Friday, August 29, 2008
What if she's pregnant?
What if he doesn't come home tonight?
What if she gets in a wreck?
What if he doesn't get into college?
What if I get caught?
What if, what if, what if.
Living in the "what ifs" leads to a life of anxiety and stress.
Come out this Sunday for a remedy. 8:30. 10:00. 11:30.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
- The leadership team gave a call to large church pastors to take the lead in launching new churches. The best way for Methodists to grow is to start new congregations (like Good Shepherd was not so long ago), either by establishing satellite campuses, "adopting" struggling churches in the same vicinity, or even starting a "church-within-a-church" -- a gathering that targets a different language group or age demographic than the main worshipping body. Large churches have the resources and the organizational DNA to give birth to new congregations.
- The leadership team gave a second call to us: take the lead in raising up the next generation of pastoral leaders. This means that we look within our churches at teens, college students, and young adults for people who may well have the call to full time ministry -- and that we help guide them through the process to get there. It's an area to which I have not given much thought through the years.
- Staffing issues dominated much conversation. Most pastors at the meeting struggle with finding and keeping the right team members for the church.
- We had some conversation about how large churches might leverage their influence to move the entire denomination towards health. No real consensus emerged . . . yet.
- The line that convicted me: one pastor told us that he stepped into more of God's blessing when he moved from being driven to become a successful pastor to having a passion to be a spiritual leader. Ouch. Successful pastor vs. spiritual leader. I know which one I should aspire to be.
- The group will re-convene next year. I'll again be honored to go.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Well, according to the United States Tennis Assocation, it's the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament which opened on Monday in Flushing Meadow, New York. Last year, over 700,000 people attended the event over its two week time span. For more on how the USTA figures that attendance, check this article out.
From 1985-1987, I actually worked for the USTA, the organization that puts on this enormous U.S. Open tournament. My title was "Coordinator of Recreational Tennis," which meant that I was to work with parks and community centers to get tennis programs going in new venues. At the time, the USTA had an office in Princeton, New Jersy where most of its work in recreational, grass-roots development took place.
As it turned out, the best part of my job back then was getting tennis accepted as an official sport with the Special Olympics International. I actually helped write a guide book on how to teach tennis to Special Olympians. (Several years later, when I was serving as a pastor in Monroe, NC, I volunteered to teach Special Olympics tennis. The volunteer coordinator said, "Great! Here's a guide book that will show you how to do it!" It was the one I had written!)
Something else about that job with the USTA: it helped me sense a call into ministry. In my position, I learned how to manage projects, keep files, and organize events. They don't teach you any of that stuff in college! I realized in 1987 that those administrative & managerial skills I'd learned in the USTA would be essential to any kind of church work. That realization, along with some other things God was doing in my life at the time, led me to Asbury Seminary and ultimately to parish ministry.
So God was working in my life all along, even in ways I didn't expect.
We Methodists call it prevenient grace -- the grace that "goes before." Look for it. It's all around you.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
In fact, in an earlier post, I let you know some of my favorite moments from particular songs.
And sometimes rock lyrics move beyond the realm of rock 'n roll and into poetry. How does that happen? When words flow together well. When the words express things we had thought or felt but hadn't been able to articulate. When a turn of phrase takes us by surprise.
With all that, here are my favorite lyrical moments in album-oriented rock.
1. Bruce Springsteen's Brilliant Disguise. Throughout this folk-influenced confessional, the singer wonders if his new bride is really who she claims to be:
So tell me what I see, when I look in your eyes;
Is that you baby, or just a brilliant disguise?
But then at the song's "brilliant" conclusion, the singer realizes that problem is more his than hers:
So when you look at me, you better look hard and look twice,
Is that me baby, or just a brilliant disguise?
The twist at the end gets me every time and makes it my favorite rock lyric of them all. Not my favorite song by any stretch, just the best, truest lyric I know. You can check the song out here.
2. The Eagles' The Last Resort. Tucked away as the last song on the Hotel California album, this is one of the first "environmental" tracks in rock history. With a relentless yet delicate rhythm track behind it, The Last Resort traces the westward movement of the American people -- starting with a girl from "Providence" and moving to developers in Southern California who "came and raped the land." At each spot, it seems, Americans have a knack for taking paradise and making it (as Joni Mitchell had sung) into a parking lot.
But again, it's the twist at the end that makes it so good. The "last resort" is Hawaii -- Lahaina, to be specific. And the singer wonders why we church-goers sing the way we do in church.
And you can see them there, on Sunday morning,
Stand up and sing about what it's like up there.
They call it paradise, I don't know why,
Call someplace paradise . . . kiss it goodbye.
