Friday, December 19, 2014

The Next Ten Days At Good Shepherd

Here's where we are going over the next 10 days at Good Shepherd:

Sunday, December 21 at 8:30, 10, and 11:30
Jingle Jam, a multi-media, multi-sensory, and multi-generational Christmas experience.  Includes a compelling Gospel invitation.  You will not want to miss this!

Wednesday, December 24 at 5:00, 6:30, and 8:00 p.m.
Christmas Eve Candlelight celebration featuring music inspired by Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen, and, well, Jesus himself.  My message that night continues the Baby Invasion series and is called The First Christmas Shoppers.  Come early, get a good seat, and remember the Savior's birth with 2000 of your best friends.  Nuestro servicio de Noche Buena sera a las 5:00 p.m. en el Corner Campus con Pastor Sammy Gonzalez.

Sunday, December 28 at 10:00 and 11:30 ONLY
As is our custom, the final Sunday of the year offers two worship times instead of our regular three.  At 10 and 11:30 we will conclude Baby Invasion with a message called Truth & Consequences.

Then, as 2015 approaches, prepare to go Beyond . . .


Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Young Adult's Reflection On Absolute Truth

Those who comment on the state of religion in America often remark how truth is relative for emerging generations.  You can read about that here, here, and here.

Yet in contrast to that cultural assumption -- which most of us accept as gospel without much investigation -- I offer you the email below.

A young woman who is part of our church's music team wrote to us about the song This I Believe.  A proud member of the Millenial Generation, she's full of cultural savvy and media awareness -- in other words, she could well be a poster child for the claim truth is relative.

Yet here's what she wrote of her experience while singing the song:

However yesterday, while singing with the choir I was empowered with a new love for it because of how defining and declarative the song is. Just one part of a verse and the chorus make the unique claims that separate Christianity from all other religions of the world. The song makes claims that defeat other major Christian cults and defines Christianity as the one true religion. When I realized this yesterday, I was overcome with new love and appreciation for this song. Yes, I know it's the creed in song form...but it was so much more powerful to me when singing (and declaring) it during worship. These beliefs I'm singing about are the very ones that people died for and they are the very ones that caused great schisms in the Christian faith that resulted in major cultish movements.

I believe in God our Father
I believe in Christ the Son (Mormonism redefines the deity of Christ)
I believe in the Holy Spirit (Scientology and other new-age cults don't acknowledge the Holy Spirit)
Our God is three in one (Jehovah's Witnesses don't believe in the Trinity.)
I believe in the resurrection
That we will rise again
For I believe in the name of Jesus

Singing = Defining = Declaring = Separating . . .  separating one truth claim from all others.

That's one of those that applies from generation to generation.

Here's This I Believe, a tune that masterfully engages both mind and heart:

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Another Step Towards Full Color

As a lot of you know, Good Shepherd opened a different sort of multi-site in the Twin Lakes Mobile Home Community this fall.

Serving a primarily Latino population, our staff and volunteers provide after-school tutoring, snacks, and love.

Anyway, a crew of high impact volunteers just completed this new mural in one of the rooms in our mobile home:

Full on, full color is one of our church's stated values; it provides much of the why behind the what of inviting all people into a living relationship with Jesus Christ.

Because we know that ethnic diversity in the 21st century church is not at all limited to "black" and "white."  It instead includes the "full color" of God's creation gathering together to worship the Lord of life.

We want all of our worship gatherings to be a dress rehearsal for eternity.  And what is happening in eternity?  Revelation 7:9 suggests that it looks like this:

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.

Full on, full color, now, mobile, and forever.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Top Five Tuesday -- Top Five Christmas Presents EVER

If you can trace the history of your life through Christmas presents you have received -- the ones that catch you completely by surprise and fill you with wonder and gratitude -- then I have been blessed indeed.

This list is front-loaded a bit . . . but isn't that when Christmas means the most to us anyway?

So here are the five most memorable Christmas gifts I've ever received, from most ancient to most recent.

1.  At six years old, I received a drum set from my older sister.  Because our family was so large (eight children, of whom I am number eight), we drew names. So you only had to buy a gift for that one person.  Names were drawn at Thanksgiving, intrigue and espionage ensued throughout December, and then the big "reveal" on Christmas Eve.  When I was six, my oldest sister Libby -- who was 23 years older than me! -- drew my name and got me the perfect gift.

