Monday, February 28, 2011
And then Jesus comes along with these distinctly un-glamorous words:
And when he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin, righteousness, and judgment. (John 16:8)
Really? That's what the Holy Spirit does?
And when you further understand that the word "convict" there conveys the idea of "holding up" or "shine a light on" . . . well, the Spirit's role becomes more uncomfortable.
It's this: to hold up the sin we'd otherwise ignore.
Yes, a vital reason to pursue the dead-raising power of God in your life is to make you more aware of and sensitive to the sin that remains.
It's not spectacular. It's not sexy. It's not exciting.
But it's so very necessary.
It's why we ended yesterday's worship experience with a time of confession and reflection.
You can hear more about it here.
Friday, February 25, 2011
Is it power or gifts or notoriety or tingles?
Or something altogether more subtle. But more enduring.
I love the answer Jesus gives to this question.
And I can't wait to share it.
8:30. 10. 11:30.
Thursday, February 24, 2011
I don't know what kind of expertise I have, but I do know how to tell a little bit of the Good Shepherd story . . . how it is that we have moved from a virtually all-white church a decade ago to the kind of full color church we are today with over 25 different nations represented on any given Sunday.
So whenever I tell that story, I am careful to say, "Yet how far we have come only reminds us of how much farther we have to go." In other words, we can see the Promised Land, but we sure aren't there yet.
That kind of racial and ethnic diversity makes us somewhat unique within Methodism, which is dominated by single race churches at the local level.
The sad irony of the bulk of our denomination is this: at the "higher" levels -- meaning conferences, boards, and agencies -- the church goes to great lengths to ensure diversity. So our various denominational level entities are, in fact, quite diverse when it comes to race and ethnicity.
Except when people leave those Methodist Mega Meetings, they return to their home churches.
Their single race home churches.
And that's diversity? As they say around here, "not hardly." It's just make believe if it's not happening in local churches.
As a reminder of the strides God has blessed us with on the local level, here's a piece we made last year.
These are not actors, nor are they paid spokespeople. They are simply part of the Good Shepherd community.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
That word family conjures up in some minds images of bad TV preachers, divisive politicians, and out-of-touch congregations.
So for this post, I want to re-claim the root word as I then make a crucial distinction between a couple of its applications.
As a lot of you (preachers especially) know, the root word evangel comes from a Greek term (euangelion) that means simply "good news." As New Testament writers applied the word, the euangelion carried with it the notion that the news was to be spread.
So it is good news that Jesus died and rose again and that's news worthy of spreading. So far, so good.
In more modern times, the term evangelical is usually used to describe pastors and churches who subscribe to a somewhat specific set of beliefs. There is a wide variety within evangelicalism, ranging from fundamentalists on the far right to social justice advocates on the left, but in general evangelicals agree on most of the following tenets:
- The inspiration & authority of the Bible;
- The uniqueness of Christ -- he is not "one of many," he is the "one and only";
- The reality of heaven and hell;
- The urgency of calling people to turn their lives over to Christ;
- The truth that Jesus really is coming back.
Again, I as pastor and Good Shepherd as a church live by all of the above and so can be comfortably labelled as "evangelical."
But am I and are we evangelistic? Meaning: do we not only subscribe to the core beliefs but do we then engage in the practices of sharing our faith and calling for conversion? In these, we're not as intentional as perhaps we could be. For several years, I've subscribed the the "subtler the better" approach to inviting people to faith. And that's not all bad.
Except there come seasons of urgency in the life of any pastor and any church.
I believe 2011 is one of those for us at Good Shepherd. That's why we've had recent services focusing on hell (The Forever Garbage Dump), the current series on the Holy Spirit, and an upcoming service with an overt invitation to "cross the line of faith."
It's why we are having friends and parents actually do the baptism of new converts.
So we are merging the evangelical with the evangelistic.
I pray it's good news indeed.
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
So it got me thinking . . . what are some unforgettable lines in rock music? Lines that may have little to do with either the song title or the chorus, yet combine words & images in such a way that they stick with you.
Here are my top five:
5. I live in an apartment on the 99th floor of my block from the Rolling Stones' "Get Off Of My Cloud." This isn't even one of my favorite Stones songs, but the enigmatic bravado of that opening line lets you know something unusual is getting ready to happen.
4. I hope Neil Young will remember Southern Man don't need him around anyhow, from Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama." Rock 'n Roll smackdown! I don't normally take sides in "Southern vs. Northern," but it was nice to see Neil Young get his.
3. Out on the road today I saw a dead head sticker on a Cadillac, from Don Henley's "The Boys Of Summer." OK, it my favorite song of all time, so I'm a bit biased. But what image better captures the truth that 60s idealism led to 80s (and 90s and 00s) narcissism?
