Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A Remote Possibility

Our worship leader this week comes to us all the way from... Jacksonville! Scott Coleman has been with us once before, at our baptism service at the beach, and this Sunday he'll be leading our time together as we sing:

Tell The World (Hillsong | iTunes)
Salvation Is Here (North Point Live | iTunes)
From the Inside Out (Kristian Stanfill | iTunes)

Andy Stanley's message, "A Remote Possibility," will provoke Access Church to a new frontier as a church. Even though we're brand-new ourselves, how long should we wait before we start investing in God's kingdom around the world? This Sunday, come ready to wrestle with the ramifications of God's call to go to the ends of the earth. Get ready!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Who Does God Want to Win?

Today was Florida's day to contribute to the current political discussion. Stephanie and I were eager to exercise our privilege to vote, and took the kids with us this morning so that they could observe this wonderful process. (Flawed, but wonderful.)

After lots of discussion about who we chose to vote for, and why, Chase (age 7) asked a great question, "Dad, who does God want to win?"

(Ha, ha! You gotta love that. Dad, don't bore me with the issues. Just tell me who is God's man or woman and I'm gonna back that candidate!)

My answer to Chase? "Son, I have absolutely no idea."

You may not agree with me on my choice for president (which you'll never read about here), but I hope you'll agree with me that God is in charge of this process and that his plans are far superior to ours. Sometimes, in fact, his ways are mysterious. Is it possible that God's choice for president is different than yours?

I am a citizen of the greatest nation in the world. And I will eagerly participate in the electoral process. But let us never as Christ-followers confuse politics with faith. Our hope is in heaven, not in Washington! So, as fascinating as the campaign trail is, let's save our life-passion for one cause!

If you want to jump in here and comment on the primaries, go for it! Just know that none of the comments reflect the position of Access Church. Our vote is for Christ alone.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Pop Goes the Church

I had the opportunity this week to review Tim Stevens' soon-to-be-released, "Pop Goes The Church." Tim is the executive pastor at Granger Community Church, a church that is consistently viewed as one of the most innovative churches in America.

Granger earned that reputation by working hard to connect with culture, and they've taken their fair share of criticism for it. I really enjoy Tim's writings on leadership and ministry, so I was eager to read the expansion of those thoughts in book form.

I found the book provoking, and repeatedly interrupted Stephanie to read whole sections out loud to her. The best parts? Compelling arguments that this is not a new way of delivering the good news at all, but in fact exactly how Jesus and Paul introduced this radical new faith in their context. Tim offers fascinating evidence that Jesus was much more in touch with popular culture than we might think.

If you think the church needs a new strategy for connecting with culture—that cheezy bumper stickers and gospel t-shirts aren't enough, you're ready for this book. If you are concerned that churches can go too far and trade the truth for entertainment, you're ready for this book.

If you are struggling with the questions of whether it's okay to play secular music on Sunday morning, or if you've ever just wondered why your friends don't want to come to church with you, you must read this book as soon as it's released.

It's an easy read that leaves you feeling uneasy. Am I doing enough to reach my culture? Am I using the tools that are right in front of me? Am I leveraging the culture-experts in my midst? And most importantly, is our community's culture changing because of the impact our church is having?

Tim, I only have one disappointment: not a single quote in the entire book from Andy Stanley? C'mon, now...

Monday, January 21, 2008

Free RSS Readers

Some of you visit this blog via a browser, like Internet Explorer or Safari. You might visit other blogs, too, and you've started reading them all from one page, like Google Reader or Bloglines.

Others of you are hard-core blog readers, and you use a stand-alone RSS reader. NetNewsWire has been around for a little while, a lot of folks love it, and it just went from being $30 to free. Free is good.

I've been using a little beauty called Vienna for a couple of months now, and I gotta tell you, I love it. If you check in on more than two blogs a day, you really ought to give this a try. It's solid, has a great interface, even has a built-in browser, and it's always been free! Give it a shot.

Comments welcome. What's your favorite way to check in on the blogosphere?

