The Art of Ending

I never took a preaching class. As part of high school and core college classes, I had to take a public speaking course. I enjoyed them. It was good to get feedback, but apart from that, nothing. I’ve also never taken a formal writing class. You probably can pick up on that in my writing. There are far better writers in the world, and I don’t desire to compare myself to them…it just won’t make my day. Nonetheless, I still enjoy speaking and writing.

Why? That’s a good question. Their might be a bit of ego in there, being in the limelight, center of attention. Although, God allows me to fail in that area from time to time when my pride tries to block any glory going to Him. In those times, I search to find a greater reason why I like these forms of expression.

Thankfully, I have come to find a greater depth as to why I enjoy it. Depending on what I’m speaking, writing or talking about, there are two main reasons why it brings me joy and encouragement. First is that I am a bit of a visionary leader. I love being able to cast vision, help others develop a vision and encourage others to see what God could do if we took a risk. So much so, that it is very hard for me to follow someone who isn’t a visionary leader. Casting vision and then continuing to bring people back to that vision, for me, is key at making anything work. People who can’t do that cause me to question if they can’t dream or believe in something greater, how could I? But that’s another topic for another day.

The second reason why I enjoy speaking and writing is that I can simply share my journey in hopes that it may help someone else, just like others have shared their journeys with me, encouraging me to keep moving. Without us sharing our stories, we can end up feeling all alone, unique, un-relatable and isolated-not what God intended when He calls us the family of God, the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ.

But in all of this, in looking at other leaders, one of the hardest things I’ve noticed is how to finish. Back to me never taking a preaching class-I’ve always heard that how you end the sermon is the hardest thing about it. How you “land the plane,” so to speak, could make or break any talk you give. Being able to make that conclusion bring it together, summing up to challenge others with what was just said or spur others on in a rally cry is a hard thing to do. In fact, it’s hard every time I write in this blog to come up with how I am going to end each post. The ending is what people will remember. The ending determines what will be remembered.

Though I’m only 37 (yes “only,” don’t mock me you young ones), I’ve come to learn that how I end things is important. How I will end my time here is vital to leave a legacy of God’s grace, provision and love. I struggle with not only ending a blog post, but with handing things off to others. Coming alongside someone to encourage, invest in and build up is something I enjoy. But handing things off entirely to someone else is hard. I know that if that project, business or ministry is to sustain and thrive, it needs to be handed off well. In order for that to happen, the leader, or in this case me, needs to hand it off well. If the pilot can’t land the plane, it doesn’t matter how fast or smooth it took off, and it definitely doesn’t matter how smooth the entire flight was. The landing is important.

Landing it, handing it off well, is not only you being able to empower those who are now stepping into the lead, but it is you submitting to God that He is ultimately over all.  Hanging on too long is nothing but fear based. I talked about that a bit last week. Paul wrote many letters to a lot of people, trying to empower them from afar. He moved from the lead role to a support role. A good friend of mine, Andreas, is the leader of a church planting movement that started out of Sweden. His ministry philosophy goes like this:

I do it, you watch me. I do it, you help me,

You do it, I help you. You do it, I watch you

Not only does he believe this, he has modeled it many times over the past two decades. He not only knows how to cast the vision (take off) and keep the momentum going (cruising altitude), he also knows how to hand it off well (landing). If Paul had not  handed it off, it makes me wonder if Romans, Ephesians, 1 & 2 Timothy would even be in the Bible we read. We simply move into different seasons of life. From being the one who needs support and encouragement to the ones who are giving both to others as they step into the roles God has for them. Modeling to them our trust in others and in God. A “giving back” to Him a portion of what He has given us.

My prayer is that we not only do that with every ministry venture we’re a part of, or job position we have, but also with our lives. To come to a place where we are passing  on what God has done in us to those around us. Encouraging, empowering and speaking truth.

How about you? Do you have experience with someone handing it off well? Have you handed things off well, or perhaps not so well? What was the impact?

be blessed today

 

Photo credit: https://schalks28.files.wordpress.com/2014/04/ride-bike.jpg
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Are You Keepin’ It Classy?

