Friday, December 28, 2012

Living what you value

This is one of the most difficult questions that I face as both a parent and a pastor: How do I ensure that I am living what I say that I value? My life is flooded with countless decisions that need to be made on a daily basis. Some of these decisions have a direct impact on what I say my values are, while others are only indirectly related to my value system. The tension that I experience is with regards to consistency or balance in living from this value system. No, this post isn't going to turn into a broad spectrum confessional time, but I will share some thoughts about how this is beginning to reshape my thoughts around what it means to value something.

As a parent and a pastor, my hope and desire is that my own kids and those whom I lead become critical thinkers as they grow into adulthood. More specifically, I desire to see them develop great character...Christ-like character, that will allow them to become who they were created to be. Now the development of character isn't something that I can foster by words alone. I can't say to my kids that we value honesty and then struggle with telling the truth. But what I can do is create an environment where this character formation can either be enhanced or hindered. In my opinion, character development and spiritual formation are linked; they are two sides of the same coin. Where the development of Christ-like character occurs, spiritual formation is taking place, and this formation is stimulated by a combination of the environment in which kids are exposed to values and their willingness to be led by the Spirit of God in their process of decision making.

This may sound all fine and dandy, but here is how this idea is reshaping how I think about and approach living out my values.

1. How do I measure success? As a pastor I've been drawn to measure what is the most easily quantifiable...numbers. If the experiences that I offer are well attended, then that must mean that I am a success, right? Well the truth is that this isn't entirely true. While numerics do tell a portion of an unfolding story, they do not represent or define success entirely. Am I successful when I only see an increasing number of folks engaged in experiences or environments that I've created? Or am I successful when I allow this same Spirit of God that I hope and pray is developing character in those that I'm connected with is also leading me in the same way? Does my definition of success become more about living obediently as defined by the values that I embrace than the numerical proficiency of my ability as a father or a pastor?

2. It's all about relationship. Character development and spiritual formation are linked because of their relational intent. What I mean by suggesting this is that humans are relational beings...we exist for the purpose of connection. The relationships we form help to shape us (spiritual or otherwise), and it's through this formation process that our character is developed. As a father, I am only part of the formation process of my own kids. There are many other voices that are involved in the character development process. I cannot believe the lie that suggests that I am the only influence in the life of my child. I may in fact play a very important role, but it's not the only one. The same could be said of my role as a pastor. I may play a very important role in the life of those that I have the honor of journeying with, but I am not the sole influence and it should never be my goal to be. I must be confident enough in my ability as a parent and a pastor to allow others to be a part of the character development and spiritual formation process for those under my sphere of care. What this means is that I must radically rethink how I personally define myself as successful as either a parent or a pastor. Success is no longer a static, linear process but something that is much more collaborative and mobile in nature. I can no longer believe that the environments that I create are the only (and in some cases the most important) ones that those whom I care about should be connected to. I have to recognize that relationships cannot be and are not defined in linear terms.

3. It's not really about me. This is the most difficult realization for me as both a parent and a pastor. Yes, I do carry great influence in these roles that I serve in, but these positions of influence that provide me with a platform from which to influence are not only about me. The self-seeking, self-effacing tension that plagues every individual who desires to be great at what they do has to take a back seat to the formative process of being who we are. I know, I's sounds like I'm getting all philosophical here, but what I'm trying to embrace in this time of reorientation of my thinking and my practice is that what I do is linked to who I am...the values that I say I believe must influence every part of the life that I live. So while the process of character development of others doesn't really define me as successful, it is my own personal willingness to be formed myself that influences my ability to succeed.

Maybe it's time for us to be truly honest by what we value. We can't say we value spiritual formation and then elevate our preferred form of this process ahead of the process itself. Doing so speaks of a different value...compliance instead of formation. Maybe we need to just be honest about what we value. Honesty might just lead to less confusion, greater clarity and a greater opportunity to be developed and to develop the values we are hoping for.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

When Tragedy Strikes

Over the last 48 hours our world has experienced tragic events. Some of them occurred further from my home (China), others were somewhat close (Connecticut) and even others have occurred around our own city. These events are a humble reminder of how broken, hurt and distressed the world we live in really is. 

I'm reminded of the example of Christian brothers and sisters who responded to the outbreak of the black plague in England in the 1300s. Panic, fear and desperation motivated many English residents to flee from infected areas leaving the sick and dying to fend for themselves. A few brave souls, God-fearing, Jesus radicals, responding to the tragic invitation this pandemic inflicted upon their country by choosing to care for those who were in need. These individuals chose to "sit in the ashes" alongside of their hurting peers similar to the initial way Job's friends responding to his pain in the biblical account bearing his name.

Our world is different today than it was 48 hours ago. This difference has provided us with the opportunity to grieve with those who grieve, to fight for and pursue justice, and to demonstrate that God's grace is sufficient at all times and in all ways. As you, your family and your friends continue to process recent world events, here are three suggestions that may help you to do so:

1. Communication - It is absolutely vital that each of us take the time to share with others how these events have affected us. It's as critically important that we provide our peers, family and others a listening ear as well. In times of distress, it's often better to extend a listening ear to others while attempting to be present with them as they grieve. Create the space and the time to communicate with others about these recent world events. Don't pretend they don't affect you or that they didn't happen. Communicate with one another. There is great comfort found in a grieving and loving community.

2. Emotion - It's ok to feel. This might be a more natural response for most females, but it's also important for us males to be mindful of. We should feel different things as we are made aware of tragic events. Don't be afraid of what you feel, but take the time to share with others how you are processing what has happened. Feelings don't make us weak, they remind us that we are alive and that we have a voice we can lend to others in times of despair.

3. Courage - Find the courage to grieve, to feel and to communicate...but also find the courage to pursue change. Not all tragic events can be avoided, but there are times when our foolish choices inflict hurt and pain on others in our world. Courage invites us to make wise decisions with how we grieve, how we love and how we live. Ask God's Spirit to speak to you in this season. Perhaps there is a change He is inviting you towards as a result of becoming more aware of the brokenness that exists in all of humanity.

We are created to be interconnected with others. It's in times of tragedy that we realize how great our need for community truly is. May you find renewed hope, perspective and life amongst those whom you call friends and family in this season of life on planet earth.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Form or Function

Today I had the privilege of beginning a year long journey with a group of individuals who are as crazy as I am...people who appreciate, care about and genuinely love teenagers. As you may be able to imagine, whenever like-minded folks get together, much of the conversation is focused on what we are doing and how we are doing it. I'm not sure if this is a systemic issue, or a preoccupation that is a societal trend, but we as humans seem to be fascinated with form. 

Think about it for a moment. We celebrate (and even idolize) the human form in a variety of ways: athletic achievements, intellectual pursuits, spiritual habits and physical changes and/or developments. Somehow we seem to believe that the form is the pinacle of excellence...but perhaps the opposite might be true?

When I think of function, I think of purpose. I make a lot of different choices based on this principle. I use certain technology because of its' functionality. I wear certain clothing, not because of how it looks (ask my wife...I need much help with regards to fashion), but because of what it provides...a covering, or a function. I consume from specific venues due to the functionality or purpose they provide me with, not necessarily due to the form in which the function is provided.

But yet when it comes to something like ministry or parenting, we often seem drawn to the tendency to copy the form without giving greater concern to the function. For example, we may admire the way a certain family's children have turned out, and may then adopt their parenting style (form) in order to provide us with our desired function. Sports teams are notorious for this type of behaviour. If one team ends up with the grand prize for it's league, other teams begin attempting to copy the "blueprint" (form) of their success in order to replicate the function.

Yet I wonder if embracing form over function leads to a devaluing of the outcome the form provides and an elevation of the form itself? Instead of valuing the nutrition a meal provides, we may be more concerned with how it was prepared or developed. We may...heaven forbid...celebrate a certain style of music ahead of all others not because of the function that it provides, but because it is our preferred style or form.

Does embracing form over function really mean that we are making a statement of preference and that our preference becomes more important than its function? Or does the elevation of form over function erode much needed elements of creativity, flexibility and adaptability of the form itself?

Form or function. Both are important, but perhaps determining the desired function should be the starting point of the discussion instead of celebrating the function's form.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Being There

Lately it seems as though I'm learning more about sacrificial love. Perhaps it has something to do with being a father of 3 young kids, or a pastor of youth and families in a society where family is a polarizing and often negative term, but I find myself drawn into a journey of rediscovery of what it means to love.

I'm learning that I love selfishly...yep, you read that typo! It's true. I often extend love to others because I expect a pay-off; I expect something in return for my "freely" given affection. And as I've dug into this mentality a little further, I've discovered that in so many ways I've allowed my meager definition of love to be disillusioned and influenced by societal driven values instead of the deeply rooted values that I long for.

