My First Communion

I often tell people I grew up in the church. It’s kind of a foreign concept in today’s culture…especially church culture. A church like the church of my youth is not as common today.

To “grow up in the church” meant you were either a PK (preacher’s kid) or one of the very committed that were at the church every time the doors were open. My family was committed. For me that usually meant at least 3 or more times a week: Sunday morning and evening services, Wednesday prayer meeting, and often a youth group function somewhere every other weekend. If you are reading this and thinking, “that sounds kinda Baptist” you would be correct.

Growing up in the church, like growing up anywhere, means you get used to routines that rarely change. Routines you take for granted. Routines that get so familiar you do them without really thinking too much about the meaning behind them. For me, one of those routines was Communion, or as we called it in our church, The Lord’s Supper (this was confusing to me as a kid because supper was an evening meal and we rarely did The Lord’s Supper at night).

In our church, as it is in many churches today, The Lord’s Supper consisted of crumbled up saltine crackers served on a metal tray and a half ounce of grape juice served in clear plastic serving cups.  The pastor would recite the story of the first Lord’s Supper from the Bible and we would eat the cracker crumb and drink the juice at the appropriate times. It was a somber service in which we were to make sure we were “right with God” before partaking.

In movies I would see scenes of more liturgical churches taking Communion in various different ways, but they were obviously not the same ilk as the church of my youth, so I didn’t give it too much consideration.

Fast forward my life.

I joined a theater company that toured the country and did much of their work performing faith-based plays in churches of all denominations. It was a religious culture-shocking experience for me. I was on tour with people who professed to be Christian and many of them not the slightest bit like the Christians I had come to know in the church of my youth. I was now expected to perform plays about my faith in all kinds of churches, many of them also not the slightest bit like the church of my youth. It was in this environment that I experienced what I have come to call “My First Communion.”

It was in a church in Northern California. The service was much more liturgical than what I had experienced in the past. The pastor wore a robe. Kids called acolytes processed and lit candles. There were a lot of responsive readings with the congregation…all very unlike the church of my youth.

Then came time for Communion. I watched and quickly adapted to what the others were doing. We lined up and walked the aisle to the front of the church, knelt at the altar and waited with our hands cupped in front of us, my eyes frantically scanning right and left to make sure I was doing this right.

The pastor stopped in front of each person, spoke softly to them, and gave them what looked like a white round plastic disc, which the person ate. He the offered the cup, (actually a chalice) so each person could drink from it. (My first reaction to this way of serving the cup was “yuck.” I wasn’t at all sure I wanted to put my mouth were all these other people had just placed theirs.)

Finally it was my turn. The pastor handed me the plastic thing. Looked me right in the eye and said, “The body or Christ, Chuck, broken for you.”

Uh…wow…I was taken aback. He just said my name, I don’t remember his. I ate the plastic thing.

Then he held forward the cup and again, looking me in the eye, said, “The blood of Christ, Chuck, shed for you.”

In that moment, I was overwhelmed with emotion (and it had nothing to do with the fact that what was in the cup didn’t taste at all like grape juice). Suddenly this Communion just became transformative. No one had ever said my name during The Lord’s Supper. Oh I had heard that Jesus died on the cross for my sins, that he shed his blood for me…heard that many times. I knew it in my head. But for some reason hearing it like this, spoken directly to me in the context of this Communion service…well, it all became very real…very personal…it hit me in the heart. For the first time it really sunk in that He did it for ME!

Sometimes we need to hear things differently for the message to sink in, to penetrate our hearts. For me, this was one of those times.

The Body of Christ, The Blood of Christ…for ME!

On another note, this week I learned that a church board decided not to invite me to their church. I share about Jesus through storytelling and acting. This board didn’t think that I what I did would be appropriate for a church worship service.

It was something different, that they had never done before.

Sometimes I Need to be Reminded

Sometimes I need to be reminded why I do what I do.

Sometimes I get busy in the business of my art, in the business of my ministry. 

Sometimes I lose sight of the vision. My passion becomes just a job.

That’s when I need reminders…like this one.

I had just finished a performance of my one-man drama In His Steps, the classic novel that asks the famous question “what would Jesus do?” I had done all the normal after show routines: stood in the church foyer and shook a few hands, sold a few books and videos. I am usually the last to leave the church after a performance, and this was typical of that routine. Most of the people had left the building when I gathered up my props, packed them in my suitcase and headed out the door. 

