Christian Maturity

To Be or… (part one)


83 To BeAs a sincere Christ-follower it’s easy to develop a convoluted relationship with striving, with industriousness, and with determined, diligent labor. On the one hand, we aspire to live peacefully [Rom 12:18], to be unfazed amid difficulty [Jn 14:27], and to enter into God’s rest [Heb 4:1].

And, on the other hand we struggle against sin [Heb 12:4], agonize to enter the Kingdom [Lk 13:24], and strive for mastery in the Christian life [2 Tim 2:5].

I’ll be honest. I’ve never fit into the “let go and let God” crowd. Just seems irresponsible. 83 let go

And, many times God has me in situations where I can’t do anything to rescue myself. All I can do is trust Christ and embrace my powerlessness.

Over a decade ago I attended a powerful character development workshop that transfromed my understanding of and relationship with doing. Let me share it with you.

The transformation hinges on the fundamental ways you understand yourself. Shift this understanding, and much about your relationship with doing will shift…radically. I say “relationship with doing” because each of us has one. Just like your relationship with a sister or cousin, you relate to doing in specific ways. For many of us, they’re not helpful.

The relationship is revealed in the way most of us approach any goal, obstacle, or desire. Someone asks what you want to be when you grow up. Oh, a doctor. Well then, you should…get great grades, go to medical school, pass your boards, and get hired by a top hospital.

83 S550To be successful I need to start a company, make loads of money, have an estate on the water, a gorgeous wife,  and an S-550.

To be beautiful, go to the gym and the plastic surgeon, get a perfect face and body.

Think of it as an equation: DO > HAVE > BE.

DO go to school, HAVE your Juris Doctor and pass the bar, BE an attorney.

DO dig wells in Kenya, HAVE the esteem of friends and family, BE a good person.

DO get ripped abs (and hair implants), HAVE a great body, BE attractive.

DO perfect your preaching, HAVE a large congregation, BE a successful pastor.

DO gather 400 to your High School ministry, HAVE the biggest youth group in town, BE somebody.

DO launch a radio ministry, HAVE airtime on hundreds of radio stations, BE an international sensation.

What’s the alternative?





Coaching Distinctions #83.doc

The Architect (part seven)


82 powerlessTalk at length with just about anyone and you’re likely to hear about a relationship that’s difficult, painful, or unsatisfying in some way.  The common view is that we are “passengers” in relationships driven by forces we can’t influence…or that are controlled by someone else.

Not true.

For the last six segments we’ve been examining the reality that each of us “architects” our relationships. Because you do, you can re-architect it at any time.

When the Bible introduces the Apostle Paul he’s “Saul” a bloodthirsty oppressor of the Church, feared by believers and heralded by the Jews. Acts 9 – 14 chronicles the amazing “re-architecture” of Paul’s relationship with both.

82 EstherIn the Old Testament, we meet Esther, an orphaned Jewish slave known only for her good looks and lovely figure. [Est 2:7]  Winning his favor in an elaborate beauty contest, Esther becomes King Xerxes’ wife.

Xerxes ruled more than 100 provinces from India to Egypt. At the insistence of Mordecai, the relative who raised her, Esther keeps her ethnicity a secret. The text is largely silent about Esther’s role as Queen. But everything suggests that it was limited to keeping herself fit, looking good, and being available to the King when called.

She was not consulted by the King nor did she participate in affairs of state. No doubt her relationship with the King was heavily influenced by law, political precedent, and deeply entrenched customs. And, the whole time, she was a co-architect in their relationship.

At one point, induced by Haman, (an elite official who despises Mordecai for his allegiance to Yahweh), Xerxes decreed that all the Jews in the realm be annihilated. [Est 3:13]  Mordecai asks Esther to intervene with the King to overturn the decree. 82 XerxesHere’s the thing, it’s illegal to approach the King without being summoned—punishable by death. [Est 4:11] She’s forbidden from involvement in the legislative process and most certainly mustn’t resist any of the King’s rulings.

In a series of bold, unprecedented steps, Esther secures an invitation to Xerxes’ throne room, holds private banquets for Xerxes and Haman, and requests that he spare her life and that of Jews–her people.

Not only does Xerxes save the Jewish people, he orders that Haman meet the fate he’d planned for Mordecai.

