Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Pastor's Perspective - Stretching for Christ

The following is from Bill Pirie, a partner at First Christian Church (www.1stchristianchurch.org)



My name is Bill, and I would like to tell you my story of stretching for Christ.

I had just come from another church that frowned upon divorcees and excluded me from serving in any meaningful capacity.

A few years ago the Holy Spirit led me to First Christian Church in Suisun City. I was welcomed with wide-open arms and hugs. I was becoming a regular attender when Paul Johnson, an elder at FCC, turned to me and asked me to hand-out bulletins to guests as they were entering the church. I was blown away! Here I was divorced, broken, hurting in many ways, when I was given a task to serve the Lord – yep me, a wicked sinner. So, from that day till now I continue to hand-out bulletins and shake hands. The best part is expressing my love to them each and every week. This was in fact an easy and wanted stretch for Christ.

My next stretch came a few months later, when we as a congregation were going through the ‘GO’ message series. In this series Pastor Steve Kiefer was trying to get people off their backsides and go do something for Christ; like serving at the Leaven (a place to help impoverished children learn to read and write), become more missional, or volunteer in keeping the church in order – “But don’t wait for the perfect opportunity to come around before you do something.” Pastor Steve just wanted us to become more of what God wanted us to become.

A few weeks after the ‘GO’ series started, John Johnson got on stage and asked for help with feeding the homeless on Monday nights. So I showed up the following Monday not even sure of what to do. I asked a hundred questions! I’m sure I was an annoying thorn in John’s side for the first few months as I figured out all the details. After about a year and a half, John stepped down to start his Tuesday and Thursday homeless ministry. Suddenly Candy Hanratty and I were the new Monday night leaders!

The next stretch came in July 2013. The Kingdom Kids Sunday school ministry needed a few teachers for 5th & 6th grade. This one, like the other stretches, required prayer. One Sunday I walked up to the Children’s Director Maria in the parking lot to get more information from her. One of the Elders, Chad Ward, yelled across the parking lot, “Over here Bill! Come help me with the 5th and 6th graders!” The Children’s Director pointed at Chad and said to me, “There you go Bill. Go have at it.” I somehow went from asking for more information to becoming a full-fledged Sunday school teacher in just a few weeks!

And now to my most current stretch at FCC. In September 2013, Paul Johnson (the same guy who started me out with bulletins!), came to me and asked me about becoming a Deacon in the church. He told me to pray on it and give him an answer in nine days. He gave me the responsibilities of the role, most of which I was doing already! I made an appointment with Pastor Steve and asked him why me. He responded that the Elders liked what they saw in me and that they wanted me on the team. He answered my many questions and then we prayed. The following Sunday I said ‘yes’ .

Isaiah states, ‘All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags..’ (64:6)

In all of the stretching, I learned that when we do something good, our most noble works are ‘filthy rags’ when it comes to somehow earning us a place in Heaven – they are useless and good for nothing. They are certainly not enough to bring us into a right relationship with God – for that, we need Christ.

So, what I hope you all get out of this is that all of you are stretchable and should GO and get involved somewhere, anywhere for the Lord! Even if you have one talent and mission, stick to it and pray every day for it. God gave us all hands and feet so we can serve others. So GO and get out there and do what you can. But, be sure you’re doing it for HIS glory and not for yourself.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Pastor's Perspective - What DO You Do?



In the early 80’s when MTV was barely standing up in the crib, and actually played music videos, a rather bizarre British music artist named Adam Ant had a popular video for his song ‘Goody Two Shoes’. The catchy chorus included the lyric, ‘Don’t drink. Don’t smoke. What do you do?’ Barely out of high school, admittedly I liked the hip beat and pretty girls in the clip the best; but, the chorus stuck with me – always has.

