Drafted to Make A Difference

“With the first pick of the 2015 NFL Draft, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers select…”

I am not sure who the Bucs will pick on Thursday night with the first pick. It’s probably going to be a QB, and it likely will be Jameis Winston from Florida State. I wish the #1 pick would be Lorenzo Mauldin from Louisville. Not because he’s the top rated talent in the draft, but because he’s a hero to me. Lorenzo was/is a foster kid from Atlanta who seems to have turned the corner in life based on his athletic ability, his dedication to his siblings, and the care of special people who have helped him along.

[ You can read more of his story at http://mmqb.si.com/2015/04/23/lorenzo-mauldin-2015-nfl-draft-louisville/ ….after you finish reading my article. 🙂  ]

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When the pick goes down, I will be in Nashville for the Christian Alliance for Orphans (CAFO) 2015 Summit. There will be more than 3,000 people gathered to be empowered and equipped to make a difference in the lives of the over 100 million orphans around the world, including 400,000 foster care kids in the USA. It will be challenging to me as a child welfare professional; compelling to me as a caring parent; and convicting of me as a Christian leader. I’ll be thinking of the kids that my agency serves, as well as the kids represented by the other CAFO partner agencies and church-based ministries. I’ll also be thinking of and praying for Lorenzo Mauldin.

Lorenzo will be drafted on Friday or Saturday. It will put him in a position that he has never been in before. He will have a team/a city behind him. He will have the resources to take care of himself and his siblings for life if he plays well. He will play on TV in the greatest sport America knows, and he will become household name to aspiring boys wanting to “go all Lorenzo” on the competition. His life will change forever. No more foster homes. No more group homes. No more dorm rooms for Lorenzo. It’s his time now.

But I’m betting he won’t see it that way. If I know Lorenzo – and I don’t – he will use this new life as an opportunity to do something great. Not on the football field, but on the foster field. Lorenzo will always want to give back, and make the scene better for kids that are on the path he and his siblings were on. No kid exits the system without a desire to make foster care better for other kids coming through it. Even the best of foster care situations have room for some improvement. Every child deserves to have a good home to grow up in, and good parents to walk through life with. Every child needs to feel like they’ve been drafted to belong to a family that wants them desperately, and loves them generously.

Christian foster care ministry attempts to do just that for every one of the kids already in the system, as well as the ones that are statistically on their way. Christian foster homes and church-based foster care ministries are making a difference everyday as people put their own needs and aspirations aside to help kids and strengthen American family life. There is a great need before us, but the good news is that we have a greater God that is for us. Our God is greater than the foster care crisis in our country.

You may not know it, but you too are being drafted – drafted to make a difference in foster care. Please stand up, show up, and blow up for kids across the country. Don’t limit your love to kids in your state. Love and cherish every child you encounter. Help and hold every kid in your care that needs your personal touch to succeed. Dare to dream the wildest dreams of success and glory for foster kids, because they hold great potential and we need them to let it go in our world. Choose to see the potential in kids instead of their baggage or their limits. Value the life of the one instead of the burden of the many. Celebrate the stories of success, and speak truth into the stories of shame. Today, you are drafted to make a difference.

I ask you to pray for Lorenzo Mauldin. Don’t pray that he would be drafted first overall or that he would be drafted by your favorite team. Pray that his story would compel families all over the country to make room in their lives for the kids who need a family. Pray that his legacy would go beyond being a great football player, and witness an even greater example of a man. Pray that the city that drafts him will become a city that invests heavily into foster care and sets the pace for other NFL cities engaging with kids in their communities. Pray that foster children all over the country would find a new hero in Lorenzo because of his spirit, his endurance, and his hope for a better life. Pray constantly that God would work all things together through the body of Christ to make helping orphans a priority and not an option.

Running Blind

team randy

I am a runner. To be honest I am a jogger that has occasionally entered short running races. I have never come close to winning. Finishing was the goal. My only reward for racing has been free ice cream, bananas, chocolate milk, and a couple of “good job” medals. For the most part I have enjoyed the thrill of running with friends more than the thought of actually turning in a good time. So I guess this hobby is more about fellowship and fun than athletic accomplishment or physical testing. I am not a runner. I am a jogger… When I feel like it.

Randy Pierce is a runner. I mean he is a real runner. Today he is running his 4th marathon this year and is competing in the Boston Marathon on Patriots Day. Just getting in that race proves to the world you are a runner. He will finish the 26.2 mile run in less than 4 hours. That is amazing to me, but most amazing is that Randy is blind. That’s right. He is blind. He has been blind since he was 22 due to a neurological disease that over the last 20 years has caused him great affliction. For almost two years he was in a wheel chair because his cerebellum was damaged. After six surgeries he was off and running. And mountain climbing (he has climbed every mountain in New Hampshire). And mudding (he ran in the California Tough Mudder and finished in the top 10 percent over all!). He is a national champion distance runner for blind competitors. That boy is a running fool!

