Saturday, December 31, 2005

The End of the World

"Don't worry about the world coming to an end today -- It's already tomorrow in Australia.

-- Charles Schultz

Friday, December 30, 2005

Christmas Eve in an Abandoned Church

Minong is a small village about 20 miles northeast Hayward. Several families from that area travel the half hour or so to go to church with us.

Just a few months ago, Faith Nazarene Church (one of only three in the town), closed up. The Catholics and Lutherans are the only ones left now. Minong is like Garrison Keillor's Wobegon, where you're either "Catholic, Lutheran or weird."

But now, Minong had lost their weird church -- and there ought to be at least one weird church in every community!

The empty church sat on the corner -- a symbol of shattered hopes and dreams. (much like the old stump from my previous post.)

We have a small group that meets in Minong. They are one of the best groups in our church -- full of faith, laughter, and deep fellowship. I have met with them a few times, asking the question, "What is God doing in Minong, and how can we join Him?"

Last week, together, we dared to do something crazy -- something deliciously weird!

We held a candlelight Christmas Eve Service in the little abandoned church!

The Nazarenes kindly allowed us to use the building and our small group worked like everything, sprucing up the place for Christmas. They quickly spread the word to their family and friends.

"Come to church with us for Christmas Eve!"

We found some singers to lead a few carols, put together a small children's ensemble, found an excellent violin player, and some guitar players too (one guitar player, a rock & roller named Shawn, is really new to the church scene. He just recently came to Christ through the small group, and had sure never played Christmas carols in church before!)

The piano was tuned on December 23 -- and June, (a Presybertian from the next town over) graciously agreed to tickle the ivories.

I wondered if anybody would show up.

Coming directly from a Christmas Eve service in Hayward, I arrived 20 minutes after the service had begun -- and I could hardly believe my eyes!

The little church was packed full of people! 106 showed up (and we only had 100 chairs!)
Most of these folks were complete strangers to me -- but somehow, on this Christmas Eve, our hearts were knit together as one.

Jeremy, our children's pastor, preached a powerful sermon -- and led the people in a prayer to open their hearts to Jesus.

At the end of the service we collected communication cards from the congregation -- and discovered that a dozen people had marked their cards, saying that they had made a commitment to Christ that night!

I drove home, singing, "Gloria! In Excelsis Deo!"

It will be interesting to see what happens next!

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Congregation Size: What the Research Tells Us

Here is a fascinating article by Marlis McCollum, of the Alban Institute:
Congregation Size: What the Research Tells Us

It speaks of church demographics -- and the strengths and challenges of small vs. large congregations.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Giving to God

In his novel, The Diary of a Country Priest, the hero brings his life to a close with the following prayer:

"Dear God, I give all to You, willingly. But I don't know how to give, I just let you take. The best is to remain quiet. Because, though I may not know how to give, You know how to take. . . Yet I would have wished to be, once, just once, magnificently generous to You."

In a moment of candor, Bernano once said, "Of all the people I have ever known, the boy I used to be was most important."

Leading and Managing Your Ministry

Here's a great article by my friend, Alan Nelson, on Leading and Managing Your Ministry. Excellent insights here for pastors!

(Alan's wife, Nancy, and I were ordained at the same time. )

Managers need leaders and leaders need managers!

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Bigger Than Willow Creek

Today, we held our regular schedule of three worship services -- 8:20, 9:40 and 11:00.

Just over 300 people attended -- which is less than half of our normal Sunday morning crowd.

Still, for one Sunday we were bigger than Willow Creek.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Mystery Santa

Yesterday, I was the WRLS Radio Mystery Santa.

Listeners received clues throughout the day, and the one who correctly identified me received the Grand Prize of over $1000 from the Hayward Community Credit Union.

Pandora Larson, figured me out on this clue: "He is a confessed history buff."

Only in a small town. . .

Good for Pandora!

