How do you gauge success?

Does being a Christian or being in ministry change that somehow?

I don’t know anybody who gets up in the morning and prays, “Oh God, make me a failure!”  But there have been many times when I and many others have used bad gauges to measure it.  Here are the three most common:

1.  Do I feel good?  Was the service pleasurable?  Do I feel encouraged, energized, healed or empowered?  Do I feel loved, important, or attended to?  Do I feel the pleasure of other people or God’s pleasure?

2.  Did I see something good?  In church world that is measured by the countable things like noses and dollars and building funds.  In the Christian business world, the same thing is true – it’s about profits and losses and tangible contributions to the community.

3.  Do I feel good about myself?  Do I feel affirmed?  Do I look good?  Did people tell me I performed well?  Did someone thank me or praise me or ask for my help?

So what’s wrong with any of that?

Absolutely nothing. [click to continue…]


In your Christian practice, do you find yourself drawn more toward law-based living or more to grace-based living?

Students in a class I teach deal with that discussion question.  I always look forward to their answers.  Nearly all of these students are pretty seasoned in their faith, so the overwhelmingly most popular answer is grace-based living.  After all, that’s the “correct” one, right?

Nobody ever gets misty-eyed in church singing, “Amazing Law, how sweet the sound…

There are, of course, some brave souls who cop to law-based living.  Some do it as an aw-shucks-pray-for-me kind of confession.  Some try to reframe the question.  “I prefer to think of it as obedience,” one student said recently.  I like that.

Others crawfish a little more and ask questions like, “Now what do you mean by that?”

See, nobody wants to admit they’re a legalist.  [click to continue…]


“I have something I’d like to discuss with you.”

Given my history with that kind of meeting request, I’m embarrassed to admit that my first instinct was to brace for bad news.  And given the fact that it came from my father-in-law, of all people, made me think I must really be in trouble.

What in the world could he possibly want?  What was so serious?  I started collecting a mental inventory of possibilities.  And in my head, started apologizing before I ever knew what the “something” was.

Turns out, apologies weren’t on the agenda.

Harlan Willis is one of the most tenderhearted, godliest men I know.  He has followed Christ since the age of 10, and committed himself to the Lord to become a medical missionary at the age of 15.  Both were profound experiences, and as a result, he invested a huge portion of his life to serving Christ and advancing the gospel in Thailand – and now for years in West Texas, where, at age 82 he is still practicing medicine and sharing Jesus.

But for years something has nagged him.  Bothered him since his teenage years.  That something has been the impression that he should be baptized.  Again.

And that’s what he wanted to talk to me about.  And he wanted me to do it.

Didn’t make sense.

For years he wondered if it was just the devil.

That didn’t make sense, either

But he couldn’t do it in Thailand!  What would the people there think?  What would the other missionaries think?

He couldn’t do it back in Texas.  What would the people in the church think?

This wasn’t a case of getting his baptism out of order, as often happens when people are baptized who really don’t understand what it is they are responding to in the gospel.

He knew.  Age 10.  And baptism came later.

But yet… here was this feeling.  This call. [click to continue…]



Not if the focus is more on the office of the leader than on the needs of the led.  Leaders tend to have places in authority that give them the power to move people around, get people to do (or not do) things, hire and fire people, and in other ways mess with people’s lives.  Often those people (and the leaders) reverence the office more than the mission.  In Church World, I’ve been in places where “pastor” was synonymous with “Your Majesty.”  Where whims of the leader today become orders in stone tomorrow.  Where elders become rubber stamp specialists and people in general act like they just drank the Kool Aid – at least when the Anointed One is around.   And I don’t care who you are – that’s not healthy.

Not if there is a distinction between the interests of the leader and the good of the group.  [click to continue…]


Bryce is a prisoner in his own home.  His really nice home with the pool, three-car garage, RV parking, and more bathrooms than family members.  His “friends” are (too) curious about his life and trappings, like something of a bad sequel to The Great Gatsby.  And despite his material success, Bryce remains restless, empty, and hungry for that One Honest Touch.

Tony is a prisoner in his own accomplishments.  A hyper-achiever, he lives in a world of “What mountain have you climbed lately?”  Last year’s exploits are old news to a bored world, many of whom live vicariously through Tony’s courage and imagination.  Inwardly terrified to admit he’s just as bored and scared as they are, Tony longs for that One Honest Touch.

