A Leader’s Lament

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Sometimes I care too much, my ego trumps reason
Sometimes I don’t care enough, it depends on the season
I beat the drum often, not wanting others to forget
Not sharing in my passion, they insincerely acquiesce

Only a few things matter, yet my brain is scattered
One word of criticism, and my worth is shattered
When it comes to living, when it comes to teamwork
Everyone talks the talk, but the walk is misgiving

“We” are stronger than “I”, as long as “I” gets the credit
My humility most impressive, I’ll tell you all about it
I want the truth, desperately seeking transparency
Yet words are guarded, dishonesty flowered deceptively

I’m here for you, I’ve got your back
I believe in you, there’s nothing I lack
Unless someone disagrees, unless someone moans
Then I need to step away, I need courage on loan

A fish out of water, is a fish out of air
I have something in common, it’s something I share
Take care of my cause, take care of my needs
Then I’ll let people know, you are a wise man who leads

But leading isn’t popularity, it isn’t first to please
It isn’t taking polls, it’s not putting people at ease
It means having deep convictions, having secure beliefs
It means staying true to course, not taking relief

The hill I climb is lonely, often feeling stranded
The hill I climb is baren, often taken for granted
The hill I climb is noble, the hill I climb is inspiring
As long as it does not get in the way of your living

Females raped and murdered, where is the rage?
It seems important, but message gets back page
The church is the answer, the message of justice we bring
But the words get muted, arguing over the songs we sing

Children die before 5, $20 is the solution
My debit card is low, comfort my main concern
I have the money, but I’m keeping up with the Jones’
Car, House, Boat, busy paying off the loans’

The world needs billions, seems overwhelming
Billions would not compare, if Christians were tithing
I can’t do it all, but I can open the door
If I learn to say “No”, I can do so much more

Boys without role models, absent of fathers
They are not on my block, so why even bother
But the needs are great, the opportunities do not lack
I am the change I pray for, but my schedule is packed

Options are good, until there are too many
Poverty cries out, “I don’t have any”
America the beautiful, everyone given equal chance
Unless born in the hood, equality becomes a fat chance

More concerned about position, more about my security
My dreams are much more daring, as I live in my safety
Been told to be quiet, told “balance” is for the wise
There’s no more heroes, “well rounded” is our demise

I check my heart, I check by pride
I check my will, putting desires aside
I live in abundance, my challenges are few
When I say I have problems, I ask, “Compared to who?”

People want the world to be like them
I say, they should want the world to be like HIM
As soon as I say my theology is a lock
I have just put God right in a box

My faith is bigger than Republican or Democrat
My faith is stronger than where the world is at
Jesus created this world, then gave his life
He asks me to love this world, then give up my life

Sometimes I care too much, my ego trumps reason
Sometimes I don’t care enough, it depends on the season
But one thing I know, one thing I am sure
That loving orphans and widows is a religion that’s pure!

6 Paradoxes of a Leader

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Paradoxes can be funny like when comedian John Stewart said, “Religion. It’s given people hope in a world torn up by religion” or when Yogi Berra said, “Nobody comes here anymore. It’s too crowded.”

Paradoxes can be funny but they can also be very important in framing an effective leadership strategy. Soren Kierkegaard talked about the huge impact paradoxes can have in our thinking when he wrote, “One must not think slightingly of the paradoxical…for the paradox is the source of the thinker’s passion, and the thinker without a paradox is like a lover without feeling: a paltry mediocrity.” 

I love what Danish Physicist and Nobel Prize winner Niels Bohr stated about how things begin to move forward when a paradox shows up, “How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress.” 

Jesus was the ultimate paradoxical leader and turned the religious institutions of his day upside down when he stated “…that a grain of wheat that falls on the ground will never be more than one grain unless it dies. But if it dies, it will produce lots of wheat. If you love your life, you will lose it. If you give it up in this world, you will be given eternal life. If you serve me, you must go with me. My servants will be with me wherever I am. If you serve me, my Father will honor you.” John 12:24-26

Lots of paradoxical statements in those three verses!

