Month: November 2008

Sermon: The Eyes of a Servant

Here’s the sermon I’m preaching tomorrow, Sunday, November 16, 2008.  The text is Psalm 123.  I hope your day is a good one. 

The Eyes of A Servant

Psalm 123 NIV

 1 I lift up my eyes to you, 
       to you whose throne is in heaven. 

2 As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master, 
       as the eyes of a maid look to the hand of her mistress, 
       so our eyes look to the LORD our God, 
       till he shows us his mercy.

 3 Have mercy on us, O LORD, have mercy on us, 
       for we have endured much contempt.

 4 We have endured much ridicule from the proud, 
       much contempt from the arrogant.

Dinner at Ernie’s in Santa Fe

I don’t know if Ernie’s restaurant on Canyon Drive in Santa Fe is still open or not.  Debbie and I ate there nearly 30-years ago on one of our first trips to our Baptist conference center in Glorieta, New Mexico.  I was leading a conference at Glorieta, and as I told you last week, we skipped a session one night to go into Santa Fe to have a really nice dinner.  I can’t remember if it was our anniversary or not.  We did spend our 10th anniversary in Glorieta, along with about 30-folks from our church that were with us.  We went out to dinner that night, too, and when we returned and had settled in, we heard the musical sounds of our group serenading us from outside our window.  But that’s a story for another time.

So, I don’t remember why we had gone to Ernie’s to eat.  Actually, the choice of Ernie’s was random, I think.  We had been to several art galleries on Canyon Road, and Ernie’s was right there, too.  At that point in our young lives, with two kids, and me still in seminary, we did not eat out a lot, and when we did it wasn’t any place fancy.  The What-a-Burger next to the church was a favorite stop, as were  a couple of chain restaurants in Irving, Texas where we lived.  But, fine dining was something other folks did.  

Ernie’s was a really nice restaurant.  We could tell right away because the utensils were not wrapped up in a paper napkin.  Real silverware, real cloth napkins, and not one, but two waiters per table.  I remember I ordered the pan-fried trout.  Debbie remembered I ordered the trout, too, so the trout made a big impression on us.  

As we were in the process of eating, I had sweetened my tea and laid the empty sugar packet on the table.  I have a thing I do with sugar packets: I tear the top off, empty the sugar into my glass, then insert the piece of the sugar packet back into the empty pack, and fold it up.  I don’t know why I do this — some obsessive-compulsive disorder, I am sure — but that’s what I do.  Makes a neat compact piece of trash.  

So, I had performed that little ritual and laid the rolled up packet on the table.  Before I knew it, the waiter slid by, and in one smooth motion picked up the empty packet and kept going.  Well, Debbie did the same thing, without all the tearing, rolling, and so forth that I did.  She laid her empty sugar packet on the table.  The waiter again, glided by, scooping up the sugar packet without saying a word.  

We were very young, and at this point, very unsophisticated.  Not like we are today.  We got tickled at the glide-by-waiter.  So, I took a pack of crackers, unwrapped it and laid the cellophane wrapper next to my plate.  Guess what — Mr. Waiter-on-the-Spot swooped by again, picking up the wrapper.  This time I think he was slightly annoyed, as we were visibly giggling as he passed by.  

Now, my point of that whole story is not to tell you how unsophisticated we were in our late 20s, even though we were.  My point is that the waiter was watching us.  Even before we needed something, he anticipated what we were about to need, and was there to refill our glasses, pickup our salad plates, and clean up all the sugar and cracker packets we were tossing about.  His eyes were always watching for the next thing we might need.

Psalm 123

Which brings us to our text today, Psalm 123.  This psalm is a song of mild lament.  The psalmist is looking to God — I lift up my eyes to you, to you whose throne is in heaven.  His request, his prayer, is that God will have mercy on his people for they have endured contempt and ridicule from the arrogant and proud.  

In all probability, this song goes with others written during the Babylonian captivity.  Like Psalm 137 which laments —

 By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept 
       when we remembered Zion.