I like playing that kind of Santa.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Barna's Revolution

Barna's new book, Revolution, has sure hit a nerve! He lets church dropouts off the hook!

My friend, Keith Drury, goes so far as to call it heresy. That's perhaps an overstatement.

As a pastor, I've had to deal with dropouts on a regular basis. Even good folks who love Jesus, attend small groups, read the Bible, are active intercessors -- for some reason or another, choose not to attend church on Sunday morning. That's not ideal, certainly, but it's a fact of life.

How should pastors handle folks like that? Love them back! Encourage them. Bless them. Serve them. Cheer them up. Don't marginalize them. Don't write them off.

I've found it doesn't help my cause a bit to berate, belittle, or de-Christianize them. I'd rather work with them.

Often, there is some small issue that needs resolution -- and if guided by a loving shepherd, they usually make their way back into the Sunday morning fold.

Barna's book doesn't really help much in this endeavor. I sure hope my drop-outs don't read it.

Barna, unfortunately, seems disillusioned and jaded. (maybe he has good reason.) I wish he could see some really good, healthy churches in action -- maybe he would change his opinion.

I like what Kevin Miller said in a recent Christianity Today review:

"Do you want to become a Revolutionary? First, trade your copy of Revolution for Life Together, the manifesto written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer during the dark days of Nazi Germany. Then, if you want to do heroic and revolutionary exploits, go back to your local church."

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Freedom Price

Pinky was a little slave girl -- only nine years old when her mother died. To lose your mother at such a young age is terrible -- but being a slave child made it even worse.

Pinky would not go to the home of loving relatives. Neither she nor her loved ones had any voice in her future whatsovever. She was considered "property".

Pinky's owner decided to sell her on the slave market. He figured he might get up to $900 for her.

It just so happened that Henry Ward Beecher, a pastor from New York was visiting in town and heard of Pinky's plight. He approached the slave owner and asked if, perhaps, he could take Pinky back home with him. "I'm sure the kind people of Plymouth Church would be happy to provide a loving home for her.", he said.

"Not on your life!" declared Pinky's owner. "I could get $900 for this girl! I'll tell you what, give me the $900 and she's yours."

Rev. Beecher did not have $900 -- but her persuaded the owner to allow Pinky to travel back to New York with the promise of full payment, or her return.

The next Sunday, the people at Plymouth Church were surprised when Rev. Beecher brought Pinky to the front of the church during the worship service.

"We are going to have an auction to purchase this little girl's freedom!" Beecher declared, "Who will start us out with $5? Yes! Now $10?"

He proceeded until they reached $900! Everyone cheered. There was hardly a dry eye in the place.

Rev. Beecher called the ushers up to take the offering right on the spot -- and when they brought the plates forward, they had more than enough cash for Pinky's freedom!

Someone had placed a golden ring in the offering. Rev. Beecher took it out of the plate, and placed it on Pinky's finger. "This is your freedom ring, Pinky!" he said. "Wear it proudly, and remember, you are free now, and nobody can take that away from you!"

Pinky was "adopted" by the Ward's, a fine family of the congregation. They raised her as their own child, gave her a good education and sent her to Howard University. She later became an excellent teacher, a loving wife and a devoted mother.

Many years later, in 1927, Pinky (Mrs. Rose Ward Hunt) returned to Plymouth Church for a special aniversary celebration. In a beautiful display of gratitude, she returned the ring to them, saying,

"Thank you so very much for what you did for me when I was just a child. You paid the price to set me free, and for that, I will always be thankful!"

-- personal note: I happened upon Plymouth Church quite by accident a few weeks ago, and was intrigued by the painting of the auction which hung in the hallway. Inquiring, I heard the story from a very gracious and kind hostess.

She says another portrait of Pinky, by Johnson Oatman, hangs at the Hallmark headquarters.
For many years, they had no idea of the the painting's meaning.

