Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Dear OLD Dad

If still living, my father would be celebrating his 100th birthday this week.

Unfortunately he only lived to be 71 years old. As far as I’m concerned his life was way too short. After I reached adulthood my father and I became good friends. Not so much before that.

I was a challenging child – at least that’s how I choose to see it. I didn’t try to do things to irritate my parents, they just sort of happened. I remember one of many conversations with my big brother about life. He told me that before he did anything he thought about how his actions would impact our parents. I was amazed. Such thoughts never entered my mind. If I wanted to do something, I weighed the impact it might have on me and if the results were something I thought I could live with I did it. So I was often in the doghouse it the McConnell household. Dad and I had many chats. Well, not exactly chats. He talked and I listened. The less I said the better the outcome for me.

My earliest memories of my Dad were waiting for him to come home to deal with some of my misbehavior. Please understand, my mother had no problem dealing out some discipline; she just saved the heavy lifting for dad. Like Bill Cosby said of his parents, when dad got home mother only had one thing to say – “Kill the child.” Fortunately, much like his younger son, dad often failed to follow my mother’s instructions. Thus, I survived childhood.

My dad was a worker and felt it was his task as a father to teach his children the joy of hard work and the accomplishments it brought. Every Saturday, while my friends were in the house watching morning cartoons, my dad always had a project lined up for my brother and I to do. Every project was a learning experience and dad was a great teacher. Over the years I learned how to cut the grass (First with a mechanical push mower.), build fences, fix small engines, cut down trees and split firewood, plant trees and bushes, shovel and haul manure (Not difficult to learn.), build a rock damn on a creek, take care of a dog, plant, cut, strip and house tobacco, cut and house hay, raise hogs, repair and paint a barn, repair a roof, replace a broken window, balance a checkbook, develop a budget, change a tire, and the list could go on forever. My dad could work anyone he ever met right into the ground. I often thought he would never announce that it was quitting time. Sundown didn’t necessarily stop the work.

Dad was fun and interesting to work with. He was always teaching. He had a great sense of humor. And lunch was good and he paid for it. I have often thought that the best meal in the world was bologna and cheese on crackers with a Pepsi and eaten sitting on the tailgate of his truck. The man could work you into the ground. I have never seen such stamina. One steaming hot summer day, Dad, my brother and I were building fence on the farm. When we paused my father looked around and asked where my brother had gone. I looked over in the weeds and discovered the body. Bob had passed out in the heat. Dad had hardly broken a sweat.

Ah, his truck. It served many purposes besides being our dining room table for lunch. It was always the cheapest model available. No air conditioning, three speed transmission on the column, power nothing and white. But riding in it with dad was always and adventure. Mother called him, “The most dangerous man in Henry County Kentucky”… because dad never paid any attention to his driving. He was busy looking at the crops in the fields we were passing or counting how many head of cattle the neighbors had. It seems dad’s policy was to drive down the middle of the road and it was everyone else’s responsibility to get the hell out of the way. I lived through several heart stopping moments riding in that truck… most of them experienced at the crest of a hill. Near the end of his life I drove him across Kentucky to a meeting during an ice storm. When we arrived back home he said, “You are a very good driver.” I told him that compliment would have meant more coming from someone else. Mother spent her life convinced my father would die in a traffic accident.

My father was a wise man and he didn’t mind sharing that wisdom. Unfortunately most of it was shared with me while I was still a know-it-all teenager so it fell on deaf ears. Dad had two favorite lecture halls. If he was dispensing wisdom, it was in the bathroom. He sat on the pot and the receiver sat on the edge of the tub. We had sliding glass shower doors so one didn’t actually sit on tub, but on the relatively narrow channel the doors slid in. it took the channel approximately 20 minutes to cut off the circulations to my legs and I lost all feeling in them. I always stood up post lecture and reeled around the house like a drunk. As my legs deadened I lost all interest in the lecture and could only concentrate on the process of feeling my legs go to sleep.

Dad’s other lecture hall was his in home office. This was reserved for the angry, you-have-really-screwed-up-this-time lectures. Unfortunately for both of us, I attended a rather large number of these lectures. Occasionally the invitation to the office puzzled me; I had no idea what it had done wrong. Most of the time I had no doubts. One of my father’s favorite ploys was to ask, “Is there anything you need to tell me.” Sometimes he followed up with, “Confession is good for the soul.” I learned from my older siblings that the safe and proper answer was, “I love you, Dad.” Rarely would I deny any wrong doing, but I made it a policy to never admit to anything.

