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Aug 19

Another Birthday – Lessons From Last Year

Another Birthday – Lessons From Last Year
Well, I just celebrated another birthday!

I am absolutely grateful and excited about another opportunity to — LIVE!

Happy BirthdayLots of people take life for granted, I absolutely do not.  I’ve been around enough situations to know that life isn’t promised…so I don’t miss the opportunity to express my appreciation for it.

As I have done for the past 5 or 6 years, I pause to reflect on what I’ve learned over the previous year.  I look at my own life, observe the lives of others, take note of what’s happening in the world and the spaces close to me. I compile this list and take some time to quietly reflect and grow from it.  This list also serves as benchmarks for me for growing, learning, and developing.  This past year, I had a list of over 800 things that I’ve observed (I’m getting more consistent in my journalling…)

With that said, I took that long list and reduced it down to about 75 things that I figured would be helpful for others and have shared it below.  Again, this isn’t directed or connected to any one person, group, or idea…but a combination of observations.  Some are from my own mistakes and others are just learning from living.

I’d love to hear back from you.  What do you think about this list? What stands out in your mind the most?

Enjoy!

  1. My life is not as important as I personally could make it out to be, but only as important as others need it to be. (Always – get over yourself and never believe your own Press Release)
  2. You will only have something to offer the world and people if you really believe that you have something to offer them.
  3. Life is not meant to be lived alone.
  4. Everybody isn’t a hater…
  5. You feel better when you treat people right.
  6. Integrity is the strongest currency we have.
  7. A weakness that you ignore today, may trip you up tomorrow.
  8. Everything really does rise and fall on leadership.
  9. Everything that happens to you isn’t personal. (Sometimes, there’s another part of the story you may not know…)(Hard to accept…but truth…)
  10. The church is really called to make disciples. It can do a lot of other stuff, but at the end of the day, it must make disciples.
  11. I really love and enjoy my wife.
  12. I’m really blessed with the three kids that I have.
  13. Parents can REALLY learn alot from their kids if they pay attention.
  14. Some of the biggest challenges in life are determined by the systems that you put in place in your personal life.
  15. The Holy Spirit can be your best friend is you’re willing to listen to Him.
  16. There’s a serious lack of urgency for the right things today…
  17. When you neglect the things that you’re wired to do, you will be frustrated.
  18. Reading is fundamental and necessary to grow.
  19. Manners still matter! (Please, thank you…)
  20. God is in the business of preserving your life to get you to accomplish your life purpose.
  21. Laughing is soooo therapeutic!
  22. I’m more comfortable being both introverted and extroverted. (most people don’t know this about me…)
  23. The more demand on your public time, the more structured and less stressful your private life needs to be.
  24. Perfection is a good pursuit, but stressful. Excellence is better.
  25. Race is still an issue in our country and will be until people pay attention to the economics.
  26. Some people just won’t like you, no matter what you do and how you do it.
  27. Most people sadly and grossly underestimate the strain of leadership (and ministry). (And yes, while most leaders build the capacity to handle it, it should not go unnoticed…)
  28. God REALLY does take the darkest moments of your life and causes you to grow in ways you could have never imagined.
  29. Forgiveness of others is so freeing! I’ll say it this way, forgiveness is fundamental…
  30. Your physical health matters and nobody else will be as concerned about it as you will.
  31. Margin in life is not only needed, but necessary and mandatory for anyone who wants to do anything significant. (Margin = financially, emotionally, spiritually, day-to-day schedule, etc.)
  32. If you say that you’re a leader, everything you do is being watched and judged. This can be both good and costly.
  33. Trust your gut, intuition, unction…whatever you want to call it.
  34. Comfort zones are so…comfortable…
  35. It’s better to change when you want to than when you’re forced to.
  36. Lying will catch up with you.
  37. Learn to enjoy the city you live in.
  38. Your life, mind, heart, and spirit needs regular (read daily here…) maintenance.
  39. “No” or “I can’t” can be very healthy for you, others, and your work.
  40. Some people abuse God’s grace and some people haven’t figured it’s available for them.
  41. Breaking a routine can be so liberating… (Try a new food, take a different route, sleep in or get up earlier, meet someone new, talk to a stranger {safely}, reach out for an old friend, etc…)
  42. Do what you do every time, like it’s your last time!
  43. I like journalling…I’m working on doing it consistently…
  44. The church is not as bad as some people make it out to seem.
  45. The church has issues to work on…
  46. We can create strange thoughts in our minds about people.  Some people I thought who thought less of me, regarded me highly.
  47. Today’s families need help.
  48. Some people are mean and don’t care…
  49. Some people are really going to regret some of the things that they post on social media…
  50. Bragging about being busy all of the time isn’t so cool.
  51. Kids don’t forget most things – good or bad.  They may not always say what they saw – but always know they saw it.
  52. More and more wisdom from the grandfather and other seniors I gleaned from, makes more sense…
  53. Everybody needs some senior citizens that they’re connected to.
  54. Prior planning really is better than cramming.
  55. Everybody needs a Pastor – a spiritual leader who they are accountable to.
  56. There are some Pastor’s who aren’t great preachers and some preacher’s who aren’t great Pastors.
  57. There are ALOT of great Pastor’s out there!
  58. Some Pastor’s should resign…for their personal health, health of the church, and health of their families and kids.
  59. Some Pastor’s need to stick it out — and thrive under the pressure!
  60. The bigger the platform the more accountability needed.
  61. Poor Writing and speaking skills will close doors on you.
  62. The ability to make a decision / choice is a POWERFUL thing!
  63. It is not an oxymoron to have a quality of life AND a powerful ministry.
  64. Sometimes people will recognize things (good and bad) about you sooner than you will acknowledge.
  65. I really enjoyed the Seminole Football season.
  66. When it comes to our hearts, minds, and soul – we have more in common than we realize (regardless of race, color, or class…)
  67. Sometimes feeling helpless is a good thing.
  68. It’s better when God vindicates you than trying to always defend yourself.
  69. Social media has its limitations…
  70. I have more Timothy’s than I realized…and figuring that out…lit a fire under me.
  71. Some people are okay with being stuck where they are.
  72. There’s a daily attack to give up on your dream. It’s wisdom to know what to hold on to and what to let go of.
  73. You can learn a lot from your failures.
  74. There is a clear battle for the truth (God’s going to win…!)
  75. Every battle ain’t worth fighting…
Jul 28

