Friday, July 31, 2009
In the center of the 23rd Psalm, everything changes.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me . . .
It's my favorite part.
I believe our experience of it this Sunday will be powerful & poignant. I'm getting eager just thinking about what God will do with all the elements.
Valleys & Shadows. Sunday. 8:30. 10:00. 11:30.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
So what about movies?
Well, we don't seem them all that often; I'm no film expert like James-Michael Smith.
But occasionally, I have gone to the theater and been either thoroughly entertained or genuinely moved. There's a difference, isn't there? Movies are a form of escapism; a couple of hours entering another world and emerging happier if not deeper. Films, on the other hand, shake you, challenge you, and usually leave you with some emotional ambiguity at the end.
Having said all that, here are a few of my favorite all-time movies. And films.
Ghostbusters. It was 1984, Julie and I had just returned from our honeymoon, and the Ghostbusters craze was sweeping the nation. The song, Sigourney Weaver, and Bill Murray all made for a ride that I still like to take from time to time. Edited versions on broadcast TV? Not so much.
Romancing The Stone. I know a guy probably shouldn't include this one, but it sure was fun. The sequels were horrible.
Heaven Can Wait. Warren Beatty was so good in this -- one of the most agreeable characters ever. I'm not so sure about its theology anymore, but what a great period piece for the late 1970s.
Sophie's Choice. Oh my gosh. When you find out what Sophie's choice actually was, it shakes you to the core. It's still the only movie I remember seeing in which the entire audience could not move when it was over. We all just sat there, emotionally spent, and watched the credits roll. Meryl Streep at her best.
Field Of Dreams. The first time I saw it, in 1987, I thought it was all about baseball, corn fields, and nostalgia. The second time I saw it, in 2003, I realized it was all about fathers and sons. What happened in between those two dates? I became the father of a son. So the second time, I cried and cried.
I Walk The Line. Who knew Reese Witherspoon could sing like that? Ostensibly, it was about the romance of Johnny and June Carter Cash. More poignantly, it was about the tortured relationship of Johnny and his father. More tears.
Those are some of mine. And yours?
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Jimmy Swaggart's tears, Mark Sanford's press conference, and Ted Haggard's apology all come to mind.
But it's not only true of those who are high profile. It's true of people like me and you. We are much more likely to move away from sin only after it goes public that we are ensnared in sin.
So here's a vote for pre-emptive confession.
Tell your spouse about your addictive tendencies before they get revealed, not after.
Speak to your therapist about your issues with alcohol before you spend a night in lockup, not after.
See your pastor about your volatile temper before you lose your job, not after.
Share with your small group about your reluctance to tithe before the financial storm, not after.
Talk to your recovery group about your fears of relapse before the slip, not after.
Pre-emptive confession is honest, courageous, and liberating. After all, I John 1:9 puts it this way: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Think about that.
How applicable to the life of a pastor.
I may believe in the principle of servanthood, but am I faithful to the detail of First Serve?
I may believe in the principle of evangelism, but am I faithful to the detail of actually sharing my faith and asking for a response?
I may believe in the principle of prayer, but am I faithful to the detail of gathering people around me to pray?
I may believe in the principle of bible study, but am I faithful to the detail of reading the bible for reasons other than sermon preparation?
I may believe in the principle of innovation, but am I faithful to the detail -- and desperately hard work -- of innovating?
I may believe in the principle of generosity, but am I faithful to the detail of tithing plus?
I may believe in the principle of leadership, but am I faithful to the detail of having all the hard conversations involved in truly leading?
Faithfulness to principle is only proved in faithfulness in detail.
Monday, July 27, 2009
Asbury Seminary, for example, has its roots in the great Kentucky camp meeting revivals of the 19th century.
Friday, July 24, 2009
He maketh me lie down in green pastures, he leadeth me beside still waters.
Doesn't that sound nice?
Doesn't that look nice?
This Sunday, Good Shepherd will experience how it happens.
Still, Week 2. 8:30. 10:00. 11:30.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
STATEMENT OF MISSION, VISION AND VALUES
At its March 2008 meeting, the Board of Trustees set in motion the Claremont University Project. This statement of Mission, Vision, and Values were adopted to shape the character of the multi-year project.
