- The iPod had not been invented.
- The World Trade Center towers still stood.
- Charlotte's basketball team was called the Hornets.
- South Tryon Street had two lanes from Tyvola Rd. to the Buster Boyd Bridge.
- Roger Federer was young, inconsistent, and seemed like one of those players with more potential than accomplisment.
- Most Americans had never heard of Afghanistan, couldn't find it on a map, and had no idea its capital city is called Kabul.
- Facebook was what we called the freshman year directory at my college in 1980.
- I still preached in a suit and tie.
- U2 was teetering on the verge of irrelevance.
- The New England Patriots were more laughingstock than dynasty.
- Barack Obama was in the Illinois State Senate.
- A Blackberry was what you ate if no Blueberries were available.
- I listened to music on cassette tapes.
- Good Shepherd still sent its bulletin/newsletter out every week via snail mail. Then you came to church and were handed the exact same material.
- The Dow was at 11497.
- Rivergate Shopping Center did not exist, meaning the nearest Chick-Fil-A was seven miles away.
- My sermons had four points. Fill-in-the-blank.
- Tiger Woods was best known for his golf.
Thursday, December 31, 2009
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
The book of Proverbs, 21st Century style.
I can't wait.
It starts out with "Say You Don't Know Where To Turn . . ."
Sunday, January 3, 2010.
8:30. 10. 11:30.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
It's a concern. Especially in the recession. Especially in our congregation, where we have been blessed beyond all expectation in the area of finances. Especially when you don't want to turn Jesus away in an attempt to be good stewards.
So we have some guidelines that have helped us make benevolent decisions in recent years. I hope they help us balance ministry to "the least of these my brethren" with being good stewards of the congregation's hard-earned dollars.
Our guidelines are neither perfect nor foolproof. But I offer them for you to consider in your areas of ministry:
1) When people approach the church asking for help with rent, utilities, food, or travel, we have them complete a thorough questionnaire. That effort alone helps to separate the truly needy for those who travel from church to church to church as a means of survival.
2) We do not entertain requests on Sunday morning. Sadly, those who take advantage of the situation (others might call them 'scam artists') know that church staff & volunteers are busy and distracted on Sunday morning. So churches will often write a quick check to a) alleviate their own guilt and b) deal with a problem speedily. To counter that, if anyone comes to church on a Sunday morning asking for financial help, we simply ask them to come back on Monday when our office can handle their request.
3) We also do not provide travel assistance. People often show up at church telling us how they are "on their way" to Tennessee or Georgia and need gas, food, or lodging. There is simply no way to verify the claims. Several years ago, we helped such a traveler . . . whom I saw the next week motoring up I-77 towards uptown Charlotte.
4) We are quick to help with light and gas bills -- especially if children are involved.
5) We reserve larger gifts for rent & mortgage for people who attend the church. In 2009 we have been able to prevent a number of evictions and foreclosures among the people who call Good Shepherd home. Again, if we are going to make that much of an investment -- $800 to $1,000 -- it really helps to know the people personally.
6) In May of 2009, we gave a one-time gift of $40,000 to Crisis Assistance Ministry and their mission of rent, utilities, and dignity. You can read about that day here.
Benevolent ministry is a delicate balancing act. While we hope to err on the side of generosity, we also want to be excellent guardians of the funds entrusted to us.
These guidelines have helped us take steps towards that balance.
Monday, December 28, 2009
Yet behind the scenes, several things worked to frustrate me. I forgot some important things I needed to say. I broke the part of my wireless microphone that clips to my pants. We forgot to prepare for a couple of contingencies. I even had a crisis of Christmas faith: should we go with the traditional candles at the end or do something totally unexpected? Of course, when you ask that question at 7 p.m. on December 24, it's really too late to do anything about it.
But all in all, behind the scenes, I felt like we were something less than ideal. I wondered how it would look to all those first time guests.
And then, just before the 9 p.m., I heard something in my mind. Whether it was me speaking to myself or God speaking something into me, I don't know. But here's what the "voice" said:
Talbot, do you think it's more important that YOU look good tonight or that I look good?
That sort of puts it all into perspective, doesn't it?
If God wants to use all our imperfections to shine a still greater light on his perfection, so be it.
