Monday, December 28, 2009

Day of Money Changers (Counters) in the Temple

Today is the day we “count” contributions from Christmas Eve and the Sunday following. It’s an important count as we consider our year-end budget needs. I’m not allowed to actually count (or even touch) the money (a good call for pastors) so I came in to make coffee and bring cake to the counters (and lunch for the money counting staff).

As they count dollars in the conference room I decided I should count the gifts that made Christmas Eve the loveliest night of the year. Among the gifts I will treasure are:

Beautiful music. Ben, Dave, Brian, Aaron and Jenna produced a most amazing evening of music ranging from a rock version of Joy to the World to a beautiful lullaby with a Children’s Choir ensemble joining our Chancel Choir. Cameron’s opening to the services with See Amid the Winter’s Snow was perfect! Jenna’s Tonight, Who Would Imagine a King and A Baby Changes Everything were amazing! Britany’s O Night Divine was the perfect punctuation to a series of incredible solos. And, at least for me, Brian’s arrangement of How Great Our Joy! makes it Christmas!

A poem written by a young girl from Mission of Yahweh. She so beautifully captured the Christmas story.

The wonder and joy on the faces of young children when we’d bring them up front during the candlelight singing of Silent Night.

Lighting the Advent Candles with Kim, Kelli, Jennifer and Jamie. With Kelli graduating college in May who knows where next Christmas Eve may find us all.

There was a moment almost each time I gave the message when the congregation got the words to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer wrong. It’s “one foggy Christmas Eve” not “one foggy Christmas night.” For some reason that made me smile each time it happened. It’s good to worship with “misfit toys.”

The Grace Staff. From communications to worship to accounting and facilities and childcare even the pastoral staff – the effort put into Christmas Eve reflected hearts of love for Jesus. It is such a blessing to be surrounded by such an amazing group of Christ followers.

On Christmas Eve we “opened a jar of perfume” and poured it out as our gift to celebrate the gift of a Savior. I can hardly wait to offer that gift to Him 57 more times in 2010.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Kingdom Challenge Answered

Earlier this fall we invited the congregation to take a Kingdom Challenge. The challenge was simple: trust God with your finances by giving more over ten weeks.

This morning I received a check (payable to Grace) attached to a Kingdom Challenge card and a note that reads:

This is for…
…the black purse I didn’t need
…the herringbone tweed halter vest I really didn’t want
…the printed metallic scarf I put back on the rack
…the shawl collar shirt that I didn’t order
…and a slew of other things, “stuff,” that I didn’t need.
Merry Christmas!

This has to be one of the very best notes (and checks) I’ve ever received. The memo line on the check reads: “Stuff I didn’t need!

I’m convinced that in letting go of what wasn’t needed this Kingdom Adventurer discovered the true treasures of contentment, trust and joy!

That makes for a very Merry Christmas!

The Island of Misfit Toys

As we head toward the loveliest night of the year (Christmas Eve) for some reason I’ve been unable to get the Island of Misfit Toys out of my head. The island “surfaced” in 1964 on what has become the longest continually running Christmas special, “Rudolph the Red–Nosed Reindeer.”

According to Wikipedia, The "Island of Misfit Toys" is an island sanctuary where defective and unwanted toys are sent. The island is ruled by King Moonracer - a winged lion. Among the citizens (castaways) are:

Spotted Elephant (also is the island's bellhop),

Bird Fish is a toy bird who swims instead of flies,

Misfit Cowboy who rides an ostrich,

Trainer, a train with square wheels on its caboose,

A toy boat that sinks rather than floats,

A squirt gun that shoots grape jelly,

An airplane that can't fly,

A bear that rides a bike, and

"A scooter for Jimmy."

There’s also a "Dolly for Sue" (as she calls herself) who by all appearances is a seemingly normal girl rag doll with red hair and a red gingham (checkered) dress. However in 2007 on NPR “Rudolph's” producer, Arthur Rankin, reveals that Dolly's problem was psychological, caused from being abandoned by her mistress and suffering depression from feeling unloved.

What a great reminder that beneath all of our carefully decorated and attired Christmas facades are a bunch of misfit toys. I’ve often thought that at times I serve the First Church of Misfit Toys led by a staff that shoots grape jelly.

The good news of Christmas is that God’s love makes room for misfit toys to welcomed to the family.

By the way, my favorite misfit is a jack-in-the-box named Charlie – which means he is actually a “Charlie-In-The-Box “ and as he laments, “Nobody wants a Charlie-in-the-box.”

God does and so do we. So I am praying that all the Charlies, Bird Fish, ostrich riding Cowboys and Dolls for Sue join us on Christmas Eve to celebrate good news of great joy for misfits like us.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Schindler's Struggle

In preparing for this weekend’s Advent Conspiracy message on Giving More I was reminded of the closing scene in the movie Schindler’s List. If you know the movie the basic storyline has Oskar Shindler rescuing Polish Jews from the Holocaust by employing them in his factories. In the closing scene Schindler despairs that he could have done more. He laments:

I could have got more out. I could have got more. I don't know. If I'd just... I could have got more… If I'd made more money... I threw away so much money. You have no idea. If I'd just... I didn't do enough! This car. Goeth would have bought this car. Why did I keep the car? Ten people right there. Ten people. Ten more people. This pin. Two people. This is gold. Two more people. He would have given me two for it, at least one. One more person. A person. For this I could have gotten one more person... and I didn't! And I... I didn't!

