Tuesday, August 31, 2010
If you like tennis, the end of August and beginning of September really is the best time of the year. Almost like a two-week Christmas, except with good weather.
It's the U.S. Open.
Here's are the five top reasons why I like it:
1. It's the truest test in tennis. The French Open's clay surface favors baseliners who don't know how to volley. Wimbledon's grass historically favors big servers who don't have to be strong from the ground. (Admittedly, that's changed in recent years as the All England Club has slowed the grass.) But the hard courts of Flushing Meadow demand an all-court game while also giving a true, consistent bounce.
2. Night matches. Vintage battles between Borg & McEnroe, Sampras & Agassi, and more recently the Williams sisters have all taken place in the electric atmosphere made possible only under the lights.
3. I played on the old Stadium Court. When I worked for the USTA in the mid 80s, I actually played an exhibition mixed doubles match on Louis Armstrong stadium, the forerunner of today's mammoth Arthur Ashe Stadium. I don't remember who else was on the court, but I do recall hitting a winner topspin lob in the middle of all my nerves.
4. Magic happens. Whether it was the original Super Saturday in 1984 or Serena Williams' meltdown last year or even Roger Federer's incomparable between the legs shot in that same 2009 tournament (shown above), the US Open is full of "did you see that?" moments.
5. All TV, all the time. Thank God for ESPN2.
Monday, August 30, 2010
1. We received new members into the church at both the 8:30 and 10:00 services. That's not unusual -- it happens every six weeks or so. What IS unusual is the fact that one of those new members is a 92 year old man. I had visited him in the nursing home last week and he told me he wanted to join the church but didn't know if he could attend our First Step Class.
Um, if you're 92 and you want to join our church, I think we'll waive the membership class requirement. So we did. What a joy. It shows that our "full color" motto applies not only to race and ethnicity, but to the generations as well.
2. Our "Servolution Celebration" on Sunday night concluded with a foot washing service. Our first one ever.
We weren't at all sure how to make it happen or even how to arrange the room. But God intervened and it flowed seamlessly.
It was our way of commissioning all the "servolutionaries" in this church into ministry this fall.
Friday, August 27, 2010
They won that game 14-13 and Riley played extrordinarily well.
So we're on it again tonight. I'm learning why parents make such a big deal over high school football.
I'm even wearing school colors.
Servolution comes to Week Four on Sunday.
I think this one is the most surprising message of the bunch. I believe it will help a lot of people.
The our Servolution Celebration -- complete with some surprises of its own -- happens on Sunday night from 5-7 p.m.
See you then.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
(Sadly, a friend of mine was there for a sentencing hearing.)
The hearing was sparsely attended; in fact, aside from the court officials, I was the only one there.
Yet as I sat in that courtroom something about the surroundings seemed vaguely familiar . . .
- A man up front wearing a robe seemed to be in charge.
- He was perched behind an imposing wooden structure.
- The room dimensions were long and narrow -- the back row of the empty seats was considerable distance from the man in the robe behind the big wooden desk.
- The ceiling was vaulted -- I'd say 20 feet or more.
- The lighting was neutral.
- The man in the robe used phrases and terms that his cohorts understood but that I found incomprehensible.
- The walls were covered with wood paneling.
- Finally, I sat on a long wooden bench with no cushion.
As I took all this in, I realized where I'd seen this before. In church!
The attire of the leader, the size and shape of the room, the feel of the furniture, even the built-in intimidation of the proceedings -- all of it felt exactly like dozens of church services I've been to through the years.
The guy in the robe is the preacher, the desk is the pulpit, the back-breaking seats are the pews, the design and scope of the room feels like most traditional church structures built between 1940 & 1980, and the incomprehensible language is what much of preaching and liturgy must sound like to uninitiated church-goers. The parallels were so precise it left me numb.
All of which led to a question I coudn't answer: who copied whom?
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
1Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2He said: "In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. 3And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, 'Grant me justice against my adversary.'
4"For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, 'Even though I don't fear God or care about men, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually wear me out with her coming!' "
6And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?"
