Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Sunday Recap: "Weakness"

What is your weakness? Is it an illness? An injury? An emotional problem? An addiction?

Is it financial weakness? Or relational weakness?

Let me tell you about a weak preacher. He wasn't a good speaker.  He was a good writer, but he was timid in person. He didn't make a good first impression. Sometimes he changed plans at the last minute, leaving the impression that he was not reliable.

This preacher went off on a mission trip, and while he was away, some rival preachers with a different message came in and tried to take over his church--the church he started! These rival preachers said that they were the real leaders. They ran down the original preacher, pointing out all his weaknesses in an effort to turn the people of the church against him. And it looked like they were succeeding.

The preacher I'm talking about is the Apostle Paul. And 2 Corinthians is his response to the critics in Corinth. His argument comes to a climax in 2 Corinthians 12. In verse 5 he says, "...I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses."  

Boasting in weakness. Think about how much this runs against the grain of our culture. Could you imagine kids on a playground saying, "My old man's weaker than your old man!" Could you imagine putting together your resume and listing all your weaknesses? Right now the Olympics are going on. The Olympic motto is "Faster, Higher, Stronger." Could you imagine if they changed it to "Slower, Lower, Weaker?"

Why would Paul boast in his weakness? Because of something he learned from a painful experience. "...I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me" (vv.8-9). We don't know exactly what Paul's "thorn in the flesh" was. (My theory? It was an illness, possibly an eye disease. See GALATIANS 4:13-15). What we know for sure is that it tormented him, and he wanted it gone.

But instead of taking it away, the Lord just said this:
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness (v. 9). 
Of course, we have no idea what Paul thought when he heard that. But maybe he thought of Abraham and Sarah--a weak old couple who couldn't have children--and yet, by the power of God, they became the parents of Israel. And maybe he thought of Gideon, who said, "I am the least member of the weakest clan of Israel"--and yet, by the power of God, he and a reduced army defeated the armies of Midian. Maybe he thought of David, Jesse's youngest son--the runt of the litter--so unimportant that when the prophet came looking for the next king he wasn't even invited to the party--and yet, by the power of God, David became the greatest king Israel ever had.

Maybe Paul thought of Jesus. He had the power to heal, the power to teach, the power to walk on water, the power to feed thousands with five loaves and two fish--the power to raise people from the dead--and yet, he won his greatest victory through the weakness of crucifixion.

And maybe Paul realized that it made sense. God has always had a thing for the weak. He loves to reveal himself through those whom the world considers weak. God loves to give power to those who can admit that they are weak.

And maybe after reflecting on all that, Paul wrote these words in 2 Corinthians 12:
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (vv. 9-10). 
How could God's power be made perfect in your weakness? Maybe your weakness can drive you to the arms of God where you find more power than you ever thought possible. Maybe your weakness can make you able to help someone else going through the same thing--God's healing power unleashed through your weakness.

Maybe God can use your weakness to lead someone else to Christ. Some years ago a man with a disability invited a 14-year-old boy to church. The boy laughed it off, but precisely because of the man's disability, he couldn't quit thinking about it. He finally decided to go. One thing led to another and the boy committed his life to Christ. His name is Adam Hamilton, and he is the founding pastor of Church of the Resurrection--a church that now has 12,000 members.

And it all started when God used a man's weakness to draw a young boy to Christ.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Sunday Recap: "Sowing and Reaping"

This past week our reading in 2 Corinthians brought us to Paul's teaching about financial giving in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9. Paul is encouraging the Corinthians to give generously to a collection for the Christians in Jerusalem, who had fallen on hard times. Paul's appeal is rather audacious when you consider that his relationship with the Corinthians was already strained at best. Despite the issues between him and them, he makes bold to go where many preachers fear to tread.

On Sunday we looked at three simple but power-packed verses from chapter 9. While these verses are specifically about financial giving, I made the point that the principles found in these verses apply to every area of life:

1. The Principle of Sowing and Reaping

"Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously" (2 Cor. 9:6). 

Paul is using an illustration from farming. He's saying that if you go out to plant seed and you hold back and only plant a little, then you'll only receive a little back when harvest time comes. But if you go ahead and plant  plenty of seed, you'll get a bigger crop later.

