Saturday, January 30, 2010
Friday, January 29, 2010
Actually, we don't.
You can find it in Proverbs 2:1-8, a section unique in Proverbs in that all the verses fit tightly together.
Usually, Proverbs features incomparable wisdom in couplet form, with each couplet having little to do with the ones before it or after it.
Not so with 2:1-8.
And I am so eager to break it down on Sunday.
And then eager to see how the people of Good Shepherd will live into the app that the Word gives them.
8:30. 10. 11:30.
Thursday, January 28, 2010
No, not because I was headed back to the Hotel California.
More like a return to seminary.
I've been preparing for some messages two series from now. As in the one after the one after There's An App For That.
The distant series I'm getting ready for is called Old. Rugged. Cross. It's a series that takes us up through Palm/Passion Sunday on March 28.
Anyway, for years my thinking on the place of the cross and the role of the crucifixion has been pretty standard evangelical fare: Jesus took our place on the cross, bearing the punishment for our sins that we deserve. The wrath of God was poured out on him so that it won't be poured out on us. The technical name is the penal substitution theory of the atonement.
I've pretty much thought that was the primary if not the only understanding of the crucifixion.
Instead of getting right into message prep over the last ten days or so, I went back to school. I lifted a couple of heavy academic books, Recovering The Scandal Of The Cross by Joel Green and Mark Baker and The Cross Of Christ by John Stott (both pictured on the left). I spent some time in the Gordon-Conwell library. I even Googled the subject -- something I obviously couldn't do when I was a bona fide seminary student, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth (AKA the 1980s).
But in all that reading and learning, the adrenaline was palpable. I learned so much. New discoveries were on every page. I even emailed a former Asbury prof and asked, "was I asleep on that day or what?"
While the "substitution" theory of atonement is certainly a strong and biblical motif for understanding the cross, it by no means tells the whole story. It's not the one and only. It's one of many.
So when I read the scholars' works and studied the scripture, it opened up several new avenues of understanding exactly why it is we preach "Christ and him crucified" (I Corinthians 2:2).
I'm not done with this series. I haven't even started the next one.
But by the time we get to Old. Rugged. Cross., we'll be ready to deepen your appreciation of the crucifixion by turning your understanding of it upside down.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
So today being January 27th, I was naturally in Proverbs 27. And 27:21 made me do a double take while also interrupting my previous plans for today's post:
Does it serve as inspiration for more excellence . . . or as an excuse for maintaining your current level of effort?
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
A scholar from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.
A budding Ph.D.
Four pastors from Good Shepherd itself.
Some of the nicest, smartest volunteer teachers in our community.
That's the faculty for our spring semester of the Passage School Of Theology at Good Shepherd.
I believe we have our strongest lineup of teachers and classes ever.
The Wednesday classes -- from 6:30 - 8:00 p.m. -- begin on February 3.
The Sunday classes -- all at 11:30 a.m. so you can worship at 10 and then learn at 11:30 -- begin on February 7.
The classes will run through early April.
While Pathfinder is all about community (and we had a terrific launch last night), Passage focuses on content.
I'm so excited about this spring's offerings that I'm going to be a Wednesday night student. I'm signing up for Reid Satterfield's Soul Care class. Reid is a scholar & spiritual leader from Gordon-Conwell, and his class is the first in a new partnership between our church and that school just a couple of miles away.
Want to get wiser on the things of God and the truths in the bible? We have an app for that.
It's called Passage.
To look at the schedule of classes and to register online, check here.
Monday, January 25, 2010
There are a couple of things about that gift that explain why we did what we did and why we do what we do.
First, several of us prayed throughout 2009: "Lord, let things happen in and through this church for which there is no explanation but that God did it."
While God answered that prayer in many ways, nowhere was his answer more evident than with the church's finances. During a year in which many churches cut back programs and released staff due to the recession, Good Shepherd enjoyed an unprecedented level of financial health. The people were generous in giving, the finance leaders judicious in spending, and God performed the inexplicable in our midst.
