Living Water

I am excited about our study of the book of Acts on Sunday mornings, especially in these early chapters as we examine the importance of the Holy Spirit in the early church’s living out their mission. I was looking for an illustration this week, and came across one of my favorite stories. It is supposedly true, and it certainly illustrates a simple, yet profound truth.

The story is about one of the great heroes of World War I, a British army lieutenant  named T.E. Lawrence. You may have heard of him–Lawrence of Arabia–since his life story was depicted in the 1962 epic film by the same name. 

After the war, Lawrence was in Paris with some of his Arab friends. He showed them the sights of the city: the Arch of Triumph, the Louvre, Napoleon’s tomb, and the Champs Elysees, but none of those impressed them. The one thing that did interest them the most was the faucet in the bathtub at their hotel room.

They spent much of their time in the room, turning the water on and off. They found it amazing that one could simply turn a handle and get all the water he wanted. Later, when they were ready to leave Paris and return to the Middle East, Lawrence found them in the bathroom with wrenches trying to disconnect the faucet. 

“It is very dry in Arabia,” they reminded Lawrence. “What we need are faucets. If we have them, we will have all the water we want.” He had to explain to them that the effectiveness of the faucets did not lie in themselves but in the vast reservoirs of water to which they were attached. And even beyond that it was the rain and snowfalls of the Alps that produced the water for the reservoirs. 

It’s a funny story, and a century later it sounds downright silly in our enlightened world. But I wonder how often we settle for the faucet, spiritually speaking, when it’s the “living water” we really need. It is the human condition that makes us prone to substitute the instrument for the water that Jesus promised would quench our thirst. And so, we focus more on externals than internals, on form instead of substance. 

“If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink,” Jesus once said.  “Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” Then John added this commentary about what Jesus said: “By this He meant the Spirit,  whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.”  (John 7:37-39)

My prayer for you is that you would know the living water of His Spirit that would flow from within, and that you would never settle for the forms of empty religion instead. I look forward to seeing you Sunday.

 –Pastor Ken

Some Telling Statistics

This past Sunday we were reminded of the “great co-mission” Jesus gave us to be His witnesses wherever we go. That simply means we are to tell those around us of what we have seen and heard and experienced in our relationship with Christ. That could also include an invitation to our friends and neighbors to join us in church.

And I wonder, how long has it been since you’ve told someone about the difference Christ makes in your life? How long since you’ve invited an unbelieving or unchurched friend to come and worship with you at Shelby Crossings?

I read some statistics this week that got my attention. Did you know that 82% of unchurched Americans say they would come to church if someone invited them. That’s right, even in our increasingly irreligious culture, eight in ten people would come to worship if only there was someone who would extend to them an invitation.

If that surprises you, then how about this: 89% of lost, unbelieving people in this country say they would go to church if someone–a friend, neighbor or relative–walked in the door with them. That is, not just inviting them verbally, but offering them a ride or meeting them at the door, and walking in with them.

I don’t know about you, but I’m more than a little encouraged by those numbers. We have often been led to believe that in today’s culture our lost friends and neighbors are antagonistic against all things church-related, when in fact they are just waiting for us to care enough to invite them to join us.

In another survey, people who are actively involved in their churches were asked, “What or who was responsible for your coming to Christ and your church?” Here are the results: Special need, 1-2%; Walk-in, 2-3%; Pastor, 5-6%, Visitation, 1-2%, Sunday School, 4-5%, Evangelistic crusade 1/2-1%; Church Program, 2-3%; Friend/Relative, 79-86%.

In other words, it was almost always the influence and invitation of a friend or relative that brought them to Christ and church, and had the greatest lasting spiritual impact on their lives. Not a pastor, and not a program–but a friend.

But that brings me to a more disturbing statistic: only 2% of church members in America actually invite unchurched folks to attend on a regular basis. It’s not hard to do the math to realize that if they are waiting on an invitation, and we are not inviting them, then they will continue down the same hopeless path, without Christ and without the loving community we experience in His family.

