The Nature of Awesome

Awesome defined: “extremely impressive, inspiring great admiration.”

Actually

“Awesome” is a word used in a diet of verbal overindulgence. 

It’s used to describe our children, marriage, profession, vacations and the cat.

Each generation has their jargon. When I was young everything was cool and super. As in, “That was so cool,” or “That was just super!” Looking back on it the “super” was just super annoying. 

My Point?

If everything is amazing and awesome then what words are left to describe what is actually awesome and amazing? If I repeatedly say my kids are amazing for everything they do then what do I say when they actually do something awesome? If my breakfast burrito is amazing then what word do I use to describe the grace of God? 

Okay, Something Actually Awesome

For the past eight summers I have spent some time in the San Juan Mountains in Southern Colorado. I fly fish, hike and ride ATV’s. But mostly I sit quietly, look at the mountains, and reflect and pray. I seek clarity and inspiration, and find them. I leave as if I’ve touched the face of God. To me, that’s awesome, it’s, “extremely impressive,” because it “inspires great admiration.” 
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For the past three summers my San Juan Mountain friends have hosted my ministry staff for an annual retreat. They house, feed, and take care of us, and freely let us play with their mountain toys! They refresh our souls and restore our spirits. They minister to us so we can return and better minister to others. They do all that for us, but really they do it for the Lord, for they are believers, the church family of a sweet congregation up high in the mountains. We are one of their many ministries and they pray for us throughout the year. We return to Houston fresh and freshly prepared to faithfully follow Jesus. 

Now that is the nature of awesome!

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View from parking lot up at the mountains.
San Juan Mountain Church
The San Juan Family, truly awesome to me!

 

Thank you my mountain friends, you are the best!

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I Like Coffee and Donuts

Some places are special, some are structures and some are pieces of land.

  • Gettysburg
  • Lincoln Memorial
  • Ground Zero: 9-11 
  • Valley Forge
  • Arlington Cemetery 

Why?

A place becomes sacred because something deeply significant happened. Sacred ground may be a battlefield, a national memorial, or a cross on the side of the road marking the death of a loved one. 

It’s sacred because it’s sacred to us, or to God. 

An Example

“Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, (Mt. Sinai) the mountain of the Lord.”

“There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses thought, 

‘I will go over and see this strange sight–why the bush does not burn up.’

‘Do not come any closer,’ God said.

‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.'”

Holy Ground?

Why was the ground holy? Had something special happened there? The answer is no. The ground was holy because God was there and he is holy.

God’s Omnipresence

Here’s a thought: If God is omnipresent then why isn’t everywhere holy ground? It’s a fair question. However, from Scripture it appears that a place was holy due to the direct presence or specific work of God. Some examples:

  • the burning bush
  • the Holy of Holies
  • the tabernacle or temple
  • the mount of transfiguration
  • the birthplace of Jesus

For Consideration

The place where Moses removed his sandals was holy because God’s presence made it holy. When God finished with Moses then the place on Mount Sinai ceased to be holy ground.  

When Moses threw his staff on the ground and it turned into a snake and then became a staff again God said,

“This is so they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers–the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has appeared to you.”

Miraculous things happen in the presence of God. Miraculous things happen on holy ground and at holy places. 

To Close

Can you imagine when the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies that he did so carrying a Starbuck’s coffee? Or a Coke? Or a donut? Just a thought. 

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I like a good coffee and donut, but I won’t bring them to a wedding, funeral, or commencement ceremony. But to worship God? Hmmm.

Far be it from us to treat the holiness of God causally, right? And may we never make common what he has made sacred.

Shalom and May God Richly Bless You

Feeling Trapped, Needing to Sin

Most of us pray for forgiveness after we’ve sinned, not before.

Not These Guys

 Jonah was on a ship headed for the Southwest tip of Spain. He was getting away from God and his prophetic assignment, to go to Nineveh, in Assyria, but Jonah didn’t want to go, so he didn’t.

Well, the Mediterranean developed a violent storm and the sailors realized that Jonah was the cause. They asked him what they should do and Jonah said to throw him overboard, they didn’t want to, but they did.

