Holiness Lost and Found

take-time-to-be-holy

It seems to me that a lot of my good, good friends these days have lost sight of what is most important in loving and leading all of God’s people. And when I say ‘all of God’s people’ I mean ALL – red and yellow, black and white, Democrat and Republican, gay and straight, rich and poor, educated and simple, American citizens and global friends. ALL is not a reflection of one’s faith, but a condition of one’s creative origin in the heart of God for the relational purposes of God to live for the glory of God. All of these people groups matter to us because they all matter to God.

Who I am thinking about and speaking to is anyone who claims Jesus as Savior and Lord. My calling and pulpit is primarily one to the people of faith who are called to not only believe in a higher power in all things, but to live to a higher standard at all times. By ‘standard’ I might say purpose or way or ethic or cause, but I mean the same thing. Christians of all traditions, denominations, ethnicities, and political parties are first called to embrace the kingdom of God that has come and is coming. To embrace such a kingdom is to embrace the way of the king. His way is a way of love. His way is a way of hope. His way is a way of gentleness and meekness. His way is a way of reconciliation. His way is a way of holiness.

But we seem to have certainly lost this way of living together in America and especially in the American church.

Chuck Colson – that politician turned theologian – said that “Holiness is the everyday business of every Christian. It evidences itself in the decisions we make and the things we do, hour by hour, day by day.” I’m gonna add “friendship by friendship, stranger by stranger, thought by thought, word by word, feeling by feeling” to his train of practical holiness. He is right of course. Our job is not to win the day politically. Nor is it to hurl truth bombs to the party that has newly acquired, but temporary power. Holiness is our word, thought, and deed. Any other view of what God has called us to is incomplete and inconsiderate to the hope God has for his new creations.

Perhaps it isn’t so much a problem of believing, but a lack of seeing it in the body of Christ. We have lost a vision of God’s holiness because our spiritual idols and ideals aren’t interested in transformed living at all. The mind of Christ is not attractive to most people. A heart after God’s own heart is not appealing to the populous. Life lived in the power of the Holy Spirit is not nearly as cool as living in the prestige of the creative freedom and force of any generation. Journeying together as the body of Christ is no longer possible because individual choice and philosophy is greater than the good of unity and wholeness in Christ.

Little by little, day by day we are losing our ability as a church to see the way of holiness that is open and available to us as God’s holy people. Not because it is leaving us, but because we insist on pursuing a faith that is forged in the relevancy of our time rather than the righteousness of Christ. We have lost sight on what it means to live peculiarly and particularly.

 

This election and the outcry from the results has gouged the eyes of believers so viciously that we can’t even see the shame we are sharing with our groans and grimaces, our posting and preaching, or our smirks and smiles. We have lost full sight this year on where earthly politics fit into our kingdom way.

I’ll say it again. The way of our king is the way of holiness. But holiness is hard to see, hear, or taste in the after shocks of this election gone wrong. We can’t see a holy future because we have lost sight of what living holy in the present might look or feel like.
Life has happened to us and we have let it blind us and put blame in our hearts for what we have lost. We can no longer see or remember the way of holiness in our church and it shows in our recent attitudes and behavior.

We have lost sight of the way when we divide by party at the cost of being unified in Christ. We have lost sight of the way when we let our labeling of others harm the love we should have for them. We have lost sight of the way when we would rather grandstand in social media with our fears than pray in private because we are full of faith. We have lost sight of the way when we go underground and leave the discussion because we declare all other views stupid, unspiritual, and damning of our future. We have lost sight of the holiness of God when we let our fear and failures, emotions and exchanges, or our aches and pains lead us off of the way of holiness that this kingdom of God has called us to.

