Next?

We hear it every time we go to a fast food restaurant. The patron in front of us has placed her/his order, paid for it, and is given a receipt with an order number at the top. Afterwards they are promptly instructed to step aside and the 17–year-old food service professional looks straight at you and says, “Next?”

Or, we are sloshing our way through the interminable security lines at the local airport…waiting our turn. The TSA agent who is checking our identification credentials alongside of our ticket doesn’t even look up from the desktop. Instead… “Next?”

In my last blog I shared a little of our transitional journey – we are fully in change now. We are 6+ weeks out of our house. So we are, for all intents and purposes, homeless.

Our oldest son and his young family are practicing hospitality to the max – taking us in and adjusting their whole world (furniture, schedules, habits, etc.) to accommodate our old, set-in-our-ways, us.

There is a thread of news these days about the young adults who don’t leave home. In our case, it is the older adults who have “moved back in.”

One of the fringe benefits of this arrangement for us is: we get to hang out with our granddaughter.

She is pure delight – having wrapped her pop and delly securely around her little finger.

But, she is also a typically developing little kid.

And, the stage she is in right now is stretching her time continuum development.

She is learning the days of the week – their order – and where we are in that weekly rotation.

And she is practicing the concepts of

  • Yesterday (which seems always to be already over)
  • Tomorrow (which seems frustratingly ever-elusive)
  • Today (which just never seems to end)

In her efforts to grasp these concepts, she enjoys breakfast chatter around the schedule of the day.

Her constant question is, “And what’s after that?

Then, once the day has fully launched, her question becomes, “And what’s after this?”

It’s funny how we develop… She is growing into those questions. I am attempting to grow out of them.

You see, I’ve spent my entire life in the world of “What’s after that?”

Educationally:

  • Kindergarten? “What’s after that?”
  • Grade School? “What’s after that?”
  • Junior High School? “What’s after that?”
  • High School? “What’s after that?”
  • College? “What’s after that?”
  • Grad School? “What’s after that?”

[The last school I attended only thought they could stop me by calling it a terminal degree. Oh no – I asked, “What’s after that?” and discovered the great big world of certificates!]

Professionally I was called to a variety of positions to “help us reach _______ [insert goal here].”

And, once that goal was reached, I asked my question: “What’s after that?”

I moved from one sized organization to the next – from one position of influence to the next.

It was like my granddaughter’s world: What’s after that?

Now, here I sit, suddenly aware of how much I missed in this very moment simply because I was constantly evaluating the past and ceaselessly stretching into the future.

I was doing exactly what my culture conditioned me to do.

But I am not of this culture.

Some years ago now, God (have I mentioned that I am a follower of Christ?) began to prompt me about the place in time where I can meet with Him.

It is not the past or the future. It is here. Now. Today.

This is where God abides…the eternal present moment.

In one of the grandest stories of the Judeo-Christian journey, a leader (Moses) asks God for a Name… something to call Him. God’s answer was: I AM.

Scholars who specialize in ancient languages tell me that the form of the phrase used grasps ‘I was’ and ‘I will be.’ So, it is not limiting God to this moment.

But, it does speak to me.

This is the moment where I meet God, if I meet God at all.

I don’t actually live in the past or the future. I only live right now…if I live at all.

Jesus used a similar phrase when speaking of himself to a dear lady in the town of Sychar, Samaria. He said, “I AM Messiah.”

Holy Spirit inspired other writers of the Bible to note things like, “today is the day of salvation;” and “this is the day the LORD has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.”

In some reading I recently came across this gem of wisdom:

“The vast majority of us suffer from amnesia of the present. We think that the real action is somewhere else. Some of us have lost touch with the present moment because we prefer to live in the past. We are forever mulling over yesterday – regretting it, analyzing it or glorifying it with nostalgia. Sentimentality, regret and guilt are the prices we pay when we live yesterday today. Others of us are always jumping ahead to the future: anxious about next weekend, planning next month, wondering about next year. With antacids in our pockets and ulcers in our stomachs, we race toward tomorrow. Anxiety and worry are the prices we pay when we leave the home of the present moment and try to live tomorrow today.” [Albert Haase]

I am surrounded by this very moment

I am done with the failure to celebrate life now

THIS is the place where I can meet God

Won’t you join me?

