Simplify!

Every few weeks I get the opportunity to interface with leaders around the globe. Over the next several weeks I will be standing in front of dozens of women and men, leaders all, who are fighting to be effective.  My message to them?  Simplify.

I found a funny (to me, anyway) book title the other day – 100 Ways to Simplify Your Life! Wow, 100 ways?  That sounds complicated.  Give me three or four ways, please!

I am embracing simplicity little by little.  In fact, I like to teach on the concept of ‘Ministry Made Simple’ encouraging leaders to quit trying to get people to do more and equate that as better.  I think less is more. In fact, I am about to the place where I wonder if doing church as we have known it is the way to go.  Maybe we gather for development and challenge once or twice, then encouragement and inspiration once or twice might be better. What if release people to engage their neighbors, family and friends with specific acts of blessing.  But, I digress.

Back to the point at hand… simplify.  I have found I am driving slower than I used to, obsessing less than I used to, permitting more than I used to, chewing more than I used to…and enjoying more!

This morning, I opened my email to the following message from a minister who is committed to sharing encouragement on a daily basis to we who get too busy too often. It read like this… “As I continue to slow you down, do not resist me. For I am slowing your pace in order to preserve you, but also in order to instruct you. At times you advance too quickly, and walk in presumption, so I must slow you down in order to draw your attention to where you are, and to the tasks before you this day. I must bring your awareness off of tomorrow, off of your future, and bring you into observation of today. So do not resist the adjustment of your pace, for what I am doing within you is good, and will bless you greatly.”

Jessie Sampter said, “Simplicity is the peak of civilization.”  What did he mean by that?  For me it means this – when I relax and dial down I am more on top (and civilized) than at any time in my life.  The keys for we mere humans in a world of complexities is how do we get there?

I found a few hints recently and I will share them with you.  I’ll begin with the simplest.

  1. Identify what is really important to you.
  2. Eliminate everything else.

Now, here is a longer list (but much shorter than 100!!)

  1. Make a list of five things most important to you.

This might be a relationship, a goal, an endeavor, a state of being.  Reflect and then begin writing. (Hint: you might begin by making a list of all you can think of that is important and then begin downsizing the list in order of import.)

  1. Tune Out, Tune In

Turn off your electronic world.  What does TV, the Internet, Cell Phones, etc make you?  They make you bigger, wider, available.  Turn it off.  Even if for a prescribed period of time, turn it off.  Gadgets tend to distort your perspective.  By cutting off the outside world and retreating to your inner world, you will gain perspective and infinitely increase your ability to discern.  Tune in to the voice of God. Listen.

  1. Spend Time, not Money

We can all spend money to make an impact, but how about spending time?  Usually the impact of money spent is immediate and short-lived.  When we give of ourselves it creates a memory, a connection, a moment in time that is real and relevant. Play a game with someone.

  1. Think Outside Your Cubicle

Do you live to work instead of work to live?  Is your 8-5 becoming 6, 7, or even 8?  Do you take work home?  Working longer does not usually translate into working better.  Find ways to redeem time, take your breaks, eat lunch for an hour.  Ask for ways to make work smarter, not harder.  You can do this.

  1. Count Your Blessings

We, US Americans, who make more than $25,000 a year (and that is most of us) are the richest people in the world.  Learn to live and give from what you have instead of only seeing what you do not have.  Find ways to re-use and not throw away.  Find ways to give and empower.  Discover ministries that make a difference and give them money to help someone.  Discover organizations like ONE.org and KIVA.org where you can be a player in alleviating the suffering in the world AND make a direct impact on someone.  Understand that the best things in life are not things.

  1. Bring Someone Along

Don’t take the simple journey alone.  Find someone to share it with, talk about your discoveries, your insights, your blessings and your life-lessons.  Experiences are best done in community not in solitude.

Enjoy.  Go Slow.  Simplify!

Murky & Deficit

Any good story has a setting, be it in a home, a nation, a battlefield, a street or the great outdoors.  My story happens inside the church. Whenever anyone comes to visit me in Atlanta, my hometown, I love to take them on a tour from an insider’s perspective.

