Friday, January 30, 2009

Same Kind of Different

I attended two very different memorial services today.

One was held in the beautiful and majestic sanctuary of St. Martins the other in the beautiful and intimate Founders’ Chapel here at Grace.

One was attended by more than 1,500 Houstonians, the other by less than 100 family and close friends.

One was officiated by four different pastors from three denominations, the other just by one.

One was accompanied by choir and orchestra and even a bagpipe and followed by a large reception in the church's hall, the other much simpler and afterwards the family stood in the courtyard to greet friends.

They were very different services… and yet they were exactly the same.

Both began with the hymn Joyful, Joyful. Both celebrated lives well lived, lives that had made a difference to their families and their communities. Both sought, and received God’s comfort. And most importantly, and what really made them identical, is that both focused on the conviction that death isn’t the end of our stories. Both were a celebration of the resurrection.

Two very different memorial services – that were exactly the same.

It was another reminder that we are all the same.

Last night at the annual Star of Hope banquet (which I always look forward to – the testimonies are amazing) the keynotes speakers were, Ron Hall and Denver Moore, authors of Same Kind of Different As Me. I read the book last summer while visiting mission partners in Eastern Europe – if you haven’t read it – you really should. It is perhaps one of the best books I’ve ever read and I will never forget sitting on a bed at a WYAM school in Romania weeping as I read Ron and Denver’s story.

They were as inspiring in person as they are in print – the entire evening was.

As different as we all are we really are the same and we really are made to be in relationship with one another.

But relationships are hard work.

Some of our staff are reading N. T. Wright’s Simply Christian together and each week meeting to discuss a chapter. Last week’s chapter was about being created for relationship and how living together (in community) is more difficult that we imagined. Wright puts it this way:

We all know that we belong together in some sense or other, but it’s not at all clear how that can or should work.

And so we stumble, clumsily along.

Last week I came across a Facebook posting that reads:

It hurts me deeply that my college friends and I have not remained as close as I thought we would. It hurts me even more when I see how close they've remained with each other despite being located all over the country.

That’s a pretty honest confession and one that at least in part I could make.

Making relationships work, even though we are all the same kind of different, is remarkably difficult.

Wright concludes the chapter with this observation:

Our failures in human relationship are thereby woven into our failures in the other large projects of which we know in our bones that we are part: our failure to put the world to rights in systems of justice, and our failure to maintain and develop that spirituality which, at its heart, involves a relationship of trust and love with the Creator.

Perhaps relationships would be easier if we understood that whether our lives are celebrated in majestic cathedrals or among small gatherings of friends we really are all the same kind of different.

We are all deeply loved.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Only Do but Begin with Prayer

Last year I discovered some great wisdom:
Only do what only you can do.

It’s the sort of advice you have to read over a few times – even aloud – to full appreciate (go ahead stop now and read it aloud three times).

Trying to live in a way in which I only do what only I can do has given me lots of occasions to think about how I spend my day, specifically I keep asking the question: Am I spending my time doing the right things?

Lately I’ve had an increasing sense that foremost among the “right things” that I must do each day is spend more time in prayer.

It’s tempting to let so many other things push prayer to the margins. Sometimes my schedule feels like the catalyst for Bill Hybel’s book “Too Busy NOT To Pray.” Sadly, even in a church, I find that few people place as high a priority on prayer as they do the sort of tangible things that give us a sense of accomplishment (and I am among the most guilty).

The reformer Martin Luther described the necessity of prayer this way:

"If I fail to spend two hours in prayer each morning, the devil gets the victory through the day. I have so much business I cannot get on without spending three hours daily in prayer."

What if we really believed that – what if I really believed that – to be true?

There are five things that I’ve begun to pray for Grace Church:

Provision – we continue to live in a challenging financial season which requires an even greater dependence on our All Sufficient God to provide all that we will need
Protection – recently we’ve experienced some great success as a church proclaiming God’s kingdom. The most dangerous time for a church is during a season of success. Lately I’ve been reminded of Elijah following the victory of Mt. Carmel and it’s prompted me to pray for our protection.
Vision – God’s vision is never static – it’s always dynamic and we need to continue to be open to the new things God is doing all around us.
Courage – as Joshua and Israel entered into new territory, the Promised Land, God commanded them to be bold and courageous. The church is entering new territory as we discover what ministry requires in 2009 and beyond. It’s going to require bold courage.
Unity – a congregation that is united can be used by God to accomplish anything. But as Abraham Lincoln said “A house divided can not stand.” Jesus prayed for our unity as the body of Christ. My specific prayer is for unity among our leaders (staff, elders and deacons).

