Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Parable of the Koi...

I was cleaning out the pump sump of our pond yesterday, and who should be swimming around in the murky waters of the sump, but one of our koi. Koi are a Japanese version of goldfish... picture your American fishbowl-variety goldfish on steroids, and that's koi.

This adventurous, but foolhardy, koi must have been on something as he swam through the pump sump's tiny flap-door into the aquatic version of what should have been the land of certain death. Fortuitously for this flummoxed fish, it was time for me to clean-out the sump, and so his nearly-cooked goose... uhh, gills... was/were saved. Back in the safe confines of the pond, he flipped twice and darted off to rejoin his koi mates.

I'm thinking if Jesus has been helping me clean-out the sump (I'm picturing Jesus squatting alongside me with his sleeves rolled up... maybe even offering to do the dirtiest of the work and stick his hands down in the muck), he'd have found a parable in the actions of this cruising carp (koi are members of the carp family).

Jesus might have pointed out that those off-limit things of life (we're talking sin), which often look so easy and enticing, are frequently deadly in their consequences... deadly to our reputations, our futures, our families. And while the way into such situations may be easy-- exiting is an entirely different ballgame (Yep, I think Jesus would have tossed in a sports reference). Wiping his hands on his pants, Jesus might have concluded the parable of the koi by reminding me that only by the grace of our gracious Father do we find hope, redemption, and perhaps rescue, in such situations.

And then Jesus probably would have said, "Let's go wash our hands and get this fish goo off of us, and then let's go have some lunch."

That Jesus... he's such a cool guy!

Friday, May 30, 2008

SoHills' 75th...

The Abilene Reporter-News did a nice story acknowledging SoHills' 75th Anniversary celebration this weekend. Stephen Corbett, my ministry partner and our multi-talented Congregational Life minister, did his usual great job of coordinating communication with Abilene's local media... so Stephen's behind-the scenes work made the AR-N's coverage a reality. Here's the story as it appeared in the May 29th edition of the AR-N:

With 75 years down, Southern Hills Church of Christ is looking toward the future. People who attend or work at Southern Hills, which celebrates its anniversary this weekend, say the church has never been content to sit still.

From an ambitious building campaign to a greater focus on community, the future mission of the church, located in south Abilene, is informed by a vision statement 14 months in the making: "We are God's community front porch: inviting, including and involving others in the life of Jesus."

Vann Conwell, Connecting minister at Southern Hills, said that message "flows from the heart of the Southern Hills people, a serving and loving people, and has helped reorient us with a focus on our Abilene community."

While the church has always had a rich tradition of sending missionaries elsewhere, its vision -- linked to the occasion of its anniversary -- "points us toward a new chapter in our history where we rediscover our opportunities to minister in our own community, to our neighbors," Conwell said. That means a rediscovery of a spirit and heart of hospitality, he said. It also means a distinctive call for every member to be a minister, a "priesthood of all believers," as Conwell put it, and the reality of "what it means to be, and grow, as a disciple of Jesus."

The church's outreach includes participating in "We Are The Sermon" Day (a massive day of service with other churches throughout Abilene), "Jesus Parties" and a rainbow of local ministerial opportunities. Now, the church has embarked on an ambitious building campaign, "Transforming Community," to provide facilities to help it reach out better to Abilene.

"Southern Hills has truly been blessed to be a part of the Abilene community these last 75 years," said Phil Ware, minister of the Word at the church. "Our desire as we move forward is that we can be ... a place and a people where Big Country folks can feel at home and experience God's presence and love."

Like its present incarnation, Southern Hills was never stagnant. Southward expansion of Abilene in the 1930s prompted the leadership of the Northside Church of Christ to plant a church at South 11th and Pecan streets. But the church proved so successful it only stayed at that location for three years, relocating a few blocks away to South 12th and Chestnut streets.

Ten years later, a new building was constructed, but that, too, proved only a short-term solution. After 18 years, the church's elders decided to relocate to the southwest edge of Abilene. In 1965, little existed on Buffalo Gap Road, according to the church's Web site. The church facility, built in a mesquite-filled pasture, was in a way a "testimony of faith in the southward growth of Abilene," according to the site.

Twenty years later, significant continued growth in both ministry opportunities and attendance prompted the church to build its present auditorium and eventually, the fellowship hall and children's ministry wing. Melissa Jacobs, who has been attending Southern Hills since 1994, said it is "amazing how far we have come in 75 years, and we are still continuing to grow." "We have been through two capital campaigns in the time I have been at Southern Hills," she said. "This means we have grown so much in that time that we have exceeded our building's capacity."

One thing that has always been constant is that if there is ever a need in a family, church members meet it, Jacobs said. "We try to take care of each other, in the good times and the bad," she said. "With projects like We Are The Sermon day and the Jesus parties, we are out in the community serving others as we have been commanded. We are not just about sitting in the pews and being served. We love to do the serving."

