Dec 18

What Mary and Joseph Heard at Christmas, Part Three

This week I have been reflecting on Mary and Joseph’s experience at the first Christmas.  What did Mary and Joseph hear from God?  So far I have pointed out that Mary and Joseph heard answers to their questions (Part one), and they heard their identity in Christ (Part two).  What did Mary and Joseph ultimately hear?  
     To Joseph God says:
“She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”  All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”)…” Matthew 1:21-23 
 
     To Mary God says:
          You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end…” Luke 1:31-33
 Mary and Joseph heard of their involvement in the birth of Christ, which is a fulfillment of prophecy given long ago.  The prophecy was given to the prophet Isaiah by God almost 750 years before Mary and Joseph found out that Mary would give birth.  During the period of history of the divided kingdom of Israel (930BC-722BC), Ahaz, who was king of Judah feared his reign would come to an end because of an alliance between the king of Israel and the king of Syria.  They were planning to invade Judah and replace Ahaz with another king.  Isaiah declared that God would not allow such a thing to happen, and reassured Ahaz that a descendant of David would sit on his throne forever (the same promise God gave king David).  In confirming that the two kings would not conquer Judah, God offers king Ahaz a sign, which is found in chapter 7 in the book of Isaiah:
     “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel…”  Isaiah 7:14
God’s sign to Ahaz that pointed Israel to what was to come had finally arrived.  God had promised that Israel would not be destroyed, that they would not perish, but that they would be redeemed.  The fulfillment of the sign was the birth of Jesus.  Where sin had separated God and his people, the world broken by evil,  experiencing suffering, death, disease and destruction, exile…God answer was to come for His people once and for all.”  God was saying, ” I will come and ransom captive Israel.”  Israel needed to be saved.  We need to be saved.  Mary and Joseph heard God’s redemptive hope for his people.  Salvation had come through Jesus.  No longer are the wages for sin is death, but the gift would be eternal life in Christ Jesus.  What Mary and Joseph heard was that there would be no other name by which people can be saved than by the name of Jesus Christ.  Mary and Joseph heard God’s redemptive hope for His people because He was inviting them into God’s redeeming work by bringing Jesus into the world.
What do you need to hear from God this Christmas?  What can the Christmas story reveal to you?  We are often wrestling with the similar questions that Mary and Joseph were wrestling with.  ”How can I be at peace with God?”  ”How can I be sure of God’s love?”  ”Who will ever believe that I decided to follow Jesus?  Who would ever think that my life has changed since I decided to follow Him?”  The truth is, outside of God’s redemptive hope, we might never have significant answers to those questions.  It is the identity that God gives us in Jesus Christ that redeems us as part of His purpose for our life, and through faith, God’s plan makes perfect sense.

Dec 17

What Mary and Joseph Heard at Christmas, Part Two

This week I have been reflecting on Mary and Joseph’s experience at the first Christmas.  What did Mary and Joseph hear from God?  Yesterday I pointed out that Mary and Joseph heard answers to their questions.  What else did they hear?

I’m always amused when I look at a nativity scene, or watch a christmas pageant, because it always seems like Mary and Joseph’s experience was this peaceful, calm and easy process. Having gone through pregnancy twice, I can tell you nothing is further from the truth!  Mary and Joseph went through some difficult times. Once they overcame the hurdle of doubt, confusion and suspicion between themselves, they they had to face the community. Mary and Joseph’s reputation was at stake. As soon as Mary started showing that she was pregnant, people might have started to ask questions, and make accusations. “We heard the announcement of your betrothal….did we miss the ceremony?” “Were we not invited?” I would suspect there were whispers, gossip, circles of people turning away from them as they walked by. Perhaps they were alienated, or even accused of blasphemy. To the average hearer, this story might have been “totes cray”…(that’s Teenager for totally crazy)!

To be honest, it is a little bit of a crazy story. To personally identify with, or even comprehend the idea of a divine conception might be difficult for some people. But that is the point. To understand God’s ways we need to identify ourselves with Christ. It is in Christ that we identify the ways of God, and are able to respond to God’s call. If God never identified Joseph in Christ, he could have simply followed through with his plan to divorce Mary. Joseph could have just said, “nope…not worth it.” If God didn’t identify Mary in Christ, Mary might have made a run for it and hide from her problem. How else could she have been protected for nine months from a community for who could have determined on their own that Mary was guilty of adultery, and demanded the death penalty? But that is not what happened. Because Mary and Joseph heard their identity in Christ, they responded in faith. We read in Hebrews 11 ”Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Mary and Joseph’s hope and assurance came from their identity in Christ.

