November 2008

The Summit offices are closed Thursday and Friday, and I’m taking a blogging break until next week.  I’ll be spending the weekend eating, reading and putting up the tree. 

And depending on how J.D. and Rick feel about this picture, I might also be updating my resume.


Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:17)

Really Old Pilgrim Picture

It’s 2008 in Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts.  Due to unforeseen delays and dramatic blogging license, the pilgrims are 400 years late arriving in the new world.  The following is a recap of the first Thanksgiving.

After a brutal winter and the deaths of over half of the original passengers on the Mayflower, the pilgrims found grace in the eyes of a small group of Indians.  A successful planting and harvest season led to a great feast, where they would thank God for his blessings on their lives even in the midst of incredible hardship.

The obvious guests for the celebration would have to be the Indians; so instrumental were they in the pilgrims’ survival.  The pilgrims immediately issued the invitation, but were stunned to learn that many of their guests would be boycotting the dinner because the term “Indian” connoted savagery, beastliness, and an incorrect geographical location of origin.

Squanto was unable to come because he was the target of a lawsuit by the local farmers’ union.  His tutoring to the pilgrims on how to plant corn constituted a violation of the local agricultural standards and “no-compete” clauses.

Miles Standish was being investigated by the EPA and USDA for implementing Squanto’s practice of using dead, rotting fish to grow the crops.

PETA showed up and protested the cruel and inhumane treatment of the turkeys prior to the meal.  One of the pilgrims suggested that inhumane treatment was probably okay since the turkeys weren’t actually human, which only served to anger the PETA protesters and caused them to throw raw giblets onto the gathering crowd.

The Democrats came and declared that the pilgrims’ crop had netted too many vegetables.  They forced the pilgrims to hand over half of their vegetables, which they promptly reallocated to a neighboring colony that didn’t have as many vegetables.

The Republicans arrived just in time to tell the neighboring colony that they should get a job and buy their own darn vegetables.  They also courted the support of the pilgrims; suddenly turning quite religious and promising them the benefits of several faith-based initiatives if they would just help them get reelected. 

The Libertarians formed a radio talk show and fielded calls from people asking what kind of ammo the pilgrims used to kill the turkeys.

Oprah came along and gave away millions of dollars in brand new China, silverware, and under-the-counter TV/DVD combos because it was all “too cute” and the pilgrims just had to have them as part of their kitchen collection.

Paris Hilton arrived on the scene because she thought the pilgrim hats were “hot” and she had heard that there would be a tabloid there that might want her picture.

Angelina Jolie offered to adopt the pilgrim babies and get a tattoo to commemorate the event.

Lifetime sought permission to do a made-for-TV movie about the plight of the pilgrims, starring Connie Selleca as Pocahontas. 

Tim Robbins complained that he was being barred from participating in the feast, only to find out later that he was actually supposed to eat at the feast a couple of streets over.

Rosie O’Donnell came running to promote her new prime time variety show to anyone who would listen, but no one did.

The drug companies conducted extensive research tests just in time to offer the pilgrims some anti-depressants to counteract the emotional toll of the previous year.  Side effects included dizziness, dry mouth, sexual dysfunction, nausea, incapacitation, double vision, severe abdominal cramping, blindness, diabetes, malaria, imminent death, unicorn horns, and dutch elm disease.

Retailers blanketed the area with sales papers and told the pilgrims they were going to have to wrap things up because the Black Friday sales were going to begin early the next day.  Plus, Thanksgiving had been eclipsed by the Halloween/Christmas SuperPower.

Spammers sent the pilgrims hundreds of e-mails promising to give them a cut of King George’s riches if they would just open a bank account and send them a cashiers check for $6,000.

Bloggers blogged about what they would have eaten had they been invited to the feast, and what they would have worn when they changed out of their pajamas.

ACLU secured a court order to make sure that the pilgrims weren’t too thankful.

Jesse Jackson demanded the right to get on national television and explain why he was more thankful.

Jimmy Carter flew to England to carry a bucket of chicken and explain that we were thankful for their government and didn’t want any trouble.

Obama volunteered to organize the new community.

McCain said that Joe the Pilgrim would be devastated by Obama’s policies.

Palin called and offered to bring a fresh batch of moose meat.

Biden wasn’t invited because nobody really knew who he was.

The Federal Reserve pumped billions of dollars into the pilgrims economy, believing that it would increase confidence in the stability of Thanksgiving.

Family Christian Stores and LifeWay Christian Resources fought over product tie-ins to the first thanksgiving, including 40 day devotionals, an all-star CD with songs inspired by the attitude of thankfulness, children’s books with titles like The Pumpkin Pie Parable, a healthy Thanksgiving cookbook co-authored by Beth Moore and Ed Young Jr.’s wife, and after dinner mints with tiny scripture verses imprinted on them.

