September 2009


I have the sports section on my desk.

If you know me, you likely just spewed coffee from the Caps Lock to the Backspace key.  I don’t do sports.  I used to do sports, if you count holding down the bench so that the wind wouldn’t blow it over.  But now, I don’t do ’em, I don’t watch ’em, I don’t follow ’em.

But my kids…they do sports.  When I buy a Sunday paper, they grab the sports section and read it all the way through, which is how I was tipped off to the following story (thanks, Jacob).

Apparently, there is a football team in the Triangle called the Wolfpack.  And apparently, they’re not having a good year.  In Luke DeCock’s article from Sunday’s News and Observer, he writes:

[Coach Tom] O’Brien said it in so many words: “We’re not a good football team.”

“Just so they realize,” O’Brien added. “They have a tendency to think they’re pretty good.  And they’re not.”

And, for good measure, “I haven’t done a good job coaching.”

Now, I have no idea if O’Brien is being humble and self-depricating or if he speaketh the truth.  The closest I’ve ever gotten to State’s field is when I walk by on my way to the fair to get some deep-fried butter.  I couldn’t tell you what the Pack’s record is this season if my life depended on it.  I don’t know how many RBI’s they had last week or what time tip off is this week.  (ba-dum-bum) But the coach illustrates a great truth:

We ain’t as good as we think we are.

Instinctively, we know that.  When we lie in bed at night, we realize that we’re not firing life on all cylinders.  And what’s more, our friends know it.  Our spouse knows it.  Our boss most definitely knows it.

But Coach O’Brien was man enough to say it.

He didn’t beat around the bush.  He didn’t use positive reinforcement.  He didn’t couch the negative in flowery terms.  He told the team – straight up – that they’re no good.  He even admitted his own failures.  That took some guts.

When is the last time someone told you that you weren’t good?  The Bible is chock full of those in-your-face messages.  “The heart is deceitful above all things, who can know it?”  “There is none righteous, not one.”  “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”

The difference between scripture and Coach O’Brien is clear: scripture provides a remedy that’s organic, while the best a football team can hope for is mechanics.

We break and then try to fix it ourselves.  The gospel breaks and then heals.

We use lies to cover our self-deception.  The gospel speaks the truth of hope on top of the truth of our hopelessness.

We say “do.”  The gospel says “done.”

I’m so thankful for folks like this who can clear up the doctrine of the Trinity, because apparently I’ve been wrong this whole time.  Nothing says “biblical faithfulness” like bathrobes, 24 inch goatees, and electric guitars.

Rock on, anti-Trinitarian biblically-illiterate Jesus-disbelieving heretical weird rocker grandpa dudes.  Rock on.

Back in the day when I was a Student Pastor, I used to have a pocket full of illustrations for students.  You know the ones…the cutesy little gems that you’d whip out whenever times got tough and kids needed a pick-me-up:

  • Did you guys know that no two snowflakes are alike?  That means you’re unique and special…um…just like everyone else.
  • There was a fat king who was dethroned by his brother, and his brother put him in a prison cell with no door.  But he’d give him all he wanted to eat, and so the fat king was imprisoned by his own belly.  So the moral is…um…don’t eat too much.

But maybe one of my favorite – and somewhat serious – illustration was balcony people and basement people.  I’m sure this isn’t original with me, but I’m equally sure that I couldn’t tell you who I stole it from.  But as I told my junior highers, every one of us have these two types of people in our lives.

Basement people are those that suck the life out of you.  They drag you down to the lower levels of life.  They take and take and take and rarely give.  They are capable of draining sunshine from the Sahara in August.  I’m convinced that God gives us basement people because (a) we need to love those people, even though sometimes we want to push them off a cliff, and (b) they make the balcony people look so doggone sweet.

Balcony people are the bright spots of our lives.  They are the ones that infuse you with energy, that call you to new levels of ministry, service, and devotion to God, and sometimes they smell like daisies.  You always walk away encouraged, always walk away challenged, and always walk away inspired to be a balcony person to somebody else.

Can you identify the basement and balcony people in your life?  You need both.  And more importantly, ask yourself: “Am I calling people up, or dragging them down?”

Smell like a daisy.  Don’t drain the sunshine.  And if you want to do that around me, that’s cool…because I’m all about some balcony peeps.

Every Friday this fall, I’m doing a series titled “First Impressions Fridays.”  These posts are specifically designed for the First Impressions Teams at all of our campuses, but hey, read it anyway.  You might learn something useful.

Churches are notorious for building the kingdom.  Unfortunately, it’s not the kingdom with a capital “K” that the Bible talks about.  It’s our own corporate kingdoms that we outfit with our amenities, our creature comforts, our traditions, rules, and regulations.  After a group of people do life together for a while, the kingdom of US…or at least the kingdom of ME…is bound to rear its ugly head.

But if we’re going to reach people for the Kingdom, we must refuse to build a kingdom.  Our facilities and styles and programming and even our language must speak more to the guest than it does to us.  It’s for them, because the gospel is for them.  Oh sure, the gospel is for us too, but if we preach the gospel to ourselves on a daily basis we’ll remember that one of our roles as believers is to reach others.  And if we’re going to reach others, we can’t be scratching our own itches.

