Posted in Character, Faith, Servant Leadership

When Life Takes a Left Turn

The car was packed and ready to go. I had one more stop to make before heading out of town to a leadership retreat, a gathering I had eagerly anticipated for weeks.

The night before, my daughter had gotten a splinter in her arm. It was a random mishap. She was on her way to worship rehearsal. While maneuvering her wheelchair across the threshold of the church entrance, her arm merely brushed up against the door post. I was able to remove an inch of the splinter before it broke off under the surface of her skin. I scheduled an appointment with our doctor to remove the rest. Once that was taken care of, I would be on my way as planned.

That’s when my plan took a left turn. The doctor’s assistant tried hard to cover concern with an air of professionalism. After examining the depth of the splinter, she declared, “I’m not comfortable conducting this procedure. The splinter is embedded in her muscle and will need to be cut out. Your daughter needs to go to the hospital.”

Leadership is an extension of our lives. Every day there are numerous possibilities for our well thought out plans to take a left turn. One moment we are heading in a certain direction. The next we find ourselves in circumstances leading somewhere we hadn’t planned on going. Left turns require special attention; our responses to them sets the tone for what happens next.

As conflicting emotions whirled inside me, I was acutely aware of my response choices, and that my daughter, family, and medical staff would be influenced by my choice. How would I respond? What kind of influence would I exert?

I could assign blame. It was my daughter’s fault for being careless. Or the person responsible for building maintenance. Or the medical personnel for being incompetent.

I could wallow in self-pity. This happens every time I plan something. How unfair! I am just a helpless victim! Will I ever get to enjoy anything?

I could lash out in anger. If I’m not happy, nobody else is going to be happy! Somebody do something to fix this, and do it now!

Instead I chose to rejoice.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near” (Philippians 4:4-5, NIV).

In the midst of this left turn experience, God was near. His Spirit rose up within me, giving me courage, strength, and joy.

No matter what happens, I am not a victim. Through Jesus, I will always be victorious. While events may not unfold as I would like, my God is in control. He is never taken by surprise. I trust that He loves me dearly and is actively at work on my behalf and for His glory. What about you?

My daughter looked at me with anxious eyes, and said, “I’m really sorry, Mom. I know you were looking forward to going.” I returned her gaze and replied, “You are so much more important than this retreat. If Jesus wants me to go, I will get there. Let’s walk this out together with Him.”

As we headed to the hospital, we burst into laughter, struck by the absurdity of the situation. We expressed our trust in our loving Father to work His plan through this unexpected event.

The x-ray machine at the hospital could not detect the splinter. Finally the staff located it by ultrasound. After three attempts they removed the culprit–a piece of wood about the size of a toothpick. Six hours after embarking on what was supposed to be a simple task, I delivered my daughter home, her arm mended with super glue and Steri-strips, and her heart touched by God’s loving presence. I eventually left for the retreat, four and a half hours behind schedule, my heart overflowing with gratitude and peace.

The way we respond to the left turns in life is crucial. It sets the stage for how well we lead our families and followers. We bring who are–strengths, weaknesses, and all–to our leadership environments. As leaders we must always remember we follow God’s lead.

Are you following God’s lead? Are you walking with Him? You can trust Him to work out the details when life takes a left turn. Rejoice! The Lord is near!

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Posted in Faith, Vision & Goal Setting

The Most Important Step of Effective Goal Setting

I am not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. I am all for making healthy and positive changes, but the statistics support my aversion. With a dismal 8 % success rate,1 I have personally committed to begin a new approach either before the year ends or well after the year has begun.

The biggest reason I avoid the New Year as a start date for change is this: New Year’s resolutions are seldom true resolutions based on the conviction and motivation necessary for success. They are typically good ideas based on what we think should happen. Rarely do they reflect a steadfast resolve to achieve something better, but rather are more like wishful thinking.