Funny how the things you did when you were younger come back to you in the form of your kids. Not funny in a “ha ha” kind of way, but more in a “Oh, this is what I was like” kind of way.  Our oldest is on the verge of the teen years, almost halfway through the tweens, and already the attitude that we all know and despise is in full force. Yes I’ve heard myself say the exact words and phrases I told myself I would never use. Hearing them as they come out, making me more frustrated. But, apparently, this is parenthood, or at least one very small poriton of it. Our youngest learned to swim completely on her own in the wavy ocean last week and read her very first word to us the other day. That is another part of parenthood. Both come together.
In conversations the past month or so, I’ve used the phrase “please act your age” more times than I count. Then there are the other variations of it, “I expect you to act like a 10 year old, not a six year old,” or “you are not an adult, however, if you’d like to be I can give you all of my responsibilities-paying the bills, working, cooking, cleaning,” etc. Oh, the trials and joys of parenting (and teaching :).
It’s amazing how often there are situations with our kids that are a result of someone acting not the age they are, or behaving in a way in which they know is appropriate, just because they are jealous, angry or prideful. What’s more interesting, or sad perhaps, is when we as adults do the same thing. I can only really speak for myself, but I have been known to act childish when I haven’t gotten my way or when I’m angry. Bickering, name calling, or simply that small satisfactory grin when someone else “really gets what they had coming to them.” We can view the world very much like survival of the fittest when we are in the depths of our envy and pride. I know I am when I go there which I pray happens less and less as I get older.
The other day, I was reading one of the writings of Brenard of Clarivaux, a Christian mystic of the Cistercian Order (1090-1153). I enjoy reading the mystics, able to tell the truths of Christ usually from far different perspectives than my own. I also resonate with their ability to find the sacred things of God in the secular world, something almost foreign today in Western Society.

“For man, being in honor, if he know not his own honor, may fitly be compared, because of such ignorance, to the beasts that perish. Not knowing himself as the creature that is distinguished form the irrational brutes by the possession of reason, he commences to be confounded with them because, ignorant of his own true glory which is within, he is led captive by his curiosity, and concerns himself with external, sensual things.” (his book “On Loving God”) He goes on to write that the glory we have within, Christ Jesus, is unlike anything else in this world or cosmos.

I sat on that for a while, reflecting on it and trying to think, what really does set us apart from the animal beasts he mentions. Ya, we have reason, ok, that’s true. But what else do we have, what else makes us different. Given the state of politics and “debates” if we can even still call them that, I really do wonder what is it that make humans different than animals. Do we have honor as Brenard stated so many centuries ago?

Are we different?

As I was sitting after another bout of “please act your age” conversations, 1 Peter 2:9 came to mind “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.”

I cannot expect, nor should I, that all of humankind will act in such a way that they are a chosen, holy people, because they aren’t. Only those who have come to understand how humble we really are and entered into formative relationship with Christ can be considered a chosen people. Not for our glory to become bigger in mans eyes, but to proclaim the praises of a God who could do things we cannot begin to understand. If I remembered this daily, maybe I wouldn’t become so childish when I don’t get my way, get what I believe is entitled to me or throw my pride around like nobody’s business. I don’t think, this side of heaven, we will fully understand how much of a great privilege it is to be called holy even though we are not.  No matter what happens in the future or even just today, we I simply need to remember that I am chosen. If I can do that, perhaps I can help others understand that they are chosen as well. Giving grace, not judgement. I pray the same for all of us this day, fellow priests.

Have you had an experience similar to this? What was the result? What did you do when who you really are in Christ’s eyes came to your mind?

be blessed today

photo credit: http://www.livestrong.com/article/23238-stop-being-immature/

Will Your Last Year Affect Your New One?

It’s that time of year again when Facebook promotes it’s “Your Year in Review” algorithm as well as everyone starting to talk about what resolutions they’ll be making. “Christmas is over, and now, now it’s time to get back to reality and change things that we never got around to changing this past year.” I’ve done this may times before. In years past, I’ve spent a few days around this time of year to pray through and plan out what I’d like to do in the coming year. It could be new opportunities, fitness goals, family goals, or areas I’d like to grow in.

But I’ve noticed a problem. The problem isn’t planning for the coming year, it’s planning without taking an honest look at what just happened in the past 365 days. If I don’t have a clear handle on what has gone on in these past 52 weeks, what makes me think that what I plan will actually happen without being affected by the patterns and habits in my life that are positive and/or negative? The truth is no matter how much I plan, I can’t control everything nor everyone around me. The second truth is if there are things in my past, even this past year, that I haven’t fully dealt with/explored/grieved/understood/acknowledged or reflected on, those things will haunt me in all of my future plans.

I’m not suggesting that my hurts,  hang ups and habits won’t affect me negatively at all if I take the time to examine the past year. I am suggesting that if I don’t take the time to examine, they will have a far greater affect on me this coming year. And it’s not just thinking about and focusing on the bad, it’s also taking the time to celebrate the good that has come about. Perhaps it’s cultural, but it seems we in the West, don’t take time to celebrate the good, no matter how small, that comes into our lives. Especially if that good comes via a path of great pain and difficulty.

