Monday, October 31, 2011

Go Out There and Fail!

            John Wooden retired because he won too many championships. Let me explain.
            At the close of his career, John Wooden’s success changed the way people treated him. He had won a number of NCAA championships (ultimately: ten in twelve years); consequently, Wooden felt that people were treating him in a way that was unnatural. His life was growing increasingly out of balance, so he retired.
            People were not designed to win all of the time. Life is about the journey—the pursuit. The Texas Rangers’ loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series reminded me of this.
            Some people refer to Cardinal manager, Tony La Russa, as the greatest of all time. However, La Russa has won only three championships in 33 years. That is less than one a decade.
            Duke Men’s basketball coach, Mike Krzyzewski, has four National Championships—an average of a little over one a decade since he has been coaching. Moreover, he traveled to four Final Fours before Duke finally won a championship.
            Dean Smith, for a few years the winningest college basketball coach of all time, won only two championships in over 35 years of coaching.
            The great Tom Landry won only two titles in 29 years as the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. Winning championships is hard.
            Fortunately, none of these leaders got discouraged and quit. From them, I (and I hope the Rangers) have been reminded that the more pain and failure you can tolerate, the better chance you have to win a championship.
            Right now, on some level, I’m sure it is easy for the Texas Rangers to feel this way: “We got so close. It hurts so much to lose. I don’t ever want to put myself in that position again.” If they do, they will not have to worry; they will lose.
            I feel this principle of tolerating pain and failure for future rewards… transcends other fields. It applies to business, teaching, and church work. Bottom line—the cliché is true: the journey is more important than the destination. Isn’t this what Hebrews eleven is about?
            Years after his retirement, John Wooden would write, “… for those many coaches, whom I respect … I would wish each one national championship…. For those few coaches for whom I have less-than-warm feelings, my wish would be that they would win many national championships. However… I’m not sure I would wish that on anybody.”
            There is a famous line in the movie A FEW GOOD MEN—“You can’t handle the truth!” Insert the word "success" for "truth." We can’t handle constant success. We NEED failure.
            So let’s all go out there and fail—and relax when we do.

Five Things I Think I Think (with a nod to Peter King for this idea)
1. Congratulations ETCA girls’ volleyball. You are going to state! Speaking of waiting patiently and enjoying the journey, Diann Preston, enjoy the fruit of your years of labor.
2. Okay, so I blew my prediction the Rangers would win in six games. Still, it was an entertaining series.
3. Weird, with the Rangers playing in the World Series the last two years, seems like October is consumed by baseball. Now what?
4. At least we still have the Cowboys. (Guffaw. Guffaw.)
5. Parental pride: Abby Edge, you did a great acting job, subtly registering the non-verbal facial expressions on the video for our church. Well done.

Monday, October 24, 2011

National Treasure

            I was reading LEADERSHIP JOURNAL a while back, when I encountered a story that moved me deeply.
            Back in 1944, James Hampton, “a quiet, virtually unknown janitor” from Washington, D.C, began to search for items discarded by people. He collected anything from old furniture to kitchen foil, from coke bottles to cardboard—anything he could find.
            He was moved by a verse in the Bible—Prov. 29:18: “Where there is no vision the people perish.” James Hampton believed that people should have a vision of the glory of God, so, using his collection of abandoned materials, he set to work creating an artistic work portraying the throne room of God.
            Using glue, tape, tacks and pins, James precariously fitted together his articles of art. James worked on his project for twenty years, and then he died; he had not told a soul about his endeavor.
            Perhaps he decided his project should be for God’s eyes, and God’s eyes only. It may be James thought his work was not very good. Maybe, in time, he thought to himself, “I’m a janitor. Who am I kidding? Who would ever want to see my work?”
            After his death, someone found James Hampton’s artwork in his garage. Today, all 180 pieces of James’ work reflecting the throne room of heaven is prominently displayed near the entrance… of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Art.
            James Hampton’s composition is now considered a national treasure.
            When I read that story, it brought tears to my eyes. Here is a man, who labored on a work he believed no one would see.
            Millions did.
            It inspires me to hope.
            All of us will die having done work we believe is beneath God’s standards, or incomplete. Yet, we can die hoping God will take that work and bless lives with it, bringing glory to Himself.
            And why not hope? Millions of people have entered a museum, some surely expecting to see neutral works of art, only to be transported into the throne room of God.

