Showing posts from 2014

Who's Coming to Salem?

Philip told Nathanael about Jesus and said to him, “Come and see.” John 1:43-46

A woman called and made an appointment to see me. She told me she had moved to Cedar Rapids and had visited five churches. Out of those five visits, only once did people at the church speak to her. That one church was Salem. I was saddened to hear of her experience at the other congregations. I was pleased and a little relieved to hear that she experienced at Salem what so many do: a warm and hospitable welcome. This simple habit of intentionally speaking to others at church cannot be overestimated.

I told her what I’ve shared many times. When I first arrived at Salem, the leaders told me that Salem is a very friendly, warm and caring congregation. I thought to myself, “Okay, well, we’ll see.” After all, there are a lot of congregations that consider themselves to be warm and friendly when in fact, not so much. But it turned out that Salem is exactly that. Over and over again, guests come and tell me they do…

The Church Is Our Mother

Jeff, a long-time member of Salem, makes lots of phone calls. He leads the Tuesday prayer room. If you fill out a yellow prayer card and put it in the offering, Jeff and others will pray for your request. He will likely call you to see if there has been an answer to the prayer.

He calls people in the church regularly. A year ago, we asked Jeff made calls to church members as part of the Salem Rising capital campaign to encourage them to come to worship for the Salem Rising kick-off.

That Sunday, a woman in our congregation (who said I could share this) came out after the 11 am service and said, “Now, who is this Jeff that called me?” I looked around and saw Jeff getting into his car and pointed him out. I said, “There he is.”

She said, “He called me.”

I said, “Yes, he made calls this week to members to encourage them to come to worship today.”

She said, “Oh, he called everyone?”

I said, “Yes.”

She looked around sheepishly and said, “When I got the call I was in Las Vegas, and I couldn’t beli…

Salem's Discipleship Pathway

"I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry." — Jesus
Haven you ever enjoyed a really wonderful meal? Imagine, the chef brings you an amuse-bouche, a little bite of food to entertain the mouth, awaken the senses, and create a desire for more. For instance, bacon wrapped dates with almonds are a wonderful amuse-bouche. The salty crisp bacon with sweet chewy dates with a rich almond center definitely amuse the mouth.

Next, a warm, butternut squash soup or a crisp, fresh salad is set before you, offering more enjoyment and something more filling, too. Sometimes that’s all you need for enjoyment and sustenance.

Still, to have complete nourishment for our bodies, we need the entrée, the main course. The steak and baked potato, shrimp fettuccine Alfredo, chicken cordon bleu, leg of lamb, or roasted pork loin is set before you, served with a side of bacon, uh, I mean, with a side of asparagus or brussels sprouts.

After all of that, even if you’re quite full, you t…

The Examined Life

Two teachers were once applying for the same position at a local school. One had been teaching for eight years and the other for twenty. Everyone expected the teacher with the greater experience to get the job, but when a decision was made, the person with eight years of experience was chosen.

The other teacher complained. “I’ve been teaching for twenty years compared to her eight,″ he said. “I’m vastly more qualified.”

The School Board said, “It’s true, you do have twenty years of teaching compared to her eight. But where she has eight years of experience you have one year of experience repeated twenty times.”

It’s a hard truth: the progress of time doesn’t automatically mean growth or learning from our experience. What about you? Have you examined your life? Have you taken an honest look at your growth over time, or are you the same person doing the same thing each year? Or as Jesus says, are you bearing fruit?

The Apostle Paul encourages this examined life. He tells the church at Corin…

Blessing Our Neighborhood

"I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." Genesis 12:2-3
A couple weeks ago I was the last one leaving the church after a meeting. I met an older couple walking through the parking lot, looking at our construction. I asked if they lived in the neighborhood and they said they did. In fact, they had been to Salem’s building. They had their condo association meeting in our facility, and they’d also come to one of the men’s dinners and voted at Salem.

I asked if they were part of a church already and they said they were. I said they were always welcome to walk on our property and look at the construction and eat at our dinners and vote and anything else. They said they appreciated knowing that. It seemed they felt like they were trespassing a bit until I told them Salem is a place that’s meant for the community and they are welcome whether or not they are part of the church. I told them …

Seven Months

She said, “It’s time.”

My body tensed. I closed my eyes and thought, “No.” In my head I knew it was coming at some point, but now that the time had arrived, I didn’t want to go through it.

As I write this, today is the seven month anniversary of my open heart surgery to replace my aortic valve.

They wheeled me in to the operating room at 7:00 am. They took me to the intensive care unit about 2:00 pm. Seven hours.

I first remember my wife, Joy, patting me on the shoulder and saying, “It’s OK, you’re waking up, you’re in the ICU.” The rest of the details of that day are sketchy at best. I do remember trying to tell my family that they should leave so they could get some sleep. It had been a long day for everyone.

When I was alone, I thought it was late at night. It was dark in my room and it felt like I’d been in the ICU for long time. I asked what time it was and the nurse said, “Oh, it’s just 8:30 pm.” I was disappointed. I knew getting through that night in the ICU was a big step and it s…

Worshiping in a Strange Place

Last month I encouraged you to worship wherever you are this summer. I told the story of Paul, who when he reached the city of Philippi, went outside the city gate by the river on the sabbath where there was a place of prayer, a gathering for worship.

While on vacation recently we were near a river and I thought, how great would it be to just walk down to the river and find some other Jesus followers and worship together.

