Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
This past week, I entered a new phase of life.
Bi-focal contact lenses.
Oh my gosh. They work.
So on Sunday, as I was reading from Leviticus 16, John 19, and Hebrews 10, I could actually read the words printed on the pages of my bible instead of having to rely on the words projected on the screen.
That hadn't happened in a long time.
It's great to be able to see that which had been cloudy.
What's true of my eyes is true of my spirit. Biblically, we don't see in order to believe. Instead, those who believe are then able to see.
How's your vision?
Monday, March 29, 2010
While I'm not on Facebook, I have an awareness of its power.
So at the end of yesterday's message -- based on the connections between Leviticus 16, John 19, and Hebrews 10 and with the Rob Bell-inspired refrain "the goat has left the building" -- I invited the people of the church to post as their Facebook status:
"My goat's gone."
And they did. Some did it right there in church on their mobile devices; other, less technologically mobile folks, posted on their home computers after church.
Perhaps the most creative is John Pavlovitz's status in the milk carton photo.
But as is typical of Facebook, the status postings started cyber-conversations with hundreds of people who hadn't been to Good Shepherd on Sunday morning. Here are a couple of responses:
You are the second person I've seen without a goat today. Goats must be on the loose everywhere!
I give up...what are you speaking of?
Where is this from. It's on everyone's Status
Now it makes sense! Hang with me for a moment...
The movie, 'Men Who Stare at Goats' was about the shame and guilt they had about the way goats were used in experiments. In the end they set the goats (captives) free. The same is true for us...but a little in reverse... Christ as the "scapegoat" took on the sins of the world to set us (captives) free - so we would no longer live with shame and guilt :-)
And I love the way this mini-phenomenon empowered the people of Good Shepherd to offer explanations to their friends. Take a look at this conversation:
I give up...what are you speaking of?
Thank you for asking! In Old Testament days, the law was to bring in a goat as a sin offering. The high priest laid hands on the goat to put all the people's sins on the goat. The goat was then led out of town to the desert away from the people to take away their sins for the year. The ceremony was repeated every year at Yom Kipper. Leviticus 16:3-10; 20-22
Well, in the New Testament, Jesus came for all of us to die for our sins, and become our "scapegoat". He was sacrificed for our sins, so now our sins are gone, or our goat that is loaded with our sins is gone! John 19:15-17, Hebrews 10:1, 10-14.
It's all theological conversation, 21st Century style.
Gone goats and Facebook status.
You can hear the sermon itself here.
Friday, March 26, 2010
Do NOT miss the opening worship element of the final Sunday of old. rugged. cross.
I can't tell you what we're doing, but I can tell you it will be good. Very good.
And then a message about which I am SO excited: "The Goat Has Left The Building."
old. rugged. cross. has been our most theological series in quite some time. This message adds some history to all that, with some twists even I haven't been expecting.
8:30. 10. 11:30.
Thursday, March 25, 2010
So since I'm the guest of my own blog, I thought I'd give my own Top Five Songs, in order:
1. The Boys Of Summer by Don Henley. I still remember the first time I heard it: driving on I-95 just outside of Trenton, New Jersey in late 1984. It sounds just as good today.
2. Where The Streets Have No Name by U2. The one sounds better than it did back in 1987. And somebody is going to do this one at my funeral.
3. I Still Believe by The Call. Obscure but soul-savingly spiritual for me.
4. Gimme Shelter by The Rolling Stones. When I saw them at the Time Warner Cable Arena in 2005, they didn't play this one. Bummer. Still an incredible song.
5. Over The Hills & Far Away by Led Zeppelin. The opening guitar never gets old. So much better than some of the longer, more tedious Zeppelin songs. I still have no idea what the lyrics are about.
Those are mine . . . what are yours?
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
My first thought was, "Man, that's brash. Isn't that the kind of thing you let other people say about you instead of claiming it for yourself?"
Yet as I considered that description for a few moments, I later realized, "oh, that's genius."
Because most of us describe our churches and their purposes in terms of . . . church. As if the goal of a church is simply to have a bigger, better, warmer church.
But that's ridiculous. A church is never an end. It is only a means to an end.
A means to something much bigger and much more incomprehensible than itself. A means to God himself.
