Saturday, September 29, 2012

How to Move On Well

4 years ago my son and I made a decision to change swim teams. We weren't upset by the one we were leaving. We were going to one where the vast majority of his high school teammates swam with a club team. It was also closer and cheaper. But it was a tough choice. The team we were leaving I had swum for, coached with and was a parent for 6 or 7 years.

So I called his coach and told him what was going on. No problems. Nothing to complain about. Just a move that we felt was best for the family. While disappointed he understood.

At the next swim meet a coach and friend from another team came up to me and said: "That's so hard on a coach when a family switches teams." I knew he was right. It happens to Pastors all the time.

It's not always springtime for planting in our lives. There is a normal, natural cycle of Fall which brings the harvest. Change is not abnormal but there are so many ways we mess it up. I think I've learned some (did you notice those words of uncertainty - "think" - "some") better ways to move forward in our lives.

I have found some ways to guard my heart when change comes, as it always does. These things help me, I think, live redemptively with others, especially when change comes over a disagreement. Too many people blow up relationships when it isn't necessary. These steps are helpful.

1. Speak the truth...

My call to the swim coach was difficult. I was not looking forward to it. His graciousness helped afterwards, and we remain friends to this day. He inquires how my son is swimming. I ask about his family. Our relationship has changed but there remains a positive connection. 

I think another way to say that is "own your choice." Our culture loves to pass the buck of responsibility. Speak the truth. "I'm leaving because of......"

2. To the person(s) involved...

Cornerstone is going through the Book of Acts in worship right now. In chapter 4 the first persecution breaks out against the new church. It's significant that the persecution leads to prayer, not Facebook and Twitter.

Social Media has given us an electronic tongue. In the Bible, James talks about the power of the tongue:
"With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be." (James 3:9-10)
When we make a change in our lives and it involves leaving some people or a person, communication helps the change be redemptive instead of automatically destructive.

Triangulation with others about a 3rd person is neither Christian nor helpful. A good friend uses this phrase: "Stay in the room." Stay connected. Stay engaged in relationship even when a change is being chosen. It's redemptive that way. It honors the name of Jesus.

When we don't speak truth to the people involved and instead turn to electronic gossipping, the Kingdom is hurt. Jesus was clear that a main tool of His in evangelizing the world is the love shown between followers of Jesus (John 13). The way we talk about and care about other Christ-followers is a statement about the character of Jesus. It's really important.

3. With humility that you don't know everything

Departures sometimes occur because people don't realize that they don't know everything. Something happens - you liked a coach, a staff person, a co-worker - and that person is gone. Humility helps us remember that we don't have all the pieces to the puzzle and without those pieces we won't see the whole picture. 

It's disappointing that in many cases the actions of the departing party discredits all the previous good they have accomplished. The first two steps help keep the good track record intact.

4. Don't take it personally

This is a recent lesson that has been freeing for my life. I have learned and continue to peel back the layers of the Q-TIP principle - Quit Taking It Personally. There is so much more to learn. It's an every day, every conversation destroyer of relationships. God continues to draw back the curtain, allowing me to see the far reaching impact of this disease.

Change happens. If you make a mistake that caused the change, learn from it but don't hold onto it.

This is a growing edge. You can read some of my blogging this summer as this lesson started to take hold in my life. (Q-TIP, Ego, In Touch with Reality, Endings & Beginnings). Henry Cloud's book Necessary Endings was very helpful. I continue to re-read my notes.

These steps have helped me guard my heart - when I apply them! Choosing not to follow any one of them puts a deadly seed in my heart that can poison every relationship around me. I've seen enough of that for a lifetime. Now it's time to change!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Staying Focused

Apparently - according to my mother who I think remembers everything - at the dinner table when I was 12, I announced that I would get a scholarship to swim in college. From there I became pretty focused, to the point of telling my now wife while dating in high school - "I can't pay much attention to you right now. It's swim season." Yet she stuck around. That's grace - and love! But I was focused....and achieved that goal. Got the girl in the end too!

Athletes who perform at a high level have focus. Leaders who lead at a high level are just as focused. To be a parent who actually leads your children requires focus on them as a priority. For a church to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) requires focus.

Cornerstone is embarking on a change that I'm excited about. It's part of the consultation we brought in last February. We were given 5 prescriptions for moving forward, more focused on the mission of Jesus to make disciples. This past Saturday we start living into one prescription around Board governance and the need to more clearly define roles. It will be a good change.

There are two kinds of churches in the world - inward focused and outward focused. It's not a right or wrong choice for me, although I confess I am partial to one over the other because I believe it is more faithful to the mission of Jesus. Both churches have two feet but lead with different ones. Where the inward leads there is still an outward that follows and vice versa. But they have a different primary focus.

