Saturday, April 29, 2006

Journal: National Conference on Preaching

April 24 9:30am
I am sitting in the terminal at Gate 3 awaiting the boarding of AA flight 3368 to DFW. From the looks at the waiting area, the flight must be full. Steve Landers (Landers Auto Group) is in the group. Sounds like he had a good weekend of sales.

The weather is great for flying, er, riding. I suppose the pilots like the weather for flying, too. I’m in seat 5A. There is only one seat on the left side so I’m in the window/aisle seat. I like it that way: no elbows with which to fight over the armrest, no worries with a weirdo sitting next to me. For an introvert, this is the best situation.

Don Shockley drove me to the airport. That saves the parking fee. Bill Huey will take care of the Wednesday night service. I’ll update the prayer guide and email it to Deana. Don volunteered to pick me up Thursday when I return. I need to call him Wednesday with the time or arrival.

I am so excited about this conference. Creative Preaching. I need that. My church needs it. We do church like Baptists have done church for 50 years. I try to vary my preaching but I find that I’m very predictable. Young and old alike know what’s coming. I don’t give them much reason to sit on the edge of their pew. That’s what I want: a congregation eager to hear the Word of God and eager to apply it to their lives.

Too often, church-goers arrive on time, go through the motions, leave on time, and never interact with the Word. We need a confrontation! It’s my God-given responsibility to drive that confrontation between Christians hungry and thirsty for righteousness and the Word of the Lord. It is life. It is sustenance. It is guidance. It is the answer.

In it I find God as the Holy Spirit leads me to understand him. I love God and I love his Word.

Lord, help me learn so much this week. Help me become a better preacher and pastor as I discover different ways to deliver your Word to your people.

April 25 6:45 am
Yesterday was great. The flight was perfect – except I spilled cranberry apple juice on my white shirt. Just a drop or two. But it caused me to adjust my wardrobe for the week. I changed shirts at the hotel before the conference started, rinsed out the stain in the other shirt, and shifted my shirt/pants relationships so that I’ll wear the stained shirt Thursday on the flight home. No harm, no foul. I rode on the hotel elevator with an AA captain. He said his goal for 37 years has always been to have one landing for every take-off. So the flight was great!

I’m a little uncomfortable when forced to mix and mingle. Actually, I would rather have a mediestinoscopy than do that. I can do the initial greeting: “Hi, how are you? Where are you from? Do you pastor there? Yes, I pastor Reynolds Baptist Church in Little Rock.” Beyond that, I’m just an idiot. I don’t know what to say. Kenny from the cornfields of Illinois must think I’m rude and he’s probably right. We talked for about three minutes then nothing. I envied the two guys sitting behind us. One from the Seattle area and one from Canada. They went on and on and I was fascinated by the conversation; especially the depth of the questions. Who would have thought to ask things like: Are you married? Children? What ages? School? What’s the area you are from like? Have you always lived in that area?

Conversation is not rocket science but it’s only a notch below in terms of mental dexterity. Is there a pill for this?

The speakers on stage were fantastic, too! We learned the Ten Commandments of Creative Preaching. We saw an example of creativity used at The People’s Church in Franklin, Tennessee. A seminary Dean spoke of being creative in communicating to our culture. And Brian Carter, pastor of Cornerstone Missionary Baptist Church in Dallas, preached on Judges 7. Gideon’s army was downsized.

Two things really stand out in my mind about Brian’s sermon. First, those who are with you are not always with you. God’s law allowed those in the army who feared for their lives to leave the army and return home. Twenty-two thousand of Gideon’s 32,000 left. Second, God writes post-dated checks. His promises are good as gold but you just can’t cash in on them yet. You have to wait until he says it is time.

The conference provides shuttle service to and from the hotel with stops at a mall where there are several restaurants. That process is a little tedious. I was amazingly calm through it all. There have been times in my life when I would have romped and snorted and demanded options: like the “pastor” from Florida. He was on his cell phone calling a taxi then jumped on the first shuttle anyway. He was pretty vocal and showed his lack of Christlikeness. Shouldn’t a group of pastors be extra Christlike?