Also, interestingly, three weeks later, Abraham Lincoln came to visit the Plymouth Church. The next day, he gave a powerful speech which really launched his presidential campaign nationally.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


When the saintly John Fletcher, Vicar of Madeley, was on his deathbed, a friend came to comfort him, singing "Now, I Have Found The Ground Wherein." (A Zinzendorf hymn, translated by John Wesley.)

One beautiful stanza concludes with, "While Jesus' blood through earth and skies, Mercy, free, boundless mercy cries."

To this, his face brightened and he replied with a smile, "Boundless! Boundless! Boundless!"

How to Make The Most of a Board Meeting

Board meetings tend to produce a lot of extra paper that you'll glance over once, and never read again.

What is a good board member to do?

Don't waste the opportunity!! Make A Paper Airplane!

It will liven things up, and possibly even shorten the meeting!

Monday, December 19, 2005

The R Factor Question

“If we were meeting here three years from today – and you were to look back over those three years to today, what has to have happened during that period, both personally and professionally, for you to feel happy about your progress?” -- Bob Buford

Sunday, December 18, 2005

For a Rib

Adam was hanging around the Garden of Eden feeling very lonely.

So, God asked him, "What's wrong with you?"

Adam said he didn't have anyone to talk to.

God said that He was going to make Adam a companion and that it would be a woman. He said, "This pretty lady will gather food for you, she will cook for you, and when you discover clothing, she will wash it for you.

She will always agree with every decision you make and she will not nag you, and will always be the first to admit she was wrong when you've had a disagreement. She will praise you! She will bear your children and never ask you to get up in the middle of the night to take care of them.

She will NEVER have a headache and will freely give you love and passion whenever you need it."

Adam asked God, "What will a woman like this cost?"

God replied, "An arm and a leg."

Then Adam asked, "What can I get for a rib?" (sent to me by a friend)

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Holiday Trees

"Heaven only knows what led a volunteer fire department in the Baltimore countryside to put up a sign advertising 'Holiday Trees.' Would any Buddhists in the neighborhood not buy them otherwise?"

- Editorial page, Wall Street Journal

Face the Storm

A Wyoming cowboy was once asked what was the greatest lesson he learned from his experiences of ranching.

"The Herefords taught me one of life's most important lessons," he replied. "We used to breed cattle for a living, but the winter storms would come and kill 'em off. It would take a terrible toll on the herd.

"Time and time again, after a cold winter storm, we'd find most of our cattle piled up against the fences, dead as doornails!

"They would turn their backs to the icy wind, and slowly drift downward until the fences stopped them. There, they just piled up and died."

"But the Herefords were different than that," he continued. "They would head straight into the wind and slowly walk the other way until they came to the upper boundary fence where they stood, facing the storm.

"We always found our Herefords alive and well. They saved their hides by facing the storm!"

When the storms of life are raging, our natural inclination is to duck and hide. It is easier to turn our backs on reality than to face the brutal facts.

The path of least resistance, however, is a deadly course. Instead, we must face the storm head-on!

When a problem arises in your life, you have to face it before you can fix it.

Facing life's storms brings renewed strength, hope, and power for living:

1. Facing the storm strengthens character.
"Softies" who have never experienced any hardship tend to go all to pieces whenever troubles arise. "On no! The sky is falling!" If the sky falls on you a few times, and you're still kicking, you realize that you can make it! You are too big of a person to let the little problems get you. One day, when I was in a jam, a good friend remarked, "Not to worry -- Your ship was made to sail in seas like these!"
2. Facing the storm sweetens the spirit.
The sweetest people I've ever met are those who have endured much hardship. Somehow, they figured out how to come through it all rejoicing. Of course, negative processing can leave a person sour and bitter -- I've met plenty of those. But if you're determined to stay sweet, the problems will make you sweeter.

3. Facing the storm deepens compassion.
When we suffer, we are more able to identify with others who are hurting. My friend, Tim Young, is a good example of that. An accident on the job, left him with chronic stabbing pain in his back and legs. He has had to bear an unusually heavy cross. Instead of using this as an excuse to stay bottled up in himself, however, he has transformed this pain into a deep compassion for others. Tim is one of the most caring people I've ever met.

