Category Archives: Personal Life

My Biggest Critics

I have crazy dreams! I hope that you do as well. I want to write books, and have a blog that people follow. I want my words and experiences and very life to encourage others to reach for and accomplish their dreams. I want to look back on my life and believe that I made a difference in the lives of others…first for my family and then for those who I am fortunate enough to know and influence.

I don’t know what your dreams are, but I wonder if we might share the same critics. I wrestle daily with fear and doubt – the voices within me that remind me I have nothing of value to share. I have no experiences that might encourage others. I have no words that could inspire or exhort others to accomplish their crazy dreams!

I am often my worst enemy at stepping out, trying something new, daring to dream. In the same moment that I am enjoying a dream, the voices in my head are letting me know why the dream will never actually happen!

I can talk myself out of just about anything…and it’s exasperating and frustrating.

Fear – what if I fail? What if I’m not perfect? What if nobody cares? My fear voice looks at the reactions of others and convinces me that nobody will listen much less respond to my attempts at encouragement. Fear paralyzes me in a place of frustrating inactivity. Fear pops the balloon of my dream and turns it into a piece of latex trash.

What’s interesting is I have countless stories of helping others overcome their own fear of accomplishment. Yet, I very rarely remember this on my own. I drag my feet in order to ensure that fear is not correct. If I never jump, I can’t crash, right? The problem is that if I never jump, I will never learn just how far I can soar…and that’s just downright depressing.

Doubt – who am I? What do I have to share? What difference can I make? My doubt voice typically speaks more to myself as a person. This voice challenges my very identity and attacks the presumption that I, as a person, have anything of value to offer others. Doubt doesn’t even let me get to the point of jumping. Instead, my dreams are shattered well before they ever have true definition.

Doubt focuses on my flaws, my mistakes, my shortcomings, and my failures. It reminds me that these completely invalidate anything positive I might try to drum up about myself. If people only knew what a complete train wreck I was on the inside, they would run from any advice, encouragement, or inspiration I share.

These critics are brutal. They are devastating. They are intensely personal. Unfortunately, they are winning more lately than they ever should. Why?

Because I am choosing to listen to them. Success and progress are predicated upon my listening to voices that speak truth in my life. I can only make a difference if I step out and take a chance. I become a self-fulfilling prophecy when I listen to my critics of fear and doubt.

What’s the solution? Look to my past for stories of success and value. Connect with my circle of family and friends who know me, warts and all, and believe that I have stories worth sharing. Remember who God made me and daily pursue my relationship with Him so that my identity remains grounded. Jump! I have to take a chance – call a friend, write a blog, launch a website, or provide a listening ear to somebody.

If our voices match, then join me in ignoring fear and doubt and giving into hopes and dreams. If we never try, we are guaranteed to come up short. But if we choose to jump…who knows just how far we can soar?

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The Value of Letting Go

Man, I love comfort and predictability. The people who know me best would describe me as a person who is most peaceful when rhythms are established and followed. I want to wake up at the same time and drink the same cup of coffee. I love it when everything is in its place and accounted for. It can often be as simple as sinking into a comfortable couch and reading a good book.


The problem with my preferences is that real life rarely follows the course of predictability. Change happens, unexpected twists occur, and the status quo rarely stays the status quo. You might have discovered this in your own journey as well. As much as I want to plan my steps, the ground around me seems to be shifting on a regular basis.

This shifting can take many forms. Maybe you just received a tragic health diagnosis for yourself or somebody that you love. Maybe the house that you were set on buying is no longer available. Maybe your marriage has been shattered and divorce and singleness are now staring you in the face. Maybe the winds of change abound in your place of work and you keep waiting for the dust to settle. Regardless of the circumstance, all too often that which we thought we could count on seems to be suddenly pulled out from underneath us.

When life forces a new reality, there seems to really only be two options.

The first option is to hold onto the comfort zone, to fight for the comfy spot on the couch and to refuse to look to the future. While this might seem safer and even more logical, it is in fact highly detrimental and will greatly diminish your growth as both a person and a leader. The past, both good and bad, is in the past and will never come back to the present. We can learn from it, we can cherish the memories, but if we hold tightly to it, we will simply stop living and growing. Consider what a physical body that has decayed and atrophied looks like. We don’t want our lives to reflect this look.

The second option, and the one that I propose is the better option, is to simply let go. When change rears its formidable head, grab your surfboard and enjoy the ride. When I was a kid, I spent quite a bit of time at the beaches of Southern California on my body board riding the waves. The waves never stopped coming. It was up to me to decide if I was going to ride on top, or get pummeled underneath.