Telling Leaders The Truth

Telling Leaders The Truth

I recently read one of the most gut-wrenching leadership thoughts that I’ve read in a while.

It was so gut-wrenching because it was so truthful!

Nothing but truthThe challenge that many organizations face is not that people don’t know the truth, it is whether anyone has the courage to confront the truth and be honest about what’s happening within the organization. I have personally seen it and have had loads of conversations with friends who have experienced it. Thank God for the leaders who create and provide a healthy opportunity for those in leadership under them to tell them the truth and be reception to hearing that, without retaliation or professional vengeance.  My prayer is for those leaders who are not there yet and should be.  I pray that “their eyes would be open, ears attentive, and hearts strengthened to have people to share the truth and they receive it in a healthy fashion…”

Read these thoughts below from John Maxwell and share your thoughts…

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TELL LEADERS WHAT THEY NEED TO HEAR Because of their intuition, good leaders often see more than others see, and they see things before others do. Why? Because they see everything from a leadership bias. But if the organization they lead gets large, they often lose their edge. They become disconnected. What is the remedy to this problem? They ask the people in their inner circle to see things for them. Most good leaders want the perspective of people they trust. Sales expert Burton Bigelow said, “Very few big executives want to be surrounded by ‘yes’ men. Their greatest weakness often is the fact that ‘yes’ men build up around the executive a wall of fiction, when what the executive wants most of all is plain facts.” One of the ways to become a person whom leaders trust is to tell them the truth. If you’ve never spoken up to your leaders and told them what they need to hear, then it will take courage. As World War II general and later president Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “A bold heart is half the battle.” But if you are willing to speak up, you can help your leaders and yourself. Start small and be diplomatic. If your leader is receptive, become more frank over time. If you get to the point where your leader is not only willing to hear from you but actually wants your perspective, then remember this: Your job is to be a funnel, not a filter. Be careful to convey information without “spinning” it. Good leaders want the truth—even if it hurts. —The 360° Leader HAVE A BOLD HEART , START SMALL, AND DIPLOMATICALLY BEGIN TELLING YOUR LEADER WHAT HE NEEDS TO HEAR.

Jun 2

The Good Missionary

The Good Missionary

As normal, I am sure like you, I read lots of emails, magazines, newsletters, and blog posts.

