Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Top Five Tuesday - Top Five Things I Learned In My Tennis Job That Influence Ministry

As many of you know, I enjoy watching the US Open Tennis Tournament at this time of the year.

What fewer of you know is that between 1985 and 1987 -- after college and before seminary -- I worked for the US Tennis Association, the organization that runs the US Open.  In those days, the Association generated about $38 million annually off the Open, and as a not-for-profit, was required by law to invest that money back into the game.  (Those numbers are astronomically higher today.)




That's where I came in.  I was hired as the Coordinator Of Recreational Tennis in our Princeton, New Jersey office, and tasked with growing the game in the public parks.  I was 22, newly married, and didn't know how to grow the game in my own park, much less those across the country.

Nevertheless, I gave it the old college try and through seminars, guidebooks, and conferences had some minor successes with that major task.  Eventually, the call to ministry became overwhelming and we loaded up the truck and moved to Kentucky.

I now know that job was God's prevenient grace in my life, as I acquired a set of skills in that suburban office that have influenced the direction and the details of how I approach ministry.  Here are five:

5.  How to make a to-do list.  It's hardly revolutionary, but I'd never been a list-maker and list-checker-offer until this job.  About a year in, I realized that working well involves making lists and completing tasks.






4.  How to file documents well.  Again, this is not genius level stuff -- but they sure don't teach it to you in college.





3.  How to navigate office politics.  Day One -- yes, the first day on the job -- several people took me aside and said in confidence, "Ok, here's how you'll survive this place."  Wonder if that's happening at the place where I work now?





2.  How to complete a project.  Anyone can start something.  It takes diligence and teamwork to complete it.  My proudest moment was finishing a guide book on how to teach tennis to Special Olympic athletes.





1.  How to speak in public.  I had a boss who thought the pitch of my voice was too high (he was right) and that I needed help with public speaking (right again).  So he sent me to a voice and speech coach, which I originally viewed as punishment.  Yet when I went to see that coach -- an eccentric woman with a throaty voice due in part to years of smoking --  I had no designs on ministry; a year later, I was in seminary.  I suppose the fact that I now -- hello! -- speak in public for a living is a direct result of a boss who was invested in my professional development and a coach who knew what she was doing.  The punishment was in fact preparation.



Friday, August 29, 2014

#Trending, Week 4 -- #Declaration




Pilate asks Jesus, "what is truth?"

But I ask another question today:  "How do we internalize truth?"  How do we digest it?  How does truth move from something we hear to something we believe and then to something that defines us?

Those are some of the questions we'll address and then answer in Week 4 of Trending, #Declaration.

Do not expect a "normal" service.  At all.  I will be leading, but come to church aware that this Sunday will look quite different from the other 51 this year.

Sunday.

8:30. 10.  11:30.




Thursday, August 28, 2014

Why A "Justice Of The Peace" Wedding Is More Sacred Than A "Spiritual" One

While in a pre-marital counseling session earlier this week, I came to what I thought to be an interesting realization.

Incidentally, it was also one of those rare times when I "talked to think" rather than "think to talk" . . . in this case, I was yammering on with the prospective bride and groom and something good emerged from my words that had never before been in my mind.

Here goes: we got on the topic of a "justice of the peace" wedding happening in advance of a "church wedding" (not their plan, just a hypothetical).

And so I mentioned that the first wedding in that scenario is actually the more significant one because it is legally binding.  The second one -- the one in church -- then adds a spiritual overlay to what is already in the governmental system.

Which is why most pastors I know will not be party to a so-called "spiritual" wedding in which the bride and groom want to be married in the eyes of God only without going through the messiness of making it legal.

Anyway, I said at the conclusion of my off-the-cuff remarks, "It's the legal entanglements of getting married by the courts that makes a justice of the peace wedding more sacred.  Because of those entanglements, it's harder to get out of  than a 'spiritual' one."  