“But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?” (Romans 10:14, NLT)

Let’s tell them. Let’s invite them. Let’s reach out to our lost and hurting world with the love of Christ this week. Let’s be His witnesses, empowered by the Holy Spirit to share the good news of the gospel wherever we go.

I am sure glad we are on mission together. I am praying for you, and I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.

–Pastor Ken

Come Together

If you were with us on Sunday, you know we had an eventful morning. We also began a new sermon series for the new year from the book of Acts that I couldn’t be more excited about! Part of our focus in the intro message of the series was the repeated use of the word “together” to describe the church in Acts. They were together “in one accord” (no more Honda jokes, I promise) and experienced a great sense of unity in the midst of their community. 

You may have heard me speak of my collection of church cartoons, most of which poke a little fun at the way we do church from time to time. I found one last week that I considered using in the sermon, but the caption was small and would have been hard to read and I just knew it would have bombed.  So at the risk of bombing even more, I’ll describe the cartoon to you and you can use your imagination.

It’s a single frame, and in it there’s a young guy talking to an apparent “religious leader.” The youth has spiked hair, an earring and a chain around his neck and all the trendy clothes. Apparently this youth has made some kind of religious commitment. The religious leader is standing before the youth and saying, “You know young man that this means you are going to have to dress normally.”

Here’s where the irony and humor of the cartoon comes in. When you see the religious leader he is wearing a bishop’s hat that rises up about two feet with a cross on it. He is also carrying a staff and wearing a robe with an enormous cross on it. “Dress normally,” he says. Get it?

As we continue our study through Acts seeking God’s vision for His church–then and now–one of the most valuable things we seek to experience is Biblical unity, in Christ. But as I mentioned on Sunday, unity does not mean uniformity. 

Thankfully, God has brought us together from all walks of life as  “a diverse community of believers committed to developing passionate followers of Christ to impact the world.”  (That’s our church’s vision statement, by the way.) We may dress a little different, talk a little different, and act a little different sometimes, but God has sovereignly melded us together as His body, rallying around our common relationship with Jesus Christ. 

We come from different backgrounds, with differing gifts, abilities, experiences and passions–and hurts, for that matter–and God will use us all, as pieces in the puzzle to come together to function as the community of faith He has called us to be. That’s what it means to be His church.

I’m grateful He’s allowed me to be a part of such a great church, and I can’t wait to see what He has in store for us in the year ahead as we serve Him together. I’m praying for you, as I hope you are for me, and I look forward to seeing this Sunday.

–Pastor Ken

After the First of the Year

I do enjoy the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.  What’s not to enjoy about special times with family, holiday traditions, lots of Christmas goodies, fireworks and football, and, of course, a few days off. It’s a fun time of year, for the kid in all of us.

But what I dislike the most about the holidays is how much life is put on hold. Because of the busyness of the season, we tend to put off everything during the holiday season, until “after the first of the year.”

I bet I’ve heard that expression a few dozen times since Thanksgiving, and I’ve used it at least that many times myself. With all the distractions–holiday activities, people traveling out of town, and for some of us a family wedding just for good measure–we’ve all learned that it can be fairly frustrating to try to get much done during the last few weeks of December. And so, our whole world is put on hold and we become unproductive while we wait till “after the first of the year.”

Well….after the first of the year is here!  No more excuses, no more procrastination. It’s time to get back in the swing of things and start living intentionally again. It may be that you want to get a consistent quiet time with the Lord again. Or maybe you’ve planned on getting involved with a small group, helping out with the children’s ministry, or serving at the Firehouse. Or, on a different level, perhaps you’ve planned to go on a diet or exercise program, a financial budget or reading plan. There’s not a better time to start than now.

