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Saturday, December 24, 2011

On Medical Heroes

I have already posted my thankfulness for my knee surgeon, Dr. Scott Montgomery who trained with one of my all time heroes, medical and otherwise, Dr. Mike Brunet.  I continue to be blown away by the advances in medical technology that allowed a skilled doctor using a small camera to thread a new (well, new to me) ACL into my damaged knee. Under the direction of a physical therapist named Guido (I am not making this up), the "hurts so good" of stretching and bending and exercising has brought strength and mobility.  He has advanced my progress more than I could imagine.  Ice is my friend.

As I have iced my knee, I have been reading a book by one of my other medical heroes.  Several years ago, I read Fearfully and Wonderfully Made by Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey.  The point of that book was to consider the value of pain through the lens of Dr. Brand's work with leprosy patients.  Leprosy robs the body of the ability to feel pain and even when the disease is stopped, the patients have no nerve warning in their hands and feet to tell them that they are doing something dangerous.  The book I am reading now is He Satisfies my Soul and is a reprint of an earlier book, God's Forever Feast.

The collection of devotional chapters has gotten my attention in several ways. It is a collection of journal-type thoughts from Dr.Brand during his medical career in India and at the Carville Institute in Louisiana.  In the first chapter, he writes of a fishing trip that almost went terribly wrong. Dr. Brand's family was hiking with another family with no plan for food other than the trout they would catch from the river.  The fish were not biting and brunch time turned into lunch time and then into dinner time with no fish.  Finally, the sunburned fathers began to catch the trout and the hungry children were fed.  But not before grace.

Dr. Brand writes,

I mentioned that the children could hardly wait to sing grace before biting down on their trout on dry bread, but wait they did and if parents had forgotten, the little ones would have reminded us to sing. We had a series of musical graces that each of our families used to sing before every meal. It seemed to us that they had special meaning on picnics in the countryside. There we were surrounded with the evidence of God's bounty. . . The singing postponed the eating by just a few minutes, but I have no doubt that it enhanced the flavor or what we ate. It brought wholeness into each meal. The fare at our meals was not only an array of wholesome foods for our nourishment, but it also gave us a chance to be together and it was an invitation to our Lord to take His place at the head of the table. . .This grace gently reminds us God is the source of all that we need. He is the one who sustains and nourishes us, both physically and spiritually.

I pray that as you gather family and say grace over bountiful meals, that you will linger for a moment to assure that the Lord is in His place at the head of the table. I know I will.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

On My Knees

I have a few days at home due to a "procedure" on my knee. I had a pretty complete makeover on my right knee as a result of a mishap 25 years ago on a ski slope. I am grateful for a gifted surgeon who replaced my ACL, repaired the meniscus, and cleaned up the cartilage. My knee will be better.

I heard the usual jokes about how I hurt my knee. The reason I didn't get it repaired almost three decades ago was the doctor advised me to wait for better technology "since I wasn't ever going to be a competitive athlete." The doctor back then was right on both accounts. Better technology has arrived and I have never been a competitive athlete.

I also heard the joke that my knee wore out due to my prayer life. I only wish that one was true.

I have had some down time. Some "knee above my heart" time. And some "still" time. I am one of those who really doesn't like pain meds. So, I have noticed a thing about pain. It is often (for me) mediated by stillness. If I can get really still and shut out all the noise, my body seems to relax enough for the pain to kind of drift away--or at least become tolerable. I also noticed that when I shut off the noise, my thoughts turn towards my Creator. It might be that is what makes the pain go away. I admit that prayer is sometimes something I do on the way to something.

I remember when I started running that it became a protracted prayer time--which was good. I hardly noticed that it became a replacement for stillness--which was bad. Prayer is so many things. It is adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication. It is praise, petition, penance. It is conversation, contrition, consolation. It is stillness. It is shutting all things off and losing the notion of time. It is getting lost in the presence of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit Who has redeemed me. It is being with the One who has answered my pleas regarding my son, my daughter, my wife, my marriage, my ministry. It is stillness and peace and quiet and not being in a hurry.  It is a time of its own and not a time while driving, while running, while waiting for a meeting to start (or end ). :)

The obvious verse that is in my mind is Ps.46:10, "Be still and know that I am God." I also like the NASB version, "Cease striving and know that I am God."

I am thankful that it took a broken knee to remind me of the stillness that I can find when I am on my knees.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

On Shepherds

My friend of 30 years is Clay Corvin--our Vice President for Business Admin at the Seminary. More importantly he is a shepherd for me as a friend, a husband to Carol and a poet. He encouraged me to post this one that I wrote.  How ironic that he has been an earthly shepherd to so many of us. He is in the middle. . .


A Calling to protect
A Commissioning to guide
A Consecration to nurture

A Voice that comforts from a face turned toward
A Voice that leads from a face turned away

A Resolve that breaks legs for wanderers
A Compassion that carries the prodigal lamb on his neck

A Description of a man after God’s own heart
A Designation for the Qumran boy who found the scroll

A Pariah banned from the Temple
A King who wanted to build the Temple
A Messiah who cleansed the Temple

A Paradox of acceptance
A Despised occupation
A Metaphor for the King

A Savior Shepherd Who has prepared the eternal sheep fold. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

On Pilgrimage

On Friday I leave for Israel. It is a pilgrimage kind of trip and not so much a mission trip. I pray I have opportunity to be on mission for my Lord but our published agenda is to see stuff. One of my favorite treatments of one of my favorite scriptures is Eugene Peterson's "A Long Obedience in the Same Direction" as he interpreted Psalm 121. I won't spoil the book for you but Peterson describes pilgrims (not tourists) who are on a quest. Tourists take something and pilgrims find something. My quest is personal revival. I am blessed to have some time to be relentlessly busy, yet with my attention steered to a world that is far from my own. I look forward to seeing the place where Jesus was, yet my friend Richard Ross has reminded me to never lose sight of who Jesus is. Read Revelation 1 for a refresher.

