Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Standard of Judgment


Your attitude should be the same as that of Jesus Christ.” – Philippians 2:5

“Anyone who claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” – 1 John 2:6

If someone says they are a Christian, you get to judge them inside and out.

Inwardly, they should have the attitude of Jesus.

Outwardly, they should have the “walk” of Jesus.

These are the inner and outer standards upon which all of us who call ourselves Christians measure ourselves. (Not in order to get eternal security, by the way, which is a free gift of love from God, but as the evidence that we have received this free gift…for they are earth-bound results of belief in Jesus.)

And while the Bible makes these two things clear, it also makes it clear that there is a transformational process involved in the becoming like Jesus (Romans 12:2, for example).

Combine these two things, and the true standard that you can use to judge if someone is a Christian is whether or not that someone is actively involved in his or her own transformation into the image of Christ.

If you asked them, they would be able to tell you…

…that they are becoming more like Christ.

…that they are not finished becoming more like Christ.

…how they are becoming more like Christ.

…what old attitudes and actions they had that weren’t like Christ.

…what current attitudes and actions they have that aren’t like Christ.

…what new attitudes and actions they have acquired that are like Christ.

…what attitudes and actions they lack that are like Christ.

…what they participated in, in order to transform into Christ likeness.

…what they are currently participating in, in order to continue transforming into Christ likeness.

So, if you ask them these questions, and they can’t answer (now, give ‘em a minute, because not many ask them to articulate these things), you are free to doubt that they are Christians.

No matter what they say.

Jesus, his attitude and his ways, are the standard of judgment.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

On Imitating the 20th Century Church


We’re still thinkin’ like a 200-member church.” – Ken Moss, one of my elders, guarding the much needed shift in thinking when your church family grows numerically over 200

We’re still thinkin’ like a 20th-century church.” – Yours Truly, guarding the much needed shift in thinking when your culture won’t respond like they once did to your church family’s mode of “doing church”


Generally speaking, if you were to study 20th-century Christianity, with an eye to imitate it now in the 21st-century, you would…

…put your primary attention and focus on your Sunday meeting.

…find or build a place adequate to have your Sunday meeting.

…recruit or hire the best public speaker you can find, attract, or afford to preach at your Sunday meeting.

…recruit or hire the best worship leader you can find, attract, or afford to lead singing and/or music at your Sunday meeting.

…collect money from the people who attend your Sunday meeting.

…support and surround your Sunday meeting with good programs for kids to attract families with kids to your meetings.

…spend tons of leadership man-hours deciding what is best, appropriate, most-effective and Biblical to do at and through your Sunday meetings.

…mobilize the people at your Sunday meetings to share the saving message of Christ with people who don’t come to your Sunday meetings, and when they accept that message, get them to faithfully you at your Sunday meetings.

…measure success by how many attend your Sunday meeting.

Generally speaking, if you want to imitate the 20th-century church, the above list will pretty much get you on your way.

Any questions? Thoughts?

I need to tell you that I’m speaking (1) as a primary participant in one of these 20th-century modeled churches, and (2) as a human being who is noticing that other human beings do not respond to this mode of church like they used to, and (3) most importantly and urgently, as a dad who is questioning whether this 20th-century model is going to effectively deliver Christ’s way of life to my kids and their friends in this very different, constantly changing 21st-century.

Any questions? Thoughts? Guidance? Compassion?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Church Technology Blog

“So often I run into a problem here at my church. I end up doing much research and often come up with  a good and/or unique solution. So I was thinking, if God is going to lead me to these solutions and ideas, I ought to share them.” – Craig Mashburn, diligent and creative minister of technology, and my brother

My little brother is a marvel. He was my personal technology minister in Houston, TX for years, helping me Picture0198accomplish creative ideas in youth ministry that I could have never pulled off without him.

He WAS my personal technology minister until the church I worked for in Houston noticed. Then they high jacked him and put him on staff full time. A wise move on their part. I was the only one against the idea, because then I’d have to share him.

As it turned out, he could handle my whole load and still handle everyone else’s, too. He loves it and is good at it.

When I moved to Amarillo, I was excited to find out that the church here was looking for a techy. My friend Doyle asked, "Do you think Craig would be interested in coming?” My eyes bulged out of my head at the possibility and I said, “I don’t know, but I sure would be interested in his coming!”

I still praise God that a year later, he did. So I’m still close to some family, but also, I still have my personal techy.

Anyway, if you are one or have any tech friends, particularly who work at churches, you’ll want to put them onto this blog Craig is starting. Churches offer unique tech problems, and Craig has man-handled a bunch of ‘em over the years, and thought it quite a waste to not “put them out there” to help others directly or spur on their creative problem solving.

Check it out here:

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Daddy Affirmation Day

I’ve had a powerfully intense few weeks. I’m an intensity junky of sorts, so it’s been good, but it has taken it’s toll. A toll I’m glad to pay, but a payment to be paid nonetheless. I commonly experience myself as someone who notices he is weary in spirit way too late. But my kid’s love shook me to awareness early this time in a beautiful and creative way.

As I started home from work, I grabbed my phone and there was a missed call from my wife’s cell phone. It was this lengthy message from my youngest son, Jakin, who is age 6 (read it as if it is one sentence with the cutest little boy voice you can imagine).

“Dad – I just wanted to tell you that I wanted to give you a kiss when you get home, and hug, and I want, um…to tell you…um…because you work good cuz, um, I love you cuz, um, you do good stuff and I love you too much and I want you someday to take to…um…I actually don’t want to go to Chicago for our trip, I want to actually go to where Callie, um, went to and do everything Callie did and I wanna ask, uh, to stay at the same room in the hotel, and, um, if we can, and I want to, um, and someday I want us to go the beach and see some penguins and, uh, I just love you and mom loves you to…when you get home, give her a hug and a kiss…bye.”

I smiled and laughed out loud and played it several more times as I drove home. “I love you too much,” just kept ringing in my head and calming my soul. It was cool.

On the homefront, my wife Carrie has been a trooper with some major pain in her lower back. So when I got home, I took my oldest son Shade to soccer practice, picked up my daughter from gymnastics, then with her back to Shade’s practice till it was over, then home to feed ‘em, bath ‘em, do homework, and get ‘em to bed before my men’s group that meets in my basement starts at 8:30.

While Carrie was coaching me on what to do for lunch prep for the next morning, I saw my daughter Callie (age 7) quietly and intently drawing or writing something on the couch. A while back, she made both me and her mom “mailboxes” out of paper and hung them next to our respective sides of the bed. As I was busily hurrying about, she disappeared and reappeared and informed me, “Daaaad –deeee…check your maaaaail booox.” I smiled with a polite “Okay” as I dashed by and gave her a pat. But after I put them to bed, I remembered, and pulled this out.


Of course, I love all the hugs and kisses from my daughter, always, but what really captured my attention was her 3-stage representation of my “growing up”. She identified me as a “kid”, then advancing to “basketball player", and finally to “precher”. While I wonder why she chose these particular images to mark my progression, the most affirming thing to me was what she drew to represent “precher”! It wasn’t me standing behind a pulpit talking. It wasn’t my nose in a book (or The Book) studying, and it wasn’t even me with another person shepherding, all of which would’ve been okay and accurate of some of the things she sees me doing. Instead, it seems her image of a “precher” is a strong, intense-but-smiling, determined sort of character who is ready for some sort of action. I tell you what, if this is anything close to what I am being seen as by my kids as they observe me as “a preacher”, then I’m just plain thrilled. Admittedly, some of this comes from my past & current judgments of preachers, oftentimes unfair and false (and yes, it’s not lost on me the divine comedy that God made me one), but still…it was nice, since it is so important to me to not be a “typical preacher” (let the reader understand) that my daughter represented me as a preacher in an atypical way. It just felt great.

Finally, 8:30 rolls around, kids are tucked in, and about 8 of my buddies from the Basement Boys start showing up. Shade (age 9), has a routine of asking me if my buddy Heath is going to come to group, and if he is, then to send him by his room on the way down the hall for him to say hey, because my son loves him. But in the event Heath doesn’t come, he usually names another guy from my group to send in, as a backup. Last week it was Shane, but this week, he told me to send in Chris.

Chris happened to have “the floor” last night, which means, it was his turn to sit in the “hot seat” and initiate the raw and real, hopefully transformational conversation that we all gather in the basement for. So as we all declared it time to descend, and void of Heath’s presence, I mentioned to Chris to make a quick stop in Shade’s room to say hi.

After a few minutes, Chris comes bounding down to the basement where the rest of us are just visiting amongst ourselves awaiting his arrival in the hot seat that we left empty for him. He busts out with a big smile, and then says, “Let me tell you what Mashburn’s son just said.”

Chris said that after he visited with him, he told Shade that he probably needed to go because he was going to talk down in the basement, and added that he was a little nervous. Shade told him, ‘Oh, yeah. Don’t worry about it. You’ll do good. I’ve done it before. I’ve talked in front of the whole church. You want me to tell you what to do?”

“Sure,” I imagine Chris saying in a very Chris-inviting way.

Just pretend, while your saying what you need to say, that all the people aren’t even there.”

