Tuesday, December 30, 2008

LCC Year in Review

The end of the year is the time I review our 12 month attendance at Lighthouse Community Church. It is important to measure how well we are doing at achieving our goal(s). One of those measures is how well we are doing at reaching more people each year. If our mission is to "help people discover the joy of a life committed to Jesus Christ" and we choose to do that by creating opportunities for people to: praise God in worship, grow in Christ in small groups, and serve others in the power of the Holy Spirit - then we have to keep track of how well we are doing at helping people reach those "bases."

Church attendance reporting is one way we measure how well we are doing at helping people to "praise God in worship." Sometimes church attendance reporting can be confusing because our denomination keeps records Sept 1-Aug 31...and those are usually the numbers I am working with at our Annual Meeting. However, I prefer a Jan-Dec calendar year for budget and attendance review.

I think you will see much to praise God for.

Below are the quarterly averages, and a 12 month average.

2008 Report:
Avg Att 2008 Q1 (Jan-Mar): 169
Avg Att 2008 Q2 (Apr-Jun): 155
Avg Att 2008 Q3 (Jul-Sep): 155
Avg Att 2008 Q4 (Oct-Dec): 166
2008 TOTAL AVERAGE ATT: 161.25

2007 Report:
Avg Att 2007 Q1 (Jan-Mar): 120.5
Avg Att 2007 Q2 (Apr-Jun): 118.8
Avg Att 2007 Q3 (Jul-Sep): 116.5
Avg Att 2007 Q4 (Oct-Dec): 126.3

WHAT A BLESSING! Our second service effort has definitely been a benefit and a blessing. An increase of over 40 people per week in worship! Anytime you can have more than one hook in the water at once, you increase your chances of catching fish! In fact, this is why many churches will continue a second service, even after adding space or building a new building.

Of the 40 additional people each week, approximately 12 are children, and about 28 are adults. So, our effort to reach families for Christ is meeting with success.

For a little historical perspective, consider the following 12 month reports. 2003 was the first year I have a record of on my computer...the following are 12 month (Jan-Dec) average attendance reports:

2003 - 85
2004 - 100.7
2005 - 107
2006 - 115.2
2007 - 120.5
2008 - 161

How amazing is that!?! God is good...all the time!
I look foward to see what God has in store for 2009...I know it will be a year of faith as we trust in God alone to lead, guide, and provide for us.

Pastor Rob

Thursday, December 18, 2008

To Invocate or Not Invocate?

Lighthouse Community Church has been deeply affected and influenced by the ministry of Pastor Rick Warren. Warren is the Founding and Senior Pastor at Saddleback Community
Church in CA (www.saddleback.com). His book, The Purpose Driven Church inspired a number of our founding members to create "a church to reach the unchurched." His "40 Days of Purpose" campaign played a significant role in our church, leading to over a dozen baptisms at the closing celebration. Warren is one of the most prominent pastors in the United States - if not the world - and a consistent NY Times bestseller. Some consider him to be the heir-apparent to Billy Graham as the most influencial leader among evangelicals. In 2005 Time magazine said: "Many believe that Warren ... is the successor to the [Rev. Billy Graham] for the role of America's minister." In that regard, it was not a surprise that Warren has been asked to deliver the invocation at President-Elect Obama's inauguration. (see http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/12/17/obama.warren/index.html?eref=ib_us).

Of course, not everyone is happy with the choice...or with Warren's apparent acceptance.

For political liberals, they are outraged that an outspoken pro-life advocate and a leading critic of same-sex marriage efforts would be chosen. In truth, the liberal blogs are steaming today over this announcement.

But, what should we (Christians) think about the selection of Warren and his acceptance?

In terms of the choice of Warren, on the one hand, we could cynically dismiss it as "typical politics." We could say that Pres Elect Obama is merely attempting to court evangelicals by selecting a key evangelical figure for this task. Others may see the choice more positively, arguing that this is simply Pres Elect Obama being true to his word to find common ground with people, even when there is disagreement on certain issues.