As a church, it is my desire that the New Year will bring a new momentum for ministry, as we seek to live out our faith and reach out to our community with a new zeal and passion for Christ. That will not happen passively, however. It will happen because we choose to become who we say we are, and because we set in motion the things that constitute living God’s will for our lives.

So I say, “Happy New Year” again to each of you. And welcome, 2020, the beginning of “after the first of the year.” I believe God has great things in store for us, individually and collectively, as we serve Him in the year ahead. May He truly bless you and prosper you, and continue to grow you up in Him as He grows us deeper in our fellowship.

I look forward to seeing you this Sunday. 

–Pastor Ken

Fresh Starts…and Choices

We stand on the brink of a New Year, with all of the possibilities of a fresh start and the opportunity for yet another new beginning. There’s something about fresh starts and “do-overs” that all of us like. Sometimes you just want to shake up the Etch-A-Sketch and start over. That’s what New Year’s promises, even if it is just another day.

As we push the “reset” button for 2020, I am not going to suggest that you make any New Year’s resolutions, but I will recommend a few choices.  We all have decisions before us as to what we will do and who we will be in the year ahead, and those choices will be grounded in the real-life priorities that shape our lives.

As we look back a year from now and evaluate the lives we lived in 2020, whether we will have succeeded or failed will largely be determined by the choices we made, and the good habits we developed from those choices. Let’s make good choices, to live our lives according to God’s will.

Specifically in regard to our church, I am excited and encouraged about what God is doing in the life of our fellowship. There is a fresh wind blowing, as the Lord stirs us and pushes us from our comfort zone, and continues to take us “deeper.” And I believe God has great things in store for us in the year ahead as we serve Him together.  However, we are reminded that “our church” collectively is made up of a bunch of individuals, all of whom have our own choices to make.

With that in mind, I wanted to specifically encourage each of you and your family to commit yourselves to do at least these five things in the New Year: 

  • Pray diligently.  Our church will only be as strong as our prayer lives, as we seek God’s direction and His moving in our ministry. We can do what we can do, or we can ask God to do what He does. I prefer the latter. So…let us pray.
  • Attend faithfully. Every member of this body needs every other member, both as we gather together for worship on Sundays and as we connect with one another in community in our small groups. So, “let us not forsake assembling ourselves together.”
  • Serve selflessly. Like Jesus, we’re called to serve, more than to be served.  Ask God to give you a servant’s heart, and then open your eyes for opportunities to use it. See how you can give your life away in the year ahead.
  • Reach out compassionately. It is time we regain our passion for seeing lost people saved. They need hope. We have it. Share it.
  • Walk humbly with God. Ultimately, that’s God’s will for all of us, all the time.  (Micah 6:8)

Happy New Year to each of you! May the Lord bless you and your family abundantly in the year ahead. I look forward to seeing you on Sunday for our final gathering as a church body for 2019 with a great day of family worship together. 

–Pastor Ken

A Celtic Prayer for Christmas

While looking for something else this week, I came across A Celtic Prayer for Christmas, and found it to be very simple and meaningful. I don’t know who wrote it, but I wanted to share it, in hopes that it might help you express your heart to Jesus this Christmas.

A Celtic Prayer for Christmas

Jesus, we kneel before You in silent amazement.

Thank you that, because of Your birth, we know that our Father is with us.

May we welcome You, not in a cold manger of a heart,

But in a heart so pure, a heart warm with love for one another.

Jesus, You are-

The tender holy Babe;

The Shepherd of Your flock;

The Healing Person;

The Christ of the people;

The world-pervading God;

Emmanuel, God-with-us.

Jesus, You are-

The Glory of eternity who now shines among us;

Son of the High King of the universe;

Splendor of the Father;

Source of life;

 Prince of Peace;

Wonderful Counselor; 

Friend of all;

Champion of justice;

Joy of angels.

Jesus, in You we see God’s face-

Gentle;

Smiling;

Strong;

Loving.

Jesus, You radiate what the world so needs today-

Gentleness, tenderness, light and hope.

