Thursday, July 30, 2009

Update #4

I arrived at Lawnwood Hospital this morning not sure what to expect. Jack Cerreta had undergone major surgery on Wednesday to remove blood clots from his brain. We knew the surgery went well, but were not sure what to expect the next day. As I walked across the parking lot all I could think was, “Lord, please let all of this be moving in the right direction.”

I saw Michelle, Jack’s mom, in the hall way and she told me Jack had pulled out his ventilator tube during the night. My first thought was that this could not be good. She was on the phone so I went into the ICU and saw Jack and his dad. The nurses were able to leave out the breathing tube and Jack was more aware of things than I expected. As I stood by the bed talking to him, Jack opened his eyes and said, “Hi, John.”

Needless to say everyone was very excited. Jack was responsive to questions today. His nurse was helping him and he was able to follow her directions. He would nod his head in response to questions and would try to talk a little. These are all very positive signs.

Please continue to pray for the entire family. Although Jack seems to be doing very well, his full recovery and rehabilitation may be extensive. There is much to celebrate today, however.

Many people have asked what they can do for the family. Jack and Michelle feel very loved and cared for by everyone. Casey has been able to secure leave from the Marine Corps and is flying home tomorrow from Japan. She had to buy her own ticket and it was very expensive. If you feel so inclined and are able to contribute to help her with the cost of the ticket I know it would be of great support and comfort to Jack and Michelle. If you would like to contribute, please make your check for any amount to LifeQuest Church and mark on the note “Casey Cerreta.” We as a church will write a check to her to help cover her costs.

Thank you to everyone who has been so supportive and prayerful during this time.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Update #3

Jack came out of surgery about 5:00 this evening. The surgeon said the procedure went well and he removed two clots from Jack’s brain. Jack will be recovering at Lawnwood until he is physically functioning enough to be discharged. At that time plans will be made for his rehabilitation.

Jack and Michelle wanted me to tell everyone how much they appreciate all of the calls and support. They are doing as well as can be expected. Please continue to pray for the entire family. Casey was able to talk to her parents twice today and may be coming home for emergency leave. I will be updating things as often as possible and will relay any significant changes.

Update #2

I am sitting in the waiting room at Lawnwood Hospital with Jack and Michelle Cerreta. Young Jack was just taken back to surgery. The surgeon told Jack and Michelle that the surgery would take about three hours or so. Jack is still in critical but stable condition.

Jack and Michelle were able to talk with Casey in Japan. The Red Cross had gotten in touch with her and she was able to contact her parents at the hospital. Please also include her in your prayers as she is so far away from her family during this critical time.

Your presence and prayers have been greatly appreciated. I will continue to update throughout the day. If you have any questions please feel free to call or e-mail and I will contact you as soon as possible.

Some of you have been at the hospital and Jack and Michelle greatly appreciate it. If you come to the hospital, please ask the desk to lead you to the surgical waiting room or the ICU waiting room and you will be able to find Jack and Michelle.

Jack Cerreta Update

The past two days have been very difficult ones for the LifeQuest family. Jack Cerreta, Jr. was in a very serious car accident on Monday night and is in the ICU at Lawnwood Regional Medical Center in Ft. Pierce. Jack suffered some very serious head injuries and has been sedated the entire time he has been at the hospital.

I was with his parents, Jack and Michelle, this morning when the doctors told them that they needed to operate on Jack’s brain. This afternoon (Wednesday) at 1:00 Jack will be having surgery to remove a blood clot from his brain. It is obviously a very serious condition and one in which the doctors are approaching with a great deal of caution. Please be praying for the Cerreta family through this time.

As we were at the hospital yesterday and today, many people called or visited. Jack and Michelle wanted me to convey how much they appreciate your thoughts and prayers. A few of us were standing in the hall yesterday when Jack said, “We have a great church.” What a great witness to the love and grace of God’s people during a time of crisis.

As I was thinking last night about all that was transpiring, I was reminded that perhaps the greatest ministry any of us may have is the ministry of presence. When we make ourselves available to those who hurt, who weep, and who mourn, we become physical reminders of the spiritual presence of Christ. This is what the church is to reflect to one another and the world; presence.

Over the course of today and the next few days I will be updating my blog to update the status of young Jack. I am able to update my blog from the hospital, but not necessarily e-mail. So, check here periodically for updates and information concerning Jack’s condition. Pray, call, visit and encourage one another through this time. Let’s practice the ministry of presence.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Leadership Lessons

I am fascinated by different leaders. People who have the ability to lead groups, organizations, churches, and movements make me feel awed simply by listening or reading their thoughts and feelings. While I would never begin to assume myself to be a “Leadership Expert,” my years in ministry have helped me to learn some great lessons that I hope will encourage and challenge others. So, here are four qualities of leadership that cannot be ignored.