However, before doing so they prayed to Jonah’s God. 

“O Lord, please do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you O Lord, have done as you pleased.” Jonah 1:14

“Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard.” Jonah 1:15

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Fascinating

Praying for forgiveness before we sin, what a concept!  

Some Things Some of Us Do

  1. Pray for safety and break the speed limit the whole way.
  2. Teach kids to respect the law and then throw paper and cigarettes on the ground.
  3. Uphold honesty and integrity but justify little indiscretions. 
  4. Hide our sins because we care more about what others think than what God thinks.
  5. Swear, gossip, complain, and grumble, all sinful, but just little sins, right? 

Feeling Trapped

The sailors were desperate and felt trapped. Their ship was about to break up and they had to do something.

Don’t we feel trapped sometimes? So, we lose our cool, get irritated, and say and do the wrong things. Maybe out of frustration, and maybe out of fear.  

It’s hard to do right every time. Jonah and the sailors didn’t, and neither do we.

To Close

Keep the faith. Stay strong. Wrestle with temptation. Give thanks that we have a Savior who gives mercy and grace. Thank God that he lifts from our shoulders the burden of moral perfection. Thank you Lord!

“Lord, we’re absolutely going to kill this guy, but please don’t hold it against us.”

“Okay boys, chuck him over the side.”

Uh Huh

Shalom

It’s Astro’s Time!

On the nature of sport’s-fans.

The True Believers

These people are all in, win or lose. They wear the jerseys, t-shirts, and ball caps. They’ll have snacks, but not chips and dip. Nope, they’ll have wings, poppers, and pizza and something special at halftime. They’ll get loud and excited. They are the true believers, the true sports fans.

Fair-Weather Fans

These people don’t believe. They are casual observers and won’t wear anything special. They snack on microwave popcorn and carrot sticks. They only watch if the team is in the playoffs. They won’t get loud and excited. They aren’t true believers, they aren’t true sports fans.

How Do I Know?

Because I’ve been both types. I’ve been the die-hard supporter and the casual observer. 

My Die-Hard Sports

  • College Football
  • Pro-Football
  • Summer/Winter Olympics

My Fair-Weather Sports

  • Basketball
  • Baseball
  • Track and Field

My I Don’t Care Sports

  • Soccer
  • Gymnastics
  • Racing (horses, cars, boats, etc.)

You have your own lists. No judging please. It is what it is. Thank you for not writing.

Here’s Something

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. Any anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:26-27.

Did Jesus ask us to literally hate ourselves and our families to be his disciples? Probably not since he didn’t mean for us to carry a literal cross and to literally follow him.

Jesus wants us all in. To wear the hats and the t-shirts. To show up for every game. To get loud and excited. To be the true sports fans of his word.

new-york-yankees-vs-houston-astros-20082014As a Houstonian, I’m excited the Astros are in the World Series, and I’ll watch every game, and with above average snacks. But honestly, I hadn’t watched a single game until the American League Championship with the Yankees. Clearly, I’m a fair-weather fan and not a true believer.

To Close

Jesus seeks the true believers, and he isn’t much interested in the other kind.

Have a good week.

Garrison May Be Right

Yesterday I spoke to the faculty of a Christian school.

We Have History

They used to have me speak several times a year. For their In-service days, chapel services, and other occasions. I once gave the commencement address. I think the last time I was there was May, 2004.

What Happened?

The one who did the inviting moved on, and well, we lost touch. Then Mike White, the one who now does the inviting, invited me back. He remembered me from the old days when he held a different position. He went on to become Head of School, and me, well, I just went on. 

 Attitude?

I opened by saying that I was a speaker you invite back every 13 years or so, and they laughed. Am I wiser, more knowledgeable, a better speaker than I was in 2004? Or have I peeked and now I’m just slowly sliding into irrelevance? Does it matter?

Garrison Keillor wrote:

“Ignore those studies that tout the benefits of a positive outlook. Being stubborn and righteously angry is what’s going to give you staying power.”

