Monday, April 28, 2008

A Moment of Startling Clarity

When I was a kid we used to watch a television show called Diff'rent Strokes. It was about 2 poor brothers who, upon the death of their mother, were adopted by her employer, a wealthy widowed gentleman who lived with his daughter and housekeeper in a swanky New York apartment. Every once in a while, when taken by surprise, the younger brother, Arnold, would blast forth the phrase, "What'choo talkin' 'bout, Willis?!" It always made me laugh. Even now, there are moments, when people around my age toss that phrase out in conversation. (Okay, so we're not cool, but it still makes me chuckle.) The point of this story is simply to illustrate that sometimes we can be speaking or listening to one thing when, in fact, the point is something entirely different. Such was the case for me last Tuesday evening.

I listened as one of my daughters told about a chance she'd had to "witness" earlier in the day. The conversation piqued my interest, but the longer I listened I realized the the bulk of her story wasn't as much about her sharing the gospel with a lost friend as it was about sharing the exciting things that are happening in our church. As her narrative continued, she eventually reached the point where she explained to her classmate about why she trusted Christ and that this friend should consider the doing same. SCORE! That's where the victory is; in sharing Christ. I was proud of my daughter for her willingness to claim her faith and share it with someone whom she knew was lost. I encouraged her to keep sharing with this friend and to pray for her until she trusts Christ.

Nonetheless, I started thinking about how often I take an opportunity God gives me to share the gospel and use it not to declare the good news, but rather to talk about the ministry, the church or even the work God is doing in our community. Why do I do that?! The real message of the gospel isn't that Blue Valley Baptist Church is an exciting place to be, even though it is. It isn't that our worship ministry is growing steadily and taking great shape... The message of the gospel is that God sent Jesus to live, die and rise again in order to reclaim us from our lostness and to allow us to be reconciled to Him.

As one who loves language, I pride myself in choosing carefully the words and phrases I use to convey my thoughts, both verbally and in writing. This week God is reminding me that I need to put as much thought into the message I will share as I do in choosing the words I'll use to convey it.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Day of Visitation

Most people who know me "off the platform" know that I'm quick to acknowledge my own inabilities and weaknesses. I mean, I genuinely realize how much of my ministry is positively affected by the investments of others... Some of these investments have come through specific individuals; people like my high school choir teacher, who to this day is a close friend and is one of the most influential people in my life. There are many such people I could name, but once I start I don't know where I would stop. Sometimes however, the influences are less obvious. One such instance has come to light for me this week.

In a long turn of un-relatable events, I found myself speaking with the ministry office of Christian recording artist, Tim Sheppard, considering the possibility of bringing him to an event that I'm helping to coordinate in the winter of 2009. If you're not familiar with Tim's ministry, suffice it to say he is a prolific singer and songwriter and that my first introduction to his music was about 25 years ago. At the close of the conversation, his wife, Kelly, said she'd send me his new CD, Day of Visitation. I was excited about getting the disc, but didn't give it much thought until it arrived later in the week. I put the tracks on my iPod and started listening to them as soon as I got home that afternoon. It was so good to hear Tim's songs ringing through my SUV as I drove around town the next day and I very quickly found myself instinctively singing along with these songs I'd never heard before. After a day or so of listening, I was taking the girls to school, and after dropping the first two at their respective campuses, I was on my way to the last school of the morning. I told my daughter in the back seat, "Listen to this..." and I started playing my favorite song of the collection, I Hear the Lord Passing By. She asked who was singing and I found myself strangely moved as I started telling her who Tim was. I explained, "When I was about the age of your older sister, I first saw Tim in concert. He sat at the piano and played and sang... I remember wanting to be like him..." I paused, and during my silence, while I was grappling for words, she said, "So, he inspired you..."

That was it! EXACTLY! He inspired me... I hadn't thought about it like that, but it was a perfect summary of what I was feeling. Inspired. Then I looked at my life and at how I love to lead worship from the piano, and I was more than slightly affected seeing that God had not only used that concert experience from more than two decades ago to give shape to my ministry, but that He had used my 9 year-old daughter to help me connect the dots. I've thought about that conversation many times this week. One man whose influence helped chart my course in ministry never knew it... (Of course, for that matter, I didn't even realize it until my daughter helped me put the pieces together. It makes me wonder who I might be influencing...)

The key verse for the album comes from Job 10:12, "You have granted me life and favor, and Your visitation has preserved my spirit." (KJV)

The album, by the way, is wonderful. It includes 10 original worship songs that are as good as anything Tim has ever written, and the recordings demonstrate that his talents for singing and song writing have only improved over the last twenty years. On the album cover he tells the story of a pivotal day in his life and ministry... I don't want to ruin it for you, but rather, will encourage you to read his story at . From that site you can link over and hear song clips on his MySpace page,
My current favorite, as I mentioned above, is I Hear the Lord Passing By... It might just show up at Blue Valley in the not-too-distant future. Lyrics are below:

I hear the Lord passing by
This could be my day of visitation
Have mercy on me, Lord
Hear my cry of desperation
I hear the Lord passing by
My heart, my flesh
Yearn to be with You
Open my eyes to see Your glory
All the days of my life
I hear the Lord passing by
This could be my day of visitation
Have mercy on me, Lord
Hear my cry of desperation
Have mercy on me, Lord
From the depth of my affliction
I hear the Lord
I hear the Lord
I hear the Lord passing by
Words and Music by Tim Sheppard
© 2006 Tim Sheppard Music

Monday, April 14, 2008

Salt and Light... in BULK!

