Friday, August 31, 2007
Jackson spoke with the sly look of a man about to use a bullhorn voice to say something confidential, "The biggest problem with pastors today," he sounded a little like Foghorn Leghorn, "I say the biggest problem with pastors today is that they are timid. We're going to be judged for that. All you need to do is read 2 Corinthians 3:12 and 1 Timothy 1 to know that."
"I was afraid of that," I replied with sarcasm. I was pleased when he laughed. One takes huge risks being sarcastic with strangers.
What he said stuck with me, though. He was, and is, absolutely right. Christians have no business walking around afraid of what might happen next, afraid of what people think, or afraid that God won't do what God has promised to do.
These thoughts were bouncing around my head afresh last night in the Johnson City Medical Center's ICU waiting room until around 1:30 am. I was sitting with a woman in our congregation whose 78-year-old husband had been rushed into a surgery that doctors feared would take him from us. His wife is no stranger to faith. She is prepared to praise God in life or death. Much preferring, of course, to praise God for life.
What does confidence in God look like in the ICU waiting room at 1:30am? What does boldness look like in that place? I know it doesn't look like pollyannish belief that the surgery will be successful in the way we all long for it to be successful. Being bold doesn't mean denying the real possibility of death.
Boldness means being unafraid to stand in that swirling world of "what if;" being confident that come what may God will be who God has promised to be. Confidence in God means not being embarrassed for trusting God despite the circumstances. Confidence in God means that we believe the Holy Spirit will bring joy even in times of great suffering.
"Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold," Paul tells Timothy.
Great is your God. Sure are his promises. Complete is his victory.
Our 78-year-old saint made it through the surgery, but his recovery from that surgery is not certain. Let us stand before God on his behalf, certain in the hope that makes us bold.
I feel this way today, despite what I wrote in the last post about Mother Teresa. I confess that I am inconsistent. A.E. Whitham once wrote, "To be able to say, 'O, God, I love thee so much' is a grace. To only be able to say, 'O, God, I love thee so little,' is also a grace--and perhaps the preferable one." Maybe the difference is simply that I haven't endured the kind of gut-wrenching evil that Mother Teresa did.
God, we offer you our brother, Charles. Just as he offers himself to you. Glorify your name.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Mother Teresa had doubts. I heard the news and was surprised. Then I was embarrassed. Of course Mother Teresa had doubts. Why wouldn't she?
I hesitate to post anything on this topic because I write out of ignorance. I don't know to what degree she doubted. I haven't read her journals, her biography, nor have I ever seen her interviewed (except for one short snippet on television a few years ago). I'm sure there is a lot of mythology that has developed around her and I've never taken the time to separate fact from fiction as it regards her life and ministry.
After thinking about it for only a little bit, though, I realized there were plenty of reasons I should have assumed Mother Teresa had doubts about God.
1. She devoted her life to a "lost" cause. She knew she couldn't end all human suffering but she worked at it anyway. That means she knew her work would be tough going.
When I went into the ministry I was told I had a difficult calling. I didn't realize how difficult. I just saw something grand and beautiful in it. I can tell you now that I got more than I bargained for. Neither the work nor the weird hours makes ministry difficult, it's the feeling at the end of long stretches of pouring yourself out, when you've done all you can do and, somehow, nothing seems to change.
If I sometimes feel that way in my posh, East Tennessee existence, I suppose we can allow Mother Teresa to feel that way when she spends decade after decade serving the poor and the dying--only to find that tomorrow will be exactly the same. If Mother Teresa had romantic feelings about that task at the beginning of her calling, those feelings could not have lasted very long. It's just the nature of serving God. Ask Paul. Ask Peter. Ask Jesus' momma. Ask Jesus.
