Five princesses, each in costumes of purple and blue and flowing green, five tiny little princesses can fill a Taco Bell with their energy. Like a tornado on the prairie, they burst into the Taco Bell where my wife and I were sharing some nachos. They crawled, giggling and squirming all over the booth where they were "corralled" in the loosest sense of the word. More napkins, more taco sauce, then straws and definitely more water, always more water. Their desperate errands propelled them from booth to drink machine to condiment counter in unceasing energy. Then, of course, there was the bathroom. There was hardly a single five-minute span in which one or two or more of those princesses was not sprinting to or from the bathroom at top speed. They were loud little fairies in flight, laughing, seething pixies in constant motion, and in the midst of them, sat my new hero.
On January 20, 2017, the United States of America will celebrate one of its most treasured values in a grand public ceremony. A new president will place his hand on the Bible and take the oath of office. It is a solemn, sacred and significant moment that is not really about the person being sworn in. The inauguration ceremony is actually about the most fundamental, non-negotiable value of this republic; the peaceful transfer of power subject to the will of the electorate according to a constitutionally established process.
In the more than two centuries of this nation's history every transfer of power came by ballots not bullets. No president ever seized power. No dictator ever came by the gun. Never in our history has some army colonel taken over the radio station and proclaimed himself "president for life." We have had our share of contentious elections but we have never had a coup d'etat.
Years ago in a season of great personal need, I longed for renewal in my prayer life. What I found was exactly what many have discovered: when prayer is most needed, the words are the hardest to find. How to start? What to say? What is even ok to ask for? I was stressed, afraid and less capable of effectual fervent prayer than I should have been. In desperation I turned to the Lord's Prayer (and a bit later, Psalm 23) and began a journey into its healing, restoring power. I have received blessings and healing in a 21-second prayer taught 2000 years ago by a Jewish rabbi. I did not so much take hold of the Lord's Prayer as it took hold of me. And it has never let me go. I pray it multiple times daily, often silently in meetings, while I drive and even at basketball games. By the way, you can pray the Lord's Prayer before the shot clock runs out.
I have likewise encouraged others to rediscover the Lord's Prayer. Many of them, with emotional wounds that hampered their lives, found inner healing in the Lord's Prayer. It seems to me that the habitual use of the Lord's Prayer, as good as that is, cannot be compared in effect to its healing power. Especially in combination with Psalm 23, the grace to forgive and to be forgiven, what King David called soul-restoration, is exactly what so many long for. I have seen so many utterly amazed to find it was there all the time, right there in the Lord's Prayer.
Biblical metaphors relative to the laws giving and receiving include no mention of grateful crows, but a little girl in Seattle, Washington has proven they might well have done so. Eight year old Gabi Mann began sharing part of her lunch with the crows each day. No surprise there, I suppose. Countless people show the birds a little love at back yard feeders and with popcorn in the park. Not many, however, experience any crow reciprocity.
Ronald Reagan once said, “There is no limit to what can be accomplished if no one cares who gets the credit.” Likewise, the power of influence is virtually inexhaustible for as long as it remains silent. In the Book of Esther, three people at one time or another find favor in Xerxes’ eyes and influence his decision. At the end of the story, one is beloved, one is promoted and one is executed. The one executed was he who squandered his influence on self-promotion.
In 1966 a fabulous comedy film, The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! starred Brian Keith and Alan Arkin. The movie was a riotous jab at the prevailing Cold War tensions between Russia and the USA. The concept of the film was this. When a Russian submarine runs aground off the coast of New England some of the sailors must come ashore to steal a boat to tow the sub free. The ensuing clashes with the locals were a supremely funny look at the panic-stricken New Englanders and the equally frightened Russians.
The boogey man of the fifties and sixties was Russia. Indeed, they were enemies and they remain enemies. Vladimir Putin is no confused Russian sub-mariner comically terrified of as well as terrifying New England yokels. He is a ruthless dictator with one of, if not, the most powerful armies in the world.
