Monday, January 31, 2011
The group with which I travelled is a collection of twenty-five pastors from Western North Carolina Methodism who are part of what is called the Reynolds Leadership Program. We gather together three times a year to learn from other churches, receive training in leadership, and foster deeper relationships with one another.
But at this most recent meeting, I actually did some teaching. It's always nerve-wracking to make a presentation to one's peers, and this day was no exception. I simply shared some of Good Shepherd's story, and focused in on strategy, series, and sermons.
In the middle of all that, two phrases that we use here seemed to resonate the most with my colleagues:
1) We try to de-clutter people's lives and minds. That's why our sermons tend to have one point rather than many; it's why we streamline our Sunday bulletins rather than including information about every program and meeting; and it's why the walls of our church are clean and spare rather than cluttered with bulletin boards and flyers.
2) We hope to de-weird the Holy Spirit. All too often, teaching about the Holy Spirit is just odd enough that it appeals only to a small segment of the Christian population. We believe that what the Holy Spirit brings to believers' lives is too important to marginalize in that way. So we do our best to teach the radical truths of the Spirit's power . . . and yet do so in a way that makes sense to new Christians.
All in all, it was an anxiety-filled honor to teach in front of my friends, and perhaps more churches in Western North Carolina will get excited about de-cluttering and de-weirding.
Friday, January 28, 2011
Thursday, January 27, 2011
On the way back from a conference with some Methodist preacher friends, we stopped in the small town of Walterboro, South Carolina.
To put it mildly, I was NOT in my element.
The bag I'm holding contains two books I bought and not any antiques I discovered.
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
It consists primarily of warnings towards and judgments against the city of Nineveh, a locale we know mostly through the OT book of Jonah.
And let's face it: Jonah is on the Hebrew best seller list while Nahum barely makes a blip on Amazon.com
Nevertheless, there are two consecutive verses tucked away in Nahum's first chapter that defy our preaching extremes of relentless judgmentalism on the one hand and permissive universalism on the other. It's Nahum 1:6-7:
Who can withstand [God's] indignation?
Who can endure his fierce anger?
His wrath is poured out like fire;
the rocks are shattered before him.
The Lord is good,
a refuge in times of trouble.
He cares for those who trust in him.
Both judgment and salvation. Wrath and love. Held in balance and constant tension in a way that foreshadows Paul's masterful line Romans 11:22: behold the kindness and severity of God.
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Every year at this time, the eyes of the tennis world turn down under as the Australian Open kicks off the season in what they're calling "The Grand Slam Of Asia and The Pacific."
And my mind turns to that time in 1976 when my parents, older brother and I spent five months in Sydney.
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. 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?
Here are my top five memories of what it was like to live temporarily in Australia:
1) I played tennis on grass courts for the first time. As good as promised.
2) 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.
3) 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.
4) Australian colloquialisms. "Fair dinkum" was a catch-all phrase sort of like "OK" or "well done." "Bloody" is to add emphasis -- just short of profanity -- to whatever it is you are saying. "Sheila" is a catch all for "women" -- there was a time in Australia when so many baby girls were named Sheila they started calling women in general "Sheila." Then there were Australian renditions of those words only an eighth grade boy could love.
5) Left side driving. Even as a passenger, I never could get used to it. Not to mention remembering to look the correct way when crossing a street.
Monday, January 24, 2011
Apparently, that includes my own.
But did I have a doozy the other night . . .
It was Easter Sunday.
We had chosen to hold our worship services off-site. Some cavernous, confusing auditorium.
Chris Macedo had, against my wishes, placed the worship band in a location where it could not be seen by the congregation.
We encouraged our high schoolers to play ping pong during the service. They did so with abandon.
The PowerPoint did not work right -- it projected abbreviations only.
I got lost on my way to deliver the sermon. Chris finished the last song and while I was scrambling towards the platform via a route I didn't know I heard him say to the people, "well, I'm sure Talbot will be here soon. He's never late for anything."
Worst of all . . . as I was making that trek to preach I looked down and noticed that I had chosen the wrong shoes to match what I was wearing. My first thought was, 'Julie will kill me for this.'
Was I glad to wake up!
Any takers on interpretation?
Friday, January 21, 2011
It details some of the mission trips we have planned in 2011.
And if there's one thing I've learned about the people of Good Shepherd it's this: when you give them an opportunity to make a difference, they jump at the chance.
To find out how, click here.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
Music to my ears, of course.
And then she said something that has layered my thinking all week: "It's important to me that the church be multi-ethnic because I'm multi-ethnic."
I'd never thought of it in such tangible terms before.
Here is a young woman who embodies so much of what we want to represent.
In her body -- her very blood -- she has influences of different races and cultures. And these days, she's committing all that heritage and all that history to walking with Jesus.
I simply had never considered before how one person can be a microcosm of what we want to be as a church.
So let worship here reflect the full color spectrum of worship in heaven.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
If a preacher stands and announces that he is shelving whatever he had planned to talk about that day and is going spur-of-the-moment, well, that's Spirit-filled. Why? Because it's spontaneous.
