Thursday, August 29, 2013

OMTL 1, "Living the Dash" -- Recap

Last Sunday was the first message in the "One Month to Live" series. Just in case you missed it, here's a quick recap:

The theme verse for this series is Psalm 90:12:

"Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." 

When you know your days are numbered, you become very wise about how to spend them.

People who know they only have a short time to live gain amazing clarity about what's important to them. Wouldn't it be great if we could get that clarity now? If we could focus on what really matters now?

On most tombstones there are two dates separated by a dash. That dash represents your life. There's not much you can do about the dates of your birth and death. But you do get to choose how you're going to live the dash.

So let me ask you... Are you living the dash, or dashing to live? 

In other words, are you living a life of purpose and meaning, focusing on what matters? Or are you scurrying around trying to live someone else's life, chasing after things that won't last?

In this series we're going to look at 4 Principles for living the dash:

  1. Live Passionately: Don't wait until "someday." Start living now. 
  2. Love Completely: Life is about relationships. The way to live the dash well is to build a life of love. 
  3. Learn Humbly: See the difficulties of life as an opportunity to grow. 
  4. Leave Boldly: Know where you're going and what kind of legacy you're leaving behind. 
To get the most from the series, take the 30-Day Challenge. Click here for details. 

And to see an example of why this challenge matters (which I quoted during the sermon), click here

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Hawai'i: Volcanoes

Hawai'i is the only place where you can get close to an active volcano. These days, Kiluea is not erupting in violent explosions (like Mt. Saint Helens), but lava is flowing. In the picture above, the silver-colored rock was molten lava just a day or two before.

Here you can see a coast that is still being formed by continuing lava flows:

The steam you see is where hot lava is flowing into the ocean through a lava tube beneath the surface.

Here's what's left of a town that got caught in a lava flow back in the 80s:

This is Mauna Kea, the tallest mountain on earth. You say, "But I thought Mt. Everest was the tallest mountain on earth!" Well, Everest contains the highest point above sea level. But Mauna Kea is a volcanic mountain that starts on the ocean floor and rises to a height of over 33,000 feet! Of course, only 14,000 of those feet are above sea level. Still -- a 14,000-foot tall mountain is quite impressive!

Notice the observatories on top of Mauna Kea. Because of its location in the middle of the Pacific, Hawai'i has some of the clearest air on earth. It's a prime location for stargazing and astronomical research.

Mauna Loa is another of Hawai'i's large volcanic mountains. Whereas Mauna Kea is the tallest, Mauna Loa is the largest mountain in the world (again, measured from the bottom of the ocean where the mountain really begins.)

When you first get off the plane in Kona, on the Big Island, the first thing you see is black lava. Everywhere. It looks like really big chunks of torn-up asphalt. At first it's kind of ugly. After awhile, though, it grows on you.

Driving from Kona to Waikoloa and Waimea, you are surrounded by lava fields. Every now and then you'll see a lava cave:

That's David and Lauren exploring a lava cave. They're wearing bathing suits and flip flops. Why? Because this lava cave is literally right by the side of the road! We were on the way back from snorkeling when they asked to stop and check it out. When I took this picture, I was not more than a few feet from the car.

Hawai'i: Flowers

Flowers. In Hawai'i they're everywhere. Beautiful and exotic. 

The flower above is called plumeria. It literally grows on trees. Sort of like Hawaiian rhododendron. Except it blooms all the time.

One of my crazy Hawai'i shirts features plumeria. (You can see it in an earlier post.) 

And speaking of Hawaiian shirts--the most common flower on those shirts is hibiscus:

Check out how big they grow:

Hibiscus and plumeria grow all over the place in Hawai'i. Here are some other flowers whose names I don't know (all photos taken by Lorie): 

 OK, this one's not a flower--but it's a really cook gecko!

Hawai'i: Sunsets

For some reason, sunsets in Hawai'i are particularly beautiful. Maybe it's the landscape. Maybe it's the fresh air and clear water you get when you're 2500 miles away from any other land. 

Life Comes at you Fast

Not too long ago there was a commercial where some parents strapped their child into a car seat--and when they turned around, the child had turned into an adult.

