Friday, September 26, 2008

Just Wondering

Before I get too far into this entry I need to let you know that communitarianism is not an original term. I did a Google search and found there to be an entire group of people from regular people like me to scholars and policymakers who have formed a actual organization around communitarianism. Who knew? Anyway I want to take some time today to wonder.

I wonder what would happen if the church in America began to focus on the things that really matter. I have recently spent a lot of time in discussions about the rapture and the millennial debate. I have decided these are pretty useless conversations. Why? Because they do not really matter, what really matters is that at some point Jesus will return, if that is today, tomorrow or whenever it is, I had better be living in a what that I am ready. So what does that mean for the church, in particular in America?

When I read the pages of my Bible I read about a Jesus who showed preferential treatment to the poor and the outcast. I read about a Jesus who challenged the established religious communities. I read about a God who calls us to tailor our lifestyles to like God and not tailor our God to fit our lifestyles. I am amazed by how often I make God in my image instead of realizing it was God who made me in His image. This whole lifestyle thing is not easy and in the Western world it is even more difficult because most of us, myself included, believe the lies of society.

I wonder what would happen if Christ Followers began to adapt their lifestyle to reflect the lifestyle God longs for us to have. One where we lived within our means. Where we lived lives of sustainability. What would happen in our world if Christ Followers lived debt free, serving the poor, caring for the widows and orphans, living together in radical Biblical community and put God before all else. What might happen to our world if we were to live in close connection with God?

Thursday, September 25, 2008


I love the fact that when you are the writer you can make up words from time to time. I introduced the word communitarianism in my last post, and I wanted to take some time to expand on the idea a little more.

As I stated last, communitarianism is a middle ground between the individualism which drives American society and the unattainable ideals of Communism. Not to mention the fact that Communism leaves little to no room for God. For the communitarian a life goal is to see the community take a place of importance over the importance of the individual. At the same time the uniqueness of the individual must not be lost. The reason the individual must no be lost has nothing to do with the rights and desires of the individual, rather with being created by God. God has made each and every person with intimate knowledge. Part of that creation is strengths and weaknesses. To deny our strengths, and overlook our weaknesses is to deny the work of God in our lives. Likewise to use our strengths for only personal gain, would be to miss the point of community.

At the center of this ideal is a simple math equation. The whole is always greater than the sum of the individual parts. We are not created by God to be alone, we are not created for personal glory. Our creation is to function as a part of a people called our by God. Meaning our primary identity lies with the community of Christ, not the individual. Further this means your uniqueness is intended and needed in the community for the community to be whole. Without you and your participation in the community, whole suffers.

I guess in the end the biggest part of Communitarinism is the fact that this life I have been given is not about me. It is about something so much greater than any one individual. At the same time individuals need to be who God made them to be for the sake of the Body of Christ.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


From the time I was very young I was raised to be independent. I embraced this encouragement with great gusto and fervor. I have always been kind of my own person, with minimal influence from other people. I defiantly have had difficulty conforming to what others would want me to think and do. Now this independence causes me to wrestle with the issue of individualism.

I will be the first to admit the challenge of talking about individualism. On the one hand we can lose sight of the fact that we are fearfully and wonderfully made to be ourselves. On the other hand it is easy to come off sounding like a proponent of Communism. I wonder if there is a middle ground we can call communitarianism (I made up the word to fit my purposes).

There is not much debate that we live in a me centered culture here in the United States, and we have begun to export this to other cultures and societies. In this me centered culture we have mistaken our independence for a license to do whatever it is that we want, or what feels best to us. Our primary determinate of right or wrong is an internal compass, which is determined by each individual. The end result is a society which the 'rights' and desires of the individual overrides the community. A further result is we fail to allow community standards influence our lives.

Here is an example. In new York State most of the major Interstate highways have a speed limit of 65mph. Have you ever driven just 65mph on one of these roads. Everyone is passing you, as if you were not even moving. Many, myself included, travel around 70-72mph. Others even faster. On the occasion someone is pulled over for speeding, is the response, well they caught me? No, most of the response is anger, or frustration, after all there were others going faster. Why were we singled out? Could it be we were breaking a community standard.

