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Category: Self Leadership (page 1 of 6)

What difference does your faith make?

Today I ran across to seemly opposite comments. First, Tim Keller:

“When I talk to my Hindu, Muslim or atheist neighbors I have every reason to believe that they could be better people than me.”

Scott McKnight in “A Community Called Atonement” says

“We need to think of the big picture: Are Christians—taken as a whole—more loving people? Are they more forgiving? Are they more just? Are they more peaceful? Are they really better? . . . I teach a generation of students that believes the credibility of the Christian faith is determined by claiming a confident (if humble) “Yes!” to each of those questions. This generation is tired of an old-fashioned atonement theology that does not make a difference, of an old-fashioned atonement theology that is for individual spiritual formation but not for ecclesial re-formation, and of an old-fashioned atonement theology that does not reconcile humans with humans.” (p. 2)


The real question both are asking is “What difference does my faith make when I walk through daily life?” Keller is making a point that we can’t assume we are better than others, and thus self-righteous because we know that our righteousness comes only from Jesus.

McKnight challenges us to not look for ways to keep ourselves safe inside our belief system but to instead challenge ourselves to see all of the gospel and to put action to that faith. “It is the story of God’s embracing grace that makes a person capable of embracing others with grace so that the atonement begins to work for others.’ (p. 3)


Both are right. When I look down on people who don’t know Jesus because they act like people who don’t know Jesus I am acting self-righteously and that is soooo wrong. If I can’t humbly see my need for Jesus through the dailiness of life, then I’ve missed the point. When I CAN see my need for Jesus, I think it also forms how I see others – I elevate them and value them just as I value myself.

Maybe this is what Jesus was talking about – Love your neighbor as you love yourself. (See Mark 12:30-31).

When are you tempted to pull away from others, to see yourself in some way better and not worth getting muddied by the ick of life?

Here is another question: When is the most loving response to remove yourself from a situation?

Jesus didn’t call us to an easy religion. He called us to a muddy relationship.

Our actions then, even the humility that Keller talks about comes not from our own actions or our own mental positioning, but from the Holy Spirit shaping us from the inside out. If we haven’t yet been shaped by time with Him, then it is time to back away and let Him shape us. Trying to do it on our own brings about attitudes if not actions that are contrary to the Good News.

Mark 12:30-31 “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

When panic hits

Lately, I have a question rolling through my head way too regularly – sometimes several times a day:

“Do you really think God is that small?”

Here is how it started: I read (the first half) of a book that wrecked me Gospel Fluency by Jeff Vanderstelt. In the first chapter of this book, Jeff lays out a fact that has been a faith challenge to me all summer:

When I say we are all unbelievers, I mean we still have places in our lives where we don’t believe God. There are spaces where we don’t trust his word and don’t believe that what he accomplished in Jesus Christ is enough to deal with our past or what we are facing in this moment or the next. We don’t believe his word is true or his work is sufficient. We don’t believe. We are unbelievers. 1

This is so true!!! I start worrying about…well, you name it…and then I hear “do you really think God is that small?” This one little sentence is helping me to live what I technically believe. You see, many of us believe with our mind, but not with our heart. We believe God is real and rewards those who earnestly seek Him (See Heb 6), but then we get hit with something – bills, people, young adult children, our own futures – and we stop looking at God and start trying to figure out how to fix things.

That is when my heart whispers “Do you really think God is that small?”

Messy is Not a Sin

I’m in the middle of transitions. All three of my younger kids are on the cusp of adulthood, which means I have NO control, and really shouldn’t – but I still have the mommy-panic-button that goes off way too regularly.

I am about to finish my doctorate but have no idea of what God has for me next. I am in my early 50’s, which means I am starting on the most productive years of my life… and I want them to count. And if I start down the panicky trail of trying to make my life count, I will soon find myself disconnected from God and those who mean the most to me.

Then I hear the whisper:

“Do you really think God is that small?”

You see, God is in charge of the universe and He put me here for a reason. I won’t step out of His will unless I purposefully do so. He isn’t going to make my path so vague that I could accidentally step off a cliff. He also has a plan for my kids, and although I know the impact that bad decisions can have, let’s look at a couple bad situations in the bible – two caused by a bad decision and one caused by, well, God’s development.

Bad decisions:

Sarah and Abraham decided to make their future (that God had promised) through means that seemed reasonable to them.

Result: Ishmael and the battle in the middle east to this day. However, God’s results were not circumnavigated. Neither was his timing. God was no less in charge, and He still brought about Isaac and his progeny. God was not shocked, nor was he thwarted by Abraham and Sarah’s mistake.

