The Called Pastor

To be Called is to hear the Voice of God. Mysterious? Yes. Simple? Yes. Easy? Rarely. Probably never. 

The greatest danger to the Called is failure to follow the Caller. The ONE who calls. In the world of the Called, this failure is more common than it is evident.

The Called must follow the Caller, not the Calling. That's the only way to live the Calling. Easy? I don't think so. But life changing. In fact, it's the only way to change the world.

What is a Funeral?

I don't count funerals anymore than I count haircuts, and I've had my share of both of them. For me, they are a natural part of my life and work. Each funeral counts of course, it matters deeply to family and friends what you say or share at the service. In fact, the things said at a funeral may well be the last memories of someone and family and friends will carry those memories to their own grave.

I'm not sure that we are having more funerals today, although it feels like it. I just had 6 in three weeks and another one coming up in two days and another one in July. I'm slowing down this weekend so that I can process all the atmosphere that funerals bring, both joy and sadness. These emotions find their way into my heart as I pastor the loved ones who remain alive and grieve. My main joy is to help them return to a thriving life again. This doesn't always happen. Some never do recover from the loss of their loved one. But most do. My part is to help them regain their spirit, their purpose, their goals for living.

Most funerals are not traditional anymore. In a church setting they might be. But from my office, they have come to be a mix of memories, hopes, fears, words of remembrance, words of hope, and to a lesser extent than I am used to, words of Scripture. That last part I find challenging. I'm pretty sure I will always have words of Scripture to share. It's not that people are against sharing a word from God, they just are not familiar with it as much today. Which also means, they are not used to traditional funerals either. Today we call them Memorial services, conducted in a funeral home, or church, or some other facility or the last nursing residence lived in. These are often beautiful and tribute filled services.

The only thing missing is a sure and certain word from the Lord. When we die, we can offer little surety or certainty to the gathered congregation. Our death is proof of that. It is the life well lived in the grace of a loving God that inspires us to look for God's word at a funeral or memorial service. Most funeral services still include some Scripture, the 23rd Psalm for sure, the Lord's Prayer and others. Yet, the meaning of those Scriptures is growing less important. You can leave many services today and not even know why a Scripture was included. This allows hopelessness to creep into our memorial services, uninvited and unawares.

No, our hope is built on an enduring and everlasting friendship with God. A Forever Friendship. And for that, we need to hear what He has to say on the subject. That's where all hope comes from!

Rain

To step outside tonight was to take a shower, be refreshed. Accompanied by the lightening, the rain got our attention. Throw in some marble size hail and you begin to hunker down. Tornado's in the region made it even more intense.

Now it's quiet. Thankfully. Till next time. I'm grateful for the rain, especially since so many are dry.

Rain may be the quickest reminder to show gratitude. The dryer it has been, the more gratitude we may find. Trick is, to be grateful when their is plenty of rain.

That is the trick. Isn't it? To be grateful in our prime, when things are coming up roses. When everything looks good, that is the time to offer gratitude. It will make us more grateful when the roses fade and the rain does not fall.

Spirituality

I've been searching for definitions of Spirituality. About as many definitions as pennies in my piggy bank, and just as pennyfull. The idea of Spirituality is varied, from what gets you up in the morning to what makes you tick to a spark of divinity within to no such thing as spirituality. It's like trying to sew a button on a poached egg. Messy. 

I'm supposed to be able to assess a persons spirituality. I take a peek into their minds and hearts and come away with a qualitative, quantitative opinion of their spirit. Needless to say, I think Jesus is better at it than I am.

I've turned toward the idea of a Forever Friendship with God. I often ask about the status of someone's friendship with God. Do they want to be friends with Him forever? Likely as not, I'll read a passage from the Bible that explains how much God loves us and is doing everything to secure our friendship. 

