Tuesday, December 27, 2011

What will ground you in 2012?

(a blog repost from earlier this year)

In their book, The Sacred Romance, John Eldredge and Brent Curtis noted that our culture produces a "thinning" effect on our souls, causing us to become "light", airy, and vulnerable to whatever blows in from the winds of our post-modern culture. They called this "ontological lightness, the reality that when I stop "doing" and simply listen to my heart, I am not anchored to anything substantive. I become aware that my very identity is synonymous with activity."

I a recent newsletter, Eldredge reflected on how, in the 10+ years since the publication of The Sacred Romance, this condition has only gotten worse. The piercing and tattooing movement, the "simplicity" movement, the increased obsession with celebrities, and the popularity of "reality" television all point to a deep need for substance, grounded-ness, and a deeper sense of self.

And with social media like facebook (and blogs….gulp), one writer noted that "we can digitally represent ourselves without having to be ourselves."

It all seems so hollow. Yet I am as susceptible to this as the next person.

In the book of Acts, chapter 17 verse 28, the Apostle Paul, in presenting the news of Jesus to a curious crowd of skeptics and seekers in Athens, notes that "in him we live and move and have our being." Any other place we look for groundedness comes up short.

How will you stay grounded in 2012?  If you are a Christ-follower, what will you do to remind yourself that you are one in whom Christ dwells?  What will you do to keep your identity rooted in Him?  How will you resist the pull to anchor your identity in someone or something else?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Drill Sergeants, Cell Phones, and Guilt

Guilt, we all experience it.

You know the drill.  Your pastor gives a challenging sermon.  You feel exposed and guilty.  Things in your life need to change and you find yourself squirming a bit, thinking, “Yes, I need to work on that, I need to do something about that.”  A self-improvement regimen starts forming in your head as you say to yourself, “I need to read my Bible more.  I need to pray more.  Maybe I can get an accountability partner to help me with that.”  You envision yourself successfully following your action plan for spiritual growth.  Guilt has moved you to get to work and fix yourself.

What’s going on here?  Have you ever thought about exactly how you experience guilt?  I think most people experience guilt like the shrill, piercing whistle of a drill sergeant jolting his recruits out of their slumber at some ungodly hour of the morning to begin whipping them into shape.

For many of us, this is how our conscience works:  we know we fall short in some area and, when exposed by a sermon, a book, a friend, etc., we feel guilty.  The piercing whistle of guilt goes off in our heads and our inner drill sergeant demands that we get to work.  Powered by our own effort, we push ourselves towards growth and transformation.  This is particularly true for those of us who are high-capacity, get-it-done type individuals.

It’s time we re-consider how we respond to guilt.  If we stop for a minute and really listen the next time a wave of guilt hits us, I think we could “hear” something different.  Instead of a piercing, shrill whistle, what if the experience of guilt is more like a ringing cell phone?  Instead of guilt demanding that we get to work on our flabby souls, what if our guilt is actually inviting us into a conversation.  Not a conversation with ourselves, with our “inner drill sergeant”, but a conversation with our Savior, the one who knows us better than we know ourselves, the one who knows that we are far more broken and needy than we want to admit and more deeply loved and cared for than we ever dared to hope or imagine.  A conversation with the one who took our guilt on His shoulders because He knew that no regimen of our own creation could ever remove our guilt and transform our hearts.

The next time you’re sitting in church and you hear the call of guilt, what would happen if you ignored the drill sergeant and picked up the phone?  What if you took the time to listen to the one who knows that what you really need is not a self-improvement regimen, but an encounter with His unconditinonal love?  What if you were honest with Him and admitted your neediness and ongoing struggle with sin?

You would have the opportunity to drink deeply from the forgiveness and mercy poured out for you at the Cross.  You could open your heart to the outpouring of grace made available through the Cross and the Spirit.  And then, from that place of dependence, you could move forward, cooperating with what he does (or does not) tell you to do.

Beats following a drill sergeant any day.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Leadership and Vulnerablity

In my guest post on Michael Hyatt's blog today, I suggested that, like those who train for acting, public speakers must give thought not simply to how to craft a better delivery, but how to more fully offer themselves as they communicate their message.  The challenge to fully offer ourselves, warts and all, is one that all leaders face, not just public speakers.

Offering our imperfect selves is difficult.  And aren't leaders supposed to put their best foot forward?