Madison is a prisoner in her own skin.  Always a head turner looks-wise, for as long as she can remember, Maddie’s life has been revolving door of one vain relationship after another.  Superficial.  Super-physical.  Super-lonely.  Her striking beauty has always ensured her all the attention she could ever ask for.  But it never has given her what her heart cries out for most – that One Honest Touch.

Deep Connection

All of us were created with a capacity, and need for, deep connection.  A Touch.  And our spirits never rest until we have it. [click to continue…]


(The further adventures of Eugene Davis, Sophomore Christian)

“What would be s good time to come by your office?”

The voice on the other end of the phone was none other than Eugene Davis, Sophomore Christian and resident expert on all things spiritually enormous.

Normally Eugene would pop in, sort of like the Allies dropped by to pay the Germans a visit at Normandy.  But this was different.  It had the air of urgency.  Eugene Davis was always serious and everything was important.  But this was a step beyond.  It was deliberate.  Ruggedly precise.  Appointment-worthy.

“I’m free about 3:00,” I said.  ”What’s up?”  (To this day I don’t like ambushes in meetings.)

“I think the Lord has given me a vision.”

“Well,” said I, ”I’ll be here.  Come on by.”

Apparently I didn’t send the right signal.  Didn’t catch the gravy of the situation.  This was a vision.  From God! [click to continue…]




Yes, you.

We need to talk.  Really I need to talk and you need to just shut up and listen.  I don’t mean to be mean.  But the most elite fighting force in heaven or on earth is spread all around you.  Their shields are up, and nothing can penetrate them.  Their swords are drawn, and no force in hell or on earth can resist them.  And they’re on your side.

And they’re doing absolutely nothing.

Just watching you get your brains beat out by an enemy that is smarter, craftier, and more powerful than you are. [click to continue…]

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I believe that it is not dying that people are afraid of.  Something else, something more unsettling and more tragic than dying frightens us.  We are afraid of never having lived, of coming to the end of our days with the sense that we were never really alive, that we never figured out what life was for. – Harold Kushner

The great Presbyterian pastor Donald Grey Barnhouse was once riding in a funeral procession in Philadelphia when he noticed a large cargo truck running in front of the procession.  From the way the sun was positioned, he noticed that the truck was casting a large shadow on the sidewalk.  That shadow crossed light poles, road signs, and even people, and didn’t harm anything.  No one would want to be in front of the truck, mind you, but the shadow was harmless.

Every one of us was born on the other side of something called “labor.”  We enter the world completely helpless and fragile, totally dependent on the protection, care and kindness of others.  We borrow the oxygen and assorted things for a span of time the Bible calls a “vapor.”   Despite our claims to ownership, we take no possessions with us.  And we end our sojourn on earth passing through something called a “shadow.”

Birth is a labor soon forgotten…

Life is a vapor quickly fading…

Possessions are an illusion suddenly passing…

Death is shadow silently creeping…

Is there any wonder we struggle sometimes to know what’s real?  And what’s valuable? [click to continue…]

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I can take you to the spot.

I can point to where I was standing.

The old, worn gold carpet is long gone, I’m sure.  The house on Watson Road has likely been redecorated many times since we lived there.

But there’s no mistaking that spot where I made one of the most life-altering decisions of my life.  And get this:  I never told a soul about it.  In fact, I never uttered a word.  But in a silent transaction of the mind, will, and emotions, with three simple words I began a process of sowing to the wind… and reaping a whirlwind.

The words?



Up. [click to continue…]


(Tense Truth:  Every believer occupies a position of victory and authority because of the finished work of Christ. But we can position ourselves to fall victim to Satan – an already-defeated foe.)

He’s the player to be named later.  The unwelcome guest at any crisis, the unspoken stalker behind every fear.  He’s the artful author of your doubtful thoughts about God and the persistent reminder that you should just go ahead and quit. 

And before a wise apostle concludes his note of encouragement to suffering believers, he puts in a plug to remind you and me…

This lion doesn’t sleep tonight.  Or any night.

Pull back the Curtain of the Seen in the Land of the Obvious, and you will find that behind every frustration, accompanying every conflict, and beside every expression of trust in God, a battle is being waged.  And you’re in it. [click to continue…]

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