Thursday, January 31, 2008

Google fun!

(HT Michael Krahn)

Go to Google.
- Type in “find chuck norris”.
- Click the “I’m feeling lucky” button.

Some things I've been listening to lately...

I just finished listening to a sermon by Erwin McManus of Mosaic Church called "Party Theology". While I realize we are only 31 days into the year, this will undoubtedly still be among the best sermons I have heard this year. He casts an amazing vision, I wanted to be part of it and I live 1,935 miles from where he preached it. I don't always resonate with McManus' message, though I do always appreciate his gift in preaching and communicating.

I have been listening to a bunch of audio books, books I've been wanting to read but that have been low on the priority list. I spend an hour or so a day (minimum) in my truck 5 days a week, so I like to utilize this time. Normally I listen to sermons, but I wanted something different for a period.

The books I have listened to in the last month are Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, Love is the Killer App by Tim Sanders, Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. I have also started listening to "Jack" by Jack Welsch, but am only one disk in, and it's 12 disks long!

Of these books, Blink was probably the best, Love is the Killer App the most applicable, and Freakonomics the one that made me think the most. They are all worth a listen/read. There is a bit of colorful language in Freakonomics when the authors are quoting some inner city Chicago drug gang members.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Mark Batterson's Four Dimentions of Courage

This post is borrowed from Pastor Mark Batterson. Mark pastors National Community Church, a multi-site church in Washington DC. They are a theater church. I've enjoyed his blog for some time, and have recently read his "In A Pit With A Lion On A Snowy Day".


Few things are as energizing to me as hanging out with pastors. I love my tribe! And I really enjoy smaller contexts where we can dialog. This morning I talked about four dimensions of courage with a group of local pastors.

#1 The courage to be yourself

I started out in ministry trying to be a pastor. Now I'm trying to be myself. And there is a difference! I think part of spiritual growth is coming to terms with who you are and who you aren't. It takes tremendous courage to be transparent. But when a leader is authentic about their imperfections then it creates a culture where people are free to be themselves.

#2 The courage to preach the truth

We live in a culture where it is wrong to say something is wrong! And that's wrong. I'd rather be biblically correct than politically correct. And if we don't raise our voice and stand up for truth then we lose our right to complain!

#3 The courage to confront

Jesus was full of grace and truth. Grace means I'll love you no matter what. Truth means I'll be honest with you no matter what. I think courage is the combination of grace and truth.

#4 The courage to offend

Abraham Lincoln said, "You can please all of the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time, but you cannot please all the people all of the time."
In other words, you're going to offend someone. And who you choose to offend will define your leadership. Jesus offended Pharisees!

The essence of spiritual courage is being more afraid of offending the Holy Spirit than pleasing people!

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Monday, January 28, 2008

Randy Frazee and Gene Appel are leaving Willow Creek Community Church

Just caught wind of some big changes going on at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, IL. Not too long ago Mike Breaux also left Willow, so this means 3 of the 4 primary teaching pastors have left the staff in a very short period. I don't read something into that as all 3 men are leaving under good terms to good situations. It does however create quite a challenge for the Willow team to fill those spots. It will be interesting to see if someone internally moves into those slots or if they go with guys from the outside again. Will John Ortberg be making a return?

January 26, 2008

Today the Elders of Willow Creek are announcing that two senior staff leaders have made personal decisions to pursue new ministries outside our church.

This June, Teaching Pastor Randy Frazee will become the Senior Minister of Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas, where he will teach and lead in partnership with pastor and author, Max Lucado.

"After 8 months of prayer and counsel, I believe God is calling our family to expand the reach of the neighborhood initiative to San Antonio," Randy said. "However, my decision to leave is mostly about family and a simple desire to be around my kids, two of whom are currently living in Texas and a third who will head to Texas for college this fall.

“It has been a complete privilege and joy to be a part of the Willow Creek team," he said. "You can count on our fervent prayers and blessings as we move forward on this endeavor."

Gene Appel, Lead Pastor-South Barrington, who came to Willow Creek as Associate Pastor in 2003 and moved into his current role two and a half years ago, also announced his resignation from staff.

