Thriving in a Crisis: 7 Seeds of Opportunity

John D. Rockefeller was barely two years into his first job when the Panic of 1857 struck. Rockefeller could have become depressed and paralyzed by the unfortunate circumstances of a declining economy. But instead of lamenting the timing of the economic upheaval, he chose to perceive events differently than his peers. He looked at them as an opportunity to learn. He often said, “I always tried to turn every disaster into an opportunity.” Within 20 years of that first crisis, Rockefeller alone controlled 90 percent of the oil market. He found an opportunity in a crisis.

The coronavirus crisis has plunged us all into a global health catastrophe and an economic downturn. It has dramatically redefined what a normal life means. It would be helpful for us to look for the opportunity in this disaster. At such times, it’s useful to realize that in both Chinese and Japanese, the word crisis is written with two symbols signifying “danger” and “opportunity.” Every crisis, while deeply unsettling, contains the seeds of opportunity. 

Here are seven seeds of opportunity to plant as you face your crisis.

  1. Reflect on who you are.

Several years ago, three dedicated Christian businessmen in my church lost their jobs. After several weeks of job searching, they came to me individually to talk. Interestingly, each wanted to know what I thought about him leaving the business sector and enrolling in seminary to pursue a ministerial vocation. As they spoke, my questions were: “Why are you considering such an alternative? Why are you thinking of this option currently in your life? What caused you to consider such a career change?” One common thread ran through each man’s story. Each prefaced his remarks by saying, “You know, I’ve been doing a lot of serious thinking lately.”

These were fine Christian laymen. Eventually, they found jobs, and none enrolled in seminary. But by their admission, it took the loss of a job to jar them out of complacency to ask reflective questions.

Crises provide us with an opportunity to reflect on who we are and where we are going. They offer the pause to consider other options and avenues.

2. Reconsider what you have accepted.

Lowell “Bud” Paxson was running an AM radio station in Clearwater, Florida. In 1977, one of his advertisers found himself in a financial crunch and could not afford to pay for airtime. Instead, he offered Bud what seemed a desperate deal. He would pay for the airtime in the currency he had: Rival can openers.

What can a radio station do with a box of red can openers? Bud might have simply sent them back and put his collections department on the advertiser. He could have given them away as gifts to his other corporate customers. But instead, he instructed one of his hosts to sell the can openers on the air.

To everyone’s surprise, this desperate move proved a brilliant one. The can openers sold faster than anyone expected and gave Bud a radical new business model. Instead of selling
advertising to customers who sold products, maybe Bud could just sell the products himself!

A few years later, Bud got the financial backing to launch a cable channel to pursue this business model fully. The channel, named the “Home Shopping Network” (today HSN), would simply sell products on the air 24 hours per day.

The outcome of this story is well known. HSN quickly took off. It was soon carried by cable companies around the country and then expanded into other languages and countries. It spurned an entirely new media category.

Crises allow us to break comfortable patterns of behavior. Had Bud simply been paid in cash, he would have no reason to try selling can openers on air. He would have probably continued doing what he was doing, selling advertising. We feel no urge to change what seems to be working, so when our options are acceptable, we repeat what we’ve done before.

In this dilemma lies the gift of crisis. It provides the opportunity to reconsider what we have accepted.

3. Rise to the top.

A crisis has a way of letting the cream rise to the top. During a disaster, those with the right skill sets and talent—even if they are not the identified leaders or top performers—have a way of rising to meet the challenge, to showcase their skills, to bloom where they are planted, to get the best from others.

Pro football player Kurt Warner was cut from the Green Bay Packers in 1994 and took the only job he could, bagging groceries for $5.50/hour at a local store in Iowa. He then spent the next three seasons as an undrafted football player in the Arena Football and NFL Europe leagues. In 1999, the St. Louis Rams returned from finishing last with a 4-1 record to starting their season in crisis. Their starting quarterback, Trent Green, tore his ACL during a pre-season game. It looked as if the team were on the verge of another disastrous season. Newly signed, second-string quarterback Kurt Warner answered the call that season, throwing for 4,353 yards, 41 touchdown passes, and winning 13 games. Then he won the Super Bowl by attempting 45 passes without an interception and throwing two touchdowns for a record 414 yards. Kurt Warner went from supermarket bagboy to Super Bowl MVP, and the Rams, a mediocre team at best, coalesced around their unexpected leader to rise to the challenge and beat the odds to transform into world champions.

Crises provide the opportunity for under the radar people to shine, to show their worth, and to excel when others thought they couldn’t.

4. Reconnect with people. 

Too often, when faced with a crisis, the human tendency is to isolate ourselves from others, going into hiding. It’s during these times; we most need to connect with others for help, support, encouragement, and strength. Especially, people who provide a mentoring, coaching, and directional role. These people see our blind spots. They love us enough not to let us make stupid mistakes. 

I once faced a personal crisis, stemming from a person who was verbally attacking me with lies and innuendoes. This tension was creating stress at home and frustration in every area of my life. I was mad. I had lunch with my close friend Wilbur and splattered my anger all over him and how I wanted to unload on my enemy. Being the genuine, mature friend that he was, he let me erupt. Tactfully, Wilbur pointed out to me how destructive such an attack would be. He loved me enough to prevent me from making a stupid mistake.

