31 October 2011

Sorrow-filled Joy ... Joy-filled Sorrow

Last Saturday Susy, Steven, and I attended a wonderful celebration for Linus and Sharon Morris, who celebrated 50 years of marriage. It was good ... very good, in so many ways. Linus and Sharon have followed Jesus and loved each other well. They have raised a great family and are stewarding their lives.
       Susy was one of several people who spoke and did a little presentation. She also made a ceramic piece for them for their anniversary (she makes me look good!).
       We visited with a bunch of people during the party who we have journeyed with for many years. Some we had not seen for a long time. It was a joy-filled time together.
       We got in our rental car to drive south to Orange County late that evening. I checked Facebook on my iphone, to catch up with the world that sort of stopped for a few hours while we enjoyed time with Linus and Sharon.
      All at once that joy I felt was mixed with great sorrow as I learned that my friend Mike Holland from Cortland had died suddenly. He was 52 years old.
      Mike was driving a group of students from Cortland State in New York to Binghamton to help flood victims. He had a heart attack and died a short time later. The Ithaca Journal newspaper wrote an obituary today about Mike. Two sentences jumped out at me:
"A devoted husband, father, and community member, Michael was a volunteer basketball, soccer and baseball youth coach for many years. He was a man of integrity filled with love and compassion for everyone around him." 
       Yep, that was Mike. He lived well, and died far too young. May he know peace and rest with Jesus now. I will miss my friend here on earth.
       And so went my weekend - deep joy and deep sorrow. Somehow learning to live with both seems to be the richness of life.

28 October 2011

Two Bookcovers - Light Years Apart

I saw these two books next to each other at Barnes and Noble yesterday. They both purport to be "Christian," but I just cannot put Joel Osteen and Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the same breath!

27 October 2011

Howard Schultz on Leading

Here is a quote from Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, from the book, Lessons from the Top: the Search for America's Best Business Leaders:
"I think it's very difficult to lead today when people are not really truly participating in the decision. You won't be able to attract and retain great people if they don't feel like they are part of the authorship of the strategy and the authorship of the really critical issues. If you don't give people an opportunity to really be engaged, they won't stay."
       I have wondered what it takes to be the kind of leader who helps people truly participate, who helps people be co-authors of strategy, and who helps people speak into the critical issues of the organization.
       What kind of leader does this?
* One who is becoming self-less rather than self-absored;
* One who is deflects attention from himself and puts the spotlight on others;
* One who listens to correction and makes mid-course corrections;
* One whose inner life is centered. For me as a Christian that means centered on Jesus;
* One who could lose it all and still be intact as a person
       I know very few of these kind of leaders. I wish I knew more.

26 October 2011

I am in the top .93% wealthiest in the world... hmmmm

My friend Brian posted something on the LCI blog this week that really hit me between the eyes. It is the GlobalRichList.
       According to my income of 2010 I am number 55,923,010 wealthiest person in the world of 7 billion people. That makes me in the top .93% wealthiest!
       Now here is the shocker to me: In 2008 my income was almost double what it was in 2010. That means I was in the top 1/2 percent wealthiest people!
       What freaks me out even MORE than that is the questions that sneak into my consciousness as I do this little assessment:
* I wonder who is ahead of me and how they got there?
* I wonder if I will ever break into the 50 million person club of richest people! (and what did Jesus say about the first being last?)
* I wonder who is number 55,923,010 from the BOTTOM OF THE LIST. I wonder what their life is like. I can only begin to imagine.
* I wonder why Christians seems to be so divided over this issue of wealth and riches. Some of us very well-meaning followers of Jesus justify our lifestyles in bizarre ways.
* I wonder if I will ever learn what Paul learned - to become content in whatever circumstance he found himself in - whether in great plenty or great want. (Philippians 4)
* And I wonder when I will begin to realize that I am crazy RICH in comparison with 99% of the other 7 billion people on earth!

