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Friday, March 30, 2012

The Life of a Disciple

Jesus didn't tell us to evangelize, he told us to make disciples. But how can we make disciples if we aren't disciples to begin with?

A disciple is a student, a learner, an apprentice. It's not the same kind of student that we have today in an educational system where there are dozens of people in a classroom learning the information taught by one individual. Rather it's more like the students of Socrates, where a small group of people would live and talk with a wise mentor. The learning process is wrapped up in experience, relationship and conversation. Thoughts are tested, not on papers run through a Scantron 3000Xiii, but with debate, logic and practice. This is the model of learning  that Jesus chose with  his disciples and his final word to them were that they should go and make more disciples.

So, what do disciples look like?

Disciples are free and empowered to:

Question everything. There is nothing in faith or in the world that can't be questioned. The Psalms are full of faithful questions raised by God-followers. Jesus raised many questions about the mindless observance of the Sabbath, worship at the temple and the fundamental understanding of forgiveness. He led his disciples to ask hard questions about everything that they'd always been taught, and then he empowered them to find the answers.

Search diligently. The answers to questions don't come easily, at least not the kinds of questions a disciple asks. It takes time, energy and emotional perseverance to search out the answers to the questions. Jesus taught disciples that didn't get it right away. They would understand one bit, but then be ignorant on something else. He pushed them to keep searching, keep learning and keep questioning. He pointed them to the sources of truth and empowered them to search.

Discover truth. The search isn't over when it gets hard. The search for the answers to the difficult questions a disciple faces continues until they find truth. Often the truth  isn't what they wanted to know. The disciples of Jesus were often confronted with truths that were counter to everything they'd learned and known to that point. They had to deal with women being treated with respect, the Sabbath being re-defined, the Messiah ushering in a Kingdom that's not of this world, etc. The truth you discover will be outside of yourself. It will make you uncomfortable. If you like the conclusion that you reach, you've probably not done the work. There's a reason Jesus said that his followers would have to die to themselves.

Change in response. The life of a disciple cannot ever be just an intellectual process. It must result in changed life and action. The uncomfortable truth that you discover will lead you to realize that you need to do something differently. Jesus' disciples had to change the way they saw the widow at the temple, they had to change how they treated food, and they had to change how they understood the Kingdom of God. It wasn't easy to change. The process took years (and it was never done). The life of a disciple, the process of changing into the truth we discover, is never done. We can't rest, we can't stop.

We need to be these kind of people; we need to be disciples if we want to call other people to be disciples with us. We are calling people to the freedom of questioning everything, the wisdom of searching for answers, the work of discovering the truth and the process of changing in response.

Are you ready to make disciples?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

How to Share the Good News without being Evangelistic

Billy Graham is probably one of the best evangelists of all time. He's certainly the best of the 20th century. And I'm not him. That fact has been drilled into me for about as long as I've been studying ministry. A good preacher is an evangelist, good sermons have an invitation and the mark of success is the people streaming to the front of the room as the invitation song starts. I've never experienced that in all the time that I've preached (and I'm always scared that it will happen, because I don't know what I would do).

I've always felt defective, somehow, because I haven't converted a lot of people. I've studied with a few and baptized even fewer. That marks me as a failure. At least according to the unspoken standards that marked my church and ministry training career. I've also felt like a bad Christian in general because I'm not inviting my friends to church all the time. I don't try to convert my non-Christian friends. That makes me a double-failure.

But what if Jesus never told me to evangelize? What if he never commanded anyone to evangelize? He didn't. I know you probably don't believe me, but it's true. The verb form of evangelism in Greek is εὐαγγελίζω and Jesus never tells us to do it. Neither do the Apostles or Paul, for that matter. In the New Testament, evangelism is a spiritual gift given by the Spirit to some of the leaders in the church (Eph. 4:11-12). Billy Graham had the gift, but most estimates are that only about 10% of Christians have the gift of evangelism. That means that it's probably not you.

What did Jesus command us to do, then? He told us to go and make disciples (Matt. 28:19-20). Which is distinctly different from evangelizing. Just about everywhere in the New Testament, the verb-form of evangelism is taken to mean "preached the good news." But the word disciple relates to learning, being a student. Jesus wants us to be his students who teach other people to be his students. I'm not Billy Graham, neither are you, but we can still do what Jesus told us to do. We can make disciples, but first, we have to be disciples ourselves.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Life After Death by PowerPoint

I came across this video over at Preacher's Pen and I just had to share it. I hope you find it as funny as I do.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Personal Mission Statement Part 4 - Mission

I have no idea what this means.
The problem with a mission statement is that it usually has nothing to do with everyday life. A lot of work goes in to crafting a mission statement and then it gets displayed to the world for a while as if it's some sort of monumental achievement and then it does nothing.

