Monday, August 20, 2012

Tim Tebow is Courageous!

I love ESPN Radio. I listen to Mike and Mike in the Morning, The Herd, and The Scott van Pelt Show on a pretty religious basis. However, I get annoyed frequently by the fact that there are certain teams which could be considered 'favorites' based on the amount of time they spend talking about them. I tweeted this annoyance a while back with regards to the Boston Red Sox. Now that it is football season, my annoyance has moved to the New York Jets.

The fact that they spend an inordinate amount of time talking about the Jets means that they also spend an inordinate amount of time talking about back-up quarterback Tim Tebow. Note: I wrote 'back-up.' He's not even the starter, and yet he gets more air time than arguably ANY of the starters in the NFL. Now don't get me wrong, I like Tim Tebow. And that's difficult for me to admit, considering I am an Ohio State fan (see the 2007 BCS National Championship). He's a great guy and seems to be a strong Christian, which I think garners him the amount of press that he receives, but by most accounts, he is a below-average QB. And yet, he gets way more attention than just about everybody else in the NFL.

I think it's similar to 'Christian' movies. Several movies have been produced by Christians in recent years and have been released in mainstream movie theaters. They tend to garner a lot of press and conversation in the circles I find myself in because they are 'Christian' and promote good values. I remember someone talking about one such movie, Courageous, calling it amazing! So I watched it with high expectations. And while I valued what the movie promoted, it was NOT a good movie (if you think I'm being harsh, it currently has a 32% rating on, which qualifies it is a rotten tomato). It simply promoted good values, but as a work of art, it was subpar.

I think in many ways, Tim Tebow is Courageous. We like to talk about him because there is a large group of people who like what he stands up for. As a result, they are unable to see the fact that he can't throw an out pattern to save his life. I'm all for putting forth good role models, but let's not talk about them like they are relevant or outstanding in a particular field when it is clear that they are not. I'm all for promoting good morals, but do we have to use bad art to do it? Let's discuss things in their proper context. Let's not call a movie 'amazing' because it has good morals, and let's not discuss endlessly on sports talk radio a back-up (at best) QB because he is a nice guy.

What do you think? Does Tim Tebow get too much press? What is your take on 'Christian' movies?

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

It doesn't feel like a Chick-Fil-A day today

I love chicken. I love it just as much as the next guy. And when Chick-Fil-A opened in The Cape, I was ecstatic! Some might say giddy. Some joked that I would have my office and a personal phone line moved there. (I'm still trying to convince the powers-that-be that this is a good idea)

All that being said, I will not be eating at Chick-Fil-A today.

I know, I know, it's Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day, or something like that. If you are on Facebook and you didn't know that, then you haven't been paying attention. Apparently it's a pretty big deal. but I won't be taking part.

The flap occurred when Dan Cathy, President of Chick-Fil-A, came out (no pun intended) and said that he was "very much supportive of the family - the Biblical definition of the family unit." It got bigger when it was uncovered that he and his family had given millions of dollars to "ant-gay" causes. This blew up bigger than when the McRib went away. People on one side of the fence started screaming, "How could he?! What a jerk! I'm never eating there again. As a matter of fact, let's go stage a same-sex kiss-in to show him who's boss." On the other side, people screamed just as loudly, "WOO-HOO!! You go, Dan! Stand up for what's right, and that ain't homosexuality. Let's have a day where we all eat at Chick-Fil-A to show our support for Dan and how much we disagree with those other people."

Which brings us to today, Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day. And I'm not going. Why not? It's not because I don't support traditional marriage, because I do. It's not because I don't value free speech, because I do. It's not because I hate chicken, because, as already stated, I LOVE me some chicken (especially from Chick-Fil-A, with their waffles fries and sweet tea ). I am not going to Chick-Fil-A today because of how this can potentially be viewed by those who are homosexuals in the midst of my community. Well-meaning Christians say that they will be going to support Dan Cathy and his right to speak and traditional marriages, but I'm afraid that it would be viewed a little differently by anyone who happens to be a homosexual. Instead of them seeing, "Those people are supporting this particular viewpoint," I fear that they will see, "They are against me." And that is something I want to steer very clear of.

Let's say a Muslim opened a burger shop. It was so yummy that it grew to epic proportions, so much so that there were franchises all over the country. One day, the President and CEO came out and said that his desire is that this would be a Muslim country. CNN reported on the comments and blogs were written. Then someone started a campaign to support his right to free speech by setting aside a day to eat there. Muslims were posting the messages on Facebook for all to see. Would we as Christians support their right to free speech, or would we feel, in some way, threatened. I think we would feel threatened.

And I don't want people who need Jesus - just as much as I do - to be so turned off by my political action that they will never see the Jesus in me.

