Friday, June 24, 2005

The Honeymoon?

"As a coach, there are days when I feel God is using me as a source of comfort for people in the midst of crisis and meltdown, and then there are days when it seems He's using me to stir a crisis for people who are strangely and tragically "comfortable" in the prison of their own minds." - Jim Spivey
"God comforts the disturbed and disturbs the comfortable." -- Unknown
"If your spiritual guide, whatever his or her denomination, doesn’t say something every once in a while that pi___s you off, – they’re only interested in your money!" - Waitorrant, some dude who's blogspot I read
I've had 4 serious conversations in the last 4 days about people's concerns on where our church is headed. They have been GREAT. And I mean it. Finally, I'm getting to talk to people about what matters to them. Finally, some fire and passion from some of those "out there" who are wondering, albeit somewhat skeptically and critically, about what's going on "in here". It's just so nice to talk to a few of these people face to face, life on life, instead of talking to some "representative" of the famous "there are some of those who are concerned" group.
I went to lunch with a buddy who was one of the conversations I'm talking about. He was genuinely concerned about how I would take his feedback, which I was appreciative for and admittedly made the conversation go much easier for both of us. Then, as if he pulled back and looked at our table from across the room at the two of us discussing things, he laughed and asked me, "Does it feel like the honeymoon's over?" (For those of you just joining us, I moved to this church in Amarillo about 1 year ago as the preacher.)
The honeymoon. In minister lingo, the honeymoon is some set amount of time where "the people" of a church give "the new guy" a chance of some sort. A chance for what, I don't prove himself, to get comfortable in a new place, to show he might know what he is doing...I don't know, but it is something like that.
I won't lie and say I have nothing to prove, I most definitely have something to prove.
I won't lie and say that I haven't appreciated people's politeness as I transition to a new city and new church family, that has been nice.
I won't lie and tell you that I wish I did know what I was doing...but quite frankly, I've had to get comfortable with not knowing exactly what I'm doing, all the while doing it, for a long time...and so does everyone around me.
But, doggone it, I have to tell ya, I've never really seen much evidence of the honeymoon's existence. I guess it may exist, it's talked about so much, and this is my first job change since I took the youth ministry job in Houston 15 years ago, so I may just not have much experience with it.
At any rate, here are my 2 cent thoughts on my "honeymoon"...
I have something grand to prove whether I'm in a so-called honeymoon or not, and my only concern is which one will better advance that Cause. And I expect Christ-like people to be polite, whether I'm in a honeymoon or not...even if they have hard stuff to overcome or come to me about. If "polite" means, "I'll hold off on telling him the hard truth for a time", well, then, that is one big, fat waste of time...the honeymoon is. Let's just pass on it. And let me give some help to those who want to check and see if I know what I'm doing before you come and instruct me on how to do it...wait no more...I don't know what I'm doing...and anyone who does I'm a hungry and able learner, so bring it on.
My small role in the Great Kingdom of God oftentimes puts me in the enviable/unenviable role of shaking people up who are comfortable, and comforting those who are shaken up. I have answered the call with my eyes wide open, without an expectation on myself or on my church to handle each other perfectly, but with an expectation for us to handle it with the loving truth, and with truthful love.
So to continue on the analogy, if I have been given a honeymoon, and if it has played a valid and meaningful part in the progress of God in this place among us, thank you. But now let's continue on into the hard work of marriage. Jesus didn't come into the world to go to Disney World (not that he wouldn't go). He came as Truth and Love, on a mission to return Life to people, and it was costly, hard, relational work.
And that is what we are here for.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

"ecclesiola in ecclesia"