On the other hand, if a preacher delivers a message that has been prepared beforehand (either with or without notes), then somehow the Spirit has been quenched. Why? Because it's planned.
Then someone on our team brought up the most brilliant rebuttal:
The same Holy Spirit who is "there" in a spontaneous message is also "there" in the planning stages of a prepared message.
Those of you who know me know that I prepare messages well ahead of time and, while there are occasional "I had no idea I was going to say that!" moments, for the most part I deliver essentially what I've prepared.
But my teammate today helped me understand that process. If I pray the Spirit's blessing and filling on that preparation, is that message any less "Spirit-filled" than one that's given off-the-cuff? I don't think so.
So I'll keep praying the Spirit to fill my pen, my keyboard, my memory, and my mind.
Because I have a sneaking suspicion that spontaneity happens best in an atmosphere of diligent planning.
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Having said that, I've been thinking about posting on things I can't do as a pastor for several months now. Why? Because at certain times over the last 20 years I've been asked to do every one of them.
So while I believe in Philippians 4:13 -- I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me -- I also believe "all things" has certain limits. Here are mine . . .
1. Interpret Dreams. Nope. Can't do it.
2. Fix Spouses. You know this. Many of those who ask me or any pastor to "fix" their mate overlook the fixing that needs to happen in their own lives.
3. Find Employment. On a few occasions, I have actually helped link someone with a job. That feels great. By and large, however, it is a daunting task that fills me with a heavy heart.
4. Tell You God's Will For Your Life. The best I can do is tell you God's will and ask/invite/urge you to shape your life around that.
5. Repair Something Broken In Your House. I can't do that in my house, either.
6. (OK, 6) Remember Something I Get Told Sunday Morning. Usually I have a pretty good memory. Not on that day with those activities.
Monday, January 17, 2011
I asked God for strength, that I might achieve;
I was made weak, that I may learn humbly to obey.
I asked God for health, that I may do greater things;
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches that I may be happy;
I was given poverty that I might be wise.
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men;
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life;
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing I asked for but everything I hoped for.
I am, among all men, most richly blessed.
I like that.
Friday, January 14, 2011
If not -- or if so -- here it is:
Well, this Sunday at Good Shepherd is not about a Bad Moon Rising.
It's about a Good Smell Rising as we move to Week 2 of "My Life Stinks."
It's a good smell that involves prayer, worship, bowls, silence, and an intercessor. If you must anticipate, check out Revelation 5 and Revelation 8.
Then come live that Scripture with us in a most unusual GS experience.
8:30. 10. 11:30.
Thursday, January 13, 2011
Christ in me is to live, to die is to gain.
That says it all, doesn't it? The first phrase describes how the reality of the living God dwelling inside us makes life more vivid and abundant, and then the second phrase seals the deal: that kind of life never ends.
In fact, death actually makes it better.
All the pages and chapters of my Christian story have only made sense because I have assurance of how the book ends -- to die is to gain.
That's why Philippians 1:21 will be on my marker. Given my genes, I could be in for a long wait, but at least I've got that decision made.
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
I've taken some of that time to dig into Nicholas Carr's The Shallows: What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains. (More info on the "Books I Like" column to the left.)
The book is utterly, completely fascinating. And troubling.
The primary theme is that the technology humans use to gather and process information -- from the walls of caves to ancient papyrus to the printed word and now to the screen experience -- actually shapes the neurochemistry of the brain. Our minds literally change depending on the medium.
Since the invention of the printing press, the human brain had developed the chemistry for close, patient reading of nuanced narratives and arguments.
In the last 15 years, much of that has been reversed. The internet has helped to re-shape the brain's chemistry so that we are in a constant state of distraction.
Carr's arguments are thoroughly consistent with my own experience of having email and internet availability at my finger tips throughout the work day.
Some nuggets from the book:
- Two of the earliest human inventions that brought fundamental change to the ways people thought: the map and the clock.
- Silent reading was unknown in the ancient world (by the way -- that's the world of the bible!).
- As the screen replaces the page, the neural pathways of our brains are being re-routed.
- In cyberspace, people read to belong.
- A permanent state of distractedness characterizes online life.
- The mind of a book reader is a calm one. The mind of a net surfer is a buzzing one.
- The internet makes us vastly overvalue what's happening right now.
I'm putting it on the internet. And many of you will interrupt your workday concentration to read it. I'm adding to your permanent state of distractedness.
And as you comment on the post, you'll add to mine.
Carr's book is still more than worth the time and the read.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
The list is completely subjective. And, as you'll see, thoroughly dominated by nostalgia.
5. New Mexico Lobos. OK, New Mexico has never been and probably will never be any good at football. But I love the name "lobos." And I also love the snarling replica on the helmets they wear. Perhaps one day the agression will transfer from headgear to playing field.
