Avioding Failure

Has there ever been a time when you needed someone to challenge you to overcome an impending failure, but lacking their nudge, you ended up accepting some level of defeat? I remember a time in business when I had achieved a personal goal, and found myself kind of coasting. With no real goal in mind, I was blindsided by an event that set my progress back. I was coaxed into making destructive decisions through an emotional ploy because I had no life mileposts to give me a reference point. Without guidance, reference, or goals, I drifted along as I was being told, and experienced a personal failure as a result. Today I realize that I would have made different decisions, and avoided those mistakes, if I had someone trustworthy to nudge me by speaking reason into my ear.

Different people need these nudges to come in different forms.

Some people are motivated by competition. They see other’s gaining success, or a friend encouraging them to “keep-up,” and that’s all they need to push them to succeed.

Some people need to be shamed into success. They find drill sergeant like people to come around them and chastise them into success.

Some people need a friend to encourage them with positive reminders of what they have overcome in the past.

Some people seem to find motivation from inside. They succeed for themselves, and always seem to be striving for some far off goal. Unfortunately, someone standing alone, is more likely to fail in a crisis, and even these folks need someone to help then with perspective in life.

While as leaders we need to help our team members find what motivates them, we first need to make sure we are setting ourselves up for success not failure.  I encourage you to personally find a friend that you can regularly meet with and confidentially share with each other your struggles, triumphs, dilemmas, and wisdom. Think about what kind of friend that needs to be (motivator, competitor, drill sergeant, mentor, etc.) to help you be your best. Next, then set yourself a goal of making a plan to begin meeting with such a person before the summer is out. If you already have such a relationship in place, don’t let the summer drift away without keeping up your regular meetings.

We all need a nudge now and then, and the wisest of us have brought people into our lives that are ready to point us back onto the right path whenever we’re getting off track.

Hebrews 10:24–25a (NIV) And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another.

1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NIV)  Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

Blessings, Pastor Tim

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These last 3 weeks I have had a difficult time coming up with what I wanted to say in this next blog post. It’s not that I have nothing to say, it’s that I haven’t been able to find the words to say it. Now that I’m taking some time on vacation, I’ve decided to put those thoughts aside and share something else that might be of benefit.  Rather than sharing from my own thoughts, let me give you a quote that has been meaningful to me these last weeks.
Francois Fénelon, a 17th century French prelateand author, in his book “The Seeking Heart,” describes the benefits and rewards of solitary time with God.   “If you give all those things that provoked your curiosity and set your mind spinning, you will have more than enough time to spend with God and to attend to your business. Living your life prayerfully will make you clear headed and calm, no matter what happens. Your self-nature is overactive, impulsive, and always striving for something just outside your reach.
But God, working within your spirit, produces a calm and faithful heart that the world cannot touch. I really want you to take an adequate amount of times to spend with God so that you might refresh your spirit. All your busyness surely drains you.  Jesus took His disciples of side to be alone, and interrupted there most urgent business. Sometimes He would even leave people who would come from afar to see Him in order to come to His father. I suggest you do the same. It is not enough to give-out you must learn to receive from God, too.
As we spent twice as many hours to get to our vacation destination as we had expected, I had several hours that I could choose how to spend them:  be frustrated with our circumstances, or relax and seek some refreshment.  The truth is, I did some of both, but can testify today that seeking refreshment and solitude with God was the better choice.
Please share with us some of your thoughts:
What are some of the benefits you know from practicing solitude?
What have you learned that helps overcome the obstacles we all encounter when Seeking solitude with God?
What encouragement do you have for others reading this blog post?
Please consider sharing this post with your friends.  It would be great to see how several others experience solitude as Fénelon wrote about.
Blessings, Pastor Tim

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Trains, Churches, and Leaders

I haven’t ever taken the train anywhere. I want to, but as yet I’ve never put a train trip together. As I talk to others, most are like me, or if they have traveled by train, it was a onetime novelty experience. The few who regularly travel by train have much good to say about it, and highly recommend that I put such a trip together. Some of my friends say they’ll choose the train over any other method of travel whenever possible. They cite the comfortable and less frantic pace of train travel, as well as the fact that it’s often no more expensive than flying. But, if cross-country train travel’s so great, why is it that it has all but died in America?

