Saturday, December 25, 2010

Nativity 2.0...

This interesting video reveals what the birth of Jesus might have looked like if it happened in 2010.

Clever... and makes you think.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Emotional Endurance...

I'm becoming more convinced that one of the keys to effective leadership is what I would call emotional endurance. If you're going to make it as a leader, you have to have a high threshold for a wide variety of emotions.

Every once in a while, fellow ministers will ask me about the greatest challenge I face in church-world. Frankly, I think it's managing your emotions. You have to manage the fear and the discouragement and the anxiety. If you can't, you won't make it. But if you allow the challenging situations to build emotional endurance, you'll be prepared for even bigger challenges.

One of the things that has helped me deal with criticism and stress is my perspective. I don't particularly like criticism or stress, but I see it as building emotional endurance. And if I'm going to do bigger and better things for God, then I'm going to need more emotional endurance.

What I'm getting at is this: God wants to work in and through our emotions. He wants to build emotional endurance. And that often involves high levels of stress, or criticism, or fear, or discouragement. But if we open ourselves up to God growing us through these circumstances, then we'll become a stronger person emotionally.

One of my most challenging leadership memories is rooted in a ropes' course element described by various names: Pamper Pole, Eagle's Nest, Leap of Faith. Whatever you call it, the essence of this element is: slip on a safety harness, limb to the top of a 30' telephone pole, leap from the pole to a nearby trapeze bar. Sounds simple, right?! It's a good thing I'm 30 feet in the air because I'm usually shaking so bad prior to leaping that my knocking knees are making quite a racket. But I look back at these kind of situations that were clearly outside my comfort zone and they built emotional endurance. I was able to step into a high pressure situation with a little more confidence the next time around.

May God give us thick skin and a soft heart.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Be Good At Something Different...

In ministry, most churches and leaders try to be good at what everyone else is good at doing. We’re trying to improve our preaching, youth groups, children’s curriculum, worship, campus ministry, etc.

The problem is that we’re not blessed with the same gifts or called to the same types of ministries. Why not give ourselves permission to be good at something that few other churches and leaders are striving to do?

Maybe we can be phenomenal at doing a sports ministry with immigrant kids in local apartment complexes, sponsoring parties for mentally challenged people in your community, or impacting the world through mentoring the next generation of Kingdom leaders. Maybe we’re called to serving our community with radical generosity, doing evangelism through Facebook, or leveraging your wealthy suburban church to support the planting of a church in another city's inner city.

Rather than being good at the usual ministries... what if we attempted to be good at something we’re uniquely positioned to do. Be good at something different!

What is something different you (or your ministry) can do?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Convicted Civility...

"One of the real problems in modern life is that the people who are good at being civil often lack strong convictions, and people who have strong convictions often lack civility." - Martin Marty

We need both a civil outlook and a "passionate intensity" about our convictions... thus, a "convicted civility."

Monday, October 11, 2010

To Scoot Or Not To Scoot...

This recent post by Jon Acuff made me laugh. No one casts a more entertaining and knowledgeable eye on church-world than Jon. And as someone who has stood at the microphone and asked people to "Please scoot to the middle," I'm intrigued with the whole scoot or no scoot conversation.

There are two types of people in the world: those who will sit in a seat that’s not theirs at an event and those who won't.

I am in the "won't" category. If I have tickets for the nosebleed section at a concert, that's where I sit. I can't sneak down front and sit in better seats without constantly thinking the rightful owner of that seat is about to show up at any moment. And he's probably an Ultimate Fighter with his concealed weapon permit.

Plus, when you get caught you have to pretend you didn't know you're $10 tickets didn't permit you to sit on the front row. "Wait a second, this is row #1? Let me look at my ticket. Oh, would you look at that! I'm in row #1,000. Simple mistake on my part. Whoops!"

I can't do it. I can't be that guy, which is why I like the seating arrangement at most churches. No one has a ticket. Each Sunday morning is a seat free for all. And it all comes to a head when one of the ministers or elders says one thing:

"Please scoot to the middle so people who just got here can squeeze in."

But every time I hear that phrase three things go through my head:

1. The scoot rewards bad behavior.

I got here early. I've got the end of the aisle on lockdown. If I scoot, people who come late are going to be rewarded for their late behavior. Like a hamster receiving a delicious nut when it presses a lever, they'll associate lateness with primo end of aisle seating. That's perpetuating bad behavior.

2. Can we all vote on a better word than "scoot"?

"Scoot" sounds like a cartoon, make-em up word from Ponyville, the home of My Little Pony. That's a word I want Papa Smurf saying, not one of my church's leaders. I say we change scoot, to "slide." That sounds cool and almost like a hip hop move or a wedding dance that your crazy Aunt always does at the reception.

3. Is this a Boundaries moment?

In their book, "Boundaries," Cloud and Townsend detail healthy boundaries we all need to draw in our lives when it comes to personal relationships and the way we let people treat us. Is there anyway that when someone comes to my aisle and tries to get me to slide, I can just say, "Sorry dude, boundaries?"

4. This is the only place on the planet where the scoot works.

Try to get someone to scoot at a high school football game. Or in a Starbucks. With your coffee and a smile, just walk up to a hip couch and say to a stranger, "Will you please scoot to the middle?" That probably won't be awkward.

5. Can I rescoot if no one comes?

If I do scoot and no one comes, can I rescoot or descoot and claim my previously surrender seat territory? Does that make someone I scooted next to in the middle feel smelly? It's not that they're smelly, they might be wearing Coolwater cologne for all I know, but I like I little space between me and the next guy, a "Baptist buffer" if you will. Can I rescoot?

Fortunately, you are not like me. You will not think these things in church. You do not spend moments of your life thinking about the consequences of "scooting." I'm proud of you, I really am.

But be honest, do you scoot when called upon to scoot?

Monday, October 4, 2010

How Should A Christian Respond To Bad Customer Service...

Ron Edmondson got me thinking about a Christian's example in the marketplace with this recent post. Should Christ-followers complain about bad customer service, or accept whatever kind of service we receive with a smile?

As a former business owner, I am a huge proponent for treating a customer well. I don’t know that I would say the customer is always right, but the goal should certainly be that they leave feeling good about their experience. Customer service is the front door of any business (or church). Because of that, I tip well, I express appreciation and I always have a desire to make the waiter or waitresses day better, not worse than before I came. I want to encourage and reward good service and I realize that there could always be personal reasons why a person gives bad service on a particular day. I am always perplexed, however, as to the way to respond when I receive bad service.

