Top Five Tuesday — Top Five Steps In First Time Guest Follow Up
February 21, 2017 at 3:22 am 0
How's that for a technical blog post? But aside from posts about playing tennis or delivering sermons, this is probably the activity on which I have spent the most time.  Because we take our guests seriously at Good Shepherd, and we do what we can to ensure they come. Here's our process: 1. Obtain Connection Cards1 -- These days, getting people to fill out a Connection Card and then drop it in the Giving Basket is not as easy as it sounds.  So I've taken to letting people know there's a gift we want to get to them -- promising an iPad or flat screen TV seems to work well -- and we need their information in order to get it to them. 2.  Mug.  That's right.  All our first time guests (at least the ones who fill out the card) get mugged.  As in a Good Shepherd coffee mug delivered to their door on Sunday afternoon by church volunteers.  Back in the day, we'd send our volunteers out with maps.  These days, of course, all people need as an address and they're off.  We instruct muggers:  1) to leave their car door open so the muggees will know it's a brief visit; 2) not to enter the house; 3) to tell people thanks for coming to Good Shepherd & we hope you'll come back; and 4) if no one is at home, leave the mug at the front door. 3.  Hand Written Note.  This is how I spend my Sunday evenings.  It might seem like a drag after a day of preaching and LifeGroup leading, but I love it.  How can I not?  An opportunity to connect with new people and to do so in the lost medium of hand written communication?  The great thing is that Chris Thayer does the same for our Zoar Road guests and Sammy Gonzalez for our Spanish speaking community. Guest Note   4. Pray Over The Note.  Yep.  I place my palms on the note before placing the note in the envelope and pray the recipient really will feel God's love through the communication. 5.  Saturday Evening Phone Calls.  All note recipients get a phone call at about 6 p.m. the next Saturday evening.  I generally make the calls.  It's an opportunity for me to find out more about our guests and for them to do the same with me.  And I frequently receive some life-giving feedback like the guy who told me recently that coming to Moss Road made him "feel whole for the first time in awhile."
The “This Will Hurt Me More Than It Hurts You!” Sermon Rewind
February 20, 2017 at 3:45 am 0
Oh, what a dilemma. Does God allow pain in our lives or does he cause it? Wesleyan Methodists are traditionally much more comfortable with the former while Calvinists often embrace the latter. But what does the author of Hebrews say? Among other things, that's a topic that week two of The Path Of Most Resistance addresses. Drawing from Hebrews 12:4-11 with its surprising, concluding emphasis on "holiness" (we'd much prefer "happiness"), it's a message with this bottom line: Sin is what God uses to separate the sin he hates from the soul he loves. Which, when you think about it, is a very Calvinist path to a Wesleyan conclusion.   ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------- So we are walking The Path Of Most Resistance in this season, and let’s admit & let’s acknowledge: it’s hard.  This is one season in church life where we aren’t pretending that life is something it’s not; I’m not going to be a shiny, happy TV preacher with great teeth & light hearted jokes.  Instead, we’re gonna walk this path together and try to make sense of life as it really is, not as we wish it were.  And in dealing with life as it really is – in dealing with what life deals us – I  know the quickest question most of us go to in the middle of our trials & troubles is WHY?  Why are you letting this happen, God?  Worse: Why are you MAKING this happen God?  Even if you don’t really believe in God:  Why is this awful thing happening in my life?             Maybe like the guy who was waiting at a bus stop near a young boy. And the man watched the boy he three straight candy bars, one right after the other.  Finally, he could stand it no longer and said, “Eating all that candy is bad for your health & can rot your teeth?”  The boy answered, “Mister, my grandfather lived to be 97 years old!”  The man said, “I bet he didn’t eat three candy bars in a row, then.”  “No,” the boy answered, “But he knew how to mind his own business.”  Why?             But you know there’s more.  You go to work and find out the company’s closing.  Or your facility is.  Or it’s staying open but you’re not welcome back.  WHY?  Or you come home and get served divorce papers.  You knew things weren’t great but you had NO IDEA they were this bad.  WHY?  You loved Jesus in high school – or at least you liked him – but you got to college and in that environment there you became embarrassed by him.  Or by people who represent him.  WHY?  You see people who didn’t work as hard as you advance faster and farther and again it’s WHY?  