Sunday, October 29, 2006

Bless The Boats... and the Shrimp

Below is the article that appeared in the State Paper and the Island Packet featuring the Blessing of the fleets which was the final event of the Bluffton Arts and Seafood and Festival. The event took place on the bluff in front of the Church of the Cross.

God bless this boat

Blessing of the fleet closes Bluffton festival


Published Monday, October 30, 2006

As a parade of boats passed by the dock, Jay Slocum said a prayer and flicked holy water on each.

Photo: Jay Slocum blesses a boat Sunday as it passes in front of The Church of the Cross in Bluffton. The blessing of the fleet wrapped up the Historic Bluffton Arts & Seafood Festival. Erin Painter/The Island Packet

"May the Lord bless this vessel and all therein," said the pastor of The Church of the Cross. "May he bless your going out and your coming in."

After all the boats received good tidings, Slocum prayed for the salty spine of Bluffton: the May River and its bounty of shrimp and oysters.

The second-annual Historic Bluffton Arts and Seafood Festival began with a ritzy champagne and seafood dinner Friday night, but ended Sunday with old-fashioned Southern religion at The Church of the Cross, a riverfront chapel that narrowly avoided the fiery wrath of Union troops during the Civil War.

Families picnicked. Children tested parents' nerves by rolling down the steep bluff. Spectators swayed and clapped as two gospel choirs sang their hearts out. The May River glistened in the golden autumn sun.

Photo: Crowds watch boats pass by from the lawn at The Church of the Cross in Bluffton on Sunday afternoon during the blessing ceremony.
Erin Painter/The Island Packet

"It's a gorgeous spot on a gorgeous day," said Alta Richardson, a Hilton Head Island woman who sat on a lawn chair next to her husband John. Their daughter, daughter-in-law and grandchildren sprawled out on blankets and ate a leisurely lunch.

The blessing of the fleet was one of the growing festival's new events. It exceeded organizers' expectations as about two dozen boats joined the flotilla. They came in all sizes, from small skiffs to larger fishing vessels and tour boats. Many were decorated with streamers and balloons.

"I don't know if the blessing does bring good luck," said Larry Toomer, owner of Bluffton Oyster Co., the state's only remaining shucking plant. "It definitely doesn't hurt, though."

The three-day festival -- which included a street fair, local seafood, fireworks and a Civil War encampment -- is designed to highlight Bluffton's sleepier side by promoting an offbeat artist's haven nestled in between live oak trees.

It's an image that sometimes gets lost in southern Beaufort County's explosive growth. The Bluffton many people see -- especially tourists -- is a six-lane road leading to Hilton Head Island.

Mission accomplished, according to islander John Richardson.

"We really loved the local flavor," he said, "especially the gospel music."

Contact Daniel Brownstein at 706-8125 or To comment on this story, please go to

Friday, October 20, 2006

Beauty to Ashes-Ashes to Beauty

I am preaching a sermon this week called Beauty to Ahses-Ashes to Beauty from Job Chapter 1:1-22 and Job 42:10-17.

What happens to our hearts when a fire or wind of destruction comes and steals a beautiful piece of our life from us:

  • A family loses their home and livelihood because of a literal or figurative storm
  • A man loses his wife to cancer
  • A teenager is forced to move in his senior year, losing all his friends and all that he has worked for.
  • A man watches his business go from health to chapter eleven in 12 months without explanation.
  • A person works tirelessly on a friendship, only to see the one she loves abandon her at her greatest hour of need.

What happens to our hearts during these times?
Do we give up one love and beauty and live the rest of our lives in ashes? I know some of us do. Do we live the rest of our lives in “safety” never again to take a chance or give our hearts to another risky thing. Some of us do.
Do we rise up from the ashes stronger than we were before the fire or wind came?

From the book of Job, we find deep valleys and high mountains. We find despair and hope. We find that it is possible to live again, no soar again, even though times of despair have brought us to our knees lost in ashes and darkness.