To be a paradoxical leader you have to learn to embrace the subordinating conjunction “while”. “While” means 1) at or during same time: at or during the same time that  2) even though: in spite of the fact that.

Here are six paradoxes that every effective leader must face. The question is, how do you live out the “while”?

PARADOX #1 You must be building and recruiting and investing in leaders and getting out of the way, WHILE still being in the trenches.

PARADOX #2 You must be the inspiration, positive, optimistic voice for your team, WHILE making sure you take care of yourself when you are discouraged or drained.

PARADOX #3 You must invest in other people’s gifts and talents, helping to bring out the best in them, WHILE making sure you are growing and stretching and getting better at your gifts and talents.

PARADOX #4 You must do something for a long period of time (consistency) in order to grow an organization that has deep roots, an enduring vision and a sustainable future, WHILE making sure you try new things that allow you to get out of your comfort zone and to experience other passions in your life.

PARADOX #5 You must be a big picture, structure building, org-chart expanding leader, WHILE remembering that the most important part of your life is about close friendships, family and a personal faith.

PARADOX #6 You must never get too high or too low, knowing that leading is a long journey, and that it’s not a sprint but a marathon, WHILE remembering that every moment counts and every encounter is sacred and all you have is the present.

Would love to hear how you live out these paradoxes and what it looks like in your life or organization.

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”
― Carl R. Rogers

The Generosity of the Poor

The Canyon

“You say you care about the poor? Tell me their names.” ― Craig Greenfield

The life expectancy is 40 years.
The lucky live on $2 a day.
The hope is one meal a day.
The dirt is their floor and the stars their roof.
The smell of methane fills their lungs.
The lack of choices interrupts their dreams.
They live 10 minutes from the richest country in the world.

These are the lives and challenges of the children and families in the closed garbage dumps of Tijuana, Mexico known as “The Canyon”.

As an American, many things are confusing and unsettling in “The Canyon.”

1. The Mexican government closed the dump, covered it with a couple feet of soil, marked off lots and sold this land back to its poorest citizens knowing that the health risks are devastating.

2. The desperateness of the situation attracts drugs and gangs leading to some very dangerous neighborhoods.

3. The lack of education(most have at best a 7th grade education) drives families to collect trash, burn it and take from it the few precious metals it leaves behind and sell it to the local multi-million dollar recycling company.

4. Children get caught in a vicious cycle where education becomes more difficult to continue as they grow older due to the cost and the need for a birth certificate by the 6th grade, while at the same time, parents need their kids to burn trash to look for income generating metals or watch over their younger siblings while they go off to work somewhere else. These are all obstacles to a higher education.

All of this is the definition of injustice. The first time an American takes a tour of “The Canyon” numbness, sadness, anger and guilt are the emotions that come flooding forth.

But the longer an American hangs out in “The Canyon”, other emotions and observations come forward.

1. There are heroic organizations, private schools and churches that have dedicated their resources and purpose to serve this forgotten community.

2. David Lynch started a school on a blue tarp and 20 years later, almost 100 children, ages 3-5 are getting an education, in a beautiful facility, learning English and computer skills, the two things that will eventually get them out of the canyon creating more options of making and living a decent life.

3. Dave Hessler, a retired American, has an office at the Blue Tarp school and is the unofficial community leader and connector of resources to needs. He meets with families and connects them to food, medical help and better home construction, while advocating for school child sponsorship and newer and bigger computer labs. Dave is a connector but most of all he is a conduit of hope as he listens and prays with each family, and though he can’t meet all the needs, people know he cares and that they are not alone.

4. One of the residents of “The Canyon”, Javier, a father of 6, with his 7th on the way, who lives in a 10 x 20 home, a large home for the canyon, advocates for the less fortunate in his community, having families stay with him while their smaller homes are getting first time roofs or dirt floors are being replaced by cement or walls are being expanded. Javier has so little yet his smile and gratitude is very humbling. Surprisingly Javier’s attitude is representative of many of the residents in “The Canyon”.

