For almost a decade I served a denominational youth camp as the leader of a group of students who were either going to be seniors or who had just graduated from high school. Those experiences were always the highlight of the summer! The worship was outstanding, and the speakers that presented each evening dynamic beyond belief. Students developed new relationships with others. They also strengthened their relationship with God. For each of us it felt like one of those “mountaintop experiences.”
Though the curriculum was strong throughout the week, the most important lesson I taught was the last one, scheduled immediately before students would depart for home. The lesson was brief, only 30 minutes or so, and was simply titled, “Re-Entry.”
The point of this most important lesson was to remind the students that though they had just completed a transformational experience of meaningful growth, complete with emotional and spiritual high points, they were going to return to families, friends, class mates, and churches who had not been to camp. In other words, just because they had been away at camp did not mean those at home had experienced similar things. They needed to be prepared for that truth. Just because those at home had not enjoyed the same journey in no way invalidated the journey. They just needed to know that they were responsible to feed and fuel the next 51 weeks of their journey.
The Art of Forgiving was introduced to me a few years ago by a friend who highly recommended it for its sensible practicality and common sense. Its brief, a mere 178 pages long, but contains helpful counsel to those who struggle with the concept of forgiveness. Perhaps the most helpful element of the book is Smedes’ explanation of what forgiveness is not. This would suggest that one of the primary obstacles we have to forgiving those who have wounded us is the false expectation of what forgiving looks like, how it is done, and the aftermath that follows. If you are such a person, I would recommend this simple book. As a way of piquing your interest, I have added below some of the better quotes listed in the book’s postscript.
“The most creative power given to the human spirit is the power to heal the wounds of a past it cannot change.”
“We do our forgiving alone inside our hearts and minds; what happens to the people we forgive depends on them.”
“The first person to benefit from forgiving is the one who does it.”
“Forgiving happens in three stages: We rediscover the humanity of the person who wronged us, we surrender our right to get even, and we wish that person well.”
“We forgive people only for what they do, never for what they are.”
“We forgive people only for wounding and wronging us; we do not forgive people for things we do not blame them for.”
“We cannot forgive a wrong unless we first blame the person who wronged us.”
“Forgiving is a journey; the deeper the wound, the longer the journey.”
“Forgiving does not require us to reunite with the person who broke our trust.”
“We do not forgive because we are supposed to; we forgive when we are ready to be healed.”
“Waiting for someone to repent before we forgive is to surrender our future to the person who wronged us.”
“Forgiving is not a way to avoid pain but to heal pain.”
“Forgiving is best done when it is done intolerantly.”
“Forgiving is the only way to be fair to ourselves.”
“Forgivers are not doormats; to forgive a person is not a signal that we are willing to put up with what he does.”
“We do not excuse the person we forgive; we blame the person we forgive.”
“Forgiving is essential; talking about it is optional.”
“When we forgive, we set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner we set free is us.”
“When we forgive we walk in stride with the forgiving God.”
“The main benefit that is obtained by preaching is by impression made upon the mind in the time of it, and not by an effect that arises afterwards by a remembrance of what was delivered.”–Jonathan Edwards
One of the challenges to preaching is placing an inordinate amount of pressure upon the content that is delivered. Preachers aspire to make truth memorable, if not quotable. After spending hours pouring over manuscripts in preparation and ultimately delivery of the sermon, preachers wonder why their words are forgotten by the time their congregations unfold their napkins for Sunday lunch.
I think this is because we have misguided impressions as to the impact of one sermon. In reality, it is the cumulative volume of a body of work that has the lasting impact on the lives of church members.
The year following the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, President Thomas Jefferson commissioned Captain Meriwether Lewis to find the most direct and practical water route across the continent from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean for the purposes of commerce. For over 300 years explorers from at least four sovereign nations had been looking for a pathway that would lead from the Mississippi River all the way through the North America to the Pacific. Lewis was joined by Second Lieutenant William Clark and together formed the Corps of Discovery to under take the challenge from President Jefferson.
The Corps of Discovery began with a faulty assumption. Everyone was certain that the water route to the Pacific was there. All they needed to do was discover it. But they were wrong. There was no passage. When Lewis and Clark came to the end of the river they realized that nothing before them was like anything they had experienced that was behind them. There were no manuals, maps or journals that could help them. They literally marched off the map into the unknown.
What the Corps of Discovery learned over 200 years ago is what we are learning today in the life of our church. The world of ministry is not like anything we have experienced in the past. The cultural landscape has changed to the degree that our assumptions about reaching and serving are experiencing diminishing returns.
