Friday, October 24, 2014

Hidden Heroes, Week 3 -- The Maybe Hero

This coming sermon concerns a young man but it is about a young church.

The young man is Archippus from Colossians 4 -- the same place where we have seen all our other hidden heroes.

The young church is Good Shepherd.

To see how those two intersect and to hear some of the biggest news coupled with one of the most exciting videos we've ever shown here, you'll want to come Sunday at 8:30, 10, or 11:30.

If you have surgery, cancel it.

If you have a trip planned, cut it short.

If you have Panthers tickets, come on. The game starts at one, people.  You can easily come at 8:30 or 10:00.  That is, if you want to hear the biggest news involving our church in a long, long time.

Will we be a group of "maybe" heroes?

Or something more? 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Multiple Roles In A Single Day

As I think back on Wednesday, October 22, 2014 -- that is, yesterday -- I realize with no little gratitude all the different roles I played in one day as pastor of Good Shepherd.

  • First, there was sermon internalizer.  Way before I left the house yesterday, I spent some quality time with this Sunday's sermon, one more in a daily process of preparing to deliver it without notes.
  • Second, I was blogger.  Upon arriving at the office, I posted yesterday's blog about AA, the language of recovery, and Good Shepherd Church.  I typically write those posts the evening before, but for a variety of reasons was unable to do so until yesterday morning.
  • Next, I was staff leader.  We had our weekly staff meeting of 25 people or so, and I wanted to make sure we were all speaking the same language regarding our Beyond Capital Campaign and the possible questions that might arise.  (Thankfully, I did not have to play the role of staff referee, as we have a terrific collection of people who are more focused on group mission than on individual ministry.)
  • I had a quick, quirky thought that turned me momentarily into a tweeterHere it is:
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  • For a brief time I was sermon preparer / wordsmither.  I had a few minutes to work on a message in the upcoming Baby Invasion series we're doing for Christmas.  I know what I want to say in that sermon but I'm working on the how.  
  • Via some email correspondence, I was denominational advocate.  I love the United Methodist Connection except for those times I don't, and so a few of us attempting to think through ways to love it better.
  • Later in the day, on two separate occasions and in very different venues, I had the role of development director.  What does that mean? Directed conversations about lead giving to the Beyond Campaign.
  • Still later it was marriage counselor / spiritual director.  
  • Finally, with a good friend from the church, I played one of my favorite roles of them all: Door Knocker/House Blesser/Evangelist.  We blessed eight houses of new movers to the Charlotte area.  
  • The day concluded with a few roles that were not necessarily work-related:  YMCA go-er, dinner eater, and early to bed sleeper.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

And THAT'S Why We Do What We Do

Last week, I received an email from a friend at Good Shepherd.  My friend is in recovery from alcoholism, so that is a frequent subject of our conversations together, and he knows how much joy I get from his journey to sobriety.

Here's part of his email:



I wanted to tell you about a guy I heard speak a few weeks ago. This guy had a year sober and was saying the day he got sober he went to church which he never did, and the pastor was talking about alcoholism a lot. He said the pastor was talking about AA and the Twelve Steps a lot. He said he thought God was talking to him and he hasn't had a drink since. I asked him what church was it and he said it was Good Shepherd. I thought that was really awesome.

So do I.

That's why we use the language of addiction and recovery as much as we do.  

Because you never know just who is listening. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Top Five Tuesday -- Top Five Factoids About Having The Name Talbot

Last week I met a woman who told me she has a son named, of all things, Talbot.

(I posted a condensed version of our conversation yesterday on Facebook here.)

So that encounter prompts me to re-visit a blog from a couple of years ago having to do with my name.  Here it is on this Top Five Tuesday:


Top Five Tuesday -- Top Five Things About Having A Name Like Talbot

One of my earliest memories -- say from when I was four or five years old -- is the awareness that I have a very unusual first name.

And early on, I didn't like it.

First, it was easy to make all kinds of vaguely insulting nicknames out of it.  TalBUTT was the name of choice my older brother gave me while Tablet was the selection from some tennis playing friends.

Second, even if folks weren't giving me not-so-flattering nicknames, they still get it wrong on first introduction.  Especially over the phone.  "Calvin who?" they'll say on the other end.  "Nice to meet you Albert," is what I hear in person.

Finally, in more recent years I've encountered people who even if they know what my name is nevertheless don't know how to pronounce it.  Talbert is the most common, and in certain sections of Union County, North Carolina, it's Preacher Talbert.  Better than Pastor TalBUTT, I suppose.

Why all this interest in my name today?

Because Carolina Panthers' tight end Greg Olsen and his wife Kara recently became parents of fraternal twins, a boy named T.J. and a girl named . . . Talbot.  Yes, a girl named Talbot.  As if the burden wasn't heavy enough already.

