Thursday, May 29, 2008

How it's going...

Ever since we left Iowa and moved here to Chillicothe, one of the questions I've been asked a lot by old friends is "How's it going?" They love us and so they want to know if the challenge and risk of taking on a new ministry (not to mention moving away) has been worth it. I virtually always answer, "It's going great!" because in the areas that really matter it's going well. Some of our recent successes as a church include:
  • Attendance YTD has increased 11% vs. 2007 for a 2008 average of 166.
  • 15 men are engaged in discipleship with either myself or one of our elders.
  • 30 people participated in "Evangelism is Relationships" training with 20 agreeing to be held accountable for investing time and $ in someone in their RSI (Relational Sphere of Influence)
  • We recently launched a new Connections Ministry, which will be responsible for ensuring new members/visitors get integrated into the life of our church.
  • We have formed a team of highly motivated, evangelistically focused women who will be launching a MOPs ministry in the fall to reach Chillicothe moms, the only such ministry of it's kind in a 2o mile radius.
  • Our annual men's salmon fishing trip to Kenosha, WI included 24 men, of which several were non-Christians, which made it not only a fun fellowship event, but also another opportunity for relational evangelism.
  • Karen and the Children's Church team have nearly doubled participation in Children's Church to around 25 kids each week.
  • Our Junior High group on Wednesday nights at the Cafe has grown from 4 students to 20.
All of this is to say that lots of things are going very well.

On the other hand, there are some down sides to all of this, as there always are. Not everyone is happy or particularly relishes my leadership and preaching style or even likes me. Which is distressing, disappointing and at times, intensely painful. It is also proof that I am the leader of a church, a perfectly designed, God-ordained institution in which imperfect people worship God, minister to one another, and reach a lost world. I pray that I am a good leader, a patient shepherd, and an effective preacher and teacher. I pray too that God would graciously "fill in the gaps" by His Spirit when one of these areas lacks due to my imperfect humanity or my as yet unconquered sinful nature. I pray that my flock offers up similar prayers on my behalf. And most of all, I pray that God would be honored by whatever faltering, imperfect and frail use I am making of His gifts.

This thought reminds me of a line by C. S. Lewis, who compared God's work with us as being akin to a father teaching his child to walk. He said (paraphrasing from memory), "If even the will to walk is there, God is pleased even with our stumbles." I guess that's how I feel about our life and ministry. Karen and I (me most of all!) aren't perfectly obedient all the time nor are we perfectly meeting the needs of our congregation and community. But the "will to walk" is there, so I think God is blessing us to a great extent in spite of (rather than because of) the things we are doing.

In other words, God is lavishing His grace on us and we are sensing His pleasure. What could be better than that?

Joe's Bookshelf #1

One of the things people visiting my office for the first time often say is something along the lines of "Wow! Have you actually read all those books?" My standard answer is "Yes, almost all of them, though some of them are reference books so they aren't the sort one reads cover to cover." Most people are duly impressed, though I'm not sure why, since I think my love of books is sometimes an indication I need to get out more. Ah well...

At any rate, I thought some people might enjoy an occasional feature in which I offer my highly enlightened opinion (note the humility!) on what I'm reading of late. Though this forum is a long way from the Oprah book club, perhaps it will encourage or challenge someone.

The first book from Joe's bookshelf is Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer, by James L. Swanson. My first impression is that I had no idea so many people were involved in the conspiracy to shoot the president, or that one of Booth's co-conspirators made a near-successful attempt on Secretary of State William Seward's life on the same night as Lincoln was shot or that all that prevented Vice President Johnson's assassination was another co-conspirator's cowardice. Blame my public school education, I guess, but the myth of Booth as a crazy lone gunman had endured in my consciousness until now. It was also fascinating to read of the loyal Southerners who helped Booth escape the pursuing hordes of the largest manhunt in American history for 12 days. In our day, some 143 years later, Abraham Lincoln is America's president. But that was a far from universal feeling in April 1865. Those who agreed with the assassin's cry of "Sic semper tyrannis!" as he leapt from the President's box that fateful night far outnumbered those who did not, at least in the South. Given that fact, if Booth had not broken his leg on his theatrical leap down to the stage, he would have been able to get to the Deep South, where he probably would have made a permanent escape, living out his days as a Confederate folk hero. That possibility tantalizes throughout the book, even though the outcome of the chase is already known. It's a gripping story, well told at a fast pace in a narrative style which keeps the focus on the chase even while it informs with rich historical details. Would that all history books on my shelf were so entertaining...