I do not just take them to The Varsity, largest drive-in restaurant in the world, but I tell them the story of Flossie and Erby.  I do not just show them the buildings but I take them underground on the world’s longest escalator.  I do not just tell them about grits, red-eye gravy and country ham, I take them to experience it. We see Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthplace and his resting place a block away. I show them the house where Margaret Mitchell wrote Gone With The Wind, the location of the world premier in 1939, the place she lived when she met an untimely accidental death.  I show them where CNN was born and the Marriott Marquis, now occupying the address where St Joseph’s Hospital stood and where I began my life on a stormy Friday night in the late 1950s.

And, I take them to a street that does not exist anymore. Washington Street.  Where this small street use to offer passage there is now a parking lot.  But, before the parking lot there was a stadium, Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, built in 1963-1965 to be the new home of the Atlanta Braves, purloined from the city of Milwaukee, to be the iconic move of the city of Atlanta from small town to major player.  Here, in this parking lot, the former layout of the baseball diamond is laid out in brown brick to distinguish it from the black asphalt enveloping the remainder of the property. The spot where Hank Aaron’s 715th homerun sailed across a fence on April 8, 1974, breaking Babe Ruth’s seemingly insurmountable record, is memorialized.

And then I tell my visitor, “Right here, on the edge of what formerly was a thoroughfare stood the Washington Street Assembly of God. This is the spot, right here where first base is outlined on the ground, where the altar and pulpit were located. On an autumn Sunday morning in 1959 two young, first-time parents brought a young son and dedicated him to God’s life for him. Born in a Catholic hospital to two Pentecostal parents from Washington Street Assembly of God was my beginning and I have never left the church.”

That gives me almost six decades of experience in this dysfunctional community organization.  I have loved her, hated her, commended her and slandered her. I have taken from her and given to her. I have led her and been led by her.  I have controlled her and been controlled by her.  In my hindsight, I could not have lived without this beautiful bride to be and I wish I had never known this bridezilla.

The church, sometimes with good intention and sometimes with selfish, has developed what it calls Christians – a collection of humans ascribed to the notion that Jesus is the incarnate son of God and the Savior of the world.  But, by it’s own Scripture that is not the definition of a Christian. We have allowed this family with natural DNA embedded in it to be malformed by a code of ethics and conformity the very leader of the pack never mentioned as necessary or forthcoming.  We have created a form for godliness and left the heart of relationship as an addendum instead of the center point of meaning.

As Leonard Sweet mused recently, “Why can’t we get this one thing: In the biblical drama, Absolute Truth is not abstract but personal, not expressed in abstract statements and principles but embodied in a person who empowers us not to impersonate him, but to personate him and thus personate truth.”

“Why?” he asks.  I can tell you why.  It is the one thing that separates the church we experience from the church of prophetic and historic promise. We are taught that the statements and principles are what we are after, about and are absolute. When what is not central is made central you have a problem.  We seem to have no clue of process, growth and spiritual nature – supernature – supernatural living lived into by seeing the pathway of righteousness.

I am committing the next six decades of my life to turning this around in my life and the life of those who will simply listen and consider. I will write, teach, mentor and live to personate…not to get myself right, in conformity or accepted.  I realize I cannot get myself right so He gave me righteousness. I cannot conform myself to His image but I can allow myself to be transformed into that image. I cannot try to be accepted when I already am.

That is not clear in the church, or in my experience of church – both as a minister of and a ministered to person. When institution and membership replaced communitas and commission the waters were muddied and became murky and people started living from fear instead of faith, looking to do no wrong rather than learning to live in their ascribed righteousness.  I am out to unlive that into clarity, purpose and as Len shares, ‘personating’ Jesus.

I like something else he shares, and I want to be counted in the latter group… “The church was built on mavericks, marginals and martyrs, not bricks and mortar and mammon.”

Selah.

Ebenezer!

It has been a while now, but I still feel it – The Joy Factor.

Without change of circumstance or environment, something abides in my heart.  Early on a Saturday morning, I awoke with the following poetic prayer dancing in my mind…

God, my shepherd! I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word,
you let me catch my breath
and send me in the right direction.

Even when the way goes through
Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook
makes me feel secure.

You serve me a six-course dinner
right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head;
my cup brims with blessing.

