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Traditions are terrible…right?

Marriage God's Way - traditions
This was taken at Burney Falls, CA, near McArthur, CA, where Katie and I grew up. It’s a tradition to take a trip back to our hometown most years.

The religious leaders added rules or “fences” to God’s Law. In Mark 7:1-13 they’re called “the traditions of the elders” five times by Jesus. They receive such a scathing critique it’s tempting to think, “Traditions are terrible!” But Paul said, “Brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle” (2 Thessalonians 2:15) and he told the Corinthians,I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you(1 Corinthians 11:2).

That’s a pretty big deal to be praised by Paul, and they were being praised for the traditions they were following! In the sermon I talked more about what made the “traditions of the elders” bad, as well as what makes other traditions bad, but clearly all traditions aren’t bad!

Most of us had traditions in our families growing up. If you’re a parent maybe you still follow some of those traditions having passed them down to your children, and you’ve probably also started some traditions of your own. Cities have traditions: Woodland recently celebrated Planters’ Day. Countries have traditions. Schools have traditions. Businesses have traditions. Organizations have traditions. And of course churches have traditions…

Last week we returned from Family Camp. Before that we had the 4th of July party at the Donalds’. The first Sunday of every month we share a meal together in the fellowship hall. Baby dedications are a tradition (they’re drawn from Samuel and Jesus’ dedications, but they’re not commanded). The only commanded traditions are baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Some traditions aren’t commanded, but they help us obey other commands. For example, fellowship is commanded (Heb 10:25), and home groups will hopefully become a tradition that allows WCC to obey God’s command regarding being in fellowship with each other. We’re commanded to know God’s Word (Matt 4:4; Col 3:16) and Sunday School is a tradition that helps us accomplish that in our lives.

What makes traditions bad? First, and most importantly when they’re given too much weight; when they’re treated like commands instead of traditions. Second, when they’re followed simply for tradition’s sake: it might not be what’s best, but it’s what’s been…a tradition.

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A Little Effort Makes a Big Difference

A Little Effort Makes a Big DifferenceLast Sunday I concluded a brief sermon series on being part of a church family and being involved in the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ. This past week I received an e-mail that showed the importance of reaching out to people, and how powerful it is to receive a simple invitation for fellowship. Here’s part of the message, which I received permission to share…

“In the past I have been one of those people hurt by others, and in spite of trying to make friends no one returned the kindness. I tried several people and still no deal. Everyone had their own friends already or were too busy. So I became too busy as well and worked all the time. I became one of those people you described who didn’t put in the time or effort to make friends. Frankly I was tired of trying. I was done. People at work were my only so-called-friends and only one was a believer, and he did not return the kindness either.

Your sermon challenged me though. Lately I had been wanting to try again – largely because of the church family at WCC – making the sermon’s timing very good. Then something happened: a person at church actually invited me out to get together, and he actually followed through and it had nothing to do with me helping him with anything. Whenever people contacted me in the past it was never simply for fellowship: they wanted something. The last time someone called to just do something was about two years ago when my friend who moved away overseas came to visit. I honestly have some hope now that having friends and fellowship will be possible in our family at WCC. Thank you for the challenge. I will work on making that time.”

It’s wonderful how powerfully God works things together. You have an individual who’s already feeling challenged to be more involved in the church. God confirms the conviction through the preaching of His Word. Then God stirs up someone to send an invitation. How unfortunate would it have been if the person didn’t send the invitation? In last week’s sermon, I said personal involvement is more important than corporate involvement in the church, because while there’s a sign up sheet for the nursery, church cleaning, serving in the kitchen, etc. there’s no sign up sheet for making people feel loved; there’s no sign up sheet for making people feel like part of your church family. If you don’t pursue this sort of involvement in people’s lives, they miss out on those blessings.

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Pastor Doug Connell

Simon the Cyrene

Yesterday was Resurrection Sunday and we looked back on Christ’s death, burial and resurrection in Isaiah 53. There’s an interesting event that occurred on Jesus’ way to the cross that I’d like to briefly discuss…

Although Jesus was God, during the Incarnation He took on all the physical limitations we experience (aka The Kenosis): hunger, thirst, temptation, fatigue, etc. While carrying the cross Jesus’ physical limits were reached, and He could no longer continue without help: Matthew 27:32 They found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. Him they compelled to bear His cross. Simon stepped under the load and helped Jesus carry it. In a recent sermon I shared about the difficult time I was having trying to pastor WCC by myself, but this past week in a conversation regarding how much better I’m feeling, I told Katie, “Pastor Doug is Simon.” (NOTE: Doug is the Associate Pastor we recently hired at WCC and he’s become a great friend of mine, and Katie would say the same of his wife Jessica).