Now that is not a perfect example, but I think we can see how many of us do not like to submit to a community standard. Our personal agenda becomes the most important thing. I wonder if we can truly experience community with God if we are focused on ourselves above all else. Perhaps some the debates destroying the Body of Christ would simply go away if individualism decreased and communitarianism increased. What would happen if we were to truly follow the teaching of Christ which tells us to deny ourselves. What if the body of Christ became a community where following Jesus what the community standard, and the community was more important than the individual.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Practice Makes Perfect

Many might be familiar with the saying that practice makes perfect. When we think about things such as sports or music this thought comes easy. How about with our faith journey. Are we willing to put int the practice time, or would we rather spend some time in church, go to a few studies and call it good. Our reactions to difficult times often reveals our commitment level to practicing our faith.

When hard or difficult times cause us to function in questionably biblical ways, are we showing evidence that we have been practicing our faith, or simply going through the motions? I continue to read the book Amish Grace and I am struck by the profound display of forgiveness conducted by the Amish. Their display of forgiveness is not mindless or easy. Still, it is offered because of the deep practice of their relationship with God. Many have, and it is understandable, seen incredible acts of forgiveness to be empty, or a simple religious exercise with no actuality behind it. Could a perception of empty religion be more of an indictment of you and I than of the people we are levying the charge against.

There are plenty of times when it seem impossible to find a person, let alone a group of people, who so authentically live out their beliefs. Ah, and there is the conviction. I long to live in such a way that people are taken back by the authentic ways my life claims match my actual life. Whether it is forgiveness, or any other command of God, my life would be marked by a faith journey so authentic that Aaron is no longer seen, only God.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Birthday Reflections

Well today is the day of my 33rd birthday. By most standards still quite young. I think about the 33 years I have lived, and what has happened. I had by most accounts a normal childhood. In college got into drugs and alcohol, and will forever be a recovering alcoholic. When graduating from college experiencing my parents separation and eventual divorce. Becoming a parent to my dad as he figured out again what life was about. Standing at the altar with by amazing bride. Being by my dad's bed as he died from cancer. Watching the birth of my three precious children. I spend three years as a director of Evangelism for a church and 6 years as a lead pastor.

More than all those events however, I have been learning what it means to walk with God. I would have to say there has never been a time when I have been closer in my walk with God. That is not to say everything is great and I do not have more work to do. I can only imagine what the next few years will look like provided I continue to abide and be obedient.

I cannot help but think about all the things that could have been. Were there moments I missed, undoubtedly. Have I made the most of the life I have been given? It is hard to say. Nonetheless, the future holds great promise. I have my relationship with God. I am still married (almost 10 years) to the most amazing woman. I have the joy of my three girls. There is a family around me offering support and love. God has given me three men in covenant to walk through life and ministry with me. Finally, God has given me a ministry to and with the church of Jesus Christ.

Stepping back, I have a good life. However, the work is not done, and I think it only gets better from here. Not necessarily easier, but I consider it all joy in light of the glory God has shown me to this point.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

God in The Raw

I have always been told not to use disclaimers when presenting your opinion and ideas. For the most part that is sound advice. In this situation I think a disclaimer is important, otherwise the views expressed might be confused for something they are not. So here goes the disclaimer, I am deeply thankful to have grown up and live in the United States. There have been and will be opportunities afforded to me that no other country in the world would make room for. I treasure the fact that I do not face governmental backlash for what I am about to discuss. All in all, if one must be a citizen of a country, I think the United States is the best choice.

Now that is out of the way, I want to look at the relationship between the American dream, or American way of life, compared with Christ and the movement he established. Many are the claims about this being a Christian nation, founded on Christian principles and by Christian people. It is not for this time to debate such claims, let's just say I am suspect of those claims. Anyway, what has evolved from those claims is a country where the socio-political scene has been linked to the religious scene. I wonder if in the that linking we have conformed the Gospel to match our ideals and beliefs about life more than we have shifted our ideals toward the Gospel. I am not the first, nor the last, to ponder such things. As long as there have been political structures there has been a delicate connection between politics and religion.,to me that is the problem.

