November 2012


E’ry Friday, I scrape a couple of layers of strata off of the archaeological archives. Today, I dug up a post that just got me riled up all over again. Actually, it might have riled me up more than it did the first time.

In case you’re not already hot under the collar about something today, I’ll be glad to contribute.

One of our pastors received this from a friend. The friend is on staff at a church in the Triangle area, and this very real email found its way to the office of that very real church:

Hello,

Our family has just moved to your area. We are seeking a church home and have a few questions please:

*We know the Lord loves all of us, but we believe in honoring the Culture the Lord gave us, so we are seeking a traditionally “White” church as opposed to Multi-cultural. Is your church White?

Read the rest of the post here, and then read the comments. They’ll make you (and me) get glad in the same pants you got mad in.

The gospel changes everything.

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TGIT? You betcha. Here are three things that I’ve had my eyes on this week (click the header links to read the full articles).

Broken EventsEvery single pastor and every single speaker and every single leader in every single church needs to read this. Seth Godin displays his usual genius.

If someone starts by telling a joke that they know is lame or starts going through all the tribulations they had finding something to say, if the audience is checking the time or secretly tweeting, then the event itself is broken. The speaker who discharges an obligation is not a speaker you are hoping to hear.

Items in “12 Days of Christmas” Now Costs $107,000…Plus TaxGreat news: those eight maids a milking are a real bargain.

The cost of buying all 364 items repeated throughout the timeless holiday carol has gone up 6.1 percent since last year, according to the annual Christmas Price Index compiled by PNC Wealth Management. And the new retail cost of $107,300 really hurts in the biggest U.S. cities, where state and local sales tax adds on as much as 9.5 percent.

Inside One of Amazon’s Busiest Days. This makes my inner organizational nerd just a little bit giddy.

If you’ve read this blog for a few seconds you know that I’m a freakishly huge Disney fan. Not the type of fan where I have a Captain Hook costume in my closet and the complete set of director’s cut Disney/Pixar movies on DVD. Nope, I’m more of a fan of the Disney process, their attention to detail, and their ability to tell a story like no one else.

In case you’re an uncultured snob, you may not realize that all Disney parks are set up to tell a story. From the moment you get off the monorail or ferry at the Magic Kingdom, you’re walking into a movie set, complete with posters of “coming attractions” (ie, rides) the smell of popcorn, and the visual cues that you’re being transported to another world.

The newest example of this is the newest attraction at Magic Kingdom: an expansion of Fantasyland that takes guests back to the early 90’s classic Beauty and the Beast. The attention to detail is stunning, the painstaking recreation of movie themes is evident, and the story is king. Here’s what Creative Director Chris Beatty said in a recent FoxNews.com article:

What has been revealed is far more than just a restaurant. Like any great Disney attraction, Be Our Guest tells a story. Tucked away atop sharp, rocky hills is the Beast’s castle, trapped in the cursed moment before Belle breaks the spell.  As guests cross a stone bridge lined with tormented gargoyles, Disney lets the story of the Beast’s transformation unfold through architecture and design.  Beatty underscores the importance of layout, noting “the average guest may never see this, or really understand the story behind it, but for us it’s so critical to help tell that transition – that metamorphosis of who the prince is, as he was turned into the Beast.”

Continuing into the foyer and down a suit of armor-lined hallway, there is a feeling of coldness, decorated with hard stone, metal, and desaturated tones.  “You still feel like any moment you could be escorted out – you could be thrown out of the castle,” said Beatty.

But the mood shift as guests enter the study, welcoming with soft wood finishes and a roaring fireplace.  From there guests come across the most famous of “Beauty and the Beast” settings: the ballroom.  Adorned with gold and marble, giant chandeliers illuminate the impressive space that feels, as Beatty puts it, “almost like Belle and Beast could dance in at any moment.”  Artificial snow is even seen gently falling outside giant picture windows.  Entering the ballroom is the ultimate wow moment.

Disney is the undisputed master at telling stories. Churches? Well, we may be the undisputed disasters. Contrast Disney’s newest attraction with our regular attraction: our church building and facilities. Unclear signage? We have it. Overgrown parking areas? They’re there. Unmarked doors, bad lighting, unfriendly greeters, a confusing process for next steps? Oh yeah.

Every weekend, we’re telling our guests a story before they ever hear a sermon. We’re telling them how much we value them, how much we anticipated their arrival, and how much we expect them to return. Our lackluster (translated: messy, shabby, gross) facilities tell the story of the attention to detail we’ll give to our ministries, to our families, and to our guests.

