Living in vision

Leadership is often lonely.   You have to show-up, and you have to engage.

Leadership requires engagement!

Earlier this week I had a GREAT conversation with someone: it was difficult, argumentative, loud, and with some extended silence.

It was terrific!   He is a great friend!   We disagreed.

This occurrence reminded me of how very important it is to have people in our lives that want and desire authentic and unvarnished engagement.

They don’t take it personally — they are able to transcend the here and now, and the specific and particular individuals involved. They look at the big-picture — the vision — the over-arching ideas, concepts, and values — and in so-doing you – together – flesh-out the best course. They know and trust your input so thoroughly that they never re-construe it into petty conflict, or negatively characterize your motives.

In many ways I find that I live in this “conceptual” world; never accepting was is, but rather looking for what might be.   I LOVE this type of vigorous – and maybe even idealistic – engagement!   Dealing with ideals, concepts, and vision that transcends the here and now, and lays the path for both maturity and achievement.    For me, is a great joy of life.

Not everyone embraces such engagement — including those that you would expect to due to their position or education.    I’ve made this difficult mistake more than once.    And, sometimes I’ve repeated the mistake with the same individual.

But, they don’t get it.    And, those conversations can be quite difficult and don’t usually end well.  “Seeing beyond” and “defending the now” can not coexist in the same conversation.    And, I make the mistake of allowing the conversation to devolve to the defensive and the personal.   Someday I’ll learn!

I pray that each of you has in your life those few individuals that are able to engage enthusiastically at a high level.   Where you can clash your ideals and concepts with great vigor, and come out with not only a better appreciation for each other — but, also a better understanding of the ideals being honed.

I challenge each of you to be that individual to the friends in your life.   They will so appreciate it.   Rise above the petty.   Rise above the immediate.   See beyond the here-and-now, and embrace the banter of what might be.   Stick with concepts, ideals, and values.   Stay clear of the personal and the immediate.     It requires a healthy dose of both confidence and contentment.

If you find yourself engaged with someone who just isn’t hearing you — but, is instead simply looking for the next defense hook — just say you’re sorry, and move on as quickly as you can.

They’re not up to it.    It won’t end well.   Don’t lose a friend.

Encourage One Another!

EncourageOneAnotherDailyAs I have endeavored to increase my understanding of humility before God and others — I have thought a bit about the question of how humility is “lived” in our every moment of life.    What is the “character” of humility that will be reflected in my routine of daily life and interaction with others?

I have come to believe that this is best stated in the following simple phrase;

“An attitude of Gratitude in all things”

If we embrace an ‘attitude of Gratitude’ in all of our encounters, then we model humility through our expression of appreciation to others.   In so doing, we encourage them, we uphold them, and we affirm them.   We posture ourselves as the gracious recipient of their efforts and grace — and we endeavor to ensure that they know that their generosity is observed.

Would that we all could model this in every encounter of every day!  The impact we could make through our persistent and pervasive encouragement of others.   Such would not only fulfill our Christian and righteous admonition, but would simultaneously foster such conduct in others — by way of our example.

When we applaud the ministry efforts of others we encourage, uphold, and affirm them.  When the heart of the recipient is right, such encouragement simultaneously deepens our sense of humility, affirms our action, and encourages our continued pursuit.   Applauding is really a fulfillment of our righteous living – and an effort that springs-forth from our heart of gratitude.

The root of the applause question is that of humility:  what is the heart of the performer?

This is not something that is built, affirmed, or verified by the presence or non-presence of a round of applause.  Applause itself is a good and desirable action from the heart of the church body.   The heart of the performer is something that is built, encouraged, mentored, modeled, and anticipated at every level of a Christ-centered music ministry program.

When the heart of the performer is right, then such praise only deepens their sense of humility, and affirms their action.   Sometimes (from my own observation), a performer that is “young” to this process will feel such a strong sense of humility before the applauding audience that it makes them uncomfortable – and they (inwardly) plead for the clapping to stop.   However, this is driven more by a concern for the “perception” of humility than for the reality of it.

This is not to suggest that such performer is not sufficiently humble or right with God.   This is only the suggestion that such individual is experiencing the human desire that other’s know of their posture — and they are concerned that their acceptance of applause is perceived as a prideful event.   A concern for “what others might think” is as old as the human experience.