Hymonda Merkel has been attending Southern Hills for 43 years. She called the church's history "a journey with God as our guide through tears and cheers." "These folks are my extended family," she said. " We stay because we love the people and our own family has been loyal for over 65 years. Beginning with my grandmother, we now have had six generations."

Though she has served in a variety of roles, from polishing pews on Saturday nights to singing for funerals, Merkel has primarily been a teacher at the church, starting with classes for 2-year-olds and going all the way up to adult women. "We worship a living God," she said. "We are not a social club or civic organization. We believe and worship a Savior who died for us and we can never tell that story enough."

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Best Christian Workplaces...

I found the following information in a recent eNewsletter distributed by Leadership Network. The article described the findings from the Best Christian Workplaces survey, and made for an interesting read:

At Antioch Community Church, a church of more than 2,000 in Waco, Texas, every staff member on the church's full-time payroll makes the same $40,000-a-year base salary, or roughly what a teacher makes in the community.

With that kind of compensation, it's doubtful any of Antioch's staff members are in it for the money. But as a recent survey finds, few people in ministry are, even in churches with a more traditional salary structure.

In fact, among the 1,900 staff members from 14 large churches who participated in the Best Christian Workplaces survey (data collected from 2005-2007), fair pay was the least important factor influencing their satisfaction or commitment at work. Instead, character and competence of the leadership team topped the list.

Character counts in ministry, whatever your vantage point. Staff members are weary of leaders who don't walk their talk. They want to see their leaders striving to live like Jesus day in and day out. It's not that they have to be perfect, but they need to be real. According to the survey, staff members are looking to their leaders to behave with authenticity, transparency and humility.

Best-selling author Patrick Lencioni diagnoses that "when there is an absence of trust it stems from a leader's unwillingness to be vulnerable with the group." Likewise, "leaders who are not genuinely open with one another about their mistakes and weaknesses make it impossible to build a foundation of trust."

At the same time, however, it's critical to the survey respondents that a leadership team demonstrates management skill as well as personal integrity. Both are critically important.

The survey indicated that staff members want to be part of a growing church that's making an impact for the Kingdom. They want to like the culture and values of their church, feel they are part of a well-managed organization, and be directly involved in planning and executing the ministry plan. That raises an interesting point, given that often leaders are chosen not for their administrative/organizational skills, but rather for their talents in music ministry, youth ministry, etc. In these situations, fostering a healthy church culture often may require some kind of outside intervention and training.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


While admitting I'm easily amused... I still thought this picture was pretty funny.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Leadership: Challenging the Process...

More words from Andy Stanley about leadership:

So exactly how can you exercise your instinct to challenge, yet stay out of trouble with your superiors and those that God has placed in authority over you? As a Christian leader committed to seeing the local church advance and make progress, what exactly should you do with all this?
You must develop the fine art of challenging organization decay… without compromising your integrity.

Successful leaders learn how to alienate a process without alienating the people who created it—or the people who work it faithfully every day. Now, we will explore five ways you can develop the art of challenging the process without inadvertently issuing a challenge to the people in your organization.

1. When an instruction is given, follow through now; debrief later. When the discussion's over and the one God has placed in authority over you says, "This is what we're gonna do," then you do it. Follow through first, and debrief later. Your words and actions need to express, "I am clearly and squarely on your team and under your authority." It doesn't mean you can't ask, "Why?" But do so in the clear context of serving the organization at large and observing the chain-of-command. In your own style and your own way, you must learn to communicate both: "I am under your authority," and "Can we talk about it?"

2. Never verbalize your frustration with the process in front of other team members. Public loyalty results in private leverage. If you want to have leverage one-on-one with your authorities, then show support for their ideas and strategies in front of the team—even if you think they're
absolutely off the wall. Likewise, if you want to lose leverage with your boss, then disrupt and ask challenging questions and foster division among the ranks publicly.

Support publicly; challenge privately. Reverse those two things and you surrender your authority as a leader within your organization. Again, it's OK to think different—to challenge. But the method you use and the plac
e you choose is critical. Everybody who has authority is also under authority.

3. Don't confuse your insights with moral imperatives. Even if you're sure you've been given a superior view of the world, that doesn't mean it's a moral imperative that everyone execute your plan. There's something more important than doing ministry the most relevant, cool and effective way. God is interested in seeing us learn to live and lead under the authority that He has placed over us.

You have not sinned by doing ministry ineffectively. You have not sinned by simply taking the marching orders from somebody who's not as smart as you and doing things that aren't as effective as you would like to have done them.

There's a temptation to justify flat-out rebellion for the sake of the mission and the cause. God is using you not only to do your current ministry, but also to prepare you for whatever else He has for you. Even if you never see your ideas implemented, you've had a good day as a leader when you've done everything you can to challenge while staying under the authority that God has placed over you.

4. If you don't learn to lead under, you won't have as many opportunities to lead over. Your ability to lead others is directly related to your ability to follow others. Since God is the giver and the head of all authority, all people in an organization's chain of command—leaders and followers—must ultimately answer to God. So when you sign up to participate in authority, you automatically ascribe to the concept of following. As a result, your ability to lead will never far exceed your ability to follow.