Here’s the cool part.

Shade added, “Except my dad.”

Chris was beaming in the basement, for me I think, as he said that it was exactly the way he would want his son to talk about him! He said that it was said in a manner that communicated, "No need to pretend my dad’s not there. You’ll want him there.”


It wasn’t until this morning that I put together this trifecta of child-delivered, massively-meaningful, attitude-changing, energy-fueling, uncontrollable-smile-producing, peace-giving, not-common-at-all daddy affirmations all happened yesterday, densely packed into a mere 3 hour block of time.

I didn’t know it at the time, but now looking backward, and looking inward, I’m pretty sure it was a little gift of fuel to propel me forward that came from upward.

I instantly thought about blogging about them, sharing the experience with all of you, when I quickly realized how extremely self-exalting it is for me to record and publish just how great I’m coming across to my kids.

So I decided not to.

I did share it with my close friend Doyle, and somewhere in the midst of the thrill and joy of it all, I changed my mind. I had to record it, and share it, not because I think I’m “all that”, but because of the sheer depth at which my children’s honest and spontaneous affirmations of me as a dad satisfies and affirms my soul.

May I never short change my short time with my kids. And may their gracious perceptions of me become true as I am becoming truer.

And may the same be so for all you.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

A Song and a Resolution

“Wake up, wake up, break out in song!” – Judges 5:12

“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” – 1 Corinthians 2:2

I have two documents sitting on my desk that have blessed me profoundly today.

The first one is written by my 7 year old daughter, Callie. Well, dictated by her. She came running in one day with a sense of urgency asking for pen and paper. She wrote “God is the perfect name!” on the top, put a column of hearts down the side, and then decided she writes too slow to record the song trying to burst out of her heart. She threw the pen and paper in my hands and said, “Hurry, dad, write this down!”

She started with the chorus:

God is the perfect name for the Lord,

God is the perfect name for the Lord.

Jesus is the perfect name for the Lord,

Jesus is the perfect name for the Lord.

Love is the perfect name for the Lord,

Love is the perfect name for the Lord.

Then she had four short verses:

Love brings peace, peace brings love.

If you put them both together, you have Christ in your heart.

Faith brings joy, joy brings faith.

If you put them both together, you have Christ in your heart.

Love brings hope, hope brings love.

If you put them both together, you have Christ in your heart.

It ends triumphantly…

Jesus and God are good for each other!

Jesus and God are the best! (to be sung with arms thrust up into the air!)

Callie Song001 

She instructed me to take it to my friend Doyle, the worship leader at our church, in order for him to learn it and sing it with our church family.


The second one is from a friend of mine that I am “especially fond of” (he who has read “The Shack”, let him have ears to hear). He, among about 80 others of us, went on a retreat this past weekend on a Ranch south of Amarillo. While there, we examined our personal “story” thus far in our lives, were challenged to give those to God, and let Christ merge with our story from here on out, co-authoring it together.

After laying his story at the foot of the cross, he went into some private space and wrote these resolutions as guides for the rest of his life:

I will stop “doing” church and be Christ to the world.

I will pray unrelenting for those who are lost in my life.

I will be a part of the salvation of my lost family members.

I will spend my time doing the will of God in the world.

I will make a mark on the world around me.

I will get to know more of Christ through the Bible.

I will stop using business as an excuse not to do his work.

I will stop blaming my family for what Satan did.

I will stop using my past as a crutch.

People will see the difference in me.

I’m allowing this paper that Callie wrote move me to worship and reflection (that will actually and practically change the state of my heart), and I’m allowing this paper written by my buddy to move me to resolution and action (that will actually and practically change how you see me live and behave).

May God send you a song and resolution as well.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Jakin Strongman


I just arrived in my office after an action-packed breakfast at McDonald’s with my youngest son and best buddy, Jakin, who turns 6-years-old today.

Jakin Major Mashburn is the funnest, smiliest, most amazing (not-so-) little boy.

Jakin has a habit of getting up out of bed “one last time” pretty much every night in order to “just say one more thing!” If we can get over ourselves wanting him to get back in bed and go to sleep, it is always hilarious.

Once, as his mom started rebuking him back to his room as his head poked slowly around the corner, he retorted with “I just have one more question!” His mom conceded, asking what it was. Relieved, he stepped into the room and busted out, in all seriousness, with “How can dragons fly when they have those small little wings and big huge giant bodies?” I could see all over his face that he was in his bed really losing sleep over this impossible dilemma.n504071182_1466115_3670

Another time I heard a little shuffling in the hallway. I let out with one my standard “Go back to bed!” shout outs for whichever one of my little hoodlums it may be, which is usually followed by some quick little retreating footsteps and a door quietly closing. But out darted Jakin announcing that he HAD to tell me “One of my favorite things!” I agreed, and he excitedly proceeded to hold up his hand and announce, “On your hand, you have 4 fingers. But when you add your 1 thumb, its like you have five, but you don’t, because you only have 4 fingers, then you have 1 thumb,” and then looked at me, satisfied that he had cleared that up so excellently for me. I said, “Is that it?” “Yep,” he said, as he turned with certainty and bounded to bed.

Another time it was a question: “Is Beansborough a real state?”

I have no explanation. But it got us both in one of those rare-but-priceless places where you really need to, but you can’t stop laughing. You know, the kind that comes out causing pain and tears you are laughing so hard. Almost like your body is taking what only deserves a small chuckle and using it as an opportunity to hold in weeks of repressed laughter to finally purge itself.

Jakin is capable of creating that often.

Brian and Jakin

Here’s my favorite to date: the kids are all down, it’s quiet, and I was in my bedroom which is down a long hallway from Jakin’s. I was lying on my bed quietly watching TV when in came Jakin dragging his lifeless lower body, presumably all the way from his room, with his arms. As he slowly pulled his comatose legs around the door frame, he announced, “Dad. I got somethin to tell ya. My legs don’t work.” I looked at him knowingly. I said, “Well, Jakin, your in luck. Your supposed to be in bed sleeping. And you don’t need your legs for that. Right?”

“Right. Okay,” he said, and he pulled himself all they way back down the hall and into bed (he seemed to have made a miraculous recovery by the morning, by the way).

Jakin’s first name comes from a midnight wake-up call I felt like I got from God one night. I drug myself to my prayer room and did one of those open-the-Bible-and-read things. I opened to an obscure passage in 1 Kings 7 where it describes the (boring) details of Solomon  constructing his palace and stuff around the Temple. I thought, “surely this is not what you woke me up to read, God!” I persevered through really interesting (not!) records of some of dimensions of some of the bronze-works that Solomon had commissioned. And then, right in the middle of this, a strange thing…the scripture pauses right after mentioning these 2 pillars made for either side of the porch of Solomon, and takes the time to give these pillars names. One was named Boaz (which means “God’s strength” I think), the other was named Jakin. I looked it up, because all my wife and I had discussed was we might want a “J” name (dunno why). It means “God establishes.”

Jakin’s middle name, Major, was the maiden name of my wife’s sweet Nana, who had just passed away when we found this name. Major means “greatness”.

So when this cool kid was born we named him “God Establishes Greatness”.

   Carrie and Jakin2

So, Happy Birthday, Jakin Strongman (one of his many identities…check out the video here, if you have Facebook, and watch the video “Greatest Fight on Earth” to see why)! I love you and am so proud to be a front-row witness of the greatness that God is so firmly estbablishing in you!

I love you, buddy.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Useful, Powerful, Courageous Blogs


My buddy Chris, and excellent writer, friend, care-giver, and follower of Christ has a couple of blogs that I think you would enjoy, particularly if you fall into the category of people he is addressing.

He got a nick-name in college, Fajita, that stuck.

Fajita will stick on you, too (not the food, but his love and wisdom).


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Do One Thing Well

"No one can serve two masters." - Jesus

"The most productive people and groups of people, who have any kind of mission, are those who jettison their weightiest cargo." – Your Truly, inspired by Honore de Balzac

I may be in the worst shape of my life because of this shoulder injury I took in a BMX race. Because of it, I haven't been able to hike, wrestle kids, play softball or basketball, run, swim, lift or anything else that might bounce or jiggle my screwed up shoulder (and I mean that literally, my shoulder has a screw in it). The doctor has only released me to ride a stationary bike, so I've been going across the street to the Town Club, doing that, desperate to be in shape. But yesterday I decided to make a "big move" to the Stair Master, a bit tougher workout for sure, but still safe for the shoulder. It felt good.

But that's not why I'm telling you this.

I'm telling you this because the Stair Master is right next to the balcony that looks down over the gym. And down in the gym, I saw something happening that I see happening in a lot of churches, if not most. For sure it is happening in the one I'm blessed to be a part of. And for sure it is happening inside of me.

There was a volleyball game going on. Four students on each team. And there was a half-court basketball game going on. Four more students on each team.

The problem is, there's not room for both to be going on, at least the way they are designed to. Because the courts overlap.

That's not to say they weren't trying. They were trying to each enjoy the game they were playing. They were trying to be kind and respectful of each other. They were trying to stay out of each other's way without compromising the quality of their chosen game. But, alas, they were trying to do so in the same space.

