Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Musings Big and Small

It's been a while since I posted - so I thought I would do a quick mind dump.

  1. Tonight was the final night of the pre-marriage class that's been meeting for the last 8 weeks. We had 5 couples at our house for dinner and our last session together. It was cool and a very neat and diverse group of people.
  2. Al and I met today to review some of the work that I did last week on vision and goals - I'm excited to take it to the next level of specificity after listening to his input today.
  3. 2 weeks down and 3 to go of my Essential Jesus follow-up class on Sunday mornings. The first two weeks have been absolutely awesome. It's been a continuation of the intensity of the series. And it's cool to be in a room with people who are passionate about studying and following Jesus.
  4. I'm getting ready for a 24 hour staff getaway next Tuesday/Wednesday. Our staff is amazing and it is a privilege to lead them. The time will be rich with God stuff, planning, and fun.
  5. Kim and I have decided to give away our entire Economic Stimulus check. We wrote a check this week that more than gave it away to a worthy cause through Grace. Piper has some awesome thoughts on it here.
  6. ServErie kicks off to the church this weekend. It is going to be so amazing to see our church unleashed in our community! Teams have been meeting almost daily in some form or fashion for the last couple weeks to get ready. That intensity will continue for a while till we're up and running!
  7. Aaron starts tomorrow at Grace. He will bring a level of excellence to our campus and retail ministries like we've never known. Thank you God for Diane who served so capably in the meantime - what a tremendous blessing she has been.
  8. Caleb's first football game for the new session is this Saturday night at the Golf Dome at FFSP. Should be fun - we're playing the best team in the league in the first game so it will be a true test. (yes I'm coaching again...for better or worse).
  9. That's enought for now...

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Hotel

This place is really nice. It's a Renaissance Hotel - I have some pics below. I'm having a difficult time with the wireless - so I've been wresting with my computer all morning. Anyway -Larry speaks in about 25 minutes so I'm going to leaving to video tape him in a minute. Please pray if you read this soon. But before I left I wanted to leave you with some pics of our home for three days.

Yes - that is a TV screen in our bathroom mirror

The view from our room.

TV - and really nice setup for business travelers. Happy Thursday.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Really Emotional

I don't know why - but the moment the first note was played in the main session this morning I got really emotional. I'm not a total conference-junkie-weirdo either. I'm still trying to figure out exactly why. I think maybe because I have kids and looking around at a room full of really faithful people, many of whom have really crappy realities in their home churches (ie. lack of resources, lack of ideas and momentum, lack of support from senior leadership, etc) and yet they are so passionate about reaching kids. I could see it in their faces as I looked around. And I'm so thankful for Larry and his leadership and the tons of committed volunteers at Grace who work with our kids...

My kids.

Some of them total strangers who have given something up to shape the course of history through our next generation of leaders. I was really inspired - I'll admit it. A couple of random thoughts.
  • Larry and I argued about the presence of puppets. I was sure that they would have a presence at this conference - he tried to convince me that Children's Ministry has "moved beyond puppets" - I'll let you ask him what started the conference - the very first bit of the very first session!
  • 2 Instances of hand motions also made it in to the first session (don't doubt me again Larry)
  • The new Willow is ridiculous (this deserves a seperate post)
  • Larry got a gift bag at the hotel from Willow for being one of the speakers - in it was an i-pod shuffle with Willow's logo on it ... c'mon seriously...
  • Our trip out here was hilarious (ask about the convenience store bathroom break...)
  • We took a little I-80 detour (all right a big one - but I'm spinning it that it wasn't that big!)
  • Our hotel is amazing (I'll post some pics in another post too) but here was our conversation as we were driving up to this palatial architectural wonder:

Derek - look at this place, man

Larry - this can't be right

Derek - it is - this is the place - you're bigtime

Larry - shut up this isn't right

Derek - you're bigtime man - just accept it

Larry - stop saying that - what's going on?