Rick Warren attempted to host Miles Standish and Squanto for a Thanksgiving Forum at Saddleback, and then developed an acrostic on how to be T.H.A.N.K.F.U.L.

The publishers of the English Standard Version and Living Bible came along and chided the pilgrims for using too many “thees” and “thous”.

The Calvinists picketed because they were preordained before the foundation of the world to do so.

The Armenians told the Calvinists to chill and assured them that everything would work itself out.

The emergent church crowd accused them of being too direct in their faith and not allowing the “spiritual conversation” to flow naturally.

The fundamentalist crowd said the women’s head coverings weren’t covering enough.

The Unitarians said the head coverings were repressive to the women.

The Episcopalians said that Captain John Smith should be replaced by a woman, and the woman should be able to remove her head covering.

The Baptists got into a fist fight on the way over and never made it to the feast, but it didn’t matter because there was no fried chicken anyway.

And once the dust had settled and the meal was ready to be served, the pilgrims bowed their heads and prayed:

“Lord, we came here seeking freedom to worship you the way that we choose.  We came looking for religion that is free of government interference or compulsory mandates.  We gathered today to show you our gratitude and demonstrate our dependence on you.  Everything you have given us is good, and everything you took away, you did so without an ounce of evil intent.

But seriously, God…we have to know: are these people part of the package deal?!?

I’m proud to be the owner of the object that has been used as an illustration in several of J.D.’s sermons.  It happened again on Sunday for at least the fourth time.  Four is more times than he’s used C.S. Lewis’ Finger-Sniffing-Dog illustration, but less times than he’s used the Dee At The Waffle House illustration or Beautiful Bertha On The Plane From My Single Days illustration.  Not that I’m counting.

In case you are a chronic absentee and have “just happened” to miss all four of those Sundays (hello, beach house owners!), the object in question is one of my favorite birthday gifts ever, my Jesus ash tray.

Not everybody can pull off a Jesus ash tray, you understand.  It takes a special person to combine the fundamentalist finger-wagging with irreverent tongue in cheek humor.  Sanctified sarcasm, you might say.  I would argue that one look at my Jerry Falwell bobblehead sitting across the room, and you’ll just get the humor of the ash tray.  (I could be wrong.)

Nevertheless, the ash tray sits in my office, and it’s a frequent illustrative guest with our pastor.  But again on Sunday, I realized that you just can’t get the full appreciation of the ash tray without actually seeing it.  So now, for the first time in public, I give you the Jesus Ash Tray:

Holy Smokes?

You can click to enlarge, or just trust me when I tell you it says, “Jesus hates it when you smoke.”

(Special thanks to Shannon for the photo!)

Sorry, 70’s children.  This isn’t a tribute to what might be the greatest band of all time…maybe some other day.

But today, I’ve waited as long as I can.  This morning at 8:00 AM Eastern Standard Time, November 24, the year of our Lord 2008 AD, Christmas will officially begin in my office.

I understand that I will risk ridicule at the hands of a few of my co-workers, scrooges that they are.  I realize that I might completely alienate one of my best friends, who believes that Christmas shouldn’t be celebrated until 11:59:59 on December 24.  But I’ve got a fever, and the cure is Christmas music.

I feel like I’m well within the boundaries of society.  Christmas decorations started going up in the mall back in July.  You could buy a combo bottle rocket / poinsettia  value pack at some stores.  There are radio stations that have been playing Christmas music since Halloween.  There are Santa Claus wanna-bes all over the triangle who have had to wear Bermuda shorts because they’ve been setting up shop since the summer.  Yesterday at Jason’s Deli, I got dizzy watching the free sleigh rides go round and round and round.  The driver tried to look as festive as possible with his jaunty little elf hat.  (Perhaps he was trying to draw attention away from the wheels under his fake sleigh that was running on asphalt rather than snow.  And I think his horse was sweating.) 

Christmas will go full swing at my house this week.  I will guarantee you that the tree will go up before the tryptophan digests.  I will spend the first half of Black Friday looking for deals, and the second half taking the fall stuff down so the Christmas stuff can go up.  

So this morning, the music begins.  As you know, the first song of the season sets the tone for every day to follow.  I have prayed and fasted over my choice for the first song, and I’ve decided to go semi-old school with Amy Grant’s version of “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.”  Sure, it’s sort of a mixed breed between Christmas and wedding music, but it’s soulful, it’s fast, it’s slow, and if you close your eyes it almost sounds like snowfall.

Other top albums this year, as always, are Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas, Russ Taff’s A Christmas Song, and if you don’t tell my six year old I stole it from him, I really dig the soundtrack from Polar Express.  Merriem and I are also scoping out a new Christmas CD, one of our yearly traditions.  I have my eye on Faith Hill’s new one, but if you’ve got a recommendation I’m all ears.  What are your favorites?

