Monthly Archives: August 2008

Prayer List

Today we’re finishing our 17 WEEK series in Ephesians. Wow, it’s been fun, at least for me….Paul finishes this letter with a discussion on prayer as one of our weapons in the spiritual battle we are a part of as Christians. We’ve spent the last several weeks looking at the realities of the spiritual world. Paul then concludes for a request for prayer that I believe is a call to all of us who follow Jesus to constantly be praying for what is before us as we move forward in the mission He calls us to. With that in mind, we’ll be hitting prayer hard and heavy tonight. I’ll mention a few areas that we need to be constantly be praying about. I wanted to put together a simple list that could be used to guide prayer as it relates to areas of Ephesus Church and the city of Charlotte. Below is the list. I hope it will be of value

  1. Ephesus Church
  • People will discover Jesus
  • Relationships will be created, strengthened and restored
  • Disciples will be created 
  • Vision to Love Jesus, Love People, Love the City will continue to be lived out
  • Me! (Ben)
  • Ministry directors-currently: Children (Christina Edwards), Media/Tech (David Harkness), Connections (Karen Furr), Home Groups (David Koran), Worship (Seth Snider)
  • The vision to impact the people and culture of Charlotte will continue to be pursued
2. Foursquare (our denomination)
  • Jack Hayford-international president
  • Glenn Burris-national director/General Supervisor
  • Farrell Lemings-division leader (our direct point of contact)
3. Charlotte
  • The people of this great city
  • Ephesus’ place as a part of the culture of this city
  • Relationships to be established in and around the city
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Mission

I’m working on our final sermon in Ephesians this week and found some info from Barna that just really brings the reality of the Church’s mission to light in the US. We’re not cutting it. The reason we’re not cutting it, is we’re creating our own systems and culture and expecting the unchurched to come to us. But they have no buy-in or reason to come to us. We go to conferences and read magazines that show us all the latest and greatest (“bigger, better, faster” I like to call it) in the “church world” but nationally, church attendance continues to decline. I think we’re blinded to this reality by the emergence of ever more “mega” mega-churches. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing at all against big churches. It’s just that they really are the minority of what is happening spiritually. And while some of these large churches are doing tremendous things to advance Jesus in the US, others seemingly go a little bit the way of the cruise ship (I’m trying to be diplomatic, I’m really not at all wanting to be the bitter church planter because that is not at all motivating this post, long live the megachurches everywhere!). My worry is that kind of thinking and programming just moves Christians around from church to church and has too little impact on truly reaching those who don’t comprehend the reality of who Jesus is. Here’s a portion of Barna’s analysis of the particular study I read today:

“Unchurched people are not just lazy or uniformed,” the researcher continued. “They are wholly disinterested in church life – often passionately so. Stirring worship music won’t attract them because worship isn’t even on their radar screen. More comfortable pews cannot compete with the easy chair or the bed that already serve the unchurched person well. Church events cannot effectively compete with what the world has to offer. The only thing the Church can provide that no one else has is a life-changing, practical encounter – and on-going relationship – with the living God and with people transformed by similar encounters. Until such a connection is made, focusing on features, programs and benefits other than such a life-shaping encounter is more likely to lose ground than to gain it.”

Barna noted that the millions of young unchurched have no understanding of or interest in a church, even if it is “contemporary” in style. “Millions of young adults are more interested in truth, authenticity, experiences, relationships and spirituality than they are in laws, traditions, events, disciplines, institutions and religion. The confluence of preconceived notions, past experiences and evolving lifestyles and values means that existing churches simply cannot reach millions of today’s unchurched people. The rapidly swelling numbers of unchurched people may be forcing existing churches to reinvent their core spiritual practices while holding tightly to their core spiritual beliefs. It will take radically new settings and experiences to effectively introduce unchurched individuals to biblical principles and practices.”

This Sunday we finish 17 weeks in the book of Ephesians. Paul finishes this letter by challenging God-followers to pray all the time, in the Spirit, for each other and for our leadership so that the Gospel will go out with clarity and boldness. I believe today, that clarity and boldness means we must heed the findings of Barna and realize “missional” and “context” are not just the hip buzzwords of the Christian subculture, but are absolute necessities in impacting people all around us with the eternity of Jesus. That’s where our prayer will be focused this Sunday and going forward as a local church in Uptown Charlotte, I hope you’ll pray for Ephesus and pray the same for wherever you are.

