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.
Art can be difficult to understand. Since my daughter is an art student, I’ve had the opportunity to visit two of the Midwest’s finest art galleries. As I wandered through those quiet halls, I felt immersed in the paradox of knowing what I viewed but not really knowing what I viewed. While I appreciate art, I need help to understand it. For example, I once read that Vincent Van Gogh used the color yellow to symbolize the divine. That insight brought to life his famous painting, “Starry Night.”
The Gospel of John is like that for me. Matthew writes with the precision of a tax accountant. Mark displays a unique understanding of the humanity of the story line. Luke pens his witness with the care and concern of a physician. John, however, writes with an artist’s paint brush. While his words sometimes seem clouded, they should have resonated to some degree with his Jewish audience.
John’s Christmas narrative is not like that of Matthew and Luke, who cite times, locations and people. John’s version of the Christmas story goes like this.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-5, 14)
The first thing that John points out in his Gospel is that Jesus is the Living Word. We know about words. Words are a means of communication; the expression of oneself to another. So the first thing John wants us to know about Christmas is that God is trying to say something to the world. God is speaking. So what is God trying to communicate?
God wanted us to know that Jesus is divine. He wasn’t created at birth, he was pre-existent before time and space came to be. To emphasize this, John reminds us that Jesus played a vital role in the creation of the world that he has come to reclaim and redeem.
God wanted us to know that Jesus offers us tremendous possibilities. “Words create worlds,” as my friend Bryan Rose likes to say. The Word brought forth life, and from life comes light. John is reminding us that the first day of creation was the creation of light. Light is important because it reveals. That is true of any light from the nightlight in your bathroom to the surgical lamps of the operating room. Light reveals what is there and what is not, and enables us to see to take the next step.
Finally, God wanted us to know that the Living Word is filled with promise. He came full of grace and truth. Jesus’ unfailing love and faithfulness offers two things to us this Advent season. In Jesus, God is promising that he will never stop loving us and that he will never abandon us. No matter who we are, where we are, or what we have done, his grace and truth is relentless.
In order to make all of this happen, “the word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Or, as Eugene Peterson wrote in The Message, “The Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood.” That’s what Christmas is about. The Word becoming flesh and moving into the neighborhood.
One of my interests is reading about neuroscience and how the brain works. This title was especially captivating to me because I am right brained and was optimistic that this book would help me understand why my brain functions the way it does. While Pink’s book does deliver some basic information about both hemisphere’s of the brain, his work is more about how using both sides to move past the information age into the remainder of this century.
Most of the text on the right hemisphere of the brain is basic. For example,
The left side is sequential while the right side is simultaneous.
The left side is the 1,000 words while the right side is the picture.
The left side specializes in text while the right side specializes in context.
The left side handles what is said while the right side handles how it was said.
The left side is about attention to detail while the right side is the big picture.
The left side is analysis while the right side is about synthesis.
The left side thinks in categories while the right side thinks in relationships.
Ultimately, Pink writes, to be healthy you have to use both hemisphere’s.
Pink offers that the left hemisphere has led the way in our careers and our economy to date, however we are now seeing many of our jobs outsourced to people overseas who can do the same kind of work for pennies on the dollar. So how does the right hemisphere help us maintain our competitive edge? By developing six senses related to the right side of the brain.
It’s not just function, but also design that values both utility and significance.
2. It’s not just argument, but also story where we learn to fashion a compelling narrative.
3. It’s not just focus, but also symphony where we combine disparate pieces into an arresting new whole.
4. It’s not just logic, but also empathy that enters into what other’s see and feel.
5. It’s not just seriousness, but also play that adds value to what we know.
6. It’s not just accumulation, but also meaning so that we find purpose, transcendence and spiritual fulfillment.
Again, it’s not one engineers versus artists. It’s both/and.
I found Pink’s book to be interesting and very helpful. If you’re interested in this sort of stuff, perhaps you will too.
Within a few short hours Americans will make their way to their precincts to cast their ballot for the next President of the United States. I have not missed a presidential election since I became eligible to vote 35 years ago. At no time during my brief allotment of ballots have I sensed this level of anxiety among the electorate. This election has dominated both our television screens and our personal conversations. As I have listened to people I have become increasingly concerned with the observation that this high level of anxiety is no different among people of faith as those who do not have any religious leanings.
To the people of faith who may stumble upon this simple post, I offer the words of Old Testament King David, who penned these words:
“Some nations boast of their chariots and horses, but we boast in the name of the Lord our God.” (Psalm 20:7, NLT)
On Wednesday, November 9, we will awaken to our alarms and discover that the sun has still risen. And more importantly, God will still be on his throne.