Re-architecting your marriage likely won’t require you risk to your life, and yet the opportunity to bring “life” from “death” quite possibly awaits. 

You’re an architect. Go for it.



Coaching Distinctions #82.doc

The Architect (part one)


76 peculiar relationshipIf you’re like me, you’ve found yourself in what I’ll call “peculiar relationships” from time to time.

You might be in one now.

Perhaps you’re invested in an alliance that’s veered from the path or the purpose that originally drew you to it.  Possibly it began as a way to make a contribution to the Kingdom of God or to do good for others. Somehow, things changed. The emphasis now is self preservation or personal gratification or simply avoiding the truth that the endeavor has failed to do what you intended … and no one’s had the courage or integrity to speak the truth.

Or maybe a friendship once had desirable virtues that brought life to each of you. In time though, that which you admired has been subsumed by dynamics that are far less ideal. You may be toiling to minimize the effects of compromises to your values that have become a fairly regular expression of the relationship you now share.

Another possibility is that you entered a relationship by meeting a need for someone else. Maybe she or he was in a rough patch, and you provided a friendly face, a listening ear, or a sympathetic shoulder. As the intensity of their troubles abated, you stayed stuck in that care-giving role—a role no longer as necessary as it once was—rendering your connections oddly awkward.

It could be your marriage. Perhaps each of you took the plunge for what you hoped you’d get. Then, when the marriage took more hard work from you than you expected to give, your heart went out of it. The one who once commandeered your affections is no longer someone you even like very much.

Like all sensible people, you leapt into the new opportunity for some benefit you anticipated.  In some cases, it began well, then faded. In others, if you’re honest, what you’d hoped never materialized—even early on.  Or, you were pigeonholed in a role that’s not needed. Most commonly the endeavor failed to provide quick, easy benefits without any determined investment on your part, and someone’s become disillusioned.

76 architect 1So often, we assume that our only options are either to exit or to suck it up and endure hopelessly.

Not so, my friend!

Here’s a surprise: YOU are the architect of all your relationships!

Because every relationship involves more than one person, you’re not the sole architect—to be sure. But, at minimum, you are the co-architect of all your relationships. 76 architect 2

And, because you are, you can re-architect every relationship you’re in.



Coaching Distinctions #76.doc

The Audition Delusion (part five)


This is a series on Coaching Distinctions that commonly arise in my work as a leadership coach to pastors, without regard to church size, geographic location, or denominational affiliation. These distinctions address human challenges and apply to all of us.audition 74

So it is with these Audition Delusions.

Simply stated, without rigorous discipline, you are not listening to your boss, your spouse, or the chairwoman of your elder board; rather, you are listening to your internal dialog about what they’re saying. 

Today, we consider the fourth aspect of the audition delusion: despite your exhaustive efforts to craft the perfect sermon, nobody is listening to you, anyway! 

In seminary, my professors referred to sermons in hushed, reverent tones as ‘works of art’ scrupulously and skillfully fashioned, word-by-word, phrase-by-phrase as Whitman’s poetry or Hemingway’s novels.

sculpting 74I’d toil over each illustration, plan my voice inflection, pace, when and where to appeal to the listener’s emotion or engage my own. Hour upon hour spent in devoted isolation, researching, writing, editing, shaping, crafting, honing, trimming—perfecting my opus. Their rule of thumb: an hour of preparation for every minute we’d preach.

Then, Sunday, as I’m expounding my oeuvre, everyone is listening intently … to themselves. They’re hearing their internal dialog about the sermon, or following a rabbit trail an illustration put them on, or considering where they’ll have lunch… and if we’ll finish in time for the second half of the Seahawks’ game.

See, without discussion—without some form of feedback loop—there’s no way to know what message they heard. This is why, whenever someone complements me on a sermon or talk invariably I respond: “Why?”

I want to know what they’re complementing. What, of all they heard, struck them? What difference do they believe it made?

Only then can we enter into the kind of dialog that Jesus used to equip his disciples. While much is made of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, most of the life-transforming work he did was dialogical in form. Jesus shared parables in public. dialog 74Then, privately, he’d explain the meaning. It is an audition delusion to think you’re changing lives by oratory alone.

It is engaging people up close, discussing their questions, probing their understanding, clarifying what’s preeminent, and working that out in practical ways that changes people deeply.

We get to make space for our hearers to push back on what challenging, clarify what’s confounding, and make sense of what’s confusing.

