Thursday, August 04, 2016


Robert Frost began a poem about devotion with these words:

The heart can think of no devotion
Greater than being shore to the ocean. 

I read these words while my father and I camped out together between my graduation from college and my wedding day. As we set on the shore of Red Hills Lake in East Texas, I thought maybe Robert Frost was right. Shores lay stuck to oceans,

Holding the curve of one position
Counting an endless repetition.

This endless repetition surely had to be the clearest picture of devotion. 

Then it hit me I was about to get married.

Padre Island National Seashore
Shores have no choice in their devotion. They are cemented to their ocean partner without the freedom to leave the relationship. Oceans, too, hopelessly pound their boundaries with no other options. A greater devotion, I thought, had to be having the choice not to be devoted to someone but dedicating yourself to that one person with all the other options still out there. Surely marriage was a better picture of devotion than "being shore to the ocean."

Some years later, Frost's poem came to mind as I meditated on Jesus' prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. The Son of God, with all that was at his disposal to escape death and suffering at the hands of those he had created, prayed:

If this is what you want for me,
may your will be done, not mine.

Jesus had a literal universe of options not to go through with the Father's plans for his death. He had the freedom not to devote himself to His Father's will. But with sweat drops of blood on his brow, he submitted his life to death on a cross as a "ransom for many."

Robert Frost nor I had thought of the ultimate image of devotion. Everything in human experience pales in comparison to Jesus' devotion to the Father's will. Maybe the poem should read:

The heart can think of no devotion
Greater than Christ to the Father's Notion.

I'm not a poet, so don't judge me on the verse. However, if you ever wonder what the ultimate expression of devotion looks like, look to Jesus' devotion to God's Plan for his life. 

Read Matthew 26:36-46 to recall Jesus' devotion to the Father.

What other examples might you have for the meaning of devotion?

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Four Lessons from My Tough Mudder Experience

A little over a year ago I completed my first and only Tough Mudder event. On May 2, 2015, I joined 14 other members of the Dirty Dozen team led by Paul Wilson, TM vet and Pastor. Paul's and my friend, Doug Miller, chided me to join the team and to get dirty. 

I like a challenge, and I had never attempted one of the muddy obstacle events like Tough Mudder or Spartan Race or Battlefrog. So, I signed up and began to train with the Plano contingent. You can watch videos of the events (ours was a 10.2-mile-18-military-style-obstacles course), so I won't bore you with my wordy descriptions. I want to tell you four lessons I learned from the event that stick with me a year later. (They also continue to apply to every obstacle-filled effort I seek to do.)

1. Teamwork is the only way to accomplish anything outside your own capabilities. I can run and cycle a long way for my age, but I am a weakling in my upper body. Without the help of multiple team members I would have stood helplessly below several obstacles.  When I came to the others outside my capacity I just dropped in the muddy water.

2. Humility comes from reaching your limits. Most of us want to be humble but we don't want to go through the things that make us humble. I have never met anyone who was naturally humble. It's a characteristic chiseled into us by experience and God's Spirit. Until you attempt something you cannot do you will never know how far you can go.  

3. Accountability gets you where you want to go. The Plano contingent began training twice a week in January for the May event. Knowing someone was waiting for me to complete the TM training regimen that day got me dressed and on my way to join them. I don't have a team now, and I train at my leisure. That's not good. 

4. Pain is bearable when it is a byproduct of reaching your goal. The last obstacle is a shocking 10,000-volts surging through wires as you run, crawl, or dive through a mud pit. You are tired, wet, and you are caked in mud, but you lock arms, duck your head and run anyway. The electricity straightens you up  when it hits you, but when you stumble out the other side, it's all okay. 

I most likely-99% sure-I won't do another one of these mud-obstacle events, but I will continue to apply what I learned through that event all the time.

Find a team of friends for whatever your challenge may be and enjoy the adventure!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Church Around the Table

Church Around The Table
One weekend our LifeGroup gathered at the lake house that belonged to one of the members. Not everyone in the group could make it, and it was winter, but water sports and 100% attendance were not our goals.

We just wanted to be together.

