On this Memorial Day weekend, we as a nation, and as God’s people, should listen to the voice of Wisdom as she calls out to us.
Wisdom Calls Out
Proverbs 8:1-4, 12-31
1 Does not wisdom call out?
Does not understanding raise her voice?
2 On the heights along the way,
where the paths meet, she takes her stand;
3 beside the gates leading into the city,
at the entrances, she cries aloud:
4 “To you, O men, I call out;
I raise my voice to all mankind.
Continue reading “Sermon: Wisdom Calls Out”
What energizes you?
One of the things I like about ministry is that a pastor gets to do a variety of different things. In one day you can spend time alone studying and praying for your next Sunday’s sermon; then visit the hospital to celebrate the birth of a new baby with a family in your church; after lunch stop by the local nursing home to chat for a few minutes with a dear senior adult member; in the afternoon counsel a young couple who are planning their wedding; and, finish the day at a committee meeting where you deal with the realities of the economy and budgets.
But in the mix of all the things that pastors do, there are some things that energize me more than others. I enjoy most of the work a pastor does, but I’m energized by some of it more than others.
I believe those aspects of ministry that energize you are God’s great gift to you. Those energizing areas are different for different pastors. Some love to spend lots of time pouring over Greek texts, and exegeting scripture passages. Others believe their ministry in face-to-face settings is vital. Still others find fulfillment in hanging at the local coffee shop making friends with total strangers.
Whatever your passion, God gives you those special, energizing moments. God doesn’t give them to you so you can spend all your time doing just one thing. After all, pastors are generalists, not specialists. But God gives you the energizing moments to keep you going through the times that drain you.
In Psalm 23, God leads the sheep to the green pastures and still waters before the valley of the shadow of death. The times of energy and refreshment are to get us through the times of difficulty and despair.
Ministry has to be balanced. We do some things because we have to. Whether you’re a pastor or a postal worker, some things are have-tos. But we do a few things because we want to. For our lives to have meaning and purpose, we need those energizing moments. Those are God’s gifts to you. Enjoy them when they come.
I preached on Pentecost last Sunday as “Babel Revisited.” In that sermon I repeated the conventional thinking that God punished mankind’s attempt to build a tower to reach to the heavens. But listen to what Wendell Griffen says,
That interpretation of Genesis 11:1-9 is not fair to God. Do we really think the Creator of the universe is threatened by a municipal construction project? Are we dealing with a Being who is so insecure that a few people who put a city together and build a skyscraper get on His nerves? If God is that petty, God should not be called good and gracious, but petty and tyrannical.
Instead of reading the passage to mean that cultural diversity is divine punishment, we should understand it to show how cultural diversity is part of the great redemptive purpose of God. God is not threatened when people cooperate to construct cities and tall buildings. One story buildings and rural settings are not entitled to divine favor.
What the passage truly shows is that God wants humans to be spread throughout the world and enjoy cultural diversity without being afraid. If there is a condemnation in the passage—and I use the word if intentionally—it condemns the idea that cultural sameness is the way to salvation. We are one people because we have a common Creator, not because we speak the same language or live in the same location. Our oneness lies in who we are before God, not who we are physically related to by human ancestry and geography. God loves our diversity. God intentionally caused our diversity. God is glorified by our diversity.
— from Babel and Pentecost by Wendell Griffen
I wish I had said that. I will not think of Babel in the same way again. Griffen’s interpretation gives even more meaning to the Pentecost event, as God’s means of bringing diversity together again to send us back out into the world with God’s message of hope and salvation. Read the entire sermon here.
Judge Wendell Griffen is a former Arkansas appeals court judge; the first person of color to join a major Arkansas law firm; CEO of Griffen Strategic Consulting; pastor of New Millennium Church; professor of law at the University of Arkansas’s Bowen School of Law.
On Pentecost, the community that was divided by God at the Tower of Babel is recreated in the miracle of communication at the coming of the Holy Spirit.
1When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.3They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
5Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? 8Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language?9Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs-we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
13Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”
Continue reading “Pentecost Sermon: Babel Revisited”
Gannon Sims offers excellent insight on watchfulness over at Duke’s Call and Response Blog. He says of watchfulness:
It’s a good word for the church. In his instructions to the church at Colossae, Paul asks his readers to be watchful. Leadership trades more often in words like ‘vision’ and ‘future.’ These are not bad words. But sometimes our attempts to vision the future blur the world right before our eyes. Vision and future allude to coming events. They’re like marks on a trajectory. Watchfulness is more than that. It’s a constant state of being and becoming.