I pray your holiday is one of pilgrimage. In your rest and reflection and sleep from whatever that is in Turkey that makes you want to nap--I pray that you (as I hope you will pray for me) find renewal in your walk with the Living Lord.


Sunday, October 2, 2011

On Fall and Worship

Sometime during the fall it happens.  The heavy humid air that we in New Orleans enjoy almost year round gives way to a cold front of some kind and the temperature and humidity--for a few minutes or days--feels like fall.  This morning Judi and Noel (the dog/human who owns us) went for a walk in such rarefied low-60 something degree air and glorious sunrise.  On a Sunday. 

I thank God for a tangible reminder of what worship is each week.  A surprise change in the atmosphere. A delight at seeing friends and fellowshipping around the wonder of being around God's people.  A freedom to worship and sing and pray and be...

I love being able to preach (if it is my turn somewhere) or listen to the teaching of the Word. I love thinking about Who God is and What He has done, is doing, and will do.  I pray that your Sunday is a weekly change of season that reminds you that the Sabbath is just different.  For my friends who have staff positions at local churches and carry many keys that fit many locks, I pray for you today that you can get a minute or two of "fall" in the midst of a busy day of shepherding and leading.  

Monday, September 5, 2011

On Undercover Bosses and Incarnation

I am spending my Labor Day in an amazingly unscripted way.  I have several PhD proposals that I had to (and did) read.  I need to spend some time finishing/rewriting a book that will come out later this fall (stay tuned for title and details). The weather has been perfect (tropical storm moved on smile on my Mom's house in Cumming, Ga.) and so I have had a great day. 

I took a break for a sandwich and watched an episode of Undercover Boss, a CBS show which is thought-provoking to say the least. The idea is that the Presidents and CEOs of companies leave the executive floor and work in disguise as a low-level employee in their company.  The show has provoked comparisons in a social class divide kind of way to former English prime minister Benjamin Disraeli and his 1845 novel, Sybil. Arianna Huffington in her online blog made some brilliant observations about the state of the working class, both in 1845 and now.

My interest in the show was not so much about the elite executive vs. the worker bee.  It was more in terms what it would be like if Jesus worked along side of us.  Don't get me wrong. I am not interested in the self-serving inquiry of Joan Osborne's One of Us.  In other words, I was curious about how we would be in the presence of Jesus, sort of a modern day In His Steps.  Not "how would I act if I knew Jesus was working beside me?" but "how do I work?"

The heroes in Undercover Boss are the ones that the boss discovers are extraordinary--like the casino employee who leaves work every Monday to take flowers to the nursing home.  If I understand the biblical concept of Incarnation, it is not so much that Jesus came to the earth to change the earth (that is what the disciples thought).  He came to earth to be with us.  With us while we do the mundane job. With us while we decide to take shortcuts or when we argue with our spouses. 

I have learned a lot about what God must feel as Father as I have had challenging times as a father.  I have learned that being a father is about love, not about someone living up to your expectations.  If Jesus came into my work world as a peer, I pray that He would come back for the "reveal" of who He really is and say, "Allen worked as if I was with Him because I am in him." 

I pray for each person reading this that you will pause and worship the One who left not the executive floor, but the heavens so that we could be changed, that we would be the new creatures of 2 Corinthians 5:17.  He allows us to be workers, leaders, followers, husbands, wives, children who are different because He has changed us.  He has redeemed us and placed His Spirit in us.

I think I will work with a different attitude tomorrow after my Labor Day rest.  I pray you do as well.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

On a Realistic View of Me

On Sunday I talked about consecration as the declaration when you first wake up where you say to yourself and to God that today will not be about me. It is about God, His Glory, who He has made me to be, and how I can best represent Him today.

Aaron Stetson, youth pastor at Windham Presbyterian Church, Windham, New Hampshire has written one of the best articles I have seen to challenge us youth minister types to consecrate ourselves (for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you - Joshua 3:5).

check it out...

A Youth Worker Steps off the Pedestal | YouthWorker.com

Monday, August 1, 2011

On a Meaningful Reunion

This weekend, I was privileged to go back to Dunwoody Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia where Judi and I served from 1989-1994. The time there, serving on staff with Dave and Glenda Briley was an amazing time of ministry. The students, workers, and families were so tuned in to what God was doing. 20 years later, we all got together and I pulled a bit of a "legacy list" together of what the students there went on to do.

Please help me make this list more complete. I want to add stories or correct information or remember others...Aslan is truly on the move.

Who would have thought...

The funny odd thing is that none of us had any idea what God was doing. Who knew that Pete would morph into Pierre, a somewhat responsible and always entertaining part of the youth group. Or that Joe Beckler would be the Director of Missions for Denver Colorado? Or that Mark Knight would finish a seminary degree and become a businessman who is mentoring young men? Or that Joel Vestal would start a worldwide missions ministry? Or that Laura Brown would sing with Mandisa and the Women of Faith or that Judi Jackson would finish a PhD and become Associate Dean of Students at the seminary or that Kevin Miller would be on staff at one of the largest churches in Florida? Or that Lydia would go to Africa or that Amy would marry a youth minister or that Matt Ferguson would finish seminary and minister in the former Eastern bloc or that Jennifer Anderson would sing so beautifully in front of so many people? God knew that it was special and the rest of us were along for the ride.