"I love this church," Gene said. "It has been an enormous privilege for me to serve here, but after months of internal wrestling and seeking the counsel of wise people I trust, I have come to a place of peace and clarity, and sense the nudge to move toward being the senior pastor of a local church again. I'll continue serving in my role through the Easter season, and then I'll begin prayerfully pursuing God's next adventure. I am honored to have been able to serve in partnership with everyone at Willow and I have been forever impacted by this place. I will be cheering you on for the rest of my life."

On January 17, 2008 the Elders of Willow Creek and Bill Hybels agreed that Bill will assume the role of Lead Pastor-South Barrington in addition to his other senior pastor responsibilities, which include oversight of the Regional Campuses and the Willow Creek Association.

"I am honored to assume the responsibility to lead the staff and congregation at South Barrington and I look to God expectantly for what He has planned for us in the future,” Bill said.

The Elders fully support the decisions of Gene and Randy, and are grateful to them for their faithful leadership, high character, and inspired teaching.

(HT: Todd @ MMI)

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Flaky Furnace Fixed!

I made mention that our furnace has been acting up. Yesterday we officially got it running right. I started a week ago by replacing batteries in the thermostat. Not the long term fix, though it did run better for a few hours. So I thought it was the heat actuator in the thermostat. I replaced the thermostat. Still didn't fix the problem. Eventually we found it was a build up on the flame sensor (I'm sure there is an official name for this) that was causing this. Taking the sensor out, scraping it clean, cleaning out the already pretty clean combustion tubes, and reassemble. Runs like a champ. We have regular heat! What it was doing is that it would turn on, and you would hear the exhaust fan spool up. Once the burners started going, it would run for 4 seconds and shut off. Then restart. Over and over again as it tried to heat the house. The temperature was slowly dropping, though from time to time it would get on and stay on bringing the house back up to temp. Thankfully while we were gone last weekend it managed to limp along, in spite of extraordinary low temperatures in the negative teens and twenties across the state of Minnesota.

In an unrelated note, I've been seeing quite a few Jeep Wrangler Unlimiteds the past few days. I really like the way they look. I've always disliked the shorter wheelbase Jeeps, and the Unlimited seems to be exactly the change I wanted. Not that I probably would ever have a chance to own one, but I do think they are cool. I'm driving my S-10 until the wheels fall off!

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The high price of ministry under pressure

Mark Beeson of Granger Community Church shared the following with his staff recently when one of his team members had to step down after some bad life decisions. I've seen first hand the pain caused by moral failures in leaders near me. The stakes are high. Accountability in ministry is so very important, leaders need to be transparent.

When a man comes to GCC I want him to be faithful to Christ. A married man’s first priority is his wife; he is to lay his life down for her and love her into a deeper walk with Christ. A family man adds the leadership of his home to the priority of ministry to his wife. I want him to become a man of God; I want him to follow Christ. I want him to reject passivity, accept responsibility, lead courageously and expect God’s reward. I expect him to tithe and never rob God. Those who prove themselves faithful in all the above, distinguishing themselves as Christian men of ability and influence, are expected to leverage their SHAPE to add value to Christ’s Kingdom through GCC. I expect their loyalty. From among these unpaid servants of Christ I ask a few to step up to new levels of devotion and service. I invite them to join my staff and help me. I expect them to lead and serve the local church, doing for me what I cannot do alone. I expect their full devotion and I pay them well as they spend their lives honoring Christ in the pursuit of GCC’s Mission success. Some may bring honor on their lives and ministries through outstanding service. I pray for their success, their satisfaction and their families. I expect them to pray for me. I expect them to help me. I do not pay anyone for less than that or other than that. Those who soar in ministry discover more opportunities, and are entrusted with greater responsibility. I don’t knowingly hand over the people of GCC to anyone who compromises our ministry with personal sin, sloth or weak character. A man confused about his priorities is a dangerous man. Once positioned with influence, he is a threat to our mission. Such a man is not to be trusted with great responsibility. Every staff position at GCC requires great character and commitment. Most will never meet the demand or maintain the pace of GCC’s ministry; I do not expect they would. Many a leader has been benched by sin. Ministry wizards have been sidelined by character flaws and moral failures. Some have been pulled off the field because of bad judgment. Sad moments are the tragic result of moral failure. The stakes are high. This is not a race for those lacking personal discipline or commitment. I want you to have this document. I think it’s…I think it’s good to say all this out loud. I want you to know today, that I love you - all of you - and I am with you. While you are here on this staff this is what is required. To be paid, to be part of this staff, it is the standard. Most people that I love, aren’t on this staff and they don’t have to meet this standard. But to be paid on this staff, this is the standard that is required.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Candidating is a tiring process!

