Saturday, June 30, 2007

Tomorrow's Offering

The writing of the sermon is complete. I like this one despite the difficulty of the text, which is Matthew 5:38-48 (You have heard it said, an eye for an eye . . but I say). Usually when I preach this text I wind up just angering people who disagree with me and pleasing people who agree with me. When that happens very little is accomplished.

I'm not interested in polarizing the congregation tomorrow. I need tomorrow to be a worship service. More and more I crave the gathering together around the actions and symbols of the church. Unity is crucial to authentic worship.

The prayer for tomorrow is especially good. Theresa, our Interim Worship Service Coordinator (which is the cantankerous title I wanted for the position most church call "Worship Minister"), wrote the prayer and will deliver it.

Prayers of the Church for Grandview
July 1, 2007

God--who makes the sun rise and the rain fall on us all—we thank you for loving us equally. We thank you for your abundant mercy, and when we cannot see that mercy, we thank you for the many ways you sustain us—through family; through shared story; through unsolicited, selfless acts of kindness.

Your goodness surpasses our understanding. But with clumsy steps, we attempt to follow the example of your son, whose brief ministry opened our eyes to the hope and healing and wholeness that can only be found by orienting our lives toward you.

Like marble waiting to be shaped, may we yield to the chisel that will form us into your image.

When the gouging of heartache pierces our very soul, soothe our wounds with your grace.

When we are chafed by petty disagreement, smooth away the roughness with your gentle instruction.

When the worries of this life leave fissures that run deep, strengthen us with your joy.

When the acid of discouragement erodes our will and exposes our weakness, send your holy spirit to blanket us in peace.

O that we might yield to your artful hands, that we might bear your likeness—that we might be God-shaped people.

That this might be a God-shaped nation. As we celebrate our freedoms and our independence, let us be reminded of the cost. Let us be reminded that true freedom comes only through Jesus Christ, who suffered the cost when he submitted to the cross and conquered the evil that binds us.

That we might be more complete—more Christ-like, more Spirit-filled—in humility but with confidence we raise our voices to you in prayer, speaking together the prayer spoken by your son, Jesus Christ:

Our Father . . .

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Seems Like Old Times

I haven't poured concrete since 1988. Today that changed when Jason, Chris, Nathan, Jason's dad, and I poured a small basketball court at Jason's house. It was the first time I ever poured concrete with two PhDs--in Old Testament no less.
I seem to remember concrete pouring conversations that were entirely different than the ones we had today. At one point Chris and Jason were exploring ways to describe the slab using the Hebrew language (with alliteration). I can't remember exactly what they said. Also, Faye (Jason's wife) began using the trowel on the fresh pour. Her comment was, "Oh, this is just like icing a cake!"

Trust me. You could work for a construction company your whole life and never hear those things while you're pouring concrete.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Staff Picnic

Okay, here's the deal: We lost our camera during the move. Huge mystery. I don't think we'll find it because it was in the van with our peeps--not in the truck with our boxes. That means that all my pictures will be from my camera/phone for awhile.

Here we see Cassady and Dana grilling for the staff picnic at the Laurels--they even wore their matching Cheetos shirts. It became clear to us that we need more Wisconsin people on staff because we weren't sure how much to cook the Brats.Jeff was the other Grill Master and Leslie did what she could as well . . . but we were all aware of the truism that too many Grill-Masters spoil the Brats.

John and Yvonne aren't at all sure they want to be in a blog, but they made it anyway.

And here we are just before the prayer. From left to right is Yvonne, John, Beth, Isaac, Theresa, Mia, Chloe, and Max. Not picture are Ryan, Aaron, Cindy, Luke, Anna, Leslie, Jeff, Dana, and Cassady. Our Anna, Meghan, and Cora are in Indiana right now.

We also celebrated the fact that Carla, Grandview's administrative assistant, came through surgery so well (in Atlanta). Now she has the recovery road to travel, but everything appears to be "best case" scenario right now.

