A Child’s Prayer

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The other night at dinner our eldest daughter, Abbie, prayed this line as part of her dinner blessing-

“Help us to be proactive in loving our neighbors.”

I was caught off-guard for a few reasons. First, that she used proactive correctly in a sentence. I had never heard her say that before. After some investigation, she shared that her class has been learning what it means to be proactive in her life-skills class.

Second, I wanted to see if she knew what it meant to be “proactive in loving our neighbors.” We talked and she said that it meant that we “look to be nice to them.” A good answer, because in “looking” we are being proactive. We talked about ways that we can be on the lookout to show our family, our friends, and our neighbors love.

This Christmas season, we remember God- who was proactive in revealing love to us. The first Messianic prophecy comes back in Genesis 3 and there are many throughout the Old Testament. God did not decide to come to earth haphazardly or reactively- but was proactive in sending Jesus, God-in-Flesh, to the earth as the ultimate gift of love in order that we might have life with God.

This Christmas, how are you proactively revealing God’s love to your neighbors? To your family? To your co-workers? When we live lives of love we shine the light of God’s love to all those around.

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The Real War on Christmas

iamn_0A couple of years ago, I wrote a post called Battleground: Christmas where I shared my feelings over “the war on Christmas.” While you should go back and read the post, the short end of it is this: Relax Christians! We cannot force our views, our traditions, our beliefs on those who don’t believe them or have interest in them.

It is that time of year again where we hear about the war on Christmas. About people who are upset when the clerk at the store says “Happy Holidays” or when the school Christmas Concert is changed to a “Holiday Concert.” It’s the time of year for Bill O’Reilly and FOXNews to make something out of nothing.

But there is a real war on Christmas that is happening right now. Here in America, Christians worry about Christ being removed from Christmas when people say “Happy Holidays”- but in other parts of the world, the danger is that Christians are being systematically eliminated. In the November issue of Christianity Today, Philip Jenkins wrote the cover story about whether this was the end for Mideast Christians. In the midst of the article he writes,

“It is obscene to complain about a “war on Christmas” in the United States when there are Syrian cities without Christians to commemorate their holy days at all for the first time in 1,900 years. That’s an authentic war on Christmas.”

In this season of Christmas when we remember and celebrate the birth of our Savior, our brothers and sisters are facing persecution, displacement into refugee camps, and even death. Their Christmas gatherings, most likely in secret if they happen at all, will take place at great risk. So the next time you get a little defensive over someone saying “Happy Holidays,” rather than getting upset take time to pray for our Christian brothers and sisters who are persecuted.  Pray for them, remembering that at the birth of Jesus 2000 years ago, that there was a systemic persecution trying to rid the land of the Christ-child. Pray that they might be strengthened in the face of adversity. Pray that God would be present with them. Pray for those who persecute that they might come to know the transformational love of God through Jesus Christ.

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Elf on the Shelf and Discipling Children

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It is no secret among my friends that I am not a big fan of The Elf of the Shelf- the widely popular little guy who gets into mischief each night leading up to Christmas. It is interesting to see the different “adventures” that their elves get into, though I get tired of waking up each morning in December to a Facebook feed full of Elf on the Shelf pictures. Maybe I’m becoming grumpy since I’ve made the turn to my “late thirties.”

Seeing my FB Feed full of Elf pictures each morning makes me ponder a question: What if we discipled our children with as much enthusiasm and creativity as we put into the Elf on the Shelf? What if, instead of reading dryly from the Bible to our kids (or maybe not reading at all), we created grand schemes of adventure that paralleled the adventure of following Christ and become object lessons/parables about life with God? What if we created a culture of discipleship with our children where they were excited each morning to wake up and see how God would move in their life and in the lives of their friends?

When I see the time and creativity of those who participate in Elf on the Shelf (and a whole host of other endeavors), it makes me smile at the creativity that God has given each us. My hope as a Christian, parent, and pastor is that we might use that energy and creativity for more than some Christmas hijinks, but might use it to share the Good News about God’s love for each of us- especially to our children. That’s something worth getting excited for.

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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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