Monday, December 8, 2014


Christians, we have the answers… but it is not likely just a matter of shouting the answers. Our world doesn’t need another ism. Have you noticed that the shouting is generally over isms? We identify a position and label it as an ism… racism, feminism, conservatism, progressivism, etc. … and then we shout for or against an ism.

Friends, the world does not need Christianism. People who are certain, angry, and loud… people who merely shout their answers and conclusions. Jesus did not come to bring Christianism; Jesus came to serve. Jesus is the wisdom that comes from heaven.

The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. (James 3:17,18)

Jesus did not come to bring Christianism; Jesus came to transform lives, and then transform others (even societies) through transformed lives.

When we see injustice, we are called to not merely identify it and shout at it; we are called to serve. We are called to follow the example of our Savior and serve, standing up for those who cannot stand for themselves. Giving, and helping, and caring. Not standing idle by clucking our tongues, certainly not standing by in judgment, but stepping in and serving whenever possible.
This is an excerpt of my message 12/7/2014, available in its entirety here.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Christmas Dissonance

Last Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent, our choir at Pleasant Bay sang O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. I don’t have an exact count, but I would imagine it is the fourth or fifth version of this song our choir has sung in the dozen years of our existence. We sing it, in one form or another, every year at this time; it sets the tone for Advent.

Funny thing… the tones are minor. While O Come Emmanuel has been arranged innumerable ways in the 1,200 or so years of the hymn’s existence, it is almost exclusively set with a slow tempo in a minor key. It doesn’t sound like most Christmas songs; it doesn’t sound happy.

We don’t sing it because we want people to be sad at Christmas. The slow tempo and minor key don’t necessarily have to be sad; O Come Emanuel is not a sad song. But there is dissonance (especially to our western ears).

I think we do well at the beginning of Advent to acknowledge, even marinate in, the dissonance.

It is a popular notion that Christmas is essentially the birthday of Jesus (or at least the celebration of the birthday of Jesus; reasonable people disagree about the exact date). Christmas is generally thought of as a birthday party, and all that leads up to it is part of the celebration. Christmas is a celebration of the birthday of Jesus… and it is so much more.

More than mere prelims to a birthday celebration, Advent prepares us again for the coming of Immanuel. It starts with that powerful name: Immanuel (which means “God with us”). We need go no further to find dissonance. God with us. The holiness of God in the midst of the lowliness of us. The Creator in all His Majesty coming in the way a mere human would normally come… a poor human at that. Just the name Immanuel, when more fully apprehended, should create dissonance in our minds and hearts.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice ! Rejoice ! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

While the original Latin text was likely penned around the year 800, the words reminisce the generations prior to the first Advent of Jesus, yet after the clear promise of his coming by Isaiah… so the 600 years or so before the birth of Jesus. For us, Christmas is history; but for the faithful before the birth of Christ, it was only a promise, a promise longed for… and that longing is conveyed well by the slow tempo and minor tone of O Come Emmanuel.

Advent presents us the opportunity to embrace that same kind of longing. We need ransom. While our salvation is sure and our eternity secure, we are in lonely exile here; we are in the world, yet not of it (when at our best) and we are often of the world too. And there is dissonance.

We need the Son of God to appear. We need His presence. We make too little room when what Emmanuel demands and deserves is everything… every space and all our ways.

We rejoice. We know the Promise is true. We have more than just the Promise, we have history, and testimony, experience, and faith. We rejoice because we know that our longing will be satisfied, and Emmanuel shall come, has come, does come.

I’m very much in favor of happy songs at Christmas (even the festive songs that celebrate the season without acknowledging Christ). And I’m in favor of embracing the dissonance in a carol like O Come Emmanuel.

You can hear a version of the carol we did several years ago with our choir by clicking here

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Scriptures of Thanks

Here's a short litany I pulled together for Cedar Park's Thanksgiving service. Join us Thanksgiving morning at 10:00.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
    and his courts with praise;
    give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
    his faithfulness continues through all generations. (Psalm 100:4,5)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation,
  by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,
  present your requests to God.
Philippians 4:6)

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts,
   since as members of one body
 you were called to peace.
 And be thankful.
Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly
  as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom

through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit,
  singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed,
    do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus
  giving thanks
 to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:15-17)

Rejoice always, pray continually, 
give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Through Jesus, therefore,
    let us continually offer to God a sacrifice
 of praise—
  the fruit of lips
 that openly profess his name. 
And do not forget to do good and to share with others,
 for with such sacrifices God is pleased.  (Hebrews 13:15,16)

Thanks be to God!
He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
  (1 Corinthians 15:57)

All the angels were standing around the throne
   and around the elders and the four living creatures.
They fell down on their faces before the throne
    and worshiped God, saying:


  Praise and glory
     and wisdom and thanks and honor
   and power and strength
    be to our God for ever and ever.
 (Revelation 7:11,12) 

Friday, November 7, 2014

Pay Attention, Show Up, and Vote

In President Obama's post-shellacking news conference Wednesday, he looked into the camera and told the voters that he heard what we were saying. If only he had stopped there. He followed up by saying to the majority of people who didn't vote, he hears them too. The remainder of the 80-minute news conference revealed that our president has no intention to change course. Presumably the resounding voices of the majority who didn't vote were urging him to stay the course.

I heard one pundit cynically snort that he wondered how he could hear the silent voices of those who did not vote. I snorted along with him in the moment, but then realized that President Obama was likely certain that he could hear those voices. He has the results of extensive and reasonably-precise research, he has advocates lobbying on behalf of the masses, and he has experts interpreting it all and feeding it to him daily (even moment by moment). These are the tools of marketing.

The thing is… we don’t ask our leaders to lead via the tools of marketing; we demand that our leaders govern. And we don’t govern via market research, polls, the voices of advocates, or the interpretations of experts. We vote. And voting matters.

We don’t govern by taking random samples of those passively being governed (polls), asking them what they want and who they want in power. We govern according to those who show up and vote.

I fear that our President truly believes that his interpretations of the desires of the non-voters really matter… matter even more than the voice of the voters. I know liberal pundits think so; they have broadcast such things the past few days. They say that low turnout was to blame… that if only people had voted, things would have turned out differently. It is as if they want us to pretend that everyone voted, and also pretend that we know how they would have voted.

(Warning… right-wing rant coming.)

Liberals do this all the time. If they get the vote they want they call it a mandate; if they don’t, they call it some sort of mistake and determine that they know better. Two years ago, I recall conservative pundits observing low turnout in the election that resulted in our President’s reelection. But I don’t recall anyone turning that into a rationale that we should govern pretending we knew what the non-voters wanted. Conservatives put the responsibility of low turnout on themselves and those who stayed home; we didn’t factor the imagined desires of the non-voters into the governance equation.

Voting matters. Paying attention and showing up matters. The system does not, and should not, govern according to the imagined voices of the unengaged, uninterested non-voters. Our government is certainly responsible for their well-being and safety, but their imagined voice is irrelevant and should certainly not be “heard” like the real voice of the voters. 

(Thus endeth the rant.)

These are lessons that extend beyond opportunities like this week’s election.

I am, and have been, part of a number of membership organizations. Most adults are. For me it has included student organizations, academic societies, churches, ecclesiastical bodies, and even my homeowners association. I’ve observed that active participation in such membership organizations is becoming less and less important to folks. We don’t bother paying attention or even showing up, thinking that voting on such things doesn’t matter.

And voting often doesn’t matter… until it really does.

I’m thinking of a few organizations that I’ve been a part of, and a few others that I’ve intently observed, in which the membership displayed (by their inattentiveness) that they didn’t want to bother with governing. So in order to keep the organization moving forward, the governance moved from the membership to the administration. What once required the vote of the body moved to a decision made by a committee. What once required action by a committee moved to a decision by the administration. What once required agreement among officers moved to a decision by the CEO.

All that resulted in greater efficiency, and even prosperity and happiness… until there was a problem. Then, when faced with a problem that only the membership could/should handle, the membership’s governance muscles had atrophied and the organization’s governance model was ineffective. Those who should have been paying attention, showing up, and active all along attempt to reinsert themselves, and there is friction. In some cases the friction only results in a season of discomfort for the organization, in other cases the organization doesn’t survive.

Paying attention, showing up, and voting matters. We can’t expect that our voices will matter if we have not been paying attention and showing up. Voting matters all the time, not just when there is a problem or challenge… maybe especially when there is not a problem or challenge.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Where Coaching Happens

I did a few more coaching classes last week. I learned a lot. But the most important thing I learned (or relearned I suppose) is the fundamental thing. I solidified a better definition of coaching for myself. Here’s what I have now:

Coaching is a purposeful, customized, adult, learning experience.

Each word is important… and one is most important for me.

  • Purposeful: Coaching is goal oriented. I have coaching friends who often describe it as helping people get from where they are to where they want to be
  • Customized: Since it is driven by the agenda, pace and knowledge of the person being coached, each coaching experience is customized.
  • Adult: Coaching builds on the knowledge, experience and desires of the person being coached, thus it is mostly suited for adult learners. 
  • Experience: Coaching is practical. Not merely an academic exercise… coaching should result in action.

    And the word that is most important for me to remember…
  • Learning: The most prized result of coaching is when the person being coached learns. The aim of coaching is learning… more than merely solving problems or gathering data, coaching is meant to facilitate learning. 
For me… I get it best when I think in terms of this question: Where does coaching happen?

Coaching happens in the brain of the person being coached. That may seem obvious, but there are other possibilities.

Some might think that coaching happens in the coach’s brain. Of course the coach’s brain is important in coaching; we want the coach to bring their brain to every coaching session. But the real, most important work in coaching is not happening in the coach’s brain; that would be something more like analysis or therapy. If at the end of a coaching session we find that much of the thinking and learning happened in the coach’s brain, then it is isn’t coaching.

Others might think that coaching happens in the space between the two brains. Prior to last week, that is how I thought of coaching because I thought of coaching primarily as problem solving. Coaching certainly can be problem solving, but it should not merely be problem solving. Problem solving is often tactical… a one off experience that may only have temporary impact. But coaching should be more than problem solving; it should be a learning experience that is more strategic, resulting in learning that should have a lasting impact.

Coaching not only ends in the client’s brain, but it starts there and stays there too. Coaching is meant to help us learn from what we already know (whether we know that we know, or even don’t know that we know). It starts in the client’s brain both in that the agenda is set by the client and the raw materials are drawn from the client’s knowledge and experience. It stays in the brain of the person being coached too; coaching is meant to build new learning. 

What do you think? Does your experience match this definition? I’d be glad to have your feedback!

And... let me know if you're interested in coaching; I have more info posted at  

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Disciples Ask

I was reading Matthew 13 today when something jumped out at me from verse 36. The chapter mostly contains a record of Jesus teaching in parables; in verse 36 it says “his disciples came to him and said, ‘Explain…’”.

In our consumer-driven culture, we tend to place most responsibility on the encoder rather than the decoder. If something is not understood we blame the teacher, preacher, or leader rather than the pupil, constituent, or follower. We think of the hearer as a customer, placing fewer and fewer demands on the recipient and more and more responsibility on the speaker. The motives here are good ones; we want to speak clearly and connect… we want people to understand and act, thus we want to do all we can to be understood.

I wonder if by placing most of the responsibility on the speaker we end up settling for shallow understanding in the hearers. Borrowing from the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13… do we miss an opportunity for seed to take root and flourish by not demanding more of the hearers?

In my experience as a learner/follower/disciple, my understanding goes deepest when I am forced to engage, when I have to go back and ask for an explanation. Whether learning a lesson from a teacher, boss, or even God, the deepest understanding results from seeking explanations. I know that I am truly a disciple when I am asking, “Explain.”

I’ve had the same experience on the other end as a teacher/leader/preacher/mentor. Students, congregants, and employees seem to only really get it when they are challenged. I know that I truly have a disciple when I hear them asking, “Explain.”  

Crowds want simple, bite-sized, easy-to-digest morsels. Disciples crave heaping plates of challenge, and demand explanations to deepen our understanding.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Confessions of a Coaching Skeptic

I started to hear about professional coaching a few years ago; it sounded to me like something silly people do. Passing judgment in blissful ignorance (don’t judge, we all do it from time to time), I just wrote it off.

Then my wife Laurie was invited to take a few coaching classes a few years ago. Some trusted friends encouraged her to take advantage of the opportunity, knowing that she would be good at it. While taking the classes and reflecting on the materials in the days that followed, Laurie said to me, “This coaching stuff is a lot like what you seem to do naturally.” Laurie and I generally have our noses in each other’s business; she likened coaching to the way I preferred to lead people on various teams that I worked with. 

I concluded that if coaching was an effort to teach people how to operate the way I like to do things, teaching people to be like me, then there must be something to it.  

My friend Craig has become a proficient and certified coach over the past few years. An extended conversation over coffee several weeks ago turned into me asking him a lot of questions about coaching… resulting in me becoming even more intrigued. 

And then my friend Beth kept sending me emails urging me to take a few classes. She was sending them to a big list, hundreds if not thousands of people… but they were hitting me with the impact of a personal invitation. I had a certain sense that I ought to give it a try. So I did, completing 32 hours of classroom instruction and practice last week.

My hope was to gain some tools for my toolbox. I had no intention to actually be a coach, run anything like a structured coaching session, or have anyone call me a coach. I just figured I’d gain some handy skills.

I did gain some handy skills… but I also came to understand that, at least for me, while coaching skills may be handy in a variety of contexts, the best way to apply professional coaching skills is in a purposeful, structured coaching context. So…

I think I’m going to be a coach.

That will require more training, a mentor coach, and some practice. I’m already on my way, and intend to qualify for at least an entry-level of certification.

I’m no longer a coaching skeptic. I’m a coach (well… at least a rookie coach).

If you’d like to be among my beta testers (in person, on the phone, or on Skype), allowing me to get some practice, let me know. It is a professional service, but at this stage of this rookie coach’s path I’m sure I can make you a very sweet deal.

I’ve hung out a shingle. Check it out at and let me know if I can be of any help; I’d love to work with you.


Friday, July 18, 2014

The Appearance of Righteousness

My wife, Laurie, forwarded an article today written by Ty Grigg: How I Learned to Stop Worrying About the Billy Graham Rule and Love Like Jesus.

I knew what he meant by "the Billy Graham rule" right away. I've served in several institutions where the Billy Graham rule was the rule (usually an unwritten rule). I've had respected mentors and professors expound on the virtue of the Billy Graham rule. Essentially the rule is: a man should never be alone with a woman... not in an office, not in a car, not for a meal, not even on an elevator. In the case of Billy Graham there was fear that he would be targeted by someone out to get him by fabricating a scandal (I think this is the plot of the movie being released today: Persecuted). I've never thought of myself as such a big deal that anyone would go to such efforts to "get me."

But that isn't my only reason why I routinely ignored the rule. For me it has never seemed at all practical. My first real boss, other than my dad, was a woman (I don't think most of the boys who strictly follow the Graham rule have ever had a female boss). I've always had female colleagues (up the org chart, down the org chart, and horizontal on the org chart); I can't work with people if there are no one-on-ones, no meetings on the fly in an elevator, or no road trips.

I think I've made good decisions to protect my reputation and others. I've relied on my spidey sense. I've even cut windows into walls and doors when offices seemed too secluded.

I worked through the best reason for ignoring the rule a few years ago when I more clearly saw what various implementations of the Graham rule was doing to my female friends and colleagues. We were reworking the governance documents at the University I served, from the Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws all the way through the various employee manuals. Some of the more old-school members of the leadership team wanted to codify the Graham rule in the manuals. I was intent on using my influence to not go there, but I wasn't winning the argument based merely on the practicality of it all. So we started listening more carefully to women to understand their perspectives, starting with the voices around that table, but seeking out the stories of others as well. Laurie had valuable input, as I listened more carefully to my spouse, to what she heard and what she even experienced.

I heard stories about how women were marginalized. Decisions would be made in boys-only meetings, whether in the office, on the road, or on the golf course. There was an important camaraderie enjoyed by men that extended into the office from which women were barred. It might not be that decisions were made in boys-only meetings, but they might as well have been since we spoke in code forged in fellowship and relied on contexts and experiences that were shared in various boys-only spaces.

We determined that our values of gender equity, full-spectrum perspective, and championing women in leadership could not coexist with the Graham rule.

For those who insist on keeping the Graham rule, I sometimes wonder what is really going on. A couple of possibilities come to mind:

  1. They have a lust problem. It seems to me that if you think the only way you can remain pure is to avoid being alone with a woman, you should seek professional help. 
  2. They have a fear problem. If you think you are that hot or such a big deal that people are out to get you, you likely have an inflated view of yourself. 
  3. They have a righteousness problem. If you think that building such a fence is worth it so that you "avoid the appearance of evil" then you likely misunderstand righteousness. 
I appreciate what Grigg had to say about 1 Thessalonians 5:22. The KJV says, "Abstain from all appearance of evil." Most scholars agree that is a crummy translation. The NIV is better, saying, "Reject every kind of evil." This isn't the only Bible verse that has been mangled in order to proof text unfounded Church behavior, but it might be my favorite. 

Jesus didn't have anything to say about avoiding the appearance of evil, but He had a lot to say about avoiding the appearance of righteousness. There is certainly one thing worse than "the appearance of evil": relishing in the appearance of righteousness. 

It seems to me that a lot of those who insist on following the Graham rule are not merely misguidedly avoiding the appearance of evil, but are really pursuing the appearance of righteousness. And in so doing they are causing their sisters in Christ harm (sometimes inadvertently, sometimes knowingly but with a flawed rationale for the collateral damage). 

Father, and sisters, forgive us of our evil... when we have excluded and marginalized and protected our boys' club. And forgive us of our righteousness... when we have built fences around our righteousness with our overly simple and misguided rules that have done such damage.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Pray For Them; Don’t Prey On Them

I was pre-Christian for the first twenty years of my life. I was around a lot of Christians. I had Christian friends and Christian members of my extended family. I was even in and out of a lot of churches (sometimes I even got paid to be in church, playing in various orchestras and such). Among my relationships with Christians, there were those in which I felt like I was prey.

We should definitely pray for our pre-Christian friends… but we should not prey on them.

Kevin was a coworker and friend of mind for a few years, a few years before I came to faith. He was a student at a local Baptist Bible College. I think in those days they had around 1,000 students at an unaccredited ministry-training school associated with First Baptist in Hammond, led by Pastor Jack Hyles.

They took very seriously the command to “Come out from them and be separate” (1 Corinthians 6:17). Actually, since to this day their doctrinal statements proclaim their exclusive allegiance to the King James Version, it should be: “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing.” They were separate in the way they dressed and talked and associated with people. It was a big church (several thousand) before mega churches were common. They pretty much kept to themselves, unless they were soul winning. They invented the “bus ministry”… at one point they were sending buses into four states to pick up kids and bring them to Sunday school; they were serious… and in some ways it was really impressive.

But here is the thing… I got the feeling from anyone I would come into contact with from that school or church that I was a target. From the most incidental contact with someone from First Baptist, to the close working relationship and friendship I had with Kevin… I felt like prey… a target… a name that might be turned in to fulfill some quota if I would just get saved. I had the feeling that any act of friendship or kindness, any helpful favor or word, was all targeted at getting me saved. I felt like prey.

I don’t think Kevin and his coreligionists did any harm to me… but neither did they do any good.

On the other hand, there were those who cared for me, were genuine friends to me, and prayed for me. There is no doubt in my mind that the way they demonstrated the Gospel made the difference in my life.

Here’s what I am saying… we simply must have pre-Christian friends if we are going to be fulfilling God’s work, if we’re going to be involved in His mission. We ought to be purposeful about building friendships with those who do not yet believe. And they can’t be merely friends for the purpose of getting them saved, merely friends for our purpose. Especially in our day (time and culture) we need to allow people into our hearts and homes so that they can truly see the Gospel in action. We need to be friends and have friends… pre-Christian friends who we pray for, not prey on.

I spoke along these lines last Sunday. To hear more, you can listen online at  

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Listen to Yourself

I review by listening to my sermons from time to time. We make it pretty easy to review sermons at Pleasant Bay; you can find them at

There are two really good reasons for me to go back and listen:
  1. The Good Ones, and 
  2. The Bad Ones
When I go back and listen, I usually find that my own assessment of how things went on Sunday isn’t precisely accurate. This week, for example, I didn’t feel like I made my points very well… but after listening to it today, I found that it was way better than I remembered. There are other weeks when I feel like I really delivered the goods, only to find that I wasted some opportunities when I listen critically later in the week.

I don’t go back and listen to every sermon I preach or presentation I make… but I try to listen to the ones that I feel are a bit better than usual and the ones that I feel are a bit worse than usual. When I listen to the bad ones, I almost always find that it was better than I remembered, and that builds my confidence for next time. When I listen critically to the good ones, I almost always identify something that I can do better, usually both in the content and the delivery.

I encourage you to listen to yourself from time to time. Maybe you are a preacher like me and listening to a recording is fairly simple. But maybe you’ll need to be a bit more creative about how you go back and review your work. Maybe a lot of your work is written (such as emails)… take a look in your sent-items folder and pull a few old emails to review (pick some good ones and some bad ones). Maybe you make presentations or run meetings and they are not usually recorded… make an effort to make a recording (use an app on your phone; it doesn’t need to be studio-quality). I think if you’ll make an effort to review your work, especially focusing on the good ones and the bad ones, you’ll learn important lessons.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Why Don't Christians Want to Die?

I have friends who are soul sleepers; they come from theological traditions that hold the view that death brings a period of nothingness until the resurrection. I believe they are wrong, and they believe that I’m wrong; we both know that these sorts of things should not divide us as Christians. 

While we do not argue much about such things, we do talk from time to time, and I appreciate the conversation. I actually think that the soul sleepers have a better perspective on death than most Christians.  

Pop Christianity seems to hold a view that death immediately transports us to a heavenly paradise. The images include everything from white-robed, cloud-sitting harp players to mansions on golden hilltops.  

If that is the case, then why don’t Christians want to die? With a belief that there is something spectacular just on the other side of the door, why shouldn’t we bust through that door as soon as possible?  

Here’s where the soul sleepers have it right. Death should not be welcomed.  

Pop Christianity undervalues the resurrection, and thus overvalues what death holds for Christians pre-resurrection (before the Second Coming of Jesus).

I spoke from the beginning of 2 Corinthians 5 last Sunday. This passage of Scripture clarifies: 

  1. The ultimate hope, prize, and goal of Christians is eternity in resurrected bodies suited for the work of serving and worshipping God forever. 
  2. Our present lives matter, and, for believers, the productivity of these lives will be judged (for commendation not condemnation). 
  3. If we die before Jesus returns, while we will be with the Lord, we will not yet be clothed with resurrected bodies (naked as Paul says). 

We long for #1… but that is out of our hands. #3 is a wonderful promise for believers. But #2 is the life of purpose that outranks #3.

I suppose we might think that the pop Christianity view of life after death is harmless… but I’m not so sure. For believers such a view may undervalue the importance of this life; it really is no good to be so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good. And for pre-believers… such a flimsy view of eternity and undervalued view of this life could be hurdles keeping people from the Gospel. I think our view of eternity matters… a lot.

To hear more of what I had to say about this, in the talk titled In Between, checkout the podcast at

Friday, May 30, 2014

King David’s Steps to Success… Via Succession

In a meeting last week I was accused of being a governance nerd. Guilty as charged… I may be a bit too fascinated with the structures and systems that allow organizations to work. I read articles of incorporation, corporate policy manuals, and bylaws for fun.

In my daily Bible reading a few days ago I noticed a governance approach that could be a useful model, specifically as it relates to succession. As I’ve written before, a few times, there is no success without succession.

The passage is found in 1 Chronicles 28-29 as David hands the throne off to his son Solomon. Here are some of the key steps that David took to ensure success through succession:

David Publicly Proclaimed His Support
David made it clear that his success would be judged by the success of his successor… not in comparison to his successor’s failures. It seems that some former leaders are happiest when they can point out the shortcomings of their successor… as if their successor’s weakness reveals their true strength. Leaders who tear down their successors don’t build up their own reputation; they make themselves look pitifully small.

David Charged His Successor to Lead, Rather Than Charging His Subjects to Follow 

While it was certainly implied that David wanted his followers to transfer their loyalty to Solomon, David’s charge was directed at Solomon to lead. Charging the followers to follow could only result in short-term success. For long-term success, Solomon would have to step up and lead.

Furthermore, David’s charge was not primarily a matter of tactics or even strategy; it was a charge of character. “And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you” (1 Chronicles 28:9).

David Left Plans for the Future 
It seems that some new leaders desire a fresh start… free from the shackles of the former leaders’ old ways of doing things. That is certainly understandable when strategic plans and governance systems seem most concerned about preserving the past. In those cases, set the captives free… allow them to do a new thing!

But often the more excellent way (especially in complex organizations) is accomplished when new leaders are empowered with inspired plans and governance systems that are focused on the future. David gave Solomon “the plans of all that the Spirit had put in his mind” (1 Chronicles 28:12).

David’s Last Act Was to Give 
This step may be the one most in conflict with how we normally do things. In our day of golden parachutes, severance packages, and retirement gifts, it is customary for leaders to leave with a little extra in their pockets.

But David not only left plans, an organization prepared to work, and treasuries filled ready to build the Temple; David dedicated his own treasure to the success of his successor. He made a lead gift for the capital campaign that challenged the whole community, and secured the building of the Temple. “The people rejoiced at the willing response of their leaders, for they had given freely and wholeheartedly to the Lord” (1 Chronicles 29:9). 

Fundraising 101 teaches that successful campaigns always include giving from the leaders; an especially successful campaign also includes the full support (and sacrificial giving) of former leaders too.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

I Don’t Know

I listen to most episodes of the Freakonomics podcast. I’ve often said that if I could just stop my life and go back to school, I might try to get into a Ph.D. program in economics. I think there is some interesting work to be accomplished on the edge where the worlds of faith and the worlds of economics meet.

The Freakonomics guys just released a new book: Think Like a Freak. Employing the basic rules of cross-channel marketing, the podcast features topics lifted from the book. Last week I listened to the podcast based on chapter two titled: The Three Hardest Words in the English Language. They are: I Don’t Know.

The podcast (and chapter 2 in the book, of course) provides wonderful examples that make it clear how we often go to great lengths to avoid those three hardest words. They would set up experiments in which the subjects could not possibly know the answer to a question, yet they would answer with certainty or at least make what they thought was a pretty good guess… anything but say “I don’t know.” Then there were cases in which subjects were asked ridiculous questions like “which is heavier, yellow or red?” or “which is more angry, my sweater or my pants?” and subjects would answer, often with an associated rationale. We’ll go to great lengths to avoid admitting that we don’t know.

For the purposes of their book, the point the Freakonomics guys make is that if we are going to think like a freak, we have to start from a place where presuppositions, dogmas, prejudices, and such are set aside. Then the productive work of discovery and problem solving can commence.

I’ve worked in cultures where the words “I don’t know” have apparently been stricken from the lexicon. The corollary phrase is “fake it ‘til you make it.” I’ve been in sales organizations, corporate environments, and institutions of higher education where it seemed that saying “I don’t know” was a sign of weakness or even incompetence.

I’ll admit it… the words “I don’t know” have not easily rolled off my tongue for most of my professional life.

I suppose some of this springs from a modernist way of thinking that asserts that everything can be known; it is just a matter of effort. And everything important should be known.

It seems that some of the most insufferable people are those who will not say “I don’t know.” It is hard to like a know-it-all. Of all know-it-alls, Christian know-it-alls can be the worst. How is it that we mortals who worship omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience insist that we know it all? It seems to me that our proximity to omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience should reveal how little we know.

For the past several days, since listening to the podcast and reading the first chapters of the book, I’ve been listening to Christians talk. It seems to me that we routinely say “I know” when what we really mean is “I believe.” I think it reveals that we’ve bought the modernists’ lie, that knowing is more powerful than believing. In the modern age, I suppose it was effective to position Christianity as the place where we have all the answers.

But we don’t live in the modern age anymore.

In this post-modern age, I wonder if we are repelling pre-believers with our insistence that we know all the answers. I wonder if we are building walls instead of bridges with our answers to questions that nobody is asking. I wonder if we are missing an opportunity to invite other to believe. 

I don’t know.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Prayers Unanswered

Last Sunday (Mother’s Day at Pleasant Bay) I spoke from the end of 2 Corinthians 1 on prayer. I referenced a C.S. Lewis essay, a favorite of my friend Merlin, titled The Efficacy of Prayer (from a collection: The World's Last Night). It was a great resource when considering questions about how and why prayer works.

I didn’t spend much time talking about when prayer doesn’t appear to work… when prayer appears to go unanswered. Lewis reflects on this near the end of his essay. He noticed that it appears that prayer (especially petitionary prayer for ourselves) seems to be more effective when we are less mature in the faith. During our infancy and childhood in the Faith, it could be that we get more of what we ask for… but as we mature we may not get simple provision, but rather gifts of patience and such in order to persevere in the Faith.

Maybe the best tact for mature Christians is to focus on intercessory prayer for others. When it comes to our needs we ought to find new Christians to pray for us. (There’s a good motivation to be evangelists, and keep ourselves around new Christians!)

When it comes to prayers (unanswered and answered), Lewis’ final sentence is stunning. I’ll provide it here in the context of the last paragraph:

Does God then forsake just those who serve Him best? Well, He who served Him best of all said, near His tortured death, “Why hast thou forsaken me?” When God becomes man, that Man, of all others, is least comforted by God, at His greatest need. There is a mystery here which, even if I had the power, I might not have the courage to explore. Meanwhile, little people like you and me, if our prayers are sometimes granted, beyond all hope and probability, had better not draw hasty conclusions to our own advantage. If we were stronger, we might be less tenderly treated. If we were braver, we might be sent, with far less help, to defend far more desperate posts in the great battle.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

God of the Second Best

Now when the Lord spoke to Moses in Egypt, he said to him, “I am the Lord. Tell Pharaoh king of Egypt everything I tell you.” But Moses said to the Lord, “Since I speak with faltering lips, why would Pharaoh listen to me?” Then the Lord said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron will be your prophet. You are to say everything I command you, and your brother Aaron is to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go out of his country.” (Exodus 6:28-7:2)

Each of us has a set of tools in our toolbox. I have a few tools in my top tray… the kinds of things I think I do best. Some of them seem to result from the way I’m wired, while others have been acquired and refined through education and experience. And then I have a few other tools down below the top tray… the kinds of things I think I do second best.

It appears that Moses thought that public speaking was, for him, a second-best tool. Regardless of God’s call, Moses objected; he apparently could only approach Pharaoh with his first-best tools. So if there was public speaking involved, God was going to have to come up with another plan. The thing is… as we continue to read, the Biblical account makes it clear that Moses must have gotten over himself and put his second-best tools to work since he did a lot of public speaking, both in front of his people and in front of Pharaoh.

Recently I sensed God’s call to volunteer to help some friends. At least from my perspective, I had top-tray tools in my toolbox that suited part of their challenge… the kinds of things that come naturally for me… the kinds of things that I have a graduate degree in… the kinds of things that are accompanied by a track record of success. But there was not room this time for me to help, at least not with my first-best tools. So, not sensing any release from God’s call, I went to one of my second-best tools: prayer.

I suppose I should be embarrassed; it seems that prayer ought to be a first-best tool for a pastor… I’m just being honest here. I certainly believe in the vital importance of the work of prayer. I spoke about it at Pleasant Bay just last Sunday. Prayer (intercessory prayer in this case) is certainly a well-worn tool in my toolbox… it is just not quite in the top-tray for me, and it was not my first choice for this particular challenge.

The point is... we should not turn our back on an opportunity to serve just because it does not appear to match our top-tray tools.

I wonder… it could be that the thing that makes us or breaks us is how well we handle our second-best tools. I don’t know that anyone only gets to operate with top-tray, first-best tools. If there are people like that, it must be a tiny minority. Most of us have to get along doing a lot of work with our second-best tools. It could be that how we use those second-best tools has more to do with our success than our use of our first-best tools.

A couple of thoughts about second-best tools

Second-best tools require more effort to be used well. When the work is important and requires our second-best tools, we have to concentrate and work hard at it to be successful. It could be that sometimes that is the point; the process is often a big part of the result of our work. Sometimes the work we do (or the work in us) requires just that sort of deliberateness.

Second-best tools seldom get you any credit. In my experience, we are seldom front-and-center and in the spotlight when we are going about our work with our second-best tools. When it is time to use our second-best tools, we should not expect any fame or credit… second-best-tool time is just a different season. It is often a season to only support others.

Second-best tools can feel safer. There can be a certain comfort in operating with our second-best tools. Working with our first-best tools can feel risky, especially if we feel vulnerable or our self-esteem is damaged. There are people who keep their first-best tools tucked away… hidden so that they cannot be marred by misuse, criticism, or failure. Sometimes when we are settling to only use our second-best tools we really should be courageously using our first-best tools

Second-best tools often compliment first-best tools. It seems that, in most cases, we will not even get a chance to use our first-best tools unless we are willing to bring along and use our second-best tools too.

Second-best tools are still important tools. It is easy for people to identify their first-best tools as special gifts from God… but all the tools in our toolbox are gifts from God… tools to be used… tools to be refined and sharpened and applied more skillfully… tools for which to be thankful.

Monday, May 5, 2014

God of the Comfortable

We started a new series at Pleasant Bay yesterday; we’ll be working through 2 Corinthians for the next few months. I kicked things off with the benediction that opens the Apostle’s letter (2 Corinthians 1:3-7). There is one word that dominates these five verses: comfort.

Comfort hasn’t necessarily been one of the first words I would associate with Christianity. When I hear the term “comfortable Christian” it is universally pejorative. If you described me as a “comfortable Christian” I would assume you meant to take a jab at me or even land an insult. When I think of a comfortable Christian, I think of one who is selfish, lazy, unadventurous and indulgently religious. 

But a comfortable Christian is often very different than a comforted Christian.  

In Paul’s benediction, the word comfort isn’t so much about being comfortable; it is more about relief, rescue, encouragement, and deliverance. In this passage, comfort does not stand alone, but rather it is paired with suffering.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. (2 Corinthians 1:3-7)

As a standalone concept, comfort might mean something less than positive, even pejorative. But when paired with suffering, comfort has a far more precise meaning. 

There is a lot in this benediction (for more of what I had to say about this, check out my notes or audio posted at, but let me just say this:  

Comfortable Christians often think that they can offer comfort out of their abundance. But comforted Christians know that the most meaningful comfort is often offered out of our suffering. 

It is not just a matter of a blessed few reaching down to pull up those who suffer. We are called to be transparent with our suffering and the comfort we need and receive from God… AND we are called to offer comfort to others through it all.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Beware of the Proof Texter

Proof texting is preacher jargon. A proof texter first determines what they want to say, then they go hunting for a snippet of Scripture to validate their point. More often than not, the Scripture used (or abused) is just a short passage taken out of context. The proof texter isn’t generally concerned with what the text actually means (in context) but rather is only concerned with what they can make the text mean in support of their point. 

I strive to take the opposite approach, especially when it comes to Scripture. The best conclusions come when we first determine what a text means and then apply ourselves to making that point.  

Folk don’t only proof text with Scripture; they proof text with people. Folk take isolated words or actions out of context and use them as proof to make their predetermined point. They misread and misrepresent people with their proof texting

I watched it happen this week. One who was in vocal opposition to a direction about to be taken by the group pulled an isolated action into their argument in an attempt to strengthen their predetermined point. It was a desperate attempt to make a point by reminding the group of some previous behavior, but it was a swing and a miss. In this case, I was on the fence and could have been swayed to lend my voice to his… but he lost me when he proof texted

We lose informed listeners or readers when we proof text; it is a cheap and lazy way to make a point or support an argument. When I sense proof texting I assume that the point is either wrong or flimsy. Proof texting is a huge yellow (or even red) flag that turns me in the other direction.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Warning! Worship or Weed?

And now for a little humor… 

With legalized, recreational marijuana coming online in Washington in the coming days, it appears that State Route 9 in unincorporated, south Snohomish County is the place to be. It must be a mix of proximity to population, easy access, and ambiguous zoning. With a new establishment popping up this week, I think there are now eight weed shops in the six miles between where we live near Mill Creek and where we get on Highway 522 near Woodinville. 

As we were cruising north together this week, it occurred to Laurie and me that a lot of the words in the names of these new weed businesses sounded familiar

I appreciate that churches are applying fresh strategies and tactics to draw people in, and proclaim the Gospel. One of the ways we do this is by selecting contemporary names. Whether it is setting a brand for a new church, or rebranding an established church, many from our ilk are using very creative names these days to brand the various local expressions of the Body of Christ. 

So… in order to help you sharpen your skills so that you don’t mistakenly find yourself walking in to the wrong establishment, let’s play:
Weed Shop, Alternative Rock Band, or Contemporary Church?

The Cure
Green Salvation
The Grove
Higher Ground
The Source
The Collective
The Gathering
The Exchange
The Burning Bush
The Call
Collective Soul
The Oasis
The Vine
The Connection
New Millennium
The Vibe
The Healing Center
House of Love
The Mission
The Harvest

And, by the way, if you find a weed shop named Pleasant Bay (which I suppose is entirely possible)… please let me know!

I actually did a quick search on these names; you can find the results here.