We had a great weekend (other than the fact it was mostly 40 degrees BELOW the freezing point most of the time)! My sermon went well, the people we met were very gracious and hospitable, and the town was livable.

I told the search committee that the thing I liked most about the situation is that there is potential. I really like that. They seem to be healthy, they are in a good place financially, they have a serviceable facility that is well kept.

And they liked us. I'm not surprised by that, but it is very nice to know. I think we would fit in pretty well, and I think they could learn from me and I could learn from them. The church has a good community/family atmosphere that I would love to build on.

A bit about the church - The church is 140 years old this year. This is actually the 2nd building because the first one burned down in the 50's (making this building over 50 years old). The church is as old as the town. It is just a couple of blocks from the main North-South street, and a block from the main East-West street, and is across the street from a school, so it has very good access for anyone in town.

So we are excited, and just a slight big awed, and a bit scared as well. This would be a big step in our lives, meaning major changes. We've wanted these changes, been training for this time, been looking forward to this time, but now that it is here it still seems to catch us a bit off guard. I suppose that is probably a good thing. Thank you all who were praying for me, it is deeply appreciated. I don't know that things could have gone much better all weekend other than perhaps a few more hours of sleep for us Saturday night. Praise God!

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Sermon: The Flavor of your Faith - Matthew 5:13

Below is the message I preached this weekend. I made some small final changes to it, but it was pretty close to "as written". The weekend went really well and my wife and I enjoyed ourselves. The church will vote next Sunday as to whether they will extend a call to me or not, and it is likely they will from what we heard yesterday! Scary and exciting!

The Flavor of your FaithMatthew 5:13

A while back a pastor was in his back yard building a wooden trellis for his wife’s prize winning roses to climb as they grew. He had out the power tools, the saw, the drill and the hammer. As he was working, the neighbor boy stopped playing in his back yard, and began to intently watch the pastor as he worked. The pastor was pleased that the young boy would want to learn from his craftsmanship, and so trying to be friendly he said to the boy, “I see you watching me there. Are you interested in how to build things out of wood?” “No” the neighbor boy replied, “I’m just waiting to hear what a preacher says when he hits his thumb with a hammer.”

Life is funny like that. It has a way of bringing to our attention that people are paying attention to us, and sometimes to things we don’t realize they are observing. Today we are going to talk about how this plays out in our Christian walk. The sermon today is based off of Matthew 5:13 (page # - invite to follow along). Matthew 5:13 falls within the Sermon on the Mount that many of you might be familiar with – what most would consider the best sermon ever preached. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is preaching to a large group of people at the height of the popularity of his ministry here on Earth. In Matthew 5:13 Jesus is speaking and he says to followers: You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.

Does anyone know why would Jesus call us “salt”? Why not pepper or mayo or how about you are the ketchup of the earth? What’s the big deal with salt? Today I am going to unpack what it means for us to be the salt of the earth. So lets dig in and look at the nature of salt.

In biblical times salt served a number of functions. It was a limited resource, and therefore a very valuable commodity. We get our term salary from the ancient Latin term salarium – which is the portion of salary that was paid in salt to the Roman soldiers.

The first use of salt that I would like to focus in on is that it preserves things – it preserves goodness. One of the most important functions of salt in the time of Christ was that it was a preservative – it kept things from going bad, from spoiling. We live in a time of refrigerators and freezers thankfully, but just a few generations ago people had to rely upon salt to keep their meats from going bad before they could eat them. They would have to dry rub the meats with the salt to cure them, or they could brine the meats in a barrel of salt water. Through this process the salt would penetrate the meat, creating an environment where the bad bacteria could not grow. Using these processes they could extend the shelf life of their meat products from just days after butchering, to many months, especially in the cooler months.