My gosh, how different would Good Shepherd be if we longed to be nothing more than a vehicle in which the life & movement of God himself could flourish?
How different would our individual lives be if we longed for the same?
An incredible move of God? Let it flow.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
While at Mt. Carmel Church in Monroe, NC, I'd dream that worship was ready to begin, the church was full, there were newcomers to "wow" . . . and our overhead projector didn't work (this was the 1990s, OK? An overhead projector was cutting edge). We'd have to sing out of hymnals.
Then in the early days of Good Shepherd, I'd have the same dream with a couple of slight twists: it was now PowerPoint that wouldn't work and part of the waiting congregation would be people from Mt. Carmel Church in Monroe. The very people I wanted to make sure experienced the "coolness" of this new church!
Then just last week, it happened again. Only this time, it was the new lighting and stage design that didn't work. All the colors, warmth, and fabric -- gone. We were left with a plain worship palette. And the sound system didn't work, so as Chris Macedo was inviting people to stand and sing, it look like he was mouthing words with no sound. And who was in the worshipping congregation? Those same dear friends from Mt. Carmel!
Oh, it's good to wake up.
And to understand that perhaps God is telling me something about relying more on man's technology than His Holy Spirit.
Monday, March 22, 2010
Yesterday, however, was different. With the stage bare except for a wooden cross (on which we focused a number of lighting combinations), we played this:
John Pavlovitz wrote it. Joey Hopper recited it. And Chris Macedo recorded & edited it.
It's the kind of creative element that again makes me grateful to work here.
Here's the text itself:
The old. rugged. cross.
On a hill, far away it stands.
From the past, like a faded photo memory
From centuries upon centuries.
Yet here, today, newly.
It came before me, yet it stands before me.
I take it in.
I survey it.
I mean, I look it over, but I cannot overlook it.
Gaze through the haze of myself.
I see it with ever-opening eyes.
and now I live this life "Cross-eyed"
See the One so despised,
The One who paid the greatest price.
The Perfect Lamb slain.
His blood leaving stains
deep in beaten wood grain.
and not a sin of mine, remains.
Upon this old, rugged, cross.
The place of such brutality
Pierced with the nails -
Nails that were meant for me.
Hangs a love so divine.
And such Glory from it shines
Like the noon sun beating down
Like the sweat upon His brow.
Like the jewel of a crown.
On one dead tree.
One man dead, though temporarily.
A world of slaves now free.
A loser's victory.
A sinner's reprieve.
That sinner? I am He.
I cherish the old rugged cross.
By that, I mean I treasure it.
I place no one and nothing above it.
It is worth every reproach, every shame.
It is my joy now, to bear the weight of His name.
Just as he carried the Cross.
Just as he carried me.
I carry on.
In hope, in faith.
In love, in Grace,
No cost is too great.
Any price I would pay.
Here in this world.
In this moment.
In this day.
I grab hold of this old rugged cross.
I cling to it.
With straining hands.
hands that will someday-
Lay these earthly trophies down,
Exchange them all for a crown.
In the old, rugged Cross, I am freed.
At the old rugged Cross I am found.
Friday, March 19, 2010
Thursday, March 18, 2010
The Gospel itself is fascinating enough. But I have become even more interested in John himself -- writer, theologian, artist, churchman.
We've gone to great lengths in this class to describe just how different John's Gospel is from Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Differences in timeline, tone, and content. John arranges all his material to reinforce the purpose statement of the book in 20:31: "... but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name."
When you know that is his reason for writing, you'll see clues in almost every section of the book. Believe. Life. Life. Believe. The purpose defines what stories John includes and in what order he includes them.
All of which gave rise to an interesting question in our class: "Is Jesus in John's hands in the gospel, serving to advance John's agenda? Or is John in Jesus' hands, serving to advance his agenda?" Hmmmmm.
Or is there some of both?
When you learn to read the bible not only for its teaching but also with an eye to its artistry, you get to wrestle with questions like that again and again.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Twenty years ago, in a small rural parish, my role was to provide comfort and counsel to people through the ministry of visitation. The first words my first District Superintendent ever spoke to me were these: "I have three part plan for your success: 1) visit your people; 2) visit your people; 3) visit your people." So I did. A lot. And loved it.