Needless to say, eventually...and repetitively...they got in each other's way. A guy drove the lane, then zipped the ball out to the top of the key which is well into the center of the volleyball court, and just as he was taking his wide open shot...bam!...the volleyball whizzes into the back of his arms. A guy spikes the ball that get's blocked, so his teammate rushes aggressively to the back corner of the court to keep the ball in play and...smack!...right into a basketball defender's legs as he jumps to make a block.

It wasn't working. They all knew it. But no one was addressing it. No one was trying to get agreement on what sport to play. No one wanted to offend anyone else. No one addressed it. They just kept on playing their half-games as if everything would just work out. Oh, you could see some sarcastic looks among the volleyball players to each other, and hear some disgruntled murmurings from the basketball players among themselves, but they weren’t addressing each other. And neither was able to do their thing well.

They kept playing, but it was so maddening for both, that I wondered if one group would finally either blow up in frustration, or just quit because it wasn't worth the battle anymore.

For you church folks...sound familiar?

Watching the growing tension, I found myself eager for some Town Club authority to come in and expose this dilemma for them. No, not expose it, they all knew it was there. Address it. Forthrightly and openly, with a conscientious mind for a solution. I wanted for someone to discern some options for these guys that would allow one of the games to be played well. I couldn't think of anything that wouldn't disappoint at least some of the folks, but I could think of plenty of things that would acknowledge the problem and then invite everyone to be a part of the solution...even if it called for some of them to sacrifice doing things "their way".

Again...sound familiar?

Allow me to take the analogy a step further. This gym is in a health club. Presumably, you come to this gym to get exercise in order to improve your health. While you can play basketball or volleyball in it(or dodge ball, or chase, or roller hockey), it's not made primarily for basketball or volleyball. It is made for exercise. Both the volleyball and basketball players could've gotten exercise by joining the other group in their sport. But they weren't there for exercise, and even if initially they were, they ended up making it about playing their desired sport, and didn't mind sabotaging the effectiveness of the other group's game (and exercise) to get it.

You following me here?

Let me take it further. A younger group of folks came in looking to play something as well. They saw what was being communicated non-verbally by the group(s) in the gym, and didn't give a second thought to picking up a basketball and starting another game on a side basketball court that overlapped BOTH the other groups. There was no mistaking it, it was downright imposing and rude.

But what could the ones in there first say? "Can you kids not see that you are interrupting our game?" Nope. They couldn't. It would have made them accountable to explain either (a) why they weren't confronting the other group as well, or (b) admit they were doing the same thing.

So...they all just kept running into each other, ruining each other's games, unable to really enjoy it, and not any of them doing any of it well.

I can't resist...let me take it a little further. When I finished my stair-climbing, I took a cool-down walk around the small running track, which took me to the other side of the gym. From there, I could see the other sideline, hidden from my Stair Master view. There, I saw a 3 on 3 soccer game trying to be played between the wall of the gym and the volleyball court line! It was pitiful. Determined...and I respect that...but pitiful. An interrupting and interrupted game as much as the other 3.

But that's not the worst of it. There were at least a dozen kids down there sitting and standing along the wall. They were watching it all...some looking like they wished they were playing something, some looking intimidated by the chaos, some apologizing for getting in the way of the soccer game, some looking like they didn’t want to be there but their mom or dad is working out and they can’t leave, and (this one's my favorite) some laughing at the collisions and passive-aggressive conflicts taking place out on the floor. And in the few seconds I watched, a few kids stepped in the doors, looked around, and shaking their heads walked right out. They wanted nothing to do with what was going on in there...partly because there was no way to imagine where or what they could join in with.

Now...if a manager from the Town Club did enter the scene with a mind to figure out how to improve what was happening, what would you imagine he should do? What questions would he need to ask? And of whom would he ask them? Who get's the priority here? Is it based on who was there first? On what sport can involve the most people? A democratic vote?

Is it based on what the manager comes in and dictates? On what he likes best? On who he likes best in the room?

Is it based on who's family contributes the most to the Town Club financially? On who gets the most upset? On who has the strongest will out there? On keeping as many people happy as possible so they won't leave the Town Club?

If I've done a good job making it seem like a hard situation...then I've accurately described why I think what I saw happening on that gym floor is happening in a lot of churches.

I doubt the Town Club would solve it this way...but I think churches need their God-fearing, prayerfully discerning, Christ-focused, disciple-making leaders to come to conviction from God on that one thing that they should do well...and then invite everyone who wants to be associated with them into that particular game.

At our particular church, one game being played is the game of "making disciples of Jesus Christ through relationships". And another game being played is "let's base our worship practices on the 1st Century church's worship practices".

Both games are being played, and both are trying to be respectful of the other, but they are overlapping and occupying the same space. They are each determined, and I respect that, but on occasion, it is pitiful. That's not to say we aren't trying. We are trying to each enjoy the game we are playing. We are trying to be kind and respectful of each other. We are trying to stay out of each other's way without compromising the quality of our chosen game.

But, alas, we are trying to do so in the same space. Needless to say, eventually...and repetitively...we get in each other's way. One group has a class about legalism, trying to address the other. The other has a small group discussion about how far we've departed from the Bible's clear teaching, trying to address the other. But a lot of this amounts to sarcastic looks and disgruntled murmurings among each group, rather than healthy dialogue between each group.

Now...let me be clear...I think both groups are motivated, at least initially, by love. And if it was just about these two groups, and no one else, I might be fine with a church just doing the best they can in this situation. Give each group the freedom to play their game, and deal with the emotions and relationships between them only when they and their values bump into each other in an offensive way. I'm not sure I would, but I might.

However, it's those doggone kids sitting on the side of the gym that puts me over the top with zeal for some kind of decision to be made about which game will be played in this gym, followed by a bold and practical application of it. It’s the people of the world, watching us. Some of them are just wishing they could be a part of something. Some of them are intimidated by all the chaos. Some of them wish they weren’t here, but their parents or spouse or kids make them come. Some (these are my least favorite) are just laughing at all the collisions and passive-aggressive conflicts going on between us.

It's those people out there in the world, the one's Jesus said he came to seek and save, the one's he said God loves so much he sent him to die for them, the one's he said he came to give life to the full to, the ones he said would know him because of our unity around loving them, the one's that look at us and then walk off shaking their heads because they can't determine what or how they might fit into this with us.

It all makes me desire that some Spiritual Authority would come in and expose this dilemma for us. No, not expose it. We all know it is there. Address it. Forthrightly and openly. And with a conscientious mind for a solution. I want for someone to discern some options for us that would allow one of the games to be played well. I can't think of anything that wouldn't disappoint at least some of the folks, but I could think of plenty of things that would acknowledge the problem and then invite everyone to be a part of the solution...even if it called for some of them to sacrifice doing things "their way".

I don’t mind confessing to you all that I fall unapologetically on the side of playing the "making disciples of Jesus Christ through relationships" game, for the simple reason that winning the lost to worship a certain way on Sunday mornings won't save anybody from anything, but teaching them to live like Christ will save anybody in every way they need to be saved.

I know our church is not alone. The games being played may be different, but the dilemma is the same. Anyone have any real, practical, compassionate, effective recommendations or thoughts?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Prophecy from My Past Self?

(For some reason, this old post from 4 years ago (right down to the exact week) came to my attention TWICE today...and I'm starting to get suspicious as to why. The first was while I was cleaning out an end table in our living room. While frantically throwing away the stuff that had collected in it, I noticed a printout of one my old emails, and it was this one. I didn't think much of it, glanced at it quickly, then tucked it away for later, maybe. The second was just a minute ago, after publishing a new piece on my blog, even though I never have done this, I decided to pick a random archive page (found in the lower left column at And of all the posts on there, and of all the buttons I could've picked, it was this same one. So I said, "Okay, God, okay," and read it expectantly...hmmm, I wonder if the day has come? And if so, what does it mean? Sobering. Intriguing. Challenging. Worthy of my prayer and close listening, and connecting with you, my community. Any thoughts, feedback, probing questions, or contributions are invited and would be most welcome.
I'm ready for a revolution.)
The Day That is Coming...But Not Yet - July 31, 2005

"You remind me of the Apostle Paul." -- said to me by my friend, Ben Wall, years ago, as we did ministry together

I have long felt a kinship with Paul of the Bible. I think that anyone who has seriously committed his life and soul to advancing Christ's Kingdom can find a version of his own story in Paul's story, but I still like to think that he and I have a special affinity. And while I like to imagine having a powerful, global impact like he, that's not what I'm talking about.

Remember when Paul (he went by Saul then) used all his zeal and passion to defend "God's religion" from moving into error by Christians?  I used to do that. Remember when Paul was then interrupted by Jesus and was told to stop what he was doing because he, in fact, was working against God and didn't know it? I feel like that happened to me. Remember how Paul sat in Damascus, dazed and confused and blinded, waiting for Jesus to tell him what to do? I experienced that.

And remember when Jesus promised and then commissioned Paul personally, "I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me." I so totally feel like I have had this experience.

