The Daily Do Over

His eyes were tearing up while he shared his story.  A story we have heard before.  Trying hard to hold down two jobs.  Twenty years in the prison system.  Wife addicted to crack cocaine.  He tries his best to keep her inside the house in order to keep her away from the neighborhood predators.  Health problems.  Car problems.  All of this is overwhelming.  He’s trying hard to keep focused- but it’s really hard.  He looses his cool sometimes and lashes out.  He struggles to stay on the right side.  Things are not fair.  He’s tired.  He’s VERY tired.

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Life is hard.  We have a tendency to put pressure on ourselves for our failures.  Our mistakes.  I shared with this guy that the Lord has given us a great design to help us handle these failures.

Every morning, the sun comes up and it’s a new day.  Each day is an opportunity to forget about yesterday and do it right today.  And if you fail again, you can try again tomorrow.  We get a “do over” every single day.

Some days are magnificent.  Everything just falls into place.  Smiles.  Laughter.  Family.  Hope.

Some days are tough.  Really tough.  You just want to crawl in a hole and wait for it to end.

Then the sun comes up again!

What a great design- huh?  If our lives were one really long day we couldn’t do it.  We would get completely overwhelmed.  We would be discouraged.  Beaten down and unable to recover.

I encourage him.  I told him the stay focused on what is good.  Don’t be deceived by the enemy who is trying to hold you down.  Keep fighting the good fight.  Don’t listen to those voices that are trying to make you feel hopeless.  You have much to be thankful for.  You ARE making it.  You CAN find your way out of this.

You get a do over.  Every single day.  You can put yesterday behind you and look forward to a new day of promise, opportunity, and hope.  He designed it this way.  Don’t look back.  He made a way for you to recharge and refocus.

He makes all things new!

Have you ever considered what it would be like to live one enormously long day?  Do you take advantage of the daily do over?  Is the morning your time?   Click on “leave a comment” and let me know what you think!

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Thanksgiving: Sending The Thief Away

Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays.  It seems like it’s the complete package for me.  My busy family taking the time to gather together.  Deep family traditions.  Great food and drink.  Watch the Lions lose (former Detroiter- can’t help it).  No gifts to mess things up.  Afternoon nap.  Fall weather.  It’s just a great package- isn’t it?

Rainbow turkey for Thanksgiving decoration

Seems like we can easily reflect on how we are blessed at Thanksgiving.  Surrounded by family and friends, the love just seems to flow on this holiday. As you reflect on the previous year, you forget the struggles and the pain of the past.  The disappointments of life.  The things that really matter seem to stand out.  They just seem to get larger on Thanksgiving.  Why don’t we feel like Thanksgiving every day?  What stops us from having the grateful heart and joyful spirit that covers us in waves at Thanksgiving?

I believe that one of the major culprits is comparison.  We just can’t seem to separate ourselves from it.

Remember when you were a kid and you had to break the candy bar in half?  There was always a big effort to make it the same.  Exactly the same.  Seem like we are born with a sense that things have to be fair and equal.

We are seeing a great rebirth of the fairness principle in our world today.  There is a greater awareness of inequity, I believe, due to the fixation of this concept in the media.  The reality is that things have never been fair.  And they will never be fair.  There have and will always be people with much and people in want.  There will always be people with more than you have, and less than you have.  And much of our efforts to “level the playing field” has resulted in bad consequences- much of which are the direct opposite of what we are trying to repair.

Comparison destroys.  When you see someone else with more, and you desire what they have, it will drive you crazy.  Like a thief in the night- it will steal your joy.  What you don’t see, as you compare, is the added responsibility that comes with the package of abundance.  You miss that the folks with a lot of stuff are generally not any happier than people who have little.  You covet and the anger from the inequity burns inside of you.

What to you get from it?  You get misery.  You get discontent.  You get bitterness.

At Thanksgiving it seems like, regardless of where we are on the scale, we seem to get a pure view of what we have.  The gifts and abundance that God has blessed us with.  Family.  A spouse.  A home.  A job.  Friends.  You really can see it and we smile.  We cry.  We give thanks to the Lord for his blessing and provision.

