23 June 2012

And the People Said, "Amen and Amen"

I just finished a week-long training in Minneapolis  called Sahara Challenge. There was about 100 people - Arabs, a Persian, African, Caucasians, Koreans ... oh and a Jewish guy.
     On the final night (last night) we laid hands on different cultures and people groups represented. An Arab who is an Israeli citizen prayed in Arabic and English for the group I was in.
     Get the picture? An Arab Israeli citizen praying for a Jewish guy amidst Persians, Africans, Whites, and Asians. Sure looks, smells, sounds, and feels like the Kingdom of God to me!
     Here's the peculiar thing about a gathering such as this: Most of us feel like minorities (maybe outcasts) in a lot of settings. We are either ethnic minorities or hold minority views about how God cares for and loves people. One evening at dinner I was sitting with a Palestinian-American woman, a Tunisian man, a Lebanese (former Shiite), and Arab-Israeli. We all shared a common bond of feeling misunderstood an as a "foreigner" amongst other peoples.
     What I love is that while we could easily feel alienated from one another (after all, our cultures have warred against each other for hundreds and hundreds of years), this week we were united - in Christ. Jesus transcends and cuts through prejudice, he is the great leveler. All of a sudden we recognize that we are all sinners, all broken, all in need of forgiveness.
     And so I stand next to my Arab Egyptian brother and worship God together. It is supernatural, another world, heaven come to earth for a brief moment.

22 June 2012

Why I don't "throw in the towel"

I hear about men and women who have served God in ministry for many years and then "throw in the towel." They chuck ministry.
     Anyone who knows me knows that I have thought about throwing in the towel many times. I used to "dream" about becoming a trash collector in southern California. Think about it: You interact primarily with inanimate objects (trash), you get to ride on the outside of the truck hanging on for dear life, and you get health benefits!
     I was sitting with a friend just the other day and he recounted how a person we both know well is thinking about chucking his role as a senior leader for a ministry. I was saddened by this ... especially because I can relate to what this person is experiencing.
     So why not throw in the towel? I don't throw in the towel really for 3 main reasons:
1. I have a stewardship of more than a quarter century of following Jesus and serving his purposes. I don't want to waste that;
2. I believe in Satan (the devil) and I just don't want him to win a battle over me;
3. God seems intent on using people with doubts, questions, stumblings and bumblings who are about to throw in the towel. Somehow He wants to uses Moses who is the reluctant leader, Jonah who runs away from God, and Peter who denies Jesus three times.
     There are a handful of people who check out this blog who are about to throw in the proverbial towel. PLEASE DO NOT DO IT!
     Not now, not today.
          Let tomorrow's cares take care of themselves. Wait. Pray. Get counsel.

21 June 2012

What Makes a Life-Giving Leader?

If I mention Huggies Diapers or Kleenex Tissues I am quite sure that you know the products well. What you likely do not know is the former CEO of the company which produces those items.
     You probably do not know that this CEO radically changed the culture and products of the company - Kimberly-Clark - a generation ago.
     You probably do not know that the CEO put his reputation and wealth and career on the line for the greater good of the company.
     You probably do not even know the man's name - Darwin Smith.
     In my opinion Darwin Smith was a classic Life-Giving Leader. Why? Because he exhibited some crucial, attractive qualities namely:
     Discipline and Focus: Smith made very painful decisions early on to sell off unprofitable paper mills and cut the losses for the company. The decision was wildly unpopular with the company's employees and board. 
     Consistency: Smith had an unwavering consistency in which people absolutely knew his yes meant YES and his no meant NO.
     Invisibility: Darwin Smith never sought the limelight, never sought accolades, did not take credit for the company's turn-around and eventual success. (parenthetically, I yearn to encounter Christian leaders who embrace this same quality - they are painfully few and far between)
     Finishing Well: Darwin Smith retired in 1991 from Kimberly-Clark and the company did not miss a beat. Over the coming years Kimberly-Clark merged with Scott Paper to become the world's largest paper goods company in the world. Smith died suddenly in 1995 of a heart attack. While his life was cut short, we still finished well.