There was another one where a dad was talking to a little girl sitting behind the wheel of a car. He was lecturing her about driving carefully--"don't take the interstate, don't talk on the phone," etc. When he finally handed over the keys, the little girl had turned into a 16-year-old.

For those of us who have children, it's all too true. Life comes at you fast.

Sunday I shared how all the kids starting school last week reminded me of my son's first day of kindergarten. David burst into our bedroom and woke Lorie and me up. He was all dressed up in his new school clothes and his new shoes. He had a brand new (empty) backpack on his back. And he was shouting, "School! School! Today I get to go to school!"

It was six in the morning. And his bus didn't even come 'til nine.

That seems like only yesterday.

This week David went back to school again. Only, this time he went back as an English teacher at Northern High School in Durham, NC.

Life comes at you fast.

And that's one reason we're doing the "One Month to Live" series. To help you and me make the most of every moment while we've got it.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

One Month to Live: The 30-Day Challenge

I've been getting lots of great comments about the first message in the "One Month to Live" series. (If you missed it, you can listen to it here.)

At the heart of this series is the OMTL 30-Day Challenge. The challenge runs for the 30 days of September. Here's what we're inviting you to do, in order of importance:

1 -  Every day for 30 days, ask yourself the "Clarifying Question":

What would I do if I had one month to live? 

Now, if that's all you do during this 30 day period, it will change your life -- provided you ask the question deeply and honestly -- and act on what you discover. 

But if you want to go deeper...

2 - Read the Scripture for each day, and check out this blog. 

In the back of the worship center, there's an OMTL bookmark that has a single Scripture verse for each of the 30 days. Get one of those and stick it in your Bible. First thing in the morning, ask God to speak to you, then read the verse for the day. Think about it. Ask God what he wants you to do with it. Memorize a word or phrase, and repeat it to yourself throughout the day. 

Then check out this blog, where I will post a short reflection on each day's Scripture. 

Now, if you ask the question and read the Scripture, you're sure to grow spiritually. But if you want to go deeper...

3 - Join a Small Group. In a group you'll get to know a group of friends who will help you apply what you're learning to everyday life. You'll become a "doer of the Word, and not just a hearer" (James 1:22).

Go here for info. 

Now, if you ask the question, read the Scripture, and join a small group, you are really jamming.  You're going to grow like never before.  But if you still want to go deeper...

4 - Get the book. If you're a reader, that is. 

Some folks love to read. If that's you, go here or here or here and order One Month to Live by Kerry and Chris Shook. (Or get an e-book version like I did.) 

Go ahead and order it today so you'll have it when the challenge period starts on Sunday. 

One Month to Live has a chapter for each day of the 30-Day challenge. This 240-page book contains Scriptural teaching, real-life stories, opportunities for you to reflect, and exercises for you to carry out. 

Now, hear me: If you're not somebody who likes to read, then don't sweat this. We want you to "Live Passionately," not get bogged down in a book -- if reading is not your thing. 

But if you would enjoy a more extensive look at the principles of  the OMTL challenge from the pastors who originated it, then you might really benefit from this book. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Best Business Trip Ever!

So, how did I get to go to Hawai'i?

It was a business trip. Sort of.

My wife Lorie is a grant writer and strategic planner for public health centers.  And she has a client in Hawai'i!

So, since Lorie was going... we decided it was a good time for the rest of us to go as well. Me, our son David and daughter-in-law Lauren, and our daughter Mary.

Oh, and Lorie's mom, Marty Carlisle (she's not in the picture above, because she took it.)

A few of my favorite pics, all taken by Lorie:

Mauna Kea Beach

A point on the northern end of the Island of Hawai'i

Entrance to Waipio Valley

The back of Waipio Valley.
Notice that one of the twin waterfalls has been stopped up by a community at the top of the valley. 

And here's the whole gang -- including Lorie's mom -- in Waipio Valley:

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Two Churches (where I was pastor) Merge

Two churches I once served.

One, the first church I pastored. The other, the church I started.

Now they are one.

In 1989 I was fresh out of seminary. My first pastoral appointment was to two small Methodist churches on the southwest side of Charlotte. One of those churches, Zoar, was a small country church. It had character. It had charm. And it had potential.

