "How would you like it if you were the subject of someone else's gossiping?"

It is probable that at some point in my life I have been talked about behind my back. I don't like it and neither do most people. So, as the Bible also says in what we know as the Golden rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," so I must refrain from gossiping about others. As tempting as it may be, I must bow out of such conversations. The next time someone asks for my input in such a conversation, what will my response be?

How about you?

Friday, February 22, 2008

The next phase of our church planting journey: The Pod Coffeehouse/cafe

The Name:
Pod is a small seed covering, a place where life begins. Pod is also a small gathering of people (like peas in a pod).

The Vision and Mission
To create a "third place" for the purpose of connecting with people in Troy and developing relationships, through coffee and conversation, and build bridges for sharing God's message of hope and peace through Jesus Christ. A great place for coffee and conversation, with a purpose.

The Pod will be a full service coffee bar and cafe by day and our second location for church as we seek to expand God's kingdom in the city of Troy. This new location will supplement our ministry home base in North Central Troy and will allow us to reach more people in Troy for His kingdom.

The Pod will be more than a coffeehouse/cafe, but will serve as a hub for missions activity in Troy's downtown business/arts district. As the CORE Church seeks to make a maximum impact in the city of Troy, N.Y., this cafe will serve as a vital point of connection to the college student population and the business and arts community that is developing and growing in downtown Troy.

Please feel flee to pray for us and keep track of our progress in this new phase of the CORE Church Troy's

Through Open Doors

What God has been doing through us
The CORE Church of Troy will soon celebrate two years of ministry in the inner-city of Troy, New York. We have seen great things from the hand of God during this time. We have grown from a group of seven to about 30-35 in our Sunday morning gatherings. We have started two small groups; one on Tuesday evenings that is in its infancy, and one on Monday evenings that will be resuming as of March 3rd. We have also seen great success with our CORE/kids ministry and will be adding a music component to this minstry as our worship leader, Donna Walsh, and I begin working with the kids to develop a children's choir.

The work on our church building is ongoing and progressing nicely. We have addressed some electrical and plumbing issues, as well as our outdoor ministry space tax issue with the city of Troy. This former vacant lot is being taxed by the city.We were told by the city's tax assessor what we would need to do to qualify this lot for tax-exempt status. We have addressed this issue and should see it removed from the tax rolls for the next tax year. We can then put that money to better use as we continue to serve and grow in the city Troy.

New doors God is opening to us
We are also seeing new doors opening, as we seek to make Christ known in the city of Troy, N.Y.

In my previous post I mentioned our newest development as we are in the process of starting a coffee house/cafe, which will be located in the downtown business district of Troy. Troy is the home of three colleges; Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), Russell Sage College and Hudson Valley Community College (HVCC). This results in thousands of college students taking up temporary residence in Troy while striving to achieve thier academic goals. Many of these students congregate in Troy's downtown neighborhood at various times throughout the week. Downtown also sees many business people, state, county and city employees, as well as the inner-city, street dwellers.

God has been expanding my vision as a church planter, as well as my burden and passion for the city of Troy. Troy is the place where I was born and raised, and the place God has called me back to. As my family and I have obeyed and come to Troy, God has literally been giving us things; a debt free, structurally sound church building and parsonage, as well as a vacant lot that we have and will continue to use for outdoor community events such as Reach The Streets 2008, coming up this summer. There have been times when I've stopped and asked God if we're supposed to be here, which is simply my human nature kicking in. Each and every time God has met us with more abundant blessings.

The vision God has given me I have shared with our growing congregation. As such, we are seeing God reproduce leaders, which will lead to reproducing locations for worship gatherings in other neighborhoods in the city of Troy. In addition to North Central Troy (our home base for ministry) We are praying for North Troy (Lansingburgh) where I currently live with my family and Albia (East Troy), where my dad was born and raised, and where I spent a few of my premarital adult years living and working.

The CORE vision took us into Troy's most distressed, inner-city neighborhood known as North Central, where we have and continue to reach out to and serve the children and families who live in this neighborhood. The CORE vision has grown from the intersection of 6th Ave & 101st St. to points north, south, and east of North Central. I would include west, but that would place us in the Hudson River. However, as I cross any one of a half dozen bridges that span the Hudson River and connect Troy to the smaller cities of Watervliet, Green Island, Cohoes and Waterford, I am aware of the need for missionary/church planters in these cities as well.

God may expand my vision to include these territories, but for now I will be content to go where the Holy Spirit leads and walk through the doors He opens, and lead the way through those open doors as we seek to make Jesus Christ known in the heart of the city.

If you are inclined by the Holy Spirit to pray for the CORE Church of Troy, this gives you plenty of substance to add to your prayers on our behalf. We will be eternally grateful to you.

My Daily Summit with the Living God: peaks and valleys

In my daily summit with the living, triune God, I am reading through and meditating on the Psalms. I am seeing, among many things, the peaks and valleys that David seems to go through as he pours out His heart to God.

Today I came to Psalm 65. As Always, I have to ask the question, where and how does this apply to my life as I continue in my journey upward toward the summit of God's holy mountain?

