Monday, December 19, 2011

Prudent Risk Takers

I love calculated risks. For me calculated risks are well thought out decisions that look risky to outsiders. They look dangerous because they are different, but make logical sense. They are prudent decisions made through a process. They also bring real low cost with the possibility of high reward. One apparently risky decision our Church made a few years ago was to move to the Timonium Fairgrounds for our Christmas Eve Masses. When our pastor Michael White suggested the idea, I thought it was crazy, but as you looked at the data and the context it simply made sense. We had learned through the past few years that people wanted to come in the 4 o’clock or 5 o’clock hour and so we needed seats for those optimal times. The year before we had knocked ourselves out trying to accommodate the glut of crowds at those optimal times but many people left unhappy because the facility simply couldn’t contain them. If we failed in the new setting, so we failed and the earth would still be on its access. We would have lost some money and some reputation, but it would not have ended our work. We would live to fight again.

Unsuccessful people never risk at all or they take wild risks. Wild risk taking means taking risks that can do severe damage to our organizations or families. Wild risk taking has the capacity to destroy our endeavors completely.

Successful people take calculated risks. In his book Great by Choice, Jim Collins calls it “empirical risk taking.” Get data, analyze and then move out. On these risks, he advises to fire bullets than cannon balls. In other words, take many small risks to see what works in your industry and then when you discover what works, put more and more of your resources into what you have found to work.

At the end of the day, calculated risk taking simply means risking being wrong. Often the risk is that others will laugh at you and make fun of you. They are choices that feel much more like risk than they are in reality.

What are some small risks you can take?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

To Have Authority You Must Be Under Authority

I heard this paradox articulated in this way by Andy Stanley in an excellent message called "Challenging the Process." In the message, Andy shares that leaders by nature want to challenge the status quo. Leaders are not content just to accept things as they are. One point he made that deeply resonated with me was that if you are a leader and God has give you the desire to challenge the process if you don’t use the gift you will become cynical. At times I struggle with when to push and when not to push against the status quo. His message reminded me this is a tension that must be lived if I am to lead, yet if I abandon challenging the process then I am betraying myself.

While playing up the importance of challenging the process, Andy also drove home the need to be respectful and live under authority. He offers some strategies on how to be respectful of authority. One important one is to challenge bosses and authority figures privately but to support them publicly.

The paradox to drive home is that good leaders are also good followers. Good leaders allow themselves to be led. (The inverse is not true. Good followers do not necessarily make good leaders.) Why are good leaders good followers and people who live under authority?

First, it is the nature of reality. God is in charge. He has authority over the whole world. In the end, there will be two groups of people – the people who live under his authority as sovereign God and those who fail to live under his authority. The people in the first group will be given more authority. Jesus teaches this in his parables, especially in Luke’s account of the parable of the talents. People who don’t recognize God’s authority will lose any power or authority they thought they had.

Second, when living under authority we grow our character. We learn the value of humility. We learn that there is limit to our wisdom and power. When we place ourselves under authority we are teachable and can learn. Living under authority also teaches us patience as authority above us will make mistakes and we must learn to accept those mistakes.

Third, it establishes moral authority. If you don’t respect decisions of the people above you and live under their authority, then why will someone listen to when you have a position of authority? Humbly following leaders builds our characters and our spirits to be somebody worth following. Living under authority establishes us as someone worth following.

Paul said it this way, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” Paul had the humility to realize that he couldn’t lead anyone on his own. He needed Jesus to lead him along the right path. However, he recognized that because he was following Christ, he was a leader worth following. He is able to speak without arrogance, but with confidence because he lived under the authority of Christ.

What does it look like to you to challenge authority, while still respecting it?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Happy People Live In The Moment, But...

In January, Nativity will be doing a series called “The Rules of Happiness.” We have based it on a book by Henry Cloud. I just discovered when trying to buy it for a Christmas gift that the printed version won’t come out until after Christmas, but it is available on Kindle.

Henry Cloud is a psychologist and the book is based on what he sees as the intersection between psychological research on happiness and the teachings of Scripture. He lists fourteen rules for happiness. These are disciplines, attitudes and actions we can pursue in order to be happy.

As I was reading the book, I continued to discover paradoxes. Earlier in the week I noted that happy people are givers, but have clear boundaries. Here’s another paradoxical truth about happiness according to Cloud – happy people live in the moment and yet they pursue goals.

Happy people live in the moment, which is the only time we have, the only place we can really embrace life. They don’t wait for some day to be happy, but find joy in the present moment. One of the practices I have tried to implement since reading his book is to simply savor the food I am eating. I tend to rush through eating or consuming food. It might be more accurate to say I attack it. With pizza I’ll wolf down the first couple of slices so that I begin to feel full and then try and enjoy the third or fourth. Lately, I have been trying (not necessarily succeeding) to simply savor what I am eating and thank God for it, especially my morning coffee.

The point of savoring food or savoring any part of life is to help us be present. Missionary Jim Elliot said, “Wherever you are, be all there.” Research has shown that happy people are present to the now and not living in the past or the future. This is why Jesus told us to simply focus on the cares of the day and not worry about tomorrow.

We are not to worry about tomorrow and yet research shows happy people set goals for themselves. We need a vision for the future. We need to set goals and challenge ourselves to overcome obstacles. Setting goals and struggling to reach them forces us to grow our character. Seeing progress towards a goal or seeing a vision come to fruition is immensely satisfying. Researcher Sonja Lyumbomirsky says, “Find a happy person and you will find a project.”

