Follow Me As I Follow…Tommy Boy?

I love moments when the Holy Spirit uses pop culture to help me glean spiritual truth from a passage of scripture. There are days when I grapple with God’s viewpoint and can’t seem to arrive at a conclusion. Then, out of nowhere, some random scene from an iconic film rushes into my consciousness and helps me take steps forward in my journey of discipleship.

I especially love when it’s a movie that defines a generation. You know, the kind of story that causes you to take pause and contemplate your life and it’s meaning. It’s the sort of film where the writing, acting and cinematography fuse together and help your emotions soar to new heights.

On one particular afternoon I stopped at such an intersection. The passage of scripture was in the book of Acts. And the movie? Tommy Boy, of course.

Let’s start with the passage of scripture. In Acts chapter 9 the Christian movement was about to add a general into its ranks, a man that would end up writing most of our Bible’s New Testament. This man would literally carry the global Church on his back and utter phrases like,I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me–the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” (Acts 20:24)

But that was chapter twenty. In Acts 9, we find this same Saul (later the Apostle Paul) lying on his back in the middle of Persian highway. Jesus had knocked him off of his high horse, literally. Saul was on his way to Damascus to persecute the fledgling church and terrorize anyone that stood in his way.

As Saul’s anger boiled, Jesus intervened in a flash of lightning and revealed Himself to Saul. Saul had a change of heart (no kidding) and made a choice to put his faith in Jesus. The very movement he violently fought against was now the truth he was anchored to. Blinded by the encounter, Saul was led to a house in which he stayed for three days without eating. You can call it fasting; I’ll call it anxiety.

Meanwhile across town another Christian disciple, Ananias, was also engaged in prayer. As he was interceding, God came in a vision and delivered the report about Saul’s conversion. Then He adds this uncomfortable set of instructions, “Go find Saul and pray for him to receive his sight.” To which Ananias contends (and I paraphrase), “But Lord, I’ve heard all about the heinous acts this man has committed and how he’s authorized to arrest anyone who calls on Your name.” In other words, “Are you kidding me God? Do you know what this guy has done – what he could do to me?”

God tells him again to go find Saul. He tells him that Saul is His choice to bring the gospel across the known world. So Ananias goes out to find the location of the sightless persecutor. The Bible says in Acts 19:7 that when he found Saul, he laid his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus has sent me to find you…” and in an instant Saul was healed of his blindness and filled with God’s Spirit.

Brother Saul. Brother….Saul. Perhaps the magnitude of Ananias’ greeting is unappreciated. Brother (and sister) was an expression used by Christians to convey a family bond and promote intimate access. And later Paul himself would use this term to continue the tone of community and equality in the body of Christ. Brother Saul. Ananias demonstrates an incredible example of God’s grace. As a result of one conversation with God, he is able to overlook Saul’s history of savagery and extend an invitation of family. Ananias chooses restoration over retribution, acceptance over alienation.

How often do we struggle to look past the past of others? How often do we battle internally to fully embrace someone who made a choice to follow Christ?

I’ve heard it said that the ground is level at the foot of the cross. This truth applies to you, to me and to everyone who calls on the name of the Lord for salvation. Instead of seeing ourselves as spiritually superior and judging others through a distorted filter of moral perfection, we need to accept people the way God accepted us: without condition.

Brother Saul, I thought…and then, suddenly, the following scene from Tommy Boy raced into my mind as the most complete of illustrations:

I wonder what our churches would look like if we freely embraced one another like this? According to Jesus Himself in John 13:35, our love for one another will prove to the world that we are His disciples.

We need to shift our focus from tearing each other down to tearing down every wall that dares to separate us as believers. We need to fight for family. Sometimes it’s a show of kindness. Other times we need to repent for our prejudice. You may even find yourself hugging it out.

After all, brothers (and sisters) gotta hug…


Love Brings Freedom

Come see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?, is probably one of the shortest and most awkward sermons I have ever heard. I doubt this four-second declaration (yes, I timed it) would garner thousands of podcast downloads today or shatter any YouTube viewing records. And yet, according to the gospel of John, a Samaritan woman in chapter four won an entire town to Jesus with this exact evangelistic call to action.

