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.

Friday, September 7, 2012


This Sunday I'm starting a new series called, WEIRD (Because Normal isn't Working). It's based on a book of the same name by Pastor CRAIG GROESCHEL 

This is not Tom Cruise.
 It's Pastor Craig Groeschel.
Craig Groeschel is the founder of LIFECHURCH.TV, a very innovative church that has 14 locations in 5 different states!  They do amazing things with the Internet. People all over the world worship with them, study the scriptures with them, and hear Groeschel's sermons with them, online.

Something really cool about LifeChurch: they give away all their stuff! All their small group lessons, their children's materials, their youth materials, their drama scripts, their videos, their sermons--they give it all away free, to any other church who wants to use it.

(Before you ask: my sermons during this series will be MY sermons, not Craig's ... I'll certainly be drawing on his material, but I learned a long time ago that I can't preach another pastor's sermons as if they were my own. It just doesn't work.)

The idea behind this series is that "normal"--i.e., the way most people live and relate and handle their finances--isn't working. So it's time to be abnormal, or, as Groeschel says, "weird."  I don't know this for a fact, but I have a sneaking suspicion that Groeschel got the idea for this from his friend Dave Ramsey:

(And that reminds me: if you have not been through Financial Peace University, a new class is starting THIS SUNDAY at 5. Sign up at church Sunday morning. It's powerful. It's life-changing. Now, more than ever, we need to learn and live by these Biblical principles.)

So, one thing I'm realizing as I prepare for this series is that preaching on "Weird" in Asheville is a bit of a challenge! The concept of this series is that even though we all want to be normal, God calls us to be different (weird). But in Asheville, people want to be weird. You've seen the bumper sticker ...

 ... and you've probably seen the T-shirt:

And then just today, a Covenant member told me about a new bumper sticker he spotted. It says, "Asheville:  Where normal is weird!" 

So in Asheville, weird is normal, normal is weird, and a sermon series that calls for one above the other is bound to get confusing.

Hmmm ... Hopefully I'll figure this out by Sunday.  See you then!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Stories from the Sweet Potato Drop

Last week I was out with a back injury. All week long I was either screaming in pain or spaced out on meds. Which meant I never got around to sharing some really cool stories from our SWEET POTATO DROP.  The following comes from Mary Anne Eldridge: 

Angie Parker

A very poignant story:  Angie Parker was very concerned  a few weeks ago because the Covenant Community garden didn't have produce for the people at Covenant the coming weekend. She woke up thinking how difficult it would be to tell her dear brothers and sisters that we had no food. She prayed to God and asked Him to bring food. The next day someone from a local food co-op called to say that they had 58 boxes of produce that she could have. Then came calls from the Society of Saint Andrew to glean in fields, just like in Bible times--followed by an opportunity for a 40,000 pound drop of sweet potatoes. Everything was arranged for this to happen. Praise God!
Paris Eldridge
A couple days before the drop Angie had a crazy dream that the day had arrived. In her dream, she saw hungry people lining the driveway waiting for the potatoes. Finally, two small pick-ups arrived with the food--a few sweet potatoes, some peppers,and a couple watermelons. Everyone was mad, her dad was yellling at her, chaos, chaos! And she woke up relieved to find that it was only a dream.
When the truck with the sweet potatoes of potatoes arrived on Friday morning, my husband Paris climbed up the truck to take a picture. And what was lying on top of the potatoes but a pepper, one llittle pepper! The potatoes were dropped, but we could not see the pepper anywhere. It was buried underneath. someone said, "It will get crushed!" And someone else said, "Not if it's God's pepper!"  Well, guess what! We found it buried in the pile later, and you guessed it: Not crushed, but whole. God left his calling card for Angie and all of Covenant to see!
Rowyn Lucas

Rowyn Lucas, son of Nettie and Kenny Brown, was at Fun Depot with his mother. She was telling him about the potato drop they would be going to later. She told him that people would be coming to get potatoes for people who were hungry. 4 year old Rowyn said that he wanted to go to Covenant and pray over the potatoes. And he did!
A couple and their daughter came from Knoxville to pick up some potatoes. They were here because the guy's mother is in hospice and dying unexpectedly. We prayed with him .
Tom Baldwin baked sweet potatoes and took them to Asheville for the homeless to eat.
A  sheriff''s deputy came by to see what was going on and we were able to witness to him. He seemed eager to hear and he said to tell everyone the word was out that good things were happening "on the hill."
Guys from the Veterans Shelter came to help box potatoes for the hungry. They were also witnessed to and several of them want to come to church.
Tom Baldwin
When Tom Baldwin was getting boxes for the potatoes, a lady and her child asked him in the parking lot if he knew where they could get food. Of course, Tom told her about the potatoes. When he took her potatoes yesterday, she had baked a dessert and sent it back to the church to say Thank you!
We also had an opportunity to witness to several others.
By 8:15 p.m. on Friday, most of the potatoes had been picked up and only about 2500 pounds remained to be given out. Bill Walker (Society of Saint Andrew rep) had to call a couple people and tell them we would not have enough potatoes for them.  Can you believe that we had 40,000 pounds of potatoes to give away and that was not enough? So many hungry people waiting for food!

