The Journey Home. 1

I like the story of Joseph.  He was like the believers version of the Terminator.  He just kept coming back- no matter what.  I’m sure this was a huge frustration for the devil.  However, when I get to Heaven I want to let Joseph I’ve got him beat.  At least in one area.  He was in prison for two years.  Try seven.

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As strange as it sounds I’m glad the elders of Memorial Drive fired me.  I needed to be fired.  Sunday I told Terry I’m ready to stop talking about what happened seven years ago.  He knows what I mean is I don’t need to talk about what happened seven years ago.  By God’s mercy I truly feel healed.  It’s a great feeling.

Being fired was good for me in that it closed the road ahead.  I needed to go in another direction, but didn’t  know that.  Basically from the time I graduated from high school until the day I was let go the only thing I had ever done for a living was ministry.  For me this was not a good thing.  I say for me because I know many good men who have done the same thing and they do just fine.  Great even.  It’s not my right to impose my life’s journey as a standard for my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Anyway, the path of ministry I lived nurtured some harmful habits and attitudes.  It erected a wall between myself and the very ones I wanted to help.  I just wasn’t able to deal with reality as many of our people in pews deal with reality because I had never lived their reality.  I don’t think that’s a good thing.  For example, all kidding aside, I’ve been part of conversations where we express exasperation with those who sit in the back pews.  Really that’s our way of saying a person is not very involved.  Which means they are not involved in the programs we invented to get them more involved.  It never dawned on me they might be sitting on the back pew because they were so lacking in energy after a draining week the back pew was as far as they could get.  So to speak.

Jesus worked a job for years before His ministry truly began.  Maybe He had that partly in mind when He said, “Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden.”  Living and providing for a family can be exhausting.

I’m glad I was fired because working outside of ministry taught me the skill of submitting.  Ministry is a strange beast in some ways.  A minister is a spiritual leader, but a minister is also an employee.    Ministers aren’t often supervised on a daily basis the way most of the people sitting in their pews are.  Those people have very little control over their schedule (unless they quit).  Employees have to be at a specific place doing a specific task by a specific time day after day for years.  Employees have also surrendered their autonomy in other ways.  Quite simply if an employee wants to keep their job then they have to do what they are told to do no matter how they feel about the assignment.

A good employee is one who does what they are told.  I learned that at McDonalds.  As an employee of churches I became cocky – I felt the higher call (as if providing for a family was lesser. it’s not) of ministry set me apart from the mundane reality faced by billions of people every day –  I became resistant to supervision – I resented anyone who would try to interfere with my schedule – I justified spending lots of time at home or doing my own thing elsewhere because I was up late the night before with someone or had a class to prepare – If I was late getting to the office no big deal.  I was a minister not an employee.

Most of you know- no one likes co-workers who treat their jobs that way and no one could keep their job for long with this sorry attitude.

Think about elders.  They carry many of the same burdens ministers do.  Like ministers they sometimes keep late hours for Kingdom purposes.  Like ministers they are present at most church activities.  Like ministers they counsel members.  Like ministers they teach.  Like ministers they have to listen to the complaining (sometimes about the minister.)  Like ministers they are often entrusted with burdensome information concerning the sheep.  Unlike ministers they are directly responsible to the Chief Shepherd for the well-being of His sheep.  Unlike ministers they are not paid for any of these services or duties.  They accomplish everything they do in their ministry AND work full-time jobs.  Not to mention the energy and devotion needed for their roles as husbands and fathers.  Even more astonishing, unless they were secretly given time altering devices by the Holy Spirit, elders have the same amount of hours per week as do ministers.

Before I was fired my attitude to supervision was to dig in and resist.  I had to be fired in order to learn the proper response is, “Yes, sir.”