One of the very sermons that I ever preached -- prepared and delivered to a seminary class in 1989 -- came from this parable.
I'm sure it was awful.
But the story has stuck with me.
And in recent days, I've decided that I'm going to assume the identity of that persistent widow. I'm not going to let go of God until blessing and favor beyond measure fall upon the people and ministry of Good Shepherd United Methodist Church.
Will you join me?
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
So what are those things that a pastor needs to avoid if he or she will have both an effective ministry and a vibrant spiritual life?
Here are some thoughts . . .
1. Listening Too Closely To Your Critics. And To Your Fans. The reality is that most pastors are neither as "bad" (or sinful or heretical or egotistical) as their critics claim. Neither are they as "good" (or holy or impactful or humble) as their fans declare. Making ministry decisions or deriving personal identity based on the words of either group is asking for trouble.
2. Acting On Impulse. Most major mistakes of my time in ministry have occurred when adrenaline got in the way of wisdom.
3. Fear Of Failure. On the other hand, my tendency towards vacillation when it comes to big picture items has not served the church well.
4. Reading The Bible Only For Sermon Prep. Our recent Text Message series was a revelation for me and in me. It got me reading Scripture out loud every day. It's the best way I've found to meditate on God's word in a fashion that has nothing to do with Sunday's sermon.
5. Lack Of Personal Generosity. I know of pastors who seldom give or give very little to the churches they serve. Wow. How can you grow a generous church without making that personal commitment as a leader?
Monday, August 23, 2010
Friday, August 20, 2010
Because I'm gonna go out and party?
Because high school football begins tonight in the Carolinas. And my son Riley begins his senior year on the team at Charlotte Christian School.
He's worked hard and changed a lot and we're really proud. He's playing a combination linebacker/safety in a 4-2-5 defense.
I'm not sure exactly what that means, but I know they play it at TCU, so it's OK with me.
And why did I add the title "Teamwork" to today's post?
Because tonight while I'm at Riley's game, Ron Dozier of Good Shepherd will teach the first part of our First Step membership exploration class.
I'll return to teach the second part of it tomorrow morning.
You can still sign up for First Step here.
Thursday, August 19, 2010
Most leaders manage by exception. Good leaders manage by expectation.
Leaders who manage by exception are unclear in their direction and often absent in their supervision. They only shift into "management mode" when some exception occurs, such as when the person who reports to them underperforms.
If it sounds like I know what that's like, it's because all too often I've done it.
On the other hand, leaders who manage by expectation are vivid in their direction and present in their supervision. They lay out clear goals and then follow up to ensure that those goals are getting accomplished.
I am learning this kind of leadership. I've started systems with some of the new members of our staff team that would have never occurred to me five or ten years ago.
Perhaps in managing by expectation I'm learning to manage the one staffer who continually gives me the most trouble: me.
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
So let Marcy know you're glad to have her "down south." As in Steele Creek.
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
1. Payday Candy Bar. Lunch is simply not complete without one. Or two.
2. Pardon The Interruption with Michael Wilbon & Tony Kornheiser on ESPN. If I could be home everyday at 5:30 p.m., I would be. Insightful and hilarious.
3. Six Cylinder Engine. A year ago, I bought a car with a V-6 engine -- the first time I'd ever driven more than an in-line four. As long as we still have gasoline, I'm not going back.
4. The Closer on Monday nights in the summer. Julie and I love this show so much that we wouldn't dream of missing it. "Thank you so much."
5. Hickory Tavern. Colorado chicken with the house salad. OMG.
Monday, August 16, 2010
Friday, August 13, 2010
Thursday, August 12, 2010
- People feel valued when you remember their name.
- If you go cheap, you get cheap.
- Rogaine helps you keep what you got better than it replaces what you lost.
- Regular fasting brings spiritual and physical benefits.
- Many times you have a bigger impact on people's lives than you realize.
- God is bigger than any method. He has used ministries with which I disagree to bring healing into my life and body.
- Cats have it made.
- Some people will never be happy. The harder you try to make them happy, the worse it gets.
- People appreciate learning something they didn't know before.
- Sometimes over-involvement in church is a sign of ill health.
