Friday, July 30, 2010
While the series comes from Psalm 146-150 and the crescendo of praise that section offers to God . . . we skipped Psalm 149.
OK, I skipped Psalm 149.
I couldn't really figure out how to make it work in a sermon without yanking a few verses out of context.
So I didn't.
Instead, this week's crescendo comes not from the Psalms but from I John 5, a section of Scripture from which I have yearned to preach for a long time.
It's an ideal message for bringing friends, neighborhoors, and relatives.
Because together we'll all see how good it is to know.
8:30. 10:00. 11:30.
Thursday, July 29, 2010
I wonder if he ever spent time in my office.
People bring a lot of baggage from their past that ends up poisoning their present. Both things done to them and things they've done to themselves.
Sometimes I despair of helping people break free of the hold that the past has on them.
Which is why as both a pastor and a pilgrim, I've got to hold on to Paul's testimony in I Timothy 1:13: "Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief."
Think of all the words you could substitute for blasphemer, persecutor, violent man -- drug addict, gang banger, adulterer, abuser, victim.
Those words matter much less than the ones that follow: shown mercy.
That's what I need when I become mired in my past. Perhaps you do as well. Mercy that's undeserved and unending.
So with that mercy as our fuel, perhaps we may be able to prove William Faulkner wrong after all.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
I was working on a message for the Crescendo series, this one from Psalm 150. Here's the text of Psalm 150 in the NIV:
1 Praise the LORD.
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens.
2 Praise him for his acts of power;
praise him for his surpassing greatness.
3 Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
praise him with the harp and lyre,
4 praise him with tambourine and dancing,
praise him with the strings and flute,
5 praise him with the clash of cymbals,
praise him with resounding cymbals.
6 Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.
Praise the LORD.
So anyway, I asked Chris, "can we DO that Psalm instead of read it? Can you make all those instruments work as part of the Scripture reading?" I was envisioning a musical rendering of the Psalm.
Chris said yes.
And he then took the raw material of that idea and produced something remarkable, something far beyond what I could expect or envision.
He and his team composed music, arranged lighting, and edited video to create a multi-sensory experience of Psalm 150.
Here's what it looked like this past Sunday:
As we said afterwards, "WOW."
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
I've only been through that kind of season twice -- once in 1990 when I graduated from seminary and began serving Mt. Carmel & Midway Churches in Monroe and again in 1999 when I began pastoring here at Good Shepherd.
But what should a pastor beginning a new work have in his or her "toolbox" to make sure the start goes well? Here goes:
1. A month's worth of sermons -- at least. Those first few weeks should be about meeting and connecting with people, not about hunkering down in the office preparing messages. Plus, if you start ahead, you'll always be ahead. Even today, I am typically working on messages 5-6 weeks out.
2. A box of thank you notes. Pastors receive a lot of "love" in the form of food and gifts, especially in the first few weeks of ministry. Given that we are losing the art of hand written notes, thank you cards now have even more power. Twenty years in, I still write five to seven notes a week.
3. A map of the community. Or a Garmin. Or a GPS app for your iPhone. Something that will enable you to visit with people in their homes. Pastors still have unparalleled access to people in their homes and in their times of need ... and we should use that access well.
4. A pocket bible. Home visits and hospital visits need to involve Scripture in order to be called "pastoral care." I read from a rotating selection of passages, depending on the situation. My favorite readings include 2 Corinthians 1:3-5, 2 Corinthians 4:7-10, Proverbs 3:5-6, Colossians 1:15-19, and, of course, Psalm 23.
5. An eye for strengths. It's easy for a pastor to focus on the flaws in the new work. I believe pastors have much greater effectiveness if they note what the church already does well and then build on that. It helps you grow into a more optimistic leader then giving guidance to a more confident church.
Monday, July 26, 2010
Our 2010 Vacation Bible School culminated this past Friday night with a concert with The Go Fish Guys.
It was a raucous, sold-out affair, with music, beach balls, and kids.
Lots and lots of kids.
You can find out more about the Go Fish Guys here.
Friday, July 23, 2010
Here's a promise: this week's reading of Psalm 150 will be the most vivid experience you've ever had of a Scripture presentation in church.
I can't wait.
I like the message, too.
The sound is building...
8:30. 10. 11:30.
Thursday, July 22, 2010
And I've been reading in a section of the New Testament I often overlook: I & II Thessalonians.
Anyway, in I Thessalonians 2, Paul writes urgently of his "hope ... joy ... crown ... glory." When you read that kind of language, you naturally assume he is speaking of his Lord.
Your assumptions are wrong. As were mine. Look at what actually happens -- and read this part out loud:
17But, brothers, when we were torn away from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. 18For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan stopped us. 19For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? 20Indeed, you are our glory and joy.
