What are we talking about?

Football (high school, college, or professional – aka Rebels, Volunteers, or Titans), weather, politics, the economy, school starts, and grandchildren – these are all topics of conversation one can hear in any given public place (ok, some of the football teams may include other mascot names).  I had the privilege of flying to Arizona and back this past weekend to teach a group of worship music ministry leaders.  On the flight West I ended up sitting next to a Southern Baptist evangelist and his wife from Kentucky.  I always pray to be sensitive to what God might be saying to me and what I need to say to someone else when flying (preparing to be moving at 500 miles an hour at 39,000 feet includes talking to God about all aspects of the trip).  I wasn’t sure about the direction of conversation with an evangelist.  As it turned out, I did not need to worry about it much as he chatted freely much of the trip.  I had my copy of Connie Cherry’s book, The Worship Architect, which ushered us into a conversation that probably scared everyone within four rows of our seats.  After the flight we exchanged cards and pleasantries and moved on our way.

The return flight was also highlighted by a listening posture, though from a very different perspective.  The gentleman I sat next to grunted a “hello” as I climbed over him to get to the window seat, fell asleep almost immediately, and remained in that condition for 90% of the flight home.  The row in front of me, however, was actively engaged in conversation the entire three hours.  A young married couple (nurse and a doctor) were moving to Tennessee and discovered that the elderly lady they were seated next to was enroute to Jackson, Tennessee to visit an ailing sister.  Of course my ears perked up at all of this and it was very tempting to interrupt at some points to announce my Tennessee connections and especially the Jackson strings.  I knew it would be awkward to be speaking back and forth through the seats, so I kept quiet and listened as the young wife was rather boisterous and freely shared information which ran the gamut from colloquial predictions about southerners that were blatantly misinformed (we do too wear shoes and brush our teeth!) to personal relationship matters that were frankly just T.M.I. to be blabbing to anyone in public, much less a total stranger.  As the conversation turned to discussion of the medical condition of the elderly lady’s ailing sister, the nurse wife was quite willing to diagnose condition and give prognosis with the occasional response from her husband.  It went something like, “Isn’t that right?” to which he responded, “yes, – what?”  I thought, “I hope this will not be how he runs his practice in Southeast Tennessee upon arrival.”

As the flight continued so did the conversation that included much more talk about the couple’s plans for housing, parenting approach, and even their sex life.  I was shocked and more than a little amused when the elderly woman was free to respond to all of those topics with enthusiasm.  This was all interesting enough to totally distract me from reading any of the John Grisham book of short stories I picked up at the airport.  But it also stirred me to pray when the chit-chat turned deeper as the prediction of the sick sister’s demise turned to the afterlife.  The all-knowing nurse proclaimed her interpretation of “good news,” which included some very vague notions about “whatever path she is on” and some para-psychology babble accompanied by a little dose of reincarnation that had a strange slant that mused about the possibility of a heaven in another dimension among us. 

In the midst of trying to keep up with the drifting synchronism that was being spun I could not help but reflect back on my “discussion” with the evangelist on the flight just three days earlier.  I thought about all the stories I heard from a well-intentioned man about his trailer full of props used to share the Gospel, and his rehearsal of some illustrations.  I was no more witness to those around us as I responded to his questions about worship (most of which had to do with questions of style – ugh) with terminology and rhetoric that would have been appropriate in a seminary class, but was likely ill-conceived for an airline trip.  As I continued to hear the nurse in front of me blaring on about everybody having their own way to peace, etc., etc. I was deeply saddened by my own previous inattention to those around me.  I did some confessing and prayed for the Holy Spirit to help me be more attuned to my surroundings and to His leadership to guide my conversations.

In between those two events (flight out and flight back) were some meaningful encounters in which I was aware of God’s presence and work.  Ruth Lewis, Music Associate at North Phoenix Baptist Church, who had issued the invitation for me to come to Phoenix and teach worship music leaders for the Arizona Church Equipping conference, was her usual gracious and encouraging self.  Ruth’s demeanor with all music leaders from all sizes and shapes of Arizona churches as well as her hospitality with me was a reminder of gentle compassion.  It was very Christlike – a real joy.  Seeing John Shillington, Associate Pastor of Worship, Music, and Prayer, at North Phoenix was an encouragement.  John was serving at Two Rivers here in Nashville when I began my fulltime ministry at Parkway Baptist Church in Goodlettsville.  We have some common friends and acquaintances over the years.  Our short visit was a reminder of God’s guidance through our lives and the joy of being in ministry with colleagues and friends who help you enjoy the journey.  Following each of the teaching sessions there were numerous opportunities to visit with committed servants who were eager to grow in their responsibilities and ministries.  That God would use me to aid those journeys is an ever-overwhelming point of astonishment for me.  It stirs my heart to praise Him who called me into such a work.  In visiting with a young high school student who is in a praise band I was aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit with us and wondered aloud if the Lord might be calling this young man into vocational ministry.  It was precious privilege to pray with him for God’s direction at the right time.  Sunday morning was a joyous day of worship with North Phoenix led with pastoral musicianship by John Shillington and the choir and instruments, then a message that convicted me deeply and became a central part of the whole experience spiritually, as Pastor Dan Yeary preached on the Good Samaritan and asked the tough question again, “Who is my neighbor?”  The message was integral to the church’s missional direction for immediate future, but it was very personal to me as well as I assessed and confessed the times I have missed out on neighboring.  It is, after all, the second part of the Great Commandment.  Powerful message from a powerful preacher, whose power resounds from his transparent gentle spirit that allowed us to hear the powerful Holy Spirit.

On that trip home I prayed to be a more Christlike neighbor with recognition that my neighbors do not all live in my subdivision.  Some are moving to Tennessee from Arizona or on their way to visit their dying sister.  I also prayed to be more diligent to engage in conversations that reveal Jesus.  Those conversations must take place in gathered worship and in our singing in order to be on our hearts and minds to be rehearsed on airplanes, whether with evangelists or confused life travelers.  Lord, help me to be renewed to be a living neighbor.

That the light of Christ may be seen today!


Explore posts in the same categories: Leading Worship, Worship Reminders, Worship theology, Worship thoughts

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