My Thoughts on Perry Noble’s Ten Convictions

perry nobleRecently Perry Noble (pastor of an exploding church in South Carolina) wrote a semi-controversial blog (in the way that only Perry Noble can). He wrote ten convictions he had about the church. His entire list can be viewed here. Let me comment on five of his more incendiary convictions:

2 – If churches do not learn how to reach people on their mobile devices, we will soon not reach them at all. At first this seems outlandish, but there is truth here. For churches to be successful they’ve had to go where the people were. In the 70s and 80s the (white) church had to move out of downtown out into the suburbs. In the 90s and 2000s they shifted from traditional worship to contemporary worship. Perry is asserting that people are shifting again, this time to mobile devices. How will the church reach them there?

3 – It’s not a lack of prayer that is holding most churches back; it’s a lack of preparation. We need to prepare for messy people to actually show up and not ask them to leave because they do not have the appearance of perfection. I so agree with this. Prayer is vitally important, but I’ve seen ‘prayer for revival’ as a crutch for a lack of preparation. Too often our hearts prayer is that God would send well put together, homogenous disciples to our church. Instead what we usually get is messed up, broken, recovering sinners in need of grace. We can pray for the already discipled, but if we don’t prepare for the messes, we’ll never see our church truly make an impact for the Kingdom.

5 – Seminary will become less and less relevant because most Christian educational institutions are focused on how to reach people in the 1970s. Ouch. I spent years pursuing two seminary degrees. In the beginning I did it because I thought that was the best way to be successful in the church world. I finished my doctorate simply because I was too far along in the process to stop. Seminary has value, but I’ve learned much more outside of seminary and the seminary mindset than I have inside. The seminary as it’s always been is in danger of becoming less and less relevant if it fails to adapt (not compromise, adapt) to a rapidly changing ministry environment.

8 – The world would change in an unbelievable way if the church would attack the issue of obesity as relentlessly as it attacks the issue of homosexuality! (It would also be way more relevant to the church!) The brother is preaching here, and he paints a strikingly poignant note. Homosexuality has been the whipping post for evangelical Christianity for the past few decades. Conveniently enough, it’s something that’s mostly outside the walls of the church. Perry makes a great point that if we attack sin inside the church as ruthlessly as we attack sin outside the church, our world would change dramatically. Completely agree here.

9 – Community is more important than reading the Bible. (The early church didn’t have the Bible for the first 300 years of Christianity…but they did have one another.) This seems like sacrilege, but I get and understand his point. Too many churches have created a culture that exalts Bible knowledge and accumulating Bible information higher than anything else. But if you look at the early church, before they had the Bible they had community. True community (which is not code for traditional Sunday School) is desperately needed in churches today. That’s why Mt Vernon’s driving vision is creating contagious communities of hope.

As for his #10, I won’t even touch that, although I wholeheartedly agree with him.

 

How to Talk to Your Children About Death

My local community is mourning the loss of a young boy named Kobe who was in a tragic motorcycle accident several days ago and was taken off of life support last night. This morning I’ll be at our local middle school to counsel with students trying to grapple with the loss of a friend and classmate.

12.17.14

 

Death is always hard, but it’s especially difficult for children to process. If you’re a parent trying to help your kids process death, here are a few things to remember:

1. Don’t avoid it. In today’s digitally connected world, your child will unfortunately encounter death far earlier than you’re comfortable with. If you avoid the subject, your child will simply get information from somewhere else. Be proactive and have the conversation, as difficult as it will be, as unprepared as you might feel.

2. Be honest. It’s okay if you don’t know all the answers. Answer what you know, clearly. This isn’t like the time your goldfish died and you got away with “He went to the fish doctor and he’ll be back later,” waiting for them to forget about it and move on. Euphemisms won’t do it justice. Use clear terms. “Kobe died last night.”

3. Let them see you grieve. You don’t have to hold it all together. It’s okay if your child cries. It’s okay if you cry. Death is always tragic. Mourning is a natural and healthy part of the grieving process. By them seeing you grieve, you’re showing them the proper way to grieve themselves.

4. Talk about the afterlife. As Christians, we believe that this world is not the end. If you’re secure in the deceased’s salvation, talk about your lost loved one in the present tense, not the past. They’re not gone forever, they’ve just gone ahead of us to heaven. They’re waiting there for us.

5. Always point to the hope we have in Jesus. Any time we talk about big issues like life and death, it’s an opportunity to talk about the most important things in life. Talk about Jesus. Talk about God. Talk about heaven. Always point your child to the hope we have in Jesus. He will walk with us through the darkest valleys, no matter what age we are. Jesus can help your child grieve a loss in a way even you as a parent never could. Point your child to Jesus.