I struggle to articulate how both living in the moment and setting goals can both make us happy. Here’s my attempt. Happy people enjoy the process of setting goals and the time in the present of envisioning a better future. They then enjoy the process and the struggle of meeting their goals. The process is not viewed as something to simply endure or get through, but appreciated. Then when they reach their goals they celebrate them before moving on to the next goal. Whether planning for the future goal, working on the goal or celebrating the achievement of the goal, they savor where they are in the process. Process isn't a dirty word to them, but part of life to be savored.

What goals or projects are you working on that contribute to your happiness? What does savoring the present moment look like in your life?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Boundaries and Giving

Last week I taped small group messages for the series “The Rules of Happiness” which we will be doing at the beginning of 2012. The series is based on a book by Henry Cloud (called The Law of Happiness). The book is about the intersection between the psychological research on what makes people happy and the commands of Scripture. Cloud’s book lists fourteen practices, attitudes and behaviors. In reading the book, I found many of the laws to be paradoxical. In the weeks ahead I will point them out.

Research has shown that happy people both have boundaries and yet are givers.
Happy people have boundaries. They don’t constantly just give to people but learn to say, “NO.” That might be surprising to us, especially in Church culture. Churches can often make us feel guilty for saying, “No.” HOwever, the we find the discipline in Scripture on many occasions. In the book of Nehemiah, Nehemiah is asked to come off the wall and talk to his enemies but he says, “No. I am doing a great work and cannot come down.”

Jesus told people “No” as well. Once, he exorcized demons from a demoniac. The man wanted to leave his town and go with Jesus. That seemed like a fine request but Jesus told him no.

Another time, the religious leaders asked Jesus a question about his authority. He told them he would answer their question when they answered his question. They refused and so he refused to answer their question.

Happy people can say no to others. They have boundaries and require others to respect those boundaries. But happy people are also givers and the clear boundaries allow them to say, “Yes” to giving. In fact, it is the clear boundaries which help establish a clear sense of self that allows them to give freely and cheerfully to others. Without boundaries, giving becomes a form of co-dependence. In Church work, I have seen far too many people give out of neediness because they don’t really have boundaries.

Boundaries help us acquire of sense of self that can be extended and given to others. Without boundaries our giving will stem not from a cheerful, free heart, but from guilt and manipulation. With boundaries we can set an amount of time to give, set an amount of money in our budget to give, and establish the emotional energy we are going to give away. At times we may extend beyond our budgeted time or money, but the boundaries allow us to know we are stretching or extending ourselves. Knowing we have extended ourselves we can account for the extra expenditure of time, money or energy. Boundaries are key to healthy giving.

What boundaries have you set for yourself? How have they helped you to give.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Turning the Fly Wheel

I have been re-reading Good to Great by Jim Collins. It is certainly on the list of books worth re-reading and that should be read from time to time. This time around I am struck by the excellence of the analogy of the fly wheel. He describes the word whole work of any great organization as the consistent turning of a fly wheel in the same direction. As great organizations turn the fly wheel over and over again consistently, momentum is created and great things happen.

The analogy of the fly wheel can be applied to just about if not all worthy endeavors in life. Recently, I have been thinking it is the perfect analogy for spiritual growth. We human beings are so scarred from original sin. We are so far from who we should be. I think God in his mercy hides this fact from us because if we saw how corrupt and immature we are, we would be overwhelmed by our corruption. (I guess I sound like an Augustinian). We are far from where we need to be, but our transformation comes from continually turning the fly wheel.

It is my tendency to look for huge changes in my life. I swing for the fences, try to throw a Hail Mary pass, look for the silver bullet (just to mix metaphors even more). I don’t think I’m alone. When it comes to spiritual growth and transformation, it doesn’t suit us to look for huge changes. God’s way of changing us is more like Collins’ fly wheel. By the power of his grace and his grace working in us, we just keep turning the fly wheel and turning the fly wheel and turning the fly wheel some more and change will happen over time. We tweak little by little and move in the direction God calls us to go.

This approach to spiritual growth is in some ways more difficult. It means that today, there is some way that God wants you and me to change. It might be a little change. It might mean giving away a small amount of money. It may mean apologizing to someone. It may mean swallowing our pride and making amends in a relationship, even though we did nothing wrong. Dallas Willard advises that the best thing we can do for our spiritual growth is to simply take the next step we know God is calling us to take. How simple and yet how challenging. And yet how accessible. Our transformation into a Christ like character is not so high in the sky we can’t reach it, but very accessible to us. And over time if we will keep turning the fly wheel and turning the fly wheel our sin stained, corrupted, selfish, bratty characters will be changed into the image of God’s Son.

I had a mentor say to me once, “You overestimate what you can do in one year and underestimate what you can do in five years.” Imagine a life time of turning the fly wheel of spiritual growth and simply taking the next step God is calling us to take. Howe changed we would be. How changed the world would be.

What’s your next step of spiritual growth? What is God calling you to do today?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Paradox of Ministry

When it comes to identifying ministers and volunteer leaders for a Church, there exists a great irony and a great paradox. Often the very people who rush forward to volunteer or want to lead are not the people you want leading a ministry in your Church. On the other hand, the very people who are equipped and qualified to lead will not step forward, you will have to go out and find them. It is maddening, I know, but it is true. And unfortunately it is most especially true when you first start a ministry or new project and try to get the momentum going.