I offer an opinion so take it for what it’s worth.  I’ve been to preaching school and graduated from college with a Bible degree.  In all the hours I spent in school never not once did we discuss the employee to employer relationship between ministers and churches.  I don’t think that’s good.  Someone needs to design a course to address this issue.  It could save a lot of heartache and confusion.  Or maybe every minister should be required to work at McDonalds for a semester before a degree is granted.

New Hero

These days I’m gaining new heroes all the time.   The latest one is Bobby Smith.  He’s the youth minister at Memorial Drive.

I’m blessed because Bobby is humble.  I don’t know if I’m mature enough to do for him what he has done for me.  I would be unnerved to minister in a place where the guy I was replacing remained in that place.  Even under the best of circumstances I would find that weird.  I would not want to feel intimidated or insecure, but I probably would.  Don’t you just hate it when you can’t feel the way you want to feel…or the way you know you should feel?

I admire Bobby because by welcoming me he has put himself in a position where he may struggle with feelings he may not want to feel.  That’s heroic.  That’s faith.  As the leadership considered allowing me to return in some capacity Bobby could have easily derailed the matter by expressing his doubts or insecurities.  He didn’t.  He welcomed me.

I feel like Bobby deserves to hear- well done.  I believe Jesus is saying exactly that right now.  Bobby is a big part of the unfolding blessings taking place in my life.  He’s now part of my story.  That makes me happy.

Thank you Bobby.

A place to start life over.

That’s what we say at Memorial Drive.  You can’t enter our building without reading those words.  A slogan?  Oh no- it’s the truth.  A place to start life over is a description and not a motto.  Our congregation is alive with the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.  We get to see Him minister to people in such a way no blogger in the world could capture in words.  It’s stunning.  Thrilling.  Captivating.  Healing.  Humbling.  Fun.

I am the luckiest man in the world.  I say that because I have a wife who’s amazing faith sustained me in dark, dark places.  For her the vows of the marriage coveneant were more than words- they were statements of faith.  “For better or worse” was a matter of conviction for Amy.  And she has loved me in the worse.

I am the luckiest man in the world.  I say that because I belong to a church that insisted on loving me when I was unresponsive to their care.  When I came back they gave me the room and grace to start over.  When I took the smallest of steps their words of encouragement would have led you to believe I was the fastest man in the world.  They have praised me into becoming the man I am today.  What a blessing!

My heart is full this Sunday.  Of gratefulness.  Of wonder.  Of grace.  Of joy.  Of the healing ministry of Jesus Christ as incarnated in the Memorial Drive church of Christ.

Can you tell we had a good day?  My brothers and sisters I wish you could have heard the singing.  Wow, wow and wow!  I sat near the front and was nearly knocked over by the surging tidal wave of praise coming from the heart’s of God’s people.  It had more in common with a volcanic eruption than mere singing. (An eruption of praise- I like that- gotta remember it)

Hands were being lifted throughout the building- shouts of praise came from different quarters- applause even broke out after one song.  The really cool thing- no one ever said let’s raise our hands, let’s shout amen or let’s clap our hands to show God how much we love Him.  Every one of these acts was spontaneous.  When you add that to the fact many, many people were literally singing/shouting at the top of their lungs then you can see how blessed I am to be a part of this wonderful family.

Thank you Shane.  Your humility and passion for the Lord Jesus are plucking the heart strings of God’s people.  The music you are writing with your service and ministry has given us a beautiful song to sing.

Thank you Terry.  Thank you elders.  So much of ministry is having the faith to get out of the way in order to let God do as He pleases.  Thanks for your humility.  Thanks for your vision.  The dream you dreamed for Memorial so many years ago is bearing fruit beyong measure.

Thank you Jesus.

I am the luckiest man in the world.

Under the Influence…

…of good men.

