Experience

As I’ve spent the better part of my adult like in 2 different careers, one thing that has always frustrated me is the idea of experience. It’s necessary for just about every job that you are looking for, unless, of course, it’s entry level. But how does one get experience unless someone actually gives them a chance early on.

Over the course of my lifetime, I’ve been privileged to be given some great opportunities. A fair share of those opportunities came out of relationships, people I knew, people my parents or friends knew, but there is also a fair share of opportunities which came from sheer perseverance and determination. You know what they say about the squeaky wheel, sometimes you can bug people just enough to actually make them consider you.

I don’t think that I would be as frustrated with the sheer lack of opportunities for people with no experience if I actually believed that everything people put forward as experience was truly worthwhile experience. I have a friend who told me about a boss of his who was responding to his frustration over the experience wars. His boss told him not to confuse 30 years of experience for 1 year of experience repeated 30 times. While someone may have worked in a profession, field, or specific job for 30 years, if there has been no or limited growth in them during that time, can you actually say that they have all of that experience?

When people look to hire someone new and they find a candidate who looks promising with little to no experience, are they willing to take the risk? Are they willing to reassess their decision and be willing to admit defeat if the risk doesn’t work out in the future? Is it just safer to go with the experience?

While I understand the premise of going with the experienced person, I have seen people take risks and flourish too many times to dismiss the importance of it. I have seen people who were given an opportunity at great risk to those who hired them and the risk was totally worth it. While I’ve also seen the converse to be true, the long-term results for taking a chance and seeing a person flourish are much greater than having one failed risk. Chances are pretty good that a person who has had risk taken on them will likely take risk on someone else in the future. If every person who has been risked for is willing to take a risk on someone else, can you imagine how many more developed leaders could be in place?

There may be other factors in when to take a risk, but judging from my own personality and experience, I think that there is one factor that would make me stand up, perk up, and take notice of someone with no experience: teachability. Is the person who has no experience teachable? If they are, they will be hungry and eager to learn, always wanting to know new things, always wanting to better themselves. But if they are not teachable, it could be a major disaster, they don’t know how to do something and just don’t see the point of learning it.

Teachability can trump experience, certainly not with every job, but with a lot of different things. I would much rather have someone on my team with little experience and a willingness to learn than someone who has “tons” of experience with no pliability or teachability within their DNA. To the person who is teachable, there is always the possibility of learning. To the person who has experience, there is always the possibility that they already know something already. Knowing something already can easily lead to a closed mind and an unbending spirit. I know which kind of person I would much rather lead, how about you?

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A Solemn Place

New-York-City-9-11-Memorial-aerial-renderingIt seems that every generation has a moment that they reflect upon with great solemnity, poise, and poignancy. Some generations have had multiple events or moments. Some of those events have actually been time periods that spanned the course of days, months, or even years. Regardless of the length of those events and moments, they all are felt deeply by the generation that was most affected by them. That’s not to say that one of these moments is more powerful or impactful than another, but we hold on to the things that impact us the most deeply and personally.

For me and my generation, the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001 may very well be the defining moment of solemnity. Just as past generations can remember where they were when Kennedy was shot or MLK was shot, or war broke out, so most folks who were old enough to remember that fateful September day can remember what they were doing and where they were when they got the news and as the images poured over airwaves and throughout the internet.

This month the September 11th Memorial Museum will open to the public. When I read that, I wondered to myself who might want to go. I know that there will be many who will want to, including myself, but why? Why do we want to go? Probably to remember. The museum will stand as a stark and even harsh reminder to us of what we are capable of as human beings. It will bathe us with images and thoughts that may have dispersed from our minds long ago yet which have plagued and haunted the minds of many whose lives were much more deeply impacted by these events than our own.

