Anticipating Advent

I’ll admit it.  In the past I have been somewhat of a scrooge when it comes to Christmas.  My scroogeness was born out of all the trendy things to dislike Christmas for: over-commerclization, consumerism, Christmas cards, untangling lights to put on a tree, and mall parking lots.  I was a part of the crowd shouting to focus on ourselves on the meaning of Christmas.  Not the FoxNews crowd, but the cool – but not hipster cool – Christians who wanted nothing but Jesus and the incarnation at Christmas.

And then I had a child.

It is hard to be a scrooge when your two and a half year old is enamored by the entire season.  Luke, in a way that is capturing my imagination, is eagerly anticipating Christmas morning.  But not for the reasons most would expect.  At the beginning of Advent we gave Luke a nativity scene he could play with.  And play he has!  It is almost a daily activity to have conversations with the different figures.  I am usually the angel and he is Mary and I have to tell her she will have a child.

After explaining all the different figures, we took the baby and wrapped him in a present and placed him under the tree.  If you ask Luke if he excited for Christmas he will tell you he is.  And the reason?

“We get to unwrap baby Jesus!”

I dare you to be a scrooge in the face of that.

But it has me wondering, “Do we all anticipate Christmas morning with that level of expectation?”  The mystery of the incarnation of the Word should stir our hearts and minds.  The Christ child changes everything.  In putting on flesh and dwelling among us, God affirms his declaration that the creation is “very good.”  If the creation is very good, then that means eating is good, drinking is good, hugging is good, laughter is good, singing songs is good, giving gifts out of love is good…Christmas is very good.

But I wonder, have we been caught focusing on the past?  Has our celebration of the incarnation taken away from our anticipation for the future?

Reading the Old Testament prophets reveals an expectation that the Messiah would usher in the Kingdom of God.  They used pictures like beating swords into plowshares and everyone resting in the shade of their own fig tree (Isaiah 2 and Micah 4).  Redemption and restoration were common themes in their hope for the future.  Paul picked up on this in Philippians 3 when he anticipates the day in which are lowly bodies are transformed into a body like the glorious resurrected body of Jesus.  John shared the hope of the Old Testament prophets and Paul in his Revelation when he envisions the new heaven and new earth, where “there is no more death or mourning or crying or pain.”  This is the anticipated coming Kingdom of God.

In Acts 1 the disciples were wondering if Jesus would finally restore the kingdom to Israel.  Jesus proceeded to tell them that the kingdom of coming, but it wouldn’t come like the thought or when they thought, but it was coming.  After he ascended, the angels told the disciples that Jesus would one day return and at that time the kingdom would be established.  Many debate when that will be and what it will look like, but that is a secondary point.  The main point is simple: Jesus is coming back!

There was a first advent, Christmas.  As good as that advent was, there is better, fuller, richer advent, Jesus coming back.

So this Christmas, embrace everything.  Eat good food.  Have deep conversations.  Drink deeply of moments with friends and family.  Give good gifts.  Decorate the house.  Laugh together.  Take pictures.  Celebrate well.  Anticipate goodness.

Because Christ came.

And he is coming.

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Can God really be kept out?

Recently I have noticed many who profess to be Christians crying out that God has been, or is being, removed from the public square.  From the comments of Bill O’Reilly, Mike Huckabee, or the Facebook posts stating that God would love to stop school violence but, unfortunately, he’s not allowed in school (never mind the fallacy of that statement) I fear we have substituted the Lion of Judah for a house cat who needs to be given permission to get on the kitchen counter.  And the one who gives permission seems to be the government.  Tell me, on whose shoulders does the government rest (Isaiah 9:6)?  And who gives the government its authority (Romans 13:1)?

A god who has to be given permission by the government is not a god over the government, but under the government.  And a god under the government isn’t a god whom the government serves, but rather a god who serves the government.  I’m sorry, but the God of the Bible is not a God who serves the government.  He is the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, and the Prince of Peace.

So why would God be unable to enter the school?

Does God only go where we ask him to?  

