October 2008


Lord of the Gourd      

Lord of the Gourd?

It’s baaaa-aaaack.

The day is here.  You know the one: it’s the day that has caused friction in Christian circles for nigh unto forever.  The day that stirs debate much like a wooo-hooo-ooo-witchy woman stirring up bats’ eyes in her black kettle.  The day that makes conservatives weep and wonder why Charles Schulz created cartoons about both the birth of Jesus and the Great Pumpkin.  That’s right…I’m talking about National Caramel Apple Day.

Editor’s note: might want to lighten up on those hyperlinks, buddy.

No really, I’m talking about Halloween.  If you’re uninformed on the discussion, the roots of Halloween go back a couple of thousand years to a bunch of socially awkward people called the Celts.  The Celts celebrated a holiday on October 31 called Samhain, which is when otherworldly spirits would roam the earth, sacrifice animals on a bonfire, and eat way too many miniature Snickers bars.

With a history like this, Halloween has always been just begging to be boycotted by the church.  My wife and I have similar stories of our All Hallows’ Eve journey.  Early on, our respective churches had big Halloween parties.  Her dad would host on a haunted hayride where he’d pretend to be the headless horseman; my Sunday School teacher would put on latex witch hands and a ratty white wig and throw dry ice in a pot that she usually used for the annual church chicken stew.

Later, both of our churches realized that Jesus and Bill Gothard didn’t think Halloween was a good idea, so we came up with creative alternatives: instead of calling it Halloween, we’d call it a Harvest Festival.  The differences between Halloween and a Harvest Festival couldn’t be more striking:  Halloween had people dressed up like ghosts, witches, and demons; Harvest Festivals had people dressed up like Moses, an assortment of animals from the ark, and Jerry Falwell.  Halloween had little kids roaming the neighborhood saying “Trick or Treat!”; Harvest Festivals had little kids roaming the Christian Life Center saying “Jesus loves you! (do you have any candy?)”  Halloween had pumpkin carvings, Harvest Festivals had The Pumpkin Patch Parable.  Halloween had bobbing for apples, Harvest Festivals had Bob the Tomato.

Editor’s Note: you’re right.  Those differences ARE striking.

In my teenage and subsequent Student Pastor years, churches nationwide created something called Judgement House.  It was nothing like a haunted house…except for the fake blood, the screaming, the bad acting, the bad props, the dark lighting, the fog machines, and the t-shirts on sale at the end.

So now I’m a parent (well, not just now.  I’ve had kids for twelve years).  Merriem and I have run the gamut in those twelve years…  We’ve gone to Harvest Festivals.  Hidden out at Pizza Hut so the trick-or-treaters can’t find us.  Left Bible coloring sheets and a tract on the front porch with the light on.  Gone trick-or-treating in the Cool Candy neighborhood with our small group.  And even this morning, we are having the discussion: “What would Bill Gothard think?”  Oh wait, wrong discussion.  Actually, it’s “What does the Bible say?”

My brother in law, who is a pastor and a Very Smart Man, tells me that many of our modern holidays – Christmas included – are based on ancient pagan celebrations.  (It’s for that very reason that I will not be buying him a present this year…I don’t want to make him stumble.)  And I guess that he’s right.  I guess I have to wonder if Halloween will be the gateway to much greater evils in our family (Harry Potter, for one).  And most of all, I wonder if I’m making way too big of a deal out of it all.  After all, there are worse things to be concerned about…like my yearly twin sins of petty theft and gluttony surrounding the miniature Snickers bars from my six year old’s Halloween bag.

Editor’s Note: do you have an October 31st-inspired link to a great vintage cartoon from that webernet sensation, Homestar Runner?

As a matter of fact, I do.  But if you’ve never seen H.R., please don’t e-mail and ask me to explain it.  You either get it or you don’t.

If you’re just tuning in, Sunday was a day for the history books at the Summit Church.  We saw 140 people get baptized among our seven services.  You can read more about that incredible event here, but the rest of this week’s posts are dedicated to the story behind the stories.

It was fun.

It was exhausting, stressful, nail-biting, heart attack-inducing, stomach acid-churning, immune system-destroying, but doggone it, it was fun.

A big baptism brings big challenges.  You have two choices: laugh about ‘em or throw yourself in front of a moving train.  Unfortunately, we’re nowhere near a train track.  So I chose to laugh.

Laughing is all you can do when your three baptisteries pose three challenges.  At our Cole Mill campus, the heater went haywire to the point that when Campus Pastor Rick showed up on Sunday morning, the water temperature was a cool 115 degrees.  I think you call that a cannibaptism.

