Category Archives: Religion

Who defines reality?

1 Cor. 6:12-20
For Sunday, January 14, 2018
Second Sunday After The Epiphany, Year B

We live in a culture that wants to elevate self as having the right to define it’s own reality.  The problem is that reality has already been taken by someone else.

gauguin_christ-jaune

Paul Gauguin, “The Yellow Christ” (Christ Jaune), 1889, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York

One of the Lectionary readings this week is 1 Cor. 6 in which The Apostle Paul is challenging the Corinthian’s thinking on sexual identity.  How striking the parallels between the Corinthian’s thinking then and conventional cultural wisdom today.  We desperately want to define our own realities.

In Planned Parenthood versus Casey (1992) Justice Anthony Kennedy famously said,

At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.

Contrast this with what The Apostle Paul says about our human identity here in 1 Cor. 6:

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? … For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.

The reality is that we did not create ourselves nor do we have the right to create our own existence.  We can pursue this illusion in a desperate quest for freedom and autonomy yet true freedom will be found only when we embrace who we actually are: creations of God intended to be a temple for his Holy Spirit.

What does it mean for your reality this week that you have been bought with a price?  How would you most like to glorify God this week?

A Thanksgiving Day Blessing

We live in a nation of discord.  So it was when President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday on October 3, 1863.  The encouragement he found then is the same encouragement available to us today.

Brownscombe_First Thanksgiving

Jennie Augusta Brownscombe, The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth, 1914, Pilgrim Hall Museum, Plymouth, Massachusetts

One of the things I love to do when we sit down as a family for Thanksgiving dinner is to read Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Day Proclamation.  We live in a culture so distracted by our digital devices that we can no longer remember from where we came or why.  Taking a moment to reconnect with history can do much to clear the fog and help us remember what really matters and why.

Abraham Lincoln made his Proclamation on October 3, 1863.  Just as we are presently experiencing the present strife of Weinstein and Moore so was he experiencing strife, and actually of a far greater magnitude: the country was at war with itself.

The first thing Lincoln does is observe that even amidst the strife any sensible heart will see that we remain under “the watchful providence of Almighty God”:

The year that is drawing towards its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.

Another thing Lincoln does is call for penitence and mercy.  These are concepts we’ve almost forgotten but how we need them today as he did then:

And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to him that, for such singular deliverances and blessings; they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.

Our greatest challenges personally and nationally are neither political, nor even cultural, but spiritual.  May all who are Christians join me today in humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience.  May all who are fellow citizens, Christian or otherwise, join me in reaching out in tender care to those among us who are widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers.

How would you like to stand for our country in penitence?  To whom has God put on your heart today to extend mercy?  Please share your comments below.

I dedicate this post to my good friend and newly bereaved widow Lida Pederson, whose dear husband Doug went home to be with the Lord this week after a prolonged battle with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Happy Thanksgiving.
November 22, 2017.

The story of Thanksgiving

One of the things I love about the holidays is encouraging the family to reflect on where each holiday came from historically so that we can let it shape our mutual story going forward.  Here is David Barton of Wallbuilders sharing the story of Thanksgiving in America.

cropped-proclamation

What is most significant about Thanksgiving for you personally?  What do you think the significance of this annual observance is for our families and country today?

Emotion: Power For Change

Things not working out the way you hoped?  God has given us a nuclear reactor to power change: emotion.

Aivazovsky Wave

Ivan Aivazovsky, Wave (Волна), 1889, Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

I took a course this week called “Managing Corporate Change“.  One of the first questions was, “How much of any change do you think is emotional?”  Consensus: 80%.  The follow-on question: “How much time do we as individuals or organizations focus on emotions when navigating change?”  Answer: 0%.  Zoiks!

A large corporation I used to work for wanted to change it’s culture.  Conventional business wisdom is, “Now let’s not get emotional about this.  Let’s focus on behavior.”  Here’s the problem: if we don’t start with the 80% of any change, emotions, how will the other 20% possibly work out well?  It probably won’t.