Your beauty and love chase after me
every day of my life.
I’m back home in the house of God
for the rest of my life

I believe that early morning experience is, to me, an Ebenezer.

In ancient Hebrew history the Israelites were twice defeated by one of their most fierce rivals, the Philistines.  Twice they were buried in disgrace and their most prized possession, the Ark of the Covenant, taken from them.  Finally, at a third opportunity for breakthrough in battle, Israel prevailed.  Yeah!!!

They erected a monument at the site of this battle field and called it Ebenezer.  Eventually, the whole area came to be known by that name.  The name was a word made from two words, meaning ‘place’ and ‘stone’ and came to be known as the place where the Lord helped.

Later, when God would help someone they would say of the lasting substance and significance of that breakthrough activity, “That is my Ebenezer.”

That Saturday morning is an Ebenezer for me.  For some reason, God showed up, put a word in my heart (Psalm 23) and changed something inside of me.  Since that day, I have felt this joy factor that has led me through transition and a new life definition and vision.

To me this is Groovy Gravy!  I don’t understand it, but I sure do appreciate it.  Right now, think about a time, place or space where God showed up for you, mark it in your mind and heart, write it down if you would like. Make your own Ebenezer and be thankful.

More succinctly, maybe you have been a loser in this battlefield again and again and yet you have not given up or given in to the notion that succeeding over your challenges is possible, then come back to the battle with God’s attendance and assistance. Plan on erecting your own Ebenezer!

So, next time you hear the word ‘Ebenezer’ forget Scrooge, remember God….and be strong!

The Living Dead

I have known them. Who? People that were fully alive. They oozed life. They were smart, funny, intuitive, genuine, spirit-filled, wise, generous, open, accepting, forgiving, and attractive to all.

I have also known these – the dead. Those who are gone, remembered, adored, loved, missed, storied, honored, revered and ours.

Then there are the living dead. Those living but suppressed, lonely, unsure, unconvinced, halted, forfeited, wrong, missed, unknown, pushed away, taken advantage of, hopeless, sorrowful and just clueless about what to do or if to do.

The first position is advantageous.

The second position is due all of us.

The third position… well, that is debatable. This is why there is an entire industry afloat of self-help gurus, supposed secrets, “spiritual” principles, inspiring stories and subliminal tapes available to you, me and the world. In the end, though, it is simply a decision that turns death to life for the masses huddled in this place of mediocre experience and unfulfilled expectations.

So, if it is so easy why aren’t more people making it?

One reason – we have made decisions before and they haven’t worked out. Some of our decisions were okay. Some of our decisions are decent. Some of our decisions are horrible. Some of our decisions are stupid. Some of our decisions are pitiful. So, why make another one if we have no clear track record of success and forward motion?

A great percentage of humans are self-labeled by interior language that screams at us that we are NOT enough – we do not know enough, have not experienced enough, never learned enough, have not acquired enough, and we are not quite as good as that woman or man over there, across from us. So, we do not enjoy life even if we do enjoy moments.

What strings enjoyable moments into an enjoyable life?  What accumulates in our emotional bank accounts to create reserves and eliminates deficits?  What is within our purview to manage if we, like everyone else, are unable to control those things outside of us?  What, or maybe the better question is, who can I control?

That answer is myself. I choose life! The ancient texts of Scripture offers me that choice. When I read it, I immediately wonder about it, but I choose to trust the offer is real. And, then I see there is a perk.  Look and see with me…

Today I ask heaven and earth to be witnesses. I am offering you life or death, blessings or curses. Now, choose life! Then you and your children may live.

I am glad that I have that choice.  It means that I have to endure, or is it enjoy, a transitional move from the deficit mentality – “I am doomed and things never work out, no matter what I hope” to an abundance mentality.  But when I do that, it does not only affect and impact my life, but look…. My children live!  My emotional DNA, no matter what season I am in (I have adult children and young grandchildren), has a trickle down effect.  Yeah, baby!  I like that!  So, I choose life.

But not choosing life does not mean you do not choose. We all choose. Indecision is a choice and if we do not choose life we choose death – separation from life. We can be dead even when our cardiac system has rhythm and our pulmonary system has breath.. In not choosing life we have made a decision. How cruel is that? Our very decision to not make a decision decides we will stay in limbo, stuck, dead to life and dreams.