Bad decision #2: Israelites chose not to go into Canaan when they had the chance. Result: That generation didn’t go in, but the next one did. God was not thwarted by Israel’s mistake. His plans still came about.

Result: That generation didn’t go in, but the next one did. God was not thwarted by Israel’s mistake. His plans still came about.

In both situations, the participants willingly went against what God told them. They chose to walk in unbelief.

PANIC: Even as I describe those situations part of me wants to panic. Afterall, there were bad results. I don’t like bad results and want to be good enough to avoid them. Yet, that still small voice whispers – “do you think God is not aware that humans are fallible? Could it be that He uses the bad situations to mold and shape people to be more like Him, and to have His wisdomr?” 

Bad situation: Joseph – first in slavery, then in prison. Anyone who reads this story needs to hear Joseph’s faith – he never stopped trusting God, even when the dream he had been given looked impossible. He still believed that God gives dreams (see his conversation with the cupbearer and cook). God used that very bad decade or more (12 years, I think) to develop Joseph into someone who could manage all the resources of Egypt and save millions (my guess) from famine.

Being in a middle space means that you are learning to maintain your balance in what feels like a precarious situation. You have memory of the past, and a hopeful eye on the horizon, looking for firm ground. It is normal to feel out of balance and a bit “off” during transitions. But, we can live in belief. We can choose to stop the panic and walk in the faith that God is in charge. He is bigger than other people, He is bigger than circumstances, He is really in control and will cover my inadvertent errors. Even when I purposefully go against His direction, He will bring about His will for my life. I can trust in that.

What about you? What pushes your panic buttons, and how do you maintain the perspective that God is in charge? Let’s start a conversation in the comments below.

1 Vanderstelt, Jeff (2017-02-14). Gospel Fluency: Speaking the Truths of Jesus into the Everyday Stuff of Life (p. 20). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

Messy is not sin

messy “Messy is not sin.” This is the quote from 40 Days of Decrease, my devotion for Lent.

The sentence keeps rolling around in my head today. I like clean lines. I like smooth emotions. I like life to not be messy – because messy hurts. Messy is a bit like pruning (or a destruction derby, depending on the day).

The question is – do I love the people around me enough to let them be messy?

In order to be better at letting people be messy, we have to be better at crucial conversations and creative problem solving. People are important. The growth we get from working through issues is worth the mess.

We all have different ways of dealing with stress – fight, flight or freeze. On my best days, I freeze. Most of the time, I flee – fast. On rare occasion, I have been known to step in front of the teenage freight train (I have several of them) and actually fight – because that is what the child needed.

While there are healthy ways to approach each of these tendencies, each approach has a downside. Freezing can miss critical moments. Fleeing might squash people’s emotions instead of helping them work through it. Fighting without boundaries can squash people and debilitate them. Embracing messy gives us the freedom to work through things slowly enough that freezing means listening, fleeing means regrouping to approach a situation with grace and wisdom, and fighting means having a critical conversation about what really matters.

I am very tempted right now to go back and make this a nice linear blog post that explains my conclusions – but messy is not sin, and messy can be helpful – so I will leave you with this:

What is messy about your life that you need to embrace?

Dance freely

DanceWho do you dance for?

Fear. Will others approve? Will they misinterpret? What would make me okay? It hits us in so many areas of life – parenting, job performance, social situations…the list is long.

The cure? To dance before the Audience of One. I don’t know where this phrase started, but it means that God is the One you focus on for acclaim.

Who is in your audience today?

Who is in your head that you reflect on as you navigate life?

The girl in the picture above is a street performer. She dances in order to get the attention of others because if she has their attention, then maybe they will give her coins. She needs her audience. She has to modify her behavior to keep their attention.

If we are dependent on the audience of many, we can become pulled in so many directions we lose our identity. There is an inner strength that comes from dancing before the One who defines our purpose and sustains our strength.

Who do you dance for?

Sitting in Transition

transitionI put out a frantic text to my cohort. “I can see my life shrinking. Soon it won’t be bigger than my couch.”

This was a critical moment in my recent transitions. We all reach that point – some of you aren’t as dramatic as I was. I knew I was in trouble because I couldn’t see past the end of my nose. I wanted to curl up in bed and never talk to anyone again…ever…unless they had chocolate, then I might say something rude so they’d drop the chocolate and run. 🙂

My grown up brain knew I was in trouble, so I reached out to friends. “Tell me what life is like after the kids move out. Paint a picture for me that brings hope.”