Jesus said that the 2nd most important commandment was to love your neighbor as you love yourself. That's higher than the Bill of Rights, in my estimation. I want my life to be dictated by the question, "What is the most loving thing I can do in this situation?" Am I loving my homosexual neighbor by making a stand by eating chicken on a particular day to tell them that our beliefs are right and theirs are wrong? I don't think so. I think that might communicate something other than love for them. So that is why I am not eating at Chick-Fil-A today.

On a side note: Perhaps the most loving thing would be to show up where they are staging same-sex protests and hand out cheeseburgers. Just a thought.

Will you be eating at Chick-Fil-A today? Why, or why not?

Monday, May 21, 2012

Unforgettable. Are You?

I heard a great story two weeks ago while attending the Storyline Conference with Donald Miller. (Did you hear that crash? That was me name-dropping.) He spoke about a guy he knew who walked into an elevator at his hotel and realized that he was on the elevator with only one other person.

Bill Murray.

As any of us would have been, he was overwhelmed with the magnitude of the awesomeness of this moment, so all he could say was, "I'm a big fan!" Bill Murray, in his understated, humble way, simply said, "Thanks." That's it. End of encounter.

When the elevator got to the ground floor, this guy and Bill Murray walked off and out the front doors of the hotel and walked separate directions. When they got about 30 yards apart, Bill Murray turned around, sprinted at the guy, and tackled him into a bush in front of the hotel. As the guy lay sprawled in the bush, stunned, Bill Murray pointed at him and shouted,


I agree with Donald Miller who said, "Man, I really hope that story is true," because it is one of the best celebrity stories of all time. And you know what? That guy truly will NEVER forget that encounter.

I wonder what we do as leaders or as Christians to make an experience unforgettable for someone else. The majority of sermons are forgotten within days of delivering them. Are we doing what it takes to make them unforgettable? Most churches or businesses you walk in are completely forgettable, but there are some - Google, Kirk Originals Eyewear, Nike Stadium, to name a few - who are doing it well. Are the experiences we give people at church unforgettable like these? And what part does our effort play? Is it solely the work of the Spirit, or the work of the Spirit through our creativity and ingenuity?

The same thing goes for our youth/children's ministries. What can we do to make their experience unforgettable? The goal is not so they will remember us and think our ministry is so great, but that they will remember God and His story and know that He is great.

What about our families? I want my kids growing up with lots of, "Remember when...?" moments. I don't want my kids to have a boring, mundane experience as it relates to their family. At the end of their lives, I want our family to be a prime source of unforgettable experiences.

The thing is, when Jesus walked the earth, I don't think that He didn't make an impression on people. His life was so unforgettable that we are still talking about Him 2,000 years later. And we have that same Jesus inside of us, so shouldn't the impact we have on the world be unforgettable as well?

How are you making an unforgettable impact on your ministry? Your family? The world? Comment and let me know your thoughts...

UPDATE: Here's one guy who made an unforgettable memory for his daughter...

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Keep Chipping Away

When I encounter people these days, I usually am faced with answering a question. Well, if you count, "How's it going?" then there are two questions I am posed with. But we'll skip that one. The question everyone seems to ask is:

How's Bontu?

We've been on this adoption journey for well over a year, and we've had lots of people who have been involved in and concerned with it. And since we have been largely 'cocooning' with her, not many people have had significant exposure to her and their curiosity naturally comes out. The way I have been answering part of the question - particularly, her relationship to me, her Daddy - is by saying:

It's like her heart is in a giant glacier. And I have a tiny pick axe. And I just need to keep chipping away at the ice. Eventually we'll get there, but it will take some time.

You have to understand, her only exposure to white men in the 16 months of her life before I brought her home as my daughter was with other adoptive dads. This means that every white man she's ever known has shown up, stayed for a couple of hours or days, and then left. Think about that for a minute. She has been abandoned by countless white men. Regardless of your age, that would do a number on your psyche. And it has to hers.

So while I am taking a hit emotionally - I REALLY want her to like me - I have to recognize that I simply need to keep chipping away at her glacier for that to happen. It won't happen overnight. And so I will make funny faces at her. Chip. I will make clicking and popping mouth noises with her. Chip. I will feed her. Chip. I will put her to bed (because she doesn't let Mommy do that, which is another struggle altogether). Chip. I will give her kisses while she is strapped to Mommy's back. Chip. I will build block towers with the hope that she will knock it down. Chip. I will take her for long walks in the stroller (she lets me do that). Chip. And in time, we'll get through that ice and she will let me have her heart.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Why John Piper Hates Movies

I have never listened to a sermon by John Piper. I have never read one of his books. I have heard his name tossed around quite a bit but haven't taken the time to explore him and what he has to say. I do know I was quite turned off by his farewell of Rob Bell in the days leading up to the release of Bell's book on Hell, but I don't have anything for or against Piper.

