Thursday, February 12, 2009

My Trip South

(If you're looking for the JOKE I did not tell to start last week's sermon, it's the next post below this one...)

(Above is s short video/slideshow of my drive - nothing much!)

I'm finally getting around to starting a little journal of my trip to San Diego on this, day 3 of the National Pastor's Conference. Last year I brought my little mini-laptop along, but the power cord unexpectedly croaked a couple of days before I made this trip, so I lugged my mac mini and a separate full sized screen along instead. During the first session of the conference I discovered that some rather egocentric fellow pastors didn't seem to appreciate my understandable need to drag extension cords across their laps to power my computer, monitor and printer. They should have been thankful I brought my flat screen monitor instead of the old clunker. Of course you know I'm not serious, but I do miss my laptop. Having to set up shop in my motel room is significantly less fun than typing away whenever I feel like it to share what's going on here.

The other difference this year is that I decided to stay at different hotel which is about a mile and a half from the conference. After a couple of years at Super 8, I was ready for a change. I heard one comedian say once that they should call "Super 8" something else - like maybe "OK 5." I couldn't agree more. The extra distance is worth it and I packed my bike into the back of my car so I could bike to the conference and not pay their silly $12 a day parking fee. I have a fridge and even a little stove so I'm made most meals here in the room. A bit isolating, but cheap!

But let's back up a bit. I started my trek down last Sunday after church - at least that's what I was planning. But I was in slow motion and very tired. I didn't end up leaving town until late that afternoon after packing and laundry and a bunch of other stuff. When I got on the road I found I was so tired that I only made it to Ashland, where I stayed the night. When I awoke, the surrounding mountains were blanketed in snow. The highway was a little icey and covered with more gravel than I have ever seen on a road. The rest of the drive was, in a word, LONG. I amused myself with podcasts I had loaded onto my iPod. And there was plenty of time to think about all of the things I should have finished before leaving town, but didn't. Twelve hours later, on Monday night, I arrived here in San Diego. Since then I've been one of about 2000 pastors, most of whom alternate between looking happy to be here or like zombies from the Living Dead. I wonder which I seem to be.

What Goes On At a Pastor's Conference?
I suspect that nothing could sound more boring to some of you than attending a Pastors' Conference. No doubt you are correct - for you. But for us pastor-types, these things can really be quite enthralling. Check out some of the seminar titles for instance (just a few examples of dozens that are offered):

* When the Buck Stops Here: Dealing with the Loneliness of Leadership
* How to Deal with Demanding People without Losing Your Sanity
* Celluloid Spirituality
* Church on the Couch: Does the Church Need Therapy?
* Organic Outreach for Ordinary Churches: Growing an Evangelistic Vision that is Natural, Contagious, and Compelling
* How Green is God?
* The Coming Crisis of Church PCF (Potluck Casserole Flu) - Why Your Church Is At Risk (Ok, I made that one up...)

Now, don't you wish you were here too? NO? Well, for pastors this stuff is ambrosia.

I won't bore you more with the talks I have attended, the books I've picked up or such minutia. But it's been good. It's especially nice to not have responsibility for leading anything at all this week; to sit back and drink in good teaching, tremendous worship, thoughtful new ideas, and simply rest and think about what God is up to and how we are to be a part of it. I always come home with ideas for our church which are sure to cause an uproar for some.
Last night I got to talk to one of my preaching heroes - Will Willimon. He's a guy in his 60's who spent most of his career teaching students at Duke University and he's written 60(!) books. I think he's one of the finest pure preachers of the last 50 years. A gifted man who can weave God's word into a message that touches your mind and heart. He remains the only man I've ever known who delivered an entire sermon on circumcision. Now he's a Methodist Bishop - a "ecclesiastical bureaucrat" as he describes it. He gave a message that I dare say he would not give anywhere else but in front of a group of pastors. Afterwards I waited to speak with him and was impressed by his kindness and genuine spirit. It was a good time.

Other speakers have included Bill Hybels, Shane Claiborne, Rob Bell and Dr. Chris Wright (who speaks with a very intelligent sounding Irish accent).

So CHBC folks, thank you for this chance to learn new things and to get some time away. It didn't hit me until yesterday that I was so exhausted before coming here. I felt like I was in a fog for a couple of days and just started to wake up.

Tomorrow afternoon (Friday) the conference ends and I'll be driving to see my brother in Seal Beach (South of LA). This weekend with him is the one time a year when get hang out together alone. Then I'll head up to see my mom and Amanda for a day or two, and do some planning as well.

I'll try to update this journal again before the end of the weekend. May God bless you with time for recharging too.
Grace & Peace,

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Joke

Last Sunday I planned to start the message with the joke below. But it didn't happen that way. It was Scout Sunday and so we had some great guests with us and I didn't want to offend any of them. Especially the kids - and the parents who might have to answer some "interesting" questions. The point of the joke is in the addendum at the end.
A priest, a pastor and a rabbi walk into a bar to share a drink and talk shop. Shop for guys like this is preaching, and one of them makes the comment that preaching to people isn’t really all that hard. Well, they have a few rounds, and so they decide to do an experiment. They each agree to go out into the woods, find a bear, preach to it, and attempt to convert it.

The next day back in the bar, they share their stories. Father Flannery is bandaged head to toe and on crutches. He reports, “When I found my bear, I read to him from the Catechism. Well, that bear just started slapping me around. So I quickly grabbed my holy water, sprinkled him, and bless me, he became as gentle a lamb. The bishop is going out next week to give him first communion and confirmation.”

Reverend Billy spoke next from his wheelchair, one arm and both legs in casts. In his best fire-and-brimstone style he claims, “Well brothers, you know we don’t sprinkle anything. But I found me a barr and read to him from God’s Holy Word! But that barr wanted nothing to do with me. So I took hold of him and we began to wrassle. We wrassled up one hill and down another until we came to a crick. So I quick dunked him and baptized his hairy soul! And just like you said, he became as gentle as a lamb. We spent the rest of the day praising Jesus and I signed him up for New Members class."

They both looked down at Rabbi Goldstein who was in pretty bad shape — an IV drip, full body cast and he’d been wheeled in, in a hospital bed. The rabbi sighed in pain and reflected, “Looking back on it, I probably shouldn’t have started with circumcision.”

The Point of Telling It
Okay, so there it is. I was preaching on "gray areas" and wanted to kick off with a story that was a gray area all it's own.
What part of that story made some of your cringe the most? Religious leaders in a bar? Having a drink, and then tossing back a few? Clergy bragging and holding a preaching contest? Religious stereotypes? A punch line about circumcision?
That's all there is to it! I think I made the right decision by leaving it out that Sunday. I know Ana was relieved!