And at the doctor’s, either by yourself or with the one you love, you get that diagnosis no one wants. WHY?  Sometimes you’re the villain in these scenarios – you know the WHY has at least a little to do with you – and more often you’re the victim – it’s TO you but not BECAUSE of you but that question remains. In fact, you could say we are WHYers – not WHINERS (ok, some of you are) but WHYers. It’s as old as the human race & it’s a question that fuels much of Scripture and then in particular ways propels Hebrews 12.              Now to know what is going on with these words you have to HAVE TO HAVE TO know what is going on.  Because the book of Hebrews may well have been written FOR you but it most definitely was not written TO you.  It was written (and before that, preached) to a collection of beaten down, beleaguered, persecuted Jesus People of Jewish descent.  They were going through stuff that is very difficult for moderns to comprehend unless you live in places like India or Turkey.  Why?  Because you could be killed for your faith.  Martyrdom was never too far away from the people’s minds here.  So it’s almost like whatever WHY we have in 2016, the ppl to whom Hebrews was written have a larger, WHY-ier, question looming in their minds. A more legit gripe.              Which makes this pastor’s answer almost … insensitive.  Tone deaf.  Look at 12:4:   In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.   That “struggle against sin” is most likely their sinful oppressors.  And that “haven’t shed blood” means:  “if you’re reading/hearing this, you haven’t been martyred. Nor have you been crucified like the one ye represent.  So stop all your bellyaching.”  Then  after that opening salvo, he goes to 12:5-6:   And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,     and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,     and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”[

    See!  He quotes the OT with the preface have you completely forgotten and WHY DOES HE DO THAT?  Because these are Hebrew Xn who should know the OT (that line WOULDN’T be in Philippians, for eg).  And look at the two incredible things that are intertwined in this quote from Proverbs: FAMILY & LOVE.  That this pain – threats, insults, danger of death – is somehow reserved for the ones God loves most intimately.  It’s a family thing.  Which means, unbelievably, this pain is some kind of provision, not some kind of punishment.  Something God uses for the ones who know him best.                Then our pastor piles on in 12:7-8:   Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.   It’s a preposterous claim … if you’re not going through something, maybe it’s because you’re not one of his children.  As if a life of ease, one free of troubles – you know, the kind most of us want! – is available only to those people who DON’T KNOW GOD.  Yikes!  But not again in those verses he keeps weaving ties & intimate relationships into his language, as if there is a correlation between the level of trial of depth of love you & God have.  If you’re life stinks, then, God must REALLY LOVE YOU!  Some of you read that, hear this, ponder it and then decide, “Just LIKE me God.  I just want to be LIKED by you.  You can so love the world, but if Heb. 12 is true, then I’m sticking with LIKE.”                Then our pastor brings it home & throws us for a loop in 12:9-10: Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! 10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.   That we may share . . . . holiness.  See the in order that – that means there is a purpose in the pain.  God uses the crap in your life and my life to do something in you and through you that he could never accomplish without it.  And we’d NEVER finish that sentence the way Hebrews does.  We’d finish it with share in his JOY, HAPPINESS, BLESSINGS . ..  but holiness?  Which is this ginormous OH NO.  Because the purpose God has in the pain in our lives, the reason our pain is a gift to us is acutally our perfecting.  To chisel away sin to reveal beauty.  And now v. 4 – READ – comes full circle and may even have a DOUBLE meaning: not just the struggle against SINNERS but struggle against SINNING.  Hebrews suggests both are incredibly worthy opponents who deserve our resistance.  Because here it is, all you WHYers, how’s how to link this language of family intimacy, God’s love, & the great goal of it all:  Your pain is what God uses to separate the sin he hates from the soul he loves.  Yep.  His closest embrace, his most intimate expression of love comes disguised as your deepest pain.  Wha-what?!  Yes.  Pain is God’s secret provision that you don’t like at the time – LOOK AT 12:11!!  No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. – but has long term value.  If it was true for the Hebrews church, it’s more true for you and me. REF               It’s always been this way!  After our first parents fell, what did God in Genesis 3?  He banished them from the Garden – something they obviously could no longer handle – AND he clothed them for the journey.  