Friday, November 20, 2009

A Dream-Day in the Office

Below would be a great morning for me in the office:

I walk into the office at 8:10 in the morning. I've already had a workout, prayer time, and a shower. I didn't shave so there's a little scruff. I have on jeans and the shirt I'm wearing was chosen because it didn't have to be ironed. Over one shoulder is my book-bag and in my hand is a cup of french vanilla and sugar with a little bit of coffee poured on top. It's Wednesday, which means most of my day will be spent in sermon prep.

As I walk in, Donna tells me that two people have requested urgent meetings with me that morning. One was a 77-year-old, long-time member at SVC. She was going to be by at 9:00. The other was a 23-year-old artist who just placed membership a few months ago. He was going to be by at 10:00. I sighed...two hours of study time has been replaced with "urgent meetings." But hey, this is ministry and schedules are always changing.

I go into my office and I pray for wisdom and discernment because I have no clue what these people are coming in for, but it doesn't sound like they're eager to talk sports or the weather. I better be in tune with God.

At 8:58, Donna pages me in my office to inform me that "Mrs. Sally" is here to visit me. She walks into my office and takes a seat in my comfortable chair. I tell her that I'm glad she has come by. We skip over the superficial stuff and she tells me there are some things on her heart that she needs to share. I tell her that I'm all ears.

"Josh," she says with nervousness and hesitation, "I've been in the Churches of Christ all my life. I'm a 4th generation member. For so many years we knew what we would get when we went to church. It was normal and predictable. We would sing the same songs, and even though we knew the songs in our sleep, we would still open the hymnbooks. The sermons would have 3 points and the invitations would be lengthy. Communion was done in silence. But...about 15-20 years ago things began to change. I don't even know where to begin...screens, powerpoint, newer songs and then more newer songs, sermons were no longer spent affirming the Church of Christ heritage, and occasionally we have been asked to sing during communion. Church is no longer predictable. We don't know what we're going to get."

Mrs. Sally pauses and takes a deep breath. "Go on, Mrs. Sally. I'm listening."

"Josh, our younger people are leaving our churches. I hear you talk about it in your sermons and I see it as I look around the auditorium. Some of them are going to other churches outside of the Churches of Christ, but some of them aren't going anywhere. This concerns me."

I agree, "It concerns me too, Mrs. Sally. A great deal."

Mrs. Sally gets a little choked up and a tear forms in her left eye.

"Josh, I need you to hear what I'm about to say. I want you and our worship leader, Kip, to do whatever it takes to reach the young people of today. I love the older hymns with all of my heart and I wish we sang more of them, but I want to learn to love the newer songs just as much as I love the older ones. I love to take communion in silence, but I see the way many of the younger folks light up when we sing a song during communion or are asked to share a word or two with our neighbors as we share the bread and cup with them. I'm not a big fan of videos during worship, but I see the way that the images and testimonies catch the attention of our visual learners. We need more of that, Josh. I want to encourage you and Kip to be creative. Take some chances. I refuse to be an older person who holds you all back from presenting the gospel in a way that reaches the young people of today. When you do something out of the norm, I'm going to be your biggest fan. It might not be a method I would prefer, but I'm going to choose to embrace it because I know that it is helping someone else connect with Jesus."

"Mrs. Sally, I don't know what to say. I didn't expect this."

We talked a few more minutes, and then I prayed a prayer of thanksgiving over our conversation.

I walked Mrs. Sally to the door, and while I hugged her goodbye, my next appointment was getting out of his car. I held the door open for Jonathan. I led him into my office and I pointed him to the same chair Mrs. Sally was sitting in. After we discussed recent movie releases, I asked Jonathan what brings him in today.

"Josh, I'm an artist. I love to draw, act, perform and create. I like stories that paint images. If you haven't noticed, artists aren't going to traditional churches anymore because they don't feel as if they have a voice. I'm here at this church, because you all seem to be very small ways," we both chuckle, "to use images and creativity to draw visual learners, like myself, into a worship experience. I really appreciate that. I love when you and Kip use media-methods to lead us in worship. I love when you guys get creative with the Lord's Table. I really like the newer songs, because they seem to paint images...they use language that invite imaginative juices." We both laugh at the phrase "imaginative juices."

