ADVENTURES IN GETTING TO KNOW PEOPLE

My mom is awesome. Around 8AM every day of the week, she sends me a quote. She’s been collecting them for as long as I can remember and ever since I stepped into the lead role at Immanuel Church, she’s been sending me a little encouragement each day from her notebook. It’s great. One in particular has been stuck in my mind for a while now and I thought I’d share it with you: “The only normal people are the ones you don’t know very well.” Joe Anis said that; an executive with GE who sounds an awful lot like a philosopher from centuries gone by.

Could a statement be more true? Why is it that the closer we seem to get to people the more flaws we find in them? I mean, who annoys you more than your family? And yet, when you look at everyone else, they seem to be all smiles, hugs and kisses. Everyone else’s office is normal. Everyone else’s neighbors are normal. Everyone else’s cousins are normal. Or so we think. With this misconception of everyone else in mind, we go about trying to fix the people we do life with. We try to adjust them so they can be normal too.

But what if there aren’t “normal” people? What if life isn’t about conforming to a standard; a usual, a typical, or the expected? Last time I checked, our society values being unique; being who we are and not apologizing for it. So why then are we so consumed with being normal? Normal is average. And who wants to be average?

I love these few sentences from the Bible: “You alone created my inner being. You knitted me together inside my mother. I will give thanks to you because I have been so amazingly and miraculously made. Your works are miraculous, and my soul is fully aware of this” (Psalm 139:13-14). “Yet you, LORD, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand” (Isaiah 64:8).

To think God made us on purpose with a purpose is nothing short of mind-blowing. David says that we’re “amazingly and miraculously made.” Those are gigantic words to describe you and me. Then Isaiah says that God made us like a potter forms clay into a bowl or vase. Think about that, a potter shapes that clay into precisely what he or she wants it to be, and then people pay good money to put them in their homes. Astounding, right? That’s you! You are the priceless piece uniquely made by the Potter. There’s nothing normal about that. No two are exactly the same.

So what if getting to know people well, blemishes and all, really is about seeing how they aren’t normal? And what if instead of trying to reshape them into a standard, you were appreciating the uniqueness of who they are? This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t all be striving to change into the likeness of Jesus; of course we are to do that. But I know an awful lot of Christians who are good, God-loving people, but don’t seem “normal” to some. Think of how different the 12 disciples were… Peter was loud and brash. John was quiet and reflective. Thomas was a skeptic. And yet they all followed Jesus.
We’re going to find differences with whoever we’re close to, I promise. But maybe, just maybe, we can come to appreciate that, instead of long for someone to be more like someone else. What would that do to our marriages? What would that do to our friendships? Our work relationships? The dynamics with our kids? I think it would do a lot. So Mr. Anis, you’re right about normal people being the ones you don’t know very well, but that’s what makes God all the more incredible and the adventure of getting to know people so great. Here’s to abnormal.

THE “SO FAR”

Lately my son has become obsessed with being in a band and becoming a world-famous rock star. He’s eight years old. But he is determined and convinced it will happen for him. So he’s begun writing songs–lots of songs. Everywhere I go in our house I find pieces of paper with lyrics scribbled all over them. And any time I go to use the family iPad, it’s too full of videos to do anything else. Here’s the thing: if you read those lyrics and watch those videos you’ll find that they’re pretty repetitive; seriously, it’s the same line over and over again. It’s not Grammy-winning material, so far…

And that’s the thing I can’t shake: it’s “so far.” Like I said, he’s an eight-year-old boy who has a wild and crazy dream, and if he has the wherewithal to write down even simple lyrics at this young age, what might he be capable of in 10-15 years? It would be easy for me to not think that way; it’s my default after all. Be realistic. Be serious. Think reasonably. Most people never make it as musicians; at least to a level that can support a family. As his father, isn’t it my job to help him grow up with his “head on straight?”

Can I be honest with you? I hate how that’s my default. I hate that I’m not better about dreaming with my kids and fanning sparks into flames. What if Justin Timberlake’s parents told him that a music career wasn’t a serious one? I bet they’re glad they didn’t when he pays for a nice vacation or meal. And I don’t want to think of this from the perspective that sees a possible retirement plan via my child’s riches, but the perspective that’s simply trying to love my son and grow him into the man God has created him to be.

Have you ever thought about that idea for very long? The fact that God created your children? We love to take the credit for that, but we overestimate ourselves. Psalm 139 reads, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (v13-14, NIV). My son is fearfully and wonderfully made. He is a wonderful work of God Himself. And let me tell you, God has knit together one created little boy. So I’ve begun looking at the dreams of my sons as an opportunity to shine light on the amazing creativity of God. Their creativity is His creativity. Me cheering them on and at times playing along is a chance for me to worship God and celebrate His creative work.

