Tag Archives: Leadership

Who Goes First?

stop signAt 7:50pm 4 cars came to the intersection at roughly the same time.  I was second. The first driver was to my left and made a left hand turn.  As he cleared the intersection, I began to cross the intersection. I was second.  My daughter and I had just left the gym after working out, we were tired, thirsty and in desperate need of showers.  We were heading home when the lady from my right pulled out in front of me to cross the intersection.

At that moment you would have been hard pressed to find any love at the corner of Ravine and Nichols in the Kalamazoo area!  My windows were up and the air conditioning on so I don’t know what it was she was yelling out her window.  But as I uttered inside the confines of our 2001 Subaru Forester (180,000+), “Not your turn,” I could tell by the look on her face that she was maybe more angry than I was.

But, it was MY TURN! 

Have you ever noticed how often we think about it being “my turn?”

It’s my turn for a promotion at work. It’s my turn to go first. It’s my turn to be successful. It’s my turn to get the biggest piece. It’s my turn to use the car. It’s my turn to get… You get the picture right?

Ironically, just yesterday morning I had a conversation with some amazing people looking at how to live a more mission/other minded life and what it looks like to create more loving spaces in the mundane places of our lives.  It’s hard to live a life of love when we are focused on MY TURN.  In the book of Philippians, Paul reminds those of us who have been deeply impacted by Christ’s love to be more concerned with OTHERS than ourselves.  Here are the words he uses in chapter 2:3-4:

Don’t let selfishness and prideful agendas take over. Embrace true humility, and lift your heads to extend love to others. Get beyond yourselves and protecting your own interests; be sincere, and secure your neighbors’ interests first.

In spite of all the rhetoric about love wins, our culture is making it increasingly more difficult to live a life that is other focused and rooted in love. In fact, today Tim Cook and Apple will tell me that the new iPhone 6 I got two months ago is now obsolete, that my iPad is too small and that AppleTV is a real necessity!  Technology isn’t bad. That’s not what I am saying.  Our culture, however, continues to disciple us into thinking and behaving more and more individually and in self-centered ways.

But I am responsible for how I live and love – not culture.  I can make choices about who I want to be and the way I want people to experience me.  And last night there was a stranger who didn’t experience love while crossing an intersection.  Last night, without thinking, I also discipled my daughter teaching her to be as self-centered and unloving as I was.

I don’t have to be selfish.  I don’t have to be self-centered.  Because of Christ’s work in me I can choose to be different.  I can be transformed by the renewing of my mind. I have this amazing partner, the Holy Spirit, who helps me learn to lead myself.

Who will you be today? Will you choose with me to love someone you otherwise might not want to?


Learning Leadership From Horses…?

Craig & Demo2Demo was one of the seven horses we would take out on our ride that day. None of the horses, mind you, were your standard “trail ride” horses that just follow nose to tail while your butt gets sore for an hour. A mustang caught from the wild in Utah, Demo was different. Head strong, independent and a leader in the herd, Demo used to be called Demolition Man – you can figure out why. And I was about to ride him!

But before I could ride him, Craig (our host at Shiloh Ranch – a ministry to ministry families) needed to bring him in. But Demo wasn’t about to let a lead rope be put around his neck and head. He wasn’t about to submit to Craig. Craig wasn’t the leader, wasn’t in charge – Demo was. It took some time for Craig to get Demo separated from the rest of the horses into the smaller corral.

And there I saw a lesson for how God leads us.

Craig would get Demo moving in one direction around the corral by applying pressure. He did this by pointing, using his voice and waving the rope. He never hit Demo, didn’t abuse Demo and never became aggressive with Demo. After he would make several loops in one direction, applying pressure Craig would steer him in the opposite direction. Craig would do this with Demo several times and then he would suddenly stop and lower the rope, his arm and his face so he wasn’t looking at Demo at all.

He waited.

And when Demo didn’t respond, the whole exercise took place again. Sometimes the rhythm was different. The amount of time spent in one direction over another would change. And when it wasn’t expected, Craig would stop – and wait – until Demo moved.

Toward Craig.

Not immediately taking control by slipping the lead rope around the horses neck and head, Craig did something that made me curious. He wrapped his arms around Demo’s neck, nuzzled his cheek against the horse and gently loved on the beautiful mustang. Only then did Craig slip Demo’s lead rope on.