This illustration meant more in Paul's day, since the seed a farmer planted was also the grain that his family ate. Planting seed was an act of faith--that what you give up through planting you will receive back later through harvest.

Paul says it's the same way with financial giving. The blessings you receive in turn--not only financial blessings, but blessings like joy, fulfillment, spiritual growth--are in proportion to what you choose to give.

And it's the same way with other areas of life. What you get out of a relationship will be in proportion to what you put into it. What you experience in terms of physical health will reflect what you "sow" into your body--whether you sow proper nutrition and exercise or junk food and couch surfing. And so on.

2. The Principle of Cheerful Giving

"Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Cor. 9:7). 

Whatever you decide to sow--whether it's financial giving, or sowing acts of love into a relationship, or sowing service and commitment into your church--do it cheerfully. Cheerfulness is the fertilizer that makes the seed grow.

3. The Principle of the Overflowing Cup

"And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work" (2 Cor. 9:8). 

Why does God bless us? So that we can be a blessing to others. We are "blessed to be a blessing."  When God pours blessings into our lives, the goal is not that we would keep those blessings for ourselves in bigger and bigger cups. The goal is that we would let our cups overflow; let the blessings flow out and bless others. And here's the beautiful thing: a cup that is overflowing is also a cup that is always full.

Friday, July 20, 2012

LWI Team's Blog is Active!

They're now in a city with internet access. Please CLICK HERE and check it out! 

ALSO: we just got ANOTHER report from ANOTHER well that Covenant has sponsored in India! CLICK HERE to see both reports.

That's 3 wells that Covenant Community is celebrating just this week: two that you paid for in India, and one that you paid for and built in Guatemala. I'm so proud of you. And I'm so grateful to be your pastor. Praise God--and thank you.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Living Water Team Update

(Note: Scroll down for previous updates, and for background info on Living Water International.)

Our Living Water Team in Guatemala has a blog, and I bet that when they get back it's going to be full of interesting pictures and captivating reports. But for now, they don't have Internet access, so they're not able to update it.

Jim Sullivan, one of the team members, does have text messaging service. He's been sending me very brief updates by text and I've been passing these on to you here. (I imagine this service is not cheap--hence the "very brief" nature of the messages!)

Here's the update I received this morning:
Wednesday--well flushed and developed and sealed; flow rate expected at 90 gallons per minute; concrete pad built and first part of pump installed. 
Keep checking back here. If/when I get more updates, I'll post them. In the meantime, if you haven't already, scroll down and learn more about Living Water, and about how these wells are built.

ALSO: We have just received a report from a well that we sponsored in India. CLICK HERE to see it!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Living Water Team Update

(See THIS POST for info on Living Water International, and the names of our Guatemala team members.)

(See THIS POST for the last update before this one.)

As of yesterday, the final well has been dug to 130 feet. Casing has been installed around the pipe. A screen and a gravel pack, which act as filters, have been installed on the bottom of the well.

(To learn more about how these wells are built, GO HERE and download the handout, "How Wells Work." There's lots of other cool info on this site as well.)

It's extremely hot in the village where our team is working. Some of the team members have fallen ill, but they are "holding in." Please pray for them.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Sunday Recap: "Reconciliation"

Reconciliation is at the heart of the Christian message.

You probably know about Apartheid (literally, "apart-ness") which was an official policy of strict racial segregation in the country of South Africa. Black South Africans were oppressed by a small white minority: they were herded into poor, crowed townships; they were not allowed to vote; they were forced to carry identity papers everywhere they went.

Apartheid ended in 1994 when the first democratic, multi-racial elections were held. Nelson Mandela became the first black president of South Africa. Later he would establish the "Truth and Reconciliation Commission" to try and heal the country's divisions. Archbishop Desmond Tutu was the head of that commission. He writes,
 [Mandela] was imprisoned for 27 years; most expected that when he emerged, he would be riddled with a lust for retribution. But the world has been amazed; instead of spewing calls for revenge, he urged his own people to work for reconciliation -- and invited his former jailer to attend his presidential inauguration as a VIP guest.
Last summer I was in South Africa and I saw the results of reconciliation. I attended an opera on the life of Nelson Mandela. I sat there in the Durban Playhouse with black South Africans and white South Africans all celebrating the life of this once controversial leader. I talked to people who voted in that historic 1994 election. I talked to an old Afrikaner who used to be in the South African army. (Afrikaners were the ones who instigated Apartheid.) This fellow told me that in 1994 he made speeches at white churches and garden clubs easing their fears about the upcoming election. Then, as a member of the army, he helped guard the polls. He told me he was proud to have been part of that time in history.