I don’t know if my son will ever stand in front of an auditorium and sing songs he’s written… but he might. Because right now, he’s just in the “so far.” Isn’t it interesting how much we are all in the “so far?” We’re all becoming. Whether we’re 7, 17, 37 or 77, we’re growing in our person. Some of us are simply growing in our knowledge and understanding. Others of us are doing our best to grow in our likeness to Jesus. We’re not very much like him, so far, but we’re working. So what if we did a better job of cutting each other a little slack? What if we understood that we’re all fearfully and wonderfully made? You may not have children of your own, but you have co-workers, or brothers and sisters, or neighbors that aren’t quite where you think they should be. Do you see their potential? Or their shortcomings? Do you see the lyrics they’re writing and think, “that’s not much to write home about” or do you see what they could become one day?

I’m thankful God spends more time thinking about the latter with me. And my goal is to spend more time thinking about the latter with my sons, my co-workers, the people I go to church with, and the people I sit in traffic with. Because in the end, we’re all still in the “so far.”

RADIANT LEADERSHIP

Not long ago, I introduced a concept to our staff that has shaken me up a little bit. At first it was just a leadership principle, but lately I’ve found it seeping into other parts of my life; like my parenting, my spousing (is that a word?), my friendships…everything. This might seem like a good thing, and I suppose it is, but it’s made things uncomfortable in my already complicated psyche. And so, I share it with you here so I’m not alone.

I call this concept Radiant Leadership. And it stands at the other end of the spectrum from leadership styles like Compliant Leadership. Allow me to define each of these briefly. Compliant Leadership has, you guessed it, a leader. This leader stands in front of followers and tells them where they’re going and how they’re going to get there; while they lead the way. This is pretty standard practice in most classrooms, offices, families, and even friendships. It’s  worked (sort of) for a very long time. It looks something like this:

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The hardest part of this arrangement is it’s dependency on the followers being compliant. They have to actually respond and do what they’re being told they should do. This model hinges entirely on THEM. That makes for frustrating leadership. Have you ever tried to tell a four-year-old to eat their vegetables? How about a disgruntled employee that they need to have a better attitude? You might use every strategy from every book in the parenting or leadership section of Amazon and still find THEY don’t listen.

So what if we flipped the script? Here’s what I mean: instead of depending on THEM, let’s focus more on YOU. In order to do that, we need to change the model all together; this is where Radiant Leadership comes in. It looks like this:

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In this model, the leader is at the center instead of at the front or on top of the proverbial organizational chart. And they function more like a pebble that’s thrown into a pond. Have you ever noticed the monumental effect a small stone can have on a still pond? The ripples it creates often make it all the way back to the shore. The leader (or parent, or friend, or life group leader) in this model focuses on themselves and how they are doing things. They do—as an example—and that doing affects those around them, who affect those around them, and so on and so on and so on.

The truth is, you and I cannot control anyone else, just ourselves. So why not lean into that instead of continue to bang our heads against the wall trying to move others? Let’s just move ourselves. Let’s be the people we want them to be. Instead of constantly telling others what they should do—show them what you do. Lead by example.

Like I said, this is uncomfortable. But I think there is something to it. After all, Jesus spent 3.5 years leading the disciples, and most of what we read in the gospels is Jesus showing his disciples and then explaining. When he said, “Come, follow me,” he didn’t stop there. He also said, “and I will show you how to fish for people!” (Mark 1:17, NLT). He showed them how to do what he wanted them to do. So this week, as you parent, or spouse (again, probably not a verb at all) or work, let’s be like Jesus and be radiant in our leadership.

TEAM FAMILY

Have you ever tried to give a cat a bath? Personally, I haven’t but hear it’s pretty difficult to pull off. Most cats don’t like water and will contort their bodies in very unnatural ways just to avoid taking the plunge. It’s not unlike when a cat sees a cucumber (look it up on YouTube – it’s weird). Now, imagine how difficult it would be to give four cats a bath.

If you snuck into my house on any given morning when we have to get our four sons someplace by a certain time, that’s what you’d find – cats, water, chaos. What’s extra insane is that at our house, while the boys are avoiding shoes and backpacks and teeth brushing, they’re also fighting with one another… a lot. So awhile back I sat them down and gave them a new definition for what it meant to be a family; more precisely, I shared with them what it meant to be a team. Here’s the jist of it:

Teammates SACRIFICE for each other.