Fox News, CNN, the Today Show, the NY Times, the Washington Post, Facebook, nor Twitter will show us that way. None of them are fair and balanced nor are they full of grace or truth. They are a business that is out to make money and shape consumers. We either see them for who they are and lean on God’s Spirit to help us despite them OR we walk blindly into their web to be confused and stirred to anger. We will not find them walking in the kingdom way. They will never lead us on the way of holiness. But don’t blame them because they have a mission rooted in wealth and power. We know what we are getting because we know who they are.

But that is not who we are. We are God’s holy people. Make no mistake about it. Holiness is the way that God has called us to live as a person and as a people.

This way – God’s way of holy living, loving and leading – is a gift to us. Let us find it again together. If the people of God can walk together in the holy way that God has called us and prepared for us, then the ALL of creation might one day see its beauty too. The defense of our way of living or our abided rights is not going to lead us anywhere beyond where we are today. But a vision for and call to the holy way of God will bring our dead and decayed spirits and congregations alive in Christ and full of the purposed activity in every change that comes to our country and our world.

God’s vision for us is greater than any woman or man’s vision for our country. Don’t defend or die for the wrong thing. Don’t lose hope hoping that a President or a party will make us great again. They won’t because they can’t. Trust in God and pursue His way for your life, the church, and our country. On this there is not a diversity of views or positions. There is God’s way and then there is the way of the world.

Let’s find again a vision for the way God wants to lead us as a people…ALL people.

Strengthen the weak hands,
    and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who have an anxious heart,
    “Be strong; fear not!
Behold, your God
    will come with vengeance,
with the recompense of God.
    He will come and save you.”
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
    and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
For waters break forth in the wilderness,
    and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
    and the thirsty ground springs of water;
in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down,
    the grass shall become reeds and rushes.
And a highway shall be there,
    and it shall be called the Way of Holiness;
the unclean shall not pass over it.
    It shall belong to those who walk on the way;
    even if they are fools, they shall not go astray.
No lion shall be there,
    nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
    but the redeemed shall walk there.
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return
    and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
    they shall obtain gladness and joy,
    and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isaiah 35 – ESV)

There Is No Time Like the Present

past-relationships

 

You may or may not be aware that the 80’s hit show “Full House” has recently been rebooted by a streaming service as “Fuller House” featuring most of the original cast. Many girls (and probably boys, too) of the 80’s generation are designating this “must see TV”. So much so that a second season has been purchased already and John Stamos has ordered extra hair gel. Even my daughter – born in 2002 – loves the show and often greets me with the familiar line from the show: “how rude!” I, however, am standing strong and refusing to invest my precious time into leftover lines and warmed up scenarios that appeal to my childhood years.  🙂

It seems that nostalgia always has a piece of our hearts. Another big piece of our hearts belongs to “tomorrowland”, “what’s next” or “one of these days.” We are a people who live in the middle. Our reality is somewhere between “what was” and “what will be.” But whatever happened to “what is?”

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34 – ESV)

“Also, do not live in the regrets, disappointments, defeats, devastation of your past. Today needs your attention more than yesterday or else tomorrow will be a repeat of your pitiful past.” (Matthew 6:34, part B, The GDB2 Version)

If yesterday is full of nostalgia (or regret) and tomorrow is full of possibility (or anxiety) for you, I encourage you to focus and face today with all of your faith. Live for today like tomorrow is not coming and as if yesterday never happened. Live for right now because later on will be drastically different if you are handcuffed with the past or future. Live for your current reality because the one you think you want or wish you had probably isn’t as shiny as you dream it will be. Live for the “right now you”, because the “old school you” wasn’t as good (or as bad) as you remember.

So how do we “do right now” the best we can?

Breathe – take long, deep breaths that remind you that you are in fact alive and you have a life worth living. Freezing up and closing off from the world brings rigor mortis to the soul.

Bathe – immerse your mind in thoughts and prayers that are good, acceptable, pure, and healthy for you. Leave the trash of this world outside of your heart and mind.

Bend – reach out to other souls in ways that you never have. Find true friends for the journey of life. You need them and they need you. Let their wisdom and experience help shape your view of the world, but choose those kind of friends wisely.

