Thursday, December 16, 2010

An Awful Illustration of an Awesome Truth

A video recently resurfaced that I saw a few years ago. It's about kids. Wish I could say that it is one of those cute kind of videos that makes you feel warm all over and that gets forwarded to everyone you know, but it's not. In fact, it's quite disturbing. I don't know who made the video. I like to think that they did some editing that didn't require the kids to do all that they are shown doing.

"So, is he going to ask us to watch it?" Yes, I am. In spite of some of the troubling scenes, this video is so marked by truth that I am going to ask you watch it now. You can do so by clicking here.

Now that you have seen it, I wonder how much of who we are and what we do is getting passed on to those young eyes and impressionable minds that follow us. But it's not just true of the negative examples. I'm thinking of:

Children who are already beginning to cherish the Bible
Children in whom servants hearts are being shaped
Children who will someday have families marked by love
Children who are learning that money is a servant, not a master
Children in whose hearts praise for God has become a natural expression
Children who will make an incredible difference in this world
Children who will be adults of compassion
Children who love Jesus

all because of what they are seeing in people like you.
They are watching. Let's show them something worth imitating.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Reason for the Season

I'm looking forward to leading a Christmas Eve candlelight service again this year, after a two year hiatus. I think this will be my eighth time. After this service was announced last week, I had so many people tell me how excited they are that "our" church will be having such a service. That has been my experience in other churches too. A lot of our members have had to go elsewhere to participate in what for them is a very meaningful time.

Churches of Christ have historically not been very supportive of religious holidays. The idea behind that was if the Bible doesn't tell us to celebrate them, then we shouldn't. But for many of us, our understanding of the Bible has evolved so that we see the value in such free-will offerings of praise. I just don't read anything in the Bible that would lead me to believe God will be upset with us because we, on our own, do some special things to celebrate the arrival of his son into our world.

It is interesting that Christians who are opposed to Christmas as a religious celebration find themselves unwilling partners with those humanist organizations who want to take Jesus out of Christmas, and out of our world altogether. It doesn't seem quite right to me that someone who belongs to Jesus would put up a Christmas tree, give gifts, maybe even say Merry Christmas to others, but then say, "Let's just leave Jesus out of all this." This might fall into the "what were we thinking" category.

So, over the next couple of weeks, I look forward to taking in all of the reminders of the arrival of Jesus into our world. I'll be drinking coffee from my "Jesus is the reason for the season" mugs that we received from some of our campus ministry students several years ago. I will be reading about the birth of Jesus and preaching from those texts. On Christmas Eve, I'll light a candle and join with others in singing, "Silent Night." And I hope those activities will help me grow in my adoration of the one of whom angels sang, "Glory to God in the highest!"

Friday, December 3, 2010

"Heaven," by Annie May Lewis

Annie May Lewis was one of the most significant influences in my life. I got to know her initially through my work at Harding Graduate School of Religion in the early 80's, where she was the head librarian. Professors who taught us then, like Jack Lewis, Harold Hazelip and Carroll Osborne demanded that we study, but it was Annie May who taught us how. Later, I was blessed to preach at the White Station church in Memphis, where Dr. Jack was an elder and Annie May was a special encourager. It was an honor to serve as her preacher during that time.

Annie May went home to God in March of 2006. A couple of years before that, in February of 2004, she wrote an article for the White Station church bulletin. I came across it today and wanted to share it with you.

"Heaven," by Annie May Lewis

My first year in college my parents told me that I could join other students for a Thanksgiving bus trip to Washington, D.C. For a freshman with limited travel experience a trip to the nation's capital sounded like a dream come true. The week of the trip, my roommate, whose West Tennessee home was a short distance from mine, said, "My daddy is coming for me at Thanksgiving to take me home. Would you like to go with us?" The fascination of the Washington trip very quickly faded with the prospect of going home to spend Thanksgiving with Mama and Daddy.

