Sunday, November 25, 2012

Even More Relational Gift Ideas

Spend Less...Give More. 

I'm not anti-gift giving. I'm not even against the usual store bought gifts, as long as they're not things nobody needs or things that cost so much they put you into debt. And as long as you still have some money to "Love All" by giving to neighbors in need. 

But I love the Advent Conspiracy's concept of relational giving. Not just because it frees up funds that you can give to worthy causes, but because it brings people closer together. 

When Covenant first joined the Advent Conspiracy in 2009, I searched the web and collected ideas for relational giving. The other day I stumbled upon some of these in my notes--way too many to share in a sermon. So I've been posting them here. Check these out, and see if they lead to ideas of your own...

"The most wonderful gift I have ever given (it’s still talked about years later) cost me almost nothing. I spent a few months contacting friends and family members and asked them to send me memories and old pictures of my grandfather. Then I wrote one memory (or printed one picture) on each of 365 business card sized pieces of card stock. I folded each in half and secured it with a bit of tape, then placed them all in a big jar I decorated. Every morning for the next year, my grandfather would take out a paper, open it, and see what other people cherished in him. He loved it.”

“We are now writing a chapter of our family history each year. We’ll pick a topic, and each family member will write about it. One person plays ‘editor’, collecting the stories, and presents them all together for Christmas. We’ve written about our favorite Christmas (seven differing perspectives on the same year), the house we grew up in, and this year we’re writing about how we met our spouse. Last year, my Mom sent out her first draft of her entire life history. This gift costs nothing, unless you choose to make fancy copies or books. It does take a little time if you want to contribute quality. It will, however, carry a lasting value unmatched by any tangible gifts we’ve exchanged, or even experiential gifts!”

I (Claude) really like this next idea. The writer shared the idea before actually doing it. I wish I knew how it went. It sounds like a blast...

Typically our Christmas morning is a round-robin of opening gifts, then we eat a light lunch and then folks start to drift off home. This is certainly less than celebratory and not memorable in the least. Every year's Christmas pics look the same as the last. Because our finances are limited anyway we've been cutting back for years as it is but this year we are considering a new option.  

( I can't believe someone hasn't thought of this before. Stop me if you've heard this one.)

We set two rules:
1. Each person is expected to bring one gift. That one gift must be something the entire group can use/eat/play/experience together.
2. All gifts must be experienced before the end of Christmas Day.  

This eliminates the lengthy "opening of gifts" and it immediately changes Christmas morning from a passive event to an active experience.

So maybe one person buys a game (say Catchphrase) and that gift is opened and the family spends an hour or so playing the game. It must be played, everyone must participate.  Maybe someone brings home-made cinnamon rolls as their Christmas gift for everyone. so at some point everyone sits down and eats a roll and coffee together- unrushed. I do a little hand-drumming and was thinking how fun it would be to make my gift a drumming lesson for the whole family. I think my wife is planning on making everyone finger paint. 

The gifts might mean spending some money but not necessarily.  

Suddenly Christmas day moves from the mundane to an amazing world of creativity and fun!. At least in my imagination.

We'll see how it goes. 

OK, folks, that's all the relational gift ideas I've got for now. But maybe you have some. LEAVE A COMMENT and share it with others!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

More Relational Gift Ideas

The Advent Conspiracy fosters "relational giving," where someone gives a gift that brings the giver and the recipient closer together, rather than focusing on the cost of the gift. Yesterday I shared some ideas for this kind of giving, hoping to spark your own creativity. Here are some more...

Give the gift of experience. The Gift Weblog suggests, “There’s nothing like giving someone the gift of experience, it is something they will always remember.” Sample gifts of experience: sky diving, scuba lessons, hot-air balloon rides, cooking school, lunch with a hero, etc.

Time or Skill
Brad suggested giving the gift of time or skill. Brad has given music lessons. He has colleagues who have given bike tune-ups and wine advice. What skills do you have? Can you help somebody set up a blog? Plant a garden? Learn to change the oil in their car?

Family Trip
A few years ago we decided that our three kids didn't need more stuff. So, I really thought about what they did need and that was more time together as a family. In lieu of gifts for the kids we take a small two or three day vacation around Christmas. It can be as simple as renting a cabin and sledding or playing board games for a few days or taking in Christmas sights within a car trip of our home. Now instead of making a Christmas list they ask, "where are we going this year?"

Scripture for the Year
We put everyone's names in a basket and each of us draws one out and this becomes the person you give a scripture to. (We typically do it at Thanksgiving but anytime BEFORE Christmas is perfect, just as long as you have a few days to pray it over.) You pray and ask the Lord to give you a specific scripture for this person that will speak what the Lord wants to speak to them. It has been amazing over the years to hear the scriptures read aloud by the person and to see how it speaks to their spirit, many times in ways you would never imagine! 

On the night or day that we celebrate Christmas together we start with the youngest person first (yes we include EVERYONE no matter the age, even if mom or dad have to help) and whoever had picked that persons name gives the scripture to them and it gets read out loud to everyone. It's a great way to keep the focus on the Lord and give Him opportunity to speak a word to you for the coming year. 

The fun part is how you present it. We've painted ornaments and put the scripture on it. Given it on paper written or typed out so it can be put somewhere to be seen all year. Made it into a magnet, or a bookmark, or even a frame... the possibilities are only as limited as your imagination and creativity will let you go! Oh and something that I started doing a few years back was writing down the reference in a book that is kept for the family to bring out each year (oh and I've also scrapbooked them, for those of you who like to do that!)

We never intended for this to become a tradition in our family but God did. It all began one Christmas over 15 years ago when we all had little to no money and we were trying to give something that costs nothing and it has turned out to be one of the things that we look forward to each year and has become a tradition for our family ever since. Hopefully you will like the idea and want to adopt it as your family tradition as well. It costs you nothing but a little time in prayer and as much creativity as you can muster!

