Saturday, September 25, 2010

Beyond the door greeter: The most important contribution of Tim Wright

My sons Jacob and Zachary have baseball cards. Hundreds of them. They like to spend time with them, because the cards feed two of their passions: baseball and numbers. They organize and re-organize the cards. They play fictional baseball games, complete with playoffs, with them. Most important, they show the cards off to their friends. Even adults who come over to the house are likely to be introduced to the baseball cards collection by my sons.
I have a friend named Frank. He's retired, and is an expert woodworker. Visitors to his house will be treated to the tour: he loves to show you the gorgeous cherrywood rocking horse, the grandfather clock, and countless other items he has made out of wood. They're all quite beautiful; very impressive. It's Frank's passion, and he loves to share what he has done with others.

For the last 15 years, I have had a friend named Tim Wright. His title was Pastor of Small Groups and Assimilation. We all know what a small group is, but "assimilation" means that Tim did much more than meet you when you first visited Grace Community Church. He got to know you, figure out your experiences, your gifts and talents, and what is most important to you; what really gets you going. Armed with that information, Tim had a knack of finding a place for you to serve. Typically, but not necessarily, within the church, he'd find a ministry that needed someone just like you. If there wasn't one, he'd create it. He was a master at helping you find your place in advancing the Kingdom of God.
Now, here's where it gets most interesting: once he helped you find your place, he liked to brag about you to others. I cannot count the times I'd be sitting in a small group setting, and Tim would ask everyone to go around the room and introduce themselves. You might say your name and your spouse's name, maybe one tidbit of information, but Tim would always interject some ministry you were involved in.
It would go like this:
"Hi, I'm Bob, and this is my wife Kathy, and we've been at grace for 8 years". And Tim would interrupt and say: "You know, folks, Bob and Kathy have been leading a home group for 7 years. It's been really life-giving, and we've seen some great new leaders come out of that group."
A few years ago, Tim got to hire an assistant, Carol. He never introduced her as Carol, though. It was always "This is my awesome assistant, Carol Weideman." Tim introduced people that way because that's how he thought of people.

At the beginning of 2010, when Tim was undergoing treatment for his brain tumor, I read Don Miller's heartfelt tribute to his friend and mentor David Gentiles, who had just died suddenly. In it, he said that the people in Gentiles' life were like his baseball card collection. I knew instantly that God was speaking to me that this was true about Tim Wright. He not only loved to help people excel, to be all that they were made for, but he loved to brag about it. Not to brag in a sinful prideful way, but to rejoice, to enjoy that his life's work was making a difference through so many people. Thankfully, I got a chance in January to share this insight with Tim personally.

By himself, Tim could only impact a few dozen people, but through others, he could impact thousands. And when he saw that people were finding a way to make an impact, he loved to tell others about it. Like Jacob and Zachary and the baseball cards, he showed you and me off to others. Like Frank and the things made of wood, he wanted to display you to the world. Tim took a special kind of satisfaction in watching his friends find their place.

Since Tim passed away, many people have joked that Tim has replaced St Peter as heaven's door greeter. On earth, Tim was great at that initial meeting, but he didn't stop there. He got to know people long after that first day. So my vision of what Tim is doing now is a little different from the door greeter scenario envisioned by others, and it's probably just as biblically sound ;)   In the picture in my mind, he is hanging with his new friends, saints from years past. he has special-ordered some laminated cards, the size of baseball cards, and he has a stack of them. And each card has a person, a friend who Tim helped find and fulfill their purpose in this life. And Tim's pulling out a card, telling his new friends about this person on this card. "Here's my friend James. Let me tell you about him..."

"For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them." Ephesians 2:10

Friday, September 10, 2010

Outlive Your Life--A Book Review

In "Outlive Your Life," author Max Lucado takes the reader on a journey through the book of Acts, painting a picture along the way. A picture which describes the need for all believers to carry out God's work and make their life count for something. Ideally, such work will last beyond the lifetime of the worker. Lucado skillfully uses the history of the beginning of the Church, as told to us in the book of Acts, to teach the reader why helping others in Jesus' name is part of Christian life.

Along the way, he backs up this idea not only with verses, but with statistics and with real-life stories of modern believers who chose to make their lives count by blessing others.

If this sounds familiar, it's because the ground treaded by this book has been covered over and over again. I could not read "Outlive Your Life" without being reminded of "Purpose-Driven Life", "The Hole in Our Gospel", "Don't Waste Your Life", "A Million Miles in a Thousand Years", and "Crazy Love" among others. Many others.

While the message is a great one for anyone who hasn't read those other books, for me it was very familiar stuff. Certainly a worthy topic. But if you have read the books I listed--and chances are you have--you'll realize it's not really telling you anything you haven't already heard before.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, Thomas Nelson, for review purposes.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

You Changed My Life--A Book Review

"You Changed My Life" is Max Lucado's companion piece to "Outlive Your Life". "Outlive your Life" is about the need for Christians to take action by blessing others in their lives. In "You Changed My Life," the author takes the reader into the lives of many people who have done exactly that.

