Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Bible Verse That Scares Me . . .

Here's how Luke tells the story of the Send Off Party for Barnabas and Saul (later Paul) on one of their missionary journeys:

Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.

It's not really a scary passage, is it?

Except for the part I put in bold.  As part of their commissioning into ministry, the two apostles receive the gift of touch in addition to the blessing of prayer.

Yesterday, some people I love very much at Good Shepherd laid hands on me to pray before a ministry event.  Twelve people or so encircled me, laid hands on my shoulders, and prayed.

And my response was . . . painful?  Twisted?  Comedic?  Anal-rententive?  Protective of my personal space?  
All of the above.

Which is more than a little ironic.  Because one of the first ministries I brought to Good Shepherd was our healing services where we -- hello! -- anoint people with oil and pray by the laying on of hands.  I've been on both the giving and the receiving end of what God does in prayer through the agency of human touch.

So yesterday, I didn't have good reason to feel such discomfort.  I just did.   

Until I took a few deep breaths, overcome my space issues, and recognized what a treasure I was in the middle of: a caring Christian community who carries on an ancient tradition that links Godly prayer with human touch.

May their tribe increase and may my unease vanish.

Here's a song that brings it home:


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Top Five Tuesday -- Top Five Ways Geography Shapes Ministry At Good Shepherd

A lot of you know this already, but I'll repeat it again:  I love the Steele Creek section of Charlotte.  We've lived in the same house since our arrival at Good Shepherd in 1999, and I like almost everything about this unique corner of our region.

Yet I have been thinking this week about how it is that our geography shapes our ministry.  Factors ranging from our terrain to our socio-economics all help mold Good Shepherd into the kind of community it is.  Here are five ways in which that's true:

5.  Bordering The State Line.  Approximately 40% of Good Shepherd attenders live in Fort Mill, Tega Cay, and Lake Wylie.  We celebrate that.  We also have to navigate what that means when the children of the church move into middle and high school, and peer groups replace parents as primary spiritual & social influences.  For example, as I spent time with our Big House student leadership team on Friday night, I realized that those students represented three different high schools in two different states.

4.  Subdivisions Catering To Young FamiliesOur house is case in point: we have a small family room, small dining room, and a large, upstairs bonus room.  Perfect for a family with two children under ten, which is what we had when we moved in.  (We still love the house, but for other reasons now).  Unlike South End or Uptown, our section of Charlotte has relatively few young & hipster professionals and many young families trying to forge their way in life.  In spite of that geographical obstacle, however, we've seen a major influx of young adults in their late teens and early twenties.  Sometimes I think "why do they want to listen to a 50 year old guy talk?" 

3.  Parachurch Ministries Surround Us.  We are a stone's throw from both SIM Missionary headquarters and Gordon-Conwell Seminary.  We're also close to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. As a result, we have a large number of people come to our church who are in some sense "ministry professionals."  This has been almost unambiguously positive -- giving us leadership, wisdom, and theological balance.

2.  Natural Diversity.  Our part of town has people of all races and cultures.  No social engineering or even school busing accomplished; it just happened.  And while many of our neighbor churches have remained single-race, Good Shepherd along with our friends at Steele Creek Church of Charlotte and Christ the King Lutheran have managed to become full color congregations.

1.  Part rural / Part suburban.  Three minutes in one direction from my house is the Rivergate Shopping Center -- the best in the city. Three minutes in the other direction and you're in the middle of a tree farm that is permanently protected from development.  It is truly the best of all worlds, as natural serenity surrounds modern convenience.  People continue to be drawn to this pace of life and this slice of the city.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Love Song, Week 2 -- "Still The One" Recap

Sometimes, all you have to do is read the bible publicly and people will laugh.

That's what happened yesterday.

Most of the erotic imagery within The Song Of Songs is so alien to the landscape of our lives that it strikes our modern eyes and ears as a bit  . . . . ludicrous.  And hilarious.

So I knew we'd spend a fair amount of yesterday's talk simply reading the text and offering some observations.  It was great fun.  Yet amid all the fun the message carried a super serious refrain:


You can watch the 11:30 service in its entirety here. 