These moments of introspection have led me to what I hope will be a profound conclusion on a personal level: What if I simply focused on being there?

When we love selfishly, we "love" for manipulation.
When we love self-less-ly, we love because of motivation.
When we love selfishly, we "love" out of obligation.
When we love self-less-ly, we love without hesitation.

What if I filtered my loving to the simplistic expression of being there for and with people? Would I see greater growth in the friendships and connections I possess? Would I find myself being cared for as I intentionally and unbiasedly loved others?

Love. It's a movement, not a concept. Show love; give love; live love by being there.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Fortress of Solitude

I was sitting on my couch the other night, doing some channel surfing, when I stumbled upon one of the classic Superman movies starring Christopher Reeve. The scene depicted on screen was his discovery of the fortress of solitude. For those of you who have seen the flick, perhaps you are familiar with this portion of the movie. For those who have not, let me do my best summarize.

The fortress of solitude is the one place where superman can find out more about who He is, and also get some much needed rest and downtime.

The question that I found myself asking was this: If superman needs a fortress of solitude, do I need one?

Now I know that superman is a fictitious character (or is he??), but there is a leadership principle at work here that I'd like to identify. Sometimes we as humans crave a space where we can discover more about who we are while resting, recharging and realigning. It's kind of like vehicular maintenance in a way. As I discover more about myself as a leader, a pastor, a husband and a friend, I'm learning that there are three facets to my personal fortress of solitude.

1. Community - my fortress of solitude includes a community of people that believe in me as a human being. They don't believe in me because I'm worthy of worship, they believe in me because that are willing to be lead, challenge, accept and love me. While there are times when my fortress of solitude does in fact need to be filled with alone time, more often than not I long for my community to support me. I want to be loved and cared for; respected and needed.

2. Results - my fortress of solitude has a purpose. I can measure it's effectiveness and value through intrinsic qualities. I look for things like authenticity, hope, encouragement, challenge and desire as a construct my fortress of solitude so that I have what I need to know that who I am is not only worth something, but also making a tangible difference in the world in which I live.

3. Creativity - my fortress of solitude is filled with trial, error, failure and success. I must be allowed to create, to dream, to experiment and to evaluate what "works" and what doesn't. Without the ability to be creative, in any sense of the world, we've ceased to be alive. The last thing our world needs is yet another duplicate...originals only please.

I recognize that this concept of a fortress of solitude is a work in progress. What I do know is that we all need a place (physical or metaphysical) where we can discover more about who we are and what we exist essence, we all need our own personal fortress of solitude. 

What does your fortress of solitude look like?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Empowerment and Apprenticeship

Language often gets us in trouble...

There are a lot of interesting conversations that take place in my household. With three young children, I have learned that I need to be careful about what sort of words I use to describe things. Instead of saying something like, "this is astonishing," I use these words "this is really fun." The reason being is that the cognitive development of my kids sometimes doesn't comprehend larger words. In fact, there are many times when my kids ask me what a certain word might mean. As I'm explaining the meaning of this word, I've learned that it's not only important to use additional verbal references, but also to demonstrate to them what this words actually means.

When I think about the future of our society and the community of faith, I think there are many similarities that can be found between how I'm learning to interact with my young children and how different generations need to grow in communicating with one another.

The words empowerment and apprenticeship are key verbs that describe what I believe needs to happen in order for us to continue to grow and develop as a community.

Empowerment means "giving responsibility to" or "allowing to lead." There are so many younger folks who long to be a part of something significant. This, I believe, is why there is such a draw to social justice initiatives currently. Our younger generations are leading us as a Canadian culture in a creative way of thinking about others instead of only ourselves. Like it or not, we have intentionally (or maybe unintentionally) empowered them to help us course correct as a society. The question I now find myself asking is this, "will we allow this empowerment to continue and in what ways does it need to grow?"

Apprenticeship means "working alongside" or "doing things together. This can be best observed in rural farm settings as the older generation passes on to the younger generation the way of doing things...and more importantly the mission and passion for farming. I wonder what it might look like for this to take root at a deep level in our current society? Could we see CEOs from large companies becoming younger in age as executive boards try to grow their companies next successor? Will we see an increased team oriented approach for leadership with perhaps a three-headed hydra steering an organization instead of the lone ranger CEO or president?

I don't know a whole lot, but I do know that I fascinated by our societal and cultural development and the factors that stimulate this kind of growth. This next generation will inherit what we are it or not. The question we need to ask ourselves is will we allow them to create alongside of us through empowerment and apprenticeship, or will we attempt to "manage their potential" by some other means?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Message of Hope

We haven't been created to journey through life all alone. No matter what you might be facing in life right now, take comfort knowing that you are not alone, even when you feel that you just might be...

Be Still
on Vimeo.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Values not Vehicles

I can remember the first day when I took possession of my very own vehicle. While I did enjoy cruising around in my new car, I found that I enjoyed the value of freedom more than the actual car itself. My car, although wonderful, took a lot of maintenance to keep on the road. I would spend lots of money, time and effort into making sure that my car was ship shape. And you know what happened? Well the day came along that this vehicle I had put so much energy into no longer met my needs, so I went out and purchased a new one. While this story might seem a little trivial, I do think it provides us with a glimpse into the societal tendency we have to value vehicles ahead of actual values.

There is so much that I'm learning about what I don't know thanks to being a father of young, impressionable children. Perhaps the most valuable lesson that is currently occupying by brain is the idea of what kind of values I am passing along to my children. Values are an interesting thing. Sometimes we cling to ideals that we believe are important, but when we take an honest look at our lives, we may find little to no evidence that these ideals are actually important to us.

Here are three ways I would suggest we can ensure that we are actually passing on values instead of an insatiable appetite for broken down vehicles.

1. Just do it. Nike said it best...when it comes to values, just do it. If you say you value something, make sure you demonstrate that value by actually incorporating it into your daily routine. If you value relationships, there should be many significant relational building moments throughout each of your days...if not, you may not actually value relationships.

2. Use a filter. Values are a filter that help us to choose our vehicles wisely. If we do perhaps value relationships, we may refrain from over-booking ourselves with entertainment oriented activities so we can actually spend time connecting with people. A wise decision is a decision that is filtered through a grid that identifies whether or not your values will be enhanced or hindered by the course of action you take.

3. Get over it. Vehicles don't last forever...but values do have long-term impact. There will come a day when someone might suggest for you to engage in an activity that you don't particularly enjoy. On that day, you will be presented with the choice between what you value most: a vehicle or a value. If we hold onto the expression (vehicle) of a value instead of the value itself, we will unintentionally de-value the value and elevate the vehicle. If, however, we find the courage to embrace the value no matter what the collateral vehicular damage, we may just cement the legacy of the values we so desperately long for others to embrace in the lives of those whom we care about.

Values are more important than vehicles. Are you willing to allow your vehicle to die so that the value might actually live?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Field of Dreams Myth

In 1989 Kevin Costner starred in a movie that I've entitled this post after. The basic premise of the film was creating a space and rhythm for memories and connections to be made. The most famous line from the flick "if you build it, they will come" has long been a rallying point for those of us who are immersed in the world of ministry.

We've spent millions of dollars, hours and other resources crafting programs that have been designed to attract people towards Jesus like a fly to fly-paper, and if we were honest about our measurement of success, we might simply categorize these efforts as a colossal fail.

Think about this for a minute. I live in Canada, and while I'm very thankful and grateful to be a part of this nation, there are many things that grieve me as a citizen of Canada. Consider our nation's unwillingness to fight for the rights of an unborn fetus, or our inability to create a inter-cultural community where tolerance isn't the common placed value for all.

When we place greater value on infrastructure and systems than we do people...we've simply got things mixed up.

We believe a lie...a lie that states if we build a great system or create a magnificent marketing campaign our product will sell better. But unless we can create a community or a hunger around the product we are marketing, our efforts are wasted.

The Field of Dreams myth suggests that the system or the program is of utmost value. The truth is the exact opposite. If we help create and foster a community of vibrant individuals, others will be drawn to it. Consider Martin Luther King, who spent a great deal of his life canvassing for a dream...a dream that saw the end of all racial tensions in the United States. King wasn't marketing a program...he was campaigning for a change in the value based system of society...he was intent on creating space and rhythm for a new reality or community to be born.

Maybe it's time we redirect our energies to consider what it might meant to create space and rhythm for community to form rather than programs that cease to become sustainable long term.