Check back tomorrow for more!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Relational Gift Ideas

A couple Sundays ago I spoke on the middle two of the Advent Conspiracy's four tenets: Spend Less, Give More. (Missed it? CLICK HERE.) 

I talked about the AC's concept of Relational Giving. Relational giving brings the giver and recipient closer together. These gifts may cost less in terms of money, but they often cost more in terms of time, energy, effort, and thought (hence the concept "spend less, give more").

In that message I shared some of your ideas for relational giving. I recently stumbled upon some more ideas from folks around the country. I'll post some of these over the next several days. Let them spark your own creativity...

Coupon Book
We have four kids and are trying to "rethink" Christmas this year for Advent Conspiracy.  We usually will do 4 or 5 gifts per kid.  This year, they each get one gift on Christmas and then I thought it would be fun to give a coupon book...personalized for each child.  Each one will have a coupon to redeem each month.  It may be "breakfast in bed" or "go out for a milkshake w/mom" or "hit a bucket of golf balls w/dad."  You can go real simple or get more detailed.  The key is that they get to redeem only one/month.  This spreads out your cost over time.

The Real St. Nick
Our first Re-thunk Christmas, I was terribly afraid that my children wouldn't get to experience the MAGIC of Christmas. The Christmas mornings that my parents helped me to experience when our living room was completely transformed, waking Mom and Dad with "come see what Santa left!!!" and how did Santa know how much we wanted those bicycles? But the magic was there... more magically than ever... this idea put the magic BACK in Christmas for me as an adult.

At the beginning of the Advent season, I wrapped a BIG open box and put it in the living room. My children (then 2 & 5, now 6 & 9) were to carefully to think about what toys they didn't need anymore. They cleaned them up, and put them in the box to give to Santa. "Santa has a lot of children to give gifts to, let's see if we can help by sharing the gifts we don't need." They really got into it. If they were hesitant to give an item, I reminded them that if it was too hard to give it away, they could take it out again. They put so much thought into what they still needed, and what they thought would be better enjoyed by someone else... and into what might be considered "junk" that no one would want. On Christmas Eve, we sealed the box and put a note on it, "For the children who have nothing." 

That night, Santa came to my children. All of the "just what I wanted!" things. The living room transformed. And when the children woke me up Christmas morning, running into the room with enthusiastic giggles, I didn't hear "come see what Santa left!!"  I heard, "Come See! Come See! He took it! Santa took our gifts to the children!! The box is gone!" They hadn't noticed their stockings full or the specially wrapped gifts. They were thrilled with the magic of the Real St. Nicholas, who's legend we tell every year:  A priest who sneaked to give gifts to those who were without gifts. THAT's Santa Magic.  

Conversation Jar
Write down some probing questions and put them all on strips of paper in a jar.  Go around the room and have each person draw a question.  Spend some time going down memory lane, hearing dreams for the future and celebrating each other’s lives. 

More tomorrow...

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Give Thanks

Thanksgiving comes around once a year to remind us just how blessed we are as Americans. Despite all the struggles we’re having right now, we still have so much to thank God for – and so little to complain about.

Some time ago I read an article encouraging Christ followers to give thanks. It included these lines:

If you have food in your refrigerator,
clothes on your back, a roof over
your head and a place to sleep,
you are richer than 75% of this world.

If you have money in the bank,
in your wallet, and spare change
in a dish someplace, you are among
the top 8% of the world's wealthy.

If you attend a church meeting
without fear of harassment,
arrest, torture, or death,
you are more blessed than almost
three billion people in the world.

If you have never experienced
the danger of battle,
the loneliness of imprisonment,
the agony of torture or
the pangs of starvation,
you are ahead of 20 million people
around the world.

If you can read this message,
you are more blessed than over
two billion people in the world
who cannot read anything at all.

Wow. And to think I complain because I get stuck in traffic for ten minutes, or because my coffee isn’t hot enough, or because my favorite TV show is on hiatus. I’ve got a lot of growing to do.

Giving thanks is not only commanded throughout Scripture -- it’s a better way to live. Did you know medical studies have shown that people who give thanks more and complain less are less likely to contract infectious disease? Remember: “The surly bird gets the germ!” 

(I got that awful pun from Rick Warren. Blame him, not me.)

I hope you're having (or have had) a wonderful thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

In Praise of Dressing (and Cranberry Sauce, and Giblet Gravy)

Today's post is a bit like yesterday's. It's another story of how I refused to eat something, then after years of turning up my nose finally gave it a try--and found that it was one of the best things I'd ever tasted.

There's a life lesson in there, you know. Pretty obvious, I'm sure, but just in case: Try things! Well, not everything. I mean, there are definitely some things you should leave untried--drugs, pornography, Honey Boo-Boo, etc. But in a lot of cases, we miss out on something great because we're afraid to step out beyond what we're already familiar with. We church people are some of the worst.

Growing up I was never that excited about Thanksgiving. For one thing, I had my sights set on what the man with the bag was going to bring me on Christmas. For another thing--I didn't like the food.

Turkey, by itself, roasted in an oven with no brining or basting, has to be one of the blandest foods on earth. And every year at Thanksgiving, that's what I had to look forward to. Dry, tasteless turkey. And maybe some green beans and some dry mashed potatoes.

See, the problem was that I just couldn't stand the sight of the other stuff on the table. There was gravy, but it had little turkey guts floating in it. I wasn't gonna touch that with a ten foot pole. There was some slimy red stuff that was still shaped like the can it came out of. It looked like wet Play-Dough.
And then there was "dressin'." I think people from other parts of the country call it stuffing (although most people now know that stuffing a turkey is a really bad idea--it keeps the bird from cooking all the way through).  For us southerners, dressing is made in a glass casserole dish and baked after the turkey has already come out of the oven.