My guess is the Ninevites weren’t begging God to show up and let them repent.  Nor were the money changes asking Jesus to come into the Temple courtyard.  Or the Pharisees and religious leaders for that matter.  Reading the Bible we see God continually show up where he was not asked to.  The incarnation of the Word of God boldly proclaims that we can’t keep God from showing up.  He will come to where we are, like it or not.  To find us.  To rescue us.  To offer us life.  To redeem and restore us.

The obvious objection to this line of thinking is, “Where was he at Sandy Hook or any of the other tragedies that occur?”

I don’t know.  And that is what makes faith in the face of tragedy difficult.  Faith, in those moments, becomes a choice.  A choice to chose life over death.  A choice to work for justice and beauty.  A choice to look for the good gifts in the midst of hard circumstances.

Faith is a constant choice to believe that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it.

And I wonder, maybe it isn’t that God didn’t show up.  Maybe it is that we, the people of God, didn’t.  You know, those in whom the Spirit of God dwells.  Those who are called sons and daughters of God.  Those who are heirs to the same power that resurrected Jesus from the dead.  Maybe we sat idly by, distancing ourselves from any responsibility for the condition of the land by bemoaning and pointing fingers at those who want God removed from the various public squares all the while ignoring the fact that they can’t keep us out.  

It may seem like a small thing.  Me showing up.  I’m not God.  But it is no small thing for the people of God to show up as the people of God.  Jesus said, “And lo, I am with you to the end of the age.”  If we believe that then guess what?

If we go to the school, then Jesus is there with us.

If we sit with the homeless, then Jesus is there with us.

If we listen to the mentally ill, then Jesus is there with us.

If we go where God is not wanted, then Jesus is there with us.

And not just with us in a feel-good sort of way, but he is with us as we bring his shalom (peace, harmony, justice) to this place or to this person.  What if we believed that?  What if we didn’t just cognitively understand that, but what if we believed it to the degree that we lived that?  How might the world be different?

Might we experience the shalom of God more?

Maybe people would stop wondering where God was because they would know where he was.

He was the one looking them in the eye, holding their hand…the one with them.

A Counterintuitive Response to Chick-Fil-A

I know that I am late coming to the party, but it has taken me a while to really formulate my thoughts.  When the uproar regarding Chick-Fil-A president Dan Cathy became national news, I payed little attention.  It’s not that I don’t care about the issue of marriage and homosexuality, I do, but it isn’t something that is going to elicit a passionate response from me.  I realize this means people on both sides of the issue will find me naive or not taking a stand for the things that are right (the authority of scripture on one side, and civil rights on the other), but I’m more interested in people than issues.  No, that is not semantics because when I say “people” I mean individuals, and dealing with individuals who have stories forces me to hold my beliefs in tension with my love for the person.  Pure doctrine apart from the love for a specific individual can be a blunt sword used to maim many.

No, the reason that I haven’t jumped into the fray is because I haven’t really figured out what I really thought.  There were a couple of blogs that were helpful.  Barnabas Piper’s warning about the secondary messages Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day could send articulated something I was feeling, but couldn’t put words to.  Rachel Held Evans, in her blog, urged Christians on both sides to watch the speech and reaction to those who disagree with us, lest we hurt our integrity to the gospel.  These, and other articles, said things better than I could, but still left me desiring something when it comes to how we might respond to this day.

And then the cliche question came to mind, “What would Jesus do?”

Would Jesus wait in line to buy his juicy chicken sandwich and waffle fries?

Would he boycott the restaurant chain and call its president a bigot?

Or might he take an option none of us expect in order to dispel the escalating demonization present in this debate?

I’ve noticed that much of what either side of this debate does is in reaction to what the other side has done.  So Dan Cathy says he believes Biblical marriage is defined as marriage between a man and woman.  This, along with money he has given to groups who support his beliefs, upsets those who hold a differing opinion so they react by boycotting the restaurant and, in some cases, saying they won’t let the restaurant in their city.  This provokes those who side with Cathy to go out like a ravenous army to eat chicken and waffle fries, and on the cycle goes.

How did eating or not eating chicken sandwiches become a theological act?  When Jesus said, “Go and make disciples, teaching them everything I have commanded you,” was he intending us to stand in line for 75 minutes for a chicken sandwich?  Or boycott?