There are those moments that I run across an article that I send very deeply is one that should be shared with the world. Today was one of those moments.  I couldn’t help but have a “WOW” moment after reading it.  I actually re-read the article!

I think EVERY Pastor, Staff Member, Church leader, Para-church ministry leader and others should read this!  In my humble opinion, this is a MUST read!

I’d love to know what you think!

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The following article is located at: http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2014/may/good-missionary.html

TheGoodMissionaryImageThe Good Missionary

An African orphan on what he loves (and doesn’t) about short-term mission teams.

Samuel Ikua Gachagua and Claire Diaz-Ortiz

I owe my life to missionaries. Growing up as an AIDS orphan in rural Kenya, missionaries—some long-term, some short-term—intervened at key junctions in my life.

Missionaries helped start the children’s home that saved me from being destitute. Missionaries sent some of my most beloved friends, mentors, and supporters to my doorstep. And through the years I learned the difference between mission teams that helped and those that didn’t. Perhaps my story will be a tool for your own discernment as you reach out to others.

For the first time, I saw what it was like to be the one offering help.

I lost my father at a young age and was soon abandoned by my mother as well. So at the age of 11, I lived with my 13-year-old brother and 5-year-old sister. We found ways to survive, selling plastic bags of water to earn money for food. But we regularly dropped out of school.

My life changed when a pair of pastors—one Kenyan, one American—started a children’s home. When I was able to live there, I knew my life had changed forever. One day, after a few years of living there, I met two young American women who were traveling through the area. They had blonde hair that hung in their eyes, and they talked to me in a grown-up way I’d rarely been talked to before.

They lived at my orphanage for a year, starting a non-profit called Hope Runs, and ultimately bringing me to the United States. The book Hope Runs: An American Tourist, a Kenyan Boy, a Journey of Redemption tells the story of the strange, makeshift family we have formed.

At first, though, I was wary of them, and so were my friends. Living in an orphanage, I’d had many experiences with missionaries who came to help over the years. Some had done just that, ultimately changing my life and the lives of my peers. Some had only added to our hardship (more on that later). White people—mzungus, as we call them in Kenya—had not always been the best visitors. What would it be like to have this pair of girls around for so long? With time, though, I grew to know, trust, and love them.

Over time, I understood in a way that many of my friends did not, that mzungus couldn’t drop their lives in the U.S. to live with my friends and me in our orphanage. I saw, eventually, that sometimes good things could happen in those few days when missionaries were there.

Years later, I would gain a much more comprehensive perspective. When I came to start high school in the U.S., I felt that my American peers saw me like the missionaries did—like a needy orphan. With time, though, I learned to walk and talk and think like my new high school friends around me. Most important, I learned what it meant to be able to extend resources to others.

Focus less on “helping,” and more on cross-cultural exchange.

In my senior year of high school, I ran a campaign that made the local news, collecting thousands of pairs of running shoes for my peers in orphanages back home. The year after high school, I took this concept of service a step further and spent a year volunteering on a service project in Ecuador. For the first time, I saw what it was like to walk into a community and be the one offering the help.

Although these experiences have given me a more complete perspective on missionary work than I ever had growing up in my orphanage, many of the thoughts and feelings I had as a child about the strange white people that came to visit still ring true. Here are five things I have learned about being a good missionary from being on the other side, the side of the beneficiary, the one being helped.

1. Rethink the goals of your short-term mission trip.

In the orphanage, I saw many short-term missionaries come and go. Again and again I was amazed by how many of them were completely focused on “getting things done” during their time with us. Whether it was building a chicken coop, painting the dorm rooms, or fixing a borehole, many missions teams spent the few days they were with us doing, doing, doing. And most of the time, the doing was manual labor or unspecialized work.

I was thrilled they wanted to help us, but I always wondered about the particular activities they chose. In Kenya, for example, we have rampant unemployment, and there is literally an endless supply of Kenyans who would do such menial labor for very little money. If a missionary is going to spend so much money to fly and visit us, shouldn’t they be doing work that only they can do?

Again and again, I found that the missionaries I most connected with were those who realized this fact. They saw that the thousands of dollars they had spent to come visit us could be best used in building relationships, both with the students in our orphanage and with the elders as well, not in painting, building, or manual labor that Kenyans could do.