But isn’t this a minefield to be avoided?  I feel all kinds of things about everything that happens to me.  If I go there I’ll just wander around getting blown up left and right.”  Incorrrrrect.  Emotions are not a product of the Fall.  God himself has them.  What did he say after every step of speaking the world into being?  “Ah… it is good!”  Emotions are meant to create positive energy to move forward.  Joy, for example, is an emotion that says, “Keep going in this direction”.  Anger is an emotion that says, “Something needs to change here!”  Our emotions are not a minefield to be avoided but rather a nuclear reactor to be harnessed.

“But, my God, when I start to feel stuff, my heart jumps all over the place.  I can’t even make sense of it!”  No worries.  This jumping around is how emotions are supposed to work.  What you are experiencing is the fusion reaction intended to result in a powerful beam of energy for change.  This is precisely how the Psalms of lament work.  The Psalmist feels the pain, acknowledges it, and is then freed up to embrace the hope that is unfailingly present, because of the unfailing God who embodies it.   “A plan in the heart of a man is deep water, but a man of understanding draws it out” (Prov. 20:5).

I can’t recommend this course highly enough.  I believe it will lead to a 20X increase in my own ability to deliver value.  Please consider it for yourself and your organizations.

What change are you facing that is presently causing you pain?  Have you asked yourself how you feel about it?  Let the reactor light it up.  What possibilities do you then sense bursting forth?

Embrace Your Story

Every one of us is a human story in the making.  There are three simple questions we can ask ourselves to embrace our stories and propel ourselves forward.

Kandinsky_Yellow Red Blue

Wassily Kandinsky, “Yellow Red Blue”, 1925, Georges Pompidou Center, Paris, France.

Over the summer I visited one of my mentors in Chicago, Jerome Iverson.  Jerome is a Christian and a gifted psychologist.  If the wheels have fallen off your wagon he is the guy who can put them back on for you.  He did for me.

During our summer visit Jerome reflected, “Everyone has a story that consists of the answers to three simple questions: Who am I?  Where am I going?  How will I get there?”  He’s absolutely right!

I am an adventurer, scholar, and entrepreneur.  I am called to advocate for the gospel in all of life (hence the subtitle of this blog).  I am getting there by investing in a flourishing marriage; investing in flourishing relationships with my three dear sons Nate, Karcher, and Noah; and by serving as Executive Director for Pinnacle Forum Chicago and Wisconsin.

These questions apply to organizations equally well.  My friend Greg Marshall was just honored as NeWaukeean of the Week.  NeWaukee is a movement of emerging leaders working to make Milwaukee New.  Love this!  Greg works with companies to help them answer The Three Questions.  Here is how he describes it:

I help companies find consensus on their story and then I help them produce experiences with that story so that customers and employees can feel and act on it. Aligning the imaginations of leaders and then activating that shared story with them is a lot of fun.

Yes!  We need to engage our own imaginations to embrace our own emerging selves!  We will then be activated to become the selves we were always meant to be.  There is a good book I read that puts it this way: “The plan in the heart of a man is like deep water, but a man of understanding draws it out” (Prov. 20:5).

What is your story?  Please share briefly about it here even if it comes with questions.  We’ll embrace it together and you will be on your way to becoming all that God is calling you to be!

 

Stewarding Our Cultural Influence

Many of us think deep down that we’ve lost the culture and there is nothing we can do about it. Nothing could be further from the truth.  Every Tower of Babel stood against the truth will fall.  What is required is for us to steward our cultural influence together.

Peter Bruegel the Elder, “The (Great) Tower of Babel”, c. 1563, oil on panel, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria.

I serve as Executive Director for Pinnacle Forum Chicago and Wisconsin.  Our tagline is “transforming leaders to transform culture”.  One question I’m often asked is, “So what does success actually look like?”  Perhaps like this:

  • a national network of leaders each of whom is clear on their personal calling
  • nurturing relational connections within this network
  • a collective commitment to steward personal and institutional influence together

A National Network of the Called

The first criteria for success is a national network of the called in which each leader is clear on personal calling.  Within our national network leaders connect in peer Forums of 6-12 leaders that meet regularly for encouragement, equipping, engagement, and execution on their respective callings.

With respect to calling, let’s define it here as the set of commitments that uniquely reflects an individual’s personality, spiritual gifting, and life history.  As Os Guinness points out, we each have a primary calling to follow Christ.  We then have a set of secondary callings in which we live this out in the realms of family, work, and community.  For me, engaging culture for Christ is a compelling interest.  I pursue this thru reading and writing (as here), thru my family, and thru my work with Pinnacle Forum in Chicago and Wisconsin.