I remember going to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. I went by myself, and I was glad to have done that. It wasn’t an experience that I felt like I could share, it was something that I had to experience on my own. That museum impacts each person who enters into it in a different way and I expect that the September 11th Museum will have a similar result. That’s not to say that the tragedy of September 11th and the tragedy of the Holocaust are comparable, but the depth of emotion that they will evoke from those who enter in will be fairly similar, I expect.

It’s not uncommon to revisit the location of tragedies and powerful events. The hotel where MLK was shot has become a museum. Pearl Harbor and the site of the sunken battleships still stands as a reminder to that fateful December day. People visit the beach of Normandy, Dealey Plaza in Dallas, and many other places and they will continue to visit these places. I can only hope that we visit so that we don’t forget, after all, a people who forget the events of the past are destined to repeat those events.

I am curious to check out the museum, but I don’t know when I will be ready. I am grateful that our country has felt it important enough to have designated a museum for it, my hope and prayer is that the poignancy and power of the events of that September day will live on through this museum, not in a sadistic and tortuous way, but in a way that helps us all remember what happened and never forget those who were lost along the way.

Close Calls

Have you ever had a close call with something dangerous? Did you know about it at the time or did you find out about it after the fact? Sometimes, we might not find out about close calls until they are past us and we retrospectively look back with relief that we were ignorant while we were going through it. Maybe it was a ride that broke at the amusement park right after or before we rode it. Maybe it was a transportation tragedy, an accident that happened right before or after we passed by an area, a plane that we were supposed to be a passenger on that had issues.

I’ve had some close calls in my life and I remember looking back on those experiences and wondering how on earth I managed to get out unscathed. Cars that spun out on the highway in the snow and managed to hit no one. Wheels that came off a car in front of me and miraculously missed hitting me. Along the way, I wondered about my own protection in the midst of a potential tragedy.

The other day, my air conditioning in the house stopped working and a friend came over to look at it. Turns out that an electrical box had a bad connection in it and fried up. When I say “fried up” I am not speaking metaphorically, it was literally fried, plastic melted, pieces disintegrated, singe marks on the wood frame, and the burning smell still lingering as we investigated the area. Things could have been much worse than they were.

As I told my wife the news, I couldn’t help but thinking about the “what ifs.” What if it had been worse? What if we were all sleeping? What if…..?   What if….? And the possibilities are endless.

When the day was done and I finally laid my head on my pillow, I looked over at my wife and said, “I guess He’s keeping me around for a reason.” Having felt the protection of God, it was a bit unnerving thinking about the possible outcomes, in fact, I would dare say that someone could be crippled with fear in thinking about those possible outcomes.

If I’ve learned anything as I’ve gotten older it’s that life is risky. Every day, there are dangers lurking around every corner, and if I stop to think about all of them, I can easily find myself paralyzed by fear. I could find myself sitting alone in a room with no electricity, with every potential danger removed so that I would be “safe.” But, as much as we might think that we are in control, we’re not, and there will always be one more thing that is beyond our control that might pose another danger to us.

I’m at the place now where I realize that I have a decision to make as I become aware of these dangers lurking around every corner, I can live in fear or I can live in full. I can either let fear dictate everything that I do or I can take every day as a potential and live my life to the fullest. Fear isn’t something that God calls us to, he calls us to put our faith in him and trust. That doesn’t mean that tragedy doesn’t happen. It doesn’t mean that bad things never come across our paths. It does mean that we can face everything head on because we know that we can’t control the circumstances that come at us.

I’m sure that this won’t be the last close call that I will experience. I can let these close calls paralyze me with fear, or I can trust in the one whose love casts fear aside. I know what I want to do, it’s just a matter of trusting, which is much easier said than done. Close calls will still scare me and the temptation will be to fear, fear, and fear some more, but living in fear doesn’t seem to be living much at all.

Naming the Truth

Last week was a tough week, just like I knew that it would be after reentering the real world after a few weeks of meetings and conferences. As much as I had been bracing myself for the unexpected, can you ever fully do that? I mean, it’s called “unexpected” because you’re not expecting it, so you can only plan for so much. Life came flooding in with such ferociousness that I was about ready to turn around and head back down the road from whence I had come.