 2 There on the poplars 
       we hung our harps,

 3 for there our captors asked us for songs, 
       our tormentors demanded songs of joy; 
       they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

 4 How can we sing the songs of the LORD 
       while in a foreign land?

The writer of Psalm 123 was feeling much the same quiet shame and humiliation.  But in verses 2 and 3, he says 

2 As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master, 
       as the eyes of a maid look to the hand of her mistress, 
       so our eyes look to the LORD our God, 
       till he shows us his mercy.

 3 Have mercy on us, O LORD, have mercy on us, 
       for we have endured much contempt.

The people of God are looking to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob for mercy.  

The Eyes of Servants

Friday night Debbie and I attended the ordination of David Smith, chaplain at Chatham Hall, to the order of deacon in the Episcopal Church.  David will be ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church in a few months, but the route to priesthood requires that one be ordained a deacon first.  

The bishop of this diocese commented that deacon means servant, and that David was to serve his Master, Jesus Christ, with humility and obedience.  

In the first century church, the Seven were chosen to do the work of service, to look after the care of widows especially, so that the apostles could devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word.  The idea of servanthood is both an Old and a New Testament idea.  

Servants Look to Their Masters

The point of the psalm is to remind God’s people that their only hope is to look to God, as a servant looks to his master, or a handmaid looks to her mistress.  

Servants watch their masters for indicators of how they, too, are to live.  A good servant sees the habits and lifestyle of his master and seeks to incorporate those qualities into his own life.  Jesus both taught and demonstrated how his followers, his servants, were to live.  

Jesus taught that we were to turn the other cheek, to not return insult for insult, even physical insult.  He demonstrated that teaching when arrested and ridiculed.  When the temple guard arrests him in the Garden, Peter draws a sword and in a wild swinging motion, severs the ear of the high priest’s servant.  We often picture that scene as everyone standing around and Peter acting alone in desperation.  But, I think it was chaos.  Lots of pushing and shoving and yelling and cursing — sweaty guards grappling with now-awake disciples for possession of Jesus.  But, Jesus calms both sides, heals the servant’s wound, and goes willingly with the guard.  

Later, as the Roman centurions plucked out his beard, spit in his face, railed at him blasphemously, the Bible says that he did not respond or answer them.  He has become, in Paul’s words, “obedient unto death, even death on a cross.”  

The question we must ask ourselves is — Are we watching Jesus when conflict, war, and discord present themselves to us?  Our Anabaptists friends, the Mennonites and Amish, practice a lifestyle of peacemaking that puts us as Southern Baptists to shame.  Why do we not turn our eyes to Jesus to watch how he responds to violence and conflict in his world?

But, we also look to Jesus to see how he treats the poor, the sick, the widow, the orphan — the weakest in his society.  In every instance, when we look at what Jesus does, our eyes see him feeding the five thousand, healing the sick, touching lepers, making blind eyes see, and caring for those who are on the margins of society.  

Those not in church, those who do not claim to be followers of Christ, see this care for the poor and marginalized more clearly than we do.  Ask most of the unchurched what they think the “church” ought to be doing and the answer you will most likely receive is feeding the hungry, caring for the poor, helping those least able to help themselves.  They get it, but do we?  If our eyes were really turned to Jesus we would see how he lived and how much he thought the poor, the weak, and the marginalized needed his care.

Matthew 25 quotes Jesus in the clearest language —

31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

 37“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

 40“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

 41“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

 44“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

 45“He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

 46“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Could that be more clear?  The righteous, the right with God, are those who feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoners, welcome the strangers, and care for the sick.  They are welcomed into life eternal, those who have not done these things are not.

Looking to the World or To Jesus

But, the argument for not looking to Jesus for guidance, for clues about how we are to live, is that we live in the real world.  A world where the weak are taken advantage of, the powerful rule the day, and unless you want to get run over, you’d better look out for yourself.  In other words, we find the practical world more appealing as a master.  

Because when this world is our master, and we look to its ways, we can follow our own reactions.  When someone hits us, we can hit them back.  And, if we don’t do that, then we are considered weak and cowardly. 