In ancient villages such as Sychar in Samaria, nobody’s business was private and nothing was hidden. Everyone knew your personal history. Success could follow you forever, as could failure. Factor in both the heavy-handed tenets of Mosaic Law and Jewish customs and it all blended into a burdensome moral cocktail. In those days, one failed marriage could leave a permanent stain on your ethical score card and shadow you for life. However, as Jesus revealed in a moment of compassion, this particular woman had carried the shame of five failed marriages and was now living with a man that she wasn’t married to. She was no saint…at least not yet.

In a single exchange at a local water well, Jesus, keenly aware of this woman’s story, chose to reveal His divinity to her. Not many people in the gospels got the personal “Hey, I’m that Messiah you’ve been waiting for” chat and yet this woman with the checkered past was one of them. Think about the barriers that Jesus dismissed just to engage with her.

There was the prevailing point that Jewish people didn’t associate with Samaritans at all, dogs they called them at the time. Add in the taboos about a man talking alone with a woman, then humbling Himself by asking her to draw water for Him and finally drinking it out of her “ceremonially unclean” water pail and we see Jesus smashing through just about every social barricade that existed. Essentially, Jesus embraced her as the beautiful daughter He had created her to be and looked right past her glaring flaws.

“Come see a man who told me everything I ever did!” she cried out joyfully. Again, her announcement was not a shocking revelation to her peers. Everyone knew who she was and what she had done. What the town had never seen before was this same woman wholly free from the shame of an infamous past. The result of Christ’s unapologetic love was her liberation from a lifelong prison of guilt, humiliation and public ridicule.

Her freedom was so inspiring that it peaked the curiosity of an entire village. The scriptures say the people of Sychar begged Jesus to stay with them for a few more days and many believed in Him. A town was spiritually awakened by the most unlikely of evangelists. A woman was emancipated from captivity of every kind because of the Savior’s love.

1 John 4:18 states: There is no fear in love; instead, perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. So the one who fears has not reached perfection in love. (Emphasis added)

What our world needs first is not our values or our brand of morality, it needs our acceptance. Our ability as Christ followers to push past stereotypes, stigmas and our own reputation is the point at which we truly display the love of Christ. Love brings freedom. Who will you love without condition today?

Thundersnow: What Jim Cantore Taught Me About Leadership

As I write this post, I am only hours removed from some of the coldest weather of my life. I’m talking about temperatures dipping into the negative teens when factoring in wind chill. It’s the kind of bitter cold that makes you wonder how people can even catch their breath outdoors. We are, after all, comprised of 60% water as human beings are we not? I’m reminded of that every time I see long slabs of ice hugging the sidewalks in Brooklyn. It creates an enormous sense of urgency to get myself to the local subway station as fast as I can.

The Northeast in general has been under severe winter warnings over the last few weeks and as much as I would like to complain there are many cities that have gotten hit much harder than New York City. Even still, this icy vortex has dominated about ninety percent of our average conversations and even created friends out of strangers while waiting in the checkout line of the corner bodega. And while most of the dialogue is understandably negative, there are pockets of people around the northeast excited about the continuing arctic freeze. Apparently every last one of them works for the Weather Channel. And among that group, there are none more joyous than meteorologist Jim Cantore.

If you aren’t familiar with Jim Cantore, his vigorous and lively personality makes you want to check Al Roker for a pulse. Jim is famously known for his live weather reports in severe storm conditions and has more recently made the viral video rounds thanks to a rare blizzard marvel called “Thundersnow”. Thundersnow is basically a thunder and lightning show in the middle of a snow shower. Excited yet? Me neither. But that didn’t stop Jim’s exuberant outburst of passion when that storm hit several days ago. If you haven’t watched the clip of his broadcast in Boston, it’s definitely worth two minutes of your life. (I would recommend that you watch #Thundersnow [see below] before finishing this post.)

My bout of laughter finally subsided as the video clip ended, and I began to think about what has made this guy an international sensation. Anyone who passionately exclaims, “You can have your $500 million jackpot in Power Ball, but I’ll take [this Thundersnow] anytime baby!” is someone that I NEED to meet. I have never really been excited about the weather, at least beyond how it impacts the way I dress each morning. But after seeing Jim’s jubilant fury I am motivated to expand my understanding of atmospheric phenomena. So what drives me to know more about severe winter storms from Jim Cantore? It isn’t because he is knowledgeable about the subject, otherwise I’d be glued to my TV every night at 11pm to hear my local meteorologist. No, it was not simply knowledge; it was Jim’s endless amounts of enthusiasm and unashamed expression of that joy that caused me to lean in.

