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Embarking Blog

...on the journey towards restoration of all things

Filtering by Category: Of Interest

Uncomfortable Lyrics - Oceans

Tom Elenbaas

Many of us have been blessed by the power of the worship song Oceans. I like the song. Like actual ocean waves and tides, the music swells and catches us up in its movement. It has a certain mystical mesmerizing quality to it that modern worship songs have, drawing us in, lifting us up, connecting at deeper levels than we realize.

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Worth Pondering

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One of the writers I love to read is Malcolm Muggeridge.  I'm not sure why, but his combination of journalism, seeking after God, his transformation to Christ, his keen political eye, and his incredible experiences make for interesting reading that - for me - leads to worthwhile pondering.  Here is a quote from the introduction to The Third Testament, which was original a TV series, I think for the BBC.

Considering [Saint Augustine, Blaise Pascal, William Blake, Søren Kierkegaard, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Leo Tolstoy and Dietrich Bonhoeffer] as a group, it became clear to me that, although they were all quintessentially men of their time, they had a special role in common, which was none other than to relate their time to eternity. This has to be done every so often; otherwise, when the lure of self-sufficiency proves too strong, or despair too overwhelming, we forget that men need to be called back to God to rediscover humility and with it, hope… Between the fantasies of the ego and the truth of love, between the darkness of the will and the light of the imagination, there will always be the need for a bridge and a prophetic voice calling on us to cross it.

Those are the kinds of sentences I long for in books I read today, and can't seem to find that often. I find the challenge of a phrase like "relate their time to eternity" throws me off balance for awhile and makes me think deeply about my own life and how my actions, words, and thoughts relate to the eternity that God has set before.  What conviction comes when you read a phrase like, and realize that the lure of self-sufficiency has grown strong, or maybe said differently, the lure of the illusion of self-sufficiency.  How many times have we seen throughout history those who have had to discover or rediscover humility?  How many times have we seen the mighty fall to their own failures, or implosion into depression because of unrealized, wrong-headed hopes and dreams?  How true it is that "between the fantasies of the ego and the truth of love, between the darkness of the will and the light of the imagination" we do need a bridge or otherwise we fall headlong into a chasm of self-destruction of our own digging.

Hope.  The prophetic voice calling. The truth of love. The light of the imagination. The rediscovery of humility, reliance, and the power and sufficiency of our God.  These things are worth pondering.


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Organizational Culture

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We talked today at lunch about organizational culture, and what makes a good culture.  I'm really intrigued by this topic, and think it's well worth not only talking about, but trying to be clear about defining your particular organizational culture.  If we don't do that in our organizations, a culture will emerge, and culture is more difficult to change than to create.  I really like what Terri Kelly said today about the organizational culture of WL Gore and Associates as well as some other places I appreciate like IDEO, Google, and Disney as well.  Here are some of the ways that Google defines its organizational culture:

  1. Lend a helping hand. With millions of visitors every month, Google has become an essential part of everyday life – like a good friend – connecting people with the information they need to live great lives.
  2. Life is beautiful. Being a part of something that matters and working on products in which you can believe is remarkably fulfilling.
  3. Appreciation is the best motivation, so we’ve created a fun and inspiring workspace you’ll be glad to be a part of, including on-site doctor; massage and yoga; professional development opportunities; shoreline running trails; and plenty of snacks to get you through the day.
  4. Work and play are not mutually exclusive. It is possible to code and pass the puck at the same time.
  5. We love our employees, and we want them to know it. Google offers a variety of benefits, including a choice of medical programs, company-matched 401(k), stock options, maternity and paternity leave, and much more.
  6. Innovation is our bloodline. Even the best technology can be improved. We see endless opportunity to create even more relevant, more useful, and faster products for our users. Google is the technology leader in organizing the world’s information.
  7. Good company everywhere you look. Googlers range from former neurosurgeons, CEOs, and U.S. puzzle champions to alligator wrestlers and Marines. No matter what their backgrounds, Googlers make for interesting cube mates.
  8. Uniting the world, one user at a time. People in every country and every language use our products. As such we think, act, and work globally – just our little contribution to making the world a better place.
  9. Boldly go where no one has gone before. There are hundreds of challenges yet to solve. Your creative ideas matter here and are worth exploring. You’ll have the opportunity to develop innovative new products that millions of people will find useful.
  10. There is such a thing as a free lunch after all. In fact we have them every day: healthy, yummy, and made with love.