Or, we can take the attitude that the poor, the marginalized, don’t deserve our help.  That they are on their own, and can make their own way.  It’s interesting that there are two words used for the poor in the Bible. One means a man who is reduced to begging and is not respectable.  The other means a person who is poor, but still lives frugally and respectably — in other words, the undeserving and the deserving poor.  But in the Sermon on the Mount, guess which word Jesus uses when he blesses the poor?  You guessed it, the undeserving.  Those who are at the bottom of the pile, perhaps even because of their own choices.

So, if we take our attitudes from the world system — the system of power, and of strength, and of dominance — then we are looking to our master, but our master is not Christ.  

Now, if all this sounds really tedious, and difficult, and unpleasant, here’s the point.  Jesus came to change things.  

I’m reading Journeying Out: A New Approach to Christian Mission, by Ann Morisy.  Morisy says that the church, even when it is doing good, can be very much like the world.  We want to meet needs.  And so we organize need-meeting ventures: we feed people, clothe people, shelter people.  But, our focus can easily slide into the focus of any helping organization — number of meals served, number of beds occupied, numbers of coats given away.  No different than an organization that does not claim that Jesus is its master.

Rather, Morisy suggests, than adopt a strictly needs-meeting approach, we should look to Jesus.  Jesus not only fed people, he sat and talked with them, he engaged them in conversation.  He knew their names and their stories, and he let them participate by offering a few loaves and a few fish to the effort.  

Jesus not only healed people, but he touched lepers, he explained that a blind man was not blind due to sin but so that God’s power could be revealed.  He engaged the blind man by asking him what he wanted.  The decision to see was the blindman’s, not Jesus’.  

Morisy says that three principles should guide our venturesome love — love that steps outside its comfort zone to engage with all those around us:

  1. We must recognize the importance of struggle to the kingdom of God and the well-being of the children of God.
  2. We must take seriously the mysterious part which those who are poor and marginalized have in the purposes of God.
  3. We must take seriously the implications of the fact that we are all brothers and sisters with the same Heavenly Father.  — Journeying Out, Ann Morisy, p. 37-39

So, when we turn out eyes to Jesus, we see that Jesus came to —

  • To change worship from a perfunctory performance to a real encounter with God.  
  • To change righteousness from a term that could only be applied to the rich, powerful, and well-placed, to a condition of the heart, a child-like state of trust and hope.
  • To change society from its devotion to power, to embrace love as it’s operative principle.
  • To change his disciples from servants of the world, to servants of God.

Like our waiter at Ernie’s, our eyes should always be watching Jesus, anticipating what he might want us to do next.  Moving to do that which he calls us to do.  To change our world, to live as though the kingdom of God has come, to be an outpost of heaven here on God’s earth.  

When I was a teenager, I attended church camp, as I did just about every year.  One night at the end of the worship service, we all stood to sing, Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.  Something changed in my life that night. I was already a Christian, I had professed faith in Christ and followed him in baptism when I was 6 years old.  But, I had not really grasped what it meant to follow Jesus, to turn my eyes, my heart, my attitudes toward him.  To be like him, to be conformed to his image.  To serve him with my whole life.  That night started me on that journey.  A journey that has brought me this far.  The failures along the way have been mine, the victories his.  

I lift up my eyes to you, to you whose throne is in heaven.  Amen.

Powerpoint: Small Churches Make Good Neighbors

Here’s the powerpoint I used in my NOC2008 workshop, Small Churches Make Good Neighbors.   I’m using the abbey church model, and discussing the 10 aspects of the ancient celtic abbeys applied to churches today.  The ppt is on SlideShare, so you can view and download the presentation, if you find it helpful.  I am going to edit and add to the notes, but I think you’ll get the thrust of the presentation as it is.  Let me know if you have questions or comments.