I was talking with a friend a couple of months ago, and enjoyed the chance to catch up on his life and ministry. To be honest, however, I had an ulterior motive. You see, he serves as Worship Pastor in a church significantly larger than ours and has been there from the time that church was less than half our current size. He grew with the church into the ministry that he leads today, and I hoped to glean from him some thoughts about going through the process of rapid church growth. There was no dishonesty on my part; he knew I wanted to "pick his brain." And while I did gather some great insight about how to cast vision and lead people in service to God, the best moment of the conversation wasn't about administration or leadership at all. It was about being the church. Catch that: BEING the church... His statement was this:

"If your church disappeared tomorrow from the face of the earth, would your community even know it was gone? You see, the barometer of effective ministry isn't how well you lead the people in your church; it's how well you relate to the people outside your church."

That statement has haunted me ever since. I've mentioned it in conversations with individuals and in rehearsals with groups... I've even included it as part of a presentation I'll be making this week at our Ministry Staff Retreat. The barometer of effective ministry has as much to do with being "salt and light" as it does about relating to the people in the pews.

That thought has been the driving force for a project that our Worship Ministry has undertaken:The Shopping Cart Concert Tour. With the goal of simply being Blue Valley Baptist Church in the community of Overland Park, our Adult and Student choirs have been working to coordinate an outreach event on Saturday, May 3, 2008. We've gained permission to spend the day, as a choir, at the Sam's Club located near 135th Street and Antioch Road. Our combined groups will be singing off and on between 10:30 a.m. & 2:00 p.m. and our congregation will be there to greet passersby with a smile, a handshake, and maybe even some cotton candy or popcorn! No confrontation... no aggressive evangelism tactics... we just want people to know that Blue Valley Baptist is here and that it is a place where they can find caring people who want to be the hands and feet of Jesus in Johnson County, Kansas. Our goal isn't lofty... it's simply to get outside the walls of the church and be a part of the day-to-day workings of the community. If you're free, I'd invite you to come be a part of the fun. We're anticipating a great time.

I'll have to confess, this project has lit a fire in me. Although it's not the first time I've led such an effort, it is the first time I've approached it with such an imperative motivation. You can bank on the fact that as long as God allows me to serve Him here at Blue Valley, events which place our church in the community to share the Gospel are the events that will garner the most of our collective attention, effort and resources. In a way it's a very basic response to Jesus words:

And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen. (Matthew 28:18-20)

Would you join me in prayer for God to do His work as we seek to share His love with the people in our community?

Monday, April 7, 2008

...A Veritable Plethora of Miscellany
(I conscripted that phrase from my friend, Carl.)

As I considered the things I'd write about in this week's blog, I couldn't settle on just one, so here are some snapshots (figuratively and literally) from the week.

Last week I had the opportunity to lead worship for three evenings at a revival in a neighboring Missouri town. It was a good experience with several moments of note:
For the first time ever, my family of 5 sang the special music in church. We offered Matt Redman's Blessed Be Your Name. Even the littlest one sang along and did a great job!

Another great opportunity that came from the revival was the chance to see old ministry friends and make new ones. In the center of the back row of the snapshot below snapshot is Steve, the Minister of Music at the church where I served last week. I had the opportunity to work with his choir on Sunday evening, and they were so excited that for at least one evening he was in the loft singing with them. This photo was taken at the choir members' request... Enjoy!
One other moment of note from the revival happened just before the last service. I'd been commuting each evening from home to the church and back... about an hour and 15 minutes each way. When I left the office on Tuesday I made a "charitable" run to Chick-Fil-A as it is the favored restaurant of all their church staff families. I carried dinner for 9 people with me and we all enjoyed a great visit before church started. About 15 minutes before worship, I went up to the sanctuary, donned my sportcoat and grabbed the binder I'd brought from the office. (As I was leading the singing from the piano each night, I'd prepare and bring my music with me daily.) You can imagine the sinking feeling in my stomach when I opened the folder to find not my music for that evening, but rather my notes and projects from that day's staff meeting! My MUSIC binder was on my desk back in OP... There was one fleeting thought of frustration, then a determination to address the issue at hand. I'd simply have to lead without it, which I did... God moved and we worshipped.

After being away from my family for so much of the week, we decided to make the most of the weekend. We spent Saturday morning together at the gym and then went to our local Robek's® to grab smoothies for lunch. While there, the little girls "auditioned" for part-time jobs behind the counter! Kirk let them push the mixer buttons on all our smoothies, which was a really big deal!

Finally, in case anyone is unaware, the KU Jayhawks have had quite a big weekend! Although I am unashamedly not a big sports enthusiast, I always enjoy rooting for hometown teams when they're doing something great. It appears I'm not alone in that. Indian Trail Junior High decided to get in on supporting the Jayhawks by encouraging their entire student body and staff to dress in KU colors on Friday. Even the redhead joined in the festivities... I don't think we're in Texas anymore!