Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Year's Blessing

Below is the blessing I gave to the Skillman congregation on New Year's eve...

Throughout the history of God's people there are accounts of a blessing being given to mark times of transition. As I look at some of these blessings, many are accompanied by a charge. As the Israelites were about to enter into the promised land, and Moses was about to hand over the mantle of leadership to Joshua, he recounted their journey, charged them to remain faithful, and then blessed them.

This seems to be God's intent as recorded in Genesis 18 - "Should I hide my plan from Abraham?" the LORD asked. "For Abraham will become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth will be blessed through him. I have singled him out so that he will direct his sons and their families to keep the way of the LORD and do what is right and just. Then I will do for him all that I have promised."

Centuries later, the prophet Micah reiterated a similar charge to God's people - He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before your God?

A few hundred years later, as Jesus was nearing the end of his ministry on earth he elaborated on what it means to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before God - The King will say to those on the right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.'
"Then these righteous ones will reply, 'Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?' And the King will tell them, 'I assure you, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!'

This morning, as we acknowledge the transition from one year to the next, my charge to you is to feed the hungry, shelter the stranger, visit the sick and those who are in prison - to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before your God.

And then may your land be blessed by the Lord with the choice gift of rain from the heavens, and water from beneath the earth; with the riches that grow in the sun, and the bounty produced each month; with the finest crops of the ancient mountains, and the abundance from the everlasting hills; with the best gifts of the earth and its fullness, and the favor of the one who appeared in the burning bush. May the Lord bless you and keep you; May His face shine upon you and give you peace.

Friday, December 29, 2006

2 Days Left...

Just a friendly reminder for anyone who is contemplating a tax-deductible year end contribution - Central Dallas Ministry's campaign to raise $100,000 from the blog reading community continues for two more days (although I feel fairly confident that Larry and the folks at CDM will accept donations in 2007 as well - somehow, I doubt that the need will lessen with the dropping of the ball at midnight on the 31st)

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Homeless at Christmas

Christmas morning Barbara and I joined about a half dozen other families from Skillman and handed out bagged breakfasts to 208 homeless people as they checked out from the Hyatt Regency, where they had spent Christmas Eve courtesy of the SoupMobile, a non-profit mobile soup kitchen feeding the homeless in Dallas. The SoupMobile was founded and is operated by David Timothy, aka the SoupMan.

As we were getting set up that morning, David met with us for a few minutes. He said that we had 2 tasks. The primary task was to make eye contact, greet and acknowledge the humanity of each of the people as they checked out. Of secondary importance was handing each of them one of the breakfast bags that had been prepared.

As they came through the lobby, we greeted them and gave them the breakfast bags; they got on buses that would take them to the day resource center. Afterwards we got into our cars, went to our homes, and celebrated Christmas with our families. I am thankful for a healthy family, a comfortable home, for not having to worry about where my next meal will come from, and so much more, but as we celebrated the birth of Jesus, I wondered - if he had been born in Dallas this year, would it possibly have been to one of the people on the buses?

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Ain't It Too Bad...

Adapted from a recent Heartlight...

In one of the All in the Family episodes that aired some years ago, Edith and Archie are attending Edith's high school class reunion. Edith encounters an old classmate by the name of Buck who, unlike his earlier days, had now become excessively obese. Edith and Buck have a delightful conversation about old times and the things that they did together, but remarkably Edith doesn't seem to notice how extremely heavy Buck has become.

Later, when Edith and Archie are talking, she says in her whiny voice, "Archie, ain't Buck a beautiful person?" Archie looks at her with a disgusted expression and says: "You're a pip, Edith. You know that. You and I look at the same guy and you see a beautiful person and I see a blimp."

Edith gets a puzzled expression on her face and says something unknowingly profound, "Yeah, ain't it too bad." (Christian Globe)

Ain't it too bad how often we fail to see with the eyes of the Savior whose birth we have been celebrating, who came to give his life that ALL might live - not just those who look like us, think like us, or act like us. If you are contemplating new year's resolutions, at the top of the list, try to start seeing others the way that Jesus did -- as eternal persons worth saving, at any cost, no matter what they choose to think about him or how much they resemble us!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Steve Blow on Public Schools

I haven't written much on the topic of education, but I thought Steve Blow's column in Sunday's Morning News expresses some of my thoughts pretty well...

Sunday, December 17, 2006

I was browsing in a used-book store the other day and came across a wonderful book. And of course, by "wonderful" I mean one that said just what I believe.
But where my beliefs have been based on personal observation, this book was full of hard data to prove the point. And that point is: Generally speaking, our public schools are doing just fine.
You sure don't hear many people preaching that idea, do you?
The book is The Manufactured Crisis – Myths, Fraud, and the Attack on America's Public Schools. It was written by a couple of professors, David C. Berliner of Arizona State University and Bruce J. Biddle of the University of Missouri.
"This book was written in outrage," say the opening words of their preface. "We discovered how Americans were being misled about schools and their accomplishments."
After scanning the book, I flipped to the front to see when it was published. Copyright 1995.
Wow, I thought. Criticism of public education has only intensified since then. I wondered if the professors have since decided the critics were right – or if they are still outraged.
Dr. Berliner didn't miss a beat when we spoke last week. "I'm still outraged," he said.
Schools haven't worsened?
"No!" he said.
"In fact, I'd say the classes we are graduating today are the brightest, best-trained students America has ever produced."
He said SAT scores have climbed over the last decade. More students are enrolled in demanding Advanced Placement classes. Standardized test scores are up.
But Dr. Berliner and Dr. Biddle were both quick to say it's impossible to have a meaningful discussion about "public schools" – as if they can all be lumped under one term. Schools vary far too widely for that.
Dr. Biddle said, "In wealthier suburbs, like those around Dallas, you will find some of the absolute best public schools in all the world.
"On the other hand," he said, "in some inner cities, in places like the South Bronx or East St. Louis, Ill., you will find some of the worst schools in the modern, civilized world. They are unbelievably rotten places."
Unfortunately, the professors said, Americans tend to think of "public schools" as one thing. And the pockets of failure overshadow the far broader landscape of public-school success.
As I said, my views have been shaped by personal observation. With two children educated in public schools, with a wife teaching in public schools, with a job that takes me into many public schools, I mostly see bright, capable kids in orderly, focused schools.
Yet on an almost daily basis I hear from readers about the failure of our schools. An e-mail last week referred to the "cesspool" of public education.
The professors said this perception stems from a variety of sources. Part of it is simply the timeless tendency of oldsters to fret about "these kids today." Partly it's our fault in the media for playing up isolated horror stories.
A big part is the growing hostility toward anything governmental, regardless of success. (Rush Limbaugh repeatedly refers to "our public screw-els.")
The worst part, the professors said, is a deliberate, deceitful campaign by some to discredit public education and profit from privatization. "This is not an unmotivated group," Dr. Biddle said. "They are not shy about lying and creating all sorts of propaganda."
Because we have such a distorted view of our schools, we keep getting wrongheaded attempts to "fix" them, the profs said.
Poor, inner-city schools need much more money – for smaller classes, for longer days, for experienced teachers and other proven strategies. "The myth says money won't improve schools. That's just nonsense," Dr. Biddle said.
On the other side of the coin, successful schools get saddled with things like standardized, high-stakes testing, which does far more harm than good, Dr. Berliner said.
We've got to get smarter about our schools. Let's fix what needs fixing – and as the saying goes, stop trying to fix what ain't broke.
Sure, let's keep striving to improve. But for most of our public schools, a little more praise and respect is what they need most.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Basketball Season is a Busy Time

Since basketball season has begun I have not had the time nor energy to write at night. It's hard to realize it has been more than 2 weeks since I last blogged - I'll try to get to it at least a couple of times a week....

Quote for the day - I believe that the Word of God is inspired; my understanding and interpretation of it is not...Harold Curtis this morning in Bible class.

Thanksgiving was relatively low key this year. Both kids were home for a few days. Watched some football, saw a couple of movies, ate some good food, and just relaxed and enjoyed each other. On Thursday morning, we did the traditional turkey trot in downtown with about 30,000 other people. Lauren ran the 8 mile race in under an hour; Barbara and Taylor did the 3 mile run; My knees and I waited for all of them at the finish line...

One scene remained with me - As I was walking from the start/finish line to a vantage point a couple of blocks away where I could see the runners going by, I walked by the downtown library. There were about a dozen homeless people sitting on benches outside the library, patiently waiting for the shelter to open that would serve them a Thanksgiving meal. It was a beautiful morning and I exchanged pleasantries with a couple of gentlemen.
As I went on to see the runners I couldn't help but ponder the irony of all those thousands of people choosing to travel to downtown that morning. They/we would return to the comfort of a home and a good meal, leaving behind those people who had no choice but to remain on the street, wondering where their next meal would come from.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Joy of Giving

In the ElderLink session I mentioned yesterday, Larry James was discussing the theology of justice and the poor. I've been reflecting on that and will write more about it, but I found Patrick Odum's article in today's Heartlight to be timely...

