Thursday, December 23, 2010

the loveliest night of the year

Tomorrow night, Christmas Eve, with candles and carols we will celebrate the gift that changed the world, Jesus Christ.  Walt Gerber, who for 28 years was the Senior Pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church and was a mentor to scores of pastors including me, always referred to it as the loveliest night of the year.  If you'd like to join us and see why, you can find all the details at Christmas@Grace.

Tomorrow promises to be amazing, and tonight, on Christmas Eve Eve, as I sit in my study looking over the services I am profoundly grateful for everyone who helps to make it the loveliest of nights. 

I am humbled by the talents of people like Brian Mann, Angela Simpson, Santry and Ivy Rush, Ben and Jenna Kuykendall, Dave Leestma and Aaron Wilson. 

I am blessed to serve alongside gifted pastors, Melissa Brown, Katie Cummings, Chris French, Mike Fry and Jane Pettit. 

I am grateful for the amazing support of Hardie Morgan, Mike Krocak, Michael Elliot, Tami Snell, John Sutherland, Ann Stewart and most of all my assistant Charlotte Tait. 

I am indebted to people who over the years invested their lives into shaping me for ministry: Russ Stevenson, Walt Gerber, Doug Lawrence, Scott Dudley and John Ortberg.

There are too many people to name (and even by starting to I’m sure I’ve left too many off – Doug G., Laura M.. Narda W., Mayda M., Terry L., Wally H.. Howard E. and scores of others come quickly to mind – not to mention Kim, Kelli, Jennifer and Jamie – there I just did).  

Most of all I am simply amazed by the truth we will celebrate and Jenna will sing about tomorrow evening.

It’s true.  There’s a God who came down to find us.  So angels on high sing alleluias throughout the loveliest night of the year.

As we prepare to join the angels singing you might find the following prayer by Kenneth Phifer helpful in preparing our hearts to worship our newborn King.

Merry Christmas!

Eternal God, I wait now for Christmas
I want the Christ to be born anew in my heart.
I hope it will all mean more to me than ever before.
Do not let it slip away into the night
            after the songs have all been sung
                        and the stories told once more.
I know we cannot keep the expectancy alive the year round,
            but can I not keep the meaning warm?
Knowing myself, I ask now
            that the Christ Child may be real to me,
                        tot only in the days immediately ahead,
            but in the days that follow the celebration of His birth.
Let me so receive Him that I may believe
            in His continuing Presence.
Le me not let love go.
Let me not let faith fade.
Let me not let hope slip away.
May the openheartedness be my way of life,
            and an abiding joy be an aspect of my very being.

So involve me in the Coming this year
            that the going will not be quite as complete
                        as it has been in the past.
Help me to remember what it is all about.
Keep my life from being so crowded with things
            that there is no room for Him.
Keep me from pushing Him aside and from being so busy
            that I lose Him in the clutter and the clamor
                        of these hectic days.

I am glad that Christmas means parties and decorated trees,
            wassail bowls and candles in the windows.
But let me remain aware that it also means
            generosity and forgiveness,
                        openness and renewal
It means commitment and restoration,
            worship and wonder.
It means the birth of our Lord
            and the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory
                        of Your love for all people everywhere.

So make me ready now,
            and then when the candles have been extinguished,
            and the trees taken down,
            and the wreathes put away,
May the memory of the Lord Jesus remain
            a present and transforming reality in my life.
For His sake I pray.  Amen.

Monday, December 20, 2010

23rd Annual Dad and Daughters Christmas Shopping Day

In 1988, when Kelli was eight months old, I took her with me to the mall to shop for Kim’s Christmas presents.  I discovered that nothing in the world attracts shopping assistance than a cute little baby so the next year I did the same.  The following year, 1990, Jennifer (at ten months) joined us and two years later so did nine-month-old Jamie.  That year I had two in a double stroller and one in backpack but I was determined to take all three because by then it was a five-year tradition of Dad and Daughter Christmas Shopping Day.

The tradition began in Orlando when I was still practicing architecture. It continued in Atlanta while I was in seminary and most of the shopping was done at a Dollar Store.  We’ve spent the day in Baton Rouge, Charleston, San Francisco (Union Square is a great place to shop) and since 2005 right here in Houston.

Today will be our 23rd consecutive year to shop together.  There are important tasks to accomplish. Stocking stuffers for Kim (since we began practicing an Advent Conspiracy shopping is much easier) and the all-important “Sister Gifts.”  Over the years the gifts our daughters give each other, “Sister Gifts,” have become the highlight of Christmas morning, far surpassing anything the Santa or Mom and Dad may have placed beneath the tree.

