So What?

In the talk about what should be and what oughtto be in the past few posts, I’m moved on this Saturday morning to ask ‘So what?’ What is going to happen now? Are we all going to go out and renovate our buildings to look like we’re more interested in the community? No, we’re not going to do that. I’m a bit cynical about our willingness to do what we know to be true and right, when it comes to breaking out of our own pre-conceived notions of what always has been. It is so difficult for us to conceive the church acting upon it’s purposes.

And, yes, Hurricane Katrina taught us a lot of lessons. One of the lessons it taught me is that when we fail to bless our community, we fail to be God’s people. I think many churches have a mentality that is closer to the nomadic children of Israel. The only time they engaged those around them was to go to war or to embrace their idols. The Jewish sects of Jesus’ day were no different. It was a closed society. That’s one of the reasons Jesus rocked their establishment and toppled their power structures when he sat down to talk to a five-time-divorcee-with-a-shack-up-lover at the well. When Jesus told stories about people like a “Good Samaritan” (what Jew ever heard of such a creature?), he raised their eyebrows and crossed their sensibilities. A church that seeks out people to help funtions in the same way. While most churches are attempting to rebuild their nests and settle back in to self-serving programs that work hard to keep members happy, are there some prophets out there who will provoke God’s people to  their true calling?

I believe our nation as a whole has fallen into a slumber when it comes to Katrina recovery. Volunteers are hard to find across the Gulf South. It is tempting even for local Christians who are back in their homes with everything in it’s place to think that this is pretty much over. There are no quick fixes and no easy answers. There are people who are still living in houses with a curtain for a back door. On my block there are still people living in campers. Housing is scarce. If you could manage to rent something you likely could not make the payments. People in their late seventies and early eighties are being faced with the trauma of acquiring a mortgage. Insurance is becoming unaffordable, creating complications that cannot be managed.  The Salvation Army is overflowing with people who have no where to go. If there ever was a time for the church to be the Body of Christ in a community, this is it.

But what will our response be? You may not have had a Hurricane Katrina at your place, but I guarantee that within a mile or two of your “church building” there are people who are suffering at the hands of their own private hurricanes. They will not come to you for help. They will not come in on a Sunday into a beautiful ediface with ornate appointments, people dressed to the nines saying they are “fine”, and a sermon about premillinnialism.

We need elders and preachers who are committed to serving the hurting and lost in the community, at the expense of placating spiritually lazy people who have settled into a routine of finding something to complain about at every turn. When leaders rush to comply with the critics, they must set aside the more important work of reaching the lost. The Hebrew writer talked about people who “ought to be teachers” who were, instead, having to be petted. How long has it been since someone expressed repentance for not being spiritually involved at your church?

We need elders and preachers who are more concerned about the task at hand than the popularity of pursuing the mission. It is hard work. It is messy. It often doesn’t ‘pay off’. It is disappointing. It is, therefore, easier to sponsor a seminar on ‘how to be happy’ than it is to sit down with someone who has nothing and try to help them find solutions to living a life that includes God. The truth is that most American Christians are looking to be served. Jesus sought to serve. We have to make some choices.

We need Christians of all ages to begin grass-roots movements of service in their communities. If you can’t start a soup kitchen, go work with the one that exists. Find a need in your community and band together with other believers and tackle the problem. If your leaders are disinterested in community service, sit down with them with open Bibles and ask hard questions.

We need Christians that are prepared to endure scorn and gossip for doing what is right. Most people will not be interested.

We need visionaries to purposefully begin ministries that reach out to those who cannot help themselves. That might take the form of a new church. Perhaps several from your church can band together to have a worship and study time in the inner city on Sunday afternoons? Perhaps on Saturdays you can walk in some neighborhoods you’ve never been in before in order to meet people and see what their needs are? I could list several things here…but they need to relate to your talents. What are you good at…and how can you use that to bless someone else?

We need visionaries who have been blessed with wealth to use what God has given them to fund the work no one wants to do. Large suburban churches were created often by those who sought to escape impoverished neighborhoods. Inner city works and those who are working with those trapped in the cycle of poverty should never have to beg for funding … they should be fully funded to do first class outreach that really matters.