It was a relaxed cook-out on a nice night. The Laurels are wonderfully peaceful.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


Funny moment today. I was visiting a woman from our church who is rehabbing a broken femur (yes, Brian Regan fans, I said that she broke her femur). When I arrived in her room she was surrounded by her daughter, her brother (Orlin) and her sister-in-law.

I was announced as "the preacher" and then I was told that her veins were rolling, making it hard to draw blood.

"Nurses tell me my blood is hard to draw," said Orlin. "They say I have tough skin."

"Yeah," I said, "nurses tell me that my blood is hard to draw because I don't have a heart."

Orlin (whom I've only met once before) just looked at me and said, "You baptist?"

You have to love it when someone you don't know is willing to bust out the inter-religious insults!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Today's Offering

Well . . . for better or worse . . . here it is (not sufficiently proofed). You'll recognize bits and pieces of Psalm 121.

Prayers of the Church for Grandview

June 24, 2007

We lift up our eyes to the Appalachian Mountains—and we ask ourselves, where does our help come from?

Our help comes from the LORD, the Maker of all that is, seen and unseen.

O God, do not let our feet slip. Watch over us and do not nap; we can’t afford for you to catch even one second of sleep.

O God, watch over us and provide shade and shelter for the things most dear to us, so that the searing heat of day will not burn us up; so that our darkest fears will have no power in your presence.

O God, keep us from all harm and watch over our lives. We grieve this morning over the life of Sarah Ann. We grieve like Sarah before you filled her with the life of Isaac. We anticipate, like Anna at the temple, the day when we will see and hold new life from you. Give comfort to all who grieve today. With your healing hands reach down and touch the sick. Send your angels to protect those who, for our sake and safety are in harm’s way. Bless our enemies. For those who have found life too hard and are sinking into despair, Lord, give the light of your hope. For those who are dying, grant a peaceful death.

Watch over us all as we come and go from this place. Help us—even in all of our busyness—to be willing to be built into a community of great witness. Build us into community of pure hearts, unsoiled by secret fantasies that don’t belong to us. Build us into a community of integrity, where the boundaries you have revealed to us are honored: the boundaries of marriage, of thought, and of self. Teach us, through the example of Jesus, by the power of your Spirit poured out upon us, to be comfortable in the skin you gave us and to be sure of the love you have for each of us—love that surpasses any earthly pleasure.

O God, we have been so busy that we have forgotten where our strength and hope come from. Now we stop. We put away all of our mental lists of things that we need to do. Give us the grace, in the silence, simply to sit and drink-in your presence.


Thanks for allowing Nathan and Erin (McDade) to worship with us today. Bless the college students they have left behind in Puebla and prepare them for great things in your service. Bless all of your missionaries by giving them at least a glimpse of the fruit their offering for you bears.

We pray with one voice, the prayer you have taught us.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Still Not Ready . . .

Preaching on the divorce/adultery section of the Sermon on the Mount is turning out to be no easy task. Got any funny adultery and divorce stories I can tell in my sermon? Me, either. My sermon is like the waitress in that movie Office Space. It doesn't have enough flare.

I don't write the prayer until after the sermon, so . . . if one gets written this week I'll post it. The week has been a full one. Usually it seems that when the week is particularly busy God gives me an extra measure of grace and the sermon comes easily. Not so as of yet. Maybe I should quit blogging and get back to work????

Just so you don't go away empty handed . . . I saw an unusual accident this week. This wasn't in a high speed area of Johnson City and I have no idea how this car flipped.

How does a car land so neatly on its top in a McDonald's parking lot? I would make some wise cracks about it, but it looked like someone was hurt.
I hope it was a good sign that this docile, white bird was in the middle of the road. A worker at the tool rental place across from McDonald's picked up the bird and carried it to saftey and shade. I don't know if it was stunned in the accident or just amazingly tame.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Ministry and A Father's Day Gift

I'm discovering that blogging and the ministry don't mix together well--especially if you're used to giving brief updates on what you've done today. Pastoral ministry is too personal for blogging. Look for an update soon on my dissertation and the attempts by Grandview leaders to chart a path into the next year. For now, though, I will share the simpler things.