But shopping really isn’t the purpose of the day.  Today is less about the gifts of presents and more about the gift of presence.  Today we will remember that the first gift of Christmas was God's presence with us.

The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.
John 1: 14

It was the gift of a relationship built on love and it reminds us that the best gift we can give to those we love is time spent together.  You can’t purchase that gift at the mall – though you can experience it there – and it’s about time to head out and enjoy that gift!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Come and See a Simple Christmas

Though I am constantly surrounded by some of the most amazingly talented people that I know, the Christmas Season provides a great reminder.  David Leestma, Ben and Jenna Kuykendall, Brian Mann, Aaron Wilson and so many others are making the entire season at Grace the loveliest of the year.

Year’s ago I recognized that the number one requirement for a worship leader was a relationship with Jesus Christ.  Other talented musicians can present good music, often really good music.  But when there is a relationship with Jesus the music comes from the heart and that makes all the difference in the world.

Two great examples are Christmas projects that Grace had a part in over the last couple of years.  Come and See by Matt and Cameron Hammon (Olivette) is incredible (and if you are in Houston you really ought to come and hear them live this Wednesday night at Ecclessia).  Brian Mann’s Simple Christmas is simply beautiful (and I’m pretty sure I heard it being played as the prelude at First Baptist last Thursday night).  Though both projects are amazing musically they are even more testimonies to hearts that know and love Jesus Christ and are offering their gifts to His glory.

If you don’t have them – here’s a shameless plug – you really need to download them right now.  Both are available at iTunes (Olivette, Come and See – Brian Mann, Simple Christmas).  I promise these projects will add a little more of heaven’s gift of great joy to your Christmas!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Stranger in the Manger

December 12, 9:00 and 11:15 a.m., Sanctuary
Don’t miss an exciting morning as our Grace family experiences Stranger in the Manger performed by our Grace Kids Music choirs. Our kindergarten through fifth graders have been working hard all fall to present an unforgettable musical that is fun for the whole family! Dress in your favorite Christmas casual attire and prepare to be blessed by our fantastic kids! Invite your friends, family, and neighbors; they won’t want to miss it! We will not hold our 9:00 a.m. Chapel service this day; please join us in the Sanctuary.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Waiting for Isaac

This week our family is enjoying a Thanksgiving week in my favorite city, Charleston SC (and I’m writing this blog from my favorite coffee shop – Baked).  I am thankful for this “down time” for the 5 of us.  This morning I’ve been reflecting on how thankful I am or the times I’ve waited for Isaac.

Year’s ago, as I was wrestling with a decision, a very wise friend suggested that maybe “Hagar and I should quit trying to have a baby” and just wait on Isaac.  If you don’t catch the reference (it’s not Isaac from the Love Boat), in the Old Testament God promises give a son to Abraham and Sarai from whom a great nation would emerge.  God’s timing doesn’t exactly match Abraham’s – Abe get’s tired of waiting and decides to take control of the situation.  He has a son, Ishmael, by Sarai servant, Hagar, and ultimately makes a complete mess of things.  Then another 14 years of waiting go by before Isaac is born and God’s promise fulfilled.

In a world of instant results it’s hard to wait on Isaac.  Too often we anxiously and impatiently attempt to take control and solve things on our own.  It’s a temptation in our relationships, careers, finances and almost aspect of life.  Sometimes we need a carpe diem attitude to stop hesitating and seize the day.  But sometimes the wiser course is to wait for Isaac.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Giver of All Good Things

As part of our We Are Grace generosity campaign, Jenna Kuykendall was inspired to write a song – Giver of All Good Things.  The music and the lyrics are testimonies to Jenna’s amazing gifts but even more testify to a heart that loves Jesus and His church.  So for the final blog for We Are Grace  I thought I’d share Jenna’s lyrics.  They are a beautiful glimpse into a heart and knows and trusts the One who gives all good things:

Giver of All Good Things
by Jenna Kuykendall

From the first breath of creation

You have not stopped giving

You've lavished gifts of life and love on us

Daily bread to meet our needs and teach us how to trust You

And grace that is greater than all our sin

What do we have that's not already Yours?

What do we know that Your wisdom did not provide?

What can we give that Your grace did not supply?

You are good, You're the giver of all good things

Humbled as we seek Your face

You've called us to this time and place

Our only choice, surrender to Your plan

So hear us now with open hearts and hands

What do we have that's not already Yours?