In the midst of hearing about various needs in people’s lives, I had a bittersweet meeting with a realtor as we had finally gotten my parents’ townhouse ready to put on the market. Walking into a place that had already begun to feel like a crypt, now completely devoid of furniture or any recognizable remnants of who had once lived there, it almost like I’d been injected with novocain, I just kind of felt numb. I’m hoping and praying for a speedy sale so that I can close another chapter in my life.

Among the stories that I heard from people last week regarding the difficulties that they were facing, I was reminded of my mom’s cancer diagnosis. When we first found out, I was reticent to share too much of what was going on. I am not sure that I ever actually wrote the “C” word down in social media. I’ve not read through old blog posts to see whether or not I really did, but I remember feeling something deep down inside when we first heard the initial diagnosis.

After the shock that struck me like a sucker punch, I remember secretly thinking to myself that if I didn’t ever say the word, maybe it would all turn out to be a bad dream. Maybe if I never said the word it would stay nameless and a nightmare. Somehow or another, in my mind, by not naming it, I was denying the truth and I felt that I could avoid it.

There’s something that happens when you name the truth, when you give it words, it becomes real. When someone you love is diagnosed with something terrible and awful, it’s hard to find the words. It’s hard to name the truth. It’s hard to admit that truth and when you use words to describe it, it somehow becomes real. It’s like speaking and your words go out there and once they’re out there, you just can’t get them back.

There is power in words and when you speak them, not only can you not get them back, but those words begin to describe reality and describing a reality that you aren’t ready or willing to receive is difficult.

So, if you meet someone who has a hard time naming a truth, especially a hard and difficult truth, be gracious to them. Perhaps your graciousness might help them to come to grips with the reality with which they’ve been wrestling. Naming a truth can be difficult but it eventually becomes inevitable, but everyone needs to come to the naming of that truth in their own time.

Perfect Love and Fear

We’ve been going through a series in my church on 1st John. As John writes the letter that is 1st John, he speaks over and over again of the love of God and how that love needs to play out in all of us. We love because we have been loved by God. We love and it’s a testimony to who we are in God. We are different and changed by the love of God that he has shown us in Christ Jesus.

In the middle of John’s letter, he writes a verse that has come back to me over and over again in the past few months. John writes in 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” That verse has been a gift to me.

Lately, it’s been really hard to keep my head up. It seems that everything around me is reminding me of the fragility and frailty of life. Cancer. Severe burns. Infections. Leukemia. Death. It’s all fairly overwhelming when you take it at face value. It’s hard to see past what’s right in front of you. It’s hard not to be overcome by fear of the outcome.

That’s where John’s words resonate in such a powerful way. There is no fear in love. NO FEAR. Not only is there no fear in love but perfect love drives out fear. There is only one kind of perfect love, the love that we receive from God and that love drives out fear. In fact, the Greek word for “drives” here literally means, “to throw.” Perfect love takes fear and throws it away, it’s not there anymore.

I can too easily be caught up in fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the current circumstances. Fear of what MIGHT happen. But none of those fears come from God. While the circumstances might, and probably will be, difficult, we need not fear them if we really trust that God is sovereign and in control of everything and that he loves us. Do we really believe that he loves us?

Over and over again, I’ve had to recite this word in my mind. Over and over again, I’ve had to allow the love of God to throw my fears away. Fear has to do with punishment, as the verse says, and God is not about simply seeking ways to punish us when we live in obedience to him.

As you enter this day, remember the love of God. Remember that his love is perfect. Remember that perfect love throws fear away and there is no reason for us to give in to that fear. Perfect love drives out fear, so may we seek out the love of God in the midst of the ruins of our lives. May we find that perfect love is able to combat every fear that we might entertain. May God’s love help us to conquer all of our fears.