25 October 2011

Aid workers abducted in western Algeria

The BBC and Al Jazeera reported over the weekend that three aid workers were kidnapped in the Rabuni refugee camp in western Algeria. They were kidnapped by Al Queda terrorists who drove into the camp late in the evening and abducted them.
       I would not even had known about this event, except that I was in that very camp four weeks ago and had heard about terrorists crossing over from neighboring Mali and attacking the camps.
       All of a sudden life feels incredibly fragile, and I am sobered by the fact that "timing" and "fate" and "destiny" are all in the hands of God. I do not know why those terrorists struck on october 22nd rather than on September 25th when the American delegation I was part of was there. It is one of the mysteries of God's providence I suppose.

Here is the article: Aid workers abducted in western Algeria - Africa - Al Jazeera English

24 October 2011

A Cross Between an Artist and A Mad Scientist!

My son Steven watched Susy fire her pottery recently, and concluded that she is a cross between an artist and a mad scientist!
       You really have to be there with Susy to understand the whole thing. I went the other day to watch and just marveled and cracked up at my wife! She's amazing and hilarious, standing in the midst of trash cans in an army jacket! (see photo at right)
       Now please understand that the variety of pottery she makes is incredible, and she is doing new kinds of firing in different kilns and it's all very creative and beautiful.
       It's also really quite "right-brained," and I am quite a left-brain person. So it is a stretch for me to appreciate everything that Susy is learning and doing. But I am trying!
       If you thought that pottery might not be too action-oriented, check out the following "action" photo of Susy removing a piece of pottery from the kiln a couple of days ago. Quite the picture if you ask me. Maybe that's my artistic side coming out! (NOT)

22 October 2011

"The dreams I have"

I woke up in the middle of the night saying these exact words: "The dreams I have are bigger than my own imagination." What that means (I think) is that they are God's dreams and vision and not mine.
       Immediately I was brought back to a vivid memory of September 16, 2001 - 10 years ago and 5 days after the 9/11 attacks. We were living in Holland and I was pastoring at Crossroads Amsterdam. September 16th was a Sunday and we were doing a sort of memorial service that day. TV crews and other media from Holland were going to be there. I was SO stressed out after an intense week.
       I woke up at 6am that day unable to sleep anymore. I felt like the weight of the world was on my shoulders. And I thought to myself, "There is NO way I can stand up in front of hundreds of people today and say anything about God and His goodness."
       I called one of our church elders, Christa (wise and wonderful person that she is!), and told her I did not think I could preach that day. She listened quietly and then said, "Then don't. Just be part of the community and worship God!" What a concept! It was a vision bigger than my own imagination!
       Then I stood up in my bedroom and looked out the window to the west. It had been very stormy all night and it was now sunrise. As I peered out of the curtains there before me was one of the most magnificent rainbows I have ever seen. And all at once I knew that God's vision was such much greater than mine.
(P.S. - I did end up preaching that day - and I do not remember a word that I said! But I remember the rainbow perfectly)

The Crazy Ones

Somehow this ad from 1997 is all the more powerful because it is Steve Jobs narrating it. Here's to eh The Crazy Ones indeed!

20 October 2011

Muammar Gaddafi is dead ... and so???

The world awoke this morning to the news that Muammar Gaddafi was killed in Libya. He got his wish - to die on Libyan soil.
       Shots have been ringing out from automatic weapons in Libya celebrating his death.
       The man we have loved to hate for many years is dead - what a relief. A time to celebrate. Right?
       Here is what I think many of us in the West do with a person like Gaddafi, especially when he is overthrown:
* We hope that "he gets what he deserves." Clearly Gaddafi has done horrible things in his 40 years in power. Somehow we hope he is punished in death for all of his wrong-doing;
* We assume that whoever or whatever replaces the dictator will be "better," since Gaddafi was so bad. The reality is that the dictator's removal makes the region all the more unstable and some pretty bad folks can step into the political vacuum. I think Egypt is figuring out that Mubarek may not have been so bad as people thought;
* Gaddafi was such a strong icon to evil, similar to how history looks at Adolf HItler. It is quite easy to demonize these people, to put on them the blame for much of what is wrong in the Muslim world. So if we just get rid of this one bad guy things will turn around in Islam.
       What is so often missing when someone like Gaddafi is killed is sadness, and compassion. Col. Muammar Gaddafi was a human being, with a wife (or more than one), a bunch of kids and grand kids. He was a nutcase in a lot of ways and harmed many, many people. But he was also a person in need of God, of God's grace, of forgiveness. Sounds a lot like me actually. May Muammar Gaddafi "rest in peace," as my Jewish brothers would say about someone who has died.