Sunday morning we gathered around the table for breakfast. We enjoyed the cooking of our hosts and the warmth of the fireplace on a cold January morning. All the surface talk had been used up in the time we already had together walking, playing table games and watching football. Our guards were down, and we were relaxed to be ourselves.

My wife jumped into some story about our grandchildren and told of a podcast she liked where the host always ended her episode by asking her guests, "What are three things that make you happy now." She thought that would be fun for us to do. (Being an introvert married to an extrovert I have come to expect these conversational invasions into free-flowing conversations I can sit back and enjoy without participating.) The group accepted her idea, and she began telling her three happy things

The rest of the breakfast club shared. Someone said, "This makes me happy!" opening her arms as if to embrace the entire group. We agreed. Someone else mentioned their grandchildren, and another mentioned the beauty of the day and setting of the retreat. We laughed and told stories for about an hour. It was a truly happy time.

We had talked about having a time of worship or devotion that morning. It was Sunday after all, and we were brought together through our shared experience of worship on Sunday mornings. I had been reading and meditating on biblical passages about anxiety. It was my turn to re-direct the flow of conversation. I asked, "What are three things that make you anxious now?" A sort of downer, but as Joy learned in the film Inside Out, Sadness, like anxiety, completes our full range of emotions and are necessary for a full life. Anxieties are also issues we can confess to one another, receive prayer and encouragement and trust to the Lord. Without anxiety what's the point of faith and happiness?

We spoke of our anxiety over our jobs, our finances, our children and their children, the frightening world in which we live, and our illnesses. We were not maudlin about it all, but we spoke in sober tones of things like these that challenge our trust in God and drain us emotionally. Another hour had passed. When everyone had shared, I read without comment Matthew 6:25-34, the Word of the Lord. 

We then prayed for each other, got up to clean off the table and returned to our leisure activities. We had just been the church! Church around the table. Like the biblical images of church as home and family we read about, we ate, confessed, encouraged one another, and heard the Word of the Lord for our lives. I thought of my brothers and sisters in Christ in Vietnam, for example, who gather to eat, share their joys and hurts and pray for one another in a member's home.

Church as family. Church is sometimes around the table. Church around the table will take some time, intentional effort, and planning, but give it a try. You may find church is more real than you ever dreamed.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Conversation with Robert Sterling

A Conversation with Hillsong United- Part 2

I recently had an online conversation with Robert Sterling, choral composer, producer, Dove Award Winner (six, if you are counting), and friend. 

We mused over the nature of worship music in the church these days. I came at the topic from that of a Pastor/Theologian. He approached it from a composer/practitioner. 

We pretty much offend everyone, so don't be upset if we talk about your preferred style of musical worship. We were just being honest about what we believe.

Thanks for reading.

Join in the conversation. 

Here's the Conversation. Enjoy.

Robert and me at my Inauguration. Photo bomb by Chris Machen

Friday, April 18, 2014

Eagle Rock Loop, AR

Our first water crossing
On April 4-6 of this year, three friends and I hiked the 28.6-mile  Eagle Rock Loop Trail in Arkansas. I had heard of the trail from my trail running community, NTTR, and we needed some training and outdoor fun as part of our preparation for our big summer adventure. (More about that at another time.) 

This was my second AR adventure in the past four months, (See the Ouachita Switchbacks report.) and I am liking the closeness and variety the AR trails offer.

None of us had hiked tails with water crossings before, and what we had read about the rising levels of the Little Missouri River and its tributaries made us a little nervous about the hike. (The Albert Pike Rec. Area deaths were due to quickly rising waters.) The weather cooperated mostly, and none of the crossings were unmanageable or dangerous.

Jon, Jim and Amy
We parked at the Winding Stairs parking lot and headed counterclockwise on the Loop. We started about 5:30 p.m. and hiked a couple of hours before we set up camp along the trail next to the river. Although it was April, the temperature dropped into the high 30s that evening. This made conditions perfect for an open fire and sleeping bags.

