Monthly Archives: March 2015

Banning “Bossy” And The Christian Walk

Recently a public campaign came out called “Ban Bossy”. I am all for empowering girls and women, but in my opinion, this is one of the most misguided public campaigns since margarine was pushed as heart healthy food. The basic idea is that when girls do something others consider “bossy”, it should be seen that they are displaying leadership skills, and no one should call them bossy. Here’s the big problem with that; bossiness is a leadership skill like cruelty or manipulativeness is a leadership skill. Don’t believe me? Last time you filled out a resume, did you list bossiness as one of your skills?  If you did, you didn’t get the job. The reason is that people are bossy not because they have leadership skills, but because they have a need to control, and feel that they lack it.  No one wants to follow someone who is bossy. If your boss is bossy, he/she is a lousy boss, and a lousy leader.  Just look around at our elected “leaders”. There is a tremendous leadership gap in this country, not because we have a shortage of people who are bossy, but because we have a shortage of people who know what leadership skills actually look like.

A good leader has traits that make other people want to be like them. On the other hand, a great leader brings out the best things that are already inside of other people. None of this comes by brow-beating or yelling or imposing their will over people. It comes when other people look at a person and say to themselves, “I want whatever they’ve got”. Leaders are great when other people WANT to follow them, not when they demand that others do what they say. So if you want to raise up the next Caligula or Hitler, by all means go with the whole “ban bossy” thing. If on the other hand you want to raise up the next Abraham Lincoln or Mother Theresa, then instill in kids character traits like selflessness, hard work, respect for others and themselves, compassion, and wisdom. Great leaders are the first ones to jump in when something needs to be done. They don’t just dictate from on high. They inspire people to be their best. A bad leader rules through fear and manipulation, and they are quickly abandoned when someone better comes along.

This brings me to Christians. Many Christians feel that our witness is best expressed by loudly proclaiming our beliefs, without love or respect for whomever it is we’re proclaiming at. When others push back, we stand on our rights to say whatever it is we want to say. “We have our first amendment rights”, don’t we?  Essentially, we’re saying “ban bossy” will work for us. But it works the same for Christians as it does for girls. If you want someone to follow Christ, act like he did. Don’t just yell about what he did. Once again, you are far more of an influence because of who you are than by what you say.  Saint Francis said, “Preach often, and if you must, use words.”

Whom did Jesus oppose more than anyone else? It was the Pharisees, not because they were any worse than anyone else, but because they saw themselves as superior and let everybody know it. Matthew 23:15 says, “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you cross land and sea to make one convert, and then you turn that person into twice the child of hell you yourselves are!” If we don’t think this applies to us, we are sadly mistaken. We must constantly be in a state of asking ourselves, “Is the man (or woman) that I say I am the same one that everyone else sees?” If we’re not, well, then I guess we could always go back to “ban bossy”.

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The Importance Of The Team Back Home.

The tickets are in hand. Connections are being made. Everything seems to be coming together. I leave for Ethiopia a month from today. This will be my second trip to Ethiopia, and my seventh trip to Africa in the last five years. In fact, it’s my third trip to Africa in the last eight months. It’s probably not a sustainable pace, but it’s how things have been laid out for me at this time. This trip came together probably more easily than any previous trip. The time was available even though it shouldn’t have been, I had the support of my wife and family, and the funds practically showed up on their own. It’s clear I’m supposed to go.

There are times when I’ve got a lot ruminating in my mind, when I have a concept I’ve been thinking about that I just need to put down in writing. Those times seem to get farther and farther apart when the time starts running short before my next trip though. Regular followers may notice that my blog posts have become more infrequent. The fact is that as a trip draws near, there is less reflection time and more nuts and bolts time. Both physically and spiritually, it becomes nuts and bolts. Are my shots in order? Are the funds all there? Is my photography equipment sufficient and in working order? Is my heart in the right place? Is my family in a stable place where I can be gone for a while? How is the security situation on the ground we where I’ll be going? It’s all nuts and bolts.  Furthermore, spiritually speaking, difficulty always seems to make itself known shortly before I leave. Frequently it’s not directly with me, but it may be all around me. These are the reasons I originally started writing this blog, not because it may be interesting to the reader, but because I simply needed to sort it out for myself.

For myself, my life has been good. I can honestly say that for myself I have no complaints. It’s what goes on around me that’s disturbing. It’s as if I’m dealing with a spoiled child who has a grudge against me. He has no way of hurting me, so he just starts breaking everything within reach. That spoiled child’s name is Satan, and this kind of thing frequently happens just before I leave on a missionary trip. Everything within arms length is great, but the chaos that goes on just outside of my grasp, though it doesn’t hurt me directly, still effects my spirit, particularly when it’s loved ones that are struggling.  The verses in Psalm 91 are brought to mind.

“Those who live in the shelter of the Most High

will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

This I declare about the LORD:

He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;

he is my God, and I trust him.

For he will rescue you from every trap

and protect you from deadly disease.

He will cover you with his feathers.

He will shelter you with his wings.

His faithful promises are your armor and protection.

Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night,

nor the arrow that flies in the day.

Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness,

nor the disaster that strikes at midday.

Though a thousand fall at your side,

though ten thousand are dying around you,

these evils will not touch you.”

The comfort for me is knowing that when your enemy gets desperate, he’s usually about to lose. This is why prayer is so important, both for me and for the support team. It’s not just a trite request that people pray for you when you’re gone. It’s the most important role the people staying home can have; equally important to the role of the one going. So for those who will, please pray for those going, for those who are already there, and for the families of those who are going. It’s really important. Let the spoiled child be revealed for what he is.

The hands of a Sudanese man in prayer.
The hand of a Sudanese man in prayer.