As I popped open the trunk of my car I noticed a young girl, probably about 15 or 16 years old lingering in the parking lot, then she slowly drifting toward me as I placed my suitcase in the trunk. 

“Can I talk to you?” she asked.

“Sure,” I said…a bit puzzled. 

“You talked tonight about ‘what would Jesus do?’ And…well…I am trying to figure that out for myself.”

“Ah,” I said. “Yes, that can be a challenge for all of us.” 

“I have not told anybody this…I’m still in high school…and I’m pregnant.” 

“Uh…oh…I’m sorry,” I think I said…I was pretty much speechless. Of all the conversations I have had after a performance, this was a new one. 

“I don’t know what to do…or what Jesus would do. I was hoping you could tell me.”

My mind was reeling. I had never met this girl before. And here she was asking me, a perfect stranger to tell her, not only what to do, but what to do in light of the question ‘what would Jesus do?’ 

Searching for words I asked, ”Does the father know?”

“Yes…and he is the youth leader here at the church.” 

“Oh…wow…I…uh…I am so sorry.”

Suddenly the question she was struggling with became my question. “What would Jesus do?” And I was struck with the realization that this poor girl wasn’t talking to me; she didn’t know me. She was talking to the character I had just portrayed on stage. She was talking to The Reverend Henry Maxwell, a fictional character who, from the stage, projected wisdom and conviction to do powerful things driven by that central question “what would Jesus do?” She was talking to Henry Maxwell, someone she felt she could trust. Someone who could help her. 

We talked for some time. I tried to give her the best advice that Henry Maxwell could offer. There were some tears, there was a prayer. With her permission I later called the pastor of the church and told him of our encounter. While I don’t know the complete ending to this story, the pastor later assured me that the situation was dealt with and the girl was being loved and cared for in the best way possible.  

Sometimes I need to be reminded. 

Reminded of the things that brought me to the place I now stand. 

Reminded that there is power in the arts that can change a life.

Reminded of the vision and the passion that propelled me on this journey.

Reminded of my calling. 

I am reminded, and in the process renewed. 

Let us not become weary in doing good,
for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
Galations 6:9

The Greatest Story Of All

I recently had the pleasure to meet Grant Norsworthy at a gathering of artists in Nashville. Grant is a musician, speaker and music/worship mentor (see info box below). We chatted over lunch about work and ministry and I was impressed with what Grant had to say about story and the bigger picture when it comes to worship. I invited him to write this Guest Blog. (Note: Grant is Australian so read this with the proper accent for the best effect!)


J.R.R. Tolkien is best known as the author of two GREAT stories: The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Both stories are incredibly powerful and wildly popular. I wish I could say that I’ve read both numerous times, but I can’t. Like most people (I guess), I had to settle for the Peter Jackson directed screen adaptations.

I’m a fan of both stories, but I do find The Lord of the Rings to be far more engaging. What about you? If you’re like me and prefer The Lord of the Rings, we are not alone! The Hobbit has sold about 100 million copies, while The Lord of the Rings has sold in excess of 150 million. The Lord of the Rings movies grossed over $10 billion at the box office, while The Hobbit trilogy gathered less than $3 billion. All impressive numbers, but the difference is huge.

Both of these incredible stories – like any good story – describe a conflict and its resolution: An obstacle that must be, and is overcome. But while The Hobbit is about some greedy dwarves and how they get their treasure back from a dragon, The Lord of the Rings depicts the incarnation of absolute evil in Dark Lord Sauron and the war fought by the good beings whom he would seek to destroy and rule over. It’s the supreme struggle between good and evil! What could be more compelling than that?

Generally speaking with stories, the bigger and more overwhelming the obstacle, the sweeter triumph over that obstacle tastes. The more difficult the conflict, the more satisfying the resolution. Stories with BIG conflict and a correspondingly BIG resolution will make a BIG impact. They engage us like nothing else can.

The story of a person from an uneducated, deprived background earning a Ph.D. is more compelling than a 5th grader moving from a B to an A in mathematics. The story of escape from a Nazi concentration camp is more compelling than escape from a large, wet, brown paper bag.

