Monday, May 31, 2010

Honoring Our Soldiers and Sailors

Blessed Memorial Day! We're the land of the free because of their bravery and fortitude.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Nehemiah's Leadership Failure

Usually Nehemiah is lauded as an example of outstanding leadership...which he should be. We can also learn from a significant failure in his leadership approach.

Simply put, Nehemiah didn't establish people to carry on the right direction in his absence. He must have been a forceful man indeed, but when he returned to Jerusalem a few things didn't go well:
  • Eliashib the priest gave Tobiah storeroom space in the temple (Nehemiah 13:4-9)
  • The Levite priests and singers weren't provided for (Nehemiah 13:10-13)
  • The leaders allowed the people and foreign traders to desecrate the Sabbath (Nehemiah 13:15-22)
  • Jewish men,. including priests, intermarried with non-Jewish women (Nehemiah 13:23-29)
To his credit, Nehemiah vigorously corrected all these upon his return to Jerusalem.

What should we, as leaders today, learn from this story? I recommend you seriously think about the team of people that you're developing who can carry on leadership roles even in your absence. And in your families, what procedures can you establish to make sure things go well when you travel or are unavailable for a few hours or days?

If it only goes well when you're personally present, your leadership work isn't done.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Let the Bible Instruct Us

I appreciated C. Matthew McMahon's article Why I Am A Calvinist because of these two paragraphs:
When I was 21, I had finished 2 years of Bible college. I went to an Arminian School, learned Arminian doctrine, and read Arminian books. I had no previous learning in religion until I attended that school, so I was indoctrinated in that theology without ever knowing whether it was true or false. In my naïveté I believed what I was taught (Surely not to question doctrine was my own mistake, but being indoctrinated in that way helped me to understand more about what I believe now. So it was the providence of God which kept me in my sin of false doctrine for a time.) Not too long after my second year, a friend of mine, who believed the doctrines of grace Calvinist began to challenge me on many of my "biblical" doctrines. I had a well rounded handle on the doctrine I possessed and propagated it thoroughly among my friends at school. But when this young man challenged me as he did, I was not able to refute him. The reason I was not able to refute his arguments had nothing to do with not understanding my own doctrine, for I did. But he came at me with something I did not expect; the Bible. He proposed a whole new system of doctrine which ran completely contrary to my own beliefs. My understanding of sin was so unbiblical that when he told me to read Romans 3:10-18, I was taken back by Paul’s poignant words. I was challenged by the very book I thought I understood. My views of man, Christ, God, salvation, sin, sovereignty, the will, and others were so warped and twisted that my young friend didn’t even need to rebuke me, for the Scriptures were doing it quite well. I had understood doctrine, it was just not the doctrine of the Bible.
So over the next summer, because of that day and that particular challenge of my friend, I devoted my time to reading through the entire Bible and endeavor to take it as it stood rather than what I wanted to read into it. My prayer was that the Lord would teach me His word by the power of the Holy Spirit so that I would know what it said rather than what I wanted it to say. After three months my views on man, Christ, God, sin, salvation and the like were radically transformed. (you would be amazed at what the Spirit of God will do with such a prayer and a simple reading of the Bible.) The point is this, my theology came out Calvinist without ever knowing what Calvinism was. I had not known what Calvin taught or that he was even a person. But my theology reflected nonetheless. The study of the Word of God transformed me. The Scriptures taught me, instead of me trying to teach it. So we see that being a Calvinist is not following after one man, but submitting under the authority of the Bible.

Would that more of us would pray and read Scripture this way! I'm not promoting Calvinism by referring you to this, because I have friends who have read and studied deeply and become convicted Arminians. (We can't all be right on all the elements of our theological frameworks, but we can work towards what builds up one another and makes for mutual edification.)

My challenge to you is to read the Bible as much or more than you read other materials.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Recommending Familyman Ministries

Dads, I recommend you sign up for the free newsletter from FamilyMan Ministries. Great encouragement -- 'cause we're all in process and in need encouragement!

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Biblical Framework on Giving

Looking for a good biblical framework on giving? Check out J.D. Greear's terrific post, "The Generosity Matrix" Husbands and fathers will do well to study this analysis.

Children Not Saved? Read This

I frequently encounter questions from parents who have unsaved children, and are concerned. Jim Elliff has some useful, sound counsel for Christian parents.