Leading an outward focused church takes a focus on guarding our hearts from distraction to other good feeling, good sounding, seemingly noble pursuits rather than the mission of Jesus to make disciples. Jesus is the ONLY stakeholder we must please. Figure out what Jesus wants and pursue it with focus. He wants disciples.

The primary goal of the Church is not to make everyone feel good. The primary goal cannot be to not offend anyone. There can be no primary goal of making sure everyone agrees before proceeding down a particular path. All of those are great to have and there is a necessity to some, but if they are primary, making disciples won't be. It hurts when someone is hurting. It doesn't feel good when someone is upset. But soothing every ruffled feather will soon become a distraction to the mission of Jesus and a church will shift to an inward focus.

Who do we work for in the church? Jesus, not the congregation.
Who do we seek to please? Jesus, not the congregation.
Who are we focused on producing? Disciples, not people who feel better about themselves.

Here's the secret though. When we work for Jesus, seeking to please Him and produce disciples, the congregation will be pleased as much as any group of human beings can be. The congregation will feel better because ministry will flourish to care for the hurts and needs within. What I have found is that the inward needs are cared for if the outward focused mission of Jesus is primary.

What are you focused on? Are you willing to get rid of those things that aren't helping you focus on your primary mission?

Here's a great blog post on the Warning Signs of an Inward Focused Church

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

My Spiritual Journey

This past weekend was my 30th High School reunion. Since High School I've basically kept in touch with one classmate, the only other Senior swimmer on the men's team in 1982. Occassionally I've run into others and just "touched base." Facebook has provided some additional links, which have been nice.

It all got me thinking about how I got to this place. Scott said to me Saturday night at the reunion: "When you left high school you knew what you wanted to do. And you're doing it. Plus you're still into the swimming piece."

Not many people can say they are doing what they planned that many years ago.

My life has always been about the pursuit. I'm competitive. It started with swimming since I was age 5. My first memory is of being in a 50 meter Olympic size pool, anchoring a relay because a 4th swimmer was needed. The suit I wore was 3 times too big. The goggles were as big as my face. And the pool was twice as long as I'd ever seen much less swum in before. "He just has to make it," Coach Tim told my mom as he recruited me off the deck. And what I remember as clear today as the day it happened was at 25 meters - when "normal" pools end - I was halfway there. I lifted my head and thought "O my." Then put my head down and swam to the end. I would make it.

For the next 15 years I pursued many things but none of them ever satisfied. Medals, trophies, records, recognition. Then money became the thing to pursue. Girls were in there too!

But every time something difficult would come along; every time something tragic would happen. My world was shattered. The first time I didn't make the final 8 in championships. When I didn't get the record before aging up. When the stock market fell. It was like a huge wave had come and exposed my pursuits for the temporary sandy foundation they were.
I came to faith in Jesus at the end of 7th Grade but these other pursuits still dominated my life. In fact, looking back, Jesus was just another pursuit among all the pursuits, until somewhere in college. Perhaps marked by the end of the swimming career as my shoulder had enough and broke down.

Jesus has been a foundation that isn't washed away. I'm still competitive. I can create a competition out of anything. When I allow that pursuit to dominate my life, I lose, the sand being washed away. Pursuing Jesus has never been a disappointment. He's never disappointing. He's never late. He never comes with empty hands.

My most important lesson of my summer sabbatical (see my Sabbatical Blog) is that I love what I do for a living. Not many people can say that. It sometimes grates on my soul. It's sometimes incredibly frustrating. Any time more than 1 person is pursuing something, sin will get in there and mess it all up.The Church is filled with imperfect human beings led by an imperfect human Pastor. It's a formula for a mess. And it's a formula for God's glory because anything good that happens, the credit goes to Him. You could say: "I'm livin' the dream!"

What's your story? Are you living your dream? Are you following His dream for your life?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Generous Justice

One of my Strengths from the Discover Your Strengths book is "learner." I love to learn. I love useless facts. I love useful facts. I remember obscure things but sometimes miss important things - like confusing my wife's birthday with the date of a former girlfriend's birthday. But only once!!

Reading is one way I feed this strength. It's one way I guard my heart.

I recently finished Generous Justice by Timothy Keller, an insightful author and deep thinker from a Biblical worldview. I like how Keller really wrestles with Jesus' words and how to live them out in today's world. He looks at our culture through the lens of Scripture, not the other way around.