So, how do you keep the joy flowing once Thanksgiving is over?  I say dump comparison!  It’s a thief that wants to turn your heart to stone.  Be thankful every day for what you have.  Even in the midst of the struggle.  Even when things are tough.  Remember the way you feel on Thanksgiving.  And send the thief away!

What do you think?  What are some ways that you stay focused on the blessings?  Don’t be a stealth reader!  Click on “Leave a Comment” and tell me what you think!

Copyright © 2013. Leading by Serving- Leadership is for Everyone!. All rights reserved.

Dirty Snow

Snow is the picture of purity.  Snow white is the way you would describe this special color.  When the ground is blanketed with a fresh layer of light and fluffy snow, the view turns fluorescently bright.  Years ago, we lived in a home on a hill overlooking a nature center.  After it snowed, it was amazingly beautiful.  Like a Christmas postcard.  A silvery brilliance gathered on the branches of the trees and the ground changed to a consistent cottony blanket of goodness.  Everything is clean and white.  When the sun would shine, it would be so bright you had to squint in order to see.

Frosty Footpath - winter snow

Frosty Footpath – winter snow

As the snow lingered on the ground, it would begin to tarnish.  The brilliance would fade and become dull.  The snow turned gray with streaks of black and brown impurities.  The white was gone and what remained was dirty snow.

Then, after a period of time, it would snow again and cover the dirty snow with another blanket of pure white.  The scene was beautiful again.  Renewed.  Back to a brilliant white.

Last weekend, I attended a men’s retreat in North Georgia called Souly Business (link).  This was not my first men’s retreat.  I have attended a bunch through the years.  During the introductions, I was asked why I was at the retreat.  I responded, “Because I need to be here”.  See, I need a new coat of snow.  I need it to be all white again.

Retreats are a great way to get readjusted and reacquainted with the Father.  I felt like I have been in a good place lately, but I know that He always has more for me.  More love.  More life.

As I spent time during the retreat with the Lord, He gave me a glimpse of my selfishness and pride.  The dynamic duo!  I feel like when I humbly approach Him, and the daily noise is turned off, His love and holiness can make me feel like dirty snow.  Like Isaiah in the throne room.  Unclean.  Still snow- but tarnished a bit.   Ready for renewal.

Do you need a new blanket of white?  Some ideas-

Get Quiet- Find a quiet place and get away from the noise.  We live in a constant stream of audio and visual overload.  Break away- even for a few hours, all alone, to spend time in prayer and reflection.  He promises that He will be there.  You will hear from Him.

Find a Partner- Find a friend who can journey with you.  Someone you can share your struggles with.  Someone that can help you off load some of your junk.

Slow Down- It’s likely that He’s trying to speak to you but you are running so hard that you can’t hear Him.  Prune some activities that are overwhelming your schedule.

Truth Escape- Get back into the Word and a regular prayer life and get reacquainted with His voice.  Morning, evening, even drive time audio Bible, whatever it takes to get you there.  He’s waiting.  He’s a gentleman and you need to make the first move.

I know that I need this time.  A time to unplug from this world and plug into Him.  There is power in living a life connected to Him.  Not because I’m supposed to- because I need it.  I need a fresh perspective- a new breath of life.  I need His love.  I need a fresh coat of snow.

Do you get what I mean here?  Do you have ideas that you can share that help you hear His voice?  Click on “Leave A Comment” and let me know what you think! 

Copyright © 2013. Leading by Serving- Leadership is for Everyone!. All rights reserved.

Entertainment Expense

While vacationing recently in Costa Rica, Kathy and I had the pleasure of staying at a beautiful B&B in the central valley near San Jose.  The innkeeper was a remarkable elderly widower who was strong in her faith and equally strong in her wisdom on life. Each morning Kathy and I would enjoy our conversations about life, love and living out our faith in a way that was honoring to the Lord. 