Just as I had the distraction of taking notice of how long it took my legs to go to sleep in the bathroom lectures, I had a distraction in the office lectures. Dad invariably started every office talk by declaring, “Now, I’m not going to get mad.” He got mad every time. There were two distractions connected with this. The first was, how long would it take before he was completely out of his mind with anger? In my experience it usually took between 90 and 120 seconds. The second distraction was that special vein in his forehead. About two minutes into the lecture and his anger was peaking, a vein on his forehead would stand out about an inch and pulsate. It was mesmerizing. I kept waiting for it to explode. Somehow it always managed to make it through the talk intact.

Dad had grown up in a time and place without television or radios. They didn’t even have electricity during most of his childhood. For entertainment they set out on the porch and told stories. He became a master story teller. Many a summer evening we sat on the porch and listened to dad tell stories of his childhood. When dad told a story you could see the people he described, feel and smell the environment and hear their voices. Dad described “Uncle Lem’s” laugh as a come-back laugh. When he described Mide Fogg’s face I could imagine her dark sparkling eyes and see every wrinkle. In my mind’s eye I can still see her tiny cabin tucked back in a Kentucky hollow. I can hear Uncle Theodore yelling into a stubborn mule’s face, “You think you’re smarter than me? I’ll have you know I graduated from high school.” What could be funnier than when his very stoic and no nonsense father fell off a hay rake because his brother had failed to sufficiently tighten the bolt holding the seat? He immediately jumped up looking for someone to give a good hiding. Granddaddy found himself surrounded by the most innocent looking boys imaginable.

Dad spent many hours teaching me and my brother the ins and outs of baseball and basketball. He even built a driveway turnaround that was the size of half of a basketball court. He could shoot a two hand underhand set shot from half court that got nothing but net. Over and over and over. He was even better at teaching baseball. We built a backstop in the far corner of the yard and my brother and I spent thousands of hours pitching and batting. In high school I lettered in baseball and Bob became a superstar. His pitching ability was renown all over the state of Kentucky. The first day one of us hit a ball far enough to hit the house and break a window, dad was thrilled. He even took the time to coach some of our kid’s league teams.

Mom and dad’s philosophy about vacations was, “If you take the kids, it isn’t a vacation.” Most vacations we kids stayed home under the watchful eye of one of our strange and entertaining aunts. The only family vacation I remember was an eternity long road trip to Florida. The car was hot and crowded (Five kids), the motels were hot and crowded and the beach was hot and crowded. Dad’s favorite form of fun was to float us out from the beach on an inner tube and then claim he saw a jellyfish. Without fail one of us kids would flail around avoiding the phony jellyfish and fall off the tube. Dad thought that was hysterical.

Dad brought a never ending line of strange characters to the house. Most remembered was Mr. Wiekel. Harold Wiekel was much older than dad but loved to hang around with him. Mr. Wiekel showed up most Saturday morning excited about helping dad with whatever project he had cooked up. The most memorable thing about Wiekel was his shaky hands. They never stopped shaking and we boys couldn’t take our eyes off of them – especially during lunch. I will never know if mom did it on purpose but it seems she served either soup or a vegetable like peas every time Mr. Wiekel came over. Our mouths gaped open as we watched to see if Wiekel’s eating instrument would make it to his mouth with any trace of food on it.

Like many veterans of World War II, dad made a promise to God that if he survived the war he would go to church. He was a man of his word. So the McConnell family showed up at church every time the doors opened. Church was central to our family social circle. At church mom and dad made lifelong friendships. Their friend’s children became our friends. The McConnell house was always full of family and friends. On Saturday mornings, before fixing breakfast, mom would do a “body count” so she would know how many to prepare for. There was much love and laughter in that house and dad was always right at the center of it all.

Unfortunately for my kids, my dad was a much better father than I turned out to be. I was lucky to have him and I still miss him.

Copyright © 2015, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved

Bill McConnell is Senior Minister at Lindenwood Christian Church in Memphis, Tennessee and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. His latest book on church transformation is DEVELOPING A SIGNIFICANT CHURCH and is available at Westbow Press.