In a sense Schindler’s struggle is one we face in ministry.

The cost of an orchestra for Christmas Eve could dig four wells in villages where people are dying from a lack of clean drinking water. The price of a drum riser would sponsor a Compassion Child for a year. The resources required to produce a Christmas CD could purchase 30 cows through Heifer International.

And yet orchestras and drum risers and Christmas CDs are good things – actually very good things.

The daily challenge is to live with a bit of tension as we steward God’s resources.

It’s an old tension.

When Mary poured out expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet Judas (admittedly with impure motives) criticized her:

Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?

Yet Jesus’ praised her extravagance toward Him and we are told that the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

Perhaps that’s the key to resolving the tension. Orchestras and drum risers and Christmas CD’s can fill the world with the fragrance of love for Jesus. So can digging wells and sponsoring children and giving cattle (which I believe to be a very Texan sort of way to give).

Perhaps this Christmas we can be bold enough to be generous toward one another and toward God.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Rainy Tuesday Thoughts

It’s been a day (actually few days) when I’ve been reminded that the church (any church including this one) isn’t perfect – and neither are the church’s pastors, staff or members.

In those moments I’m reminded of words written by John Calvin (I don’t think I’ve every posted anything about Calvin even though he did turn 500 this year):

Since all men are somewhat beclouded with ignorance, either we must leave no church remaining, or we must condone delusion in those matters which can go unknown without harm to the sum of religion and without loss of salvation…

The church is holy, then, in the sense that it is daily advancing and is not yet perfect: it makes progress from day to day but has not yet reached it’s goal of holiness…

…neither the vices of the few nor the vices of the many in any way prevent us from professing our faith there in ceremonies ordained by God. For a godly conscience is not wounded by the unworthiness of another, whether pastor or layman; nor are the sacraments less pure and salutary for a holy and upright man because they are handled by unclean persons.

John Calvin, The Holy Catholic Church, IV.i.12, 17, 19

Perhaps Thomas Merton had similar thoughts on his mind when he wrote some of my favorite words for those of us called to ministry:

…the sacrifice that is demanded of adult Christian men and women: the realistic acceptance of imperfection and of deficiency in themselves, in others, and in their most cherished institutions.

They must face the truth of these imperfections, in order to see that the Church does not merely exist to do everything for them, to create a haven of peace and security for them, to sanctify them passively. On the contrary, it is now time for them to give to their community from their own heart’s blood and to participate actively and generously in all its struggles. It is time to sacrifice themselves for others who may no longer seem to be very worthy…

It takes great heroism to devote one’s life to others in a situation which is frustrating and unsatisfactory, and in which one’s sacrifice may even be, in large measure, wasted. But here above all, faith in God is necessary. He sees our sacrifice, and he will make it fruitful, even though in our own eyes there is nothing apparent but futility and frustration. When we accept this grace, our eyes are opened to see the real, unsuspected good in others, and to be truly grateful for our Christian vocation.

Thomas Merton, Life and Holiness

Monday, November 30, 2009

A Prayer for the Day I Begin My Christmas Shopping

Some of my favorite prayers have been written by Kenneth Phifer who was the pastor of St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church in New Orleans. Many of Phifer’s prayers can be found in A Book of Uncommon Prayer.

One of my very favorites is a great prayer for entering into an Advent Conspiracy.

A Prayer for the Day I Begin My Christmas Shopping

O God, I do like real things like money and houses, fast automobiles and diamond rings.

Forgive me that when I think of Christmas, I often think of real things like that.

I teach my children to think of bicycles and dolls, of toy trains and airplanes, of sugar and spice and everything nice.

Forgive me for my foolishness.

These things I spend so much time playing around with are not bad, I can even use them creatively.

They make up much of my world and occupy a great deal of my time.

But You know what my problem is?

I get so involved in accumulating them that I forget who I am.

I get so surrounded by them that I end up tangelfooted, stumbling along from thing to thing, falling down at times, bruising my shins upon them.

Can You clear away some of the clutter of my life this year, O Lord?

Can You help me pick my way through the crowded stores?

Can You make me quiet long enough to hear angels?

Can Your Word about life break through the blare of tawdry commercials,

The commercials that insist life can be bought if I will only go deeply into debt?

Lord, do You understand me?

Can You help me to understand myself?

Do I really substitute gifts for self-giving too often?

Would I do better to say “I love you” as I pass out the presents?

Would I come closer to someone by spending as much time listening as I do shopping?

These thoughts bother me at times.

It may be that in my busyness I am losing touch with the things that are most real

It may be I am losing touch with You and with the Child whom You sent to grow up to be a Man, whose word was Your Word and whose love was Your Love.

I like real things, and I know if I will listen, I may hear of the most real things of all, things like hope and love and faith, that can change lives, even mine, and renew them in the image of Christ my Lord. Amen.

Monday, November 23, 2009


Before heading out of town for what promises to be a great Thanksgiving week “back home” in Charleston, SC – we spent a busy 4 days helping to host the annual Houston Christian girls basketball tournament. My volunteer responsibility was to operate the clock at scoreboard for about a dozen games. I got to see a lot of basketball – some good, some not so good and some absolutely awful.

As much as I enjoy watching our team play my highlight moment came following a “third place” game with Milburn Academy.

