If you are new to this blog....

Welcome! The primary purpose of this blog is to explore and encourage around what it means to be winsome and sent into the world for God's glory. If you are new here, the definition of "lighthouse-searchlight" or our missional journey is a good place to start. Come peruse the blog and add me to your RSS feed!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

what is the quality of our searchlight? - celebration!


In both stories that Jesus told, the story ends with rejoicing. And this is not just a little rejoicing, "Oh I found my lost coin" - it is a come home, call your friends, throw a party, rejoicing! So Jesus says it is when even one who was lost to God is found. I'm ready to shelve the word evangelism - it scares people; it sounds like Christianity for the advanced super-Christian. What God wants is simply people who are so full of Jesus Christ that they light up a room, even light up a neighborhood. I've seen you light up this room as you welcome folks and worship God. I know you can light up this neighborhood because I know the source of your joy and hope and life. And I'm ready to celebrate what God is going to do!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

what is the quality of our searchlight? - persistence

What does it mean for us to be a "searchlight church" and how can we improve as one? Let's consider the third of three qualities.

3. Persistence

We need to keep going back to the same streets, the same houses, the same folks again and again, not in an annoying way, but in a caring and persistent way, thinking of new and different ways to meet and invite them. We may well find that the door closes not because of who we are, but because of wounds or hurts suffered over the years. That is why we are called to a caring persistence... Is there anything we can do for you as a church? We can pray... we can provide food or counseling or friendship... I say we keep going back to Swan's Run, Bon Rea, Rea Road, Candlewycke, Chadwick, Old Providence, Brighton Place, the elementary school, and hanging out at the Colony & Rea shopping center until we find all those God wants us to find!

In order to be a searchlight church, we need to be searchlight people. That means applying all this on a personal level. We need to get off the path that runs from our garage to work to church and meet our neighbors. We need to seek out co-workers and ask meaningful questions. We need to meet our children's friends' parents and get to know them better. As we do that individually, so we will do it as a church family.

I know most of you have already filled out your commitment cards and have them with you today. One of the sections of that card is a commitment to be a searchlight Christian. I encouraged you there to write down for yourself the names of some folks that God might want you to search out. Maybe you start simply by praying for them. Maybe you move to socializing and talking with them. Maybe you are ready to listen to their story and share your story. Maybe it's time to invite them to church or to one of the "beacon" events like the Christmas cantata or the Christmas play. Maybe God will give you the opportunity to invite them to Christ.

Whatever it is, make a plan; be intentional; write it down and pray over it. The woman in Jesus' story turned up the lights and got the broom out. Let's be intentional like that and be the kind of searchlight Christians God is calling us to be! There are a lot of exciting "searchlight ideas" before us for the coming year - Christian yoga classes, a CATS commuter coffee ministry, community drama and community choir, VBS-on-the-road at Brighton Place in addition to VBS here. There are many more ideas. I'm looking for your ideas as well.

The best and most effective ministries are those God places on your heart. If you come to me, like Shannon did with the Christian Yoga idea, I will do my best to work with you and bless you with church resources. If we can really embrace this idea of being a lighthouse and searchlight church for Jesus, this will become the "best lit" neighborhood in Charlotte, to God's glory!

Next "What is the Quality" post: Celebration

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

what is the quality of our searchlight? - permeability

What does it mean for us to be a "searchlight church" and how can we improve as one? Let's consider the second of three qualities.

2. Permeability

I believe the specific mission and challenge God has given us is to be one of God's churches for this neighborhood - over 10,000 people live within a mile or so of our church. I can just about guarantee you that 5,000 and maybe more like 7,000 or 8,000 do not attend church regularly and do not have a personal relationship with the God of the universe. Even if my numbers are wrong - even if only 1000 or 500 - those people are the ones God would have us show the light of Jesus Christ. We don't have to convert them or make them believe or save them. But God would have us go to where they are with the hope and light and life of Jesus. That means a once-over the neighborhood won't do.

When I started here I used the image of "low-hanging fruit" with the elders. Sure, we can send out a few flyers and invite folks to some special events and we'll attract some folks who are ready to fall out of the tree and into a chair in church. That's the low-hanging fruit - it almost picks itself. But remember the woman in Jesus' story? She cranked up the lights, swept the floor and looked diligently for the lost coin. Some folks aren't going to invite themselves to our Christmas cantata. Some folks are going to toss the flyers we mail them. Some folks are not going to answer the door when we come Christmas caroling down their street. And those are the folks God would have us reach with the light of Jesus. Those are the folks who need to hear, "God loves you and has not given up on you; neither do we."

