Resources for Advent 2014

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One of the favorite memories as a kid was the Advent Countdown that my mom made my sister and I. Each day of Advent, we’d get a piece of candy and countdown the days until Christmas. It was a way of helping us understand the anticipation and excitement of Christ’s appearing at the first Christmas and when Christ will come again.

Advent is a 4 week season of anticipating the appearance of Jesus. It is a time for followers of Jesus to create a new rhythm in their lives of waiting, watching, and anticipation. Today, Advent is a direct rebellion to the consumeristic Christmas that is pervasive in our culture- where Wal-Mart has their Christmas displays up in October. Advent says, “Slow down, wait and watch for Jesus rather than rushing to the manger.”

I thought that this year I would share some resources that I will be using this year to celebrate the season of Advent.

Books:

1. Not Yet Christmas-It’s Time for Advent This is a 25 day devotional written by JD Walt of Seedbed. Each day includes a scripture reading, short narration by JD, and a poem/reading that goes along with the theme. I’m really excited about what Seedbed is doing in the world of publishing and resources in the Wesleyan Theological spectrum.

2. Wait: For Weeks of Preparing the Soul for Christmas This is another devotional from Daniel Ethan Harris. Daniel and I graduated from Asbury College the same year and I’ve read some of his previous work- and I am looking forward to this book as well in preparation for Christmas.

Music:

There have been several releases over the last few years with the aim of providing music for the season of Advent. (Some songs, like JOY TO THE WORLD, might better be seen as an Advent song b/c of the focus on when Jesus will return) The following will be on heavy rotation (after Thanksgiving) on my iPod.

1. Future of Forestry (Advent/Christmas Vol. I, II, & III) Future of Forestry has a sound that is not your typical Christmas sounding music- which may be why I like it so much. The track “The Earth Stood Still” is a particular favorite of mine.

2. Page CXVI (Advent to Christmas) This band does some great work in “re-visioning” the great hymns of the faith. This means that the lyrical content remains the same and the music/melody/harmony are revision. If you’re a fan of the traditional melodies, this might not be the recording for you. But if you’re looking for a fresh approach on songs you know by heart- this album will allow you to hear these classics with new ears!

3. Robbie Seay Band (December Vol. I & II): I have been a fan of The Robbie Seay Band for many year now. I did a CD review on the blog a few years back for their album Miracle. I have December Vol. 2 which has a great acoustic version of “Song of Hope.” This is definitely worth picking up.

So there are a few resources to help you during the season of Advent. What books, CD’s, songs, or practices help you get ready for Christmas? Share in the comments below.

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Adoption Update: Settling In

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It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything about Malachi and how he is adjusting. Malachi has been in our lives for 8 weeks now and it has been the most joyous and, at the same time, the most difficult thing I think we’ve ever done. Don’t go thinking that it’s bad or anything like that- It’s been a big adjustment.

Health: Malachi went to the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania in October and the doctors were surprise at how healthy he looked based on his previous medical records from China. His head circumference and body weight were encouraging. He is still a little guy as his height is “below the chart” according to the doctor.

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Attachment: Attachment is the process were children bond with their parents and learn to see them as “Mom and Dad.” So much of this happens by hearing a voice in the womb and during the first year of life when a baby must be nursed and held. Malachi received none of that from us. He has been growing in his attachment- he will run to Andrea or I with a big smile on his face and hug our legs. Just as important is that he gets shy around other people and will sometimes (not all the time) cling to us. This is important because in the orphanage he would see any adult as a source of food and care. Now, he needs to learn that Andrea and I are that source of care and love.

Language: When we saw the CHOPS doctors, they said that Malachi was 2-3 months behind in his language abilities. In the last week or so, we’ve seen some great progress. First, Malachi is doing FAR less yelling at the dinner table to get food. I imagine that “he who yelled the loudest got fed” in the orphanage. He is picking up on non-verbal communication such as shaking his head “no” when he doesn’t want something; waving “good-bye” or “hello” when it is said. He will also sign “more” and “thank you.”

We have now begun to hear Malachi forming words. He says Momma with regularity (easier since it’s basically the same in Mandarin). He has said Dada. The real excitement is hearing him say “hi” and just this week “Thank you” when given something. (You might not decipher it as such- but it certainly there. Our daycare provider confirmed it today.)