The six Milburn girls were overmatched much of the tournament. Their volunteer coach did the best she could but it was evident that the players had little experience, lacked discipline and varied greatly in athletic ability. It was equally evident that the girls come from tough “off-court” family situations. Tattoos and babies in the stand were testimonies to lives very different than most of the private schools teams participating in the tournament. Earlier in the week I had toured the Alief section of Houston with some Young Life leaders – a stark reminder that gangs and drugs are a very real dangerous part of Houston and a regular part of the Milburn team’s world.

As the final seconds of the game wound down I was asked to select a Milburn player to award a trophy as her teams MVP. I chose number 3, Octavia. She wasn’t the high scorer but she played with a passion and intensity that set her apart from the rest of the team.

After the post-game handshakes our head coach, one of the refs and I presented Octavia with her trophy – she was speechless and I realized that this was likely the first time Octavia had ever been awarded a trophy or an award for anything in her life.

We too often take that sort of recognition for granted. Many of our daughters collect those sorts of trophies and awards and they fill the walls and shelves of their rooms. This was Octavia’s first and it might well be her only – I don’t get a sense that trophies are handed out on a regular basis in her world.

The Houston Christian Mustangs lost to Concordia Lutheran in the championship game. But for me the highlight of the weekend and the memory I will carry with me for a long time is Octavia’s face as she held her trophy. Her joy was a great reminder of what sports can be about and the power of recognition.

So here’s a challenge for this week of Thanksgiving – Who can I recognize that too often goes unappreciated?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Fishing Revolution

Last night I attended a breakfast por la noche for NewSpring, a ministry that is empowering business development in the Spring Branch area of Houston. Jim Herrington (Mission Houston) was the host and in his remarks about missional living really got me thinking.

You’ve probably heard the proverb:

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.
Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

But what if you wanted to revolutionize the fishing industry?

Too many churches (both mainstream and non-traditional) have been fishing (Jesus said when we follow Him we become fishermen) for years (and years and years) with pretty much the same methods. We might update the equipment now and then or come up with really flashy fishing lures but for the most part we all been in the “how do we attract the fish” paradigm.

One of the shifts that has the potential to revolutionize the fishing industry is a movement from attracting the fish to living with the fish. It’s a shift from attractional to incarnational – which when you think about it is God’s move that we celebrate next month.

Revolutions require three things:

Leadership. Specifically, leadership that cares enough to be incarnational. Incarnational leaders invest all that they have to the revolution. It becomes the very air they breathe.

Partnership. We can’t sustain a revolution on our own. Partnerships between churches and schools and businesses and government is essential – and it can happen – it is happening.

Sacrifice. No revolution takes places without cost and a willingness to risk whatever it cost to sustain the revolution.

As I head into the Christmas season where we will be proclaiming that Christmas can still make a difference (revolutionize the world) I’m asking myself:

Is my leadership incarnational?
Who are my partners?
What sacrifices am I willing to risk?

To the glory of God!

Baby Shower Thank You

Mom always said to say “thank you” so here’s a big thank you to everyone who made our Baby Shower for Houston a great success. Together we blessed moms and babies with the love of Jesus and:

Diapers – 15,209 each
Wipes – 378 packages
Formula – 64
Pedialite - 2
Baby Wash – 19
Lotion – 12
Baby Powder – 7
Cotton Swabs – 2
Diaper Ointment – 13
Dry Cereal – 4
Empty bottles – 14
Sippy cups – 2
Pacifiers – 12
Jar food – 44
Gerber snacks – 6
Bottles of juice – 44
Blankets/Quilts – 23
Cloth Diapers - 12
Receiving Blankets – 24
Washcloth – 18
Burp cloth – 12
Bibs - 11
Comfort clothes - 3
Stuffed Animals – 49
Socks – 57 pairs
Underwear – 18
Onesies – 52
Outfits (two piece) – 8
Robe – 1
Hat & Mittens – 1 set
Baby book – 1
Picture frames – 2
Baby Bather – 1

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Baby Shower for Houston

On any given night there are an estimated 1,500 homeless youth, ages 17-24, living on the streets of Houston. Within that population are young moms raising their children in this precarious environment.

Thankfully, there are ministries like Little Footprints.

The heart of Little Footprints is to reach the little ones of the streets of Houston through various means:

Assisting the mother to become stable enough to raise her own children
Placing her child/children in our Rescue Family Program through Loving Alternative, an adoption/foster agency
Helping with practical needs such as diapers, wipes and formula, etc.

The goal of Little Footprints is: to love, bring acceptance to, give encouragement, and instill self worth and a sense of value into the street children, teaching them that they are special and that someone cares about them that they may become healthy citizens of society.

On Sunday morning, November 8 you have an opportunity to help Grace Presbyterian Church partner with Little Footprints to realize that goal. In our worship services we are throwing a Baby Shower for babies in need in Houston. We are inviting all who attend the shower to:

Bring diapers, wipes or formula (or anything else a baby or young mom might need).
Invite a friend to attend the “baby shower” with you.

Jesus welcomed the little children and on November 8 we get to show them all His love.

Share this opportunity with everyone you know!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Not Complacent

Last Friday an article in the Belief section of the Houston Chronicle ended with this assessment of the church in the United States:

…churches have become complacent and are no longer challenging themselves to do extraordinary things. churchgoers have a hard time seeing how their contribution to missions can affect the world or its problems.