So in this setting at least, Paul's glory and joy is the Thessalonian church with whom he is in relationship.
Even more, Paul longs for that day when he will stand alongside that church at the return of Jesus.
As a pastor, these words both indict and inspire.
The church I serve is not a "job." It's not a burden. It's not trouble. It's not even "fun" or "growing" or "exciting."
It is glory and joy. Believe me, that changes how you view the church and the people in it.
Because one day I will appear before the throne of grace and the Lord will ask, "what did you do with this glory and joy during your season of leadership?"
All that just from reading the bible out loud.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Here's are some examples:
According to most studies, people's number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.
Why do they call it a "building"? It looks like they're finished. Why isn't it a "built"?
Dogs are the leaders of the planet. If you see two life forms, one of them's making a poop, the other one's carrying it for him, who would you assume is in charge?
If you want to see a more complete list, check here.
So Seinfeld gives expression to things that are true yet overlooked. We become so comfortable with what is dysfunctional that we accept it as the status quo. Once Seinfeld makes his observations, we have that "a-ha" moment needed to adjust our behavior and attitudes.
I believe that on a certain level that's the task of preaching.
Not that preachers share many of Jerry Seinfeld's core beliefs or moral convictions.
But we have something to learn from his strategy.
Because if my preaching can expose people's default dysfunctions -- and do so in a non-threatening way -- then life change can begin.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
We started Vacation Bible School last night.
This year's theme is Backstage With The Bible and culminates with a Go Fish Guys concert on Friday night.
But I've been working in VBS for pretty much the past 20 years. Why do I continue to be involved personally?
1. Kids & Chaos. 300 kids, music, sound, lights, adrenaline . . . it's not a bad gig, you know. I wouldn't want it every night, but it's a rush this one week a year.
2. Different Venue. I believe it is important that the children of this or any church see their pastor not just as a man up on a platform spouting out things only adults can understand. They need to see that in a real sense the preacher is one of them.
3. Volunteers. VBS inspires and motivates more volunteers than any other church event except for First Serve. Happily, last night we had several folks show up unannounced, "just to see if we needed help."
4. Music. My own kids -- now 20 and 17 -- still remember the songs from Vacation Bible Ship in 1995. VBS connects music with memory in a way that builds and keeps faith.
5. Decision. VBS gives the church a marvelous venue for "offering them Christ." Each year, we get to celebrate the youngest among us coming to new places in their relationship with Christ.
Monday, July 19, 2010
They are instead serving in communities still recovering from Hurricane Katrina. They'll spend the week -- much of it in the July sun and humidity unique to southeastern Louisiana -- hammering, drywalling, cleaning, serving.
Under the leadership of Ron Dozier, our Pastor of Missions & Community Impact, this group is fleshing out what it means to be Jesus to the world.
Or, as someone said it, they are "incarnations of the incarnation."
Local heroes, indeed.
Friday, July 16, 2010
When that song is Psalm 148. Or even Genesis 1.
As we build towards the crescendo of praise the concludes the book of Psalms, we're going to see this week that what looks to be a gentle song about the beauty of creation is in fact much, much more.
It's actually an apologetic, a poke-in-the-eye, a polemic.
To see where I'm going with all this, come this Sunday. I know I say it a lot, but I really can't wait for this Sunday's message.
8:30. 10. 11:30.
Last week's service "Sing" began with this home grown video. Enjoy Chris Macedo, intrepid reporter:
Thursday, July 15, 2010
He said yes.
So he's begun visiting with the Spanish speaking families who are part of the Good Shepherd family. Sometimes he takes me along so that I can practice my language skills.
He'll help with our ESL ministry, direct our evangelism efforts at area soccer matches, and, most importantly, lead a Spanish speaking Pathfinder group starting in September.
We believe this is a good move at a good time involving a good man.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
And every time we'd go, I would ask her the same question as we neared the end of our trip: "Can I have a Baby Ruth?"
Every time the answer was the same: "No."
Not "maybe." Not "if you're a good boy!" Not "No, but let let me explain my reasoning to you." A simple, declarative "No."
It's one of the best lessons I ever learned.
Actually, there are several lessons I learned. Among them:
- "No" is a complete sentence.
- Parents can and should use the authority they have.
- Money matters and shouldn't be used carelessly.
- But most of all, just because you want something and you want it now does not mean that you should have it all, much less immediately.
In other words, I learned something about delaying gratification.
I think it's one of those lessons where I need a refresher course. And maybe you do, too.
In any event, thanks Mom.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Someone wisely commented with a request: then what should you say?
