Monday, February 27, 2017

Lessons Learned In Panhandle, Texas That Apply To New York City

Twenty years ago, I was preparing to graduate from Dallas Baptist University and move to serve at my first full-time position as the student pastor at First Baptist Church of Panhandle, Texas.

Panhandle, Texas is a town about 30 miles of northeast of Amarillo, with a population of around 2,500 people.

The church had burned to the ground in February of 1997 and we made the move to Panhandle in June of 1997.

The beautiful church building with an incredible history and countless memories had gone down in flames and was gone forever.

There was a mourning that took place concerning the loss of this building.  There were many questions about the future and many questions about the cost.

I was only 24 years old and had a lot to learn.  I was incredibly blessed to be lead and mentored by Dr. Jim Perkins.  I will never forget those years and his focus on the actual mission of the church.

The worship services were held at the elementary school.  The children and choir met at the Junior High School.  The student ministry met at the high school.  Our offices were at the local bank

Twenty years later, I live in Brooklyn, New York.  It's a long ways and a lot different from Panhandle, Texas.

Yet, there are many lessons that I learned in Panhandle that apply to church planting in New York City.

There is a certain irony regarding planting churches and replanting churches in New York City.  On one hand, we see the need for our church planters and replanters to have their own buildings.

Most of the churches in New York City are sharing space from other churches, paying a great deal of money for rent, and are limited on the times that they can meet.

On the other hand, for churches that own or have full access to a church building, the building itself can become the focus of the mission.  There is the need for constant attention to the building.  It has be cleaned, maintained, and repaired.  The building may cost more money to operate than a small congregation can afford.

With that in mind, the church will often determine to rent out the building to another church.  When this takes place, there are new dynamics involved simply to have a worship service or gathering.

In short, it does not take much to bring a church to lose sight of its mission.

Buildings can become the mission.
Raising money can become the mission.
Hosting Mission Teams can become the mission.

Absolutely anything can become the mission and focus of a church or church plant, and every pastor and church planter will deal with this issue on a regular basis.

It takes absolute resolve and commitment for a church to recognize and realize that the primary mission of the church is to see people changed and transformed through Jesus.

Most churches would agree that seeing people come to know Jesus is the most important thing that a church should focus on doing.  Most churches will even have a mission statement to reflect this as a priority or a reason for the church's existence.

Yet, if we are not careful, the church can subtly shift priorities.

It's  easy for churches to get short-sighted.  That is why it is so essential that churches are lead by strong pastors and church planters who are not going to compromise the primary mission of seeing people changed and transformed through Jesus.

That is what took place twenty years ago at First Baptist Church of Panhandle, Texas.

There were inconveniences, shared space, the burden of setting up and tearing down, and the uncertainty about the future.

But, there was no uncertainty about the mission.  Brother Jim made sure of that.

The church grew.  Offerings increased.  And, in one year, we baptized 49 people!

There are always going to be difficult circumstances and numerous distractions.  Those are not going to automatically go away or dissipate.

But, the mission of the Great Commission always exceeds every other priority and has to be the focus of the Pastor, Church Planter and church.

As soon as it stops being the focus and the priority, the church begins its downward spiral to irrelevance and death.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Where To Find That Power

When I was in high school and college, I drove a rather large car.  It was a 1982 Oldsmobile Royale 98.  The car had two distinct features.  The word "feature" may be making this car sound a little too cool.  Maybe a better word would be "characteristic".

The first characteristic was the fact that the car had a Diesel engine.  Not too many cars made in the early 1980's had an engine that used Diesel fuel and made a large humming sound while idling.

The second characteristic was the fact that the car had two batteries.  Under the hood, one of the batteries was on the right hand side and the other battery was on the left hand side.

One night, I tried to start the car and the engine would not turn over.  I tried and tried, but there was nothing.

I found a pay phone, called my Dad, and waited for his arrival.

In the meantime, I decided to see if it would possibly work to take the jumper cables and try to "jump" the car by attaching the cables to two different batteries running the same engine.

It may seem crazy that I even thought to do such a thing.  But, my reasoning was that maybe there was enough juice in one battery to make the other battery work.

It didn't work.

Two dead things can't produce life.

One weak battery draws so much from the other battery, that neither can function in the way that it was designed and intended to function.

That's the problem with a lot of our relationships.

We are flawed, weak, and messed up people, looking to other flawed, weak, and messed up people to somehow to complete us.

When these people fail to do so, we are disappointed, hurt, and angry.  Yet, we shouldn't expect that other human beings could provide for us, what God alone can provide for us.

When we look to experience the type of love that God designed for us have for Him and for one another, we must first come to the understanding of the power and extent of His love.