Musicians (or any performing artist) need only concern themselves with the heart of God.  Ensure to their greatest extent possible that their vessel is empty of self and full of Him.   And, then let God do as he will – without a concern for the human thought of others.    Accept applause with humble and modest acknowledgement — and reflect it to God through the living example in all of your daily life.

This is the Christian musician’s challenge.   This writer being a somewhat poor example.

Ultimately if the heart of the performer is right with God, then whether a church applauds or not is of no particular matter.   The applause itself is an additional gift and an offering that grows from our shared experience.

But, squelching the urge of an audience to “spring forth with gratitude” has a very “solemnizing” effect on a church.   No one is sure when it is appropriate or not — so, it becomes ritualistically – eliminated — forcing a solemn worship experience —   reflective of the most stalwart of rules-centered churches of old.

God desires the honest and free expression of a grateful heart.   We are free of the worldly bounds of perception and ritual, and should express ourselves freely in our gratitude and praise to God.   The affirmation of fellow servants is a valued part of that experience.

Moving Moral Fences

As I served a stint as interim choir director, I was considering a new anthem entitled “Almighty, unchangeable God.”  I was reminded of the complete immovability of God.

We recognize and celebrate this attribute in our music – with hymns like “Great is thy Faithfulness” and “Almighty Fortress” and countless others.

In our modern society – however – the stability of our own spiritual references are frequently challenged. Our position must change with the times we are told. Unlike our Almighty and unchangeable God, we are expected to move our fences in light of new “enlightenment.”  And, most of us do periodically make an adjustment in the placement of our moral boundaries.

But, does such a move place our moral fence nearer to God?

He’s not moving.  WE are!

Are we moving nearer?

Whatever the issue, God is standing exactly where he was yesterday, a year ago, a century ago — FOREVER Ago. His fence has never moved.

The question is really; are we moving nearer?

How long do you consider whether your move places your fence “nearer” to His.  And, then also — how much space still exists between them?

The next time you are being challenged to “move the moral fence,” consider carefully whether you are reducing the space between yours and God’s.

Empty Freezer

Some time ago we returned from a camping trip to discover that our freezer wasn’t working — and hadn’t been for some days.

We had purchased the large chest-style freezer only a couple of months prior, and due to the cord and outlet placement, had to use an extension cord to power the unit. This “temporary” arrangement had – by it’s working state — become semi-permanent.

At some point during our absence  the cord had failed — the freezer lost connection with it’s power source, and now we had a mess on our hands. And, it didn’t smell very good either.

I set-out to cleanup the mess.    First garbage bags filled with spoiled product were placed in the outside garbage cans.   Then, the cleaning and sterilizing began.

As I was standing on my head trying to reach the far bottom corners of the freezer, I was reminded of God’s desire for us.

It is his desire that we remain connected to him.   Close to him.   In communion with him.   When we do so, our lives are less stressed, flow easier, smoother, happier — and we have a positive impact on those around us.

When that connection is broken — then, we start to lose our way, and the things that comprise us start to spoil and to taint our soul, our perspective, our desires, and our interactions — and to embolden our pride.

Now as I cleaned the re-connected freezer — it was gleaming!  It was restored, refreshed, and renewed.   It seemed eager to return to it’s intended function — and begged to be reloaded with product for it’s proper care.

If only we could more effectively empty ourselves of our many prideful obsorbtions.  Our desire for things.   Our need for success.   Our want to be accepted, and the need to prove.  All the prideful human spoilings that so taint our lives and disrupt our service.

Let’s present ourselves as clean and empty — and connected servants.   Let Him fill us with his love, and his desires, and his hopes for us.    And, then let our faithful and enduring service for his glory begin.

We must remain “connected” custodians of his investment.

Clean out!

Plug in!

Keep the Children Singing!

Written originally for the September 2009 Newsletter of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Waterloo, IA as Mabel and I prepared to serve a term as Interim Music Director and Coordinator

As I grew up in a small Reformed church in Pella, there were a great number of people within that church that took it upon themselves to encourage, teach, and mentor the young boy piano-player.

