February 2009


Here’s a peek into my world over the last ten days:

I had a conversation with a guy who doesn’t attend our church.  He was raised in church, but now doesn’t know what he believes or “if this whole Christianity thing is true.”

Another conversation with a young single professional who is questioning the exclusive claims of Christ, the ideals of right and wrong and moral absolutes, and what role (if any) that Jesus plays in her life.

Yet another brief conversation with a cashier at a local grocery store.  The topic turned to church, and when I told her about our upcoming Easter celebration she replied, “I haven’t been to church on Easter in a long time…I haven’t been to church, period, in a long time…I’m just really confused.”

Three people.  Three souls.  Three appointments that I believe were put on my calendar by God himself.  No, none of them had all their questions answered over the course of a conversation.  None were convinced and converted…but for now that’s fine.  My calling is to share what I know, what the Bible holds forth, and genuinely love them whether they agree with me or not.  Some may never be convinced…and that’s okay.  It’s not my job to convince them or convert them, it’s my job to listen to them, love them, and simply share what Jesus did for me.

This stuff energizes me…it excites me…and unlike when I was a new baby Christian, it no longer scares me.

If you’re a believer, you hold the key to hope and peace in the lives of those that you come across every day.  Are you freely sharing the story of the gospel, or are you fearfully (and selfishly) holding on to the greatest story ever told?

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Of course it's the back of her head.

Today is going to be a bittersweet day around the Summit offices.  For the last six years we’ve worked and laughed and cried and served with a great friend.  Today, that friend is doing something we’ve heard about in the messages for the last few weeks.  She’s swapping something she loves for something she loves even more.

Amber Lunn was the mysterious college student when my wife and I first started attending the Summit.  At the time, my brother-in-law and I were rocking the college Bible study with a whopping eight students (but that was four times as many as J.D. had when he was college pastor, so back off).  People kept telling us about the girl named Lunn…apparently an NCSU horticultural wunderkind that tempted and taunted this volunteer leader with her constant absence.  I would hear statements like, “If you can get Amber roped into your Bible study, watch out.  She’ll have half of NCSU here within a week.”

Chalk it up to my non-magnetism as a college leader or Amber’s propensity to sleep late on Sundays or the eventual lure of children’s ministry, but that strategic partnership never happened.  What did happen is that Amber, an almost-grew-up-here Summiteer, started working with kids, then was hired as an intern, then an associate, and then ran the whole shootin’ match for almost a year while we were without a full-time children’s director.  There’s no children’s ministry project she can’t lead, no game she can’t pull out of her back pocket, no kid that can escape the personality magnet known as Lunn the Fun.

Merriem and I have long considered Amber part of our family.  She regularly makes the trek to our house to hang out with the whole family or to graciously give us a night away while she entertains our kids with her presence.  My kids love her, even though the older two tease her by refusing to admit it.  I think Jase would marry her if she’d wait around on him for … oh … twenty years.  

Today Amber begins the long journey to South Africa, which is where her heart has resided since her first trip there years ago.  She and Rachel Jensen (another former staffer) are going to be joining our church planting team already on the ground there as they carry the gospel to a city that is spiritually dark.

Amber’s excited.  We’re excited for her.  And as much as we hate to see her go, we know that such is the animal that we call the Summit Church.  We’re not here to get bigger and bigger and absorb everything around us, but to send people out.  A stint in South Africa will do little to pad Amber’s resume’ or her savings account.  But that’s not the reason she’s doing it.  Amber is happiest when she’s helping kids know more about Jesus, and the kids of South Africa have had her wrapped around their precious little fingers for a long time now.

Amber will still be around for a little while as she completes her stateside training.  We’ll have an opportunity to commission her and say a final goodbye this summer.  And you can keep up with her adventures on her brand new blog.  (I’ll withhold my “I told you so” comment to the girl who once basically told me that blogs are evil.  Welcome to the blogosphere, Lunn.)

As a pastor, it’s drilled into your head that you don’t talk about money.  Ever.  Never ever.  I don’t know who drills that in there, necessarily, but it’s true.  Or at least I think it is.  With all those drill holes, I have a lot of short-term memory loss.

What was I talking about?

Oh yeah…it’s as though talking about money automatically lumps you in with the TV fruitca…um…preachers who claim God will call them home if you don’t send them a bajillion dollars.  And also they own gold-plated bookshelves on which they display their lead crystal replicas of their customized antique car collection.  Their wives’ makeup alone must set them back a small fortune.

I always get a little nervous when as a church we talk about money.  Straight up, I know that money is not a topic to be avoided.  Jesus talked about money plenty.  And since he didn’t have plenty of money, he could get away with it with no ulterior motives (plus he had the whole deity thing going, so that probably stood for itself).  Jesus made less money than I did in my first job as a youth pastor, so that says something right there.

I digress.  (Hello, drill holes!)  As the guest-services go-to guy around here, I naturally look at everything through the perspective of a guest.  How is the traffic flow?  Are people friendly enough?  Is the signage clear?  Did we just ask people to commit to give over and above their tithe for the next three years?  You can see where I’m going with this.

