Leadership Is About You

leader of many

Leadership is about you. That is what you want me to say. I know you do. But when I say it, I don’t really mean it and I really don’t mean it the way it sounds. Leadership is about you…giving yourself to others and making your life’s work about making their life and work better. Give your life away to someone else and you will be a leader.

Not convinced yet?

Do you remember in Forrest Gump when Forrest gets on a school bus for the very first time? After introducing himself to the bus driver, he moves from the front to the back of the bus looking to find a place to sit. Seat after seat he encounters kids moving over and occupying any open space that he might sit in. When he asks about sitting in empty seats he is told, “seat’s taken.” Poor Forest learned that day that just because you get on the bus doesn’t guarantee you will have a seat to sit in for comfort, safety, and social engagement.

Forrest needed somebody – anybody – who would make room for him to sit down. He needed somebody – anybody – who would accept less space in their life so Forrest could have some space in his own life. He needed someone unafraid to meet somebody new, somebody different. That person was named Jenny, and the rest is history.

Well, sort of… because Forrest and Jenny are make believe.

Life, though, is real. We have few opportunities to edit what we did wrong or retake a scene that we know we could do better. So it is paramount that we get it right in real time and with real people. Second chances to make a first impression or to right a wrong are rare (if not nonexistent) experiences.
Leaders know this. They know that actions matter and words count, so they are careful in how they spend both. Leadership is more than action. It is more than direction giving. It is something else. Leadership is about creating space and opportunities for others to be more in life than they currently are. Leaders are not the ones who earn the most, gain the most, or steal the most. Leaders are not the loudest voice, biggest title, or longest tenure. Leadership is about how one person (or one team) makes others better in life.

Jenny made room for Forest to sit down. From that day forward he never forgot her. He never stopped thinking of her. He never quit protecting, providing for, and promoting her as “his girl.” Her one act of leadership opened the door for the greatest relationship she ever had in life. Forrest Gump was never a leader in any capacity, but he was forever tied to one whose leadership kept him safe and filled his life with hope. She wasn’t expecting that as an 8 year old Alabama school girl, but it happened.

If you are going to be a leader, then lead. Forget about all the lessons you have learned, books you have read, and seminars you have attended that told you how leaders take charge, make a plan, get things moving. Those may be practices or actions that some/many leaders display in their actual work, but they are not the traits of a leader. Anybody can act controlling, bark out orders, be bossy, or push people into action. No talent required to do those things – only misguided perceptions about how to act like a leader. Leadership starts by making room for others in your life, your plans, your future.

Leadership today is limited not by resources or opportunities, but by competence. Leading is not getting – it is giving. Leading is not championing something – it is changing someone. Leading is not seeking control- it is serving others. Leaders are not heroes – they are helpers to helpless, hearers of the silent criers, and highlighters of the good in others. Leaders are not lone rangers – they are faithful friends who foster the best in everyone they meet and in everything they attempt. Leaders like people more than power – they want to be worthy of their calling more than being a winner in a life long contest.

Christian leaders have a unique opportunity to lead. Secular leaders have to figure out what good leadership is and what good leaders do and rarely find agreement on the subject of leadership so many leaders today spend their entire life going from one leadership paradigm to the next. By our discipleship in Christ we should have our leadership priorities in order. In all we do we are to honor God, pursue a Christlike life, work faithfully, and give ourselves to others in generous and joyful ways. Christian leaders who lead like this will lead well and make a significant difference in everything they do because they are making room for others in their life, leadership, and longing for more. Leadership begins with an opportunity to look to the needs of others and act in a way that makes a mighty impact on many instead of a rich return for few.

Leadership is about you. It is about you taking everything God has given you – every gift, every connection, every opportunity, ever moment – and making it about others. Leadership is about you being exactly who God created and called you to be so that His gift to you can be enjoyed in the lives of others. Leadership is about you moving over and letting others sit down and enjoy the space to relax, be comforted, and find friendship. Leadership is about you moving over and letting God finish the good work He has started in you so that through you others may be reached, blessed, even saved. Leadership is about you…and God, and others, and you…together making a difference in this world in a kingdom movement kind of way.

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. (Philippians 2)
For Sunday, September 28, 2014 / Proper 21

How To Get What You (Don’t) Deserve

jonah

If you are a member of the American Mafia (Cosa Nostra for you real die hards) you may be familiar with the term “sleeping with the fishes.” It is a way of describing the fatal ending to someone who opposes the work or life of organized crime. It may or may not mean that someone is in the bottom of the lake, but it clearly means that someone is now fish food and will no longer be a rebel to gangster activity. Too many people have gotten caught up in criminal activity and considered expendable so that others could keep control and maximize the profits for the bosses. For what – money and territory? Sad.