A crisis provides an opportunity to seek out those people who will encourage us and inspire us to be the best we can be.

5. Receive a blessing.

All too often, I cannot correctly interpret what is going on in life at the moment. It is difficult to make sense of all the pain and trials that come my way. Sometimes I cannot tell if what’s happening to me is a blessing or a curse, especially if I am in the midst of a crisis.

When I was playing high school basketball, I collided with a teammate going for a loose ball. He came out of the collision, barely scathed. I, on the other hand, had busted my lip, and my two front teeth were dislodged with one hanging on by the nerve. Rushed to a dentist, he stitched up my mouth and put my teeth back where they belonged.

What appeared to be a horrible accident turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Before that night, a noticeable gap was visible between my two front teeth. When the dentist repositioned my teeth, he was able to align them, so there was no gap. I walked away from his office with a bruised face, stitches in my lip, and a new smile.

As a boy, Thomas Edison received a blow on his ear that impaired his hearing. But later, he believed his deafness was a blessing, saving from distractions. Now, he could concentrate, resulting in some of the great inventions.

Victor Hugo, a literary genius of France, was exiled from his country by Napoleon. But out of that period of exile arose some of his most creative works. When he later returned home in triumph, he asked, “Why was I not exiled earlier?”

Helen Keller became blind and deaf, faced obstacle after obstacle in her life. However, on more than one occasion, she confided, “I thank God for my obstacles, for through them, I have found myself, my work and my God.”

George Frederick Handel was at a low point in his life. His money was gone, and his creditors hounded him, threatening him with imprisonment. His right side became paralyzed, and his health deteriorated. For a brief time, he wanted to give up. Amid the darkness, he picked himself up and began to do the only thing he knew to do—write music. And out of that despair, he wrote the oratorio known as Messiah, which many consider the most significant piece of church music in history.

Crises often reveal blessings. When the current of the crisis moves the sand, we often discover a treasure.

6. React with perseverance.

On a consumer flight from Portland, Maine, to Boston, the pilot heard an unusual noise near the rear of the aircraft. Henry Dempsey turned the controls over to his co-pilot and went back to check it out. As he reached the tail section, the plane hit an air pocket, and Dempsey was tossed against the rear door. He quickly discovered the source of the mysterious noise. The back door had not been appropriately latched before takeoff, and it fell open. Dempsey was instantly sucked out of the jet.

The co-pilot, seeing the red light on the control panel that indicated an open door, radioed the nearest airport requesting permission to make an emergency landing. He reported that Dempsey had fallen out of the plane and requested that a helicopter be dispatched to search the area of the ocean.

After the plane had landed, the ground crew found Henry Dempsey holding onto the outdoor ladder of the aircraft. Somehow, he had caught the ladder and managed to hold on for 10 minutes as the plane flew 200mph at an altitude of 4,000 feet. What is more, as the plane made its approach and landed, Dempsey had kept his head from hitting the runway, a mere 12 inches away. According to news reports, it took several airport personnel more than a few minutes to pry the pilot’s fingers from the ladder.

That is a picture of perseverance—the ability to hang on when it would have been more natural to let go.

A crisis provides us with an opportunity to keep going when it would be easier to give up. So, don’t quit. Never give up. Keep going. Hold on. Like Henry Dempsey, do not let go.

7. Respond in faith.

Crises, by their very nature, are frightening and threatening. There is a tendency to retreat to the past—what is familiar, what is comfortable, what is known.  

When the Israelites left Egypt in a mad dash, the Red Sea stopped them. They faced a crisis of monumental proportions. What would they do? They panicked, fearing the unknown. They wanted to retreat–to go back to Egypt. God says to Moses, their leader, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the sons of Israel to go forward” (Ex. 14:15 NASB). They chose to move forward in faith.

Some forty years later, the Israelites confronted another body of water—the Jordan River, not as big as the Red Sea and with no one pursuing them from the rear.  But, they, nevertheless, were apprehensive. To Joshua, leading the children of Israel into the unchartered area of the Promised Land, God said, “Three days from now you will cross the Jordan here to go in and take possession of the land the Lord your God is giving you for your own” (Jos. 1:11 NIV). 

Crises are a prime opportunity to display faith. To move past the dangers to meet the possibilities of a new day, to move ahead in life, to grow, always requires faith. As we respond in faith, the unknown becomes known, the darkness becomes light, the night becomes day. Faith is like walking toward an automatic sliding door which only opens as we move toward it. 

Facing a crisis feels like life’s rug jerked from under us. But remember, God is under the rug. He will catch you, support you, encourage you, and soften the blow of the fall. You can count on him for that. He can be trusted.

Let me close with an Oswald Chamber’s quote: “It is no use to pray for the old days; stand square where you are and make the present better than any past has been. Base all on your relationship to God and go forward, and presently you will find that what is emerging is infinitely better than the past ever was.”

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The One Cure for Loneliness

Is it possible to have a million friends on Facebook and countless followers on Instagram but no real friends? Is it possible to go to work surrounded by dozens of people and have no genuine support? It’s not only possible; it’s real every day. And, it’s become a dangerous crisis in America.

Researchers contend that social isolation and loneliness may represent a more significant public health hazard than obesity. Some researchers argue that loneliness has the same impact on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Other studies reveal that loneliness is involved in everything from depression, alcoholism, strokes, decreased immune system, and early death. John Corry, in the New York Times, wrote, “Loneliness seems to have become the great American disease.”