In You, may we find-

Gentleness as the answer to violence;

Tenderness as the answer to ill-will;

Light as the answer to lies;

Hope as the answer to despair.

Jesus, Your grace brings forgiveness-

Have mercy upon us, bring us to true sorrow for our sins and a sincere repentance. 

Forgive our sins that we may have eternal life through You.

For Your glory fills eternity both now and ever and to the ages of ages. 

Amen.

From my family to yours, Merry Christmas to each of you. I hope to see you Sunday as we celebrate our Savior together. 

–Pastor Ken

Important If True

On Christmas Eve, 1998, George Will wrote a column for the Washington Post called “The Happiest Holiday.” It began this way:

A sardonic British skeptic of the late 19th century suggested that three words should be carved in stone over all church doors: “Important if true.” On Christmas Eve, at the end of the rarely stately and always arduous march that Americans make each year to the happiest holiday, it sometimes seems that they are supposed to celebrate Christmas as though they have agreed to forget what supposedly it means.

But we must not forget what it all means–and especially at Christmas–because it really is “important if true.” We may need to distinguish between the parts of the story that really are true, and the ones we’ve added along the way, but the realities of the divine incarnation that occurred that night in Bethlehem are life-altering. Or at least, they should be.

Let’s examine some of the outlandish claims of Christmas:

  • An angel visited a virgin who became pregnant by the Holy Spirit.
  • The baby in her womb was the Son of God from heaven.
  • God caused a pagan emperor to call for a taxation that sent Mary and Joseph back to Bethlehem at the very moment Jesus was born.
  • Prophets foretold both the Messiah’s virgin birth, and his birth in Bethlehem, hundreds of years before it happened.
  • Angels spoke to shepherds, proclaiming the birth of Jesus, and that He had come to reconcile God and man.

And if those things are true, as Scripture attests and we as Christ-followers believe, then we must understand that this was a world-changing event like no other. Clearly, the God of the universe–and His very existence is surely “important if true”–was up to something big. And that one event is the defining moment in human history.  “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!”

Whatever you do, however you commemorate Advent or celebrate Christmas, don’t miss the incredible reality of it all. This is not a myth, this is no childhood fantasy, this is not just a winter holiday. Whether the secular world recognizes it or not, the coming of Christ is a very big deal. It is important, because it is true.

I am reminded of a popular C.S. Lewis quote about Christianity in general.  He said: “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.”

Likewise, if Christmas is true, it cannot be an afterthought. If God really did come to earth–Emmanuel, God with us–to save the world from our sin, then it is more important than any decorating, parties, shopping or family get-togethers that come with the season. The Word, who was from the beginning, became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory!  Glory to God in the highest!

My prayer is that the truth of Christmas will be what is most important to you this holiday season. I look forward to seeing you Sunday–morning and evening–as we celebrate Jesus together. 

–Pastor Ken

Tis the Season…

“Tis the season to be jolly…”  Or is it?

Just because we sing those words, doesn’t mean it really is “the most wonderful time of the year” for everyone. In fact, it is well documented that the season of Advent brings great sadness to so many people who struggle through the holidays. More people suffer from depression between Thanksgiving and Christmas than any other time of the year.

No doubt, many of you are feeling the heartache of a first Christmas without a loved one, or are separated from family, or are going through specifically trying times this year that have dampened your holiday spirit. That’s a reality, whatever song we sing.

But if the message of Christmas doesn’t speak hope and joy into our gloom at this time of year, it is hardly of value the rest of the year either. It was the angels who said on that first Christmas night, “I bring you glad tidings of great joy which will be for all the people.”

You have to remember, that when those shepherds heard the message from the angel as they tended their flocks by night (and were “sore afraid”) it was the “good news” for which they had waited a lifetime. In fact, God’s people had been awaiting their Deliverer for generations, since the prophet Isaiah had foretold His birth in a time of bondage and exile:  “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light,” he wrote.