2. She led people. Leading people into a high calling is another thing that sounds wonderful and exciting. I know very little about the community she began in India, but communities are communities. She was dealing with more than feeding the poor. She was dealing with people who wanted to help, sometimes for the right reasons and sometimes not. She was dealing with clashing egos and agendas. She was dealing with well-meaning people who wanted her to expand her ministry, change her ministry, or who wanted to be attached to it in unhealthy ways.
How many young men and women have gone into a church vocation only to discover that church employees (even ministers, priests, nuns, and monks) never got their "get-sanctified- free" card? Even in the church she had to be dealing with difficult community and personality issues.
3. She was genuine. I've heard that Mother Teresa was a big fan of right wing dictators and that she was not afraid to say that. Apparently she didn't feel the need to manage her image for people like me. Imagine that. If she was honest, then she was unafraid to say that she had doubts--even if those doubts persisted to the end of her life.
4. The Nature of Life. Let's face it, doubts are a part of life. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying or has never been tested. Doubts fuel scientific advancements (scientists doubt established norms all the time, that's why agreed upon theories and "facts" keep changing). Every scientist is a doubter--that doesn't mean he or she no longer believes in science.
I couldn't help but wonder if the media would make such a big deal if a well known atheist had admitted to some doubt about atheism before he died. Probably not. I wouldn't be surprised to discover, though, that atheists have doubts before they die and that those doubts are every bit as agonizing at Mother Teresa's doubts.
I'm sure we'll learn more about the nature of her doubts in the future. Me thinks it is possible that the news stories are a little more fantastic than her actual doubts. I suspect that once her book is released we'll all say, "Wow. Those Roman Catholics sure know how to sell a book!"
Monday, August 27, 2007
1. Last night Grandviewians were kind enough to support my "survey supper." Thanks to all who came! This was a gathering in the fellowship hall for a carry-in supper, for filling-out a dissertation-focused survey, and music by Tom Root and his friend, Glen Diamond. They were really good. The unfinished fellowship hall is impossible acoustically when people are gathered. We have to tackle that problem. The room has great potential.
Acoustic difficulties and all, Tom and Glen were great to have with us. Here is our own Tom Root--man of many gifts--preparing for the evening.Here is Glen Diamond. He's a music student at ETSU and a good bass player. He plays, by the way, on Thursday nights at the Mid-City Grill in Johnson City, bringing in various friends to accompany him. The music is mostly jazz. I think when my Christ and Culture class is finished I'll try to get over there.2. Worship was nice yesterday. The students are back in town and we have our share of them. I would like to do a better job of reaching out to them, the problem is that we need to balance the desire to get tons of students to worship here with the desire to be more than a Sunday morning stop for students. I want us to do a good job of helping the students use their gifts to serve--while they are students. And I want us to do a good job of getting to know them.
I sneaked to the back corner of the sanctuary and took a very brief video during the first part of the service. Isaac, who arranges first service music, went with a stripped-down worship service (piano only) this week. While I miss the band, there is no question that worship is enhanced when you can hear peoples' voices being offered up in praise. Great singing yesterday.
Let me give you a sample! Below you can see where a patient has made a quarter-of-a-mile trek from his or her room, with I.V. stand dragging along behind, in order to sneak a smoke in the car. I think the hospital has finally found a way to charge $875 and hour for a room that people won't even use. Brilliant!
More thoughts later . . . out of time!
Saturday, August 25, 2007
Sermon preparation was replaced this week with all sorts of other things (valuable things, I promise). That means we've got a bit of work to do before tomorrow, but I'm confident things will come together just fine. I wish I could go up to Wilmore and spill my bucket of sermon pieces on Dr. Kalas' desk and let him fit them together for me. He would, no doubt, have to sand some corners down and add pieces, but the results would be great.
Tomorrow is the last in our series on the formation of the Apostle Paul. We'll focus on his difficulties with John Mark.
Milligan College is back in the swing of things and hopefully we will have our share of students in the worship service tomorrow. I know it can be hard to learn names and faces and places, but if you're around tomorrow please do your best to welcome them into our family. Also, don't forget that all of the students are not from Milligan and Emmanuel. We have students from ETSU and from Northeast State as well.
