From Surviving to Thriving

Recently one of my vehicles wouldn’t start and needed a jump from another vehicle.  That was fine for the first time.  But then it happened again, and then again.  Realizing that the battery was pretty much dead, I borrowed a charger and plugged in the battery overnight for a full charge.  The next morning it started right up on its own.  Great! Problem solved.  But when I went out a few hours later to run an errand, nothing.  The starter wouldn’t even turn over.  There was nothing I could do to bring this battery back.  In the end, the only solution was to get a new battery.  And now the vehicle starts up perfectly every time.

But I got to thinking during that time when I was trying to constantly jump-start and charge a bad battery.  I was going around and around to no success with simply trying to get that car to survive, when what I needed was a solution that would get my car to thrive.  I would hop in the driver seat just hoping that when I turned the key, something would happen.  But what I needed was to turn that key with the confidence that it would not only start this time, but would also continue to start the next time and the time after that.

In a small way, this episode with my car reflects something much larger in the last two years of my life.  Since I first received my cancer diagnosis in early 2015, my life has been in survival mode.  There has been month after month of chemo, radiation, more chemo, and two major surgeries.  And the priority through those two years has been making it through to the next day.  I turn the key this day, hope I have enough energy to get by for this day, and tomorrow just hope I can find the energy to do it again.  2015 and 2016 were survival-mode living.

Now that I have been in remission for a while, and have been able to gain some of my energy back, I have been eager to get out of survival-mode living, and back to truly thriving and enjoying life again.  But I have to admit, the transition has not been as easy as I thought it would be.  After two whole years of backing away to focus on my health, normal life just doesn’t turn back on overnight.  I assumed that a one-time jump start was all would take to begin running smoothly again.  That hasn’t been the case.

What does it take to truly make the transition from surviving to thriving?  Jesus says in John 10:10 “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  Thriving begins by waking up each day in the realization that God has provided the blessings I need on this day to live fully for him, for his glory, for his shalom.  Rather than just turning the starter key and just hoping something happens, thriving is about living in assurance that, when I turn that key, God will make something happen.

picture2My car needed more than a one-time jump start.  The only way to get my car working properly again was to pop open the hood and make the necessary repairs to ensure the vehicle would not only survive, but run well enough to thrive.  Sometimes our souls need more than a one-time jump start as well.  Sometimes we all need to take time to pop open the hood of our souls and perform the necessary tune-up so that our lives can truly thrive.  How’s your engine been running lately?

till next time…
~ pastor tom

Revising Advent

During advent this year, my church is working through a series on the idea of revision.  Maybe this is also a good time to pause for a moment and look ahead at what this revision means.

Revision

aqny0za7x0k-lionello-delpiccoloThere were a few times in my life as a student when a professor would send one of my papers back to me asking for revision.  To revise an assigned paper meant having to take a close look at what I had already written, and then analyze the content of the paper for something that might be headed in the wrong direction, or formed the wrong conclusion, or maybe just need stronger clarification to clearly communicate the main point.

But it is not just students.  We all face revisions in our lives all the time.  A job change may force us to revise our professional skills.  A health crisis may force of to revise our physical abilities.  A change of income or unexpected expense may force us to revise our budgets.  Changing schedules and events may force us to revise our plans and our calendars.  We are always analyzing, tweaking, and clarifying the many details of our lives based on changes that come our way.

Maybe we don’t want to think about Christmas as a time when God forces us to face the unpleasant—but necessary—revisions in our lives.  We live in a world that would rather embrace Christmas as a time of celebration and joy.

Revision Can Be Difficult

It often seems like revision is a forced activity.  We are not the ones looking to revise our plans, or revise our budgets, or revise our careers.  Rather, these are revisions that are pressed upon us by changing circumstances that we did not necessarily predict, and cannot necessarily control.

And so sometimes revision can be an arduous task.  We do not look at revision as a pleasant experience.  In 2015 when I was going through months of cancer treatment, my family and I were forced to make some revisions to our family life.  My wife and children had to revise their list of chores to make up for all the around-the-house jobs I could no longer accomplish.  I had to revise my time to allow for extra hours of sleep, and daily trips to the radiation department at the cancer center.  Those were revisions in our lives we would all rather not have to confront.  But they were necessary adjustments to make in order for my family to make it through that year.

Jesus Is All About Revision.

So as much as we may not like facing circumstances that force us to revise something in our lives, Jesus came at Christmas to bring much needed renewal to our world and to our lives.  Some of that we welcome with celebration and open arms.  We welcome the gift of God’s grace.  We welcome God’s forgiveness.

But what about the ways that Jesus presses us toward revising our lives in some not-so-comfortable ways?  Isn’t this at the heart of the conflict Jesus had with the Pharisees and Jewish religious leaders of his day?  Jesus confronted a religious system entrenched with tradition and routine, and he turned it upside-down.  And for those who lived comfortably within the predictable routines and traditions of religion, this was a forced revision that was not at all welcomed.  These are the same class of religious leaders that would eventually push a death sentence for Jesus.