"Are you frustrated with "the institutional church," as if there is such a thing as a non-institutional church?" - Os Guinness
"Our goal is not to change the institution (church) that exists - We simply want to invite those who are a part of the institution into community." -- Chuck Griffin
"The business of "the little church" is to put itself out of business by feeding its wisdom and concern back into "the large church" and so contribute to the reformation of the one body that is central to God's purpose for all time." - Os Guinness, in his book The Call
"Without individuals, nothing happens; without institutions, nothing survives." - Tallyrand, eminent French statesman and priest
I think I have been guilty of 'definition abuse'. I've been known to throw words around pretty loosely when trying to communicate a concept that I feel passionate about. And I have been one of those people who have latched on to the word "institutional" and made it represent something that is lifeless. And while something becoming institutionalized can become lifeless, it's not because of the's because of the lifeless people in it.
For example, I am a part of a small group of men who have banded together for the express purpose of challenging each other to live like Jesus in every hour of every day of our lives. It's a lively, life-filling, life-fueling, life-giving group. It is full of being raw and real, selfless and serving, challenging and confrontive, and full of story-telling. We tell stories about God, stories about ourselves, stories about our lives, stories about each other. What can I say...the group gathers and there is an expectation present, a standard we are measuring up to, and a community that is determined to live is full of life!
I recently met another group of men who meet just like this, doing just the same thing. Then a buddy of mine started another group, meeting just like this, doing the same thing. Then another buddy of mine told me he's seriously considering starting another group, to meet just like this, to do the same thing. One of these groups met with the Elders of our church (another group that lives like this, doing the same thing, by the way) asking them to pray that their group could find a way to offer this life-giving community to every man in our church. They act as if they have struck gold and know that there is enough to go around and want to shout it out to the rest of the world to 'come and get it'.
Do you see what is happening? This 'intimate community' centered on Christ is trying to institutionalize itself. Not for the purpose of dying, but for the purpose of growing!
But some of us in these "little churches" (ecclesiola) sometimes come to our "large church" (ecclesia), compare what is happening there with what is happening in our little churches and ache for the large church. We see the insufficiency of our large group gatherings, Biblically patterned as they are, in producing Biblically transforming results...and so we call it "institutional church"...and it is quickly perceived that we hate institutions.
I call all of us who have done such a thing to quickly apologize with me. We neither love nor hate institutions. What we love is life-giving, Christ-centered, community-oriented institutions. What we hate is life-less, form-centered, community-unfriendly institutions.
In my "little church" group:
I don't come in order to confess my sins. I come for relationship, with God and others, and confession helps with that.
I don't come in order to tell stories of faith. I come for relationship, with God and others, and telling stories of faith helps with that.
I don't come in order to confront my brother's sins. I come for relationship, with God and others, and confronting their sins helps with that.
I don't come in order to be dutiful in my attendance. I come for relationship, with God and others, and being dutiful in attendance helps with that. 
I don't come in order to remember Christ's great love for me. I come for relationship, with God and others, and remembering Christ's cross helps with that.
And so, as a comparison, in my "large church" group:
If I sense the people are coming in order to sing, learn the Bible, be dutiful in attendance, take the Lord's supper, and pray...they are not coming for the right reason. If they are coming for a relationship, with God and others, then they will find those things useful towards that end, but if they make those means the end itself and pretend they are in good relationship with God and others...that's when those of us who have "little churches" ache and want to do something about it.
He who has ears, let him hear...when Christian's think they are coming to the large church gathering to do the above things AND enjoy relationships with God and others, they are wrong. When they come to the large church gathering and do the above things (and more) IN ORDER TO enjoy relationships with God and others, they are worshipping.
May our gatherings, large and small, be obvious and overt invitations to the Relationship. 