           Five Things I Think I Think (with a nod to Peter King for this idea)
1. What a series! First, the Rangers became the third team to come from behind and win a World Series game after trailing 1-0 in the ninth inning. They did so against a closer, who only allowed one hit (and base runner) for the past month.
            Then, Saturday night, Albert Pujols became the third player in MLB history to hit three home runs in one World Series game.
            As of this writing, the series is tied 2-2. Why not stick to my original prognostication—the Rangers in six games?
2. I had a great trip to Miami over the weekend. Joining me was my sermon-visual go-to-guy, Travis Gilbreath. We traveled to take a closer look at Dr. Rick Blackwood’s preaching ministry and the evangelistic work of his church. Rick is the author of The Power of Multisensory Preaching and Teaching: Increase Attention, Comprehension, and Retention.
             I have written much about this book before; I consider it to be exceptional. Moreover, his church is made up of members from over seventy nations, spread over five campuses in the Miami area.
         Rick graciously hosted us in his home on Saturday. We also received an extensive tour of their Palmetto Bay campus and attended one of their worship services. I have never seen such a multi-cultural collection of church members in a worship assembly. We closed out our trip by meeting with Rick in his office after the worship service.
          I consider what Travis and I did akin to college football coaches traveling to another university to see what the staff does there. This can be invaluable for church leaders.
         I thank Rick and his staff for being so hospital to us. I left inspired and with many new ideas.
3. While on the plane, I read Rick’s book for the second time. I was blessed as much as I was the first time back in 2008.
4. Incidentally, some of you may be familiar with Eric Geiger. He joined Thom Rainer in writing the book SIMPLE CHURCH a few years ago. He was formerly on the staff at the Palmetto Bay campus, having left earlier this year.
5. Fun fact from our Miami trip—Travis Gilbreath and I got one of those HOTWIRE deals where we got a great hotel for the price of an inexpensive motel. Consequently, we stayed in the MIAMI AIRPORT HILTON, which hosted the Chicago Bears during the Super Bowl of 2007 as well as three other NFC teams in years past. One of those teams was the 1989 World Champion San Francisco 49ers. Just think, Joe Montana could have stayed in our room 22 years ago!

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Gift

            One of the most compelling stories I have ever heard comes from the experiences of Charles Swindoll. In his book ELIJAH, he writes about an experience he had many years ago when he visited a man in a Veteran’s hospital. The vet was a rather young man, who had unfortunately suffered a number of heart attacks.
            The man had a young son. On the day of his visit, Swindoll noted that this father had made a little wooden truck during his hospital stay for this young son.
            As was customary in those days, the boy was not allowed to go into the area of the hospital where his father was a patient. Consequently, a worker from the hospital brought the gift down to the child. The son was standing in front of the hospital with his mother.
            Out of the fifth floor window of his hospital room, the father watched his son unwrap the present. As the little boy opened the package, he became excited. Seeing the marvelous little truck, he embraced it, holding it close to his chest.
            The little son set the truck down and gave the hospital orderly a great big hug. He thanked him profusely for the gift. Meanwhile, standing behind the windowpane, the father began frantically waving his arms to get his son's attention. The son did not notice. The father cried out, “It's me, son. I made the truck for you. I gave that truck to you. Look up here!”
            Finally, the mother and the orderly were able to encourage the little boy to look up to the fifth floor window. At last, the son understood. Then he cried out, “Daddy! Oh, thank you! I miss you, daddy! Come home, daddy. Thank you for my truck.”
            In the end, the father experienced the joy of knowing his son had received his gift. Tears poured down his cheeks.
            As Swindoll so aptly asks, how often in life do we as God's children receive his gifts—food, friends, refreshment, relationships—and then we fall in love with the gifts, rather than the giver?
            He gives us wonderful wives, and we fall in love with them more than him. He gives us wonderful jobs, and we fall in love with the jobs more than him. Meanwhile, he stands at heaven’s window and cries out, “Look up here. I gave this to you!”
            What he yearns for is for us to say, “Oh, thank you Father! I want to be with you.”
            We know from what Jesus’ brother tells us in James (1:17) that God is the giver of good gifts. We may not know those gifts point toward him. He yearns for us to respond in gratitude and to enjoy a relationship with him.
Five Things I Think I Think (with a nod to Peter King for this idea)
1. Way to go Rangers! I feel good about their matchup with St. Louis and predict the Rangers win the World Series in six games.
2. This sounds strange, but Dallas’ loss to New England yesterday makes me feel BETTER about this team than their two wins. Dallas’ defense is much more powerful than I previously thought. Really, my only concern now is the offensive line. However, I think this team is going to win a playoff game come January.
3. I enjoyed having our first born in for Fall Break. It is easier to say goodbye the third time than the first (or second.) I think both family and Haleigh are adjusting to our new lives.
4. I took Haleigh and Abby to see the new Steve Martin/Jack Black/Owen Wilson movie, THE BIG YEAR, Friday. We went expecting to see a comedy about bird watching. It WAS funny—lots of times. Nevertheless, it was not a comedy. It was a movie addressing profound relationship themes within the midst of a humorous story line. This movie addressed friendship, marriage, parenthood, father/son relationships, romance, and the pursuit of a life to the exclusion of the above. I give this movie a big thumbs-up. Oh, by the way, I learned a lot about birds, too.
5. Friday, Travis Gilbreath and I depart for Miami for brief trip to study a church. More specifically, we’re observing the role the preaching ministry plays in a growing, multi-cultural church. The preacher’s name is Rick Blackwood. He wrote the book THE POWER OF MULTI-SENSORY PREACHING a few years ago. That is the book I bought all of our elders, staff, worship team, and sermon advisory group. I believe multi-sensory preaching is theological and biblical. I have been attempting to engage in it the past few years and am very pleased with where we are.
            I am taking this trip in lieu of a traditional minister’s conference. In addition to attending a worship service, I will be meeting with Rick, and Travis will be meeting with his counterpart. I would appreciate prayers for safe travel as well as personal and professional growth.  