I ask unusual questions. By that, I mean, not the usual ones about your insurance provider, or if you've had any serious surgeries, or who is your next of kin, or do you want extra life measures to extend your life? No, I ask questions about stuff deep inside you where no X-ray has gone before, a new frontier for many.

And usually it's ok, sometimes it hits a nerve, and sometimes it opens a faucet of faith and friendship for eternity. It's a delicate thing to ask and assess spirituality in others. Imagine a dentist setting a jackhammer next to your chair and donning a gasmask before he says this is going to hurt you more than me. In fact, it doesn't hurt him at all, he seems to enjoy it.

No, spirituality is whispered to the surface, teased out of its nooks, easy to be observed if we know what to watch for. It's love in action. Watch for the acts and you may witness the spirit. Some of my patients bless the whole day with one smile. One sentence and I'm encouraged immeasurably.  

There are days when my spirituality is assessed by them and they know just how to enlarge it. I leave them thinking that they did more for me than I did for them. And I'm good with that. 

Vets

I meet a lot of vets in my work as a Hospice Chaplain. I've been told that over 900 WW11 vets are dying each day and by 2032 they will all have passed on. I believe the last WW1 vet died in 2011. And Vietnam vets are passing at some 500 a day.

Many of these vets are talking more about their combat experiences. Many do not have the words. These men and women who wore a uniform have all sacrificed something of their lives for their country. Even those of us who never saw combat have made substantial sacrifices.

Most do not care to be called a hero, but they are grateful when they are recognized for their service. Personally, anyone who puts on a uniform in order to serve others already has one foot in hero territory, even if we choose not to make a big deal out of it.

The stories of these vets, at least the ones they will share with us are worth hearing. They are stories of devotion, sacrifice, values, courage and faith. We should be listening for these valuable stories, we may not have much longer before they can be heard.

The Great Leaders Do These Three Things

Feedback, Appreciation, Mingle

Feedback is a response to our projects and issues. If I say, that was a good report, especially that section on strategy for the next decade, that is positive feedback. If I say the report is a little short on statistics, that is negative feedback. All leaders give feedback. Great leaders give specific, and frequent feedback. Great leaders also give a lot of positive feedback. For every piece of negative feedback, they give many more positive statements. This earns them credit and respect. Wouldn't you respect what I said if you knew that I was far more likely to catch you doing something well than if it felt like I always caught you doing something wrong?

The best leaders give lots of feedback and most of it is positive. And when the time comes to give negative feedback, they deliver it with clarity, specificity and quickly. And they remember that feedback is about issues, not personalities as much. You can rarely change a personality. But you can change their habits. Feedback turns them in the direction of healthy habits. And it will even out the kinks in their personality if it's done well.

Appreciation is more than feedback, it's personal. When you appreciate the person for who they are, you go beyond what they do. You genuinely like them. And you know that the person behind all those projects is valuable to you and your organization. A gift, a note, an award, a comment, a thank you; these are all personal and appreciative. Great leaders use appreciation like salt and pepper. They know just the right amount to sprinkle on so that the food is enhanced but not smothered. And they know the persona of the appreciated one, how much appreciation they can handle at one time. Some of us don't take too many compliments too well. We wonder if someone is flattering us for some other reason or motive. Give consistent and moderate amounts of appreciation and you will get past that fear of flattery.

Then mingle with your workers, coworkers, and bosses as well. Let them know that you are interested in their lives and their family as well. Listen to them when they tell you stories about their family and friends. Take notes even. Keep tabs on their kids and grandkids, their pets even. This is the key to the highest level of motivation in an organization. When the boss or a supervisor knows a great deal about me because they are genuinely interested in my success and care about me, it is inspiring and invigorating.

Give lots of feedback, mostly positive. Appreciate others, raise their value. And get to know them, really know them. Do these three, and your team will be the best.

Three Months of Teamwork

So the word for the last three months is Team. I haven't been on a team that worked together every day for the last 30 years and it is amazing to be on one again. The last time was during my years in the army. There, we trained for life and death matters. Now, I'm very much involved with life and death. And my daily work is dependent on Team.