He can be contacted @ Connect with him on Facebook @ William T. McConnell or on Twitter @billmc45053 or visit his Amazon Author Page @ Amazon

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Power of Forgiveness

Forgiveness doesn’t come naturally or easily. It must be learned and then practiced.
Why Forgive When We Have Really Been Wronged? Forgiving doesn't make sense to us. After all, I have a right to be angry and unforgiving, especially when the one who wronged us hasn’t apologized. I am only doing what is natural and normal. I owe it to myself.
We read this lesson of forgiveness in this exchange between Peter and Jesus.
"Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’ “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.
"When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” Matthew 18:21-35 (NIV)
This story makes it clear that our need for forgiveness must certainly motive us to forgive others. There is not a double standard in the forgiveness business.
Forgiveness sets the forgiver and the forgiven free.
It is good and healthy for both parties involved. Both the offender and the offended are stuck at the point of pain. Unforgiveness is a heavy burden born by both people involved.
 Failing to forgive is not a rational choice… if we are AWARE OF THE SPIRITUAL RAMIFICATIONS.
“This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’ For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. Matthew 6:9-15 (NIV)
To be forgiven we must forgive. It is stated clear in what we call the Lord’s Prayer that we are forgiven only as we forgive. Jesus went on to reiterate this basic spiritual truth after sharing the lesson on prayer. It is a basic truth that we must never lose sight on. We are reminded of this foundational truth every week when we pray the Lord’s Prayer.
Scripture also tells us that unforgiveness is unhealthy. Unforgiveness and the bitterness that it leads to is an underlying cause of spiritual, emotional and physical illness. Many time in his ministry of healing, Jesus spoke to the need for forgiveness as synonymous with healing. The two go hand in hand.
"Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. Some men brought to him a paralyzed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!” Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” Matthew 9:1-6 (NIV)
Because it is not something we humans do naturally, forgiveness is difficult. It is not complex but it is difficult.
  • Forgiving someone means giving up resentment and the right to get even with him or her, even though you were wronged.
  • You are not saying they were not wrong; you are just letting the repercussions go.
  • One reason He commands us to forego hostility and vengeance is that these things cause so much damage to our own lives.
Most doctors believe that our emotional state directly and powerfully impacts us physically.
A quote that has been attributed to many people says, “Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies.” Not forgiving another does much less damage to them than it does to us. Let me sight a case I am familiar with.
It was late in the spring of 1971. I was a seminary student serving my student church in Shelby County Kentucky. On a warm Sunday afternoon I was enjoying the beautiful day sitting on the front porch of the little parsonage the church made available to our growing family. The town was tiny so when any traffic drove by it was noticeable. When a car pulled up in front of the house it had my full attention. Within moments a extremely beautiful woman I had never seen before approached from the car. She introduced herself and told me that her mother, who had been ill for several years, was a member of the church I served. Her mother was severely ill and would I go visit her? I was, of course, happy to.
After checking in with my wife, I headed off to the county hospital in Shelbyville. After tracking down the room number, I discovered a very tiny, very ill woman. She weighed well under 100 pounds. When I asked how she was doing, she described her symptoms. She was suffering from a chronic, extreme GI problem.
Making conversation I mentioned that I had met her daughter and she beamed with pride. Then I told her I had not yet met her husband. The atmosphere in the room changed. Storm clouds gathered and lightening flashed. She suddenly became a different woman; agitated, frustrated and hostile. She announced that she was divorced. I thought it must be recent to be so raw. When I asked, “How long?” She replied, “Fifteen years.”
As we wrapped up our visit and I prepared to pray for her, I asked how long she had been suffering from her affliction, to which she replied, “About 15 years.” A light bulb went off in my head. I asked her if she thought her unforgiveness and hatred she had for her ex-husband could be the cause of her illness. She thought about it for several seconds that felt like minutes to me before she said, “Yes they could be connected.” Ceasing on a great ministry opportunity I asked her, “Would you like for me to pray with you to forgive your ex and then ask God to heal you.” She looked me directly in my eyes and said something I will never forget. She said, “No, I would rather die.” And soon thereafter she did.
Forgiveness is unnatural but important. So we must look at how we forgive others. There are steps we can take in forgiving others. It is not a momentary emotional response to the situation. It is a decision that must then be carried out.
1.     Face the reality of your hurt. Don’t pretend it didn’t happen or it doesn’t matter. It was real and it was wrong. Don’t diminish it or blow it off.
2.     Don’t wait for an apology. Forgiveness is a unilateral move. It doesn’t have to follow an apology. Forgiveness is not about fixing what was done. It is about putting the experience behind you and getting on with life.
3.     Decide to forgive. Forgiveness is not an emotional response, at is an act of the will… a decision.
4.     Continue to practice forgiving until it is done. Decide to forgive and then keep on forgiving. Every time the event comes to mind, actively forgive. Abandon the negative thoughts and choose the positive.