Nevertheless, January seems to be the prime time for leaders to set goals and engage in strategic planning. Regardless of the date on the calendar, it is crucial to consider your level of buy-in. Is this another good idea or passing fad, or are you deeply committed to doing what it takes to accomplish it over the long haul?

For the Christ-follower, the most important step of effective goal setting is to identify goals that are God-ideas instead of just good ideas. Make sure that your goals align with God’s direction. Books, seminars, and leadership blogs provide excellent tips and ideas. However, they may not necessarily work for you given your context and culture. They may not represent God’s mind for you and your organization during this particular season.

I realize there are volumes written about how to understand God’s will. Even with myriads of advice, it is still a topic that seems mysterious. After all, can we REALLY know His will? How can we distinguish God-ideas from good ideas? Admittedly, seeking God’s will is a faith venture, and I would never pretend to have the definitive answers. However, there are some simple steps that guide the process. I highly recommend keeping notes of your discoveries for easy reference.

  1. Ask the Lord for wisdom. James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (NIV).
  2. Pay attention to inspirational thoughts during prayer. Jesus called Himself the Good Shepherd. Because we belong to Him, we can recognize His voice (John 10:1-16).
  3. Be open to guidance from the Word of God. God speaks through His Word. “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Psalm 119:105, NIV).
  4. Enlist input from respected, mature believers. Benefit from the wisdom and insight of others. “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed (Proverbs 15:22, NIV).
  5. Pray for clear direction. Ask the Lord to open doors of opportunity and to close doors that are not potential areas of focus (Revelation 3:8).

Spend time pondering Proverbs 3:5-6, as you seek God-ideas for your plans and goals.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
    do not depend on your own understanding.
Seek his will in all you do,
    and he will show you which path to take (NLT).

When you trust in the Lord and seek His will, He will show you which path to take. He will reveal His goals to you, those God-ideas that are worth pursuing.

 

1. Dan Diamond, “Just 8 % of People Achieve Their New Year’s Resolutions. Here’s How They Do It,” Forbes.com. January 1, 2013, http://www.forbes.com/sites/dandiamond/2013/01/01/just-8-of-people-achieve-their-new-years-resolutions-heres-how-they-did-it/2/

Posted in Faith

Two Words to Unpack this Christmas

It’s the Christmas season once again. Most of us are schedule-deep in celebrations, focused on the birth of Jesus Christ, the arrival of the Savior of the world. Carols remind us of the real reason for our festivities. Although wonderful, it’s not the long-awaited get togethers with loved ones or the chance to receive (and give, of course) the best presents ever or to prepare special recipes that only come out once a year. At the center of our well-loved traditions is the arrival Jesus. He is truly the greatest gift to mankind.

This Advent season I have been deliberate about slowing down to marvel at this miracle. God has displayed his glorious unchangeable nature, packaged in the fragile features of the newborn Babe.

At the risk of losing you with theological terms, allow me to unpack two words that at first glance seem paradoxical, and yet beautifully capture the essence of the Christmas message.

Transcendent. God is transcendent. He exists above and independent from anyone or anything else, outside of space and time. The Lord God Almighty created all things in heaven and on earth, yet He exists above and independent from them. Hebrews 1:3 says that He “sustains all things by His powerful word.” The entire universe exists in Him and for Him that He may receive glory, honor, and praise. This self-sustaining, independent God, however, is not like the ancient gods of mythology or the deities of other belief systems. These gods are self-absorbed and subject their subordinates to cruel, capricious circumstances. They are stark, uninvolved observers of their creation. No, our God is Love and desires relationship with his people. He does not need us, but He wants us.

This brings me to the next word.

Immanent. God is immanent. He exists and operates within the universe he created. He is at hand and actively involved in the minute details of our lives. He walked with the original man and woman in the Garden in the cool of the day. When sweet fellowship was broken by their disobedience, God revealed that He had a plan to restore what was lost. The Savior would come. He would be called “Emmanuel–God with us.” The transcendent God would marvelously dwell among us and be with us. And not just for a short time. All those who believe in Him and confess His name are His dearly loved children, and will be with Him forever!