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We are truly blessed with Malachi. There are a lot of things we are learning (how to be a family of 5 and how to build in some margin- for instance)- but there is so much joy in our house with Malachi in our lives. Abbie and Chloe are such good big sisters to him. If you are able to hear Malachi give a belly laugh or see him show off his big cheesy grin- you’ll experience the joy that adoption can be!

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Peyton Manning Leadership School: Be Prepared

Peyton Manning provided another important lesson of leadership during last night’s 41-17 drubbing of the Oakland Raiders. It is this: Be Prepared.

Towards the end of the 3rd Quarter with the Broncos up big, it appears that 2nd string QB Brock Osweiler was preparing to come into the game. Oakland was punting the ball to the Broncos and before Osweiler could retrieve his helmet Peyton ran back onto the field. Osweiler threw his hands up in the air when he saw Manning running back in. (You can watch it here.)

osweiler_hands_disgustI’ve read some negative comments towards Manning for heading back into the game and not letting his backup get valuable experience. But my questions- Why did Osweiler not already have his helmet? Why was he still holding his communication pack? Why was he not standing beside Manning in preparation to enter? Had Osweiler been told to enter the game, stood by Manning with his helmet on ready to go, Manning likely (though I have no real way of knowing) could have said, “Go get ‘em kid.” Instead, Osweiler lost playing time to a 38 year old QB with multiple neck surgeries who even in a blowout was ready to go back in the game.

Be prepared.

It’s a simple rule. It’s even the motto for The Boy Scout’s of America. If we want to make the most of an opportunity we must be prepared.

As a pastor and leader of an organization, our ability to prepare has everything to do with making the most of an opportunity or to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to change. We can’t be trying to find our helmet when it is time to get in the game. Being prepared means that we must evaluate the past and begin to discern where the future is leading so that, in the moment, we can seize whatever opportunity lies ahead of us. Even the Apostle Paul writes to Timothy saying,

“Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction.” (2 Timothy 2:4 emphasis mine)

Paul tells Timothy there is a season to preach- but we had better be prepared to preach (share the Gospel) even when it seems unlikely that we would do so. We must be prepared to seize the opportunities God gives us.

What are you preparing for? How are your preparations today going to help you seize the opportunities God gives you tomorrow? How were your preparations yesterday going to help you seize the opportunities today?

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What Peyton Manning Teaches Us About Organizational Culture

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Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos recently took on the San Diego Chargers in Denver. It was a game where Peyton looked sharp, throwing three touchdownds. In the press conference, he pointed out emphatically that the scoreboard operator needed to elevate his game. It seemed that one off-sides penalty on Denver was, at least indirectly, caused by the scoreboard operator getting the fans filed up (and loud) while Denver had the ball. Manning also said it was unacceptable to continually put the opposing QB on the board to be booed by the crowd (Read the story here).

The next Sunday, Mike Tirico and Chris Mortensen were discussing the incident on their ESPN Radio Show. Mortensen said that Manning had the staff and fans trained in Indianapolis that it would be almost completely silent in the dome while the Colts had the ball. Manning’s expectation is for the home fans to provide the home team and advantage by lowering their volume while they have the ball.

This is an organizational culture issue. It sounds like everyone in Indianapolis knew of the culture that Manning (and thus, the Colts) expected when the offense had the ball. On the other hand, I wonder how this has been communicated or taught throughout the Broncos organization.

Whether it is a church, a business, or a sports-team- culture must continually be taught and created to meet the expected goals. As a pastor, I must communicate the vision, the values, and the expectations to my congregation and staff regularly so that their actions and decision making processes continue to help create a healthy culture. I cannot decide alone that our congregation will be known for radical hospitality- it must be communicated, taught, and modeled to those around so that they begin to catch the vision for the culture that can be created.

I’m guessing that the scoreboard operator in Denver had a conversation with someone about Peyton’s expectations. Are there conversations that you as a leader need to have with an individual or your organization about the culture you hope to create?

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Death With Dignity

By now you’ve likely read an article or saw a news story about Brittany Maynard- a 29 year old US woman who has terminal brain cancer. Brittany has made a decision to end her life on November 1st through a doctor’s assisted death. (You can read her op-ed piece from CNN here.)