The Joy of Giving, by Patrick D. Odum

[Jesus said] "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35 TNIV).

A little boy I know, only eight years old, was tops in his class in sales for a school fund raiser. The prize was $25. Now $25 for him to spend however he pleases is a lot of money! The little boy's father asked him one evening later that week what the boy thought he would do with the money. There are a lot of Lego sets to be had, after all. That kind of money would buy a lot of books or toys, or maybe even a computer game. The little boy thought for a minute, ideas flickering like diamonds in his blue eyes. He handled those ideas, holding them up to the light, judging their brilliance, then made his decision. The expression on his face spoke as much as his words; they didn't display the momentary excitement that flashes across an eight-year-old face when he receives one more toy, but shown with a quieter, more satisfied joy -- the joy of knowing he's made a good choice. "I want to take you to a football game," he told his dad.

And his dad had to turn his head a little so the boy won't see the tears he could feel stinging his eyes. (Wonder why he feels he has to hide them?) He shed tears, not just because his son made a decision to use the money for something special for them to do together, but also because when his son could have been thinking of all the things he could have bought for himself with $25, he was thinking instead about ways he could use it to make someone else happy. "Let it be that he will always think that way," the father prayed later that night.

Another little boy, maybe no older than eight, squinted in the bright sun as he watched the men talk. There are thirteen of them, and twelve seem to have made up their minds about something. They were just having a little trouble getting the other one on board. He overheard some of the words -- "hungry," "all these people," "away." But, the lone holdout shook his head, made a gesture that took them all in.

The little boy could read his lips. It looked like he said, "You give them something to eat." They looked at each other, at the ground, at the huge crowd spread out on the hillside below them. They scowled, frowned -- one of them threw his hands up in the air in exasperation. But, the one they're trying to convince has this interesting expression on his face -- he's enjoying this. As if he knows the boy has been eavesdropping, the man looks right at him, smiles, and winks.

The boy looks at the huge crowd, then takes his family's picnic basket and looks inside. He counts the loaves of bread -- just five, pitiful, flat little things -- and a couple of fish his dad had caught the day before. "Well, it's a start," he thinks. He gets up, puts the basket under his arm, and tugs on the cloak of the closest of the twelve. Minutes later, as the boy's head swam with the wonder of it all, the whole crowd is eating fish and bread -- his fish and bread. And everyone had more than enough. And the man, who moments before had given thanks for his fish and bread and divided it among the people, was looking at him and smiling.

Oh, we get so caught up in getting what we think we need that sharing what we already have seems wrong, somehow. We become conditioned, I guess -- conditioned to think that human beings are rivals fighting for the same meager resources. Whatever someone else has is not available for my use. We grow so accustomed to competition that we make the fundamental mistake of believing that the greatest blessings of life have to do with receiving one thing or another.

This sharing thing is a risky proposition.

Jesus called into question this perspective of scarcity. He dared to suggest that our values were upside-down: that the joy of receiving doesn't begin to compare with the joy of giving, that the clearest evidence of God's blessing in a person's life has less to do with how much he has than with how much he gives, and that God's work can be more clearly discerned in what he does with what you surrender than with what he drops into your lap. "It is more blessed to give than to receive," is a revolutionary statement that calls into question the economic realities under which we mostly operate. We know we're supposed to believe it. We just struggle with finding a place for such a belief in the world in which we operate.

Maybe it has to do, in the end, with faith. People who choose to define blessedness by what they give and not what they receive do so because they believe that in one way or another, there is enough for everyone to enjoy. Often, I think, they share because they believe that "life does not consist in an abundance of possessions" (Luke 12:15) and that "people do not live on bread alone" (Luke 4:4).

Where others fear shortage, these people see God's grace and plenty.

When others give in to the impulse to hoard, they are ruled by the generosity of the Holy Spirit. Where others clutch their possessions more tightly out of fear, their hands are opened by the sharing nature of the One who opened his hands to the nails.

Make no mistake. This sharing thing is a risky proposition. What if, after all, the world is right? What if you share and then, whenever and wherever the accounting is done, it turns out that you don't have enough? What if you don't get your Lego? What if no one passes a portion of "your" bread and fish back to you? That's all possible. And yet Jesus promises that a lifestyle of giving, not receiving, is the way to live in true joy and under God's approving smile. So maybe blessedness isn't what we think it is. It strikes me that Jesus never lived a life of plenty and yet spoke of God's blessing as if he knew it first-hand. Maybe giving opens up whole new realms of joy and peace and abundance that receiving never even hints at.

There's only one way to find out, of course. Stop reading and go find a thing and a way and a place to give. Time. Energy. Possessions. Talents. Money, of course. Food. Give more to the church. Work in a food pantry or a homeless shelter. Spend time with a lonely person. Find your basket of loaves and fish, your $25, and give it to your Father. And then watch as he makes someone's day with it.
(c) 2006 Patrick D. Odum

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Blurring the Lines

This past Saturday I attended the ElderLink conference sponsored by ACU. In one of the sessions, Larry James was talking about building community. He began by saying that the most important thing we can do in building community is to blur the lines. Lines - real or imaginary - that separate according to economic status, race, gender, religion, neighborhood... as long as they exist, true community will not be possible.

Ironically, two of the front page stories in today's Morning News describe efforts to sharpen the lines. Below are the lead sentences from each of those articles...
    1. The City of Farmers Branch on Monday adopted strict measures against illegal immigrants, requiring apartment renters to provide proof of citizenship or residency and making English the city's official language...
    2. Texas lawmakers struck hard at illegal immigrants Monday, filing bills that would restrict birthright citizenship, bar them from getting state benefits such as health care and education, make it illegal for them to get business permits and tax them for sending money south of the border...
Thomas Freidman's op-ed piece in yesterday's New York Times speaks to the same concept on a global basis...
China, in other words, is inevitably going to move back to the center of U.S. politics, because it crystallizes the economic challenges faced by U.S. workers in the 21st century. The big question for me is, how will President Bush and the Democratic Congress use China: as a scapegoat or a sputnik?

Will they use it as an excuse to avoid doing the hard things, because it's all just China's fault, or as an excuse to rally the country — as we did after the Soviets leapt ahead of us in the space race and launched Sputnik — to make the kind of comprehensive changes in health care, portability of pensions, entitlements and lifelong learning to give America's middle class the best tools possible to thrive?

A lot of history is going to turn on that answer, because if people don't feel they have the tools or skills to thrive in a world without walls, the pressure to put up walls, especially against China, will steadily mount.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Purpose of Pain

Shortly after I had my knee surgery this summer, I wrote about how pain serves a valuable purpose. I like what Phil Ware said in this morning's Heartlight while describing watching his son grow up ...

As Zach grew, however, I began to realize that some pain was necessary to help him grow. Some pain motivates us to become dissatisfied with where we are. Other pain is a result of our own mistakes and misjudgments and helps steer us back to the right path. Further pain is there simply because the world is unfair and people sometimes act in hateful and evil ways toward us. This latter hurt drives us to find a lasting and dependable source of comfort.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Veterans and Heroes

In 1954 while inaugurating Veteran's Day as a national holiday, President Eisenhower said: "On that day let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly ... on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom, and let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain."

Reflecting on the term hero as Veteran's Day comes to a close. One definition is "Ordinary people doing extraordinary things when the situation demands it." I think that's true in many cases, particularly in times of war or crisis - the people to whom the Heroes Garden is dedicated is one example. I also thought about the meaning of a hero and the implications/burden of living with that designation while watching Flags of Our Fathers.

One of the tv shows I have gotten into this fall is NBC's Heroes. This rather unusual show is about several seemingly disconnected people who each discover that they have some type of superpower, and their reactions as they attempt to deal with their newfound discoveries. Here is the reflection of Hiro - the young Japanese character in the series...

The biggest question I have is am I a real hero? I cowardly hid while someone was being killed... I know a do-over is possible, but I also know it's risky to mess with the time-space continuum. What makes a hero? I got these powers for a reason. It's destiny. I question my heroism right now, and I hope I find my answer soon. Off toNew York!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Heroes Garden

When we visited Taylor at Pepperdine, he took us to the Heroes Garden. Located just below the Business School, it is set on a hill overlooking the campus, with the Pacific as a natural background. Dedicated to those who perished on 9/11, and specifically to Pepperdine graduate Tom Burnett, it is a tranquil setting permitting solitude and reflection.

On the path out of the garden, there are 6 stones placed at even intervals. Each stone has a verse from the 23rd Psalm, reminding visitors as they leave, that the Lord indeed is our shepherd.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Ted Haggard

I must confess that my thoughts have been neither charitable nor gracious towards the Colorado minister who has been in the headlines the past few days. My initial reaction was that it was poetic justice for the vocal proponent of family values to be outed for homosexual behavior. His credibility was further strained by his responses to the accusations.

Before rushing to judgement it might be wise to consider the secret sins in our own lives. We might also remember the actions of various Biblical characters from Adam to David in trying to hide or cover up sins they committed.

I have no way of verifying the sincerity of the repentant heart that produced the incredible letter that was read to his congregation today. I have to be willing to give the benefit of the doubt if I am to have any expectation of that same grace being extended to me.

