Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A "Stabbing" at Church

Remember the “telephone” game?  One person whispers a phrase into someone’s ear and they in turn whisper it into the next person’s ear and that keeps going on until the phrase is “whispered” around a circle and back to beginning – where it almost always is a completely different version of the original.

It’s a fun kids’ game – but unfortunately we keep playing it as adults – we saw it in action last weekend.

Years ago Mountaintop began a ministry of sending a shuttle bus to a local shelter each Sunday morning to bring to worship anyone who wanted to attend.  Last Sunday we had a minor incident between two of our shelter guests in our parking lot following the second service (ministry can be messy sometimes).  Our security team responded quickly (as did the Vestavia Hills police) and the incident was ended without any serious injuries to anyone.

It was ironic to me that the incident took place on the Sunday that my message was focused on how to manage our anger…. perhaps  our guests missed part of what I said….

Knowing that the “telephone game” is often a church favorite, on Sunday afternoon I sent a quick email to our elders letting them know about the incident.  Yesterday one of them shared with me that he had received a question about the “stabbing at church.”

I imagine it didn’t take very long for this minor incident to become “a stabbing at the church” – that’s the way the “telephone game” works.

On Sunday we wrapped up a series looking at practical advice from the wisdom of Proverbs.  Proverbs covers a vast array of real life topics and includes reminders about the power of our words and lots of advice on how to use (and how not to use) our words:

The tongue has the power of life and death
Proverbs 18:21

The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts.
Proverbs 18: 8

Evil people relish malicious conversation; the ears of liars itch for dirty gossip.
Proverbs 17: 4

A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.
Proverbs  25:11

When words are many, sin is not absent, but the wise hold their tongue.
Proverbs 10:19

Two thoughts following the “stabbing at church:”

·      I am so grateful for our volunteer serving teams.  Hundreds of people volunteer at Mountaintop every Sunday morning.  They rock babies and teach kids.  They run sound and lights and cameras.  They play musical instruments and lead us in worship. They serve coffee and Krispy Kreme doughnuts.  They drive golf carts to make parking easier and they greet guests and answer questions.  And they provide security.  Our security team's excellent response to this incident prevent it from becoming something more serious.  When you see someone serving tell them “thank you” – especially our security team!

·      We have to be careful with our words.  The words we use and the way we describe events makes a difference.  Many of us have a tendency toward exaggeration – it makes a better story – and some of us seem to like stirring up a little drama.  That’s how a minor incident becomes a “stabbing at church.”  We simply need to be careful with our words and commit to never increasing the drama or passing along incomplete or inaccurate information.

One last thought – I probably need to relook at my message one how to manage anger.  If the result was a fight in the parking lot I might have missed something important!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day

I post of version of this blog every Memorial Day as a simple way to stop and remind myself what today is about.

On Memorial Day I often read through copies of a collection of letters written from, to and about my Uncle John who served in the Army in WWII and who died in combat in northeastern France on November 9, 1944.  

I am fortunate to have these copies of a few of the letters that he sent home as well as letters that were written after his death.   I love the familiar references to people I later knew.  John wrote to my Uncle William and Aunt Lucille that “Santa Claus is going to be good to Eula and Mary Jane” (my cousins) and how he looked forward to a good turkey dinner on Thanksgiving or Christmas.  He told my Uncle Dan (who was following him) that “when you get over here you sure appreciate how lucky you are to be living in the good ole’ U.S.”  And he wrote my Aunt Rachel that he was so hungry that she should “Tell Grandma if I was at the table now she’d think I was Tom (my dad who would have been 14 at the time) or Dan or James eating.”  Apparently they each had healthy appetites! 

There’s a beautiful letter from my Uncle James (who at the time was serving in the Navy) to my grandparents expressing his own sense of loss.  Evidently my Uncle John had suffered a serious bout of pneumonia as a child, which somehow created a special connection with his older brother James.  In the letter James writes:  “I hope that as time goes on we can come to the place where we don’t feel so bitter about the enemy which robbed him of his life but now I can’t feel so.  Please forgive me for speaking so but at this time I can’t think otherwise.  I feel that aggressors should be crushed completely so that nothing like this could ever happen again.”

Uncle James also wrote of the inspiration he found in the sacrifice his brother made:  “…knowing that John gave himself without restraint to the cause to which he had pledged himself.  I believe he will be happy to know that he had a little part in making a place for us all to live in the future.   It makes me feel mighty little to realize that I’m giving so little when he gave everything he had.  Yet there is a task for each of us to do and it gives me determination to do the best I can where I am.”

Reading these letters on Memorial Day has become my own tradition and memorial for all those who continue to (in the words of Company D’s CO in a letter to my grandparents) “set an example of personal courage and devotion to duty.”  They are a great reminder that today is much more than just another 3-day weekend.  It is a time to stop to give thanks and honor those who gave everything.

