Bravery, Sacrifice and Honor

Memorial Day is a time to remember. It is a day on the calendar that is set aside to honor those who have given their lives in service to their country. Many of these men and women volunteered to place themselves in harm’s way in order to save lives, protect their fellow Americans and others who were endangered, and to preserve and extend human freedom and dignity. Others who died in service to this nation were drafted, yet their sacrifice was no less honorable that those who went to the recruiting station and signed up. The shedding of blood for one’s country is truly worth remembering.

ImageA number of years ago I traveled with a group of students to Arlington National Cemetery to witness the changing of the guard in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. At one point prior to the changing ceremony some of those sitting and watching became a little boisterous (I’m glad to say it wasn’t our group). Abruptly one of the Guards of Honor stopped his pacing and turned to speak toward the noisy group. With words that were firm and direct, he reminded the assembled group of the solemnness of that place and the proper respect that is to be shown. It was a startling but effective and necessary act.

As I sit and think of that day and of the untold sacrifices made on behalf of this nation by so many, I fear the attitude of those few disruptive children may be a sad reflection of the attitude of many toward our national celebration of Memorial Day. It is not that we shouldn’t have a cook-out, go to Grandma’s house, or take our first dip in the pool for the season. One of the reasons that our service men and women died for was that we might have the freedom and ability to have enjoyment in life. I hope that you enjoyed your Memorial Day, but I hope you also remembered why it is on the calendar in the first place.

As I close, three words come to my mind as I reflect on Memorial Day: Bravery, Sacrifice and Honor. These are the words that best reflect the vast majority of those who served or have served in the United States Armed Services. I am grateful for those who gave their lives for a cause greater than themselves, and I pray their families might find peace. I am grateful for those who served and came home to their families and friends. Some of them returned and were able to readjust and get on with life. Others have struggled because of the physical or emotional traumas they experienced. I pray that we as a nation will honor their sacrifices and support them and their families as they continue to fight battles on a different front.

(Reprinted from 2014)

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The Importance of Our Greeting Ministry (part 3)

smileNever underestimate the value of a smile! One of the most important things that greeters bring to their ministry is a welcoming smile. Sure, there are days when we don’t feel much like smiling because we all have challenges in life – physical, emotional, and sometimes even spiritual. But it is exactly because we have troubles that we should smile!

Our smiles show that joy is not found in the stuff of life but in the Lord of life!

Our smiles show that struggling people are welcome here!

Because we know that many of those who enter our doors are having a tough time, our warm smiles in their direction can be a ray of sunshine on their cloudy day.

Dale Carnegie’s most famous books is How to Win Friends and Influence People. In it, he writes the following:

It costs nothing but creates much.
It enriches those who receive, and the memory of it sometimes lasts forever.
None are so rich they can get along without it, and none so poor but are richer for its benefits.
It creates happiness in the home, fosters good will in a business, and is the countersign of friends.
It is rest to the weary, daylight to the discouraged, sunshine to the sad, and Nature’s best antidote for trouble.
Yet it cannot be bought, begged, borrowed, or stolen, for it is something that is no earthly good to anybody till it is given away!

Whether your greeting at the door, staffing the Welcome Center, ushering, guiding people to the children’s check-in, helping people in the parking lot, working on the security team, or just having a cup of coffee in the Gathering Space – Bring your smile and freely give it away!

The Importance of Our Greeting Ministry (part 2)

Before launching into this week’s post, I wanted to share a touching response to the last week’s post:

We were blessed to be able to get my dad out to church on that Sunday. He commented about how helpful the greeters were. As we pulled up to the building, we were met by that red umbrella and 4 greeters assisted us with his transfer from vehicle to wheelchair, holding his portable oxygen and covered us with umbrellas. Daddy’s comment was that there are lots of caring, loving people at Grace Fellowship. I agree and I’m so very thankful that he attended his last church service at Grace Fellowship! ❤️

I didn’t see this when it happened, but hearing it brought me a lot of joy!

The point of the first post was that good greeters create a welcoming atmosphere. This week, let’s consider another issue in the greeting ministry –

Good Greeters Are Alert to the Needs of All but especially to our Guests

I’m no longer a subscriber to DirecTV, but I was for about a decade. When I watched, I would often see DirecTV commercials offering incredible deals for new subscribers. Looking at my bill, I was paying w-a-y more than the newbies. I even called DirecTV, enduring really bad music while on hold, to ask if I could get the same deal I just saw advertised. The answer was always the same – “That’s only for new subscribers.”

I would remind the person on the other end of the line that I had been a faithful, paying customer for years. A few times, I had even paid extra to get the NFL Sunday Ticket. If anyone deserved a price break it was me. For all the good it did me, I may as well have had the conversation with a cat. The only offer they made was to add additional programming for a discounted price AND for a limited time. Note: I am not a DirecTV customer anymore.

