During the 2017 Elevating Preaching Conference held at my alma mater, Gardner-Webb University, attendees heard three preachers whose words challenged and inspired. It was, as always, a fantastic conference, refreshing and instructive. Here are a few of my favorite moments.
Preaching Session 1: Dr. Kevin Cosby, Senior Pastor, St. Stephen Church, Louisville, KY
Acts 5:29, Matthew 16:21
“You cannot get away from the musts of life.” Cosby explained that there are different kinds of musts—ones from the outside (civil laws and social obligations, for example) and ones that come from within. Musts, according to Cosby, are about conviction, not convenience. He challenged us, “Where does your MUST come from? Your must cannot come from the Law, but from Grace.”
On his church’s decision to stay in an area of Louisville considered dangerous and inhospitable to the Gospel, Dr. Cosby spoke of the transformation that has taken place in that neighborhood saying, “It’s Black Christian Gentrification! [The church now has] the land of the Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Bud Lights!”[By the way, check out the church website for evidence of this amazing gentrification.)
Preaching Session 2: Dr. Kimberly Moore, Senior Pastor, Emmanuel Missionary Baptist Church Gastonia, NC
“I May be Tired, but I won’t Quit.” Jeremiah 20:7-9
Dr. Moore, referencing how exhausting ministry can be, pointed out that Jeremiah was also tired, weary of the obstacles he continued to face. Dr. Moore challenged us,
“Realize WHO is fighting for you! Where you are is not your destiny. I know you are tired, but you have to remember [your struggles are] taking you somewhere. . . .”
She added that in the face of overwhelming difficulty, we might do as Jeremiah did and offer praise to God. She said that we don’t necessarily need to praise God for the hardships, but rather offer praise for what you know God WILL do. She concluded, “You’ll find that praise is your strength!”
Preaching Session 3: Dr. Wade Bibb, Senior Pastor, Central Baptist Church Beardon, Knoxville, TN
“Insignificant People” II Timothy 1:3-18
“It is dangerous to preach to insignificant people,” Dr. Bibb said. “Because sometimes they listen.”
Dr. Bibb recalled a time when he had listened to the pastor of his small church and had become quite the 12-year-old evangelist. In an admittedly immature method of discernment, 7th grade Bibb picked out the child in his class who was most often in trouble. Despite fear and trembling, he approached his intended target saying, “I want you to know that God loves you, and I love you, and I will be praying for you.” He continued this routine for a week or so, his unchurched friend becoming more and more open to the idea of a God who loves all people. Bibb’s efforts were thwarted, though, when his pastor suggested that perhaps Bibb shouldn’t bring his friend to their church. “He should go to his own church,” the pastor said, meaning a church that was as homogeneously African American as his church was Caucasian. Bibb then had the task at just 12 years old to find a way to say to his new friend, “God loves you. And I love you. But you can’t come to my church.”
Community Worship: Dr. Cosby
1 Corinthians 16:8-9.
Before beginning his message, Dr. Cosby summarized the day’s events up to that point.
“People in our lives are like elevator buttons. They take you up or down. They add value or take it away. Today, you people have taken me up!”
After reading the text, Dr. Cosby pointed out how foolhardy it was to start a church in Ephesus. Ephesus was the home to the cult of Diana; it was an idolatrous place that would most certainly be closed to the Gospel of Christ. But Paul says he will stay in Ephesus to build the church.
“Starting a church in Ephesus would be like starting a girl scout troop in a brothel. Starting a church in Ephesus would be like Al Sharpton going to recruit at the annual conference of the Knights of Columbus Ku Klux Klan.”
Fear though, has no place in following God’s purpose for our lives. Dr. Cosby illustrated this concept through a story of birds sitting in a tree above a berry patch. They were hungry and loved berries, but wouldn’t approach and eat because there was a scarecrow in the patch. “They were letting a stick wearing clothes and stuffed with straw keep them from being filled.” Dr. Cosby drew an undeniable parallel between those birds and those of us who are followers of Christ, hesitant to do God’s work. He pointed out “No farmer puts a scarecrow somewhere there isn’t something of value. If I were you, I’d fly around looking for scarecrows because wherever they are, there is value!”