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Oscars and Church

I saw a few weeks ago that Eddie Murphy has been asked to host the 2012 Oscars. Organizers hope that his presence will increase ratings. Earlier this year, Anne Hathaway and James Franco hosted the gala—an appeal to younger viewers.
            As we grow closer to the broadcast date, more articles will appear detailing the challenges that producers face increasing ratings. Typically, these challenges concern a dilemma: how do we reduce the length of time of the show vs. how do we attract more viewers.
            Every new idea increases the length of the broadcast. Unfortunately, the present broadcast is not drawing enough viewers, so what can be added to pique the attention of someone who would not normally watch the show?
            Newspaper and magazines will detail the internal debate: “Should we cut the choreography or add new dance numbers?”  “How do we get the award winners to reduce the time of their acceptance speeches?”  “What if we get Billy Crystal to host—he was fantastic back in the 90s?”
            Recently, it dawned on me. I have heard church members raise many of the same questions. Well, maybe not how many choreography numbers a church needs for its Sunday worship service, but addressing some of the same issues. Instead of “How can we increase the amount of viewers?”, the question in churches is, “How can we increase attendance?”
            Ideas will surface: “Let’s have a communion talk.”  “Let’s increase the number of songs we sing.”  “Let’s shorten the sermon.”  “Let’s have an elder wrap-up.”  “Let’s sing only contemporary songs.”…. Certainly, nothing is wrong with addressing the strategy of our public assemblies.  Actually, that is a good idea.
            I do find it interesting, though, that in The Academy Awards, the participants seem to buy-in fully to the experience. It is the spectators that appear to be difficult to attract.
            Hmm. I wonder if the same is true regarding our Sunday assemblies.
Five Things I Think I Think
(with a nod to Peter King for this idea)
1. I expected OU to win last week, but not by that much.
2. The Texas Rangers are up 1-0 in the ALCS. Why do I not rest easy? As I watch, the Rangers lead 2-0 in Game 2, and Derek Holland just walked the Detroit batboy.
3. Keith Dunnavant is a good writer—having written a marvelous biography of the great football coach, Bear Bryant. Now he’s come out with a new biography on Bart Starr. The book is called AMERICA’S QUARTERBACK: BART STARR AND THE RISE OF THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE. I’ve almost completed the first hundred pages. It’s a good book, which is saying something for a Dallas Cowboy fan. Bart Starr broke my heart in the 1960s.
4. I have a soft spot in my heart for the old classics. I’m taking today off to be with my three youngest kids (they’re out of school for Columbus Day.) One thing we did was watch ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN. The Wolfman was played by movie great, Lon Chaney. Celebrated actor Bela Lugosi portrayed Dracula. Of course, Abbott and Costello are legends in the movie business. We laughed a lot—a fun movie.
5. My oldest child arrives home, Lord willing, later this week for Fall Break. We all look forward to this visit.