Because -- as much as this goes against my natural inclination -- it is infinitely more important that He look good on Christmas Eve than it is that I look good.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
5 p.m. -- Family Experience. Our first service will feature an over-the-top children's drama that speaks to the heart of Christmas. For the young and young at heart.
7 p.m. & 9 p.m. -- Candlelight Praise & Worship. We'll have violin and cello. Guitar and keyboard. Monologue and sermon. Candles and flame. And yes, O Holy Night. All as we head toward the conclusion of A Christmas Story Christmas with a message called "What's Behind The Desk?"
Bring a friend. Bring your family. Bring a soft heart and an open mind.
Christmas Eve 2009.
5, 7, and 9.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
So, unknown to me, my Good Shepherd friend sent one of our Christmas Story promo cards to his friend Peter B.
Who autographed it and sent it back.
"Ralphie" is now 38 and still involved in the movie business.
I wonder if he's ever had a church do a Christmas series on him before?
Monday, December 21, 2009
And it all had to do with what we say in our bulletin.
To see what he had to say, click here.
You know what I find interesting? I had forgotten that our bulletin contains those words.
Yet in spite of my over-familiarity with the text, it's good to get a reminder of the impact our words can have on the guests at Good Shepherd.
Friday, December 18, 2009
And how can such a sermon help family relationships this Christmas?
Well, to find out how those things are possible, check it out Sunday morning.
8:30. 10. 11:30.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Was he a charlatan or a prophet? An agent of healing or a master scam artist?
Or somewhere in between?
It seems so many high profile Christian leaders have, at best, mixed legacies.
I'm currently reading Kevin Roose's memoir, The Unlikely Disciple, an irreverent yet insightful account of what happens when an English major from Brown University (the most liberal of the Ivies) spends a semster incognito at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University in Virginia.
Most interesting? Despite his best efforts, Roose finds himself liking parts of Jerry Falwell the man and Falwell the pastor.
So what is Falwell's legacy? Blowhard or braveheart? Manipulator of the masses or pastor to his flock?
Or somewhere in between?
Back in the fall of 1986, I read a breezy biography of Robert Schuller and was moved to consider seminary as a result. Robert Schuller? Really? His theology has always been somewhat thin, and over the last few years he's done some nutty things like getting in a fistfight on an airplane and firing his own son.
What is his legacy? Innovative pastor or pseudo-Christian talk show host? Positive thinker or positively looney?
Or somewhere in between?
Mixed legacies are all around us. The boldest leaders seem to have the deepest flaws.
Perhaps in considering the imprint of the high profile, we do well to think about our own mixed legacies.
Pastors who don't appear on TV still leave legacies that are a mixture of courage and selfishness, of faith and fear.
Because it's not just the famous and infamous whose flaws lie just below the surface.
It's the never famous as well. Like you and me.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
So here are some of my favorites from the last ten years. The songs go from 2000 to 2009, though not every year is represented.
Everything Is Different Now (2000) by Don Henley. Henley only had one album in the 00s -- one more than he had in the 90s -- and it wasn't especially strong. But it contains this gem of a song, complete with backing choir, ringing guitar, and Henley's celebration of marital commitment.
Beautiful Day (2001) by U2. The era of Zooropa and Pop thankfully came to a screeching halt with the release of this sonic-boom of a song. Listening to the track makes its title come true.
I'm Not Ready To Make Nice (2006) by the Dixie Chicks. Pain, protest, defiance, and other-worldy vocals make this one powerfully poignant.
Waiting On The World To Change (2006) by John Mayer. More truth in this song than Mayer himself realizes.
Radio Nowhere (2007) by Bruce Springsteen. Goodness, this one sounds like "867-5309" on steroids. The one bright light on an album that otherwise gave me headaches.
What I've Done (20007) by Linkin Park. Probably my favorite song from all the 00s. While Linkin Park hardly classify themselves as followers of Christ, here they bring together an unforgettable groove and lyrics which speak openly of our need for repentance and redemption. Who among us doesn't need to have mercy wash away what we've done?
Viva La Vida (2008) by Coldplay. I'd never been a fan of the band until this one. The album from which this title track comes still sounds good from first to last. And Chris Martin gets to be married to Gwyneth Paltrow.
Use Somebody (2009) by Kings of Leon. The guys are all PKs! But they sure can sing and play. This is the strongest song from a strong album.
Magnificent (2009) by U2. The Joshua Tree, 21st Century style. When Bono cries out, "I was born to sing for you," you figure he's probably right.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
But that got me thinking.