It's possible that we can become so familiar with this message, that we can take it for granted.  We can acknowledge this message, but also very easily put it aside.

So, while we may know about God and the extent of His power and love, we still somehow look to other sources of love to empower us or to complete us.

Many times, we look to other people and relationships to give us a sense of purpose, worth, or value.  We look to them to make us feel special and significant.

These relationships are not entirely bad or wrong, but they can quickly become distorted when we try to find our own sense of purpose and identity in those relationships.


We have to come to understand that the love that God has for us is unconditional.

We have to come to understand that the love that God has for us is not earned.

We have to come to understand that the love that God has for us goes beyond what we deserve.

In the process of understanding these aspects of the love of God, we have to be careful not to set unrealistic expectations on our other relationships.

We cannot look to those God created to take the place of the Creator.

We find no more in power in other people than in placing jumper cables on a dead battery.

But, there is power in the love of Jesus who demonstrated His love in spite of our powerlessness.

That's the type of love that has the power to sustain, heal, and fix all of our relationships, no matter how dead they may seem.

After all, this is the same power that raised Jesus from the dead.

He has power to change us and our relationships as well.

Sterling

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Learning To Listen

There are these moments when I feel like God is leading me or convicting to say something to someone or to pray for someone.  But, many times I don't say anything.

I like people, but I am not always looking to engage in conversation.  I spend most of my time with ear buds in my ears.

Yet, one of the reasons that I give for not saying anything, is that I don't think that someone will listen to what I have to say.  I think that they will be annoyed, think that I am weird, or wasting their time.
I tend to make those excuses and keep to myself, not saying anything and not sharing the Truth and Hope that sets people free.

I saw this play out  a few months ago at the gym.  I was running on the treadmill at the Planet Fitness. The treadmill to my left was not working, nor was the treadmill to my right. 

I had tried to run on the machine to my right and learned that it was not working.  I saw someone on the machine on my left who was unsuccessfully trying to make it to work.
There were no signs or warnings that the indicate that the machines don't work, so person after person was attempting to use these treadmills.

I was in the middle of running at this point and there had been at least 5 people who had come and gone on each side of me, frustrated to discover that the treadmill wasn't working.

Each time I would see someone approach the machine, I debated if I should say anything.  I would see them and think that I should possibly say something, but decided that they would soon figure out on their own. 

And they did.  It was painful to watch.  One guy spent nearly 5 minutes on the treadmill not realizing that it didn't work.  He pulled out everything from his pockets.  He placed his jacket across the machine.  He pulled out his headphones and looked for his playlist.  The longer that he stood there, the more frustrated I knew that he would be. 

And he was.

After that, I decided to say something to people who were getting on the machines.

They would walk up and I would blurt out "that one's not working." They would turnaround and step off the treadmill.

I would say it to the people on my right and then see someone else coming to the other machine on my left.  I then started to telling the people on my right "that one's not working and neither that one over there" pointing with my head.

There may have still been some aggravation, but at least I was saving them some time and they were listening to me.

Except for one guy.

I told him the machine was not working.  But, he pointed out to me that the power was on.  I acknowledged my awareness of that fact.  He then told me that the machine emergency button needed to be reset.  I smiled and said "ok".  He wanted to show me how to do that and I nodded at him, but knew that was not going to do anything. Two minutes later he reluctantly walked away from the machine.

After he walked away, I thought to myself, "Why is it so hard for people to listen?"  "Why couldn't he just take me at face value?"  "Why couldn't he trust what I said?"

I realized that is how it is with God.  I don't always respond.  I don't always trust.  I don't always believe.  I make excuses.  I learn the hard way.  And, I walk away frustrated. 

I am learning that one of the biggest, if not the biggest aspect of my relationship with God is simply to listen to Him.  It's not me telling or suggesting to God what He needs to do.  It's not me making excuses for why I can or can't do something.  

I am learning than when God calls me or prompts me to do something or speak to someone, it doesn't matter if they are listening to me, what matters is that I am listening to God.

Most of the time, the message that God has for me to share or say to someone else, is a reinforcement of a Truth He wants me to remember.

Hebrews 2:1 says "So we must listen very carefully to the truth we have heard, or we may drift away from it."

Listening is not always easy.  Not being listened to is not easy either.  


But, listening to God and responding to God gives us the peace, trust, and assurance that He is listening to us.  