The story of Jonah is a similar story about someone who does not obey their boss and chooses to act on his own. For Jonah it is good that his rebellion is not met with blood or death (although you might attempt to argue that he deserves it.) Jonah is given gracious redemption for his selfish action. Jonah may have deserved to sleep with the fishes forever, but he was fortunate to only hang out in their domain for 3 days and 3 nights. Can you imagine the stories he told his grandchildren about his time in the fishy dungeon?

That is how our God rolls. He exchanges his mercy for our miscues. He gives grace for our gory goof ups. He lavishes us with love when we deserve a lashing. He comes to our rescue when we ought to get ridicule and rejection. He forgives when He has every right to feature us as eternal failures. He gives up his rights to be mad so that we may accept His royal affection and acceptance.

Everything about God is impressive and attractive. As we see the glory and greatness of our God, we see the sin and shame of our souls. It is the brightness of His holiness that so clearly portrays the tarnish of our soul. The most common reaction of humanity is to rebel, to run, to act righteously indignant believing that God will give in to our will. In the end we find that God is not interested in changing His nature or plan, He wants to change us.

Jonah did not want to be or do what God wanted him to be and do – so he ran. Jonah brings great chaos into the world of innocent sailors by acting in disobedience to God’s call – so he hides. Jonah gives up on himself and convinces others to be a part of his end of life – so he quits. Jonah tumbles into the deep and unknown without direction, purpose, or care. Jonah went to sleep with the fishes,

But God was there too.

At the end of the world and the end of himself, Jonah meets God. And he can’t get away. He is there alone with the one who created him and called him to be a prophet. Instead of getting the guilt trip or “I told you so,” Jonah gets God. He didn’t deserve it, but he got Him anyway.  Jonah got what he didn’t deserve from God by doing…wait for it…nothing! He just turned away from himself (easy to do in the belly of a whale) and turned into God.

And the rest is history.

He found dry land. He found his preaching voice. He finds favor with God and with the people of Nineveh. He finds his place in the story of God. When he should have slept with the fishes forever, he gets an audience with the one true God.

And you can too…

Jonah 3 –  Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying,  “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey in breadth. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”  And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.

The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.  And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water,  but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.  Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.

For September 21, 2014 / Proper 21

How to Fake Forgiveness

You can’t forgive without loving. And I don’t mean sentimentality. I don’t mean mush. I mean having enough courage to stand up and say, ‘I forgive. I’m finished with it.’
   – Maya Angelou

This is my birthday week, and along with reviewing all of the things that have gone right in my life, it is a perfect time to review the things that have gone wrong. By wrong I mean “those things that someone else has done to me which were unfair, undeserved, and uncalled for.” You know what I mean? You have those injustices in your life, too. It is time for the annual airing of grievances!

Before I get started guilting my perpetrators, it occurs to me that as a child of the One True King, I am called/invited/encouraged to offer forgiveness to those people who have wronged me. Actually, this is more of an expectation than an option. Forgiving is what Christians do, and we should excel at it! Forgiving others is a Christian core value, and that goes for contemporary and traditional churches alike. No card-carrying Christian gets around the call to forgive others. It is what we do. Hmmm… this presents a problem for me, as I had planned on a week of recalling all of the wrongs done to me.

Now what?

I can either ignore the truth that forgiveness is what I have been recreated to do; choosing to be mad, resentful, self-righteous, and downright nasty to the people on my list, OR I can do my best to forgive them. But forgiveness – real forgiveness – is tough to do. So, maybe I’ll employ a strategy that I have found works best when I am not totally into something: I can fake it. I will fake my forgiveness of those who have done me wrong and treated me poorly. Heck! I will fake forgiveness to those who I know were just thinking about wronging me. I will fake forgiving everybody!

Here is how I will fake it (and you can too).

I will give forgiveness quickly and without thought to how I have been hurt by someone or something. Being wronged hurts me/us. Recognizing how deeply we are hurt is an important part of offering forgiveness. If we just keep the hurt on the surface, we can gloss over it and hug it out with someone. Then we can go on like nothing ever happened and our hearts are untarnished.