It’s only happened once in my life. Joy and I traveled to Korea a dozen years ago with a group of pastors and spouses, people with whom we lived in community for a year. On our way home we stayed in Hawaii four days. I know. It was tough. And it was Easter. On Sunday, early in the morning, we walked together to the beach and worshiped our God. (Anyone interested in an Easter sunrise service next year in Hawaii?)

It ought to be easier now than it was for Paul. Today, churches have web sites, Facebook pages, and phone book listings. It’s easy to locate a church. But there…

Gathering for Worship This Summer

Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing. Hebrews 10:25As summer approaches and you’re looking forward to plans you’ve made, vacations, and, in general, summer fun, please remember to continue gathering for worship each week. As Christians, we gather every week to worship our God.

The book, The Acts of the Apostles, tells a story about Paul on his second missionary journey. Paul was in modern-day Turkey. He and his companions had been trying to go here and there, but the Spirit kept holding them back. Then one night Paul had a dream or a vision. He saw a man from Greece pleading, “Come over here and help us.” Right away they concluded that God was calling them to a new part of the world (the West!) to share the story of Jesus.

So right away Paul, Silas, Timothy, and maybe even Luke left for the coast of Turkey and boarded a boat and left the Middle East for the very first time in their lives. They sailed straight across the …

The Groundbreaking

It’s been nearly six years since the Flood of 2008 destroyed Salem’s downtown building. On May 18 we broke ground on an 18,000 square foot addition. What a joyous day! After the ceremonial breaking of the ground, it was fun to see the children rush to the shovels to get in on the action. There was opportunity for everyone to move some dirt and have a picture taken.

We expect construction equipment to begin moving dirt at the beginning of June. Foundation work should begin about the middle of the month. There will be a very large hole in the ground with fencing around it for safety. It should be fun watching as each step moves us closer to completion.

In my sermon that day, I said: “So today we break ground, and yes the building will be a tool that’s very useful for our ministry and life together, but here’s the thing: we’re not building for us. We’re building for the world: for the neighborhoods around us, for this city, for the whole world. Because this new church building will not onl…

The Church Is Not a Building

Now that we will definitely break ground and start work on a new building, it’s good to think about how the church is more than a building. When Salem's downtown building was destroyed in the flood of 2008, we knew that the church is not the building, it’s more than that. Likewise when we construct a new building, it’s good to acknowledge that the church is not the new building either. It’s more than that. Without a doubt, a building is a blessing, a gift, a tool. But the church is more than the building.

This is important because we’re going to grow. When we break ground and build a new building, we’re going to see new people. We live in a culture that likes new things. And a new “church” is no exception. New people will come and be a part of Salem. In fact, we’re working intentionally to reach out to new people so that they will become a part of this wonderful congregation. We’re going to grow.
Our goal, however is not just to have more people who are a part of Salem. Rather, our …

Breaking Ground May 18

At our Church Conference on April 1, we voted overwhelmingly, 68-6, to proceed with our building project, approving the entire plan at a cost of just over two million dollars.

Then on April 21, we met with the District Building and Location Committee. They approved our project unanimously.

Therefore, we are right now securing financing and the necessary legal paperwork. 

We are going to break ground on Sunday, May 18 at 10:30 am between the worship services so everyone can participate.

God is good! All the time!

"When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, 'The Lord has done great things for them.' The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced." Psalm 126:1-3

A New Vision

"The human mind may devise many plans, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will be established." Proverbs 19:21

The first of our Healthy Church Initiative prescriptions to be completed is our new vision statement:

connecting people building community transforming lives through Jesus
Our prayer team and others throughout the congregation have been leading us in prayer about what God is calling us to be. How does God see us? At the Day of Visioning meeting on March 9, it was unanimously approved by the 35 people participating.

The vision statement pictures an ideal future in which we connect people, build community, and transform lives through Jesus. Therefore, decisions made by Staff, the Leadership Board, and church members should be consistently aligned with the vision. This is who we are. The vision directs the course of our church.

It is short — only eight words — so that it is easily memorized and able to inspire us to action. We can’t fulfill it if we don’t know it.

Our missi…

I'm Back and Salem Has a New Vision

I went back to work after my open heart surgery on February 9. It was wonderful to be welcomed back so warmly. I was surprised by and grateful for the celebration of my successful surgery, my return to Salem, and my birthday!

Coming back means getting up to speed on all the things happening with Salem, and we have a lot going on right now. Salem is on the move!

Finances. Our Treasurer, Linda Curson, does a fantastic job, along with the entire finance team. She told me that we ended 2013 in the black with more than $7,000 over expenses. Thank you for your faithfulness and generosity in your stewardship. This year we intend to get back to paying our apportionments in full. That will be $45,000 in 2014. Our apportionments reflect our missional giving to support the general church (Bishops, general agencies, etc.) as well as ministries and missions beyond our local community. You can see exactly where our apportionment dollars are working at B…

State of the Church 2014

How are we doing at making disciples of Jesus Christ who transform the world?

2013 was a great year for Salem. Still, in assessing the state of Salem, there are some benchmark statistics to which we want to pay attention. Salem’s membership includes 244 people. This past year 2 members died and none transferred to other congregations. We received 24 new members in 2011, 19 new members in 2012, and in 2013 we received 15 new members (11 by transfer from other congregations and 4 by profession of faith). That means we have received 58 new members since arriving at our current location a little over three years ago!

Our worship attendance increased just slightly. We now average 177. With our membership at 244, however, we continue to get healthier. Whereas many congregations only see about 30% of their members in attendance, Salem has over 70%! The healthiest congregations, though, have greater attendance than membership. Not only are all the members present but several new people are gues…