January 27, 2019

Pastor Steve’s Blog January 27, 2019 I wrote last week about a book being read across the District and the Annual Conference called: “Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory.” To recap, I mentioned that the author, Todd Bolsinger, compared the principles and challenges we face today as a church to those faced by Lewis and Clark in their expedition to find a waterway to the Pacific Ocean. At the end of the article, I provided several questions the author asks each church to consider as it faces the new frontier. Let me reiterate these questions as they are important and relate to our future as a church. Why do we exist as a congregation? What would be lost in our community if we ceased to exist? What purposes and principles must we protect as central to our identity? What are we willing to let go of so the mission will continue? The author says that at the heart of every leadership question lie identity questions that must be answered. Each church must know and be secure in its identity – “who we are” – and that identity must be larger than any success or failure for it’s the compass whereby we, as a church, chart our course and meet our challenges. Our identity must reflect our deepest beliefs, our truest sense of self and church community and our core value(s). We need to know “who we are” when we face a new set of circumstances that we did not forsee in our past such as Lewis and Clark encountering towering mountains with canoes they did not expect. They had to adjust and in order to do so, they needed to know “who they were” and what was their primary mission? In his book, the author discusses a strategy used by Lewis and Clark that can be employed by us in the church today. It is called reframing. In adaptive leadership, reframing is another way of talking about the shift in values, expectations, attitudes or habits of behavior necessary to face our most difficult challenges. It is a way of looking at the challenge before us through a different lens. Lewis and Clark reframed their mission. Out of necessity and in order to move forward, the mission became about exploration (their core value) rather than just about finding a waterway to the Pacific. The author makes his point: “For church leaders facing this missional moment, the reframing of church strategy from a sanctuary-centered, membership-based, religious-and life-service provider to a local mission outpost for furthering the Kingdom of God enables our congregations to discover a faithful expression of our core identity in a changing world.” In other words, what is our core value(s) and what is our primary mission? Are we adaptable to the circumstances we face in order to accomplish our primary mission? The author continues, “But a reframe itself is only a new way of seeing and describing the problem. This is as far as many missional congregations get. They change the labels on the old file folders and announce that they are now a mission and not a church.” There has to be more. There has to be “new learning.” This is where so many church initiatives get stalled. There is no new learning. There has to be more than gathering together and coming up with a list of initiatives such as build a gym, bring in a rock band, give away C. S. Lewis books, change the name of the church or design a cooler website. Nothing wrong with those things, but there must be new learning to accompany these initiatives. When Lewis and Clark went over the Continental Divide was when they started discovering. They entered uncharted territory. They had to start learning all over again, adjusting their expectations, reconsidering their strategies, forming new alliances and partnerships. Our future as a church will require new learning from all of us because we face challenges we have never faced before. Our future survival depends on our ability to learn and adapt. I hope you give some considered thought to how we do mission in uncharted territory as we move forward. Are we ready to dump our canoes?

April 21, 2019

Pastor Steve’s Blog Happy Easter April 21, 2019 I want to begin my blog by wishing everyone a HAPPY EASTER. Easter is the high point of our Christian year and it is no exception this year. I am writing my blog on Monday, April 15. As I sit here in my church office, there are three things that I am struck by from this past weekend: The first one for me is Palm Sunday and Holy Week. The other two are Tiger Woods and Game of Thrones. I can pretty much bet that the world is focused on Tiger Woods and Game of Thrones rather than it being Holy Week. I have a few thoughts on these three. First, for us golf fans, the Masters Tournament will be celebrated in the decades to come as one of the greatest comebacks, not just in golf, but in sports history. Americans love a great comeback story, particularly when there was a great deal of doubt that Tiger could ever win again, let alone win a major golf tournament again. The nay-sayers kept nay-saying right up until the conclusion of the 18th hole in the final round on Sunday. Then the expression was, “I can’t believe this happened…even though Tiger Woods has been saying “I’m going to win again” for a while now. The golf analysts put up all the stats yesterday: 15 Majors, 5 Masters Titles, and 81 Tour Victories. Quite the golf and sports resume. But as I was celebrating all of this Sunday afternoon, along with so many others, the Holy Spirit began speaking to me and drawing parallels with Jesus and Holy Week. The greatest comeback story for us as Christians is certainly Jesus Christ after what happened to Him on Friday and the outcome on Sunday morning. Holy Week weekend will be remembered eternally. Let a golf tournament top that. After Good Friday, many doubted Jesus would rise from the dead, even though Jesus had been saying for a while that He would. And even after Sunday morning, the nay-sayers said, “I can’t believe this happened.” Sound familiar. And these included those closest to Him, His disciples. As for stats. Check these out two. The greatest of all time. One Crucifixion. One Resurrection. Now, as for all the hub-bub around HBO’s television series “Game of Thrones,” there is much gossip and speculation as to who will win the “Iron Throne” in the final season. There was a big article about all of it in the Life Section of the Sunday edition of the Jacksonville Times-Union paper. I must confess that I have not watched the series, but according to the paper, here is what I missed: Andrew Dalton writes “Living in Westeros can really change a person. Those who survived the first seven seasons of ‘Game of Thrones’ have seen their parents, children, and even pets stabbed, disemboweled and beheaded. They’ve been burned and frozen. They’ve lost essential body parts. Some have been through death and back, others suffered the horrors of puberty. Occasionally, they’ve been allowed some triumph.” After reading all of that and thinking…humorously…just what I want on my mind when I am getting ready for bed, the Holy Spirit turned my mind away from all the human imaginations and intrigue of which we are capable and back to Holy Week and the reality of the true King of Kings and Lord of Lords. As Christians, we don’t have to speculate about who will sit on the Throne of Heaven in the end. We know. But I must say…it was quite a weekend…and I can share all the spiritual stuff…however, on a human level, I really enjoyed the golf.