Derek - I said you're bigtime -that's what's going on

Larry - I hate you

(Larry gets out of the car -goes into the 4 story open lobby to register - comes back out to the car - white as a ghost.)

Derek - What's wrong

Larry -You'll never believe what was playing over the PA in the lobby...

Derek - what?

Larry - "Big Time" by Peter Gabriel

Derek - ...told ya.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Off To Chicago

This afternoon I'm heading to Chicago with Larry. He's leading a workshop (Session A on Thursday) at Willow Creek's Conspire Children's Ministry Conference. To speak at Willow is a great and well-deserved honor for him and for Grace. He has had an impact on Children's ministry in America over the last number of years and I'm very proud of the role he's played in furthering the cause of Christ by challenging, and encouraging, innovating with Children's Leaders from around the country through his writing.

I will be there for support and mutual learning. I will also be working from there just for a change of scenery. I'll be in on his session and will probably catch another session or two at the conference - but once the puppets and hand-motions-to-all-the-worship-songs starts... I'm out. We're leaving today at about 1:00 and driving out to Chicago together will be back on Friday evening sometime. It will be a great opportunity to spend some quality time with my friend and colleague. Last time we ventured out like this (driving to Erie from State College) - we had to pull over a couple of times because the laughter got so raucus and the driver could no longer see clearly enough to stay on the road. I think we're more mature now so that shouldn't be a problem (yeah right).

Anyway - I'll be blogging from Chicago this week - I'm bringing my camera to keep you updated on the happenings - I'll try to get some shots of the dark underbelly of the Progressive Protestant Mecca known as Willow Creek.

By the way - I need to include a quote from an email that Larry sent to our spouses and secretaries about some details of our trip that really offended me seeing how I'm a law-abiding and slow-driving citizen. He said..."Here's where Derek and I will be staying. We're driving so no flight numbers to track. The downside of driving is that there's a 75% chance Derek will return with a suspended licence. "

More on that later. Adios.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Sermon Series Leftovers 3: Jesus Had a Weird Accent

In week 2 I was talking about Jesus as Rabbi and what it meant to follow him. I had to leave out a couple of really interesting points that should have disqualified Jesus from becoming the history-altering rabbi that he was.

1. He didn’t go to the right schools. In John 7:14-15, about the middle of the festival Jesus went up to the temple and began to teach. The leaders were amazed saying “How does this Man have such learning when He has never been taught?” Now, what do they mean by that, that? It means he had probably never been to rabbi school. There was an education system where rabbis were made in that day. The Apostle Paul came up in that system. Paul sat at the feet of Gamaliel who was recognized as one of the great rabbis in the first century. Jesus didn’t have a diploma like Paul did. He didn’t have those credentials.

2. He had a crazy accent. Jesus didn’t come from the right place. He did not come from a center of education. Remember when Peter was in the middle of denying Jesus three times— and kept saying, "I don’t know Him. I don’t know his followers. I'm not associated with Jesus in any way." Do you remember what gave Peter away? His accent gave him away. A little later the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Surely you are one of them, for even the way you talk gives you away.” (Matthew 26:73)

At this point they were in Jerusalem, down in the southern part. But Peter and Jesus and the boys are from Galilee. And it seems that people from Galilee spoke with an accent. In fact the Galilean accent was considered so jarring to the ear that they weren't even allowed to pronounce the benediction at the end of a service in a synagogue because that crazy accent was considered so uneducated and ugly.

That's why it's so funny to see every movie about Jesus - because he always has a very distinguished British accent. But the truth is, he did not sound like an Oxford guy. He sounded like a NASCAR guy or a New York cabbie (not exactly a picture of brilliance - which is really ironic in light of my last post). He didn't sound like what a world-changing rabbi was supposed to sound like. Wrong family, wrong accent, wrong school, no diploma, and no credentials. And yet his teachings took people's breath away and ultimately changed the world. No one’s teaching has ever affected the human race like the teachings of Jesus.