Here's what I came up with:

Psalm 65

For the choir director: A song. A psalm of David.
1 What mighty praise, O God,

belongs to you in Zion.
We will fulfill our vows to you,
2 for you answer our prayers.
All of us must come to you.
3 Though we are overwhelmed by our sins,
you forgive them all.
4 What joy for those you choose to bring near,
those who live in your holy courts.
What festivities await us
inside your holy Temple.
5 You faithfully answer our prayers with awesome deeds,

O God our savior.
You are the hope of everyone on earth,
even those who sail on distant seas.
6 You formed the mountains by your power
and armed yourself with mighty strength.
7 You quieted the raging oceans
with their pounding waves
and silenced the shouting of the nations.
8 Those who live at the ends of the earth
stand in awe of your wonders.
From where the sun rises to where it sets,
you inspire shouts of joy.
9 You take care of the earth and water it,

making it rich and fertile.
The river of God has plenty of water;
it provides a bountiful harvest of grain,
for you have ordered it so.
10 You drench the plowed ground with rain,
melting the clods and leveling the ridges.
You soften the earth with showers
and bless its abundant crops.
11 You crown the year with a bountiful harvest;
even the hard pathways overflow with abundance.
12 The grasslands of the wilderness become a lush pasture,
and the hillsides blossom with joy.
13 The meadows are clothed with flocks of sheep,
and the valleys are carpeted with grain.
They all shout and sing for joy!

This is a Psalm of praise to God for hearing and answering prayers and for acting mighily on behalf of David and his people Israel.

I realize that, as the Psalms appear in numerical order, this does not mean that David wrote them in that sequence. However, there seems to be a natural flow between the Psalms. There are also two major (among many) themes in the Psalms; prayer in the midst of warfare against enemies and praise to God for hearing and answering prayer and for acting mightily on behalf of David and of His people Israel. Granted, these are not the only themes that appear in the Psalms, but they seem to be, at least from my own study of the Psalms, two of the more prevalent ones.

I see a connection between the "attacks of my enemies" Psalms and the "Praise God for answering" Psalms. For example, as I read through Psalms 60-64, I see a common thread of the attack of the enemy, both on a national level (Psalm 60) and on a personal level (Psalms 61-64). In these Psalms David prays for God's intervention and deliverance.

Then we come to Psalm 65, where David is praising God for hearing and answering his prayers and those of his people. He praises and thanks God for giving the people hope and strength, as well as for His might acts and His abundant, bountiful blessing and provision on behalf of Israel and everyone on the earth.

David is recognizing God's sovereignty over all people everywhere; that God is big enough and powerful to handle all problems, both large and small, on an individual level and on a national and global level.

As we go through the peaks and valleys of our own lives we can identify with David. He experiences conflict and struggle both on a physical level and on a spiritual level. Sometimes these battles are personal, other times they involve others, as on a national level. In our own lives we are attacked by enemies personally and nationally, as well as in our families, our marriages, and all of our circles of community. We often find ourselves praying for strength and deliverance when we are going throuh the battles and struggles of life. But, how often do we praise and thank God when He hears and answers our prayers and acts mightily on our behalf and those we pray for?

Like David, we should take time to recognize God in the peaks of life, as well as in the valleys. When we do, we will have a greater sense of peace and hope in our Sovereign Creator, as well as a deeper connection to Him and to other people; especially those who are of the household of God.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Valentine's Day at the CORE Church of Troy

This past Sunday afternoon the CORE Church of Troy hosted a Valentine's Day community gathering and celebration.

CORE Church worship leader Donna Walsh and her band, 4ever1, came and shared their gift of music, and some of our friends and co-laborers from the First Baptist Church of Westerlo joined us in ministering to neighborhood children and their families on a cold, wintry day, here in Troy, New York.
A big thank you to Carol and Gary and their team of volunteers from Westerlo Baptist, Donna and 4ever1, and our own CORE Church family for all of their hard work and planning.

As we continue to reach out to our community with the love and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, it is combined, kingdom efforts like this that will make His name known in the heart of the city.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Where do you find yourself in the "emerging" conversation?

I finally have more than a few friends in my facebook friends file who are older than me. Of the 360+ friends in my facebook file, about 340 of them are 35 years of age or younger. I've met a few guys around my age(44) and a few who are older so, welcome to the over 40 minority. Another minority list I might find myself on is the "emerging church guys" list. The majority of church planters who are planting "emerging/emergent churches are, again, 35 or younger. However, there are a few guys like myself; actually there are quite a few over 40, but the majority are under 35.

This emerging conversation has been going on for a little more than a decade, with guys like Mark Driscoll, Erwin McManus, Brian McLaren, Dan Kimball,Ed Stetzer, etc. pioneering the movement. Most of these guys are around my age, perhaps a bit older, so a decade ago they were around 35. A decade ago, when I was 34, I was emerging in the sense that I saw many local churches plateauing or declining. I was in seminary at the time and was doing pulpit supply around my home state of New York. I had filled the pulpit in a couple dozen churches, mostly Baptist, one independent Christian church. Everyone of them had almost identical traits; old school, church as usual atmosphere,with a predictable Sunday morning format. Their music was typically "okay" but not anything close to what is being promoted in the "emerging" churches of today. One church, the only non-baptist church I preached in, atcually had a worship "team," which was made up of several church members singing to keyboard and drum music. It wasn't bad, but still had that "churchy" flavor to it; the kind of music you'd only hear in church. The people were nicely dressed and everything inside of this church was neat and pretty.