November 5, 2006

My Dear New Life Church Family,

I am so sorry. I am sorry for the disappointment, the betrayal, and the hurt. I am sorry for the horrible example I have set for you.

I have an overwhelming, all-consuming sadness in my heart for the pain that you and I and my family have experienced over the past few days. I am so sorry for the circumstances that have caused shame and embarrassment to all of you.

I asked that this note be read to you this morning so I could clarify my heart’s condition to you. The last four days have been so difficult for me, my family and all of you, and I have further confused the situation with some of the things I’ve said during interviews with reporters who would catch me coming or going from my home. But I alone am responsible for the confusion caused by my inconsistent statements. The fact is, I am guilty of sexual immorality, and I take responsibility for the entire problem.

I am a deceiver and a liar. There is a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I’ve been warring against it all of my adult life. For extended periods of time, I would enjoy victory and rejoice in freedom. Then, from time to time, the dirt that I thought was gone would resurface, and I would find myself thinking thoughts and experiencing desires that were contrary to everything I believe and teach.

Through the years, I’ve sought assistance in a variety of ways, with none of them proving to be effective in me. Then, because of pride, I began deceiving those I love the most because I didn’t want to hurt or disappoint them.

The public person I was wasn’t a lie; it was just incomplete. When I stopped communicating about my problems, the darkness increased and finally dominated me. As a result, I did things that were contrary to everything I believe.

The accusations that have been leveled against me are not all true, but enough of them are true that I have been appropriately and lovingly removed from ministry. Our church’s overseers have required me to submit to the oversight of Dr. James Dobson, Pastor Jack Hayford, and Pastor Tommy Barnett. Those men will perform a thorough analysis of my mental, spiritual, emotional, and physical life. They will guide me through a program with the goal of healing and restoration for my life, my marriage, and my family.

I created this entire situation. The things that I did opened the door for additional allegations. But I am responsible; I alone need to be disciplined and corrected. An example must be set.

It is important that you know how much I love and appreciate my wife, Gayle. What I did should never reflect in a negative way on her relationship with me. She has been and continues to be incredible. The problem was not with her, my children, or any of you. It was created 100% by me.

I have been permanently removed from the office of Senior Pastor of New Life Church. Until a new senior pastor is chosen, our Associate Senior Pastor, Ross Parsley, will assume all of the responsibilities of the office. On the day he accepted this new role, he and his wife, Aimee, had a new baby boy. A new life in the midst of this circumstance—I consider that confluence of events to be prophetic. Please commit to join with Pastor Ross and the others in church leadership to make their service to you easy and without burden. They are fine leaders. You are blessed.

I appreciate your loving and forgiving nature, and I humbly ask you to do a few things:

1. Please stay faithful to God through service and giving.

2. Please forgive me. I am so embarrassed and ashamed. I caused this and I have no excuse. I am a sinner. I have fallen. I desperately need to be forgiven and healed.

3. Please forgive my accuser. He is revealing the deception and sensuality that was in my life. Those sins, and others, need to be dealt with harshly. So, forgive him and, actually, thank God for him. I am trusting that his actions will make me, my wife and family, and ultimately all of you, stronger. He didn’t violate you; I did.

4. Please stay faithful to each other. Perform your functions well. Encourage each other and rejoice in God’s faithfulness. Our church body is a beautiful body, and like every family, our strength is tested and proven in the midst of adversity. Because of the negative publicity I’ve created with my foolishness, we can now demonstrate to the world how our sick and wounded can be healed, and how even disappointed and betrayed church bodies can prosper and rejoice.

Gayle and I need to be gone for a while. We will never return to a leadership role at New Life Church. In our hearts, we will always be members of this body. We love you as our family. I know this situation will put you to the test. I’m sorry I’ve created the test, but please rise to this challenge and demonstrate the incredible grace that is available to all of us.

Ted Haggard

Friday, November 03, 2006

A Little Bit of Texas

Here is a picture of Taylor and Royce in their dorm room.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

I am of Christ

Mike Cope's post Monday resonated with me. I share it with you...

“I am of Christ.”

That sounds like such a nice descriptor. Others may claim to be of Paul, and others of Apollos (two influential teachers in Corinth) — but I am of Christ.

So why does one have the feeling that Paul didn’t have warm feelings about those who made that claim (1 Cor. 1:12)? Because there were schisms in the church in Corinth: maybe within the house churches, maybe between the house churches, perhaps when they all came together. And behind the schisms, there was a lot of pride at work and a dearth of love.

There were fracture lines appearing, partly because they were attached to their teachers in unhealthy ways (but ways that would have been familiar in Corinth).

But others, dripping in pride and exclusivism, were only “of Christ.”

That resonates with me. Because for part of my life I took pride in not being of Wesley or Calvin, of Luther, and certainly not of the Pope. Just a Christian.

The desire to be “just a Christ-follower” can be very healthy. But it must not become a source of separation from others whom we don’t deem to be just as pure; and it should not ignore the fact that we’ve been influenced by many men and women and of faith. None of us is completely objective. None of us is reading scripture without bias. None of us finds our place in the family of God by being perfect–either in living or in biblical interpretation.

As I lived in those words of Paul last week, it reminded me of how subtle and dangerous spiritual pride is. It is so well disguised, masquerading in costumes of restoration and humility.

Beware anytime there is a church or a group that thinks it has cornered the market on spirituality, interpretation, or missionality. Let us follow the leading of God’s Spirit as he helps us live for the sake of the world; but let us recognize that there are many, many other followers of Jesus who may worship differently, talk differently and think differently.

Defenseless Mountaineers

With 10 minutes left in the game, it looks like WVU may score 40 against Louisville. The bad news is it looks like they are going to give up about 60. It does not look good for the Mountaineers...

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Without A Net

We went to California to visit Taylor this past weekend. On the plane I had time to read November's selection for the Urban Engagement Book Club, Michelle Kennedy's Without A Net: Middle Class and Homeless (with Kids) in America. A compelling story about a single mother of 3 and her journey into and out of homelessness, I had a hard time putting it down. I recommend it.

According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, as of 2000, 1.2 million children are homeless on any given night. Families are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population, accounting for nearly half of the nation's homeless. 85% of these families are headed by a single mother. Here are a couple of excerpts from one of those single mothers, who spent several months living in her car with her 3 preschool children.

My own journey into homelessness did not begin with drug use, alcoholism, or any of the other things we, as a society, so often attribute to such a downward spiral. Instead, I followed my bliss right into the back of a Subaru station wagon...

By day, I walked the streets of Stone Harbor, Maine, as the completely normal mother of three children, looking in shop windows and going to the library and the laundromat. By night, however, I was driving around town, looking for a place to park and sleep, bathing at the truck stop, and boiling ramen noodles on public grills...

Wandering through the store, I decide that it's more expensive to be poor than to be rich. Because we don't have basic things like a refrigerator, I can't buy concentrated juice for a dollar and make a pitcher to last for a couple of days. Instead, I have to buy individual servings at a dollar apiece. The children have developed a taste for water...

I wish I could have spent time with some people who really understood when I say that it costs more to be poor than to be rich. I wish I had taken advantage of programs I learned about much later, like child care assistance and food pantries and security deposit assistance. But no one prepares you for those things when they are sending you off to the real world. It's hard to accept help when you need it. What's harder is never being offered it.

Friday, October 27, 2006

What Americans Believe, part 2

A month or so ago, I mentioned the survey that was released by Baylor University. Time magazine has produced a very enlightening graphic from the research that shows how Americans' view of God correlates to their socio-political beliefs. You can click here to see it.

Thursday, October 26, 2006


Southwest Richardson is a diverse neighborhood. We live on a short, one-block street, and living among the 20+ houses on our street are 3 hispanic families, a family from the Ukraine, an African-American family, a lady from Chile and another from Venezuala. There are retirees who have lived on the street for more than 30 years and there are families with young children. There are several widows who have buried their husbands. Walking through the park in our neighborhood you can hear literally dozens of languages spoken.

Sunday afternoon Barbara and I attended a picnic at the park sponsored by the homeowners association. There were a couple of people from our street that we knew, but most of the others were strangers from other streets in our broader neighborhood. Sitting there, something occured to me that was so obvious I hadn't really thought about it. Almost all of our social activities are with either family or church friends. We both have friends at work, but we don't spend much time with them outside of the work setting. We are getting better at spending time with people in our neighborhood, but we primarily socialize with church friends and family.

Going back to Luke 10 again, Jesus said to go...

Perhaps one of the places we need to go is simply outside our own circles.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


Confession is not telling God what we did. He already knows. Confession is simply agreeing with God that our acts were wrong.
- Max Lucado, A Gentle Thunder

Monday, October 23, 2006


I'm not familiar with the group sponsoring this video, so don't take it as an endorsement (or unendorsement for that matter), but I thought this transition remarkably typifies the way that we frequently try to present ourselves - especially in church. Not from the physical standpoint, but from the perspective that we put on a face that hides the pain and blemishes in our lives.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Eat, Heal, Proclaim

The second cluster meeting of the partner churches participating in the Partnership for Missional Church project was this weekend. Friday evening we were Dwelling in the Word again in Luke 10:1-12. In verses 8 and 9 Luke quotes Jesus as saying to eat what is put in front of you, heal the sick, and proclaim that the Kingdom of God is near.