Even though his accent sounded weird.

Sermon Series Leftovers 2: Jesus is Smart

I didn't get to share this quote at all at 11:00 and only shared a portion of it at 5:30 and 9:15. This was from week 2: Jesus on Choosing a Band of Misfits. You can listen to it here. Anyway, it was while I was making my point on why Jesus should be trusted - and what that means exactly. One of my points was to challenge the notion that "trusting Jesus" means "trust that he made an arrangement to get me into heaven when I die." Instead "trusting Jesus" really means "listening to what he says and trusting that he's right about stuff." This quote from Dallas Willard - that Jesus is "smart" - was meant to support that point.

At the literally mundane level, Jesus knew how to transform the molecular structure of water to make it wine. That knowledge also allowed Him to take a few pieces of bread and some little fish and feed thousands of people. He could create matter from the energy ... He knew how to transform the tissues of a human body from sickness to health, and from death to life. He knew how to suspend gravity, interrupt weather patterns, eliminate unfruitful trees without saw or axe. He only needed a word. Surely He must be amused at what Nobel Prizes are awarded for today.

In the ethical domain He had an understanding of life that has influenced world thought more than any other. Death was not something imposed on Him by others. He explained to His followers in a moment of crisis, He could at any time call for 72,000 angels to do whatever He wanted. A mid sized angel or two would surely have been enough to take care of those who thought they were capturing and killing Him. He plainly said, “Nobody takes my life. I lay it down by choice. I am in a position to lay it down and I am in a position to resume it. My Father and I have worked all this out.”

All these things show Jesus’ cognitive and practical mastery of every phase of reality— physical, moral, spiritual—… Jesus is Lord can mean little in practice for anyone who has to hesitate before saying Jesus is smart. He is not just nice. He is not just moral. He is brilliant. He is the smartest man who ever lived. He is now supervising the entire course of world history while simultaneously preparing the rest of the universe for our future role in it. He always has the best information on everything and certainly on the things that matter most in human life.
- Dallas Willard (The Divine Conspiracy)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Sermon Series Leftovers: The Older Brother

You know you love leftovers. Rummaging through the fridge late at night - looking for that 2-day-old-morsel-of-desire. All right - I don't like them much either. But, I have some leftovers from the 3 week series I just concluded that I thought you may find interesting - I'll be posting a bunch over the next few days. This was stuff that wound up on the cutting room floor through the editing process. This first post comes from Sermon #1 on the Prodigal Son called Jesus on Rebellion, Forgiveness, and Jealousy. You can listen to it here if you'd like and the story is found in Luke 15 if you want to look it up. I was fascinated by some stuff about the older brother. All that made it to the actual sermon were my rantings about how we'll never apologize to the older brothers among us for our concentration on lost people. But there was actually some pretty cool stuff I learned about "big bro."

The main thing was the father’s love for and gentleness with the older brother. I had never noticed it before. As I mentioned in my sermon – the section of the older brother is the part of the story for long-time churchgoers -specifically those who tend to judge and condemn others. The father in the story had every reason to tee off on this kid for being an absolute brat – but he deals very lovingly with him. I’m still intrigued that we never really hear the end of the story for the older brother. Check out some similarities in how the father treated both the older son and younger son.

1. The Father initiated the encounters with both boys
Obviously the dad ran to the younger son – but he also initiated contact with the older son. He doesn’t send a servant to get him – he doesn’t yell from inside the house – he purposefully leaves the party to come out and find him.

2. The Father enthusiastically invited them both to the celebration
To the older brother, he “begs” or “entreats” him to enter the party. He doesn’t demand or command him to come in. He pleads. This flies in the face of the older brother’s accusations that his dad was a bit of a slave driver and a tyrant.

3. The Father called them both "my son” and “my child"
He could have gotten into an argument after the older brother’s accusations, but chose to address him as his child.