So, here we are, a decade into this conversation, and I find myself identifying with the 35 and younger church planters who are coming out of seminary and planting new, culturally relevant communities of faith. I am learning that there are several movements within this "emerging church" movement. One in particular, which I find myself drawn to, is a call back to the apostolic, missional, incarnational picture that is very clearly portrayed in the book of Acts. Guys like Ed Stetzer and Alan Hirsch are leading this movement. It is not so much a style or model of church planting as it is a call to simplify our efforts and go back to the original model/style that was set forth by the Apostles and first Christ followers. Thom Rainer wrote a book, "Simple Church," which has helped to shape my vision, also Hirsch's two most recent books "The Forgotten Ways" and "The Shaping of Things to Come"are two more books I am reading.Of course, the Holy Bible is a timeless, always relevant classic, that its Author keeps reinventing as time goes on. The message never changes, but the language and the way His word is communicated does change. So, I will continue in this emerging conversation and at the same time continue to grapple with what God is calling me to do in my own Divinely assigned mission field.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

What's going on in my family life?

To say that the past two years has been stressful on me and my family at times would be an understatement.

Two years ago my wife and children and I moved from our home in Schenectady to Troy to plant the CORE Church of Troy. Granted, it was only a move of twenty miles, but as far as my kids were concerned, it may as well have been twenty thousand miles.

I had assumed in my idealistic mind that the move to a new city, for my wife and kids that is, because I was born and raised in Troy, a new school, a new church, etc, would go over smoothly, without friction or any major conflicts. Well, there has been a little friction as we all learned (and are coninuing to learn)how to adjust to all of these changes.

I can remember Ed Stetzer sharing some of his thoughts on this very issue at a church planting conference I attended back in the fall of 2006. He told us church planters who were in attendance that we'd better be sure of God's calling to plant churches, because this venture WILL produce added stress to our marriages and family lives. He went on to say that if we are not called to plant churches and we try to beat that door down, it will destroy our family lives through the added stress, which will turn into chaos, and then to discord and so on.

My family and I have experienced some of the friction and conflict Stetzer had alluded to, all the while I was 100% certain of God's call to this mission field. So, we continued to pray together as a family. And I trusted God to work all of this out; and He is. We are all adjusting nicely to this new adventure. We are all getting plugged into our new community.

Scouting has become a big activity in our family that both of our boys are involved in and my wife and I are becoming more involved with as parent volunteers.

Little league baseball is another activity my boys have participated in from the time they were old enough to pick up a bat. They look forward to playing ball every spring. So, we signed them up last year inour new community, and again this year. Now our local little league leadership is inviting me to help with coaching duties.

So, little by little we are adjusting and growing in our Divinely assigned mission field.

I share all of this with you, my church planting family, because somewhere out there in another town or city there are men, called by God, to go and plant churches. This means their families have to pick up and move with them. And this has or will cause friction and conflict in your marriages and family lives. But, continue to pray together and trust in the One who called you. He will guide you and your family in this new adventure. And you see a sweet spirit take over your marriage and family life as you obey the Lord and go to the place He shows you.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

What if it is the real Peyton Manning in my facebook friends file?

What if Peyton responds to my message, informing me that it really is him?

Well, for starters, I'd be more than a little excited, because for the past decade Brett Favre has held my vote for the NFL's #1 quarterback. The closest I've ever gotten to Green Bay's #4 is from the front row of TV land. I was really rooting for the Packers to go all the way this year; that is, until Peyton's little brother, Eli, went and spoiled that dream for me.

I might be persuaded to become a big Colts fan, if it really is Peyton Manning in my friends file. It just might be. Yah, it would be cool to hang out with Peyton on facebook. But after awhile he would blend in with the rest of my facebook friends, including a few who don't have posted pictures, just a big question mark instead.

Who is the most famous person in your facebook friends file?

I suppose if I ever met Peyton Manning in person it would be like bumping into Bill Hybels in the men's room at First Baptist Church of Orlando at last year's Exponential National New Church Conference. That really happened to me. I wasn't really sure it was Bill Hybels until he was introduced on the main stage ten minutes later. There I was doing what men usually do when they visit the men's room. All of a sudden a man walked up to the urinal next to the one I was at. "Hey, how's it going for you?" he asked. "Oh, pretty good" I responded. Then, as we were exiting the men's room he said to me, "After you." And I walked out of the men's room in front of him. Only after I found my way to my seat did it dawn on me that I had just been talking to thee Bill Hybels, aka, Willow Creek Bill Hybels in FBC Orlando's men's room.

I realized that Bill Hybels is just a regular guy like me; I mean, sure he founded one of the biggest churches in the US, and he's written some great books, but he puts his pants on one leg at a time like I do, and just like Peyton Manning does.

Peyton Manning in My Facebook Friends File?