I canceled the trip, packed my bag, and was on my way home. To make the event even more exciting, I didn't call home. I knocked at the door. Sixty-eight years later the memory of the initial shock, the open arms, and smiles are as vivid as today's events. What was the nation's capital in comparison with my small hometown? The White House couldn't hold a candle to that white frame house that was home to the two people I loved best in the world.

I have in recent years enjoyed the privilege of travel to distant lands, but I have discovered that whether the distance traveled is ten thousand miles or a hundred miles, whether the absence is nine months or a weekend, I am always eager to return home and inevitably say, "There's no place like home." Scripture uses the literary device, "How much more." So it will be with heaven. If my earthly home holds such affection, how much more will my home in heaven.

As Mama and Daddy made such loving preparation for the homecoming of each child, so Jesus is now preparing for my homecoming. There is so little about heaven that I know, but I do know that running up those front steps on that Thanksgiving morning is a foretaste of the joy that awaits me.

On occasion I return to my hometown for visits with cousins and close neighbors, but the people for whom I made those very frequent trips are no longer there. The house still stands and the memories are still there, but those who made the memories have already gone home. I look forward to an association with them that won't include any goodbyes.

Elizabeth Goudge in her novel, The Dean's Watch, has the dean say to the watchmaker, Isaac, who is afraid of dying, "We shall see many kindly faces. It is a house, remember, a friendly place." It is indeed that and much more. It is home.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Like a Shepherd Lead Us

Tomorrow morning I will be spending three to four hours with our elders, doing some planning sorts of things. That's three to four hours; on a beautiful fall morning; on a Saturday.

Every Sunday afternoon our ministers meet with our elders at 3:30PM. The meetings usually last an hour and a half to two hours. On a Sunday afternoon. In between teaching, preaching and leading a small group. Do you realize how many ballgames have about 5 minutes to go when it is time for me to leave?

There are two amazing things about all of this. First, I really don't mind spending this time in these meetings. I don't exactly look forward to them--a meeting is a meeting, after all--but I like what we do and I enjoy my time with these people. There is a good spirit (or should that be Spirit) among our leaders, elders and ministers alike.

The other amazing thing to me is that they do it. This is a part of my job; Sunday is a work day for me, which is why I take Monday off. But not for them. At least some of them are working these and other activities into 40+ hour work weeks.

I think I have been involved with church leadership long enough to see a trend: Churches typically will reflect their leaders. When I think of those churches that have struggled a great deal, many of the problems they had could usually be traced back to leadership issues. I also have been a part of what I would consider to be awesome churches. In those churches, the dynamism began with the elders and flowed to the rest of the church.

When I was in the process of looking at churches where I might want to work, there was one determining factor that stood out above the rest. I would not go to a church where I felt the eldership was not the kind that I would want to follow. That was a non-negotiable for me. After a little over two years I can tell you that I am glad we are in Georgetown.

Our elders are not perfect (translation: they don't always do what I want them to do), but what I most appreciate about them is their willingness to continue to let God reshape them in their own faith and in their roles as church leaders. Maybe that is as close to perfection as any of us will ever get, to simply let God move us to the next step he wants us to take.

Paul wrote Timothy that "the elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor. . . " (1 Tim. 5:17). In most churches, including ours, I don't think we do that near as well as we should. Let's try to change that.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Legacy of Faith

Our Sunday morning Bible class will begin discussing a book that I am finding to be very challenging, in the best sense. It is Almost Christian, by Kenda Creasy Dean. I encourage you to click on the link, go inside and read the first pages. In addition to what you will find there, here is another quote from the book:

“The problem does not seem to be that churches are teaching young people badly, but that we are doing an exceedingly good job of teaching youth what we really believe: namely, that Christianity is not a big deal, that God requires little, and the church is a helpful social institution filled with nice people focused primarily on “folks like us”—which, of course, begs the question of whether we are really the church at all. . . . What if the blasé religiosity of most American teenagers is not the result of poor communication but the result of excellent communication of a watered-down gospel so devoid of God’s self-giving love in Jesus Christ, so immune to the sending love of the Holy Spirit that it might not be Christianity at all?"