Sunday, January 25, 2009


It has been nearly two weeks since I posted a new blog (and it’s not because I started watching 24 – the topic of the last blog). It’s just been an amazing hectic couple of weeks and prepping for teaching messages has consumed almost all of my writing time.

A little while ago my friend Lynn – who by the way just opened a counseling practice in Orlando, Florida and if you know anyone who needs a counselor she needs clients ( ) – sent me a text message asking why my blog has disappeared.

Her prompting encouraged me to post a new blog. And it reminded me how many different communication venues I use almost everyday.

Text messages
Cell phone
Church phone(s)
Home phone
Plus I still do a lot of handwritten notes.

If you add television (with who knows how many channels), internet, radio, iPod, the Houston Chronicle and various magazines, it pushes me into communication overload that tempts me to go incommunicado.

And I actually still read books (with paper – I’ve not yet switched to Kindle)

Sometimes I wonder if I get paralyzed by over the volume and the expectations of communication: update my twitter status, respond to Facebook requests, answer email, check messages, post a blog… but here’s the thing… I love it all….

Anyway a few totally random thoughts:

This afternoon Kim and I watched about the last 45 minutes or so of Cast Away (the movie with Tom Hanks). I’ll admit it’s a movie I’ve avoided – it just didn’t sound good but turns out I loved it (at least the last 45 minutes). The whole Wilson the volleyball thing wasn't nearly as weird as I imagined. The ending launched a great conversation between Kim and I about Kelly’s (Tom Hanks' wife in the movie) response – and we both promised that unless we find a body we can’t remarry. And it’s made me want to see the rest of the movie. Having only seen the ending my favorite line is:

I know what I have to do now. I gotta keep breathing. Because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring?

My MS 150 training is going pretty well – rode about 60 miles between Friday and Saturday and then took today off. But I feel like I’m on track to be ready for April 18, 19 and the Houston to Austin ride.

I finished the Addicted to Love series this morning. I have loved the series but discovered that dealing with difficult subjects takes a lot out of me.

OK – I guess that’s enough to post – thanks again to Lynn for encouraging me to write – and really if you need counseling in Central Florida she can help.

In the words (sort of) of Tom Hanks I know now what I have to do. I gotta keep blogging because tomorrow the sun will rise and who knows what the tide could bring!

Monday, January 12, 2009


One of the cultural phenomena I’ve avoided in recent years was 24. While all my friends are talking about the latest exploits of Jack Bauer I resisted – not that it didn’t sound appealing but because I could only handle so many television shows in my life.

As a new season of 24 approached my resolve began to weaken. Katelyn (our assistant high school director whose been living with our family) was recording last night’s season premiere. DVR does help me watch the shows more quickly – a point in favor of adding 24 to my lineup – but that became last night’s dinner conversation: could I add another show to my lineup?

Mostly because I sense that very few people actually read this blog I’ll go ahead and confess which shows I find to be my own version of “must see tv.”

First, though not a specific show, a certain amount of time is given each week to SportsCenter, various football or basketball games (mostly Orlando Magic and Clemson Tigers) and the Weather Channel (especially if there’s a front moving through – I have to watch the radar). Now for the weekly shows (and some of these are hard to admit):

The Office (I own a Dwight bobble-head and we even got The Office board game for Christmas)
Top Chef (I think this is Bravo’s best show ever – I’ve never missed a show in any season)
LOST (I actually watch it most week’s with a group of friends – we call ourselves Losties)
The Sarah Conner Chronicles (evidence of my inner geek)
Battlestar Gallactica (don’t judge until you’ve watched it – but I know, final confirmation of my inner geek).
Burn Notice (I am one of 12 people nationwide that even know this show exists).