So how does someone blind run 26.2 miles without falling or getting off the path? Randy will run with a walking stick connecting him to a lead runner.  He will hold one end of the stick in his left hand and the lead runner will hold the other end with his/her right hand. His lead runner is actually a husband and wife team. Husband will run 12.4 miles and wife will finish it. (She is the faster runner). Together they will set the pace and keep Randy on the course to be able to finish the Boston Marathon. That’s right. Today in Boston a blind man will enter and complete one of the most important marathons in the country and he will do so in less time than it takes me to drive from my house to Dallas. Unbelievable!

Most of us run blind at times in our life. We can’t see the course and we can’t keep from falling. We need someone to help us run that race. We don’t want to not run. We don’t want to give up. We just need some help. We need a lead runner giving us direction and keeping us on course.  We will gladly run if the conditions are right and someone will run along with us. Parents do this for kids. Spouses do this for each other. Pastors do this for the people they shepherd. Good leaders do this with anyone who will let them lead them in the best way forward.  There is no shame in running blind. Shame only comes when we refuse to accept the gift of guidance that others are willing to provide.

But we can’t run blind forever. At some point we need to learn to see the path forward and be able to run it on our own. Except for one very important and critical detail that can never be forgotten or ignored. Here it is. Get ready. IMPORTANT NEWS:  When we realize that once we were running blind and had the help of others to guide us, now that we can see the course clearly, we must become the lead guide for others on the path. We can’t just run along alone and taking care of our self. Someone else desperately needs our eyes – our vision – to help them run the race of life that is before them. Without our “eyes” they will fall. They will fail. And when they fail, we fail.

It is never ok to run the race of life alone. We can run with the help of others. We can run while helping others. And we can run alongside increasing the pace and performance of others through competition and comradery. But no one should run alone. No one.  Running should  not be a solo sport.

Today, in my life and in your life, there are people blinded by their addiction, their ambition, their self-righteousness, their disease, their anger, their greed. And these are people we know and love not New England strangers. They are people that we wish could run along beside us and enjoy life. People that perhaps in the past has set the pace for us and guided us on the course, but now they are blind and just about to quit running. What can we do to help them? What can do to guide them? What can we do to get them back on the course?

We can’t give up on them.

We can’t ignore them.

We can’t leave them to themselves.

We can’t run off and leave them.

We have to run with them. And we have to help them stay on the course. They are blind!

Maybe it is your child. Maybe it is a lifelong friend or sibling.  Maybe it is someone who is a leader in your community, work, or church. Maybe it is parent in crisis and about to lose their children because of their bad choices and management. Maybe it is you.

Running blind is not easy, but it is possible. Blind runners may never win the race. They may never push for a strong finish. They may never garner the attention of others who are impressed by their style or stamina. Finishing is the goal. Maybe a t-shirt or a medal or a free drink will be their only reward for overcoming the blindness that has captured their life and put them on the sidelines. Get them in the race. Run with them. Lead them along the course. Blind running is in these days and we need more blind runners  and lead teams than ever before.

Leadership Isn’t Natural

Today and tomorrow my organization is hosting what we call our Leadership Summit. It is the follow up to a leader’s gathering we had late 2014 where we attempted to “clear the air” on a variety of subjects pertaining to our ministry and to our people. From that meeting it was determined that a follow up gathering focused on leadership training would be helpful and welcomed by the team that we determined to be our critical leaders at Arrow. They are not only the titled leaders at Arrow, but they are the leader of leaders all the way down through the ranks and beyond the walls.

Today we have introduced a topic that we have discussed around our senior leader’s table for a while  – leaders vs. managers. While we need both leaders and managers to be successful, the role of leader is the identity that we are attempting to forge in our leaders group. Our goal is to have 100 % of our leaders leading as close to 100 % of their time as possible leaving the smallest space in their day to manage things. Leading moves the ball forward. Managing holds onto the ball. Leading anticipates. Managing reacts. Leaders do manage and managers do lead, but rarely does one balance both at 50 % of the time. The requirements, the traits,  the calling, and the “mojo” is different between managers and leaders. It just is.

LeadershipvsManagement-cartoon_zps3c26815f

Leading is not easy though. It is a learned and relearned skill. Leading others is tough, it is messy, it is exhausting. Leading isn’t natural. That is not to say that some don’t have natural leadership abilities. Because many people are born leaders, but their leadership abilities have to be sculpted through process in order to blossom into really natural leadership. Leading is not doing, controlling, bossing, demanding, or insisting our way to the top. Leading is living in a way that moves the pack in the direction that not only meets our desired destination, but benefits others all along the way.  Leadership is never a solo act. It is always a band in action making better music together than individually. Leading isn’t natural. Leading is learned.