Reentry

spaceship-apollo-12After being away on and off for the last few weeks, today is the day of reentry. After reading about the number of disasters that have happened when something went wrong during reentry into the earth’s atmosphere, I’m glad that the danger isn’t quite as significant for me in my reentry into the reality of life as it is for those reentering the earth’s atmosphere.

Even though the danger isn’t as significant, there is still danger of burning up. In fact, I’m not sure that I’ve figure out a graceful way to reenter reality after being engaged with think tanks and big thinking for the last few weeks. Ideas are ideas and they remain as such in our heads and even on the papers on which we write, the challenge always becomes the translation of ideas into reality. How do we take the concepts and ideas that we have heard, thought of, and even contemplated on for days, weeks, and even months, and translate them to reality?

When astronauts enter back into the earth’s atmosphere, they often travel at supersonic speeds, if we do that upon reentry of the reality of our lives, the likelihood of us burning up seems to be greater. A gradual reentry seems to be the most likely solution. Taking it easy and taking everything in stride is a much more viable alternative to jumping in headfirst, at least it is in ministry.

If not taking it easy, at least taking it with a healthy dose of reality. There is a tendency when those in ministry spend time dealing with lofty ideals to become as idealistic as the thoughts that they’ve been thinking about. I think about Moses coming down off of the mountain after communing with God. He’s got the two stone tablets that God gave to him and when he says what has become of the Israelites, he tosses them on the ground, breaking them.

I don’t think I can count the number of times that I’ve had my own “Moses” moments, especially upon reentry. Reality has a way of slapping you in the face, jarring you back from your dreams, and splashing the cold water of what’s really going on in your face. It’s inevitable, but you can at least be ready for it and prepare yourself.

As easy as it is to be discouraged upon reentry, it’s also easy to completely forget about the dreams that you had while you were on the mountain. Some ministry environments don’t leave room for that, others do. It’s important to find places where you can share those dreams and visions, the ones that ignited your heart while you spent time in the presence of God. They won’t be well received by all, but if you choose carefully, your dreams and visions can help to ignite the dreams and visions of those around you. Just like the need to ease into things, you might need to share gently as well, being fully aware that some things will be harder to translate.

I’m not sure if it will ever feel natural for me to ease back into things again, but as I build relationships with people and get to know those with whom I can easily share the vision, it makes the reentry less painful.

On the Road Again

After my last few weeks, I have a new appreciation for anyone who has to travel a lot for work. While there might have been a draw to it when I was in my 20s or 30s, it just doesn’t have that same draw anymore. But traveling up and down the east coast has got me longing for my own bed in my own house with my own family around me.

I wonder how people who travel every week for work are able to manage. How do they even remember where they are? Do they wake up in a different city and forget where they are, not because they drank too much but just because they’ve traveled for such a continuous stretch that they kind of lost track along the way?

I remember the days of being single and how romanticized the notion of travel was to me. You could make plans at the drop of a hat, fly off somewhere or go on a road trip without getting permission, without worrying about childcare, without even knowing exactly where you were going. But let’s be honest, I just don’t think that there are a lot of people who actually did that. Sure, you’re out there, you adventurers, but for the most part, those were dreams that were never fulfilled.

I’m getting used to the 95/85 corridor from Richmond to Charlotte. When you stop at an eatery in Charlotte and recognize the worker from the last time you were there, you know that you’ve been here more often than you thought. For those of you who have traveled or will have to travel that route, beware, it’s heavily populated by Virginia and North Carolina’s finest. I appreciate what they’re doing and they’ve put a fairly healthy fear into me, so I hope to not meet them face to face.

I’m still up for road trips, but now, I’m making new memories with my family. I’m remembering all of the road trips that my family took when I was a kid and trying to instill in my kids the same love and appreciation for travel that I had when I was their age.

But road trips with friends can still be just as fun. What an experience to drive and laugh. There’s just nothing that seems to draw people together like being stuck in a car for hours at a time. I’ve grown to appreciate some of my friends even more over the past year as I’ve driven this route with them and laughed.