Each of us functions with a set of lenses through which we view life. Our American lenses bring with them some strong helpings of individualism, consumerism, racism and several other "ism"s. The lenses change the way we see the movement of Jesus Christ interacting with our world. In reality we often engage the world around us from the wrong starting point. We start with the ways in which we perceive the world, and then try to shoehorn the message of Jesus to fit. What would happen if we started with Jesus. Now I am not advocating for forgetting about our context, I am not advocating for us to slip back to the too simplistic question of WWJD. I am saying if we are a "Christian Nation" why is there more American value in our religion than God value?

What would happen if we threw away religion, and got back to God in the raw? If we began to tie our lives and hearts to the teachings and life of Christ above all else? What would happen if we began to live lives as an extension of our Abiding with God? The biggest change could be seen in what we are no longer doing, than in what we will begin to do. One more disclaimer, I understand the challenge of defining God in the raw, not because it is elusive. Rather, because we have a hard time peeling away the layers and lenses which cloud our ability to see God.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

New Fabric

What would our lives look like if forgiveness was the primary thread to the fabric of our lives? For as long as there has been Christian teaching forgiveness have been at the root of that teaching. We are to forgive others, just as, or so that, through Christ God can forgive us. I am left to wonder if forgiveness has become a action to be pulled out of the closet when it is needed. Better yet, it is one of the bladed on our Swiss Army knife of faith. What would happen if forgiveness was simply the way we lived.

How different would our world be if we were ruled by forgiveness? Usually we are people that function in the world of restitution and revenge not forgiveness. If someone does wrong to me, I deserve the right to pay them back in kind is the common thought. What about as a nation? How many lives could have been spared if forgiveness was the lead thread in the fabric of our lives?

I am left with quite a conundrum, it has never made sense to me that take another life would make up for a life taken, at the same time I feel this deep sense of wanting something in return, or calling it what it is, entitlement. And there we have it, the great barrier to forgiveness, entitlement. It is difficult for us to live as people of forgiveness, because we feel like we deserve something more in return. Additionally, it is hard for us to live as truly forgiven people because we all too often feel like we are entitled to be forgiven.

Oh how much I have to learn about forgiveness. How much I have to learn about denying myself. Lord God help me to make forgiveness the lead fabric of my life.

Monday, September 15, 2008

A New Normal

For most of my life I have been plagued by a question, "What is normal?" It seems as though each individual and group determines what is normal. Serving in the life of the church, I have opportunity to visit churches and learn quickly that there are very different normals at work in different places. Nonetheless we all have a pattern to life, which we consider to be normal.

As I have been reading the book Amish Grace, I have been reminded that the Amish are a people who have a historical normal. Unlike many groups there seems to be an understanding, even if flawed, of what is normal for the Amish. When the shooting happened at Nickel Mines school in October 2006 what was normal was no longer possible. No longer was is possible for this community to completely remain removed from a public eye. No longer could this normally cloistered community continue in their normal ways. Their life, and normal have been forever invaded.

I do not for a moment suggest we all need to experience a tragedy such as the Nickel Mines school. I do however suggest that we need to on a regular basis have our normal invaded. A synonym for normal is ordinary. Now there are some differences between the two, still they are the same in they note a regular pattern of thought and action in our life, collective or individual. Those who follow Christ are not called live normal or ordinary lives. We are called to live extraordinary lives, lives of abundance, lives of passion and intensity for God.

There are times when our follow of God becomes routine and normal. Those are the time we need to have our normal invaded. We need to have the ordinary challenged. If we do not, we begin to lose site of who is in charge in our lives. Hint, it is not you or me.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Season of Hope

As I read through the book of Ezekiel and the book of Revelation in the midst of some strange images and complicated happenings, I find hope.I know that while the beginning of Ezekiel and throughout Revelation there is not a whole lot to be excited about. Scene after scene is filled with destruction and death. Yet there is hope, God promises these things will not last forever. Further, those who remain faithful, will experience the day when God will make right all the injustice of the world.

