Raw Reflections from the Journey

Monday, March 29, 2010

45...and counting...

I turn 45 today. It's sobering. There's no denying that I am middle-aged. Much of the future I looked forward to as a youth has come and gone. I looked forward to going to college, getting married, starting a career and raising children. Each of these goals has been realized, and they are in the past. What now?

The past 5 years have been an unscheduled sabbatical; a season in the wilderness unparalleled and unprecedented in life to this point. But with the advent of Spring 2010, it seems that God has marked a path out of the wilderness; and I'm glad. Perhaps the final third of life is ready to begin?

One day at a time has become a centering theme. "For each day has enough trouble of its own", Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount. His desire was to help us to live fully in the circumstances before us one day at a time, trusting God who cares for us to provide our needs, and to guide our journey. I love that Jill and I have learned to live like this, even if it's taken a long and arduous route through the wilderness to learn it.

Thanks mom for giving me life. Thank you dad for countless hours together in many activities. I have fond memories of my youth; baseball, golf, travel together...Thank you Dr. Green for rescuing my life from the umbilical cord that tried to choke my life before it began. And thank you to the extended community of believers at First Christian Church who helped to raise me and to shape my core beliefs.

There 1,040 Saturdays between today and my 65th birthday. 1,040 Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, etc. IF I am blessed with life on earth until then. God knows. How will I invest them for the Kingdom of God...for His people...for you?

Michael W. Smith's lyrics often come to mind when I think about the gift of life and its brevity. "This is our time, this is our dance, live every moment, leave nothing to chance..."

Near or at the end of life it is common to evaluate all that came before. Some die with regret, and some are fulfilled and content. What makes the difference? A lot has to do with intentionality about living one's life purpose. Mine, that I share with Jill as a team of two is, "To inspire and equip as many people as possible to live abundant, hopeful and pleasurable lives of purpose in relationship with God and each other." What will I say yes to (and NO) today that will be consistent with that purpose?

As the sun tries to rise through the rain clouds on my 16,425th day of life, I can't help but share a few books that are providing encouragement to live on purpose:

- Visoneering, Andy Stanley
- A Leader's Life Purpose, Tony Stoltzfus
- Good to Great, Jim Collins
- The Bible, God

What is the meaning of your days? What is your purpose and how fully are you living it? Here's a prayer to encourage you and me.

Dear God, I thank you for the privilege of life. I don't take it for granted. Today is the first day of the rest of my life...for how long? Only you know. Please help me to hear your voice and to see the path on which you would have me to walk. I want to live fully for you and for your purposes, and at the end hear, "Well done, good and faithful servant." In Jesus' Name. Amen.

Filling the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run (Rudyard Kipling, the poem IF),


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Deeper but not as Heavy

Five years living near Washington, D.C. has been expensive. We left the Midwest U.S. with some financial leverage, but we're coming back with baggage. A perfect storm of circumstances have conspired to bury us deeper than we've ever been, BUT IT'S NOT AS HEAVY AS IT USED TO BE...

I celebrated this reality with a friend by phone this morning. Yesterday I prayed that someone would be prompted to reach out to encourage me. This morning at 5:40am a life-long friend now living in Spain "reached out" by the miracle of tele-technology to say, "I care about you and want to know how you're doing." I shared honestly for the next hour, concluding that the darkness is as dark as I've ever seen, and the depth of financial responsibility and need as great as we've ever known, BUT, "It's not as heavy as it used to be."

What a blessing to have learned to live under a heavy weight without being weighed down; for how can a burdened soul live in the fullness of the true reality that he/she is loved as an eternal being who is on a temporary temporal journey that daily affords the wonderful opportunity to tune in to and appreciate the ultimate reality.

Is there a more precious promise than this, Revelation 21:4 - He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

Critics of Christianity have long leveled this charge, "They're so heavenly-minded that they're no earthly good." Truth is that we are called to be stewards of the work and material goods He has given us to manage, but to not become so entangled and encumbered in them that they steal the joy of the ultimate reality of God's ultimate goodness, the gift of salvation and the promise of eternal life. But Lord, how long until the dawn?

I'll conclude with some verses that always provide solace, and motivate reflection about the meaning and purpose(s) that trials and burdens can serve in our souls.

II Corinthians 4:16-18 (NIV) - Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Reluctant Leadership: The Humility to Make it About Something Bigger Than Oneself

The scene is from the movie Gladiator. Suspecting his death in the near future, the emperor of Rome asks his general to accept his appointment as successor to the throne.

‘With my whole heart, I do not want it’. The general answers.

The Emperor responds, ‘It is exactly because you don’t ‘want’ it that it must be you who leads.’

The point? Reluctant leaders are the best kind because they don’t ‘need’ the position or title. It is not fame or power that they want, and since those ambitions are absent they can lead with integrity, as servants, with the good of the organization and its members as their focus vs. their ‘own’ good.

Jim Collins, author of ‘Good to Great’ and other best-sellers on leadership and organizational development, describe this as the difference between Level IV and Level V leaders. Level IV is the larger than life, charismatic person with the unparalleled work ethic, who has pioneered a new venture, but commits the tragic error of failing to plan for succession of their leadership, and prioritizes the promotion of their own name vs. the mission of the organization. Level V leaders represent a synergy of personal humility and extreme ambition and will. Jesus appears to be a Level V leader.

Leadership is sacred but dangerous territory as it can seduce one to forsake their first love (Jesus) because the satisfaction of the work can easily compete with the satisfaction that can only be found in Him. Whenever that happens a leader is wise to step down or step aside.

