The Power of Encouragement

The Power of Encouragement

She started her statement casually, “I’m sure you’ve heard this a million times before, but…” and then it came, one of the most encouraging things I had heard in weeks. She shared a thoughtful praise about how our Senior Pastor Greg and I complement each other as preachers. And no, I had never heard the encouragement quite that way before!

If I ask you to think of the most encouraging thing that was shared with you in your high school years you can probably think of that encouragement pretty quickly. Think about the impact that encouragement had on you. Think about how it shaped your life path. Pretty remarkable, right?

For me the encouragement that stands out to me was given to me as an eighteen year old by my Senior Pastor, Roger Barrier. He invited me to dinner and as we scooped spicy Albondigas into our mouths and chomped on Carne Asada burritos he shared that he believed that God would call me to be a senior pastor one day.

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.      Poll Shows that Americans Like the Idea of the Bible, but Don't Actually Read it: Lifeway reports, " About half of Americans (53 percent) have read relatively little of the Bible. One in 10 has read none of it, while 13 percent have read a few sentences. Thirty percent say they have read several passages or stories."

2.      More Than a Quarter of the Deaths in Holland are Induced: This sobering report by John Burger finds that, "Fifteen years after the Netherlands decriminalized euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, more than 25 percent of all deaths in the nation are induced, rather than by illness or other natural causes."

3.      My Declaration of Faithful Disobedience: Dr. Wang Yi, Chinese pastor who was imprisoned in December, wrote this manifesto. Please read it. Among the many jewels in the letter, Yi writes, " As a pastor, my disobedience is one part of the gospel commission. Christ’s great commission requires of us great disobedience. The goal of disobedience is not to change the world but to testify about another world."

4.      The Importance of Clarity in Leadership: My friend and pastor Glen Elliott with a great post: " There’s too much noise and too many distractions in our world and anything short of being crystal clear won’t be heard. More than ever, folks want and need the clarity of a compelling vision, mission and purpose. And great leaders provide that."

5.      Hearing His Voice: Please watch this marvelous story of an unreached people group who are introduced to the Word of God. It's 25 minutes of encouragement.

Decisive by Chip and Dan Heath

Decisive by Chip and Dan Heath

How many decisions do you make in a day? A lot! From minor choices about food to significant decisions about our spiritual, relational, and vocational life, our days are filled with making choices. And yet, how much have I considered how I make those choices and how I might make better choices?

Most of us make decisions with a method popularized over two hundred years ago by Benjamin Franklin: tally up the pros and cons and go with the winner.

This approach, according to Chip and Dan Heath, is flawed. In fact, cognitive research says that we are wired to make poor choices. Our tendency is to narrow in on the wrong set of information—what is referred to as the “spotlight effect.” “Kahneman says that we are quick to jump to conclusions because we give too much weight to the information that’s right in front of us, while failing to consider the information that’s just offstage.” As decision-makers, we need to actively move the spotlight to include the information we need.

The Heaths lay out what they call “the Four Villains of Decision Making”—and this is the first of those: framing your choice in too narrow terms. In addition, there lie the dangers of seeking out information that supports your biases, being influenced by short-term emotions, and being overconfident about the future.

In contrast, the Heaths recommend an approach that they dub “WRAP.” Widen your options. Reality-test your assumptions. Attain distance before deciding. Prepare to be wrong.

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.       The Loneliness Epidemic: In a world more connected than ever, we have a significant loneliness problem, Bob Smietana shares, "More than half of Americans (56 percent) say they feel lonely, even when surrounded by other people. Forty-six percent say they feel no one knows them very well. Thirty-six percent believe there is no one they can turn to—at least some of the time. Nearly 1 in 5 say they don’t have people they can turn to (19 percent) or talk to (18 percent), according to a new survey of more than 20,000 Americans from Cigna, a global health service company."

2.       The Soul Mate Fantasy: David Beasley says that the idea of a soul-mate isn't just wrong, it's harmful: "Nowhere in the Bible does God say anything about soul mates. God gives us the simple details on how to have a great marriage: Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her. Wives, respect your husbands."

3.       Moms Need Soul Care Over Self CareMaggie Combs with wisdom for men and women alike: "It's almost impossible to visit a motherhood website, blog, or play group without running into it. The concept of self-care is simple: If the plane is going down, you should put your oxygen mask on first before assisting others. But if your motherhood plane is about to crash and burn, God is the only source for the oxygen you need to survive the fall. Self-care encourages coffee runs, nap times spent reading novels, pedicures, happy hour with girlfriends, new clothes, massages, exercising, decorating homes, and lavender bubble baths. There is nothing inherently bad in this list, but the problem lies in the elevation of these good things as necessities for surviving (or even thriving in) motherhood."