• Leadership must be empowering, not burdensome.

As a leader, the more your organization grows the less you are able to control hands on. Those are the moments that you must empower others to use their gifts and their skill set to lead in a hand on way. I have learned that my main gift set is really in three areas: communicating the word, casting a vision, and mentoring leaders. However, for me to operate in those three areas, I need to be secure enough in myself and in the leaders around me to buy into the vision, live the vision, and pass the vision on to the rest of the organization. When we empower instead of burden we get greater buy-in to the vision and great effectiveness from people’s gifts.

• Leadership must be inspiring.

My main role in leading must be to cast a vision large enough to challenge people but focused enough not to overwhelm. One of the main issues in the American church today is that we want to do everything. We must inspire the church to understand what God has called us to do and what God has not called us to do. In doing this we are able to inspire people to do the work that God has called us to in a manner that does not deflate their energy or destroy their desire to serve. We must constantly remind ourselves and the church that our goal is eternal and our work has eternal rewards that are not always readily visible today.

• Leadership must be communicative.

Leaders cannot be isolated. However, we also cannot meet everyone’s need at every moment. Leaders must design the proper context for communication and then intentionally communicate. If we as leaders don’t communicate with purpose we become distant and unapproachable. I love having “stand-up” communication with people to discuss their dreams, their visions and their passions as it relates to the dreams the vision and the passion of the church.

• Leadership must be supportive.

As leaders we must know that someone will always be opposed to what we are doing no matter how much it is succeeding. As a senior leader, I must be willing to support the staff and lay leaders of the church in the face of gossip, complaints and discontent. I also must be willing to confront boldly areas of sin, gossip or discontent on the staff level and make sure that the staff is doing the ministry of the church in a biblical manner.

When we consciously and consistently make leadership empowering, inspiring, communicative and supportive we find ourselves hitting the sweet spot of ministry. When we are not operating in this way we find ourselves defensive, micromanaging, territorial and insecure.

What are your leadership lessons?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Man Card

Okay, it is confession time: I watched “Mamma Mia!” yesterday!! Take my man card. Rip it to shreds; pass it to someone who can actually use a power tool or simply hold on to it. I had two thoughts after watching this movie: 1) I need to confess this immediately, and 2) whoever thought Pierce Brosnan could sing needs to be slapped in a bad way!!!

Here are the gory details: it was a rainy Sunday afternoon. I had already watched Tom Watson gack up the British Open and there was not one single baseball game on. This is that time of year where we really need to jump to football season.

My wife had rented the movie because she wanted to see it. She had already declared that she knew no one else wanted to watch it, but I felt the desire to simply share the experience with her. She didn’t ask or expect me to watch, but I thought if nothing else I will earn some “Good Husband Credits.”

I watched this movie and was torn between feelings of shame and feelings of being wrapped into this story of a young woman trying to figure out who her father really is. On so many levels the story is tragic because there is a young woman without a true identity. The hormones of her mother’s youth and the consequences that are reaped twenty years later paint a backdrop that is far too realistic for many people in our society today.

I know this is a critically acclaimed musical and the movie is some great feat of theater, but the tragedy of a life spent in desperation and wonder is an episode that does not promote good theater to me. I found the ending to bring neither hope nor fulfillment.

I’m not trying to turn this into some Siskel and Ebert moment, but worldviews are reflected in art and culture today in such a way that values and mores of societies are stamped in the conscience. On one level, it is simply a movie experience that filled the gap of a rainy afternoon. On another level it is a social commentary that leaves me empty and frustrated. If you enjoyed the movie or the musical, I have no problem with your point of view. For me, the fact that the movie was a “chick flick” was the least of my real concerns. It left me grateful to know that I have a Heavenly Father who loves me and who knows me inside and out.

I think I am going to rent a good John Wayne flick tonight!!!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Love Story

I have an 8-year-old daughter who is in love with the idea of being a princess, having a prince come for her, romance and the fairy tale. She is a true romantic in every sense of the word. Fortunately she is an innocent romantic. I am constantly reminded that some day she will grow up and her romantic dreams and fairy tale stories may give way to broken hearts and strained understandings of love. But for now, she is her Daddy’s princess.

She has a new favorite song and I am responsible for her interest. I showed her the music video for Taylor Swift’s song “Love Story” not too long ago because I knew she would love it. The song is about a young romantic “Juliet” who is being kept away from her “Romeo” by her father. It plays out the drama and angst of young love derailed. Of course the song ends with the father giving Romeo permission to marry his little girl and all ends well. But the true story of Romeo and Juliet is not nearly as romantic in its ending.