Mary’s response was:

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”

Joseph’s response was:

“When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.”

Mary and Joseph’s response model two things for us; our identity in Christ and a response in faith. We do not find our identity in the things the world derives its identity from. We don’t find our identity in our careers, our accomplishment, in how much we have, in how good we look, in our relationships, in our sexuality…in our …fill in the blank. Why don’t we find our identity in those things? Look at the words found in 1 John 2:15-17 (The Message):

Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity.

When we find our identity in the world we squeeze out the love for the Father.  How do we live out our identity in Christ? We respond in faith.

  • “But I need more concrete, theological answers first!” No you don’t, you need God’s word.
  • “But I need to fix myself up, and get my act together first. No you don’t, you need God to do that for you.
  • “But I need justice for what has been done to me!” No you don’t, you need God’s comfort and care.
  • “ But I need …….. What we need, is to be identified with Jesus.

God did not just come to Mary and Joseph that first Christmas, God came to each one of us. Israel had been longing and waiting for the Messiah, and God broke his silence not just by bringing an audible word; God was the word. The word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.  Where do we find our identity? We find our identity in Jesus Christ. How can we know all this? By hearing the word of God.

Dec 16

What Mary & Joseph Heard at Christmas, Part One

I have been thinking about Mary and Joseph’s experience during the first Christmas.   What did Mary and Joseph hear from God?

Mary and Joseph were asking two very different questions at Christmas.  Mary was asking, “How?”  “How will this be, Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” is what we read in Luke 1:34.  While it may appear so at first glance, Mary was not looking at her situation with skepticism or disbelief.  Mary was not asking for a sign, or whether or not the message from God was valid.  What Mary was asking was how would a virgin birth be fulfilled.  Mary was asking how to proceed when a logical way wasn’t possible.  What Mary heard that there was a way, as nothing was impossible with God.  God chose Mary, a young, poor, female from a small town out in the boonies-who would have been considered unusable by God for any kind of task, to be the one who would conceive and give birth to a child by the divine power and working of the Holy Spirit.  What Mary heard was that she needed to trust, be faithful, and let God work. Mary heard that a virgin birth is possible with God.

Joseph’s question was different.  Joseph wasn’t asking “how”, but “who”?  Who was the father? Who else did Mary give herself to?  Who in their right mind would stick by someone with such a crazy story?  Joseph had a dilemma.  He and Mary were pledged to be married, and were in the middle  of a three-step engagement.  A been a public announcement had been made, and arrangements had been made for Mary and Joseph to enter into the official state of betrothal.  At this point in their relationship they had a legal-binding contract, and could only be broken by a formal process of divorce.  Sexual relations between the couple during this time were not acceptable, and any sexual relations with someone else would have been considered adultery, which was punishable by stoning.  When Joseph learned that Mary was pregnant, and he had not been with Mary, he was obviously upset and had a decision to make.  As a righteous man, he couldn’t follow through and marry her, because he would be condoning Mary’s sin of adultery. Divorce was mandatory in a case of adultery according to the the law.  Having compassion for Mary, he didn’t want Mary to go through a public divorce where everyone would find out what she did, would face humiliation, be disgraced by the community, and ultimately sentenced to death.  Where there was no law that required a public divorce, Joseph decided that a private divorce would maintain his personal righteousness, and save Mary from public humiliation.

However, In a dream, Joseph heard from God:

“Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins…” Matthew 1:20-21

God eased Joseph’s doubts and fears and encouraged Joseph to go through with his original plan to marry.  Joseph heard a confirmation from God that the story Mary had told him about her pregnancy was in fact true.  Mary had not been unfaithful.  More importantly, Joseph heard from God who the father of Mary’s baby would be.  God called Joseph, “Son of David.”  In the Old Testament we learn that God established a covenant with king David that salvation would come through David’s line through the birth of the Messiah:

“When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom.  He is the one who will build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever…”  2 Samuel 7:12-13   

In the opening chapter of Matthew, we find a genealogy that includes Jesus as a descendant of King David, where Joseph is part of that lineage.  By taking Mary to be his wife, Joseph adopted Jesus into his family lineage.  In addition, God told Joseph that he was to name the baby Jesus.  To name him would formally acknowledge Jesus as his son.  In other words, when Joseph was asking “who?”, God answers with “it’s you, Joseph!”  Joseph would be Jesus’ earthly father.