That Brooke Warner would marry a godly man (Sebastian) and move towards missions. That Cheryl would marry Brant and they would be lay-leaders at Johnson Ferry BC. That Mike Peters would lead in ministry. That Elizabeth Atkins would marry Chad and I would get to bring them on as my youth minister in an interim pastorate in Baton Rouge. That Katy Meroney would help me lead her dad to the Lord. I baptized Dennis and he became a mainstay at DBC. That Jay Martin would lead one of the largest camps in north Atlanta. That Emily Kyle and her husband would be an important part of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in Manhattan (NY). That Adam Jones would become one of the better praise band drummers in the ATL. That Brad Cox would be a broadcaster of high school football and occasionally Christian radio.

That John and Jamey Dickens would be youth ministers for a season. That Tommy Statham would take his place in his family church as an influential layman. That Troy Coons would be on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ. That Jon Ballard would become a youth minister and worship leader in Tennessee. That Tom Riley would complete a degree at Duke Divinity school and serve a church in North Carolina. That Mike Thomas would serve on the staff at the First Baptist Church of Broken Arrow, OK as well as Burnt Hickory BC in Atlanta as one a youth minister. That Jimmy Carter would punt for four years at the University of Kentucky (still holds several records there) and write a book about his testimony? That Clint Harp would go to Europe as part of the Camp Kannakuk ministry?

That Steven Wareham (who spearheaded a collection drive to replace a melted guitar for his youth minister back in the day) would be leading a medical missions trip to Africa? That Haley Wilkinson would become a leader of a ministry called “Mothers of Preschoolers,” that Blair King and her husband would invest in youth ministry for years to transition to collegiate ministry in Waco, TX.

This past May–two months ago--I was teaching a risk management class at the seminary and one of my guests, a real estate attorney, said, “why don’t you get a bright young associate of mine to speak? He has started several non-profit organizations and would be terrific to speak to a policy class.” On the day of the class, a young man walked in who looked vaguely familiar and he said, “were you the youth minister at Dunwoody Baptist in the ‘90s?” I was floored and he introduced himself as Ben McLeish. Ben and his family live on St. Roch and have a ministry in the St. Roch neighborhood. Turns out he dated Susan Cox in high school.

I have to add to my list the students who have been faithful to keep their “occupation” and their “vocation” in order. Occupation is what we do to pay the rent and vocation is what we do because we love God and are called according to His purpose. Kim McNamara and Stephanie Boler are followers of Jesus who just happen to be attorneys. Clay Skognes is a believer who happens to be a dentist and Russell Bailey is a faithful Christian who just happens to be a doctor (okay a bit of an understatement–he just happens to be a pediatric neurologist who specializes in epilepsy). So many other businessmen and businesswomen who have kept the order in order.

Several of the Dunwoody folks also asked for a link to the article after which my sermon was titled, “Stones in the Jordan” that Amy Keels Howell and I co-authored for Group Magazine a while back. I posted it on my blog back in 2010. Here is the link to it:


Thank you all for a powerful and meaningful weekend. I kept the bulletin by the way. Kind of a “Stone in the Jordan"

Thursday, July 14, 2011

On Mortality and Immortality

I experienced something that was brand new to me while worshiping with the folks at the Interlaken conference in Switzerland. It was Thursday morning and the last service of the week was underway. A group of volunteers from Virginia had conducted Vacation Bible School for the 40 or so children of the participants of the meeting. The precious children were singing their VBS songs, as cute as can be. The lyrics were from the Great Commission and the children sang of their obedience to "go" because Jesus said to go.

One of the volunteers from Virginia--an 81-year old man--was in the balcony taking pictures of the children and suddenly he fainted. Some people saw that he was in trouble and immediately rushed to help. A medical doctor (internal medicine), a physician's assistant, and a nurse were all present as European Baptists or volunteers from Virginia (part of the conference). Despite the immediate medical attention that the gentleman received, he was not responsive and passed away.

As we prayed, my mind raced all over the map. As one who has been a leader of trips, I felt for the group who was stunned and for the leaders who had to sort out both emotions and details. I felt for the family members who would hear the news back home (he was not married, but his 84-year old fiancee was with him). I felt for the conference as the worship service had to end abruptly and morphed into a prayer meeting. The auditorium was cleared so that medical personnel and ambulance could have room to work. Communion was cancelled and people who had flights began to leave.

I overheard more than one person say that when it was their time, that is the way they wanted to go. He was into his eighth decade of life and was on an international mission trip with people he loved and who loved him. He was enjoying a late-in-life romance and was working with children from all over Europe in Vacation Bible School. He listens to those precious children sing about Jesus and in an instant he is face to face with the object of worship for all those little voices. He did not suffer, did not linger, did not delay his trip to glory at all. The children sang of their willingness to go and then this Virginian saint moved quickly across the river, and I am sure he was willing to go.

I left with a disturbed peace that we would miss this godly hero, but he would wait for us where there is no pain and where he is surrounded by children and angels singing, "Worthy is the Lamb."

Thank you Jesus for a glimpse of heaven in Switzerland.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

On worshiping with the nations

Tonight I sang a song that has been around for a few years. The first time I heard it was several years back. I was in a worship service At the Hatch Auditorium at the Caswell Conference Center on the edge of the Cape Fear River in North Carolina. Over 1000 students and their adult sponsors were singing at the top of their lungs

He can move the mountains
My God is mighty to save
He is mighty to save
Author of Salvation
He rose & conquered the grave
Jesus conquered the grave...

On that night, I was moved to tears at the sound and sight of teenagers worshiping, at significant volume, of the power and promise of the Gospel. Their lives as disciples were ahead. They sang of the strength and promise of their future for earth and eternity.