Tribes and church

A friend of mine sent me Seth Godin’s new book, Tribes.  All Godin’s books pack lots of new thinking between their small covers.  I’ll post more about it after I’m finished, but already I’ve run across these gems:

  • “A  tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea.” -p 1.
  • “Heretics are the new leaders. The ones who challenge the status quo, who get out in front of their tribes, who create movements.” -p 11.
  • “Leaders have followers. Managers have employees. Managers make widgets. Leaders make change.” – p 14. 
  • “‘Established in 1906’ used to be important. Now, apparently, it’s a liability.” -p 17.
  • “People yearn for change, they relish being part of a movement.” -p 18.
  • “Great leaders create movements by empowering the tribe to communicate.  They establish the foundation for people to make connections, as opposed to commanding people to follow them.” -p 23. 

Okay, more later, but you get the picture.  Tribes is about leaders, followers, connection and movements.  Sounds like the first century when the church was young.  Maybe it can happen again — a real movement, a genuine groundswell of people gathered around Jesus, connecting with each other, passionate about doing God’s work in God’s world.  Anybody up for a movement?

When outreach crosses the line

Whatever it takes, right?  I mean, anything that gets people in church is okay, right?  Because, after all, everybody needs to hear the gospel, so the ends justifies the means, right?  Maybe not.  What are the ethics of outreach and when do we cross the line from compassion to conniving?  

I read about one church a couple of years ago which offered a prize of $10,000 to a lucky worship attender.  All you had to do was show up.  At a pre-determined point in the service, everyone would be asked to look under their seat and pull out the little card taped to it.  The lucky winner was awarded $10,000 — just for coming to church.  Is that paying people to come to church?  If so, is it wrong?

Of course, some inner city missions used to do a variation of the same thing.  Homeless people were offered a free meal, but first they had to sit through a worship service complete with hymn singing, sermon, and invitation to receive Christ.  I know this happened because I preached at those services several times.  “We’ll feed you, but first you’ve got to come to church.”  

Years ago I heard a missionary talk about the need to carefully separate caring ministries, like providing food, from evangelism.  Hungry people would do anything to get food, including tell Christian missionaries they had accepted Christ.  My missionary friend said, “We don’t want to make ‘rice Christians’ out of people.” Good insight and maybe we need to apply it to our own US outreach strategies.  

Have you heard of outreach strategies that cross an ethical line?  What were they and why did you think they were unethical?  Have you ever crossed that line, and what made you realize you had?  I’m interested in hearing your stories.  Should be an interesting topic.

Reflecting on a great event

NOC2008 surpassed my expectations!  I got to hear Erwin McManus, J John, Francis Chan; and I sat in on Doug Stringer’s workshop titled, Who’s Your Daddy?  Great title and great seminar.  I met Ed Stetzer of LifeWay, and Gary McIntosh of Talbot Seminary; plus, the great staff of Outreach magazine, led by Lindy Lowry, senior editor,  and Jim Long, managing editor.  

The small church discussion group I led overflowed the room we were in, and overflowed with great small church ideas, too.  I’m writing about 10 of the top ideas in Outreach magazine for the Jan/Feb issue (at least, I think that’s when the article will appear). 

My workshop, Small Churches Make Good Neighbors: 10 Ways Your Church Can Change Your Community, was great!  Not because I led it, but because we had a room full of high-energy, creative people who minister faithfully in their own small churches.  I’m making the PowerPoint of my seminar available here.

Sermon: The Next Generation

Here is the sermon I preached this morning from Psalm 78:1-7, titled  The Next Generation.

The Next Generation

Psalm 78:1-7
1 O my people, hear my teaching; 
       listen to the words of my mouth. 2 I will open my mouth in parables, 
       I will utter hidden things, things from of old-

 3 what we have heard and known, 
       what our fathers have told us.

 4 We will not hide them from their children; 
       we will tell the next generation 
       the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, 
       his power, and the wonders he has done.

 5 He decreed statutes for Jacob 
       and established the law in Israel, 
       which he commanded our forefathers 
       to teach their children,

 6 so the next generation would know them, 
       even the children yet to be born, 
       and they in turn would tell their children.