Read the entire post. Good thoughts on this Friday as you and I prepare for Sunday.
I just finished writing “A Tour of Small Churches in America” article for Outreach magazine. I’m not sure that will be the final title, but in the article I sketch 7 types of small churches, and other writers are profiling a specific church in each category.
The seven categories of small churches we cover include:
- Traditional small churches;
- Marketplace churches;
- Lifestyle churches;
- Ethnic or immigrant churches;
- Multicultural churches;
- New church starts;
- Intentionally-small churches.
I can’t give away all the goodies in the piece, but trust me, there are some. Plus, I haven’t even seen the real-life profiles of specific examples of each kind of small church. Actually, we could have included a few more types of small churches such as neomonastic, liturgical, and mission-driven. Maybe we’ll save those for another day and another article.
All of these articles, and more good stuff, will be in the annual small church issue coming out in July/August. You just have time to subscribe to Outreach magazine so that you won’t miss this big, small church edition. Now back to our regular programming.
I admit to some ambivalence when I received Shannon O’Dell’s book, Transforming Church in Rural America: Breaking All The Rurals. I write for small church pastors and leaders, and one of the themes I keep hitting is “small churches don’t have to be big to do meaningful ministry.”
Then I got my copy of Shannon’s book — the story of how a small church became a multi-site megachurch….in a rural county….in Arkansas. The dream of many small church pastors is to take their small rural church, and turn it into a multi-site, mega-congregation reaching thousands.
Continue reading “Shannon O’Dell Is Breaking All The “Rurals””
Paul and Silas disturbed the city of Philippi when the power of the gospel interfered with business. Shouldn’t our gospel disturb the city today?
Sermon: Disturbing Our City — Acts 16:16-34 NRSV
16:16 One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling.
16:17 While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.”
16:18 She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.
16:19 But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities.
16:20 When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews
16:21 and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.”
16:22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods.
16:23 After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely.
Continue reading “Sermon: Disturbing Our City”
I’m preaching the baccalaureate sermon tonight at Hargrave Military Academy here in our town of Chatham, Virginia. One hundred years ago, the pastor of our church became the founding president of Hargrave, so our ties go back to 1909-10, the first full school year.
The Goal of a Successful Life
2 Timothy 4:6-8
6For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure.7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. — 2 Timothy 4:6-8 NIV
Back to the Future in 2080
Imagine tonight that instead of being 2010, the year is 2080. Rather than your age being, say, 18, you are now 88 years old. And you’re reflecting on the life you have lived. You’re looking back on the ups-and-downs, the highs-and-lows, the experiences that have made your life what it is.
You might have retired as the highly successful president of a Fortune 500 corporation. Or you might have published a novel that had the literary critics and the popular press buzzing about your creativity. Or you might have lived your life like most folks do, quietly and without fame or fortune, but with the satisfaction that you made a difference. That the children you taught, or the leadership you exerted, or the love you gave to your family and friends made their lives better and richer for having known you.
Continue reading “Baccalaureate Sermon: The Goal of a Successful Life”
This week is National Police Week. All across the country, law enforcement officers and community residents are gathering to honor the memories of officers who have been killed in the line of duty. I was asked to speak at our local memorial service for fallen officers hosted by our church this year. Here is the message I delivered today:
To Stand in the Gap
30 “I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none.” — Ezekiel 22:30
A National Tribute
We are gathered here today during the observance of National Police Week, to honor the memories of the eight fallen Pittsylvania County peace officers who gave their lives in the line of duty. Each year, between 140 and 160 law enforcement officers are killed in the United States. On average, an officer dies in the line of duty every two-and-a-half days in our country.
So, we have gathered here today to remember not only these officers who made the ultimate sacrifice, but all officers who have put their lives on the line for their communities. In the Commonwealth of Virginia, approximately 438 officers — 433 men and 5 women — have been killed protecting and serving their fellow Virginians. These were experienced officers with almost 9 years of service on average. And, they were officers in the prime of life — the average age of Virginia’s fallen is 39.
Continue reading “A Message for National Police Week”