As one of those churches grew, I then understood my role changed to the ministry of programming. So my time was in teaching classes, establishing programs for children, and leading events for youth.
In this setting in Charlotte, my role was originally focused on the ministry of leadership. I needed to learn -- quickly -- how to lead a small staff and a much larger church body.
A bit later, my emphasis morphed into a ministry of defining culture. The church became "full color," and we needed that vision articulated well and articulated often.
These days? I see my role as a ministry of making space. What do I mean by that? Now I'm part of a team that makes space for the Holy Spirit to move. People have the choice of responding or not, but those of us in leadership are all about creating environments and opportunities for people to encounter the work of the Holy Spirit. That's why First Serve and Pathfinder, in particular, have been so successful. We craft an experience and create an opportunity . . . . and people respond.
Maybe that's why I like my job now better than ever before.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
As I posted yesterday, 3/4 of my little family and I are here on a combination wedding trip / vacation.
So what does California conjure up in my mind?
- As a kid growing up, it's where all the best tennis players came from.
- The Eagles' Hotel California. When it won the Grammy Award for best album in 1977, my dad said to me with excitement in his voice, "Talbot, California Hotel won!" I wisely did not correct him.
- When my college tennis team played against UCLA in 1982 (we lost but my partner and I somehow won in doubles), Julie and I realized we were in love. Awww.
- The Beach Boys Surfin' Safari. Love the album cover.
- On a business trip to San Diego in the fall of 1986, I realized that I had a call to ministry. Ten months later I was in seminary in Kentucky.
- Good weather. All the time.
- Mega, mega, mega-churches. Saddleback. The Church On The Way. Mosaic.
- Fuller Theological Seminary -- the only place other than Asbury I would have considered attending.
- Rose Bowl games late in the afternoon on New Year's Day.
- Playing against Pepperdine University in 1983 & thinking I had a chance to win. I didn't. Still, playing a match while overlooking the beach at Malibu is not a bad consolation prize.
Monday, March 15, 2010
Friday, March 12, 2010
On a hill far away . . .
So begins one of the best-loved hymns of the faith, The Old Rugged Cross.
Yet have we considered what it really means that the central symbol of the Christian faith is an instrument of execution?
Can you imagine if church steeples were topped with guillotines or we wore small electric chairs as jewelry around our necks?
Stood an old rugged cross . . .
What is unique about this man executed in that way?
Did some sort of transaction involving God, the devil, and the human race occur on that dark day so long ago?
Or is there more to it than that?
. . . the emblem of suffering and shame.
And what does it have to do with us? Today? With how and why we live in the year 2010?
Join us for the next three weeks as we wrestle with these questions and more.
old. rugged. cross.
A series in which the far away comes very close.
8:30. 10. 11:30. (And remember to set your clock ahead one hour!)
Thursday, March 11, 2010
For example, I'm part of a team that puts a great deal of thought and effort into Sunday morning worship experiences. We want the Sunday gathering to be powerful, unexpected, cool, and inspiring. That's sort of the goal and that's where our minds and hearts focus.
But to what end? So that we can say we've had a worship service with all of those elements? May it never be!
We want that kind of worship experience so that, little by little, piece by piece, people are transformed into what C.S. Lewis calls "little Christs." So that they are captured by his love and as a result of that love become people who are themselves full of love, sacrifice, and forgiveness.
That's the goal beyond the goal.
Whether it's worship ministry, youth programming, or children's environments, don't get so locked into the goal that you neglect the goal beyond the goal.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
So that if he fills me with joy, that same joy would then flow through me to others.
If he drenches me with the Holy Spirit, that same Spirit would then move through me to others.
If he overwhelms me with his love, that same love would then radiate from me to others.
If he gives me serenity, that same serenity would be then travel through me to others.
I guess it's like this: I don't want to be a cul-de-sac, hoarding the blessing of God for myself. I instead long to be a connecting street, so that I give whatever blessings I receive.
What do you long for God to do to you or in you? Give him the space to then do that same thing through you.
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
- Assume the worst. Be wary of the smiles of the people sitting next to you in the pew. Question the preacher's motives. And of course . . . have assurance that the people in charge of the money are mis-using it.