4. The Father offered them all that he had
While he kills the fattened calf for the younger brother and lavishes gifts upon him, he also tells the older brother, "All that is mine is yours." But there seems to be an implied “if.” The father insinuates, “All that is mine is yours… if you will come in with me and the sinners…otherwise you can stay out here on the porch and mope…your choice.”

That’s an easy one. What an awesome God.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Rake Therapy

My three week sermon series wrapped up today. Overall I'm really happy with it. I think God showed up all three weeks and challenged hearts and changed some mindsets about Christianity and the role of the church. I'm going to try to post some overflow material from the series in the next few days. Stuff that hit the cutting room floor during the edit process all three weeks.

The ServErie meetings were also a great success. We had printed 225 feedback cards and we had one left when all was said and done. Can you imagine what an army of 225 motivated people, set loose to serve the poor and the downtrodden in our city, could do? What kind of impact a group like that could have? Heck Jesus changed the world with 12 ordinary guys...what might he have done with 225 at his disposal?! I'm pumped to see what is going to happen.

Jim F. who has been part of the leadership core team for ServErie since the beginning about 4 months ago - reminded me today that about 1 year ago he came in to talk to me to ask for advice. His wife had been offered a sweet job in Pittsburgh and they were considering moving. He asked what the next big thing was that the church was planning to see if he might be a part of it. I cast the vision for ServErie and they decided to stay and be a part of it! God has blessed their decision - and he grabbed me after the sea of people left the commons today and said, "this is why we stayed!" I was ready to conquer the world!

This afternoon when I got home - I crashed on the couch watching the Masters for about 15 minutes. I popped an Excedrin Migraine to fend off a coming headache and headed outside to rake the yard. It was a perfect day and some awesome therapy after a really busy weekend.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Serving the Needy

It has been a passion of mine since Target ended about 8 years ago. The church can't ignore the poor. We just can't. Kim and I made a point to involve our family in the lives of a family who is in the throws of poverty. 3 generations of women and two small boys lived in the home when we first met them. All 3 generations of men were in prison.

For the past 7 years, we have reached out to them, visited often, taken groceries, took them on vacation, invited them to family functions, shared our hopes and dreams with them. We talked to them just a couple weeks ago even though our relationship has dwindled a bit since the boys have grown.

Was there an impact? It's hard to say. They have taken positive steps to be sure. They have jobs, and hopefully - they have more than a glimpse of hope that Jesus loves them and that life doesn't have to be like this.

My kids have benefitted tremendously from the relationship. They have a heart for the downtrodden. Caleb told me again the other day that he was elected as captain at recess to help choose up the sides for their daily football game. I came to tears as he described his decision to pick the kids first that always get picked last. That attitude should be in the DNA of every Christ follower - because it was certainly Jesus' example to us.

The church can't sit by and watch poverty happen all around us without our consciences being seared by the love of Christ. I'm excited to preach about it this weekend and I'm excited to invite the church to go on a journey together to make a difference in our city.

Informational meetings will be after all three services for 15 minutes in the commons.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Leadership Is

Leadership is disappointing peolpe at a rate they can stand.

I don't remember where I heard this or read it, but I think it's a hilarious and sometimes very accurate definition of leadership!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Brian Died Monday

He took his last breath at about 5:25 PM. He was aware of things until the very end. No unconsciousness, no coma, he knew what was happening. He closed his eyes and started "singing" - at least a mumbly humming sound. He opened his eyes again - looked at his mom and asked if he was dead. She said no. He reached over for his son. Took a few deep breaths - and went onward to his next chapter.

I got there about 45 minutes later or so. I played catch with his boys (ages 7 and 5) out in the yard when I first got there. They seemed like they just needed to do something else. They were talkative, energetic, normal. Oblivious to the fact that their lives changed forever today. We went inside and downstairs to his room. His body was still there. I read some scriptures and we grabbed hands around his bead - and prayed. Not for him. For us. We committed him to the Lord for His personal pleasure and service.

