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, February 28, 2010

on the value of vision and persevering prayer

I have written recently about a developing missional identity seen in "missional fruit." I compared our developing missional identity to a developing person and see us in a kind of pre-pubescent or early adolescent stage in our missional development.

...growing in fits and starts, with some awkwardness, but also with some glimmers of real maturity, purpose and calling that make the angels sing.

One of the very hopeful and encouraging fruits of our developing missional identity has been the relationships and ministry with the guys from the group home across the street from the church.

Naming years ago...  I remember naming the group home as a mission field back in 2006, when our officers first had a retreat around the lighthouse-searchlight themes.  We named several other mission fields in the near-neighborhood and have kept naming them and keeping them before us ever since, even though we connected with some immediately, others years later, and some we still haven't.

Praying for an open door... With several of the mission opportunities being rather non-traditional (shopping center ministry? ministry to group home residents??) we prayed for an open door, for God to not only make our next steps evident, but to prepare the way for us.  One seemingly miraculous open door was one of our church youth being paired with one of the guys from the home at a camp in Western Carolina.  What were the chances?  Then hit it off and boy was I surprised to hear that Cory's "buddy" lived right across the street from the church.  Apparently Cory told Josh I was okay, because Josh came over to see me shortly after that.

Responding to the open door... In the case of the group home guys, they came to us (not just Josh, but all).  I don't think this was an accident.  After all, we had been praying for them for two years before that.  It may be that was the necessary timing to prepare US to be good neighbors.  I remember them first coming to an outdoor concert we had on the church grounds.  Then it was another year before Josh, Mark, Jason, and the other guys started coming over.

Awkwardness/mess...  I've preached and blogged about the "messiness" of really embracing a missional identity.  And the guys from across the street have brought a glorious kind of awkwardness and mess.  And yet it so clearly portrays to me the Kingdom of God.

Persevering in prayer...  And so I am reminded of the importance of persevering in prayer.  Not just with the kind of "persistent widow" mentality, but because God uses such prayer to teach us patience, and perhaps even prepares us for the answer when we might not have been ready for an immediate answer.

Physical growth from childhood into maturity is slow, sometimes almost unnoticeable and sometimes in quick spurts.  I am realizing a missional identity forms in a similar way, sometimes in small almost unnoticeable ways and other times with awkward leaps.  What thrills me is realizing that not only has God been faithful to grow our missional identity; but also that God is not finished with us yet!

Friday, February 19, 2010

deep(er) thoughts - confirmation

Some days I have more deep thoughts than others... and a full weekend prompted reflection on a number of things.

The weekend (incl. Monday): confirmation retreat, Valentine's Day guest sermon on "The Five Love Languages," and a presbytery meeting.

Here are the thoughts on confirmation - briefly and in a bloggy nutshell.


Over the weekend we had our confirmation retreat. Confirmation meets every other year and lasts for the school year. We spend the fall and winter going through the Gospel of John, and go on retreat in February. It's an opportunity to make or renew faith in and a commitment to Christ in the private setting of pastor and peers - with the opportunity in May to do so more publicly before the whole congregation.

There were many precious moments, which are not for public consumption. What I do want to reflect on is the 'range' of students in the class this year. In planning the lessons for the weekend I recognized that we had a number of students who had grown up in the church and in Christian families, but we also had a number (about 1/3 of the total) who come to church or youth group on their own and are relatively (or very) new to Christianity. When I started this "Deep(er)..." trilogy from the weekend, I was simply going to reflect on that range of experience.

With this post as the third in the series, and coming after the Ash Wednesday reflection, I see this range of experience as one fruit of a missional expression of being the Church. Our missional identify has been growing about as slowly as a child develops (think years!), so sometimes I am slow to recognize the fruit of it, but I do see the current make-up of the class as a fruit of a missional identity. Said another way, a developing missional identity isn't measured like you measure a successful BBQ fund-raiser ("Hey, we got 250 people and raised $2500!!). Rather, a developing missional identity (at least at the stage where we seem to be) looks kind of like a confirmation student - growing in fits and starts, with some awkwardness, but also with some glimmers of real maturity, purpose, and calling that make the angels sing.

For more on developing a missional identity or on our particular approach to confirmation, please contact me at robert@gspc.net.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

ash wednesday worship

Tonight we had the Ash Wednesday service. I've done the service ever since I came to Good Shepherd. It's always meaningful (if a bit somber), but this year things were noticeably different. I attribute much of this to the Wednesday night experiment. We've been reaching out and you can tell a difference.

There are toddlers and elementary age children running everywhere. There are middle school kids from the section 8 housing coming for tutoring (seems like more each week). The teenagers are bringing more and more friends from outside the church (ok, mostly to date them, but nonetheless). The group home guys from across the street are regulars. And we've picked up some new adults as participants and members.

So stir six months of that in a pot and you will start to get a picture of tonight's "somber, reflective service on mortality and sin." For one, I decided not to have a lot of contemplative silence and prayer like I have in the past. That just wouldn't fly with so many children. I decided to sing a lot and explain a lot.

