Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Doc Doty

I saw a picture of Doc Doty on Eric's Facebook page the other night. It reminded me of a letter that Doc sent me over ten years ago. I had just arrived at the Butler Church of Christ as their new preacher. Just months prior, the church had undergone a difficult time. As I began my ministry there, I sent letters to dozens of Christian leaders. I asked Bible college presidents to pray. I sent a letter to Charles Stanley, even. (He responded personally that he would be praying for us.)

I saved all these letters. My most cherished is from Doc. It means even more to me now that I am preaching at Doc's "home church." I can't imagine what it must have been like for Ron to look out from the pulpit and see Doc sitting among the faithful. What a privilege. Here is what Doc wrote to me:
Dear Frank,

I have kept letter of last month on my desk here at GLCC . . and it has reminded me to pray again and again in your behalf.

Without knowing the specific situation and/or problems at Butler I have taken your name to the Lord, sincerely asking that you might find release from pressure / or tight situations . . or any other oppressive obstacle (or obstacles) confronting you.

It will be a pleasure and a relief whenn you are able to inform me that the matter of concern(s) [is resolved] . . and that you are again at peace in heart and soul.

Sincerely in Christ,

Doc Doty
I don't know whether or not they read blogs in Heaven, but I do know that "we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses." Among that cloud, looking down upon us, is Dr. Brant Lee Doty. Doc, I still covet your prayers. Thanks for standing beside me.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Reflection on SERVE Day

I just watched the late news on WILX. They ran a story about our SERVE day that begin with, "Well, it's not often that you find a pastor encouraging you to skip church. But that's just what Senior Minister Frank Weller of South Lansing Christian Church did. Today the church skipped their worship service in favor of community service."

Well, I did encourage people to skip our 10 AM service. But I also urged them to come back for a special 6 PM service. And they did - about 300 of them, in fact.

In short, today was amazing. There were 338 people that volunteered to serve. Instead of a worship service, we had service worship. Southies . . .
  • . . . packed a semi-load of clothing for shipment to the Ukraine.
  • . . . prepped a garden plot for spring planting as a community garden.
  • . . . hosted a neighborhood carnival.
  • . . . watched lots of little kids so their parents could participate in SERVE day.
  • . . . decorated gift bags to be sent to Haiti (filled with food for hungry Haitians).
  • . . . took dessert to Lansing Police department's North and South Precincts as well as the Detention unit and the 911 Dispatch center. We even had enough for two fire stations.
  • . . . washed and packaged potatoes for distribution at a local assisted living apartment building.
  • . . . painted playground lines at North Elementary school.
  • . . . cleaned up Burchfield Park.
  • . . . painted a jungle gym at Hawk Island Park.
  • . . . sang and visited at the nursing home.
  • . . . sorted food at the food bank.
  • . . . cleaned the teeth of dozens of head-start kids.
  • . . . packaged enough meals to feed 11,000 people for Kids Against Hunger.
  • . . . built a porch and wheelchair ramp for a disabled man in Mason.
All told, there were over 1,000 "person hours" committed to serving today. Probably more.

For almost a year, our church has been challenged to Seek, Study and Serve God. Today, I sense that our folks really embraced the challenge to serve. I don't know, for sure, the lasting effects of today's efforts. I suspect, however, that our folks are more excited about serving than ever.

Not only did I see a lot of people acting like Jesus today. I think I also saw many of them become more like Him, too. What a day!

Friday, October 17, 2008

One more from Dave Shiflett

Just finished reading Exodus: Why Americans Are Fleeing Liberal Churches for Conservative Christianity by Dave Shiflett. (See previous post). Shiflett had one more quote I wanted to pass along. He interviewed Chuck Colson to get his take on the state of the Faith in America. Shiflett writes:
"The sixties were laudable in their efforts to bring social justice to society," Colson said. At the same time this was the period when Liberal churches did good things for many people. But they also became less spiritually relevant. "People want the real thing. They are not interested in a pale substitute, because it can never satisfy. It just doesn't answer the questions people have."