I will forgive without honest dialogue and discussion with those involved with the wrong. Since I am going to keep my feelings on the surface, it won’t be necessary for me to talk through the debacle. Just a quick “It’s okay. You are forgiven.” will do when someone says they are sorry. No need to express hurt, pain, disappointment, shame, surprise, etc. There is likely no need to try and understand why they did what they did to me. Besides, I bet they really aren’t sorry at all.

I will make forgiving a spiritual matter only. I must forgive because God wants me to forgive. But I don’t have to like that person anymore, and I can just pretend they don’t exist. That will teach them a lesson while keeping the peace at the same time. No need to make them human again by acknowledging that I know them. Let their isolation be their punishment. I will see them in heaven (I guess).

I will pretend to them that I am over what happened, but I will keep careful notes in my diary so I never forget. Not one detail. Daily I will review what happened and how they could have avoided being so terrible to me. Maybe they will feel so guilty that they will continually feel inadequate around me and routinely ask me if I still forgive them. I will say I do, but I don’t.
I will just act like I have never needed to be forgiven for anything. If I believe I am perfect, that must mean that I am perfect. Right? If I have lived without error, then it is totally up to me to judge others as falling short. Having been perfect throughout my life gives me the high ground when it comes to forgiving others. It almost makes me seem saintly (at least to myself) to forgive someone so bad, so low down, so sinful.

It seems that forgiving is tough, but faking forgiveness may be even tougher. Maybe I should reconsider my approach. Faking forgiveness likely will not help on any level. Forgiveness has to be full and free or not at all. Learning to forgive is not one of the important lessons we learn in life. It is likely the most important. Without forgiving others, we are willingly signing up to live in the darkest moments of life with no intention of moving on. We are stuck.

Forgiving others is not natural to us. It is learned and, unfortunately, it usually means that we have experienced deep hurt and pain at the hands of someone else. Only those wanting to live again will forgive the one who killed them with words or actions. Faking forgiveness is embracing a life that will daily feature the experience in life that has hurt us the most. Instead of faking forgiveness, follow the forgiving pattern of God in your life so that forgiving others is not a foreign concept but a favored response and thankful acknowledgment of God’s grace still working mightily in, for, and through you.

Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. 23“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”          (Matthew 18 – NRSV)

For September 14, 2014 / Proper 19

You Might Be A …

lsu guys

You might be a football fool if …

* You show up three hours early to tailgate, but routinely are late to work or picking up your children from school.

* You have no problem praying for your team to win, but never pray for orphans.

praying lsu

* You block your schedule 6 months ahead to watch your team play, but have to check your calendar and get back to friends who need you to help them in a pinch.

* You gladly give to the booster club, but never give to charities that help hungry people in your city.

* You dress up for football games, but dress down for church.

* You stand up to sing your college fight song, but never sing the national anthem.

* You know the names, measurements, hometowns, and stats of every player on your team, but have never meet more than 3 neighbors and you call them “Hey Fella” when you see them in the park.

* You have more money invested in tickets than you do in stocks or bonds.

* You cook for your everyone at your NFL tent party, but never cook a meal for someone homebound or sick.

tailgating pic

* You have more love in your heart for your coach or quarterback than you do your boss, your pastor, your president, your siblings.

* You have more hate in your heart for your coach or quarterback than you for the actions of sex predators, drunk drivers, or dead beat parents.

* You care more about your team’s ranking in the polls than you do your children’s GPA or BMI.

* You have never missed your son’s football practice/game, but you have never taken him personally to Sunday School/youth group meetings, open house at school, the doctor, or fishing.

* You have the big game circled on your calendar, but forgot your anniversary this year.

* Your Monday morning emotions are conditioned by how well your teams played on Saturday or Sunday.

Have I made my point? Football is fun, but it is not life.

I know, I know, some of you will say that  you “live and die for OU football” or you “bleed blue and gold” or you are “die hard Cowboy fans.” Good. I am glad you have a hobby, but that hobby is not your identity. And if it is, well, I am sorry for you.

This is kick off weekend for the NFL and week two for the NCAA. Enjoy football and celebrate your team. Only do so with some perspective. Don’t be known for being a fan of a team. Find something else to invest yourself into and become passionate about it. It might feel weird at first, but you will feel better about tutoring a child than passing out from too many calories during the Saints-Falcons game. Don’t buy the hype that football is life and life is now back to normal since football has returned.