And as we intentionally let our people see us struggle, watch us wrestle with God, and live in God-honoring ways—now that can transform them forever.




Coaching distinctions #74.doc

Universal Human Paradigm (part six)


Though naturally predisposed to function like ‘resistance machines’, Annie and I have several friends who’ve re-trained themselves to give themselves to their lives—especially when they’d prefer to hold back.  69 EnnioI was with a dear friend and mentor at the moment the oncologist called with the diagnosis: chronic lymphocytic leukemia. CLL is a devastating disease—essentially cancer of the blood.

Still in his 40’s, it came as a complete shock.

We were at a convent in Kalamazoo conducting a character-development workshop that supports people to transform their ability to fulfill God’s unique purpose freely, passionately, and powerfully. Using revealing exercises, guided reflection, Socratic questioning, and focused discussions, participants discover beliefs, heretofore unexamined, that undermine their success in life, career, relationships, and ministry.

Stunned, I watched my friend absorb the blast of the diagnosis, remind himself why he was there in the first place, and give himself completely, generously, and enthusiastically for the forty people enrolled in our training.

No voluntary humility, martyrdom dramatics, nor a hint of manipulation to leverage his misfortune to receive sympathy or cooperation.69 Kalamazoo

Ennio was so invested in serving others that his very natural concerns for himself faded into the background. Though we talked and prayed frequently that week, I don’t actually know how he battled his own resistance. While remaining aware of the realities of his medical situation, the uncertainty it cast on his future, and gradually being informed about the treatment regimen that would be required, he threw himself into his life—and the lives of our participants—with the same exhilarating commitment I’d seen him do dozens of times before.

If not for his physical symptoms, which worsened dramatically each day, I don’t think any of them would have known what we knew.  Ennio epitomizes what it means to “throw your body into the middle of the room, and see what God does with it.”

God did plenty with Ennio that week. And ever since.

69 ActivateYesterday I was in Atlanta training pastors in CRM’s Awaken and Activate Workshops. As the name implies, Awaken is about awakening in Christians the calling of God to live Jesus’ goodness with those outside the Church. It’s great, cerebral stuff.

But in Activate, participants leap into action, connecting meaningfully with people outside the faith community with practical, meaningful, and beneficial results. The action is not theoretical or imaginary. It is real actual action.

Now look. We Christians are very familiar with sitting and listening, with thinking and planning, with nodding and amening. But we’re not used to DOING anything—especially the risky and unfamiliar! 69 listening

So, transitioning from Awaken to Activate we moved effortlessly through the material, the exercises, and discussions. Then, as we approached the “Action Zone” the room locked down.

Our cooperative and congenial participants were suddenly confused…





It was time to DO SOMETHING—something completely new. It requiring they break through the inertia of church-focus and instead to phone or email a neighbor or co-worker outside the Church and invite her over for a meal. Or volunteer to serve in the community…to take “irreversible action” to serve and bless someone on the outside.69 David Z

Firmly and skillfully, David identified the resistance in the room, re-enrolled the pastors in their vision to lead community-impacting churches by becoming community-impacting leaders…

and off they went—into the “Action Zone”—leaping one by one into the uncharted territory of unprecedented relationships holding eternal potential.

They threw themselves into the middle of the room… and God met them there!


Coaching distinctions #69.doc

Universal Human Paradigm (part five)


Here are the four key distinctions of the “Universal Human Paradigm”:

1)   You, as a human being are a “resistance machine”.

2)   When life looks the way you prefer, you engage it.

3)   When life doesn’t look the way you prefer, you resist.68 withholding

4)   The universal way you resist your own life is by withholding your participation from it.

The “it” in the sentence above is your life!

Why’s this important?

Because, your life needs you in it.


What if the circumstances that you find so aggravating have been provided by God for you to bring Christ into their midst?

Not for someone to bring Christ into. But you.68 Hunger Games

What if the perplexities, unknowns, and conundra that surround you are there so those watching can see you standing valiantly—like Jennifer Lawrence’ character challenging the corruption of the political system in Hunger Games?


Sometimes God will beckon you into the burning building to guide to safety those trapped inside.

Imagine if you were a new believer living in Acts 8 “…great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria…Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison. Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city.” [Act 8:1b-8]

The saints, surprised by the suddenly intense opposition, were driven from Jerusalem.