In the church world, if it is our desire to truly become closer to model our lives after his example...maybe we might just need to spend more time pursuing him instead of the "next big thing" in the realm of ministry. Can you imagine if families

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Philosopher vs. The Practicioner

My favorite undergraduate class was philosophy. I enjoyed it so much particularly because the entire structure of the class itself was centered around personal opinion, and if you know me...I seem to have no shortage of those!!

While I really do enjoy thinking about, observing, creating and teaching philosophical concepts and worldviews, philosophy itself doesn't amount to much of anything. Unless couple with a practical application, the dispensation of philosophy erodes to the lowest form of entertainment based pontification.

Think about this for a minute. You take a class, listen to an expert or read through some material in order to gain a better frame of reference on a particular set of circumstances in order to engage these circumstances with a greater amount of creativity and innovation. We pursuing learning in order to experience growth...we desire to live beyond our current reality.

For some of us our natural inclination might be towards the philosophical ramifications of a particular issue, while others of us might tend to focus on the practical application of what is being discussed.

Both are valuable, and both are needed. The challenge is finding the balance between these two competing ideologies.

Here are three things I'm learning about how to find this type of balance:

1. Don't over-think it. Sometimes the best solutions to problems are the ones that are organically created and sustained. What works in one place or with one problem might now work with another. While it is great to think creatively about a specific issue, we can unintentionally find ourselves stuck in the hamster wheel of over-thinking our strategic approach to the problem at hand. Think, yes, but resist the temptation to theorize the issue away...history teaches us that never works out well.

2. Test it. The balance between the philosopher and the practitioner might just be found in the basic scientific method approach of trial and error. Sometimes we need to test our theories. We might think something works, but without substantial proof, what good is our theory? This basic understanding in science can and should be directly applied to faith. If we believe something is true, we should allow it to be tested. I can't have faith if I don't have trust, and trust is the organic by-product of testing. Don't believe me? Even the Bible suggests that we should "taste and see the Lord is good." If we think it might be true, we should test it so that we can trust our convictions. There is no reward without risk, and risk is a form of testing.

3. Celebrate it and replicate it. When our theory turns out to have produced desired (and maybe unintended) results we should stop to celebrate it! We don't celebrate our success in order to create a larger ego, we celebrate our success in order to recognize the growth and development that is occurring. Ever wonder why we celebrate birthdays? Life is a gift. Growth is a gift. We need to take the time to celebrate our experiences and learn how to enjoy the gift we've been given. And once we celebrate, we should look to replicate our success by learning to continue to grow in another facet or area of our lives. We should be content with who we are, but being content does not mean we refuse to grow any longer. Contentment means we live from a place of reassured confidence and hope that life is a gift and we are stewards of this gift.

Whether you find yourself drawn more to the philosophical or the practical end of the spectrum, the truth is that without a balance between these two ideologies, we might become irrelevant to ourselves and to others...and then what is it that we have to offer the communities in which we find ourselves in association with?

Friday, August 31, 2012

We Love our Options - Discipleship 186

If there is one universal value that all of humankind seems to uphold (at least the segment that resides in North America) it would be options.

Let me explain what I mean. Agreed, there can be other factors at play in the evolution of life in general, but one of the primary motivations behind what we do and what we pursue in our culture seems to point to the desire of greater options. Think about this for a moment. Parents work hard to provide their children with experiences they never had (options). Immigrants embrace the reality of life in a new country hoping their children will have a better opportunity to succeed in life (options). Youth and young adults choose their scholastic environment based on what courses and extra curricular activities are offered (options). Building a new home or choosing a new community to live in is often influenced by what sort of amenities are associated with the community or the new home building project (options). Church goers shop around until they find a faith community that fulfills their desire to "be fed" (options)...maybe this one hits a little too close to home? How many side dish options does a person really need at a restaurant (options)?? Sports teams have even developed basic plays that contain options for the players to implement during the course of a game!

The evidence of these systemic behaviours points to a malformation of identity in all of humankind. We believe a lie that tells us life is about opportunities and options instead of values. And so we begin to value options ahead of the things that truly feed the soul.

We might wonder why marriages are failing at an exponentially increasing rate, youth and young adults seem reluctant to embrace responsibility as emerging adults, and the attitude of entitlement seems to have replaced the value of a great work ethic. The truth is that each of these three examples are the end-product results of an overarching value that screams to us that our options are more important than anything else on the planet. We are driven to pursue our options, and the wake of our pursuit has created some devastating consequences that just so happen to be continuously feeding into the malformation of human identity.

The challenge I find myself facing is how to move against the cultural forces that are demanding my attention, my submission and my obedience. While I do possess the desire to be noticed and connected to the rest of humankind, I feel a greater sense of responsibility and invitation into a different way of living life outside of the human initiated rhythm that seems more exhausting than life giving. Some people have chosen to pursue life "off of the grid" or in a more sheltered environment as a result of these emerging trends in our culture...but this is a choice I simply will not make. Living so close to the mountains has provided me with the opportunity to marvel as the resilience of nature. I've seen trees growing out of the sides of mountains. They are rooted in rocks and are thriving in this unconventional environment. I see things like this and cannot help but wonder if this isn't an invitation to thrive in the midst of chaos?

Sure our world might just be spinning out of control, but does that mean I have to spin with it? I'm learning how to embrace a different rhythm and pace in my own life by pursuing three things:

1. Balance - I must choose to intentionally limit my options. There are a million good things going on in the world, but I don't want to do good things...I want to be a part of something great. I'm not about to pursue greatness if I'm too busy doing good. Therefore, I must intentionally choose to limit the amount of good opportunities that I embrace so that I have the ability to recognize and commitment to pursuing the great things that come my way.

2. Generosity - You want to be radical? Start living generously. Choose to put the development of others ahead of yourself. You will find something interesting takes will actually learn, grow and develop at a more expedited pace than if you were focused solely on your own personal well-being. You'll also create more joy through serving others than serving yourself.

3. Authenticity - Surround yourself with real people who will not only challenge you, but will also encourage you to be who you were designed to be. Our time on this planet is finite. Why waste it chasing after so-called friends who only view you as a commodity or a means to a desired end?

We might love our options, but no one ever said we had to. Instead of valuing and consuming more, maybe we might actually find a little peace through embracing a different paradigm for our lives?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Just like a child - Discipleship 185

My daughter started school last week. I've been filled with mixed emotions ever since then. Part of me couldn't believe I was old enough to have a child in school, while another part of me was excited to see how her character will continue to develop and grow due to the new school experience.

Perhaps the most profound lesson I've learned from this initial school exposure is how similar I am to my own kids. In learning to identify more with what they are experiencing, I am beginning to understand what it is critical for me to be aware of how others are processing this "human experience" so that I can help inspire, encourage, motivate, challenge and lead them. Here are three must knows for every parent and leader.

1. They are thinking the same thing. After my daughter's first day of school, I learned that I ask the same questions that she does. Questions like "who am I going to sit with," "I wonder if that person will remember my name," and "when is snack time?" I'm fascinated by watching and observing cultural patterns, behaviours and trends (maybe I should have become a sociologist?? - yeah...not likely!). The questions of who we are going to meet or interact with are common questions that each of us ask. As a leader and a parent, I think my role is more about helping my kids (and myself) understand that they can be the answer to someone's question (or prayer) by recognizing that these "connection" or "interaction" questions are common to us all. It's been fun coaching my daughter to initialize the connection instead of waiting for it to happen or to occur. Sometimes awkwardness is the result, but I have yet to hear about someone who lost their life due to some social awkwardness. Take a chance, be a friend and get involved in the lives of people.

2. Development is a process, not a reaction. My daughter is only 4 days into the whole Kindergarden scene. Day 3 was a little tough for her. She told us she had a tough day because her indoor shoes were too difficult to get on and by the time she got her shoes on everyone else already had their play buddies for the day. As she told me her story I found myself asking the internal question of "should I talk to her teacher about this?"I never thought I would be one of those parents...thankfully sanity returned to my inner dialogue and I resisted the temptation to go speak with her teacher this time around. But I do think this thought pattern is indicative of how we as humans process life. Instead of understanding the overall development of the trajectory of life, we sometimes commit to knee-jerk type reactions that end up damaging our development more than we recognize. Don't believe me? Consider this: A friend or loved one sends you an ambiguous text that requires some level of clarity. A person could simply look for an opportunity to pursue clarity in communication, or they could decide that this individual should be cut off from relational interaction completely. This might seem like a ridiculous or harsh example, but I think it illustrates my point. Development occurs over time. Sometimes our initial reactions aren't the best options or ideas. Instead, as parents & leaders, we should be proactive in our approach to life...anticipating potential roadblocks to the development of those whom we love and working to circumvent the roadblocks or even move through them. What this requires is having an idea of what values and/or habits we desire to impart to those we care about instead of reacting erroneously to different situations as they occur.

