Thursday, February 15, 2007

My Shepherds

"The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching." - St. Paul
I have elders who are worthy of double honor. They would certainly deny it. But they are.
Let me tell you about them.
There is one that I will call the Preacher. Some who have known me well from my past might think I'm insulting this man due to my past self-righteous judgment of "preachers" in general (thus the divine comedy in my having become one), but this elder has redeemed the title for me back to something worthy. He has spent his life paying the high price of being a preacher, and he has held it with honor. He, according to my friend Paul, is one that is especially worthy of double honor. He is a diligent worker for the Kingdom, thinks like Christ as if he knows him personally, and is constantly transforming in revolutionary ways. He is currently working on the spiritual discipline of simplicity.
Then there is God's Right Hand. This shepherd's face literally lights up with a smile at the royal thought of helping someone in genuine need. And it's almost as if the less deserving the recipient the being able to help someone who has screwed up reminds him of what God has done for him. And he loves it all the more when the left hand doesn't know what he's doing. His way of living is absolutely contagious to those who find themselves with him.

Another one is the Practitioner of Pure Religion. St. James said that pure and undefiled religion is to take care of widows in their trouble. 'Nuff said. If I was a widow, I'd come running to this church simply because this elder would take the call to care for me personally.
I'd love for you to meet the elder who I will call Humble Willingness. His presence is one of strong silence and support. It's not that he doesn't have much wisdom or plenty to say, and he will when it's called for, but he feels no need to be heard on every "issue" like most of us humans do. He would tell you that he feels over his head most of the time as an elder. But I know that he also feels that he can't escape the call of God on his life (and maybe the call of his fellow elders, as well) and has decided to be willing to go where He leads, choosing the path of "willingness to follow", rather than "qualified to lead".
Then there is The Shepherd's Shepherd. I would call this man an "aged sage" who, through stories, availability, and forthrightness instigates a whole bunch of ministry and transformation. He doesn't mind being the cause of trouble, so long as it doesn't run over someone's heart, and it has as it's ultimate end the glory of God and the good of people. He is prayerful and has his eye on his fellow Shepherd's and their hearts and development as men of God.
One I would call the Minister of Humanity. He is full of compassion and embodies the desire of making a real and meaningful contribution to real human beings. He makes the world he walks through better, and has an eye for doing so, and a willing spirit to make "better" happen whenever it is in his power to do so. I imagine his eyes filling with tears when he sees situations that he can't. I don't know for sure (and I also know for sure), but if I had a dime for every dollar this man spent out of his heart of compassion, I'd be a wealthy man. And If I had a minute added to my life for every hour he has spent in service to humanity, I'd live to be 150. I think he believes the scene in Matthew 25.
I'll call one the Joy of Jesus. Always with a smile, always with Jesus' name on his lips. He's sincere and thoughtful, but full of spring in his step and joy, specifically because of Jesus, whose Name spews from his mouth with regularity and ease. No job is "too small" for him and his love and zeal for his wife is remarkable, his praise for her second only to his praise for Christ. 
Another I'll call the Tearfully Transformed. You should hear him speak of his past commitment to a legalistic following of the rules he could squeeze out of the Bible, and the heart-death that it brought along with it to himself and those around him, and compare it to him speaking of his current commitment to a Spirit-filled following of the heart and character and priorities of Jesus Christ and the heart-life that it has brought himself and those around him. Incredibly bright and intelligent and articulate, he would tell you that he is still fighting to believe the Bible in the way he now reads it, tearing up easily as he continues to die to himself to live for Christ relationally among others.
Then there is the Leader of Leaders. The competence and capacity of this man is truly a sight to behold. He is a gifted teacher, a compassionate truth-teller, a bold relationship builder, a dedicated family man, willing to enter into the messy lives of others with no guarantee of "success" in traditional terms. He is creative with solutions, able to take in a multi-faceted, multi-variable "problem" and formulate a creative expression of our church's emerging values that redeems the "problem" into an "opportunity". He is a convicted man, but never immovable in his ideas that express those immovable convictions. He invites and incites group transformation, able to be an up-front leader, or a leader-by-participating, and enjoys both. This man, his family, and those who get into relationship with him model and embody the vision of our church.
And then there is the Man of Decision. This shepherd has a love for decision making, facilitating decision making, and is fearless in calling for decision making. While he would never want to jump prematurely, he prefers action to continued discussion, and isn't afraid of making a mistake. He isn't against or intolerant of "continued discussion" and "appropriate dialogue", but he lives with a Spirit-filled "holy impatience" that is always inviting our church's leadership to "get it done," whatever that "it" needs to be. He is a servant to the rest of his brother Shepherd's with his gifts, and, most importantly, is a lover of his family in bold, sacrificial and unique ways. He and his wife live in a daily sacrifice, never drawing attention to it, but faithfully modeling endurance and perseverance in commitment to Christ for all who know him well.
Finally, there is Human Gravity. This shepherd seems to attract real human beings, with real human issues of all sorts. In particular, people who have been wounded and are self-aware enough to know it, can't seem to avoid the desire to be around this patient and courageous care-giver. He and his wife are deeply introspective people, but can just as easily laugh and smile and joke as they can be sincere, serious, and deep. They use their own lives shamelessly to minister to others in their perceived places of shame, and as a result, this shepherd seems to naturally pull people who have emotional or mental scars, but who want hope and life to overcome them.
You put this group together, and I'm tellin' yaw, you have a group who are worthy of double honor. If you will get to know this church, you will see these same characteristics in her individual members. Jesus explains why...he says it's because "when a student if fully trained, he will be like his teacher." (Luke 6:40)
No wonder this place is so great. We are becoming like them, as they are like Christ.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

My Favorite Worship Service

This last Sunday morning had to be one of my all-time favorite "worship services" that I have ever been to.