Small Group Session: Dr. Moore
Regarding the task of preaching, Dr. Moore summed up her convictions with two directives: “Just be you. Just preach Jesus.” Amen!
Recently I saw a youtube video of an artist illustrating depression. The depressed person would describe how depression felt to them, and the artist would conceptualize their stories in a drawing. Their stories, thus the pictures, varied greatly. I don't have an artist, but I thought I'd try to describe what it is like for me anyway. Here you go.
For me, it’s not so much a color as a sensation. I guess the sensation is a dark one, sort of a muddy black, but mainly it’s heavy. And oozy. It usually creeps up slowly. I feel it pulling on my feet, slowing me down, and I don’t recognize it at first. I kick at it, trying to loosen the hold, thinking it’s something outside myself, rather than the all too familiar internal struggle. (After all these years, you’d think I would recognize all its disguises.) So, I think I can flick it off with a little justification. It’s patient, depression, so it backs off into the shadows, waiting.
I’m fooled into thinking I’ve resolved it, until it starts from another angle—messing with my sleep, my appetite, my mind. By now it has lured me into emotional quicksand. I get pulled under by depression’s Sirens: “What is wrong with you?” “Why can’t you get over it?” “What real problems do you have?” I try to answer and they pull me closer and their voices get louder. The more I search for the answers to their squealing demands, the more pressure I feel, the deeper I fall, the weight of the world pressing me down, down, down.
It feels like I’m wearing pain. Seeking responses to the non-answerables, I envision all those who face life’s most hopeless battles. Cancer, war, divorce, oppression, loss, racism, poverty, inequities. Tragedies loop through my mind mocking me with the reminder that I have no reason to be sad. I agree. And the pain grows heavier.
When depression opts for a more direct attack, I go from feeling like me, to feeling as if I’m caught in a vortex of despair. I sink fast. There’s no slowing it down, no getting away.
And I’m not sure what lifts the weight and allows me to move again. It helps to remember that Sirens aim to destroy me, not to expand my self-awareness. It helps to plug my ears to their false refrains and to answer with dismissal rather than with access to my soul.
And it helps to do what my mama says (as it does no matter what the problem is): “Do one thing.”
I might send a single email, do one chore, write one sentence. I tell myself that after I do that one thing, I can resume lethargy. Then I do just one more thing. And then another. And in time, I’m back on solid ground, back to me.
That’s what it’s like for me.
The last time it happened, I wasn’t impressed. As I recall, Daddy put a little bit of water in our baby pool. He said we were supposed to look into the pool to see the sun — not at the sun, which of course had never occurred to us. He was saying some other crazy stuff too about the moon covering up the sun or something like that. The details are a little fuzzy; but then, I was only 4-and-a-half years old.
We always draw the attention of strangers as we—nearly 20 of us—claim our spot on the beach. It’s impossible for our cumbersome crew to go unnoticed: a half-dozen pale-skinned adults slick with sunscreen, eight bathing-suit-clad Caucasian cousins ages 9 to 18, and one African preschooler whose skin tone matches the color of rich, dark chocolate. So even on South Carolina beaches where almost anything goes, we are the exception.
It all started when my cousin lost her ever-loving mind. I found out from my mother, who called me to give me the news.
“You are not going to believe what your cousin Kathi is doing. You are. Not. Going. To. BeLIEVE it.”
Kathi is about ten years older than I am. Despite a life laced with heartbreak and disappointment, Kathi has done well for herself. She’s always been employed: factories in the early years, grocery stores for most of the last twenty. She owns her own home and has developed a network of faithful friends and beloved family. Her two sons, who she raised without the help of her ex-husband, their dad, grew into responsible, hard-working, family men.
“Kathi is taking in a 3-year old African child,” Mother said.
“Come again?” I figured I’d misheard.
“Your 50+ year old cousin is taking in a toddler from another country.” Mother proceeded to tell me the rest of the story. (For the sake of privacy and protection, I’ll refer to the child as Little One.)