I feel sent, like Paul, to the "gentiles" of our day. No, not "non-Jews", for I am one of them, and indebted to Paul for initiating such a powerful ministry to us. The gentiles of our day, at least in America, are the "non-churched". I don't really like that word, but haven't found one I like, and so will trust you know what I mean.

And you know how Paul went first to the Jews in each city he visited to see who would accept the Messiah so that he knew who he could count on in that city to be a church fellowship for these hard to accept gentiles? I feel like I'm supposed to do that, too. The way Paul and his buddy Barny explained themselves to the Jews was, "We had to speak the word of God to you first." (Acts 13:46) And I honestly feel like, too. As a matter of fact, that is a PERFECT description of the season of Paul's life that I am in right now, right here in Amarillo. The "Jews" in my life (per this analogy) are my friends at the Southwest Church of Christ. Probably the best statement from Paul's life, that reflects this current priority of mine, is a comment by Luke when he said, "Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ." (Acts 18:5)

Up ahead, however, a dramatic decision awaits me. (I am fortunate that I have many brothers and friends and intimate allies that surround me. And I don't know about Paul, but I need them. They remind me of what matters most when I'm weary. At the first sign of possible discouragement or distraction, they notice and firmly keep my eyes on the Goal.) And sometimes I put my head down to the ground and watch my feet take one step at a time and forget, but God oftentimes forces my head up to look ahead...and when He does, excitement and passion and conviction (and emails like this one) just pop out of me.

Before too terribly long, the day is coming that I will turn resolutely to the "Gentiles" and take the Word of God to them. It will be great because I know there are folks out there who are just waiting to hear about this life-giving message from me, and are ready to embrace it with both arms by letting go of everything else...and that many of my "Jewish" brothers will go out there with me. But it will also be sad because it will mark an end of the current season of life for me, the one where I get to preach Christ to "my own people" first, inviting them from the religious life we were brought up with to the abundant life of a singular focus on Christ's mission.

The way Paul said it, when it came upon him, was..."We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us." (Acts 13:47)

The way Luke continued his commentary about this was..."Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. But when the Jews opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, "Your blood be on your own heads! I am clear of my responsibility. From now on I will go to the Gentiles." (Acts 18:5-6)

I am currently preaching to the Southwest Church of Christ, explaining and declaring to them the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus from the law of Moses and from the Prophets and from the Gospels and from the Letters (see Paul's version of this in Acts 28:23-25). And it is awesome. I have joined many among these people who have been doing this for years before I got here, most notably the elders and ministers that I get to work with, and there are dozens more.

So for now, I am full of joy as I pursue this season of life and calling, patiently watching to see who else has already and will continue to join us in discovering the "more and more" available to us in Christ. But I also enjoy lifting my head, looking forward, and seeing that the time is coming (the day and hour I don't know) that my heart's desire to see new life flow into the hearts of those outside our Southwest walls, because of the people inside of our walls. It will be a time in my life where I feel I will have been faithful to God's commission to go to "the Gentiles" and share with them our lives and this great news.

Then, I hope and pray, what happened in Paul's life will happen in mine..."When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. The word of the Lord spread through the whole region." (Acts 13:48-50)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

I Hugged Myself Yesterday


Deirdre Lefever: You thought he was here so you could fix him? It didn't occur to you that it might be the other way around?
Russ Duritz: ...Not until recently, no.

--- Bruce Willis, in the Disney movie The Kid, after his 8-year-old self showed up mysteriously when he was 40.

I stood outside a courtroom yesterday holding a weeping boy who had just finished sitting inside it where the sins of his dad had caught up with him. He listened as his dad plead guilty to the charges against him, because he was, and threw himself at the mercy of the court concerning punishment. He listened as the the prosecuting attorney put up witness after witness outlining the crimes, a punishment in and of itself to this son-of-the-accused, and he listened as the judge pronounced the multi-year sentencing of his dad. And then he watched as his dad turned and looked at him and the rest of his family, full of shame and regret, sadness and fear, and then he watched as the bailiff marched him off to prison.

And then he began sobbing...the only sound that he could add to the tears were the words, "I want my daddy. I want my daddy."

His daddy is my friend. I met him 3 years ago. He'd started coming to my basement every Tuesday night with a group of guys who meet there to make friends, brothers, and allies out of each other by taking the mask off, being fully known, and helping each other, whatever it takes, to become better men. Men who live better lives. The best possible one is the one we are all after, and since Jesus Christ says that's why he give us that (Jn 10:10)...well, we're giving it, and him, a try.

This guy comes from a life of darkest dark. But he and I and a group of others bared our souls. We bared our hearts. And we began the exciting, but slow ascent up towards light. This guy is a good guy. But many of the sections of the ascent were steep and slippery, impossible to navigate alone without brothers, let alone without God, and he tried foolishly several times to go it alone and slipped back. We were always there to catch him, and pick him up, and challenge him back to his feet. One of those times, however, landed him, yesterday, in prison.

I and another brother from the Basement Boys were there as character witnesses. My buddy's attorney asked me a bunch of questions to show that there was a group of good guys "out there" that love, trust, and are committed to him so that the judge might give him probation. And that is why I thought I was there. And I was. And I did. (My proudest moment came when the prosecuting attorney asked me about my kids, and asked if a man were to try to give my son some drugs, would I want the man responsible to be punished. I answered, "I would want him to be changed.") I was there for that. But I was there for another reason, too.

I was there to embrace his son. I was there to get the chest of my shirt wet with some of his tears. And not for him.

I mean, sure, it was for him. But not strictly for him. It was also for me.

See, some people wouldn't have a clue what to say to him right then. I'm often in situations like that…where I’m with people dealing with dilemma's that all I can give is my presence and my prayers. And I've learned that that is enough for people. Actually, that is a lot. Actually, that is love of the greatest sort. But this time, the words came flooding to me, and not because of some mysterious and enlivening Holy Spirit intervention (which I have experienced) where you end up saying, "I don't know where those words came from!" (which I have said). Nope. This time, I knew what to say, and I knew where the words came from.

While I held him, I put my mouth next to his ear and said, "Son, I've stood right here where you are standing. I sat in a courtroom where the sins of my dad had caught up with him. I listened as my dad plead guilty to the charges against him, because he was, and threw himself at the mercy of the court concerning punishment. I listened as the judge pronounced the multi-year sentencing of my dad, and then watched as the bailiff marched him off to prison.”

At this point, I pulled back and had him look me in the eye as I continued, "...and I made it. I didn't lose my dad, even though on that day it felt like I had. I didn't. And he wasn't gone as long as they said he would be. Which was great. And while there were hard days while he was gone, this day, the one you are in right here, the feeling you are feeling right now, was the hardest. So let's you and I make it through this day, and then the worst day will be over, and you'll know that you can make it."

"Okay," he said. "Okay."

His dad gone, I drove him and his dad's truck to his house for the family. We talked some more, like deeply unified, mutually understanding brothers, 30-years removed. In that short drive home, we slipped between practical questions, somber silence, and boisterous laughter with the ease that comes from common traumatic experiences.

I guess I was there for him.

Sure, I was there for him.

Sure I was.


Suuuure I was.

For him.


“I am just like you before God; I too have been taken from clay.” – Job, to his friends, wanting them to see they are the same

“I plead with you, brothers, become like me, for I became like you.” – Paul, to his friends, wanting them to walk the path he did, so they could have life to the full

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

I Need to Repent


“A person changes when that person develops a desire to change.” – Your Truly

"I tell you the truth, unless you change… you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” - Jesus

“The only thing that stays the same is that things change.” – Jim Sheppard

I want people to change. I want it badly. I want the wounded to heal, the frantic to have peace, the lazy to find purpose, the sad to get joy, the angry to forgive, the hurtful to be loving, the depressed to have hope. If I am going to expend energy, this is what I want to expend energy doing. Changing people…starting with myself (which will never end) and then offering it through every single relationship I have or will ever have (which will also never end).

This has been true for as long as I can remember. And in my adult life, as I look back, it is pretty much consistently what I have done.

As consistent as this has been outwardly, I can also see by looking back that the motivation behind that work inwardly has changed.

In the past, my motivations to help others change was really self-serving. They included:

  • My need to believe that substantial change was possible.
  • My desire to “be effective” as a helper of people.
  • My need to prove that my motives were pure (to others, yes, but really to myself).
  • My need to “be” for someone else what I felt I never “had” for myself.
  • My desire to be “a good leader”.

Looking over that list, all of them could go under the heading of one profound work…my own healing. With only subtle (and often overlapping) differences, I have thus far in my life engaged in the work of helping people change for my own healing.

I’m happy to report, at the age of 41, that I feel like I’ve progressed in this area, and would describe myself as “healed and healing”. One of the litmus tests that signals to me that this profound milestone has happened comes in the form of the feeling that, while I want people to change, I no longer need others to change.

For example:

  • I don’t need others to change to believe that change is possible anymore.
  • I don’t need others to change to prove I’m an “effective” helper of people anymore.
  • I don’t need to help others change to prove my motives are pure anymore.

With this glorious change in my inner being comes a problem that I was surprised by and am now currently wrestling through. You see, one of the benefits of having my own need to heal as my motivation to help others change is the fuel and passion it gives me to do so. Said another way, without “needing” others to change, the fuel that runs me as a “helping people change” machine is gone.

