Friday, January 30, 2009
It's going to be different. It's going to be daring. It's going to be dangerous.
Kind of like the Holy Spirit himself.
To make space for the Spirit to be given without any limits, we're having Healing Services every Monday night in February, starting with February 2.
Don't miss the move of the Spirit in this place and among this people.
Thursday, January 29, 2009
Passion for the gospel. As Paul says in Romans 1:16: "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile." If you don't have that same fire and conviction for the things about which you preach, well, pastoring will be a long and empty road. If you do have that passion for the message, then every day is a new adventure as you consider inventive ways to communicate an ancient message.
Compassion for people. Matthew tells us this about Jesus: "When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd" (Matthew 9:36). Again, if your heart doesn't have the same fondness for and attraction to people, then pastoring will deplete you more than replenish you. But if you can yield your spirit toward Christ, and ask his compassion to flow through you, then the ministry of compassionate presence in people's lives will be energizing.
Some days, I guess, I lean more on the side of passion than compassion. Other days, I tilt the other way.
And sometimes, I'll confess, I don't feel much of either.
Today is one of those good days. I have a balance of both.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
AUSTIN AT WORK
At 93, aspiring writer awaits her big break
By Ricardo GándaraAMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFFTuesday, January 27, 2009
Writers write. They keep at it until they think they have it right. It's work. Some make a living at it, hacking away at computers to tell a story or inform. With this Internet thing, many have started blogs and wait for a comment that will confirm someone out there is reading. Then there are those who write for pure pleasure and because they must.
"I write because I can't stop writing," is the way Betty X. Davis explained it to a gathering of the Austin-area Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators last summer.
The aspiring children's book writer, who at age 93 is still waiting for her big break, is determined that she will write until she can't.
With her own brood now grandparents, the retired speech pathologist keeps jotting down ideas for children's and young-adult novels. She works daily, sitting at the computer in her bedroom refining books that have been years in the making.
On a recent morning in her Northwest Hills home, Davis looks fit and just-so, with every white hair in place. She has coffee and croissants situated perfectly on good dishes in the living room.
Davis immediately wants to explain the X in her name. "I was 11 when I decided to add it to my name. How do you explain what 11-year-olds think? I didn't have a middle name and neither did a friend. I chose X and she chose Y."
She's always been creative. Davis could not read or write — she was barely 4 — when she got her first taste of earning a profit with words.
Her parents wanted to enter a contest put on by a jewelry store in their hometown of Akron, Ohio. The challenge: Name a water nymph on a beach at sunrise holding a lustrous pearl.
"I looked at the picture and said, 'A virgin pearl?' Certainly, I knew what a pearl was but not the word virgin," she says.
Her spontaneous creativity earned second prize in the contest, a $15 add-a-pearl necklace that she still has in its original off-white, padded box. She wore the necklace as a child, as did her children. And she kept on working with words.
As a young woman spending time in Spain, she wrote her mother every day on her trusty portable Olivetti. The letters were circulated for years among relatives. She's still an avid letter writer and e-mailer.
"Maybe because words and ideas keep bugging me until I have to write them down," she told that group of writers last summer.
The ideas come from everywhere, including her family. Davis has eight children, 13 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
"I have a 10-year-old great-granddaughter who during the presidential campaign did not want Hillary Clinton to win because she wants to be the first woman president," Davis says. "It inspired me in writing a book about Mitzy Lynn, a brash little girl who wants to be president."
Mitzy Lynn fully expects to become America's first female commander in chief in 25 years and has written rules to guide her: Never take a cat to a laundromat. Never give a wig to a pig. Never say "This is my worst day."
Davis says her great-granddaughter's enthusiasm and determination inspired her to create Mitzy Lynn. "They're both spunky kids," she says.
It's been rejected by publishers. "They all seem to like the character, but one publisher said it doesn't fit their line," she says.
She has four other books in the making. She began "Beyond the Red River" in the 1990s. It's a novel about Millie, a teenage girl growing up in the Great Depression. It's been rejected, too, she says. She's done some rewriting and put it away to work on other books. She plans to fire it up again soon and change the title.
"What do you think about, 'One to Sing, One to Pray'? Getting published is a long process," she says.
In 1980, she began to write about a dysfunctional family and called it "The Night the Meat Burned." A publisher nearly picked it up but rejected it at the last minute, she says. "So I've rewritten and rewritten. Now it's in my files. What I should do is submit it to someone else. It could be fun."
She's not deterred.
"This is arrogance, but I have words that people might like to read," she says. "I have this desire to get the words out and see them in print."
She tells other aspiring writers that they don't have to be published in order to write.
"One of the most important things in my life has been writing letters," she says. "There is always someone who needs comforting words. My words may mean something to someone else. That's why I write."
Recently, she wrote a letter to a friend whose wife had died.
"The letter said, 'We miss her, too. She'll always be a part of my life.' He called me to say, 'Betty, I've read your letter a hundred times.' "
And she does have some publications to her credit. In 2005, a short children's story, "The Magic Needle" was published in Spider, a children's magazine. "I got four fan letters from kids," she says proudly.