The first people who come to you, come out of neediness. If they were great leaders and great volunteers, they would already be serving somewhere else. I don’t intend to say to reject people just because they come forward, but be on your guard. The first people who rush in usually come out of a need to be needed. Or maybe they come out of guilt or to check something off the list or to get credit with the pastor or God. They usually don’t come to serve out of an overflow of grace in their lives.

On the other hand, the people we want volunteering in our ministry are usually busy people who could do hundreds of other things, but choose to give their time to the local Church. They choose to use their gifts and abilities for God’s glory. This is why we need to inspire people to serve and give them a vision for the importance of volunteer ministry. But often, you need to coax them into serving. You need to seek them out and convince them that it is worth their time especially when a ministry is just getting up and running and lacks momentum.

The people we want leading are reluctant to step forward. They know the burdens of leadership and that it will challenge them in new ways. I read I believe in Way of the Wild Heart that when Saint Augustine was ordained bishop of Hippo, he wept. He wept because he knew the weight of the responsibility. He knew the burden of leadership. These are the very people, we need leading. People who lead not out of neediness, but understand the importance of leadership.

I would add that once you get moving and get momentum, good people will start to seek you out and so will needy people. But the approach of the good people will look and feel different. And even at this time, the needy people will rush forward, while the good people you want on your team will subtly make themselves known.

Have you found this paradox to be true when you are looking to hire or looking for key volunteers?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Pre-Thanksgiving Thanks

Today, Kathleen Leslie on our staff forwarded to me a post by Michael Hyatt listing some thoughts on gratitude. In the post he made a list of things for which he is grateful. I made a list of my own as well. You can check it out below.

When it comes to gratitude, I have a long way to go. I take for granted many of the gifts I have been given and am terrible at thank you notes. It is a discipline I lack. One way though I have grown in gratitude I learned from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola. In his daily Examen or life review, he began by looking at his previous day's experiences and thanking God for any blessings. As I have begun to do this, I have discovered so many small things in the course of the day to give thanks to God. In order to focus my attention, I need to journal about it. I jot down activities of the previous day and then I write, “Thank you, Lord, for…” when I discover something new.

Also, this list is a great help as well. I’m thinking now, I could make a list of 20 items for each area of my life – family, work, friends, resources, etc. By the way, I added one that just came to mind, making it 21.

What is on your gratitude list? Write out whatever comes to mind.

Gratitude List

1. Brought up with faith in Christ – parents and Catholic school
2. Jesus and that I know him
3. My wife Mia who loves and accepts me more than I deserve
4. Mia’s beauty
5. Max and is simplicity of heart
6. Gus and his lust for life
7. Nate and his generous heart
8. Elsa and her beauty/sweetness
9. Kepha and that he is so fun
10. My job – I get to write and be on the most important mission there is for a
11. Michael who believed in me and put faith in me in a way no one else had
12. Food is easily available, especially chocolate
13. The generosity of people to me especially Jay, Kathleen, Chris and Michael
14. My parents who loved me and cared about me
15. Born in the United States
16. The people at Nativity
17. The Nativity staff who works hard and yet has fun with each other
18. David and his coaching and wisdom from yesterday
19. Friendship of TJ, Chris, Jay, Kathleen, Michael
20. Beer
21. Exercise and working out

Monday, November 14, 2011

You know how bad you are when...

CS Lewis wrote, "A man never knows how bad he is until he tries very hard to be good." I believe the quote is from Mere Christianity. In any case, that quote has always stuck out to me and appears to be yet another paradox. You don't discover your wickedness or propensity towards evil when you do evil, but when you try and do good.

Saint Paul put it this way, "So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. Romans 7:21

You notice how bad your eating habits are when you try to change them and lose weight. Suddenly you become aware of how often you are eating fatty foods. You realize how much of a problem you have in being straight-forward and transparent when you try to be more straight-forward and transparent. Suddenly, you notice the times you aren’t completely honest with people.

You know how little you encourage your spouse or children, when you make it a goal to encourage your spouse and children. If you work harder on trying to tell the truth, you will notice more often when you lie or bend the truth.

Start to work on something and you will see how you are failing at it. This failure is good. Seeing that evil will fight against us is good because the power of evil and sin was there all along, we just were numb to it and didn't notice. Knowing our "badness" begins to break the delusion we have that we are self-sufficient. When we try to change and evil shows up and even overpowers us, we are awakening to the reality that we need a SAVIOR.

Paul later goes on in Romans to say, “Oh what a wretched man that I am! Who will deliver from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Are there areas of your life that you are struggling to change? If you are failing, don't let that depress you. Let it drive you to your knees that you have a Savior in Jesus Christ who can change and transform you. Thank you, Jesus, for being our Savior.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Less is more

On a daily basis, I feel like I discover a new paradox or rediscover ones I have heard before. Today’s was less is more. That goes against our nature and our intuition. We tend to think more is more and more is better, but in reality less is more.

Less is more when it comes to our impact. Organizations are discovering that their greatest impact doesn’t come from trying to venture into more and more endeavors, but to do less and do it well. In Good to Great, Jim Collins calls this the Hedgehog concept. The Good to Great companies simplified their efforts and did less than their competitors. They stayed focused on a collision of three important factors: what they could be the best in the world doing, their greatest passion, and what could provide them with the most economic gain. This focus led them to do less, not more. Collins notes in his other book “How the Mighty Fall” that the undisciplined pursuit of more often begins the fall of great companies.

