January 12, 2012

A Resolution Gone Bad...

I haven't made a New Years resolution in over fifteen years. I just don't do it because I have a rule about deceiving myself. Why resolve to do something that you know full well you will never actually do?

This year is different. I have made some resolutions. Some are intensely private. Others, not so much. A few days ago, one of my resolutions sent me into a tailspin.

I have resolved to be more intentional in the things I do. You know, not just going through the motions, but knowing why I do the things I do.

So Sunday morning, January 1st, I started this project. I got up and began getting ready for the day, like any other Sunday. I brushed my teeth, shaved, showered and did all of the things associated with that. Then while getting dressed, I realized that I hadn't been very intentional about the process. So, while I was putting on my deodorant, I decided to read the label. Not an inspiring leap in the right direction, but at least it was a start.

I read the ingredients, most of which I could not pronounce. Then I inspected the artwork on the label. Beautiful! And just as I was about to uncap the gel stick, I read the cap. It said that this deodorant "smells like Ice, Wind, and Freedom." I'd been using this same brand of deodorant for some time and had never thought about it smelling like ice, wind or freedom. Actually, on the occasions when I've been able to smell ice or wind, it wasn't necessarily a good experience. And I can't even begin to imagine what freedom "smells" like.

At this point, I realized that this very popular company had done something that so many of us do...especially churches and her disciples. They had promised something that either they had no intention of delivering, or could not possibly deliver. Seriously, how do you deliver on making someone smell like freedom?

The church where I worship has this mission statement: "Connecting People to God and to Each Other." Is this even possible? I kinda' think so. But is it a promise that we are bound, determined, and intentional about delivering on? Can we really say that we are "intentional" about doing this, or are we "over promising?"

Can't honestly say that the majority of people at our church could even tell you the mission statement. And of those who can, does this statement ring true as to the real mission of our church? I'm better off letting them decide this for themselves.

I guess, long story short, we need to rethink what we (churches) are promising our community that we will do. Unless, of course, we really plan to do it.

October 5, 2011

If it were up to me...

If it were up to me, I'd change some things and create my own truth!

1) People would be required to wear purple at least once a week. Purple is a happy color and we should look like happy people.

2) All people would be required to truly forgive their enemies...because it sets you free and it annoys the stew out of them!

3) Americans would be forced to realize that their "American Christmas" consists of at tree from Norway, ornaments from China, lights from Japan, and a story from Bethlehem.

4) Butter Pecan Ice Cream would be considered health food...nuff said!

5) On New Years Day, everyone would receive a pack of crayons (not the 8 color set, but the big 120 color box complete with a sharpener in the side) and would be required to color everyday. What's more fun and creative than drawing and coloring?

6) I would commission engineers to create a Hot Wheels version of the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile. Not for any particular reason except I'd just really like to have one.

and lastly...

7) All good people would get to go to heaven.

Didn't see that last one coming, did you? You see, just as much as I would love to see some really silly things come true, I'd also like to see everyone go to heaven...really!

There is a very popular preacher, named Rob Bell, who is stating an hypothesis concerning this. He feels that the Bible teaches that everyone will eventually end up going to heaven. Some may have to take a different route, endure extra hardships, retool their belief systems, etc.

What a tender notion! No punishment for those who refuse to believe in Jesus...the world will not end until everyone confesses Jesus (although I'm not sure who the "last person on earth" will confess Him to)...and we'll all be up there together, forever!

The only problem is that the Bible doesn't say this. As a matter of fact, the book of the Revelation, states exactly the opposite. Jesus' words to the churches of Asia say exactly the opposite.

So, I guess you want to know which "good" people ARE going to heaven. Answer: Only the ones who have been "made good" by Jesus and live out their faith in Him. None of us are good on our own. Only God is good on His own. However we are taught in scripture that "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." (2 Corinthians 5:21) Which means that God desire for us to be "good," realizes that we aren't "good" on our own, so He created an avenue (Jesus) for us to be "made good."