The settlers of the North American western frontier learned this reality the hard way. When the challenge to “Go west, young man” came, many left the security and safety of home to stake their claims on the frontier. The settlers built their houses in the middle of their homestead (miles from the nearest family). The settlers, from their new homes, wanted to survey all of their property and say with pride, “As far as I can see, that is mine.” But in time, isolation proved to be a far cry from ideal. When photographers returned from those lonely houses, they showed pictures of wild-eyed women, stooped, gaunt, prematurely older men, and haunted-looking children. Isolation proved difficult.

Why? We are a relational people. We were made and designed to be in relationship with others. A lack of relationships produces isolation. As difficult as people can be, we need each other. Have you ever said, “I love my job; it’s the people I can’t stand”? Or, “If it weren’t for the people, this would be the greatest workplace in the world.” Or, maybe you’ve said, “What I wish I could do is go to a remote spot, build me a cabin, and live alone. Then, I would be happy. I would find peace.” Before you do that, let me remind you that the worst and cruelest punishment is solitary confinement. Loneliness is a threat to your physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

Many people suffer from loneliness because they have lost their sense of community. Numerous sociologists have observed that most Americans don’t experience meaningful involvement with a community of people.

Consider once again the settlers on the western frontier. As time went on, the early settlers benefited enormously by building their homes nearer each other. They erected their homes on the corner of their property rather than in the center. Four families, living on the edge of their farms near neighbors, could survive much more comfortably if they loosened their grip on independence. When they came together—being a community—meant hope, security, and survival.

When I moved 600 miles to attend seminary, I did not know a soul. The city was extensive. The people seemed distant and unfriendly. I left behind all my support systems. I was miserable. I was lonely and depressed. A professor told me, “We can make a heaven or hell where we are, but it’s up to us.” God seemed to impress on me that my past support systems—school friends, church friends, family relationships—did not happen overnight. They took years to develop. New ones would not occur immediately, either. The key was involvement and commitment to those relationships. I decided to make a heaven out of my new location. I joined the church I had been attending. I got involved in a small group. I volunteered to serve. I joined a tennis club to stay in shape and to meet new people. Then, along with two other friends at the seminary, we had lunch one day a week at a different restaurant. In time, the feelings of loneliness dissipated. I was enjoying life. The city that I thought was cold and unfriendly became my home for seven years.

Human survival depends on connectedness, with feelings of loneliness serving as a biological signal to socialize. Meaningful, high-quality relationships have the most significant protective health effect on humans. You and I need community. We are doomed without it.

Instead of counting your friends on Facebook, make some real connections, and build a community. It’s the means of survival.

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What to do when you are lonely

Every week people go to work surrounded by people. Unbeknownst to many, they are dealing with loneliness. They might cover it over with busyness, jokes, activity, and work, but hiding beneath the surface is the monster of loneliness.

Loneliness is the most desolate word in the world. It’s no one’s friend but everyone’s acquaintance. Loneliness eats at one’s inside, bringing a vacuum of emptiness. It causes a gnawing hunger of wanting to belong, to be understood, and to be loved.

Max Lucado defined loneliness as “not the absence of faces. It is the absence of intimacy. Loneliness doesn’t come from being alone; it comes from feeling alone.”

Americans are lonely. Health insurer Cigna’s 2018 US Loneliness Index found that 46% of Americans report feeling lonely sometimes or always, and 47% report feeling left out sometimes or always. A little less, 43 % report feeling isolated from others, and the same number report feeling they lack companionship and their relationships lack meaning. 

Putting those statistics into perspective, look at the person next to you: Statistically, one of you is lonely. Now, if almost 50% of the US population suffered from the flu, we would call that a pandemic. Loneliness in America is a pandemic with the health consequences of the flu.

Researchers contend that social isolation and loneliness may represent a more significant public health hazard than obesity. Some researchers argue that loneliness has the same impact on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Other studies reveal that loneliness is involved in everything from depression, alcoholism, strokes, decreased immune system, and early death.

If you are feeling the pangs of loneliness, let me offer you a few suggestions to deal with loneliness. In my work as a workplace chaplain, I’ve found the following actions invaluable in helping people deal with loneliness.

Socially—Invest in a few high priority relationships. You don’t need a lot of close connections to overcome loneliness, but you do need a few contacts. I call these folks your “2 am friends.” People you can call in the middle of the night, and they will come to your aid. Focus on quality over quantity. Make it several, so you are not always leaning on the same person.

Physically—Practice continuous self-care. Loneliness causes you to withdraw from others and to ignore your physical self. When lonely, the tendency is not to eat healthily, exercise correctly, or sleep adequately. Refuse to do this. Find a buddy or a partner, someone that will hold you accountable to stay physically healthy.

Mentally—Engage your mind. Stimulate your mind. Find outlets from reading to studying to discussion groups that will keep you mentally alert.

Vocationally—Utilize your time. When lonely, resist the temptation to do nothing. Loneliness tends to paralyze you if you sit around and do nothing. Do you realize that many great works have been accomplished in the lonely moments of life because that person utilized their time? Paul Bunyan wrote Pilgrim’s Progress while in a prison cell. Beethoven and Mozart wrote many of their great musical pieces while fighting off periods of intense loneliness. Abraham Lincoln experienced loneliness as President, but led America through a bleak period in its history, emerging as one of the great presidents of all time.

