Archive for April, 2007

30
Apr
07

The Country Music Marathon

I ran the Country Music Marathon in Nashville, TN this past weekend with another CrossPointer, Shane Sisk. It was Shane’s third marathon in six months, while it was my second marathon in 33 days. It was also my fifth marathon in my fifth different state. If the Lord is willing, I plan on joining the 50 in 50 club—that is, to run 50 marathons in 50 states before I die, or at least die trying to accomplish the feat.

Shane and I actually ran the race as Jennifer and Toby Bearden, his sister and brother-in-law. Jennifer and Toby are CrossPointers also, who were already registered to run the race yet due to recent eye surgery complications Toby was unable to compete. Instead of wasting the registration fee, Shane and I ran in their place.

If you happen to know Shane, ask him why it was more difficult for him to convince the marathon officials he was Toby than it was for me to convince them I was Jennifer. You should have seen the look on the officials face when I turned in my registration card as Jennifer Bearden. That was a hoot!

Although this was not my fastest marathon, I consider it my best marathon. I am calling it my best marathon because I ran for the fun of it. My goal this time was only to cross the finish line, and when I did I was pleased.

The weather for the race was perfect. It was overcast for most of the morning, and the temperature rested comfortably between 60 and 70 degrees throughout the day.

The treat of spending Friday night and eating a delicious home-cooked meal with some of my Nashville cousins made the weekend meaningful as well. The hard part was resisting the four different desserts James and Joyce Patton offered after such a huge meal. Shane and I were not expecting that kind of meal.

Spending time with Shane Sisk on the way to Nashville, and then trading race stories on the way home made for a pleasant experience also. I am so glad Shane, his sister, his brother-in-law and his mother are all now CrossPointers. Get this, the first time Shane stepped foot on CrossPoint’s campus was for our 5k run last October. He liked that experience so much that he showed up for worship the next day. He joined CrossPoint about a month later. That’s a good story.

The race was well-organized also. Every thing a runner needed to start, run and finish a race was provided. (It should be noted you can never have enough port-o-potties on a race course. I am eternally thankful for the person in charge of that responsibility. Let’s just say they did an excellent job providing relief).

Another reason I consider this my best marathon is that my overall pace remained very consistent. There was not much variation between my fastest mile and my slowest mile. My consistent pace was due in large part to a new strategy I implemented. In my previous marathons I ran about two-thirds of the race before taking a walk break. This time I ran the first mile and then walked a minute. I did it again the second mile, the third mile and all the way through the race. I am convinced the run-a-mile-walk-one-minute strategy provided my body more endurance for the race. Thus, instead of hitting the wall at mile 18 or 19, which I typically do, I met the wall at mile 23. Therefore, I was able to finish much stronger than I have in times past.

Additionally, even though I walked a total of 26 minutes (a one minute walk at every mile), my overall time was just minutes away from my best time for a marathon. I am so excited about this strategy that I plan to use it in my training regiment for my next marathon. I think if I train that way I may be able to run even faster.

There are many other factors that made this a memorable marathon. Tomorrow I want to share with you what happened at mile 17 that gave me the motivation to finish strong.
28
Apr
07

Dissatisfaction with Church

Last Monday morning I did not realize I would create so much interest with my pastoral burden. It seems that this burden is not one I carry alone.

In staff meeting last Tuesday, Chris Howell, our Adult Education and Family Minister, provided research LifeWay recently made public as to why people leave churches.

Here are the top ten reasons they found that people switch churches:

1. The church was not helping me to develop spiritually. (28%)
2. I did not feel engaged or involved in meaningful church work (20%)
3. Church members were judgmental of others (18%)
4. The pastor was not a good preacher (16%)
5. There were too many changes (16%)
6. Members seemed hypocritical (15%)
7. Church didn’t seem to be a place where God was at work (14%)
8. Church was run by a clique that discouraged involvement (14%)
9. The Pastor was judgmental of others (14%)
10. The Pastor seemed hypocritical (13%)

If you would like to read additional articles pertaining to this research, go to the Lifeway Research page.

So, what do you think of the top ten reasons?

I have a few observations.

First, although I do not think switching churches is a good thing, I am encouraged with the top two reasons people give for making the switch. This is positive because it shows a spiritual hunger on the part of some of those who want to make a change. Additionally, it is encouraging because these two reasons strike at the very core of CrossPoint’s genetic makeup. We believe every member is a minister, and we believe spiritual growth must be a priority. Thus, I think CrossPoint is poised to assist people looking for a change.