The enthusiasm and participation of the group home guys was something else. Two of these young men, in particular, just sang their guts out. And just because I got to the end of a song didn't mean they did - they would just keep singing extemporaneously until one of their house-mates shushed them. I will admit that having the two most passionate singers on the second row made it hard for me to hear myself and concentrate, but it was worth it. I thought, "How much like the Kingdom of God is this?!" These beautiful and sweet men - kind of like young boys stuck in men's bodies, sang praise with as much heart as I've ever heard from anyone. It was hard not to be inspired. After one song ("Come Thou Fount") one of these guys just let out a big "Woo!" - I can't think of a better "Amen" to what the Spirit was doing tonight.

The open prayer time ranged from short sentence prayers to a mom's heartfelt prayer for her son to a wide-ranging prayer by one of the group home guys, who prayed like he sang, with nothing held back.

Billy Howell, a young man who has grown up in our church wrote a song about being broken and sent it to me this morning... I decided to ask him to sing it while I was putting ashes on the congregation and it was perfect. He has struggled with so much - it moved me deeply to hear him leading us in worship and contemplation of our own brokenness and finitude by means of his own creative burst.

And finally, I'm not about the numbers, but it was packed! I don't think we've ever had more than 30-40 for Ash Wednesday. We normally sit on one-half of the sanctuary since so few are there. Well, they started on one side, filled it up, and spilled into the other - I'd guess well over 100 there.

As I stood to give the benediction and we sang the last line (of v. 2) of "My Faith Looks Up to Thee" ... pure, warm and changeless be, a living fire... I observed that we had book-ended the service talking about "fire" (first from Revelation, being 'hot' with fire, not lukewarm; and ending with the hymn above. Yet in the midst of this we were recognizing that we were like the ash - made from dust and destined for dust apart from God's intervention. Our only hope for life, for fire, was through hope in the resurrection in Jesus Christ. So, I put ashes on the foreheads of kids as young as 4 and some people in their 80s and reminded them:

God formed you from dust and to dust you shall return. Put your hope in God, for resurrection through Jesus Christ.

May you know the living fire of Christ, rising out of this ashen life. Amen.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

deep(er) thoughts - the languages of love

Some days I have more deep thoughts than others... and a full weekend prompted reflection on a number of things.

The weekend (incl. Monday): confirmation retreat, Valentine's Day guest sermon on "The Five Love Languages," and a presbytery meeting.

Here are the thoughts on love languages - briefly and in a bloggy nutshell.

Love Languages

If you haven't read the book, you should. The five love languages are words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service, quality time, and physical touch. My #1 is words of affirmation - but you have to realize that they have to be genuine, not flattery. If anyone is tuned in to the difference between the two, it is someone for whom that is their #1 language. I have three daughters - two of them LOVE to snuggle with me. One does it for physical contact; the other as a form of quality time. How do I know? When they fight for snuggle time, one says, "That's my place; don't get in it." The other says, "It's my turn for daddy time." As Spock (Mr., not Dr.) would say, "Fascinating."

More technical observation: it has occurred to me that the five languages correspond somewhat to Howard Gardner's multiple intelligences, simplified or re-packaged as the VARK model of learning styles: visual, auditory, reading, kinesthetic. And neither is unrelated to Jack Haberer's Godviews book, which posits that people view/understand God in a number of different ways. None of these correlations takes away from the value of the models; rather, I think the overlap helps validate the need to understand that people process differently, whether it be love, information, or faith in God.

And here's the most important takeaway: while it is of great personal value to learn what your own "language" or learning style is, it is of even greater value in terms of loving/serving/reaching others to recognize that not everyone speaks your language. A truly missional (which is to say Christ-like) love learns to say "I love you" in the others' language.

deep(er) thoughts - presbytery meeting

Some days I have more deep thoughts than others... and a full weekend prompted reflection on a number of things.

The weekend (incl. Monday): confirmation retreat, Valentine's Day guest sermon on "The Five Love Languages," and a presbytery meeting.

Here are the thoughts on the presbytery meeting - briefly and in a bloggy nutshell.

Presbytery of Charlotte Meeting: Feb. 15, 2010

We were to meet last Saturday, but snow resulted in postponing until Monday. I officially finished serving as presbytery moderator in December 2009, but was filling in for new moderator, Jane Sumney Mullinax, who had to be out of town. Two standouts from the meeting were the celebration of the 250th anniversary of Steele Creek Presbyterian Church (Pastor: Jeff Pinkston - new on twitter @preacherpink) and guest, Bruce Reyes-Chow, moderator of the Presbyterian Church USA. Bruce had Q&A, preached, and led a workshop on social media. His broad theme was a challenge to "get out of the boat" of the way we've always done church and to step out in faith into new ways of being the church.

