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Go There (Day 1)

And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, his disciples said to him, “Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?”  Mark 14:12

This Sunday at Antioch Church, we gather at the Lord’s Table. It is never something we come to flippantly or take lightly. We gather there at the invitation of our Lord, who told us to do it regularly in remembrance of Him. As  you know the Passover meal was the Jewish worship event that Jesus fulfilled and so it was that he celebrated His final passover just hours before his betrayal. As we prepare for the communion we will celebrate Sunday, we would do well to look into those final hours and use them as a guide to prepare our hearts.

043His Jewish disciples knew it was time to celebrate this feast so they did what anyone would do. They began to make preparations. They asked a question of Jesus. Basically they wanted to know where they should go to get ready for it. As we begin this week, that is a good question for each of us. “Jesus, where will you have us go and prepare for you…?”

While we know they were talking about a physical place, the challenge for us is a little different. Have you ever heard someone say, “Don’t go there?” For us, as we prepare for the Lord’s Table, there are some places we probably would prefer not to go, but if we are to be prepared, we have to “go there.” While this is not an exhaustive list of the places you may need to go, it should serve as a discussion starter for you and the Father as you look inward and prepare to meet with him.

  • Is there any known sin in your life, something you know is wrong but have continued to do or have simply ignored?
  • Is there someone you have wronged and from whom you need to seek forgiveness?
  • Has God told you to do something, give something, or say something and you have resisted or delayed?
  • Has anyone offended you and you have refused to extend forgiveness?

I assure you that if  you will “go there” and prepare your heart, Sunday will be a high and holy day as you encounter the Living Lord Jesus at His Table.

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Observations on Veteran’s Day

On Friday, November 11, our nation celebrated Veteran’s Day. In the town where I live and serve, the city took some time to dedicate a new memorial dedicated to the veterans, both living and dead, who have defended our freedom. As I stood in the overflow crowd, barely hearing the speakers for the distance, there were a few things that made lasting impressions on me.

First, I was reminded that my little niche of men were fortunate to grow up and pass through the age of selective service registration while our nation was not at war. That is not to say that men my age have not and are not serving, but to note I was born in a very narrow strip of time that allowed me to never worry about either being drafted or deployed other than by my own choice. From the time my dad returned from Vietnam until the Gulf War started, we lived in an unprecedented era of peace. I feel very grateful and very unworthy when I stand with a gathering of veterans and their families.

I was struck by the statement above the entrance to the memorial – “Freedom is Not Free.” Enough said. Our freedom in Christ was not free and our freedom as a nation was not free. That was particularly evident in the scars and crutches and wheelchairs wielded by men who once wielded guns to purchase and protect that freedom. That story is being played out as you read this in places like Afghanistan and Libya and Iraq.

Respect is not a word you hear or see in action much these days. Respect was present in spades on this Veteran’s Day. I saw a young man in uniform, there as a spectator, take it on himself to clear the way for men in wheelchairs and on walkers to get closer to the speaker. I saw it when the crowd parted for the Rolling Thunder Chapter to present the service flags. It was evident when the band played the service anthems and one by one, men stood to honor their branch of service and the crowd looked at them with what can only be described as respect. If ever there is anyone who as a group deserve our respect, it is our veterans. It was a high and holy moment for me.

I became a fan of Congressman Phil Roe when he made a few remarks. His assertion that being a fiscal conservative is not a license to balance our budget on the backs of our service men and women, coupled with his transparency in his faith when he prayed for our veterans and our nation, made me hope to be in East Tennessee long enough to vote for him.

I grieved a few minutes as I stood there. In addition to the empathy I felt for the men and women who stood there with tears for their fallen loved ones, I grieved for those affected in other ways by war. There is a reason they say “war is hell.” Not all casualties are evident in missing limbs and tombstones. Men and women come back different from war. Often, their families are the casualties of war. We see that in the growing number of vets who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. I hear it when young men just back from Iraq have a hard time being transparent with their spouses and embracing their children. It shows up in the divorce rate among veterans. It is proven by the thousands of homeless veterans living under bridges in our major cities. I grieved for them. They don’t feel much respect and honor on these special days. In fact, their goal is just getting through the day. While you honor veterans this week, think of them.

I am thankful to be an American, thankful to be free, and thankful for veterans this week.

As the younger bloggers say, “I’m just saying….”

Little Ceasar’s or Office Depot?

Pop Quiz: Who has the better customer service, Little Caesar’s or Office Depot? Crazy question, right? I always thought of Office Depot as a fairly professional organization and Little Caesar’s as a cut-rate, you-get-what-you-pay-for kind of wasteland. Last week, I ran an errand for my assistant and stopped by Office Depot to pick up several fairly common items. One item was hard to find so I wandered up to a lady who was deeply engrossed in a conversation with a friend and stood there waiting for help. I kept edging closer into their personal space to get noticed and after several awkward (for me) minutes, said “excuse me” and walked between them. At no time did she ask if I needed anything. I went to the lady behind the counter in the print shop and asked her if she knew where they were. She pointed to an area they “might be” but at least it was more helpful than the first lady. I went to the “ink” desk and she pointed to an aisle number toward the back corner of the store. Again, I had no luck. Ever the optimist, I found two men on the opposite side of the store and asked them. To his credit, one suggested an end cap on the main aisle, but was too busy to assist me. The other said he did not think they carried them. Finally, I gave in, swallowed my male pride, and called my assistant. She told me exactly where they were and I made my purchase. What was the elusive item in this office supply place? Blank index cards.