In 1987, she wrote a curriculum book for junior high and high school students taking speech pathology. It remained in print for 10 years, she says.
Davis retired from the Richardson school district as a speech pathologist in 1978. She has master's degrees in speech arts and speech pathology.
After moving to Austin in 1981, she volunteered with the Battered Women's Shelter (now called SafePlace) and the United Way as a motivational speaker.
Her husband of 69 years, lawyer and law professor Harvey Davis, died two years ago. They met in 1932 on an Akron tennis court. "He was a good father. He was fun with a good sense of humor, and we taught all the kids to play tennis," she says.
Davis still plays tennis twice a week and goes on daily one-mile walks. She takes no medications.
She's active in the Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, where her work is critiqued by other aspiring writers. The exchanges encourage her to continue.
"We're writers," she says. "Of course we all want to be published."
I got some good genes!
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
For almost ten years, Williams' show has been a staple of my morning routine. In particular, the Page's "opens" on the Monday mornings after Panthers games -- using a montage of game highlights, TV announcers' mistakes, and audio clips from Family Guy, Seinfeld, and others -- are just classic. I will not leave the house on a Panther Monday until I've heard what Gary and his crew have to say about the game and the broadcast.
I think intelligence -- or lack of it -- comes through very quickly in radio programming. The Morning Sports Page has the kind of irreverent, spontaneous humor that lets you know that Gary and his friends are sharp guys indeed.
And now he's leaving. I guess for something with more acclaim.
Maybe he could have used the one point from my message this past Sunday called "Secret Attractions." The one point? Want what you already have.
Monday, January 26, 2009
The prayer comes from John Piper, a well-known and strongly Calvinist pastor out of Minnesota. It's one of those prayers that makes me wish I had the facility with language to have penned it first.
But it's also deeply true.
There have been those rare occasions in my life -- and probably in yours as well -- when people have thanked me for the influence I have had on them. And that influence and impact is so much greater than my character, skill, or ability.
That's how you know it's God.
I'll be praying this prayer this week. Will you join me?
Thursday, January 22, 2009
But as some of you know, my Asbury ties are strong. Really strong.
I identify myself much more readily as a graduate of that school than the university where I went for undergrad, as well-known as that is.
Why do I feel so strongly about being part of the Asbury line?
Mainly this: in the middle of a Methodist movement that in the 20th and 21st Centuries has too often stood for nothing (or stood for the wrong things), Asbury from its inception in 1923 has always stood for something. What does it stand for?
- Not a stick-your-head-in-the-sand fundamentalism, but a rigorously intellectual and unashamedly evangelical understanding of Christianity.
- The authority of Scripture.
- The importance of personal holiness.
- The power of the Holy Spirit.
- The reality of heaven and hell.
- The gift of salvation by faith.
- The vitality of the local church.
Asbury has brought a much needed balance to Methodism. I think it's no accident that of the six largest churches in Western North Carolina Methodism, three of them have pastors with Asbury degrees.
So I feel like I've been given a gift and a legacy with an Asbury education. It's something to live up to.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
"You've got to believe in the guy preaching before you can believe in the God the guy talks about."
Before a preacher has any credibility on his subject, he has to have credibility in his person.
Is that true?
Probably. Yet it goes almost without saying that God has long communicated his truth through pastors who were later revealed to be deeply flawed. It's a subject Paul wrestles with in Philippians 1, ending with the declaration: "But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice" (1:18).
And so do I.
But even more than that . . . I want what I say and who I am to be the same thing. Imagine the power in that.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Monday, January 19, 2009
What is the subject on which all these people are like-minded?
Building and growing multi-cultural churches. At Good Shepherd, we call it going full color -- people from every race and tribe and tongue under one roof worshipping the one true God.
Here's something interesting: the churches where "full color" happens tend to be non-denominational and charismatic/pentecostal. Across the country, the ethnically diverse churches are new congregations without denominational ties but with expressive worship.
What's the irony in that? The main line denominations (Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Lutheran, and, yes, Methodist) have talked such diversity for years. In fact, the United Methodist Church has a number of denominational-level boards and agencies that issue proclamations about race relations in the church and in the world. We even an internal monitoring agency to ensure that all of our denominational meetings are fully "inclusive" in terms of race.
And then all those Methodists leave their "inclusive" meetings at the bureaucratic level and return home to their single-race churches. It's all backwards.
Isn't it better to focus our energy on having racially inclusive & diverse congregations?! I for one am much more interested in what happens in a local United Methodist Church than I am in what happens at a three day meeting on the national level.
That's why we're part of Mosaix. Because we're going full color. On this level, the local church.
Friday, January 16, 2009
The message was frank and direct. You can listen to it here.
But the message was really a prelude to this testimony:
Thanks to Chris Macedo for putting audio, video, and art together to craft a Spirit-filled experience.
Thanks to the courageous woman who prepared the deeply personal testimony.
There's more Top Secret coming on Sunday as we look at "Secret Dreams." 8:30. 10:00. 11:30.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
It was a time of retreat, renewal, and connection.
