Death by Meeting

In 2004, Patrick Lencioni published a book entitled Death by Meeting. The author had me at the title. During my career, I have endured many murderous meetings. They didn’t kill me, but I almost died of boredom at times.

death-by-meetingLike them or not, we all spend a lot of time in meetings, including: business meetings, church meetings, school meetings, civic club meetings, Little League meetings, Scout meetings, homeowners’ meetings, and more. We even plan pre-meetings to organize meetings and post-meetings to debrief how previous meetings met!

Many times I would prefer to just do the work myself rather than meet with others. For the same reason, I never liked group projects in school. The weakest link determines the strength of a chain. I preferred to earn my own grade rather than depend on someone else’s efforts.

This solo approach works well in any organization with one member or less; however, it does not work in groups of two or more! Like children in preschool, we must learn how to work and play nicely with others.

From a Biblical and theological perspective, each person is a valuable, worthwhile child of God. The Lord gifts every human being with talents and abilities. Meeting enable people to share their talents in order to benefit the group.

Business leaders use buzz words like “synergy” to describe this process. Dictionaries provide a formal definition of the term; however, a simple math equation illustrates the principle:

Synergy occurs when 1 + 1 = MORE THAN TWO!

Such synergy enables the whole to be more than the sum of its parts. In other words, groups become more together than apart as individuals. We see the principle illustrated in athletic teams, jazz bands, project groups, and barbershop quartets.

The Bible uses many images to describe the church, including the body of Jesus Christ: one body, many members, all gifted in their own way. We complement one another in ways that enable the church to accomplish God’s work.

Death by meeting . . . well, maybe it feels that way sometimes.

Life by meeting . . . it turns out that’s how God does business.

Memorial Day

During my childhood, Memorial Day signaled the unofficial start of summer. I never thought much about the holiday’s deeper meaning. For a boy, enjoying a day off from school seemed significant enough.

memorial-dayIn the aftermath of the Civil War, Major General John A. Logan issued General Order 11. It designated May 30 as Decoration Day—a time of remembrance for fallen soldiers. Arlington Cemetery hosted the first major observance in 1868. The annual event quickly grew into a national holiday.

Today our nation observes Memorial Day on the last Monday of May. The holiday honors military personnel who have died during wartime. Parades, speeches, flags, and cemetery floral arrangements mark the occasion.

We remember the men and women who have given their lives in the service of their country. We also honor remember armed forces’ personnel who presently serve at home or abroad. Our liberties come at a high cost, and we recognize those who lay aside self-interest for their country’s sake.

We remember military families who also make their own sacrifices. Each member of the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, Reserves, and National Guard leaves behind a family at home. Our service personnel wear a uniform; however, parents, siblings, spouses, children, and friends support them on the home front.

This weekend fly the flag. Take your hat off when the National Anthem plays. Speak the words of the Pledge of Allegiance in a strong voice. Express your appreciation to a veteran. Visit a cemetery. Place a flower arrangement. Say a prayer. Remember.

America, God mend thine every flaw,

confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law.

Mother’s Day Memories

Grief possesses a timing and logic all its own. It lurks in shadows and skulks around corners, appearing at the most unexpected of times.

Mother’s Day reminded me of this phenomenon anew.

My mother died four years ago in the midst of our move to Lawrenceville. A massive stroke eventually led to her death. I spent a frantic week rushing from Cartersville to Kennestone Hospital to Lawrenceville and back and back and back again.

I preached my first Sunday at First United Methodist Church of Lawrenceville on Sunday. She died 36 hours later on Monday night.

People grieve in different ways. In some ways, the busyness of serving a new congregation eased the pain. In other ways, I put grief on a layaway program, paying installments over time.

Four years later I still find myself surprised by grief. During December, I saw a gift and thought, “Mom would like that for Christmas.” This March I almost called to wish my parents a Happy Anniversary. Perusing Mother’s Day cards last week, I saw one she would have loved.

Grief possesses a timing and logic all its own. It lurks in shadows and skulks around corners, appearing at the most unexpected times

However, sorrow is nothing more than the long shadow cast by love. If we did not love, then we would not grieve. If we did not possess, then we could not lose.

In a poem entitled In Memoriam A. H. H., Lord Alfred Tennyson wrote:

  • I hold it true, whate’er befall;
  • I feel it when I sorrow most;
  • ‘Tis better to have loved and lost
  • Than never to have loved at all.

In times of grief, Christians claim what we proclaim: believers who have loved and lost never really lose their loved ones at all. Grief lasts but a moment, and joy endures forever.

Store Bought Sermons

A recent sampling of my weekend emails revealed the following offers:

  • Sermon for tomorrow—immediate access!
  • Sermon for this Sunday. Reliable. Professional. Easy.
  • Sermons freshly written for the Easter season.
  • Sermons professionally written for every Sunday.

Based on the subject lines, a thriving red-letter market exists for preachers interested in purchasing Saturday Night Special sermons.

In full disclosure, I certainly borrow from others in sermon preparation. After 2,000 years of Christendom, no one achieves originality. Dr. Fred Craddock, who taught homiletics at Candler School of Theology, warned: “He who steals from me steals twice.” And Fred probably got that statement from someone else!

However, preaching store bought sermons as sermon-dvd-blankhomemade homilies smacks of intellectual dishonesty and spiritual slothfulness. Like Esau, clergy that settle for “reliable, professional, and easy” store bought sermons have traded their birthright for porridge.

Preachers worth their salt labor over proclaiming the Gospel in a unique time and place to a particular people and parish. The integration of Word and World requires a pastor to stand with one foot in the sanctuary and another in the street.

Like Jacob at the Jabbok, faithful ministers wrestle with the Lord and struggle with the text. We limp away from the encounter to share with others our hard won experience.

A homemade homily prepared with love and preached with faithfulness may not be “professionally written,” but it inspires the hearts, minds, and souls of God’s saints.


Each January I select a single word to serve as a focal point for the entire year. The spiritual discipline shapes my daily devotions and spiritual life.

During 2017, I am focusing on being GRATEFUL.

I begin and end each day with the question: “What am I grateful for today?” An attitude of gratitude directs my eyes from the gift to the Giver. It prompts me in a variety of ways to simply say “Thank you ” to the Author of all good and perfect gifts.

gratefulGratefulness begins with God and overflows to others. The Lord graces us with life-giving relationships with family, friends, and others. Our human nature leads us to take people for granted. A focus on being grateful has inspired me to both experience and express my appreciation for those around me.

Gratitude also helps inoculate my soul against whining, complaining, and grumbling. Gratefulness leads us to focus on blessings rather than inconveniences. It’s difficult to moan and groan while praising God and loving others.

We tend to be a forgetful people, so I’ve seeded each day with small reminders. It’s my first thought when I awake, and it’s my last thought when I fall asleep. The word forms (part!) of my computer password. And I’ve even taken the radical step of exercising gratitude while stopped at one of Gwinnett County’s many traffic lights!

During 2017, I am focusing on being GRATEFUL.

What’s your word?