Right now I am totally freaking out over this whole facebook experience. The other day I posted a blog entry on our church website, entitled, "Connecting with my church planting heroes on facebook." I was ecstatic because Brian McLaren had accepted my friend invitation. Now who shows up in my friend file? Peyton Manning.
I know what my blogging friends are thinking, "Thee Peyton Manning, aka, Indianapolis Colts star quarterback Peyton Manning?" I was thinking the same thing myself. I mean, yah, I did type his name in the search box, along with Sylvester Stallone, Johnny Depp, Tiger Woods, Brett Favre (no offense Peyton), and a few others. I wasn't totally surprised when his profile came up. I mean, everyone is on this facebook thing these days. Also, I wasn't expecting it to be the real Peyton Manning when I clicked on the "add as a friend" button. I figured it was some fanatical fan, or an agent or PR person representing the man. So, I jotted him a little message. Actually, it was somewhat of a lengthy message.
So, let's see if it's the real Peyton Manning. If it is, I will turn my #4 Brett Favre/Green Bay Packers jersey in for an official, NFL Indianapolis Colts/#18 Peyton Manning Jersey. I will post Peyton's response in days to come. That is, if it really is Peyton Manning.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

What's going on with Lenny Kravitz?

I've been a big fan of Lenny Kravitz for many years. I really like the loud blues/funk sound that permeates his music.

Last Friday I happened to be watching Late Night with David Letterman. I was going to shut it off, until I heard Dave mention that Lenny Kravitz was the musical guest. So, I forced myself to stay up so I catch Lenny's set.

I had heard some of the buzz surrounding LK's newest album, "It's Time For a Love Revolution." I hadn't previously heard any cuts from the Album, in fact, it just hit the stores February 5th. So, as Letterman was drawing to close, I'm sitting on the edge of my seat saying, "C'mon Dave, get on with it." Finally, the moment I had been anticipating that entire hour had arrived. Dave introduced LK, and out he and his band came with his first single from the new CD, entitled "Bring it On." And boy did they. At the end of LK's performance, Dave came over to greet him saying, "Wow! That was something." It was all of that and more. For four minutes my eyes and ears were tuned into Lenny Kravitz and his band bringing it on.

As I was listening to the lyrics, all of a sudden, it hit me. He's singing about Jesus, and fighting his demons, and carrying his sword--wait a minute--Lenny Kravitz singing gospel music? It can't be.

First thing Monday morning after dropping the kids of at school, I hightailed it over to Target and quickly made my way to the entertainment section; and there it was, LK's latest release. I quickly snatched one up, proceeded to the check out line, paid for my purchase, and exited the store. As soon as got into my car, I ripped open the CD packaging, popped in the CD, and sat there in Target's parking lot jamming with Lenny and his band. Much to my surprise, not only is "Bring it on" a gospel song, but just about every cut on the CD has a blues/gospel flavor to it.

Get it! Listen to it! Share it with your teen group.

My Model and Pattern for Church Planting

I’ve decided to stick with the true, tried, and tested model.

46-47They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God. People in general liked what they saw. Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved. (Acts 2:46-47) Message

The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18) NLT

There is a church planting movement currently sweeping across the globe. This is not just happening nationally, but internationally. There are a lot of conversations going on as to how we should plant, who we should follow, what methods and patterns we should use. However, there is the original blueprint as recorded in the book of Acts.

A local church is not planted overnight. There is a period of preparation that must take place in order for a new congregation to succeed. The book of Acts is God’s training manual for church planting.

Church planter preparation begins with preparing the planter. Jesus spent three and a half years showing His disciples the one and only way into the kingdom. He is that way. By looking to Him, and then leading others to look to Him, the kingdom of God will be seen. The purpose of planting churches is not to establish an organization, it is to bring people into a personal relationship with the one true God, and then raise them up to be mature followers of Christ, so that they can go out and share their personal relationship and experience with others.

There is a clear pattern presented in the book of Acts. Therefore, a clear understanding of Acts is necessary for a church planter who desires to plant a Christ-centered, Biblically based, community of faith. Additionally, a well rounded understanding of the entire Bible is essential.
From the book of Acts we see:
Jesus instruction to His followers. “Wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and then you shall be my witnesses."

The disciples obeyed and waited, and then the Holy Spirit came, as Jesus promised. Then they went out, filled with the power of God, and turned the world upside down.

They preached the gospel; the good news of a risen Savior, who came to take away the sin of the world.

The preaching of the word pierced the hearts of those who heard it. It was not reaching for a decision, but it was the supernatural flow of what happens when man hears the word of God (Heb.4:12).

Those who heard the word of God responded. They asked, “What must we do to be saved?” Peter responded. Believe on the name of Jesus and be baptized.

Those who believed were baptized and IMMEDIATELY added to the church. There was no membership class; no “Church as we do it 101” They believed, they were baptized, and automatically added to the church—not by anything the disciples did (except for being obedient to Jesus’ instructions) but what the triune God did. “The Lord added to the church, daily, those who were being saved.

No slick marketing campaigns, no “How to break the next growth barrier strategies,” just the power of the gospel at work in the hearts of people as the disciples obeyed and did what Jesus commanded them to do.
The results? The rest of the book of Acts.

We see this same pattern repeated over and over throughout Acts as the gospel traveled through Jerusalem, then to Judea and Samaria, and to Rome and the ends of the earth.