Our imagination had us deep in the forest away from any forms of civilization. However, about 9:00 p.m. a truck drove down a road on the other side of the river with its high beams on. Oh well, at least we were not far from help if we needed it. (About 2:00 a.m. ATVs buzzed through to wake some of us. Danged motorized outdoor vehicles.)

Camp site #1
The next morning, Saturday, we cooked breakfast and coffee, packed up and were on the trail by 8:00. This would be the flatter side of the Loop, and we made great time, covering about 18 miles total for the day.

A smaller water crossing
The trails were well marked with white blazes on what seemed like on every other tree. 

The trails were packed, and one can trek them in hiking boots or trail running shoes. 

The skies stayed cloudy, and we were not affected by the wind down in the trees and riverbeds. A highlight of the day was the Little Missouri Falls. We saw more people here than anywhere else on the trail. We took a lunch break here and decided it would be a great place to cool down in the summer.

Little Missouri Falls
We encountered more water crossings as the day went on but those gave us breaks and time to enjoy the outdoors. The cold water provided built-in ice water treatment for sore muscles. I was surprised at the winter-like conditions. Things were much greener in Plano than here this time of year.

A balancing act to cross some creeks

Camp #2

We finished up our day setting up in a well-worn campsite that was on the other side of a shoes-off water crossing. We filled our bottles with filtered river water (of which there is plenty during the hike), ate our freeze-dried delicacies, and turned in early.

Sunday morning rain gear
We rose early Sunday morning and packed up before it started a steady rain that would not let up all day long. We recited the Lord's Prayer and said a prayer of thanksgiving for our experience and beauty of nature. My favorite place to worship is Creation, and I will always be grateful for the opportunities I get to be in it and share it with friends.

This was the side of the Loop with the most climbs and steepest portions of the trail. It also had the longer water crossings. We met a couple of groups of climbers going the opposite direction who warned us of each ascent ahead of us.

Little Missouri River crossing

As with most hikes or runs, the closer you get to the end, the longer the distance seems to become. We thought we were done when we got to the actual Winding Stairs Trail, but ended up hiking what seemed another day or two. We were wet, sore, and tired, and it continued to rain. The climbs were tough, but the views were worth it. 

One of the deeper crossings

Eagle Rock Vista
We reached our car about 1:30 that afternoon, changed into dry, warm clothes, and stuffed our wet packs and shoes in the car. It rained on us the four and a half hour drive home, but the memories and Tex-Mex dinner in Mt. Pleasant made it all bearable.

I highly recommend this trail. You can do the whole loop in a day if you are in shape, two like we did, or take longer or do portions of the trail. You will find every kind of terrain, and the water crossings make for variety and challenge. Give it a try!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Noah, The Movie

My wife and I saw the new Noah film last night with another couple. We went out of curiosity and to be able to dialogue about the film based on an important story in the Bible.

My conclusion: the Mexican food meal prior to seeing the movie was the highlight of the evening.

Here's my review.
  • It's Hollywood. What did we expect? Darren Aronofsky directed Black Swan. Who would be surprised at what he came up with?
  • The previews before the Feature were all science fiction selections. That should have been a clue, too.
  • Only the four names of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, an ark and a flood were true to the biblical story. 
  • The storyline was to restore creation which had been damaged by evil men by vegetarian chosen ones who build a vessel to start creation over again rather than to restore a sin-broken relationship between God and people--which is a much more significant story to be told. 
  • While told repeatedly, I was never sure of the importance of the Adam and Eve story to the overall story.
  • The director's efforts to deal with the human condition and values such as justice, love, mercy, and judgment were poorly portrayed in typically contrived dilemmas, and it reflected nothing of the biblical covenant relationship between God and Noah from which those concepts arise. 
  • The Transformer-like Watchers and Iron Art in the desert threw my mind into a tailspin. I could not sync those with the ancient setting of the story. 
  • Where did they find those designer clothes and backpacking equipment like the tightly fitting backpacks and saw-edged, steel knife of Noah?
  • The solution to thousands of animals, reptiles, and birds living together in closed quarters was magic--as in hocus-pocus. It was ingenious, but the reality train had left the station long before that scene.
  • I felt at the end of the film like I did after watching the 1973 film Jesus Christ Superstar, confused at a poorly told story and not sure why they even made the film. 
  • I am at least pleased so many films built around faith are being made. This "the Bible sells" mentality gives those of us who know the real story to tell it.
Bottom line: This was a bad science fiction flick that I pray if someone who knows nothing of the biblical story sees the film and says, "Really?" and goes home, finds the Bible his mother gave him in elementary school and reads Genesis, Chapters 5 through 10.

