Saturday, March 24, 2007

Celebrating 31 years! And an update on CCI

On Sunday, March 25, 2007 we will celebrate 31 years of ministry with our annual "Jubilee". (See our bulletin.) It's an anniversary/homecoming with special music, a special speaker and dinner on the grounds. Alan Stroud, who was a member for 11 years and now is helping raise up a church in San Antonio, will be speaking Sunday. That should be a blast! We also have some special music, a musical drama as well as an awesome slideshow of CCI through the years. The meat is being cooked by Pineville City Marshal Larry Jeane who always does a wonderful job. All the families are bringing delicious side dishes, desserts and drinks! It's going to be a great day!

This past week someone asked me to give an update on how things were going in the leadership transition at Christian Challenge. I thought I might share my response here. Here's the question and then below is my response (written on Wednesday night, 3/21, after church):
I want to ask you a question Nathan, if you don't mind.
When I was helping at a small church in WV, a nearby
larger church had recently gone through a change in
leadership with a new pastor. They started making some
changes. Boy, was there a lot of mumbling and grumbling
going on (for various reasons).

So how has the change gone over with your transition to
Senior Pastor and has there been any murmurings over
changes (even in decor)?

Interesting question, Lois. And I don't mind, at all.

The short answer is that the transition is going very well. I think it helps that I have been on staff for 16 years so I'm not just a "new pastor". I know the people and they know me.

Another positive is that my dad (Bro. Buddy) has always allowed me to minister and be myself and not try to fit his mold or be a "little Bro. Buddy." So the people were already aware of my distinct style of teaching and leadership. That has been helpful.

We are going through some significant changes both in style and decor. We have modernized the look of our platform, which has caused some discussion but not a lot of grumbling (that I'm aware of). There have been a couple of questions but when I explain my heart for outreach and our desire to make the entire facility as inviting and welcoming as possible, they seem to agree. I also explain that I don't want us caught in a "time warp" of looking stale. It's not change for the sake of change, but it's change for the sake of allowing us to be more accessible, more inviting, more engaging.

There has been a significant change in our view towards the community. Christian Challenge has always been (and always will be) a discipling congregation. In the past our focus has been on discipling the ones the Lord brings to us. We have done some outreach but it hasn't been a primary focus.

I feel strongly that the Lord is leading us to become more outreach oriented. So in building on our tremendous foundation of discipleship, we are now actively pursuing "out of the box" avenues of reaching out to our community. We strongly desire to demonstrate the love of Jesus in tangible ways.

For example, next Saturday, March 31, we will be handing out 500 bottles of ice cold water on one of the busiest intersections of town. With each bottle will be a small card that says:

We hope this small gift
brightens your day.
It is a simple way to say God loves
you - no strings attached.
Let us know if we can help you.

The opposite side of the card has our address, phone number, website, service schedule and map. I'm having 2,500 cards printed up to use in future giveaways and outreaches. The goal is to impact our community with the idea that "Christian Challenge Cares".

We've started the idea of a "Care Team" and encouraged everyone who wants to be involved in outreach to get a "Care Team" t-shirt. On the back in small letters it says "Christian Challenge" then in HUGE letters it says "CARE" and underneath that it says "Team". We will wear our shirts whenever we mow lawns, rake leaves, clean highways, give out water, serve at public functions, etc. When I shared the idea with our church last Sunday we had 3 times as many shirts ordered as I had anticipated! So it appears the people are really catching it!

We've had quite a few visitors since the transition and have had a few indicate a desire to officially join. I don't think we've lost a single member since the transition! So all-in-all I think it's going well.

The Lord is indeed doing something deep and real in our hearts. We're seeing reconciliation happening between members who may have been holding some resentments. Last Wednesday night we had a testimony of forgiveness and reconciliation. Tonight we had two different people publicly ask forgiveness of someone they had held resentment towards. It was an incredibly moving service.

I believe the Lord is healing us so that we can reach out with His healing to our hurting community. The vision I'm sharing with the church is that we need to serve our community with an open hand ... holding nothing back and expecting nothing in return, except to honor God. There are a lot of hurting people who want to know if anyone cares. We don't have answers for everyone's problems, but we do care. And we're going to demonstrate it.

I shared the illustration with our people that we should constantly have the smell of singed hair about us - because the hair on our hands and arms is singed from us reaching into the flames and rescuing those who are perishing.

Our congregation is palpably excited about what's going on. We are being given the opportunity to be real and we don't want to waste it! So we're building on the tremendous foundation that has been laid for 31 years. We will continue to disciple and train ... we're just going to have more people to do it with and more opportunities for them to put their training into practice!!!

Thanks for asking. I know this is a much longer answer than your question and if you've read this far, congratulations! (Or condolences! ) But seriously, I hope this answers your question.
Well, I know that was long ... sorry 'bout that! But it gives a good overview of where we are as a congregation, going into this celebration of 31 years of ministry in Cenla. I'm looking forward to what God has in store for us!

I LOVE serving Jesus with you!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

What an Experience!