One of the changes that seems to have happened to the church in the United States is that it has moved away from vision, it's not challenging itself to be great.

I suggested in the message on Sunday that it must break Jesus’ heart for someone to write that about His church. Yet we shouldn’t too quickly ignore the critique.

Instead it provides a great opportunity to demonstrate that:

We aren’t complacent.
We are engaging in extraordinary things.
We believe that with God’s help we really can affect the world and it’s problems.
We are committed to a vision to do even greater things (because Jesus promised that we would).

This Sunday, November 1, we will celebrate ways in which our Youth Ministries are living out what we believe as they share stories from last summer’s mission trips in both Sanctuary services. You DO NOT WANT TO MISS this Sunday.

The following Sunday, November 8, we will live out our Vision with a very special Baby Shower. Again this will be a Sunday you won’t want to miss.

As we look toward Christmas we will be focusing on the idea (inspired by the Advent Conspiracy) that Christmas and the church can [still] change the world. The next couple of Sunday’s are opportunities to celebrate and be a part of that change.

Join us and let’s show the world that we aren’t complacent – instead we are filled with compassion.

To the glory of God!

T Doug

Monday, October 19, 2009

It doesn't take all of us

I’m working on an upcoming message this morning and studying Judges 7 and had a thought I hadn’t really considered before:

It doesn’t take all of us.

One of the phrases many pastors (including me) use of a lot is along the lines of:

God is calling us to greater things in His kingdom and it’s going to take all of us working together.

The idea is to make everyone feel significant and included. The hope is to engage everyone to use their gifts. So we teach that we need all of us contributing – each piece of the puzzle working together. We tell our congregations and staffs – I’ve told congregations and staffs: It’s going to take all of us.

But it doesn’t.

That’s not to say that not everyone is significant. Everyone is. Each of us was “fearfully and wonderfully made.” And everyone has a gfit that can and should be used for God’s glory advancing His Kingdom. But that doesn’t mean it will always take all of us to accomplish the task or the vision God has placed before us.

Consider Judges 7.

Gideon (Jerub-Baal) had an army of 32,000 ready to attack the camp of Midian. If I were giving the pre-game speech I would have said something along the lines of:

“We can do this – even though Midian is undefeated in conference play, we can win this battle if we work together. We can do this – but it’s going to take all of us!”

But God says: “Send anyone who’s afraid home.” 22,000 leave.

New pre-game speech: “OK we are down 31% in numbers but those left are fearless and committed and ready for some action. We can do this but now it’s really going to take all of us!

But again God says: “Not yet.” Then follows this odd selection process involving how we drink water from a stream. 300 make the cut.

32,000 down to 300 (that’s a 99% decrease) . By the way, the 300 then proceed to smash the Midian camp to pieces (with 31,700 home in their tents).

Could it be that it doesn’t take all of us of us after all?

Could it be that all that is really required is the right 300 and God?

Now I’m not suggesting that we began to tell people that we probably don’t 99% of you – not exactly a strategy for church growth – or more importantly reflective of what we believe.

But responding to God's call and vision doesn’t take all of us. It only takes those of us who are called and up to the task.

Just a thought.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

When we "test God on this..."

This morning we issued a Kingdom Challenge based on God’s promise:

Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.
Malachi 3:10

And that:

Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.
2 Corinthians 9: 6

The basic idea of the challenge is to test those promises over the next 10 weeks through increased giving to God’s kingdom work (either through Grace or anywhere else in the kingdom).

Just a few hours into the challenge I got a great email:

So I don't know if you are wanting us to tell you this stuff but... oh well, you're gonna hear it anyway...

This morning I found 7 dollars around the house and put them in my pocket with intention of using them on our Sunday lunch. But then you got up there and started talking about giving more, even 1% more and I felt the tug. So my husband and I signed the card and put it in the basket along with my 7 dollars, after which I realized that 5 of those dollars were a reimbursement from a "business purchase." We laughed about it and that was it.

I had planned to meet up with someone after Sunday School class to give her something she had ordered from me and when she handed me the check she told me that she thought I undercharged her and paid me a little extra. I didn't look at the check until later but when I did I realized that she had paid me 10 dollars more than I had asked. TWICE as much as I had "given up" (even then it took me a while to make the connection between the two...)

Before I had even left the church campus God had doubled my "investment" into his kingdom... I thought that was kinda cool.

Just thought you might get a kick out of that like I did.

God is faithful! I can’t wait to hear more stories in the weeks to come.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Staring into the Sun - God

Yesterday we began a series based on N.T. Wright’s Simply Christian, Staring into the Sun. This weekend we will dig deep into the Christian understanding of God.

Here’s what Wright says:

The point at present is that, since God is not an object within our world, or even an idea within our intellectual world, we can probe toward the center of the maze as much as we like but we shall never reach the center by our own efforts.

But suppose that God were to come bursting out of the center of the maze on his own initiative? That, after all, is what the great monotheistic traditions have said. To get our minds around the possibility we shall have to take a step sideways and consider more carefully what we are talking about. If God isn’t up in the sky, where is he?
N. T. Wright, Simply Christian

So what do you think, where is God?

Monday, August 31, 2009

Have It Your Way

Hold the pickles
Hold the lettuce
Special orders don’t upset us
All we ask is that you let us
Serve it your way.