Unforgiveness is powerfully destructive. Forgiveness is even more powerful.

Copyright © 2015, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved
Bill McConnell is Senior Minister at Lindenwood Christian Church in Memphis, Tennessee and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. His latest book on church transformation is DEVELOPING A SIGNIFICANT CHURCH and is available at Westbow Press.
He can be contacted @ Connect with him on Facebook @ William T. McConnell or on Twitter @billmc45053 or visit his Amazon Author Page @ Amazon

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

I Love a Parade

My father died almost 30 years ago and rarely does a week pass that I don’t wish I had a chance to talk to him. He is my most often mentioned reference in my sermons. In just a few days we will celebrate the 100th anniversary of his birth. A few years after his death, I was motivated to write the first piece I ever had published. Allow me to share those thoughts with you at this time.

I love a good parade. I even like bad parades. I have seen both kinds. Some really stick in my memory.

The 1970 Memorial Day Parade in Waddy, Kentucky (yes, that is the town's real name) immediately springs to mind. The town folks had been talking about the Memorial Day Parade for weeks before the event and I was getting rather excited about it. One couldn’t spend any time in the local grocery store without the conversation turning to the parade. Plans and preparations were being made. It seemed that most of the people in the little town were going to be participating.

My family and I passed up several offers so we could be sure to be there for the "big" parade. I will admit that the offers we received were not all that tempting. But we did make a conscious decision to be around for the big parade. At the appointed time we took our places on the sidewalk of the main drag. I must be fair and tell you that Waddy in 1970 was a community of about 255 people and the main drag was the only drag. And there were not very many feet of sidewalk to get on. Since most of the residents were in the parade, finding a place to watch it wasn’t difficult. We didn’t have to come down the night before and stake out our space. Showing up ten minutes before parade time worked out fine.

We didn’t have to wait long before the action started. Here came the parade. It was absolutely wonderful. Strung out for several feet behind the town's antique and only fire truck were two shiny, brand spanking new pick up trucks. The owners had obviously spent a lot of time washing and waxing their pride and joy. One of the trucks was pulling the only float in the parade which was carrying some of the local veterans riding on a tobacco wagon. The other truck was hauling a young girl – perhaps she was Miss Waddy or Miss Shelby County. The entire local Cub Scout Pack, all six of them, were the color guard. There were bicycles and wagons and baby strollers and balloons and crept paper and sparklers and dogs, some horses and a couple of ponies. My, it was grand. One the finest parades I have ever seen. My heart was touched. I wouldn't have missed it.
There have been several other parades in my life. All of them were larger and longer. Many were more exciting and colorful and entertaining. Some were so long they became boring. A couple of them have been just plain stupid. No offense is intended (Really) but have you ever attended a gay rights parade? There is a bad idea. But none of them grander... except one. That is the parade that wandered through my parents’ kitchen in the fall of 1986.

 My father was very busy that fall dying of cancer of the God-knows-what. The doctors couldn't tell where the cancer had originated but it wasn't difficult to see where it had gone. It was everywhere and Dad was so skinny by then that much of it stuck out on various parts of his body. It was horrible to watch a strong, robust, commanding man reduced to a skeleton struggling to live through each day seeking to find ways to have as little pain as possible. It was horrible, but riveting – like those slasher horror films young teens flock to watch. It was also a wonderful time of quiet conversations and opportunities to do for my father; a man who had always done for others, especially his children. Though the role reversal was a bit challenging for both of us, it was a wonderful God gift to be able to serve my father during a very difficult time.

As cancer took more and more from him and more of him from us, we were completely centered on his well being. Though not unusually tall, my dad was very strong. As a high school kid he had a job picking up milk cans from the local dairy farmers. He could hang on the back of the truck with one hand, lean out and grab a milk can in the other and swing it up into the back of the truck. That is about 140 pounds per can. Whoa, strong guy. Dad played baseball and basketball well and taught his boys how to play.

Because the degeneration of his physical body and our all consuming struggle to make him as comfortable as possible had so captured my attention, the parade that had begun had been passing before my eyes long before I noticed it.

