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DOWNHILL COASTING?

I find myself in the slower season of my ministry year. For me, January to August is a season where I live in utter busyness – fighting tiredness, experiencing adrenaline rushes, and disciplining my life to accomplish more that I think I can. When September hits, I shift into an administrative mode which feels like I am suddenly moving from 5th gear to 1st gear. The temptation for me is to convince myself that I deserve a “coasting season” – one where I recoup and pay less attention to the demanding disciplines needed during the season of chaos. When the storm is done, many people shift gears radically and shift into what I call the “downhill coast”. For those unfamiliar with the term “downhill coast”, it is what many novice cyclists do when they hit a decline – stop pedaling and allow the hill to bring the necessary speed to their ride so they can breathe!

For those who have ever coasted downhill on their bicycle, it is clear that perhaps this is not the best practice. The reason is simple…often the decline is followed by an incline. AND when one has coasted down the decline, the incline is difficult to get up. The better practice for cyclists is to keep pedaling down hill in order to create a proper momentum for the incline. Downhill pedaling is not as rigorous as normal, but is still needed if one is to make it up the next hills. Which brings me to my point – in seasons that follow the “storms” of leadership / ministry, the necessity to recoup can be equated with the excuse to “stop pedaling” – stop the disciplines that have been there through the busy times. When leaders give into this practice, they will find themselves unprepared for the next uphill season. Each leader must have a set of “pedal” disciplines in their life that continues regardless of the uphill or downhill typography of life.

As leaders recoup from tough seasons, it is not past disciplines that need to cease. Instead, we need to add new ones – reflection, reading, planning, etc. The truth is, these should be part of all seasons but may get extra “pedal power” during the downhill seasons. As we keep consistent with all our disciplines (pedal power) in all seasons, the uphill parts of the journey will not leave us huffing and puffing!

BECOMING A LEADER

I have been reading through the book of Joshua lately – a book that is filled with leadership lessons. Despite the number of times you read something, each time provides new insights. And sure enough, this read has provided many of those insights. The book starts with a “hand-off” of leadership from Moses to Joshua. Moses has departed and Joshua is the known successor. The book of Joshua begins with a conversation between God and the new leader, followed by a conversation between Joshua and the people. At the end of the first chapter, following Joshua’s first ‘sermon’, it appears the people are prepared to fully follow him.

And that should be enough… Once the God chosen successor is in place, people should follow. They should understand who the leader is and simply follow. The selection process for this leader has been long – around 40 years. There’s no question about who is the replacement for Moses upon his “retirement” – Joshua is the known candidate. AND, he’s already been leading people for some time! The board members are behind him. But more importantly, God is behind him. So…he should be the leader.

But, just when you think you think it all makes sense, God says the most unusual thing. “Today I will begin to make you a great leader in the eyes of all the Israelites” (Joshua 3:7 – NLT). “I will BEGIN…”? What is that about? God is going to BEGIN to make Joshua a leader? I thought he was the leader! I thought people were suppose to listen since he was the chosen one! I thought that the people had already committed to following. What is this all about…?

The truth is, position does not make someone a leader. A title is nothing more than…well, a title. LEADERSHIP IS A PROCESS…NOT A STATE. For Joshua, the beginning of his leadership took place at the moment he served his people in a way that brought significant change to their lives. Our leadership doesn’t start until we actually serve people. It grows the more times we make a positive impact on those around us. Each “piece of land we take” with people further enhances our leadership. If we are to gain a following, we have to be willing to take people places that better them. We have to be willing to bring them into the land of THEIR inheritance, not ours. We have to serve their needs. We have to have a win or two under our belts.

I realize that despite my leadership title, I am constantly “becoming” a leader. While past victories and acts of service will sure help in the leadership journey, people expect new victories and new acts of service every day. People never simply just sit and say, “He is our leader”. Instead, they are constantly looking for leadership actions. And in those moments…we BECOME.