Because when do Sing To The King -- or Marvelous Light, Glory To God, or Blessed Be Your Name -- I am into it. I sing. Tap a foot. Raise a hand. Sometimes even sing in a spirit language.
But if we were to do Leaning On The Everlasting Arms? Not so much.
So: do I worship the song . . . or the God behind the song? Those songs I really like sort of fit my personal style -- melodic, singable rock, with lyrics that are neither simplistic nor obscure.
The ones I don't like are generally none of the above.
So I hope I'm worshipping the God of the song and not turning the song into a little tin god.
What about you?
Monday, December 14, 2009
But the band thought it could have gone better. Part of the praise set included O Praise Him, a richly textured song by David Crowder. Yet Crowder's stuff can be difficult to sing, and our church has just never gotten the hang of that particular tune.
As a result, that moment in worship lacked some participation and energy.
So as I was shaking hands after that first service, I heard the band rehearsing Sing To The King, which our church not has the hang of but loves.
Without prompting from me, they changed things in the middle of a Sunday.
That's very unusual for us.
But they pulled it off. Brilliantly. It helps that no one leads Sing To The King with as much passion and power as our own April Geiger.
So while 8:30 went well, 10 and 11:30 went better. All thanks to the leadership and flexibility of our musicians. My only role was to shake hands and stay out of the way.
Friday, December 11, 2009
Here's our promo for A Christmas Story Christmas.
The series began last week with a look at what it means to have people telling you, "You'll shoot your eye out!"
This week we move to another key scene in the movie: the Little Orphan Annie Decoder Ring. It will show us something about expectation and disappointment.
Which, believe it or not, has everything to do with Jesus, the children of Israel, and Christmas itself.
Sunday. 8:30. 10. 11:30.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
So what do we do around here to make sure the we don't get that kind of press?
While no method is foolproof, there are a few boundaries we've drawn on staff that help:
- If you're married, no driving in a car alone with a member of the opposite sex who is not your spouse.
- If you're married, no meals alone with a member of the opposite sex who is not your spouse.
- Side hugs only, please. Full frontal hugs are only asking for trouble.
- Before hitting "send" on an email or text message to a member of the opposite sex, ask, "would I send this if my husband/wife saw it?"
- Pay close attention to your relationship with your mate. So close that you don't have time or energy to pay attention to others who aren't your mate. This year, the church gave each of its pastors a weekend for two at the Wild Dunes Resort on the Isle of Palms. Nice.
We do our best to live into those boundaries.
Because there are some headlines we don't ever want to make.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
That will be our staff today.
Hopefully minus the track suits.
It's our annual Christmas outing / gift extravaganza for the people who work here.
Julie and I give each staffer a gift card to a local mall, and we trek there together.
After a time of self-shopping, we meet together for lunch.
It's all a way of thanking the people who work here for all they do to walk together with the people of Good Shepherd.
But please, no track suits.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
A couple of years ago, our District -- the Charlotte District of the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church to be precise -- held a continuing education event in which the focus was recapturing John Wesley's legacy for 21st Century churches.
It's the kind of subject that, if you've been a Methodist any length of time, makes perfect sense.
I brought a couple of our staffers to the event. One of them had not grown up in any church, much less a Methodist one, had come to faith as an adult, and as a result had spent most of her Christian study time focusing on Jesus, Paul, and Moses rather than John Wesley.
As we listened to the various presentations, I asked her what she thought.
"It sounds like a cult," she answered. "I've heard a lot of talk about Wesley and none about Christ."
Because she didn't share the presuppositions and language of most Methodist clergy -- Wesley is the best example of lived out theology we have -- our gathering sounded to her ears like the Christian Scientists talking about Mary Baker Eddy or the Mormons talking about Joseph Smith.
Now I went to a seminary that loves Wesley the most of all (so they say), and I became a Methodist as a result of looking for someone who was smart, biblical and believed in free will. Mr. Wesley was the guy, and here I am.
But language, presentation, and presuppositions matter.
If you assume your audience already shares your presuppositions and understands your insider language, you can come off sounding much crazier than you really are.
As we minister in the midst of a culture largely ignorant of Wesley and his genius, I suppose that means we'll focus more on doing the kinds of things Wesley did rather than quoting at length the kinds of things he said.