Earlier today, I finished going through a set of questions a friend of mine posted to help reflect on this past year. Dr. Steve Brown sent a list of questions as a way to help to navigate the past. He encouraged us to take 60 minutes to do so. Mine took a few hours (it’s been an incredibly hard but formational year for me), and this was just a good start to process what has really gone on. If you don’t have that kind of time, I really encourage you to take 2-3 questions and that 60 minutes and reflect on your year. Even if you think it was the same, mundane year as always, you might be surprised by what has actually gone on under the surface.

I also encourage you to lean into your community/support circle and process through some of this. God designed us for community. Having those around us who can speak truth and an outside perspective is more valuable than the purest gold.

Start by simply writing down things that happened. Think of holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, etc. Then prayerfully think through these questions and journal your answers. Here are the questions:

  • What’s been hardest?
  • What surprised you most?
  • What are you thankful for?
  • Where did you fail? What did you learn?
  • What’s been disappointing?
  • Who or what do you need to grieve?
  • Where have you been stretched? Where have you grown? What have you learned?
  • What have you been encouraged by? What should you celebrate?
  • Where do you see blessings from waiting? From struggle?
  • Who or what have you invested in?
  • How have you seen God at work?  What have your learned about Him?
  • What’s on God’s heart for you this next year?
  • What are your big priorities for the year ahead?

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For me, I noticed patterns of feeling as though I was in the wilderness and God was silent, lots of time simply waiting and the difficulty of waiting for a guy like me. But through that hardship, I have a greater understanding of peace and trust in Him. This isn’t exhaustive as to what I wrote down, but a good start to the conversation.

     So, what about you? What were things that you noticed? Where was God in all of this? And in what areas did you grow? Sharing our stories and experiences helps us to know we are not alone on the journey!

The Exotic Li(f)e

I don’t know about you, but I tend to romanticize things a bit. In some cases, I “exoticize” them. I wrote a post a few days ago about the “other guy.” Sometimes I also get hung up on the “other life” mentality. Whether it be at speaking engagements, emails or getting coffee with someone, I’ve heard many many times, “Wow, what an incredible job you have. I wish I could do that.” “My life is so normal and boring, yours is full of what adventure and action books are made of.” Or I get, “Man that sounds so exotic…I could never do that. How do you?”

I have to admit, that’s hard for me to hear. I do love living where I have lived and touching, seeing the places I’ve been to. But there are many times where I feel the “Wow, I’d love to do that someday” feelings about the lives of some of those people who have made those comments about me. Though my “normal” may seem exotic, chances are I think your “normal” is  exotic as well. So, where does that stem from? At least for me, I have a hunch.

“The Call:Finding and Fulfilling Your Central Purpose” is a classic book by Os Guinness. Yes, he is in the same family as Guinness, the famous Irish beer/lager company that has been making their famed hearty beverage for generations. His book is a must for anyone trying to find purpose. He writes about the bricklayer and his trowel, the farmer and his plow, the artist before the easel, the judge behind the bench and the parent next to the crib. In each one of these situations, a majority of it is mundane, monotonous work that never changes day in and day out. To many, it may seem boring. Growing up on a farm, I can say that when plowing or “fitting’ a field for planting, it is monotonous work going round and round in circles in fields all day long. Sometimes for weeks on end. But Guinness suggests that that is exactly where we find our meaning and engagement with God. I would agree.

For a long time, many years, I was searching for my true “calling.” This thing which was going to bring all meaning and sense to my life. The glue that would make all the experiences I have had, and will have, stick together in light of this great (cue the clouds parting and heavenly light shining down) incredible thing…this calling. When I thought I had it, I would then work with all my might towards it, only to find out that it was temporary. The next “Great Calling” I would work towards, only to find that there was something I could never overtake in order to attain or obtain that calling.

Over time as I read in the Word and worked on shedding my false identity, I realized that there was only one thing we as believers in Christ are ever, EVER called to. We are only ever called to God, to Christ. That’s it. That’s all. We are never called to anything or anyone else. God and God alone. Everything else we are simply, believing in faith, led to.

When I was able to put this great mythical “calling” aside, focus on the only real call in my life-to God- and put everything else in the category of “leading,” I suddenly was free from a lot of things. Freedom from having to find the one single point of my life (or never find it, or find the wrong thing and screw my life up forever). Freedom from having this outlook, freedom from the belief-the lie- that my life is just boring and others lives are exotic and more purposeful. Freedom from only being able to find God and encounter Him in those (again cue heavens opening, beam of light shining down and choir singing “oooooooooo”) “Calling” moments, and never any other time.