In 1973 Burger King introduced the Have it Your Way campaign. It was a strategy to highlight Burger King’s flexibility against the rigidity of McDonalds.

And McDonalds has historically been more rigid. In fact there was a season in which you could win contests by memorizing the never changing ingredients that lead to a Big Mac Attack:

Two all beef patties
Special sauce
On a sesame seed bun.

No one would dream when ordering a Big Mac to ask the cashier to “hold the special sauce.”

Burger King has been successful with their strategy of flexibility. In 2008 they reported profits of $2.46 billion.

That makes them number two.

Number one still belongs to “rigid” McDonalds who in the same year had profits of $4.3 billion. Apparently, have it OUR way still works.

But that’s not to suggest that McDonalds rigidity means that the organization is unwilling to change. A visit to a 2009 McCafe bears little resemblance to the McDonalds my parents took me to as a kid (we had to cross three rivers to get there – Wando, Cooper and Ashley). McDonalds continues to embrace change to meet the ever-changing needs of their customers. The leaders at McDonalds clearly understand the signs of the times (to use a phrase that Jesus introduced) and have the courage to respond.

One of our pastors suggested to me that many churches serve a “Burger King population." Sometimes members (and those in our community) want church their way:

Hold the choir
Hold the guitar (guitere)
Hold classes and worship when we get there (thar)
All we ask is that you take care
To do church our way.

That hardly sounds like the sort of life and church that Jesus envisioned. But it is tempting.

Last night at our Vision Night on our elders suggested that in the face of Burger King expectations we could learn some lessons from McDonalds. It’s impossible to meet every individual’s custom needs but we must change in order to survive.

The good news is that we can do that and still maintain the quality of the hamburger!

More on how we do that later.

* As I finish this post I find myself 1) hungry and 2) thinking that 5 Guys has figured out a way to have it our way and their way – another reason why that’s my favorite chain burger place (narrowly ahead of In and Out and Smash Burger).

Friday, August 28, 2009


This summer, in an effort to continue to grow as a leader, I submitted myself to a 360 review followed by a series of conversations with an executive coach.

25 members of the Grace community (staff and lay leaders) surrounded me (360 degrees) and completed a survey on my leadership style and 13 of them were also interviewed.

It was a great learning and, in many ways, a very humbling experience.

There are aspects of leadership where I am doing better than I thought and areas needing improvement that I thought were going great.

Last night I invited everyone who participated in the review process to get together for dessert and to talk about what I learned and what I am still learning.

It was an exhausting and inspiring and affirming evening.

I was challenged with the things that I don’t do well – like always pay attention when someone is talking.

I was given permission to let go of unrealistic expectation – like needing to respond every time some one forwards a forward of a forwarded email.

I was encouraged to focus my time and energy so that I only do those things that only I can do – most notably to focus on vision and message preparation.

It was a great evening and I came away honored that people would give up a couple of hours on a Thursday evening to help me become a better leader.

I also came away even more convinced that leadership requires this sort of listening to feedback. (Quick Caveat: You have to trust the heart and wisdom of whoever is offering the feedback – some critics need to be ignored)

Receiving honest feedback can be uncomfortable but as Seth Godin notes in Tribes (I wonder how long I’m going to keep quoting Tribes):

If you’re not uncomfortable in your work as a leader, it’s almost certain you’re not reaching your potential as a leader.

I’ve always been intrigued by a episode in 2 Samuel 16

King David is making his way to Bahurim and a member of Saul’s family, Shimei, comes out and starts pelting David and his officials with stones and insults, referring to David as a “man of blood” and telling him to “get lost!”

One of David’s officials, Abishai, offers to cut the head off of this “dead dog” (Shimei).

David shows restraint and even suggests that perhaps God is speaking through Shimei’s “feedback.”

Feedback isn’t always easy to receive, even when it’s through a formal 360 review, it can make you uncomfortable. But good leaders learn to listen and if they listen closely enough can become great leaders.

Who are you inviting to surround you and speak into your leadership?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Crossing the Rubicon

A few weeks ago I discovered ABC’s new Sunday night show Defying Gravity. I was attracted by both the sci-fi aspect (it’s all about space travel) that appeals to my inner-geek and by the title (which is my favorite song from Wicked).

Last week’s episode was titled Crossing the Rubicon. I remembered vaguely the historical context of Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon as an act of war against Rome but was unaware that the phrase has become an expression of reaching a point of no return.

It got me thinking about the Rubicon’s we cross and why our crossings are so important in leadership.

Every leader since Moses (and I suspect before) knows that somewhere along the journey people want to turn back and return to the “pots of meat in Egypt.” It happens when the journey becomes difficult, the challenges uncomfortable and sacrifices are even required. The voices of critics grow louder, grumbling increases and it’s tempting to listen.

In Tribes Seth Godin writes:

Remarkable visions and genuine insight are always met with resistance. And when you start to make progress, your efforts are met with even more resistance.

Which Elphaba discovered when she decided to defy gravity. And it’s tempting to turn back.

Once you cross the Rubicon there’s no turning back – and maybe that’s why we hesitate to fully commit.

Again, Godin writes:

The secret of leadership is simple: Do what you believe in. Paint a picture of the future. Go there. People will follow.

