Thursday, March 31, 2011

30 things that thrill me - Day 15

Taking a drink of water from a fire hydrant.

I returned from Drive Conference this morning, collapsing into bed at about 4 AM. The three days was inspiring, amazing and challenging.

Andy Stanley is the founder and lead pastor of North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia. In the last decade and a half, North Point has developed into a multi-campus church that is devoted to moving people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. Their vision: to become a church for people that don't like church.

They've had some success at it, too, reaching thousands of unchurched and de-churched people that, for one reason or other, have avoided church and, by and large, Jesus for their whole lives.

The thing about this sort of conference is this: what I learned isn't so much mind altering as it is affirming what I already believe. It challenges me to return to my basic assumptions about ministry and church and implement them in fresh ways. For example . . .

The church is the only institution that exists, primarily, for the benefit of those who do not yet belong. Over and over we heard Drive presenters tell us that their goal is to remove whatever obstacles that unchurched people have between them and the church. They're not afraid of offending people with the gospel - the gospel was offensive in Jesus' day, and remains so today - they just don't want to offend them in the parking lot, in the foyer, or when they drop their children off in the nursery. To that end, they work very, very hard to make sure their guests are treated well.

The folks at South Lansing Church of Christ do a good job in this regard - at least from my perspective. But I don't know about the perspective of someone that has never been to church. How can I assess that? It is a question I need to come up with an answer to.

We also heard about the importance of the Sunday worship service in communicating one clear, unified, concise message. This is done through the singing, through the sermon and through the elements that accompany those. Our Wally Lowman does an amazing job with our singing. (I knew at least 2/3 of the tunes we sang at Drive because Wally is right there on the leading edge.) I need to make sure that I am doing my part to present the message in compelling and clear ways.

I attended breakout sessions that detail how North Point does their fund raising, how they provide opportunities for community service, how their students ministries work and a handful of other elements within their church.

Frankly, my head is spinning a bit.

It is like trying to take a drink from a fire hydrant on a hot summer day. You don't know how much water you're able to rally ingest. Probably not that much. But you do get awfully wet. And the very act of trying to take a drink becomes more refreshing that, perhaps, you thought possible.

Monday, March 28, 2011

30 things that thrill me - Day 14

Babies with cool hats.

My friend, Jackie Palmer, recently began a new business, Baby Toppers. She makes one-of-a-kind hats for infants. They are, in a word, amazing. Her marketing plan is made easier, I suppose, since Jackie is also a gifted photographer. She is an artist, frankly, that happens to work in multiple mediums: yarn and film.

Makes me wish I was a grandpa. (Nothing even remotely suggestive here, Weller children. I'll wait patiently.)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

30 things that thrill me - Day 13

Springtime in Kentucky.

I am on the road today headed to Northpoint Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia with Wally and Rob. We're headed to the Drive Conference at Andy Stanley's church. Conferences like me inspire me and stoke my ministry fires.

We're traveling by car and stopped by Skyline Chili in Dry Ridge, Kentucky. Rob ate the four-way and Wally ate the five-way. I had three chili dogs.

As we were eating and watching the finish of the Kentucky / NC game, I looked out the window and noticed a pasture full of polled Hereford cattle. My grandpa raised a small herd of Herefords when I was growing up. Their roan colored bodies and white faces are cute as, well, a cow I guess. As I was plowing into my final chili dog I saw a calf skipping across the hillside toward its mother. As I finished my dinner, the calf began his.

There is something about a calf being let out of the barn in springtime that makes me want to skip along with him. My heart is light tonight.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

30 things that thrill me - Day 12

Little kids that memorize movie lines.

Regularly readers of Frankly Speaking (I think there are four or five) will recall that I am a substitute school bus driver. After a year of subbing at Holt Schools, I just recently began having some really good conversations with my co-workers. They've begun asking questions about theology and sharing things they would like me to pray about. The Kingdom of God right there in the break room. I think that is where Jesus would be.

Not that it is without frustration. Yesterday I was taking a bus load of elementary students home and it wasn't going well. I am handed a route sheet with the names and addresses of students as well as directions for the route. The problem is, I don't know which students are on, and which students are not.