With all the injustice and heroism you see in “The Canyon”, as an American, the biggest thing I took away from “The Canyon” was a sense of my own poverty. My life lacks so much.

My lack of gratitude.
My lack of contentment.
My lack of caring for my neighbor.
My greed, ignorance and self-focused priorities exposed my poverty.

As I think of ways to help fight poverty in “The Canyon” I am also thankful for how they are helping me with my own poverty.

This is the way God works. He confounds the seemingly strong and successful by teaching us through the seemingly weak and forgotten.

John Steinbeck in the “Grapes of Wrath” wrote, “If you’re in trouble, or hurt or need – go to the poor people. They’re the only ones that’ll help – the only ones.”

The times I have spent over the years in the canyons of Tijuana, Mexico to the valleys of La Mission and Guadalupe, Mexico, Mr. Steinbeck is exactly right.

The generosity of a meal given by a single mom who has nothing, the working along side a father who is struggling to make ends meet, who is helping his homeless neighbor build his house, to a young child wanting to give back to me a portion of the candy I had just handed him is counter-intuitive and mind sheering to an American who never has enough, is constantly worried about the future and holds on to things way to tightly.

As you decide to fight injustice and care for the poor, AND YOU MUST, it is God’s mandate, brace yourself for the lessons you will learn and the freedom you will experience and the strength you will discover through “the least of these.”

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5 Attributes of Successful Non-Profit Leaders

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1. They have a clear, uncompromising, passionate vision about what their organization is about.

Successful leaders make sure that they are the voice and keeper of the vision.

As Pastor Bill Hybels once stated “Vision leaks.” People who are in the trenches working heroically, fighting injustice, serving the underprivileged and defending the marginalized can become tired and discouraged and forget the overall vision of why they are there and why the organization exists.

When we are tired or discouraged, vision will seep out of us and fear and compromise will creep into us.

THE most important job as a leader is to keep the vision clear and find ways through celebratory stories, inspiring teachings, consistent systems and personal examples to remind people why they are there.

I call this “Creative Redundancy”.

One of the most effective tools for fundraising for non-profits is a clear vision. Resources flow out of  vision.

Successful leaders do this.

“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” —Proverbs 29:18

2. They leave managing things to others and they focus their time investing in, recruiting and leading people.

People are the most important commodity of any organization and especially a non-profit organization.

This is a fundamental philosophy that every leader must adhere to.

The strength of your people = The effectiveness of your organization.

Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, a WWII hero, observed, “You manage things; you lead people.”

With all the demands of details, tasks and systems, leaders must make sure that the majority of their time is in growing people towards their greatest potential.

Great organizations have great people and great people will give their best and will commit to the long haul not because of pay or perfect systems, but because the vision is clear and because they feel invested in and valued.

3. They are suspicious of success and keep the organization grateful, humble and optimistically dissatisfied.

Short term success has killed more organizations than short term failure. One of the biggest responsibilities of a leader is to help his/her organization navigate success.

Success can make us sloppy with budgets, overestimate our abilities and comfortable with the status quo.

Successful leaders learn how to celebrate wins while reminding people that pending successes are not guaranteed and that humility and gratefulness lead to a sustainable, winning future.

Successful leaders learn to create a sustainable discord where victories are celebrated but the tension of uncompleted goals propel the organization forward.

4. They understand that talk is cheap and clearly defined results are the measure of success.

U.S.C. professor and leadership guru Warren Bennis says it very succinctly, “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.”

Bottom line: If vision isn’t becoming reality, successful leaders take full ownership of the problem and spend sleepless nights trying to figure out how to make effective changes.

Mediocre leaders justify, compromise, pass the blame and learn to live with a lack of urgency  that infects those they are leading.