Mary and Joseph had significant questions, and God’s response to those questions reveal to us that He is not an impersonal, disconnected, celestial being who is irrelevant to our life.  Our questions, doubts, wonder and problems are at the very center of God’s heart.  God answered the questions that Mary and Joseph were struggling with about how the birth of Christ would come to be.  How would it be possible?  Who could believe it?  Mary and Joseph heard answers to their questions.

 

May 29

Seven Tips for Parenting in a Performance-Driven Society

We love our kids very much, and we are involved in many aspects of their life. We spend time together, have fun together, laugh together, cry together, and enjoy being together. We are not a perfect family, and we have made plenty of mistakes as parents. There are days where things are going really great, and days that we feel like we have no idea what we are doing. Lately I have noticed a change: parenting is becoming more difficult.

There are several factors for this change of course, such as very busy schedules, our kids entering into new stages of development, and cultural influences. The biggest factor, however I feel is due to our performance-driven society. I’m all for growth and progressive development, but I’ve noticed more than ever our kids are constantly in a pressure-cooker environment where they constantly feel they need to perform in school, with friends, in sports, in church, extracurricular activities, and even at home. Challenge and performance is not bad, but I have noticed a significant impact it has on their self-confidence as well as how they act (or react) in busy and stressful environments.  We are the only people who can parent our kids,  and more than ever we need to persevere in the art of parenting in order to help kids have a healthy perspective on the high expectations of a performance-driven society.

Here are seven things we strive to build into our parenting style:

Encourage Them: While we don’t want to fix all of their problems, we want to inspire courage and determination in order for them to work through and grow through the difficult challenges they face. We intentionally look for opportunities to say, “You can do this,” or “I believe in you” in order to build in them the confidence they need to persevere.

Affirm Them: Once I was on the sideline of a soccer field and heard a coach yell (among other things); “If you don’t listen to what I tell you to do, you will never learn!” Often kids perceive what they hear from adults is what they are doing wrong. What they interpret is what they haven’t done to the level an adult expects of them. As parents, we must stop and affirm the things that we see in our kids at the time we see it happening. Even if they have a growing-edge they need to work on (such as a behavioral issue), affirming them when you see them behave well will have a more positive impact.

Touch Them: More than ever kids need healthy touch: hugs, kisses, arms around their shoulder, tousling their hair, high fives, etc. Healthy touch helps kids feel emotionally safe and secure.  It diffuses tension, and let’s kids know they are loved unconditionally. Every day begins and ends with a hug and kiss in our house. Whenever we discipline, it always ends with a hug. Kids need appropriate touch to know that they have a place that is nurturing and filled with grace.

Coach Them: Parenting requires instruction of disciplines, fundamentals and techniques for life. I coach soccer, and the most effective coaching method we do is when we have scrimmages with coaches on the field. We can stop play in order to point out an area that needs work and development (or, affirm a great play!). As parents, we have to be on the field of life with our kids, in order to point things out. We can’t just yell, scream and punish our kids, we need to coach them to help them improve. In our house we often call “time-outs,” “do-overs” and “resets” in order to help them improve in life.

Love Them: We continually say to our kids; “I don’t love you for what you do, I love you for who you are!” I don’t want love to be reward for good performance and success, I want love to be what keeps them grounded so they don’t have to go seeking love and approval from other places. We love our kids with our words, our time, and our presence.

Shepherd Them: The hardest part about parenting is watching our kids fail. Part of our role as parents is to help them avoid major failures, but when they do fail, it’s critical that we are there for them, walking alongside them to lead them in the right steps. It’s messy, time-consuming, heart-wrenching and challenging. But it’s one of the most rewarding aspects of parenting when our kids learn and grow through their failures, and they attribute us to their success.

We don’t have to cower away from a performance-driven society, but we can’t forgo the values kids need in order for them to become confident, secure, and godly.