One person commented that Jesus may have been telling us something about how to become missional by the order in which he listed these activities - eat, heal, proclaim. I think he may be on to something.

It has not been uncommon in any mission activities I have been familiar with to focus on getting right to the proclaiming. The one exception that comes to mind has been medical missions, which typically combine some healing with the proclaiming. I don't remember a mission effort that focused much on eating, but perhaps we should rethink that as we attempt to be more missional.

Eating implies relationship. Healing implies meeting physical and emotional needs. If we build relationship and address needs, we overcome barriers that prevent the message we proclaim from being heard. And we more closely reflect the way that Jesus went about his mission.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Byron Nelson

Work took me to Ft. Worth one day this week and as I drove past the Richland Hills church building I thought of Byron Nelson. He died a couple of weeks ago and a memorial service at Richland Hills where he was a member drew a large crowd, including many from the world of professional golf. By all accounts Byron Nelson was a man of character, a good man who loved his family and lived his faith. One of the quotes from the service stuck with me - "There may be some debate about who is history's greatest golfer, but there is no question at all about who was the greatest man who played golf."

On the evening of the day that he died, Dale Hanson did a special on the channel 8 news that included an interview taped with Byron on his 80th birthday. The subject of his faith came up and he said that he tried his best to live a faithful life so that he could go to heaven when he died. Hanson continued his tribute with numerous accounts of Nelson's generosity and good deeds and concluded with the observation that Nelson had undoubtedly earned his reward, although there was not much chance for someone like himself.

Hanson was wrong on both counts.

I have no doubt about Byron Nelson's faith or that his faith shaped his life and was the basis for the good he accomplished. Nor do I have any doubt that he faced his maker as an absolutely righteous man. But it was not because of any of the good works that he did. On his best day, Byron Nelson fell woefully short of the holy standard of God. His righteousness did not stem from his own goodness but from God's grace.

Dale Hanson has led an admittedly materialistic and often hedonistic life, yet on his worst day he has not been beyond the bounds of God's grace. He may not recognize it and likely does not believe it. He probably doesn't believe he deserves it and he would be correct - none of us deserves it - but there is nothing he can do that puts him beyond the bounds of God's grace. That is a message that he, and the world that he so much embodies, needs to hear.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Simple Dignity

I commented briefly last week on the reaction of the Amish community to the shooting of their children; Rubel Shelley says it much more eloquently in today's Fax of Life....

Subject: Simple Dignity
Date: For the Week of October 16, 2006

The Amish have adopted something of a fortress mentality against the modern world. They do not confront the world beyond their communities with prophetic denunciations. Neither do they embrace the ways and means of a technological society wholesale. There are good things about their simple ways.

The best-known features of the Amish way are not for everybody. And some of them seem not only "peculiar" but contradictory to their literalist beliefs. For example, the Bible’s appeals for modest dress are meant to keep people from drawing undue attention to themselves. But what could draw more attention to a person in a crowd than eighteenth-century hats and clothes, hairdos and shoes?

In the wake of the shooting of ten little girls in the West Nickel Mines Amish School and the death of five of them, some things more noteworthy than the quaint dress of these pietistic people has come to public attention. They are far harder to come by than hook-and-eye fasteners. And they ought not be preserved by a mere handful of people who live in out-of-the-way agrarian cultures.

For one thing, the Pennsylvania community of Amish who had been victimized by such horrible violence had the dignity to grieve together out of the public eye. They appointed no media spokesperson and hired no lawyers to file lawsuits. They huddled together, prayed for grace, and buried their dead.

As they carried the bodies of children to be buried, they did not route the procession of horses and buggies so as to avoid passing the house of their murderer. They even invited his widow and children to grieve with them.

When the 32-year-old man who had killed their children was buried, dozens of members of the Amish community were at the service. They joined in grief with his survivors. And when a fund was established to receive money for the burial expenses of the murdered girls and the medical expenses of the surviving ones, they insisted that the killer’s family be helped from the same charity.

A Detroit Free Press columnist said: "To an outside world that understands recrimination better than redemption, it was a dumbfounding spectacle." Indeed!

What our world needs so desperately is not a shutdown of electrical grids, the abandonment of computers, and the universal adoption of farming. We need the dignity and grace that come of a God-centered life. We need to learn humility, pardon, and unselfishness. We need to close gaps and build community.

Whether you wear jeans or a business suit, you too can become part of a unique and transforming experiment. Where might you begin the process today?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Mercy Now

Dwelling in the Word at last night's elders meeting we read the passage in Luke where Jesus answers a lawyer's question "Who is my neighbor?" by telling the story that we commonly refer to as the story of the Good Samaritan. At the conclusion of the story Jesus asks the lawyer "Who was the neighbor?" and the response is the one who showed mercy. Jesus then says "Go and do likewise."

On the way home I heard this song written and sung by Mary Gauthier about how we all could use a little mercy now - the implication is not only that we could use a little mercy, but that we could stand to show a little mercy. At any rate I thought it appropriate...

Mercy Now

My father could use a little mercy now
The fruits of his labor
Fall and rot slowly on the ground
His work is almost over It won't be long and he won't be around
I love my father, and he could use some mercy now

My brother could use a little mercy now
He's a stranger to freedom
He's shackled to his fears and doubts
The pain that he lives in isAlmost more than living will allow
I love my brother, and he could use some mercy now

My church and my country could use a little mercy now
As they sink into a poisoned pit
That's going to take forever to climb out
They carry the weight of the faithfulWho follow them down
I love my church and country, and they could use some mercy now

Every living thing could use a little mercy now
Only the hand of grace can end the race
Towards another mushroom cloud
People in power, wellThey'll do anything to keep their crown
I love life, and life itself could use some mercy now

Yeah, we all could use a little mercy now
I know we don't deserve it But we need it anyhow
We hang in the balance
Dangle 'tween hell and hallowed ground
Every single one of us could use some mercy now
Every single one of us could use some mercy now
Every single one of us could use some mercy now

Monday, October 09, 2006

Getting Out of Our Ditch

Phil Ware offers a timely observation and challenges us in today's Daily Heartlight...

Getting Out of Our Ditch, by Phil Ware

Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. (Ephesians 4:1 NLT Ed. 1).

Two weeks ago, instead of focusing on the horrific news of two school shootings which occurred in the same week, the national media spent hours focusing on the Terrell Owens overdose, or whatever that was. Mental health and drug overdose issues are matters of real concern. However, the issue of gun violence in schools, especially with the loss of life, strike at the core of many parents’ fears when they send their children off to school or out in public in general.

Unfortunately, a particularly warped someone appears to have paid very close attention to what happened in those shootings. No one can be sure the previous shootings triggered the time bomb in the twisted head and heart of the man — whose name will be intentionally left unmentioned —who terrorized and murdered young Amish girls in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. However, some "experts" think it did contribute to triggering his actions. His act of brutal and sadistic violence, couched as revenge and as the emotional thrashings of a man who could not cope with his own losses, horrified us all.

Thankfully, and I say this with as deep a sarcasm as I can muster in print, there were no high profile athletes or movie stars with ingrown toenails, bad driving events with their babies in their cars, or political bones to pick thisweek. Otherwise, the Nickel Mines tragedy might have ended up on page2!

We have become a celebrity-obsessed culture. Character, virtue, and value have completely given way to bling, to image, to street cred, and to personality cultism. Maybe our fascination with the glitzy and the glamorous has always been an obsession. Yet somehow, as we tend to creep toward lives of hyper-reality rather than authenticity, we seem consumed with a covetous voyeurism toward the rich, the beautiful, the famous, the movie star chic, and the athletic. Life is not even lived on the fringes; it is now lived on the rumor, the potential publicity, and the glitz of the pseudo-world of stardom.

So what do we do? What can we do? Or should we even care? We must care! When an athlete’s overdose gains more attention and focus than the murder of a sixteen year old student gunned down by her fellow classmate or principal’s murder by a student, something deep within us has seriously broken. I fear our cultural sense of value is as twisted as the gunman who terrorized those young Amish schoolgirls.

We must awaken and realize that the show on Sunday isn’t God’s goal for us. Instead, it must be the motivation for us to be the people of God who daily live redemptive lives in our communities as the recognizable aroma of Jesus. (I’m not bashing relevant and cutting communication and worship, but if we continue the long-time Western trend of going to church as our Christian focus, our impact on our world will continue to be insensitive political rhetoric and not Jesus’ work of human redemption.) To put it in cornbread English, it’s time to get our church-going backsides off the pews and get our hands dirty doing the work of grace.

We can care! As Jesus seekers, everyday folks committed to carry on the life of Jesus in the world, we can and must serve our communities. There are a jillion ways from volunteering as foster parents, being aBig Brother or Big Sister, working with Meals on Wheels, volunteering as a school tutor, visiting people in the hospital, finding needy people and anonymously supplying them with groceries some time other than Christmas or Thanksgiving, and on and on we can go.