One night this week, my small group ate together at a local restaurant. From our first encounter, we knew our waiter did not want to be there. He was obviously impatient and snappy with his responses. It wasn’t the worst customer service I’ve ever received, but it was obviously not one of the best. When a large group recognizes the tension in a waiter, it’s probably a good indicator that service is less than excellent. It reminded me, especially with the pressure of my small group around me, that I don’t always know how to respond.

What kind of customer should a Christian be?

Do Christians have a right to complain when their service is bad?

If the waiter or waitress is rude, do we turn the other cheek, or speak the truth in love? Do you tip for bad service and for good? Do you talk to the manager?

How do you respond to bad service... whether it be a restaurant server, your dentist, a customer service representative at a local store, or the person on the other end of the line when you dial a company's customer service department?

Monday, September 27, 2010

No One Cares About Your Church...

Tim Schraeder shared the following thoughts recently. I can't say that I agree with everything Tim writes, or that I would have said this exactly the way he did. But Tim made me think. And I'm thinking it's a good thing when people make us think about what it means to be church.

I'm sorry to say it so harshly but it's true... no one cares about your church.

Look at recent polls, church attendance, or even watch the news and it's fairly obvious... people don't care about the church or what we have to say anymore. We've lost credibility for some legitimate reasons. And don't chalk me up to being a church-basher, I passionately care about the church, I'm just saying what's true and what some of us might not want to admit.

The church has moved from the center of our Western culture and while some fight to keep it in the public square others of us are realizing the greatest way we can impact culture is by being on the periphery.

Christianity at its core has always been about counter-cultural, so why in the world do we try to be perceived as being relevant by looking just like the culture around us?

We've cheapened the Gospel by trying to be accepted at a great cost. The emerging generation can see right through the charade. We've created a machine out of what was always meant to be a movement. We've organized something that was meant to be organic. We've franchised something that was meant to be localized. We've put CEOs in the seats of what was meant to be a spiritual office and treated salvation like a commodity. We made an idol out of our methods.

And to try and fix everything we've thought marketing it to look like a cheap version of everything else in culture was a good idea.

Here's two truths: people don't like the church and people don't trust advertising. Why use a mechanism people don't trust to promote something they don't care about?

I'm not trying to paint a picture of gloom and doom, I am just saying it how it is. I have great hope for the Church and believe that it does matter and believe the church has a great future ahead of it... we've just got to make some adjustments.

I think we have a great new opportunity to reintroduce Jesus, the Gospel and the church to a world and culture that has been weary of what they've seen and heard.

The next generation is tired of gimmicks they want something real and authentic. They want to be known. They want community. They want a sense of belonging. They want to be a part of something that is bigger than themselves. They want to be significant. They want to be a part of the Church they read about in Acts but have only seen poor reflections of in today's world.

More than anything they want to give themselves to cause that is greater than they are. Why do you think movements like TOMS Shoes, To Write Love on Her Arms, LIVESTRONG, charity: water, the one campaign or any of the big social movements that are out there today exist and have so much popularity?

They are all doing great work and doing tremendous good, yes. But they are telling a compelling story. They are giving people the opportunity to make a difference. They give people the chance to do something that matters. They are sadly, doing the work the church has been neglecting.

When you r
eally care about what people care about, things happen.

When churches rally around the needs of their communities and are actually outward focused, truly living for something outside of themselves, that's when change happens and that is when the church matters in culture.

To truly care about the things that matter to people is to truly live out the Gospel. God is all about people. And what matters to people matters to God.

We've been too focused on ourselves, our numbers, our growth, our success, and at the expense of a generation that's looking for a cause to believe in and give themselves to.

I can't think of a better cause to give my life to than the cause of the local church and I think while we live in a culture that doesn't care about church we have an amazing opportunity to redefine what church means and what it means to be a follower of Christ.

When we sing or pray the words
break my heart for what breaks Yours, we are really asking God to allow us the opportunity to see the world through His eyes.

We'll never earn the right to be heard in culture by screaming on street corners or by having a slick ad campaign. We earn the right to be heard by caring about the things that people care about and ultimately the things the move the heart of God.

Stop trying to promote and market your church. It hasn't been working and it won't. Stop trying to make people care about something they've already decided isn't worth their time or attention.

Start listening. Start looking around you. Listen to the cries of people in your community and start responding with the love of Christ. See through His eyes. Earn the right to be heard. Be Jesus hands and feet. Do good. Care about what people care about. Be Jesus and the church to your community.

The church isn't an organization or a building, it's people.

When you truly care about what people care about and prove it, people will care about you and what you have to say.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Church Is Not A Building...

Church is not a building. Church is not an event that takes place only on Sundays. But listen to our language:

"I go to First Church."

"We are members at Second Church."

"Is it time to go to church?"

Church as a building is never how the Bible uses the term. When the Bible talks about church, it means
community. The little fellowships of the heart that are outposts of the Kingdom. A shared life. They worship together, eat together, pray for one another, go on quests together. They hang out together, in each others' homes. When Peter is sprung from prison, "He went to the house of Mary the mother of John where many people had gathered and were praying." (Acts 12:12)

Any time an army goes to war or an expedition takes to the field, it breaks down into little platoons and squads. And
every chronicle of war or quest will tell you that the men and women who fought so bravely fought for each other. That's where the acts of heroism and sacrifice take place, because that's where the devotion is. You simply can't be devoted to a mass of people; devotion takes place in small units, just like a family.

We have stopped short of being an organization; we are an organism instead, a living and spontaneous association of individuals who know one another intimately, care for each other deeply, and feel a kind of respect for one another that makes rules and bylaws unnecessary. A group is the right size, I would guess, when each member can pray for every other member, individually and by name.

This is the wisdom of Brother Andrew, who smuggled Bibles into communist countries for decades. It's the model, frankly, of the church in nearly every country but the U.S. Now, I'm not suggesting you don't do whatever it is you do on Sunday mornings. I'm simply helping you accept reality - that whatever else you do, you
must have a small fellowship to walk with you and fight with you and bandage your wounds.

Church is not a building.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Majestic Plastic Bag...

What's not to like about this mockumentary?

I'm pretty sure I saw this curious creature in my yard recently.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Be Unreasonable...

I found this recent post by Craig Groeschel to be, well... unreasonable, and convicting.

I bet you have heard this many times… "Be reasonable."

