Monday, November 7, 2011

The First Day of the Rest of Our Lives

What a weekend!

We had a terrific turnout for our Open House and Dedication Service on Saturday. Many of those who partnered with us in designing and renovating our new facilities joined us to celebrate what God has done in our midst. A number of people from our community came for the Open House tours. To a person, I believe, they were impressed with what God has enabled us to do with an old, run-down grocery store and day care facility.

Sunday’s Grand Opening was fantastic. With 336 folks in attendance, the auditorium was nearly filled to capacity. Great sounds of worship reverberated throughout the room. The response to the message was humbling, with many of our visitors expressing gratitude for our ministry in this community.

God’s goodness and grace was evident throughout the entire weekend. It made every sacrifice of time, energy and finances worth it to see people connect in a real and vibrant way with the God who loves them.

Kim said it on Sunday afternoon, and I’ve thought about it since then: Sunday, November 6 marks the day our church changed forever. I think she’s right. I don’t think we’ll ever be quite the same. She meant it in a good way—that we will move forward and do even greater things for God. For over 5 years, God has been preparing us for this moment, much in the way that a parent prepares a child to enter the world.

But she’s right—we can’t go back. To go “back” would be to surrender, to give up, to fail. To go “back” would be to forfeit the opportunities God has given us—the responsibilities which He has entrusted to us. To go “back” would be to manifest irresponsible faithlessness in the light of His enduring faithfulness.

Of course, we’ll always be the church that is experiencing and expressing the love of God. We’ll do that through Community and Growth and Worship and Impact, just like we always have. We will be a place where people can grow close to one another even as they become more intimate with God. Our commitment to the truth does not waver, and our love for people will not change.

But in a rather significant way, I think this past Sunday marks a milestone in our church life. God has given us the opportunity to join Him in doing marvelous works. And if what I saw from our folks this week is any indication, we’re prepared to do just that.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Time of Celebration

This past Sunday, we celebrated the day we had long been praying, planning and pining for--our first service in our newly renovated church home. After 5 years of ministry in Spring Hill, setting up and tearing down each week for church services in the Middle School, we finally have a place to call our own. And it sure felt good.

Of course, first and foremost, the glory and the credit for this great milestone goes to God. To the best of our ability, we have sought His will and followed His leadership as we have ministered in this community for half a decade. He has provided for us beyond our wildest imaginations. He has blessed us far more than we surely deserve.

We are also very grateful to the Board of Elders, men who love God and His church and who seek to be sensitive to the guidance of His Spirit. It is a challenge to find the balance between waiting upon the Lord and moving ahead when prompted by Him. But to a man, our Elders desire to be in the very center of His divine will. Our Elders possess a vision for this church and this community and refuse to allow the blessings of yesterday to suffice for this hour. It is an honor to labor shoulder to shoulder beside them.

And the Life Spring Church family has manifested an amazing degree of faith in God throughout this process. There is no doubt in my mind that many churches would have given up when facing obstacles such as those we faced throughout the process of negotiating, purchasing and renovating the property. But we kept our eyes on Jesus, and He showed His faithfulness through it all.

We have been able to do more with our budgeted construction funds that we anticipated, in large part because of the thousands of man-hours of labor on the part of our volunteers. Men, women and children involved in nearly every aspect of the renovations--from demolition to decorating--and whose sacrifices made possible the beautiful facilities we enjoy today.

The building is not finished (are they ever "finished"?), but it looks great. We've held our first service, and we are eagerly anticipating Grand Opening Weekend, with an Open House and Dedication Service on Saturday, November 5, and the Grand Opening Worship Service on November 6. We expect a large crowd, and this will be a great opportunity for us to share Jesus with our neighbors.

At the same time, we must avoid the temptation to view these events as the "Finish Line". We didn't buy and renovate this property merely to have a place to meet. Our efforts have been undertaken with the desire to see souls saved and lives changed for the glory of our Savior and God.

So let's enjoy the fruit of our labor even as we rededicate ourselves to doing all we can to promote God's Kingdom right here in our own backyard.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Half a Century

Today is the 50th anniversary of my birth. I appreciate the cards, calls, emails and Facebook posts, but I’ve never really understood what all the fuss is about. After all, I didn’t do anything except be born. But it is nice to hear from friends and family.

I must admit that despite my 50 years upon this planet, I don’t have much profound to share with you. But here are a few random thoughts clanging around in what passes for my mind these days.

