Hurricane Sandy Becomes Election Moderator

Election years are times of posturing, promoting, and promising.  Voters spend lots of time sifting through the verbal deluge for the truth, even from the most honest of candidates.  Attention spans and commercials are short, forcing candidates into sound-bite speeches and witty comebacks.  If you disagree, try fitting a clear foreign policy into 2 minutes.

Right.  Now you get it.

And then there’s Sandy, the “Frankenstorm” as some of my friends on Facebook have dubbed it.

Sandy roughly wrenches us back to reality.  Here is a collection of photos that will give you a small sense of the effect of the Frankenstorm as it hit the New York City area in particular.

My friend Rachel Shipp and her husband, Blake, lived through Katrina, and in their experience the American Red Cross was one of the most effective agencies responding to Katrina.  Here is a comment from her Facebook page regarding the Red Cross’ response.  Consider making a donation to Disaster Relief here.

Sandy has forced President Obama and former Governor Romney to step out of the verbal parade to deal with real life and hurting people.  Leadership is about helping people and making hard decisions, not about whether or not you can come up with a quick comeback to your opponent’s latest zinger.

Sandy has pulled presidential and leadership character out of the candidates better than any debate or roundtable could, and for that, I am grateful.

More importantly, however, let’s pray for and support those affected by Sandy and those who have lost loved ones throughout Sandy’s path.  Let’s also pray for God’s will to be done through the election.

The Holy Trinity of Relationships

We have all heard about the theology of the Trinity in evangelical Christianity.  Whether or not you support this foundational belief is not the focus of this blog.

Did you know, though, that there is another trinity in life?  I call it the holy trinity of relationships.

Humans, by nature, were made for connection.  The statement, “No man is an island,” is foundational in many ways, one being the fact that every person needs relationship in order to thrive.

Before we talk about the trinity, the three relationships you need to have in your life, let me say this.  Without a meaningful, grace-based relationship with God these other three will be insufficient.  While interpersonal relationships are critical, a relationship with God is absolutely essential.

I am talking about this subject not because I have a psychology degree (the LAST thing I want) or because I am a counselor or because I have my life figured out.  I have discovered these relationships are necessary for me to lead a fulfilled and overcoming life.  Throughout my divorce and difficult times in life one or more of these relationships sustained and encouraged me.

The Holy Trinity of Relationships

Close Friends

Everyone needs two or three close, intimate, know-everything-about-you friends.  I am talking about friends who support you through thick and thin, who listen more than they talk, who cry and mourn with you, and who celebrate as loudly as you do when something beautiful happens.  Close friends have to be truly selfless people.  The trick is that you have to be truly selfless in order to attract those kinds of people to yourself.

Throughout my separation and divorce one friend of mine (you know who you are) met with me for lunch every Thursday and just listened.  He had been a pastor for many years and had a lot of experience encouraging people, but he simply listened and spoke only when needed.  He even picked up the tab often because he knew I was short on money.  I am eternally grateful to this man who continues to be one of my closest friends even though we are a thousand miles apart.

Mentors

A mentor is someone familiar with your walk of life and who is about 10 years older than you.  They have been down the road you are walking and can speak wisdom into areas of life you are still discovering for yourself.

Around 10 years ago God brought a mentor into my life.  This man is about 10 years older than me and has been in worship ministry for many years.  He also has a doctorate in composition and understands personal struggle.  Throughout my ministry life and throughout my separation and divorce we have talked and collaborated and encouraged each other, and he has guided me in many decisions.  I am so grateful for him.

Mentors and close friends are hard to find, but most people agree that you need them.  The next relationship, however, can be much easier to find; this relationship requires a lot of humility, however.

Counselors

Many of us could benefit greatly from some time with a godly, encouraging, but strong counselor who can speak into areas of life we do not understand.  Seeing a counselor requires you to admit you need someone, however, and you have to invest financially.

Warning: Once you decide to see a counselor, you need to be willing to open every closet and corner of yourself for your time to be truly worthwhile.  Some see a counselor but hold back certain pieces of information.  In that case you might as well take your cash and light it on fire.  The counselor will only be able to provide moderately helpful information if you withhold a part of yourself from him.

I will admit that I have been reluctant to see a counselor at times.  I can say unequivocally, though, that my relationship with my counselor is possibly the most influential relationship I have had in my life aside from my family.  He has given me encouragement and challenge, grace and firmness, truth and compassion as I have needed it, and I am eternally grateful to him.

Every one of us needs to have close friends and mentors, and most of us would benefit from having a counselor as well.  I know I have.

What relationship are you missing in your life?  What are you going to do about it?

Taking a Brief Time Out

Today my father had major surgery. He is doing well, but I am too preoccupied with his situation to write right now.

I would appreciate your prayers for his speedy recovery, and I will be back Friday or Monday.

The Only Truly Good Debt

I used to believe there is such a thing as good financial debt.

For instance, the argument goes that student loans are good debt because they are an investment on the future and the interest rate is very low.  Mortgages are good debt because you are investing in a long-term payoff and in property.

Credit card debt, on the other hand, is bad debt because the interest rate is high and you are often buying things you do not need with money you do not have.  Car loans are bad debt because the vehicles depreciate in value so incredibly fast.  Drive it off the lot and you have lost $5K or more.

I no longer believe in that kind of good debt.

Debt is debt.  Proverbs 22:7 (ESV) says, “The borrower is the slave of the lender.”  I really do not want to be anyone’s slave.

I have been paying on debt since I was in college 20 years ago, and I am tired of it.  I want to be out of debt, and I am working steadily towards that goal.

That’s why I do not like that America owes $1,000,000,000 to China.  We are slaves to China for more money than entire towns make in a lifetime, and that is only 1/16th of the national debt.  If we are individually responsible for getting out of debt, then the nation should be doubly responsible.

I hate debt.

I do believe, however, that there is a type of debt that is good.  Romans 13:8a (AMP) says, “Keep out of debt and owe no man anything, except to love one another; . .”

The debt to love one another means three things:

  • We are expected to love and act lovingly towards each other.  Jesus said that the second greatest commandment is to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Treat your spouse, your kids, your neighbors, and your co-workers with the kind of deference and love you yourself want to receive.
  • We are expected to always love and act lovingly towards each other.  This is not the type of debt you can pay off.  We do not retire from loving each other.  Loving each other regardless of who “each other” might be is a life-long endeavor.
  • Any other kind of debt needs to be repaid.  If you owe money, you should pay it back.  If you owe someone an apology, you need to make that apology.

I have two take-away questions for you today:

  1. What kinds of debts do you owe, and how are you going to repay those debts?
  2. How can you show love to someone else today?

3 Truths About New Beginnings

OK, so it’s after 11 pm on Friday.  I’m tired and I really want to go to bed, but I have this thing about following through on commitments and I have committed to writing three times a week: Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  So here goes.

Recently I began a new position and I have been writing recently about beginning new things and growing a worship ministry.  Perhaps a little Friday retrospective is in order.

What truths have I learned about starting new things?

  1. There will be fabulous “head-in-the-cloud” times.  If you do not feel ecstatic about starting a new venture, ask yourself why you are doing it at all.  New things require enough of someone who is already psyched up.  If you are not pumped up about your new opportunity you are much more likely to crash and burn.
    1. Use these times to refuel your energy and your vision.
    2. While remaining practical use your fresh energy to scrutinize your path forward and make necessary improvements.
    3. Thank God and remain grateful for this beautiful moment in life.  Scripture says every good thing comes from God.
  2. There will be hard times.  For every up there is a down.  In other words, welcome to life as we know it.  If you are looking for an opportunity with no occasional down side, you will spend your life disappointed.  On the other hand, if you are in a situation where you are not experiencing occasional setbacks or challenges, I question your view of reality.
    1. Use these times to remember the fabulous times you have had.  Difficult times make the good ones even better.
    2. What can you learn from this difficulty?  You are ripe for learning when you are in a difficult place.
    3. Difficult times keep us humble and focused on the sovereignty, strength, and provision of God.  Instead of complaining about your situation, thank God that at least he knows what is going on and take comfort in that.
  3. It’s worth it.  Jesus says, “Consider the cost.”  Remember that every good thing is worth the sacrifice it takes.
    1. In order to be a good father you have to set your own needs aside as you care for your children.  The payoff is a healthy family.
    2. In order to be a good husband and partner you need to lead as a servant.  The payoff is a healthy relationship.
    3. In order to live debt-free you have to discipline yourself to live by a budget.  The payoff is a financially stress-free life where you have more money to give.
    4. In order to lead a ministry of any kind you have to take responsibility for hard decisions.  The payoff is seeing true growth in the lives of people.

This year has become the year of re-entry for me:

  • Re-entry into relationship
  • Re-entry into senior leadership
  • Re-entry into dependence on God

I am so blessed by what God has brought my way this year that the occasional challenges are gifts to embrace rather than mines to be avoided.  Challenges mean I am engaged and moving forward in life, and that’s the way I like it.

I would not change a thing right now.  That’s the truth.  God and life are truly good.

What have you learned this past week?

A Leader’s Two Best Friends

As I mentioned previously I recently began a new position as Interim Director of Worship at Covenant Life Church in Sarasota, FL.  This position is my first step back into senior level leadership since 2009, and while I am excited about what God is going to do, I also know I have challenges ahead of me.

As a result I have been spending a lot of time writing and thinking about what it takes to grow a worship ministry.  So far I have written about

In order to lead well, however, I am finding I need to have close friends.  These friends are not the financial officer of my church, the executive pastor, the senior pastor, or even the chairman of the elder board, although good relationships with these leaders are highly necessary.

I have written several times about my mistakes when I began a new position in 2010.  I plowed ahead with my agenda, pulling everyone with me.  When I finally began to listen to my volunteers I was able to make changes and avoid burning everyone out.  I would have done well to engage the help of two friends right from the start.

These two friends are Questions and Observation.

Questions

Making questions your friend means focusing on asking questions rather than making statements.  Questions do several things:

  • Invite interaction.  A good question fosters communication and collaborative effort.
  • Demonstrate humility.  Asking a question shows people you do not have it all figured out and you are willing to learn.
  • Unearth information.  Obviously, asking a question guarantees you will learn more about those around you.  Refusing to ask questions prevents you from truly understanding your surroundings.
  • Direct discussion.  Sometimes the best way to lead a discussion is to asking a carefully crafted question.
  • Create ownership.  If you engage a volunteer in conversation with a question, that volunteer will own the ensuing decision.

Observation

Observing people and systems reveals critical information you will not discover by reading the employee handbook or studying staff biographies.  Here are just a few benefits of observation:

  • Reveals hidden attitudes.  Body language comprises the majority of our communication.  Watching body language in a conversation gives a much better picture of what the other person is thinking and feeling.
  • Reveals unresolved issues.  Avoidance, for instance, can communicate unresolved tension or a lack of interdependence between separate ministries or departments. Other behaviors such as sarcasm, avoiding eye contact, or abrupt communication can also tell you that something is not right.
  • Reveals broken systems.  If I observe, for instance, that the song lyrics displayed on Sunday are not in the correct order, I discover that either I did not give the proper information to the projectionist, the projectionist was not at rehearsal to fine tune the lyrics, the projectionist messed up during the service, or I made a change from the stage and the projectionist was not able to follow.  That observation can lead to a discussion that will improve the flow of information and guarantee better projection on Sunday.
  • Reveals pain.  If you observe that a co-worker or volunteer is more subdued than usual, a good question can often lead to an encouraging discussion and even prayer.  Worship leaders need to be particularly observant of the people they are leading in worship in order to respond and lead more effectively during the service.  Many people are hurting and need to know they are not alone.
  • Shows that you are listening.  In order to observe you have to stop talking and listen.  I am amazed at what I hear and understand when I shut my mouth and listen.  People love a listener, as I am certain you do, too.
  • Reveals what is going well.  As a teacher I was often reminded to “Catch someone doing something right.”  This rule applies in leadership as well.  Catch your volunteers doing something right and congratulate them.  Smile and cheer when your choir shapes a phrase correctly.  Be a cheerleader for your volunteers, friends and family and they will follow you wherever you go.

What other “friends” have helped you in leadership? 

Relationships in Life and Ministry

Finding our way through relationships in life and ministry can be a sticky business.

We, as a culture, are obsessed with finding our way. Google, Mapquest, TomTom, Rand McNally, Magellan, and so many others have made their fortunes telling us which way to go.

We treat the Bible like a spiritual atlas, a training manual, and proclaim finding our way in life the highest purpose of sacred writings.  When we inevitably lose our direction the fault lies with God and religion rather than ourselves.  A religious center in it’s own right, Apple has been criticized for pushing out a less than perfect maps app because of the problems people have had finding their way.

Churches are no different.  Leaders spend thousands of dollars travelling across the world to hear other leaders speak about what God is doing in their churches and in their lives.  We benchmark and read and compare and do case studies all in hope of finding the next step up for our ministries.

Did Jesus die on the cross just so he could get permission to put up road signs in our lives?  Did the Father sacrifice his only son so that we could feel better knowing where we are going now or in the future?  Better yet, have countless numbers of Christian believers over the centuries been martyred for the sake of a driver’s safety course?

Perhaps not.

What if how you find direction in life is more important than what direction you take?  What if who you travel with is more important than your destination?  What if God cares more about you than he cares about your direction in life?

I am as guilty as anyone else of chasing after direction rather than chasing after God.  Instead of drawing me nearer to God, sometimes advance planning and vision casting turn into daydreaming and organizational lust.

The human condition defaults us towards fulfilling personal dreams rather than dreaming the dreams of God.  Selfishness is a tricky fellow who has learned to hide in the nooks and crannies of our visioneering and direction seeking.

Every now and then we need a vision root canal, a time where we dig the selfishness and direction addiction out of our souls and re-orient towards the primary direction and director, Jesus Christ.  This root canal requires only three tools:

  • Time.  Set aside blocks of time with no distraction (including electronic devices) and bring only your Bible and a notebook and pencil.  Go to a private and reflective place where you can rest and sit in God’s presence.
  • Repentance.  Acknowledge where you have let your agenda, your selfishness, cloud over your vision.  Ask God to forgive you and give you a fresh start, then commit to doing what he tells you to do.
  • Openness.  Ask the Holy Spirit to give you an uncommonly open and sensitive heart to whatever God may want to reveal to you.

I remember taking a day away a number of years ago.  I walked into my room with a list of things I wanted God to answer, directional issues where I felt I needed a divine road sign.  As I spent time in silence, rest, reading and prayer, God somehow impressed upon me how insignificant my issues were in the grand scheme of his universe, and how much he just wanted me to be with him.

What he provided that day was so more worthwhile and effective than any answer I would have gotten to my list of questions.  Oddly enough, as I embraced the way he had spoken to me that day the easier my decisions became.  I got the direction I needed, but out of a relationship with the God of the universe and not through searching my Bible like a road atlas.

Where have you allowed direction seeking and vision casting to take priority over a deep, meaningful relationship with God?