Die, Live, Repeat

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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!

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Looking for Clouds on a Sunny Day

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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

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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

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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

The Waiting Game

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Much has been written and spoken about waiting, particularly from a Christian perspective. As we go through trials, or dry seasons, we’re told to wait on God. We’re told that God’s timing is not our timing and that His is perfect. We’re told that His ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8). We’re reminded that He is always moving, always working behind the scenes on our behalf. We know that patience is in fact, a virtue and that the Bible is replete with stories of good coming to those who wait (and not so good to those who don’t). Despite all these reminders and encouragements…these truths, Tom Petty is right when he tells us “The Waiting is the Hardest Part” (those under 30 may not get that)!

You see, we still at times find ourselves struggling to live out these truths in a way that conveys trust and faith. We want to see evidence of His workings. We look across a dessert in hopes of seeing a shrub or tree…some indication that the pool of water we seek is really out there. We want some visible sign that tells us we really are moving closer to whatever it is we’re waiting for, yearning for…perhaps even crying out for. Let me share two points with you that may be occurring during this dessert time:

God doesn’t seem to be moving: Wait…What? Didn’t you just say God’s always moving? Yes that’s right He is, but perhaps not in ways that He’s ready for you to see. He may be working on others that are a part of His plan for you; preparing them and speaking to them to play their part in His story for you. God very often uses others to play a part in the story He has for you. If He were to move you forward before these other players were in place and prepared, the outcome could go very wrong. Read the book of Esther and see how God had to place her (and the other key players) in the right place at just the right time, so their parts in the story could have maximum impact.

God doesn’t seem to be moving: Um, didn’t you just cover that? Yes, but this time, we’re talking about you, not the others in your story. God may well not be moving you, because you’re not ready to be moved. “Oh yes I am” you say. I know you’ve said that because I’ve said it. But God is always working in us and on us. I’m sure Abraham felt he was ready to be a dad, long before God fulfilled that desire. Why did God wait so long? Perhaps He was still refining Abraham; Maybe Abraham’s parenting skills weren’t up to snuff…He needed time to read more books on parenting! I don’t know exactly why, but we know the outcome was far beyond what Abraham could have hoped or imagined…an Ephesians 3:20 delivery on the promise to be sure!

So, take heart. Whether your wait is 10 minutes, 10 months or 10 years, God knows what He’s doing. He sees your suffering and He truly has your best interest at heart. Trust Him that the refining, the cultivating and the moving of the players into position, really is all happening…right now. Your role in this season may be to wait in the wings for your queue to step in and play your part. Read Isaiah 40:28-31. Read it like you mean it, and renew your hope in the Lord for 2017.

A Time to Look Back…But Not Yet!

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This past week, I traveled from my home in Colorado Springs, to New Jersey to visit my mom. Mom is 90 and lives in a nursing home. She enjoys living there and they take good care of her, but as of late we’ve really seen her memory slipping significantly. There’s been some deterioration over the past year or so, but the last few months have been much more noticeable. I felt God pressing me to make the trip to see her.

It was a great visit. We laughed, looked at photos, both old and new and mostly talked about old times. We talked of the home I grew up in with my parents and brother and sister, and how the three of us were so different. We reminisced about the lake cabin we spent many of our summers at; different aunts and uncles long gone; my dad, also long gone, the neighborhood barber (long gone as well) and how there’s no better pizza than NJ pizza. Thankfully that’s not gone and still awaits me each time I return!

The theme was a consistent one…We did what you typically do when talking with someone well along in years; you talk about the past…the distant past. You talk about the distant past because they often don’t remember the recent past. That recent past could include two years ago, two weeks ago or two minutes ago. Those are all the case with my mom. My older brother who still lives in NJ, gave me the idea of steering the conversation toward things of the distant past. His insight paid off.

Talking about the past with folks like mom is not a bad thing. It brings them joy and comfort. It’s familiar and allows them to participate in a meaningful way. They have something to bring to the table, so to speak. It also draws their attention from their inability to engage about the recent past.
When this later reality manifests itself, it can be a sad and uncomfortable moment; but with some discernment and wisdom, you can move the conversation back to something familiar (something from long ago), and watch them reengage and feel value again.

As I spent these hours with her, it was difficult not to occasionally consider my own mortality. While I don’t dwell on or worry about such things, it comes to mind none the less. I trust and believe that God has many more good years for me on this earth, (and more importantly, an eternal life beyond this one). I also believe in another reality…Those good years here will come and go in the blink of an eye. That’s not meant to be negative, fatalistic or cynical, it just is. It isn’t a question, it’s a reality.