17 June 2012

Today is Father's Day

I'm a dad and very proud of my kids. Carly and Steven are just a HOOT! I am not sure how they have turned out as adjusted to the world as they are. But they have!
     So today is Father's Day and I am in Minneapolis, Susy is in Denver, Carly is in Denver enroute to Minneapolis, and Steven is somewhere in Eastern Europe. That just seems as it should be for the nomadic clan that we are.
     Thanks to blogging, Facebook, and things like Skype I am giving a "shout out" to my kiddos today - Here's to you, offspring!
     I am so proud and thankful to be your dad.
     I am excited for all that God has for you as you step into adulthood and make your mark on the world.
     I am glad that in your own unique ways you embrace adventure and see the world through new lenses of life.
     Enjoy your day, Carly and Steven. I'm so glad Carly is joining me in Minneapolis in a few hours for a week-long training on Islam! And Steven, I hope you are having a blast going back to your roots in Eastern Europe this week!
     Number 6:24-26.

Steven's graduation from high school last month.

16 June 2012

"Nothing to Prove, Nothing to Lose"

My friend Tim Addington lives by a motto that is very attractive to me: "Nothing to prove, nothing to lose." He came to this realization a few years ago when he almost died (a riveting story you can read about in his book, When Live Comes Undone.)
     Today I sat in a gathering with a group of people where I heard Tim speak at length about "nothing to prove, nothing to lose" for the first time. It struck me that I sometimes live by, "something to prove, much to lose." I like Tim's motto a lot more.
     I take some consolation in the fact that I think I have less to prove today than I did 10 years ago, and less to lose than I did a decade ago. But I am far more ego-driven than I would like, far more needing to be right than needing to be in relationship, and too far from the carefree tone I hear in my friend Tim's voice. I guess I still have some growing to do.

08 June 2012

Something About Bagels in New York

On our way to visit my parents on Long Island this week, Susy and I stopped at Sunset Plaza Bagel, which has been there since the Flood (of Noah!). Well at least 40 years.
     I have vivid memories of getting bagels there and bringing them home. The memories are rich and good and tasty! Those are some amazing bagels!
     While munching on our bagels at the bagel shop I asked Susy, "Are these bagels qualitatively better than bagels in other parts of the world, or is it my imagination and the cultural context of actually being in this bagel shop?"
     Susy, clearly enjoying her bagel, confirmed that these bagels are just way better than bagels in other parts of the world.
     We brainstormed why they are better, and I also asked my parents. The common folklore is that bagels baked in the New York City area are better than other places because of the water used to make them.
     Really? New York water makes the bagels taste better? All I can think about is the East River, which is filthy! There has to be a better reason than the water for why the bagels in New York are better than in other places. Any guesses or hypotheses?

04 June 2012

Please Do Not Govern Over Your Grave!

One of the greatest leadership blunders is to "govern over your own grave." That is, a leader decides he is going to retire or resign or move onto another role and makes decisions that others will inherit.
     The classic recent example of this is Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour (at right) who earlier this year pardoned a bunch of criminals before he left office. Gov. Barbour will now go now as infamous in Mississippi history.
     It just happened today in a situation that I know well. A vice president who has served faithfully for 40 years in the same context is retiring on June 30. He appointed an interim director of one of the departments he supervises, after a search yielded no permanent leader. It turns out that the interim director is a favorite of the retiring leader. Unfortunately she is just not qualified to lead the department. The permanent leader will have a major clean-up job to do after this interim period.
     So what causes leaders to govern over their own graves? From my own experience stepping out of leadership roles as a director and senior pastor, here are four reasons:
1. The leader fears becoming redundant. The fact that the organization will continue on without the leader can be a harrowing experience for a person. The need to be needed is sometimes overwhelming. 
2. The leader wants to ensure his legacy. There is much to applaud in this motivation. When a leader pours his heart and soul into a cause he rightfully wants to know that the impact of the organization will last for the longer term.
3. The leader does not know how to use power appropriately. For the leader who is moving on he knows that he only has a limited amount of time to exercise (wield) power. Haley Barbour knew this and pardoned criminals. Bad idea! Leaders need to give up power gradually as they transition out, rather than holding onto power until the last minute.
4. The leader needs to have a life beyond the organization. I faced a personal crisis in 2005 when I left a great position pastoring a church in Amsterdam. Looking back on it, I realize that my identity was too wrapped up in a title and status. I needed to learn to get on with life beyond that role. Leaders do well when their identity is found in something (for me it is faith in Jesus) other than their leadership role. Otherwise we are apt to govern over our own grave and hold on to the very last moment.