What Would It Look Like?

There has been a reoccurring theme lately with random things I’ve read; with conversations I’ve had with people, and with the events in my own life and the lives of people around me. That reoccurring theme is the faithfulness of God and hearing God’s voice. The initial catalyst for this theme for me I think was the decision to go back to Ethiopia, but other things have built upon it since then.

As I’ve been drawn more and more into the events and the lives of people in Africa, I’ve become closer with certain people in ways I never would have imagined just a few years ago. I find myself wishing I could go back and visit with many of these people again, but there is only so much time and funding available for someone with a family and three kids. Besides, many times East Africa doesn’t necessarily need my physical presence, as many things can and should be done through and by people already there.

I talk a lot with a friend in Kenya, who has given up a lot to minister to kids who have been lost along the way somewhere. He ministers to girls in a reform school, many of whom are estranged from their parents, and to kids who are in prison, among others. He has given up any form of financial security to do this, as this is all volunteer, and any funds that come in are through the generosity of people who believe in his vision, and by the grace of God.

Last week, he asked me “how do I hear God’s voice concerning the things he wants me to do?” This question caught me a bit off guard, because I felt totally unqualified to answer it. For me, it was like Michael Jordan saying to me, “so tell me about this game you call basketball.” You see, the problem is that while he is out there doing, I am still currently unlearning what I have either been taught explicitly or by example from American culture. The great depression taught our culture a lot about security and setting up contingency plans. Our parents and grandparents swore they would never go through something like that again. Their children found a good job with a pension that would take care of them. They valued job security above everything else. Work that job for 35 years no matter how miserable you were; no matter how far from your true calling that job was. Get a job with health benefits, dental, pension, matching 401k. Wait until you are financially secure until you have children so they won’t have to go through the things you went through. Leave nothing to chance. Leave nothing to faith. Leave nothing to God. I don’t need God anymore, because I’ve got a contingency plan for everything. Life’s decisions became based on fear of the lack our parents had, and not on faith, or even on reality.

So here’s how that went. The children of the baby boomers who grew up with everything provided for them came to expect everything. They (we) still live on a fear based existence, unable to live without a well thought out escape plan from all of life’s struggles and problems, but now we expect to have everything handed to us. Well, let me tell you thing from the point of view of a business owner; job security is a myth, as fictitious as the Minotaur or the Medusa. There is no security in life, only the illusion of it, so prettily put together in a welcome packet with a brochure of your company’s stock options with a big red bow on top. We’ve given up our God given talents, our vision, that fire God placed into us to make the world a better place, and traded them for a matching 401k.

What would it look like if we started living by the seat of our pants again? What would it look like if we took risks? After all, there is no reward without risk, and we’ve given up an awful lot of reward.  We’ve fooled ourselves into thinking the only reward is financial, and in doing so given up our souls.  Hebrews 11:6 says, “And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.”

I’m still pondering this idea in my head, and I’m not yet fully sure if it’s true, but my thought is that God speaks to us the most when we put ourselves into a position in which we MUST hear him. This is why I feel unqualified to speak to my friend in Kenya. He has given up everything, and put himself in a position where he has to hear from God if he’s going to move forward. I personally believe this is the way to go. It’s not a comfortable way, because there’s always that gap between hearing from God and when everything comes together, but the alternative is to live in a manicured facade of security that I know does not exist. I would rather live in a manner that fulfills the destiny God has placed me here for. As such I have started to wean myself off of the high overhead that comes with the  typical American life. I believe it’s healthier in the long run, allows me and my wife more freedom to do what God calls us to do, and is a far better example to my children. This has not yet all fully ruminated for me, so as I think further about this, I will probably write again. What I learn this time in Ethiopia may further clarify things for me as well. So until next time…

The girls at the reform school in Kenya where my friend volunteers.
The girls at the reform school in Kenya where my friend volunteers.

To The Uttermost Parts Of The Earth.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere–in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” These words of Jesus were the last he spoke before he was taken up to Heaven. I am blessed to have been able to go many times now to the uttermost parts of the earth. Tomorrow I will buy airline tickets, and soon I will go to even more uttermost parts than last time. I won’t be specific as to where yet, but I will be in  Ethiopia again.

Some people say they don’t hear God’s voice. I have to say that I do. Sometimes it’s in the form of thoughts that I know in my knower are the truth. Other times it’s in the voice of someone else, or in dreams, or in things that I read. There are many ways God can speak if you’re listening. But you do have to put away all the busyness of the world around, let the distractions go, and listen for that voice that comes when you’re paying attention.  I spoke with God recently, and my first question was, “Lord, am I supposed to go back to Ethiopia?” As soon I asked the question I felt a bit foolish, not because I asked it, but because I asked a question that, had I been thinking about it, I would have already known the answer. The answer I got was, “I have given you many opportunities now; I’ve given you a passion for this, and a passion for people and the gospel. Most of your funds are raised even before you started trying to raise them. I’ve cleared your schedule at the specific time you would need to go. I’ve given you a wife who is supportive of you in all these things. Do you really need to keep asking if you’re supposed to go? I’ll tell you when you’re NOT supposed to go.

I’m excited for this trip. Frankly I’ve been excited about all of them except for one, but that’s another story. We’ll be covering some new territory, but also some familiar, and building on the relationships we’ve already established. All the while I will be documenting again, so there will be plenty of pictures. I won’t be specific on places and times until I’m already there, but I will be putting my thoughts down all the while, even if I don’t publish them until later. I learn more about myself than I do about Africa every time I go. I expect this time to be no different, and look forward to sharing what I’ve learned.

The sun rising over the crosses of an Orthodox Church in Addis Ababa.
The sun rising over the crosses of an Orthodox Church in Addis Ababa.