Here is Cortland this is our kickoff Sunday. The education programs for all ages get geared up for the new year, and we begin a new sermon series on community. I know the struggles are not over. I know that there will be some difficult days ahead for the church, yet I am hopeful. It feels as thought the Lord is leading us around the proverbial corner. The atmosphere of the church is charged with anticipation of what God is about to do.

It is a real joy to be a part of what God is doing. Perhaps this will be the season when God opens the floodgates and the glory comes rushing in. This I know for certain, after this season, we will never be the same again.

I invite you to pray with me
Lord God as this new season is entered I ask we would sense you presence in deep and abiding ways. Lord, that we would be a church that you could use for your great plan of redemption. Teach us to follow you, and give us hearts that long to be connected with you. I invite and give permission to you to shape and mold us as you need to. No matter what happens Lord we will praise you. In Christ, Amen.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Nickel Mines

I have just begun reading the book Amish Grace by Donald B. Kraybill, Steven M. Nolt and David L. Weaver-Zercher. The book is based on the Amish response, or reaction to the school shooting in Nickel Mines pa, on October 2, 2004. I have always been intrigued by the simplicity of the Amish people. They work hard in their lives, yet the simplicity of their lives is often attractive to me. Even more attractive is their deep and abiding connection with God. Their entire life is an act of walking with God.

Some would say that October day was an end to innocence for the Amish people, but I do not think that to be true. If anything it was a realization, or even a justification for the way they live their lives. There is a knowledge of what can corrupt the soul of a person, and that those things are to be avoided. The aversion to technology and 'modern convenience' are not out of a simple preference. The aversion is because of a deep understanding of the profound impact those modern things have on our lives. That day was no lose of anything but the lives of 5 dear children of God.

I am not about to give up my technology, my phone, computer, car, television, etc... I do however think it is time for us to do a real good examination. What are the impacts these modern tools of life have had on our souls. I know my life is at a higher pace than need be, but more than the physical. How much of God am I missing because of the way I live, aided by those modern tools?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Making it Stick

This is the last installment of the leading change blogs. At this point in the change process many things are beginning to look different. The changes are no longer reserved to small things, and the people around the organization have begun to adapt to a culture of change. For the individual at this point changes have taken place and there is already tangible evidence of your transformation as a person. So what more could possibly need to be done?

The final step is putting measures into place which ensure the changes last. For the organization this means leadership. As Jim Collins would put it, having the right people on the bus, and in the right seats. Not just current leadership however, there must be a plan to develop more leaders. Organizations cannot have enough quality leaders. Please note the qualifier there, quality. Too many leaders can be akin to too many cooks in the kitchen if the leaders do not really understand the role and life of a leader. If leaders are only positional leaders, see John Maxwell 5 levels of leadership, they are not always willing to follow at the right times. Quality leaders are developed intentionally, and the organization which invests in developing leaders will endure, and be a culture if change.

For the individual, steps must be take to keep the changes in place. This often takes the form of habits and regular activities. The most important tool to making change stick in our lives is accountability. Most of us do not have the capacity to hold ourselves accountable on every front, we need help. This is where the group that helps initiate and encourage the change comes in. They also need to be the people who hold you accountable to the ground you have already covered. For me this is my covenant group which meets monthly as a minimum, other times as needed.

Change is inevitable. The question is whether the change will move toward life, or toward death. Remember, death is a change. Change which produces life is not happenstance, change which brings life is intentional and must be thought through carefully. I think John Kotter has given us an excellent outline of how to work through change. I encourage all of you to read his words in Leading Change

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Keep on Rolling

We are continuing our brief run through the 8 stages or steps of change as outlined by John Kotter in his book Leading Change. At this point of development change is happening at a good rate with in your life or organization. This is not the time to sit back and enjoy it all. This is when the small successes are collected together to point to larger changes. At this point there is enough credibility added up that initiating change is a little easier than in the beginning of the process. Now is the time to make the major changes which will ultimately create a new culture.