Next "What is the Quality" post: Persistence

Monday, November 13, 2006

what is the quality of our searchlight? - mobility

What does it mean for us to be a "searchlight church" and how can we improve as one? Let's consider the first of three qualities.

1. Mobility

Mobility is the "leave and go after" aspect of carrying the light of Christ. It is the "get up and get out" factor, and we can't effectively be searchlights for Christ without it. Yes, we can be a great lighthouse church and do a great job with people who come to us, but Jesus' clear teaching involves getting up and out into the world as salt and light.

It's easy to fool ourselves. Some of our seemingly best "outreach" ideas only have a strong lighthouse factor. We fail to consider the real outreach or searchlight component. For example, I recently was talking to Kathy about the exciting idea of sharing our drama ministry beyond the walls of the church. We were talking about taking the drama on the road to other churches or inviting people from other churches to act in one of our dramas. It's truly an excellent idea! And it's a lighthouse idea - a good one. But, what if we open it up to the community, so that people could audition for a role whether they were a church member or not? Would someone do that - act in a clearly Christian church-produced play? They might, if they loved to act and lived nearby. What better opportunity to be exposed to a vibrant and mature Christian faith than to work with Kathy to understand the character and plot of one of her plays. The same person might run as fast as they could from preaching, but could be "found" through a dramatic role in a gospel-centered play.

Or take a conversation I've had with the elders on several occasions. We have wonderful music, arts, and other great features here at Good Shepherd. Why don't we advertise on 91.9, the Christian radio station? I think with a little publicity and marketing that we could fill up our church, build buildings, and max out our plot of land here, entirely with Christians from all over Charlotte who would flock to the particular style and blend of arts, music, and worship we have here. But is that the work of the Kingdom of God?

Next "What is the Quality" post: Permeability

Sunday, November 12, 2006

searchlight church

Last week we talked about what it means for us to be a "lighthouse church" and "lighthouse Christians." We are to be obedient, involved, and prepared with the good news of Jesus Christ. This week we will look at a second picture of what it means to be faithful Christians and a faithful church: God wants us to be "searchlight Christians" and a "searchlight church." We will see that not only is our God a searching God, not only did Jesus come to seek and save the lost, but all of Heaven rejoices when a lost one is found. God's people and God's church are to join in this mission to the world and in celebration when God accomplishes His salvation in a human life.

What Does a Searchlight Do?

Before we look at our passage, let's think for just a moment about what a searchlight does. For example, it is used in the dark. It is used to find something or someone (or at least look!). It shows the way: if you are searching in the dark, you don't want to become a casualty yourself. The light from the searchlight pierces the shadow – pressing through ahead of you to the nooks and crannies that are hard to reach. The purpose of a searchlight is just what the name implies – to go and find in the dark. A searchlight can be a flashlight in the hands of one searching; it can be the floodlight on a helicopter or search-and-rescue vehicle. It is not dissimilar to a lighthouse – but it is mobile or at least "on the lookout" while a lighthouse is fixed as a point of reference.

So we are to be with the light of Jesus Christ. We are to be a lighthouse – a fixed point of reference welcoming all who see us into the sanctuary of the presence of and relationship with God. But we are also to be a searchlight - getting up and going out into the dark places of life, our community, and people's lives to share the light and life of Jesus.

Let's see what Jesus had to say about it.

Jesus as a Searchlight

We talked a few weeks ago about the grumbling over the company Jesus was keeping. Talking and hanging out with sinners and tax collectors didn't look good in the eyes of some. That was when Jesus said that the healthy do not need a doctor - but the sick do. He came to seek and save the lost.

In today's text we have the first two of three short stories Jesus told to illustrate his (and God's) perspective on those who are lost. I use the word "lost" because that's the word Jesus uses. These "lost" are indeed sinners, just like we are! We are just "found sinners" - found by God. Jesus is talking about "lost sinners" - those who are just like you and me, but who do not know God and who are lost with respect to God.

He tells two stories. In the first, a shepherd who has 100 sheep leaves the 99 to go look for one that is lost. Jesus was speaking to people who knew about sheep and shepherds. This was a real-life example that made sense. If it doesn't connect with you, don't worry, the next one is about losing money!

