Friday, May 29, 2009

One Week Away!

One week away from opening night, and the play is really looking great. These are pictures from Wednesday nights rehearsal and we had another one last night. Having two full rehearsals back-to-back has really solidified a lot of elements in the play. Last night, Donna handed out costumes, and as of yesterday, all the painting and scenery is done except for some touch-up on the Luke's classroom wall - just off the picture to the right. We have three more rehearsals planned - Sunday afternoon, Tuesday night, and dress rehearsal on Wednesday. Then the play opens on Thursday night and goes through Sunday night (7:00 each night except for Sunday at 6:00)
Last year the pirates kinda stole the show with all their planned and unplanned antics. This year we have the Pharisees in scene two who I feel will do the same thing. The same group, for the most part, miraculously becomes apostles by the last scene and also have some fun things to do. It's got a lot of fun stuff in, but it's also probably the most spiritually pointed play we have done. What it means to be transformed by Jesus is clearly taught and the great songs truly help it to touch the heart. I am very proud of what the whole cast has done to get this pulled together. Hope you can come to one of the shows. We'll have DVD's again, but they are nothing compared to the live performance.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Thy Kingdom Come!

Through the years, I have heard and read more arguing and debating about the nature of THE Kingdom than probably any other theological topic. I never really got into it when it was such a huge controversy in college - mostly because I didn't understand why it was such a big deal. Most members don't have a clue that defining THE Kingdom is a source of great distress and disunity amount church of Christ scholars and most evangelical group. Members don't know about it and, well you know what the next line is - they don't care about it.
It use to be understood that every true believer had to stand solidly behind the C of C interpretation that the church and the kingdom were the same thing. After all, that's what The Book said! No, not the Bible, but Why I Am A Member of the Church of Christ. Oh, did I say "use to be"? That implies that something has changed, and for many that's the same as the preaching of another Gospel, which as we all know, is anathema.
The problem is with all the different ways that the Kingdom is talked about - even by Jesus. Sometimes it's here, sometimes it's coming, sometimes it within us, and sometimes it's the end of time. Everyone has an opinion on what it is, when it came or is coming, and who's in it. Yet Jesus declared clearly, "My kingdom is not of this world."
Call me simple-minded, which some have, but it seems to me that the kingdom is simply the spiritual realm of God. A realm that He has been trying desperately to get us to think about, focus on, and desire to be part of. A realm that was only partly available through the Old Covenant as God was teaching that Law can't save people, but is now completely available through grace. Yet still a realm that will not be fully realized until we are changed from mortal to immortal. Could the Kingdom simply be the Light we are called to walk in? Could it simply be that the journey of seeking reveals the Kingdom's presence in our heart? Could it be that the Kingdom is the presence of Jesus in our life.
Ah, what do I know. I'm simple-minded - or rather, single-minded. I tend to think that everything is about Jesus. After all, what's the Kingdom without THE KING?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Jeremiah Root?

One of my all-time favorite movies is Jeremiah Johnson with Robert Redford. Talk about a classic! Like Groundhog Day, I watch it at least a couple times a year. I love the toughness and total independence of JJ whether he's dealing with the severe terrain and weather of the Rockies, a wild grizzly, or the multiple attacks from the Indians who attempt to gain glory by killing him. I watch and think - I could do that! Then, after sober reflection on reality and setting aside Indians and grizzlies, I couldn't stand to be that alone for that long. I like people. I love my friends and family. I love my church family. Yes, I like my quiet time - especially in a deer stand in the Fall, but I love to be around the people I love - and who love me back. I feel pretty sure that God calls that "church".
Yesterday I made this statement in my lesson. "People don't choose to be loners because they like it, they choose it because they don't know how to make and build relationships." I believe that. God made us to want and need one another. Those who seek to be alone, and feel good about it, are simply people who have learned to rationalize their inability to socialize. I'm sure there are exceptions, but not many.
I don't say that to be critical of anyone, but rather to point out that a lot of folks need help. That person sitting alone at the end of a pew during your Sunday morning assembly really doesn't want to be alone - except to the extent it saves them from the discomfort they feel about their inadequacies in relationship building. I guess what I'm saying is that real, loving outreach may only be feet away rather than down the street. The assembly is a togetherness event. Church is God's plan for spiritual relationship building. Some don't want, and that's wrong - and sad. Some don't know how, and that's mission we must not ignore.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Going to Kansas City...