When I refer to being especially attentive to guests on Sunday morning, I don’t want anyone to get the idea that we should ignore our faithful members. In fact, we need to celebrate their faithfulness and consistency! Greeters should warmly welcome everyone who comes to each service and seek to meet their needs. This may mean helping people in and out of cars, offering to carry something if a person is weighed down, or any other reasonable service we can do. A greeting ministry should actively seek to extend service to each member and regular attendee, but I’d like to share some reasons why focusing on guests must be a priority.

  1. Guests don’t know what to expect. They may be new to our church. They could be new to church period. For long-time members, we’re already comfy here. We know the ropes. We have established relationships. Guests are just that – guests. They need extra attention to help them feel more at ease.
  2. Guests don’t know where to go. A family shows up for the first time looking for a small group. They have a teenager and a four-year-old… and they have no idea what is offered or where to go. This is where a good greeter comes in. He or she asks to assist, knows where to find the classes, and is willing to take them there or have someone do so. This is especially important when the family has a baby or preschool children!
  3. Guests may become future members. Every member was a first-time guest before becoming a member. Everyone who drives on to our property should be viewed as a potential member. Beyond this, the guest may or may not be a follower of Jesus. This may be THE day that they respond to the pull of the Holy Spirit and come to faith in Jesus. Warmly welcoming that person or family may go a long way toward breaking down any walls that might hinder their decision.

confused-man

We want everyone in our church to be alert to new faces, but we need our greeters, welcome center hosts, and ushers to be acutely aware of those who may be visiting with us. It makes a difference.

 

The Importance of our Greeting Ministry

Pastors aren’t very fond of those gray days when the rain is relentless, but a few weeks back we had one of those days. What made the day a bit more cheerful was one one of our greeters. He was wading out into the parking lot with a huge red beach umbrella! He could have easily fit a family of five under it. We chuckled at the sight while admiring his commitment. Our major concern, however, was that a wind gusts might come along and take him away!

It was indeed a humorous site, but our greeter carried that umbrella back and forth into parking lot with a broad smile on his face. He was delighted to serve – even if it meant getting soggy doing so.

red umbrella

When we started Grace Fellowship in 2004, one of the first ministries we established was a greeting ministry. We wanted to have smiling faces greeting people as they showed up on Sunday mornings, so we asked people to volunteer to be at the doors into the high school in order to welcome members and guests each week. We wanted our guests and members to know they were special as soon as possible.

In 2007, we opened the doors on our first church building. We had learned the value of having greeters, and we found people excited to embrace that ministry in our new location. It may not seem like a super important ministry considering everything that the church does, but it is! I would argue that it is one of the factors in a guest’s opinion of the church and whether or not to return the next week.

Over the next few posts, I want to share some of the reasons why we think a Greeting Ministry is so important. In doing so, I hope our current greeters are both encouraged and challenged. I also hope others might begin to see just how much this ministry is needed and would perhaps consider becoming a part of it. I’ll try to keep these posts brief, so my plan is to stick to one point each post. So here’s today’s point —

Good Greeters Create a Welcoming Atmosphere.

Have you ever entered the doors of a restaurant and found no one there to greet you or guide you to a table? It’s kind of an awkward feeling to look around for a server or manager or maitre d’, but no one seems to notice that a hungry, paying customer just came through the door. Most quality restaurants would be horrified for this to happen.

What a difference it makes when there is someone at the door waiting for you. They open the doors with a smile and tell you “welcome.” Then they point you to someone who seems enthusiastic to get you into booth or at a table, even telling you the name of the person who is going to serve you for the evening. When the friendly server appears, introduces himself or herself, and takes your drink order, you relax and expect to enjoy the meal to come.

I love great service. It’s one of the reasons I like to eat at Chick-fil-A. I could eat at a cheaper fast food place, but the exceedingly friendly staff and the always tasty chicken means I’ll skip the other guys and pull into a Chick-fil-A every time. (By the way, if someone would like to build a Chick-fil-A in Greensboro, Georgia, I’ll be a frequent customer!0

When someone visits a church for the first time, their first impression is a big factor in whether or not they return for a second visit. The Greeting Ministry is the front line. Is there anyone at the door? Are the greeters genuinely enthusiastic to welcome the guests? Do the greeters work to recognize new faces? Do the greeters take the time to direct people to where they need to go?

Too often, those who accept the call to be a part of a greeting ministry get more lax as time goes on. They begin to show up later than the assigned time. They get involved in conversations with friends and fail to notice new faces. The ministry becomes routine – an assignment I have to do – rather than a vital service that makes a real difference.