4.       Good News! Satan Wants to Destroy You! Derek Rishmawy reminds us that alongside the very real and active presence of our adversary, God is at work: "But Christ has robbed those accusations of their force by wiping away our guilt through his death on the cross (Col. 2:14). And he sends the Spirit of God not as our Accuser but as our Advocate, testifying to our hearts that we are God’s dearly loved children."

5.       Culture is the Hardest and the Last Thing Changed: Eric Geiger with a good word to leaders, "I frequently hear leaders talk about changing the culture as if it is their first order of business. An inexperienced and unwise leader declares, “I am going to change the culture.” Leader, if you change the culture, it will be the last thing you change. Not the first. You can’t simply speak a new culture into existence. You are not God. You may desire to influence the culture but you are woefully mistaken if you think you can show up and announce a new culture.

Compensating for Our Weaknesses

Compensating for Our Weaknesses

I have slow feet. One of my favorite sports to play is basketball. I’m a decent player; over time my game has improved. I’m a better shooter, ball handler, and passer now than when I was when I was younger. But I’ve still got slow feet. If I play you and you have any quickness at all, I’m going to give you the three point shot and do my best to close out on you if you take it. Otherwise, you’re just going to go right around me to the hoop every time.

I compensate for my weaknesses on a basketball court. If I’m lucky and you haven’t played me much, I hope that you won’t know about this weakness. I hope that you don’t have quickness and a three point shot.

Boxers who have been hurt do the same thing. They might drop their gloves to compensate for a bruised rib or over-rely on their dominant hand if their non-dominant shoulder is hurt.

We all have weaknesses and insecurities. Where are your weaknesses? How are you compensating for them? How are you closing yourself off relationally or spiritually from having those insecurities addressed?

Most of us try to hide and compensate for our weaknesses. We are afraid of what others will think of us or we are embarrassed we haven’t been able to get ongoing sin under control. This is one of the great lies of the enemy: that masking our inadequacies is the best way to deal with them, that sharing them will make things worse, and that we can fix them on our own.

Chocolate Chip Cookies for Appetizers

Chocolate Chip Cookies for Appetizers

Ben works at a local sandwich shop called Baggins near our church. Every time I set foot in his Baggins I know I will leave happier than when I walked in. Baggins gives away a free freshly baked chocolate chip cookie with every purchase. Brian takes that a step further.

After you order, it probably takes five minutes for your food to come out. I’ve never been to Ben's Baggins and not been offered a warm chocolate chip cookie by a smiling Ben before my meal is up. Chocolate chip cookies as appetizers. Yes, please.

There are several other Baggins locations across town. But there’s only one Ben. Offering cookies to customers while they’re waiting for their order is his idea. Brian moves through the tables with a smile and a tray and asks how your day is going. He asks customers if he can refill their drinks. This isn’t a sit down restaurant. Ben doesn’t get tipped. He’s tipping the customer.

Do you know what restaurant I frequent disproportionately? Baggins. I’ve joked with our Exec Team that we need to have Ben come in and train our Welcome Team. I’m only half-joking. There is something powerful in his combination of kindness and hustle. Something inspiring about his level of ownership. In fact, it was only recently that I realized Ben wasn't a manager. I just assumed he had to be.

When people interact with me, do they leave feeling as special as Ben makes me feel?

Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher and William Ury

Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher and William Ury

In his 1961 Inaugural Address John F Kennedy famously said, "Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate." For most of us, negotiation is almost synonymous with fear. How do we move to a place of negotiating with confidence and peace? Getting to Yes is as good a place to start that process as any I could imagine.

Getting to Yes was first published in 1981. In this, the third edition of this time tested book, the authors begin acknowledging the flattening of the workplace. If anything, flatter organizations make Fisher and Ury's work all the more important. It's not surprising then, that they note that "a generation ago, the term 'negotiation' also had an adversarial connotation. In contemplating a negotiation, the common question in people's minds was, 'Who is going to win and who is going to lose?'" Fisher and Ury suggest there is a better way in Getting to Yes and then show you how to get there.

As a pastor, you might think that negotiation isn't a skill I have to use very often, but Fisher and Ury's book was not only helpful to me in my personal life (over the past three years I have negotiated a home sale, solar panel contract, a car purchase, and a job contract). But our lives are filled with negotiation. Even in my role as a pastor, negotiation is a daily occurrence, from negotiating sermon series to recruiting people into ministry roles, to navigating ministry direction, to negotiating staff culture and church vision documents. Simply put, we all need Fisher and Ury's book.

In their clearly outlined book, they suggest that the most significant problem is that we bargain over positions. To transform our ability to successfully negotiate we must do the following four things:

1) Separate the people from the problem;

2) Focus on interests, not positions;

3) Invent options for mutual gain;

4) Insist on using objective criteria.

