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Easter 2016

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Friday, January 13th 2017

3:54 PM

The Warner Brothers' Ranch

Movies have been a big part of our family’s life for years.  I remember growing up watching the movie of the week with my family on Saturday and Sunday nights before we got cable TV.  We thought we had arrived when the cable man showed up to install that black box that sat on top the TV that was sitting on top of the larger TV that didn’t work!  And when we bought our first VCR, we recorded movies around the clock so our viewing library was always full.

Movies are fun because we get a chance to live in an alternate reality for a couple of hours.

Whether we are growing up during the Great Depression on Walton’s Mountain, driving down the dirt roads with Bo and Luke Duke, or flying through the air with the man who has an “S” on his chest, the time we spent in front of the TV kept our family together during times when the rest of the week had us moving in different directions.  There were some weeks when sitting down for a movie was all the time we spent together because we always had something going on.

Now that our Wee Ones are old enough to watch some of the movies with us, we are introducing the next generation to the classics.

Wil and Michaela have enjoyed our trips down memory lane because they got a chance to see what it was like when we were their age.  We watched many classic movies and TV shows from the 1980s-1990s.  As we watched them, we also noticed similarities to the backgrounds for some of the scenes.  And many of those backgrounds were filmed in a central location, the Warner Brothers’ Ranch.

We discovered the Warner Brothers’ Ranch last July when we were in California, but it was not available for the general public to see.

We drove around the outside of the ranch and saw the entrances that were nothing more than gates cut out of the massive wall that keeps everybody out.  4 roads surrounded the ranch but none of them gave us any access to what was inside.

I’m not going into the history of the Warner Brothers’ Ranch here, but it is interesting to know that most TV scenes were filmed there so they could cut through some of the red tape that would slow down the production of their projects.  Inside the Ranch, there is the Lethal Weapon house, the “Friends” fountain, the Christmas home for the Griswolds, and on the back lot, the Walton house.  Instead of paying a homeowner every time a movie was needing a house, the ranch was the next best thing because it was always available.

Using the Warner Brothers’ Ranch is a great cost effective way to make movies but a terrible way to grow a church.  In many ways, we have created a sub-culture that has prevented others from joining us.  Like our trip around the ranch looking for a way in, there are many people in the community circling our churches trying to find a way in so they can meet Jesus.  The challenge for us is simple.

As God’s church, we need to find a way to be accessible enough for the community to join us while keeping our distance from the sin that so easily entangles us.

This challenge is simple to understand but hard to put into action.  It is hard to reach the community because we are scared of falling back into our old lives of sin.  It is hard to reach the community because we have been raised to think that the community is evil while the church is good.  It is hard to reach the community because we have been taught to be in the world but not of the world.  While it is true that we need to maintain a higher standard of living as Christians, we should not build an ivory tower to shelter us from life.

The Christian sub-culture is both good and bad because it can give us a safe place to grow while at the same time cutting us off from the people we need to reach.  If we spend too much time in our sub-culture, we will lose touch with the reality of our neighborhoods, and that is counter-productive.  I believe that this was part of the motivation behind the Great Commission.  We are told to make an effort to go to the people instead of just sitting around waiting for them to show up.

Of course, we do need to have a healthy church for them to attend after we reach them for Christ, so we should never neglect the Discipleship part of our responsibilities.  However, we cannot make disciples without first making converts.  And we cannot convert those who are not convicted.  And we cannot convict those who are not listening.  And how can they listen when we are not speaking their language?

If we want people to listen to what we have to say, we need to learn their language so they can understand us.  Think about the events that took place over the past year.  How many of those events were designed with the community in mind?  Which ones actually had members of the community showing up?

Are we trying to make a movie for people to escape reality for a couple of hours every week, or are we trying to reach our communities for Christ?

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Tuesday, January 3rd 2017

12:08 AM

The Greenwood Mall

I used to love going to the Mall.  I was never a “Mall rat” but I did enjoy walking through the people who were shopping on Friday nights when there was nothing else to do.  I also loved going through the malls during the Christmas season because I got a chance to see all the decorations and sales that were happening.  My first experience with the Mall had to be in the early 1980’s when we would visit the only “Non-Dwarf House” place to eat a Chik-Fil-A sandwich, and that was at the Greenbriar Mall.  Of course, it is hard to imagine what life was like before Truett Cathy took over the food court in malls across America, but I digress.