What do we know that Your wisdom did not provide?

What can we give that Your grace did not supply?

You are good, You're the giver of all good things

Even pain we did not want to know, 
You used it to help us grow

And sorrow we wouldn't choose to bear, 
we see now You were always there

You work everything according to Your plan and purpose

For our good, so...

What do we have that's not already Yours?

What do we know that Your wisdom did not provide?

What can we give that Your grace did not supply?

You are good and we are Grace

You are good, You're the giver of all good things

Friday, November 12, 2010

My Own Little World

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been posting a daily blog on our church web site as a part of our We Are Grace Generosity Campaign – and not posting here.  But the lyrics of Matthew West’s song My Own Little World made pause to consider what’s the population of my own little world and seemed worth posting twice.

In my own little world it hardly ever rains
I’ve never gone hungry, always felt safe
I got some money in my pocket, shoes on my feet
In my own little world
Population: me

I try to stay awake during Sunday morning church
I throw a twenty in the plate, but I never give ’til it hurts
I turn off the news when I don’t like what I see
It’s easy to do when it’s
Population: me

What if there’s a bigger picture?
What if I’m missing out?
What if there’s a greater purpose
I could be living right now
Outside my own little world

When I stopped at a red light, looked out my window
I saw a cardboard sign, said “Help this homeless widow”
And above that sign was the face of a human
and I thought to myself, “God, what have I been doing?”
So I rolled down the window and I looked her in the eye
I thought how many times have I just passed her by?
I gave her some money then I drove on through
And my own little world reached
Population: two

Father break my heart for what breaks Yours
Give me open hands and open doors
and Put Your light in my eyes and let me see
That my own little world is not about me

I know theres a bigger picture
I dont wanna miss it now
I know theres a plan and a purpose
I can be living right now
Outside my own little world

Take a moment and pray that God would bless us all with hearts that break for the things that break His heart and to ask yourself:  What’s the population of your own little world?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Bronze Shields

In the fifth year of King Rehoboam, Shishak, king of Egypt attacked Jerusalem. He carried off the treasures of the temple and the treasures of the royal palace. He took everything, including all the gold shields Solomon had made. So King Rehoboam made bronze shields to replace them…
1 Kings 14: 25 - 27

During the glory days of Israel, Rehoboam’s father, Solomon, had made two hundred large shield of hammered gold.  About seven and a half pounds of gold went into each shield. At today’s prices that’s about thirty-two million dollars in golden shields.  Even then it was an impressive display of prosperity.

By Rehoboam’s reign the glory days had passed them by (and now I have that Bruce Springsteen song in my head).   But image was still important and so when Shishak ransacks and loots the temple and the palace Rehoboam has the shields replaced.  He can’t afford gold so he uses bronze instead.  Perhaps he thought if no one looked too closely then everything would appear as glorious as ever.

Rehobaom’s story has me thinking a lot about the ways people, and churches, try to hold on to our glory days. We replace golden shields with bronze (which is what we can afford) and tell ourselves that everything is just as good as it’s always been.  As long as no one looks too closely everything appears fine.  But the truth is things aren’t the way they were and trying to hold on can be exhausting.  And the danger in holding on to the past is that we might miss the new things God has springing up all around us.

In Isaiah 43, God tell us to:

Forget the former things; 

do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing! 

Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? 

I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.
Isaiah 43: 18, 19

We can’t hold on to the golden shields forever and bronze replacement shields really just aren’t the same.  But God is still doing new things and there are glory days ahead – if we can only let go to the former things so that we might embrace them.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Four Amazing Stories of Grace

Over the last four weeks we’ve shared four amazing stories of grace – they are also stories of Grace Presbyterian Church.  They are stories of healing and forgiveness, looking beyond ourselves to serve others, inviting and welcoming people to God’s family.  Last week’s story of Amelia’s new heart was an amazing testimony to the love of a community that is seeking to be faithful to Jesus’ command to love one another.

Today I sat down and watched the four stories again (and if you want you can watch them too, they are at the bottom of this post).   I am humbled to part of a place where these stories are being written and I’m excited by all the stories of grace that are still waiting to be written and told!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Comforting the Disturbed and Disturbing the Comfortable

My friend Scott likes to say that while Jesus comforted the disturbed He also disturbed the comfortable.  I needed to make sure I attributed hearing that phrase to him since his wife is one of the six people who read this blog.  Though it seems the line was first used by Cesar Cruz (onward children of the sun)  and in 2006 was the title of a UK movie about a team of international telephone fraudsters - I'm waiting for International Telephone Fraudsters 3-D.