Thanks to Focus on the Family for posting an article that gave me several tips for this article.

7 Margins That Have Given Me Rest

God has placed margins (limits, boundaries) all around us. When we respect the margins around us, things tend to go well for us and we experience rest. When we push against the margins, life starts going sideways and we make ourselves miserable. Sunday I shared seven margins that have helped me experience rest and contentment on a regular basis.

12.16.14

 

1. Have a Quiet Time everyday. This helps me develop spiritual margin. You may call it something else. I grew up calling it a Quiet Time. It’s a time when you get away from everything else and spend time with Jesus. ‘Quiet’ means that there’s no distractions. ‘Time’ means it’s meaningful, not just a quick prayer on the way to work or school. Once again, this isn’t some rigid rule that if you break God is mad at you. It’s for your benefit. If you spend time with Jesus everyday by reading his Word, praying, singing songs, meditating on Scripture, it helps you. It gets your mind right. It gets your heart right. It gets your soul right. And remember, everything builds off of your relationship with God. Build margin here, and everything else benefits.

2. Just say ‘no.’ This helps me develop personal margin. If you don’t know how to say ‘no’ when you need to, all your other margins get messed up. Jesus even points to this as a deeply spiritual issue.  Here’s what he says: You are consumed by the approval of other men, longing to look good in their eyes; and yet you disregard the approval of the one true God. John 5:44 (VOICE)

Some people can’t say ‘no’ to others. That’s a problem. Our inability to say ‘no’ to others impedes our ability to say ‘yes’ to God. Now obviously I’m not saying be a brute, I’m saying establish margins. No one else will establish margins for us. We have to do it. We have to take responsibility for ourselves. We have to be willing to disappoint others and say ‘no’ when necessary.

3. Sleep and exercise. This creates physical margin. We need this. Eight hours a day we need to sleep. Those are some pretty big margins. I think God was trying to make a point. A third of your life devoted to rest. It’s a constant, daily reminder that we need rest. We were created to live within the margins. It’s when we disregard margins that life starts going sideways on us.

Exercise is just as important. If our bodies aren’t healthy, everything else suffers. We need to stay in shape. Some jobs require physical effort. Mine doesn’t. I sit behind a desk. I need to exercise to stay healthy. If we don’t have time to exercise, go back to number 2. Say ‘no’ to something else. Your physical health is that important. If you don’t have energy to exercise, exercise anyways. If you wait until you ‘feel’ like exercising, you’ll be waiting awhile. Good exercise and good sleep gives you the energy you need for the day. Your body needs that physical margin.

4. Fall out of love with social media. This may seem weird but it’s something we struggle with today. Our parents and grandparents didn’t struggle with it. We need technological margin. There have been several studies that have shown that social media can be just as addictive as smoking, drugs and alcohol. If you’re on social media all the time, that’s a problem. It’s stealing you from what’s important and replacing it with what’s useless. A study in 2012 actually showed that the more social networks you’re linked to, the more likely the social media will be a source of stress by trying to keep up with it all.

I’m not saying get off of social media forever. I’m just saying develop some margins. Fall out of love with it. I did several years ago. I have a Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram account. I never get on Twitter or Instagram, and I get on Facebook an average of less than 10 minutes a day. Now I’m active online because that’s where people are, but I schedule all my posts through Hootsuite and then forget about it. Social media is not the end all. It’s not the answer. We need to develop margins here.

5. Give ‘presence’ more than ‘presents’. This is connected to Christmas. We’re in the season of the year where we everyone starts focusing on getting gifts for each other. Gifts are fine and good, but what your kids, your family wants more than gifts is you. They want you to be present. This plays off of the last one. Once we fall out of love with social media and don’t need to be connected all the time, we remember what’s really important. Parents, your kids would love gifts, sure. But what they really want is you, present. Not just you at home with your face stuck in your phone or watching tv. When you practice presence with those you care for, being there, being attentive, removing distractions, you actually create the emotional and relational margin needed for healthy relationships to thrive. So, put your phone down.

6. Go ‘off the grid’ regularly. That means periodically, removing yourself from everything and just giving yourself time to think. This develops mental margin. One of the greatest downsides of technology today is that we’re always connected. Our brains never get a chance to rest and just be. Research shows that our brains are wired to need rest. If we never unplug and go off the grid, we may experience negative self-esteem, depression, worry, anxiety and health issues, all the opposite of rest. It’s why I’ve talked to a lot of folks who love to hunt and they say what they love isn’t just the hunting, it’s the unplugging, giving your mind a chance to rest. It’s how we’re designed.