18 October 2011

Leadership by Neglect

This past weekend I drove from Cortland (NY) to Raquette Lake in the Adirondack Mountains. One of the images which struck me was the number of neglected and rundown barns and other structures. Upstate New York is littered with these eyesores.
       As I was looking at these buildings I began relating them to what I call "leadership by neglect." It's a bit like allowing a building to fall apart. Leaders sometimes get the attitude that it is easier to avoid issues or conflict with someone in their organization and just allow the relationship to slowly deteriorate.
       Sometimes leaders are uncertain what to do with a specific person on their team or in their congregation or organization so they simply ignore them. It's easy to do when you feel that you are busy with more pressing matters.
       I have been on both ends of "leadership by neglect." Being the leader and neglecting people has not been painful for me until someone pointed it out to me. I was fairly shocked by how hurt people felt by this sense of neglect. It was like a slow death. I am grieved by my own shortcomings as a leader that I have sometimes been neglectful of people.
       This hit home for me when I felt neglected as a part of a team/organization in recent years. It was difficult medicine to swallow - humbling, frustrating, confusing. Ultimately I have felt very sad at the lack of leadership on some people's part, but also understand it well.
       So I have renewed my focus to be an engaged leader - to be prayerful and mindful of the people who I am called to lead, to ask for feedback regularly from these people, to work on my communication in its various forms with people I am leading, and to find ways to be available to them formally and informally.

14 October 2011

Lewis Smedes on Forgiveness

Lew Smedes has had a major impact on my life. He was a mentor from a distance, one of the most humble and gentle people I had ever encountered. I came across this 3-minute video of him talking about forgiveness. And I remembered anew why he so impacted my life.

13 October 2011

After the "Arab Spring"

Some people in the West have cheered the revolutions in Egypt, Libya, and more recently in Syria (among other places).The "Arab Spring" has come to the Middle East and North Africa. I am no fan of dictators who have been overthrown, but we should not be naive about who or what will replace the tyranny.
       When I was in North Africa I was speaking with one of the imams about the political and social unrest in that part of the world. His country of Algeria has been spared the violence over the past year, unlike neighboring Tunisia and Libya. The imam reminded me that we "choose our poison," either living with the current regime or rolling the dice with future leaders (most of whom have been repressed and oppressed over the past 30 years or more).
     We live at a dangerous, critical, and hopeful time in the world, and especially in the Islamic nations. Certainly there is cause for concern about countries installing Sharia Law similar to Iran, and this week's riots in Egypt illustrate how volatile the situation is in places. And yet concern must not be replaced by fear, which triggers some people to demonize others and to seek their destruction.
       During the Cold War we used to talk about "Nuclear Winter." The other day I heard a Christian leader warn of an "Islam Winter" in which Muslims will overrun the Christian West.
       I beg to differ with this leader, on all sorts of levels. Most importantly, I see the possibility of a "Kingdom Summer" more than an "Islam Winter." I suppose it's all about perspective. Secondly, Jesus was very clear that His Kingdom would prevail, not any human system. Third, I have serious questions about whether the West is very Christian at all.
       We should be burdened by what is happening in Egypt, where Christians and Muslims are warring. And in Syria where a repressive regime is killing its own people. This is the place of the body of Christ, to pray and have compassion and to be givers of God's grace to people in need.