There are other shows I might enjoy from time-to-time but those six are the lineup. The good news is that thanks to DVR I can watch all 5.5 hours of programming in whole lot less time – and on my schedule.

Anyway, after a family debate and review of the current lineup – it was decided that I could fit one more show into the schedule.

It’s amazing how easily I became hooked. 2 hours down 22 to go and the DVR is recording the next two hours even now.

So I better go see what Jack is up to….

Friday, January 9, 2009

Heard for the first time

I always try to note when I hear something for the first time – especially because it seems the longer I serve a church and get involved in people’s lives the more it feels like “I’ve heard it all.”

But this week I heard two things, for the first time – both related to relationships. It’s likely that since I am working on messages for the “Addicted to Love” series I’m more tuned in to love stories.

The first was a couple that told me about getting engaged at the mall (Memorial City Mall to be precise). He decided to propose at the mall (and on the day after Thanksgiving – the busiest shopping day of the year) because his fiancé spend so much time there.

He wants her to remember the proposal and figured it would be a spot she would pass by often. That’s romantic. I think, but it’s certainly a proposal story I’d never heard before.

Earlier in the week I was visiting a guy in the hospital and he shared with me how he and his girlfriend had met at dialysis (something they both require). That’s the first time I’ve heard of a couple meeting at dialysis. I kidded him that it seemed a bit unfair – she couldn’t exactly just walk away and she has to come back – but I really think it’s awesome.

Anyway, as I work on these messages about ways and places we look for love, now I have to include malls and dialysis centers.

Less is More

Yesterday I received, via email, an invitation to a conference that is asking the question:

What if less really is more?

It looks like a pretty good conference but what the invitation really made me think about is how many people use the “less is more” phrase – probably without really knowing where it originated.

I suspect few people really care who said it first – but just in case you were wondering...

You would have to have been in a history of the Modern Movement of Architecture class somewhere along the way to know that it was Ludwig Mies van der Rohe who first said that “less is more.”

Mies was one of the early, and more influential, voices at the Bauhaus School in Germany. In 1938 he closed the school in opposition to Nazism and came to America where he became head of the architectural school at the Chicago (now Illinois) Institute of Technology. From that position his influence spread widely. You can thank Mies (among others) for all the glass boxes that fill our cities and suburbs.

In his own words “less is more” means “having the greatest effect with the least means.”

What’s somewhat ironic is that Mies was actually born Ludwig Mies but he didn’t think that was enough of a name. So he added more – his mother’s maiden name van der Rohe to give his name greater weight. So I guess when it comes to names, at least for Mies, less really wasn’t more.

I may be the only person in the world who finds that funny.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Christmas Carb Coma

The first week of the New Year always seems hard to me – and it seems I’m not alone.

Tonight I’ve noted the Twitter and Facebook status of some of my friends.

One is very, very pensive
Another is having a busy week
Yet another is feeling weird and
One had a lousy day (she actually used a stronger word than lousy)

Words like bored, disappointed and mourning are being tossed around all over the place.

Yesterday someone suggested to me that this is the week we all come out of our Christmas Carb Induced Comas… maybe that’s what’s contributing to this being such a hard week.

Yet all in all, I’m still so excited about what lies ahead in the last year of this decade.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Running with Horses

Last evening I updated my Facebook status (something I try not to do too often – my daughters tell me too frequent updates are creepy).

Anyway I updated my status to read:

Doug is running with horses.

Fairly quickly I received three responses

I remember reading that book together (which brought a good memory)
It’s better than running with scissors.

Running with horses is an image from Jeremiah 12:5 (and the title of a book on Jeremiah written by Eugene Peterson).

"So, Jeremiah, if you're worn out in this footrace with men,
what makes you think you can race against horses?
And if you can't keep your wits during times of calm,
what's going to happen when troubles break loose like the Jordan in flood? (MSG)

Thanks (at least in part) to some unexpected affirmations as 2008 drew to a close I’ve begun 2009 with a real sense of enthusiasm and optimism.
It all has me thinking it’s going to be a year for running with horses. It won’t be easy (and those in my Cross Fit class might suggest I race a carousel horse) but it will be exhilarating.