If you are new to this blog....

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!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

sabbatical fruit - week 4 - music and reflection

I returned from Nicaragua on Monday night of week 4. I also got sick shortly thereafter (Tues. night) with a sore throat leading to cold/flu/etc... So, it's felt like a slightly unproductive week. Nonetheless, there was some significant fruit:

1. Reflected on the time in Nicaragua and wrote the week 3 posts (see the May post menu at left)

2. Worked on mixing Maddie's full band CD, which will be released mid-summer

3. Rehearsed with Maddie for the Saturday night FemmeFest performance*.

4. Maddie's "Fully Alive Preview CD (EP)" arrived (produced in weeks 1-2) in time for the performance. It has five of the songs we recorded for the full CD with Maddie's vocal/guitar only as a "preview" to the full project. They are only $5, so go find Maddie or Lynda if you want one! (If you are out of Charlotte and want one, e-mail me and we can figure something out.)

*I've been reflecting on Maddie's performance last Saturday at FemmeFest (it's a sabbatical, I'm supposed to do a lot of reflecting, right?!) While mentioning her specifically would embarass her (so don't go embarass her!), she is doing exactly what I keep challenging the congregation and blog readers to do... using what God gave her to go where people are and share the hope within her. See the previous post on how Pratt and Ashley are doing this through Young Life, Nicaragua.

By saying 'yes' to the doors God opens, Maddie is going to places and interacting with people who may never darken the door of a church. And through her songs, she is talking about her faith, her struggles, and her hope. Have you ever asked what God wants us to do in life? That's it... use what God gives us to go to where people are and share the hope within us.

I know... it's easy to look at missionaries, ministers, or amazing musicians and think, "I don't have those gifts." But, don't buy that line. God has given every person gifts and talents and dreams and hopes. We don't all have to be Billy Graham or Mother Theresa or Bono... just be faithful with a little.

That reminds me of the "sabbatical challenge" - I do find myself wondering if anyone did it. Or did the $5, $10, $20, and $100 bills get stuffed in wallets or stuck back in the offering plate. It was supposed to be an experience of this very point.... do we know how to take a little and use it for God's glory?

If you did something with it... or are doing something with what God has given you (talents, personality, interests, anything!)... e-mail me and tell me the story. If you want to remain anonymous to the congregation or blog-world, just say so. But it's the telling of these stories that encourage others that they, too, can say 'yes' to God.

Photo by Whitney Gray

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

sabbatical fruit - week 3c - Young Life, Nicaragua

I spent May 16-25 in Nicaragua. There were a number of highlights; I'll try to capture some of them briefly without writing a book (which I think I could!).

I stayed with Pratt and Ashley Butler on the first and last nights of my time in Nicaragua. They are on staff with Young Life (or Vida Joven) in Nicaragua. They work at an international school in English-speaking ministry, but are part of the larger Spanish-speaking Vida Joven ministry in Nicaragua, which ministers in many schools.

Young Life is a ministry dear to me. My brother is on staff in Lubbock, Texas, and I've been a friend of Young Life all my life (I started going to "clubs" when I was 5 years old and my parents were on the support committee in Greenville, SC). Needless to say, between my long-time love of YL and my friendship with Pratt and Ashley, I was eager to see what was going on with Young Life in Nicaragua.

YL is YL Wherever You Go

Now, this statement - "Young Life is Young Life wherever you go" - could easily be seen as a critique... another example of importing an American brand of Christianity into a foreign culture. But that's not what I'm talking about. Yes, the same basic structure is in place in Nicaragua - clubs, volunteer staff, crazy skits, and summer camp. But those things are not what make Young Life distinctive. The real strength of YL is relational ministry - going where kids are - with the Good News of Jesus Christ. Not only is that a cross-cultural ministry approach; it is specifically a strategy that asks, "What is the local culture and how may I enter into it on it's terms to make friends and share the best of all possible news?" And that is not American-brand cultural Christianity, that is Biblical and missional faith in action. If there is any ministry structured from the get-go to cross cultures, surely it is Young Life!