One of the most important things successful leaders do is they clearly define what organizational success is and then they evaluate their successes accordingly. This takes deep conviction and confidence in themselves to say, “I have failed, I can do better.”

Successful leaders live deeply rooted in reality while striving for and reaching for idealism.

5. They sacrifice ego to empower those they are leading to greatness, thus making the organization stronger and more sustainable.

Successful leaders learn to navigate the difficult transition from top down leadership to servant leadership.

Servant leadership involves making sure people are working in their strengths and passions.

Servant leadership involves helping people grow holistically.

Servant leadership involves allowing others to get credit while remaining quietly in the background.

Servant leadership involves collaboration, humility, inner strength, less fame and a commitment to a greater cause.

When servant leaders retire, their organizations usually transition well because values are deep, vision is clear, and structure is sustainable because it was not built on one person or one personality.

“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” —Jack Welch

“The job of love is to help someone realize their potential.” Bono

“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.” Max DePree

A song screams silently inside my head

A song screams silently inside my head
Curses, blessings, words that are said
No hope, no life, yet born to achieve
Choosing the language I need to believe

Another day, same ol’ fight
Soul poorly lit, losing sight
Bones grow weak, eyes close slow
Can’t feel the pain, can’t feel the glow

Waking up, a brand new leaf
Turn it over, same ol’ beliefs
Intentions grand, easy to say
Knowing truth, can’t stop destructive ways

Sing out loud, my mouth shouts for something
Shout out loud, my mouth sings for nothing
Lift up my hands, surrender leads to something
Bow my head, knowing I have nothing

Grace sounds easy, too good to be true
Accessible to everyone, gentile, Jew
Grace echos gratis, free of charge
Small on rules, the spirits large

Definition free, don’t cost a thing
Boundless, limitless, cost everything
What once were gains, now called loss
Searching for life, found at the cross

Accepting myself, not easy to do
Believing essential, all things new
Higher power, strong enough
Humility hard, realities rough

Sing out loud, my mouth shouts for something
Shout out loud, my mouth sings for nothing
Lift up my hands, surrender leads to something
Bow my head, knowing I have nothing

I love, I try, I’m bold, I’m shy
I fall, I lie, I soar, I fly
I jump, I leap, I bow, I sigh
I moan, I groan, I live, I die

A song screams silently in my head
Curses, blessings, words that are said
Choose to believe, promises given me
Language changes, grace becomes beauty

These People

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An abandoned daughter discovers her Heavenly Father.
An angry ex-con encounters authentic friendships.
A controlling mother learns to let go and let God.
A one year clean woman mentors a struggling drug addict.
A relationship destroying alcoholic gains new tools and makes amends.
A recovering sex addict finds new purpose and is set free.
A guilt-ridden religious woman experiences grace.

Who are these people?

These are the people Brennan Manning celebrated when he wrote, “There is a beautiful transparency to honest disciples who never wear a false face and do not pretend to be anything but who they are.”

These are the people Jesus had in mind when He said, “I have come to heal the broken-hearted.”

These are the people Jesus said are the greatest because of their humility and commitment to one another.

These are the people Jesus would call the Church.

Yet…

These are the people most churches reject, ignore and outsource to other agencies.

These are the people most churches marginalize, judge, undervalue and under serve.

These are the people most churches hope go somewhere else.

Yet…

These are the people who are bringing huge blessings to my church.

These are the people who are showing us that God is still in the miracle business.

These are the people who are showing us how to be transparent and brave.

These are the people who are showing us the importance of accountability and genuine friendship.

These are the people who are showing us that we are all in recovery from something.

These are the people who are showing us that the ground is level at the foot of the cross.

These are the people who are showing us that everything is Grace.

These are the people that God is with, and if we are with them, then we are with God.

Yet…

Why are so many fleeing the church?

Because the church has rejected “these people.”

These are the very people Jesus said he would judge us by how we treated them.

These are the very people Jesus said that when we serve and love them, we will be blessed.