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CHANGE

[NOTE: if you read these occasional blogs, you already know I am a follower of Christ and you may know, among my various vocational roles, I consult with and coach churches and their leaders. So, although this post is about a personal CHANGE, I am working my way up to it from my vocational context…]

I have often heard it said, “People don’t like change.”

I disagree.

  • If you buy a $1.59 cup of coffee at the convenience store, but only have a $20 in your wallet, I bet you will like some change
  • Babies love ‘change’, passionately pleading for it every 4 hours or so
  • I don’t know anyone with 100+ HD cable channels who want to go back to the pre-change days of rabbit ears, aluminum foil, and 2 snowy channels

You get the idea.

I think what people are actually saying is: I don’t want change forced on me by someone outside of myself

I know a guy. We used to hang out sometimes.

He was and is the stereotypical change AGENT… leading a STUCK IN THEIR WAYS local Church to not only change something, but to adopt a paradigm of changING as a way of living!

He wrote a book cleverly titled Transitioning [which is the uptown word for change] to tell their story.

They implemented an ancient model articulated from the fascinating story of a guy named Nehemiah (that whole story is in the Bible).

The Church did so by putting in place these 8 simple steps for leading through (or walking, personally, through) change:

  • Prepare yourself to see things anew (vision)
  • Define that new way of seeing things (contextualize)
  • Plant that vision among other influencers in your life (getting mentoring input)
  • Share that new dream with people around you (those you influence)
  • Implement the change
  • Expect and deal with opposition
  • Make adjustments
  • Evaluate

Pretty simple; right?

One of the things I’ve always admired about this process is the fact that you don’t actually implement any change (which is where the stuff you do starts somehow affecting other people) until you are halfway through the cycle!

Which brings me out of the vortex of vocation and to the personal point.

Over the last 10+ years Adele/I have been downsizing.

Just those few years ago we lived in a 2700 square foot house plus an office suite at work. And, like anyone else in our consumer society, we sort of grazed our way into filling up our space.

It is, frankly, embarrassing to confess and was extremely embarrassing to live [I moved myself once in those years and, after filling up every inch of a 24’ moving van, had to rent another 16’ truck for the outside stuff and my office!].

In time, our hearts began to hurt as we started to peek through our way-too-often-closed eyes to actually see other people around us.

We began to wonder aloud just how could we change this?

At that time, we were introduced (we would say led by God) to a set of disciplines collectively called simplifying.

And, in response to the divine promptings that came as we exercised these disciplines, we began to simplify the way we lived which (as promised) helped us to better see the things we didn’t really need at all.

As that list of unnecessary items grew, I started seeing dollar signs $$$…just imagine how much I could “save for retirement” by selling all this stuff? (Craig’s List? eBay?)

The same VOICE that guided us all along whispered loudly, “Give it away.”

My spiritually mature response was: well that sucks!

So, it has taken over 10 years but we are far enough along (though I’m not sure we are at that halfway mark mentioned earlier) to go public with our change!!

A couple weeks back we sold our townhouse and are now temporarily living with a storage unit and in one bedroom at our oldest son’s house (thanks, Josh, Elena, and Kaylee!!).

The pace of our change to date has been slow to be sure:

  • I’m not always as responsive to those urgings from God as I ought to be
  • We had almost 40 years of our stuff
  • During those same years we inherited stuff from other family members
  • The organization we work for went virtual, which meant moving my ‘extra moving truck’ office, home

But – here we are – on the edge of a brand, new tomorrow!!

And, where do we go from here?

I’ll write a bit more about the process and an answer to that question in another post to come. But, suffice to say, the answer can be summed up like this:

CHANGE

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Proverbs 29:18a and VISION

[NOTE: If you are a regular reader of this blog or know me at all, you know that I am less of a pro visionary leader and more of a pro revelatory leader.

In chapter 10 of To Love and To Cherish From This Day Forward…A Portrait of a Healthy Church I assume vision to be the word many churches would use, so I try to define it in a way that is palatable to me. Then I proceed to fit it into the tone and message of the book.

It was the only language I had to work with at the time and find it acceptable but not altogether pleasing. In the course of time, and with the help of many influencers, I have settled into the pro revelatory language.