In Seven Practices of Effective Ministry, Andy Stanley notes that to succeed in ministry we need to narrow the focus of our programs. So often we want our programs to hit so many people that they wind up not impacting anyone. Instead, narrow the focus so that a program can really make an impact on the targeted audience.

I have found that less is more when it comes to communicating. At Church we do something called "Endnotes" which is to sum up the weekend with what we wanted people to know and what we wanted them to do. So often we wind up plugging a couple of different activities and it is clear that by announcing more, our messages cancel one another out. Communication excels when we build around one thing instead of trying to communicate more.

Less is more when it implies to our personal impact. To succeed and impact our world, we need to find the few things we can do better than most people and become excellent at them. John Maxwell says, “You are the most valuable where you provide the most value.” Proverbs says, "See a man skilled in his work, he will stand before kings." To become skilled in a certain area requires we focus our energy on less, not more.

Less is more when it comes to stuff. Our homes are filled with so much stuff that we can’t even access the stuff we do have.

I could say more, but I’m thinking I’d be contradicting myself so I’ll stick with the spirit of this idea that less is more.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Little Things Are Big Things But...

I discovered a new paradox this weekend. Actually it is two paradoxes – a paradox within a larger paradox. Little things are big things, but avoid majoring on the minors. So let’s break that down into three sections: first the paradox of little things are big things, second, why we need to avoid majoring on the minors and third, how to live the tension between these two ideas.

Little things are big things. The small details of life often make a big difference; this in itself is a paradox. When a person you met one time remembers your name that makes a big difference. When businesses or organizations go a little bit out of their way to make you feel comfortable or show you a little extra attention, we are impressed by them. Those little touches bring us back again and again.

On a weekend at Church, we try and do a bunch of little things for people – smile at them when they come in the door, help them park their car easily, direct them to a seat, provide a clean environment, serve coffee and have a place for their kids to go and learn about God. None of those are huge things, but taken together the little things add up and if we do them well, we create a great relationship that earns a right to be heard.

In personal relationships, small deposits of time add up. It is a little thing for me to come home and hug my wife before getting food or getting changed, but it makes a big difference. It is a little thing for me to stop into a co-worker’s office and ask how things are going or make a connection by talking about a game. It is a little thing to compliment someone or say you appreciated someone else’s efforts, but it makes a huge difference in the long run.

Changes and turning around our situations often come from little changes. I dropped a little over twenty pounds just by some small changes I made to my diet: not eating French fries, taking only one plate instead of two at our Monday staff lunches, and just cutting back a little bit on portion size. Little changes over time can eventually bring about big results.

Second part of the paradox: Don’t major on the minors. When we get too focused or make too big a deal out of small things then we rob ourselves of joy, waste time and become ineffective. In relationship, dwelling on another person’s small faults will cause us to become critical and damage the relationship. Organizations that major on the minors waste so much time on things that will make no impact on anyone. Often, this majoring on the minors is over turf wars or building up silos or arguing over things that only matter to insiders, but won’t impact people outside the organization.

Third, how do we manage the tension between these two? How do you know when you are paying attention to the little things that are big things or when you are majoring on the minor? We look at the outcome or fruit of our efforts. If you stop in and say hello to a co-worker or employee, the eventual fruit will be an increase in morale and a better relationship that comes with very little cost of time or energy. Majoring on the minor will feel like a huge investment of energy and at the end of the day doesn’t accomplish very much.

To manage this paradox, we develop a deep sense of purpose and why we exist. When we know the mission of our organization or why God has put us on the earth, we will know see more clearly the little things that really matter and when we are majoring on the minors.

What little things are big things in your life? Where do you have to avoid majoring on the minors?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Why Focus On "Tim"

In a breakout session, I received a great question about why we focus our efforts on “Timonium Tim” (the person unconnected to Church) and not on Church people. Why is he our target audience? We focus on the person unconnected to Church because:

1. When we aim at disconnected Catholics we will hit connected Catholics. The inverse does not hold true: if you aim at Church people, you will not hit disconnected Catholics. This has proven in the growth of our Church. As we have focused on people unconnected to Christ and his Church we have seen both a growth in the number of people who attend Nativity and a deepening of discipleship among Church people.

2. If we don’t focus on Timonium Tim we will inadvertently become inaccessible to disconnected Catholics. Churches have something in their DNA that naturally makes them turn inward. From the very beginning of the Church (read Acts 15) the Church had to fight the temptation to erect barriers to people who were not already connected to the Church. We have to constantly focus on Tim or we will turn inward.

3. It is why we exist. The Church exists to evangelize and bring people who are unconnected or disconnected from Christ into a relationship with him. If our core product, the weekend experience is not open to Tim then our Church will not be inspired to reach him. The weekend is the engine that runs the Church and so if the weekend experience does not target Tim nothing else will.

4. Tim will come to Church on the weekends. The time disconnected Catholics are most willing to give Church a try is on the weekend. If we don’t speak to Tim on the weekend or offer a welcoming environment, he will assume he is not welcome.