In the least expected of ways, God the Father sent the long-expected Jesus into the world in a feeding trough in a Bethlehem stable. But the Light of the world had come, and He was–and is–“Emmanuel, God with us.” That good news still sheds a different kind of light on us all, even twenty centuries later, during this season of Advent, as we wait for Jesus to come again.

The problem for many of us is, we tend to look for our joy in places that have a long history of disappointing us. This time of year, we think that the source of our joy will be the latest techno gadget or toy, or whatever else may be on your Christmas list this year. Those things may bring temporary happiness–“oh, you shouldn’t have!”–but they don’t bring genuine and lasting joy.

However, each of us, whatever our lot, can experience the joy of Christmas when we stop and reflect, recognize the presence of Jesus, Emmanuel, and live in the light of His presence, even in the midst of a dark world. I hope and pray you’ll know that inside-out joy this Christmas season.

I count it such a privilege to be your pastor, and can’t wait to see each of you this Sunday at Shelby Crossings as we celebrate Jesus together. 

–Pastor Ken

On Comfort Zones & Mama Giraffes

Like most people I have several knick-knacks and pieces of “art” spread around my desk and the cubby hole shelves behind it. Most of it you would probably not appreciate, unless you knew the stories behind them.

My collection ranges from a baseball with a faded signature of someone I led to Christ in a dugout, a carved elephant inside an elephant from India, a jagged piece of rock from the Berlin Wall, a real widow’s mite, and a casino token that we received in our VBS offering a few years back.

And then there’s the drawing on the back of a Shelby Crossings offering envelop, taped to the credenza behind my monitor. It’s the head and neck of a giraffe, protruding through the clouds, with something like a halo glistening around it’s head. The words above it provide a description, but may leave you wondering even more after you read them.

“Celestial Mama Giraffe,” it reads.

And now, as Paul Harvey used to say, the rest of the story.

Several years ago I preached a message, I think it was on the Old Testament patriarch Joseph, about how God uses trials and difficult times to grow our faith and build our character. In the midst of the message, I shared a story I had read from a man named Gary Richmond.

Gary happened to be at the Los Angeles Zoo at just the right moment to witness the birth of a giraffe. The mother was standing while giving birth, with the calf’s hooves and head already visible. “When is she going to lie down?” Gary asked the zookeeper.  “She won’t,” he answered. “But that’s a [ten foot drop to the] ground! Isn’t anyone going to catch the calf?” “Try catching it if you want,” the zookeeper responded, “but its mother has enough strength in her hind legs to kick your head off.”

Soon the calf hurled forth, and landed hard on his back. The infant giraffe laid where it fell, almost motionless. No more than a minute passed and then something totally shocking happened. The mother kicked her baby. She booted her own little one hard enough to send it sprawling head over hooves. “Why’d she do that?” Gary asked. “She wants it to get up,” answered the zoo keeper. Somehow, the newborn giraffe knew what his mother wanted and awkwardly struggled to rise. But after a few feeble tries, it gave up, sinking back to the ground. 

Boom! A second hearty kick from the mother rolled the young one over several more times. The calf again tried to prop itself up again on its stilt-like legs, and finally managed an upright stance. Gary Richmond marveled at what he was beholding, charmed by the sight of this fledgling giraffe.

But then suddenly and unexpectedly, something happened that took Gary’s breath away. Almost as soon as the calf gained stability in its upright perch, the mother kicked it off its feet! This time the zoo keeper didn’t wait for the question. He simply explained, “She wants it to remember how it got up. In the wild, if it didn’t quickly follow the herd, predators would pick it off.”

And sometime about that point in telling the story on that Sunday morning, I mentioned that, like a “celestial mama giraffe,” sometimes God has to do the same for us, pushing our props out from under us, keeping us from getting too comfortable, making sure that we get up when we are knocked down, sometimes even giving us what seems like a swift kick to teach us the lessons of faith we would never learn if everything always went our way.