Next, reasons # 3, 6 & 9 should be stirring to our family of faith also because we are a WHOSOEVER church. WHOSOEVER churches are not judgmental or hypocritical. I pray we remain that way.

Of course, reason #7—church didn’t seem to be a place where God was at work—should embolden CrossPoint. Every week God does a new work through us. That should cause us to glorify Him more so that He will continue to choose to work through us.

Finally, reasons #4, 9 & 10 cause me consternation, because they rest directly on the pastor. That is why the longer I serve as your pastor the more daunted I am by the responsibility. I never want to be a hindrance to you or to anyone who chooses to worship with us. Moreover, I never want to be a hindrance to the Lord God Almighty. That is why I spend more time communicating and fellowshipping with God than I do with anyone else.

I have provided my observations, now I would like to hear yours. Let me know of what you think of these reasons people switch churches.

27
Apr
07

Have You Connected?

I was visiting with a CrossPointer last night who tells me she wears her CrossPoint name tag to work periodically instead of the one issued by her employer. (Since her father is a CrossPointer and her employer, I do not think he objects).

She said it is fun watching customers respond her name tag. Last week a customer noticed her name tag and asked, “Are you connected?”

That is a great question, isn’t it? I think we should start using that same question at CrossPoint each time we meet to help others connect with God, with God’s people, and with God’s plan.

After reading through your post from the previous blogs this week, I am convinced of this: people will only connect with CrossPoint as much as they want to. It does not matter how many phone calls we make or cards we write or letters we send or contacts we report (and, do not get me wrong, those are all important) a person is only going to connect when they want to.

I agree with Gay who posted this comment:

“We try to play the Holy Spirit. He does a great job on his own without our help. A pastor that loves his people and prays for them will see God do great things.”

Touché, well said Gay. You are correct.

Gay’s comment reminds me of the time a friend confided in me I to quit playing preacher and Holy Spirit in my messages. He related his thought to me this way:

There are time(s) you will say something that is true, yet hard to accept. And before that truth can settle into my heart you run out into the audience and tell me “but that’s okay, God still loves you and so do I.” Ryan, either quit throwing me fast balls or quit running out into the audience and catching it for me. Say what God placed on your heart and let me decide what to do with it. If God tells you to throw a fast ball, throw it. Let me decide whether or not I will catch it, drop it or dodge it.


I needed to hear what my good friend had to say. He was right. At that time in my ministry I was good at making strong comments, and then softening them with the next sentence that came out of my mouth. Thank the Lord I do not that (much) any more.

One final thought.

Wednesday I gave the staff a 47 page list of all the families who call CrossPoint home. The master list included 550 family groups. I asked the staff to join me in praying for a different group of CrossPointers by name every day of the week. I challenged them to pray over so many families per day until they prayed for each member by name within one week. I asked them to pray for each individual, by name, out loud and to record any impressions of how to pray for them beside their name.

You have no idea what kind of pastoral prayer intimacy I experienced this morning praying for you. I started with Rick, Wendy, Morgan and Luke Aaron on page one and I ended with Mike, Mitzi, Josh and Brianna Chaffin on page seven. Tomorrow I begin with Matt, Kathy, Matthew, Brandon, and Alex Chandler on page eight and I will end with Jay, Pam, Stevie and David Foster on page fourteen. I will pray for seven pages of church members each day of this week until I end with Glenn, Connie and Christopher Zinder. Next week I will pray through the names in reverse order.

I know what praying for your church members by name, out loud, one at a time will do for a pastor. I have experienced this kind of intense prayer before, and I tasted it again early this morning. It humbles the man praying for them. It reminds the pastor of the immense, innumerable and insurmountable needs of his flock. And, it will remind the pastor that these are God’s people that God has asked the pastor to feed and lead.

I also know what praying for your church members by name, out loud, one at a time, will do for a church. It will cause God to move. It will give the Holy Spirit an opportunity to respond. Praying for each individual CrossPointer will send revival to CrossPoint. It will cause an awakening in the church. It will stir the hearts of the people praying, and it still the hearts of the people we pray for.

Thank you for allowing me to serve as your pastor. Thank you for entrusting me to feed you, lead you and pray for you. I love you as if you were my own family…and you are!

25
Apr
07

Wandering Sheep – One Last Time

I have one more thought concerning wandering sheep this week and I am done.