Today I learned that learning to lead is not only critical to my success professionally, but it is necessary if my vocational calling is to reach its full potential. And I can never stop learning to lead no matter how long I have been a leader and how successful I may (or may not) have been. God did not call me to manage a mess. He called me to lead others towards a new kind of living – a new kingdom of loving – that can never been seen or reached by maintaining the status quo (a major management priority). That kind of leadership may not be natural, but it sure seems necessary right about now in my life, my work, my world.

“In the end, it is important to remember that we cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are.”         – Max De Pree

Unprayed Answers

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Garth Brooks recorded a song many years ago titled Unanswered Prayers. It is a song about things we pray and ask God to do for us that are not answered. The song goes on to say that “some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.” Looking back on some of the things I prayed for in life, there is no doubt that God was doing me – and the world – a big favor by not responding to what I felt was the thing He should do in this world. If he had answered just a few of my prayers I would have married Jessica Rabbit, run for Congress, and invented a cure for tofu. I am not sure the world deserved any of those things to happen. Thank goodness I never prayed them!

God sometimes answers our prayers. He sometimes lets them go answered. He occasionally rebukes our conscience for the selfish nature of our prayers that seeks to preserve our wealth, comfort, power, and/or fame. And sometimes God gives an answer to prayers we didn’t pray. That is to say that some of God’s greatest gifts are unprayed answers.

I didn’t pray to be born in America (and raised in the South), but He put me in a Christian home and my life has been shaped for the good of God even before I knew it.

I didn’t pray for the great group of friends I have been blessed to know (too many to name), but He gave me people at just the right times and with just the right knowledge to nurture and nudge me.

I didn’t pray for David Crowder to follow me on Twitter, but he did! And that will justify my (lack of) musical talent for the rest of my days. Thank you God!

I didn’t pray for the partner that God gave me, and in many ways I did my best to mess up what God was doing, but she is the best answer to a prayer I never prayed.

I didn’t pray to be called to ministry, but He called me and I am forever grateful.

I haven’t prayed that God would protect me from danger when I have been in unsafe and/or seedy places in my life, but He sure has.

I would never ask God to make me rich, but some days I feel like the richest man I know – not in net worth, but in personal gain from family and friends, encounters and experiences, happiness and wholeness.

That seems to be the way God rolls. He answers prayers we never pray because we don’t know enough about what we need to ask for it. The disciples, in their movement to build the church, never thought to ask for unity and mercy for others, so they asked for power to witness  (Acts 4). God gave them the answer to their prayer and the answer to a prayer they didn’t know to pray. They asked for a sensational gift to preach and tell others what God had done in Christ. He gave them that and he made their ministry to and with each other a sensational witness to the world of what God’s love can and should do in the church. He doubly blessed them with an answer to prayer and an unprayed answer.  Ain’t He some kind of God?

I bet God is answering some unprayed things in my life right now. I just don’t know it yet. I bet He is doing the same for you. I bet He is doing that kind of thing all over the world.

What unprayed answers can you see in your life?

Have you thanked God for them yet?

Easter 2 / April 12, 2015—————————————————————————

23After they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24When they heard it, they raised their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth, the sea, and everything in them, 25it is you who said by the Holy Spirit through our ancestor David, your servant: ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples imagine vain things? 26The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers have gathered together against the Lord and against his Messiah.’ 27For in this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, 28to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. 29And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, 30while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.

32Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 33With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.  (Acts 4)

Thoughts and Prayers (and Laughs and Giggles)

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Everybody says it at sometime – “I am thinking about you during this time” or “I will be praying for you.” I think most people mean it when they say it to somebody. I do. When people are hurting, lost, scared or devastated we want them to know we are thinking about them and praying that their life and situation gets better. We hope that they are not forever in a state of shame, or guilt, brokenness or hopelessness. We want people to want that for ourselves when the table is turned. That’s called empathy and it may be the most precious of human traits.

I am thinking today about my friends that I will preach to tomorrow near the graveside of their loved ones for a sunrise service. My prayer is that they will be encouraged by the scriptures and embraced by the closeness of God in their grieving memories. (2016 – thinking and praying about my first Easter with Newark Naz and our gathering at the Midland.)