The next year, the leaders of Zoar graciously voted to support me as I started what eventually became Good Shepherd UMC.  I continued as their pastor on a part-time basis, and they continued to pay a portion of my salary.

As that year came to a close, the members of Zoar took a vote on whether to close up shop and join up with Good Shepherd. They voted no, and I was glad. Not that I didn't want them at Good Shepherd -- but I felt that Zoar had a viable future and a particular niche to fill.

And for the next 10 or 15 years, it looked like I was right! I moved on to focus on building Good Shepherd, and Zoar did very, very well under the pastors who followed me.

But apparently the growth did not continue, and Zoar began to decline. And on July 1 of this year, the church I started "adopted" the church where I started.

I had mixed feelings when I learned of this. I was sad to hear that Zoar is not continuing as a separate church. But happy to hear that its days of making a difference are not over.

I was sad that the vote that was taken in 1991 on whether to close up and join Good Shepherd was essentially reversed. But I'm happy to see what's being done with Zoar's people and assets (see the story below). I don't think the merger would have been so positive if we had attempted it when it was first proposed 21 years ago.

I'm sad when any church closes. But I'm happy to see adoptions and partnerships like this one. This is a model for a positive way to deal with the ever-increasing problem of small churches losing viability. It's death leading to resurrection, instead of just death.

To read the story of Good Shepherd's adoption of Zoar, click HERE.

PS -- Notice the phone number in the sign: 704-588-3309. It always kind of freaks me out to see Good Shepherd's main number on a sign, a website, a magnet, a business card, etc. Why? Because when that number was first assigned by the phone company, it rang in my bedroom. And the phone it rang on is still on my nightstand, to this very day.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Most Beautiful Place in the World

One reason My Life in the Cloud was put on hold for awhile is because, for the last two weeks of July, I was in Hawai'i.

It's the most beautiful place in the world.

Where else can you find 14,000-foot mountains sloping down into beautiful bays of crystal clear water?  Where else can you see waves crashing into the air against a shoreline of black lava rock? Where else do you see the kinds of trees, shrubs, and flowers growing all over the place that you see here? Where else can you strap a mask to your face, stick a snorkel in your mouth, swim out just a little ways from the beach, and see a Humuhumunukunukuapua'a?

Ah, the humuhumunukunukuapua'a. (Say who-moo, who-moo, noo-koo, noo-koo, ah-poo-ah-ah.) It's the state fish of Hawai'i. The name means "great fish with a nose like a pig." Truly one of God's most beautiful creatures.

And so, you didn't hear a whole lot from me on this blog last month. 'Cause when you're in the most beautiful place in the world, the last thing you want to do is stare at a computer screen. Or look at your iPhone.

My kids posted pictures on Instagram, kept up with Facebook, and texted back and forth with their friends on the mainland.

But me -- I wanted to spend every moment just experiencing. Every sight. Every sound, every smell, every touch, every taste.

I figured I'd post pictures and blog about it later, after the trip was over. And now, after being back almost three weeks, I'm ready to share. So over the next week or two, as I have time, I'll post some of my favorite pics on this blog. Keep checking back.

(BTW -- my wife photographed the scene at the top of this post. But not the fish. We don't have a camera that good!)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

"The Storm Before the Calm" Review (Part 2)

Something else I love about The Storm Before the Calm: Talbot is a master of the one-point sermon.

Back in the good ol' days when I first entered the ministry, we usually went for three-point sermons: "Claim His Promise, Trust His Provision, Enjoy His Presence."

Then in the 90's, fill-in-the-blank printed outlines were all the rage. These messages covered multiple points, and were usually pretty long.

Today we live in a time of information overload, and preachers have to work harder to get their message heard amidst all the noise. On top of that, too many of us modern-day Christians are high on content and low on obedience. We don't need to hear a sermon with three points that we never put into practice. We don't need to fill out an outline with tons of information that we then forget. What we need is to "be doers of the Word and not hearers only" (James 1:22).

The one-point sermon is designed to drill a single Biblical point into your mind so that you not only remember it but act on it. The one point arises from the text. It's expressed in a catchy, memorable sentence that gets repeated throughout the sermon. The simplicity and creativity of the one point cuts through the noise of information overload. And the fact that it sticks with you throughout the week means you're much more likely to put it into practice.