Last Sunday in worship we disturbed some people’s comfort as we shared a very honest testimony.  Stephanie and Mickey Peters have faced a marriage crisis that far too many couples share – infidelity.  Thankfully, that was only the beginning of their story.  They discovered that Jesus really did come to save sinners, forgiveness is possible and grace always abounds.  In amazing ways Jesus brought healing, new life and comfort to the places sin disturbed and even threatened to destroy in their marriage.  Today they are open and honest about their story.  Even more with bold courage they want share it with the hope that God might use their experience to bring redemption and restoration to someone else. 

We put together a video testimony (which you can watch below or at GracePresMedia) and shared it in worship.  It’s a very real testimony that acknowledges one of the consequences of Mickey’s sexual addiction and infidelity was a pregnancy with another woman.

We received lots of positive feedback and encouragement.  Throughout the week I’ve heard of how God is already using the Peters’ story to bring healing to other marriages.  People have stopped me to thank us for having the courage to share this story of God’s grace.

We have also received some criticism.  For some the testimony was too real, too graphic and inappropriate for worship.  It made some people uncomfortable and they shared with me that it was disturbing.

I’ve tried to listen carefully to the criticism.  I’m a dad of three daughters.  Sometimes we will be watching television or a movie together and a particularly suggestive scene makes all of us a little uncomfortable.  Even commercials can leave us awkwardly wondering what to say to one another.  I understand that some topics are uncomfortable to hear about sitting next to your kids.  I also appreciate that parents need to make the decisions about what, how and when their children are exposed to sensitive topics.  The criticism we've received has been constructive and helping us to better think about how we share sensitive stories.

But I’m also convinced that being uncomfortable is okay. 

Even more I’m convinced that church is a place where it’s okay to be real, confess our failures and most of all to experience grace.   Grace can make us uncomfortable because to really experience it we have to be willing to admit that we need it.

Stephanie says that they are not afraid to be the face of this terrible thing that happens in marriage.  My hope is that the church (not just Grace but the church around the world) will have the same sort of courage.   We need to be sensitive to our audience (we really do think carefully about that).  We never want to be offensive simply for the sake of offending.  We also want to acknowledge the reality and consequences of sin.  Sin is messy and disturbing.  The good news is that God has a plan for comforting us when we are disturbed and more importantly dealing with our sin - Jesus.

And there will be times when He just might disturb the comfortable.  

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Family Feud

With two of our daughters attending “rival” universities football season presents us with opportunities for some friendly family competition.  This weekend is round one as our Clemson Tigers play Kelli’s Auburn Tigers.  Later in the season we will have to face Jennifer’s Gamecocks (at least we get them at home).  Thankfully we have our common dislike of the University of Georgia to hold our family together (and Jamie’s Samford Bulldogs play in the FCS division).

So here’s the simple question for a Thursday afternoon – which Tiger is better: the fierce and intelligent one or Aubie who looks like he has mumps and a flattened head?

Monday, September 6, 2010


Yesterday at the airport (as we were returning to Houston) I picked up the latest book by one of my favorite authors, A. J. Jacobs.  Jacobs' first two books, The Know-It-All and The Year of Living Biblically are fantastic and so I couldn’t resist when I saw in the terminal bookstore My Life as an Experiment.

Jacobs is am immersion writer, which simply means he immerses himself in various situations and then writes about his experience.  My Life as an Experiment is a collection of essays on 10 different immersions such as living as George Washington for a month.  The first essay is based on a experiment in unitasking.

We all understand multitasking.  Some of us were introduced to the idea as kids as smiling housewives in commercials told us that they were cleaning their ovens as they played bridge or polo or cliff dived - my memory of the commercials is fuzzy but I remember the punchline:  "I'm cleaning my oven!"  Easy Off brilliantly marketed the value of multitasking and we were sold.  In his book Dancing the Soul Salsa, Leonard Sweet nearly makes multitasking (killing two birds with one stone) a spiritual gift.  But its more than a couple of birds that are getting killed.  Multitasking is killing us.  Here’s some of what Jacob learned:

  • Driving Under the Influence of Text Messages causes 630,000 accidents a year.
  • In her book Distracted:  The Eroision of Attention and the Coming Dark Age. Maggie Johnson warns that distractions are changing the way we think, rewiring our brains and making it harder to solve complex problems.
  • Multitasking increases the levels of stress-related hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, prematurely aging us.  Distracted brains make us more depressed, less able to connect with people or form a conscience.
  • And mulittasking makes us dumber (just imagine how much better a sentence that might have been if I haven’t spent so many years multitasking).  Researchers at UCLA found that multitasking shortchanges the higher regions of the brain, the ones devoted to learning and memory.   And the sad truth is we really aren’t multitasking, the brain can’t handle more than one higher cognitive function at a time.  We are switch-tasking – bouncing between one task to another.
And as Jacobs simply puts it:  Multitasking is rotting our skulls.

