the waters around you have grown

Dylan’s, “The Times they are a Changing” is easily the most relevant song I’ve ever heard. It was relevant when it was written as it was when I heard it for the first time in 1999 as it is today in 2012.  It is the non-anthem and yet anthem for things from political campaigns to restaurants being under new management. It has been covered by anyone who is anybody in the music business.  I love that over the years I’ve never really heard Dylan play it the same way twice.

It is a song that is just as relevant in social movements, business models, churches, families and friends.  It is a verbal recognition of you know to be true deep down inside.  You’re being surrounded by change and if you don’t prepare for it you will drown by the rising waters of change. Dylan wrote, “Come gather round people where ever you roam and admit that the waters around you have grown.”   Sometimes just admitting that things are changing is painful.  We’ve all experienced this in one-way or another.  Life looks different than it did before and every now and then we look out our windows and don’t recognize what we see.

As a new Lead Pastor I’ve never been as sensitive to change as I am now.  I know when I am changing something and I recognize it everywhere.  Some even want me to change things more but change has to be for a purpose and for the sake of health and not simply to change. There are so many little shifts that need to happen that it seems like they all add up to a lot.  I am not changing things to dishonor or disrespect the past. I love the past, I was a major part of the past and some of the irony is that the things I am changing are decisions that I helped make for this church years ago.  I am intentionally changing some things so I can lead the way that God has wired me.  I want to be the most effective pastor that I can be for Neighborhood, so in order to do that I need to create an atmosphere where I can thrive along with my team.  If you moved into my house today, you’d probably bring your own furniture.

The beautiful part of my church is that people get it.  They know and understand this and I haven’t had to say much about it.  All this change has begun to make me question a few things.  First, I’ve noticed that we as a people are more timid of making changes in our families than we are in our work places.  Part of it is that things might be unstable at work so we desire stability at home, but as Dylan says, “your old road is rapidly aging.”  That has never been more true than today, the world moves faster.  New things become old the day you bring them home.  So what if we intentionally made changes in our families that allowed for each member to thrive?

The second thing is that everyone says that want change but very few people actually do it.  We even make big claims like, “that really needs to change!”  But out of fear of rocking the boat, we rarely act on it.  We sacrifice health for comfort.  Stephen Covey asked a question in one of his books that has rocked me so hard that I think about it every day. “Is there one thing that we are not doing, that if we were, would drastically change the outcome of our organization?”  Asking this question about your church, your business and your family is about the scariest and healthiest thing that you can do.


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good church: sardis

A few years ago when I had responded to the call into ministry I was still in my last year of receiving a political science degree.  I decided that rather than throwing away 3 years of work I would finish out my degree and then go to a seminary and study theology.  I was telling one of my most respected international relations professors that I was going to enroll in a theology program and shoot for my master’s degree.   This professor tracked me down on campus a few days later and gave me a copy of the periodical, “Faith & Foreign Policy.”  I was very excited to see my two major interests collide.  However, when I read the papers that were presented in this periodical I was strangely troubled.  The papers were all on the theme of ending religious persecution. The reason I would say that I was strangely troubled is because while I know persecution is horrific and de-humanizing, I also know that the only church (so far) that Jesus praises is one that stands firm in the midst of strong persecution.  I don’t want to see anyone jailed or killed for their faith, yet that is where the kingdom forcefully advances.  I found myself living in a strange paradox, I am a humanitarian and yet I don’t want to work to end religious persecution.

The city of Sardis was built on top of cliffs.  It had only been attacked successfully two times in its lifespan.  A small team free-climbed the cliffs in the middle of the night and opened the gates while the city was sleeping.  An attack on Sardis was rare.  The church in that city was a reflection of the safety that the town enjoyed.  During the time that John wrote Revelation there is no indication that imperial worship was required, neither was there persecution for being a Christian.  The church in Sardis enjoyed an unusual safety within the walls of the Roman Empire.

What Jesus had to say should ring loudly in the ears of the American church. “I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.  Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die.” It is great to be a Christian in America.  You can give to your church and get a tax write off at the end of the year.  There is no danger of going to jail because of what you believe.  No one is going to hold a gun to your head and make you choose Jesus or not.  Life is good…we are safe.

But I am reminded of Jeremiah at the temple.  His message was, don’t think you’re safe just because you are at the temple, remember Shiloh?  But wait what happened at Shiloh?   At Shiloh the Philistines took the Ark of the Covenant in a battle.  The thought was, “we will be safe if we just take this into battle.”  They were conquered because safety can sometimes breed apathy.

When I played baseball a lot of times we would lose the game in the ninth inning when we were up by a number of runs.  We would just take the field and we thought that we already won it and taking the field was just a formality, our goal was to maintain our position.  Is that what church has become in America?  Taking the field in the ninth?  Have we become a church primarily concerned with keeping the structure in tact?  As I even write this there is a still small voice asking me when will you be ready to step out of your safe life?  When will you be willing to go to uncharted territory?

So what does a good church look like?  Maybe one who’s goal is not to maintain the structure of, “this is what we’ve always done,” Maybe one who is willing to innovate.  Maybe a good church rejects the safety that surrounds it and goes out on a limb each and every day.  Maybe a good church risks and prays.  A good church is humble, always knowing that God is in control and can remove them at the blink of an eye.



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leadership lessons from steve jobs

I’m not sure if many people know that I’m a huge nerd.  I follow the tech industry pretty closely, I even monitor new cell phones that are coming out on every carrier.  I was playing poker with the guys one night when I realized my geekness, I rattled off the make and model number of some guy’s cell phone.  Wow, I’m a geek but I just love new and innovated technology.