With that said, please let me quickly get something out of the way: I’m not trying to compare myself to Jesus or imply any load I’ve been under compares with the load Jesus was carrying. This isn’t meant to be a comparison between Jesus and me, but between an individual helping shoulder another’s load and how that makes me think of Pastor Doug.

When I’ve talked about pictures and types before, I’ve always said they fail in certain ways: the substance or reality is always greater. That’s the case in this example too, and I’d say it’s captured in the word compelled. Matthew 27:32 and Mark 15:21 state Simon was compelled to help Jesus; it wasn’t voluntary. With Pastor Doug though, I’m regularly told, “I’ll take care of this” or “Don’t worry about it.” When the phone rings Pastor Doug says, “I’ve got it.”

It’s hard not to notice God’s fingerprints on the timing of Pastor Doug’s arrival. We recently learned Katie is pregnant, which we consider to be a tremendous blessing, but at the same time Katie describes her pregnancies as“the most miserable times of my life.” She started getting sick and I’ve been able to help her because of the help Pastor Doug has been to me. Just knowing he’s in the office taking care of things gives me peace about directing more time and energy to my family.

And I’m not the only one who’s been blessed by Pastor Doug (or Jessica for that matter). I’ve seen, heard and read Pastor Doug’s communication with people and he’s compassionate and empathetic, but he’s also firm and honest. He and Jessica both show a tremendous love and concern for others. We’re all very, very blessed God has brought them here.

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The Vision of WCC

Sunday’s sermon was about the vision of WCC, but I’d also like to discuss what I (and the rest of the leadership team) don’t mean by “church vision.” I understand for many churches vision is talking about where the church will be in some number of years. Since I’ve been at WCC we’ve never had a leadership meeting discussing where we expect to be in the future, and I think there are three reasons for this…

First, you can make an argument from Scripture that we’re discouraged from saying what we’re going to do, or saying what we believe is going to happen:

  • Proverbs 27:1 Do not boast about tomorrow, For you do not know what a day may bring forth.
  • James 4:13, 14 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow.
  • In Luke 12:13-21 Jesus told a parable about a man called a fool by God because he made great plans for the future, not knowing what the near future would hold (and for him it was death).

Second, it seems presumptuous to say where we’re going to be or what we’re going to do. Of course I can say five years down the road we’ll still be teaching God’s Word and we’ll still be a family church, but those are more descriptions of our values, who we are, what we want to focus on…as opposed to where we see ourselves.

Third, we don’t know who is going to join the church, what situations we’re going to face, what needs will arise, etc, so how can we say where we’re going to be or what we’re going to do? I understand this brings up the question of how we approach the future, and I’d say we pray for God to direct us, we trust He’s guiding us, and we deal with circumstances as they arrive. This is what we’ve done with the sound system, bylaws, carpet, installation of deacons, associate pastor position, etc. Currently we’re tossing around the idea of home fellowships and accountability groups. As opposed to saying, “By June we’re going to have four home fellowships and men’s accountability groups” we’re waiting to see how these develop while praying, “Lord, if this is Your will, please make it clear, and if it’s not, please make that clear too.”

While this post discussed what we don’t mean by vision, if you would like to understand the vision of WCC please listen to this sermon.

WCC logo

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Friday School, chess, wrestling & spiritual maturity

Last year we started having Friday School, a home-school co-op, at WCC. Mothers (and a few fathers too) bring their kids to the church from 9:00am to 12:30pm for a 30-minute chapel time followed by three one-hour-blocks of classes. Parents are expected to serve during two of the three periods by teaching or assisting in classes, monitoring the halls, helping in the nursery, etc. Then one of the hour blocks is a “prep time” (aka hang out in the teacher’s lounge [the conference room of the ed building] with other parents, eat snacks and talk). By the way, we’re always looking for more people, so if you’re interested in teaching a class or helping in some way, let Vicki Donald know!

