Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Reflection Precedes Resolutions...

Why do people make New Year's Resolutions? What fuels such "solutions" that are often seeming infused with very little resolve. In fact, according to most studies and surveys, only about 8 percent of Americans successfully achieve and follow-through on their New Year's resolutions. An overwhelming (or rather 'underwhelming') 45 percent fail by the end of January!

Regardless of all the sub lining reasons to this, I think part of the dilemma is that we start looking at the new year from the wrong vantage point. Often the best way to move forward is to look backwards. As the saying goes, Life is best understood backwards, but it can only be lived forward. In other words, reflection should precede resolutions...

Of all the things Americans make time for, reflection is very rarely one of them. The reasons for this and the consequences thereof could be the subject of numerous posts. In short, the word reflect comes from two Latin words: re, meaning "back," and flectere, meaning "to bend."

"To reflect, then, is to bend back something, like the way a mirror bends back an image, providing an opportunity for a closer look." (Ken Gire in The Reflective Life).
Personally, I have found the practice of reflection to be significant in my life with-God. Reflection(s) captured can serve as points of orientation and direction for the future. Several times a year I get away for a day or two on a personal retreat. One of the things that is always integrated into these times is extended periods of prayerful-listening-reflection.

One of the questions I reflect on is:
  • God, what are the main things You’ve been trying to teach and form within me lately…?
As simple and potentially insightful as this is, I've found that very few people ever take a few moments to ask God this question.

I/we can make any grand resolution of what we will do in the future, it is imperative that we gain an understanding of what God has been endeavoring to produce within us in the recent-present.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Back to the Story for the First Time...

This time of year, many of us are prone to turn back to the beginning of the Gospels and read the Nativity narratives. Sunday messages are typically centered around this timeless story. This is true for me, as well as what we've been doing at SouthGate. Yet, I'm always leery of these seasons. I fear that we, especially in the West, often become immune to the power of these stories, especially after hearing them so many times. We read them, we hear them, but sometimes we can do so without listening to them. Really listening, as if it were the first time.

"I read a fascinating study a few years ago," writes Mark Batterson in Wild Goose Chase, "that suggested people stop thinking about the lyrics of a song after singing it thirty times. I"m sure the numbers vary from person to person but the tendency is universal. And it has profound implications when it comes to worship."

I think a similar case could be for the well-worn passages of Scripture.

Several weeks ago, I began re-reading through the Nativity narratives, perusing, thinking, reflecting, meditating and waiting. As I've done so, there's been a prayer that I pray often: "God, don't let me grow numb to this story... Keep me from assuming I know the story... Help me to see something new... Help me to read it again for the first time..."

God loves to answer this prayer!

God loves to open up new angles to His Word!

Several things have struck me in
new ways this season.

Last week, as I was reading through the narrative something caught my attention. Particular words to be exact. Words that described how people were feeling, responding and resonating to the events at hand. Words like:
"amazed, amazement, astonished, marvel, marveled, surprised, wonder, wondered" At every turn of the story, it is as if Luke, the narrator, pushes the pause button, freezes the act and steps out from backstage and inserts these emphatic snapshot-addendums to what was going on within the characters on stage.

These words caught my attention and a question curiosity began emerge within. I wonder if these words are all the same Greek word? What if Luke is echoing this same word again and again throughout this narrative. I began to explore the Greek texts of this passage and discovered that every time Luke uses the same Greek word -
thaumazo. (Luke uses this word thirteen times throughout his Gospel. Four of these times he uses this word in the first two chapters of the nativity narrative.)

This struck me as significant, especially in the context my prayer this season. It's as if Luke is inserting these narrative jolts into the storyline. He wants to get our attention! He wants us to slow down and enter into the wonderment again. He wants us to read this story, feel the awe and never become numb...

May we experience thaumazo for ourselves - again - for the firs time.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Interactive Family Ideas for the Holiday

Interactive Family Ideas for the Holiday
(Please note that each idea has a graded code at the end. P is for Preschool children, E is for Elementary children, T is for Teenagers, and A is for Adults.)