Ouch. But it's true. And it's so well done that in spite of the vitriol, it's my second favorite lyric of them all. Check it out here.
3. U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." OK, this one is a bit more favorable to the faith than the Eagles. I just love the line that says,
I believe in the kingdom come,
when all the colors bleed into one
For a church going "full color," isn't that a great image? There is coming that time when all colors and peoples really will merge and meld into one. Here it is.
4. The Call's "I Still Believe." Talk about obscure. An almost-unknown 80s new wave band with a dated sound but passionate vocals. And this song did make a cameo appearance in the movie "The Lost Boys." But when the singer declared in 1986 that in spite of his doubts, fears and sins, "I still believe" well, I decided that I did, too. Believe it or not, there's a YouTube concert clip here.
5. John Mellancamp's "Authority Song." Who hasn't lived this?
I fight authority but authority always wins.
It doesn't hurt that the music behind those lyrics is just rollicking good fun. If Brilliant Disguise makes you think, then "The Authority Song" just makes you smile. And that's good enough. Here's a good watch and listen.
Monday, August 25, 2008
Today I'm headed to a first-of-its-kind conference.
It's a meeting of the pastors of the 100 largest United Methodist Churches in the United States. There are over 34,000 UMCs in our country, and Good Shepherd is one of the top 100 in terms of average Sunday attendance. I was pretty psyched (an 80s word, I know, but descriptive of how I felt) when I received the invitation.
The meeting, which is being held at the Chateau Elan near Atlanta, is the brainchild of Adam Hamilton, the senior pastor of the Church Of The Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas. The Church Of The Resurrection is roughly the same age as Good Shepherd but has an average weekend attendance of almost 10,000.
The purpose of the meeting is two-fold: 1) to gather pastors of similarly-sized churches together so that we might share what the corporate world calls "best practices"; and 2) to discuss ways the group can influence the United Methodist denomination as a whole.
See, the majority of the churches represented have effective ministries while serving as part of a denomination that has been largely ineffective at reaching people in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Over the last 40 years, for example, the United Methodist Church has lost about three million members -- this at a time of great population growth in the US and in an era in which non-denominational churches have exploded in popularity and influence.
The churches coming to Chateau Elan are exceptions to that trend of decline. Some of the churches -- like Church of the Resurrection, Ginghamsburg Church in Ohio and Granger Church in Indiana -- are spectacular exceptions to the trend, churches known for boldness, innovation, and passion for the Gospel.
I'm excited have some "up close" learning from people I had previously only known from a distance.
I'll keep you posted.
Friday, August 22, 2008
Taylor will be a sophomore there. Yes, I'm proud she was even accepted at Vandy. And yes, I'm proud that she made the Dean's List both semesters as a freshman (excuse me, as they say in politically-correct college land, "as a first-year student.")
And yes, I'm partial to her look:
Anyway, when we dropped Taylor off in Nashville last year to begin college, I went through a couple of weeks of deep sadness. Melancholy. She'd been so much in my life, I was so glad of who she had become, she had this quietly-wicked-sarcastic sense of humor that made me laugh, and suddenly she was far away. I remember late August of 2007 as a crummy time.
I'll probably do better this year. I hope.
How do changes and good-byes impact you?
Either way, I'm back on Saturday for Thrive Alive and then eager to wind up the Things Jesus Never Said series with you on Sunday morning.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
We had about 400 people at the first one in RiverGate, 200 or so at the second one at PlazaFiesta, and then 300 at Winget Park.
So this Saturday will be the best one of all.
On the Good Shepherd Lawn. Inflatables. Food. Friends. Kids. Music. More music. 6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.
Exactly the kind of event to which you should bring your friends and neighbors who don't know much about church. They'll be blown away.
Here's what it's like:
See you Saturday, August 23 at 6:00 p.m.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
That might be an odd first sentence for a post with the title "Addiction Epidemic," but it's true.
It's true because people trust me with some of the most serious areas of their lives. That's quite an honor.
And the thing that keeps coming into my office is . . . addiction. That's what people bring to me when they trust me with the most serious & urgent areas of their lives. Addictions of all kinds: to drugs, gambling, porn, alcohol.
With that in mind, here are the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous:
1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His Will for us and the power to carry that out.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
There's a lot of Gospel there.
I believe pastors and church leaders should be aware of and in conversation with recovery groups and recovering people. Because there seems to be no end in sight for the addiction epidemic.
The great thing about the church is that we have a name for the "God of our understanding" from Step Three. We try to help people understand God as the Father of Jesus.
Like I said, there's a lot of Gospel there. Because we are all powerless over something.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Leading a group like this is full of the same kinds of highs and lows you experience with any family. Moments of great inspiration are often followed by times of abject desperation.