It is a Friday afternoon, so the students are amped up. I arrive at my first stop and activate my warning lights only to hear, "They aren't on." I proceed. Next stop - same thing. Third stop, ditto. I can see that it is going to take a long time to get home, so I ask if there is a student helper that would like to assist me. Someone volunteers, but it turns out that she doesn't know Jefferson from Washington - the Presidents or the streets. Frustration builds. I am tense.

Then Matt, a kid with autism stands up. I see him in the mirror and am about to tell him to be seated when he looks at me and, with his best Emperor Palpatine voice says, "I feel your anger."

The kid just cracks me up.

I look at him and gravely intone, "I am a Jedi," and then waving my hand from left to right, "But you don't believe me." He replies, "Commander, you may fire when ready."

Now I am a little worried. Maybe he is a Jedi. For the rest of the trip Matt is quoting star wars lines and even cackling like the Emperor in Revenge of the Sith.

What a great afternoon.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

30 things that thrill me - Day 11

Looking forward.

This morning revealed a one-eighth layer of ice on the windshield of my car, requiring about five minutes of scraping before I could head out to work. Wait a minute! I thought Spring began on Monday, What gives with the snow and ice?

If there is anything I have learned in my three years, seven months and twenty-three days since moving to Michigan it is that winter is a season to be survived. There are those hale and hearty souls that embrace the cold. They can't wait to get the parkas out of the closet and throw the boots on the cold air return. For them, a garage full of snowmobiles, a hole in the ice, and a ski rack on the roof of the car are pulse accelerants.

Not me.  I've had to learn the art of looking forward to survive winter.

Here is how it works.

First, one must avoid looking forward too soon. November 1st is the earliest one can begin the anticipatory glance. About the time the last maple leaf hits the ground thoughts naturally turn to hunting season. Any early frost or chilly pre-winter morning is mitigated by thoughts of killing "the big buck." These ruminations turn bitter, though, about lunch time on November 16th when you realize you're going to have to freeze your butt off for another week before you get a shot at a doe, let alone something with antlers.

But by that time you've already started looking ahead to Thanksgiving. Football. Turkey. Football. Mashed potatoes. Football. Sweet potato pie. Football. Dessert. And, football. By the time the Lions are nearing the conclusion of their annual Thanksgiving Day Thumping, the strategists among your family are already looking forward to Christmas. (Kicked off, naturally, by the annual morning after shopping binge on black Friday.) Thoughts of sugar plums and gaily colored packages even foster a hope for snow, a white Christmas filled with family, tradition and consumerism.

For many, the post-Christmas period is the beginning of the long winter's depressive marathon. Not for me. I'm already looking forward to the playoffs. The Colts are generally in the hunt for an AFC title and a trip to the Superbowl. If they falter, as they did last year, however, I can still look forward to hating the Steelers and their fans, the combine IQ of which scarcely reaches into four digits.

If God smiles on Peyton and the boys, this anticipation will carry me all the way into the second week of February, by which time I am able to look forward to March Madness - sixty-eight teams all straining to cut down the nets and have their upraised fists featured in the final frame of "One Shining Moment." Sparty is out this year, but I am still rooting for the Butler Bulldogs.

By the time Duke (I hate them too) wins another national championship in Houston on April 4th, I should be getting the blades on the mower sharpened and raking the detritus from the lawn in anticipation of Turf Wars 2011 - The Battler of the Dog Bombs. And, with the break in the weather, I will once again be able to live in the moment and stop looking so far ahead in order to maintain my sanity.

Looking forward. Try it some time.

NOTE - No, I don't hate anybody. I was using hyperbole. Pastors aren't allowed to hate - except the Devil. And rock music. And dancing. And alcohol. And, possibly Democrats. (Again, hyperbole.)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

30 things that thrill me - Day 10

Wonder bread.

If your house is like ours, you're probably trying to be more careful about what you eat. A few months ago our doctor gave us a simple rule: don't eat anything that is white. Now, I don't think she was talking about cauliflower and milk so much. Rather, she was talking about bread and pasta and the like. We have tried to follow that rule by eating more whole grain pasta, whole wheat bread and even whole grain tortillas.

I've been stuck with whole wheat bread since childhood. Grandma Weller always had Roman Meal on hand at her house. I hated it. It is hard to say which tasted worse - Grandma's Roman Meal or the Lumberjack bread that my dad favored. I didn't know you could make bread with sawdust; I didn't know bread was supposed to crunch when you ate it.