The future lies on the other side of the Rubicon – it’s time to cross over.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Vision Night

Once a year we hold a Vision Night for the leadership of Grace. It’s an opportunity for me to share where we’ve been in the past year and where I believe God is calling us in the year to come. It’s also a chance to engage in dialogue with our wider leadership community. My favorite part of the evening is time spent in Q&A.

Vision Night 2009 is this Sunday and in preparation I received a great question:

“Why should we sign on for your vision of the future?”

The “asker” went on to express concerns about attendance and certain leadership decisions. I responded to those and will share my response with everyone Sunday evening.

But the question is a great one and so I thought I should also post my answer.

“Why should we sign on for your vision of the future?”

First of all because we have been blessed with leaders of great wisdom and high integrity.

Grace is a Presbyterian church. That simply means that our lay leaders (elders) work in partnership with staff leadership (this model of government is what attracts me to the Presbyterian Church). I am continually humbled by God’s gift of the women and men that He calls into leadership here. Not only are they bright and creative thinkers they are leaders who demonstrate the upmost integrity in all that they do.

The bottom line is that I trust them.

I trust them to ask the hard questions.
I trust them to debate difficult issues.
I trust them to seek what is God’s best – to lead in ways that please God not people.
I trust them to pray for God’s guidance.

I’d only sign on for a vision of the future with leaders I trust and I trust our leaders.

Secondly, and most importantly, it’s not my vision and really it’s not our leadership’s vision, it’s God’s vision for the future.

Last Friday the Grace staff spent a “retreat day” committing to practicing what the Lord requires of us:

“To do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God.” (Micah 6:8)

I can’t promise increased attendance or giving and I can’t guarantee programs and services that please everyone – the New Testament would actually warn that trying to please anyone other that God is dangerous.

I can promise that we will faithfully and humbly seek to do justice and demonstrate kindness as we follow Jesus’ command to love the Lord our God with all that we have and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. I am confident in His promise that if we will get these things right the rest will fall into place.

I would encourage anyone that wants to be a part of a vision to introduce west Houston to Jesus Christ in word and in deed to sign on to what promises to be a great adventure.

To the glory of God!


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Arguing with Fools

About a year ago I woke up to the truth that I spend too much time and energy debating with foolish people. I sat down and read through the book of Proverbs to see what advice I might find about arguing with fools. What I found was pretty convicting.

Maybe the best analogy is in Proverbs 17: 12

Better to meet a bear robbed of her cubs
than a fool in his folly.

If you spent anytime backpacking you know the danger of getting between Mama Bear and her babies. Apparently fools are equally dangerous.

And maybe on some level I like the danger.

Twice today I found myself confronted with fools in their folly and both times I engaged the “bear.”

There’s a part of me that convinces myself, “I’m their (the fools) pastor. It’s my responsibility to listen to them no matter how foolish their perspective or arguments may be. And perhaps there’s a part of me that believes if I will keep speaking wisdom the “light bulb will suddenly go off” and they will understand and even better agree with me.

Proverbs 26: 4 suggests otherwise:

Do not answer a fool according to his folly, 

or you will be like him yourself.

Again and again the wisdom of Proverbs tells me to stay away from foolish people.

He who walks with the wise grows wise, 

but a companion of fools suffers harm.

Proverbs 13:20

Stay away from a foolish man, 

for you will not find knowledge on his lips.

Proverbs 14:7

Do not speak to a fool, 

for he will scorn the wisdom of your words.

Proverbs 23:9

To be fair, I didn’t seek out either of the fools I debated today. According to Proverbs 20:3 I won’t have to.

It is to a man's honor to avoid strife, 

but every fool is quick to quarrel.

Regularly I am discovering the one of the challenges of leadership, especially leading by grace is managing how much time I spend arguing with fools who are quick to quarrel.

I suspect that its going to be a lifelong challenge since according to Proverbs 26: 11

As a dog returns to its vomit, 

so a fool repeats his folly.

Friday, August 14, 2009

These are the days

We got back late last night (early this morning) from helping Kelli and Jennifer get settled into the senior and sophomore years at Auburn and South Carolina. Jamie starts her senior year of high school on Sunday, all reminders that summer is over and a new school (and church program) year has begun and I am excited to get going again .

I also realized this morning that the date on my last blog post is July 15. It’s also time to write again.

While we were in Columbia with Jennifer we had the joy of reconnecting with friends from Clemson, Jill and Wayne Rogers. Wayne and I were classmates in grad school for architecture at Clemson and together we studied and traveled and shared life and made a lot of memories. Wayne continues practice architiecture (check out his work at ) but unfortunately our ministry travels meant that we hadn’t seen each other for about 15 years. Spending time together was one of the highlights of the past week as over breakfast we brought up many of those memories made years ago.

As we were driving back to Houston yesterday I was listening to a song by the country music duo Sugarland with a great line:

We're making moments that we won't forget
And feeling ones that haven't happened yet
Don't be afraid
We can't forget these are the days

Years ago making memories with Wayne and Jill we never stopped to consider that one day we’d be sitting around over breakfast reflecting on “those days.” I don’t suspect our daughters are heading into this year of school aware that the memories they will make in the coming months will one day be their “those days.” And even as I write this words I’m not sure I fully appreciate that this year at Grace we will make memories that we won’t forget.

These really are the days.

So the challenge is to live in such a way as to make the most of them and to create the sort of memories we will want to look back on one day.

