Posted in Faith, Personal Development

Stop, Drop, and Roll: A Simple Strategy for Facing Life’s Challenges

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Two flat tires.

It all started as a fun family excursion on Memorial Day. We had piled into two vehicles to travel to the top of a remote hill in order to shoot some targets. For several minutes it was man against wilderness, as we battled steep, jagged inclines to get to our destination. Now, here we sat—six adults and a baby—in the middle of nowhere—and our Subaru had not one, but two flat tires.

In that moment, each one of us (besides my sweet grandson) was faced with a decision. How would we respond to this unfortunate turn of events? What was supposed to be an enjoyable bonding activity had quickly turned into a disaster.

I confess that my past is riddled with reactions of anger or mild (and sometimes not so mild) hysteria. Just ask my kids. They all have memories of their mother’s outbursts of tears and prolong ranting. I really like predictability, stability, and security. When that is disrupted…Watch out!

Thankfully over time the Lord in His abundant grace has taught me to practice a simple strategy when facing life’s unexpected twists and turns. It’s called “Stop, Drop, and Roll.” No, this isn’t a lesson on what to do if your clothing catches on fire. But, in the same way, our immediate response is critical to the outcome.

Stop.
Don’t do anything. Take a deep breath. The ability to think before you act is a marker of maturity. It requires creating a momentary pause to ensure that you don’t cause more damage by a rash response. “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

Drop.
It’s time to be humble and acknowledge your need for God. Fall to your knees (literally or figuratively) and pray. In my line of work, even with all my training and experience, I often encounter situations that are beyond my ability to address. I send up a silent prayer and ask for God’s wisdom, and He gives me what I need. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up (James 4:10).

Roll.
Let go of your need to be in control. Be flexible and roll with the punches. Remind yourself (as often as needed) that God is in charge. Creative and hopeful solutions come when you are open to functioning outside of your preconceived ideas. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Don’t allow circumstances to overwhelm you. Practicing the “Stop, Drop, and Roll” strategy will empower you to face unexpected situations as a victor rather than a victim. And that, my friend, is a topic for another time…

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your goodness. I confess that I get upset when situations don’t go my way. Help me to walk with You by faith, believing that You are working all things together for my good and Your glory. Teach me to “Stop, Drop, and Roll” when I encounter the fiery trials of life. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Posted in Faith, Servant Leadership

No Short Cuts to Love

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Once upon a time, there was a little girl. She was born to parents who did not love each other. Her father was driven to get ahead. She longed to know her father loved her, but he was seldom home. She and her mother did not connect emotionally either. As she grew up, the girl felt that she could never be good enough to love.

Divorce, dysfunction, pain, and confusion entered the scene. Depression became a constant companion; however, the girl learned to cover it up by excelling in academics and the arts. She was compelled to discover true love, but relationships always disappointed and fell short.

As a teenager, the young woman heard the good news of God’s love. She realized for the first time that the love she longed for did not originate from human beings. True love flowed directly from the Lord and was offered to her. She opened her heart to the loving Savior and started an amazing journey with Jesus Christ.

I was that young woman. Thirty-five years later I continue to be on a mission to understand the love of God and to share His love with others.

The love of God is so vast. The longer I walk with Him, the more I realize how much I have yet to learn. The need to grow in love shows up most in my relationships with others.

How convenient it would be to place love for God and love for others in separate arenas. After all, loving God seems simple. I can do that well enough. Loving others, not so much. People can be annoying. They can cause difficulties and disruptions. Nothing can inflict heartache like people. But Jesus taught that the two are intertwined. When asked to identify the greatest commandment by the religious leaders of the day, Jesus answered:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.This is the first and greatest commandment (Matthew 22:37-38).

Without giving pause, he continued…

And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments (Matthew 22:39).

Jesus said that every Old Testament law (613 of them) and all the teachings of the Prophets hinged on love for God and others.

What does that mean for us as we answer God’s call to leadership?

We must seek intimacy with Jesus and rely on His Spirit to be a leader of impact. Guard against “professional” Christianity, merely following the proper routines and giving religious answers. It is imperative to continually invest in our relationship with Jesus and commune with Him, being willing to be transformed into His likeness.