Here are some things that are becoming more true to me.

1. My job is to make my manager look good.

That sounds unusual at first, I know. I mean, it is never mentioned in my job description. A lot of other things are, but not that. But think about it for a while. You know your job is not to make your manager look bad. So why not go the other way with it, make them look good. They hired you, why not do your job so well that it makes them look like they made the right call, the only call when you were hired. Think about this one some more. I think it will pay off in so many ways. They lead your Team. And if they lead it well, you will lead well. Make them look good and so will you.

2. When the Team wins, I win.

When someone on the team gets credit for a job well done, you get credit too. A true team functions because of each other, not separate from each other. If an individual did something extraordinary and received accolades for it, then you as a team member had a part to play in freeing them up to do the extraordinary. Take pride in your teams accomplishments. TEAM=Together Everyone Accomplishes More.

3. When you quit learning, you quit.

There is a reason people quit learning. Many reasons in fact. Ask yourself some questions. What did I learn last week? What mistakes did I make that taught me something new? Who can I learn something from that will help me to do more with less? Who is mentoring me? What websites or books are on my list to read and scan? If you aren't learning anything new, you need to find out why. What is going on that you no longer feel challenged or motivated to learn. It's a very important question in this disruptive age. What is my Team learning?

4. True service is stressful.

And service in and through a team is extra stressful. Working with other people takes work. You don't just fall into the perfect team. I wish. You have to work at it. You may have great teammates, you may not. But they are the Team. What are you going to do to make the team better? There is a lot of under the surface stress here. Getting along, being accepted, various threats to your ego, competition. All of these workplace and team stressors come into play. It will do you good to understand Team and workplace dynamics or politics. Don't shy away from it. Read about it, take training about it. Politics is not a bad word in this case. Put two people together and you've got a team, policies, procedures, yes, politics. Figure it out. Up your game, learn some new words about how to work together. It will lower your negative stress a great deal. A book to read is Jill Geisler, Work Happy: What Great Bosses Know. Follow her on Facebook. She puts out phenomenal advice about the workplace and how to build the morale and productivity of Teams. You'll feel a lot better.

5. Remember that your family is your original Team.

God gave us people that grow so close to us that they become part of us. They are your best and foremost teammates. They support you, encourage you, listen to you, rejoice with you, suffer with you, eat with you, play with you, and through it all, stay with you. They are the first Team. Get that right and your other teams will know it and feel it and be empowered by it.

In the last three months at Tabitha, I've seen all this at work. Some teams have to work well, at a high level or they get disqualified and they eventually disappear or get disrupted. But when you are on an A-Team, there is nothing quite like it. Many people never get to experience it. That really is too bad. It's worth a great deal to join a well functioning team. The experience is life changing and therapeutic.

In fact, if you are looking for that special place to work at and serve, consider the Teams there and how they function to act out their values and how well they are on mission. Find that place where Team succeeds and you will have much success as well.

Pivot

One of the most graceful and difficult maneuvers to execute in formation is a Pivot, or what used to be called an Oblique. When I left the military I think they were calling it a half right or half left turn. But there is a move where the whole company turns half to the right or half to the left and keeps marching in the same direction. It is quite elegant to watch when it is well coordinated.

If you are in to that sort of thing, here is a video of an Airforce ROTC unit performing it.

Add some other fancy moves and you've got a real show, at least if they are well executed in unison. If they are done poorly it shows in a hurry. Some goofus goes in the wrong direction and the whole company looks stupid.

Executing an oblique or a pivot of some kind or a sweep takes practice and preparation. Whole industries and sectors of society are now in pivot mode. They are companies or organizations living in Disruption. For most of us, going from Records to 8 track tapes to cassette tapes to ipod and music files has been the first and most obvious disruption.