The impact these people had on my eventual involvement in music is immeasurable. I so looked-up to the adults of the church – especially those involved in the music of the church. From them I learned that my church was the “expected” place to use my talents, that they were God-given, and that they were much appreciated by the ‘big people’ of my church community.  Without their constant encouragement and challenging, I would not likely be involved in music today.

As Mabel and I serve during this interim time, the programs that we feel very strongly about are those that surround our children (ours and yours).  It is so important that our children learn early-on that their talents are given by God, and that the church is the place where their talent is upheld, encouraged, and appreciated.

We appreciate the programs that this church offers our children, and we equally appreciate the many adults that pro-actively and individually and personally encourage the children at every opportunity.

As a church it is important that our children understand clearly that;

  • The Church is the place for their music, and that
  • THIS church HAS a place for their music.

This is not universally true within the modern church. In fact, it is increasingly rare. Most churches anymore have no (or very little) to offer children musically – and there is virtually no room for them within the Sunday services.

Even today when I return to my home church during weekend visits to my parents’ home, many of the people (much older now) that were such an encouragement in my youth continue to take an Interest in my music and what I am doing and where. They are proud of the role they played in “establishing” me as a church musician, and feel that they are a part (however indirectly) of whatever it is that I’m doing today.

Let us be a church that continues to value and uphold the talents of our youth – whatever their current age – and encourage them to utilize and hone their talents within the warm and welcome atmosphere of their church. Such – it seems – is our responsibility – even our obligation – as the “big people” of their church.

Riding the Sled!

Recently I returned from summer vacation in northern Minnesota. The north shore of Lake Superior is truly “Gods Country” and my family enjoyed the great lake, many of the rivers, cliff jumping, and other area attractions.

This year we felt our kids were old enough to take-in the Alpine Slide at Lutsen Mountains. This is a ski resort that passes-away the summer by offering an Alpine Slide and Gondola rides to mountain vistas.

The alpine slide – for those of you not sufficiently sled-privileged – is basically a cement chute that winds and curves and dives it’s way down the mountain. You ride this trough on a small plastic “sled” with a single control lever — you push it forward, you go faster — you pull it backward you slow down or even brake if you wish.

The kids’ all-day wristband was to allow access from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. But, of course, they would soon tire of it, and we would proceed back to camp. My two boys are older and immediately set-out to board the ski-lift to the top. My daughter being a bit younger needed a “companion” for the day. Daddy was elected.

So, I fastened my wristband, and forged forward into the Daddy and daughter day. First the lift ride to the top – at the top you selected your sled (two in my case) and carried them down a slope (Oh! My aching knees!) to the start of the chute.

As I was first attempting to fold my slim and svelte body into the tiny sled, it seemed very cramped. And, for this first ride down daughter wasn’t so sure, and wanted to ride with dad. Our turn came, and down the hill we went. What a ride! Daughter was sold!

Now – those of you my age and body type know  — getting into such a contraption is one thing. Getting out is quite another. My folded body had somewhat acclimated to the contortion, and was reluctant to move – much less in a vertical direction.

Except for a short lunch break – this is what we spent the rest of the day doing;

  • Lift-ride to the top
  • Carry sled
  • Compile self into sled
  • THRILL!!
  • Extract self from sled
  • Return sled
  • Board ski-lift
  • REPEAT! — until 6:00pm!!

I came to quite enjoy the quiet, peaceful, and not nearly long enough lift ride to the top.

Many times throughout the day I asked myself why I was doing this. Daughter was so thrilled that she was invariable up, out and waiting upon my arrival at the bottom. Then – of course – dad just couldn’t move fast enough for her as she restrained her urge to run directly to the lift boarding area ahead of me.

I was doing it because I love her so. It was important to me that she had a delight-filled day.    She was not to know of daddy’s difficulty.   Nor, was her enjoyment to be abbreviated by it.

I observed as several other dads where similarly situated. I admired their devotion.   The love that fathers have for their children — when properly realized — is extensive and deep.

So many kids today have inattentive dads, or no daddies at all.

We have a heavenly Father.  His love is greater still!

He did much more than spend a day of uncomfortable and exhausting activity so that we might have moments of joy.  He actually ….

- GAVE -

- HIS ONLY BEGOTTEN SON -

- to be SACRIFICED-TO-DEATH -

- so that you and I might be ETERNALLY REDEEMED!.

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I can’t imagine.

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What wondrous love!