I read this first chapter uncomfortably.  Do I check my email and facebook status while on the phone?  Ouch!  Do I fall to the distraction of web surfing when I am trying to finish a writing assignment?   It starts by trying to look up quote from Plato which leads to a You Tube animation of The Cave and the next thing you know I’m watching videos of the Annoying Orange.  Ouch!  Do I watch TV with my laptop open while listening to Kim tell me about something going on with someone somewhere?  Ouch!  I am addicted to multitasking.  The idea of trying to stay focused on one task at a time actually frightens me.

But Jacob’s article has convinced me to try.  So for the rest of September I am going to attempt to be a Unitasker (which sounds somehow like a Unibomber and maybe just as dangerous).  When I am writing I won’t bounce from document to document, go online or constantly check my email (it’s been killing me not to do either as I write this post – I especially want to check to see if there’s any new Annoying Orange uploads).  When I am driving, I will drive and the iPhone (which is a must-have tool for multitaskers) will stay in my messenger bag.  When I talk on the phone I will shut my eyes (one of Jacob’s suggestions) so that I won’t be tempted to accomplish another task while on the phone.  I won’t text or surf the web during meetings.  I won’t play Words with Friends (words for nerds) while walking from place to place.  I won’t even text or facebook (is facebook a verb?) while watching tv and I won’t look up interesting trivia about the actors we are watching on IMDb (I love doing that).  For the rest of the month I will focus on one task at a time.

Starting right now – I am a unitasker!   Let’s see what happens.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Devote yourself to prayer… and to football

Devote yourself to prayer…
Colossians 4: 1

Yesterday afternoon Kim and I sat down and put together a prayer list for the fall. We had a great setting, overlooking the beauty of the Colorado mountains. We talked about the specific things we wanted to pray about for our family, friends and church. Where we could, we added specific scripture to pray for individuals. Then we knelt and prayed together. It was the highlight of this week in the mountains.

In recent months I’ve often quoted Jim Cymbala, “prayer is the engine that will drive the church.” That’s true, and this fall we are taking steps toward making Grace an even more prayer saturated church. But prayer is also the engine that drives our lives and so we are called to devote ourselves to prayer.

I’m heading back from vacation with a renewed passion to pray for my family, friends and church. I’d love to pray for you and welcome your prayers for me (Kim is praying 2 Corinthians 3: 4 – 6 for me).

And my passion for football is also renewed and although it is another beautiful day here in Colorado I am tuned into the opening weekend of college football. Here’s a great video to get ready for game time - Go Tigers!

Friday, September 3, 2010


Over the years Kim and I have been blessed by wonderful gifts of generosity. That’s been especially true over the past week.

A week ago today we moved our youngest daughter to college (quite an experience) but “we moved” doesn’t tell the full story.  One of the traditions at Samford University is for upperclassmen to move the freshmen into their dorms.  We pulled up to the front of the dorm and our cars were immediately surrounded by students – most notably members of the Samford football team – and before we knew what happened the entire contents were in her dorm room.  That was a generous gift!

Years ago, maybe twenty, Kim and I heard a speaker suggest that after you take your last child to college don’t return immediately to the “empty nest.”  So for twenty years we’ve been planning to be away this week.  Of course, two kids in college and one just out means that the budget for a week away was somewhat limited.  But thanks to the generosity of friends we’ve been able to spend a week in the Colorado Rockies (in fact I’m writing this blog sitting on a deck overlooking the mountains). This week is an amazing gift of generosity!

Yesterday we drove over to the Rocky Mountain National Park and had a fantastic day.  Along the way a Colorado Highway Patrolman stopped me to let me know that I was slightly (just ever so slightly) exceeding the posted speed limit (I was spending too much time looking at the scenery and not enough paying attention to the speed limit signs).  Then he informed me that it was my lucky day and he was letting me go with just a warning.  THAT was a greatly appreciated gift of generosity!