Mr. Keillor may be right. But I don’t think so. The path forward isn’t better traveled by negativity and a self-righteous anger. There’s an attitude that helps us, that keeps life better, stronger, and effective. 

Jesus wasn’t self-righteous or angry. Nor did he espouse a Pollyanna attitude. He had enemies. He knew hardship, heartache and sadness. He wept. But his eyes were full of light, his heart filled with love, and each day was lived in service to others. 

To Close

Westbury

It was great to back at Westbury Christian School. For 15 minutes, I purposed to encourage and build them up, for encouragement has value for all ages and for every season. It’s a matter of perspective, a certain attitude. It’s the heart of Christ.

I look forward to going back in 2030!

Shalom!

Honring A Special Person

Great organizations have someone making sure everything goes well.

Superheroes?

  • Batman had Alfred
  • The Lone Ranger had Tonto
  • The Green Lantern had Kato

Entertainers

  • Elvis had the Colonel
  • The Beetles had Brian Epstein
  • Ralph Kramden had Alice

Biblically

  • Moses had Aaron
  • Jesus had Peter, James, and John
  • Paul had Barnabas, Timothy, and Titus

Those special servants are more than assistants, coworkers, or employees. They are passionate, gifted, and have skill sets that make the difference between success and failure. Yet, they are not in the spot light and often go unrecognized for their vital contribution.

In My Ministry

I’m the Senior Minster for my congregation. I serve as Chief of Staff and am accountable to our Elder Board for our Minsters, Administrative Team, and for the general vision, growth, and development of our church. Some of that is easily done and some is highly difficult and demanding.

I  couldn’t do it alone if my life depended on it. There are talented and dedicated people taking care of numerous ministries and important tasks. The Lone Ranger may have been the only Ranger, but he still had Tonto and Tonto made all the difference.

A Special Person

Our church has someone who daily makes a huge contribution to our success. She’s our Executive Minister and this year is her twentieth-year at Southeast.

A Few Thoughts

  • She oversees all financials
  • Manages the Admin team
  • Manages everything related to human resource
  • Serves as sounding board and wise counselor
  • Was project manager for the relocation of our church
  • Was project manager for our new Worship Center
  • And so much more

I couldn’t do my job if she wasn’t doing hers. Frankly, she works harder, and longer, and routinely sacrifices more than I do.

She is the constant presence, the steadfast anchor, and the beating heart of our office and church administration.

To Close

This morning, in each service, we’ll take a moment to appreciate her twenty-years of service to God and to our church.

debbie
Our Executive Minister, Anchor, and Servant!

Thank you, Debbie. You are the best, and keep us looking better than we are.

God Bless You!

The Nourishing Green Things

I’m not typically a grower of green things, but I’m trying.

The Green Things

I have two large pots of Gelsemium Sempervirens, AKA Carolina Jessamine, or just Jasmine. They produce little yellow flowers that give off a wonderful scent and an aroma that fills the air, and they are beautiful to look at.

Benefits of Green Things

  1. The Environment: Plants improve air quality.
  2. Economic: Landscaping can add 15-20% to a home’s value.
  3. Health: Studies show that people who interact with plants live longer.

All true, but I didn’t plant the Jasmine for those reasons. I planted them to help create a tranquil and beautiful, sanctuary of peace.

Sanctuary?

My home has an atrium in the center of the house. There are 14 floor to ceiling windows. From almost any place you can see into the atrium.

When we bought the house, the atrium was wildly overgrown, had a smelly pond, and a broken water feature. It was trashy, muddy, and unusable. But I had a vision.

 I took out everything, lowered the floor by 8″ and put down 2800 pounds of sand and 150 pavers at 22 pounds a piece. I filled the open areas with 2500 pounds of rainbow gravel. Then added the table and chairs, a fire pit, a water feature, and hung candle lanterns. It took me six months. It’s beautiful. 

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The Spiritual Side

Jesus our Messiah said,

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing,” (John 15:5).

