For Jason…and for you

imagejpeg_0-1
Each day, there is a fight that we must face. Whether we realize it or not, we are in a battle. For some of us, that battle is strikingly evident. It comes in the form of serious illness, relational, or financial crises, addiction or loss of a loved one. For others, the battle may be a quiet, more hidden one. A private struggle with depression or anxiety or the stress of raising children in a fractured society. It may simply be the daily challenges of sorting out a world that seems to be changing at breakneck speed…all too often, not for the better.

There’s a race to be run as we fight. At the end of his time here, the apostle Paul, in writing to his young protege Timothy said: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).

Notice the order here. Paul had to first, “fight the good fight” before he could “finish the race.” Many of us start things that we never finish, or in some cases, don’t finish well.

This past week, we received the devastating news that my 37 year old nephew had died from a heroin overdose. Jason had struggled with alcohol and drug addiction for some time. He had overdosed and nearly died two years ago, but came through it and spent those last two years in recovery, seemingly doing well. Jason was a kind man with a big heart and unfortunately, a big addiction that gained mastery over him. That’s what addictions do.

I have worked with people in addiction for several years now and it is a voracious and relentless enemy that requires a constant, and equally relentless, fight to stave off. Those who struggle with it know all too well, how it’s claws continue to snap at you, attempting to get a foot hold and pull you back in. It is, as we are witnessing across our nation, a battle that far too many are unable to win.

So many start that road to recovery, convicted that they must make a change, yet many of those souls are lost before the finish line. It is in between the starting line and the finish line that we fail. We often don’t plan, or put the right support structure in place. Luke 14:28-30 reminds us that if we want to build something (a tower, a business, a life) we should first lay out some plans and be sure we have, not only a solid foundation from which to start, but all the things we’ll need along the way to complete the project…or as Paul would say, to finish the race. It is in the “in-betweens” that we stumble.

We all have battles to wage everyday. But in this moment, I speak to those who struggle with addiction, or are close to someone who does. Be sure to make plans to prepare for the in-betweens. Recovery is often a one day (or even one hour) at a time battle. Be sure to have a support structure in place; people that have your back and hold you accountable. Be engaged in serving others, steer clear of any person, place, or thing that might remind you or draw you back into old habits. Never, ever isolate yourself. It is a battle that can be won. I have have been blessed to do life with people who are, as we speak, walking in victory over it.

This is anything but easy, but it is part and parcel of fighting the good fight. Do these things so that like Paul you’ll be able to say, “I finished the race.” I pray that you (or that someone you love) will be able to claim that; and as they do, it will be not only because they fought the good fight, but just as importantly because they “kept the faith” that started them on the race to begin with. And I pray also, that someone will read this and be convicted that Jason’s finish line, which came much to quickly, does not have to be theirs.

Jason, you’ll always be loved. We just wish we had you longer.

Advertisements

Rejected But Not Defeated!

rejected-stamp-16846666
Rejection is a word that can’t feel good no matter how you slice it, parse it or spin it. All of us have experienced it at some time or other. I know I’ve stared rejection in the eyes many times in many ways in my life. It never feels good, and there are times we may go through long periods of rejection; be it one issue of extended duration, or repeated rejections that hit us relentlessly like a jackhammer pounding concrete.

I’ve known and walked with people who have suffered tremendous rejection in seemingly all aspects of their lives. Relational & vocational rejection that when combined, brought them to their knees both emotionally and physically. These are the kind of situations for which there seems to be no words.

But it is at these very times; when we are knocked down, dragged around and feel unfit and unable to take another step, that we have an opportunity to have our ruins turned to riches. To take the nothing that we appear to be left with, and ask God to do something with it. It’s at these times, when all we have left is the total surrender of our nothing, that we can begin to climb out of the pit we’ve fallen or been kicked into.