I believe the waitstaff at restaurants when they say they hate to see a bunch of church people coming after a service. David McLemore taught me that those are opportunities to share the love of Christ.

Today’s shuttle service begins at 8:00 with the conference starting at 9:00. I like to get there early so I’ll head to the American Buffet Breakfast (not included in the room charges) then off to another great day.

Lord, I want today to be even better than yesterday. I don’t expect the bumps in the road to be smoother but I do expect to learn about you and your call on my life.

April 25 9:35 pm
Just got back from a day of length at Fellowship Church. I wouldn’t call it a long day, just one of length. It started at 7:15 am when I had the breakfast buffet for $14.95. Taxes and tip and I spent $18 on breakfast. At home, I’ll eat a banana for breakfast. Fifty cents. Oh well.

I caught the 8:00 am shuttle from the Hyatt to Fellowship Church. By 9:00 we were packed into the chapel – which is plenty roomy for our meetings. Their sanctuary – er, auditorium – er, theater – seats 4,100. The church unlocked it today for 30 minutes so we could gawk. And gawk we did. It is nicer than the Grand Palace in Branson in every way. The members/attenders/seekers at this church are going in style. No church facility in Little Rock compares in any way. It looks like a showplace. But I trust that it is used for God’s glory. FC is doing a phenomenal work in the DFW area.

And they are exceptional hosts. I’m guessing there are at least 75 volunteers working this conference. Every entrance to the building, every entrance to every meeting place, and just standing at strategic places. Plus the sound and light crews in the Chapel and various meeting rooms. Plus the many people who clean up after us. A-One.

Guidestone Financial Services (formerly “the Annuity Board when we served Southern Baptists; but now we serve many churches from many denominations and many other entities”) provided Texas-style Bar-B-Que brisket with all the trimmings for lunch. Outstanding!

Haddon Robinson was the highlight of the day for me. He preached twice and was humorous, engaging, and prophetic. Dr. Robinson is professor of preaching at Gordon-Cromwell College in Boston. I think he may have had a stroke at one time. His speech is clear but the right side of his mouth is drawn. He’s an excellent communicator of the gospel!

Dr. Jack Graham of Prestonwood Baptist Church and Leroy Armstrong of St. John Missionary Baptist Church, both in the Dallas area, also preached. The conference is chock-full of wonderful preachers who are inspiring me, challenging me, and convicting me. I hoped to learn something about God and his call on my life and I am not disappointed at all.

Lord, I am learning so much about you. Thank you for revealing yourself to me through your word and your preachers.

April 26 9:45 pm
It’s over. What a great conference. Top to bottom, side to side. I paid for the expensive breakfast buffet again today. Yesterday there was a small glass about the size of a roll of quarters. It was filled with pink stuff.

I thought about the story Wendy Bagwell told about eating lobster in New York City. His business friends had invited him and his wife to the city for a business dinner. Wendy Bagwell is from Georgia and had never been to a big city. And he and his wife Melba had never eaten lobster. Anyway, it’s a funny story about how they worked their way through the meal not knowing how to use the utensils, etc. At the end of the meal the waitstaff brought everyone a bowl of pink liquid. Wendy had been watching his friend deal with the lobster then followed what he did. But with the bowl of pink liquid he wanted to take the lead – he was full of confidence. So he thought about how to get that stuff out of the bowl. “They didn’t bring a spoon so you don’t spoon it out. They didn’t bring a straw so you don’t suck it out. So, I thought I would just sip it out. About the time I got that bowl of pink liquid to my lips I noticed my friend and his wife dipping their fingers in their bowls cleaning their fingers. So I said, ‘Naw, I believe I’ll wash my face later.’”

I wasn’t sure what the pink stuff was for and I didn’t want to make a mistake like Wendy made! This morning I was sitting at the table when the waitress put it down. Turns out it is a sample of a fruit smoothie. And I had almost dipped my fingers in it yesterday!

