No, not the tv show (which I am shamelessly addicted to).  REAL heroes.

Have you ever heard of the Carnegie Hero Fund?  I hadn't until yesterday.

Founded in 1904 after two men fatefully rushed into a mine collapse in Pennsylvania to try to save others, this award is issued to about 100 people (civilians only) each year for heroic deeds.  About 20% of them are given posthumously.

The prize is a 3" coin with Andrew Carnegie's bust on one side and John 15:13 inscribed on the other with the recipient's name.  The winner is eligible for scholarship money, or if they have passed, their family is eligible for grant and ongoing support funds.

I've been sitting, reading the stories of many of the people who have won the award in the last 10 years.  You can read them online: CLICK HERE .  All I can say is that I'm awestruck.  The numbers of people who have risked or given their own lives for others without hesitation is amazing.  All I can hope is that I would be so bold, given the same opportunity.

Know what the best part is?  These were ordinary people - not like the "heroes" on the tv show by the same title.  Their stories read like newspaper articles.  When they are mentioned, it reads "John Smith, 27, cabinet maker".  There are property managers, stone cutters, real estate agents, students (some as young as 10), youth pastors, and retirees.  Ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

Got a minute or two?  Read some of these stories.  It will warm your heart and make you thankful for the heroes in your own midst - the ones without Carnegie Awards too.


My DISCernment Profile

Do you know your personality type? If you're like me, you've taken SEVERAL personality inventories over the years. My Myers-Briggs is an ENTJ. The Kiersey Sorter declared me to have a "Rational Temperament" and, more specifically, a "Field Marshall." Today, I took a new test, the Personal DISCernment Inventory, also known as the DISC Profile System.

My predominant behavioral style is a D, which stands for Dominant. At this point in life, that's no news flash to me and probably not to anyone who knows me. My secondary is Influential, but it's not a close race between the two.

I think D is the official personality of the Barbarian. Active and self-oriented, we are self starters who get going when things get tough. We thrive on competition and pressure. We're clutch, or at least try to be. Never content with the status quo, we will work hard for change, question authority, and work fast.

We're also dangerous people when everything is going well. We're outgoing and likable, but don't always know how to best care for others or when the right time is to back off. Just ask my wife.

At this season in my life, this personality has served me well. I do a great impersonation of a bull in a china shop when the church becomes complacent and needs a shake-up. At a district breakfast with other pastors and the superintendent this week, we had conversation about change in churches and my own innate ability to be a "button pusher." I think I may have earned a nickname with my boss.

My challenge as a Dominant is going to be in not pushing so hard or changing things so fast that I alienate others and when things get rolling and the church is growing and meeting challenges, I've got to learn to live within that and become more of an influencer than a driver.

Another thing I found interesting in this inventory was that it described D's as prone to frequent job changes, especially early in a career, until they find the challenge that they seek. I have never thought of that, but it makes sense. I tend to be a restless person and when I get to October of next year, I will set a new record for the longest I've served a single church (2 1/2 years). I'm one of the pastors that actually embrace and almost enjoy itineracy - that group is certainly a minority.


Self-Evaluations and the Future

I must confess, I HATE doing self-evaluations. Evaluating something in particular, such as a ministry event, is good and needs to be done, but self-evaluations are just painful. This is one of the downsides of ministry in the UMC.

Every fall, every UM minister completes a self-evaluation for "effectiveness in ministry." That's followed up with an evaluation by the Staff-Parish Relations Committee and another with the District Superintendent.

I'm down with the goal setting and follow-up on last year's goals, but there's a couple of things I struggle with.

First, how you define "effectiveness in ministry" determines how you'll evaluate yourself. I'm not always sure how to begin that one. For decades, we have tried to find that perfect equation of new members vs. new Christians vs. financial giving that will give us a quotient to determine if we are truly being effective in ministry. It's been about as successful as the BCS has been with determining who should play for the national championship. I think for some appointments, there is a "difficulty of schedule" that has to be factored in because of geographical location, existing practices fo churches, and effective (or ineffective) lay leadership. A mediocre minister who doesn't apply him or herself to their work that is in a suburban or downtown setting with great resources and tremendous leadership will almost always show bigger numbers than a great, hard-working minister in a poor, rural community or in a church frought with conflict. All we can do as pastors is trust that our District Superintendent knows our situation and can relate to where we are.