Last Sunday afternoon we drove over to Kansas City to see the play that Jonathan is in at the Kansas City Rep. He took a leave-of-absence from his Avenue Q show on Broadway to be part of this production of A Flea In Her Ear. The above picture is a power point screen in the foyer of the Rep that flashed pictures of the cast. Donna caught this picture as Jonathan's picture came up.

This is the place. The theatre is on the very beautiful campus of the University of Missouri in Kansas City. It's a really nice theatre too, with probably 300+ seats. We were about five rows from the front, so we got to see every thing up close and personal. It's a great play. It's called a French farce and is basically a fast paced action comedy with lots of really great lines, puns, and comedic innuendos. The cast was incredible - especially one in particular - and there were lots of wonderful laughs. Of course, it was a little bawdy in spots with a lot of suggestive jokes, but nothing you won't hear on Leno every night. It was especially thrilling to hear the audience give a special cheer when Jonathan took his bows with the rest of the cast. I wish we could see it again.

After the Sunday night show, we went out to dinner at The Cheesecake Factor and had a huge, late-night dinner and a great time just visiting. Oh yes - it was a Tums galore night.

Since Monday was Jonathan's day off, we spent the whole day visiting sights in Kansas City, eating a lot, walking a lot, and just enjoying being together. This picture was at the Steamboat museum, just down from where we had KC barbecue. By the way, KC is a really neat town, at least the parts we saw. We may go back some time and just see the things we didn't have time to see this visit.
It was wonderful to just spend time with Jonathan. We'd love to see Holly, but she couldn't come out until this next weekend. It was a great play and a great visit.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Sunday Morning Rock!

Introducing the Florissant Church of Christ Choir!
NOT! We have a tradition each year (see I like good traditions) of having the cast of the musical sing one of the songs from the play for our congregation two or three weeks before opening night. Not only does it let them know that we have been working hard and are prepared for the show, but it helps inspire everyone to pass out lots of tickets and door hangers to advertise the production. They did an awesome job with the song, especially since I switched songs on them after they got up there. The whole church family loved it and I'm sure it helped inspire them all to invite lots of people to the play. It really is going to be great. It's a little scary to think about how much has to "come together" in the next two weeks, but that's the way it is every year.
If there is any way that you can manage to come see it live, I promise you that's ten times better than seeing it on the DVD - and the DVD will be good!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Just Another Life Changing Thought

I was at our Men's Prayer Breakfast this morning and got to hear several of my brothers talk about encouragement, but especially the importance of being encouraging when we assemble together on Sunday morning. I love it when people "get it"! Churches will continue to have style and preference battles when it comes to "worship" until everyone (or at least most of us) "get it" that it's a giving opportunity not a receiving experience. I'd love for someone to use New Testament scripture and prove me wrong. It won't happen. That is why I remind my church family as often as I can "If what you're doing this morning is not giving, then what you're doing isn't worship." It's excited to see so many "get it"! We also don't have very much grumbling about "what I want" and "I wish we would..."!
Here is a principle that I not only believe in, but I believe it is one of the great keys to unlocking the spirit of Jesus in our life. What ever it is you want, you must be willing to give to others before you can truly have it.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Ripple Effect

I have had several occasions when someone, usually a total stranger, mentioned to me that one of my books completely changed their life. Wow! That is humbling and scary. It's usually someone who read Spilt Grape Juice, which came out in 1991 and redefined worship as a life given in sacrifice to God rather than a one hour assembly on Sunday morning. Back then, that was controversial stuff. Even though it was published by a small Christian publisher (College Press) it still became quite popular just by word of mouth. I think my royalties were enough to pay for one course for one of my three kids at Harding University. Thank God for small things. Still, to have someone declare in person, by phone, by letter, by email, or even in a church bulletin article that something I did changed their life is amazing. Our God is the God of ripple effects.
Yesterday I had a phone conversation with a sister in IL who just got back from visiting family/missionaries in Uganda. She wanted to tell me what a huge hit the Jonah and the Pirates of the Mediterranean DVD was with all the children where they are ministering. She said they watch it constantly and children from all over come to see it, and half of them are Muslim. They have been able to have multiple Bible classes using Jonah's story as the subject. She wanted to know if we had any other DVDs of other plays. I'm sending her our Fiddling On the Ark and The Lord of the Parables DVD and I'll be sending her a copy of Transformers: Saul to Paul when they arrive in early July.
Again, it's mind boggling to think of what God can do with what we do in His name. The ripple effect is one of the most incredible and most ignored characteristics of our Father's plan. We'll never know, in this life, about the many things we've done that God used to touch, teach, and transform others. If you want to see a wonderful biblical example of His ripple effect, just read Acts again from the standpoint of what the ripple effects were starting with the healing of the crippled man at the gate Beautiful in chapter 3. It was an interruption! God used that seemingly isolated act of compassion to cause everything that happened to Peter, John, and all Jerusalem in chapter 4. Touching someone because of God can cause ripples that will not finish until they splash on the shores of Heaven.
I'll never say, "It's just a play."