Reconciliation is at the heart of the Christian message. Sunday we looked at 2 CORINTHIANS 5:16-21, where Paul says that "God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people's sins against them." He explains that God has entrusted this message of reconciliation to us. He's called us to be "ministers of reconciliation."

And he describes what it took for us to be reconciled to God: "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."  That's the heart of the Christian message. Reconciliation. Costly reconciliation that came at the price of God's own son dying on the cross to make us right with God.

The Bible makes very, very clear that being reconciled with God means being reconciled with each other:
Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive each other (Colossians 3:13). 
But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins (Matthew 6:15).
Reconciliation is at the heart of the Christian message. But if it's not in your and my hearts, then I have to wonder if we've really understood the message. 

How could you be a minister of reconciliation in a situation you know about? Do you need to go to someone you're on the outs with and say, "Let's talk"?  Do you need to get two friends together and say, "I'd like to help y'all work this out"? Do you need to sit down with your extended family and say, "I'm ready for the feuding to stop"? Do you need to stop putting down another group group of people, stop telling certain jokes, or maybe take some time to get to know someone who's different from you? 

Reconciliation is at the heart of the Christian message. How could you be a minister of reconciliation this week?

Living Water Team Update

We now have a LIVING WATER TEAM on the ground in Guatemala. Currently they cannot post on their blog because they don't have internet; so I'm going to give you some updates here. (They've communicated with me by text message.) 

The team had a hard time getting to Guatemala. They were scheduled to leave on FRIDAY THE 13th but storms kept them grounded. Part of the team even drove an hour and a half to Greenville hoping to catch a flight from there. They arrived at the airport, got through security, and made it to the gate just in time to board--and then the flight was cancelled because of mechanical failure. 

The original plan was for the team to join up in Houston and fly to Guatemala City in time to visit the market and then get a good night's sleep on Saturday night. Then they would spend Sunday morning in Guatemala City attending church and getting oriented before driving six hours to Antigua. Then they would get a good night's sleep and start wake up fresh and ready to start work on Monday morning.

Instead, because of the cancelled flights, most of the team did not arrive in Guatemala until Sunday. Then they drove straight through to Guatemala City and only got a few hours of sleep before beginning work on Monday.

Needless to say, they're pretty tired right now.

But the work is going well. As of yesterday they had drilled a 4-inch wide borehole 145 feet deep. They will enlarge the borehole to 7 inches. The community is very excited and appreciative. The team is tired, but in good spirits.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Friday the 13th

I was just about to head for the office when I realized what day this is. Now I'm afraid to leave the house. Here's why.

The year was 1979. It was May 13. And it was a Friday.

I was driving my friend Joey "Dag" Dagenhart  to school in my vintage 1964 Ford Falcon. Nerdy at the time, but man, I wish I had it now. It would need some work, but it would be a collector's item.

Anyway, my Falcon had a 3-speed manual transmission that we called "three on the tree" (as opposed to "four on the floor," which newer cars had) because the gear shift was on the yoke of the steering wheel.  I pulled into the school parking lot, found a place, switched off the ignition, and put the transmission in reverse. I always parked in reverse because that was the strongest gear, and it was most likely to hold the car in place. The parking brake didn't work, so I didn't even fool with it.

I saw somebody I knew and I hopped out to say hello. What I didn't realize is that even though I had switched the car off, the engine was still shutting down. Still sputtering. And as I was walking away, the car re-started itself.

I turned around just in time to see the car lurching backwards. I will never forget the look on Dag's face. As he reached for the steering wheel to try to gain control of the car, his eyes looked right into mine as if to say, "Help!" But there was nothing I could do. In that crowded high school parking lot, my beautiful Ford Falcon plowed into another kid's vintage Buick. (You could tell we were all driving our parents' old cars in those days. Any kid with a new car would have gotten beat up at my school.)

