The Least of These

Leaders are wired and trained to look for highly leveraged people and opportunities. We think about influence, change, courage, and about mobilizing the people who can help make things happen.

So, what about people who have nothing strategic to give back? What about the people Jesus identified as the least of these?

With my Uncle after a burger togetherAbout six years ago I became the person who looks after my Uncle. At first, it meant simply making sure his bills were paid and his medicines were in order. Then it meant taking him to Dr. appointments, cleaning out his refrigerator, and hiring in home help. Eventually he required residential care and the sale of his home. Lately, waves of dementia has him believing illusions of reality and becoming irritated at everyone–including me.

His needs are rarely convenient and being with him is never fun. My Uncle is someone like those Jesus described as the least of these. He can’t drive. He can’t hear. He has no hobbies and no real interests of any kind. He has no friends, no one who would attend his funeral. In short, there are no strokes to be gained or benefits to be earned as a result of caring for him. But, it is the right thing to do. He has no one else.

However, I have to be honest, lots of times my attitude stinks. I  am not writing this post with a dynamic climax at the end. It is simply that caring for my Uncle makes me think about a lot of things differently. While I spend most of my life working with leaders to help them shape the churches and organizations they lead, I understand in new ways that leadership is about much more than what you do in public.

Jesus said, that caring for “the least of these,” literally equals caring for him. He did not say it is “like or similar” to caring for him, but actually doing it for him. Wow. I find that so hard to believe. When I am with my Uncle, I see the face of my Uncle, I don’t see the face of Jesus. There is no glamour in taking him out to lunch and watching him eat. Can it really mean that serving someone  like him–where there is no quid pro quo, no strokes or favors to be returned–is literally an act of compassion received by Jesus?

Take a good look at Matthew 25:37-46. It will rock your world. “Whatever you did for the least of these brothers you did for me.”  … the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, those without clothes, the sick, the imprisoned.

 

I wonder, do you have someone who is the “least of these” in your sphere of influence? Is there anyone you avoid because there is nothing in it for you?

What have you learned about what Jesus meant when he spoke about serving the least of these?

Kerry’s House of Pain

This afternoon I will willingly walk in the doors of what I have started calling, “Kerry’s House of Pain.” I know that the front of the building reads “physical therapy,” but honestly I think that is Latin-based code for “place of torture.”

I wish I had a glorious reason for needing PT, something that would sound good like, I was playing Rugby or crashed while mountain biking down half-dome. Nope, it’s embarrassing. I sprained a ligament in my knee doing a simple domestic chore and that’s all I will admit to. Either way, my doc wanted me to do PT as a way to guard the healing and strengthen or retrain whatever was the mitigating cause.

So, twice a week for a month now, my therapist engages in polite conversation as she simultaneously uses her fist or elbow to plow furrows in my thigh where my IT band used to be. Then her assistant smiles as she assigns me one exercise after another that is designed to stretch or strengthen some obscure muscle group no one knew they had. Translation, “feel the burn.”

And, twice a week I find myself thinking about how growth and character development really happens. Sure, I could sit with Kerry and share the same personal stories over a latte, but it would do nothing for the healing and long term health of my knee. It might even position me for greater long term pain and trouble.

I can see multiple parallels to personal growth from this experience.

  1. There is no comfort based alternative to personal growth. I cannot simultaneously pursue comfort and take new ground in the formation of my character.
  2. When I lean into pain and difficulty, by being attentive to the internal conversations and observations of my soul, I sow the seeds of real character formation.
  3. There is no magic pill. The attitudes and perspectives that still lurk in the dark recesses of my heart are stubborn and will not be dealt with through some simplistic approach.
  4. I cannot get there in a day. Personal growth and transformation happens much like the healing process in my knee. Even as the initial pain in my knee begins to subside, I know that the work is not done. I have to embrace the reality that repair and retraining of all the muscles, ligaments, and tendons connected to this injury takes time.

So, what difficulty or challenge are you facing these days? What would you like to avoid or dismiss?  Is it possible that your “house of pain” could be a place of rehab or retraining that will serve you in a deep way?

Grieving and The Health of my Soul

Every once in a while it seems a window opens that blows fresh air into my soul on a deeper than normal level. I never expected the emotional journey of grief to be one of those windows.

Two weeks ago Margaret and I spent the day in a hospital cafeteria while our son had surgery to repair his heart. We sat there with family and friends waiting for the phone to ring, with news about Ryan, but also awaiting news on Margaret’s father. Just two days earlier Jesse had fallen and broken his pelvis. The injury was more than his declining health could handle and his systems were shutting down rapidly.

We sat there in the hospital waiting at the edge of life for news about two of the men I respect most. We were unprepared to lose Margaret’s Dad on the day Ryan’s heart found “new life.” The two strands of uncertainty turned that day into a moment at the seam between life and death that puts a whole lot of stuff into perspective.

In a poetic way, both Ryan and Jesse went home at the same time the next day. Ryan’s surgery was successful, so he was released mid-day sent home to recover. At that very moment, while driving Ryan home, Jesse was released to go home as well… home to the Savior that he loved. Both men stepped into a new chapter of life together.