1. Using large sheets of paper, everyone in the family draws pictures of things they're thankful for. Keep the artwork for next year and display them
side by side. (PETA)

2. Create a Thankful Box, in which family members put slips of paper telling what they're thankful for. After dinner, read the papers out loud. (ETA)

3. Encourage each person to bring some special object to the table that represents what they are thankful for this year. Let each take a turn to share
their object and how it represents their thankfulness. (ETA)

4. Experience dinner together with only candlelight. Reflect on what it would be like to be without lighting, heat, shelter, etc. Spend some time
praying together, thanking God for all that you have, as well as praying for those in need this season. (PETA)

5. Write a card to someone you are especially thankful for. Be sure to allow time, material and stamps so this project will work. (PETA)

6. Read the Christmas story to your kids. Read Luke 1 & 2 (especially 1:26-38 & 2:1-39).

7. Light Advent Candles: visit blog entry below "Candle Lighting in Advent" for verses, readings and instructions.

8. Have everyone clean their room and storage spaces and select items to give away to someone(s) in need. Apply the rule, “if I haven’t used in the
past year…” (EVERYBODY)

9. As a family, select someone or a family that is experiencing need this Christmas. Brainstorm a way to give to them and then do it as a family.
(Examples: Help an elderly decorate their house. Shovel snow. Together, buy a gift or grocery’s for them.) (EVERYBODY)

Additional Ideas…

Drive neighborhoods with Christmas lights on houses, bring along some hot cocoa or coffee in a thermos or stop by a Starbucks. Enjoy.

Decorate a gingerbread house(s) as a family project. Even if you don’t “do crafts” the kids will appreciate and remember this one for a long time.

Find a ready to make ginger bread house at a grocery store.

If you’re gutsy and daring (and a cook) find recipes @ …

Tell your children your family’s Christmas traditions. The funnier the better. The more serious the better. Start some of those traditions. Check out
some @

Read the Christmas story to your kids. Read Luke 1 & 2 (especially 1:26-38 & 2:1-39). 

Go to a Nursing home or visit someone who can’t get out and sing hymns and Christmas carols. You’ll often get more than you give.

Build a fire outside and simply be and enjoy God’s creation. (EVERYBODY)

Need more ideas go to

Friday, December 12, 2008

Living on One-Buttock

Ealier this week, I did a post around Malcolm Gladwell’s insights from his recently released book Outliners. Part of his thesis explores the various ways in which our culture squanders talent and human potential. Benjamin Zander is another individual who has much to say about human potential. He has dedicated his life to “pulling out” and developing aspiring musicians to excel beyond the status quo. Zander is the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra. He has some inspiring and provoking thoughts on our view of the world, possibility, leadership and personal transformation.

Zander contends that many people in the world approach life from one of two vantage points. One group sees the world as a place of “the downward spiral”. Regardless of the situation, they are predisposed to see what’s wrong. The other, look at the exact same circumstances, yet conclude that this is a situation of “radiating possibility”.

He shares the following story in regards to our view of situations.

There once were “two salesmen who went to Africa in the 1900s: they were sent down to see if there was any opportunity for selling shoes and they wrote telegrams back to Manchester. And one of them wrote: ‘Situation hopeless. Stop. They don’t wear shoes.’ And the other one wrote: ‘Glorious opportunity, they don’t have any shoes yet.’”

Recently, Zander gave a presentation at the Pop! Tech 2008 conference. It is a brilliant presentation! It is one of the most passionate, authentic and inspiring presentations I can remember seeing in some time. He models what it means to give way to your passions and do what he calls “playing on buttock.”

It is not enough to know a piece of music intellectually. It is not even enough to play it without any mistakes, which is all most ever aspire to. Zander says that beyond the notes of the page, you have to convey the true language of the music emotionally. Something happens, Zander observes, when a musician goes beyond the notes and the score on the page and begin to play the music from the heart with emotion. Such playing deeply moves the audience. When the music flows through a musician like this, it begins to take over their very bodies, they sway, they move side to side and back and forth, there’s a rhythm and a groove. As they play, their bodies lean, even to the point of being on “one buttock.” They become “one-buttock players.”