3. Celebrate the successes, learn from the mis-steps. We don't take enough time to celebrate the successes. Day 3 was a rough day of school for our daughter, but day 4 was amazing...and it started with her being one of the first ones to get her shoes on (meaning she was no longer left behind as the other kids headed into the classroom to play, she instead was leading the way!). So, we celebrated the "shoe" success as a family. Let me ask you this...when was the last time you stopped to celebrate something? If we understand that development is a process, that means it's going to take different amounts of time for different people to grow in their development. It also means that we must be creative in how and in what we celebrate in the lives of others. Maybe it's grad, maybe it's social interaction, or maybe it's something else. What I'm suggesting is that if we do not have a culture of celebration, we may just lose our ability to inspire others.

Additionally, we need to learn from the mis-steps. My youngest son is just learning how to walk. There have been several falls already due to a mis-step. There are many things my son is learning from these mis-steps. They include (but are not limited to) - the importance of balance, knowing how to get back up from a fall, falls hurt and there will always be another challenge. As parents and leaders we need to model what it means to learn from our mis-steps while demonstrating to those under our influence that these mis-steps, while painful, should not have longer term debilitating effects to one's development. While the mis-step is painful in it's season, it can be and must be overcome in order for development to continue to occur.

Monday, August 13, 2012

What are you owning? - Discipleship 184

I can remember the very first time I purchased something with my own money. I had been saving up my Christmas and birthday money in order to buy a brand new video game for my Super Nintendo! My dad and I headed into the city to the local Zellers which had the best selection of games for purchase. I remember being filled with such great anticipation and excitement knowing that this was something I had worked for and planned to purchase. I was a proud owner!!

As a parent and a pastor I've often asked myself the question of what I am owning? The families under my pastoral care and even my own children don't necessarily belong to me in that I own them, but they are gifts that I've been allowed to help shape, model and develop. Knowing this, here are three things I'm learning what I should be owning as both a parent and a pastor:

1. Values, not programs. Programs are wonderful. They allow us to experience a variety of things, and sometimes even help to teach us something (ie, swimming lessons). matter how flashy or fancy the program is, the program itself DOES NOT develop people. Instead of owning a program, I need to own the value that initiates the program. For example, if my hope is that those under my influence as a leader or a parent would learn how to live generously, I should be more concerned about cultivating the value of generosity rather than the programs or initiatives that allow me to be generous. Programs do not have the long-term sustainability that values do. If I value generosity, I will continue to learn how to live generously long after the program that encouraged my initial generosity is gone. Programs do have value, but they should never be valued greater than the values they are designed to develop are.

2. Relationships, not statistics. This seems like a no brainer. The quality of my relationships isn't directly correlated to how many things I've experienced in each relationship. What I mean is that I can't add up the number of dates I've had with my wife and evaluate the depth of our connection based solely on this numerical data. Instead, I need to long for other identifiers for relational growth. These are somewhat more difficult to observe and measure. They include (but are not limited to): trust, communication, risk, authenticity and support. It's impossible to measure the level of trust in a relationship based on a numerical scale. The quality of the relational connections I possess is not directly correlated to statistical data alone. I must have other external measuring devices that help me to describe my definition of success.

3. Character qualities, not to-do lists. Developing people extends beyond behavioural modification. If our goal is simply to have people "do things right," we are unintentionally creating shallow human beings. The question of "why" should be of utmost prominence in all that we communicate instead of "how", "what" or "when." It's not enough for a child to refrain from lying. If the child doesn't understand why telling the truth is important and how lies affect others that long lasting character development will not stick. 

What do you think?

Monday, July 30, 2012

Staying Fresh - Discipleship 183

There is something inspiring about creating some new, or tweaking something that already exists in order to make it feel like a new experience. 

I like variety. There are seasons when I enjoy the same thing (pizza....) and then there are others when I can't get enough of new perspective shifting mindsets. 

I wonder if our relational connection with people and with God might fall into this same desire to keep things fresh? I know there are times when I'm looking for something new instead of the systematic routine that I have established. Maybe I'm the only one, but if you too crave variety and newness...consider experimenting with these four things:

1. Shake it up. There is nothing more system shocking for those of us who crave our routines, to deliberately do everything different for an entire day. So you stop at the same coffee shop every morning? Try a different place. Never tried a certain ethnic cuisine for lunch or dinner? Today is that day!! Create an experience...good or bad. Sometimes keeping life fresh is about our willingness to shuffle the deck when it comes to our routine.

2. Adventure Robinhood style. Steal for the rich and give to the poor...sort of. Let's be honest here. In our current Canadian climate, we live in the land of luxury. There is nothing more humbling then spending time with people who are less fortunate than we are and discovering that they have what we and contentment. Adventure Robinhood style is about learning to identify with the poor in your community. Get outside of yourself and your circumstances and spend time with people who can teach and inspire you. If you don't know where to begin, find out what your city is doing to serve the less fortunate and discover how you can get involved beyond merely handing out cash.

3. Follow the leader. Consider allowing someone else to dictate the pace and rhythm of your entire day. This is one of my favorite things to do on occasion with my young family. My wife and I have allowed our kids to design our entire day...and we've put a map together in order to help us follow the plans that we've created. It's been a blast...stretching for sure, but certainly worthwhile. Give up control a little bit, there's no telling what might happen when you are willing to be led by someone else.

4. Dream big. So you don't want to wake up 30 years from now with a heart full of the shoulda coulda wouldas...well, I suggest that you start dreaming today. What would you like to see, where would you like to visit, what would you like to experience. Start dreaming and then start evaluating where you are today and where you'd like to be in the future. Learning to translate your dreams into reality will be the greatest adventure you can ever experience.

Staying fresh is something we all crave. I hope that you consider what this looks like for you, and that you invite others into your quest for freshness. There is nothing like experiencing a deepening interconnectedness and support for following your hopes and dreams.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

When It's Hard to be Thankful - Discipleship 182

Maybe I'm alone in feeling this way, but there are times in my life where I simply do not appreciate nor do I feel grateful for who I am, what I have and what my life is all about. I find these moments in time very interesting as I observe how I'm reacting (or over-reacting) to circumstances, people and the other things that life brings.

I often wonder what I would or could do if things were different in some way.

It's in these moments of introspection that I'm learning to discipline myself to be thankful, instead of wishing for something more or something else. It's alright to crave something deeper, but when the craving for more (consumption) overshadows current reality (perspective) run into the proverbial dead end internally and feel like you are hitting a wall that cannot be overcome...and the vicious circle continues unless you can system shock your way out of it.

Here are three things that are necessary for me to initiate system shock:

1. Pursue Simplicity. I define simplicity for myself and my family as an intentionality behind who we are and what we do. When it's hard to be thankful, it's usually because we've allowed the intentionality behind who we are and what we do to become less of a priority for us. For example, if my hope is to be a great dad to my kids but I don't take advantage of the opportunity to spend time with them while on vacation or during a down moment in our schedule, I may struggle with the fractured relational connection I experience with my kids due to the lack of intentionality in my pursuit of them. When I choose to keep life simple (ahem...when I'm intentional about what I pursue), I maintain a grateful and thankful perspective on life.

2. Pursue Relationship. Much of introspection occurs in an isolated state; meaning that the person who is introspective is often alone during the moment of reflection (and yes you can be alone even if there are others in the same room as you!!). When it's hard to be thankful I find great value in taking the time to connect relationally with others so I can share some of the difficulties I may be experiencing, but also so I can simply listen to how their life story is unfolding and find things to be grateful for from observing their lives from a distance. This observation isn't a state of comparison, but one of hopefulness as I begin to trace the theme of thankfulness and gratitude in another person's story...and hopefully can begin to translate this same perspective into my own.

3. Pursue Generosity. Sometimes I find it hard to be thankful because I have too much stuff. We've all heard the line, "what do you get someone who has everything?" To be honest, live in North America (regardless of your current financial status), is a life of luxury and want...not one of need. I find that when I choose to live generously with my time, stuff and skill set, I'm not only disciplining myself to be thankful but I'm also alleviating some of the burden that my consumeristic nature brings (ie, more is enough).

When it's hard to be thankful, take the time to stop, listen, examine and respond accordingly to the space you are presently occupying. Life isn't easy, but it can be full in a non-materialistic way...which is the best kind of life to live! I'm grateful for learning yet again that I've got more to learn, and I'm thankful that I've got a perfect example of someone to follow who knew how to be thankful in all things...thank you Jesus!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Relational Ties - Discipleship 181

I'm sure many of you have heard the phrase "the tie that binds us." It might be a little here's a more modern approach to this same idea - relational connecting points.