We need to pray and ask God to help us see the opportunities that are before us. No one person can do it all, but what can you do to help one person?

I have a lot of questions about who we say we are, and how it relates to who we really are. It’s a struggle for all of us. I do want us to be involved in the struggle, though, and not turn away from it. Your thoughts would be welcomed. Unless you just want to say, ‘So what?’

****

Tomorrow morning I will be speaking at Calvary Christian Church in Stockbridge, Georgia. My friend Chris Lockhart is the Senior Minister there (Podcast HERE.) Come on by if you are in the area. I will also be speaking Sunday evening at a small group study that is led by John Alan Turner. We will return Monday, so please pray for a safe trip for Margaret and me.

Prayer And Architecture

I have two things on my mind today (a record!).

PRAYER. Last Sunday night at our family fellowship, we drew names from a cup and promised to pray for that person all week. To accomodate that, I passed out a card that says, “This week I prayed for your…family, happiness, spiritual life, finances, dreams, health, burdens, and our friendship.” We are to circle the areas we prayed about, sign it, and give it to the person at the next family fellowship. This has helped me focus on one person in prayer for a week. And I know someone is praying for me as well…though I do not know who. It would be great if we did not need such devices, but prayer becomes rare in our frantic lives.

A blog that has become a prayer requst for a preacher’s wife who is dying of cancer can be seen HERE. I encourage you to leave a comment there.

Read this prayer report from Bay St. Louis preacher, Charlie Buckley:

I want to thank you all for the kind and compassionate words of encouragement and prayers concerning my darling wife. Olive was having problems with her heart rhythm, creating a tightness in her chest and making her feel like she was going to pass out. We went to the hospital on Monday afternoon and she was admitted. They ran a heart echo and a stress test on her. We got the results today and they let her come home. They stated that whenever this attack came on she would pass a pvc every two beats {Bigeminy}. They stated that there was no urgent danger as her heart was able to correct on its own. … I was talking with her this morning and asked her how does it feel to know that her name was carried before our Father by THOUSANDS OF BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN CHRIST ACROSS THIS GREAT NATION?” With tears it her eyes, she could only say “great” We talked about James’ statement “…The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” {James 5:16}. If the prayer of one righteous man avails…what about the prayer of so many of God’s precious children. We are firm believers in prayer and have witnessed so many answered prayers. Our daughter was born when Olive had Toxemia, she had been literally packed in ice because her temperature was so high. The doctors tried to get us to abort Charlie Jr. due to complications; David our youngest was born with spinal meningitis and we were told that he would be a couch potato, never be able to play any sports or go to school. Amy is a successful business woman with a great husband and three children, Charlie excelled in sports in and out of school and has a job with NAVO at Stennis Space Center, David has excelled academically and athletically and is currently going to college with a soccer scholarship, just received a scholarship for Frisbee golf (?) and will try to walk on the baseball team next season. David is focusing his career on forensic science. All three of our children were recipients on many awards from there classmates and teachers and scholarships. I am in remission with an incurable kidney disease after being told I had no hope, and the latest prayers answered were for my loving wife. It is with the utmost sincerity that I thank you for your going to our heavenly Father with me, my wife, our children and grand children in fervent prayer. Do I believe that it is by chance that we have been so blessed… no one in a million life times could come close to causing us to doubt the gracious, merciful power of prayer.

ARCHITECTURE. Only Gary Kirkendall answered my discussion question yesterday. The question was: If our “church buildings” reflected the heart and mission of Christ, what would they look like?

Gary wrote:

Shuller got it right — instead of building a Gothic style building (that required small windows for structural support before the days of modern engineering), or other styles that allow in less natural light than a strip club, he opened his worship space to the world — to the delight of his members and the community. Almost every church building I see has either no windows, or windows of leaded, stained, or other treatment so no one can possibly see what’s going on. No wonder church’s are cut off from the community. Besides that, each facility should support the needs of the community that they have chosen to serve — so each would be different. Spiritual and common sense should tell us that every church should ask itself some basic questions:
1. Why has God placed us here?
2. What gift to we bring to our community?
3. What would be lost if we did not exist?