The problem I had with dressing was that I saw it made. Mom put a whole bunch of strange stuff in a bowl and squished it all together with her hands. Eggs, celery, bread crumbs ... some years she got really gross and put in oysters -- oysters! What does a slimy mollusk have to do with turkey?

And so I never touched the giblet gravy, which would have moistened my turkey and added flavor to my mashed potatoes. And I never tried the cranberry sauce, which would have added a wonderful burst of tartness to my plate. And most of all, I never put a big hunk of homemade dressing next to my turkey to add that spicy, seasoned goodness that makes that otherwise bland meat come alive.

I can't remember when I finally broke down. Maybe, like with pumpkin pie, it was while I was in college. You know, I tried a lot of stuff in college 'cause I had to. Those were tight budget days. I ate whatever was cheap.

Maybe all that experimentation (with food, not with drugs or alcohol!) emboldened me to try all the Thanksgiving foods I'd been avoiding. The gutsy gravy ... the canned cranberry ... and most of all, the delicious dressing.

Now Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.

Of course, it's not just the food. It's the people, the time off from work, and the reminder to stop and give thanks. But I have to admit that right now, that turkey and those trimmings are calling my name.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

In Praise of Pumpkin Pie

When I was a kid, I could not imagine eating a pumpkin pie. For me, pumpkins were something you made Jack O' Lanterns out of. Every October my brother and sister and I would get a pumpkin and cut off the top. Then the grossness began. Somebody--and in my memories it was always me--would have to stick their hands down into the poor pumpkin and pull out his insides. Yeech!

We would plop the gooey mess down on old newspaper, and then use a serving spoon to get all the stuff off the sides. Then one of us--and in my memories it was never me--would have the honor of drawing the Jack O' Lantern's face with a marker. Then somebody--in my memories, it was usually Dad--would carve the pumpkin--while I took the gunk that had been inside the pumpkin and threw it in the garbage.

This was my primary experience with pumpkins. So when Thanksgiving rolled around and people talked about eating a pie made out of the internal organs of a Jack O' Lantern, I thought, What is wrong with you people? You don't eat that stuff! You throw it out with the garbage!

Thus it was that for years, I  missed out on one of the true joys of the holiday season.

And then one Thanksgiving when I was in college, I decided to give the unappealing confection a try. I can't remember why. It may have been because I had recently tried carrot cake. Carrot cake is another dessert that makes no sense. Who'd have thought you could make a dessert out of a tasteless vegetable that my mom used to force me to eat? And who'd have thought that a dessert with such strange origins would be so incredibly good?

I must have reasoned that if they could make an absolutely scrumptious cake out of rabbit food, then maybe a pie made out of pumpkin wasn't such a stretch.

So I cut myself a small slice of pumpkin pie and added a generous dollop of Cool Whip (I figured it would hide the flavor of the pie.)  I took a small bite onto my fork...I brought it to my mouth...and...Wow! This stuff is good! 

I've been a pumpkin pie fanatic ever since.

Today I've been baking pumpkin pies for the Thanksgiving meals that Covenant is going to deliver tomorrow to DSS Kinship families. We've been working with the Bair Foundation to come alongside these folks throughout the year. I figured since this is one of my favorite parts of the meal, I'd volunteer to make some. A dozen, to be exact.

Early attempts were crude.
Only problem is, I've never done this before.

The first two were a disaster. I read the ingredient list, but not the directions. So I just dumped everything in a bowl, then realized I was supposed to beat the eggs first. So I did my best to push the eggs over to one side of the bowl and give them a decent beating before mixing everything together.

Then I filled the pie shells way too full. I spilled filling all over the floor on my way from the counter to the oven. I splashed filling all over the oven. I completely forgot about putting the unbaked pies on a baking sheet!

After the pies had been in the oven for five minutes, I looked at the recipe again and realized I had left out the sugar! So I took them out -- spilling them again -- and did my best to mix the sugar into the filling after the fact.

What came out an hour later looked...OK. But they smelled pretty good.

Now that I knew what I was doing, I went on to attempt four pies at once. This time I remembered to beat the eggs, mix the sugar and spices, put the milk in slowly... and use a baking sheet to protect the bottom of the oven. And it worked! Don't they look awesome?

OK. Six down, six more to go. Boy, I love the way my house smells right now!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Yes, Christmas Can Still Change the World!

I love the Advent Conspiracy!

The movement started in 2006 when three young pastors asked this question:

Can Christmas (still) change the world? 

Six years later, the answer is a resounding YES. Churches all over the world have embraced the idea of an upside-down Christmas. Millions of dollars have been released from holiday excess and mindless consumerism, and redirected to meeting people's real needs--physical and spiritual--in the name of Jesus. Countless lives are being changed, both in the here and now, and for all eternity.

Today I saw a video on the Living Water website that blew me away. It features a pastor in India telling what it's like to share the Gospel in a place where people are overtly, violently hostile towards Christians and Christianity. The pastor relates powerful stories of miraculous healings. You can actually see some of the people who were healed in the video! 

He goes on to tell that despite these signs and wonders, he still encountered fierce opposition to the Gospel, until something happened that changed the face of his ministry. 

So what was it that happened? CLICK HERE and watch the video to find out...

Friday, October 26, 2012


Last Saturday was my 50th birthday. I was born right down the road in Hendersonville, NC, on a very cold day in October of 1962. It was right in the middle of the CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS. It was also two weeks and a day after the release of the BEATLES' FIRST RECORD.