It was really sad. His boys crawled up next to him in bed - one on each shoulder. Kissing him - whispering to him - crying. Almost too close for comfort. They asked kid-like questions... like do his ears still work - can he see me - does he feel it when I touch his arm?

They brought him gifts of stuffed animals and baseball caps - hoping that their presents for daddy would bring the usual response.

They didn't.

It's a sad day.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

I Have a Love/Hate Relationship With Preaching

I'm done with week 1 of a 3 week series. I thought it went pretty well. The service itself was really powerful and moving - Brian and the team did a great job coming around the theme with some really great elements. We were scrambling last week because the original element that was planned for the weekend kind of collapsed at the last moment. So the "Take My Life" song that Brian did, visual arts piece by Rachel, and the time of confessional prayer in the midst of the sermon were all late additions. But God used the time beautifully. There were a lot of tears and a lot of people doing some serious business with God in the midst of it all.

Preaching weeks are always tough for me because the time is not built in to my normal schedule - so it tends to be over and above. But I really love it. The fact that we're launching ServErie to the church in about 10 days doesn't help the schedule either. But in the midst of it all - I've been reflecting on some of the ups and downs of preaching - here is my initial list.

Things I really enjoy
  1. The deep study of God's word in preparation
  2. Crafting creative ways to help present the truth in ways that will be interesting to the people listening
  3. Praying through the cleansing process and getting myself ready to be the messenger
  4. Imagining names and faces of a wide variety of people who attend Grace and trying to consider what they need to hear about the topic at hand
  5. It forces me to write what God is teaching me
  6. Wrestling to bring meaningful 21st century application from the ancient scriptures
  7. Reading and listening to other great preachers to get ideas on how they have dealt with the text at hand
  8. Getting away from the office to Panera to read, study, and write - usually on Thursday/Friday.
  9. Looking out from the stage at faces when people are really getting it.
  10. Sensing the Spirit of God using a broken vessle like me to get the word out.
  11. Saying things in a way that sheds new light on a subject, or brings a new angle, or is so honest that people leave saying "I can't believe he said that..."
  12. Challenging religious people that it's not about religion
  13. Using planned and spontaneous humor to break down barriers in the congregation.
  14. Teasing Kim from the front - she's always so cute and funny about it.
  15. Utilizing other creative elements to bring home the point. Our teams are so amazing.

Things I Struggle With

  1. Editing the sermon after it's fully written. One of my profs compared it to dismembering your own child. (This past week's first draft was 13 pages - I had to get it down to 6 [and actually only achieved 6 1/2 - I was a little long, right Brian?])
  2. The preparation process. I'm not a great orator - and so it takes me a lot of time and effort to get to the final product.
  3. The post-sermon adrenaline drain. Sunday afternoons are brutal after a weekend of preaching - I usually either get a migraine or shuffle around like a vegetable the whole day.
  4. Going from manuscript to speaking notes. It's always my last step - I'm usually exhausted by then - and It's a bit of a guessing game as to which sections I'm going to remember and which I'm going to need some reminders and which ones I want to flat out read so I can be sure to say it exactly right.
  5. The authority that's been entrusted to me by God and the church. That they have entrusted me with bringing the word of God to bear - do they know me? I know me and I'm not sure I would let...
  6. The empty pit in my stomach during dry spells of creativity and inspiration. There's always at least one moment of "I don't think this is going to come together."
  7. Trying to draw out points that are applicable to both long-term christians and those who aren't yet convinced of Christianity. There is always representation of the full continuum at any of our services.
  8. Feeling like the week is being consumed by stuff other than sermon preparation.
  9. The attacks that come during the preparation process - constant thoughts of "you're not spiritual enough to say that, people will be offended by that, you probably shouldn't go there because you're not a good enough example...etc."
  10. When people sleep... it's a big downer. And we can see it - seriously - you think you're hiding it but you're not - we can totally see you and know exactly what you're doing...