I've had the amazing privilege of knowing some fantastic older folks over the course of my life. Some of my favorite memories are having spent time with wise, old, wrinkled individuals and chatting. You know what the common denominator in most of their stories they tell is? Relationships. No matter how old or how young you might be, it's the relational ties that we have that grant us a portion of our identity. Here are three key things I'm learning about relational ties:

1. All relationships shape us. Whether it's a positive interaction with a teacher from your Grade 1 class, or a frightful first date experience...all relationships shape us. We are formed, reformed, dented and glued by the relational connections we develop with others...even if these connections are limited and brief. Picture someone you admire in your mind. How are you connected to them? The social business network Linked In defines these types of connections as first, second or third type connections. A first connection is an immediate interaction with an individual. A second connection is a "friend of a friend" type of scenario, and so on and so on. Regardless of how well or how little you know another person, every single interaction leaves an impression. I shudder to think how some of the people I've interacted with over my lifetime have been affected by me, but I also smile when I think of other people who may have had a more positive interaction with me.

2. We don't like having real connections. Even though we are defined my our relational connections, we are afraid of developing a real connection. We are so starved for attention or connection, that we are willing to embrace a placebo or plastic connection instead of risking these synthetic connections for something of real substance. It's easier to cope with rejection when some doesn't like the real we create fake connections out of fear and a desire to protect ourselves. The funny thing is that these fake connections only enhance our insatiable appetite for we end up creating an internal monster that will never be satisfied by our attempts to live in shallow waters relationally instead of a deep ocean of connection.

3. We mimic what we know and see. If we've been marred positively or negatively by a relationship, we mimic this behavior. It takes extreme courage to rise above negativity, swim up stream and reject corporate compliance. If you don't have a great relational role model in your life, find one...start learning from them and begin mimicking their posture instead of the negative expressions of relational connections that might seem more natural to us.

We are defined by our relational ties. They aren't something we wear, but they are something we live. What do your relational ties say about you?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Creating Teams - Discipleship 180

We were created for community. Every person on earth enjoys being connected to and with others. Depending on the cultural context, some people call these connections communities, others call them tribes and some may refer to them as teams.

I believe that the only way to find success in life is to pursue a collective goal in community, or in others words, to work together as a team.

Whether you are referring to a family unit, a leadership grouping, a school setting or a workplace environment, each of these contexts provides the opportunity to work collaboratively as a team. The challenge in working together is knowing how to build or create a team. Here are three things I'm learning about building teams:

1. Everyone has value. Whether you are referring to the youngest person in a family, or the most senior member of a work place, everyone has value. The challenge in creating a team is to identify and establish a culture of value and appreciation so that every member of the community feels like they belong. Without a sense of connectedness or value, the gathered group of individuals will never be willing to work together and the quest to become a team will fail.

2. Teams are well rounded. If your team doesn't include a diverse group of individuals, it will not function well. Some people might say that we are drawn to individuals who are like us, while others might suggest the complete opposite. Regardless of who we are naturally drawn to, we must be intentional about pursuing diversity and embracing our differences. I'm not suggesting to employ a culture of tolerance, but I am suggesting we pursue a culture of acceptance. Acceptance doesn't always been agreement, but a willingness to honor one another for opinions and values while choosing to limit seasons where these things clash with one another.

3. The formation of a team is never complete. This may seem like a downer to some of us. The truth of the matter is that no matter what level of health your team might be experiencing, the culture of team must be continually cultivated and tended to or it will otherwise begin to erode. The challenge for leaders, parents and others is to find ways to keep the pursuit of this team oriented collaborative culture fresh. Read culture, read books, observe others interacting with one another and become a student of collaborative learning and experiences.

These are the top three things I'm learning about creating teams. What do you think?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Stories are Inspiring - Discipleship 179

Have you ever considered that you and I are living stories? Our lives paint pictures and create waves that affect others around us, both positively and negatively. We also live in a culture that is fascinated with story. There are three basic elements to a story. Consider how your awareness of these elements may help you in your role as a leader, a parent and a friend.

1. Author - Every story has an author. The author is someone who creates a picture or a platform...something we call a story. If we agree that each of us is a living story, we are all authors and are all constantly writing, painting, demonstrating and living in the story (that is our lives) we are creating. What is fascinating about authorship is that we live in a world who's story has already been told, but as living, breathing and interactive sub-stories to this broader unfolding story, we still have the opportunity to be involved in this greater unfolding story. How we use our ability to tell our story is where we often find significant differences as authors.

2. Audience - Stories are meant for audiences. When we are stitching together an epic tale, we are often doing so while keeping in mind who our target audience might be. Our goal as an author, a living story, is to see how our own story might have an impact or make an impression on other living stories. Are we writing, speaking and communicating through our lives with our audience in mind, or are we simply trying to entertain ourselves? No one really loves going to the movies and sitting by themselves, alone in a theatre, do they?

3. Willingness to share - The last element of a story is its' willingness to be shared. Perhaps you've heard it said different in terms of giving your life away. We all can agree that we invest our lives in something. Sometimes what we invest in has great meaning, and at other times our investment might have lesser significance. The challenge we have is finding the courage to share our story, our lives, with those whom we desire to influence and impact. 

These are three elements of story. What might you add to the conversation?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Authenticity 2.0 - Discipleship 178

It looks like I may once again be focusing the bulk of my ramblings on the theme of community for this season. I can't help but be absolutely fascinated by our desire to define ourselves by how we do or do not connect with others. Call it a fixation with sociology I guess...

What I'm learning and observing most about community currently is with regard to the character development of authenticity. Authenticity is the desire to be real; to pursue truth. So much of how we form community is based more on appearance than truth or desire, and this is why it is difficult to add the element of authenticity into the formation of community. Here are for ideas as to why authenticity and community seem to be more polarizing than harmonizing:

1. Authenticity isn't convenient. Getting to know someone for who they really are is a lot of hard work. We have to peel back the layers of expectation, fear, confusion and cultural nuance in order to get to the core of who we are as people. It takes time, effort, investment, consistency and patience to do so. In our instant gratification based society, authenticity simply rubs us the wrong way. It forces us to slow down, take notice and listen to the lives of others. Because authenticity isn't convenient, it's often forgotten.

2. Authenticity needs to be modelled. Someone needs to take the risk of being real in order to demonstrate to others that authenticity is possible. There seem to be far too few people who are willing to risk rejecting the fake element of the human persona, making it virtually impossible for a community to pursue authenticity together. If someone would only take the risk to show their true self to their community, perhaps authentic community wouldn't be such a pipe dream perhaps.

3. Authenticity is a work in progress. This is perhaps the most frustrating dynamic in authenticity. You never "fully arrive" in being have to constantly work at developing this as a core value of your community. For those of us who are achievers, we need to figure out how to "keep things fresh" in our pursuit of authenticity so that we don't be disillusioned by the constancy of its development.

4. Authenticity is not a growth strategy. Somewhere deep inside of each of us we have a difficult time restraining ourselves by defining success simply based on numerical statistics. While authenticity is what we might crave, it's also something we fear because of the risk of it's unappealing nature to the broader community. We like to pretend, have fun and enjoy when someone tells us it's time to get serious for a moment, we might be less inclined to continue to be a part of the community, even though we long for an authentic experience.

While authenticity is difficult, I believe it is absolutely necessary in order to live a life of meaning, purpose, destiny and joy. Maybe it's time that we all choose to get real, reject the cultural nuance of being fake and find rest in what it means to be human? What do you think?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Community - Discipleship 177

Community is one of my favorite subjects to write about, talk about and experience. I am fascinated by the human desire to connect and belong to something. The interrelated connections we create and define ourselves by are woven together in a wonderfully complex tapestry. Here are three things I'm learning more about regarding community.

1. Community is created. Community cannot be found, it has to be created. We invest the majority of our time trying to develop connections with people...we are often looking for that significant spark in order to validate our desire. The truth is that every connection we have with another being is a product of creation, not merely the dumb luck of having stumbled upon its' existence. Our desire for connection is a part of our default programming as humans. We, like our Creator, are hard-wired to connect relationally with the rest of humanity. People spend the majority of their lives in pursuit of the impossible task of finding a connection instead of learning how to create a connection. If we are hard-wired to connection, we are also hard-wired to create. Connection, and the end result of community, begins with the willingness to create.