 7 Then they would put their trust in God 
       and would not forget his deeds 
       but would keep his commands.


A lot has happened since we were together last.  Most significantly, our nation has elected to the highest office in the land a person whose story is unlike any who have held that office before.


Political pundits and historians will debate and dissect this election for years to come, but one thing is clear — young voters gave overwhelming support to Barack Obama.  By margins of almost 3-to-1 18-29 year olds voted for a biracial 47-year old man with an African name, whose roots are in Kenya, who grew up in Hawaii, and whose mother and grandparents were from Kansas.  


In their book, Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube & the Future of American Politics, Morley Wingard and Michael Hais predicted that Millennials would help carry this election for the Democrats.  Here’s why:


    — 40% of Millennials (those born after 1982) are African-Am, Asian-Am, Latin Am, or of racially mixed backgrounds.  

    — Now 2x as many MIllennials as Gen-Xers, and already a million more Millennials than Baby Boomers.

    — Millennials are now becoming the focus of our entire society 

        — Only 500 books were written about the Gen-Xers in the 1970s

        — Already over 9,000 books have been written about the Millennial generation


Socially, Millennials are remaking our society in other ways as well:

    — Millennials are team players, preferring to work in groups than individually.

    — Millennials are connected to each other, even when away through text-messaging, cell phones, MySpace, YouTube, Facebook, and other social networking sites.

    — Millennials also volunteer and participate in community service programs at a higher rate than previous generations.  80% have done some type of community service in the past year.  

    — In Pittsylvania County, to become a Graduate of Merit, kids have to complete 140-hours of community service.

    — Schools and colleges are now as interested in a student’s social contributions as they are their academic achievement.


In cultural issues, Millennials are breaking new ground as well:

    — Race is transcended as friendships are forged across racial barriers.  With 4-in-10 Millennials of non-white races, kids have grown up going to multi-ethnic, multi-cultural schools.  

    — Sexual orientation is also not a big deal to this new generation — the culture wars fought over homosexuality by their grandparents seem strangely out of touch to today’s youth.  


Winograd and Hais — “The Millennial generation acquired a unique set of attitudes and beliefs in its childhood.  The upbeat optimistic attitudes of Millennials, their ethnic diversity and openness to non-traditional sex roles, their strong connections to family and friends, and their concern for the wider community will bring major and long-lasting changes to American society and politics in the years ahead…”  p86.


The Mandate of Psalm 78


As the writer of Psalm 78 extols the works of God, he realizes that the knowledge of God, reverence for God, and love for God are not just for his generation.  The psalmist reminds God’s people, who would read this Psalm in the assembly in the Temple, that the present generation has a responsibility to the generations to come:


We will not hide them from their children; 
       we will tell the next generation.


Economist are telling us that we are mortgaging our children’s and grandchildren’s futures by our failed economic policies.  Our national debt will be left to the coming generations, to those not yet born, to repay.  


Environmentalists are telling us that we are leaving an environmental disaster for our children and grandchildren.  Global warming’s effects are just now ringing alarm bells among our scientists and politicians.  The twin issues of energy and affluence have converged, and in the process of becoming the wealthiest nation on earth, we have sacrificed God’s good creation on the altar of our own comfort and convenience.  Our children and their children will pay the price for that selfishness.


But, those disasters are not the only legacy we are leaving to the Millennials and their as yet unborn children.  There is a darkside to what is happening to this generation:


According to Doug Stringer, founder of Somebody Cares, and author of the new book, Who’s Your Daddy?, Millennials are an at risk generation:


    — One-third of them have been drunk in the last month

    — One in four uses illegal drugs

    — One million are pregnant, and 1/3 of those will seek an abortion

    — Millennials see 14,000 sexual references in media each year, and a recent study announced this week that watching media depict sexual activity increases the likelihood that teens will also participate in sexual activity outside of marriage.

    — 40% have a self-inflicted injury

    — 1-in-5 has contemplated suicide, and over 1500 kids each year kill themselves.


Doug’s book title, Who’s Your Daddy? expresses the idea that this is a generation that is at risk of following the wrong guidance and influence in their young lives. 