I could have been one of the Flying Wallendas! I literally grew up on the balance beam. I lived in the middle tension of being the oldest son in a liberal, fun-loving, stein-rocking Germanic family. On the other side I was a staunch allegiant to a highly conservative channel of Christianity. Polar opposites! But, both somehow scratched a certain itch in me. I became really good on the beam. I adored and took great pride in my European heritage, along with its openness to all things fun and the people who would rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints (Joel). Yet, on the other side of the beam, and somehow equally enjoyable, was my engrainment in a channel of faith that took pride in its Spartan adherence to discipline and rule-following. I lived and walked in the daily tension of both – without a net! I was a sinner and a saint. I was a louse and a legalist. In one way I was the drunkard scandalously eating with Jesus. In the other, I was a snazzy-robed Pharisee, mocking Jesus’ choice of dining partners. Simply put, I was a hypocrite –legalism had blinded me to my ominous and metastasizing spiritual condition.

Christianity, in my earliest experience and understanding, was about following God’s ‘Pool Rules’ meticulously, even when the rest of the screaming kids were running around the water’s edge without an adult. Being somehow pleasing to God, was about laws; that He loved the obedient people who read the Bible and color only inside the lines. For me, because I was such a good fair-haired ‘church boy’, in my prideful opinion, I only needed a Nyquil cap of Jesus’ forgiving blood. However, the other people who didn’t know what I knew, do what I did and worship the way I worshiped, all those hell-bound folks, well, they needed the hydrant! Religion was about appearance. It was about impressions. It was fluency in Christianese! It was about knowing the ‘No’s’ – like don’t drink, don’t smoke – including, don’t chew tobacco, and don’t dance with girls who do! Thankfully, through God’s patience, grace and numerous humbling valley experiences throughout my life, I no longer base my righteousness in my flawed efforts and self-imposed righteousness; but instead in something so much better.

As a local pastor trying to help real people like myself, I find that we in the clergy and in nice churches peppered throughout Solano County, are known too prominently for what we say ‘No’ to, than what we say ‘Yes’ to. It’s abundantly clear what we Christians are really against; we’re professionals at making that crystal clear; but, do the people around us know what we are really for? I’m spit-ballin but, could this be why so many hurting people, hemorrhaging from real wounds, avoid the help and message the church was created to offer? Could it stem from the fact that we preach only from the “Anti” side of the ledger?  “Why would I darken the door of a local church? I know what they think about me – my struggles – my attractions – my propensities – my less-than-stellar past. I don’t fit neatly in their box of standards. Why bother?” Could it be that we’ve specialized in what we’re against and have forgotten what we’re for? That somehow beating the ‘Thou Shalt Not’ drum and extending a sturdy Heisman Trophy stiff arm shows the world the open nail-pierced hands of the Savior? Instead, it keeps us in a defensive posture – the bad guys out – the good guys in – and an unraveling world from seeing our own personal and congregational flaws and challenges up close. Recently I shared this quote I heard, “As Christians we despise people who sin differently than we do.” I agree.

If you’re a fundamental Christian reading this, I read the 66-book memo from headquarters too. I know what you’re against. Some of those things are very clear. Some of those things are founded in very gray areas of Scripture. But, my question is, what are you for?

I know I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one (John). I think that if the blood-washed would speak more discerningly, more articulately, more humbly, more gracefully and more lovingly about what we’re for –Who we’re for – What He is for – then perhaps more would see our churches not as cold iron-shrouded bastions of regulations and judgment – but instead what Jesus wants them to be – welcoming hospitals for the spiritually sick.

Don’t drink. Don’t smoke. What do you do?  

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Pastor's Perspective - Who You Gonna Call?



This past Monday evening, my community group and I studied the passage in Acts about  Eutychus – a boy in ancient Troas who for the past two thousand years has been immortalized in Scripture (Acts 20:7-12).

For those unfamiliar with him, he was sitting in a window sill late one evening while the Apostle Paul taught the church till midnight. Luke, the author, tells us that as Paul went on and on because he was leaving the next day, Eutychus became drowsy, fell from the three-story ledge and died. Paul casually called a time-out, went down to the dead boy, threw himself on the corpse, assured everyone that Eutychus was okay, then went back upstairs and continued teaching. Talk about a wild church service! (I have a similar story from years ago while I preached that I’ll write about someday).