- Look for mistakes. Listen closely for any off-key note by the band or choir. Jot down the preacher's grammatical errors. Share all faux pas in the bulletin with your friends.
- Evaluate the fashion sense of other worshippers. If you don't do it, who will?
- Compare your pastor with Andy Stanley. Um, Andy always wins that one. Whoever your pastor is.
- Compare your worship leader with Chris Tomlin. See above.
- Decide whether people surrounding you are "spiritual enough" based on how many raise their hands during music. Of course.
- Think about all the people you know who aren't in church that day -- your spouse, children, or friends -- but who really "needed" that sermon. Then tell the pastor that on the way out. Make sure you're not on the list of people who "needed" it.
- Keep your bible closed between Sundays. Ditto for your prayer list.
- Continually ask, "what am I getting out of this church?" Don't ever ask, "how can I give to God & the community through this church?"
Monday, March 8, 2010
I'm grateful as always for the ways God harnesses all the talented people here to impact people's lives in meaningful, tangible ways.
Thursday, March 4, 2010
You can read them in succession here. Click on the link, and scroll down to the posts from February 22 - February 27.
Groeschel started ministry within Oklahoma United Methodism, grew frustrated with the bureaucratic hurdles he would have to jump in order to start a new congregation, and ultimately launched an independent church.
LifeChurch.tv now has well over 20,000 people attending in multiple sites all over the country, including the world's most advanced online church community. You can find out more about it here.
Groeschel's recommendations for us -- as a former part of "us" -- are pretty straightforward: 1) discard the itineracy system of appointing pastors; 2) change or abolish the apportionment model in which local churches underwrite the expenses of the national and international level bureaucracies; 3) simplify the ordination process; 4) enable more churches to go multi-site; 5) stop funding any efforts at denomination-level marketing or branding; and 6) arrange an amicable separation between theological liberals and conservatives.
I believe many of Groeschel's suggestions will become reality not so much by choice as by necessity. The itineracy and apportionment, in particular, will likely undergo fundamental change within the next 15 years or collapse under their own weight. The same is true for our cumbersome way of approving and ordaining pastors.
But I hope one change happens immediately: let's give up the ghost on denomination-level marketing. I've posted on the subject here. Funnel thoes funds and that energy towards enabling local congregations to be the best marketers -- and evangelists -- they can be.
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
I woke up at about 2 a.m. and 2 Timothy 1:7 was planted firmly in my mind:
"For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-control."
It is quite easy in church leadership to adopt that spirit of timidity. It's the spirit that wants to offend as few people as possible, the spirit that endorses the status quo, the spirit that says don't fix what's not broken.
The spirit of timidity leads to death in churches.
That's why the spirit God does give us is fascinating to me. Look at the balancing act necessary between power, love, and self-control.
Usually people with great power have little love. Many times, people consumed by love forget their self-control. And self-controlled people are often too "in control" to demonstrate much power.
In Christ, God gives us the marvelous mix of all three.
Hearing that word is worth waking up in the middle of the night.
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
I feel like it has served me well in ministry and I'm glad that my daughter is doing a double major in History and English while she is at Vanderbilt.
One reason I like being an English major is that it never really stops. I am almost always reading one novel or another. Maybe not quite on the order of James Joyce's Ulysses like I read in college (or tried to read), but some pretty good ones nonetheless. Here are some of the most influential novels of my post-college years as a perpetual English major:
- A Man In Full by Tom Wolfe. Epic, hilarious, sad, Southern, and brilliantly written.
- Cry The Beloved Country by Alan Paton. How did I not read this earlier?
- Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns. Think Flannery O'Connor without all the weird stuff.
- She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb. Picking my favorite Wally Lamb book is like picking your favorite kind of pie: whichever one you are eating. He has the gift of turning ordinary and extraordinary events into occasions for my tear ducts to go into overdrive.
- The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. See above.
- Straight Man by Richard Russo. Having grown up in a professor's house, I love books in which the protagonist is a professor. Russo seems to write effortlessly . . . . which lets you know he works really hard at his craft.
This list is by no means comprehensive but those are the books that dominate my memory today. Perhaps I'll add new ones shortly -- I've got three novels waiting for my next vacation.
That way, the best parts of college never end . . .