The Apostle Paul reminded the elders in Ephesus that Jesus taught:

“It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

I trust that Samford football payers and friends and one very nice Colorado Highway Patrolman are experiencing those blessings today – each has blessed us with generosity this week.

Where have you recently received a gift of generosity?
Who might you be generous toward today?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Buying Green Bananas

One of my favorite passages in the Bible is Jesus’ promise that His followers will not only do what He had been doing but would do even greater things.  The Apostle Paul captured some of that thought when he wrote that God is:

able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.

It’s a promise that believes in a bright future, confident that the things to come will be immeasurably greater than the things that have been.

Lately I’ve noticed that confidence in the future doesn’t come easy for everyone.  Perhaps it’s an uncertain economy or a world that seems to be in constant motion and change.  We start to imagine a future filled with lesser things and our confidence wavers.  Last week I overhead one church leader remark:

I don’t even buy green bananas!

If you don’t believe tomorrow is coming there’s not much point in having a bunch of green bananas around.  Only people with confidence in the future buy green bananas.

I am convinced that its time for the church to buy green bananas.  Its time to not only believe but to proclaim that that the promise God made through the Prophet Jeremiah is true:

I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

A hope and a future – that sounds like a good time to buy green bananas!

What are the green bananas you might confidently buy?

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Law of the Spill

When you are bumped you spill whatever is inside you….

Jim Herrington, who is the Team Director for Mission Houston, shared that wisdom with me recently (and I promised to give him credit the first time I used it).

When you are bumped you spill whatever is inside you…

I get bumped a lot – most of us do.  Some of the bumps are intentional; many are unintentional.  Criticism, suggestions, criticism disguised as suggestions – they all bump me.  Interruptions, changes to plans, poor communication and misunderstandings are other ways that I get bumped.  And when I’m bumped I spill what’s inside me – it isn’t always pretty.  Sometimes what spills out of me makes quite a mess and my “spills” almost always seem to splash on others.

Think of it as the Law of the Bump or the Law of the Spill (can’t decide which one I like better).  We will always spill whatever is inside.

So I’ve been paying attention to what spills out of me when I get bumped.  It’s lead me to work on what’s inside.  I’m discovering that just by being aware of my “spills” I am filling myself with better things.  The Apostle Paul called them those things that are pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8).

You will probably get “bumped” today.  Pay attention to what spills.

Thursday, August 5, 2010


It’s been an unusual summer for our family – one daughter moving back home after graduation, another getting ready to leave for college and the third working at a camp in Alabama.  Then we tossed into the mix two more recent college graduates creating a very full house (I’ve suggested putting Greek letters over the front door and creating a sorority).  One of the impacts has been less time for reflection and blogging – but summer is nearing a close and I am writing again.

It’s also been a summer in which is seems that the lives of so many of our closest friends (all across the country) are in turmoil.  Words such as cancer, death, adultery, affair, unemployment, addiction, rape, drugs and depression have been a part of far too many conversations.  God continues to write stories of restoration and redemption but it seems as if too many of the people we love are in seasons of too many wounds.

Many of those wounds are leaving scars.

And I’m reminded that God has scars.

After His resurrection, when Jesus appeared to His disciples

He showed them His hands and feet
Luke 20: 40

In John’s revelation of heaven he describes the Lamb as:

looking as if it had been slain…
Revelation 5: 6

Our God has scars.

I can engage in theological debate on the persistence of evil.  I can find encouragement in the promise of a future glory that far surpasses our present suffering.  I can even understand how trials develop perseverance that leads to completeness.  I don’t have a lot of easy answers for cancer, death, adultery, affairs, unemployment, addiction, rape, drugs, depression, wounds and scars.

But I know that our God has scars too – and for today, that’s more than enough.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Failure to Thrive

Failure to Thrive (FTT) is a condition most often associated with infants, simply defined as inadequate growth.  A variety of factors from medical to environmental can contribute to FTT.  One of the most common contributing factors is a lack of touch, stimulation and love. 

We were created for relationship; for touch and love. When love and touch are absent we won’t grow.  We might survive but we certainly won’t thrive and that’s unacceptable because we were created to thrive.

Jesus said that He came so that we might:

may have life, and have it to the full.
John 10:10

Too often we miss out on that abundant life.  We survive, but we fail to thrive.

In happens to individuals, in friendships, in marriages and even to churches.  It happens because touch and love are absent.

Too many churches today are experiencing inadequate growth – they are failing to thrive.  Just as with infants there are a range of factors but perhaps most simply it’s the result of a lack of touch, stimulation and love.

