Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Power Of Showing Up

Here's the skill set I needed earlier this week for my most impactful ministry moments since Easter:

   The ability to drive.

   A sense of direction.

  The patience to sit for an hour.

I didn't have to go to seminary for any of those.  Not even a mid-career Catalyst Conference as a refresher course!

What did I do that had such a disconnect between impact achieved and skill required?

Attended one funeral and one funeral visitation.

I didn't lead either service.  No eulogy, no prayer, no suit & tie, no duty that was overtly pastoral.  And for sure no great words of wisdom that brought the deceased back to life.

Just showed up.

It's the ministry of presence and in our world where churches are at once more "mega" and more digital -- as if Wesley said, "the Facebook is my parish!" -- it's a practice that is rapidly disappearing from the pastoral toolbox.

So it was refreshing to bring it back out.  And to see the grateful surprise on people's faces as they realize they matter more than sermon prep, leadership development, and, yes, blog writing.

Showing up. 

Whatever your sphere of ministry -- ordained, lay, paid, volunteer -- try it out.  You'll get a large impact out of a small skill.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Top Five Tuesday -- My Top Five Motion Picture Comedies

In the churches of the Eastern -- Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, and the like -- the day after Easter is historically a time to tell jokes.

Why?  Because in the Resurrection, God has the last laugh on Satan.  You can read about the custom here.

So that set my mind to wandering . . . and since my mind is always searching for the next top five list for a Tuesday blog, it wandered on this day to those movies that I have found to be the most laugh out loud funny.

In putting together this list, I tried to balance between a) remembering this is a preacher's blog, after all and b) not becoming such a prude that Lassie made the list.  So . . . here goes: in honor of cosmic joke day, here are my top five motion picture comedies:

5.  Young Frankenstein"That's FRONK-EN-STEEN."  The perfect movie for a seventh grader, which is what I was when I saw it.  I also remembering first-hand that when you try to re-create how funny a movie was by telling someone all about it . . . they quickly lose interest.

4.  Airplane.  Tasteless, irreverent, probably couldn't be made today.  Or be as witty.  Who knew Kareem Abdul-Jabbar could act?

3.  Beverly Hills Cop.  Eddie Murphy's laugh alone made me want to relocate to Southern California.

2.  Ghostbusters.  Julie and I returned from our honeymoon in the summer of 1984 to find the country in the throes of Ghostbuster Mania.  Turns out it was easy to see why.

1.  Bernie.  The best movie nobody's ever heard of.  Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey and a cast of locals from Carthage, Texas form an ensemble for the ages.  This description of the "Five States Of Texas" is itself worth the price of admission:

Monday, April 21, 2014

A Sermon Where We See The "Walk To Emmaus" Isn't Nearly As Important As The "Run From Emmaus"

My Easter sermon -- given five times over the span of 18 hours -- took a different look at what to many folks is a familiar story:  The Road To Emmaus.

At least, that's what the heading over Luke 24:13-35 says the story is about in my nifty NIV Large Print bible.

But when you read the story all the way through, you realize that the way back from Emmaus is much more significant than the rode there.  I'll show you what I mean in this rough manuscript:


The story we are going to explore today on Easter Sunday is usually called “The Road To Emmaus” (bible heading) and I know that some of you have even been on a spiritual retreat called “The Walk To Emmaus.”  I’ve been on that “WTE!”  But today, I’m not very interested in the road TO Emmaus.  I’m more interested in the way BACK.  Getting there might have been interesting and climactic on that very first Easter Sunday but it was the road BACK that was ultimately more meaningful & triumphant. 
            Let me show you what I mean.  When we get to Luke 24:13 it is the first Easter Sunday.  I mean Day Zero for Jesus-rising-from-the-dead.  And round about mid-morning – maybe just after brunch & Starbucks – two guys – one named Cleopas & the other who is never named (can you imagine?! Bitter!) – are leaving town, leaving Jerusalem, leaving all.  See, they’ve been followers of Jesus for the last three years and they had invested their hopes and their lives in him and on Friday they’d seen their hopes & their future NAILED TO A CROSS.  Up there, bleeding, moaning, dying, was everything they’d come to believe in.  So they are fully disillusioned and completely stressed by Sunday.
            Maybe you’ve had those kind of moments.  We’re everything you had hoped for, most of what you had believed in, just SNATCHED away from you.  You had hopes around your career, your family, even your ministry and at some point it seemed that all those hopes just got nailed up out of your reach and beyond your power.  What it was for these two. And then on Sunday they heard these bizarre, unproven rumors that Jesus’ tomb was empty.  The women of the group told it first and in those days men felt that women were unreliable, so they actually regarded the stories as “idle tales.”  So here these guys are, mid-day on Sunday, disillusioned and stressed out, conflicted & confused, and what do they do?  They walk away.  Emmaus (AV) was a village about 7 miles NW of Jerusalem and they just start walking.  It’s likely their home and it is certainly their escape.
            Rather than face their issues and drama head on, they withdraw into what is comfortable, familiar, and quite possibly self-destructive.  Emmaus is what they know even if it’s not what they need.  They deal with pain by escaping into to comfort.
            I think most of us have an Emmaus we go to, don’t we? A place, a realm, a pattern of behavior that when life becomes too much and the stress gets too high, we head to it as an escape.  It’s the familiar, even if it’s not the healthy. For someone here, Emmaus is one more drink.  Your marriage is too tense, your kids are loud, your boss is too demanding and it’s just one more drink. Which quickly becomes eight more (like I heard a wise-&-recovering alcoholic say one time, “when you start drinking, it’s like getting hit by a train. It’s not the caboose that kills you.”).  For someone else here, Emmaus is that place of isolation.  Relationships – romantic & otherwise – have proven difficult and so you’ve just found it easier to withdraw.  Your hope is so low you default to disengage.  Or someone else here it’s your mobile device.  You find the digital world much more compelling than the literal one. But what’s really going on is escape & avoidance.  And then for more than a few of you, you deal with pain by escaping into the comfort of not believing. When you can edge God out of your life, it feels so escapist because you’re in charge.  And that’s where you go whenever hope fades and stress rises.  Emmaus is not just a place on a map or a word on a page, it’s a reality we live.
            Which is what these two guys are doing in Luke 24.  Jesus wouldn’t do what they wanted him to do & how they wanted him to do it so they bold. But look what happens on their way in 24:15-16: 

15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.

Now how did that happen?  We don’t know because Luke doesn’t say.  There is a phenomenon called “Face Blindness” in which folks who can otherwise see perfectly well can’t process the faces of people they should know.  Perhaps these two got that.  In any event, Jesus intrudes in their space, in the lives, and what results over the next few verses is a caper in which the reader knows what the characters don’t: Jesus is spoiling their escape.  So for seven miles they walk.  How long? Three hours?  Maybe.  Look at this classic line in 24:18: 

 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

How great is that?!  Are you the only one who DOESN’T when he is actually the only one who DOES.  Another bit of hilarity in 24:24: 

28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

They did not see Jesus . . . while we are but don’t realize it!
            Well as they are on about mile 6, Jesus lays into these two to let them know that all the events they have just described are part of a long, unfolding plan.  They make perfect sense in light the revelation embedded in the OT that the Savior would have GLORY THRU SUFFERING.  Finally, in 24:28-29, they get to Emmaus, the place of comfort and it is almost evening, and Jesus is not going to impose, he is going to go on, but they’re like “no, you are an incredible conversationalist, so hang with us tonight.”  So the first climactic moment happens in 24:30-31: 
When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.

Jesus gets revealed in the MUNDANE! While eating dinner!  Not while meditating on a mountaintop or even waiting by an empty tomb.  While breaking bread.  So after 7 miles, 3 hours, lotta talking, THEY GET IT, they see him, but then: POOF (24:31b).  He’s gone! So frustrating!  Why didn’t Jesus let them bask in his presence?  Why so fleeting?  Bothered me!  
            But the only reason it bothered me is because I hadn't read the rest of the story. Because remember: it’s late in the day, it’s been a 7 mile walk and they’ve now arrived at the place of comfortable dysfunction & escape and all of a sudden, with that flash of insight they realize: he DID rise from the dead.  And then he vanish. Insight followed by decision-time.  Why? Ah.  24:33 is real climax of the scene: 

