Saturday, August 28, 2010

Good Intentions

I had them – good intentions. I was going to write every night (or so) about what we were doing on vacation, and all the wonderful things we are seeing, many for the first time. So much for good intentions.

There is just do much to see, we are packing in a lot of going and seeing. Frankly, when we finally get in, we are whipped and in the contest between blogging and sleeping, blogging comes in a distant second. Maybe soon I will catch up.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Yellowstone - Again

We have been to Yellowstone National Park before, in 2000, and we had a great time. It is one of the places we said we always wanted to go back to. This year we did.

This time we had the advantage of our own personal tour guides. Elizabeth and Jessica are our nieces, Betty's sister, Peggy's, daughters. they live and work in Gardiner, Montana, a strange combination of cowboy town and international tourist destination that is in the northwestern corner of the park. For the those raised with National Geographic in the house, this is the place with the Rooseveldt Arch at the park entrance.

The girls have been all over the park, and can bring a personal knowledge and experience of a quick tour that really helps pack a lot into one day. Of course, one day is way too little. A month is not really enough time, if you are willing and want to do what the vast majority of tourists are not - get more than a hundred yards off the pavement. These are beautiful things to see from the pavement, but so much more if you can walk a little. This time, between the short time we had for this part of our trip, and Betty's knee sugery little more than three weeks ago, there wasn't a lot of chance to walk, but one day, I want to spend some time on some of the trails and see things that really take your breath away. They are out there.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Lead Like Ike - a book review

Geoff Loftus has written a very readable book about Dwight Eisenhower, who organized and commanded the Allied forces in the European Theater during World War II. The goal of operations in Europe was the total defeat of the Axis (primarily Nazi Germany) forces and their unconditional surrender. This defeat hinged on the successful invasion of France, which we look back on as D-Day. This entire operation constitutes the largest and most complex human endeavor in history.

Loftus preserves the fundamentals of history, but approaches the situation as if Eisenhower were the CEO of a large, multinational corporation – D-Day, Inc. In this setting, Eisenhower had to deal with his board of directors (the political and military leaders of the Allied nations), his senior managers (senior subordinate military commanders and staff) and the shareholders (the military carrying out the mission and the civilian populations in all of the affected countries. By analyzing Eisenhower's decisions, his interactions both up and down the chain-of-command, and his basic character, Loftus identifies behaviors, attitudes and decisions that translate from Eisenhower's wartime experience to the business world of today.

I found this book a winner on at least two fronts. First, it carries out its aim of using a huge military operation as a metaphor for business. Second, it makes an important part of our history come alive in a way a standard history might not. In addition, people who may never pick up a book of pure history of either WWII or Eisenhower may well pick up a book about business strategies.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

Monday, May 31, 2010

Jesus Manifesto - Leonard Sweet & Frank Viola

Both a devotional and a challenge, Jesus Manifesto is at once easy reading and difficult doing. The authors call Christians to put Christ at the center of everything they are and everything they do, as the cause and end, as the reason and the result. They remind us that if we truly understand what and who He is, we really have no choice.

Christianity began as men and women closely and clearly focused on Jesus and His example. It evolved (perhaps a better word, devolved) into systems, bureaucracies, and dogmas. Most religious systems, bureaucracies and doctrines can stand by themselves without any content of, or reference to, Jesus. But without Jesus at the center, it is not genuine Christianity. This book constantly reminds us how far we have departed from the origins of our faith, and how important it is that we return.

This book is important reading for both decision makers in the church, and for people in the pews. Decision makers, so that they can refocus their churches on the author and perfecter of our faith, and the people in the pews so they can understand genuine Christianity and discern the difference between that and the counterfeits all around them.

I greatly enjoyed this book, and recommend it highly.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Wild at Heart, by John Eldredge - a review

Wild at Heart was originally published ten years ago. The author has slightly revised this anniversary edition and added some end material.

What was true ten years ago is still true today, and will be true until Jesus returns – a man needs to know his true self, and he needs to know how his true self relates to other men, to women, to the world, and to his God.

