Friday, May 30, 2014

King David’s Steps to Success… Via Succession

In a meeting last week I was accused of being a governance nerd. Guilty as charged… I may be a bit too fascinated with the structures and systems that allow organizations to work. I read articles of incorporation, corporate policy manuals, and bylaws for fun.

In my daily Bible reading a few days ago I noticed a governance approach that could be a useful model, specifically as it relates to succession. As I’ve written before, a few times, there is no success without succession.

The passage is found in 1 Chronicles 28-29 as David hands the throne off to his son Solomon. Here are some of the key steps that David took to ensure success through succession:

David Publicly Proclaimed His Support
David made it clear that his success would be judged by the success of his successor… not in comparison to his successor’s failures. It seems that some former leaders are happiest when they can point out the shortcomings of their successor… as if their successor’s weakness reveals their true strength. Leaders who tear down their successors don’t build up their own reputation; they make themselves look pitifully small.

David Charged His Successor to Lead, Rather Than Charging His Subjects to Follow 

While it was certainly implied that David wanted his followers to transfer their loyalty to Solomon, David’s charge was directed at Solomon to lead. Charging the followers to follow could only result in short-term success. For long-term success, Solomon would have to step up and lead.

Furthermore, David’s charge was not primarily a matter of tactics or even strategy; it was a charge of character. “And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you” (1 Chronicles 28:9).

David Left Plans for the Future 
It seems that some new leaders desire a fresh start… free from the shackles of the former leaders’ old ways of doing things. That is certainly understandable when strategic plans and governance systems seem most concerned about preserving the past. In those cases, set the captives free… allow them to do a new thing!

But often the more excellent way (especially in complex organizations) is accomplished when new leaders are empowered with inspired plans and governance systems that are focused on the future. David gave Solomon “the plans of all that the Spirit had put in his mind” (1 Chronicles 28:12).

David’s Last Act Was to Give 
This step may be the one most in conflict with how we normally do things. In our day of golden parachutes, severance packages, and retirement gifts, it is customary for leaders to leave with a little extra in their pockets.

But David not only left plans, an organization prepared to work, and treasuries filled ready to build the Temple; David dedicated his own treasure to the success of his successor. He made a lead gift for the capital campaign that challenged the whole community, and secured the building of the Temple. “The people rejoiced at the willing response of their leaders, for they had given freely and wholeheartedly to the Lord” (1 Chronicles 29:9). 

Fundraising 101 teaches that successful campaigns always include giving from the leaders; an especially successful campaign also includes the full support (and sacrificial giving) of former leaders too.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

I Don’t Know

I listen to most episodes of the Freakonomics podcast. I’ve often said that if I could just stop my life and go back to school, I might try to get into a Ph.D. program in economics. I think there is some interesting work to be accomplished on the edge where the worlds of faith and the worlds of economics meet.

The Freakonomics guys just released a new book: Think Like a Freak. Employing the basic rules of cross-channel marketing, the podcast features topics lifted from the book. Last week I listened to the podcast based on chapter two titled: The Three Hardest Words in the English Language. They are: I Don’t Know.

The podcast (and chapter 2 in the book, of course) provides wonderful examples that make it clear how we often go to great lengths to avoid those three hardest words. They would set up experiments in which the subjects could not possibly know the answer to a question, yet they would answer with certainty or at least make what they thought was a pretty good guess… anything but say “I don’t know.” Then there were cases in which subjects were asked ridiculous questions like “which is heavier, yellow or red?” or “which is more angry, my sweater or my pants?” and subjects would answer, often with an associated rationale. We’ll go to great lengths to avoid admitting that we don’t know.

For the purposes of their book, the point the Freakonomics guys make is that if we are going to think like a freak, we have to start from a place where presuppositions, dogmas, prejudices, and such are set aside. Then the productive work of discovery and problem solving can commence.

I’ve worked in cultures where the words “I don’t know” have apparently been stricken from the lexicon. The corollary phrase is “fake it ‘til you make it.” I’ve been in sales organizations, corporate environments, and institutions of higher education where it seemed that saying “I don’t know” was a sign of weakness or even incompetence.

I’ll admit it… the words “I don’t know” have not easily rolled off my tongue for most of my professional life.

I suppose some of this springs from a modernist way of thinking that asserts that everything can be known; it is just a matter of effort. And everything important should be known.

