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

Half Full or Half Empty?

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Perspective in life is everything.

per•spec•tive /pərˈspektiv/ the capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance

Have you ever lost perspective?

Søren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, poet, theologian, social critic and religious author once said, “The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”

In this life, perspective is everything!
We can see a problem as a burden or an opportunity.
We can see the rain as an irritant or a gift that supports life.
We can see the poor as a nuisance or we can see the poor as a chance to meet God.
We can see difficult times as God’s curse or we can see difficult times to grow patience, character and hope.

We see the glass half empty or half full.

When Goliath came against the Israelites, the soldiers all thought, “He’s so big we can never kill him.” David looked at the same giant and though, “He’s so big I can’t miss.”

Abraham Lincoln once said, “We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.”

Jesus taught us to pray a prayer of perspective daily when he said, “May your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

I call this “The prayer of the cup that is half full.”

I grew up in church where I was taught that this world was going to hell in a hand-basket and that we were supposed to get saved from our sins and then hide out and hold on until Jesus comes back.

That was very unbiblical.

Jesus came proclaiming that the cup was half full, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; he has appointed me to preach Good News to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted and to announce that captives shall be released and the blind shall see, that the downtrodden shall be freed from their oppressors, and that God is ready to give blessings to all who come to him.”

Doesn’t sound like hiding out and holding on to me.

Jesus’ prayer was that his kingdom would come, right now, on earth as it is in heaven, then he commissioned and enabled the church to storm the gates of hell and rescue the poor, the blind, the lost, the addicted, the judged, the hungry and the gates would not prevail.

Name some kind of hell someone is living in, and Jesus has demanded and empowered us to go there and rescue them.

In my opinion, Jesus never intended for the church to look like it does today.

There is a lot of resources going to the “already convinced” and most programs are designed to placate the “already converted” and there are a lot of empty buildings and wasted space, except for an hour or two on Sundays.

Jesus always intended the church to be on the leading edge of rescuing people from hopelessness, brokenness, darkness and despair.

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice.” Isaiah 58:6

It looks like Harry Rheder and Steve Baker who lead an auto-ministry overseeing dozens of volunteers, fixing cars for single moms so they can get to work and have safe transportation for their children.

It looks like a local auto sales owner, Ron Wells, who regularly gives cars away for single moms and those trying to get back up on their feet and Marty Robinson, who owns a local mechanic shop who donates parts so the auto ministry can continue to flourish, even though they may actually be taking business away from him.

It looks like Marsha Rose meeting weekly with the mentally ill, who have been forgotten and marginalized, to create life-saving support and letting them know the love of God.

It looks like Paul Geddes, who is passionate about farming, who helps plant and maintain a 20,000 square foot volunteer garden to supply fresh fruits and vegetables to the hungry.

It looks like an 82 year old, Berkeley graduate, civil engineer, Art Edwards, spending his twilight years running a non-profit transitional homeless shelter, and against all odds, is helping people move from despair to dignity and hope.

It looks like a 10 year old girl, Claire Cockrell, who after seeing a movie on the true Isaiah 58 fast and how a $10 mosquito net prevents malaria, so she goes to her local public school and raises $1000 to purchase 100 nets and saves hundreds of lives.

It looks like Justin Morsey, in his early twenties, who moved to the Philippines to a very dangerous, religiously militant area where being a Christian puts your life at risk, and became a director of a home where young girls who have been sex trafficked and have been rescued, are rehabilitating and learning about real love, by seeing a young man of integrity who respects women and loves God.

It looks like a retired, firefighter Doug Shelstad, walking the halls of our local hospital, praying for the sick and introducing the dieing to a Savior who offers eternal life.

When people start viewing and expressing the Gospel, “May your kingdom come, may your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” through their passions and talents and resources, injustice is fought at ever level.

How’s your perspective these days?

My prayers lately have been a Mother Teresa prayer:

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How are your prayers lately?

Are your prayers, “Jesus, there is no hope, I’m digging a bunker, the government is a mess, I’m going to play it safe, I’m going to let fear control me and pessimism be my guide.”

Our can you pray boldly, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Will you live with the perspective that light trumps darkness and love defeats evil and the unseen is more powerful than the seen.

Will you dream big dreams and live with the attitude that in God’s kingdom THE GLASS IS HALF FULL AND IT’S GETTING FULLER!

Will you live with two promises, “That nothing can separate us from the love of God” and “One day, suffering, striving, sickness, injustice will cease and he will wipe every tear from your eyes.”

The #2 Reason We Don’t See Miracles

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Answer: WE MAKE EXCUSES

Benjamin Franklin said, “He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.”

The writer of Proverbs wrote, “The lazy man is full of excuses. “I can’t go to work!” he says. “If I go outside, I might meet a lion in the street and be killed!”

Try that one with your boss.

Soren Kierkegaard talks seriously how excuses damage our world when he says, “For like a poisonous breath over the fields, like a mass of locusts over Egypt, so the swarm of excuses is a general plaque, a ruinous infection among men, that eats off the sprouts of the Eternal.”

Excuses, we have all have them and make them.

There are 3 that stop miracles.

Excuse #1: What difference can I make?

The statistics seem overwhelming.
The problems seem insurmountable.
The odds seem to be against us.