For those of you who think that numbers don't really matter, all I have to say is "read Acts 2:47b". When the church is doing what it's supposed to, it will grow. According to Natural Church Development, it actually multiplies rather than just adding to its numbers.

My second issue is with self-esteem and self-perception. Remember in school when you'd do a project and the teacher or professor would tell you to grade yourself? I had one high school teacher that would do that regularly with papers we had written and she would average our grade with hers for a final, official grade. I confess that I've never hesitated in that situation. Even when I may not have applied myself or may have turned in something that was thrown together, I immediately gave myself an A+ (some of you are smiling, knowing that you did the same). I watched friends who were either more honest, or just thought less of their own work give themselves B's and C's. Why on earth would you do that?

When it comes to these self-evals, how can we truly engage ourselves in them? To evaluate yourself poorly is to intentionally, in my view, bring down your self-esteem. To give yourself high marks is to avoid reality and not face your own growing edges. Is this really the best way?

This year, I was pretty tough on myself. We've accomplished alot in the last year but it's almost all been below the surface. It's been changes in practice, leadership, and hopefully attitude, but nothing that will show numbers as results. I was critical of the low numbers of professions of faith and the decrease in church membership this year (we cleaned up the rolls) - but the criticism got good results. The SPRC's evaluation took most of those comments and put them on the shoulders of the church as goals for 2009. The CHURCH will strive for better outreach, evangelism, and missions.

All in all, the evals went well. My new superintendent affirmed my work and the work of the church - that's always good to hear when you have a first year DS. Before I left his office, he told me to plan to stick around at least another year. That's good news - hopefully it means that I'll get to see the church grow in faith and in numbers in 2009 and 2010.


Everyday Advent

What does Advent mean for you? For many of us, it's the time for shopping, Christmas music, parties, and wrapping up the year. The Chrismon trees and garlands come out in our sanctuaries and the tone of worship changes (so does the attendance).

I've learned that many people don't know that the Christian year actually BEGINS with Advent. The Christian New Year began on November 30th this year with the lighting of the first candle, the candle of Hope.

Again, we lose some of our focus as Christians - in two major ways:

First, we lose sight of the purpose of Advent. We put up the purple paraments and listen to sermons about the coming of Christ to remind us to "make straight the path of the Lord." Purple is the color for royalty, but its also the color for repentance, or turning away from sin and toward Christ. In the act of preparing for Christ, we strive to reorient our lives around honoring God with who we are and what we do.

So how far do we stray from the meaning of Advent with the way we behave during this season? Do we honor God when we put ourselves into debt to purchase material things for ourselves and others or are we simply selling our freedom to a credit card company? Do we honor God when we become consumed with what we can get or giving that perfect gift and turn away from loving our neighbors? I don't know about you, but when store employees are trampled to death on Black Friday and TV commercials show people betraying friendships to get that "perfect gift", I lose a little bit of the hope I have in the season.

You've heard it before, and you'll hear it here too, think about what you're doing this Christmas. Yes, my family and I will exchange gifts, but the really great part of the holiday for me is the time off and the time with family and friends. I couldn't even tell you what I got for Christmas last year, but I can tell you who was there and what we did and what we ate. What changes can you make to your December habits to refocus yourself on the coming of Christ and the fact that this season is NOT ABOUT YOU? Advent is a time to repent, to remember the promised coming of Christ, and to prepare to receive Christ.

Second, we think Advent is the time from Thanksgiving to Christmas - the time that we shop, party, give gifts, and light candles. Wrong again. Advent is EVERY DAY. Christ is coming - it will happen. Everyday should have an air of expectancy. Expect that Christ is not only coming in final judgement and realization of his Kingdom, but that he will work in your life this day. The Kingdom of God is here now and made known by the way we love God and love our neighbors.

Are you keeping focus on why we observe a season of Advent? Is your family? Your community? Your church? Are you learning to discipline your life to prepare for the coming of Christ?