Let me just highlight a few things in this first story:

What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not LEAVE the ninety-nine and GO AFTER the one which is lost... (Luke 15: 4)

One of the qualities of being a searchlight Christian is mobility - a willingness to get up and get out, to "leave and go after" like the shepherd in the story. This is, in fact, what God did! Jesus left heaven to come to earth to go after us - the ones lost to God because of human sin.

Let's keep going. He leaves and goes after the one - UNTIL HE FINDS IT. When he has found it, he LAYS IT ON HIS SHOULDERS... (vv. 4-5).

A second quality of being a searchlight Christian is caring persistence. We are to keep getting up and going out because we care about those who would never wander in here on their own. And we don't give up easily. One flyer in the mailbox is neither caring nor persistent. We are to search and search until we find those God wants us to find - then caringly show them the compassion and love of God, tending to their hurts and wounds if necessary.

Let's look at the second story for a moment. In it, a woman loses one of ten silver coins. I'm sure you remember losing something important as a child. In our case, the new dog has made off with several of the girls' possessions: dolls, pencils, and more. You've probably also had the experience of leaving a purse or wallet somewhere. Well the woman in the story loses one silver coin of ten. And what does she do?

Doesn't she LIGHT A LAMP and SWEEP the house and SEARCH CAREFULLY?

Another quality of being a searchlight Christian is permeability. By that I mean something a little different than persistence. I'm trying to describe the thoroughness with which we search. A quick once-over of the house is unlikely to turn up the missing coin, though we might try that once in hopes of an easy discovery. She had to turn up the light, sweep all the floors, and probably get on her hands and knees. As we think about being "searchlight Christians" in our near-neighborhood, we will have to permeate the neighborhood - not just give it a once-over.

Notice, too, that the woman was also persistent. She kept looking until she found the coin.

Let's take those three qualities (mobility, permeability, and persistence) then, and ask what is the quality of our "searchlight" as a church and as individual Christians.

"What is the Quality" posts: Mobility

Sunday, November 05, 2006

lighthouse church

God wants us to be a "lighthouse church." Today I'm going to share with you what that means and why God wants us to be one!

You just heard several verses from Luke. The first was what the old priest, Simeon, said when Jesus was brought as a baby to the Temple. Simeon had prayed to God to be able to see God's promised Messiah before he died. Quoting the Hebrew scriptures, Simeon declared:

For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel. (Luke 2:30-32)

The disciple, John, also presents this truth about Jesus: he is the light of truth and life that God sent into the darkness of our world. Jesus was God revealing Himself - showing His face - to the world. Later, John quotes Jesus own claim about himself:

I am the Light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life. (John 8:12).

In Luke 8:16-18, Jesus makes the point that is our focus today:

Now no one after lighting a lamp covers it over with a container, or puts it under a bed; but he puts it on a lampstand, so that those who come in may see the light.

The purpose of the Church is to gather together to worship, proclaim, and hold up to the world Jesus Christ, the light of the world. We are not to keep him a secret or huddle together like we would around a warm campfire. With this light of Christ we are to be like a lampstand or a LIGHTHOUSE, shining brightly to everyone around us.

Philip - a "lighthouse Christian"

I'm just going to hit the highlights of our main scripture text today. I use it as an illustration of what it means to be a lampstand or lighthouse church. The church is you, Christians gathered together. So, in order to be a lighthouse church, we must be "lighthouse Christians." Philip was that kind of Christian!

Look in Acts 8, verse 26. The Lord prompted Philip to "get up and go." Philip could have stalled and procrastinated, whined and made excuses, but in verse 27 we read, "So he got up and went." Philip was obedient to the Lord!

There was an eunuch, a high official in the court of Queen Candace of Ethiopia, who had come to Jerusalem to worship. He was probably what was called a "God-fearer" - a Gentile who was interested in the God of Israel and who had come to the holy city. Not only had he come to Jerusalem to worship, he was reading the Hebrew Scriptures on his way back home. He was reading Isaiah the prophet. He was interested in God and the things of God, what today we might call a "seeker". When Philip caught up to him, he saw what he was doing and asked if he understood the Scripture. Philip got involved!