There are more people in slavery today than in the 18th century:

Trafficking is the third largest illegal trade behind illegal weapon trade and drugs.

Every fourteen seconds a child is orphaned by AIDS.

500,000 children are in foster care in the United States; 118,000 are eligible for adoption.

Over 70% of sex trafficking in U.S. comes from kids who have aged out of the foster system.

Seemingly overwhelming statistics paralyze us and influence us to ask the question, “What difference can I make”, which ultimately then turns into an excuse to do nothing.

When Jesus told us to follow him for the sake of the hurting, the poor and those who are facing horrific injustice, he didn’t say to do it if it looks like you can make a difference.

He just said, “Follow Me.”

And when he did, people made excuses about why they couldn’t.

And his response to them was, “No procrastination. No backward looks. You can’t put God’s kingdom off till tomorrow. Seize the day.”

Miracles happen when we seize the day and act in obedience to a need, against all odds, simply because it is the right thing to do.

We can and are making a much bigger difference than we think.

Dr. Scott Todd writes, “We can end extreme poverty in our lifetime and see God get the credit and we can do it engaging and practical ways of putting our faith into action to impact our world.”

In the last 30 years, extreme poverty has been cut in half from 52% to 26%. (Miracle)

Between 1990 and 2010, maternal mortality worldwide dropped by almost 50%. (Miracle)

AIDS related deaths are down 24%. (Miracle)

But more miracles can happen if everyone of faith will change the question from “What difference can I make?”  to “How many miracles will happen if I choose to be obedient with what I’ve been given?”

The potential miracles are mind-blowing!

If 1 out of every 3 churches in America would find one family to adopt one kid there would be no orphans in America:

If the 138 million American Christians who attend church at least twice per month were to tithe, their income is 2.5 trillion, it would result in 250 billion dollars per year in philanthropy.

World renown economist Jeffrey Sachs says that we could eradicate stupid, preventable poverty with just 78 billion dollars a year.

Imagines the miracles, which seem insurmountable, if we are just simply obedient!

“No procrastination. No backward looks. You can’t put God’s kingdom off till tomorrow. Seize the day.”

Excuse #2: It’s too hard

Helen Keller became deaf & blind at the age of 19 months, but grew up and became the first deaf and blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree.

Sydney J. Harris says, “When I hear somebody sigh, ‘Life is hard,’ I am always tempted to ask, ‘Compared to what?’”

Most things worth doing in this life are hard.
Most things that change the world are hard.

Miracles are God intervening when we are willing to do the hard work.

Dr. Troy Dickson and his wife Kim, she has a degree in global health, moved with their two daughters from their comfortable home and lifestyle in California, to the intense and difficult streets of New Delhi, India to help start, against all odds, a home for girls who can be rescued from the horrors of sex trafficking.

With so much government bureaucracy, red tape and a culture of ignoring this horrific injustice, Troy and Kim decided that no matter how hard and seemingly impossible this might be, they said yes to the challenge and within a year, Courage Homes opened and the miracles have begun.

This email came from the directors when the home had just opened: “Just wanted to rejoice and share with you, and beg for your prayers! Courage Homes in India just got EIGHT girls from a brothel raid on GB Road (big red light district in Delhi) yesterday! That puts us at 12 girls, which is our bed capacity right now. We have a high profile case right now, which has resulted in a lot of arrests of people in the trafficking rings and awakened the whole nation to the issues of trafficking – laws are even being changed because of it. God is definitely in the middle of what we are doing! Our licensing procedures are being sped up because the government is really recognizing the value of a home devoted to the healing of these girls, and only because the home has been so safe and nurturing have the girls been willing to testify against the perpetrators and tell their stories. It’s amazing!”

I heard a former FBI agent and now an employee of International Justice Mission who is on the front lines of rescuing girls from sex trafficking in some of the most dangerous places in the world say, “Find out the hard things God is asking you to do and do them. It will be the greatest thing you will ever do.”

Watch this 2 minute video before we get to the last excuse that stops us from seeing miracles.

Excuse #3: I’m too old or I’m too young to make a difference

The video you just watched ends this argument.

Throughout the history of the world, God has used the young and the old alike to bring about change and progress.

Anne Frank was 12 when she wrote the diary of Anne Frank.

God spoke through a little boy named Samuel in order to correct the evil religious leaders who were ignoring justice.

Nelson Mandela was 76 when he became president of South Africa.

Abraham and Sarah had been collecting social security for years when she gave birth to Isaac.

Albert Einstein was only 26 when he wrote the theory of relativity

Josiah became the king of Israel when he was only 8 years old, eventually purging Israel of idols and leading a spiritual revival.

Dr. Seuss was 54 when he wrote “The Cat in the Hat”

JRR Tolkien was 62 when the “The Lord of the Rings” books came out.

My friend, Eldon Bough, at the age of 86, serves 75 meals weekly with “Meals on Wheels” to the elderly and sponsors 22 children through Compassion International, helping to create a huge dent in eradicating child poverty.

Martin Luther King Jr. was only 34 when he gave the speech “I have a dream”

Jesus of Nazareth was only 33 when he saved the world.

It is never too soon and it is never too late to be a part of a miracle. It just takes eliminating the excuses.

What are some of the excuses in your life that are keeping you from being a part of a miracle?

“I am only one. But still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something: Yet, just because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something I can.” Helen Keller