I read with interest the transcript of an answer that John Piper gave to a question about preaching. Specifically, he was asked, "What are you thoughts on drama, movie clips, and the like in a church service?" You can see the whole response below, but the bulk of his answer can be wrapped up when he said:

"I think the use of video and drama largely is a token of unbelief in the power of preaching. And I think that, to the degree that pastors begin to supplement their preaching with this entertaining spice to help people stay with them and be moved and get helped, it's going to backfire.... It's going to communicate that preaching is weak, preaching doesn't save, preaching doesn't hold, but entertainment does."

I have not been preaching for nearly as long as Piper has. Heck, I probably haven't been alive as long as he has been preaching, but I have to disagree with his stance. The way I see it, the video clip is the modern-day story which is available to be used for illustration purposes. It doesn't take away from the power of preaching, but rather enhances it. To say that it detracts from the power of preaching assumes that preaching can only be done with the spoken word, when in reality communication is much broader than simply speaking. Communication is body language, visuals, stories, and so on, along with the spoken word. I don't know if Piper uses spoken illustrations when he preaches, but if so, what is the difference? By using video clips one is simply communicating to different senses and emotions which can't be a bad thing.

Jesus frequently used the means that He had available to Him to communicate a truth. If there was a flower close by, He would talk about it. If there was a sheep close by, He would use it. If there was a small child, He would discuss children in light of the kingdom of God. I would venture to say that if there was a movie that everyone knew and could relate to, Jesus would have used it as a means to communicate His truth to those who were listening. Let's face it: all truth is God's truth and should be used to communicate what He wants to say to His people.

What do you think? What part do video clips play in modern-day preaching?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Why We Are Acting Weird

Guest Post by My Lovely Wife

Dear Friends and Family,

We are so thankful for the outpouring of love and support during this long and difficult adoption journey. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that all the paperwork, fundraising and waiting will have been the easy part in comparison to actually parenting our sweet Bontu. As international adoption is not familiar to many of you, we thought it would be helpful to give you some information on what the next several months will look like for our family.

If you can put yourself in Bontu’s little shoes for a minute, you can imagine how difficult this transition will be for her. She is going with strange people to a very unfamiliar place with different smells, unknown foods, an unrecognizable language and a whole host of stimuli that she has never experienced before.  She will be dealing with the pain and uncertainty of being taken from her home and her caregivers for the fourth time in her short life. We will be doing everything we can to ease this transition. This includes “cocooning” for several weeks after she arrives home. This means you will not see us much. We won’t be having people over or going out. If you stop by for some reason our visit will be short.  This will be disappointing for us and perhaps some of you too, but it is important for Bontu and we really appreciate it.  And we cannot wait to share her with you when the time is right!

Mike and I will be the only ones who hold or feed Bontu for the first several weeks and longer, if necessary. You see, she has come to think that any adult might be able to meet her needs. With so many different people who have cared for her, she has no framework to connect to us as mommy and daddy. Frankly, she doesn’t even know what that kind of relationship looks like. By having Mike and I be the only ones who meet her needs, she will begin to see that we are different from the many other caretakers who have come and gone in her life. Please know that we mean no offense if we ask you to refrain from holding or hugging her or giving her a snack. These limitations are an important step in helping her to bond to us.

We have always been blessed by the love and kindness that our friends and family have shown to our children. There is, of course, a natural drawing of attention to any new child who joins a family. This is amplified in Bontu’s case. After over a year of giving, praying, waiting, and working to bring her home, people’s hearts are invested in this little girl! Investing this time into our relationship with Bontu as a family is essential to her attachment to us, and will also help her develop healthy relationships with all of you. Also, we want to be careful that Colin and Hanna do not feel an overwhelming displacement by Bontu’s arrival. To this end we would encourage you to continue show the same interest in them as you have in the past. They would surely appreciate conversations that don’t center around Bontu as they are individuals with their own interests, thoughts and feelings. We know that with your help they will continue to feel loved and secure during this transition.

We appreciate your prayers and thoughts for our family as we make this very dramatic transition. We know that God has led us this far and trust that He will guide our steps as we begin the actual journey of becoming a family.

Marcy and Mike

Saturday, March 31, 2012

It's Your Duty!

As many of you know, 'duty' is my favorite word in the whole wide world. It makes me giggle just typing it. It brings out the inner junior higher in me as I think about bodily functions and how funny they are.