But one those beautiful cloudless, bright blue sky, breezy autumn afternoons it burst upon my sight. For a parade, it was difficult to spot. There were no fire trucks or Cub Scouts or floats or marching bands or riders on horseback.  There were no pretty young beauty queens seeking our attention or politicians seeking our votes. Most of the faces in this parade were familiar to me, although some were strangers. But they all knew my father. He was the "theme" that held this parade together. This was a parade of people, passing through my parent's spacious, warm, welcoming kitchen, in front of the reclining chair that had become Dad's chief place of residence.

They came from near and far. As close as the next door neighbor and as far as several states away. They all came to say the same thing in many different ways.  They came to say, "Thank you, Mr. McConnell.  You have made a difference in my life."   What a wonderful thing to say!  "Thanks for living and letting me be a part of your life.  Your life counted for something in my life." “You have lived a life that was significant because your life powerfully impacted my life.”

 And what a strange mix of people it was that carried this message to my father. There were the preachers and church leaders from all over the state that Dad had prayed with and for and taught so much about how to be sensitive to the needs of others and the leading of the Lord. He helped them have more than a theoretical Christianity. There was the alcoholic who lived next door who was snubbed by the community but was proud to be called "friend" by "Mr. Mack". There were the young men of the community that had looked to my father for advice and counsel on subjects ranging from family budgeting to how to win an argument without losing a friend. There was the single mother and her children who were helped through some hard times by a man they hardly knew. There were the old people that came to thank the man who brought them meals when they were too sick to cook for themselves. There were the business associates that had worked with him for over a quarter of a century – folks who really knew him and thus knew him to be a man of integrity, courage, compassion, wisdom and humor. There were his law clients who received much more than just good legal advice from their attorney. There were the students from more than 30 years of Sunday school classes that came to thank the man who helped make God real and understandable to them. There were the Little League ball players who had become middle-aged men, wanting to thank him for being a fine baseball coach and an even better example.

 They came from all over. They loved and appreciated my father and came to tell him. Dad was sick, but he was having a wonderful time. He had invested his life well. And though it was coming to, what many of us considered, a premature end, it had been a great, meaningful, full life. My dad had been successful. He grew up on a little hill farm in Robertson County, Kentucky. He had served his country in World War II. He was the first in his family to graduate from college. He worked his way through law school and was the Vice President and Treasurer of a very successful life insurance company. He had provided very well for his wife and children. He was successful. But more importantly, his life had been significant.

 Fortunately, I recognized what was happening in time to join this wonderful parade. I grasped the opportunity at hand and thanked my Dad for being a fine father, good friend, wonderful teacher and excellent example. What a parade! My, it was grand. One the finest parades I have ever seen. I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

Copyright © 2015, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved

 Bill McConnell is Senior Minister at Lindenwood Christian Church in Memphis, Tennessee and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. His latest book on church transformation is DEVELOPING A SIGNIFICANT CHURCH and is available at Westbow Press.

He can be contacted @ Connect with him on Facebook @ William T. McConnell or on Twitter @billmc45053 or visit his Amazon Author Page @ Amazon