Brother Lawrence, a Catholic priest, wrote about living life in the mundane in his book “The Practice and Presence of Christ.” I’m sure he’ll come up again in future posts as it is another great read. But his thoughts on this subject are the same as Guinness’, doing what we all do to the best of our ability is bringing honor to God. Taking time in the midst of the mundane, to reflect on the fact that God is present with you, is honoring to him. Most of our lives, no matter how exotic or normal, are lived in the mundane. Doing dishes, laundry, mowing the lawn, walking or driving to work-it’s all time that God is still present and wants to engage with us. No one is more special than the other. Yes we are made uniquely in how God has wired us, but one person does not have importance over the other. We are all called to God. We are all led in different directions. It’s the beauty of Christ. This brought me great freedom and empowerment. Hopefully it will to you as well.

Are you able to see God in the mundane of life? Has God revealed Himself to you in those times? Have you also found freedom in these areas? I’d love to hear your story!

7 Steps to Becoming a Relationship Master

This is a great post on being intentional in your relationships with those around you. Not only if you’re in a leadership position, but just humanizing those in your sphere of influence can do wonders for them, your organization and yourself! Joni Wickline breaks these down into 7 simple things you can do that will have massive impact.

One great quote from the post is:  “In the past, a leader was a boss. Today’s leaders must be partners with their people. They no longer can lead based solely on positional power.”-Ken Blanchard

It’s worth the read, and as always, share your thoughts!

Source: 7 Steps to Becoming a Relationship Master

When Reality Hits-“Oh, Crap!”

   So, Christmas. Ahhh Christmas. If I had a house or could string up lights outside, you could equate me to Clark Griswold. Starting as early as Iris let’s me, I will play Christmas music non stop. I have my own set list that I very rarely sway from of nothing but the classics. I have my movie playlist, some of which I watch only once a season, and some multiple times a week. Ahhh Christmas.
     I grew up on a farm and we always had a lot of snow in the winter. We’d decorate trees on the outside of our house, and wrap the fence that lined our drive way in big white lights. It was an old farmhouse, so the ceilings were quite tall which led to us getting large Christmas trees. There is a magic that revolves around Christmas-family, snow, lights, seeing your breath, the surprise of Christmas morning, music dedicated to this one event and of course the reason we celebrate in our household, the birth of Jesus. The hype is part of the fun for me. Many radio stations will play holiday tunes non stop the weeks leading up to the 25th. Stores are decorated, cars are decorated and there are Christmas concerts everywhere. It’s great.
     And then there is the 26th of December.
     A day that for me at least, is a massive buzz kill. Suddenly, the radio stations go back to playing what they were playing before Thanksgiving. No more tv specials, no more parades, no more big family or work get togethers. It all kind of ends..and people just complain about the winter weather from that point forward. The magic is gone, reality hits.
     Oddly, I feel the same way after reaching some big accomplishment, meeting a big goal or attaining a major strategic point. Whether it be developing a team, opening a business or getting the nod to start a new project, the magic and charisma built around the moment leading up to that is gone. Casting vision is something I love to do. I love public speaking, I love sharing about what’s on my heart, the vision that I or my team has created for the future, the strategy of how to get there-it’s all fun for me. But, when the point comes and it’s time to start, the small pinhead of fear turns into a a major chasm in my chest. “Crap, they are counting on me. How in the world are we going to be able to continue on with what we’ve accomplished? My credibility could go out the window if this fails.”
     I can get by on my own, pushing down the fear for a little while. But then it starts to infiltrate every aspect of my life. I either crumble and become uber controlling or I become paralyzed about what to do next. At least these are my two defaults. And by every aspect I mean family, friends, work, spiritual, emotional and physical. Thankfully, I have people in my life who I’ve surrounded myself with who can call me on these things. They tell me when I am in a downward spiral and can speak truth, encouragement and gentle correction into me.

One  way  is taking a moment, pausing and then being grateful

     One major way I (usually) can put that feeling in it’s rightful place is taking a moment, pausing and then being grateful that I have the privilege to do it. Whether it’s taking on a multi-million dollar project or getting to run the meeting for the day, being grateful for what we have, the opportunity given, the trust others have in us and the relationships intertwined with each of these is something that can calm us down and focus on the next step or two that needs to take place for the vision to come to fruition. At least for me, this helps me to not become controlling and it also helps me to not become paralyzed.

