Thursday, January 28, 2010

Spiritual Mentors...

I've just gotten back from lunch with David Wray... and it was a rich feast (and I'm not talking about the turkey on wheat sandwich I had at Subway). David is a great friend, a spiritual hero and a respected mentor. He pours himself deeply into every conversation I have with him. Every Christ-follower needs a David Wray.

Now, the tricky part is that there's not enough of David to go around for all of us, so many of us are going to have to become "Davids" for others. And what that starts to look like is a self-less gift of ourselves in walking alongside others for a season. Spiritual counsel drawn from the lives of godly women and men who have spent considerable time on the Lord's anvil is a precious thing.

Do you have a spiritual mentor? If you don't, seek one out. Don't wait for them to ask you (they shouldn't and most likely wouldn't). You ask them.

Do you need to be some one's spiritual mentor? Pray for the Holy Spirit to make you accessible to that person in whose life God can use you. Let them approach you (see above), don't seek them out.

A final word of encouragement that keeps us "above reproach"... seek out a spiritual mentor who shares your gender.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

When the Saints (Finally) Come Marching In...

On September 17, 1967, my father, brother and I joined 80,876 other spectators in the bleachers of ancient Tulane Stadium to watch the New Orleans Saints play their first-ever regular season game. My dad had purchased us season tickets to seats in the stadium's south end zone for the Saints inaugural season.

The Saints began their life as a pro football team on an impressive note... running back John Gilliam returned the opening kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown. But the Saints went on to lose that game to the Los Angeles Rams. They wouldn't win their first game that year until November 5th when they beat the Philadelphia Eagles. The Saints finished that first year with a 3-11 record.

In addition to John Gilliam, some of the other players whom I recall from that first and only season we had Saints season tickets were Billy Kilmer who started as quarterback, Danny Abramowicz who played wide receiver, and big Doug Atkins at defensive end. On the wall of the bedroom I shared with my brother, I had their pictures (which I'd clipped from The Times Picayune) taped on the wall of the bedroom
alongside my Saints pennant.

My dad's company transferred him that next year so we moved away from New Orleans, but I always felt a special kinship with the Saints. For a big chunk of their 40+ year franchise history the Saints were not very good, in fact... some years they were awful. However, they were the first professional football team I'd ever seen play in person, and I'd done so alongside my dad and brother... so it was like a first love that had jilted you, and that you never quite got over.

Now, 43 years after their first-ever season in Tulane Stadium, the Saints win the NFC championship in the Superdome and are headed to the Super Bowl. My father's been dead for several years, but I thought of him this past Sunday night as I watched ESPN replay game highlights... and appreciated all over again the great gift that those Saints season tickets had been to me and my brother.

And thank you, John Gilliam, wherever you are, for providing
80,879 of us with that electrifying kickoff return all those years ago... as it surely was a sign of things to come!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Lots of Questions, Not a Lot of Answers...

Probably like you, I've experienced in a gut-wrenching, visceral way the pictures and stories that have poured out of earthquake stricken Haiti over the past week. Heartrending images of human suffering are difficult to slough off... even if you are thousands of miles away and living in a country that appears light-years removed in terms of economic and social structures. Haunting me are questions like these: "What can I do?" "What's the response that I, as a Christ-follower living in Abilene, Texas, can make in the middle of this mind-boggling morass of pain and suffering?"

Then last night about 6:45 p.m. there's a knock at my front door. A young black man in dirty clothes, but with an orange tie carefully knotted around his green knit shirt, is standing on my porch. As I flip on the light and open the door I'm thinking, "What in the world is this guy doing knocking on doors in my neighborhood after dark?!"

Shaking my hand and maintaining eye contact, the young man launches into his spiel... he's out to improve his leaderships skills and his means of doing so is selling magazine subscriptions... at which point he thrusts a wrinkled sheet of the periodicals he can make available to me for purchase. I glance at the sheet and don't recognize a single magazine on the list.