That week and the one that followed were more emotionally draining than I would have guessed. They were days of memories and sorrow and letting go and loving one another and loving Jesus. They were days of in-your-face reminder that life is fragile and because of that truly sacred. They were days where grieving reminded us that the mosaic of people and moments that fill our days are worth celebrating.

It has caused me to do a lot of thinking about the relationship between grief and the well-being of my soul. It is amazing how much the grieving process accesses and cleanses out the accumulated clutter in the deep recesses of the soul. In moments like this, you cannot escape the fact that real life happens on a much deeper level than most daily activity.

There is something about living in a soul-deep way that awakens the senses of the spirit and unleashes true peace in spite of the torrent around us.

[fyi: this is the bookend essay to one from last March on life being fragile and sacred.]

Character & Competency

A few days ago I posted the first in a series of essays on what I have found to be five attributes of a high-capacity leader. These attributes seem to function in two ways that matter to everyone of us. On the one hand they are like horses harnessed together to pull a load. And at the same time, individually they have the capacity to sabotage what could be accomplished by the others. This is the second of four essays on this theme.

CHARACTER
There is a good shift taking place. While it seems that the majority of training and leadership expectations focus on one’s competencies, there is a lot of emphasis these days on the character that lives deeper than competencies. To that extent we are on the right track. As I and many of my colleagues believe, influence flows out of who you are not what you can do. Character is not the only thing that matters, but without it nothing else matters much.

However, in the popular conversations, it seems we often speak of leaders ‘having character’ as if that means they possess a strength of will to sustain them through the challenges they face. Or, we use character as a synonym for integrity.  To be sure these qualities flow from a leader’s character. However, I mean to imply something more.

The character of a leader is the personalized imprint of God on the inner life. It is not merely the imposition of a predetermined list, (i.e. the Boy Scout Law: trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly,etc.) I think of character as the comprehensive and unique landscape of one’s soul — the integrated package of convictions forged by experience and the internal formation carried out by the Spirit of God which shape our behavior.

Character makes an imprint on everything we do, every relationship we maintain, and every facet of our behavior. It is more than who I am when no one is looking. It is also who I am when everyone is looking.

It is a matter of soul and spirit. Spiritually, it is reflected in 2 Chr. 16:9
“The eyes of the Lord search to and fro throughout the earth, that he might fully support the man whose heart is completely his.”


COMPETENCY
At the same time, leaders need to have skills–significant skills! In a changing world, leaders must continually develop and sharpen their abilities in order to lead with effectiveness. Good intentions are no match for competent leadership.
Don’t misunderstand my comments on character to mean that skills don’t matter.  We live in a demanding world. In fact, most leaders find they are expected to be competent in a wide range of arenas they were never trained in.

Influence flows out of character, but high capacity leaders are also highly competent. They don’t flaunt their expertise, but they are constantly working to develop their skill-set. Character-deep leaders understand the relationship between character and competency. While character may be the key to influence, they have also learned to rely on their competencies much like a master-mechanic relies on tools. When the tasks demand it, they pull out different tools, use them with wisdom, and then put them back into the tool chest for another day.

In a world characterized by quantum and continuous change, we will always need new skills. We can benefit from skills that minimize personal deficits, but more importantly, we need to hone those skills that build on personal strengths.
Biblical parallels:
Ps 78:72:  “David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hand he led them.”
1 Tim 4:11-15:  “…do not neglect your gift…be diligent… so that everyone may see your progress.”

“God Demolished Me”

man made structuresAn intriguing comment by a Romanian pastor gave me the words to describe something I have been thinking a great deal about recently. With the weight of deep appreciation he said, “Thank you so much for this week. I want you to know, God demolished me.”

Granted, this was the first time anyone ever used the word ‘demolished’ in reference to my ministry, but it was a good thing. He was saying something profound. That very morning we had processed some of the deeper challenges God was confronting in him-some areas of needed change.

“Demolished” is the perfect word for something I have been thinking a lot about recently. You see, in his deep love for us, there are times when God “demolishes” us.

We habitually erect superstructures upon which we might hang the stuff of life. We frame the steel beams and girders of security and try to lock things down just as we prefer them. We construct a life that puts us in control and makes us feel safe.

However, this manmade life stands as an obstacle to the life of intimacy and dependency for which God created us. So, God demolishes these structures because of his deep love for us. His severe mercy leads him to tear down the very super-structures we have been so earnest to build. He does it so that we might discover all over again that He is enough.

This demolition happens through a variety of mechanisms. Children rock your world when they walk away from Christ. Illness reframes your capacity for engaging life. Finances dry up and send everything sideways. Your spouse walks out. A crisis at church shatters your spiritual community. Your boss nudges you out. And, on it goes.

In moments like these and in hundreds of others, God pries open the welds that hold the structures of our lives in place. He does it so that we might learn that “man does not live by bread alone.” He does it so that we might discover anew that he alone is sufficient. He does it so to release us from our addiction to acquisition. He does it so that we might discover the true source of security and meaning in life.