Emotionally—Minimize the hurt. Loneliness is painful. It’s often brought on by rejection from people closest to you. People who once accepted you, but now have rejected you. Sometimes loneliness rears its ugly head because of circumstances, often beyond your control, others that blindside you, others that you know are coming—like death—but there’s so little you can do to prepare for it. What do you do then? Refuse to dwell on the hurt. Don’t allow loneliness to make you bitter or allow resentment to build up in your life.

Relationally—Focus on other people’s needs. When lonely, it’s easy to focus on your needs. Instead of looking at yourself, look to others. Look for ways to help, to serve, to give to others. Volunteer in a worthy cause. Serve in a homeless shelter. Visit people in nursing homes. 

Personally—Learn to enjoy your own company. Boredom adds weight to loneliness. I define boredom as the inability to have fun with yourself. It’s not true that you can only be happy if you’re with others. There’s a lot of worth to enjoying your own company. Experiment with ways of having a good time alone. Walk in a park, create something, exercise, take a day trip, treat yourself to your favorite meal, visit a museum. Find a hobby.

Spiritually—Keep your soul intact. Scripture reading and devotional literature are a great source of strength and comfort when dealing with loneliness. When reading the Bible, take special note of the Psalms. David, the author of many of the Psalms, had bouts of loneliness. His meditations can help you.

The monster of loneliness does not have to win. Take the proactive steps today to destroy the beast and get on with your life. If your company has a workplace chaplain, seek him or her out to talk about this matter. Visit with your pastor or see a counselor. Take action today.

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8 Ways to Practice Servant Leadership

Robert Greenleaf, in the early 70s, coined the term servant leader. He wrote, “The servant-leader is servant first. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. The best test is: do those served grow as persons: do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?”

Max De Pree, the long-time CEO of Herman Miller, echoed a similar thought in his book Leadership Is an Art, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the two, the leader must become a servant and a debtor. That sums up the progress of an artful leader.”

In a world that values authority, position, and power, servant leadership turns those values on its head. It’s a radical and revolutionary concept. But, it’s an invaluable asset in leading and managing others.

I came to understand this concept early in life. My Daddy owned a shoe store. His core business was to meet the needs of others through selling shoes. And, he did a pretty good job of it. I remember many a day arriving at the store with him and having to weave our way through thirty or forty women waiting to get in to purchase shoes.

When I was in graduate school and needing work, it only made sense for me to work in a shoe store. Whereas my Daddy’s store sold shoes off the rack, my new place of employment was the high-end shoe store where the salesperson measured, retrieved, and fitted the customer with the right shoes.

I learned some invaluable lessons from my shoe clerking days about servant leadership.

  • Act in humility.

As a shoe clerk, I knelt before the customer, took off their shoes, measured their feet, retrieved shoes, and placed them on their feet. It was an act of humility.

It’s worth remembering the root of the word humility is humus, meaning dirt or soil. Humility is not thinking lowly of ourselves but thinking accurately of ourselves. It doesn’t mean we are dirt; it means we get down on the dirt.

The servant-leader humbles themselves in spite of their positional role. Some leaders often think their position gives them a vaulted authority and higher right. Often this action produces negative consequences because the leader has assumed the responsibility that is not given. They have usurped their boundaries because of a title. Instead, the position a true servant leader is not first but last, not demanding authority but humbling themselves before others. The servant-leader knows titles, degrees, and jobs are meaningless without an attitude of grace and actions that assist others. The servant leader doesn’t wear a title to show who’s in charge, doesn’t think he’s or she’s better than everyone else.

  • Lead with others in mind.

As a shoe clerk, the customer came first. I was to fit them with the shoes they wanted or needed, regardless of my likes or tastes.

The servant leader’s motivation is love for others. Love always puts the needs of others ahead of your own. The leader displays this love through time spent in knowing and responding to the needs of others. Sacrifices of time, money, and prestige are made because of their passion for the people in their care. This love distinguishes genuine leaders.

  • Listen to people.

As a shoe clerk, I listened to what the customer wanted. Dress or casual or play shoes? Then, I retrieved the right size and color. Once the shoe was on the feet, I felt the foot to see if the shoes fit correctly. I instructed the customer to walk in the new shoes, as I observed the fit. 

Servant leaders listen receptively and nonjudgmentally. They listen because they genuinely want to learn from other people—and to understand the people they serve. They listen deeply. Servant leaders seek first to understand and then to be understood. This discernment enables the servant leader to know when their service is needed. One of the critical traits of a servant leader is listening not only to the words but to the heart.

  • Affirm others.

Once the shoes were on the feet of the customer, I affirmed their selection, providing the appropriate compliments and encouragement.

A hallmark of servant leadership is affirmation. Instead of trying to catch someone doing something wrong, servant leaders look for what people are doing right and tell them. They appreciate them. Most people long to be recognized. And, words of encouragement, coming from a leader, can produce powerful and productive goodwill.

  • Treat everyone with respect.

I, the shoe clerk, treated every customer with respect and dignity, regardless of age, appearance, or aptitude.

No matter age, status, popularity, or seniority, the servant leader responds to all with the same level of admiration and decorum. They make time for others. They allow for interruptions. They value people. They treat all with dignity.