2. Community requires discipline. Community isn't easy. It takes a great deal of commitment, consistency and discipline to stay connected. It is true that we possess the default need to be connected, but we also possess the default habit of resisting connection. The wise person is aware of this emerging dichotomy and is able to navigate the intricacy of this evolving dance. If you look at the example of Jesus, even He needed to discipline Himself to get up early in the morning in order to connect with His heavenly Father. If our Creator demonstrates the discipline required to pursue community, why would we believe that community would come easy to us as His creation?

3. Community is not static. Community is always evolving in some way. It's either growing or decaying. The challenge is knowing when you are in a season of growth, or when you are experiencing a season of decay and responding to the challenges or needs in each of these scenarios. Don't expect things to "stay the same" cause they won't. Embrace the pulsation of community and recognize that there are different seasons to be experienced in the pursuit of community.

There is so much more that can be said about community. Would you agree or disagree with these three facets of community? How do they inspire you to pursue an interconnectedness with others?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Discouraged - Discipleship 176

Discouragement is par for the course as a leader and a parent. There are times when those under our care (yes, even our own children) will not live up to our expectations or hopes and things may not go according to our original plan.

It's in these moments of discouragement that we are our most fragile. The heightened sense of emotional angst often causes us to do or to say things we may have done or said differently in a more stable moment of thought. It's also critical to have a plan of action in order to navigate these moments of discouragement.

Here are three practical steps that aide me in the battle during seasons or moments of discouragement.

1. Remember where you've been. When a moment doesn't turn out the way I had hoped or expected, it's always great for me to remember where I've come from and the growth that has happened in the past in order to get me to the present. This is especially critical as a leader when you might be campaigning for change. Discipleship is a process. It takes time for children to grow into adulthood. It takes time for character to develop. It's always important to remember the journey and where you've come from in order to help you continue to be filled with hope for the future.

2. It's only temporary. Seasons of discouragement don't last forever. Yes, there may be some more significant elements of mental illness that this idea of temporary doesn't really apply to, but in light of the long-term future of the world, heaven and God's plan of restoration, the struggle of discouragement we face is really only temporary. Imagine a different future, celebrate the past growth and learn from the present experiences.

3. Shoulder to shoulder. Do not fall into the temptation to embrace isolation in seasons of discouragement. Talk to those who care about you. Share with them how you are feeling, what you are experiencing and what is going on. Sometimes an outside perspective will help to bring clarity into your current struggle. There's nothing like a helping hand to pull you up when you might be feeling down.

What else might you add to this three part strategy?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

How to train your dragon - Discipleship 175

This was one of my most favorite family films in recent memory. My daughter Saydie is relentless on watching it via playback numerous times in a month.

The element that has always stuck out to me from this film is something that I believe is relevant for parents and leaders to ask themselves: what makes training successful?

There are a number of different elements present in any sort of training and/or learning environment. In this post, I want to share three elements that I believe are absolutely critical when it comes to development and formation of people.

1. Share - This is the core of the learning process. When trying to train someone or helping them to learn, you are really inviting them to share in an experience. The success of the initiative will depend on the level to which partnership is created around the learning other words, the ability to share. The learning process involves both the teacher and the pupil. Each plays a role in the process as a whole. If one end of the partnership does not live up to its design, the entire process will suffer. Questions that are key when attempting to create a learning process are: Does each participant have a voice in the process? What is the mutual benefit of this process? How is sharing occurring in the learning process?

2. Model - Its been said that people who can't do teach...and I couldn't disagree with that statement more. Unless someone has some level of experience with a subject matter, they will not be able to transfer their knowledge to another person. As a father of 3 young kids, I must be willing to model things like respect, kindness and listening if I expect them to learn the value of these skills as well. As a leader or a parent, am I modelling what I hope for my audience to experience?

3. Teach - A third element that must be present in the learning process is teaching. When I describe teaching in this context I am referring to the verbal transport of information between parties. Teachers should introduce the concept, invite participation and feedback, while helping to create ownership of the learning process on behalf of the pupil.

These are the top three things that come to mind when I think about training. What do you think?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Key Leadership & Parenting Questions - Discipleship 174

As a parent of three young kids and a pastor to a number of teens and families, I'm learning a lot about the values of listening and asking questions. Here are three critical questions that should be incorporated into every teaching moment or conversation both as a parent and a leader.

1. What do you value? This is the grassroots foundational big bertha type of question. What I've discovered is that there are often times when I'm simply not on the same page with my kids or those in my sphere of ministry care because there is a difference in what we value. Parents who ask me to "fix their kid" are often looking for an immediate change in behaviour, where I may be approaching the situation from a longer-term heart driven and character formation type of initiative. It is absolutely critical that there is clarity when it comes to this question of value. The answer to this question will help you know how to lead, even if that means stepping away from the situation because of a different in values.

2. What do you need? This is a further clarification question for values. Sometimes parents are looking for additional support in the discipleship process of their kids. Other times, kids might be looking for an opportunity to be heart, supported, loved and cared for. The ability to ask and to answer this question will help move the teaching moment towards a preferred outcome that will be mutually beneficial. Additionally, this is an essential question every leader must ask themselves from the organization and community they are invested in. If what you need personally differs from what is able to be provided, it may be a sign that the long-term fit between leader and community/organization just isn't there...and that's ok!

3. What do you expect? No one enjoys being measured against non-verbalized expectations. Have the courage to ask the question and to give the answer so that the teaching moment will have both depth and meaning. If a parent is expecting you to fix the behaviour of their child in a 20 minute conversation you need to know. You need to know so you can share that this expectation isn't realistic. Conversely, you can then help them to craft an appropriate level of expectation by pointing them towards the broader, longer-term vision of lifelong discipleship.

These are three questions that I'm finding very valuable for me as a parent, a leader, a friend and a husband. What do you think of these questions? Do you have others you would add to this list?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Creating Culture - Discipleship 173

Change that is long term and sustainable is all about the creation of a culture.

If you look at the music industry, you will find many examples of artists who created cultural shifts that transcend time, nuance and location. If I say the word Beatles what comes to mind? Floppy hair, rock and roll, and simplicity. What about The Rolling Stones? Pushing the envelope, smash-mouth musicianship and longevity.

There are many other examples of cultural innovators such as these. The challenge we all have as emerging leaders (parents, pastors or others) is being a part of the creation of culture for a specific context, setting and time. Here are three things I'm learning about creating culture:

1. Be honest. When you look in the mirror, don't hide from the things you don't want to see and create things that simply aren't there. Be honest about where you are at and where you want to be. Its' only out of moments of authenticity that true, deep-seeded change and creation of culture can take place.

2. What do you need? In addition to a realistic perception of current reality, you need to have the courage to articulate what you need both in the present and the future. As a leader, I have to be honest about what type of feedback and encouragement I might crave, in addition to what growth and development I long to see. If I don't know what I want or what I need, how can I expect someone else to? Be real, be firm and be willing to enter into the journey of discovering what it is you really need.

3. It's gotta be personal. If the culture you are looking to create isn't something you are willing to embrace yourself, there is NO WAY you will be successful in your creative initiative. Be what you want. You can't inspire change unless you are communicating from a deep level of personal affinity, passion and growth.

Creating culture takes time. If you aren't willing to see it begin to develop over the long haul, perhaps you should re-examine your desire to be a part of a cultural shift. We all want to be known and remembered for something. What does your culture creating strategy say about who you are as a leader, what you want to be known for and what is important to you?

My hope and prayer is that those who affected by the creative cultural initiatives I champion might be inspired by the grace, mercy and love of Christ that permeates to one's very core.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Community - Discipleship 172

I've written about and spoken on this subject matter on a number of different occasions. Today, I want to share a different slant on community. I'm going to be transparent, sharing the fears that I battle in my own personal pursuit of community.

1. I believe the lie of isolation. In some way, shape or form, I believe that lie that suggests I'm better off on my own. Independence is a great thing...but being too independent only leads to loneliness and despair. Codependence, on the other hand, recognizes that need for a communal approach to life. But again, too great an emphasis on codependence results in an unbalanced and unhealthy approach to life. There needs to be a balance between our individual pursuit of independence and our communal pursuit of codependence. No one can truly live in complete isolation from others.

2. I value experience over people. There are times when I simply do not make time for connecting with others because I'm too focused on consuming an experience. Sometimes this experience is something new, but other times it is something all to familiar. In these moments, I believe the experience will satisfy my desires more than a connection with a community of people.

3. What if they don't like me? There are times when I'm so worried about what something might think of me that I refrain from pursuing some form of community with them. I wonder if I will be accepted, mocked or ridiculed. If I put myself out there and people don't respond positively, what does that say about who I really am?

