Peyton Manning & the Many Narratives


peyton-manning-return-in1-2014No doubt you have heard many people talk about the legacy of a man named Peyton Manning.  Some would argue that he is the greatest football player in history.  Others would argue that he cracks the top 5.  There are even those who would argue that he has only reached the top 10.  And odds are, if you are a football fan, one of those categories I mentioned makes you scratch your head.

Last night, after a pedestrian effort (especially compared to his Hall of Fame worthy career), one of the announcers commented on Manning’s “masterful performance in today’s game and all season long”.  In a season in which he was 9th in QBR and only had one TD pass at home during the regular season, this announcer called it masterful.  After a Super Bowl that recorded this QB’s stat line as 13 for 23 with 141 yards, 0 TD’s, 1 fumble lost, and 1 interception…this announcer thought it was masterful.

Now…before you begin your ranting message to me about how I am trying to diminish Manning and his accomplishments…I am not.  He is a sure-thing Hall of Famer who deserves to be considered one of the best to ever play.  I don’t bring this up to tear down Manning.  I bring this up to draw your attention to the narratives that we compose.

Peyton Manning’s career has been masterful.  I will give you that.  But this season was not masterful.  Yet, for many, the narrative, regardless of the outcome or how he played, was not going to change.  We all compose narratives of the teams and players we love as well as the teams and players we dislike (just mention Peyton Manning or Tom Brady in Indianapolis and you will quickly see a contrast of narratives on two of the greatest QB’s of our day).  And the truth of the matter is this:  None of those narratives are accurate.  They are not accurate because they are always…and I mean always…composed with limited facts or knowledge.

No matter how big of a fan we may be, we never REALLY know the people we have opinions about.  All we can do is simply compose our narratives based upon the information we have at hand.

But it is not just athletes that have narratives formed about them.  It is all of us.  You included.  The people around you are composing narratives about you.  Based on what they see and what they hear from you and those around you, they are composing narratives about who you are in their mind.

Unfortunately, we don’t get to control how those narratives are composed.  At least not entirely.  There are some people who will believe that you are one of the top 5 people that they know.  If you have kids, hopefully they believe you are in the top 2.  There are others, however, that will be confident that you don’t even crack the top 20.  All of these decisions of opinion about you will be composed of incomplete information.  It will be based upon how they experience you.

While you don’t get to determine the entire picture, you do get to determine some of those foundational aspects of how they view you.  For instance, you get to determine how they view your integrity.  Do you stand firm for what you believe in?  Do you fight for those things you believe are the right things?  Do you follow through on your promises?  Do you treat others with the respect and dignity that you request they treat you with?  Very simply, at the end of the day, are you a man/woman of integrity?

Today is the day you will get on Facebook or Twitter and see a world that celebrates and tears down men for playing a game and how they respond afterward.  Those are simply narratives that are not completely accurate because they are based on limited information.  On a less public scale…the same is happening to you.  But, just like them, you have some say on how that narrative is written.

As you live your life…what are the most important things that you want people to write about you as they compose their narrative?  Whether they are composing a negative or positive narrative…what do you hope is undeniable?  Once you have determined that…how are you living your life so that the world sees that truth?

Arguing who the greatest QB of all time is a futile effort.  There are simply too many perspectives to take.  If you want to ask the question of who threw the most TD passes in history…we can handle that one because there are stats to back that up.  There are facts to tell you that Peyton Manning is that man.

When the world writes the narrative of your life, the full story is hard to tell because everyone will have their own perspective.  Yet, if you live your life with purpose, there will be some things that are undeniable.  Some things about your life that all people, regardless of their perspective are able to see because your life told that story clearly.

You see…the world is creating its narrative of you.  It is going to happen.  The question is…how are you influencing that narrative?

**Many of you are probably wondering if I think Manning is the greatest.  Well…I think (and this is my opinion)…if we are talking about this era, he is one of the top two.  If we expand our search across the history of the NFL, I would say top 5.  Then again…that is simply my narrative.



To and Through: The story of a baby and the weird 2nd cousin

Every year at this time, in the midst of buying and wrapping gifts, traveling to visit family, preparing Christmas dinner, and all the other stressful moments of Christmas, we hear the story of Christ.  And every time we hear the story, we hear the great truth that Jesus has come to us.  While this is a great truth, it is only part of the truth.  The story of a baby and what God does through the weird 2nd cousin…tells us a slightly different, yet transforming story.

Watch to see why God coming to us is only part of the story.

For more of my sermons…click here.

Be Rich: In Good Living

The early Church had some things figured out.  For starters, they knew why they existed.  They had a deep understanding of the purpose and mission of the Church.  Today’s Church could stand to revisit that soon.