A mission statement encompasses vision and values. I've been sharing my process toward crafting a personal mission statement.

Ultimately, a mission statement gives you the ability to distinguish what you should or shouldn't be doing on a daily basis. Think of it like a color swatch that you can compare to what you're painting. You can check constantly to see if you have the right hue. All it takes is a glance to remind yourself of the basis of everything you should be doing.

The problem is that most mission statements are so wordy and cumbersome that they make it impossible to use as a check for daily activity. I think that most mission statements are trying to do too much, there's this idea that they need to encompass all the beliefs, values and vision as well as the mission. But if you have separate statements that cover those other topics, you can let your mission hone in on precisely what you need to be doing on a daily basis.

Remember, the vision tells you where you're going, the mission tells you how you're going to get there. My vision is: "To educate and inspire people to meaningful action that improves their lives."

To do that my mission is: "I learn so I can teach, lead to equip and live to create."

That tells me that today, the things I need to be most concerned with are learning, teaching, leading, equipping and creating. If something on my to-do list doesn't fit into those categories then it's not very important to achieving my vision and I should stop it or minimize my time doing it. I'm writing these words, at this moment to teach, lead and equip you. My minutes of typing will be worth it if I've inspired you to work on a mission statement that will guide your life.

So, did I waste my  time today?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Personal Mission Statement Part 3 - Vision

A vision for your future
I've been sharing my journey of creating a personal mission statement in the hopes that it might inspire you to do something similar for yourself or your organization. You can read about mission statements here and about core values here. Today it's all about vision; crafting a good, compelling vision can motivate, define your goals and give your mission a fine point.

Often the terms 'vision' and 'mission' are used interchangeably (I think this is mostly because people don't know why they should have either one). But the difference is compelling. Take, for example, the vision of Kairos Church Planting:
A nationwide movement of New Churches in New Places for New People growing from the heart and fellowship of Churches of Christ. 
This statement says where they are going. It's the reason for their existence and it provides a trajectory for all activity. It's a future oriented statement that coalesces the values and passions of the organization.

Their mission, on the other hand is:
To recruit, equip and support church multiplication leaders to plant new churches—that plant more new churches—and launch regional church planting networks.  
 The mission defines what they will do to accomplish the vision. The vision gives the what and the mission describes the how. A vision statement isn't specific on the time or the measurements used to define success, but it lends itself to those measurements and specifications. So Kairos wants to be:

  •  "nationwide" -  that can be measured and defined in several ways
  • "new churches, new places, new people" - this is the core of the vision and each can be given a metric - how many churches? what places? which people? in what time? 
  • "Churches of Christ" - tells us the specific group of churches that will connect with these church plants. 
At the end of five or ten years, Kairos can look back on its vision and determine if they've been successful or not. They have a pre-defined, stationary target at which they're aiming.

My personal vision statement is:
I will educate and inspire people to meaningful action that improves their skills, marriages and obedience to Jesus.
This gives me some clear and objective ways to measure my personal success:

  • Number of people I've mentored.
  • Number of people who've heard my message.
    • Through book sales, speaking engagements and blog posts
  • Number of people familiar with my message.
  • Activities inspired by my teaching. 
How will you know if you've achieved your vision? What are you aiming at today? 

Monday, March 19, 2012

Personal Mission Statement Part 2 - Values

Mission statements are a waste of time. That is, if no one in the organization wants to change or grow. Don't take the time to write your own mission statement or to craft a mission statement for your organization if you don't want to do anything differently. The truth is that you are doing exactly what you need to do to get the results that you're getting. Your organization is ideally suited to achieve what you've achieved.

But, if you want to do something different. If you want to see real change and movement toward a goal, then a mission statement can help. The idea is to balance description, prescription and prediction in one statement. What this often leads to is huge, messy, cumbersome paragraphs that try to encompass everything that a person or organization values. You can't do that in one statement and if you try, it'll be worse than useless. It's like packing your back for vacation - you can't take everything you have at home. You have to choose just what you need for the trip and leave the rest behind.

Start with figuring out your values. These are the things that you get passionate about that make you unique. Your beliefs underlie your values and may not be unique, but your values are the beliefs that keep coming up. When you find yourself gravitating toward certain topics or getting excited about specific actions, you can know that you're touching on your values. Spend some time writing down your skills, abilities and personality traits. What picture emerges for you?