Meeting Kids (or anyone) Where They Are

One of the original slogans of YL was the desire to "meet kids where they are." Out of this mission/vision comes important values like going into kids' worlds: high school, band concerts, lunchtables (when allowed), sports events, and generally hanging out where kids hang out. It reminds me a lot of the way Jesus was.

In Pratt and Ashley's case (and there are only something like 4 North American YL staff out of 25 or 30 in Nicaragua), this means hanging out at the International School (their assigned school), where students come from infulential families - they are the children of the wealthy, diplomats, politicians, and other "movers and shakers." This also means (conveniently) that classes and conversations tend to be in English since students come from all over the world, not just Nicaragua. But don't think Pratt and Ashley aren't learning Spanish - they are diving in culturally and are making friends and building relationships in their neighborhood and everywhere they go. Eventually, they hope to build a volunteer core out of University students in the area. When we arrived at their house, within three minutes, Pratt and Ashley had already introduced me to 4-5 of the folks on the street outside their house, including the ever-diligent "Mr. Whistle" - who patrols and guards their neighborhood making frequent (constant?!) use of his whistle to keep things under control.

Pratt and Ashley are also building relationships with the Nicaragua YL staff, taking the initiative to visit each of the 19 other "clubs" in Managua (the capital city). On my last night there, they took me to one of the other Vida Joven clubs, led by their friend and YL staff, Narcisso. It took place in one of the barrios - because of travel issues, clubs meet by neighborhood rather than by school. Like all YL clubs, it met in someone's home, with leaders taking care to set up and clean up. The entire club was in Spanish, but Pratt and Ashley took turns whispering in my ear to translate. Some of the jokes, games, and songs didn't really translate, but I saw what I've seen in YL since I was a child... loving adult leaders building into the lives of teenagers, earning the right to be heard, and sharing the love of Jesus. Narcisso spoke for 4 minutes at the end on John 3:16 and the teens gave him their attention and respect.

I shared in the previous post about the blessing of living with the Hinton's for a week, and while my time with Pratt and Ashley was shorter, I was similarly blessed to deepen a friendship with them through conversation, bug infestation, cards, and an amazing apple pie!

A Lesson for the Church

I think the lesson for the church is so clear and one that seems so hard for American institutionalized Christianity to grasp. If there ever was a time for "build it and they will come" Christianity, that time has passed. We (as the Church) need to learn from ministries like Young Life - not because they are successful, but because they are Biblical - and meet people where they are! Their slogan, so succinctly put, is the focus of this blog and what God has put so heavily on my heart.

The Church (in general) and Good Shepherd (in particular) needs to explore the surrounding community, learn what the culture is, and enter into it to build relationships and earn the right to speak into it. Less and less will we (whether Church or Christians) speak from a position of respect and privilege just because of who we are. Rather, we need to get up and get out into the world to be the kind of "salt and light" that Jesus taught that we should be.

Pratt and Ashley are one great example of what this looks like... and this understanding of Christian identity, as I hope has become evident from my reflection on my time with my missionary friends, is not the exclusive realm of ministers and missionaries, but is the responsibility and privilege of all those who trust in and follow Jesus Christ.

sabbatical fruit - week 3b - YWAM School of the Bible

I spent May 16-25 in Nicaragua. There were a number of highlights; I'll try to capture some of them briefly without writing a book (which I think I could!).

Teaching at School of the Bible

About a year and a half ago, Jason and Tiffany Hinton visited Good Shepherd to share about their work with YWAM. They invited all those present that night to come visit and I casually mentioned that I was having a sabbatical in 2009 and might consider it. Well, Jason didn't forget and invited me down to teach for a week at the "School of the Bible." This is a year-long residency program taught in numerous YWAM bases around the world. What makes Jason's base unique is that it is the only base that teaches the program in Spanish, so people come from all over for the training (including U.S. students interested in Spanish language missions).