Mary Anne Eldridge

This is me, Claude, again: Did you notice in those stories that meeting people's physical needs is opening doors for us to meet their spiritual needs? I truly believe that this is how we're going to reach people for Christ in the 21st Century! 

And did you notice how all these opportunities to feed people just sort of "appeared" all of a sudden? I believe that God is calling us, Covenant Community, into some kind of food ministry, in which we demonstrate God's love and open doors for the Gospel by feeding the hungry. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Farewell, Chuck Greene

It was all so sudden.

As you may know, I'm a member of a men's barbershop harmony chorus. We have our rehearsals on Tuesday nights. A couple weeks ago we were preparing for a performance in Franklin. We were having a great time running through a fun show. Our director, Chuck Greene, was putting us through our paces with his usual energy, humor, and passion.

And then shortly after rehearsal was over, he went home and had a massive heart attack.

Chuck went into a deep coma and never woke up. He died this past Tuesday, exactly two weeks after that rehearsal.

Little did I know that that Tuesday night would be the last time I would ever laugh and sing with Chuck. This is the man who introduced me to barbershop harmony. This is the man who taught me the joy of LOCKING AND RINGING. This is the man who made me sing better than I've ever sung before, because his enthusiasm was so contagious.

Chuck is well known throughout the 30,000-member BARBERSHOP HARMONY SOCIETY (BHS).  Like a lot of volunteer organizations in our country, the BHS is declining. Chuck did an extensive study of the factors causing that decline. He did in-depth research on the changes in American society that affect people's involvement in voluntary associations. And he developed a set of strategies for local BHS chapters to use that would reverse their decline. THE STRATEGIES WORK. Chuck flew all over North America to lead workshops on "Compellingly Attractive Chapter Meetings."

I'll always remember how passionately Chuck directed. Take a minute and 28 seconds and watch how Chuck directed us when we sang at the Southern Conference Basketball Tournament last March:

I can't believe he's gone. And I can't imagine singing barbershop without him.

Farewell, Chuck. You will be missed by many.

(Here's a link to Chuck's OBITUARY in the Asheville Citizen-Times.)

Sunday Recap: "Yoke"

Today we wrapped up the "It's About Time" series with a promise from Jesus. It's for all of us who are overworked, overwhelmed, overbooked, over-committed and over-stressed. "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).

Sounds great, doesn't it? So why don't more of us experience that rest that Jesus offers? 

One reason is because we ignore the very next thing Jesus says: "Take my yoke upon you ..." (Matt. 11:29). 

Interesting. A yoke is a thing that you put around the neck of an animal to make it work. So Jesus is saying, "Come to me, and I will give you rest ... by making you work." That doesn't make sense at first glance. But wearing his yoke is the key to finding the rest that Jesus offers. 
How does taking on a yoke give you rest? Well, there are three advantages to being yoked. First: When you're in a yoke, you're focused. An ox in a yoke has only one thing to do: pull the plow. We, on the other hand, are constantly distracted. So many choices, so many options, so many things we think we have to do. We are pulled about by competing priorities and unrealistic demands. Wouldn't it be great to have some focus in your life? That's one of the advantages to being yoked. 

Another advantage: When you're in a yoke, you're not alone. Notice that oxen work in pairs. They work in community. And when you wear Jesus' yoke, you have the opportunity to connect with brothers and sisters who will help you carry your burdens. 

Advantage number three: When you're in a yoke, you're doing work that fits. A yoke is designed to fit the ox that wears it. It's shaped just right to distribute the weight and make the load bearable. When you take on Jesus' yoke, he will give you work to do--but it will be work that fits--work that's designed for you. Maybe one reason we're so stressed out is because we keep doing work that doesn't fit. We try to wear yokes that weren't designed for us. In effect, we try to be somebody we're not. 

Jesus says, "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me ... and you will find rest for your souls" (Matt. 11:29). In order to experience the rest that Jesus offers, we have to take on his yoke. Submit to his leadership. Let him be in charge. 

Here's an idea. Sit down and make a list of everything you're trying to do in your life right now: all the commitments you've made, all the projects you've got going, all the activities you're involved in -- your whole to-do list. Then look at each item and ask yourself, 

Does Jesus really want me to do this? 

I bet you'll find some things you can take off your list. 

Because Jesus didn't come to give you an unmanageable to-do list. Jesus came to give you rest.