There’s no hint of them cowering in fear. Or hunkering down in private Christian enclaves. Or ditching their distinctive way of living in order to fit in.

They found communities of people needing Jesus. The Jesus they brought with them: his Good News, his healing, and his freedom-procuring deliverance!

68 BibleReading your Bible today, it’s easy to see that God used the diaspora to spread the life and love of Christ beyond Jerusalem and those of Jewish ethnicity living or visiting there. Today, we easily see how good it was that the persecution catapulted the believers to live as missionaries across the middle east.

See, when you’re in resistance, withholding your participation, those around you lose.

They miss out on the gift that you are.

The gift you bring.

Most of all, they miss Christ in you… the hope of glory. [Col 1:27]




Coaching distinctions #68.doc




Universal Human Paradigm (part four)


We’re examining the “Universal Human Paradigm”.

Last time I described resisting my own life through more than a decade of our children’s adolescence. Pretending not to see the growing devastation in my home, repeatedly declaring: “I can’t believe this is happening to me!” and consuming myself with the aspects of life I felt I still could control, I kept myself and my heart far from the complexity of our teens’ stormy passage from children to adults.

67 exhaustionIt was exhausting.

The #1 sign you’re living in resistance: exhaustion!

Consider the emotional toll when you consume your vitality keeping yourself from the life God intended you to live… How much does it take to withhold your participation from the marriage, the work challenges, the medical realities that all beckon you to enter…like gravity on Newton’s apple.

No wonder it’s fatiguing!

So, when I notice that I’m tired, exhausted, burned out, I ask myself: What am I resisting?

Inevitably, I’ll uncover some aspect of my life—often somebody else’s behavior—that I don’t like, I’m bugged about, bothered by, consumed with.

67 poofAnd when I release it to God, embrace it like the reality it is, and give myself to my life anyway…the resistance evaporates.


And, with it, the all-encompassing exhaustion.

See, your life was meant for you to live. Just like the life of Paul, or Esther, or Jacob, of Mary. Your life needs you to give yourself fully. Engage unreservedly. And, as you do, to bring God’s provision with you… just like Paul, Esther, Jacob, and Mary.

To do this, we get to trust what we can’t see. Believe that God will show up…not while I patiently and timidly wait in the safety of the sidelines of my life, but when I leap into the midst of the chaos, trusting God to be with me.

67 TeddyTeddy Roosevelt put it this way: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”


Coaching distinctions #67.doc

Universal Human Paradigm (part two)


I’m offering one of the most helpful perspectives on human behavior I’ve ever learned. It impacts my coaching with pastors all the time. Called the “Universal Human Paradigm”, it was explained to me this way:

1) Human beings are “resistance machines”.

2) When life looks the way we prefer, we engage it.

3) And, when life doesn‘t look the way we prefer, we resist it.

4) The universal way that human beings resist life is by withholding their participation from it. 

Think about it…

Pick a topic: your dating situation, your finances, weight, investments, bowling average, church attendance, or blood pressure.

If you consider your situation to be “good”, you’re all about it, active, enthused, engaged, participating…

Maybe a while ago you were a ‘gold bug’.

65 goldEncouraged by the prospects of growing financial insecurity, a wobbling economy, and our government’s mindless pursuit of dollar-devastating “quantitative easing”, you pulled your savings and plowed into gold.

As prices rose, you followed it like a hawk. On the internet. In newsletters. Tracked commodity prices. Joined a gold investors club.  But with gold falling almost 30% since 2011…you’ve barely looked at it.



For thirty years I’ve run hot and cold on my weight.

65 weightMore cold than hot.

Much more.

Broken by a half-dozen steep downdrafts, my weight has pretty much continued an inexorable incline over my 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s— reaching an excruciating summit a couple years ago.

Those downdrafts were not accidental.

I started some formal weight loss regimen and, as weight came off, I focused on it more. And, as more came off I invested more of my energy and attention to it. I became more devoted, determined, disciplined. And it worked.

Then, after enjoying the benefits for a while, my weight began to creep up.

Discouraged, I paid less attention to it. The more I took my eye off my weight, the more I indulged my preference for weight-inducing foods. And, the more weight I’d gain. As I did, I ignored it all the more; checking my weight less often and exercising more infrequently.