One resource to help us get clear on our callings is The 210 Project.  The Project is named after Ephesians 2:10 which says, “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God has prepared in advance for us to do.

What other resources would you recommend?

Nurturing Connections

The second criteria for success is that leaders with similar interests can find and help one another.  Within Pinnacle Forum nationally, we offer leaders the opportunity to connect in the following ways among others:

In what ways do you most like connecting with other leaders?

A Collective Commitment

The third criteria for success is a collective commitment to steward cultural influence together.  We are all called as Christians to this: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good, and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2).

We replace passive conformity with active renewal.  We turn off the TV, take care of our bodies, read, plan, and move strategically in everything we do whether in the spheres of our family, friends, co-workers, or community.

This kind of living gets noticed more readily than we realize.  I sat down this morning for a Pinnacle Forum we hold at the Hudson Business Lounge here in Milwaukee.  My friend Jenny brought my coffee over and said, “Is your group meeting this morning?  Good!  There will be some positive energy in here.”  This is a pointer toward “what is good and acceptable and perfect” and these pointers keep me coming back for more.

So What?

Just as the Clapham Sect transformed the culture of 19th Century England so is there a similar opportunity for us today.  Are you with us?  I plead with you as a fellow leader to do something, whether thru your local church, thru Pinnacle Forum, or thru that collective effort to which God is calling you.

What has God put on your heart to pursue for his glory?

Leading a prevailing life

Gen. 32:22-31
For Sunday, August 6, 2017
Year A, Proper 13

Do you ever wonder if you will prevail in life?  Jacob’s encounter with God at Peniel in Gen. 32 shows us how it’s done.

Chagall_Jacob-wrestles_Nice-medium

Jacob Wrestling with the Angel“, Marc Chagall (1887-1985), Musée du Message Biblique Marc-Chagall, Nice, France.

I had a rough week.  In June I took on the Executive Director role of the Chicago Chapter of Pinnacle Forum in addition to my existing role as Executive Director of the Wisconsin Chapter.  This really puts time at a premium.  Our CEO said to me, “You will be stretched.”  He was right.  A situation came up at the end of this week that while representing a minor request in and of itself felt like the straw that broke the camel’s back in terms of my capacity.  Fortunately, I was able to work thru the situation with the person in question and then process further with a trusted mentor.  The anger inside me had much more to do with me than with this other party.  So what does this have to do with Jacob at Peniel?  It’s the story of moving from striving to prevailing.

Jacob wrestles with God and prevails.  There is deep symbolism here.  Jacob’s name literally means “grasping the heel” and refers to him grasping his brother Esau’s heel when the twins were born.  Jacob was a striver.  So am I and so are many of you.

Jacob wrestles with God all night.  Finally, God wins by giving Jacob a limp.  He says to Jacob, “Your name was ‘Jacob’ (striver) but it is now ‘Israel’.   ‘Israel’ means literally “struggled with God and overcame”.  What’s the point of all this?  Was God unable to defeat Jacob in this cage match without putting his hip out of joint?  No!  The point is that Jacob would prevail despite himself  because of God’s commitment to him.  None of us will prevail because of the force of our wills or the brilliance of our wits.  We will only prevail when we connect with God and his calling on our lives.

So what’s the next step?  The keys to a prevailing life are God’s Word and prayer.  First, do you have a regular Bible reading rhythm?  If so, please share about it briefly below for the benefit of the rest of us.  If not, why not join me in reading the Revised Common Lectionary weekly?  Feel free to post questions and comments on the passage you are reading below and I will respond.  Second, do you have a regular rhythm of prayer?  If so, again, please share what’s working for you.  If not, put a 10 minute a day appointment on your calendar, find a good place to journal, and start praying this way:

  • (P)raise
  • (R)epentance
  • (A)asking for others
  • (Y)ourself

The point is not for us to prevail with God.  The point is that God has offered to prevail through us.  All we need to do is put him first each day.

Under whose banner?

