Decision Making - the Stories we Tell

I'm finishing up "Crucial Confrontations" by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler. I read and reviewed its counterpart, "Crucial Conversations" last year and plan to review this one as well in the future; it's a really great book.

One of the things the authors talk about is that we often shy away from confrontation because of the stories we tell ourselves. Those stories can take lots of shapes and sizes, but one of the most common is that we make the decision to fight or flight based only on the worst case scenario.

To say it another way, when we are deciding whether or not to have a hard conversation we imagine the worst possible outcome of that conversation and then weigh it against the potential for reward. This leads us to almost always shy away from hard conversations except in the most extreme circumstances because there is no end to our ability to imagine worst case scenarios:

If I confront her about leaving the coffee machine on in the workroom, there's a possibility that will have received her concealed carry license yesterday and is hiding an oozy under her jacket. Who knows but what our conversation will be the thing that sends her over the psychological edge causing her to pull out the oozy and begin shooting. Then my kid won't have a father and his kids will spend their lives in therapy because I didn't get to come to Grandparents Day at their school. Better not have the conversation.

Unfortunately, this tendency isn't just limited to hard conversations. Many people live their lives making decisions like this.

It's an awfully foolish way to make decisions. The worst-case scenario is rarely the actual scenario that plays out.

We have to think about the worst-case scenario, but it's far more wise to consider risk/reward in light of the most likely scenario rather than the worst-case scenario. What is most likely to happen if I move forward from here?

Making decisions based on false narratives is a great way to miss out on good opportunities.

Broken Leaders

A lot has been written about being a "broken" leader. It's true: in Scripture and in life, you rarely find a leader worth his salt who has not been broken.

However, when people talk about "brokeness," they usually mean "woundedness." I think that definition is incomplete.

Being broken doesn't always hurt. It's rarely comfortable, but isn't always painful.

A horse that is broken doesn't necessarily spend a lot of time in pain. Pain comes when it resists the process by which it's brought under the control of another. When it allows itself to be placed under the control of a master, the process is uncomfortable but not painful.

I think God takes good leaders through a similar process as He teaches us to yield to His control.

The good news is, a broken horse is no less strong, no less useful, no less valuable to its owner. In fact, its strength remains the same while its usefulness and value increases. The more broken the horse, the higher the speeds its owner feels comfortable allowing it to run.

Before God will use a leader, that leader has to be brought under God's control. But that doesn't necessarily mean extraordinary pain; especially the more willing we are to yield.


I'm working really hard right now with a team of guys to develop some mentoring materials that will be useful tools for Christians who are interested in beginning to be intentional about developing other Christ-centered people. I'm increasingly convinced of the power of intentional relationships when it comes to maturing as a Christian.

However, as hard as we're working on finishing this tool, I'm also increasingly convinced that the tool is one of the least important components of mentoring. We want to write something that is transferable - to give young believers some tracks to run on in developing other Christ-centered people - but we're not looking for a silver bullet; those don't exist.

I once heard Zig Ziglar say "You can teach people what you know, but you reproduce who you are."

He's right. A good tool, book, resource, whatever, is important - but only insofar as it gives a person a vehicle through which they can reproduce who they are. The very best resource will fall flat if a person is not serious about being a Christ-centered person. Similarly, the most tedious, boring, unclear resource will often yield good results provided it is being used by someone who is a Christ-centered person himself.

Who you are is more important than the book you're using. The book simply helps teach information. You reproduce who you are.

The Servant - Book Review

"The Servant" was recommended to me several years ago during a class I took on Organizational Leadership. I didn't read it then, but got it for Christmas this year and decided it was time to read it.

"The Servant" is a fable about a man named John Daily, a man who seemed to have achieved the American Dream by all outward appearances: high-powered job, beautiful wife, good kids, nice home, expensive cars, and a pleasure boat for his spare time. In reality, John's life was falling apart.