However, doody is not as much fun when I encounter it on my morning walk. (Did you see what I did there? I know, I'm clever)

Attie and I were taking a morning stroll when we happened upon some dog doody on the sidewalk. First of all, who doesn't clean up after they take their dog on a walk? I mean, grab a stinking WalMart bag and do your duty! (I did it again) Number 2 (get it?), what dog poops on a sidewalk?! You have all that luscious grass around and you choose the place where I want to walk? That's just rude, Socrates! (I always thought that would be a cool name for a dog) Now, I want to be clear about one thing: I did NOT step in it. I am far too agile, even at 5:30am. But I was offended.

This whole encounter brought to mind some words of Jesus. I know, it sounds like a stretch, but stick with me:

Treat people in the same way that you want them to treat you. (Luke 6:31 CEB)

If you got the owner of Socrates alone in a moment of transparency, he would likely agree that it would not be cool to step in dog poop that someone else refused to clean up. I think that's a fairly safe assumption. Most people just don't want to step in the stuff. So if said owner had thought, "How would I want to be treated with regards to my dog's doody?" he would have cleaned it up.

It just goes to show you: Jesus just makes sense. You can take away the whole Son of God thing (I am NOT advocating doing that) and simply look at what He taught and see that life would just work better if we paid closer attention to the things He said:

  • Jesus said that the greatest love of all is not a Whitney Houston song, but rather when someone lays down their life for a friend (and then He backed it up). Our love for each other would be more pure, real, and true if we were more self-sacrificing and less self-serving.
  • Jesus said that how you look at a woman who is not your wife is the same as committing adultery. Consider how many marriages fall apart because of porn or 'harmless' office friendships, and you see how much His words just make sense.
  • Jesus had some strong words about money, including the interesting metaphor that it is harder for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to go to Heaven. Judging from the number of people that I saw buying Mega Millions lottery tickets the other day, it goes to show you how money can take a level of importance in people's lives it was never intended to hold.
  • Jesus said that when you hate someone, it's the same as murder. When someone really torques you, don't you have the tendency to assassinate their character?
Jesus' words should be heeded because He is the Son of God. But we should also pay attention because they simply make sense. Even with regards to dog poop.

What words of Jesus have you found to 'just make sense'?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

"You have a little something in your nose..."

I was talking with a girl at the high school the other day. In the midst of our conversation, she took off her head band and reset it on her head. When she did her hair was a bit, shall we say, sticky-uppy. Now, I had just met this girl, so we had no prior relationship. However, I hated the thought of this girl walking through the hallways of school with people snickering behind her back about her sticky-uppy hair. Maybe nobody would have, and I'm the only one who has evil thoughts about the public ridicule of people with sticky-uppy hair, but just in case I told her, "Your's kind of sticky-uppy." So she fixed it, asked me if it was better - which it was - and we went on with our conversation.

I generally try to be the kind of guy who will point out such things as sticky-uppy hair or boogers hanging out of people's noses. Why? Because I'm evil and long to embarrass people by pointing out their foibles? Not usually. But I figure that a true friend will tell someone, "Dude, you have a little something in your nose," to reduce the chances of that friend walking around all day with dried mucus hanging on while others get a good laugh at their expense. In reality, I am trying to save them from further embarrassment and ridicule. And I would hope others would do the same for me.

But I think a lot of people won't do this. I think that they think that they are somehow helping that person save face by not letting them know about their boogers or sticky-uppy hair. Or maybe they are worried that if they say something it will somehow damage the relationship by offending the booger-inflicted. Either way, they are doing a big disservice by saying nothing.

I have lots of boogers in my life. Not a lot in my nose, because I'm quite paranoid about hangers-on. But I have plenty of areas in my life that, if someone doesn't point them out, could cause me more problems down the road. So I need booger-pointer-outers in my life to save me from bigger, more harmful consequences. Having these people will do a few things:

It will keep me humble
Let's face it. I'm awesome. You know it, and I know it. If there's one thing I have no space for in my life it's humility. Like the prophet once said, "Oh Lord, it's hard to be humble / When you're perfect in every way."...Without people in my life who have the permission and feel the freedom to point out my foibles and shortcomings, I run the risk of having this exact attitude. As Timothy Keller notes, "We are more flawed and sinful than we ever dared believe..." Without a dose of humility in my life, I might forget this truth. Jesus' example was one of humility, so that is what I aim for.

