Month: May 2010

Sermon: Wisdom Calls Out

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.

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What Energizes You?

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.

A Better Sermon on Babel and Pentecost

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.

Pentecost Sermon: Babel Revisited

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.

Babel Revisited
Acts 2:1-21

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.”

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Leadership as Watchfulness

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.

‘Tour of Small Churches’ Coming Out in Small Church Issue

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:

  1. Traditional small churches;
  2. Marketplace churches;
  3. Lifestyle churches;
  4. Ethnic or immigrant churches;
  5. Multicultural churches;
  6. New church starts;
  7. 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.

Shannon O’Dell Is Breaking All The “Rurals”

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.

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