Letting go allows me to look forward to my next adventure. Letting go forces me to come to grips with what I no longer have and anticipate what I have not yet obtained. Letting go removes the opportunity for bitterness or malice to grow as a result of change. Letting go provides me the perspective that regardless of what has happened and what will happened, they are small steps in the grand scheme of things.

Letting go also provide me space to assess my part in the change. Did I act out of selfishness instead of servanthood? Did I become narrow minded and closed off to change and adaptation? Was change imminent as a direct result of my actions, or was change simply meant to be? These answers provide the energy and impetus to move on, to embrace the future, and to anticipate a new adventure.

Life moves quickly. Change is imminent whether we like it or not. As leaders, we must learn to embrace change, determine our new reality and continue to grow and develop. Do not let the shifting of life take you out. Instead, cherish the past, enjoy your memories and then forge ahead into the wild blue yonder.

Tension Produces Dreams – revisited

I have often wondered if life would truly be better if it was simpler. What if I didn’t have to strive quite so much? What if relationships just happened naturally? Wouldn’t everybody be better off if we removed the struggle and pain and work? I mean don’t most people just live for the weekend so that they can kick off their shoes and relax?

I think that this idea is actually fairly hollow and will not actually lead us where we want to go. An oft repeated story is told of butterflies that must wrestle with their cocoon in order to strengthen their wings so that they can survive once they are loose. I have been through this process many times personally and, due to my recent events, I feel like I am back in caterpillar mode, whereas I had been in butterfly mode for several years. The only way to get back to the freedom that being a butterfly provides is to walk through the process of tension…tension that produces dreams. What does tension do for us?

Tension provides a sense of gratitude for an accomplished work

Tension makes the thrill of jumping that much bigger

Tension helps me know what is worth fighting for

Tension provides the perspective and momentum necessary to take a risk

I have shared before how it took seven months of unemployment before I landed at my most recent job. Talk about tension! The team that I was privileged to lead is currently wrapping up a 3-year project to create resources for local churches to better serve families affected by disability. These resources are the result of years of tension – conversations, debates and discussions about the best way to serve the church. Personally, I am back in the process of tension as I seek my next great adventure.

So, what are the basics I need to focus on to ensure that this time of tension is one of growth and production, not discouragement and frustration?

1) Tension forces me to revisit my dreams, my goals, my hopes.  If tension causes me to give up on any of them, then they weren’t that compelling to begin with. My dream is ultimately to make a difference in the lives of others, to advocate on behalf of those who have been marginalized, to develop leaders and build sustainable teams to accomplish amazing projects! I look back over 20+ years of full-time leadership and these basics have never changed. Take this as a great opportunity to revisit your vision and make sure that it is truly large enough to be compelling.

2) Remember that life is a journey and tension is simply one of the steps you must take on your way to success. Tension is the pressure required to create a diamond, the rubber band stretched and ready to launch, or the nervous feeling you get right before you make a leap of faith. Embrace tension as a launching pad to your next great adventure, not an obstacle that will keep you grounded.

3) Although it might be clichè, there is a reason that it works – “what doesn’t break you only makes you stronger”. Tension is necessary for world class athletes to become stronger. I am not content with status quo. I don’t want to be bored or settled or live a dull and mundane life. I want adventure and excitement and progress in my life and tension is the tool that brings this about. And without tension you will never learn just what you can truly handle.

4) Tension brings you to the feet of Jesus. I do not want to assume that everybody reading this is a follower of Christ, but for my life, this is the only constant. Tension reminds me constantly that He is God and I am not. I cannot, nor am I meant to, proceed through life on my own strength. Tension keeps me humble which is always the best way to be.

I don’t know what you are walking through this week, but I would imagine it includes some tension. Be encouraged to not run from it, but rather to embrace it…and to anticipate the dreams that will be birthed because of it.

~ Mike

Capture Your Next Great Idea

I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to remember what I believe I should remember. I find myself walking back into rooms in hopes that my thought is still floating in the air waiting for me to engage with it again. I couldn’t tell you how often I have had the next great idea and then within moments it was gone!

Thankfully, I have done a much better job with remembering the times that God touched my heart in a powerful way and challenged me to a new way of living. The difference is that I tend to write down the things God tells me, but by default forget to write down what I tell myself.

Admittedly, I am a big picture dreamer and visionary. I love potential and future and hope and the anticipation of what might be waiting around the corner. I love new ideas, innovative tasks and strategic planning. However, this all comes to naught if at the end of the day I don’t actually change anything or accomplish anything. Dreams without action simply remain dreams. But when I add action then the sky’s the limit to what might happen!

Over the years, I have applied how I interact with God to how I interact with everything else and I simply write it down. I have a standing note on my phone to capture new ideas, as well as a paper notebook at home. It doesn’t really matter how you might capture your next great idea…what matters is that you capture it. The sooner and more thoroughly that you capture the dream, the more likely that you will follow through with an idea to completion.