In those ten minutes I saw in Craig and Demo how God has time and time again been at work in my life.

Directing Demo in the corral was consistently done with deep respect for Demo: looking at him the right way, keep a proper distance, using his voice gently and firmly and never frightening or demeaning the horse. And then, when Craig would stop and lower his head, it was an invitation for Demo to draw near. And, when he was ready, he did.

God will often, with amazing love and respect, direct our lives by his Voice, with his hand or with circumstances. But God never forces himself upon us. And, when it is time, God invites us, again, to draw close to him – toward intimacy and purpose.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Mt 11:28-30

I wonder how God is inviting you to draw near to him today? And for what purpose?

Demo’s purpose that day was to give me a ride through some of the most beautiful countryside. And we had fun!


Church – Gay Marriage Isn’t The Problem!

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Love is.

John 3:16 is one of the most powerful passages in Scripture; and quite possibly, one of the most misunderstood.  For several decades it adorned the bellies of large, shirtless men in the end zones of football stadiums.  It became a placard and we allowed it to become trite.

But today, Church, it is really important for us to get its meaning.  The depth of its meaning. The largeness of it.

In the midst of a culture and time that did not receive Jesus for who he fully was, Nicodemus, a teacher of the law, snuck under the cover of darkness to chat with this rebellious, strange and yet powerful teacher.  It is in the context of Jesus being radically counter-cultural to his time, that he says these words, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Let’s repeat the first phrase and then add another passage to it.  For God so LOVED the WORLD…  The whole world – everybody who lived and everybody who would live.  The whole world.  God loves the world so much that he did this while we were yet enemies toward him – Romans 5:10!  

Church, when we didn’t know God nor like God, God sacrificially became a servant (Philippians 2) and even died on our behalf.  God didn’t yell at the world.  He didn’t yell at us.  He didn’t organize a petition or pass out signs.  He didn’t even ask the Roman government to change. 

Church, we used to enjoy the privilege of living in a world that looked mostly like us most of the time.  But that time is gone.  We can grieve that loss much the way Jesus grieved over Jerusalem in Luke 19. We can grieve, yes.

But we must also love.  Church, will we be enough like Jesus to love like him?  Will we love a world where we are no longer dominant? Will we love a world where we no longer fit in? Will we love a world so radically that we sacrificially give ourselves the way Jesus did?

Or will we keep living for ourselves…?

Today, more than ever, Church, we are being invited to step up and demonstrate deep, sacrificial love in such a way that we reflect the glory of God (Hebrews 12).

Thoughts?


Racism, Let’s Stop Playing The Victim

Charleston Church

I got this photo from a friend of mine who lives in Charleston, S.C. It was taken the morning of June 18 – the morning after the shooting

Yesterday morning I woke up and went through my usual routine.  When I got to perusing the news, my heart sank.  There was a ball in my stomach and I felt sick. Wednesday night there was a mass murder of 9 individuals attending a Bible Study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.  And while we don’t have all of the details yet, it seems this was a hate crime born out of racism.

Throughout the course of the day yesterday I was part of, and an observer of, several conversations about the shooting in Charleston.  Most of the conversations were with white church going believers.  Many of them hold significant leadership positions of various kinds.  These are good people whom I love and admire!  But there was a theme – no, a story, being told throughout the conversations that was very troubling to me.  The story being told can be summed up in one sentence:

It isn’t really a racism problem, it is a sin problem. Can we call that what it is?  Please?

Yes, racism and hate is a sin.  Scripture records for us the first hate crime in Genesis 4 with Cain and Abel.  Romans 3:23 reinforces for us that when sin entered into the world that ALL OF US have sin, “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  Racism is sin.  Hatred is sin.

But!

Passing off a racially motivated murder of 9 individuals, or even 1 individual, as a sin problem is a story we tell ourselves so we can assume the role of helpless victims.  Not victims to racism.  Not victims to hatred.  But we play the roles of victims to sin.

This is where we helplessly throw our hands up in the air saying “it’s a sin issue” as if there is nothing we can do about it.  When we gloss over egregious evil in our world by labeling it a sin issue, we allow ourselves to become helpless and habitually disobedient to the teachings of Jesus.  

