August 26, 2008

Monday Morning Message - Thanked

The Monday Morning Message got hi-jacked this week as my church family held a celebration of 10 years of ministry together in my honor. To say I was surprised falls far short. To say I was humbled doesn't even scratch the surface. To say I am still processing all the events would be correct.

My Sunday began as Sunday's normally do with an early arrival to make a short pot of coffee (currently grinding some Venezuelan beans - yummy!) and meet with a group of men with whom I share life. Alas, the coffee was wasted and never tasted as I was unknowingly kidnapped by these friendly hoodlums for breakfast. I say unknowingly because we had enough time to enjoy the meal together and still return for the 8:30 service. Around 8:05 I became a little agitated and began suggesting that we should be making our way back. The only reply I got was, "Have another cup of coffee." It quickly became evident that more than breakfast was afoot here.

After plying me with generous amounts of coffee they loaded me back into the truck for an hour long tour of back roads with nary a bathroom in sight. They thought it to be great fun. My bladder had other opinions of the situation but the time was passed in pleasant company and good stories, not to mention some beautiful sights. (All my tree-hugging readers should come and visit sometime. I assure you there's no shortage of quality forest land around these parts.)

Upon returning to the church I was placed in my office with instructions not to wander without a chaperone. This is highly unusual for me as I normally stick my head into every Sunday School class to say hello and visit for a moment. So, there I sat while preparations for who knows what were being made. Just before 11 a.m. our minister of music simply said, "Make the announcements like you usually do." and walked away. Yeah, right. How am I to make announcements when it's obvious I have no clue as to what is happening!

To make this long story short, the church had arranged an edition of "This Is Your Life" for me complete with friends and family that I have not seen for quite some time. Letters from others who could not be in attendance were read and every word was gratefully received. It was an overwhelming exhibition of a church family's appreciation and love. Gifts were given and prayers offered even as humility settled upon me like a morning dew. I, and many others, left that time of worship refreshed and renewed by God's presence.

I am thoroughly thanked.

August 21, 2008

Never Underestimate the Power of Barbie!

From the Associate Press...

ELKIN, N.C. — David Hayes' granddaughter just ask him to hold her Barbie rod and reel while she went to the bathroom.

He did. And seconds later he landed the state record channel catfish at 21 pounds, 1 ounce.

Alyssa's father had bought the pink Barbie fishing rod for Christmas and she had caught a few bluegill before her grandfather hauled in the catfish.

The Winston-Salem Journal reported the catch Aug. 5 in eastern Wilkes County has been certified as a record by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.

Hayes and his granddaughter have been fishing in the pond behind his house since she was big enough to hold a pole.

Hayes says his granddaughter worried he would break her rod. He landed the 21-pound fish on a 6-pound test line. It was 32 inches long, 2 inches longer than the rod.

And all those times I baited my daughter's hook I thought what a waste of time! I love the line that she "worried he would break her rod." Just like a girl! (Tongue firmly in cheek!) What a great little story!

August 19, 2008

When the Medium IS the Message

I received the following news story from two different blogging friends and felt summarily compelled to post it for everyone's enjoyment and comment. My personal reflections follow.

Vacationing pastor lets PowerPoint lead service

WARNER ROBINS, Ga. — When Doug Smith went to Bermuda this month, he left preaching duties to his favorite substitute: his PowerPoint program.
Smith says he felt better leaving the sermon to his PowerPoint than to his youth pastor, who has "made controversial remarks" in the main service before, or his associate pastor who will be busy with other important Sunday morning duties like stuffing bulletins.
Smith programmed the PowerPoint to deliver a 25-minute sermon, slide by slide. It included a closing prayer which some staff members found sterile.
"If he can't trust me to sub for him once a year, why do I work here?" said one pastor who asked not to be identified.
After worship time, Smith's PowerPoint presentation began and the congregation sat quietly, reading each new screen and taking notes. The PowerPoint even told a few jokes, spinning in the punchline. Smith says he worked hours to get the timing right and programmed his pauses down to the quarter-second.
"Not to boast, but I have a way with PowerPoint," he says. "It's like an instrument. When you play it well, people notice."
The final slide read, "Go with God! See you next week!" People were mostly surprised that the sermon felt like Smith was actually there.
"Everything he preaches is with PowerPoint anyway," says one member. "The only thing we were missing was him standing up there pressing the button. Maybe we should just hire the PowerPoint."

First a disclaimer. I use PowerPoint sometimes. I usually get positive feedback when I utilize it to emphasize points. Engaging people visually is a part of effective communication whether it is through the use of props (I currently have an old top harrow on the stage of our church to go along with the current series) or through pictures, video, or bullet point emphasis. Different people listen in different ways.

Additionally, as we live in a visually oriented society and the need for visual element in worship is obvious. I have made the statement on several occasions that we live in an literate society that is illiterate. Attention spans have shortened and the ability to process multiple streams of information simultaneously have brought on a generation that finds it difficult to attend to a talking head for very long.

As for this pastor's decision to utilize a PowerPoint presentation rather than ask someone to fill the pulpit for him, I have to take serious issue with his decision. The communication of the truth of Scripture is an intensely person-to-person endeavor. God has made it clear that He intends to communicate His truth through the medium of humanity. A quick flip through the pages of Scripture reveals God, time and again, speaking through, working through, and partnering with imperfect and flawed humans. I am always stunned/amazed/startled/dumbfounded that God chooses this course of action.