The man responded, "Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?" He invited Philip to come up into the chariot and sit with him. And Philip did just what the man asked - he explained the words of Isaiah and how they pointed to Jesus Christ - see verse 35? Philip "opened his mouth and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him." In the right place at the right time, through obedience to God and involvement with the man's search, Philip guided the man toward the truth of Jesus Christ.

Through his obedience, involvement, and active guidance, Philip showed himself to be a "lighthouse Christian" - one who shines with the light of Jesus and draws others towards that light and life.

What is a "Lighthouse Church"

What does it mean to be a lighthouse church? Well let's think for a moment about what a literal lighthouse does. It is a point of reference for ships in the water. By it's light it signals where land is; sometimes where danger is, and sometimes where safe harbor is. It is not just a passive point of reference, either, it can actively guide ships into their destination, bringing them in even during darkness or a storm. One of my favorite lighthouses is in Harbor Town on Hilton Head Island. Like many lighthouses, it is at the edge of the opening to the harbor, which serves as a refuge, one might even say a "sanctuary" for boats and ships. Even for those on the land, it is a known and recognizable landmark, and one that carries specific meaning and purpose.

So should the Church be! By being the gathering of Jesus-followers and those who live out and proclaim the truth of God's Word and Son, we are like the lamp on a lampstand and a lighthouse. We should not be hidden, but prominent and noticeable. We should be a landmark and a point of reference, even for those who are not members of our church. We serve not only as a point of reference in our neighborhood and community, but as a guide, ready to bring any who will come into the safe harbor of our sanctuary, to the arms of Christ.

Well, that all sounds like a handy and useful metaphor - an analogy to inspire us. But what does it mean? What should we be doing to be a lighthouse? How do we serve as a point of reference and guide to our neighbors and to one another?

Let me start with Philip and the characteristics he demonstrated: obedience, involvement, and guidance. If we are going to be the kind of church God wants us to be, we will have to obey His Word. We will have to get involved - not just with church and each other, but also with our neighbors and community. And we have to have something to offer! Philip was prepared to lead the eunuch through the scripture and point to Jesus.

What is the Condition of our Lighthouse?

I led our church staff and officers through this passage and a similar conversation about being a lighthouse church. The key question that we come to is "What is the condition of our lighthouse?" In these categories of obedience (availability), involvement (visibility), and preparation to guide others (utility), are we ready to do it? Are we doing it already?

I want to encourage you and affirm you that YES, we are functioning as a lighthouse church because many of you are lighthouse Christians! That has been one of the historic trademarks of Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church and the Good Shepherd family. Let me take those lighthouse characteristics in reverse and apply them to you.

As a whole, you are well equipped to share the good news of Jesus with others. We cherish God's Word and study it diligently. We gather here each week to hear, respond to, and lift up God's Word. We have Bible-focused Sunday school classes and three different adult Bible studies offered during the week each week. With adults and youth, we regularly train and practice how to "tell our story" (even if you don't realize that's what we're doing!). We all just spent a year going through every book of the Bible to understand God's "big picture" and saving grace. Even those of you who are new to Christianity dig in hard to learn the Bible and understand the riches of God's grace. Yes, each of us needs to continue this diligent study and preparation just as one needs to continue to exercise to stay in shape, but you are a well-trained group! You've got oil in your lamp; you've got the equipment to be lighthouse people and a lighthouse church.

The other two characteristics Philip demonstrated were obedience and involvement. Another way to describe these two traits might be as availability and visibility. Do we make ourselves available to God in obedience? What is our involvement level - our "visibility" to those who might be seeking guidance and the safe harbor of the gospel? I believe you are faithful in these areas - you earnestly desire to obey God's Word and you are off the charts in terms of welcoming visitors and making people feel at home here! At the same time, I believe this is an area where God is stretching us. Yes, we are incredibly warm towards those who find us, but are we willing to get involved with our church neighbors and "run alongside their chariot" in obedience to God?

We are beginning to look for new opportunities to run alongside the neighbors God has given us here. We have invited the Old Providence baseball league to use our field. We let neighborhood groups and piano teachers use our facilities. We are beginning to share some of our wonderful music and drama programs outside the walls of the church. Those same programs are also attracting folks from outside the church to act or so that children can sing with Lynda Shuler.

We've even recently trimmed up all the trees in the front of the church so people could see that there was a church here! Being a lighthouse church has all kinds of implications for how we go about doing church and being the church.