So the result was that we had the resources to make a major investment with an international partner and with a local partner. When the earthquake hit Haiti, it became obvious where our international money needed to go. UMCOR is one of Methodism's bright lights, and we're glad to partner with them for the work in Haiti.
We'll announce the Charlotte-area partner in the upcoming weeks.
Second, we're grateful that our ability to give that kind of gift serves as confirmation of our church's strategy towards money & giving. The most popular way of saying it is that "we don't nickel & dime people."
What that means practically is that we don't have fund raisers. No bake sales. No yard sales. No pumpkin pathches, pine straw deliveries, magazine subscription drives, or special offerings. None.
We don't have fund raisers because we regulary observe the one fund raiser Scripture ordains: the offering at worship. Because people are not subject to relentless appeals, they give freely and generously.
(In fact, I have a deep suspicion based on admittedly anecdotal evidence that the more special interest fund raisers a church has, the worse its financial picture becomes.)
So in the case of 2009 and early 2010, we simply receive the weekly offering, people respond, God gets the glory, and we pray the saints in Haiti get some relief.
Answered prayer, a $57,000 gift, and strategic confirmation.
That's why we do what we do.
Friday, January 22, 2010
It's one thing when the wild things are in a classic book or an inventive movie.
It's something else entirely when they are in our house.
It's an issue when our kids are the wild things.
Is there an app for that?
We believe so.
It involves rescuing one of the most mis-quoted verses in all of Scripture from years of mis-application and mis-use.
But that's what we're going to try to do, together.
8:30. 10. 11:30.
There's still time to make this large church feel small by signing up for the Pathfinder launch event on Monday night, January 25th. To register, check here.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
1. As part of First Serve on February 6, we will have a massive Meal Packing Project in which we'll assemble hundreds of dehydrated, ready-to-eat meals that will then be shipped to Port-Au-Prince.
2. We have sent a check to UMCOR, the United Methodist Committee on Relief. UMCOR has an outstanding reputation among relief providers. We'll announce the amount on Sunday.
3. Between now and next Tuesday, January 26, we are collecting Health Kits. Simple and easy-to-make, here are the instructions:
Health Kits for Haiti
Many of you are asking how we might walk together in helping earthquake victims in Haiti. A need exists for health/hygiene kits. UMCOR has 3,000 kits in the pipeline for the present time and is asking churches to make more. The contents and instuctions for the kits are below. To expedite shipping, it is important to donate complete kits and to follow all instructions.
Please drop off Health Kits at Good Shepherd's Guest Services Desk or the Reception Office by Tuesday, January 26.
Place these items inside a sealed one-gallon plastic bag:
1 hand towel (15" x 25" up to 17" x 27", no kitchen towels)
1 comb (large and sturdy, not pocket-sized)
1 nail file or fingernail clippers (no emery boards or toenail clippers)
1 bath-size bar of soap (3 oz. and up)
1 toothbrush (single brushes only in original wrapper, no child-size brushes)
6 adhesive plastic strip sterile bandages
Please include $1 cash for each kit you send toward the purchase of toothpaste.
Important Kit Assembly Information:
All items included in kits must be NEW items.
All emergency kits are carefully planned to make them usable in the greatest number of situations. Since strict rules often govern product entry into international countries, it is important that kits contain only the requested items-nothing more.
Do NOT include any personal notes, money or additional materials in the kits. These things must be painstakingly removed and will delay the shipment.
So put together a kit -- or ten -- and bring it to church on Sunday or to the office through the week.
As we said on Sunday, we're less interested in the "why?" and more focused on the "what now?"
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
When this darkness breaks to light
And the shadows disappear
And my faith shall be my eyes
The last line is the one that gets me: "my faith shall be my eyes."
Those of us who follow Christ believe in many things that are currently hidden, invisible, and counter-intuitive.
But a day is in fact coming when those things we believe only by faith will be visible and obvious to all.
The hidden will be revealed. The invisible will become blindingly bright. We will no longer only trust things to be true; we will see them to be true.
