Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Longing for the Day

It’s been a long few months. My family has been sick with the flu, with colds and with the complicating factors of my wife and eldest daughter’s asthma. On top of this my wife is now 32 weeks pregnant and while that is certainly reason for great joy, we have experienced a series of struggles throughout. There appeared to be some complications early in the pregnancy which weighed heavy upon us, not least because we have previously experienced two miscarriages. These concerns lessened as we passed into the second trimester only to be reawakened by possible anomalies on two separate ultrasounds. At this point, thankfully, things seem to be progressing well, but I have to admit that I'm just tired of dealing with the sickness the heartache and the junk that seem to accompany many days.

By God’s grace the burdens that we carry are probably far less than many others, but I’m tired of it because we were never created to have to deal with this stuff. The more I experience the trials of each day and as a Pastor, try to walk comfortingly alongside others as they face great challenges and heartache, the more I am reminded of how desperately broken this world is.
Our great and gracious God has made all things well, and yet, we live under the curse of the fall and we experience the reality of Adam’s sin as well as our own each and every day. How I long for the day of Christ’s return, I long for the restoration that He brings and for the promise:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. (Rev 21:3-7)

Until that day, I am thankful that this same Sovereign and faithful God has given me His Spirit and daily strengthens me, not because I am worthy, but because I am in His Son. The words of the great Christmas carol Joy to the World resonate in my heart and my mind… He comes to make His blessings known, far as the curse is found. I am thankful for the blessings of Christ and His grace to me that while the reality of curse is everywhere to be seen, His grace to me is greater still.

Come quickly Lord Jesus, I’m longing for the day!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Refreshing Resolve

Last week I travelled down to Indianapolis for the bi-ennial meeting of Converge MidAmerica (

Converge worldwide is the association of that The Orchard Church is a part of and because we are located in Illinois we form part of the MidAmerica district. The conference provided an encouraging time as I had the opportunity to connect with friends from other regional churches and sit under some good teaching. What encouraged me most however was a resolution that was unanimously passed.

Sadly we are all too accustomed to hearing about statements, policies and resolutions that come out of the meetings and gatherings of many denominations and church associations. In recent years most of these have surrounded the support of unbiblical issues that these groups have determined to embrace. Thankfully Converge have diligently held to the authority of Scripture in these issues and therefore have not followed where so many others seem to have gone.

What excited me about the resolution that was passed was not that it contained anything new but rather that it reaffirms the centrality of our mission and in our culture today to hear so many pastors and church leaders unashamedly proclaim our position was truly refreshing and inspiring.

Now that I have hopefully wet your appetite, here is the text of the 2009 Missional Resolution of Converge MidAmerica.

"In a time when churches and ministries are flourishing, and mega-church attendance often can number in the tens of thousands, an uncomfortable reality is haunting us. We are losing our cities at supersonic speed. This reality is rooted in clear, undisputed research indicating the influence of the Church is diminishing significantly and dramatically in our cities and communities across the United States.

The world system we are part of has effectively and successfully called the unchurch and the churches alike to a selfish, self-centered, fear based, consumer-defined, individualistic view of the world that is driven by lust and greed. Statistically, American Christians think and behave no differently than the outsiders.

Jesus' vision of humanity is a much higher vision than the one we are currently experiencing...
To actually follow Jesus is to be on mission with Jesus; to love those he loves, to care about what he cares about, to go to the places he went, and do the things he did. Jesus promises the same Holy Spirit that empowered him would empower his followers to do all the things that he has done and greater things!

We, the pastors and leaders of Converge MidAmerica declare our radical commitment to the centrality of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. First in working it out in our lives! Second, in the proclamation of the Good News to our generation! Third, to serve the poor and the rich, the marginalized and the mainstream in our cities who are far from Christ! Fourth, to lead our churches to be transformational agents in our Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth!

