The January–February issue of Outside Magazine features a dietary experiment performed and reported by endurance athlete John Bradley (All Systems Go, p.47). The exercise, as it were, included spending eight weeks each on six different diet plans ranging from popular fads to clinical studies: the Abs Diet, the Paleo Diet for Athletes, the Mediterranean Prescription, the Okinawa Program, the advice of a personal nutritionist, and the USDA’s nutritional pyramid. Along the way he recorded every meal, snack, and caloric drink, and workout, and made bi-monthly visits to his doctor for blood work, weigh-ins, cholesterol checks, and body composition analysis. You can read the entire article by clicking here.

The most interesting piece of this article to me, however, were the conclusions of the nutritionist, Laurent Bannock, he worked with during his research. Apparently Bannock has spent years researching diet strategies based on ethnicity. Bannock believes that one’s genes have “equipped” him or her for specific foods. Furthermore, Bannock contends, a diet comprised primarily of these “remembered” foods leads to greater wellness. For his part, Bradley experienced improved blood profiles, a leaner body, more sound sleep, and consistently higher energy levels using Bannock’s diet strategies. So it appears that our genes have what may be described as a “memory” that reacts positively to reminders of our heritage—in this case dietarily, but perhaps this phenomenon has broader application.

I remember hearing a few years ago that, in some sort of informal poll, the word “home” was acknowledged as the most favorite word in our vocabulary. (Who comes up with this stuff?) Like most people, I had never once stopped to consider what my favorite word would have been. But after thinking about the results of the poll, I could see why “home” was voted the most favorite. It has the long vowel sound that is so pleasant in our poetry and music. But it also asks us to … remember. And if “home” is our favorite word, then “remember” just might be our most profound word. In one of his most recent releases Peter Gabriel sings the words “I … I remember” from the most inner part of his heart. I cannot hear him sing “I … I remember” unmoved (not that I cry, mind you, but it always takes me to another emotional vicinity). There’s something so perfect about remembering—even the hard stuff. Scripture tells us, “… if a man should live many years, let him rejoice in them all, and let him remember the days of darkness, for they will be many.

A diet that reminds us, a word that stirs the heart, and a word that invites us into our own stories. Ecclesiastes 3:11 reveals that God has put an eternity into our hearts. I’ve seen this explained in more than one way, but what makes the most sense to me is that God has created us predisposed to “remember”—not only our own stories and the stories of our times, but the loss of Eden, the wonders of creation, and beauty of the gospel.

And so I wonder. I wonder if along with the spiritual disciplines of study, worship, service, prayer, community, confession, and submission, if we should also practice the discipline of remembering in our groups. It seems, in the spirit of Lauren Bannock’s dietary conclusions, that our hearts also have a “memory” that hearkens back to our heritage. As a way of practicing the discipline of remembering, set aside time for sharing stories—powerful memories, the things that move us, and the things that won’t seem to go away. As a part of this time you’ll also want to begin your own oral tradition by telling and re-telling the stories of Eden and the Gospel of Christ. Read from translations like The Message that tend to lend themselves more to story-telling. Consider those things that have been lost, those things that have been gained, and those things yet to be born from the womb of time, yet the heart still manages to “remember.” There’s karthasis in the process. Healing becomes more likely. And redemptive community is born. And what better time to begin exercising the spiritual discipline of remembering than Easter.

heroes The past few weeks have certainly seen many of the mighty fall.  Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, Steve McNair, oh yeah…Michael Jackson (could you have missed that one on the news?).  While many conversations have taken place around the water coolers and social media sites, most of them I have noticed have not been very redemptive.  At times when our heroes fall, there are so many mixed emotions.  We think back to a show, a poster, a game, a song, and it brings back so many memories.  It also evokes emotions, and emotions can be powerful forces indeed.  When emotions are heightened, people are listening.  People are more open.  And at such times, it would be great if someone could step into the conversation and be redemptive.  Bring the Larger Story to bear. Express struggles, confusion, doubts, and listen to others do the same.  And NOT have all the answers…especially the nicely packaged religious answers.  Usually the right questions will lead people who are not Christ-followers on a journey to answers for themselves.  What do you think this guy valued in life?  Who do you think was important to him or her?  What are you learning from those who are now coping with the loss of this person?  What does the loss of this great person show us about our own hopes and desires?  Without a lot of work, you’ve even got a great small group meeting in the making. Hey, people are listening already and ready to talk.  I can’t think if a better way to honor the memory of our heroes than to allow their lives to be a bridge to redemption for someone who’s still in the battle.

I sometimes complain. I wish I made more money. I wish I had a nicer set of golf clubs. I wish I could get that sports car I’ve always dreamed of. I wish I was home more. I wish someone would pay for my cell phone. I wish ministry was easier. I wish more people knew my name. (I have to admit… This list could go on ad nausea.)

There’s one common word in the paragraph above… “I.” It seems “I” has a way of keeping many of us from experiencing the adventure and thrill of ministry more than anyone or anything else. Self-centered ministry, if given space to grow, darkens the heart so much that we become unable to see when we’ve accomplished fulfilling ministry.

