Christmas Vacation

See ya on January 1st

Family Friday - Rice Cereal

Before Kari and I were married, I knew she had some "cute idiosyncrasies" that most people don't share. One of the most pronounced "cute idiosyncrasy" is her aversion to rice. 

I know, I know - of all the foods to hate (and Kari hates many of them), the one she hates the most is rice. It doesn't matter what kind of rice - from Rice Krispies to Flied Lice, she hates it all. 

Well, today Casen had his 4-month checkup and shots. The Doc said we could try to introduce some rice cereal into his diet whenever we wanted. The thought of rice cereal makes Kari gag, but she decided to be a trooper and feed it to Casen. This is what happened:

video

Seems like the apple doesn't far too fall from the tree...

Book - The Future of Justification

Back in college, I had some run-ins with a few over-zealous hyper-Calvinists who really bothered me. They were intellectually arrogant, theologically lazy, and pretty obnoxious in their desire to convert everyone they met into hyper-Calvinists like themselves. 

John Piper was their pope. 

John Piper is not himself a hyper Calvinist, or anywhere near as annoying as these guys in college, but they hung on every word he wrote. So, I didn't read much Piper until seminary. And, my reading of him has always been colored by the bad taste in my mouth I received from the zealots in college. 

But, in the process of weeding through resumes for a role McKinney was attempting to fill, I kept coming across people who were reading NT Wright. The more I read about the Emergent Church, the more I read about NT Wright. So, I went out and picked up some books by NT Wright, and was pretty disturbed by some of what he wrote. 

I was really excited to find John Piper's book "The Future of Justification," which is a response to NT Wright's thoughts on the meaning of justification in the New Testament. 

Piper's work is superb. Plain and simple. It's written with grace, Truth, and as clarity. It's theologically heavy - not  easy reading - but is a tremendously important work. Piper successfully points out the flaws in Wright's position without making Wright himself the enemy, which is a tremendously difficult thing to do in debate

The doctrine of justification by faith is at the heart of the Christian faith. Wright is willing to throw out millenia of scholarship in view of something he feels is clear from Apocryphal literature and the Qumran scrolls - as if the Qumran community is more representative of the average Jewish person alive in the first century than the letters in the New Testament. 

Emerging generations need careful theologians. Careful theologians should read "The Future of Justification." 



Leadership is about Faithfulness

Leadership is about faithfulness before it's about leadership. 

A significant part of my role at McKinney Church is leadership development. In fact, it's core to our philosophy that every pastor is primarily about leadership development. Sometimes that involves developing people for formal leadership positions like small group leadership. Sometimes it involves developing people for informal leadership positions in their schools or places of business. 

In either case, the successful leader has to be faithful in non-leadership before they can ever be successful in leadership. 

I would never consider a person for a formal leadership position who isn't demonstrating faithfulness in some arena already. Likewise, I'm not going to waste my time developing/mentoring people toward leadership who can't demonstrate faithfulness to something. 

A lot of people think they're gifted in leadership, but that they're only able to exercise that gift in a formal position. That's baloney. Likewise, there are a lot of people out there looking for mentors who aren't faithful kind of people. Those people aren't going to amount to anything as leaders because they can't be trusted.

Before leadership is about leading, leadership is about faithfulness. If you're not a faithful person, you're not going to be a faithful leader.  

Systematized Spontaneity

Yesterday I had lunch with a good friend of mine from seminary. He's serving with the Navigators in Eugene, Oregon, on the campus of Oregon University. If you're not familiar with Eugene, it's a pretty tough place to be a believer. Eugene where all the angry hippies went after the 70s were over. It's a socially liberal town, and socially liberal campus. It's the only town I know of where it is legal to walk around town nude. In fact, according to Stowe, from time to time students will attend class nude. 

Where was Eugene when I was making my college decision? 

I had a blast talking to Stowe about what God is doing in their ministry in Oregon. I was particularly fascinated by the system they're using for outreach. They've developed a system that fosters spontaneity, which is pretty cool. 