I had the unhappy duty of tracking down the Buick's owner and then getting him out of homeroom to tell him that my car had just crashed into his. By itself. With me not in the driver's seat.

I found the kid and we walked out to the parking lot to survey the damage. I remember how big he was. And how tough. He had a beard. A 16-year-old with a beard was quite scary in those days.

We called the police and filed a damage report, just like we were taught in Drivers' Ed only a few months earlier. In the end, it all turned out OK. But when I finally got to class and saw the date on the blackboard, I realized: "It's FRIDAY THE 13TH!"

I've been afraid of that date ever since.

Now, you may think I'm silly, but did you know that this superstition has a Christian origin? It's based on the fact that Jesus died on a Friday, and there were 13 people at the Last Supper before he died.

OK, that's still silly. I mean, one could just as well say that God blesses Friday as the day of our forgiveness. And that 13 is a good number because the Last Supper was when Jesus gave us the sacrament of Holy Communion.

Silly, I know. But it's almost 10:00 and I still haven't left the house yet.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Punny Mechanic

When I dropped my car off at the shop yesterday, I saw something I'd never seen before. One of the mechanics had actually climbed into the the engine compartment of the truck he was working on.

I remarked on that to shop owner Mark Bishop and he said, "Yeah, he really gets into his work."

I love it! A great pun like that can brighten my whole day.

Then to make the day even better: Mark gave me a ride home while my car was being fixed, and as he dropped me off he said, "I'll call you shortly. Well, actually I won't call you "Shortly," I'll call you Claude. And I'll let you know when your car is ready!"

Great stuff. Reminds me of the time I tried working as a lumberjack. I couldn't hack it, so they gave me the ax.

Or the time I tried pottery. I gave it up when I realized it was just kiln time.

Come on--you're groaning, but you know you love it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Clean Water for Guatemala

This week Covenant sends a well-drilling team to Guatemala. See below for a link to their blog.

It started almost on a lark.

I was looking for a sermon series for Advent. Almost by accident, I stumbled across something called THE ADVENT CONSPIRACY It was started by three young pastors and their churches who wanted to cut back the commercialism of Christmas and re-discover the real power of the holiday. Their slogan was "Christmas can still change the world." Their  watchwords were "Worship Fully; Spend Less; Give More; Love All."

I liked it. I decided to do the series, and to use the accompanying DVD study in Common Ground on Sunday mornings. The series and the study called for people to give one less gift and give the money saved to a special offering to meet the needs of others.  The Advent Conspiracy guys pointed to the importance of clean water as one of the biggest needs in poor countries. It's the first step to economic development. It also prevents thousands of deaths from water-born illness (especially among children).

After consulting with our Faith in Action Team (missions committee), I decided to follow the AC's suggestion. On Christmas Eve 2009 we received our first offering for LIVING WATER INTERNATIONAL I was praying for enough to build one complete well: $5000. Instead the people of Covenant gave $8000--enough to build a well and rehab another one.

The next year we decided to do it again. I was still hoping and praying for enough to build one complete well. Instead, the people of Covenant gave enough to build 7 wells: $35,000!

Also that year Carleton and Lisa Metcalf of Covenant decided on their own to be part of an LWI well-drilling team. Our involvement with and commitment to this mission was growing.

The next year--Christmas 2011--the people of Covenant gave almost $39,000. That's just under $82,000 in three years. All of this over and above people's regular tithes and offerings.

Please pray for our team members leaving this Saturday to drill a well and teach hygiene practices in Guatemala:

  • Kim Lachler 
  • Matt Maddox
  • Carleton Metcalf
  • Will Metcalf
  • Gary Mills
  • Carol Mills
  • Jim Sullivan
And follow their blog here:  

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The "God Particle"

Last week physicists confirmed the existence of the Higgs boson, known popularly as the "God Particle."  I'm no physicist, but I am a theologian (a person who studies God), so when I heard this announced on my cable news channel, I took notice. I took to the internet to try to understand what all this was about.

