Monday, August 26, 2013

The Better Encouragement

A long time ago in a land far away a lady heard a not-so-good sermon.  As she and her friend exited the church building, her friend shook the hand of the preacher and said "Good sermon." 

Later that day the lady asked her friend "You thought it was a good sermon?  I did not." 

He nodded in agreement.  "Neither did I." 

The lady's mouth dropped open "Then why did you say that to the preacher?!" 

He thought for a minute.  "I don't know...that's what you say to preachers!"

I think of that story when someone says "good sermon" to me:).  Don't get me wrong:  It's encouraging when folks are kind and generous, but 'good sermon' is akin to the automaton response of 'fine' to 'How was your day?'  Maybe the sermon was good or the day fine, but the response makes it hard to know.

It's not that preachers want praise or a high five or fist bump.  We don't write sermons to make you feel good or happy or mad.  We want our sermons to be faithful to God.  We want to be faithful to the text.  We want to guided by the Holy Spirit.  We want to give glory to God!  And sometimes, quite frankly, the whole process is like a wrestling match with God (see Jacob:  Old Testament).  We come away having encountered God (thanks be to God), but not without a limp.

Most preachers would rather hear "I'd like to talk with you about the challenge you suggested for our congregation" or "I encountered God this morning.  Can you meet with me this week to talk about it?" or "Thanks for reminding us of God's promises" or "I've been praying about God's call on my life.  God was nudging me during the service.  Can we talk?" or even "I don't know if I agree with x.  Can I call you tomorrow to discuss?"  These responses help us know you are engaged in worship. 

Perhaps the best encouragement I've received is at Scottsville Baptist.  One of church members emails me every Monday morning to give specific encouragement.  I don't think this person knows how much these Monday musings mean to me.  Even if the email is brief, it packs a punch with detail.  Sometimes reflections are shared.  Other Mondays it is specific encouragement to me personally.  Other times he/she tells me about conversations with friends based on what was gleaned from worship.  Sometimes he/she shares about hardships.  It's different every week, but it's always specific.

I am grateful for that encouragement and giving preachers specific personal encouragement is kind, but there's actually a better way:  Nationals tickets!  Cupcakes! 

I KID.  

The better encouragement is sharing how you are growing in Christ.  The better encouragement is seeking God in worship.  The better encouragement is being faithful to God's call.  The better encouragement is seeking ways to engage God's mission and talking to your preacher about it.  The better encouragement is to let your preacher know how to pray for you.  There are others.

You are probably doing these things already (growing, being faithful, engaging God's mission, etc.) so consider challenging yourself to encourage the preacher by sharing with him/her on Sunday.  

Saturday, August 24, 2013

If Trees Could Talk

I woke up this morning craving history and a road trip.  Happily, I live in Virginia where history abounds!  August has been wonderful yet busy, so I took today by the horns and set out on an adventure.  I love an adventure.

I chose to visit Appomattox Court House where the Civil War ended (Newsflash to Katie:  The surrender did not actually occur in the courthouse, but in Appomattox Court House at the McLean House. Apologies to my 4th grade educators whom I'm sure taught me this.) Earlier this month my friend Christy and I vacationed in Charleston and visited Fort Sumter where the Civil War began.  In a matter of weeks I've gone from beginning to end of the Civil War.

The McLean House, where Robert E. Lee surrendered to US Grant (The house was actually dismantled to be displayed in Washington, D.C.; however it was never shown.  Using many of the same bricks the house was reconstructed in Appomattox Court House in the 1940s.)
Fort Sumter.  The boat and land tour were most instructive.  Please visit if you're in SC!
At Appomattox Court House there is ample room to hike the grounds which provides time for reflection.  I thought about the horrors of war...then and now. I thought about slavery...then and now.  I thought about racial tensions...then and now.  I thought about injustice...then and now.  I thought about all the families who've lost a husband or son or dad or brother or wife or daughter or mom or sister...then and now. I thought a lot.

I enjoyed touring the buildings, but what impressed upon me most was the trees.  Some of the trees are hundreds of years old and were there during the war.  I spent a good deal of time examining this tree.  It is just across the way from the McLean House.  If trees could talk, what would it say?

I won't try to tie a bow on the hard days of then and now, but I do have great confidence in the newness of Jesus Christ.  He can make all things new.  He can make all people new.  I believe that.  And ultimately, all will be made well.  The trees that have witnessed the darkness of then and now will rejoice with peace:  "You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands." Isaiah 55:12

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Protestants love Potlucks

The pulpit exchange was a wonderful success!  I'm grateful for all three congregations.

I enjoyed getting to know the Presbyterians and hope I didn't scare them too much.  What a joy to fellowship with sisters and brothers...even when the AC doesn't work!  I was on my best behavior and wearing my robe like a good Presbyterian, but it became mighty hot up in the clouds where the pulpit is:).  I decided to take the robe off--lest I be a hot and sweaty Baptist preacher (just what the Presbyterians ordered!).  I hope no one heard a Baptist disrobed in the Presby pulpit.  SCANDAL!

Thanks to Rev. Gordon Lindsey, pastor of Scottsville Presbyterian, for writing a fantastic article about our pulpit exchange and picnic.  The Scottsville Monthly featured Rev. Lindsey's story on page 3 of their current issue. 

(Please forgive my literal butchering of the article.  Katie is not an Internet all star.)

Sunday, August 11, 2013

That's What Makes You Beautiful.

Yep.  That's a title of a One Direction song.

In case you don't know, One Direction (1D to the truly enlightened) is a boy band that makes tween girls squeal with delight.

Last summer I took students to a mission camp called Passport.  On the last night a Variety Show is held.  Singing, dancing, joke-telling--you name it and a student does it.  The talent level may vary:), but everyone is welcome to participate.  I like it.

So it came as no surprise when one of the students sang "That's What Makes You Beautiful."  Most students sang with a friend or used an accompaniment track or played an instrument; but this fella had none of that.  He had a microphone, a CD of the song and a dream to be on stage.  That's it.

He took the stage and his nervousness was palpable.  Bless his heart. The music started and he was instantly frozen with a deer-in-the-headlights expression.  There he was before hundreds of teenagers--just a sweet, small middle school boy paralyzed with fear.  The CD went on singing without him.

The students were silent.  Little fella was frozen.  Adults like me were fah-reaking out--desperately wanting to help; but no one knew what to do...

but then something happened.

A rather cool looking high school guy slowly approached the stage, raised his hand high in the air and began jumping up and down in the most enthusiastic display of support I've ever seen.  He was alone for awhile, but that didn't phase him a bit.  He was jumping, smiling and encouraging the little 1D wannabe.

The singer was frozen for a moment more and then a huge grin filled his face.  He found the words again and he joined his #1 fan in jumping up and down. They were alone in their glee for about 10 seconds when hundreds of teens flooded the stage in love.  I wish you could have seen it.  It was beautiful.

I have been thinking about the word 'beautiful' lately.  Sometimes I use it synonymously with pretty, but I'm not going to do that anymore.  I want to reserve beautiful for moments like this one.  I want to use 'beautiful' to describe Christ's love in action, or when I can see Jesus' love on the face of another.  Beauty comes from the inside, and can make the outside more radiant--but the genesis of beauty is what's inside.  And let me be evangelical-y and say it this way:  If Jesus is in your heart, your gut, your being, your splankna (my favorite Greek word)--beauty will spill forth.  Beauty will be in your hands and feet and words.  Beauty will be personified by your actions.

THAT's what makes you beautiful.