What is a reason to decide not to decide? When we doubt our decision, the outcome of our decision or have a self-described history of bad decisions, we may shrink because we do not want to be disappointed. But consider this, choosing disappointment intentionally to avoid possible disappointment if things do not go right, is sort of self-defeating.  I would rather choose a 1% chance of goodness than a 0% chance.

So, let me share a prayer with you and I invite you to use it today and in the days to come.  Heck, use it everyday!

“Hey, Life, it’s me. I am hanging with you today. You are my chosen friend and I am going to enjoy you enjoying me. God said you were open to me and I trust him, so here I am. Let’s dance like no one is watching…well, except my kids. I want them to see this dance and join us. Amen.”

Father’s Day

It is Father’s Day weekend.  I approach it with a little fear and a lot of love.

Fear is ridiculous but present. My rational mind dismisses it but my emotional self feels it. I am dad to three daughters. I would give my life for them but I have not been a stellar dad. During their very formative years I was a workaholic and felt like I was trying to prove something to the world. That drive disappeared in ultimate failure and a season of self-pity. But, then the next season of my life was spent trying to deal with anxiety of pending loss and being a different sort of person. Again, my girls lost because my focus was on myself. I finally had personal breakthrough and entered a healing season but the time had passed to be ‘that adorable, loving, idealistic’ dad.

I have had Father’s Days in the last decade when the day came and went and I heard nothing. That is not the norm, but it is part of my reality. I sit here today and feel that insecurity of wondering. Even if I do hear from them, or one or two, I will wonder if it is obligatory or perfunctory, not because of them but because of me. That happens when you are a marginal parent.  I have not had a Father’s Day with all my girls since 2009. My fatherhood is not something that is celebrated and honored, and why would it be?

But here is what I am sure of today as I crawl toward Sunday.  I love my girls. I think they are wonderful daughters and, in the grand scheme of things, they have never been problem kids. Of course there was the coming of age rebellion, the search for significance, the pain of maturing and the devastation they had to suffer because of divorce.

My eldest, Andrea, is accomplished, married, parenting three of her own and filled with gifts that I hope continue to make room for her as she releases them to bless people. She is beautiful, intelligent, deep, wise and probably more mature than even I am.

My middle girl, Alexis, is creative, super talented, somewhat shy, focused, beautiful, adventurous and engaged to be married. She also has her own chemistry of gifts that need to be championed, pushed and used. She has the most problematic view of me and the judgment to go with it. I am still hopeful that I can be in her eyes what she is in mine.

My baby girl, Amanda, is super loving, open, caring, feeling, sensitive and so pretty.  She is free from pressure to be something she is not, taking the freedom to live the scenic route of life, smarter than what she will admit to and nurturing to a fault. She expresses herself and stays connected with a true sense of care. She may even feel sorry for me….LOL.

And, the best part of all this is that I am their Dad. I would not ever want to be anyone else’s Dad although God has given me another dozen young adults in this season to mentor and invest in. In addition He has allowed me to know and love four young men and a young lady (Andy, Drew, Darren and Candace) as sons and daughter. Andy as Andrea’s husband, whose story of grace and faith is a testimony for the ages. Darren and Drew, Sherry’s sons who both impress and give value everywhere they go and Candace, Darren’s wife, who adds grace and beauty to all of us.

Finally, this day would not be complete without the legacy factor of Father’s Day which includes Andrea & Andy’s children, Gemma, Levi and Phoebe…what amazing kids. Then, Darren and Candace have given us Elliott and Emory, two little boys whose life lights us all.

So, here we go into Father’s Day weekend with great love, deep pride and hope for a future filled with family connection and God’s healing touch. Of all the things I am today – husband, son, mentor, guide, shepherd, teacher, writer, friend, it is a joy to know I am and will be a Dad every day of the rest of my life.

To all the rest of you out there, Happy Father’s Day!

Hello world!