Shine your light let t he whole world sing We're singing for the glory of the risen King...Jesus

Tonight I sat in an auditorium in Interlaken, Switzerland singing the same song with several hundred people from all over the world. Judi and I are here to minister at an annual conference and youth camp for the International Baptist Convention At one point the worship leaders were discerning enough to drop out all instruments and back away from microphones to hear only the voices in the room fill up the space. And fill it up they did. As usually happens when amplified music and vocals drop out to give way to the voices in the room, the harmonies emerged, arms were lifted and the nations came together.

I wept as I heard those voices sing,

Everyone needs compassion
A love that's never failing
Let mercy fall on me

There were people from Berlin and Brussells, Copenhagen and Colon, Dubai and Dusseldorg...They were from military bases at Ramstein, Wiesbaden and Aviano. They came from Canada, Germany, Switzerland, France, England, Denmark, Norway, Italy, and even a couple from New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.A.

Everyone needs forgiveness
The kindness of a Savior
The hope of nations...

That last line hit me like it had never hit before. I was in the room with people of the nations singing about The Hope of Nations. The Hope of Nations was proclaimed with accents from all over Europe, and some parts beyond. The Hope of Nations...I let that roll through my mind and looked around at brothers and sisters from the nations,

Singing for the Glory of the Risen King.

Hallelujah. The King is on the throne. He is moving among the nations. Shine your light and let the whole world see.

Auf Wiedersehen!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

On Military Metaphors

As I travel, I always notice the military persons who are enroute to a posting or, as evidenced by the joy in their faces, on their way home. Having just observed two important holidays, Memorial Day and the anniversary of D-Day, soldiers and sailors and marines are on my mind. By the way, if you haven't been to see the National World War II museum in New Orleans, it is a "bucket list" item.

I was the "in between" generation, between the Vietnam War and the ongoing conflicts in the Arab world. My dad was a Marine and I suspect that if America was in conflict when I was of age, I would have been a Marine as well. These men and women deserve our respect and their families need our prayer.

The awareness of this courageous generation of men and women led me to ponder the use of military metaphors to describe our presence in this world as People of God. The hymn writers of old often used battle language to describe the tension of "in the world but not of it." Yet the political incorrectness of words of aggression--"us vs. them"--have made some shy away from the idea that we are an army and that the battle is the Lord's.

So when I came across the lyrics of an old hymn, Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus, I couldn't help but let the words sink in. I have signed up to represent my King. He has laid down His life so that I can have freedom spiritually just as the soldiers we honor on Memorial Day have laid down their lives for our political freedom. The language of battle is appropriate to describe the idea that I must identify with the army whose uniform I wear. I cannot waver in my commitment and today, the military language of this blessed hymn reminded me that I need to stop placing such a priority on not offending people, but to...well to stand up for Jesus.

I hope that you are encouraged and motivated by these words.

If you are by yourself, maybe you might even sing them. I did.

Stand up, stand up for Jesus, ye soldiers of the cross;
Lift high His royal banner, it must not suffer loss.
From victory unto victory His army shall He lead,
Till every foe is vanquished, and Christ is Lord indeed.

Stand up, stand up for Jesus, the solemn watchword hear;
If while ye sleep He suffers, away with shame and fear;
Where’er ye meet with evil, within you or without,
Charge for the God of battles, and put the foe to rout.

Stand up, stand up for Jesus, the trumpet call obey;
Forth to the mighty conflict, in this His glorious day.
Ye that are brave now serve Him against unnumbered foes;
Let courage rise with danger, and strength to strength oppose.

Stand up, stand up for Jesus, stand in His strength alone;
The arm of flesh will fail you, ye dare not trust your own.
Put on the Gospel armor, each piece put on with prayer;
Where duty calls or danger, be never wanting there.

Stand up, stand up for Jesus, each soldier to his post,
Close up the broken column, and shout through all the host:
Make good the loss so heavy, in those that still remain,
And prove to all around you that death itself is gain.

Stand up, stand up for Jesus, the strife will not be long;
This day the noise of battle, the next the victor’s song.
To them that overcometh a crown of life shall be;
They with the King of Glory shall reign eternally.

Friday, April 29, 2011

On Spurgeon and Cloudy Days

Those of you who know me know that these have been challenging days for me personally and professionally. For those of you who do not know me, these have been challenging days for me personally and professionally. I imagine you can relate. I have talked to many friends who have suffered tremendously. Students who literally lost their hometowns to tornadoes (Kristin Wilkerson, my former assistant said, "at least you know a hurricane is coming") in the past few days, difficulties all over, families struggling with addiction, job loss--it is easy to feel overwhelmed.

When I open my Bible program on my PC, I see a devotional classic from Charles Spurgeon. Today's devotion caught my attention. I didn't paste all of it here, but between the truly sad situations of the people who are reeling from a week of storms and these lines from the devotion, I figured I needed to finish the cake, pass out the parting gifts and dismiss my pity party. Join me in praying that we allow God to speak grace, comfort and direction into our troubled lives. Pray especially for families, churches, and entire towns that need a ray of sunshine.

From Spurgeon's Daily Devotion

"Thou art my hope in the day of evil."

There are many who have rejoiced in the presence of God for a season; they have basked in the sunshine in the earlier stages of their Christian career; they have walked along the "green pastures" by the side of the "still waters," but suddenly they find the glorious sky is clouded; instead of the Land of Goshen they have to tread the sandy desert; in the place of sweet waters, they find troubled streams, bitter to their taste, and they say, "Surely, if I were a child of God, this would not happen." Oh! say not so, thou who art walking in darkness. The best of God's saints must drink the wormwood; the dearest of His children must bear the cross. No Christian has enjoyed perpetual prosperity; no believer can always keep his harp from the willows. Perhaps the Lord allotted you at first a smooth and unclouded path, because you were weak and timid. He tempered the wind to the shorn lamb, but now that you are stronger in the spiritual life, you must enter upon the riper and rougher experience of God's full-grown children. We need winds and tempests to exercise our faith, to tear off the rotten bough of self-dependence, and to root us more firmly in Christ. The day of evil reveals to us the value of our glorious hope.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

On Friends and Video Cameras

My good friend Mike Calhoun with Word of Life Ministries did an interview with me while we were at Metro Youth Ministers Conference in Florida. Notice lack of tan to indicate that I was working...