Bow – humble yourself before God. Don’t fit Him into your life. Fit your life into His kingdom. Be thankful that God creates us to live and walk through life with Him. He will do the heavy work. We need only to let him.

Become – make your greatest quest in life less about experience and more about encounters that shape us for the long term. Forget about what you have seen or heard and press into The One you know. Exchange your identity for the one he created you to have.

Bless – give your best work to making other people feel special and feel served. Be a blessing that people can’t explain but are deeply grateful for. Put away your need to save yourself for tomorrow so you can expend yourself on others today.

While we may think often about yesterday and tomorrow may distract us for a moment, today is the day that we have. So let’s get stuck in today together making the world a better place and sipping the full life that God offers us freely. Stuck right in the middle of “what we wish for” and “what we long for” gets us to “what we are really needed for.” Make today the best day that can possibly be by thinking, praying, acting, and trusting in what God is doing in and through you. Relish the gift that today is for you and for those in your circle of care.

Why Pastors Need Lent Too

lent pic

 

In a few days I will make my way towards the sanctuary to begin calling my congregation to focus their attention on a new angle of the story of Jesus. Very quickly we have transitioned from celebrating the birth of the King Child who changes the world to remembering the beautiful details of his early days of ministry to others. We have peered into the nativity with the Magi (Matthew 2). We have sipped the wine that was borne as water at a wedding we didn’t expect to be invited to (John 2). We have sat very still in the synagogue and heard him proclaim Isaiah’s prophecy that He would bring good news to the poor and set the captives free (Luke 4). We have heard his call to Peter after a long night of fishing to trust in Him for the catch (Luke 5).

This Jesus story is getting better every day, with every detail. It is a joy to join in on this journey. It is an honor to lean in and catch a glimpse of the Messiah on the move. It is unbelievable that we are included in this great God story that is full of so much promise, so much hope, so much meaning for life on earth.

Then comes the cross. The bloody, brutal cross carved for the final story of Jesus’s life with us. The cross that Rome designed to humiliate, humble, and horrify the populous into submission and surrender. The cross that will forever stand for victory in Jesus, for all the world, throughout eternity, forever and ever. Amen.

This is the new view for my congregation (and yours too, pastor.) It is a view that is less about simply believing in Jesus and more about trusting and believing in him even into death. It is a part of the story that calls us to to lower ourselves, confess our sins, let God draw us near. A call for us to embrace our brokenness, trust in Christ alone by denying the lordship of self, and repent…of everything. Repent of everything that is not rooted in and breathed through the life of Christ. Repent of everything that does not reveal his character and compassion through us. Repent of everything that is not connected to that cross – that bloody, brutal cross.

While I will invite congregants to journey towards the cross and repent, I recognize that I must not only join them on this journey, but I must lead it. I can not just point them in the general direction and bid them to go. I must lead. I must go first. The pastor must lead, not only in the liturgy, but in the lamenting of sin and separation from God.

But what does a pastor really have that needs to be confessed? What on earth does a pastor repent from? Plenty. Believe you me.

Pastors may or may not need to repent of the social sins that are most commonly thought of when preaching/teaching on confession. I am thinking specifically about addictions, attitudes, and anti social behavior that are both clearly defined in scripture and often spelled out in common language in the Special rules or Book of Order. Thanks to the working of God’s grace, most of those sins have been confronted and cast out personally or with the help of ministerial fellowship and accountability. But there are other sins that need to be – must be – dealt with on the way to Easter and on the way to a full life in Christ.

I am finding that there are realities in the pastoral life and call that must be confessed or they will bog down our spiritual life and derail our ministry. While we might not call these social sins they serve as spiritual barriers or bumpers to congregational leaders from the supernatural movement of God in our midst. Truthfully, we should never be ok with anything that we do intentionally or out of ignorance that distracts or detracts from the work of God in us and through us. While sin is often thought of and preached as violating a known law of God, perhaps we should consider it to be a pastoral sin when we put ourselves or our ministry in a place of competition, consternation or conflict with kingdom of God even in the smallest of ways.