I also love leadership.  When technology and leadership got married they birthed Steve Jobs, the CEO and Co-Founder of Apple.  This man is totally intriguing.  I thought I’d share some leadership principles that I have learned from the man who wears the black turtleneck.

Failure is an option:

How many times do we look at times when we fail and never pick it back up again?  Mr. Jobs was ousted from the company he started in the 80’s and he started a new company called NeXT.  NeXT was at the forefront of technology and products, but the company was never really successful.  Jobs re-wrote the playbook on cooperate structure.  The company developed some amazing computers with some great software.  But they failed.  Ultimately their great product was too expensive and the company suffered.  The company was purchased by another failing company (Apple) to make one of the most amazing technology companies in the world.  NeXT was used as the foundations for what many of us now use on our computers.  Apple was resurrected as a company by an apparent failure called NeXT.

Stick to what your good at:

One day I read a transcript of a conference call that Apple had with its shareholders.  Questions that consumers have all the time is, why don’t you make _______?  Apple’s response was really simple.  “Because we can’t be the best in the world at it.”  Apple said that every product they make can fit on a coffee table and yet they have much larger profits than tech companies that try to do everything.  The huge leadership lesson here is to say, “no” to stuff that you can’t be the best in the world at.

Your internal barometer needs to be spot on:

One of the things that I love about Steve Jobs is his tenacity and his internal barometer.  Apple doesn’t market-test products.  They don’t get consumers in a room, let them have hands on play-date with their product and gauge their response.  They simply come out with a product because they love it.  It doesn’t matter to apple if everyone doesn’t love it, Steve Jobs and the Apple employees have to love the product.  If you don’t love what you’re doing, why would anyone else?

These are just three leadership lessons I’ve learned from Mr. Jobs (There are more to come).  All of these lessons in leadership can be universally applied, so I guess my question is why aren’t more churches applying leadership lessons from the tech world?


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more than morality

I really do love the church.  I know that there have been people who have been beat-up and broken down at the hands of the church.  I know the critiques of the church from the past and the present.  I have my own critiques of the church, but I love it.  
I love the metaphors given to the church in the scriptures.  I love what it is ideally called to be and I love the messiness of what it is now.  Whenever you put a community together that needs grace and redemption you will always have some drama on your hands.

I love that the church is specifically designed to be redemptive.  There are not too many organizations or businesses that have a redemptive purpose.  I believe that the church is essentially perfect in its scriptural structure; it is the people that make it imperfect and the people who cause so much pain and division.  (People like me by the way)

I understand those who have been, “hurt by the church.”  In reality they were hurt by other people who call themselves the church.  When I was young my family went to a church where the lead pastor had an affair.  People left devastated.  My family left because my parents decided that they could teach us better family values doing things together on the weekends.  They were right.  I learned a lot about family values by camping and getting close with my family.  As I grew up I saw no practical need for the church.  My parents were amazing moral compasses, and that is all I needed.

I have always seen the point of society; you don’t have to go to church to be a moral person.  Anyone can achieve morality.  In fact there are many role-models in society who are super moral people.  But when it comes down to it, those people can not offer freedom and redemption.   I love the church because it offers more than morality.  It offers freedom from the slavery of morality.  Jesus offers redemption and the community of the church embodies that redemption.

The funny thing is that the reason why most people get hurt and leave the church is also why I love the church and I think you would love the church too.  I’d rather people not get hurt but honestly redemption is messy.  The reason why I love the church is because as the community of Jesus gathers to worship, I see a broken and messed up people admit their need for grace and liberation.


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Have you ever been in an environment where people aren’t passionate about what they do?  Nothing makes me want to leave an environment more than lack of passion.  In this sense of the word I mean a deep conviction that what is said and done means something.  

Think about the people who you most enjoy being around.  What is one thing that they all possess?  It is probably an enthusiasm for life, their sincerity or their ability to really engage in conversation.  These people probably have the uncanny ability to speak into your life and say and do meaningful things with you.

Sometimes we go to a concert and we can feel the passion of the people on stage.  We sing along to every song, we shout and cheer.  We’ve all been to a sporting event where you end up throwing out the hi-five to random strangers.

The thing about passion is that you can’t bottle it.  You can’t sell it.  Passion for life needs to come from a deep love of yourself and others.  Loving yourself isn’t prideful, it’s healthy.  Being comfortable in your own skin, knowing who you are, and who you’re not are all part of loving yourself.  Pride is the corruption of a good thing.  Everyone needs to feel significance.  Pride points to yourself as the source of all significance.

If you don’t love yourself, then only you know why.  I’m not saying that it is impossible to be passionate if you don’t love yourself, I am saying that the passion you’re peddling is fake.  It is nearly impossible to really love others unless you love yourself.  If you try to love others without a love for yourself it is probably a selfish love for others, just an attempt at finding significance from the other person rather than showing them love.  Have you ever helped someone because you needed to feel good about yourself?  If we were to go deeper, love for yourself really becomes achievable in a relationship with the One who created you.

Why do we continually hang out with people, watch TV programs, go to church when there is no passion.  I feel like we should demand that of ourselves.  We need to be people who are passionate, who love ourselves and others, and draw their passion from the One who created them.

What if we only did the things that we were passionate about and forfeited the things we don’t care about?   Many of you would get fired so don’t actually do this unless your willing to lose your job.  (example: My uncle is a pilot and he is extremely passionate about flying, but what if his real passion was performing in broadway musicals and he decided to “go for it” while cruising to Hawaii at 30,000ft?  It is probably the wrong time and place to go after the dream.)

If we only did the things that we were passionate about, how would the quality of the things that we do change?  What if you decided that you would be passionate about life simply because you were wonderfully and fearfully made by a creator who intimately loves you?


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