The following letter was sent to my grandparents from a Dr. Webb (I can’t make out his first name) whom I assume was from Great Falls (the small town in South Carolina where my dad grew up) and a family friend and who it seems served in an Army medical unit.

Written on United States Army Stationery

In France
21 December 1944

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Ferguson and Family

I must confess that this letter is as painful to write [as] the last one [as best I can tell Dr. Webb sent a first letter with news of John’s death].  A day has not passed that I have not thought of your boy.  Hank [evidently another friend from Great Falls] only learned of his death recently and was truly a heartbroken boy.  I spent Sunday afternoon with him and we talked for the most part about John, you and friends we have in common.

Hank learned of the nearness of the 8th and went back to try to find John.  A boy who had been with John at the time of his death told him about it.  He tried to get in touch with me then and then several times after but it was only Sunday I was able to catch him.

You note that my letter was dated after John’s death.  It is illegal to write about one injured until the W.D. notification has been received.  However, I pleaded “friend of the family” and knew [you] would want to know.

Capt. Grisgby was in our place when I learned he was in Company D of the 8th.  I went to ask about John and then learned of his death.  It was near a small town Clairfontaine and John’s section was called upon to assist another company in taking a piece of high ground.  They had to cross an open field and as they advanced John was struck in the head and instantly killed.  The boy in front noticed John not with them and went back.  He found him a few yards back already dead.  Capt. Grisgby then went to him even though the field was covered by fire and time precious, to make sure.

The action of our units in this section played a large part in pushing the enemy from the Vosges Mountains.  So you can imagine how early in combat it was since John’s death was Nov. 9th.

No one has a harder task in the war than the infantry soldier and certainly John’s was one of the hardest.  Our job becomes even more difficult as Germany proper is approached.  There is much suffering and misery yet before us and I honestly believe there are some things worse than death.  I can explain much better when I see you.  Censorship forbids some things I would like you to know.

John was buried at Epinal in a cemetery maintained by the War Department.  So many things happened to prevent me going down to take that picture.  You know we go ever forward and it doesn’t take long to pass a place too far to return to.  The cemetery is usually a day’s journey back of the front.  They are all the same, rows and rows of white crosses each with a name printed across it at the end of the grave.  The German crosses have swastikas on them and the Free French have the tricolor of their flag.  In the cemetery live the caretakers and an American flag flies over the place all the time.  The French people put flowers [on] the graves of our men even as they do their own.

You can see in the rush of things how soon we reached the front.  I asked John and Hank to come back so I could take their pictures to send home.  They were coming the following day but orders, supplies and entrainments prevented it.

Lights are never extinguished in our place, as our work never ceases since the mill of war unendingly grinds out the sick and injured.  We do our utmost to give them the very best.  I shall try to remember all the things connected with this business that I wish to tell you.

John was a good fine boy who loved his parents and family.  He kept me posted on the family, where they were and how they were getting along.  And the last time I saw him he told me of his girl and of his intention to marry after the war.  He even told me of his brother being an MP and not wanting you to tell him about it.  We talked of army life and his job.  He told me of his gun and his platoon leader and Captain Grigsby.  He liked them and his job very much.  When I suggested he had [a] tough job, he just smiled and said someone had to do it.

Thank you for your letter and in advance for the cake.  Please forgive them for his death.  The enemy wounded are just about as pitiful as our own.  I met a sweet lady who lost a son in March in the German army.  Then I realized full well for the first time that Germans are grieved for and prayed for.  That lady was so good to me with eggs and cookies etc. that I shed tears when she told me of her son. [It] doesn’t make sense but I do feel sorry for them.  I will be at the memorial service in spirit!  Please pray for me and the other men in service and write me again.

With regards to everyone

Dr. ?  Webb

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Mountaintop Online

One of my core beliefs is that God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things.

Monday afternoon in a meeting with a member of the Mountaintop family I was reminded that God often does that in unexpected ways as she shared with me a story about God working in the ordinary details of our lives and ministries to do something extraordinary.

I found the story such a source of encouragement that I wanted to share it with you (while keeping the names anonymous so please bear with me) and a little background might be helpful. 

Over the years this member (the one meeting with me) and her husband have befriended another, younger, couple at Mountaintop.  Last fall the younger couple married and apparently after the wedding their church attendance became somewhat sporadic (maybe more like not attending at all).  The wife described it this way in an email:

Since we moved into the new house and after the wedding our priorities have been all over the place.  I just feel like since we’ve been in the house something is keeping us from church… whether it’s bad weather (and we decide not to drive in it) or deciding to cut the grass or clean the house real quick before church (and of course we don’t make it on time).