In doing so, one allows the music flow through their bodies, causing them to lean and to move from one buttock to the other. If you’re a musician, or making a performance of virtually any kind, and you are totally in the moment and connecting with the language of the music and the audience, there is no way you can be a “two-buttock player.” You’ve got to move, you’ve got to connect, and you must not hold back your passion but instead let the audience have a taste of the commitment, energy, and passion you have for the music. To play on “one-buttock” means we allow ourselves to give way to God-given passion(s). This doesn’t only apply to musicians. It applies to all of us.

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy,
a quickening that is translated through you into action,
and because there is only one of you in all of time,
this expression is unique.
And if you block it, it will never exist through
any other medium and it will be lost.
The world will not have it.
It is not your business to determine how good it is
nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions.
It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly,
to keep the channel open.”

~Martha Graham quoted in
The Art of Possibility by Benjamin Zander

Each of us has a choice.
We can give way to passion and live on “one-buttock” or we can hold back, aim not to make an error and play life on “two-buttocks.” One life is lived in mono black and white, while the other resounds in full colors and stereo surround sound. One is safe, the other is risky. One is dead and decaying, the other is alive and vivrant.

As Ben Zander
said to one of his talented students while encouraging them to play it in the “one-buttock” style:

“If you play that way,
they won’t be able to resist you.
You will be a compelling force
behind which everyone
will be inspired to play their best.”

~Ben Zander

Below is Zander’s phenomenal presentation at Pop!Teck 2008 given back in October.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Outliners: The Story of Success

Have you ever wondered why some people succeed and others don't? What causes a person to become truly extraordinary? What role does environments play into this? What role does one's own choices affect this?

Just before Thanksgiving, Malcolm Gladwell's new book Outliners: The Story of Success hit the bookstores. The aim of the book revolves around the question, "what separates extraordinary and average people?" Gladwell explores various ways in which we're squandering human potential everywhere from the football field to the classroom - and what we can do to change it.

The following is a presentation given by Gladwell at the Pop!Tech 2008 conference this past October. In it he introduces the ideas found in Outliners.

What are your reflections to Gladwell's presentation?

I wonder how this could influence our understanding of spiritual formation and how environments could be designed to intentionally see people fulfill their God-given purpose for their lives.

Monday, December 08, 2008

What's in a Name?

Yesterday, in the context of our Christmas Series Navel Gazing, we talked about the power of "names." We all have one, some of us like ours, some of us don't. Most of us went through some phase as a child where we wished we were named something else.

I remember one day riding in the car with my mom. I must have been about eight or nine years old. I piped up from the back seat and said, "Mommy, I want my name to be Chris." I'm not sure why I choose this name, other than I had a friend named Chris. Sometimes, it seems, we think if only we bore the same name as another, we would instantly be like them. Interestingly, this type of thinking doesn't cease with childhood, rather it follows us into adulthood, only we graduate from names to clothing brands, car models, houses and neighborhoods.

When the angel came to Mary, he was very specific about what she was to call the child to be. "His name shall be Jesus," the angel declared. The angel had very specific instructions regarding the child's name. For in the name, was a prophetic foretelling of His destiny. It spoke of purpose, calling and substance of life. Notably, throughout all of the Story of Scripture names are significant. Names of people places, even things bear meaning and purpose beneath the surface of the speaking of the syllables.

Often, even today, in a society and culture that often thinks very little of the meaning or etymology of a given name, the meanings of those given names still bear meaning in one's life.

Do you know what your name means? Do your parents? Did they name you what they named you because they knew what your name meant and sensed it would somehow connect to the unfolding of your life?