In other words, there are going to be times when you are called to give something up for a teammate. In the family context, you’ll need to sometimes give up the front seat for your brother who hasn’t had the chance to sit there for a long time. So our goal is the best for the unit, not just for ourselves. 5-year-olds hate this part the most, because they love “mine” and are faced with the possibility of making “mine” “ours.” But again, that’s what it means to be a family.

Teammates SERVE each other.

No, you did not take out those Legos, but will you serve your brother by putting them away for him? Some form of that question shows up every day at our house. Because we value serving our family; our teammates. Here’s why that’s important: because I believe we’re never more like Jesus than when we serve someone else. And I want my boys to be like Jesus, so I lean into the ever-present sibling group around them as the practice field for their future. And serving can’t be done begrudgingly, because that’s not the same thing. We want to serve our brother because we love them and this is a great way to express that love.

Teammates SUPPORT each other.

We always have each other’s backs. Always. Throw in any cliche you like here (like blood is thicker than water) and I use it with my boys. You might pick on your brother but nobody else does. You stick up for them and defend them. You are your teammates’ (and family’s) biggest cheerleader in whatever it is they’re doing.

I’m sure by now you caught that all three start with an “S.” So in our house we call them “The 3 S-es of a Team.” It might sound cliche and cheesy, but it’s helped us be a little more consistent and while the cats still don’t want to get in the water, they’re at least working together to avoid it.


JP

After serving as the Student Ministries Pastor for 10 years, Josh Petersen is now the Lead Pastor of Immanuel Church. He’s married to Heidi and together they live with Jake, Logan, Cole and Sawyer at the circus they call home.

AWE-FTEN

I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of being awestruck lately. If I’m being honest, it’s an important part of loving God that I don’t practice enough. And here’s what I mean by awestruck: respect, fear and wonder all wrapped up in a mouth-wide-open-head-scratching stare at God. I don’t think those moments are hard to come by because God is anything short of awe-inspiring; it’s more we’re just too busy to remember that He is indeed just that. And most of us don’t have the resources (time, money, energy) to go on retreats and/or vacations that allow God the space to stir that up in us. So lately I’ve been trying to find ways to stand amazed at God between the proverbial “spiritual highs.” Because I think we should be in awe, awe-ften. See what I did there? So here are 5 places I’ve been in awe of God in the in-between lately:

Sitting in traffic. The most frustrating place on earth is a traffic jam. But look around you. In a two-mile stretch there are roughly 3000 cars. Let’s say half of them carry two people. That means there are about 4500 people within two miles of you on that interstate. That’s 4500 people God created and no two are the same. That’s 4500 people with a number of hairs on their head that God knows precisely. They each have a name and a story that matters to Him. That’s awesome.

Lawn weeds. Think about it, we spray chemicals and pull until our hands hurt and yet they’re back next week, waiting for us even if we’re talking about concrete. We don’t water them or care for them and yet they grow. We’ve actually made our children’s growth spurts sound impressive because they behave like something in the yard. God created a hardy, incredible mechanism when He created weeds. They have no support and still they thrive. That’s awesome.

Humidity. At this time of year where I live in Chicago, it’s hot and humid. And a lot of people would say they don’t mind the heat, it’s the humidity; preferring the “dry heat” of Arizona. But did you know scientists are finding that the flu has a harder time surviving in a humid environment? Haven’t you ever wondered why your mother always says you should run a humidifier when you’re sick? Summer in the Midwest usually lasts a week or so; isn’t it cool that God set it up where our likelihood of being sick for that short timeframe is lessened? That’s awesome.

Election season. I live in a country where I get a vote; where I get to worship my God every weekend without fear for my life. So even though it all feels uncertain, and everyone has a strong opinion, and I don’t know who to believe…there are millions and millions of people all over the planet that would trade places with me. I’m fortunate. I’m blessed. That’s awesome.

Exercise. I’m not a fan. I’ve tried so hard to find joy and pleasure in working out, but I can’t. However, it’s amazing to me—what our bodies can do if we start to move around a little more often. Every November and December I put on a few. That is not awesome, but I can’t get over the contraption God created in my body. It can literally change shape over time. If I run long enough and lift heavy enough, my physique changes. And all I am is bones, muscle fiber, and water; yet it can morph like an Autobot (shoutout to Transformer fans). That’s awesome.

So I’m convinced the key to being in awe more often is not getting away with more regularity— although I think that’s important to do every so often—instead, I think it’s finding the incredible in the mundane. I think it’s finding a big God in the little things; finding the good in the bad. Because God is that…awesome.


JP

After serving as the Student Ministries Pastor for 10 years, Josh Petersen is now the Lead Pastor of Immanuel Church. He’s married to Heidi and together they live with Jake, Logan, Cole and Sawyer at the circus they call home.