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Transitions

Change is hard. We hate it. We often resist it until it is forced on us by circumstances. Can I get an amen?

jim kim pic (2)Here’s a question to ponder: Could it be that the main reason we hate change is because we resist it? What if we saw change as God transitioning us from one place of blessing to another and embraced it instead?

I’m not saying transitions are painless. In the 70’s, Kim and I pastored a small town church. One day, I was called to an unscheduled meeting of the deacon board that started with them saying, “We want you to resign and go away without stirring a fuss.”

Did I choose that change? No! Was it painful? Yes! But Kim and I learned something important in that experience. When God calls you to change something, change it! If you don’t embrace His call when He calls, He will often turn up the heat until you listen. For us, we had known for some years that God was calling us to international missions. We didn’t know when. We hadn’t really been praying fervently for the answer. That painful change became the catalyst that made when clear!

We absolutely loved our years in the Philippines. We still have deep, life-long friendships there.  But in time, we knew the national church was ready to continue without a resident missionary. We knew change was coming again. This time we prayed constantly, “Lord, tell us when. We will go!” We didn’t resist the coming change, we embraced it!

The next 24 years were amazing. God blessed in more ways than we could ever dreamed. Tens of thousands of unchurched people came to Western Branch Community Church. Thousands of them found a fresh start with Jesus at the center. As the church grew, change was inevitable. Some of the changes were painful, but each change we embraced moved the church to a higher place of effectiveness and influence in our world. Last year was the strongest of all. We saw more baptisms than anytime in our history; we received  more new members than anytime; average attendance and giving reached record highs. We’d be crazy to leave that, right? Not if you understand the nature of transitions with God.

Transitions don’t always make sense to the natural eye. Sometimes God doesn’t want them to. He wants you to trust Him.

In January, I stepped down as Senior Pastor of Community Church. Kim stepped down from her role as Creative Arts Director. We started a new adventure—that of helping pastors and churches restore the dynamics of the original Acts 2 church in their world through the Acts 2 Network (www.acts2network.org).

I won’t pretend the transition has been easy. In some ways, it has been the most emotional of our lives. But we’ve learned over the years that we can trust God with transitions. I can honestly say, Kim and I can hardly wait to see what God is going to do in the days ahead!

Embrace change. Don’t resist it. Don’t hate it. It may simply be God transitioning you from one level of blessing to the next one! If 43 years with Jesus has taught us anything it is, “God can be trusted in the transitions!” Trust him—see where He takes you.

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The Broken Window Theory

Two years ago Chesapeake Chief of Police, Kelvin Wright, told me about the Broken Window Theory. It goes like this, “Anytime you want to reduce crime in a neighborhood one of the first and most effective things you can do is to fix the broken windows.” I have huge respect for Chief Wright but, I’ve got to tell you that seemed absurd to me. Surely there was more to it than that!

I was talking with Chief Wright because we at Western Branch Community Church had set our hearts on reaching a high crime, struggling neighborhood in our area for Christ. Huge dream right? Sure! In fact, Chief Wright is a Christ-follower, but he even said, “I’d love to see you pull that one off!”

We started by fixing broken windows. We did good deeds in order to establish good will which opened the door for us to share the Good News. Two years later crime is down, residents are joining the civic league and PTA and most importantly, people are beginning to have faith in Jesus and His church again! The neighborhood is changing and it all started with fixing a few broken windows.

You understand why the Broken Window Theory works don’t you? It works because even the biggest dreams only require small starts. Big goals don’t require big starts. They simply require that you start! Pastor Steve Furtick says, “A big dream without a small start is nothing more than a daydream.”

Now, I’m wondering about my life…and yours. In what areas are we stuck in mediocrity because we keep thinking that big changes require big, audacious, miraculous starts. We live with broken relationships; even though the journey to a vibrant one starts with a small conversation. We’re convinced we’ll never lead our children to Christ; even though a simple prayer is often the beginning of faith for them.  The dream of making a difference for Christ is something that people with big talents and big dollars does, right? Wrong! Even the biggest dream starts with a simple “yes” to God’s call.

So, how many broken windows do you have in your life?  What is God calling you to do about them? Whatever they, it’s time to start? Start small, but start! Watch big dreams grow.

The Rule of Five

This week at a luncheon seminar, I heard John Maxwell say one of the most simple and yet profound things I’ve ever heard.  He called it the “Rule of Five.”  It goes like this

If you have a tree in your yard that you want to cut down, go out and hit it with the ax five times. Then go about your day. Tomorrow, go hit it five more times. Day after day, go hit the tree with your ax five times.  In time, the tree will come down.  It is not a question of if it will fall, it will. It is only a question of when.