Today, he said, many churches that are presumed to be orthodox, at least compared with mainline churches, are making the same mistake. This is especially true in some of the large evangelical churches, which Colson said are the purveyors of "self-centered worship. You may get people to come to those churches, and you may have church growth. But you will not have church impact. The reason is that church becomes increasingly like the culture. People go in, see a skit, listen to some music, hear a soothing sermon, and think they've done their Christian duty. They are entering the exact precarious position the mainline found itself in in the sixties and seventies." As such these churches may eventually see their own pews empty. What churches should be doing, Colson said, is teaching believers that Christianity offers a sound and rational explanation of life and helping them to "see the world through God's eyes and govern their behavior accordingly."
This is particularly relevant on the eve of our church's largest service project ever. As we make an effort to serve the community we must not make the same mistake that mainline churches committed a generation ago. Service and theological liberalism are not necessarily tied to one another. We can serve while making sure that, in matters of doctrinal essentials, we have unity. And, we must do so.

The Weller "Bandos"

Every year the Grand Ledge School bands perform at the "Festival of Bands." The two middle school bands perform, and then the High School marching band files in the auditorium to the drumline's cadence. My son, Caleb, is the snare drum, second from the right. My daughter, Abby, is the flag in the balcony on the end. The locals call this event the "Park and Blow," because this is the one event where the marching band is not marching. Enjoy!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Preaching that is relevant . . .

I have been challenged by a book I am reading. Dave Shiflett, in his book Exodus, chronicles the mass exodus out of mainline denominations like the United Methodist, Presbyterian, and Disciples of Christ churches. He observes that congregants don't want to hear political pablum from their pulpits:
Most people don't go to church to learn the minister's opinions on whatever happens to be in the headlines. They can get similar opinions sitting on their sofas watching television, quite possibly presented by someone much better-looking.

Most people go to church to get something they cannot get elsewhere. The consuming public - people who already believe, or who are attempting to believe, or who want their children to believe - go to church to learn about the mysterious Truth on which the Christian religion is built. They want the Good News, not the minister's political views or intellectual coaching. The latter creates sprawling vacancies in the pews. Indeed, those empty pews can be considered the earthly reward for abandoning heaven, traditionally understood.
I agree with Shiflett, I think, (except, perhaps about the better-looking part). That is why I've steered clear of politics in preaching. I do wrestle, however, with the tension of preaching what is relevant to the times in which we find ourselves. The headlines often have moral and spiritual significance. A recent issue of City Pulse, Lansing's self proclaimed newspaper, "for the rest of us," recently carried a cover story promising to tell us "What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality."

Where the headlines are so clearly in opposition to the Scriptures as I, our church, and indeed two thousand years of orthodox Christianity understand them, I cannot and should not remain silent.

So where is the line between personal political opinion and scriptural absolutes?

Oh, it turns out Shiflett is a pretty good songwriter, too.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Our youth minister, Chad, is looking to sell his Jeep Wrangler. The funny thing is, he bought it just a couple months ago. When he made the purchase, he was puzzled. The Jeep was a four speed, but the knob on the gear shifter had a 5-speed pattern on it. His solution? Go to the junkyard and get a knob with a four-speed pattern. (I think we all have some OCD tendencies, actually).

Come to find out, it actually is a five-speed. The real problem was with the transmission.

Frankly, I do the same thing a lot of times. There is a problem, but rather than deal with it, I buy a different knob and slap it on. My effort at redefining normal doesn't change anything for the better, it doesn't fix anything, but it sure makes me feel better. So here's to you, Mr. put-a-new-knob-on-it man. As my old friend, Terry Ulm used to tell me, "When confronted with something uncomfortable . . . try not to think about it."