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One morning during our stay, our host commented about the incredible damaging power of the tongue.  She shared that she had been convicted lately about talking about others in a negative way and she shared about the damage that comes along with this kind of conversation.  I completely agreed with her.  Gossip and talking about others behind their back is a very easy thing to do.  I shared that I thought that talking about others can actually be a kind of entertainment- the act of talking about others and their problems can actually be fun for some and a source of enjoyment. 

My comments actually knocked her back a bit.  She commented on how my characterization of “entertainment” was especially painful to her as it seemed to hit the mark.  She pondered the description and we revisited this topic a few times during our stay as a result of my description of damaging talk and gossip- entertainment.

So what do you think?  Do you know some folks that seem to enjoy gossiping and talking negatively about others?  What can you do when you are confronted with someone who wants to rope you in?  Here are some ideas:

Respond With The Positive!  If they are focusing on merely the negative- then respond in a way that would honor the person.  Regardless of the discussion, there are always positive aspects to the story.  Bring up the good and stay out of the mud.  You will see that most gossips just won’t get any enjoyment out of the positive.  By focusing on the negative they are really lifting themselves up.  Be a person who builds up- not a person that tears down.

Confront Them!  If they are speaking out in a way that is damaging for no constructive purpose then call them out.  There are folks that really don’t realize they are being negative or damaging- they are so used to gossiping they really don’t see what they are doing.  Help them to see that speaking out has power and can be extremely damaging. 

Walk Away!  If you have friends engaged in damaging conversation and you feel uncomfortable about the discussion, then have the courage to leave.  Even by sitting in silence- you are participating.  If you are not comfortable with confronting the issues or if you are not familiar with the situation, the best choice may be to leave the conversation.  You will not regret walking away- you will regret being included if the cruelty spreads.

Think Before You Talk!  I am convinced that some peoples mouths just run faster than their heads.  Take a minute to really consider what you are about to say.  Thinking about something is far different than speaking it- and that expands even further when it’s to a group of people.  If you have to say “don’t repeat this but…” you probably need to think about it a little more before you say it.  You could be reading the situation wrong, you may have bad information, you may be misinformed.  Always default to keeping you mouth shut if you are not sure what to do.

Remember that you are a leader.  Others are watching you and learning from you- both good and bad.  Character and integrity are time sensitive.  They take a long time to gain yet they can be lost in an instant.  Don’t loose something that you will really regret later.  If you are uneasy about the conversation, then you know you should not participate.  Stay out of it.  Go find your entertainment elsewhere!     

So what do you think?  Do you find that you get “roped in” sometimes?  Do you have some tricks to avoiding gossip?  Click on “Comments” and share or hit “Like” if you agree!        

Opposites Day

When my kids were young they would often play a game called Opposites Day.  During this particular day, whatever they said was actually the opposite of what is true.  This was really just a way of trying to catch the other sibling- kind of a trap.  Really just a kid’s game.  But I think that in actuality, it is more than just a game.

Morning 003

This past Saturday I headed downtown to a ministry where Kathy and I have been serving for the past five or so years.  We get up early each Saturday and pick up surplus baked goods and head downtown to distribute food to the needy.  I can attest that it is tough some Saturdays to head downtown.  Yes, sleep and comfort are issues, but the work can be frustrating and unnerving.  We see some moments that make the whole thing question what you are doing.  The need is overwhelming and you can’t be unaffected by palpable feeling of hopelessness that hangs in the air.   We have also seen some pretty ugly situations.  Tension from actions viewed as unfair.  Deep neighborhood wounds.  Indescribable family dysfunction.  Crazy stories of pain that you struggle to untangle in your mind.  One thing is for sure.  You can’t keep score here.  It will drive you crazy.  You simply give and let God take care of the rest.