The show on Sunday isn’t God’s goal for us.

So ... let’s quit whining about our culture “going to hell in a handbasket” and get busy lending our warped world a hand that helps and doesn’t harangue! Anything less is simply not worth our time or worthy of our calling.

So here’s the deal. I’m interested in what you think about this. Do you believe we’ve lost our way in this cult of the personality obsession? What’s something you can do to help bless your community and begin to make a difference? I'd love to hear what you think on my blog:

Sunday, October 08, 2006


This morning we began a series on prayer by discussing the Lord's Prayer. As we were talking about asking for forgiveness as we forgive others, I couldn't help but think about the tragic event that took place this past week in the Amish community in Pennsylvania. I can hope that I would be able to display the grace and forgiveness that these people displayed towards the family of the killer of their children, but frankly I doubt that I could.

Grandfathers teaching the children to not look for the evil; compassion expressed for the family of the one who killed their children; the lack of desire for revenge; grace in the world's spotlight. These must come from a faith that is so ingrained in the people that it can manifest itself in no other way.

I can't claim to understand the Amish culture. I can mourn with them the loss of their children. I can admire the consistency they have displayed in this most difficult circumstance. And I can try to emulate their capacity to forgive.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Purpose of Pain

One of the story lines tonight on Grey's Anatomy was about a young girl who had a rare condition where her body did not feel pain. She was constantly getting cuts and bruises and had even stapled one cut closed by herself to avoid a trip to the emergency room. She convinced herself that she had super powers and consequently subjected herself to an increasing amount of physical abuse that resulted in internal bleeding and threatened her life.

One of the lines of dialogue was that "pain is there to keep us from harming ourselves". Pain serves a couple of purposes. In the physical sense, one of the purposes of pain is to protect us, to keep us from injury, to warn us that continuing to do whatever is causing us to feel pain will bring us some sort of harm. A second purpose is to notify us or remind us that we are injured and in need of healing. In sports we often admire someone who can play through pain, even though it often turns out to be to our detriment. (Speaking from personal experience here, as exemplified by my recent knee surgery.)

One of the ironies is that the healing process can also be painful. A popular phrase among athletes who are training and trying to become stronger is "no pain, no gain." It can be difficult to distinguish sometimes between the pain that comes from growth and the pain that comes from injury. It's also ironic that we often embrace the pain that signals harm and avoid the pain that results from growth. One of the euphemisms we use for someone who has had too much to drink is that "he is feeling no pain".

Pain is not necessarily something to seek to avoid, but it is something that we should listen to, whether it is warning us or reminding us that we need healing.

Break from Blogging

It has been a couple of weeks since I have posted anything. When I began blogging, I said that one of the reasons was for self discipline. I don't think I've been any busier than usual the past couple of weeks, but I just haven't had the energy to sit down with my laptop and get online to either read other blogs or to write in my own. I usually do that in the evenings while watching the news or other late night television. (By my definition, late night is after 10 pm, and is usually when I blog.) Lately, I have been trying to read some, but mostly I just nod off and then get up and go to bed. I am struck by how easy it is to get out of the habit of any disciplined activity.

This was reinforced for me this morning at my final physical therapy session. As I finished up my session, my therapist for the past 12 weeks went over the exercises that I am supposed to continue on my own. As I was leaving she said that this might be the last time I see her, but that she would know in about 9 - 12 months. She said she would be able to know whether I had continued doing my exercises because if I don't I would be seeing her again in less than a year. I told her that it was nothing personal, but I hoped I wouldn't see her again. That will be primarily up to me...

Friday, September 22, 2006

"Food" For Thought

A couple of weeks ago I had to chew awhile to digest this post in the Out of Ur blog from Christianity Today...

On August 25th, Chicago Sun Times religion columnist Cathleen Falsani wrote a piece entitled “Weighty Matter: Is religion making us fat?” In the piece, she recited Adam Ant’s lyrics in the 80’s “Don’t drink, don’t smoke, what do ya do?” She raised the question whether those Christian denominations that prohibit drinking and smoking are abusing food as a substitute for these other prohibited pleasures. For support, Falsani quotes a Purdue University study that concluded (after accounting for several other factors) that some kinds of churches seem to encourage the problem of obesity. In fact, the study states that churches where drinking alcohol, smoking, and even dancing are prohibited, “overeating has become the accepted vice.”
My denomination, along with others rooted in the old holiness movements, still hangs on to the holiness codes that prohibit alcohol and tobacco for its clergy. I consider this to be “an adventure in missing the point,” to quote Brian McLaren, and I believe Falsani helps us see why. Let me explain.
If we prohibit certain behaviors for pastoral ministry, are we not really revealing the fear that we lack the mature character for ministry in the first place? If drunkenness and chemical addiction is what we fear, why not name drunkenness and addiction as the symptoms that require discernment? By totally prohibiting alcohol and tobacco we are not really dealing with the issue of whether our clergy has mature character. We are just providing conditions to displace the lack of character (if it exists) to some other object that is safer, i.e. from tobacco or alcohol to food.
I want to be careful here about painting a broad-brush stroke across all of us who have struggled with weight. That’s not my point. I am someone who’s had food and weight problems. And I’ve had my own recent crisis with diabetes as a result. Rather, what I am trying to show here is how the holiness codes of my denomination and others do not address the issue, they merely reveal the symptom of the “Real” underlying problem.
In the end, character is about the ordering of one’s appetites towards God’s purposes in creation through a purified vision of Christ and His glory. If such desires are not ordered, if such desires are not integrated, holiness codes can only cover up the existing problem. The holiness codes then become a case of misrecognition. And as Zizek states, “the Truth arises from misrecognition.” Thus we have obesity as an epidemic in our churches.
More and more, the new generations cannot stomach these holiness codes. I have regularly met with outstanding candidates for ministry who raise their eyebrow at my denomination’s persistence on its holiness codes for clergy. This is because these codes are not holy. Instead, they trivialize holiness. The real question for us holiness denominations, if we are ever to be taken seriously by the postmodern generations (and our credibility slips everyday we hold onto to these “legalistic and unbiblical” codes of behavior—e.g. there is no Bible verse prohibiting drinking alcohol, quite the contrary), is whether we have the wherewithal to be sanctified in such a way as to be trusted with a drink or a stogie.
The real issue that our denominational leaders should focus on concerning the fitness of clergy is the commitment to a holy life and what that looks like in community. Obviously this refers to issues like drunkenness, addictions that reveal our lack of dependence upon God including tobacco, pornography, gambling, and yes, food! But this should also include how we handle money, how we engage the poor, how we speak to our neighbors, whether we engage in conflict in holy and Christ like ways. We should not resort to legalism! To the postmodern generations, “no alcohol, no tobacco” speaks only of rules, not holiness.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Church Leadership #2

A couple of days ago I began a discussion of church leadership in a missional context, and briefly described three roles of leadership: decision making, example, and relational. My thesis is that the relational aspect of leadership most closely parallels the missional work of the church in the community, but often gets the least intentional focus.

My perception is that the decision making function gets an inordinate amount of time and attention. I think there may be a couple of factors at work here. One is a cultural expectation. In modern America we expect to have a voice in decisions, and we have an expectation that leadership is representative. There is a tendency to project our concept of democratic government onto church leaders, and leaders often have those same expectations of themselves. We follow established rules of order and methods of conducting business as though we were an elected board of directors. (And when we do focus on the relational aspect of leadership it is often from the perspective of getting to know our constituency so as to better represent them)

A second factor is the inability or unwillingness to let go of control. We can get so focused on details and minutiae that we lose the perspective of what are the more important matters. We get tyrannized by the urgent and are unable to focus on what should be higher priorities. I believe that in Acts 6 the apostles recognized that the same thing was beginning to happen to them and that they appointed deacons to take care of operational details so they could focus on more important matters.

A third factor is frankly that it is easier to deal with the mechanics of budgets, programs, theology, and permission than it is to grapple with spiritual transformation. We do those kinds of things professionally and operate within a comfort zone when we spend our time dealing with them. It takes more energy and personal risk to nurture and develop open and accountable relationships.

These sound like criticisms and I don't really intend them that way. I do, however believe that the process of becoming more missional will require that we rebalance the amount of time and energy we spend on decision making and the amount we spend in prayer, mentoring, and spiritual transformation.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

American Views of God

In 2005 the Baylor Institute for Studies in Religion contracted with the Gallup organization to administer a comprehensive survey of Americans' beliefs about religion and spirituality. Some of the general findings: American religion is startlingly complex and diverse. Americans may agree that God exists. They do not agree about what God is like, what God wants for the world, or how God feels about politics. Most Americans pray. They differ widely on to whom they pray, what they pray about, and whether or not they say grace. A vast majority of Americans are Christians, but attitudes amongst those Christians regarding the salvation of others, the role of religion in government, the reality of the paranormal, and their consumption of media are surprisingly diverse.