It will point out my blind spots
I may think I am treating my wife well, but someone looking at us from the outside may see otherwise. I may think I am being attentive to my kids, but someone who knows me and spends time with us may have a different opinion. I may think that how I talk to people doesn't affect them negatively, but someone listening in may hear something else. I may have character flaws in my life that I simply don't see - like a booger in my nose - but that others do. Ignorance in this case is not bliss. I need to know those blind spots so they don't cause me any worse problems. (Side Note: For advice in avoiding blind spots in your car, see this from Car Talk)

It will make me better
In the long run, I want to be better: a better Christian, a better man, a better husband, a better father, a better youth pastor, a better co-worker, a better friend, a better neighbor. Getting better means eliminating the negative stuff in my life. So a friend who points out my metaphoric boogers is only helping me get to the finish line I want to cross because I am alerted to those things that I need to eliminate.

Who, in your life, is someone who can point out your 'boogers'? If you don't have someone, why not?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Do You Believe in God? Prove It!

I went for a walk today. As I walked, I listened to a podcast by Andy Stanley, the pastor of North Point Church in Atlanta. At a point during his message, a phrase popped into my head. (And no, he didn't say it or even hint at it, lest you think I am simply stealing his material) That phrase was this:

Our behavior reveals our theology.

I know, it's not earth-shattering. It's probably not even original. I probably heard it during some other podcast in the past and it's just now making its way out of my subconscious and into my conscious. But, I couldn't shake it. I tweeted it right away and decided to write about it in greater depth.

If you want to know what someone believes about God, you can ask them. But that will only tell you what they THINK they believe about God. If you want to know what they REALLY believe, you observe their behavior. That will tell you everything you need to know about what they believe about the character and nature of God.

A few examples to ponder:
  • Behavior: Stan refuses to give money to his church.
  • Theology: God is not capable of providing for me, so I have to do it myself.
  • Behavior: Albert spends a good portion of his time looking at airbrushed pictures of naked women on the internet.
  • Theology: Not everyone was created in God's image with a sense of dignity and value. Some people were created to simply be objects to ogle.
  • Behavior: Betsy is consumed by her physical appearance, especially as it relates to how guys look at her.
  • Theology: Not everyone was created in God's image with a sense of dignity and value. Some people have to earn it through the lens of others.
  • Behavior: Cory won't let anyone in his sphere of influence know that he is a Christian or talk about his relationship with Jesus.
  • Theology: A) Jesus isn't the only way to Heaven, and/or B) There really isn't a Hell.
  • Behavior: Sara owns a Bible, but only cracks it on occasion at church (and sometimes not even then because they have all the words on the giant screen behind the preacher).
  • Theology: God isn't all that concerned about my life and certainly doesn't have anything to say to little ol' me.
I could go on. You get the idea. This is not a matter or trying hard to be a good person, but simply the idea that what you believe about God will be revealed by your actions, like it or not.

How is your behavior betraying you by telling everyone what you really believe about God? (You probably shouldn't put your answer in the comments. That could be awkward for you.)

Friday, March 16, 2012

Do The Hard Thing

I just got back from a run.

Get up off the floor. Its not THAT shocking. This is not, "Elvis is alive and working at a Burger King in Kalamazoo." (BTW, that was a real rumor when I was a kid.) Granted, I haven't run much in the last year, but I have walked quite a bit and have been using the Gain Fit app on my iPhone since my Lenten commitment to avoid sloth. So it's not like I've been laying around eating Twinkies 16 hours a day...although that sounds pretty good right now.

I ran for the first half of my course then needed a break. I walked for a while, then decided for the rest of the run that I would run up the uphills and walk down the downhills. As I did this, I imagined a conversation with an imaginary friend. We'll call him Phil:

Me: So the last part of my run, I ran up the uphills and walked down the downhills.
Phil: Why?
Me: Why what?
Phil: Why would you walk down the easy part and run up the hard part? That seems, wrong word. Stupid.
Me: Because it just seemed that it would do me more good to do the thing that was hard rather than take it easy...although, I guess I was taking it easy since I wasn't running the whole way. But I didn't want my heart to explode or my legs to be rendered useless. But still, it was hard!

Isn't that so true in other areas of our lives? So often we avoid the hard thing because it is just that: HARD! But in so doing, we often miss out on the good we can only have by doing the hard thing:
  • We don't shut off our phones or computers at home because it is hard to unplug and miss out on prime time to build relationships with our kids and spouse.
  • We don't eat the right foods because it is hard to resist the double chocolate better-than-sin cheesecake and miss out on the opportunity to feel good and lose weight.
  • We don't get up early in the morning to spend time with God because it is hard to lose sleep and miss out on the intimacy that comes from that personal relationship.
  • We don't break up with him/her because it's always hard to break a heart and miss out on being free from an unhealthy relationship.
  • We don't talk with our friend about having a relationship with Jesus because it is hard to not have all the answers and miss out on an opportunity to participate in their faith journey and maybe leading them to Christ.
  • We don't give our money to the church or other places where it is needed because it is hard to part with cold, hard cash and miss out on being a part of something bigger than ourselves.
  • We don't have a difficult conversation with a loved one because it's hard to confront someone and miss out on the freedom from the 'I should've said' spectre.
  • We don't go on a mission trip because it would be hard to give up a week of vacation and miss out on the joy of being used by God in a significant way.
This is NOT to say to simply do something hard because it will always result in something good. Cutting off your leg with a butter knife would be hard, but wouldn't necessarily result in something good. But many good things in life come only as a result of doing the hard thing.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27: Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! 25 All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. 26 So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. 27 I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.