The conflict that is resolved is bigger in The Lord of the Rings than in The Hobbit. That’s why it connects more deeply and more widely. But, to me, there’s a story far more important and powerful than even The Lord of the Rings!

I believe the greatest and most important story of all is of God and his created human beings – you and me – all of us. It’s the story described in The Bible. It’s the ultimate struggle of God’s goodness versus the evil of Satan – the devil. And it’s not just some made up story! You and I are characters  in this epic, real-life, unfinished story.

In perhaps its simplest “elevator pitch” version, this great story’s central theme is worship. The plot? Having been rejected by His own creation in the Garden, God summons his beloved people to return to Him – to worship Him above anything else. He knows this is the only way that people will be able to truly live as we were created to live.

As God spoke through the first of His Ten Commandments:

“You shall have no other gods before me.”
Exodus 20:3

But forces of evil stand in defiance against God and use all manner of sinister deception, power and influence to entice people to worship anything but God.

The story has always been about worship: The worship of God or the worship of something – anything – else. From the dawn of time to this very moment, there has always been a monumental conflict for humankind between the worship of God or Satan’s counterfeit, idol-gods.

But where’s the conflict and resolution in the Christian “worship” of today? Where’s the irrepressible attraction of the greatest story if “worship” becomes something that happens only once a week inside a church building designated by very specific, semi-passive activities?

With the imperative attraction of conflict and resolution removed from what we call “worship”, is it any wonder that many people turn away – leave The Church –  or perhaps sit inactive and passive in a pew – unengaged, unmoved and uninspired?

And so, let’s expand our view of worship. Let’s move more deeply into the overwhelming, monumental conflict that is raging over our worship.

As we should have learned in school, the elements of story are:

• Setting

• Characters

• Plot

• Conflict

• Resolution

The setting of worship is not just inside a church building. The war rages anywhere and everywhere we find ourselves.

We are all characters in this great story – not just the people with microphones on the platform, or in the stories we hear from The Bible.

The plot of worship is so much more than what happens during that hour or two on a Sunday  morning. The plot is deep and wide and rich and woven through every facet of our lives.

And there is conflict. And there will be resolution to this epic, life and death – eternal life and eternal death – struggle of worship.

Therefore brothers, in view of God’s great mercy, offer yourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, and let that be your spiritual act of worship.
Romans 12:1

Grant Norsworthy has spoken and sung in 5 continents & most US States at church services, conferences, colleges, youth events and more. He’s a Grammy® nominated & Dove Award winning musician. and a former member of Sonicflood & Paul Colman Trio. With More Than Music Mentor, Grant offers instruction to church leaders, musicians & techies via online resources and on-site workshops. You can connect with Grant at: grantnorsworthy.com

 

Your Stories are the Best Stories.

Group of people watching boring movie in cinema

I was excited to hear a well-known author and speaker address a conference I was attending. I’d read this man’s books and had always been impressed with his stories and his ability to craft words in ways that move and inspire people.

As he got up to speak, my expectations fell like a rock. He opened his talk with a joke. A joke I had heard numerous times before. The audience laughed…but it was a “polite” laugh, giving me the impression that I was not the only one who had heard that joke before. He went on with his talk, and it was a good talk, but couldn’t get past the fact that this renowned speaker and master wordsmith would open with a joke.

A few weeks ago I was privileged to share a meal with another author and speaker. In the course of our conversation we were both laughing almost constantly with funny stories about our lives, travels, and families. At one point in the conversation he said, “I got rid of all my sermon illustration books. I discovered that I had more illustrations from my own life that were infinitely better than the ones in those books.”

It is not that those other illustrations were bad, and perhaps some were more dramatic or funny than his own stories, but they were not “his” stories. He discovered that his personal stories had more impact, humor and relevance than another person’s stories. When he told his stories there was a ring of authenticity that made the listener connect and want to hear more.

As I have watched the really good comedians over the years, my favorites are always the ones that focus on telling their own stories or observations, not telling jokes.

It is not that I don’t enjoy a good joke; in fact telling jokes was one of the ways I discovered my talent and ability as a performer. But I have learned, like my author/speaker friend has learned, that there is great power in telling your own stories.