“So what on earth are you saying padre?”

I/we need to repent of a cynical spirit, for God is still working in ways that my skeptical eyes can not see. I/we need to repent from a professional busyness/business that prohibits me from being present when others need me to speak into their life and situation. I/we need to repent of living in discouragement due to a perceived lack of success, fame, fortune, and following. I/we need to repent from a personal focus that distracts us from seeing the bigger picture of people/communities in need around us. I/we need to repent from the spirit of self righteousness that keeps us convinced that everyone is a sinner and we can save them through our preaching or programs. I/we need to repent of a ministry that is without hope in a God who saves and sanctifies. I/we need to weep and wail at all of the ways that we minister in our strength rather than in the glorious, graceful strength of Christ our Lord. Then and only then will our ministry be worthy of the call that God has given us as ambassadors of reconciliation in a separated world.

So, I am going to not only repent today (Ash Wednesday) but live repentantly of those (and other) burdens that weakens the ministry of Jesus in and through me. I am thankful that as I confess and pray for forgiveness that the grace of God will both cover and cleanse my sin and shame as a flawed leader. I am thankful that today (and everyday) is the day of salvation for me and those who abandon their own strength and cling to the power of God in Christ. I am eager to know what it means to have nothing but possess everything. I am longing to weep and wail over the sins of the world as a worker in the kingdom of the crucified. I am longing to live with the faith that I can tell God everything and believe that He is already aware and at work in working all things out for the good. I am joyful in the reality that in my weeping and wailing at my need, Christ has set me/us free to live, to love, to lead, and to long for the kingdom that has come.

————————————————————————————————————

So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything. (2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10)

From Here to There

 

 

advent

Distance is a big deal to me right now. That is to say that I am thinking a lot about the distances in my life that complicate things. Space and separation makes each day, each choice, each thought, awkward and at times painful. Most of the times I am thinking about how I can get from here to there.

I am thinking specifically about the separation between me and my family right now. We are separated by miles, by time zones, by state lines, by the calendar, by schedules. Distance is a challenge that is not easily remedied and there is little one can do to prepare for it. You just have to work around the challenge and plan for life that is closer together. If that is not possible you make plans to make the very most of the times that you do have together so that distance does not discourage your love and/or concern for others. Separation should never cause us to not care and not involve ourselves as much as possible in the lives of those we love the most. Our distance will be closed on December 20th and that may very well be the last time I ever allow them out of my sight and reach. 🙂

Advent is about separation and distance and life interrupted. It is about looking for a messiah and longing for God to put the hope back in our world. Advent is about a great distance that seems to be separating the right now from the right world that the prophets pointed us towards. Advent is about waiting, anticipating, preparing for that one moment in time that makes everything different. Advent is the season of separation that makes our Christmas so meaningful. Advent helps us to hold our breath with anticipation as we look upon the face of the child-king for the first time and hear the angels singing his prelude to glory.

But if we are not careful we might think that the promises of God through Isaiah, Jeremiah, Malachi, etc have little to do with us. We might feel separated from God’s good work in Jesus and that we are waiting for something else to occur. Perhaps we might think we are due another “big gift” of God because the first was for Israel or for another age. We might let all of our Christmas joy be wrapped up in a future hope or a bet on a better tomorrow. We might spend every day and sing every song thinking about how we can get from here to there. We shouldn’t.

What God does for Israel (in fact what He does for all the world) in and through Christ, He does for us. We are not separated from this good news and great act by distance, time, space, or anything else. God’s plan is to bring heaven and earth together at long last fulfilling His promise to Abraham, keeping His law to Israel, crowning His eternal dominion though line of David, and completing His prophecy to the exiles. It is in Christ – then and now, in Bethlehem and in Boston, for Israel and for Iceland – that this new kingdom is inaugurated.