  • Mentor others in their development.

When the shoe store hired new employees, it became my responsibility to train and to equip the new hire in the art of attending to the customers’ needs in the shoe purchasing process.

The servant-leader teaches, trains, and coaches others. They show others how to lead through serving. They provide opportunities for personal growth. Leaders use all situations to teach, train, and mentor people to maturity.

  • Cultivate a culture of trust.

I learned quickly in my shoe selling days that I would benefit greatly from returning customers and their referrals. Therefore, through my expertise, kindness, respect, and grace, I sought to build a culture of trust. In time, my customers returned to purchase more shoes and recommended my services to friends and family.

Trust is a needed trait in businesses. Establishing a trusting atmosphere enables the company to move forward. Part of this comes as leaders are faithful to the task and responsibilities assigned to them.

  • Care for others.

As a shoe clerk, I wanted to meet the needs of the customer and for them to have a positive buying experience. I cared for them.

We’ve all heard the famous quote, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Being knowledgeable does not make a good leader; being caring does. Author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek said, “Leadership is about taking care of those in your charge.” Servant leaders display kindness and concern for others. As the term servant leadership implies, servant leaders are to serve, not to be served. Servant leaders genuinely care for the people they serve. And, when the leader takes care of his people, they will take care of the customers.

Successful leaders maintain a servant’s heart and thus encourage their people to do the same. Imagine what your business’s culture would look like if you and all of your team become servant leaders. What impact would this have on your customers’ experiences? Only good can come from you showing your people what it means to serve first. I challenge you to explore ways to foster servant leadership in your leadership style and among your team as well.

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Service Leads to Blessing

For Jesus, service was not a peripheral issue, not just a neon sign splashing half-truth in a window of self-indulgence. When it came to service, he meant business. Near the end of his ministry, James and John asked to sit in positions of power and authority.  Jesus responded to all twelve disciples: “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42-44 ESV). The pagans measured greatness by how much power and authority a person has.  But it shall not be so among you.  If you want to great in the Kingdom of God, you must be the servant of all.

Jesus’ radical statement was revolutionary because it turned the world’s completely upside down. The world measures greatness in terms of size, power, and authority. God measured it in terms of service. 

As though his statement about radical serving was not enough, Jesus modeled servanthood. The night before his Crucifixion, he gathered with his disciples for the Passover Meal. During the meal, as the twelve disciples lounged on cushions around the low table, Jesus stood up, took off his cloak, and tied up his long gown with a towel. He poured water into a basin and washed the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel. When he finished, he put his cloak back on and sat down at his place. He told them that he had set an example that they should do as he had done for them.

The disciples clearly would have seen what he meant. He had acted out for them a fundamental truth of Christianity. The job of washing feet was filthy. People didn’t bathe very often. They wore no shoes or only sandals. People’s feet were dirty and smelly, and it was a demeaning job to have to wash them. The task became the responsibility of the lowliest servant in the household.

Jesus voluntarily took the lowly position, the position of lowest status and prestige. He put aside his due rank and privilege and became the lowly one.

The late Dawson Trotman, the founder of The Navigators, visited Taiwan on one of his overseas trips.  During the visit, he hiked with a Taiwanese pastor back into one of the mountain villages to meet with some of the national Christians.  The roads and trails were wet, and their shoes became very muddy.  Later, someone asked this Taiwanese pastor what he remembered most about Dawson Trotman.  Without hesitation, the man replied, “He cleaned my shoes.”

How surprised this humble national pastor must have been to arise the next morning and to realize that the Christian leader from America had risen before him and cleaned the mud from his shoes.  Such a spirit of servanthood marked Dawson Trotman throughout his Christian life. 

Service, in the vocabulary of the world, is often synonymous with duty, a necessary chore. And to many in our hypersensitive society, the label servant is offensive. To them, it would mean belonging to a lower class of people. They would think it demeaned their status in life, marked them as “common people.” And, consequently, avoided at all costs.

Don’t avoid service; embrace it. Service is an act of worship. We often refer to a worship service. And in business, we speak of customer service. This fact is no accident.

Serving people is not dissimilar than what happens in a worship service. People get down on their knees. Jesus said right after he washed the disciples’ feet, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:17 ESV). Interestingly, the Hebrew word for blessing is the same as the word for knee: berech. Because going down on your knee is a way of serving. It should not be considered a menial or degrading gesture. Instead, it is one to take joy in because we know we are serving another of God’s children. The result is a blessing or favor from God.

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Why We Should Pray

Prayer is the indispensable and vital function of a leader. No aspect of leadership is more essential and crucial to the growth and health of the organization than spending time with God. We are never taller than when we are on our knees. We are never stronger than when we are confessing our weaknesses. We are never bolder in public than when we are quiet before God in private. Those individuals that have been mightily used by God, have been great men and women of prayer.

Prayer brings God to us. Prayer reminds us that we need God more than he needs us. The essence of prayer is to join God, not God joining us. We ask what is on God’s heart rather than telling God what is on our hearts. Prayer is the lifeline that saves the drowning soul. Prayer is the umbilical cord that provides nourishment to the starving spirit. Prayer is the channel by which God’s life-giving presence flows to us.

