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Welcome! The primary purpose of this blog is to explore and encourage around what it means to be winsome and sent into the world for God's glory. If you are new here, the definition of "lighthouse-searchlight" or our missional journey is a good place to start. Come peruse the blog and add me to your RSS feed!

Monday, January 21, 2008

blooper reel

I've decided to take a break from the serious and share one of my pastoral bloopers. I figure everybody needs a laugh now and again, and some laypeople may not realize that pastoring isn't all super-serious, spiritual business. Sometimes it's the context of that serious spiritual stuff that makes the blunder so funny in the first place.

Here's what happened....

I was 2-3 years into my first call, the associate pastor at a First Presbyterian Church in a small, southern town. We got news in the church office that an elderly woman had died and once she had some affiliation with our church. We looked back 40 years and couldn't find her, but believing that every person deserves a decent burial, the senior pastor "suggested" that I take this one on by myself. I had co-officiated a few funerals with him, so this would be a good opportunity to gain some experience at doing the whole thing on my own. And after all, it was just a graveside service... simple, no sermon, a few lines from the Psalms and a prayer. What could go wrong?

My first indication that this would not be a typical graveside service was the sisters. The deceased had two sisters, also over 80. During the whole service, they were arguing (even poking and pinching) about being in each others' space. It was just like when my little brother and I would fight about the "dividing line" in the back of my dad's car on the way to the beach, except these were elderly women elbowing each other at their sister's funeral.

But their behavior is not the noteworthy part. I concluded the brief service and moved to speak to the family as I had been taught to do. There was the usual tent and fuzzy covered folding chairs, and a large piece of Astroturf running under all of it and up over the spot where the deceased would be put to rest. I hadn't really paid much attention to those details, but my brain was shortly going to piece all of this together.

As I straightened up to walk toward the family, I felt the heel of my dress shoes press down against the Astroturf, when sank down a bit before coming in contact with the ground beneath it. I thought nothing of it, but facing the family saw their mouths all open at once and a collective gasp emerged. As time slowed down, my brain did not and pieced together the scene behind me. My heel had tugged on the Astroturf and literally pulled the rug out from under... the urn full of ashes.

I had all that figured out before I heard the metal urn crash behind me. In my mind's eye I could see ashes fluttering in the breeze of the day. And in that moment I heard one of the two sisters mutter, "Well, she and church never got along much."


Though that moment seemed interminable, when I turned around to see the devastation, I saw the funeral home assistant picking up a small plastic bag of ashes and tucking it back in the urn. In great relief that the remains had not been inadvertently scattered, I whispered to him, "That must be why they put them in a bag... in case this happens." He replied, "I've been doing this for 30 years and I've never seen that before!"

Link: Blooper Reel, pt. 2

Thursday, January 17, 2008

reaching the neighbors

Carol Howard Merritt over at Tribal Church has a great post about how to really reach our neighbors with the Gospel. It's not advertising, posters, mailings, etc... (though they have some function), but it's relational, patient, and just... involved.

Some highlights:

First, develop the art of storytelling within a community.
...The heart of reaching out to people is listening and telling stories... I find that some of the deepest moments in our church come when people begin recognize the spiritual struggles in their lives, and then they form them into words. It’s like putting clothes on a ghost... Then people learn to tell our community about them. And as they speak, they are forming the story, as the story forms them...

Second, listen to the story of your larger community.
...you hang out. Eat lunch away from your desk... at the coffee house... [at] the local bookstore. Take daily walks through the street surrounding the church. Listen and pray for people. Figure out who’s in your neighborhood, and what they might need.

Third, begin to show the congregation where their stories and the community’s needs intersect.
Actually, the members of the church begin to sense this. It’s all very viral. Because soon, people begin to talk to their friends... And, the friend will show up. It may take a year after the initial invitation, but she usually does.

On Wednesday nights right now at Good Shepherd, we are practicing listening to each other and telling "our story" because each of us represents one piece of God's larger story. We're trying to get comfortable with the everyday language of faith so that we might get up and get out into our neighborhoods to engage some of the relational "searchlight" ministry Carol has described. Come be a part of God's story in the world!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

dissertation finish line

I am excited to say that I have completed the full draft of my D.Min. project on worship and music. I have been working on the degree for 7 1/2 years, and writing the dissertation (technically, it's a "project") for 5 1/2 of those years, though significant portions of it began in studies and discussions 8 and 9 years ago at my previous church.

I still have to "defend" it before several professors and make any revisions they require, but the great weight has been lifted. Well, one interesting challenge remaining will be to condense the 320 pg. project into a 300-word abstract. I figure if I find one key word for each page I'll be close.

What is it about, you ask? Well thanks for asking!

It's about music and worship. =)

I'm going to write here instead about why I choose the topic of music and worship.

I have been musical all my life. I have played piano by ear since I was about 4. I took 14 years of classical piano and majored in music composition. I was a professional musician and songwriter for a while. I still have a small music studio that I use to help friends develop and record their musical ideas.

It has been clear to me for a long time that God made me to be creative and musical. And yet God also called me to serve and follow him as a child, and from my teenage years I began to sense a call to pastoral ministry. And I love being a pastor. I have been on this quest since I was a teenager to figure out how to integrate this pastoral calling and these musical gifts.