The so-called "God Particle" was theorized way back in the 60s by a British physicist named Peter Higgs. Its actual name is the Higgs boson. Now as best as I can figure this out--don't quote me here--the idea is that sub-atomic particles don't have any mass in and of themselves. Without mass, they'd never come together and form atoms, and without atoms, you'd never have molecules, and without molecules, you'd never have ... anything. So something's got to give the particles mass. That's where the "Higgs field" comes in. The Higgs field is like molasses. When the other sub-atomic particles pass through it, it slows them down and they start to develop mass. Then they can start to form atoms, etc. etc.

Also, as I understand it, gravity and a whole bunch of other laws of nature are dependent on the presence of this particle known as the Higgs boson.

So that's why it's called the "God Particle." So much else depends on it. It's one of the secrets of how the universe came to be.

Peter Higgs
It's important to notice that actual scientists don't like the term "the God particle." In fact, Peter Higgs himself, who first theorized the thing, has said that the term is overreaching and "may offend some people." Other scientists are quick to point out that while this discovery is a huge step forward, it's still just one piece of a puzzle, not the entire thing. "The God Particle" is the name of a popular-level book that the media grabbed hold of because it sounds provocative. Even the author of that book is not so crazy about the term! 

So when you see headlines throwing that term around, keep it in perspective.

An Oxford professor said on the BBC that this discovery is "another nail in the coffin of religion" -- i.e., it's one more reason not to believe in God. Well, maybe. If you're disinclined to believe in God anyway, this discovery can add one more argument to your arsenal. But for me, the discoveries of science don't disprove or discount God; rather, they demonstrate God's awesomeness. And for many scientifically-minded people, new discoveries point towards (rather than away from) an intelligent being guiding the amazing and highly unlikely processes that resulted in the universe and life as we know it. 

One more thought about the discovery/observation/confirmation of the Higgs boson. (I am now using its proper name.) It was discovered/observed/confirmed (I'm not sure which of those terms is the right one) in a humongous, miles-long underground tunnel between the borders of France and Switzerland called the Large Hadran Collider. Almost 3000 scientists have worked on this for I-don't-know-how-many-years. The project has cost billions and billions of dollars. 

Wouldn't that time and money been better spent on something that alleviates the suffering of actual human beings? All those brilliant minds. Maybe if they had put their heads together they could have figured out how to cure cancer. That's a here-and-now problem, not a theoretical question about how the universe came to be. And all that money. Experts say it would only take around $13 billion a year to solve the world hunger problem. 25,000 people die every day because of hunger and hunger-related conditions. Why won't somebody invest 3000 scientists and billions of dollars into figuring out how to make that stop?

Monday, July 9, 2012

Sunday Recap: "Comfort"

Life is hard, and we've all got problems. In the midst of our troubles, we all need to find comfort. And all of us know somebody else who needs comfort, so we need to know how to give comfort.

Yesterday at Covenant we looked at 2 Corinthians 1:3-11 and we discovered 3 truths about comfort and 3 things to do if you want to find comfort.

3 Truths: 

  1. (Verse 3) God is the source of all comfort. Not drugs, not alcohol, not food, not sex, not excessive amounts of TV--nor any of the other things we often turn to. 
  2. (Verse 4) God comforts us so that we can comfort others. Every blessing we receive from God is meant to be shared. The more you share, the more you receive. If you're in need of comfort, it may be that the best thing you can do is go out and comfort somebody else. 
  3. (Verses 5-6) God comforts us in our troubles ... but doesn't always remove them.  Paul was about as spiritual as any person who ever lived, and yet he suffered more than most. He promises God's comfort in hard times, but not that God will always spare us from hard times. 
Now, something interesting about the word comfort. The Greek word Paul is using is paraklesis, from the verb parakaleo. The Greek noun for someone who comforts another is paraklete.  (OK, that's not quite the name of the bird pictured above, but it will help you remember it, so let's go with it.)

Paraklete is from the Greek para, meaning along side of, and klete, meaning someone who is called. So to comfort someone is simply to come alongside of them. That's it. You don't have to be a professional. You don't have to have all the answers. You just have to be there. Be present. Enter into their pain. Don't give advice--people in pain often find that off-putting. Just listen.