1. I go to sleep earlier but don’t sleep as late as I used to.

2. I know more but remember less.

3. I prefer winter over summer, but I’d rather it just stay 70 degrees all the time.

4. I am not embarrassed to get my AARP card in the mail.

5. I have more memories than dreams, but thank God, I still have a few dreams.

6. Coke Zero is my soft drink of choice, even if sugar & calories didn’t matter.

7. I am more deeply in love with Kim today than on the day we married 22 years ago.

8. My faith is stronger and my convictions firmer than ever.

9. I miss old friends more than I used to.

10. I don’t mind Kacie asking me questions as much as I did when she was little, but now I have fewer answers.

I told you, there’s nothing profound here. But these are my thoughts. I figured I’d better share them while I could remember them.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Close Encounters of the Best Kind

In 1977, Steven Spielberg directed a popular science fiction movie entitled Close Encounters of the Third Kind. This movie starred Richard Dreyfuss as Roy Neary. Neary was an ordinary citizen who, after an encounter with a UFO, feels inexplicably drawn to an isolated area in rural Wyoming where he expects something spectacular to occur. At one point, Neary is questioned by the authorities as to why he has come to this area. Through the course of their conversation, Neary explains he’s seeking answers to some of the deeper mysteries of life.

Seeking answers through a close encounter. It might be crazy if you’re talking about aliens and space ships. But not when you’re seeking answers to life’s toughest questions through an encounter with the Son of God. They’re not close encounters of the third kind, but they are Close Encounters of the Best Kind.

On September 25th, I’ll begin a new series of sermons examining some of these close encounters. Encounters that changed people’s lives forever.

And the best news is that such encounters are not science fiction. They’re not merely entertaining stories. They are accurate accounts of real life events that happened nearly 2000 years ago.

More importantly, they help us to understand that a real, personal God wants to have such encounters with us still today. He wants to meet us where we are. But He doesn’t want to leave us there. He wants us to begin a journey with Him into eternity.

I hope you’ll join us for this new series. Come prepared to experience for yourself a Close Encounter of the Best Kind.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Cloud of Witnesses

I have been reminded again recently of how much we are shaped by the people God places in our lives. Whether it is a long-time friend or people whom we know rather casually for a brief period, we are influenced in many ways by those with whom we "do life".

As I look back on my life, I am especially mindful of the people that God has placed there to give me a greater heart for Him. When I was growing up, my Dad wasn't a Christian, and my Mom didn't drive, so if I wanted to go to church, I had to hitch a ride from someone. That "someone" happened to be our Pastor, Bro. Bill "Hi" Johnson.

Every Sunday morning, Bro. Hi (as he was affectionately known) and his wife Janet would come by and pick up my Mom & me. They often picked up a widow lady and a never-married older woman as well, and the six of us would ride to church together. Then, of course, he had to drop us all off again after church. (Except for the time he left me at a church in Leavenworth after a revival service, but that's the subject for another blog.)

Even after Bro. Hi & Janet moved to a parsonage on the grounds of our new church building nearly 10 miles from us, they continued to make that drive, picking us (and anyone else who needed a ride) up on Sunday mornings, Sunday nights and Wednesday nights.

Until I became a pastor, I never truly appreciated the sacrifice that represented. On Sunday mornings, after I preach, I am exhausted. I am usually anxious to return home and crash for a while (or watch the Chiefs' crash, as the case may be). Yet for years, my former Pastor & his wife drove all over Kansas City, Kansas providing personal transportation.

Of course, picking me up for church was just one of many ways in which the Lord used Bro. Hi to shape my heart towards God. But if he hadn't been willing to make such sacrifices, I doubt that I would have been saved as a child, let alone a pastor of one of His churches today.

And there were so many others who spent time and showed interest in me. Sunday School teachers, neighbors, friends and others who in ways big and small have influenced my life in a Godly direction.

As I consider how others have been there for me, it humbles me to wonder whether I have been there for others in the same way. Am I willing to pause for a few minutes on a busy Sunday morning to talk with someone who needs a word of encouragement? Will I pick up the phone and take a few minutes to check on someone going through a rough patch? Will I go out of my way to reach out to those who just need someone to be there for them?

I am grateful to the Lord for those people who have been willing to invest a bit of themselves in me, from childhood through this very day. And I resolve to be more intentional about investing my time and energy in others--to pause from my daily pursuits just long enough that someone, young or old, may know that because God cares for them, I do, too.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Justice For All???

I need to begin this article with a disclaimer. I think Casey Anthony was guilty of killing her 2 year old daughter; I think the State of Florida presented sufficient evidence to prove it; and I am disgusted by the verdict of “Not Guilty”. I hope that members of the jury will come forward and explain how they could have arrived at their verdict, but I doubt that will make me feel much better.