“We can say with confidence and a clear conscience that we have lived with a God-given holiness and sincerity in all our dealings. We have depended on God’s grace, not on our own human wisdom. That is how we have conducted ourselves before the world, and especially toward you…”2 Corinthians 1:12

Question:  What tips can you share that have been effective in your experience as a parent?  Please share below.

 

 

Apr 24

Freedom, Flesh & Spirit : A Response in the Aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombings

Below is a condensed version of a message I preached at our Saturday night service this past weekend:

 

I found myself agitated and angry many times this week as I processed the events that took place in Boston and Watertown. I’m still trying to understand what would possess people to take away the freedom of complete strangers.  What was the purpose of planting terror and fear into millions of people?  The decisions of two young men created one of the most the most disruptive, dangerous, costly and impactful acts that we have seen in the history of our state.  We will never again be able to watch the marathon without remembering the bombing and subsequent manhunt that occurred in 2013.  It will not be easy to enter into large crowds without wondering, will I be safe?

During the interfaith service that was held last week, Cardinal Tom O’Malley offered some great words of encouragement.  What I appreciated about Cardinal O’Malley’s words was that he explained that the Bible, particularly in the gospels, reveals a contrast between the crowd and the community.  Cardinal O’Malley said:

“The crowd is made up of self-absorbed individuals, each one focused on his or her own interests in competition with the conflicting projects of others. A community is where people come to value each other, and find their own identity in being part of something bigger than themselves, working together for the common good.”

His point was to not let what has happened define the city as a crowd of individuals, focused on competing interests, but be part of something greater then themselves.  His urged that Boston become a community, working together for the common good.  He went on to say to say that God has tasked his people with the  job of repairing the broken the world.  He explained that it would require that people not maintain a crowd mentality, but to become a community that maintains solidarity with the belief that “love is strong than death.”

That is a great vision.  A community that is unified, loving who believes that love is stronger than death, and is committed to the process of transformation, growing individually as well as corporately in order to fulfill God’s purpose.  Sounds a lot like the Church!

How can a crowd transform into a community in the midst of tragedy, conflict and evil?

FREEDOM TO LOVE

“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other…” Galatians 5:13-15

Paul says do not use our freedom for the flesh.  In the original greek, the word for flesh is Sarx, which is a distinct word that refers to our sinful state.   Flesh essentially means living outside the realm of the spirit of God.  For Paul, Flesh is associated with living “under the law”.  When someone chooses to live in their sinful nature, they are essentially governed by the law.  They choose not to live under the freedom that comes in Christ.  They are in the flesh because they are living outside of God’s will and apart from God’s guiding influence through the spirit.

We are called to be free.  Free from death, free from the bondage of sin.  In Christ there is freedom. When understand the weight we were once under because of sin, and the sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf, there is freedom.  In that freedom of new life, Paul is saying to freely give what you have received.

FIGHTING OFF THE FLESH

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law…Galatians 5:16-18

When we walk by the spirit, we won’t desire the the flesh, because the spirit leads us away from the flesh. Flesh is weaker than the Spirit.  As we walk with God, we experience a transformation.  This transformation of life in the spirit is not simple, though; it is a battle; a battle between our sinful nature and God’s will.  In that battle we recognize that flesh and spirit are opposites.  When we live in the flesh, we are not doing what the spirit wants.  This conflict is not some out of body experience, where we are simply helpless in what is going on; what Paul is saying is that when we are not walking with the spirit, we are fighting the will of God.  We are essentially saying, “I know better”, “I’m going to live and do things my way”, or “I know my way is the right way”.  When we live like this we are not growing, or experiencing God’s transforming power, we aren’t even walking with God.  We are walking in a totally different direction.

Paul says walk by the spirit.  We have to choose to walk in the spirit, choose freedom, and choose to let the spirit put to death our sinful nature.  Paul is talking about full surrender to the spirit of God.  We stop fighting God.  We put up our hands, and we trust the spirit to lead and guide us.  Others have used the illustration of a sailboat on the sea as an illustration for our surrender to the spirit.  The power for a sailboat doesn’t come from a motor, it comes from the wind.  Once a sailor positions himself in the wind, he lets the wind take over, and the boat receives power and direction with ease.  The sailor can’t control the wind, neither can he make the wind, he must surrender to it.  That is the same way we walk in the spirit.  When we surrender and walk in the spirit, the spirit takes over and our life becomes filled with power and direction according to the will of God.