But what of Warren's acceptance? Again, some will see this positively, arguing that Warren is seeking to provide positive biblical influence where the opporutnity arises. In a sense, this may be his first major step in filling the role left by Billy Graham in being the "pastor to Presidents." Others, will see Warren's participation as tantamount to an endorsement of the Obama presidency. As such, it seems inconsistent and confusing, considering his strong opposition to several Obama policies.

My opinion is not worth much more than anyone else's I suppose. However, as the pastor of a church that has been significantly influenced by Warren - and currently in a series inspired by The Purpose of Christmas - I will provide my perspective...for what it's worth.

Warren always has been a risk-taker, and his participation in the inauguration is certainly a risk. In one sense, delivering an opening prayer is nothing more or less than talking to God. Unless, that is, we start thinking about all of the possible places we might encounter an invocation. For example, should a pastor provide an invocation for a dog fight? How about the opening of a bar? A strip club? As you see, the further we push the examples we inherently know that there is MORE to an invocation than simply talking to God - there is an implicit endorsement (and a request of God's favor) for the thing, person, or event in question. So, even in light of the positive potential that Warren's participation may engender, I do think that his participation is an implicit endorsement of Pres Elect Obama, which will undermine the good that he seeks to do. As such, I disagree with him for accepting the invitation to deliver the invocation.

Though I respectfully disagree with Warren's decision, I believe that he is a guy desperately wanting to extend the kingdom of God and to serve God faithfully with his life. I pray that I am wrong and that this will do more good than harm. And, I pray that this will give Warren the opportunity to be a significant, positive, and grounding influence in Obama's life.

I welcome your thoughts on the subject.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

God's Medicine 3

On Sunday, November 30, we experienced a worship service that was a little different. For the third time in our eight year history, we devoted an entire day to laughter and music. We call it "A Day of God's Medicine," calling to mind the words of Proverbs 17:22 - "A merry heart does good like medicine." The day is a reminder that, as God's people, we have much to rejoice over. We have reason to laugh...if "the one enthroned in heaven laughs" then certainly those who are loved by him have reason to laugh - even in the face of difficulty.

One of our skits centered on "spiritual giants." It was a tongue-in-cheek look at the way we will sometimes put on a spiritual front for others. Ryan, Rosie, Chad and Jennifer were good sports! They allowed us to have a bit of fun with characteristics and convictions that they are genuinely serious about. Ryan is a really patient guy...even in the "surveillance" video he couldn't get too worked up! Rosie really does sit at that chair and pray and study her bible...maybe not for 6-8 hours a day, but certainly NOT with a shopping list beside her! And Chad and Jen really do value children...but not as a means to and end (though Connor did a great job folding that laundry!). They love children as the good gifts God has given. I hope that the message that came through in that skit was to live consistently for Christ!

The kids were great in their "Kids Say" segment. I never thought of Kent as Samson, but maybe Langdon is onto something. And, how could we ask anything after Maddie gave us the "awwwww" moment of "The only guy I love is my daddy."

I hope everyone enjoyed our news segment as well. We certainly had fun taking pics of people and leaving them wondering what was going on. The news stories came from www.larknews.com, which is a satirical site of "less than true" Christian news stories.

I don't know when the next God's Medicine will be...but, you can be sure that we will want to do it again. After all, in the midst of a serious mission, it is important to remember that God's people can still enjoy a good laugh!

Pastor Rob

Monday, November 24, 2008

Celebrate Recovery Service

We had the great joy of hosting the CR team from FBC Harrisburg, IL as we learned about the Celebrate Recovery Ministry. This ministry has tremendous potential to be a blessing to the people of Washington County, as we seek to apply God's Word to our hurts, habits, and hang-ups that dishonor him and destroy us.