Nowadays I don't mind the crunchy bread as much. It's tasty enough and, if it is better for me, then great.

Today, though, when I went to the bread outlet to pick up a couple of loaves I was disappointed (okay, not really) to find that they were out of the good-for-you stuff. They had dozens of loaves of Wonder Bread, though. White wrappers. Multi-colored dots. Memory filled.

I was tempted to untwist the tie right there and take a big whiff. Thinking that the clerk might wonder what a forty-three-year-old dude was doing with his head stuck in a plastic wrapper, though, I waited until I got home and had supper. Tracy made pot roast and veggies and it was great. I pulled out a couple of slices and dipped them in the au jus. Oh. My. Goodness. A super-tasty carb-filled trip down memory lane.

It is a small thing, and I expect that I'll be back chewing oats again pretty soon. (Much sooner when the boys find out there is Wonder in the pantry.) I'm pretty certain that a little bit of bleached flour isn't gonna kill me. I'm not going to make a habit of it.

Now, if I can just find some butter and colby cheese . . .

Monday, March 21, 2011

30 things that thrill me - Day 9

Worms on the sidewalk.

The warmer weather and the rain flushed the worms from their tunnels this morning - yet another portent of Spring. Our Children's Minister, Betty Allen, is deathly afraid of worms. Occasionally the twenty foot stretch between the back door of our office wing and the parking lot is littered with the drowning creatures. When that happens, Betty tip-toes to her car like the parking lot is a minefield.

Of course, she does not have to brave the horror this morning. She is enjoying the sunny, warm weather of Bern, North Carolina with her husband, Dana - a gift in recognition of her tenth anniversary as a staff person at South Lansing Christian Church.

As for me, I'm content to know that today is the first day of Spring and, even if its not quite warm enough for my taste, the worms know that winter is behind us.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

30 things that thrill me - Day 8

The first robin of Spring.

I saw my first robin as I was leaving South Lansing Christian Church today. As much as any other sign that warm weather is approaching, the "first robin" has been the traditional portent of spring in our family for as long as I can remember. There is something about seeing that bright orange breast and bright eye that makes me want to put the winter coat in the storage and break out the shorts.

We're a few weeks away from that, of course. But Spring is definitely on her way!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

30 things that thrill me - Day 7

Hearing, "Cancer free!"

My buddy, Luke F.
My friend Sean has a five-year-old son named Luke. Luke is cancer free, but that was not always the case. Two Decembers ago Monica, Luke's mom, was giving then three-year-old Luke a bath when she noticed a small lump on his hip. She made a Thursday morning appointment with their pediatrician to have it checked out. By Saturday Luke was an inpatient at the University of Michigan receiving his first round of chemotherapy.

His cancer was something called, rhabdomyosarcoma, a nasty cancer that seems to attack mostly little boys. Christmas was spent trying to explain to their son why he had to be in the hospital and trying to put on a brave face for their family and friends who had to bring Luke's presents to a pediatric cancer ward. n short, it was a nightmare. Monica was finishing up her doctoral dissertation at the time. She and Sean had another little boy at home to care for. Time and again they made the trek from East Lansing to Ann Arbor for Luke's treatment.

Sean remembers, "I learned to pray really strange prayers. I learned to pray about white-cell counts and shrinking tumors. Since Luke's immune system was weakened, we stayed home a lot so he wouldn't get sick. A common cold, for him, could be deadly."

Three months ago, Sean, Monica and Luke celebrated Christmas 2010 cancer free. While Luke has to go to Ann Arbor from time to time to monitor his progress, doctors are optimistic that Luke is cured.

Luke is the reason I am shaving my head in two weeks. St. Baldrick's is a charitable organization that is dedicated to raising money for pediatric cancer research. The are determined to give researchers the funding and tools that they need to insure that all of the Lukes in this world can win their battle against cancer.

Would you help me help St. B's help kids like Luke by going to my St. Baldrick's page and pledging $10 or $20 to help in this fight? Please, help me help other kids hear the two most amazing words of their young life: "Cancer free!" Thanks.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

30 things that thrill me - Day 6

Being on the "B" team.

I led worship this Sunday at South Lansing Christian Church. Wally was hosting the Michigan Statewide Teen Convention, so I got the nod.