I remember Shannon Mall opening, and my mom taking us to the health fairs so we could see the kids clogging and get lots of goodies from the booths.  My Grandma used to work at the call center for Sears at Shannon Mall, and my sister ended up working at a couple of the stores in the mall before it started going downhill.  When the Mall in Douglasville opened, the people stopped going to Shannon Mall so the stores began their mass exodus.  Along with the mall in Douglasville, there were strip malls in Newnan that began another trend that contributed to the decline of many malls across the country.

The trend used to be a shared space with other stores and a theme that tied the facilities together, we call it a mall.  When the malls became overcrowded and the demand for more restaurants and stores overwhelmed the management, the trend switched to strip malls with a theme, or “Outdoor” malls that popped up across the street from the malls.  These were different from “Outlet” malls because they were not overflow stores.  Once the major (Anchor) stores left the mall, the smaller stores were not enough to sustain the overhead for the facilities to remain profitable.  Simply put, the malls went broke and most of them had to close.

The closing of Shannon Mall was not pretty.  As the stores left, the management did nothing with the huge holes so they became eye sores that caused the people to get depressed, and when people get depressed, they don’t want to stay.  And if they don’t stay, they don’t shop.  And if they don’t shop, the stores will leave.  It was a slow and painful process, but the mall ended up being demolished.

When Shannon Mall was torn down, I knew that part of my life would never be the same again.  No matter what malls look like in the future, it is highly unlikely that we will experience what we had in the late 1980s - 1990s.  If I want my kids to experience what I did at the malls, I have to play a movie that had mall scenes, but that can only go so far.

After moving to Greenwood, we visited the mall on a regular basis.  It is not a big mall, but they have a couple of “Anchors” (Belk and JC Penny), and some healthy secondary stores that are busy.  They also had a Chik-Fil-A which was our main motivation for going inside.  That Chik-Fil-A is now in the parking lot but we still like to walk around inside the mall.

Just like the other malls, the Greenwood Mall has gone through transitions as a result of stores moving to gain more exposure.  The exodus of stores created holes that needed to be filled and that can be depressing.  The management decided to cover the holes with a wall so we don’t have to look at empty spaces.  I don’t know much about the history of the mall, but I have a feeling that even with many stores, they probably had more spaces available so it was a good idea to cover them up with walls instead.

Walking through the Greenwood Mall is interesting because there are long walls between stores so there is still an empty feeling because we know that it is not as full as it could be.  However, the management added something else to give us a great experience.  Instead of letting us look at long, boring walls, they painted huge pictures of various parts of Greenwood so we can read about the city where we live.  This also gives us a good history lesson as we walk!  I can’t help but wonder if other malls would have survived if they tried something like this.

How you handle the dry spells can make a huge difference.

In the church, we go through dry spells when we don’t have as many people as we had before, and for a small church, this can be a depressing period of time.  Whether we are missing teenagers, babies, or young adults, there are times when holes can form in our ministries, so we need to be careful about how we handle those holes.

If we allow ourselves to focus too much on the holes in our ministries, we can become depressed and end up creating issues in the areas where we are strong.  This is why we need to work on a strategy for removing the “Eye sores” that come with missing parts of the church.  Perhaps we need to use the empty Sunday School rooms for something else like a prayer room, a library, or a place to display items that describe our story.  I remember visiting a church that had a “History” room that displayed pictures of the different buildings they were in as they grew.  The walls told the story so I could get a sense of the journey they took.

Whatever we decide to do with the holes in our ministries, we need to make sure we don’t allow our present ministries to suffer because the people we do have still need a church to be part of.  And this is why it is so important to stay positive and focus on what we can do rather than complain about what we used to do or refuse to try anything because of what we “Can’t” do.

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Saturday, December 17th 2016

3:05 PM

Shaggy and the talking dog

Do you remember the cartoon Scooby Doo?  I used to watch it every day as a kid and now I can watch it with the Wee Ones since the movies were made.  A couple of weeks ago, we were watching one of the movies that had a subplot for Shaggy and Velma.  Shaggy was developing feelings for Velma but she was not interested.  When Shaggy struggled with trying to impress Velma, he verbally vented his frustration in his bedroom with Scooby.  Since Scooby is “Man’s best friend” and has the ability to talk, Shaggy decided to role play to see if he could figure out how best to word his speech for Velma.

Shaggy - I like you, Velma Dinkley.  So, what do you say?  Will you go on a date with me?

Scooby - Sorry, not my type.

Shaggy - Like, come on, Scoob.

Scooby - Forget Velma.  Time for a midnight snack.

Shaggy - A what?

Scooby - A midnight snack.  You know, a couple of sandwiches, a rack of ribs, pepperoni?

Shaggy - What?