So I started studying and writing and playing and trying out the balance. And I found a doctoral program that allowed me to study the practical implications deeply, with the accountability to help me press through to completion.

The purpose of the dissertation is to try to establish the biblical purpose and function of music in worship. The topic addresses my own interest and need very profoundly, but I hope it will also be a resource to the church at large, for so many churches have been conflicted over music and worship.

I think I write from a unique vantage point. I am a pastor/preacher and a musician. I am classically trained (read music) and play/improvise by ear. I am right on the cusp between baby boomers and the so-called generation X, and feel like I have one foot planted in modernism and one in post-modernism. I understand both languages.

Anyway, I'm excited about it. I hope as I have opportunity to share the conclusions and contents with folks, they will be too.

Friday, January 04, 2008

podcasting on iTunes

So a young fresh-out-of-seminary friend in his first church writes me and wants to know if I'm podcasting. "Well," I say, "you can listen to my sermons and download them off the sermon blog, but I haven't been able to figure out how to get on iTunes. I guess, like Dave Moody, I haven't quite made it to Web 2.0, but am hovering somewhere around a 1.5.

But, I'm also pretty tech-savvy and love a challenge, so I started Googling around, found Feedburner, learned how to activate the mp3 files already on my sermon blog (that's what "add enclosure link" is for on the new post page of the blog!), and got the feed sent to iTunes.

So, after a couple of hours and no cost to me (other than the hours), I'm pleased to announce that the sermon audio from Good Shepherd is available as a subscribable podcast on iTunes. Not being fully 2.0, I don't know anybody with any of those other fancy podcast readers (jitter, flitter, fleabiter, etc...), but here's a link to the feedburner feed where you can subscribe to the podcast using just about anything out there if you don't use iTunes.

And look, mom (well, she won't actually see this)... I've had 5 subscribers already. Oh wait, 3 of them were me, one is Google hunting down everything on the web, and one... yes one... that might be a real live subscriber!! Maybe it's the student who asked me about it. Carter, is that you??

Back to the books... I'm feeling a bit lightheaded after two straight weeks of trying to finish my D.Min. project and pulling near all-nighters the last two nights. So, if this post sounds a little, um, weird, that's why.

But I'm serious, I am on iTunes now! (search for Good Shepherrd sermons or Robert Austell)

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The God Gamble

I read this today on John Piper's blog... the last of ten resolutions by the late Clyde Kilby, who was a professor of literature at Wheaton. It's a bit of a variant on Pascal's Wager, but one that captured my heart because of its poetry.

Even if I turn out to be wrong, I shall bet my life on the assumption that this world is not idiotic, neither run by an absentee landlord, but that today, this very day, some stroke is being added to the cosmic canvas that in due course I shall understand with joy as a stroke made by the architect who calls himself Alpha and Omega.

HT: John Piper's Desiring God blog: HERE

Telling Your Story

As we struggle (or don't struggle) with the concept of evangelism, we often stop short out of fear that we won't be able to answer all the questions or don't have sufficient knowledge of theology or the biblical story to "do a good job." One of the really important ways to share Jesus has little to do with professional theological training or public speaking skills. That way is telling your story.

There are three stories that matter when you are talking to another person about Jesus. There is that person's story, your story, and God's story. By "story" I mean life journey, whether broadly or specifically. For example, there was that time I prayed so hard to God for Him to make a young friend of mine better when she was near death. I believe God answered that prayer, though not quite as I imagined He would. That experience of praying and hearing from God is one significant part of MY story. And the way God answered helped me understand more about Him, my story overlaps a little with God's story.

God's story is told in the Bible. It is most important, but one of the really significant ways we can help folks listen to that story is to tell them our story... what God has done that we have seen. Particularly if we are speaking to someone with whom we have a relationship, that personal story serves as an "introduction" to God's story in Christ without having to be preachy.

What if they don't believe me?

Well, then they don't. It is likely they are just not believing God's hand in your life. They can hardly question your life because that's your life! These days, one of the most common universal values (right or wrong) is the right for you to your own experience. While that gives credence to folks who really are off the wall, it at least means that a friend will probably give you attention and respect.

And it may be that something in the story of your life will overlap something in their life - a need, a longing, a situation, a cry for help. And hearing of how God acted with you may well be all the invitation they need to "check God out."

Be sure to ask about their story. It shows respect, and you just might learn something yourself!

While I suppose this could happen in a fly-by evangelism scenario, I really envision it as a process of building relationships and friendships. Sharing your spiritual story is a gift to a friend; be a friend.

How do I initiate this conversation?

Try asking your friend about their story first. =)

What's one of the greatest joys you've ever had? Greatest disappointments?
How was your day/week? I haven't talked to you in a while.
I've been kind of ________ (discouraged, lonely, pick something real) lately...
What do you do when you are ________?
How did you and your husband/wife meet? (that will usually bring on a story!)

At Good Shepherd, on Wednesday nights in January, we'll be considering this topic and "practicing" telling our story to each other. I figure that will at least loosen up the relational joints and help folks remember that we all have a story to tell.

What's yours?

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