Each of us ride under a banner that defines and animates us.  As Christians, the banner we ride under is the simple phrase, “He is risen!”

pablo-2

Colossians 3:1-4
For Sunday, April 16, 2017
Year A, Easter, Resurrection of the Lord

Have you ever been working to understand something and then suddenly, by reframing the problem, everything suddenly comes into focus?  I remember in college reading a book about Marxism and struggling to understand how a Marxist actually made sense of the world.  Suddenly, it hit me.  For a true Marxist, the source of all of our problems is that we are alienated from the means of production.  So, the key to happiness was not overcoming personal shame or guilt.  There wasn’t anything inherently wrong with Man himself.  The problem was not internal but external.  Solve the external problem and Man would flourish.

There is a variation on this theme popular in the West today.  It’s called cultural Marxism.  In this version of Marxism, the problem people have is that they have been alienated from cultural acceptance.  So, grant them that acceptance, and all will be well.  You could therefore say that the Marxist flies under the banner, “Factory owner” and the Cultural Marxist flies under the banner “Culturally acceptable”.   As Christians, though, we fly under a very different banner.  On ours it says, “He is risen!”

Each of this week’s readings point to aspects of this theme of Christ’s resurrection.  “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone” (Psalm 118:22).  “They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day” (Acts 10:39, 40).  In John’s gospel, Mary comes to the tomb, doesn’t find Jesus in it, but turns around to find a mysterious gardener that she soon realizes is none other than Jesus himself (John 20:11-16).  This week’s reading from Colossians declares this theme most directly.  “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth,for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.”

In other words, the banner Christians fly under is “He is risen!”  We acknowledge with classical Marxists that being alienated from the means of production can be painful.  No one ought to be exploited as a worker.  We also acknowledge that social acceptance matters.  No one wants to be declared a social outcast.  In fact, as Christians, we currently feel the pain of either having to capitulate to the dogma of totalitarian diversity or being declared social outcasts ourselves.

Yet as Christians we also know a deeper truth.  Being exploited as a worker or being socially marginalized are just symptoms of a deeper problem.  This deeper problem is that we as human beings are alienated from God Himself.  The good news of Easter is that God sacrificed his one and only Son to overcome this alienation, to conquer death, and to give us new and eternal life starting right now.  The Bible describes this good news as forgiveness: “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:43).

Have you never been forgiven but would you like to be?  Simply believe Christ is risen from the dead and forgiveness is yours.  Have you believed in Christ previously but forgotten what the freedom of forgiveness feels like?   Whether you feel it at the moment or not this forgiveness is still yours.  What flies on the banner of every Christian is this: “He is risen!”  

Your turn:

  • What are some other banners you see people flying over their lives?
  • For those of you flying “He is risen”, how is this bringing joy to your life today?

 

Book Review: Dick Staub, The Culturally Savvy Christian

The power of popular culture to catechize us is incredibly strong.  We will all be catechized by something.  Will it be by our culture, or by the gospel?  Dick Staub points the way for us to become culturally savvy Christians.

Culturally Savvy Christian

 

Dick Staub, The Culturally Savvy Christian: A Manifesto for Deepening Faith and Enriching Popular Culture In An Age of Christianity-Lite

John Wiley & Sons, 2007.  ISBN 0-7879-7893-0.

The Problem and Solution

This is a book written by an Evangelicals to Evangelicals.  Dick’s concern is that while evangelicalism has had a commitment to influence culture from the beginning, it has unwittingly been “more influenced by the culture than influential in it” (Introduction, xi). The solution is for us to become culturally savvy Christians.  This means being “savvy about faith and culture, serious about faith, and skilled at relating the two.”   The structure of the book flows directly from this thesis.

The culture we are in is superficial, diversionary, mindless, celebrity-driven, soulless, centered on money, spread by marketing, and sustained by technology.  Unfortunately, in an attempt to be relevant to this culture our churches often end up mimicking these very qualities rather than speaking prophetically to them.  This is the essence of “Christianity Lite”.  As an acquaintance of mine, Aaron Scheer puts it, our churches end up focused on “noses and nickels” instead of “disciples and generations of disciples” (Chap. 1-3).

We need to take a more serious approach to being catechized by our faith.  This means seeking God’s deep presence, God’s transforming presence, and God’s loving presence (Chap. 4-6).