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Manning the battleship

Last week Brad Abare was twittering from the ECHO conference hosted by Watermark Church in Dallas, TX. He quoted the pastor of Watermark, Todd Wagner, asking the question, “do you want your church to be a cruise ship or a battleship.” Usually, I’m not too big on quaint phrases on churchology but this one really stuck with me for a week. Now for anything to stick in my head for a week that means something! Over the last few weeks I’ve really been looking at Ephesus and what we’re becoming vs. what God is calling us to. That’s why that phrase is stuck in my brain. Planting a new church in a new urban center like where we are in Charlotte is a tough deal. It doesn’t follow the “models” at all. I’ve known this from day one, and the team knows this too, but when things get a little tough I have this tendency to let my brain slip back to the “church planting handbook.” By that I mean ways to generate a crowd and conduct uber-marketing etc to get hiney’s in the seats (we’re not allowed to say “butts” in our house anymore because our 4 year old would abuse it, much like his old man does…). I have the thought that all this leads us to is marketing to other Christians looking for a cooler, hipper church that they can brag to their other Christian friends about. So with all that struggle running through my head I see this Tweet from Brad Abare about the cruise ship v. battleship and it really stuck. 

I was thinking about it some more on my way to the office today, fleshing out the analogy. This past week at Ephesus we were in Ephesians 6.10-13 where Paul is laying out the reality of the spiritual war raging around us constantly and I used a LOT of military illustrations in the midst of the sermon (Casey got on me about that so I knew there were too many) because it is a battle, a war we’re in. We’ve grown complacent as Christians, Satan’s favorite tactic. So this cruise ship/battleship analogy so speaks to that as it pertains to the kind of church we are a part of developing. When you go on a cruise, you look for the boat with all the stuff, that is going to cater to YOUR every want and desire. You’re going to stuff yourself silly at the midnight buffet. Look for all the activities you can handle at every port and give a cursory thought to the personal responsibilities you have in case of emergency. Other than that you’re going to sit back and ingest and be served throughout the entire voyage. Then when it’s over you’re going to get off the boat without much thought to the ship and the staff ever again. Maybe throw a couple dollars in tips to the crew and feel good about yourself. Maybe next time you’ll take the same ship again, or maybe a newer, bigger, better, more exciting ship has come along and you’ll jump onboard that one and have a good time in padded, comfortable luxury. If there’s a war going on, do you really want to be in a war zone on a cruise ship? Contrast that to the battleship. It’s all gray, and maybe has a TV and a weight room if you’re lucky. In WWII, the last major use of battleships, those too were unheard luxuries. The food was not that great, and if you were at sea for any length of time, all fresh food was gone and you were stuck eating out of cans, literally. Your bunk gave you about 6 inches between your nose and the bunk about with a small locker for all of your belongings and a shared bathroom that you were responsible to clean yourself. Not to mention necessary painting, scrubbing and cleaning that everyone participated in all the time. You weren’t served or catered to. You didn’t have snorkeling and jet skis to look forward to in the next port. If you were lucky you got 1 can of beer and a couple hours of baseball on the beach before it was back to work loading and fitting out the ship for the next journey. When you went in to battle you were singled out by the enemy because you were on the biggest ship with the biggest guns. Constantly under threat of attack, manning the guns almost constantly, putting your life on the line. If you come on board brand new, it’s not easy, but you know you’re part of something bigger than you, with long term purpose. The old guys train and teach you to become a part of the crew and fulfill your role to its fullest. And you know the sailors on those ships fought valiantly for each other and for the bigger cause. They willingly sailed into the war zone. When you leave the cruise ship you feel no ownership, no connection. When you serve as a part of the crew of a battleship you’re a part of that crew for life! How many old veterans do you see still wearing the ball cap of the ship they served on 50 years ago? They own it, they fought with and for that ship. They’re a part of that crew for life. It’s no fleeting fling to the Bahamas…their life is wrapped up in fighting and maybe dying for that ship and the cause it represents. They willingly give up the comforts and trappings of the cushy cruise ship to fight and battle for something that literally changes the world.