Friday, May 23, 2008

Weekend update

It's been a while since my last post, mostly because I have been preoccupied with other things. So to catch up, here's the latest:
  1. Last Friday and Saturday I went salmon fishing for the first time with some of the guys from church along with my brother-in-law Buddy and my Dad. I caught 7 fish between the two days (the limit is 5 per day) and I have 11 filets left in the freezer. The days were like a Sabbath rest for me. Between the sunshine, the camaraderie, the fishing, and rocking of the boat on the waves, it was restorative to my soul.
  2. I spent Wednesday night and Thursday this week with some friends picking up their son from DuQuoin Impact Incarceration Program, a Dept. of Corrections "boot camp" for young men who have run afoul of the law that a judge believes might benefit from another chance. I am certainly prayerful and hopeful that this young man will triumph over his former life, especially now that he has re-dedicated his life to Christ.
  3. School's out now for the summer, though you wouldn't know it's summer given that it's a balmy 47 degrees and rainy today and we've had frost at least one night within this past week. I must say, I could really do with a little more of Al Gore's much-heralded global warming these days, especially this cold spring has followed the longest, coldest winter in recent memory.
  4. My girls, Sara and Ashley, are going to enter 2nd grade and 1st grade, respectively, this fall. Where did the years go? The days of parenting pass slowly, at times, but the years accumulate more quickly than they should somehow.
  5. I'm reading a new book, called Why We're Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be). One of the authors is a fellow Taylor grad, from the same small town in Indiana as Karen, and an old friend from years ago when we used to live in Indy with whom I had lost touch. It's great to see Ted succeeding, but it does make me feel a bit old when people I know are now successfully published authors with major Christian publishing houses. When did my generation become the establishment?
  6. I'm not preaching this week because this weekend is the farewell for our long-time youth pastor, who is preaching his farewell sermon after nine years in ministry here. A sad and yet celebratory day in the life of our church...
  7. A week from Sunday will be my 12th anniversary, so I'm busy finding the ideal way to communicate to my dear wife how much she means to me and how completely lost and lonely I would be without her. There aren't really words adequate to describe that, and despite a career as a writer and speaker (aka pastor), I still get tongue tied most of the time when I try to talk from the depths of the heart with her. So those of you reading can pray for me.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

On preaching the gospel

Preach the gospel to every creature. If necessary, use words.
I've noticed that Francis of Assisi's centuries old aphorism has gotten a lot of favorable quotations from many of the emerging/Emergent type folks of late. But at the risk of having to rename my blog "The Curmudgeon," I think all this favorable reference is wrong-headed on all kinds of levels. Briefly...
  1. It is an attempt to transport a respected ancient Christian into our day as a thoroughgoing postmodern so that he can be used as support for currently favored notions. But cultures change. Francis' culture was thoroughly Christianized, if not fully Christian (cultures can never be Christian, only people), which meant that the major issue was consistency between professed faith and daily life. Our culture, on the other hand, is neither Christian nor Christianized any more, to such an extent that most people have no idea what the Gospel is, never mind how a person should live consistent with it.
  2. I suspect that one of the reasons that many people like the concept of such "friendship evangelism" is that they are fearful of the possible rejection and dislike the "ickiness" of actually having to clearly state the Gospel truth that people who lack explicit faith in Christ's death and resurrection are sinners who will spend eternity separated from God in hell. Now let me be clear: I am well aware both of the fact that evangelism is a process and that simply blurting out the gospel to every non-Christian you meet is unlikely to be effective in the absence of relationship. I am also well aware of the fact that the truths we profess are supported by the life we live. But if I never actually share the gospel with my non-Christian friends, neighbors, family, etc., then I have merely made friends with a non-Christian. Such a strategy succeeds at friendship without actually being evangelism, because I haven't actually preached the Gospel.
  3. Most importantly, much of the emerging/Emergent crowd evidence a great discomfort with the hard, binary, and propositional nature of much of Christian teaching. They simply don't care for the notion that real love could ever be perceived to have some sharp edges and that truth sometimes cuts like a sword. But the fact is, while the Bible's truths are always more than simply propositional, they are never less. Indeed, they cannot be.
End of rant. I'm okay now, really...

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

God is faithful

Last month was not a good month for the Horn clan. I was hardly ever home at night, spent five days out of state away from the family, and averaged 60+ hours of work per week. Not a healthy and balanced life. In addition to this, we had $1000 in car repair, an over the range microwave that caught fire in our kitchen (nothing we had to extinguish, fortunately), and a washing machine that went on the fritz (not good when you consider that one day's clothes = 1 load in a family of six). Altogether about $1500 in unexpected bills. We griped and prayed (mostly griped, I think, but prayed too). Yet God was faithful and ensured we met our bills without plunging into debt. He didn't have to do that, and we surely didn't deserve His grace to us, but it came just the same.

Which is sort of typical of how He works. Grace when have no right to expect it, have done nothing to deserve it, and yet still need it. So why I am still shocked when He is gracious? I must have much further to go in learning to trust Him, because George Mueller I'm not, but He keeps on being faithful even when I am not so much.