Fancy things happen in fancy hotels. Like, for no apparent reason, the lit buttons on the elevators will sometimes go dark. If you don’t notice it the elevator will fly right past your floor. Then you have to ride all the way up and then stop on every floor all the way back down to your floor. Fancy.

Fancy hotels have lots of people who want tips. “Shine your shoes, sir?” “Carry your bags, sir?” “I shined my shoes before I came, thank you, and I packed light so the bag wouldn’t be heavy. I can carry it myself!” I’m glad I didn’t actually say that out loud; they might have thought I was that “pastor” from Florida.

Fancy hotels have bottles of water for your refreshment waiting in your room with a sign that says, “Drink more water.” But if housekeeping reports a bottle missing the next morning you will be billed $3 a bottle. That’s for a 24 ounce bottle with sports cap that would be less than $1.50 at home in a convenience store. Needless to say, the bathroom water is awful! But it’s free.

Actually, nothing is free. I am not looking forward to seeing the final bill. I know the room rate but I’m not sure of the taxes.

Nothing is free. Preaching is the hardest work I’ve ever done. I crawled on my hands and knees about three miles gluing rubber baseboards on the walls in a school. I unloaded a truckload of boxes of rubber gloves. I pulled up carpet that was glued down from the floor in 6 inch strips – throughout an entire daycare. I stayed up nights worrying if our business would pull out of financial ruin or not.

Preaching is the hardest work I’ve ever done. When I’ve done it right. I’m afraid my priorities are messed up because it’s been a long time since preaching has been hard. I don’t spend enough time preparing. I don’t hit the hardest subjects. I’m shortchanging God and his people. Radical change is necessary.

I’m not sure what the radical change may be. Quit my day job? Sleep less? Spend a few evenings a week and most of every Saturday preparing to preach? Quitting my job will cost me money. Sleeping less will cost me health. Spending nights and weekends will cost me what little time I have with my family. It’s a no-brainer. But it’s not my brain that’s the problem. It’s my guts.

I must come to the place in my faith that I trust God completely to provide. Coming from me, that’s an odd statement. If there’s one thing I know about God is that he is Provider. He’s proven it over and over again. Yet I’m afraid to step away from my day job and the salary and benefits it provides.

I do not believe God is calling me to quit my day job while I’m in the current church situation. But maybe God is going to change the situation. I believe that is what he is up to. I just don’t know when he will do it.

That’s my biggest spiritual struggle: I can trust God’s action but not his timing. People have told me that I’m patient. But not enough. Can you imagine the patience Jesus must have had while he waited two days across the Jordan from Bethany while his friend Lazarus was dying in that town? His father was up to something big but Jesus had to wait. If he had not waited the miracle in Bethany would have been another healing. But by waiting on his father’s timing, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.

Misapplication: God can move me now and I’ll be part of healing a sick church or God can move me later and I’ll be part of raising a dead one. Preachers who don’t prepare very well tend to misapply too much.

Correct application: I must wait for God’s timing so that God’s plan can be faithfully executed so that God gets all the glory.

So I’m waiting across the river (figuratively, not geographically) while my two days (figuratively, not chronologically) pass. And that’s hard (literally).

Have I learned anything at the conference? What do you think?

Lord, thank you for showing me news things about you and about this call to preaching and pastoring.

April 26 10:50 pm
Here are a couple of observations about Calvin Miller’s preaching and teaching. Dr. Miller is 70+ years of age; one would think he is old school, verse by verse exposition of the text. But he said the most effective method of preaching is expository narratives: storytelling. He said you start with the text, give a precept, support it with a story, give another precept, support it with a story, continue this process until you’ve covered all the precepts, then top it off with a call for decision. You move from text to the altar using precepts (left brain) and stories (right brain).

He also said to do away with the pulpit. “It’s just 80 pounds of wound between you and the people.” He quoted someone who said that your communicate with your whole body but when you are behind 80 pounds of wood you communicate only from the chest up.