It’s odd to me that the greatest story ever told often starts with such a bad story.

So what story are you telling?

 

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Preface: if you’re a pastor (or you’re a human), you’re going to receive criticism. And if you’re a pastor (or you’re human), you’re going to give criticism. So if you’re gonna do it, you might as well do it right. Here’s how to complain for maximum results.

 

The note landed on my desk several weeks ago. It came to me via a weekend worship service, into the offering bucket, through the hands of the counters, and finally past someone who felt like I should be the one to see it. (“He’s the Connections Pastor. Nobody knows what he does. Maybe he can handle it.”)

The note said, in effect, “Somebody needs to do something about [event in the worship service]. It is making me and many other people very uncomfortable. It makes me want to leave and never return.”

I’m not going to reveal the event itself, because the event is irrelevant. It’s the note, and the complaint lodged within, that I want to focus on.

I’ve gotten plenty of these notes in 20 years of ministry. All of them have said the same thing, though many of them were complaining about the same thing. They all followed the same formula: I don’t like ___ + other people also don’t like ___ = fix it or I’ll leave.

You need to know that I’m all for feedback. I’m a big proponent of your voice being heard. And I solicit, abide by, and adapt to feedback all the time in my role as a pastor. But here’s what this person needs to know about how to deliver effective complaints:

1. Have the guts to sign your name. Six out of ten times, the negatives remain anonymous. I want you to know that I value your feedback. I also want you to know that I value it about 96% less when you don’t have the courage to tell me who you are. Unsigned complaints don’t allow for conversation. They don’t allow for vision casting. They simply allow you to lob your negativity and run.

2. Stand up for yourself. A close second to anonymous letters are anonymous letters with anonymous friends. “Other people” could mean 100 or it could mean your wife. Or it could mean the crazy voices in your head. I have no idea. Regardless, don’t drag “other people” into the situation. Either tell me their names when you tell me yours or let them write their own complaints.

3. Don’t make threats. I’ve gotten to the point where I stop making apologies that this church (or ANY church) is for everybody. Every church is not for every person. It should be open to every person, but it’s not going to fit every person. We’re not trying to scratch every person where they itch. We are trying to honor Jesus in all that we do. Sometimes that means we’ll preach hard sermons. Sometimes that means we’ll have long services. Sometimes it means we’ll attack your idols. Either way, your personal agenda won’t make us change that course.

4. Assume that somebody cares. Here’s where I get touchy-feely again. Anonymous person, you need to know that I really do care about your note. I really do care about how you feel. In this particular situation, there are some things that I identified with and would agree with you on. I don’t think you were wrong in your opinion, but you were wrong in the way you delivered your opinion. This church isn’t about “Do what you’re told and shut up.” But it is about seeking common grace at the foot of the cross. In your anonymous note, you robbed yourself of the grace both to be heard and the grace to hear. I would have loved to sit down with you and talk through your very real feelings, affirmed your continued involvement here, and yes, sought to help you find a solution. But because you didn’t think anyone cared, you scrawled a note and dropped it in the offering bucket, which is the ecclesiastical version of a hit and run.

 

Constructive criticism can be helpful, even honoring. More than that, well-timed correction is biblical. Proverbs 15:31 says “The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise.” But there’s a difference between gospel-centered correction and self-centered complaining. Philippians 2:14-15 reminds us to “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world…”

Do you know how unity as believers serves as a witness to the world? It’s when we learn to have a criticism without being a critic.

 

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Meticulous research has shown me that there are two kinds of people in this world: (1) those who like the predictability and practicality of an artificial Christmas tree, and (2) insane people.

For 19 years, my beloved bride has hinted that maybe we should get a real tree. That maybe we’re not a true American family if we don’t have a real tree. That maybe Al Gore is just kidding and cutting down a real tree doesn’t actually cause a puppy to go blind.

And for 19 years, I’ve deftly avoided being drawn into those hints. For 19 years, I’ve put up our massive behemoth plastic tree, the one that is already pre-woven with lights that we lovingly pre-wove one year, and then cursingly re-wove every year after that, because one of the stupid strands burned out.

But this year, her hints turned into very strong suggestions, to the point that I felt threatened by her hints, if you get my domestic altercation drift.