Sunday, June 12, 2005

The Retreat Chronicles VII - What the Maker told us to Make

"His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them..." - Matthew, talking about Jesus when he first called his followers

"Pointing to his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother." - Matthew, talking about Jesus as he was training his first followers

"Go and make disciples." - Matthew, telling us what Jesus' intentions had always been for his followers

One of the things that we didn't have to do at our ministry retreat was discover what the over-arching purpose of Christ's church is. There is absolutely no room for the church to be fuzzy about it's mission. Jesus says it unequivocally, leaving it completely clear for anyone who reads the "red letters" of their Bible's and simply believes them. The church of Jesus exist to make disciples of Jesus. Every other command, every other teaching, every other practice that can be found in Christ's life, Christ's teaching, and the rest of the New Testament is a servant of this Commission. If we interpret the Bible in such a way that we come up with a religious practice or rule that does not help make human beings into disciples, then we interpreted that Scripture wrong.


And while many of my brothers and sisters in Christ would take issue with this "theology", the ministry team that God has assembled at the Southwest Church-that-wants-to-be-of Christ does not. There is deep unity around this thought, and it is a "conviction" of ours - in other words, something we will be accountable to God for pursuing.


But the commission to "make disciples", once someone (or group of someone's) takes it seriously, begs a further question...What is a disciple? What is it exactly that you are making when you are faithfully making a disciple?


Drawing on our knowledge of the Bible, our personal journeys toward discipleship, and our hope that God would speak, we set out to discover the qualities of a "discipled" person. We listened and worked and watched as God revealed to us that a person that is a follower of Christ is a person who is...


Peaceful, because of his absolute confidence in Christ.

Called, and as such, full of purpose and belief.

Joyful, because of how overwhelmingly good God keeps being to him.

Passionate, or said another way, willing to suffer to the point of death because of the intensity of the joy.

Relationally Surrendered, knowing that relationship with God and others are Christ's most important priorities and only means of impact.

Self-responsible, maintaining their own dignity by being dependent on God alone, blaming no-one and no-thing for his own limiting beliefs.

Penetratingly Compassionate, seeing so clearly to the common heart in mankind (including in ourselves) that he can't distinguish between friends and enemies.

Constantly Transforming, knowing deeply that he can't be more like Christ by staying where he is at.

Biblically Grounded, unabashedly using the Written Word (Bible) as a guide towards the Living Word (Jesus).

Spirit-Led, acknowledging the constant and real Presence of God and His determination to speak to and move us.

Deeply Human, or said another way, owning up completely to both his own inability to be perfect and his destiny to be perfect anyway.

Dying Daily, involving the constant setting aside of his ego in every single moment of his life, so that Jesus can live for him.


I think it's cool how these words that I feel God gave to us at the retreat reflect deep paradox. We are to be peaceful, but called (peacefully intense). We are to be joyful, but passionate (joyfully suffering). We are to be relationally surrendered, but self-responsible (inter-dependant). We are to be compassionate, but expecting transformation (compassionately challenging). We are to be Biblically grounded, but Spirit-led (diligently directed). We are to be deeply human, but dying daily (powerlessly powerful).


I tell you what...if my 3 kids end up looking like that, I believe they will end up looking like Jesus. I want them growing up in a "Christianity" that is unyielding in it's desire to make them into it.


If you are reading this, test it for me. What's missing from this list? What quality of Jesus have we left off? What quality have we put on this list that isn't a quality of a Jesus follower?



Thursday, June 09, 2005

The Realist's Satisfaction vs. the Idealist's Amazement

“Real leadership is about responsibility.” -- Tom Heuerman


“If a man's gift is leadership, let him govern diligently.” -- Paul


“In my role as a leader, I too often enjoy the benefits of what I don’t do.” – Yours Truly


As I hide out in my office, I often sit in confusion as to what to do next. It isn’t as if I don’t have ideas, I certainly do. When someone sees me excited, it is because an idea has settled in me, and for that moment, I believe that idea can come true. I love those moments, especially when those moments stretch into hours, days, and sometimes weeks. It is during those times that I feel fully alive, like I matter to Something larger than life, and like I’m fighting for something Good that lasts. It is during those time, looking back, that I have done anything that has mattered.


Remaining around people, work, and influences that keep me in that "spot" of ideas, or idealism, is the labor of my life, if I want a life of diligent, responsible leadership.