Tomorrow is a big day. We have the Ministry Fair (note to self: next year make sure we have elephant ears and funnel cakes for the Ministry Fair) in the morning and the carry-in supper tomorrow night.
Prayers of the Church for
August 26, 2007
God you have created such an amazing world, powerful to our senses, nurturing to our bodies and souls, and beautiful to call home. The mountains we see around us are handsome and tall. And, yet, we sometimes hear the chuckles of people who come to us from places with bigger mountains, because to them these are only hills. How often do you chuckle at our amazement at smaller things? We are amazed that we have food, housing, friendship, family, and health. But these are only hills when compared to the fullness of the grace that you have given us; grace that dwarfs the
Unified under the life, death, and resurrection of your Son Jesus, we present ourselves to you. It feels too small an offering to give you our praise, limited as it is by human alphabet. It feels too small an offering to give you our songs, is there one you haven’t heard yet? It feels too small an offering to give you ourselves, because everything we can hope to possess or be comes from you. Only the knowledge that you have so wonderfully made us and loved us makes these offerings bearable for us. We give you all we have and are.
In your great love and grace, then, please forgive us of our sins. We drink from the fountain of your grace only to turn in our anger upon someone else. Forgive us of that. Why do we clutch your grace as if it is only for us?
Lord we lay our prayers before your altar. The list in our bulletin continues to represent people who are important to us. As usual we ask for strength for the weak, healing for those who are dying, protection for people who are standing between us and our enemies, joy for those who are folding under the burdens of life, and a peaceful death for the dying. Add to that list, Lord, the people we don’t usually pray for because they just don’t want to share their problems. Add to the list people who are trying to do the right thing by loving difficult people. Give us wisdom, strength, and patience when we’re trying to figure out what in the world to do with people who claim to love you but seem intent on falling short of those claims, with people we love who struggle with addictions or with personal pain so strong that it distorts their lives. We’re at a loss most of the time.
We’ll do what we can to be silent now. Help us to bring our needs to you with trust that you know how to instruct us:
We pray together, with one voice, the prayer that you have taught us:
Friday, August 24, 2007
I get a lot done during weeks like this. The only problem is that I don't have any margins in my schedule to allow me to respond to situations as fully as I would like. That's a problem because I feel like the best ministry happens in the parts of my schedule where meetings aren't planned. People come to meetings with agendas. I come to meetings with agendas. I approach my scheduled tasks with an understanding of what I need to accomplish.
The best ministry happens when I have no idea what God might do in this moment, when the person I'm talking to has finally questioned his or her agenda, when the need of a person and the light of God collide and the prism of the crisis makes the colors of God radiate before us.
I try to keep margins in my schedule for just such reasons. At the end of this week I will feel like I've gotten a lot done, but I'll be less aware of what God has accomplished.
I would like to think more about this but ... the sermon, you know ... like me, it's waiting to be formed.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Monday, August 20, 2007
Meanwhile, the Youth continued with their Nights of the Bizarre, which is an August tradition around here. Last nights games might be with us for awhile. It was a Marshmallow war--with little, tiny marshmallow's all over the building. I suspect that despite the attempts by the youth to pick them off the floor we will still be finding marshmallows for months. I found one in my pocket--no idea how it got there.
Here is a brief video clip of the youth receiving game instruction. I used my cell phone to take the video. That means I can't edit and it is hard to see. Nobody will blame you if you decide not to bother watching it. The guy giving instruction is Ben Lee, youth minister at Hopwood Christian Church. Grandview and Hopwood combine for this annual event. We value Hopwood as a sister church so much that we had Ben Lee (THEIR youth minister) on the search committee for our youth minister. We wanted to make sure anyone we hired would work well with Ben. Enjoy!