4. Facing the storm broadens the horizon.
Hardship helps us to look forward to better days. It makes us realize that our current situation isn't forever, this world is not our home, and the best is yet to come.

Friday, December 16, 2005

My Prayer

Lord, help me not to be the kind of person our cat thinks I am.

Proverbs 31 Woman

My friend, Lisa Johnson, recently shared a breakthrough she and her friends had at their small group. It has to do with the Proverbs 31 Woman.

Lisa writes:

Let me start by saying that I never really liked the Proverbs 31 Woman; in fact, I will go so far as to say I actually resented her.

Every time I read Proverbs 31, I was drawn to the conclusion that I was so very far from God's expectations of a godly woman. I didn't even come close to measuring up.

How many of us have been reminded of her on Mother's Day, whether she be mentioned in a card, or sermon. (No offense!) Talk about pouring salt in an already wounded self image!

No, Proverbs 31 Woman and I were not friends, but I did admire her, and longed to be like her.

In study today, we read aloud Proverbs 31, and put each "quality" in today's language/world.

MUCH to my surprise, I found that I am more like her than I thought! (Except for the servant girls... where, oh where are MY servant girls???!!!)

I don't fulfill the words, "always", and "never" as she does, but who really does? Plus, if her candle never goes out at night, how does she fulfill her and her husband's needs for intimacy?

Good question, eh?

We also discovered that this passage is a hymn. I think of it as a love song celebrating the good and admirable things about women that we should not take for granted.

Who wants to hear a song about a woman's mood swings, irritating habits, and P.M.S.?

So, I have reconciled with the Proverbs 31 Woman. We are now friends who actually have a lot in common.

She has found a way of letting me know that the mundane tasks we women do day in and day out, are admirable, and worthwhile. Hopefully I also, am worth far more than rubies and diamonds to my husband. (I haven't a doubt that I am.)

I will now hold my head high when I hear of the Proverbs 31 Woman.

She will be a reminder to me that I am valuable, and that I need always to strive to be the best wife and mom that I can possibly be.

Bless you, Proverbs 31 Woman!

Proverbs 31 Servant Girls

Lisa Johnson, sent a follow up to her original e-mail on Proverbs 31. This is really good too:

Greetings! I have had a few more observations about Proverbs 31 Woman today, and I would like to share them with you.

In my previous letter, I commented... okay,whined, about not having any servant girls. You will not believe what I found in my house today. Servant girls! I am surrounded by them! Let me introduce them to you...

Ms. Wilma Washer and her fellow employee Miss Debbie Dryer (No trips to the river for me!)
Miss Dolly Dishwasher (she even retrieves her own water AND heats it up!)
Ms. Mary Microwave (Wow... is she ever quick on her feet!)
Miss Farrah Furnace (I never have to worry about stoking the fire... even throughout the night!)
Ms. Hannah Hot Water Heater (How nice to have hot water on a moments notice. She'll even fill my tub!)
Miss Olivia Oven and her helper Susie Stovetop (What a team they are. No trips to the woodpile in the early dawn!)

As you can see, I am blessed with many servant girls. I'm sure you are too! You know them well, but do you know their names? Name them, be kind to them, and never take them for granted. They show up for work every day without complaining, and you never have to worry about them running off with the stable boys!

I hope this has brightened your day a bit. Now girlfriends, enjoy being the Lady of the House, and find joy in doing your work among such lovely, hard working servant girls.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Step Out In Faith!

My friend (and District Superintendent) Dan Bickel, sent me an e-mail today that included these wonderful, inspiring quotes. I thought I'd pass them along to you!

“If you really want to do something you’ll find a way; if you don’t you’ll find an excuse.”

“No dream comes true until you wake up and go to work on it.”