Monday, May 4, 2015

Give Me the Ball

When the game is on the line and points must be scored, they say a true leader will start yelling, “Give me the ball.” The leader knows that winning and losing are in the balance. Success or failure will hang on what happens in the next few moments. A true leader has the confidence in his or her ability and so wants the opportunity to succeed.
I am not a born leader. I had to learn to lead. My earliest experiences in participation in team sports makes that clear. The picture is clear in my mind. As a skinny, nearsighted, nervous, new to the game, introverted, nine-year-old Little Leaguer, I sat at the end of the bench in the ninth inning of any close game and prayed I would not have to go to the plate and bat. If you could have read my mind or my body language, it was obvious that everything in me was screaming, “Don’t give me the ball!” I had no doubt I would fail and was more than happy to bypass the opportunity to prove my point. That nine-year-old, coke-bottle-bottom glasses–wearing me had no signs of leadership to be seen.
Those Little League days were a long time ago. Many things in my life have changed since I was a nine-year-old. I have played many games in many sports; and though I never was a superstar, I learned to do many things pretty well and gained a lot of confidence. Though I can’t ever remember insisting that my teammates give me the ball, I got to the point that when the game was on the line I was usually pleased to have the chance to win the game.
A recent Easter Sunday was a totally unique experience for me. I had undergone some knee surgery and was having trouble recovering. Easter morning arrived and found me lying in bed thinking only about how miserable I felt after another sleepless night. My wife, Nancy, as she left for worship, asked if I would be there later. I pulled the blanket over my head and said, “No way.” I was miserable in any way you wanted to measure miserable—physically, mentally, and spiritually. I was tired, frustrated, hurting, depressed, angry, and prepared to launch into a huge pity party. If anyone could have used a good resurrection morning sermon, it was I.
What a glorious Easter morning I was experiencing. I would like to say that God appeared in my bedroom that morning and healed me. But he didn’t. That kind of thing doesn’t happen to me. It was just me and my aching, nonfunctioning knee. My guess is God was busy at church that morning. But the “me” in that room was the person God had made me. God didn’t need to be there. His work was already done. He had been working on me for a long time.
As I lay in bed feeling profoundly sorry for myself, a new thought popped into my mind. “So what if I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in three weeks? So what if my knee aches? So what if I’m not preaching this morning? So what? I’ll be danged if a little pain in my knee is going to make me miss Easter worship for the first time in my life.” God may have not made me especially spiritual, but he sure made me strong-willed. (My friends called it hardheaded.) So it was up and off to worship on Resurrection Sunday. It took a while to get out of the bed, into some clothes, and out to the car. But what the heck, I had wanted to be late to church for years. Here was my big chance. I only regret that I don’t have video footage of my ten-minute struggle to get in the car. I think I could have won the $10,000 prize on America’s Funniest Home Videos.
It was great to be with the family of God. I was deeply moved during the time of worship. My associate minister preached a great sermon. But I couldn’t help sitting there in the front row thinking, “Give me the ball!” God not only did not give me the ball this Easter Sunday morning, he benched me. It is not that I think I am an all-star preacher. It is just that I was sitting in the room with hundreds of people seeking to hear from God on Easter morning, and I not only didn’t have the ball, I wasn’t even in the game.
Pastoral leaders who are going to lead churches in revitalization and transformation are leaders who have an internal voice crying out, “Give me the ball.” Church revitalization and transformation call for leadership: leadership that wants the ball.
Copyright © 2015, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved
Bill McConnell is Senior Minister at Lindenwood Christian Church in Memphis, Tennessee and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. His latest book on church transformation is DEVELOPING A SIGNIFICANT CHURCH and is available at Westbow Press.
He can be contacted @ Connect with him on Facebook @ William T. McConnell or on Twitter @billmc45053 or visit his Amazon Author Page @ Amazon

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Relationships and Zombies

This past week I attended my brother-in-law’s (John E. Browning) celebration of life (funeral). I was reminded that at the heart of life it is all about relationships. The basic and most important relationship is with God. Somehow we Christians have bent, folded and mutilated this simple faith into a list of rules to be followed and requirements to be met in an effort to please God and hope that he likes us and approves of us enough to let us into heaven. Even a cursory reading to the New Testament makes it obvious that Christianity is all about loving a God who loves us and calls us to love each other. Life is about loving God and loving those around us.

My brother-in-law’s life is a fine example of that truth. He certainly loved God and those around him. His life impacted many of those around him in positive and strengthening ways. He lived as an example of a Christian. Don’t get me wrong; he wasn’t prefect, but he sought to daily be the man God wanted him to be. Many people mistake claiming to be Christian is to claim to be perfect. In reality it is to claim to follow the One who is perfect on a spiritual journey of being conformed to the image of Christ. It is neither instantaneous nor easy. But it is a wonderful journey.

Because life is all about relationships, it is memorialized in memories. Sometimes those memories are just snapshots of moments in time and other memories unfold in our minds like short movies. At John’s funeral my sister asked me to speak and share some memories. I was a bit surprised at the invitation because I am known in the family for saying some things that others may not choose to say. Not quite inappropriate but certainly edgy. And there is something in me that causes me to always go for the laugh. Often I leave people both laughing and shaking their heads. But, she asked and I spoke.

John had many great qualities but I chose to speak to three of his qualities that I enjoyed the most. First was his full and infectious laugh. He had a great sense of humor, was very funny and laughed at everything. My mind when back several decades to what I believe was 1969. My sister Liz and John were in college and dating. They had come to visit us for the weekend. We were living on a farm outside of Wilmore, Kentucky, where I was attending seminary. The year before a movie, “The Night of the Living Dead”, had hit the big screens. Since money was in short supply, movies were not in the budget and we had not seen it. It was a movie about a group of people hiding from bloodthirsty zombies in a farmhouse. Stupid, right? Who believes in zombies? But it had made it to the drive-in and so was much more affordable. We all piled in the car and off we went. I look at that film now and laugh at it. But it was 1969 and movies were different back then. It scared the living begeebers out of all of us. The ride home was very quiet.