Truthfully, under many circumstances, "Be reasonable" is sound advice—but not always.

As Christians, there are times to be unreasonable.

- When you pray, you might ask God to do something most consider impossible or unreasonable. Pray unreasonable prayers.

- When you seek God, He might lead you to do something others consider undoable. Empowered by God, do unreasonable things.

- When you lead, some people might think you’re making unreasonable demand. Lead passionately and pull unreasonable results out of reasonable people.

Being unreasonable all the time would certainly be a mistake. But if you aren’t being unreasonable every now and then, you probably aren't being led by faith.

Friday, September 10, 2010

My Friend Charlie...

I learned yesterday that my friend, Charlie Walton, has ALS. ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, is a progressive and degenerative disease that attacks the nerve cells controlling voluntary muscle movement. There is no cure for ALS.

Charlie paid his bills as a writer. But when he wasn't word mongering (that's how he described himself), Charlie invested time as a mentor and friend in younger people like me. In fact, for almost two years... Charlie, Don Davis and I met every Wednesday for lunch to enjoy a three vegetable special, bad jokes and Charlie's wisdom.

Like I said, Charlie was a writer. He was also well acquainted with grief. Life had dealt Charlie some tough hands. And yet Charlie allowed his personal journey through the valley of the shadow of death to serve as a guide for others walking that path. I've given Charlie's book, When There Are No Words, to grieving parents and children... and allowed Charlie to do what he does best, be available if you need him.

I'm confident Charlie is facing ALS with the same deep faith and trust in God he reflected in his book, Packing For The Big Trip. Humor has always been one of Charlie's greatest gifts... he could turn a phrase and make you smile quicker than anyone I've ever met.

As I sat thinking about my friend this morning, I paged through another of Charlie's books: Laying It On The Line With God. Here's one of his prayers in this book Charlie lets us listen in on:

This body, Father, is so much in the way when I try to concentrate on you. I really like my body... Your design is wonderful and testifies to your divinity. But I am so attached to it that its aches and pains and positions get in the way of my communication with you. Help me to grow and mature, Father, to lessen the hold that my physical body has over my spiritual self. Get me ready for the brand new body you have promised. I can't wait to put it on, Lord. -- Charlie

Thank you, Charlie, for helping me see God's smile more clearly.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Ready Or Not...

I recently walked into a restaurant very early in the lunch hour. Looking around the room I saw... well, nothing. Lots of open tables. But still I was told "give me just a couple of minutes and we'll have a table for you." I could see at least 100 seating options... but still I waited.

As I sat down I wiped bread crumbs from the table into the floor and thought "This doesn't make sense. There's no way there have been other customers in here for lunch already." Of course, the crumbs had to have been left over from the night before... which meant the tables hadn't been wiped off. I then learned that the tea was still brewing and the rolls were not warm enough to serve yet.

The bottom-line: The restaurant and its staff were not ready for me. They weren't expecting customers... at least, not a customer arriving as early as I did.

I'm thinking there's a pretty solid application here to church? Is it apparent that when we open the doors of our church buildings we are expecting new people? Here are some simple ways to communicate "Welcome! We've been expecting you!"

+ Leave the most convenient parking spaces for guests.

+ Move to the center of the row, leaving the aisle seats open.

Greet people around you... even if you're not an "official" greeter.

When a church's guests show up will they think: "Yikes! I've
crashed a party I wasn't invited to attend." Or will it be: "Wow! They act like they are expecting me... and they seem glad I'm here."

Friday, August 27, 2010

Putting A Lid On Gossip...

Ron Edmondson had a great post recently regarding seven suggestions for putting a stop to gossip. Knowing how destructive gossip can be in lives and relationships, I felt Ron's thoughts were worth repeating.

In my job, I hear far more junk than I care to hear. The larger our church gets, the more mess we encounter among the people to whom we minister. We have designed our church to reach hurting people, so we are simply reaching our target audience, but some days it is more difficult than others to hear such sad stories.

One part of the drama of messiness that always frustrates me is how gossip begins about other people’s problems. As if dealing with the consequences of sin is not enough, many times some of the hardest repercussion is the gossip that occurs about the people involved and the situation that occurred. I have been the victim of unfair gossip and I know the pain it can cause. I have never found gossip to be helpful to the people involved or to the Kingdom of God. I have literally become a hater of gossip because I have seen it destroy so many people! Gossip hurts innocent people who are caught in the middle, it exaggerates the situation, and it keeps the one who did wrong loaded with guilt and frustration, and from experiencing the fullness of God’s grace. (Consider these passages: Proverbs 11:13, Proverbs 16:28, Proverbs 20:19, Proverbs 26:20, Romans 1:29, 2 Corinthians 12:20, 1 Timothy 5:13... the Bible talks a great deal about this...)

With that in mind, here are seven suggestions for how to stop, or at least slow, the spread of gossip. Will you consider each and take them personal? If the shoe fits will you wear it? Together, perhaps we can help stop the deadly spread of this harmful virus!

1) Don’t repeat something you don’t know is true firsthand... secondhand knowledge is not enough to justify repeating. You will get something wrong and it will hurt others.

2) Don’t repeat unless its helpful to do so and you have a vested interest in the situation, the people involved, and permission to share... doing so in the name of a prayer request is not a good excuse...

3) Don’t “confess” other people’s sins. Even if the wrong included you and you feel the need to confess, share your story, but not someone else's.

4) If you must tell, and have passed the test on the first three suggestions, tell only what happened and not your commentary or "I think this is probably what happened" or why you think it happened...

5) Choose to pray for others every time you are tempted to tell their story... instead of telling their story...

6) When someone tells you something you don’t need to know, don’t allow curiosity to be your guide... follow your heart. Stop the person and tell them you don’t want to know! Remember, if they will spread gossip about others they will spread it about you!

7) Keep the circle of confession limited to the people involved or to no more than needed for accountability purposes. The wider the circle and the more the story is repeated the more likely things will turn into gossip.

If my tone seems intent it’s because I am. I have little patience for gossips. My desire is to see people who live in holy and healthy community together. Gossip is a betrayer of this becoming reality.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Five Years After Hurricane Katrina...

This Sunday, August 29, is my sweet wife's birthday. It will be a day of celebration!

Sunday will also mark the 5th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina making landfall on the Gulf Coast. And five years after Katrina there will also be cause for celebration.