LIFE IN THE SPIRIT

Paul gives us a comparison between life in the flesh and the spirit to examine ourselves:

“The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.  Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other…” Galatians 5:19-26

Notice Paul makes a change in the image from “acts of the flesh” to “fruit of the spirit”, which emphasizes two key things.  First it is indicative of Jesus’ words in John 15 when he says, “I am the vine, you are the branches.  If you remain in me you will bear much fruit.  Apart from me you can do nothing.”  This strengthens the concept of the freedom we have in Christ.  In Christ our sinful nature is put to death.  Second, there is a shift from human responsibility (acts of the flesh) to something that requires divine enablement.  Last Monday I was working in my yard, and planted some new grass.  I cleared the area, leveled it with topsoil, planted seed, fertilized and watered it.  Yet, no matter what I did to create an environment for that grass to grow.  Only God can make it grow.  That is essentially what Paul’s use of fruit the fruit image indicates.  As a Christian, we are responsible to let the spirit be at work in our life; we surrender, trust, pray, make changes, but we cannot grow love, peace, joy, self-control unless God grows those fruits in us. The journey God takes us on when we are “walking with the spirit”, is the avenue in which fruit is produced.

The point in Paul’s examination is where the acts of the flesh destroys fellowship, the spirit creates it.  As we are being transformed, we aren’t just modifying behavior, we are being transformed into the likeness, the image of Jesus.  The traits of Jesus is fruit that is develop in us when we walk with the spirit.

Now we often see some or all of the fruits of the spirit all around us.  We all saw kindness and goodness extended to so many people this past week due the tragedy that we all experienced.  People rallied together to help each other out, cared for each other.  People offered food, homes, shelter.  Many risked their own safety and life in order to help and protect others.  People put their differences aside in order to serve and help for the common good.  When the crisis was over last night, there were cheers, high-fives, people celebrating in the streets with people they didn’t even know.  Without exploiting or over-spiritualizing all that happened this week, it gives us a picture of what the flesh and the spirit looks like In the midst of terror and evil, we see God’s spirit at work.

Here is the takeaway for us:  A life of freedom transforms us into people who love others.  I know of nothing more attractive to those who are hurting, grieving, seeking, and desiring to be in an part of a community that functions in the spirit.  In the aftermath of tragedy and conflict, people desire and crave to see the spirit of God at work, even if they don’t even know that is what they actually are craving. Let us go out and strive be that for church community and to the rest of the world.

Mar 18

A Shepherd Leader

photoThis is Ernie.  I recently met Ernie and have quickly developed a friendly rapport with him.  He is in his mid-eighties, and has been leading a Saturday Morning Men’s Breakfast for years.  Once a month Ernie gathers with a group of men for community, study and food.   Here is the incredible part of Ernie’s story.  The men who regularly attend the breakfast are former kids who were in his Youth Ministry sixty years ago.  For the last sixty years, Ernie has walked alongside those who were entrusted to his care so long ago.  He has been with them through graduations, job transitions, marriages, and children, good times and bad.  He continues to pray for them, feed them, care for them and walk with them even as they have now become grandparents themselves.  As I heard Ernie’s story, I couldn’t help but think of the legacy and commitment that Ernie has made to the group of men he still meets with.  I think it is safe to say that Ernie is one of the oldest volunteer youth workers in New England.

In Tim Witmer’s book, “The Shepherd Leader”, he gives a clear distinction between the metaphor of a father and the metaphor of a shepherd.  Witmer writes:

Children grow up and become less dependent on their earthly fathers, though the relationship continues.  Sheep, on the other hand, are always completely dependent on their shepherd.  They never outgrow their need for the shepherd to care for them, feed them, lead them and protect them.  The shepherd cares for the newborn lambs and is still there when the sheep grow old and weak.

Lately I have been thinking about what the modern-day ministry-metaphor for the shepherd would be.  At one point I came to the conclusion that parenting was probably the most accurate translation for today.  After reading Witmer’s distinction, I have come to the conclusion there really isn’t an alternative translation for our day.  Disciples need life-long care just as sheep need life-long care.  How one administers care may change, or the frequency of care may may change as well, but there is still an opportunity to be a shepherd over the course of their life.  Ernie’s example and story is a beautiful image of what life-long shepherding looks like.