2. I believe in the kingdom come, when all the colors will bleed into one, from U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." So do I.
1. Well I got this guitar and I learned how to make it talk, from Bruce Springsteen's "Thunder Road." "Thunder Road" is not even one of my top Springsteen tunes, but this line describes discovery, wonder, and influence inherent in making music. And best of all, when you listen to him play guitar, he really does make it talk.
Monday, February 21, 2011
Friday, February 18, 2011
What about you?
Where's your fear?
For a lot of churches and ministries, that fear has to do with the Holy Spirit.
Too much, too little.
But we'll discover an entirely different kind of fear when it comes to the Spirit this Sunday.
And I can't wait. You won't want to miss the video, either.
8:30. 10. 11:30.
Thursday, February 17, 2011
The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.
Suffering for the faith, then, is a privilege. A reward for faithfulness in the midst of persecution.
Frankly, most of the "suffering" that North American pastors and Christians endure is at the hands of other Christians.
It's also the kind of suffering we dish out.
Perhaps if we spent more time in the world and less time in our Christian cocoons, we'd have more opportunities for redemptive suffering.
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
The difference between a proverb and a slogan is that a proverb stays with you all your life.
Christianity all too often gets reduced to mere slogans, usually those that fit on a bumper sticker:
In case of rapture, this car will be unmanned.
God is my co-pilot.
Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven.
Contrast those with the enduring wisdom from this collection of not just any proverbs, but THE Proverbs:
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowdledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline. Proverbs 1:7
Trust in the Lord with all you heart, and lean not on your own understanding. Think of him in all your ways and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6
A wise son heeds his father's instruction, but a mocker does not listen to rebuke. Proverbs 13:1
I believe I'll stake my life and faith on the Proverbs of yesterday rather than the slogans of today. Will you?
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Raonic, a 20 year old Canadian of Serbian descent, won his first pro event ever, beating world #9 Fernando Verdasco in the finals 7-6, 7-6. He has the kind of effortless yet explosive game I've seen one time before in someone so young: Pete Sampras way back in 1990.
Raonic's calling card is the same as Sampras' -- the serve. The motion is smooth, natural, and deadly. Without any apparent strain, he routinely nails the corners with 140 mph missiles.
So while first title was "only" the SAP Open, mark my words: some more "opens" are in the not-too-distant future.
Raonic's coming out party brings to mind five other "debuts" in which young players announced their arrival in the men's game with breathtaking results. Here they are:
5. Bjorn Borg, 1974 WCT Championships, Dallas. I was there in 1974 when Borg got to the finals of what was then the "5th Major" in Dallas, losing only to John Newcombe in the championship match. At the time, we all thought that with his unique style of game, his arm would fall off. Instead, he won 11 Grand Slam titles and today, just a generation and a half later, Borg's tennis is the new orthodoxy as virtually all players use his semi-Western, open stance forehand and two handed backhand.
4. Mats Wilander, French Open 1982. Borg had suddenly retired and most tennis experts thought that was the end of Swedish domination on clay. Not so fast. Wilander was just a teenager when he beat Guillermo Vilas to win it all. Love the Rossignol racket!
3. John McEnroe, 1977 Wimbledon. It's hard to believe that John McEnroe ever "came out of nowhere"; it's as if he's always been here. Yet as an 18 year old rising freshman at Stanford, he emerged from the obscurity of the qualifying tournament at Wimbledon to advance all the way to the semi-finals, where he lost to Jimmy Connors. At the time, I remember thinking he wasn't even the best American teenager playing -- I figured his peers Larry Gottfried and Ben McKown were better. Um, I was wrong. A year later he won the NCAA as a freshman and a year after that, won his first of four U.S. Opens.
2. Boris Becker, Wimbledon 1985. By odd chance, I saw 17 year old Boris Becker win a small grass court tournament the week before Wimbledon began. And I thought (but unfortunately didn't bet) "if he plays like that at Wimbledon, he'll win the whole thing." He did and he did. We'd never seen a serve quite like that before . . .
1. . . . but we saw one better five years later as Pete Sampras came from nowhere to win his first of five U.S. Opens in 1990. I remember thinking there was NO WAY Andre Agassi could lose that final. But Sampras delivered bomb after bomb right up the service line "T" and Agassi was reduced to bystander status. The rest of the career is 14 Grand Slams worth of history.
Monday, February 14, 2011
This past week, I had lunch with Kelvin Smith, the pastor of Steele Creek Church Of Charlotte, a large, independent, multi-ethnic, charismatic congregation located about five miles from Good Shepherd.
Though we've been serving in proximity to each other for the past 12 years, our sit downs have been quite irregular. We knew it was time to correct that.