Discipline AND tenderness.  Anger AND love.  In fact, they were never adored more than when God was allowing / sending pain their way.  Your pain is what God uses to separate the sin he hates from the soul he loves.                It’s like this from Joni E-T: EITHER READ or video clip.               Or a much lower degree, some of you know as a teenager I had one goal in life: be a pro tennis player.  And junior year of high school, I was tracking well towards it.  Glory days!  But guess what?  Senior year, I played TERRIBLE.  This prolonged slump.  Some of you in baseball know what a slump is like.  You just don’t got it.  And I could really see that dream swirling down the drain.  So I opted against that effort, which in turn determined where I went to college & other stuff.  In retrospect, that slump was the most loving thing God could have done in my life, because he had something different & something better in mind (THIS!).Your pain is what God uses to separate the sin he hates from the soul he loves.                It’s really like this dumbbell (20 lb).  (Get volunteer?)  It can be used in two ways, at least.  It can DEVELOP (bicep curl).  Or if I were to throw it at you, it would hurt.  One grows and one hurts.  AT THE SAME TIME.  And Hebrews is just as clear that his close embrace and your deep pain are almost indistinguishable.  And simultaneously.  God grows you as he … GULP! … hurts you and he pains your way to progress.  And they occur simultaneously!                If you’re in a season of pain, you’re not rejected.  You’re loved.  If you’re going through a season of trial, you’re not being ignored.  You’re being adored.  If you’re either victim or villain in trauma, it doesn’t mean you’re abandoned.  It means you’re being embraced.  Your pain is what God uses to separate the sin he hates from the soul he loves.                Deep down, you know this. Especially if you’ve been been or had parents.  That’s why Heb 12 keeps piling on the parenting imagery.  I love hearing about those child-rearing experts who say things like “nothing good can ever come from causing a child pain.”  Nothing?  No spanking ever helped a child?  Absurd.  And you know I’m not talking about abuse.  Regular corporal discipline.  Pain is this provision that comes from love and directs towards holiness (clean conscience).  Your pain is what God uses to separate the sin he hates from the soul he loves.                And some of you right now, I know, you’re about to burst. Because I’ve talked about what God allows and what God causes. Yikes!  I loved hearing how Pastor James McD distinguished between a TRIAL and a CONSEQUENCE.  A trial happens.  It’s the cancer.  It’s the job loss.  A consequence . . . well you did it.  It’s your jail time.  Your rehab time.  The affair you had that resulted in the divorce papers you received.  How can you tell which is which?  Well, your conscience will let you know very quickly! And the way through a consequence is not persistence; it is repentance!  Which takes us back to the trial part of it … the cancer, the prodigal, the job loss.  We are quasi comfortable saying God ALLOWS us and most uncomfortable with saying God BRINGS it.  Can I just point out the inconsistency there?  In trying to protect God’s reputation, sometimes we don’t do him any favors.  If we say God ALLOWS something does that not imply that he could have PREVENTED it?  We’ll never know for sure on THIS SIDE OF GLORY.                But here’s what we DO know: how God wants you to respond to this thing that happened and what he wants to do for you in its happening.  Because he has a goal for your life on earth and it’s different than yours.  Your goal is likely your happiness and his is most certainly your holiness.  He wants to rid you of the sin that entangles you – even so-called little ones – so you can run the race towards him with more endurance.  And if he has to bring on the pain to chisel away the sin, so be it.  I know that I know that I know that my darkest nights of the ministry soul came to my life so that I’d stop being so sneaky & start being more forthright; so that I stop the passive aggression and begin the loving, sometimes brutal honesty.  Wouldn’t have learned it if I hadn’t gone thru misery. Your pain is what God uses to separate the sin he hates from the soul he loves.              So . . . your night in jail.             Your cancer.             Your divorce.  (Yes, God hates divorce but maybe in some of your situations, he hates the abuse in your marriage more and will cause ending pain to end the abuse.)             Your unemployment.             Your chronic depression.             It makes you a WHYer.  And that’s OK.  Just don’t expect the world to answer your question.  And don’t expect God’s answer to be easy.  Just expect it to be true.             Your pain is what God uses to separate the sin he hates from the soul he loves. 