We declare...
1) Our undying devotion in seeking the Father's will and in fulfilling Jesus' great commission through the power of the Holy Spirit. We commit to live reflective lives, to personally lead our churches in the way of prayer and in the practice of the spiritual disciplines.

2) Our unswerving commitment that those who have been redeemed by Christ are commanded to "make disciples of all people." As pastors and leaders we will commit ourselves to do the work of an evangelist and to tirelessly lead our churches in multiplying disciples, leaders and congregations.

3) Our humble dependence on one another as pastor, leaders and churches. Seeking ways to learn from each other! Finding ways to encourage and inspire one another! Generously sharing our resources with each other!

4) Our mutual conviction that generosity is an expression of the grace of God. To this we resolve to personally model generosity to our churches and to lead these churches to excel in the grace of giving. We will model generosity in our communities, to the regional ministries of Converge MidAmerica and to the ends of the earth."

My personal thanks to the MidAmerica Multiplication Team who authored the resolution.

By the grace of God may we be found faithful about the work entrusted to us!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Reset for Growth

I don't want to miss this opportunity to say a big THANK YOU to everyone at The Orchard Church. Over these past few weeks we've taken a big and exciting new step together as we have added a second worship service. Thank you to those who are serving, those who are putting in extra hours and to those who have willingly made the adjustment to their Sunday morning schedule.

While we were diligent in seeking the Lord over this transition, and worked hard to do our homework, to learn from others and to plan, there have still been a couple of wrinkles that we have had to work out along the way. That said, so far everything has gone tremendously well. God has been gracious and His people have been faithful!

One of the adjustments that we're all having to make is that we have grown accustomed to seeing our sanctuary pretty full each week, but now with a second service (even though we have taken out some chairs), there is still a lot of room left over. The 9am service has so far proven to be more popular with but the 11am service appears to be the one drawing more visitors. While the fact that we are spread between two services creates the feel of a smaller attendance, let me tell share with you a couple of the reasons why I am especially excited as we move forward:

1. Based on these first few weeks of the 2 service format, our total weekly attendance would have meant that had we not moved to 2 services we would have been at full capacity for our facility and unable to add more than one or two new families. I believe that the Lord is graciously affirming that this was the right decision at the right time!

2. The 11am service which is currently the smaller of the two is so far averaging more people than were in the entire church at the end of 2007, only about 20 months ago! God has done great things in our midst in the last year and half, and I can only begin to imagine what He might have in store for us over the next 20 months.

Our desire as a leadership in taking this step was to obediently follow where we believed that God was leading, and to provide an opportunity for many more people to be able to hear the life changing message of the gospel. Thanks to everyone at The Orchard for being so willing to take this step with us, to make room for others and to courageously press the reset button so that while each service may right now look a little smaller that what we have grown accustomed to we can look back on what the Lord has done, and look forward to what He has yet to do.

Thanks for your continued partnership in the work of the gospel.

Friday, September 4, 2009

A Famine In The Land of Plenty

I opened my mailbox a few days ago and found a catalog from a well known seller of Christian books.

Being an avid reader, I set the catalog aside and awaited a few precious minutes of peace in which I could sit and salivate over the latest offering of new releases. When I did sit down with my cup of coffee to open this particular catalog I quickly discovered that this was actually a special edition catalog dedicated exclusively to Bibles.

Like you, I too have visited the "religion" section at Borders and have been surprised by the eight or ten shelves of Bibles that they stock. Imagine therefore my amazement when I discovered that this catalog boasts 64 pages of nothing but Bibles! What's more, each page is replete with dozens of variations or every size, shape, color and translation.

While I suppose I should have taken that moment of realization to fall on my knees and give praise to God for His abundant blessing that His Word is so easily available to us - I found myself instead with two very different thoughts.

First I sat somewhat grieved over the fact that I have brothers in sisters in Christ who have perhaps one single copy of the Bible available to be shared by their entire church, and others without any what so ever and here I am being offered any one of literally thousands for myself.