5. When you can't follow, then it's time to get off the team. The question young leaders ask me more than any other question is, "How do I know when it's time to go?" There's no simple answer to that question. But one of the catalysts for moving on is when staying in your current environment ceases to be a growing experience and starts to become a dying experience. When that time comes, it's time to go.

If you start to have those feelings, ask yourself if God might be prompting you to move on. There comes a time to get off the team. And if you aren't listening carefully, you could expose yourself and others to temptations you'd rather avoid. Don't give opportunity for frustration or anger to lead you. Allow God to lead you in His time to do whatever else He has for you.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Being A Spiritual Rebel...

Mark Batterson shared a post recently in which he referenced a magazine article describing how Microsoft is trying to re-image itself. The article points out that Microsoft has hired an ad agency called Crispin Porter + Bogusky to assist them in this process. Alex Bogusky, a partner in the ad firm and one of its creative gurus, made one of those statements in the magazine's piece that you just can't get out of your mind: "Life conspires to beat the rebel out of you."

That's really true isn't it?

One of the things I love about Jesus is that he remained the rebel his entire life. He didn't bow to the Pharisees. He didn't bow to Pilate. The truth is, Jesus didn't bow to anyone except his Heavenly Father. That is what it means to be a spiritual rebel.

In the words of Dorothy Sayers: "To do them justice, the people who crucified Jesus did not do so because he was a bore. Quite the contrary; he was too dynamic to be safe. It is has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have de-clawed the Lion of Judah and made him a house cat for pale priests and pious old ladies."

I'm committed to remaining a spiritual rebel. How about you?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Running Well...

I've read and heard stories of how the NCAA, collegiate sports all-powerful governing body, can be heavy-handed and unpredictable in its dispensing of penalties and punishment--but it was frustrating to witness the strong arm of the NCAA level sanctions against our unofficially adopted son, Serge Gasore. A few days prior to his joining his ACU track team mates at this year's Division II Track & Field Finals at Mount San Antonio College in Walnut, California, Serge was notified by the NCAA that he would not be able to participate.

Here's the short-hand version of what happened as related by Serge: Over the 2007 Christmas break, the ACU track coaches hosted a Christmas party for the international students on the track team who had not been able to travel the great distances to their homes over the holiday. During the Christmas party, the ACU coaches presented these international student athletes with a Christmas present... a violation of NCAA rules. I didn't ask Serge what the gift was, but I'm fairly certain it wasn't a large cash gift, or a new car... because I watched Serge purchase (using his own hard-earned money) the used 1999 Taurus he drives to the two, sometimes three, jobs he works every week.

When questioned by NCAA officials, Serge did something that's viewed as strange, if not foolish, by many people... he told the truth. He admitted that he had received a Christmas gift from his coaches. And he was willing to bear the punishment of paying back the gift's cost to an NCAA sanctioned charity.

But... the wheels of NCAA justice turn slowly, and while it was hoped Serge could be cleared of his transgression in time for last week's Track & Field Finals, that did not happen. Serge remained in Abilene while his coaches and team mates journeyed to California, where they won the Division II team trophy for Track & Field at Nationals.

I saw Serge this morning, and while he was thrilled for his team mates' success... it was clear he was greatly disappointed at not being able to participate in Nationals. Susan and I affirmed Serge for winning a greater victory, one that seems to be proving more and more elusive in our society today--he told the truth, and in doing so evidenced that he is a man of integrity and character.

Five years from now, few people will remember who won the 2008 NCAA Division II Track & Field National championship. But I trust God will have brought on-going honor to a young man from Rwanda named Serge Gasore who knows the race is not always won by the fastest runner, but the one who runs well.

Serge, I honor you for running well.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Challenge of Leadership...

I'm a student of leadership... which I believe to be both a spiritual gift and a honed skill. The following thoughts from Andy Stanley challenged me as a leader. I share them with you in hopes that God will use them in speaking to you and your giftedness as His leader.

* "Change is preceded by challenge, and challenging the status quo is where leadership begins."

* "As a leader, there is something in you that leans toward evaluating and critiquing everything you bump into organizationally."

* "Deep in your heart you feel that if you were in charge, things would not only be different, they would be better."

* "When you stop challenging, you have stopped leading and begun managing." And that's a problem!

In other words, that tendency to evaluate and critique environments and experiences is part of what distinguishes you as a leader. When God is in control of your life, he can use that gift powerfully to further his Kingdom.

I think there's something in every leader that yearns to try things in new ways, to test the status quo–to challenge the process. If you're a leader, you’ve probably had similar experiences all your life. Leaders are constantly evaluating and critiquing the world around them. There's something in every leader that seeks to understand the process at work behind the scenes.

The rest of the world is quite the opposite. In fact, it's human nature to gravitate toward the familiar. And left to themselves, virtually every person and organization is in a subconscious pursuit of the status quo. Eventually they will find it. And they will work very, very hard to stay there.