The Olsen's story is front page news here in Charlotte because while little Talbot is in fine health, her brother T.J. had successful open heart surgery shortly after delivery.  You can read about the family here


Well, maybe Talbot Olsen signifies a trend: my name's not so bad after all.  Gender bending? Maybe.  A blessing?  Perhaps.  Unique?  For sure.

Here are the five top things about having Talbot as a first name:

1.   When you hear it in public, you know it's you they're calling for.  I can safely say that I've never heard my named called out in a crowd and turned to ask, "which one?"

2.   I can spell it well.  I long ago gave up pronouncing it on the phone to people who don't know me.  If strangers ask me my first name on the phone, I simply spell T-A-L-B-O-T.

3.  I never got called by my last name, even in high school.  Nope.  No one ever called me "Davis."  What would be the point?  We had "Barnes" or "Howard" but I was always my first name.

4.  It has a sense of family history.  My paternal grandmother -- who died many, many years before I was even born -- was named Nancy Virginia Talbot (then she married a Davis).  I have an older sister named Nancy and another older sister named Virginia

5.  Julie liked it.  From the day we met in my sophomore year of college, Julie thought my name was interesting and fitting.  So we got married.


 


Monday, October 20, 2014

Karma, Slavery, And A Fish Camp -- The AWOL Hero Sermon Recap

Yesterday was both fun and serious, whimsical and reverent.

First of all, the worship program was shaped like a comic book. Then choir led us in worship, we celebrated a bunch of babies, were treated to the second promo video (see Friday's post), and then came this sermon about Onesimus, our second Hidden Hero.

Onesimus must have heard something along the bottom line I shared with the people of the church:  Your value to God doesn't depend on what you deserve.  It depends on what he declares.

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One of the most frightening phrases – threats, even – in the common language is “I hope you get what you deserve! (what’s coming to you.)  It’s hardly ever used in the positive, is it?  Like we don’t say to someone, “I hope you get what you deserve this week and YOU get that promotion that I applied for!”  Nope.  We’re not that way.  When our parents – or our enemies – use it with us, it’s NEVER a prelude to “blessings are going to flow for your good behavior.”  It’s more like “when Dad gets home he’s going to give you just what you deserve!” We’ve heard the phrase. We use the phrase.  You know when it is for me?  Oh, Lord, when someone passes me going 52 in a 35 after tailgating me for three blocks, I’m like, “Lord, please give them what they deserve!  A TICKET FROM HEAVEN!”   Road rage karma!


            And I know, I know . . . a lot of you dig back in the recesses of your mind and your behavior and consider what YOU deserve, what’s coming to YOU . . . and it’s not much.  You think back to your past and the abuse you received that has become at some level the abused you give – and you don’t feel you deserve much.  You think of your self-worth and believe it’s tied to your net worth and if it is, it’s not much.  You even think of the time you have wasted on trivial pursuits and so when you consider your ability to make a difference for God, to be a player in his grandly redemptive plan and you figure:  I don’t deserve that.  You wasted too much time, read too little bible, attended church too randomly, thought “if Talbot only knew what I’m really like he wouldn’t be nice to me,” and so you have concluded: other people out there are better suited to do God’s work than I am.  


            Really, what happens is this:  a lot of folks use their past, their failures, as an excuse (Because I did that, because I became that, I can’t take part in this . . . ) to avoid making an impact.  To avoid tapping into the hero hiding inside them.  Inside you.  All because you think that life is about merit, that karma is unshakable, and that you’re going to get what you deserve and having the privilege of serving God isn’t on that list.


            And if anyone ever had reason to dread getting what he deserved, it was Onesimus.  Say that name: REPEAT.  now:  we are in Col 4, a hidden part of a small NT letter, written to a church in a city that no longer exists, and we’re zeroing in on a section win which Paul mentions 8 people by name.  And because the names are obscure and generally hard to pronounce (like Onesimsus!) we usually skip right over this section of the letter.  We keep it hidden!  So in this series that uncovers all these hidden heroes, we saw last week that Tychicus is the guy who actually delivers what God has inspired and what Paul has written.  And that brings us to 4:9: 

 He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here.

Onesimus – faithful and dear brother, who is one of you.  Tuck that away, OK?  


