Recovery, Grief, and Grace

Some moments live at the intersection of music, truth and real life. I won’t say it happens all the time, but it happens enough that I’ve spotted the trend. My conclusion is that God is in the guitars and gutsy lyrics and the Holy Spirit drops them off at just the right moments. You just have to be in tune, or should I say tuned in. Let me tell you about my recent my bookend encounters with Kristofferson and recovery, grief, and grace.

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The Crucifixion

For many years James Weldon Johnson’s “The Crucifixion” has guided my Good Friday reading and reflection. As I invite these wonderful and terrible words and images to once again provide transport to that place, I invite you to likewise make this sojourn of the soul.

“The Crucifixion”
James Weldon Johnson

Jesus, my gentle Jesus,
Walking in the dark of the Garden –
The Garden of Gethsemane,
Saying to the three disciples:
Sorrow is in my soul –
Even unto death;
Tarry ye here a little while,
And watch with me.

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A “Significantly Different” Week

With Sunday’s palm processional we will enter into the week called Holy. In biblical language the word holy essentially means  “significantly different”; a week unlike any other. And indeed it was, and annually is.

Holy Week is perhaps the clearest call on the Christian calendar to pay attention to what Jesus and those around him did, and generously apply those insights and instructions to our life and faith. It was a week of contrasting emotions where unbridled joy and unspeakable grief held hands and walked together. It was a week of purposeful sacrifice, though it seemed that only the One prepared to sacrifice it all understood. It was a week of conviction as He cleared the temple and judged the hearts of the smug and the greedy, and it was one of consolation as He showed the tenderest of mercies to folks as distant as a thief on a cross and as up close and personal as his own mother. Hallelujah, what a week. What a savior.

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Actively Engaged

A decade and change ago, I found myself laboring away on a pair of fronts; leading a growing church seeking to find a new identity and vitality, and the looming challenge of a doctoral dissertation. Something had to live at the intersection of the two, if not for the sake of the ministry, at least for my sanity and need to multi-task.

I found that sweet spot in the oddest of places – The Gallup Organization. Yes, that Gallup. With trips to their office in D.C. and the headquarters in cold and windy Omaha, I began to ingest all the data I could from their research on church engagement. Little did I know that it would profoundly affect my philosophy of ministry and put us ahead of a coming curve in the way congregations measure and strategize for what passes for success.

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Halfway

As a kid, I paid a lot of attention to the halfway markers that seemed significant to me. I forget when half-birthdays ceased being a bit thing. End of the first semester meant that, with one more of those, a year would end and I would – hopefully – be given a new designation that would make me feel infinitely older and wiser. The All-Star Game was halfway to a pennant and July 4th started the march to Christmas. You get the idea.

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FBC By-Laws

Some weeks when I sit down to pen these lines, I am directed by what I think and feel and write with great generality to all who run across my words. Last week was an example of that, and I thank you all for the gracious response to my tribute to Billy Graham. Words and word pictures cannot do such a legacy justice, but I tried and I thank you for taking time to read over my ponderings.

Other weeks, I used this forum to communicate to you things that are going on within the life of the church. Those take the shape, in their best form, of a letter from home. They are at the very least announcements of significant projects going on within FBC. This is one of those.

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Billy Graham

Hero. Model. Living Hope.

“And the King said to his servants, “Do you not know that a prince and a great man has fallen this day in Israel?” 2 Samuel 3:38

He was our hero. Our model. Living hope for every young preacher that, despite our fears and foibles, God’s declared word does not return void. As a child, our house stood still when the crusades were beamed through our just-becoming-color televisions. As a young seminarian, I spent hours in the Billy Graham room in the Southern Seminary library, just hoping that a measure of his spirit might wonder my way through the artifacts of his life and ministry. Years later I stood behind his sacred desk, a portable pulpit that accompanied him around the globe. I felt awe and perhaps again beckoned some blessing for just being there. And I was neither the first nor the last preacher to foolishly borrow his voice until I could find my own.

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Pick Something Up

Seems God has a thing about rocks. They aren’t specifically mentioned in creation, but they show up literally and figuratively most everywhere else in the Bible. When Moses needed water, he struck the most unlikely source, a stone. When Jesus was reaching for a metaphor to describe his hopes for the fisherman he called to found the church, He called him Peter, which means rock. Not surprisingly, God gets referred to as one of those rather often. To the psalmists, He is the everlasting rock, rock of strength, and the rock of our salvation. Blessed be the rock indeed. When our feet are in the miry clay, he puts them on the solid rock on where we can sing and stand. And when our souls need hiding and protecting, the cleft of the rock is where He hides us, a powerful hymn and image plucked right from the headlines of the prophet Isaiah.

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Dr. Andrew Bush

This Sunday we welcome to our worship my dear friend Dr. Andrew Bush. Andrew is a unique person with special gifts and a ministry journey unlike any other I know. For the past twenty years, he and his wife Karen have served as missionaries on the Arab West Bank. Their love and commitment to these “least of these among us” has born much fruit for the gospel and provided more stories of courage, love, and grace than one can imagine. His ministry-reach stretches from the slums of the Philippines to the Gaza Strip to the halls of academia in the States and beyond. And since the fall of 2000, I have been blessed to be a part of his life story, and he an integral part of mine.

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Our Journey with the Followers

As I have been working on our current sermon series “Followers,” it has been enlightening to me to pay attention to the relationship between a person’s personal encounter with Christ and the sacrifices made when answering the invitation “Follow Me.” Time after time, Christ engaged interested people. Sometimes he took them unaware, sneaking up on them in the middle of ordinary life. Others he engaged with in conversation surrounding their most personal pondering or deepest needs. Sometimes miracles occurred and lives were immediately and radically changed. Others were simply met with a gentle wave and a lean towards a new direction. But whatever the nature of the encounter, the climax was almost always the same. They were either going to follow or not. And it was going to cost them something – sometimes everything. And the divine invite never promised them the following would be easy, only worth it.

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