I wasn't feeling great about turning 50. 30 I was actually happy about. I was fairly new in the ministry, and I was tired of people telling me I looked too young to be a pastor.

40 wasn't so bad, either. I was still in the prime of life. I still had two young kids at home. I could assume that my life was still less than half over--that I still had more days ahead of me than behind me.

But you can't say that when you're 50.

It's not that I'm afraid of dying. It's that I'm afraid of not accomplishing everything. There's so much more I want to do: Teach pastors overseas. Mentor young people out of poverty. Dig more wells in poor nations. Make disciples who make disciples who make disciples. Tutor kids in public schools. Feed thousands of hungry people. Start more churches, especially in unreached areas of the world. Earn a PhD. Teach at a college or seminary. Become a church consultant. Become a licensed counselor. Help the United Methodist Church become viable again. And lead Covenant Community to become a strong, Christ-centered church that will continue to grow no matter who the pastor is.

Once you reach the half-century mark, you realize that most of that stuff is not gonna happen.

So I wasn't that crazy about reaching this milestone. That is, until last Saturday.

That was the day a small group gathered in a private dining room in Winston-Salem, NC to celebrate my birthday. I looked around the table and saw my two kids, all grown up and mature: my son married and in grad school; my daughter a sophomore in college. I saw my dad, who's still with us and still sharp at 85 years old. I saw my mom, my mother-in-law, and my sister and her family (my brother lives far away and couldn't make it). And I saw several couples and their children who have become so close to us over the years that they might as well be family.

And as I looked around, I realized: I've been blessed. Way more than I deserve.

And then the stories began. Lorie asked everyone who came to share their favorite "Claude story." I laughed until I cried. My son David showed a video in which he imitated me and his wife Lauren imitated Lorie. They nailed us! Hilarious.

My sister Jacqueline led a game called, "Which is older?" She held up posters of different things and asked people to guess which was older--the thing she was holding up, or me. Turns out I'm younger than GI Joe and the Andy Griffith Show, but older than Zip Codes, the Etch-A-Sketch, and dirt.

It was a very satisfying day. Not just because it was all about me (I have to admit that I enjoy birthdays for that very reason, probably more than I should). But the satisfaction came from being surrounded by people who have journeyed through life with me for quite some time now. As I listened to their stories, I looked back and realized how good it's been. Even if I do have more years behind than ahead, they've been very good years.

And as I looked at their faces, I realized how good it is. I'm beyond fortunate to have such good friends and family in my life.

And as I loaded up my presents and headed back to Asheville, I realized how good it's going to be. Life's not about how much you accomplish before you die. It's about who you are and how you love. And I've got some great people to love.

Maybe turning 50's not so bad after all.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

My Favorite Christmas Video

If you've been around Covenant for very long, you've probably seen this video. You might even be tired of it.

Me, I love it. It's almost like "A Charlie Brown Christmas." I never get tired of watching it. I love the music. I love the graphics. I love what it says about Jesus. I love what it says about us.

And I love the vision it casts for a better Christmas and a better world.

One quick correction, though. Since this video was made, the experts have revised their estimate of what it would take to make clean water available for everyone. The video says $10 billion -- it's now $20 billion. But even at $20 billion, the problem is very solvable, as you will see...

So why am I thinking of this now? Because Christmas is just around the corner. It's time to start making your plans for an "Advent Conspiracy" Christmas!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Weird Sunday

Today we were weird.

While lots of normal churchgoers were dressing up in skirts and coats and ties, we were donning old jeans, work gloves, and Covenant T-shirts. 

While they were slipping on dress shoes, we were lacing up work boots. 

While they were settling into their pews to hear a sermon, we were using our hands and feet to preach one. 

Before we got to work, we gathered to sing and pray. I shouted, "Don't GO to church," and you responded, "BE the church!" I pointed out that we were about to go out and do Good Things. Now it was up to the Holy Spirit to do "God Things" -- things we couldn't do -- personal connections, spiritual conversations, and divine "coincidences" that lead to further significant ministry.

Because of what we did today, needs are being met all over the world. Children in hungry nations will have food. Children in Africa will have shoes. Families in Fairview will have a clean community pantry. The homeless in Asheville will have a more attractive day shelter. People all over Western North Carolina will have fresh produce that might have rotted in the fields.  Men and women in the military will have personalized packages filled with some of the comforts of home. 

You made a difference today, around the world and around the corner. And if you're not sure why that matters, CLICK HERE, HERE, and HERE

Here are a few pictures I managed to snap as I visited the different projects. Please don't feel slighted if I didn't make it to yours -- at a couple of the ones I visited, I was roped in to help!

The Potato Drop: Boxing potatoes for distribution.

Artwork for the Military Gift Boxes.

 Personal notes of encouragement to those serving our country.

A "Stop Hunger Now" meal packing station. Visit to learn more.

Sealing a package of six dehydrated meals.
Rice for the meal packing stations.

Sole Hope: those old jeans will become closed-toe shoes for African children.
They'll prevent painful and life-threatening parasitic infections.
Visit and find out more.
Many thanks to everyone who participated ... to David Hinson who got up at 3 am to make those delicious sausage biscuits ... and to the Covenant Faith in Action Team and individual project leaders for putting it all together. 

And To God be the Glory. 

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Least of These

It's a Scripture that haunts me. MATTHEW 25:31-46. A warning of things to come. A vision of the end of time.

Jesus says that when he comes again, he'll separate humanity according to how they treated "the least of these." Some will be surprised to find out that what they did for people in need, they did for Jesus. Others will also be surprised, but not so pleasantly:
"I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me" (Matthew 25:45). 
When we think about Judgment Day, we often think about Big Things. The worst villains of all time facing God's justice. Hitler, Stalin, Hussein, and Bin Laden finally answering for their crimes.