Realizing that a huge swath of Mississippi and Louisiana felt the devastating effects of Katrina, the Storm (as its come to be know) had a personal effect on me due to my ties to the city of New Orleans. While growing up I had lived in the city for five years, and as a youth minister in Atlanta I'd led several mission teams to New Orleans over a period of several years to serve alongside the Carrollton Avenue church. Additionally, some of our my dearest friends live in New Orleans.

Therefore, when the news reports five years ago began to describe the catastrophe that had befallen New Orleans, I felt a heavy heart-tug toward the city and its residents. I've told people that when my family moved from New Orleans I was ready to leave the city-- I had fallen out of love with New Orleans. But seeing the images of the devastation the Storm had wrought on the city... well, for me it was like seeing a crazy relative you didn't particularly like sprawled on the floor after taking a nasty fall. Your heart aches for them, and you see them in a very different way. The Storm helped me rediscover my love for New Orleans.

Now, five years after the Storm, my love affair with the city and its people has blossomed. And a big part of that heart revival on my part has been spurred by the Carrollton Avenue church and its resurgence.

I remain deeply grateful that my elders at Southern Hills immediately responded to the devastation Katrina wracked on New Orleans by making a two-year commitment to stand alongside Carrollton Avenue church in providing resources... reflecting both people and financial support. I'm especially indebted to the many ACU students who've traveled with me to New Orleans over the past five years, and who've served the people of the city so selflessly.

And I celebrate, five years after the Storm, the rebirth and revival of the Carrollton Avenue church... and its offspring, the Holly Grove church. Hurricane Katrina wrecked a church building, but God re-built a church in New Orleans. I've been overwhelmed by both the faith of the Carrollton Avenue church, and even more so by the faithfulness of God.
Great things have been done in that city... and great things are still to be done.

So... this Sunday, as I celebrate sweet Susan's birthday, I'll be celebrating another anniversary. And both will indeed be celebrations, for both have been to me great gifts from our good God!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Baptizing vs. Making Followers...

Having grown up within the faith tradition of Churches of Christ, I've been nurtured on the imperative to teach people about Jesus and to rejoice as they seal that relationship with him in the waters of baptism. I believe that imperative is biblical and fundamental to our living as Christ-followers.

What gives me pause is my sense that we often feel (or act) as if our responsibility has ended when the new Christian steps dripping out of the waters of baptism. Walking alongside the newly minted believer, encouraging them in their walk with Jesus... especially as they encounter the inevitable bumps on the road of that journey, and continuing to mentor and teach them--well, that's hard work. And it involves significant commitment on the part of older, more mature Christian brothers and sisters.

It's been my observation we consider this
"disciple making" will somehow happen routinely in the on-going of the new believer's relationship with church. But from my vantage point over the several years I've spent in church world, this often doesn't happen.

More often than not, when we leave baby Christ-followers to fend for themselves, they don't fend very well. And before too many months have passed, many of these new Christians who are still noted in the church's statistical record have been reclaimed by the world.

The bottom line: we are called not just to baptize people, but to walk alongside them and help them grow into followers/disciples of Jesus. Isn't that the Kingdom imperative Jesus is commissioning us with in Matthew: 28:19-20?

"So go and make f
ollowers of all people in the world. Baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach them to obey everything that I have taught you..."

Don't misunderstand... I'm not suggesting we stop baptizing people. I'm just referencing the words of Jesus and being re-convicted that he is calling us to more than just getting people into the water of baptism. Jesus expects us to commit to the long walk of disciple-making as new believers step out of the water and back into the world.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Visual Poetry...

Every picture paints a word... and every word paints a picture.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Some Things Seem Obvious...

Maybe it's just me... but I thought driving a car and keeping one's eyes open went together like peanut butter and jelly. Apparently, the folks who felt the need for this sign do not see things that way.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Twenty Five Hours...

I borrowed much of this post from Pete Wilson... editing Pete's words to better fit my current season of life.

Does anyone else feel like they need just one more hour in the day?

Ever wish that there were more hours in a day and more days in a week? I’m sure you know the feeling. I sure do.

It astonishes me how quickly time passes and I’m often left wondering, "Where did that day go?"

I've found myself recently, on more than one occasion, telling different people in my life "I wish I just had one more hour in my day."

So I thought it would be fun to ask you: "If you had one extra hour every day... how would you spend it?"

Me? Easy. I would
clean out our backyard pond every day. (Just kidding.)

With one extra hour I would invest it in my relationship with Susan. I’m blown away by how many changes we're dealing with at the moment, and all that we've got going on. I’m in one of the busiest seasons of my life and I just don’t want to shortchange the investment I want to be making in my wife, the love of my life. That’s what I would do with my extra hour.

So... what would you do with your extra hour?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Permanent Solutions To Temporary Problems...

I was challenged by this passage and the wisdom behind it from a recent post by Todd Henry:

"The more structures we have to navigate in order to do our work, the more difficult it is to do our best work. When we are required to resolve the dissonance of complex systems, reporting relationships and accountability structures just in order to get our objectives and check off our direction we will begin to lose our drive to do brilliant work. Over time, this complexity only pulls entire organizations toward systematic mediocrity

Friday, July 30, 2010

An African Wedding In West Texas...

Linda Bailey wrote the following article for ACU's on-line edition of The Optimist. Linda does a great job of capturing the wonderful spirit of hospitality, love and family that flowed throughout the weekend of Serge and Esperance's wedding. Katie Lea is missing from the picture (above) that ran with the article because she was looking for an umbrella to shade us from the sun.

The gymnasium at South Side Baptist Church was transformed into an African village on Friday afternoon, the first day of the traditional African wedding ceremony of ACU student Serge Gasore to Esperance Namuseke Gasore.

The entire wedding spanned two days and incorporated both American and African traditions.

In August 2005, Serge came to ACU from Rwanda to study and run track and cross-country. Now in graduate school, Serge is studying global information technology. Esperance will attend Cisco College in the fall. Originally from the Congo, she and her family later fled to Rwanda. Two years ago, the family moved to Abilene as refugees.

Serge wanted to have the wedding in Africa, but Esperance’s family thought it would be best to for the couple to travel back to Africa only after they were married. To keep everyone happy, Serge agreed to have a traditional African wedding ceremony in Abilene.

"I love her so much so I said I’ll do everything I would do back home," Serge said.

He said they will move back to Rwanda in two years after he finishes his schooling in the U.S.