Eldredge convincingly argues that men have been denied knowing themselves at a deep spiritual level by wounds, both purposeful and accidental, in their childhood, and by a world that neither values nor understands their real nature. We are in a world at war, a war with an unseen but very real enemy, and men are born to be warriors engaged in that struggle. The problem is our world doesn't want warriors; it wants "nice men."

This book, along with others by Eldredge, is important reading for men who want to discover their true selves, and women, who want to understand true manhood and discover their own true womanhood. I suffered "the wound" myself, and for years compensated for that spiritual and injury by cutting myself off from people emotionally. Until I read this book, I was never able to articulate that pain. Wild at Heart helped complete the healing of that wound.

Click here for disclosure of material interest 

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Getting Back To Normal...

It has been difficult these past weeks. Losing Pastor Ken was one of the most difficult things I have ever faced. There have been two men in my life that have made an indelible spiritual mark on me, and both of them died unexpectedly and way too young. Some of the shock of this most recent loss is wearing off, but the disbelief and grief are still raw. The numbness is better, but the pain is fresh.

In the middle of all that, my mom suffered a stroke and died. For a few days, things seemed almost overwhelming. It seemed that the whole world was saturated with tears and adrenaline.

As many of us have said in the past few weeks – without God, how could anyone face this? And I am quick to add – and a church family. I cannot count the times someone from our church has comforted me, encouraged me, shed tears with me, prayed for and with me, and fed me.

Of course, they are one and the same. God chooses to work in the world through His people.

Hmmm... bet there is a sermon in there somewhere.

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Conversation About Ten Things...

Tim Schrader  wrote a blog piece that was carried on Catalyst - "Ten Things That Drive Me Crazy About Working For A Church." Tim Stevens, Executive Pastor at Grainger Community Church wrote a great response you can read here.

For some reason, this happened to trip my trigger. So, in further response...

  1. Churches can be toxic workplaces, just as secular employers. They can also be the most exciting and fulfilling place to be in the entire world. Just as in the secular workspace, the difference boils down to the leadership. Tim Schraeder has apparently been in places with weak or ineffectual or disengaged leaders; Tim Stevens is in a place with strong, visionary and effective leaders. (Of course, he is in that number at GCG)
  2. If people are being burned out, it is because they are not seen as valuable by their leaders. If people are allowing themselves to be burned out, it is because they don't see themselves or their families as being valuable or important.
  3. If resources are considered before vision and commitment, there will never be enough resources. Resources flow toward clear vision and burning commitment.
  4. If people fear and resist change it is because change has never resulted in improvement and progress. This is a leadership failure at some level.
  5. We always want to pray about things, and we never want to act without thought and preparation, but in the end, sooner rather than later- we MUST act.
  6. Meetings can be enriching and effective, but they can also drain the life and joy out of everyone. The difference is distinct purpose, clear and reasonable agendas, and concern for everyone's time.
  7. If we are trying to do too many things, leaders have not shown the courage to choose the best over the good and say "NO" to someone- or several someones. (Thank you Andy Stanley for saying this so well and so often).
  8. Hypocrisy is a grave fault in anyone or any institution. It often results from unclear vision. Trying out several styles, methods or approaches is not hypocrisy, but at some point you have to figure out what is working and is in agreement with your vision.
  9. We ought to be looking at other churches; also businesses, other non-profits, and just about everything in culture. There are going to be some good ideas that we can use to expand the Kingdom. However, if we are blindly looking for a magic bullet instead of prayerfully seeking good ideas, we need to refer back to "hypocrisy"- see #8 just above.
  10. People leave churches for many reasons. Some we ought to be concerned about, if they are leaving because our church is ineffective, or not being true to the Scripture, or we are allowing gossip,divisiveness, or sinful attitudes to exist in the Body. But, there are some people who leave because the Spirit is calling them to a different place of service; some who are leaving the area. Those we happily wave to and wish them well. There are also occasions when we see people go who find we have no place for unrepentant sinfulness, prejudice, or stubborn refusal to join our vision or take part in the Kingdom work we have staked out. We also happily wave to these folks, but with a prayer for their hearts.

Let me make sure everyone understand - I work in the greatest church I have ever experienced. I am blessed to work with people, both paid staff and volunteers, who love God and each other, and who are making a real impact for God in our community. But, I have seen enough of the other kind of both church and secular workplace to make my experience at Argyle even more special.