They also knew what it meant to be rich in good living…in a way that allowed those around them to be rich in good living too.  Check out my message from Sunday to discover how you can be rich in good living too.  (Check out other messages here).

Does Trump Have Moral Character?

At times I wonder if the GOP (and politics in general) is a secret subsidiary of the WCW.  As I watched the candidates and moderators engage in a battle to see who could be the biggest bully last night (I think the moderators won) I couldn’t help but hope that Hulk Hogan or Macho Man Randy Savage would bust onto the scene and engage in the macho soap opera.  I think I just showed my age and the fact that I don’t follow wrestling by using them as my examples.  Who are the big names now anyway?  Who am I kidding?  I don’t really care.

There was one question that stood out in my mind.  One of the moderators asked Mike Huckabee if Donald Trump had the moral character to be President of the United States.  Really?  This is the hard hitting question that needs to be answered?  A question that forces one person to judge the moral character of another person?  It shouldn’t surprise me…but it did.  If I were Mr. Huckabee, I would have said something like, “I have no concerns with the moral character of any candidate on this stage.  The moral character I question is the moral character of the one who would ask such a divisive, counter-productive, and offensive question.”  Then I would drop the mic and walk off stage (I have always wanted to do that.  Unfortunately, the Countryman mic I use to preach with would not be that impactful as it floated to the floor).

If you are reading this I am sure that you have your own thoughts about the moral character of each and every candidate that was on that stage.  While I think it was a horrendous question to ask one candidate to publicly address the moral character of another…it is a question that we each must ask ourselves as we discern the candidate we wish to support.  More importantly, however, it is important that we consider our own moral character and ask ourselves, “Do I have the moral character that is needed to lead in the area in which I lead?”

Is that a big question for you?  Something that is a bit daunting to tackle?  It should be…because it is.  It is a tough thing to dig into our own depths to seek out the truth of who we are.  It is easy to attack others, as evidenced in our political arenas.  What is difficult, yet necessary, is the self-exploration that will lead to more effective leadership and a healthier life.  As you engage in your own self-exploration, here are a few things to consider.

  • Your reputation is birthed by your character.  It seems as though we have this backwards most of the time.  We believe that if we create an image for ourselves, people will follow us.  The problem is if that image does not match who you are, people notice that.  Call it integrity.  If your behaviors don’t match your professed values…you are not trustworthy.  In politics, business, friendships, etc, most people spend too much time developing their image and too little time developing their character.  In the end…character shows.  Good or bad…character shows.

Character is the tree and reputation is its shadow – Abraham Lincoln

  • Some character is universal.  While not every case of morality is black and white, there are some instances when there is simply a right and wrong action.  Within one’s cultural moral opinion, there are some things that are simply the right thing do to.  Choosing not to do the right thing is a sign of poor moral character.  It is easy to say that.  However, many times the right thing to do is also the hardest thing to do.  A person with strong moral character will always do the right thing.  Why?  Because it is the right thing to do.  While the action may be difficult…the reason for the action is not.

Management is doing things right; Leadership is doing the right things. – Peter Drucker

  • Good character entails truth and grace.  As I indicated earlier, integrity comes when your actions and your beliefs are in alignment.  Note that this does not indicate the level of goodness of your character.  You can act like a complete jerk but if those actions are rooted in jerk-like beliefs…then you have integrity.  Integrity means, very simply, that you have an internal truth that you are willing to live out.  But living with your truth alone does not create good character.  Good character comes when we can live that truth in a grace-filled way.  Scripture tells us that, while the law came through Moses, “grace and truth came through Jesus”.  As a leader, you will gain respect from those you lead when you are able to stand firm in your beliefs in a way that shows grace to those around you.  If you need evidence of this just look to the Scriptures.  Jesus continually lived out His Truth in all He did, never compromising.  Yet, He did so in a way that extended grace to all those who heard and witnessed His great work.  And hoards of people followed Him.

Truth without grace is judgment cloaked in religion.  Grace without truth is enablement.  – Scott Sauls

You have had good leaders in your life and you have had bad leaders in your life.  When you think about those leaders, my guess is the good leaders had good character and the bad leaders did not.  Over the course of the next year, we will be hearing politicians judge and ridicule the character of the other person.  Much of it will be propoganda…and some of it will be true.  But, in the end…their character will show.  And…so will yours.

Does Trump have moral character?  Well…I have my opinions but I won’t share those here because I have found a more important question that needs to be answered.  A question that if we all took the time to address…the world would be a better place.  That question:  Do I have moral character?

Maybe we should all ask ourselves that question.