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When Leaders Emerge - Terri Kelly

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Terri Kelly is the President and CEO of WL Gore and Associates, founders of Gore technology (Gore-Tex).  I've been looking forward to this talk since last year when one of the speakers spoke about the unique leadership culture at Gore which is not built with a traditional hierarchical structure, but organized around communities and teams in which the employees themselves decide who the real leaders are and what projects they want to work on.  Terry calls is a "peer based organization" in which everyone is concerned about the success of others in the organization.  This reminds me of a story I just ready about a similar company in the book Multipliers: how the best leaders make everyone smarter by Liz Wiseman.    Here is what Wiseman says about Hexal (sold in 2005 to Novartis) and the Struengmann brothers on p. 42-43:

Hexal doesn't have jobs, per se, and they don't have an org chart... Jobs were loosely created around people's interests and unique capabilities.  They called their approach the "ameba model."  Here's how it works... At Hexal, you could work wherever there was energy.  Through encouraging their employees to use this heat-seeking approach, they were able to utilize people at their highest point of contribution.  They didn't box people into jobs and limit their contribution.  They let people work where they had ideas and energy and where they could best contribute.  They let talent flow, like an ameba, to the right opportunities.

Terry spoke about "leadership on demand" as opposed to a "fixed hierarchy" where decisions go up and down the ladder.  The lattice organization is an organization in which everyone is connecting with everyone in their network - people being able to go to whoever they need to go to in the organization, rather than having "ladder" organizational structure where you may have 2-3 specific people you work through.  In this system, leaders lead by influence rather than by "direction".  This give the employee commitment and ownership, and the energy transfers to the whole organization rather than only by specific leaders.

The key to not having totally chaos is having alignment around shared, foundational values and beliefs.  Gore's 4 major values are the following:

  1. Everyone can make a difference, give them the tools
  2. Belief in small teams, to feel connected
  3. Same boat, vested collectively together
  4. Long term view, not short term results. First and primary is work environment, driving innovation, reaching out to communities.

Because the organization works by passion, influence, and good ideas rather than by power or position, selling your ideas becomes very important, as does peer review and collaboration to vet ideas as well as to make them better.  In this way, people become more motivated to work in the areas that they will be the most effective and impactful because their review is done by the peers they work with and around on these projects, which creates a built in mechanism for momentum, commitment, and contribution.  Those who make the greatest contribution, then, is paid accordingly.

This also creates an environment where there are more "coaches" than "bosses."  A coach, or personal sponsor, is committed to helping another person make their maximum contribution to the organization.  This person is not a supervisor, but a coach, encourager, "cheerleader".  There is clear separation between leadership roles and coaching in that coaches are not leaders, but those who are committed to the personal contribution of the person they are coaching.

Gore plants rarely get larger than 250.  Terry said,

"One of the core ideas is learning how to divide so that we can multiply."

The idea is that multiplication of small communities with great ideas that are highly productive, with shared values and high productivity, will grow the organization in a faster and more effective manner.

Waterline Concept: if you are considering an investment that could put the organization in jeapordy, don't do that because it could sink the ship.  You can drill holes above the waterline, but anything that could harm reputation, financial success, or the work environment (below the waterline) is too risky.

Leadership is defined by followership in the sense that followers follow the leaders they want to.  This, I suppose, makes John Maxwell's words that "if no one is following, you're just out for a walk."  This creates a culture of real leadership that is based on people who follow because they want to, not because they have to or because of their or someone else's place, position, or power in the organization.   When, in a survey of Gore employees they were asked if they are a leader in the organization, 50% answered yes, which is powerful in terms of distribution of the leadership role, equipping, and empowering of every person in the organization.


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The Aedyn Chronicles by Alister McGrath

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When I was a kid, like many others, I read with fascination the Chronicles of Narnia and was transported by CS Lewis to this magical parallel universe where good and evil collided, where Aslan ruled, and where normal children were princes and heroes.  My 7 year old son is now reading the Chronicles of Narnia as well, and is on the Last Battle.

