Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Soup for Dinner

I have a friend (Ben Pierce) who is known for making ministry observations that reveal his Mississippi origins.  My favorite is related to programming.  Sometimes in the midst of a meeting Ben would sit back and say something along the lines of:

Sometimes we need to prepare a 5-course meal, sometimes we need to make a casserole and sometimes we just need to open a can of soup.

In case you don’t speak Mississippi – Ben was trying to remind us that some programming requires lots of effort and sometimes we need to keep things very simple and uncomplicated.  And he’s right.

But there’s a temptation I’ve discovered.  On those occasions that we determine that a can of soup is appropriate; sometimes we relax and serve lousy soup.  And sometimes we give the impression that we don’t even want to have to go to the trouble of opening the can.

Even when programming calls for us to simplify – and not every program requires a 5-course dinner or a casserole – we are still called to excellence.  We still want to serve the very best soup we can and present it as well as we can.

So here are three commitments I am making:

I won’t attempt to prepare a 5-course meal for every ministry activity.  I will evaluate resources and strategy to determine when it’s okay to serve a casserole or open a can of soup.

When it’s not necessary or maybe even appropriate to serve a 5-course meal I will still strive to serve l the best soup I am able to prepare.

When it’s “soup for dinner” I will serve the soup proudly, joyfully and unapologetically – recognizing that “soup” is often an important part of our overall strategy.

And now I am thinking of nothing but “I wonder if there is soup in our pantry and what’s for dinner….”

PS – just because I wonder if anyone reads this blog – comment below with your answer to Bowling for Soup’s opinion of Mexican food north of Texas.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A Fool With A Fancy Guitar

One of my very favorite “preacher stories” is from, John, who for a number of years was an Associate Pastor at a church in Seattle.  One Sunday John had the opportunity to preach and he says that as he left the pulpit he knew he had hit a homerun.  People cried when they were supposed to cry and laughed when he wanted them to laugh.  The congregation hung on every word and John remembers feeling as if he had just delivered the greatest sermon since Jesus went up on a mountainside to teach.

The next morning John was in his office, still basking in the glory of Sunday, when the church’s Senior Pastor appeared in the doorway.  He came in, closing the door behind him, sat down and simply began, “John, you know I love you right?”

Most of us know where that sort of opening usually leads – and it did – as he continued, “Why don’t you quit trying to be so clever and just tell people the truth.”

I think about that story constantly as I prepare messages and work with a team to plan services.  There is such a temptation to be clever – to take people to places where they cry when we want them to cry and laugh when we want them to laugh.  At times we even convince ourselves that’s what people want from us – and sometimes it is.  I’ve actually had people be honest enough to tell me that they expect to be entertained when they come for worship.  So we spend hours and hours figuring out new ways to capture their attention and entertain them.  But often I wonder if we (to borrow the title from Neil Postman) are simply amusing ourselves to death.

In a world filled with pretend – I could now ramble on and on about Teo’s pretend girlfriend, a story that fascinates me – people are longing for authenticity.  In a world full of lies – I could now ramble on and on about Lance’s lies, a story that disgusts me – people are longing for the truth.  Perhaps the most attractive (and therefore attractional) thing a church can do today is to quit trying to be so clever and just tell people the truth.

The words to Andrew Peterson’s song Fool With A Fancy Guitar somehow capture this idea for me and have become, at least for me, a reminder to quit trying so hard to be clever and just tell people the truth about who we are and the love that saves us.

It's so easy to cash in these chips on my shoulders
So easy to loose this old tongue like a tiger
It's easy to let all this bitterness smolder
Just to hide it away like a cigarette lighter

It's easy to curse and to hurt and to hinder
It's easy to not have the heart to remember
That I am a priest and a prince in the Kingdom of God

I've got voices that scream in my head like a siren
Fears that I feel in the night when I sleep
Stupid choices I made when I played in the mire
Like a kid in the mud on some dirty blind street

I've got sorrow to spare, I've got loneliness too
I've got blood on these hands that hold on to the truth
That I am a priest and a prince in the Kingdom of God

I swore on the Bible not to tell a lie
But I've lied and lied
And I crossed my heart and I hoped to die
And I've died and died

But if it's true that you gathered my sin in your hand
And you cast it as far as the east is from the west
If it's true that you put on the flesh of a man
And you walked in my shoes through the shadow of death

If it's true that you dwell in the halls of my heart
Then I'm not just a fool with a fancy guitar
No, I am a priest and a prince in the Kingdom of God

I am a priest and a prince in the Kingdom of God

Monday, January 21, 2013

Quotes from Dr. King

In my reading today I’ve been reminded again of the brilliance of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – who we honor today.  If you’ve never read (or haven’t read recently) his letter from a jail right here in Birmingham (that he wrote 50 years ago this spring) you should stop and read it right now – Letter from a Birmingham Jail.

There are enough great quotes from Dr. King to spend all day posting, but here are a few that inspire me.  I hope they might inspire you, too.

 “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.”

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

“A man who won't die for something is not fit to live.”

“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.“

"A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus."

"Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity."

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Better Way

Last Sunday we launched a new message series:  A Better Way.  We began by remembering WHAT we do:  introduce people to Jesus and His way of living; HOW we do what we do:  through worship, compassion ministries and small groups; and WHY we do what we do:  because Jesus offers the only way to live forever and a better way to live today.  Throughout the series these answers to WHAT, HOW and WHY remind us that Mountaintop is:

A community learning and sharing a better way of life.

That better way of living can only be found in Jesus Christ and so in coming weeks we are going to get very practical and consider His way to handle money, sex, worry, prayer and this week, conflict.  To get ready we have a homework assignment this week.  Each of us is to read chapters 5, 6 and 7 of Matthew’s gospel (and pay special attention to verse 5: 21 – 26).  This message from the mountainside turned the world upside down and will be the foundation for us here on the Mountaintop as we learn and share a better way. 

PS:  Remember part of HOW we do WHAT we do is through Small Groups.  You can register for a Winter/Spring Small Group online at:  Small Groups 2013. 

Another part of HOW we do WHAT we do is through our Compassion Ministries.  Don’t miss the Off the Mountain Celebration Dinner and Auction, January 27th.   This is an evening to celebrate the ways God was at work through the Compassion Ministries of Mountaintop in 2012, and to look forward to the future in 2013.  In 2013, you can help provide bicycles for Tanzanian pastors who are without transportation, send Filipino students to college, assist those who are homeless to get back on their feet, support foster families, partner in the community restoration of Fairfield and so much more.

This is going to be a ‘can’t miss’ evening that will make a difference right here in Birmingham and to the ends of the earth.

Tickets are $20 for an individual and $120 for a table for 8. Free childcare is provided for everyone. Register online at:  Off the Mountain Celebration Dinner and Auction. 

Here’s a sample of some of the awesome items collected for the auction:

Alabama National Championship Football signed by Nick Saban and the team; Framed Bo Jackson jersey with a Daniel Moore painting; Signed Cam Newton jersey; One week Destin Beach Vacation; Weekend Lake Vacation; Personal Training Session; Photography Session with Jennifer Neely; Restaurant Gift Cards; Landscaping; Eye Exam; Massages; and Jewelry.