  1. The gospel was preached
  2. The hearts of people were pierced with conviction of their own sinful nature and their need for what Jesus came to provide
  3. The people who heard the word responded in faith and believed in Jesus and were saved.
  4. The new believers were baptized and assimilated into the body of Christ.
  5. They met regularly for
    i. Teaching – together they learned and grew from God’s word. I heard John Piper refer to sound doctrine as "Putting edges around our understanding of who God is and what we can know about Him." Through the teaching of the word of God we come toknow God's purpose and plan for our own,personal lives, as we live together in community as the people of God; born-again, adopted children of God
    ii. Fellowship – together they learned how to live as a family; a unit; the body of Christ; living, breathing and moving together in the same direction (upward towards the summit of God’s holy mountain).They shared life and all of its facets; good times, bad times, pain and suffering, struggles, victories, etc.
    iii. breaking bread – always remembering the reason we assemble together in the first place; to celebrate our resurrected life in Christ and to recognize Him as the head of the body that each follower of Christ is a part of. When we meet together for meal, and we break bread and have a time of community, something supernatural takes place. The God of the universe enters our midst. The one who lives inside of each of us becomes magnified. One believer in the community at large would not stand out. It would not make much of a difference. But 3,000 people assembled in one place, singing and praising God, rejoicing, happy, exuberant, where people’s lives are being changed, their problems and struggles are no longer dragging them down, paralyzing them with fear, and crippling them with physical and mental illnesses. That makes a big impact. People can’t help but notice; either negatively or positively, what’s going on in that growing band of Christ followers.
    iv. Prayer – Someone (I’d like to say it was D.L. Moody, but I don’t remember where I heard the phrase) once referred to prayer as the glue that binds us and holds us together. Prayer maintains our connection with the living Triune God. He reaches inward to each of us, as we reach upward to Him. He then uses us to reach outward as He lives His life in us and through us. Through prayer He breaks down the walls that our fallen human nature has erected; walls of separation; racial, social, religious and denominational, etc. Then there are the personal walls that have been built by pain, suffering, being hurt by others; walls of guilt, shame and fear. Then there are things like anger, depression, anxiety and addictions that become defense mechanisms. We use these emotions and fixations as excuses to keep people out of those places where no one is allowed to go. Personal prayer breaks down these walls and takes us outside of ourselves and our own problems and, through corporate occasions of prayer, we come together and are connected to Christ, who is the True Vine. As fellow branches in the Vine, we are no longer out there all alone fending for ourselves. God is with us and among us and as we pray together, we learn how to live together and to love one another and to stop biting and devouring one another, and before you know it, the kingdom of God is present; right here in our midst, because WE are the kingdom of God on earth. If we truly desire to present in Zion, His eternal kingdom, then we must let “His kingdom come and His will be done ON EARTH as it is in heaven."

That’s was it. No long business and committee meetings, not too much structure, except for what was necessary to maintain order and discipline within the body. They met both in the temple (large gatherings) and from house to house (small gatherings) all the while enjoying fellowship, breaking bread, and maintaining simplicity in Christ, which merely means pure and undivided devotion to the One who shed His blood for them.

As new believers were added to the body of Christ the rest of the body welcomed them and together they nurtured them and helped them to grow in their personal relationship with God, so that they overcame their problems and struggles in life, and became equipped and empowered to go out and tell others what they had seen and heard and experienced in their own lives, as they met God and walked with Him daily.

The idea and picture of “community” is present throughout Scripture, and particularly in Acts. This is what came out of the new believers meeting together, in the bond of the Holy Spirit.

Church multiplication happened supernaturally as the body of Christ lived, and breathed, and moved together.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Confessions of an emerging church planter: what can I say, I’m a late bloomer!

(Thank you Adiba DeSousa for letting me unload)

I'm not a polished ivory tower theologian. I don't have a bachelor's degree, so I had to go for the A.Div (associates degree) offered by our local Baptist seminary.

I don't believe seminary is a must for everyone, but it was necessary for me because my life was a literal nightmare; a train wreck waiting to happen. God had a plan for my life that I wanted nothing to do with, so, He gave me that Holy Discontent Pastor Bill Hybels wrote about in his most recent book by the same title. I heard it first hand from his own mouth at last years Exponential NNCC in Orlando. He was one of the keynote speakers and the main reason I traveled from my humble abode in upstate, NY to the Sunshine State. I couldn't get anyone to go with me so I went by myself, because I knew that Hybels and Ed Stetzer and Dave Ferguson were scheduled to pour out some juicy tidbits of church planting wisdom. I am not sorry for investing the $$$ to go to last year’s conference. I got so much out of it, and the Holy Spirit stretched me so much, that I found myself praying for the opporunity to return for 2008’s version of this annual church planters delight. Sure enough,God heard my prayer and on the last session of the week long conference, my name was drawn for a free ticket to this year’s Exponential Conference. I would have been kicking myself had I not followed through with this, because the very next week after I registered they announced that Rick Warren was added to the schedule of keynote speakers. Talk about a sign on bonus!

When I graduated seminary (it took me seven years to earn 64 credits and complete the A. Div) I had no intention of moving back to the city of Troy, my Jerusalem, to plant a church. I love this city and prayed for it daily while attending seminary and living 20 miles away in Schenectady, NY, but the thought of starting a church here never came until the summer of 2005, after my tour of duty at Mid America Baptist Theological Seminary/Northeast Campus. I was comfortable in my ministry staff position at the City Mission of Schenectady, until I went through an entire week of not be able to sleep because God was flooding me with vision. I knew I was hearing from God, but I had no place at the time to apply the vision He had given me, so, I had to learn to be patient and wait upon Him. That, for me, was a stretch. I am, by nature, an impatient procrastinator.