I taught for a week in the School of the Bible. It was 20 hours of class time, which was about 10 hours of teaching since it all had to be translated into Spanish. There were 5 students and 3-4 staff in the class (last year there were 19 students). Three of the students were from the U.S., called to mission work in Central or South America. Two other students were from Nicaragua (though one spoke English well). What that all meant was that I was able to talk with the students directly over lunch and in-between classes (something I didn't expect). I enjoyed getting to know each of them and hear about what God is doing in their lives.

The course I taught was intended to teach some skills for Biblical interpretation, using the topic of worship as a case study. The students really dug in and engaged the material, with the highlight being some really diverse and creative responses to a homework assignment to create a worship service from scratch based on the worship principles we identified from Scripture. Each thought so broadly about worship and went far beyond the service to describe a really exciting vision for life, calling, and service together in Christian community. I think the students' perspective flowed out of their desire to obey the word and out of their rich experience living for a year in close Christian community.

And that leads me to the first of my personal "takeaways" from this experience. I have taught before that worship is more than the Sunday service; rather, it is all of life lived before God. But being a part of this voluntary community and studying and living God's Word with them for a week gave me a new perspective on what this means. Certainly each of the students and staff at the YWAM base had a particular missionary calling to go and serve God away from their home (even the Nicaraguan students and staff experienced this, preparing to go wherever God might send them in Latin America). But what the students and staff had that I believe should be a part of every Christian's life and calling is the perspective that all our life belongs to God.

Worship as a Lifestyle

While I expected the trip to refocus me, it did so very keenly in answer to the question "what matters?" And we don't have to leave home (in missions) to respond to this question. What really matters is not the next American Idol, or whether Jack survived on the season finale to 24. What really matters is not my tennis game or getting the newest golf club. What really matters is not even being successful at my job - whether that means striving to get a raise, get a good review, or beat my competition.

What really matters - and I saw this with such great clarity - is faith, family, and community. What are we doing with all the hours in the day? Is God just a little sideline hobby or the central and dominant reason for all that we say and do? Do we cherish our family and children? Do we become more and more isolated through American "entertainment" and miss all those God has surrounded us with - children, spouses, family, Christian community, and neighbors who need Good News?

One of the greatest treasures of my time in Nicaragua was being reminded in my heart (not just my head) that all I am and all I have belongs to God. I also have a rekindled desire to encourage folks to see the truth of that.

A Minute for Missions - What's Most Helpful?

I had a short, but interesting conversation with Jason at one point in the week. He was writing a letter of introduction to a mission committee at a church that might start supporting them. He had a perfectly fine letter describing YWAM and their particular work in Nicaragua. But I began reflecting that I think that when he and Tiffany (or any missionary) share back home that what would be the most helpful spiritually for the listeners would be for them to talk about WHY they do what they do.

We both acknowledged that there is pressure and expectation to give more of a "business report" since mission committees often are trying to evaluate or compare missions for disbursement of money. But I think what we often miss with that approach is hearing about how God has stirred someone's heart to serve Him so completely. It is really and ultimately a disservice to those in the congregation if all the missionary accomplishes is convincing us to send money to support them. What would be of much great value is to CONVICT us that we should listen to and respond to God with faithfulness in our own context.

I'll leave it up to Jason and Tiffany to share as they will, but I've decided that when missionaries come to speak at Good Shepherd that I will ask them to give us a glimpse into their hearts and pray for God to grab hold of us in a similar way.

Everyone Should Visit a Missionary

That lead me to my final "takeaway" - and it's one that Jason and Tiffany have preached for some time. (Which is to say that they get point #2 above just fine!). When they came to Good Shepherd a year or so ago, they told people that one of the best ways we could support God's work in the world is to come visit them. It was that challenge that led Barbara Thompson (and Jane Chiseck with her) to take up needle and thread and go to the YWAM base in Nicaragua and teach local women how to knit. The fruits of that faithful response were very evident when I was there, some 12 months later!