At the end of the day, it’s not for you.  It’s not for me.  And really, it’s not even for them.  But it is about Jesus.  And since Jesus is for you and he’s for them, then we’ve got to build his Kingdom, not ours, and open it up to them.

Clear as mud?  I thought so.

One of my summer reads was the instant classic Tribes by the always insightful Seth Godin.  I’ve been re-reading it with my team over the last couple of weeks, and it’s been rocking my world.  Here’s one of the quotes we wrestled with this week:

Managers manage a process they’ve seen before, and they react to the outside world, striving to make that process as fast and as cheap as possible.

Leadership, on the other hand, is about creating change that you believe in.

…Leaders have followers.  Managers have employees.

Managers make widgets.  Leaders make change.

In the church world, we have no shortage of managers.  Protect this ministry.  Build that silo.  Maintain that status quo.  Fence in this sacred cow. I’ve managed quite a few things, myself.

But scripture doesn’t call us to management.  It calls us to lead.  Jesus didn’t manage the disciples, he led them.  He created change, he built followers, and he disturbed those who were quite comfy with the status quo.

If I’m going to lead like Jesus, then management must take a backseat.  If I’m going to love like Jesus, then I’ve got to be more interested in people’s heart than their to-do list.

How about you?  Are you a leader or a manager?

Alarm clock snooze button I can’t believe it’s time to get up stumble through stubbed toe brew coffee spill coffee curse coffee bless coffee open Bible study Bible pray…

Be still and know that I am God.

…grab a shower shave nick face nothing is ironed broke a shoelace hurry up kids pack lunch where’s the dog sign permission form what do you mean you didn’t do your homework we’re so late get in the car tear out of the driveway how could you possibly forget your lunch…

Be still and know that I am God.

…carpool stop fighting move ahead quick prayer have a great day hugs okay no hugs fist bumps you’re not too old to say I love you here’s your algebra book peace and quiet nothing on the radio start the commute hey where’d you get your license are you kidding me what are they stopping for what red light gas light I just filled up gas prices are ridiculous spilled gas on pants car stinks…

Be still and know that I am God.

…in the office inbox overflows I just emptied it yesterday where are they all coming from look at schedule too much on schedule can’t reschedule can’t get it all done have to get it all done return phone call return e-mail more e-mail into meeting out of meeting assignment from meeting another meeting you’re kidding me please no more meetings let’s have a meeting about the meeting…

Be still and know that I am God.

…fire fighting put it out another one starts you’re upset about what I’m so sorry we’ll get it fixed lunchtime time to breathe time to eat turkey sandwich again bread is soggy not another cup of yogurt sick of yogurt want a milkshake is it time to go home yet oh great another meeting…

Be still and know that I am God.

…reverse commute outta my way gotta get home oh wait I forgot ballgame tonight reverse course head to ballpark kid up to bat kid strikes out coach won’t put kid in mad at coach sad for kid why’d we even sign up it’s cold I forgot to eat dinner ballpark hot dogs are gross what’s in the fridge at home…

Be still and know that I am God.

…finally home shoes are off dog is hyper dishes to wash laundry to do homework to forget don’t forget that homework test tomorrow are you kidding me it’s an hour past your bedtime so help me if I have to tell you again what do you mean you forgot to take a shower…

Be still and know that I am God.

…time on couch hang out with bride compare schedules not enough time we’re double booked want to watch TV nothing on TV let’s just go to sleep can’t sleep stare at ceiling too much going on how many more e-mails want to sleep late can’t sleep late forgot about early meeting…

Be still and know that I am God.

Earlier this morning I caught up with one of our church planters who is currently stateside.  I always enjoy getting time with Brian, and this morning was especially valuable as we talked through the difference in building relationships in America vs. a cross cultural setting.  Here are some of my most valuable takeaways that I gleaned from our conversation:

  • Americans get jacked up on schedules. In the States, if we say we’re going to meet over coffee for an hour, then by golly sixty minutes later we’re going to be in our car, or heads will roll.  Our schedules are more valuable than the relationship.
  • Americans rarely go the second mile. As we were sitting in Starbucks this morning, there was a guy whose car wouldn’t start.  Before I knew it, Brian had offered to hang out with the guy until the tow truck arrived, and then drive him into work.  I, of course, never considered that, because my schedule (see bullet point one) is so precious.
  • Americans are task-driven rather than relational-driven. Again, it goes full-circle to schedules, but we tend to pursue relationships because of how they benefit us, not how they benefit others. Unless it’s about me, I’m not interested.

Driving back from the meeting with Brian, I was reminded again of why my overseas trips are typically watershed moments in my life.  For ten days, my schedule is relationships.  There are no e-mails to answer, no phone calls to return, no blogs to write, no office tasks to check off.  It’s all about the people, and all about introducing people to the gospel.  These are the questions that I asked myself when it comes to cultivating intentional relationships:

  1. Do I value my schedule above relationships?
  2. Am I intentionally creating time to grab lunch, have coffee, or otherwise do life with people?
  3. Am I only hanging out with churched people, or am I watching for opportunities to meet those who are far from God?
  4. When I do meet with people, is it about me or about them?  (ouch.)
  5. Do I wait to meet with people until they’ve contacted me, or am I seeking people out?

What does this look like in your life?  Are you approaching relationships with a gospel-centered mindset, or are people just another check box on your to do list?

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