As we looked for practical applications in these six verses our minds raced. In our imagination, we saw an elderly Eutychus telling his awed grandchildren about the night the infamous apostle visited his church. We made observations about the importance of proximity when it comes to our relationships with God, and, the call to ‘stay awake’ during perilous times as Christ’s return looms closer. Lastly, in a very practical way, we saw together the importance of having faith-filled friends when an unanticipated crisis strikes. Eutychus was simply a kid falling asleep in church, a phenomena I witness weekly; but, without warning, tragedy struck! Crazy how tragedy does that.

In the New Testament we read about four faith-filled friends who creatively and selflessly took their lame friend to Jesus – literally vandalizing a house to do it!

When everything suddenly goes wrong in your life – who you gonna call? When tragedy cruelly strikes, the Ghostbusters are useless.

Do you have a friend or two, maybe a team, that will call out and trust the God of the impossible on your behalf when you’re in crisis? Those who will carry you to Jesus? Those in your life who will throw themselves on top of whatever you’re facing – no matter how ugly? Those who won’t freak-out, but will respond in sincere and authentic faith?

Eutychus had Paul.

Who do you have?

Friday, September 13, 2013

Pastor's Perspective - Happy Birthday CR!



Happy Birthday Celebrate Recovery!

Today is the 7th year anniversary of our Celebrate Recovery ministry here at First Christian Church of Suisun City (www.1stchristianchurch.org)! Since instituting it in September of 2006, this Purpose-Driven outreach has been used by God to help heal countless lives willing to courageously address their hurts, habits and hang-ups.

Personally, I still remember well in autumn 2005 receiving the brochure in the mail promoting a local CR conference taking place in Santa Cruz. Being a pastor, I receive a lot of solicitations daily promoting a variety of special events, seminars and conferences. Admittedly, most end up in my ‘round file’ by my desk! However, for some reason, I couldn’t throw that brochure away. For two weeks I looked at it. After presenting the societal need for such a specialized ministry to our church leaders, we stepped up and several of us went to the conference. We were hooked immediately by the integrity and methodology of the ministry, and we were greatly inspired by the testimonies of many who had experienced true healing and Christ-given freedom in their lives. After months of organizational and team-building meetings, we launched CR as a flagship ministry at First Christian nine months later.

Under the dedicated and able leadership of Amy Anderson and currently Rick Deshazo, with the help of highly-committed coaches and volunteers, CR is a rain-or-shine weekly beacon in our region for anyone hungry to be free indeed.

For anyone interested in checking-out this proven and safe recovery ministry that addresses a wide array of challenges, the group meets every Friday evening at 7:00P.M. at 199 Marina Blvd in Suisun City. My personal guarantee is that you’ll find a group of people just like you, who will love you, accept you and encourage you no matter what you’re going through in life. For a church that prides itself on being ‘real’, those who engage CR are the ‘realest of the real’.

Happy Birthday!


Thursday, August 29, 2013

Pastor's Perspective - Adopted!



Recently, several in our congregation and community have shared with me that they were adopted as children. Taking just one glimpse of my family or hearing our story seems to open a door for these personal revelations. The majority of our six children are adopted, and biracial. Needless to say, our family portrait is a unique one and shouts to everyone that we are huge advocates for adoption.

Over the years my wife Michelle and I have heard repeatedly how ‘blessed’ our children are to have parents like us. We always smile and gently remind them that we are the truly blessed ones! The Lord in His infinite kindness has shown us great love by allowing us to provide a Christian home for the little ones He created and graciously entrusted to us to nurture and raise – those made in His very image.