As servant leaders, love of our followers is our primary concern. When leading, there are many important things to tend to. However, don’t allow tasks and goals to become more important than the well being of the people you lead.

The ability to thrive in life and leadership comes from loving God and people. There is simply no other way. There are no short cuts to love.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:16-19).

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love (1 John 4:7-8).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, I acknowledge You as the Lord of love. Help me to love You with all my heart, soul, and mind. Help me to love others as myself. I am powerless to love without You. With You, I have what I need to be Your ambassador and love the people You place in my life. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Posted in Faith

How Big Is Your God Really?

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He’s a big God. How big? He’s a big God. How big?
Bigger than the mountain, bigger than the sea,
A whole lot bigger than you and me.
He’s a big, big, big, big, big, strong wonderful God!

-by Nancy Colbaugh (c) 1985, Gospel Publishing House

The words of this song resounded in my home while my kids were little. With a ten-year span between my oldest and my youngest children, it was around for a long time. Simple and catchy. And true.

If you and I asked each other, “How big is God?” we could probably come up with some Bible verses pretty quickly.

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens (Psalm 8:1, NIV).

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy (Colossians 1:15-18).

I might even humor you and burst into song, declaring how great and mighty God is.

But what if we made it more personal? “How big is your God?” We may be tempted to repeat the same responses, but the answer requires some self-examination. “How big is your God really?”

If we are honest, we will see that our perceptions about God do not always match our mental beliefs about Him. Unfortunately it is perception that influences our responses. When we perceive God to be small or absent, we may revert to self-preservation responses. Or we may revert to self-destructive responses. Both approaches are damaging, because they alienate others and ourselves, throwing up obstacles to the big-ness of God’s presence we so desperately desire.

God is bigger than chronic health issues and negative medical diagnoses.

He is bigger than the drama and chaos of work and/or personal relationships.

He is bigger than broken dreams and business setbacks.

He is bigger than the small stressors that build and build throughout the day, until they break the proverbial camel’s back.

He is bigger than your past that haunts your future.

Not only is He bigger than any situation we face, His love and tender concern are bigger than we can imagine.

We serve a BIG God! Yes, really!

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ (Ephesians 3:17b-18).

Prayer:
Dearest Heavenly Father, I approach You in awe, aware of how small I am and how big You are. Open my eyes to see that You are even bigger still. Help me not to limit You by my own human perceptions. Empower me to have faith in You and Your greatness, with immovable confidence that absolutely nothing can separate me from Your love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Posted in Faith, Servant Leadership

Wait for the Slow Work of God

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We sat in a prayer circle, each of us sharing one request that was close to our heart. The elderly couple next to me took no pause to mention theirs.

“Our sons—all three of them—are not serving the Lord. We saw other family members come to Christ last year. We’re waiting and trusting the Lord for our sons.”

As we prayed together, my heart was moved with compassion for this couple. They had poured their lives into church ministry and had taught their children the ways of the Lord. Now in their mid-seventies, they continued to be faithful examples of Jesus. And they continued to trust Him to work in their sons’ lives. In that moment, I could sense His loving kindness toward them as they waited.

Ministry to people requires a great deal of patience and grace. It’s hard to wait. We do all that we can to point others to Jesus. We pray. We speak the truth in love. We encourage them to get back up when they stumble. We share the powerful promises of God’s Word. We pray more. We catch ourselves worrying, and then we turn it over to Jesus. With our entire being we yearn for people to experience the fullness of Christ. We just want it to happen quickly.

Gregory Boyle (the founder and Executive Director of Homeboy Industries, a gang intervention program in Los Angeles) refers to the slow work of God. Our Heavenly Father, who so loves His children, never stops His work of drawing them to Himself. Through people, circumstances, and inner promptings, He ceaselessly seeks their attention. He is eager for their fellowship and surrender, but He is patient.

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

Loving people is so much more than following a formula that leads to a specific outcome. Our human nature wants there to be a guarantee. We think, “If I pray and do and say the right things for the right amount of time, I should see people making the right choices.”

Sometimes I forget that only the Holy Spirit can change someone else’s life. He waits for permission, and it’s not my permission He needs. I find myself trusting in my own righteousness, which doesn’t change anything. I need to say “yes” to the Lord for change to happen in myself. Yet, I expect Him to operate differently with other people.