So as Steele Creek prepares to move into its new facility, I wanted to share with Kelvin the few things we did right and the several things we did wrong in making that same transition back in 2005.
Anyway, throughout the meal I realized again that Kelvin and I have very different wiring. For example, he will call me "brother" with complete authenticity. On the other hand, I couldn't call someone "brother" with a straight face if my life depended on it.
But those differences are simply external. Because throughout the lunch, Kelvin and I celebrated a common passion: to lead and serve in congregations that are "full color." Our highest aim is to pastor communities of people in which man-made divisions of race and class are torn down by the liberating power of the Holy Spirit. We both recognized that we had the rare privilege of being in position to do just that.
And then, on Sunday morning, that point came home. While serving communion at the 11:30 service at Good Shepherd, I was simply astounded at the number of people coming forward for the bread and cup who did not look like me.
Africans, African-Americans, Latinos, and Asians . . . distinctive peoples coming up to share in the common loaf.
My gosh, that's what church is all about. Kelvin helped me see that.
Which gets me thinking . . . maybe that pastor's lunch on Friday was really just the first time I took communion this weekend and Sunday morning was the second.
Friday, February 11, 2011
I believe Good Shepherd is at its best when it soaks up what the Holy Spirit offers.
That's why we are intentional about dedicated seasons of the church's life to drenching ourselves in study and experience of the Holy Spirit.
And this is one of those seasons.
Inspired by Francis Chan's book of the same name, we're going to remember The Forgotten God.
It all starts with "If I've Got Jesus, Why Do I Need The Holy Spirit?"
And I love the answer to that question.
8:30. 10. 11:30.
Thursday, February 10, 2011
Case in point: Romans 6-8.
For many years, I've been sure that these three chapters -- in many ways the "summit of summits" of Paul's writing -- are all about sin, forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life.
Until I read them again this morning.
And one word through sheer repetition would not let me go:
- Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires (6:12).
- Do not offer the parts of your body to sin . . . offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness (6:13).
- . . . the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death (7:5).
- Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death (7:24)?
- But if Christ is in you, you body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness (8:10).
- . . . he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you (8:11).
- . . . if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live (8:13).
So, then, this section centers on the relationship between sin, holiness, and our bodies. Yet another reminder of the earthy, physical nature of biblical writers. As I've posted here before, Scripture is much more interested in the resurrection of the body than in the immortality of the soul.
It's also interesting to note that when you read Romans 6-8 with fresh eyes, Paul's concern is less with receiving forgiveness for our sins (though that's present) than in us attaining victory over sin itself.
We in American Christianity look at sin as inevitable in the life of the believer. So the object is to get forgiven of that inevitability.
Paul looks at sin as conquerable through the Holy Spirit. So the object is to live a life of holiness as a foreshadow of an eternity of resurrection.
It's the kind of troubling insight you get into Scripture when you overcome the dangers of familiarity.
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Hepatitis A. Malaria. Hepatitis B. Rabies. Rabies?
No, I didn't get bit. I just want protection in case I do.
Why did I go through all that?
Because Ron Dozier, Mike Dey, Brian Braunschweiger and I are headed to Cambodia and India on March 6.
Our expedition will involve part revival, part encouragement, and part reconnaisance. We're going to connect with some old and new Good Shepherd friends, all with an eye to what God would have us do and where he would have us do it in the future.
Because we're pretty sure that the future of international missions at Good Shepherd will be both narrow and deep.
I'll explain more what that means in the weeks to come.
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
Which, for the purposes of this blog, moves me to ask: who are those people who have most shaped my understanding and experiences of the Holy Spirit?
While he didn't make this list, Francis Chan's book Forgotten God has inspired our series. You can order it here.
So here are the top five:
5. Derek Watson. Derek was in my graduating class in college and was one of the first people I knew relatively well who identified himself as "charismatic." More importantly, during our senior year when I had a serious shoulder injury, Derek was the vessel God used to lay hands on my shoulder, praise the name of Jesus, and call out healing into my life and body.
4. Steve Harper. I came to know Dr. Harper at Asbury Seminary, and even though I never took a class under him, I longed to "catch" what he had. And what he had -- conveyed in his preaching and in his interaction with students -- was the fullness of the Holy Spirit.
3. Jack Hayford. As the long-time pastor of The Church On The Way in Van Nuys, California, Jack Hayford is perhaps the leading voice for Spirit-filled teaching in the U.S. I love the way he combines theological savvy with charismatic enthusiasm. Through his writing, lecturing, and preaching, he has given me the boldness to be honest about my own experiences with praying in tongues and healing.
2. John Wesley. I think it's sad that contemporary Methodists are rarely thought of as "Spirit-filled," because the founder of our movement certainly was. In fact, the more radical we become at Good Shepherd in calling people to a Spirit-filled life, the more "Methodist" we really are.