Amidst all of this, is the heart.  We have made great friends and have had the privilege of living our lives with them.  Each week we share and get updates.  Victories and failures.  We have seen it all.  Stories of success and stories of death.  Sometimes the reality is just too much to carry.  We try to help but we are not in it.  No matter how we try to step into their shoes we are not really with them.  We try to get there, but cultures and lives are so different that the gap really can’t be crossed.  So we meet in the middle each Saturday.  A circle between two circles and we do what we can.  Anything more is just cultural arrogance.  The two crazy assumptions are that we can truly understand what is going in the tough areas of the city while they can understand what it’s like to have a servant’s heart in suburban America.

This Saturday, I was leading a walk that we take each week through the neighborhood.  We carry bags of groceries and hand them out as the Lord leads us and we pray for the families and the neighborhood.  The groceries have always been the minor item.  When we approach folks in the neighborhood and start conversation and ask if they would like prayer, they will open up and share what’s going on in their lives.  This has lead to relationships as we return each week and visit with the same folks regularly.  This Saturday, I suggested that we visit a lady named Vera who lives on the outskirts of our walk, yet is always a treat.  Vera is a grandmother and takes care of her family although she has very modest means.  We knocked on her door and waited.  After a few minutes, she came out and her face lit up in delight.  We hadn’t made it to her house in a while, probably several months.  She quickly caught us up on what was happening with her and her family.  She pains for her family and their struggles.  You can feel her pain as she describes her family update.  Yet, she refuses to stay there.  She immediately turns the story to the day- this day.  She thanks the Lord for the blessing that this day brings.  She is thankful that we have visited her.  She radiates real love.  It makes you tingle.  Not the polite kind of stuff.  The deep love of the Father.

Vera loves to pray.  We generally pray as we make our way through the neighborhood but at Vera’s house we want her to pray.  So she offers and we smile and nod yes.  Vera breaks into a powerful prayer- thankful and a prayer of a grateful heart and worship.  None of this is the I want- I need kind of prayer.  This was a celebration of life.  Then she shares something new.  Vera breaks into song and sings a portion of her prayer to her Father.  The Spirit is thick.  He is here.  She finishes her prayer and a bird begins to sing.  Vera shares that God loves music.   I agree with her, sharing that even the birds sing to Him.

So what happened?  It was Opposites Day!  We set out to help bless others and instead we were blessed.  We left Vera and we all were visibly uplifted.  This is what we needed.  A refill.  A reminder that He is always there and He is always faithful.  The Bible says that he sings over us.  He knows every hair on your head.

Thank you for the song of our lives.  Thank you for the birds singing each morning.  Thank you for Vera and her heart for her Father and her family.

Remember to sing today.  No matter how hard it is.  It’s Opposites Day!

Have you ever had an Opposites Day?  Please click on comments and tell your story!              

Light the Path

I believe that there is a desire to make a difference in the world that is woven into us at birth.  To make your mark- to put a “dent in the universe”.  Your choice is to either follow these desires and dreams or suppress them and give up.  The choice to give up is easy when you think it’s impossible.  Our job as leaders is to illuminate the path.  Model doing the impossible or the uncomfortable.  This is a story about lighting the path.

Light for my path

I was sitting beside a small fire on NewYears eve enjoying the company of some good friends and some outrageously large oysters.  Sitting at the fire was a girl named Rebecca who is the daughter of some good friends from church.  Rebecca was home for the holidays and was sharing some ministry stories that occurred while she was away at college in North Carolina.  Rebecca was able to seek out and find an inner-city ministry near her campus where she served on weekends.  She also shared that she had located a street church where service takes place outside in the yard of an abandoned church.  She shared some amazing stories of how she was able to serve and develop relationships with the poor in the community near her campus and also serve a church that tragically lost it’s pastor and continues because of a great effort by the surviving family.  She was beaming as she shared several truly amazing stories of restoration and God’s infinite grace.  This was my highlight of the evening.
 
While she was sharing, I began to connect the dots.  Rebecca had served throughout her high school years nearly every Saturday at an inner-city street ministry that we have at our church.  Rebecca was a regular.  She made a strong connection with the folks in the neighborhood.  When she left for college I was regularly asked where she was.  See- Rebecca made an impact!  Not by giving out surplus food, but through her amazing smile and her way of being genuinely interested in their lives.  Rebecca went deeper.  Yes- Rebecca is special- but there is more.
 