Like the fact that Jesus Christ really is lord of lords and king of kings.
Like the fact that he really is coming back to judge the living and the dead.
Like the fact that God somehow redeems the suffering of his people. Including Haiti.
Like the fact God's heart longs to welcome wandering people home. And his heart breaks when people ultimately reject him forever.
Like the fact that the first will be last and the last will be first.
That day is coming. Either when you die or when Jesus returns, whichever comes first.
A good day it will be. When our faith becomes our eyes.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
The Australian Open began this week.
It's one of the four "Grand Slam" tournaments of professional tennis, along with the French Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open.
It also brings me back to the time I lived in Sydney, Australia for five months when I was 14.
My father was on a sabbatical from his faculty position at the SMU Law School. So he arranged a project at a university in Sydney, and took my mother, brother, and me along between January and May of 1976.
We stayed in a 12th floor apartment that had a spectacular view of the Sydney Harbor, pictured above. To work on my fitness, I used to run up those 12 flights of stairs to the apartment. And I wonder why I developed some back problems?
Some other random memories from life in Australia . . .
1) I played tennis on grass courts for the first time. Awesome.
2) I went to Vaucluse Boys High School and had to wear a uniform every day. Not awesome.
3) Instead of hamburgers, Australians liked meat pies. Almost like a single serving chicken pot pie except stuffed with beef and then drenched in ketchup. It grows on you.
4) Driving on the left side of the road. Yikes.
5) In rural Australia, we really did have kangaroos jump across the road in broad daylight, much like deer do here at night. Except for the road kill part.
6) Many street corners in Syndey had "hotels" . . . which is another name for "bar."
7) One time we went to a cricket match. In a stadium that seated thousands, there were literally 25 people in attendance. Later, I went to a couple of rugby games. If you've seen Invictus, you know what it was like. Very cool. No, I never played.
8) In 1976, Australians could not play basketball. I was the only one at Vaucluse Boys High School who could dribble or knew the rules.
9) For the first two months, I was dreadfully homesick for life in Dallas. By month #5, I didn't want to go home.
10) Fair dinkum was a catch-all phrase sort of like "OK" or "well done." I'll use it to say "I'm done" today.
Monday, January 18, 2010
In other words, we should never say them about ourselves . . . but we should be grateful if others say them about us.
Here are a few:
- Claim to be a "man of God" or "woman of God."
- Lift up our own "integrity." (It's why I never could wear those Promise Keepers shirts in the 90s -- the tag line said "Men Of Integrity.")
- Refer to our own level of "spiritual maturity."
- Speak of ourselves as having "class" -- including the two most ubiquitous phrases in the in the "class" family: classy and a class act.
- Emphasize the depth of our "sincerity" or "honesty."
- And of course, we shouldn't boast of our humility.
I suspect that if we claim to have any of the above qualities, it's a good indication we don't.
Friday, January 15, 2010
This week takes us into some of the most interesting territory from the book of Proverbs. Especially considering the wisdom level of the man who wrote the bulk of the book.
I really like this app. I like what we're going to do this Sunday.
Along the way, we'll give an idea of what our next steps as a church will be for the people of Haiti.
8:30. 10. 11:30.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
1) It helps a big church feel small.
2) It is a low-pressure way into group life.
3) Our guides have good personalities.
4) It is not bible study, but it is spiritual conversation.
5) We're trying a new twist with our next launch -- the groups will meet at the church, on Mondays, for five weeks, with child care already provided.
6) We don't force friendship on people through Pathfinder . . . which is why deep friendships form.
7) If people miss a meeting or drop out of a group, we don't make them feel guilty.
8) It is simple -- easy access, easy exit, easy organization.
9) We stopped trying to be a "church of small groups." We recognized we are a "church of relationships."
10) I get to be a guide. Maybe that means I have a good personality.
Sign up for the January 25 launch event here.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
At 9:45, I would preach at Midway, an open country church that averaged about 30 people per Sunday when I arrived. By the time I left nine years later, I had grown that 30 to 20.