Imagine a scenario in which two widely known and well respected ministerial leaders have a serious conflict over which associate to hire, so serious in fact that they end their professional association and go their separate ways. Each then hires his own associate and they never work together again. Imagining such a story hardly stretches one's creativity. It reads exactly like the petty conflicts that rupture ministries and make for sad headlines in the modern Christian press.
However, that particular story of ministerial conflict is NOT modern. Two thousand years ago, Paul the Apostle and his sponsor and mentor, Barnabas, differed on whether to take John Mark with them on their second missionary journey. Both Paul and Barnabas had seen John Mark's pitiful failure on a previous journey. The young man had left the team in the lurch and gone home. Barnabas, the aptly-named encourager, wanted to scoop the youngster up off the sidewalk and give him a chance to redeem himself. Paul, however, was a type A choleric with NEVER GIVE AN INCH tattooed on his bicep.
Paul maintained that mollycoddling quitters was no way to do the dangerous and demanding work of first-century church building. Barnabas insisted that giving up on talented and anointed young people because of a failure was no way to do the difficult task of believer building. The conflict was beyond resolving and what had been designed as one mission team became two. Paul hired Silas and formed his own missionary team. Barnabas elected to "mollycoddle" John Mark.
Great leaders can have insurmountable differences of opinion and viewpoint. Both may still be great. Both may even be "right," and for that matter, both may be "wrong." The story of Paul and Barnabas is more than a cautionary tale about church squabbles. It affords some important insights.
In an article in The Mississippian Magazine (March 1922), William Faulkner lambasted Mark Twain as a "hack writer who would not have been considered fourth rate in Europe, who tricked out a few of the old proven surefire literary skeletons with sufficient local color to intrigue the superficial and the lazy."
Notwithstanding his own undeniable literary prowess, why in the world Faulkner would have felt obliged to demean Twain's is beyond comprehension. Such smug dismissiveness of the talents of another is unbecoming to say the least. Beyond that our mean spirited criticisms of others do not make them look bad. They make us look bad. One must wonder what was going on inside Faulkner to make him write such a thing. I suspect it was a projected fear of being compared with Mark Twain's formidable place in the pantheon of American writers. Perhaps I should say, enviable place, for envy is at the back of most such petty attacks on the accomplishments of others.
Being measured against the greats who have gone before us may not be the pleasantest sensation in the world, but if we approach it with humility and a sense of humor it can actually make for an opportunity to shine. For some years I preached at Mt. Paran Church of God in tandem with one of the pulpit greats of all time, Dr. Paul Walker. Intimidating? You betcha!
One day another minister asked me in what I felt was a conspiratorial tone, "Do you think Walker is as great a preacher as they say?"
I believe in fasting. I also believe in feasting! Thanksgiving is all about the latter. A feast is a sacred gathering of joy, abundance and relationships. The Judeo-Christian culture recognizes that fasting, the discipline of self denial, is an important part of seeking and serving God at a deeper and more intimate level. Likewise our culture also embraces celebration as a real part of worshipful living.
This year at Thanksgiving I intend to celebrate. I mean it. CELEBRATE! I am going to rejoice with my family and enjoy a great feast and remember God's goodness and grace. I urge you to do the same. Feasting is a statement of faith because it slaps down hoarding which is a factor of fear. If I'm afraid that what I have, is all I'll ever have I tend to grasp it, parsimoniously doling out crumbs to make it last. If I can trust God for more, if I truly believe He will provide tomorrow as abundantly as He has for today, I can feast with joy. Of course, one cannot feast every day any more than one can fast every day. To everything there is a season. There is a time to fast. There is also a time to feast.
Forgetting, for the moment, the two principals in the 2016 presidential election and laying aside their politics, are there any leadership lessons to be learned in the conduct of the campaign? In other words, was the outcome informed by the differing leadership practices of the two campaigns as well as by the political realities such as platform, policies and the "like-ability" of the candidates? I believe the answer is a resounding YES. Here are leadership lessons from the 2016 Presidential Election.