Check out his ministry to minister to the ministers. Click here.

Monday, April 25, 2011

On College and Advice

I submitted the following to be posted on the College Initiative section of the Center for Parent Youth Understanding (www.cpyu.org) website.

Click here for more college advice from other folks.

What students should do to make college count:

1. Learn to work hard. Just because it’s online doesn’t mean it’s easy.

2. Wash regularly. Your clothes, your hair, yourself. You don’t want your only friends to be fungi.

3. Respect how much money other people (parents, grandparents, scholarship donors) are spending so you can get an education.

4. Don’t lose your ability to wonder about what God is up to.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

On Preaching a Revival


I am preaching my first “revival” ever, though I have preached hundreds of camps, conferences, and Disciple Now weekends. I have preached as a staff member, an interim pastor, and a seminary professor. Preaching opportunities number in the thousands, but I have never preached a “revival” (and in 2011, I have two of them on my calendar!).

I have never thought of myself as an evangelist. When asked or tested concerning spiritual gifts, I test as a teacher, an encourager, or a counselor. I have never even tested as a prophet (so I am a “non-prophet organization”). But now I am preaching a revival.

Assuming that my friend who invited me to his church–much trust involved there–was dialed into what God wanted him to do, I assume that God is growing me in this way. By the way, an enormous amount of prayer and preparation has gone into this revival. The church has large canvas-like frames in the sanctuary where for weeks, people have written prayer requests and statements of adoration as they have personally and corporately prepared their hearts for God’s Spirit to move in their church.

So I have to turn to the meaning of revival. Old school, it was a series of meetings designed to allow church members to do some evaluating as to their spiritual condition and to allow neighbors and friends to hear the Good News that Jesus Christ is God’s Son and Savior, Forgiver of Sins and Healer of Lives. Such a description seemed to me a good goal for me to think and pray towards.

I have chosen to look at four stories of lives that were changed as Jesus ministered publicly. In these four messages, I have tried to weave continuous narrative that would capture the essence of His mission as he moved toward the culmination of His earthly ministry--Passion Week. , For three years, He was intentionally and deliberately moving towards Jerusalem and Crucifixion (Palm Sunday) and in a plan that was completely and radically God’s–to Resurrection and Ascension, accompanied by the announcement of the Holy Spirit.

In John 15:26-27, Jesus said, "When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.

So revival is simply allowing the promised Counselor to penetrate our hearts with the message of the Gospel and the Christian life. It is a time out from schedules to include a focus on Jesus during what would ordinarily be a work week. It is an opportunity for preachers, teachers, deacons, committee folk, moms, dads, teenagers, college students, children, builder, baker, candlestick maker–to stop, breathe and allow God to speak into our lives.

With God’s help, maybe I can do that.

The Outline of the Messages is as follows
• Sunday morning: Zaccheus the Curious Convert (Luke 19)
• Sunday night: Matthew the “All In” Tax Collector (Luke 5)
• Monday: Four Friends and a Mobility Challenged Individual (Luke 5)
• Tuesday: What do You Want From Jesus? (Luke 18)

Pray for the good people in Carthage, Texas and what might happen here.

Monday, April 11, 2011

On Legacy in Youth Ministry

I appreciate my brothers and sisters in ministry that are part of the Metro Youth Ministers group. We are all somehow connected with churches that are some of the larger ones in our country. We are diverse--older guys, younger guys--we have had ladies as well and we are drawn together by a desire to make Jesus famous and better minister to students in the process. I was honored to be asked to speak for part of a session which I shared with my dear friend in ministry, Victor Flores.

I reflected on the legacy that we leave. 2 Timothy is in my mind Paul's "legacy" letter and in the third chapter, he reminds his young protege,

2 Tim 3:14-17
14 You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them; 15 and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (NASB)

What a reminder! Continue on! You have learned some things, experienced some things, you have breathed Scripture. Now pass them on to the faithful men and others of 2:2. Leave a legacy, a clearly marked trail for others to follow. These Metro guys are leaving legacies. They are thinking strategically about reaching and discipling students, but also in creating environments where students are challenged and sent to do significant things (as Victor said, "as arrows, shot from a bow drawn back with prayer").

I shared with them some lists. I just finished reading, Brown Like Coffee by the list guy, a great read for a college student or someone who works with college students. I am going to mail it to my Florida State Seminole daughter tomorrow. In the spirit of thinking about lists, I had a few to share with the Metro guys. Please share your comments on these--add, subtract, reflect...