This is the point where good organizations become great, and individuals move toward greatness in their lives. In an organization major changes such as personnel, styles and core purpose can be addressed at this point. for the individual there has been enough success in developing change in your life, that new opportunities and experiences seem logical and normal.

At this point of making change there is a focus on cementing the change culture in to the organization or life. Making all the necessary changes, major or minor at this point, to ensure the culture shift will hold. It is important at this place of development to not cement the new ideas and changes, rather the culture of change. Where an organization or individual is today is not the place they should be tomorrow. Our lives and organizations should be organic, and constantly changing and adapting what the next opportunity is.

For those who are following Jesus Christ, this culture of change requires a deep connection with God. As we are more successful with change a great danger arises, we can think it was our ability. God is the one who is in charge of the changes which need to be made. Our change culture is a one where we stay deeply connected with God (Abide) and respond to the lead of God with obedience.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Just Win Baby!

It seems like common sense when the challenge is large. If you want to climb Mount Everest you do not simply spend a week on the treadmill and then go for it. There needs to be a series of victories which get you to the top of the world.

When trying to change going for the big win out of the gate without creating a foundation of wins is going to be difficult. It is important to create successful situation which other people can see. Not a grand and wholesale change, something simple and small. Chaining a series of these successful situation will create an atmosphere where change becomes normative. Can you imagine an organization or a life where change is the norm? Along the way the small successes need to celebrated. Now the celebration should be in proportion to the success. If you lose the first 5 pounds of the 85 you need to lose, there needs to be a party, but not on the scale of when you lose all 85, watch the snacks at the party all the work could be undone.

When we as individuals and organizations begin to reward success and change the culture of our lives and organizations change. However, we must create or build the wins in steps. Getting real practical here. If you want to read more, say your Bible, don't carve out a hour the first day to do this. Start with five minutes, once you have that victory for a few weeks, grow it to ten, then twenty, and so on.

Small success, or wins, leads to bigger success. There is something that needs to be added. Change is a continual process. There is always another success to be gained. It is easy to have this be about making money, or building successful organizations. The real challenge worth gaining success in is the person you are becoming through the change. Are you becoming more and more self, or me driven? Or are you connecting more and more with God?

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Take Action

As I look at the steps to leading change, now it the time to move to action. To this point urgency has been created, the change team is collected, a vision and plan have been established, and communication of the plan is under way. Now the change process must be implemented.

The first thing to be done at this point is to remove obstacles to change, or even obstacles to new, innovative and creating work. Realizing there are things standing in the way which might be good, but are in the way of what is great and optimal for life and the organization. The removal of these obstacles can be as simple of a reallocation of time, it could mean the elimination of an activity, it could mean dismissal of staff, or it might mean changing the way you lead. As one might guess each of these carries different types and weights of baggage. Adjusting a schedule is easier than making changes to personnel. However, change is not going to happen is obstacles are allowed to be obstacles.

As the obstacles are being removed it is important to recognize the change might involve structural, or philosophical changes. In an organization, the management structure might work against the change that is trying to be put into place. Likewise the underlying mindset of the organization might be in the way of change. There needs to be a willingness to change, even to the core understandings and structure. In the life of the individual this might mean changing the way you have always done it.

Freedom is the last part in this phase of change. People need to be allowed the freedom to try new things. To take a chance without the threat of punishment if things do not work out well. I like to thing of this as the experimental stages. In our own lives and in the lives of organizations there needs to be room for experimental work to take place. This is the place where innovators and non-traditional thinkers thrive, leaderships responsibility is to let them.

Once the action steps are underway, new obstacles will arise. We must do what we can to remove those obstacles. Before we remove them however, we must first test them to see if God is placing an obstacle in front of us. The obstacle might be a warning, or a prompting from God to follow after Him. In all the change process, God is in charge, not humanity.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Get The Word Out

Once again I am working my way through the 8 steps of change as outlined by John P. Kotter in his book, Leading Change. Today's portion is about communicating the vision. The previous step was to create, or identify the vision, and develop a plan to reach that vision. The first implementation step is to let others know what the vision is. This is a very practical, yet often poorly done, step. There is no value in having a vision and a plan if there is not communication regarding it.

