Tuesday, June 30, 2009
On Thursday, June 25, I came up with a brainstorm on a series of great gifts for her. I was down a break point in the final set, but I felt like I had come through with a winner. Just in time.
So I ordered the gifts online. And I paid -- dearly -- for next day delivery. That gets the gifts there by the 26th, right? The 27th at the latest? Either way, I'm good for the 28th.
Not so much.
When it got to June 28th, I had to put a note in an envelope telling Julie what was coming the next day. Fortunately, I had some other good gifts on hand to compensate for those that were delayed.
So the gifts arrived on Monday, June 29 -- fully four days after I placed the order. I called the company for an explanation and, more urgently, for a refund of the "next day delivery" fee.
Good luck with that.
The very nice representative on the other end of the line told me that a Monday delivery was in fact "on time" for a "Next Day Delivery Service."
I asked in reply, "How does delivery on the 29th count as next day for an order placed on the 25th?"
The answer had to do with the day that the order actually got processed, plus the fact that Saturdays and Sundays don't really count as "days."
"But Sunday counted as my wife's birthday!"
All to no avail.
Words count. Promises matter. Whether it's delivering packages or leading ministry.
It all reminded me to be cautious about my promises and clear in my communication.
And not to hide behind the small print when I fail.
Monday, June 29, 2009
Immediately, I got nervous.
"George," you see, is my boss. In Methodist parlance, he is my District Superintendent -- the pastor/boss to the roughly 50 or so UM pastors serving in the Charlotte District.
He shows up at Good Shepherd, unannounced, a couple of times a year. Always at 8:30. And I always get a knot in my stomach.
"Will he like the music?" "Am I doing or saying anything too radical today?" "Will he be disappointed I'm not in a robe?" "Why doesn't he ever come at 10 when it's so full or at 11:30 when it's so international?
But it was fine yesterday. In fact, I wasn't even preaching -- and he got to hear John Pavlovitz, our Student Ministries Pastor, deliver an excellent message in the unChristian series.
He also got to see us celebrate the baptism-by-immersion of an adult follower of Christ -- an unusual-but-certainly-allowed sacrament in Methodism. We even received new members into the church at 8:30, and they all made the universally Methodist vow to support the church with their "prayers, presence, gifts, and service."
So at the end, I breathed a sigh of relief.
Yet my anxiety at my boss' presence in worship got me thinking: shouldn't I be that nervous every week?
Because isn't my true authority, my ultimate superintendent, in the middle of our worship gathering Sunday after Sunday?
Friday, June 26, 2009
Thursday, June 25, 2009
I like both "popular" novels that you read while sitting on the beach, and the more "serious" works about which you would write an English paper. And as an English major, I did a fair amout of that.
So here are some that have been uniquely influential in my 40 or so years of reading them, starting from childhood and on through the present.
- Henry Huggins by Beverly Cleary. It was great when childhood really was this naive and innocent. All the Beverly Cleary books are terrific.
- The Call Of The Wild And White Fang by Jack London. I can't think of one without the other, and I loved them both. The irony? I don't like dogs. At all.
- The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis. Hello, prevenient grace.
- Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. One of the first inklings I received that a novel could be about so much more than simply its plot.
- Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Ditto.
- Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor. As good as this is, her short stories are even better. She was the subject of my senior thesis in college.
- The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum. Great writing? Not really. Complex characters? Hardly. Subtle story-telling? Nope. Page turning? Absolutely. Coudn't put it down.
- Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns. A lot like Flannery O'Connor, just not nearly as weird.
- Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton. The cover looked so cheesy. But this book had me at hello.
- The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. A novel set in Afghanistan? That's great? I was skeptical, too, until I read page one. Laughter, tears, and anger.
- Then We Came To The End by Joshua Ferris. The narrator is first person plural and anonymous. Think about that. Quite an accomplishment.
- She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb. Another tour de force in terms of narrative voice. And I admit it: I cried. More than once. I'm saving up The Hour I First Believed for my vacation reading.
I'm sure I've forgotten some that belong on my list? What does your list look like?
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Coined by John Wesley, the founder of the movement in the 1700s that ultimately became the Methodist church, prevenient grace literally meanes "the grace that goes before." God's grace is at work in people's lives before they are aware of it. When folks are either ignorant of his love or running from his care, God puts people, situations, and events in their lives, all designed to draw them to himself.
Jesus' stories of the lost sheep and lost coin in Luke 15 give biblical support for Mr. Wesley's understanding of the way grace works.
(I love prevenient grace because I have lived prevenient grace, but that is another story for another time.)
Which brings me to Cyrus, king of Persia at the time of the Exile (approximately 520 BC). Cyrus was not a follower of Yahweh -- as king of Persia he most likely worshipped a number of different gods who were prominent in the polytheism of that time and place.