If you’re part of a greeting ministry at Grace or another church, let me say a huge THANK YOU. What you do matters, and it matters a lot. If you’re not a part of a ministry, consider stepping up to become a greeter. You’ll not only get to know more people, your ministry will be part of the reason some families decide to come back the next week.

Stay tuned for more…

This Is Tough…

This is tough… not tough like digging ditches tough or “I’ve got cancer” tough… I do have some sense of proportion here. Still, this is tough.

In 28 years of ministry I can only remember missing one Sunday for medical reasons. Nancy was pregnant with Jay, and we packed up and headed to the hospital. It was October 31, 1993. They did send us back home that day, but other than that memorable event, I can’t recall another “sick day” on a Sunday. And, yet, here I sit missing my second Sunday in the opening weeks of 2018 because of the flu/bronchitis.

I’m not a control freak, at least not a full-on freak. I have an incredible staff and super volunteers who will take up my slack. I have full confidence in an elder, who is also a retired pastor, who will preach a solid, biblical message. The problem is that I feel disconnected from my church family. My life is so woven together with theirs that not being there feels really odd. And I’m really glad it does.

I kind of feel sorry for people who can miss Sunday after Sunday and never feel the emptiness of not being with their church family. Somehow they have missed the deep connection into the lives of those they perhaps a decade ago committed themselves to. The have missed the acceptance, the accountability, and the belonging.

I belong – not at a building – not at a service – I belong with those people, and being apart from them is tough. I’m sure that’s not only true for pastors but for members as well.

So… I’ll sit this one out, while praying for Jesus to be exalted and people to draw closer to Him. I’ll take my medicine, wrap up in my blanket, and finish off one box of tissues after another, but Lord willing I’ll be back! See you next Sunday.

Tread Lightly…

Tread lightly, my brother.
All this stomping and huffing,
It is beneath you.
Are you not His child?
Do you think God fails to notice?
Do you think He does not care?
Do you truly believe that
Your fuming and fusing
Will remedy the ills of the world?
Tread lightly, my brother.
See how He walks.
Match the pace of your steps
And your heart with His.
Hold tightly to the hand of the Almighty,
Who knows all things,
Who cares beyond your imagining,
Who settles things in His perfect time.
Tread lightly, my brother,
For this is holy ground,
And your companion is the Lord.walk

Living in Oz…

WizardofOz

I’m not sure how many times I’ve seen “The Wizard of Oz,” but I can remember watching on television as a child. Back then it was quite the spectacle with witches and munchkins and flying monkeys, or should I say, “Lions and tigers and bears…Oh, my!”

For some reason, this morning my mind drifted back to that classic movie. I thought of Dorothy desperately trying to find her way out of that fantastic and frightening Land of Oz to get back home to Auntie Em and all the rest. I recalled her technicolor adventure, her fascination at each new discovery, the times of tension and fear, and the friendships she made along with way. Her journey was not a direct one. She followed a winding yellow brick road to the Emerald City, then to the wicked witch’s castle, and back again to the palace of the Great Oz. It is only at the end of the film when we discover that she had been wearing the key to her return home on her feet nearly the entire movie. She clicked the heels of her ruby red slippers and repeated, “There’s no place like home.” [Spoiler alert: She woke up in her own bed. It was only a dream… or was it?]

As with many stories told on the silver screen, we find that they are somehow familiar. As Solomon wrote long ago, “There is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). The arts are just another means by which greater stories can be told.

Dorothy spent her time in Oz longing to be home, but while there she was fully engaged. She made friends. She faced challenges. She defended and encouraged the weak. She experienced fear and showed courage. Dorothy made herself at home in Oz all the while knowing she was not really at home. She made the best of the place where she was while deeply desiring to be the place where she belonged.

Our Christian journey is much like that. This is our Oz. It feels very real, and it is, but we were born with a longing for another reality. We look around and know that something isn’t quite right, yet our calling is to be fully engaged where and when we are. There is much to endure here and much to enjoy, too. We have a calling to fulfill on this journey, and we do it best when in the company of those who share our mission.

Unlike Dorothy, our way out of this temporary existence is not a pair of ruby red slippers and the recitation of a few magical words. When our journey here is over, when we have finished our life’s calling, Jesus Himself will come to take us home. And when that time comes, we will know fully the harmony that we’ve been missing as we stand in the presence of God.

“There’s no place like home.” I agree with Dorothy on that. One day, we’ll get to experience that home, but while we are here this is our temporary home. Let us be fully engaged in our calling, fully connected to others, and ready to stand up for what is right and for those who have been wronged. Let us face our fears and not be afraid of what hides behind the curtain. But let us never get confused thinking this is all there is, and may we never lose our longing for home.