Monday, November 26, 2007

No Response

My question was greeted with silence. Twenty faces met mine stoically; four looked at the ground.

Group settings are not always the most conducive to conversation. But typically there are those who feel too awkward in silence, so they fill the void with an expected response. A brave minority will wander into the realm of self-disclosure.

A high school student once told me he was doing me a favor by participating in class. To me his contributions sounded more like distractions, but he tried to convince me that without his input the class would suffer. "I'm saving you," he promised. Not really, I thought. Salvation wasn't the issue, participation was.

In learning environments, a question that elicits no replies means one of three things:
  1. The question was poorly phrased (too confusing, obvious, or rhetorical, never too dumb
  2. The inquirer is not trusted (he may be laying a trap)
  3. The respondents do not want to share (due to reasons 1 & 2, apathy, fear, or irrelevance)
What are some things we can pray about? I asked

Silence. Perhaps this was too confusing. Too obvious. Too rhetorical.

I counted to sixty-six. Perhaps I wasn't trusted.

The Sound Guy cued the
Jeopardy theme song. Perhaps people didn't feel safe to share. Too personal. Too intimate.

Lingering silence.

Epilogue: The tragedy is the pastor now has nothing to pray for on Monday morning...

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

An Outside Perspective

This is published without permission, but I'm sure if I asked, it would be granted. So if you ever read this, Johnny D. Miller, just say "Uh Huh." And since he's "too old-fashioned" to blog, I put it up here for him.

Miller Moment 145

I dropped by one of my favorite coffee haunts today and decided to try something new; French press coffee. Never having it before I didn’t know what to expect, but I’m the type who’s willing to try anything at least once. They brought it to the table in a clear glass coffee pot with some type of fancy plunger on the top. The gal pressed down on the plunger forcing the coffee through a metal filter hence the name, press coffee. She then poured the first of this brew in a small square coffee cup and left the rest complete with sugar and crème. Now I’ve been a coffee drinker for 40 years and the one thing I don’t believe in is covering up the taste with condiments. Besides ‘real men’ drink coffee black. I took my first sip and I could have swore I heard “Houston, we have ignition.” With the second sip I could feel new hair growing on the top of my head; and nose; and ears. Don’t get me wrong this rocket fuel was delicious, but if this is what the French drink no wonder they work 30 hours or less. They gotta be so stoked up on caffeine that they can get their work done in less time. As I sat there looking at this pot of jolting java and wondering if I drank the whole thing would my body go into high energy vibrations causing the power of invisibility, a familiar voice greeted me. It’s always a pleasure to see his smiling face and it also gave me a chance to share this TNT nectar with someone else.

The first time I met Tim was shortly before the day he took his beautiful Elizabeth to be his life-mate. I feel I can call Liz beautiful with no bias what so ever; even though she is the sister of my beautiful daughter-in-law. Tim worked on and received his graduate degree from the seminary here in our community. Upon completion the young couple moved to Phoenix for an internship with a church there. I sure do love the way God works things out for ones who trust in Him. My son Jeremy completed his education at a college in the southern part of the state here, but had read about one of the top schools in recording engineering that he applied to and was accepted. The biggest obstacles would be finances and a place to live since the location was so far from here; Phoenix! (saw that one coming, didn’t ya?) Jeremy and Bekah moved in with Tim and Liz and Bekah went to work the same place as her sister. For a Midwesterner, there’s nothing better than to have children who live on a desert to go and visit in the dead of winter. But the summers there; I don’t care if there’s no humidity or not, it hot! Visiting the kids was great and it gave me a chance to know Tim and Liz better. I love talking to young people and getting their perspective on life and what direction they were planning to pursue. With Tim I naturally assumed he wanted to be a pastor someday. “Oh no, that doesn’t interest me in the least,” he told me. “My plan is to work on the grassroots level, like house Bible studies and such. As a matter of fact shortly after Jer and Bekah move, Liz and I are heading to Denver to move into a large house with some other people and start a neighborhood outreach.” I found myself with a small cynical smile on my face, not because I didn’t believe in what they hoped to accomplish, but remembering a time some 30 years plus back.