Let me say that all differently.  We do life as if we are obligated to live with racism in our world because there is sin in the world.  If we obligate ourselves to living with racism, with sin, then we enslave ourselves to racism, its existence, and let it control us as we play the helpless victim.

But!

Paul tells us we do have an obligation in Romans 8, but not to sin.  In Romans 8:12 we read this, “we have an obligation – but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it.”  Paul tells us that our minds, when controlled by the Spirit of God, are life and peace.  This is not helpless victimization to sin; it is quite the opposite. In Romans 12:2 Paul tells us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

We partner with the work of the Spirit in this renewal process.  It is hard work.  it is the working out of our salvation.

Racism is sin.  Sin is a problem.  But racism is not just a sin problem we can’t do something about.  We can learn to boldly love.  We can proactively develop relationships with others who are different than ourselves.  We can stop teaching our children to hate or to be passive.  We can stand up to injustice, even in its smallest forms, when it creeps into our communities, neighborhoods, and even our churches.

Sisters and brothers in Christ, we heirs of God, co-heirs with Jesus himself.  We do not need to play the victim to sin. We do not need to put up with racism.


Really?!?

Justine decided several of the children should ride the bus with us

Justine decided several of the children should ride the bus with us

Really! It was always said as a statement, never as a question.  There would always be a certain musical playfulness to her sarcasm as she spoke with a British influenced Ugandan English.

It didn’t take long and this young lady of 23 was feeling very comfortable with the dozen “mzungus” under her care.   Laughter, joy, depth, passion and love filled the conversations and time we spent together.  And, at the end of our stay, some “leaking” as well.  You know what leaking is, right?  It’s when water leaks out of your eyes…  🙂  We would all learn a lot from Justine; and Justine would also learn a lot from us:  

About Love.

When the 12 of us showed up at the Katuba Care Point, it was clear Justine was the person in charge.  It was also immediately clear that she loved the children at the care point – a lot.  And very quickly, it seemed, Justine developed a great love for the 12 of us – and I think that caught her by surprise.

Abandoned by her father so early in life she never knew him, Justine told herself a story that he had died and that’s why he wasn’t around.  When she was only 11 Justine’s mom died leaving her and her sister to beg neighbors for food.

But God’s love wouldn’t leave Justine and her sister on the streets and they became sponsored through Compassion International where Justine was clothed, fed, cared for and discipled into a relationship with Jesus.  It was a hard life with lots of pain and heartache.

But Jesus was faithful to his words in John 6:39 that he will “lose none” that the Father would give him!

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Justine & Michelle… Btw, Justine likes fried ants, but Michelle can’t get them down 🙂

Justine, would eventually graduate from college with a degree in social work, get connected to a ministry called Reach One Touch One Ministries through which she was called into Children’s Hope Chest and the Katuba Care Point.  (Ok, so that was a couple of decades of life summarized in a few paragraphs!)

With some pretty deep wounds and a low level of trust for others – especially men – Justine began the difficult work of establishing a discipling care point in the village of Katuba for 118 children being sponsored by people she didn’t know.  And she fell in love with the children.  Raising up volunteers from the village, recruiting a cook, working with teachers and care takers, creating a discipling process and managing all the day to day details – Justine has sacrificially created a vital ministry in partnership with the Holy Spirit.

And mzungus from Haven Church.

I learned what sacrificial love looks like by watching Justine and hearing her story.  I saw how she cared for each child.  I also saw how each of the children knew, with confidence, that even if nobody else did, Justine loved them.  It also became clear early on, that Justine loved the 12 of us.  Just as deeply as she loved the kids.  And I think that happened by day 2!

Even though the people who were supposed to love and care for Justine left her early on, while we were in Uganda with her, Justine discovered it might be okay to love and trust a group of people who would also have to leave.  She experienced the deep joy that comes in risking it all in relationships.

The night before we left, Justine had a letter for us she knew she couldn’t read, so she gave it to Nanette to read (one of us). Nanette “leaks” with a good tv commercial, so she passed it, and her reading glasses, to me to struggle through.  In her letter Justine shared her heart with us, what she saw in, and learned from, each one of us.

Because God is redeeming the broken places in Justine’s life, she is one of the brightest, smartest, funniest and gifted leaders I know.