The ancient story of Job is one of life, loss, and renewal. It is the story of a man who went from a beautiful life to a life full of ashes and from a life full of ashes back to an even fuller life full of beauty. The book of Job gives us deep insight into the heart of God and the heart of man, helping us to see why God allows tragedy to overtake us and how, out of the ashes of our lives, we can recover and become even more powerful forces for love and grace and change despite our wounds. It is from this divinely inspired book that we find the Living God believing in the marvel of the people He made in His image far more than we believe it our selves. It is in this book that we find a God who does not want us to live easy lives in weakness and merely for pleasure but a God who wishes us to be strong like Him, standing beside Him and giving Him honor, not for what He gives us, but because we are His. It is a book of life of loss, and of love.

Ultimately, Job is a book that asks us perhaps the biggest question of life: Can you love God in the ashes and the beauty, or is your love reserved only for when things or going well in your life? The heart of God is to love us, not just when things are going well, but when we are in our darkest hour. Oh, how he longs for that love from us.

As a way of getting our hearts ready to really hear this message, we will be looking at an animated version of Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird suite from the Fantasia 2000 film

Stravinsky: Firebird Suite

Sunday, October 15, 2006

On Vision: It's Been a Long Time

A Couple months ago I approached my creative Cohort, David Sadd, and told him that I kept having these nagging creative visions. I shared several of them and asked him if he thought they seemed "do-able." He said they seemed very do-able. From that time, we both began finding ways to clear our busy schedules to work on a video-dram-sermon-musical project based on this Don and Lori Chafer song called Been a Long Time. You see, every week I find time to worship God privately. I cherish this time with God. What I do is pray through songs. I am a collector of great songs. So, one of the ways I offer that to God is to just go into my study and listen to great music, mostly modern indie worship music. Sure, I am not out in the woods in the Lotus position or in a darkened cathedral doing a prayer book service, but I am certainly worshipping- even though I am just "listening to albums." One of the things that happens to me when I worship God through music, just for the joy of worshipping Him, is that I have these incredibly powerful visions. I see films unravel in my head, or dramas unfold around songs. Sometimes, they are so powerful, nagging even, that I just have to get them out. This happened to me when I heard this song by Don and Lori Chaffer (Been a Long Time). I just saw this drama unraveling in my head. It was a drama between a father and his son. They fight. Then, the son leaves abruptly. The drama takes place on stage. Then, someone reads Luke 15: 11-32, the parable of the Lost Son. Then, I preach on the passage and the sermon ends with this song being acted out by the father and the son and the mother. The father and the son talk on the phone and the son decides to come home. The son leaves the Thunderbird Inn in Savannah and begins to drive home. At the same time, the mother and the father begin to turn on all the light in the house. They open the door and wait for the son. Finally, he comes home and they embrace. All this happens with the song playing in the background.
The great thing about a vision is seeing it become real. What follows is the vision turned into a reality (It's Been a Long Time):

Much thanks goes to the following for helping with this film:

  • Thanks Jody Dorrell (and Taylor and Garrison) for filming the video
  • Thanks David Sadd for your creative vision, filming skills, and editing talent (you are a mad Ninja)
  • Thanks Josh Bell for being a suave actor
  • Thanks J Howard and Dawn Duff for being real parents to Josh and for your amazing ability to love in real life and as actors
  • Thanks to the Thunderbird Inn for letting us use your really cool hotel
  • Thanks to Steve and Jane Kiser for allowing us to film at your beautiful home
  • Thanks to Don and Lori Chaffer for listening to God and writing amazing songs

David and Josh were up till like three in the morning and decided to make one more video as a bonus feature. I call this video 20 because it is a hysterical look at what I believe the average 20 year olds life is like. They are neither here nor there- not kids but still not viewed as the men and women they are. Sooooo...... they wait.

The Younger Brother

Today, a month's worth of work was birthed with our first music video. I preached today on the Parable of the Prodigal Son and we used an old Don and Lori Chaffer song called been a Long Time (written from before they were Waterdeep). The sermon starts with a drama (Played by the talented Josh Bell, J Howard Duff, and Dawn Duff).

Been a Long Time

Drama: 2 minutes
Father: Howard Duff
Mother: Dawn Duff
Son: Josh Bell

Scenario: A father gets in a fight with his son and as he and his wife discuss it, their son enters and announces that he is moving out. He leaves after a final altercation with his father.

