Archive for May, 2011

I’ve loved watching the NBA Playoffs this season. Since the San Antonio Spurs are old and out of it, I don’t really have a dog in this fight, but it’s been fun to watch. In particular, watching the Mavs defeat the Thunder and the Heat beat Chicago has been constructive  for leadership learnings and the challenges young leaders face.

In both conference finals, the more experienced, veteran team won. Obviously, in the world of sports, there gets to be a moment when an athlete or team becomes too old, but that isn’t the case with Dirk’s Mavericks and LeBron’s Heat. They are in – or very close to – their prime, while the teams they beat are simply, well, too young.

Over the last 30 years, no team has won the NBA Championship with a avergage age under 26. The average age of the Oklahoma City Thunder? 23. The average age of the Chicago Bulls is 27.2, but their star, Derrick Rose, is 23. These team’s leaders are too young to win! Though both teams have great futures, we saw in the playoffs the challenges all young leaders face, regardless of their field of play.

Here’s how young leaders struggle:
  1. Wanting to Be Liked! Young (and new) leaders want to be liked by their collegues. They don’t know where the boundaries are yet, and even when they’re far more talented, it takes a while to become as assertive as you need to be in order to lead with success. Through the playoffs, we didn’t say Derrick Rose or Kevin Durant get in the face of their teammates. When the series was on the line against the Mavs, in the closing seconds, Durant didn’t have the ball! Could you imagine Jordan, Kareem, or Bird doing that? No! They set the expectations for thier team. If you didn’t meet the expectations, you paid the consequences. Leaders have to hold the team accountable for the goal, which means you won’t always be liked. And yes, sometimes this means asking the owner and/or GM to get rid of a player, who though talented, doesn’t show up in shape to play (think Kobe and Shaq).
  2. Seeking Help. One of the pitfalls of being talented is the illusion that you can do it alone. What the playoffs revealed is that no one besides Durant and Rose could be counted on when the game was on the line. Say what you will about Lebron, but he knew he couldn’t get past the Celtics on his own. He knew he needed help! Young and new leaders are slow to ask for help. If you feel that you’re sputtering as a leader, look around at your help. Is it the right help? If not, you might consider taking your talents to South Beach or going out and getting what you need.
  3. Seizing Opportunity. Both Dirk and Lebron have been to the NBA Finals before and come up short. You can see it in the urgency with which they are playing. Young leaders think that they have more time than they actually do; that they’ll make it back. Not true! The opportunity you’re looking at right now may never come around again. Ask Dan Marino about that. When you get an opportunity, you gotta grab it.
  4. Demanding the Ball. As I mentioned above, in the closing seconds of Game 5, Kevin Durant, didn’t have the ball. That’s inexcusable! Real leaders want the ball; they accept the responsibility and shoulder the load. Weak leaders blame others. This doesn’t mean that you distrust your teammates, it means that when it’s on the line, you have confidence that God has shaped you for this moment, for this stage and you know you can deliver. In games 4 and 5, Dirk was quiet for much of the game, but in the closing moments, he demanded the ball and delivered.
New and young leaders are perhaps in one of the best positions they’ll ever be. If that’s you, use it, develop it, and grow from it. Your team is counting on you!

How To Read Difficult Books

Posted: May 27, 2011 in books
As a preacher, church and community leader and comunicator, I do a great deal of reading, studying and research. Much of this is difficult technical and academic literature. This reading gives people the illusion that I’m smarter than the average bear, but that’s not really true.
Truth is, even though I read a lot of demanding material; I’m not a natural reader and I don’t think that my IQ is higher than the average person. I merely went to graduate school, which forced me to read a lot, retain a good bit of what I read, and then deliver the same material, along with my own reflections, in ways that make sense to people. I’ve learned is that there are some simple strategies that anyone can employ in order to read difficult texts.
Here They Are:
  1. Read in Short Burst. I rarely read more than 10-15 minutes. I cut out all other disctractions, set the timer on my iPhone, put my head down and plow through. When the time is up, I wlk around, check e-mail or something else for 5-minutes, then set the time again. It sounds short, but you’ll be amazed at what you’ll get done in an hour.
  2. Set A Daily Page Count. Getting through tough reading becomes easier if you’ll covenant with yourself to get through a certain number of pages per day. For me, it’s usually 50-75 pages. That’s not many, but you can make it through a tough book in about one week.
  3. YouTube Videos. Some books (authors) are really difficult to follow. When you come across one, stop reading and hop on YouTube! Hopefully you can find video of the author speaking. Doing this will give you a feel for the author’s diction and rhythm and the way they use language. (Confession: I never made it through a N.T. Wright book until I did this. After hearing him perform several sermons, his books flow much more easily. I began to understand how he communicated.)
  4. Read The Conclusion First. I picked this up from my friend, Kraig Martin, as he wa doing his Master’s in Philosophy. Kraig would read the conclusion of each chapter in order to get a sense of what was being argued. He’d then go back and read the argument. I tried it. It helps.
  5. Keep Resources Handy. I’m not picking up theologians like Mark Heim without my online dictionary handy. He uses words I don’t know. Without the resources hand, I’d be debilitated. Don’t be afraid to admit what you don’t know and look it up. There’s even a Wikipedia for theology.

These tips have helped me and my reading. Reading, in turn, helps me with everything else in life. Try them for a while. I bet they’ll help you too.