Monday, May 11, 2009


Yesterday I presented the three steps in Our Plan to carry out His Purpose. (See diagram below) In the middle of the lesson I made a statement that I didn't have time to elaborate on, but which took a lot of years to figure out. I said, "Church growth is not about PR but about developing a passion for Jesus." When people have a passion for Jesus they SENSE his presence, they SERVE him gladly, and they SHARE him naturally. The problem we've always had is that we ask for and expect actions and results from people who haven't developed a personal relationship with Jesus (i.e. a passion for Jesus) and then cry and moan about our declining numbers or our stale plateaus. Just look at the three steps below and ask yourself at which step will people feel compelled to act and speak for Jesus. Only when people care deeply and become committed will they make the Lord and his church a top priority in their life. These steps just simply clarify that growing is a progressive effort and it helps us identify where we are and where we need to go.
I just remember all those years of trying to come up with the right idea, plan, ad, organization, or event that would attract our community to seek what we had to offer. I just knew that if I could come up with the right package, the church would grow, we'd succeed, and our method would be the envy of every other church in the country. We'd be another Willow Creek or Saddleback, my elders would be in awe of me, and the Brotherhood would make pilgrimages to us to seek out our wisdom and our plan.
Okay, that's a little overstating of things, but it saddens me that it took me so long to understand that my job as a spiritual leader - every leaders job - is to help people develop a deeper relationship with Jesus - one person at a time. Seeing brothers and sisters join the company of the committed is a beautiful thing. It may not be as notable or newsworthy as having discovered the magic formula for becoming a mega-church, but it's why God put us here. The three steps allow us to know where we are and where we need to go - as individuals, and where leaders need to be leading people. It takes mentoring and guiding out of the theoretical and into the practical - the real. Maybe most important of all, at least from my perspective as a minister, I can't guide people to places I haven't been. Like Paul, not that I've arrived, but I press on and I want to help as many as possible go with me.

Friday, May 08, 2009

How Do You Seek God?

One of the truly odd things about human selfishness is that the more we are blessed, the more we expect to be blessed. If you read much of my stuff, or listened to me very much, you know how vitally important I believe thankfulness is to our spiritual growth. It's essential - preeminent - nothing happens spiritually without it. Conversely, everything begins to happen when we choose to be thankful. We connect with God because we recognize what He has done for us, and our relationship with Him deepens because we are communicating with Him. That's called FAITH! He's real to us, close to us, and involved with us! His Holy Spirit develops it's fruit in our lives (Gal.5), and His graces become life-style qualities that increase daily (2 Peter 1). This is just part of the chain reaction that begins with deciding to be thankful. Thus, thankfulness is the secret to seeking! Thankfulness is what changes seeking from theological theory into honest relationship building!
So what happens when we allow God's blessings to go unnoticed, unappreciated, and un-praised? What happens when we see ourselves as just living "charmed lives" and succeeding because of our raw talent and looks and superior intellect? At the very least we go from feeling grateful to feeling entitled, from being humble to being egotistical, and from cheerful giving to self-centered keeping! At the worst, we become shortsighted, forgetful, and sell out eternity for the gains of this world. We stop seeking God - the One who blessed us in the first place.
That makes the words of the Spirit even scarier - "Let him who thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall."
Choose to be thankful and see what God has been waiting to do!