I hope you will join me in praying for God to give Lighthouse clear direction regarding supporting and helping to start a CR ministry here in Nashville. If you were at the service, feel free to share your thoughts and reflections on it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

James Study - Week 11- James 5:1-12

Small Group Leaders...if you have questions regarding this week's study, feel free to ask here. This blog will be updated / checked daily.

Monday, November 10, 2008

God's Will and Presidential Elections

The message yesterday was based on James 4:11-17. In that context I shared that we are often fooled by thinking we have enough information to condemn another (ie. "stop passing judgment on each other") and by thinking we control our destinies (ie. presuming upon the future.)

In the context of presuming on the future I made a statement that raised a few questions. I said that "it was God's will that Sen. Obama become President Elect Obama." Now...why would a Nascar loving, God-fearing, unborn baby defending, conservative Christian make such a statement?

It seems to me that the Bible teaches that all those who rise to power do so with at least the permission of God's will, if not that active participation of God. So whether you opt for God's permissive will or God's active will, it was God's will at work.

I think, for example, of passages like Isaiah 40:23 that says:
"He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing." If God is able to do that to princes / rulers in power, it is no small leap to believe he can prevent people from acquiring power.

Further, Isaiah 41:2-4 says:

"Who has stirred up one from the east,
calling him in righteousness to his service?
He hands nations over to him
and subdues kings before him.
He turns them to dust with his sword,
to windblown chaff with his bow.
He pursues them and moves on unscathed,
by a path his feet have not traveled before.
Who has done this and carried it through,
calling forth the generations from the beginning?
I, the LORD -with the first of them
and with the last—I am he."

This is a passage talking about God raising up a king frm the east to bring judgment on his people. But, God ends up by taking the responsibility for the king's rise to power.
Another passage is John 19:8-11. There, we find this exchange between Jesus and Pilate:

"When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, 9and he went back inside the palace. "Where do you come from?" he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. "Do you refuse to speak to me?" Pilate said. "Don't you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?" Jesus answered, "You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.""

In this context, Jesus states that the power Pilate has (as a political leader) has come from God.
Based on these texts, it seems clear to me that the rise (and fall) from political power is within God's sovereign control. In other words, no ruler comes to power apart from God, in some way, putting him (or her) there. So while I do not like many of President-elect Obama's policies - indeed I find very few of them to be morally or biblically acceptable (i.e. stem cell research, abortion rights, homosexual marriage, et al) - God has a purpose in him being in office.

As followers of Christ I urge you to pray daily for our president.
Pray for God to give him wisdom and guidance.
Pray for him to resist the urge to listen to those who would lead our nation down the wrong path.
Pray for God to place wise counselors in his path.
Pray for his safety and health. He is our President and I can think of nothing worse than harm or illness befalling him.
Pray for his wife, Michelle, and their daughters, that they would not be overwhelmed by "life in a fishbowl" that is 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

I ask God's blessing on he and his family and urge you to do the same - regardless of your political affiliation.

For a great blog on what people are really thirsting for in this election, visit Mark Driscoll's blog at http://theresurgence.com/in_god_we_do_not_trust.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Drawing Near to God

James 4:1-10 gives us tremendous insight into the "human condition." In that passage, James begins by asking about the source of fights, quarrels, and disagreements. He ultimately sees the source of the problem as internal. We have unsatisfied desires within us. We seek to meet those desires with everything other than all that God is for us in Christ. In fact, we even ask God to give us things to make us happy...things other than him!