In the words of Boyle, “Ours is a God who waits. Who are we not to? It takes what it takes for the great turnaround. Wait for it.”1

As we wait, we are not doing nothing. We are still actively engaged. We shine the light of Jesus in the darkness. We love others, and speak to them with grace and truth. We trust God to use us to make a difference in this world, even when we may not see it. We don’t give up. We wait for the slow work of God.

“May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance” (2 Thessalonians 3:5).

Prayer:
Heavenly Father, You have given me a heart to serve people. Help me not to rely on my own strength and abilities, but rather trust You to work in their lives. May I cooperate with Your Holy Spirit and be Your representative in this world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

 
1 Gregory Boyle, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion (New York: Free Press, 2010), 109-128.

Posted in Advent/Christmas, Faith

The Wonders of God’s Love

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For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him (John 3:16-17, NIV).

Have you taken an opportunity for a leisurely drive around town to look at Christmas decorations? Among the images of Santa and elves, reindeer and snowmen, trees and gingerbread, every so often a nativity scene emerges. The nativity—the picture of an innocent Baby, God incarnate, Who arrived in humble obscurity to reveal His love to the world. The angels proclaimed His birth to the shepherds. The shepherds rushed to find God’s gift housed in a stable, lying in a manger. I imagine it looked rather plain to them, but nevertheless they rejoiced in the revelation of God’s love.

Love is really what Christmas is about. The miraculous message of Christmas is not that we loved God, but that He so perfectly loved us.

Unfortunately, we often project our own human experience with relationships on God. Our parents say they love us (and they probably do), but they hurt us. Our closest relationships with family and friends bring heartache. Perhaps our spouse has an affair, or our best friend betrays us. At the very least, we are disappointed by the decisions of others.

No matter how hard we try, people fail. Human love falls short. However, God does more than acts of love. He gives us Himself. He is love (1 John 4:8, 16).

Because God is love, everything He does is love. Whether or not we agree with it. Whether or not we understand it.

That is not to discount the presence of evil in the world, and that bad things happen to good people. But that’s a different conversation for another time.

There is such comfort and assurance in knowing that God is love. We do not worship a created being that whimsically and selfishly imposes His agenda on us, and then laughs at our expense. No! We run to Him and are safe. Our God is 100 percent love. He perfectly embodies the qualities of love as described in 1 Corinthians 13.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails (vv. 4-8).

These next few days before Christmas, let’s reflect on the love of God. Let’s drink deeply of the wonders of His love. God came to earth to bring us salvation at His own expense. God is love, and love is what He does.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1)

PRAYER:
Lord of Love, thank You for sending the Christ Child as Your gift of love to the world. We have received You into our lives, and our hearts desire the warmth of Your love. Increase our longing for Christ our Savior. Help us grow in understanding Your love. Remind us that we are Your children, and that You lavish Your love—Your very self—on us. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Posted in Personal Development, Teamwork, Vision & Goal Setting

Pivot Leadership…My Thoughts (A Book Review)

I am a leadership geek. My bookshelves are filled with books on leadership. My Masters degree is in Organizational Leadership. I am intrigued by both the science and art involved in leading a thriving organization, and drink in as much information as possible at seminars, online, and through conversations.

When Angela Craig asked me to read a draft of her book before it went to press, I eagerly agreed. To be honest, I said “yes” more because I respect Angela as a leader and appreciate her friendship. I really wasn’t sure how much I would get out of the content.

Pivot Leadership: Small Steps…Big Change pleasantly surprised me. Whether you are just starting on the leadership road or already have a wealth of experience, it is a wonderful resource to add to your library. But don’t leave it there to collect dust. It is designed to be interactive.

The thought of becoming a strong leader can seem overwhelming. However, strong leadership is created through taking small steps. Small steps set a direction that results in big change. Pivot Leadership looks at three areas and how to experience vitality in each of them.

Part One deals with the life of the leader. Before you can lead a community to greatness, you need to successfully lead yourself. Be a leader that people respect and trust. Part Two delves into ways to build a community of purpose through building a diverse team, communicating effectively, and creating a culture of camaraderie and collaboration. Part Three looks at leading into the future, doing what you were designed for and refusing to give up.