Mitch Wilburn.  Marvin Phillips.  me

I have been so blessed throughout my lifetime to be in the presence of great men of God.  Ministers who have had a profound influence upon me.  This morning I ate breakfast with Terry Rush.  A hero of mine.  At noon  I went to a city-wide preachers lunch hosted by a local church.  Marvin was there and I just had to get a picture.  He’s another hero.  I clearly remember going to the Tulsa Workshop as a boy where I would be awed by the preaching of Terry and Marvin.  It thrills me to think all these years later they actually know my name.  I love them so much.  For years Mitch was the youth minister for the Park Plaza coC here in Tulsa.  Several years ago he was demoted to the pulpit ministry at the same church.  Since that time their growth has been through the roof.  Mitch is another hero.

Today reminded me of my personal heritage and the preachers who have shaped my life, my preaching and my ministry.  To name a few…

Randy Green- my youth minister- taught me to fall in love with Jesus.  Randy was my model in both places I was a youth minister.  Singing in a tight cluster without books or words or overheads comes directly from Randy.  All my youth group kids will know what I mean.

Rex Boyles- teacher-  Probably the smartest, wisest Bible teacher I have ever known.  He’s a genius.  And a powerful preacher.  If anyone who has heard me preach/teach were to spend any time with Rex they would soon believe I stole everything I know from him.  No one tells a Bible story better than Rex.  He also influenced me to major in textual preaching as opposed to stringing a bunch of personal stories together.

Ed Wharton- teacher-  For some reason no one has impacted my delivery more than Ed.  His physical mannerism’s delighted me to the point I soon began to adopt them without thought.  Ed’s a sharp dresser who works hard to stay sharp looking throughout the day.  No one could make combing their hair look cooler than Ed.  Not even the Fonz.  Ed’s also got the best preacher hand gestures in the business- hands down.  If you saw Ed preach you would soon see I’m a copy cat.

Lewis Robinson- preacher.  Lewis was my first co-worker in full time ministry not associated with AIM/Sunset.  Amy and I loved his preaching.  He did our wedding.  His passion and his wisdom are both great.  He influenced me in the way he interacted with people.  Even in the hardest of situations he was always kind and amazingly calm.  Things I tend not to be under duress.  To this day when I’m interacting with people in hard circumstances I remember Lewis and try to will myself to act like he would.

Terry Rush- Terry has been my preacher for many years now.  I can’t begin to list how his preaching has affected me.  Last week in Monroe I said several times, “Listen to me now!”  That’s Terry.  I also use the word “zone” a lot.  That’s Terry.  Also the way he will phrase a statement is popping out in my communication.  I can see that in my preaching and writing.  I’ll say something like, “That’s wonderfully wonderful.”  Pure Terry.  I also find myself making words up as I go along.  WAY Terry.  Though I’m not a Cardinal fan.

What about you?  Do you have a phrase or a mannerism or a style you sort of picked up without meaning to simply because you admired those things in someone you respected?  I want to hear about it.

Meanwhile, I hope all of us could say that about Jesus.

Second day-First Problem

For the last seven years I’ve worn a uniform in my various jobs.  Security guard- uniform.  McDonalds- uniform.  Delivery driver- uniform.  Minister- I’m wasting precious morning minutes because I haven’t had to think about dressing myself in a long time.

I’m thinking about designing my own preacher uniform.  Nothing too flashy.  Something simple like white jumpsuits embroidered with sequins arranged in tasteful geometric patterns.

Or I’m wondering what they would do if I showed up for work in a clerical collar?  Like priests wear.  That would allow me to get primo parking at some hospitals.  Don’t worry though- to differentiate myself from those other churches my collar would be embroidered with sequins arranged in tasteful geometric patterns (never a cross though).

Of course the main benefit would be I wouldn’t have to waste time deciding what to wear every morning.  I could also support my ministry by selling these uniforms to other ministers.  I’d love to see Terry, Shane, Bobby and Jason in sequins.  Not to mention John Dobbs.

Love you guys.

Quick report on Day One.

The day went well.  It felt right and proper to be doing what I’m doing and where I am doing it.  I felt more than welcomed by my co-workers- I felt gladness in their presence.