Serge's father wasn’t able to make the trip to the U.S. for the wedding, but his aunt traveled to Abilene from Rwanda. An uncle and a close friend, both originally from Rwanda but living in Haiti, were also able to join Serge’s other family and friends for the wedding ceremonies.

On Friday, the two-day wedding began with a dowry ceremony. Caroline Conwell, senior business management major at ACU, said this is traditionally the most important ceremony in the entire wedding. It is during this ceremony that the bride’s family officially gives her to the groom, Conwell said. Through a series of role-plays, the two families barter for the bride. Serge’s family gave the Namuseke family 12 cows as a dowry.

Conwell’s family has known Serge for about five years. Serge spent a lot of time with the Conwells during summer vacations and holidays because he couldn’t make the long trip home. He eventually became part of the family, Conwell said. Because of their close relationship, the Conwells attended the ceremony as part of Serge’s family.

The dowry ceremony was performed primarily in Kinyarwanda, a tribal African language. A translator was present to translate both the words and traditions to English speakers. Participants in the ceremony wore mostly traditional African apparel, but some of men wore more western-looking suits.

It wasn't until the end of the ceremony that Serge finally saw his fiancée. After Esperance's family had officially given the couple permission to be married, four female dancers, several children and a group of girls walked into the middle of the aisle. The girls surrounded Esperance as she sat in a chair, then moved out of the way to let Serge greet his bride. She gave him a traditional headband, and the couple sat at the end of the aisle. The ceremony concluded with a traditional African meal for everyone in attendance.

On Saturday afternoon, the wedding took an American turn when the couple was married at Southern Hills Church of Christ in a short ceremony complete with tuxes, bridesmaids, groomsmen, and an elegant white dress. The American customs continued during an afternoon reception at Southern Hills following the ceremony. The reception included hamburgers, hot dogs, chips, and a tiered wedding cake complete with a bride and groom cake topper.

"I like the way America does their things, and that’s why I’m going to do a little bit American, and I like the way they do it back home. It's kind of like half-half," Serge said. "When you read a book about communication, you have to adapt to that culture to be able to be in both cultures."

After several speeches and a few traditional African dances by Friday’s four female dancers, the party moved to the 6th Street Center in downtown Abilene.

At the beginning of the reception downtown, guests entered the dimly lit room in single file carrying gifts for the bride and groom. Traditionally, the bride's family leaves near the beginning of the ceremony to tell their village about the wedding. In keeping with tradition, Serge’s family escorted the Esperance's family out of the reception. After a quick outfit change, Serge and Esperance rejoined the party, where family members and guests of all ages danced to traditional African music to celebrate the newest addition to Gasore family.

"My favorite thing was the dancing on Saturday night," Conwell said. "The celebration was just so fun and everything was just so different from American culture. You could tell it was a celebration of them coming together and the families were so excited."

Even after the weekend’s celebrations, the ceremony isn't quite finished. When he and Esperance move back to Rwanda in two years, Serge said, there will be another ceremony to introduce Esperance as his wife.

Monday, July 26, 2010

New Or Old Evangelism...

An article in USA Today’s “Faith & Reason” section caught my eye recently. The article was titled "Believers Reluctant to Evangelize Family or Friends." The article's author, Cathy Lynn Grossman, makes two very challenging observations:

+ Churches are not creating new believers, they are just attracting more Christians.

+ Becoming a parent does not change attitudes toward spirituality– which reverses the assumption that once couples become parents they are more likely to become part of a church.

Grossman concludes that what she calls the "bait and switch" evangelism technique is ineffective, and Christians need to find a new, or better, way to share their faith with friends and family (to clarify, Grossman would describe "bait and switch" tactics as things like inviting your neighbor to a social gathering–without telling her you’re going to present the Gospel).

A self-described "recovering evangelical" Jim Henderson, shares an alternative. Are you ready for this?

"…get to know people, become their friends and let the spiritual chips fall where they may."

Call me crazy, but I don't think there’s anything new about this kind of evangelism. In fact, it would be more accurate to call it the Old Evangelism. As I look through the Gospels, I see Jesus getting to know people like Zacchaeus, the Samaritan woman, Martha, Mary and Lazarus... not to mention his disciples, and meeting their relational and spiritual needs.

On the other side of the coin, Jesus, Peter and Paul preached evangelical messages to large crowds. So, I don’t think we can say there’s only one right way to evangelize. I just don’t want to let friendship become an excuse for not telling someone about Jesus. Likewise, I don’t want any kind of "come-to Jesus" strategies to sabotage a relationship.

What do you think? Do we need a new or old evangelism? Do we just live our beliefs and hope people get it? Or do we lay out the "Five Finger Plan of Salvation" for our friends and family? What has experience taught you?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Every Little Step Counts...

The following post by Joel J. Miller offered me in the midst of a crazy busy day some much needed perspective. Read Joel's words and be encouraged.

In movies the hero runs headlong up against a problem, something that threatens his peace, safety, and happiness. If the screenwriter is at all talented, we quickly sympathize. We have troubles of our own, after all, and our sympathy and identification increase as the story intensifies. Every twist and turn of the plot worsens our hero’s position to the problem until, when all appears most dire, he finally prevails. The problem is resolved and peace, safety, and happiness are restored. The hero triumphs. All is well. We breathe easy.

It's a hopeful and satisfying formula. It presents a picture of life that has certain, limited conflicts that can be definitively overcome, in which there’s real justice, real healing, real finality to evil and toil and trouble. That's what we want. We pine for that point when we no longer have to struggle against the myriad besetting troubles of the day, when we can cease worrying and stressing and striving. We crave that singular, momentous victory at the close of Act 3 which rescues all of our imperiled peace, safety, and happiness, when we triumph, all is well, and we can breathe easy.

Pardon the moment of negativity, but real life is snickering. There are no certain, limited conflicts that can be definitively overcome. There are untold millions of them, one after another, several all at once. And no matter what you do, they just keep coming. If you make your numbers in July, you have to do it again in August and September and October. If you take superlative care of Customer A, Customers B, C, D, E, F, and G are waiting on hold, annoyed by the music, and wondering why you haven’t helped them yet. Meanwhile you've got bills to pay, discipline issues with the kids, a spouse who feels neglected or exhausted or restless or bored or all of the above.

There is good news coming, but hang with me here a bit longer. The illusion of the formula is doubly problematic when it affects our spiritual life, when we think that we will at some point (hopefully in the very near future) reach a place of total peace without struggle, of quickly answered prayer, effortless worship, sunbeams, and butterflies. The truth is that the Christian life is marked by crosses, by thorns in the side, by sacrifice. There's a reason that historically, traditionally, our heroes are all martyrs, men and women famous not for taking up their winnings but laying down their lives.