If we become savvy about the formative influence of popular culture, and serious about countering this with the formative influence of the gospel, we can then become skilled at speaking prophetically and redemptively to our culture.  The key steps are to counter culture like aliens, communicate in culture like ambassadors, and create culture like artists (Chap. 7-9).

Why It Matters

This is the best book I’ve read since Francis Schaeffer’s The Christian Manifesto on how we can pursue our faith in a way that transforms culture versus being transformed by it.  Rod Dreher just came out with The Benedict Option.  The institutional rehabilitation he calls for there is something Dick Staub shows us how to do very practically here.

I don’t think most evangelical churches and pastors are intentionally trying to mimic culture.  They are honestly trying to be relevant in an attempt to save lives and change lives.  Yet what we so often miss is the transforming power of Jesus, the Bible, and the Spirit.  We have to get back to these divine reference points if we are to understand how popular culture is seeking to mold us, and how we can be transformed in response to it.

One of my heroes is Stuart Briscoe.  He, Peter Mitskevitch of Moscow Theological Seminary, and I were sitting in the cafe of my church one day.  Peter asked Stuart, “What’s the secret of your ministry?”  Stuart replied, “I found a good book and I share with people what I’m finding there.”  Simple, profound, yet prophetic.  We can’t all preach and teach like Stuart, but we can certainly follow his lead!  The answers are not with the brilliance of our leadership.  The answers are in this very good book that we call our own.

Want to make a great name?

Genesis 12:1-4a
For Sunday, March 12, 2017
Second Sunday in Lent

Want to make a great name for yourself?  Surprise: it’s not about us.  Making a truly great name is all about aligning with God’s purpose.

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Abraham and the Visitors at Mamre“, Marc Chagall (1887 – 1985), Musée du Message Biblique Marc-Chagall, Nice, France.

As Executive Director for Pinnacle Forum Wisconsin I’m constantly listening for what challenges high influence leaders face and how best to serve them.  One way I do this is by looking at what books leaders are reading.  The top three books on Amazon’s list for Management and Leadership are:

  • Gary Keller, The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results
  • Tim Ferriss, Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World Class Performers
  • Jocelyn Glei, Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind

There is a common thread in these three titles.  How do we cut through all the distractions in order to find our purpose?   There is another book that has much to say about this:

  • God, The Bible

I searched for a web page to link to for God but apparently he doesn’t have one.  He is however reachable anytime via divine media at #Prayer.

There is one crucial difference though between the Bible’s focus on the focus of the books above.  While the books above focus on our success the Bible focuses on God’s success.  God’s ultimate purpose is to redeem us and our planet back to Himself.  He has already guaranteed this result by sacrificing his own Son Jesus on the cross for us.  He is now in the process of implementing what he has already guaranteed.

So, as we pursue our own success, will it be in line with God’s purpose, or across it?  We can either align with God’s will or get run over by the locomotive of his divine intention.   As my friend Mark Erdmann says, God is the ultimate business partner.  He’s never wrong and he never fails.   Abraham understood this and we know his name today as a result.

In this passage we see three steps for making a great name for ourselves within God’s purpose.    Our first step is to own the promise.  For Abraham to succeed he had to trust fully in the promise God gave to him.  This is exactly what he did: “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness” (Rom. 4:3).  There were times in Abraham’s life where things looked bleak, especially when as a 70 year-old he had no heir.  Yet he succeeded in owning the promise, and those of us who believe are now here as his legacy.  Own the promise!

Our second step toward making a great name is to be a blessing.  “(I) will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” (Gen. 12:2).  The beautiful thing about Christian leadership is that it’s not a zero sum game.  The idea is not for one of us ultimately to succeed by besting the rest of us to grab the brass ring.  The idea is rather for all of us to succeed together.  Think about a goal you are currently trying to reach.  How could everyone win in the pursuit of it?

Our third step toward making a great name is to go.  God asked Abraham, “Leave everything you know and go to the land I will show you” (v. 1).  Abraham was willing to go where God led him.  Where is God leading us?  Are we willing to go there?

Connecting with God and his purpose will quickly turn down the volume of our distracted lives and give us the clarity we need to move forward with purpose.

Your turn:
What is your current favorite business book?  How is what you are learning there connected to the counsel the Bible provides?