The Baylor Religion Survey contains 29 questions about God’s character and behavior. Analysis reveals two clear and distinct dimensions of belief in God. These dimensions are:
1. God’s level of engagement – the extent to which individuals believe that God is directly involved in worldly and personal affairs.
2. God’s level of anger – the extent to which individuals believe that God is angered by human sins and tends towards punishing, severe, and wrathful characteristics.

From these dimensions, the population was classified into four types of believers. Individuals in each of the groups of believers express very different views of who God is and what God does in the world. Researchers found that the type of god people believe in can predict their political and moral attitudes more so than just looking at their religious tradition.

• 31.4 percent believe in an Authoritarian God: Individuals who believe in the Authoritarian God tend to think that God is highly involved in their daily lives and world affairs. They tend to believe that God helps them in their decision-making and is also responsible for global events such as economic upturns or tsunamis. They also tend to feel that God is quite angry and is capable of meting out punishment to those who are unfaithful or ungodly.

• 25 percent believe in a Benevolent God: Like believers in the Authoritarian God, believers in a
Benevolent God tend to think that God is very active in our daily lives. But these individuals are less likely to believe that God is angry and acts in wrathful ways. Instead, the Benevolent God is mainly a force of positive influence in the world and is less willing to condemn or punish individuals.

• 23 percent believe in a Critical God: Believers in a Critical God feel that God really does not interact with the world. Nevertheless, God still observes the world and views the current state of the world unfavorably. These individuals feel that God’s displeasure will be felt in another life and that divine justice may not be of this world.

• 16 percent believe in a Distant God: Believers in a Distant God think that God is not active in the world and not especially angry either. These individuals tend towards thinking about God as a cosmic force which set the laws of nature in motion. As such, God does not “do” things in the world and does not hold clear opinions about our activities or world events.

• 5 percent are Atheists: Atheists are certain that God does not exist. Nevertheless, atheists may still hold very strong perspectives concerning the morality of human behavior and ideals of social order but have no place for the supernatural in their larger worldview.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Happy Birthday, Dad

My dad turns 71 today. He is my hero.

Dad has lived a life of quiet service for all the years that I have been old enough to remember. He has consistently lived congruently with his core values - Faith; Integrity; Responsibility; Commitment; Service. He has been devoted to my mother for more than 50 years (their 50th anniversary was this past June).

Dad has always modeled taking care of those who are in need. He could easily been the one James was speaking about when he said that through our deeds our faith is demonstrated.

I am fortunate to have him for a father, and proud to call him Dad.

Happy birthday, Dad. I love you.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Church Leadership

This morning in class we were talking about Peter's words to elders in his first letter, and the conversation evolved into a discussion of leadership and leaders in today's culture. The general consensus was that the expectations of elders by both ourselves and congregations are largely shaped by the surrounding culture. I reflected later on the conversation and tried to put the leadership aspect of being a shepherd/overseer into a missional context.

At the risk of being overly simplistic I think that church leadership can be classified into 3 general types - leading by proclamation, leading by example, and leading through relationship. These are not hard categories and are not mutually exclusive. I think that a group of elders must function within each of these types as circumstances require or allow.

By proclamation I mean that the elders function as decision makers. I am not talking about leadership style or process - autocratic, democratic, consensus building, etc. - but about the idea that leadership must at times make and communicate decisions.

By example I mean that not only do our personal lives exhibit those qualities that Paul described to Timothy, but that our lives and actions - our serving, our attendance, our giving, our behavior toward one another, our personal spiritual disciplines - are also consistent with the decisions we make and the expectations we have for the congregation.

By relationship I mean that we actually get to know our "sheep". This is the thing that takes the most effort, time, and personal commitment, and consequently, for me personally, often gets the least attention. I don't think I am unique in this respect, although I know that there are others who do a far better job in this area, including most of the guys I presently serve with.

As I think about this in a missional context, it seems to me that the process of developing and nurturing relationships within the body most closely parallels the missional process. If that is true, the balance among the three types of leadership I have suggested would need to be heavier on the relationship side.

Just reflecting...more to come.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Ordinary People Contribute to a Masterpiece

The following appears in this week's issue of the Leadership Weekly newsletter....

Morehead, Minnesota, the home of Concordia College, lies across the state line from Fargo, North Dakota, a very bleak part of the country (especially during the winter). All year, the community anticipates Concordia's annual Christmas concert. Each December, a huge choir and a full orchestra give a musical performance in the concert hall at the college.

Every year, the people in the community create a unique background for the concert—a 100-by-30-foot mosaic. Beginning in the summer, about six months before the concert, the community designs a new mosaic, rents an empty building, and the painting begins. Thousands of people, from junior high schoolers to senior citizens, paint the mosaic. They paint by number on a large-scale design that has thousands of tiny pieces. Day after day, month after month, one little painted piece at a time, the picture on the mosaic gradually takes shape.

When everyone has finished painting, an artist goes over the entire creation, perfecting the final work of art. When the mosaic is completed, they place it behind the choir. It has the appearance of an enormous, beautiful stained-glass window. The weekend of the concert, those people who helped paint arrive early, along with their friends and neighbors. Throughout the building, you can hear people whispering, "See that little green spot below the camel's foot? I painted it."

Every year in the middle of the summer in Morehead, Minnesota, thousands of unknown, ordinary people paint a tiny insignificant tile. Six months later, the result is a spectacularly beautiful masterpiece.

Citation: Mike Yaconelli, Messy Spirituality (Zondervan, 2002), pp. 118-119; submitted by Greg Miller, Madison, Mississippi

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


"Have you ever looked in a pickle jar and seen two pickles that were exactly alike? We are all pickles - each one is a little bit different." Yesterday I was rehabbing my knee when I heard the voice of one of the physical therapists responding to the question of one his clients as to how her injury compared with others in the room.

While I can't claim to having ever heard that specific analogy before, it struck me as being particularly apt. Sunday evening in life group we were talking about the differences in how we respond to scripture based on our own natural predisposition and personality. As a church we have been practicing the discipline of Dwelling in the Word, and these differences are sometimes pronounced and sometimes subtle nuance, but they are consistently present.

Sometimes we can get so focused on the differences between us it can be easy to forget that the similarities are far greater. Differences in language, in skin color, in socio-economic status, in politics; the differences that tend to separate and isolate us - these diminish when we consider that we are all pickles. Each of us is a little bit different from the next, but we are pickles nonetheless.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Friday, Mike Cope posted a quotation from Dallas Willard that I think is worth repeating here....

From Dallas Willard’s The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’s Essential Teachings on Discipleship:
“For at least several decades the churches of the Western world have not made discipleship a condition of being a Christian. One is not required to be, or to intend to be, a disciple in order to become a Christian, and one may remain a Christian without any signs of progress toward or in discipleship. Contemporary American churches in particular do not require following Christ in his example, spirit, and teachings as a condition of membership — either of entering into or continuing in fellowship of a denominationn or local church. I would be glad to learn of any exception to this claim, but it would only serve to highlight its general validity and make the general rule more glaring. So far as the visible Christian institutions of our day are concerned, discipleship clearly is optional.”

Friday, September 08, 2006

John Kerry to Speak at Pepperdine

I'm sure that there will be some things over the next few years that do not excite me about Taylor's Pepperdine experience, but for now there are a couple of things that reinforce my conviction that he made a good choice.

The first occurs this weekend with what the university calls "step-forward day". Roughly 1500 students will be spending their Saturday volunteering with Los Angeles community-based organizations - cleaning, building, serving food, working with children, etc. - and for many this is the beginning of a longer journey on which they learn how to give their strengths, talents, and gifts back to their communities.

The second is that while Pepperdine is a conservative institution - you might recall that the Dean of the Law School is Ken Starr - the administration is not afraid to invite speakers like Jim Wallis, who spoke at this past Wednesday's convocation, or Senator John Kerry, who will be speaking later this month on campus.

According to the student newspaper, Seaver College Dean David Baird said Kerry was invited to campus after the university received word that Kerry was looking for a Christian university, where he could address his own faith as an important part of his political agenda. Baird said he extended the invitation to Kerry and felt the senator’s presence could enrich campus life. “I am well aware, of course, that Pepperdine’s public image politically is conservative and Republican, but I am also aware that an educational institution that is worth its salt welcomes diverse perspectives in the public square,” Baird said.

Kudos to Pepperdine.

Thursday, September 07, 2006


It has been 6 months and 105 posts since I began this blogging thing. Sometimes I sit at the keyboard and no words or thoughts come to mind and other times the words just flow. One of the ways I get by the barren times is to borrow from some of the others I read. One of those is Edward Fudge, whose gracemails usually come once a week or so. This one from last week struck a nerve....

(gracEmail) The rich man of La Madeleine
Edward Fudge
Aug 30, 2006 (Reprinted from April 16, 1998)

"I'm eating a rich man's lunch today," I say to myself, pulling up my chair to the feast of rotisserie chicken, Caesar's salad, fresh-baked bread and assorted jellies and marmalades spread before me. I usually lunch on the cafeteria "special," but today I am splurging at La Madeleine, a charming French bakery and cafe with locations around Houston.