A Strategy to Cut Down on Technology Interference at Home

John Dyer recommends a Technology Basket at Home. The whole family parks all their gizmos (laptops, cell phones, etc) in the basket for agreed-upon times, such as for 2 hours each evening. This lets them focus on relationships and time with one another.

Worth trying!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

"Grow up!"

"Grow up!"

How many times have you heard that? How many times have you told yourself that?

Men, when we're honest with ourselves, there's a fraction of our time when we're simply not thinking or acting in a mature way. It may be a large fraction, or on a good day a small fraction, but there's still some time daily when we need to "grow up!"

Let's monitor this situation in our hearts and minds. Let's purpose to have fewer minutes of immaturity today than yesterday.

One more thing: if you found yourself saying, "But I'm never immature!" then... pay close attention now...grow up!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Arguing Against Intelligent Design Based on Flaws in the Human Body

I believe it's true that we are "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14). There are simply amazing things about the sophistication of our bodies and how they work.

But there are also some odd things that don't seem to be a match with the idea that a perfect God perfectly designed us. The way our eyes are wired, creating a serious blind spot. The imperfections in our chromosomes. There are others. This article is just one where biologists challenge the idea of Intelligent Design because the designer apparently made some goofs.

I have a good friend who writes about this, and reminds us that we live in a fallen world:

"I have often argued with my church friends that if we fail to take into account the Fall, then we are unrealistic in our creation argument (see Rom 8). Thorns, carnivores, parasites, retroviruses, inefficient splicing, cancer all point to a fallen world. No wonder that man used to live so long and doesn't anymore. When my kids asked me about that last week, I said that they should not buy the argument that the way we count years is different. No matter how you count them, we can all sense that when spring rolls around, it is a new year! Even if you're off by 25%, it is still a long life. Instead, the Fall continues to take its toll until as the physicist will tell us, the world winds down."

Saturday, May 15, 2010

FOOTPRINTS...A New Version

A friend sent this to me. Delightful!

FOOTPRINTS...A New Version

Imagine you and the Lord Jesus are walking down the road together. For much of the way, the Lord's footprints go along steadily, consistently, rarely varying the pace.

But your footprints are a disorganized stream of zigzags, starts, stops, turnarounds, circles, departures, and returns.

For much of the way, it seems to go like this, but gradually your footprints come more in line with the Lord's, soon paralleling His consistently.

You and Jesus are walking as true friends!

This seems perfect, but then an interesting thing happens: Your footprints that once etched the sand next to Jesus' are now walking precisely in His steps.

Inside His larger footprints are your smaller ones, you and Jesus are becoming one.

This goes on for many miles, but gradually you notice another change. The footprints inside the large footprints seem to grow larger.

Eventually they disappear altogether. There is only one set of footprints. They have become one.

This goes on for a long time, but suddenly the second set of footprints is back. This time it seems even worse! Zigzags all over the place. Stops. Starts. Gashes in the sand. A variable mess of prints.

You are amazed and shocked.

Your dream ends. Now you pray:

"Lord, I understand the first scene, with zigzags and fits. I was a new Christian; I was just learning. But You walked on through the storm and helped me learn to walk with You."

"That is correct."

"And when the smaller footprints were inside of Yours, I was actually learning to walk in Your steps, following You very closely."

"Very good. You have understood everything so far."

"When the smaller footprints grew and filled in Yours, I suppose that I was becoming like You in every way."


"So, Lord, was there a regression or something? The footprints separated, and this time it was worse than at first."

There is a pause as the Lord answers, with a smile in His voice.

"You didn't know? It was then that we danced!"

Thursday, May 13, 2010

What an Austrian Dog Taught Me About Living Boldly for Christ

My first trip to Austria did not go well and was memorable especially because of an encounter with a tiny dog.

I didn’t get much sleep on the flight over the Atlantic, and after arriving at Parndorf had a full day of meetings and a dinner event with colleagues. Not speaking any German, and having no prior European travel experience, I felt out of place and disoriented the whole time. I slept poorly in the hotel in Neusiedl am See, awoke early with a pounding headache and decided to take a walk to clear my head before breakfast.