2.  At seven years old, a football uniform from the same sister.  The next year, unknown to me, Libby drew my name again and gave me an even more perfect gift: my very own football uniform with helmet, pads, and straps.  I still remember that it came in a Hutch box just like this one:

 3.  When I was 14 my mom got me the "World Of Tennis" coffee table book.  I had longed after Richard Schickel's comprehensive pictorial history of the game whenever I saw it at the B. Dalton Bookseller (remember those?) in the local mall.  It was full of tennis lore from the late 1800s until 1974.  I actually thought it was too good to be true that I'd ever own the book, and still remember the absolute shock I felt when I opened the package and there it was. You know what's great?  I still have the book.

4.  As an adult in seminary, Julie got me a Washburn acoustic guitar.  The thinking was that in ministry I could use it to lead youth group music.  (Problem: you need to be able to sing to do that.  And play guitar with the right timing.)  Anyway, I took lessons, learned how to play On The Road Again by Willie Nelson, Do Lord, that southern gospel staple, and then slow motion version of the intros to both Hotel California and Stairway To Heaven.

5.  This year, Julie is giving me tickets to John Mellencamp in March at Ovens Auditorium.  Our seats are good, the venue is intimate, and Mellencamp's most recent album, Plain Spoken, is superb.

Monday, December 15, 2014

A Sermon With Diaper Bags, Car Seats & Strollers: "Could This BE Any More Inconvenient?"

What a fun day.

I saw people I hadn't seen in fifteen years.

I met people for the very first time.

I got to throw diapers around on the platform.

I was able to celebrate a new baby with the gathered congregation.

My new friend who is an atheist returned -- and brought his dad.

I got motivated by the Good Shepherd worship leading choir.

And I delivered a message that I had liked all week with a bottom line that I think will stay with people:  You have to live dangerously so you don't die comfortably.


Since my kids are now 25 & 22, it has been a long time for me, but I still remember what a hassle it was to travel with small children ANYWHERE.  A lot of you are living this right now.  And I even brought some stuff with me to show you how hard it is. Like you got this: DIAPER BAG.  And you hook that over your shoulder, making sure it is filled with diapers (of course), formula, bibs, towels to wipe up spit up.  But with the DB, you are just getting started.  Then there is the CAR SEAT.  These were a big deal 25 years ago and now I understand they are like 10x more secure – and 20x harder to get in and out.  And don’t forget this: STROLLER.  Because you know you can’t take a trip to Myrtle – or even to Rivergate! – without this contraption. And then the most cumbersome of all:  PLAYPEN.  Admit it: almost every parent here has dreamed of having a child you could just plop in there and they entertained themselves the rest of the day in their little nylon prison!

            The best thing about all this stuff is when they outgrow it.  Our lives got so much better when they no longer needed car seats!  Bigger deal than potty trained! And ultimately they get to that age when they get their drivers licenses and it’s like DONE!  I have only seen my kids like once or twice since that happened.  But lugging all this stuff around and the human children on top of it! is so inconvenient and uncomfortable to go across the street much less across the continent.

            And yet poor Joseph – that’s exactly what he had to do.  The baby invades his life and every time that he settles down in the early section of the story, each time he gets REMOTELY comfortable, BAM he has to get up and go.  Lug all his stuff and get moving.  It starts with that very first uncomfortable word that Joseph gets while he is asleep: she’s preggnant.  So in Matt 1:24,

 24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.

 he wakes up, gets up and took Mary to his home in Bethlehem.  That trip, as you know, he didn’t have to take with the stroller, but he did have to travel with a very pregnant Mary who rode his . . . donkey all the way to Bethlehem. Which is where Jesus is born. Which is where they settle in as a little family – they’ve got a pediatrician, Jesus has had some play dates with the kids in preschool (who are so much more temperamental than he is!), and wonder of wonders some wise men have come from the East – until they get ominous news.  Look at 2:13: 

 13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

"Get up.”  And so what does he do in 2:14?: 

 14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt,

Note that “Get up / Got up” pattern because you’ll see it again. 

            But do you know what was involved in “got up”?  Packing all his baby stuff, all their animals, and oh yeah, Jesus & Mary as well, and walking over 300 miles ON FOOT from Bethlehem to Alexandria, Egypt, where we know from history that many Jews settled in Egypt.  Dangerous walk.  Hot.  Difficult. With a crying baby.  Without Motel 6 or police escort.  And note: they had to leave during the night.  Urgent, chaotic, dangerous.  Why?  Look at the end of 2:14: "to kill him."  Because if they had stayed in the comfort of Bethlehem, it would have killed them. 

            Now fast forward a couple of years and five verses to 2:19-21: 
19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

21 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.