At the risk of over-spiritualizing matters, for my wife the act of naming our children has been extremely significant. We value the Hebrew culture (and others) that see names as apart of one's make up. We spent considerable time praying for each of our children while they were in the womb. We sought to discern their temperament, their make up, as well as some of God's desires for their life. We by no means got it all nailed down, but for each of them, we gained a greater sense of understanding and insight into their general make-up, temperament, inner-drives and areas that God may very well move them into. As such, we prayerfully looked for names with etymologies that resembled those very things. These names serve to remind us to pray, how to pray and to endeavor to be intentional about raising, training and nurturing each of them uniquely as an individual.

Many of us have picked up "names" along the way. Not those known as our "first" or "last" name, but the internal names we've given ourselves based on our perception of events, circumstances, relationships and family interactions. Often these names flow counter-current to the purposes and calling God has for our lives. These names and labels attach themselves to our minds, body and souls. In these cases, like Jacob, God wants to give us "a new name."

The following is Christina Aguliera's song "Beautiful" creatively translated into ASL by D-PAN (Deaf Performing Arts Network). It powerfully and vividly demonstrates the power of names.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Gap between Christ and Culture

Recently as a staff, we've been dialoguing about God's intended design for the local church within the community it is located. We have envisioned, re-envisioned, brain stormed, mind-mapped, debated, disagreed, agreed, prayed and raked through passages of Scripture over this question. It continues to be a shaping influencer on the development of the church we believe God has called us to be.

Kary Oberbrunner in his soon to be released book The Fine Line: Re-envisioning the Gap between Christ and Culture, makes a thought provoking observation.

“Every generation
must answer the most basic ethical question of the Christian faith,
‘What does it mean to be in the world,
but not of it?’”

As the quote indicates, this isn't a new question, yet it is one that every generation not only has or should ask, but often one that many generations has struggled to answer.

This is The Fine Line. Kary explains,

“...Our difference from the world,
not our similarity to it sets us apart.
But even though Christ followers are called to be different,
we’re also called to transform the world.
Here lies the tension.
We can’t be so far removed from the world
that we lose contact,
and we can’t be so much like the world
that we’re no different from it...”

If you're interested in pursuing parts of this book before it is released, you can download and read a sample chapter here.

Interview with The Fine Line author Kary Oberbrunner

Pre-order The Fine Line

Monday, December 01, 2008

I Need to be Reminded...

About two weeks ago, as I was walking to my desk in my office, I paused in front of a bookshelf and began perusing across a shelf. My eyes stopped on a particular book (The Reflective Life: Becoming More Spiritually Sensitive to the Everyday Moments of Life by Ken Gire). I picked up. It’s a book I read about seven years ago, yet I immediately felt compelled to read it again.

It’s always interesting
to read something again with a gap of several years in between. To notice the comments you made in the margin, to slowly read the underlined parts and then reflect on where you were at during that season of your life. On a number of occasion while doing this I’ve had the thought, “Man… I was so clueless back then…” Often, after these little epiphanies I wonder, “In a few years from now, what will be the things I’ll look back on this very season I’m in right now and say the same thing?” Humbling thought.

C.S. Lewis
once said, "We need to be reminded more than instructed." For me, the essence of this book is one of those core components of living that God is always trying to remind me of.

I am
a creative dreamer. I feel the rush of adrenaline as I’m a part of doing something bigger than myself – something that requires God to come and save the day, as it were. I’ve realized that in the midst of the rush of pursuing God given dreams, I can become unaware of God’s presence in the bringing of the dreams to actualization. This has been very convicting to me. As such, one of my life ambitions is to be more fully present. To live a life that has space for reflection and awareness of God’s present activity in it.

It seems that one of my life messages and a personal longing is for a life that is growing in such sensitivity and awareness. I am learning that one of the greatest moments I can give to God and another is my present attention and growing awareness. I am yearning to live this fast paced life interrupted frequently by sacred moments of slow-motion.

“Over the margins of life comes a whisper, a faint call,
a premonition of richer living which we know we are passing by.

Strained by the very mad pace of our daily outer burdens,
we are further strained by an inward uneasiness, because we have hints that there is a way of life vastly richer and deeper than all this hurried existence,
a life of unhurried serenity and peace and power.”

(Thomas Kelly in A Testament of Devotion)