And on the positive side: we think about how great Christian leaders will be rewarded because they did Big Things. John Wesley, who started a movement that now numbers around 55 million. Billy Graham, who has preached to over 2 million people. Peter, Paul, the Apostles -- the big guys who did Big Things.

But what does Jesus want to talk about on Judgment Day? LITTLE THINGS! A plate of food. A cup of water. A place to stay. A visit to someone who's sick or in prison. Simple, individual, small acts of love. Apparently these things are really important to Jesus.

And that's why we're doing FAITH IN ACTION SUNDAY tomorrow.

Be sure you get to church by 8:30 am. In fact, come early and enjoy some coffee, juice, donuts, and sausage biscuits before we worship, pray, and head out.

See ya' tomorrow!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Worship Through Service?

You’ve probably heard me say it already. FAITH IN ACTION SUNDAY is the day we "cancel our worship service, and worship through service."

Now, the first time we did this, we got some negative reaction.  Susan Reinhardt wrote a column about Faith in Action Sunday for the Asheville Citizen Times, and it was posted on their website. One of the commenters was really disgusted that we were using God’s day to help people. This person said there are six other days to help people –but Sunday is a day to worship.

And apparently this person thought that worship is something that happens inside the building. We sing, we pray, we listen to the Word, we give an offering. That’s worship – going out to help people is not.

And you know what?  That commenter just might have a good point! Can we really worship God by helping people?  Is that an appropriate use of the Lord’s Day? Or is it just another adventure in missing the point?

Thousands of years ago, the prophet Isaiah spoke about the connection between worshiping God and helping people:

"Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the house of Jacob their sins. For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them” (Isaiah 58:1-2).

In other words, these people go to worship. They seek God. They sing, they pray, they listen to the Word, they give an offering. They’re even doing something hard core – they’re fasting. Going without food in order to get focused on God. Going without food to give seriousness to their prayers.

But for some reason, their fasting is not working:

"'Why have we fasted,' they say, 'and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?'" (Isaiah 58:3).

And here’s God’s reply:

"You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high" (Isaiah 58:4b).

Something’s wrong with the way they’re fasting.

Yes, they’re doing a very spiritual thing by going without food, but God says, “Your fasting is not the kind of fasting that I have chosen” –

 "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-- when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?" (Isaiah 58:6-7).

God says, “The kind of fasting I want results in people being helped. It’s not just a religious ritual that makes you look good. It’s not just a spiritual practice for your own benefit.”

God says, “What I want to see is spiritual practice connected with service -- worship of Me that leads to helping people.”

And here's what I get from that: When God's people, motivated by God's love, feed the hungry, house the homeless, clothe the naked, reach out to the lonely, and carry out other acts of compassion in God's name -- these ARE acts of worship. 

Yes, we really can “worship through service.”

That’s not to say we don’t also need to sing, pray, listen to the Word, and give an offering. In fact, we need to do that often—once a week at least. And we need to do it with our whole hearts, pouring everything we’ve got into praising God.

But when we leave the building and go out and serve – that’s an act of worship as well.

An Idea That's Catching On!

Check out all these different graphics of the FAITH IN ACTION SUNDAY slogan:

This one "just" might be my favorite. 

I still have one of these from 2007, and I often get comments from people when I wear it. 
Want one? Visit

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Why Faith in Action Sunday?

"Don't Go ... BE!"

This is where the slogan comes from. It's not a slam on organized Christianity. It's not telling people to stay away from church.

Some people (like me!) use the slogan all the time. But the folks who came up with it created it for one Sunday out of the year. A Sunday when churches  cancel their service of worship, and leave the building to worship through service.

FAITH IN ACTION SUNDAY was created by World Vision International in partnership with Outreach Magazine. Covenant Community has participated in this national program ever since it started in 2007. This coming Sunday (September 30) will be our sixth Faith in Action Sunday.

It's very important that you understand why we do this. At Covenant Community, our mission is "to draw people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ." Everything we do as a church must be a means to this end (see MATTHEW 28:19-20). We exist to proclaim the Gospel--to name the Name--to communicate this Biblical truth:
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us (1 John 3:16).
Our mission is not just to do nice things for people. Our mission is to get across a message.

But here's the thing: In today's world, a lot of people don't want to hear our message. There's more mistrust of Christians than ever before, especially among 18-30-year-olds. People in this age group see Christians as judgmental, hypocritical, narrow-minded, anti-science, and anti-homosexual. Whether their perceptions are accurate or not is beside the point. What you and I need to know is that if we're going to reach these folks with the message of God's love in Christ, we've got to cross a huge barrier.

The Scripture I quoted above, 1 John 3, goes on to say:
Dear children, let us not love with words or speech, but with actions and in truth (1 John 3:18).
Love in action. Faith in action. An unbelieving world is watching to see whether the message we proclaim with our lips makes a real difference in our lives. They're wondering if our beliefs lead to anything good for the community--or if all we care about is getting ourselves into heaven when we die.

When we put our faith in action by serving in the community, we present a positive witness of the life-changing impact of the Gospel. We show that Christian faith does make a difference--here, now, in the real world, in real time.

And maybe when we do that, people become a little more willing to listen to what we have to say.

Our mission is to get across a message. Good deeds are not the message. But they can open the door for the message.

And they can give you something positive to talk about with your unchurched family and friends. Studies show that the number one reason people come to church--and to faith in Christ--is through a personal invitation from someone they know. So maybe you're not going to go to work on Monday and recite my sermon to your unbelieving friend. And maybe you're not going to sing last Sunday's worship songs to your non-Christian neighbors. But these people might be very interested to hear about the amazing things your church is doing in the community.  And those conversations can create opportunities for you to invite them to come serve with us -- and maybe even to attend church with you.