Or is it possible that what we witnessed today had more to do with escalating reactions against those who disagree with us, and had little had do with the Bible, marriage or homosexuality?

It’s the same thing we see on the playground.  One kid bumps another kid, who pushes the kid who bumped him, who shoves the kid back, who hits the kid, who punches the kids, who tackles the kid and we have a full blown fight.  It’s the USA and the Soviets threatening to blow the other to kingdom come so both build more bombs capable of even more destruction.  It’s the campaign that smears the opponent, who smears back and on and on to the point that voters only know the negative of each candidate instead of what they really are about.  Escalating demonization is the modus operandi of our culture and I fail to see how today was any different.

I realize people will think I fail to see the importance of their side of the issue.  I get that.  But I also think it doesn’t matter.  We may have the right stance on the issue, but our reaction to people who disagree with us is just as important.  The US thought its stance was right in terms of dealing with the Soviets, but their reaction was to build more bombs.  Which led the Soviets to build more bombs, which led to, you guessed it, more bombs!  But what if one side, either the US or the Soviets, said, “Enough is enough,” and stopped building bombs?  Might we have less nuclear weapons in the world today?

To stop escalating reactions against others one side must be willing to lay down their arms against the other side.  That seems counterintuitive and a sure fire recipe for defeat, but it is the only way.  And guess what?  The gospel is completely counterintuitive!

That Jesus would tell Peter to put away his sword is counterintuitive.  That Jesus would tell us to pray for our enemies and do good to those who persecute us is counterintuitive.  To carry the cloak of a soldier farther than required is counterintuitive.  Giving away things just because you have two of them is counterintuitive.  We could go on and on.  Much of the teaching of Jesus is counterintuitive to how we believe the world works.

That doesn’t mean we give up what we believe.  It simply means we stop reacting to the other side in such a way that it begets more reaction.  It slows down the rhetoric.  It stems the tide of regrettable, unhelpful behavior.

In order for both sides to be able to converse and constructively handle their differences, one side is going to have to lay down their “arms” and say, “No more.”  I believe, and this is where it gets hard, that side should be those who profess to follow Jesus.  Because that’s what it means to be a minister of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-20) in the midst of a situation that continually escalates.  Again, that doesn’t mean a concession of beliefs or an affirmation of behavior.  It simply means we react to those who oppose us or our beliefs in a manner consistent of the one we say we follow.  Jesus willingly laid down is life in the name of reconciliation.  Does that mean he compromised his beliefs?  Of course not!  Refusing to participate in an exercise of escalating demonization doesn’t mean you never take a stand for what you believe in, it means you won’t react in such a way that it encourages escalation.

When I look at Jesus and how he responds to those who question his healing on the sabbath, or his response to those who bring the woman caught in adultery before him, or arrest him, or spit and mock him it makes me think: In the face of escalating reactions, that’s what Jesus would do.

Sustaining Tension

This week the new RCA Today magazine came out.  In it is a short article I wrote about generating and sustaining creative tension.  All of this comes from the Ridder Transformational Process that I have been a part of for the last three and half years.

This takes courage. It takes courage to purposefully create tension. It takes courage to intentionally rock the boat. It takes courage to accurately and truthfully reflect current reality to people who may not want to see it. For me personally, it takes courage because I have to face into my fears of failing, not being competent, and wanting to be liked. If I don’t face these fears, they will dominate what I do or don’t do. My actions will be driven not by my pursuit of Christ, but by my pursuit of protecting myself. I’m serving me.

No longer interested in church growth

I am no longer interested in growing the church.

For one, I don’t think that is my responsibility. I think it’s God’s. But theological perspectives aside, I am not sure how helpful the language of “growing the church” is, and frankly, I am not that interested in it.

I find myself in a wonderful, confusing, exciting, and anxiety producing situation. I pastor a numerically growing church. We are approaching a couple of different growth barriers regarding size and pastoral capacity. All this means we have to do something different. We have to expand seating capacity in the sanctuary, hire additional staff, and possibly go to a second service. In reality, we probably need to do a combination, if not all of, these three things.