The Cycle of Life

Today is my first day back into the office from two weeks of holidays. And today is the beginning of the cycle. Today I begin in the same way I did last year after Christmas holidays – doing the same things that are always required at this time of the year. My schedule is somewhat circular – repetitive actions from year to year with slight adjustments, unforeseen surprises, and the occasional intentional break of the cycle. There is somewhat of a comfort in cycles – a familiar rhythm that becomes part of our life. Yet, there is also a temptation to simply live life in an predictable manner – forgetting the adventure that life is suppose to be. As I was reflecting on my holidays about this cycle, I was reminded of dreams and goals I have inside my heart and head. There are adventures, ideas, and goals that are not part of my cycle but cause my heart to leap. Some would suggest that I ignore the cycle and follow my dreams.  There are others who would suggest that dreams are mere fantasies that should be left to the irresponsible. I believe that both approaches are potentially damaging. There’s a happy medium to dreams and cycles. I want 2010 to be a year where I am found faithful with the cycle elements and a year where I am including elements that are pursuant of the dreams I have. Cycles without dreams are nothing more than boring monotony. Dreams without cycles are reckless adventures. So, while I return to the cycle, I sit in anticipation about what a balanced year of cycles and dreams can produce!

The Things We Want To Say

Yesterday, I spent the afternoon celebrating the life of a man that best exemplified Christian living -Harold Reid. The funeral had many participants who shared insights about the great life that Harold had lived. Many things inspired me to improve in various areas of life. Yet, there was one comment that struck me as particularly important. It was noticed by one person paying tribute to Harold that in the last months of Harold’s life, he said the things he wanted to say. He explained how Harold had come to a point of openness and generosity of words. There was no way that a person spending time with Harold would walk away without knowing how Harold felt about them.

As leaders, we are driven to reach ideals, fulfill visions, and help people become the best they can be. In these pursuits, we can be tempted to focus on areas of improvement rather than on areas of strength. While we want to speak words of life, at times we feel a responsibility to provide “direction” instead. Furthermore, there are times we feel weak as a leader by expressing our heartfelt thoughts towards someone else. Such an action makes us vulnerable…and even human!

As each person spoke at the funeral, they all spoke of the words of life that Harold spoke over them. To me it seemed that these individuals could hold their heads high because one man spoke meaningful words to them that made them feel like the world. He did not worry about appearing weak or being irresponsible in not bringing needed direction. Instead, he proved his authenticity and became a cheerleader to many.

There are incredible things in our hearts towards those around us. Those thoughts were not meant to be locked up. As we speak “the things we want to say”, we release people into their best and we release life into our souls. Over this Christmas season, when family issues can become chaotic, late nights can produce sharp words, and financial stresses can bring out our worse, let’s take time to say “the things we want to say” to those around us. Let’s be life bringers instead of Scrooges.

Christmas is fast approaching. As I reflect upon the first Christmas, I am reminded of the standard characters that complete the Christmas scene – Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the wise men, and of course, Jesus. Each of these characters could speak to leadership in some fashion. However, I want to consider the wise men. The Bible talks about how they followed a star. To me, that seems extremely odd. I don’t often look to the stars – except when I’m camping and become overwhelmed with their beauty. But, for me, a star is a star. For the wise men, stars were navigational tools and often spoke of greater significance. So, one day, these men see a star and start to follow it… Everyone else saw the star but not everyone else paid attention to the significance. As a result despite many seeing the star, only those who paid attention to the meaning of the star and only those who “understood” the star, saw Jesus.

The Bible has an interesting verse in 1 Chronicles 12:32 that says, “The men of Issachar, who understood the times and knew what Israel should do.” I am fascinated by this verse because it speaks of leaders who saw what everyone else saw, but at a greater level. These men not only saw the times, they saw the meaning of the times and therefore knew what to do. That probably can be said of the wise men – they saw the star, understood it’s significance and then understood what to do.

As humans, we will always see what everyone else sees. The picture is only painted in one way. However, as leaders, we must see what everyone else sees, with understanding. We must look at the issues of society and come to a place where we understand and know what to do. In fact, that is the main role of the leader – to know what to do with what everyone else sees. That task is daunting! Yet, as spiritual leaders, there comes a “supernatural” element that requires us to get our understanding from the Holy Spirit. Unless we do this, we are simply foolish leaders. I am challenged by the responsibility I have to see what everyone else sees…and yet to submit myself to the Spirit’s guidance to know what to do. For as a leader, I must not only see what is before me, but I also must see what is far off, down the road, lying in a manger…that which will impact the nations of the future.

Many fail to see the wonders of life because they fail to take time to understand. I admit life is so crazy that leadership often is about just getting things done. However, if we fail to see and understand, we are doomed to find ourselves exactly where we started. This means maintenance, stagnation, and ultimately death. So while it requires time and effort, leaders must ask the right questions about what the “signs” mean – where society, ministry, and life is going. The wise leader will never stay still but will always be on a journey, following what he/she understands as the path to something significant.