Scooby - Oh, just follow me. Whew.

Shaggy - Just my luck, I have a talking dog and I can’t understand a word he says.

(I hope you read Scooby’s part in his voice) What we see in that exchange is a classic case of misunderstanding based on the ability to speak clearly and listen completely.

Shaggy wanted to role play so he could figure out how to impress Velma.  Scooby was hungry and wanted to eat a snack.  They both had different goals in mind, and that made it hard to understand each other.  Along with the difference in goals, Scooby was not able to speak clearly since everything begins with an “R” sound, and that caused even more confusion.

Shaggy had a great resource, a talking dog, but he could not use that resource because he could not understand what Scooby was saying.

How many times have we failed in ministry because of the “Lack of resources” with our situation?  Perhaps it is not a lack of resources but a failure to understand the resources we already have.  Every church has people with many talents and skills.  Some of them are using their talents to the best of their abilities but there may be others who are serving in an area where they are not equipped properly to serve.

If we understand a person’s talents and skills, we could help that person move towards an area of service where he/she can serve better for the Lord.  If we just “Plug and play” according to what the church needs, we might as well be trying to have a conversation with Scooby Doo.

How can we connect people with the areas of service in which they are best equipped?  We need to start with getting to know the person first and then find an area where he/she can serve.

Unfortunately, we like to do the opposite.  Most of the time, we search for people to fill positions rather than finding positions for the people who serve.  Is there a difference?  Let’s think about it.

Every church has positions that need people whether it is a server to pass the plates or a greeter to hand out bulletins.  That will never change no matter how many people attend the church.  When trying to find people to serve in those positions, who are we looking for?  Experience says that we are looking for anybody who is willing to serve because we don’t have time to wait for the ideal person for that position.  That is the heart of the problem.

If we don’t slow down long enough to get to know our people, we will never get to the place where we have servants waiting to serve.

Shaggy needed somebody to talk to about Velma.  Rather than looking for another human who could help, he turned to his dog because he was right there ready to talk.  The problem was that Scooby Doo did not want to talk about Velma, he wanted to talk about getting something to eat.  When a church needs a position filled, we need resist the temptation to find the closest person to us and wait for the right servant for the service opportunity.

When we find the right position for the right person at the right time for service, the church will be much healthier than if we just “Plug and play” every Sunday.

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Thursday, November 17th 2016

11:27 PM

Footprints in the Sand

This time last week, we were having fun with our Florida friends.  The Wee Ones were playing with their friend in his room while we were having great conversation with our friends in the living room.  It was good times as we caught up with our lives.  At this point, we only get to see them once per year but we hope to spend more time with them in the future.  After all, these are friends we consider to be lifelong friends since we have been through several transitions together.  We let our kids play for a couple of hours past their bedtime since this was a special occasion, but that did not cause us to change our plans for the next day.

I was not going to allow another sunrise on the beach go by without me watching it, and for the Wee Ones, this was their first time!

We did not get much sleep that night, but it was worth it because the Wee Ones got to see what I described to them as a beautiful creation from God.  I used to work the night shift at the 7/11 convenient store on the beach so when I got off work at 6:00am, I would drive across the street, take out my lawn chair, and sit on the beach until the sun came up.  That was the most amazing time for me because it was so peaceful and reassuring.  It was peaceful because the beach was empty.  It was reassuring because God gave us another day!

Each new day is God’s gift to us.  What we do with that day is our gift to God.

That saying is on a picture I used for an announcement slide at church, and it is an attitude that we should maintain for life.  We should live each day as if we do not deserve to live and that will give us a better view of what is truly important.

As we were walking on the beach watching the sunrise, I noticed that the Wee Ones were behind me playing in the footsteps I left behind.  They would take the steps I took so I decided to stretch their legs and take wider steps.  At that point, they decided to jump from footprint to footprint so they could stay in my steps.  This was their way of imitating me which is one of their favorite games they like to play.

Whether they are stepping in footprints that are left in the sand or following the career path we have traveled, our kids love following us, and they want to do what we do no matter how trivial it may appear.

I remember using my dad’s old razor without the blade so I could shave like him.  When he would bring home the old phones from his job, we would act like we worked for the phone company too.  We had hard hats like his and even used his tools when he wasn’t looking.  Sometimes, he would be able to find his tools in the yard, under the house in the crawl space, or in our bedrooms depending on where we were at suppertime.

We wanted to be like our dad and now the Wee Ones want to be like me.