On his pastor's recommendation, and somewhat begrudgingly, John goes to a retreat at a monastery where the focus is on helping leaders lead better. The program is led by a man who was an extremely successful leader prior to choosing the monastic life. "The Servant" chronicles the lessons of that week.

The actual storyline of the book is pretty cheesy, honestly, but the leadership lessons are worth the cheese.

Several years ago I began talking about servant leadership as an inverted pyramid, where leadership happens from the bottom up rather than the top down. I don't know who I stole that concept from, but I think they stole it from this book. No harm, no foul, because the book admits it stole the concept from Jesus.

This isn't a religious book, though it unashamedly points to Jesus as the quintessential leader.

This book is a quick read worth any leader's time. If you can push through some of the cheesy dialogue included just for the sake of the story, you'll uncover some profound leadership insight that every leader needs to uncover.


I'll be away on a much-needed vacation for the rest of this week. I had high hopes of queuing enough blog entries this week but got sick last week which really killed my productivity. So, you'll have to spend the week in suspense.

Here are the books I'm taking with me:

The Story of the Story

I'm in the middle of teaching a 6-week Old Testament Survey study on Wednesday nights at our church. It's been a great time watching the Old Testament come alive in the eyes of some of the people in that class who have been believers for several decades.

When we're young we tend to do a pretty good job telling our kids Bible stories. We learn about Jonah, we learn about Joseph, and Moses, and David, and Adam, and Samson, and others.

The problem is, we inadvertently teach our kids that the Bible is just a collection of stories with little or no relationship to one another. We tell the stories without connecting them to the Story the Bible is telling of a perfect God's passionate pursuit of prodigal people through His Son Jesus Christ.

The stories of Scripture are all accountable to the Story of Scripture. If we just talk about Jonah but don't mention what it has to do with Jesus, we stop the story before it truly resolves and therefore miss the point.

As you're reading through your Bible, especially in the Old Testament, discipline yourself to think about how the Old Testament stories connect to the overall story of redemption. You will peel back a layer to the Old Testament you might not have ever seen, and you won't be sorry.


So, Lent starts a week from today.

In the past, Lent was primarily celebrated by Catholics and a few Protestant "high church" denominations. More recently, it has become faddish for the rest of the Church to fast something for Lent.

Honestly, I think fasting is a fairly healthy practice, not just for Lent, but as a part of Christian worship throughout the year. But only insofar as it's done within the context of biblical guidelines for any other fast. My estimation is that a lot of Lent fasting is the exact opposite of what Jesus and Paul indicated should be true of people who decide to fast.

1. Fasting is to be private - Jesus is fairly explicit in Matthew 5:16-18 that the fact you are fasting should be a secret kept between you and God. I considered writing a post today chronicling any Lent plans I might have. I've done that in the past. But I think that was a mistake. Lent isn't about seeing who can come up with the most creative, most disciplined, most exotic fast; it's a private act of worship between a person and God. If you do a lot of talking about what you're fasting, you defeat the purpose.

2. Fasting is less about what you don't do, more about what you do in its place - In 1 Corinthians 7:5, Paul wrote to the carnal Corinthians about their practice of fasting sexual activity. He makes it clear that the purpose for a fast was that the Corinthians should devote their extra time to prayer. Lots of people give up something for Lent, but that's only half the discipline. If you decide to fast something during this season, make sure you're as committed to filling the space with something that extends your worship.

3. Fasting is an opportunity, not an obligation - The New Testament never commands believers to fast. It certainly allows for that form of worship, providing even the example of Jesus (Matthew 4:2). But the New Testament never makes fasting an obligation for the believer, nor does it specify exactly what should be fasted or for how long. As a result, it provides us with quite a bit of freedom to choose to fast (or not fast) in a way that brings honor to God. It's wrong to imply that someone who does fast is more spiritual than someone who doesn't when the Scriptures simply don't make that connection.

Fix it or Not?

One of the key things I've been learning as a leader over the last year or so has to do with problem solving.