And so it is.  Think about it:  a wedding is the one area of pastoral ministry in which the pastor acts as a representative of the state.  That's what we do; we authenticate for the local jurisdictions that a valid marriage as in fact taken place.  It's why we sign Marriage Licenses and mail them in.

I believe that is how it should be.   All the mundane matters which entangle husbands and wives together -- such as the arduous process of getting the Marriage License, the establishing of joint residency, joint banking , and joint tax status -- are what make a marriage sacred.

A spiritual wedding with no legal muscle behind it makes marriage little more than a saccharine sweet memento you can buy at Lifeway Bookstore.

It's remarkable when you think about it.  It's sacred because it's secular.  Understood this way, marriage takes the raw material of life and mixes it together into something with the divine imprint upon it.

After all, what else would we expect from a God who took on flesh and tabernacled among us?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Kandhamal Day

Monday was Kandhamal Day for Christians in Odisha State, India.

 The day commemorates the six year anniversary of communal violence against Christians in the Kandhamal District of Odisha state.

During that particular uprising, 100 Christians were killed, 56,000 were displaced from their homes, and 295 church buildings were destroyed.

This is the region of India that Good Shepherd teams regularly visit.

Why am I telling you this now?

Because in September our church has the privilege of hosting one of the leading pastors from Kandhamal District.  I have spent time with him every year during my India trips and I guarantee you will be blessed by his candor and his courage.

And I think he might be blessed by Good Shepherd's focus on inviting all people into a living relationship with Jesus Christ.







                                                                                                                             

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Top Five Tuesday -- Top Five Rock Songs Featuring Violins

When you think of the elements that make up a great rock song, the violin is hardly the first instrument that comes to mind.






At first glance, it's altogether too refined and too gentle to fit well into a genre dominated by drums, bass, and lead guitar.

Nevertheless, in the rock story of the last 50 years or so, certain artists have been able to add a bit of "classic" to the medium of "rock." And, in my view, add a layer of haunting emotion to songs that would be incomplete with out it.

So here goes: my top five rock songs featuring violin:

5.  Electric Light Orchestra, Roll Over Beethoven.  The cover of Chuck Berry puts the "classic" in classic rock.  Even though the violin part is tongue-in-cheek as much as anything else, it has to be on this list.



4.  The Who, Baba O'Reilly (Teenage Wasteland).  The Who is not my favorite band -- that's why I've never had a Top Five Who Songs list.  This tune also has one of the most objectionable lines in rock -- "I don't need to be forgiven."  (Really?)  Yet I couldn't leave this one off if for no other reason than that it was the topic of conversation on the first date I ever had with Julie Davis.


3.  The Verve, Bittersweet Symphony.  I'm down with what's today, people.


2.  Electric Light Orchestra, Livin' Thing.  Confession: one time in high school a friend told me that he had gone to an ELO concert the night before.  Only I heard him say "Yellow."  So I thought there was a new band out there capable of filling 10,000 seat arenas named "Yellow."  Guess I was wrong.  Guess this song is still great.


1.  John Mellencamp, Your Life Is Now.  Actually, this list could have been all John Mellencamp all the time.  His violin parts tend to be subtle, textured, and beautiful.  The part in Your Life Is Now brings an urgency to the lyric that I would not have felt otherwise.  We did this on in church as part of the Heroes series in 2008.









Monday, August 25, 2014

Why Ministry Is Worth It

Most pastors wonder on occasion if ministry is actually worth it.

And then along comes a story like the one below featuring Ace, and the answer unfolds before your eyes:





Yup.  Worth it.

Friday, August 22, 2014

#Trending, Week Three -- #ForPetesSake

The #Trending series has taken me by surprise, both with the numbers of people and the level of enthusiasm.

I suppose that's what happens when a series starts out by calling people to 30 Days Of Prayer.

So this coming Sunday, we move to Week Three:  #ForPetesSake.

So what is it?  A cry of frustration? Or indication of a higher calling?

There's only one way to find out.

Sunday.

8:30.  10.  11:30.