So the next time you are preparing a speech, sermon, or emcee, don’t go digging through illustration books. Just spend a bit of time looking at a diary, photo album, old Facebook posts or even looking in a mirror. Trust me, there is some great material there!

(I’d love to share some of my stories with your church or organization. Check out Truth Be Told…from a Guy Who Makes Stuff Up or Go Ask Your Mother…a Father’s Story!)

The Parable of the Lost iPhone

IMG_1304The other day I was driving home from Costco. I had placed my iPhone on the console between the seats and as I made a turn a little too abruptly my phone slid into the little cavern between the seat and the console. It’s that area where you just can’t fit your hand. You try a few attempts while driving, making faces and contorting your body in ways that make other drivers passing you shake their head and wonder how a person with your condition ever got a driver’s license.

The only solution it seems is to pull over and get out of the car to do a proper search and rescue.

As I resumed my trek I was struck at just how panicked I felt for even those few moments when my iPhone was lost. Getting it back where I could see it and touch it suddenly became of the utmost importance. Before the iPhone went missing I was running lines in my head for my upcoming performance of Not The Way I Heard It. Since this presentation is a modern-day retelling of some of the parables, I suddenly felt the inspiration to retell this familiar parable of the The Lost Sheep. Think about it…Jesus used sheep in his parable—they were something of value that the culture understood and readily related to. I don’t think many of us would relate to sheep and place the value on a lost lamb in the same way we might other things today. If Jesus were telling that parable today it might sound more like this:

The Parable of the Lost iPhone

Suppose one of you had 100 tech gadgets
and then lost your iPhone.
Wouldn’t you leave the 99 other gadgets at home
and go looking for your iPhone?
And once found you can be sure
you would put it in your palm rejoicing!
And when you got home you would text all your friends and contacts saying:
“Celebrate! Like and share my Facebook status! I have found my lost iPhone!”

Count on it, there is more joy in the Cloud over one rescued user profile
than for 99 other user profiles in no need of rescue!

 

A Trustworthy Tricky Travel Tip

Beating the System on a Rental Car

 

Since I travel a bit more than the average person, I am often asked for my advice or secrets when it comes to booking travel. I have posted a few other blogs on this topic here and here. So here is another trustworthy tricky travel tip.

One area that is a bit hit-and-miss is booking rental cars at airports. Taxes and fees at airport locations can be significantly higher than at other locations near an airport. I have often scored what I thought was a great deal on a car for $9 a day on Priceline or Hotwire, only to discover that taxes and fees more than doubled or even exceeded the rental rates.

I encountered this recently on a trip I booked to Tampa, Florida. Normally I am able to book decent rates on this itinerary but this time I found I was traveling during the peak “Spring Break” season. Rates were much higher than I was used to. Where I am normally able to book a car for about $50-$75 for a weekend, I was now looking at $150-$200 for a compact car. I checked nearby locations with Enterprise and found that, just a couple miles from the airport, I could score a rental for $75. And Enterprise boasts, “we will pick you up.” So I booked a hotel near the airport with shuttle service. I’d have the hotel shuttle provide transportation from the airport to the hotel, and then have Enterprise pick me up and take me to get the car. On the return I would drop off the car and have them return me to the hotel and then use the hotel shuttle back to the airport. I just saved $100.

Only one snag in my plan: my flight home was an early one. The Enterprise location was not open early enough to get me back to the hotel in time to catch my flight. I would need to go directly from the Enterprise location to the airport. Enterprise wouldn’t likely give me that ride because of policies with their on-airport location (which would cost a lot more to use).  Enter Uber! I would have Uber provide the ride from the Enterprise location to the airport for around $10. Problem solved.

This is not the first time I have used this trick. You just have to make sure your travel plans allow for business hours at the off-airport locations—as they are not open 24 hours a day. (Some off-airport locations will allow you drop off the vehicle after hours and settle up your bill via email.)

So there you have it—my trustworthy tricky travel tip!

If you have a tricky travel tip, I’d love to hear it in the comments below!

All I Did Was Tell My Story

Guest blog by Marcia Whitehead. Marcia is one of our artists that is making a huge impact on her audiences with her presentation “You Raise Me Up.” Be sure to watch the video preview at the end of this post!

