Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Progressing from listening to talking to doing to being

"To love - simply and truly - is so startling it leaves little time for anything else." -- Emily Dickinson

"Whenever asked about what should be done about another person, no matter what the situation, the answer is always… 'love them.' Specific applications of love apply in different circumstances (accept them, challenge them, walk with them, confront them, forgive them, tell them, etc.), but it never ceases to amaze me how often people think there is something else to do or try." - Yours truly


I fancy myself a “progressive”.

You have to label labels, I guess, when you use them. They mean so many things to so many people.

So by progressive, I mean that I want to always “make progress” in becoming a better and better human being.

Because I have had to move from being a human listening, to a human talking, to a human doing, to finally (and it is a work in progress) a human being.

I have a buddy who has smoked tobacco abundantly. He’s on his twelfth week of not smoking, and only last week threw away his last pack of cigarettes that he carried with him constantly, just in case he didn’t really want to be a non-smoker.

Before he became a non-smoker, he had to listen to the idea of it. This is no small step. Smokers don’t want to listen to the idea of not being a smoker. But he did. And it was hard. He was really confronted at this phase of progression. And even if he wanted to stop listening, he had no choice as he sat by his dad’s bedside caring for him (he’s a paramedic) daily (and nightly) as he died of lung cancer from smoking.

He then progressed to talking. It’s one thing to be willing to listen to the case for not smoking, and quite another to start speaking the case for non-smoking. I got to hear him as he progressed to this talking phase over lunch one day. It was quite amazing to hear him, especially when I considered how hard it was for him to listen to himself and consider the implications of his talking. I asked him if I could video tape him and capture the power of his talk. He reluctantly, but eagerly, but reluctantly agreed. I played it to a few hundred of our mutual friends. He was firmly established in the talking phase.

And the reason he was willing to talk was because he wanted to be seriously intent on progressing to the doing stage. He’ll tell you now, that he began the doing of not smoking with zero belief that he would succeed. Inwardly, he had already decided that he would give it try knowing he would fail just to be able to say to those that loved him that he had had done his talking to (his family, chief among them) that he had tried.

Little did he know, that it would take. Every time I see him now, he smiles and tells me how long it’s been. He is progressing from “doing” now to “being”. He now believes that he can BE a non-smoker.

It seems to me that this is a great example of what being progressive truly means.

To progress. To actually, and really, and painstakingly…make progress.

And in no other area is it more important to progress than in the area of love.

We must listen to new ideas of what it means to love.

We must start talking those ideas, owning it enough to speak about it.

We must start doing those ideas, loving in those new-to-us ways.

Eventually, glory of glory happens…and we become love.

Really…when I’m progressing in love. I don’t have time to smoke. Or to do anything else. And I’m having trouble finding anything else as worthwhile to do.

God help me.

Friday, January 15, 2010

A Question I am Ashamed to Answer

About 10 months ago, I received an email that I quickly deleted. It had a strange foreign name attached to it, some generic sounding title, so it didn’t make it through my “maybe that’s not junk mail” filter when I did a quick scan of my Inbox.

As it turns out, that deleted, unread email came from a desperate man in India, asking me to personally mentor him as a student of Christ, a minister at a church, and a world changer.

I only know this because, fortunately, he sent a second email. In it he was pleading, “Dear brother, please do not hesitate to write me, please encourage me in the truth. Please help and guide and explain what ever I asks questions. I have some questions to ask. Please give me permission to ask more.”

I replied to him, and it began a wonderful dialogue that I have thoroughly enjoyed and learned from. He found me in a somewhat random way (yeah, right) through a search engine that led him to the website of the Southwest Church in Amarillo, TX… the group with whom I seek the best possible life.

As he said, he had many questions, and was looking for someone to ask. Among them:

  • What is Non-Institutional institution?
  • What is conservative?
  • What is liberal?
  • What is mainstream?
  • What is one cup churches and non class Churches? (He saw these words in the recent issues of Christian Chronicle news paper.)
  • We train few youths as preachers, is it wrong or non-Biblical?
  • Can I have your sermons and lessons in printed form for use in our daily ministries?

From here, he started sending me some of his curriculum and lessons. I began to notice that his good work had within it a heavy focus on teaching “how to do church right” and not so much on “how to love and live like Jesus Christ” (You can search my blog archives at www.brianmashburn.net if you are interested in why this stood out to me), and our dialogue included discussions about this. Perhaps one of the greatest treasures I have from G. David as a result of our dialogue is this one:

“Our God is helping us through you to change this bias towards to imitate Christ and better preachers and ministers of Christ, more like Jesus and more focus on Jesus. I thank you very much for your excellent guidance in Christ Jesus our Lord, you are in my heart, because you have changed it to focus on Jesus and Jesus only.”