12 October 2011

Men @ Peace this coming weekend

This coming weekend I will be with some of the most wonderful guys I know and in one of the most beautiful places on earth. I will be teaching at the men's retreat of Grace Christian Fellowship of Cortland (my home church).
       Each year the church holds their men's retreat at Raquette Lake in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York, at Huntington Camp which is owned by SUNY Cortland.
       This year I am especially excited about the topic of my talks, entitled, "Men@Peace." I am doing this in anticipation of the men at Grace Fellowship beginning Men's Fraternity after the retreat. Men's Frat is a great process to help men in their walk with Christ.
Sunrise and fog at Raquette Lake

11 October 2011

Upcoming Schedule: October-November

A friend reminded me the other day that I am traveling an awful lot these days. That is really true. Hopefully it is not too much.
       For those of you who read this blog, here is where I will be in the coming month in case you are in the same place.
* October 13-16: Raquette Lake, New York (teaching at men's retreat)
* October 17-18: Indianapolis (with Crescent Project)
* October 28-31: Cortland (Cortland State Alumni Association)
* November 2-6: Washington D.C. (Oasis Conference, check it out here)
* November 7-9: Indianapolis (with Crescent Project)
* November 11:  Denver (Friday Sabbath Celebration with community)

10 October 2011

New Pottery from Susy

This is a piece of pottery that Susy made for me for my birthday - in a word, AWESOME

09 October 2011

Taking Good Advice - Have a Bagel!

Today is my 49th birthday. It's a bit of an anti-climactic event actually. Next year is the big 5-0; 49 is just eh!
       My friend Rita (wonderful person that she is) wrote on my Facebook wall that I should go get a bagel with lox on it to start my birthday. I thought, "What a great idea!" So off I went early this morning to New York Bagel (yes, that is the real name of the closest bagel shop to my house), with my Denver Post newspaper in tow. And I sat at the bagel shop and had my bagel and lox and read the Post. A great start to the day.
       This year on my birthday I am struck by the words of Steve Jobs at the Stanford graduation in 2005. By now you have probably read or heard the words many times since Jobs' death earlier this week. "Your time is limited. So don't waste it living someone else's life."
       I don't want to waste a day of my life wondering what could have been or should have been. For the past year or more I have had a growing vision about what I have called "The Isaac-Ishmael Initiative." Some people have thought it's been a mid-life crisis, or that I am just wandering around after finishing up a pastoral position last year.
       The questions have been many - what is our theology around this hot-button issue of Jews and Muslims; what do I think about the nation of Israel and the Palestinians; why don't I move to Israel or Lebanon; why don't I go back to pastoring a church and/or developing leaders since dealing with the Jewish and Muslims issues is so thorny!
       Well, I am choosing to live amongst and between the Isaacs and Ishmaels of the world! There's a small band of us (Lebanese, French, Scottish, American, Dutch) who believe there is something "wild and crazy" that God wants to do in the Kingdom with Isaac and Ishmael, and how the Church relates to both.
       So in my 50th year of life that is what I am giving myself to - 100%. And if it seems foolish or absurd then perhaps I am right in the place God wants me to be!

04 October 2011

I Can't Wait to Read This Book!

Brennan Manning's memoir, "All is Grace" was published today. I cannot wait to read Manning's personal remembrances and reflections on his life.
Here is one of my favorite statements by Manning:
“The Christ within who is our hope of glory is not a matter of theological debate or philosophical speculation. He is not a hobby, a part-time project, a good theme for a book, or a last resort when all human effort fails. He is our life, the most real fact about us. He is the power and wisdom of God dwelling within us.” ~ The Ragamuffin Gospel     

02 October 2011

Safety, Security, and what I take for granted

One of the most fundamental human needs is to be safe from harm (bodily, emotional, etc.). Many westerners (myself included) take this SO for granted. It's easy to do when you are safe just about all the time, or at least we FEEL safe.
       I spent a week among the Saharawi people of Western Sahara in refugee camps between the borders of Algeria, Morocco, and Mauritania. If you have to go to Google Earth to figure out where I am talking about feel free to do so! it's not exactly on the way to anything.
       The place is desolate, a desert wasteland which now houses somewhere between 165,000 and 200,000 people from Western Sahara with no natural water source, no sanitation, and no natural vegetation.
       People live in mud huts and army tents. They also demarcate "their" property by building fences made of various things - tires, other car parts, cardboard. Somehow the human condition leads us to seek safety and security; we build fences even when they functionally do no good at keeping out intruders. But these make-shift fences give the refugees some sense of order and safety in the midst of one of the most unsafe places on earth.