Marcia_Promo_stillDuring the past three years as I have moved farther into what I describe as testimonial ministry, I’ve had wonderful experiences travelling and sharing my faith-journey all the way from British Columbia to Florida. But secretly, I’ve always wondered why God would close the door on my professional career in music and call me into something that seemed way outside my scope of experience and to something for which I didn’t feel remotely equipped? I’ve also wondered what possible difference it could make in anyone else’s life whether or not they heard my story.

Recently, I was sharing with a friend about my ministry presentations and the type of comments I frequently hear afterward. As I became aware of the recurring theme in congregation members’ comments, it really surprised me.

During a presentation last month, a particular lady in the congregation just couldn’t stop weeping. I don’t usually do this, but I was so moved by her pain that I remember coming completely off script and told her from the platform that I believe God was intimately aware of her situation, held every detail of her life in the palm of His hand, that God would help her get through whatever she was coping with and I promised her that she wouldn’t always be in as much pain as she was experiencing that morning. She told me after the service that her husband had died unexpectedly that week, but she wasn’t able to cry until she heard me sing Give Me Jesus and share with the congregation that I had finally experienced a light at the end of the tunnel of my own pain. To say I was humbled would be an understatement.

At another church, the pastor noted in his announcements at the top of the service that their church had experienced a rough week that culminated in a funeral on Saturday. After the service, a young woman came to me with thanks for my presentation and shared that my message had given her a great deal of hope. She told me that the funeral was for her daughter. She told me that she had given birth earlier that week, but the doctors told her there was no hope that the child would live. That mother told me she felt privileged to hold her newborn as she awaited the baby’s death 90 minutes later. She thanked me again and again for the hope I had offered her by being vulnerable and honestly sharing my own journey through disbelief and sorrow. I was so shaken that God would use me in such a powerful and profound way, that after I left the church parking lot, I had to pull the car over and cry for 20 minutes.

We all have a story to tell. Every single one of us. Our stories are powerful. And we never know how our stories are going to impact those around us. I believe that a willingness to take down the walls behind which we hide our own pain, the willingness to become vulnerable in the eyes of others and the willingness to allow others to hear and see the truth of our lives, will draw us to each other and offer assurance to each other that we are not alone. Those two ladies I mentioned above were willing to share their pain with me after I had shared mine with them during the presentation. That seemed to create a deep sense of communion with each other. And though it is now weeks later, I still carry those ladies and their stories with me.

The truth is that as much as I deeply loved my life in classical music and all the potential that life might have offered, no one was ever going to wait for me backstage and tell me that their life had been changed because I had done a good job entertaining them. God has shown me, repeatedly, that His plan to use my voice and to tell my story has offered me a life of deep meaning and purpose for which I am becoming more and more grateful.

Here is a preview of Marcia’s presentation:

To have Marcia come and share at your church or event contact us at info@mastersimage.com or call 503-399-0415. Visit Marcia’s website at: www.marciawhiteheadusa.com

Full of Beans and $20

Full of Beans

“That guy is full of beans!”

I noticed the man as I took the stage for my presentation of Truth be Told…from a Guy Who Makes Stuff Up. He sat in a pew all to himself three rows from the front.

Being in theater and in the field of communication, I’ve learned to home in on body language and this man was demonstrating the classic closed position. Body angled away—if he could have found a way to sit sideways in the pew he would have. The few stolen glances I had from him were what I would classify as scowls.

For the most part, church audiences have been pretty safe for me. The audiences are generally polite and welcoming. Nothing like what I experienced years ago when doing the school assembly circuit and performing for a gymnasium full of hostile junior high schoolers. Those audiences you had to win over, and if you didn’t, they could eat you alive. I have often said performing in school assemblies was like being fed to the lions. This gentleman, though a senior citizen, was displaying the same “prove it to me” attitude that I experienced in those junior high schools. I registered it in my brain and moved on. I had an audience to play to and I wasn’t going to let one man’s negativity keep me from doing my job. I would ignore him. The show must go on!

Ignore him I did, and aside from this man, felt I had a good connection with the rest of my audience.

After the service I ventured into the fellowship hall for refreshments. As I headed for the table the man approached me with his hand outstretched.