St. Augustine, the early church father and theologian, described prayer as like a man in a hapless boat who throws a rope at a rock. The rock provides the needed security and stability and life for the helpless man. When the rock is lassoed, it’s not the man pulling the rock to the boat (though it may appear that way); it is the pulling of the boat to the rock. Jesus is the rock, and we throw the rope through prayer.

Prayer changes us. The early disciples were once timid and afraid, hiding and secretive, embarrassed and ashamed. But when they prayed for boldness and power in public ministry, God changed them. He transformed wimps (weak, ineffectual, and insipid persons) into warriors (bold, courageous, and powerful people).

Richard Foster wrote, “To pray is to change. Prayer is the central avenue God uses to transform us. If we are unwilling to change, we will abandon prayer as a noticeable characteristic of our lives. The closer we come to the heartbeat of God, the more we see our need and the more we desire to be conformed to Christ.”

Don’t pray unless you want to change. Don’t pray unless you want to be propelled to action. Don’t pray unless you want to move on the offensive. Don’t pray unless you want to go to war. And, when you go to war, you need power.

Prayer unleashes the power of God. Prayer is the most powerful weapon in the leader’s arsenal. Is it any wonder that the Evil One seeks valiantly to keep Christ followers from praying? When we don’t pray, Satan has won the battle. But when we pray, the power of God is unleashed.

The power is felt on the human front. Sidlow Baxter wrote, “Men may spurn our appeals, reject our message, oppose our arguments, despise our persons, but they are helpless against our prayers.” The power is felt on the spiritual front. Samuel Chadwick said, “The one concern of the devil is to keep saints from prayer. He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work, prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, mocks at our wisdom, but trembles when we pray.”

Prayer equips us for battle. The battle of Christian leadership is for the hearts of men and women. God needs us on the front lines telling others about him. The war is won in the trenches of men and women’s will. Prayer equips us for that engagement.

How foolish one would be, to go to battle without proper preparation, training, and equipment. How foolish are we, to go to spiritual battles without prayer.

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When Your Gas Tank Is Empty

Whenever I drive my car on empty, certain feelings are always present. I become stressed. While on the outside, I’m calm; on the inside, my stomach is churning. My palms become sweaty. Tension rises like a thermometer on a hot sultry August afternoon. I fret. Driving, which often is pleasurable, becomes laborious. I fail to notice beautiful surroundings. I focus only on the needle and how many miles I’ve traveled since the needle ventured into the dangerous area of red. I become fearful of running out of gas miles from the nearest service station. Silently I berate myself. “How could you let this happen? Why do you always do this? When are you ever going to learn?”

Spiritually, I occasionally run on empty, too. I feel like the Psalmist who wrote, “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1 NIV). During those times, I have no energy to engage in ministry. I find no enjoyment in reading the Bible. I have little peace and contentment. My empty spiritual tank is an invitation to disaster, like a car out of gas, I cough and sputter and pull over to the shoulder, out of service, unable to go any farther.

Spiritual emptiness is one of the most serious threats to Christian health. I can overcome spiritual emptiness by adhering to some basic soul and body maintenance practices.

Receive spiritual nourishment. Someone has said that if the intake does not exceed the output, then the upkeep will be one’s downfall. It is a spiritual law that the one who gives out much, must also take in much.      

Spiritual undernourishment can be covered up—for a while, but like a car that is not kept in running order, eventually disaster strikes.

The antidote to spiritual undernourishment is a consistent time alone with God—a deliberate time of personal nourishment with God through the Bible and prayer. 

The regular quiet time during Jesus’ ministry was a source of spiritual refueling and refreshment. Jesus was never too busy for it; in fact, when his ministry was the busiest, that’s when he made certain that he kept in daily touch with the Father.

Engage your spiritual gifts in service. A car will rust out faster sitting idly in the driveway than by being run every day. Likewise, believers in Christ have been endowed and equipped to serve. We will “dry rot” and “rust out” quicker than when engaged in ministry.

The antidote to my idleness is to give myself away in service and to disburse my gifts in ministry. For every quiet time, I need a “try it” time. A “try it” time is putting my faith into action.

Avoid over commitment. In the Christian life, over commitment is a condition of spiritual overstrains. At times, too much of a good thing can be damaging, like too much oil for the car. This condition is often expressed through the poor theology, “The devil never takes a day off, so why should I?” But, who said we were supposed to be like the devil?

If one is spiritually empty due to spiritual overstrain, it would not make sense to prescribe for that person to pray more, study the Bible longer, and attend more meetings.  This would be the same as advising a diabetic to eat more sweets. Or to think that if a small amount of fertilizer is good for the lawn, then a larger amount could only be better.

When I am spiritually empty due to spiritual overstrain, I limit my devotional time to a minimum, abstain from reading religious books, and step back from congregational activities for a while. I limit my spiritual disciplines until the appetite for spiritual things is aroused again. And you know what? It eventually returns.  

Replenish your physical and spiritual resources. A disregard of my physical body will affect my psychological health and cause spiritual drought. The bow that is always bent, will eventually break. Even the fine-tuned cars that race in the Indianapolis 500 need pit stops. We cannot separate body and soul. They are linked together. To ignore the body, will reap serious consequences on the soul, with an inevitable result of spiritual emptiness.

That is why God commanded us to have a day of rest. The antidote for physical overwork is a Sabbath—the times of personal and spiritual replenishment that renew our spirit, soul, and body.