In a changing world, familiar is no measure of effectiveness. And the status quo is no benchmark for long-term achievement. That's why the world needs leaders to venture boldly into the unfamiliar and to embrace the uncomfortable–because the best solutions are often found in unfamiliar, uncomfortable places.

The instinct to challenge the process is a fundamental quality of every leader. When God created leaders, he equipped them with an unsettling urge to unpack, undo and unearth methods. This explains your tendency to question everything around you.

It's the reason you have such strong opinions–and such a strong desire to share them. God wired you that way. Deep in your heart you may feel that if you were in charge, things would not only be different, they'd also be better. This is not a problem of arrogance or pride. It's simply the way God wired you. It's a good thing.

Unfortunately, your zeal for improvement isn't always appreciated out in the real world. As a matter of fact, your natural bent for leadership sets you up for resistance from virtually all sides–including other leaders.

And unless you understand the nature of these dynamics, the very instincts that qualify you for greatness can also lead you to disqualify yourself and sabotage your opportunities. Effective leadership means learning to challenge the process without challenging the organization. There's a fine line between the two. But it's a crucial line.

The first line of resistance the leader faces is the organization itself. As we've already mentioned, organizations don't like new ideas. It's enough of a challenge just figuring out the old ones. So the last thing an organization wants is someone suggesting that we need to start all over again with a different process. Your supervisors, advisers, elders, deacons and staff all feel pretty much the same way. Since human nature is to seek a place of equilibrium, change is seen as a disruption of progress.

The second line of resistance you face is from other leaders. You might think you'd find an advocate in this group. But, by nature, when you challenge a concept, you challenge the conceiver. You don't mean it that way, but that can be how it's often perceived.

Many talented leaders have "led" themselves right out of a job because their desire to challenge the process was misunderstood, or perhaps even threatening, to those in charge. While on the other side of the spectrum, many skilled leaders have resigned themselves to conform to the status quo, squelching and squashing their natural instincts because there's no obvious opportunity to be who God made them to be.

As leaders, we must keep a sense of diplomacy without shrinking from our scrutinizing nature. When you stop challenging the process, you cease to be a leader and you become a manager.

Not that there's anything wrong with managers. The world needs those too. But it's a different job description from the leader's. And if you cease to challenge, then you have abdicated your true calling and giftedness in the world. Successful leaders must learn how to alienate a process without alienating the people who created it, or the people who work it faithfully every day.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Least of These...

People call or come by church buildings all the time asking for help. People that I’ve never even seen before will tell me that they are about to be evicted, or have their power turned off, or get kicked out of the motel where they’re staying, or they need a tank of gasoline to get home to where their relatives live… and I’ve heard all of these stories before. A man told me once that he was dying of AIDS and was waiting to be admitted to a hospice center. He said his father had disowned him and wanted nothing more to do with him. This guy asked for money to cover the cost of two night’s lodging in a bad hotel until he could enter the hospice facility.

So what would you do if you were in my place? I said a prayer… and I’m thinking: “This guy may be lying and just trying to scam me out of two night’s stay at a hotel that I wouldn’t think of checking my family into. But here’s a man who’s saying that his own father has rejected him… so do I add a little more rejection to his load?”

Ministers don’t like to be scammed any more than you do. And I’m constantly having to fight becoming totally cynical in response to people who ask for help. It has always interested me that one of the gospel writers saw fit to include that Judas was the treasurer of Jesus’ small band of disciples… and that Judas stole from the purse. I’m thinking Jesus knew this was going on… so why doesn’t he put a stop to it?

Okay, so this guy with AIDS wants me to pay for him to stay at a hotel for a couple of nights. I could check out his story, ask for references, or just refuse his request.. But I don’t do any of the above. I call the hotel and make arrangements for him to stay. He grips my hand as he leaves and says, “God bless you.”

Now did I just do what I did to get a blessing from God? Should I feel blessed? Should I fixate on the possibility that maybe, just maybe, this man didn’t have AIDS but was only using the mention of that dread disease to capture my sympathy?

Four months later a man shows up at the door of the church building and tells me he’s just hit a lady’s car and fled the scene because he doesn’t have insurance or a valid driver’s license. He doesn’t know what to do… and is asking for me to help him. This man points to a guy standing behind him who he says was in the car with him… and it’s the guy with AIDS, or the guy who said he was dying of AIDS.

Now you’re probably thinking, “You probably felt pretty stupid, didn’t you?” And I won’t deny that I felt a surge of anger as I looked the AIDS guy in the eye. (He’s squirming at this point… probably wondering why of all the places he ends up with a friend who’s just run from the scene of an accident is here with me.) And I knew I’d been scammed… again… but that’s not what I was really focused on. I told this man that he’d lied to me… but that I’d get over that. However, using churches to extend your stay in a hotel was something I thought this guy and God would have a chat about one day.

I've told you how I responded to the AIDS guy. What do you think Jesus would have said to this man?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Strategic Disruptions...

