Friday, December 20, 2013

Christmas Past, Present, & Future

 "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope."
Romans 15:13

The other night I enjoyed a nice evening out with my husband finishing-up our Christmas shopping and dining at one of our favorite spots in Lawrence, KS--the town we consider, "home."  I have written many times of my love for Lawrence with all its quirkiness and unique appeal.  It is a rarity to see a town of its size thriving with such a sublime dichotomy of old, hometown charm mixed with hipster art, music, diversity, and culture.  It seems there is always something interesting happening in Lawrence and the other night was no exception.  As we walked down Massachusetts Avenue, a pack of about 150 people were on what they call, "The Jingle Jog."  This group was running up and down "Mass Street," as it is typically termed, while festively adorning all sorts of Christmas attire--from Santa hats to battery-powered Christmas lights and Rudolph noses.  One guy was speed-walking and wearing one of those head-light hats.  He was emphatically reading aloud from Dr. Seuss' famous Christmas work, How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  Right as he breezed past me he read the line, "Mr. Grinch, the words that best describe you are as follows, and I quote: Stink, stank, stunk!"  I died laughing.  It was a good reminder that though I am a bit overwhelmed right now with the approach of Christmas and how behind I am with pretty much everything, I need to watch my attitude and remember the real reason for this season.

I have since thought about some of the other beloved Christmas stories that I read as a kid.  Charles Dickens' classic, A Christmas Carol, came to mind as I worked on my Christmas cards the other day and pondered Christmases past.  In working to finally update my new address book, I shed a few tears of grief at the awful reminder of so many special people who have gone on to be with the Lord since my last updating.  Even in just the last year, there have been several changes of lives lost, as well as, family members and friends who have moved, and those who have, "moved on," so to speak.  As we all know, things change, people change, and we just lose touch with each other at times for various reasons.  Life happens.

I know I am not alone when I say that this time of year brings to mind all the memories of the past year and of prior Christmases, as well.  Perhaps it's a natural tendency for us to reflect as one year closes and another begins--or maybe I'm just a sap!  But many of us do find ourselves thinking of all the memories of Christmases past--good and bad.  We also desire and work ourselves silly in hopes of giving our loved ones a wonderful Christmas-present (both the literal and figurative).  I came across a poll the other day which found that American women spend approximately 86-hours preparing for Christmas during the month of December, and American men spend approximately 67-hours preparing (and I found myself wondering who those men are--sorry, guys)!  But obviously, we all work very hard to prepare for this season and bless those we love in great and memorable ways.

Why do we do this?  To impress people with how Martha Stewart-like we are?  To wow our family with our creative, gift-giving abilities?  To over-compensate for our failings during the rest of the year?  God forbid!  Our motives to bless our loved ones, friends, and the less-fortunate should be wrapped-up in one person--the Person Who is the true reason for the season, and Whose name the season bears--Jesus Christ.  Without Jesus, this holiday is pointless and meaningless.  The commercialism, the chaos, the stress, and the pressures just aren't worth it without Him.  But if we know Christ, and if we make Him the center of our focus for this holiday, suddenly it all makes sense--we show love to others because HE first showed love to us.  When we place all our hope in Him, we can easily share joy, love, and blessings with others because we know a Savior Who was born just to die for us.  Regardless of how our actual Christmas turns out, it's already a fantastic one with that free, priceless gift from above (2 Cor. 9:15)!  I recall a friend (one who happens to sadly have, "moved on"), telling me that religious Christmas music was depressing because not everyone feels joyful at Christmas.  My first thought was, All the more reason to relish that music and cling to the Person for Whom it was written.

As I thought about those whose names I did not rewrite into my newly updated address book, I took great comfort knowing that they are all in heaven celebrating a Christmastime unlike any we have ever had here.  They have not had to wait in long lines buying things that won't be given a second thought in a month.  They have not battled illness while attempting to cheerfully serve in ministry capacities. They have not felt loneliness, sadness, or exhaustion at a time when they should feel only joy and peace.  They are WITH the Person for Whom CHRISTmas is celebrated.  What a grand and perfectly glorious time they must be having!  As I think about Christmas-future, I not only pray for many more blessed Christmases with those who remain in my life, but I look so forward to the day when I can celebrate with the actual Birthday Boy.  I am convinced that Christmas-future is where it's at!  God bless and Merry Christmas to you all!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Leading in Love

"Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you."
Hebrews 13:17 

When we think of, "leadership," we typically think of people in management positions, levels of high-rank, or those in authority.  But in reality, God has placed us all in leadership roles to some degree--even if we are only leading ourselves in our personal lives.  In thinking about the above verse, I am reminded of the various leaders in my life--those who have mentored me, counseled me, guided me, shepherded me, and been in direct authority over me.  I also think about those over whom I have led.  At first glance, this verse can make you cringe at the words, "have confidence," and "submit," because if we are honest, we all have had leaders in the past, or even currently, for whom we have no ability or desire to do either.  But after reading the entire verse, we quickly see that this verse is not just about being a good subordinate.  It also tells the leader a couple of things:  to keep watch over their subordinates, and to be prepared to give an account for how they do that.