“Courage is not the absence of fear; but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” Ambrose Redmoon

And this one is good, too: “God, make me the person my dog thinks I am.”

Retired or Relenlisted?

Jan Zeh hit the nail on the head when she wrote this article for Newsweek. It's about mining the "Golden Years."

I have found that there are two different kinds of retirees in my church:

The first group consists of those who have basically "retired from life." They fish, putz around the house, and talk about politics. I'm always happy to see them on Sunday, but they don't volunteer for much. After all, they're retired!

The second group is the greatest work force in our church! Bill, for instance, is a retired exec from IBM. He devotes his days to ministry -- helping those in need. Nickie leads a small group, and our flower ministry. Don heads up our ushers and greeters.

As I am writing this, a group of 15 senior citizens are meeting for a Bible Study in the room next door. They are the best volunteers in the congregation: vibrant! enthusiastic! alive!

American Health Magazine reported a study from the University of Michigan, which concluded that regular volunteer work increases life expectancy! Live long! Help in church!

There's gold in them thar golden age hills!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

To the Margins

My friend and co-worker, Heath Davis, sent me this beautiful prayer yesterday. It captures the spirit of Advent in a beautiful way.

O Jesus Christ,your mother and father were excluded by all who they sought shelter with on the night you were born.

You came into this world as a marginalized person, part of the “they” who were being counted by those in power for their own ends.

This Advent, open our eyes to see how many of your children are still in similar situations.

Open our minds to understand their struggles; open our hearts and help us begin the journey to worship you by practicing inclusion.

Guide us in the dark night to your Light, which shines for all.


The Sleeping Giant

I have some friends who have dropped out of church. As I've visited with them about it, they've informed me that they are protesting the entire "American church culture."

They are not alone in this assessment. George Barna, in his new book, Revolution, seems to say the same thing. He doesn't put it out there quite as strongly as my disillusioned friends -- but he has to sell books to pastors.

In many ways, I can relate with what they're saying. The church in America is like a sleeping giant. Or, as in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, a giant that has been petrified.

Just think what could happen, if the giant would be resurrected from the long sleep!

The church in America has the resouces and volunteer power to totally transform the entire society -- to feed the hungry, to clothe the poor, to rehabilitate the wayward, to meet the deepest needs of society. In the power of God, The Church Could Change the World!

Yet, that's not the way it generally works in a community. Churches often end up cocooning as a culture unto themselves. (A couple of positive signs, however, lie in the Hurricane Katrina Response, and the recent rallying of evangelicals to combat aids.)

The problem isn't the resources -- but the heart and the vision.

We need a New Great Awakening!

In mideival times, a churchman was giving a tour of his newly constructed cathedral to a friend. "The church can no longer say, silver and gold have I none!", he boasted.
"That's true," his friend replied, "and it also can no longer say, "But such as I have I give unto you."

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Are You a Leader?

"If your actions inspire others to
dream more,
learn more,
do more
and become more,
you are a leader."
--John Quincy Adams

Mr. Grinch

These are negative people. Nothing is ever good enough for them.

In the church. I call these people graveyard Christians. They have lost the joy of the Lord and are just biding their time until death.
You may have some of these people in your family.
Interject positivism.
Change the discussion.
If that doesn’t work, carry a survival kit.
It can contain things you like to do such as a hobby, a book or pictures to look through.

When the Grinch starts their downward spiral, simply go sit somewhere else and occupy your mind with something that won’t pull you down.

Misery loves company; but, if you don’t give toxic people an audience, they will have to move on or be quiet.
-- Travis Plumlee

Monday, December 12, 2005

St. Ephram's Prayer

O Lord and Master of my life, give me not a spirit of sloth,
of despondency, of lust or of vain talking;
but bestow on me thy servant a spirit of chastity,
of humility, of patience and love.
You, O Lord and King, grant to me to see my own errors
and not to judge my brother,

for blessed art thou unto ages of ages.
--St. Ephrem, the desert father

(He wrote a bunch of Christmas hymns too -- but he rambles. Too much time in the desert methinks!)