Real life—physical, spiritual, everything—is composed of innumerable, endless challenges. John Bunyan's analogy works because it's true to life. Christian didn't get beamed to the Celestial City. The story is the journey, not the end. And our personal pilgrim's progress is no different.

Philip of Neri said it well: “One should not wish to become a saint in four days but step by step.”

The steps imply work. They also imply patience. It's going to take time and attention. It’s going to take involvement in the little things, work in the small corners of our lives. We're not going to slay a few dragons and then settle down. There are always more dragons.

All of those frustrations in work and personal life, family and faith, wherever we confront them, are part of our sanctification. They are part of our journey toward holiness. They are the steps we trod. The wonderful truth hidden in this realization is that every little thing greatly matters. It all has significance, the deadlines, the soccer practice, traffic tickets, marriage conflicts, skinned knees, oil changes, all of it. We don't need to experience a singular, defining triumph to win in life. We’re not going to get one anyway. We are given a million little steps that bring us closer to God.

"Take this thorn from me," says Paul.

"Leave it be," says God. "It’s enough that you have my grace."

The deeper hope we can take away from the classic movie formula is that there really is an end, a victory, a Celestial City, an eschaton in which all the foes are turned into friends or turned to their judgment. But while we take hope in that final triumph, our days are filled with little steps. I pray for enough grace to give thanks for each one.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

New Device Desirable, Old Device Undesirable...

This tongue-in-cheek "news" article by the clever folks at The Onion made me smile... and cringe... and think... as it thumped me on some of my consumeristic tendencies.

With the recent introduction of the latest technology, millions of consumers proceeded to their nearest commercial centers in hopes of acquiring the latest, and therefore most desirable, personal device.

"The new device is an improvement over the old device, making it more attractive for purchase by all Americans," said Thomas Wakefield, a spokesperson for the large conglomerate that manufactures the new device. "The old device is no longer sufficient. Consumers should no longer have any use or longing for the old device."

Added Wakefield, "The new device will retail for $395."

Able to remain operational for longer periods of time and occupy a demonstrably smaller three-dimensional space, the new device is so advanced when compared to the old device that it makes the old device appear much older than it actually is. However, the new device is reportedly not so radically different as to cause confusion or unwanted anxiety among those familiar with the feel of the old device.

"Its higher price indicates to me that it is superior, and that not everyone will be able to afford it, which only makes me want to possess it more," said Tim Sturges, owner of the old device, which he obtained 18 months ago when it was still the new device. "I feel a strong urge to purchase the new device. Owning the new device will please me and improve my daily life."

"It's difficult to remember how I ever found enjoyment in my old device," Sturges continued. "It is no longer appealing to the eye."

In addition to aesthetic and technological enhancements, manufacturers claim the new device comes equipped with a wide range of desirable features, including fewer buttons for pressing down and holding; a new wire for connecting to larger, less-portable devices; and fewer device-related errors and frustrations.

The new device will also be available in blue.

"Not only will I be able to perform tasks faster than before, but my new device will also inform those around me that I am a successful individual who is up on the latest trends," said Rebecca Hodge, whose executive job allowed her to line up for several hours in the middle of the day in order to obtain the previously unavailable item. "Its attractiveness and considerable value are, by extension, my attractiveness and considerable value."

Consumer Robert Larson agreed. "I'm going to take my new device wherever I go," said Larson, holding the expensive item directly in the eyeline of several reporters. "That way no one on the street, inside the elevator, or at my place of business will ever mistake me for the sort of individual who does not own the new device."

Added Larson, "The new device brings me satisfaction."

Despite the visible excitement among most consumers, some claimed to be exercising caution, choosing instead to sit back and wait for a newer version of the new device to be released before making a purchase.

"True, it appeals to my most basic insecurities, but this new device will ultimately be replaced by a newer device, rendering it completely undesirable and utterly repellent to my personal tastes," device-enthusiast Ryan Janosch said. "Also, I should start saving my money for the next latest device, which will replace the newer new device a couple months after that."

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Non-Manipulative Intentionality...

Several months ago I read an intriguing book titled, "The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University" by Kevin Roose. Roose was a freshman at Brown University who transferred to Liberty University for a semester to "observe evangelical Christians." It was a fascinating read.

After reading "The Unlikely Disciple," I came across a book by Jim Henderson called "Evangelism Without Additives: What if Sharing Your Faith Meant Just Being Yourself?" Henderson uses a phrase in his book that stuck with me, especially after reading Kevin Roose’s book. Henderson said that what Christians need to become better at is "non-manipulative intentionality." What a great phrase!

I'm thinking what Henderson meant could be summed up in how we would answer this question if asked by a friend: "If I don’t become a Christian, can we still be friends?"

To some degree, I think Christians, me included, have loved our doctrine more than we have loved people. Non-manipulative intentionality requires us to love people, and not think of them or ourselves as failures if they don't become Christians.

It doesn't mean we stop praying. It doesn't mean we water down our beliefs.

It does mean we love them by intentionally being their friend, first and foremost.

How have you answered a question like this with your friends who aren't Christians? And how can we become better at non-manipulative intentionality?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The 2010 NOLA "Let's Go!" Team...

Here's the official team picture of the 2010 NOLA "Let's Go!" team (minus the two team members who were in the restroom when the official team photo was being taken). It was a privilege and blessing serve alongside this talented group of Christ-followers.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Here's a great post by Tom Shefchunas that challenged me as a leader.

I was once told that a definition of leadership was "letting people down at a rate that they can stand."
In some ways I get that. I think there is a bit more to it but… for sure… one of my jobs as a leader is saying “no.” I say it all the time.

Here’s my problem... I love saying "yes." I'm still a people pleaser.

And, though I say "yes" too often, I still say "no" all the time for various reasons.

Most of the time it’s not that the idea wasn't any good…though that happens.

It’s not that we don't have the budget… though that happens.

It’s not that I simply don’t want to do that… though that happens too… just ask my staff.

Most of the time when I say "no" it is simply a "trust" issue.

And that is not what you think it is either. It’s not that I don’t "trust" the person or the idea…

It’s that I want to be trusted…

I want to run a department that is trusted…

I want to be a person that is trusted.

Here's my tension – I want to be trustworthy and I want to please people.