The vision of CrossPoint very simply is to reach JUST ONE MORE. To be more specific, the vision of CrossPoint is to reach JUST ONE MORE to become a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ.

The process by which we help JUST ONE MORE to become a fully devoted follower of CrossPoint can be summarized with one word: CONNECT.

At CrossPoint, we want people to CONNECT in three ways:

First, we want people to CONNECT with GOD in worship.
Next, we want people to CONNECT with GOD’S PEOPLE in Bible study.
Finally, we want people to CONNECT with GOD’S PLAN by identifying their ministry in the church and their mission in the world.

I think CrossPoint is doing an admirable job helping people CONNECT. We are improving each week by moving people through our process. Yet there is always room for improvement.

We are not striving for perfection; for perfection is an unattainable goal. However, we are string for excellence, because excellence in ministry is something we can achieve.

In our striving for excellence at CrossPoint, I must ask the following question:

What kind of disciples are we producing at CrossPoint?

Most days during the week I think we are producing some very solid followers of Christ. For the most part I see numerous CrossPointers who are active in the membership, ministry, fellowship, discipleship and worship of the church. I see some, in particular, who are really growing in their faith and striving to help others along in the process. In many respects I think we are making great improvements in the CrossPoint process and that is encouraging. However, when we look a little closer, with more detail in mind, I wonder if sometimes what we are producing is a group of chronically delinquent church members instead.

For three days now I have written about this seemingly innocent burden. Early in the week I wrote about the lack of involvement or participation of some CrossPointers. Today, I am more concerned about their level of commitment and witness. This I do know—church attendance and participation has more to do with your level of commitment and devotion to Christ than it does with anything else.

Some people say they are just too busy. Others tell me they are just taking a break. A few even admit to being lazy. Those are nothing more than excuses. The real root of the problem has to do with one’s abiding relationship with Christ. Which forces me, once again, to evaluate what kind of disciples we are producing at CrossPoint?

I would like to know what you think.
24
Apr
07

The Burden Continues

After writing my blog for Monday I contemplated an interesting way to get the attention of our wandering sheep.

Let me know what you think of this idea.

In Paul’s letter to the Philippian church he spends the first few paragraphs describing his Romans imprisonment. He also takes time to encourage and instruct the church. As with all of Paul’s letters, this letter was read before the church. Before I describe for you what happens next, I want you to picture the setting.

The church learns that a letter has arrived from Paul. The people gather with excitement because they have not heard from him in a long time. They sing a few songs. They pray. Then the pastor reads Paul’s epistle:

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,
To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.

The people nod in agreement with his salutation. A few whisper to others how they appreciate his love for them.

The pastor continues:

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

Many in the room are saddened to hear of his imprisonment. Some begin to weep. All are encouraged by his great faith.

The Philippian pastor continues for several more minutes in reading the letter. The people continue to shake their heads in agreement. The people are excited. The pastor stops periodically to re-read certain statements. Paul’s words are a breath of fresh air for the church.

The crowd is emboldened by what is said next. Paul challenges his audience:

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents.

Back and forth this goes. As each word is read the people are drawn closer and closer together and to the Lord. This letter is definitely speaking to them.

As the letter draws to a close Paul says,

Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.


Again, the people are encouraged by Paul’s love for them. They feel special to be in such good company with such a godly man.

Then, out of nowhere, Paul drops this bomb:

I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

A deacon in the church whispers to another deacon, “Did he just say what he thought said?” Someone else says to themselves, “Wow, there is no hiding this issue now. Paul just called out those two women.”

Can you imagine what Euodia and Syntche were thinking? You better believe they were shocked. I suspect they were embarrassed. We do not know what was causing this disagreement between the two of them, but it was big enough for Paul to hear about it in his Roman prison cell.

This is not new for Paul. He does something similar to this in all of his letters. He unashamedly calls people by name either to encourage them, thank them, or even correct them. You have to admire Paul. He wanted the church to function in a healthy manner. And if something was awry with the body, Paul addressed it head on.

Move forward to Sunday, April 29, 2007. Imagine what this would be like.

CrossPoint gathers for worship. We sing. We pray. The time for my message begins, and I stand to preach:

I have in my hand a list of families that have every appearance of no longer being committed to CrossPoint. I do not know if they are sick or if they are looking for another church or if they are disgruntled. But one thing I do know, they have not expressed their commitment to the Lord here in several, several weekends and now I would like to call out their names in order for them to settle this issue immediately.