Last week Jeff Murphy and I attended a conference for church leaders at Healing Place Church in Baton Rouge. The conference was called the "HPC Experience" because we got to experience the way Healing Place does things. They're a fast growing church that's doing a lot of things to impact their community. They get asked all the time to share how they do some of the things Joel Dyke, Nathan Martin, Jeff Murphy and Dino Rizzo they do and they've created this conference to provide some hands-on experience. It was a wonderful conference.

In addition to the ideas we picked up and the inspiration we gained I also got to visit with an old friend from my Mexico missionary days. Joel Dyke and I served in south Mexico as missionaries during the late 1980's. I returned to Pineville in November of 1990 and Joel now pastors Life Church West Monroe. We got to spend a lot of time together, including a wonderful evening with HPC Pastor Dino Rizzo in his home.

One of the things that came out of this conference was a deeper understanding of our vision with regard to the community. I had a clear understanding of how we were to relate to one another within our four walls, but I wasn't clear on what Christian Challenge was supposed to look like to the larger community. The HPC Experience helped me gain a clear perspective of how we are to relate to our neighbors. And it can be summed up in one word: CARE. Christian Challenge Cares. We want to reach out to our community with an open hand, seeking to serve without expecting anything in return.

Christian Challenge CARE Team Out of this is coming an exciting outreach philosphy. We are forming the "Christian Challenge CARE Team". Whenever we have an opportunity to touch our community with the love of Jesus, we want to do that as part of the Christian Challenge CARE Team. We've ordered yellow t-shirts with that phrase on the back, with the word "CARE" being the largest. We want to demonstrate with our actions that Jesus cares for those around us. He cares for the thirsty, the hungry, the poor, the hurting. We desire to be a tangible demonstration of that very real care that He has towards all people. The Lord said it best through the prophet Ezekiel when He said, "As a shepherd cares for his herd in the day when he is among his scattered sheep, so I will care for My sheep and will deliver them from all the places to which they were scattered..." (Ezek 34:12 NASB)

I'm excited about what the Lord has for Christian Challenge. I look forward to demonstrating the love of care of Jesus. I thank God for Jeff Murphy who went with me. He has really caught the vision and is providing valuable leadership to our efforts. I appreciate my friend Joel Dyke for telling me about the HPC Experience and for being a friend who always believed in me. I thank God for Dino Rizzo for inspiring me to believe that we really can touch our community. Fasten your seatbelts, Christian Challenge! It's about to get exciting!!!


Saturday, March 03, 2007

Simply Amazing

Amazing Grace - the movie You MUST see this movie!

I just returned from 2 1/2 days in Baton Rouge at the Healing Place Church attending a leadership conference for a small group of pastors. I got in after midnight this morning and we had a Habitat for Humanity work day scheduled so our day was pretty full. At the end of the day we decided to go see the movie "Amazing Grace" and I'm so glad we did!

The movie is the story of William Wilberforce's tireless efforts to end slavery in the British Empire, entertwined with the writing of the much loved song, "Amazing Grace," written by former slave ship captain John Newton. William Wilberforce has long been a hero of mine and, in fact, I preached a sermon about him back on April 19, 2002. (Unfortunately it's not available on our website as we didn't start recording on computer until July 21, 2002.) Nevertheless, his story had a strong influence on me and he has always been a personal hero.

Wilberforce impacted me in two areas. One was his desire to be used by God in the public arena, in shaping public policy and opinion. He had considered entering the ministry and visited with the 60-year old John Newton to discuss this option. Newton urged him not to cut himself off from public life, to use his gifts to serve the common good. Newton wrote him a letter in which he said, "It is hoped and believed that the Lord has raised you up for the good of His church and for the good of the nation." This has been one of my motivations to become involved in the public discourse and even to enter politics in an attempt to serve both the body of Christ and the community.

Another area in which Wilberforce impacted me was the cause of abolition. He saw it for the evil it was. Even though he was born into a wealthy family and much of the wealth of those days depended on or came directly from cheap slave labor, he saw it as an evil on society. He wrote in his diary, "God Almighty has set before me two great objects, the suppression of the Slave Trade and the Reformation of Morals." It took him 20 years of untiring work but on February 24, 1807 the British Parliament voted 283-16 to abolish slave trade. Even then he had to continue to fight to outlaw slavery itself, which didn't happen until July 26, 1833, just 3 days before his death.

It is both his perseverance and his passion to fight for the cause of justice that inspire me. His passon is what gave him his perseverance. Because he had a true cause, a true calling from God, he was able to persevere. When John Wesley was 87 years old he wrote Wilberforce and said, "Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of man and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you..." God had indeed raised up Wilberforce for this very thing and as a result he was able to rely on that fountain of strenth to pull him through the discouraging days of failure. He truly had a marathon mentality.

I've asked the Lord to let me be a blessing to both His church and our community. I thank Him for the opportunity to serve the community through the City Council. And I am most honored by the incredible privilege of pastoring such a wonderful local church. Now, may I have both passion and perseverance in doing the Lord's work in every arena of influence. And may I always remember that it's only done by God's "Amazing Grace!"

I LOVE serving Jesus with you!