Monday, December 7, 2009
And not because I don't like Wesley. I do. Very much. Thank God he believed in free will.
But it's unusual because I find that most people coming into the church have no awareness of him or his influence.
Even lifelong Methodists have only a passing knowledge. So given that context, I typically spend more time talking about Jesus than John Wesley.
But yesterday was the exception. And I quoted these entries from his diary:
Sunday a.m., May 5 -- Preached in St. Ann's; was asked not to come back anymore.
Sunday p.m., May 5 -- Preached at St. John's; deacons said, "Get out and stay out."
Sunday a.m., May 12 -- Preached at St. Jude's; can't go back there either.
Sunday p.m., May 12 -- Preached at St. George's; kicked out again.
Sunday p.m., May 19 -- Preached on the street; kicked off the street.
Sunday a.m., May 26 -- Preached out in a meadow; chased out of meadow when a bull was turned loose during the service.
Sunday p.m., June 2 -- Afternoon service, preached in pasture . . . 10,000 people came.
That's perseverance, isn't it?
And it goes to show the people most often opposed to a great move of God are . . . the people of God themselves.
It all supported yesterday's idea: your critics are REALLY just the motivators of your ambition.
*From More Perfect Illustrations, Tyndale House, p. 206
Friday, December 4, 2009
We've built a website just for you.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
The first "one thing" is exactly that: the message needs to center on one thing. One truth. One point. One purpose. The journey to get to that one thing can be full of whimsy or full of pain or full of both, but it needs to arrive at a single destination.
At the recent U Da Man Men's Retreat, a couple of guys started repeating to me the "one point" from a slew of messages over the last fifteen months.
Either those guys listen way too closely or . . . if the preacher can craft a memorable, truthful sentence that serves as the refrain of a sermon, it will stick with people.
In any event, I know my preaching got better when I started saying less.
The second one thing is this: there should be "one thing" each Sunday that the preacher simply cannot wait to say. The kind of thing that makes him or her slightly on edge. An "I can't believe I'm going to say this!" moment.
This "one thing" can either be the point of the day, part of the journey getting there, or part of the application once you've arrived.
It might be something potentially polarizing. (Those are always fun.)
Or it might be something that you know will capture the sentiment in the room and articulate the longings or memories people possess but haven't yet verbalized.
It will almost always involve an element of surprise.
I believe I have a couple of those moments coming this weekend. I pray I can communicate the conviction I already feel about them.
One thing and one thing.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
And the hooks are everywhere: billboards, television, radio, colloquial sayings, the internet, and popular music. In other words, the hooks are in the language of our culture.
Because that's the language people speak, isn't it? Regardless of people's level of church involvement.
For example, when I say Tiger Woods, something entirely different comes to your mind today than did just seven days ago. Because he's in the news. It's the language of our culture.
So in preaching and worship design, we want to leverage that common language.
But not for its own sake.
We want to leverage cultural language to teach counter-cultural truths. Biblical truths.
I'll show you what I mean. In January of 2010, we're going to do a series called There's An App For That. The phrase is everywhere, and if you have an iPhone, you know there really is an application for almost every conceivable life situation.
Except for those life situations that really matter. Things like integrity, faithfulness, serenity, and wisdom. Apps for those are nowhere in cyberspace.
They are instead in the timeless book of Proverbs, which marks a cornerstone in the Hebrew Scriptures. So we'll have a series from Proverbs delivered in packaging 21st Century people can understand.
Leveraging cultural language -- there's an app for that -- to teach counter-cultural truths -- the wisdom of Proverbs.
That's where sermons come from.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Sometimes I wish I could counsel less so I could prepare more; other times I wish I could prepare less so I could visit more.
But as I have thought about that dynamic in recent weeks, I have come to realize that the two activities are in fact inseparable. Pastoral counseling shows me the kinds of issues with which people in the church and community struggle. That in turn shapes the content and direction of my preaching.
And Sunday sermons often stir up issues in people's hearts and lives that move them to make an appointment with me for . . . you guessed it, pastoral counseling. So preaching and counseling, far from being competitors for my time, are instead two sides of the same ministry coin.
Because in the biggest picture, preaching is counseling -- offering a word of hope in the middle of life's chaos.
And counseling is preaching -- shining the light of truth into the dark places of the soul.
Tomorrow . . . some sources for preaching.