So, technically its true that all "good" people will go to heaven. It's just a matter of how we define good..."good" IS NOT something that we become on our own by performing in ways that make people like and respect us..."good" IS something that we can only be turned into by a loving and gracious God.

September 29, 2011


They called him "Sweetness." His real name was Walter Payton and he will go down in football history as one of the finest running backs to ever play the game. The trophy given by the NFL to the player who has shown the most prolific humanitarianism during the season is named after him. Now, thanks to a book by Jeff Pearlman, his reputation as a stand up guy could forever be tarnished.

In Pearlman's book, he interviewed people who knew Payton best and found that the NFL's poster boy for good works was a closet drug addict and philanderer. His life after retirement made him even more of an enigma. Reading these things about Walter Payton was hard for me to do. To me he was a hero. Now he's just another guy who messed up.

However, I still like football.

Hypocrisy is a difficult trait to stomach in people we deal with regularly. It is even harder to take when we have idolized the person who is guilty of the hypocrisy, all the time believing that they were as they claimed...an all around good guy. This is why people outside the church find it difficult to deal with Christians who can at times be hypocritical.

If you are one of those people who have been disillusioned by the hypocritical acts of someone claiming to be a Christ follower, I want to challenge you to think of it this way: It's not about them, it's about Jesus.

Hebrews 12:2 instructs us to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. He says this to remind us that the church is for seekers and disciples, but it is about (and belongs to) Jesus.

I haven't stopped enjoying football because a man who I admired turned out to be less than I imagined. Without the sport, Payton was just another guy. It's still about the sport, not the skill or character of the players.

I haven't stopped loving the church because people who have been my heroes in the faith have turned out to have clay feet. Without Jesus, we are all just another guy. It's still about him, not the imperfection of His followers.

If you are ever turned off to Jesus because one of His followers turns out to be a hypocrite, ask yourself this question: If a hypocrite is standing between you and Jesus, who is closer to Jesus? You, or the imperfect follower?

September 19, 2011

Mercy Instead of Justice

As we head into the home stretch of this year's Baseball season, I thought I'd share the story that caused me to no longer follow Major League Baseball.

It's 1996. It was a close call. One that instant replay could not justify. Maybe the umpire was lying. Honestly, most people will forget the circumstances of the moment as far as baseball is concerned. Fewer still will remember the accuracy of the umpire's decision. But what ensued after "the call" is impossible for me to forget (or forgive).

In the fracas that followed, Roberto Alomar began arguing with the umpire, John Hirschbeck. Davey Johnson, the manager of the Baltimore Orioles, rushed over to get between Alomar and the Hirschbeck. Johnson came into the picture to keep his All-Star second baseman from being ejected, not to dispute the umpire's call. What happened next shocked the sporting world.

As Johnson continued trying to shield Alomar from the umpire, Alomar leaned over Johnson's shoulder and spit in the face of the umpire. It was uncalled for. It was unsportsmanlike. It was gross!

One sad part is that the umpire was unjustly abused. (Alomar was ejected and eventually suspended and fined). Another somewhat sad part was the league's apparent apathy toward the matter, allowing Alomar to continue playing in the American League Championship Series by stating that suspensions apply only to regular season games.

However, in my mind, the most sad part was that a young man who spent several years honing his skills to become a six-time Golden Glove second baseman, deservedly lost the respect of the sporting world in less than two seconds.

The Orioles eventually lost to the Yankees in the Championship Series. An extremely rare Alomar error played a major role in the loss. Some say that this is poetic justice. I say that it is no justice at all. He shouldn't have been allowed on the field. Simply by being allowed to make the error, he got better than he deserved. . .

. . . I now better understand the level of rage that I ought to feel because they spit on my Lord. Not just once, but repeatedly. He did nothing to deserve it. Unlike the umpire, he didn't argue or retaliate. He had only one recourse: to die for them and all of the folks just like them.

If that umpire had been my son, my first reaction would be to take a Louisville Slugger to Alomar's noggin. But the Heavenly Father doesn't operate that way! He delivered his Son to a spit-soaked, shame-drenched, sin-saturated death. Jesus washed the feet of Judas, blessed those that cursed Him, and died for those who did not deserve it...and that includes us.

Is this fair? No! Whether we admit it or not, we grieve God at times. But like Alomar, we are receiving an opportunity to live a life that we do not deserve. I think the Bible calls it mercy.

June 21, 2011


Many years ago, my friend's mother decided to take a part time job cleaning an office building at night. She wanted to work alone, so she began with one small, three-story building.

It didn't take her long to realize that cleaning a three floor office building was pretty time consuming, especially for someone just wanting a part time job. So, she decided to hire her son as a helper.

The first night on the job, she told my friend that his job would be to clean all of the bathrooms in the building. She trained him by taking him in the ladies room and showing him what chemicals to use, where they were to be used, how to clean a toilet (because he never did this at home), and how to mop the floors. She provided him a checklist of every task necessary to clean the bathroom.

During the first week, she noticed that it was taking him longer than expected to clean the bathrooms. She wasn't worried because, being a "newbie", he probably needed to do the job intentionally, and that takes time. However, after several weeks, she found out that he wasn't getting much faster. She still wasn't worried because she was paying him by the job, not by the hour.

Before long, she started receiving notes from the employees of the office building...all of them female. They were thank you notes. Each one was a letter of gratitude for how incredibly clean the bathrooms were.

Now, knowing her son and the fact that he rarely cleaned his room and had never cleaned a bathroom before, this was somewhat surprising. So, one night, she waited until he began cleaning the ladies room and followed him in to see what he was doing that was so special. In doing so, she learned a great lesson.

She noticed that he cleaned the stalls first. He went into the stall, sprayed everything down with disinfectant, squirted the toilet cleaner in the bowl, swished it with the brush, wiped down the seat...and then she caught him doing something unusual. After wiping the seat, he turned around and locked the door of the stall. She could tell by the position of his feet that he was now sitting on the toilet. He sat there for about five minutes, then the door unlocked, and he emerged.

As you may suspect, she was dying to know why he turned around and sat on the seat. His answer was inspiring..."when the ladies use this room, they sit on the seat. I figure if I sit on the seat, I can see the stall the same way they do. And if I see the stall the way they do, I'll know what they think is important as far as the stall being clean."


...In our culture, we have come to the conclusion that "perception is reality." The church is called by God to create the proper perception of Him, His Son, and His Spirit. The problem we face is that many (if not most) of the people in our culture have a negative, or at least a skewed, perception of Christ and Christianity.

You see, the only way we can attack wrong perceptions is by attempting to understand and view things from the perspective that created these perceptions. Once we see from this perspective, we usually understand that there are LITTLE things that we are missing when attempting to enable our friends to "experience" the same God we do. And if we don't do something about those LITTLE things that interfere with the overall vision, the job of connecting people with God and God's family through an experience that creates an encounter with God will be nearly impossible.

You see, the toilets were actually no cleaner than they were before my friend started working there. But because extra time was taken to look at the "experience" from another perspective, to do LITTLE things that improved the "experience," the perception of cleanliness became changed.

May all Christians be people who are courageous enough to see from the perspective of those who seek, but haven't found. May we pay attention to the little things that get in their way. And may always take the time, and never give up on helping them develop a new and clear perception of a wonderful God.

May 25, 2011

The Experience

As I have shared before, I find Starbucks and their concept of doing business interesting. I guess they captured my attention first because they had the ability to sell a $5 cup of coffee. I mean really, its just bean-juice, right?

Now it hasn't escaped me that there are some coffee beans that are of a higher quality than others. But you can still get a reasonably good cup of coffee at a third of the price. And when Average Joe wants a cup of joe, price matters.

But after going to Starbucks a few times to see my daughter, who is a "partner," (meaning they pay her to work there) I realized that Starbucks wasn't actually selling coffee. They were selling an experience.

In his book, Onward, Howard Schultz, the ceo and founder of Starbucks, writes about his vision for his coffee company. He states that the concept for the stores are not his own, but are borrowed from a small espresso bar in Italy.

When he was traveling Europe, he visited this coffee bar and the experience overwhelmed him. The first thing he noticed was that everyone in the place seemed to "belong" there. Yet, even during his first visit, he was made to feel like an insider.

This feeling of being an "insider" motivated him to create a uniquely American place to accomplish the same thing. He calls this our "third place." He explained the term this way...everyone craves connection. The first place one should connect with others is in their home. Usually, the second place people find connection is at work. But most people need another place to connect in order to be emotionally healthy. For Schultz, Starbucks is intended to be that place. Every aspect of the place, from free wi-fi to the aroma that hits you at the door, are premeditated. They are intended to allow each customer the opportunity to have an "experience."

(One thing I found incredibly interesting is his aversion to selling breakfast sandwiches in the stores. Why no sandwiches? Because the cheese eventually drips onto the burners, creating an odor that masks the intended "Starbucks smell"...coffee!)

I guess I'm writing this because I totally agree with his "connection concept." If I didn't, I wouldn't do what I do for a living. But I believe the place for people to connect, other than home and work, should be in God's family.

And I've always wondered why this connection rarely occurred, but after reading Schultz's book, I am beginning to understand.

If we all need connection, and God intends for us to be connected in His family, then what kind of "experience" will allow us the optimum opportunity to do so? What should God's church "look" like in order to maximize our opportunity to connect? Scripture states that our worship is a "fragrant aroma" before God, so what should worship "smell" like in order to create an opportunity to "experience" God? What is the "burnt cheese" in your life (or church) that masks the aroma of God, even though, like the coffee, He is still present and excellent?

Just a little coffee talk to get us thinking about how important the little things are when we are trying to connect to God and each other. After all, its pretty important to me to be able to continually "experience" God's presence anew.

May 16, 2011

Grassroots Ministry

In the wake of the devastating storms that ripped through our area a couple of weeks ago, I continue to hear stories of how the small groups at our church quietly helped so many.

One person told me that after the storms, there were several churches that were in their neighborhood helping cut trees, pull brush, and checking for people. Their neighbors knew that this person was a church-goer and asked, "when is your church going to get here." At that time, one of our small groups arrived to help. This person turned to their friend and said, "they just did." (By the way, this person has never been to our church.)

Last week, I went in for a doctor's visit. Just routine stuff. I actually had an appointment with a nurse practitioner. When she walked in the room, the first thing she said to me was, "your church was at our house this week." She went on to say that a small group from our church had knocked on her door and offered to help with clean up..."at no charge." (she sounded shocked that anyone would help out without asking for something in return)

Story after story, the word continues to get out that our church family helped in so many tangible ways. Whether it was offering money to help storm victims, carrying a chainsaw into a neighborhood where they didn't know a soul, sorting cans at a food bank, taking food to a homeless shelter, carrying ice and water to first responders, or praying with victims, grassroots ministry truly affected a great many lives in incredibly positive ways.

Since grassroots ministry is one how our church family has chosen to do ministry, I thought I'd share a poem that I read a few years back to encourage you that you are doing the right thing . . .

I was hungry and you formed a humanities club to discuss my hunger. . . Thank you.

I was imprisoned and you crept off quietly to your chapel to pray for my release. . . Nice.

I was naked and you debated the morality Of my appearance. . . What good did that do?

I was sick and you knelt and thanked God for your health. . . But I needed you.

I was homeless and you preached to me of the shelter of the love of God . . .I wish you'd taken me home.

I was lonely and you left me alone to pray for me . . . Why didn't you stay?

You seem so holy, so close to God; but I'm still very hungry, lonely, cold, and still in pain. . . Does it matter?


. . . I hope I can always be part of a church that will help people. We will never be able to meet everyone's needs all the time. But I think God is truly honored by those who will share a cup of cold water with one thirsty soul at a time, and do it all in His name.

To all who helped in so many ways, thank you for letting God work through you in this time of need.