Systems and spontaneity create a tension in most ministries. If your ministry is too systematized, you end up with a cold, lifeless church. If your ministry is too spontaneous, you end up with chaos. The best ministries include systems that foster spontaneity, and figure out a way to live in the tension. 

Stowe's outreach plan at the University of Oregon includes systematized plans to spontaneously meet students. He has a system that allows him to make spontaneous contact with students, engage them in conversation, and share the Gospel, and God is at work. Keep your eye on the University of Oregon. It wouldn't shock me at all to hear about a spiritual awakening on the campus. And, if you're looking for a ministry to get excited about financially, Stowe's would be a good one. You can give online to what he's doing by clicking here

It's exciting when I see people I know doing great things in tough situations. They give me confidence that God can use me too! 

Contrast

Our Young Adults are in the home stretch of a year-long look at the New Testament. Since January 1, 2008, all our young adult groups have been reading a chapter a day, five days a week, out of the New Testament. On Sunday, we teach through the 5 chapters the group read the previous week. 

We've got two weeks left in the trek before we're done. We didn't necessarily go in order, but we are ending with the book of Revelation. Why? Because nothing says "Christmas" like hail mixed with blood falling from the sky. 

Actually, Revelation is a great book to study around Christmas time. When the whole world is focused on the first coming, we're focused on the second coming. When the whole world is focused on a new year, we'll be focused on a new heavens and new earth. That's not bad. 

One of the most interesting things to me about the book of Revelation is the contrast between heaven and earth. The most poignant is between chapters 2 and 3, and chapter 4. 

Chapters 2 and 3 describe seven churches at various states of fulfilling their role on earth. Some churches, like the church of Philadelphia (not Pennsylvania) were worn out but holding fast (Revelation 3:7-13). Others, like the church at Sardis had a great reputation for being alive, but were dead and needed a wake-up call (Revelation 3:1-2).  Chapter 3 ends with the church at Laodicea, who was lukewarm - like bad coffee. Coffee is sold iced, and sold hot, but lukewarm coffee is thrown down the drain. 

Chapter 4 changes scenes entirely from the situation on earth to the situation in heaven, where the entire scene is about worshipping at the throne of God. Every creature and person around the throne is constantly "giving glory, honor, and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever" (Revelation 4:9). 

At first glance you might think chapters 2 and 3 have nothing to do with chapter 4, but to do so is to miss one of the great themes of the whole book. 

The book is written to reveal Jesus (Revelation 1:1). And when Jesus is revealed, worship occurs. The problem for many of the churches listed in chapter 2 and 3 was that Jesus had been revealed to them, but they had stopped worshipping. The church at Ephesus had left its first love (Revelation 2:4). The churches in Pergamum, Thyatira, and Sardis were actually worshipping - just worshipping the wrong things. 

I think the contrast in chapter 4 is stark on purpose. We see what's going on on earth, and then immediately what's going on in heaven. The question should be obvious, and it's implied throughout the book of Revelation: Which does your life more closely reflect? The obstinate people who refuse to worship despite revelation of Jesus, or the people who never stop giving Him praise, honor, and glory, forever?

Transparency or Honesty?

There's a lot of talk these days about "transparency." It's in the church, in corporate business, and even in politics; Barack Obama has made it a stated point to try to be "transparent" in his transition to office. 

But I think most of the time we mistake "transparency" for "honesty." 

"Honesty" means I choose the topic, and speak about it truthfully. I try to be "honest" in my preaching and in my leadership. I speak about my strengths, weaknesses, and struggles. I hope people feel like I connect with them on a significant level because I feel the freedom to be honest with them. But it's impossible for me to be truly transparent when I control the environment. I can be honest, open, and even vulnerable, but not transparent. 

"Transparency" involves honesty, but the two words aren't synonymous. Transparency is more pervasive than honesty; it's open and honest about everything. Transparency means honesty when someone else controls the environment and topic, and we respond truthfully. Transparency demands community. It demands relationship. It demands trust. It is only possible when the "transparent" person is not in control.

You can (and must) be honest in everything with everyone.  But you can only be truly transparent with a few. 

What would the next person do?