I shared this vision with the first few people I thought would receive it and it went right over their heads. One pastor told me that (according to his estimation) I didn't have the spiritual gifting to pull it off. I left that meeting disappointed and deflated. After several days of praying and fasting God made it very clear to me that, as He says in His word, He chooses the weak, the powerless, the foolish (in the eyes of those who are looking) things of this world, in order to demonstrate His power. At my next meeting with this senior pastor He asked me if I had thought about our previous conversation and then invited me to their next "discover your ministry class." I looked at him and did everything I could to contain myself, but this fire came up within me, wanting to scold this man because he just didn't get it. I had already shared with him what I believed God was telling me. The Holy Spirit convicted me that this pastor was absolutely, 100% correct when he said I didn’t have what it takes to carry this out, but the One who gave me this Big Dream does have all that it takes and vastly more than I can wrap my mind around.

At that point, the Holy Spirit brought me to the point of self abandonment. For the first time in my life, after walking with Jesus for 20 years, I was beginning to understand what it means and what it looks like to, "deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me." Until I got out of my own way, God could not use me. As soon as I started to let go of me, and my own understanding of how all of this was going to work out, God-things started happening; things that I cannot fully explain, but can only point to the Scriptures and to the absolute promises that Jesus gave to His disciples (including us today) and say, "Don't look at what I've done, look at what He has done and will continue to do."

I am enjoying this emerging conversation because my church planting brother, Adiba DeSousa and I are on oppostie sides of the black/white spectrum, as well as the social class spectrum. Adiba is a black man planting a church in a predominately white, upscale community, while I am a white man planting a church in the midst of a growing ethnic mix, including blacks and hispanics, mostly poor and disenfranchised.

Many stereotypical radars are going up here thinking, "imagine that, a black man planting a church in a white, upper middle class, family friendly community, while a whate man is planting a church in the ghetto, where people don't even know where their next meal is coming from.

The CORE Church of Troy is in the ghetto, reaching out to people God has sent us to. Because we (me and my wife and two godly men who have risked everything to join us) said yes, Lord, we will go, we are now, after two years into this, beginning to see the signs of a HUGE work God will do through us.I started out with nothing more than seven people, an incredible vision from God, and faith a little bit smaller that a mustard seed and God took it and is running with it.I share all of this with you, Adiba and the rest of my church planting family, because God has brought us through so much. He will do the same for you. Whether the people we are called to reach are black, white, brown yellow or green; rich, poor or somewhere in between, He is the God of us all and calls us all to Himself. And, if that's not enough, He gives us, the lowly church planters, front row seats to watch it all take place. It's like having center court seats to watch your favorite NBA team tear up the court (only 1000% better)That's my $2.02 worth,

Saturday, February 9, 2008

every day missionaries

I like to refer to my current position and place in life as that of an "every day missionary." I used to think it was my calling in life to be a professional minister, until our sovereign Lord brought me back to reality. I went to seminary and learned all of the stuff that makes a good minister. Then it came time to apply what I had learned in the classroom. I found a big gap that exists between classroom theology and real life on the streets. I've spent the past few years learning from God how to stand in that gap, as Jesus stood in the gap that existed between me and God.

What God has been convicting me of is the need to be myself, the way He created me to be, and then allow Him to use me for the purpose He created me for. I’m just an ordinary guy living the extraordinary life Jesus calls all of us to.

Anyone who is a follower of Christ is in ministry. As we live our lives amongst our family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and other acquaintances, The Holy Spirit uses us to draw them to Christ. We all have a ministry and a mission field that God has called us to. As we follow Christ and grow in Him, He will use us in ways we can't even imagine. So, if you find yourself thinking, “I’m not a pastor, church planter, or missionary, so therefore, I’m not really a minister,” think again.

The body of Christ needs all of its members in order to be fully functional. If you call yourself a follower of Christ; aka, Christian, then you are a minister. A minister is a servant; one who has surrendered his life to the living God so He may be Lord of their lives. That is all that is required to be a servant (minister) of Christ.

Friday, February 8, 2008

What's Your Vision?

On the discussion board of his new "Living A Visional Life" facebook group, Jeff Calloway presented the following challenge. As the Lord gave me the words, I felt I had to share this.

Jeff's Challenge:
"At the most intimate level, share what you believe God's vision to be for your life."

My Response
In a nutshell? To be an agent/facilitator of changed lives for the Kingdom of God.

The long version:
1. To lead people into a daily summit; an ever-deepening, personal, daily relationship/communion/fellowship with Triune God; Father, Son, Holy Spirit, and nurture them to become grown children of God, so that they can go out and share the love and grace of God with people in their own world.

2. To bring followers of Christ into a community of faith that is committed to a raw, no-frills, back to the basics, apostolic, missional, incarnational, organic, indigenous picture and pattern of who (not what) the church is and what the church does, as established in the book of Acts and throughout the New Testament.