These three named fears are fears that I believe each of us wrestles with in our pursuit of community. The question we must ask ourselves when we come face to face with our fears is if the fear is really worth it? I can tell you from experience that there are many different people (my wife included) that I would never have experienced community with if I didn't face my fear and risk something for the reward of relational connection.

Each of us longs to belong to something, but community isn't something we can find, it's something we need to create. The questions of fear paralyze our ability to create connections, and without connections, community is impossible. Face your fear, take the risk and create community. 

What do you think?

Monday, April 30, 2012

What you say? - Discipleship 171

I've been overwhelmed by the steep learning curve that I've been immersed in when it comes to the topic of communication. Here are four things that I'm pondering in my life:

1. If it isn't real, it isn't worth it. Timothy Keller is quoted as saying, "you can't traffic an unfelt truth." We've all known people who just like to talk, but nothing they say really mattered or had any quality of depth to it. If I don't have anything good to say, and if what I want to say isn't real, then I simply shouldn't say it. Communication is about connecting with other people. I cannot develop a true connection unless I'm being real. All my communicative interactions must be saturated in authenticity, otherwise it isn't worth the effort in trying to communicate.

2. Consistently be consistent. This is a big one. There is so much messaging in our world today. We are bombarded with all sorts of advertising, opinions and rhetoric. The challenge is this emerging "loud" culture is to remain consistent in what you are trying to communicate. Communication is a two way street, it needs to be both given and received. The consistent message is easier to receive than one that is constantly changing. Stay the course and be consistent with your messaging.

3. Keep it simple. Language sometimes gets in the way. If I say the world apple, some people think of food, while others think of technology. This gets even more convoluted when you think about anything like marketing, teaching, or sharing honestly. I don't think communicators need to be master linguists, but we do need to understand our audience and ere on the side of simplicity in order to ensure that clarity is a result instead of complexity and confusion.

4. I have two ears, and only one voice. Great communication begins with learning to listen well. When I listen, I earn the right to be heard. Imagine if each of us had someone in our lives who loved spending time listening to what is happening in our worlds? I think we might see a significant decrease in things like stress, frustration, anger and annoyance if we simply took the time to really listen to one another.

What about you, what are you learning about communicating?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Fun has value - Discipleship 170

I'm learning lots about how to have fun. Being a father of 3 pre-school aged children and a pastor to youth and their families has allowed me to be submersed in a great learning environment that welcomes experimentation.

Growing up I was under the impression that I needed to choose to be serious or to choose to have fun in life. It's only now, in the early middle stages of my adulthood that I'm learning these two elements can actually coexist. Here are the top three things I'm learning about the value of having fun.

1. Fun is essential in helping to build community. This isn't rocket science. If you don't enjoy being with someone, why would you continue a relationship with them? I agree that fun must be balanced with moments of depth, but fun should never be fully abandoned when attempting to build community.

2. Learning to have fun is a lot easier when you don't take yourself too seriously. I'm so grateful to my children who teach me the value of this every day. It's ok to unplug, let one's hair down and simply enjoy the "lighter" side of life. Anything I have in life doesn't belong to's a gift that has been given to me by God. As a recipient of these gifts, I'm blessed and these blessings are meant to be used to bless others. It's not about me, it's about investing on people. If I'm letting my hair down only to help someone else catch a greater glimpse of the hope that exists in life, then that is ok. As a leader and a parent, I often set the tone for others to follow. If I'm not enjoying the blessing of life that I've been given, how can I expect anyone that I lead to enjoy their lives?

3. Pick your spots. The writer of Ecclesiastes said it best, "there is a time for everything." The same can be said for pursuing and having fun. My role as a parent and a leader is to know when to cut loose, and when to buckle down. Being goofy all of the time will allow people to write me off as someone who isn't keen on developing a depth of character. In the same way, being serious all of the time doesn't allow others to see that life is more than hardship.

Fun has value; it's an essential part of our lives. If we weren't meant to enjoy the blessing of life we've been given, why would we have been created with the ability to laugh? My hope and prayer is that I would continue to learn how to balance moments of being serious with moments of pure enjoyment so that my kids and the others I have the privilege of impacting would be inspired to live life to the full through the hope that can only be found in Jesus Christ.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Freedom - Discipleship 169

I voted in our provincial election today. The democratic system that we live in as Canadians is something I do not normally think about until I have the opportunity to lend my voice to a greater cause. I'm thankful and grateful for the opportunity that I have to be involved in the freedom of speech that is democratic voting.

As a follower of Christ, I also have the benefit of another form of freedom...something called grace. Here are three things I'm learning about God's grace:

1. Grace comes with responsibility. Now hold on a minute. I am not suggesting that we need to earn God's grace. What I am suggesting is that because this grace is freely given, we have the responsibility to steward this grace wisely. This means that I cannot and should not abuse this gift, but instead live out my life with a sense of deep gratitude and thankfulness for the freedom that I have been given. Think about the movie Saving Private Ryan. Five guys give their lives in order to save one. The guy who is saved lives out his life with a deep sense of gratitude and thankfulness due to the sacrifice these others made for Him. As followers of Christ, we should do the same.

2. Grace must be shared. Because of God's grace which grants us freedom, we should extend grace, mercy and freedom to others. What this means is that each of us who claims to be a friend of Jesus has a moral and biblical obligation to get involved with issues of human injustice...we CANNOT live in grace without being willing to help extend this same grace to others.

3. Grace is all consuming. I don't earn it; I don't deserve it; and I can't really understand it fully. What I do understand is that every facet of my life is subject to God's grace. Freely given, freely received. I must remember that it is because of grace that I have a reason, hope and purpose for life. Instead of seeking to consume new experiences, my ultimate goal in life should be to be consumed by God's grace which is given freely to anyone who chooses to receive it.

These are three lessons I'm learning about grace. What are you experiencing about God's grace? I'd love to hear from you!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Discipline of Joy - Discipleship 168

It looks like Thursdays are my new post days for here we go again!

Over the last couple of weeks I've had the privilege of being a part of several incredible conversations. Some of these conversations contained subject material that was incredibly inspiring, while others have been more humbling in nature.

In each of these conversations I'm learning incredible things about joy. Here are the top three takeaways that I've had:

1. Joy is not a feeling, it's a filter. You've probably heard the saying that perception is everything...and that might be true to a point. Regarding the pursuit of joy, I'm learning more about how it's not about a feeling but it is able a filter, perception and discipline. I must intentionally choose to focus on the good or the potential good of any situation or set of circumstances that I'm faced with. In doing so, I become filled with joy, rather than filled with something entirely different.

2. Joy begins with a conscious cognitive decision that leads to confident and determined action. A healthy state of mind means little unless it's put into action or activity....kind of like that calculus class I took way back in high school...not so helpful in pastoral ministry or as a parent!! For a decision to truly have meaning and purpose, action must reinforce the decision being made. With regards to joy, I must not only choose to focus on the positive side of my set of circumstances, I must also be willing to act on this conscious choice.

3. As much as joy is a discipline, joy is also a gift. True joy and the ability to life a joyful life is a gift from God. Some of us are naturally hard-wired to live in joy, while others of us (ahem) struggle to do so. Gifts are freely given, but am I willing to receive what is being offered to me? Something to think about the next time someone would like to bless you with something and you are hesitant about receiving their gesture of love, joy or hope.

What about you, what are you learning about joy?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Persuasion or Inspiration - Discipleship 167

Being a father and a pastor has provided me with the opportunity to learn a lot about leadership, failure, success and a variety of other subjects.

The current topic du jour that is occupying my brain space is that of persuasion and inspiration.

These are two leadership strategies that parents and leaders unknowingly or knowingly utilize on a daily basis. Leaders (and I define parents as leaders also) are constantly petitioning their audience in some way, shape or form. The desire and longing is to motivate or cause a shift or change to take place. Parents desire to motivate their kids toward a desired outcome. Leaders desire to motivate their followers towards a preferred future. In these moments of petitioning, the leadership challenge is knowing which motivation strategy is needed for the current situation.

Here are 3 things I'm learning about how to persuade and inspire:

1. Inspiration is more powerful than persuasion. Inspiring others is about motivating them to make their own decision that may or may not align the leader's desired outcome. Persuasion is about convincing another person to agree with a decision that has already been made. The parenting strategy with younger children is predominantly built on persuasion. But as children get older, persuasion must morph into inspiration so that kids may be able to think critically and choose wisely. As a leader, do you hope that the people you serve are choosing wisely, or simply accepting the decisions you've already made for them?

2. There is a time for everything. There are times when a leader must use persuasion in order to avert disaster or minimize conflict. There are other times when a leader needs to inspire his or her audience to think beyond themselves towards a preferred future that will require them to make a conscience choice to change. The challenge is knowing when its' appropriate to inspire and when its' appropriate to persuade.