But usually, I recognize that all of us together are better than any of us individually. In fact, I recently received the most interesting email from someone who is part of the church:
I have been attending GS for about a year and a half. I leave the church on Sunday mornings feeling so enriched. I have often wondered, “What makes this church so different?” I finally realized the difference several weeks ago.
I see Rich and he ministers to my heart.
James-Michael ministers to my intellect.
The entire music group ministers to my soul.
Ron ministers to my compassion.
You, Talbot, provoke my conscience.
It is no wonder that when I leave church I am completely at peace and completely challenged.
Thank you all for nurturing my entire being.
Isn't that great?
So yeah, I'm blessed to be part of that team. And the team is blessed to serve a congregation full of articulate, appreciative people.
Monday, August 18, 2008
But when I checked back in to church on Sunday night, I noticed that some of the blinds in the Worship Center had been fixed. They had been askew for several weeks and because of their height and placement you need a hydraulic lift to get to them.
It would have been easy to say, "We can wait. It's just the blinds. They're small. No one notices anyway."
But no. I got back and they'd been dealt with and repaired. And it looked better in there.
I'm glad we have people who are looking out for those items some folks might consider to be small or minor. Because in ministry and in leadership you can be trusted with the "much" only when you have first been faithful with the "little."
Didn't someone else say that first?
Friday, August 15, 2008
In fact, this series has brought more people into my office for prayer and advice than any other series. That increase is behind Tuesday's post.
This Sunday, the thing he never said is "store up for yourselves treasures on earth." There's something with music and drama combined together that you'll have to see to believe. And when you see it, not only will you believe it, you'll really like it.
Sunday. 8:30. 10:00. 11:30.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Then about two years ago, thanks to Andy Stanley's book Communicating For A Change, I began preparing and delivering sermons with one point. One idea. One truth. Communicated in several layers. Communicated visually as well as audibly. But one take-away truth that people can more easily remember and apply.
And you know what? Back in the old days, I never had anyone come up and say to me, "Talbot, that third of four points you made really went home with me today!" Nor did they ever repeat all four points back to me -- even when I used alliteration!
But in the era of the one point message, people throughout the week often repeat the big idea back to me verbatim. Ideas like:
- Forgiveness is learned so teach it well.
- You're never more like God than when you welcome a runaway home.
- Take a risk for the at-risk.
- Marriage is more about being the right person than finding the right person
- When you feel inadequate, God has you where he wants you.
- And (adapted from Andy Stanley himself): Good people don't go to heaven. Forgiven people do.
Now there are still occasions when my messages will have more than one point. But most of the time, by saying less I end up saying more.
The same is probably true of your communication as well.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Monday, August 11, 2008
I make snap judgments on people based on first impressions. Especially if they are "long talkers."
Anyway, as part of our Russia Mission Trip last month, I met some folks from other churches in other states who joined our team.
And you guessed it: with a number of them I decided early on "I'm not going to like that one!"
But the good news is that God is bigger than my nasty habit. The very people I had decided early on I wouldn't like were the ones I loved most deeply by the end of the trip. Their first impression was not a lasting impression.
I suspect those people didn't change their behavior.
No, God just changed my attitude. And that's the thing that needed to happen.
Thursday, August 7, 2008
The pledge originally came from Saddleback Church in California; they used it as part of a worship service celebrating their 20th anniversary as a church. I've had it in my files for a long time and knew it was a good way for people to respond to the sermon. Here's the version we used:
Today I'm stepping across the line.
I'm tired of waffling and I'm finished with wavering;
I've made my choice, the verdict is in and my decision is irrevocable.
I'm going God's way. There's now turning back now!
Since my past has been forgiven and I have a purpose for living and a home awaiting in heaven,
I refuse to waste any more time or energy on shallow living,
petty thinking, trivial talking, thoughtless doing, useless regretting,
hurtfult resenting, or faithless worrying.
Instead, I will magnify God, grow to maturity, serve in ministry,
and fulfill my mission in the membership of his family.
To my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, I say:
However, Whenever, Wherever, and Whatever you ask me to do,
my answer in advance is yes! Wherever you lead and whatever the cost,
I'm ready. Anytime. Anywhere. Anyway.
Whatever it takes, Lord; whatever it takes!
I want to be used by you in such a way that on that final day I'll hear you say:
"Well done, thou good and faithful one."
May it be true.
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
Yeah, the building that didn't get built.
On our last day there, my daughter Taylor and I saw the sights of Moscow. The most memorable was the Cathedral of Christ Our Savior, which is not too far from Red Square in the heart of the city.
The original Cathedral had been blown up and torn down by the Soviets under Stalin in 1931. Their plan was to replace the Cathedral with a "Palace Of The Soviets" -- an enormous building dedicated to the Communist way of life. And a central piece of the "Communist way of life" is atheism.