5 Steps to Post Graduation Success

Posted: May 24, 2011 in Uncategorized

This past Sunday night at Redwood Church, we celebrated our graduating high-school seniors. When I was a youth minister, celebrating our seniors was one of may favorite activities in the year. Rarely in life do people make opportunity to simply heap blessings on those we love. As I was listening to friends and family members share memories, stories and blessings, I thought about the nearly two decades I spent working with teenagers. Over that time some of those students have succeeded spectacularly and others have flailed to the same degree. After having witnessed this, this is my advice for all graduating seniors:

  1. Become Don’t Look. Over the next several years many of you will be looking for a spouse. You probably have a working list of what you’re looking for, even if you haven’t written it down. Rather than look for someone who fits the bill, spend your time becoming the kind of person who fits that bill. 1 Corinthians 11 is a good place to start. There is no “right person” out there! You’re looking for the “right kind of person.” If you become the right kind, you’ll attract the right kind.
  2. There Are Plenty of T-Shirts. Don’t fill-out a credit card application because they’re giving away a free t-shirt! At some point, a credit card company will stop by your campus and offer you a free t-shirt or key chain or some other non-essentail item in exchange for you “filling out” an application. You’ll tell yourself, “I’ll get the shirt and never use the card.” Whatever! They know you’ll use it. That’s why they’re there. While you’re at it, start to think wisely about your money. Take a personal financial management class while you’re in school. Learn now to give away 10-15% of your income to your church, save 10% and live on the rest. It’ll never be as easy as it is now.
  3. You Don’t Need A Break. I’ve had countless friends and students who decided that since they were in college or professional school, or, heck, just because they were young, it was a good time to take a break from their spiritual formation. Wrong! It’s the worst time. Now is the time you’ll form lifelong friendships, likely find the the person you’ll marry, and concretize habits that you’ll keep for the rest of your life. You don’t want to try to reignite your faith at 25, 30, 35 or 40 and wake up with a spouse who is unsupportive and friends who refuse to help you.
  4. Study & Work Hard. When you’re in school you think studying is a low priority, but absolutely no one you know who is successful in life, relationships or is spiritually mature will ever tell you that they studied and work too much in college. Going to class, reading the material, and maximizing your time are investments you’re making in your family and your future. Your professors will become your first references and your classmates will be in positions to help you the remainder of your career and life. Plus, work and working is a spiritual commitment. Do it as unto the Lord.
  5. Become A Giver. You must enter life knowing that your gifts and talents are for the benefit of others. Learn now to give your presence, your time and your money. Find a non-profit, a ministry, anything really that makes more demands on you than you think you can bear, and cheerfully give yourself away.
There’s much more to say, but if you were simply to begin with these 5-steps, it will pay unbelievable dividends for the rest of your life. You don’t have to believe me, but trust me. These are principles that will not and have not changed. And they are the path to your success.

There’s no need for me to add my voice to cacophony out there telling the world why Harold Camping has been before and is currently wrong about the Rapture and coming apocalypse. For Christian insiders like me, it began as a joke; another nut with extraordinarily poor textual criticism skills shouting from the rooftops about the end of the world. Then it turned slightly more maddening as we realized that some naive believers were following Camping, but worse, his crazed misconceptions about Scripture and Jesus were becoming a obstacle to faith for those  searching for faith and another obstruction for those already opposed to it.

But in these last hours, I’ve become more understanding of both Camping and some of his followers, not of their eschatology, mind you, but their emotions; their longing. What if today were the rapture (which many Christians don’t believe in and haven’t historically)? What would it mean for you? Let me tell you what it’d mean for me.

If Harold were right, my mother would be reunited with her best friend, her mother. My mother might also know more or see more about her two sisters who died at the moment of childbirth.

My wife would be reunited with her father who died far too early. And my two daughters would get to meet their grandfather, a great man who loved them before he knew them.

And all the other people in our family, deceased grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins; the whole lot would come together once again, because death has been conquered by Jesus. That’s a little bit of what it would mean for me.

But it’s not only about death and resurrection, is it?

The Kingdom of God (which is not someplace you go after you die, by the way) is the place where everything is done as the King would have it done. That means, if Harold were right, my daughters, would no longer live in a world consumed with the threat of terrorism, war, or nuclear disasters and/or holocaust, or famine, nakedness, and disease. They wouldn’t even have to negotiate the terrorizing social structure of Junior High School. I wouldn’t see marriages fail and children abused. None of us would be witness to slavery, the mistreatment of women and minority groups around the world. If Harold were right, I’d never again sit next to a hospital bed with a dying parishioner. I performed the funeral for a 7-month old once, watched his mother weep uncontrollably for days, if Harold were right, I’d never have to do that again.

If Harold were right, at 6pm tonight there would be renewal breaking out across the globe, complete with a New Heavens and a New Earth. There would be singing on Zion’s glorious summit and the lion would lay down with the lamb. If Harold were right, we’d have a reconciliation celebration. If Harold were right, the Jesus I now see dimly, I would then see face-to-face.

Wouldn’t that be good?  Doesn’t part of you wish Harold were right? I do!

With all the talk about hell recently, we may have looked past the simply fact that the return of Jesus is not, in fact, Doomsday; it’s Joyday, Renewalday, Lifeday, Perfectionday. And we belong to that day!

Maranatha! Come, Oh, Lord!