I thought the following post by Craig Groeschel was insightful. Whether ministry is your vocation or not, Craig's suggestions offer practical ideas for keeping our ears tuned to the leading of the Spirit.

Disrupt Your Rhythms

The longer you do ministry, the easier it becomes to minister from memory. You tend to do what you used to do. It is safe, comfortable, and convenient. To stay spiritually and creatively fresh, I suggest "strategic disruptions" or disrupting life's rhythms.

Because people can be creatures of habits, life often looks relatively similar from day to day, week to week, and year to year. I suggest defining your rhythms—then disrupting them.
  • If you drive the same way to work, take a different road.
  • If you study the Bible the same way, try a different approach.
  • If you listen to the same type of music, tune into something entirely different.
  • If you read the same books, stretch yourself. Read out of your comfort zone.
  • If you order the same thing off the menu, venture out and try something you've never had.
By disrupting your rhythms, you may experience just enough to change your perspective slightly. Suddenly, you could be more sensitive to hear something new from God.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Collectable Bible Cross...

Yesterday's mail contained an envelope from the folks at Inside the envelope, and what initially caught my eye, was a flyer offering a "collectable Bible Cross" touted as "one of the most beautiful in the world" and "not sold in stores." On the flip side of the flyer were testimonials from people who, upon receiving other products, had been blessed with large sums of money ($46,000), houses (a big six-room one), and healing of severe pain in their left leg.

An accompanying personal letter (it had to be personal, since someone had clearly taken the trouble to underline certain sentences with a blue marker) offered me the prayer blessing of the good people at in support of such wonderful things as ("check all boxes that apply"): "A new home to call my own," "A new car," "God blessing me with this amount of money: (fill in the blank)."

Wow! This all sounded too good to be true! So, I went to the web site (their letter encouraged me to do so) and clicked on the "About" menu. As I read through multiple paragraphs self-describing the good work of, it appeared they are a bit touchy about various (and according to their "About" section "completely false") accusations of mail fraud and mail scam that have been brought against them.

Enough seeds of doubt had been sown in my mind that I folded my personalized letter (only then noticing it had been addressed to "Dear Occupant") and placed it in the waste basket. I was sadly aware that many desperate people... folks who can barely put food on their tables... will grasp at any possibility, and place money they can't afford to part with into the conveniently provided, postage-paid envelope and send it to in hopes of receiving a personal prayer rug wrapped in an implied promise of gaining dollars from God.

"It is written," he said to them, " 'My house will be called a house of prayer,' but you are making it a 'den of robbers.'" Jesus, Matthew 21:13

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Sweet Caroline...

Early this morning my youngest, Caroline, headed east--bound for Nashville and a summer's youth ministry internship at the Harpeth Hills church. She'll be working alongside two of the finest youth ministers I know: Jason and Jennifer Pagel.

I have to say, I spent many years as a youth minister on the receiving end of other moms' and dads' sons and daughters who were beginning youth internships... and it's a whole new feeling when it's your child headed away for the entire summer. I have a brand new appreciation for (and empathy with) those parents who entrust their children to others who will mentor and look-out for them.

I'm a big fan of internships... and I know this summer is going to be a tremendous growth opportunity for Care. She'll be a blessing to the Harpeth Hills' church and youth group-- and I'm sure they will return the blessing to her. I'm also trusting that Caroline's summer "family" in Nashville will take good care of her.

And in the words of Forrest Gump... "That's all I have to say about that."

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Curse of Knowledge...

"This is the Curse of Knowledge: Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it. Our knowledge has "cursed" us. And it becomes difficult for us to share our knowledge with others, because we can't readily re-create our listeners' state of mind." (Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, page 20)

Wow--this is useful stuff. Here are some possible implications for churches of the curse of knowledge:
  • The curse of knowledge makes many Sunday morning sermons irrelevant to the listener.
  • The curse of knowledge makes the church bulletin unhelpful to the newcomer. In fact, the curse of knowledge is the reason we call it a "bulletin" instead of a program guide.
  • The curse of knowledge keeps us from hanging signs that will actually get someone to the bathroom.
  • The curse of knowledge assumes that people today will love the songs we grew up with.
  • The curse of knowledge puts blinders on our eyes when trying to communicate something that seems so simple to us.
  • The curse of knowledge causes us to be task driven and look past the people around you.
Can you think of other implications for churches of the curse of knowledge?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Six-Word Memoir...

The editors of Smith Magazine have assembled an interesting collection of six-word memoirs by "writers famous & obscure" in a book titled Not Quite What I Was Planning. With a nod toward a legend that Ernest Hemingway was once challenged to write a story in six words, with the end result being, "For sale: baby shoes, never worn"... the book offers "deceptively simple glimpses of humanity--six words at a time."

Here are a few of the six-word memoirs found on pages 186-187 of the book:
  • Hid for a while. Not anymore.
  • I came, I saw, I concurred.
  • Afraid of mirrors, too many marshmallows.
  • Saw the sky and starting walking.
So, how about you. What would be your six-word memoir?