As we consider the options and the practical aspects of these changes I have read countless articles and books on church growth. Many cups of coffee with those who have “grown” the church have been had trying to pick their brain and learn from their successes and mistakes. It is all good stuff, it is exciting to be in this situation, but early in the morning over a cup of coffee I have this nagging thought…

I’m not really interested in growing the church.

Don’t get me wrong. I want to see people come to Christ and I understand people coming to Christ means there will numerically be growth. I want to see the church impact the community to such a degree that it is seen as a resource and refuge to those in local proximity. I want the church to have, not just a local impact, but a global one as well. So please don’t hear me say I don’t want these things to increase or grow. I do.

Church growth, or “growing the church”, conjures up an image of people concerned solely with numerical growth. While there are instances where this is true, in my experience I have found this to be mostly a stereotype. There are many people who pursue church growth with very kingdom minded concerns who are not egotistical or just concerned with building a kingdom to themselves. But because the language of church growth has become associated with strict numerical growth I find myself having to constantly explain what I mean by church growth. So I think I will abandon it altogether.

Here is where I find myself. I am interested in strengthening the church.

Jesus told Peter to “feed my sheep.” In other words, “Keep the sheep healthy. Keep them strong.” To be a shepherd and to be successful is to work for the strengthening of the flock. Yes, that includes growing it numerically, but it is so much more. It is increasing the unity of the church so that manifold wisdom of God is proclaimed to the universe (Ephesians 3:10). It is discipleship, which moves people towards deeper obedience so that by the work of the Spirit they are transformed from one degree of glory to the next (2 Corinthians 3:18). It is the equipping of the people to live into the purpose God created them for from the beginning of time (Ephesians 2:10).

Which, as pastors – better yet as Christ followers, is what our work as the church should be about.

So what do you think, is the language of church growth helpful? Is there a better way to describe this work?

Being (or not being) Moses

I don’t know if I could have been Moses.

Not because I don’t think I could go and talk to Pharaoh, or because I am afraid of a staff turning into a snake, or because I don’t think I could lead a group of people who grumble all the time. I don’t think I could be Moses, not because of the typical stories we associate with Moses, but because of a lesser known story; his interaction with Jethro.

If you don’t remember the story, let me take a minute to refresh you.

Moses had become the sole arbitrator of tension and conflict among the Israelites. Moses would wake everyday, take his seat as the judge and the arbitrate till evening. People would line up and mill around all day hoping Moses would get an opportunity to hear their case. When Jethro saw this he pulled Moses aside and said, “Your going to kill yourself! Pick out some people you trust to do what you are doing.” Jethro proceeded to outline a system for Moses to put in place so that he could serve solely as the judge between God and the people.

No longer would Moses be the sole arbitrator of the people.  No longer would he be looked to for all the decisions.  No longer would he be seen as the guy with all the answers.

That’s where it would be hard for me to be Moses.

It would have been hard because the moment Jethro would have rolled out his idea I would have known he was right. I know it would have made complete sense and it should be done.

And that’s when the voices would start.

“You idiot! Why didn’t you think of that?!?”

“How can you expect to lead the people if you couldn’t see that obvious solution?”

“Am I fooling myself in thinking I am the one God has chosen for this role?”

Much of my identity has been rooted in how well I perform. It isn’t just about performing well, but it also about being better than others. I have to be honest and say there is an inherent competitiveness to much of what drives me. The competitiveness naturally leads to a winner and loser. And if I am not the smartest, if I don’t come up with the solution, if I am not the strongest chain in the link then I am the loser. My identity then is based on how well or how poorly I perform.

This has devastating consequences on leadership. I have always been told that the best leaders surround themselves with the best people possible. But if you are going to do that, then you better be secure in who you are. Because if your identity is based upon being the best, then you aren’t going to put the best people around you lest they outshine you and dethrone you as the best.  Our anxiety has a profound impact on how we operate in the world.  More acutely, our anxiety can influence us to not make decisions that should be made because of our need to preserve a false identity we believe about ourselves.