Here's my hard truth – I can’t do both.

I simply have too many people making requests of me. If I say "yes" to all… I'm lying to somebody.

Part of being trustworthy is being worthy of trust.

Being trustworthy does not mean your perfect. It does mean that you do what you say your going to do, and when you don’t, you "own it."
There’s a slight addition to this though... you ready?

Don’t be the guy who constantly has to "own it."
When you constantly don’t come through, even though you admit it… you’re still not trustworthy.

So, the next time someone asks for something that is too much, fight the urge to say "yes" to please the person. You are really making a choice between disappointing someone and losing trust with someone.

It is better to disappoint than to lose trust. A good leader under promises... all the time!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Vampires & Surgeons...

I thought this was an imaginative and insightful post by Brett Trapp. Lots to think about is this parable.

Our life is a story of growth. From diapers to school naps to multiplication tables and so on. Under the cupped hands of school and family, we bloom. We grow. We grow up.

But along the way, we bump up against vampires.

Vampires—negative people intent on draining us of life, hope and optimism. They’re the bully in the gym, the gossip in the girls’ bathroom, the soured-on-life co-worker. Vampires come and they go, but they never really go away. They move with us, lurking from lifestage to lifestage. Sometimes disguised as friends and even family, they stand in the shadows of our greatest moments—arms crossed, jealous toe tapping. And when our shining moment fades and the lights dim, they track us down in the parking lot, only to remind us of our pimples, hiccups, and scars.

And these vampires do real damage. Their words stick, clinging to our souls and thrashing around in our minds months and years and decades later.

And then one day we meet a cheerleader. Ahh… the anti-vampire. Her face is warm. She’s cute and has a pony-tail. Her words soothe, encourage, affirm. She’s our 5th grade teacher, or a smiling face from church, or college buddy who loves life. The cheerleaders of life tell us everything we want to believe about ourselves. That we’re good-looking and funny and that we smell good. Not only are they present during our shining moments, they’re actually the ones helping create them, toe-touching and fist-pumping us the whole time.

But there’s a third player—the surgeon. And he’s the difference-maker.

The surgeon is one part vampire, cutting and hacking and slinging blood. And he’s one part cheerleader, nourishing pallid souls back to health. He recognizes the ills of life and offers to help. He seats us on the hospital table with the crinkly paper, finds the hidden tumors, and goes to work. He doesn’t just dice and slice—for this would make him only a butcher. He also administers blood during the procedure. He identifies and fixes what we don’t need, and gives us more of what we do need.

And, like vampires, surgeons are scary. Dark eyes peering over a surgical mask, scalpel in hand. Oh, that scalpel–his instrument of pain! But the surgeon, in all of his blood-soaked horror, has a noble calling. Like a vampire, he wounds. But he wounds to heal. He cuts to fix. He injures to revive. While the vampire is our enemy, the surgeon is our friend...

“Wounds from a friend can be trusted.” – Ancient proverb

Most of us spend a lifetime running from vampires and running towards cheerleaders—avoiding pain and chasing after people who make us feel good. We resist the call of the surgeon, the call of the mentor. Because in the wounding there is pain (and we are biologically programmed to resist pain). But the wounding is the hallmark of a good mentor.

A good mentor is not merely a cheerleader. He’s more than the rah-rah. Like a surgeon, a good mentor identifies the tumors in our lives. She sees the things that we cannot see or refuse to see—character defects, blind spots, and glaring inconsistencies in the way we live. Mentors step into our personal space and ask us the tough questions. They challenge our presuppositions on living. They aren’t afraid to get bloody. The ancients understood this; apprenticeships were a way of life. Professional athletes understand this now; personal trainers and coaches are a foregone conclusion. Yet in our personal lives, we’re content to march along alone, sovereign rulers in the Kingdom of Me. And it’s in this secret kingdom where the tumors of hubris, infidelity, and scandal take root.

Better to swing open the gates and invite a surgeon in. Surgery may be needed. And you don’t have a day to waste.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Relational Invasion...

The following thoughts were shared by Steve Saccone in a recent post. Steve's words provided me with a great deal to think about.

When it comes to the impact we long to have as human beings, we must be intelligent in how we approach our relationships.

To build and develop true relational influence, we have to be invited into someone’s relational space versus what we sometimes do, which is invade someone’s relational space.

By "relational space," I mean that invisible dynamic inside of people where they either open themselves to someone else’s advice… or resist it. For instance, if someone refuses to allow us into his "relational space," that means he is resisting our advice. In leadership, we often don't know exactly how to handle this interpersonal dynamic. In the process, if we are the invader of someone’s space, we break trust, lose credibility, and diminish our capacity to influence. That’s why we must learn how to navigate the space between you and another.

Let’s think about this dynamic in a different way. Imagine hiring a personal trainer at a local gym to help you get in shape. By hiring him, you give him permission to coach you, offer his advice, and even push you to exercise with greater effort and focus. You are inviting him into your “space.”

On the contrary, imagine seeing a friend at the mall. After saying hello, he verbally assesses your physical health, explains to you how much exercise you need, and then commands you to "do 50 push-ups." I’d be looking for the hidden camera.

This metaphor may sound bizarre, but enter the world of relationships, and people often ignore this same principle. We try to advise people who haven’t yet invited us into their relational space. To them, our approach seems bizarre because we're trying to impose on them something they've never invited us to give.

Maybe this has happened with a person you’re trying to mentor, but you haven't established a mentoring relationship. Or maybe it’s happened with someone you supervise at work, but you've wrongly assumed they want your input. Just because you live in close relational proximity, and just because you have a position of authority, doesn't mean you've established credibility, nor a voice of influence in their life.

Even if our motives are sincere in wanting to make a positive impact, when we force our way into a person’s relational space, they sense relational invasion…and will usually resist. They resist because they feel we’re barging in without knocking. They haven’t opened the door and welcomed us in.

As leaders, we will become more relationally intelligent if we refuse to consistently invade people’s space. Instead, when we wait to be invited our credibility builds and our influence capacity expands.

One of the primary ways to identify when someone is inviting us in comes down to our ability to read and discern non-verbal, invisible cues that people emit. Everyone sends them out, thus communicating whether they’re open or closed off to us. This is revealed primarily through body language and the emotional energy a person emits. In simple terms, someone could maintain a welcoming and open spirit, or they could emit an aloof and distant one. People tell us without words whether they want our advice or input. To be relationally intelligent, we must pay close attention to these cues. Over time, this will help us build relational capital and expand our influence.