Suddenly a voice interrupts my reverie. "Sir, will you give me anything to buy some food?" I look up to see a derelict, moving from table to table. Although I frequently give to such askers, I react negatively to this man's sheer audacity. "What nerve!" I instinctively think. "Coming right here inside this nice restaurant. Any respectable panhandler should at least approach people outside."

I look him squarely in the eye. "No," I say. Without response, he moves to the next table. "He's a BEGGAR," I think, with a tinge of disgust.

Then, with lightning speed, another thought flashes through my head. "Beggar at the rich man's table." Conscience pounds me like a sledge-hammer. "I am a beggar before God. God is generous to beggars. I show his grace and character by imitating his generosity." Suddenly I remember the judgment scene of Matthew 25. "When did I see you hungry, Lord, and not feed you?" I am asking. "That certain noon at La Madeleine," comes the dreadful reply. "And, as for audacity, who do you think you ARE?"

I push back my plate and jump to my feet. Quickly I walk through the restaurant looking for this modern Lazarus. "Let me divide my food with you," I will tell him. "I haven't touched it yet, and there is enough here for us both." He is nowhere to be found. The Lord's hour of visitation has come, and I have failed to recognize his presence. All I can do is repent and ask God's forgiveness.

"Rich man's lunch," indeed! If only those incriminating words had never crossed my mind. "God, please give me another opportunity."

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

More Labor Day Musings...

Spent some time reading more of The World is Flat. Friedman describes three causes contributing to what he describes as a coming crisis in American science and engineering research and development as it relates to the rest of the world. He describes a numbers gap, an ambition gap, and an education gap. He made 2 specific statements that caught my attention...

In illustrating the ambition gap, he talked about how Bill Gates draws crowds of young people on any occasion he speaks in China. He describes it like this. "In China today, Bill Gates is Brittany Spears. In America today, Brittany Spears is Brittany Spears - and that is our problem."

The second statement is related to the competition for top educational opportunities in China, where the population is roughly 1.3 billion people. He says they have a saying - "In China when you are one in a million, there are 1300 other people just like you."

Monday, September 04, 2006

Labor Day Musings...

Today as I was resting and relaxing I reminisced a bit about the jobs I have held over the years. The list as I remember it includes several part time and summer jobs, beginning with a paper route in the 6th grade. My mother and sister helped quite a bit through my sophmore year when we finally gave it up. It was an evening paper and I had practice after school for one sport or another all through school, so my responsibility was primarily summers, weekends, and collecting; they did a good job with my paper route...

There were also the occasional odd jobs - lawn mowing, fence painting, etc until the spring of my sophmore year when I began working after school and on weekends at the garden center of the area's largest florist. That summer I worked at the nursery owned by the florist for $1.85 an hour - minimum wage was $2 but they had an agricultural exemption to pay less...I also sold Christmas trees and delivered flowers after I got my drivers license. The following summer I was set to work again on the farm(nursery) and had actually worked for a week when I was informed that I would be required to pay union dues - a good idea run amok. Labor unions have served an important function for the workers in this country, but have at times gotten a little carried away; this was one of those times - I was a high school kid working a summer job for less than minimum wage, would receive no benefit, and would have to forfeit my first 2 weeks earnings to the union. In the righteous indignation of youth I refused, and no longer had a summer job. A couple of days later I found a job for the summer with a home builder for more than minimum wage and spent the summer as a laborer helping build a house.

Beginning the summer after high school graduation I worked as a summer laborer for the gas company each summer until I graduated from college. I also worked in the university media center, at a Bonanza restaurant, and later as a stockboy at a pharmacy while I was going to school. The summer after I graduated from college I worked as a teachers aide in a migrant head start program and umpired little league baseball. The next school year I got my Masters while working as a graduate assistant and part time as a custodian at the College Church. After graduating with my Masters degree I spent the summer working in a plastics factory until I started my coaching/teaching career in the fall.

I worked in a lot of different conditions during all these part time jobs. Some jobs were physically exhausting, some consisted of mind numbing repetitive tasks, some involved interactions with customers. There were lessons to be learned in all of them, but I think the most valuable is the importance of how you treat people. Whether employer, employee, customer, or co-worker, to treat others as you would want to be treated is one of the teachings of Jesus that applies to any situation.

I also worked for a number of bosses and experienced a wide range of effectiveness and ineffectiveness. The most effective have been those who treat subordinates with dignity and respect, provide a clear expectation of the tasks to be accomplished, and to the degree within their control provide the resources or tools to accomplish the task. And did I mention treat people with dignity and respect? I have been somebody's boss for most of my career; I haven't always done a good job on the expectations part, and sometimes have not provided adequate resources, but I have always tried to treat everyone with dignity and respect.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A Land of Beauty and Contrasts

The day that we moved Taylor into his dorm we made a trip through Malibu Canyon to the nearest Target. The drive through the canyon is scenic, but one of the my favorite views in the world is on the trip back.

As you round the last curve the Pacific stretches out directly in front of you. Several hundred feet below on your left is the Pacific Coast Highway with Malibu State Beach just beyond. And along the foot of the mountain on the right spreads out the campus of Pepperdine. It is a magnificent sight. Pepperdine is situated where the mountains meet the sea.

The next morning I sat on the patio at our hotel, enjoying my coffee, and watching at least a half dozen dolphins about 30 yards off shore. Feeding and frolicking - a mesmerizing sight.

Later that morning we walked along the beach in Malibu, enjoying the cool ocean breeze and admiring the multimillion dollar homes lining that section of beach. The next day we drove to Santa Barbara - the 'American Riviera' - where the harbor is full of yachts and sail boats, and the median home price is $900,000.

In the midst of this opulence are homeless people sleeping on the beach. There are migrant farm workers harvesting grapes in the vineyards and produce from the fields. There are hundreds of people in the service industry working in resorts, hotels, restaurants. Along Venice Beach, one of the country's most eclectic locations, there are various 'artists' trying to get by selling their wares, and there are languages being spoken from all over the world.

In the midst of the natural beauties of the mountains and the ocean are freeways, several lanes wide and packed with cars. There is air thick with smog. There is a difference of nearly 20 degrees in the temperature of the coastal areas and that of the valleys.

I do enjoy visiting California, but there just as anywhere else, what you see depends on what you are looking for.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Cutting the Fat

On the plane back from Los Angeles I was catching up on some reading, and this excerpt from The World is Flat caught my attention...

It's hard to create a human bond with e-mail and streaming Internet. The next day, I had dinner with my friend Ken Geer, who runs a media company that I discuss in greater detail later. Ken had a similar lament: So many contracts were going these days to the advertising firms that were selling just numbers, not creative instinct. Then Ken said something that really hit home with me: "It is like they have cut all the fat out of the business and turned everything into a numbers game. But fat is what gives meat its taste," Ken added. "The leanest cuts of meat don't taste very good. You want it marbled with at least a little fat."

The flattening process relentlessly trims the fat out of business and life, but, as Ken noted, fat is what gives life taste and texture. Fat is also what keeps us warm.

Texas Governor Rick Perry recently ordered across the board cuts of 10% from the operating budgets of all state agencies. He has made it an annual practice to order cuts of 10-15% every year since he became governor. State agencies responsible for functions such as child support collections, child protective services, children's health insurance, health and family services - all have been reduced by 25-40% over the past few years. It occurs to me that we have gone well beyond cutting the fat to cutting into the marrow that provides life support to the most vulnerable among us.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

A Faith-Based University

When Lauren decided to go to Pepperdine, we didn't really know much about the university. Coming from a Harding background, we sort of had the impression that Pepperdine was a distant cousin in the church of Christ higher education family; that it gave lip service to its Christian heritage, but was really more of a secular institution with all the shallow and glamorous trappings of the rich and famous Malibu lifestyle.
We couldn't have been more wrong. The school's mission statement gives a glimpse into the nature of the university...
Pepperdine is a Christian university committed to the highest standards of academic excellence and Christian values, where students are strengthened for lives of purpose, service, and leadership.
As we learned more about Pepperdine and experienced it with Lauren, we became more and more impressed with its spiritual purpose - It is the purpose of Pepperdine University to pursue the very highest academic standards within a context that celebrates and extends the spiritual and ethical ideals of the Christian faith. When Taylor decided to attend Pepperdine as well, we were pleased with his decision and confident that he would receive not only a fine academic education, but one that would help shape and mature his faith and prepare him for a life of service.
Our confidence was only reinforced by the remarks of President Andy Benton at the opening assembly Tuesday evening of New Student Orientation. As he spoke of the heritage of the university, of the direction set by its former leaders, the themes of faith, purpose, service, and excellence were woven throughout. In introducing the new students and their parents to the university he spoke of how the Dead Sea became dead because it receives and does not give; he spoke of how one plaintive voice can be hauntingly beautiful, but power comes from multiple voices lifted together; to illustrate he lead the group in singing Amazing Grace. He established a tone and challenged the students to a high standard for their time at Pepperdine.
While it is a place of great physical beauty, it is anything but shallow.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

One Week Later...