#TBT — Davis Family, Fall, 1998
February 16, 2017 at 6:23 am 0
Here we are in the fall of 1998 in the living room of the parsonage at Mt. Carmel Church in Monroe, NC. Riley was then six and Taylor was nine.  Julie and I were . . . 19 years younger than we are now! Xmas 98
The Idol Of Clergy Self-Care
February 15, 2017 at 3:48 am 5
This post is not likely to make me many friends in United Methodism. But here goes:  the current mantra in UMC circles of "clergy self-care" has moved from concern to caricature to idol. Over the last couple of years in my Annual Conference, we have heard lectures, been given books, received mailings, and taken part in surveys all on the same theme:  we clergy need to take better care of ourselves.  In fact, we're often told  that if self-care isn't near the top of our personal priority list, then any effort we make to care for the congregations we serve will be both futile and fruitless. Even in ordination interviews, we preachers are often so uncomfortable vetting candidates that we quickly turn to coddle them:  "tell us . . . what are you doing to take care of yourself?" My objection to the drumbeat of self-care is three-fold:
  1. What makes our profession / calling unique that we need self-care more than others?  I can't help but wonder: who instructs coal miners about self-care?  What about construction workers?  Migrant farmers?  I suspect all those physically demanding jobs are more in need of self-care training than we who get paid for studying, planning, teaching, and visiting.
  2. It easily leads to a victim mentality. We clergy whine easily enough anyway.  I suspect all the self-care talk only accelerates said whining, which in turn fuels our propensity to see ourselves as victims -- victims of our congregations, victims of our bureaucracy, victims of life.  Years ago I resolved to focus on the incredible privilege that is ministry . . . as in "you mean I can get paid to excavate the truths of Scripture and then communicate them to a collection of pilgrims?  Sign me up!"  I haven't always lived up to that resolution but when I hear my whining start, the reminders bring quick correction.
  3. Ultimately, scripture is more interested in self-emptying than it is in self-caring.  What does Paul say in Philippians 2, a passage New Testament scholars refer to as the Kenotic Gospel -- the gospel of Jesus' self-emptying?  Here it is:
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature[a] God,     did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing     by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,     being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man,     he humbled himself     by becoming obedient to death—         even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place     and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,     in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,     to the glory of God the Father.

Paul's command could not be clearer:  "have the same mindset as Christ Jesus." 

And that mindset was light on self-care and heavy on self-emptying.

Because I have to believe that if we'd lean into Philippians 2 style living, then self-care would take care of itself.

Top Five Tuesday — Top Five Rock Love Songs
February 14, 2017 at 3:27 am 0
What other kind of list could I possibly compile for Valentine's Day? And no, "Feel Like Makin' Love" didn't make the cut.  Nor did "Whole Lotta Love."  Or even "Love Gun."  To make the list, a song has to have at least a little subtlety as well as the recognition that love itself involves a good deal more than a certain physical act. So with that, here are my five favorite love songs in rock: 5.  Thank You, by Led Zeppelin.  There are few better opening lines than "If the sun refused to shine, I would still be loving you." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XE04xWTqMjg   4. Lilah, by Don Henley.  A nugget buried deep within Henley's first solo album, this Irish tune features some of his clearest vocals ever. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5AXaAF8XjH0   3. Maybe I'm Amazed, by Paul McCartney.  More than 40 years later, this still sounds fresh.  And in love.  I've always liked the live version. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MWrGSa-Asdk   2. When A Man Loves A Woman, by Percy Sledge.  I wish we'd had this one played at our wedding reception oh-so-long-ago.  Instead, we had Truly by Lionel Richie.  Sigh. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y8raabzZNqw   1.Wonderful Tonight, by Eric Clapton.  I was surprised to see that this was released in 1977; it seems like it's always been among us. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vUSzL2leaFM