James calls on these folks to repent...something of an old-fashioned word for contemporary people. Repent means to change one's direction...and it implies sorrow over heading the wrong direction. James issues 10 imperatives...10 commands to his readers. He wants them to:

Submit to God (humbly bow before him and acknowledge him as our king)
Resist the Devil (he is the one seeking to lure us away from God)
Come Near to God (which means we have moved away from him)
Wash our Hands (Actions)
Purify our Hearts (Attitudes / Thoughts)
Change Laughter into Mourning
Humble Ourselves

Here's the deal...God is able to meet our deepest needs and desires. He meets them with all that he is for us in Christ. Anytime we try to meet those needs with anything else, we end up frustrated and angry...usually resulting in our relationships spinning out of control. Instead of seeking something else to fill the spot in our life that only God can fill, why not let Christ meet your deepest needs?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Faith and Wisdom

In James 3:13-18, an important question is asked: Who is wise and understanding among you? Continuing with the theme of the book, James answers that it is not the person who claims to be wise that is wise! Rather, it is the one whose life is marked by actions motivated by humble service to Jesus Christ. Our culture - including the evangelical subculture - is filled with words...in fact, blogs like this contribute to it. Words that often scream for attention and demand to be heard. Yet, there is no wisdom in simply claiming to be wise. Again, James says that godly wisdom is demonstrated in actions that are rooted in humility.

Churches are a microcosm of this very human experience of the contrast between godly wisdom and the lack of wisdom. Some commentators are convinced that James was seeking to address folks within the congregation who were seeking leadership authority, but did not have the godly wisdom needed for such leadership. For the message on Sunday, I sought to point out that modern church disagreements often result from a lack of godly wisdom. The modern church is not the first church to experience such things. The first century church was filled with difficulties and disagreements. I think of the debate over salvation that resulted in the Jerusalem council of Acts 15; I think of the church in Corinth, that was so immature and fractured Paul wrote them pleading with them to mature in the faith; I think of Euodia and Syntche in Phil 4, with whom Paul pleads for agreement.

Based on James 3:13-18, we can observe that those functioning without godly wisdom are driven by envy and selfish ambition. And, the result is disorder (anarchy) and "every evil practice." In short, when we are driven by our own selfish concerns, we reject the leaders God has placed over us and become an authority unto ourselves.

Godly wisdom, however, is from God (it is pure) and leads to peace. It is gentle and open to reason; that is, it is willing to listen and be persuaded. It is full of mercy and fruitful; that is it acts mercifully on behalf of others and bears fruit for the Kingdom. It is impartial and sincere; that is it does not function with known biases and is genuine and authentic.
At the end of the day, godly wisdom is known by its humility in action. As I said Sunday, "it may be hard to describe, but you know it when you see it!"

What kind of people have you known who exhibited Godly wisdom? What kind of impact did they have on your life?

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Power of Words

On Sunday, October 19, we looked at James 3:1-12 as we talked about the power of words. In that section of Scripture, James says much about what comes out of our mouths! From the passage, we noted the following:
Words have Power. James likened them to rudders on ships or bits in the mouths of horses. In both cases, we see the power of words to control direction. Our words function very similary. They set the course of our lives. James also said they are like a spark that begins a huge forest fire. In that way, the power of our words to be destructive is highlighted.
Proverbs 18:21 says that "the tongue has the power of life and death." I was greatly helped by Paul Tripp to see that all words are moving toward life or toward death; that there is no neutrality to our words (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1PJxbApcXFo). So, where do these words come from?

Words reveal the Heart. James says that blessings and cursings should not come from the same mouth. In proving his point he says that salt water and fresh water do not come from the same spring. James is tapping into the same thing Jesus pointed out in Matt 15:18-19 where he taught that it is not outward religious rituals that make us unclean, but the things in our heart that are expressed in words. Jesus bluntly states that the things that come out of the mouth are from the heart. So, the biggest part of our problem with our speech is our heart. Which points out the third thing I see in this passage.

Words Drive us to Grace. James says that the man who is "never at fault" in his speech is perfect. Wow. What a standard. Never at fault in speech. James' goal is not to drive us to despair or frustration or to try harder...his goal is to drive us to grace. I cannot say it better than Tripp: "There is no greater argument for your need of grace than what comes out of your mouth."