I promised pictures of the Father's Day's the While You Were Out Makeover of the smallest (but most windowy) room in our new house. They transformed the room into my own personal coffee shop. I really enjoy it. Cindy and the girls painted the room, stained and installed the shelves, and decorated the place.
If you look closely you can see through the window and onto the back deck and into the back yard.
They did room for me, but we all enjoy hanging out in there.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Attention Incoming Beeson Pastors

One or two of the incoming Beeson Students occasionally check-in on my blog.

To you I have a request: If any of this year's students are bloggers, I would love for you to point me to their blogs.

If no incoming Beesons are bloggers . . . please talk somebody into it. I would love to follow your year.

Right now you are in the process of moving and reading and getting started. I am excited for you and I hope you have a great year.

Enjoy Wilmore! Give my best to Randy and Kent.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Father's Day

The Sunday morning worship services were good yesterday. It is definitely Summer, though. Band members are scattered to the winds. Folks are looking less focused than normal. Attendance is good, but not great. I'm always amazed at how different worship feels depending upon things like attendance.

The highlight of the sermon, for me, was getting to do my John Wakefield imitation--in front of John Wakefield. He was great about it and I think the story was important to the sermon. Thanks, John!

After the service we went home to a good Father's Day lunch (thanks, Cindy). My present this year was great (pictures to follow!). Cindy and the girls painted, hammered, and otherwise decorated a little room in our new house--turning it into a coffee shop/office. It works. The feel of the room is perfect.

After lunch we took Anna and Cora to camp. They won't be alone. There were Grandview kids behind almost every tree.Cora won't be able to do the zip line because of her broken toe, but she will be able to swim (so all is right with her world).

The girls are even "roomies" this week. Hopefully that will work. They get along well . . . most of the time. Make sure to take note of Cora's shirt. She bought it with her own money. I didn't make her. I promise.
It was a good Father's Day.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Tomorrow's Offering

Tomorrow's sermon is on Matthew 5:21-25. In this section of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount we are told that when we curse our brothers and sisters we are in just as much danger of God's judgment as when we murder. Isn't that just like Jesus to throw that kind of monkey-wrench into our daily lives?

I kind of like the sermon for tomorrow (I can't always say that, by the way). I open with a story I wrote for a sermon years ago. It's one of my favorites, but after I wrote it I soon realized that it didn't really fit that particular sermon. Instead I used the story as an article in the church newsletter. So, you may have read it before, but I haven't used it in a sermon until now.

I plan to end the sermon with a true story in which I get to do my impression of John Wakefield (I got his approval. He's a good sport!). So, that's what is coming up tomorrow.

Here's the first draft of the prayer. I'm trying to weave the Sermon on the Mount into it. Also, I'm planning on leaving the silence out of the prayer tomorrow. Not sure why. I guess I don't want to institutionalize it.

Prayers of the Church for Grandview

June 17, 2007

God, who desires mercy more than sacrifice; who hovers over the face of the earth and finds that the people you have created are being herded like animals into refugee camps in Darfur; who finds your creation fighting each other fiercely in Palestine, motivated to kill each other by their common hate of yet a third enemy; who finds that creation is so scarred and scared by global turmoil that they send their sons and daughters to the other side of the planet in an attempt foster peace through war. Teach us your ways, because ours lead to death and destruction.

Teach us the ways of your Son. Help us really to hear the words you have for us in scripture this morning. Give us the grace of being a citizen of your kingdom when we are poor in spirit, when we mourn, when we are overwhelmed by our own powerlessness, when we hunger and thirst for righteousness, when we show mercy, when we are peacemakers—when we are persecuted for your sake. Form and transform us into people who refuse to curse each other, even in our hearts; into people who do not harbor thoughts of “fool” when we disagree with each other. We ask these things because we desire to see your kingdom shining upon this earth, through us and through those around us, as a testimony to your greatness.