Gideon was the least of the least and the weakest of the weak. Anyone in their right mind would have rejected him to lead anything. There’s no question he would’ve been picked last for basketball on the schoolyard. Yet God raised him up to lead a great army to victory against unthinkable odds (Judges 6:14-16 & 7:19-25). Esther was a poor Jewish Girl who, through the unlikeliest of circumstances, became queen. Then, at the risk of almost certain rejection and possible death, she took a risk, took a stand and saved an entire people (Esther 7:1-8:11).

Before Abraham Lincoln became president, he lost a previous bid for vice president, and two runs at the senate. His first business failed, and as an attorney, he lost a case he argued before the Supreme Court. His mother was killed from poisoned milk, his son died while he was president and his animals also died in a White House stable fire. Despite all this, he endured to see our nation through it’s darkest period and will go down as arguably, our greatest president.

A young Stephen Spielberg was rejected for admission, three times by the University of Southern California’s film school. You know the rest of the story.

Some form of rejection is inevitable for all of us. For some those rejections will take the form of temporary setbacks and disappointments…for others they can be devastating gut punches that stop us in our tracks, and buckle our knees. However, the individuals mentioned here and so many others show us that we can (and should) bounce back from these rejections; and when we do, we’ll be stronger and wiser for it.

There are many scriptures that should come to mind when we are facing trials or rejection but here are two to consider: The first is from 1 Peter, chapter 4. Verse 12 says: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you”. The second is in John 16:33 where Jesus himself says: “…In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” These verses tell us to expect trials, trouble and rejection but not to let them defeat us. Why? Because He is fighting the battle with us and for us; and He always wins.

We often allow our children to learn from their mistakes, discipline them  and tell them “no” when needed. None of that changes the fact that we love them beyond measure. Don’t ever doubt that the same is true of your Heavenly Father. So when we face rejection, let us rise up, not so much with the patience of Job, but with the faith of Job when he said of God: “Though He slay me, yet I will hope in Him…” (Job 13:15).

A Little Help From My Friends

20160613-ss16-2239
It has long been said that it’s lonely at the top. For many years (and to some degree, even today) that’s how leadership was viewed. There the leader stood, looking down upon his domain with critical decisions to make and carry out. The entire fate; the success or failure of the endeavor or organization rested on his or her shoulders. Not only was the leader to create the vision and strategy but carrying it out also, was all part of what a strong leader needed to be able to do.

This view of leadership results only in fatigue, burnout and ultimately a frustrated workforce and a failed mission. Leaders may rise to the top, but should never get there (and certainly can’t stay there) alone. Taking the hill (whatever that hill may be for you) is a noble undertaking. The question for you as a leader is, when you get to the top and look around what do you see? Depending on how you lead, it will be one of two things: A team surrounding you, fists in the air, celebrating the victory right along with you…or a hillside of dead bodies.

You see, you can get to the top on your own, stepping over the bodies on the way (bodies by the way, that you created); or you can bring the team with you; calling on them, asking for help, banding with them and yes, allowing them to lead as well, as you journey up the hill.

There are times when a key decision lands with you, and for that moment leadership can be a lonely, even agonizing business. But even then, if you’ve enlisted your team to partner with you on the journey that led to that point, they’ll share in your agony and support your decision, even if it brings news that’s hard to hear.

Leadership should not be a lonely business. Leaders should never walk alone. Don’t just teach someone or mentor someone, bring them with you as you lead. This practice is not about succession planning (though it can include that); it’s not about empowerment (though you should always be looking to do that); it’s not even just about leadership development (though that is a critical goal). While it’s in part about all those things, it’s also and just as importantly, about you not being isolated. It’s about you rebuking the old adage; “it’s lonely at the top”…because it doesn’t have to be and frankly, never should be.

If you find yourself in a lonely position as you lead, you will not be at your best. You won’t make your best decisions regarding strategies, customers, programs, what’s best for your team. You simply won’t be at your best. Andy Stanley said; “who and what we listen to will shape us as leaders”. If we’re only listening to ourselves, then we limit our mission to only what we can see or imagine. Think of all the lost ideas and wise council that’s never heard, because we chose to take the hill alone.