The book's inner flap says it's a gift book intended to be awarded to someone who has made a difference in the life of someone. It consists of several inspiring anecdotes about real people who made a conscious choice to love others in some way. My favorite is "Love Makes a Difference", about Catherine Lawes, wife of a prison warden, who treated prisoners as if they were just as important as she was.

"You Changed my Life", while a companion piece to "Outlive Your Life", would go well alongside other books such as "Crazy Love", by Frances Chan, or "A Million Miles in a Thousand Years", by Donald Miller, in that it doesn't so much preach about spiritual truths as much it personalizes them. Miller says you should make your life into an interesting story, and Lucado tells the stories. Very nice read.

Disclaimer: The publisher furnished me with a copy of this book for review purposes. Check out the Booksneeze program!

Monday, September 06, 2010

Book review: "Permisson to Speak Freely", by Anne Jackson

Anne Jackson's "Permission to Speak Freely" is an astounding piece of work. It’s amazing. In my many previous book reviews, I save my superlatives and only bring them out on rare occasions. But I’m unleashing the floodgates for this one. This book will touch anyone who feels they are or have ever been “damaged goods”, which means just about all of us. I got this book for free from the publisher, but in hindsight, I’d have paid $100 for it. It’s that powerful.

It's divided into 3 parts. The first part consists of Jackson's background story, mostly sad vignettes of how she was betrayed by people in the church. This betrayal was extended in many cases to her other family members, and clearly had a lasting effect on the author.

Part 2 explains her adult life so far, and how she has come to realize some truths about her past. Of all the things she learned, the biggest impact came from the realization that many people in churches everywhere have hurts, secrets, pasts, and things on their heart they want to share but feel they cannot.

And that's where the 3rd part comes in. In it, Jackson describes ways she is encouraging others to come forward, and say those things that are hard to say in church. Among Christians, transparency should be priority one, but in reality, that's not usually the case. She describes "the gift of going second", which is her showing leadership by telling someone something difficult about herself, so they will be more willing to get past their fear of opening up. 

And that's the ultimate goal here: to get people to open up. Because Jesus cannot heal any wound that's still hidden. We have an enemy who likes to work in the dark, and Anne Jackson has discovered the value of exposing things to the light. Only there can we find freedom.

Way to go Anne. You have done good.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Following in the footsteps of Gomer, Jed Clampett, and Barney Fife

As a kid, I watched a lot of TV after school. At that time of day, the choices were soaps, game shows, and reruns of shows which were popular in the 50's & 60's. I typically chose the reruns. The list of shows I liked included Gilligan's Island, I Love Lucy, Lost in Space, and many more.

Five TV shows in this rerun rotation had one thing in common. See if you can tell what that one thing is:

Gomer Pyle
The Andy Griffith Show
The Beverly Hillbillies
Petticoat Junction
Green Acres

That's right: they all featured hillbillies: characters with Southern accents, limited formal education, and a glaring absence of sophistication. When the hicks crossed paths with non-hicks, hilarity ensued. Many laughs were squeezed from the contrast between the hillbillies and "book-smart" people. Of course, the moral of many of the episodes was that the dumb hicks often had more wisdom than the city folks whom they were up against.

Around 2000 years ago, a God-man named Jesus chose to use a dozen guys to get the ball rolling on the greatest movement in the history of the world. A revolution that would put all the rest of them to shame. A message of hope, eternal life, healing, purpose, destiny, and God's love for all people.  

Who were these guys He trusted to start this thing with?  You'd think a bunch of dour-faced, seminary-trained Type-A men who were well-versed in Scripture and prayed 10 hours a day and spoke multiple languages. Guys with first names like Biff or Blake who worked on their thesis while on the Yale rowing team. But instead, He chose hillbillies. Tax collectors. Fishermen. Even the guys who fixed nets used by the fishermen. The only educated one of the bunch was a doctor, which hardly was a qualification for leading this initiative that was about to turn the world upside down.

These guys were the Jethro Bodines, the Gomer Pyles, the Floyd the Barbers. That's who He chose. And like Barney Fife, they shot themselves in the foot a time or two. But God chose these hicks to confront the educated Pharisees and tell them what's what about the Messiah and the real meaning of the Law.

These doofuses were to teach the so-called teachers about how God wanted to bring the message of His love to the Gentiles, the poor, the prostitutes, and even those dastardly Samaritans. The hillbillies got to be the ones who showed the world how Jesus paid their ransom with His death, resurrection and ascension. About how God has work for us to do.

To this day, many supposedly wise people, whether or not they are professing God-followers, look down on the unsophisticated, the uneducated, the people with a shady past. Heck, I know I do. All the time. But modern Christians are following in the footsteps of the 1st-century versions of Jed Clampett and Mr Haney. They don't look like much, but with God equipping them, they did great things.  And so can we.

What does this mean for us in the 21st-century? It means that if we're willing to not worry about looking undignified, God will be able to use us to do something spectacular. It's not just for the "smart" people, or the smooth talkers. Nobody is ineligible. No one.

My new motto: Be a hillbilly; make a difference.

1 Corinthians 1:25-27 
Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong,