Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Holy Worldliness

A couple of weeks ago I took myself out to dinner. It was Life Group meeting at the house and I was not the right gender to be a part of the evening of conversation among Mom's, so I took myself out to dinner.

I went to a restaurant normally I would not patronize because my family refuses to eat there. They have good food even though it will not make the Health Departments "hit list" for the cleanest restaurant in the county, but they have good food so I went.

Before going I stopped by the local "Christian Gifts and Trinkets" outlet and purchased a copy of one of my favorite magazines to read while eating dinner alone. 

Sitting down I flipped open Relevant Magazine. On the inside cover there were three splashy words...Engage Pop Culture.

It was an advertisement for Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

There were two words in smaller block print that caught my attention...

Holy Worldliness

Underneath the words was a brief paragraph...

Should you reject popular culture or embrace it?
Consider Calvin's alternative:  Holy Worldliness.
Using the lens of our Christian faith, Calvin helps
students piece together the positives and negatives 
of popular culture-to be in the world, but not of it.
It's a bold path, but we accept the challenge.

That is an amazing paragraph whether you agree with it or not. It is a provocative way of looking at the world in a time of incredible change and upheaval. 

To be sure there are people who fully embrace this paragraph and there are those that would cite a paragraph like this as evidence that the church is on a "slippery slope" from which there is little chance of catching ourselves.

Now, I could have avoided all of this by not eating at the restaurant, not purchasing a magazine and just staying home. But that doesn't negate the realities around me. 

Holy Worldliness

All of this has caused me to think.There is a culture that needs redeeming for His Kingdom's sake, and "using the lens of our Christian Faith" is the place to start. I am keeping my eyes open to see "Holy Worldliness" opportunities today. I think Calvin College may be on to something as they seek to Engage Pop Culture.

What do you think?

Thursday, May 26, 2011


This  morning I overheard the following conversation between two people in their mid-80's

"There is one of them big motivational conferences downtown."

He said, "A what?"

"A motivational conference."


"Wait, you haven't heard who is speaking?"

"Yeah, who's speaking?"

Now at this point I was interested in hearing the slate of speakers.

She continued, "Rudolph Guiliani, Robert Schuller, Colin Powell, some football player and a couple of other people I don't know...Sounds interesting. Wanna go?"

The old man mumbled something that I couldn't understand, but I am pretty sure he wasn't interested in going to a motivational conference.

Now that isn't the best part of the story...What the old lady said next floored me.

She said, "yeah, I am to old to think about being motivated anyway, what would I do if I got motivated?"

I can't remember anything else, but that is a haunting question.  Can you ever be to old to be motivated? Is there a point in your life where you just give up and say, "well, I am just going to go through life on automatic pilot?"

I got up and left, but I am still thinking about two things. First, I am thinking about the old man who mumbled and secondly, I am thinking about a lady who thinks she is to old to be motivated. Sad.

George Eliot was right when he said, "It's never to late to be who you might have been."

I wonder if he ever went to a motivational conference?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Thomas Aquinas College is a liberal arts institution located outside the town of Santa Paula, California.  It is Catholic in its educational orientation.

It has several distinctive features which makes it unique.  Flowing out of the Catholic intellectual tradition there are no textbooks and no formal lectures. There are no majors or specializations.  It is rooted firmly in the historical traditions of the church and her history.

"It is the truth that sets men free" is the guiding principle which charts the course for students, faculty and administration. It is a unique oases in the debates over contemporary texts, trends and tenure.

Not long ago I was reading one of my favorite journals entitled First Things. According to their website, they are an "interreligious, non-partisan, research and education institute whose purpose is to advance a religiously informed public philosophy for the ordering of society."

That being said, the real purpose of citing First Things is because they advertise educational institutions in the Catholic Tradition. 

St. Thomas Aquinas' advertisement caught my eye. The print ad simply had a picture of the school and in a basic text the following words appeared over the picture.

'The future never needed the past
more than it does today."

Those eleven words are powerful words.  The leadership of St. Thomas Aquinas is using those words to advertise a classical education. But I have been thinking about what those words might mean if we seriously applied them to other situations we face on a daily basis.

The future can inform the present in innovative ways, but it can profoundly shape the future of serious organizations that are interested in making a difference in people and communities. I am living in the present because I have the benefit of the past. But I am oriented toward the future. My prayer is that I will bring the best of the past and present into my efforts to shape the future.

Just think of it....a college with no textbooks or lectures...One would think they wouldn't need to advertise for that kind of education...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011



It is the death knell for many worthy projects.  Needs constantly present themselves and resources are committed to meet the needs. Why are not more needs easily met when the resources stand ready and available?


I remember FEMA trailers bogged down in muddy fields in the greater New Orleans metropolis during Katrina. Even though  trailers were shipped to address the growing needs, numbers of families displaced by the waters of the hurricane still remained in shelters or with families. The trailers were close, but not close enough to meet the needs of the needy. Why?


It seems simple...you have a need and a resource is committed to meeting the need. But the need continues even though the resources are at hand. Blame is shifted, fingers are pointed and decisions are on hold because turf battles are being fought in some distant office. All the while, people remain homeless even though temporary housing is available.

After serving in disaster response in Slidell, Pearl River, Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Wapello, Burlington, Cedar Rapids, Houston, Galveston, Jasper and Cordova, Alabama, I have seen my fair share of bureaucratic tangles and tie-ups. 

As "hurricane season" approaches and as tornadoes continue to steal lives and damage property, Joplin Missouri will now be in the spotlight. Resources are being stretched thin and often the needs outpace the funding streams.

My prayer is that all resources will flow to meet the needs and none will be hampered by crippling bureaucracies. This is why churches and non-profits are often the first to respond to disasters. They are are not encumbered like government agencies.

Standing on the streets of Slidell Louisiana in the aftermath of Katrina,  I was talking with a local resident.  He said, "look around...do you see any government officials? Do you see anybody from the city, the parish, the state?"  While I was looking around he answered his own question. "Nope! The only people you see are people from churches working in our community." Then he said, "Thanks for coming!"

I love when bureaucratic knots are untangled and people with genuine needs find and are able to restore their lives. I love being part of a church that responds to needs with all of her resources. Today I will respond to needs with all of the resources that God has given me right here where I live.

Monday, May 23, 2011


It has happened again. Devastation and loss of life has become part of the DNA of Joplin, Missouri. Nearly a hundred people have lost their lives as a result of the tornado activity overnight.

The images are reminiscent of those we have seen in the Southeast United States.What is happening? 

It will take a few hours to begin to assess the damage and to consider the steps to recovery. I have seen these kinds of devastation and it never gets easier.

My heart goes out to the residents of Joplin, Missouri. Seated in the comfort of my home this morning, I am reminded of how events like this can seem far removed from where we live. It is easy to compartmentalize our lives and think that events like this will never touch our world. But, disasters are not necessarily limited to tornadoes and hurricanes.

My prayers are with the people of the central United States this morning. 

Friday, May 20, 2011


On Sunday morning, following the morning worship service, I was greeting people.

A mom and her two daughters were patiently waiting to talk while others were milling around the lobby. After a few minutes I realized they were waiting to talk with me.

Pausing, I spoke to them and one of the little girls handed me a white envelope with scribbling on the outside. Her face beamed as she handed the envelope to me. Now, I get a lot of things handed to me as people walk through each Sunday, so I wasn't sure what was inside.

I was not prepared for what I saw.

Her mom encouraged her to explain the envelope and its contents.

Quietly, she said that she and her sister had opened a lemonade stand in her neighborhood the previous week. The purpose was to raise money for people affected by the tornadoes in Alabama.

The need is great. It will take millions and millions and millions of dollars to address the great needs of the people from that region.

Nobody told them how much it would cost. They thought that they would sell lemonade and give the proceeds to people who were suffering.

I opened the envelope and peeked inside in front of them.

There were seven one dollar bills.  Seven dollars.  That's right...seven dollars.

Probably you are thinking..."what can be done with seven dollars?"  The answer is really simple. If everyone gave seven dollars, the needs of people in the southeast United States would be met.

I am thankful for the simple faith of young children that enables them to see themselves as part of the solution to the pressing needs around us.  Thanks Emily and Ashley for have sensitive hearts and realizing that a "cup of cool lemonade" in His name can make a huge difference.

I am scheduled to return to Alabama for an assessment trip to look at a project that will require lots of people to make financial commitments. I can't wait to go back and present this envelope as the "lead gift" to this project. Stay tuned.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


Enough is enough.

OK, I get it. 

Osama bin Ladin is dead and has arrived at his final destination
Arnold Swarzenegger had a son out of wedlock that results in him 
no longer being in wedlock.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn sexually assaulted a woman in a posh 
New York City hotel that landed him in a jail cell on Rykers Island.
Donald Trump is no longer running for President of the United States.

These stories dominate the headlines and airwaves. Continually. Each portion of the story is meticulously dissected by authorities, specialists and "talking heads."

I know what you are thinking...."just turn the TV off...stop reading periodicals and newspapers." You are probably right.

But, I am wondering what it is about the networks and news groups that makes them think the American public is interested in these stories 24/7? My real question is, "why do these stories dominate the news cycle?"

I am also wondering about the other stories that should be aired.

What about the family that has worked all of their lives on the Mississippi Delta and now leave their home knowing the waters that provided them a living will now destroy all they have worked for?

What about churches that struggle to care for their communities in the midst of times of adversity?

What about communities that are re-building after  facing incredible trauma?

What about the pastor who has a vision for a Compassionate Ministries Center in his community that has the possibility of the changing the lives of people who have looked fear in the face?

Somehow, these questions seem far more important than the story of Arnold's "love child"...more important than Donald Trump's presidential aspirations...and way more important than who will head the International Monetary Fund now that Strauss-Kahn has resigned.

Growing up we received a newspaper that was filled with human interest stories and encouraging news. The name of the newspaper was Grit. Strange name for a newspaper, but it chronicled stories that warmed your heart and challenged neighbors to be neighbor-ly.  

There are some things that I am not sure of, but one thing I am sure of is that Grit wouldn't be much concerned with Arnold, Donald, Strauss-Kahn or Osama...To be sure, there would be plenty of coverage on ways to help people, encourage people and make a real difference in the lives of those less fortunate. In a chaotic world, we need more encouragement and inspiration to be people of grace.


Wednesday, May 18, 2011


I have always been amused by Winston Churchill and his sharp wit. History is replete with examples of his acerbic tongue and ability to craft words in ways that are entertaining. 

Last evening I was reading and ran across another of Churchill's quips.

George Bernard Shaw, playwright and writer, sent a note to Winston Churchill inviting him to an opening night of his newest play.

"I am enclosing two tickets to the the first night of 
my new play, bring a friend...if you have one."

Churchill was not amused with Shaw's innuendo. So he replied...

"Cannot possibly attend the first night, 
will attend second...if there is one."

In the words of someone wiser than me..."some things are left better unsaid." 

Yeah, but you've gotta love the quick wit of Churchill and his ability to communicate how he felt about Shaw's insult.

All of this makes me wonder. I think that "some things are left better unsaid" in a world where opinions and comments are readily offered.

There is an old adage that says, "you don't have to attend every argument you are invited to." In other words, you don't have to respond to every comment which comes your way. 

Churchill never seemed to master that art. Most of us will struggle with mastering that as well. Today the challenge will be to "watch our words" so that we can pray the prayer, "may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


Last week I was sitting in a meeting of pastors.  This is not unusual, however the meeting was for young pastors who were beginning their ministry.

A seasoned pastor was speaking and challenging the new pastors to think about their future as agents of change and renewal. With expertise forged on the anvil of experience, he made a statement that applies to everyone, not just pastors.

My mind was jolted when he made the statement...

He said, 

"At the end of your life you will be remembered 
for one of two things."

I would like to be remembered for more than that. I sat in reflection as the rest of his words finished the sentence. How many things would you like to remembered for?  What would you like to be remembered for? Are you doing anything right now that is memorable and will be recalled by future generations? Will you do anything day that is commendable to those who follow you?

Poignant questions.

He said,

"At the end of your life you will be remembered
for one of two things. You will be remembered for the 
problems you created or the problems that you solved."

He is right.

The more I think about what he said, the more I realize that my memories of people are closely tied to those two observations. I remember people who "caused problems" and those who "solved problems."

To be sure, if you are a "problem solver" it will be necessary to have "problem causers" otherwise you won't have much work.

I would like to be remembered for the problems I solved rather than the problems I caused. Time will tell. However, I want to be faithful to solve problems that come across my path.

I am grateful for those who have gone before me and for all of the problems they solved so that I can have a place of service. I want to face life with a "no problem" attitude. 

Thanks Ron Blake, pastor of Detroit First Church for your words last week.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


John Huffman, a Presbyterian Pastor, mastered the art of pithy sayings that carried weighty meanings.With poignancy he called his congregation to meaningful service and mission with these timely words...

Either you are a minister or you need one
Either you are a missionary or your need one

Even I get the meaning in his words. 

As long as I can remember, we have been told that "everyone is a minister...everybody is a missionary" in the world we live in. Deception creeps in and reminds us that "ministering" and "mission-aring" are for trained professionals and most of us should avoid these.

John Huffman is right.

We need to rise above popular notions which prevent us from serving God by serving others. We all have blind spots that prevent us from taking the first step. Yet, we are called to do the very thing that most people try to avoid.

Nudging its way into the Christian faith is the notion that we can follow Christ and not serve others. We convince ourselves it is OK to have a private faith that works for us but does not impact the lives of those we meet daily.

Either you are a minister or you need one
Either you are a missionary or your need one

There are days when I need a minister or a missionary to point me in the right direction, but once I get my bearings and know His direction I am called to point others in His direction. The Christian faith does not lead  people to "sit and soak" in their faith. We are called to something much different.

I am headed out this morning to declare His Glory and remind the people I serve that Pastor John Huffman's words are powerful but His Word is more powerful. Both can transform us into pilgrims on the journey.

Saturday, May 14, 2011


All of us live "between" alternatives. "Between a rock and a hard place" is familiar territory for many in today's culture. We are well accustomed to living in an "either/or" world that forces us to make choices. 

I am caught right now "between" two haunting stewardship questions. 

The first question is "what can I spare?" and the second is, "what will it take?" 

It is easy to think these questions are relegated to money and pass them off because we think we are already stretched financially. It is another to consider these questions in light of the commodity of time.

When faced with need, my first response is often "what can I spare?"  It is seldom "what will it take?"  I am no busier than the next person, but my first response is similar to that of many others. Often we see how little effort is required to address a need. It is sorta like giving leftovers or scraps when a great need is expressed. 

I am wondering what my life would look like if I learned to ask, "what will it take?" when a great need arises. 

Here are a couple of quick observations from my experience...

"What can I spare?" is an easy way of letting me off the hook when a compelling need surfaces.
"What can I spare?" doesn't require great sacrifice.
"What can I spare?" silently says, "somebody else will take care of the need."
"What can I spare?" means my needs are more important than anyone elses.

"What will it take?"...now, that's a whole other question. I can only ask that question when I realize that time and finances ultimately belong to Him. He is the source of all of the things that I have. When I get to that point in my life I can no longer ask, "what can I spare?" but I will ask "what will it take?"

So, today I choose to live in the "what will it take?" world and trust that He will provide the necessary resources.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Mission Trip

The needs are great all around us and summer is approaching. Youth groups are preparing for summer mission trips, churches are preparing to take mission trips to disaster zones and college students will serve in needy areas.

Since returning from the tornado damaged areas of St. Louis area and Alabama, I have been repeatedly asked, "when are we going?"

This is a genuine question arising out of people's real desire to serve those whose lives have been affected by natural disasters.

All of this has caused me to think more deeply about "mission trips." Leonard Sweet, writing in So Beautiful, says, "We don't need more mission trips but more people for whom all of life is a mission trip." 

In a world where it is easy to live a segmented life, one can easily think about "going on a mission trip" and then returning home. It is easy to think that the "mission field" is the place of service and home is the place where we prepare for mission trips.

Recently I read a startling statement that puts all of this in perspective..."Just because God sent you doesn't mean God told anyone else you were coming!"

My prayer is that my life will be a "sent" one that follows where He leads, rather than a life that depends on "mission trips" to get a ministry fix.

This summer there will be lots of "mission trips" for students, churches and other groups. Many of them will be somewhere "over there." Don't forget that today is a "mission trip!  Enjoy the journey!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


I have finally caught my breath after spending a week in Alabama helping those whose lives were re-arranged by the devastating tornadoes.

It has taken me longer than I anticipated to re-acclimate to my schedule and life. It sounds funny to say that, but it was overwhelming to work in the destruction knowing that I would get in my car and head home. Although I have been back for several days, my heart continues to be heavy over what I have seen and experienced.

As I ease back into the rhythms of my life I continue to think about those who labor in their efforts to restore order to the chaos.

As I reflect on all that I have seen, my mind is again challenged to think about flooding on the Mississippi and the downriver communities that will experience similar devastation.

It is one thing to see damage caused by a physical tornado and it is another thing to watch the aftermath caused by emotional tornadoes in people's lives. Either are painful.

My prayers are with the people who suffer today.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Unimaginable horror and destruction...

I have seen a lot of disasters over the last several years, but nothing compares to the things that have happened in Alabama.

At the same time, I have never witnessed the outpouring of support and appreciation for the work that is being done.

I have not written for the last couple of days due to the intensity of our work schedule.  

Here are the stories that will come in next several days...
...the Doctor who lost his entire office building has a brand new mobile medical clinic for the community
...the four year old girl who barely escaped her bedroom when a 48" tree fell and split her bedroom in half
...the pastor who lost several of his closest friends who perished in the tornado
...the sight of a tract of land that used to be a community, but now no longer exists.
...the evidence left by the result of 265 miles per hour tornado winds
...a family of 11 who lost nearly everything now living in a small travel trailer and underneath a small tent
...a woman who narrowly escaped death when a storefront building collapsed on her car
...the scores of people who lost co-workers, friends and neighbors as a result of the tornado.
...family members who are still waiting for word on their missing loved ones.

There are more stories to be told, but finding the right words to describe them remains a challenge.

The team is doing incredible work and I am grateful for their contribution.

Please continue to pray for the people of the communities of Cordova, Hackleburg and Phil Campbell. These communities have incredible needs. We are grateful for the opportunity to serve.

Stay tuned for the stories....