So here goes:
1. The name. We sometimes worry that hearing or speaking the name of the one who has died will be too painful for the survivor. Wrong. Most people in grief long to speak the name of their loved one, and they long to hear it spoken to them.
2. Tell me about . . . . The majority of people who have recently lost a family member want to talk about that person who has died. They want to talk about the funny things the person said or did, the habits they had, the legacy they leave. Give them the space and permission to do so. "Tell me about . . . ." "What was she like?" "What did he do as a child?"
3. You're not alone . . . Nothing you can say will bring the loved one back. Your words can quietly underscore the truth your presence conveys: those in grief are surrounded by people who love them and will walk with them.
4. I'm coming over . . . Again, don't ask what you can do. As Nike says, just do it.
5. I love you . . . Most of us can't hear those words too often. How much more in our time of sadness?
Monday, July 12, 2010
For example, yesterday Chris Macedo and I led a teaching & worship experience in which we explored Psalm 147:1 -- Praise the Lord. how good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting it is to praise him -- through the lens of what it doesn't say.
It doesn't tell us to write our praises to God.
It doesn't tell us to think our praises to God.
It doesn't even tell us to draw our praises to God.
All of those are fine endeavors. They're just not what this Scripture tells us to do.
It tells us to sing our praises to God.
So, informed by the wisdom of Mars Hill Bible Church, we explored why the command to sing. It turns out we sing because singing's not the point.
The shared experience is the point.
Submitting to one another's voice and tempo is the point.
Mutual submission through congregational singing is the loudest crescendo any of us will ever make.
But we wouldn't have been as on point had we not considered what Psalm 147 doesn't say.
You can listen to what happened here.
Friday, July 9, 2010
I'm not asking about the band or the instruments or the visuals.
My question is much more basic than that.
Why do we sing together as part of Sunday morning worship?
Would it make a difference if we didn't?
We'll tackle those questions on Sunday morning. I believe it will be one of our most enlightening times together. Ever. That's how excited I am about it.
Week Two of Crescendo. From Psalm 147. Sing.
8:30. 10. 11:30.
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
It's been happening in my office or in our Worship Center.
What a privilege to see God extend the invitation and then to have people respond in faith.
But what next? What are the best next steps for someone who has much such a commitment?
I'm not great at that part . . . but I have been trying to put more focus on the follow up. Here's my approach:
1. Make sure they have a good bible -- preferably an NIV Student Bible.
2. Assign the Gospel of John. Twenty-one chapters in twenty-one days.
3. When they finish, have them read it again.
4. Schedule another personal appointment.
5. Connect them with a good small group or Sunday School class.
6. Encourage/insist they put their faith to action by taking part in First Serve.
What else would you add?
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Rich is now serving Catawba UMC in between Hickory and Lake Norman.
So it all got me thinking about my very first Sunday as the "solo" pastor of a smaller congregation (or two) in Monroe, NC. Way back in 1990. So here are five memories from that day "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away":
1. Praying with Julie before leaving the house because I was so nervous.
2. Choosing music that was uber-familiar, including How Great Thou Art and To God Be The Glory.
3. Getting instructions on how to take prayer requests from one of the leaders in the congregation.
4. Preaching a sermon from Psalm 145 with an opening illustration all about Big Tex from the Texas State Fair.
5. Much kind affirmation from nice people afterwards.
I hope & pray Rich's first Sunday was the same . . . except for the Big Tex part.
Friday, July 2, 2010
This summer, we're back at it again.
Psalm 146-150 -- the last five songs in the Psalter -- represent a crescendo of praise that concludes the whole collection.
So we're going to spend five weeks living in those Psalms.
Five weeks exploring what we would sound like if our worship was based more on Israel's song book than our own understanding of things like "praise," "church," or even "music."
It starts with an experience based on Psalm 146 called "Tell."
8:30. 10. 11:30.
Thursday, July 1, 2010
The Bible was written for us but not to us.
Think about that. All the books of the bible had an original intended audience.
Genesis was to the early Jews.
Deuteronomy was to the Jews established in the Promised Land.
Psalm 137 was to the exiled Jews.
Nehemiah was to the newly returned Jews.
Matthew was to early Jesus-followers of Jewish ancestry.
John was to persecuted believers.
Romans was to the church in Rome.
Philippians was to the church in Philippi.
And, most importantly yet most forgotten, Revelation was to the seven churches in Asia Minor.
None were written to 21st Century American Christians.
The result? The books of the bible can't mean to us what they didn't mean to them. This is especially true of the book of Revelation.
The task of modern-day bible readers, then, is to excavate what the different books meant to their original, intended audiences . . . and then apply those truths & insights into today.
Because although the bible is not written to us, its truth and beauty are most definitely for us.