I am thinking about my brothers and sisters who have lost parents this year – Charlie, Amanda, Tim, etc.. – and will miss being with or calling them during the Easter weekend. I am praying that they will be comforted in the conviction that ragged earthly clothes have been exchanged for pristine and perfect robes of righteousness in heaven. (2016 – Praying for friends who are remembering their daughter from 17 years without her sitting at the table for Easter brunch.)

I am thinking and praying for a special lady I love that is having emergency surgery this morning. Praying that all goes well and that she is up and at it tomorrow to embrace family and celebrate her vibrant faith. (2016 – Thinking about a wonderful lady/mom getting ready for surgery on Monday while she thinks about the death and resurrection of her Lord.)

I am thinking about my friends this year who have lost jobs, lost houses, lost marriages, lost children. I am praying that what they have lost will be found afresh and new as they trust God to fix, find and forge together the cracks of their reality. (2016- Thinking about a dear brother searching for a job and trusting in God to provide a place for him to work so he can continue serving in the church and coaching softball.)

But I am not only thinking and praying. I am laughing and giggling too. That too is empathy, but not because of grief or worry at someones trouble. Empathy that laughs and giggles as an expression and echo of the joy that others feel. That kind of empathy confronts our jealousy of others and crucifies the thought “why not me?” Empathy works in both directions. Actually, empathy allows us to stand in the middle of the good and the bad while pointing beyond either of those realities. Our empathy can be pointed “for” someone and “with” someone. Empathy is simply sharing in all of life with all of the people we are blessed to know AND some people that we will never know but can still empathize in their life events sometimes praying for them and sometimes laughing with them.

I am laughing and giggling with my friends Matt and Keri (and their kids) who will celebrate Easter this year with a new little boy. I wish I could giggle with them out loud as they take their first Easter picture as a family of 7. (2016- They are still laughing with that little boy and thanking God for his life.)

I am laughing with my friend Debi and her husband who have experienced a miracle this year with God curing his cancer. I am giggling at all of the years they have ahead of them together in marriage and ministry. (2016- Many friends this year have faced uncertain health and found strength in Christ.)

I am laughing and giggling with my friends who have found new love, new hope, new purpose, a new calling in life. I am giggling at how blessed they are and how much their lives will never be the same now that God has broke in with His lavish gifts of glory and grace.  (2016- Smiling with my friends who have returned safely from a week in Africa drilling wells and for my friend who is in Ghana with his orphanage – both groups serving the Lord faithfully.)

Today we stand between grief and joy; between crucifixion and resurrection; between thoughts/prayers and laughs/giggles. Jesus has died and was buried, but he will be resurrected and will reign. We think of him in his grave clothes and pray for his disciples to be true, but we are laughing at the joy of him in his resurrection robes displaying the power of God. God is thinking/praying and laughing/giggling with us as live “in between” Good Friday and Easter Sunday. God’s empathy both “for” us and “with” us brings us together in peace and with joy.

Life is all about thinking and praying for the events and the people in our lives that are challenged with great obstacles and suffer from terrible tragedy. But life is also full of opportunity to laugh, giggle and let the joy out of our soul. When we do both – think and pray/ laugh and giggle – we are displaying our faith in perhaps its most full expression. For we are living into a God who has created with a spirit of empathy for other and for ourselves.

So make today – Holy Saturday – a day of thinking and praying, but also make it a day of laughing and giggling. God is not dead and He is not finished with the world…or with you. Make sure that this weekend is not focused on hiding eggs, buying shoes, or getting to brunch as quickly as possible. Jesus did his work on Friday afternoon. Our Father will do his work on Easter morn. Today is our time to work at our faith and think about the meaning of the cross, the tomb, the stone. Pray for God to come and to come quickly to deliver us from evil. Laugh out loud at how great our God is and giggle when you remember what His grace has done for you.

I will be thinking and praying for you. Please feel free to laugh and giggle at me.

April 4, 2015 / Holy Saturday —————————

I am one who has seen affliction under the rod of God’s wrath; he has driven and brought me into darkness without any light; against me alone he turns his hand, again and again, all day long. He has made my flesh and my skin waste away, and broken my bones; he has besieged and enveloped me with bitterness and tribulation; he has made me sit in darkness like the dead of long ago. He has walled me about so that I cannot escape; he has put heavy chains on me; though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer; he has blocked my ways with hewn stones, he has made my paths crooked. He is a bear lying in wait for me, a lion in hiding; he led me off my way and tore me to pieces; he has made me desolate; he bent his bow and set me as a mark for his arrow. He shot into my vitals the arrows of his quiver; I have become the laughingstock of all my people, the object of their taunt-songs all day long. He has filled me with bitterness, he has sated me with wormwood. He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes; my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, “Gone is my glory, and all that I had hoped for from the Lord.” The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall! My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me.

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” (Lamentations 3)