It was in these relationships—when I learned about the wider world, got to practice my English, and built some key connections that would last a lifetime—that I saw the real benefit to having short-term missionaries come to the orphanage.

If there is one thing I could tell short-term missionaries, it would be this: focus less on “helping,” and more on cross-cultural exchange, and becoming friends.

2. Don’t try to get too close too fast.

I’m still a teenager, so I can’t speak with the authority of a psychologist on this, but from what I have read about orphaned and vulnerable children who grow up in situations similar to mine, I know that there are problems with attachment that come when you’re raised like I was.

Try to remember that the trip isn’t over when you get back home.

Although I loved seeing missionaries get close quickly with many of the kids at the orphanage, I sometimes worried about the younger, more emotionally vulnerable children. There were many young girls and boys at my home who would latch on quickly to a missionary who was only there for a few days—holding her hand and not letting her out of their sight for 72 hours. And then they’d be devastated when she inevitably left.

I want short-term missionaries to show love and care, but it’s important to be aware of this difficult reality and to proceed carefully, knowing that you—the missionary—are the adult in the situation. Kids are particularly vulnerable to short-term visitors, and they often don’t understand the reality of your life back at home and why you really have to leave after a few days. It may not be fair to you that a kid is disappointed when you only stay a week (which is a long time off work for you!), but as I saw again and again, many of my peers just didn’t understand the concept of traveling so far for such a short time. These visits can be good, but proceed with caution.

3. Learn what the partner needs.

One day I was coming back from running practice, and the bell in the dining hall rang, meaning that all 170 children at my orphanage were supposed to gather together into the central courtyard. When we did, we came face-to-face with 20 smiling mzungus.

After one of our elders introduced the group, she said that the mzungus had a presentation for us. A middle-aged American woman with a bottle of hand sanitizer strapped to her waist gave a 15-minute talk about how to brush your teeth. Then she passed out toothbrushes.

We couldn’t stop laughing. Another white person who thinks we don’t know how to brush our teeth!

As we filed into the dining hall afterwards, we couldn’t stop laughing. “Another mzungu who thinks we don’t know how to brush our teeth!” We added the new toothbrushes to our stockpile. We had dozens, of course, from all the other white people who had come through that year apparently concerned primarily about our teeth.

The lesson here is that understanding what a partner needs is essential if you’re trying to offer valuable support. In this case, the group was at our orphanage for only a few hours, and they assumed that in that short time it made the most sense to focus on tooth brushing. They were wrong. Ask, ask, and ask again.

4. Don’t forget the money.

People don’t like to talk about money, but when it comes to orphanages that constantly struggle financially, we have to. Of the many problems related to short-term missions that I saw play out again and again, problems with money and a lack thereof topped the list. Here’s a classic example:

After months of coordination between the orphanage and a U.S. church, a group of 10 comes from the U.S. and stays for four nights in some extra dormitory rooms. The orphanage van (the only vehicle) goes on an 8-hour round-trip journey to pick them up at the airport, and another 8-hour trip to drop them off at the end of their stay.

They bring with them a dozen bags of donated clothes and books. During their time at the orphanage, they are served special meals with things we kids don’t get to eat—meat, fresh vegetables, milk, and sugary treats. During their stay, the three full-time staff at the orphanage are on-call the entire time, helping with the constant questions and issues that always come up when people travel to an unknown (and, to them, primitive) place. The orphanage takes the group on frequent rides to local shopping centers, tourist places, hospitals, and the like every day. When the group departs, they may leave a donation of $2,000.

From the church’s perspective, they have fundraised incredibly hard and already spent more than $30,000 to bring a group of 10 to Kenya. For them it seems reasonable to make a donation of $2,000. The orphanage, in contrast, feels exhausted, used, and frustrated. That $2,000, even in Kenya, is not a lot of money to pay for all of the orphanage’s expenses and staff time. Three years later, the orphanage hears from the group again, saying they had such a great time, they want to make another trip.

There are variations on this story. Sometimes the group leaves no money at all. Sometimes the orphanage never hears from the group again. Sometimes the group promises a large donation or offering upon returning home and showing their photos and videos to the congregation, but it never materializes. And sometimes, of course, a church becomes a long-term partner. But long-term partnerships are the exception.