As I considered her impact, it occurred to me that the beginning of the trail actually started with her parents willingness to serve.  If her parents hadn’t modeled this behavior, it is very unlikely that Rebecca would be serving the poor in North Carolina.  It can be a tough decision to take your child downtown to serve in a dangerous neighborhood.  You can easily talk yourself out of it.  Also, to model the behavior, you actually have to get out of bed early each Saturday and drive to the ministry.  I have experienced this one first hand.  Your pillow is a hard thing to give up on the only day each week that you have to sleep in!  Yet, over both of these, they were faithful.  And their faithfulness was rewarded with a daughter that truly “gets it”.
 
Many folks work hard their entire lives trying to make that “dent in the universe”.  They store up money and build empires.  They seek to get their name on a building somewhere.  They work really hard to make their children wealthy, comfortable and self-sufficient.
 
All of these are fleeting.  Wealth will eventually be lost or squandered away.  Buildings will eventually crumble and fall.  And the pursuit of comfort and independence ends unfullfilled.

The secret is often right next to you.  You have to choose to light the path for others.  You can show them how to truly influence lives.  And when you do, it’s contagious.  They will continue on modeling for others and then the multiplication factor kicks in.
 
This is how you can truly change the world!  So, what is your plan?  Will you continue to build an empire based on things that will eventually crumble or will you invest in things that will march on for generations.  Maybe a quick look at your planner might reveal where your heart truly is?  It starts with taking a risk and putting yourself out there.  Are you ready?  Can you break the power of your pillow and the pursuit of comfort to light the path for others? 

What are some easy things that you have done that you have seen repeated by others?  Is success and comfort what your children really need?  Click on comments and let me know what you think!

Christmas Aftermath: Sifting Through the Rubble

I have to admit: I get pretty frustrated with the Christmas season as it has become. 

The commercialization and extreme excess of the holiday is overwhelming to me.  I want a quiet day in which we can just relax and reflect on the importance and meaning of Christmas.  The true meaning of the season- the birth of our Savior and the indescribable and outrageous gift that Jesus is to believers.  What I experience is generally far from quiet and spiritual.  The gift giving and preparation for Christmas is overwhelming.  It seems like an abomination of a religious holiday.  And it is.  But the key word here is religious.

christmas paint

My friend Brian shared a Christmas revelation with me this morning.  He was also a bit frustrated with the events of the day.  He felt like he was not giving the Lord the focus that He deserved.  Then the Lord spoke to him and reassured him:  It’s OK to celebrate.  It’s OK to have fun.  It’s OK to exchange gifts.  Go ahead- have a day of celebration.  I am still God and I still love you!

My experience Christmas day was also the typical day of gift giving and excess, yet there were sweet times with family and friends.  In the midst of the chaos of the day, I was able to connect with them  in a deeper way.  And through the time together and the gift giving, I was able to receive the feeling of being truly loved by them.  So, like Brian, I was given a glimpse of the Father’s love for me.

My take away from this years Christmas is this:  Christmas is a bit out of control, yet it’s good to celebrate, to appreciate others and enjoy the sweetness of the season.  I must be intentional to connect with family and friends and enjoy the opportunities of the Christmas season.  Rather than getting frustrated and trying to change things, I need to embrace the good of the Christmas season and let God take care of the rest.  The correct response is gratitude and worship, not frustration and guilt!

So going forward, I must focus less on the excess and commercialization and focus more on the amazing opportunities of the Holiday season.  Opportunities to reconnect, mend or deepen relationships.  Opportunities to show my love for my wife, family and friends.  Opportunities to appreciate the incredible and amazing blessings that the Lord has provided to me and my family.  For me, this revelation is my greatest gift this year.  And my response must be like the shepherds in the Christmas story:  To bow and worship the Savior King!

Merry Christmas!  

So what do you think?  Click on comments and share your experiences and thoughts on the Christmas season!