If we would ask those questions, our campuses would look very different and we wouldn’t depend on the architectural decisions of others.

Gary’s answer was insightful and sparks plenty of other ideas…potential for discussion. I was taugh as a child that the work of the church is evangelism, edification, and benevolence. Most things we do can fall under one or more of those categories. I look at our architecture and wonder why it is not driven by the tri-fold work of the church? As we renovate our building, we all have expectations about how it will look, comfort level, and how it will enhance our weekly worship experience. Typically churches will spend a preponderance of money on a building that is largely used one hour a week by most members, four hours by ‘the faithful few’.

  • If the building were a house of prayer, what would it look like?
  • If the building was designed by ‘the good samaritan’, what would it look like?
  • If the building were designed by those present at the judgment scene of Matthew 25, what would it look like?
  • If the building were designed by the new deacons in Acts 7, what would it look like?
  • If the building were designed by the pharisees ans saducees what would it look like? (Hint: synogogue)

The point is that the church has many duties and it seems to me that we spend millions of dollars as a brotherhood to construct facilities that do no facilitate our God-given duties. And not only that, we complain if anything is constructed that is not in the range of our normal idea of what church is … a place to go once a week.

Tell me why the Salvation Army is housing the homeless, the soup-kitchen is feeding the hungry, and almost no church intentionally offers a place for people to come and find a peaceful place to pray? And why we are generally content to have it so?

Those are my thoughts on a rainy Friday morning on the Coast.

Slow Going

I’m trying not to make too big of a deal about this surgery… but still I think I have told everyone I know. This cast has certainly slowed me down. I’ve had several admonitions from the well-intentioned not to hurt my left hand by typing too much. I reckon that the news of carpal tunnel syndrome already existing in my left hand hasn’t made the rounds yet! Yes, I will need to do the other hand next! But I expect that to be easier.

 I should be able to unveil a neat new outreach here in Pascagoula on this blog soon. I have alerted a few of you already. I’m awaiting a confirmation before moving ahead.

 Here’s a discussion question for you:  If our “church buildings” reflected the heart and mission of Christ, what would they look like? (And we know that the term ‘church building’ is an oxymoron.)

Tomorrow night (Thursday) we have a camp board meeting. I believe Maggy will chauffer me there…early enough to eat at Chevron truck stop I’m sure. Come join us! Friday I have two doctor’s appointments. One, a vascular specialist to look at my leg. Then to the surgeon for a post-op visit.

I was going to read some of my favorite blogs tonight, but blogger was down. Lesson learned, folks! It’s hard to leave links right now, so those will return along with the use of my right hand. I will leave you, though, with a traditional but powerful song by the Gaither Vocal Band. Guy Penrod is an awesome vocalist…and, yes, I’m jealous of his hair. 

Done Deal…Mostly

This is John’s son John Robert typing for daddy-o while his hand is in disarray. He wishes for me to inform you all that the surgery is over and everything went as well as it could. I suppose he will use me for his typing now so that one day I can suffer the same illness as he. Dad will now be off to take pain medication and sleep as much as possible while milking his situation.

The Cut & Chris Tomlin

This coming Monday I will have a carpal tunnel surgery on my right hand. That means that it will not be very easy to compose on a keyboard. That is, after all, what brought me to this situation in the first place. It’s your fault. If you wouldn’t read, I wouldn’t write, and I wouldn’t be going numb every time I sit down! Nah, I know where the fault lies. I would ask you to keep me in your prayers, and also my family – who will no doubt be taking care of me for the next week or so while I have the loss of that hand. This is the first year I have ever met my health insurance deductable. Between my leg and my hands I managed to get beyond the deductable and into the area where the insurance company actually has to pay something. I’m sure they’ll get it back. Now I could wax elephant about losing the use of this important limb and all of the spiritual allegories that could be explored in that. Actually, all I am really thinking about is losing the use of my hand. I’ll think about some lessons learned after I learn them! Most of today I have been conscious of the things I’m doing that I will not be able to do for some days next week. David Kilbern worked me hard this afternoon, trying to eek out the last bit of help he could get from me for the week.