To sum up: the outward work that I have always done (“helping others change”) is what I want to continue to do. But without my own self-serving needs (“my need to heal”) fueling that work, I’m in need of something new…a new fuel.

It has taken me some time, deep contemplation, and time with Christ and my fellow Christ-following community, but I have figured out what the new fuel, if I am to find the motivation to continue helping people change, needs to be. And I’m a bit ashamed of what I found it to be.


I need to learn to love.

If love can be (partially) described as “kindly helping others become more like Christ for their good,” then what I have been doing is “kindly helping others become more like Christ for my own healing.”

So…today, I need to repent for my lack of love.

I expect this to be the most profound and all-consuming repentance of my life. It will call for my most focused effort, my most determined commitment, and a diligence, persistence, and depth that, thus far, I have never had to access. I’m bracing myself for this one to by my last one…not that I will not have countless other faults to address and course-corrections to make…but that this one will be the wind that drives all the rest. This one, I think, will explain me. This one, finally, this one, will kill me.

Don’t feel sorry for me, friends. I am elated. The shame that I am coming to grips with concerning what a beginner I am at this love thing is equaled by my excitement to begin the journey.

I am currently re-reading the story of Jesus, eager to witness him being motivated by this newest understanding of what love is! I am moving ever closer, if at a snails pace, towards my life-long goal of becoming more like Christ, which is more like God…Who is Love.

Whoever loses his life for me will find it.” - Jesus

Friday, June 19, 2009

Dangerous Questions that Bring Life

"Success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue naturally, and it only does so as the unintended but allowed, if not chosen, side effect of one's personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself." - Viktor Frankl

"You have to let it happen by not caring about it all that much, and certainly not nearly as much as the greater cause to which you have become a willing slave." Viktor Frankl

"I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your ability and knowledge. Then you will live to see success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it." - Viktor Frankl

"His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'" - Jesus Christ


I had a BMX race accident a few weeks ago, and shoulder surgery shortly after, and now, in the midst of a long recovery have been cursed/blessed with an incapacity to do my normal routine.

Cursed, obviously, because it is frustrating to be incapable.

Blessed, because it is usually through forced change that we do any changing. And since changing is my both my life and my message to the world, I am being blessed. I've had a lot more time to appreciate and evaluate the normal routine that I'm so committed to.

Using Viktor's powerful words above, I am asking:

Am I "successful"?

Am I happy?

Am I personally dedicated to a cause greater than myself?

Am I caring more for the cause I serve than my success & happiness?

Am I listening to what my conscience commands?

Am I carrying that out to the best of my ability and knowledge?

And to add Christ's even more potent summary of all of those:

Am I being faithful in the few things (that lead to the influence of many things), and thereby sharing in the happiness of Christ?

Are you?

I sat with a wonderful man today, a man full of passion and dreams, longing and loneliness, ideals and honesty, woundedness and love. And as he spoke, these already flared up questions screamed for my full attention.

This is important stuff for me to constantly stay in. It makes people uncomfortable sometimes, though I'm unsure why.

I think some people who identify me as their "preacher" are uncomfortable with any sign of uncertainty from their "preacher".

I think some people who identify me as a mentor are uncomfortable with me not having an answer for everything.

I think some people who look at the outward circumstances of my life (beautiful family, secure and meaningful job, etc) are uncomfortable with my constant pushing and questioning because I should merely be grateful for what I got (which I certainly am).

But it's important stuff for me to constantly stay in. And I invite you all, in this small way, down into the depths of my soul as witnesses, for what it is worth. Thanks, in advance, for listening.

So, without tying a pretty little bow around this piece, let me just answer the questions.

I am successful at loving people, serving people's hearts, and creating atmospheres where people are either invited, inspired, or allowed to do revolutionize their own lives. I am not successful at coaching, training, and mentoring other's to do so with regularity and consistency.

I am happy with the circumstances that I am within.

I am personally dedicated to a cause greater than myself. Most of my life, I have cared more for that cause (which, by the way, is helping people, through relationships, to live life to the full...that is, to become more like Christ) than being successful in that cause. More recently, I'm fearful that my focus has shifted to my success in doing so.

I think my conscience commanded my actions with brilliant clarity when I was needing healing from past wounds. I think I'm struggling to hear what my conscience commands of me in the absence of such desperation. In other words, motivation is easier to come by for me when I am trying to "fix something in the world". When I have come to an acceptance of things the way they are, it is harder to summon motivation and decipher what it is I need to do. Love is my motivation (even for this message), but what specifically to do and how to do it is elusive to me. I don't like it (but trust that it is doing it's work on me as God has appointed it).

Because of that last paragraph, unless I am doing this work that you are witnessing now, and doing it communally, I have to say that I have not been carrying out my work to the best of my ability and knowledge. It's just so much easier to do a good job than it is to challenge the status quo...both personally, and in the systems, structures and organisms within which each of us live.

This is my daily choice. Hourly, really. No...every minute.

When I have been, and when I am, a "good and faithful servant" to my calling in every minute ('the few things'), caring only for that faithfulness, that is when I see the unstoppable impact for good that my life is and can be. And when I do that, my I do THAT... am I ever happy. Am I ever.

And faithfulness is dying in every moment. From indulging my desire for ease of life, success-in-the-eye-of-men, ego-stroking behavior and thoughts and instead giving myself over to love, sacrifice, honesty, status-quo destroying truth-telling, relationships, contemplative prayer, and heart-enlivening activism.

Pray for me to live my best possible life. 

Sunday, May 24, 2009



I spent 24 hours with my youngest son Jakin this last week. We rented a Cow Cabin down in the floor of the Palo Duro Canyon. We hiked, climbed, played cards, played follow the leader, waded a half mile down a creek, rode horses, ate, saw spiders, hawks, cardinals, wild turkey's, jackrabbits, giant beetles, deer, and most importantly, each other. We had an all around super time.

I spent 24 hours with my oldest son Shade this last week. We rented a hotel room at the local Drury here in town. We swam, went to a movie, went geocaching (treasure hunting), played cards, hung out at the skate park with our BMX bikes, stayed up way too late, ate, swam some more, made a few friends at the hotel, and most importantly, were with each other. It was awesome.

I spent 24 hours with my daughter Callie this last week. We stayed in the Drury as well. We went shopping, bought something pink, laughed, swam, hugged, held hands, saw a movie, played tons of cards, swam some more, ate, packed together, went to church, and most importantly, enjoyed each other. I finished our "day" telling her that my heart was full of joy because of being with her for so long. It was.

Another incredible thing about my experience with each kid was that while I was enjoying concentrated time with each one, I found myself missing the other two profoundly, along with my wife.

And it wasn't just me. They each look forward to this annual "day with dad" each year, but while I was just starting with one son, he said, "Dad, I think I just want to go home and be with the family." And my other son, after a few hours together, wondered aloud, "I wonder what mom is doing with the other kids?" And then my daughter, as we were headed down to the pool lit up as she said, "Let's call mom and the boys to come join us!"


We all got back together today. It was a great reunion of fighting, bickering, playing, sharing, arguing, laughing, accusing, accepting, forgiving, complaining,

I do a day with each child every year during my 3 week sabbatical from my regular routine. Each year, while I love the time alone with God, the time away from the office, the rest from my regular duties, I find myself thinking about and missing all of the people that I live with in it.

I miss my family.

I've got one more week. Then it will be a great reunion

I love you all for the role you play in my life. Please know that I am always eager to find how to better play my role within it and with you.

May our Father make it so.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Descending to the Top


“The Lord descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses up to the top of the mountain.” – Exodus 19:20


I like high places. I’m scared of them. And I like them.

When I was a boy, if I saw a tree, I’d want to climb it. In college, I found a way up to the top of at least half the buildings on campus. If there is a rock, a cliff, or a mountain…yep, I want to get to the top.

And by the word “top", I mean “up”… as in, I want to get as high up as is possible for me. I don’t mean it in the sense that I have to be the best as compared to the people around me. While I’ve got some competitiveness in me, and I like to be good at stuff, I’ve not really needed to be the best. For this I’m grateful.

Spiritually, I can’t think of a time that I haven’t longed to be with God. I can’t think of a time when I wasn’t, in some way, climbing to the highest place in order to get some glimpse of Him.

I’ve come to accept this as a calling. A calling from God to meet Him. It has been the adventure of my life - Confusing, glorious, disturbing, and romantic. It’s unlike anything I can think of. It provides some of the oddest paradoxes:

  • It can have me in the deepest relationships possible with people and still lonely.
  • It sometimes has me running to people to meet God, and other times from people to meet God.
  • Successful spiritual encounters, as such, are fleeting. But so are failures and setbacks.
  • He can be far and close at the same time.

In all of my climbing, I have learned one profoundly useful truth:

The highest height that I can reach with all of my strength, will, determination, and might in order to meet God would still require a much longer journey of descent from God Himself if I would meet with Him.

There is something both frustrating and comforting in this. I’m glad to say that the frustrating part is fading away, and only the comfort will remain.