It is tempting to hide behind preparation, expertise, education and experience.  But those who hide cannot lead well.  Hiding hinders our ability to lead effectively.

In a radio interview, Dan Allender, psychologist and author of "Leading with a Limp" made the following statement about leadership:

"I think if you were to peer into many leader's hearts, they remember believing.  They remember their first love.  But in one sense, the posturing has so eroded something of their own capacity to be real and to be alive...that they've become somewhat robotic and certainly distant.  And that kind of leadership never is a person that you would want to deeply follow."

We must move away from posturing as leaders and risk simply being ourselves.  We must be vulnerable.  Instead of always putting our best foot forward, we must put our flawed foot forward.  This is an incredibly difficult and terrifying thought for many of us who lead.  Yet it is our vulnerability that puts us on level ground with those who follow us.  We become more real in their eyes, more authentic.  Admitting failures, confessing our confusion over the way forward, and naming the conflicts we face in ourselves and with others reminds those who follow us that we are stumbling forward together.  It can lead to the kind of teamwork that no amount of formal leadership training can produce.

People are drawn to genuine disclosure, not exhaustive disclosure.  Exhaustive disclosure of every piece of junk isn't the point, nor is it necessary.  No need to air all of one's dirty laundry to everyone (But you ought to air it to someone...a topic for another post).

So take a risk and lead from your heart.

We need you.

We do not need your degrees or your years of experience.

We do not need your best impression of a good leader.

We need your best expression of an honest leader.

Someone like that is worth following wholeheartedly.

QUESTIONS:  Do you think vulnerability is an important quality in leadership?  Is it overlooked?  Have you ever seen it in a leader you admire?  

Thursday, December 15, 2011

I'm guest posting on Michael Hyatt's blog tomorrow!

Michael Hyatt has quickly become one of my favorite bloggers.  He is the chairman of Thomas Nelson publishers, the seventh largest trade book publishing company in the world.  He writes insightful, practical posts on leadership, technology, communication, writing, and whatever else interests him. He's taught me much about how to become a better blogger.

I was honored to guest post on his blog this Friday.  My topic is "What an Acting Coach Taught me about Public Speaking."  I based it on a conversation I had with my wife's acting coach, Kim Tobin, .  Please stop by his blog tomorrow to read it and be sure to leave a comment!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

My top three reads for 2011

Even with the craziness of life with two newly adopted children, I somehow managed to feed my voracious appetite for books.  I discovered a lot of great reads in 2011 but these made it to the top of the list:

1.  "Jesus, the CIA, my Father, and Me, a Memoir...of Sorts" by Ian Morgan Cron.  Great writing.  Honest, humorous, touching, and heart-breaking.  Cron chronicles growing up with an alcoholic father.  Though I grew up in a mostly functional family, I still encountered some of my own wounds within Cron's story.  One of the best books I've read in a long time.

2.  "The Reason for God" by Timothy Keller.  Truth be told, I plowed through this book a few years ago but read it so quickly that I didn't really get to benefit from it as much as I wanted.  I am taking a small group through a DVD curriculum based on the book and read it again as preparation for the study.  This is, hands down, one of the best explanations of the reasonableness of Christianity that I've ever read.  Based on his question and answer sessions with skeptics after his church services, this is a great gift to give to someone looking for answers from a gracious, thoughtful Christ-follower.  Reading it reminded me of why its reasonable to be a Christian in the 21st century.

3.  "Kisses from Katie" by Katie Davis.  How do you explain a high achieving homecoming queen who moves to Uganda and becomes the mother of 14 girls?  You don't.  Instead, you read her story and learn from this remarkable young woman and her heart of compassion for those in need.  I was inspired and challenged while having my categories completely rattled.

What were your best reads of 2011?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

What is a pastor?

What exactly, is a pastor?

Who are we and what do we do?

In his book, "Under the Unpredictable Plant," former pastor Eugene Peterson, using the Old Testament book of Jonah, reflects on the role of pastors and the pressures they face in shepherding their flocks.  In one section of his book, Peterson elaborates on a dilemma that I often find myself facing as a pastor.  He reflects on the issue of the central role of pastors.

Are we messiahs armed with great listening skills and compassionate hearts ready to rescue weary souls struggling with physical or emotional wounds?  Are we managers eagerly looking for able bodied men and women who can unleash their talents in building the church and advancing the kingdom of God?

These are important questions to consider.

Who are we really?