It reminds me of another line in a song by the Indigo Girls

we must love while these moments are still called today

That’s actually God’s idea.

Psalm 118 tells us that God's love endures forever, and declares that today is the day the LORD has made so let us "rejoice and be glad in it."

Hebrews 3: 13 urges us to

encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today,

Today, tomorrow, this week and the program year we are entering, these are the days.

So let’s rejoice and be glad.
Let’s make the most of every opportunity to encourage one another.

As Jesus suggested in John 3; let’s make the most of the day before night comes.

These are the days and I look forward to one day sitting with friends at breakfast sharing the memories we will never forget.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Some of you know the adage:

We judge ourselves by our intentions; others judge us by our actions.

This morning I received an email “judging my actions” or at least my blogging. The author suggested that my blogs are:

“self-serving, braggish, tacky, whining and childish.”

People that know me well might agree (at times) with childish and whining, willing to debate tacky but would argue (I’d hope) the accusation that I am self-serving or braggish. Typically I’m accussed of the opposite.

Still it’s feedback and it was signed (I don’t read anything anonymous) so that I could attempt to respond to the sender (who unfortunately has a deactivated email account). Most importantly it’s given me a pause to think about blogging (and a topic to write about).

I included in a recent post a quote by Rob Bell (whose writing really inspires me)

You have to be so totally disconnected from the pain of the world to think that blogging and twittering are somehow a redemptive use of your time.

I suspect Rob might agree that blogging (and he adds twittering) are self-serving activities but still I wonder:

Can blogs, twitter, facebook and whatever the next new thing in social media connect us and become places to exchange ideas?

I regularly read a small handful of blogs from church leaders (Mark Batterson, Kem Meyer, Carey Niewwhof) and a few written by friends (especially newly published author Christina Dudley). I also follow a variety of people on Twitter. From both I regularly find insights or news on things profound and things mundane and lots of things in between.

So for the moment I’m going to continue to give blogging a try but I will be mindful to try not be self-serving or whiny!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

King of Pop

On Tuesday afternoon I was one of the more the 31 million who turned on the television to watch a portion of the memorial service for Michael Jackson (and who knows how many more were watching online). I found it to be a fascinating glimpse into the heart and mind of pop culture.

I grew up with the Jackson 5 and then the solo careers of various brothers and sisters. MTV was launching as I was starting college (and actually was 24 hours of music videos in those days). Martha Quinn was my favorite VJ, the BugglesVideo Killed the Radio Star (which was the first video played on MTV) is still one of my favorites and when the videos for Michael Jackson’s Thriller album began to appear I was hooked. His previous album Off the Wall was great but think of all that Thriller contained beyond the title cut: Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’, Billie Jean, The Girl is Mine (with Paul McCartney) P.Y.T., and Beat It. It was music made for video. (I also remember losing Kim’s Thriller cassette – a media for music between vinyl and cd – I still owe her a replacement).

Whether you like the music or not and regardless of your opinion of how Jackson lived his life there are lessons in how the world responded to his death and celebrated his life. Here’s what I “learned” about pop culture watching the memorial for the King of Pop.

We believe in life after death.
Even while remembering the past, almost every speaker or entertainer spoke of Michael in the present and with some sort of acknowledge of heaven. Stevie Wonder captured it most succinctly, “As much as we may feel we need Michael here with us, God must have needed him far more.

We believe that helping others is important.
Much of the service was about music but Jackson’s charitable work was equally celebrated. One speaker noted that he holds the Guinness World Record for Most Charities Supported by a Pop Star. We care that people care about people

We believe that we are each born with a purpose.
Martin Luther King III, quoting the eloquence of his father, noted that each of us is born with gifts and a challenge to use those gifts to please God. His sister, Bernice, added the only reference to Jesus I saw (though I missed Lionel Richie’s Jesus Is Love) with a wonderful paraphrase of Romans 8.

I’m sure there were lots of other insights I could have gathered – but I didn’t watch the entire service and honestly was paying perfect attention to what I did watch. I will confess that after watching I downloaded Thriller to my iTouch.

For those of you who watched the service – I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments.

N.T. Wright suggests that we live in a world where there is an echo of a voice that speaks of beauty and justice and joy. It is what stirs in our hearts a “longing for things to be put right.” We hunger for something “just around the corner, out of sight, the echo of a voice.”

There were echoes of the voice throughout a memorial for the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, but no one named the voice as that of the King of Kings, Jesus Christ.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

16 years ago

Yesterday a friend reminded me that it was exactly 16 years ago (yesterday) that I left an architectural career and headed off to seminary. She asked me:

Are you were you thought you'd be 16 years ago?

Great question - I'm still working on the answer.

I put the question back to her and also asked if I am where she thought I'd be 16 years ago. Her answer really surprised me - "No. I thought you'd be back practicing architecture by now."

That gave me even more to ponder - so now it's your turn.

Think back 16 years ago - it was 1993 - today are you where you thought you'd be then?

Would Jesus Twitter?

A few days ago our Communications Director, Cameron, posted a question on the Grace Presbyterian Church facebook page:

Would Jesus twitter?

She included a quote from Rob Bell:

You have to be so totally disconnected from the pain of the world to think that blogging and twittering are somehow a redemptive use of your time.