The Christian life is not like a drag race. It is more like a cross-country road race. And to survive for the long haul, we need to constantly and consistently engage in those activities that keep the body, mind, and soul running in top condition.

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Why We Need Rest

Rest and relaxation are not optional. Rest was never meant to be a luxury, but a necessity for growth, maturity, and health. Rest is so important that God included it in the Ten Commandments. We do not rest because our work is done; we rest because God commanded it and created us to have a need for it. The Sabbath was made for man because God knows that our physical, emotional, and spiritual well being demands periodic breaks. The old proverb is true, “If you don’t come apart, you will come apart.”

The Sabbath reminds us that life has a rhythm. When you listen to an orchestra, all the parts work together in harmony. The music has balance and rhythm. Without rhythm, the music is awkward and out of sync. It just doesn’t flow right.

Have you ever felt as if your life isn’t flowing right, as if you’ve lost the rhythm? To have rhythm in your life, four ingredients are necessary: rest, worship, play, and work. Too many of us change and reverse these ingredients and end up with work, work, work, and perhaps a little play. Gordon Dahl wrote, “Most middle-class Americans tend to worship their work, to work at their play, and to play at their worship. As a result, their meanings and values are distorted. Their relationships disintegrate faster than they can keep them in repair, and their lifestyles resemble a cast of characters in search of a plot.” Or to keep with our metaphor, their lifestyles resemble a song in dire need of rhythm.

The Sabbath renews our reverence of God. “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” (Ex. 20:8 NIV). “And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy” (Gen. 2:3 NIV). The Sabbath is a holy day because it is God’s.

This usually raises some questions like these: “Does that mean it’s all right to watch television on Sunday? Is it all right to go to a ballgame on Sunday? Can we eat out, read the newspaper, play softball, or go grocery shopping on Sunday?” Those are good questions. The only thing wrong with them is that you have asked the wrong person. It’s not my day. It’s the Lord’s Day. Ask him, “Lord, how can I honor you on this day?

The word holy literally means set apart. Let me encourage you to set apart one day a week as a Sabbath to reverence God and rest your bodies. When you do, you not only gain a physical and emotional benefit, but a spiritual benefit as well.

The Sabbath renews our reliance on God. The Sabbath is a testimony of trust. Perhaps one reason we hurry so much, has little to do with poor time management or economic necessity, as much as it does with faith in God. Perhaps we simply do not believe that God will be true to his word. Perhaps we are not confident that God will take care of our needs.

There’s the story of the two birds perched high above a busy city watching all the people busily scurrying from one activity to another. The Robin said to the Sparrow, “Why do those humans scurry to and fro?” “Perhaps,” said the Sparrow, “they do not realize they have a heavenly Father like ours that cares for them so.”

The Sabbath restores our souls. Do you remember snow days? As a child, when it snowed, you would get up in the morning and immediately turn on the radio to see if school was going to be closed, and when it was canceled, you rejoiced. You had a free day, completely unplanned, in which you could do anything you wanted. It was a gift.

We need to create our own snow days, or at least some snow time. We need blocks of time on a regular basis to recharge our souls, or as the Africans would say, to let our souls catch up with our bodies, in order to remain free of burnout and breakdown. That time, that snow day, is the Sabbath.

The Sabbath is a day of remembrance. The Sabbath is more than simply resting our bodies. It’s greater than merely restoring our souls. It’s higher than recharging our minds. The Sabbath is foremost a day of remembering God’s role in our lives. Remembering, worshipping, and resting are acts of contemplation. Yet in the midst of our busyness, we are starved for contemplation. We need that time to remember what God has done for us in our lives. First and foremost, the price he paid for our salvation, and then every good and perfect gift that comes from the Father. Let’s remember him.

Rest is not just a psychological convenience; it is a spiritual and biological necessity. “Remember the Sabbath” is more than simply a lifestyle suggestion. It is a commandment, an ethical precept as serious as prohibitions against killing, stealing, and lying. To forget it is dangerous—personally, morally, and socially.

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The Truth

We are not very good at telling the truth. Diogenes would have a tough time in America today. The legendary Greek who sought for an honest man would be hard pressed to find many.

One survey revealed that 30% of those consulted admitted that they would cheat on their taxes—to a point. The assumption is, a huge lie is more likely to be audited than a small one. That same survey reported that 64% agreed with the statement, “I will lie when it suits me, so long as it doesn’t cause any real damage.” Another survey indicated that about one out of three people admits to deceiving a best friend about something, within the last year. And nearly half predict that if they scratched another car in the parking lot, they would drive away without leaving a note.”

Pollster George Gallup Jr., writing in The People’s Religion: American Faith in the 90s, finds that most people who consider themselves religious do not see truth as a high priority. He states, “While religion is highly popular in America, it is to a large extent superficial. [There is] a ‘knowledge gap’ between American’s stated faith and the lack of the most basic knowledge about that faith.”

How can we hope to tell the truth today?

Pursue the truth.

Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32 NIV). We must comprehend through diligent study and earnest prayer what God has graciously revealed in Scripture. Too many people give false testimony against God himself through ignorance of the Bible.