That's why faith in action. Now, why Faith in Action Sunday? Why take a Sunday off to go out and serve?  Here's why: Because this interruption of the normal routine forces every member of the Covenant family to stop and think. Think about a world in need. Think about ways you could make a difference. Think about the importance of serving as a way to open the door for our message.

Faith in Action Sunday is not about Faith in Action Sunday. It's about putting your faith in action all year long. It's about developing an outward-focused life. And hopefully (and prayerfully) it's about opening doors to share the Gospel.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Redeeming the Time

Yesterday's message in the Weird series took us back to a topic that I covered at length in August. As I explained in THIS POST, there were several reasons why we took another look at the subject of TIME.

Ephesians 5:16 in the New King James Version tells us to be wise, "redeeming the time, because the days are evil." To redeem something is to rescue it. It's as if time has been taken hostage by evil, and it's our job to redeem it -- to rescue it from being used for no good.

Redeem the time. If we're gonna do that, we need a rescue plan. We need to think about what we're doing. We need to be WISE: "Be careful how you live, not as foolish, but as wise" (Eph. 5:15).

Yesterday I shared 4 things about redeeming the time, and forgive me if this is corny, but they correspond to the letters W-I-S-E:

W- Will of God: You have all the time you need to accomplish God's will for your life. If you're constantly running out of time, then you're either doing God's will in an inefficient manner, or you're trying to do things that aren't God's will.

I - Identity: Why do we overextend ourselves? Because we base our identity on what we do instead of who we are. Who you are is a child of God. You don't need to do a bunch of stuff to prove you're valuable. The most important job you have is to be God's child.

S - Stop-Doing List: Instead of a longer "To-Do" list, how about making a list of things you need to STOP doing? There are lots of good things you could be doing. But you can't do them all. So focus on the things God wants you to do. You have to say no to good things in order to say yes to God things. 

E- Eternity: What's going to matter a hundred years from now? Once you've left this earth and entered eternity -- what will you really care about then? Are you gonna wake up in heaven one morning and say, "Gee, I wish I'd spent more time at the office!" Or, "Man, I wish I'd accumulated more possessions on earth!" What's really gonna matter a hundred years from now?

Answer: RELATIONSHIPS. Relationship with God. Relationships with people. That's what's gonna matter once you've entered eternity.

Be wise. Redeem the time. Purchase something important with the days you have left. They'll be gone before you know it.

Friday, September 21, 2012


Good parents, and good parents-in-law, are a precious gift. I've been blessed with both.

Even before we were married, Lorie and I began to refer to each other's parents as "Mom" and "Dad." I share that in praise of our parents. I also share it so that you don't get confused. The "Dad" I'm talking about in this post is not MY FATHER, but Lorie's father Jim Carlisle, who passed away this past Saturday.

One of the things I admired about Dad was his ability to enter another person's world. When you were around him, it was more about you than about him. He would find out who you are, what you do, what you're interested in, and those things would be the topics of the conversation.

He was great at entering the world of his grandchildren. I have memories of him playing with my kids for hours. When my son David was young he used to dress up and play Batman -- Dad was always willing to be the Joker, the Penguin, or some other arch-villain. I remember he and David putting a GI Joe in a jeep and sending the poor soldier careening down the driveway at breakneck speeds.  I remember seeing Mary sitting in "Pop Pop's" lap as he read children's books to her, over and over.

And I remember Snicklefritz. When the grandchildren spent the night at his house, or when he spent the night at theirs, he would always tuck them in, and then sit on the edge of the bed and make up stories about this imaginary creature that he invented. I never heard the stories -- they weren't for me -- but from what I gathered, Snicklefritz was a hapless creature with the body parts of several different animals and the head of a dragon. While he was a kind and loving creature, he wreaked all kinds of havoc when he would sneeze -- and accidentally set something on fire. But Snicklefritz always managed to save the people he put in danger, and somehow the trouble he caused would bring about something good in the end.
Male Wood Duck

In 1980, Dad began carving decorative duck decoys. Before long he became a world class carver. He won all kinds of awards, and people bought his ducks for thousands of dollars.

Each duck took around six months to carve and paint. It was a slow, painstaking process that demanded passionate attention to detail. The decoys in the shows Dad entered had to be exact replicas of the actual living duck. That means that the size of the bill, the length of the feathers, the width of the neck, the distance from head to tail -- all these had to be exact.

And so Dad spent hours studying books, photographs, and the bodies of actual ducks, to get these dimensions perfect. He kept plaster casts of the bills of every duck known to man. At one point he actually kept some real (dead) ducks in his freezer.

Female Wood Duck
Then after the carving came the burning of the feathers into the wood. And then the painting. Again, the colors had to be exact.

And to make all of this more difficult, the ducks had to float. They had to be hollowed out in such a way that when you put them in water, they looked just like a real duck.

Can you imagine the level of detail work and patience this required? I would have gone bonkers. But Dad loved it. And he excelled at it.

Speaking of excelling -- Dad was an excellent golfer (another patience-requiring pursuit that would drive me crazy). It was good to see someone with a healthy recreational passion.  After he retired, he taught my mother-in-law (Marty) how to play. They played together, sometimes 2-3 times a week. I often use them as an example when I work with couples preparing for marriage: "Find  something you both enjoy that you can do together."

Dad was a committed Christ follower. When we were on trips together, I would often see him sneak off in the mornings with an orange index card in his hand. It was his prayer list. He was very involved in his church. He served on and chaired pretty much every committee that exists in the United Methodist Church. He helped with the Food Pantry, he sang in the choir, he helped with setting up for events ... And here's the really cool thing: he did all that with no personal agenda. Really. He wasn't trying to make a name for himself, wasn't pushing his own desires for the church.  He just wanted to serve his Lord.