How scary is that?  At some point in life, we were no longer the kids playing upstairs.  Now we are the adults yelling at those kids to get them to play quietly!  When did we become old?  Of course, our parents laugh at us because we don’t know what old is, but to our kids, we might as well be parting the red sea or pushing a stone car with our feet!

Being an adult means that we are constantly being followed, and that should motivate us to become people worth following.

It is no secret that our presidential election caused much drama from the time it began until today and will most likely continue for several months if not years as we continue to deal with a split country.  For this reason, it is critical for Christians to take the high road and resist the temptation to react with a less than Godly response to the current climate of controversy.  This is not the time for attacking those who do not agree with us.  This is the time for us to extend the olive branch and allow people the same freedom of opinion that we expect for ourselves.

Above all else, we need to remember that our kids are playing in the footsteps we leave because they want to be just like us.  If we want our kids to grow up being great men and women of God, we need to make sure they know what steps to take.

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Monday, November 7th 2016

10:45 PM

Office Hours for the Church Part 2

“What is it that you do during the week?”  “Why don’t you visit more people?”  “Why is it that I can never get in touch with you?”

Those questions have been asked many times in a variety of settings, and they all come from the same source.  When people don’t understand what it is we do, these questions and many more questions just like them are asked.  Although there are a few people who may ask these questions because they are trying to prove a point, I have found that many people ask these questions because they genuinely want to know more about their minister.

Keeping office hours will allow us to give people a way to find the answers to their questions.

“What is it that you do during the week?”  Why don’t you visit me at the church during the hours I am there, and I will be more than happy to show you what I do.  “Why don’t you visit more people?”  Most of the time, it is a scheduling issue, but with consistent office hours, I increase the availability for somebody to visit me when their schedule allows the time.  If nothing else, the person will know when to call the church office so I can set up a time to visit.

“Why is it that I can never get in touch with you?”  That question reveals an issue with accessibility.  Office hours will help with this, but I would also ask if that person has my contact information.  In this age of social media, cell phones and emails, I find it hard to believe that I would not be available at some point.  If this kind of question is being asked, I would have to ask why that person felt like I was not available.  At the very least, having office hours would eliminate the excuse that the person never knows where I am.

Keeping office hours is a great way to maintain accessibility, but what do those hours look like?  I’m glad you asked!

Every church is different and every Minister is different, so I will share my philosophy and you can see what works for you.  For me, my hours are Tuesday - Thursday, 1:00pm - 5:00pm.  I use Monday as a day off so I can recharge and rest from the previous week.  Friday is a “Catch-up” day for me so I can remove all the items off my plate except for what is needed for Sunday.  Saturdays are used for Sunday items only since that is my final day to get everything ready.

Why did I choose the afternoon hours?  I did this for a couple of reasons.  The practical reason is that my wife works at a Pre-School in the morning so I have the Wee Ones until after lunch.  The accessibility reason is that we have a Middle School across the street, an Elementary School next to the Middle School, and a Private School in the church next door to us.  During the time when the students are going home, we have hundreds of cars passing the church, so I want them to see the car in the parking lot.  That lets them know that we are still “Open” just in case they would like to visit during the week.

Keeping office hours is a good idea, but how hard is it to get work done when people visit the church?

When making yourself available through keeping office hours, it is best to work on projects that can be easily interrupted.  For example, I can work on sermon outlines, my sermon schedule, Bible Study lesson plans, Song service schedules, etc., while I am at the church.  Those are projects that can be interrupted without spending too much time getting started again.

I would never work on something that demands my undivided attention during the office hours because I need to be ready for somebody to visit me.  For example, putting the finishing touches on the sermon is not something I can stop and start without killing the momentum of the “Run-through,” so I reserve that for Saturday when nobody is around.

Here is one final thought about office hours.  I know that there is a fear of not having enough time to work because of people taking up too much time, but if you plan accordingly, you can still be productive while being accessible.  Along with that, I can testify that when you set up office hours, people will respect the times when you are at the church on other days.

I had a few conversations with people on Sundays about me being at the church outside of the office hours.  I would tell the people that they could have stopped and said hello and the response each time went like this: “I knew that this was not your normal time for being there so I figured that whatever you were working on did not need to be interrupted.”  That is how people respond when they know that you are available at some point during the week!  They respect your time because you give them office hours.

Above all else, keeping office hours will send a clear message out to the community that you are available for them.  Be consistent with the hours, post the hours where people can see them, and be sure to include a phone number just in case ministry calls you away from the church during those hours.  If you maintain accessibility, you will have an easier time reaching those who don’t want their first visit to be during the Sunday Morning Worship Hour.

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