Five Not So Good Youth Ministry Ideas
  1. Magician's flash paper as an illustration. I lost my eyebrows, but it seemed like a good idea at the time
  2. The game, "Needle in the Haystack" from Ideas #1. With apologies to Wayne Rice and Mike Yaconelli, the time has passed when we encourage students to dig through a pile of hay to "discover" sharp objects.
  3. The Hot Seat (also from Ideas). Mild electric shock from a 6-volt battery through a Model T Coil and a wooden stool (or better yet a 12-volt and a metal stool)--maybe not so much.
  4. A snafu in communication that led a church secretary to publicize the "Discipline Now" weekend. Big turnout to get in trouble...
  5. Big Wheel Races on the tile hall that makes rectangle around the large group rooms in the education building. Small group room doors (hollow core) which are on the perimeter of the building were vulnerable to the NASCAR "three across" strategy.
Five Great Youth Ministry Ideas
  1. A constant missions mentality. Every small group, always thinking about the current missions project.
  2. Fashion show. I heard that the girls ministry at Lake Pointe Church in Rockwall, Tx. did a fashion show to model how girls can dress modestly, attractively, and affordably.
  3. Scripture memory as an ongoing value in youth ministry. The Word does not return void.
  4. Discipleship that is intentional in building a partnership between students, parents, friends, and youth workers.
  5. Youth Sunday. Oldie but goodie. Students take responsibility for every adult position in the church (except ministry to really little humans), on one Sunday of the year. Opportunity for responsibility and building intergenerational relationships.
Seven Important Books (Hall of Fame list)
  1. Working the Angles, Eugene Peterson
  2. The Lost Art of Disciplemaking, LeRoy Eims
  3. Communicating for a Change, Andy Stanley
  4. Christian Counterculture, John Stott. His commentary on the Sermon on the Mount
  5. April 1865, David McCullough
  6. Love is a Decision, Gary Smalley and John Trent
  7. I Once Was Lost, Don Everts and Doug Schaupp
Five Current Books I Have Read Recently
  1. Our Iceberg is Melting, John Kotter
  2. The Reason for God, Tim Keller
  3. Generation IY, Tim Elmore
  4. Christians are Hate-Filled Hypocrites and Other Lies You've Been Told, Bradley Wright
  5. The Baseball Codes, Jason Turbow
Six Important Youth Ministry Books
  1. Your First Two Years, Doug Fields
  2. Youth Culture 101, Walt Mueller
  3. Youth Ministry Management Tools, Ginny Olsen and Mike Work
  4. TEACH, Allen Jackson
  5. rethink, Steven Wright
  6. Youth Ministry and the Supremacy of Christ, Richard Ross
Five Great Scripture Passages
  1. Jeremiah 29:10-11 (God is talking about patience, not prosperity)
  2. Deuteronomy 6 and following. Also Joshua 3 and following ("when your son asks, tell him")
  3. Philippians 2:1-11 (the Christ Hymn)
  4. Psalm 24 ("Are we ready for worship? Who is this King of Glory?")
  5. Matthew 5, "you have heard it said" (Jesus is changing all the priorities)
Seven Words of Advice for Youth Ministers
  1. Never quit reading and studying.
  2. Preach and get good at it.
  3. Have adventures with your spouse and children.
  4. Believe in your call.
  5. Make friends among youth ministers. Network.
  6. This too shall pass.
  7. There are no guarantees when raising your own children, even if you can check all the boxes saying that you tried to do it right. Children choose.

Friday, March 11, 2011

On Trust and Creating Environments

"We cannot by human effort cause the Holy Spirit to work. Not in revival, not in discipleship. We create the environment like the hard-working farmer. Then we wait for God's favor." Allen Jackson, NOBTS Chapel, March 10, 2011

At some point in the near future, the message I preached, "Generational Discipleship" will be available at http://nobts.edu/Chapel/Archives/Spring2011.html

Sunday, March 6, 2011

On Jury Duty and Grace

I have jury duty in New Orleans this month. We serve for an entire month, two days per week. I had a theory that was blown to bits. I assumed preachers would never be called to serve on juries because defense lawyers figure we are too judgmental and prosecutors figure we are too merciful. Plus they don’t want long-winded people like me locked up with 11 other folks. But I was wrong. Within 20 minutes, I was called to the selection process and within three more hours, I was juror number 9. Our case lasted two days.

Now, I like the law. Okay, I get aggravated when I am inconvenienced by such trivial things as speed limits and yellow-then-red lights, but contrary to my human nature, the law does apply to me. When I get tickets (I have family photo album from traffic cameras), I don’t like it, but I get it. Especially the cameras are fair–nobody likes them but they don’t play favorites.

I like books and movies that end up with a sense of justice. Bad guys get what’s coming to them. Good guys get the girl. Companies that play by the rules are the ones who succeed, athletes who cheat are caught and sanctioned...I can almost hear Louis Armstrong singing, “What a Wonderful World”

Maybe that is why it is especially important for me to understand how radical and scandalous grace really is. People who have done awful things have a chance at redemption. Maybe that is why I still react in wonder at the mystery of the mercy of God.

The underlying assumption to the "you have heard it said" statements of Matthew 5 is that when we do the opposite of human nature, the opposite of our “rights” and the opposite of the world’s expectation, we show we are citizens of the counterculture, of a completely different worldview.

It is fair to say that a worldview bent towards grace is not necessarily connected with Christianity, but I disagree. I am too close to too many people--including me--who either have been or need to be transformed in a way that only Jesus can do. I confess that without Jesus, I would just be mean.

So Jesus embraces the law and says that grace goes beyond it. I am not required by the law to manage my thought life, but Jesus says it is a part of discipleship. I am not required by law to look at my inward motives when I am angry, but Jesus says it comes with the territory. I am not required by law to put my wife in a place of exclusive devotion with regard to my purity, but Jesus says that inner thoughts damage her as a Daughter of His.

Grace is truly a radical concept. Micah, a prophet/writer in the Old Testament summarized it well. When he pondered the requirements to please God, he didn't quote the Law of Moses. He said that God requires that we "do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God."

Well said as I look to another week of jury duty. And life.