That’s the kind of church and people I want to be surrounded with. I want to man the battleship…

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Time to pray, really pray

This is a message I just sent to the Ephesus team. Feel free to join with us as we pray for Charlotte.

 

Ephesus Team,
I haven’t written all of you recently and I wanted to challenge you to concerted prayer as we go into the Fall. I have been challenged to redouble my prayer for Ephesus and especially the city of Charlotte as we prepare for the next step in what God has for Ephesus. As you are all aware, we’ll be making a transition back into Uptown in a month or so. I’m reminded again as I pray, that this is the place God has called Ephesus too. He’s called us to Love Jesus, Love People and Love THIS City. I just listened to Pastor Jason’s sermon from the week I was gone, and he reminded us all of this call God has put on Ephesus. We’re called to love people. People that don’t yet know Jesus. People that are maybe different from us, or maybe not so different, but still searching. We’re also called to love this city. God put out a vision of impacting the culture of Charlotte in radical way. This isn’t about just another church gathering a few folks together to worship and wear t-shirts instead of ties…it’s about making such an impact that people want to know what’s changed in this city. That people will be pushed, pulled, loved, challenged by Jesus and the Cross. The media, art, education, and very culture of Charlotte will shift because of the impact of what God is doing.

I’m concerned that in the midst of “making church happen” each week we’ve (me included!) have lost sight of the vision God has placed before Ephesus. It’s very big. It requires every one of us to step up our game. That begins with prayer and our own personal lives. We must be regularly repenting, regularly in prayer, regularly in God’s Word and regularly seeking opportunities He has placed before us to advance this vision. This isn’t life as usual, this is the big time. I’m challenging you to step out with me starting with repentance and prayer. I’m throwing down the gauntlet, who’s ready to go? 

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Parenting…a follow-up to Ephesians 6:4

This past Sunday at Ephesus we hit Ephesians 6:1-4. This passage includes children obeying your parents (as opposed to wives voluntarily submitting in Ephesians 5; it’s a different relationship) and parents bringing up children in the training and admonition of the Lord. I didn’t have time to make it into a workshop on parenting, so I only laid out 4 foundational principles that I believe are a key place to begin:

1. Have a growing relationship with Jesus

2. Consistent discipline

3. Man as the head of the house

4. Love

You can get the podcast to hear more on those. I recommended a great book, Revolutionary Parenting, by George Barna. His approach is methodical and scriptural. He examines families with children who have grown up to “spiritual champions” and discerns what the families did to raise these children. Instead of a  formulaic approach to parenting, what was discovered is that the parents focused first on living out and growing in their relationship with Jesus which then naturally flowed to their children. Also, parents were intentional in instilling biblical values (not just biblical stories) in their children so it inculcated their character. This is challenging as there isn’t a step by step process to raising children, it flows out of a personal, dynamic relationship with Jesus. What a concept! So again, I highly recommend this book.

What I didn’t address on Sunday, that I wanted to hit on, were some of the negatives that we can fall into in parenting. The things that help lead “your children to wrath” as Paul states it in Eph. 6:4. John MacArthur helped me compile this list (am I allowed to reference John Macarthur at a Foursquare church??).

1. Overprotection- in some ways, the current state of our society has helped promulgate this tendency to overprotect our children. Things I did (and my mom let me do) as child I would never even consider for my own kids. We roamed the town where I grew up on our bikes all summer long, I couldn’t imagine my children doing the same thing today. Now, while that’s wisdom on my part, too often we can take this protectionism too far. We end up smothering our children so that they never learn, or live in fear, or don’t understand the values learned in making mistakes. A few years ago, I helped a friend coach his son’s 4 year old soccer team. At the first game, I learned they didn’t keep score! Didn’t want anyone to have hurt feelings because they lost??!! What happens to that boy in 20 years when he gets fired from his first job? Or doesn’t quite come through on the big project at work? Or a dating relationship doesn’t work out? A few weeks ago, we took our boys to a local park to play in the large water sprinklers they had set up for kids. Little kids were running everywhere! Laughing, splashing, having fun, probably 100 children running around. Well, as we watched from the sidelines my son and another boy knocked noggins while both were running and not looking. It was nobody’s fault. I saw the whole thing. My son got up rubbed his head, kind of looked at the other boy and walked over to us. “I hit my head” he said. “Are you alright?” I asked (I knew he was, they hadn’t hit that hard). “Yeah, I’m okay.” And back out to play he went. Over his shoulder I watched this other boy’s mom come swooping in from the sidelines, scoop him up and begin looking to see where the other boy who had done this to her son had gone (back to playing!)! She carried him to a chair where he sat and sniffled and was coddled for a little while. And I thought, “there’s a boy who’s going to have a hard time being a man, when he needs to be and is going to be either bitter at mom, or dysfunctionally attached.” That’s where overprotection breaks down the family