Then I'd drive 13 miles to Mt. Carmel Church, arriving just in time to preach at the 11:00 a.m. service. Mt. Carmel was much the larger congregation, averaging about 70 people per Sunday when we got there. It was blessed with excellent growth over the next nine years. Our house -- the church parsonage -- was adjacent to Mt. Carmel. So each Sunday was a 26 mile round trip.
Obviously, those churches are much different than the situation at Good Shepherd. I still have to pinch myself sometimes as I marvel at the level of favor God has poured into us here.
Yet I have to admit, there are some things about that season of life and that style of ministry that I miss . . .
1) In a small church there is time to hear people's stories. Through those nine years, I had hundreds of pastoral visits that were unrelated to crises -- there was plenty of time to sit, listen, and pray. One of the trade-offs of a larger church is that I get to know people primarily through crises.
2) In a small church, I felt more dependent on God's power. If anything good would happen at those two churches, God would have to do it. Some of my strongest prayer times ever happened in the little prayer room we established at Mt. Carmel.
3) My schedule was blissfully simple: work on sermons in the morning and visit in the afternoon.
4) Whenever we accomplished something significant -- for example, Mt. Carmel built a Habitat house all by itself in 1994, a remarkable achievement for a church that averaged 115 people in worship at that time -- there was time to rest and reflect. When good things happen at Good Shepherd these days, I'm immediately filled with anticipation: "Ok, how are we going to top this?"
I'm quite convinced that the small church experience has made me a better large church pastor. And I don't want to return to that kind of setting or ministry.
But I do want to keep learning its lessons . . .
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
But it got me thinking . . . what about the opposite perspective? How should pastors and other church staffers react when people leave the churches they serve?
Through the years I've had a range of reactions: despair, self-loathing, anger, confusion, and, on occasion, relief.
And by and large, I have tried to follow the best piece of advice a District Superintendent ever gave me: "When you want to get the last word in . . . don't."
Oh, I've had those "last word" speeches all rehearsed in my mind. I've relished the thought of giving them. I've even put a couple of them on paper.
But by God's grace I have refrained from delivering those speeches. Mostly.
You know why that restraint is so vital?
Because sometimes those who leave . . . come back. And those can be the most meaningful of relationships. We've had a nice collection of people return to Good Shepherd in just the last couple of months. Some had been gone a short time; others for five years or more. Some just wandered away & others had very specific objections to the direction of the ministry.
But God is sovereign. And something in our church and something in the hearts of those people directed them "home."
So the last words never spoken became the first words of welcome.
Monday, January 11, 2010
Well, in one of those states on the trip, I saw a most interesting billboard advertising a church. The tag line was: Church The Way It Used To Be.
Well, I wonder exactly what that means? The way it really used to be, like in Corinth? Here's how Paul told them to conduct church in I Corinthians 14:26-27, 29-30:
. . . When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. If anyone speaks in a tongue, two -- or at most three -- should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret . . . Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop . . .
Could that be it? Well, knowing a little bit about the denomination of the church-on-the-billboard, I don't think they would have been too keen on the speaking in tongues part.
So if "how it used to be" doesn't go back that far, does it go to the middle ages? When the only church was the Roman Catholic Church? Does that congregation pledge its allegiance to the pope, hear a Mass in Latin, and pay indulgences for the souls of the departed?
Again, knowing the denomination in question, no.
I assume "how it used to be" goes back to an era in which the pastor and most of the parishioners felt comfortable. Depending on the age of the leader and the people, that time could have been the segregation-era of the 50s and early 60s. Or the time of social upheaval known as the late 60s. Or the me-generation of the 70s.
Because whatever feels comfortable and secure -- in terms of music style, apparel choices, and even bible translation -- is "how it used to be."
But when you design your ministry with an eye towards "how it used to be," you end up attracting people just like you.
The problem? The world is not "how it used to be." The world is how it is. And as Methodists are fond of saying, "the world is our parish."