All of us who claim to follow Christ need to ask: does what I say reflect a heart that has been changed by God's grace?

If you have yet to commit to Christ, let me encourage you that God is not interested in you cleaning up your act before you do. He will transform you from the inside out. He will replace the "salty" spring with a fresh water one!

So...what do your words say about your relationship with Christ?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Does God Care If I Vote?

The following article (will) appear in the October 15 issue of the Nashville News (Nashville, IL).

With national and local elections just weeks away, the question being addressed this month is “Does God care if I vote?” In response to this question, I’d like to make three observations.

First, Christians maintain dual citizenship. We are citizens of God’s kingdom, which is a spiritual citizenship, but we are also national citizens (1 Peter 2:9-16). As national citizens, it is completely appropriate for Christians to participate in the political process. In fact, Paul worked within the political system of his day when he was arrested by Jewish religious leaders and beaten. He insisted that his rights as a Roman citizen be acknowledged and eventually appealed his case to Caesar (Acts 21:7-25:12). So it is fair to say that we have at least one solid biblical example of a Christian knowing, understanding, and utilizing the political system of his day. So, it is not unchristian to participate in elections or to cast votes.

In the United States, Christians are free to cast their vote without compulsion from anything other than the Holy Spirit. The prophet Micah reminds us that God expects his people to “act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly” with Him (Micah 6:8). Jesus build upon this Old Testament ideal in reminding us to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:39). While there is certainly a spiritual emphasis to these comments, one cannot miss the element of social justice that is included. My second observation, then, is that in exercising our right to vote we ought to love our neighbor by seeking to extend justice and mercy and peace through the political process.

My final observation is this: Not only do I believe God cares if we vote, but I believe God cares how we vote. If we are to pursue issues of justice and mercy, if we are to advocate for widows and orphans (James 1:27), then the way we vote surely matters to God. While no other human being has the right to look over our shoulder as we vote, we live our lives coram Deo – in the gaze of God. That means God looks over my shoulder and I cannot vote for candidates, policies, or parties that dishonor God in the most fundamental ways.
Hear the wisdom of Mother Teresa, who said in her 1994 address to the National Prayer Breakfast, “the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is war against the child.” While other issues may be important, the view a candidate or a party holds regarding the weakest and most vulnerable among us – and unborn children certainly fit that category – is a simple criterion for determining if a vote will honor God.

If someone could show me how voting for a candidate who believes it is acceptable to kill unborn children is consistent with “loving your neighbor,” I welcome you to do so. Until then, I do not believe it is possible to vote for any pro-choice candidate and honor God with that vote.

Monday, October 6, 2008

On Faith and Works

The text for this past Sunday's message was taken from James 2:14-26. Few texts create as much "controversy" among Protestants as this one...primarily due to the emphasis upon works. What I sought to show in the message was that James is not arguing against salvation by faith alone, he is arguing against a faith that is lonely...or...to put it another way...the passage teaches that our salvation is found...

Not Faith AND Works - as if we could contribute something to our salvation,

Not Faith OR Works - as if the two are mutually exclusive,

But a Faith THAT Works - a faith that shows itself in serving and working for others as a result of having been changed by Christ.

According to James, it is works that make faith alive, visible, useful, and complete.

Dealing with this passage creates problems when we try to directly compare James' comments to those of Paul...yet, in all truth, the two are arguing for different things. Paul is discussing how a person ATTAINS salvation, while James is talking about how a person DEMONSTRATES salvation.

Friday, October 3, 2008

On Vice Presidential Debates

I watched the Vice Presidential debate from Washington University with great interest. On the one hand, I watched it like "amateurs" watch Nascar races - to see if there would be any big wrecks. On the other hand, I wanted to see if Sen. Biden and Gov. Palin could articulate their positions, draw distinctions between their respective tickets, and generally represent themselves well.