Friday, May 16, 2008

Twenty-Seven Wonderful Years...

Today marks the 27th anniversary of my marriage to my lovely wife Susan. I've got to be honest, she looks pretty incredible in this picture... but I believe she's become even more beautiful through the years.

God answered this skinny boy's prayers in ways that went beyond what I could ever have thought or imagined when he brought Susan into my life. I am a better man in every way imaginable as a result of having Susan by my side.

"These years with you and heaven"... that's what I had engraved in Susan's ring, and that's the passion that still burns in my heart.


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Just Wondering...

How would it make you feel if your boss, or your elders, told you when you started your job/ministry that his/their number one goal for you was that this be the best job you had ever had?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Maximizing Meeting Potential...

Having attended my fair share of meetings, I've become something of a "meeting connoisseur." Below are five suggestions for maximizing your team's meeting potential.

#1 Start Every Meeting By Sharing Wins.
This puts you in a positive frame of mind. Don't under celebrate what God is doing!

#2 Do An Occasional Off-site Meeting.
Change of Pace + Change of Place = Change of Perspective

#3 Don't Talk Corporately About What Can Be Handled Individually.
If you talk about something that not everybody needs to know about you're wasting their time. And the larger your staff the more time you're wasting!

#4 Cut Your Agenda In Half.
The more you talk about the less you accomplish!

#5 Make Sure Everything You Talk About Lands On A To-Do List.
Make sure someone is responsible for everything you talk about or it will end up on the next meeting agenda and cause twice the frustration.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Quoting Andy...

“The local church should be the best organization to work for in the city. It should be the best run organization because we have a product that we believe will change people’s lives forever.”

Andy Stanley made these statements recently at the Drive Conference.

What do you think? Can the church have this kind of influence in Abilene, or in your city?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Practical Atheism...

Craig Groeschel got me thinking recently about the concept of "practical atheism." Here's a summary of Craig's ideas on this subject with some of my thoughts mixed in:

Sometimes I'm a "practical atheist."
Spiritually, I believe in God. But practically, I live as if He doesn't exist.

* If I REALLY trusted God, I wouldn't worry so much.
* If I REALLY believed it was His church and not mine, I'd sleep better.
* If I REALLY believed in prayer, I'd spend less time strategizing and more time on my knees.

Let's be honest...

* Do we believe our effort is more important than God's power?
* Do we believe our private life doesn't affect our public ministry?
* Do we believe we must please people more than we must please God?

Fill in the blanks: If I REALLY believed _____________, I'd _______________.

May God stir our hearts to live as if we really believe!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

One Verse...

If someone summarized your life with one verse of Scripture, what verse would you hope they’d use?

Making Cents...

Just how bad is inflation these days? Well, consider this: it costs the Federal Government 1.26 cents to make a penny, and almost eight cents to make a nickel.

he House recently passed a measure that would require the U.S. Mint to make both coins out of cheaper steel instead of zinc, nickel and copper, all of which have increased in price on the world markets.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Stuff Christians Like...

In case you haven't discovered Jon Acuff's blog Stuff Christians Like, I wanted to provide you with a sample of his witty, tongue-in-cheek satire with a message, snapshots of life inside the Christian bubble. Jon writes from Alpharetta, Georgia... an Atlanta mega-suburb... and he cranks out multiple posts ever day. Here's a recent post of Jon's:

Christianizing Your Facebook Profile: A How-To Guide

I am on Facebook. I have a profile that you can see. I would love to be your friend.

But one of my favorite things about Facebook is when we Christians try to "out-God" each other with our profiles. When we try to make them just a little bit holier than the profiles of our friends. It's not easy though. Creating a super Christian profile can be a confusing challenge if you're not careful. That's why I came up with this handy guide.

How to Christianize your Facebook profile:

Step 1: Your Name

Don't just use your name on your profile. Calling yourself "Mary" or "Tim" doesn't do anything for the Lord. Name your profile something like, "Forgiven1" or "WashedinBlood." Better yet, name yourself after a Bible verse so that when you send someone a message, even if they don't open it they will see they got a note from "ForGodSoLovedtheWorld."

Step 2: Status

On Facebook, you can put a little message by your name, allowing people to know where you are or what you're doing. Don't just say something like "Matt is stressed out from finals." Write something a little longer like, "Matt is stuck in the moment, the moment when my eyes will look up to the Son, the Son that's always been there for me, arms around my life, for now and evermore."

Step 3: Photos

Only posts photos from church events. And if you're church goes to the beach, or the devil's sandbox as it were, make sure you wear a tankini.

Step 4: Quotes

If you don't have a quote from CS Lewis on your profile page, I'm not sure you're a Christian. You better get right with God and add at least three or four.

Step 5: Groups

The other day someone invited me to join the "Recovering Alcoholics" group on Facebook. That was a weird request as I am not an alcoholic. I have friends that are and I sometimes speak at rehab clinics, but still, weird thing to assume. For the most part though joining a group is a great way to show your allegiance to God. Join as many as you can. Better yet, create your own.