Since reading the story I’ve been thinking through what it means. Some people call Brittany courageous for her choice to “die with dignity” while others are calling this suicide. I met with some guys from church this afternoon and we discussed the story over lunch- discussing this story in light of our faith and the scriptures. I wanted to share some things that I’ve been thinking about the story.

In the article Brittany writes,

“I’ve had the medication for weeks. I am not suicidal. If I were, I would have consumed that medication long ago. I do not want to die. But I am dying. And I want to die on my own terms.”

This is, perhaps, where I have strong feelings about this. Because- who really gets to die on their own terms? My terms would be to die in my sleep after a very long and healthy life. But I don’t get to choose my terms. Neither did my high school friend who was killed by another motorist on the road earlier this year. Neither does the child caught in the cross-fire of gang violence. People die everyday of cancer and other illnesses, but not on their own terms. People are killed tragically because of the choices for others- but not on their own terms.

From a Biblical perspective, God has created us and has numbered our days.

“A person’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed.” Job 14:5

“Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Psalm 139:16

From my own personal belief, if God has created us for a determined amount of days- then my life has purpose during the days ordained for me. I am uncomfortable with the concept of dying on our own terms and taking death into my own hands rather than my Creator’s hand. I also believe there is great dignity in facing life (and death) with joy and vitality. Learning that we are dying does not mean that we have to stop living.

There has been another story in the news that contrasts with the story of Brittany Maynard- it’s the story of Baby Shane and his parents, Dan Haley and Jenna Gassew. After learning, during pregnancy, that Baby Shane had a rare condition called anencephaly where Shane would be born without parts of the his skull and brain. Shane’s life expectancy was a a few hours to a few days. Baby Shane’s parents made a decision to live life- even in the face of death by making a Bucket List of things to do together with Baby Shane. Again, facing our death does not mean we have to stop living.

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Home For a Week

We’ve been home from China with Malachi for a little over a week now. It has been a lot of fun being a family of five- especially in the comfort of our own home.

Malachi has been making so many adjustments. It’s easy to forget how hard this must be for him- from the language, to leaving his caregivers/friends at the orphanage, to the change in time, and now having to learn a different way of life. We do see adjustments- his schedule is getting better (especially his sleep). We get excited when he hands us his sippy cup instead of throwing it on the floor!

We are blessed and excited to see how God continues to work in our family!

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Following A Dream

On September 10th of this year I traveled to China with Andrea and Abbie (our 7 year old daughter) to fulfill a dream of providing a home for a child without a family. That child is Malachi, a 15 month old from the Henan Province of China. He is a happy child with a smile that lights up a room. On September 15th, Malachi officially became part of our family. It was a surreal moment for sure.

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People have asked Andrea and I how we got started on the track to adopt- especially from China. The short answer is that before Andrea and I were married, we were having one of those conversations that couples have:

How do you put the toilet paper back on the roll? Over the top or in the back?

Frosted Flakes or Fruity Pebbles?

How many kids do you want?

And somewhere in the midst of that conversation came up the topic of adoption. Andrea spent six months living and serving in India and Nepal and I had the opportunity to travel to Brazil when I was a teenager. Those experiences of traveling outside of the country certainly had a major influence on our conversation that night. I imagine that we talked about quite a few things while we dated that never stuck. But somehow, a conversation about adopted a child stuck with us.

After having two girls, Abbie and Chloe, the possibility of adopting came up again (we continued to talk about it from time to time). We knew the time frame to adopt and that if we wanted to adopt then we needed to get started. This was the summer of 2012.

Here is how it went down. It was a day or two before we were to leave on a two week vacation and we had decisions to make. We were discerning about starting the adoption process AND putting our house on the market. So the night before we left for vacation, we signed the paperwork to begin the adoption process, cleaned our house and signed on with a real estate agent. It sounds a little crazy, but we’ve found in our life that when we jump in with both feet that God makes sure everything works out!

A couple of years of following our dream, that dream has come true. Our trip to China was a great family adventure and a lesson to our girls about following our dreams and following the nudges that God gives us as we seek to follow Jesus.

So what is a dream of yours? Is there something that you want to do; something that you’ve been called to do that you haven’t? What is holding you back? What would it take to get you to jump in with both feet?

As we adjust to being a family of five and I realize that this dream has come true- I’ve wondered to myself- “What new dream will God give us to pursue?” I can’t wait!

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