C@S Inviter Card - OutsideC@S Inviter Card Inside …Christmas at the Summit!*  

More on that in a minute.  First, let me give you some lead in:

December 2001.  A young seminary student and his family are invited to a Christmas event by the wife’s brother and sister-in-law.  Said Christmas event is to take place at Homestead Heights Baptist Church* in Durham, a 45 minute drive from the seminary campus.

Family attends.  The first thing they notice is a mauve color scheme (retinas burning!), followed closely by a ginormous choir decked out in tuxedos and formal dresses (hello, high church!).  But then the lights go down and the music cranks up.  First impressions can be deceiving.

There’s a little wiry worship pastor shaking his groove thang as he directs the choir, looking more like a hyper penguin hopped up on steroids rather than a dignified musician, coming very close to losing his Southern Baptist status.

Big music.  Talented singers.  Kick-tail-and-take-no-prisoners band.

Fast forward two months.  Family continues to look for a church, invitations continue from Homestead.  Deny…delay…divert…that place is too far.  Involvement wouldn’t happen, community wouldn’t happen.

February 2002.  Seminary student is speaking at a student retreat in Boone.  Wife and kids attend Homestead again with brother and sister-in-law.  Wife makes an after-church phone call and lets husband know in no uncertain terms that they will attend the following Sunday.  Husband reluctantly agrees.  Goes the next Sunday.  Loves it.  Never looks back.

Fast forward a year.  Seminary student has led a small group of college kids and young professionals, found community, discovered a spiritual family.  He’s hired to take on a non-existent staff role.

You guessed it…that young seminary student grew up to be Connections Pastor and world-famous blogger (currently over six readers per day!), Danny Franks.

Here’s what I’m saying: Christmas at the Summit is without a doubt one of our biggest outreach efforts of the year.  Over the course of a few days we see hundreds of new people check out our campus for the first time.  And you can argue that there’s a better choir or band at some other church down the road or across the country, but believe me when I say that I will cut you.  They are just that good and I’m just that big a fan.

This Sunday at all of our campuses, you can get your frostbitten little hands on a stack of inviter cards for this year’s event.  Grab ’em.  Hand ’em out.  Make sure that everyone you know knows about this deal.  Who knows?  The next Connections Pastor might be in the crowd.

Ummm…on second thought, let’s not get too crazy in our outreach efforts.  My kids have become rather fond of eating.

Want to serve at Christmas at the Summit?  Click here to sign up!


*If Homestead Heights and the inside joke of this post’s title make no sense to you, welcome to the Summit.  Brush up on your history!

My twelve year old and I were having a conversation a few weeks ago about his daily devotionals.  This is a habit he started a few months back, and this proud dad has been very impressed with his commitment to get up earlier than his brothers so he can squeeze in a few quiet moments before the morning chaos begins.  

In comparison, my commitment isn’t quite as good.  Yes, I read my Bible nearly every day, but the getting up early part still eludes me some days.  If I were a World Famous Inventor, I’d invent an ESV that had strobe lights, an air horn, and a taser to get me awake, and then scratch-n-sniff paper that smelled like waffles and bacon to keep me awake.  Although the bacon part could be a conflict of interest with Leviticus, so maybe its best not to carry this idea too far. 

Back to our conversation…Jacob has hit the snag that derails many would-be Bible students: the tabernacle.  He asked me why it mattered what the ephod was made out of or the big deal about goats’ hair or the number of cubits long it should be and on and on.  I sympathized, and then told him that this is a time of his life where immediate application is more important that historical fact.  (You might disagree with me, but I would tell you to take a fifteen-cubit walk off a fourteen-cubit bridge.)

I pointed him to Proverbs, and explained the whole “Proverb a day” practice of Bible reading.  Since I was just finishing working through the Gospel of John, I decided that Proverbs would be my next study track.  Here’s what I saw with fresh eyes a couple of days ago…

“A fool’s lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating.”  (Proverbs 18:6)

Now I don’t care who you are, that’s funny and that’s true.  Growing up in Tennessee, we had a saying whenever somebody was screwing up their lives: “What that guy needs is a good beating.”  Many times, our lifestyle and our words invite that beating.  

As one who is given to many words, I have a feeling that God is going to bring this verse to mind quite often: “Is what you’re about to say going to invite somebody to take you down a notch?  Are your lips walking into a fight?”

I know children who have fool’s lips.  I know adults that invite a beating.  I know married couples who spend their days just trying to walk into a fight.  The Bible is clear that our words have consequences, so we’d better choose them carefully.  For more practical wisdom on this subject, check out all of Proverbs 18.

But make your own waffles and bacon.  I haven’t perfected my scratch-n-sniff pages yet.