The following weekend, my wife was sick so I ran to Little Ceasars’s for a couple of  “hot-n-ready” $5 pizzas. I went in and it turns out the pizza was not quite hot-n-ready. The meat pizza was there but I had to wait on the cheese pizza. I sat down to wait and the manager made small talk and checked on me a couple of times between customers. When the cheese came out, I went to get it and he said he had also made a fresh meat pizza since I had to wait. He also threw in some breadsticks for free. Truthfully, the pizza was better than I remembered it being since it had been years since I had eaten Little Caesar’s. More importantly, I left feeling good about the whole experience.

Now, here is the result of these encounters. I was not a fan of Little Caesar’s and they exceeded my expectations and I was a fan of Office Depot and they really fell short of my expectations. If you have read this far, stay with me a little longer because here are my takeaways for those of us in church world:

  • You are only as good as your latest interaction with people. You always have to be working on customer service.
  • You are only as bad as your latest interaction with people. It is never too late to become good at customer service.
  • The best customer service is the kind that says, “let me show you,” or “let me fix this for you.”
  • People that come to our church, especially guests, are our customers and we are in the business of customer service.

I would love to hear from you about how small churches are doing customer service right.

Disclaimer: I have had many good customer service experiences with Office Depot and anyone is entitled to a bad day once in a while, so I will go back. However, in today’s competitive world, there are those who would not. Churches should take heed.

First Downs and Field Position

I spent a little time last weekend with one of those kids who every pastor/student minister knows. The one that no matter how hard you try, doesn’t get it. The one that avoids you like the plague. The one that seems to go out of his way to let you know he is cool and you are not. That was Colin. Now, he is an adult in his late 20’s and he never misses a chance in writing, in person, or on Facebook to tell me how powerfully I impacted his life. Fast forward to yesterday. I had coffee with a former student I have not seen but one time in ten years. She is planning to get married and wants me to officiate. It was a great conversation. I was so proud of her and the strong woman she had become.

As we finished up, she told me the phrase that I used back then that had most influenced her life. It was a statement I used often in student ministry. It was, “God is more interested in first downs than field position.” In other words, making progress in the spiritual journey is much more significant than how spiritual you look.

Honestly, it has been a pretty lousy week in Kingdom work. Nothing serious is wrong but I have just been out of sync. I am talking and I am pretty sure God is listening but not much communication is happening. There doesn’t seem to be much “fruit” or lasting impact the last few days.

It is just like God to speak in such a clear and unmistakable way that even I cannot miss it. Here I am ten years later, looking at two young adults, both of whom are living proof that all of us are a work in progress and that God never gives up on us. Both of them have significantly moved the chains in the years since I was interacting with them. It just reminds me that results don’t always look the same to him as they do to us. He takes a much longer view, sometimes, even an eternal view.

So, I am going to just keep on doing what He tells me to do and saying what He tells me to say, and trust Him to keep moving the chains in the lives of those He entrusts to me for a little while. What is your perspective? Do you value the first downs in your life or are you frustrated by your field position? Maybe a little perspective will help.

Lord, Give Me Back My Hair!

     Samson was a Biblical figure that in spite of his womanizing and moral flaws, God used to accomplish his purposes. You probably remember the most famous episode in his storied life when he fell in love with a foreign woman whom God had expressly forbade him to marry. Like most men, Samson let his libido do the talking instead of his spirit and found himself again and again betrayed by this woman who supposedly loved him. One of my all-time favorite preacher quotes was when a friend said of Samson, “If you wake up blind, naked, and grinding somebody else’s corn, you might need to reconsider who you are partying with.”

     What makes Samson unique is that even after abysmal failure and seemingly with nothing left to offer, he made the most of his situation. You may remember the secret of his strength was in his hair and when his woman, Delilah, finally deluded the big lug into telling her that, she cut it off and he was just a normal man. Now, brought to the stadium where the Philistines would make fun of the once powerful warrior before putting him to death, he cries out to God. He rubs his head and feels the hair has begun to grow back and cries out to the Lord, “Once more, Lord, give me back my strength!” He then asks to have both hands put on the  pillars of the stadium and with renewed strength, pushes them down, killing more of the enemy at one time than any previous event in his warrior life.

     Yesterday, over lunch with an old friend, I reflected on my life. There have been two major movements in my life, both of which were amazingly blessed by God. I spent 17 years leading a network of youth ministers and local churches in East Tennessee and later spent 10 years as part of the leadership of a great church in Middle Tennessee. I am proud of what God has done in both of those things after I left, even though leaving the second was not a choice I would have made and quite honestly, I messed up. I am grateful for the part God let me play in both of those.

     Now, that I am nearing 50, I am asking God to show me the next great movement. I believe I have one more season like that left in me. I am not sure whether it will be as pastor of a local church, working with a parachurch group, or what, but I am asking God to “give me back my hair” for one more great push. If He can do that for Samson, He can surely do it for me!

     What about you? Are you in one of those great movements or are you looking ahead for God’s next great movement in your life?

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