The people that inspire me to stay there are best characterized with words like willing, real, honest, open, dreamer, learner, believer, faith-filled, risky, team-focused.


The work that inspires me to stay there is best characterized with words like visionarypromising, imposing, challenging, creative, mobilizing, eternally significant, life on life, risky, costly.


The influences that inspire me to stay there are the people, books, play, and work that characterize all of the above words.


The death of idealism is the death of integrity. The separation between idealism and realism is what charts the hard work of a leader. Lifting people's eyes off of the realistic, which anyone can do, and putting them on the idealistic, which anyone can do with God's help, is the uncommon leader's charge. Compromise this idealism in your heart as a leader and you compromise your work, and your integrity.


Idealism requires faith and inspires it. Realism only requires work.

Idealism summons dreamers to work. Realism summons realists.

Idealism has the risk of really disappointing workers. Realism is completely safe from that.

Idealism has a Source that goes beyond logic and reason. Realism's source is logic and reason.

Idealism sees something that can't be done and pursues it. Realism sees something that can be done.

Idealism has the unlimited potential of amazing its workers. Realism has the limited potential of satisfying its workers.


Lots of realists reading this might really be offended, thinking that I'm talking about different kinds of people, elevating one kind over the other. I guess I sort of am, but not in the way you might think. I think these two "people" are inside of me (and you), and each one is fighting for the right to drive my life and decisions.


I'd love some feedback on this, because I'm not sure this is right. But to me, idealism feels like life. Realism feels like death. I know it's an extreme, provocative statement, but it's just how I feel (for today). A life of only accomplishing what is possible, safe from risk, doing only what makes logical & reasonable sense, with the ultimate promise of satisfaction in a job well done seems like it should be enough for me. But instead, that feels like death to my spirit.


But a life of being inspired to accomplish something I can't do without supernatural help, risking my "life" for it in some way, having to believe in something that I can't see, with the ultimate potential of experiencing amazement in a job that couldn't be done is enough for me. More than enough.


The Retreat Chronicles VI: The Disciple's Questions and Ours

"Lord, why can't I follow you now?" - The disciple Peter's request, reflecting his desire for Closeness with Jesus

"Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way? - The disciple Thomas' request, reflecting his desire for Direction from Jesus

"Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us." - The disciple Philip's request, reflecting his desire for Satisfaction from Jesus

"Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?" - The disciple Judas' request, reflecting his desire for Glory for Jesus

"Lord, let us be close to you, give us direction from you, let us be satisfied with you, make us a glory for you." - The disciple Brian's request, reflecting the Southwest church's desire to make more disciples

The questions Jesus entertained from his disciples at his last ministry team retreat before his death reflected their continued confusion concerning what Jesus was doing and was wanting from them. This could have been deeply disturbing to Jesus, considering the high stress level he must have been beginning to feel as the evening crept on. But instead, I wonder if Jesus took comfort in the desires that each of their uninformed questions represented? Sure, maybe they didn't quite understand the details of how Jesus was going to satisfy their heart's desires, but another thing was also sure...after 3 1/2 years of walking with Jesus, they DID know that HE was the one who would!
Our ministry team awoke Friday morning, after having tasted of the true community that is available to us because of Christ Thursday night, with very similar feelings. At least I did, and the events of the day made me feel like we were all in agreement. I know I want to be closer to Jesus, I know I want direction from Jesus, I know I want to be satisfied only in Jesus, and I know I want us (the church we serve) to be a display of Jesus' glory, but I'm a little unsure of how he plans on accomplishing it. So we launched into Objective #2 for our weekend: "To define what a 'disciple of Jesus' is."