Monday, October 3, 2011


            Have you ever seen the TV show GLEE? Well, I would not recommend it. There is too much in there that, as you would clearly see, I disagree with. However, I recognize that this show is extremely popular with high school kids. I realize this show is somewhat popular with college students.
            Millions paid attention when Chevrolet paid millions of dollars to produce and run a commercial with the cast of GLEE during the Super Bowl. Moreover, I take notice when a TV show takes the songs of my youth and makes them popular with my children's generation.
            GLEE is about misfits in high school who initially cannot find their place. Other students are mean to them–even cruel to them. And they somehow find themselves banding together in a singing club. Under the direction of a gifted director, these misfits use their talents to make beautiful music.
            GLEE asks a very important spiritual question, or better yet, expresses a very important spiritual wish. Wouldn't it be great if there were some way for misfits to join together and offer their abilities and skills to make beautiful music for the world to hear? And wouldn’t it be great if, through this process, despite their diverse backgrounds, somehow this group of misfits could find unity and, yes, even love?
            Guess what? God has the same dream too. He calls it--the church.
            The church is the place where God calls misfits from all over the world and empowers them to use their gifts to create beautiful music for the world to hear—to bless the world with the beauty of God’s love.
            I prefer to think of GLEE in this way:

           (This painting was done for a sermon by one of our college students, Calep Gonzalez. My iPhone photo does not know do Calep's work justice.)           
           Let the apostle John illustrate this in John 4. You have this woman at a well. She is an outcast. Jesus is with—what the Jews called—a sinner. She is a misfit. She comes to the well alone—even her Samaritan town has ostracized her.
            Jesus sits down with her. He begins talking with her. During this conversation, she begins to sense that this man is different. There is an insight that this man is real.
            When Jesus asks about her husband, she hedges a little bit. He responds with the truth: she has had six husbands, and the man she is now living is not her husband.           
            Now, she gets a glimpse of who Jesus is—God. As a result, she sees her own sin. Something is wrong here. She becomes very self-conscious. All she can think of is the need to sacrifice for her sins. Ultimately, Jesus points toward himself as the ultimate source of forgiveness for sins.
            At last, she begins to realize: "Here is a man, the Messiah, who sees me as I really am, and he still loves me."
            People yearn for that.
            So she goes and she expresses that she has found what everyone is looking for. Read John 4:29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?”
            People hear her message. Misfits from her village come to Jesus. And they ask Jesus to stay with them. They tell him, in essence, “Now we know the love of God, and we have a relationship with him.” It’s as if they are saying, “Stay. Be our director. Let us form a group using our gifts to provide beautiful music to the world.”
            Ultimately, they do. Jesus leaves, but, even though they're not fully Gentiles (they have Jewish blood in them too), they are, in part, our ancestors. It is because of groups like this that we have the church today. Today, we descendants are making beautiful music.
            Technically, none of us “fit” into God’s Kingdom. We are placed into this Kingdom by this same Messiah, who sat at the well. If you trust Him, he will transform you, little by little, to fit into His eternal Kingdom forever.
         God will gift you to sing your part—and direct you (along with the rest of us) to make beautiful music forever. We will bless the King, and we will bless the world, with our music.
         Just the thought of this gives me great glee.

Five Things I Think I Think (with a nod to Peter King for this idea)
1. What a blessing it was to see my daughter, Haleigh, at Harding University last week. It was neat too seeing many of our kids from Shiloh out there. I always enjoy visiting with college students. I would like to think that it keeps me young.
2. I really appreciate getting to stay with my old Argentine teammates, Bill and Holly Richardson, last week. Part of the fun of Lectureship is seeing old friends.
3. I want the Longhorns to beat OU this weekend. I expect OU to win, though.
4. Texas Rangers—nice run your on the last 17 ball games.
5. Haleigh took me to see MONEYBALL last week. It was a very good movie; so compelling that I went out and bought the book. I would like to find a stat nerd to compile the variables on the tens of thousands of unchurched people in Tyler. If we could exegete our culture well, we could reach more people by going where the fields are white unto harvest.