The question is not “how do we get from here to there?” It is a question of “What does it mean that God has come from there to here?” It means everything. It means that distance is not our enemy any longer. It means that time can not put our salvation in a box and keep it from us. It means that the spaces in our life are not empty of God’s promises/presence, but utterly full of His presence in every nook and cranny that concerns us. It means that before God helps us, saves us, or protects us, He is just “with us.” And that is the good news of our God who saw us here and rushed from the heavenly there to seek us and to save us.

Isaiah 9:2-7—————————————————

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

So This Happened Over The Weekend…


dnj2015

“Everybody has a vocation to some form of life-work. However, behind that call (and deeper than any call), everybody has a vocation to be a person to be fully and deeply human in Christ Jesus.” (Brenann Mannning – The Wisdom of Tenderness)


I’ve been thinking about something for a while. Something that doesn’t revolve around me, but includes me. Something that should not promote me, but provide me with identity and purpose. Something that is bigger than me, but small enough to fit inside me. Something that concerns the future of others, but captures the present in my faith and work. I’ve been thinking about the call of God on my life and how that is going these days.

Being called by God is not always a vocational call or assignment. The scriptures teach and Christian tradition upholds that some are called to use their gifts/time/energy in particular ways as shepherds and teachers of the church. Additionally, other believers are gifted and called to be evangelists in the workplace – Starbucks, Wall Street, the home, the university, the community, the fields, the machine shop, the courtroom, and “to the uttermost.” Everyone is included in the second calling. All Christians are called to use their gifts/time/energy as active participants in the body of Christ: worshipping, serving, discipling, training, sharing, and investing in others as witness of the kingdom and as sign of faith in God. Some are given the first and more peculiar calling to make the most of not only being a part of the body of Christ, but to be a leader of and a collaborator with the body of Christ, filled by the Holy Spirit and fueled by the Great Commission. I’ve been thinking about that in particular. And about me. And about my calling. I’m in that first group, and I have been thinking about that…a lot.

As I have thought about that, I have realized that the very best memories I have in life are memories centered in church life. They are memories from a long time ago and memories from the past few months. They usually involve someone or some people doing something in or through the name of Jesus. Sometimes I remember preaching a good sermon that encouraged others or exuded the gospel. Other times I remember hearing someone testify to God being faithful and miraculous in their week. Occasionally, those very good memories are set in moments of tears and tight hugs as saints are buried, babies born, couples wed, faithful friends announce a move, or as life happens in unexpected and unexplainable ways. These memories are evidence to me of a life lived in Christ through the church in full and deep ways. Truthfully, my life has been impacted and shaped much more significantly by people and events inside the church than by people and events outside of it, including work, sports, casual friendships, and hobbies. I have been thinking a whole lot about those memories; and about the ones I hope to have in the future; and the ones my kids are picking up along the way.

So this is what I am thinking about what I have been thinking about. Is it time for me to change the way I am serving the church as a God-called leader? Is it time for me to step into something new God has prepared for me and my family? Is it time for me to find new memories to complement the ones I have from years past? Is it time for me to put God first in everything in my life, including my professional identity, goals, and success? Is it time for me to move beyond believing God has called me and towards trusting Him to clarify, keep, and perfect such a call? That’s what I am thinking about, and I am thinking about it a lot these days. The answer to all those questions seems to be “yes.”

With that answer in mind, I have been thinking/praying/wrestling with a specific call to a specific place and with a specific people. In this “memory waiting to happen,” the context is very clear and the cause is extremely compelling. It is with a congregation in Newark, Ohio, and they are thinking about church life, gospel ministry, precious memories, and pastoral calling in very similar ways that Jamie and I have been. They have even called us to become their new pastoral leaders, and we take that kind of invitation very seriously.

So, I am still thinking about all of those things as I think about me, and Newark Naz, and pastoral calling, and the future. I wonder even louder what God may be saying to me, and He says:

If not now, when?