I've read and heard an interesting quote a couple of different places recently, and I really love it. Andy Grove was one of the early leaders of Intel, and said in a conversation with his CFO, "If we got kicked out and the board brought in a new CEO, what would he do? Why shouldn't we walk out the door, come back in, and do it ourselves?" 

I love that quote. I think about it all the time as a leader in an organization. 

If my church was to fire me, or I was to keel over dead tomorrow, what would the new guy need to change? If he had no personal attachment to ideas, emotional investments in programs, or sympathetic attachment to specific personalities, what things would he need to stop doing? What things would he need to do better? What things would he need to start doing? 

If I can name specific things on that list, what is it that is keeping me from walking out the door, walking back in, and pulling the trigger myself? 

Because here's the thing: If I don't make the switch, at some point in the future the organization will bring in the new guy. 

The question isn't just good for my role at the church though. It can be tweaked so it applies to every aspect of your life. 

My wife recently announced that if I died, she would remarry immediately (the mommy business is hard work). I plan to stay alive because I don't want her to bring a date to my funeral. Even so - play out the morbid scenario in your head. What things would she hope he would do differently? 

He'd turn off the water faucet when he was brushing his teeth, that's for sure. 

So what is it that keeps me from doing that now? 

Don't get me wrong. My wife isn't hoping for my untimely demise. Her future husband isn't something she thinks about. But there's no reason I shouldn't be a better husband to make that guy look like a complete tool. 

You wear a lot of hats in your life. You may be a boss, an employee, a husband, wife, child, parent, neighbor, or friend. Imagine you were replaced tomorrow. What would the person who filled that role do differently? 

What's keeping you from walking out the door, walking back in, and doing it yourself?  

Your "Quiet Time" is Too Short

I first started the habit of a consistent "quiet time" or "personal devotion time" in college. It's a discipline I've continued to this day, and one that many if my friends do as well. Maybe it's something you do as a part of your day every day too. You schedule fifteen minutes, or thirty minutes, or an hour devoted to studying Scripture, praying, singing, or reading a devotional guide of some sort. 

Does it occur to you that your quiet time is too short? 

I'm increasingly convicted that my devotion to God has to be an over-arching character trait, not just something I schedule. 

Now, technically I've "known" that for a long time. You probably have too. But, functionally it's more difficult for us. 

There are days that my 30 minute quiet time adversely affects my relationship with God because I walk away feeling like it's enough. My "devotion" time is done, so I can get on with the rest of my day. And thus, the time that I live in conscious devotion to Jesus Christ is limited to 30 minutes per day. What a waste. 

Intentional times of Bible Study and prayer are important. Don't get me wrong. But they aren't enough. They don't even scratch the surface. I need reminders throughout the day that whatever I'm doing should be an act of conscious, intentional, purposeful, meaningful devotion to God. My quiet time is way too short. 

John Burke's book "Soul Revolution" has a neat experiment I'm going to try with some guys I know pretty well. Beginning in January (or a little before), we're all buying watches that beep every hour. Every hour when those watches beep, we're going to allow that beep to jolt our minds towards thinking about how the next hour can be an act of personal devotion; at home, at work, at church, at play. In effect, we're going to try to stretch our quiet times to the hours we're awake. 

I'll certainly continue being intentional in my study of Scripture, and in trying to maintain a meaningful prayer life. But those will be supplements to my devotion, not substitutes. Try it with us if you want, and let us know how it goes. 

15-hour quiet times every day... who's with me? 

Forest and Trees

One of the big challenges of leadership is being able to view both the forest and the trees as they lead. 

In order to be effective, a leader has to be able to take a step back from small decisions to see its ramifications on the big picture. This is especially important in crisis management. Poor leaders will be tempted to run the path of least resistance, and make a knee-jerk decision in a crisis scenario, which almost never pays off in the long run. 

But the most effective leader is not just one who operates on a big-picture level. I've worked for organizations before where the primary leader only functions at 30,000 feet, and it doesn't work. He isn't able to see the short-term ramifications of his big-picture vision, which breeds resentment and discouragement, or apathy on the part of the people who work under him. 