It was also a result of my commitment to be more focused and diligent in my leadership of my friends and colleagues on the staff.
As I've posted here before, I am in general a better leader of the congregation than I am of the staff.
Of course, as I now realize, the staff is part of the congregation!
But in leading the church as a whole, I am usually organized and disciplined. In contrast, my leadership of the staff has been haphazard and reactionary.
The prayer is that 2009 will be different. By setting the staff schedule on paper, by clarifying expectations, and by contronting difficult issues rather than wishing them away, I am trying to make our lives "behind the scenes" as healthy and impactful as the worship we craft in public on Sunday.
Because the people who work here deserve nothing less.
Friday, January 9, 2009
By now in the process, I have selected a title, excavated Scripture, unearthed one main point, and then attempted to bring that point to life. To this point, it's all pen on paper (very 20th Century, I know).
My next step is actually to write up a manuscript (on a computer, not a typewriter!). I arrange my notes and outline, pray over the keyboard, put on a CD, and off I go. Within 90 minutes I have crafted a 30 minute sermon that will actually be delivered about a month from the time it was written.
But as most of you know, that manuscript never comes on the platform with me. Nor do any notes. That's because early each morning of the week preceding the Sunday I am to give the message, I go over it. And over it. I see what works, what needs to be changed, and what needs to be added. My memory works in such a way that I can recall the order of things by "seeing" the manuscript pages in my mind's eye while I'm giving the message.
Sometimes I forget. In the middle of a sermon. In those cases I just keep talking until it comes back to me. It usually does.
Every Saturday night, I hold my hands over the message and pray for it. I also pray for some preacher friends, that they would be windows into the very heart of God when they stand to deliver their sermon that next morning.
On recent Sundays, I have been praying that I would say things that are unplanned and not say things that had been planned . . . all according to the move of God. There are even occasions when I will hear things in the recordings of the sermons that I don't remember saying!
I have used this same basic process for all 19 years I've been giving weekly messages. The same will be true for this Sunday's talk, "Secret Pains." It's all part of the provocative series, Top Secret, which you can find more about at http://www.mytopsecret.net/.
The February series, to be called Without Limit, is threatening to upend all my conventional message preparation. I'll let you know . . .
Thursday, January 8, 2009
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
Where do I go from there?
The bible passage itself. In general I use one passage rather than collecting several unrelated verses and making a sermon out of them. It's easier to "drill down" -- and teach well -- when you focus in on that one section of Scripture.
And somewhere in that section, there is a message for 21st Century people that is aching to come out. It's my job to excavate it.
So I read the passage. I take notes. I read it some more. I try to understand its literary structure, still using a method I was taught at Asbury Seminary back in the 1980s. See -- how a story or letter is put together is a significant part of what it is saying. So after jotting and charting and obsessing, I'll consult some other experts.
My two favorite are the NIV Application Commentary and the New Interpreter's Bible. Of the two, the "NIV App" is a bit better -- but both are good.
Then after comparing my notes with what the experts say, I try to discern the one thing in that passage that is crying out to be preached. And I try to put that one thing in a short, memorable phrase that is neither trite nor trivial. Phrases like:
- God makes room for the ones we shut out.
- Your secrets are the enemy of your intimacy.
- Love your money more.
- When you see yourself as God sees you, you'll unleash the hero within.
Then after I have that, that one thing, it's time to figure out how to communicate it.
I'll show you how that happens tomorrow.
Monday, January 5, 2009
I even get asked if the Methodist Church gives its pastors the topics to address each week (the answer to that is a most definite "no.")
So where do sermons come from?
For some pastors, sermon subjects come directly from the Lectionary, which is an assigned selection of Scripture readings each week. One reading from the Old Testament, one from the New, and one from the Gospels. Pastors who use the lectionary typically then choose one of the three as the basis for a sermon. If you grew up in either the Episcopal Church or the Roman Catholic Church -- well, that's how your priests chose their sermon topics. Today, many if not most United Methodist pastors use the lectionary as well.
I tried it for my first six months of pastoring -- way back in 1990! But I quickly realized that my mind worked better in series . . . and I believe people listen better in series as well.
So these days, I keep an on-going list of possible series. I try to alternate series that are horizontal (dealing with relational issues in our daily lives) with those that are vertical (dealing primarily with our relationship with God). Top Secret, for example, is more of a horizontal series. The next series, to be called Without Limit, is, as you'll see, a decidedly vertical one.
My favorite series are those which are based on a particular book of the Bible, but see that book through an unexpected lens. For example, Oddballs was based primarily on I Peter and NUMB3RS was an entirely new way of looking at the book of Revelation.
We've already planned out the series for 2009 -- if I'm not working way ahead, I'm in trouble.
Getting back to the original question . . . where do sermons come from? Whatever the style, whatever the preparation, whether lectionary or series, my ultimate prayer is that they come from God. And that I am open enough to be used in that way.
Tomorrow, I'll touch on how with God's help I get a message out of a particular passage of Scripture.
Friday, January 2, 2009
It's the first series we've ever done that has its own website.