I have always been intrigued with the practice of law. I worked one summer in the office of the Wyandotte County District Attorney, and found it utterly fascinating. I received my undergraduate degree from Washburn University, attending that particular school because I intended to go on to attend Washburn Law School. The Lord had other plans for me, but I still enjoy following trials like the Casey Anthony case.

I believe in our system of justice. I think trial by a jury of our peers is one of the most outstanding distinctions between American justice and that of most any other nation in the world. I believe that it is proper that the State has to meet a high burden of proof to convict a person of a crime. And I believe that a person found guilty should be punished to the full extent of the law. I wish it had happened in this case.

But it didn’t. For reasons that have yet to be explained and that will probably never be fully understood by most of us, 12 men and women adjudicated Casey Anthony “not guilty”. As is often explained by those in the media, “not guilty” is not the same thing as “innocent”. But it has the same effect, doesn’t it? Casey Anthony will soon be free. She will not pay a penalty imposed by her peers or our judicial system for an offense most of us believe she committed.

In an effort to find solace in the face of this seeming injustice, I have heard variations of this statement: “Well, she may have escaped this judgment, but one day she’ll meet a Judge who won’t let her get away with it.” In fact, some people seem almost gleeful by this prospect.

That troubles me.

I do believe that one day Casey Anthony will meet the Lord. She, like all of us, will one day give an account of her life. But as disappointed as I am in the failure of our system to render justice (or at least, what I perceive to be justice), I cannot take pleasure in the thought that “one day, she’ll get hers”. Because no matter what she has done—no matter the extent of her guilt—she deserves hell no more than I do. I am as sin-ridden and guilt-stained as she is.

When we take pleasure in the thought that one day “sinners” will get what’s coming to them, we show a woeful lack of understanding about our sinfulness. We think that Charles Manson or Ted Bundy or Casey Anthony is somehow more deserving of eternal punishment than we would be.

I believe that when I stand before the True and Living Judge, I will be adjudicated “not guilty”. Not because I haven’t sinned—I surely have—but because Jesus Christ paid my sin debt already, and I have put my faith and trust in Him. I am no more worthy of God’s grace & mercy than anyone else. And Jesus shed His precious blood for Casey’s sins as sure as He shed His blood for mine.

Scripture teaches us that it is not God’s will that any would perish, but that everyone—including people who take innocent lives—would come to repentance. He doesn’t want Casey Anthony to spend eternity separated from Him any more than He wants to be separated from you.

Let us not take pleasure or comfort in the thought that one day she’ll get what she deserves. Instead pray that God would impress upon her heart the need for repentance and forgiveness. That’s what we mean by Amazing Grace!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Flag Still Waves

As we prepare to celebrate our nation's 235th birthday, I wanted to share a story with you.

Over the years, I've been privileged to preside at the funerals and memorial services for a number of military veterans. Such services are especially poignant, in my opinion, as we honor the lives of people who were willing to serve their country at great personal risk. Even though many of them lived for decades after their military service had ended, we remain indebted to them for their sacrifice.

One of the most meaningful moments of such services is when the flag which had draped the casket is folded with military precision and presented to the surviving members of the family. While that is a beautiful and touching ceremony, I sometimes wondered why the flag wasn't buried with the deceased. After all, it isn't uncommon to bury our loved ones with items of significance.

Well, recently I read a possible explanation for this. We don't bury the deceased with the flag, one person noted, because while the soldier has fallen, the flag still waves.

I don't know whether that definitively answers the question, but it's a good enough answer for me.

I am grateful for the men and women who give of themselves to keep us safe & free. And I am grateful that 235 years later, the flag still waves.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Harold Camping Was Right

By now, everyone knows that the heretical prophecy of California radio preacher Harold Camping concerning the rapture did not come true. The world did not end on May 21 as he promised (“The Bible guarantees it”, his billboards blared). This is no surprise to anyone who has even an elementary knowledge of the inspired Scriptures, for Jesus declared No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father (Matthew 24:36). So it would be foolish to believe that Harold Camping had been entrusted with knowledge that Jesus said no one but the Father would possess.

I am not as magnanimous as many of my Christian friends, who have been willing to give Camping a pass when it comes to this doctrinal error. They suggest that he was “mistaken” or “misguided”. In reality, it was far worse than a simple mistake. Camping ignored the clear teachings of Scripture that it is wrong to set dates or times for the return of Christ. Just before Jesus ascended back to Heaven, He told His church, It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. (Acts 1:7) The Apostle Paul encouraged believers at Thessalonica not to buy into the lies of false prophets that the Rapture had already occurred.