In the book of Philemon, Paul talks about being a spiritual father to Onesimus.  Because of God’s grace, I get to be a spiritual father to Justine.


Sarah Young Isn’t Satan, but her book might make you stumble…

JesusCallingBanner

And so might my blog, David Platt’s books, the latest from Mark Batterson, Tim Keller’s brilliance or even, gasp (this is for you, John) Dallas Willard.

But let’s address the thing about Sarah Young’s book, Jesus Calling, first.  Clearly this is by far one of the most widely bought books in recent history. And, I assume, it is being read…

Within the Christian sub-culture there is a growing following of Sarah Young’s book – after all, there are calendars, versions for kids, etc. – you know, all the great things that allow us to be consumers first, disciples second, and still feel good about ourselves (maybe a topic for another post someday).  There is also a growing contingent of people who are putting Sarah Young into the category of heretic, new age, occult, etc…  I don’t need to put you, the reader, into either of those two camps – you know where you fit and I love you.  🙂

I have read good portions of Jesus Calling.  Not all of it.  I rarely actually finish a book and believe most books should be a third shorter than they are!  I found the book to be a bit light theologically, designed to give us a feel good kind of experience.  And, to be sure, the amazing love of Jesus that keeps us in the center of his hand (Gospel of John) and which can’t be overcome by anything powerful, big or wide (Romans 8), is a wonderful reality to experience and into which more of us should live rather than by rules. The book isn’t Scripture and doesn’t claim to be (I’m sure some of you disagree with me on this).

I am about to offend some of you now, maybe many of you…

Is Sarah Young the anti-christ and will reading her book lead you astray?  No.  And, well, maybe…yes.  No because, well, its mostly harmless. Is everything Sarah wrote biblical?  No.  Does everything she claims to be her experience line up with Scripture as I read Scripture? No.  But the same can be said of Andy Stanley, Mark Batterson, Michael Frost, Kevin DeYoung, John Piper, Tim Keller, Dallas Willard, Charles Swindoll, John Stott, C.S. Lewis or anybody else who might be your favorite author right now.  As a Reformed pastor I should also include John Calvin in my list.

Yes, it might lead you astray and here’s why:  Technically, it isn’t really Sarah Young or her book that might lead you astray, it might actually be you.  Within the Reformed tradition there are a couple of theological truths that I want to highlight for us.  The first being the reality that we are all sinners born with a sinful nature who do life as sinners in every context.  The second is that it is only Scripture which is to be the rule for our faith and life.  And that is the very problem!  I bring my sinful nature into my understanding of Scripture and it isn’t perfect.  I have a lens I read Scripture through and believe it or not, MINE IS THE RIGHT LENS AND YOURS MUST BE WRONG.  Just kidding, but that is how most of us approach life isn’t it?

Let me put it another way.  When John Calvin wrote The Institutes, he was sinning. When Billy Graham gave an altar call, guess what!  Yep…

Let’s take this deeper, to two things I think part of the problem might be.  The first is this: because of the very nature of the Bible, and our sinful natures, most of us are more likely to spend more time reading books about Scripture than reading Scripture itself.  We prefer to read books about Jesus – whichever version of Jesus we prefer – rather than reading the Word.  The problem isn’t so much that Sarah Young’s book, or anyone else’s for that matter, will lead you astray so much as it is that we make idols out of authors, Christian celebrities and what they write, say or sing. 

Interestingly, we only make idols out of the Christian celebrities we agree with and we follow them more than we follow Jesus.  We so quickly are willing to substitute that which is best – Jesus and the Word – for that which is good, sometimes really good and sometimes really not very good at all….

The second part of the problem, I believe, is our tendency to put everybody into right/wrong categories – along with everything they say, write, sing, pray, did, thought, or didn’t do throughout the entirety of their lives.  And, often, we base this judgement upon the thoughts, writings, sayings, actions and etc. of the Christian celebrities we like.  We have become really good haters within the Christian community and we are sending a very strong message to the world for whom Jesus died.

Don’t worry, I’m not bashing all books, teachings, music, etc…  I read, I pray, I sing (in my car with the windows up and the subwoofer pounding) and I enjoy and benefit from it.  But I am reminded of something one of my professors said in seminary:

Read the Gospels more. Read the Bible more. Read other books less and grow in your love for God and those he created.