Early on he establishes the Biblical lens, quoting multiple scriptures. I was drawn to his for today application of Zechariah 7:10-11:
This is what the LORD Almight says: Administer true justice, show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the immigrant or the poor.
In premodern, agrarian societies, these four groups had no special power. They lived at subsistence level and were only days from starvation if there was any famine, invasion, or even minor social unrest. Today this quartet would be expanded to include the refugee, the migrant worker, the homeless, and many single parents and elderly people. (4)
I am challenged by that application but not in the way you might be thinking. I have no problem being a champion for the orphans at Fundaninos in Guatemala or the Starfish Kids in Haiti. I have no problem supporting Cornerstone's ministry with Serve City, serving the homeless. I have no problem serving the single mom who is our physical neighbor. I'm challenged because of the systemic problems that exist as barriers to many of these groups becoming self-sufficient. That is a part of justice - I can serve locally - I can go global - but to bring about the systemic change that is needed is where I'm at a loss. And I confess, I think some of what holds me back is selfishness. Do I want to put in the time and expend the effort?

John Wesley, the father of the Methodists said: "There is no holiness without social holiness." Keller puts it this way: 

The purification of the heart through grace and love for the poor are of a piece; they go together in the theology of Jesus. (51)
Whether I feel like it or not; whether I'm befuddled by what to do or not I'm called as a Christ-follower to be invovled.

Commenting on Isaiah 1:17 & 58:6-7, Keller writes:
A lack of justice is a sign that the worshippers' hearts are not right with God at all. (50)
Do something is my conclusion. Start somewhere - with my neighbors - in my town - in the community next door. Often what keeps something from happening is trying to solve all the problems at once. Not knowing what the end looks like can keep (at least me) us from getting started.

Evangelism & Social Justice
I really liked Keller's comments on the clash of those who lift up evangelism as the greatest need and those who lift up social justice as the greatest expression of the Gospel. As Wesley said, we need both.
I urge my readers to discern the balance I am seeking to strike. If we confuse evanglism and social justice we lose what is the single most unique service that Christians can offer the world. Others, alongside believers, can feed the hungry. But Christians have the gospel of Jesus by wich men and women can be born again into the certain hope of eternal life. No one else can make such an invitation. However, many Christians who care intensely about evangelism se the work of doing justice as a distraction for Christians that detracts from the mission of evangelism. That is also a grave error. (141)
It's not either or but both and. Social justice ministry is empowered with eternal rewards when it is married to the Gospel. The Gospel is amplified through the social justice ministries that "set the oppressed free."

Keller challenged me in expanding my understanding of justice. It's rooted in grace. It's rooted in the hope of eternity. Justice without the Gospel brings temporary freedom. The Gospel without justice can cause the Gospel to be muffled. I'm looking for ways to marry the two. It will guard my heart.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

GPS - God's Positioning System

I'd be lost without a GPS. That's sort of the point. Of course, we've all read stories about a Google map taking people to a place that wasn't right, or even ending up in the right city name in the wrong state.

Knowing where I am in the world helps me be at my best. When I know where I am I won't waste time, I'll be more effective and efficient. My life will have a greater impact if I know where I am because then I know how to get to where I'm going.

As I re-enter the world of the local church after a 3-month renewal leave/sabbatical, I'm trying to be careful I don't simply slip back into the same old habits, methods and practices. I've learned too many things this summer to just do the same old things.
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.
- Aristotle
This summer I was able to see some habits in my life that have not been helpful. I was able to recognize routines that helped me be at my best.

First - I started with my Strengths (from StrengthFinders): Maximizer, Responsibility, Learner, Arranger & Belief. Then I did some thinking, heavily influenced by The Next Level book, about where I am at my best.

Second - I thought about the way I am based on these strengths. Because learner is a strength, for instance, I wrote down "Try new things." I know in order to be at my best I've got to try new things on a consistent basis. I don't always order the same thing at a restaurant. I can't eat the same cereal every day.

I'm getting ready to engage with a personal trainer (as the post-leave part of my Sabbatical grant) so that I can learn some new ways to exercise. I know that to be at my best I've got to feed that desire to learn.

I wrote down some things about reading (which I detailed in my previous Post). 

3. I then thought about the routines that are necessary for me to be at my best. Afterall, I can't not be committed to anything!

I listed things like: studying scripture and prayer; swim officiating; exercise; reading; writing; family time (if home isn't clicking, then life isn't clicking). I also became aware of the influence of time of day on some of these things. For instance, I study and write better in the morning hours. If I push it off to the afternoon, I'm more easily distracted.

This summer has been a recalibration of my GPS. It's part of the purpose of Sabbath (see Take Your Mark & The Rhythm of Sabbath). Re-focusing on Jesus as the central influence in my life, the One around whom life revolves. The One who makes me "at my best."