Center Stage
Mom and Dad: Howard and Dawn enter and sit on a couch on stage. They talk to one another on the couch about the problem they are having with Josh.
Enter Stage Left
Son: As mom and dad are talking, the son enters from the rear of the stage carrying his bag. He has packed and, to mom and dad’s surprise, he appears to be leaving home.
Dad: stands up in an aggressive way and says something like, “Where do you think you are going?”
Mom: Says, "Howard." When she says her husbands name, she is using her “warning voice” that says, please do not push him out the door.
Son: You said if I cannot abide by the rules of this house I could leave… so.
Dad: Fine!
Mom: Look you two. (changes from warning voice to being mad at both of them).
Dad: If he can’t live under my rules then he can leave.
Son: (Goes straight for the jugular). Your just like grandpa. Just kick me out just like he kicked you out. Let's make it a family tradition!
Mom: Says, "Josh" in a “You should not have said that tone.”
Dad: Losing it. Kick you out. I am not kicking…
Son: Whatever. I am outta here. You people are psycho. Josh storms off stage “really pissed” and leaves the worship center.
Dad: Yells after him, “Fine, leave!”
Dad: (Mutters to himself) “Your just like grandpa… Who does he think he is…. “ (voice is already turning to regret) “Fine just leave.”
Mom: Shaking her head.
Mom and Dad: Walking away, slowly feeling the pain of the moment
Lights out

The following Scripture is read (Luke 15:11-32)

11Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them.13"Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. 17"When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.' 20So he got up and went to his father. "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. 21"The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. 22"But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. 24For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate. 25"Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27'Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.'28"The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!' 31" 'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' "

Been a Long Time

Sermon Notes

I. The Lost and Found
II. The Lost Sheep: On Devotion
III. The Lost Coin: On Value
IV. The Lost Boys: On a Father's Love
The Father
The Younger Brother
The Older Brother
V. Coming Home and Having the Lights On

Been a Long Time
by Don and Lori Chaffer

It's been a long time
Haven't spoken for a while
Been tryin' to do it on my own again,
And I been fallin' on my face again.

It's been a long time
since Galilee and the twelve
Since the time you died there on the tree
Since the time you set every one of us free.

It's been a long time.
It's been a long time.

It's been a long time
Since I felt really clean.
Since I felt completely relieved.
Since I felt like I really believed.

It's been a long time
Since I've listened to you.
Since I've walked a little way in your Light.
Since I've heard your voice and not put up a fight.

It's been a long time.
It's been a long time.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Older and Younger Brother

Today was watershed for me. About six months ago I was struggling. I needed help becaue I was preaching for months without a break. Don't get me wrong. I love to preach. I love the time of preperation. I love hearing from God in new ways. I love what the Scriptures do to transform me and I love what the messages that come out of the Scriptures do to trnasform others. But, I was getting tired. It was out of a need for help that I began to think about what we now call, Testimony Sunday. Revelation 12:11 says, "They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death." I took this seriously. Some of the most powerful words I have ever heard were people's stories. Stories of how it was before, what God did to change things, and how things are now. I wanted to others to hear and see the stories of people's changed lives. So, we put together a Testimony Sunday. Two people share their testimony instead of the sermon and a common Scritpure ties the two testimonies together. We did this three times. The last testimony, we heard from our ministry coordinator. She used one of Rob Bell's Nooma teachings to accompany her testimony. Out of that we had two ways to do a Testimony Sunday; a video teaching accompanied by a story and a Scrpture passage to tie them together, or two stories tied together by a common Scripture. Today, my wife Catherine gave her testimony. She used Rob Bell's Nooma Teaching Dust and then told her story. it is a story of the prodigal son's older brother. He was a man who did everything right. He was raised in a Christian home, followed all the rules, and yet, still did not love his father passionately. And, yet, just as the father wishes to receive the younger brother, who wastes his fortune on prostitutes, so too does he wish to receive the older brither, who stays close by but never enters into the party due to his own critical heart and prideful manner. Catherine's testimony was powerful and it brought the two of us to a level of ministering together that has never happened before; I was able to share the pulpit with the person closest to my own heart.