The beauty of Pivot Leadership is found in the Action Activities at the end of each chapter. Every activity guides you through the process of personalizing the content and to identify the small steps you will take. I used one of the activities in the chapter about workplace communication in a recent staff meeting. It was well received and my team immediately began identifying obstacles to understanding others in the middle of their own conversations.

Pivot Leadership is a book for leaders in any season of life. Use a separate journal to answer the questions. You can review the chapters every so often as a refresher. Most likely your answers will be different each time.

If you are serious about growing as a leader, Pivot Leadership: Small Steps…Big Change is the book for you. I highly recommend it as a tool to move forward and do the great things God has call you to do.

Click here to order Pivot Leadership at Amazon.com

Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant (Luke 22:26, NLT).

I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14, NIV).

Prayer:
Heavenly Father, I desire to be the best leader I can be for You. Teach me how to lead with integrity, to genuinely love others, and to make wise decisions. Show me the small steps I can take that will make a big change. Empower me to take those steps, so that You will be glorified. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Posted in Character, Servant Leadership

The Battle of Heart and Mind

I started my new job last summer as Executive Director of a pregnancy center ministry with great excitement. Not only did I sense the Lord had opened a door to His will and was fulfilling some specific promises He had spoken to my heart, I now had an opportunity to live out my convictions about servant leadership. My project for my Masters degree had been centered on servant leadership in the workplace. This position would be the testing ground to explore my ideas more fully.

Within a few weeks, however, I was faced with a challenge I had not expected—How do I effectively balance leading from the heart and leading from the mind? Interacting with others requires a blend of empathy and logic, depending on the needs of the moment. Leading an organization requires a similar blend.

True servant leadership prioritizes people as first and the organization as second. When people are equipped to do their jobs and thrive, the organization thrives. This model resonates strongly with my pastoral heart. (Pastoring can happen in any setting. It is not just reserved for church ministry.) I love the paid and volunteer staff at work and am committed to helping them develop God’s call. I also know that walking with others can be messy business and requires large doses of patience and grace. It takes time for people to develop their skills and God-given strengths.

It is beautiful to see servant leadership in operation. Unfortunately, there are times when despite the best efforts to love and lead others, someone will be detrimental to the mission. When this occurs, we will be required to engage in a battle of the heart and mind.

The heart says

  • I want the best for her.
  • I believe in his potential.
  • I don’t want to cause pain.
  • I care deeply about him.
  • She is incredibly valued by God.
  • I should give him one more chance. He’ll get the hang of it.

The mind says…

  • His performance is affecting our business.
  • She is making too many mistakes.
  • Her behavior is damaging relationships.
  • It’s time for him to move on.
  • He isn’t a good fit for this position.
  • She doesn’t really care about our mission.

In this battle of the heart and mind, who do we listen to? How do we balance love and logic in servant leadership?

Sometimes the most loving thing to do is to let the mind lead the charge. When the facts show that it is time for someone to move on, it does the person and the rest of the organization a disservice to hold on. Keeping someone that is a poor fit in a position is frustrating to everyone. Keeping someone that isn’t doing the job well sends a message that work ethic and performance don’t really matter. In spite of the heart screaming in protest, it is better to say “goodbye.”

In the letters to the Corinthians there is an interesting story. One of the members of the church was involved in an illicit relationship with his stepmother. The Apostle Paul rebuked this behavior, and the behavior of the congregation for tolerating it. The same man who penned the love chapter (1 Corinthians 13) instructed the congregation to remove the offender from their midst (1 Corinthians 5). Later forgiveness was offered and he was welcomed back to fellowship (2 Corinthians 2).

At my workplace, among the four paid staff members, I said “goodbye” to two of them the first three months. Not my favorite way to start off a position. But I learned some valuable lessons about servant leadership in difficult situations.

Which is easier for you—to lead from the heart or to lead from the mind?

Are you currently facing a difficult situation in your sphere of leadership? What is your heart saying? What is your mind saying?

The Lord has the wisdom you need to balance the interactions of heart and mind.

Prayer:
Heavenly Father, thank You that You are “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love” (Psalm 103:3). You also reign with justice and make decisions that build Your Kingdom. Grant me Your wisdom. Help me to reflect You in character, and that, as a leader, my actions are motivated by love. In Jesus’ name.