"But, Josh, here's why I'm meeting with you today. I need to confess to you selfishness on my part when it comes to worship. For over two years now, I've been so cynical of older people, especially those who seem to be so tied to Church of Christ traditions. I didn't think, and I still don't think, that they understand what is going on in the minds of younger people. For a while there, I would cross my arms anytime we would sing the older hymns. And, I had a sour attitude whenever we would be forced to take communion in complete silence because all of the older people seemed to be in the moment."

"Josh, I want to learn to respect and love the older people of our church. I want to learn to love the older hymns because I realize that those songs have touched people for decades. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I hope we never stop singing them. I want to learn to enjoy the days when we take communion in complete silence, because surely God is at work in those little moments. I realize, that at the age of 23, that I have a passion for creativity and for the arts, but I also realize that there is a strong call for unity throughout Scripture. I need to learn to love, respect, and to fellowship with the older people of our church."

Jonathan and I talked for another 30 minutes, and then after we prayed, I led him to the door.

I went back to my office and thought to myself, "Now, that is a dream-day in the office."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Brooklyn Tabernacle

Last night was my 2nd time to visit the Tuesday night prayer meeting at Brooklyn Tab.
For over 35 years they have created an atmosphere of expectation when it comes to calling upon the name of the Lord. We gathered for 4 hours with over 3000 people and we prayed, and when we were tired of praying, we prayed more. We worshipped, we engaged in powerful forms of intercession, we cried, we laughed, we rejoiced, we listened to a powerful message from Jim Cymbala from Isaiah 40, and...we prayed some more.
What does it say about a church that they have a prayer meeting that begins at 7:00 every Tuesday night...the doors open at 5:00...and there were people waiting outside of the doors at 4:45 to get into a 7:00 prayer meeting?
My row was made up of people who were white, black, African, Asian, and one girl who is from Pakistan who converted to Christianity from the Muslim faith 7 months ago.

There is so much swimming around in my spirit, but I don't know what to say.

Do we have a culture of prayer in our churches that goes deeper than prayers for knee surgeries and the need for rain?
Do we truly believe that there is a God who cares and who is eager to act with favor?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Monday Work

It is 1:30pm and my brain is already fried. I have spent the morning talking with Chris Seidman about some of my favorite items of discussion: church leadership, justice, prayer, and college football.
Chris and I ate lunch with Randy and Pam Cope. Listening to the stories from Touch-A-Life is truly inspiring.
Now, Chris and I are going to jump into a few more hours of theology, justice, and prayer campaigns. I'm so full I'm going to bust!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Blogging Grade

OK...if I were to receive a grade for blogging over the last few weeks, it wouldn't be too high. It would probably be better than the Elementary Math Reasoning course I took my sophomore year of college. In high school a "d" means that you fail. In college, "d" means done. But hey, what does a Bible major need math skills for? As ministers, we simply take a number and round up to the nearest hundred.

I'm tired. I think I might be overly committed. Don't get me wrong, I'm loving my life, but I do have a hunger for a greater balance.

Sunday morning was one of the coolest worship experiences I've been a part of. We had a special song sung by the praise team that Kip and Rachel knocked out of the park. It was dynamite. It set me up with 1st and goal at the 1.

Jim Hinkle shared a testimony about a tragedy in the Highland youth group back in January of 2005. Through tears, he told stories of God's faithfulness in the midst of great suffering. There wasn't a dry eye in the place.

Here's what is so cool about Lament--God has a resume full of moments when he has entered into pain and brokenness to love it and redeem it.

Many days, it is simply Immanuel, this idea that "God is with us" that keeps me alive and ticking.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Ok, blogworld, I'm preaching a sermon this Sunday from Psalm 13, the well-known Lament-Psalm.
I need your help, what voice does "lament" have in your corporate worship services?

The Gospels

Ed Dobson wanted to live one year like Jesus...following every Jewish command, keeping the Sabbath, eating kosher, loving enemies, praying the prayers Jesus prayed and going to the festivals Jesus would attend.
One of his goals was to read all four gospels once a week. At the end of the year, he only made it through them 32 times. Still sounds pretty good to me.
After his year-long-journey, he concluded that living like Jesus is extremely difficult.
A rabbi once said, "If you're a Christian and aren't reading through the Gospels every week, then you're not a very good Christian. How can you claim to take Jesus' teachings seriously when you spend so little time actually reading them?"
Chew on that one for a little while.