April 14, 2019

Pastor Steve’s Blog April 14, 2019 Palm Sunday As you know, I’m always looking for interesting stories that help illustrate pertinent and instructive points and ideas that can assist us in our faith journey. I found a story that gives us food for thought, so I thought I would share it with you for Palm Sunday. Claire McGarry who wrote a Devotional titled “With Our Savior: Family Devotions for Lent,” shared this story in regard to Palm Sunday. “In Antigua, Guatemala, the people line the cobblestone streets with sawdust during Holy Week. They don’t just dump the sawdust in piles and spread it out. They dye it all different colors and painstakingly place it in the most intricate patterns. They invest so much energy and love in the process, it takes them from sunset on Holy Thursday to sunrise on Good Friday to finish. When they’re done, it’s the most stunning site! Every street looks like it’s lined with the most exotic oriental carpets, from one end to the other. It’s their way of reenacting Palm Sunday. Like the people in Jesus’ time lined the road with cloaks and palms for his entrance into Jerusalem, the Guatemalans create a pathway worthy of a king. It makes what comes next all the more shocking. In an instant, the Good Friday Posadas (Processions) tromp through the sawdust carpets, destroying all the hard work and beauty in their wake. This part reenacts how, in an instant, the people went from hailing Jesus a king, to abandoning him and demanding he be crucified.” My how quickly things in life can change depending on circumstances. One day the crowd is with Jesus, the next day they are not. One day our faith in Jesus is at an all-time high, the next day, it is at an all-time low. God calls us to be steady and constant in our faith and witness to Christ. God calls us to not be like a boat that is blown here and there in the wind. This Holy Week, let our faith in Christ be firm and unshakable.

April 7, 2019

Pastor Steve’s Blog April 7, 2019 I read an online column this week by Paul J. Batura, vice president of communications at Focus on the Family and the author of “GOOD DAY! The Paul Harvey Story.” The online column asked the question “Whatever Happened to Howard Johnson’s?” In his column he shares about his childhood vacations and road trips with his family and stopping at the orange roof restaurants and hotels along their way. I can also remember our family vacations back in the 1960’s and stopping at the place with the orange roof quite a few times ourselves. I liked their ice cream. Nostalgia can be a great thing and can bring back some wonderful memories. But as great as they are, they are in the past, and not the present. Go looking for a Howard Johnson’s orange roof restaurant today and you only find them in your memory. As great as our past experiences have been with God as individuals and as a church, we can’t let ourselves be caught in nostalgia-only mode. Our relationship with God needs to exist within the current realities of our lives and circumstances. That’s the only way for us to move forward and be used of God. But it doesn’t mean we don’t treasure and honor our past, but we need to live in the present. God said His name was “I AM.” God is always in the present, not the past nor the future, and so should we also be. With that said, let me share a little bit of his online column with you so that you, too, can share in the nostalgia of decades gone by and smile with that memory. “If you’re over the age of 35, the sight of the orange roof and copper steel cupola weathervane were at one time synonymous symbols of either the great American road trip or a special family meal – or both. With over 1,000 dining establishments in North America in the 1960s and 1970s, Howard Johnson’s was, for several decades, the largest restaurant chain in the United States. Established in 1925 as a small pharmacy by Massachusetts native Howard Deering Johnson, the enterprising Quincy resident quickly expanded his efforts to selling ice cream, hot dogs and soda at area beaches. The enterprise was a success. He perfected his ice cream recipe by increasing the butterfat content and soon distinguished himself from the competition by offering 28 flavors, a remarkable selling point in an era of few choices. His first restaurant featured classic New England fare that would become fan favorites – especially fried clams, hot dogs, baked beans and a hearty line of desserts, including sherbet and pie. World War II not only slowed Johnson’s expansion but actually threatened to shutter the business altogether. But with the peace in 1945 came renewed prosperity. In 1954, he opened his first motor lodge in Savannah, Georgia. The advent of the Interstate Highway System later in the decade only fueled the company’s growth. By the late 1970s, there were over 500 motels scattered all throughout the country, many of which had his accompanying restaurants next door. I’ve had the great pleasure and privilege of staying in a few magnificent hotel properties as an adult, but in my mind and memory, as silly as it sounds, Howard Johnson’s was six stars on a five star scale. Maybe it was the air-conditioning, a total luxury for a kid who learned to accept as normal the humid, sweltering summer heat of New York. Or was it the pool that each motel had in its courtyard, often with a slide and diving board? It’s funny how childhood experiences often inform adult habits, for good or bad. To this day, one of the great joys of my life is an early evening swim followed by dinner with my family. I realize now that’s because that was our family’s tradition as a kid – and supper at Howard Johnson’s always seemed the perfect ending to a perfect summer’s day. My choice was always the same – the “Daily Double” – two hot dogs in toasted butter buns, slipped inside cardboard sleeves, accompanied by a side order of crinkly, crisp French fries. In planning this year’s vacation, I was saddened to see that all the Howard Johnson’s we stayed at in the area are gone now – either taken over by new owners or demolished altogether. The restaurants have been out of business for years. As I plotted and searched properties online, though, I realized that I wasn’t really searching for Howard Johnson’s. I was searching for my childhood. I was reaching for that which has faded into memory, for a time when my greatest cares were hot dogs and swimming pools.”