So Camping’s teachings do not represent a mere mistake, but he perverts Holy Scripture and corrupts the plain meaning of the text of the Bible. False prophets suffered mightily in Old Testament times, and God is no more tolerant of such blatant efforts to mislead His people today.

Having said all that, however, I must admit that Harold Camping was right about a few things, and we would do well to remember these truths.

First of all, he was right that Jesus is coming again. We do not know the date. We cannot predict the hour. We are not given as much as the year, the decade or the century. But on the authority of God’s precious Word, I know that Jesus will return. He promised, In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am (John 14:2-3).

Camping was also right that the saved will be raptured. This is how it was explained to those confused believers at Thessalonica: According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever (1 Thessalonians 4:14-17). Those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ will be “caught up” (or “raptured”) to meet Christ in the air.

A third fact that Camping got right was that sin will be judged. In Revelation 20:11-15, we are given a glimpse of that judgment day: Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. Those who have rejected Christ and have chosen to pay for their own sins will do just that, and sin will be judged once and for all.

Unless he repents, Camping will pay a high price for promoting his heresy and bringing reproach upon the Word of God. But even in the midst of all that he got wrong, he did get a few things right.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

God Said "Yes"

Be careful what you pray for. You may get it.

I couldn't help but think of that old adage after Sunday's announcement that we had raised enough money to finalize the purchase of the Spring Hill Plaza property. Months of planning and praying had resulted in God revealing Himself and His will in a tremendous fashion.

Last fall, Life Spring signed a purchase contract to buy the building that formerly housed a grocery store and a day care, along with the adjacent shopping center with two vacant spaces (which we subsequently renovated into our church office and Youth Center) & spaces leased to a pizza restaurant and an insurance agency. In total, it involved 22,000 square feet sitting on 5 acres of land. We also contracted for options on 3 adjacent lots. Despite our best efforts, that deal fell through at the end of the year.

However, convinced that God was leading us to this property, we resumed negotiations and were able to come to terms with the seller once again. We brought this contract to the Life Spring congregation in February, once the financing package was put together, and they affirmed it with 98% approval of those members who voted.

Once again, however, we were coming down to the wire and it looked like we might not be able to close as scheduled on April 15. When all was said and done, we were $175,000 short of what was needed to purchase and renovate the property. Quite frankly, to some of us, it might as well have been a million dollars. How would our new, small congregation raise that kind of money in just two weeks? Given our average attendance, that represented about $1000 for each man, woman and child who attends services each week.

But we continued to pray. We brought the need to the congregation. We didn't beg. We didn't threaten. We didn't manipulate. We informed the congregation of the need, and we prayed, "Lord, if you want us to own this property, then you must make it happen."

We talked with the sellers about seller financing--a provision they had included in our original deal, but subsequently had pulled off the table. Although they were cool to the idea, they said they would be willing to consider some "small" amount--but they insisted on some concessions on our part.

As this past Sunday dawned, we had commitments for about half of the needed funds. We had a great response to the special offering, with many of our folks making sacrificial gifts. When we left services, we were just $30,000 short.

And then a call came in, then two. By sundown on Sunday evening, the $30,000 shortfall had been met, and we even had people calling on Monday morning willing to make up the difference if needed.

This isn't how the Elder Board envisioned God meeting the need. But meet the need He did. He challenged us to stop thinking of Him as a small, diminutive God, and to start seeing Him as a Great and Awesome God. He wants us to start attempting things that only He can do--we've done what "we" can do long enough.

As of this writing, the Bank and Realtors and insurance people and title company are all doing their thing, frantically working to meet the deadline of our closing on April 15th. And we keep praying, knowing that Satan has not stuck his head in the sand and admitted defeat. We know that if there is a trick up his sleeve, he'll use it. But God speaks to us "Do not fear--be of good courage." We've seen God do a miracle in our midst. And now we just bask in His glory.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Membership Has Its Responsibilities

Today I received an invitation to join a service organization in our community. This group is well known in Spring Hill, and is very active in doing service projects that benefit our city. I know several of their members, and they are fine, upstanding citizens.

I found myself intrigued by the brochure that accompanied the invitation.

First of all, it talked a lot about the service performed by the organization, but not much about the benefits to its members. It is clear that this organization values service, and it wants men & women who are more interested in what they can give to and through the organization than they are in what they are going to get out of the organization.