And then the leadership lesson hit me like that same snowstorm: A leader’s joy-filled passion gives them influence and creates a platform for them to share their expertise.

As leaders, we cannot think that just because we are well studied or experienced in our craft we should be automatically given a position of influence or entitled to an audience. What draws people into our lives, our expertise and ultimately our cause is undeniable passion. I read a quote recently that said, “The people with the most hope have the most influence.”

Hope is an unrelenting belief in a positive future. Who doesn’t want to be around a leader or a vision like that? Too often we try to teach people what we know and expect they will respect or follow us based on our capacity or organizational position. But people are not attracted to knowledge alone. Should leaders be competent? Yes. Should leaders be skilled? Of course. But before you open your mouth, ask yourself if people can discern that you are personally overrun with hope and joy-filled passion for your calling. If the answer is yes, then it won’t be long until people will stop to hear what you have to say.

Together Is The Adventure

5,235 days. 125,640 hours. 14 years and 4 months to the day since Kristen and I embarked on this adventure of marriage together. So today, on this global tribute to love, I’d like to give honor to the woman I love; the one who inspires me to be a better man every day.

An open letter:

Happy Valentine’s Day my Kristen. It has always been you and I love you without end. You are such a blessing to me, our children and to so many people who call you friend. You are beautiful inside and out. You are the most selfless person I have ever known and your passion to meet the needs of others is matched by few. Each day I am reminded of the kindness of Jesus by the way you live and I am stirred to live in kind. You are incredibly brave and you carry God’s light everywhere you go. I love the way you passionately extend the inclusive heart of God to those around you. Thank you for choosing justice and compassion daily. You are a gift. You are my gift.

Thank you for the way you have loved me. Thank you for your consistent encouragement and belief in me; it has brought out the best. I am a better Christ-follower, husband and father because of your influence. Your commitment to excellence in every sense has helped to fashion the very character of Christ in me and I am forever grateful for your inspiration. Thank you for your grace and patience as I figured out how to lead our family. I have never felt criticized or humiliated, even in the mistakes I have made. Your constant love has motivated me to keep trying…and then trying again. You are constancy. You are my constancy.

You are an exceptional mother. Thank you for the way you poured yourself into the children that God has entrusted to us over the years. Thank you for enduring sleepless nights and for nurturing creativity. You celebrate the uniqueness of our children and allow them to express their God-given individuality. Thank you for your intentionality in every decision to create an environment where our children have thrived. Thank you for the devotion to seeing that what we value in our lives become the values of our children, and of those yet to come. You are a treasure today. You are a treasure to the generations.

I love us. I love our companionship. I love the life we are building. I love the joy and laughter that permeates the atmosphere in our home. I love the strength of our collective faith in Jesus and the way we have modeled it to our children. I love what our obedience to God has produced in our journey together. I love our generosity toward others and our commitment to build God’s local church today and for every day following. I love our resolution to hold firm to Christ during the darkest of storms and the dedication to reconstruct our new normal in the aftermath. You are my best friend.

Thank you for saying yes to us and to all God has called us to.

We are not just on an adventure together; together is the adventure.

I love you,




Kindness Isn’t Random

I’m starting to uncover the truth about kindness, and I’m realizing that there is nothing random about it. Like the next person, I enjoy being spontaneously blessed by others when I least expect it. I love being surprised at the office when my wife comes by on her day off. I love it when someone makes a coffee run and asks if I need (yes, need) any thing to drink. I feel cared for when I receive a text from a friend saying they’re praying for me and I am grateful when I receive a word of encouragement that speaks to my potential in moment of disappointment.

These moments of spontaneous generosity are activities we define as “random acts of kindness”. But kindness, at least biblical kindness, appears to be more than just an ethical accessory we insert into our daily routine. Being nice and being kind are not the same. According to Galatians 5:22 kindness is a part of the Holy Spirit’s fruit, a byproduct of a healthy relationship with the Holy Spirit Himself. I shouldn’t have to will myself to do nice things for people or try really hard to speak words of encouragement to people. If I’m intentional about building my friendship with the Holy Spirit, then kindness should come naturally as a result.