At our West Club campus, the baptistery has sat dormant for a while (we meet in an older church building).  Campus Pastor Brad needed to be updated on his tetanus shots due to the fine layer of rust in the bottom of the tub.

Brier Creek saw 123 of the 140 baptisms.  Because we provided black t-shirts and shorts for everyone, and because those shirts were new, and because black dye apparently starts to bleed after a while, the baptistery looked like something out of a horror flick titled Baptistery of Darkness.  (The guys who wrote Facing the Giants have already sought exclusive movie rights.)

Let’s see…other fun stuff…

  •  Watching pastors walk around after the PM service with towels wrapped around their waists.  Odd.
  • Getting the report that my 11 year old son was asking ladies if he could have their wet clothes when they were done so we could reuse them.  Bold.
  • Picking up bath mats out of the floors of bathrooms where dozens of people have just drip-dried.  Gross.
  • Seeing a couple of hundred people stick around after the 10:45 Brier Creek service for what would turn out to be a nearly two hour baptism service.  Energizing.

If you’re just tuning in, Sunday was a day for the history books at the Summit Church.  We saw 140 people get baptized among our seven services.  You can read more about that incredible event here, but the rest of this week’s posts are dedicated to the story behind the stories.

I work with some great people.

When attempting to pull off an event of Sunday’s magnitude, I definitely do not recommend being a control freak.  Sure, you have to have systems and processes and safeguards in place to make sure you’re being responsible, but something like this doesn’t happen as a one-man show.

I’d be a fool if I attempted to individually thank every single person who stepped up to help on Sunday, either as a counselor or a registration person or a runner or a water-logged pastor.  There was no one that was unnecessary, and no one who didn’t see a need and then do whatever it took to fill that need.

Through the daze that I call full-scale head cold mixed with busy Sunday hangover, I can remember a few stories of heroes that I want to pass along…

  • My Connections Team: Walter, Adam, Justin, Eric, and Leanne pulled off a thousand little details in the days leading up to Sunday.  The Connections Ministry is what it is due to these five, and the baptisms on Sunday were no exception.
  • Lori, the administrative assistant extraordinaire, braved life, limb, and a severe phobia of germs to gather used towels, t-shirts, and shorts after the morning service.  And I can’t remember for sure, but I’m pretty sure she skipped out of the service to come to the rescue when she sensed the bat signal going off.
  • Ainsley gave up an afternoon to accompany my wife and I to the laundromat, where we washed, dried, and folded what felt like a million towels and shorts to get ‘em ready for the evening service.
  • Matt, Jennifer, and Carrie ended up spending the entire morning helping out with random stuff – replenishing copies, running sound, troubleshooting and resetting between services.
  • I won’t even try naming the dozens of counselors who performed the most important job there was…making sure that those being baptized knew what they were doing.  Although many of them were scheduled to be there, there were quite a few who sprinted to serve when they saw the overwhelming number of people respond to the message.  (Some of you, I never even knew you were there.  You just jumped in to help.)
  • Amber handed out Pepto when it was needed the most.
  • Jonathan and Austin had the very awkward job of posting themselves at the exit of the baptistery and asking for people’s wet clothes after they had changed into dry ones.  They then had the very gross job of squeezing out the water so we could “recycle” them for others.  (Although I was not “Ye of little faith” on Sunday, I did end up being “Ye of little supplies.”)
  • Spence and Courtney treated my kids to an afternoon with the Wii when it became apparent a trip to the laundromat was going to be necessary.
  • And finally, Merriem and the kids proved once again that we’re in this thing together.  They each logged about twelve hours of ministry on Sunday and did everything from emergency towel runs to handing out t-shirts to providing me with my much-needed Frappuccino.

For all of you who said, “What can I do to help?” and for all of you who didn’t ask, you just did…thank you.  You’re all a part of the story behind the stories.

If you’re just tuning in, Sunday was a day for the history books at the Summit Church.  We saw 140 people get baptized among our seven services.  You can read more about that incredible event here, but the rest of this week’s posts are dedicated to the story behind the stories.

Is this a good idea?

That’s the subtext of all of the voices in my head over the last few weeks.  When you undertake the planning of a mass baptism, the “good idea” question is going to inevitably raise its head.

I’ve been the baptism guy at the Summit for almost six years now.  In those six years, I’ve seen hundreds of people go through the baptismal waters.  In the vast majority of those cases, there has been a process.  People go through a class.  They talk to a pastor or trained counselor.  They have time to think it through.