Worship with Abner & Amanda

Maybe it's the fact that Andy Stanley's message on what it really means to "go deep" is one of my all-time favorites.

Maybe it's that some friends we've been inviting for a year finally decided to give Access a shot.

Maybe it's the killer stage design that our service programming team put together to illustrate our Foyer-Living Room-Kitchen strategy.

Maybe it's all the couples and singles that signed up to join a community group.

Or maybe it's the haunting vocals of JohnnySwim during our all-acoustic worship set.

But I'm still praising God that I get to be a part of Access Church—21 hours after my alarm went off!

Does your church do that to you?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Loving Well

This Sunday Andy Stanley's going to tackle a question we hear often at Access, "How do I go deeper?"

The reality is that spiritual depth has far less to do with how much you know and an awful lot to do with how well you love people.

Unfortunately, while that message is all through the New Testament, we often miss that in church. In fact, if you hang out with church people very long you might start to think that following Jesus is all about knowing a lot. But it's not. It's about loving well.

Our mission statement is "to lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ." Everything we do is about that—seeing people increase their faith in God. So, how do we disciple people?

Some churches have a great teaching ministry—layers upon layers of classes and electives. In those churches, you hear phrases like "biblical literacy" a lot. Some of those people ask, "When does Access get to the deeper stuff?"

However, in my years of ministry, some of the smartest Christians I knew were also the worst at following Jesus' purpose—"to seek and save the lost."

Other churches talk about obedience. And it's true that, if you love Jesus, you'll obey him. But obedience absent the relationship is just pharisaical.

Obedience alone will make you judgmental.

Knowledge alone will make you proud.

A spiritually mature person is one who lives and loves as if God is who He says He is and will do all He has promised to do.

Knowledge? That's a class.

Faith? Maturity? That's a product of time. That's what happens when God works through relationships and circumstances and when we exercise our ministry gifts. It's what happens as we practice the private spiritual disciplines and tune our heart to the heart of God. And yes, it's when practical Bible teaching shows us where we are and where we need to go.

Do we want to see people in a growing relationship with God? Absolutely! Will that happen as a result of classes, seminars, and electives? Not likely. And can it be measured by obedience? Only partly.

Okay, folks, don't be shy about your comments. I'm sure not everyone agrees. I'd love to read your comments!

Join us Sunday to hear the entire message.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Disruptions Welcome

We tend to believe that being disruptive is a bad thing. (Take it from a "disruptive" student who spent a lot of time getting to know the principal and his staff.)

In business, certain ways of conducting commerce are so unique that they literally transform their category, and sometimes, the industry. In recent years, certain technologies have so permeated our culture that we refer to them as "disruptive technologies," because they change not only an industry, but our society at-large.

This weekend, the technology industry is holding its breath to see what Steve Jobs will introduce on Tuesday. The same company that brought us the Macintosh, the iPod and the iPhone has something new up its sleeve. If Apple's past is any indication, there will be some initial skepticism (I thought the original iPod was too expensive and would never sell. Ha! Ha!) followed by mass adoption. (Comment back here on Tuesday afternoon and let us all know what you think about Apple's annoucement. Or, comment your predictions right now!)

The Church has experienced some disruptive technologies, as well. Centuries ago the printing press and the translation of the Bible into the languages of the people radically changed the Church.

More recently, the church has wrestled with "video preaching"—a technology which drew early criticism but is proving very effective in teaching people about God and the Bible. In fact, most of us at Access are so used to it that we sometimes forget to tell our guests that Andy Stanley, our teaching pastor, joins us via video.

The reality is that our culture is changing more rapidly than ever. Just search YouTube for SNL and MadTV parodies of Steve Jobs' near-constant upgrades to the iPod. It seems as soon as you get something cool, something cooler comes along. The Church will continue to change and speak into culture—still with God's voice (that must never change)—but in a new language for each generation.