It’s why years ago Robin and I made the decision to take the TV out of our bedroom. We were finding that with the tv in the room, we’d watch tv rather than talk with each other, we’d get less sleep because we’d be up late watching useless shows. Our minds would never get the chance to rest. However you need to, find a way to get off the grid regularly. Your mind is designed to need rest, just like the rest of you. If you never disconnect, your mind won’t find rest.

7. Downsize your life. This is financial margin. Quit buying stuff you don’t need. Quit over-leveraging yourself and making yourself miserable. Develop a budget and stick to it. Find your worth in God, not in stuff. Learn to say ‘no.’ Here’s what Paul tells Timothy in the New Testament: For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. 1 Timothy 6:10

When we don’t have financial margins, we make ourselves miserable. When we are content with what we have, we find rest. And it means some hard decisions. Two years ago Robin and I decided to cut the cord and drop Directv. It was a tough decision. We were a platinum member. We’d been with them for 12 years. We weren’t sure we could survive without cable television. But the cost kept going up and we kept having babies so our priorities were elsewhere. We decided to go with Netflix instead. $7.99 a month. Can’t beat it. Here’s what we’ve found. Yes, we miss some shows, but we’ve survived. Now we have more financial margin in our lives and more time with them. Even more importantly, our kids are growing up without being bombarded with advertisements all day. The tv isn’t there all the time, so they play more.

When we begin to develop margins, everything benefits, and we begin to experience rest. Build margins in your life!

Pawn Shop Evangelism

Yesterday at the end of church services I met a new young couple. Been in town for several years, first time at Mt Vernon (and church in general in quite some time). Married for three days. The husband came up to say that he enjoyed the services and that they were planning on coming back. Always fascinated with where people come from and how they connected with our church, I asked him how they heard about our church. And that’s when I heard about the pawn shop.

12.15.14

 

The other day this new husband was at a local pawn shop buying bullets. (I’m not from the South but apparently this is a normal occurrence). While he was there he started talking with an older gentleman who happened to go to our church. Both are veterans. At the end of the conversation the older vet invited the younger vet to our church and told him he’d be looking for him. And here they came.

Simple. Easy. Life changing. Think about the simplicity of it all. You’re at a store buying something. Instead of just focusing on the purchase your eyes are opened to the opportunities around you. God brings someone into your path with whom you have a connection. Rather than just talk about the similarities you pivot the conversation and invite them to church. That’s all this older veteran did.

Now here’s where it gets fun. Let’s play this scenario out: the couple is married now for a total of four days. A brand new marriage. They love Mt Vernon and decide to plug in. They are surrounded by healthy mentoring couples who help them build a marriage that stands the test of time. This young couple will most likely have kids, who will now grow up surrounded by the truth in church. Generations potentially will be affected by one simple conversation while buying bullets at a pawn shop.

Today isn’t an ordinary Monday. God has a divine appointment for you to change the spiritual trajectory of someone you’ll come into contact with. Don’t miss it!

The iPhone Proves (To Me) There is a Creator

The most amazing thing happened to me the other day. I was walking through the woods, miles from civilization. In the vast expanse of wilderness I came across one of the new iPhone 6 Plus devices that are all the rage. It was incredibly immaculate, beautifully designed, flawless in function. Here’s my conclusion: this iPhone was created by a happenstance of molecules bumping into each other, a random combustion of millions of improbable probabilities that resulted in a wonderfully complex piece of machinery. It spontaneously formed on its own.

12.11.14

 

Now I could scream from the mountaintops that this iPhone self-created, but the rest of humanity would know different. Apple makes iPhones. There is a creator behind the beautifully designed, incredibly complex phone enjoyed by millions. We can’t comprehend in our minds the possibility that something as complex as an iPhone being the result of random molecules bumping into each other. A creation that complex obviously has a creator.

As silly as it would be to make the assertion that my iPhone was a random combustion of trillions of molecules, many make that same assertion when it comes to Creation itself. And yet this claim is even more far-fetched, because Creation is so much more infinitely complex. Try and comprehend the width and breath of the universe; how the earth is the exact distance it needs to be from the sun and is tilted at the exact angle needed to sustain life; how our atmosphere is made up of exactly the right composition of gases and molecules needed for humans to live, something not found on any other planet to date; how incredibly complex and interconnected our ecosystem is; how extravagantly designed the human body is; how you have a mind and conscience (something science has yet to fully explain) to even comprehend this blog post. Creation is so much more infinitely complex than an iPhone. Something this complex was designed by a Creator. We call him God.

Some will always argue that we’re nothing more than a random explosion of molecules, but to me, that takes a much bigger leap of faith than a claim that an iPhone self-created. For me, the simplest and most logical conclusion is that we were created by Intelligent Design. We were created by God.