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.      The Danger of Forgiving Too Fast: Mike Glenn tells a story and then offers this sober wisdom, "My mom rushed me back to the oral surgeon who looked at me and said something I’ve never forgotten. “Mike, you healed too fast.” When I asked him what he meant, he said the gum tissue where he had made the incision had closed before the wound could totally drain. When that happened, the bacteria were trapped causing a major infection... I’ve ended up retelling that story a lot—especially to my friends who have been wounded and hurt. They want to forgive. They want to deal with it, move on, and get past the pain. In their rush to get over it, they heal too fast and trap the anger, bitterness, and hurt inside before it can drain out. Just like our bodies, our souls can get infected. If we fail to properly treat our wounds, the anger, embarrassment, and hurt will fester into bitterness and despair."

2.      These Two Statements Changed My Ministry: Dave Travis writes that 30 years ago the first statement shook and changed him, "The first statement came from Kennon Callahan: 'The day of the professional pastor is over. The day of the missionary pastor is here.'"

3.      What if Solomon's Example Was Bad, Not Good? Ian Duguid takes the provocative position that Solomon's example is negative, not positive in Song of Solomon. It's an interesting position. One doesn't have to agree with the position itself to agree with Duguid's main point, " But by connecting the song with the name of Solomon, with all his sexual brokenness, the writer reminds us that there are many dangers associated with marriage and sex. It is not easy to find the right person, or to be the right person, and faithfully waiting for that person is perhaps the hardest part of all."

4.      People Aren't Yes or No Answers: Stephen Altrogge with a great article on addressing the heart behind the pointed questions, "Behind every yes-or-no question is almost always a series of deeper questions, struggles, fears, and challenges. When someone asks me whether abortion is wrong, there’s usually much more lying beneath the surface. The question is simply the tip of the iceberg... When someone asks me whether homosexuality is a sin or whether abortion is wrong, is it simply because they’re curious about my opinion? Are they just searching for a conversation topic? Probably not. Simple questions about massive issues are like weeds with a roots that runs incredibly deep. The questions themselves are connected to things much deeper and more profound happening in a person’s life. Giving a simple answer is like plucking the weed without dealing with the root. It doesn’t solve the issue."

5.      How Evangelicalism Has Shifted Over 50 Years: I wish these graphs were clearer, but their content is fascinating. Some of the interesting facts: since 1970, Mainline Christianity has shrunk from 30% of the population to 10% and those who say they don't have any religious affiliation has gone from 5% to 20%.

Who We Pray We Will Be

Who We Pray We Will Be

In this brief series I have shared how significant the process of creating our staff culture document was for our staff. The document represents who we are when we are at our best. In that sense, it is a hope, it is a prayer we have lifted up to God. “Lord, by your grace, shape us to be this kind of team,” we have offered up to God.

My wife and I were recently doing couples counseling with a couple who had experienced such a series of letdowns in their marriage they were fearful to commit to even the most modest of changes for fear of failure. But, whether it is physical health, or your organization, there is no hope for change without the risk of the offering of prayers and dreams for what you want to become.

Below is our staff’s prayer for who we desire that God would shape us to be. You will see the value stated first, then a brief statement of what we believe that value is, and then ways we can measure that value. We are working on a longer document currently where we want to share stories of ways our staff has watched that value lived out as a team. This is a living document and likely will look different in six months than it does today. We see that as a good thing.

By his grace, we have already begun to see the small works of his transformative power among us. We have worked hard to press this into our lives and work together. I encourage you to take that risk with the team God has placed you on. If you have a staff culture document, I would love it if you would share yours as well.

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.       White Evangelicals Also Want Stricter Gun Laws: Surprising findings from Pew. Rob Schenck says, “The perception that all evangelicals have a kind of bloodlust for firearms, that’s not true, particularly when it comes to under-40 evangelicals and their pastors.”

2.       Stop Delegating! Shawn Lovejoy argues that delegation isn't true leadership. " Empowerment, on the other hand, has everything to do with the benefit of the other person and the entire organization." 

3.       Why It Was Not Good to Be Alone: Mike Leake argues that the primary reason it wasn't good for Adam to be alone wasn't physical or emotional, it was theological, " So the fundamental reason why it was not good for Adam to be alone was not because of a need to fulfilled within Adam, but rather because of a deficiency in his ability to accurately image God. He couldn’t make the invisible kingdom visible while he was alone because the invisible kingdom is a community. Adam needed Eve to accurately reflect God."

4.       Why Do I Believe in Credobaptism? Stephen Kneale makes a succinct argument for why we should baptize believers, not infants. One of his arguments is, " The Great Commission is that portion of scripture in which Jesus tells his followers to ‘go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ This same command, the order of which seems significant, is picked up by the disciples who insist that their hearers ‘repent and be baptised’."

5.       Folegandros Island, Greece: A drone flies over the beautiful island.