Later Monday night, he had some more Q&A at a reception for the younger pastors in the presbytery (woo! - they let me come!). One standout question (to me) was from the Rev. Kate Murphy, who asked what he thought a presbytery might look like that embraced this new way of being church together. His response is what I've come to identify as perhaps his strongest contribution to the church as moderator: the conviction that we best discern the mind of Christ and will of God together, which he notes is not the same as unity at any cost. Interestingly enough, my mind immediately went to Kate (who asked the question) and my experience of working on the Presbytery of Charlotte reconciliation policy with her. I think she and I experienced just what Bruce was talking about - we came to the table with radically different opinions and convictions, were able to forge a healthy and helpful policy, and left without having compromised or dropped core convictions. And in the process, we forged a friendship and a genuine respect for one another's faith and integrity. Even in conversation last night, Kate and I acknowledged that we may frequently line up at different microphones, but not as enemies, but as fellow believers who legitimately and earnestly desire the mind and heart of Christ.

Don't let that last sentence flit by undigested - it's the significant point here and one worth chewing on thoroughly.

This reality is what endears Bruce to me, gives me hope for a future with my local colleagues in ministry, and makes me long for the opportunity to explore deep theological division with friends among whom there is a deepening reservoir of trust that we won't run screaming from the room or turn and lash out in anger. While I do not lessen or turn in any way from the importance of truth, I am more and more convinced of the need to speak truth in love, which is to say, in the fertile field of trust and hope.

PS - I am encouraged to see more and more presbyteries picking up the language and approach of the commissioner's resolution I wrote which resulted in GA action 04-28 (2008) in creating gracious and pastoral local policies like this one in the Presbytery of San Francisco.

Monday, February 01, 2010

con ed clips - reflection on contemporized hymns

I recently attended the Calvin Symposium on Christian Worship. One of the seminars included Dan Schutte, the writer of "Here I Am, Lord." In the course of the seminar he was asked about writing new music to old hymn texts and, despite having just shared a piece where he did that, he urged caution in using antiquated language.

Another conference attendee, Zac Hicks, blogged about this question:

I’ve noticed that when I’ve slammed KJV-song after KJV-song upon a congregation, it’s a bit overwhelming and they eventually seem to shut down because it’s too hard to keep the brain processors firing on such a high level.
He goes on to explain the value to judiciously using antiquated text, while not wearing people out on it.
Christians need to remember that the Church universal is not only the Church across space but the church across time. When we engage in older texts, we join hands with the saints of old, singing the songs they sang.
Christians need to perpetually challenge the “dumbing down” of cultural standards. God calls us to integrity and beauty. There is a strong pull in culture to slide off the hill of high standards, and that includes linguistic standards. In an age when English-speakers are losing the breadth of the English language, it’s worth gently challenging culture to think differently.
I agree with Zac and encourage use of ancient texts, but not not an exclusive diet of ancient or modern language, as people begin to choke after too much of the same.

Having said that, one additional way (besides only contemporizing the music) to employ ancient hymns is to modernize the language. This can be dicey, and I wouldn't do so with creeds or prayers shared around the church. But, selectively and carefully with hymn texts, I think it can be done well.

Here's one example of how I've done that with a classic hymn, "And Can it Be." Further, I not only contemporize the accompaniment, but also simplified the melody somewhat, which is quite difficult with successive arpeggios for the voice. You can hear the song in the player below, and see the lyrical adaptations beneath that. You'll note that I was turning six lines into four short lines... some phrases were left out; some compacted. Never fear; we still sing the traditional hymn too!

And Can It Be? | How Can it Be?
Charles Wesley, 1753. Arr. Robert Austell, 1995.

And can it be that I should gain | How can it be that I would take
An int'rest in the Savior's blood?
| Interest in Jesus' death?
Died he for me, who caused his pain?
| Even when he died for me -
For me, who him to death pursued?
| The one who put him there to die

Amazing love! how can it be
| Amazing love, how can it be
That Thou, my God shouldst die for me
| That you, my God, would die for me!

[verse not in my presby or Baptist hymnal...]
'Tis mystery all! Th'Immortal dies!
| Who would have thought that God could die?
Who can explore His strange design?
| Who could even understand?
In vain the first born seraph tries
| Even the angels shook their heads
To sound the depths of love divine!
| No one could ever comprehend.

Amazing love! how can it be | Amazing love, how can it be
That Thou, my God shouldst die for me
| That you, my God, would die for me!

He left his Father's throne above
| When Jesus left Heaven above
So free, so infinite his grace! Emptied Himself of all but love
| A free and boundless gift of love
...and bled for Adam's helpless race
| Given to us, a helpless race
'Tis mercy all, immense and free
| -----
For, O my God, it found out me.
| Searching me out so I could see God's face.

[combines parts of vv. 3-4]
v. 4 No condemnation now I dread:
| Never will I now fear to die
v. 4 Jesus, and all in Him, is mine!
| Jesus and life with him are mine
v. 3 Long my imprisoned spirit lay fast bound...
| ------my chains fell off, my heart was free | Free from those chains I stand released
| Amazed by this love God's given to me.
Amazing love! how can it be | Amazing love, how can it be
That Thou, my God shouldst die for me | That you, my God, would die for me!

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