Yeah, I know. A kick in the gut, huh. But I think she speaks truth. I've read about half of it already, and I think she has a message that we need to hear.

One of the things I like about this class is that it is made up of recent empty nesters; people in their late 40's to late 50's (and I think a few in their 60's, but I'm afraid to ask.) In other words, people who do not have kids at home, yet are reading a book about teenagers.

What is driving this for us is a desire to be an influence on those generations who are sharing the journey with us, both parents and the kids themselves. That's one of the things I really like about our church. We share the same passion as the Psalmist: "Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come" (Ps. 71:18).

Hmm, might be a couple of good assignments there for us this week:
First, to express appreciation to someone who blessed us in our own journey.
Second, to think about what those after us learning from us.

* * *

There is an interesting discussion going on in a blog called the Jesus Creed. Scot McKnight is one of the most well-respected evangelical influences in our country. He is not of the Church of Christ, but his book, "The Blue Parakeet" has been very influential in our fellowship. He taught at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures this past year and I very much enjoyed his lessons. Jeff and I got to visit with he and his wife Kris for a bit, although we mostly talked about places to eat in Austin and in Chicago, where they live.

This particular post is about the practice of a capella music in Churches of Christ. Be sure to read the comments. Interesting to see the perspective offered by those from the CofC. Maybe I'll come back to this at some point.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Words That Bless

In spite of my reluctance to move into the 21st century technologically (cf. this post from the archives) I opened a Twitter account a few weeks ago. I really like it too, as it has provided access to both useful and entertaining information. Here's a tweet I received from Rick Atchley on Monday: "Got tons of positive feedback to services yesterday, and 1 really ugly email. Guess what I'm thinking about today? Satan is cunning."

That is so true, isn't it? I certainly feel it as a preacher, and I would imagine all of us do in some area of our lives. One negative criticism can offset a lot of praises and encouraging words. That doesn't seem quite fair. It's not that we don't need to give and receive criticism, but how and when that criticism is presented makes a great difference in the impact it makes upon us. Those factors also play a major role in whether that criticism is constructive or destructive.

This week, be aware of which side of this equation your words fall. As you interact with your family, church, the people in your workplace, be the one who will praise generously and criticize positively. Bless people with your words.

"Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing." Proverbs 12:18

* * *

I nailed my World Series pick. Went 5 games, as I predicted, and I was only slightly off on the winning team. Actually, might have been a long ways off; the Giants were pretty impressive.

* * *

Did you notice the new look of the blog? I thought what I had before was hard to read so I decided to change it. I may do that quite often. Seems that a blog that is about sharing the journey ought to have new scenery from time to time. Change is good.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Hand Raisers of the World, Unite!

This Sunday I’m preaching on the power of worship to transform the hearts and spirits of the worshipers. I’m not going to get into this too much in the sermon, but I have been thinking a lot about the phrase “comfort zone” that we sometimes hear in the context of worship. I wonder how much our experiences in worship have been hindered by a fear of doing something outside our comfort zone. Implied in that expression is that it’s not something wrong to do, it just makes me feel uncomfortable.

Raising our hands in worship is a good example. I don’t know of anyone who would say that the Bible teaches that to be wrong. If so, I would like to see that passage. But so many people either encourage others to not raise their hands, or don’t do it themselves solely because it is beyond their level of comfort. Why is that so? What is there about outwardly expressing our adoration to God by lifting our hands up to him or clapping that makes us feel uncomfortable?

Now it may be that this or some other outward expression just doesn’t do anything for someone, and that is fine. I would hope no one would ever feel pressure to do something that isn’t from their heart. But it saddens me that some people have a desire to express their hearts through an outward action, but don’t because they know there are people around them who would disapprove.

I have to confess I feel that sometime. There are times when I do feel self conscious about raising my hands or clapping because I know there are people who see me and probably react negatively. But most times, I don’t let that stop me. I would rather deal with that than to hold back in my praise to God. And maybe if more of us did that, those who are timid would be emboldened to let go of their inhibitions. I think that would be a very good thing.