He knows what we need, even before we ask.  
He knows our struggles.  
He knows our pain.  
He knows our frustration.  
He knows our brokenness.
Today, He invites us to listen to Him and trust Him.  
He has something to share and reveal to each of us today.

sterling

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House About The Future of Faith In America

This book has had a profound impact on my understanding of how politics and faith come together. 
It has caused me to have greater awareness of the difficult balance that involves decisions being made across the board. 
But, it also caused me to have greater appreciation for what Presidents Obama and Trump are faced with on daily basis. 
I have been encouraged, convicted, and inspired to pray for each of these men on a daily basis. 
Finally, this book has articulated the case for Hope! There really is a Hope that exists for every person. It can never be found in a political party or candidate. Rather, this Hope leads us and allows followers of Jesus to engage in the political arena without fear, because our Hope is not in a system, government, or President. 
Our Hope is a Person and His name is Jesus!

Friday, February 3, 2017

Victorious!

About three years ago, our family had the great opportunity to participate in making a infomercial for the Optimum cable company.

It honestly was so much fun and something that we will never forget.

The premise of the infomercial was to demonstrate how to use the features that Optimum offers, while going head to head in a timed competition against another family.  

Our family and another family were both timed in our ability to use voicemail, the remote control, logging on to wifi hotspots, and paying our bill online.

While we enjoyed every moment of participating while filming the infomercial, we really were playing for something.  While both teams would receive a prize for participating, the winner would receive a much more substantial prize.

We knew that, and while we were trying to enjoy the moment, we played to win.

We had spent the entire day filming and got to hang out with some amazing people from Grey Sky Films.  We had thoroughly enjoyed all of It and they told us it was time for the final shoot.

It turned out to be the hardest part of the entire day.

They had me, Jenna, Madison, Emma, and Avery all sit on the couch together.  

They let us know that the results of who had actually won the competition would not be known for another six weeks.  

So, they told us that us that the final part would be to film a shot of our family winning the competition and celebrating, and that we would film another shot of us losing the competition and congratulating the other team.

It sounds simple of enough now, but we struggled with this.  

Not knowing if we had actually won or lost, but acting like we had done both of those things was not easy.

They filmed us losing the competition.  They has us saying “Ahhhhh. Too bad.  Congratulations yellow team!”  

But, we probably were not as enthusiastic as we should have been.

They then filmed us winning the competition.  They had us saying “Yes! Alright! I can’t believe it!”

And that was probably how we acted, like we didn’t believe it.

They had us do it again.

We still weren’t feeling it.

They had us do it again.

Nope.

They had us do it again.

Finally, we were good enough and it was a wrap! (For more from The Optimum Setup Showdown click https://youtu.be/rEwx1sW-Dw8)

As followers of Jesus, I think that we can have momentarily lapses in forgetting or remembering who we are, who has been defeated, and who is victorious.

There are aspects of our world, society, and communities that may seem beyond what we can understand.  

There are people around us who may seem beyond redemption.

There are situations around us that may seem beyond hope.

In the constant negativity that surrounds us and bombards us, we begin to question whether we are on the winning end or the losing end of things.

When we feel like we have tried and failed for the 100th time, we can wonder if we are ever going to make it and if we are able to bear it.

But, the truth is, we have complete victory.  1 Corinthians 15:57 reminds us that He gives us victory.  But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Maybe we know that.  But, I think that we can forget it.  We can forget that we are victorious in Christ and that sin has been defeated.

This past week, I came across a Bible on my bookshelf.  The Bible had my name on the front of it, but it actually belonged
to my grandfather who was also named Sterling Edwards.

I opened the Bible and handwritten in the front of the Bible was the reference of 1 Corinthians 10:13.

Here is what it says: No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
As followers of Jesus, we are not to live defeated, hopeless, meaningless lives. 

We have been given purpose, victory, and hope.

I don’t want to have to merely act like I may have won.  

I want to live in the victory, hope, and promise that has already been given through Jesus.


Sterling

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

In Grace, He Leads You Where You Didn’t Plan To Go In Order To Produce In You What You Couldn’t Achieve On Your Own

From New Morning Mercies by Paul David Tripp

In grace, he leads you where you didn’t plan to go in order to produce in you what you couldn’t achieve on your own. In these moments, he works to alter the values of your heart so that you let go of your little kingdom of one and give yourself to his kingdom of glory and grace. God is working right now, but not so much to give us predictable, comfortable, and pleasurable lives. He isn’t so much working to transform our circumstances as he is working through hard circumstances to transform you and me.

Tripp, Paul David (2014-10-31). New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotional (Kindle Locations 998-1002). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Monday Morning Minute From Pastor Sterling - January 30, 2017

As God changes and transforms us, we see that He is consistently renewing and refining us to be more and more like Him.

There is a lot of work that is involved in this process.

Yesterday, we looked at the following passages and points:




1. Let's Get To Work

Philippians 2:12-13
12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

2. We Are A Work In Progress

Philippians 2:14-16
14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”[c] Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.

3. Works Don't Save Us, Works Complete Us

Philippians 2:15-18 (NIV)
Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. 17 But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. 18 So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.