            Tuck them away because those words of Paul are so interesting.  And they are so interesting because of all these hidden heroes, Onesimus actually is the LEAST hidden because he is a lead character in another NT book. Huh?  Yeah!  Philemon!  Double huh?  Most of you didn’t know there was a Philemon which is a shame because it is a one chapter book.  See! You could have read through it in 10 minutes and then boasted to people that you read a whole book in the bible . . . but you didn’t know it was even there.  Anyway, that little book is a letter from Paul to Philemon concerning Onesimus.  Why? O was a runaway slave who had belonged to Philemon.  Yes, in ancient Rome slaves were part of the cultural & economic landscape – not based on race, not for a lifetime, but based more on debt.  It wasn’t pretty, mind you, but Paul evidently at this stage is more interested in growing the church than in challenging the social order (read Exodus for God’s more definitive outlook on slavery).  And Onesimus has likely run away and stolen from Philemon.  While on the run, he somehow connects with Paul, who leads him to faith in Christ, and now he must deal with his past in order to prepare for his future.  


            Look at how Paul describes him in Phil 1:10-11: 

 10 that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus,[a] who became my son while I was in chains. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.



Was useless.  So:  apparently even before running away, Onesimus was bad at his job.  Like the singer whose mike you turn off.  Like the guy on a permanent performance plan.  Like me with a set of tools.  Useless.  And that was Onesimus.  So he’s got a trifecta going on at this stage of his life:  Poor performer, AWOL, and a thief.  Imagine if Paul had said, “You are gonna get what you deserve, young man.”  The answer to that, legally speaking, was death.


            And yet look what Paul says in Philemon:  “was useless; is useful.”  And then he grows much more intimate by the time of Colossians 4 – faithful, dear brother, one of you.  And I wonder: how do you go from that to THAT?  From outside to inside?  From  failure to brother?  From deserves death to becomes family?  How?  See, I think of how easy it would have been for Onesimus to lurk in the shadows of the church EVEN AFTER HIS CONVERSION, to stay detached, uninvolved, excluded, to be and get what he deserved.  And get this: it would have been so tempting to use his past and use his failure as an excuse.  They won’t accept me. I’m AWOL and a thief.  


            And someone here is the same way.  It’s why you hang on the margins of faith, the edges of church.  I’ve seen you do it!  You use those failures and that past and even a negative experience with a previous church as an excuse to throw a pity party.  And you are the guest of honor!  And the music is up so loud!  And you see folks in LifeGroups, you see people volunteering, you know ppl are living large, unselfish lives and you just focus on . . . you.  Poor, pitiful you.


            But Onesiums doesn’t succumb to that!  He is somehow transformed from useless to useful.  From exile to brother.  From runaway to someone entrusted alongside Tychicus with handling the inspired word.  He doesn’t get what he deserves; somehow, some way, he got better.


            And then I realize:  Your value to God doesn’t depend on what you deserve.  It depends on what he declares.  And in the offstage portion of this glorious story, from the moment Paul led Onesimus to faith in Christ, God declared over the runaway:  “All things new!  Useful to me!  My child.”  Even the name!  Onesimus means, literally, “useful.”  And names are given, not earned; they are declared, not deserved.  Your value to God doesn’t depend on what you deserve.  It depends on what he declares.
 

            All of you here who are liars, runaways, thieves: REFRAIN.  All you who are abusers or abused:  REFRAIN.  All of you who have decided that because of what you’ve done and where you’ve been, you MIGHT sit in church but no way will you be used by God for significance, REFRAIN.  For those who at best figure you will barely make it into heaven yourself and no way will you take someone else with you, REFRAIN.  For the person who is scared you will drag the rest of the team down with you if you sign up at all, Your value to God doesn’t depend on what you deserve.  It depends on what he declares. 


            See, I get a little riles up about this because Satan tries to steal who you are.  He steals your potential by convincing you that you are not worthy of forgiveness.  He steals your confidence by persuading you that your true worth really does equal your net worth.  He waters down your understanding of your own spiritual gifts to render you inoperative in the body of Christ.  He’s so active at this, so good at this, that he is the life of the pity party you’re throwing. You’re the guest of honor, he’s the DJ, and he’s playing that music louder and louder and LOUDER.


            Because he wants to drown out God’s relentless:  All things new.  Now useful to me.  So don’t let him.  This talk means everything to me.


            Why?  Because we are preparing to massively expand our ability to INVITE ALL PEOPLE (you’ll hear more about it next week) and it only happens as ALL take part.  Not take part as in, “oh, I’m so proud of that church where I go sit on Sundays.”  But take part as in “I am myself commissioned by God to invite someone into a living relationship with Jesus today.”  “I have a hero hiding in my who can do ministry in my LifeGroup.   I have hidden my hero who can be a mentor to a student.  I have a hero inside me who will hold a new nursery baby.”  Where we go from a church of grateful but passive observers to emboldened & confident ministers. REF  What we’re talking about next week only happens with all of us and I don’t want to hear how  your past paralyzes your or how failure fragments you but instead Your value to God doesn’t depend on what you deserve.  It depends on what he declares.