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Hope for hurting pastors

I enjoyed an evening out last night with Tracy and two of our elders and their wives. We attended the PastorCare banquet in Grand Rapids. A ministry devoted to restoring wounded pastors and their families, PastorCare is meeting a significant need. Consider these statistics that were shared with us last night:
  • 70% of pastors do not have someone they consider a closer friend.
  • 50% feel unable to meet the needs of the job.
  • 45% of pastors say that they've experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from their ministry.
  • The clergy has the second highest divorce rate among all professions.
According to the Ministering to Ministers Foundation:
  • Over 1600 pastors in the United States are forced out of their positions each month.
  • Nearly 1 in 4 pastors experience a forced termination at least once in their ministry.
  • Only 54% of pastors go back into full-time church related positions.
I thank God for John Smith, the Executive Director of Pastorcare.

After leaving our church in Indiana, I experienced some extremely difficult emotions. We poured our life into the church for a decade, and it just wasn't easy to say goodbye. We knew God was calling us to South Lansing - that was clear. But that didn't make the grieving any easier. The feeling that I was leaving home, family, and the church I loved overwhelmed me. People I loved didn't know how to talk with me about our leaving, so much was left unsaid. Friendships were strained; my best friend and I didn't even say "goodbye." My approach: suck it up and deal with it. Nevertheless, on the advice of a fellow pastor, I called John and sat down with him. He was able to help me deal with my emotions and keep from growing bitter or angry.

I am a healthier preacher today because of John Smith and PastorCare.

October is "Clergy Appreciation Month." Make sure you drop your preacher a card and tell him how much his work means to you. And, if you're so inclined, consider making a donation to PastorCare in their honor.

Monday, October 06, 2008


Me thinks that tractor's sexy . . .

Came across a cool website tonight that made me think of my childhood. I grew up on the seat of a tractor - several different ones actually. My grandfather had an old Ford tractor with a wide front end - an 8N, I think. It had a push button starter right next to the gear shifter. He used it to pull hay wagons and haul manure. It was a dandy.

Dad had an Allis Chalmers WD. I loved that tractor because it had a hand clutch that made it easier to drive. I could gently pull back on that clutch and start rolling without killing the motor. She had four levers on the steering column. Two were pull levers - one on the left that was the choke and one on the right to start the motor. Two others controlled the throttle and the hydraulic bucket on the front. Dad had every imaginable add-on for that tractor: front-end loader, cultivators, two-bottom plow and even a sub-soiler.

When I got older dad bought a Farmall Super-M and later a Farmall 400. Those both had road gears that made them fly - or at least it seemed that way to a fourteen-year-old.

My favorite tractor by far, though, was our green Oliver 1600. The steering wheel was adjustable - two ways, in fact. (Its pictured there in the corner.) You could swivel it upward and raise it so you could drive the tractor standing up. It also had big wide fenders. I would sit on them while dad cultivated corn and beans with the three-point mounted eight-row cultivator. Years later, when I missed the school bus one morning, I threw "Ollie" into sixth gear and drove it the three miles to school.

We have a green John Deere lawn tractor in the garage these days. I've left the farm, but the farm has stayed with me . . . and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Choosing Mickey over missions

This is a true story. It was relayed to me by my missionary sister earlier today. This is a story about a church's priorities gone askew. It is a tale of an unreached people group that may very well never read the Bible in their own language because an American church decided, among other things, their children's church needed more "pop." I have changed the names, and some of the details.

Eight years ago, Mike and Tracy Goeglein rejoiced when they learned that a Midwestern mega-church had decided to adopt the Kaputo people group in African. Bible translators, Mike and Tracy have devoted their life to seeing that people who don't know Jesus Christ have the word of God in their own language. Together, along with other missionaries from their organization, they signed a lengthy covenant with the Independent Christian Church that agreed to be their partners in this monumental endeavor to bring the Bible to the Kaputo.

It was a win-win. Mike and Tracy would have the resources necessary for their work; the church would accomplish its goal to evangelize an unreached people group; the Kaputo would receive God's Word in their native tongue.

Mike and Tracy returned to Africa and threw themselves into their work. Two years passed and a new pastor arrived on the scene at the mega-church. Changes were instituted. The most significant was the church's determination to be more "elder-led" and less "staff driven." As a consequence, a significant number of the church staff was fired, including the mission's minister that was the architect of the covenant between the church and Mike and Tracy.