Overheard in the Summit offices last week…

Bethany:  Does anyone know the name of that Mexican restaurant over by Carolina Ale House in Brier Creek?

Rick:  Ummm…it’s El something.

By golly, I think he may be right.

Last week I was sitting in the living room minding my own business, when one of my Sons Who Shall Remain Nameless walked out of his bedroom.  The following is almost a word-for-word replay:


Anonymous Son (AS): Dad, do we have a frame about this big?  (makes motions with his hands to indicate a frame about two and a half feet tall)

Me: Ummmm, I don’t think so.  Why do you need a frame?

AS: Come here for a second.

We walk to his room, where he has taken down a UNC banner that he had hanging on his curtain rod and replaced it with his own replica youth medium-sized Tyler Hansbrough jersey, which he’s worn at least four times per week for the last year.

AS: So, I don’t really like it hanging right there, and I’m thinking I should just frame it.

Me: Tell me again why we’re framing it?

AS: Because I’ve almost outgrown it, and I need to retire it.

Me: You want to do what?

AS: Dad, all great players have their jerseys retired.  I’m outgrowing it, so I need to retire it.


Wow.  Do you remember the days when you were that deliriously confident in your skills?  I love this kid.

Fall Retreat

One is done.

I survived Swedish meatballs, a very thin mattress, and being the umpire in a kickball tourney. I made it through high wind, deep puddles, and seventh grade boys who smell like beef stew.  And at the end of it all, I had a great time.

One of the first things I forgot about student ministry was one of the things I loved the most: watching leaders build deep relationships with the kids in their group.  When I was a student pastor, I knew that “my” ministry would only grow as deep as the variety of leaders I had on my team.  I was never great at reaching the jocks, the cheerleaders, or the math kids…but my leaders were.

After spending a few days with the Summit’s StudentLIFE leaders, there’s nothing I’d rather do than brag on their mad skills.  These people love their kids.  They pour heart and soul and boundless energy into them.  They are passionate about developing Christ followers. 

There’s no way that I could highlight the nearly 30 leaders at One, in addition to the many more that serve from week to week.  But I need to recognize just a few of the heroes I was able to serve alongside this weekend…

  • Ashley B and Kristen have more energy than any two women should have without the assistance of illegal narcotics…and they invest it all in their girls.
  • Garrett left a newborn at home and took off on his fourth consecutive fall retreat…he outlasts the history of most of our paid staff.
  • Ashley V gave not only heart and soul, but nose and knee to the cause.
  • Steven and Brent are a couple of our own Summit kids who are all grown up and taking on a role as leader.
  • Mark and April and Doug and Diane have been at the Summit all of about 27 minutes, but that didn’t keep them from jumping into One with both feet.

And of course, One couldn’t have happened without the bottomless enthusiasm of the amazingly talented StudentLIFE staff that pulled everything together and executed it flawlessly…Jason, Shannon, Josh M, Josh L, Marcus, Brandon…and even Ryan, who set into motion a nefarious plan nine months ago so he and Morgan could have a kid just hours before we departed.  I hope you enjoyed your time with your new son, pal.  Before you can turn around, he’ll smell just like beef stew

OneThis weekend, 143 of our students and leaders will be heading to Camp Willow Run for the annual fall retreat, with its uber-cool one-word title: ONE.

For the first time in six years, I’m tagging along as a volunteer leader.  I cut my ministry teeth as a student pastor.  My wife and I loved it, no matter what it brought: Bible studies interrupted by kids doing underarm farts?  Loved it.  Late night weepy sessions at camp with kids who had given their lives to Jesus?  Loved it.  Gross youth group games where somebody had to eat peanut butter off of someone else’s forehead?  Loved it…so long as it wasn’t me.

I always thought I’d be the first student pastor to have his grandkids in the youth group, but God took me down a different path. Today, I return to my roots.  Today, I’ll be locked into a CWR train car with another leader and nine 7th grade boys.  Today, I’ll trade my connections knowledge for Chuck Norris facts.  Today, I’ll be humiliated as I try to take my staff retreat kickball skills and school some adolescents.

This weekend will be cool because my own 7th grader, Jacob, will be a part of it.  Whether or not he’ll acknowledge me as his dad in front of his friends is left to be seen.  Our StudentLIFE staff wisely ran interference and placed us in separate lodging, so as not to inflict permanent emotional scarring on his coolness.

You can pray for us this weekend.  The StudentLIFE crew has spent months planning an amazing experience, and I have no doubt that many, many kids will do business with Jesus.  And if you want to see the largest collections of green camp shirts in the world, be in the 10:45 Brier Creek service Sunday morning.  

But bring air freshener.  I have a feeling the kids in my train car won’t be bathing.  They are seventh graders, after all.

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