It’s kind of funny to me – and not LOL funny but more smile funny – the kinds of things people collect.  Who know?  Maybe you’re one of them.  Some people collect stamps (AV) and others collect coins (AV).  Do you know what they official name for a coin collector is?  Right!  Numismatist.  Every 8 year old boy went through a phase where they collected baseball or football or NASCAR cards.  I had a great idea for tennis cards and even had the first edition in mind:

Sadly, no one else shared my enthusiasm for that particular project.
            And then some folks collect Civil War memorabilia; others WW2 artifacts.  Some people at the upper end of the income bracket collect cars – antique, high performance, or both.  Probably my favorite of them all is Graham Barker’s Naval Fluff collection . . . and he has it broken down according to years (AV).  All that belly button stuff in one place!  Whole lotta collecting going on.
            And some of us here, either in the past or in the present or plotting for the future, collect something else. Romance.  Intimacy.  Sexual partners.  There are guys who collect women and there are women who collect guys.  We are a nation full of and sometimes it seems like a church full of people who collect sexual encounters.  We have bought in to the thinking that the best way to maximize sexual pleasure is to multiply sexual partners.
            It’s really as old as time.  King Solomon, the king whose presence sort of looms in the background of the SOS, evidently collected hundreds of women he used for sexual intimacy.  700 wives, 300 concubines, and while the # is perhaps symbolic the  message is the same: collector of women.  Then through the years, kings and presidents, queens and prime ministers, have all been notorious for their collecting.  It all seemed to reach a crescendo, apparently, when Wilt Chamberlain famously, embarrassingly, boasted of having had 20,000 different women.  So the high-heeled, the well-known, the all-powerful have a long record of conquering and collecting members of the opposite sex.
            But it’s not just the celebrity factor that I’m interested in.  I’m interested today in those who fly below the radar and yet still have the same kind of mentality, the same kind of behavior.  Like the kid I knew in high school who literally would put notches in his belt buckle for each new girl he “collected.”  It was so cliché it was true.  Or it’s the way our culture can subtly encourage a season of promiscuity and what do we call it?  Sow your wild oats!  As if there is no harvest to worry about.  And it involves both genders . . . a few years ago, a female Duke student made up a mock “senior thesis” evaluating the 13 guys she had collected sexually during her four years . . . and the report got out.  Put that on a resume!  We collect these encounters because we believe that each incident is disconnected from the next one.  It happened at this point in time with no further consequence in our lives.  It seems almost . . . natural.
            Yet against the backdrop of history and against what seems to be human nature to collect, we encounter the Song Of Songs.  We saw last week that this biblical book a) barely made it into the bible and b) has the literary form (library!) of almost an opera.  A romantic, sexually frank opera, complete with music, parts, movements, and speakers.  It can be very difficult to follow. But there are a couple of operas within the opera (!) that I especially love for today, and that’s for the vivid contrast they make.  Now in SOS the man and woman – we think they are married but we’re not exactly sure – do a lot of back & forth. Answering each other’s praise. And we also saw last week how it is that SOS is incredibly daring because the lead female character is the lead character period. 
            Speaking of which, look at 2:3 where she is speaking:

Like an apple[a] tree among the trees of the forest
    is my beloved among the young men.
I delight to sit in his shade,
    and his fruit is sweet to my taste.

See that?  You’ve got the ONE among the MANY.  We say these days that “there’s other fish in the ocean” when a relationship breaks up as a way of encouragement that there are other candidates for romance, but apparently in this time they were more “there’s a lot of trees in that forest.”  Yet among that abundance of trees, in the middle of all those guys she could collect, the woman in SOS declares:  my beloved.  One among the many.  I could climb all the trees, but I won’t.  It's raining men (Hallelujah!) but I've only got eyes for one. Then look at 2:8-9 just because you can hardly believe it’s in the bible: 

 Listen! My beloved!
    Look! Here he comes,
leaping across the mountains,
    bounding over the hills.
My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag.
    Look! There he stands behind our wall,
gazing through the windows,
    peering through the lattice.