It does however, raise the bar on a different question…perhaps the only question that matters: What will I do with that time? If we know that we’re given one lifetime on planet earth, and we know it will come and go before we turn around, (at least those of us over a certain age know that) we have to ask ourselves what it is we are we going to do with that life?

I see three choices. We can crawl into a hole and ring our hands as we watch the clock tick and the calendar turn. This may seem to slow things down a bit, but results in a lonely and miserable existence followed by a funeral service with six people in attendance and no one having anything to say. I’ve been to one of those.

Our next choice would be to take all we can from life. Dive into life with all we have, scooping up everything we can for ourselves. We can dance, laugh and indulge ourselves through the days we have left, attempting to fill every need we have with every shiny thing we see, smell, hear and touch; only to find that each indulgence leads to another empty space, which leads to another indulgence, which leads to another empty space…(and likely hurts others along the way). Ultimately we come to our end with all the indulgences left behind, and we depart this life with only the empty spaces. Our funeral is officiated by a paid pastor or official who has to do some research in order to have something to say…and the good stuff that’s said is mostly made up.

Of course, there’s a third choice and the only one that makes any sense at all. That choice is to indulge yourself in the joy of others. To invest all you have in the betterment of those around you.
Philippians 2:3 says: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vein conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves”. When we indulge ourselves in filling another’s need, providing encouragement or creating joy, we fill the space (theirs and ours) with something that lasts. We can impact a life; perhaps for a day, a week, a year or even a lifetime…and beyond. Occasionally, we’re given that amazing gift of being able to impact someone’s eternity. I’ve been blessed to have that experience and it fills a space that a new car, new clothes, another sports channel, more drugs or more sex could never fill.

I’ve filled my spaces with many things over my lifetime, and I can tell you unequivocally, that second to my relationship with God, nothing fills those spaces more fully and permanently, than positively impacting the lives of the brothers, sisters and lost souls that have been put in my path.

My encouragement to you is to check your watch, look at the calendar; and then toss them aside and get to work. Yes, your watch will keep ticking, and the calendar turning but staring at them or worrying about how fast they’re moving, beyond this moment won’t change that. Yes, there may well come a day, when you spend more time talking about the distant past, than you do about tomorrow and that’s OK…it is the way of things. But until that is absolutely necessary (not just comfortable, but necessary), get to work looking into each day to see who’s life you can positively impact for the Kingdom…and watch your spaces (and theirs) get filled to overflowing.

Lead Like an Aspen

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Aspens have an amazing leadership development program. I’ll explain, but first a little background…Aspens are unique trees with their white bark and contrasting black scarring. Most notably they’re known for their explosive golden foliage for three to four weeks in autumn. If I were to ask you to count how many individual aspen trees you see in this picture, you’d likely come up with a number in the 20’s or 30’s…But the fact is, you’d be wrong. Not because your eyesight is off, or because there’s some optical illusion in the photo but because of how aspens reproduce.

Aspens have long lateral root systems, from which shoots emerge that grow into full blown trees. These new trees are all part of one root structure which in aggregate, is called a clone. Aspen clones can cover less than an acre, up to 100 acres! Imagine that this next photo, containing hundreds of aspens, could be one clone (one inter-connected root system) that originated from one aspen tree!
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Here’s another cool thing about aspens. Though individual trees rarely age past 150 years, the clone (root system) can live on for 5,000 years or longer! Even after wildfires ravage a forest of aspens, the clone lives on producing new shoots. This is why aspen groves are often found in areas prone to wildfires. Where other tree types cannot recover from the devastation, the aspen’s clone (start thinking leadership development program) provides for it to live on. The aspen has and will continue to have a long and robust legacy.

So why am I telling you all this and what has it got to do with leadership?

First (and I’ve talked about this before) as leaders we must duplicate ourselves. (2 Timothy 2:2). While there’s a “leader” among these aspens, you and I can’t tell which one that is. It’s duplicated itself so well, that almost any of them could be the leader.

Next; the reality is that each of these aspens are in fact, leaders in their own right. They were once just shoots from the root system and now are each integral to that system, producing shoots of there own (there’s 2 Timothy 2:2 again!).

Lastly, the system that the original leader (and now subsequent leaders) has developed is so strong, that many of these “leaders” could be taken out (think; burned down, die of old age or get hit by an ice cream truck), but the clone (replace that with business, family, organization, ministry) will go on. Why? Because the roots are strong and the leadership development program is relentless!

So, if you’re a leader, look around at the people you lead. Do you see a stand of other aspens (leaders) or at least shoots (developing leaders) within your sphere of influence? Are they being nourished by a root system that you’ve watered and fed?

So my encouragement to you is to lead like an aspen and in doing so, you’ll leave a legacy that lasts long after old age, wild fires and rogue ice cream trucks have done their damage.