These are the very people Jesus said that when we serve and love them, we serve and love him.

We too often want the world to change when in reality, the church must change.

Until the church becomes transparent, inclusive, safe, brave, courageous, messy, grace-filled, humble and willing to sacrifice, serve, strategize, prioritize and make a high commitment to serve and be led by “these people”, then it will continue to shrink and be benign.

We too often want the world to repent, when in reality, the church must repent.

If the church is not serving and welcoming and allowing “these people” to lead, then it is really not the church, but more a building, more an exclusive club.

At my church, “these people” call themselves Celebrate Recovery, and they are leading the way towards blessings, miracles, redemption and an intimacy with God that is rarely seen.

Thank you for your example in humility.
Thank you for your leadership in transparency.
Thank you for your commitment to grace.
Thank you for re-introducing us to the presence of God.

May there be a revolution of “these people.”

“It is impossible to meet God without abandon, without exposing yourself, being raw.” Bono

Where there is no vision, people perish

They say that those who can’t, end up teaching
But I say those who won’t, end up critiquing
They say, stay close to those who are for you
I say, those that are for you are sadly few

They say, I’m all about team, but what’s in it for me
But I say, If you have to ask, then it’s more about identity
They say, I am all the way in, you can count on me
I say, in the end, it’s all about their security

They say, things I want to hear, with a face full of fun
But I say, behind closed doors, they wish I were gone
They say, we can do it on our own, we don’t need you
I say, be careful what you wish for, dreams do come true

Miracles don’t happen by dabbling, only by immersion
Miracles happen by many, not just one
Miracles happen by values, by the choices we choose
Miracles happen by vision, not taking others clues

Being popular is dangerous, a worn out treadmill
Consuming your mind, trying to get the lead bill
Fame is cotton candy, sweet at first, then quickly fleeting
It’s the drug of choice, in this celebrity media frenzy

Paul writes that the most important parts are hidden
So why does the man on stage get the recognition
Paul writes my weaknesses are ok because He is strong
So why does the man on stage sing a different song

They say, be sold out, be dedicated, but within reason
I say, I must be fully in, regardless of the season
They say, make sure you get out of the way, let others lead
I say, I don’t think I am done yet, my hurting heart still bleeds

They say, what about local, seems not enough people hired
I say, what about global, to whom much given is required
They say, I can’t afford to live, where is my Iphone 5
I say, they can’t afford to live, many die before age 5

They say, I have to simplify, I’ve lost the American dream
I say, our wants have lost the reality of our true needs
They say, once I get set then I will surely help others
I say, blessings come by first serving sisters and brothers

Spending so much time trying to look important
Dabbling has made the church benign and impotent
Jesus said, If you want to gain your life you must lose it
Not for the faint of heart, they are words of immersion

They say, give people rules, it’s the role of religion
I say, rules kill people, it leads to short term conviction
They say, but without rules, our world is undisciplined
I say, we have more rules, than history ever intended

They say, tell people to stop, tell them be strong enough
I say, I stopped drinking by myself, that’s called a dry drunk
They say, living a righteous life is what you don’t do
I say, righteousness means living justice outside the pew

They say, thy kingdom come, they will be done
They say, but you can’t be both democrat and republican
I say, God is bigger politics, He is bigger than religion
I say, it’s mad Grace and the work He has given

In the words of Mr. Chesterton:
Christianity has not been tried and found wanting
It has been difficult, untried, and daunting

In the words of Jesus of Nazareth:
If you want to gain your life, you must lose it
If you want to be greatest become a servant

If you invite someone to a banquet, invite those who can’t reimburse you…
Forgiving your enemy, feeding the hungry, redeeming rather than condemning is the life you are to pursue…

Our attitude is to be like Christ, it’s a life daily dying
It’s an attitude I’m not close to, if I said so I’d be lying
My titles, posturing and positions are taking a toll
My only peace comes from Grace filling this God-shaped hole