Likewise, I learned things about what God is doing there AND what God would do through me that I would not have learned without going. I'm not saying we shouldn't send money, because that is very helpful to struggling ministries and missions. But if that's all we do, we miss out on the real opportunity, which is to encounter God at work in the world. It's kind of like only chatting with people on Facebook and never meeting in real life.

All that is to say that I think the short-term mission trips we send our youth on are invaluable... maybe not to those they go serve, but to their larger vision of what it means to serve God with their whole lives. Likewise, I believe it would be invaluable for adults to pack up, take a trip, and take some time out to visit and serve on site with a mission. The lessons learned are many and deep. It gets us out of our routine and what can be a very spiritually dulling setting. Ask Barbara or Jane if they agree. Or some of those (youth or adults) who have gone on Son Servants trips. Really, everyone should visit a missionary!

More to come... just didn't want this to be too encyclopedic. :)

sabbatical fruit - week 3a - living with missionaries

I spent May 16-25 in Nicaragua. There were a number of highlights; I'll try to capture some of them briefly without writing a book (which I think I could!).

Lessons from Living with Missionaries...

The "Missionary Pedestal" vs. Real Life

It came out as a joke... simply trying to be funny. But as I reflected on the truth behind it, I recognized an important truth.

We were at the volcano crater lake at the "Monkey Hut." The water was as clear as a swimming pool, with strange currents of warm water swirling about because of the underground heat source. Tiffany and her family were out in the water with me when she started making a ruckus (I chose that description because she would probably be mad if I called it "shrieking").
[ok - I admit I am prone to exaggerate for a good story] Nonetheless, the way Tiffany (the mom) was jumping around and ruckus-ing, you would have thought a 75 lb. volcano fish was trying to swallow a toe or something. I came over to see what was wrong and she was backing away from this little green fish the size of a goldfish. She said she wasn't used to seeing the fish in the water she swam in. And here's the key line... I said, "I think you've just fallen off the missionary pedestal."

By that, I meant the mental picture I had of her as the Queen of the Amazon... the super-missionary-mom who single-handedly raises children and orphans, cooks, cleans, walks miles barefoot to the store, etc., etc... And here she was scared of a little fish.

Now two things need to be said. Tiffany is an amazing mom and super-capable; but, she is just as "normal" as any mom I know who also has to juggle family, house-keeping, work, and a hundred other things. In other words, without taking away from all her REAL talents, the fish-episode was a good reminder that simply being a missionary or living in Nicaragua "for God" doesn't give her super-powers.

This observation was made more real by spending a week in the Hinton's home. Not that the place was a wreck, the kids little monsters, or any such thing. But their home and family were really not substantially different than mine or yours. And that leads to the point I want to make here (and a second I'll make below).

You'd think I wouldn't have had to learn that lesson... because people put pastors and their families on a similar pedestal. But guess what? My kids fight, I lose my temper, I'm scared of bugs, and sometimes over-extend my credit card. I get depressed, afraid, intimidated, and struggle with the same things you do... as do these dear missionary friends.

And here's my point... not so much about us as about you who might read this. We (missionaries and pastors) are not super-Christians. We're not even super-people. We are normal people trying to serve God in specific ministry settings. And God asks each of us to serve Him... in different settings. The point is that going to another country or going into ministry or becoming a super-Christian is not what it takes to serve God. It simply takes saying "Yes" to God.

One of the things we say at Good Shepherd is that we are ordinary people serving an extraordinary God. That was a lesson I experienced firsthand this week, and it's really humbling and inspiring when it sinks in!