For those who minister to children, students, families, or adults, whether paid or volunteer, our role as a shepherd does not cease to exist just because they move on to another grade level, graduate from a program or move away.  As a Shepherd Leader, there is a distinct opportunity to continue to care, pray, and invest in your “flock”.  Surely other pastors and shepherds will come alongside them and will be the primary shepherd in their life, but don’t miss out on the blessing of being a life-long shepherd leader.

May the inspiration and model of Ernie’s dedication and commitment to shepherding be something we strive for.

 

 

 

Aug 10

Top Quotes From The Global Leadership Summit

Yesterday I attended the Global Leadership Summit by the Willow Creek Association.  160K leaders from around the world, taking two days to learn, grow, fill their leadership tanks, and become better leaders.  At our site, we had over 400 people in attendance, and the energy all day was buzzing. Each speaker was authentic, passionate, and determined to be better leaders, and they were committed to helping other leaders become better as well.

Here are my top takeaway quotes from the Global Leadership Summit:

Quotes From Bill Hybels:

Everyone wins when leaders get better.

What does your community think your church is?

Like it or not, your organization takes its seed-sowing cues from you

You are the most difficult person you will lead.

Most important asset is not time. It’s energy and ability to energize.

God didn’t make you a leader to respond to stuff all day – He made you a leader to move stuff ahead!!

God makes us leaders to move people from an undesirable reality to what a new reality could be.

Savor every day you get to lead..

 

Quotes From Condoleezza Rice

No one likes to follow a sour-puss

Today’s headlines and history’s judgement are rarely the same.

After struggle comes relief – after Friday there comes a Sunday. It is a privilege to struggle

The most important characteristic in a leader is irrepressible optimism.

If every life is worthy, every life is also capable of greatness

Friendship can be the place that let’s you have difficult conversations.

 

Quotes From Jim Collins

Why do some thrive under difficult circumstances, while some do not, in the same difficult circumstances?

Separate practices from values

Preserve the core & simulate progress

The signature of mediocrity is not unwillingness to change – it is chronic inconsistency

Every church, every leader would benefit from having a 20-mile march

My organization is not truly great if it cannot be great without me.

 

Quotes From Craig Groeschel

Life is not measured in time. It’s measured in love, contribution & grace.

Older generation – Don’t resent, fear or judge the next generation. Believe in them.

Don’t delegate tasks or you’ll just get followers. Delegate authority and you’ll get leaders.

With the younger generation, authenticity trumps cool every single time

If you’re not DEAD you’re not DONE!!!

Aug 08

Four Ways I Have Learned To Travel Smarter

Between work and family I have about ten overnight trips over the course of a year.  There was a time where I didn’t think much about packing when I would travel; I would just simply throw everything into a suitcase and rushed out the door.  Over the years I have discovered some simple, but helpful ways to travel smarter.  By implementing these things into the way I pack, it has not only made traveling smarter, but made traveling a better experience.

Here are four ways I have learned to travel smarter:

Luggage:  Instead of using suitcases, our family each has their own duffle bag.  Duffle bags are easier to pack, transport, and makes loading a van or bus a lot easier.  I love LL Bean duffle bags primarily because they offer a variety of sizes, features, and a lifetime warranty.  A couple of years ago my bag had a tear in it, and they replaced it without any hassle at all.  You can get a duffle bag with wheels and a handle, which makes trudging through an airport or walking long distances much easier.  They are a little more expensive, but well worth the investment.  I also recommend bright/different colors when buying a duffle bag.  It makes your luggage quickly noticeable on the luggage carousel, and makes it easier to avoid grabbing the wrong bag.

Toiletries: I used to pack all my home-sized toiletries into a toiletry bag, would then come home, unpack the bag and put those things back.  Jayme would be upset with me for taking a brand new bottle of shampoo on a retreat with me, only to forget to bring it home because I left it in the shower at the retreat center.  Large stores like Target usually has a huge wall of travel-sized toiletries and sells everything you can possibly think of.  Every once in a while I will stock on the things I use regularly, and keep everything stored in my toiletry bag.  When it is time to pack for a trip, I simply grab the toiletry bag and put it into my duffle bag.  It’s already packed, and saves me time from having to pack toiletries while I’m trying to get out the door.  By using travel-sizes, it reduces weight (good for baggage fees), and gives you more room inside your duffle bag for other things you will need.