We understand that the words we speak to you this morning are important—unless they become empty words uttered mindlessly out of some almost forgotten vow in our past. Make our words, our hearts, our souls, and our community full and alive before you this morning when we sing songs to you, when we hear your words read from the Bible, when we offer to give our hard-earned money to your work, when we hear the word preached, when we gather around the table of Jesus, your son, and proclaim his death until that day when his resurrected body stands with both feet planted firmly on the rich soil of earth.

Please bless our brothers and sisters who are sick by strengthening and healing their bodies. Comfort the grieving. Give a peaceful death to the dying, spring and step to the lame; hearing to the deaf; sight to the blind; hope to the depressed; touch to the lonely; release to the oppressed. Bless Eric Hull this week, and others like him, who are preparing to go to Iraq. Keep them safe and return them home to us so that we can worship you with him in this place. Bless the families who are forced to trust you all the more while their loved ones are away. We pray also for the families who are living in the turmoil in Iraq. Keep them safe. And because you have told us to bless our enemies, we ask for the strength to bless those who seek to undermine peace in Iraq and anywhere around the world.

Bless your missionaries here and around the world. May we all be an authentic witness to your ability to form a community of love and grace.

Oh God, as a sign of your ability to bring together such different people we pray with Christians around the world as you have taught us to pray through your Son, Our Savior, Jesus of Nazareth.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Break It Down!

Cora broke her toe/foot today when she fell out of a tree. As you can see, she was in great agony as she waited for the doctors at Watauga Orthopedics (thanks, Watauga, for getting us into the office on short notice).
She fractured her big toe behind the second joint (I think).

And though it doesn't show up well on my camera phone picture, she got a nice little tree rash from the fall as well.

Playing the part of her little sister, Anna helped me reenact the tragic event at the scene of the event (the Bembry's yard/tree). That's the excitement for today, anyway. It's part of the reason I don't have the prayer ready. Look for that tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Top Layer

Another late post, but Grandview is heating up in terms of pastoral activity. I've been home just over a week. In that time our community has experienced two births, one stroke, one broken femur, and a recommendation that hospice be brought in for one of the dear ladies of our church. Much to do.

On Monday night, with Chief Junaleska's statue standing proudly outside the auditorium, I got to be present at the ordination service for classmate Scott Layer.It's a beautiful setting in Western North Carolina for the annual meeting of the Holston Conference.The preacher for the event, though, was Robert E. Hayes, the Bishop of the Oklahoma conference--home to another one of my classmates (Travis Muse). He delivered an excellent sermon on "A Long Fight with a Short Stick."

Here is Scott's name in the bulletin.

Here is Scott with his "Unofficial Guide to the Methodist Church" . . . oh . . . and his son, Pierson.

I can't help but smile when I see Pierson.

We had cake and snacks afterword.
I am really pleased that Johnson City is close enough for the quick trip to Lake Junaleska. Congratulations, Scott. Thanks for giving me the honor of being present at your ordination.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

They Left the Light On For Us

I'm a day or two behind on the blog, thanks for you patience.

Sunday at Grandview was wonderful. We enjoyed our homecoming. During the first service we had a surprise visit by the Layers as they traveled through town on their way to Lake Junaleska for Scott's ordination (more on that in the next entry).

On Sunday evening the church had an ice cream social to welcome us home. They also arranged for a good old fashioned "pounding" in which I received my share of Oreo Double-stuffed cookies.

Below are pictures taken by Lorna (thanks, Lorna!)

Aunt Robin loves her niece. The girls are back with friends.

Here I am discussing whether or not Billy Donovan is the Gator basketball coach (Lexington born and bred, Chip is UK Wildcat fan)

Here I am with my friend, Tom. He made it up from Asheville. It was good to see him.