I’ve really enjoyed my involvement each term. Previously I taught Old Testament Survey and chess, both classes I expect to teach again, especially since we only made it to 1 Kings in the OT and I only covered the Fried Liver Attack in chess. Yes, that’s really what it’s called and it’s very effective opening; here’s a win I had using it recently. You can respond to it with the Traxler Counterattack. Here’s a recent win I had as black over a much higher opponent using that opening. If you happen to know either of these openings, then I’m really impressed (although I doubt that’s the feeling you have toward me as a result of my familiarity) and you should send me an invite to play on Chess.com; my username is PastorWCC.

Anyway, last term I taught/coached two wrestling classes with the help of Trevor Newburn (and Lane when he could make it). One class had the ‘older’ kids (mostly teenagers), and the other class had the ‘younger’ kids like Brooks Ordway, Davin Cooper, and my sons Ricky and Johnny. For the first few weeks I tried to teach the same moves in each class, but for the younger kids I’d make the moves simpler: if a move had three steps for the older kids, I’d coach it in two steps for the younger kids. That went on for a few weeks until it became obvious to me (and probably anyone watching) that even that was too much for the younger kids. I kept thinking: “I wish they were more mature. I wish they’d do what I ask. I wish they’d pay attention to what I tell them. Then I’d be able to do so much more with them.” The whole situation made me think about myself. I wondered, How much more would God be able to do with me if I was more mature? Are there things God would teach me if I would pay more attention to what He’s said? Hebrews 6:1 says Let us move beyond the basic teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity. What are the areas of my life where I haven’t moved to maturity?

wrestling

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The Gospel changes lives

I grew up in the mountains of northern California and some of my parents’ closest friends were Pete and Susie Lorenzen. We would go to their house and the adults would party while us kids ran around pretty unaware of what our parents were doing. When I was a teenager my best friend was JP Cochran. After high school he got into drugs and was arrested. Now let’s fast-forward twenty years…

  • Pete is the pastor of Little Country Church in our hometown, where he serves with Susie.
  • When JP was in jail, he started reading the Bible, was saved, met an inmate who happened to be the guy his wife cheated on him with…and JP invited him to the study he was attending. Now JP is married, has kids, and his family attends Pete’s church. When I married Katie I asked JP to be my Best Man.
  • Regarding my parents and me, obviously being the pastor of WCC with my dad being one of the deacons isn’t what we would’ve imagined twenty years ago.

When we were in California a few weeks ago, Pete had me preach in his church, and JP was there. I thought of how much has changed with all of us over these years. Katie wrote something about that evening that I copied down and wanted to share: “Special night tonight. I am in my hometown where Scott and I grew up, but neither of us were Christians. Now he’s preaching here and it was wonderful. My God is a God who changes lives! I am no longer that girl, and my husband is no longer that boy. We are new creations in Christ and I am forever thankful for the new life in Him that we share together.” The point is the Gospel changes lives; I have so much confidence in it because I’m familiar with lives that it’s changed, including obviously my own.
Some weeks ago a man passed out in front of my office with pills all over the ground and and a half-empty bottle of vodka.

Man passed out in front of office.
NOTE: I would not have posted this picture if the man was recognizable.

What he wanted was food, money, a place to sleep (he ended up being taken to a hospital in an ambulance), but what he needed was the Gospel (which I was able to share with him). Only the Gospel could change his life and prevent him from waking up countless more times on the edge of overdosing, or worse, not waking up at all. During Sunday’s sermon I talked about the spiritual liberty we can experience from our sins, and it’s a liberty that’s really only available from the Gospel. Nothing else changes lives or saves people temporarily and eternally.

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One of the happiest moments of my life…

Deacon installation at Woodland Christian Church
The deacons sitting down with the men praying for them behind them. My dad and I are third from the left.

I’m very excited about the seven men being installed as deacons at WCC, but there’s something that makes their installation even more special for me. I would go so far as to say this is the best example in my life of Ephesians 3:20 that God is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we could ever ask or even imagine. It was about seven years ago that I remember being on the phone with my mom, finally learning the terrible news that her and Dad were going to move to Texas to get away from me…something I never thought would happen. Mom said, “All we do anymore is fight about religion.” It was true. I had ruined our relationship trying to play the Holy Spirit in their lives and make them become Christians. I asked them to forgive me and give me one more chance: I begged them to come for just one visit. I could hear the reluctance and concern in Mom’s voice when I asked, but after talking to Dad they said they would come under one condition: “Tell us you won’t talk about religion at all.” Since it seemed to be the only way to maintain a relationship with them, I agreed.