 Great!  We get to the end of it and my beloved is a . . . peeping tom! 
Or: WE say a guy is a hunk or hot or cute; they said, “Ohhhhh!  He’s a gazelle!” (AV)  Turn to the guy nearest to you this morning and call him a gazelle.  Or at least an impala.  Highest honor in those days and in SOS it conveys how quickly this guy moves to be near the woman.  The whole poem/mini-opera builds to 2:13: 

 The fig tree forms its early fruit;
    the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.
Arise, come, my darling;
    my beautiful ONE, come with me.”

Beautiful one.  One among many. The contrast there is not by accident. 
Because a bit later it is the guy’s turn.  Look at 6:4: 

You are as beautiful as Tirzah, my darling,
    as lovely as Jerusalem,
    as majestic as troops with banners.

You are as pretty as a city, baby!  You're Wadesboro!  Statesville!
 But that doesn't compare with what comes next.  See, he’s putting the moves on his woman and again I want you to read this just because you won’t believe it made it into the bible: 

 Turn your eyes from me;
    they overwhelm me.
Your hair is like a flock of goats
    descending from Gilead.

What?!  Guys: do NOT try this at home!  Goat comparisons may well have worked in ancient times, but I can give you a 100% guarantee they DO NOT WORK NOW.  You’ll be digging out of that whole for months at least, years most likely.  Check 6:6 as it moves to the teeth: 

 Your teeth are like a flock of sheep
    coming up from the washing.
Each has its twin,
    not one of them is missing.

So: clean, white, and best of all . . . intact.  24 for 24!
But all that is just a prelude to 6:8-9: 

Sixty queens there may be,
    and eighty concubines,
    and virgins beyond number;
but my dove, my perfect one, is unique,
    the only daughter of her mother,
    the favorite of the one who bore her.
The young women saw her and called her blessed;
    the queens and concubines praised her.

See it again?  The MANY contrasted with the ONE.  60 queens and 80 concubines could never compare to the ONE.  Virgins beyond number don’t hold a candle to the “perfect one.”   There is such a focus her on rejecting promiscuity and celebrating monogamy.  One man, one woman, for life.  The highest state of arousal doesn’t come from the most partners! Isn't it interesting: the most frankly sexual book in the bible -- by far -- also has the strongest rejection of promiscuity and the most powerful celebration of monogamy.  It comes from the only partner.  It makes me realize something that I hope and pray will settle deep into who you are:  Real love happens when you stop collecting the many and start protecting the one. 
See, this Love Song is a celebration of the love which best reflects the love God has within himself as Trinity and the love he has for us in Christ.  The most passionate, heated, enjoyable intimacy is not spread around; it is shared exclusively and exuberantly with the one.   Real love happens when you stop collecting the many and start protecting the one. 
It’s a bit like what happened a few years ago when a Hollywood star got asked this question on a talk show: 

 A great lover is someone who can satisfy one woman all her life long, and who can be satisfied by one woman all his life long.  A great lover is not someone who goes from woman to woman to woman.  Any dog can do that.