I have yet to meet the person who is not allowing themselves to be defined by a false identity.  What do I mean by “false identity”?  As I noted above, my identity was often based on how well I performed.  But that’s not who I am.  I am not how I perform.  That is a false identity.  I am an adopted son of the most high God.  I am the brother of Jesus.  I am someone who was created for a unique purpose in the world.  That’s the identity that should shape me.  That’s the identity that should dictate and drive my actions in the world.  Far too often I forsake my true identity for the false identity, and when I do, my leadership becomes as effective as a flashlight against the sun.

The only way I could be Moses and accept Jethro’s advice without hearing those demeaning and demoralizing voices is if my identity is found solely in Christ.  Only then can I be who God has created me to be.  Only then will I lead out of who I am rather than out of fear or anxiety.

And here’s my guess, the effectiveness of leadership laws or tactics or steps will pale in comparison to leading out of who God has made me to be.

Balance

This past week I engaged nine people in transformational coaching/discipleship. This is quickly becoming one of the my favorite things about being a pastor. I used to say preaching, which I love, but I am finding that preaching without the one-on-one discipleship is incomplete. This is not to say preaching has lost its place in the life of the church. To the contrary, I still believe the proclamation of the Gospel has a central role in the life of the church. Preaching, when done faithfully, holds the Gospel in front of people, calls them to continued fidelity, shapes the conversation of the church, and gives hope to the hurting. But, for far too long preaching has been overemphasized. Rather than being a component of discipleship (which is the mission of the church), it has become the sole means of discipleship. Of course we would never say that. But by and large, if you ask a pastor what receives the majority of his time during the week, most would respond with sermon preparation.

If we look at the life of Jesus we see him teaching the masses and proclaiming the nearness of the Kingdom of God. But we also see him sitting at the well with the Samaritan women and making his way to Zacchaeus house for dinner. He stands on the mountain teaching thousands, then retreats to a solitude place with his three closest disciples. In the life of Jesus we see a balance of preaching and one-on-one discipleship.

This is also evident in the life of Paul. In 1 Thessalonians Paul writes, “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” It is one thing to share the gospel. And that is right and good. But it is another thing to share your life as well.

The question is, “Do we?”

Do we intentionally love another and share our lives with them?

Do we intentionally love another allowing them to share their life with us?

I am convinced that preaching the gospel explicitly is absolutely necessary. I am convinced that, in the proclamation of the God who took on flesh and went to the cross and rose again, conversion can happen. But, I am also convinced that true discipleship happens in the context of relationship. Without the delicate balance of proclamation and relationship, deep, “from one degree of glory to the next,” transformation will not happen.

I am finding that balance. I’m not there yet, but I am finding it. And it gives so much more meaning to what I am doing. My preaching is better because of my relationships with those I am discipling. And my discipling is better because of my study and work in preaching.

And here is the dirty little secret…this balance is transforming me too.

Imitation as discipleship

In my last post I made mention of how the scriptures show discipleship happening in the midst of relationships. More specifically we see discipleship happening when one person is called to imitate the life of another as they imitate Christ.

See these scriptures.

You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. 7 And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. 8 The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia–your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, 9 for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.
​​​​​​​​​1 Thessalonians 1:6-9

Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.

​​​​​​​​​Philippians 3:17

Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me– put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
​​​​​​​​​Philippians 4:9

We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow.
​​​​​​​​​2 Thessalonians 3:9

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.
1 Corinthians 11:1

I wonder, how many of us would be comfortable calling someone to imitate us? Maybe we should be.

Year in Review – 5 books I found most helpful/interesting/challenging

For most of my life reading was a purely mental exercise. What I mean by that is, I would read a book and learn a bunch of new things, but those new learnings rarely translated into new practices. The ideas learned were simply fodder to be used in conversations/discussion/debates to make me look well read and intelligent. What they didn’t do was shift how I thought, and more importantly, how I acted.

Let me add, this was also my approach to the Bible. I don’t think I am alone here. I believe this to be a massive problem within American Christianity. We live at a time where information is in excess. You can get your hands on books, commentaries, sermons, lectures, or studies easier than any other time in history. And yet for all the information that is available, there is little to show for how that information has impacted American Christians to live more obedient lives to Christ.

