'Tis the Season, #1

With Thanksgiving in the rearview mirror, it is now the Christmas season (Yes, I know that Home Depot had displays up at Halloween, but that doesn't count). I love the food, the cold weather, hunting, the music--everything about this time of year. But, there is one thing that stands out above all others:

It is one of the greatest opportunities of the entire year for reaching people for Christ.

Like no other time of year, people are looking for an excuse to connect with God. Christmas Eve is a night that un-churched people actually WANT to go to church. Some will go out of obligation or guilt, others out of desperation or curiosity. Whatever the reason for coming, we are going to give them a reason to come back in the weeks afterward.

This year's Christmas Eve services, Home for the Holidays, are going to give you a perfect excuse to bring people with you who don't realize yet how extravagantly God loves them. Begin thinking about, praying about, and talking about who God has put in your sphere of influence that he wants to touch through you this Christmas season.


Geaux Hornes!

What a Thanksgiving Eve! At 8:27p last night, our entire family was at the hospital as Brayden Matthew Horne made his entry into the world. He was about four weeks ahead of when his LSU Tiger dad Matt & Longhorn mom Ashley thought he'd be arriving.

Ashley joined our church--and the Richard family--as a sophomore in college as an intern at our church and only recently "retired" as my assistant. She was instrumental in keeping me organized and helped me stay focused on what I needed to do and delegate what others should do. She stepped down just last week so she could stay home as a full-time mom.

She and Matt were married two years ago just after Matt had opened his dental practice which is now thriving. They serve as zone leaders for young married Life Groups in our church and are a great example of all that's good about LHC. What a blessing to see their son born to parents who are passionate about Christ and absolutely devoted to each other. It really is all good.

Brayden's birth reminded me how over-the-top grateful I am
*For my bride Julie and our kids Emily & Joseph. God blesses us in ways that I'm not smart enough to ask for.
*For Lake Hills Church and all the people who are LHC. I can't believe I get to do what I get to do.

I hope you and yours have a phenomenal Thanksgiving and take some time to really thank God for his goodness in your life.


Leaving With Loyalty

As soon as I posted the piece on loyalty, I had to include a brief story about the fact that you can be loyal even as you leave someplace:

Brent & Leah Phillips joined our staff almost five years ago when Brent became our Children's & Family Pastor. Last spring, he came to me and said that God was leading him and Leah to begin a new ministry to the economically disadvantaged in another part of Austin.

At the time, Brent had no team, no plan, no money, no location. Together, we had no manual for how to handle this new direction as our relationship changed and they transitioned out of our staff into a new role. We just committed to pray together, think and plan, and overcommunicate throughout the process.

I've since told Brent that he should write a book or at least a pamphlet entitled, "How to Leave a Church Staff Well" because he and Leah so honored God and protected the unity of our relationship.

And, it was still hard. I hated to lose them. Brent's wisdom, discernment, joy, and experience are not easily replaced. And, God was and continues to be in our relationship. That new church, The Well, is doing well. They are led by great, godly people and are doing great, godly things for God.

It's a great story that deserves telling and emulating.

USMA, Pt. 4 - Loyalty


Somehow, the word almost sounds like a cliché. To be sure, the last 2½ generations have seen a corrosion of cause for loyalty: political, spiritual, and business leaders alike have repeatedly shattered the trust given to them in order to advance their own selfish agendas.

But, too many people have used those crimes and sins as a crutch and a smokescreen to stiff-arm any authority and withhold loyalty. Loyalty never means blind follower-ship. But it does mean honoring the authority and leadership you’re under. And loyalty is ultimately a statement of faith (more on that tomorrow).

I’ve even seen church leaders in other states gather a following through their teaching ministries in one church, only to leave that church, move down the street and open a new one. They either take with him hundreds and even thousands of people from the very flock they were trusted to serve or they at least create divisiveness by forcing people to choose which church to invest in personally and financially.

In another city, I know of staff members who’ve left a church to go to another one in the same city and taken other people with them. Now, those who will do that are clearly not a loss, but the personal toll that disloyalty takes on those who remain is substantial.

Of course, it’s all done under the guise of, “This is where the Lord’s leading” and “We’re all on the same team—it’s the Church, man. Capital C.”

Please. At least in the marketplace, people sign and honor do-not-compete clauses when they leave one company for another. Young, would-be leaders especially would benefit HUGE-time from mentors and teachers who call them to substantial, meaningful, God-honoring levels of loyalty. Authority is actually a gift and a protection for those who are being prepared and shaped for their own opportunity to lead.

One of the things that West Point has built into their development of leaders is the fact that every leader has to know how to follow. Before they can give orders, they have to take them. Loyalty begins at the beginning, and therefore it becomes a two-way street that strengthens relationships and the overall organization.

And it is non-negotiable.