 Last weekend God ambushed me. Through the life of a man I’ve never met I came face-to-face with my own self-absorption. I and a few others attended the funeral of a co-worker’s father. To get to the church we exited a major Tennessee highway and zig-zagged our way another 10 or so miles through the Tennessee foothills. The final stretch of this short journey put us on an obviously overused road that led us into “the valley.” The place of worship that had served generations of Tennesseans was stunning. That small country church lingered patiently in the crevice of two of God’s beautifully designed mountains. On the side of one of those hills was a garden of headstones. Between some of the gravestones a tent had been erected, a hole had been dug. The body of Brother Fred Copeland would join the family members who had gone before him in a few hours.

 As we entered the church building the ushers handed each of us an 8.5 by 5.5 piece of paper. The words that had been penned on one side of a slice of paper the size of a notepad had broken the dam that had held back the tears of many of his friends, family, and parishioners. Six short paragraphs unveiled his character, integrity, the purity of his heart and the passion with which he accepted God’s expectations of him, requirements he accomplished for 73 years. A few excerpts…

 Fred Copeland was born March 28, 1918. Fred accepted Christ as his Savior at 17 years of age. The Lord called him to preach a few months later. On October 10, 1936, he rode a horse 8 miles to preach his first sermon.

 He worked at various jobs: farming, logging, etc. making 50 – 75 cents a day (for 10 hours a day). He worked for the CNOPTP Railroad in Oakdale for 7 years, as well as for the Morgan County School Board as a bus driver for over 26 years.

 Fred served in our Lord’s ministry for 73 years. He pastored 12 churches, three of them more than one time.

 In spite of not owning a car, he pastored churches for many years requiring him to walk or hitch hike several miles to preach. In the 1930’s and 1940’s many churches only had services once or twice a month. Therefore, he often pastored 2 or 3 churches at the same time. His salary comprised of whatever the offering (or passing the hat) brought. One church he pastored was 40 miles away. To get there, he walked to Harriman, paid 15 cents to ride the bus to Kingston, and then rode the rest of the way with one of the deacons (where he also spent the night). They had services Saturday nights and Sunday mornings. He would receive a love offering usually, around $2.00. One Sunday there were 15 people present and 3 of them accepted Christ as their Savior. Records at one church indicate they paid him $5.00 a week. One week he received $3.00 in cash and $2.00 in produce, which was a bucket of eggs that he carried as he walked home. While pastoring Pine Orchard (1948-52) he baptized 74 people – 25 at one time.

 I never knew the man but during the funeral service I too wiped the tears from my eyes. I have processed why and have come to this conclusion… He’s one of my heroes. It seems that anyone who is who I want to become is one of my heroes. I can only hope that I’ll never again “wish” for something God has not yet given me. I can only pray that I never again long for comfort more than I yearn to do God’s will. I can only beg God and my closest friends to remind me that it’s not about making a name for myself, it’s about making Jesus famous.

There’s a difference between a calling and a career. I’m afraid I sometimes forget. I don’t believe Brother Copeland ever did. Brother Copeland was 91 years old when he was set free from the confines of his earthly body. I’m pretty sure his reward is great in heaven. Actually, I’m certain of it… “I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields–and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” Mark 10:29-31

Our church plant has seen her share of disasters. But no matter how big the church, small group leaders can “be the church” better than any people I know.

 I was driving home after a day’s work… My cell phone rang… I answered.., “Hello, Rick Howerton.” She spoke… “Hi Pastor, I’m on my way home from work. I just got a call from my daughter, she came home from school and found her dad…. She thinks he’s dead.” Her broken tones evolved into uncontrollable wailing. “I’ll be right there” I told her. I called her small group leader immediately. He and his wife beat me to the house. Husband’s gone, no hope for resuscitation. Tragedy, but astoundingly effective small group leaders carried the day and are still doing so months later.

 A quick follow-up story…  When our church gathered yesterday I had a conversation with the small group leader, the one who “beat me to the house.” He concreted in my heart of hearts that he is one of the thousands of heroes in the small group community, the small group leader. It seems that the young girl who found her dad lifeless on that disastrous afternoon was going to be forced to be without a father on “Dad’s Day” at her elementary school. All the other kids would have a dad to eat lunch with them but she would be alone. When the small group leader heard about her situation he made a decision. He would take off work and be her dad for the day. He did just that. He told me that, as he turned the corner to go her room he saw her beautiful eyes. She was peeking around the door frame anticipating his arrival.

 You know… We often talk about kids who can’t understand or embrace the love of God the Father because they were without a loving father in the home they grew up in. While the small group leader will never be able to replace this young lady’s dad, he is most certainly teaching her about the love of God her ultimate Father.

 Small group leaders… You are my heroes!!!

If you’ve got a story about a small group leader that has made a difference in your life or someone else’s I’d love to hear it. Please use the comment box to tell us about a small group leader who is your hero.

 For more information on small groups and church planting join me at Exponential Conference in April.