For anyone who doesn’t know, I’m a huge Chris Tomlin fan. Chris has a special gift with both lyrics and music that lift up God’s glory and move one to bring out expressions of praise and worship. Chris Tomlin’s blog is located HERE and his website is located HERE. One thing I appreciate about Chris is that his music is filled with catchy melodies that capture your spirit and make you want to sing along. At the same time he has some awesome rock riffs that give him a gritty sound that has me reaching for the volume button. The Christian music industry certainly takes notice of Chris Tomlin’s work. Artist of the Year, Male Vocalist of the Year, Song of the Year (for “How Great Is Our God“) and that’s not the complete list. A read through his song list is a roll-call of contemporary praise and worship’s greatest hits.

Chris Tomlin’s latest release is See The Morning, debuts at number 15 on the Billboard charts and it is not disappointing in the least. Appropriately the first song is titled How Can I Keep From Singing? The first chorus on the new CD reaches down into the Christian’s heart and moves us to sing out loud with him:

How can I keep from singing your praise? How can I ever say enough? How amazing is your love? How can I keep from shouting your name? I know I am loved by the King and it makes my heart want to sing.

I can hear this being led at every youth event and many contemporary churches as soon as they can learn it! Made to Worship, the next song, keeps the uptempo beat going all the while affirming that “He has filled our hearts with wonder so that we always remember … You and I were made to worship.” A rocking guitar accompanies the listener through the no-fear-anthem Let God Arise, encouraging us that “His enemies will run for sure, And the church will Stand, she will endure.”

The mood shifts a bit at the next entry, Everlasting God, but the theme remains the same: trust in God who never grows weary of defending and lifting us the weak. A simple but poignant piano begins Glory in the Highest before it ascends into a hand-lifting crescendo of praise. As if this affirmation of God’s power and sovereignty gave him a new sense of confidence, Chris rocks into Awesome Is The Lord Most High, shouting “Raise your hands, all you nations. Shout to God all creation. How Awesome is the Lord Most High.”

Glorious, over us, You shall regin glorious” continues the praises of God’s place in our lives. A simple but beautiful acoustic guitar introduces the song of thanks, Uncreated One. Chris’ voice betrays his genuine love for Christ as he sings, “From heaven to earth come down, you laid aside your royalty, to wear the sinner’s crown.”

After a few contemplative songs, the next song moves us to Rejoice as we “see the mercy in the mighy hand of God“, joining even the angel voices that rejoice before God’s throne. Gratitude for God’s mercy drives Let Your Mercy Rain, because “You reached down and lifted us up, You came running, looking for us, and now there’s nothing and no one beyond your love.”

How does one end a CD that overflows with both big rock rythems and gentle introspective ballads? Amazing Grace seems appropriate. Tomlin, however, carries the message of the song further by adding his own composition onto the song when he sings, “My chains are gone, I’ve been set free, My God, my Savior has ransomed me. And like a flood, His mercy reigns, unending love, amazing grace.”

After spending time with Chris Tomlin’s See The Morning CD, I was strengthend in faith as I contemplated the rule of God in my life, my need to trust Him more, and the wonderful mercy of God.  Head on over to his website and if you like that style of music, I recommend that you purchase his CD and spend some time letting those themes wash over your heart.

So what does Chris Tomlin have to do with my surgery? Nothing, really. But if I were being clever I would say that the themes of this CD will give me comfort as I go under the knife. No matter what happens, God is reigning, and I pray that his mercy will rain in all of our lives.

Have a great Sunday.

Seen A Scary Movie Lately?

 From the beginning of tinseltown history, one of the goals of one particular genre of movie was to scare viewers enough to make them jump out of their seats! There have been more attempts than can be counted, and most of them failed. It is the ones that succeeded that we remember. And since we are close to Halloween, I thought I would ask you …. what in your opinion are the top five scary movies of all time?