See that “Get up / Got up” there?  After establishing themselves in a Jewish enclave in Alexandria, now they have to load up the SUV, put the DVDs on the back of the front seat, make sure there’s no fighting because Jesus probably had siblings by now, and they had to make the weeks-long trek home.  Just when they’d gotten settled in Alex, God uproots them.  That’s TWICE!  In an era in which most people never ventured more than 10 miles from the place they were born. But you figure, at least this time they are going back home (and making it so that in coming up from Egypt, Jesus is the new Moses!).  But then it happens again.  Joseph and family get to Bethlehem, find a place, unload, get the cable hooked up, start to rest comfortably, and then it happens: 

 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.

He HAD to be like AGAIN?! (And at this stage, if I was Joseph, I would be pretty tired of all these dreams.)  It’s not even a Herod threat this, but an Archilaeus one.  But immediately they have to get up, load up, back up and go another 80 miles to Nazareth.  Which was exactly nowhere.  It’s not like they loaded up the truck & they moved to Beverly; more like moved to Beckley. WV. 

            So you see the pattern and it’s not by accident.  Over and over and over, at the prompting of God, Joseph has to leave whatever little sense of comfort & routine he has developed and instead has to embark on an arduous, dangerous trip into the unknown and unpredictable.  The baby his life and constant, inconvenient movement is the result.  When you know to look for the pattern, it leaps right off the page at you.

            But you know what else?  Look at the reasons why. Every time Joseph and family became comfortable – Bethlehem, Egypt, Bethlehem again – if he had stayed he would have died.  In comfort there was guaranteed death.  And I see that, I recognize that pattern, and something else leaps off the page:  God needs him to live dangerously so he doesn’t die comfortably.  The baby invades your life and one of the first things he does is to prod you, to move you, to unsettle you, to uproot you all because he knows:  You have to live dangerously so you don’t die comfortably. 

            Because here’s what I know:  there are people in this room today who are slowly but surely dying in their comfort.  And God brought you here today to tell you exactly that:  you may not have Herod on your tail pursuing you to death, but a lot of you have an even greater enemy.  YOU.  Now sometimes it is the result of risk aversion, sort of like the Activision company of a generation ago.  They made games for the Atari 260 (AV) And the CEO was surrounded by some young, smart whippersnappers who were encouraging him to move the company into making games for the PC market.  But the CEO answered, “We’re not in the floppy disk business! We’re in the cartridge business!”  And now they aren’t in any business.  They died.  Comfortably.

            But then there is the more pernicious and the more personal, the ways we have comfortable with our status quo.  I know there is probably a handful or more husbands in the room who have grown comfortable with this pattern: neglect, neglect, neglect, EXPLOSION, apology, brief change . . . neglect, neglect, neglect.  I know it’s here because I’ve seen it more times than I care to count.  I know there are husbands here who have grown comfortable navigating marital crises that way and what you don’t realize is that it is killing your marriage – and your wife – from the inside out.  You think each one blows over and it’s “all good” but it’s not: the damage is there and the damage is real.  By the same token there are wives here who in the wake of that kind of treatment have grown comfortably numb.  And the kind of numb is all too often a prelude to reckless and self-destructive.

            And then others of you here are comfortable with your level of alcohol use – which is HIGH.  It’s how you make it through the day – although it’s sure to make the # of your days shorter.  And still others are comfortable with your level of marijuana – you’re planning a move to Colorado, you’ve bought the lie that it’s not harmful, you don’t even think it makes you less ambitious!  And probably upwards of 30% of the guys in here have internet related addictions.  The thought of living life without it is terrifying to you.  It’s killing you, it’s making you hollow, it makes you regard people as objects, but it’s all you know.

            And then finally, at Xmas, some of you are even comfortable with a casual sort of “wave at Jesus” faith.  Like the person who told me “I guess I’ll be a baby Xn all my life” and that is slowly but surely killing you cuz it’s not Jesus’ design for you.  You’ve grown comfortable in your own dysfunctions and if the early chapters of Matthew tell us anything they tell us comfort kills.  You have to live dangerously so you don’t die comfortably. 

            Which is why that annoying, invasive baby keeps Joseph loading up and getting out.  Keeps him on the move.  Because the scary news of Xmas is that when Jesus enters in, he poses so many dangers.  He is a specialist at uprooting and unsettling.  And part of me hates this!  I love my routines!  It wasn’t until 2006 that I left the world of dot matrix printers and a black computer screen with orange letters (AV).  Golly, it was just last year I traded in my eight tracks for cassettes!  It’s why my first answer to the Zoar offer in 2013 was “no.”  But man, when Jesus enters in and you get saturated in his word and you realize  how dangerous he is to your routines, how he wants to protect you from yourself & your complacency.

