Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Double Advent (repost)

(I wrote this post in December of 2009, our last Christmas without children).

Joy to the World!
The Lord is come, let earth receive her king!
Let every heart prepare him room…

Preparing room in our hearts for Jesus.  Isn’t that what the Advent season is about?

But how does one actually prepare for an event as monumental as the arrival of Christ into the world?  At the moment of our conversion, did we ever pause to consider the enormous significance of his entrance into our lives and what would happen when he arrived to take his rightful place in our hearts? And during this season of Advent, are we prepared to welcome him into our lives anew?

If we’re honest, I think the answer is "yes and no."

The dictionary defines the word "advent" as "the arrival of something momentous."  I have to wonder, though, when those momentous occasions occur, do we truly realize what is arriving?

This year, as my wife and I take time each week of Advent to pause and "prepare him room", this season of preparation is taking on a deeper meaning, for we are actually preparing for two advents.  We are preparing for both Christmas day, and for what is affectionately known in our adoption agency as "gotcha day."  We long for this day, a day that will finally arrive after eighteen months of paperwork, social worker visits, blood tests, two sets of fingerprints, waiting lists, court dates, and a marathon flight to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.   A day when we meet our little one/ones for the first time and become his or her (or their!) forever family.

Everything in our lives is about to change dramatically.  Nothing will be the same.

Are we prepared to welcome this infant into our lives?  Yes and no.

So much will have to change, starting with our names. The stockings hanging over our fireplace have the names "Brian" and "Tracy" stitched into the fabric.  Those will have to go.  Next Christmas, the new ones will read "Mom" and "Dad."

Our home currently feels like a haven of safety and comfort in the world.  Our new family member will quickly challenge that assesment and will reveal to us a world of dangers we either never saw or comfortably ignored–things like exposed electrical outlets, glass keepsakes, and unlocked medicine cabinets.

Our current media consumption, our time spent with friends, our waking and sleeping schedules, our leisure time…it’s all about to get tossed out the window and replaced with something new.


The arrlval of baby Jesus seems so innocent and unobtrusive, yet a moment’s reflection on the upheaval awaiting expectant parents like us ought to move all of us to stop for a moment to seriously consider the transformation and upheaval awaiting all who sincerely welcome Christ into their lives.  We are far too comfortable with the Christmas celebration.

But Advent is not a season of fear.  It’s a season of joyful anticipation.  For when Jesus arrives, his upheaval involves rescuing us from the kingdom of darkness and transfering us into the kingdom of light (Colossians 1:12-13), the true resting place for our restless hearts.

So let every heart prepare him room this Advent season because the glorious disruption that awaits us, the feast that we only begin to sample this side of eternity, promises to enfold us into something and someone beyond our wildest dreams.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Need an idea for your next Sunday morning small group promotion?

If you are a small group pastor and you need an idea for your next small group promotional piece, here's a video that my wife and I developed, with the help of filmmaker Beau Brotherton.  We stole borrowed the concept from a similar video that Buckhead Church in Atlanta.  My wife, who is an actress and photographer, took the majority of the photos and helped arrange the stories.

Small Group Promo from Beau Brotherton on Vimeo.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Expensive lessons in leadership

It remains one the most painful leadership lessons I have ever learned.  The campus ministry I served with invited me to take a position as a team leader in Romania.  My team was made up of four recent college grads and a thirty-something friend who took a year off from her work as an Assistant U.S. Attorney.  

This was my first leadership position in our organization and I relished the opportunity to lead.  To prepare for this, I threw myself into every leadership training opportunity I could find:  A week with the national team as they trained the newest campus directors and four weeks in Colorado at our ministry's Leadership Development Project, where I was exposed to leaders in business, psychology, academics, and the church world.  I submitted myself to tests, mentors, and opportunities.  I was prepared...or so I thought.

Two weeks into my arrival in Romania, full of enthusiasm and excitement.  Armed with training, ideas and a team of young men and women, I fell flat on my face.

One of my team members didn't like having a leader.  He didn't like authority and I became the lightening rod for all of his hostility towards authority figures.

He didn't like me,

I wanted to be liked.  

Desperately so.

My desire for approval, even from someone who didn't like me, was so strong that it undermined my ability to lead well.  I hesitated to make decisions.  I feared making hard decisions.  Confronting him didn't change the situation.  Appeasing him made no difference.. I tried simple friendliness.  Nothing worked.

I was determined to get him to like a fault.  I wanted to be liked more than I wanted to lead.

My determination to win his approval was costly.  Team meetings were draining and hindered our effectiveness in ministry.  In the midst of the challenge of cross cultural ministry and the stress of living in a foreign country, our team meetings could have been a place of encouragement and support.  Instead, weekly staff meetings stole more life from each of us.

Why didn't I send him home?.  I wanted to believe that I was dealing with the equivalent of a minor paper cut that simply needed a band-aid of friendliness.  Instead, I was facing a cancerous growth that required radical surgery and removal.  I committed one of the classic errors of leadership:  I refused to face reality.

That year in Romania was costly.  I learned several expensive lessons, among them are the following:
  • Leadership isn't about being liked.  It's about leading, even when its tough.  It is not about making everyone happy.
  • Reality is your friend.  Good leaders face reality.  They confront it and respond to it, even when it's tough.
What are some of the expensive leadership lessons that you have learned?

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Pastor's most important task

What is the most important task for a pastor?  To craft compelling sermons?  To develop a rich personal prayer life?  To learn how to listen well?

What would you say if someone asked you that question?

Dallas Willard, philosophy professor at USC, former pastor, and prolific writer on the topic of spiritual formation, would say that the task is this:

To arrange to live with deep contentment, joy, and confidence in one's everyday experience of life with God.

What would it look like to arrange my everyday life so that it was characterized by these three things?

  • Deep contentment.
  • Joy.
  • Confidence.

How do I do this in the midst of a hectic life of work, family issues, poopy diapers, date nights with my wife, bible study, piles of bills, soccer in the backyard with my boys,...all the stuff of ordinary life?

We often tend to separate our spirituality from everyday life when in reality, ALL of life is spiritual, not just the explicitly "religious" moments.  It is in the ordinary moments of life that we can find the richness to be enjoyed and the satisfaction we desire.

In another context, Willard encourages pastors "to have substantial times every week where they do nothing but enjoy God.  That may mean walking by a stream, looking at a flower, listening to music, or watching your children or grandchildren play without your constantly trying to control them.  Experience the fullness of God, think about the good things God has done for you, and realize he has done well by you.  If there is a problem doing that, then work through the problem, because we cannot really serve him if we do not love him."

Instead of adding some kind of spiritual activity to my life, I need to look for God in the midst of what is already happening in my life.  I must look for the ways he has blessed me and enjoy what is right in front of me.  I need to open to God in the midst of my very ordinary life.

What about you?  What can you do to live your everyday life with deep satisfaction in Christ?