Dad's funeral was Tuesday. It was at Maple Springs United Methodist Church in Winston-Salem, where Lorie and I were married. It's a fairly large church. And it was packed.

The ministers at Maple Springs, Randy Waugh and Jeff Copley, did a wonderful job. The entire Maple Springs choir came out in the middle of the day to sing. David spoke on behalf of the grandchildren. I read ROMANS 12:1-18 and explained that the family chose this Scripture because it sounded so much like Jim Carlisle.

I'm sad to see him go. But as I write these words, I'm beginning to feel a sense of gratitude--for the life Dad lived--for the people he touched--for the fact that I got to marry into his family--for the legacy he leaves behind.

And for the memories.

Lorie, me, Mom, Kim, Jim (Jr.), and Dad in Switzerland

At Gruyere Castle (where Gruyere cheese comes from)

Dad's last (unfinished) duck

Sunday, September 16, 2012


8:00 am, yesterday morning. I was awakened by the "marimba" ringtone on my iPhone. It was my wife, Lorie, with a completely unexpected call.

Friday a week ago (September 7), Lorie received word that her father, James F. Carlisle, Sr. had been admitted to the hospital. An EKG revealed that Jim had had a silent heart attack earlier in the week. They did a heart cath, removed a blockage, and put in a stent.

My father-in-law was very active. He and Marty, my mother-in-law, played golf 2-3 times a week. He sang in the choir, served on tons of committees, and helped with all kinds of projects at church. "Dad" and "Mom" traveled extensively. In July they did a river cruise in Europe. Then in August they went to the beach with my family, and then went again with Lorie's brother's family. On top of all that, he spent hours and hours in his shop carving highly-detailed decorative duck decoys.

Dad kept up a schedule that would wear out a much younger man!

So he would probably have to slow down a bit once he left the hospital -- but he was expected to recover almost completely. That's what the doctors thought. That's what we all thought. He improved with each passing day. Every time somebody would ask me, "How's Lorie's dad?" I would say, "He's getting better!"

This past Friday (September 14), he was doing so well that he was moved out of cardiac intensive care to a step-down unit. He was scheduled to be moved to a regular room the next day.

Through all of this, Lorie had been staying with her mother in Winston-Salem. They had been switching off staying overnight at the hospital with Dad. Friday night they felt so good about his condition that they both went home for a good night's rest.

And that was the night he died.

When the phone rang yesterday morning, I was completely unprepared for what Lorie told me. Around 4 am that morning, Jim was feeling cold. He asked for a warm blanket. The nurse brought him one. Then he said he was having trouble breathing. They brought him a breathing treatment. At some point during that breathing treatment his heart began to slow down. And then it stopped.

The doctor told Lorie later that a blood clot may have made its way to the lungs. Or maybe the damage from the heart attack was more than we knew. The EKG on Friday showed that the heart attack probably occurred on Tuesday. That was the day Dad mowed the lawn. On Wednesday, he went over to the church and set up tables and chairs for 200 people. On Thursday he didn't feel well. But it wasn't until Friday that he called the doctor.

I saw Jim last Sunday, a week ago today. He looked really good. Awake and alert -- completely himself. Laughing, joking -- but also saying meaningful, important things.

I had no clue that this would be the last time we would speak to each other on earth.

Ever since that phone call yesterday morning, I've been walking around in a misty-eyed daze. I've been blessed with two wonderful fathers. But now one of them is gone.

Jim Carlisle was a remarkable man. Extremely intelligent, amazingly talented -- and one of the friendliest human beings you could ever hope to meet. Everybody loved him. I know that sounds like a cliche -- but believe me -- he was that rare human being who engendered nothing but deep love and respect from every single person in his sphere of influence.

I want to tell you all about my father-in-law, but it's getting late... So I'll just give you one quick example of who he was. In 2010 he and Marty celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. They told us that they didn't want a big party. Instead, the gift they wanted from us was to allow them to take us on a trip to Switzerland!  Lorie and I, Lorie's brother Jim (Jr) and his wife Kim -- Jim paid for all of us to spend a week touring around Switzerland. It was a very special place for him, and it meant a great deal to him to show it to us. At one point in the trip he said to me, "Now that my children have seen this, everything is OK" by which he meant that his showing us that place was something he had to do before he died.

I'm so glad he did.

The obituary in the Winston-Salem Journal is well-written, but it doesn't do him justice -- no obituary could -- but some of the entries to the guest book give a glimpse of who Jim Carlisle was. Click HERE to see it.

Friday, September 14, 2012

"Weird Schedule"

Ask someone how they're doing. More often than not you'll hear, "Busy!"

In our society, a normal schedule is so full that there's hardly time to breathe. Normal is over-committed and overwhelmed. Normal is busy, which as I shared a couple weeks ago, could be an acronym for "Being Under Satan's Yoke."

This Sunday at Covenant we'll look at how we can develop a weird schedule. One that's full, but not exhausting. A schedule that leaves room for the things that are most important.

You might be thinking, "Wait a minute! Didn't you just do a 4-week series on this topic? Didn't it just end two weeks ago?"

Well, yes I did. You can read recaps of the messages by clicking on the "Time" label at the bottom of this post. Or you can listen to the messages HERE.

So why am I covering this topic again, a mere two weeks later?

  1. Because it's a huge problem that we all struggle with. I doubt most of us solved it in those 4 weeks. 
  2. Because it's the next topic in CRAIG GROESCHEL'S BOOK and the accompanying DVD that we're using in Common Ground. 
  3. Because I have more to say about it!
So this Sunday will not be a re-cap of the series we just finished. More like an extension. I hope you'll join us!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Faith in Action Sunday 2012

We've come full circle. It was also September 30 when we did our first Faith in Action Sunday in 2007. We launched out with fear and trepidation: Will this work? Will anyone participate? Will we have enough projects? Or will we have too many projects? Will it hurt our finances? Will people get mad and leave?