So as Christians, we too are entrusted with preserving goodness. We must ask ourselves, what am I doing to preserve goodness around me? As Christians, we are marked people. Those around us are watching us, looking in on our lives to see how we act and react. Our friends, family and coworkers hear the stories we tell and the jokes we pass on. They see how we treat other people, and whether we like it or not, in that moment we represent what it means to be a Christian in their minds. As a body of believers we must commit ourselves to preserving goodness. We may be the only Bible some people are willing to read.

Another thing that salt is used for is to enhance flavor – it serves the item to which it is added. We are called to add zest to the lives of those around us. As Christians we are called to be seen by others as living examples of the power and grace of God, examples which others are encouraged to follow. This is the messy part of our faith, where we have to get dirty and meet people where they are. What good is salt if you never get it out of the shaker? It has to be mixed in with things, so it can interact and add to what is already going on in both cooking and in life. If you think about when you are cooking, salt by itself isn’t a useful thing. You have to take the salt, measure it, add it into what you are cooking and give it a good stir. Many foods without salt don’t taste right. They are often bland, lacking something. Our faith is like this also – as salt to the world, we enhance the flavor of God Imagine yourself at the grocery store on the free sample day. Walking up and down the aisles sampling new products. Grocery stores do this to tempt you to buy something new, to try something different. By living out our faith, we do this too. We allow other people to get a taste for something better. Our values are always expressed in our actions. What is truly important is the way values find expression in our daily lives. This is what Jesus alludes to in this word picture about salt. Those who hold kingdom values will witness to those around them the reality of his vision for our lives.

My final thought on salt today is that salt inspires thirst. I suspect most of you have purchased popcorn at a movie theatre at some point. That warm, buttery, salty goodness, I can almost taste it. Movie theatres add more salt to their popcorn than most people would add on their own, because it causes people to get thirsty. Add to that the commercials for beverages on the screens before the movies and you have a great way to drive us out of the seats to go and purchase a $4.50 12 ounce Coke! We as Christians are to make others thirsty for the living water – for Christ. In John 4:13-14 Jesus says "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

My own faith story is evidence that salt inspires thirst. My freshman year of college I was the starting fullback on our school’s football team. I was one of two freshmen to start any games the first half of that season. I had come out of high school highly recruited, and I was really living out my dream at that point. You might think I would have been really happy at that point – I was starting on the football team, I was dating the head football cheerleader, I was invited to all the parties, and I was skating through my classes with minimal effort. Life was good right? Not really. Not at all. I wasn’t happy. I didn’t know why, but things just didn’t seem right. I was not enjoying my success, and as the season progressed this feeling only deepened. The more fun I tried to have, the worse I seemed to feel.

My roommate my first two years of college was a guy named Jason. Jason and I really had little in common other than we had both grown up Lutherans. Jason wasn’t gifted in any way in regards to athletics, and in fact I think he resented getting paired up with a crazy jock for a roommate. We eventually reached an odd equilibrium in our relationship after a few months as roommates often do. We knew each others schedule well enough to not get in each other’s way. We really didn’t hang out much, since football was pretty much a full time job for me, and well, I really didn’t really know what he was keeping busy with. As the fall semester progressed my personal discontent grew to the point it was gnawing at me, keeping me up at night. At this same time I started to notice things about my roommate and his friends. They didn’t have all the things I perceived as important, yet they all seemed really happy. There was something different about these guys, and honestly even though I wasn’t sure what it was, I knew I wanted to be part of that group.

There was something about how they carried themselves, about the way they interacted with people, especially with me. To be honest I hadn’t been all that nice or friendly to them. I was cocky and crude. If there is such a thing, I was your stereotypical football player. And they loved me anyhow. My roommate and his friends were salty. I saw in them something I wanted, and it attracted me like a moth to a flame. It was through their life witness that I came to know Christ. They didn’t have to ask me if I knew Jesus. They didn’t have to force me to read the Bible or listen to Christian music. They simply lived in such a way that I could see that they were different.