In other words, it’s neat and tidy.  

I freely confess to you that I always have been…and in a way still am…one of the biggest critics of mass baptism.  Big baptism services scare me.  They are like a gangly, awkward teenager roaming haphazardly through the fine china section of Macy’s: eventually, something is going to go horribly wrong.

Over the past few years, our staff has brought the subject up on occasion.  And every time it’s brought up, the acid starts churning in my stomach, and the voices in my head start screaming: Are we being responsible?  Can we handle the Pandora’s box that we’re about to open?  Can we guarantee that we’re not riding some sort of drummed-up emotional wave?  In short, is this the wise thing to do?

140 baptisms are nothing to sneeze at, and they’re nothing to be taken lightly.  As a pastor, scripture is very clear that I’m going to be held to a high standard for what I teach and how I lead.  If I approach a baptism service of this nature with the same intense scrutiny as I would approach…let’s say…deciding where to eat for lunch, then the project is doomed from the beginning.  No, it takes an intentional process to do something like this and call it a success.  I define success not by the numbers, but by the authentic life change that the numbers represent.  Here are a few things that we set in place to make sure Sunday was more than making the Summit look like some sort of spiritual water park:

  1. Biblical precedence: it should go without saying, instantaneous baptisms were the rule rather than the exception in scripture.  Peter preached.  3000 were baptized.  The eunuch inquired.  He was baptized.  The jailer was saved.  He was baptized.  Understand that I’m not tossing out a process.  I believe in the process (without the process, I’d be without a job!).  But I also know that, while neither J.D. nor myself is Peter, we are filled with the same Spirit that moved in Acts. 
  2. Careful exposition: you can listen to the entire sermon for yourself on our sermon downloads page (it’ll be posted soon), but suffice it to say that J.D. left no room for error on what baptism is and is not.  It is not your salvation; it is a picture of your salvation.  We weren’t calling people to find Jesus by getting dunked, but to get dunked because Jesus has found them, called them, and redeemed them.
  3. Thorough counseling: read very carefully…no one was baptized on Sunday that wasn’t first required to speak to a counselor.  We asked questions, made sure they understood the gospel, made sure they understood #2 above.  And yes, there was at least one person that we asked to put the decision on hold.  The bottom line of all of our counselors’ training: any red flag should be thoroughly explored and rectified before moving ahead.
  4. No kids: we intentionally did not design this experience for minors.  At the Summit we offer a First Steps class for kids who are asking questions about the gospel and baptism, but we didn’t do so on Sunday.  Yes, there were two or three kids who were baptized, but these were only allowed because we had an age-appropriate ministry staff member who happened to be available to talk to them.  Do we ever baptize kids?  Yes…but only after we’re absolutely sure they know their stuff.
  5. Insane follow up: there is nothing more irresponsible than us baptizing 140 people and saying, “Go forth, drip dry, and good luck with that life change thing.”  Every single one of the people baptized on Sunday who have not attended our Starting Point process will be asked to do so.  This is where we talk about spiritual growth, involvement in small groups and ministry teams, and how to commit to a spiritual body of believers.  You can believe that I’m going to be like those little yapping dogs that you often find in a retiree’s RV park: loud, annoying, and intensely deliberate.  I won’t rest until all of ‘em contextualize their commitment to Jesus alongside commitment to His church.

What are your thoughts on this?  I’d love to see comments from our counselors on Sunday.  

Tomorrow, we continue with the story behind the stories.

Awesome.

That’s really the only word that can describe this past Sunday at the Summit.  Not “awesome” as in the 80’s valley girl / surfer dude usage of the word, but “awesome” as only God can generate.

In case you’re behind the curve, let me help you catch up: for the past two Sundays, Pastor J.D. has been talking about baptism.  What it is.  What it’s not.  And why no believer is an exception to God’s command.  Baptism is for the believer, period.  And if you’re a believer and haven’t been baptized, something is missing from your spiritual walk.

Yesterday, J.D. lovingly but systematically blew every potential objection out of the water (pun intended).  At all of our campuses in all of our services, he ended his message with a simple challenge…

Stand up, take a step, and express your faith in Christ through an act of obedience.

And at all of our campuses in all of our services, 140 people did just that.

Stop.  Go back and read that again. 

140 people were baptized.

Even after personally witnessing a majority of those baptisms, I still have a hard time wrapping my head around that number.  What’s more, I have a hard time wrapping my head around the stories that the number represents…

Lindsey is a Duke sophomore who’s been at the Summit for a year and a half.  Earlier this year on Easter Sunday, she realized that her church experience wasn’t enough…she needed Jesus.