I just finished preaching a retreat. On Saturday night, I preached on John 7:37-39, where Jesus says to the crowd at the Feast of Tabernacles, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” (TNIV). Obviously, my message was on the baptism of the Holy Spirit. As I was praying before the session, I was reflecting on the times when students have not been filled with the Holy Spirit. I must admit, that frustrates and confuses me. In fact, I know many leaders who avoid this topic because they’ve had too many frustrating experiences praying for people to be baptized in the Holy Spirit, with no “results”.

As I was thinking through this dilemma, I was reminded of the history of Pentecostalism in North America. In the early 1900s, a teacher by the name of Charles Parham taught his students about the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. The teaching produced a thirst within the students that sent them on a pursuit. Parham continuously urged his students and others to keep pursuing this promised experience. At 11:00pm on January 1, 1901, a young lady named Agnes Ozman (see insert picture) was finally filled with the Spirit, speaking in tongues for 3 days following. From there, a “pursuit” began all over North America for this same experience. Not everyone received the baptism of the Holy Spirit right away.  Yet, preachers/leaders urged people who were thirsty for this experience to keep seeking.

That brings me to this week’s thought. Why is it that Pentecostal leaders only mention the baptism of the Holy Spirit in a designated message? Why is there not a continuous “call”, urging thirsty people to keep pursuing the baptism of the Holy Spirit? Why does pursuit of this experience only last for a day? When someone is thirsty, they will keep pursuing until that thirst is quenched. And yet, so many leaders move thirsty people on to the “next” topic or series without urging a ongoing pursuit that results in the thirst being met. I am reminded that Jesus instructed His disciples, who incidentally had the greatest teaching a human could get, that they were not to go any further in their walk until they received the Holy Spirit. For Jesus, the baptism of the Holy Spirit was more than just a curriculum topic. For Christ, this baptism was the answer to the problem of thirst – and the answer for powerful evangelism. And, the disciples pursued in that upper room, not receiving immediately, but not moving on until they were filled.

If I could say one thing to Pentecostal leaders, it would be this – “Constantly tell your people to keep pursuing this promised experience that quenches our thirst!” Every time you are with people who are not baptized in the Holy Spirit, encourage them to keep pursuing. I don’t think we can do this enough. The Pentecostal experience is not just another topic to be checked off on our list for the year. It is not something reserved for a Saturday night retreat service or for “Pentecost Sunday”. The more we talk about it, the greater the thirst will be. The greater the thirst will be, the greater the pursuit. And…the greater the pursuit, the more will be filled!

It’s week 5 of my Biblical Exegesis and Faith Integration course. I have 23 days left until this course is done – placing me at around the 25% completion place for my Masters. That should seem encouraging. But today, I’m less than encouraged. This course requires that I write a 12-16 page paper on a Biblical passage that’s worth 50% of my course – complete hermeneutic process required. I researched all my periodical articles early in the course. But, I have been waiting to really start my paper because of my schedule. I have one more speaking engagement this weekend – which is consuming my mind and heart. Once that’s done, I will go full throttle on this paper… I’ve got a plan. I’m good at writing papers. I should have perfect marks before I even begin this paper. The sun should be shining…. But it’s not.

My mind is constantly thinking about this paper. The rationale of knowing I will complete it on time and get a good mark seems to be far away from the feelings which overwhelm me. I keep thinking, “How am I going to get this done?” And so I wait a little longer…until I can find a moment to breathe, think, study, and write. Until then, stress fills my life with every breath I take.

The pressure of procrastination is suffocating. Regardless of the reason for putting something off, we are often faced with emotions that cause all acids within our body to hit the shores of our stomachs. Our minds are rattled and focus is nothing more than a distant 5-letter word. The worse part is fear – a feeling that says. “You won’t get it done. You’re going to fail.” And yet, despite the horrendous emotions that result from procrastination, we keep putting things off.

As a leader, there are many times we will have the opportunity to procrastinate. It may be an involved assignment, a difficult conversation, a dreaded chore, or something else that we put on the bottom of our list. Unfortunately, the more we procrastinate, the more we minimize our overall effectiveness. This is true for those areas that are beyond the realms of the put-off task. Furthermore, our procrastination prevents us from truly enjoying the good elements around us. We fail to see the things worth celebrating because we are haunted by the undone.

As a leader, we must remove procrastination from our lives. Difficult decisions require a decision. Dreaded confrontations escalate our emotions unless immediately dealt with. Tasks that we’d rather not do – those are the things worth doing first so we can have plenty of time to enjoy the stuff we most like. So today, take time to enjoy life by doing what you least want to do first.