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Leadership and the San Antonio Spurs

Posted on by Philip Nation in Leadership | 1 Comment

Currently, the NBA Conference Finals are taking place. In the Western Conference, the San Antonio Spurs are competing against the Oklahoma City Thunder. For many years, I’ve been fascinated by the play of the Spurs. Many teams have worked to find the one player who can help them excel. Just think about the self-aggrandizing spectacle that Lebron James went through to simply announce “I’m going to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat.” Meanwhile, coach Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan, and the rest of the Spurs have simply quietly gone about their business.

Below is a fascinating seven-minute video about the way that the Spurs play and includes commentary from Magic Johnson, Popovich, reporters, and other NBA players. It is amazing to hear the respect that is shown for the purity in which the Spurs play the game. In watching the video, I made the following observations.

1. Execute the plan. If you want to accomplish something, you can “wing it” or you can plan for it. But, most teams have a plan and the problem is they still run off the track. Not San Antonio. They are a disciplined group who knows what it takes to win and are willing to do it. As leaders, we need to do the hard work of not dreaming but doing.

2. Take the extra pass. Watching the Spurs play is an exercise in patience that always pays off. You keep waiting for someone to take a partially-open shot but they are waiting for something. They pass so effortlessly because they know their discipline will result in the opposing team’s breakdown. As leaders, we need to know how to continue movement beyond the opposition’s ability to keep up.

3. Selflessness always helps. In order to take the extra pass, one must be willing to help someone else seize an opportunity. Great leaders know that it is best when “we win” rather than when “I win.” The Spurs play with a fluid style of looking for the next open man on their team. It is a solid offensive philosophy because it causes chaos in the opponent’s defense. It allows them to maximize their shooting percentage by finding the best opportunity. As leaders, we can act in ways that both assists our team and breaks down our opponents.

4. Recruit the best no matter where they are playing now. In the video, it tells of the recruiting of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker; their three key players. Duncan came through the traditional route of university play and the NBA draft. However, Ginobili and Parker were recruited from the European leagues. When the Spurs were resetting the team for the post-David Robinson era, they decided to get the best teammates no matter where they were playing. It goes a bit against the grain because we think there are only a few places that churn out great players or leaders or staff members for the job. As leaders, we should look for the best fit and not the best origins.

5. Tenure matters. One of the reasons for the success of the Spurs is that you have a group of leaders, superstars, coaches, and an organization that values sticking it out together. Coach Gregg Popovich has been with the organization since 1996. Duncan has been with the team his entire NBA career beginning in 1997. Ginobili has played for the Spurs since 1999 and Parker since 2001. Being willing to stay with a team and a program seems almost impossible in the fast-paced world in which we live. The Spurs have done it because they have goals in mind and those goals take persistence. As leaders, you must commit to the long haul of directing your people to the preferred future.

Our Not So Secret Weapon

Posted on by Philip Nation in Sermons | Leave a comment

In our message series entitled “We Win” regarding spiritual warfare, Matt Capps spoke on the subject of prayer at The Fellowship. It is a great message about the power of prayer and God’s great initiative to fight for us. (The message starts at the 12:30 mark.)

When Authenticity Becomes Awkwardness

Posted on by Philip Nation in Leadership | Leave a comment

In our churches today, a premium is put on the idea of being:

  • Real
  • Transparent
  • Genuine
  • Heartfelt
  • Authentic

In years past, I remember hearing the arguments back and forth about how transparent should a pastor be about his personal life. As a young man, it seemed to me that leaders put a high priority on communicating how well everything was going in their lives and in the church. Many times, I witnessed church leaders putting a positive spin on very negative events. From my limited vantage point, the façade of “everything is just fine” was the priority. In the vein of creating a people who have an eternal hope for the future, leaders continually spoke positively about their lives.

Today, I think the winds are blowing in the other direction. The premium is now put on authenticity; especially from the pulpit. The drive to be genuine has become the willingness to describe church life, cultural events, and even personal experiences as unvarnished as possible. However, it has also become the opportunity to “air one’s dirty laundry” for the whole world. In the vein of creating a confessional people, leaders are at the forefront desiring to show what such a life might be.

With all leadership traits, cautions are needed. Moving to one end of the spectrum or the other has inherent flaws that we need to guard against. With the strong urge toward authenticity, we can eventually create such an environment that many will find off-putting. Leaders must guard the church’s authenticity from becoming an awkwardness that damages the very journey of faith we are trying to encourage. Here are four cautions that I would offer to church leaders.

1. Don’t be the class clown. Humor is hard. Leading with genuine heart is risky. When the two are unnecessarily combined by a leader, the result is the “class clown” who does not know when to be quiet. When uncomfortable, many often cover it up with an attempt at humor. But most of us are not very skilled at humor and, in the pulpit, we can drive the joke too far and come of looking immature. The sermon is not the place for a constant stream of jokes.

2. Self-deprecating humor that is a mask. Sarcasm is a prevailing mode of humor. If overly-applied to ourselves, however, it can get a lot of laughs at first and cover up a great deal of transparency in the end. In the bid to be authentic, we can find an issue in our lives that everyone thinks is humorous and continually make fun of ourselves about it. By doing so, we are just entertaining rather than being confessional about the true issues that we struggle with in life.