That may sound simplistic, but we all know, if you wait until you have a day to cut it down, the tree will still be standing ten years from now.

Mr. Maxwell went to to explain that he decided many years ago that God had called him to write books on leadership. After a couple of years of being frustrated about not getting around to it, he decided to invoke the “Rule of Five.”  Since then, John Maxwell does five things every day.  No matter what else the day holds, he does five things.  On his birthday and Christmas and Easter, he does five things.  He reads, he thinks, he files, he asks questions and he writes. Every day. No matter what else happens that day, he reads, he thinks, he files, he asks questions and he writes. Simple.

In the thirty years since then, he has traveled the world. He has taught leadership to millions of people. He’s had a successful 45 year marriage, raised children and enjoyed grandchildren. In the midst of it all, he has done five things every day. He reads, he thinks, he files, he asks questions and he writes.  Wondering about the results?  John Maxwell has published more than 50 books and sold more than 20 million copies!

Obviously everyone’s list of five things will not be the same.  It depends on what you are called and gifted to do.  But one thing is constant, if we don’t invoke the “Rule of Five,” time will pass whether we accomplish our dreams or not.

So what might your five things be?

Emotions.

Ever heard, when it rains, it pours? It’s been one of those weekends, emotionally that is. It began with the news my step-father was going into a nursing home. His health problems finally reached the level where Mom couldn’t provide the 24/7 care he requires.  A quick trip to a North Carolina nursing home. Emotions.

Today, began at breakfast with my son and his family. Emotions! They’re home for a few days because they are deploying to Hawaii for two years. Emotions. The early afternoon was hard; I preached a funeral for a 31 year old young man. Emotions. In the late afternoon, I did a wedding. Emotions!  Tomorrow morning I’ll be with the New Branch Community Church family as they celebrate their first anniversary as a church. Emotions! And it’s all taking place on the 10th Anniversary of 9-11.

What a roller coaster. There’s a certain irony in the fact that I’m planning to conclude the weekend at Bush Gardens (you guessed it) riding roller coasters!

As I sit here trying to process through all this, I’m struck by the experiences our Lord Jesus has every hour, every day. Day after day. Joy. Pain. Highs. Lows. All of the emotions of the human experience. He is touched by them all because He loves us so much. But I don’t think the deepest low He feels comes when we are grieving or lonely. I think it’s when we try to deal with our emotions (whatever they are) without including Him.

It occurs to me that I may not figure out (this side of eternity) why all these things happened on a single weekend. Truth is, it’s not really important that I do. What’s important is that I remember how much He loves me, and that I love Him back just a little more. Somehow I know, everything is going to be alright.

Reminiscing About a Hurricane

It looks like it’s going to be an exciting weekend.  If you consider hurricanes exciting that is! Phones, Facebook pages and Tweets are buzzing with questions about whether Irene will hit us and whether we will gather for worship on Sunday.  I’m thinking about the hurricane that hit us in 2003.

Damage was in the billions of dollars. Trees fell on houses, on cars and across roads. Electricity was off for days and days and days. Stores closed for lack of electricity or simply because they ran out of basic goods.

When the question of Sunday services came up in 2003, someone said, “We can’t have church. We don’t have any power.” I felt strongly the church family needed to get together if at all possible. I finally said, “We may not have electricity, but we definitely have power! Let’s trust our people to decide what’s safe for their families.” Eight years later those were among the most memorable services in our church’s history.

Eight hundred people showed up. Members of the praise team brought acoustic guitars. Kim called the words out to the songs as we sang. We shared Communion. Afterward, I shared a brief message and we broke into informal circles to share experiences and needs. Arrangements were made, chain saws gathered and the power of community ensued! When we finished at one another’s homes, we went across streets and neighborhoods helping where ever we could.

That’s power. No amplifiers. No microphones. No projectors. No electricity. Just power–the Holy Spirit empowering a family to function the way Jesus called us to.

Today, nearly a hundred community groups do hundreds of acts of kindness for each other and for their neighbors every week.  That’s the power of God operating through the people of God.

Will Irene hit us? Will we have services on Sunday? I guess that remains to be seen. This much I know. We have power–the power of the Holy Spirit unleashing hope through the lives of his people. I, for one, consider it the honor of my life to be a part of it.