Anyone with additional thoughts?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Selfless Gene, by Charles Foster - a book review

In this book, the author tries to both explain and reconcile some of the positions of two widely separated intellectual camps- those of the Darwinian evolutionists and the Creationist/Intelligent Design positions commonly found among evangelical Christians.

It has been said that compromise is the art of simultaneously failing to satisfy and irritating both parties. Mr. Foster may have done just that with this book. Ardent Darwinists will find a definite faith in God demonstrated the author, and evangelicals will find an understanding of Scripture that seems heavily influenced by higher criticism.

Frankly, this is a book that will be a difficult read for most people. It will trouble a lot of people and infuriate some. It is not a simple overview - it is a review and a perspective for people already familiar with the subject and the literature. It likely will not change anyone's mind, but it may likely be the basis for more thought and reflection on some very difficult and important areas of thought.

I recommend this book as a generator of thought and discussion.

Disclosure of material interest

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Out of my comfort zone...

It's entirely possible that God wants us to spend a lot of our time out of our comfort zones. It seems that the times I feel the greatest satisfaction are those when I have really stretched myself and done something that makes me feel really insecure and uncomfortable.

A couple nights ago I was leaving the church, and as usual I was the last one out, just before dark. I stopped in the parking lot and got out of the car to check something and as I was returning to my car a man walked up to me from behind. The combination of the surprise and his hurry spooked me a little.

He held up a $20 bill- "I need a ride just down the road and I will give you $20 to take me there."

  • First thought- what kind of scam is this?
  • Second thought- this guy looks like he needs the money a lot more than I do.
  • A distant third thought- he needs more than a ride.
I told him to get in, that I would take him where he needed to go and to put his money away. He had a hard time understanding that I was willing to help him and not take his money.

As we rode we talked. He mentioned that he had been to our Singing Christmas Tree. He mentioned that he had grown up in church as a minister's son. He mentioned that he had disappointed a lot of people. He mentioned that he wished that he could get away from the drugs and alcohol that were dominating his life, but it seemed an impossibly large task. He mentioned that he wished he could be good enough for God to love him again, but he was afraid that hope was long gone.

OK God- the hard nudge isn't necessary; even I can field this one. And I'm really glad I was paying attention to Ken on Sunday.

We talked about how God loves us, regardless and unconditionally. We talked about how all of us disappoint God and other people all the time- just some more than others. We talked about how he doesn't have to turn his life around overnight, he just has to make the one next decision in a way that will please God; and the one after that; and the one after that. We talked about how you eat an elephant- one bite at a time. We talked about how drugs and alcohol are reactions to one of two things- filling that emptiness we all have that only God can properly fill, or trying to escape a memory or a hurt that only God can properly heal. We talked about a lot of things out of my comfort zone, and out of his for that matter. Finally, we prayed.

Is his life better today than it was then? I don't know. I may never know this side of glory. But, that isn't my assignment. My assignment is to speak God's truth and let Him worry about the outcomes. No matter how uncomfortable I am.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Top Ten...

Ok- there is nothing new about a Top Ten list. But, this one isn't mine- it's yours. Take a few minutes, think about this, and respond. I am using the results in a project.

Let's set the stage. You are talking to someone who is not a Christian, but who is open to what you have to say. They have expressed that they are neutral about the Bible- they aren't sure about its authority or authenticity but are willing to check it out. But importantly, they have limited time, and ask you for a quick reference list to check out.

Here is your assignment-
  1. List, in order, the ten most important Bible passages this person should read.
  2. These passages should not be longer than can be read in a minute or two.
  3. You should include a one or two sentence explanation of why this passage is important.
Respond in the comments or email me with your lists.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Out of sadness, something positive...

On Saturday, I was at a meeting with about 30 people. As the meeting ended and people were leaving one of our members was seen to fall heavily in the parking lot. Carl was obviously in distress and injured in the fall. Several people went to help him, and someone called 911.