It was a beautiful morning and I enjoyed getting out on the walking path that led away from the hotel. My headache was beginning to subside as I strode along. I came up behind two older ladies who were chatting away in German. One woman had a little yipper dog in a blue and white sweater on a leash. As I passed them I said “Guten Morgan” and nodded.

That’s when the dog saw me. I had eye contact for only a split second before he raced over and grabbed my pants leg in his teeth, growling and shaking his head back and forth. Stunned, surprised, I just stopped. I looked up at the woman, who was making no effort to yank on the leash or pull the dog away. She said in perfect English, without a trace of apology, “He doesn’t like Americans.”

The dog released my pants leg and trotted away without a backwards glance. The two woman continued on, leaving me standing there, dumbfounded.

My only thought: “I’m so out of place here that even the dog knows I’m an American!”

Here’s my question for us to ponder: Do we live such lives that everyone around us (even the neighbor’s dog) knows that we’re a Christian?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

5 Reasons You May Not See Spiritual Growth

Jonathan Dodson gives a good list of 5 reasons you may not observe spiritual growth.

1. Feelings can be misleading.
2. We have trouble seeing incremental growth.
3. Spiritual growth is relative but real.
4. Our church family doesn’t encourage one another enough.
5. God is using trial and temptation to grow us.

Four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody


“There were four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody. There was an important jobs to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did was Anybody could have done.” (Unknown author)

A friend of mine added this: "Somebody thought that was funny, but Nobody laughed."

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Leadership Lessons for Pastors and Church Leaders from Miracle

The movie Miracle, about the 1980 US Men’s Hockey Team that beat the Soviets, has a number of terrific lessons for pastors and church leaders. I recommend the film, and have included some YouTube clips below.

Not all-star teams, but a team that plays together

Herb Brooks had intensely studied the Soviet team who won the gold medal in the previous five Olympics. He knew that the general strategy -- assemble a team composed of the best individual amateurs from across the US – would never succeed. Brooks understand that only a team that worked together in a system of play, with the best conditioning, could beat the Soviets.

Consider the men Jesus selected for his disciples. It was nothing like an All-Star team that the religious leaders of the day would have selected! And think about the team God has arranged for you to work with – probably not an “All-Star” team, either. But when you’re taking back ground long-held by Satan, individual talent is insufficient. You need a team working in a system. And leaders often need to work out an "unconventional" strategy!

Coaches push people really hard -- but only when they want to get there

Herb Brooks was infamous for demanding the highest level of conditioning and skill from his players. He pushed and yelled and even jeered or mocked players to bring out their best. Why could he do that, without men volunteering to leave the team? Because the players had volunteered. They wanted to be there. They submitted themselves to intense training because they wanted to win.

The simple truth is that you can’t coach a person to a place he or she doesn’t want to be. But if they want to be there, you can push them and they’ll respond. Great coaches are usually tremendously demanding and unwilling to settle short. Leaders need to understand if they have someone’s engagement, and if they do, be unafraid to push them for better performance.

There are ways in which leaders cannot be your friend, and still get the job done

In the movie, right after the initial team has been selected, Herb Brooks tells them that they’ll be working harder than they’ve ever worked. He then tells them that if they need a friend, they should talk with the Assistant Coach.

The leadership lesson here is simple: You can’t be a person’s good buddy and then coach them beyond their comfort zone. I think you can be friends, but it’s a distant kind of friendship that is secondary to the role of leader and coach. The temptation to be someone’s friend often short-circuits a leader’s ability to develop an individual or a team. It’s significant to me that Jesus did not call his disciples friends until the very end of his time with them (John 15:15). If Jesus has done this sooner, He would not have been able to say to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” or rebuked the disciples as He did.

The second leadership lesson here is that you aren’t going to be able to be bosom-buddies with everyone equally on a team. Becoming too close a friend with some subordinates can create serious issues if you want a team to work together for a bold common purpose.

“The name on the front of the jersey is more important than the name on the back”
It takes a while for the team members to stop thinking of themselves in the old way – by the school they played for. Herb Brooks puts them through serious pain before they realize that playing as a team for the United States is their new identity.

If you’re working in a leadership team, the name on the front of your jersey (“Jesus”) is more important than your church history, your pedigree, your experiences and credentials. It’s more important than the specific ministry area you serve in.