     Another way is to stop and take a moment to remember who I am

     Another major way that I, again usually, can put this feeling back to it’s correct size is to stop and take a moment to remember who I am. I am not defined by the job I have, the title I’m given, the role I have at a company. I’m not defined by my salary, standard of living or stuff that I have. I’m not defined by a comparison of me versus someone else. For me, first and foremost, I am defined by what my God says about me. Second, I am defined by those things I chose to embrace about me. No one can ever take any of those things away from me. When I take a moment, pause and reflect on those, suddenly that overwhelming, let down, buzz kill, paralyzing, over controlling, “oh crap” feeling dissipates, or at least minimizes back to a proper size. Reality seems much clearer, attainable and enjoyable.
     These aren’t the only things that help. I did say “usually” because sometimes there are other parts I have in my life that help me to refocus and not get caught up in panic mode.
     The last, but massive influence is people. Like I mentioned earlier, I have people in my life who speak truth into me. This is the single most important gift in helping me realign myself as to what reality really means. Without the myriad of relationships I have that surround me, there is no way I would be where I am today. This way is not in the “usually” category because I am constantly calling on and asking for input from others. It’s a part of my rhythm and community I need.
     These are just a few things I have done and learned to do in my life when reality hits. Maybe they’ll give some inspiration and insight into what you could do in yours. If you have any thoughts on this or ways you deal with reality, please comment below!

Vision and Stepping Off the Edge

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Photo credit / source: blog.scout.me
     Creating is fun for me. Shooting off ideas, getting a picture in my head of what it is or will look like and then taking the time to begin creating. It’s interesting, it’s exciting. Most often, it doesn’t end up looking exactly as I had drama or pictured it to be, but it definitely has my fingerprints all over it. It’s fun.
     After Iris and I were married, I started to build furniture as a hobby. All of these things haven’t been great in any sense of the word, but they were cool and enjoyable for me. A butcher block table, a corner table, a pallet headboard and so on. At some point I would get frustrated, perhaps it was the 13th trip to the hardware store or maybe I measured way off and it just didn’t line up. I was frustrated because it was turning out how I wanted it to be, how the picture in my mind looked. And probably the more frustrated thing, I was laying out my dream, my vision for the world to see-Iris. I wanted it to be perfect, no flaws, no structural issues but yet still have my DNA.
     I began a process about six years or so ago, of creating my personal mission and vision statement. It was a difficult time for me as I was also in the search for who I really was. My post “Footprints” tells a little bit more about what I was going through during that time. It was a process that took almost two years, with a lot of thought, reflection and guidance from a few people I highly regarded.
     But, once it was done, once the energy of writing, mulling it over, thinking every word through, I was relieved and excited. This was the grid I would filter every opportunity in my life through.  Part of me growing in my leadership gifts and abilities was to begin to share the very part of who I am with those around me. Thinking nothing of it, I began to with a few of those over me. But the reaction I got was of disinterest, feeling threatened and non-empowerment. Obviously, not what I had hoped for.
     I learned in that moment to hold this passion, really this part of me, a little closer to my chest. Had it been three years before and I would have never let anyone into my life to see this part of me at all. But, thankfully, good friends encouraged me to just be a little more careful of who to share it with and how much to share.
     I read a quote by Gay Gaddis from an interview she had done with Brene Brown. Gay is the CEO and Founder of T3, the largest woman-owned independent advertising agency in the country. She said “ you have to create a vision and live up to that vision. There is no vision without vulnerability.” I resonated with this tremendously and I think she is right. To simply have a vision is one thing. To share that with others is a completely different level of exposure to those you share it with, and the world. To have a vision for what you want to accomplish or do in your life is a great thing. It provides purpose, self-understanding and a grid to filter out things that will distract you from that purpose. At the same time, if you never share it with others, it is nothing more than a dream you had one night or a regret at the end of your life.
     When you first have the thought that this is your vision or mission, your purpose for your life, it is always good to bounce that off of people who know you. People who really know you. And, people who you trust (which I would say if you trust them, they ought to know you well). They can help to refine and clarify what your heart is telling you. And most importantly, they can encourage you. But, if you never share that idea, that thought, you will never truly know if that was your purpose. You will never have the encouragement to try that crazy idea or focus on that one thing that you excel at. One word of caution- when something is that close to your heart and you share it with others, you are giving them a chance to speak into your life. You are making yourself vulnerable. That does come at a price. They could stomp on it or, it could be a moment where you’ve dove into a deeper friendship with someone than you’ve ever experienced.
     Without vulnerability, without stepping off the edge of making known that very thing that strikes a cord in your heart, you will never know if that vision can come to fulfillment.
     Dive in-I’d love to hear your thoughts!