If not you, who?

If not here, where?

If not this, what?

If not yes, why?

That is quite a list of direct questions and even more to think about. There is a lot at stake in this possibility. I am at mid-life and mid-career. I am established, respected, empowered, and at ease in Houston. Jamie is effective, counted on, graceful and beloved in her relationships and ministry. The kids are thriving, growing up, getting ready for “next” and making us smile everyday. Heck, Rainey has never even been out of Texas! Is this what I should be thinking right now? Is this really such a good idea? Would God really expect this kind of adjustment from me?

This isn’t exactly a great time to be a pastor. The church is in trouble. Culture is winning. The weight of leading spiritually is significant. Christianity in America is divided. Marriages are disintegrating and families are crumbling. Entertaining crowds is more relevant than encountering God. The Bible is doubted and discounted. Jesus has been domesticated by scholars and by students. Pastoring is not popular, not lucrative, not easy, not safe.  (Or so it seems to be popularly believed today.)

More thinking and wondering… and I find myself saying to God:

If not now, when?

If not me, who?

If not here, where?

If not this, what?

If not yes, why?

Sometimes we have to move from thinking and questioning to acting and doing. Now is that time. The Ballards will be moving from Texas after 14 years of ministry at Calvary and Clear Lake Churches of the Nazarene, as well as leadership in church relations and spiritual development at Arrow Child & Family Ministries. Each of those assignments have been rich and rewarding to us. Along the way we have been given and blessed much more than we have deserved or required. God has been faithful here, and He will prove faithful there, too. And we can’t wait to live through those memories that will be with us throughout the upcoming years. Newark Naz get ready.  Here come the Ballards.

You Can’t Be Trusted

trust me

Believe me when I say this- you can’t be trusted. And neither can I. Trust is a hard thing to give and can only be done when we know someone can keep it. Keeping trust with someone over something requires that the something is placed in an escrow of protection in order to keep it safe and sound and ready for use when needed. We start out trusting very early in life and then lose the ability to trust a little more each day. Babies are expert trusters. Adults need remedial classes constantly. Sometimes I wonder if I will even be able to trust anybody over anything by the time I am 99.

“ I trust you God. As far as the East is from the West I trust you that much. It is me that I don’t trust. Sometimes I am trustworthy, but sometimes – many times – I am not able to really lean into me to do the right thing, say the right words, or act the right way. It’s not you. It’s me.”

This is likely a conversation that many of us have with ourselves and God, but with nobody else. There is safety in telling God that we don’ trust ourselves. There is solid process and perhaps healing in telling that truth to ourselves. We just don’t want anybody else to know that we don’t trust the man/woman in the mirror.

I learned this lesson hard this week.

Friday night a week ago I took the Ballard 5 to Baskin Robbins for ice cream. We love it there and since Blue Bell is retooling its business these days we will likely become more frequent in our visits. I love “World Class Chocolate.” Sugars likes “Birthday Cake” and momma likes some kind of cookie dough mix. The boys made their order and I paid the bill. While we sat outside and enjoyed our cream, Lily – a 20ish girl I had never seen before – aimlessly walked by and nearly bumped into me. She was talking out of control, walking in front of cars without looking, cussing a blue streak, threatening an unseen person and acting as out of control as you can imagine. That was when I wondered if I could trust myself in this situation to do the right thing for Lily.

She walked off from us while I flagged down security and told him to follow her. I was afraid that she might do something to customers on the sidewalk, but I was most afraid she would walk outside onto FM 1960 and get run over. I feared that when I sipped my morning coffee I would hear local NBC tell me that a pedestrian was killed overnight in NW Houston. I knew I couldn’t trust Lily to take care of herself and remain safe.