Taylor and I left around 7:15 CST last Sunday morning, and approximately 900 miles later stopped for the night about 8:30 PST in Tucson. We hit some pretty heavy rain about 50 miles this side of El Paso, and saw some pretty amazing lightning in Arizona. Also one of the more magnificent sunsets I have ever seen.

I had made this trip once before with Lauren, and everything was brown and dry then. I was amazed at how green everything was in west Texas and all the way across southern New Mexico. Arizona was pretty rugged, but we didn't truly hit desert until mid-Monday morning as we crossed into California. From the state line to well past Palm Springs, it was hot, dry, and desolate. The temperature ranged from 108-111. There was one gas station about halfway between Blythe and Palm Springs, and regular undleaded cost $3.99 per gallon. Fortunately, we didn't need gas at that point. Prices that we saw in the Los Angeles area ranged from $3.07 - $3.39.

After crossing the desert, we initiated Royce II and Royce III to the delights of the In and Out Burger in Loma Linda. We reached the end of the interstate at Santa Monica, took a right, and rolled into Malibu around 4:30 Monday afternoon. Barbara had flown in earlier that afternoon and was already checked in to our hotel. After dinner we discovered, to her dismay, that there is no longer a Ben and Jerry's in Malibu.

The next morning Taylor and Royce got checked in for New Student Orientation, got their student IDs, and checked into their dorm. The rest of the day was spent moving their stuff and setting up their room. Although there are a couple of palm trees impeding their view slightly, you can see the Pacific from their window. Promises to be a tough semester...After a trip to Target, Orientation officially began that evening...

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Emptying the Nest

Taylor and I will be leaving first thing tomorrow morning to make the 22 hour drive from Richardson to Malibu. It's hard to believe that the time has come, but he seems ready to go. His Explorer is all packed and he is enjoying Dave Matthews tonight. Time surely does not slow down as it passes.

I just checked the weather forecast for Malibu - it looks like they are expecting a heat wave. The highs this past week have been in the mid 70's, but for next week it looks like they are going to get up into the low 80's. I'll try to survive...

It has been 6 weeks since my knee surgery. My knee looks pretty normal now, with the addition of 5 little scars and a couple of lumpy places. It feels pretty good, and I am able to extend it to within a couple of degrees of straight. I've been bicycling for a couple of weeks now, and have added small doses of the elliptical trainer. We took an easy hour ride this morning with no ill effects. It does look like I will have to forego rollerblading at the beach on this trip. Maybe next time...
I probably won't have much opportunity to post this week, so until next week may the Lord bless you and keep you.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

There but for the Grace of God...

There was an excellent column in the Religion section of the Morning News yesterday about Mel Gibson's drunken tirade and the backlash that it has sparked. One line in that column specifically grabbed my attention:

The episode could be a moment of conversion, too, for all of us high-minded commentators who take comfort in not being like that booze-addled anti-Semite.

I thought about that statement; I thought about Chuck Adair and his story as he related it last week; I thought about a former president who was ridiculed with such relish by the 'right'eous for his moral failings; I thought about about a number of people whose shortcomings have been exposed in a public or not so public way.

I was reminded again that while I am very much the sinner in need of mercy, in my own mind's eye I am more often the pharisee thankful that I am not like those sinners or others that I encounter on a daily basis. In reality, I just haven't been so publicly exposed. My lust, my pride, my selfishness, my arrogance, my deceit, my lack of trust - these are all my hidden secrets.

Only they are not hidden from the One who knows my heart. Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Friday, August 11, 2006

The World Is Flat

In the first chapter of The World Is Flat Thomas Friedman identifies what he describes as 3 eras of globalization. Globalization 1.0 was characterized by political and economic relationships among and between governments. Globalization 2.o was characterized by international collaboration and competition among businesses and corporations. The first half of this era was driven by advances in transportation; the second half by advances in technology, especially telecommunications. The current era, Globalization 3.0, is characterized by individuals having the power to compete and collaborate on a global level.

In one illustration, he uses the example of airline reservations/ticketing. In a globalization 1.0 era, all ticketing is done manually and is on paper. In a globalization 2.o era, ticketing may be done electronically, but is still controlled by the airline or travel agent. In globalization 3.0 the passenger makes his reservations, pays, and prints his own boarding pass all from the convenience of his own home.

Thinking about how to do church and missions, there may be some parallels to consider as the world around us changes ever more rapidly. I'm not sure what missions looks like in a globalization 3.0 era, but I have the feeling it is much more about individual interactions than organized, structured efforts.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

30 Days

The FX network is featuring a series called Thirty Days, where a person with a strong belief or opinion spends 30 days living with a family who holds the opposite view. The concept is that the participants will get beyond stereotypes and develop a deeper understanding and mutual respect for each other. The phrase "walk a mile in my shoes" might be applicable.

One of the greatest benefits for both youth and adults who participate in mission trips is the opening of their eyes that occurs from living for a short while in another environment. As I ponder what I can apply from these concepts, this recent gracemail from Edward Fudge comes to mind.
(gracEmail) natural evangelism
Edward Fudge
Aug 08, 2006


One gracEmail subscriber draws back from the thought of approaching strangers to distribute evangelistic leaflets. Another subscriber feels unable to engage in door-to-door "cold campaigning" such as is done by Jehovah's Witnesses but also feels guilty in this regard. A third subscriber rejects such outreach methods as impersonal, insisting that evangelism requires a personal relationship to be genuinely authentic. And a fourth subscriber suggests that not every Christian is gifted to be an evangelist, just as not all are teachers, pastors or prophets.
* * *
Clearly the "E-word" has fallen into disrepute among many Christians today. This demise of evangelism has resulted partly from fear and cowardice, partly because of the church's infection by a popular culture which abhors religious conviction, and partly in reaction to t he distasteful antics of some whose zeal exceeds their knowledge and good manners. Not all believers are called to be evangelists (Eph. 4:11-13), but all have a part in the evangelistic mission of the church. Indeed, the apostle Paul in Colossians 4:2-6 offers a series of guidelines for everyday living which result in a natural process of evangelism that is respectful, winsome and effective.

"Devote yourselves to prayer," he says first, "keeping alert," always "praying that God will open a door for the word." God himself prepares lives to receive the gospel, opens hearts to hear it, and gives faith to receive it. We ask him to do all that, then we watch to see where he is working so we can join in what he is doing. "Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders," the apostle continues. Our own daily lives usually provide the connection with others whom God will touch through our efforts. Our consistent, observable conduct also len ds credibility to our conversation when the time comes to speak a gospel word about Jesus and God's love revealed in him.

"Making the most of the opportunity," Paul concludes. "Let your speech always be with grace." When God provides an open door and an open heart, we need to speak clearly and courageously, but also graciously and with sincere respect for each individual we address. As we regularly do these things, God uses us in his great saving purpose. This is about God's agenda and he is responsible for the results.

Copyright 2006 by Edward Fudge. Permission hereby granted to reprint this gracEmail in its entirety without change, with credit given and not for financial profit. To visit our multimedia website, click here.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Central Dallas Opportunity

If you haven't kept up with what's been happening at Central Dallas Ministries, you have missed out on some exciting news. CDM recently received a $12 million tax credit from the Texas Department of Housing and Urban Affairs to help offset the cost of renovating CityWalk @ Akard, a 15 story downtown building that has been vacant for several years. As Larry James has described it in his blog,

"We plan to develop 200 high-quality, affordable apartments for low-income, working people in the 15-story building that has been vacant for almost 15 years.

Fifty of these units will be reserved for formerly homeless persons. Nine of the units will be offered at market rate. We also plan for some light retail on the ground floor and approximately 35-40 Central Dallas Ministries' staff members will office in the building daily.

The building also contains a 300-seat auditorium that we will restore for use by arts, music, dance and theater groups, as well as faith communities and groups who reside in the building."

This project has the potential to help transform a community that is desparately in need and to greatly expand the reach of service provided by Central Dallas Ministries. In today's post on his blog, Larry has taken the uncharacteristic step of asking readers for financial support for this project. I believe this project will be good for Dallas, and even better for God's kingdom. I have already responded, and hope that you will to. You can make a secure online donation here.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Prodigal

Dwight was on vacation today. Chuck Adair preached this morning in his absence. His text was Luke 15. I can't think of anyone more suited to speak from the perspective of the prodigal son. Chuck's openness in taking responsibility for his actions, his brokenness, and his subsequent recognition of and acceptance of God's grace are the embodiment of the reconciliation Jesus describes in this parable. I have confidence that God will do great things through Chuck in ministry to those who are in prison and those who are transitioning out of prison.

Coincidentally, I had chosen Luke 15 to discuss in the Covenant class this morning. I believe that the primary group Jesus is speaking to in these three parables is the pharisees and teachers who were mumbling about his associating with sinners. I think that we sometimes focus so much on the repentance of the younger brother and the acceptance of the father that we overlook the character that I think was Jesus' main point - the older brother and his attitude. I am proud of Skillman and how we have responded to Chuck since his release from prison.