See, when Jesus gives his commission to these first followers, telling them to "Go and make disciples...", they had the advantage of those 3 1/2 years of actually being followers. They knew exactly what a disciple was, what a disciple did, how a disciple felt...basically, they knew all the characteristics and qualities that made up a disciple of Jesus because it's what they were. And they had the advantage of watching the one they were to imitate first hand. The way Jesus said it to them was, "All this I have spoken while still with you." They had the advantage of the Living Word in their midst to show them what to become.

We, on the other hand, though we still have Jesus as our model, must depend on two things to know and discover what a disciple of Jesus is...1) The Written Word, that records what we know of him, and 2) the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, who will teach us all things and will remind us of everything he said to us.

And so we asked the question...what is a disciple of Jesus? We know we are supposed to "make disciples", but what specifically does that mean? We bowed our heads Friday morning, and we asked the Father to send His Holy Spirit and teach us and remind us of everything we have learned from His Son Jesus in the written Word.

Maybe it was a silly, confused question. But because of what happened next, we think that Jesus was smiling on us because of our noble and pure desires.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005


"I spent this morning writing, and thinking, and studying, and planning for things that hundreds will read and hear. Then I spent lunch with my beautiful daughter, Callie. I love doing both, but I love the latter more." - Yours Truly
Tomorrow I leave for a 4 day experience, a trip to New Braunfels to the Guadalupe River with the Southwest Church of Christ youth group in order to go to Schlitterbahn Water Park and on a rafting trip down the Guadalupe River, It will combine several loves of mine on this earth.
Love #1 - The West Houston Church of Christ youth group. For 14 years I spent my life making disciples of those students while becoming one myself. A good chunk of my life's energy, love, and passion has already been spent...and it was on them. I'm not looking forward to the day when I return to West Houston and don't recognize any of the students there, or when I'm not recognized by them, but for now I know almost all the students who will be meeting us on the river for the trip. And I just can't wait to see them.
Love #2 - Turtle catching. Many years ago, we in the West Houston youth group converted the float trip from the simplicity of catching rays between rapids into an all-out hunt for turtle's with our bare hands. I'm a tad obsessive about it myself, and my new friends in Amarillo laugh at me, but I will be quite at home on that raft with a team of fellow obsessors, trying to add to the final, all-group count of turtles. Our group record is 52. Everyone tries to make it a competition between rafts, but I refuse to let go of the idealistic, teamwork-feel of the overall count. I guess I love the turtle catching because of the small element of risk involved, combined with the connection to nature, the shared sense of victory among us with each catch, and the redemption of hours of sitting into something with a purpose (shallow as it may be).
Love #3 - My son. I'm traveling with my 5-year-old son, Shade, on this trip. Of all the things I'm excited about, I can't stop thinking about being with Shade for 4 days. Even the long car ride gets me excited to just get out with him and eat at fast-food restaurants. I can't wait for the Southwest group to get to know him, for the West Houston group to see him, and for him to acclimate to being in a raft with a dozen 10-15 pound turtles crawling around. We'll be camping together, playing together...just being together. I hope that I have the wisdom to do this kind of thing with every one of my kids, every chance I get, without exception. I'm still somewhat vulnerable to my own expectations of myself in area's that matter only a fraction as much as they matter, and am often prone to sacrificing their spirits because of my inability to stay fully present in each moment, fully aware of God's priorities for me.
I am in a position to have nominal influence on hundreds of people. It's a humbling reality, and one I take very seriously, sometimes to the point of being overwhelmed with fear or anxiety. But with these kids, whom I have a major influence on, I am given the gift of pause to remember what really matters.
Today at lunch, when I took Callie out for a date to Rosa's (where she got to experience cheese dip for the first time), she asked me to watch her dance and jumped out of her seat and started spinning. She just wanted me to watch, and see that she is lovely, and tell her so. "Like a princess," she said. What an honor. What an honor. I can't get over it. (insert long pause here). What an honor.
And I told her to sit down and finish eating. God, help me pause. And thank you that Callie still asked me dance with her when we got home. And thank you for the dance. Thank You.