Last Sunday the younger couple found themselves home again on a Sunday morning.  In her email to her friend (the one meeting with me) she says here’s what happened:

We were watching the service online when we saw you and [her husband] on the screen and I thought, “You are such a great prayer warrior!  I need you to pray to help us get our priorities back in line.”  We need to get back in the physical church building!

That prompted an email (sent while the service was still broadcasting online), a prayer request and a renewed commitment to make church a priority.

The story prompted a few thoughts:

·      We have such an amazing team of volunteers operating cameras and calling the shots but ultimately God knew exactly which camera shot was needed to touch the heart of a young couple who need to get their priorities back in line.  I am convinced that is possible because our media volunteers are committed to using the technical gifts God has given them to His glory!

·      The woman who shared the story with me confessed that she actually had thought about attending another church last Sunday to hear a visiting speaker that she really likes.  But God nudged them that they were supposed to be at Mountaintop (maybe in part so He could get them in that camera shot online).  When we are obedient to God’s promptings, He strategically places us where we can be used by Him (even when we don’t realize He is using us)!

·      Our online services are touching lives.  Last fall we made a commitment to live stream both of our Sunday morning services (9:30 and 11:15).  We are still learning a lot about how to do this but it is already making a difference.  Think about this:  Each week we have about 110 online worshippers – the median church in America averages about 85 in weekly worship attendance.  Each week we reach people not only in Birmingham but also in more than a dozen states and in countries around the world.  Almost every week someone from Mountaintop shares with me that they were out of town or home with a sick child etc., but were able to join us online (this week one dad shared with me that his family watched from a Jacks last Sunday). 

So do me a favor.  When you see a member of our media tech team please tell them “Thank You!”  They are helping us take our vision of learning and sharing a better way to live outside our walls.

And consider using social media to invite someone to join us online this Sunday morning at 9:30 or 11:15 as we wrap up our series, A Word to the Wise, and learn how to deal with anger.

Mountaintop Online

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Mountaintop Support for Oklahoma

Many of us in Alabama are painfully aware of the level of destruction that Monday’s tornados brought to Oklahoma.  We are also aware that in the days that follow there is a need for a coordinated relief effort.  As tempting as it might be to load up your vehicle and head to Oklahoma to see how you can help, that is usually not our best response.

Throughout the year Mountaintop partners with ministries, locally and around the world, to insure that our response to needs are appropriate, well coordinated and strategic.  As we look for ways to assist our neighbors in Oklahoma our Compassion Pastor, Mari Beth Poor, has been working with one of our ongoing mission partners, Christian Service Mission.

Below is an email from CSM which offers direction on how you might best respond:

Currently local officials are asking for your help to not respond at this time. Search and Rescue Teams are on location and will be for the next 24 hours as they continue to search for survivors.

Volunteers will be needed. But, please affiliate before responding, and do not self deploy!

Here are ways you can help.

1) Pray for the families. Many have lost loved ones and this will be a difficult time for them.

2) Donate relief supplies. We will be collecting items, current needs are listed at the bottom of this email, and the list will be kept up to date on our Facebook and Website in the coming days.  CSM will be accepting donations Wednesday-Friday 8-5pm and on Saturday from 8-2pm. 

Christian Service Mission
3600 3rd Avenue South
Birmingham, Alabama 35222
(205) 252-9906

3) Do not do a clothing or food drive. The best resources needed now are cash to a known and trusted organization and requested items for relief. 

CSM is seeking the Lords direction in our response. We are looking to do an assessment within the next few days. Our response will depend on financial support and willing hearts. We will be sending supplies to Moore, Oklahoma to a local partner. 

Our fist truckload of supplies will be sent THIS Friday (May 24th) and is scheduled to leave around 7 am.  We plan to send another truck next week as well.

Please prayerfully consider a financial gift of any size that will help us to meet needs and deliver supplies to Moore, Oklahoma.  Any financial donations received will be used to directly support the victims of this tornado.  Please mark any financial contributions "Moore".  You can donate by mailing a donation to 3600 3rd Ave South, Birmingham, AL 35222,  by bringing it by our office, or online at  

We thank you for your faithfulness to the Kingdom and for your support of our mission.

 "And the King shall answer and say unto them,' Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.'"
Matthew 25:40

Current Supply Needs:

   Work and Vinyl gloves
   Duck Tape
   Cooling cloths
   Hats- Baseball caps and large brimmed
   Safety glasses
   Trash bags - large heavy duty 
   Rope - nylon and synthetic
   Paper towels
   Toilet paper
   Basic First Aid Kits- Band aids, rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, etc
   Mosquito repellent
   Lip balm
   Cleaning Wipes
   Plastic Storage Containers
   Shelter Tents - for shade