What good thing do you wish to attain? What is the hard thing you need to do to get there?

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Leadership Lessons from the NFL Draft

In just under two months, the Super Bowl for the Cleveland Browns will commence. It's called the NFL Draft. Being a Browns fan, this is one of the biggest sporting events each year as maybe, just maybe, THIS will be the Draft that turns things around for them (granted, we're still waiting for that to happen). And with the big prize being RGIII from Baylor, the excitement is palpable.

But this post is not about the Browns, but rather the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings are slated to pick #3 in the Draft, right between the Rams at #2 and the Browns at #4. At the present time, there is all sorts of speculation and conjecture about what the Rams will do at #2. It is virtually guaranteed that a team - Cleveland, Washington, and Miami being the most likely suitors - will sacrifice several draft picks for the right to move up to that #2 position in order to draft RGIII, the electric QB from Baylor. At least one writer hopes that it ends up being the Browns.

What does that have to do with Minnesota and leadership? As it turns out, quite a bit.

In week 16 of the 2011 season, the Vikings beat the Washington Redskins 33-26. After the game, head coach Leslie Frazier seemed quite pleased with the results. The problem with that is that, by winning, the Vikings improved their record enough to move into the 3rd slot of the Draft instead of the 2nd. That being said, by winning that one meaningless game in December they missed out on an opportunity to pick up perhaps three first-round picks and probably more. As it stands instead, they will likely get a nice offensive lineman. Offensive linemen are good, but one of them compared to the haul of quality players they could have had certainly pales in comparison. Which raises the question:

Should they have tanked the season?

One writer suggests that winning that game was the worst thing the Vikings did with regards to the upcoming draft.

Would it have been better leadership to maybe put a gameplan in place to give them a better chance of losing and a better draft choice?


A leader needs to know his current context and be able to look far down the road and see how the decisions he makes now will affect the long-term stability and quality of the organization. And if it would benefit the organization in the long run to make difficult decisions to sacrifice the good for the better, he must make those decisions.

OK, I'll admit it, I've never been an NFL player or head coach (not that this is news to anyone), and I don't know what I would have done in that particular position. But as a leader, part of my job is to look far down the road, not just at the task in front of me. I need to be able to see the preferred future and make decisions based on that, not on what will bring immediate gratification. If that means making decisions that tick people off or that look like the completely wrong decisions in the present, I still have to be able to pull the trigger. Jesus saw the long distance view when He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, "Not my will, but Yours be done." His immediate right decision would have been to call on angels to save Him, but the preferred future called for a different, far more difficult decision. He sacrificed the good for the better. And that is what we must do as leaders.

What good present thing must you sacrifice for the your better future or that of your organization?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Lent's Do This Thing!

Let's start with a confession:

I have never given up anything for Lent.

There. I said it. I know, I'm a pastor, a professional Christian, and I've never given anything up?! I'll give you a minute to sit down and compose yourself.

Actually, if you really know me, you probably don't find it very shocking at all. You know how many faults and foibles I have, so this confession probably comes as little or no surprise.

I did not grow up in a church tradition that placed much emphasis on Lent, and certainly did not encourage giving things up for it. So it wasn't until I got to seminary that this became a part of my consciousness. And since then, I have approached it with some amount of skepticism. I just wondered if giving up chocolate or caffeine will really draw someone closer to Jesus. And isn't that the ultimate goal, becoming more like Jesus? It always seemed to be more of a form of self-flagellation exercise than a 'how can I follow Jesus more closely through prayer and repentance?' exercise. Self-flagellation for the purpose of abusing oneself I don't see being particularly beneficial to the believer or her relationship with the God who loves her.