            Like he is so dangerous to your money.  Because he moves you to realize it’s not yours to begin with.  He’s dangerous to your gossip.  Because he is that conscience who reminds you the tongue which delights in spreading stories was designed to offer praise.  And then for a lot of you the baby invasion is to get you to load up all the debris of infant Xnty.  You know, I realize that sometimes we make it too easy here.  We don’t even pass the plate.  It is such a Catch-22 – we want it easy so we are welcoming of all but some people get so comfortable in that that stay put.  It becomes all about you!  I just long for people to have a hunger for the deeper, purer things of God.  Like the little boy who won a bible memory contest and his mom asked him his prize was.  We get to learn more verses! he said.  How about that? For us?  Yeah, I’m talking about time daily in the Scripture.  I’m talking about LifeGroup involvement.  There is a reason we have named one of our goals as Moving To Maturity.  You don’t Static your way to spiritual maturity.  You move your way to it!  And sometimes if you’re not moving on your own, God will move you for you.  .You have to live dangerously so you don’t die comfortably.    You live your life so much free-er of regrets that way.

            Because, really, there’s something much larger than you at stake.  Joseph had to be protected with these moves and by these moves because the Messiah had to live and he had to be the 2nd Moses.  Sometimes your dangerous obedience has precious little to do with you and a precious lot to do with a larger cause.  Some of you know that before the Civil War, Harriet Tubman (AV) was an escaped slave.  But did you know she returned to the South 19 x after her escape? Nothing safe about that! But a bigger cause.  Where is it with you?  Is it volunteering at Room In The Inn to get over your fear of people who are homeless?  Is it the Charlotte Rescue Mission to get you less comfortable with your Saturday mornings?  Is it here, working with Children’s Min to get you over your fear of kids?  You have to live dangerously so you don’t die comfortably. 

            And speaking of kids, you know what?  I’ve had two.  Guess what I notice?  Sometimes we are so protective of them as if our role in life is to insulate them for every possible danger the world holds.  To protect them from seeing the world as it is.  What comes out of that? They get a Safe God.  A Private God.  A Me God.  A God totally alien to the pages of Scripture.  How about instead you, from the earliest of ages, let your kids know the vastness of God and their indispensability to be part of his redemptive plan.  That their comfort and safety is not God’s highest priority!  Like the little boy whose father is a pastor and before bed one night the boy asks, “Pray that God will keep me safe tonight, daddy.  I’m scared.”

            And dad answers, “No, I’m going to pray that God makes you dangerous. That when you walk into a room, Satan and his legions have to flee. That’s what I’m going to pray.”

            Me too.  Because  you have to live dangerously so you don’t die comfortably. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Baby Invasion, Week 3 -- Could This BE Any More Inconvenient?

Jesus wasn't invited.

He invaded.

He wasn't expected.

He appeared.

And someone who invades without an invitation and who appears without an expectation invariably adds some inconvenience to your life.

In the case of Jesus, many of the inconveniences land in Joseph's lap.

We're going to look at those this Sunday.  Is it OK if I say I really like this message and can't wait to give it?

I like the excavation of Scripture in it.  I like the patterns that emerge.  I like the props I'll use.  I really like the bottom line and the many ways it intersects with our lives.

And, just for good measure, I like that I will be delivering just after we are led in in music by our Worship Choir -- a full on, full color, full note celebration of sound.


8:30.  10.  11:30.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

When God Speaks . . .

In my experience, when God speaks, he tends to repeat what he has already said.

(Or, to be more precise, he repeats what he inspired biblical authors to say.)

That's why, for example, when I was looking through some resumes in 2010 for a job we had open here, I quite clearly and without equivocation heard the words:

"Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart."  (I Sam 16:7)

So at that time, I closed up the file of resumes because I realized we already had the guy with the heart.  And he still works here to this day.

More recently, as I have thought about the connection between prayer life and personal health, I keep hearing Romans 8:26:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through groans that words cannot express.

And I have sensed the Lord adding a phrase to that verse for me:  "Talbot, I want you to pray like that again."

But what does it mean to have the Spirit intercede for us through groans that words cannot express?

I believe it means this: when we run out of words, the Holy Spirit runs in and prays through us.  Our prayers become as much conduits for the Spirit's work as they are communication with the Spirit's heart.

This happens for me when I am desperate enough in prayer to acknowledge that I don't have words anymore. That for me to have authentic union with God, he will have to pray through me.  Many folks in the church world experience this as praying in tongues or a prayer language or the most technical term, glossolalia. 

Whatever you call it, it's been part of my prayer life since 1990, though I don't always take the time to enter into prayer that deeply.

Which is why, I think, God has been encouraging me to use that prayer gift more often.

As in daily.  Because I realize when I allow that to happen in prayer, the rest of the day and the rest of my life goes so much better.

Much like God had already indicated through Romans 8:26.  

When God speaks, he tends to repeat what he has already said.