Here's the thing: Wally Lowman is one of the most gifted worship leaders I've known. What is more, he is the most gifted worship leader I have ever personally worked with. That isn't just praise from a starry-eyed preacher either. I was trained as a worship leader and led worship in two churches for nearly ten years before being called to preach. When I came to South I owned a couple of guitars and had a whole file full of worship  music. Six months in I sold both by guitars and bought a deer rifle. Wally's just that good.

So Sunday I got to play with the worship band. Dr. Joe and Tim played guitar; Carey was on bass; Jared Harris, a college student played keys and my son, Caleb, was on drums. My daughter and three of her friends from GLCC sang background vocals. In other words, it was an "A" band with a "B" leader. And I loved every minute of it!

One might think that, with the "A" preacher subbing as the "B" worship leader, the preaching might be sub-par. Nope. South's Director of LifE Groups, Greg Steere preached, and did so with exceptional clarity and transparency. People were genuinely moved to consider their life and doctrine and how they match up to what God desires. People will be talking about Sunday, March 13, 2011 for some time, and it won't be because I pinch hit for Wally.

Every Senior Minister approaches days "out of the pulpit" with mixed emotions. One is naturally grateful for the chance to be refreshed, and one welcomes the opportunity for the congregation to hear a different voice proclaim the same truth. But every preacher I know secretly wonders, "What if the congregation hears better preaching from that guy than they do from me?"

Truth be told, I believe SLCC heard a highlight sermon on Sunday. Our folks will be eager for Wally's return this week. And I am excited to preach this week. I suppose I could wrestle with some insecurities - who wouldn't with Greg's sermon fresh in the memories of the faithful. But truth be told, I am just grateful to have so great an "A" team that I am, from time to time, able to be on the second string.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

30 things that thrill me - Day 5

Doctrinal disagreements discussions.

I enjoyed chatting with Soren this morning. We had a wide-ranging, spirited discussion about topics of concern in the Restoration Movement. The role of women. Is baptism necessary for salvation? Are Standard Publishing, Orchard Group, and CDF forming a triumvirate that is planning to take over the world?

Good stuff.

It has been interesting to see how Mike and I have changed over the years. When we were younger, we were a bit more fired up, I think. Mike remembers a confrontation I initiated after he preached at The Northmen the first time. (I was right, by the way.) Over time I think we have both softened some - not necessarily in our doctrine, but certainly in our dogmatism.

The thing is, I think Mike is right. Baptism is necessary for salvation - at least as necessary as repentance, or confessing the name of Jesus Christ, or as believing in Jesus or persevering to the end. Then again, when I talk with - we would call them - "denominational friends," they're quite sure that they're right; all I have to do to be saved is believe.

The folks at Willow Creek Community Church have women elders; so do a handful of Christian Churches. Some would say that, while the Ephesus Christian Church didn't allow their women to "speak or have authority over a man" that the church in Rome went another direction and permitted women to lead. Lately, I lean a little more toward Rome; Soren leans more toward Ephesus.

Some people run from even a hint of conflict. When the theological claws come out, they hide under the bed with the other scaredy-cats. And that's okay. Conflict, especially the church variety, can be particularly virulent if unrestrained. A little bit now and then, though, is a good thing, I think. It reminds us that doctrine matters. It matters because God matters, God's Word matters, and how we respond to it matters.

So, in spite of our occasional friendly needling about the 5% of issues where we might differ, I thank God - not just for where we agree - but for the whole 100%.

Monday, March 14, 2011

30 things that thrill me - Day 4

National Preaching Summit.

I am at the National Preaching Summit in Indianapolis, Indiana for two days of stoking my preaching fire. This is an annual event that is designed by preachers for preachers. I can't help but get jacked up about the proclamation of the gospel when I come here.

This year's lineup is solid! Ben Cachiaras, Bob Russell, Billy Strother and Ben Merold are not only solid preaching practitioners, but are able to teach others how to do what they do. Here are some nuggets of what we've heard so far:

Bob Russell on the need for more preachers - "We need to become a preacher producing machine in the next ten years in our brotherhood."

Dr. Billy Strother - "We cannot preach to the wounded unless we just let Jesus have us."

Ben Cachiaras - "This one thing that we're charged with, this stewardship of the mysteries of God is the most important thing we can do."