And someone in our congregation–a Montevallo student actually, whose wedding I officiated a few years back–doodled a simple masterpiece on the back of an offering envelope that I still look at almost every day as a reminder of how God grows us and teaches us by pushing us out of our comfort zones.

With that in mind, I’m sure you have heard about the news, concerning the issues with the lease of two of our buildings here on the Shelby Crossings, and the fact that our rent is likely going to rise to the point where it will be cost-prohibitive for us to stay here. We have had such a good deal here, for so long, that it has made it hard to leave.

But now, there’s a very real possibility of us having to find a new location where our church can gather for worship. As I said on Sunday, we are not panicking, and we’re actually excited about what the Lord is up to, because we see how He is stirring us beyond the status quo. This very well may mean significant changes for our ministry in the coming months, but hopefully the change will grow our faith and dependence on the Lord.  And my prayer is that this will be a catalyst for pushing us on to greater heights of ministry in our community.

I hope as the Lord pushes us out of our comfort zone that you will join us in praying for His direction and provision, as we seek His will and His favor in this time. I am excited to see what He has in store for us as He stretches us and pushes us (like a mama giraffe) to get us where He wants us, drawing us to Himself along the way.

I hope you had a blessed Thanksgiving. I’m so thankful for each of you, and I look forward to seeing you on Sunday. 

–Pastor Ken

Building a Church

Yesterday was the fifteenth anniversary of Shelby Crossings’ first worship service in our current location–on Nov. 21, 2004. I remember it well, because it happened to have been the first Sunday my family visited Shelby Crossings. It would be almost five years later before God providentially led that I would be called as the second pastor of this wonderful faith fellowship.

I wrote about the tenth anniversary of our first service in this space five years ago. But for those who don’t know the history, here’a quick refresher. Prior to coming to our present location in Calera, Shelby Crossings met for worship for four years at a school in Pelham. The move down I-65 to Calera was motivated by a couple of things, primarily the growth in this area where so many people were moving and the need for a dynamic new church to reach them. There were plans for building even before the move; land was purchased, architectural drawings were done, and signs were put up on the property announcing that construction would begin soon.

But things changed.

There was a major recession, and some upheaval and struggles within the fellowship. Some people left….okay, lots of people did…and construction got delayed. The dates on the sign for the projected move-in to the new worship center came and went, and there was no building. Eventually, out of necessity (and God’s sovereignty), the land was sold back to its original owners. And we continued to rent. And all these years later, we still do.

People often ask me, as the pastor, “When are y’all going to build a church?” I tell them, just as often, that we are doing that right now. I suspect we will eventually have a building of our own where our church can meet, but even when we do, we must never confuse bricks and mortar with “the church.” And no matter where we gather on Sundays, we continue to seek to be a “diverse community of believers committed to developing passionate followers of Christ to impact the world.” 

By God’s grace we are healthy as a church body and stable financially, and He continues to do great things in the life of our fellowship. We have been actively praying and seeking His will about where He may want to move us, as we continue to get our financial house in order in preparation for when that move comes. I hope you’ll join me and the elders in praying for His leading in that area.

Along the way, we have invested more than $470,000 in missions causes locally and around the world these past ten years, for which we may have to wait till eternity to fully see the return. Closer to home, there have been countless stories of lives changed, of families restored, of people who had given up hope finding it once again. The Lord has been good to us, and I am very grateful.

I am excited to see what God has in store for us in the next fifteen years, whether we are worshiping in a warehouse or a beautifully constructed worship center. Either way, Jesus will continue to build His church (Matt. 16:18), wherever we are.

I’m sure glad we’re in this thing together, and in this season of the year where we focus on giving thanks, I count my blessings daily to be a part of such a great church. I am praying for you, as I hope you are for me, and I look forward to seeing you again this Sunday. 

–Pastor Ken