Little One’s mother, a friend of a friend of a friend, was incarcerated and needed someone to keep her child for just two weeks. Kathi didn’t know the mother and neither did the woman who called her. To sane folk, the whole thing sounded like a legal disaster. We cautioned Kathi. We advised her. We insisted she procure some official statement of custody. She listened, but as I said, she’d lost her mind right about the time she learned of this child in need. (It might also be possible that Kathi’s mind was right where it was supposed to be, being transformed.)
Little One moved in and soon everyone who loved Kathi loved the child. Two weeks came and went ten times and after five months the mother saw fit to reclaim her child. By then, the bond between my cousin and Little One was strong enough to last.
So for the last three summers, Little One has been with us on the beach: playing in the surf, building sand castles, looking for shells, never out of sight of this new family-in-love. And at some point, salty and sleepy, Little One seeks out Kathi and climbs into her lap.
“It’s not that big of a deal,” Kathi says in response to our praise of her selfless actions. She enfolds the sandy brown hand resting on her knee into her own; the child leans back, snuggled against the shoulder that has proven so reliable. “Little One needed a place to stay. God told me to offer my home. So I did.”
And to Kathi, it really was—is—that simple.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2
Excerpt from Source: Societal norms no longer bow to church. So what? – Baptist News Global
. . . I hear lots of complaints about this perceived disregard for church culture. “Back in my day,” I’ve heard, “no business would dare open on Sunday. Little League ball games on Sunday? Not a chance.”
The thing is, though, businesses don’t open if they don’t make money. And they can only profit if they have customers. Same goes for kids’ ball games. You know why games are held on Sundays? Because children and their fee-paying parents participate on Sundays, that’s why. Plain and simple.
Parents tell me, “You would not believe how much homework little Johnny has on Wednesday nights. He couldn’t come to church tonight because he had too much work for school.” That sounds exactly like parents have no choice, doesn’t it? I mean, the kid has to do their homework, right? OK, but just to be clear, when we had essentially no other choice, we went to church; now, when we have a conflict, church is absentmindedly kicked to the curb. . . .
Want to read the full article? Click here: Societal norms no longer bow to church. So what? – Baptist News Global
During the last 3-4 years, my mother has had more knee replacements than anyone ought to have in a lifetime. It's a long complicated story, but suffice to say you do NOT want to get an infection when you get a knee replacement. Curing that infection is not a matter of proper rest, drinking plenty of fluids, and a prescription for a Z-pack. It's an ordeal that requires not one, but two additional surgeries, along with in-home IV antibiotics and so much more. And all that was just for the first knee. Getting the second one done was yet to come--overcompensating as it was for the pain and infection in knee-number-one. It's been ridiculously frustrating and also rather frightening for Mother and therefore for all of us who love her.
You can imagine, then, my alarm when my sister called last night, beginning the conversation with, "Mama's fine. She's fine, really. She's in the Emergency Room, but she's fine." Naturally, I assumed that she was not fine in the least. Worst case scenarios raced through my psyche at a heartwrenching pace. Thankfully, Mother really is fine. It is not a blood clot as first thought; instead it is a common and treatable (though painful) condition that is (somewhat) easily corrected. Last night, the emergency personnel conducted the appropriate tests, applied the necessary treatment, and released her. As a matter of fact, she called me first thing this morning, sounding just like herself, getting ready to head to church. So she's fine. (Allow me to remind myself of this one more time, if you will; it's been our experience that where Mother's knees are concerned, everything is serious. She's okay though. Really.)
But that's not the whole story. Not even close.
My parents, though they are 79 and 81, are business owners who lead full, complex lives. (If something happened to either of them, our whole family would feel as if they'd been struck down in their youth.) Back in 2001, Mother and Daddy purchased Together Forever Wedding Chapel in North Myrtle Beach, SC; in 2008, my brother and his family moved to North Myrtle Beach to join our parents in operating Together Forever. So when Mother's knee gave out on her Saturday, my sister-in-law was nearby; Hal and Daddy were there too, completing one wedding and preparing to begin the next one. Mother wasn't in such dire straits that she wanted the business to come to a standstill to attend to her needs, so when she decided she should go to the ER, she asked her daughter-in-law to take her. After confirming the plan with Daddy and Hal, Mother and Kim took off, sans husbands.