Cora isn't sure she wants the attention at this moment!

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Tomorrow's Sermon and Prayer

Sunday is closing-in on us. Tomorrow I start a series on the Sermon on the Mount. I chose this series for a couple of reasons. The Beeson students spent last semester on this this text from the Gospel of Matthew so it's been on my mind for awhile. Also, as disjointed as the summer months can be, I think I can make the series work even if people are sort of coming and going.

Each sermon title this summer begins with the word "True." This reflects Jesus' focus on how life works in God's economy--the true and real world, whether we recognize it or not.

Tomorrow we start with the Beatitudes. The sermon title is "True Power." Next week's sermon is "True Murder."

I have tomorrow's prayer ready. Some of you mentioned that these would be good to post on the blog. And, since it requires almost ZERO extra work, I'll try to do that. I got stuck when writing this one so I turned to Psalm 145 for help.

Prayers of the Church for Grandview, June 10, 2007

Eternal God, before you how can we stand? Before you we are poor, and yet you make us rich. Before you we mourn over our inabilities and sins, and yet you fill us with joy and forgiveness. Before you we know our need to be reliant upon you, and you offer us the whole earth. Before you we are made pure by the gift of your Son, through whom you show us your nature and the core of your being.

You are great because you give us life continually. You are great because you love us even when we don’t love ourselves. You are great because you sent your Son to stand with us in the joy and the suffering of human existence, to die for us, and to be raised from the dead for us—the first sign that everything humanity has taken for granted about death is changed.

With the psalmist we cry:

We will exalt you, O God our King, and bless your Name for ever and ever.

Every day will we bless you and praise your Name for ever and ever.

Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised, there is no end to your greatness.

One Generation will praise your works to another and will declare your power.

We will ponder the glorious splendor of your majesty and all your marvelous works.

We will speak of the might of your wondrous acts, and tell of your greatness!

And so, O God, we pray for clear voices to sound the call of your greatness. We pray for ears that are ready to hear of your deeds on the world’s behalf. And we pray that we will be family and church in such a way as to prove that you have, indeed, done these things.

Bless our brothers and sisters who are in need of healing, strength, comfort, protection, and peace. We remember our prayer list before you. We remember the sick, the lame, the blind, the deaf, the dying, and the people who think that your love is not as overwhelming as our sins.

We pause to be silent before you, O God, as we confess our sins to you, sins you already knew about when you sent your Son:


Glory to you, O God, whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine: Glory to you from generation to generation in the Church, and forever in Christ Jesus who taught us to pray with one voice:

The Lord’s Prayer

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Gator?Magic?Gator Basketball Coach Saga

Now that everything is official, it's time for me to say a word or two about the Billy Donovan shenanigans down in Florida. Billy is pictured above in his new job as Papa John's delivery boy. "Yes, I'll take a large with championships, hold the excuses."
  • My friend and yours, Buckeye Bryan, was quick to call me and to let me know that Donovan had left Florida--so quick that he was the one who broke the news to me (I was still in a moving truck). You know how the Bible says in 1 Corinthians that "love is patient and kind and doesn't delight when the other person suffers, etc..." Well, obviously Bryan doesn't love me--especially since he hasn't called me back to tell me how impressed he is that Donovan loved being a Gator so much that he was willing to look the fool and then to miss out on millions of dollars in order to return. Welcome home, Billy (even if the circumstances are awkward).
  • This event shows the meaninglessness of contracts in today's sporting environment. Billy signed one--a big one--and then walked away. Pro athletes do this all of the time, they sign then decide it wasn't big enough and become "hold-outs." It's crazy. I mean, really, have you ever tried to get out of a cell phone or health club contract? It ain't happening. I need better representation!
  • For the record, I wasn't upset when Donovan left. He gave the Gators 3 Final Four appearances and 2 National Championships in 11 years. He owes the Gators nothing (now, the Orlando Magic are a different story--he owes them big time).
  • Lastly, I'm still not an NBA guy, but because I love Buckeye Bryan, I'm pulling for the Cavs. LeBron James is just amazing in terms of how mature he is at only 22 years of age. When you look at the life he was handed as a boy, you can only marvel at his stability. That's not to praise him for everything in his life (he's getting ready to be a father of two and still isn't the husband of anybody), but I'm willing to watch how he continues to develop. Besides, if Buckeye Bryan doesn't get some kind of championship to cheer about soon then life is going to get angry and sorrowful at his church--and we can't have that. Go Cavs!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Sabbatical Insight #2