In effort to change my practice of learning, I am spending some brief time reflecting the five books that impacted me the most this year.

To Change the World – James Davison Hunter

There is a mandate on Christians to have an impact on the world around us. This mandate was instituted in the beginning when God breathed life into the man and woman, who were created int he image of the Creator God, saying to them, “Work in the garden and take care of it.” While not identical, in our work to fulfill this mandate we mirror God’s creative act.

Since the fall, this work has taken on a restorative or redemptive nature, again, to mirror God’s restorative and redemptive actions in the world. In other words, we work to make this a better place to live as God redeems and restores. This work has direct impact on culture. Hunter goes into detail about the differing views on what culture is. For some, culture is the sum total of the values that are held in the hearts and minds of people. For others, culture is what is produced by society in artifacts, art, music and the likes. His explanations, critiques and proposals on thinking about culture were extremely helpful.

The second part of the book moves into how those on the theological and political right and left, along with the Anabaptist approach their efforts to influence culture. He highlights how both the right and the left utilize power and authority to legislate for their particular morality, and how the Anabaptist choose to withdraw from the greater culture in lieu of using authority or power.

But perhaps the most intriguing idea put forth by Hunter was his idea of a faithful presence in the world. After highlighting the shortcomings of each of the aforementioned approaches, he draws upon the incarnation as a model to approach culture calling it, “the only adequate reply to the challenges of dissolution; the erosion of trust between word and world and the problems that attend it.” Hunter’s theology of faithful presence calls Christians to “attend to the people and places that they experience directly…[it] gives priority to right in front of us – the community, the neighborhood, and the city, and the people of which these are constituted.”

I think Hunter’s work is profoundly important as we continue to live in a society and culture that is markedly post-Christian.

A Failure of Nerve – Edwin Friedman

Friedman had my attention on page two when he wrote, “[this book] is for leaders who have questioned the widespread triumphing of data over maturity, technique over stamina, and empathy over personal responsibility.” That statement says a lot about the state of leading in our society. Friedman contends that throughout America there is a rampant sabotaging of leaders who try and remain a calm presence in the midst of a toxically reactive system. Rather than seeking emotional mature leadership, we have become a culture longing for quick fixes and band-aids that make us feel like a calm has been brought to the storm, but have done little to actually calming the storm.

This book challenged many of the assumptions I had about leadership, especially leadership in the church. To see such a challenge see my blog post here

The most challenging aspect to this book is that it will not give you easy solutions or techniques to make you a better leader. To become a better leader, one must better oneself. Leadership begins with who you are. If you are emotionally reactive, you can expect the system you lead to be emotionally reactive. As Will Mancini said, “You produce who you are.” A Failure of Nerve requires the reader to constantly look at self as they move through the content, and fight the urge to “fix” those they are leading.

Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times – Peter Steinke

I don’t think I have ever met a pastor who did not have a story about a congregation becoming anxious at some point. These stories are filled with other stories about frustrating, hurtful, obnoxious, and even sinful things people do in the midst of anxiety. Steinke actually says that according to his experience, four out of ten churches will face a moderate to serious conflict in any five year period. This book helps the reader understand anxiety and how it manifests itself within the system. This allows the leader to think systems as the move through and manage conflict. Steinke provides very practical suggestions in how to ones own anxiety as they seek to resolve conflict, as well as ways in which to minimize the negative effects of anxiety on the system.

My biggest take away from this book was two-fold: thinking systems when it comes to conflict management, and understanding that anxiety is not necessarily bad. Anxiety just is. Anxiety alone doesn’t hurt the system or organization. How the anxiety is managed, or not managed determines the effect of anxiety.

The Prophetic Imagination – Walter Brueggemann

For anyone who has imagined a world that is not broken, but is as it should be, this book will fan that imaginative spark. Brueggemann looks at Moses and the Old Testament prophets efforts at creating a counter-community to what they experience in the world around them. We speak often of this in church. A world where status and ledgers don’t determine worth, but rather worth is determined by the intrinsic value of being a image bearer that all people have. We dream of a world where materialism and oppression don’t numb us to the world around, but we dream of a world where the imagination for something holy other inspires us to new living. Brueggemann encourage us to ask not whether “it is realistic or practical or viable but whether it is imaginable.”