Now, I have never taken for granted--I don't think--the gift of my sister-in-law's love for my parents. Even before she married my brother, Kim has been committed to our parents. She doesn't think her devotion to them is anything that remarkable; it's just who she is. But I recognize her unselfish commitment as extraordinary. You see last night, as my sister Dawn and I talked on the phone, trying to suppress our urges to drive straight to North Myrtle Beach, we would remind each other in turn, "Kim is there. Everything will be okay." We knew that Kim would not allow our mother (who--let's be honest--is a force to be reckoned with in her own right) to be ignored or overlooked. We knew that together they would ask the right questions. "Kim would tell us if we should go down." We could sit still, trusting Mother to speak for herself and Kim to back her up. "Don't worry. Kim's with her." And because she was there, we could breathe in and breathe out while we held our phones in our hands, waiting for an update. "Kim will tell us if she knows anything at all." We never doubted it.
That's power: the power of a sister who joined our family through marriage and instantly committed to be there for all of us, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.
It was the second time in a week I had experienced the power of a sister.
My own beloved mother-in-law has been seriously ill for most of the summer. She was admitted to the hospital (for the umpteenth time this summer) on Friday, July 28, 2017. At the time, I was actually in North Myrtle Beach for my family's annual gathering there. When he heard the news about his mother, my husband Jay, who had not yet left Asheville, went immediately to his parents' home that Friday night. He spent most of Saturday in the hospital with his mother and was about to go over on Sunday morning when his dad called him from his cell phone.
"Jay, come to the hospital now. Overnight, your mother's health took a dangerous turn. Come now." He quickly explained to Jay that his mother had been moved to the Intensive Care Unit and was having a procedure done that required anesthesia. Now, my mother-in-law has had muscular dystrophy for 50 years or more and her lungs and heart don't always play nicely together any more. Adding anesthesia into that cocktail of concerns could end badly. Not doing the procedure would definitely end badly though, so they made plans to proceed.
As Jay got into the car, he called his sister with the urgent message; simultaneously, I happened to call my father-in-law. When he answered, he was distraught, beside himself with fear and anxiety. I'd never--in 30 years of marriage plus 2 and 1/2 years of dating--heard him sound that way. It was heartbreaking. I awakened my daughters to go with me to the hospital which, under the best conditions, was a ninety minute drive. Next, I called my son's fiance; my son was about to lead in worship at his church so I was hesitant to call him directly. I knew Addison would handle it and that together they would figure something out. (They were more than two and a half hours away, but arrived at the hospital as soon as possible.)
Oh wait. Did I mention that I had just had bilateral carpal tunnel surgery? Yeah, so that was about a week and a half old at that point. Pain was still pretty pronounced and function still limited to the slightest tasks. The surgeon's post-op directions had said to avoid using my hands for lifting anything over two pounds, or pushing, pulling, or twisting. (You might be surprised at how many activities those restrictions eliminate.)
"Get food, don't lift anything heavy, get caffeine, what else do I need, where are the girls, don't hurt your hands, is there anyone else to call, maybe there's a shortcut, is Jay at the hospital yet . . . " My brain was grabbing at whatever it could find so that it didn't have to process the possibility of losing my mother-in-law. It didn't work. "What if she dies what if she dies what if she dies what if she dies what if she dies . . . " it was the cadence of the cacophony in my mind.
"I'm going with you." My sister, laden with a knitting project or two and her sling bag, wasn't asking me. She was ready to go when we walked out the door.
"I don't want to take you away from everyone," I looked from Dawn to Mother and around at the rest of the family.
"It's what we do," Mother said. "This is what we do."
We arrived at the hospital, emotion running high. The procedure was to take 15 minutes and when we arrived it had already been 45.
Dawn took a seat across the waiting room, present yet not intrusive. "I'll just be over here if you need me," she said, taking out her knitting.