I'm not advocating for relational passivity here. And, this doesn't mean there aren't moments when we push through resistance and challenge people to grow and change. It’s just that in many circles, we rarely acknowledge this dynamic, and we continually overlook these cues, often forcing our agenda upon someone and eroding trust.

Since Jesus doesn't force Himself on people neither should we. But His posture is always bent toward serving others, and He’s a model we can emulate in our conversations.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

10 Reasons Not to Consider Yourself an Empowering Leader...

As someone who's trying to grow as a leader, I found this recent post by Ron Edmondson to be very useful.

Here are 10 reasons you may want to reconsider calling yourself an empowering leader AND some tips on what to do about each one:

1. Your number one answer is “NO”

A leader should practice saying “Yes,” even when he or she isn’t certain it’s the right decision. Many times, he or she will be proven wrong. Other times a mistake will be made. In those times, the leader shouldn’t claim, “I told you so,” but allow those times to help shape the empowered leader. You’ve learned from your mistakes and you should allow your leaders that opportunity as well. Saying “Yes” invites people to take risks and keeps them exploring new ideas for your team.

2. You have to personally approve every decision and control every outcome

The leader has to let go of control if she wants others on the team to continue exploring new ideas. Giving up the leader’s right to approve every decision implants ownership into the minds of the team members. People are more likely to give their best attention to things over which they personally have responsibility and control.

3. Everyone on your team works “for you” and not “with you”

If your team feels that they are merely an employee to do your bidding, they will most likely respond as an employee responds; working for a paycheck, rather than as partners on a team. The more the leader talks about and treats people around him or her as participants in attaining a common vision, the more likely others on the team will perform in that role, and perform at a higher level.

Mere employees are fine, they just aren’t as valuable, useful or reliable as trusted team members.

4. You use the word “I” more than the word “We”

A leader’s words carry more weight than he may realize. The best leaders I know rarely use the term “I”, because they love including others in the progress of their work. They love to share credit and spread responsibility, recognizing that the combined efforts of a team make an organization better.

5. Your idea of delegation is telling people what to do, when and how to do it

If a leader wants to delegate, then she has to delegate not only responsibility but also authority. Giving an assignment to someone should also mean giving them the right to choose the best ways to get it done and the general timetable for accomplishing the task. The leader may need to give a deadline for the task to be done, but then she should give some freedom for the one responsible to set the pace towards completion.

6. You say “Do this” far more than you ask “What should we do?”

If a leader wants true team members, then he will have to welcome input by soliciting ideas from others on the team. If people feel they never have a voice at the table, they are less likely to dream new ideas for the team. Eventually, if someone with leadership abilities isn’t allowed to contribute to the discussion, she will look for a place to serve where her input is valued.

7. Nothing happens in your organization without your knowledge

The best delegators I know lead people who are capable of carrying a task to completion without being hand-held through the process. When I see a team accomplishing great things that the lead person doesn’t even know about, I know it is a healthy leader and most likely a healthy team. The leader should be close enough to other areas of the organization to know progress is being made, but should be comfortable with not knowing all the details of accomplishment.

8. You consistently reverse the decisions of the team

There will be times when it is imperative for the leader to reverse a decision made by others on the team, but this should be a rare occurrence. No one likes to waste his or her time and energy on something, which will never be valued or used. It would almost be better to let a few bad decisions go forward than for the leader to shut down the team from wanting to try new things.

9. You control information because information is power

Leaders should willingly share information with the team necessary for completion of their work, but also for motivation, team building, collaboration and a sense of ownership by the entire team. Additionally, information should flow through an organization freely, not simply from the top down. The leader who is closed to learning from those that technically work “for him” will quickly find that the best ideas are never heard.

10. You crush people when they make a mistake

People on the team watch how the leader handles other team member’s mistakes. If they see the leader as forgiving and applying grace to the situation, they are more likely to take a risk. If a team member believes she will feel the crushing weight of defeat if a mistake is made, she will rarely venture outside what is absolutely required to get the job done.

If you desire to be an empowering leader, you desire a challenging task. It requires more risk-taking, a greater value placed upon other people’s skills, and a willingness to humble yourself. Great organizations, however, are built by those leaders willing to empower others to lead well.

Which of these areas is hardest for you to live out as a leader?

Friday, June 11, 2010

God In Brown Shoes...

I thought this recent post by Shaun Groves was terrific:

I've been wrong before. About a lot of things. Some of them got written down.

I’ve tried to communicate God, as I understand Him at the moment, to the best of my ability, over and over again. And over and over again, as the passage of time has gifted me new vantage points and wisdom and humility, I’ve realized my heresies.

Heresy is inevitable when describing God. And this fact leaves me paralyzed when I sit down to write.

What happens if I’m wrong?

Today it struck me, out of the blue, I will be. Often. As I have been. And that scared me. Until I saw it.

There’s a picture on my piano. It was drawn by my youngest daughter, the best artist in the family. It’s a picture of me.

I know this even though It lacks proper detail, color, perspective. In her rendition I have no neck, no knees or elbows. I’m wearing brown shoes and I hate brown shoes. But the hair’s right and I’m taller than everyone else on the page. And across the top, over my head, it says, “I love Daddy.”

To an art critic it’s atrocious.

As a form of photo ID it’s useless.

But to me, her Dad, the model for this piece, the recipient of this gift, it’s beautiful.

And every Wednesday we have art lessons – we sit down at the kitchen table and draw together. She’s getting better.

I know the truth matters. I’m no proponent of loosey goosey make-it-up-as-you-go-along theology. It matters what God we’re loving not just that we love God. I know Paul literally trembled when trying to put God into words – because the words matter. I know. I know. Truth. Accuracy. These things matter.

So does grace. And mercy. Two words I think – today anyway – God is speaking to me, reminding me to give myself as he’s given to me.

It’s no surprise to God when I get God wrong – when the lines and colors are out of place and he’s left neckless in brown shoes of all things. It’s inevitable.

All writers, in fact – of songs, books, blogs – are heretics. Painters and preachers and you too. God is unavoidably trimmed and bent to fit inside our words – our puny minds, our narrow cultures, time and space and pages. Every attempt to capture him is more of a sketch than a photograph. No one has rendered God right.

But I wonder if he looks at all our well-intentioned scribblings and says, “It’s beautiful... let’s draw together.

The thought of that possibility makes me brave. Today anyway.