Road trips can still be fun, but for right now, I think I’m going to take a break from the road for a while. It’ll be nice to get back home and even nicer to be able to stay there for a while.

The Encouragement of a Friend

Have you ever been in a really difficult place, needing encouragement, and just hoping that someone could say or do the right thing to help you out?

In the book of 1 Samuel, David has been anointed by Samuel to follow up Saul as King of Israel and Saul is showing some extreme signs of jealousy and paranoia. Saul has been pursuing David and has tried to kill him multiple times. But David has formed a very special friendship with Saul’s son, Jonathan. Jonathan has helped David escape from his father and has made a covenant with David that he will protect him.

As David runs from Saul once again, he is discouraged. Imagine what he’s feeling as he waivers between trust in God, who anointed him, and fear of this disturbed king. And there in 1 Samuel 23, there is a verse that is fairly easy to pass right by without noticing. Verse 16 says, “And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God.”

As I was reading through the narrative the other day, I stopped on that verse to really consider what it was saying. Jonathan had everything to lose by David being the next king. Typically, Jonathan would have been next in line for the kingship, so Jonathan could easily have been filled with his own jealousy and rage against David, but he wasn’t.

Not only is Jonathan not full of jealousy and rage, but he reacts in the opposite way, he loves David. He protects him from his father. He makes an oath and covenant with him. And while David is discouraged and feeling low, Jonathan goes to his friend and helps him find strength in God. Jonathan did not wait for David to come to him, he knew what his friend needed. He was paying attention. He could tell that something was wrong AND he knew just what David needed.

Jonathan was a true friend. He didn’t try to assuage David and distract him from his problems. He didn’t offer him false promises and tell him to put his hope in fleeting things. He pointed him to the God who had anointed him, the One who had created him, and the One who had sustained him all along. What an incredible friend Jonathan was to David.

All of us might not realize how desperately we need friends like this. We need people who will come alongside us, listen to us, love on us, and give us words that will help us put things in perspective. We need people to point us to the place from where our trust and strength needs to come.

Not only do we need this kind of friend, but we need to be this kind of friend as well. How aware are we of the circumstances surrounding our friends? How aware are we of what they are going through? Do we pay attention? Are we willing to come alongside them, even when our interests lie elsewhere? Are we willing to turn aside our own needs to help out our friends?

Never underestimate the power of a friend and their encouragement. Never underestimate how valuable the encouragement that you can bring to a friend as well. Pay attention to what’s going on around you, you never know when you’ll be able to bring encouragement to someone who desperately needs it.

Drinking From the Firehose

drinking-from-firehoseI had the privilege this week to spend time down in Orlando with my wife and the other pastors and their wives at a church planting conference. We and 5000+ other people spent time drinking in from the experiences and insights of others who have gone before us. The problem is, that drinking felt a little like drinking from a firehose, if you understand the analogy. In other words, it’s a lot of information in a short period of time with little process time in between.

A guy by the name of Matt Chandler was one of the speakers at the conference and he had a lot of very valuable things to say. Among the valuable things that he said was that conferences, in some ways, weren’t fair. People come to a conference and hear people whose experiences are non-normal describe all that they have been through. There are enough of them that have had these non-normal experiences so that their non-normal experiences seem like they are normal. After listening to them for a few days, it could easily be assumed that this is the new normal. Then everyone goes back home to their version of normal, only to find that what seemed normal was really non-normal and it can easily lead to discouragement.

Out of everyone who was there, Chandler was probably the one that I appreciated the most because of his humility and the fact that he just put out there the fact that things are different between everyone’s circumstances. For too often within the Christian subculture, we’ve taken something that worked somewhere and tried to duplicate it exactly in our own context without changing things at all. When it fails, we wonder what we did wrong. How come it didn’t work?