Students of the Bible are familiar with another huge advocate of adoption – God Himself! Paul the apostle wrote to his friends in ancient Ephesus (1:5) that all who call on the name of the Lord and trust Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior are personally adopted by God into His eternal family. In other words, Heaven will be filled with children God chose through His gracious will and pleasure.

Though I still hear some say, “I was an accident”, I try to assure them that there are no accidents with an Almighty God! He deliberately raised you from death to life, gave you a new identity, and gave you a special place at His family table. The Bible states emphatically, ‘How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!’ (1 John 3:1).

One of my fondest memories was the adoption ceremony for our daughter Emma. Our family gathered at the courthouse in Tampa, Florida to join us and witness the ratification of our precious child officially becoming a ‘Kiefer’. We sat nervously fidgeting as the judge entered his chamber, sat down and reviewed our case file with a stern face. Then he said and did something that will always be tattooed in my mind. He told Michelle and I to come over and stand by him with the baby while he signed the document. Our family stood nearby pressing in, giddy with anticipation with cameras ready. “When I sign my name on this line, Emma will be all yours,” he announced. As he scribbled his signature, his once stern expression transformed into a wide toothy smile and with a loud exclamation he said – ‘It’s official!” The room instantaneously broke into cheers, tears and hugs. Since that day over fifteen years ago, we have experienced it again and again; and I can tell you, it never gets old.

As a father and pastor, I see several similarities between those courthouse proceedings and celebrations and what it truly means to be adopted by God into His personal family and kingdom.

First of all, our adopted children didn’t need to qualify or audition first to be part of our family. They didn’t need to be good enough or gifted enough. No probationary periods were required. Absolutely nothing hinged on their performance. Instead, it was hinged on our love for them and our desire to share our lives and love with them. In the same way, God loves you today and wants to adopt you. Oftentimes I hear people tell me that when they finally clean up their act, they’ll be ready for God to take them in. As a beloved reader, allow me to share something important with you - You can’t clean up your act! God wants you just as you are right now. Through Christ’s redemptive and substitutionary work on the cross and the regenerating and transformative work of the Holy Spirit, He will graciously do the necessary cleaning up part in you required.

Second, our adopted children, with one stroke of the judge’s pen, became ours, enjoying all of the rights and privileges of naturally-born children. They not only got our name, but every blessings and perk of being a fully-identified family member. Friends, the blessings and privileges of being a Kiefer are nothing compared to the blessings and privileges of being God’s adopted child! To have an ever-growing intimacy with Him and accessibility to Him is an opportunity too sweet to ignore or pass up; knowing that He’s always available to hear me, help me and restore me. His ears are always open, His shoulder always available and His heart always tender with immeasurable unconditional love, patience, wisdom and restoration.

Lastly, allow me to share the best memory of adoption with you. The sweetest moment was when Michelle and I actually got to take our baby home. It was the culmination of all of our desire and preparation. It’s funny that not one of our children remember any details of their nurseries; yet, Michelle and I took such great joy in preparing every detail with eager anticipation. Jesus told His friends just before going to the cross, “I’m going to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am’ (John 14:2-3). Though nothing can adequately prepare us for the sting and ache that death brings, for God it is a sweet moment to finally take His adopted child home and share with them all that He has prepared. Scripture tells us that ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him’ (1 Cor. 2:9)

Are you an adopted child of God?

Like me, you may have had wonderful parents, but, you still might be lying in a spiritual orphanage. Your adoption does not begin with you trying to clean up your life or trying to be good enough. Your adoption begins with an honest confession of your deepest need, your need for forgiveness and a new start – your need for a Savior – a need only Jesus can fill. Through Christ alone a courthouse scene can take place just for you. The good news is, the judge doesn’t want to condemn you, but instead to welcome you into His eternal family, give you a new shame-free identity, and lavish you with His blessings, privileges and eternal hope. Jesus said that for every adoption here below there is a great angelic celebration that takes place in Heaven (Luke 15:7, 10).

So, why stay in the orphanage one more day?

Call on the name of Jesus and start a party today!