Yet Ezra 1:1 tells us that "the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia . . . " The Lord moved Cyrus' heart to the point that Cyrus allowed the Jews to return to Canaan from exile in Babylon and to rebuild their temple.
So God used Cyrus -- a man who did not previously believe in Him -- as an agent of his prevenient grace for the children of Israel. Think about it -- God uses people who don't know they are being used. As agents of his grace.
Well . . . is it too much to believe that in the same way God can use a song like I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For or a movie like The Shawshank Redemption or a novel like She's Come Undone as agents of his grace in people's lives? Art produced by artists who aren't overtly (or even subtly!) "Christian."
I dont' think it's too much to believe that at all.
In fact, I believe that's one of the more effective ways in which God works.
Because I'll opt for grace every time. Especially the prevenient kind.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
The wider the margins, obviously, the more space you have on the page. The smaller the margins, the more the page is crammed with words.
Most of us live lives of small margins and lots of "words." That translates into schedules that are overly full and budgets that are overly stretched.
It's the same with churches.
Over the last few years, I've been learning to have a life and lead a church with larger margins and more space.
It means we don't schedule heavily during summer months -- building margin into the life of the church.
It means we budget in such a way that we minimize debt and maximize saving -- building margin into the life of the church. We are so blessed in that we could borrow a lot more than we do.
It means we only undertake only those ministries we know we can do consistently and well -- building margin into the lives of the staff.
It means I now know that I don't have to work three nights a week or more -- building margin into my own life.
It means paying ahead on our mortgage every month as we are able -- building margin into the life of our family.
So what is the "page" of your life like? Crammed to the edges? Or taking that occasional rest from having wide open spaces?
Build some margin into life and ministry.
Monday, June 22, 2009
No, it's not Christmas.
It's Wimbledon, which starts today.
The image to the right is of Centre Court, the most famous venue in all of tennis.
This year, they have added a retractable roof to Centre Court, making rain delays into a distant memory.
What could be better? Grass court tennis. Coverage on ESPN2. Nightly recaps on The Tennis Channel. Federer's shot at history as he goes for his 15th Slam.
Who needs Christmas when you've got this?
Friday, June 19, 2009
Thursday, June 18, 2009
So true. Guilty as charged.
Pastorally speaking, it is easy to become enamored with all the things God does through us: lead some people to faith, help other people cope with grief, challenge still others to deeper discipleship, and create space where faith-centered relationships can flourish. That kind of work is energizing, exciting, and, yes, exhausting.
But the work of ministry can make pastors (me!) neglect the work God yearns to do in us. Is God making me more faithful? Am I allowing him to grow compassion in me? Is he purifying my thoughts? Making holy my motives? Or . . . ouch . . . is he making me more loving?
In short, am I smoking what I'm selling?
I don't want to go through the motions. I don't want to be effective but empty.
Father, do in me what desperately needs to be done.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
I've thought about that question for the last several days.
As far as I know, there were not any pastors on either side of my family tree. My mother's family had both Quaker and Episcopalian influences; my father's side had some Christian Science. So there was certainly never any expectation or pressure that one of us Davises would grow up and enter into ministry.
So I believe the influences were more subtle.
For one, my mother taught me to read at a very young age. I was always oriented towards words and how to put them together. That sort of helps in preaching.
And some of my earliest reading memories center on the Arch Bible Story series. Like this one about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego:
Those books are how I first found out about the parable of the talents, Jonah and the fish, and David & Goliath. In fact, I can still hear my mom's voice reading "And Goliath was dead." In the picture book, the stone hit him in the middle of the forehead; we agreed (mom and 5-year-old me) that it more likely hit him in the temple.
I guess you could say that I saw the bible before I ever read the bible.
A second subtle influence was my dad's job on the law faculty of Southern Methodist University. We weren't Methodist and I never attended a Methodist church until I was 20, but as a kid my world revolved around that university. Walking its campus, hearing its stories, and living & dying (usually dying) by the results of its sports teams. I figure that somewhere, deep in the recesses of my mind, there grew a positive association with what it means to be Methodist.
There have been other influences that drew me to ministry. Most of them not so subtle. Yet the experiences and memories of early childhood shape us in ways beyond our understanding.
In other words, against all expectation, they help land me in the pastoral ministry of the United Methodist Church.
Monday, June 15, 2009
He's one of those preachers about whom other preachers always say, "I wish I could do it like that."
Friday, June 12, 2009
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
To find out how to pull off a church barbecue, check here: Acts 29:13.
To read about the successful bake sale they had in Corinth, look here: II Corinthians 8:28-29.
To get biblical instructions for a profitable yard sale, study Colossians 5:1-7 in depth.
And the guidebook for the first-ever church pumpkin patch is in Ephesians 2:23-24.