The problem with that approach is that it doesn’t seek to do the hard work of building relationships with people in your own context. It doesn’t seek to do the hard work of spending time understanding who you are trying to reach and what makes them tick. Duplicating a “successful” strategy can easily become a copout, a shortcut to “success” which actually leads to failure and hurt.

I’ll never forget a conversation that I had with a friend of mine in Asheville when my wife and I were trying to discern what to do. We had sensed that our time in Asheville was ending but we had grown attached to the people with whom we were friends. We were torn about the idea of leaving and considered what it might look like to start a church. Through prayer and discernment, we decided that was not what God was calling us to (which is a good thing since it seems that everybody else in the Christian world decided to start a church in Asheville).

I sat down with my friend and he started asking me questions about where God was leading me. I told him that we thought about starting a church but we just weren’t sure where. He asked me where we would go or where we would like to be. I mentioned a location and started my own strategizing, how I might go about doing it. He stopped me and just asked, “what would it look like for you to go there and just build relationships?”

But how would I make money, how would my family live? He told me that wasn’t really the point. He said that I couldn’t go somewhere to start a church because then that would be the driving factor behind everything that I did. What if I went somewhere and just began to build relationships with people, began to see what made people tick, began to understand what it was that resonated within their souls?

I’ve never forgotten that conversation. I am so grateful to my friend for that advice. If he hadn’t given it and if I hadn’t listened, who knows where my family and I might have ended up.

As I contemplate all the things that I’ve heard over the last few days, there are so many nuggets, just like the one that my friend gave me, that speak to me deep down inside. Over the next few weeks, I will have to spend time processing over my notes, chewing them over, drinking from a glass instead of a firehose. I’ll ask myself hard questions and will also be able to process with the people who were with me at the conference.

Drinking from a firehose can be good, but if you do it all the time, you get oversaturated. At some point, you’ve got to step away from the firehose and begin to work off the water that you’ve ingested. If all you do is drink and you never move away from the firehose, it’s not going to do much good. I’ve tasted and I’ve seen, now it’s time to go and do. There will be time to drink from the firehose again, but I’ve got to get to work and work up a thirst again. Here we go!

One Year Here

Yesterday was my real birthday, and today is my WordPress birthday. Today, I celebrate one year with WordPress. In that year, I’ve gained more than four times the number of followers that I had on my old blog site. In that year, I’ve had nearly half of the views as I had in about five years at the old site. So, I’ve got to say that I am happy.

Life always seems to be full of change, some of it planned and some of it a surprise. The more that you plan change for yourself, the less it seems to surprise you when it comes on unplanned. It seems that life always throws curveballs, it’s just a question of whether or not we have trouble with the curve.

A year ago, when I made the change of my blog, I was stepping out, looking for something new, trying to do things differently. It was a little uncomfortable because it was change, and who of us really loves change as much as we really let on. Any time that we need to do things differently, it seems like it’s work and that can just make us downright uncomfortable.

There is a restlessness in me that bubbles up sometimes. The challenge with that restlessness is how I respond to it. Do I shove it down, pretend that it’s not there? Or do I respond to it, take it out, roll it over in my hands, try to discern where it’s come from and where it’s pushing me to?

If we are really honest with ourselves, we probably squash down that restlessness more often than we would like to admit. What opportunities are we missing when we do that? What things are waiting just around the bend if we are only willing to stand up and take notice of what’s before us?

Yeah, a year ago, it was only a blog, but I can feel the restlessness within me again. Where is it leading me? Where is it coming from? Is it me, or is it something much more powerful and strong than me?

I am grateful for all of my readers. I am grateful for those who encourage me to continue to do what I do. Thanks for helping me respond to the restlessness inside of me. I can only hope that I continue to feel it. Just because I don’t feel it doesn’t necessarily mean that everything that I am doing is right, it might just mean that I’ve squashed down that restlessness so many times that I either don’t recognize it anymore or it stops pushing up against me.