A large part of my job as a leader has to do with thinking through challenges or problems. In fact, very few days go by where a problem of some kind doesn't come across my desk.

Early in my role as a leader, I thought it was my primary responsibility to fix every problem someone brought to me. The more I grow as a leader, the more I realize the flaw in that thinking.

If you think you can solve all the problems that come across your path, you're deluding yourself and holding back the people you lead.

What I find is that in almost every case, the people who bring me problems have all the resources and knowledge they need to solve the problem. They just need someone to listen to them, think with them, and release them to do what they know how to do.

I came across an old quote the other day that says this so perfectly I am going to put it on my desk so I see it every day. It's attributed to an old Egyptian Pharaoh who wrote: "Those who must listen to the cries of their people should do so patiently. Because the people want attention to what they say even more than the accomplishing for which they came."

For me, it's easier to solve a problem than to listen to the people who bring me the problem. I need to get better about that, and if you want to lead people, so do you.

Above Average

Did you know that surveys show somewhere around 85 percent of people classify themselves as "above average?"

100 percent say they're in the top half of the population when it comes to getting along with others.

98 percent of people say they are "above average" leaders.

What does this mean?

As a leader, negative feedback costs a lot more leadership capital than you gain from the same amount of praise.

When you praise a person's performance in one area or another, these statistics say you are probably only reinforcing what the person already believes. Unless you do it a whole lot, you probably aren't motivating people like you think.

On the other hand, any criticism or negative feedback probably goes against what a person's self-perception might be.

It doesn't mean you should not use negative feedback. If you want to keep your leadership position, you have to help people realize when they aren't getting the job done. Just remember: those conversations always cost more than you think.

Satan's Enemy

While I was reading the book I reviewed on Monday by David Jeremiah, I got to thinking about Satan.

A lot of times, we wrongly think that Satan is the enemy of good (as the world defines "good"). He isn't. Satan is the enemy of God, not good.

Satan would just assume everyone live under the illusion that their goodness is enough to gain them favor with God and others. In fact, I would guess that if God would give us a glimpse behind the scenes of much of the "good" going on in the world at this very moment we would find that its roots are satanic.

2 Corinthians 11:14 - "Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness.

Of course, Paul goes on to say "Their end will be what their actions deserve."

"Good" apart from God is not good at all (See also Luke 18:19, 1 John 4:10-11). In fact, it's the rankest form of evil. Satan isn't the enemy of that.

Moses or Aaron?

This one's for the pastors who read my blog.

Last week in my One-Year-Bible, I was reading the story of Moses' conversation with God in the burning bush. You know how it goes: God tells Moses to go to Pharaoh, and Moses has every excuse in the book why God should choose someone else.

Finally, exasperated with Moses, God says "Fine... What about your brother Aaron? He speaks well. You talk to him and put the words in his mouth" (Exodus 4:14-15)

God works out a deal. God will speak to Moses and Moses will tell the more accomplished communicator what to say so that he can do the public speaking.

Here's the question: In your heart of hearts, if given the choice would you rather be Moses or Aaron? Would you choose communication from God or captivation of others?

Systematic Theology

Several years ago, my little brother started a blog. My advice to him was, "Don't do it. It's a monster that needs to be fed every day." He was smart and quit after two posts. I'm still feeding the monster after almost 5 years. It's hard to come up with topics to post, so from time to time I co-opt someone's comment question and make my answer into a post.

Yesterday, Deb asked a question that helped me feed the monster. Thanks Deb!

Systematic theology is a form of study that attempts to present a clear, biblical, concise look at core Christian beliefs. "Systematic Theology" books are usually an author's attempt to explain the grid he/she uses to think about the Christian faith and doctrine. As a result, choosing a good systematic theology book can be tough, especially for a beginner. You want to pick one written by someone who has a similar starting point as you on the really important issues. And, you want to begin with something that's readable. Many systematic theologies are technical, precise, thorough, and can be really tough to digest. They're best for curing insomnia.