As I continue in the “mountain climbing” of a three-week sabbatical given to me by my loving church, I gladly exert all my heart, soul, mind and strength in an ascent for just the chance that He will descend and meet me at the top.

And for all of you, my fellow journeyers who are making the trip, who have belief enough to engage in the great Christian adventure, you inspire and fuel me in mine, and I look forward to our seasonal meetings along the way.

The team at the top

Monday, April 20, 2009

Am I Doing What I Should be Doing?


“Wise priorities, when they lift useful things over useless things, change your life. But when they lift better things over useful things, you change the world.” – Yours Truly

Seek first the Kingdom and everything else that matters will be given to you as well.” – Jesus Christ 


I want to cry tonight. I'm not sure why.

Usually, when I want to cry, it is because I'm wondering if I'm doing what I should be doing.

Am I? Am I doing what I should be doing?

These days, when I ask that question, it is at least four questions:

1. What is it that I am doing that is wrong?

2. What is it that I am doing that needs to stop because I could be doing something better?

3. What is it that I am not doing that I should be because it is right?

4. What is it that I am not doing that I should be doing because it is better?

As for the first question, my current thoughts go to my eating habits. I don't eat a lot, but I don't eat well. Burgers and fries are an almost daily occurance for me. And while I have cut way back from the case-a-day intake of Dr. Pepper from my twenties (not joking), I still have days when I drink more of it than I do water. This is wrong. Not black-and-white wrong, unfortunately. But I think I'm going to need to make it so for me to do anything about it. Additionally, I've lately been wondering about how much TV I watch. I use it to chill out, unwind, usually late at night to end my day. Again, nothing "wrong" with it, unless it's eating at you and possibly taking the place of things much more productive for the Kingdom I serve, and maybe more effective in chilling out and unwinding (vs. numbing out by losing myself in a fictional drama).

To answer the second question, I have to tell you my thoughts concerning the fourth question. Lately I've been prompted to think about my "ministry focus" in the world.

Some background: I have long been convinced to use Jesus Christ as my personal role model for how to do ministry on his behalf...and his ministry is explainable through the various relationships he maintained with actual people.

  • He preached to 1000s
  • He trained 72
  • He mentored 12
  • He poured himself into 3.

You might even say he had one "favorite" in Peter (unless you are John, then you'd say it was John - see Jn 13:23; 20:2; 21:7; 21:20).

So Jesus had various levels of intimacy and relationships, and they each served different, and strategic, purposes:

  • Jesus spent time winning loads of people to be interested in the "life" he was offering.
  • From among them, he invested in building some of them up in the living and maintaining of that "life."
  • And fewer still, but from among those, he equipped some to deliver that "life" to others.

This resulted in the multiplication of leaders who were called and enabled by Christ (through his Spirit) to change the world by going around and creating relational environments (churches) that would result in the winning, building, and equipping of others in various places and contexts.

Okay, so all that to say this: I think I have let my equipping focus slip and go stagnant.

  • I have learned that if I invest in relationships with people who are "lost" and need the message of Christ, then I will have relationships with those who are lost and interested in the message of Christ, more than I could ever possibly handle, and they will bring their friends to me.
  • And if I invest in relationships with people who are "saved" and need to mature or maintain their faith in living the life of Christ in the storms of life, then I will have relationships with those who need to mature or maintain their faith in living the life of Christ...again, too many for any man to maintain.
  • Likewise, I have learned that if I invest in equipping workers for Christ, those ready to give their lives to the work of the Kingdom, ready and eager for training, coaching, and mentoring, then I will have relationships with workers, and I will train, coach, and mentor those who will win and build up others...and they will bring their friends to me.

With this observable life experience of mine, it sort of just becomes a matter of math (not really, of course, but he who has an ear, let him hear).

This gets hard, because then I have to face the second question. 'Cuz see, the good things that I am doing right now, that may be hindering my doing these better things, are just that...good things. In my ministry focus, do I have to give up my relationships with the Basement Boys (my men's small group...with is primarily "winning")? Or preaching and teaching to my church family (which is primarily "building")? Maybe (and hopefully) not. Perhaps I just need to take action on my answer to question #1, and then get busy on my answer to question #4. Perhaps. But honestly, I've done this kind of work many times, probably not. 

As for the third question, I am always thinking first in terms of my family. I have nice, leather bound journals that I have begun for each of my 3 kids...intended to be periodic letters from their dad...that sit mostly neglected. I feel like the demands of parenthood drive my decisions more than my values. I love giving my wife my full presence to her heart, her needs, her desires, her dreams...but we feel blessed when we successfully protect our weekly date night each Thursday to eat together and watch a movie. My mom and dad each live far away, aging, and I and my kids are missing it and all the value that entails. Secondly, I think about my opportunities to encourage and just "be there" more for my church family. I'm not the stereotypical preacher in many ways, not the least of which being that all my focus on natural relationships steals from my church family some of the good things that they may have the right to expect from thier "preacher". As it currently is, I only have 2 formal teaching outputs a week (Sun AM preaching, Wed PM teaching), I don't attend all the events held by our church, and I can't be counted on to make it by the hospitals for everyone on the prayer list. I don't spend as much creative energy on the preaching/teaching times as I could if I moved those tasks up on the priority list like most preachers I know do. I want to do my best work influencing the staff and elders in their conforming into the image of Christ, helping them express the values of Christ (above) in their personal and ministry lives, but even that gets swallowed up in the "it's always easier to do nothin' than somethin" category. I have the greatest family, and the greatest church family, that anyone on this earth has the right to ask for from God Almighty, and I just want to be dog-gone sure I'm fulfilling my duty to them all, you know?

And underneath all of these worthy questions is my one desire that permeates, defines, directs, and usurps them all. My desire to be one with God.

To have actual God-contact.

To engage with Him.

To hear from Him.

To be with Him.

To love Him.

To visit with Him.

To speak to Him.

To be heard by Him.

To live with Him.

To become like Him.

To be healed...

To be instructed...

To be disciplined...

To be Him.

Oneness with God. That's why I ask this question that becomes four that becomes one.

I want it. Above all else.

I would give up all things...the things I value most...just to have Him.

I need not even speak of my material possessions, my status socially or professionally, my accomplishments in this world, my gifts and talents and personality that I have come to depend on to make it in this life. These I value...but they don't hold a candle to what I value most.

I would give up all the worthy, God-honoring, Christ-exalting, Kingdom-advancing work in the world...that I have done, or will ever just have Him.

I would walk away from my wife, and each one of my just have Him.

Maybe there are nights when I wouldn't say this. For sure there are days when I don't live this.

But tonight, I feel like crying. And I don't know why. But I think it is my longing for Him. Just Him. Above all else.

I love you all.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Three Circles


"Let us make man in our image, in our likeness.” – God, to Himself, in Genesis 1, speaking about mankind

 “When you eat of the forbidden tree, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God.” – Satan, to mankind, in Genesis 3

“The freedom that Christ came to give comes to those who stop trying so hard to be what God already made them.” – Yours Truly

Only let us live up to what we have already attained.” – Philippians 3:16

I sat with a wonderfully energetic, powerful, fully present, lover of people yesterday who was explaining to me how overwhelmed, tired, unsure, ashamed, doubtful and diminished she was.

The circumstances of her life humbled me. She is dealing with a lot. The spot she sits in is full of trouble. As with us all, they are partly the tragic result of some self-defeating decisions she has made, and partly the result of some injustices that people around her have inflicted.

She afforded me the pleasure of sifting through it all with her. And as we tried to isolate a few of the various tributaries that are feeding the furious waterfall that is beating down on her, we identified a few things:

1. She is struggling to trust God. – And it’s so understandable. Why is she trying so hard to be devoted to God and being “cursed” while others don’t seem to have a care in the world for God and are so “blessed” and carefree?

2. She is overwhelmed by guilt. – She humbly admits mistakes, one in particular screams loudly at her, and she is sure she deserves whatever consequences she gets.

3. She has spiritual questions that can’t be answered with certainty. – You know how frustrating this is. Why did God make us in the first place? Why did He give us the opportunity to choose badly? Why does,n’t He answer my believing prayers every time?

4. She is exhausted from her striving. – In her words, she’s trying to be “mom-of-the-year", “teacher-of-the-year”, “wife-of-the-year,” and “Christian of the year” all without letting anyone down, and all of it in the midst of impossible demands, emotional drains, unfair circumstances, fights to make amends, uncooperative people, and weighty decisions to make.

How many of us are or have been here? Finally admitting these heart-disturbing conditions is always the first step to overcoming them, and sharing them with another, and ultimately with God, is the next. And the healing that comes (not without a fight, of course) becomes the source of a very new peace, joy, and life to the full.

All of them, but number 4 in particular, reminded me of a concept that concerns her identity…her true one, her perceived true one, and finally the one that she was presenting to the world.

I called it “the three circles.”