I try to use this method myself, although I don't always pull it off. Sometimes I just have too much stuff that I want to say. Other times my creative juices aren't flowing enough for me to come up with a catchy statement.

But when I've pulled it off -- WOW. It really works.

Like the time I preached on Philippians 1, where Paul looks at his rotten situation (in prison, people out to get him, etc.) through the lens of the Gospel. He sees the Gospel continuing to go forth, and he rejoices. The one point I drew from that text: "The lens you choose determines your view." 

You wouldn't believe the number of people who came up to me weeks later and told me how that point stuck with them and helped them see daily trials in a different light.

Or the time I preached on 1 Corinthians 1, where Paul talks about the importance of healthy relationships in the church, and I said, "Spiritual maturity is not how much you know, it's how well you love." (Actually, I think I stole that one from Andy Stanley. I'm pretty sure I heard it somewhere before I said it.)

Again -- people quoted that back to me for several weeks. Small group leaders were inspired to take it to their small groups and talk about the quality of their relationships. It stuck. It led to doing and not just hearing.

There was the time we were in a through-the-Bible series and I had to preach on the rebuilding of the temple after the exile in Babylon. How do you connect that to the real-life issues of people today? Well, as I studied the text, I noticed that the people weren't happy with the re-built temple because it didn't look like the old one. But what they didn't know was that God had much, much greater things in store. So the one point was: "The new thing God's doing is better than the old thing you're missing." 

Several people let me know later that the message was very helpful to them in times of transition (job loss or transfer, moving to a new city, kids leaving the nest, etc.)

And then there was this past Sunday, when I felt led to preach a sermon on commitment from Luke 9, where Jesus talks about the cost of following him.  Everybody who saw me before the sermon was aghast because I was wearing a coat and tie (we dress casual at Covenant). During the sermon I explained that we at Covenant need to stop mistaking casual dress for casual commitment. Then the one point: "You don't have to dress up--but you do have to STEP up!" 

I've been hearing comments about that sermon for three days now.

So, back to The Storm Before the Calm -- every one of these messages is a one-point sermon. And the catchy, memorable sentences are amazing. For the reader, that means you'll remember these messages for a long time to come. And for preachers like me, it's a great lesson in how to preach sermons that make a difference in the 21st century.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Book Review: "The Storm Before the Calm"

Yesterday I mentioned my friend Talbot Davis, pastor of Good Shepherd UMC in Charlotte, and his new e-book The Storm Before the Calm.

Today, let me give you an actual review.

The Storm Before the Calm is a creative, insightful, and highly relevant look at some of the best known "storm stories" in Scripture. In the introduction, Talbot says that "Calm can--and should--be our life's experience." He asks, "What if the real purpose of storms is to prepare us ... for the calm that follows?"

Throughout these messages, Talbot speaks to real-life, gut-wrenching storms that people face, such as marriage break-down, prodigal children, addiction, financial issues, health issues... He demonstrates a compassionate understanding of the pain brought on by these storms, and he shows how the Scripture speaks to the issue. He also makes no bones about challenging people to face up to the responsibility they bear to make good choices and face the storms constructively in accordance with Scripture.

Talbot does a great job of starting with real-life needs, then going to a single portion of Scripture and applying it to the situation at hand. Notice I said a single text. So many of us contemporary preachers start with a topic and then cherry pick a bunch of verses from throughout the Bible, sometimes ripping them out of their context to make them back up what we had already planned to say. Talbot doesn't do that. He turns to a single story or portion of Scripture: Jesus' parable of two builders...Paul's shipwreck in Malta...a poetic passage from Isaiah...Jesus calming the storm...Noah's embarrassing moment after the flood. He walks the listener (or reader) through the passage. He gives historical/cultural/theological background in a way that's understandable, interesting, and even fun. And once he's helped you see what the Bible says and what it means, Talbot makes very clear how it applies to your life.

For me, this creative exposition of Scripture is the best feature of The Storm Before the Calm. Talbot brings things out of the text that I've never seen before. When I prepare to preach or teach on these texts in the future, I'll be referring back to this e-book.

If you're "trying to make sense of life's storms" I recommend The Storm Before the Calm.

Check back tomorrow when I'll tell you something else I love about this book...