The being said, I have decided to finally give up something for Lent. Or maybe I should say somethings, since there are two things. I mean, I have lost time to make up for, so why stop at one. Why am I choosing to do this after so many years of skepticism? Because there are many areas that I can identify in my life that are getting in the way of truly following Jesus and loving others. That being said, I am doing this to improve my ultimate relationship and with those close to me, not simply to abuse myself. Without further ado, here are the two things I am planning on sacrificing for Lent:

Those of you who know me are right now probably thinking, "He'll maybe make it to Thursday afternoon, but I wouldn't bet on it." I have identified this as a problem area for me for many years, but I haven't done anything substantial about it. For the most part, my sarcasm is not harsh or intended for harm, so some would say, "What's the big deal?" The big deal has two parts. First, it can harm. I generally use sarcasm with people that I assume can take it and won't be hurt by it. But people have a great ability to hide their true feelings, and my words can deep down be hurting them, and that is not cool. My words should provide healing and encouragement, not harm. Second, the majority of the time my sarcasm is intended to show people how funny and clever I can be. I don't need the spotlight on me. God has called me to be humble and to shine the spotlight on Him, and if changing how I use my tongue can give Him more glory and honor, then I want to do that.

We discussed this a while back in our weekend services as being spiritual apathy, but I'm approaching it from the angle that most people do: laziness. Exercise has not been a regular part of my repertoire for quite a while now, and it's starting to take a toll in how I look and feel. But this is not just about me. I want to be around for my wife and kids for a long time, and I don't want my selfish desire to sleep in and eat a lot and sit around get in the way of that happening. So I will start exercising. The other things I plan to do is have my desk at work modified. I read a blog post recently by Michael Hyatt about how damaging sitting down is to our bodies. I sit a lot at work. Today I will have a conversation with our facilities manager about the possibility of making a podium that will sit on my desk that I can use the majority of the time so I spend less time sitting. It may also have the side benefit of keeping me from sitting at my desk so much and getting me out of the office.

I thought about adding a third 'S' - smoking - because that's my standard answer to the question, "What are you giving up for Lent?" But then, I guess that would violate the Sarcasm pledge.

What are you giving up for Lent? And more importantly, why? I'd love to hear your comments below.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Leading Teenagers to Wholeheartedly Follow Jesus Christ

I recently asked several youth ministry co-workers this question:

We are in the beginning stages of rethinking and (potentially) overhauling our youth ministry. The mission statement of our church is 'leading people to wholeheartedly follow Jesus Christ.' Up 'til now, we have had our own, separate mission statement which, while it has been good, has made us complicit in silo-izing our youth ministry. So I feel like our mission statement needs to be 'leading teenagers to wholeheartedly follow Jesus Christ.' That being said, I have this question:

What are the non-negotiables to what a person who wholeheartedly follows Jesus Christ looks like?

Here are the responses I have received thus far:

Andy Stanley has a Checkpoints book that isn't a bad starting point.  – Brian Jones – Colonial Church / Edina, MN

Thanks for including me on this. I would have to say that wholeheartedly following Jesus would have to be centered on the three priorities that Jesus had for his disciples in John 15.
1.       A Growing Commitment to Christ (15:7-11)
2.       A Growing Commitment to the Body of Christ – The Church (15:12-17)
3.       A Growing Commitment to the Work of Christ in the World – Personal Evangelism and Missions (15:18-19, 21, 26-27) – Todd Erickson – Second Presbyterian Church / Memphis

love god, love others.  any more of a list can spiral out of control.  wrap your minds around those 2 things and you will have fun coming up with ideas to fulfill those 2 commands. – Scott Russ – Epiphany UMC / Loveland, OH

Here are my quick thoughts on the non-negotiables of a person who follows Christ wholeheartedly.
      I think they need to have accepted the grace of Jesus.
     They need to continually explore with their brain the truths of scripture.
     They need to experience God through worship.
  They need to express God's love and mercy to others.  They can't be the end point of grace. – Rob Bergman – Windsor Crossing Church / St. Louis

Obedience, trust, gratitude – Hal Hamilton – First UMC / Tulsa

We also recently adopted our church's mission statement. "Making disciples of Jesus Christ who love God, love others and serve the world."
     Love God = commitment to worship
     Love others = commitment to community (small groups)
     Serve the world = service and mission
To me, these are key components of a disciple. – Johnny Brower

Great Commandment and Great Commission – David Thompson

Service to the church, community and the "world" – Jeff Hogg – North Cross UMC / Madisonville, LA

What would you add to this list? Subtract? Tweak?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Lessons on Leadership from Really Bad Singing

On Friday night I got to attend the volunteer appreciation banquet that our Children's Ministry area had. Two days before that my friend and co-worker Angel asked if I would be willing to help out with a performance at the banquet. It would involve singing, and since I did some singing in high school (OK, so that was 25 years ago - leave me alone!), I thought, "Why not? Sounds like fun." What I didn't know was that we would be performing - or attempting to perform - a parody of Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen. Keep in mind that Queen was comprised of operatically-trained singers with years of practice, and that we would have an hour-and-a-half to work on it the day before the big day. No pressure.