Ridge started coming to the Summit three years ago at the persistent invitations of a Summit member.  Yesterday after his own baptism, he helped baptize his nine year old son Andrew.

Pauline is one of our incredible office volunteers.  She’s retired and rides a Harley.  She was sprinkled after being saved at eight years old, but decided yesterday that Jesus was calling her to baptism by immersion.

Abby grew up in a home where both of her parents love Jesus, but her faith is just beginning to become real to her.  She was baptized as a public declaration of her faith – and so was her sister Valerie, who just happened to be in town visiting from Indiana.

Mark and Amy have been at the Summit since January.  As husband and wife, they made the decision to take the step together.

Eddie showed up at the Summit for the first time Sunday.  So did Jennifer and Heather.  All of them heard the gospel.  They understood the calling.  And they crossed the line of faith and were baptized.

The stories could go on and on.  We had grandpas and college freshmen and great big guys and little petite girls and husbands and wives and brothers and sisters and students from Duke, Carolina, and State…all in the same water.

This morning, you can bet that our staff will be taking time to thank God for what he did.  I’d encourage you to do the same. 

And by the way…if you’re reading this and you’re still white-knuckled from the death grip you had on the chair in yesterday’s service, it’s not too late.  E-mail me and I’ll get you on the list for the next baptism.  This stuff is too much fun for you to miss out.

Tune in the rest of this week for a series of posts titled, “The Story Behind the Stories.”  If you want to get to know some of the behind-the-scenes heroes who helped pull this off or you’re incredibly skeptical about an event like this, these posts are gonna scratch where you itch.

For both of my outside-of-North-Carolina readers, this is the time of the year when the Triangle is taken over by emu burgers and Tilt-a-Pukes.  That’s right, I’m talking about the State Fair.

You should know that being the cheapskate I am, going to the fair is no easy task.  There are carnies that want nothing more than to separate me from my money all for the empty promise of an oversized stuffed frog that’s holding a heart.  I simply refuse to shell out twenty bucks to throw darts at a balloon to win said frog, unlike some lead pastors who shall remain nameless (but if you want a hint, it starts with J. and ends in D. Greear).

Nevertheless, in the sprit of Christian brotherhood and solidarity against the carnies with their spittle-covered microphone headsets, I offer you my list of handy tips for getting the most out of your state fair…

 

  • ŸEat a stick of butter for your last meal before attending the fair.  It’ll do wonders to get your cholesterol count prepped, plus it lubes everything up for the coming gastronomical feast.
  • Do your best to find a good parking spot.  Sure, you could park in one of the closer lots and pay money, but find a free lot.  The walk will warm up the butter in your arteries, and who doesn’t like warm butter?
  • Upon entering the fairgrounds, head immediately to the grist mill.  It’s an authentic working mill where turn-of-the-century corn is ground by a turn-of-the-century process and then the cornmeal is dropped into a five gallon turn-of-the-century polypropelene bucket.  As a reward for walking through the mill with various sizes of sweaty people staring at wooden mechanisms saying, “Woodja look at that,” you get a hushpuppy on a toothpick.
  • Immediately after the mill, head to the Hallway of Funny Gourds.  That’s not the real name and they’re not so much funny as they are weird, but one thing is for sure: North Carolinians take their gourds seriously.  There is actually a Gourd Society in this state…I am not making this up.
  • If you have children, make sure to pepper in a few directional statements throughout the day.  Something like “Oh please don’t touch that no definitely don’t touch that hey you don’t know where that’s been oh sweet heavens put that down what in the world I can’t believe you just touched THAT.”
  • Find the cheap food booth.  There are a few of them scattered throughout the fair, where you can get bottled water for a buck and look condescendingly on those people standing at the next booth over paying three times that amount.  You can also get a corn dog for a buck.  No, not a foot long.  But buy two of them and jam them together…remember, right now we’re going for cheap protein, not expensive treats.
  • Now it’s time to stake your claim on your favorites.  Tater twirls, turkey legs, Wisconsin fried cheese… Hey, you saved money on water.  Now you get to treat yourself to the stuff the fair is all about.  Make sure you ask for the warm ranch dressing.  It’s not warm on purpose, though…so on second thought you might want to skip it.  Mmmm…food poisoning.
  • Head over to the agri booths where plenty of cheap food awaits.  Nothing says “wise use of your fifty cents” like a jumbo pickle.  And if you want to sit through a produce-packed infomercial, you too can have a free salad and if you’re lucky, a sample paring knife.
  • Make sure to walk through the midway where you can hear about such wonders of the world as the world’s tiniest woman, the world’s biggest pig, the snake-headed woman, and the carnie who can exhibit the least passion on record for anybody with a pulse as he tries to motivate you to see all of the above.
  • Finally, you should end the night with a deep-fried candy product.  Mine this year was a Reese’s Cup.  It was a fitting companion for the butter.