Nonetheless, in recently teaching a course for Rockbridge Seminary, I had to make a post from a vision perspective. It was a helpful exercise that, with some editing for a broader readership, I offer here. Enjoy.]

Proverbs 29:18a

Do you remember it? Which translation?

“If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves…” (msg)

“Where there is no word from God, people are uncontrolled…” (ncv)

“Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint…” (niv)

“When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild…” (nlt)

And most famously:

Where there is no vision, the people perish…” (kjv)

There’s the word… the one we 21st century American leaders love… vision. Ahhhhhh

The phrase is not borrowed from global leaders of intercontinental enterprise.

It is actually an agricultural image. Here’s the picture:

A farmer, plowing a furrow 

We don’t do it that way very often anymore… a team of horses or mules harnessed together, yoked to a plow, working the fields.

Adele/I live near Lancaster County Pennsylvania. It is home to the oldest Amish population in America… though no longer the largest (that one is in Ohio). We go shopping in the Lancaster area every two months to restock our pantry and fill up the freezer.

The Amish were organic long before organic was cool!

We love to go about any season of the year, but especially early Spring… they are readying the fields for planting.

To this very day the Amish will harness up 6-8 mules or great big Belgian horses and work the fields just like it might have been done when the writer of Proverbs used that word picture.

And their fields are incredibly beautiful – the straightest rows I’ve ever seen, circling around the rolling hills of the region.

Now plows and mules are not the easiest of tools to work with to create such magnificence. So, how do they do it?

Simple.

The Amish farmer sets his hands to the plow and his eyes to a spot. That spot is his vision. As long as…

  • He keeps his eyes on the spot
  • He keeps his hands on the plow
  • He keeps his back into the reins

…the resulting furrow is straight and the fields, as they grow, are workable and lovely.

The thing is, that spot changes as he moves along – it is dynamicand it is not all that significant, very often simply a tree or a fence post.

The issue, when it comes to his vision is not how spectacular it is, but how sure it is.

The Amish farmer is not using vision to motivate; he is embracing vision to regulate. His concern is for the fields and the future harvest, not at all for the spot.

But, take your eyes off of the spot and the furrows would be useless as channels for working the fields.

About the only thing worse than losing sight of his vision/spot would be unyoking the animals and slapping them on the rump.

In that case, they would just run off in whatever direction they want to run. They might have fun. They might get some good exercise. But, in the end, the fields would be left to the next fellow to plow… lost for this farmer and for this season.

That is the image of the passage from Proverbs… a sure vision, a steady hand, a strong back, a helpful result.

Last year I released a Church Health book that included a couple of chapters on the whole leadership issue, including the question of vision. In that text I suggested there are only two reasons I can think of that people resist following a vision:

  • Possibly we are just rotten to the core and willingly shake our corporate fists in the face of Almighty God, OR
  • The people simply do not believe this word… this revelation or vision or mission… is from God. They think it is from people. (This is the one I see in local churches more often than not)

Those people may be seen as good people doing their best, or as mean people that we want to ‘overthrow’, or somewhere in between. Regardless of how they are viewed, their vision is seen as a vision of people… one which I choose not to follow.

The results?

All restraint is cast off… uncontrolled… stumble all over themselves… run wild… perish.

…the fields are left to the next fellow to plow… lost for this farmer and for this season…

Remember: A vision doesn’t have to be spectacular [in fact, the more spectacular it is, the more likely it is to become an idol]; but it does have to be sure.

And the source of what is sure is right there for us in this little text as well: what God is doing… a word from God… divine guidance… revelation!

For a vision to be focused on and submitted to, in the Church, it must be from God.

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I love small group life! If your Church

I love small group life! If your Church is struggling with it right now, here are some possible reasons!! http://ow.ly/jGwGB

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A prayer of St. Augustine on this Maundy

A prayer of St. Augustine on this Maundy Thursday: “Lord Jesus Christ, don’t let me lie when I say that I love you…and protect me, for today I could betray you.”

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Sophia and Jesus

If you have not yet met Sophia the 1st, you don’t know what you’re missing!

Sophia is the latest and youngest Disney princess technically a Disney Junior princess (up until Sophia, all Disney princesses were adults).