If you only function at a big-picture "forest" level, you'll never reach your vision because you'll run off all the people assigned to work at the "tree" level. You don't get them, so you can't empower them. 

On the other hand, if you only function on the "tree" level, you'll operate and execute with a "ready, fire, aim" tendency. You'll be more interested in pulling the trigger and getting a decision off your desk than you will be in making sure the decision benefits the group you're leading in the long-run. 

The best leaders move freely between the "forest" view and the "tree" view as a part of each decision. They work hard to understand the short-term and long-term ramifications of each decision they make. And the greatest leaders are able to do this extremely quickly. 

With that said, I've never met a leader for whom both views come naturally. We typically have to struggle to see either the "forest" or the "trees" picture with any clarity at all. I tend to be better at a "forest" view. When I shoot, my philosophy tends to be "ready, aim, aim, aim, aim, aim..." So I work hard to think more at the tree-level, and to surround myself with people who think well at the tree-level. I want to consider both, because I want to be a great leader. 

Family Friday - It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

I received this from my friend Paul yesterday. I saw one of these last year, but it was not nearly as complex. 

This is way out of Kari's comfort zone... I'm proud of her for taking the risk. 


Have a great Friday. 

Greeting

I read an article in this month's Readers Digest (I never claimed to be cool) about a man who ran a pretty cool social experiment. For thirty days this man greeted every person he saw. He said "hello" and smiled at everyone he saw and then recorded his findings. 

My first thought after reading the article was, "I've got to get a grant to do research like that!"

My second thought, which quickly followed the first, was that I wanted to try the experiment. He listed some of his findings in the article, which is worth reading if you can find the issue. I've only done the experiment for a week, but here are some of mine:

1. This is much harder than it sounds. Typically strangers avoid eye contact, which makes social contact almost impossible - even in Texas where people pride themselves on being friendly. But, for most people, this seems to be a subconscious reaction. It feels awkward to say hello to someone who is looking away from you, but they almost always smile and return the greeting. 

2. I realized the people I often ignored. I've found I can make someone's day if I simply say hello to them like I mean it. Pay attention to the way people treat the checker at Walmart the next time you have to go there. Most people don't even say hello. 

3. Being friendly is a discipline. I have to remind myself to say "hello," and I'm not a naturally unfriendly person. It takes some work to remember to say hello and smile people you pass. It isn't that I don't want to be friendly - it's that I'm not proactive about being friendly as often as I thought. 

Try it for a week and let me know how it goes. Discipline  yourself to say hello and smile at everyone you pass - at work, school, church, shopping, getting gas, on the highway. See if it doesn't tweak your perspective a bit. 

"Greet each other in Christian love" (Romans 16:16; NLT)

Heroes

I've spoken before about some of my heroes. I got an email yesterday concerning one of them that I wanted to point you towards. 

JB Bond is the pastor at Countryside Church in Stillwater, OK. He's the pastor who took a chance on an arrogant, immature, unprepared, thoroughly green kid, and gave me my first ministry position while I was still in college (He was either completely undiscerning, or completely desperate). 

When I walked on campus at Oklahoma State University in the Fall of 1998, I didn't have any idea how to look for a church. My family went to the same Baptist church for my entire childhood. That church was going through some tough times, so I wasn't even sure I wanted to be "Baptist" anymore. But I didn't know where else to start. I asked my RA where the Baptist Church was. He took me to Countryside, introduced me to JB, and I never went anywhere else.  

JB's passion for the Scriptures is contagious. Scores of men and women have passed through Countryside, many of them with a passion and knowledge of the Scriptures they never had before.  I'm just one of those people. 

JB taught me that I could understand how the Bible fits together. He taught me how to study the Scriptures, how to teach them, and how to think through difficult theological issues. And if you know JB, you know he did all those things at 100 miles per hour. He isn't perfect, but he's really darn good.  

Dallas Seminary honored JB yesterday by sending a video to alumni and friends of the Seminary, highlighting his ministry. If you're interested in meeting one of my heroes (or, for some of you, seeing one of your heroes too), it's worth watching. 