Jesus enjoyed green things: grape vineyards, olive orchards, fig trees, wheat fields, and told parables about plants and fruit. He often used agrarian references to describe his connection to his followers, like the grapevine.

To Close

My atrium is my sanctuary. Most of my blogs are written there. Much of the book I’m writing is written there. But mostly, I just enjoy the quiet, peaceful environment; the sound of the water, the flames at night, and the lovely sense of tranquility. 

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The green things give it life, and nourish my soul.  

Shalom

The Best of Us

Monday mornings I meet with our ministers for bible study and prayer.

Yesterday

I asked them to think of someone they wanted to pray about. Then we went around the table so each could offer a prayer for the one on their hearts.

Who they prayed about:

  1. A member who was close to death.
  2. Two-year-old twin boys with cancer.
  3. A member struggling with debilitating depression.
  4. Kids going to Jr. High & the challenges they’ll face.
  5. Concern for members who are disconnected, lonely, hurting.
  6. High School seniors about to graduate.
  7. A young man scheduled to deploy to the middle east.

As each prayed, I found myself giving thanks for them. They help so many, in so many ways, and strive to do more. They are my friends and I’m honored to work with them.

I gave thanks for the support they provide, the teaching they give, and the service they offer. I thought about their own challenges and struggles, and what it costs them to remain connected with so many. I imagined the needs that would go unmet and the people who would fall through the cracks if they weren’t doing what they do. 

As Senior Minister, I try to encourage and guide them, but often, they encourage and guide me. It’s humbling hearing them pray, they pray deeply and from the heart.

We’re Not Huge

Our congregation isn’t huge, at least not by Texas standards. We have 1145 active members representing 450 families. We’re no mega church, but still, it’s a lot of people.

Thing About It

The average 200-member congregation has a preacher, a youth minister, and an administrative person. That’s three employees for 200 members. How many does a church of 1145 need? You can do the math. 

To Close

For every hospital visit. For every child, teenager, and adult who is served. For every infant, toddler, and preschooler who is nurtured. For every worship service of praise. For all the retreats, camps, groups, and events. For ministries, big and small. For the homeless people fed and the homeless families sheltered. For all of it, I thank God for the ministers, staff, and volunteers who lead, serve, and produce it all.

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It takes dedicated servants to care for the sacred community of believers.

They are the best of us.

Turtles, Ducks, and Meekness

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The Turtles
Last week I blogged about some turtles, Folksy Phrases About Turtles, that had gathered in the brook that runs through our neighborhood. My wife and I took a Saturday evening stroll and to our surprise, the turtles were still there.

But they weren’t alone.

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The Ducks

When we got to the turtles, there was a young family standing on the bridge feeding them. The kids tossed small chunks of bread into the water. The turtles liked it.

So did the ducks.

They were large ducks. When they saw the bread, they quickly went over, pushed their way in, and ate every piece of bread. They were aggressive and selfish.

The turtles were shut out.

“The meek shall inherit the earth.” It’s true. But yesterday evening, the meek went hungry. It was more like, “Blessed are the takers, for they will eat first.”

Meekness?

Actually, the ducks weren’t meek, they were timid and shy. Meekness isn’t weakness, it’s not timidity, but having power under control. Meek people have humility, they are disciplined and selfless. They don’t push. They are considerate even though they can take whatever they want. They choose not to.

Some Meek Ones

Jesus was meek, but not King Herod. David was meek, but not Goliath.

Paul was meek. He asked his friend Philemon to be gentle regarding his run-away slave. For Paul was sending Onesimus back to Philemon to face the consequences. He had run off as a disobedient slave. He went back as a brother in Christ.

How would Philemon respond? He had every right to punish Onesimus. But would he? Paul used meekness, appealing to him on the basis of  love. He asked Philemon to take Onesimus back, but not as a slave, but as a forgiven brother.

To Close

Meekness isn’t weakness. It takes great strength to be meek. Anyone can be angry, punitive, and vengeful. Meekness is a quality flowing out of the heart of God.

At the core of all mercy, grace, and forgiveness, is a heart of meekness.

Shalom