Step 6: Applications

I hate the applications. Everyday someone is inviting me to "Download the virtual cobbler! Make your own virtual shoes that you can sell." But there has to be a good Christian application, something that lets you count up the number of people you've told about God, or make your own Jesus fish.

Step 7: Notes

Use the notes section as a way to recap in long, long detail the sermon you heard on Sunday. Spare no detail. And when you do post the note, tag all your friends so that they'll get that little "Hey you have a notification" status update. Good stuff.

Step 8: Profile Photo

What, you were just going to use a photo of yourself? You sweaty Philistine. Use a cross or a dove or better yet, a Jesus fish kicking the Darwin fish in the face.

Did I miss anything?

Friday, May 9, 2008

Having Fun With Publisher...

This image reflects my having some fun with Microsoft Publisher in attempting to visually depict the discussion that I had with Phil W. and Stephen C. yesterday afternoon. The three of us were trying to get our heads around some challenging questions related to the alignment of SoHills' Vision with our current congregational realities.

I'm a visual leaner... I think in word pictures. How about you? What's your approach to processing complex information?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

How Would You Respond?

I came across these comments on a blog recently:

"What's the deal with most modern churches? I understand the idea of local churches, but doesn't that mean a body of believers within a community (not necessarily a 'building')? And with technology the way it is nowadays, can't a community be practically anywhere?

Why do I feel guilty for not serving in my local 'building' when I know I serve others daily in my life. Why do I feel guilty for not being in a small group or always going to a service that my local 'building' coordinates when I know I hang out with other believers regularly? Why do I feel guilty when I don't give to my local 'building,' but I give money to other believers and causes that I feel led to give to?

Is the culture of the modern church one that is so singularly focused that the local church has become an institution and not a lifestyle, which I think is the way the New Testament intended it to be? I know there is a need for churches in our culture, but why do those churches make other ways seem unacceptable?"

It seems to me that the author of these words is giving us a window into the minds of people who either are frustrated members of traditional churches, or those who have rejected traditional churches and are searching for other alternatives.

How would you respond to this person?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Please, Don't Smile...

My passport expires this year, so I've begun the process of renewing it. Today's step in the renewal process was passport photos, so I headed to a nearby Kinkos to have my picture taken... in duplicate.

As the guy behind the counter motioned me toward the stool positioned in front of a white screen, I quickly and obediently took my place. He adjusted the camera, and I adjusted my smile. Realizing that duly appointed agents of various and far-flung nations would be comparing this picture to my actual face in the flesh, I decided on a faint, but still recognizable, smile. Hey... I have no desire to perpetuate the "ugly American" stereotype that I understand causes many of our international neighbors to grimace when they see us coming.

So... I'm looking into the camera with my slightly upturned lips, when the Kinkos' guy looks up and says to me, "The preferred pose is non-smiling. Think mug shot." Apparently, the keepers of the gateways into other lands want to be taken very seriously--even your passport picture must be solemnly respectful.

Well, I've never had a mug shot taken, but I have seen my share of television and movie bad guys having their mugs shot, so I hastily lost the smile. I even pondered an unhappy thought or two in order to make certain no hint of a smile crossed my mug--uhh, face.

The finished product, all two of them, looked pretty scary. (Today's Abilene-land wind had also given me a hairdo that looked like it had been pulled from a dumpster.) All I needed was a little board under my chin with the appropriate numbers and my picture would be suitable for framing at any Post Office.

Do me a favor, the next time you see me... say, "Smile!"

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Got Any Bright Ideas?

Here's an interesting quote from Guy Kawasaki, who served as an Apple Fellow at Apple Computer: "Not innovating is more dangerous than innovating. The opposite of innovation is not death; it's mediocrity. In fact, death--or a near-death experience--might be a better outcome than mediocrity because people are forced to rebuild or move on. By contrast, people can cling to mediocrity indefinitely."

It seems to me that many churches have lost their innovative edge. I'm wondering if churches are afraid to innovate because they fear they might fail, or upset someone? Someone once said “Las Vegas has nothing to say, but a million ways to say it. The church has everything to say, but fails to say it.” In the technological age we live in... with so many competing messages... what does does the church need to do to be heard above the “noise" of our culture?

Any ideas?

Monday, May 5, 2008

My Father's Aroma...

My oldest daughter, Katie Lea, graduates from ACU this Saturday. I'm so proud of both of my daughters! They are beautiful, young women.

I have a memory of a time during Katie Lea's sophomore year at ACU.
Susan and I were still living in Atlanta, and we really missed Katie Lea.

Katie Lea has been good about keeping in touch… calling us at least every other day. She usually called when she was on her way to chapel, or in the afternoon after her classes were over. She'd catch us up on what she'd been doing at school… and we'd tell her what's been happening in Atlanta.

Every now and then Katie Lea would ask that we send her something she needed. Sometimes it would be a book, or vitamins, or a dress, or a picture. One time, though, she asked for something a little different. "Dad," she said, "would you please mail me one of your shirts."