Let me take a moment to give you the lay of the land. We were living on a farm… in the country… where it is very dark at night. To get to our little four room house you drove back a quarter mile drive to the big house out front. There you parked your car and walked a couple of hundred yards back to our house. Did I mention it was very dark? And that we were all scared to death? So I parked in front of the big house, turned in my seat, offered John the house keys and suggested that he might want to go open the door for us and turn on the porch light. He just laughed at me. Never said a word… just laughed. After the laughter died down we discussed our dilemma. We came to this agreement. We would drive through the yard, park as close to the house as we could and all get out of the car at once. It must have been amusing to any zombies watching to see the four of us trying to fit through the doorway all at once. And you can laugh if you like, but I was pretty sure there was at least one zombie nearby.

John’s second outstanding attribute was his appetite. John rode a bicycle… a lot. Thus he stayed in shape and could support his ample appetite. The first time I noticed his love for food was on one of their weekend visits to the farm. With company in the house we had a very nice dinner together. My wife was a good cook and often fixed my favorite dishes. One of those favorites was corn pudding. I still love it. We sat down to dinner, and after a short blessing, I, being a gracious host, passed my beloved corn pudding to John. He gave me one of his huge smiles and proceeded to scrape half of the contents of the bowl onto his plate. I was shocked but attempted to remain pleasant and hospitable. So I said, “So, John, do you like corn pudding?” I will never forget his response. “I don’t know,” he said. “I’ve never had any. But if I like it I’ll eat all of it and if I don’t I’ll eat it anyway.” Now that, boys and girls, is a good appetite.

The third thing I shared about John was his open and warm heart. Like most of us men, one had to scrape a little under the surface to see how kind and generous John was. I experienced it one birthday many years ago. As I mentioned, John was a bicycle rider. He rode his bicycle many miles a day to and from work. He rode in bicycle races. It warmed his heart to engage in bicycle races when he was the “old guy” in the crowd. The youngsters would eye ball him and make comments about grandpa riding a bike. And then he would smoke them in the race. Afterward he would just stand around and grin at them. He didn’t say anything. He just smiled. He would wait until he got home to laugh at them.

Needless to say, John had a great bike. John’s bike was top of the line. It was light weight with a strong frame and multiple gears. He had a tight fitting, multi colored, aerodynamic biking outfit and helmet. He took his bicycle on trips and vacations and biked wherever he went. He loved his bicycle and to ride. And he thought everyone should. So on my birthday many years ago John gave me a bicycle he had made. He had gathered a good frame, brakes, gears, wheels, tires, cables and handlebars and all the needed nuts and bolts and hand built me a bicycle. It was beautiful and it was super cool. I couldn’t believe it. John had been that thoughtful and had gone to a huge amount of work and trouble to build a bike for me. He didn’t just go out and buy me a bike… he hand built me one. I was touched and amazed. What a kind hearted and thoughtful man he was.

To say he will be missed is the understatement and understatements.

Copyright © 2015, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved

Bill McConnell is Senior Minister at Lindenwood Christian Church in Memphis, Tennessee and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. His latest book on church transformation is DEVELOPING A SIGNIFICANT CHURCH and is available at Westbow Press.

He can be contacted @ Connect with him on Facebook @ William T. McConnell or on Twitter @billmc45053 or visit his Amazon Author Page @ Amazon