5. Focusing on disconnected Catholics on the weekend gives us the best opportunity to partner together for the purpose of evangelization. On the weekends, our ministry teams partner together to create an irresistible environment. We partner together as a Church on the weekends so that all of us can invest in disconnected Catholics during the week and confidently invite them to Church on the weekends. We know we have a team of people behind us working together for the same purpose.

For a great message on this strategy listen to week four of a series Go Fish by Andy Stanley, titled “Fishing Partners.

Personally, I need to focus more on “Timonium Tim”. I am feeling a personal drift when it comes to investing and inviting in people disconnected to Church: in my writing, in my greeting at Church and in my personal life, in my prayer life I am not praying for people unconnected to Christ and his Church. I need to rededicate myself to this purpose.

Do you agree that Churches should focus on non-Churched people first?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Fighter Who Surrenders

Paradoxes are seemingly contradicting statements that nonetheless are true. Over the last few months I have been keeping a list of them and sharing them here. I don’t express this one very well, but I have observed that in life we must learn to fight and learn how to surreder. God wants us to be warriors and fighters, who also know how to surrender.

As Christians, we are to grow to become more Christ-like in character. In Jesus, we see someone who was a fighter and not a peace going hippy. When the religious leaders didn’t want him to heal a crippled woman on the Sabbath, he fought for her and ripped into them for their religious hypocrisy in a very pbulic way. When the Temple had become a sham and a den of thieves, Jesus went into fighting mode. He made a whip of chords, he tossed over the tables and he drove the money changers out of the Temple.

Jesus was a fighter and it is his character we are to emulate. In Beautiful Outlaw by John Eldredge, writes, “If you would know Jesus, you must know this – his fierce intentionality – is essential to his personality.” To be fierce means a desire to fight. I wrote in my book next that line, "Yes, what I aspire to have."

Jesus was fierce, but he willingly surrendered his life for us. In the Garden of Gethsemene, he told his Father he didn't want to go to the cross. Yet, he still surrendered his will to the will of his heavenly Father. On the cross we see how utterly and completely he followed through with this surrender and trust in his heavenly Father.

Like Jesus, we are to build this paradox into our character – on one hand we need to be fierce warriors, willing to fight and to battle for justice and truth. To develop a Christ like character requires we fight for people who cannot fight for themselves; fight for the hearts of our kids and our spouse; guard our own hearts and fight a spiritual battle. And to develop a Christ like character will require we surrender our wills to our heavenly Father.

We need both aspects in our character, although I think we need to develop the warrior and fighter characteristic first. This is not a fully formed thought, but in order to have a self to surrender we must first developed a sense of self that could fight, but chooses to surrender his will to God.

Which characteristic of Christ is easier for you to develop: the willingness to fight or the willingness to surrender your will to God?

Monday, October 31, 2011

Some thoughts on repentance

Entering God’s kingdom requires a constant turning back to God. We tend to drift from God and turn towards evil. Unless we turn away from the paths of evil we will become evil, we will become corrupt.

Repentance simply means I acknowledge that I have started walking in the wrong direction, headed down the wrong path. Repent means to change my thinking and acknowledge I am going the wrong way. If I never acknowledge I am going the wrong way, when I am headed in the wrong direction, I will never get where I want to go. If I never acknowledge I am headed down the wrong path of evil, I will never get to the destination of heaven.

Failure to repent and change directions when I am doing wrong and expecting to enter God’s kingdom is as stupid as refusing to turn around when I know I am going the wrong way on the highway. It is like the conversation Yogi Berra had with a friend on the way to an event. His friend said, “Yogi, we are going the wrong direction.” Berra replied, “Yeah but we are making good time.”

It makes no sense to make good time if we are hell bound. Repentance is admitting our mistake and heading in the right direction.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Feelings Don't Match Virtue

I'm continuing to work through a list of paradoxes I have been collecting and observing. Right now my list is at 20. I am sharing these, not necessarily in any order but as I feel moved to write about them. Here is paradox # 14:

Usually when we possess a virtue we don’t feel like we have it and when we feel we have a virtue we don’t possess it.

Our feelings can betray reality. They can especially betray reality when it comes to assessing our actions. When we possess a virtue we usually do not feel like we have it. For example, courage or bravery is moving forward and taking action in the face of fear. So when we act with courage we actually feel scared or afraid. Even after an act of courage, we may not even recognize that we were brave but need other people to tell us.

In high school I felt a desire to become a writer and so I took seriously essays and other opportunities to write. In my junior year, there was an essay on a test. After completing the essay, I thought, “That stunk.” Time passed and when the teacher was giving back the essays, he said he wanted to read a couple of papers that were well answered. He began reading an essay and I thought to myself, “That’s pretty good.” I found myself admiring the writing. It wasn’t until he was well into the essay that I realized it was mine.

We often don’t know or recognize good things in our selves. Virtues come over time and so we need others to help us see growth in ourselves. Or we need it to sneak up on us like it did with my essay.

Socrates says in The Apology that when told he was the wisest man alive, he didn't believe it. Only over time did he discover he was the wisest man not because he knew so much but because he recognized he knew so little. Not even he could see virtue in himself until someone pointed it out to him.

On the flipside, when we feel we have a virtue, often we don’t. My three older sons feel real brave when they are playing super heroes in the house (I am fairly confident of their feelings because I know I felt brave playing super heroes as a kid). My sons may feel brave, but they are not. I am not putting down their play. I think it is incredibly important and healthy that they act out the part of heroes. However, they are not being brave. They aren’t pushing past fear to do what is right. They are fighting invisible bad guys, who don't offer much resistence.