65 elderSo, you have this incorrigible elder who—in a number of religious-sounding ways— intimidates all who disagree with him. You’ve tried befriending him, encouraging him, reasoning with him, appealing to scripture… all without effect.

This guy is not looking the way you prefer!

So you resist.  How?

By avoiding him. By pretending that the havoc he causes is less than it is.  By looking the other way when he unloads his religious judgments on people.

And the terrorism continues…



Coaching distinctions #65.doc


Universal Human Paradigm (part one)


64 lightningThere are those special moments when a pithy and cogent explanation of something you’ve experienced many times in life illuminates that life experience.

Usually, like a lightning bolt.

The insight appears, and with it, understanding that serves you the rest of your life.

Much of Proverbs is like that for me. I became Christian in my twenties, at Harvard—a place where some pretty smart people congregate. Well, the wisdom in many Proverbs provided illuminating clarity that changed my perspective on almost all of life.

So too, with the insight I’ll share with you now. A decade ago I was in training to facilitate a series of powerful character development workshops, and a guest speaker had come to share with us.

His name was John and he called it the “Universal Human Paradigm.”

It has changed my life, my coaching, and the leadership of hundreds of pastors I’ve had the privilege to equip since then.

He called it “Universal” because it applies to everyone, everywhere. “Human” because it is the way human beings behave. And “Paradigm” because it is a worldview, an orientation, a way of interpreting and operating in the world.

64 resistance machineJohn startled me with his opening assertion: “Human beings are resistance machines!”


Immediately, I discredited his statement as preposterous: “Look, I don’t know everything, but I studied human ontology in seminary and human beings are not machinesWe are made in the image of God … and we are free to choose all our choices all the time! Who does this guy think he is, anyway, and what are his credentials?? Resistance machines—BAH!!I scoffed.

“Here’s how it works”, John continued, too nonchalantly for such a controversial statement. “When life looks the way we prefer, we engage it. We embrace it; give ourselves to it. We participate. We play… Don’t we?”

“Ummm, yup. I can see that” I thought. “In fact, when life looks good, I don’t even think about myself or my participation. I’m just immersed in it!

64 withholding participationJohn continued: “When life doesn’t look the way we prefer…we resist it… The universal way humans resist life is by withholding their participation from it.”


Again, I thought: “That’s not true!  I do not withhold my participation when I don’t like life! I jump right in and fix it! Solve it! I address what’s wrong with it! That’s what I do!!!” I assured myself.

Doesn’t everyone?



Coaching distinctions #64.doc

Impact, not Intention (part five)


63 SaintsIn most sports, scoring happens on offense.

In football, when your opponent has the ball, you want to get the ball back so your team can score.

Get your defense off the field as fast as possible.

The same is true in a relational breakdown. Get your defense off fast!

Let me take you on a quick detour, before returning to this sports analogy.

Recently, I invited you to consider that you’re always causing an experience for those you’re with. I challenged you to decide in advance the experience you’re committed to cause: before you preach, facilitate a board meeting, vacation with your spouse, or take your staff on retreat.

What experience are you committed to cause?

As I type this, Annie and I are flying to our daughter’s commencement at Texas Tech. 63 Texas TechWe’ll commemorate her monumental accomplishment—the result of many years of discipline and sacrifice: late night studying after working full time to support herself and her education. And, we’ll meet her boyfriend for the first time.

I am committed to cause them to experience love, gratitude, and acceptance.

As the weekend progresses, I’ll watch them to see if these experiences are occurring. I expect to continually adjust how I’m being to cause these experiences with them. It may take all weekend to have my commitment happen…I can’t know until we’re in it. But, my commitment is clear.

If I find myself embroiled in a relationship “breakdown”, my natural human 

63 fortress

tendency will be to “put my defense on the field”. 

To lock down on the ‘rightness’ of my position—to build a fortress around the virtue of my view, behavior, or stance—and defend it.

As I do, any hope of causing the experience to which I’m committed will go out the window.

To have my commitment happen, I have to get off defense and back on offense.

I described it last time… during my conversation with the sem

inar participant who worked in the MLM business. I pulled my defense off the field and began to cause the experience to which I was committed…in mid-sentence.

The more deeply entrenched you are in your own defense, the more diligent and intentional you’ll have to be on “offense”.

So, quick as you can, get your defense off the field and have the impact you’re committed to cause.


Coaching distinctions #63.doc


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