His spiel finished, the young man casts me a plaintive glance as if to acknowledge that there isn't a single publication on his sheet worth spending one's money on. I smile and tell him that I appreciate his leadership skills, but I'm not in need of any more magazines. He shakes his head indicating he understands, and then sticks out his hand for a parting handshake.

As I take his hand, my nostrils are greeted by the odor of the sweat and grime that have accumulated on him as he's pounded the pavement this day. Gripping my hand, the young man says, "I sure would appreciate a prayer on my behalf... it's hard out here." And I prayed over him.

Turning, he steps off my porch into the evening's deepening darkness. And I thought:
"What can I do?" "What's the response that I, as a Christ-follower living in Abilene, Texas, can make in the middle of this mind-boggling morass of pain and suffering?"

Should I empty my pockets, closets and pantry?

Should I sell all that I possess and give it to the poor?

I don't have answers, but I'm trusting that answers will come... and that there will be benefit in the struggle to find those answers.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Counterfeit Gods...

I've just finished Timothy Keller's book Counterfeit Gods. Great book... I recommend you read it.

I started reading Keller's book with my imagined image of Old Testament idols in my mind's eye. I'm picturing people bowing down to something that looks like those massive Easter Island statues. And your response, if it's similar to mine, would be: "Those misguided, foolish Old Testament people!" But aren't we just more sophisticated idolaters? And we're no less misguided or foolish. I believe that idolatry remains a significant spiritual problem
(maybe that's why it's the first commandment of ten) for those of us who live in the year 2010.

In the beginning, God created us in His image. We've been creating Him in our image ever since. Instead of worshiping the Creator, we settle for something less. We create substitute, counterfeit gods (that's with a small g). And here's the insidious way these idols become idols. Most idols are good things, but those good things become bad things when we position them ahead of God in our lives. Instead of being the the great I AM, God become a means to an end. We want these idols more than we want God.

So how do we identify an idol? I'd suggest four idol identifiers (feel free to add others to the list):

1) What consumes your thoughts? Your daydreams are idol clues. If it's something you think about more than God then it may be an idol.

2) What bad habits do you struggle with? Your addictions are idol clues. An idol is something you cannot control. It controls you.

3) What do you spend too much money on? Your spending habits are idol clues. Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

4) What produces your strongest emotions? Your intense emotions are idol clues. If you want to identify an idol, all you have to do is identify your emotional attachments.

Identifying an idol requires a willingness to be brutally honest with ourselves about ourselves. If anything becomes more fundamental to our happiness, meaning in life, and identity... then it is an idol. And the only way to free ourselves from the destructive influence of counterfeit gods is to turn back to the true One.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Church: A Supernatural Community...

I grew up in a faith tradition that was highly individualistic. We used the word "personal" a great deal: personal evangelism, personal relationships with Christ, personal devotions, etc. We enjoyed "fellowship," but we didn't talk much about the power of Christian community and how it could change individual lives and the world. This idea of the church being a people who live together like the Kingdom of God was "already here in its fullness" was not something that was often spoken about.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book Life Together argued that a community, rather than an isolated individual, added strength and objectivity to preaching the Word. Additionally, Bonhoeffer claimed the Christian life can never be lived in the abstract. The expression of a believer's faith itself called for community living and sensitivity to one another.

This just happens to be the way that God goes about making a Kingdom... pulling all sorts and conditions of people together and then patiently and graciously making something of us.

The church is not a natural community composed of people with common interests; it is a supernatural community. And the super in that word doesn't mean it exceeds our expectations; it is other than our expectations, and much of the other is invisible to us as yet.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Space Between Stimulus And Response...

Michael Hyatt recently posted some great thoughts drawn from a quote Viktor Frankl made famous about the space between stimulus and response. Here's what Michael had to say:

In his bestselling book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, author Stephen Covey talks about the space that exists between the stimulus and the response. In that space is the power to choose.