The Soviets designed a building taller than the Empire State Building, topped by an ominous statue of Vladimir Lenin. You can see architectural renderings in this article. It's the closest things to a modern-day Tower Of Babel I've ever seen.
And it never got built.
The resources ran short, the money ran dry, and time ran out. By the time the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 90s, all they had on the site was a swimming pool. No soaring skyscraper, no ode to Communist living, no statue of Lenin.
But it gets better. When Communism fell, the new Russian leaders and people decided to rebuild the Cathedral that the Stalinists had torn down. So they did. And it's gorgeous. Again, you can read all about it in the article I reference above. Our Moscow travel guide described the new Cathedral as a testimony to "the victory of Christianity over Communism." While the reality is not quite that clear cut in Russia, the line sure hints at the truth.
The building that didn't get built. And the one that did. God is good.
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
On the second night of the English Exchange camp, just after a "mock" wedding ceremony (no lie), Chris put on an MTV Unplugged-style concert for the 35 American volunteers and 65 Russian students who were there. Chris was on guitar and he was accompanied by one other guitarist and a bongo player.
Though the music was acoustic, the set was electric. With his voice in fine form, Chris played and sang:
- "Got Rhythm" by Johnny Cash;
- "Apologize" by Timbaland;
- "Beautiful Day" by U2;
- "Another Day In Paradise" by Phil Collins;
- "Meant To Live" by Switchfoot;
- "One Love" by Bob Marley
- "What I've Done" by Linkin Park;
- and many others
And the Russian students knew every word to every song. Most veterans of the Exchange agreed that it was the best night in the history of the program.
Two teens sitting next to me recorded the entire show on their cell phones. Who knew such a thing was possible? People under 30 did, I suppose. But those students were touched in a profound way by each song.
But the best moment happened with my new friend Sergey, a 23 year old lawyer & rap show producer (again, no lie) from Moscow. Sergey was sitting next to me throughout the whole show.
When Chris began to sing "What I've Done," which is a Linkin Park song dealing with sin, mercy, and forgiveness, Sergey turned to me and showed me his arm. "Look," he said. "My arm." So I looked. The arm was filled with goosebumps and the hair was standing straight up. Sergey had heard the song on the radio many times, but the concert that night was the first time he'd heard it with a spiritual twist. And it got to him.
That's why we do those kinds of songs, not just in Russia, but in Charlotte. They form the cry of a generation of people yearning for spiritual truth. The music connects with them, gives them chills, and then they can much better hear what we have to say when we give a name to that spiritual truth.
Sergey in Russia is why we do what we do in Charlotte.
"Look . . . my arm."
Monday, August 4, 2008
And I mean it.
Eight of us from Good Shepherd travelled to Moscow on July 23. From Moscow, we then took a bus to a Soviet-era camp that is today used as a retreat center for various business and educational groups. The accomodations were much more "Soviet-era" than "retreat center."
Altogether, we had 35 volunteers from four different US churches who led what's called the English Exchange. Our long-time missionary partners Jon & Sonnet Barr are the overall directors of the English Exchange.
The 35 volunteers led 65 Russian college-age students in classes, games, and skits all designed to grow abilities in conversational English. I personally taught several modules on how to make verbal presentations; I based much of my talk on the book Making It Stick.
The purpose of the English Exchange is not evangelism per se. Instead, the Exchange focuses on relationship building and cultural sharing -- all designed as aids in the long process of getting Russian people interested in both the gospel and a bible believing church. So we didn't talk too much about religion -- though when word got out about what I do for a living (as it tends to do), there were many opportunities to speak about what God is doing through Good Shepherd and other churches.
Here are a few of highlights:
- The eagerness of the Russian people. They really want to improve their English -- which in many cases is already very good.
- The dedication of the Good Shepherd team. You Good Shepherd-ers back in the Carolinas have much to be proud of. Our folks represented you well -- no complaining, positive attitudes, and willingness to serve at every level.
- An "MTV Unplugged"-type concert by our very own Chris Macedo. More on that tomorrow.
- The commitment -- often against long odds --of missionaries who work in Russia. Seventy years of state atheism under the Soviet system have made church planting very difficult. The Barrs and other missionaries we met cope with the slow progress by focusing on their love for Russian people. And Russian people are, admittedly, easy to love.
Saturday, August 2, 2008
It's just Russia.
But I'm back. It was a mind-bending trip. I'll post about it in more detail next week. When I'm over jet lag.
In the meantime, tomorrow's message continues Things Jesus Never Said: "I've Come To Bring Peace On Earth."
Happily, many things happened in Moscow that only got me more excited to give this message.
See you then.