As an ecumenical and inter-religious institution, Claremont School of Theology seeks to instill students with the ethical integrity, religious intelligence, and intercultural understanding necessary to become effective in thought and action as leaders in the increasingly diverse, multireligious world of the 21st century.
In addition to being a leading school of theology training exemplary ministers for service to their specific religious organizations, Claremont has a vision of being a leading theological university where scholars and practitioners of the world's religions can come together, learning and practicing how to treat others as they would like to be treated. This will enable religious organizations, leaders, and individuals, regardless of their matters of perspective on faith, to work collectively to bring about harmony and understanding at all levels - individual, organizational, and governmental.
With a free and liberating spirit, Claremont nurtures a diverse international community that passionately pursues intellectual rigor, vocational formation, and responsible social engagement. We commit ourselves to think deeply, act ethically, embrace diversity, work for justice and peace, and care for the earth, its people, and its resources so that all life may flourish.
Notably absent from this statement are words such as Jesus, Christ, or Christianity.
At an institution supported by dollars from local United Methodist congregations. And United Methodism is, after all, a self-avowed Christian denomination.
I am no fundamentalist. But Jesus is decisive, and our churches long for pastors who believe as much. Syncretism is a grave danger, not a friend.
If one of our denomination-related schools of theology cannot claim in its Mission, Vision, and Values that is in any way Christian, then perhaps we should “re-think” what it means to be a United Methodist seminary.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
I know this because I've done this.
Back in the day, for example, I wanted the church bulletin to be as full as possible. I wanted it to be loaded with information and to feature a calendar that was stocked with events. In my way of thinking, newcomers to the church would be dazzled by our array of activities, and long-timers would figure they were getting their money's worth.
Now I know that such a bulletin simply creates confusion for newcomers and exhaustion for long-timers.
I was confusing activity for progress, naively assuming that the more we did, the farther we'd go.
I now believe that the reverse is true.
I will accomplish the most as a leader and we will accomplish the most as a church when we take the time to rest, retool, and then focus all of our energy and creativity on a few things that are of eternal importance. Things like your kids, your spiritual growth, your service in the community, and your connection to the Holy Spirit.
So that if we get it right, we'll be much less busy and making much more progress.
And our bulletin will be a lot cooler as well.
Monday, July 20, 2009
On July 20, 1969, I was seven years old and watched the moon landing and moon walk at my Aunt Florence's house in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
What do I remember?
- Flying from Dallas to Fort Lauderdale with my mother on an Eastern Air Lines flight and eating a corned beef sandwich en route. First one ever (corned beef sandwich, that is).
- It seemed like we waited forever for the astronauts actually to leave the lunar module once it had landed on the moon. I was seven and wanted to go to sleep. Aunt Florence was 92 and wanted to go to sleep. My mother was in her prime and outlasted us all.
- Aunt Florence -- maybe because she was so tired? -- told us she thought the previous Apollo flight was more remarkable than the landing because it sent back pictures of the dark side of the moon. Huh.
The week's Time magazine has an intriguing article on the post-flight lives of the men who went to the moon. How did they literally and figuratively ever "come back to earth"?
Finally, this thought. In 2009, we would regard the technology of 1969 as positively archaic. No personal computers, no flat screen TVs, no cell phones, and no iPods. And yet they did this?! When the math and science had to be perfect or the men would never get to the moon much less come back?
Maybe they just harnessed all the high tech know-how into things that really mattered.
Friday, July 17, 2009
This series will be a departure for us. But it's a depature we must take.
Four weeks on the 23rd Psalm.
And I believe God will be in it, just as he is in those words: The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
And pastors have it. In spades.
Sadly, our schadenfreude is usually directed at other pastors or ministries. We're not overt about it, mind you, but I can often detect a bit of glee lurking behind a request to pray for "fill-in-the-blank because he's really struggling in his ministry right now."
Or even the hidden satisfaction when someone shares the news with me: "Did you hear about fill-in-the-blank? Moral failure. He's out of the pastorate now."
In fact, just this week I found myself straining to overhear a conversation about struggles in another ministry. As if hearing about their struggles would be some sort of validation of my level of success.
It's sick, really.
Because the fact remains that God is never honored through the failures or struggles of other ministries & pastors. I sure don't think he's lifted up when Good Shepherd has seasons of difficulty!