If you know any of these families please contact them today and tell them we called their names in worship. Let them know if they want to continue to call CrossPoint their family of faith they are welcome to return next weekend and recommit themselves to Christ and His church. If not, then they must send word to us they are no longer committed to Christ through CrossPoint.


WOW! Can you imagine the stink that would cause? I am actually laughing out loud as I type these final few words. The irony of doing something like this would be dramatic. I suspect there would be more people upset with me in calling them out in worship rather than being upset with these people for not expressing their public commitment to Christ.

Just so you will know, I only thought about doing this. The odds of me actually following through with my plan are very slim…I think!
23
Apr
07

The Burden of Shepherding Wandering Sheep

As a pastor, I carry all types of burdens. A pressing matter that periodically arises in my mind concerns wandering sheep. Just this morning, I was reminded of several people I have not seen in worship in a long time. Early in my time alone with the Lord I thought of two or three families. As the morning progressed, however, a few families became many families. And as I always try to do when the Lord places someone on my mind, I prayed for each of them by name.

As busy and as big as CrossPoint is, some of the people I thought of may have been in worship last weekend or the weekend before, and I did not see them. Often I will ask Vonda about someone and she will say, “Oh, I saw them in the hallway. They were there.” Yet many times I will go weeks, sometimes months without seeing a particular family in worship.

My burden for these wandering families is two-fold.

First and foremost I am concerned for the family’s well-being. Why are they missing? Is someone sick? Did someone die? Are they struggling with a major decision? Are they running from God? How can CrossPoint help them? Is there something we can do?

After working through those questions then I struggle with the family’s level of commitment. Are they just lazy? Are they really sold out to the kingdom of God? Are they genuinely committed to Christ and His church? Why would they join our family of faith and then not participate when we gather for fellowship, worship and discipleship? Why would they join CrossPoint and then not support it with their involvement?

I know this is something only pastors and just a few others in the church wrestle with, and I should be used to it by now. But I still cannot understand how someone would commit themselves to a church with their membership, but not commit themselves the church with their participation.

While praying for these families this morning, I listed their names in my calendar. I did so thinking I might drop them a note in the mail, encouraging them to come to worship next weekend. As I chronicled the list the cynic in me spoke up and said, “You know that doesn’t do any good, Ryan. Remember the last time you mailed someone a note concerned about their involvement. They showed up for worship a few weeks and later thanked you for your note. Then they quietly disappeared back into the abyss of waywardness.”

I know you are not going to believe this account, but a few years ago I wrote a particular family a note. The next Sunday they showed up and what they said astounded me. One spouse said, “Thanks for our note. We really needed it. We’ve just been lazy the last few weekends. And your note came at the right time.” Then the other spouse chimed in (and I really wish they had not) and said, “It’s good to have you around to remind us every now and then how we need to be in church.”

Ouch! I walked away from that experience asking myself, “What kind of disciples are we producing at CrossPoint?”

I would be curious to hear your thoughts today about wandering sheep. I am always open to new ways to reaching JUST ONE MORE. I would rather the JUST ONE MORE be lost sheep rather than wandering sheep, however. Then again, they may both be the same.

21
Apr
07

Hearts of Fire

For those of you looking for the next book you want to read, let me introduce to you one that will challenge your faith. It is titled Hearts of Fire: Eight Women in the Underground Church and Their Stories of Costly Faith (Nashville, Tennessee: W Publishing Group, 2003). The paperback is a product of The Voice of Martyrs. The Voice of Martyrs is a “non-profit, interdenominational organization with a vision for aiding Christians around the world who are being persecuted for their faith in Christ.”

Hearts of Fire is a must read for anyone serious about their faith. The faith-stories of these eight women in the face of severe of persecution are astonishing. Their testimonies will challenge you, and their resolve to remain faithful to the cause of Christ will embolden you. And, after reading it, you will no longer complain about the minor inconveniences we Christians face in America. To be blunt, I hope when you read this book you are challenged to live a bolder life for and in Christ.

A paragraph in the introduction explains the purpose of the book:

It is our prayer that you come away from reading Hearts of Fire with a deeper conviction and steadier direction for handling life’s difficulties. If you are only amazed at these incredible testimonies, we have failed. If you can find in your own life similarities with one or more of these testimonies, and if you can gain strength from these examples of extraordinary courage, we have succeeded, and so have these women who have so graciously offered to share their stories with you.