I’m a huge fan of Rob’s writing. Velvet Elvis and Sex God have been significant influences on my thoughts around church and faith. I find the NOOMA videos to be incredibly well done and have used for both teaching and just to watch for myself.

But I think Rob’s being a little hard on social media. I wonder is watching a NOOMA video is really any more redemptive than posting or reading a blog on a similar topic.

Perhaps there’s a question behind the question – would Jesus twitter? Does social media connect or distance us from one another?

I'm still figuring this out but so far I've found social media especially facebook and twitter (blogs a bit less so) to be highly connective. I've reconnected with old friends, received and shared pastoral concerns from people around the world, learning of causes that touched my heart, been introduced to new ideas that challenge and inspire, shared experiences with family and friends.... somehow that all begins to sound like a redemptive use of time.

In fact right now, if you are reading this blog, we are engaging in a dialogue we might not otherwise have had – well “engaging” if you comment.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Thinking about Solomon in Colorado

Between an amazing week of Getting in the Game with 1,300 kids and then a even better week here in Colorado celebrating 25 years of marriage with Kim, I've been away from blog posting for too long.

Kim and I are heading back to Houston (and the heat) in the morning, so we are logging in and finding out what is going on in the world beyond the Colorado mountains.  Time away like this always provides a blessing of extra time for reading and journaling and praying (and discussing all 3 with Kim) 

This week I’ve found myself drawn to Solomon’s response to God’s invitation to ask for whatever you want.  We all remember that Solomon asked for wisdom, but reading the way he asked for spoke to me in a new way:

Now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David.  But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties.  Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number.  So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.  For who is able to govern this great people of yours?

The Lord was pleased that Solomon asked for this.

1 Kings 3: 7 – 10

Admittedly, Solomon gets off track as the years go by, but there are few critical aspects to this prayer that I believe are important for us to remember as we seek to lead by grace:

God made Solomon king.  If we believe that God is in the business of strategically placing people (and churches) then that means that each one of us has been placed in our position as the result of divine appointment.  That should be both humbling and empowering.

It is good to be honest with our shortcomings.  The duties required for the challenges and opportunities before us will most often (unless we play it safe) be beyond what we know how to do.  The proper response is to recognize that and ask for help.

Solomon is a servant to God among the people.  His task is not to serve the people but rather to serve God while governing the people.  The temptation is often to serve the congregation.  We need to remember who we are called to serve.

The task is always big – too numerous to count or number.  We serve a big God, expect big tasks and deal with it.

The people belong to God – the church belongs to God.  We are stewards of what belongs to God and stewards are expected to be faithful.

A discerning heart is better than riches or long life.  Discernment comes through seeking God’s wisdom.

Humility pleases God more than our accomplishments.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Summer Reading Lists

Many schools, in preparation for the coming year, provide their students with required reading lists for the summer.  Last night at dinner I asked our youngest daughter what was on her Summer Reading List – it hasn’t been released it.  Later it got me thinking:  

What would be on the Summer Reading List for the Grace Staff to prepare us for ministry this fall?

Here’s what I’ve come up with:

7 must read (or re-read) books for the summer + 1 web site 

Simply Christian by NT Wright – We will launch the fall with an “apologetics series” based on the second section of the book.  Reading or re-reading Simply Christian will help reinforce the message series.

Communicating for a Change by Andy Stanley – Anyone who communicates to groups as part of their ministry would benefit from the book.  It’s in two parts – a parable and an explanation of the parable. 

Basic Christian Leadership by John Stott – I’m convinced that anyone in leadership should read this book at least once a year.

 They Like Jesus But Not the Church by Dan Kimball – Dan will be our guest speaker on Sunday, October 4.  This is a great read and would be good preparation for welcoming Dan.

Think Orange by Reggie Joiner – Orange thinking will shape the direction of our children, student, parent and family ministries this fall. Chapters 2 – 4 are essential reading for anyone in leadership at Grace.
The Present Future by Reggie McNeal – Some of you will remember that I brought Reggie in to spend a day with our staff 4 years ago.  The Present Future remains a great reminder of the shifts that are taking place in churches today.

Killing Cockroaches by Tony Morgan – Tony is among the most creative strategist in the church world today.  This is a great read!

Advent Conspiracy –will be released this fall (I’ve pre-ordered a few copies). Advent Conspiracy is our theme for Christmas. For the summer lots of infor

mation can be found at

Then I added 8 additional summer reads (or re-readings) that will support our work this fall
Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell
The Starfish and the Spider – by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom
Pop Goes the Church – by Tim Stevens
Confessions of a Pastor – by Craig Groeschel
UnChristian by Dan Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons
Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
Blue Like Jazz by Don Miller
Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath

Finally here are the titles among those I have on my own Summer Reading List (summer is my time to catch up on reading)
Quitting Church – Julia Duin
It – Craig Groeschel
Ten Stupid Things that Keep Churches from Growing – Geoff Surratt
Crazy Love – Francis Chan
Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell
Surprised by Hope – NT Wright
Less Cluttter - Kem Meyer

Finally if you are looking for a fiction read, a good friend is publishing her first book, which she describes as a great “beach read.”  It comes out next month and you can pre-order it at Amazon.  If enough people purchase her book maybe she’ll spring for dinner the next time our families are together!

Mourning Becomes Cassandra by Christina Dudley

So here’s the question:

What’s on your Summer Reading List?