This particular wall was brought to you by my second child moving out to start her own life and live with friends. I was proud of her, and terrified for me. You see, I have 4 kids. We managed the oldest going off to school, moving her residence to CA and then getting married with only two meltdowns. But this is different. My younger three children have always been like dominoes. Where one goes, the others quickly follow. Within a year we will have all college students and above (my youngest will be in Running Start). The future is here!

This is the time I planned for! Since I was 16 I’ve planned for this day. I decided very young that the best years of a woman’s life are 45 or 50 to 70. I saw it coming and every decision I made was with this time-frame in mind. Yet, here I sat, facing a blank wall of the future.  (For those of you who know me, I’ve been “in transition” for about 8 years…but that’s another post.)

Thank God for friends! My girlfriends (cohort) didn’t wallow with me, instead, they prayed. Within a week, I had a plan for transition. I don’t have a clear vision of the future, but I do know that I need to be firmly in transition before the future will show itself. So, here is my plan for transition:

The first step in transition is knowing what you are letting go of, and letting go of it. As a pastor, I found the best way to help a family start the transition involved with the death of a loved one was to have them go through photos, remember together the past. So, I started. I went to the basement and dug through all the boxes, bins and files of childhood I’d saved for my kids – then I sorted it all into bins: one for each child, one for Wes and myself, and one for genealogy (my mother-in-law’s hobby that I’m saving for my children). Then, I went through the pictures, and kept those that might mean something to the kids some day. This phase will be done soon.

The next step in transition is redefining who you are without what you lost. Don’t panic. I know I’m not losing my kids, but I am losing:

  • Social buffers
  • Reasons to interact with others (soccer anyone?)
  • Distraction/Excuses
  • People who force me to choose to be happy/look on the bright side
  • People who force me to create a schedule

So, as I redefine who I am, I am going through the rest of the house and systematically culling (which means to gather from many resources and to “reduce a population (of animals) by selective slaughter”, both of which are appropriate here…, well, not killing animals, but getting rid of the excess stuff) – everything that we don’t have a use for needs to go away. So far I’ve discovered that I have three (almost) identical sets of artists pencils. Every time I go on vacation, I buy a new set. Can you imagine how much space I will have?

The third step in transition comes all on its own. New Direction. This comes out of walking through the first two steps. It isn’t something you can force – yet I find myself reaching…maybe I can do more work here…maybe I should volunteer to help there…what about…?? The trick is to sit. Let the process do its work, and wait for God to show up.

I’ve watched friends go through this phase – and the turn comes suddenly. Within a few days or a week, what was becomes old, and there is a new future on the horizon. So now is the time to settle everything so that it won’t be on my todo list when the new future arrives.

Are you in transition? What is your game plan?

Pivot Leadership by Angela Craig

PIVOT LEADERSHIP Cover Display Mockup My friend Angela has written a book, and you will find it an excellent companion as you prepare to organize your life again this Fall.

We all look for times of renewal and fresh start. For many of us, Fall is the perfect time to refresh and renew.

Angela’s book is your leadership refresher in a box.

“Pivot” works on two levels, first when you hit a wall, don’t stare at the wall, pivot. Next, real change doesn’t come through huge leaps and bounds, but through small, pivotal steps.

Pivot Leadership works as a primer to help you review your leadership and your life to discover ways around the walls, and the small steps you need to find your next step.

In this book you’ll find chapters on the life of the leader, leading in team, and your vision for the future. Every chapter has excellent action steps to help you review and apply each principle.

Need more information? Check out the trailer:

Reality Check

rejectionSometimes God is kind to us and gives us a serious reality check. Today was one of those days.

I came out of the restroom, and saw a beautiful woman with perfect hair standing there. Next to her, I felt dowdy. It is not uncommon for me to blurt what is on my mind, and this was no exception.

I looked at her beautiful red hair and announced “I am having a bad hair day.”

She looked at me oddly, then announced in return “Yesterday I shaved my head bald… you see, I’m having cancer treatments.”

This woman gave me such a gift today. Her wig was gorgeous. I compared myself to her – and failed to see what was really going on. She could have given me a superficial answer and walked away, but instead she opened up and told me the truth.

When I shared this story with my youngest daughter, she quoted her youth pastor. “Pastor Shaun says that we often compare our worst to other people’s best.”

Are you comparing yourselves to others?