Well...there were no big wrecks...I guess you will have to tune in for the Sprint Cup race from Talladega this weekend for that! And, overall, both candidates articulated their positions, etc with relatively few gaffes. That said, here are my observations...

1. Who voted for what?
I am really tired of hearing politicians of all stripes talk about who voted for this bill or voted against that bill...when Congress ceases to load bills with pork barrel projects and/or the President is able to use a line item veto, I'll listen. Until then, a politician may vote "against" a "good bill" because it is laden with junk. By so doing, it may force the bill to be reworked so there is less junk in it. Currently a bill is before Congress to "rescue" or "bail out" Wall Street...yet, it is so filled with pork that I hear it oinking all the way from D.C. I would vote against such a bill BECAUSE it is filled with pork. But, that is another story...

2. Is the Constitution "flexible?"
I was fascinated by the exchange regarding Gwen Ifil's question about the role of the vice president, in light of VP Dick Cheney's view that the role has executive and legislative standing. (This position surfaced in connection with Executive Order 12958 requiring reporting of the handling of classified and declassified documents.) What fascinated me about the exchange was that it was Biden who took a "strict constructionist" position on the role of the VP - despite the fact that on nearly every other issue Biden would disparage strict constructionists (like Robert Bork, etc). More fascinating was that Palin adopted a "doctrinalist" / "developmentalist" approach in arguing for "flexibility." Yet, on nearly every other issue, Palin's views reveal a "strict constructionalist" approach to the Constitution (i.e. Roe v. Wade). What does this mean? In my view it reveals that, on this issue at least, neither candidate...neither candidate....provided a consistent, legal argument...rather, both candidates simply attacked (Biden) or defended (Palin) the current administration (Cheney). This was very disheartening.

3. The Spin
The news media began its spin on the debate immediately. I was fascinated to hear this morning that a CBS poll reports Biden won the debate by a "2-to-1" margin...that's interesting...especially since FOX NEWS had a group of what looked to be about 50 undecided voters, even split between Democrats and Republicans, who watched the debate from A-B headquarters in STL overwhelmingly state Palin won the debate. It was nice to actually hear from citizens who will vote rather than a media-reported survey...

Overall, the debate did not change my vote. It did, however, reassure me that both candidates have a good grasp of the main issues our nation is facing: the economy, jobs, war on terror, etc.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Race and the Gospel

There are few things that make us an uncomfortable as discussing race and racial issues. In the message on Sunday, September 28, I argued that we are uncomfortable discussing these issues because we each (regardless of our own race or ethnicity) have a bias bent toward self. The result is that we tend, by default, to isolate and/or blame those who are not like us. And, we tend to prefer those who are like us.

The Bible makes it clear that such preferential treatment (or partiality or favoritism) is strictly forbidden. In James 2:1-13 James urges Christ followers to avoid showing partiality toward those who are rich and neglecting the poor. James' argument is not limited to rich vs. poor...but is an issue of showing favoritism to any one group. When we apply the term "favoritism" or "partiality" toward race we are talking about bigotry, or racism.

I argued that one reason we have to battle against such a mentality is because racism kills missions. It is unlikely we will sacrificially go to the ends of the earth to share the gospel with people who are not like us, if we have racially driven biases guiding us. One of the aims of God is to create, in Christ, "one new man" that transcends race, ethnicity, sex, and social standing (Eph 2:14-18). And, in creating this one new man, God promises a day when people from every tribe, tongue, language, and nation will be gathered before his throne (Rev. 7:9-10). It is only as we see our sinful nature tranformed more and more into the image of Christ that we will look forward to that day with great anticipation and longing.

What do you think?
Do you think churches (or Christians) struggle with race issues? In what ways?

Welcome to Pochek's Blog

This is my second attempt at creating a blog...
My goal here is to provide an opportunity for interaction and discussion related to a wide range of topics. Some of these topics will be trivial, while others will be more more complex and significant. Feel free to join the discussion!