So the five of us who would be performing gathered in our worship arts office suite and started 'working on it.' Three of us had significant music performance experience...and then there was me and Kim, another sucker. As we started, I don't think I've ever felt that much in the dark before. They just played the karaoke version of the song and picked out their parts as easily as they had poured milk on their morning cereal. Meanwhile, I had no flipping idea what I was supposed to be singing. Sure, they gave me the first note, which was swell, but after that, I was as lost as Tom Hanks in Castaway. As they sang and had a good time - I had a good time, too - I thought, "I am SO screwed! It's a good thing that I won't be performing this in front of hundreds of people. Oh wait, I am?!? AAAHHHHH!!!!" As I type this, the big performance is in a few hours and I am looking for my raincoat to fend off the rotten fruit thrown my way.

I had a couple of thoughts during this experience:

Don't Assume
Because you know what that does to you and me, right? If you are a leader, don't assume that everything that makes sense to you makes sense to everyone else. You are a leader because you have been doing what you have been doing for a long time, usually. And the people you are leading may just be beginning. Don't assume that they are at your level or know what you know. You need to train them well so that they can be on the way of knowing what you know. And make sure you stop along the way to make sure they are still feeling good and not overwhelmed (like I felt, not knowing what I should be singing). And maybe, just maybe, that person is not cut out for the job that is assigned to them. A good leader must be able to recognize that and make the tough call of reassigning them for the good of all those involved.

Ask For Help
Just because you are a leader doesn't mean you know everything. You have people who know more than you do. You feel clueless about stuff. Don't try and play it off like you have it all figured out, because you don't. A good leader is humble enough to be willing to say, "Can we stop for a minute? I have no clue what I'm supposed to be singing here." It's for your best interest, and that of your organization, that you continue to learn and ask questions.

Have you ever felt this way? How does this apply to your leadership area?

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Lessons in Leadership from a Children's Ministry Volunteer

A few weeks ago I was shopping in Barnes and Noble with my family. I was walking hand-in-hand with Colin while Marcy and Hanna were elsewhere. As we walked by the aisles, Colin noticed one of his teachers from the Reign Forest, our Children's Ministry. He said, "Hey Dad, that's Mr. Jim" (Names have not been changed so as to give props where props are due) I asked him if he wanted to go say hi, and he got real shy. But when I asked him if he would go if I went with him, he said yes. I called out to Mr. Jim as we approached him. He turned and his face lit up when he saw us. He walked over to us and - this was the part that got me - got down on both knees in the store and talked with Colin. I might as well have been invisible as they carried on a conversation about what we were doing and what we were shopping for. In my short time as a parent, I don't think I've been that impressed with anyone who has had contact with one of my kids. I learned a few lessons in leadership that day:

Take The Time
Mr. Jim didn't have to give my kid the time of day. He could have simply smiled, maybe even waved, and then gone about his business. But he put away the book he was looking at, and walked over to Colin to talk to him. Are the people you lead getting the time and attention the deserve? Sometimes I fall into the trap of thinking my 'work' is more important than the people. People are keeping me from getting my real work done. But as a leader and a pastor, people ARE my work. Anyone who holds any sort of leadership position needs to recognize this fact: People are your work, so take the time they need and deserve.

Get On Your Knees
Mr. Jim very easily could have had a conversation with Colin as he towered over him, but instead he got down on his knees so he could look him in the eye at his level. As leaders and as ministers we need to make sure we are so arrogant to think that we are better or more important than those we lead and minister to. We may know more and may have spent more money on our education, but we are no different. So we need to be willing to get on the same level as our people where there is a perceived difference. The Church has a big fancy word for this: incarnation. Jesus took on flesh so He could get on our level and see the word from our perspective. When Mr. Jim got on his knees, he became a 5 1/2 year old boy so he could connect with another one. Until we spend time in their world, we won't understand it.

Avoid Distractions
When Mr. Jim was talking to Colin, I probably could have walked away and no one would have noticed. That's how focused Mr. Jim was on my son. When we are spending time with those we are leading, are we 100% there, or are we too distracted by other things going on around us. When you are meeting with someone and your phone buzzes letting you know you have a text, do you read it and answer it right away? If so, what does that communicate to that person sitting across from you? Are you listening to that other person, I mean really listening, or are you thinking about what you will say in response? If you're meeting at a coffee shop, are you focused on the other person or by all the activity around you? As leaders we must be willing to put on blinders to give our people the attention they need a deserve. (Side note: This really applies to families, too. Maybe it goes without saying. Probably not.)

What do you think? Were there any other lessons I missed?