Here are my values:

·         Understanding: Knowledge and intelligence are tools for personal and corporate change. Without taking time to understand an issue, a solution cannot be formulated. However, knowledge and intelligence must motivate action.
·         Experimenting: Trying different options is the best way to find the right one. The process of disciplined experimentation makes the end-product better. Without failure, progress is stunted and slow. All experimentation must happen in the context of understanding. It then adds to the understanding and provides fodder for further experimentation.
·         Inspiring: Deep understanding and refined experimenting must be shared with others and move them to action. Stasis is tantamount to death, aimless activity is not much better. Inspired, thoughtful, risk-taking action, however, can move individuals and organizations toward growth and health. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Personal Mission Statement Part 1

I've been reading EntreLeadership: 20 Years of Practical Business Wisdom from the Trenches by Dave Ramsey. It's the story of how he built a business from nothing but a card table in his living room into a multi-million dollar operation. It's the principles that have allowed him to run a business that honors both his customers and his team members (he doesn't call them employees because he wants people who are sold out to his mission).

One of the first steps recommended in the book is to write a personal mission statement. I've helped several churches craft mission statements, I've created a mission statement for my marriage, but I'd never written a personal mission statement. So on Saturday I took several hours and wrote out my mission, vision and values.

Every time I've walked with a church through the process of creating a mission statement I've said: "A good mission statement lets you say 'no' to good choices."

If you have a mission statement that actually reflects the unique mission of your organization, then you you can limit your involvement in activities to only those things that line up with your purpose. For example, if you run a thrift store, you should probably not get into the business of home remodeling. It's not a part of your mission, even though it may be a good thing.

Mission - is what you are going to do today to live the life you want to live. These are the tactics you will employ to achieve your goals. What you do may change, but your mission defines the parameters of what you do and describes how you're going to do it.

Vision - is where you are going in the future. This is the strategy you've decided on to achieve your goals. A vision is typically couched in broad language, but underlying each statement is a SMART goal. You can look back in 5 or 10 years and see that you've accomplished your vision because you've achieved the goals.

Values - are the core principles that outline your vision and undergird your vision. Values are more than just what you believe, they are what you get excited about. When someone challenges your values, you get angry. When someone is interested in your values, you get excited. You can't stop talking about your values and people know this about you. If you read off the list of your values, your closest friends and family should see a clear picture of you.

Have you worked on a personal mission statement? How has it helped you?

Note, the link to the book is an affiliate link and I earn a small commission on any purchases made through it.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Do you Hack Your Technology?

What computer should I get? I hear that question a lot. I'm a tech-oriented guy so it's common for me to be the consultant for friends and family looking for new gear. But, the longer I've been doing this, the more my answer has changed. I used to answer the question based on my personal preferences, but then I discovered that people may not be happy with the same thing I'm happy using. There's one main reason behind it.

I like to hack my technology.

Not everyone likes to get inside a computer (or smartphone or TV or game console or battery charger) and figure out how it works and how it can be made to work better. In fact, some people hate that process. For me it's similar to auto repair. If I could afford it, I would never lift the hood of my car again. I really don't like it. I've gone in and replaced alternators, CV arms, exhaust manifolds and even a clutch, but I hated every minute of it. I only did it because I couldn't afford to pay someone else to do it for me.

Some people hate to mess with their technology. That's okay by me, but if I know that, I won't recommend tech that is conducive to hacking. For example, I have an Android smartphone. I've been running a custom operating system on it for years now and I enjoy messing with the settings. My wife has the same model phone, but she's running the stock OS. She feels similarly about technology the way that I do about car repair, it's not beyond her ability, she just doesn't want to mess with it.

Other people can't hack their own technology. I know that I couldn't make my own clothes, I wouldn't even know where to start. I just want to go into the store and buy them and then they work. This is a common attitude about tech. What that leaves us with is a continuum. One one end are the people who hack things apart and do as much themselves as possible. At the other end are people who want to do and know nothing about the inner workings. Most of us lie somewhere in the middle.

I like to hack my technology, but I'm not soldering my own circuit boards or modding computer cases. I know that I'll buy a ready-made computer or smartphone and then make it work for my needs. When it comes time for you to buy your next piece of technology, ask yourself how much you want to hack it, because the computers and phones out there also run on a continuum of how hackable they are. Typically Apple products are the least hackable and the easiest to work right out of the box. Windows and Android products are more hackable, but still work out of the box as well. If you want a complete hacking experience, you'll probably load a custom distribution of Linux onto a computer you built yourself, there is no box.

Where you do land on the spectrum? Do you hack your technology?

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Standing Desk - Month 1

I've been running an experiment with a standing desk for one month now. You can read about my experience (here, here, here and here). One month out, it's become clear that I can't stand all the live-long-day. At least not yet.