We also had some special music today. Julia Pratt, who is a gifted singer and our worship leader David Sadd did a song by Sara Groves called, This Journey Is My Own: When I stand before the Lord, I’ll be standing alone / This journey is my own / Still I want man’s advice, and I need man’s approval / This journey is my own / Why would I want to live for man, and pay the highest price / What does it mean to gain a whole world, only to lose my life / So much of what I do is to make a good impression / This journey is my own / And so much of what I say is to make myself look better / But this journey is my own / And why would I want to live for man, and pay the highest price / And what does it mean to gain a whole world, only to lose my life / And I have never felt relief like I feel it right now / This journey is my own / Cuz trying to please the world, it was breaking me down / It was breaking me down / And now I live and I breathe for an audience of one / Now I live and I breathe for an audience of one/ Now I live and I breathe for an audience of one / Cuz I know this journey is my own / And why would I want to live for man, and pay the highest price / And what does it mean to gain a whole world, only to lose my life / And you can live for someone else, and it will only bring you pain / I can’t even judge myself, only the Lord can say, ‘Well done.’ / Oh, this journey is my own

I am so grateful to God for the Testimony of ALL beleivers. it gives credence to the power of the Cross to change our lives. I am also very grateful today for my beautiful wife, Catherine. It was so amazing to see a woman who has captured my heart share with all who love her the ways that the living God has captured her heart.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Franics of Assisi Was a Bit Odd

So why do I take part in The Blessing of the Animals. Or more specifically, why will I be blessing more than 100 critters on The Feast Day of St. Francis on Wednesday, October 4th from 4:00 to 6:00 at 495 Buckwalter Parkway, in Bluffton, SC. Well, it is not because I have Anglo-Catholic sensibilities or sentimentalities. I am not completely comfortable with what seems to be Francis' pantheistic side. Still, when I was pushed into blessing animals a couple years ago, I changed the blessing so that it reflected my reformed theology (I beleive animals are already blessed since God made them good). So, I say, "You are blessed by your creator and loved by your maker" and then I spray the critter with the Asperges. People love their pets and they need to know that God loves them as well. Really, it is all about the love.

Houses in the Fields: 52 in 52

A line I love from John Gorka's song, Houses in the Fields, goes like this: "The new streets will be named for kings and queens/ And a ransom will be paid for every castle's dream/ The model sign is crested with a lion/ And the farmers they will have enough to die on/ There's houses in the fields/ No prayers for steady rain this year/ Houses in the fields/ There's houses in the fields/ And the last few farms are growing out of here.” I grew up in a farming community that "gave way" to IBM and the suburban sprawl that moved all the way from NYC to our little town of Beekman 100 miles north of Manhattan. I watched fields that I used to wander and ride mini bikes in get plowed and “seeded” for construction. Fields that once belonged to me now belong to single families that I have never met.

Today, 900 miles away from the little town of Beekman, New York, I live in a single family home grown in someone else’s field. In fact, I live in a development called The Farm where there has never been a farm here, to my knowledge. The field where I reside used to be used to be a pine plantation. The sign is not crested with a lion. It is crested with a barn. I live on a street called Cooper's Lane where a Cooper has never made a barrel. I live next to a street called Old Bridge Road where there has never been an old bridge. It seems surreal and sad and without roots (a postmodern hodgepodge) and yet at the same time I am grateful to be here because things are growing, not dying.

One of the results of growing houses in the fields has meant a great deal of growth for churches that are willing to open their arms to new comers and embrace change in a way that allows others to make a life for themselves that can become rich, forming roots that sink deep within the earth despite the formation of fictitious neighborhoods.

Last year on September 11th, we opened up a new church right in the center of all of the houses that are growing in the fields. Our hope was to extend God's love to new comers and to allow people to root themselves in the deep richness of the God of the Universe. Since that time, we have seen hundreds of people assemble weekly to love and serve God and to invite others, who have not yet come to know him, to do the same.

In the first 52 weeks of our new life together, we have had the privilege of welcoming 52 new families into our midst. Statistically, that means that one new family joined our church every Sunday for a year. The 52 new families’ that have joined us include 160 people (singles, couples and families), 68 of which are children. Our growth in the last quarter has averaged 289 in attendance on Sunday morning with two of these weeks totaling 340 and 350 in attendance.

The days of growing corn and pine are over. There will be no more rows of corn to feed cows or of pulp pine used to produce paper. We are growing houses in the fields these days, adding rows of chairs in church to create Christians. As I spend this day enjoying Sabbath rest after a full week of harvesting, I look forward to next year’s crop.