This space is like a giant pause button. We don’t have to react to every stimulus. Instead, we can pause, reflect, and chose our response. This is precisely what makes us human.

Unfortunately, I have not always taken advantage of this space. In the 1990s, I owned a literary agency with my business partner. One day, out of the blue, one of our clients sent my partner a scathing letter. It contained several inaccuracies and false accusations. I was furious and took up an offense.

I spent the next twenty-four hours writing and re-writing a letter to the client, defending my friend and partner. I thought I was in a better position to uphold his honor than he was.

The letter was brilliant. Or so I thought. It read like a legal brief. I took every accusation and systematically dismantled it. I wrote fourteen pages, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that the client’s claims were baseless and without merit.

I then over-nighted the letter to the client, convinced that I had proven my case. I was sure he would call with an apology.

Almost fifteen years later, I am still waiting.

The client
never responded. He didn’t acknowledge the letter. He didn’t respond to it. He just ignored it. I eventually came to the conclusion that writing long, angry letters is not a very productive exercise.

In the space between the stimulus and the response, I had not chosen well. I had simply reacted, like a dog who sees a squirrel and automatically gives chase.

But that experience didn’t keep me from firing off angry emails from time-to-time. While I had learned from my previous experience, I had not learned as much as I should have. As a result, I have continued to send blistering messages from time to time. Inevitably, I have always regretted it.

Therefore, next time I get frustrated or angry:

1) I will pause before responding.
I will remember that there is a space between the stimulus and the response. That space is my opportunity to chose the wise, mature thing. I want to handle situations in a way that I don’t regret later. To quote James, I want to be "swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath." (James 1:27 NKJV)

2) I will give myself time to cool down.
It is amazing how different things look when you get a little perspective. I rarely need to respond immediately, and 8–24 hours later, things almost always look different. Therefore, I will take a deep breath and reflect.

3) I will not write anything in anger.
This includes Twitter posts, Facebook messages, emails, and letters. If I am angry with someone, I will confront them personally, preferably in person. If that is not possible, I will call them. Launching angry salvos from the safety of my office may make me feel courageous. But it is not. It is cowardly and foolish. It does not accomplish anything good.

As leaders and Christians, we need to set a higher standard—myself included. I need to see the space between the stimulus and the response as my opportunity to make a better choice. With God’s help, I will.

What about you? How are you handling the space between the stimulus and the response?

Thursday, January 14, 2010


- There are 5 people in my family.

- There are 13 people on our staff team at SoHills.

- There are about 30 people who live on my block on Amarillo Street.

- There are around 2,000 people in my church family at SoHills.

- There are about 4,800 people at ACU where my youngest daughter, Caroline, attends.

- There are seats for 15,000 people at ABI's Shotwell Stadium.

And if you added them all up, they would still fall far short of the number of people who died in the recent earthquake in Haiti.

It most likely will prove impossible to determine the total number of lives lost, but some estimates put the number of deaths at 50,000 – 100,000. And there might be more than a million people homeless or injured.

So today and tomorrow,
link to Compassion International or a different charity raising funds to support the relief efforts in Haiti and make a donation.

And above all, pray for the people of Haiti.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Am I Willing...

Pride is a never-ending battle for me. Just when I think I've wrestled pride to the ground, it's back on top of me and grabbing me by the throat. I'm convinced pride robs many a Christian of their example... and many a leader of their effectiveness.

Pete Wilson posted some challenging, convicting thoughts regarding pride... and then posed the following three questions. Wrestle with Pete's questions, and then join me in praying for God to purge us of the pride that prevents us from being the Kingdom servants we're called to be.

1) Am I willing to allow another person to do what I think I must do?

2) Am I willing to do what I am doing, even if no one else knows I am doing it?

3) Am I willing to let God use me for a season, and then be okay with Him later for putting my work into the hands of another?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Take A Seat...