We spend a lot of time and energy devoted to church growth.  I recently pulled together from my bookshelves all the books I’ve acquired over the years.  It’s quite a stack.  They have great titles (and many are great books).  My favorite title (and one first and best books I’ve read on church growth) is Bill Easum’s Sacred Cows Make Gourmet Burgers.  Each author offers great wisdom and insights and practical things we might try, but there’s no “silver bullet” answer (though a few will try to sell some).  Perhaps, its because churches, like the rest of us, thrive when there is touch, stimulation and love.

What would happen if we focused our time and energy of sharing Jesus’ love with touches of grace – not just with the world around us but also with one another?  It just might lead to life in the fullest!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The work of the critic is easy

There’s this great monologue at the end of Disney’s RatatouilleAnton Ego, the food critic, thinks about criticism:

In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talents, new creations. The new needs friends…. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.

Ego is right, it really is easy to criticize and I fall to that temptation far too often.  I’m guilty of criticizing directly, discreet and most often through my “suggestions” for improvement. 

The work of the critic is easy…  the new needs friends.

Those are good thoughts as I continue into this week.

Monday, July 12, 2010


Yesterday, my daughter Kelli and I attended the matinee performance of Wicked.  It was the fourth time for me (over a few years) but the first time for Kelli (and it was really fun to see it again for the first time through her eyes).

I love the story on so many levels.

I love the friendship between Elphaba and Glinda.  I love the way “loathing” is transformed to “for good.” 

I love how Elphaba evolves from wounded to hopeful to defiant to wicked and finally to peaceful.

I love how Glinda eventually finds herself.

I love the music and the costumes and the set design.

Every time I see Wicked I leave a little more inspired to defy gravity!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Train Wreck

Earlier this week I made my facebook status:

Train Wreck: a metaphor to describe something disastrous yet inevitable or distasteful yet morbidly fascinating and possibly taking place in Minneapolis this week...

The “train wreck” is a reference to the 219th meeting of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA).  As the meting of the General Assembly closes this morning I can remove the word “possibility.”

In a variety of actions this week commissioners recommended changes that if approved by a majority of our 173 Presbyteries would:

Remove the “fidelity (within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman) or chastity (in singleness)” requirement for those seeking to be ordained as deacons, elders or pastors.  The intent of this action is to make it possible for sessions and presbyteries to ordain individuals who define themselves as part of the GLBT community.  This recommendation narrowly passed 373-323-4. 

This will be the 5th time in the last 15 years the GA has asked the church to remove this requirement.  It's not that they haven’t heard our answer on the previous occasions – they simply haven’t liked our answer, so they keep asking.

Approve a new Form of Government (nFOG) that is intended to be more flexible than our current Book of Order.  The commissioners overwhelmingly approved the nFOG 468 – 204 – 6.

Add to our Book of Confessions the Belhar Confession written in South Africa in 1986 as a call to resist injustice, specifically racism. 

The commissioners also took actions that do not require the approval of our Presbyteries.  Of particular interest they:

Asked the Board of Pensions to extend health benefits to same-gender domestic partners and their children.  The commissioners also rejected a proposal that the Board of Pensions no longer provide coverage for abortions (expect when necessary to protect the life of the mother).

Asked for a retranslation of the Heidelberg Catechism specifically to address a condemnation of homosexuality, which appears in the current translation but apparently not in the original German.

Approved a controversial Middle East Report after lot of changes to remove what many consider to be a pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli bias.  The report did retain language denouncing Caterpillar for continuing to sell products (i.e. bulldozers) to Israel.   The commissioners always stop short of divesting from Caterpillar – perhaps because the denomination has $12M invested in Caterpillar stock.  Commissioners also aren’t pleased with Motorola, ITT, United Technologies and Hewlett-Packard but Caterpillar always gets singled out (probably because bulldozers knocking things over makes better video that checking email on a HP laptop). Maybe we should also denounce 3M because the Taliban uses Post-It notes… just saying.

Some of the most troubling actions surrounded the work of a committee on civil union and marriage.  After rejecting three overtures that asked to reaffirm a Biblical and historic understanding of marriage the commissioners voted to send us two reports expressing differing views on marriage.  Essentially one report holds marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman, the other as a covenant between two people.