Ed Young, Jr. was the first speaker of the conference, which meets at his church. There was a clear acrylic pulpit on the stage. Ed had the stage crew take the pulpit away (although it was clear and not 80 pounds of wood) and replace it with a chair and something that looked like a plant stand. The stand didn’t get in the way. Nor was the lack of 80 pounds of wood a distraction.

Lord, help me glean from this week the things that will be useful to my church. Keep me from pushing too far beyond the limits of acceptance but far enough beyond the limits to improve the ministry.

April 27 6:20 am
Time to get going. I’m mostly packed. It’s a Bob-thing. When I’m leaving for a trip I will wait until the last minute to pack but when it’s time to go home I am packed for all but my sleeping shorts and bathroom products. I just jump up, clean up, pack up, conduct the bomb search, and go.

Donnie Martin taught me about the bomb search. In our “Jubilee” days we traveled overnight just a few times. The first time I stared at Donnie as he opened every drawer and looked behind the curtains and under the beds. “I’m conducting a bomb search.” “What?” “Sure. When bomb squads conduct a bomb search they look everywhere expecting to find one and don’t stop until either they do or they’ve exhausted their search. I just assume I’ve left a sock or shirt or pair of underwear and I’m going to find it.”

I’ve been conducting bomb searches ever since. I rarely find anything but I have peace of mind knowing I didn’t forget anything and leave it behind. Some things would be costly to replace: a sport coat, a pair of glasses, accessories for the laptop, my cell phone, my plane ticket.
Bomb searches are good. The parents of the school children feel better about letting their kids go back into the school’s buildings. The spouses of the Congressional staff breathe a sigh of relief. The chauffeur can start the diplomat’s car with peace of mind. And I can check out of the hotel with no worries…just be sure not to pack one of those $3 bottles of water.

Luke 15 tells of the shepherd leaving 99 sheep safe in the fold while he goes out to find the one that is lost. The shepherd conducts a bomb search and finds the lost sheep.

I must have been hard to find. Crowded on the small terrestrial ball with 6 billion others some 2000 years after the cross and eons upon eons beyond the idea of salvation was planned in God’s mind and heart. He must have conducted a bomb search that culminated on Calvary. He was looking for me. He was not wanting me to stay lost. He was looking for you.

Lord, that you would seek me like you did is an awesome realization.

April 27 8:00 am
I ate breakfast in the airport. $10. Almost half the price of breakfast at the hotel. Food is food and my requirements in one place are no different than my requirements in another. And my expectations are the same: good food in a reasonable amount of time. But one is $18 and the other $10.

Arrogance is eye-catching. There he was wearing his dark suit, blue dress shirt, dark socks, and dark leather shoes. Dark, short hair with the front turned up. Perched high on his throne: the shoe shine booth. He just stepped down and walked past me. I am supper impressed with his shiny shoes.

He was second in line. The patron (they would just die if they thought someone called them a customer) before him sat in the same chair while the lady cleaned, polished, and shined his shoes, too. Then he paid with a credit card. Give the lady cash and a good tip!
I really can’t think of why someone would actually need a shoe shine in an airport. As poor a time manager as I am I still found time to polish mine the night before I left. How busy does one have to be to ask someone else to polish his shoes while he is still wearing them? I can understand a drop-off service. I just don’t get why someone would think they need to sit on the throne while someone shines their shoes.

The gate next to mine is headed to Baton Rouge. To make them feel at home the gate attendant must have been speaking Cajun; I didn’t understand a thing she said.

Oops! We are boarding all seats and all rows for Little Rock. Gotta go.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

My New Favorite School

Remember the old AIC? Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference. I am an alumni of ATU. Arkansas Tech University. There was UCA, UAM, HSU, SAU, and others. OBU. Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia.

I probably should have gone there. I surrendered to preach in June 1982. Just 6 weeks after graduating high school. I had been determined to attend the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville to major in accounting and nothing would stop me. Not even my new calling to the ministry.

Teenage Baptist boys in Arkansas who have surrendered to the call to preach are supposed to go to Ouachita Baptist University to prepare for ministry. Then on to seminary. Then to a series of churches serving them and the Lord until you died.

