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.

Monday, February 03, 2014

4 Ways God Can Develop Character in Your Heart

Get a copy here
Norman Blackaby and I consider character a matter of the heart. This is why we wrote, Character: The Pulse of a Disciple's Heart. Here's our premise:
Biblically, character is defined by the quality of our intimate relationship with God. In our relationship with God we find our moral compass, calling and spiritual strength to live in an intimate relationship with Him and to complete what God has called us to do. (19)
Character is God's working in our lives to mold us into the image of his Son in order for us to be God's blessing to those around us. Our behavior--public or private--grows out of our relationship with God. The more intimate our relationship with God, the more we think and ultimately act like Jesus. The less connected we are to God's Spirit and Word, the more we live life on our own terms, and our resulting actions reflect more our natural desires and impulses than those of our Rescuer and Leader, Jesus, the Christ.

Character matters because who we are in our hearts is truly who we are before God and others. Spin machines, image control, and acting the part can hide our true character for a time, but in the end who we are before God is who we really are. God desires to mold your character and reflect His purposes and values in your daily life. This is why we provided the biblical case studies in the book as examples of how God molds and uses character in people's lives in order to participate in His plans of reconciliation. 

So, how does God mold character? How can you prepare your heart for the work of God?
While God is the one who develops our character, we are responsible to place ourselves in a position for Him to do so. (229)
Here are four ways God can develop Character in your Heart. 
  1. Spend time with God in His Word. You cannot not have godly character without knowing God. The Bible which reveals his Son and his ways puts you in a place for God to transform your character. If you don't have a reading plan to read the Bible, here are some
  2. Spend time in God's Creation. God created a good creation. Get outside the manufactured environments we have made and get into the place God designed for you and me to live and thrive. Sit in a park. Walk in your neighborhood. Make a trip to a wilderness area. Listen. Be quiet. Hear the voice of God. The Spirit will reveal your true heart to you. Then you can begin to allow God to mold your character. 
  3. Spend time serving the needs of others. We are naturally ego lovers. Service to another in need who can't pay you back or return the favor tests the level of God-like love in our hearts. Godly character is built upon the love and grace we have received from God. Service in the name of Jesus molds our character to be like the One who served us.
  4. Spend time with fellow followers. The New Testament is filled with instructions for us to meet together, to bear one another’s burdens, to pray together, and to serve together in Jesus’ name. (231) Why? We can't change ourselves. We need others, including the Holy Spirit, to help us become what God has called us to become in Christ Jesus. 
What does your relationship with God look like? What are you doing to put yourself in places where God can expose and change your true character?

Monday, January 20, 2014

My Ouachita Switchbacks 25K Report

Jason, Amy, Mikey, Ginger, and me at the finish line
The alarm went of at 2:45 a.m. Saturday morning. Within the hour I joined Amy Nash, Ginger Becker, and Mikey Whittiker in Jason Smith's FJ Cruiser. We were headed to the intersection of Highways 59 and 259 in Eastern OK for the second running of the Ouachita Switchbacks 25K and 50K

Jason had seen the Facebook post by Tommy Brenan, the race director and founder, on Tuesday, and the three of us had taken the bait for a no-training, why-the-heck-not, it's-a-trail-run, adventure.

The 4-hour drive to the Pushabee Trailhead near Big Cedar, OK, was filled with getting acquainted, two pit stops, and keeping everyone awake. "Sleep deprivation is part of ultrarunning" is one of my mantras so no one napped. We watched the sun and temperature rise to about 30 degrees when we turned off the highway and parked our car at a campsite to begin our trek through the Ouachita National Forest.

One of the reasons I love trail running is the people who run on trails. Trailrunners and trail running events are laid back. Tommy Brenan and his race exemplify that spirit. Tommy said he put the race together because he ran these trails all the time and wanted his friends to run it with him. So, in the spirit of a bunch of friends meeting up on a Saturday to run in the woods he put the race together. We signed in on a spiral notebook, got our bib numbers (that didn't all match) and picked up our hoodies (pretty cool ones at that). We then went to the car, geared up, and returned to huddle with the other fifty or so 25K starters in time for Tommy to shout, "Okay, go!" And, we were off.

The trail is a narrow, single track, rock strewn trail that wound through trees, along and through streams. Winter had set in completely so there were no leaves on the trees; they were all on the trails, which made for uncertain footing and holes that were hidden from your view. 

The race blog described the trail this way:
"This is a very tough and arduous course...The course is very technical single track with substantial elevation gain.  The 25K has 2982 feet of elevation gain." 
We were warned...  