Are we saviors arriving on the scene to bring healing to the wounded?  Are we supervisors equipped to bring order, direction, and administration to the work of the local church?  Or are we primarily called to something else?

I find myself drawn to both of these important roles.  It is a great honor to offer help to families in difficult situations, serving as the hands and feet, the eyes and ears of Jesus.  And I love putting my planning and organizing skills to work in finding and coaching small group leaders, serving as a good steward of the gifted men and women God has brought to our church.

But Peterson argues that each of these roles, as important as they are to pastoral work, is inadequate to serve as the core identity of a pastor.  Instead, he suggests that we serve primarily as those who pay attention to the Spirit's activity occurring around is, in us, and in the lives of the men and women we encounter in our daily interaction with those who make up the body of Christ.  We are the ones called to help the Samuels in our lives recognize and respond to the voice of God who calls out to them (1 Samuel 3:1-10).  The classic title of this particular pastoral role is "spiritual director."

Ironically, Peterson identifies this role as what we do when we don't do the visible things that we get paid to do.  It is our most significant work and yet it is the easiest to dismiss and by far the most neglected aspect of our role as pastors.  But if we do not help busy men and women stop and pay attention to the Father's activity in their midst, then who will?

How do you practice spiritual direction in your own ministry setting?  Do you tend to default to one of the other two legitimate roles of ministry?  How do you keep the other roles of ministry from crowding out this most central work?  How do you help others recognize and respond to the Spirit's work in their life?  How can we practice the other roles of ministry while living from the central role of attending to the Spirit's voice, both for others and for ourselves?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Advent: Permission to Rejoice and Permission to Mourn

I love Christmas.  I could hardly wait to get the tree up and the lights set up in the yard.  Our boys are at a fun age for Christmas.  My 3 year old is completely enamored by the lights and decorations and is looking forward to celebrating Jesus' birthday.

But Christmas also makes me melancholy.  I actually warned my wife about this when we were dating, just to prepare her for the cloudiness that shades my normally sunny nature. Christmas was hard for me as a single adult.  I'm not sure if it was the loneliness I felt of not having someone to share the holidays with or the sadness of recalling happy Christmas memories from before my parents divorced.  Maybe it was a mixture of both.

In recent years since I've gotten married, the melancholy has largely vanished from my Christmas celebrations.   Unfortunately, it still ambushes me from time to time.  I want to banish it away so I can embrace the joy and life of the Christmas season.

In his book, "Living the Christian Year", author Bobby Gross recognizes this tension and encourages us to give ourselves permission to sing and permission to mourn during the season of Advent.

Truly, there is much to sing about at Christmas:  a Savior is coming who brings light to our dark world, a Shepherd is arriving who will lead us to living water and to the bread of life.  Emmanuel, God with us, is on his way.

Though our savior arrived in Bethlehem many years ago, and though he indwells those of us who follow him, we wait for more.  We wait for the second advent, the momentous day of his second coming.  And while we wait, we live in this "in between" time with a mixture of joy, hope, and lament.

There is much to mourn as I wait:

  • A young friend of mine discovered she had a brain tumor a few weeks ago and is preparing for surgery next week..
  • The wife of a good friend of mine is enduring chemotherapy in a battle with breast cancer
  • Last week, a co-workers endured a tragic loss.  Halfway through her pregnancy, her baby's heartbeat stopped.  A few days later, she entered the hospital to deliver a stillborn baby.
This world is not the way it was supposed to be.  Our address used to be paradise.  Eden.  And one day, we will relocate to a new home in a new heaven and a new earth.

But right now, we live in the remains of what once was as we wait for the arrival of what will be.

Living in this "in between" time stirs up joy over what has already come, hope for what is to come, and sorrow and longing as we endure life in a fallen world and wait for the world to come.

Romans 8:23 describes our condition well.  We "groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies."

Groaning inwardly and waiting eagerly. We are invited to do both.

Somehow, giving myself permission to feel melancholy at Christmas thins out the heavy haze that often descends upon me during the holiday season.  I can welcome the melancholy as a friend, knowing that it is a reminder that this world is not my home.  I can be OK with it.  I can normalize it, knowing it is not a bad thing.  I can move away from self-absorption and towards God in prayer.

I can do both:  I can celebrate the season wholeheartedly, and enjoy the view from the perspective of my children while accepting the waves of sadness that wash over me from time to time.

I can sing and mourn, and offer up both as prayers while waiting eagerly for his return.