If you recall Romeo and Juliet are from warring families. Their young love is forbidden and plots are hatched for an escape from the repressive parent’s control. Of course, in the end Romeo and Juliet both die. I have never been able to understand what was so romantic about that. But, I’m a man and I guess I am doomed to not understand such things.

Here’s my problem: I don’t want my two “princesses” or my “prince” to grow up with a warped view of love. I don’t want them to think that the prince on the white horse or the damsel in distress is what true love is all about. True love is so much deeper. True love is not about dying for one another, but about helping one another to live.

God created us as his sons and daughters. In romantic terms his princes and princesses. But we sought our own desires and our own fulfillment. And death occurred. The kingdom heirs were banished from the eternal presence of the king. So Jesus came to restore the throne. He came to allow us back into the palace. He played out the ultimate love story.

In our human views of romance and desire we all dream of some fantasy to be played out in our lives. It is human nature to dream and desire. But how do we make sure our dreams and desires don’t lead us down the road to death and destruction? How do we protect ourselves from the nightmares that are the flip side of the fantasy?

I believe it is in seeing ourselves the way the king sees us. We are a prince or a princess because of who the king is in relation to us. As we see him more clearly, we see ourselves more accurately.

I don’t ever want to crush the dreams of my children. I want them to dream big dreams, push hard to make their dreams become reality and live life to the fullest extent of God’s design for them. I also want them to know that no matter what, they are heirs to the true king. They are significant not because of the romance, but because of the Risen King.

Now that’s a Love Story!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Spiritual Fitness

Since the first of this year I have been engaged in a conflict directly out of World War II: the Battle of the Bulge! I have been focusing on simply trying to lose a few pounds, get fit so that I can actually run up and down a basketball court, and if I can, look a little better when I go to the beach. Of course, on the latter part there is only so much I can do!!

Since January I have done pretty well in the consistent exercise department. I am not going crazy by getting up at 4:00 a.m. to workout, and I am not trying to lose a huge number of pounds. I just want to feel a little better. And I have found when I exercise, I generally feel good.

But the last few weeks have been a struggle. I don’t feel motivated to work out, I am making excuses for not being active, and I am not being disciplined about what I am eating. So, my belly has expanded a little and my overall fitness level is, well, let’s just say I won’t be running any fast breaks anytime soon.

As I was reading in scripture today I came across the spiritual equivalent of what I have been going through physically. I 1 Timothy 4:7-8 Paul writes these words:
“train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”

Spiritually it is up to us to decide to train ourselves. If we pray, read our bibles, fellowship with other believers is all dependant on our desire to do so and our choosing to do it. God doesn’t just magically make us spiritually fit anymore than he makes us physically fit. It is a matter of our desire and our discipline.

It is very easy to find a reason not to be spiritually disciplined. “I’m tired,” “it’s early,” “it’s late,” “I don’t know where to start” are all reasons that I have used at one time or another to talk myself out of spiritual discipline. The key factor is that we will lonely be as godly in spirit as we put in the time and effort to be disciplined in habit. I am not talking about some legalistic checklist of things we have to do. I am talking about the daily habits that should be a part of our life for our spiritual fitness. If we really desire intimacy with God and clarity of his desire for us and our spiritual lives, we must put in the time and effort to connect with him on our own.

So, today I am challenging you and me to start. Pick up your bible and read. Spend some quiet moments in prayer. Connect with other believers who can encourage you on your walk with Christ. I am choosing to do that today. I am also choosing that I will ride my bike later today and get back into at least some level of physical shape.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Justification and Sanctification

As a pastor there are two questions that I get quite often. Although different in many ways, they are intricately intertwined with one another. The first question is something along the lines of this: “How do I have a relationship with God?” The second question typically goes like this: “How do I live out my relationship with God?”

These are two very distinct aspects of theology, but they go together in the practical day to day living out of our faith. I want to spend a few minutes and give you a quick theology lesson and also a quick application to think about how these areas of your life are played out every day.

The first answer of how to have a relationship with God deals with an area of theology called justification. The simple definition is justification puts us back in right relationship with God. What we must understand is that right relationship with God is only possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Scripture is full of references to this concept. John 3:16, Romans 3:21-26, 1 Corinthians 1:30 all tell us that justification happens through Jesus.

What we need to realize in our lives is justification is only the first step in the life of a follower of Jesus. Justification is our stepping across the line of faith. It is our moment when we surrender our life to Jesus.