Laundry: Before you close your duffle bag, throw in a plastic trash bag to collect all of your laundry.  It will keep your dirty clothes separate from your clean clothes, and will keep your clothes together so you don’t leave anything behind.  When I get home, I simply pull the plastic bag out of my duffle bag, and toss it down the stairs to be done with the laundry (our ten-day family vacation produced six trash bags of dirty clothes).  Also, before you begin packing, line the bottom of the bag with a scented fabric softener sheet.  It will keep your clothes from smelling the like you are lodging in a room with teenagers that….well… you know.

Cipro:  On my first international mission trip I ate something that got me violently ill.  Thankfully, before I left for the trip, a good friend of mine recommended I bring a prescription of Cipro with me.  I was so glad I took that advice.  Within a couple of hours after taking the Cipro I was doing much better, and by the next day I was fine.  Each year I get a small prescription from my physician and keep it in my toiletry bag for any trip I go on.  I like to call it cheap “health insurance”.

Poncho:  When we were in Trinidad last month, one of our construction jobs required us to be outside for several hours, and it rained all afternoon.  Everyone was soaking wet, trying to make the best of a miserable situation, and making fun of me for pulling out my emergency poncho that I keep in the front pocket of my duffle bag for when situations like this arise.  I was dry as a bone!  You can find emergency ponchos in the camping section of large stores like Target, and they cost about a $1.

If you have tips for smarter travel, I would love to hear about them.  Leave a comment below and share your wealth of wisdom!

Aug 06

Three Ways I’m Using Evernote

Several years ago I got an Evernote account.  I remember taking a picture of a quote on the back of a Starbucks cup with my Palm Treo, and emailing it to my Evernote account, which would then be able to be found in a search database by typing in a few words of the quote that I had saved.  While I thought it was a really cool feature, I never really gained much traction with Evernote mainly because I was using Microsoft’s Onenote, and really wasn’t  excited about making the change.

Fast forward to this year, and I’m using Evernote to help keep me as organized and productive as possible.  The main reason behind the switch is that Evernote has made it so easy to be able to sync my notes with all of my devices (Desktop, iPhone, iPad, Laptop).  Wherever I am, my notes and files are with me.  The development of the platform keeps improving, and I’m finding new uses for it all the time.

Here are three ways I’m currently using Evernote:

Going Paperless:  Currently, this is the main function of Evernote for me these days.  One specific area for me is in the area of personal finances.  I always need to save receipts, and usually they end up left in my pocket (and get run through the wash), or my wallet is overstuffed with paper.  Now when I get a receipt, I snap a picture of it and send it to Evernote with a folder label in the subject line, and it’s saved!  I have also begun using my Evernote email address for financial statements and bills to be automatically emailed right to Evernote.  The beauty of this is that I don’t have tons of paper sitting around on my desk or in a box.  It’s all filed away in a few simple steps.

Project Tracking:  I can start working on a project at home, and then pick up where I left off in the office without having to carry around my laptop (A.K.A. “brick”).  Yesterday morning I was working on a schedule for our mission team’s “Just Back” report to our congregation.  I finalized the program order at my desk at home, made a few minor changes on my iPhone when I got to the room we would be presenting, added a few last minute notes I wanted to be sure to say during the presentation, and it was all synced on my desktop when I got home that afternoon.   In the past I would have multiple drafts, would have to make edits on paper, then come back and enter those edits into the original document I was working on. I also emailed the notes to someone else who would have the program order on their iPhone.  It is a game-changer!

Writing:  I am beginning to use Evernote for writing.  As I mentioned, in the past I used Onenote for this.  While it has been a great program, I’m finding it much easier to keep everything centralized in one program.  I can add blog post ideas wherever I am, I have folders for upcoming messages and teaching, and can easily add thoughts, ideas, illustrations, and links to media clips quickly.  In the past, I would walk around with a Moleskin to write things down that I wanted to remember, and would be frustrated if I left it somewhere.  Now I simply create a note in my Evernote app on my phone, and it’s saved.  When I’m looking for an idea that I have previously saved, all I need to do is typed in a few search words, and the note or file comes right up.