So, what are the main benefits of capturing your next big idea?

** Seeing my dreams and ideas written out makes them more real and concrete. They become possible and tangible and are no longer floating in the space for ideas, but are now entering the land of
accomplishment. I have a vision that I can now begin to strategically plan out and work on.

** It is much easier to discover gaps on paper than in my head. Whether I am writing a book, preparing a sermon, or even jotting together a blog post, I find that I write and rewrite multiple times before content might be ready to share. As a visual learner, it is vital that I see what I am creating while still in process. I am a HUGE fan of whiteboards for this very reason.

** We were not designed to function within a bubble. When I have my next great idea written down, I can easily invite others to join me. In Habakkuk 2:2 (ESV) we are told to “write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it.” I get fired up whenever I am able to come alongside somebody and see them fulfill their potential. If my dream might be a tool to accomplish this in somebody else’s life, then I need to capture it in a way to makes sense to others.

** I can complete the task at hand while not forgetting my next great idea. I often have dreams and ideas surface while I am already busy with a different task. When this happens, I have several choices. First, I can get distracted from my task and focus on the new idea. Or I can focus on the task and forget the details of my idea. The best practice I have learned is to quickly capture my idea so that I can revisit it later. This allows current tasks to be completed and future tasks to be remembered. 

The discipline of capturing new ideas over the past years has become an invaluable tool for me personally. I am sure that many activities and strategies would never have come to fruition if I trusted myself to remember it all. Some ideas have been discarded, some acted upon, and some are still in the holding tank. The key is they are out of my mind, onto the paper, and ready to be acted upon if the opportunity presents itself.

How about you? How do you capture your next great ideas? Do you write them down, record a voice memo, or use some other medium?

How to Lead to the Brim

When I was nineteen, I was on a missions trip to Venezuela for one month. Through a series of unfortunate events (also known as the sovereignty of God), I was enlisted as the interpreter and translator for about three weeks of our trip. While I had taken four years of Spanish and even passed my AP test in high school, I had never used my Spanish in any meaningful way aside from small conversations around town. Yet, now God was asking me to step up, battle my fear and translate the preaching and teaching of our team leaders across the country. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit was able to overcome my own fears and I was used to help share the Gospel with countless people that summer.

Man, talk about feeling like God asking me to step out in faith and engage in an opportunity that I had no idea what the outcome might be! While it might be simple to say this was the only instance, as I look back across my life, I can see a constant pattern of God asking me to do things that would not seem rational. I said yes to starting my Master’s degree with no money and very little confidence only to graduate two years later. I resigned from a church without a guaranteed job in place only to land at the ministry where I have served for the past four years.

God has spent my lifetime working to grow and expand my faith by asking me to do things that just seem to make no sense.

In a certain way, I feel like I can relate to the servants we learn about in John 2. While participating in a wedding at Cana, the host ran out of wine. This would have been a huge social faux pas and the host was now in a bind. Mary speaks with her son, Jesus, and after a short conversation, He becomes involved in the narrative.

clay-pots

While the story might be familiar, there is an interesting section that seems to apply to leaders. After the servants become engaged with Jesus and are waiting for orders, He simply commands them to “fill the jars with water.” He never says how much or even that they had to use all six jars. However, the servants respond by filling “them up to the brim.” (John 2:6-7)

What does this say about their heart and willingness to follow direction? It seems that they were a group who were not inclined to cut corners. Maybe they anticipated a amazing story? Maybe they just wanted to give their best? Maybe they wanted to give themselves extra work by requiring extra trips to the well (least likely option)?

I have no idea what their motivation was. All I know is that the jars were filled to the brim.

Similar to the many stories in my life where I could not see around the corner, I have at least attempted to give God my best and to trust Him with the outcome. Have I lived this out perfectly? Not at all! For every story where I have confidently “filled my jars to the brim” there are plenty more where I went halfway or maybe walked away from the jars without even trying.

So, what does this I have to do with leadership? There are three main areas that the servants model that I hope will become a regular part of my life.

First, they modeled lives of faith. There was not a questioning of Jesus’ commands in any way. We do not read of hesitation, argument, complaints about the extra work or any other form of negativity or doubt. Instead, there is an instant response to the words of Christ. Wow, do I need to grow in this area! Often, my steps of faith come after many moments of questions, arguments, denials and even justification of following my own path. I am amazed that no matter how many times following my path does not end well, that is still my initial response. Definitely an area for growth in my life.