And so it was that on Black Friday we set out like the pioneers of yore, trudging into the wilderness on an odyssey (or IN an Odyssey…did you see what I did there) for the perfect tree. Thankfully, we found the perfect tree after searching high and Lowe’s (wow, the hits just keep on coming), and as we gazed at it in astounded wonder, asked ourselves the age old question,

“How in the blazes do we move this stupid thing?”

You see, it brought me great joy to see the joy my wife had over her real tree. As a matter of fact, I encouraged her to go big before we go home and upsize that sucker. For only twenty more bucks we could have two more feet of tree and – the way I calculated – a few more strands of lights to fight over.

So we got the eight footer. I hauled it out of the bin to stand it up and bounce it on the ground to see if any needles fell off, just like my forebears taught me to in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. The only problem: eight foot trees don’t bounce. And neither do they stand up easily when you’re trying to get your 5’2″ wife to hold it so you can take her picture.

Me: Look, it’s standing up! All you have to do is hang on to it.

Merriem: I can’t hang on to it! It’s going to tip over.

Me: HANG ON LET ME SWITCH TO VIDEO MODE!

Then it was time to move Mr. Tannenbaum to the trimming stand, where two helpful men look and you and grin while you try to maneuver an eight foot tree onto the trimming stand. They then ask you how much you want taken off, which is the Christmas Tree Stand equivalent to my mechanic asking what weight oil I want to use. (Answer: “Um…a couple of pounds?”)

So they trimmed a bit off the trunk, and then put the same netting around the tree that I had just removed from the Thanksgiving turkey the day before. Then one of the guys helped me strap the tree to the top of the van, all the while telling me how we were making memories with our kids, and they would never forget these moments, and this would be the kind of thing that they would tell their kids about. Except I was having a hard time agreeing with him, because at that moment our kids were sitting at home playing their WiiBoxStation or whatever they have, because they weren’t all that interested in picking out the thing that would serve as the foundation for their generational memories.

Back to the house, where my in laws were waiting to (a) help put up the tree and (b) serve as witnesses in case of a future court deposition. And for two more days, we wrapped that rascal in lights and ribbon and ornaments and vile hatred and broken dreams, because let’s face it: that’s what Christmas lights do to you. Merriem and I know we can count on one major fight per year, and that will be the Christmas Light Fight. (“Just toss me that strand.” “Which strand?” “That strand.” “I NO LONGER RESPECT YOU AS A HUMAN!”)

But as of this morning when I left the house, amidst the living room floor shrapnel known as falling pine needles, we have a beautiful, pine scented, joyously festive Christmas tree that has brought our family together and helped us look forward to the season. At least until it crashes to the ground because one of the kids bumped into it.

I hope I have the camera in video mode.

Today wraps up ThanksWeek on the blog. I’ve been checking off the list of people I’m thankful for, but you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know I’d save my favorite person on earth for last.

I married up. Everyone who knows me knows that. Outside of redemption, Merriem is the greatest gift God has ever given me. In January we’ll celebrate 20 years of marriage, but this post was penned on the 20 year anniversary of the day we met (yes, I keep up with stuff like that). This post originally appeared on January 25, 2011.

 

Today is an awesome day.

It hasn’t been a great day. A sick kid, a busted van, a missed meeting, and appointments and emails that just won’t quit have made for a very hecticbusycrazyinsane morning and afternoon.

But it’s still an awesome day.

In about two hours from now, it will be twenty years to the moment that my life changed forever. On January 25, 1991, I walked into my high school gym and saw a 5’2″ beauty with whom I’d spend the rest of my life. Two weeks ago, we celebrated our 18 year wedding anniversary, but in some ways, today is even more special.

Today represents two decades of having someone know me better than anyone else knows me. It represents two decades of loving and being loved by my best friend. It represents ups and downs and highs and lows and the fact that I’m more sure than ever that she has been among God’s greatest gifts in my life. (Jesus. Merriem. Kids. Just in case you’re keeping score.)

Twenty years ago I happened to show up at a basketball game. I wasn’t a fan, but my buddy was the team captain and had been giving me flack about never supporting the team. When I walked into that gym, I immediately spotted a girl who made my world stand still. Blonde hair. Blue eyes. Gold socks…although we’re still arguing over the presence of those socks. I swear she was wearing them. She swears I’m crazy.

Her brother was on the team, but since it was a small Christian school, he commuted in and they didn’t live in my hometown. We had spent our young lifetime a whopping 23 minutes away from each other and never knew of the other’s existence. This was in the day before cell phones and cheap long distance, so our early relationship was marked with letters. Lots and lots of letters. Letters that now fill a couple of boxes in our bedroom closet.