So we believe effective ministry is anything but comfortable and secure. It is wild, unpredictable, and adventurous. We won't reach people with nostalgia but with courage. And we hope to reach people who aren't "just like us" but folks who embody the full, vibrant spectrum of God's creation.
Because maybe, just maybe, that's church how it's going to be.
Friday, January 8, 2010
. . . there's an app for that.
We move into week two of the Proverbs-based series There's An App For That with a look at what this timeless book says about anger.
And it says a lot.
Both descriptive and preventative.
We need this.
Most of us either have a hot head or live with one.
And it tears a lot of us apart.
This Sunday we'll talk about a better way and a divine app.
8:30. 10. 11:30.
Thursday, January 7, 2010
Saved. Born again. Became a Christian. Accepted faith. Whatever terminology you use, the result was the same. I gave Jesus my life that day.
I was 17 and had recently been to a Christmas Eve service at a nearby church -- the first Christmas Eve services I remember attending.
Dallas was also in the middle of an ice storm, and my best friend was spending the night at my house because he didn't have any power at his. So we talked late into the night.
He had alluded to his faith a few times before then, but on that night he was straightforward about it. "Jesus is coming back and I want you to be ready for it." That kind of thing. He spoke of the book of Revelation.
I remember vividly that the room began to spin. It was almost like I was on a roller coaster. (And no, there was no marijuana or beer involved.) But I knew in the middle of those out-of-body sensations, "this is not by accident. SomeOne is trying to confirm in my mind what I'm hearing with my ears."
So the next morning -- and I still remember this so clearly -- I went to our little study downstairs, put the Rolling Stones' Hot Rocks, 1964-1971 on the record player, and read through the book of Revelation in The Way Living Bible translation that my brother had given me some years before (see picture under Books I Like). Think about the irony of that: listening to Sympathy For The Devil while reading about the mark of the beast.
And then I sat on my bed, folded my hands together and prayed. And that was it. I didn't have an understanding of prevenient grace or substitutionary atonement or my sinfulness before a holy God. I just knew that I wanted to line up with who Jesus was and what he was about.
Oh yeah . . . and to be ready for his return.
Over the next several weeks, I had a continual feeling of elation; an assurance that I was now part of something much bigger than myself. I still love seeing that in people today who come to the same kind of decisive moment in faith.
I also knew that this decision meant: a) that I would not have sex until I got married --not that opportunities were knocking at my door anyway, b) that I wouldn't get drunk -- not that my limited experience had been much fun anyway, and c) that I would read my bible and pray every day -- which I did.
So January 7th is always special for me. The intervening 31 years haven't been perfect -- there have been plenty of dark nights of the soul and even some wondering "why did I ever commit to this?" -- and there are plenty of places today where I have more questions than answers.
But I can't get away from the earthy truthfulness of Jesus' resurrection from the dead.
And I can't forget that spinning room and those impassioned words from a friend.
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
It's this: if you want to decide if something is a good idea or not, say it out loud. When you say it out loud, it will make you come face to face with the implications of the idea. Terrell Owens to the Buffalo Bills? Say it out loud. Allen Iverson to the Memphis Grizzlies? Say it out loud.
Well, much more than Colin Cowherd realizes or cares about, the "out loud" logic applies to reading Scripture.
The books of the Bible were not written with leather-bound study editions in mind. They weren't written with the printing press in mind!
They were written to be read out loud. In the midst of the worshipping community.
Which is why as we journey through the book of Proverbs as a church in the month of January, I'm reading a chapter a day out loud. (Today, being January 6th, I read Proverbs 6.)
Reading out loud forces you to pay attention. It confronts you with the sound of the words. It prevents your mind from wandering and your eyes from skimming.
It brings you face to face with the ideas presented in the text.
And reading Proverbs out loud lets you know that the ideas it contains pass the say it out loud test with flying colors.
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
What is "crisis faith?" It is the "faith" practiced by those who ignore their faith until some calamity strikes their lives or their family. Many people walk blindly through life until the trauma of separation, addiction, or anger enters in -- and that's when a lot of folks suddenly turn religious. In his goodness, God often intervenes to rescue people with that kind of Johnny-come-lately faith.
