how to give the best advice

I was one of those high school students that teachers pulled aside and said, “You’re a natural leader…” The next sentence would usually be an invitation to partner with that teacher in some sort of classroom takeover.

I don’t know what it was they saw in me – whether it was my fearlessness in front of my peers or my willingness to participate in any sort of takeover plot. What I do know is that it planted a seed that grew into a grown-up me thinking I always have words to say (and that those words are worth listening to).

I ended up pursuing a career (and I use that term loosely to describe the general direction my professional life has gone) that is all about connecting to people. I graduated with degrees in psychology and communication and my joke has been, “Basically, I got a degree in figuring people out and then talking to them.” Every single job I’ve had – from printing shop to administrative assistant to guidance counselor to paint crew to service coordinator – has been about relationships. The most important moments (professional and personal) have always happened in conversations.

Somewhere along the way, I realized that all those times my teachers and family members and friends said, “You’re really one of those ‘natural’ leaders” kind of got under my skin and convinced me I had something to say and that people should listen.

That’s what born leaders do, right? Lead people.

Yes. But it’s both more and less. The secular world has its way of preaching its own religious message and this business of leadership is a popular sermon. There is a tendency, when people come to me for advice, to speak from my own pulpit – to guide and direct and advise from my own experiences and knowledge.

Along the bumpy and unconventional “career path” I’ve been walking, I have learned something very important about leadership and advice and relationships. It really boils down to one very simple thing.

Give me Jesus.

This is the sermon Paul preached to himself in Corinthians and Galatians and it summed up his life and ministry. He even later cautioned his listeners to filter out any worldly advice that might sneak in to sabotage the original message of the Gospel.

“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5, ESV)

Paul was intensely aware of His need of the Gospel – his dependence on God’s grace shaped the way he spoke and listened and preached and led. His leadership did not look like more of his words or his knowledge or his expertise. His leadership looked like more Jesus. Because the more he filled his life with Jesus, the more it became the only thing he could give to others.

Give them Jesus.

Maybe there are natural born leaders – people who have the characteristics and personality to be presidents and prime ministers. But the longer I live, the more I’m convinced that the best leadership comes from people who are most concerned with following Jesus.

When we feel like we are failing as leaders or as communicators or advisors, we don’t need to work to be better at those things. We need to ask the Lord, “Give me more Jesus, so that I can give them more Jesus.”

I read this little nugget from Tim Keller in my devotional this morning. I like to think about my heart being melted by His love and that love overflowing to others. That’s the kind of leader I want to be.

“If we find ourselves unloving, the solution is not to seek to love better or more; it is to look at Christ, who gives us an unlosable, unshakable acceptance from the Father, and as we dwell on our hope, we will find our hearts melted by His love, and overflowing with His love to others.” Tim Keller in “Galatians for You”

what does freedom look like?

I remember having a conversation with my friend Sarah in Honduras – we were sitting on the patio at a café and blocking out the construction noise. We were talking about what it would look like for a person to live as if truly forgiven.

There was a point, soon after we asked the question, where we ran out of words. We just sat there with our eyes in the air and our imaginations running wild. I think we both giggled to break the silence and then agreed that a truly forgiven life would look like freedom.

This morning, that freedom found footsteps as the pastor preached through Galatians 5:13-26. We are designed to walk, but it’s an “out-of-balance” exercise – every footstep is like falling until our feet find the ground again. Movement is uncertain and uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous. Movement in any direction means leaving what is safe and stable (even if just because it is known).

But, we are made to move.

If we didn’t move ever, at all… we would never feel the freedom of motion. We would never get anywhere or experience anything outside of our shoulder width stance. Our safety in what is known would also be our prison, and one we choose for ourselves.

How does freedom work? How do footsteps happen?

After church today, over Panera with my uncle Tom and cousin Vince, we talked about freedom footsteps. Because walking is not an abstract activity. It’s not something you experience by dreaming or talking or thinking. Walking is something you experience by doing and we were made to do it.

So, how do freedom footsteps happen? Because Paul tells the Galatians that we were called to it.

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

We were called to a freedom that breaks us out of the prison of pride and idolatry, safety and self-promotion. We are no longer held captive by the idols that informed our spiritual paralysis. Through the work of the Spirit, by the grace of God, our feet shake the fear weighing us down.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy,drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Our walk – our freedom footsteps – displays the power and glory of the Savior who set us free. We do not keep in step with the Spirit to prove our worth. We keep in step with the Spirit to express our freedom.

If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.(Galatians 5:13-26, ESV)

Tonight, I met up with my dear friend Emma. We used to meet weekly for “Dream Sessions” where we challenged each other creatively and tonight we had a reunion. She is a very special inspiration and kindred spirit. Her wisdom is crazy years beyond her high school age. As we talked about freedom and footsteps, she shared this quote from memory:

“A ship in a harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are for.” -thought to be spoken by Admiral Grace Murray Hopper

A ship is not made to sit in the harbor, but it can only sail if it is released from the shore. And the same is true of us: by God’s grace we are released from the chains of our shoulder width stance to the freedom of forward motion. Walking with the Spirit is not meant to gain our freedom, but to express it.

grounded in freefall

Do you ever get a sense that you are just floating – waiting for your feet to find land so that you can report a location? Everything feels in motion because you are in motion and it’s hard to orientate yourself when you are in a freefall.

Those typical questions people ask depend a bit on roots, like “Where are you from?” and “What do you do?” My answers, in this freefall, are fluid and sweeping and noncommittal and perhaps a little evasive. I don’t like to let people watch me grasp for ground – it’s uncomfortable to flail about when you are used to being surefooted.

I don’t know how to explain the strange and confident peace that covers my soul in all this uncertain discomfort. I sound like a broken record, but it’s always about believing. Believing the Lord will make good on His promise to provide, protect, and preserve. When we believe God is a faithful promise keeper, the freefall feels different.

When life gives you freefall, become like an astronaut.

Does that sound cheesy? Probably. But, I imagine astronauts do not spend all their gravity-less time wondering if they will ever touch ground again or if there is ground at all all the thousands of miles beneath them.

I imagine they know there is and I imagine they stretch to enjoy the float. I know that astronauts are not in freefall – that they don’t have to fear the impact on the other side of their floating. And my freefall in these uncertain moments is the same: I am secure in God’s promises, secure in the solid rock of His word, secure in the refuge of His wings.

He is my ground when there is none underneath me.

Christ is my identity even as I’m floating in freefall and flailing. I am His and He is mine. He is with me in my present and He is my secure future. I am reading through Galatians and this morning I read,

for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:26-29, ESV)

My identity can’t change mid-flight. I am a son of God – my inheritance is secured in Christ in the middle of all the insecurities I might feel. I have already been named an heir, through faith.

This is my solid ground.

The beautiful thing about putting on Christ like clothes is that He’s with you in the freefall, closer than any other thing. He is my inheritance and secure future, but He is not distant and silent. He is breathing truth to my soul and filling my cup to overflowing. He is holding me together.

When I believe what He has promised, I do not doubt the ground. I do not doubt my future or my inheritance. My adoption means comfort more closely and hope more securely than any other thing.

God has called me His in this freefall. My flailing may not make sense and my floating might make people talk, but my heart is grounded in God’s promises.

 

 

serious about sin | serious about joy

I’ve been accused of being too serious.

Does that surprise you, friends of the blog-o-sphere, with all my stories of falling down and loving laughter and chasing raindrops? Does it surprise you that people think I’m too serious?

I’ve learned that not everyone likes to read books stuffed full of long syllabled words and very few people want to ask if those long syllabled words would ever change my plans for the day. And I get it. Sometimes, I forget that “taking a genuine interest in the welfare of others” means doing things that matter little to me because they matter much to someone else. Sometimes, I act like the child who once told me, “Please stop doing anything that you like.” Sometimes, I find myself in a self-righteous wrestling match because I think, “Shouldn’t we all be serious about the things of God (even if it means strings of long syllables)?”

And then I think about the children who came to Jesus. They probably had a hard time pronouncing their Rs and words that started with C. Their understanding of love and grace and kindness didn’t come from a study of thick textbooks.

I imagine they did have a certain seriousness about them, but not the self-righteous and learned kind.

I’ve seen this seriousness play across children’s faces in the most solemn moments, when the line between right and wrong is being drawn on their hearts and in their heads for the first time. I can hear the nervous claims coming out from wide eyes,

“She took it from me and I yelled at her.”
“But Mommy said to never go in there…”
“Why doesn’t the man have food?”
“I hit my brother.”
“Laney took a cookie.”

You can hear them, can’t you? The confessions and questions come out slowly and with those little eyebrows arching high to scrunch the forehead.

There is a seriousness about children when it comes to sin that I think wears off as we age. We get comfortable with the idea that we fail and we get tired of the wide-eyed confessions.

But there is something very sad about being cavalier with our sin, an emptiness apathy and disregard can’t replace. Have you ever stuck around after a child does mini-battle with the questions/confessions above? Do you see what happens?

Freedom.

When they recognize how serious it is to sin, they are freed to be truly joyful. There is nothing hidden. Their (or human) failure is exposed and there is nothing left to rationalize – just space to revel in the gratitude that they are forgiven, accepted, invited, loved.

I’m currently reading both Leviticus and Galatians and the contrast is captivating.

We serve a serious God. Sin is not a Sunday School lesson. The hoops the Israelites had to jump through on account of their sin were certainly not neatly wrapped up in a 20 minute moral lesson. The rules and regulations set up a healthy fear of the Lord and a distaste for anything that divided their relationship with Him. Sin is serious. I cannot imagine living in that time. I mean, I’ve tried imagining it and I nearly always end up pleading with the Lord to be a little more understanding. But, the Lord keeps reminding my heart, “Sin is serious.”

Then, I flip to Galatians and just want to dance. If I have the right (serious) view of sin, my salvation is like dancing with the cast of Fiddler on the Roof as they sing, “To Life, to life, l’chaim!”

I am free. Free!

How is it that children get this – that we got this as kids – and adults don’t?

If sin is serious, then so is JOY.

We were brought OUT of serious darkness and INTO serious light.
Why is it so hard to understand that a frivolous position on the former means a frivolous position on the latter?

It’s true, I can be too serious sometimes and I’m rightly called out when I’m trying to puff myself up. But, brothers and sisters, can we agree to build up the Body of Christ by being serious about sin so we can be serious about joy?

let LOVE fly like cRaZy