With me out of the sanctuary, Theresa's role expanded as well. Her duties included hosting the services and leading the prayers of the church. Her prayer is included at the bottom of this post (Thanks, Theresa).
The first service looked packed yesterday and the numbers on the second service looked strong as well. Next week the Milligan students should be back. I always enjoy their return. Of course, some years we have more students around than others, but I'm always amazed at how sharp the Milligan students I meet are.
One of our challenges at Grandview is that of making more space for folks. The first service doesn't have any real room to grow right now. We are looking forward to getting the old sanctuary refurbished into a multi-purpose room. That space could allow us to start another service. The biggest problem with that, though, is parking. The other space issue that is creeping up on us is our children's area. If you haven't noticed, we've got a lot of kids running around Grandview. These are good problems. The temptation we have to avoid, though, is the temptation to be complacent. I invite you to pray about it--and to be creative.
One more thing! Yesterday was anniversary Sunday at Grandview. Cindy and I celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary. Getting married the same day as Cindy and me were Keith and Sherry Nakoff. Tom and Barbara Stokes also joined the party. They have been married a little bit longer than the Nakoffs and the Wymers (they've made 40 years, I think!). A special congratulations to the Stokes.
August 19, 2007
To the God who pursues us relentlessly in love, we give all glory.
To the God who knows our potential and sees beyond our flaws, we give all honor.
To the God who creates wholeness out of our brokenness, we give all praise.
We thank you, God, for the people you’ve placed in our lives—for the people who challenge us, who offer encouragement, who give us second chances. Your grace poured out through them has transformed us—shaped us more like You.
Might we also be deliverers of Your grace. Open our eyes to those in need. Embolden us, soften our hearts, speak through us. Let us be extensions of your love. Teach us to forgive and to recognize in others the purpose for which they were created.
We thank you, God, for this community of worshipers. Among these people may we find refuge when we mourn. Among these people may we gather strength when we are overburdened with concern. Among these people may we share our joy and laughter. Among these people, may we find family who accept us where we are but who gently lead us to where we should be.
May we welcome the stranger in our midst and extend our friendship beyond these four walls. May this church be Your church, seeking always to follow more closely the example set by Your son, Jesus Christ. Reveal to us how each of us might preach good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, recover sight to the blind and free the oppressed.
And now, we raise our voices as one, praying together the prayer Christ taught us:
Our Father, who art in heaven
Saturday, August 18, 2007
Yesterday, though, I had the rare opportunity (thanks to Fred Norris) to spend time with Chris Bartchy, who (with his wife and two daughters) is a member of a unique community of faith in Munich, Germany. Chris's sister, Beth, is an elder at Grandview.
We enjoyed a nice Alta Cucina lunch (one of my favorites!) and tried to wrap our little brains around how this community in Munich (which is part of the Roman Catholic Church) functions.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Politics or no politics ... I want the United States to put her best foot forward. I want our nation to stand for the poor and the oppressed. I want honestly and integrity at the highest levels of government.
I want leaders who inspire.
I occasionally take some heat for not wanting worship services, directed toward God, to become Patriot Rallies. I want the church to be thankful for this nation without worshiping it.
I want Veterans to be treated with great respect. They've seen too much of the unfathomable horrors of war. Few Veterans will talk about their experiences in war. The cliche' is that "war is hell." The few stories I've heard reveal how shallow and insufficient that cliche' is.
That's why I feel so curious when I walk into the VA hospital in Johnson City and see the picture of VP Cheney that they have hanging on the wall. In a nation of achievers and movers and shakers, in a nation that takes pride in being the superpower and the leader of the free world; I ask you, should this picture be the one we send to VA hospitals?
He looks like the photographer simply took his nerdy 4th grade yearbook photo and digitally make him look 50 years older.