 

I’m pretty sure there’s an unwritten rule of blogging somewhere that says, “Never call attention to your absence.”  For example, if a certain blogger had been non-productive in the blogosphere since, oh, say… October 9th, then that blogger might feel compelled to apologize for the absence, talk about how busy he (or she!) may have been, and make some lame joke about how many of you might have wondered if he (or she!) had died.

But not here.  Nosirree.  At Connective Tissue, you won’t find this guy (or girl!) making excuses.  Nope.  I’ve forged on through life and refuse to wallow in the mire of time-busters such as Staff Retreat ’08 or upcoming mass baptism services or a faulty transmission on my wife’s car. 

Editor’s note: He (or she!) is also very much alive, by the way.

One of my favorite daily reads is Stuff Christians Like.  I’ve often wanted to do a shameless ripoff called Stuff Church People Like, or better yet… Stuff Summit People Like.  If I were to undertake such a pathetic display of creative plagiarism, my first post would be called the Sound Booth Stare.

The Sound Booth Stare is something that all church people like.  Yesterday morning I was sitting in our 9 AM worship service, minding my own business, when I was reminded of the SBS.  Here’s the way it went down: a technical glitch was pronounced enough that it was noticed by … um … more than a few people.  In yesterday’s case, a video started, but instead of a cool and normal malfunction like picture but no sound, we had sound but no picture.

At first, I assumed it was one of Baker’s artsy techniques from his fancy school where he learned how to edit videos and put computer-generated ivy vines on everything.  I could just imagine the professor taking a swig of his soy latte, stroking his goatee, and saying, “What you cats need to realize is that a black screen is in, man.  Disembodied voices…that’s where it’s at.”  But then I realized that, no, somebody just forgot to hit the switch that’s labeled Heck Yes You Need Sound AND Picture.

That’s when the SBS began.  In the dusky gray of a darkened auditorium, I saw at least twenty heads flip around and thirty-nine eyeballs stare disapprovingly at the men and women in the sound booth (one guy was pretending to be Popeye).  Their mouths made no noise, but the look in their eyes very clearly said, “I know that we’re in the same room and looking at the same screen, but perhaps you didn’t notice that there is a snafu in your process, and if I had to guess I’d say it had something to do with all them wires.”

As a veteran volunteer of the sound booth way back in my high school days, I’m very familiar with the Sound Booth Stare.  I’d be doing my best to balance my time between getting the cassette deck ready to record the sermon, making sure that the Sony Camcorder was zoomed in just the right amount, studying my Algebra 2 homework for the next morning, and hitting “play” on Miss Debbie’s People Need the Lord solo, when I realized that Miss Debbie was singing along with the demo track, rather than the performance track…perhaps the cardinal sin of sound booth volunteers.

Never mind that Miss Debbie handed me the tape and told me that the performance track was on Side A and no matter how much I questioned her she assured me that Side A was indeed the right side and if for some reason heaven forbid I should play Side B I would ruin a musical masterpiece about Jesus showing up at the end of broken dreams and being the open door.

That’s why I’m an authority on the SBS, because I’ve been the recipient more times than I can count.  And that’s why, nearly two decades later, I still feel awkward when I see other sound booth people receive The Stare.

I’m not sure what people hope to accomplish by delivering The Stare.  Perhaps they hope to telepathically fix the problem.  Perhaps they are trying to figure out who is responsible so they can offer them up as a “prayer request” that night in their small group.  Maybe they’re just looking for something to fill their time because, after all, there’s nothing to see on the doggone screen.

I would like to make a proposal that the sound booth people have a little fun with the SBS.  The next time they are on the receiving end of the Stare, they should have one of those little laser pointers ready to shine in their eyes and temporarily blind them.  Or they could hold up a sheet of poster board that says, “Hey genius, if you’re so smart why don’t you sign up to help us?”  Or even better, we could cover the sound booth in reflective glass so that when somebody stares back there, they just see themselves staring back.  Spooky.

Whatever the solution, I think we must realize, that we must give our lives, because people need the Lord.

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