I asked him to read the recent Zondervan book, "The Aedyn Chronicles: The Chosen Ones" by Alister McGrath.  I had personally read it not long ago myself and was reminded of Lewis and his imaginative writing.  Here is what Isaac wrote about it (in his own words and spelling):

I liked how the pages look like they are ripped.  I thought I ripped it for a second!  I like how you really made it feel like you were there in real life!  Your pages really look detailed.  I like the first chapter.  Well, I guss the aigtheenth.  What I really liked how it's so long.  I'm mostly always bored but I wasn't bored for a whole week because of that book.  PS. this is a blog.

I told him I wanted to blog about what he thought of the book.  Since he took a break after The Silver Chair to read this, I thought it would be good to ask him about his comparison to Narnia.  He said, "I mostly like both of them."  Then he also said, "I really liked how Lucy had that screaming power.  But I wish she could have told her bother, so he could've helped her.  If Lucy was my sister, I would have wanted to help."  He also really loved the special bows and arrows, which he mentioned to me multiple times, which explains why he liked the eighteenth chapter - which was the  archery training for battle.  He liked how it was "a mystery inside a mystery", which he said he was trying to "figure if they were going to get the Lords" and "are they gonna get the weapons?"

Here's a quick run-down of my own assessment:

  • The book seems to be a nod to Lewis in mimicking some of his style and what he was trying to accomplish with the Narnia series.
  • The book has many biblical and Christian metaphors and McGrath's Christianity seeps through the pages in many ways.
  • There is definitely a polemic going on in the subtext regarding the relationship between science and spirituality with respect to truth.  This is true of McGrath in general as a scientist and former atheist turn Christian.

Is McGrath trying to create a new mythology with a Christian subtext for a new generation?  Is he giving us what Lewis gave to his generation - a former Oxford, now King's College professor giving us a fictional entry into the biblical world?  Is this the precursor to a new imaginative apologetic?  Hard to say, and filling Lewis' shoes is harder still.

I appreciate McGrath a great deal, and was deeply inspired this past year by his Gifford Lectures on Natural Theology, his presentations at the Q Conference, and his debates with modern popular atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchins.    McGrath has much work ahead of him, and my hope is that he will continue to bring us new work that is deeply inspired, deeply thoughtful, and deeply challenging to contemporary culture.

I plan on reading it again, so does my son, and my 10 year old daughter is next when she finishes her current book.


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Bible Reading, LifeJournal, and YouVersion

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6 or 7 years ago, Dan Reeves introduced me to something called the LifeJournal produced by Wayne Cordeiro at New Hope Church in Oahu.  Back then, I was part of a network of pastors in the Detroit, Columbus, Toledo, and Cleveland areas and Dan was doing some consulting with our network of RCA Churches.  It's a simple little book that helps a person be more disciplined in their daily Bible reading.  Apparently, Wayne has used this with his whole church to much success.  We started using it for our daily devotional time, but also as a way to do some prayer and Scripture work together as a group whenever we would meet, seeking what God might be saying to us at that time.  We were literally, on the same page of scripture every day, and then when we came together, we had a chance to share what we heard as well as hear some interesting parallels with one another.

Here's how it works.  If you're familiar with a reading through the Bible in a year plan or a lectionary readings, you already know most of it.  Basically, Wayne has put together a Bible Reading plan for the year.  He then provides a little explanation of how, simply, to approach the text using the acronym S.O.A.P. - Scripture, Observation, Application, Prayer (simplified Inductive Bible Study).  Wayne talks about looking that day for what the Holy Spirit has highlighted in the chapters for you that day, trying to see it, understand it, and apply it.  There is space to write down a scripture, and journal out your observation, application, and prayer.  There's also a section to keep a prayer list.  That's it.  Simple.

Sometimes I realize that all I really need is some simple organizational help to get me going on something I'm undisciplined about.  This is a great way to get into the Bible daily, create some accountability (if you do it with friends), and keep a record of what you see.