We could point to detailed mistakes within bad management, like a failure to modernize, advertise, or control costs, but this week I read where Peter Steinke (Healthy Congregations, 2006) cited Harvard Professor Theodore Levitt’s discussion of a failure we often overlook. This got me thinking.

At the turn of the 20th century, the Railroad owned transportation. Whether you were needing to move boxes, livestock, or people across this vast land, it was the railroad that would make that transportation possible. The railroad industry was king, and completely displaced the marginally reliable Pony Express. In the century that followed, we saw increased competition from trucks, plains, and even shipping.   What happened?

When things were going just fine, and it seemed that their competitors could never measure up, the railroads focused on being what they saw themselves as… The Railroad business.   The problem was, all the others saw themselves (and marketed themselves) as being in the “Transportation business.” As transportation needs grew, they grew with the demand, while the need for railroads, and the railroad business declined.

My “industry” is often called “Church.” And while yours may be different, we all must be wary of making the Railroad’s mistake. You see all too often churches find themselves stagnant, shrinking, and irrelevant in their community, simply because they have been focusing on doing “Church” to the best of their ability. I think where we have gone wrong, is that we forgot what our real mission was. Whereas the Railroads were to be sources of transportation (not more railroads), Churches are to be sources of hope and spiritual growth (not more church programs).

Many churches, businesses, and individuals get so focused on what they are doing, that they forget why they are doing it. Individually we can be so focused on what we do, that we let it define us as a person. Many retired people will say they have lost their identity upon leaving the workforce. Athletes say they have lost their reason to get up in the morning when no longer able to compete. Businesses shutter their doors when the product or service they offered is no longer fashionable. Churches waste away and crumble when the people who were once actively involved with their neighbors find their community has changed and its people now have completely different needs.

As leaders, no matter what our industry, we need to help our people not get locked into defining ourselves merely as what we did to get where we are. We need to learn to define ourselves by how we can be beneficial to those we want to serve. What do they need that we provide, and how can we let them know we want to serve them?

To discover your new identity together, ask yourselves different questions than you have been asking. A church needs to stop asking questions about themselves like: “How can we be the best Church in town.” We must start asking things that relate to the greater community: “What is our mission? What do we offer those we want to serve? How can we add value to their lives? What are they looking for, that we actually have?”    By applying this concept (no matter your industry or place in life) you can find what God has in mind for your immediate future, and avoid falling into irrelevancy like much of the railroad industry.

Blessings, Tim

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Leadership: King David & the Prodigal Son

repentWhen we read the parable of the prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), we instantly see how self-seeking and selfish that young man was. We also often empathize with the older son who stayed faithful, and would end up splitting his own inheritance with his younger brother. If King David were a character in that parable he would’ve been the returning prodigal, while all too often, we leaders see ourselves as the “worthy” and faithful brother. Let me explain.

Yesterday Dan Reimer gave an excellent message based on Psalm 51. This is David’s psalm after his sins of adultery and murder. In this psalm we come to see a secret  to David’s  leadership. Without mentioning the specifics of his sins, he publicly bares his heart to God and repents.

I won’t attempt to recreate Dan’s message here, but instead will apply this psalm a bit differently to us as leaders.  I see King David’s psalm of repentance as being separated into 6 stanzas.

  1. He begs God for mercy and cleansing.
  2. He acknowledges that his sin is direct rebellion against God.
  3. He defines God’s forgiveness as God defines it: total and absolute
  4. He begs for God to remake his heart, and his spirit.
  5. David promises to lead others to God’s gracious forgiveness with heart-felt worship.
  6. He honors God by leading the whole nation to come to God with sacrifice and praise.   King David came to God like the Prodigal son came home: contrite, humble, and ashamed.

A man shared in that service how His own life was marred with sin and godless thoughts. Without sharing any details, he confessed that, like David, his heart has all too often been captured by sinful desires, thoughts, and attitudes that are rebellious to God. In a discussion later, one said how this man had humbly opened the door for others to confess and repent publicly as David had done. His act offered an invitation for any of us to go “second,” so to speak.  I confess that during our service I felt God’s spirit prompt me to speak next, and I chose to disobey. As I’ve pondered this, I’ve come to realize that King David went first, my good friend accepted an invitation to go second, and I failed to go third.   I sinned by not obediently being vulnerable about sin.  I fell to the worst kind of cowardice, and pride.