I found the following quote to be especially challenging.

“The prophet does not ask if the vision can be implemented, for questions of implementation are of no consequence until the vision can be imagined. The imagination must come before the implementation. Our culture is competent to implement almost anything and to imagine almost nothing. The same royal consciousness that makes it possible to implement anything and everything is the one that shrinks imagination because imagination is a danger.”

You Can Change – Tim Chester

I despise, and I am not sure it is for good reason or not, books and teaching that are systematic. If something “7 steps to…,” or “5 sure-fire practices…” or “11 things to do…” I will most likely never pick that book up. That is why Tim Chester’s You Can Change was so refreshing. This is not a “how-to” or a “Step-by-step” book. This is simply looking at the truths of the gospel and living into them in new ways to experience transformation in an area of our life that has yet to be obedient to Jesus. That’s it. Every chapter ends with thoughtful questions to help the reader engage an area of their life where they would like to see change. And these aren’t your typical study questions. These are real questions that, if taken seriously, will help people experience the gospel of Jesus to a deeper degree.

Those are my top five books of the year. What are yours?

The reproduction of a handshake gone bad

As a life long Lions fan the beginning of this season made me pinch myself again and again. The constant comeback wins (the one in Dallas!?! Come on! You don’t even have to be a Lions fan to like that win), the dominant defensive line, and a unstoppable connection between Stafford and Johnson that was shaping up to be historical. Lions fans had been waiting a long time for this.

And then came the San Francisco. While there wasn’t a lot in the game to signal the coming slide of the Lions, what came after did. After the game the coaches, Jim Schwartz of the Lions and Jim Harbough of the 49ers, met for the post game handshake. What transpired next is largely based on the account of the beholder, but regardless of what really happened, Jim Schwartz did not like the way Harbough handled the handshake and chased after him in what looked like an effort to fight. The two exchanged words and were eventually pulled away from one another by those who stepped in.

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Fast forward to Thanksgiving day. The game between the Lions and Packers was anticipated by most football fans, and Lions fans especially. In the third quarter Nhandamkah Suh, after a play was well over, removed himself for a play by shoving the head of an offensive lineman for the Packers into the ground and then intentionally stepping on the player. Rightly he was ejected from the game and suspended for two games.

In the following game against the New Orleans Saints the Lions could not control their emotions and showed the immaturity by committing senseless penalty and senseless penalty.

Many have bemoaned the inability of the Lions players to control their emotions in the midst of the game. Much have been made of Suh and the number of personal fouls he commits. According to many analysts, Suh could be one of the greatest defensive lineman to play the game, but that legacy could be nullified by his stupid play. For Suh, and for the rest of the team, their age has been the excuse to rationalize their immaturity.

While players must take responsibility for their actions, I believe the reason this behavior has continued for as long as it has stems from their coach, Jim Schwartz. Will Mancini says, “You can teach what you know, but you only reproduce what you are.” While Schwartz may be teaching his players the nuts and bolts of the game, the offensive and defensive schemes, and even the rules they seem unable to not break, based upon his own inability to control his emotions during a routine handshake after a loss, he is reproducing what he is.

To apply this principle to the Lions, if Jim Schwartz wants to see his Team play more disciplined on the field with greater maturity, that begins with him.

As leaders we have tendency to blame the faults of others in someone other than ourselves. The question we need to be asking is, “In what way am I contributing to that behavior/attitude/immaturity continuing?” Another way to say it, “Is what I see in others a product of what is in me?”

In thinking about discipleship in the church we must not be concerned with teaching new information. While information is good and important, it has only limited potential to transform a life and create greater allegiance to Jesus. More important to giving more information to another is the personal work we do in becoming more loyal to Jesus and to experience transformation in our own lives. We produce what we are. We will only be able to take people where we have been. We only will be able to help people experience what we have experienced.

This is good news. Many leaders and pastors can become paralyzed at changing an organization or large group of people. The good news is you don’t have to. If you want to see change around you, change yourself. Become who you want to be, and who want to see others become.

You reproduce who you are. So who are you?