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Wise Men and Shepherds

Some people come to Jesus like the Shepherds.

Out in the fields, minding their own business --and KABLAMMO! Something Big Happens!

Angels show up! A huge angel choir! Glory to God in the Highest!

Life changes in a moment. The shepherds drop everything and run to Bethlehem, where they find the Christ-child lying in a manger.

They rejoice, celebrate and end up broadcasting the good news everywhere they go! Glory! Glory! Hallilujah!

Others come to Jesus like the Wise Men.

They see a distant star in the East -- and are puzzled by the appearing. They ponder, "What does this mean?" After studious reflection, they begin a long, long journey of faith.

It takes them quite a while to figure things out, with some detours along the way -- but eventually, they, too, end up at Bethlehem. Departing, they didn't cause a big scene like the shepherds-- but had experienced inner transformation as well (though of the "still waters" variety.)

I like the manger scenes where the wise men and shepherds are all together at the manger. I know most Bible scholars say otherwise, but, as a romantic, I choose to picture them all kneeling before Jesus side by side -- rich and poor; wise men and shepherds; local and out-of-towner -- all worshipping Jesus together! It would be just like God's timing to do it that way!

The important lesson here? It doesn't matter whether you are a shepherd or a wise man. Shepherds aren't better because they dashed to Jesus. Wise men aren't better because they took the longer, more thoughtful route.

The only thing that really matters is that they both end up worshipping Jesus in Bethlehem

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Why Pastors Must Be Shepherds

Every pastor is called to have a Shepherd's heart. Pastors are primarily spiritual guides -- not CEO's. Even if a church grows beyond the ability of the pastor's "shepherding ability" (which is about 200 people), the ethos of of the shepherd must still be maintained.

Too many pastors want to be bosses rather than shepherds, but the fact is, 8 out of 10 will never pastor a church over 200. Particularly in the smaller congregation, the pastor is expected to fulfill the pastoral role.

Of course, I believe in visionary leadership, effective outreach strategies and cutting edge ministry programming. These, however, cannot substitute for loving the people. Rick Warren, Bill Hybels and John Maxwell are excellent resources for leadership and outreach. We must go elsewhere, however, to find good models for pastoral care in a smaller faith community (Eugene Peterson is once such model, I think.)

A lot of times, when a pastor says "I'm a rancher", or "I just don't have the gift of mercy" what they really mean is "I don't love my people very much."

There are a couple thousand people on our "responsibility list" now. It's harder for me to know each member of the flock by name. Nevertheless, my deepest desire is that each person feels loved and accepted by us. I have committed myself to pray, by name, for every person in our church family -- even if I have not met them yet. Even if I do not do the "hands-on" shepherding for all of them, I strive to maintain a shepherd's heart.

Beyond 200, a pastor must not switch from "shepherding" to "ranching" (That elicits images of cattle drives, brandings, and the like.) Rather, growth should lead from "shepherding" to "multi-shepherding": we're shepherds together!

My friend, Damien Vraniak, speaks of switching the paradigm from "one serving the many" to "many serving the one." I like that!

Here is a great article on shepherding by H. B. London on this subject. I found it insightful.

An old preacher friend once said, "If you can't stand the smell of sheep, get out of the pasture!"

Pastor Marries Dog Couple

Now, this is an interesting idea: Pastor Marries Dog Couple. I suppose you could say it was a case of puppy love at first sight -- but I'm afraid their relationship will go to the dogs.

The Good Old Days?

The past is a nice place to visit from time to time -- but it's a terrible place to live.

Sometimes, we see a television show or visit a museum exhibit showing life a couple hundred years ago. Perhaps, you've thought, "Those were the good old days! I wish we could go back and live like that."

I don't think you really do.

A couple hundred years ago the life expectancy was 38 years, the average work week was 72 hours, and the median annual income was $300.