The short version of her story is this:

Sophia’s mom (Miranda) marries the widower King (Roland II) and moves with Sophia to the castle to start a Brady Bunch like family (her one daughter plus Roland’s 2 children: Amber and James).

Sophia and her new siblings attend Royal Prep, an academy just for Royals; where she is tutored by Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather (familiar to anyone who goes all the way back to Sleeping Beauty).

Each show highlights a different character quality and Sophia’s journey to learn that trait in the context of a Royal family.

My granddaughter and I were watching another episode today!

[NOTE: I was introduced to the show by my sweet granddaughter and only watch episodes in her company – just to be clear]

In today’s episode, Sophia enters a pet contest (again, just for Royals) with her rabbit, Clover.

[Oh, I forgot the mention, when Sophia joined the fam, her new dad gave her the Magic Amulet of Avalor which allows her to talk to animals. So, Clover is not really a pet, he is her best friend.]

Sophia’s motivation to enter the contest (other than some place where an invitation meets a dare, courtesy of Amber) was to win in order to ride high atop the parade float!

[ANOTHER NOTE: Sophia likes to win a little bit too much for me.]

After various judgment errors, Sophia returns to her friend, Clover, and does in fact win the contest.

The episode ended with Sophia and Clover riding high above the village people (i.e., the people of the village – not the Village People), waving that confounded ‘Royal wave’ I learned about from the Princess Diaries movies (and, yes, I watched those before I had a granddaughter).

THAT was the scene that caught my attention – especially today.

It made me think of the scene in Jerusalem so many years ago – commemorated on Palm Sunday.

Here is how Dr. Luke described it from his extensive research:

As Jesus came near Bethphage and Bethany, towns near the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent out two of his followers. He said, “Go to the town you can see there. When you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here to me. If anyone asks you why you are untying it, say that the Master needs it.”

The two followers went into town and found the colt just as Jesus had told them. As they were untying it, its owners came out and asked the followers, “Why are you untying our colt?”

The followers answered, “The Master needs it.” So they brought it to Jesus, threw their coats on the colt’s back, and put Jesus on it. As Jesus rode toward Jerusalem, others spread their coats on the road before him.

As he was coming close to Jerusalem, on the way down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of followers began joyfully shouting praise to God for all the miracles they had seen. They said, “God bless the king who comes in the name of the Lord! [from Psalm 118:26] There is peace in heaven and glory to God!”

[Luke 19: 29-38, NCV]

As Matthew remembered more detail (since he was there!) he said there were both a donkey and the colt of a donkey.

Adele and I have been on a decade-long journey to simplify. It is taking so long because the idea (head) had to move to our affections (we had to battle with the emotions of nostalgia, memories, and the like), then to our volition (warm fuzzies had to become soul virtues) before they could ever become actual actions. It’s just the nature of change.

As a rhythm for life, we have developed the habit of looking at things differently. Among the questions raised in us on this way is, “Do we really need that?” And, if we do, “Do we need to own it?”

So, as part of our Lent readings this year, the LORD caught our attention by Calvin Miller’s question, “Why own what you can borrow?”

It was how he launched his thoughts on the passages above.

Rhetorically he wrote, “Perhaps if Jesus had been a modern preacher, he might have made an impassioned plea for money to buy his own triumphal entry donkey.” He went on to suggest a fiery call for contributions to facilitate this “world changing event.”

But Miller wasn’t finished. He jumped to the other side of pulpit to prod a little as well. He wondered how strange the generosity of the actual owner! “He marked no little plaque which read, ‘Donkey courtesy of…’.”

Jesus rode into town, not on a contest earned, elevated parade float, but on a borrowed, squatty donkey. And he did so via the generosity of an unknown donor.

I am still so slow to release stuff; far less generous than I long to be.

And, I need to be much more thoughtful regarding what I ask others to contribute to… is it a Kingdom thing? Is it for our Father’s glory? Or, is it about me and my legacy?

No matter which ‘side of a pulpit’ we find ourselves on, there is a life lesson in Jesus’ example.

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ALIGNMENT

Some people are armchair football coaches.

I am an armchair meteorologist!

I must confess I spent a good part of my life thinking a meteorologist was a urologist who specialized in the treatment of kidney stones.

I grew up in the era of weathermen and weather girls. (Think Brick Tamland)

They were not scientists.

They were entertainers – comic relief in an otherwise depressing hour of local news!

However, when I moved near the Gulf Coast many years ago, I became interested in the science of meteorology. [Thank you Paula for my Hurricane tracking pegboard!]

I was so addicted to the Weather Channel when it first went national that my kids used to say it must be ‘MTV for old people.’

We had a weather phenomenon in our part of the country a week or so ago.

We saw something that you almost never see in the world of weather prognostication: alignment.

Every radio and TV station in the Baltimore and DC metros – the National Weather Service – the Weather Channel – and even the rogue weatherunderground.com – they were ALL in alignment.

All of the elusive computer models were in alignment as well.

They all said that, after 24+ months of relatively snowless weather, we were about to get caught up. The projected numbers in my part of the region were anywhere from 8-18”.

  • Get to the store.
  • Put batteries in your flashlight.
  • Cook what you can and can what you can’t.
  • The roads will be impassable for days.

Adele/I were incredibly excited. We brought the snow shovel out of storage, got the sled ready, pulled out a pan to catch snow for some ‘snowmade ice cream’.

Our offices cancelled meetings for the next two days – we didn’t want to endanger the lives of our office personnel or committed constituents who might try to brave the conditions.

It turns out they were all wrong, but they were all wrong together.

Alignment.

According to the book The Performance Factor, alignment is “the link between the individual team member’s goals and the team purpose.”

Individual team members (you and me on whatever group we may serve) agree, accept, and embrace the importance of the team by lining up our individual goals to parallel the goals of the team.

We voluntarily sacrifice our own agenda for the whole.

It is to be “in the same boat heading in the same direction.”

Sadly, most so-called teams (or groups) are misaligned.

Good-spirited members usually still put their creative energies and efforts in, but they are rowing in personal, unique, singular directions and the ‘boat’ just sits there, pulled by the opposing forces to merely tremble about in the water.

In such teams there is no shortage of activity, but very little in the way of purpose-centric accomplishment. On the other hand, everyone is pretty content because they all get to do ‘their thing’.

The big lesson that comes out of the alignment section of The Performance Factor is: choose your team(s)/group(s) carefully.

The author asks the question of logic, “Why would anyone get on a boat that’s not going to his or her destination?”

It’s a great question, isn’t it?

When we are on a boat going someplace other than where we want to go, we do one of two things (or maybe both)…

  • We are personally miserable because we don’t want to be here, everything in us resists it, and we are all around sad sacks.
  • We make everyone else miserable by hijacking conversations, rowing against the grain, or atrophied whining and complaining.

Then, precisely because misery loves company, we become magnets for the very people who can never help us out of this miserable situation we find ourselves in.

We are out of alignment.

We know it.

Others know it.

We could voluntarily get out of the boat.

We could wait around until someone tries to throw us out of the boat.

Or, we could submit – humble ourselves – and change directions.

That last option embraces peace but doesn’t come without a significant battle.

In my experience, we all also know when we are out of alignment with God, too.

LENT is a season in which we can engage that significant battle and emerge, again, with wonderful peace.

As we walk through the Story, we can reconnect with Jesus as He comes to terms with the destination of His path.

We can see, hear, and feel the resistance that rises up within Him as He asks for His friends to pray for Him and pleads with His Father regarding any hope for a ‘plan B’.

But we can also see, hear, and feel the resolve that comes as He voluntarily aligns His life with what He perceives to be His Father’s good will.

And, because we have the luxury of looking back on the events of His life, we can see, hear, and feel the joy of resurrection.

However, when we are in a Lenten season of life, we can only look forward with eyes of faith – only after the battle; after the resolve; after the cross; after the alignment – do we taste resurrection and peace.

In these last weeks of Lent 2013, we have the opportunity to lay ourselves before our Father who loves us so, and submit to realignment in our lives.

It will, in the end, relieve the tension that keeps your boat from setting sail to exciting destinations… keeps you stuck with part of you rowing in this direction and part of you rowing in that direction.

But, in the moment, it will call for brave resolve.

May you find that resolve in the practices you embrace this Lent, and find yourself more aligned with our Father, as a result of this season.

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