I'm still walking through this exercise. I want to know where I am, what works and doesn't work; what I need to purge and what I need to add or reinforce in my life.

Where are you at your best? Where can you re-order, re-structure life so that you are giving your best to your family, friends, boss and most importantly, to the Lord?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Reading for my Heart

Guarding my heart means watching what I put into my heart. A big part of that for me is what I read. I love to learn. I have a mind that traps bits and pieces of relevant and useless information. I usually have multiple books going at a time: a spiritual life book to grow my relationship with Jesus; a history book that feeds my love for learning; a business or leadership book that stretches me; and often something dealing with my physical health.

Here's what I'm reading right now:

In the "spiritual life" category, I'm almost finished with Timothy Keller's Generous Justice. Keller thinks deeply from a Biblical foundation. This is a challenging book about how the work of God's grace naturally leads us to live "justly." It's a book about how Jesus calls us to live out grace in the real world of today. Keller has really stretched my thinking on subjects ranging from racism to poverty to immigration and more.

To feed my love of "history," I'm reading Setting the World Ablaze, by John Ferling. The book follows Washington, Adams & Jefferson before, during & after the Revolutionary years, looking at their intertwined lives and their personal aspirations as leaders of the grand American experiment. It was a lot of fun reading this book while sitting in the "drawing room" of my 1769 Bed & Breakfast in Philadelphia, located across from the City Tavern these men frequented (see Philadelphia posts in my Sabbatical Blog). 

To grow my "leadership" I'm reading What Got You Here Won't Get You There, by Marshall Goldsmith. This is similar to both The Next Level and 9 Things You Simply Must Do that I read earlier this summer. Goldsmith, however, seems to take things to a greater depth, listing 20 habits that hold us back from continued success. I'm not very far into it, but I'm looking forward to the challenge.

For leadership I also read articles using Flipboard on my iPad. I follow Harvard Business Review and Fast Company, both of which grow the leadership part of my heart. I'll read them, capture them in Evernote and choose some to share with my staff and Board.

The information we choose to read acts as a filter for our hearts. Fill our lives with junk - pornography - violence - juicy romance - images of infidelity - and our hearts will become fat, out of shape, unable to hold firm in the face of temptation. Instead when I know who I am - a learner who enjoys Colonial era history - and knowing my needs - to grow my heart for Jesus and be a better leader - I can choose to fill my heart with things that will strengthen my core.

Who are you? What are you feeding your heart? What are you reading?

Sunday, September 9, 2012

An Election Year Guard

We don't get to control what circumstances come into our lives, choosing those which we keep out and those we embrace. What we are responsible for is our response to the circumstances. I find myself entering a time that I don't like - a Presidential election season. I don't enjoy the phone calls and the endless commercials (especially in the "battleground" state of Ohio). As a Christ-follower I don't believe I can ignore the election but must participate through my vote. What I can control is what I allow to take root in my heart.

This first post isn't about the election. It's about how I plan to guard my heart during these coming months. I hold firmly to some political beliefs. I don't talk about them at Church because I am called to be Pastor to a community which is filled with Independents, Democrats & Republicans. The most important priority it in my life is someone's relationship with Jesus, not their political persuasion.

Here are the steps I plan to take that I hope will help me "guard my heart."

1. I will pray for our leaders - elected and potential. Pay close attention to the phrase used to describe this God who is pleased by our prayers for our leaders. 1 Timothy 2:1-4 tell us:

"I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth."
The most important thing is the salvation of every individual. I want to make His priority my priority.

2. I will refrain from believing that those who believe differently (about politics) are infidels or unChristian. I am convinced of my beliefs and will cast my vote to see those ends achieved. But my faith must triumph over my politics. No matter what I believe politically, my number one concern is the salvation of the individuals in my community context.

I know persons who are fully devoted followers of Jesus and are political opposites of me. I will not call their spiritual commitment into question.

3. I will prepare to vote. My friend, Bill Keating, Jr., sends an email that reaches well over 10,000 people now. It was originally sent as coaching and advice for his children as they grew and left home. I appreciated one last week:
“America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You got to want it bad, because it's going to put up a fight. It's going to say "You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a person whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of their  lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.” - President Andrew Shepherd (from the movie, "The American President") 
To Do Today: The Presidential Election is 61 days away. Study the candidates and the issues. Engage in (civil) discussions with both sides to better understand their policies and positions. Be prepared to vote on November 6th.

These are some of the things I will be doing, all intended to guard my heart.

Our country has some serious problems. I don't know how we'll get through some of it. I'll leave that to others. I can take care of my own heart and as a Pastor seek to encourage and challenge the hearts of those in my community.