In Mere Christianity, CS Lewis uses the example of humility to make this point. If you feel humble or notice you are being humble, you cease to be humble. Humility is not thinking too little about yourself, it is not thinking about yourself at all. I’d argue that is true of all virtues. You don’t think you have it when you have it. When you think you have it, you usually don't.

What are some other examples of possessing a virtue, but not realizing you have it?

Sunday, October 23, 2011


The other day, I tweeted that Bill Hybels was one of my heroes. As was getting ready for work today, I started thinking about who I would call a hero.

Here are a list of some of my heroes.

Bill Hybels - I'll start with him since I already mentioned him. I admire Bill for starting a movement in the Church in this country and world wide to reach out to the lost. So many successful Church leaders have been inspired by Bill Hybels to build local Churches to reach the lost and make an impact for God: Steve Furtick, Craig Groeschel, Perry Noble, and Andy Stanley.

When North Point celebrated its 15 year anniversary last year, Andy introduced Hybels as someone who had taken bullets and large amounts of criticism from other Churches so that Willow Creek could be accessible to outsiders.

I admire Bill Hybels passion, his dedication and unwavering belief that the local Church is the hope of the world.

Andy Stanley - Anyone who knows me is not surprised to see Andy on this list. Andy Stanley is the most gifted communicator in our culture coupled with an amazing ability to lead the organizational Church. I'm constantly amazed at his wisdom and insight in his message. I admire him for his wisdom and commitment to the local Church.

Thomas Flynn - This is my grandfather. He was a great man of faith and possessed a genuine goodness. He spent his career in banking, eventually he became a vice president at PSFS. At his funeral so many people came up and talked about his kindness as a boss, that he was the best boss they had ever had. He was smart and genuinely loved people.

He died when I was 18 and still a kid. I look forward to the day in eternity when I can speak to him as two brothers in Christ.

Ignatius Loyola - He was a tough, determined, disciplined soldier who used those attributes in his service to Christ. I admire his total devotion to Jesus and focus on Jesus.

Thomas More - He was a man who used his incredible intelligence and wisdom in the service of his king. However, he sacrificed his life and allowed the king to take his life rather than betray God and the primacy of the papacy.

As I look at this list, I notice these men are all smart and accomplished men. They are men of courage and wisdom, traits I admire. This exercise has also been much more difficult than I expected. I haven't done any of these men justice and need to give this some more thought.

Who are your heroes? What do you think makes someone a hero?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Loved Unconditionally Yet Expected To Bear Fruit

God saves us while we were sinners and helpless and yet he expects us to bear fruit.
We can do nothing to earn our salvation. It is a free gift of God through Jesus Christ. Here’s what the book of Romans 5:6-8 says, “For Christ, while we were still helpless, yet died at the appointed time for the ungodly. Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”

When we were of no value to God and could do nothing for God, he sent his Son to die for us on the cross. This is the core claim of Christianity. We don’t earn our way into a right relationship with God and we don’t find eternal life by stockpiling a bunch of good deeds. As Andy Stanly says, “Good people don’t go to heaven, forgiven people do.”

You and I don’t have to try and earn a right standing with God, we simply have to receive the gift of his Son. Despite all our wandering from God and sinful ways, we can enjoy eternal bliss not because of what we have done, but because of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. This is absolutely vital to understand if we are to understand the nature of reality. It is an amazing claim of Christianity, but is not the whole Gospel.

The Gospels tell us Jesus died for us and we are to produce fruit. God expects a return on his investment. In writing those words and in using that analogy of God seeing us as an investment, that seems to crass and maybe it is. So maybe it is better to stick with the fruit analogy. Here’s what Jesus says in John 15:5-6. He says, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned.” Jesus says if we don’t stay connected to him and produce fruit than we will be thrown in a fire and burned. Now as a Catholic I surmise that could mean the fires of hell or the purifying fires of purgatory. In either case, Jesus is pretty clear that his Father (who he references earlier in John) expects us to bear fruit.

What kind of fruit?

From the rest of John 15, I would say an ability to keep God’s commands, specifically a growing ability to really love the people around us. God expects a return of love as he loved us. The growing ability to love does not come from our own efforts, but from Jesus living inside of us. It is no longer us, but Christ living in us.

God loves us when we are helpless and cannot give anything back to him and then expects us to love people who can do nothing for us in return.
Which half of this paradox do you believe more easily: God’s unconditional love or the expectation to bear fruit?

Monday, October 17, 2011

More Paradoxes

I have creatively titled this blog more paradoxes. So in case you are unsure what this blog is about, it is about more paradoxes because last week I published on this blog a list of 5 paradoxes.

Here are a few more.

  1. Leaders must be ahead of their followers but also understand their struggles.


    If I look to you as a leader, especially a spiritual leader, I expect you to be ahead of me. I expect you have been down the road of spiritual growth and that you can lead me somewhere you have been. If you are a leader you cannot lead people down a path you have never been. I don't think you have to necessarily be miles and miles down the road, but you need to at least be a little further ahead. This gives leaders authority.