Cholera, typhiod and yellow fever were common. For instance, one out of five people in Philadelphia in 1793 died from these diseases.

Many women died in childbirth, and the flu also claimed the lives of many. Almost every home experienced the sorrow of losing a child.

No indoor plumbing, no refrigerators, no microwaves, no soft mattresses, no electric heat, no lights, no cars, no tv, no computers, no recorded music, no tupperware, no soft drinks, no cheeseburgers.

Everybody milked their own cows!

Nah -- you wouldn't want to go back there and live.

Thank God -- You've survived 2005 instead 1805!

Yet, there is something special about yesteryear. Perhaps we can bring the treasures of the past into the present.

Rich family values are passed along from one generation to another. Some of the greatest music was written two or three hundred years ago. The Bible, of course, composed in ancient times, brings fresh inspiration and insight today.

St. Augustine said, "You can only understand backwards, but you must live forwards."

Friday, December 09, 2005

Why Great Men Fall

Here's a great article from by Wayne Goodall, entitled "Why Great Men Fall -- and How to Prevent Yourself from Falling." An insightful article -- and a good reminder to stay close to the Savior. I've seen too many good friends in the ministry fall by the wayside. God, protect us.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Turtle Law

The Law of the Turtle: You will make no progress unless you stick your neck out!

You can't live in fear of what people think.

As Rick Warren says, "When youre small, they'll dismiss you. When you're growing, theyl'l criticize you. When you're large, theyll resent you."

So -- Who Cares what "They" think anyway?

There are three kinds of people in the world:
Those who MAKE things happen,
Those who WATCH things happen,

The Unchanging

Let us suppose that there are two sorts of existences -- one seen, the other unseen. . . The seen is the changing, the unseen is the unchanging. -- Socrates

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Baby Funeral

This morning was really hard. I conducted the funeral for three month old, Kaylee Zopp, who died Sunday morning of SIDS.

I've officiated at a couple hundred funerals -- and this was one of the hardest I've ever done. It seemed so surreal -- so wrong -- to have a tiny little casket with a tiny infant in the front of our church.

She was such a precious little baby. Speaking for her service took just about all the strength I could muster.

Usually, funerals are reserved for folks who have lived a long time. Usually the grandchildren weep. This time, the grandparents were the ones in deep sorrow.

I spoke mostly from Isaiah 40 -- keying in on verse 11:

He tends his flock like a shepherd. He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart. . ."

I also shared the words of Cynthia Clawson's song, "When You Can't Trace His Hand, Trust His Heart."

GOD is Too wise to be mistaken.
GOD is too good to be unkind
So, When you don't understand And When you can't see HIS plan
And When you can't trace HIS hand Trust HIS Heart

This afternoon, after the funeral, I received an e-mail from my friend, Naomi Cochran. Having attended the service, she reflected on the words of poet, Wendell Berry:

To Know the Dark

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.

"The darkness in the loss of a child is perhaps the deepest of all." Naomi reflected, " But, when I saw Monica kiss her angel child, and then the one in her arms, I knew her darkness will bloom and sing."

The Art of Managing Church Staff

My friend, Dan Reiland, wrote a great article for Senior Pastors about managing church staff. It is dealing primarily with paid pastoral staff -- but there is also an excellent sidebar regarding volunteer staff.

Dan's the Executive Pastor at Crossroads Community Church near Atlanta -- and we've been friends for a long time -- all the way back to when he directed High School Camp, and I was a counselor.

His article is good, because it reminds us of the importance of good leadership. A congregation will never grow beyond its leaders. (At least, not healthy growth.)

I am thankful to have a staff of Eagles! My staff is a lot like Moses' -- they've been known to both part seas and destroy pestilence. I lean on them a lot!

Monday, December 05, 2005


We do not want merely to see beauty.... We want something else which can hardly be put into words--to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.-C.S. Lewis

Sunday, December 04, 2005


The ordinary man has always cared more for truth than for consistency. If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and the contradiction along with them.