Doug tells the story of friends of his who minister to street kids in Brazil.  Walking the streets of Rio one day, they stopped to talk to street kid, a boy of about 10.   When they ask him who is father was, the boy replied with the name of a demon, known in the folklore of Brazil.  


The Church is Failing The Millennials


The Psalmist warns us that we have a responsibility to the generations to come.  But today, we are failing that generation.  


— Although Millennials are more socially-conscious and more willing to volunteer to help others, religion and church do not have much appeal.  

— While 15-24 year olds make up 18% of our population, they are only 10% of our church families.

— Today the average worshipper in US congregations is 50 years old.  That’s 6-years older than the population average.  Our churches are increasing older, and increasingly out of touch with this new generation.


Dan Kimball wrote, They Like Jesus But Not The Church, based on his interviews with Millennials.  Many of them perceived the current church atmosphere to be judgmental, narrow, exclusive, monocultural, and hypocritical.  


While 60% of older adults claim religious affiliation, only 18% of Millennials say they belong to any religious group.  It is not that Millennials do not want to know God, it’s that the church as we know it today is getting in the way.  One pastor expressed this dilemma in marketing terms, “It’s not the product they don’t like, it’s our store.”  


What Is the Church To Do?


Why aren’t we reaching the next generation with the good news of Jesus?  I think there are lots of reasons:


1.  We haven’t tried.

2.  We don’t know who they are.

3.  We want to protect what we have.

4.  We think because we find meaning in institutions and traditions that others will also.


And the list could go on.  There are, however, hopeful signs.  


1.  Millennials are not resistant to God, just our way of understanding God.

2.  New expressions of church are emerging — 

    — skate park ministries are springing up around the country 

    — new congregations are attracting young adults to a more casual, informal and yet community-building experience.

    — new technologies that serve this generation can also communicate the good news to them as well.


Pollster John Zogby, in his new book, The Way We Will Be, says —


“That’s how you make contact with First Globals (millennials) — by opening doors, not closing them; by stretching your borders (the National Football League, for example, trying to make inroads in Europe); and by remembering as NASCAR  clearly does that while its present fan base might actually be solidly red-state, those Wal-Mart shopping GOP-voting, race-car enthusiasts have children who are growing up in a globally based online world where distinctions such as red state–blue state are increasingly meaningless.” -pg 118


Helping Millennials Find Their Spiritual Home 


When it became apparent that Barack Obama might win the presidency, I bought his memoir, Dreams from My Father, because I wanted to understand who he was and what had shaped his extraordinary life.  


The book is Barack Obama’s story of growing up in both white and black worlds, and of his journey to find his place in this rapidly changing world.  Part of that journey was Barack’s trip back to Kenya to meet the family he had never known.  Barack, which means “God’s blessing” traveled back to Kenya, and met his paternal grandmother, half-brothers and half-sisters, aunts, uncles, and countless cousins.  


Upon arriving in Kenya, plans were made to take Barack to the family home in the small remote village of Alego.  His sister told Barack they were going back to “home squared.”  Obama asked, “What does that mean?”  


“It’s something the kids in Nairobi used to say,” Auma explained.  “There’s your ordinary house in Nairobi.  And then there’s you house in the country, where your people come from.  Your ancestral home.  Even the biggest minister or businessman thinks this way.  He may have a mansion in Nairobi and build only a small hut on his land in the country.  He may go there only once or twice a year.  But if you as him where he is from, he will tell you that hut is his true home.  So, when we were at school and wanted to tell someboy we were going to Alego, it was home twice over, you see.  Home squared.”  


Our challenge is to help the next generation find their true spiritual home — home twice over — home squared.


The Next Generation is Waiting


This week I have been in San Diego where I led a conference  for small churches.  Over 50 conference leaders and speakers from around the world presented workshops to over 2,000 participants at the National Outreach Convention, an annual non-denominational event that offers insights into how churches large and small can reach their communities.  