3. A leader must be moved. Unless you are willing to be persuaded or inspired by someone else, you cannot expect others to be persuaded or inspired by you. I find myself drawn to biblical leaders that inspire me to live differently, in addition to contemporary leaders who persuade me to think differently. Persuasion concerns the transformative pursuit of the intellect, and inspiration concerns the transformative pursuit of the will. Utilizing these leadership strategies demands both growth and movement from the leader and the audience.

Persuasion or inspiration? Which do you think is more powerful or relevant for today's leader and parent?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Plain & Simple - Discipleship 166

I've been thinking about how I use language lately.

As a parent of two young "parrots" I've often found myself choosing to use different words for fear that one day my kids will repeat something I wish they hadn't heard from me.

I wonder how often we as communicators and leaders would say the same thing? A good friend of mine once shared with me the burden he feels as a worship leader to help create a worship vocabulary for his community. He chooses every song carefully with this thought in mind: how do these words help edify the God we serve while drawing people closer to Him?

What a great challenge!

So, when we communicate with others, are we desiring to pursue clarity or confusion as our end result? My hope is that I can provide clarity to those who I may be sharing with verbally. Here are five things that I'm learning about how to communicate both plainly and simply so I can be understood.

1.Talk with someone, don't talk to them. Interaction is key to enhance understanding.
2. Choose different words. Some of the leadership, theological and parental terms bring more confusion than clarity. It's important to know your audience and know what sort of language use is appropriate.
3. Be consistent. Any parent will tell you the value of this principle...same goes for leadership. Be consistent in how you communicate and when you communicate. Waiting to communicate often leads to a heightened emotional response...and sometimes these responses can be avoided and/or stabilized with consistency.
4. It's okay to be different. Don't be someone yourself. Communicate with others through the lens of your life's story and journey with Jesus. If your story is rooted in Jesus, your story is more powerful than you can imagine.
5. Relax. In our over-stimulated society, it sometimes takes time for a message to be translated, decoded and absorbed by your audience. Don't fret if you cannot see an immediate response to your communication strategy. Instead, rest in the fact that you aren't asked to do it all, you are simply asked to play a role in God's unfolding story...plain & simple.

What do you think, are there other communication lessons you are in the process of learning?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Entitlement - Discipleship 165

Entitlement seems to be the word du jour that many adults use to describe the emerging youth and young adult culture. Quite frankly, I myself have used this word in this same regard.

What I'm learning more and more about these days is how the emerging youth and young adult culture seems to be a mirrored reflection of the natural human condition, in addition to learned behaviour from previous generations.

I have 3 pre-school aged kids. Today we have been celebrating my oldest son's third birthday. With every birthday in the Frizzell house comes the opening of gifts, the eating of cake and other fun memories. I find it very interesting how each of my kids has developed a sense of ownership and entitlement when it comes to these birthday traditions. They argue over toys, they make sure that they are heard and they voice there opinion in no uncertain terms.

I challenge you to do a social experiment sometime this week. Try to observe a group of kids, youth or adults interact with each other. You might notice that in each instance there is always posturing for position, a desire to be heard and some sort of element of entitlement.

I've been drawn to a story Jesus told about a group of workers. In this story, workers are invited to harvest a field. Three different groups of workers are hired at three different times: early in the day, mid-day and in the last few hours of the day. At the end of the work day, the boss calls all of the workers together in order to hand out their compensation. He pays each of them equally...which frustrates the first two groups of workers. These people cannot understand why the boss would allow those who were hired towards the end of the day to share equally in the bounty.

Entitlement seems to fit as a definition for the reaction of the first two groups of workers. These workers are so focused on getting what they believe they have earned, that they miss out on the lesson they are being shown. Life is about generosity...freely giving of yourself and of your stuff to others. Entitlement gets in the way of living life according to this rhythm and design. When we allow ourselves to be consumed by our desire to gain rather than our ability to give, we lose sight of what is really important.

I desire for my kids to know the beauty and the simplicity of living I will desperately fight against my natural entitlement tendencies.

The next time you are with a group of people ask yourself these question, are you fighting to make sure you get what's yours, or are you fighting to pursue a life that is steeped in generosity? What defines a disciple best, someone who gets what they think they deserve, or someone who is willing to give of themselves for the sake of someone else?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Filter - Discipleship 164

The recent bombardment of social justice initiatives via social media has illuminated the deep-seeded desire that exists for a single individual to make a difference in the world at large. One of the many great aspects of being a pastor to youth is the fact that this emerging generation has a natural inclination towards compassion, social justice and world change. And recent world events and statistical data have shown the growth and progress towards social justice issues such as world poverty and clean drinking water are being made.

The problem with this natural inclination is that many other people who may not be naturally wired in this way seem to be intimidated and afraid of it...both inside and outside the church.

The question I'm left asking myself is not only how I may respond to the emerging justice issues of the day, but more importantly, how am I going to filter what I see, hear and experience?

I would suggest that there are only three responses to issues of social justice and poverty. These three distinct responses are illustrated by a story Jesus told called the Good Samaritan.

The basic synopsis of this story is as follows:
- a man experiences injustice
- two men see the injustice and respond with both ignorance and fear
- a third man sees the injustice and chooses to get involved.

The first response to social justice is ignorance. The word ignorance basically means choosing to believe something doesn't exist or matter. This is one way we can choose to filter our experience with justice issues...we can simply choose to try and ignore them.

The second response to social justice is fear. We may not choose to ignore the issue, but because of the complexity of the issue or the potential of getting hurt or experiencing some pain by getting involved, we simply choose to refrain from pursuing justice as a result of our fear.

The third response to social justice is to get involved. Getting involved doesn't mean that one person can solve every issue that exist, but it does mean that one person can make a difference by doing something. When people think about changing the world they sometimes buy into the mentality that changing the world means doing everything, and that's simply not true. Changing the world begins with one act of intentionality at a time. When those who follow Jesus choose to say that are going to be an agent of change by verbally and tangibly demonstrating love for others, the world in which we live benefits. We do what we say and we say what we do...and our doing comes from understanding what it means to be human and in the case of those who know Christ, what it means to be a Christian.

Being a Christian means valuing what Jesus valued...and Jesus values justice.

As our world experiences growing pains and with it more opportunities for change, my hope is that we filter our response to these issues through the lens of both love and compassion. We all have a filter, the challenge is utilizing a filter that doesn't belong to us, but allowing God's filter to be the one that helps us to determine how we might respond to acts of social justice.

What's your filter? How does it need to change to become more in line with God's?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Originality - Discipleship 163

The default setting for humanity seems to be comparison. We love to measure ourselves against others in order to see where we might actually fit. We compare salaries, talents, skills, gifts and even opinions.

What has me fired up today is the tendency we have as Christians to compare ourselves to each other. In particular, we seem to get great pleasure out of comparing one church to another church in order to determine how we might be "better" than the other. As a leader in the church, I confess that I have fallen into this mindset. I've definitely compared the programatic elements of my church against others, looking to find places where my program may be superior or borrow ideas that I can replicate into my ministry context. And I hate to say it...but I'm not alone in this type of comparative conditioning.

I'm reminded of a portion of the story of the nation of Israel from the Old Testament. The nation of Israel did not have a physical king. Instead, God Himself said He would be willing to serve as their king. During the creation of Israel as a state in biblical times, the people of Israel cried out to God asking for a physical king to rule over them instead of God as spiritual king. The reason why they asked for this was because they compared themselves to all the other nations around them and saw something these nations had that they wanted...a physical king. Because God is a loving God that does not force Himself upon us, He honoured the request of His people. This desire for a physical king led the entire nation to forego their God-given destiny to a certain degree. Instead of being a biblical model for others to aspire to, the nation of Israel became a biblical example what not to do.

I wonder sometimes if we as the church play this role out in modern day society. With our desire to be better than or just like some sort of pseudo definition of success, do we end up simply being an example to our world of what not to be instead of being something to aspire towards?

What if we actually embraced the desire to be original, creative and obedient to God's leading? Would our desire to embrace originality help us to combat the tendency to compare ourselves to others while trying to mimic or recreate their perceived success?

As a dad, I don't want to be like any other dad. I want to be an original dad. My kids deserve someone that is unique and original. Originality doesn't mean there will not be some resemblance to something else, but it does mean that the primary quality of something is unique and unlike anything that has ever been before. As a pastor, I don't want to be like anybody else. I want to be original; motivated by God's design and desire for my life and my willingness to be obedient to it.

How might life be different if we had a little more originality and a little less mass conformity or copy-cat tendencies? What do you think?