            Even better than “useful” is the Col 4:9 tag:  “One of us.”  Family imagery.  So powerful for a slave to hear.  An outsider to internalize.  I remember in our first week in Monroe in 1990 that the senior citizens of that church had a Friday Fish Dinner. Fish Camp.  Now please: culture shock was engulfing me.  I’m from the city, school in the North, Julie ain’t no Southern Belle, and five days in we’re at a fish camp?!  Pronounced "feesh camp." Please.  But at the end of dinner, when we’re getting up to leave, Mr. Max Helms – whom I’d met earlier in the week in his corn field (!) points a bony finger at me and says, “You’re one of us now.”  I wasn’t. But I was.  Not earned.  Declared.   My gosh, the blood of Jesus demolishes the corrosive effects of the past.  And more important, in destroys the distinctions between “in” and “out” and “us” and “them.”   You might be experiencin culture shock simply by sitting in a church today, but if so, don’t hide behind your failures when Christ points at you and says, “you’re one of us now.”


            Listen: you’ve got a hero hiding in you.  You’ve just allowed your past or your failure as an excuse to keep it under wraps.  Until today, you’ve preferred inaction to ministry but I want you to know God has declared you “new, useful” and is simply waiting for you to accept his declaration and step into the adventure.  And that’s why our lobby today will have folks you can start that process with our Room In The Inn team who ministers to our neighbors who are homeless.  Your value to God doesn’t depend on what you deserve.  It depends on what he declares.


            Because you might be interested to know what happened to Onesimus.  He never did get what he deserved.  He heard the sound of God’s declaration, by the time of Colossians he was entrusted with the oracles of God, and church history tells us that a few years later he became the bishop – the lead pastor – of the church in Ephesus!  Multiple sources tell us that!  From useless to bishop! From crook to preacher!  From AWOL to apostle. From runaway to leading people home.  It’s the kind of upward mobility that is only powered by grace.  Onesimus didn’t get what he deserved.  He got better.  


            May we say the same about all the hidden heroes here today.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Hidden Heroes, Week 2 -- The AWOL Hero

Hidden Heroes is such a good series that it has not one but two sermon bumper videos!

Here's the first, revealed last week.




And here's the second, revealed right now.



I wonder which one we will play on Sunday?

The best way to find out?

Sunday.

8:30.  10.  11:30.

The AWOL Hero from Colossians 4:9.  


Thursday, October 16, 2014

When NOT To Go Into Ministry

As I round the bend of life into my 50s, and as I see some of the highest of the high profile preachers step away from active ministry, I've been thinking:

Why should an individual enter vocational ministry in the first place?

In processing that question, I've come up with several wrong answers and one that I believe to be most on the mark.

Several wrong reasons

1.  For personal validation.   If you, like me, are on a relentless quest for the approval of parents, friends, colleagues, and most especially parishioners, then please don't go into ministry.  Christ nailed your approval into the cross, and if that's not enough, you're not ready for the parish.

2.  For emotional healing.  If you believe that by surrounding yourself with church people and ministry activity, you will heal wounds from your past, then please don't enter ministry.  The parish is not a laboratory that cooks up the perfect concoction for your healing; in fact, many local churches do a pretty good job of tearing down whatever emotional health you had built up.

3.  To make a name for yourself.  I can honestly say that in 1986 when I most clearly "heard the call" the thought of making a name in ministry never occurred to me.  There was no mega-church movement, no multi-site phenomenon, and relatively few celebrity pastors.  My, how that landscape has changed, and notoriety has supplanted proclamation.  If you want to "become known," please don't go into the ministry because you'll likely get known for all the wrong reasons.

4.  To build a platform.  This is the first cousin of #3, above.  If you want to build a platform so that your parish ministry can propel you into other, higher profile ministry -- politics?  publishing? speaker's bureaus? -- then please don't go into ministry.  Local churches are starving for people who are entering ministry to love and lead people in the parish.

What I keep coming back to . . . 

I believe the healthiest reason to enter ministry is to help others have done to them what was done to you.  

See, the Gospel was done to me.  When I am awake to the Holy Spirit, the Gospel continues to be done to me.  It is the daily awareness of and celebration of the fact that I am, at the same time,


such a wreck that I can't save myself and
such a treasure that God saved me.

That needs to be the primal instinct of a pastor's soul.  I do best in ministry and in life when those are the first thoughts on my mind in the morning and the last at night.  I am "being saved" as I Corinthians 1:18 says and that joyful awareness is to be the foundation of a call to ministry.


A wrecked treasure.  Or a treasured wreck.  Take your choice.  But celebrate the truth, and enter into ministry.