Because, there has never been any event quite so disruptive as the Creator of the World being born in a stable, living a perfect life, and being crucified on a cross. The religious leaders never saw it coming, and they never imagined the tomb would be empty in three days!

Perhaps Tuesday's announcement will give the Church one more tool to speak God's truth in a way that our culture can understand. Because His story is worth telling—however we do it!

Friday, January 11, 2008

RoadMap Update

30 families partnered with us during the three-month RoadMap campaign to raise $200,000 over and above regular giving. We are so grateful! This is so important to our 2008 ministries. While still $100,000 short of our goal, we are pumped that this young church gave a grand total of $330,000 in our first ten months.

The RoadMap campaign has had me examining scripture more and more to see what God has to say about money. There are some instances where God's people rallied to raise specific amounts of money for a specific project (rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem or building the temple, for example). But mostly when God talks about us giving our resources, it is in terms of priority percentage giving. In other words, before we get too impressed with what we gave, we should compare it to what we kept. Ouch. Regardless of where we fall on the net-worth scale, that's pretty convicting.

We have to keep talking about money in 2008. It's necessary to insure this baby church reaches financial independence. But we're going to change our tone a bit. Instead of setting specific financial goals for 2008, I want to shepherd us as a congregation to think in terms of percentage. It seems like that is the way God wants us to view our giving. Pray about it!

There is no way to adequately express our gratitude to all of you who gave throughout 2007! You have leveraged your resources for something tremendous. Thank you!

Click here to set up a recurring gift to Access Church.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Small Success

Some people recently have complimented me on the number of people coming to our Sunday services. We had especially big crowds at Christmas Eve and the first Sunday in January. They mean to be nice, but I want to make a couple of things really clear:

1. I have nothing to do with it. Oh sure, Stephanie and I are constantly invest and inviting, and our team works really hard to make our environments irresistible, but the Holy Spirit is the only one that can really motivate people to be in the room on Sundays.

2. That's not our goal. I know, that's weird for a pastor to say. But, filling the room, filling a bigger room, or building a big room and then filling it—this is not how we measure success!

We measure success by one number: the percentage of adults who are active in small groups. Right now that number is 45%, and we feel pretty good about that, even though we're itching to see it go over 50%.

The reason we care so much about that number is because of what happens in small groups. We think that's where "church" really happens.

Last night our small group had such a great time. We met at Shane & Kelly's, and since we're still a pretty new group we took time out to have two members of our group share their life story. It's a great exercise in getting to know someone, and we all learned a ton about Anne and about Cliff. Fascinating stuff that helps you understand them better and love them more. Oh, and we ate great food and drank really good coffee and hung out having "grown-up" conversation while the babysitters back at home put everyone to bed. Very, very therapeutic!

If you're not in a small group, one of your New Year's resolutions should be to join a small group this year. We're going to create a couple of new groups in February—that'd be a great time to jump in!

Groups may be small, but they are our greatest success.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Fantastic Day!

running 2This past Sunday was one of my favorite at Access. I get excited each Sunday we have church, but today was above and beyond. Here are some of my personal thoughts from the first Sunday of 2008:

Our production team blows me away every Sunday. They are some of the most talented people that I have worked with and all remain humble and absolutely passionate. Great job today!

Let’s see… what makes today fantastic? We were setup early. We got done with rehearsal in plenty of time. We used the extra time to troubleshoot a problem. And, the services went really well.

That’s just the start. The worship content was great too. We started with Charlie Hall’s Running With Your Heart (Thanks Danny Dukes for learning this). This song just sums up the series we’re in. It was awesome.

We introduced our new part-time youth director, Brian Reese. Welcome, Brian!

Then, Andy’s message was fantastic. I love the Imagine series, and every time I hear it I get more and more excited about Access Church.

Finally, the people today were fantastic. We had great energy in the room both services. During the second service, I had tears in my eyes as worship happened. I looked around the room and saw outsiders who have shown up again after being invited since before Access started; I saw a grandfather and grandson worshiping side by side – amazing; I saw one of workers who volunteers her Sundays at UNF to work in worship the whole time and totally worshiping; lastly, the rest of the crowd was just very responsive to worship.