The second question has an answer that lies in another theological term called sanctification. Sanctification is the process of being made holy that result in a changed lifestyle. This is the concept that the more we understand about god and his desires for our lives the more it changes our attitudes, actions, thoughts, words, deeds and heart. This is an on-going process for the rest of our lives. Hebrews 12:14 tells us that we should pursue holiness as an on-going growth pattern in our life.

The danger in not fully understanding sanctification is that it can lead to legalism. As humans we have the habit of reducing the passions and desires of God into rules and laws that we use as a checklist for our life. We hold ourselves and others to extra-biblical standards that are not truly the passion of God.

The flip side of this coin is liberalism; not of thought but of action. This is the concept that since God has forgiven me through Christ I can do or say anything I want. A brief reading of Romans 6-8 will show that Paul firmly condemned that view.

So, why do these two ideas demand discussion and such a long blog post? There are two reasons: some people tend to stop in their walk with Christ after they have been justified and some people tend to take their growth in Christ to legalistic and harsh rules.

We need to learn to leave in the blessed middle. God has forgiven us through Jesus, has wiped away all of our sin and shame and has made us his eternal children. That is justification. As a result of what God has done for us we should desire to live our lives to honor him and to hold him as the highest standard of love and grace and honor that is possible. That results in changed lifestyles for us. That is sanctification.

Today I see many Christians, including myself, who are living in the extremes at times. We need to learn to live in justification and sanctification. We need to learn to live in grace and holiness. I see this lived out so often among my ministry peers. Some are so caught at the point of justification that they do not live lives of holiness and therefore fall prey to the enemy of God. Others are so bound by laws and rules that they become Pharisees who impose standards on others not according to the Word of God but according to our own rules.

Several years ago I had breakfast with a man who I respect very much. We had never met, but he was the speaker at a camp I was attending with the youth ministry from our church. Shortly before we met, a friend of his and a man I very much respected had died. If I mentioned their names everyone would know them, so I won’t. We were talking about this when he said, “John the thing about _____ is that he understood justification but not sanctification.”

That has stuck with me to this day. Do I understand both? Do I live in the tension of grace and freedom? Am I a Pharisee or a hypocrite?

My prayer is that each of us understands that God’s love is not based on our actions. I also pray that we understand that our actions should be a daily reflection of God’s love.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Different Together

I am in the office for the first full day since my two week vacation. It was a great trip with a lot o fun with the family, but it is always nice to get back home to your own house, your own bed, your own dog and especially your own church.

The two weeks we were on vacation we worshipped with our families at churches that have very different styles than LifeQuest. They are a little more traditional, larger and in very small towns. They dress different, use different translations of scripture, and sing different songs. Yesterday, as I spoke at LifeQuest, I talked about how although we worship in different styles we have the most important thing in common: Jesus.

This morning I began reading the book of 1 Timothy in my devotional time. In chapter 1 Paul is instructing Timothy to have the church focus on the things that unite rather than things that divide. In verse 5 he says, “The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” That is what the church should be about.

In verse 6, Paul gives the other side of the coin: “Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk.” This is, unfortunately, what the church is often about. We gossip, criticize, complain and divide. It is shameful.

Today we need to learn to live united. The enemy of our soul is out to destroy the work that God has begun in our lives. He not only uses our sinful flesh, but the sinful flesh of others to distract us from the eternal truth of God’s plan. As Christian leaders we must never give in to the trap of destroying the work God is doing in another ministry. There is plenty of work for us all.

Churches operate differently. They worship differently and they are structured differently. But any church that preaches Jesus Christ and him crucified and raised from the dead is a partner in our cause. We must not allow style differences to cause body divisions.

Today, pray for churches in your area. Pray for God to bless their ministries, their pastors and their effort to increase the Kingdom of God. That is how we demonstrate love from a pure heart.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Back and Better Than Ever

I have been gone from this site for two weeks. I had many thoughts of things I wanted to write about, but really felt the need to unplug as much as possible during this vacation with the family.

We drove over 3,000 miles through seven states and visited my mom and Alana's parents. It was a great family get away. Now we are back and I am ready to get rolling into life again. I can't wait for tomorrow to worship and speak at LifeQuest again. I miss the people of our church so much when we are gone.

Today we are going to relax, celebrate the birth of the greatest nation on earth, and enjoy some time with friends. I hope that you have a great Fourth of July and that you experience the true freedom found in Christ.

The pictures are from fishing on a pond in Mt.Pleasant, Texas. Yes, people from Florida went there for vacation. Kimmie was a great worm wrangler and Zach and Emily both had to kiss the fish they caught. Vacation=Good Memories!!!