- If your spouse likes receiving gifts, then buy good gifts.
- Toyotas Camrys drive forever.
- Encourage in writing; discipline in person.
- Most people in church are unbelievably nice if you take the time to notice.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
I was immediately alarmed. Is he casing us out so that he can break in and rob us later? Plotting an attack of defenseless civilians? Or planning to start a church called Better Shepherd United Methodist Church?
None of the above.
It turns out he was a pastor from Kentucky travelling through the Carolinas this summer, and he had heard about the ministry here and wanted to see it for himself. Most importantly, he identified himself as a graduate of Asbury Seminary. Immediately, my suspicions vanished and a friendship formed. I took him for a brief tour of our space.
The bond I felt when I discovered the Asbury connection got me thinking . . . what are the ways my alma mater has influenced me?
Here are five:
1. I learned that you can be evangelical without being fundamentalist. Asbury stands for something -- it has a strong statement of faith that you can read here. Yet it is the kind of faith & doctrine that doesn't stick its head in the sand. People in the school believe the earth is billions of years old, not thousands. They don't spend time accusing others branches of the faith of being "non-Christian." And they recognize that the bible, as part of its inspiration, has conversation within itself. Much of what I posted here back in June on the nature of the bible came from what I learned and sensed at Asbury.
2. On the other hand, I learned that evangelicalism has an intellectual rigor that is lacking in classic Protestant liberalism. Protestant liberalism -- characterized by a minimizing of biblical authority and a blurring of lines between religions -- feels good. It's even been described this way:
"A God without wrath brings people without sin into a kingdom without judgment to a Christ without a cross."
Fortunately, the founders of Asbury Seminary saw right through that canard and built a school that from its foundation went through the intellectual work of articulating and defending the ancient truths of the Christian faith.
3. I learned how to prepare a sermon manuscript . . . and then deliver it without notes. As my preaching professor said, "write that sermon out and then leave it at home." Done.
4. I learned how to sit with people in grief. I still have a paper I wrote back in 1989 -- printed out on a dot-matrix printer! -- on how pastors & churches should respond to grief. It is uncanny how we follow that same basic blueprint around here.
5. I learned that Christian organizations are still full of dysfunction. You'd think that if you get 1,000 prospective pastors together on an idyllic campus on the Kentucky countryside and expose them to some of the best teachers on the planet, everyone would get along, right? Wrong. During my time there, we still had petty jealousies, rival factions, and relational trauma. Just a few years ago, the school went through a nasty presidential transition, full of finger pointing, petition writing, and faculty departures. It all goes to show that even institutions built on holiness are full of sinfulness. Hmmmm. Sort of like local churches, right?
Monday, August 9, 2010
Cardboard cutouts don't cut it.
It takes real people doing real ministry.
People who prefer to carry a towel rather than hold a title.
That's how Servolution started yesterday.
And how it continues today.
Friday, August 6, 2010
Every once in awhile, a pastor writes a book that makes you sit up and take notice.
Dino Rizzo's Servolution is one of those books.
And not just because of the title -- which, let's admit it, is an all-timer.
But it's also the content and the concept: a church-led revolution of serving.
We were enough impacted by it that we decided to make it the basis for a series and a season of ministry here.
So here it starts with a message called "The Fabric Of A Servolution."
8:30. 10. 11:30.
Thursday, August 5, 2010
So in response, I put together some things I miss about childhood summers. I don't know if those dog days helped or hurt my academic progress, but I sure loved them. Here's why:
- Playing outside all day . . . and only occasionally having to tell my mom where I was.
- Living in a time and place where we didn't have to lock the front door.
- Catching fireflies by hand and bringing them inside.
- Inspired by Mutual Of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, getting together with my friend Davey Baird and making up our own show, Talbot & Davey's Wild Kingdom.
- With that same friend . . . using trash cans as drums and tennis rackets as guitars, we created an outdoor rock band called The Two. Then one time I left a racket outside, it rained overnight, and the racket -- a vintage wooden model of course -- was warped and ruined. I got in trouble and that was the end of The Two.