Monday, August 13, 2007
My second worst fear for yesterday's sermon was realized when one of our visitors said this to me ("Michelle" wasn't the name she used). My first worst fear was that "Michelle" would be there. I even scanned the congregation before the prayer in both services. I wasn't sure exactly how I would change the sermon if she were there, but I would have needed to change the opening and closing illustration.
For those of you who don't know, I opened and closed the sermon with a story about a young woman I've seen around town who appears to be gripped by [condition withheld]. I've wanted to say hello to her in the past because it breaks my heart to see her. I did finally meet her last week. I learned her name, what she's doing, where she is from--all of that "first chat" surface kind of information. She learned my name, that I was minister in town, and that I went to Emmanuel for seminary.
I, of course, did not use her name in the sermon. Despite that one missing piece of information, one visitor knew the young woman (by name). Another person knew who I was talking about because she had seen her and felt the same sadness.
Next time I will fictionalize these kinds of examples. Next time it will be a guy I've seen who has leprosy. Next time it will be a three legged horse. I regret bringing her so fully to the mind of the congregation, and I have to pray about what to do about that.
One more point of debriefing. One of our members shared a touching story triggered by yesterday's sermon. He mentioned a man he knew who was pursuing his PhD in New Testament studies in Nashville. The man used to walk out of his way in order to avoid a cluster of prostitutes on the way to his office. He didn't want to get too close to them for fear that his actions would be misinterpreted. Then, when studying Jesus, he realized that Jesus would have walked out of his way toward the prostitutes. He decided to be more like Jesus on the way home. He began walking past the prostitutes and saying hello. There was one prostitute who was there regularly. He said hello to her everyday.
When he was moving from Nashville he stopped and talked to the prostitute while on his way home for the last time. He told her that he wouldn't be coming past the corner anymore. She began crying. She said, "You're the only man I've ever known who hasn't hurt me."
Sometimes the best sermon illustrations find me ten minutes after the sermon. If I could go back and do the sermon again I would open and close with that story and leave "Michelle" out of the sermon completely. Of course, there's no guarantee that someone would know the person in the second story.
Saturday, August 11, 2007
In tomorrow's sermon I plan to focus on the role of Ananias in Paul's conversion. What really impressed me this week is God's confidence in Ananias--and perhaps God's confidence in us.
Anyway, here's tomorrow's prayer. I pray that wherever you are you have a fine day gathering with others to worship tomorrow. It's a privilege.
Prayers of the Church for
August 12, 2007
You called Abraham to walk with Sarah. You called Jonathan to be a friend to David. You called Elisha to learn from Elijah. You called the disciples to walk with your Son, our Savior, Jesus of Nazareth. And you called Ananias to place his hands upon Paul so that he could see you.
In your image you have created us, to be together in faithfulness, love, and joy.
We confess that we too easily become selfish, thinking about ourselves and what we want—and how someone else might get what we want for ourselves. We confess that we try to protect ourselves by lying, becoming angry, separating from each other, and using each other.
Let the scales fall from our eyes so we can see who Jesus was and how he lived; so magnificently, so joyfully, so unafraid of all that tries to crush and destroy! What are we afraid of? You are more than capable of providing the things we need. Who are we afraid of? You are the God who made everyone. Where are we afraid? There is no place where you are not. Why are we afraid? You have shown us that your love is bigger than death.
And so we pray for the people on our prayer list, confident that you are their God, confident that you will supply health, safety, life, encouragement, freedom, release, and peace—even in death.
We pray for missionaries, confident that you are at work where they are. We pray for those getting ready for the mission field, confident that you are organizing their places of service even before they arrive.
We pray for ourselves, that we appreciate the great confidence you have shown in us by calling us to be the church.