That’s why I’ve been so shocked and gratified with the response to Believe.  Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve heard from not one, but four guests who have started attending the Summit during the Believe project.  You would think that sermons on money would cause people to cringe and question, duck and run.  But for these four guests (and the dozens more I assume they represent), the sermons haven’t run them off, they’ve grafted them in.  They are able to hear where we’re headed as a church.  They understand that we’re not building buildings, we’re launching a movement.  They understand this money isn’t about us, but about our community and about carrying the gospel to the ends of the earth.  And they’ve realized this is the place where they want to be a part.

We’re heading towards Commitment Sunday, and the stories that I’ve heard of commitment and sacrifice are nothing short of incredible.  Yep, we’re talking about money, but it’s what is going to happen with that money that’s really talking.

Today, I’m walking down memory lane.

Today, I have a loop reel of the faces of hundreds of parents that I served during my years as a Student Pastor.  I remember looking them dead in the eye as they fretted over their son or daughter and saying, “You’ll make it through this.  This too shall pass.”

Today, there’s a twinge of … something … going on in my soul.  I can’t quite describe it, but it feels like … oldness (is that a word?).

Today, I feel just a little bit more out of touch.

Today, I’m going to let go a little more than I want to.

Today, the scissors are coming out and we’re snipping just a couple more threads off the apron strings.

Today … I am the parent of a teenager.

It was thirteen years ago that I held that little chunk of screaming baby in my arms.  Thirteen years ago that I cried because of God’s mercy to us.  Thirteen years ago that I changed my firstborn’s very first diaper and then ducked as he peed all over me.

I find myself revisiting all the things I ever said to parents of the teenagers in my group.  Was I off base?  Did I have a clue what I was talking about?  Was I relying on biblical principles or my own pseudo-knowledge?  Will the things I taught be the things that I turn to now that I’m in those very same trenches?

I find myself looking backwards to the first thirteen years and forwards to the next thirteen.  Will he become the man I want him to be?  Will he be a better man than I want him to be?  What parts of his character still need to develop?

As a dad, there are so many areas where I’m so proud of my son.  He’s a servant.  He’s good-natured…most of the time.  He’s a great athlete.  He’s polite in public, obeys authority…sometimes even parental authority, and is developing his walk with God.  He’s far from perfect – at home he can get mouthy and roll his eyes like some people roll dice and sometimes sigh the paint off the walls – but when he’s clothed and in his right mind, he’s a downright good kid.

Today I realize that my job is more important than ever.  I’m the guy at the steering wheel, veering around potholes and staying far from the cliff’s edge.  Soon, he’ll take over the controls, and it will be then that I’ll be able to see what I taught vs. what he caught.

I’m grateful for the spiritual leaders that God has put in his life.  Jason, Ryan, Josh, Marcus, Brandon…you’re the men that my son looks up to.   I thank you for giving up Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights and countless weekends and summer days to invest yourself in him. 

I’m grateful for the generation of men who have gone before me…Grandbobby, Paw…you model Jesus to your grandson, albeit long distance, and you remind me that I was thirteen once, too, and I survived (mainly because one of you allowed me to).

I’m grateful for my wife, a mama bear if there ever was one, who now looks eye-to-eye with her first baby and within the next twenty minutes will probably be eye-to-chest, if he keeps growing at his normal rate.  You’re so protective and loving and nurturing of all of our kids, and I appreciate how you teach me balance in my parenting.

And finally, I’m grateful for the subject of this post.  Jacob…you made me a dad.  Austin and Jase may have their own accolades, but you’re the one who gets top billing for giving me my favorite title.  Half of me hopes you never read this, because I don’t want to mortify you into Adolescent Embarrassment Purgatory.  But if you do, know that I couldn’t be prouder to be your father.

Happy birthday, dude…I love you.  (insert fist bump here)

As a kid, beverages in worship were an absolute no-no.  My parents would have sooner had me stand up on the pew and throw my Mad Libs: Church Edition* square at the pastor’s head than to bring something to drink inside The Lord’s House.  No, church-time thirsts were reserved exclusively for trips to the water fountain, and even then I had to prove that I was dehydrating right before their very eyes in order to make it happen.

When I became an adult, I felt like I could get away with a fair amount more, so I started smuggling bottled water into the service.  It wasn’t that I needed it, I just felt cool doing it.  Even so, I’d find myself ducking down beneath the pew in front of me in order to take a hit off of the sacred Deer Park.  (It didn’t help matters that I still attended the church of my youth, and I was pretty sure I could feel my dad’s glare across the auditorium.)

Fast forward to the Summit, where we have a real-live coffee bar, with real-live coffee.  My cup of 1/3 cocoa, 1/3 Coffeemate French Vanilla, and 1/3 decaf is a constant presence as I sing, pray, and listen to the message, and I feel like it makes me a nicer worshipper.