Ginger and Amy on rock slide

We ran along a river and crossed several streams that required only one or two steps on rocks to get across. One crossing, however, demanded we wade through the water. It was shin-high and winter-cold, but the temperature helped swelling feet to feel great--both out and back!

The greatest challenge was the 33 switchbacks that rose to the turn-around at the top of Winding Stairs Mountain. These came at about mile 7, so you were pretty worn down and still had to make the ascent, descend the switchbacks, and return the over 8 miles back to the start/finish line. It was along that trail though that we had the most scenic views of the area.

View from Winding Stair Trail

This was one of the most difficult yet rewarding trail runs I have completed. Multiple types of terrain and views kept my head in the game. Monotony was never an option. The 17 to 18 mile course challenged us in every way, but I loved every step along the way. I forgot to mention the weather: It was ideal...except for the wind when you got to the ridges and peak. As long as we were in the troughs and trees, we were warm. Get up on the heights and the cap and gloves came back on. Again, no monotony on this run!

Tommy Brenan and the volunteers were fabulous hosts. The aid stations were well placed and well stocked with the kindest folks to serve us as we paused in our pain and ecstasy to refuel and rehydrate.

You can find our finishing times on the facebook site. I came out on top of the bottom half, which is where I usually finish. Jason burned up the course despite his bloodied knee. Amy, Ginger, and Mikey finished strong, and waited patiently eating hot potato soup until I showed up. 

I highly recommend you plan to participate in next year's run. It will be worth the trip and soreness the day after.

Next run? Cross Timbers Half Marathon on Feb. 15. Join us!

(Pictures came from various runners who posted on the facebook event site. Thank you if you recognize your photo.)

Monday, January 06, 2014

6 Rules of Transition, 4-6

Atop Camelback Mtn. in Phoenix
Realizing a goal involves moving from where you are to where you want to be or become. That's obvious but it's not easy. To say, "I want to climb that hill," and you have never walked to the end of your street means you have a lot of work to do before you make the top. Pick any one of your goals you have set for yourself or ministry this year and if you take any time for reflection or planning, you will see what is involved it getting from here to there. 

Reaching a goal includes transitions; those bridges of actions that carry you from one point of reality to the next. The effectiveness of these crossings will determine your success toward reaching your goal.

I offered the first 3 Rules of Transition I have learned by leading people from a favored status quo to a preferred future in my first post, 6 Rules of Transition, 1-3. I want to offer you the next three in this post.

  1.  Transition involves as series of conflicts which will lead to defining moments. Conflict is the vocabulary of change. Any person, ministry or organization who decides to realize God's mission call on their lives must be prepared for conflict. This does not mean putting on a flak jacket and hunkering down for a war. It demands picking up a towel and washbasin and serving those on mission with. But, when the conflict created by moving from the status quo down the road to God's future for you, some conflicts will emerge as defining moments that clarify the movement for those involved. Jesus used conflict among his core group to define great leadership in his movement. (Mark 10:41-45) Paul embraced his conflict with the church in Corinth to define the true nature of comfort and partnership in ministry. (2 Cor. 7:5-12) Servant leaders allow conflict in transition to become defining moments for the movement.
  2. Transition is best led by a servant leader who has made himself or herself servant to the mission and leads by serving those on mission with him or her. When the mission is the focus of the work of transition, then the group can find unity in the middle of their differences. When the issue is not the personal preference of the leader or those being lead, then how to accomplish the mission best becomes the topic of movement. When servant leaders keep their efforts on accomplishing God's mission call on the group, then trust rather than suspicion is built among the followers. Jesus was solely about his mission to seek and to save those who were lost, (Luke 19:10) and his ministry was about that and that alone. Conflict arose by completing that mission, but his goal was to please his Father in Heaven, not please or placate those who interacted with him. 
  3. Transition is fluid and must adapt to the dynamics of people and circumstances. Paul's path from Antioch to Rome was not a straight line. We too often attend the work of the leader and his or her plans to execute change, but those they lead and the circumstances that happen outside the control of the leader impact transition too. Ask Moses as he led the Children of Israel from Egypt to the Promised Land. Transitions are journeys of faith that seldom follow the path of the original plan. Be prepared to encounter twists and turns that will deepen not only your trust in God but lead you to a place you did not even see when you started.
Much more can be and has been written about transitioning in ministry and work. Keep your own notes about your journey, and you will find how God works when he calls a leader to pursue the future revealed to him.

What are some of your lessons learned from leading through transitions?