We were 17 years old. We were babies. And yet it was only two weeks after I met her that I knew I would marry her.

And I did.

Ten months later in the romantic surroundings of our college’s student lounge, I popped the question and gave her a chip of a diamond. We were in our first semester of our freshman year. Fourteen long months later, we walked the aisle and committed our lives to one another.

I know why I fell for her: she loved Jesus. She loved me. And she was the prettiest thing that had ever crossed my path.

And I know why I’ve stuck with her: she brings out the best in me. She wants what’s best for me. And she’s still stunningly beautiful. Even today when we’re out in public, people look at us with surprised pity. Bless her heart. She must be legally blind. Look who she married.

In a few minutes I’m meeting with a couple who will get married just a few weeks from now. We’ll talk about what it takes to have a gospel-centered marriage. And then I’ll rush home to what will undoubtedly be chaos: a feverish eight year old, uncompleted homework, an annoying dog.

But when the kid is in bed and the homework is done and the dog has collapsed on the floor, I plan for us to kick up our feet – maybe she’ll be wearing gold socks again – and talk about that cold January night two decades ago. The first twenty has been incredible. I can’t wait for the second round.

It’s ThanksWeek around these parts, and you can bet your giblets I’m having a great time flipping through some old posts and thinking about the things I’m thankful for.

Today, it’s about the dudes of Casa de Franks. While I had to narrow three boys down to the one post below, I still have some specific things to say in today’s bonus content: Jacob / Austin / Jase. Happy Thanksgiving, friends.

This post originally appeared on September 2, 2011.

This has turned into Adoption Week here on the blog, which is kind of like Shark Week, only cuter. (Although if you haven’t been exposed to Haven’s razor sharp teeth…)

We’ve told Haven’s story, and told a bit of the rest of our stories along the way. But there’s one more thing that needs to be said:

My sons are real men. And I don’t deserve them.

Like their freakish athletic ability, there are some other characteristics that they didn’t get from me. They’ve been supremely selfless through this whole process with Haven. When I was their age, I would have been appalled if my parents had tried to add one to our nest. I remember freaking out the year my dad invited a homeless guy for Christmas. (It’s not that hard to remember. I was 33 years old. No seriously.) I flip out when my peanut butter jar gets disturbed. I am – in short – selfish. My boys – in short – are not. And for that I’m grateful.

Has it been easy? Nope. After the novelty of having a new baby in the house wore off, Haven has moved from being the fragile princess to being the little sister. She has an uncanny knack for finding the “off” button on Austin’s Playstation just when he’s about to make the high score, causing him to fling her into the front yard. (That’s hyperbole, social services people. No babies were flung in the making of this story.)

It’s not easy to go from a house with a 15 year old, 14 year old, and 9 year old – all very self sufficient – to a house with a toddler. They have had a crash course in changing diapers, making bottles, and clipping hair bows. They have mixed her formula, fed her smashed carrots, and snuck her ice cream. They’ve been puked on and peed on and pooped on more times than they can count. And through it all, they have led her and loved her well.

Nothing has made me prouder in this process than to see my boys become protectors. They hold her when she’s scared at the beach and hug her when our “attack monkey” game goes too far. They make sure her car seat is tight and her sandals are strapped and the kitchen cabinets are latched.

I feel sorry…very, very sorry…for any young man that shows up at our house in the future. Though I may be too old and senile to intervene, I know that three big brothers will work him over a few times before he gets close to their little sister.

People have frequently asked them, “So what do you think about having a little sister?” Last Sunday after church, one of them said, “How should we answer that? ‘We don’t like her, but I guess we’re stuck with her’? What kind of question is that? What do they expect us to say?”

Since they don’t know how to articulate it (especially after the 150th time), I’ll answer it on their behalf: they love her. They adore her. They want what’s best for her, and they wanted her. She lights up when they walk into the room. She loves her Jachub and her Ya Ya and her…well, she’s working on getting Jase to come out just right…but she loves him too.

She may never know how they’ve changed her life, but Merriem and I do. What’s more, we know how she’s changed theirs.

My little girl may have taught me what it looks like to be wrapped around her finger, but my sons have taught me what true selflessness is. I’m grateful that they’ve made room for one more at our table. I could learn from them.

We all could.

Jacob (15) at Wrightsville Beach, just after Haven decided she hated Wrightsville Beach.
Austin (14), probably just moments before she peed on him for the 28th time.
Jase (9), not bitter that Haven can’t pronounce his name yet.

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