The first, outer circle is the identity we work very hard to present to the world “out there” (and in a way, to ourselves in the mirror). It is how we wish to be viewed, but we know it’s not true. We present ourselves as smart, strong, competent, capable, secure, gifted, determined, loving, forgiving, happy, passionate, unstoppable, invulnerable, responsible, dependable, worthy, desirable human beings. Oh, we all do it differently through different means, but we do it. It is exhausting, spirit-killing work…but we must do it because we know just underneath it is the horrible truth of…

The second circle is what we perceive as our true identity. We are stupid, weak, incompetent, incapable, insecure, average, lazy, hateful, spiteful, judgmental, depressed, vulnerable, irresponsible, unworthy, undesirable wretches. We know it is true because we have the mistakes, cruelties, sins, and the opinions of a host of others to prove it. This “true me” is found just underneath the mask of the first circle, and it is so devastating to face up to or consider, that even though the upkeep of the total pretense is stealing our life, we keep doing it. Why? To admit it feels like relational, marital, personal, and/or professional  suicide. So we “kill ourselves” fighting for our lives.

A few people (more and more all the time, in my opinion) get so sick and tired of this game that they will finally hear, somewhere and in some form, the message of Christ. And suddenly, they dare to hope. Even though it is a dream beyond dreams, this fake life isn’t cutting it and they will either have “more” or they will die seeing if it exists.

Those are the people, once they are serious about having life to the full, once they are willing to put the claims of Jesus Christ to the test, those are the people who finally shed the first circle and face all of the consequences of the dreaded second one. They stop pretending. They risk it all, and they expose their (perceived, mind you) true self. The horrifying, ugly, unacceptable, dirty, and sin-scarred self.

And when they do, they will be shocked when they survive it. This would be enough, mind you, enough to go on having realized that their mistakes do not kill them…their hiding them, denying them, and masking them does! It is a liberating, life-giving truth.

But what’s more, they will also find out (by using the same newfound sense of honesty and integrity that dismantled the outer circle) that their perception of the second circle as their true identity is equally unfounded. With the help of a fellowship of people who have committed to the same dramatic opting-out of the life-as-usual-game, and with the enlightenment of God Himself, they will joyfully find out that there is a truer truth.

They will find, down there past the pain, the third circle. The final and immovable truth about their identity. And what they will find is that they are quite naturally everything good that they were striving so hard to be.

In the opening poem of the Bible…God explains that He made mankind like God…in His own image. It then goes on to explain that Satan told mankind that to be like God, they merely needed to reach out and get it themselves. Do you see it?  He promised something to man that man already was. Did man want to be “like God”? Absolutely! Did man need to strive in order to be so? Absolutely not! Brilliantly evil, this serpent was.

We’re still doing this today. We are all striving to be what it is that we already are. How silly would it be for my son Jakin to work really, really, really hard, for the rest of his life, to be a Mashburn? How insanely unproductive would it be for my daughter Callie to look at how much of a Mashburn her little brother Jakin is, and then work and wish to be half the Mashburn that he is. How needlessly tiring it would be for my son Shade to think he need to strive at all to find his identity as a Mashburn.

When I told her of her strength, her glow, her obvious love and powerful presence… she laughed, thinking she had me fooled. She thinks that the best my observation can be is an affirmation that she has done a good job keeping up the facade.

It is her that is fooled. I have been, too. You probably have too.

Another friend, one who was gracious enough to process this with me back in our twenties gave me a gift once, putting to words this concept of the Three Circles. It pretty much sums it up…and still sits framed on a shelf in my office.


So to my old friend Chris, and to my new friend yesterday, and to all of you my friends who are also gracious enough to process this life with me (and if you read all this, then you really are doing so!)…I want you all to know the truth. Read them slowly…maybe just one a day. Let their truth take over.

You are priceless. (Matt 10:31)

You are strong. (2 Cor 12:9-10)

You are forgiven. (Eph 1:7-8)

You are redeemed. (Gal 3:13-14)

You are worthy. (2 Thess 1:5)

You are  dearly loved. (Col 3:12)

You are God’s masterpiece. (Eph 2:10)

You are God’s dwelling place. (1 Cor 3:16)

You are God’s image. (Gen 1:26-27)

You are God’s child. (Rom 8:15)

Only let us live up to what we have already attained.” – Philippians 3:16

Friday, March 20, 2009

Making People Look Down


When I was in Junior High, there was this guy named Kenneth. I didn't know him very well. Suffice it to say that in the social economy of my junior high school, Kenneth didn’t quite measure up to my status. I wasn’t all that high on the totem pole myself, but I was higher than Kenneth. We weren’t friends. We weren’t enemies. We just…weren’t. I’m not even sure why I knew his name.

One Sunday morning, I was sitting in the second story room of the old building at the church I grew up at with all of my youth group buddies in a Bible class.  There were about 40 of us or so sitting along the walls of this odd-shaped room in chairs around the pool table, the foosball, and the Intellivision. The teacher had begun when a visitor kid opened the door, which made a distinct and loud “ka-thung” noise, making it impossible to show up late without everyone staring.

He came in looking at his feet, feeling awkward already, probably cursing his mom for deciding it was good idea to “try to find a church” for her little family. She was downstairs, no doubt, anonymously sliding into a back row chair of an adult Bible study that was in a real classroom where that would be possible…while he was stuck as the momentary center-of-attention for a bunch of strangers.

What could he do? Shutting the noisy door behind him, he lifted his brow just enough to scan the walls for the unlikely familiar face. Hoping to God, I’m sure, for at least a friendly one.

His eyes bounced around the room quickly at everyone elses…until they hit mine, which were staring back at him like he was some interesting zoo animal. That’s when I realized it was Kenneth.

Pause right here. How do I describe all that transpired in that moment? Our eyes had already met, so I couldn’t act like I didn’t notice him. My heart was immature, so I wouldn’t act like I recognized him and was glad he was there. On the contrary, for some reason I felt a sense of invasion. I didn’t say it out loud, but my emotional memory tells me that I was thinking something to the effect, “Who do you think you are? This is my turf. My home. My group. You’re from my other world, and just barely, at that.”

All that, back in that room, caused me to just look away. He had just allowed a glimmer of hope and recognition to ignite his face when he saw mine. The ends of his lips had just begun their journey upward to break the face open with a smile when I interrupted it by turning away. My insecurity in who I was, and my lack of understanding in what our group was supposed to represent as Christ followers, led me to deliver a pretty vicious message to the unsuspecting Kenneth: “I don’t claim you. I don’t want you. You are not welcome.”

That’s when Kenneth just looked down. He looked down and did his best to sit in the closest seat, blend into sheetrock, and be invisible.

It was brutal. Unnoticeable to anyone but us. But brutal.

This story with Kenneth isn’t over, it picks up a few days later back at school. But before I tell you that, let me tell you why I’m telling you.

I told this story a few weeks ago in a sermon I preached to my church family. I never like recounting this story, but have several times over the years to address what we are supposed to be to the world by showing what it isn’t. About 5 days after I shared this, while putting him to bed, my eight-year-old son started asking me a bunch of questions about that story (yes, he was listening).

He asked why I treated Kenneth that way. He asked what about Kenneth made me not like him. He asked what he had done to me to deserve it. He asked what happened to Kenneth in the rest of class? After class? Did the teacher talk to him? Did any of your friends?

I regularly ask my kids when I’m putting them to bed if they have any questions for me about anything at all. I’ve promised that I will always answer, and answer with the truth. So I was doing my best, diligently trying to answer his questions, and quite engrossed in doing so…when he interrupted me with one more. One that got to the heart of the matter…

“Dad, are you about to cry?” he asked as I shared.

“Well, Shade….no…I think I’m okay,” I replied.

Then he shook the earth. He said, “Because I am.”

I stopped cold to take in what my son was experiencing, having heard this story about his dad. His dad who speaks of love, coaches love, tries to love…especially the hurting, the lonely, and the outcast. His dad. Hurting someone. So brutally. What’s he supposed to do with that?

I took a deep breath. I turned my head on the pillow and looked at Shade, and sure enough a tear was welling up in the eye that I could see as he stared at the ceiling.

“Shade,” I said, “will you forgive me for treating Kenneth that way? I am so sorry.”

It would be beautiful if the story ended right here and he just said “yes,” and then threw our arms around each other, prayed, and went to bed with satisfied spiritual smiles on our faces. But that’s not what happened.

Instead of forgiving me effortlessly, he looked back at me, maybe a little hopeful about my reconnecting to my remorse, but mostly needing to stay in his own…that I have caused.

He said, “I don’t like making people look down.”

I agreed. I still don’t know if he was reflecting or preaching.

“Yes, dad, but can you find Kenneth? Do you know where he lives? Call him! Tell him you’re sorry! Make sure he’s okay!”

With sadness, I told him that I didn’t know where he lived, or even where he went to high school. I don’t even know his last name.

Then, sounding half-desperate, have authoritative, he exclaimed, “Find out!”

I told him I would try.

And I have. I’ve dug out my old Spring Woods Junior High annual and scanned every single picture of every student in the whole school. No Kenneth. I told him, but Shade and I are still working this out together. What can I do? 