Today we are recognizing that many of the ministries we found to be effective in the past are no longer having the same impact today. Like Lewis and Clark, we must realize that we are marching into an age where our canoes may no longer help us reach our destiny. Like the Corps of Discovery, we are finding the need to trade our canoes for horses so that we can stay focused on the mission. Those who choose to love their canoes more than the mission will risk becoming stuck at the headwaters of the river and fail to reach the ultimate goal.
I really enjoyed the holiday break, using the opportunity to read several books. One title that I finished this morning was Mindset: How We Can Learn to Fulfill our Potential, by Carol Dweck. The premise of the book is simple. People either have a growth mindset or a fixed mindset, and depending on your particular bent, it can make or break you.
My interest was captured early in the book as the author cited research claiming that if one took a classroom of students and complimented half of the them on “how smart they are,” then complimented the other half on “how hard they work,” those who were complimented on their hard work would out perform those who were complimented on their intelligence.
So what is the difference?
A fixed mindset believes that intelligence is innate and static. In other words, a person is either smart or not. Those with a growth mindset, however, believe that intelligence can be developed and cultivated depending on their responses to particular life circumstances. Dweck summarizes as follows:
A fixed mindset avoids challenges while a growth mindset embraces them.
A fixed mindset gets defensive or gives up easily when faced with challenges while a growth mindset persists in the face of setbacks.
A fixed mindset avoids potential failure while a growth mindset seeks to learn from failure in order to improve.
A fixed mindset sees effort as fruitless while a growth mindset sees effort as the pathway to mastery.
A fixed mindset hears criticism and ignores useful negative feedback while a growth mindset strives to learn from criticism.
A fixed mindset feels threatened by the success of others while a growth mindset finds lessons and inspiration from the success of others.
As a result, those with a fixed mindset may plateau early in life and fail to live up to their potential. Those with a growth mindset will reach ever-higher levels of achievement.
Dr. Dweck, who serves as the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, has plenty of hard research as well as human interest stories to support her findings. It is a book that would be very helpful to those who believe that growth remains a possibility and that the best is yet to be.
Today is New Year’s, so I imagine many of you have either set goals or made some form of resolution for 2017. One of the problems we encounter with setting resolutions is that each resolution is accompanied by some kind of statement like, “I’m off to a fresh start,” or “I’m going to turn over a new leaf,” or “I’m going to begin a new chapter.”
The problem with these statements is that they are not real. There are no new chapters in life. Only next chapters. Edwin Friedman rightfully said it this way in his book Failure of Nerve: “Just because a page is torn off the calendar doesn’t mean that unit of time no longer exists.”
We can’t behave as though life hasn’t happened. But we can learn from each experience and move forward. The success we achieved cannot become our ceiling, and the failures we encountered cannot become our identity. So we’re faced with the choice to either move on as though things didn’t happen or matter, or to move forward with a growth mindset that is willing to learn, adapt and apply. I choose to move forward. I hope you do as well.
Happy New Year! Here’s to the next chapter of our lives!
I heard the author, Sam Weinman, interviewed on a local sports talk station about his new book, Win at Losing. He was so engaging and passionate about his book I pulled into a convenience store and one-clicked it. It took me about four sittings to finish it. Weinman is a skilled writer, but by the end of the book you feel like he’s the guy who lives down the street at the end of the cul-de-sac. He is transparent with his own relationship to winning and losing, especially when it comes to coaching his own children in sports. Birthed out of those experiences he dove into the lives of 10 people who had experienced loss. Weinman interviewed celebrities from the world of sports, politics, business and entertainment and discovered valuable lessons to help all of us who have experienced loss in some form or another. The book is very utilitarian, therefore anyone with any life experience at all would benefit from reading it.
I came across this blogpost and thought it was exceptional. We generally don’t think of ourselves having this struggle, but given the frequency that Scripture discusses it must mean the problem has been around for a long time. If you have a few minutes, I’d encourage you to read it. If it doesn’t help you directly, I’m certain that this is a helpful tool that you can put into the hands of someone who could benefit from it. You can find the article by Tony Reinke HERE.
There’s a lot of pressure that comes with finding out you’re about to have a baby, not the least of which is what to name it. My wife, who is a school teacher, and I set forth specific ground rules for what name to pick. It couldn’t be the name of someone either of us had dated. I couldn’t be a name that could be easily made fun of on the playground. It couldn’t be the name of a naughty school child or a difficult church member. Once all of those names were ruled out we were in business.
We even went so far as to purchase a couple of those “baby name” books to see what particular names meant.