So today I prayed that God will be so much bigger than my schadenfreude. I prayed that he would favor ministries about whom I have misgivings or for whom I feel jealousy.
All so that he would be honored, lifted up, and praised as the source of all that is good about pastors and churches.
And so that he would replace my schadenfreude with a heart for the kingdom.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
So what's the best way for a new pastor to begin serving that "new" church? How does the pastor get a sense of the place, the people, the history, and the future of that congregation with which he or she has been entrusted?
(Note: I've only been through this twice in 20 years, have no intention of doing it again any time soon, so this is merely hypothetical.)
I once heard Kennon Callahan describe two different approaches to the dilemma.
Approach One: The pastor gathers groups of 10-12 people together over a period of several months. At each gathering, the pastor asks, "what are your dreams and visions for this church going forward?" Much marking on butcher block paper ensues.
Approach Two: The pastor gathers groups of 10-12 people together over a period of several months. At each gathering the pastor asks of individuals around the semi-circle: "tell me where you were born and what's happened since."
Dear God, let me be an Approach Two kind of pastor.
The first treats the congregation as an institution, concerned primarily with function, process, and accomplisment.
The second recognizes that the congregation is a collection of individuals, each of whom has fascinating mix of brokenness and beauty.
Tell me where you were born and what's happened since then.
Whether you are starting a new pastoral work or not, it's a question well worth asking.
Monday, July 13, 2009
That's what Walking Together is all about. We want to create as much space as possible for people to walk alongside each other in friendship, laughter, and joy.
Friday, July 10, 2009
Just don't do it.
The music will move you, the message will surpise you, and the videos will inspire you.
They all come together to complement the journey we just took in unChristian while preparing us for the journey we're going to take with Still.
What is Still?
You'll find out Sunday.
8:30. 10:00. 11:30.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
One I don't live out very well.
Jesus says this in Mark 10:43: For the greatest among you is servant of all.
I think of greatness in terms of tennis victories, church accomplishments, professional accolades, and kids who make me proud.
Jesus thinks of it in terms of washing feet, serving dinner, and hauling garbage.
For those times and ways I fall short, I sure am glad we have a lot of "great" people at Good Shepherd.
What verse do you love . . . but have a hard time following?
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
It's Philippians 1:21: Christ in me is to live, to die is to gain.
I first heard it in a song, as a relatively new Christian attending a campus fellowship group at my college. This was the early 80s and by modern standards the song might be a bit wimpy, but back then it was "contemporary."
But the words were, and are, timeless.
One verses summarizes the entirety of the Christian experience: life, genuine & adventuresome life, is found through relationship with Christ.
And then dying is even better than that. It's life after life in Christ's presence.
So that's my favorite verse of them all. It's how I want to be remembered.
What's your favorite verse and what does it say about your legacy?
Monday, July 6, 2009
Friday, July 3, 2009
Six weeks ago, I admitted in a post that I get more excited over some series than others, and that unChristian was one of those series.
Many of you now know why.
We spread the teaching around.
The music hit the mark.
Videos brought home the point.
And the people of Good Shepherd were ready to be challenged, to become uncomfortable, to hear the disconcerting news that many people reject Jesus because they feel rejected by us. Yeah, by us.
So this Sunday (July 5), we wrap it up. How?
From unChristian To Christian. To get ready, read John 8:2-11.
Thursday, July 2, 2009
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled.
Sounds so . . . old, doesn't it? Even that word "undefiled" (also translated as "pure") has an ancient, almost archaic feel about it.
Except it is the oddest thing. I have had an increasing number of engaged couples tell me that they are following that verse in their lives. People at different stages of life, with different kinds of sexual histories, with different kinds of faith experience, are coming the realization that sex really is better when it is saved for the marriage bed. They're not only realizing that but they are committing to it.
One couple told me that they knew each other so much better as people & as conversationalists than they would have if their relationship had become sexual early on. They feel better prepared for marriage because they are waiting for their wedding night to "become one."
Old-fashioned? You bet.
Spiritually powerful? Absolutely.
Because isn't uncanny how when you live your life according to God's blueprint, blessings ensue? Isn't it amazing how the greatest freedoms come not from indulging in our liberty but from living within the bible's boundaries?
That's a relic worth bringing back to life.