A Habit That Will Change Your Life

Habits.  Those things that we do that make routine functions nearly automatic.  We have hundreds…if not thousands…of habits in our lives.  Many of them you are not even aware of because your brain has created these habits so you can effortlessly accomplish tasks without even thinking about it.

What if I told you there were habits that you could implement in your life that would enable you to experience God’s grace like never before?  What if there was a keystone habit that you could implement that would grow your relationship with God in powerful ways?  What if watching this message would let you know what that keystone habit is?

Messy family? Me too!

We start with a simple truth.  Family is messy.  You can try to hide that truth, but we all know that family is messy.  Unfortunately, we often believe the lie that our mess equates to our standing before God.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  It is not the mess that God judges…it is the heart.  What does that mean for you?  Watch my message on the subject and find out.

Homosexuality, RFRA, Religious Freedom…and a Christian Response

Unless you have been holding up in a bunker somewhere, you are aware that homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and religious freedom have been in the news of late.  Especially if you live in Indiana where the latest RFRA law was signed by Gov. Mike Pence and was followed by a media storm that was experienced from coast to coast.

This is a debate/issue that will not cease to exist anytime soon.  In fact…I believe we are simply seeing the beginning of this tension.  As debates heat up, individuals voice their opinions, and the world delves into the ambiguity that is homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and religious freedom, there is a great opportunity for the Church to truly be the Church.

At Newburgh UMC…we addressed the Christian response to everything that is going on around this issue.

You can check it out in the full version…or the 5-minute breakdown version below:

5 minute breakdown:

Full message:

3 Reasons You Should Tell More Stories


Every time I drive to Indianapolis, I first go to the public library and check out a book on CD.  I figure if I am going to spend that much time in the car…I should make the best use of that time.  Usually I get a leadership book or a book that delves into some interesting research.  Today, I grabbed The Hunger Games.  I love the movies and love the books.  I figured, “This has to be equally as awesome!”  I put the CD in my computer to check it out (I always do this for a couple minutes to make sure it is something I really want to listen to).  It took about 30 seconds for me to be completely disappointed.  It was the same story…so why wouldn’t I like it?  For starters, the woman’s voice reading it did not fit my mental picture of the main character.  I can get past that.  What I couldn’t get past was that this was a woman reading a story to me.  That is not good for me.  You see, I don’t want someone to read a story to me.  I want someone to tell me a story.  There is a big difference.  A difference I have been aware of for quite some time.  So…it got me thinking:

There once was a time when the vast majority of people could not read.  Educational institutions were not readily available for people to become literate…nor was it a priority at the time.  However, stories of the past continued on…without textbooks, various idiot’s guides, and the internet to provide a wealth of written words to pass along information.  Instead, the population relied on the telling of stories.  This oral tradition was critically important for so many areas of knowledge and wisdom…especially when it came to the transmission of the story of God.  Yes…for quite some time, the history of God’s redemptive work was an oral tradition.  Passed on from one generation to the next, people told stories to keep the grand story of God alive for years.

But, over time, more people were able to read, the Bible was written, and there became a false assumption that everyone can read (not to mention there is a general expectation that everyone DOES read…which is also false).  As preachers, teachers, parents, and simply people who are concerned that the upcoming generations are becoming more ignorant to the stories of God…we must rekindle the great art of storytelling.

Why?  Well…here are 3 reasons (whether a preacher leading a church, a parent raising kids, or someone trying to share Jesus with your neighbor) you should tell more stories.