It had nothing to do with the number's in attendance...there were 4 of us.
It had nothing to do with the song selection...I think we sang only one song together, and that was in the car on the way to the "service".
It had nothing to do with the sermon...all four of us preached co-operatively, actually.
It had nothing to do with the church building...we weren't even in a building, we were outside.

The day started the evening before, really. I was at Harding University, my alma mater, having just finished an "Evangelism Training/Discipleship Seminar" ( for some students, teachers, and elders in and around Searcy, Arkansas. I have lots of friends at Harding, primarily former students of mine from the youth ministry in Houston, and also some students from Amarillo where I am now. I had been verbally "throwing out" my desire to go out to a place called Bluff Hole on Sunday morning quite liberally to them all. I was looking to jump into the water below...a thrilling experience that I partake of every time I return to Arkansas. I was fishing for the interested friends who might accompany me.

Upon hearing me talk about it, some of my friends got quiet, hoping I wouldn't ask them to come, wanting to avoid saying 'no'. Others shamelessly wrinkled their eyebrows, and said, "No!" with a little hiccup in the middle of the "o", as if their answer should have been overtly obvious and self-evident. They thought of the cold, the craziness, their current Sunday morning plans or desires...and it didn't sound attractive to them at all. Understandable.

But 3 people's eyes got big. And upon my speaking it, each responded with some version of "Can I come with you?" I told them I'd let them know later that night if it was going down.

So Amanda (who brought her extra appendage - her camera), Coulter (who brought a pair of old shoes for me to jump in that he didn't mind getting wet) and Heath (who provided the car) and I called each other late Saturday night and secured our Sunday morning worship plan. Amanda, Coulter and I were to meet under the overpass behind the Heritage Inn and Heath would swing by and pick us up for church.

We stopped at a convenience store where I purchased everyone a nice cold refreshment of their choice, and a small bottle of Welch's Grape Juice and some bread.

The drive was fun and lively, the atmosphere charged with a hint of anticipation and adventure. For me, it was an emotional celebration of the emotional, I don't mean intense feeling. It's just that I have made this drive a hundred times, and each familiar site was strangely comforting and exciting. It was also a relational celebration of the have the likes of Amanda, Coulter, and Heath as friends and fellow followers of Christ is enough to make any man very, very rich. For those of you who know those three, you know that I'm telling the truth. When you speak to them of God and God's things, deep calls to deep. And it was also a faith celebration of the future. We were going to this particular spot on the planet at this particular time to express how we don't live exclusively for or in this place and time. We believe in a Kingdom that transcends this life and these bodies. And we unabashedly use this life and these bodies to show people (and remind ourselves) that we belong to the Rule of a Great King, we live our lives in the context of a Great Story, we have faith in an Unseen and Glorious Future...and we were going to live in that.

We made the semi-difficult climb to the top of the bluff. 3 out of 4 of us have jumped from this spot into the water below before. I was the only one planning on doing it on this cold day, but the magnitude of the thought is enough to bring a measure of silent reverence and awe-filled staring...with a nervous smile breaking across your face at the thought.

And that's what happened. After all the "oohing" and "aahing", laughing and joking, we all ended up silent. Heath was sitting on a ledge comfortably, Amanda was standing off the to right looking out over the beautiful scene before us. Coulter was on one knee to our left. I was still on both feet, but squatting with my elbows on my knees. It was a completely unscripted, natural "call to worship".
I asked, "How is Jesus, and life with him, like this bluff?"

Heath spoke first of the "leap of faith". Amanda spoke of the "life that comes when your life or death is not in your hands anymore". Coulter and I added our thoughts to the dialogue, and I would be doing a disservice to the profound ground the 4 of us covered by trying to repeat all of it here. Suffice it to say, it was beautiful and inspiring, and Jesus Christ was the hero on that bluff in the hearts of 4 of his disciples.

It got quiet again. Thoughtful. I realized then that even though it was 28 degrees out here that none of us were impatiently shivering. There was no wind to speak of and I silently thanked God for such grace so that we didn't feel rushed at all because of the temperature.

The silence was broken when I picked up the plastic bag, pulled out a loaf of bread, broke it and gave half to Coulter, who broke it and gave half to Amanda. I did the same with Heath. We ate. Then I twisted the top off the Welch's and we passed it around a few times and enjoyed the sharp taste of grape as we looked back and forth between each other doing so and off into the distance (I guess we were a "one cupper" fellowship this morning).

We all smiled as we knew what was next. Amanda spoke first wanting to take a posed picture of the 4 of us looking like we were hanging on for our lives above the cliff. She was right, it turned out cool.

Then I started stripping down to the swimsuit and t-shirt that I had on under my clothes. Amanda and Heath stood behind me on the bluff, Amanda with her camera ready to start snapping. Coulter whips out a cool treasure...a camera that can also take digital video. He climbs down and around to a lower ledge below us and is going to video the whole thing (it's one YouTube).

Was I nervous? Always. Did I have 2nd thoughts? Usually do. Was I afraid? Yes. Did I have good and unique reasons to not jump this time? Absolutely. Would anyone have thought me chicken if I didn't jump? Not in this crowd, and what of it if they did? Was I tempted to decide I might be getting too old for this (I had just turned 39 the day before)? Sure.

But did I jump? Yes. Check it out.

I know everyone has their own tastes concerning worship service. But this was the best one that I've attended in a long, long time.