It seems that some of the most insufferable people are those who will not say “I don’t know.” It is hard to like a know-it-all. Of all know-it-alls, Christian know-it-alls can be the worst. How is it that we mortals who worship omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience insist that we know it all? It seems to me that our proximity to omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience should reveal how little we know.

For the past several days, since listening to the podcast and reading the first chapters of the book, I’ve been listening to Christians talk. It seems to me that we routinely say “I know” when what we really mean is “I believe.” I think it reveals that we’ve bought the modernists’ lie, that knowing is more powerful than believing. In the modern age, I suppose it was effective to position Christianity as the place where we have all the answers.

But we don’t live in the modern age anymore.

In this post-modern age, I wonder if we are repelling pre-believers with our insistence that we know all the answers. I wonder if we are building walls instead of bridges with our answers to questions that nobody is asking. I wonder if we are missing an opportunity to invite other to believe. 

I don’t know.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Prayers Unanswered

Last Sunday (Mother’s Day at Pleasant Bay) I spoke from the end of 2 Corinthians 1 on prayer. I referenced a C.S. Lewis essay, a favorite of my friend Merlin, titled The Efficacy of Prayer (from a collection: The World's Last Night). It was a great resource when considering questions about how and why prayer works.

I didn’t spend much time talking about when prayer doesn’t appear to work… when prayer appears to go unanswered. Lewis reflects on this near the end of his essay. He noticed that it appears that prayer (especially petitionary prayer for ourselves) seems to be more effective when we are less mature in the faith. During our infancy and childhood in the Faith, it could be that we get more of what we ask for… but as we mature we may not get simple provision, but rather gifts of patience and such in order to persevere in the Faith.

Maybe the best tact for mature Christians is to focus on intercessory prayer for others. When it comes to our needs we ought to find new Christians to pray for us. (There’s a good motivation to be evangelists, and keep ourselves around new Christians!)

When it comes to prayers (unanswered and answered), Lewis’ final sentence is stunning. I’ll provide it here in the context of the last paragraph:

Does God then forsake just those who serve Him best? Well, He who served Him best of all said, near His tortured death, “Why hast thou forsaken me?” When God becomes man, that Man, of all others, is least comforted by God, at His greatest need. There is a mystery here which, even if I had the power, I might not have the courage to explore. Meanwhile, little people like you and me, if our prayers are sometimes granted, beyond all hope and probability, had better not draw hasty conclusions to our own advantage. If we were stronger, we might be less tenderly treated. If we were braver, we might be sent, with far less help, to defend far more desperate posts in the great battle.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

God of the Second Best

Now when the Lord spoke to Moses in Egypt, he said to him, “I am the Lord. Tell Pharaoh king of Egypt everything I tell you.” But Moses said to the Lord, “Since I speak with faltering lips, why would Pharaoh listen to me?” Then the Lord said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron will be your prophet. You are to say everything I command you, and your brother Aaron is to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go out of his country.” (Exodus 6:28-7:2)

Each of us has a set of tools in our toolbox. I have a few tools in my top tray… the kinds of things I think I do best. Some of them seem to result from the way I’m wired, while others have been acquired and refined through education and experience. And then I have a few other tools down below the top tray… the kinds of things I think I do second best.

It appears that Moses thought that public speaking was, for him, a second-best tool. Regardless of God’s call, Moses objected; he apparently could only approach Pharaoh with his first-best tools. So if there was public speaking involved, God was going to have to come up with another plan. The thing is… as we continue to read, the Biblical account makes it clear that Moses must have gotten over himself and put his second-best tools to work since he did a lot of public speaking, both in front of his people and in front of Pharaoh.

Recently I sensed God’s call to volunteer to help some friends. At least from my perspective, I had top-tray tools in my toolbox that suited part of their challenge… the kinds of things that come naturally for me… the kinds of things that I have a graduate degree in… the kinds of things that are accompanied by a track record of success. But there was not room this time for me to help, at least not with my first-best tools. So, not sensing any release from God’s call, I went to one of my second-best tools: prayer.

I suppose I should be embarrassed; it seems that prayer ought to be a first-best tool for a pastor… I’m just being honest here. I certainly believe in the vital importance of the work of prayer. I spoke about it at Pleasant Bay just last Sunday. Prayer (intercessory prayer in this case) is certainly a well-worn tool in my toolbox… it is just not quite in the top-tray for me, and it was not my first choice for this particular challenge.