I shut my mouth and started praying. Since becoming a Christian the strongest desire of my life had been seeing my parents become Christians; now that desire had to come to fruition without me doing anything but praying. I prayed for their salvation more than I’ve ever prayed for anything in my life including even finding a wife…and that’s something I prayed for A LOT! Skipping five years of the story, and leaving out lots of details about the progress that at times seemed almost nonexistent, my parents finally became Christians. In one of the happiest moments of my life I was able to listen to them share their testimonies and then I was able to baptize them. The church was full of people who knew our story and had been praying for their salvation (as well as praying for me to keep my mouth shut and not mess things up). I might have been able to imagine my parents becoming Christians. I might have been able to imagine baptizing them someday. I might have even been able to imagine being a pastor and having them visit the church and see me preach. Here’s what was exceedingly abundantly above all that I could ever ask or even imagine: I never would’ve imagined my parents giving up everything to come and be with me, my wife and our children, and that I’d be their pastor and one day lay hands on my dad and pray for him to join me in leadership. But that’s what God did.

Here’s a link to the installation.

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A Church Family

When I was at camp, Jim shared with me that it’s been his “heart’s desire for years” to see his children going to the same church, having children that grow up together. He was sharing how blessed he feels seeing that happening, and that really captures a vision we have at WCC. When people ask me about our distinctions, second only to being a church that strives to teach and follow God’s Word, I tell people we’re a family church. And we mean that in two different ways:

  1. We want all the families at WCC to feel like part of one big family. We want to go through things together. We want to live out 1 Corinthians 12:25-26 where Paul says the members should have the same care for one another, and if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice. This past week I was talking to an unchurched person who felt like she didn’t really have a biological family, and I told her she should get plugged in to a church where her brothers and sisters in Christ can become her family. It’s been a great blessing for me as the pastor to hear people (and there have been a number of them) describe WCC as their family.
  2. We want families to come to WCC and stay together as families and watch their children grow up and have children and then watch their grandchildren grow up. That’s what Jim was describing seeing. This all relates to us striving to engage in so many church activities with the family units staying together. We have a number of families with three generations attending, and the Cunninghams even have four generations. All of this is significant to me because of the strong desire I had for years for my parents to be Christians. Now having them at church with me, where I pastor, is beyond anything I ever would’ve imagined. Ephesians 3:20 says God is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think and my parents are an example of that in my life. I’m filled with joy every time I see my kids with them, and I’m happy to see many others in our body experiencing the same blessing.

In summary I’d say it like this: we want to be a number of families following the Lord, that feel like one big family.

Sunday’s sermon, 2 Chronicles 33:1-20 Fruit Worthy of Repentance – Part III, can be found here.

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"You are the church"

I think it’s common in churches (although it hasn’t really happened here) for people to approach the pastor and say, “You should do this…” or “The church should do that…” I see one problem with this, and it’s not that people want to see certain ministries; if it agrees with Scripture that’s actually a good thing. The problem is when the people expect the pastor or the church to do it instead of thinking of doing it themselves. I want to respond by saying, “You want the church to do it? You are the church, what do you think about doing it?”

Here are four recent examples of people taking initiative in our church to do things themselves.

  • Julie Reardon wanted to have an outreach on Halloween passing out bags with tracts and church cards.
  • Lori Anderson wanted to do the landscaping in front of the church.
  • Dave and Shirley Reed wanted to begin a ministry for the elderly in the church.
  • Allan and Kandie wanted to have a game night in the fellowship hall.

These people came to me and wanted to see these things take place, but they saw themselves as part of the church and they took it on themselves to do it. They wanted the leadership’s approval and then they were off and running. This is exactly how I love to see ministry in the church taking place and I think this is what the Bible prescribes. In Eph 4:10-13 Paul said, “Jesus gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” The idea is the members of the church should be equipped so they can go out and do the work of the ministry.

By the way, this is why our services have a stronger focus on equipping, teaching, etc as opposed to being exclusively evangelistic. We present the Gospel, but we’re trying to provide the saints with the tools they need to serve God.