We have just seen history made at a level I never imagined, at a level few, if any, imagined. A highly controversial businessman, a true political dark horse given no chance by the "experts" has won the American presidency. Donald Trump is the first person ever elected to the presidency with no political or military experience. Its an incredible moment. Donald Trump defeated an entrenched political class in both parties and the most ruthless, powerful Democrat machine since the Tammany Hall gang, and a press corps that was biased against him and united in the conviction that his candidacy was a joke. Trump's is the most amazing election in American history.
I will be brief in this post. I want write more later but here are some preliminary reflections on this astonishing and historical political story.
Not since the first election of Abraham Lincoln has a presidential election so bitterly divided the American electorate. One the one side is the deep and angry distrust of the Democrat/Clinton political machine. This has been fueled in no small part by the actions of Bill and Hillary Clinton for decades. Many Americans are frustrated that no one can seem to hold the Clintons accountable. This feeling that they (The Clintons and the Democrat party) can "get away with murder," figuratively at least, runs contrary to a deeply held American value that no one is above the law.
The most recent, but by no means final, chapter in the Hillary Clinton email scandal is absolutely cinematic in both its dramatic timing and in the inclusion of the absurd figure of Anthony Weiner in the story. This ludicrous comedy would be funny were not national security at stake. Furthermore the FBI's announcement that her email scandal was open yet again was hardly designed to buttress Hillary Clinton's already terrible score on the trustworthiness scale.
Up against Hillary Clinton in this astonishing election is the human lighting rod of Donald Trump, himself a figure straight out of a Hollywood blockbuster. His rough-and-tumble, hard-nosed, tough-talking NY businessman demeanor was a sudden and shocking jolt to traditional career politicians. To this brazen "I don't care what you think about me" attitude he mixed in a flair for showmanship that would make Harry Houdini jealous. The recipe was nothing American voters had ever seen before.
Some liked it. Some liked it a lot. Some hated it with an incendiary zeal. His haters labeled Trump a vulgar bigot among other even less flattering descriptions. Trump won the Republican primary, which hardly anyone predicted, upsetting the Establishment Republican apple cart. Said establishment responded with a dog-in-the-manger, corporate pout that sounded like nothing more than elitist bad sportsmanship to the growing hoards of Trump supporters. Some of Trump's defeated opponents' petulant thumb sucking response may well have aborted their future presidential aspirations. Forgetting defeated Republicans, Trump's victory in the primaries enflamed the Democrats. All this toxicity unleashed perhaps the nastiest, most vitriolic presidential campaign in American history.
Now we are at the end of it. On November 8, 2016, America will decide its own future. Probably not since the Civil War has so much been on the line in a single presidential election. My attorney advised me that as the president of a Christian non-profit, in the current atmosphere, I should probably not announce my support for either candidate. Ok, I won't.
What I will do is offer some thoughts for you to consider while making up your mind for whom YOU should vote.
Sheep are so nervous and timid they will hardly lie down unless the shepherd is visible and on guard. And they will not drink from live water. Evidently flowing rivers and rapid brooks are terrifying to them. Sheep will only drink from standing water such as a pool or a pond. Some have claimed that this is because of their thick wool. If they fell in, it would be like trying to swim in a heavy overcoat. Be that as it may, sheep need a shepherd sympathetic to their fears and insecurities, one who will guide them to still water.
“We do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses” (Hebrews 4:15 nkjv).
First of all, I'm not opposed to mission statements. There. I've said that. However, having said it, I hasten to add there is little energy in a mission statement.
"Loving God, Loving People"
"Empowering People To Serve People"
"Worshipping A Caring God In A Caring Community"
Nothing wrong with those or a million others like them. VERY like them. The problem with such mission statements is their absolute lack of energy. Mission statements keep a church from jumping the track. Vision drives the train. Vision is the engine. Absent vision, the greatest mission statement in the world will gradually devolve into hardly more than a plaque on the wall or a banner hanging in the church auditorium.
In the light of Hurricane Matthew I want to offer some thoughts on: Leadership in a Storm
The seas of human life, so lashed as they are by storms of crisis and controversy, are where real leaders do their duty. Happily-ever-aftering only happens in the movies. Real life, and therefore real leadership, is actually one storm after another punctuated by brief and very welcome periods of calm. Once a leader finds the maturity and experience to face that honestly, the stormy seasons become immensely less stressful.