I've got 6 systematic theology books within close reach of my desk that I refer to a lot. Here they are, in order of my favorites for a beginner with a few comments:

The Moody Handbook of Theology - Paul Enns - I found this book by accident on the closeout shelf at the Christian Bookstore when I was in college. It was a really good find. In addition to systematic theology, Enns includes a section on Biblical Theology, Historical Theology, Dogmatic Theology (different opinions within the Church), and Contemporary Theology. It's accessible, relatively easy reading, and extremely concise. In every theology book, you're going to find something to disagree with. On the whole, however, I find myself agreeing on most points with where Dr. Enns ends up.

Basic Theology - Charles C. Ryrie - This is the first theology book I ever read, and is still one of my favorites. The only reason I recommend the Moody Handbook of Theology to beginners above this one is that the Moody book adds the sections in addition to Systematic Theology, which I think is helpful. Dr. Ryrie's book is relatively simple, concise, and jamb packed full of Scripture references, which I love. Dr. Ryrie also does a good job in most cases of pointing out varying opinions on issues, evaluating those opinions fairly, and defining his own preference. That sort of thing is really important to a beginner.

Understanding Christian Theology - Ed. Charles Swindoll and Roy Zuck - This is by far the easiest read, but probably the least dense. In effect, Drs. Swindoll and Zuck have edited several different books on specific topics within systematic theology and put them together in one resource. This is a helpful resource for theology, but doesn't have the meat (in my opinion) of the two books above it.

Bible Doctrine - Wayne Grudem - Dr. Grudem has written one of the more popular systematic theologies these days. It's written extremely well, and includes study questions and memory verses with each questions which I love. Dr. Grudem writes with a very reformed perspective, and has some different views on end times than I do. So, I don't usually send people to Grudem first.

Christian Theology - Millard Erickson - This was the systematic theology that was required for my introduction to theology class in seminary. It's good, but pretty dense. It looks great on a shelf, but is hard to slog through at times. I think Erickson is a good theologian (with a name like Millard, he had to be a theologian of some kind), but that the book is pretty tough reading in several places.
Systematic Theology - Lewis Sperry Chafer - Chafer was the founder of Dallas Seminary. His systematic theology is 8 volumes printed in 4 books. Chafer had some theological quirks, but not many. He writes like someone who wrote in the 1920s (he did), and can be pretty tough to work through. But, there are some gems in his work that make it worth reading. I've never read this one cover-to-cover - I can't stay awake. But it has been an invaluable resource from time to time.

Angels - Book Review

The first angel I ever remember seeing was Jonathan Smith on "Highway to Heaven." Combined with Clarence on "It's a Wonderful Life" and Tess on "Touched by an Angel," I thought my education on angels was pretty comprehensive. Turns out, I had a few misconceptions.

David Jeremiah's new book "Angels" provides a thorough, biblical look at who angels are, where they come from and what part they play in world events.

The Bible says a lot about angels, but it is almost always indirect. Angels aren't the focus of the Bible; Jesus is the focus of the Bible. As a result, there are some things we can know about angels and some things we cannot.

Unfortunately, this often leads to speculation and confusion about angels. David Jeremiah's book will help you steer clear of speculation, speak confidently where the Bible speaks and remain silent where the Bible is silent.

At points, Jeremiah's book is written like a novel. An angel tour guide takes the reader through Biblical history, to various events where angels showed up on the scene. At other points in the book, Jeremiah's book reads like a comprehensive theology of angels. The latter points can be a little difficult to slog through, but are worth the struggle.

Do we have guardian angels? What do angels look like? What about demons and Satan? Are angels still at work today? David Jeremiah's book will answer all your questions when they are able to be answered, but will not answer questions where the Bible doesn't give information. That's really important; especially with all the speculation and mis-information that exists in an age obsessed with the supernatural.

If you're interested in knowing more about what the Bible says concerning Angels, this is one of the most solid, comprehensive, readable books on angels I've come across.