Notice a pattern?
Now for God's one appointed fund raiser, you can legitimately look up I Corinthians 16:1-2.
That's it. That's what we do. Sunday morning offering. Nothing else. We don't waste your time, we don't drain your energy, we don't frustrate you with small appeals. Sunday offering.
And when it comes to those offerings in 2009, God has been doing things for which there is no explanation . . . except that God is doing them.
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
So today marks the 25th wedding anniversary for me and for Julie.
Some reflections from that day 25 years ago:
1. It was hot. 100 degrees hot. In Princeton, New Jersey. And the Princeton University Chapel, where we had the service, did not and does not have air conditioning. We all melted. Especially the pastor who performed the ceremony -- I remember thinking, "man, his head is covered in sweat!"
2. I had just graduated from college five days earlier and so was in the middle of a couple of major life transitions.
3. My own family from Texas had been through every conceivable emotion (and some that are inconceivable) in the previous three weeks: on May 15, 1984, my older brother Clayton and his wife Geralyn had a daughter whom they named Amanda; then on May 19 my oldest sister Libby died of a sudden asthma attack (at the age of only 43); and then on May 27 my brother Harvey married Gayle. So as my family trekked to New Jersey for the graduation and then the wedding, you can imagine that they weren't exactly sure what or how to feel. The circle of life . . . and then some.
4. When Julie came down the aisle with her dad, my best man whispered to me, "she looks gorgeous." OK, he was a good best man. With good eyesight.
5. When we drove off for our honeymoon, that same best man threw some rice in the car. That car stayed at the hotel for the next ten days. Rice cooks inside hot cars. The smell never went away. Maybe he wasn't such a good best man after all.
And here we are twenty-five years later.
Monday, June 8, 2009
Ministry requires flexibility.
Yesterday, something was slightly off in the flow of our service at 8:30. We were trying to teach the church a great new song, celebrate communion, and still leave enough time for a serious teaching on Homosexuality: The Elephant In The Room. We muddled through and I had plenty of time for the sermon, but the flow felt disjointed.
So Chris Macedo, who more than anyone oversees the flow we're trying to craft, came up to me and said, "We need to change something. I don't know what it is, but something needs to be different this time." He was right -- which says a lot about his character because he had designed the service in the first place!
So we changed the order of a couple of songs, moved a video from one place to another, and then launched into our 10:00 service. Much better. 11:30 was even better still.
It took some of us realizing that what we were doing could be working better, admitting we might have made some mistakes in planning the order, and then having the flexibility to adjust, adapt, and move ahead.
One Sunday service. A microcosm of what ministry is like in the big picture: figure out what's not working, adjust, adapt, and move ahead.
Friday, June 5, 2009
Thursday, June 4, 2009
The truth is, I don't know.
That's because membership is an inaccurate measure of church health. The typical church in United Methodism, for example, has about three times the number of members as it has in average Sunday attendance. So is a church with 1,000 members and 300 in average attendance a church of 1,000 or 300? It's a church of 300. It might have 1,000 names on a piece of paper somewhere but only 300 living bodies involved in the church.
In fact, in our verbal and written communication at Good Shepherd, we rarely use the word "member." That term can make church life sound like an exclusive club and leave non-members wondering, "Do I belong yet?"
Instead, we talk about "the people of Good Shepherd." It is much more important to us that people belong here -- meaning they are part of the active life of the church -- than it is that they have joined here.
Which is why our average attendance is well above our actual membership.
Worship attendance and movement into group life & servant ministry are far more important statistics to determine the health and size of a church.
So if you ask me what our average attendance is for 2009 . . . I know that. If you ask me how many are showing up at First Serve or Pathfinder . . . I know that.
Because I'd rather see people in person than on paper any time.
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
The long term victory will be yours.
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
For each of our Sunday series, we put out a roadside banner with the series title, dates, and visuals.
They have proven effective at drawing people into the church.
For unChristian, our banner looks something like the graphic to the left.
And on Sunday night, someone stole it. First time ever.
Which brings up all kinds of questions.
Was the thief a regular vandal just creating mayhem in Steele Creek?
Was the thief someone who doesn't want people to come to church?
What in the world will the thief do with the banner now?
Was the thief an unChristian Christian who doesn't believe churches should have series with provocative titles like unChristian?
If, as we talked about on Sunday, Christians are more famous for what they are against rather than who they are for . . . maybe it was stolen by a Christian who is against unChristian. I don't know.
Check the roads to see if we put one back up.
Monday, June 1, 2009
It was an ideal segue into the first message of unChristian -- a talk which confessed that we 21st Century Christians are famous for what we are against rather than who we are for.
I'm ready for our congregation to leave a different impression on our community . . . an impression that we are relentlessly for people.