This Emmanuel arrived Christmas Day with the purpose of redeeming us back to Himself. This All-Powerful, independent God revealed himself as the intensely personal God of Love. The great “I AM” came to be with you.

Transcendent. Immanent. Take time to unpack these word for yourself this Christmas. What does it mean to you that the Creator of the universe came to this earth to make a way for you to be in relationship with him? How would comprehending this truth make a difference in your life? Merry Christmas!

Posted in Faith, Servant Leadership

Backstage Living in a Center Stage World

As leaders we are all called to serve backstage in some capacity.

Most of my childhood was spent training to be on center stage. I immersed myself in academics and the arts. In high school I was a member of the elite jazz show choir, I was the first chair cellist in the orchestra, and I played important roles in musicals and other dramas. I loved wow-ing the audience as a soloist at community and church events and at vocal competitions. I was truly in my element performing in front of others. Center stage is where I wanted to be.

After graduation from high school, I continued my musical pursuits. I became involved in music ministry as a worship leader at my local church and on the evangelistic circuit. At the same time, I was in a worship trio for a revival association in my city. These opportunities had an added dimension that I found wonderfully rewarding. When I ministered in song, people connected with God and were visibly touched by His presence. I understood that it was the Holy Spirit and not me doing the work. I lived to be available for Him. By the time my husband and I left our home in Southern Oregon and relocated in the Seattle area to go to school at Northwest University, I was accustomed to leading worship for crowds of 2000 people, and it seemed that anybody that was somebody in the churches of our area knew who I was. I assumed that moving to a larger population would give me greater visibility and thus more opportunities to minister to people.

I was completed bewildered that my assessment was wrong. Some of it was that juggling ministry with children became increasingly difficult. But another curious thing occurred. Music ministry opportunities did arise and I would be eager to accept. However, when I prayed about it, God would unmistakably speak to my heart, You must say “no.” Confused and frustrated, yet obedient, I would decline the invitation.

I lived in obscurity for nearly a decade with no real musical outlet. My time was spent having and caring for babies. I loved my kids and I was committed to raising them for Christ, but I grieved the loss of center stage ministry where I had no doubt that I was used by God.

During those hidden years, God began to teach me the beauty of backstage living, using my experience of the performance world. The backstage crew is necessary to the success of any show. While the audience is engaged in the action on stage, most of the work is done behind the scenes. It is crucial work that nobody knows about (except for those involved) until something goes wrong. A scenery change takes too long. The curtain opens too soon. A prop is missing. But when everything runs smoothly, the backstage crew receives little recognition. In addition, the backstage crew wields great influence in the morale of the show. Their passion and enthusiasm rub off on others, creating excitement and energy for the entire production.

In the kingdom of God, we are all called to support Jesus Christ as the Star of His show. We all possess gifts that must be used to draw attention to Him. As leaders, we are all called to serve backstage in some capacity. When we bring passion and enthusiasm to our unseen position, our attitude will create excitement and energy for the cause of Christ.

For me backstage living does not mean that I never lead up front. It does mean that I reject the notions upon which I had previously built my life and ministry–that those who are truly blessed and anointed are center stage, while the lesser gifted are relegated to backstage. Instead I willingly step back and joyfully allow others to step forward. Every opportunity, big or small, becomes a divine appointment to reveal God center stage, by investing in others to develop their gifts, empowering others to take the lead in a project, lending a helping hand, offering hope to the hurting–in short, by demonstrating Jesus in word and action to the people around me.

Recently I found these words penned in an old journal that sum up backstage living: I don’t want recognition; I only want to make a difference. There is incredible meaning in serving others without the need for praise. How blessed it is to support others in their endeavors to build God’s kingdom without hidden expectations. Backstage living will look different for you than it does for me. The important thing is Jesus Christ be center stage.