Taking back territory long-held by an enemy requires sacrifice
Between periods one player has a bruised leg. (These guys are really tough, so I’m sure it must have been quite painful if he opted out.) Herb Brooks yells at the guy and gets him worked up enough to get back in the game.

Leaders push not only in training, but in the big game. Satan has long-held territory which he will not yield easily. Sacrifices must be made. Men and women who don’t push beyond their comfort zones aren’t going to intimidate a well-entrenched enemy.

Inspiring words + Genuine heart expressing them = authentic empowering
Herb Brooks’ speech before their match with the Soviets is masterful, perhaps the best recorded “sports” motivational speech I’ve ever seen. He inspires them. He’s genuine. His love for the game and for them comes through.

Here’s the leadership lesson: if I had said those same words to that team, it would have had no effect. If James Earl Jones had boomed those same words, or a member of the US Olympic Hockey oversight team, it would have been pretty ho-hum. They might have listened politely, but the words would not have empowered them. Leaders must use words, but only words expressed from a genuine heart carry weight and resonate in ways that change others.

Leaders celebrate victories
Toward the end of the film there is a moving scene where Herb Brooks retreats to a back hallway and celebrates the remarkable victory over the Soviets. And he also cheers loudly for the team when they receive their gold medals. Their celebration inspired millions!

Leaders celebrate accomplishments. There are times to work and push and push harder. And there are times to celebrate. Don’t shortchange your team by failing to acknowledge wins and taking time to celebrate.

What do you think of these lessons? Are there others you took from this movie?

Friday, May 07, 2010

Prudence, the Forgotten Leadership Trait

John Ortberg reminds us that prudence is a leadership virtue. I encourage all of us to think about developing and exercising prudence in our lives, and helping our children do the same.

"Prudence is not the same thing as avoiding mistakes. Churches are full of leaders who are afraid to make mistakes, and thereby insure that their churches will never move forward, and that their own souls will shrivel and grow cold from fear and avoidance. But that's not prudence.

Prudence is not hesitation, procrastination, or moderation. It is not driving in the middle of the road. It is not the way of ambivalence, indecision, or safety.

Prudence, says Guelzo, was prized by the ancients because it was linked to shrewdness, to excellence in judgment, to the capacity to discern, to the ability to take in a situation and see it in its wholeness. Prudence is foresight and far-sightedness. It's the ability to make immediate decisions on the basis of their longer-range effects.

Prudence is what makes someone a great commodities trader—the capacity to face reality squarely in the eye without allowing emotion or ego to get in the way. It's what is needed by every quarterback or battlefield general. Thomas Aquinas said it was intelligence about "things to be done."

Prudence comes very close to describing what Paul prays for the church at Philippi—"that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best …"

It is not hard to discern good from bad. But to discern the good from the best …

To recognize from a number of positive options what could lead to the most outstanding outcome

This is prudence."

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

How I Use Blogs, Twitter, and Facebook to Encourage the Saints

Social media can take a lot of time and be a huge distraction. Yet I recommend ministry leaders and teachers explore opportunities to use these tools for two purposes:

1. Amplify your voice for the Lord, and share encouraging information to build up disciples
2. Learn more about the condition of those whose souls are entrusted to your spiritual care

In this article I’ll lay out my own strategy, all with no-cost tools, that lets you do both without having to be “online” constantly.

Individual Twitter tweets are limited to 140 characters. Blogs can support any length text, links, and embedded images, audio, and video. You have a lot more control options for Facebook in terms of who sees the information, than you do with Twitter or blogs. All three have a significant place in online ministry.

There are two key principles to follow:
1. Use each tool to its strengths, and schedule your posts so you set up information when you have blocks of time available, and then drip out the content over time so it’s a constant stream of encouragement.
2. Interlink the tools so that the same content is used multiple ways and different audiences.

Let me work through the tools.

I currently run two blogs, each with a different intended audience. Be Bold, Be Gentle is aimed at encouraging husbands and fathers. Teach to Change Lives is aimed at Bible teachers. I use Blogger (a free service) to host both. Were I starting over I would strongly consider using Wordpress on a domain I controlled.

Blogs let me share all kinds of information in multiple formats. Some blog posts are my own writing, and some are designed to point people to valuable content others have published. I tend to get ideas for blog posts in spurts, so I’ll write posts as I can, and then schedule them in advanced to be published. It takes a lot of stress off when you hit a dry spell for ideas, but know you have 1 to 2 weeks of material scheduled for publishing. My goal is to publish a blog post every other day on each blog. Some people are much more ambitious than this, and some publish less frequently. I can’t really create a good level of content at any higher frequency, and it seems to work for me.