It also set out some rather stringent conditions for membership: An annual membership fee; Weekly lunch paid for by each member; An additional expense for a service project; Members are expected to attend at least 60% of the organizations weekly meetings, which are scheduled to last 1 1/2 hours; Every member is expected to serve on a committee or otherwise participate in the leadership of the organization; They also are required to help with fundraising events and/or other activities and programs.

There is a section of their brochure that deals specifically with expectations for new members.

I couldn't help but compare that service organization's approach to membership to that of the church.

Many people exploring membership in a local church start with the question, "What does this church have to offer me?" or "How can this church meet my needs?" It is rare indeed for people to start from the perspective of "How can I help this church accomplish its mission?"

What if we were to impose minimum attendance or giving standards? What if we required each person applying for membership to tell us up front where they were going to serve in the church? I guarantee you, a lot of people would be offended by such an approach.

Yet most organizations (not just the one I mentioned earlier in this post) routinely set such expectations of their members. Why is the church different? Is the church of Jesus Christ not worthy of these more stringent requirements? Is the Body of Christ less deserving of such commitment on our part?

I'm not proposing such changes in our approach to membership at Life Spring, but I hope every member will pause to consider whether we are giving our best in our service to the Lord. If service organizations in the world are worthy of such dedication, is the church of Jesus Christ worth any less?

Friday, January 28, 2011


Today is a bittersweet day in the life of our church family. It was our last day of operating out of the office & meeting space, known as “The Life Center”, out of which we have operated since opening our doors 4 ½ years ago. While we always knew this was going to be temporary space, we still will miss the place.

Since we moved into The Life Center, whenever people would ask me where we were located, I would always say, “We’re just north of the Johnson County library”. That sounded better than “We’re right next door to the liquor store.” Of course, that didn’t work so well one day when I received a call from the pizza delivery driver, who was 15 minutes late delivering a pizza for a luncheon meeting.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “where are you located?”
“Just north of the library,” I responded.
“In Spring Hill?” he questioned me.
“That’s right,” I said, “just north of the Johnson County Library.”
“I don’t know where that is,” he replied.
“Well, we’re just south of the liquor store.”
“Oh, Hometown Liquor? I know right where you are.”
He was there in 3 minutes.

We’ve had a lot of good times in this place. Senior adult fellowships. Youth meetings. Life Group huddles. New members’ classes. Elders’ meetings.

Every week for 4 ½ years, we’ve officed out of here. It started out with just me. Then Joanna Meek came on board as a part time assistant. Pastor Dennis soon joined the staff. When Joanna took on a new assignment (as mother) she also took on a new role (as Financial Assistant), and LeAnn Retherford became our assistant. When LeAnn left last year, a very familiar face replaced her, as my wife Kim took the job.

We’re really excited about our new office space in Spring Hill Plaza. It’s almost double the size of our present office, and it will be nice having space that won’t double as a serving line for luncheons.

The new youth center is also a great space. It’s 3 times larger than the meeting space in the old Life Center, and I think our young people and youth sponsors are really looking forward to putting it to good use.

This, of course, is just a part of what we plan to be our new campus when we convert the old grocery store & day care into a worship center and classroom space.

And all of this will facilitate our ability to minister in a more effective way to our community. These are steps in the right direction for our church family.

But still we’ll miss the old Life Center, our first “home” in Spring Hill.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Are You Ready?

We were all ready to go. Suitcases were on the bottom. Fragile packages with bows were on the top. The cooler and food boxes were at the back, as far from the heater as possible. There was just enough room for me to see out the back window. GPS was set and the Christmas CDs were in the glove box. I set our departure time for 7:30, and the digital clock read 7:33. Pretty good for the Sterrett Express. We prayed for safe travel, and we were ready to go.

I turned the key, and...nothing. No purring engine. Not even a chug-chug-chug. Dead silence, except for the sound of my rising blood pressure. How can this be? I had planned so meticulously. I had packed so carefully. But if the car battery is dead, there's no backing out of the garage.

I couldn't help but draw a comparison with our spiritual lives. We'll spend hours in Bible study, prayer and worship. We'll dot every "i" and cross every "t". But all of that is wasted effort unless the Spirit of God empowers us to carry out God's work. It's like having a car packed and ready to go with a dead battery.

The Greek word for power is "dunamis" (like "dynamite"). It describes the explosive power of the Spirit to enable the believer to minister on behalf of God. It is a supernatural strength that can not be manufactured or duplicated by man.

As we begin a new year, I hope that we will spend time in God's Word, feasting on the riches of His truth. I hope we will worship with authentic hearts yielded to Him. I hope we will pray earnest, effectual prayers. And through it all, I hope that we will be empowered by the Holy Spirit of God to labor and serve Him by His strength and in His might.