Revising Advent

dabkxsptaek-gareth-harperMaybe we don’t want to think about Christmas as a time when God forces us to face the unpleasant—but necessary—revisions in our lives.  We live in a world that would rather embrace Christmas as a time of celebration and joy.  And certainly Christmas is about celebration and joy.  But the birth of Christ also took place so that God could change us, renew us, and redeem his world.

In this season of advent, as we anticipate celebrating again the birth of Jesus, what revisions come along with it in your own life?

Peeking Around the Corner

Last month, the council of Horizon took a weekend retreat to pull back and spend some time contemplating and discussing where we see Horizon in the U-Turn Church process.  It has been a year now since the council adopted the U-Turn Church as a model for Horizon’s renewal.  Our evaluation of the process made a few observations clear.

Communication

The council recognizes that there may be several people at Horizon who have never read the U-Turn Church book, or have followed the forums, gatherings, or articles that have been made available.  And many of these people are asking some basic questions about the U-Turn and what it means.

So the council acknowledges that we need to continue to dedicate ourselves to communicating the details of the U-Turn with the people of Horizon.  This may be written articles, verbal announcements included in the Sunday worship time, videos showing the U-Turn in action, or stories and testimonies of others involved in the U-Turn.  We will continue to demonstrate the U-Turn however we can; with words, pictures, videos, and stories.

What we want to communicate is a glimpse ahead at what is coming around the corner.  We are peeking ahead to start showing what the U-Turn looks like further down the path.  This might be stories of ministries at Horizon that are already working ahead, or stories from other churches that have been working at the U-Turn longer than us, and can show us what is coming.

Only the Beginning

Churches who have been through the U-Turn process unanimously agree that it takes time.  We have been working on this at Horizon for a year.  And the council’s evaluation of the process acknowledges that we still have much to do.  That should come as good news—that the U-Turn is not a sprint.  It is not a quick burst of sudden energy, and then it’s over.  Rather, the U-Turn is a process that is meant to stick.  So it is worth taking the time to get it right.  And it is worth taking the time to include everybody.

One of the council’s observations of this pace is a recognition that Horizon is—in many ways—still in the beginning stages of the U-Turn.  This recognition comes with an acknowledgement that we still have further to go before we really start seeing the results we intend.  Our U-Turn goal is to become a church that embraces vibrant outreach to unchurched people in all our ministries.  This goal requires more than simply tweaking our programs.  It requires changing our culture so that all of our members embrace outreach to unchurched people as our highest priority.  Only after we make significant accomplishments in this culture-shift will we really begin to see results.

So at this stage of the U-Turn we are still peeking ahead around the corner to envision what it will take to make the shift and begin to see results.  Our process at Horizon is still laying a foundation for the U-Turn.  Much of the U-Turn itself is still to come.

Grit (the art of determination)

Thom Rainer in his book Breakout Churches observes that most churches who begin the process of seeking renewal through a U-Turn type movement never make it.  The reason for this, according to Rainer, is not a lack of resources, or lack of expertise, or the wrong people.  Rather, it is a lack of determination.  Churches began a process of seeking renewal, but did not see it all the way through.

Because the U-Turn is a process that takes some time before real results start showing up, most churches give up before they get there.  Determination takes something called grit.  Girt can be described as keeping one’s resolve when faced with hardship.  All churches who make it through the U-Turn renewal acknowledge that the beginning stages of the process take enormous determination.  Many struggles come in the U-Turn at first.  There are some joys to celebrate along the way.  But initially those joys come through a tremendous amount of hardship.

In the middle of struggling through the U-Turn, it helps to keep peeking around the corner at what is coming.  We know that we live in a community of people who do not belong to a church—the harvest is ripe.  We can find assurance in knowing that Jesus is still Lord of his church—God’s heart for calling hurting people back to him will always be manifested in the church that abides in him.  And we can find assurance in striving ahead to the examples of other churches who have made it through the U-Turn—showing us that God continues to live through his church yet today.

till next time…
~pastor tom

Setting the Pace for a Marathon

Marathon runners aren’t born, they’re made.  That is to say, anyone who wants to run a marathon needs to train their body to build endurance for such a long race.  The apostle Paul compares the life of discipleship to a marathon.  And like a marathon, a life of discipleship takes training as well.

Running Too Fast

For over a year now, the council at Horizon has been pursuing a process of transforming Horizon’s vision that we have been calling the U-Turn Church.  The process has involved making changes that provide a more familiar surrounding and more familiar experience for people in our community who may be unfamiliar with church.  But at the same time, the council is very committed that we make these changes in a way that invites everyone to come along—new attenders as well as long-time Horizon members.

These two commitments—a vision for becoming an outreach church, and a desire to effectively disciple Horizon’s current members—give us a reason to constantly monitor our marathon pace.  So we ask ourselves, are we running ahead too fast?  Are we pushing so quickly into a renewed vision for outreach that we might be leaving others behind along the way?

Admittedly, I think for some of us the answer to that question has been “yes.”  Several people at Horizon have been honest to let me know that it has been a struggle to keep up with trying to learn new songs and embrace the new features of Horizon’s worship experience.  It is important that Horizon gathers in a ministry that is engaging and meaningful for everyone.  So as we move ahead, we keep tweaking the details along the way to make sure we are not running too fast.