 

We live in one of the most beautiful places on earth, The Florida Keys.  Here, I have driven through beautiful vistas and over bridges that offered a panorama of horizon as far as the eye can see. I have boated around these isles and through the mangrove tunnels that surround them, out to the amazing coral reef that borders the eastern edge of this chain of coral tethered to the mainland and into the back country of shallow bay that is the ocean portion of the Everglades National Park. Additionally, I have been afforded the opportunity, many times, to fly over this anomaly of small land masses and marvel at the artistic nature of their creation and placement, gasp at the hues of color captured in the waters according to depth and sea life and wonder how it all came to be.

Now, with the ordination of calling, I live in this place. The particular Key that we call home is a Key originally cultivated as groves and gardens. It is named from that history – Plantation Key. I live on a small boating canal (without ownership of a boat) one-tenth of a mile from the where the Gulf of Mexico merges waters with Florida Bay.  I do not take advantage of my surroundings as much as I should and could. Thankfully, I do have a back porch that I can sit and watch others go out and come in on their boats, kayaks, paddle boards and even airplanes with a landing strip one-block from the house. And, I am NOT complaining.  In February of 2012 I wrote this sentence in my prayer journal, “I would like to live in a gorgeous surrounding, on the ocean, that invited creativity and peace. It would be great if it were large enough to be the place where we could plant the Gospel in people and have people over with regularity.  I want to love people and care about their souls.”

Guess what?  It happened.

But as beautiful as it is at eye level, I recently discovered things about The Keys that are unseen. In a conversation with my Dad’s brother, my Uncle Wayne, who worked in this area decades ago when my paternal family was located in Homestead, Florida, I found out that the Coral rock that are The Keys are five times more dense than concrete. He discovered this supervising the construction of a communications tower made of concrete (to withstand hurricane force winds) and the digging of a foundation to support it.

Since we have lived here there has been a massive effort to connect to a central sewer system to save the near shore waters from inevitable contamination present in a septic tank environment.  During this process there has been digging here, there and everywhere into this dense coral. What happens when coral is dug out? D-U-S-T!  Fine, gray silt fills the air and settles on everything.  Respiratory problems escalate, cleaning cycles elevate and dirt congregates everywhere. The beautiful topside is spoiled by the underlying and unseen sub-surface reality of the real Key substance.

Living here two years has shown us that the spiritual and human parallel is quite alarming.  There is an underside to this beautiful environment and, in that dirty reality lie human pain, estrangement and isolation.  The level of addiction here amazes me.  I have recently discovered, through hosting local substance addiction groups, that there are over 100 weekly support groups for addiction in the Upper Keys alone.  Almost half of all families here live under sustainable living income levels (48%).  The local high school has an under-supplied food closet to try to help the large percentage of students that go home to kitchens without food. The elementary and middle schools students use the same resource. The number of divorced people here is the second highest in the entire United States.  This is not paradise, by a long shot, when it comes to quality of life for the working class.

There is only 13% of the population that claim affiliation with a local non-Catholic congregation and 16% say that they are Catholic.  There is an aversion to the idea of church.  There is a distance from the person of Jesus.  Sherry and I are here in this environment because we are called to be missionaries in this culture.  Up until now, with the invitation to come here by an existing, fledgling congregation and their almost immediate abandonment of funding, we have existed on a razor thin margin.

We have come to realize one thing – planting a church is NOT the answer.  We cannot hang out a sign, send out postcards, and cater to the already convinced. That will not crack the culture. We need a support team of intercessors, encouragers, financiers, and even visitors and partners on the ground here. We must realign our practices with a missionary focus.

The Jesus followers we have met here are some pretty awesome people. The young adults we are mentoring are seeing and sensing this mission life opportunity and they are dreaming as largely as we are.  Some new parent couples are grasping the vision of creating a community of faith to raise their children among rather than a church to take their children to.  Empty nesters are wishing this were happening twenty years before, but glad it is better late than never.  There is a definite mission here that is pouring from the heart of God.

One of our challenges is funding.  We do not have a critical mass to raise the funds for the development of the community we have been given vision for.  We are asking you to consider partnering with us in one- or two-year increments.  This is not a life-long commitment. On an accompanying sheet, please find our ministry expansion budget and let us know if God gives you a nudge or a wink to help this mission.

Without your help we are handcuffed from releasing others and giving them the support they need.