So, today I want to do the right thing. I believe God called King David “A man after my own heart,” partially because he was willing to be publicly repentant not because he was righteous in himself.  As leaders, if we are too prideful, cowardice, or self-absorbed to be transparent before God and the people we lead, then we might not deserve to lead. God’s women and men of leadership are those of us who will stand before our people pointing to Him, and refusing to be seen as anything special.  Especially by ourselves! We must be willing, when prompted in our spirit, to drop the veil of privacy and repent in the presence of those we are in community with. I doubt I’m alone in saying that as a leader my heart can be found, at times, to be filled with vanity and selfish arrogances that are rebellious to God. I want to share today my prayer as I pursue God’s redemptive and restorative grace each day.

“God, you know my tendency to see myself as the prodigal’s “worthy” elder brother, while knowing there is nothing worthy in me. You have shown me that many of the prideful sins that lured King David, lure me as well.  Father, please wash my sins away from me.   Remove the rebellion and wickedness from the corners of my heart. Restore to my soul the joy of your forgiveness, and help me to see that you are sufficient for all I could ever need.  Father, please help me to lead others to you, and may they only see Your hand print on my life. Blot from existence the ugliness of my heart, and selfishness of my motives. Thank you for your grace, salvation, and restoration.  May I bring honor and glory to you alone in the days you have scheduled for my life.”  Amen

King David, showed the nation of Israel, and us today, what it is to be publicly repentant. God has also shown us what He has done with repentant people throughout history. As leaders, I encourage us to be sensitive and obedient to any promptings from God to be publicly vulnerable, as David was. Who knows what God may want to do through any of our humbled leadership?

Psalm 51:17 (NIV) My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.

Blessings, Tim

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Godly Unity

This Sunday, May 15th will be Terri’s and my 40th anniversary. What’s great about our marriage is what makes many corporations, churches and denominations strong. Terri and I have never fought! We find ourselves having the same ideas and goals on every matter. We prefer the same food, entertainment, hobbies, and music. Our parenting philosophy was exactly the same, and our Grand-parenting strategy is identical. We have lived for 40 years in idyllic unity.     NOT!          Honestly, we haven’t always agreed, and may have fought once or twice (a day). But, we do still have unity.

Let me explain. We actually don’t have identical ideas, desires, or preferences. Our unity is not based on agreeing on all the details of life, but on a few central themes and principles. It’s strengthened by love, fed by our oneness of purpose, and sustained by our resolution to come to agreement on things that really require an agreement. Early on we agreed that Christ was to be our foundation. Now, we haven’t been perfect, but we know that when we get our eyes off of Christ; we will focus on our own hurts, preferences and opinions. Here are three passages of Scripture that teach how we are to develop unity.

Romans 12:9, 10 Be devoted to one another… Honor one another above yourselves.

Ephesians 4:2, 3 Bearing with one another in love…. Keep the unity.

Philippians 2:2, 3 Be one in spirit and purpose… Consider others better than yourselves.

The most important truths here are that to love and focus on serving others can only be found by focusing on Christ. This is true in a marriage, a corporation, a church or a denomination.   Feeling disunity with your spouse? Feeling disunity with the people you once felt called to be united with? Stop trying to please yourself, defending your priorities, and looking to have your own way. Begin to seek unity by selfless, and Godly service to them.

When we decide that God wants to display His power and love through our unity, we are brought to focus unwaveringly on Him. By seeking Godly unity we allow Him to heal our relationships. We are called to this: not winning, not even being heard, but to Godly unity.

So what is there that we can refocus on as a people when disunity threatens to tear us apart? Terri and I learned that when we got our eyes off of our Lord, and our purpose as a couple, we naturally focused on our own hurts, desires, preferences and opinions.  A business will have an appropriate purpose, but that foundation is what needs to be focused on, while seeking to be filled with God’s love for each other. What is the purpose for a Christian church, or denomination? Our mission, is simply the great commission. Using our God-given gifts, talents and abilities to bring the Gospel of Christ and His ministry of love and reconciliation to our communities, and displaying that love by loving each other.

In a marriage as in a church, a corporation, or a denomination, our unity is not based on our agreeing on all the details of life, but on a few central themes and principles. It is strengthened by God’s love, feed by our oneness of purpose, and sustained by our resolution to come to agreement on everything that really requires an agreement.

Terri and I have long realized that love requires work. It needs fed, and it needs nurtured. Sometimes we have done better at it than others, but when our unity is being strained, we know that if we work on love and service to each other, the disagreements we have will become more and more minor. For a corporation, a church, or a denomination, the overriding value that strengthens unity is a love for others that exceeds love for ourselves. That might be a good place to leave this as we continue to consider how to lead our families, businesses, and churches into the future.

1 Cor 13:4-7 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Blessings, Tim

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Key #4 of 4 to Survive Change

changeFrankly, most of us dislike change that’s not our idea or our own initiative. But, change comes to all of us, and it happens all the time. We can’t stop it, control it, or avoid it. We can only manage ourselves through it. The first Key is to have an unwavering trust in God. The second Key is to choose to let Him transform us. Our third Key is to expect His blessings. And lastly we need to persevere.

Facing change can feel very depleting, exhausting, and demoralizing. Especially when the view from where we are makes the results of the change seem very bleak and depressing. Just how am I supposed to embrace transformation, or expect blessings, when it seems malevolent forces are driving the change? Well, we can come to embrace transformation, and expect blessings, because we unconditionally trust God. That’s why trusting Him is the first key.

This fourth key is possibly the most difficult, but I hope that you’ve seen the interconnectedness of the keys so far. The fourth is only possible in the presence of the first three. The Apostle Paul wrote about our fourth key: Philippians 3:14 (NIV) I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Romans 5:3–5 (NLT) We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. 4 And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. 5 And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.

Key #4: Persevere to the end.

We can have confidence to persevere to the end because God controls the outcome, and it will be much better than we have feared. Perseverance is one of the hardest things we face in our own strength, but can be one of the easiest when we rest in God. If we release the outcome to Him, and trust Him to use the whole process to mold us more and more into the likeness of Christ, we will be carried through any changes into the shadow of His provision.

Do you believe God cares for you? Do you believe He will never leave you or forsake you? Do you trust Him with your very life? If yes, then you can persevere and trust that, in time, you will be able to recognize how the change you are experiencing in life has resulted in a contentment that only God can bring. We can trust Him to bring us through the change for our blessing, and His glory. The journey of life takes us through some difficult territory. We gain ground when we press on, and don’t shrink back. We “triumph” when we let God use change to develop us, and refine us more and more into the likeness of Christ.

In closing, let me encourage you with King David’s words at the end of Psalms 27 , 14 Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord; NIV.

So to survive change we must: trust in God, choose transformation, expect His blessings, and persevere to the end.

Blessings, Tim

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Key #3 of 4 to Survive Change

Most of us get stressed to some extent when unwelcome change happens.  Change comes to all of us, and it happens all the time.  We can’t stop it, control it, or avoid it.  We can only manage ourselves through it.  The first Key is to put our full and unwavering trust in God. The second Key is to choose transformation as our outcome.  Our third Key has to do with expectations.

We are often more aware of the things we are thinking about.  I’ve talked to many people who never noticed too many of a certain car model until the first month that they owned it, and then they suddenly realized that the same car model is everywhere.  Now in reality dozens of people didn’t go out the next day and all buy the same model of car, but my friends just recognized how many of that model of car was already around them.  The realization came only after their attention and interest had been heightened towards their own new car.  Since our awareness is changed by what we focus on, when faced with change we can choose where to focus our thoughts.

Key #3: Expect blessings.   

Choose to dream big and expect God’s blessings even in change.  Choose to move your thoughts away from negative expectations, fears, or possible outcomes (We shouldn’t stick our heads in sand, but we should be looking for God’s providence and for Him to redeem our situation).

Philippians 4:8 (NIV) Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

If we focus our thoughts on what we fear most from change, we will see every little hint that our worst fears are coming true.  But, if we focus our thoughts on God’s blessings, we will see His faithful hand moving in our lives in the midst of frightful change.  If we look for Blessings, we will discover that God has kept His promise and lavished His love on us unselfishly. We will be encouraged, and blessed when we could have chosen to be fearful and discouraged.  All this is ours when we chose to expect blessings…. Even in the midst of unwanted change.

1 Peter 5:10–11 (NIV) And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 11 To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Blessing, Tim

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