An ocean away from these changes, however, Mike and Tracy felt relatively secure that their partnership with this Restoration Movement megachurch was stable. After all, they had signed a covenant, and that word meant something. So, they confidently continued in their efforts to bring God's Word to the Kaputo. Then, just two years ago, the church announced that their mission's ministry had "received another calling" and sent "Dear John" letters to more than fifty of the missionaries they supported. Of the church's seventy-one missionaries, only seventeen would continue to receive financial backing. Some were cut off immediately. Others, like Mike and Tracy, were given two years notice so that they could find other streams of revenue for their work.

Of course, the Goegleins were in Africa, so finding other supporters - especially those with pockets as deep as the 6,000 member church that was abandoning them - was particularly difficult. Mike and Tracy's stateside colleagues visited the church and implored them to reconsider. They were told, however, that the church's new mission strategy was more short-term in its approach. Their new "calling" was to send short-term missionaries or teams that would be in and out of a country within five years. With the average Bible translation requiring an investment of twenty or more years, the Goeglein's work did not fit the new parameters.

Eventually the Goegleins themselves returned home to ask the church's elders to reconsider. They did not. In the course of their meeting, however, Mike and Tracy were treated to a tour of the church's new facility. They were shown the multiple large-screen video projection units that the church was in the process of installing. The tour guide explained that the congregation had recently contracted with a Disney consultant to develop an animated Noah's ark theme for the children's wing.

Mike and Tracy are back in Africa now. They and their children survive on beans and lentils. There is not much protein in their diet - maybe a chicken to eat every other night. The mission support they have counted on from the megachurch ends in December. Just after Christmas. What then?

While children in the heartland will be treated to an amazing children's facility that boasts animatronic giraffes with heads that sway above the roof of a cartoonish Noah's ark, the Goegleins wonder if the Kaputo children will ever be able to read about the real Noah. While the elders of this megachurch set aside the covenant they signed in which they agreed to partner with the elders of the Kaputo tribe, one has to ask: if the Kaputo ever get a Bible in their own tongue, and if they learn to read that Bible, are they not going to ask, "If God's people can so easily jettison a document that they call a 'covenant', will not God do the same with His?"

Shame on us.

Caleb's first deer

My son, Caleb, shot his first deer during last weekend's Michigan youth hunt. Admittedly, this isn't the biggest deer in the woods. When the adrenaline is pumping and the deer is out there all by himself, though, it's a bit tough to estimate the size - especially when its your first time looking at brown through a scope.

This little button buck will taste pretty good, and Caleb is hooked on hunting for life, I think.

Jonah got a shot at a nice 6-point, but the jitters took over and he missed. It was a great weekend that primed the Weller men for November 15!

When pumpkins drink . . .

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Dave said . . .

During last week's Bob Russell retreat we had a chance to sit down with Dave Stone, the Senior Pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. As we introduced ourselves, Dave asked each of us what was one issue we were currently working through in our church. I told him we were transitioning to become a church that "seeks, studies, and serves God." I explained that inculcating the congregation with this mission and paring away everything that was not "Seek, Study and Serve," was our highest priority.

I really like it when Dave said, "I noticed your email. Seekstudyserve.org - very cool." I confessed to Dave that we developed the mission after hearing about it indirectly from Southland Christian Church. I told him that we purchased ".com", and ".net" as well as our website's ".org." Dave frequently has contact with Jon Weece, the Senior Minister at Southland, so I jokingly told him, "When you talk to Jon, let him know we'd be happy to sell him one of the URLs we're not using." Dave retorted, "For just a week's worth of offering, right!"

A week's worth of Southland's offering? I'd say that oughta 'bout cover it . . .

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

As you requested

Mark Christian preached in my absence this past Sunday at South. Kris Bargan made a little video to introduce him to the congregation. It was a hoot! Several have requested to see it, so here it is: