Let Go of Power and Live

We live in a day that is not so different than any previous day. We want power because power is the way the world seems to work. Power can come in many forms.

  • Power can be athletic power. Not just strength athletes have. But the notoriety that comes with it. Pictures all over the sports page. Endorsement deals. Billboards with their faces on it.
  • Power can be gained by good looks. Some are powerful in this world simply because they are beautiful or handsome. It’s a burden I’ve had to carry since birth.
  • Power can be yours if you are intelligent. Einstein was not known for his looks or athletic ability. But his gray matter mattered.
  • Power can come to the famous. With the growth of social media and reality TV some are famous for just being famous. They don’t have to contribute much of anything to society other than a tweet about where they are eating for lunch.
  • And power is in the hands of the rich. If you can fund your own political race you can run for president. You can get noticed.

That’s the way the world works. Unfortunately, that’s the way the church in America has worked too. It thinks:

  • “If we can just get our athletes to speak up for God, then we will look powerful.” Don’t believe me? Would you rather sit down with a refugee who has faith or with Tim Tebow?
  • “If our preachers and staff look healthy and have megawatt smiles we can attract more people.” Churches would never admit it, but look at staff pages on the web. Some try to outdo each other in looking good and witty and fun.
  • We think: “If we can be the ones who have the Scriptures all figured out and have all the right answers then power is ours.” Some position themselves as the ones who understand the Scriptures the best and are here to uphold the truth.
  • “If our leaders are known on the speaking circuit or have authored books or released a CD then we feel much better about ourselves.”

We see the desire for power most when we look at our American politics. The Christian base gets nervous if someone who does not fit into the Christian mold appears to be the front runner. Fear sets in and hope fades. When it does we want to grab any power we can.

Power is the way of the world. And we want it.

Jesus says the way of his kingdom involves sacrifice. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

When Jesus talks about “whoever loses his life” he meant die. Dying does not look powerful. Jesus did not look like he was the one in power as he carried his cross to Golgotha. The Roman government looked powerful. The religious system of his day looked powerful.

But Jesus practiced what he taught. He denied himself and lost his life for the sake of the kingdom. And you know how the story ended. After three days he rose. His lost life was “found.” And last time I checked his kingdom is still going strong.

Maybe we’ve got this whole “power” thing backwards. The church has always excelled when it was in the margins. Whenever it looks like it has power in the world’s sense it usually loses its way.

But when the church is depleted of the world’s kind of power it looks to the source of ultimate power. And according to Jesus that power is found in sacrificial love.

You won’t find your life by holding onto it. Let go today and live.

Question: How can you exhibit sacrificial love today?


Slow Food for a Fast Life

A McDonald’s franchise was coming to Rome in 1986, adjacent to the Spanish Steps in Piazza di Spagna.  Italian journalist Carlo Petrini was outraged so he helped organize a demonstration.    Instead of waving signs they brought a big bowl of penne pasta, dished it out to the crowd, and ate together at the Spanish Steps.  Their rallying cry was “We don’t want fast food.  We want slow food!”

They lost that battle but they may have won the war.  From there the Slow Food Movement began.  In their manifesto they proclaim: “We are enslaved by speed and have all succumbed to the same insidious virus: Fast Life, which disrupts our habits, pervades the privacy of our homes and forces us to eat Fast Foods… A firm defense of quiet material pleasure is the only way to oppose the universal folly of Fast Life…”  The concept of conviviality is the heart of the Slow Food movement: taking pleasure in the processes of cooking, eating, and sharing meals with others.

There’s something that happens when people slow down, gather around a table, and spend an evening together.  It’s something that’s missing from our fast food way of life.  Our modern day way of eating has created the franchise where our expectations are that a Big Mac in Rome will taste the same as one in Reno.

Even churches have joined in. The evangelical world has followed the franchise model: grow, expand and then build another place that looks just like the original.  Even the preacher is the same, streamed live in each venue. In one article discussing this approach one church leader said, “We do the same things [the] same way you would do at Starbucks or a McDonald’s or a brand name that works.”[1]

We have to wonder if this is what Jesus had in mind when he spoke the words of what we call The Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Jesus did not point us to the successful businesses of the world to emulate.  He gave us himself.  He is with us.  How he is with us is his plan for how we are to make disciples. If anything is to be franchised, this is it.

Jesus had a routine of talk, task, and table time with his disciples.  In his talk he gave his disciples teaching on how to live in the kingdom of God.  Then he would send them out to practice or perform tasks.

But he didn’t stop there.  He would spend table time with his disciples to debrief what had happened when they practiced the life of the kingdom.  Sometimes they did not do too well.  One time they were unable to heal a father’s son.  Another time they had no clue how to feed a crowd of five thousand.

Then other times things went well.  When the seventy returned to Jesus they were overjoyed because “even the demons are subject to us in your name!”  Jesus spent a lot of his time around tables eating with his friends and discussing life.  And that is part of disciple making.  His culture knew how to slow down and relate to one another.  It happened around slow food and tables.

The church should serve up something nutritious.  Its menu should include Jesus talk, Jesus tasks, and a lot of slow table time with him and his friends.

His pattern is the only thing worth franchising.

Question: How can the idea of “slow food” change the way you serve the world around you?


[1] http://timmybrister.com/2005/08/franchising-church-the-latest-greatest-trend-of-the-megachurch-movement/

Find More Time by Giving Less Time Away

“How do you know who to help and who not to get involved with?”

I asked that question to a spiritual mentor when I was in college. I had gone to Miami to take part in an internship. That day I was out visiting people with one of the mentors in the program. The church was not huge but big enough that—being on staff—he had many people wanting some of his time.

Very few people needed my time but I figured someday they might. So I asked.

Maybe you’ve asked the same. Depending on your season of life you possibly have a number of people vying for your attention. A spouse. A child or two. A boss. Co-workers. Places where you volunteer. Friends. Extended family.

The list could go on. And each of these people often want a piece of your time.

On top of that you have your work to do. You have the yard to keep up. You have things around the house that need to be fixed or replaced. Where do you find the time for everything?

The answer is you find more time when you give less of it away. And you know how to give less of it away when you get still and focus on the important.

Often we say “yes” to too much because in saying “yes” we feel needed, we feel important, and we feel more useful. But we can also wind up feeling used and taken advantage of and tired.

John Maxwell has said “Learn to say ‘no’ to the good so you can ‘yes’ to the best.” And that’s similar to what my mentor taught me. He said, “I always have three people that, if they were to call and need me, I’ll say ‘yes’ to no matter what. Sometimes with others I may have to say ‘no’ because I’m doing something else that I have a commitment to do.”

I took his advice and follow it to this day. Even Jesus focused on a few. He had the Twelve. Out of those he was closer to three: Peter, James, and John. And John was closest of all. If he had to limit who he could give his time to then it’s a safe bet we need to also.

Only when you know what to say “yes” to you will know what to say “no” to. And when you figure that out you’ll have all the time you need to do the things you need to do.

Create a Circle of Safety for Trust and Cooperation

Simon Sinek is one of the TED Talk speakers I want to hear every time he pops up again on the scene. He has great insights and backs it up with his research and stories.

In his latest talk he discusses how and why good leaders make you feel safe. Don’t you want to feel safe? As he points out, there is quite a bit of danger in our worlds. There are many things that can happen to impact us in a negative way.

So when it comes to leaders what we want are leaders who create an environment that make us feel safe. Sinek talks about the “Circle of Safety” a good leader creates. There may be danger all around but inside the environment that the leader has created for the organization there is safety.

And when there is safety the byproduct is trust and cooperation. This is why some companies are able to do exceedingly well while others—faced with the same dangers around them—falter and fail.

One example he cites is that of Bob Chapman of Barry-Wehmiller Companies. In the economic strain of 2008 their company lost 30% of their orders overnight. When the Board got together to decide what to do Bob refused layoffs. As Sinek says, “He doesn’t believe in head counts but in heart counts.”

Their solution? Everyone would take at least four weeks of unpaid vacation. Bob told their employees that “all should suffer a little rather than any suffer a lot.” The company saved $20 million and kept their people safe.

People will do extraordinary things when they are in a safe environment and they know their leaders care for them.

Jesus modeled the same principle. He created a place of inclusion. A place where people could be open and authentic without feeling guilt or shame. And yet he inspired followers then and followers now to be better people. Dangers? Yes, they still exist. But he led the way and demonstrated the ultimate creation of safety: the way to eternal life.

You can lead from whatever position you are in. If you are a parent, how are you creating a safe environment for your family? If you lead at your workplace, do people under your supervision feel they can make mistakes but have room to learn and grow from them?

The Circle of Safety. You will know you have created that environment when people start trusting and cooperating and saying the reason they are going the extra mile for you is that you would have done it for them.

Question: Where have you experienced a “Circle of Safety”?


Steps Towards Reconciliation in Relational Issues

Relational issues are a part of life. Learning how to work through them is something worth mastering. In a course I am taking part in that moves individuals and groups towards transformation, we took part in an exercise using a rubber band. We each had one and was asked to put one end around one thumb and the other around the other thumb. Then pull.

Other than being fun (when was the last time as an adult you were told to play with a rubber band?) it served as a memorable illustration. When you pull the band tension is created. We envisioned one side of the band being “current reality” and the other side being the “preferred future.” The space in-between, the tension, was labeled “potential energy.”

In relationships we often feel tension. Hopefully, if the relationship is important to us, the preferred future is peace and harmony. But even in the best of relationships the current reality will sometimes be described as broken, misunderstood, upset…you fill in the word.

When the current reality does not match the preferred future and we find a gap in-between we often withdraw. We do that because of anxiety and fear over having some kind of confrontation to mend the relationship.

One of our coaches made a comment that went something like this: “Our desire for the preferred future we envision has to outweigh the fear we have around having a conversation about the issue.” That’s worth letting sink in.

When we have relational issues and we decide to withdraw instead of facing it head on we are in essence telling the other person that they really don’t matter that much in our lives. And, whether we realize it or not, we are telling ourselves we will settle for less in life.

How can you overcome staying in current reality when it’s not what you prefer? Here are some ideas:

  • Triangle. You read that right. You’ve probably been told it’s a bad thing to talk to someone else about the issue if you haven’t already talked to the person you’re having trouble with. Going straight to the person is usually the best thing to do if you’ve learned how to handle relational conflict. But if not, another person you can trust can help you process and then move towards that person. A healthy triangle will do just that. They won’t merely listen to you talk about the other person. They will help you see yourself in the process and then hold you accountable for going to that person. And that’s the next idea…
  • Find accountability. If you’re having trouble making the call or sending a text or e-mail to arrange a meeting to share your feelings then have someone hold you accountable for it. There’s nothing like knowing a friend or a coach is going to ask, “Have you set up a meeting yet?” to get you moving.
  • Listen deeply. When you do meet with the other person make sure you don’t rush in with both barrels blazing. Listen first. Listen long. Seek first to understand before being understood.
  • Stick to this outline in your conversation: tell them what it is you deeply enjoy about them as a person, tell them the good you see in them, and then—only then—begin to share what you perceive is the problem. You may be surprised that what you thought was a problem wasn’t. And you may find the other person very willing to work with you to repair the relationship.
  • Finally, make a quick connection with that person again within 24 hours. Don’t rehash. Just tell them you are happy they took the time to meet with you and reassure them that their relationship is valuable to you.

Many times this will take care of the issue. Occasionally it won’t. Some things are out of your control. When they are, remember what the apostle Paul said: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

Face your fears today. Seek reconciliation. Have courage. Your preferred future may only be a phone call away.

Question: Is there a relationship you can work towards cleaning up today?

Increase Your Professional Productivity: Five Goals by the Fifth of Each Month in 2015

You’ve been through the dreaded performance reviews. In January of the previous year you listed your goals for the year. You filed them away and gave a copy to your manager who filed them away. Both of you may have dreamed of the impact your fulfillment of your goals would have on your organization.

Then the year happened. Weekly deadlines. Urgent tasks. Non-important diversions. Suddenly the year had flown by and you get a notice that it’s time for your “year-end review.”

You think, “Yikes! Where did I file my goals?”

Your manager thinks, “Yikes! Where did I file their goals?”

You both meet, have a chat, cross the meeting off your To-Do lists, and gear up for another round in the New Year. And nothing consequential has happened.

I’ve been on both ends of the process. I’ve written goals that I thought were meaningful only to forget about them in the pile of work, family fun, and crises that happen. I’ve received goals that may or may not have been very meaningful only to not really know what to do with them by the end of the year.

Want to change all that? You can. In his book Finally! Performance Assessment that Works: Big Five Performance Management Roger Ferguson outlines a simple but effective and proven way of realizing more productivity in your workplace.

Here’s how it works:

  • At the first of the month you write down your five highest priorities you want to accomplish that month.
  • You also review the five most significant accomplishments from the previous month (things you wrote the previous month to see how you did).
  • Do this by the fifth of each month.
  • Then you send those in to your manager or the person to whom you report.

That’s it. It keeps your goals fresh and current. It keeps your goals in sight. And if you start getting off-course it isn’t a year until you review them again.

What if your organization doesn’t follow this management process? No worries. Can you imagine the reaction of a manager or employer that has such a proactive employee that these are sent on a monthly basis unrequested? I can’t imagine anyone not being inspired by this initiative.

You can try this at home too. In addition to your five professional goals you can have five personal goals and five relational goals. But you will need to share those with someone who can help you review them each month.

Resolve to add this to your work routine this year. It will keep you on track, be easy to remember, and by the end of the year you will have a record of all you have accomplished.

And you may have no need of a “year-end review” in December.

Question: Why not start now? What are five priorities you want to accomplish at work in January of 2015?

When You Can’t Do Everything Do Something

Thirty years ago World hunger became headline news in the ’80’s with “Do They Know Its Christmas Time” and “We Are the World.” I remember hearing people say things like, “Well, if those people would just work . . . ” And it’s true, some people in America and in Third World countries are lazy and need to get off their backsides and do something.

But then I took a trip to Haiti. And I learned that some people only had water to drink that was unclean and full of parasites. And parasites would weaken their bodies to where they had no energy or strength. Or even if they did work they still had little food-maybe one meal a day-and the lack of protein in their diets meant a lack of strength in their muscles.

One day I was walking with our Haitian translator through Cap Haitien. At a small shack there was a scrawny cat tied by a thin rope to a post. I asked him why the cat would be tied like that and he said, “That’s their supper and they do not want it to run away.”

A lot of what we think about the poor is wrong.

In many Third World countries the average income equals what you or I spend on one iPhone. Why is that? In the introduction to Jeffrey Sachs’ The End of Poverty U2’s frontman Bono said, “We can be the generation that no longer accepts that an accident of latitude determines whether a child lives or dies-but will we be that generation?”

“An accident of latitude.” Oftentimes the only difference between you and me and the poor is where we were born or to what family we were born into. And God wants us to help. His heart for the poor is heard clearly in Jesus’ sermon in his hometown synagogue:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

Jesus’ heart beats for the marginalized in our world. And he would have us take steps to help. It’s a big challenge. But as Mother Theresa said, “We can do no great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

Find something small to do this Christmas. Do it with love. And see if you can’t change a small corner of our world.

Question: How can you help the marginalized of the world this Christmas?

Un-Cocoon & Make a Difference

I have to admit I bought one. I needed a visual for a message I was giving about getting out of our comfort zone. So I wanted something that would visually depict being comfortable. So I got one. I got a new Snuggie©. Why do you laugh? Blankets are O.K. but they can slip and slide. And when you “reach for the phone your arms can now stay covered.”

I have to admit I . . . I like my Snuggie©. Once inside I feel as if I am hiding from the harsh world outside. Inside my Snuggie© there is no poverty. There are no orphans. I don’t have to think about homeless people. I can just go home and cocoon.

What would we do without our cocoons? You have one too. It may not be a Snuggie©. It may be your man-cave or your shopping sprees or your vacations. We feel a need to get away from the world and so we cocoon.

Instead of cocooning Jesus issued this challenge to regular people just before he ascended into heaven: “. . . you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Before this challenge they were loading trucks, coaching soccer, stocking shelves at the HEB. They were raising their families and making an honest day’s work and there is no evidence that Jesus selected them because they were nicer or smarter than the guy next door.

His challenge seemed big to those 120 disciples huddled in that Upper Room (Acts 1). But by chapter 17 of Acts it is being said of them that “they have turned the world upside down.”

How did it happen? It happened because they said “yes” to the challenge Jesus issued. They said “yes” when others simply moved on.

Wouldn’t it be great if Jesus’ disciples said “yes” today? You see, Jesus loves people who love their neighbors (their Jerusalem). Jesus loves people who love their cities (their Judea and Samaria). And he loves those who have a vision for the “ends of the earth.” He loves people who pray for places they may never go, who help those they may never meet.

Honestly, most days I’d rather curl up in my Snuggie© and cocoon. But following Jesus makes me think it would be better to give my Snuggie© to someone who is cold and needs some warmth. That’s what Jesus would do.

(Besides, I figured out I can just wear my robe backwards and get the same effect.)

Question: Where do you need to “un-cocoon” and make an impact in your world?

This is Any Leader’s Main Task

In 1939 the dark clouds of World War II were hanging over Great Britain. The British government resurrected a department called the Ministry of Information and charged them with the task of propaganda and publicity during the war. The MOI was given the assignment of designing three posters that would build morale throughout the country during the testing times that lay ahead.

They were told to use a “special and handsome typeface” that would be difficult for their enemies to counterfeit.14 The background was to be a bold color. And the only image on the posters was to be the crown of King George VI.

The first two were readied quickly and distributed in September of 1939. The first poster said, “Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution will Bring Us Victory.” 800,000 were printed. The second poster read, “Freedom Is In Peril. Defend It With All Your Might.” 400,000 were printed.

These two were posted all over the country: in public transport, notice boards, public shops, and billboards. The hope was that the messages would bring out the duty of the individual citizen in stressful times.

But the third poster, of which two and a half million were printed, never got circulated. It was to be issued only in the event that Germany invaded Great Britain. Since that event never occurred the poster was not seen in public. At least not for about sixty years.

The British leaders devised messages to prepare their people to handle anxiety producing times. It carried London through fifty-seven consecutive nights of bombing.

And so did the British as they were pulled into World War II. The first two posters helped people understand their role in victory and their role in defending their freedom. But the third poster was never issued because Germany never invaded Great Britain. Most that had been made were burned or trashed at the end of the war. That’s why few people had seen or remembered the third poster.

Until one turned up in 2000. Stuart and Mary Manley owned Barter Books in Northumberland in the northeast corner of England. They had bought a number of boxes of books at an auction. Stuart was rummaging through a box of old books and found something folded up in the box.

When he straightened it out he found a poster. Red background. Crown on top. The only words were these: Keep Calm and Carry On.

The Manley’s framed the poster, displayed it at their bookstores, and people started asking for copies. Now you find the message on T-shirts, coffee mugs, and bumper stickers.

The British leaders were strong leaders. They knew that the main job of a leader is to be a calm presence.

Just like Jesus in the midst of a storm on the Sea of Galilee, you can help bring calm to the anxious people around you. Practice “calming” starting today by:

  • Becoming more aware of your own anxiety.
  • Monitor your thinking in moments of anxiety.
  • Manage your feelings.
  • Take a deep breath and slow your pace.

You can be calm in your world today. Practice calmness. Then carry on.

The One Thing You Can’t Lead Without

I had one of those mornings today. My calendar was planned out and I was following it closely.

But fifteen minutes into a staff meeting I got a call from the person I was to have lunch with. The lunch started sooner than I understood and I had to leave the staff meeting early. And I’m the one who had called the meeting.

Maybe you’re thinking, “What’s the big deal? Things happen.” And that thinking may be one of your problems as a leader.  Here’s why.

Doing what you say you will do when you say you’ll do it and in the way you said you were going to do it has to do with integrity. Integrity is who you are. I remember working out in a weight room a number of years ago. On the wall were motivational posters. The one that stuck with me was the one that read: “You are who you are when no one’s looking.” I might co-opt that phrase and say instead, “You are who you are by how you honor your word.”

A training process I am involved in—along with others from my church—called Compass Initiative (part of the Faithwalking Community) is helping me understand that there is a difference between keeping your word and honoring your word. You won’t always keep your word. You will give your word to something and then forget or, yes, at times “things happen” and you just can’t follow through. But you can honor your word.

So what do you do when you break your word but want to honor your word? Here are five steps we are learning that allow us to live with integrity.

  • Go to those who were impacted by the broken promise.
  • Acknowledge the broken promise.
  • Ask how that broken promise has impacted that person. Listen to what they have to say. Really listen.
  • Do what you need to do to make things right. After you feel the “sting” from how your broken promise has impacted them you can offer a sincere apology.
  • Re-promise with them and work to keep that promise.

If you say you’ll be on time, be on time. If you say you’ll show up for your kid’s game, be there. If you promise your spouse a weekend away, do it. If you say you’ll get a project done by a specific date, get it done.

And when you don’t, follow these five steps until you master them. If you think you live in integrity all the time start paying attention to your life. You’ll probably discover you don’t. But you can.

You’re probably wondering what I did with the staff meeting. I apologized and asked the other staff how it made them feel. They were gracious. (Maybe relieved that they could get on to something else!) We have staff meetings every week. But in other areas the consequence of broken integrity can be costly.

Jesus said, “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.’ Learn to do that. You have to if you want to lead well.

Question: Is there any place in your life today where you have broken your word? If so, follow these steps and honor your word today.