Monday, March 03, 2014

My Inauguration at B. H. Carroll

On Friday evening, February 28, I was inaugurated as the second President of B. H. Carroll Theological Institute. Even as I type the sentence it does not seem real. Those sorts of things are for people who excel in their profession and have a string of accomplishments that those in the organization honor and want in those who lead them. I have neither of those things, but here I am: humbled, thrilled, strangely confident, and certain I am where God wants me for this season of growth for the Institute and for my life.

While I hold the academic credentials for the position, my time of service has been spent in the trenches of local church ministry not in an institution of higher learning. Those two realities may appear disconnected for most who would serve as a President of a seminary like I do, but for Carroll Institute, they are a perfect fit.

Let me explain. Carroll Institute is not a typical model of seminary training. Actually, my academic training and my pastoral/teaching ministry while at Legacy Church, Plano, TX are exactly the credentials necessary to embody the vision of the Institute. 

See, at Carroll we want to return theological training back to the local church where such training began. Our classrooms are not located on a campus somewhere to which faculty and students must pull up stakes of family and ministry move to that place in order to be trained. Local churches, our Teaching Churches like Legacy Church, are our classrooms and partners in ministry.

We also want to elevate the value of the Pastor as Scholar and Teacher, a model which has been devalued in some circles with the rise of such models as Pastor as CEO and Pastor as Entrepreneur. My Ph.D. in New Testament studies, while not valued by all with whom I served, provided a discipline and depth of learning that I could pass on to those who desired to be trained at a certificate, diploma, masters or doctoral level. Our Resident Fellows are mostly local church servant leaders who hold accredited, academic credentials and who equip those on ministry with them.

We also believe that theological training is most effective when it is "both biblically based and praxis oriented." I believe this is best done by a appropriately credentialed teacher who is actively involved in local church ministry. Academic excellence and effective ministry practice are essential to train church leaders in the intricacies of ministry in the 21st Century. As Carroll, we do this where those we teach live, learn, serve, and play.

These all are values I embraced as a Resident Fellow and as a Governor while serving as Senior Pastor of Legacy. So, the apparent abyss between my local church ministry and my new ministry with Carroll is not as deep and wide as it may seem when aligned with the vision and values of Carroll.

Machens, Sterlings, Kim and me
The evening was filled with significance and meaning for me. Everyone who participated in the program were friends or co-laborers with Christ. When Dr. Leach, our Chairman of the Board of Governors, installed me and I knelt while he and the Senior Fellows placed their hands on me and Henry Webb, the LifeWay editor who asked me to write Jesus On Leadership, prayed a prayer of dedication, I could think of very few more meaningful and Spirit-filled moments in my life

The music led by Bruce and Nancy Muskrat, co-laborers at Carroll, James Worsham, Legacy's Worship Leader, Robert Sterling, a friend from FBC, Richardson days, and Chris and Diane Machen, friends from youth ministry and Baylor days, moved those they led and me deeply. Joan Trew has been a supporter of Carroll and a Governor since our inception. Dr. Daniel Tran is a partner in our work in Vietnam. Ben McPhaull is a DMin. candidate who shared a seminar with me, and I have served twice in Cuba with Dr. Adlin Cotto and her husband, Robert. 

With my parents, family, friends, fellow Carroll staff and Fellows in the congregation I was blown away with the honor they bestowed upon me. Thank you all for your love, prayers, and support.

I am indebted to Dr. Bruce Corley, our first President and my Ph.D. supervisor at SWBTS, and the Senior Fellows and Board of Governors who believed I could do this. 

So, now that the formalities are out of the way, let's GROW!

Click on this link to the service if you would like to view it.  You can download the Program here.