Francis Chan, author of Crazy Love and a pastor, spoke that last night.  Now, I have to tell you that most of the time, those who lead conferences seldom go to the other conferences, or even the large worship gatherings.  Some have to catch flights back home, others just skip.  I have done both in my conference leading experience.  


Friday night, I debated with myself about attending the last worship session.  I had never heard Francis Chan, so wasn’t sure what I would miss if I didn’t go.  I thought about going to have a really nice dinner at a restaurant close by, but then decided I would go.  


Chan’s message was powerful.  The audience was moved by his challenge for those of us in leadership, those at that conference, to be fully, totally committed to Christ.  At the end of his message, he invited those who wanted seek God further, to come to the front and kneel in prayer.


Then, he said, “The conference leaders here will walk among you, lay hands on you and pray for you.”  He went on and on about the spiritual power of laying hands on someone — how God say the faith of both individuals and honored it.  And then he said, “If you want someone to pray for you, to lay hands on you — one of the conference leaders — come down to the front and kneel.”


Dozens of people — men and women — streamed down the aisles, finding a spot in the front of the stage to kneel.  Waiting for someone to touch them in prayer.


I’m sitting there thinking “I do not want to do this.  Who am I to lay hands on anybody?”  But then I noticed that no conference leaders were coming forward.  Nobody.  I was on the fourth row, and so reluctantly, I got up.  In my heart, I felt God say, “Do the work of an apostle.”  And so I determined to do it.  It was only later that I realized the verse actually says, “Do the work of an evangelist.”  But, maybe that I needed to do the work of an apostle that night.  An apostle is one sent from God.  


 About that time, another conference leader came from my left.  He and I were the only two out of 50 there!  


Slowly I began to move those kneeling on the floor.  Heads were bowed, they were waiting.  As I touched each person a profound sense of God’s presence came to me.  Some shook visibly as my hands were laid on their heads.  Others began weeping.  No one said a word, just the touch of one person encouraging another.  I moved through the crowd, laying hands on each person kneeling.  


As I walked out on the other side, an amazing thought came to me.  What if I had not been here tonight?  I would have missed the blessing of touching and praying for these people, and they would have had no one to touch them for God.


And then it hit me — there are many just like them, waiting for someone to touch them in the name of Jesus.  There is a generation yet unborn, waiting for someone to touch them in the love of God.  There is a generation of the brightest, most optimistic kids our nation has ever known, waiting for someone to connect with them, and touch them with the good news.  What if we are the only ones here willing and able to touch this generation for Christ?  


The psalmist says —



so the next generation would know them, 
       even the children yet to be born, 
       and they in turn would tell their children.

 7 Then they would put their trust in God 
       and would not forget his deeds 
       but would keep his commands.


Oh, remember the little boy on the streets of Brazil?  Today when you ask him who his father is, he just smiles and says, “Jesus.”


NOC08 day 2

Wow, what a great kickoff to NOC08 yesterday. The small church discussion group I led had an overflow crowd and lots of great ideas.

Erwin McManus delivered a powerful and compelling message. McManus said that most of our effort is spent trying to make Sunday worship just a little less irrelevant to the lives of most people. What we should be doing, he said, is engage our world during the week.

Today I am attending some exciting transformational seminars. I’ll post more about today’s stuff on twitter with photos on Facebook. Friend me and keep up with the great resources here at NOC08.

Follow me to NOC2008!

Wednesday I fly to San Diego for the National Outreach Convention — NOC2008!  I’m leading the workshop, Small Churches Make Good Neighbors: 10 Ways Your Church Can Change Your Community.

I hope you’re meeting me there, but if not, you can follow all the action at NOC2008 right here.  I’ll Twitter the event several times a day (see my Twitter posts on the right column of my blog — feed readers have to click thru to see them).  

Also, I’m posting photos of NOC2008 to my Facebook here — 

— so you can join in the fun!  

I’ll also post the best ideas I come across each day, so stay tuned for lots of good, helpful stuff.  So, Friend me on FB, follow me on Twitter, and keep up here each day.  See you in San Diego!