It is hard to say which account I appreciated the most.

Adel’s story of enduring Muslim jihad persecution for being a Christ follower seemed the freshest to me, in light of our war on terror. Adel stood firm in her faith even as she watched a man slice her seven year son’s body with a machete. As she covered his body with hers, she kept saying, “The blood of Jesus is all powerful.”

Purnima’s account as a thirteen year old sent to prison for her faith will make you hug your Christ-following children a little longer after you read her story. While in prison she introduced many to Christ when she used her prison allowance to purchase and cook all the women in the prison a home cooked meal.

Then there is Aida Mikhailovan Skripnikova’s story of standing up against the atheist rule of the Soviet judicial system. A sentence or two from the epilogue of her life summarizes the direct impact of her faith:

Today, Aida Skripnikova lives in St. Petersburg. Her faith has outlived the regime that sought to destroy it. Today, it is legal for Christians like her to gather for worship and preaching.

Perhaps my favorite account is that of Sabina’s. I was drawn to her story because she is a pastor’s wife. I am also drawn to her account because she and her husband Richard are the founders of The Voice of Martyrs.

The Russians had driven the Nazis out of Romania, and now they were taking steps to control all aspects of Romanian government and society. Their latest effort was to summon clergy from all religions for a meeting; the Russians called it the “Congress of Cults.” Their stated goal was to garnish support among the clergy. But to Sabina the tactic was nothing more than an attempt to gain control and turn Romania’s religious leaders into puppets of the state.

Sabina and her husband attended the meeting with four thousand other bishops, pastors, priests, rabbis, and mullahs. The meeting, at first, had the appearance of being forthright and sincere. It even began with a religious service. However, as the convocation unfolded Sabina and her husband realized this was nothing more than a time for the government to seize control of the religious leaders. The government official leading the meeting declared the Romanian government was in full support of all religious faiths and they would continue to pay the religious leaders, as they had done before. The leader even suggested the men would possibly receive a raise.

Sabina nudged her husband to stand up and speak against this plan. Richard responded, “OK, I can go up and speak. But if I do, you will no longer have a husband.” Sabina knew he was right, but she still looked up into her husband’s eyes and she simply said, “I don’t need a coward for a husband.”

WOW!

Allow me to record his comments, and then I am done. Read carefully what Richard says, because soon after making this statement both he and his wife would spend years in a prison, not knowing if the other one was dead or alive.

Richard Wurmbrand addressed the audience:

Thank you for this privilege to join together and freely speak. When the children of God meet, angels also gather to hear the wisdom of God. So it is the duty of every believer, not to praise earthly men or leaders who come and go, but to praise God the Creator and Christ the Savior, who died for our sins.

The whole atmosphere in the hall began to change, and Sabina’s heart was filled with joy. Finally, the focus was being diverted away from the propaganda of the Communist and onto Christ.

Your right to speak has been terminated!” Burducca, the minister of cults, suddenly exclaimed as he jumped to his feet. Ignoring him, Richard went on to encourage his fellow leaders to place their trust and obedience in God, not man. The audience began to applaud. They knew Richard was right, but he was the only one brave enough to say what needed to be said.

I came away from reading this book with two particular streams of thought.

First, many of the women had a statement of faith from the Bible that empowered them to stand firm for Christ.

Adel’s mantra was “the blood of Jesus is all powerful.”

A Muslim girl named Aida returned to the word “Emmanuel” in her plight.

Another woman quoted from the beatitudes when Jesus said, “Blessed are you when other revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for you reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12).

The lesson learned is basic: the Word of God is what sustains us.

Second, I am amazed at how much a threat Christianity and God’s Word is to atheistic or religious extremist governments.

Why all the fear? What is it about Christianity that scares them? Why do these government leaders burn our Bibles, imprison our brothers and sisters in Christ and martyr those who live for Christ? Are we that much of a threat? Are we that much of a danger to their civilization?

We do not bear arms. We do not invade their homes and ransack their lives. We do not burn their holy books. Why all the fear? Persecution is a funny thing, isn’t it? Do you ever hear of atheists imprisoned for their lack of faith? Do you ever hear of Muslims flayed with a sword by Christians?

Why all the persecution?

I have an answer, but I would be much more interested in your answer to the previous list of questions.

Okay, I am finished. As you can tell, this book has my attention.
By the way, don’t look for this book at LifeWay or Barnes and Nobles. You will have to order your copy from The Voice of Martyrs webpage.