I have years of blog posts that are all available to search engines. I can’t really control who sees this information. So I write with a mindset of providing generally helpful information to a broad audience of a lot of different folks.

I use Twitter to publish short, encouraging bits to a broad audience. I do have some controls of who sees Twitter information, but not very much. I assume anything I write on Twitter could go anywhere and be seen by anyone.

My objective for every tweet is that it will encourage people. Therefore I try to have a mix of quotes, Bible verses, prayer reminders, and a very few personal comments. I avoid the temptation to tweet about politics or world events – plenty of others do this. I do not tweet about my exact location or my travels or anything that would affect the privacy of my family. (See my blog post about why I don’t talk about my family on blogs or Twitter. ) I also set up my blog posts so they’re picked up by Twitter, so that’s additional content. (See for help with this.)

I use TweetDeck a few times a week to monitor tweets from people that I’m following. I’ll retweet things which will be helpful to my audiences.
I like to have at least four tweets a day: before 5am, mid-morning, noonish, and afternoon or early evening. But I don’t want to have to be online at those times every day. So I use a free service call SocialOomph which lets set up tweets in advance and specify the day and time they will be published. A few times a week I spend about 15-20 minutes and will crank out 2 or 3 days worth of tweets and schedule them. This approach lets me create the content on my schedule, but drip it out steadily to my audience(s).

Facebook gives me the most control over who sees what information. My personal guideline is to only friend people I know in person, or have some unusually close online presence with. I’m not trying to get to 5000 friends or anything like that. I created a fan page for “Teach the Bible to Change Lives” which is broadly public, but otherwise I’m picky about my Facebook friends. Most are from our church.

The majority of my Facebook posts are actually redirects from Twitter and my blogs. I’ve simply set those up to automatically be posted on Facebook. I also comment on information others post, and occasionally message someone I know on Facebook.

Facebook is a place where many people are expressive about what’s going on in their lives. It’s a avenue for me to hear about family issues (positive and not so positive). As an elder in our church this is very helpful information, and gives me much to pray about. I notice that more women are active on Facebook than men. It’s probably partially because women are more expressive with words than most men, or represents a lack to time.

Putting It All Together
I’m writing up tweets and blog posts, and scheduling those to be published over time I set up Facebook to publish my blog posts and tweets, so that takes care of the Facebook content being updated over time. I’m checking for tweets from others occasionally, and Facebook once or twice daily. I need to update the Facebook fan page for Teach to Change Lives two or three times a week. (Someday I need to figure out how to automate this process!) That keeps my total time for social media in check, and the emphasis on creating helpful content rather than just being a consumer.

Key tools:

My sites:

I encourage you to think about using these tools for ministry. There are already people in these channels, so use the voice God gave you to get His messages in front of them! But guard your heart and use your time wisely.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Marks of a Masterful People

As I grow older I think more about what it takes to develop future generations of leaders, and good citizens all-around. This is not a new problem! Just over 100 years ago Theodore Roosevelt gave a speech in Paris, which was later crafted into a book titled "Citizenship in a Republic."

The most often quoted passage from that speech is this:

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

Good words! But I think there is an even better sentence for dads to review:

"Self-restraint, self-mastery, common sense, the power of accepting individual responsibility and yet of acting in conjunction with others, courage and resolution—these are the qualities which mark a masterful people."

What can you and I do to cultivate these qualities in our children and youth?

Common sense
Individual responsibility AND working with others

A good start is to work towards modeling these qualities in your own life.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Hymn Power

Charitie Bancroft authored one of my favorite hymns in 1863:

Before the throne of God above
I have a strong and perfect plea.
A great high Priest whose Name is Love
Who ever lives and pleads for me.
My name is graven on His hands,
My name is written on His heart.
I know that while in Heaven He stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart.

When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free.
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me.

Behold Him there the risen Lamb,
My perfect spotless righteousness,
The great unchangeable I AM,
The King of glory and of grace,
One in Himself I cannot die.
My soul is purchased by His blood,
My life is hid with Christ on high,
With Christ my Savior and my God!