Real love happens when you stop collecting the many and start protecting the one.  .
Or maybe it’s even like what Henry Ford said on his 50th wedding anniversary. They asked him how his marriage made it while he was busy changing the world with the Model T.  His answer:  The formula is the same as car manufacturing.  I stick to one model.  Real love happens when you stop collecting the many and start protecting the one. 
Or it’s like this lollipop (Experiment in which I ask a volunteer if he'd like a charms blow pop that I just licked.)  Ewww!  Of course you wouldn’t share that.  It’s one man per lollipop forever, right?!  Right.  Hey – that’s what we’re doing when we collect . . . sharing lollipops.  Real love happens when you stop collecting the many and start protecting the one.  .
Can I ask you something? Whether you are male or female, single or single again, newlywed or long timer?  Are you a collector or a protector?  Have you from the youngest of ages bought into the lie that sexual satisfaction comes from a variety of partners?  Or have you learned either from observation or experience that nothing quite matches the God-given beauty of life-long faithfulness and long-term passion?  Have you moved from collecting to protecting and even into treasuring?  Real love happens when you stop collecting the many and start protecting the one.  .
I believe that when you approach intimacy in this way it helps you to be KNOWN rather than OBSERVED.  Savored rather than lusted after.  See, we often think of sex mechanically.  It’s why people get “how to” manuals on it.  It’s something you do.  SOS sees it poetically, not mechanically.  As something you are, not something you do.  That’s why SOS is an operatic poem!  And when you embrace SOS you’ll understand out of all those trees, there is ONE; out of all those queens, there is ONE . . . and you’ll be able to know and be known.  I realized in getting this talk ready that one of my highest privileges in life is the fact that Julie knows me AND ALL MY QUIRKS (shaving twice a day, doors closed during preaching, two pair of socks on at a time, Nutrageous, endless) and loves me ANYWAY.  In fact, our 25 year old daughter Taylor says that her greatest sense of security comes from the understanding that NO ONE ELSE could deal with either one of us!
Maybe . . . you’re so hesitant to commit to and practice marital monogamy because deep down you are petrified of being known.  Gulp.  Real love happens when you stop collecting the many and start protecting the one.  .
I just invite you to that place, marrieds, where you learn to long for what you already have.  Because you know what happens to that green grass on the other side of the fence?  It turns brown.  Celebrate, tend to, treasure the grass you got. (But do it without the goat comparison.)  And singles/singles again, I invite you to that place where you accept that the only place where the incredible vulnerability of sex can have any safety at all . . . is in marriage.  Vulnerability without safety: well, every family who has dealt with an unplanned or unwanted out of wedlock pregnancy knows what I’m talking about.  Vulnerability with safety: God-given beauty.  REFRAIN.
So: how?  How can you protect yourself, your mate, your relationship?  1) Marrieds: never tell another person “I’m feeling something here” even if you are.  It happens.  It’s what you do with that infatuation that matters.  And verbalizing it to the object of your crush escalates hormones, tension, and temptation.  2) Singles: recognize you are affair proofing your marriage (or not) by how you act now.  Celibacy before dramatically increases faithfulness after.  Keeping the marriage bed pure starts before you ever get married.  And you make that decision now.  Not in the heat of the moment.  Now.  The best way for lifelong intimacy is to delay it until it’s safe.  3) Marrieds: here’s what we do at church.  No car rides alone with people of the opposite sex who aren’t our spouse. None.  Inconvenient?  Yes.  But less inconvenient than innuendo or all out crisis.  REFRAIN.
You know, of all the things you could collect . . . stamps, coins, navel lint . . . I think the worst would be someone else’s lollipop.  So let’s just enjoy our own.  REFRAIN

Friday, September 12, 2014

Love Song, Week 2 -- "Still The One"

Here's the big question about this Sunday's second episode of Love Song, a worship gathering we are calling "Still The One":

Are we talking about the Orleans version from the 70s?

Or the more recent vintage by Shania Twain?

There's only one way to find out.


8:30.  10.  11:30.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Different Sort Of Multi-Site

Without much fanfare, Good Shepherd opened a new campus this week.

Only it's not at all what you think, all you multi-site church aficianados.

It's a campus lodged in the middle of a mobile home community.

See, we've wanted to take seriously our mandate to invite all people into a living relationship with Jesus Christ and as part of that we have wanted to take church to the people instead of continually asking them to come to us.  We have felt this burden in particular around our Latino ministry.

Enter the Twin Lakes neighborhood, located about 10 minutes from our Moss Road campus.

Well over 300 families live in the sprawling community made up primarily of manufactured housing.  And the majority of those 300 households have Spanish as their primary language.

So we have signed a lease on a vacant home, spruced the place up, and this week began using it as an After School Center for children.

Best of all -- interior and exterior labor was led by volunteers.  The tutoring programs staring this week -- led by volunteers.  The soccer ministry that generated interest among the residents and established the Good Shepherd "name" -- led by volunteers.

Soon, kindergarten through second graders will receive tutoring  in the "Red Room" . . .