Monday, February 7, 2011

On Christian Counter Culture

There is much in the news about the turmoil in Egypt. I was scheduled to go on a trip with the seminary in March, but obviously it is uncertain to the point that it was canceled. Because of my upcoming pilgrimage, I have been reading and studying both the ancient and modern culture. At seminary, we received a letter from a friend and doctoral student who is the pastor of a Baptist church in Cairo. He described the situation in Cairo as one of turmoil (obviously) and great opportunity. He spoke of hope--that whatever takes place as a result of the unrest will mean that the church will have increased opportunity to serve and minister to their community. Based upon news reports, it is evident that the people of Egypt, particularly young adults, will not allow the status quo to continue.
The willingness of the church to adapt to the changing cultural landscape is going to be the key in the effectiveness of their ability to minister to the culture. Oh wait, am I talking about Egypt or Baton Rouge or Atlanta or Dallas? The same can be said of any church in America that can be said of First Baptist in Cairo–the willingness of the church to adapt to the changing cultural landscape is going to be the key in the effectiveness of their ability to minister to the culture.
I am about to begin a series at my church on the Sermon on the Mount. It is the New Testament perspective of how the church fastens tenaciously to the teachings from Scripture, while at the same time creating an environment for authentic conversations with persons in our community who have not grown up in our traditions.
John Stott, in his introduction to his commentary on the Sermon, says that,

The Sermon on the Mount is probably the best-known part of the teaching of Jesus, though arguably it is the least understood, and certainly it is the least obeyed. It is the nearest thing to a manifesto he ever uttered, for it his own description of what he wanted his followers to be and do. To my mind no two words sum up its intention better, or indicate more clearly its challenge to the modern world, than the expression, “Christian counter-culture.”

As our church looks into its future, the same challenge faces her as faces a church in Cairo, Egypt. Let me give it a label–rooted-ness and relevance. We need to move into our neighborhoods, schools, workplaces and families as mature disciples, rooted in the truth of the Bible but relevant in the needs of the culture. The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ idea of how that might happen.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

On Legacy and Dunwoody Baptist Church

To the Youth of Dunwoody Baptist Church, Atlanta Georgia

Lately, there has been talk of a reunion of the Dunwoody Baptist Youth Group, of which I was the Minister with Students from 1989 through 1994. So much has changed in the lifetime of these "kids" many of whom have children of their own. All of the youth ministries I have been privileged to lead have been special, but Facebook is blowing up with this particular band of young adults.

Which brings me to my stream of consciousness.

I remember moving to Atlanta with my beautiful bride of now over 27 years and our 11-month old son who is now 22 years old and well over six feet tall. I remember meeting all of you on a fall retreat after being there for less than a week and all of us wondering if we were going to make it. But we did.

You guys were amazing. I got to be with you for some incredible moments. I learned from you and maybe you learned from me. I remember praying with the Meroney family and later baptizing Dennis and Katy together. I remember memorizing Scripture with many of you, particularly during "Student Church." I remember Amy Keels bringing me a broken bottle top as a "Stone in the Jordan" in Detroit indicating her understanding that she was called to ministry (did any of you know that Amy and I co-authored an article by that name in a major youth ministry magazine?).

I remember staff relationships with Dave and Greg and Laine and Wes and Daniel and Dennis and Marjorie--I still tell my youth ministry classes that when we had youth camp, we closed the church because the whole staff went to camp. Somewhere is the picture of all of us in our "Just Do It" t-shirts to prove it. By the way, I lost that one and about 30 years worth of youth camp t-shirts when my house flooded in Hurricane Katrina. Probably best as over the years they must have shrunk because they wouldn't stretch over my new and expanded physique.

I remember Kim McNamara challenging me to be better as she brought friends. I remember the Power Source Band with Pete (sorry Pierre) Kimball and Seth Remaley and Darren Pyle and Adam Jones and my three chords and a capo which was as close to being in a band as I ever got. I remember youth week, with over 100 students teaching the Bible to youth, adult and children's classes. I remember youth camp and Disciple Now, mission trip to New Orleans, emergency room in Panama City, being kicked out of go-cart tracks in Branson and creating fire out of the exhaust pipe of the rented U-Haul truck in San Diego.

I remember After Hours and somebody's famous pizza dip. I remember Rich Mullins at Fall Retreat. I remember Toccoa Assembly, combining with fellow youth minister Andy Stanley for another fall retreat (with Louie Giglio speaking). I remember epic football games (no flag football for us, no sir-ee--Chris Edgar, I bear scars today...). I remember revival with Rick Stanley, hiking the Appalachian trail, and night skiing at Boone, whitewater rafting on the Ocoee. I will never forget the moving conversations with Greg Mann, Todd Crowder, Jenny Edgar, Todd Copper, and so many others as you understood that God did care what happened with your life. I remember the line dance we had at a DNow with many of my youth ministry friends wondering if I would get fired. I remember Pepto busses.

I remember Joel Vestal, Tom Riley, Joe Beckler and Mike Thomas, in the same Disciple Now home, trying to ask questions that Stan Greene couldn't answer. All of you are still in ministry along with Amy Keels, Mark Knight, Elizabeth Atkins, Kevin Miller, Adam Jones, Jimmy Carter (who wrote a book based on his testimony!), Matt Ferguson and Lydia Cotten--please forgive me if I forgot you. I remember thinking Pritchett Cotten was amazingly creative and an authentic friend. I remember Jessica times two (Gray and Handley) and their insightful questions. I remember Eugene Kim's leadership and the laughter of Dee Dee Lindsey, Luisa Stone, Liesl Allen, Matt Redd, Rich Butler, Charlie Moore, Missy Lindsey, and the quiet confidence of Russell Bailey, JT Ware, and Bret Wingfield. I remember the compassion of Cheri Smith (who now gets to practice it on her triplets). I remember how far Roy David Williams, Matt Russell and Derek Jackson could hit a golf ball.