Within minutes, Jacksonville FRD was there. Several pieces of equipment and at least 10 firefighters were working hard to help Carl. Aggressive treatment started at once, and as soon as possible, he was transported to the Shands Jacksonville emergency room, only a couple miles away from the meeting site.

I contacted Carl's wife at their home near St. Augustine, and after confirming that their son would bring her to the hospital, I went to the ER. I observed at least 10 people in an intricate dance around Carl, working hard to save his life. The fall had been caused by a heart arrhythmia, and he was not responding to resuscitation attempts. Sadly, Carl died, despite the best efforts of everyone involved.

What is positive in this? I saw first-hand the skill and dedication of the people on the front lines of rescue and medical treatment in Jacksonville. I saw dedication. I saw compassion. I saw enough to know that if I or anyone I love has a medical emergency, I can be confident in the quality of the response.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Catching your breath...

is sometimes hard to do at this time of the year. There are always places to go and things to do, but the time between Thanksgiving and New Year's seems to be even more crowded with "must do" things. Plus, our increasingly connected world puts hundreds of our closest friends in our shirt pockets.

As much as we love the holiday season, and as much as we love our friends, it is sometimes a good thing to disconnect a bit - step back and relax, and decompress. In the Screwtape Letters, Lewis makes reference to the constant noise and confusion of hell. There is probably more truth than poetic metaphor there. I may even try a radical experiment; turn off the cell, the ringer on the office phone, and unplug the Ethernet cable from the computer. That way I can still work on many things that need doing, but not be tempted by email, Twitter and Facebook.

Radical, indeed.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Noticer - a book by Andy Andrews

There are some things you encounter that seem so simple, so obvious, that there is no surprise in them. Wonder and admiration perhaps, but no surprise. A lever is simple and obvious, but when applied in the right place and at the right time, can apply tremendous force, moving the seemingly immovable.

This book is about a human lever. Jones, just Jones, seems to turn up at pivotal times and "notice" things and offer a fresh "perspective" - simple things that have been overlooked but offer hope and inspiration to people who need both. Telling the truth in love, Jones opens eyes and hearts and changes lives.

Simple is sometimes dismissed as trivial. The observations and advice Jones gives are as simple and compelling as the parables of Jesus, which are anything but trivial. But simple and compelling in concept aren't always simple in execution. Knowing what makes sense for us and then actually doing it seem to be disconnected for so many of us. But, knowing the right path is the first, indispensable ingredient.

I enjoyed this book. It can be a quick read, easy to pick up and put down, or you may prefer linger over and savor it. You likely will end up doing both.

Disclosure of material interest.

Saturday, January 2, 2010


I read somewhere recently that when you say to God, "Use me" you better expect to be stretched. It happened to me.

Years ago, when we were fairly new to the church, Rick and Donna were also just arrived. Rick invited people who were interested to join the music ministry. Betty, who is a good singer and who had been in church choirs before, decided to overcome her natural shyness and talk to Rick after worship. I, who is the kid who was told to stand in the back row and hum all through school, tagged along. She spoke to Rick, who was very gracious and invited her to come to the next rehearsal and sit in. Donna walked up just about the time he turned to me and asked what voice I sing. I explained my musical shortcomings and while I would love to serve, I was so bad it would embarrass me and the church both to have me sing. He understood. But then Donna smiled (she is always smiling- a real gift) and said, "Then why don't you help out and watch the choir kids for us?"

Trapped! Like a rat! Here I was, the words "I would be happy to help but..." still echoing off the back wall and several eyes on me. What to say? How to wiggle out? "Well, I am not very good with kids." (True that, by the way- just ask my daughter.)

"I am sure you will do just fine," said Donna, still smiling. I suspect it was because her own kids were old enough they didn't need to be watched during rehearsal, but regardless, I was the new choir kid wrangler.

Here I was, the guy whose idea of childcare involved duct tape, watching anywhere from 3 to 8 or 9 kids in the early elementary age range. Strange thing is, I was reasonably good at it, drew no blood, and came to enjoy it. I got acquainted with several parents I might not otherwise have met, and learned a couple valuable lessons: God has a sense of humor; service takes all shapes; when a job needs to be done, you ought to be open to the need rather than your comfort zone; try it, you may like it.