The Beatles had it right when the said; “I get by with a little help from my friends”. So ask yourself as you lead, who’s voice do you hear as you consider decisions? Is it yours alone or are there the voices of others who have been walking beside you. Is it you that’s getting that done or can you smile as you look around and say; “I got by with a little help from my friends”? Oh, and if it’s the later, make sure they know it.

Die, Live, Repeat

Crown of thorns
What an amazing time of year. While every day that God pours His glorious favor on us is a grand one, there is nothing like the victory we can all share in, at Easter. The fact that we have a new life, an eternal life with Jesus, is all predicated on what happened over this weekend more than 2000 years ago.

And while the victory of Easter is a day we should all anticipate with great eagerness, we cannot properly walk in that new life, without also participating in His death. In Romans 6:8, Paul says: “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him”. So clearly we must die with Him first, in order to live with Him forever.

A few years back there was a popular movie starring Tom Cruise entitled; “Edge of Tomorrow: Live, Die, Repeat”. The basic premise was that in order to achieve his goal, Cruise must live out a mission in which he would invariably get killed before completing, only to immediately come back to life and try again. This process repeated itself until he figured out how to fulfill the entire mission. Our mission as Christ followers is similar only ours should be titled; “Die, Live, Repeat”.

Take a few moments to meditate on what Jesus chose to do for us on this day. Reflect on how we must die each day to the man or woman we once were, and live the next day getting closer to fulfilling our mission of looking more and more like Him.

Today is Good Friday. I hope all of you will take some time to reflect on what happened on this day in the 33rd year of Jesus’ life. To help with that, I would encourage each of you to read the crucifixion story in any of the Gospels. You can find them here…Pick one or read them all:

Matthew 27:32-61  Mark 15:21-47  Luke 23:26-56  John 19:16-42

Once we’ve done that, we will be in the proper posture on Easter morning to raise our hands, our voices and our hearts to Him and truly celebrate His resurrection…and ours!

Happy Easter!

Looking for Clouds on a Sunny Day

13450092_10210387209022452_127746023635806294_n
Let’s be honest, even those of us with the sunniest of dispositions, still have occasional cloudy days. Paul tells us to be content in all circumstances but for most of us, that’s a journey rather than a destination.

Having said that, we’ve all encountered people who could find a cloud in a cloudless sky. In fact, on the sunniest of days, you’ll find these folks hunting for a storm cloud to crouch under and somehow or other, they’ll find one. I’m hoping that’s not you. I recently engaged a man that was new to our area. Many of you know that I live in Colorado Springs; a city that enjoys 325 days of sunshine per year. In fact, as I write this, we are 2 1/2 months into 2017 and have had less than 1/5 of an inch of rain! Makes for beautiful days but dry, crunchy lawns (see, there’s that cloud!).

Anyway, as I engaged this man, I quickly felt the clouds gathering over this otherwise sunny day. As I asked him how he liked the area, I heard nothing about the abundant sunshine, the warm days even in the middle of winter, the low humidity or the breathtaking beauty all around us. No, what I heard about was that it’s too windy! True enough…We do have our share of windy days here at the base of the Rockies and my only rub with that, is that I’ve had many a bad hair day because of it. But this guy was bald…How bad could a windy day be?

So for me, instead of focusing on the stiff breeze and whatever inconvenience it may pose, I choose to stay still and listen to the sounds of comfort and peace it creates as it flows through the towering pine trees. This then, draws my attention back to the sunshine and amazing beauty God has placed me in the middle of…No clouds here!

My point is this: If we want to look for a cloud, we can always find one. This world gives us plenty of opportunity to find a fly in our soup. But does that one fly; that one bad bowl of soup, erase all the wonderful bowls of soup we’ve had over our lives? Will we expect to find a fly in every future bowl of soup we might eat? Will we never eat soup again because of that one bowl? And let’s not forget, there are millions in this world who would give anything for your bowl of soup…fly and all.