From there, I went to UpStreet and loved watching the elementary kids worshiping God in their environment. One of my volunteers pulled double duty and helped lead worship. It was great to hear and watch the kids praising God.

And, we tore down and loaded the trailers in what I think was record time. Fantastic day.

Friday, January 04, 2008

2" x 4" on the Highway

One recent Friday Stephanie informed me that the driver's window on my car would not go up.

Of course, being Friday afternoon, I knew it'd be tough to get it fixed before Monday. "As long as it doesn't rain on Sunday morning on my way to Access, I'll be okay," I thought.

And of course, when my alarm sounded at 3:30am, I could hear the wind howling outside and the rain pounding the roof. My thoughts were immediately less-than-pastoral.

Picture me driving up I-95 at 4:00am, with the rain pouring through the driver's window. It's a good 20-minute drive to Access, and by the time I got there not only was I soaking wet, but there was standing water in the footwell of my car. Oh, and it was cold. Wet and cold. Such a lovely combination. Did I mention that it was four o'clock in the morning?

My biggest regret, of course, was that it was 4am and I couldn't think of anyone to call at that hour. I wanted someone else to know how badly my day was starting. I wanted someone to feel badly for me. So, I began to rehearse my sob story for the guys on our Environment Team who would be meeting me at the church at 4:30am.

It was about that time I encountered the two-by-four.

If you've seen Brian Regan's, "I Walked on the Moon," you'll understand what I mean when I say that I began to feel some "pressure." (Brian has a hilarious routine about how doctors never use the word "pain," always substituting the word "pressure.")

The two-by-four wasn't physical, but it was very real and wielded by the Holy Spirit. He does that to me on the occasion that I need a little dose of perspective.

In that moment it dawned on me: I am on my way to the coolest church in the world, to work alongside the most amazing group of volunteers in the world, to join together and worship the One True God. What could be more awesome?? Once again, the Holy Spirit reminded me of how small I need to be and how BIG God needs to be.

This Sunday, I invite you—dry or wet—to join us in worshiping the incredible God of the universe, the only God deserving of our worship, the God who has done everything for us and made it possible for us to have a relationship with him through Jesus Christ. What a privilege! What an honor! We get to assemble as the Body of Christ and tell him how awesome he is! Please, don't ever feel sorry for me on a Sunday.

See you at 9:30 or 11:15am!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Happy New Year

Reflecting on 2007 has been very humbling for me this past week. It's been a great reminder that sometimes God's vision is different from our vision, but His is always better! He has done something amazing in the past year, and I am once again at a loss for words in my worship for Him.

Much of 2007 was about "starting." Starting a new church, new friendships, new patterns, new staff, new cultures. For our family that even included a new house in a new neighborhood in a new city with a new dog and new (much to our chagrin) vehicles!

The fun thing about 2008 will be continuing all that God has started. How will we participate in his vision for the year ahead? How can we pray for Access Church at the start of this New Year? Our first full year as a church!

I've read some pretty daunting "vision" statements from other pastors in the last 48 hours about the year ahead. I don't have a long list of what I want to see God do at Access this year. Mostly because I have no idea where he's going to take us! But, I do have this one, simple recurring hope in my head for 2008. And I think it aligns with what God wants for us.

I think 2008 is going to be an incredible year for this reason: I really believe this is going to be the year we're going to see people cross the line of faith & maybe even be baptized as a direct result of Access being here in Jacksonville.

Wouldn't that be incredible? Can you think of specific people that you'd love to see meet God in 2008? Will you join me in praying for them, investing in their lives out of genuine love for them, and inviting them to Access this year? What could be more amazing? Can you imagine celebrating Christmas this next year knowing their life has been radically transformed? Can you imagine seeing them in a small group? Can you imagine them telling others about their new faith?

When you get a chance, take a gander at 1Corinthians 3, and take a long pause on verse 7.

It's going to be a great year.