  1. Not everyone is reading the Bible.  According to Wycliffe Bible Translators, the entire Bible has been translated into more than 500 languages and more than 1,300 languages have a portion of the Bible.  A lot of people have access to Scripture.  But, that does not mean they are reading it.  Nor does that mean they understand it.  According to Statistic Brain Research Institute, approximately 32 million adults in the United States cannot read and of those who can read, 43% of them are at a basic or below basic reading level.  Have you read the Bible?  Some parts are difficult to understand for an above average reader…let alone someone who struggles to read above a 5th grade reading level.  What does this tell you?  Maybe it is time to consider sharing the story of God through…well…stories.  The people sitting in the pews on Sunday mornings are probably not reading the Bible.  Rather than reading it to them and then explaining it…try telling them about it in the form of a story.  My son just told us about his favorite story in the Bible.  He is five.  He cannot read…but he remembers in detail a story he was told.  I am not talking about getting away from Scripture.  Rather, I am talking about sharing the story of God.  I mean really sharing the story.  You know…like they used to.  Tell the story in a way that grabs the listener’s interest.
  2. Stories are powerful.  I cannot tell you how many times people have told me how much they liked a part of my message on a given Sunday morning.  Rarely (if ever) is it because of my elegant way of wording theological concepts or philosophies.  Nor is it because of the way I read the Word of God to them.  It is almost always one of two things.  Either they connected with an illustration I used from my own life that told a Biblical Truth, or I told the story of God in a different way.  Storytelling is powerful and transforming.  According to Joshua Gowin, Ph.D., studies have shown that when a storyteller tells a story an amazing thing happens.  The listener’s brain actually begins to mirror that of the storyteller.  Through scans of the storyteller and listener’s brains, researchers were able to show that when the listeners heard the story in their own language (when compared to hearing the story in another language) their brains synchronized.  When the storyteller had activity in her insula, an emotional brain region, the listeners did too.  When her frontal cortex lit up, so did theirs.   By simply telling a story, the woman could plant ideas, thoughts and emotions into the listeners’ brains.  There is amazing power in stories to transmit ideas, thoughts, and emotions.  Maybe this is why when the focus was on an oral tradition the stories actual transmitted from generation to generation.  Today, using the written word alone…we find generations of Biblically illiterate people longing to know the story of God.
  3. Stories are shareable.  “Better people make people better”.  That was the “catchphrase” of a message I delivered last year.  There was a story that went along with that and an explanation about why better people make people better.  About a week later, as the UMW was preparing for the annual craft auction, I discovered that someone had made a decorative plaque for the auction.  On the plaque were the words, “Better people make people better. – Rev. Tony Johnson”.  I thought that was pretty awesome.  Not because they quoted me (well…I thought that was awesome too.  I consider myself published now) but because someone heard a story that they wanted to share in a different way.  Rarely do I find people going to their family and friends to share the part of a message that that discussed the theological depth of a specific passage.  They go to their family and friends to share how a story I shared about my kids spoke, not only to the Biblical text, but also to them.  People are bombarded with information every single day.  As a preacher, what makes me think bombarding them with more information is going to get through?  However, if I am able to couple that information with stories that hold some entertainment value…then…just maybe…they will leave having experience Christ in a new way.  And, isn’t that our ultimate goal?

Stories can and will change lives.  Let’s be clear.  I am not saying that we have to water down, dumb down, or take away from the Biblical Truth that is the Word of God.  Rather, I am saying that we must, whether teachers, preachers, or parents, find new and creative ways to pass along that Truth.  Stories have done that for many years…and they will continue to do that.

I may not be sitting in your pew or your kitchen any time soon.  However, someone will.  And when they do…you have the opportunity to impact their life in amazingly powerful ways.  Don’t take that opportunity lightly.  Don’t just “read” them a story.  Tell them a story.  They will be better for it…and so will you.  Maybe that takes us back to, “better people make people better.”

How Did You See Jesus Today?

cropped-380278_4560414522010_431921390_n.jpgI decided recently that I would ask one question at the dinner table with my family.  I don’t ask about their baseball (although I want to) and I don’t ask about school (even though that is important).  Instead, I ask the same question I ask those in my small group: “How have you seen Jesus today.”

I remind you….I am asking a 7 year old and a 5 year old.  At first, they didn’t know what to do with the question.  Look at dad with a blank stare was the common response.  But, after a while, they started to realize that dad was going to ask this question every time we sit down to eat dinner…so they better be able to answer it.

When they began to respond, I received a lot of great answers over the first couple weeks but it was just the other day that I received an answer that warmed my heart and terrified me at the same time.

I saw Jesus today in your love daddy – Canaan

I was humbled.  Don’t get me wrong.  I do my best to show my love to the kids every single day and as a follower of Christ, it makes complete sense that my son would see Jesus in my love for him.  But, as a father, to hear those words…the reality that my son experiences Jesus through my love for him…well…that will warm your heart like no other.

Along with that warm fuzzy feeling, I became a little terrified.  The words of a great professor in seminary reverberated through my mind:

“As a father, you will be the primary experience of God for your kids.”  – Dr. Steve Seamands

I guess Canaan’s words reminded me of the significance of my role as a father.  Yes, it is my job to raise my kids.  It is my job to ensure that my kids have ethics, morals, and sound judgment.  More important than all of that, it is my role to be the spiritual leader of my family.  That is a big role…and a role that I cannot do on my own.  Thankfully, I am not asked to do this alone.  I have the power of Christ guiding me along the way.

Maybe this response from my son was something needed.  A kick in the butt kind of reminder that if I am going to be the spiritual leader for my family, I must first follow Christ.  The words of the Apostle Paul seem to be appropriate here:

Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ – 1 Corinthians 11:1

Maybe you are in the same boat.  Humbled and blessed with the honor of raising and caring for one (or more) of God’s children…all the while a little terrified at the huge responsibility.  If so, never forget, you are not alone.  Follow the example of Christ and they will see in you something amazing…Christ Himself.