When I got in my car, going home just didn’t feel like the right thing to do. We circled the area and found Lily creating a stir at Starbucks. I parked the car and went for her. From the moment I walked up to her and asked if she was ok until the time that the police/paramedics arrived Lily was kind and gentle with me. Something had happened to her and she was sick/traumatized/under medicated/ high/ or just plain crazy. Maybe all of the above. I talked to her for an hour waiting on help while she rambled on and on about people she knew, but didn’t seem to know their location presently. I watched her paint her leg with mascara, try to recharge a calculator she thought was a phone, and clean her ears 10 times with dirty swabs she would find in the bottom of her purse. Lily was pitiful in that condition, but I knew she was somebodies daughter and she needed help. Thankfully first responders came and helped her. That night while they did their job I knew I had done my job. You know, that Christian job to help the hurting and helpless. I had been a good missionary and God had to have noticed. On that night I proved that God could trust me with important work for the kingdom and I could trust myself to put others first and be the good neighbor that I have been called to be.

It would only take a week to undo that level of trust.

Last night I sat in a community outdoor theater in the park district to watch a very high quality stage production by a youth theatre group. I was a bit hot and bothered because the seats were right in the sun and because my kids were whining about being hot and bothered in general. That didn’t say it, but I could hear them thinking, “Dad, last summer you took us to NYC to watch Les Miserables in the Amsterdam Theatre and tonight we sit in the sun to watch Hairspray while fighting mosquitos and having to drink water from the fountain. No fair.”

While this scenario played over in my head I barely noticed the lady sit down next to me and push her bag under her seat. It only took a minute to realize that not only was this person next to me and alone, she was most likely homeless and carrying everything in the world she had. Just like Lily the week before. This girl was silent and said nothing. Neither did I. Not one word for 2 hours. During the first act she put a few Lay’s potato chips in her mouth and ate a cup of salsa. She then washed that down with a mix of a couple of partial drinks – coffee and water – she had brought to the seat. I am certain she had picked them up from the trash on her way to the East section, Row X. That was her dinner.

And I did nothing. I didn’t ask her name. I didn’t ask if I could get her a bottle of cold water or some more food to bring nourishment. I didn’t ask if she needed a ride anywhere. I didn’t ask her anything. I just watched the theatrical production and laughed along right on cue. Epic fail. Don – you can’t be trusted!

One week I respond to someone in need and feel I can trust myself to live a life on display with God’s love. The next week it never crosses my mind to bear any witness at all that I even noticed my sister in her time of need. With $100 cash in my pocket and enough credit to buy every ticket in the theatre I offered her none of it. Worse than not being her provider I was not her friend. I never acknowledged her. Not necessarily in a rude kind of way, but in the “I’m too busy to be bothered with your problems right now” kind of way. When our human nature takes over we lean on our expertise to judge, protect, isolate, and ignore the pain of others. That can’t be how we are supposed to live. That can’t be what God had in mind when he created us and recreates us in the image of Christ. That can’t be the way people of trust respond in situations that need the most trustworthy of the kingdom to respond to people in need.

I can’t be trusted. And neither can you. None of us can. Our flesh is weak and our spirit is confused. We most often want and pursue what accommodates our life and our desires. Everybody else is on their own unless their point of need intersects with a moment of convenience in our schedule or budget. The public would be foolish to put their trust in us to be generous Samaritans and we are plain old stupid to trust ourselves to do the right thing for someone that we are not related or aligned with. That puts the homeless, orphaned children, battered women, the mentally ill, the socially isolated, the terminally ill, the helplessly addicted (and others) in extreme places of unfortunate strain because those that could and should help them can’t be trusted to really help them. Those who need to be able to trust us most find that we only show up when we sense a bit of guilt or are getting a t-shirt for our involvement. It seems that our service to others and acts of kindness are almost always about us/me instead of the one needing the help up or the hand out.

We just can’t be trusted. We need help, a lot of help. You might even say we need a miracle.

Thanks be to God. Our help has come, is coming, and will come again.

Proper 6 B / 2 Corinthians 5:

So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord— 7for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil. 11Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences.

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