Second, and more sobering still was the reminder that while we may have abundant access to the Word of God, there is a great famine of it in our land.

Consider the words of the prophet Amos, some 2700 years ago. "Behold, the days are coming" declares the Lord God, "when I will send a famine on the land - not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord."

Now, while I believe that he spoke primarily of the coming exile of Israel because of their unfaithfulness, it is not hard to see that we are a people of great abundance, yet with a desperate famine of the Word. Our issue isn't that the Word of God isn't available, it is that despite the ease of access that we have to it, we are allowing it to gather dust!

While we may have the latest leather bound, chain reference, glossy mapped, study Bible with our name proudly embossed on the front are we hiding His Word in our heart?
Imagine with me if you will, the impact that we might have on our communities if we not only owned a Bible, but actually dedicated ourselves to reading it, to learning it and to putting it into practice.

Less I be misunderstood, I am not critical of this particular book seller. I have an over abundance of Bibles in my office, not to mention the literally hundreds that the Bible software program on my laptop offers but, may I be able to say with the Psalmist:

I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word. (Ps 119:15-16)

I believe there is a famine of the Word of God in the Church today, not because we in the west do not have access to it, but because some where we've bought into the idea that it is there to look at instead devour. Church, it's time to eat!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Well the weather feels like it's fall but the calendar still says August, at least for a few more days.
Kids are back to school and there's the usual fresh energy of another "new start."
There's a lot of new things on the horizon at The Orchard Church over the next few weeks. In addition to our new season of Growth Groups (Small Group Studies), and a full calendar of great opportunities to connect and grow, we're holding the Grand Opening Celebration of our new 2 Service format. That's right, as God has graciously blessed we're just about out of space and need to get ready for all that He has in store for us in the coming months. So beginning September 20 we'll be gathering for worship at 9am and 11am every Sunday morning.

With this big and exciting new change coming up fast, and with the new season of new beginnings upon us, I'm calling on the church to join me in seeing God in prayer and fasting for the week between Sunday, September 13 and Saturday, September 19.

Why prayer? Why fasting?
Well, we could plan all sorts of great "programs" but other than perhaps keeping those of us who are already at the church entertained, it would all be for nothing if the Lord is not the one to direct our steps and transform lives. Psalm 127 says Unless the Lord builds the house, they that build it labor in vain.
Quite honestly there are already more than enough professing Christians that seem to be running around busily working on something or other, but doing it apart from God.

When we together earnestly seek God in prayer, asking for His Spirit to move, we pave the way for Him to accomplish His purposes in His way and for His glory. What's more, when we humble ourselves before Him in prayer, expressing our need for Him we make ourselves available to be changed too.

Prayer, that's something that most of us are somewhat accustomed to, but fasting, that's a whole other thing. Yet, fasting is a precious gift given to the people of God, not as a means of trying to manipulate God or impress Him by our "own righteousness" but rather in fasting we in a very real way express our absolute need and dependence on Him. When we voluntarily abstain from food for a period of time our senses are heightened toward God, our hunger pangs prompt us to look to Him and our spirit is quickened. In short when we set aside a time in which we refuse to satisfy our physical hunger, we allow ourselves space to allow God to satisfy our Spiritual hunger.

I wish that I understood why prayer and fasting are effective tools for our Spiritual growth and our drawing near to God, but quite honestly I don't understand it. What I do know is that God honors those who seek Him earnestly.

Friends, I ask you, I'm challenging you - take time to join me in prayer during the week of September 13-19 and choose 1 day that week specifically to spend in prayer and fasting.

Oh Lord,
that you would do in our midst in these coming days exceedingly and abundantly beyond all we could ask or imagine.
Transform us, more into the image and likeness of Your Son.
Set us free from the things that we have allowed ourselves to become ensnared by.
Use us to proclaim life and freedom through Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world.
Give us a great harvest of souls this fall, not for our glory but for yours.
Lord, do not allow us to labor in vain but set us about your work we pray, in Jesus' name.