His spiritual sight is stereoscopic, like his physical sight, he sees two different pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that.

It is exactly this balance of apparent contradictions that has been the whole buoyancy of the healthy man. The whole secret of mysticism is that man can understand everything by the help of what he does not understand.

The morbid logician seeks to make everything lucid, and succeeds in making everything mysterious. The mystic allows one thing to be mysterious, and everything else becomes clear. From Orthodoxy, by G. K. Chesterton (circa 1900)

The No Diet Diet

Steve Hawks, Brigham Young University prof, lost 50 pounds and kept it off for five years with a No Diet Diet! He calls it the "intuitive plan" -- and he listens to his body. Whatever his body craves, that's what he eats.

Eat when you're hungry. Stop eating when you're not hungry anymore.

This is the same basic idea promoted by Gwen Shamblin, of the Weigh Down Worskshop.

Weigh Down was one of the most successful programs in our church a few years ago -- until Gwen went weird, denied the Trinity and stuff like that.

So -- do you have to deny the Trinity to have a diet that works? And what about the "Full Gospel" folks?

Saturday, December 03, 2005

The Peace of Wild Things

Wendell Berry, the Kentucky naturalist and poet, holds a special place in my heart.

With dozens of "administrative" and "relational" monkeys clamouring around in my mind, I needed to set my heart at peace.

I sat down and read Berry's poem, The Peace of Wild Things. It soothed and quieted my soul, and the birds began to sing again.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Muddy Waters

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not clarity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

One day a preacher waxed eloquent. After the sermon, someone remarked, "My, wasn't that deep?"

"Nah," came the reply, "Just muddy!"

Another Quote from St. Francis

"Darn Pigeons!"

What Did You Mean By That?

"Half the harm that is done in the world," said the poet, T.S. Eliot, "is done by people who want to feel important. They do not mean to harm. There are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves."

I've discovered that most of the time, people mean well. Even when they speak or behave in troubling ways that makes us wonder -- they mean well.

It's best to give the benefit of the doubt whenever possible.

Yet, at the same time, it is also beneficial for us to examine our motives, and try to understand more deeply how our behavior effects others.

Sometimes, winning the argument loses the fight. A marriage counselor once asked a distraught husband, "Do you want to be happy, or do you want to be right?"

After a frustrating conversation one day, I thought, "What he said spoke so loud, I couldn't understand a word he meant!"

Perhaps, the best path is mapped out by St. Francis of Assisi, who prayed:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
And where there is sadness, joy.

Grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand,
to be loved as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive.
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is dying that we are born to eternal life.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Church Growth Barriers

I'm still learning to lead.

I find that as our church has grown, I've been challenged to grow personally, as well.

There have been four major "leadership transitions" during our church's growth, which required me to think and stretch to a new level.

1. When we transitioned past 100.

The central issues here were survival, outreach, and programming. I had to start a lot of activities. Key question: What are we going to do?

2. When we transitioned past 200.

The central issues here were adding a second staff member,multiple services, small groups and facilities. Key question: How do we multiply ministry opportunities?

3. When we transitioned past 400.

The central issues here were multiple staff, developing a "large church" mindset, and leadership development. Key question: How do we multiply leaders?

4. Now we are transitioning past 600 -- and I'm trying to identify the central issues. I believe they have something to do with focus, ministry alignment, my own personal growth as a leader, infrastructure, systems, and developing leaders of leader. Key question: How do we narrow our focus but broaden our influence?

Leading by Listening

Leaders are not the ones with irrefutable answers, but the ones who can support others and help them ask the right questions. Leaders do as much listening as talking.

As visions are sought, leaders keep the conversation alive and active in the congregation, allowing the vision to be shaped by past history, current practice, and future opportunities and call. -- Gil Rendle, Leading Change in the Congregation (Alban Institute)