Since that time, I've moved on from my leather bound paper journal to an online version.  If you haven't seen YouVersion produced by Craig Groeschel's team at LifeChurch.tv, you have to check it out.  It's an online (and mobile phone) app that gives you a ton of different translations, the ability to make notes - public or private - and to tag scriptures, etc.  It also has a bunch of Bible Reading plans that will help you track your progress.  They even have some built in accountability tools if you want to use them. They'll email you, or a friend, to remind you of your reading.  You can also do online journaling as well as see how the passages have affected other people.  Be careful... this is an open application, so you have to listen to people's interpretations and check them out.  Taking them at face-value could get you in trouble.  This kind of media is great for a lot of reasons, but it's also great for spreading misinformation or misinterpretation.  (Of course, that happens in real life, face to face encounters just as well!)


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Fearless by Max Lucado

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It's been a long time since I've read a Max Lucado book.  Lucado's new book, Fearless, is a book about the fears that are so prevalent in our lives and how they affect us.  Lucado takes these fears on head on and matches fear with courage, and fright with faith, with heavy doses of mercy, grace, and generous love.  It's an uplifting book that en-courages by giving you a dose of an alternative, biblical reality of a God in control.

What I like about Lucado is his ability to use Scripture, prayer, stories, examples, and easy to read, engaging and creative writing.  In this book, Lucado looks past fear and into the heart of the pain behind and inflicted by so many of our fears.  He is engaging in stories and metaphors, and then is a straight shooter with the clarity of biblical truth.

The promise of Christ and the contention of this book are simple: we can fear less tomorrow than we do today. [p. 13]

Destructive anxiety subtracts God from the future, faces uncertainties with no faith, tallies up the challenges of the day without entering God into the equation. [p. 46]

Lucado takes on fears like  insignificance, disappointing God, worry, parenting, the lurking fears of ultimate desperation, violence, financial fears, death, life's surprises, doubt, and many more.  From an opening story of his brother, to fables, to Stalin's Russia, to a ride with a fighter pilot, to the hospital bedside, to his dog molly, quotes from people like Bertrand Russell and Sartre, to his daughter's wedding, CS Lewis, his own heart condition, to Woody Allen and many more, Lucado is engaging and helps everyday people connect everyday fears with the truths of Scripture and a bigger God.
This is a good book, and a good encouragement in an all-too fear driven culture.

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Poets, Prophets, and Preachers #pp09

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I've spent the last couple of days in Grand Rapids at the Conference Poets, Prophets, and Preachers by Rob Bell.  Today is the last day, I'm really looking forward to it.  This is a preaching conference, and it's been great to be around mostly young pastors from around the world because this is a representation of the next generation of preachers - and they are on fire.  It's been a delight for me, too, to see some friends from our time in Ann Arbor who came up from Georgia and Alabama to be here, as well as to see friends from seminary and a bunch of other local friends, too. To the conference:  I remember when I first began hearing about Rob Bell.  I was a pastor in Ann Arbor, Michigan, working with college students when Mars Hill was really growing in the early years of this decade.  Many of my students were from Grand Rapids, and sometimes they would go home for the weekend - and their home church was Mars Hill.  They would often come back and say, "You gotta hear this Rob Bell.  You guys think about and say a lot of the same things."  That was fine and dandy, but I didn't realize then what an impact Rob was beginning to have and would eventually have on the future of the church.  These students would bring me stuff from services and I started to listen to his podcasts and eventually read many of his books.  So, I've been reading and listening to Rob for years.  3.5 years ago I moved to West Michigan to serve in a church just a few miles from Mars Hill.  Interesting thing about the history of this church.  During the rise of Mars, this church went through a huge crisis in leadership and well over 1000 people left the church.  Many of them went to Mars Hill.  In the last 8 years, we've lost many young adults to Mars Hill, not to mention many disaffected with the church.  Though I heavily lamented the loss of so many young adults to our church (remember, I was in campus minsitry in Ann Arbor for years), 2 years ago, I remember just being thankful to Rob and Mars for providing a place for our disaffected young adults and those who were hurt by leadership division.  So I thanked Rob and the church in a sermon for this, and called for a greater unity among the churches and our brothers and sisters in Christ who are seeking the same things.  I hope to see greater unity and cooperation with one another in our community in the future.