    I see myself as a spiritual leader (which sounds somewhat arrogant for some reason and yet I work at a church and I believe Jesus wants all his followers to be spiritual leaders, not just the professionals). My job is to bring people along a spiritual path, which means I need to continue to grow and allow God to change me. To lead others, I must enter new experiences that aren't comfortable but open me to God's grace. On the other hand, I am no good as a leader if I don't understand the struggles people are having with God and growing in faith. If I don't know where people are, how can I direct them to where they need to go? Besides, people don't connect with leaders who aren't human. If a leader never shares his struggles, then people come to believe that spiritual growth is something way high and above them, something they can never achieve.


    So leaders need to on one hand communicate and show how they have moved down a road of growth and yet communicate their own struggles; they need to acknowledge that growth can be difficult.


  2. Leaders must understand principles of life, yet know they navigate the unknown.


    Life is full of principles that work on us all the time, like gravity. There is reality and a way life works. Leaders need wisdom to know how life works. Leaders who lack wisdom and knowledge of how life works will make unnecessary and dumb mistakes and may lead their organization to destruction. So good leaders need to know how life works and yield to the principles of life. However, the job of leadership is to set direction and clarity in the midst of uncertainty. If everyone knew what to do, leaders wouldn't be necessary. The best of leaders move into the unknown while it is still unknown. I read recently that Colin Powell said that he could make decisions with 30 percent of the information and any more than 80 percent was too much.


  3. Life is full of predictable principles and mystery.

    Looking on this one, this is similar to above. I also apply it to a relationship with God. God has revealed himself and let us know certain truths about himself and yet he is mystery, we will never come to the end of God, but constantly learning more about him.

  4. Leaders must preserve the core and stimulate progress


    This concept is taken from Jim Collins. A leader's job is to preserve the core values, principles and the core business in an organization. There needs to be some conservatism in every organization otherwise organizations lose their identity. So often organizations don't know who they are and so they stray from their core business. We see this in the Church. The Church has forgotten that its core business is not running schools or hospitals or even providing charitable outreach to the poor. The Church's core business is producing and making followers of Jesus Christ. The loss of this mission has been deadly for the Church and our culture. Without leaders, organizations will go after everything and anything. As the saying goes, "You have to stand for something or you are going to fall for anything." This happens with individuals and organizations.


    However, leaders must also stimulate progress and growth otherwise an organization will stagnate. The key of progress is that it flows from an organization's identity – its core values and core business. Apple is an excellent example of this. Apple started as a computer company with a vision of bringing the personal computer into more and more homes so more and more people could be creative and express themselves. As Apple as moved into the cell phone business and music business, they have kept that core identity as part of what they do. They have kept their integrity with who they are. Leaders make sure that progress and new initiatives are consistent with the identity of an organization.


  5. In order to have peace, we must be willing to fight and enter conflict.

    Recently, I took a personality test that revealed my core motive is peace. Essentially, I like to just be left alone. So this is a difficult lesson for me to learn. I don't like to fight and can't stand conflict. However, peace must be fought for once in a while. Peace doesn't naturally occur in our fallen world. One day the lion will lie down with the lamb and peace will be the natural order, but that's not where we are in the story. People do wrong sometimes willfully and sometimes ignorantly. If we want true peace at times we will have to confront others and enter into conflict. This is why Jesus said, "I didn't come to bring peace but the sword." He knew that confronting people with the truth wouldn't bring peace in the short term, but in the end peace that is fought for is the only peace worth having.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Paradoxes and the disfigurement of truth

One frustration I have with writing is when I sit down to say something and just doesn't come out the way I want it. In the back of my mind, the idea seems so clear and yet when I express it through the written word, I miss the mark. Another frustration flows happens when another writer says exactly what I was trying to say. On one level as I read their words I say, "Yes, that is exactly what I think." On another level I think, "Why couldn't I say it that way. And I wanted to say it first."

Recently, I had that experience with this concept of paradoxes. The idea and importance of paradoxes has been rolling around in my head the last few months, but I haven't been able to express it well. This week I read something that perfectly says what I was trying to say. Richard Foster writes in the Freedom of Simplicity, "Paradoxes, of course, are only apparent contradictions, not real ones. Their truth is often discovered by maintaining a tension between two opposite lines of teaching. Although both teachings may contain elements of truth, the instant we emphasize one to the exclusion of the other, the truth becomes distorted and disfigured." That's it! That's exactly what I was trying to say in a recent post about the devil offering half-truths to tempt us.

The good news is that even though Richard Foster said it before me and better is that it can continue to be a launching off point for our discussion on paradoxes. The ancient rabbi's called this "midrash." Referencing what other rabbis had said about the law. The joy of discovering people who have said what you wanted to say is that you can reflect on their word and take their ideas to the next level. It's about carrying on a conversation for the written word. As long as we don't feel the need to be completely and totally original (which is a phantom anyway) it is a great joy

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A List of Paradoxes

Here are the list of paradoxes that have been rattling around in my head. Right now I have a list of 19. Here are the first 5.

1. He who exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

This is taken from the Gospels, especially in the Gospel of Luke, but can be found throughout Scripture in various sayings. Jesus is the ultimate example. Philippians tells us that he humbled himself to accept death on the cross, now at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow and profess that he is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

Whenever we humble ourselves, God will exalt and lift us up.

2. To live you must die to your self. To find your life, you must lose it.

Also found over and over again in the Gospels and repeated by Jesus. We have to die to the false self we have created, so that the true person created by God comes to life.

3. It is in giving that we receive. Give and it will be given unto you, pressed down, shaken and without measure

When we give away, we open ourselves up to receive God’s blessing.