But even deeper still, the Holy Spirit’s brand of kindness is more than a random act of human decency. The original Greek word used in scripture is defined as moral goodness or integrity. In other words, kindness isn’t just about doing nice things for/to people; God’s kindness actually pricks our heart and deals with the way we fundamentally value humanity. Moral goodness means that no matter what condition or status someone is in, a kind person will offer the same level of consideration and compassion. I have been guilty in the past of being “kind” to people who I know can repay me or help me gain traction in my ambitions. But genuine, Godly kindness dispenses compassion toward everyone regardless of who they are or what they can or can’t do for me. In other words, we see everyone the way God does.

Cynicism, heavy sarcasm and criticism of others are kindness killers in us because they attack the core of people’s worth. Often times we chalk it up to humor or jest, when we actually train ourselves that degrading someone’s God-given value is acceptable. The Kingdom alternative(s) to cynicism, sarcasm and criticism is hope that believes the best, verbal affirmation and compassionate correction. When the Holy Spirit produces His kindness in us, we will naturally offer encouragement, be generous and build people up through our actions and words. Why? Because we will see everyone the way God does, valuable and full of potential. We will embody the love described in Ephesians 5:2: Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of Himself to us. Love like that.

What could our personal world, and the one at large, look like if we loved like that?

Is Delegation Selfish? | Part Two

There are not many things that derail game plans quite like subtlety. Ideas, culture and language that seem “close enough” to your original target can appear to be nothing more than semantics in the beginning. But subtlety isn’t word play; subtleties are cracks in the integrity of your culture. Small, yet persistent cracks over time develop into chasms. In other words, your end result winds up being nowhere close to where you originally intended on going.

For example, if I want to grow in my personal capacity, I could say, “I am a student of leadership” or I could say, “I am reading a book on leadership.” Although both appear to run parallel, the end result could be drastically different. The first phrase implies teachability or intentional posturing while the second phrase only equals activity. I can simply read leadership books, but without the intention of humbling myself and applying those principles I am not bettering myself at all; much like drinking a kale smoothie to feel healthy while ingesting a large pizza. Being active does not necessarily equal being effective.

One of the subtleties of building leadership culture is a choice between delegation and empowerment. In Part One of this post I began to create a distinction between these two methods that appear similar, yet produce drastically different results. I touched on two of my five thoughts in that post; here are the other three.

3.) Empowerment values people; delegation uses them.
When leaders care more about completing a mission than drawing the best out of their teams, they switch from valuing people to simply using them as a means to an end. A delegating leader says, “Go do ______ and do it this specific way.” A delegating leader doesn’t leave much room for people to use their imagination, capacity or unique perspective to solve a problem. Ultimately what it communicates to a team is, I only care about your hands, not your heart or your head. An empowering leader says, “You are worth my time and personal investment. I believe in you and will release you to use your unique approach and skill set to find a solution; you’re just what we need to make this better.”

4.) Empowerment is a process; delegation is momentary.
I imagine the biggest reason a leader wouldn’t choose to empower a direct report wouldn’t be an issue of trust, but of time. Empowerment takes a lot of time. Teaching someone what to look for rather than just performing a function takes time. Teaching someone why and asking questions to sharpen their critical eye takes an enormous amount of patience and energy. Values and culture exist in the realm of ideas and trusting someone to use their perspective to make decisions based on those ideals takes a whole lot more time than just telling someone how/what to do in a moment.

5.) Empowerment creates leaders; delegation creates managers.
Delegation tells people to be boxed into current processes, systems and methods as means to accomplishing goals. Where as delegation trains people how to, empowerment trains people how to find a better way. Empowerment releases people to challenge the current system (not authority, process). Leaders who want to produce leaders take a chance on new people and consequently, new ways. Leaders who want managers will delegate and ensure that the end result was accomplished “in the way I’ve always done it”. Delegation is a safe way of leading because you know what to expect every time, but in the end your growth will be capped. Delegation and wide scale innovation cannot coexist.

Empowerment creates a leadership culture. And we need leaders in our world, in our churches today. We need innovators; people who look and relook, think and rethink what’s possible. We need people who have been believed in, have been given a target and then permission to go find solutions in their own God-given way. Empowerment is ultimately how we unlock potential, affirm value and unleash our people to lead.