You might be missing an opportunity to minister – and you might not be seeing reality.

What is God trying to show you today?

What box do you fit in?

11741263_sYesterday I talked about self-identity. I’m thinking through this for a reason.

I highly suspect that:

  1. Just as we tend to change careers every 7 years, we also tend to need to redefine our boxes (which means teens aren’t the only ones working on self-identity).
  2. When we are solely defined by what others think of us, that impedes this process.
  3. Men have an easier time of finding their box than women.

This last one deserves some explanation.

Men tend to lead in hierarchies. They think in boxes. In fact, when you move up the hierarchy, you just move your box up. When they leave work, they move to a different hierarchy, and switch hats to dad, or coach, or etc.

Women tend to lead in more of a web. We see the connectedness of things. We self-define through the lens of multiple relationships at a time. Therefore, we don’t have just one box at a time. Neither do we wear one hat at a time.

It is not unusual to plan dinner, create a check list for next week, and council a teen while working on an extensive spreadsheet for next year’s budget. Everything runs into each other, so it is a lot harder to define our ‘place.’

I’ve been talking with friends lately about the lack of women in leadership. I hear from some friends that men would love to have more women in leadership, but when they look for them, they aren’t there.

Where are all the women? They are sitting in 3 boxes, wearing 6 hats, hoping someone will notice the skill set they are so fantastically demonstrating – if anyone could see the whole picture at once. But, when they use their skill set to marshal the entire PTA to raise funds for kids’ field trips, people see the soccer mom or school volunteer. When they navigate medical terminology and negotiate home health care contracts for their family members, they see a dutiful daughter.

I highly suspect that because women self-define several things at once, it appears they don’t have the space to fill an open slot. There is a business adage of this: if you want something done, ask a busy person.

What are we missing?

What would you add to help further this conversation?

“For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

What makes you okay?

11458138_sMany of us feel okay by setting a standard and meeting that standard. What do you use to make yourself feel okay?

Some people define themselves by

  • Family relationships
  • Knowing and obeying all the rules
  • Our mistakes and failures

In John 8 Jesus and the Pharisees face off about how we define ourselves.

Jesus suggests that we be defined by our relationship with God. Not by our failures, our lack of resources, our rules for life, who our family is, what they did or didn’t do, or our connections.

What do you define yourself by?

The woman caught in adultery not only defined herself, but was defined by the society she was in.

Are you defined by those who know you?

Jesus looked at the woman and told her she had a choice. She could repeat her behavior and end up in the same place, or she could chart a new course.

Jesus challenged the Pharisees that their relationship with God should shape how they thought of others.

Every day, you find yourself at the feet of Jesus.

Will you shout your okay-ness like the Pharisees?

Will you continue the life that got you to today?

Will you let Jesus redefine you as the person you were created to be?

What to do in a freakout

fearTonight, I get to share with the Calvary Christian Assembly women for the fifth week. We’ve been looking at the process of change (knowing what you are letting go of and letting go of it, redefining who you are without what you lost, and new direction) alongside Elijah’s life.

Tonight we hit 1 Kings 19 – which is perhaps the one scripture I return to more often than most.

Elijah was a superhero. He stood up to all the prophets of Baal and the prophetesses of Asherah, and he systematically dismantled the idol worship of a nation, refocusing hearts on God.

And then he fell apart.

If you are going to step out in faith, there will be that eventual moment when you realize that you are walking on air. The same thing happened to Peter when he stepped out of the boat. Solid step, solid step, what am I doing??? Freakout, sink – glug, glug, glug.

You and I might face different freakouts. Maybe the bills just hit like a wave, or the emotions of those we love send us in a tale spin, or we want to step out, but hit a wall of desperation, doom and despair.

Elijah shows us a very tangible process to deal with freakouts:

  1. Be honest. Don’t try to put on your best face with God. Be honest. If He can’t handle your honest emotions, then you haven’t seen Him as God yet –  just another person to please.

2. Take care of your body. The first thing God did was to send an angel to fix the physical part of the freakout. When you are depleted, your body chemicals respond, and amplify your situation. Sleep, eat right foods, exercise and drink water.

  1. Expect God to show up. Elijah ran from his situation, but he ran to the Mountain of God. He demanded that God show up. He hollered at God, asked real questions of God, was honest with God and expected God to show up.

No matter where you are at today, God is real and rewards those who earnestly seek Him (Hebrews 11). If you are in a freakout, even if you are sinking fast, focus your eyes on where you last saw God and expect Him to show up. He will.

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