1. (Tie) Luke and Paul. No last names given. Or needed. To see Luke's influence, read Acts. To see how Paul shapes our understanding of the Spirit, read Romans 8, Galatians 5, and I Corinthians 12-14.
Monday, February 7, 2011
I am most excited about the Pathfinders connection for The Forgotten God.
Here's what I mean: each Sunday morning, we'll teach and preach about the Holy Spirit.
Then each Sunday evening throughout the series, people can return to the church to go deeper into the material as part of their Pathfinders group.
It all starts with the launch event this coming Sunday night (February 13) from 5:00 - 6:30 p.m.
We are expecting our largest Pathfinders turnout ever.
You can sign up here.
Hundreds of people hearing about and connecting with the Holy Spirit. It's why I'm a pastor.
Friday, February 4, 2011
Can you imagine a place you would want to avoid any more than the rear of that dump truck at that moment?
Can you imagine the stench?
Could you bear the sights?
Could you avoid those birds?
So why would I ruin your appetite and show that picture?
Why would we conclude the "My Life Stinks" series with a talk called "The Forever Garbage Dump"? What in the world would that kind of subject have to do with faith and even eternity.
Come Sunday to find out.
8:30. 10. 11:30.
Thursday, February 3, 2011
Surrounded by family, she acknowledged that she was "sick and tired of being sick and tired."
I've been with many patients and families making that same decision over the years.
And I'm always struck by the courage involved.
Courage to say enough.
Courage to choose better days over more days.
Courage to be cared for by others in the tenderest of moments.
Courage to trust that 2 Corinthians 5:8 is actually true: "We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord."
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
And I confess: I generally skim through the content of those sermons to get straight to the response. In Acts 2:41 "about three thousand were added to their number that day" and in Acts 4:3, the authorities "seized Peter and John, and because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day."
I've heard many preachers long for a response of 3,000 new souls in the kingdom in response to a sermon.
I've never heard one yearn for incarceration for the same thing.
But this time in reading Acts 3, I didn't skim Peter's content. And this line revealed itself:
"He [Jesus] must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets." (Acts 3:21)
It's almost as though God is holding back during this time. His Son has glory -- the glory of unapproachable light -- yet it's not now visible to all.
But when the time comes -- and no one knows that day or that hour and we shouldn't believe or trust those who say they do -- God will make public and visible what is now hidden.
And restoration will be part of that unveiling. All creation will be restored to its original, idyllic intent. No war. No sorrow. No family strife. No sadness. And, most acutely, no sin.
Everything that has been taken from you will one day be given back.
We will live sin free lives in a sin free world.
In the words of the old gospel hymn, "what a day that will be."
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
I don't have much invested in who wins between the Steelers and the Packers. One thing for sure: there will be a lot of gold at Cowboys Stadium on Sunday night.
But there have been times when I've had quite a bit of emotional investment in the Super Bowl's outcome. So here are my top five memories of the new American holiday:
5. January 1979 -- Steelers 35 Cowboys 31. The Cowboys were the defending champs but those of us from Dallas always feared the Steelers were really better. This day they proved it. I remember watching the game at the home of a girl I liked (but who didn't return the favor). I also remember Jackie Smith's drop in the end zone:
4. January 1989 -- 49ers 20 Bengals 16. For the three years we lived in central Kentucky, the Cincinnati Bengals were my adopted team. In the 1988 season, they rode Boomer Esiason's passing and Ickey Woods' shuffle all the way to the Super Bowl where they played the 49ers, long my least-favorite team. The Bengals led throughout and I still remember the devastation I felt when John Taylor caught this game winning pass with less than 90 seconds left:
3. January 1969 -- Jets 16 Colts 7. My parents always taught me to root for the underdog. The Colts were favored by 18 points against the upstarts from the AFL. I loved the boldness of Joe Namath's guarantee and then watched in delight as he backed it up. This is the first Super Bowl I remember watching from beginning to end.
2. January 1972 -- Cowboys 24 Dolphins 3. This game brought such relief to Dallas. After years of being "next year's champions," the Cowboys at long last became this year's winners. Tom Landry, Roger Staubach, Bob Lilly, and Duane Thomas designed and then played a near perfect game, one that left fans completely free of any nail biting.
1. February 2004 -- Patriots 32 Panthers 29. The nail biting I missed in 1972 was more than present in 2004. Can you believe the Panthers actually made the Super Bowl? What a great season: Jake Delhomme, Steve Smith, Stephen Davis, and here, catching a Super Bowl record 85 yard pass, Muhsin Muhammed. Alas, the Patriots had Tom Brady and Adam Vinatieri and the good guys lost in the waning moments.