I am privileged to share this seminar with five students from Great Lakes Christian College. These young men are part of the Advanced Homiletics class that I teach there. Hearing some legends teach about preaching and watching these guys soak it all up is inspiring.

If you're a preacher and have not taken in a NPS, mark down next year's dates (March 12-13) and plan to attend.

Friday, March 11, 2011

30 things that thrill me - Day 3

The wonderful "seasoned citizens" at South Lansing Christian Church.

The older folks that attend the church where I preach are some of the most graceful people I have ever had the pleasure to know. They are supportive. They are faithful - both to God and to their church. They are committed to growing in their faith even when many of their peers have locked into spiritual cruise control.

If I could identify a characteristic that makes them uniquely special, however, it is their flexibility.

Their generation has experienced more changes that mine can possibly imagine. They've had a front row seat as they have watched the everyday conveniences and amazing gadgets that we take for granted go from the stuff of comic books to reality. The church has not been exempt from the changes that they have observed and, in some cases, endured, either.

Nowhere have these changes been more dramatic than in the church's music. And, in this respect, our older church members have demonstrated amazing patience and flexibility. I have been told this several times since coming to Lansing, but a video from a fellow preacher's blog drew a sharp contrast between the good folks here and the . . . well, watch the video and decide for yourself.

To be fair, I don't know this dear woman. I don't know the church, the music or the situation. On the other hand, I think every preacher knows this woman. She makes demands and cloaks them as a plaintive request. She issues threats and then wraps them in a pietistic, "We're praying for you."

Our folks aren't that way. Years ago, when our church was transitioning to a more contemporary style of worship music, our leaders communicated with these stakeholders frequently. This dialogue helped immensely, but what really made the difference was the attitude our older constituency had as characterized by one woman who said, "I can't say that I like the new music as much as the old, but when I look around me and see all the young people here worshiping, I understand and support what you're doing."

That's not to say we've always got it right. We haven't. We've had to break out the decibel meter from time to time. And, on occasion, we've had good people urge us to do so more frequently. But the men and women who have talked to us about our volume and variety in our worship sets have always done so with respect and grace.

Thank God for them.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

30 things that thrill me - Day 2

That shrinky stuff that you put on electronical wires.

Did some work tonight on my MacBook Pro power adapter. It bit the dust the other day - the second one to do so in three years. My co-worker, Wally, says it is because I am too hard on them, and he is probably right. He has had the same one for five years now. To that I say, I have had the same wife for nearly 25 years, Wally, and she is better than ever, so there!

Anyway, Wally suggested I check out as they have a procedure for fixing everything on the MacBook. Everything but the power supply.

So I did what any self respecting redneck would do. I went to the garage, fired up the Dremel tool and started cutting. Ten minutes later I had the case cracked and found the broken wire. With a little help from a soldering iron, some red electrical tape left over from my son's drumstick wrapping stash and some patience, I had it back together in record time.

My favorite part of the repair, however, was when I got to use that shrinky stuff that you put on wires for insulation. I don't know if you've ever used it, but it is the electricians' equivalent to the shrinky-dinks you played with when you were a kid.

You just slide it on and hit it with the heat gun and shlllip, it form fits to the repaired wire. I love the stuff. I know that makes me weird. But at least I am not as weird as the dude who wrote a Wikipedia entry about the stuff. Now that guy (or girl) has some issues.

Remember, its the little things.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

30 things that thrill me - Day 1

I'll admit it. I am easily impressed, easily appeased. Easily . . . happified.

In fact, it is often the littlest things that make me the happiest. That is not to say that big things don't make me happy, too. They do, of course. So if you're thinking about buying me a new iPad2, I'll take the 3G, 32 GB version thank you very much!

And yet, little things suffice. So, in celebration of the little things that make me happy, I will be celebrating one per day, for the next thirty days.

Day One - The end of the double space.

According to Farhad Manjoo, it is not only no longer necessary to hit the space bar twice after punctuation, but rather, it is unacceptable. Thank goodness. No more having to remember if I did or not. No more lopsided right index finger (I never had Ms. Mavis so take it easy.) Just one simple, elegant space.

Thank you Manjoo. Oh . . . love the surname, by the way. Any name with "man" in it sounds pretty cool.  Mandolin, Mannequin, Manitoba, Manistee, Mandarin oranges. . . . you . . . "the man."