We were created to be more than weekend fans. We are “all week warriors” living in a way that inspires others to life in faith, hope, and love. That is hard to do when we blend in and imitate others who escape through the association of an athletic event. Let’s not live for football. Let’s live to help children, serve others, enjoy our family, worship God, love everyone. Football can be a part of every bit of that, but it can not be the center. It is at best on the fringe of what should be important to us in life. Don’t lose perspective and don’t get caught up in the back to football mania.

Don’t be a football fool.

The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways, but the folly of fools deceive them.  (Proverbs 14:8)

How is that working for ya?

work

I’m a people person, very personable. I absolutely insist on enjoying life. Not so task-oriented. Not a work horse. If you’re looking for a Clydesdale I’m probably not your man. Like I don’t live to work, it’s more the other way around. I work to live.                                     – Dupree

I am 35 years old and mid way through my working life. Since today is Labor Day I think I might do a little reflecting on what I have done, what I am doing, and what I will do for the next few decades until Social Security frees me. It seems to me that taking a good long honest look at oneself is an important thing to do from time to time in order to make sure the destination you had in mind in the beginning is still an option. In other words, is my labor still doing for me what I hoped it would do when I began working and am I still headed towards the finish line that I imagined for myself.

OK. If I am going to be honest, I am actually about to celebrate birthday number 42, but I am about half way through my working life. That part is true and I am not sure if I am relieved or disappointed about that. As for my progress as a laborer I guess I am either half way home or only half out of the gate. Either way I have about 25 or so years left to work in the mine.

Recently, I heard that people beginning their career today should expect 9 career changes over their working life. That is right – 9! Since my entire working life has been in the same career field (Christian ministry) that is a little hard for me to imagine, but I guess it is possible. Some of my friends have moved from education to sales to business and back to education although not necessarily in that order. That doesn’t count the multiple jobs in each of those career paths. If I am somewhere between relieved and disappointed I can only imagine what I might be thinking if I had tried a half dozen or so different occupations.

Life is tough and work it seems is even tougher. That is probably why there seems to be a transient nature to how people approach work today. Perhaps constant career changes is a coping mechanism for being overworked, underpaid, not recognized, and left feeling useless by the time you can apply for your company watch (which no longer exists as a retirement gift.) So while it may be helpful on Labor Day to remember that you are blessed to have a job (94 % of working age Americans are – http://www.bls.gov), it might be more cathartic to take a deep breath and think about your working life.

What did you want to be when you were growing up? Are you there yet? Are you happy? Did you make the right choice? How could you have chosen better? What can you do to make your work better for your life and family? What working regrets do you need to forget? What would you be happiest doing for the rest of your working life? What are you waiting on?

We usually do have more questions than answers. Such is life, but questions aren’t our enemy. They are the markers that help us get back on track to something better and often better for us. Maybe on Labor Day 2014 we could all start thinking about work and our working life in a new way. If so, we stand to gain so much by getting a clearer picture of why we do what we do. Maybe that picture/vision will be powerful enough to transform our daily struggle into many moments seeking the most significant outcomes from the investment of our blood, sweat, and tears. Since we spend about 90,000 hours of our life working (45y x 250d x 8h), that work should be about both quality and quantity; both identity and investment; both happiness and wholeness.

So this is what I am thinking about the rest of my working life. ——————

I want to work in ways/places where the purpose is obvious to me and to others.

I want to work in ways/places where my gifts and abilities are a good fit.

I want to work in ways/places where I can begin to pour into others the way others have poured into me (or should have.)

I want to work in ways/places where titles are less important than teams.

I want to work in ways/places where “doing business as usual” is not the daily mantra.

I want to work in ways/places where young ambition can be shaped into a missional force.

I want to work in ways/places where I can make one difference, each day, every week, for the rest of my employment.

I want to work in ways/places where I can feel good about the way I give my body, spirit, mind in exchange for cash, health insurance, retirement contributions and professional development.

I want to work in ways/places where I am sure God is pleased with what I did with what He has given me.

That is all. Am I asking too much? Are my expectations too high? Did I leave any out?

How is work working for you? I would hate to think that we work hard all of our life at something we don’t enjoy, with people we didn’t like, and for a purpose that didn’t make a difference to anyone. It doesn’t have to be that way for any of us. Let’s not exchange our years for a paycheck. Let’s not surrender the best of ourselves for something we don’t believe in. Let’s give our life to God and others so we may live in the joy of fulfilling our creation purpose.

Commit your work to the Lord and your plans will be established.            Proverbs 16:3