The ‘Jesus Revolution’ as it was called was in full swing with many young people turning to God, carrying Bibles and openly telling everyone they came in contact with about Jesus. Many of these enthusiastic converts were spreading their wings and heading to new areas with the purpose of spreading God’s word. It seemed that one of the popular mission fields was the Rocky Mountains thanks to John Denver and his inspiring tune “Rocky Mountain High.” A small band of these believers I knew heard the call of God to move to Denver, start a Christian commune and reap the fruits of their rewards by watching the Lord turn it into the biggest evangelical movement in history; or something like that. It was about a month before the first of them returned to Ohio tired of living in a slum row house, working for minimum wage at whatever they could find and living on breakfast cereal and hotdogs. The rest floated back in east within six months and it was obvious that some animosities had cropped up amongst members of this close fellowships. I heard stories of ones who wouldn’t pull their weight, others who instead of sharing of light of Jesus got caught up in the night lights and life of the big city. “I don’t know what went wrong,” one told me. “We were there for the Lord; what went wrong?” Several ideas went scrambling through my brain as a possible answer to the question, but before I could voice any a man who was with me and possessed whole lot more maturity than I spoke up and asked, “Did you pray about this before you left?” “Well of course we prayed,” came an indignant response. “We told God our plans and we’re just sure He was going to honor them.” Now I’m not the sharpest pencil in the box, but something was telling me that this old boy was missing the point. Now, some thirty years later I had another bright eyed visionary standing in front of me telling me his plans, which felt a lot like deja vu. Tim could tell by my demeanor that I had reservations about his plans. I reassured him I hoped the best for him, but also told him the story of the pilgrims from my generation and what happened. I was going to ask him the same question that my mature friend put forth those many years back, but his next statement made me realize he was cut from a different fabric than the others. “I’m not sure what’s going to happen once we get there; I just want to do what God’s will is for my life.”

Psalm 37:4-6 – “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.”

I know a lot of good people who have gone off in some direction convinced it was God’s will for their life, without ever taking time to talk to God and see if that’s really what He wants from them; then sadly giving up and becoming disillusioned. I’m not saying God is going to talk in an audible voice and give you an itinerary of what you should be doing. But every believer I have ever known that I consider strong warriors or workers for the Lord spent many hours on their knees praying to God that He would lead them in the path He has chosen and to let His will be known to them. The best way to travel any path is to have a map. And where do you get the map? Go to the MAPMAKER!

Tim and Liz didn’t stay in Denver; why? That’s really not as important as what he told me and he truly meant; “I want to do what God’s will is for my life.” And what’s he up to these days? Well my young friend who never pictured himself as a preacher was called to a little church on the edge of a corn field back here in Indiana to be their new pastor by a voting consensus of 100% of the congregation. From front line warrior looking to tell people about Jesus in a metropolitan area, to a country preacher in Hooterville. Not exactly the direction he saw for his life, but as country boys say ‘happier than a hog sleeping in mud in the hot sun.’ Not because this is what he was looking for; because he knows He doing God’s will for his life.

Blessings to you and your loved ones


Monday, November 19, 2007

The Auction

We sold our teenagers last night. We portioned them out in three hour increments. Their going price was based upon domestic skill, charm, and brawniness. One of them flexed while he was up front (that raised the bid five dollars); most of them smiled and shuffled. I probably would've ducked.

They could bake cakes and do laundry. They could rake leaves and fix computers. The money went to the church for youth conference. Any on-site injuries would be billed to the purchaser. I sat to the side, upping bidders and buying little.

When the auction broke for refreshments and a game, I changed seats. I scooted next to a girl who'd raised a modest fare and asked, "How did it feel to stand up there?"

"It was awful," she replied.

I could imagine:
standing in front of a group of work-weary church people;
getting evaluated on your skills/talents/trade;
receiving donated money for your service;
wondering if you're worth the cash;
wondering if you're worth the votes.

I know a guy who deals with that each week. And he doesn't even bake cookies.

There are all kinds of pressures on the preacher, both from within and without, to be all kinds of other things and to speak all kinds of other words. To speak the truth with love is to run the risk always of speaking only the truths that people love to hear you speak, and the preacher's temptation, among others, is to deal with those problems only to which there is, however complex and hard to arrive at, a solution. The pressure on the preacher is to be topical and contemporary...But he must remember the ones he is speaking to who beneath the clothes they wear are the poor, bare, forked animals who labor and are heavy laden under the burden of their own lives let along the world's tragic life. (Buechner, Telling the Truth; 34)

Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Jesus)

Monday, November 5, 2007

How to Employ Missionaries

I am sitting on stage with missionary team, Nate and Deb Dunlevy. Currently on home missions, Nate and Deb had contacted me about helping at the church. "We'll do whatever," Nate said. I thought about having him head up our laundry ministry, but funding has been an issue. So I came up with a better solution: Teach us how to be missional.

While the term missional has gained prominence in church-planting/growth literature (albeit, not enough to escape the nasty red underline of a misspelled word!), it hasn't stuck enough for us to employ homebound missionaries the right way.

Typically, the missionary will report with statistics, slides, and stories, followed by a request to partner with prayer and/or money. Sometimes the lesson will go further, educating us on the culture where they serve--specific challenges, values, and customs.

But most of the data comes already processed: facts and figures and field reports.
We hear about your culture, show but not how you unwrap it.
We hear about your context, but not how you contextualize.
We hear how you are sent, but not how we are.
We are asking the wrong questions.
What is the process?

Stepping down from the platform, Nate begins with a question. "What is culture?" Walking to the white board, he begins to explain.