Running Too Slow

But then there is the other side of our U-Turn commitment—a vision for becoming an outreach church.  And so we evaluate where we are in the process of moving in that direction.  We want to evaluate the process because we want to make sure we keep moving towards outreach.  One of the keys for implementing this vision is momentum.  Horizon needs to make sure we do not abandon or stall or turn back in our efforts to reach out to unchurched people.

Training for a marathon takes a consistent regiment of activity.  I know from a year of cancer treatment that once you let go of a regular pattern of activity, it’s like sliding backwards and having to start all over again.  Marathon runners set incremental goals and keep stepping forward and moving ahead.  They know that consistency is the key to making progress.

And so Horizon also looks to keep moving forward.  The command of Jesus for the church in Matthew 28 is a command to GO and make disciples.  We do not stay where we are.  We do not expect others to come to us.  We do not demand that unchurched people in our community conform to our preferences.  We go to them, and we bring the message of the gospel to them in a way that will invite them to Jesus.

Setting the Pace

The tricky part about running a marathon together is that we may all be trying to set a different pace.  Some of us at Horizon may be ready and eager to sprint ahead.  Others of us at Horizon may need to slow down.  But we know this from scripture: that Jesus wants us to run this race of discipleship together.  And so the challenge of finding a pace that we can all keep together is worth the effort.

For those who may be frustrated that we are running too slow, remember that we are still moving forward.  A slower pace is still a forward pace.  Slowing down does not mean we are quitting or turning back.  It simply means we are making sure everyone is keeping up.

For those who may be frustrated that we are running too fast, be encouraged that we value your effort and participation.  In fact, we value your participation so much that we set a pace that works for you.  This is a marathon of discipleship that is not about being the fastest.  It is a marathon of discipleship that echoes the words of Paul in Philippians 3:12–14.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

till next time…
~pastor tom

How to Resource a U-Turn

uturnChapter seven of the U-Turn Church says that “there are Pew-Sitters and Heavy Hitters in the kingdom of God.  A U-Turn church will call people to…take up the basin and towel and wash feet just as Jesus called us to do.”  Here at Horizon we recognize that following the call of Jesus to make new disciples takes resources of time and energy.

“There are Pew-Sitters and Heavy Hitters in the kingdom of God”

People Are the New Programs

It used to be that a church could invest in programs and advertising as a way to reach new people.  Mailing postcards and holding outreach events brought in new people.  Not anymore.

One of the reasons this has changed is because people today are already too busy with programmed activity.  Another reason is that the internet has flooded society with opportunities to join other programs.  People aren’t looking for more programs.  But they are looking for deeper relationships with other people.

For Horizon to resource the U-Turn means that we must elevate connections with people above connections with programs.  People are the new programs.  Investing in relationships with people will be the front line of the kind of outreach that produces results.  We have staff at Horizon who work to put together programming.  But more important for Horizon is the staff’s ability to prioritize relationships with people.

M-T-W-Th-F Is the New Front Door

It used to be that a church made its initial contacts with new visitors on a Sunday morning.  The way new people first checked out a church was to show up for a Sunday worship service.  Not anymore.

The new front door through which people find a church is in the relational connections they make with people during the week.  This makes perfect sense.  If people are looking for relationships above programs, then church ministries which offer deeper relationship opportunities will have more appeal to new people.

For Horizon to resource the U-Turn means that we must have plenty of opportunity for new people to experience relational connections during the week.  Our staff and people must be available and engaged with people from our community Monday through Friday.

Invitation Is the New Culture

It used to be that people in the community would go looking for a church.  The way a church grew with new members was to make itself well known in the community.  Not anymore.

These days, people aren’t seeking a church.  Making Horizon known in the community does not get us there.  We cannot simply get the word out and then just sit back and wait for them to come to us.  These days, the church needs to exist as a community outside of its walls.

For Horizon to resource the U-Turn means that we must prioritize invitation.  I don’t mean invitation from postcards, mailings, and Facebook posts.  I don’t mean invitations from unknown strangers.  We must personally get to know new people in our neighborhoods, and then personally invite people to come along with us to Horizon.  Invitation needs to be at the heart of our culture—of who we are and what we expect.  There must be intentional room for invitation in everything we do.

Make A U-Turn

The council at Horizon is ready to take the next step forward in our U-Turn church process by resourcing these efforts to place people above programs, to emphasize mid-week opportunities for relationships, and to ignite a culture of invitation.  We have been praying diligently for God to provide the resources we need to move in this direction, and God has been answering that prayer.

Leadership by example is a important.  It is our intention to have the three pastors at Horizon collectively dedicate 80 hours each month to growing Horizon’s outreach in our community.  By equipping our pastors to take the lead and set the example in community outreach, Horizon will create the opportunity for all of us to come along side and participate in this U-Turn moment for the church.

“There are Pew-Sitters and Heavy Hitters in the kingdom of God.”  Now is the time to use what we have from God so that we can all be Heavy Hitters for the kingdom in this community.

till next time…
~pastor tom