So let’s take the advice of James when he says: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds…”; and while we’re at it, let’s remember that a bad hair day or even a fly in our soup, is at it’s worst, a first world trial. And if your current trial is more significant, I know that bits and pieces of joy can be found even in the midst of it. Just choose to ignore the fly, look for the best in the wind and know that the ultimate plans He has for you are good ones.

 

Wise Guys

gangsters
Growing up in northern New Jersey, I was all to familiar with the term, “wise guys”. These wise guys had last names that sounded more like Italian sports cars or exotic pasta dishes than actual names. In addition, since this post is about seeking wisdom, suffice it to say that these were not the guys you’d want to seek out for your wise council.

No the wisdom we want to seek out is that of wise men (and women) not wise guys. So who are these people? These are people that have been there. People that have walked the roads you’re about to walk and have the battle scars to prove it. They’re people that have been on the mountaintop but not without the valley experience.

There’s no question that on many fronts, you’ll need to have been around the block a few times, to really possess some wisdom on a given topic & perhaps have a little gray around the temples. We have to remember however that on some topics, having been around a while can be a disadvantage. There may be times that you’ll need to seek council from a bright and intuitive young 20 something. This is why you want 2 or 3 “wise guys” or gals as go to’s when your facing a challenge.

Certainly it’s true that regardless of age, these may be people that have achieved significant position in life. Some of our greatest leaders have acquired great wisdom along the way…But one thing I want to caution you on when seeking out wisdom; don’t let position or lack of it, exclusively dictate from whom you seek wise council. Some of the wisest people I’ve known didn’t have CEO, or president or senior operations director of the known world, next to their name. Often they’re humble men and women who’ve chosen to lead quietly, putting others first and taking on the role of a true servant leader.

The apostle Paul hits all of this directly at the outset of chapter 5 in 1st Timothy. He says: “Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters”. You see respect should be given to all, and wisdom can be obtained form the young and the old. That in itself is a great piece of wisdom.

Lastly, be sure not to create your “wisdom team” with people that think and act just like you. That might be comfortable but you’ll limit insight and creativity. You want people you can go to that have different experiences and can see things from a different vantage point than you can.

So ask good questions of wise people…and surround yourself with people who also ask good questions. Often times, their questions may increase your wisdom as much as their answers do.

For more on seeking wise council, watch my short video: Wise Guys

Relational Leadership

istock_000016316080xsmall_teamworkdefine
If you’re going to be an exceptional leader, you have to care about and for people; period! You have to know them…What’s important to them…What makes them tick. You have to care about their hopes and dreams as much as you care about your own; perhaps more…And this has to be genuine.

What are the things you should want most from those you lead? Tasks to be completed? Hard work? Goals to be reached? No…Those are good outcomes but those aren’t what you strive to cultivate. No, what you want most is trust, loyalty and for your team to truly care about what you care about…And that only comes by caring for them first, by investing in their lives first…By serving them first. Now, if you were thinking that the people you lead are there to serve you, it’s time for a total re-rack of your thinking. Servant leadership is where it’s at!

Now, there will always be people we’re going to gel with better than others…people who will be easy to serve as we lead. But, there’ll also be people that get on our nerves, that annoy us; but remember, everyone has a story and that story is often a significant part of why they are who they are. We need to do our best to know and understand that story.

In John Maxwell’s 5 Levels of Leadership, he encourages us to find something likable about every person we meet. He reminds us that when we lead someone, we get the whole person.

Now there’ll be plenty of times, we wished we’d only gotten the parts we liked, or the parts we need to accomplish our goals; but that can’t be our reality if we’re going to lead. Like it or not, we get the whole person. So the sooner we begin to know and understand that whole person, and recognize that they’re not simply a means to our end, the sooner we’ll begin to gain what’s really important…Their trust, loyalty and commitment.

Andy Stanley said: When people are convinced you want something FOR them rather than something FROM them, they are less likely to be offended when you challenge them.” Let’s be sure our teams know that we are for them…Not just for their success as our team member, but for them; the whole person.

For more on relational leadership, watch my video teaching here:  Relational Leadership