I did need her. I needed her, for example, to run errands--it turns out that even in a crisis, people need to eat and dogs need potty breaks. But I also needed her to share the experience with Jay and me and the rest of the family. I needed her to be there in the flesh. My first best friend and playmate, my teacher and mentor, my friend and confidante. My sister's presence helped me to be my best self. That's a powerful presence right there.
Incidentally, all 12 of my mother-in-law's immediate family members made it to see her when she came out of anesthesia. She's still recovering, but for now the urgency has subsided. She welcomes your prayers for her continued improvement, as do we all.
So there you have it. Two mothers plus two sisters, at least in my life in the last week, equals the circumstances surrounding one emergency room visit plus one critical ICU patient, raised--that is, lifted--from untethered desperation to grounded hope by the power of two loving sisters.
Also, one more thing. I would be remiss if I didn't mention that when Hal learned what was happening, his response was, "I'm so glad Dawn could go. If she hadn't been able to go, I would have gone with Aileen."
It's what we do. It's just what we do.
It’s my 52nd birthday. Here (in no particular order) are 52 of my favorites.
Published Originally Oct. 7, 2011
“Where has the time gone?” I say to just about anyone who will listen. “Don't get me wrong; I want my children to grow up (the alternative is unthinkable). I just want to know: Where has the time gone?”
It’s baffling. I can't figure out how my brown-eyed girl (born just yesterday), is today a young lady looking at colleges. Or how, overnight, I went from buying my little boy light-up Batman sneakers to shopping for size 15 Nikes™. And how--how in the world--did my baby girl get to her last year of middle school already, when just last night I was sneaking her ragged pink blankie into the laundry?
Where has the time gone?
I don't know, but I think I’m looking for it in the wrong zone. In Greek, there are two words for time. There’s Chronos—time that is measured, ya know, chronologically. And then there is Kairos—time that is measured by experiences. Chronos dissolves into seconds, days, years. Kairos, though . . . Kairos remains.
Chronos counts birthdays by ordinal numbers: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, . . . . But Kairos thinks back to a ballerina party that blended over the course of chronos into a makeover session, a Firefighter party for preschoolers that ended as a pick-up basketball game for teenagers in the church gym, and a ladybug piñata in our backyard in Sanford, NC that exploded into one surrounded by teenagers in our Asheville garage.
Chronos sees the seasons come and go and checks off another year. But Kairos sees differently. Kairos sees the Queen of Hearts, Angelina Ballerina, and Thing 1, all with curly blond hair; a puppy, a robot, and a number of clowns, all making lots and lots of noise; a pediatrician, Hermione Granger, and Toy Story’s Jessie, all of whom were far more grown-up than they should have been. Kairos remembers . . . the ball dropping, its year changing in that chronos way all the way down; sandcastles washed away one year and built back up the next; trips to Houston, trips back home, & trips back out again. Kairos smiles remembering all the games of Barnyard Bingo, Blink, & Bananagrams; all the books we've read—from Dr. Seuss and Sandra Boynton to Brian Jacques and J.K. Rowling; all the hours of Veggietales, American Idol, and Psych. And Kairos weeps, weeps as faded faces and sharp memories come to mind: Wayne, Paxten, Matthew, Caleb, Cliff . . . . Chronos, distracted by the clock’s ticking, the days passing, just can't keep up.
Chronos says things like, “How long’s it been . . . .”
Kairos says, “Remember when . . . ?”
Chronos, nervous and fretful, checks its watch and marks days off the calendar.
Kairos flips through photographs and artwork, videos, mementos.
Chronos grows anxious.
Kairos becomes nostalgic.
Where has the time gone?
Chronos doesn’t know.
But Kairos does.
Kairos says, “Look around you. It’s all right here.”
Back in 2011, I wrote this little parody of the classic children's story "The Little Red Hen." From time to time, I pull it out for the children's sermon. Today's message was from Acts 2:42-47; it felt like a good time for a retelling of The Little Red Church.