There's more. This word paraklete is the word Jesus uses to describe the Holy Spirit in John 14-16. Through the Holy Spirit God comes alongside you and gives you the comfort you need to face life's difficulties.

Back to 2 Corinthians. Here are the 3 Things To Do if you want to find comfort: 
  1. (Verses 8-9) Rely on God--not yourself. To rely on God is to put self-sufficiency to death so that God can raise the real you from the dead. It's to say, at the deepest part of your being, "God, I'd be lost without you. I can't do this alone." 
  2. (Verse 10) Remember what God has done ... Look forward to what God will do. Exercise both memory and hope. Call to mind something God has done in your past--maybe an answered prayer or a met need. Then let that spur you to look forward believing that "God did it before, and He can do it again." 
  3. (Verse 11) Ask people to pray for you. Paul the Apostle asked for prayer all the time. There is power and comfort in having "many people" pray for you.
At Covenant you can ask people to pray for you almost instantly by e-mailing Don Davidson at uncbbfan@bellsouth.net--and Don will start our e-mail prayer chain.

Friday, July 6, 2012

2 Corinthians Background

If you're reading along with the Corinthians Challenge, then you're starting on 2 Corinthians today.

2 Corinthians is Paul's most personal letter. He bares his soul and describes his gut-wrenching pain over his strained relationship with the church he founded at Corinth.

You'll get even more out of this book if you know a little more about what's behind it. Here are two sites that provide some interesting background for 2 Corinthians:



On Sunday at Covenant, I'll be teaching on 2 Corinthians 1:3-11, where Paul talks about "Comfort." Just for fun, here's the video clip we'll be using to introduce the topic. I don't mind letting you see it now, 'cause it's funny enough to watch more than once. (But see my post from earlier today for an important "disclaimer").


Hope to see you Sunday!

One Last Thought on Andy's Passing

Whatever happened to TV shows that were funny without being dirty?

"The Andy Griffith Show" was hilarious. Great writing. Great comic delivery. A talented ensemble cast with great chemistry.

And no sex, no innuendo, no characters "hooking up," no bathroom humor, no dirty jokes ...

Why can't we have a show like that today?

You may say, "Well there are shows like that on Disney Channel and Nickolodeon." And as a father who used to watch some of those shows with my kids, I will say that there was some pretty good stuff that was fairly innocent. But it wasn't as good as "The Andy Griffith Show." And it wasn't as innocent either. No sex, maybe, but plenty of bathroom humor, and the fashions reflected the over-sensualized sensibilities of our society. (And I think about how all those child stars like Hillary Duff, Zac Efron,  and Miley Cyrus made provocative music videos and movies and photo shoots as soon as they were old enough.)

I really enjoy some of the comedies on TV right now. One is "The Office," although it's not nearly as good since Steve Carrell left. (People have said I remind them of Michael Scott. I see their point.) Back in its heyday, we used to have a group of high school students at our house every Thursday night watching the latest episode. What a blast.

A very funny show. But so much immorality.

Same with "The Big Bang Theory." It's hilarious. In fact, we're using a clip from a "Big Bang" episode in church this Sunday to introduce my message on "Comfort." (Of course, there will be a disclaimer in the bulletin--"used for illustrative purposes only, does not imply endorsement.")

I love this show. (People have said I remind them of Sheldon. I see their point, too.) It has great writing, great comic delivery, a talented ensemble cast ... and way too much sex.

Why can't we have a show like "The Andy Griffith Show" today? Two reasons: 1- Our society would never accept it. It would be branded banal, boring, and naive; and 2- (The bigger reason) Today's writers are not creative, witty, or intelligent enough to write comedy without using bathroom humor and sex as punchlines.

Good thing we have DVDs.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Things You Might Not Have Known About Andy

Andy Griffith attended my Alma Mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Maybe you knew that, but I bet you didn't know that he went there with intentions of becoming an ordained minister! (I knew I liked this guy!)

I bet you didn't know that he was a Moravian. The Moravian church has a lot of congregations in central North Carolina. They founded Old Salem and they make some really good cookies. They also had a HUGE influence on John Wesley, the founder of Methodism.