The point is... we should not turn our back on an opportunity to serve just because it does not appear to match our top-tray tools.

I wonder… it could be that the thing that makes us or breaks us is how well we handle our second-best tools. I don’t know that anyone only gets to operate with top-tray, first-best tools. If there are people like that, it must be a tiny minority. Most of us have to get along doing a lot of work with our second-best tools. It could be that how we use those second-best tools has more to do with our success than our use of our first-best tools.

A couple of thoughts about second-best tools

Second-best tools require more effort to be used well. When the work is important and requires our second-best tools, we have to concentrate and work hard at it to be successful. It could be that sometimes that is the point; the process is often a big part of the result of our work. Sometimes the work we do (or the work in us) requires just that sort of deliberateness.

Second-best tools seldom get you any credit. In my experience, we are seldom front-and-center and in the spotlight when we are going about our work with our second-best tools. When it is time to use our second-best tools, we should not expect any fame or credit… second-best-tool time is just a different season. It is often a season to only support others.

Second-best tools can feel safer. There can be a certain comfort in operating with our second-best tools. Working with our first-best tools can feel risky, especially if we feel vulnerable or our self-esteem is damaged. There are people who keep their first-best tools tucked away… hidden so that they cannot be marred by misuse, criticism, or failure. Sometimes when we are settling to only use our second-best tools we really should be courageously using our first-best tools

Second-best tools often compliment first-best tools. It seems that, in most cases, we will not even get a chance to use our first-best tools unless we are willing to bring along and use our second-best tools too.

Second-best tools are still important tools. It is easy for people to identify their first-best tools as special gifts from God… but all the tools in our toolbox are gifts from God… tools to be used… tools to be refined and sharpened and applied more skillfully… tools for which to be thankful.

Monday, May 5, 2014

God of the Comfortable

We started a new series at Pleasant Bay yesterday; we’ll be working through 2 Corinthians for the next few months. I kicked things off with the benediction that opens the Apostle’s letter (2 Corinthians 1:3-7). There is one word that dominates these five verses: comfort.

Comfort hasn’t necessarily been one of the first words I would associate with Christianity. When I hear the term “comfortable Christian” it is universally pejorative. If you described me as a “comfortable Christian” I would assume you meant to take a jab at me or even land an insult. When I think of a comfortable Christian, I think of one who is selfish, lazy, unadventurous and indulgently religious. 

But a comfortable Christian is often very different than a comforted Christian.  

In Paul’s benediction, the word comfort isn’t so much about being comfortable; it is more about relief, rescue, encouragement, and deliverance. In this passage, comfort does not stand alone, but rather it is paired with suffering.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. (2 Corinthians 1:3-7)

As a standalone concept, comfort might mean something less than positive, even pejorative. But when paired with suffering, comfort has a far more precise meaning. 

There is a lot in this benediction (for more of what I had to say about this, check out my notes or audio posted at, but let me just say this:  

Comfortable Christians often think that they can offer comfort out of their abundance. But comforted Christians know that the most meaningful comfort is often offered out of our suffering. 

It is not just a matter of a blessed few reaching down to pull up those who suffer. We are called to be transparent with our suffering and the comfort we need and receive from God… AND we are called to offer comfort to others through it all.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Beware of the Proof Texter

Proof texting is preacher jargon. A proof texter first determines what they want to say, then they go hunting for a snippet of Scripture to validate their point. More often than not, the Scripture used (or abused) is just a short passage taken out of context. The proof texter isn’t generally concerned with what the text actually means (in context) but rather is only concerned with what they can make the text mean in support of their point. 

I strive to take the opposite approach, especially when it comes to Scripture. The best conclusions come when we first determine what a text means and then apply ourselves to making that point.  

Folk don’t only proof text with Scripture; they proof text with people. Folk take isolated words or actions out of context and use them as proof to make their predetermined point. They misread and misrepresent people with their proof texting

I watched it happen this week. One who was in vocal opposition to a direction about to be taken by the group pulled an isolated action into their argument in an attempt to strengthen their predetermined point. It was a desperate attempt to make a point by reminding the group of some previous behavior, but it was a swing and a miss. In this case, I was on the fence and could have been swayed to lend my voice to his… but he lost me when he proof texted

We lose informed listeners or readers when we proof text; it is a cheap and lazy way to make a point or support an argument. When I sense proof texting I assume that the point is either wrong or flimsy. Proof texting is a huge yellow (or even red) flag that turns me in the other direction.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Warning! Worship or Weed?