Real Friends

The second part of what I gained through living with missionaries for a week is a blessing indeed. I have known Jason and Tiffany as a couple since they were married about 7 yrs. ago, and I've known Jason for about 9-10 years, since we met on a short-term mission trip before I came to Good Shepherd. We get together every time they visit NC and we stay in touch by e-mail on a regular basis. But there's nothing quite like staying in someone's home for a week - sharing meals, space, and the excited screams of small children.

I laughingly told Jason and Tiffany that I was the perfect houseguest for a family with two young girls. The regular squeals and piercing screams of sisters didn't frighten me in the least. In fact, it made me feel just like I was at home! While I missed my family, I think the distance was made easier by having Samantha and Aubrey around, and they were sweet to quickly adopt me as part of the family and share toys, games, books, and songs with me.

Friendships were a topic of deep conversation during the week. We all talked about the longing and the difficulty of finding, maintaining, and growing true heartfelt friendships. It takes risks; it often takes some proximity; and it comes, I believe, in the Lord's timing. We talked about how sometimes we get in our own way making friends and how hard it was to be stretched personally. And while those conversations didn't orient around our own friendship, I think God was allowing us to experience and practice the very thing we were talking about.

I called both Jason and Tiffany friends before I went, but their family holds a special place in my heart after the week living with them.

So, I don't know what exactly to do with that... maybe invite a family over to the Austell's to live for a few days? (if you can handle the truth!) Or maybe just be more intentional about pursuing friendships in the context of ministry... Or seek to be a better friend... Or ask God what He would "sharpen" in me to prepare me to be and have a close friend...

Probably all of the above. How 'bout you?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

sabbatical fruit - week 2 - maddie's EP

Well, no links at present, but much accomplished. I've spent the better part of the last two weeks tracking with Maddie Shuler for her upcoming CD release. They are all her songs (11 of them) and we recorded her singing and playing guitar (and piano on one). That was about 7-10pm for 5 evenings. During the days and after she left I've been tracking other instruments: drums, keys, acoustic and electric, bass, and background vocals. It reminds me of being in Nashville. :)

During week 2 (this past week), we finished the lead vocals and I mixed five of these for an EP to have ready by the end of May for Femme Fest (in which we are playing 30-minute sets at two different stages). I'm almost done with all the full tracking and then will start mixing all eleven for the full studio CD, hopefully to be released by July.

I've also been working on my lesson plans for teaching at the YWAM "School of the Bible" in Nicaragua. I am responsible for 20 hours of class time, which is about 10 hours of teaching content since it all has to be translated. Still, that's a lot! I spent much of this week preparing the teaching outline and organizing notes... taking about 40 pages of notes with me. Hopefully, it is more than I need rather than too little. :) I'm teaching on Biblical study methods and interpretation, using my work on worship as a case study in how to do that. The students are (I think) from all over Central America, possibly beyond. I'll make a fuller report afterwards.

Still up: finishing Maddie's CD, recording more of my own stuff, two (book) writing projects, and serious EXERCISE!

Weight: down approx. 25 lbs. from March and holding. Shooting for 10-15 more by August.

Sabbatinator out...

Monday, May 11, 2009

sabbatical fruit - week 1 - come thou fount

I've seen other pastors on sabbatical post periodic descriptions of what they do (ranging from hour by hour to a couple of broad summaries). My hope is to give a weekly (or so) update, particularly since I'm hoping to be producing music and other materials for public consumption.

Most of the first two weeks I'ave been recording intensively with Maddie Shuler on her new CD. But I did manage to squeeze in some time to record new arrangements of two of my favorite hymns, with new choruses I've written. I'm finalizing one, but here's "Come Thou Fount."

Come Thou Fount - chart (pdf) - left-click to view or right-click to "save as" and download

Come Thou Fount (simple) - just guitar and vocal; right-click to "save as" and download or play live in one of the players below

Come Thou Fount (full)
- the full band arrangement
; right-click to "save as" and download or play live in one of the players below

Please take and use! Just include the info on the chart and "Used by permission."

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