Of all the names associated with Christ at his birth, the most familiar by far is the name Jesus. The name Jesus appears some 700 times in the New Testament. Unlike us, Joseph and Mary didn’t have to come up with that one. God instructed them before his birth what he would be called.
“Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!” (Luke 1:30-33, NLT)
When we had each of our children, the first question we got was “What did you name the baby?” When the Deatrick’s have a baby, it gets a name. When the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have a baby, people want to know what it shall be called. That may seem like splitting hairs for us in North America, but its a big deal among countries that still have monarchy’s. To the royals, babies are “called.” Its a formal act that is replete with character, reputation, and dignity. That’s the idea behind the naming of Jesus. It’s not just a name. Its the right of royalty.
The name Jesus itself means “Yahweh saves,” which would have reminded the original readers of Luke of all kinds of Old Testament salvation stories. Matthew 1:21 takes it one step further and explains, “for he shall save his people from their sins.”
This baby would be great, literally megas, from which we derive our English word mega. While we generally use the word great loosely, there is a more formal understanding of the word from the world of mathematics. In mathematics, the word mega denotes 10 to the power of 6, or one million. That is something that is quantifiable for us, but the greatness of Jesus exceeds even our basic math comprehension. So how then, is Jesus revealed to us as great? There are three manifestations of Jesus’ greatness that Luke calls out.
First, he is great in his relationship to the heavenly Father. He is “Son of the Most High.” This points to his divine sonship. He is great because he is the Son of God. He is great because he is God.
Next, he is great in his role as the Messiah. Luke’s references to throne and rule points to his Davidic Messiahship. Jesus’ sonship precedes his Messiahship.
Finally, he is great in his rule as the everlasting king. His kingdom knows no end. The sonship yields the Messiahship, which in turn yields the Kingdom of God. This kingdom is not the geo-political kind, but a spiritual movement where God rules in the hearts of humankind and his will is actually done on earth as it is in heaven.
So what does that mean for you on the Christmas Day? Who is Jesus in relationship to you personally? The fact that Jesus is great reveals that we are not and cannot be without him. One of the greatest dangers that Christmas presents to each of us is the temptation to leave the baby in the manger. Yes, Christ was born as a baby in Bethlehem long ago. But if you leave the baby in the manger you miss the entire point of why he came. Because he is the Son of God the has the authority to serve as the Messiah sent from God to be the Savior of the world. As Savior, he has the right to rule in your heart and mine. I don’t want to rob you of the joy of Christmas in the slightest. But if you leave the baby in the manger, all you’ll end up with at the end of your life is warm sentimentality and not a relationship with the creator and redeemer of the universe.
When my wife went into labor with our third child things progressed more rapidly than we anticipated. By the time we arrived in the birthing suite it was time to deliver. The nursing staff called the doctor whose office was just a few blocks away. When she returned, she calmed stated, “The doctor is near.” At that moment, nearness offered little if any comfort. My daughter would be brought into the world by a complete stranger, a doctor on call that we had not seen before or since.
There is a big difference between being near and being here. That difference is the calming promise of Immanuel, “God with us.”
In 734 BC, the people of Judah were under duress. The armies of Israel joined forces with the armies of Aram to overtake Jerusalem. The prophetic word of encouragement from Isaiah was not what King Ahaz was not what he was expecting. “The Lord himself will give you a sign. The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14) That prophecy came to Judah during a dark time of adversity. The most comforting words the prophet could offer was, “God is here.”
Fast forward seven centuries and we learn that little had changed for the people. Under the oppressive rule of the Roman Empire, people were looking for hope and comfort. Again, the word of the Lord came to them. “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a Son, and they will call him ‘Immanuel,’ which means ‘God with us.'” (Matthew 1:23)
When God came to us through Jesus, he didn’t come as hoped or expected. Messianic expectations were focused on a military leader like David who would deliver the land from the unrighteous Roman rule. Jesus came to meet the deepest needs of the people, the needs far deeper than geo-political freedom and restoration. How does he meet our deepest needs?
I believe Isaiah 9:6 sheds light on the kind of presence God offered then and now. “And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
As Wonderful Counselor he is available to reveal the ultimate root causes of our need and point to the appropriate remedy.
As the Mighty God he has the power to enable us to experience the true transformation we seek.
As the Everlasting Father he reminds us that we belong and that we are loved unconditionally.
As the Prince of Peace he provides the true peace we need, peace with God.
The Gospels emphasize the presence of God in our lives. In fact, God’s presence bookends the story of Jesus. At his birth, he is Immanuel, God with us. At his ascension his parting words were, “And lo, I am with you always.” (Matthew 28:20)
The Christmas story is about, in part, the fact that God is not near. He is here.