I’m learning new features and finding creative ways to use Evernote everyday, and would love to learn from you.  If you are an Evernote user, how are you currently using it to simplify your life?

Aug 03

How One Bad Decision Can Destroy A Legacy

Last week NCAA officials handed down a punishment on the sexual abuse scandal at Penn State that has many people talking and weighing in on the decision.  Here was the official ruling:

  • Four year ban from post-season bowl games.
  • $60 Million dollar fine.
  • All wins between 1998-2011 (111 wins) vacated.
  • Scholarship reductions.
  • Five year probation.

Many have called the ruling everything from unprecedented, appropriate, unfair, to not enough.  One commentator described the decision as a “dismantling of a football dynasty”.  As I have been thinking about it over the last week, I see a much bigger consequence than monetary fines, loss of games, and bowl-game bans, I see reputations and legacies destroyed:

  • A Coach loses the achievement of the most-winning game record of a college football coach.
  • A University essentially loses their football achievement status for the better part of 20 years.
  • People who were once known as “great” and “honorable” will now go down in history as people who were shamed and dishonorable.
  • Everyone who was connected to this story will be known forever as someone who covered up a sexual abuse scandal.

All because of one decision.  One decision to protect reputation over integrity.  One decision to not making the right decision instead of covering up a serious problem.  One decision of protecting an institution over protecting the safety and well-being of innocent victims.  One decision to choose talent over character.

I’m not trying to be the moral-police, or claim that I’m more pious than others.  I’m not beating up those that did wrong, or minimizing those who were victims.  I will be the first to admit that I have made bad decisions in my life.  But there is a huge leadership lesson in this very sad story, one that I’m aware of in my life and in some ways fear every day: we all stand one decision away from destroying our legacy:

  • A moral failure that destroys a marriage, family or ministry that took many faithful years to build.
  • A ethical decision that destroys a career, company or institution that was established by years hard work, sacrifice, and wisdom.
  • A character flaw that ruins a lifelong friendship because trust was broken.
  • Poor judgement that has results in us losing everything.

One decision that took a split of a second to make can unravel years of work, and our legacy.  We may not see the results immediately, but in the end, the decision is always revealed, and it will humble us.

How do we avoid making a bad decision that could destroy our legacy?  Does it just happen?  Will we know that the decision will have such a bad outcome?  I have learned that these decisions don’t just happen; they are the result of three factors that are very subtle, but dangerous to our legacy:

Shortcuts:  When we take shortcuts in life, meaning when we care more about our reputation (what others will think) rather than our character (who God has created us to be), our foundation is weakened to make difficult decisions when the time comes.

Pride:  When we think it is all about us, that we are above everyone else, that we couldn’t possibly get caught or found out, we have been deceived far beyond reality.

Lifeless gods:  When power, fame, success, fortune and achievement is our drive, and above our hope and faith in God, we are slaves to an idol.

These factors are often so subtle, so quiet in our life that we don’t even realize they are affecting us.  What typically happens is we get so swept away in them that when opportunities, problems or decisions arise, we are so entangled that we say “I have to have it, whatever it costs”, or “we can let this problem derail us, make it go away”, “no one will ever find out”, or “I’ve worked my whole life to turn back now”.   We must be diligent in self evaluation and reflection to ensure that these three factors do not secretly occupy residence in our life.

Here are some timeless truths from God’s word in which to build our legacy on:

Psalm 111:10- The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding… In other words, God must be our final authority when we make decisions.  When we realize there is more to life than just pleasing ourselves, and choose to please God in our decisions as well, our decisions will build a legacy.  We need to ask “will God be honored in this decision?”, “will he be pleased?”, “is it in line with how God instructs us to live?”.

Proverbs 3:5- Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight…  In other words, trust God not your gut and what simply feels right.  Make sure your decisions align with God’s will for your life, which is 1 Thessalonians 4:2-4.

1 John 1:9- If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness…  The good news, the hope we have is that while one bad decision can destroy our legacy, one decision to turn to Jesus will give us new life.  No matter what bad decision we have made, God will give us a second chance.  We can rewrite our legacy.  It may not solve all our of problems or the mess we got ourselves into right away, but God promises to be there with us through those problems.  Don’t let your legacy be determined by what you have done, let your legacy be determined by what Jesus did.

 

Question: What are you doing to keep from making a decision that could destroy your legacy?

 

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