USMA, Pt. 3 - Unity

Unity. West Point really believes in unity. Unity of purpose, unity of vision, unity of command, unity of the Corps. Obviously, with 4,300 students and another 4-500 faculty and staff, not everyone agrees with everything. But on the big picture issues, they cultivate, communicate, and tolerate nothing less than unity.

Again, for them, it's a matter of life and death. Divided loyalties, divided vision/mission, and people die. But, why cultivate anything less than unity in any organization, team, church, or business? Why tolerate anything less?

Because diligent protection and projection of a vision is hard work. The fact is that it's easier to let things slide, to ignore off-handed comments that betray mission-drift or vision-leak. There are times when you don't have the fuel in your tank personally to address decisions or people who distract and detract from where the group is going.

It is ALWAYS worth the effort to clarify, to remove ambiguity, and to foster unity. Every single time I have let things in this category slide, it has come back to bite me. Every time. Without fail. Most people will say they want unity. Few are willing to do what it takes to create it and protect it.

Leaders do.


That Kind of Church

What an incredible night Sunday night!

83 people baptized as an expression of faith.
500+ people celebrating that and hanging out in the parking lot, eating burgers & dogs.
Incredibly vibe-y music from Mark Groutas, Scott Leger, and our band(s).

The first-ever Burgers & Baptism--and certainly not the last--was one of my favorite moments in the life of LHC. Thank you so much to all the people who grilled burgers, set up staging and tables, and made the night so much fun for so many people.

It was just the church being the church. I couldn't help but think about what a blessing it was for all of us who chose to be there...who chose to walk away from the Cowboys-Giants game on TV; who chose to load up kids and family or made sure to be back from a mission trip to Mexico; who chose to make time to honor and celebrate the an eternity-changing commitment to Christ that everyone of those 83 men, women, and children had made.

Thank you for being that kind of church.


USMA, Pt. 2: THE Two Things

In two separate interviews at West Point, officers spoke of the two main things that a company of soldiers has to know when a new graduate assumes command:
1. That he/she is competent.
2. That he/she cares.

They have to be competent, because if they're not, people die. It really is that simple for these soldiers. If they blow off preparation of themselves, their equipment, or their mission, then people who leave on a mission will not return. Those soldiers don't care that their 2nd Lieutenant just graduated from one of the finest educational institutions in the world or that they were able to get into West Point. They have to know that the one in charge can get the job done.

But, these officers said, competence has to be coupled with caring. If a young officer really wants to lead, then she has to display a genuine concern for those who are following her. That happens most effectively by spending time with them in situations where it's not required. Meals, downtime, asking questions about hometowns, families, etc.

Again, it's Hebrews 10:24~

Let us consider how we may spur one another on to love and good deeds.
Spur Leadership. Love and good deeds. Do you care? AND Are you competent?


USMA, Pt. 1

Never. Ever.

I have never spent a day like the 10 hours that my son Joseph and I just spent. Wed. this week we woke up to 41 degrees and trees that were absolutely ablaze with the colors of fall (apparently, this "fall" is a season that people outside of Texas actually experience in addition to marking it on their calendars--who knew?). We were guests at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Our host had to return salutes every time a cadet made eye contact, and he always returned with a crisp salute and deeply heartfelt, "Beat Navy!"

Over the course of our day there, we were given a tour and I interviewed three different officers (two currently serving, one retired) re: leadership--leadership in theory and practice as it's conveyed at West Point, and leadership in their experiences serving our nation.

I'm still trying to get my head around everything that we got to see. But, there is one thing that is certain: Thank God. Thank God for the men and women who selflessly and voluntarily serve our nation and provide the freedoms we enjoy. Every single time I thanked one of them for doing what they do that allows us to do what we do, they responded by saying, "My pleasure, sir" or, "I'm honored to serve, sir."


Chocolate Invitations

As we rounded up the kids after trick-or-treating last night, a neighbor who also happens to be a LHC member stopped us at the curb. She said, "Just thought you'd like to know that the Hershey bars work! I handed it to a little girl's parents and invited them to this weekend's Family Frenzy. When I told her mom that it was at Lake Hills Church, she said, 'We keep hearing about that church. We'll be there this weekend. Thank you for the invitation.'"

Helen Edwards, our friend, said, "It was awesome!" What's awesome is that hundreds and thousands of people like Helen Edwards take the time to go out of their way--and out of their comfort zones--to reach out to people who don't have a church home.

We ordered 10,000 Hershey bars to use as invitations to this weekend's services and every one of them was taken by last Sunday. Let's assume that 1/100 were inadvertently ingested by someone who meant to use it to invite a friend to LHC. That still leaves 9,900 invitations to go out to people before this weekend.

Thanks, LHC, for being the kind of people like Helen Edwards who go out of your way to radiate the love of God everywhere you go. Remember, this weekend, I'm starting the new message series Love Wins. The message is entitled "...Because It Forgives & Forgets." I believe God is going to use this series in a powerful way in thousands of lives and in the life of our church. I don't know anyone who has too much forgiveness in their lives. And I've never seen real forgiveness fail.