"Do not sit down in a place of honor." Luke 14:8

Everything within us wants to be honored. (I'm pointing at myself as I type these words.) But we don't get honor by seeking it. We get honor by giving honor. People who try to impress don't impress. You know what's really impressive? Someone who isn't trying to impress at all. Nothing is more endearing than good old-fashioned humility. Humility doesn't seek honor. It gives honor.

I love Jesus' teachings because they are so counter-cultural.

- We want to be consulted.

- We want to be preferred.

- We want the seat of honor.

But Jesus tells us to "go and sit in the lowest place." In other words, take a position of humility. Don't seek honor. Let it seek you. How? Look for opportunities to allow others to be honored and esteemed ahead of you... in order that you would be a holy as Jesus wants you to be.

Monday, January 11, 2010

You Have No Events Scheduled Today...

Every morning in my Gmail in-box I receive a Google calendar update containing my schedule for the day. With few exceptions over the recent Christmas holidays, I would find the email contained this message: "You Have No Events Scheduled Today." Now, I don’t know about you, but this is not a typical message in my life's in-box. It is, however, becoming more and more of a welcome one.

This past week my ministerial team mates and I participated in an ACU intense course on Christian Spiritual Formation. Repeatedly throughout the week we read about Jesus going away to a quiet place to be alone and the importance Scripture places on keeping a regular Sabbath. When I experience what happens in my soul when I have "no events scheduled today" I become more fully aware that regular times of silence and solitude are disciplines I must cultivate if I want to be spiritually healthy.

So, what am I going to do about my spiritual health in 2010? Here is a short list of things I am going to work toward in relation to growing in spiritual disciplines:

- A weekly day away to reflect, pray and recalibrate

- A daily practice of quietly listening to the Spirit who lives in me

- A daily reading in the Gospels so that I might grow in my imitation of Jesus

I realize these aren’t mind boggling objectives, but I am confident they will prove most helpful to me. Unfortunately I all too often miss the time for my soul because my daily/weekly schedule has far too many events that don’t allow the space for the still small voice of God to say what needs to be said.

So, what about you? Do you have intentional time in your schedule for solitude and silence... or are you "too busy" for that? Do you need to schedule time for "no events scheduled for today"? What is your plan in 2010 for growing more into the likeness and example of Jesus?

"Be still and know that I am God…" Psalm 46:10

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Will Return Soon...

My SoHills' ministerial team mates and I are in the midst of an "intensive course" on Christian Spiritual Formation this week at ACU. (These used to be called "short courses" but the accrediting powers-that-be prefer the terminology "intensive course.")

Having taken some time off from consistent blogging over the recent Christmas holidays, and now during this intensive course
... I plan to resume posting on a somewhat regular basis next week.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Thou Shalt Offend Pharisees...

Mark Batterson posted these thoughts recently. I felt Mark's words were worth repeating.

I have a mantra:
Thou shalt offend pharisees.

Isn't that the example Jesus set? He didn't have the time of day for
self-righteousness. Seems like he hated nothing more. The Pharisees turned everything into an argument. They found something wrong with everything... even miracles. And they were all about image. They looked totally righteous on the outside. They said the right things. They did the right things. But Jesus called them whitewashed tombs.

Abraham Lincoln said, "
You can please all of the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time, but you can't please all the people all the time."

So good. So true.

So here's the question:
"Who are you offending?"

Most of us are far more concerned about
offending pharisees than offending sinners. But is that the example Jesus set? He didn't offend prostitutes or tax collectors. He shared meals with them. He restored their dignity. But he wasn't afraid to call a pharisee a pharisee.

Having said that let me say this: Make sure you have people in your lives that can
speak the truth in love. You need accountability. Why? Because no one is above reproach or above rebuke. So make sure you listen to the voice of the prophet. But don't listen to the self-righteousness pharisee. Don't dialogue with them. Don't listen to them. Don't give them the time of day. Why? Because Jesus didn't.