We pray for our enemies, confident that one day every knee will bow and confess that Jesus is Lord—even the same Jesus who taught us to pray with one voice:
I did want to share these pictures though. This one is from my 40th birthday. I thought I lost it, but then I found it deep in my hard drive. I love this picture. I am a blessed man.Also, this week we got a brief visit from my nephew, Nathan, and my bro-in-law (you'll notice the resemblance!), Gary. They are in the process of driving from Maryland to New Mexico in an old "Engine-Light-On" Nissan Sentra. Brave. It was great to see them. We did a too fast 5 mile hike on Buffalo Mountain, then they were back on the road the next morning (we also got some good barbecue at Dixie Barbecue). Gary is a captain in the Navy. His last name is Hook (yup, you guessed it).
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
Monday, August 06, 2007
The dissertation proposal hearing went fine, though it was not without its moments. I'm approved to go forward with adding strategies to the "reaching out in relationships" portion of Grandview's vision statement. That doesn't mean I don't have some things to fix (such is the dissertation process).
It's been a busy couple of days around here and I haven't had a chance to mention how good Meg's band is. The following is a brief preview from Saturday night's celebration of the end of band camp. The video is about a minute and a half long.
I need to get ready for my hearing, so this entry will be short (plus I'm tired from that @#!$% train).
I got to see Kent last night. Also, I got to meet current Beeson student Lenny Luchetti and, voila, HE'S BLOGGING! You can check it out here. When I went to his blog it was deja deja vu.
Saturday, August 04, 2007
I'm calling the series "Squeezing Paul," because of the old JB Phillips translation of Romans 12:2. There the Apostle Paul writes, "Don't let the world squeeze you into its mold." I like that. We are always being squeezed into one mold or another, becoming more like Christ or more like something else.
God used a lot of people to squeeze Paul into Christlike-ness. God used Stephen, Ananias, Barnabas, and John Mark (among others). Tomorrow's sermon focuses on Stephen's tragic role.
While studying the killing of Stephen I was reminded this week of the Korean Christians (mostly nurses) who traveled to Afghanistan on a mission of mercy, only to be captured by the Taliban. Two of them have already been killed. The rest are being held for leverage. I've included them in tomorrow's prayer. They have gone largely ignored by our media. I suppose because no Americans are involved.
But there are Christians involved and I should have started praying for them long before now. Pray for their safety. Pray for their witness. Pray for their enemies. Who knows, maybe the ones holding them are quite young? Maybe their hearts, like the Paul's heart while Stephen was being stoned, are ready to crack.
Prayers of the Church for
August 5, 2007
God, your Son taught us that:
The rocks would shout if we kept still and failed to preach your word.
Your glory shines in each life when you at last are heard.
Our ears can be so vain and dull. And we with them are weak.
Today we stop at Stephen’s grave and hear the rocks that speak.
On days like today your Scripture reminds us that the good news about your passionate love for humanity has not simply traveled from mouth to ear to mouth to ear, but that your love letter to us has traveled from wound to wound throughout the ages. Thank you for the many saints who have loved with the intensity of heaven and have suffered for that love. We know Stephen’s name, but there are so many saints whose names we don’t know, saints who have made our faith possible.
There are Stephens right now, in
Lord, when we fail to love in the same way as your Son, when we curse our enemies, when we retaliate against people offend and anger us, when place our own wants, our lusts, our pride, and our safety, above the message of your Grace, forgive us.
Thank you that the missionaries we support are not now ministering under the threat of violence. Please continue to bless the Orths, Coleys, Freelands, Headens, McDades, Nyadors, and Veals. Bless also the Jacksons and the Bruens as they prepare to go into the field.
Thank you for blessing the people on our prayer list, for loving them, tending to their deepest needs, and for being the ground of all hope. Give healing to those who are sick, a peaceful death to those who are dying, comfort to those who are grieving, protection to soldiers and civil servants, hope to the depressed, and release for the oppressed.
Bless also our enemies. The scripture we are about to hear is an example of how costly that blessing can be. Give us ears to hear as we pray according to the example of your Son:
Thursday, August 02, 2007
She chose to go to Blue Hole, which is (quite simply) some of the coldest water around. The video is about 2 minutes long.