Being back is sort of strange too.  Everything looked familiar, but somehow different too.  But I never felt out of place or in the way.  In some ways it feels like I fell asleep for seven years and woke up in the same place.  Some differences are disorienting.  Like the differences in technology.  Basically I have been out of an office environment for seven years.  When I left MD the church calendar was literal.  A paper document full of strikeouts and scribble, stickers and sticky notes.  Now I have to learn a new computer program which serves as the church calendar.  Heather graciously showed me how to do it.  Still I fear the poor college ministry may go twelve months without a single scheduled event.  Or I will schedule everything for the year 3008.

Speaking of technolgy.  My second task today (the first was finding where the coffee pot is stationed) was getting rid of an eighties era typewriter.  In the eighties it was the latest thing.  Today it’s worthless.  Only God could invent something the first time around that transforms itself into the latest thing every single day.  Thus the latest version of every person is presented to the world every morning.

I spent some time throughout the day with the latest version of Terry Rush.  The version I worked with seven years ago was a good version.  The latest one is even better.  I believe the Lord may have worked in his heart these last seven years to create a version with me in mind.

We had our first ministry meeting tonight at my house.  People showed up earlier than we were expecting and stayed later than I imagined.  Till about 11:30PM.  Somehow I think that’s good.  After all, ministry is about people.

It’s after one now- good night or good morning.

Monroe and other stuff.

One of the things I love about youth rallies is I get to meet new friends.  The pictures above show a few I was blessed to meet in Monroe, La.  It was a great weekend.  I applaud Jason Barnard, his youth group and the entire Forsythe church of Christ for planning and hosting this great event.  I love the way the church loves her young people.  Don’t you?  Thank God for the shepherds at Forsythe.  Hosting a youth rally is no easy or cheap undertaking.  Because of their faith hundreds of young people were blessed in a way that will last forever.  Isn’t that cool?  Thanks Jason for inviting me.

I also want to tell you Dusty Rush is an amazing preacher.  During the weekend I spoke four times.  On Sunday morning Dusty preached a sermon that had more meaningful content than all of mine put together.  It was the best lesson of the entire rally.  His delivery was POWERFUL too.  Next year he should be the key note speaker and I volunteer to be his driver.  If only he had a connection to the ones who put on the Tulsa Workshop he would be able to preach the same sermon on a Friday night in the Pavilion.  Everybody needs to hear it.  I love you Dusty.

I met a young man in Monroe.  Devin (sp?).  Him and his sister were being raised by their grandparents.  Recently one of their grandparents suddenly died of a heart attack.  When they were very young they lost both of their parents.  Their mother died of cancer.  Their father was shot to death in a brutal murder.  What heartache.  Yet, there they were singing, smiling and loving our Lord Jesus Christ.  I admire them more than all the athletes, entertainers and politicians in the whole, wide world.  I admire a young man named Houston, sixteen years old, who taught a well attended class at the youth rally.  That’s scary.  He did it.  He did it well.  I admire Logan, a senior, who wants to be a fireman and is a gifted artist.  He has such a Christ-like spirit about him.  I admire Monet and Diamond, two sweet girls who helped me with my sermons by reading some passages for me (I had a broken contact and couldn’t read a thing.)  Church we are so blessed by our young people.  We’re lucky to have them, aren’t we?

Other stuff-  Monday morning was a great event in the kingdom of God.  Or at least it was for me.  I went to my first preacher/elder meeting in seven years.  I felt like a little kid.  It’s all still so wonderfully weird.  I was with the men who fired me seven years ago and it was so peaceful.  I can’t even describe it.  I think this is the kind of stuff that makes God very happy.  I like making Him happy.  So do my shepherds and co-workers.  I am blessed.

Tuesday, 9:30AM, will be the start of my first official day in the office.  My little satchel is already packed.  I probably won’t sleep for fear of over-sleeping but I look forward to a great day.  A day of victory in my life and the Kingdom.

Love you guys.