And now for a little humor… 

With legalized, recreational marijuana coming online in Washington in the coming days, it appears that State Route 9 in unincorporated, south Snohomish County is the place to be. It must be a mix of proximity to population, easy access, and ambiguous zoning. With a new establishment popping up this week, I think there are now eight weed shops in the six miles between where we live near Mill Creek and where we get on Highway 522 near Woodinville. 

As we were cruising north together this week, it occurred to Laurie and me that a lot of the words in the names of these new weed businesses sounded familiar

I appreciate that churches are applying fresh strategies and tactics to draw people in, and proclaim the Gospel. One of the ways we do this is by selecting contemporary names. Whether it is setting a brand for a new church, or rebranding an established church, many from our ilk are using very creative names these days to brand the various local expressions of the Body of Christ. 

So… in order to help you sharpen your skills so that you don’t mistakenly find yourself walking in to the wrong establishment, let’s play:
Weed Shop, Alternative Rock Band, or Contemporary Church?

The Cure
Green Salvation
The Grove
Higher Ground
The Source
The Collective
The Gathering
The Exchange
The Burning Bush
The Call
Collective Soul
The Oasis
The Vine
The Connection
New Millennium
The Vibe
The Healing Center
House of Love
The Mission
The Harvest

And, by the way, if you find a weed shop named Pleasant Bay (which I suppose is entirely possible)… please let me know!

I actually did a quick search on these names; you can find the results here.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Selling or Serving?

Who sells stuff on the Web? Ask a question like that to most anyone and you would expect to be among the first responses. But I have heard a few interviews with Jeff Bezos when someone talks about selling things on the internet; he bristles. He responds by explaining that he doesn’t think of selling anything, but rather… helps people make good purchasing decisions. 

Now that might sound like a bunch of baloney (I’m certain that it is some part baloney)… but I’m confident that the semantics here are important. It flows out of’s customer-centric vision. And I find that it resonates as an customer; when I’m shopping on I generally get the sense that they aren’t selling me anything. They don’t care what I buy… just that I find what I want/need (and while I’m there I might as well buy it from them).  

I think a lot of what I’ve done in my career probably looks a lot like selling, at least from the outside. As a fundraiser, recruiter, and marketer for Christian higher education, my work has looked a lot like the sales function of the organization. Even as a preacher of the Gospel, it could look like sales. In my work over the years, I’ve used most all of the tools and tactics and even jargon of sales. 

But I have never really thought of any of my work as selling

I don’t have the charm to sell an institution to a donor in such a way that they write a million-dollar check. But I have been able to help people make good giving decisions. 

I can’t sell a prospective student into committing the time, energy, and cash that it takes to earn a degree. But I have been able to help students make good, life-changing decisions.  

And I certainly don’t have the ability to sell anyone a religion. But I have been able to help people make good decisions… the best decisions.  

For me, these have all been Spiritual transactions. What a privilege to play a small part in helping people follow God’s call to make a sacrificial gift! Some of my most cherished memories are when I watched people write significant checks (regardless of how many zeroes precede the decimal point) that result in accomplishing part of their dreams. Helping them make the decision and then helping apply it to good work is an exhilarating privilege.  

What a privilege to meet graduates that I helped some time ago, now seeing them doing good work. In some cases, I’ve helped directly (doing the hands-on work of recruiting or helping folk navigate financial aid and such). In other cases the help has been indirect as I’ve been part of program development or marketing. Regardless, it is wonderfully gratifying to know that somehow along the way I’ve helped a lot of students (I guess thousands of students) make good decisions.   

And, of course, what can compare to helping someone make a decision for Christ? Whether that be a first step of faith (believing Jesus for salvation) or a next step (trusting Jesus for direction, provision, deliverance…), playing any small part in these decisions is an awesome honor.  

We have probably all seen people approach these kinds of endeavors primarily as selling… and it seems that more often than not people are wrecked along the way. But when selling is replaced by serving, everybody wins.