We can make our plans…

img_20170218_145649665Last week, I attended the memorial service of Chuck Miller, friend and colleague of mine with The Leadership Institute.  Anyone who knew Chuck knew him for his ability to turn any moment into a lesson that would draw us into further dependence on Jesus.  It’s Chuck that brought home the lesson of Pitcher / Cup, Saucer / Plate, the idea that we must first remember that we are God’s people before we go and do His work (see an article I co-wrote about this very topic utilizing Chuck’s metaphor).

It would be an understatement to say that the events around my attending of Chuck’s service would be a training ground for this very concept.  I had hoped to fly into southern California for the service and fly back to northern California that night.  I’ve done a quick turnaround trip like that before, so why not again?   I left my home in the wee hours of the morning for one of Sacramento’s first flights into Orange County’s Santa Ana Airport.

Arrival.  A quick breakfast.  And news that my flight home was cancelled.

Options were standby on very full flights out of other LA airports that night or flying confirmed out of Orange County the next morning.  Confirmed is better than standby, particularly when you could extend your car rental an extra day.  Even more so when your parents were excited to have you over for dinner, and you could catch up with your grandma, aunt and uncle who were coming, too.  A perfect reminder that I am a person of God before I go do His work, enjoying meaningful conversations with those whom I love.

The next morning, in preparing to get to the airport, I heard that my flight was delayed yet another 3 hours.

Another pot of coffee made.

And more unhurried interaction with my parents.  Sitting and talking just the three of us as we are often unable to do so.  Finally on my flight, a fellow passenger and I agreed that the delays God gives us are opportunities to look for what He is doing and calling us to.

Driving home, my phone alerted me to one more delay, a 90-minute traffic jam.  The I-5 corridor between Sacramento to the Redding area where I live had flooded the little town of Willows, nearly shutting down both northbound and southbound sides of the highway.

Yet this slowing provided opportunities to get out of the car and meet the man in front of me from Lodoga (real place) or the woman trying to get to Chico (thanks, lady, for the piece of gum!), and to enjoy the surreal scenes of almond groves flooded with water (pictured, above) and rice paddies all green with beautiful blue sky.  As I was stuck there in my car, it was yet another reminder—a retreat—that I am God’s person before I am His agent.

While not at first glance, my two days of travel really was a retreat.  A time of interacting with the people and the Person I love, of slowing down, and of taking time to remember what is and who are really important.  Of remembering that even in our own plans, it’s the Lord Who directs them (Proverbs 16:9).

Chuck Miller

Thanks, Chuck, for the reminder, and for the life you lived with this mindset always at the forefront.

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How Deep the Father’s Love for Us

dad and daughter cuddling on couchLike her parents, my oldest daughter is more on the introvertive side.  Sure, we can host crowds of people, or invite friends over, but we find our energy reprovisioned in a still and quiet house, being able to rest, read, pray and relax.

So it was appropriate after a busy season of hosting that my oldest daughter simply wanted to cuddle on the couch.  Just to be close and to rest.  In the quiet.  No words.  Just rest.  As I enfolded my arms around her, it occurred to me the benefit of this simple process.  I simply held her, stroking her hair by her face, letting her know she was loved. Home.  Safe.  And accepted, just as she was.  There was not any need for performance here.  No striving to earn either my love or her ability to come near.

I was struck with the similarity of this picture with my daughter and my relationship with my Heavenly Father.  God, too, wants me just to be with Him, to pause from the busyness of the day (days?!) so that He can remind me that I, too, am loved, am accepted just as I am without any need for performance.  His love for me is “deep, vast beyond all measure,” as the hymn says, powerful enough that in God’s giving His only Son, it brings many a wretch His treasure, bringing many sons to glory.

Each of us—my daughter, you and I—are learning these truths, that “because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions, for it is by grace we have been saved.  And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2).  May this reality of ours become more and more accepted, noticed and lived in each day.

Leading by Adding Value to Others

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Next month, I’ll reach the seven years of employment mark with The Leadership Institute.  If there’s a tenet of our ministry that I’ve appreciated the most over the years, it’s the idea that all of us, whether we like it or not, are leaders.  Because all of us have some area of influence over others.

This idea is so important because we often forget that we do indeed influence others, even when we’re not meaning to.  We are each in a place of leading.  It’s just a matter of whether we want to deliberately set out to do it right or not.

I appreciated hearing from bestselling author, coach, and speaker John C. Maxwell (pictured, above) at this summer’s Global Leadership Summit on this very topic, on what he called The One Thing to Get Right.

What’s the “one thing”?

It’s remembering our position as leaders.  It’s remembering, in Maxwell’s words, that “leaders lift.  But when the leadership is bad, everything falls.”

And we’ve all seen it.  We’ve seen what happens when leaders forget to lift.  We’ve even done it.  The rest of the team feels down.  Discouraged.  Left out.  Not a good thing!  So, how do we move into a position of lifting with our God-given sphere so that you can move to where God is calling your team?

Maxwell encourages us to intentionally add value to people.  Each day and every day.  Sit in their shoes.  Find out what is important from their perspective.  Be consistent and willfully caring of those in your charge.

There are three questions that followers want to know from their leaders:

  • “Do you like me?” which looks to our care and compassion
  • “Can you help me?” which looks to our competence
  • “Can I trust you?” which looks to our character

Taking a look at the news today, we can easily see that we are in a vacuum of leadership.  People ask these three questions, directly and indirectly, as they meet new friends at church, or a new colleague or boss in a job, or as they size up political candidates.

Clearly, it is a hard journey to be a wise and valued leader.  But it’s not impossible.

Try these five things Maxwell recommended that we can do each day to add value to people:

  1. Value people.  Pause for a moment and reflect on how you value people.  Do your colleagues know how you value them?  Have you verbalized it?
  2. Think of ways to add value to people. As you look toward your day today, think about who you will see.  Prayerfully list 2 or 3 ways you can add value to them today.
  3. Look for ways to add value to people. Don’t just think about it, do it!
  4. Go from knowing how to add value to doing it.  At the end of the day, ask yourself how you did to add value to people that day.
  5. Encourage others to add value to people.  Are you helping create a culture at home, at church and / or at work where all are valued, not just those you interact with closely?

Being intentional in our leadership is difficult, but in adding value to others, we can take the first step in helping our places of influence thrive.  And as we work toward bringing value to others, we create a more cohesive team in the process.

Calm in the Midst of…a Move

With all of our family’s belongings behind me, I found myself last month seated in a six-ton U-Haul truck.  We were two hours behind schedule, moving from what was home for the last year. And our unloading crew was still an hour west down California’s Interstate 10 Freeway.

Had I taken a moment to consider it, I might have noticed that some of my sweating that day wasn’t just from lugging boxes, scribbled in black Sharpie.  Perhaps some of that sweat was from wondering how many members of our church family would still be waiting on the other end to help us unload this beast of a vehicle.

Anxiety.  That gracious reminder of my need for God.

And so as I barreled down the highway–as much barreling as one can do in a moving van that you can’t really floor–I enjoyed the opportunity for a moment of calm, with my three-year-old riding shotgun (thanks, no airbags!).  And it occurred to me that this was her first moment sitting in the front seat.  As we were driving, I began to describe to her these things on the road that she had never been able to see before while seated behind the headrests in the back seat!  She was enthralled.  And after five minutes of conversation, nap ensued and the calm continued.

It was during this moment that God entered in.  More specifically, my soul recognized the God that had never left.  And in having all my limbs and extremities still intact at the halfway point of the move, it was an opportunity to praise God for His goodness.  For his provision.  For his constant care and concern.

And sure enough, friends and family met us in droves (so it seemed) to help us unpack.  Even a few friends were there that I had just called earlier that day to help us.  It was a reminder of my constant call to cast all my cares upon Him, for He cares for me.  And for you, it’s the same.  May each of us remember this ever-constant truth of God the Father each and every day.

Who Brings You Rain?

N.B.: I wanted to share with you this timely post from my friend, Ty Hoad. May it be as meaningful to you as it was to me.

Like some of you, my family has been praying for rain here in Southern California for a while now.

For those of you unaware, California is in the midst of the worst drought we’ve faced in 100 years.

After months of praying, it rained Saturday night.

Twice.

And then again on Sunday morning.

Did I ever rejoice in the rain!

Anyone who can remember the last time we had measurable precipitation in August in Southern California can attest:

It doesn’t just happen.

It truly was a miraculous answer to prayer!

Standing at the end of my driveway on Saturday night in bare feet and head back letting the warm drops spill on my face, it was hard to tell my tears from the rain.

The rain was a promise from my Heavenly Father, you see.

No, I do not think this weeks’ rain will, nor was meant to, end our drought.

I believe it was meant to encourage us in the midst of it.

God’s presence is like that sometimes.

He allows us to go through the hard, cracked, challenging, dry spiritual seasons — not to be cruel, or to cause suffering and loss (though sometimes an amount of loss is necessary) — to bring us to a place to get our attention.

To bring into focus the things He wants us to see in the way He sees them.

Drought is an interesting metaphor for the human heart.

Some I see around me have yet to change their patterns of consumption of water at all even though they are aware there is very little usable water available. In similar fashion, so many friends of mine refuse to accept the Truth about God because it might mean they’d have to be honest about the quality and quantity of real living resources in their own lives…

Without God, my heart and own resources look so much like the reservoirs I see on TV with no water left in them: Dry, cracked and caked with yesterday’s residuals and nothing much to expect tomorrow.

Supposing the rains did come, I’d live with the knowledge that at the depth of my own reservoir, it does eventually come to an end having no spring or “source” to replenish it.

I’ve tried to live life on my own terms and while materially I did “okay,” without a natural spring, there wasn’t much to depend on in times of drought.

There wasn’t much to hope for past the pool I could draw from.

So, like my friends who have yet to change their water usage in the midst of this season, I would pretend not to care or trouble myself with the actual condition of my heart… And just keep on keeping on… Spraying down the walk and watering my lawn…making sure everything looked good to the passers by… and “Hoping” there would always be rain — even when it wasn’t “supposed” to fall… I find it interesting that a life without God produces the same need as a life with God: reliance upon Him to deliver what is necessary even though we don’t deserve it.

So what’s the difference?

Posture and attitude.

We can choose to believe everything is well and good, and we’re doing it in our own strength and power…

or we can choose to acknowledge Who it is that really sends the rain.

I, for one, have turned my eyes and hopes to Heaven.

Not just for the hope of ending the drought in California, but for the drought in the hearts of all humanity as well.

You?

Glory Rises

gloryrisesFor years, their fathers had only been able to dream of such a thing.

And now, the Israelites had been released from their Babylonian captors.  Exile was over and the opportunity before them to rebuild the Kingdom had arrived.  What would it look like for this motley crew to rebuild the Israelite kingdom after their 70-year absence?  What obstacles would come their way?

Rebuilding would take time, for sure.  It would require leadership.  Courage.  Trust.  And not just any trust, but a trust in God’s sovereignty differently than what was required during exile.  It would take a different ethos than they had ever before understood or attempted.

This is what faced the prophet Isaiah as he led this reforged community in Jerusalem.  You can imagine the hope provided in the words of the Lord at this time:

Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn (Isaiah 60:1-3).

Hadn’t this been the hope and dream of the Israelites for generations?  Would God allow this to finally come into being?  That His glory would rise and appear over them?  That nations would seek out the Jewish people and want to know who God was, as the Queen of Sheba had before?

And yet, imagining myself in this situation for a moment, how utterly unbelievable.  In the words of King David, “such knowledge is too wonderful for me” (Psalm 139:6).  No, had I been alive in those days, it would be far easier to start living in such a way that would protect me from ever breaking God’s law and keep another exile from happening again.  This mindset kept those with it from seeing God moving in each day, and it can easily creep in for us some 2,500 years later.

Instead, what Isaiah called the Israelites to, and us by extension, is a radically different way of viewing the world.  It isn’t about survival or simply an awakening to one’s own inability to heed God’s call.  Rather, it is from a place of trust that the Lord calls His people—including us today—to look to Him for what He calls us.

Daily.

Moment by moment.

Theologian Dallas Willard said that “Jesus is available to trust and what you need to do is to trust Jesus.”  As I live in this truth more and more, then I will “begin to realize how great Jesus is and that He is actually running the World and that the Cosmos is under His charge. So then, the invitation is to become involved as a disciple.”  Our salvation is “is participating in the life that Jesus is now living on Earth,” or as Isaiah put it, to see the “glory of the Lord [that] rises over you” and to anticipate it in each waking moment.

Our role is to find where God is at work.  Willard continues, “a picture of a life lived in the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of God is God in action. It’s God reigning. I often say it’s where what God wants done is done. Now all that comes together and you get a coherent picture of what it means to trust Jesus, enter the Kingdom, be saved and live by Grace.   Our most critical need of this hour may well be that the Church should be brought back from her long Babylonian captivity, and the name of God be Glorified in her again, as of old.”  And we do this through seeking His glory.

I’m renaming this blog with this idea in mind, that we’re not only enjoying the surface—as this blog has been previously been called—but we’re also seeking, and seeing, His glory rise. It is a call to not only hear God’s words but to live them out them also (James 1:22).

It is a call to pause and reflect on the way you have seen God’s glory at work.  Where did He reveal Himself to be bigger than us today?  Where is He calling you to rely on Him more fully?  And to what is He calling you that requires a more radical measure of relinquishing your perceived control over your piece of the world?

For me, in this present moment, these questions once again involve places of security—places of home and of vocation—for my family.  We’re moving again with another job transition.  This mirror of my soul reflects back my own insecurity, anxiety and fears.  It requires me to confront my own lack of control, as well as desire to control things.  But I’m grateful for the countless believers before me who have gone through situations far worse than this.

So, wherever you are on life’s journey, would each of us take up this call to see God’s glory rise, and to honor Him in your response.

I’m glad to be on this road with you.

The Third Half

stormy-sea-waveLove does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  And now abide faith, hope love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.  (I Corinthians 13: 6-7, 13)

When I was a child, my family went to Mexico.  Puerto Vallarta.  Tropical breezes and sand.  Pacific waves and warm sun.  I went swimming in the ocean, careful of the larger than normal waves from a tropical storm some many miles offshore.  Truth be told, the waves were colossal.  And as a first-grader, this meant they were even bigger.  I went into the water and soon ended under it.  Head over heels, not knowing which way was up.  I caught myself on the sandy bottom, quick to pop my head up for a quick breath and only to be bowled over by the next wall of water….

I eventually got out of that water, but it took some time.  As I’ve thought over my past couple of months, I keep coming back to that trip to Mexico.  Life recently has been a topsy-turvy mess.  Soon after flying home from Kenya for a conference I spoke at in April, I found myself rushing my father-in-law to the hospital for what we thought was a heart attack.  Instead, it was cancer.  And right after that, a friend lost her daughter tragically.

Fear.  Pain.  Anxiety.  Grief.  Shock.  Malaise.  Sadness.  I’ve lived in all of these feelings during these past several weeks.  In my own life, I’ve had my shares of ups and downs in my life, but nothing like this.  I’ve not been impacted by the realities of brokenness as deeply as this before.  So, it’s lead to a bit of writer’s block.  A bit of questioning.  A bit of “Lord, what in the world is going on?”.

Counterreformer Ignatius of Loyola called believers to a view of life that would find God in all things, to see where He is working.  These months have required working deeply for this in this place of darkness.  Where is God working?  How can he be in the midst of all the pain, fear, anxiety and grief?

Some years ago in college, I was part of a choral group that put on a yearly show called The Third Half.  This third performance of the year was started many years previous because students wanted an official opportunity to perform musical pieces they themselves had chosen.   This “third half” is much like Paul’s words above about love.

Love, anchored beside her sisters of hope and faith, is that third component of the stuff of Christian living that will remain in the end, and it is the most important.  Love will be the principle that anchors me in the weeks ahead, of processing the shock of tragedy, and of chemotherapy appointments.  Rooted in our Lord Jesus Christ, love is what can provide me with the ability to be patient and kind, when I don’t want to be—and can’t.  Singer-songwriter, and part-time theologian, Rich Mullins sings about letting “love be the strength in your legs” because only then in “every footprint, will there be a drop of grace”.

I still don’t have all the answers on some of the events of these past few months.  Nor do I expect that I will any time soon, if ever.  But what I do know is that in the midst of the swirling tide of the ocean of my life, I am only, and have only, been sustained by a love that is much deeper than I recognize, more close than I can sense, and more ready to care than I can imagine.

Thanks be to God.