Until then, every storm feels like the "big one," the once in a lifetime, storm of the century that just has to be lived over and after which "normality" will return. Inexperienced leaders spend useless energy trying to figure out why this particular storm has come. The bottom line is storms happen. Winds blow, and they toss good boats and bad the same.
Some storms are self-inflicted and they are the hardest to endure. I’ve caused some of those storms myself. Others are just part of living in a fallen universe. Things break, fall apart, go south and prove more fragile than we imagined. That is life, real life, and real life is not always smooth sailing. The night before the annual July Fourth city-wide celebration in your auditorium, the air conditioning goes out. Does God hate you? Of course not. Perhaps He just doesn't like patriotic music and indoor fireworks. Again, of course not. Air conditioners just sometimes break. It's that simple. It always seems that they break at the worst of times. On the other hand, when would it be convenient?
Here are some thoughts on leadership in a storm.
I read someplace that upon completing the Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis said that writing it had been the worst struggle of his career. There are statements like that which one blithely reads, makes casual not of, and promptly ignores, only to realize later that they were pregnant with caution.
Writing this book has been a terrifying experience. In order to catch a bear, hunters say one must think like a bear. I grossly underestimated how wrenching it is to intentionally think like hell. That is not to say that my mind is unaccustomed to hellish thoughts. Quite the contrary. But I am now convinced that even the most devilish thoughts can parade through our minds quite without analysis. That is to say, we may think them but refuse to look at them for what they are, refuse to recognize the clear stamp of Satan upon them. To deliberately descend into the abyss is quite another thing altogether.
When, after a long recess in missions, I came back to pastor again in America, I was asked not infrequently if I was ever afraid in Africa. My answer was always, “Not so desperately or so often as I am now.” If you want to be really afraid, pastor an American megachurch. In Africa, all the witches wear feathers. It is in church where you can’t tell the players without a program.
There are equal and opposite errors with respect to the Valley of Baca. On the one hand are those particularly irritating “faith” preachers, so called, who claim that a true saint has no business in the Valley of Baca. They are not only boorish but shallow and superficial. David saw it differently.
“Blessed is the man whose strength its in thee; in whose heart are the ways of them. Who passing through the valley Baca …” (Ps. 84:5-6)
David wrote that a person who passes through the Valley of Tears is blessed! That remarkable idea flies in the face of modern, comfort obsessed cultural religion, but it is definitely a New Testament view.
“Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” ( 1 Pt 1:6-7)
No modern Christian has more graphically demonstrated a faith purified by fire than Corrie ten Boom. Can anyone imagine a valley of tears more horrifying than the Ranvensbruck concentration camp? To the Nazis she lost all her possessions, her dignity, and her entire family. Was it lack faith that put her in Ravensbruck? What an absurd thought! Or perhaps sin? Nonsense. The sins of others? To be sure. But why did she have to suffer? Why do any of us?
Imagine if it rained not cats and dogs but catfish. Imagine that you are walking in Philadelphia when suddenly a wet, slimy blow to the side of your face and neck knocks you to the ground. Now try to imagine realizing that the unexpected knock down was delivered not by a fist but by a falling fish, a catfish to be precise, a foot-long, five-pound catfish. Unlikely, you say. I could not agree more. Yet that is exactly what happened to Lisa Loree. She was out for a morning stroll in the park when a catfish fell from the sky and hit her hard enough to knock her down. A five-pound weight, fish or fowl, dropped from any height at all is likely to deliver a wallop. Just ask Lisa Loree.
The assumption is that a bird, perhaps an eagle, accidentally dropped the fish. That is the most likely explanation. In fact, I cannot think of another. That the catfish had somehow taken flight stretches one's imagination. On the other hand, if the fish had thus taken flight, what would cause it to suddenly lose altitude and so dramatically abort the mission?
Here is the leadership question: What to do when it rains fish?