By approving both reports and commending them to the church for study the commissioners “side-stepped” debates on:
  • Changing the definition of marriage from “between a woman and a man” to “two people”
  • Allowing pastors to perform and sessions to approve same-gender unions in states where they are permitted. 
It was a brilliant parliamentarian move – but it wasn’t easy.   The vote to set aside debate on redefining marriage was extremely close (348-324).  The result is, as of today our constitution still defines marriage as a between “a woman and a man” but we are split on whether or not that “works for us” so we are studying.

Bottom line:
  • We will again be voting on removing standards for ordination that were placed in our constitution in 1996 and affirmed four times.
  • We will continue to provide health coverage for induced abortions.
  • We will extend health coverage (for non-ordained staff covered by the Board of Pensions) to same-gender domestic partners and
  • We are gong to spend some time thinking about what it means to be married.
That’s what happened in Minneapolis this week.

It was disastrous yet probably inevitable.
It was distasteful yet somehow morbidly fascinating.

It was a train wreck.

btw – The PC (USA)’s GA web site is a great place to read details about each of these items.  Another good source is the Presbyterian Outlook.

If you want a slightly irreverent but hilarious perspective check out the blog by Grace elder and GA Commissioner Doug Gleditsch, Chief Among Sinners or his Twitter feed presbyoptic.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Praying for Amelia

On New Year’s Eve 2009 I received a call that a young couple at Grace had taken their 10 week daughter, Amelia, to the emergency room.  Amelia was diagnosed with acute myocarditis/dilated cardiomyopathy – bottom line:  she needed a new heart. 

Last March, at Texas Children’s Hospital, Amelia was given a Berlin Heart – an absolutely amazing device that has sustained her as she waited for the donation of a new heart.

That is happening as I type this post.  Just a little after 8:00 this evening surgeons at Texas Children’s began a 12+ hour heart transplant.

The gift of this new heart required a donor and I love what Amelia’s parents posted on their Caring Bridge page:

Please be in prayer for the precious family who is selflessly giving Amelia and our family the best possible gift. We pray that God give them comfort and peace in this most difficult of times. My heart aches for them, and I am just so humbled that we can give Amelia a second chance at a life because of this gift.

Tonight I am praying for Amelia and for the family that gave this gift.  As I do, I am reminded that every gift we receive comes at a price to someone.

Thinking about that makes grace all the more amazing.

You can follow Amelia's story and join us in praying for her at Caring Bridge Amelia.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

One of the mistakes I made last year….

One of the mistakes I made last year….

Lately, I’ve noticed that I’m using that phrase a lot in conversations.  I guess I've made a lot of mistakes.

One of the mistakes I made last year was (just fill in the blank) and there are plenty of answers to fill in the blank when I think about the last year (I wont be including those answers in this blog). 

What I’m more and more discovering is how freeing it is to admit my mistakes.  So I’ve been admitting my mistakes – without justification or blame shifting or denial.  I made mistakes last year.  I wasn’t the only one.  People make mistakes, it’s part of being human – and I’m certainly human.  Admitting helps me to learn important lessons and helps others know that I am learning.   And when people know you are learning they are quick to forgive and encourage and support.

Admitting my mistakes also makes it easier to stand firm when I know I’m not mistaken.  I also got some things exactly right last year.  Saying “I know I’m right” is heard much more readily when I’m not afraid to say, “I know I was wrong.”  Somehow it’s all more genuine and authentic. 

Lately, I’ve started listening for other voices telling me about the mistakes they made last year.  I don’t hear many.  It’s really not surprising.  No one really wants to admit that their mistake led to oil spills in the gulf, stock market crashes, the Twilight movie series or losing the LeBron sweepstakes.  But if they did, I suspect we’d be quicker to forgive and encourage and support. 

No one can really resist authentic humility.

So think for a moment – how would you fill in the blank:  One of the mistakes I made last year was….

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

like butter scraped over too much bread

There’s a great line in The Fellowship of the Ring (I’m a big LOTR fan) where Bilbo tells Gandalf that he feels:

All thin, sort of stretched… like butter that has been scraped over too much bread.

Life can sometimes leave us feeling that way.  Our calendars are too full.  Our budgets are too tight.  Our bodies are exhausted.  We feel like butter scraped over too much bread!

That was never God’s intention.

Jesus said:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, 
and I will give you rest.
Matthew 11: 28

In the familiar words of Psalm 23 we are reminded that:

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters,
He restores my soul. 

He guides me in paths of righteousness 

for His name's sake.
Psalm 23: 1 – 3

Where are the places where you “lie in green pastures” and sit “beside quiet waters.”  When you feel like butter scraped too thin what restores your soul!