I’m proud of his sense of (in)justice. His determination that love should “find out!” His belief that love can. I don’t want to disappoint. This part is still playing out…

But back at school, in PE class, I walked into the gym on some kind of “free day”. There were a bunch of guys already in the gym throwing the football around, actively engaged with some sort of game that made it awkward for me to just jump in and participate. So I sort of made my way to a gym wall, wishing I was out there in the action. I scanned the crowd of guys out there, I’m sure with a look of hope and anticipation, hoping one of them would see me and say, “C’mon, Brian!”

A guy did see me…it was Kenneth. The tables were now overtly turned. The shoe was firmly on the other foot.

He saw me alright, and my desire to join in. He had the ball in his hands when our eyes met. I looked down. He motioned to the other guys to hold on as he started running my way.

“Payback time,” I remember thinking. Shuddering, really. He didn’t just look away like I did in this, his moment of retribution. He was coming over armed with his upper-hand to really make me pay. I deserved it and I knew it. I was brutal.

I saw his feet planted in front of me, and when I looked up, I saw a huge smile and the offer of the football.

“You wanna play a game of catch?” he asked, with a kindness and accent of some sort that I’ll never forget.

I was astonished. I couldn’t believe my ears. I had so clearly communicated rejection to this guy. So clearly begrudged him. So clearly denied him when it was in my power to offer friendship and belonging.

And he returned it with love. In a powerful, only-in-junior-high sort of way, Kenneth was offering Christ to me.

I made him say it again, even though I had heard him clearly, by saying, “What?” I just couldn’t believe my ears. I wanted to hear it again.

And he said it again. Tehn I took the ball, and a place on the floor, among brothers-for-a-moment, all because of Kenneth.

I’m happy to say that my life is now made up, almost exclusively, of finding “Kenneth’s” and not ever again, ever, with my beloved son as my witness, ever, with God helping me, never, ever…making them look down.

Now I know the joy that Kenneth felt back then. The joy of giving life away.

I’m sorry, Kenneth. Forgive me.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Through the Dark Mountains…

Shades Rock Story

There was a man. He liked rocks. He was walking. He saw a big rock. He sat on it and he picked a few pieces. The rock started to roll. He jumped off.

"I am sad," said the man.

"What is wrong?" said another man.

"I made a rock mad," said the man.

"Too bad," said the other man, "Will you be ok?"

"Yes," said the man.

"Have fun!" said the other man, and they played together, so the sad man was happy again and they found another rock. This time he did not pick pieces off the rock.

They lived happily ever after.

- A story written by my young son Shade, who's birthday is today

This past Sunday morning I spoke in front of a large crowd of Christ followers. I spoke of the heart’s desires…life, light, love...and where they each cross with eternity.

Simply put, I spoke of Heaven.

This was part 4 of 6 teachings based on the book Epic by John Eldridge, which is his summary of the "Story of God" found in the Bible.

My son Shade wrote the little story above and gave it to his mother and me a couple of weeks ago, out of the blue, and for no particular reason. When I saw the words, "They lived happily ever after," I asked him if I could read his story on the week that I would speak on the "happily ever after" found in Scripture...Heaven.

He said yes.

Drinking WaterClimbing Rock WallRacing closup

So this past Sunday morning, as my friend Doyle led our church in lively song about Heaven, I sat next to my son with my little Bible in hand, and his little story-page tucked in it. Shade saw it.

"Is today the day you're reading my story?" Shade asked. I told him it was.

He said that was cool, and then sat for a while as we sang, with a somewhat distant look. After a few minutes, he grabbed my Bible and pulled the story-page out. He looked up at me and boldly said, "I wanna read it to ‘em."

I'm sad to report that the words "Are you sure? In front of everyone?" leapt out of my mouth before I realized how discouraging they sounded. As unintentional as it was, I was highlighting the fear in his idea more than the courage.

"Yes," he said, with a tone and downcast eyes that betrayed that my words had shaken him. I tried to recover with the excitement that I was really feeling about the idea…

Pause. A few days ago as I was reading something, Shade came to me with seriousness in his eyes. "Dad?" he said to me, "I think I'm supposed to tell stories to people. How can I get started doing that?"

Close up

He already had some ideas: "Mom's about to start teaching Callie's class, maybe I could help her if she needed it. I could tell some stories, you know, from my life and stuff that would teach the kids about how to treat people. Or I could tell that story about you and Kenneth* (*I’m working on a post with that one) that you told." I couldn't have been more excited. When he saw my approval, he added, "Maybe I can help you sometimes when you're tellin' stories at church." I told him that would be a great idea.

Little did I know that in that pew this past Sunday morning, without any help from me, mind you, he was seeing an opportunity tucked in the pages of my Bible. His young heart was putting this moment together with what he had already identified as something he is “supposed” to do…and all on his own he reached for it. That little bit of silence between his noticing that I was using his story and his asking to be the one to tell it contained that all-too-familiar struggle of the heart between fear and courage. And isn’t that the struggle that always comes when the opportunity of doing what we feel called to do presents itself?

Shade and Dad at cross

Back in the church pew, now, Shade's whole demeanor had changed because of what he had volunteered for. “How long?” he kept asking, nervously. As a preacher, I know the anxiety of which he speaks. And since I was in my own little weekly anxious world, I was little more help to him than to say, "In a minute! Shhh!"

Shortly before time for me to head up to the microphone, Shade grabbed my Bible again. He folded up his story-paper and put it back into the pages and set the closed Book down next to me. I leaned over to him, "Have you changed your mind?"

"I really want to do it, but I'm afraid. You just do it," Shade said. This time, his head-hanging was betraying the decision not to do it. He wanted to.

We were in the final approach. Doyle was worshipping through the song that also served as my cue. I knew that I was just about to need to go, but I finally tuned in completely to my boy's heart, and helped him delay the decision.

"Okay, buddy. Listen. I'm going to speak a little bit, and then pray. Right after I pray, I'm planning on reading your story. When I finish praying, as I'm introducing your story, I'll look at you. If you shake your head no, I'll read it. But if you nod yes, I'll call you up. Okay?"

Talking to Dad

He seemed relieved to have a little more time to decide (aren't we all?). But also relieved that there was a deadline, a time when he had to decide, and his dilemma would be over, one way or the other, and in the past (we often need that too, don't we?).

I added that he can be proud either way...that he is telling a story be it through his written or spoken words (That was my way of saying, "Be at peace, son. You are free. And you are already victorious. And I'm already proud of you”). I then did for him what he and all my kids do for me every week...I prayed in his ear for him and his "sermon".

So, I got up there, made some introductory remarks, and then bowed to pray.

I can only imagine what was going on in my son's head down there on that pew as I prayed. He knew that I would look at him right when it was over...that it would be decision time…the moment of truth.

I wonder how loudly the fear was speaking? You don't have to do this, Shade. You already wrote the story. It's enough for you to have it read by him. Just say no and the fear and nervousness is gone. No one will ever know the difference.

I wonder how loudly the courage was speaking? You don't have to do this, Shade, you get to. You already have identified a sense of desire for telling stories. You've already asked the really good question of how to go about getting started on that. Here it is before you. Right here. Right now. Don't be afraid. Just say yes. Walk into it.

Spider Man

I raised my head from the prayer, unfolded the notebook paper, and spoke the words "My son wrote a story..." as I looked over to my left to see the nodding head of my courageous son.

And with a secret, fatherly pride in my heart, I gladly continued my sentence with, "...a story that he is going to come up and read for you."

Afterwards, I went on making the points I wanted to make that related to the lesson, but I might as well have went on home. This was enough for me today. More than enough. A taste, methinks, of the very subject I was speaking of…Heaven.

The church family, loving family that they are to me and my family, applauded my son as he finished and sat down. I love them for that. For doing out loud what I was doing inside. Thanks to all of you who are reading this...for that.

At lunch, I spoke to my wife across the table within earshot of Shade. "Hey Babe, wasn't that awesome how Shade read his story this morning?"

"It was way awesome. And it was such a great story. I'm so proud of him for being so brave," she responded.

"Through the dark mountains," Shade interrupted.

He had my undivided attention. "'Through the dark mountains'?” I asked. “What do you mean by 'through the dark mountains'?"

You and I both know what he meant. He used his words, but he went on to explain the “dark mountains” of fear. The dark mountains beyond which are our truest heart’s desires…life, light, and love. They are the dark mountains that all must go through if they intend faithfulness to a calling. They are the dark mountains that are only conquered by walking courageously into your Shade did that morning. And I might add that it is a particularly special sort of courage at work when you have the option not to go, but go still.

As it turns out, Shade had read a story at school that had captured this simple, but deep, quandary common to us all. He had an image and a vocabulary with which to explain the feelings he was feeling, the battle he was inwardly fighting, and the opposition that stood between him and the life that his heart is longing for.

And this past Sunday morning, he went walked into them. The result? Yes, there was applause, affirmation, encouragement, approval, and even usefulness. And those are all great rewards when we go through the dark mountains, but beyond all that is the even sweeter satisfaction of knowing there is life on the other side of them. I'm not speaking of survival here. Mere survival is available on this side of the dark mountains. But to the that brings joy and satisfaction and adventure...that is only available for those precious few who go through.

Through the Dark Mountains.

Jumping in pool

Happy Birthday, Buddy!