3. Revealing details that inflict pain rather than heal it. Every leader must find the line between being confessional and dredging up pain in the lives of others. It is a difficult decision but one that should be made. Should every pain in your life be available for public consumption? What will happen in the lives of those listening to you if you share “that” thing? The settings in which you are authentic about some arenas of life will differ from issue to issue. In our authenticity, we must never degenerate to being shock jocks.

4. Confession that borders on egotism. The biblical injunction that we are to be a confessing people is a life to be lived, not a point to be made. As a pastor, transparency should come with no ulterior motives. As those who stand with a platform and a microphone, we must constantly guard against our own egos taking control. A love for attention can drive us to an “I’ve been more real than anyone else” syndrome of arrogance.

The two solutions that can bring a resolution for all of these foibles are simple.

First, carefully plan your words. Revealing private details before your church family should be as carefully planned as the rest of your sermon. Secondly, put the needs of others before yourself. The feigned humility that comes from being the “most real” person in the room will help your leadership credentials for a very short season. We should consider how our candidness helps or hurts the church family listening to us. Our authenticity should never be used as an awkward crowbar to leverage the same from others. Rather, offer yourself as a living sacrifice to Christ first and then allow Him to lead you into faithful community with the church.

Infographic Friday – How Tall is Godzilla

Posted on by Philip Nation in Infographic | 1 Comment

The monster Godzilla has been in 28 films over the last 60 years. He has destroyed and defended as he crushed various cities along the way. Here is an infographic from Mashable charting his size through the years.


image source: Mashable Infographics

The Atonement and the Suffering Servant

Posted on by Philip Nation in Jesus | Leave a comment

Over the last couple of months, Ed Stetzer has been running a series of blog posts on the atonement. A number of leaders on the subject have shared and will share a bit from their studies on the scarlet thread that runs through the entirety of the Scriptures. As part of the series, Ed asked if I would take a brief dive into Isaiah 53 as part of the series that is connected to The Gospel Project. Here are the links to the series thus far.
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8


The Atonement and the Suffering Servant: Isaiah 53 by Philip Nation

The book of Isaiah is poetic and soaring in much of its language. But, at times, it is difficult to read. Not because it contains material that is too difficult to understand but because it contains truth that is difficult to face. The 53rd chapter contains what might be one of the more familiar passages to many believers as it has often been taught upon during the Easter season. It is good that we cover such territory in the Spring of the year but would be better for us to apply such a rousing passage in every day of the year. It is a passage where we can once again preach the gospel to ourselves in order to see the atonement take shape through the Suffering Servant, Jesus the Messiah.

Not much to behold

In much of modern media, Jesus is portrayed significantly different than Isaiah’s depiction of the Messiah. In our movies (and sometimes in our own minds), Jesus is shown in a sanitized, sappy Hallmark movie version. He is a Hippie prancing around the countryside with perfect hair and a winning smile. However, Isaiah 53:2 describes as quite contrary to that caricature of the Christ. He was not impressive, not majestic, and had “no appearance that we should desire Him.”

Jesus arrives on Earth to suffer the punishment due to us for our rebellion so that we can be reconciled to our perfect God.

The Savior we come to know as Jesus from Nazareth was the One whose life fulfills these verses. In verse 3, he is despised, rejected, devalued, and “was like someone people turned away from.” With not much to appreciate to eye, it seemed natural for the world to discard Him. For the Suffering Savior, dismissal would be the gut-level reaction of many. And yet, He presses on to deliver the gift of atonement.

To suffer for another

The bulk of the chapter gives us devastating detail after detail of what would happen to the Savior. It describes it with ancient poetic language that is delivered like deathblows. The Savior bears sickness and pain. He is described as being beaten and pierced; and it happening centuries before the invention of crucifixion. We see Him “cut off from the land of the living” (v. 8) and buried among the wicked (v. 9). Isaiah gives us the portrait of anguish on the part of the Savior.

The suffering is the “what” and, for our good, the passage offers the “why” as well. The Messiah does not appear in the flesh to simply give us a moral example or help us out by showing what sacrificial love looks like. Instead the “why” is so much greater. When the Savior bears sickness and pain, it is to carry it for us (v. 4, 11, 12). When we read that He is crushed and pierced, it is on behalf of how we have transgressed the Law of God (v. 5). All of the punishment that the Savior endures is on behalf of those who have actually committed iniquity (v.6). And who has committed these atrocities that punishment is doled out upon the Suffering Savior. It is in verse 6 that we find the phrase “the iniquity of us all.” The word “iniquity” is an interesting one. In the Hebrew language, it means moral evil or perversity. Jesus arrives on Earth to suffer the punishment due to us for our rebellion so that we can be reconciled to our perfect God.

The pleasure of crushing

In all of this, there is a great mystery for us. In the passage, we find this phrase: “Yet the LORD was pleased to crush Him severely.” It jars our souls to think that the Father is somehow gleeful to see the Son come under the crushing weight of wrath against sin. And we should be jarred by such a thought because He is not. The pleasure found in delivering suffering to the Savior is due to His great love for those being saved.

We must force ourselves to remember that the Savior has submitted Himself to this work. Jesus fully knew the punishment that was necessary to bear for atonement to be earned. The pleasure that comes from crushing the Savior is not in the judgment meted out but in the atonement that is accomplished. It is here that we see the Savior—that no one thought worthy to give a second look—stands with the beauty of our salvation. The pleasure of God’s crushing hatred toward sin has given us atonement through the Savior’s loving death.

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