Why I Still Respect Russell Wilson

The only thing deflated from last night’s Super Bowl game is my heart. What a tough way to end the night and a football season. From my previous post, I think you already know who I was rooting for. If you’re new to “Justinland” then you should know that I enthusiastically bleed Seahawk blue and green. If you were one of the 110 million+ people that watched the showdown between Seattle and New England, then you know the outcome came down to a call made in the final 30 seconds of the game.

In the last 2 minutes of regulation Seattle had marched down the field with a couple of clutch plays, including a miraculous catch by receiver Jermaine Kearse. As the game clock ticked away, the Seahawks found themselves just one yard shy of the end zone and down by four points; only a touchdown would suffice. With several chances to punch the ball across the line Seattle made a decision that could possibly haunt them for years. Instead of putting the ball in the hands of Marshawn Lynch, one of the fiercest running backs in the NFL, Seattle opted for a passing play. In a heartbreaking finish, the ball was intercepted by the Patriots and essentially the game was over.

As a devoted Seahawks fan I was devastated. The shocking end took my breath away, in the worst of ways. Though I woke up this morning still under a cloud, I began to think through the events of last night and the post game conferences. As a student of leadership culture, I understand that all great leaders falter in moments but their long term influence will always ensure the potential for future success. So, in the spirit of perpetual learning, here are a few leadership lessons that emerged from that drama that was Super Bowl XLIX.

1.) Great leaders aren’t defined by a bad call.
“If I could just go back and change that decision…,” says every single person who has ever made a choice with an unsavory result. After all, hindsight is 20/20 as they say. In the case of last night’s final offensive play call, the Seahawks should have run the ball. Okay, so that’s pretty obvious now. But had that pass been simply deflected and eaten precious seconds from the clock with two more playmaking opportunities, head coach Pete Carroll would have been called a genius for restricting the Patriot’s multiple Hail Mary attempts at the end of the game. All I’m saying is that there are many ways to dissect the events of last night, after the fact. Look at the end of the first half of that game. Pete Carroll and his coaching staff made a gutsy call to run a touchdown play instead of kicking a field goal and it worked brilliantly; they entered half time tied up. Great leaders take risks. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. Great leaders should be given grace when they make bad calls from time to time. I’d rather celebrate the culture of gutsy competition that exists on the Seahawks team that has put them into the Super Bowl two years in a row. What separates the tiers of leadership from average to great is the ability to get back up from those mistakes and embrace the future with courage and optimism.

2.) Great leaders never blame others.
I heard Nicole Reyes, an exceptional leader and preacher (and my sister-in-law) in Los Angeles, once say to her team, “As your leader I will always give the credit to you when we succeed and I will always take the blame if there’s failure.”

In the fallout of failure, leaders rise to the surface and I can’t think of a sharper contrast than one found in the comments of Bruce Irvin and Russell Wilson. Bruce Irvin, the Seahawks outside linebacker, came into the spotlight last night by becoming the first player in Super Bowl history to be ejected from the game after an all out brawl in the final moments. In an emotionally charged postgame interview, Bruce Irvin apologized for his conduct but also publicly questioned his coaching staff and the play calling. And while I recognize that emotions were running high among every player on the team, team quarterback Russell Wilson had a different response. Instead of blaming the coaching staff for the decision that was made Wilson took responsibility for the intercepted throw and then looked to the future and affirmed his hope for next year.

3.) Great leaders show honor in every moment.
I think great leadership is cemented in the way leaders handle difficult moments publicly. Speaking to the previous point of blaming others, honor not only takes ownership of mistakes but simultaneously shows restraint by not degrading others in the process. Seattle’s head coach Pete Carroll answered one reporter’s questions directly after the game was over. Clearly downcast, Carroll took full ownership for the call that was made. He didn’t blame his offensive coordinator or Russell Wilson or anyone else on his team. Instead he commended everyone for their effort and teamwork through the course of the season and the final game.

It’s okay for leaders to have negative emotions and opinions about how a situation turns out; that’s being human. What’s not okay is rejecting responsibility, casting blame and turning that emotion toward others in a way that undermines their value. Mistakes will happen. Falling short is a part of leading people. But great leaders understand that the trust of their team is strengthened when they speak to an individual’s potential and exercise collective grace.

What other attributes of leadership did you notice from the outcome of yesterday’s game? Are there any principles that have guided you when moving forward from mistakes or failure?