. . . while older elementary students will do homework in the "Blue Room":

We have plans to start a women's LifeGroup in Twin Lakes as well as continuing with the soccer outreach.  Could some kind of worship gathering be far behind?

Good Shepherd Twin Lakes.

It's not your hipster cool muti-site campus.

But that suits us just fine.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

How Purpose Shapes Form In The Gospels

The Gospels of Luke and John are both clear in declaring their purpose.

Luke thesis statement comes at the very beginning:

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled[a] among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

Luke, then, is an investigative reporter, and his dominant reason for writing his gospel is to create "an orderly account."  Luke's purpose:  order.

John is different.  For one thing, he waits until near the end of his Gospel to tell us why he writes.  For another thing, you'll see that his reason for writing is much different than Luke's. We find John's purpose in 20:31:
31 But these are written that you may believe[a] that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

John writes so that we "may believe" and through that belief discover "life in his name."  Unlike Luke, John doesn't write for precision; he writes for persuasion.

Luke's attention to detail and penchant for research allow him to uncover some gems that neither Matthew nor Mark include -- in particular, the parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son.

John's bias for persuasion allows him to be ... creative! ... with his chronology.  That's why John's account of the temple cleansing happens in chapter two, while in the Synoptics the same story occurs in the last week of Jesus' life.  Some folks have observed that phenomenon and said, '"Oh! There must have been two temple cleansings!"  Such false harmony happens when you read the bible as a book and not a library.  Taking the library approach, the interpreter realizes that purpose often determines form.

Luke is after order.  John seeks persuasion.

And in the most interesting twist of all, I find Luke's orderly account to be incredibly persuasive.  I read the perfection of Luke 15 -- lost sheep, lost coin, lost sons -- and realize "that's the God who found me when I wasn't looking for him!"

By the same token, John's persuasion is all the more compelling because of its order.  In particular, I love how he builds the narrative around the I AM sayings, moving from the "I am he!" of 4:26 to the climactic "I am the resurrection and the life" of 11:25.

So I'm persuaded by order.  And ordered by persuasion.

That's worth a daily trip to the library in my book.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Top Five Tuesday -- Top Five Things That Strangely Warm My Heart

We Methodists have an odd phase: "a heart strangely warmed."

It comes from a seminal moment in John Wesley's personal journal when he recounts a spiritual experience on Aldersgate Street in London in May of 1738:

About a quarter before nine, while [a teacher on the book of Romans] was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death. 

(And now you know, in case you didn't before, why there are so many Aldersgate United Methodist Churches around.  Charlotte's is on Nations Ford Road; Rock Hill's is on Celanese Road; and perhaps the most influential church by that name is in College Station, Texas.)

So, ever since that holy night in 1738, when something good happens in the life of United Methodists, we talk about how the event or the person "strangely warms [our] heart."  Well, maybe not all of us do.  Actually, it may be just me who does.  But anyway.  

With that, here they are: the Top Five Things That Strangely Warm My Heart:

1.  When we bless someone's house -- Bless This House is our high touch, low threat door knocking ministry with new movers to the area -- and they come to church the next Sunday.  It doesn't even have to be the next Sunday for my heart to be warmed . . . in fact, we've had as long as an eleven year wait between "blessing" and "visit."

2.  When we have an idea for a new ministry leader, we invite them into that ministry, and they respond with "I'd be honored to serve."  People who are "honored to serve" are priceless, and I love it when we are able to identify them beforehand.

3.  When I remember someone's name and they are shocked that I doThat usually happens before I weird them out by telling them I remember what street they live on.  Not healthy.

4.  What I "catch" staffers working in an area beyond their own ministry but one that is nevertheless vital to the progress of the church.  We say it here often: the most important part about your job is not your job . . . it's helping the team be as good as it can be.

5.  When Sunday attendance is over 100 more than the same Sunday from last year.  I don't get bummed if July attendance is lower than January; that's normal.  However, I want July of this year to be higher (by at least 100, preferably) than July of last.  And bless the Lord oh my soul, 2014 has so far been a very good year.