Organizationally this means saturating your organization with the vision and plan. This will mean print media to water cooler conversation, e-mail to spoken word. Taking the lead on this communication is the guiding coalition, or you team of people who are instigating the changes. If you and this team do not embody the vision and plan, that will communicate louder than anything else. Often we see this process done on television for the larger companies, smaller organizations will need to be more creative on a smaller budget.

On the personal road to transformation, we need to communicate the vision and plan as well. This gets into the area of accountability. When we communicate the vision and plan to other people, they will ask how we are doing with the vision and plan. We will need to answer them and ourselves. I would like to think I could make all the needed changes in my life without others holding me accountable, but I cannot. I need other people in the journey, and I would guess I am not alone in that. Now with our personal vision and plan, we might not want to get t-shirts printed, or pay for a TV spot, yet we must communicate to others our intentions to reach a preferred future.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

A Look and A Plan

As we continue to look at the change process our next step is to create a vision and a plan. To do this we need to understand first what it means to have a vision. Some have said that a vision is a preferred future. While this begins to get at the idea it has one tragic flaw, our preferred future might not exist in the realm of possibility. For me a vision has to be something that is attainable. It might take great effort and will even necessitate a move of the Holy Spirit.

As for the plan, many great organizations and individuals have a well polished vision. This vision is posted in several places and presented as the hope of the organization. A vision without a plan is foolishness. One we have a look at what could be, there needs to be a concrete plan to get there. I say concrete because this is where detail begins to enter the picture. This is not the time for maybe and kind-of-sort-of language. The plan consists of the action steps being implemented to reach toward the vision. Equally, a plan without a vision is foolishness as well. Then people are putting in effort for an unknown direction and future.

It is easy to see how this would work in an organization, and I am sure many have experienced a organizations which make some classic blunders in the vision and plan department. The greater challenge is when the lens shifts from the organization to the individual. Most people have given thought about the vision in their life. It might involve making loads of cash, it might mean climbing the corporate ladder. But that is not the vision I am looking at. I mean, what kind of human being do you want to be? What do you want people to say about you when you are not there? Who we are should never be tied completely to the profession or vocation we have. Perhaps it is time to do some soul searching to get a vision of who you are in the future. You might even be bold enough to ask who God would want you to be.

Once the vision is established, is there a plan to move toward that vision. Are there concrete action items in you life to move you toward that preferred future? If not, it is time to get pen and paper, or the computer keyboard, out and put together a plan. Then implement that plan, starting today.

Truth be known, I do not think and organization can be changed or even transformed unless the senior leader and other key leaders are personally willing to commit to transforming their lives.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Cannot Do It On Your Own

Well back from a few days of R&R, and ready to jump back in. I am looking at the eight stages of leading change as outlined by John Kotter's book Leading Change. The first step is to create urgency, the second is to form a guiding coalition. One person, no matter what level leader they are, or what their skills and abilities are, can produce change. Change always requires a team effort, but not just any collection of people will do.

When putting together the team to instigate and implement change it is important to pay attention to the members of the team. A common error is to collect people who will always agree with you, and tell you what you want to hear. I want to be clear this is bad. Every effective team has the capacity to have healthy disagreement. However, the disagreement cannot be left at disagreement. There needs to be discussion and challenge of ideas, not to see who is right or wrong, but to produce the fruit of the desired change. Another component of the team which is often overlooked is the team must be willing to stand by each other and support each other when there is a bobble or a plan does not work. Change will often take a process of trial and error.

This is not simply an organizational principle. When trying to change an organization, a team is needed. The same is true when trying to create change within ourselves. We need to have a team of people who will journey with us through the change. People who will challenge us, people who will support us, people who will love us enough to enter the journey as their own. Without this team, or group change never becomes transformation, and transformation is ultimately the goal. I thank God I have both a personal team, and and organizational team, helping lead to transformation.