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.

Grateful

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?

It’s a Dog’s Life

(Bill decided to take a break from his writing duties. The family’s Yorkshire Terrier, Sam, volunteered to serve as today’s guest columnist. Views expressed by the canine in no way reflect his master’s opinions.)

SamBefore we begin, let me apologize for the whole “master” complex of my “owner.” Puh-lease! We all know who is really in control. However, I’ve learned from watching his wife that it doesn’t hurt to let the man THINK that he’s in charge.

In his defense, he’s a lovable sort—slow but trainable. After weeks of effort, he finally learned to give me a dog biscuit whenever I sat, shook, or rolled over.

It took longer on the house training. I committed a number of indiscretions on the carpet before he finally figured out the routine. Now he takes me outside on a regular schedule. One glance at the front door, and he comes running.

We use a leash on our walks. I’ve found this is the best way to keep my human from wandering away. A short tug of the lead gets his attention; but the leash still wraps around his legs if he doesn’t turn quickly enough.

Why are people in such a hurry? A walk involves so much more than locomotion and elimination. God’s creation calls us to play. The scent of each bush, tree, and hydrant reveals cosmic mysteries. Sigh—so many smells to smell and so little time to smell them.

Speaking of smells, so what if I enjoy an occasional roll in something stinky—who doesn’t? The best opportunities always seem to occur right after a bath. For some unfathomable reason, this practice upsets my humans. I imagine they would be less stressed if they followed my example.

I haven’t made any doggie friends in our subdivision. However, there are two ferocious mountain lions that live next door. My people insist on calling them cats, but I know otherwise. The irksome felines dare to slink across my yard on their nefarious escapades. I chase them whenever the opportunity arises, but my leash always pulls me up short.

Felines need to be reminded of their place in the animal kingdom. Dogs rule, cats drool!

Don’t get me started on squirrels. They act so high and mighty with their bushy tails and twitching noses. Lucky for them I keep my people on a leash while I’m outside. Otherwise, I would be on them like white on a Maltese.

I love to go for rides. I sit in my man’s lap and drive. It’s tough to watch the road with my nose out the window, but I manage.

However, not all of our road trips end well. Sometimes they take me to the bad place where they shampoo my hair and trim my nails. I will spare sensitive readers a description of what they do to the back of my front. Let’s just say that it involves squeezing certain unmentionable glands. ‘Nuf said.

For some reason, my family prepares and serves meals at a level above my reach. I am reduced to sitting at their feet, whining pitifully. You’ve just got to know how to work your audience. They all blame one another for feeding me scraps, but then each one slips me something special.

I am The Master of All I Survey. Sometimes strange people or animals dare to walk on the street in front of my house. Per dog decorum, I exercise my right and duty to announce my presence loudly. My family pretends to fuss about the barking, but I know that they treasure this endearing quality.

I may only weigh 10 pounds, but it’s not the size of the dog in the fight—it’s the size of the fight in the dog!

I’m waiting at the door when my people arrive at the end of the day. They always act so excited to see me. I indulge them with some dancing and prancing of my own. Humans love that sort of stuff.

At bedtime, I decide which human to grace with my presence in bed. They started me off in a crate followed by a dog bed. Puh-lease—get a grip and buy a clue. They can sleep in a crate while I snuggle under the covers.

It’s a dog’s life, and I’m not complaining. The Great Master in the Sky has blessed my family richly. Between you and me, I believe the Hound of Heaven has a soft spot for canines.

Think about it—“dog” is “God” spelled backwards. Coincidence? I don’t think so!

The Tomb is Empty

A group from our church traveled to the Holy Land in 2015. We took a walking tour of Jerusalem on the final day of the tour. Entering the Old City, we walked the Via Dolorosa and prayed at the Stations of the Cross.

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher marks the traditional location of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Although the claim cannot be supported with historical certainly, Christians have worshiped at this sacred site since the fourth century.

Church of Holy Sepulcher

Altar marking Golgotha

Past the entrance we climbed a stairway on the right that ascended to the site of Golgotha. Under an elaborate altar, pilgrims knelt and touched the rock where the crucifixion took place. The Chapel of Adam is located beneath the altar. Legend claims the blood of Jesus seeped through the rock and covered the skeletal remains of First Man.

A large rotunda left of the entrance houses the traditional site of Jesus’ tomb. I stood in a line winding around the sepulcher. The anteroom contained the “Angel’s Stone” which is purportedly a piece of the stone that sealed Christ’s tomb. A priest stood inside, directing three people at a time to enter the second chamber of the tomb itself.

The low entrance forced us to bow while entering the site of Jesus’ burial. An altar marked the place where Joseph of Arimathea placed the body. We knelt in silent reverence on holy ground.

The Garden Tomb

The Garden Tomb

Later in the afternoon we visited a second site claiming to be the possible place of the cross and empty tomb. Golgotha (Calvary in Latin) literally means The Place of the Skull. A British general and amateur archaeologist named Gordon found a rock formation outside Jerusalem’s walls that resembled a skull. He then unearthed a tomb nearby bearing a striking resemblance to the Gospel’s descriptions of Jesus’ burial place.

The Garden Tomb certainly gave us a sense of what the tomb might have looked like. Our British host talked about the various claims supporting the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and Gordon’s Calvary. Finally, he paused and said in true English fashion: “However, ultimately it doesn’t matter which site is authentic. The important thing to remember, you see, is THE TOMB IS EMPTY!”

The Crucifixion and the Resurrection bisect history. History swings on the hinges of the cross and empty tomb. On the far side of Easter, nothing remains the same.

The Easter angel’s words continue to ring down through the centuries and in our ears: Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here—he is risen!

God has conquered sin and death. Jesus Christ is the firstborn of the resurrection, and he invites us to receive life, abundant life, and everlasting life. Easter people need not fear the grave because we serve the Lord of Life.

The important thing to remember, you see, is THE TOMB IS EMPTY!