When You Talk to the Man Upstairs, Mention My Name

12.8.14“Kevin” comes once or twice a month to church. Always nice and affable, a little on the stoic side. Doesn’t say much. Kevin first started coming with a family member months ago (this family member told me that it was a BIG deal that Kevin was back in church). Years of wild living. Years of mistakes. Years of running. But now he’s been coming to Mt Vernon.

Every once in awhile Kevin will come up to me after the service and say a few kind words. Something I preached on spoke to him. He did so again yesterday and spoke this phrase again to me, “When you talk to the man upstairs, mention my name.” He’s said it maybe two or three times over the months.

My first reaction is that it sounds almost Catholic in nature, him requesting that I be a priest or intercessor for him. But I know that he doesn’t have any Catholicism in his background. I think he asks me to mention him to God because Kevin doesn’t feel worthy enough to pray himself. He spent years living hard and has accumulated regrets that are weighing him down. In his mind he’s convinced he’s blown it with God. Kevin doesn’t think he deserves another chance. He’s thinks God thinks the same way.

My heart breaks for Kevin and the regrets that weigh him down, and yet my heart rejoices that he’s in a place where he can hear about and hopefully experience the grace, mercy, and forgiveness of a loving God. God loves Kevin. God’s not done with Kevin yet. He hasn’t given up on Kevin, and neither should we.

If you’re reading this and don’t mind praying, pray for Kevin (that’s not his real name but God will know whom you’re referencing). Pray that Kevin would experience grace and mercy. Pray that Kevin could lay his burdens down at the foot of the cross. Pray that Mt Vernon can be the hands and feet of Jesus tangibly in Kevin’s life. Let’s all mention his name to the man upstairs.

Creating Contagious Communities of Hope

Hope is the most valuable commodity in the world today. If you have hope, you can endure the greatest trial, walk through the deepest valley, hold on in the depths of despair. If you take away hope you’re finished, doomed to wander aimlessly through the arid wasteland that life can sometimes be. Hope is the most valuable commodity in the world today.

CCCOH

The driving vision of Mt Vernon is creating contagious communities of hope. Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. His work on the cross, and more importantly his resurrection from the dead, gives us hope. Through Jesus we have hope for a home. We can belong. We are not orphaned in this universe. Our Heavenly Father calls us his own and adopts us into his family through the sacrifice of his son Jesus. We belong.

Through Jesus we have hope to overcome. We can change. We don’t have to remain mired in our current circumstances. We have the power of Almighty God living inside of us, breathing new life and new power into us. We are transformed. We can overcome. We can change. Through Jesus we have hope for a purpose. We matter. We were created on purpose for a purpose. Our lives are infused with meaning simply because we exist. In the eyes of our Creator, we are beautiful, purpose-filled, majestic souls worth the sacrifice of his only Son. We matter.

And through Jesus we have hope for eternity. This world is not the end. This life is not all that there is. By conquering death and the grave, Jesus ransomed us from death and secured for us a future glory that will make this world pale in comparison. In Jesus our future is bright. In Jesus our eternity is secured. Because of Jesus we have hope, therefore we do not lose heart.

If you strip everything else away, it’s the hope we have in Jesus that drives everything we do. And that’s why our unifying vision is creating contagious communities of hope.

Creating Contagious Communities

The battlecry of Mt Vernon Church is creating contagious communities of hope. Over the past two days we’ve looked at what it means to create and what it means to live in community. Today we’re going to talk about what it means to be contagious.

CCCOH

The definition of contagious is: (of an emotion, feeling, or attitude) likely to spread to and affect others. That should be an obvious adjective for the church, but many times it’s not. Growing up I was a part of churches that had drawn the circle around a group of people and said in effect, “This is enough; this is all we are going to reach.” I’ve had the heartbreaking experience of seeing friends come to Christ but then be rejected by the church because they didn’t fit the ‘church mold.’ They were good enough for Jesus; they just weren’t good enough for the church.

At Mt Vernon, we never want to draw the circle around those in the room and say, “this is enough.” We want to be contagious. This passion drives the way we present ourselves, the language we use, the songs we sing, and the sermons I preach. We approach church with the mindset every week that God is actively drawing people to himself. He’s actively working in our community, and so should we.

So we invite, we bring our friends and loved ones and even those we’ve just met. We have medically-trained doctors sitting next to recovering alcoholics, and just about everyone in between. We go overboard with our Host Team (guest services) to ensure that everyone knows they’re welcome here. You can’t walk through our doors without being greeted six times. We’re a bunch of saved people that have been transformed by the love of Jesus. It’s a love we can’t keep to ourselves. We’re contagious.