Let me pause here and tell you…if it is true that I can play any role whatsoever in helping anyone (particularly leaders of others) to focus on “Jesus and Jesus only”…that is enough for me and an answer to countless prayers of mine.

So…praise God. His questions then moved into this realm…

  • How to come to the image of His son? - Rom 8:29.
  • How to attain the fullness and stature of Christ? - Eph 4:11-13.
  • How to walk and what are the foot steps of Christ? - I Peter 2:21.
  • How to walk as He walked? - I John 2:6.

What an impossible joy it has been to wrestle with these magnificent questions.

I respect this man so much. He and his family minister with limited provision, and with zealous faithfulness. He has invited me over for a visit to teach and encourage. I hope to someday go, because I know that it is I who would be taught and most definitely encouraged (His little boy looks like he’d be my favorite!)

My Family 

I’ve gotten to “be with” him as he traveled, while injured sometimes, thousands of miles to take advantage of an opportunity to teach people about Christ in less than ideal circumstances…


As one of his questions indicates, and on top of all of his daily demands, he had collected an assortment of eager young men and started a preacher training school! Here are his students…


I even got to “witness” him slave away, beg, plead, and organize relief for the people of his church and city when the horrible flooding of India last year hit Chennai hard…

INDIA  Relief-1

I was always eager and ready to continue our mutual learning from each other’s lives and ministries. I always looked forward to his questions, and speedily replied to the best of my ability, until he asked a question that stopped me in my tracks.

He asked, “How much does your church provide for you per month as the preacher?”

I froze in front of my computer screen.

I didn’t want to tell him.

It’s not that I think I’m a bad steward of the financial resources given to me.

It’s not a self-esteem thing, that I don’t think I’m “worth” what I’m paid (been there, done that).

Nor is it that I take some kind of pride in how much I’m given, as if that is some sort of measurement of my worth.

And it is certainly not that I’m ungrateful.

What was it? Why was I ashamed?

I am provided more money than I ever dreamed I would be when I decided to go into ministry. But that doesn’t seem like it should be enough to make me feel ashamed.

I’m not making more than might be expected for people who have a comparable position that I have (in the U.S., that is) according to a survey taken by ACU), but that’s not enough to keep me from feeling ashamed.

Help me out here…

And as a bonus…why does it seem like I’m breaking some kind of rule just be bringing this subject up?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

How to Approach God


I remember one hot summer day in Houston, TX being at Astroworld (Houston's Six Flags theme park, now closed down) with a large group of students from the West side of town. I was the youth minister at a church, and we were taking our annual trip to enjoy the rollor coasters, shows, and each other's company. It was a blast, just like every year. But I remember this particular day because I got into a very cool spiritual conversation with a student as we took a break from the lines and heat. Somehow we got to talking about mentors, fathers, and big-brother-types. You know, people “ahead of us” who would take a special interest in us. People who would choose us as someone they would resolve to pursue and be available to in order to bestow their wisdom, life, and ways.

Sounds beautiful, huh?

But it stirred an overwhelming feeling of being quite alone and mentor-less. I’m humbled and proud to mention that this student was honoring me in our conversation as one of these mentors, spiritual father figures, and big brother types...and I was surprised at the depths that were touched in me, moved to tears actually (yes, right there in the shade of a tree at Astroworld), as I wished I could identify someone loving, coaching, teaching, and pursuing me as I was doing for this student.

Looking back on my life, I think one of the several unspoken, secret, tsunami-like motivations that invisibly moved me into my calling of loving people – which eventually moved into into a position of mentoring and fathering people – was this very deep desire to have someone do this for me. Wow. As I write this, the words of Jesus, “do unto others as you would have others do unto you” comes to mind. I think that’s what I was unknowingly doing. I wanted some fathering in the innermost places of my heart, and I showed it by making a life of giving that to others.

“Our greatness comes from our woundedness,” someone once memorably said.

Over my adult life, I have approached several folks who I perceived as “ahead of me” in the life that I am constantly moving and growing into, and have asked them overtly to mentor, coach, be available to, and benefit me with their wisdom and experience...to love me, really. To big-brother and father me.