I remember adults--Joy and Winfred, Sam and Bev, Bob, Nancy, Billy, Barbara, Jim, Margie, Betty and Marty (who would have thought that Marty would be the chairman of the Board of Trustees at a pretty major college!); John, Bev and Jerry, Norman, Steve, and a host of others. I remember Jenny, and Meredith and Cheryl and Blair and Susanna and Heidi, generally involved in some form of mischief. I remember Matt and Kevin and Clay and Danny and chicken biscuits at Hickory House.

I still grieve thinking about "my" students who died before their time--Ben Eberbaugh, Mike Flake, Stephanie Jackson. I remember helping with weddings for so many of these incredible young adults. I get sad when I hear of marriages that didn't work out, I sigh and smile when I see on facebook how wonderfully successful you are as adults.

Which brings me to the point of this little stroll down memory lane. In every ministry I have been privileged to lead, including the seventeen years teaching at seminary, I have memories of people, places, and opportunities that make me smile and know that God is in the business of legacy. Paul told Timothy to remember the things he had learned and the people he learned them from because God is linking generation after generation with His message of grace and His plan of discipleship.

I am embarrassed that I didn't mention every single one of you as you all I would love to hear the stories of how God continues to work in your lives. If the hope you once had has grown a little weary, please be encouraged. God still comforts, teaches, provides, corrects, communicates. I have been so blessed to have been along for the ride in the early '90s. I look forward to the reunion. Continue to leave a legacy!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

On putting our “ORs” in the water.

A boat with no motor and no sail will not move until the oars go in the water. Oars are important—they are small in relation to the size of the boat, but they can make all the difference. The small word “or” is the same. It can make all the difference.

Visitors or Guests

This past Sunday we had multiple guests in the morning worship services. If they are visitors, they come and check us out—maybe they will be welcomed and maybe they will not. If they are a guest (thanks to Disney) we view them in a different way. We acknowledge that we exist at least in part for them. We try to make it easy for them to understand what we do and how we do it. We anticipate their questions and we are quick to tell them other aspects of UBC that might allow them to get involved and experience the comfort of community and the grace of God. What would it be like if every new person at UBC was treated as a guest instead of a visitor?

Tourists or Pilgrims

Tourists come to see what they can see, buy a few souvenirs, take some pictures and go back home. Pilgrims are on a quest. They come looking for something of significance that cannot be reduced to a postcard or a trinket from the gift shop. Tourists compare everything in the place they travel to things back home. Pilgrims are in wonder of a land not their own, seeking an experience, a story, a memory or a revelation. What would it be like if we came to worship and Bible study as pilgrims instead of tourists?

Attenders or Members

A member has to invest something. An attender shows up. A member might pay dues or be assessed fees or have to take a turn on a work group. A member takes it for granted that they are needed, that they are in their place when the lights go on. An attender makes the decision to come based on convenience. A member makes the decision to come based on commitment. A member contributes time, resources, energy and passion to an organization, a cause—a Savior. What would it be like if attenders couldn’t wait to become members?

Members or Disciples

A disciple is even a step beyond a member. A member is loyal to an organization. A disciple is loyal to a person. A member names a place or an institution as the place of their membership. A disciple names a Teacher and goes where the Teacher goes. To be a disciple of Jesus is to organize time, resources, desires, and discipline around the priorities of the Savior. Where members go to a building or institution, a disciple takes the teachings of the Master wherever they go. Vocation is before Occupation—a disciple is a follower of Christ who happens to make a living doing something fun and productive. What if University Baptist Church became known as a place where disciples gathered on Sunday and scattered to be Salt and Light to a culture that desperately needs it?

Let’s put our “ors” in the water and row.

Monday, January 10, 2011

On Choices and Consequences

New Year’s confession to a congregation from your Pastor. My wife and I watch Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune when we happen to be at home. During the week leading up to Christmas, I stumbled on a new game show. It’s called, “Million Dollar Money Drop. The subtitle is “Seven Questions, Giant Pile of Cash” and it is a bit different from other game shows in that the prize money is physically in play. In other game shows, the cash prize is usually a number on a screen.

In “Money Drop” two people are given a million dollars in cash and are set the task of answering seven multiple choice questions in an effort to keep the money. It sounds easy enough, but the pressure of making the right choice seems to override common sense. The contestants, usually friends or spouses working as a team, are actually holding the money and where they set it down determines whether or not they’ll get to keep it. They put it on a panel which represents the possible answer to a question and if it is not the correct answer, the panel opens and their cash disappears down a chute.

On one show I watched a wrong choice cost a couple $800,000.

To my knowledge, none of my choices have cost me quite that amount of money, but it is easy to translate the principle that choices have consequences. Eleanor Roosevelt said that, “One's philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes ... and the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility.” Maybe the hardest thing about parenting (and youth ministry) is to communicate that choices have consequences, even if the consequence is delayed. If I am driving and make a wrong turn, it may be some time before we know we are off course, but every mile we drive takes us farther away from where we need to be.

Read that last sentence again and substitute the words “doing life” for the “driving” and you can see where I am going.

Early on, when the world was new, a biblical family was faced with a series of choices. Lot and his wife both made a choice Perhaps known for her choice to looking back when God said not to, thus becoming the original Morton’s salt girl. Ask somebody older if you don’t understand that reference. Before his wife made her fatal choice, Lot put her in a place where she had to make it when he settled in a place where the grass was green, but the sin was abundant.

This Sunday, I will speak on “Be Careful Where You Settle” from Genesis 13. The topic and text coincide with the Disciple Now weekend that the UBC youth are studying choices through their theme, “Wise or Otherwise.” I hope to reinforce their weekend with the message on Sunday morning. Pray for Mikel and his team for this important time. Pray for the students who will take part. Pray for all of us that God fertilizes our hearts for this important text.