I'm proud of JB, and thank God every day for sending him across my path. I'm very confident I wouldn't be a pastor today if he hadn't pushed me, taught me, encouraged me, and sharpened me in this direction. 

It's important to recognize the people God sends into your life at critical times to be used by Him in molding, shaping, and empowering your walk in a positive direction. It's important to have heroes. Who are yours?

Why?

Why does your church (or organization) exist? Can you say it in a single sentence? Do your people know why they show up? 

If your church is like mine, a vast majority of the people who show up don't have a clue why your church exists. And if you did a man-on-the-street interview you would likely get as many answers as people you interviewed. It isn't that your church doesn't have a purpose, but that nobody can put their finger on what it is. 

That's a really good way to start conflict within the church on accident. When a group of ladies want to start Bingo night at the church, and you can't give them a concise reason why that isn't congruent with your purpose, they're going to be upset. When you cancel the Easter cantata because it isn't effective, but you can't explain what "effective" is, you're headed toward conflict. When economic realities cause you to cut the budget of some ministries while leaving some alone, you have to be able to explain why you chose the ones you chose.  

There's an external reason this is important too: If the purpose of your church cannot be clearly communicated by the members of your congregation, your purpose cannot be contagious. If they don't "get it," they can't "pass it" on.

Here are some clear purposes at some of the churches I'm aware of: 

- Helping people take their next step toward Christ... together.
- Making the name of Jesus Christ famous, one life at a time.
- Reaching People with the life-changing reality of Jesus Christ.
- To call all people to full devotion to Jesus Christ. 
- To bring glory to God through lives changed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

A good purpose statement is clear, compelling, and easy to communicate (much like a good alliteration). When the Bingo girls want to use the main foyer on Tuesday nights, the first church listed above should be able to ask "Will Bingo help people take their next step toward Christ together?" If the answer is "yes," they are likely to find a way to make it happen. If the answer is "no," Bingo night would be a distraction from their purpose and poor stewardship of the building. 

We're currently thinking through this at McKinney. We have a purpose, and people have a vague idea what it is, but vague is not compelling, clear, or easy to communicate. We want it to reflect the biblical priorities for a church's purpose in a concise way, and we're making some progress. I'll keep you posted. 

Pastors - do you have something like this at your church? I'd love to know what it is. 
Non-Pastors - do you have something at this church? I'd love to know if you know what it is (without looking at the website).  

People far from God

I've been meeting with a guy for lunch every week for the past several months. We went through a mentoring book together, but once we finished it decided to branch out and do something different. For the past couple of weeks, we've been reading through Matthew. Specifically, we're looking at the way Jesus led. 

One of the really delicate balances in the Christian life is trying to be separate from the world without isolating yourself to the point that you can't follow Jesus' command to "go into all the world." Jesus was different from the world, but unbelievers flocked to Him. 

Of course, the ability to make blind men see doesn't hurt when you're trying to gain a hearing. 

But there's more to it than that. How long has it been since the equivalent of a tax collector invited you over for dinner with all his tax collecting buddies (Matthew 9:10)? Matthew wasn't lame, or blind, or demon possessed... he was just a crook. Jesus didn't join him in his extortion, but I also don't get the idea that Jesus and His disciples' invitation to dinner was prompted by their picketing Matthew's tax booth.

So how did Jesus do it? That's what Daniel and I are looking for in our study.  We've seen several different things, but something that jumps out to me is Jesus' availability. Needy people were constantly approaching Jesus, and He regularly took time to help them. He listened to them, talked to them, touched them, and helped them (Matthew 4:24; 8:2; 8:5; 8:14; 8:28; 9:2; 9:14). 

Sure, he had the ability to make blind men see, mute men speak, and paralyzed men walk. As of now, God hasn't given me that power. But people do seek me out from time to time. They do ask for help in areas where I do have the power to assist. And I'm often tempted to blow them off because I have some kind of holy work to do somewhere else with the religious people. 

Jesus won a hearing with people far from God because He actually cared about people far from God. 

I guess it's not rocket science, but it's something I'm not always very good at. How about you?