Once upon a time there was a little red church. The little red church had lots of friends. She had friends who were very old. She had friends who were adults but not too old. And she had friends who were still quite young. One day the little red church needed to bake some bread to send to God’s hungry children. The little red church went to her friends and said,
“Who will help me bake some bread to deliver to God’s hungry children?”
“Not us,” said the very old friends. “We baked bread before, but we are tired now. We are too old to bake the bread.”
“Not us,” said the friends who were adults but not too old. “We are busy busy busy. We have work to do and families to care for. We can’t take time to bake bread for people in need.”
“Not us,” said friends who were still quite young. “We are too young to bake bread. We don’t even know how. We will bake bread later when we are older.”
So the little red church sighed. She could not bake the bread herself.
But soon, the little red church tried again. Some of God’s children were sick, so she asked her friends,
“Who will help me visit God’s children who are sick?”
“Not us,” said the very old friends. “We have our own aches and pains to worry about. We cannot go visit the sick.”
“Not us,” said the friends who were adults but not too old. “We have too many appointments to attend: not just for ourselves but also for our parents and for our children. We cannot go visit the sick.”
“Not us,” said the friends who were still quite young. “We are not allowed to go to hospitals. We are much too young. We cannot go visit the sick either.”
So the little red church sighed. She could not visit the sick herself.
Before long, though, the little red church heard of another need: some of God’s children had just moved into town. So she asked her friends,
“Who will go and welcome God’s children who have just moved into town?”
“Oh, my, not us,” said the very old friends. “We have nothing to offer new people in town. They are young and we are old. We cannot go visit new people in town.”
“Not us either,” said the friends who were adults but not too old. “Perhaps you could have them come to our offices. Or hey! We know. Tell them to come to the Civic Club meeting next Tuesday at 7. We will welcome them there.”
“Not us,” said the friends who were still quite young. “Stranger Danger!”
So the little red church just sighed. She decided to take a nap. She was so, so tired. The little red church slept for a very long time.
While the little red church was sleeping her friends began to get worried. They missed the little red church. They missed her singing. They missed her laughter. And they even missed her questions.
The friends who were very old talked together and decided, “We may not be able to do as much as we used to, but we could surely bake bread.”
The friends who were still quite young overheard them talking. “We have lots of energy but we do not know how to bake bread. Will you teach us?”
And so the friends who were very old and the friends who were still quite young began baking bread.
Meanwhile, the friends who were adults but not too old talked together and decided, “It doesn’t really take too long to visit someone who is sick if you plan ahead. We are very good at planning. Let’s make time to visit the sick.”
And some of the friends who were very old overheard their discussion and some of them said, “We would like to go and visit the sick, but we don’t like to drive downtown. Could you take us with you when you go to visit?”
And so the friends who were adults but not too old and the friends who were very old, began to visit the sick together.
About the same time, the friends who were still quite young began discussing the new students in their schools. “We can welcome these new children even though we don’t know their languages. Let’s go play with them.”
And the friends who were adults but not too old listened and thought, “We can welcome these children’s families too. Let’s have them share a meal with us.”
And so the friends who were still quite young and the friends who were adults but not too old began welcoming strangers.
In the little red church's yard, children were playing and laughing. In her kitchen, people were cooking and eating; in her sanctuary, people were praising and thanking God for gifts of hope and healing.
And so (naturally) the little red church woke up.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Acts 2:42
This piece appeared first as my July column for Baptist News Global. You'll find the full text at the link below.
Source: Amazing grace: Settling a troubled soul – Baptist News Global
When I stepped onto her hall, I could see her slippered feet just outside the door frame of her room. In her wheelchair, she rocked heel to toe, toe to heel, back and forth and back again.
“Hey, there,” I said, crouching to her height and attempting to push her chair back so I could get into the room. (Imagine a 5’4” duck wearing jeans and a tie-dye T-shirt pushing a wheelchair backwards; you get the picture.) I managed it, then pulled a stool right up next to her chair so I could speak directly in her ear. Nonagenarian ears aren’t especially known for their acuity, you know.
She does not know me; when I began my job at her church, she was already at the point of needing care. . . .