- When I got a bit older, I used to love playing tennis in Dallas' 100 degree heat. Today I can't imagine even walking in such heat but back then I felt like it brought out the best in my game.
- As a teenager, being able to go to a movie in the middle of the week. Ahhhh.
What was it like when you were a boy -- or girl -- of summer?
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
So I don't have any memories of nine months of classes, meetings with mentors, and then a holy moment of joining the church just in time to graduate from sixth grade. I just don't.
As a result, my views about confirmation may well be biased.
But the fact is, I struggle with the traditional, year-long confirmation program. And while there are several reasons for my struggle -- including a) the fact that Christianity is less a course to be learned than a decision to be made and then an experience to be lived and b) many young teens see it as "graduation" from church as a whole -- my fundamental reason is this:
It shows a lack of trust in your youth ministry.
Think about it. If you really believe in what your youth ministry is doing, then students will get much of what they need to get about the Christian faith and life within the bounds of the Sunday night program. And that includes the distinctively Methodist contributions to the Christian world. The teens then get the rest at home and in Sunday morning worship.
Why should they come back out for a second helping of the same basic material?
It adds complexity and redundancy when churches should strive for simplicity and focus.
Now I'm spoiled on this. Because I trust our BigHouse Youth Ministry -- in fact, I'm usually blown away by it.
And I know that kids are getting both content and life experience in that venue.
We also offer occasional short-term baptism and membership events and classes through BigHouse. But we don't offer a shadow version of youth group.
Because in our case at least, the youth group we have is confirming all that's good about God . . . and about the teens themselves.
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
I never wore the T-shirts or had the hair or did the drugs, but I sure loved the music of Led Zeppelin. I even remember getting permission one night to see the midnight showing of their movie The Song Remains The Same (not worth the lost sleep, by the way).
It's rare that I listen to them these days. And the songs I like now are a bit different than the ones I liked then.
But here goes. My top five Led Zeppelin songs:
1. Over The Hills & Far Away. I loved the opening acoustic guitar when I first heard it 33 years ago. The sonic explosion that follows isn't bad either. And what I loved at 15 I still love at 48. Who knows what the song's about? It simply sounds terrific.
2. Misty Mountain Hop. This one is often overlooked because it's on the same album as Stairway To Heaven, Black Dog, and Rock 'N Roll. But ignore it at your peril. The riff is relentless and who can resist a song with the line, "hey whoopie cat"??
3. Fool In The Rain. From their last studio album, In Through The Out Door. Robert Plant's vocals don't have the same power & resonance as in the earlier days, but I find this Caribbean-inspired groove infectious. I heard a church in Austin, Texas do an instrumental version of this one Sunday as an offertory. If I didn't work here, I'd go there.
4. Kashmir. This one takes a bit longer than I have patience for these days. But back in the day? Other-worldly. It's Robert Plant's personal favorite and who am I to disagree?
5. Whole Lotta Love. Led Zeppelin II was my first Zeppelin album ever. On cassette. And the incredible power of the song's opening riff made it my first ever "favorite song of all time." While we won't be playing it in church anytime soon, it's good for a laugh even today.
Monday, August 2, 2010
I'd been doing the same routine since January. Even though it was a taxing program, I had gotten used to it and so wasn't getting the same benefit from it as in the early stages.
Fitness experts say you need to change your workout program every three months or so. I just am such a creature of habit that I stick with routines longer than I should.
Anyway, the trainer gave me a new series of exercises, complete with different patterns and new weight levels. Some parts of it are diabolical in their difficulty.
The whole point is to create muscle confusion. When muscles do things they haven't done before and in a way they're not "expecting," it creates health and endurance.
Which is a long way of saying that you're really, really sore afterwards.
What's true of working out is also true of church life.
Satisfaction with the status quo breeds complacency which leads to inertia.
Sometimes churches need to create muscle confusion in the flock. Whether it's a new worship design or alternative programming or even a goal that is so outrageous it's not attainable aside from divine intervention, churches either change or stagnate.
It's not change for change sake.
It's change for the sake of stretching and growing the body.
It causes soreness in the short term but strength for the long run.