But I went to UA and then ATU. I never thought about OBU. I probably could have played football at OBU. I probably could have met my wife 15 years earlier at OBU. And I would be a proud alumni of my new favorite school.

Go Sand Lizards! (High school) Go Wonder Boys! (College)

Go Tigers! (OBU) One of my favorite preachers and a good friend and supporter has just been named President of Ouachita Baptist University. Rex Horne will be great for the students, faculty, staff, alumni, and supporters (even new ones, like me) of OBU.

My prayer is that he makes it a priority to mentor those teenage and twenty-something Baptist boys and girls like he has mentored me. He can impact the Kingdom even greater at OBU than at IBC.

My favorite team? The OBU Presidential Search Committee. They found a winner.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Got it!

David Jeremiah's daily devotional includes this qoute from Vance Havner: God marks some of our days, "Will explain later."

Just because I don't know or understand doesn't mean he doesn't. Some explanations will come in this life while others will come in eternity.

Lately, more days are marked this way than not.

In the Trash Can

It's official. My NCAA Men's Basketball bracket has been a mess for a couple of weeks. But when the wrong SEC team advanced to the Championship Game, well, just throw the bracket in the trash. My last hope for pulling out a bit of dignity is gone. I'm thrilled that the Gators won it. Down year for the SEC, huh?

Differing Expectations

My surgeon and I have differing expectations. I called today to see if the biopsy results were in. He indicated Friday that he was sure it was sarcoid, not cancer. He said I should call Monday. So I did.

I spoke with the receptionist/secretary. She called the surgeon, read the test results to him, relayed his message to me. "It is not cancer." Great news.

My next question was, "What about sarcoid." She didn't know. She can't decipher the test results - I don't expect her to be able to do that - and the surgeon said to just tell me it's not cancer.

I was/am prepared for cancer. I trust God's will and if it's his will that I have cancer then that's OK. I just want to find out what he wants to teach me through this whether it is cancer or sarcoid. And I'm ready to move on with treatment. I've been dealing with a nagging cough for a few years and it is probably the result of the enlarged lymph nodes. I'm glad we found them. But if it's cancer, let's treat it. If it's sarcoid, let's treat it.

"Just tell him it's not cancer" is not what I wanted to hear. The receptionist/secretary couldn't believe I had the nerve to ask when we would know about sarcoid. She actually said, "I just gave you the best news."

That's a matter of perspective. For me, cancer or sarcoid means this: I have a disease of some kind that must be treated and God will see me through it and show himself gloriously in it. (I do realize the gravity of cancer. I also trust God's will.)

"It's not cancer" is great news but not the best news. I now know one thing God is teaching me through all this: patience. I'm still waiting. It's still 10 days before the surgeon releases me (back to the pulmonologist, I guess).

The surgeon and pulmonologist both come highly recommended but I'd rather sit in Scott's office (my primary care physician and friend) and pray about this. I spoke with the surgeon for less than 30 minutes. I spoke with the pulmonologist even less. That's how the system works. Scott talks to God with me.

What lies around the corner in my life must be something for God to build my patience like he is.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

48 Hours

I've been home from the hospital 48 hours. I still feel like a punching bag; a sleepy punching bag.

Dr. Rowen performed a mediastinoscopy to biopsy a lymph node. He told my wife that he was almost sure the problem is sarcoid. This is great news because the next most likely diagnosis is lymphoma. We'll know for sure early next week.

I first went to the doctor with this on January 23. There have been several trips to the doctor, xrays, a ct scan, a bronchoscopy, and a mediastinoscopy. I'm almost smart enough to be a doctor!

Rusty knew everything about his daughter's cancer. I thought that was a little strange. I understand now.

More than anything, I've been looking for God in all of this. I expected to learn something new about him and I'm not sure I have yet. I've learned much more patience and I learned about his provision. These things I've know before but I'm probably smarter about it now.

What I do know is that God is faithful.