Year after year, the cycle continues. The orphanage accepts short-term missionaries because it is always hoping for that long-term partner who can really help. In the interim, though, they are using up resources that should be going to the children on an endless stream of visitors.

If you’re a church considering a short-term missions trip, please think about the implications of the time and resources the orphanage will spend on you.

5. Follow up, follow up, follow up.

What a missionary does once he or she goes home is often far more important than what happens at the site. Following up is everything.

When I talk about some of the great relationships I built with short-term missionaries over the years, I know that the only reason those relationships worked was because the missionary followed up. As an orphan, I didn’t have money for a stamp to send a letter (and Internet access, both then and now, is unusual in many children’s homes in Kenya). But if a person I met wrote me, we could develop a friendship. Some of my greatest mentors and friends to this day are people who first came for just a few short days to my orphanage. On the larger scale, follow up is the only way that the orphanage and the church can truly build a mutually beneficial long-term partnership.

Ultimately, try to remember that the trip isn’t over when you get back home.

In the years since I left the orphanage and began to have experiences of my own helping others, I’ve learned a lot about what it means to extend help and how difficult it can be. Aside from my year spent on a service project in Ecuador, I’ve also now taken part in several short-term volunteer experiences with international missionaries visiting orphanages and nonprofits in Kenya. In all of these experiences, I’ve served as a bridge, the rare person who knows both sides, and who tries to provide advice on how each side can better understand the other. I’m glad that the missions field has changed to emphasize understanding on-the-ground partners, but there is still much more work to do.

I believe the core of the issue has to do with better communication between missions groups and partner sites, in hopes that we can bridge the vastly different cultural and financial expectations and assumptions that each group has.

By working closer, we can help one another.

Claire Diaz-Ortiz is Twitter’s manager for social innovation and coauthor of Hope Runs: An American Tourist, a Kenyan Boy, a Journey of Redemption (Revell, 2014). Claire is the cofounder of Hope Runs, a nonprofit organization operating in AIDS orphanages in Kenya.

Samuel Ikua Gachagua was born in rural Kenya in 1992. After losing his parents at a young age, he struggled to survive until he was placed in an orphanage in Nyeri, Kenya. In 2009, he received a full-ride scholarship to Maine Central Institute, granting him a rare U.S. visa and the chance to begin his sophomore year of high school under the guardianship of Claire Diaz-Ortiz. After graduating from high school, he spent a year serving in Ecuador as a fellow for Global Citizen Year. He is an up-and-coming motivational speaker.

Apr 21

Highs & Lows of Preaching / Pastoring

Highs & Lows of Preaching / Pastoring

The other day I had an opportunity to be a very lengthy writing from Pastor Joe McKeever.

He’s an generously wise Pastor with years of experience.  In this writing, someone asked him a question and he provided the response.  I’ve provided the question and his answer below.

I (as I’m sure most preachers and pastors can) could identity spot on with his answer.

I hope it provides some perspective for you and some encouragement for you…depending on which seat you’re in.

PastorWhy does my pastor seem detached from the joys of our wedding or the sorrows of our funeral?

I’ll tell you one story from my ministry. One Saturday afternoon many years ago, at one o’clock, we held the funeral for Susan Edmondson at the United Methodist Church down the street because our sanctuary (First Baptist) was decorated for a wedding that would be held two hours later. Susan had grown up in our church, was a popular and well-loved young woman, the youngest child of her older parents, and had been the victim of a bizarre accident. Working in an art store in New York City, that day she had moved a huge piece of art—a heavy column or something—by “walking” it back and forth. As she turned and walked away, it fell on her, crushing her skull. She never knew what hit her. We were all devastated.

The church was packed out with heartbroken friends and family. I recall none of the details of the funeral, but will never forget the anguish I felt trying to be the family’s pastor that day.

Then, a short time after that funeral, we gathered in the sanctuary of the First Baptist Church to unite Nathan Wright and Susie John in marriage. We did everything we could to rejoice with them.

It was one of the hardest afternoons I’ve ever known. When it was over, I went home and had trouble sleeping. The next morning, Sunday, I was expected to get up and function as usual, preaching two morning services and one that night. But my heart had been ripped out.

I knew then why some people turn to liquor or drugs. They have to have some relief.

A pastor does this a few times and learns to protect himself by not entering so deeply into the pain or rising so high with the joys.

Hold her in the road. Steady as she goes. It’s what a pastor does.