But Proverbs is not about that. Proverbs is instead about lining up with a set of counter-intuitive, almost other-worldly values and priorities. And when we line our lives up -- by a conscious decision of the will and then lived out over the span of years and years -- we find ourselves with less trauma and fewer crisis.
Or at least the crises we face won't be self-inflicted ones.
So this month, the people of Good Shepherd are reading a chapter a day of this ancient book. Since January has 31 days and Proverbs has 31 chapters, you just read whatever chapter number corresponds to the day of the month and voila . . . it works!
Today, of course, we're reading Proverbs 5. Talk about crisis prevention. The entire chapter warns the young man to whom it is addressed to avoid "the adulterous woman." I love the way it describes the condition of those who succumb to sexual temptation:
At the end of your life you will groan,
when your flesh and body are spent.
You will say, 'How I hated discipline!'
How my heart spurned correction!
I would not obey my teachers
or listen to my instructors.
I have come to the brink of utter ruin
in the midst of the whole assembly. Proverbs 5:11-14
The list of Christian leaders who can identify with those words is, sadly, far too long. Both among the well-known and the obscure.
Which is why Proverbs 5 reminds us the best preventative medicine for sexual temptation is to want what you already have:
Drink water from your own cistern,
running water from your own well . . .
May your fountain be blessed,
and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.
A loving doe, a graceful deer --
may her breasts satisfy you always,
and my you ever be captivated by her love. Proverbs 5:15, 18-19
In the realm of sexual temptation and Christian living, that's the best crisis prevention of them all.
Join us in reading through this timeless collection as we open 2010.
Monday, January 4, 2010
Brand management has its origins with Procter & Gamble , my wife Julie's employer for the first seven years of her career in sales. Among other things, brand managers work hard to ensure that their products: 1) have high visibility in the public eye; 2) stand out among competitors; 3) achieve a public perception of quality and innovation; and 4) have an attractive appearance.
Some of today's most effective brands include McDonald's Golden Arches, Nike's swoosh, Mercedes' logo, and anything Apple makes these days with an "i" in front of the name. You seen any of those international icons, and you're pretty sure of the quality of the product you'll buy. The national or international "branding" works well at the local level.
So who manages the "Methodist" brand?
For years, many Methodists have bought into the idea brand management for church works the same way as it does for commerce.
So we've had centralized marketing, usually stemming from denominational offices in Nashville, New York, or Evanston. Through the years, they've given us the cross & flame logo, Catch The Spirit bumper stickers, the Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors mantra (a phrase brimming with internal politics if there ever was one), and now, more recently, ReThink Church.
All to decidedly mixed results. Safe to say that if any corporate brand managers lost more than 30% of their business in 40 years, the consequences would be severe and the restructure would be dramatic. But as we've gone from 11 million members in 1968 to 8 million now, we've continued to insist that better versions of the same thing will turn the ship around.
But not when it comes to brand management.
Here's the key difference: when you see the Golden Arches, you know essentially the experience that awaits you. That experience is even more predictable when you see the Chick-Fil-A "C," but that's another story.
Yet when you see a Methodist Church from the outside, the experience inside can vary greatly. What you'll experience at Myers Park UMC in Charlotte, for example, will be dramatically different from what you'll encounter at Granger Church in Indiana. And those distinctions have to do with style; when you throw quality into the mix, the variables rise considerably.
So centralized marketing in a large & unwieldly denomination is, I believe, doomed from the start.
All that is a long way of saying that we want to be our own brand managers at Good Shepherd. We don't take part in the denomination's well-intentioned efforts, whether it's Methodist bumper stickers or even ReThink Church.
No one had to help us think up There's An App For That. Or A Christmas Story Christmas. Or even Rubber, Meet Road. Those all come out of our unique church culture and our mission of walking together into this community.
Because when it comes to church-world, we believe the best brand management is local brand management.