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

His Purpose Our Plan

This is a copy of the material I started presenting to my church family last Sunday. We developed and committed to our purpose statement over two years ago - "We exist to help people develop a deeper relationship with Jesus." It's simple but I believe it's the truly biblical reason why our Father wanted His children to form church families. Everything we do as a church family must be driven by and contributing to this goal/purpose/win. If it's not contributing to it, we need to have the guts/faith to stop doing it. Everything, as in the diagram, must point to accomplishing the God-given result.
The above diagram that we developed consists of three parts. This is what I'm sharing with our family now. The top part simply points out that God has given us a tremendous support system to achieve His purpose. This includes everything from a church family, to leaders, to all the spiritual activities and relational interactions that build love and faith. I have a list of twelve tools that God has given us that support our efforts to seek Him. Right now I'm planning on sharing these as a Summer series.
The second section is the steps to spiritual growth. Everyone seeking a deeper relationship with Jesus must first be Connected in some way to Him and His people. As each of us begins to truly Care about one another, we are growing in love, which is why God wanted us to be together in the first place. Loving one another is how we learn to love Him and be like Him (read 1 Jn.). The more we grow in love the more we truly become Committed to one another and to Him. Spiritual growth is based on loving relationships because that is what God wants. These are simple and easy to understand. Everyone can know where they are - if they are honest, and every shepherd can know where he needs to lead each individual he is mentoring and can truly measure the effectiveness of his guidance and their growth.
The third section, Location, is simply to help each of us have a visual picture of where we are spiritually and relationally. Everyone knows what it means to be in the house, but only in the foyer. The living room has some relationship building going on, but true intimacy and deep relationships are symbolized by sitting around the kitchen table, sharing, trusting, and encouraging.
I love it! I've believed for a long time that we've complicated God's plans with our traditions, our divisions, and our external spirituality. It's all about drawing closer to Him and "church" is a tool to encourage and support that result! It is my prayer that with a clear purpose and clear steps we can get on with the job of helping one another "become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." (Eph.4:13)

Monday, May 04, 2009

Another Basement Update?

I remembered the other day that in my last phone discussion with our son Jonathan, I told him I'd put some updated pictures of our new basement on my blog. We've done some decorating, but mostly it's there as a functional place for grand kids to play, overflow guests to stay, and a second option for a place to watch a DVD. Since it stays nice and cool all the time, we may be using it a lot more during the Summer even when no one is here but us.
This is the unofficial extra bedroom. It's a nice queen size bed that is a whole lot nicer than the air mattress we used before. The church is getting rid of some old vinyl green chairs so we grabbed eight to have for small groups and other fellowships. That's what's behind the stairs. They will, some time soon, find a spot in the storage room on the other side of that wall. We have to do some serious organizing and disposal before there will be room.

This picture is from the corner of the room to the right of the wide screen TV (as you look at the TV). We hope to replace the card table and chairs with something a little more solid.
I'm still amazed every time I walk down stairs into the basement because my mind still sees what it used to be and look like. It's hard to believe the transformation. Hey - there's a sermon illustration there...

Friday, May 01, 2009

What A Difference One Word Makes!

I have a long list of public speaking blunders in my three and a half decades of speaking. One I will never forget, and still remains high on my list of "Church Chuckles" happened about thirty years ago in my first couple of years with the Fairfax church. I was preaching about Jesus sending the demon that possessed Legion into the 2000 pigs, and I just knew there was a better word to use besides hogs or pigs. I had a major "brain burp" and called them "poultry". Why? I don't know. I was a city boy my first thirteen years of growing up in Washington, D.C., but I had a lot of years working with farm animals in south Georgia and Arkansas. I even helped gather eggs at the Miller Poultry Farm just up the road from Donna's folks house. I know what poultry is! It just came out and I still remember seeing lots of chucking ripple through the congregation - long minutes after I'd moved on in the lesson. It didn't help that, at that time, about half the congregation worked for the Department of Agriculture in downtown D.C..
I have to admit, visualizing the story with 2000 chickens stampeding off a cliff - well, it certainly changes the entire impact of the story. Especially the fact that most barnyard chickens can fly short distances with no problem. And then there is the vision of demon possessed chickens? Wow - I don't even want to go there. What a difference one word makes!
I share that funny, yet somewhat painful, story to make a point. If we would start seeing God's church as a tool to support the carrying out of His will, rather than an institution to be supported, it would radically change the way we see "the work of the church." Faithfulness, loving, giving, witnessing, and spiritual maturing must not be defined by "THE church" but by our personal walk with God and with Jesus. Like I've said many times, church is a support system, not a system to support. We will each stand before God and give account of ourselves to Him! YOU are His church! Getting together with our church family, organizing, shepherding, and church-body-life are God given tools to help us help one another. A tool is not the goal it's the instrument you use.
What a difference one word makes?