Posted in Character, Servant Leadership

Leading with Passion

Dr. Bruce Wilkinson stood across from me. He was the featured speaker for the pregnancy network fall fundraiser that evening, and was consulting with the leadership team before our big event. As we sat around the conference table, Dr. Wilkinson  challenged us to identify our organizational purpose, that one thing our pregnancy network must focus on. The team members wrestled with naming the primary job, wanting to include many noble programs and approaches. I, however, already knew the answer and had been implementing changes in our programs to align with it. I listened to the dialogue and contributed to the conversation, feeling quite comfortable and safe in that setting. However, I was completely unprepared for the question he directed to me.

“What are you passionate about?”

I struggled to gather my wits, as the room began to spin. My heart beat wildly, threatening to explode in my chest. My throat had the texture of sandpaper. In that distinct moment, I had a decision to make. Would I give the “right” answer or the “real” answer?

I knew God provided this job. The door opened at the same time my salary was cut from the church budget due to economic difficulties. I was blessed to work for a para-church ministry, doing something significant with a team of amazing people. I was able to put my gifts of administration to work. It was exciting to be used by the Lord to offer solutions with hope to women and men facing unplanned pregnancy, often a time of overwhelming crisis. Couldn’t I just say I was passionate about this? Then, the spotlight would be off me, and we could move on with business as usual.

I felt the conviction of the Holy Spirit and knew I had to confess. In spite of all the positive aspects of my position, I still felt empty. I began each day, dedicated to being a blessing to this organization, but I could not ignore the nagging sense of dissatisfaction. I longed to spend the best part of my day (when I had energy and inspiration) engaged in church ministry instead of giving leftovers. Crisis intervention was important. However, my heart ached to actively walk with other on their journey with Jesus.

“What are you passionate about?”

I took a deep breath, said a silent prayer, and responded. “I am passionate about people receiving Jesus into their lives and helping them to become more like Him.” Confession made.

Without hesitation Dr. Wilkinson declared, “That sounds like a church! You’re working at the wrong place.”

My boss protested. My colleagues rallied around me with verbal support, affirming me and my valuable contributions to the organization. But the words had already begun to take effect. The Holy Spirit used Dr. Wilkinson to define the stirrings in my heart. I saw the truth, and I knew business as usual was not an option.

That evening I shared with my husband what had transpired, and together we developed an exit strategy. Fifteen months later, I cleaned out my desk and turned in my keys. I said my good byes with strong emotions and many tears, but I had no regrets. I was returning to church ministry where God wanted me to be.

I realize there are seasons in our lives where we must do what it takes to pay the bills and provide for our family. Spending time wishing we could be somewhere else will be counter productive. However, we must not ignore the Spirit’s promptings. He may be the author of our divine discontent in order to re-direct our steps.

We lead from our heart. We were not created to just go through the motions to earn a paycheck. To be thriving leaders, we must identify our God-given passion and then lead from that place.
What are you passionate about?
In what ways can you give expression to your passion in your current position?
Is the Holy Spirit re-directing your steps? Where do you think He is leading you?

Posted in Character, Faith

The Power of Perspective

It was early 1997. I was thirty-five weeks into my pregnancy with my youngest child when I learned she had spina bifida. The two weeks that followed were a whirlwind of activity, as I was referred to one doctor after another in order to get an accurate prognosis. During one such appointment, I sat in front of a specialist. He offered no hope. Instead his voice droned on and on with sterile facts of the hardship that lay ahead for us, while I tried to grasp the meaning of his words. “Your baby has a very severe birth defect. She will have no use of her legs…She has a brain malformation…”

In the midst of life-shattering news, the Holy Spirit reminded me of Philippians 4:6-9–

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. NLT

I immersed myself in God’s Word. I focused on His promises of healing. I contacted several prayer chains, enlisting the prayer support of thousands around the globe. I was confident that God was at work on my little daughter’s behalf, and I was surrounded by His peace.