4. If failure is not an option, then neither is success
I found this quote by Seth Godin. I had heard it as “You have to fail before you succeed.”

People who ultimately find success do not mind failing on their way to success. They can take failures and set backs and recognize them as part of the process of becoming successful.

5. We have a desire for significance and a desire to be completely unnecessary.

On one hand we desire for our lives to matter. On the other hand we need to know that we are not needed so we can get away from other people from time to time.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Knowing Paradoxes Keep Us From Harm

F. Scott Fitzgerald said, "The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function." Paradoxes are two seemingly opposed ideas that are nonetheless true. Understanding paradoxes and that truth is often found in paradoxes is absolutely vital to navigating through life correctly. We will fail to find the fullness and richness of truth if we don't acknowledge that truth is often found in two opposed ideas. Many mistakes and even evils are committed in failing to understand the richness of truth that comes in paradoxes.

For example, if you look at how the devil tempts Eve in the Garden of Eden, you will see that nothing he says is really untrue. He tells Eve that if she eats the forbidden fruit she will not die and he is correct, she doesn't die right away. The death is spiritual and not physical. He tells her that God knows that when she eats the fruit she will have knowledge of good and evil. This is in fact what happens. She comes to know evil in a way God had intended to protect her from. This is the way evil and temptation works. It gives us half-truths. When we come to see truth often comes in paradoxes, we are better equipped to fight against evil.

When the devil tempts Jesus, he does the same thing. The devil says, "If you are the son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." The devil says you are hungry, so use your power to meet your needs. Jesus says, "Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." Jesus says yes we have physical needs, but we have spiritual needs as well. Then the devil switches tactics. He tempts Jesus to throw himself off the parapet of the Temple of Jerusalem so that people will see his miraculous power. The devil then quotes Psalm 91 that God promises to give his angels guard over him lest he dash his foot against a stone. Jesus retorts that it is also written that we are not to put the Lord our God to the test.

Evil or people with evil intentions or even marketers and people trying to get us to buy stuff (but I repeat myself) will try and narrow us in on specific needs or half-truths. Becoming more familiar with the paradoxical nature of truth and that it is often two seemingly opposed ideas can help protect us from falling for the schemes and temptations of the devil. It is part of the renewing of our mind that Paul talks about in Romans 12:1.



Thursday, September 29, 2011

Intro to Paradoxes Continued

A paradox is a statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a possible truth. That is an interesting definition taken from Webster's. It doesn't say a paradox is true, but could possibly be true. For the purposes of this blog, I would argue they are true. Of course it may be wise to say they are seemingly true because that way I have a way out if you disagree with me.

By that definition, I would say the example I used in my last post is aptly described as a paradox. At first glance, it would appear contradictory that we both want to be insignificant and have a desire for meaning. The two desires would seem at odds with one another and yet I believe they exist in all of us. Paradoxes help us maintain a clear view of the truth because the truth is rich and deep. Paradoxes help us to see the reality of "both/and." Many times we want to reduce the truth to" either/or", in so doing we cut ourselves from the full truth. Let me explain. In Christian orthodox thought we say that Jesus is both God and man. He is not God or man. He is both. The hypostatic union (the union of Christ's humanity and divinity) seems contradictory, but is nevertheless true.

As I write this, I worry that it may sound that I am arguing that everything can be true, as if there is no difference between religions or ideas – as if you can be both a Buddhist and a Christian. I worry about the charge of being a Unitarian Universalist, which is not what I am arguing at all. As this fear enters my mind, I discover another paradox, about truth itself: truth is both broad enough to include the "both/and" as well as narrow and specific. Let me again use Jesus as an example. Jesus is both God and man which illustrates the broadness of truth that it can encompass seemingly contradictory or opposed propositions. On the other hand, Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. There is no other name by which we can be saved and have eternal life.

Paradoxes seem to be all around as I explore this topic. I am looking forward to going deeper and deeper into understanding this topic.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Intro to Paradoxes

I am trying once again to get into the habit of blogging. My new idea to develop this habit is two fold: 1) To write a series of blogs as I do for the weekend messages and small groups at Church of the Nativity. (2) I have asked my personal growth team to hold me accountable to posting on Monday and Thursday of each week.

So today we start a series on Paradoxes. This idea has been marinating in my head since this past May. About three to four times a year I try to get away and spend a day with God to evaluate my life and simply get away from my duties at home and work. In May as I was driving away with God I thought of the following paradox of humanity: we desire to have meaning and yet need to be totally insignificant. We'll dive in later into this paradox, but let me briefly explain it.

All of us want our life to matter, for our existence to have significance. No one says, "I hope I am a total waste of a life." We desire to make a difference. I know that is deep in me. I want my kids to need me. I want my wife to need me. I hope work believes they need me so that I keep my job and pay my bills. On the other hand, as I drove away from work and family on a beautiful May day I thought how great is was to not be so important that I couldn't get away. In other words, I'm glad I'm not God and it is very freeing to know I'm not that important. We feel oppressed when we feel like we can't get away from work or home. Unfortunately, many people do live enslaved to this feeling.

And as I call this a paradox, I'm not even sure that is the right word, but it is the best word I can identify at the moment. It is the reality that truth is full bodied. There is a balance to it that we must understand in order to fully comprehend a subject.

What do you think? What other paradoxes of life have you observed?