If the exercise of a sermon can be boiled down to a well timed and choreographed electronic presentation then let's all just stay home and not bother with gathering together. If the communication of truth is simply affirming some propositions we can all agree on then let's agree on them and go on about our business. But all who know and follow the living Christ understand that it is so much more. Truth must be lived in the context of community. I need brothers and sisters in Christ to challenge me, encourage me, and hold me accountable to the Truth we say we believe. I need the context of others on the journey to properly process the marvel of Christ living in me. I need others to rejoice and weep and shout and sit quietly with along the way.

Oh God, deliver us from dead words and lead us into a living encounter with the Truth.

August 11, 2008

Monday Morning Message: Seeds Are Powerful, Unless...

Matthew chapter 13 is often referred to as the "Parable of the Sower." It is a convenient, if misguided, way to call this powerful parable to mind. In my ever so humble opinion it should be referred to as the "Parable of the Soils" as this is what is truly in view here. Into these various types of soil the sower places mysterious and powerful things called seeds.

Seeds are truly marvels of God's creation. I find it amusing that one site calls them "miracles of the evolutionary process." ("Miracle" and "evolution" are not concepts that you often find side by side.) Seeds are vast in their variety but simple in their purpose - they grow plants! The largest seed in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, is from the Coco del Mer tree that grows in the Seychelles of the eastern coast of Africa. These seeds grow to a mammoth 40 pounds! By contrast some orchids in the Amazon have seeds that are so small that there are estimated to be 35 million seeds in an ounce (yes you read that correctly). Far and away the greastest contrast between size of the seed and size of the resulting plant is the Sequoia. These seeds are mustard seed tiny and yet they produce the single largest living organism on the face of the earth! Amazing stuff these seeds!

Seeds are powerful unless the ground is hard. As Jesus describes this faithful agriculturalist going about his business his listeners undoubtedly visualized some of those powerful resevoirs of life falling on unsuitable ground. Alas the same is true today. There are hard hearts that are unready and unable to receive the seed of the truth. It is amazing that even a simple truth like that found in Romans 3:23 can be rejected by individuals. Hard soil just won't provide a place for a seed to grow. No matter how powerful the seed it is useless until it finds a place to grow. I believe there is also hard soil in the lives of those who follow Jesus. There are a lot of us who know we should be doing some things and we're just not. Scripture plainly calls this sin. Hard ground.

Likewise, seeds are powerful unless the soil is shallow. As a shepherd I get called on during times of crisis fairly often. I'm glad to come alongside folks during these moments but I am often astounded by the variety of responses to a crisis. Some will approach it with the calm assurance of God's sufficient grace while others will be overcome with anxiety, some even turn away from the very One they need in these moments. Shallow soil. It has been said that American Christianity is 2 miles wide and 2 inches deep. Not a bad critique in general and it points to a desperate need to grow deeper in our faith because troubles will come. Is there a depth of faith in our lives to support us during dry and difficult seasons?

Seeds are powerful unless the ground is busy with other things. One thing I have discovered in my limited garden keeping efforts is that weeds need no encouragement to grow. In fact, if I simply leave my garden untended for a week I will discover that the weeds have multiplied at an astounding rate. I did not invite them or enourage them they simply show up. Should I leave my garden untended for two weeks I can just about give up as the weeds will have completly taken over.

Weeds choke out life and crowd out fruit. They steal precious and needed nutrients from the plants that are producing good fruit. They grow quickly and can overwhelm the life that is desired. But getting rid of them is a burden. It has to be done regularly and intimately. Weed pulling requires getting your hands dirty and even getting down on your knees sometimes.

How's the soil of your soul today? Is it hard? Do you need to turn over some new soil in your life to make a place for the powerful seed of God's Word to go to work? Is it shallow? Do you need to do some soil improvement, pull some rocks out and put in some fertile soil in order to see the powerful seed of God's Word take firm root in your life? Or is it, as I suspect it is for many, busy with other things? We are a people who are too busy too often. When was the last time you spent time on your knees before God and examined the soil of your soul? If it's been awhile I can assure you there are some life choking, life robbing weeds that will need to be pulled. It's hard work but it is oh so worth it!

Jesus ends this parable by saying, "Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear." Are you listening?

August 1, 2008

A Page From My Journal

Dateline - July 23, 2008 - In the air somewhere over Guatemala.

It is good to be on the way home. This work is joyful but difficult. I miss my wife. I always wonder what challenge she has had to face in my absence. It always seems that she bears the brunt of these trips.

I am drained more than I remember from previous trips. I don't know if that is an effect of a short memory or a maturing view of the nature of this work. It is not about "saving the world" (although that stands as the ultimate goal) it is about doing the small thing God has called you to do and to do it well. I believe we have accomplished this.

There are moments this week I would not trade for anything; moments that will stand vividly in my memory. Likewise, there are experiences I would gladly do without, but I recognize them as part of the cost of ministry. We do not go because it is easy or rewarding. We do not go because of the great memories that are built. We do not go to bring back beautiful trinkets. We go because we are commanded to go. We go because it is an act of obedience, and in obedience, in cooperating with God's plans, we discover that God is able to do far more than we are able.

Lives were changed in Guatemala. There are new believers. There are encouraged churches. There are children with the memory of "Gringos"visiting their community to tell them of God's love. But not only were Guatemalan lives changed, our lives were changed. My daughter will always remember 3 little girls that adored her from the first moment they laid eyes on her. My son will look back on this time where God confirmed direction for his life. I am reminded of the darkness of so many without Christ.

So what is next? As always, live today for Christ and follow Him where He leads. It may be to the "uttermost parts" or it may be across the street. Today.