If on the path of this temporal life I can best serve the purposes for which I was born by leading (as a servant-leader), and/or holding office, then I will serve wholeheartedly. If, however, when there is a person better suited to serve in that capacity, then I will humbly defer and submit to their leadership. Whatever is best for the ministry is what I want. In my mind, this is the ‘self’ subjugated to the good of the many, and the only way to walk in the footsteps of Christ, who came not to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Hidden Influence

"Hey, you got some press the other day! ____ brought you up at a meeting of leaders, and then sent that thing you wrote to all of them!"

"Really! I had no idea."
Upon further reflection, I'm glad that I didn't. That's not why I wrote that piece; and its not why I write.

The particular blog in question was written out of obedience to prompts in my spirit from His Spirit to put the pen to the page regarding the cost of calling with an encouragement to persevere. I wrote is as much as an exhortation to myself as to others.

Do we do what we do for effect, or do we do it out of obedience because we've been commanded to "Let our lights shine before men that they may see our good deeds and praise our father in Heaven" (Matthew 5:16), AND, perhaps more importantly, do we do our good deeds in secret, trusting that Father will reward us, and therefore not seek, clamor for or become disappointed when no recognition from others is forthcoming?

Motives...why do you do what you do? If other than for His pleasure, His purpose and His Glory may I be effectively corrected by ministrations of His Spirit...the same Holy Spirit that prompts toward good deeds.

I know why ____ didn't share that he was going to share my writing with others. Because that's not the point. It's not the point to draw attention to what we do for God, but rather to God Himself, to His Word and His truth.

Are you ok with hidden influence, or do you need the stage? Another friend confided that he could take or leave the stage, but he is in a season of life that repeatedly calls him to the stage. And so he is willing, time after time, to speak about the reasons for the hope he has, and to exhort large groups of people to work in unity for the greater good. That's what he's excited about...the mission, not himself as a man who gets to be at the center of it.

With a new day before us how will you serve His purposes? Quietly? Will you/I be content to exert influence in His Name, even if it is hidden?

Preparing to live the first day of the rest of my life (as the sun peeks over the horizon!)


Monday, March 1, 2010

Resolve: Commitment to Do What You are Called to Do

He introduced the staff of their ministry like this, "They are Christ-centered leaders who would pay to do their ministries because their passion and resolve to do it is so deep in their hearts."

The fact was that The Nehemiah Foundation, raised money to support these para-church ministries that were caring for widows and orphans and doing other effective forms of practical benevolent outreach to show the love of Christ. The workers did what they did not for money, fame, prestige, or any other lesser God, but for God in the name of Jesus. Why? It was/is what they have been designed and prepared to do. It is their calling; the way they demonstrate the attributes of the Living God and Loving Savior. They love others because they are loved, and their greatest reward is not thanks from those they serve, or appreciation of those who witness their service, but whispers from their Master that He is pleased with them, and that they are doing well.

I didn't get Wally's statement when I first heard it, "These leaders would pay to do what they do." But, I get it now. Do you? They aren't working for a living, but working for God, and trusting Him to provide for them. Such service is as pure as it was for Jesus' first followers: Mark 6:8,9 - These were his instructions: "Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic."

Why did Jesus so instruct His disciples, and how might it apply to us?

My opinion is that the magnitude of the mission for which He commissioned them required great faith. He instructed and empowered them to cast out evil spirits and to heal diseases, AND He commanded them to go into all the world to make disciples. On a daily basis their faith would be tested as they faced the 'impossible'. And on a daily basis He made sure that they would be exercising their faith muscles for daily provisions of a place to stay, food to eat, and even clothing.

How to ministries develop?
Do they begin, and are they sustained by a good business plan that counts and covers all the costs, or are they birthed out of the resolve of Christ-followers that are compelled to do something specific because it is what they are called to do, no matter what?

My opinion is that religious programs are built, disseminated, and sustained by a solid base of funding, but that ministries which are birthed and sustained by the resolve and faith of those that would pay (and do pay) to do what they do better embody and reflect the heart of Jesus and his first followers.

The passage that got me thinking about this today was Mark 10:29-31. Perhaps it was these words of Jesus that inspired the hymn, "I Surrender All"

Jesus said, "Mark my words, no one who sacrifices house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, land—whatever—because of me and the Message will lose out. They'll get it all back, but multiplied many times in homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and land—but also in troubles. And then the bonus of eternal life! This is once again the Great Reversal: Many who are first will end up last, and the last first."

It is often said that the way of the Cross is a path marked by suffering. Did you catch in the verses above that not just blessings, but troubles would be multiplied? GREAT! sigh....well, at least He warned us.

So let's get this straight...suffering, sacrifice, faith for provisions, and a commission to do the miraculous in His name and by His power. Hmmm...this sounds...wonderful, scary, painful, marvelous.

We can be unclear about what we have been called to do or we can know and not be willing to pay the price? Which one better describes you?

Yesterday I followed a thread of conversation on facebook of called ones commiserating about the anguish of the adventure, and encouraging each other to persist. That's the bottom line of why I am writing this to you. Persist dear brother and dear sister. Persist in the face of adversity, challenge and the unknown. Do what you have been prepared and appointed to do. Renew your resolve this morning to walk in faith, to trust for provisions, and to embody the grace, truth, hope and love that you have been shaped and prepared to share with the world; one person and one appointment at a time.

Doing the journey, one day at a time!