I asked her why she wanted one of my shirts… and Katie Lea replied that it wasn't to wear, it was to smell. She missed her daddy's smell. And she wanted one of my shirts that smelled like me—so she could have it to smell while she was a thousand miles away from me.

Now you may be reading this and thinking, "That's weird." But I thought it was a pretty cool request. My daughter missed me and wanted to be reminded of me… and a shirt that smelled like me would help her do that. And you better believe I got a shirt picked out and mailed to Katie Lea… and since I'd worn it (and yes, I do wash my shirts) I counted on it smelling like me.

And I remember thinking that when she'd really be missing me, Katie Lea would put that shirt on—and get wrapped up in it and the way it smelled. And I could picture someone at school asking her, "Why are you wearing that shirt?" And she'd say, "Because it gives off the scent of my daddy."

Katie Lea reminded me that I want to smell like my Father. I want other people to smell His scent through me… and I want that scent to remind them of their Father, too, and His great love for them. And I want my Father's scent on me to drift back to His nostrils.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

In Memory of Brian...

News travels fast. Throughout the afternoon today I've received calls and emails from people who wanted to make sure I'd heard that Brian King had been killed in the crash of his small airplane early Saturday evening. Brian, along with two other men, had flown from Birmingham, Alabama to a small airport in Sumter County, Georgia. They had just taken off to return home when their airplane plunged to the ground... exploding on impact. All three men died, probably instantly.

Brian was a sophomore in high school when I became his youth minister at what was then the Decatur Church of Christ in Atlanta. Graduating high school, Brian headed to Lipscomb University with plans to become a youth minister. In the summer of 1986, while still a Lipscomb student, Brian became the Decatur church's first youth ministry intern.

When he graduated from Lipscomb with a degree in youth ministry, Brian became the first member of Decatur's youth group to enter full-time ministry. Brian went on to serve a couple of churches as their youth minister, but then left full-time ministry to enter private business. He remained an advocate of youth ministry in each of the churches he subsequently attended.

It has been years since I've seen Brian. He had called me a couple of years ago when the church where he worshiped was looking for a youth minister. Brian was serving on the youth minister search committee, and he wanted to talk to me about one of their candidates. We'd caught-up a bit over the course of the phone call, and the conversation ended with our agreeing we should call each other more often. That was the last time I spoke to Brian... and then today, the calls and emails began to reach me in his stead.

As I type these words, my mind is full of memories of Brian... most too personal to share as a blog entry.
In many ways, Brian was like a little brother to me. Suffice it to say that Susan and I... along with our dear friend Don... have laughed until tears rolled down our cheeks as we recalled "Brian moments."

How do you summarize the life of a friend tragically cut short? I can't.

I just thank our good God for the ways in which my life is richer because of my having lived a portion of my years on this earth with Brian. And I ask that you pray for Brian's family and friends who, along with me, grieve his death.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

God's Ripple Effect...

A couple of very cool things have happened in the last week that remind me how God takes our mustard seed possibilities and grows them into His opportunities...

Cool story #1: Stephen Jacobs emailed me that his WATS team was joined last Sunday by the family his group had helped as part of WATS Day 2007. This family wanted to be part of serving others in the way they had been served.

And the story didn't end there. Stephen said that the lady his WATS team helped this year
asked to be part of their group for WATS Day 2009... because she also wants to serve others.

Cool story #2: I'm having breakfast on Thursday with Phil and two SoHills shepherds, when one of the shepherds mentions a conversation he'd had the day before. This shepherd related how the person he was lunching with mentioned reading a blog entry about how some people at a restaurant had involved their server in their prayer. This shepherd said that he'd loved the idea... and encouraged us to involve in our prayer the server who was about to bring us our breakfast.

I didn't mention to this shepherd that I'd written the post (Fajitas & Prayer) he was referring to. But I did smile at the radiating possibilities of God.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Death by Meeting...

Seth Godin posted this tongue-in-cheek ad on his blog yesterday. I laughed and laughed... until it was time for me to head to a meeting.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Look of Generosity...

Several years ago, the church I worked with gave a desk to a minister who had started a street ministry to the poor of our city. The desk we gave him had to be at least 25 years-old, and was missing handles and a drawer. But he was proud to have it , and we were proud to give it to him. (Hey, it was going to the dump anyway.)

Why do we give away things that we don’t really need and feel we've done something noble? Why didn't I give the guy my nice desk… which I happened to like… and replace my desk with the crummy, old desk? (Because I didn't want a crummy, old desk.)

It's similar to those of us who give all of the weird, canned goods in our pantry (pickled kumquats, etc.) to the church's food drive.
Would we give our best shirt, our favorite shoes, or our most expensive dress to the church's clothing drive?

On the other hand, I think it's pretty amazing how on April 20 the Community Christian Church in Chicago gave away their entire Sunday offering... $229, 000!

What does generosity look like in your life?