3. To bear so much fruit for His kingdom, that on that great and final day, as I stand before His throne and He begins to judge my works, the fruit of my works will be standing there with me, along side of me, or somewhere in Zion (maybe they got there before me). Everything else fails in comparison to seeing my family, friends, neighbors, associates, and anyone else I am privileged to lead up that holy mountain, there with me in the eternal presence of Almighty God.

That is my vision!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Church with no walls: breaking dividing walls

What? A church without walls! How will the building remain standing?

Whether we are willing to admit it or not, there are invisible walls within the church that must come down if we are truly going to be Christ’s ambassadors and spread His message of love, grace and peace to a lost and dying world. We can ignore these walls if we choose, but if we do, we are also ignoring Jesus commandment to love our neighbor as our selves. The commandment did not come with degrees of separation. It is an all-encompassing commandment, which means it must be for all people.
For too many years religion, denominationalism and (lets be totally open and honest here) racism have built walls of separation, which make certain people feel unwelcome because they are different. Someone once said, “Sunday morning is the most segregated day of the week.” This needs to end!

If we are to truly live out the great commandment and carry out the great commission then we must accept the call in all of its fullness. Jesus did not give any room for picking and choosing who we are to love and who we are to share His love with. He simply said, “Love God…Love your neighbor,” and” Go therefore and make disciples.”

If we are to be successful in planting urban churches then we must embrace the ethnic diversity that exists in our cities and plant churches that include all people, regardless of the color of their skin or their country of origin.

There is a lot of conversation going on about being an emerging, missional, incarnational community of Christ followers. However, this ongoing conversation becomes nothing more than a bunch of lip service if we allow walls of separation to divide us; whether it is a wall of religion or a wall of racism, either one can have tragic results for the kingdom of God, and certainly fatal results for the church planter that fails to embrace this paradigm.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Better than Okay!

I met up with an old friend today; a man named Rick, whom I had the privilege of praying with about five years ago while serving on the men's ministry staff at City Mission of Schenectady. He had moved, recently, from Schenectady to Troy.

In the time since I moved back to Troy in the summer of 2006, I had seen him once or twice in downtown Troy, while driving by the bus stop where he was waiting for his bus. However, this was the first time I was able to chat with him. It was good to see and talk with him and to hear how God is working in his life.

He shared with me that in the past five years since He prayed and invited Christ into His life, "Things have been going great, I've been able to re-connect with my ex-wife and was allowed to see my 14 year old daughter, whom I hadn't seen since she was a baby." He was ecstatic as he went on to tell me about his new job and all of the things that have been happening in his life. As our conversation came to a close he said to me, "For the first time in my life, I can honestly say that I'm better than okay."
As we parted ways this evening, I was thinking about Rick as I was driving home. I had to thank God for a nice reminder that our efforts do bear fruit. While I had thought about Rick a few times during the five years since I last saw him, it was great to hear that he is "better than okay."

I am hoping the next time someone asks me how my life is going I can share Rick's reply as honestly and wholeheartedly as he shared with me this evening.

How am I doing? I'm better than okay, because Jesus has given me His hope, His strength, and His peace. Does it get any better than that on this side of eternity?

How are you doing?

My Daily Summit with the Living God:opposition and persecution.

Today in my devotions I was reading through Psalm 56, and then through Acts 5. I had to ask the question, "is there any connection between these two Scripture passages?" And, "how do they apply to me as I continue to walk with God and meet Him daily?"

Here’s what I came up with

Psalm 56 in a nutshell:

David is praying to God because he is afraid of pursuing enemies who are intent on hunting him down and killing him. Not only do they want to kill him physically, but they are also assassinating his character by spreading lies about him. So, they plot and scheme over how they can get rid of David. Why? Because he is a threat to their system. Here comes a man from their midst who is a man of integrity; honest, wise, and loyal to the God of heaven. He is a threat to Saul and to other nations because government and politics has and always will be a dirty, crooked business.

Fast forward to the book of Acts; different time, different people, same geographical area, all connected by a common thread—Jesus Christ.

David lived many years before Jesus came, yet was looking forward to the coming of Messiah. The Apostles walked with the One David was looking forward to. David and the Apostles had similar experiences in that, when they chose to obey God, rather than men, they faced opposition in the form of persecution and were even facing the threat of death.

In Acts 5:17-42 we read of the account of the Apostles being arrested, not once, but twice. The first time they were miraculously set free. The government officials, along with the high priest and the Sadducees, could not explain this, yet they shrugged it off and went out and arrested them once again, this time intent on killing them when they refused to stop preaching in the name of Jesus, after they preached the gospel to the high priest, Sadducees, and various government officials who were present.

After one wise official spoke up, not to defend them, but to eliminate the possibility of an uprising from the people who were being influenced by this group of Christ followers, the rest of their persecutors ceased with their plan to execute them. They had them beaten and then told them to no longer preach in the name of Jesus. And they went out rejoicing for being counted worthy of suffering for the name of Jesus.

Rejoicing after a beating? After nearly being executed? Rejoicing?

David, in his own way, was rejoicing. He knew that the God of his ancestors would also protect and defend him against mortal enemies.

The Apostles rejoiced because they knew that, just as God delivered David from all of his trials and sufferings, so He would deliver them. This thought replaced their human fear with godly fear, which caused them to trust in God rather than in men. When mere mortal men rose up against them, they were not afraid; David nor the Apostles, because they knew God and trusted Him.