 

2. Favoritism-We see in the bible the result of this, Esau and Jacob. The fathers’ of 2 peoples that continue to war today (The Jews and Palestinians). Our children will always be different. My 2 boys are completely separate people. I’m sure as my daughter grows up her uniqueness will be readily apparent. My older son is very lively and animated while my younger son is a little more thoughtful. Sometimes when the older one is bouncing around I catch myself thinking, “Why can’t he be calmer sometimes like his brother?” And very quickly I have to stop myself. He does not need to be like his brother! He is who God made him to be. We can’t compare our children to their siblings, they’ll become bitter and angry and have their spirit destroyed.

 

3. Pushing achievement-The dads duking it out on the Little League field exemplify this negative parenting trait. Dads so often want their sons to accomplish what they never did and moms want to be able to brag on their child as being the best at something. What this leads to is resentment on the part of the child and a feeling of never measuring up. Allow your children to find their groove, push enough to build character and a strong work ethic, but be wary of pushing them to the breaking point.

 

 4  Discouragement-It’s easy to always focus on the negative. Think about your view of yourself for a moment…did something negative pop up? Be wary you don’t transfer that to your children. Our children put so much of who they are on how we treat them. If all we do is point out the negative and never the positive, we’re buildng children of wrath 

 

5.  Failure to make sacrifices-Our culture today values the individual and the individual’s needs. That leads to selfishness and defiance against sacrifice. Children know this and see this if you treat them as though they are in the way or a nuisance, or holding you back from your selfish desires. The other night I was watching “Cinderella Man” with Russell Crowe. As the family struggled through the Great Depression, they were low on food. His daughter innocently complained of being hungry. Russell Crowe’s character gave his one piece of bologna to his daughter and went off to work with no food in his stomach. What did that say to his children! They’ll certainly be far from wrath

 

6. Failure to allow childishness-they’re children! They’re going to act like children! Let them goof around and play and be silly (try being silly with them, it’s a blast!). Don’t expect perfection or maturity if they’re children. Let them express ideas that may be silly, even though they don’t intend them to be and don’t laugh at their silly ideas if you know it will hurt them. They’ll grow out of it (unless they’re like me) and love you and remember a fun childhood.

 

7. Neglect-our society today is one that is busy and we can pack our schedule out with all of the “good” things we need to be doing. As a pastor, I have to constantly examine my time management (with Casey’s help!) and not let the “important” things of ministry lead to my neglecting our 3 children. David, a man “after God’s own heart” allowed himself to neglect his son Absalom which led to his entire family’s ruin. They know when they’re second-tier in your schedule and eventually wrath will begin to build

 

8. Withdrawing love-this should never be a form of punishment or a threat. “I won’t like you if you do that…” Quickly they will become insecure. Praise God, he never stops loving us! We should never stop loving our children.

 

9. Bitter words and cruel physical punishment- (I’ll let John MacArthur handle this one, I’ve got no patience for verbal and physical abuse) Never take your anger out on your children. I don’t know what causes anyone to batter children, but we all need to be careful; children are fragile. Fathers, don’t shove your weight around and use your superior strength. That will provoke your children to wrath. Not only can children be battered physically, but they can also be devastated verbally. Parents are more erudite and sarcastic than children, and they can destroy and discourage a child through their verbal barrage. I’m always amazed to hear the things we say to our children that we would never say to an adult for fear of our reputation.

 

These are great reminders of what to avoid as we seek to live lives of example and love for our children. Good stuff!

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