Jordanne was born on the seventh of April, a beautiful baby girl with dark wavy hair, an adorable little face, and a hole in her back. Even though I had not witnessed “a miracle,” I continued to trust the Lord with a grateful heart. As the weeks and months progressed, I discovered joy in hidden places and learned how to live with a new kind of normal.

You see, my friend, perspective will make or break you. God’s Word affirms that a person in crisis who prays with thanksgiving and maintains a positive perspective through Philippians-thinking will be blessed with peace. Focusing attention on things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and worthy of praise instead of the problem produces peace. Peace comes, because the God of peace is with you. Social science research supports the truth of maintaining a positive perspective, as well. Active faith has been shown to be an important coping resource for people facing difficult circumstances.

So what happens when life takes an unexpected turn? What do you do when you are actively pursuing God’s plan for your life and then you are blindsided by obstacles? Whether it is a child with a disability, leadership challenge, business setback, financial shortage, relational disappointment, or health problem, you end up in a completely different place than you intended. Seek the God of peace, and He will be with you. Ask Him to help you develop a Philippians-thinking perspective.

I’m not a proponent of pie-in-the-sky platitudes. You don’t have to pretend. The Book of Psalms serves as a powerful model of honest, raw heart cry to The Lord. By all means, bring your hurts, disappointments, and fears to Him. Run to Jesus when it is hard. But also expect Him to move in ways you simply cannot imagine. View your situation as a way through which The Lord will reveal Himself to you, to unfold His new and creative solutions. Trust Him for the courage you need to take the next step. And, be on the look out for the hidden blessings along the way.

My daughter, Jordanne, is physically limited and uses a wheelchair for mobility, but I have discovered so much about God and life because of her. I would never have chosen this destination. Nevertheless, I thank God for it, and He is with me.

Posted in Character, Faith

The Gratitude Approach

Not too long ago, I was lamenting the fact that I am a realist. It is easy for me to wear “the black hat” in meetings. I see facts and circumstances more quickly than possibilities and vision. I tend to live in the present rather than the future. Yes, I have learned the leadership skills for strategic foresight and communicating a compelling vision, and I utilize them well, but they aren’t in my natural zone…And so my thoughts went on.

Then, in the midst of my mental wrestling, inspiration broke through.

The pessimist sees the glass half empty. The optimistic sees the glass half full. More importantly, the person of gratitude is thankful for the glass and what it contains.

I can’t really change the way I’m wired. However, I can choose my response to what I see. Whether the glass is half empty or half full, I can choose to be thankful. I can choose to give thanks for the things that are going well. Even when circumstances are difficult, I can choose to give thanks. Not necessarily for it, but in the midst of it, because God’s grace, strength, and encouragement are extended to me. As I choose to express thanksgiving, hope rises in my heart and spills out on others around me. I call this “The Gratitude Approach.”

Many Bible passages instruct us to give thanks always, for everything, in all circumstances (Ephesians 5:20; Colossians 3:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:18). This seems like an amazingly tall order! What is even more amazing to me is that God does not ask us to do something that is impossible! Of course, “The Gratitude Approach” does not occur naturally. It comes as we spend time with Jesus and allow His life to flow in us, and then through us. It comes as we walk in His grace.

When we practice “The Gratitude Approach,” we acknowledge the ways (no matter how small) God has revealed His care to us. We take our eyes off the stress and difficulties of life, family, and workplace, and focus them where they belong–on the Giver of life and breath, on the Provider of all our needs, on the Artist who inspires and creates, on the Lover of our souls who is more than enough. Then we can see that God indeed is actively working His special plan and has invited us to join Him.

As we prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday, I challenge you to consider “The Gratitude Approach” as your own. Pessimist? Realist? Optimist? Choose to be grateful on Thanksgiving Day and beyond.