I wonder if it's that Moravian heritage that made Andy such a good trombone player. (They're into brass bands, you know.) You see, once he got to UNC-CH he acted in a few plays, caught the bug, and decided to answer a different call. Apparently UNC didn't have a drama department in those days, so he majored in music, playing trombone and E-flat tuba. I was a trombone player in high school. I have a lot of respect for people who play the trombone well, because I was terrible.

You've probably heard Andy's famous monologue, "What it Was Was Football." (If you haven't, or if you just want to  re-live it, there's a link below.) Here's something I bet you didn't know. When I went on my "Walk to Emmaus" spiritual retreat, I became acquainted with a fellow named MARCUS HAMILTON. Marcus is a very talented illustrator, and right about that time, he had just signed a contract to draw the weekday "Dennis the Menace" comics. Now, Marcus can do "What it Was ..." exactly like Andy. He nails it. And it's hilarious! In fact, I had him come do it at a stewardship campaign banquet at my church.

Here's why this matters, though: I heard Marcus speak at a Rotary lunch in Lexington, NC. He shared that it was this monologue that gave him the confidence to do what he now does. You see, when he was in school, Marcus was painfully shy and without self-confidence. But he was good at memorizing things, and one day one of his teachers allowed him to perform "What it Was Was Football" to fulfill a class assignment. Marcus says that the response he received from his classmates was life-changing, and helped him realize that he really could accomplish things in life.

Another thing you didn't know: a colleague of mine,  REV. NEAL BROWER is a recognized expert on the Andy Griffith Show. Neal has written a BOOK entitled Mayberry 101. He's a featured speaker at "Mayberry Days" celebrations in Mount Airy, NC, and he's taught a popular course on the show in eight different community colleges. He's also organized two successful Mayberry reunions that attracted  10 of the show's former stars.

Neal and I have a personal connection (besides the fact that we're both United Methodist pastors in the Western NC Conference). In recent years, Neal has served as pastor of St. John's UMC in Greensboro. My dad was pastor there a long time ago, during a lot of my growing up years. A while back, Neal invited me to guest preach at St. John's. During that service he told the congregation about when he moved into the church's parsonage (for you non-UM's, that's a church-owned house that the pastor lives in. I'm really glad Covenant Community doesn't have one).  He opened one of the kitchen drawers--and there was a great big dated signature written in bright red (permanent) marker by a very young Claude Kayler. (I wanted future generations to know I had lived there. It worked!) Of course, Neal's children immediately wanted to do the same thing, and he told them no. They should have done it on the sly, like I did.

Maybe you didn't know that the famous whistling theme song that played while Andy and Opie went fishing (what a great image, huh?) also had LYRICS.  I first heard them on a CD I bought during a pilgrimage to Mount Airy.

Finally, something you might not have known about Andy was that he won a grammy for his recording of 25 Christian hymns entitled "I Love to Tell the Story." And that he was inducted into the Christian Music Hall of Fame. And that his wife told reporters on Tuesday that he was a strong Christian who was ready to face death.

I look forward to meeting him, and thanking him for the hours of joy he brought into my life.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Goodbye, Sheriff Taylor!

I literally grew up with Andy Griffith. For most of my growing up years he was on network TV one night a week, and on local TV at least once a day. Everybody watched Andy Griffith. Everybody loved Sheriff Andy--and Barney, Goober, Floyd the Barber, Opie--the whole gang.

Everybody has their favorite episodes: like the one where Andy and Barney got rid of Aunt Bea's horrible pickles ("kerosine cucumbers"), and in doing so prompted her to make more. Or the one where Opie only gives a few pennies to a school charity because he's saving up to buy a gift for his girlfriend. Andy is embarrassed by Opie's "selfishness," but finds out later that Opie is saving up to buy his girlfriend a coat because her family is too poor to buy her one.

It would be hard for me to pick a favorite, but "The Christmas Story" would rank right up there. It's the one where grumpy old Ben Weaver, the richest man in Mayberry, has a guilty but harmless local man thrown in jail. Andy has to abide by the law, but he brings in Opie and Aunt Bea, and his current girlfriend Ellie, and the man's family, and they celebrate Christmas right there in the jail.

(What a great picture of God's grace!! His holiness demands that justice be done--but in his love he comes to us where we are, in the person of Jesus, to take on our punishment so we can still celebrate!)