We too are called to live in this way, to be salt to the world. Each one of us needs to ask the question – Am I making those around me thirsty? Am I salty?

Today I have handed out packets of salt to each one of you. I challenge you to put this somewhere where you will be constantly reminded that we are called to be salt to the world. Put this on your desk at work or school or by the speedometer of your car. You know the right place. Find a place for this salt packet where it will remind you and challenge you to live out your faith so that other people will be attracted to Jesus. A little salt goes a long way, and I believe we can change the world with one shake of salt at a time. First Congregational Church, YOU are the salt of the Earth! Amen.

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Freezing cold and the furnace goes on the fritz!

In what is likely to be one of the coldest, if not THE coldest day of the year and my furnace decides to start acting up. Not like I don't have anything better worry about. And I'm just about to leave town for the next 24 hours. And it's -2 degrees, and the projected high for the day is -1.

The furnace would come on, run for 10-20 seconds, and then shut off. 30 seconds later it would do this again. Never actually reaching the point the fan would kick in and start cycling warm air through the house. It was getting cold in here (which is how I noticed the furnace wasn't running right). After a bit of checking, eyeballing a few things and some trouble shooting I ascertained that our thermostat needed new batteries.

Thankfully, I had 2, and ONLY 2, spare AA batteries in my office. So we have heat!

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Welcome to my blog!

An interesting phenomenon of the internet is the crazy amount of information you can track about who visits your site. My blog has seen an increase of visits the past week or so, and I welcome you and appreciate your stopping by. Feel free to comment or just browse. I won't be posting much the next couple of days as I am putting the finishing touches on a sermon and will be preaching on Sunday.

I really enjoy preaching, though sermon writing can be a labor at times. One thing that I have found is that ever sermon I have written has really expanded me and my understanding of that passage of scripture. I've read through the Bible a number of times, but when you focus in on a verse for a sermon it really helps set that passage in your mind.

This weekend I'll be focusing in on Matthew 5:13 - You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. (NIV)

I am thankful for the chances I have had in the past couple of years to fill in as pulpit supply for various churches. I feel that process has helped me in preparing a sermon for a group of people who you don't know very well. I am really looking forward to this weekend. I know some about the church I will be preaching at, and I have talked with the search committee and a few other people. I'll know quite a bit more tomorrow night, and by Sunday we'll have met most everyone. It is an exciting and scary process.

I hope you have a great weekend! It is freezing here, or I should say something like 43 degrees below freezing according to my thermometer (-11 at the moment!). And the high tomorrow is projected at -1. Ahh...the joys of Minnesota winters...

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Friday, January 18, 2008

Church Discipline - No perfect people allowed

My pastor, and friend, Phil Print has taken some heat this past week from some critics for some church discipline issues. He has my full support, and gets a hearty AMEN! from me on how he has handled this. He posted the following on his blog:

What "No perfect people allowed" doesn't mean

We've recently been criticized by a few people who say our motto (no perfect people allowed) is nothing more than an empty slogan. The criticisms have come as a result of us confronting a couple of people in our church regarding their sin (which we thankfully rarely have to do). The sin we confronted was out in the open for all to see. It was sin the couple agreed was occurring. It was sin the couple refused to turn away from and receive any help with. It was sin that was creating some divisiveness in our community of faith.

The criticism is: What right do we have to exercise church discipline on sinners? Our sign says, No perfect people allowed. We're all sinners, right? Who do we think we are confronting people and calling them to repent of their sins? And what right do we have to ever ask someone to leave our church if they refuse to repent after a period of time?

First, the Bible calls us to exercise church discipline when needed. There is Biblical teaching that clearly outlines the process church leaders are to follow. Read Matthew 18:15-18; 1 Corinthians 5:6-13; Galatians 6:1; Titus 3:10; etc. We not only are called to do this in the Bible, but we leaders are held accountable to God if we don't! Our motive for this is always love--to help the person(s) turn from sin and live the kind of life that God blesses.