We must fill our minds with the truth of Scripture. We live in a culture that adheres to relativism, subjectivism, and pragmatism. We must make a concentrated effort to resist these influences by allowing our minds to be transformed by the truth of God’s Word. As we study and meditate on the riches of God’s revealed truth, we will know instinctively truth from error.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn was right when he observed, “Many of you have already found out, and others will find out in the course of their lives, that truth eludes us if we do not concentrate with total attention on its pursuit.”

Speak the truth.

The apostle Paul exhorted, “Each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor” (Eph. 4:25 NIV). I would encourage you to make the following commitment, “From this day forward, with the help of God, I will speak only the truth, always and in every situation, for the rest of my life.” Such a commitment will inevitably improve our relationship with God and with everyone else.

Examine your heart. Ask some tough questions. Am I being completely honest with my spouse and children? Are my relationships marked by candor? Am I honest in my dealings in my business, at school, with friends?

Practice the truth.

If we are to proclaim truth, we must live truthfully; otherwise we are merely hypocrites.

Let’s take a test. Does my walk match my talk? Do people know me as an honest and trustworthy person? Can I be counted on? Do people trust me? Do I tell the truth, always?

As you read the poem, “The Question,” answer the single question it asks.

Were the whole world good as you—not an atom better—

Were it just as pure and true,

Just as pure and true as you;

Just as strong in faith and works;

Just as free from crafty quirks;

All extortion, all deceit;

Schemes its neighbors to defeat;

Schemes its neighbors to defraud;

Schemes some culprit to applaud—

Would this world be better?

If the whole world followed you—followed to the letter—

Would it be a nobler world,

All deceit and falsehood hurled

From it altogether;

Malice, selfishness, and lust,

Banished from beneath the crust,

Covering human hearts from view—

Tell me, if it followed you, Would the world be better?

Ralph Waldo Emerson was correct: “The greatest homage we can pay to truth is to use it.”

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Lust: The Deadly Second Look

David was king of Israel. He wrote many of the Psalms. As a devout Jew, he was a person of faith and character. But one spring night, he became careless and curious. He should have been out with his men fighting a war, but instead, he takes a stroll on the roof of the palace. And down below, he sees a beautiful woman bathing. He glances, and then he stares. This is a beautiful woman he thinks to himself. His thoughts are not innocent. He desires her; he craves her. He is alone; and he is lonely. He finds out about her. He sends for her. He seduces her. He wanted what he wanted, and being king, of course, he could get it. And he got it. Eventually, he has his lover’s husband killed to cover up his sin. And, to add to the ugliness of this picture, the baby she conceives dies.

What’s wrong with this picture? David was in the wrong place. He should have been leading his men on the battlefront. Instead he relaxed at the palace with time on his hands. He was alone. He lacked the emotional support he needed to keep his hormones in check. He allowed his mind to wander. He was thinking impure thoughts. He lounges, then he lingers, then he lusts.

Lust reaps its greatest havoc on our lives when we are in a tempting place, when our mind is not guarded, when we choose to face life alone, and when we are spiritually distant from God.

Lust is a craving, a yearning, a longing, and a passion. Lust, according to The American Heritage Dictionary, “is a sexual craving, especially when excessive; to have an inordinate desire, especially a sexual desire.”1 While we most often think of lust involving sex, it is not limited to that domain. We can lust for power, for a car, for a house, or for children.

Lust always starts in the mind. Adultery starts in the head, before the bed. First, Satan gets our attention. Then, he engages our feelings resulting in action. Once something has our attention, then it is easier to get our feelings. And once our feelings are engaged, then it is easier for our actions to follow.

I recently shopped for a new car. Each time I visited a car dealership, the salesperson encouraged me, “Go ahead. Take it for a test drive.” He wanted to engage my emotions and my feelings with the smell of the new car and the feel of the drive. And once something or someone has my feelings, then it is easier for my actions to follow. Satan knows that.

This is what happened to David when he seduced Bathsheba. He was out for a walk. He looked. Then he looked again. It has been said, “You can’t help the first look, but you can avoid the second look that becomes lust.” The woman got David’s attention. Then, lust got his feelings. The second look created the desire. And once his feelings kicked in, he was easy prey for temptation.

Lust gives no thought to the consequences, no consideration of what might lay ahead, simply the thrill of a particular moment’s challenge.

Have you noticed that we lust for or lust after? Lust, then, always involves objects. At its most basic level, it is a preoccupation with objects of our desire. We lust after or for something or someone, not with something or someone. Lust reduces the other person to a non-person. Lust accepts any partner for a momentary service. It has nothing to give. It has nothing to ask. It reduces everything to a mere object, one to be acquired, then discarded when it’s used up.

Lust treats people like football players treat a football. That ball is cradled and cuddled. Players will risk life and limb to protect the ball when their team has it on offense. But once the football crosses the goal line and a touchdown is scored, then it is thrown, pounded, and spun on the ground. Then, the player will dance around and mock it. Finally, it is ignored. Its purpose has been served. It was merely an object used to accomplish a goal.

If you have been the object of someone’s lust, you know how demeaning it feels.

Lust is deadly. Oh, surely not, you say. But think about it. Where do promiscuity, rape, incest, pornography, prostitution, adultery, many unhappy marriages, and a lot of divorces come from, if not from lust? And to add to its destruction, it causes bitterness, guilt, disillusionment, and strained relationships. Its consequences are mental, social, vocational, and spiritual heartbreak.

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