Now, I know this is a huge request. To ask this of someone should not be done lightly. And although you may get one, you sure should not expect a quick, un-thought over, un-prayed over affirmative answer. If the person you are asking understands what you are truly asking, and they are worthy of being asked, they will not say yes lightly (so they may not be able to say yes quickly).

However, as I became aware of this desire in my life, it was amazing how few people there are who I felt like I could ask this of. Those who:

  • have become “masters” of spiritual things with humble confidence
    • have room in their life for any deep relationships
    • valued the passing on of their own life discoveries and wisdom
    • had a clue how to go about mentoring even if they desired to

Out of those that did, and I can think of two that I asked, one reluctantly felt that he had to say no because he lived across the country and the demand on his life for this kind of relationship had already consumed his time (another witness to how few there are, and how hungry people are for it). The other didn’t have the heart to say no (and bless his heart, he caught me in another deeply emotional moment, so I know I made it hard for him),  but never could realistically follow through because of the demands on his life as well.

While it sounds like I should be writing an email entitled, “The Mentorless Generation” (that would actually be a good one), I’m connecting to all of this because out of all the ways that I have approached God, the one that has allowed  my heart to experience the most healing, the most guidance, the most meaningful information, the most illumination, the most life, the most passion and love…ultimately, the most oneness with God… has been when I have approached him as a father, a mentor.

As it turns out, I think it is His favorite way that I have approached Him, as well.

And as it turns out, Jesus revealed the Father as wanting to do just that.

When he taught us to pray, he went against all the religiosity of the day and the misunderstanding of the word “reverence” and told us to address God as, you guessed it, “our Father”. (Mt 6:9)

When he decided to implement a world-changing plan among mankind, his primary strategy wasn’t to preach to big crowds, post blogs, write books,  gather Facebook friends, Twitter, or organize a centralized headquarters out of which he would do all these things. No, he incarnated himself into the rabbinical system of the day, invited 12 people to join him intimately in his life in order to, you guessed it, relationally “mentor” them. (Mk 3:14)

John Eldredge says, “God wants to father us. The truth is, he has been fathering us for a long time—we just haven’t had the eyes to see it. He wants to father us much more intimately, but we have to be in a posture to receive it.”

That’s what I want. It took some time, but buried underneath a bunch of false spirituality, high-church thinking, stiff-necked theology, and incomplete and unbalanced views of God, I found a tender desire that responded with a nuclear fission explosion of hopeful excitement when I heard God say, "I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters."  (2 Cor 6:18)

I suppose there are lots of ways to answer the question, “How to approach God?”

But lesson number one, the one that I believe must be found and practiced in order to address anything else with any kind of accuracy and humanity, is to approach God as a father.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Unfinished Posts…


“The unspoken idea has no chance of blessing anyone other than the one to whom had it.” – Your Truly 

I haven’t written as much this year as I have in years past. A combination of business, laziness, higher priorities, and un-cohesive and/or incomplete thoughts.

But I have a bunch of unfinished posts in my “drafts” file. So I thought I’d do an experiment with them that I haven’t done before.

I’ve  posted the titles to them below. If any of them pique your interest, cast a vote by replying to this email (or posting a comment on this blog if don’t get my email), and perhaps your interest will help me with some additional motivation.

“A question I am ashamed to answer”

“You can be this good.”

“Altogether superior.”

“The restoration of discipleship.”

“Two haunting questions.”

“A sacred weekend.”

“What I would do if I came to your church.” (a series)

“How to approach God.”

“Saving people from their sins.”

“Who stole my church?”


“Small group intimacy.”

“On speaking engagements.”

“The sinner that Jesus condemned.”

“Freezing up and asking the world to wait.”

“When the blessing of the job becomes the curse of it.”

“Not all available parts of the spiritual life are easy to attain.”

“Clash of the (value system) Titans.”


“Unity isn’t unity if there is no mission.”

“The precious worship service.”

“My love-hate relationship with structure.”

“Progressing from listening to talking to doing to being.”

“Brian’s next job description.”

Wow…there are so many. I didn’t even realize. Unfortunately, these unfinished thoughts are a sort of mirror to my life.

I’m completely open to the idea that none of these may interest anyone. I try to imagine that perhaps some of the ideas, thoughts, rants, and revelations that occasionally consume me may be of some use to others.  But, as the words that automatically go out at the end of every email suggests, I write these pieces in my effort to “keep it real” and think out loud…as one of the tools that I use to stay in my heart…and to do so relationally.

Let me know, friends. I love you.