FIA Sunday 2007 turned out to be a huge success. God showed up. Hearts were touched. The love of Jesus was physically demonstrated. And our lives were changed as we experienced the joy of serving.

We've done it every year since then. This year's FIA Sunday will be number six.

FAITH IN ACTION is a national program created by World Vision, International in partnership with Outreach magazine. It's slogan is "Don't GO to church ... BE the church." I love that! So much, in fact, that I stole it for the title of this blog.

New this year is a page on our website where you can review the projects for this year and actually e-mail the project leaders by clicking on their names. CLICK HERE to check it out.

Why do we do Faith in Action Sunday every year? Because it's weird. It interrupts the status quo. It forces us to look beyond ourselves. It engraves in the hearts in minds of every member of the Covenant family--even those who choose not to participate--that Covenant is 100% sold out to being the hands and feet of Jesus.

The ultimate objective of Faith in Action Sunday is that, by seeing the needs first-hand and experiencing the joy of serving, every last member of the Covenant family would commit to serving all year long. I admit that hasn't happened yet. But we're trying. And we'll get there.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


Where were you on 9/11?

I was in an airplane, sitting at a gate at the Charlotte airport, waiting for clearance to taxi out onto the runway. At the time I was Senior Pastor of Tyro UMC. (Tyro is a small town in Davidson County, NC.) My youth pastor Wesley Sink and I were on our way to Oklahoma to get trained in a new youth ministry program.

When Wesley and I got to the airport, everyone was crowding around television sets. The first plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. At first the broadcast journalists stated that it may have been an accident -- a serious problem with air traffic control. But then the second plane hit. Now everyone grasped what was happening: Our nation was under attack by terrorists.

I talked to Lorie on the phone, and she wondered if it was a good idea to fly that day. I said that I couldn't imagine the terrorists would want to attack Oklahoma--or North Carolina, for that matter.

So, with everyone in the airport still glued to TV screens, Wesley and I boarded our plane. We were buckled in and all set to go when the pilot came on the intercom and said, "The FAA has grounded all flights temporarily. We're going to deplane and let you wait in the gate area, and we should be underway before too long."

As we were getting off the plane, a passenger behind us was speaking with someone on his cell phone. He turned off his phone and said loudly, "We're not going anywhere. They just bombed the Pentagon!"

Now this was getting personal. Lorie's brother works in Washington, DC. In fact, he was in the Capitol building at the time of the attacks. If the terrorists had had their way -- if Todd Beamer and others had not forced Flight 93 to crash in rural Pennsylvania - my brother-in-law might not be with us today.

Wesley and I got in my car and headed back to Tyro, about an hour's drive away. I turned the radio on, and we drove in complete silence. We were listening when the twin towers fell. We couldn't believe it.

When we got home, our Worship Director had already organized a community prayer service for that evening at our church. I was thankful for her initiative, and started making preparations for my part of the service. Then I took a nap. It was all too much to handle, and I was mentally and emotionally drained.

That night was the prayer service at our church. It was amazing to see that small town come together across denominational lines to pray for our country.

Eleven years later, the world continues to feel the impact of that day -- especially when we travel. Getting through security in airports is a major undertaking. I'm glad for that. Last summer when I got on a plane in South Africa to come back to the US, they frisked me and all the other passengers. I wasn't offended. I was thankful. Better those 30 seconds of discomfort than thousands dying in a terrorist attack.

You may have done this already -- but if you haven't -- take a few moments today to remember those who lost their lives on 9/11 -- and to pray for peace in this broken, hurting world.

"Weird" Teachings of Jesus

 Right now at Covenant, we're in a series called Weird (Because Normal isn't Working). In Sunday's message, I compared some of the Beatitudes (the "Blessed are" statements) and other teachings from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount with the "normal" wisdom of our world.

This morning someone told me that they found that part of the message very helpful.  So I thought I'd post it here for anyone who didn't hear it, or for anyone who might want to hear it again:

You follow Jesus up on a mountainside. Jesus sits down, which is the posture for teachers in that day. You sit down with the others to listen. 

And in so many words, Jesus basically says,“If you’re gonna be in my kingdom you can kiss normal goodbye!”

Normal says, “Nice guys finish last”
          But in my kingdom, the meek will inherit the earth

Normal says, “People who are confident and self-assured get ahead”
          But in my kingdom, it’s the poor in spirit who come out on top

Normal says, “The purpose of life is to be happy”
          But in my kingdom, people who mourn are blessed

Normal says, “You have to get people to like you!”
          But in my kingdom, you’re blessed when people persecute you   

Normal says, “Adultery is really bad”
          But in my kingdom, looking at somebody lustfully is just as bad

Normal says, “Murder is really, really bad”
          But in my kingdom, calling somebody a fool is just as bad

Normal says, “Divorce is always an option”
          But in my kingdom, marriage is a permanent union, and divorce is a
          last resort in extreme cases

Normal says, “If somebody hits you, hit ‘em back”
          But in my kingdom,
                   We turn the other cheek
                   We love our enemies
                   We pray for the very people who make our lives miserable!

Throughout this sermon, this Sermon on the Mount, Jesus basically says, “Look, if you’re gonna hang with me, you’re gonna be weird.” 

The Sermon on the Mount is one of the most powerful sections of Scripture. In this sermon, Jesus calls us to a lifestyle that reflects the unconditional love and the pure holiness of God. I encourage you to sit down and read it sometime this week. It's found in MATTHEW 5-7.