I kept hitting this point where my brain would shut down. I would be trying to write article or a blog post and instead of being productive and creative, I would get progressively more distracted. I realized that it was physical tiredness that was keeping me from being able to think. I know that standing shouldn't be that exhausting for me, and physically it wasn't, but mentally I kept hitting a wall.

But the same thing happened if I sat too long before starting the standing desk experiment. So, my solution over the last couple weeks has been to alternate. When I'm tired of standing, I sit and when I'm tired of sitting, I stand. This has been helpful for me during times when I'm more physically tired and I can't stand as long without experiencing mental fatigue. It gives me the flexibility to choose what's best for me from hour to hour and day to day. Whereas having an all-standing or all-sitting desk would lock me in to one situation, and my mental productivity would suffer at times.

What tools do you use to maintain mental productivity? How do you find your mind and your body are tied together?

Monday, March 05, 2012

It's not PowerPoint's Fault!

Over at SlideShare they posted this fantastic presentation on the difference between the tools and the tool-wielder. The premise is that blaming PowerPoint for poor presentations is like blaming a car for an accident. Without the driver, the car wouldn't move an inch. Without a presenter, PowerPoint won't do anything. It's up to the presenter to do their job well, not PowerPoint. And it's the fault of the presenter if the presentation is terrible, not PowerPoint.

I agree completely, it's not right to eschew PowerPoint just because people have made some terrible PowerPoint presentations. For a long time I wouldn't eat ribs because all I'd ever eaten was Tony Roma's sauce-soaked strips of rubber. But then I moved to Memphis and had real barbecue. Juicy, tender meat that falls off the bone and is so flavorful that it doesn't need a sauce at all. If I would have continued in my assumption that I didn't like ribs, then I would have missed out on one of the best things in life.

Memphis style ribs I made.
 I never would have learned how to make my own ribs (and other slow-smoked barbecue), if I would have persisted in the assumption that the problem was with ribs or barbecue. Don't make the same mistake with PowerPoint. It's a tool that can be used to do amazing things, or it can be completely ruined. Don't blame the tool, though. Learn to use it well and you'll be amazed by the results.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Windows 8 Consumer Preview (First Impressions)

Windows 8's new Metro UI
I downloaded and installed the Windows 8 Consumer Preview the day it came out (Wednesday) and I've been running it since then on a secondary computer. I wanted to share some of my impressions about the new OS that Microsoft has launched.

Metro UI: This is probably the biggest change, and the most visible. The Start button is gone (all the way gone, unlike in the Developer Preview where you could revert back with some registry edits). All your programs live in the Metro UI interface (well sort of). When you first start up you see this arrangement of multi-colored tiles (pictured) that give you all the options on your computer. Right up front is the Internet Explorer tile, a Store tile, a Mail tile and a Messaging tile. All of which link to the Microsoft apps for those utilities. The apps that launch when you click are also in the Metro UI scheme, so you get a very touch friendly version of IE or the mail app. The problem is, touch friendly translates into mouse & keyboard un-friendly. It's a frustrating experience to figure out navigating through things (here's a hint, right-click is essential to see everything you need to get around). But what's even more annoying is that you're only a click or two away from a Windows 7-like desktop. If you try to use any plugin (any plugin at all) in the Metro IE, you'll be redirected to the desktop version of the app. Once you get out of the Metro interface it's jarring to have to suddenly shift your working to "typical" Windows actions after you've been shifting your thinking to the Metro style.

Desktop: When running Windows 8 in the desktop mode, it's fast, responsive and feels good. It's like a polished version of Windows 7. All your favorites are there, the jump lists, program pinning, aero snap and all those goodies. They've also made some improvements to the task manager and windows explorer that are quite nice. But, when you go to launch a new program you're faced with a gaping hole (in your heart?) on the task bar - there's no more Start button. If you point to the lower left corner of the screen you see a pop-up of the Metro UI screen or if you press the Windows key, you get the Metro screen. That is your new Start button (and you'd better like it). If you start typing the great Windows search will automatically start looking for the file or program you want (just like in Windows 7). If you right-click you can select "All Apps" to see a more Start-Menu-ey list of programs on your computer. But that's the best you're going to get.

Impressions: Windows 8 wants to bridge the gap between tablets, phones and computers, but it ends up leaving computers in the back corner weeping softly. In order to make it easier for touch-based devices to get around, Microsoft has put barriers in the way for non-touch devices. I'm running into the Metro UI far too often and it doesn't offer me anything good or helpful. I don't want to use Bing for search or IE for browsing (the apps look good, but the functionality is the same or less than other programs). And I don't want to be locked into a full-screen app view when I'm working on a computer. That might work for tablets, but I'm switching between programs too much to do the same on a desktop or laptop.

You can download Windows 8 here if you want to give it a try.

What do you think? What do you want to know about?