But last Thursday…last Thursday something happened that didn’t feel quite right.  That was the night of one of our big Believe meetings at our Brier Creek campus, and as part of the night we had refreshments and a full-fledged worship time.  I sauntered into the auditorium with a fresh cup topped off with Caffeine Free Diet Coke and began to get my worship on.

…and then it hit me.  I have a soft drink.  In church.

Oh sure, bottled water is one thing.  Coffee is fine, too, perhaps because it’s covered and it makes me think of 1 Corinthians 11.  But a Coke?  That’s another matter entirely.  I felt…naughty.  I actually found myself unable to drink more than a few sips, because I was afraid it made me less of a Christian.  Sure, it was diet, which meant I was respecting my body as a temple, and it was caffeine free, which would have gone over great in the Mormon church.  But it also had ingredients like phosphoric acid and sodium benzoate.  That just seems to go against scripture.

I just wonder what’s next?  Where will I end up on this downward slide of non-worship-inducing beverages?  Will cherry Icees be next?  How about a Frappuccino?  A Wildberry Lemonade Fruit Smoothie from Sheetz?  Or should I roll up in there with a whole tea set and throw a few sugar cubes in to boot?

Yeah…I think I’ll just stick to the coffee.

 

*One Sunday, three      hairy     deacons decided they would fight about     hot dogs    .  They hit each other with their     bloated     by laws until one of them cried “    Ponderosa    !”

Don’t break out your Whitney Houston soundtrack just yet.  That’s not where I’m going.

My wife – in addition to taking good care of me while I’m at the dentist – also has some incredibly insightful thoughts about the stuff of our lives.  Last Sunday we were talking about the Believe project at lunch, and this is what she said (paraphrased, because hey – I’m a husband, and I don’t listen word-for-word):

“I’m excited about this project.  Back when we did Focus (the campaign that ran from 2004-2007), it was new, and fresh, and easy to get wide-eyed about what God was doing.  I’m still very excited about what God is doing, but the thing that excites me most is watching other people get excited about what he’s doing.  We’ve been down this road of discovery before, but now it’s like a new generation is discovering it, and we’re getting to watch it happen.”

…and then she made a comparison to how we both went to Disney World when we were kids, and as great of an experience as that was, it was even more fun to go back as a seasoned Mouseketeer and watch our kids get to experience it for the first time.  

True, she doesn’t use as many run-on sentences as I just did, but you get the idea.

What excites you about Believe?

This is an unplanned follow up to a previous post, if you’d like to catch up.

Yesterday I had to make a return trip to the dentist’s office to replace a filling that decided to make a run for it.  When I was first laying in the dental chair and formulating this post in my head, I thought for sure the topic at hand would be the anesthetic, the puffy tongue and jaw, and the fact that I said a very bad word in my heart when they jabbed that needle into my gums.

I also could have written about the fact that Dr. Turner seemed to be having entirely too much fun in the process:

Dr. Turner: “Okay Danny, I’m going to need you to open just a little wider.  I need to put some more gauze in there.”

Me: “Mfgmtrlp juvbfa.” (“No problem.”)

Dr. Turner: “Just a little more…I need to insert this clamp on your back tooth.”

Me: “Roflvfrm rrswliptu.” (“Umm…okay.”)

Dr. Turner: “And if you can shift your tongue, I’m going to put this Scotch tape dispenser and my collection of Beatles albums in there, just to see if they will fit.”

However, from the time the procedure was over until the time I sat down to write about it, something transpired that trumped any other idea.  Here’s the way it went down:

I’m a fainter.  I’m not proud of that fact, but it’s true.  I faint when pain hits me, when pain hits other people, when I think about pain hitting other people or maybe me, and occasionally during particularly gruesome episodes of ER.  But there’s no time where I’m more likely to faint than when someone comes at me with a needle.  Sure enough, on Wednesday – had I been sitting up during the shot – I would have hit the floor.  But I was already flat on the dental chair, and even though I broke out in a cold sweat and thought I was going to see Jesus any moment, I remained concious.

Fast forward to the end of the visit, when I’m getting up to leave.  The dental assistant comes back in the room and says, “Mr. Franks, do you need to stay with us for a while?”

“Excuthe me?”  (Remember I still had a numb mouth and tongue.)

“Do you need to stay with us for a while?  I mean, do you feel alright?  Would you like to just sit here?”

“Um…no, I’m thine, really.  Uh…do I not lookth like I’m okay?”

“Oh, no sir, you look fine.  It’s just that your wife called the front desk during the procedure and asked that we keep an eye on you…you know, because of the fainting issue.”

“My wifth did WHATH?”

“Your wife called…it was sweet, really…she just wanted to make sure you were…”

“I hath to go.”

So I walked out to the parking lot, pulled out the celly, and dialed the house.  She answered.

“Why in the world did you call the dentitht?”

“Huh?”

“The dentitht!  You called the dentitht and told them I was a thainter.  A thainter!  Do you really think that was netthetherry?”

(Peals of laughter erupt from the other end of the phone.)

“Baby, I’m sorry.  They weren’t supposed to TELL you that I called…”


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