Meanwhile, Ben Weaver sees the party going on in the jail and decides he wants in. So he tries over and over to get himself arrested. At first Andy won't arrest him, 'cause he's such a nice guy--but finally he figures out what Ben's doing and hauls him in. When Ben comes in, he's bearing gifts for everyone. The last time I watched this episode I cried like a baby.

Of course, Andy Griffith played a host of other roles, most notably Ben Matlock, the smart southern lawyer who always wore the same seersucker suit--which I saw, by the way, in a museum in Mount Airy. (I remember thinking, "Wow, he's shorter than I thought.")

But Sheriff Taylor of Mayberry is the character we love the most.

One of the things I've heard him say about this character--and I absolutely love this--is that in the beginning the show was designed to center on him.  The show was going to look a lot like Andy Griffith's stand-up comedy routines, which featured a lot of story-telling in a thick southern accent. If you watch the real early episodes, you can see this approach--and you'll notice that Andy's accent is a lot thicker. But it wasn't long before they realized that the real humor of the show was in the chemistry between Andy and Barney. It says something good about Andy Griffith that he was flexible (and humble) enough to make that switch.

Goodbye, Sheriff Taylor.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Sunday Recap: "Dinner For Radicals"

After 236 years, we forget how radical these words are:
We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal ...
In 1776 a good number of people didn't believe that. They believed in the divine right of kings: that some were created to rule, and others were created to be ruled. That some were created to be rich, and others were created to be poor. Class distinctions were fixed and rigid. 

And then along came the radical Americans who said, "No, we reject all that. All men [and women] are created equal." 

After 236 years, we forget how radical those words are. And after 2000 years, we forget how radical these words are:
On the night before he gave himself for us, Jesus took bread, gave thanks, and offered it to his disciples, saying, "This is my body, broken for you. Eat this and remember me." And after supper, he took the cup; gave thanks, and offered it to his disciples saying, "This is my blood, poured out for the forgiveness of sins. Drink this and remember me."
 If you look at those words in the context of Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, you see that they are some of the most radical words ever written. And you see that the meal we call Holy Communion is Dinner for Radicals.

In 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, Paul is upbraiding the Corinthians for the way they celebrated the Lord's Supper. In those days the Lord's Supper (what we now call Holy Communion) was an actual meal. The rich members of the church would come early and eat their fill. The poor would show up later and get the scraps. This was how Greek society operated in those days--everybody expected it. But Paul's not happy with it. He tells the Corinthians they're despising the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing. He insists that they go against the customs of their class-structured society and treat each other as equals. 

His rationale? The very meal they were celebrating. The body and blood of Christ. Jesus died for all. He not only died to make us right with God; he also died to make us one with each other. The table of Holy Communion is the table of equality. 

Paul goes on to warn them against taking communion "in an unworthy manner." He tells them to examine themselves, "for those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves" (1 Cor. 11:29).  For years I was taught that this verse had to do with how you approach the elements of communion, with whether or not you believe in the real presence of Christ in the bread and the wine. But look at what it says. It doesn't say discern (or recognize) the body and blood of Christ. It says recognize the body of Christ--the church! And in the context of this section of 1 Corinthians, it's talking specifically about the rich sharing with the poor. 

So here's what that means to you. If you're not interested in equality--if you think you're better than somebody else because of your race or your gender or your wealth or your social status--if you really don't want to share with the poor--then you better not take Holy Communion. Because you're just eating and drinking judgment on yourself.

That may sound harsh, but the fact is that the Bible reserves some of its harshest words for people who don't care about the poor and suffering. Look at Matthew 25, the story of the sheep and the goats on judgment day. Jesus sends the ones who didn't care about the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the sick and in prison into eternal punishment.

Communion is the table of equality, and if you're not interested in that, you'd do well to stay away. But the good news is that you can repent! You can turn things around! You can ask forgiveness and God will wash you clean! You can even put your new attitude into practice by giving to our benevolence fund. That's why a lot of churches receive benevolence offerings on communion Sunday--because communion is a time to remember the poor!

Jesus died to make us right with God. He also died to make us one with each other. In a society that's increasingly divided, that's a radical idea. Communion is Dinner for Radicals.