Churches Don't Outgrow Challenges

Sometimes, in a church the size of Grandview, I feel like if we only got a little bigger this or that problem would go away. If we were a little bigger we could get lots people to show up early and greet and ush and teach children. If only we were a little bigger we could accomplish more in the community.

Occasionally I would be chatting with a minister of a smaller church, though, and he would say things like, "Well, Grandview is big enough that they don't have these kinds of problems." That always made me chuckle.

This past year I visited some huge churches and realized that they each had huge challenges. Some of them needed more money to keep things running. One had plenty of money, but had just come through a tough year in which the leadership had decided that the rock band was too 80s and tried to update the music to something more contemporary--the rank and file got angry. It was a bizarre fight by the formerly avant-guard to keep the music from becoming avant-guard. One church was reaching unbelievers left and right, but they were trying to find ways to deepen a huge influx of new Christians--no easy task.

I was visiting one church in the Lexington area when I saw, in the middle of the worship service, a girl speeding back and forth through to the restroom (one presumes that was the urgency, anyway) in her new Heelies (see pic below, shoes with wheels in the heels). I remember thinking, "At least I haven't had to deal with that."You get the idea. The best we can do as a church is be faithful, tend to our own issues and refuse to pine for the problems of another church. Each day has enough worry. The next time I start to feel envious of another church that seems to "have it all together" I'll be careful to remember that the leadership of that church is probably locked in a meeting somewhere agonizing over the answer to a problem I haven't had to face yet.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Sabbatical Insight #1

I should probably share some of the things I learned while on sabbatical.

My prayer life struggled while I was away. The reason? I wasn't preaching regularly. I've discovered that having to prepare a sermon each week drives me to pray in ways that school work does not. If I'm pushing my way through a book, then pushing my way through a six page response to that book, I just don't feel the same urgency to pray as when I'm getting ready to bare my soul in front of a mix of friends, family, and strangers.

What happens if my written response to a book isn't so great? I get a lower grade? Will it follow me on my permanent transcript?

I'm not sure what drives you to your knees (I don't usually pray on my knees because it just hurts. My prayers start going like this: "God, you are so wonderful. Thank you for the blessings that you've given . . . ouch. . . mmmh. . . maybe if I shift my weight then . . . ooohhh, that's better... now where was I, God? Oh! You are so good to me that my . . . oh no . . . now my ankles are falling asleep").

Any way, as I was saying, I'm not sure what drives you to pray. During my sabbatical I realized that for me the Damocles' Sword that is the weekly sermon is a huge incentive.
If your prayer life is lame right now, maybe you need a bigger purpose, one that is too big for you, your intellect, and your strength. A little desperation goes a long way when it comes to praying. One of my favorite sayings on prayer comes from Anne Lamott. She says she only knows two prayers: "Please, please, please" and "Thank you, thank you, thank you."

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Grandview is Only A Mile Away

Hope you like the new look on the blog.

We're in our house and have the boxes mostly cleared away, but we'll be unpacking for awhile.
The move went great. No problems. We miss the Beeson folks, but at least we got to see the Layers this afternoon after returning the Penske moving truck (great truck, by the way).

Tomorrow we go to Grandview and we re-enter our old lives. We're thrilled.