 33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together

They got up and returned AT ONCE. In the dark. No overnight stay in Emmaus. This was no seven mile miracle!  It was a 14 mile one!  Emmaus was not the destination! The return was!  Inconvenient, late in the day, probly dark, another 7 mile hike but these two had to stop escaping and start living.  THAT’S WHY JESUS ROSE! To get these two guys back into life with its complexities, challenges, difficulties and know they could deal with them by resurrection power.  Look what they found in 24:33:  “the Eleven.”  Not 12. Cuz no Judas. They go right back into this little community that’s torn apart by betrayal. But not to avoid it; to enter into it.  And so here’s what I now know about Easter & I know it because the way FROM Emmaus is more important than way TO it:  Your desire to escape is Jesus’ signal to invade.
            Jesus rose from the dead in part to make all kinds of uninvited, unexpected, unpredictable intrusions into your life.  To keep you from reverting to those same old self-destructive patterns.  When you think you need some kind of spiritual high – even a Walk TO Emmaus – he’s gonna intrude on your meals, your travel, your conversation, your church, in the mundane and the routine to open your eyes and bring you back to himself.  To head off your escape at the pass. To get you stop avoiding and to start dealing.  To stop isolating and to start engaging.  Hey – to stop medicating and to start living.  Your desire to escape is Jesus' signal to invade.
            Goodness, this is the way God has always looked.  Moses?  Huh? Moses, it’s me in this fiery bush.  Stop killing and start leading.  Isaiah?  Isaiah?  Who, Lord?  Hear the song?  ‘Holy Holy Holy’?  Now you know what kind of God I am.  You weren’t looking but I telling you anyway.  Saul?  Saul? Your arrival in Damascus is going to be delayed.  Time to turn your persecuting into preaching and your Saul into Paul.
     And I know he still does.  His intrusions can be so awkward, so unexpected, so ultimately liberating. Awhile back a guy at this church – whom I had no idea was going through anything – was into escape mode.  Leaving faith, escaping responsibility, avoiding family.  Bad way.  And he wandered into church on Sunday when, as part of a series called Man On The Run we played this bumper before the sermon: PLAY  Know what he told me later: he knew that guy was him.  He did NOT have to hear any sermon!  : (  He saw it! He saw himself!  Jesus told him:  that’s you, bud, and you’re running will get you exactly nowhere.  Thank God my friend was wise enough to see!  We play a bumper to set up a sermon and God uses it to save a soul, a family a life.  Don’t tell me Jesus isn’t alive and well!  Your desire to escape is Jesus' signal to invade. 
            I was even talking with a real accomplished guy in CLT awhile back and was saying “hey, only a few years til I’m 55 and you KNOW then I have to start winding down. New career or something!  And he took in my drivel and came back about three weeks later:  “do you know how young 55 is?”  Total change in outlook. Renewed energy. Church blessed.  Don’t tell me that when I start pre-planning an early escape from life that Jesus isn’t alive and well!  My desire to escape was Jesus' signal to invade.
            Yeah, it’s the road BACK that’s more interesting and more significant.  To return & re-engage is so much better than escape.  Because look at 24:35:
 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.
 These two would-be-escape-artists end up telling the story.  They join the cause. They started out the afternoon anticipating the pina coladas in Emmaus and they end it by doing the work of telling the story and sharing the faith.  I know there are people here who tried to escape but he caught you and brought you back. Tell someone.  Today.  Around here we believe that a living relationship with Jesus Christ means you are sharing the gospel.  If he intruded and protected you well from your worst enemy which is you, oh, tell somebody about that today.  Your desire to escape is Jesus' signal to invade.
 Some of you remember Donna Rice (AV). Very sad story.  Got caught up with Gary Hart, running for president in 87, the relationship got exposed, Hart’s campaign crashed, and Donna Rice’s life went to hell.   You know what’s sad? She’d grown up in in church.  Had a different hope for the way life was to work. When it all came out, her hopes for life were nailed up on a cross, right? 
            And Jesus intruded before any further descent in her life. Friends, songs, parents. Intrusion.  Where she was a national punch line, she now has a ministry.  Here’s what she says happened:  “It took falling on my rear in front of the whole world to get my attention. Help me to live my life your way.  God answered my plea by flooding me with his presence & forgiveness & by surrounding me with Xn people.”  I pray, I pray, you’ll see his intrusion before you ever have to fall on your rear . . .  much less in front of the world.  Have him open those eyes today for your road back FROM Emmaus.  

Friday, April 18, 2014

Easter Services

As we prepare for this Holy Weekend, we want to give you another reminder of the Good Shepherd Schedule for the next several days:

Good Friday

Friday: 7:00 p.m. in the Worship Service with reflective music, visual imagery, holy communion, and a meditation by Devin Tharp called The Fifth Cup.  We will not have child care for this service.

Viernes Santo

Viernes: 7:00 p.m. - Servicio en Español en el Corner Campus. Celebraremos las "Siete Palabras", música de adoración y alabanzas y compartiremos la Santa Cena. (no habrá cuido
de niños)

Easter Celebrations
Saturday: 5:00 p.m. - An identical worship experience to Sunday morning.  We invite you to consider attending on Saturday to make room for newcomers on Sunday.  Worship with a full band and Easter message from Talbot called "Round Trip."  Nursery and pre-school through kindergarten ministry provided.  Children in elementary grades will worship with their families.

Sunday: 7:00 a.m. - Sunrise service in the Corner Campus.  Easter message "Round Trip" + coffee + donuts + acoustic band.  No child care for sunrise service.