There are many elements that go into a scary movie. The dark theater. The expectation that something scary is going to happen…we just do not know when. People who do dumb things when confronted with dangerous situations. (“Hey, let’s lock ourselves in the closet until help comes!” or “I know what to do … let’s stop and ask that man with a giant hook for directions.”) Of supreme importance is the soundtrack. Scary movie music makes so many scenes memorable. The Ja-Ja-Ja-Son-Son-Son whispered in Friday the 13th, the relenteless nerve-jangling piano riff of Halloween, or the horrifying terse chords of the shower scene in Psycho. More than all of that, though, is the sense of impending danger for the people in the movie, and by extension, for you.

The older I get, the less I can watch anything with much gore in it. I don’t know if that’s just me or what. These days I’d rather see a good comedy or a mystery. I see so many terrible things in the news that these things seem more real to me than they did when I was a teenager. Of course the special effects have increased the realism of these movies quite a bit since I was a teenager. A really bad disease among scary movies is the endless remaking of the same story in part 1, part 2, part 3, and so on! Never as good as the originals, the sequals are almost always a let down. But there are different kinds of scary movies. I prefer the gothic otherworld type of scary movie to the hack-em-up-hang-em-up kinds. Some movies do a good job of combining the two. I guess different things give people goosebumps, so my list might not be like yours, but I’m interested in reading yours. Here are the top five movies that were scary enough to remember. There are many others, but I think these deserve the nod for Big Poppa’s top scary movie picks, in no particular order.

Halloween. The original (and what should have been the only one!) had me sitting on my feet and yelling for Jamie Lee Curtis to run a little faster please! Halloween II was almost as good, but the formula was wearing thin. I think I stopped watching after #III, which was awful. Donald Pleasance was awesome as the unstoppable Dr. Loomis, the psychaitrist who had been Michael Myers’ doctor before he escaped. Scream Queen Jamie Lee Curtis sets the tone for the movie by being vulnerable, pretty, scared, alone, and a target.

The Others. It’s got everything … a big practically empty mansion, fog, unusual events that go unexplained, ghosts, creepy people in trusted positions, a romance…. just a great classic gothic tale that surprises you at the end with something you had considered, but dismissed. Nicole Kidman’s performance is flawless. This is a good one for young people who like spooky tales … no cursing, no nudity, no gore … all the things that film producers today think we have to endure to have a good movie. Not so!

A Nightmare on Elm Street. Go ahead, rent it. Turn the lights out. Get under a blanket and watch this creepfest which introduces Freddie Krugger to the horror movie world. Like many franchises, this one has been overused, overworked, and overthrown into the garbage bin. However, the first one was quite scary. We’ve all had nightmares. What if they started coming true? That was the basis of Wes Craven’s films that would invite the audience into that world where things happen that make us scream.

Poltergiest. Hey, ghosts are scary, and this movie is packed with them. Mean ones, too. Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams are perfect as the parents left with no idea how to retrieve their daughter from the television set….or from the other world that’s being picked up by the television set. Steven Spielberg’s story has you on the edge of your seat for most of the ride. Line from the movie that sometimes makes it into my everyday conversation: “Go to the light, Carol Anne“.

The Sixth Sense. I’ll never forget that feeling when the ring hit the floor. We already knew about Bruce Willis, but two big introductions were made with this movie. M. Night Shyamalan has now floored us with several outstanding movies that each had their surprising moments (The Village, Signs, Unbreakable, etc.), but he never pulled back the curtain quite like he did in The Sixth Sense. The other introduction was Haley Joel Osment, who was outstanding in the movie but never has really found a niche since. New sentence introduced into the American vocabulary: “I see dead people.” I saw a shirt even today that said, “I see dumb people”.

It was hard to pick. There are so many others like Psycho, The Ring, and even an oldie that creeped me out called “The House That Wouldn’t Die” with Barbara Stanwyck. Well, anyway, let’s hear yours! And remember… scary moments are all a matter of perspective.  

 

*******

Before we go, let me update you on how things went at Central today. Groups from North Carolina and Oklahoma worked around the church building painting and putting up sheetrock on the ceiling in the foyer and hallways. Pictures are up on my picture page. Both of those groups will leave Sunday. They are doing an outstanding job!  

Thanks for all the comments on the last post. Hope you have a great weekend!