The officers and staff prayed, studied, and brainstormed some in August about how to become an even more effective lighthouse church. We are thinking of reaching out to the local police and fire fighters, to CATS commuters, to the group home, to the elementary school - to make folks aware of us and what is here - a landmark, lighthouse, point of reference and refuge for our community.

For all who wonder what God is doing in this part of Charlotte, I believe God's vision is that they will see Good Shepherd as a bright light shining with the light, life, and hope of Christ on this corner.

Postscript: Get Up/Get Out!

Today I focused on the nature and quality of our lighthouse ministry here at Good Shepherd. We talked about obedience, involvement, and preparedness to shine brightly for Jesus. The one characteristic of a lighthouse that doesn't quite fit in the analogy is that a lighthouse is fixed in one place - but we are mobile. Even Philip demonstrated this - God said, "Get up and go" and Philip "got up and went."

Today we've touched a little on what that means for our ministry. We can't just wait for folks to come to us, but must obediently get up and get involved with those God has put all around us. Some may be searching for sanctuary and safe harbor and you are the one God will use to bring them home. Others may never join our church or any church, but may come to know what God is doing here at Good Shepherd and through Good Shepherd. In each case, God is asking us to shine brightly with Jesus as His people and as His church.

Next week, as we bring our financial and spiritual commitments to the Lord, we will consider a second related vision for Good Shepherd - that we be and become a "searchlight church." Be praying about what that will mean for us in the coming year! Amen.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

the good news

For a number of weeks we have asked the question, "Why is Jesus good news?" The question is most appropriate today as well, particularly as we try to answer the question of what it means to believe and follow Jesus Christ.

Is it a bunch of hand-washing - go to church, give money, do good things, own a Bible?

While those are all fine things to do, they cannot "contain" the reality of the God who came among us, who broke into our reality and still does to wake us up, call our names, and bring us home. Those things cannot get us to God - not coming to church, not giving money, not fasting, not praying, nor anything else.

The foundational story of the Bible is that God comes to us - God comes all the way down to where we are. God breaks into human history and breaks into your life with the word and reality of Jesus Christ to wake you up, call your name, and bring you home. That is the Good News!

Neither our old lives nor our best hand-washing can contain or "wear" that truth. If we try to patch Jesus onto our old life or our own version of reaching out to God, we will be pulled apart and the holes in our life will gape ever larger like old clothes with new patches of cloth sewn tightly onto them. If we try to pour the living Spirit of God into lives that have not been made new by faith and trust in Jesus Christ, we will not hold.

This is the Good News of Jesus Christ - he has broken into your life, maybe years ago and maybe in this last hour, to call your name and bring you home. Trusting him to be who he says he is and do what he says he'll do is like those servants who filled up those ceremonial water pots and took a drink to the head steward. Faith embraces God's salvation through Jesus Christ. Trust responds to his invitation to "Come, follow me" and runs after him, whatever that may mean.

Jesus is good news because he brings new life - he is the "new wine" for celebrating God's faithful love for us who are His bride.

Is there any hand-washing, old jar, fasting-instead-of-celebrating that you need to exchange for the new wine? Maybe it's an old understanding of Christianity as the same thing as coming to or belonging to a church. Maybe it's the obsessive-compulsive hand-washing of doing good in the belief that God you have to tip the scales for God to accept you. Maybe it's the old clothes of a life untouched by God, one that won't take "patched on" Christianity; or maybe that's what you're doing and your life feels more torn open then ever before.

God has poured His Son, Jesus, into the old places and made something new - a living, dynamic relationship between you and God. Today, we drink the wine of that reality as we come together to the Communion Table. Today, we remember, experience, and celebrate what God has done and made new. Leave the old behind and come, for Jesus is new wine, new religion, new life... for you.

Friday, September 01, 2006

two years later...

I am leaving my first post on the archive - it was from Jan. 1, 2005. Now, nearly two years later, I've decided to actually do something with this blog (we'll see!)... to write about my church and the concept of being a LIGHTHOUSE and SEARCHLIGHT. These were metaphors I developed in the summer of 2006 for an officer retreat at Good Shepherd, and then explored in sermons throughout the Fall of that year (see earlier on this blog). They have been helpful images for growing as a worshiping and missional church, and I'd like to explore those metaphors and concepts on this blog. I'm sure I'll also think of plenty of other topics to cover as well. :)

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