Second, this lifestyle manifests through acts of obedience. The servants simply obey. Behavior that reveals their trust and is displayed to those at the party that they will obey the One who is providing the direction. When Jesus calls us to have a childlike faith, I often wonder if this is part of what He meant. So often children must simply obey their parents without a sense of understanding. If they have loving parents, as we have a loving Father, this turns out well and they learn to continue on the path of obedience.

Finally, there had to be a sense of anticipation on their part. Whether or not they knew who Jesus was, the interaction between him and his mother set the stage that something was about to happen. Can you not picture the servants peeking out from behind a curtain watching the host take a sip of the water? What must their reaction have been upon his declaration that this was better wine than had previously been served? I don’t know about you, but anticipation that ends in fulfillment cannot help but lead to even greater anticipation for the things of God.

May I encourage you to join my journey of learning how to fill my jars to the brim? While I have been blessed to have a few moments where I got this idea right, I want this to happen more often and to be part of my daily life. Oh, how wonderful life would be if I were to live with a sense of faith, obedience and anticipation every time Jesus would give me direction.

Learning to fill,

Mike

4 Steps to Faking it Well

Okay, it’s confession time. I’m not really good at this, but if I was completely honest, I would tell you that I have been “faking it” for awhile. In case you aren’t sure what this means, I have been going through the motions more lately than living with passion. I must admit that I think I put on a pretty good front, except to those who know me well. I can smile and attend church and serve and work hard with the best of them…but lately, something has been missing. I have been empty – a car with no gas, a flashlight without batteries, a coffee cup without, gasp, coffee!


I hope that I don’t get left hanging on this one, as if I was the only person who goes through the motions. The problem isn’t necessarily the going through the emotions, but more what we do when we realize that this is what we are doing. When the realization comes that we are missing our zest and passion for life, what’s next? I was confronted by this just last week in church by something our teaching pastor shared. I basically realized that there was not much about pursuing God that was firing me up. Devotions, prayer, worship, church itself…nothing. No energy – no excitement – no passion! And if pursuing God has lost passion, it’s just a matter of time before other arenas in my life become affected. 

So, how in the world can I turn this around so that I can fake it well? It’s in the steps that come after the realization that I have been faking it. Let me share my four steps with you now (in case you are wondering…I’m currently on step #2).

Awareness – every great movement must start with an awareness that I am not where I want to be. Until I become aware of my lack of passion, nothing will change. This might come by reading a book that grabs your heart, or by having coffee with a good friend, or by a loving spouse sitting you down to have “the talk”. It could happen in church (as it did for me this time around), or at the beach, or any number of places. Basically, awareness confronts me with a choice…am I content with where I am or do I need to make some changes?

Desire – the only way to fake well is to move to this step. Without a desire for change, we are just people aware that we are living without meaning but unwilling to change anything. Wow, that’s a depressing thought! I must decide that the pain of remaining where I am is less than the pain of moving forward. This is not desire that simply sounds nice…rather, it is desire that compels me to action. Currently, I am wrestling with the frustration of my lack of passion and assessing my daily routine to see where change must happen. Where am I spending more time on Facebook than in prayer? Do I play more rounds of solitaire than reading books on family, marriage and parenting? Am I content to disappear into watching a football on TV, rather than going outside to play catch with my son who is gearing up for a season of flag football? Desire is what will pull me from the doldrums and back into a purposeful and passionate life. 

Discipline – this is where it gets messy. I can talk a good game. I have a lot of plans and dreams and hopes for the future. I am always talking about moving forward and improving. I confess that I do not act upon every one of my ideas.  I have many friends with dreams in the sky who never put a plan in place to accomplish anything. You know who I’m talking about…the guy at every party or gathering who has a million excuses why his ideas never came to fruition, but a lack of discipline is never on his list. Discipline turns off the television. Discipline wakes up early to spend time with God. Discipline eats healthy and exercises with regularity. Discipline prefers others before self. Discipline makes a plan, works the plan and never stops until the plan is finished. 

Habits – welcome to your reward for faking it well! Awareness which leads to desire which leads to discipline ends with a change of habits for the better. Habits are activities that we are able to do without much thinking. Brushing our teeth, putting gas in the car, getting dressed in the morning and clicking a remote control are fairly engrained in the majority of our lives. Habits also lead to passion. Doing what I need to do in order to remain connected with God not only ignites passion in my life, but spreads to the other arenas of my life. Family, work and hobbies all become much more enjoyable when engaged with passion and purpose. Habits keep me on track so that when my emotions are not cooperating I am still living in a way that is intentional. 

One danger of habits is that they can become, well, habitual. We can begin doing things without even remembering why we started in the first place. When this happens, we just might find ourselves going through the motions. Of course, when we find ourselves in this position, we can embrace the gift of awareness and…well, you probably get the idea!

Faking it together, 

Mike