“I have to tell you that when you started your presentation I didn’t know what to expect. I certainly didn’t think you were going to be doing the entire service. I decided shortly after you started that ‘That guy is full of beans!’ I almost walked out. But then the more I listened I got pulled in to your story. Then I realized I was being an #$%^&*~!” That was really good what you did.”

Rarely do I get such honest feedback from an audience member. I don’t think an audience member has ever said I was “full of beans” to my face before (and I am pretty sure he only said “beans” because he didn’t want to say another more common word associated with that phrase).   And yet he didn’t hold back on his language when describing himself with an expletive. I am sure he is voicing what many others have thought over the years but never would have expressed to my face.

And yet, in talking to him he affirmed that it was in connecting with my story that his defenses went down. Whether it was some of the humor that he identified with or an episode from my life that mirrored his, I don’t know. But somewhere in the course of hearing my story he connected—he began to listen and engage and in the end he felt a bond with me, because of my story.

Many places receive a freewill offering for my ministry after the performance. As my visit with the gentleman came to a close he said: “I’m not a rich man, don’t have much, but I want you to have this.” He pressed a $20 bill into my hand.

What a great reminder of the power of story. Each of us has a story to tell. May we learn to share it knowing that in the sharing there is great power to connect, challenge and encourage others.

As one of my friends said to me: “Full of beans and $20, not bad!”

So what’s your story?

New Promo Video!

I just finished this new promo video that gives an overview of all my productions. Please view, like, comment and share!

When Transparency and Authenticity become TMI! –

I Wish You Hadn’t Told Me That!

“I really liked your transparency in the sharing of your story.”

I appreciated the compliment. I had just finished sharing my presentation of “Go Ask Your Mother… A Father’s Story.”  In the presentation I share some of my personal struggles as a father in raising my three boys, as well as some reflections on my own father.

The compliment affirmed my goal and belief that telling honest stories based on real life experience would connect and communicate with my audience. Yes, I had been transparent… up to a point… but I didn’t really tell the whole story. There were parts that I purposely didn’t share. Parts that I held back because I didn’t want the whole truth about me to be revealed. Parts that I felt would have been TMI–too much information!

When sharing about my Dad, I didn’t share the details of the angry thoughts I had when I felt he was being too hard on me.

When sharing about my sons, I didn’t share about the times my temper got the best of me and I said some things I regret and came close to striking them in anger.

There were thoughts and actions in some of those stories that I left out because to reveal them could have caused my audience to turn against me… to not like me. I am all for honesty and transparency until it goes to a place that is too dark and makes me look bad. Especially if the story doesn’t redeem those thoughts and actions.

Is it possible to be too honest? Too transparent? Where does one draw the line?

Have you ever been watching a good movie and then have to turn your head away in disgust because the images on the screen were too disturbing? It’s a good story but why did the have to show that?! Sometimes the details of our stories can have that same effect on our audience.

I remember a sermon where the pastor shared some of his personal story. It was great up until he shared some of his thoughts that went a little too far. As we left the church my wife said “I wish I hadn’t heard that part.” The part he shared was a little too dark and now her feelings about that pastor will be forever changed because he shared too much information. It would have been fine if he had alluded to his dark thoughts, but in sharing them in detail, he crossed a boundary. He created a distraction that caused some in the audience to miss the point of the story.

Who among us hasn’t had those dark thoughts? Who among us hasn’t done things we regret? It’s part of being human. We get angry, we get greedy, we get tempted, we lust, we sin.  When it comes to casting the first stone, I would be one of the first to walk away.

It is good to share some of these stories with others. Some of my favorite stories are stories where the teller reveals their humanity, their weakness, their faults. It is what makes it relatable. I identify and it feels good to know that I am not alone. It helps me to realize that I’m not the only one who struggles, who fails, and who gets back up again after being knocked down.

But sometimes in the public telling we can go too far.

Authenticity is a cherished virtue in our culture today. Look at reality TV, the Internet and social media. We have a constant stream of “reality” hitting us from every angle. Sometimes this can be a good thing. But it can also distract us from the main point. Like watching that gory scene in the movie it’s TMI! Too much information!

Some stories are best served with some details left out. They are better for confessing to a close friend, a doctor… or to God. You don’t want your audience to walk away with things they can’t un-see or un-hear!

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