Second, our motto "no perfect people allowed" isn't an excuse to sin boldly. It doesn't mean we go light on sin or say "whatever" when those around us sin. It means we acknowledge that we're all sinners. It means we all humble ourselves before God and each other, striving to become more like Christ. It means we come out of the closet, admit our sin, turn from it, get help, and grow. It doesn't mean I come out of the closet, refuse to do anything, and expect everyone to let me do my thing.

In John 8:1-11 Jesus shows us how to deal with others who sin. He cared about the woman caught in adultery. He treated her gracefully. But note what he said to her in vs. 10: "Go and sin no more." Jesus called her to leave her life of sin. He expected her to make a change. We are to do the same for each other.

Here's my formula:
Struggling with sin yet open to exploring God's counsel...OK.
Refusing to deal with blatant sin...not OK.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

You know you're not leading when... by John Ferguson

John Ferguson wrote the following on his blog:

You Know You're Not Leading When . . .

Ever catch yourself not leading? Of course you have. When I find myself not leading the way I believe God has called me to lead, I ask myself, "What does it look like for me to really be a leader in this situation? Maybe this will help you know when you are slipping a little bit.

You know you are not leading when . . .

  • You wait for someone to tell you what to do rather than taking the initiative yourself
  • You spend too much time talking about how things should be different
  • You blame the context, surroundings, or other people for your current situation
  • You choose not to speak the truth in love
  • You are more concerned about being cool or accepted than doing the right thing
  • You seek consensus, rather than casting vision for a preferable future
  • You aren't taking any significant risks
  • You accept status quo as the way it's always been and always will be
  • You start protecting your reputation instead of opening yourself up to opposition
  • You sleep a little too sound
  • You procrastinate to avoid making a tough call
  • You talk to others about the problem rather than taking it to the person responsible
  • You don't feel like your butt is on the line for anything significant
  • You think what you say doesn't matter
  • You ask for way too many opinions before taking action

Any places or situations where you are not leading? Is it time to step up?

John is a contributer to the book The Big Idea: Focus the Message-multiply the Impact.

Divine Mentor Devotional blog

I was asked by Pastor James Brown to blog my daily devotionals. This is done in conjunction with what we will be doing with The Divine Mentor through Meal Groups (the next book we are studying). I will be blogging my devotions at I have already started and will try to do this every day when time allows. I really think the system of journaling devotions is one that is worth your time. It takes some getting used to, but once you get in the practice it will really begin to shape you. It will require some discipline on your part, but once it becomes habit, it will be a habit that blesses you and your family through your spiritual growth.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Preaching this weekend...

This coming weekend I'm preaching at the church that is interested in possibly hiring me. I'm excited! I'm really looking forward to it. I had what I thought was my sermon all put together, and then I consulted with a pastor I greatly respect. He suggested I go another direction. Wow. I really appreciate that kind of honest assessment. Those calls can only come from people you trust and respect, and indeed both are in play here. So I spent much of tonight finding new direction. We'll see where it takes me! I'm kicking the tires of Matthew 5:13.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Phew. One interview down...

My phone interview last night went extremely well. I wasn't sure what to expect, but things went smoothly - after I hung up on the search committee twice. Stupid phone. So I switched phones, and from that point on things went well. They liked what I had to say, my answers to their questions.

So two Sundays from now I will be preaching for them. The position is Sr. Pastor, and it is a small church. They are in a good place financially, and after preaching for them I will sit in on their annual meeting where they will go through their budget as a church. That will be very informative, as people are "real" when they are talking about money and how they think the church should spend it.

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Phone Interview with a church!

Tonight is my first phone interview with a Church. For those of you who don't know, I've been seeking a full time ministry position. I've applied for a number of churches and am in various stages with a number of things. So if you think about it, I'd appreciate your prayers. This seems like a pretty solid opportunity, not too far from the Twin Cities, and actually closer to my family than where we currently live. I'm excited! I really want to get into the game, but I do also want to get in the right situation. I don't just want to take a church to have a job, I want to go where God leads. I want to go somewhere I can grow, not just be a care taker of a slowly dieing church.

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