When you and I stand up to opposition and persecution, in the name of the One who died to set us free, we can rest assured, that just as He rose from the dead, so we will raised with Him. Men who rise up against us can do whatever they want; even ravage and kill our mortal flesh. But they cannot kill or even harm our souls, because they belong to God.

The Apostle Paul said,

11 Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. 12 For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. (Ephesians 6:11-13)

Our battle belongs to the Lord because our greatest enemy is an unseen devil who seeks to destroy anyone who takes a stand for God. The Holy Spirit arms us with weapons from on high so that we can stand against the unseen enemy who guide s the schemes and efforts of our mortal enemies.

It all comes down to, not what you know, but Who you know.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Church with no-frills

No-frills: offering or providing only the essentials: not fancy, elaborate, or luxurious; raw

Two of my all-time favorite bands are U2 and Delirious?

One reason I like these two bands is that they both incorporate a raw sound into their music. It is just straight forward, pure energy, rock and roll. The other reason, of course, is that both bands seek to honor God with their music.

I was thinking of this rawness and how it relates to church planting.

I have been fascinated these past couple of years over a movement to bring the church back to the original, apostolic pattern as set forth in the book of Acts. The first century church had a raw form of doing church. They met, they learned from the Scriptures, they enjoyed fellowship, they regularly remembered the reason for their assembly through the breaking of bread, and they prayed. That was it; the great commandment and the great commission. The church was not a religion, but a relationship with the One who died for them and rose from the dead. They came together to celebrate their resurrected life and to learn how to live together as a body. No false agendas, no programs or committees, but a living, breathing, moving body.

For too many years the church has been living in the dark ages. I, for one, don’t want to live there. Neither do I desire to lead people back there, but forward as the people of God, moving upward towards the summit of God’s holy mountain.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Harmony Fellowship

I had a chance to shoot over to Schenectady this afternoon to support a fellow church planter, Grantley McLeod, who has started a new church there called, "Harmony Fellowship." They are meeting, every Sunday at 2:00pm, at a banquet hall on upper State St. The owner of the banquet hall donated the use of their facility on Sunday afternoons. Grantley and his team have access to this facility as long as they need it. That's totally a God thing. It was great to hear Grantley's testimony of how God has been literally giving them things. A facility, finances, key people to join their leadership team, etc.

I could identify with Grantley McLeod's testimony because God has been giving us stuff too; debt free, 10,000 square foot church building, along with a nice three bedroom parsonage, and then, last February, a vacant lot located across the street from our church building. I'm beginning to experience, first hand,the power of God's provision. I am seeing for myself how God gives us what we need to carry out what He has called us to do. God owns everything. He can distribute what belongs to Him as He sees fit.

Like Grantley McLeod and others who have faithfully obeyed and went to the place God showed them, I am blessed to have God's abundant supply resources available. Blessed beyond measure...exceedingly, abundantly above and beyond anything I could ask for or imagine, according to His power that is at work in me."

A Local Church is Taking Shape

Today was a great day at the CORE Church of Troy. Our worship gathering went well. The Lord gave me a great message for our current sermon series, "SUMMIT:how you can have a daily summit with the Living God."

Today we talked about "Unity in Community" and how God didn't call us to journey toward the summit of His holy mountain alone. He gave us other followers of Christ to join in the journey with us.

One of the highlights was seeing one of the neighborhood boys, who has been coming to our worship gatherings for three weeks now, get up and read a psalm during our call to worship. This 12 year old boy asked if he could do the reading. This is the fruit we have been praying for. It is a tremendous victory for the kingdom of God, and the CORE Church, when God's word takes root in the heart of a child.

Our local community of faith, known as the CORE Church of Troy, is beginning to take shape. We are already seeing some great fruit from our endeavors in the heart of the city. I am greatly anticipating what the Lord will do through us in this new year.

Night out with the family

One of the great joys of living in New York's capital region, for me and my family, is watching the UAlbany men's basketball team in action. Yah, we love our Great Danes.

My family and I ventured out Saturday evening to the University at Albany's SEFCU Arena. It was the university's annual Big Purple Growl homecoming/alumni basketball game. As usual, SEFCU Arena saw a nearly sold out crowd. The festivities kicked off with the women's basketball game at 4:30pm, followed by the Purple Growl Feast, and culminating with the men's game at 7:00pm, in which they defeated Stony Brook 64-46.

The highlight of the evening, for us, was when our two sons, Dan and Jacob, were picked to participate in halftime festivities. Each boy had to shoot free throws from the foul line. The one who sank the most baskets in the 30 second time frame would win a prize. Dan, the older of the two, hit 5 out of 7 shots (from the foul line) not bad for a 10 year old fifth grader. Jacob wasn't quite as successful in his attempt, but he did give it the old college try. In the end they both walked away with gift certificates to a local ice cream parlor, along with memories that will last them a lifetime.

One thing I noticed, as I was sitting in the bleachers enjoying the game with my family, is the tremendously great time everyone was having. Here were 7,500 people celebrating their favorite college basketball team. It was one of those sweet pieces of life that I will savor for awhile.

Wouldn't it be great if we could celebrate life like that every day?