4. USC Trojans. This is actually an overall UNIFORM award. The cardinal and gold have always been among the coolest combinations in college football. Plus, in the early days -- think Mike Garrett and O.J. Simpson (when he was known for football) in the 1960s -- the helmet was plain. No little Trojan on the side. I think that helmet was actually better. But in any event, given the way the colors work together and as a salute to all those Heismans and National Championships, USC comes in at #4.
3. The Air Force Falcons. Great design. Conveys shock and awe. It's so good, in fact, that I believe the San Diego Chargers copied it.
2. Texas Tech Red Raiders. Cut me some slack here. What letter does "Talbot" begin with? "T", of course. So when I first saw this design as a little boy and realized how the two "Ts" intersected and interlocked, I was hooked. The black and red isn't half bad, either. In fact, I was so enamored as a 6 year old that Texas Tech ALMOST became my favorite team . . .
1. SMU Mustangs. Almost for Texas Tech because no one could ever top my beloved SMU team or its dynamic design. I'm not sure which came first -- SMU or Ford -- put I can't think of a logo that has more horsepower than this one. Here's the current helmet:
Back in 2007, they had a different color scheme that I think worked even better . . . but the team went 0-12 that year and that was that.
And the one closest to my heart was the red helmet with the running white mustang that the team wore in the early 1970s . . . when I was at the age that all my heroes and helmets were larger than life.
Monday, January 10, 2011
Just last night, the local Fox News affiliate ran this piece on our project:
Why was Fox News even aware of What Child Is This? Because of a piece in last week's Charlotte Observer.
You can read that article here.
I'm most grateful that in an era in which churches and pastors make news for all the wrong reasons, the people of Good Shepherd provide some salt and light in the world.
Friday, January 7, 2011
As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 2:14-16:
But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are beings saved and to those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life.
This week the series starts with a message called Backward Christian Soldiers.
8:30. 10. 11:30.
Thursday, January 6, 2011
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.
Well, since the author of Hebrews asks us to "consider" how it is that we can "spur on" others in the Body of Christ to love and good works, let's do just that . . .
- When you see someone in a ministry that's making a difference, voice your appreciation.
- When you have an idea for spending time in an unselfish way, invite someone else to come along with you.
- When you want to numb your mind out on a game show, open up the Sermon On The Mount instead.
- If you don't know what the Sermon On The Mount is, read Matthew 5-7.
- When you think back on a Sunday School teacher, youth leader, or even pastor who impacted your spiritual life in a positive way, write that person a note. Hand written. It will mean the world to that person.
- When someone voices/write appreciation to you, don't minimize it. Accept the encouragement as if it's a word from God.
- Open your eyes and ears to see the movement of God in your church, your family, your workplace.
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Methodism at its best has long been known for its ability to hold competing approaches to the faith together at the same time. In theological circles, we're known as "both/and" people as opposed to "either/or."
Historically, you see this in Methodism's emphases on . . .
1. Both evangelism and good works as vital to a healthy congregation.
2. Both personal piety and servant ministry as vital to a healthy Christian.
3. Both human free will and divine sovereignty as descriptive our relationship with God.
4. Both an intellectual grounding behind faith and a warm expression of faith.
5. Both salvation from the power of sin (for holiness) and from the penalty of sin (from hell).
Those are but five of many I could choose as representative of the Methodist approach to Christianity.
Last Sunday, I gave our church an address that spoke about some other "both/ands" that are somewhat unique to Good Shepherd:
Both culturally connected and charismatic. We try to speak the tech-heavy language of 21st Century America while also holding on to passionate belief in the ongoing power and gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Both "out there" and "in here." We do our best to balance our burden for people who don't yet know how much they are loved by God with our calling to care for those already in the flock.
Both accepting and challenging. As I said on Sunday, we "do" accepted much better than we "do" challenge. I sense God is calling us to make 2011 a year in which that dynamic becomes more in balance.
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
The "Red Dot Sermon" was more a state of the church - a "You Are Here" message -- than a clarion call to action. (We'd had enough of that during What Child Is This.)
As part of the message, I shared some numbers about ministry in this church that people might not know. I didn't even know them until I prepared the sermon! Here they are:
1. The church sent over $557,000 to both local and global mission in 2010. This includes the $207,805 raised for the International Justice Mission for What Child Is This as well as 15% of every Sunday offering -- about $350,000 for the calendar year. That money went to build churches in India, support pastors in Cambodia, teach English in Russia, and provide rent, utilities, and dignity right here in Charlotte.
2. The people of the church processed 110,000 meals through First Serve's partnership with Stop Hunger Now. The bulk of those dehydrated, high protein meals went directly to Haiti in the aftermath of last January's earthquake.
3. Volunteers from Good Shepherd prepared and delivered 547 meals to others in the congregation in 2010. These meals go to people in the early stages of grief, returning home from a hospitalization, or celebrating the birth of a baby. There are over 140 meal making volunteers who make this ministry "run."
4. Approximately 500 houses got blessed in 2010. We greet new movers to Steele Creek with a card, a blessing, and a "World Famous Refrigerator Magnet."
5. One (1) grateful pastor.