Sunday:  8:30, 10:00, 11:30 a.m. -  Worship with a full band and Easter message from Talbot called "Round Trip."  Nursery and pre-school through kindergarten ministry provided.  Children in elementary grades will worship with their families.  Best of all:
we are celebrating believer baptisms at each worship gathering.

Sunday/Domingo: 11:30 a.m. Servicio en Español en el Corner Campus con el Pastor Sammy Gonzalez predicando. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Perfect Thought For Resurrection Week

Pastor John Ortberg puts it this way:

Wise people build their lives around what is eternal and squeeze in what is temporary. Not the other way around.

Can't add to or improve upon that.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Full Circle Food Story In The News

This story appeared in a recent edition of the Charlotte Observer.  You'll love how it demonstrates what it means to be a full color church engaging in Radical Impact Projects.

Packaged meals come full circle for refugee in Charlotte


    Almost 2,600 people spent a recent Sunday morning at Good Shepherd Church in Steele Creek packing meals of dried food, which will be delivered to people in other countries who are hungry.

Jeroline Peah spent four years in a refugee camp in Mali after her family fled from a civil war in their home country of Liberia.

The family of eight lived in what amounted to a storage unit, and occasionally they’d get a few meals of packaged dried food such as rice and beans.

“It was really helpful,” Peah said.Now a young adult, Peah, 26, has lived in the United States for about 12 years since her family received asylum. She settled in Charlotte, where a cousin lives, and began attending Good Shepherd Church in Steele Creek about a year ago.

At the end of March, Peah joined about 2,600 people at the church to help pack more than 250,000 meals of dried food to be sent overseas.She found a place in an assembly line in the church’s worship center, and soon the Rev. Talbot Davis announced that the food would be shipped overseas to help people who were hungry.

“I thought, ‘This is how it happened,’ ” Peah said. “ ‘This is how I got food and how I was able to eat.’ ”She got so excited that she began to jump up and down. The meals she was packing were the same types of meals that had helped her family survive.

Peah ended up walking out to the parking lot after her volunteer shift with Davis, who annually leads Good Shepherd Church in a large-scale “Radical Impact Project” like the meal-packing event in March.

She told Davis her story.Davis described the moment as a “heart stopper.”“It put a face on the masses of meals and throngs of people,” Davis said. “She knew the full-circled-ness, and she was glad to do for someone else what someone had done for her.”

So many people showed up on March 30 to pack meals at Good Shepherd Church that some waited in a line outside the door for an open spot on the meal-packing line.

Peah said as she volunteered her mind wandered to who might receive the meals Good Shepherd was assembling.In Mali, her family had to stretch a bag of rice or a few packed meals as long as possible. When a truck finally arrived to deliver meals, they were thankful that someone had taken the time to assemble the meal and send them, Peah said.She said sometimes the family rationed the food between the eight of them, and other times they took it into a nearby village to trade for much-needed items such as soap or milk.

Peah was thrilled to help with a project that could benefit other refugees, who she said will wake up in the morning knowing they have food to eat that day.

“This will probably be someone else just like me 10 years down the road, doing the same thing I’m doing right now,” Peah said about packing the food. “It was a wonderful experience, and I would do it over and over again if I could.”

Read more here:


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Top Five Tuesday -- To Five Easter Songs

Let's admit it: when it comes to sacred music, Easter doesn't really compare with Christmas.

Maybe it's the lack of snow.  Maybe it's the absence of Burl Ives.  Maybe it's because it's easier to sing about something all of us have seen -- a tiny baby -- than it is to sing about something only a handful of people saw a long time ago -- a resurrected corpse.

More likely it's because Easter music is decisiveeveryone believes in babies and peace, but relatively few believe that a man literally broke out of the grave and that the eternal destiny of all humanity is tied to that event.

So while the number and familiarity of Easter hymnody can't quite match that of Christmas, resurrection music can make my spirit soar simply because it is so emphatic. 

So here they are . . . my top five, spirit soaring Easter songs.

5.  He Lives.  Not the greatest theology -- you ask me how I know he lives; he lives within my heart -- but there's no better way to get a small country church singing with gusto than to play #310 in the Methodist hymnal.  How about some Alan Jackson?

4.  Celebrate Jesus, Celebrate.  An oldie-but-goodie in contemporary Christian music.  I have such fond memories of this one because it was the signature song for our March For Jesus in Monroe, North Carolina, 1995.

3.  Because He Lives.  You know what's cool? We've got some of the Shea family who are part of Good Shepherd!

2.  In Christ Alone. What is it?  Praise chorus or classic hymn?  YES!

1.  Christ Is Risen From The Dead.  Chills, tears, victory.  Trampling over death by death.