Monday, April 13, 2015

Spirit-less Church

During this past Holy Week, in an effort to be renewed and challenged, I was again reading A. W. Tozer. His writings consistently challenge me and often just plain gets under my skin. Which I believe is a good thing. His words often jar me from the semi-comatose thing I call life.
Like many Christians of our culture, I spend much time and energy making sure I am safe and comfortable – as Pink Floyd put it, “Comfortably Numb.” Too often we seem to work on being comfortable and numb in this journey we call life. I doubt this is what God has in mind for us. The life of ease and comfort most of us powerfully pursue keeps us completely out of sync with what God is seeking to do in and with our lives. The Christian life is both difficult and challenging. I quote another author who challenges me, G. K. Chesterton, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” Over the years I have had occasional glimpses of people and groups practicing the Christian life in ways that remind me of the stories of the early church recorded in Acts. Those occasions have been exciting, challenging and a little unnerving.
As I have rumbled along working hard to do this thing called “church”, especially during the busyness of Holy Week, I was brought up short by a Tozer quote. He said, “I remind you that there are churches so completely out of the hands of God that if the Holy Spirit withdrew from them, they wouldn't find it out for many months” (Tozer Pulpit) Ouch, that will leave a mark. It is much too close to the truth to gloss over, ignore or to pretend it is intended for someone else. As I look at the modern (or postmodern) church, it is obvious he has hit the nail on the head. Unfortunately, more often than I like to admit, I am the nail.
It is not like Christian leaders don’t care. Many of us study, plan and innovate in an effort to lead the church into a new and productive age. We worry about, pray about and talk amongst ourselves about the seeming coming demise of the church, as we know it. We do almost everything in our power to correct what we perceive to be wrong about the church that is causing it to lose both membership and impact in our communities. And, frankly, though we prefer to believe differently, our efforts are not very effective. Occasionally small pockets of improvement are notice but those are few and far between. And when we do see something work, our human nature kicks right in and we seek to codify it, copy it, reproduce it and ultimately institutionalize it. We do that again and again even though it rarely, if ever, produces good results.
I suggest we invite God into the situation. I know that sounds like a self-righteous and cynical statement but I believe it to be true. Too often we do church as if God neither exists nor cares about the church. Habitually we turn to God as a last resort. We church leaders generally like Jesus (Though his popularity has been waning.) We seem to be more inclined to talk about God than to talk about Jesus. Perhaps God is a bit more “vague” and more distant and theologically safe than Jesus. If one has read the New Testament one then has to deal with some of the difficult and radical things Jesus said and did. Though, if they are too problematic we have the option to just declare they didn’t really happen. In some ways we find Jesus to be too upfront and personal. He is difficult to hold off at arm’s length and tends to invade our personal space. And then there is the Holy Spirit. We hardly mention the Holy Spirit and often act as if the Holy Spirit didn’t exist. As my friend, Dave Hussing used to say, “There are two kinds of good ideas, and you just had a bad good idea.”
In my theological understanding, the Holy Spirit is Jesus with us in the here and now. Jesus told us that it is to our advantage that He leaves so that He could send the Holy Spirit to be with us and in us. Unfortunately Jesus’ statement that, “apart from me you can do nothing”, runs counterintuitive with our basic nature to believe we can do anything. As my oldest daughter informed me when she was a toddler and I was attempting to help her, “Don’t help. I can do it myself.”
There are several possible reasons why we leave the Holy Spirit out of the mix when doing church. (I don’t mean to be harsh, but we must take a hard look at the phenomenon.)
  1. The truth is we can do okay without God’s help or intervention, including doing church. It is a subtle temptation. But we must ask: 1. Is what we are doing what God expects? and 2. Couldn’t we do better with God in the mix?
  2. Unfortunately we are so sure of our great intelligence and wisdom that we rarely think to ask God for wisdom and direction. Too often inviting God into the church doesn’t even occur to us.
  3. Including the Spirit in church makes many of us preacher types nervous because we intuitively know that doing so will cause us to lose control. And we really like having control.
  4. We may have lost touch with the Holy Spirit. We have studied about the Spirit but we lack personal experience of the Spirit. When speaking of the work of the Holy Spirit in the church of today I am reminded of a story recorded in Acts 19:1-2. And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples he said to them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" So they said to him, ’We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.’" The church of America seems inclined to do church as if we have never even heard there was a Holy Spirit. And perhaps we haven’t.
  5. Many feel the Pentecostals and the Charismatics have taken the Holy Spirit thing over the top, given it a bad name, made it socially unacceptable and we feel more comfortable erring on the side of less Holy Spirit and more social acceptability.
  6. Perhaps it is due to a lack of faith and trust. Do we really trust God for the wellbeing of the church? Can we trust God for the “success” of the church?
I am not suggesting we do nothing and expect the church to grow and be effective. But I am suggesting we rely on the Holy Spirit of God to guide us, direct us, and empower us and to provide the growth of the church. We would do well to embrace the words of God to Zerubbabel in Zechariah 4:6. “So he answered and said to me: "This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: 'Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,' Says the LORD of hosts.”
Copyright © 2015, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved
Bill McConnell is Senior Minister at Lindenwood Christian Church in Memphis, Tennessee and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. His latest book on church transformation is DEVELOPING A SIGNIFICANT CHURCH and is available at Westbow Press.
He can be contacted @ Connect with him on Facebook @ William T. McConnell or on Twitter @billmc45053 or visit his Amazon Author Page @ Amazon