Based on God's Word, Godly leadership first, carries a high responsibility for the well-being of others, and second, recognizes it is in direct submission to God (which is the underlying motive for the first).  So what motivates leaders to truly care about the well-being of their subordinates and to truly fear God's authority over them?  Love.  Love of God and love of others. 

This flies in the face of what most secular books on leadership will tell you.   You can read a lot of books on leading and leadership, and they say a lot of the same things--being firm, fair, consistent, honest, reliable, confident, an effective delegator, a utililzer of talent, and so forth.  Those are all crucial leadership traits.  But I believe the one thing that makes a good leader a great leader, is leading in love.  If God IS love, and love comes from God (1 John 4:7-8), there is no way to be a loving leader without being a Godly one. 

Being a Godly leader will many times mean personally taking the hard road so someone else can have the easy one.  It may mean letting go of how you want something to be done so that the majority of others involved can be pleased.  It will mean demoting yourself at times so others can be elevated.  It will mean letting go of your fears and your desire to control things due to them, and just trusting God.  It will mean letting go of what is, "fair," and letting God deal with injustices.  It will mean looking at the bigger picture, and choosing unity and peacemaking over proving points, teaching lessons, & winning (ugh...will that word ever carry the proper connotation after being taken captive by Charlie Sheen?)!  Being a Godly, loving leader will demand having many, "get real" moments, as I call them--meaning, having honest evaluations with yourself in areas where you are giving yourself passes but holding others hostage to their infractions.  It will require comparing yourself to Christ and not to others.  It requires giving-up the temptation to play, "conviction-police," to those beneath you, proudly touting and twisting Scripture in true, God-complex form to subordinates who you believe need your expertise, opinion, and control.  Instead, a Godly leader desires to spend more time tweaking and perfecting their own life, and praying fervently for those they lead.

We have all led and we have all been led.  When you think about the leaders who have most effectively led you and shown you in turn, how to lead, what do they all have in common? A personal drive to claw their way to the top? Ambition, visions, and dreams so deep and wide a canyon is left in their absence? Confidence & smooth talk? Flashy appeal and book smarts galore?  Nope.  They had a pure love for their service (and that is how they viewed it, it was not "work"), and they had even more love for you and others beneath them.  They were trustworthy, immovable, and steady--which gave you security, peace, and made you trust them all the more. They had a humble peace about them--resolute in their decisions, but not with an attitude of showing, "who's boss." They possessed inner strength and joy in all circumstances, good and bad. They humbly listened more than they talked.  They truly cared about what was going on in your life and sought to understand you.  They were fair and honest--which earned them your deep respect.  They were grateful for your service, and told you so.  They humbly desired to glean wisdom from those beneath them in order to reap a better harvest.  They were quick to admit mistakes or admit when they were wrong--and they said they were sorry.  They were willing to change things that needed changing and could be changed.  They helped develop you and lovingly pointed-out areas where you could improve.  They were immovable in areas of black-and-white, and highly flexible in areas of grey.  They entrusted you with stuff and showed you they believed in you.  They never diminished those beneath them, gossiped, picked sides, jabbed, double-talked, belittled, played favorites, bent the rules for those favorites, or used passive-aggressive tactics as punishment--which by the way, are all quick ways to lose the respect and trust of subordinates and encourage criticism, anger, decreased job performance, and even rebellion.  The truly effective, great leaders in your life worked to gain and maintain your trust and respect, realizing that both are earned.

One of the most important leadership roles a person can be given, is that of parenting.  I've blogged previously about this in a blog post entitled, "Few Parental Regrets."  In this post, I share about how our only child, Allie, never rebelled against my husband and me, even with our very strict rules (which by the way, flew in the face of how others around us were parenting).  I believe this is due to two things:  she had no doubt of our immense love and value for her and her life, and she knew we were in direct submission to God.  It sure wasn't because we were perfect parents or strict, wise authoritarians.  When pure love is the source of the leadership, the subordinates trust and respect.  They love in return.  We would all follow a deeply loving, trustworthy leader just about anywhere--and we would do it with a wink and a smile.  As Hebrews 13:17 states, we desire to make their job easy and joyful, in return.  It is amazing how quickly points of contention and strife diminish when we believe we are being led in love and when we know we are valued, heard, and understood.

Perhaps you are reading this and thinking, "I don't have any position of leadership, so how does all this apply to me?" Or worse, "So what?"  Well, friend, as I stated initially, you are in the least, in leadership over yourself and your life--and we will all answer to God about that, as well.  And chances are, you will be given another leadership role at some point.  In summary, I believe being a truly great leader means helping others reach their potential by humbly entrusting yours, and only yours, to God--and you can do neither without love.