Now, I know that Rob has gotten a lot of criticism.  I, too, don't agree with all of his theology - even if I thought I could know what it always was or is.  I would venture to guess that my friends don't always agree with all my theology either.  But let me say this.  On a number of fronts, Rob has taken some hard hits.  One of those is that Rob doesn't believe in the resurrection, that he preaches just from the Old Testament and avoids speaking of the resurrection.  Now, let me just say this to my conservative evangelical friends (and I don't mean that tongue in cheek, you are my people in so many ways):  that's slanderous.  I have not heard recently a preacher more passionate about the resurrection than Rob Bell.  His teachings at this conference on the place or resurrection, the power of resurrection, and the lamb who was slain seated on the throne are in my mind orthodox without question.  Where some of you miss the point is that Rob is teaching a more holistic gospel rather than an often prefered abbreviated, truncated gospel of the contemporary evangelical church.  He is preaching way better than I could about similar things that I've written about often in these blogs concerning the holistic gospel.  Rob understands and is teaching what was visceral to me in my conversion through Paul's words "In him [Christ] all things hold together."

Sometimes Rob is alsosometimes said to be a universalist.  I'm sorry, that's also slander and just not true as far as I can see.  Sure, he believes that all truth is God's truth wherever it shows up, and that all beauty and all goodness are from his good creation and under his reign and attributable to him.  So do I.  That's not universalism.  In fact, those of you who are reformed should recognize the Kuyperian resonance and reformed theology that undergirds this as well as Rob's understanding of the wide breadth of the sovereignty of God.  Don't mistake innovation in words, culture, or even sometimes theology to necessary mean heresy.  Fear is the enemy of the good.

I have a lot more to say, but maybe later.


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More in Cizik

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I finally watched the video last night between Cizik and Jacques Berlinblau on Faith Complex in the Washington Post.  A couple of follow up comments:

  • It appears that Cizik does view homosexuality as a sin, but is not against political anti-civil unions.  Many people would say that's a clear contradiction, but there is a big question that bears discussion on this and many other issues about the fact that the US is a political democracy founded on political liberalism (different than "liberal").  Since we are not a theocracy, what can be and should be expectedand/ or demanded from the government according to our values is naturally limited by the type of liberal democracy we have.  The big questions are probably these:  What are those limits for Christians?  At what point are we unable to live in such a democracy without strong resistance (and I don't mean violent resistance, cf. 1 Peter 2&3)?  How do we respond faithfully and biblicall to government laws and programs that we cannot agree to, or that may contradict our beliefs?  At what point do we violate political democracy by forcing our own values and beliefs up others, and is it ok for us to do that through political leveraging or rule of the majority, but not for others we may disagree with?  I've not heard enough conversation among Christians on those issues, which would be a great help to clarify where we stand on such important clarifications  (maybe some time would be helpful with William Wilberforce, Deitrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Jr., and of course Paul and Peter in their time in Rome and Jesus in Jerusalem).  It's simply more complicated than saying, "We are a Christian nation" or "We were f0unded on Christian principles."  Even if that were true (and it is and it is not, depending what you mean), these questions are still important.
  • Cizik spoke well about environmentalism.  The church in many quarters does seem to be waking up to these realities at a higher level, for which I'm very glad.  There are some great minds in this area within the Christian Church, great voices that need more air time, people like Stephen Bouma-Predegar and Wendell Berry and one of my favorites, Joseph Sittler.
  • Cizik spoke of the Republican Party as the part of denial.  I thought this was interesting.  He was basically saying that if you deny something (that global warming exists, that millions are without healthcare, that poverty is epidemic) then you don't have to do anything about it.  I found this a fascinating idea.

I was actually impressed with Cizik.  Whether you agree with him or not, this is an interesting video.  As I've said a million times, and Berlinblau gets at it at the beginning of the video, the future of evangelicalism, and particularly the leadership of evangelicalism is up in the air.  I'm fascinated and interested in how this will play out in the next 20-50 years of my lifetime and wonder if and how I might be involved in that dialogue and development.


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