Steve Jobs is often credited with or blamed for this disruption. His determined resistance to allowing the delivery of music on an album full of songs that were of little interest just so you could get one song that was a hit, is what was at stake. Now, you buy the song you want and skip the rest. Major shakeup or disruption. Lots of upset people too, especially in the music business.

What is interesting to me is the mentality of the leader who is preparing for disruption. That is why Jobs is both revered and hated by so many. He either planned for or fell into the Disruptive Continuum like few others have done. And he used Apple to make the oblique and they have executed it pretty well.

You will or are already subject to Disruptions. Music, Cable TV, Health Care, Education, Travel, Leisure, and dozens of other sectors of life and industry are all  going through the Disruptive Continuum.

What is important is how do you respond. Are you prepared to make the pivot, to turn in a new direction, to go off on an oblique? How does one go about preparing for the Disruptions in their environment? Unfortunately for too many it comes in the form of a pink slip or a move or some kind of slam to their life. One day you're making widgets and they are flying out the door and off the shelves, then shortly after the highest sales month, the widget inventory backs up into the warehouse, finally into your living room. You can't give them away fast enough. They don't want what you have been producing anymore. And you go out of business.

Some non-profits and especially churches go out of business long before they realize that they are out of business. They keep talking on their cell phones when the person on the other end of the line has been long gone due to poor reception. They are talking to themselves and anybody standing nearby, but their customers and friends have long ago left the conversation.

You can see it everywhere today, at least if you are not in denial. That is the key, isn't it, denial or awareness. Which will it be? Those who choose to face it, will learn to pivot, to make the more difficult moves in order to go in a new direction.

The writing industry is going through this Disruption. Great stories are being written as I type this. And sad stories are fading away as well.

Now that I've left the leadership of churches, I see how desperately we need to prepare for the Pivot. In fact, we are well past the time of preparation, we are in the late stages of having to execute. And we are not doing well.

My suggestion is that you practice pivoting now. Don't wait. Go out and figure out what it means to make a turn in a completely new direction and to do it with grace. There is a very good chance you are going to need that knowledge and practice in the near future.

 

Change

The last two months have had CHANGE written all over them. After 30 years as a pastor in the Adventist church I've gone on to what some joke about as an Encore Career. I now work with Tabitha Health Care Services here in Lincoln as a Hospice Chaplain or Spiritual Care Coordinator.

My pastoral skills are a bit more focused on Elder Care although the families that love and care for those elders are often of all ages. So some things stay the same, Caring for people and their spirit. Other things have dramatically changed, working in health care.

I'm sure I'll have more to say about that as the days fly by. For now, let's just say I'm thrilled to be working with truly incredible people. The nurses amaze me every day, their care is across the spectrum, spiritual, emotional, financial, as well as physical. These women make me stand in awe as they serve their many and varied patients each week. They comfort and offer hope, a wellspring of joy and courage each day.

The Social Workers solve problems and make good things happen, they work tirelessly for their clients in order to see that they have the best housing, care and support that they can provide. They have taught me a great deal about Christian love and service. They help families come together at a tough time and corral all the resources and energy that a family has to share and focus it on creating joyful and lasting memories for the client and family. The Social Workers create miracles every week.

Our administrators are really cool and pro ministry. They remind me of a Lieutenant I had in the army. I was a Warrant Officer, not prone to command by rank or nature, but an officer still. And the Lieu was in command of some ten of us in his unit. We all were somewhat challenging to herd in the right direction and we all knew he took a lot of heat for it. The company commander wanted more and better out of all of us. But the Lieu never let it roll down on us, whatever the bottom line was, I think we came to understand it more because of who the Lieu was instead of how he could have over managed us. Our Admins spend a good deal of time caring for us as well as caring for our mission. This is a good sign, an unbelievably good sign I would say. In fact, the more they care for their staff, the more we want them to look good and the team to succeed. It's a fun and deeply satisfying thing to watch in operation, it is TEAM. We may never know the limits and constraints they deal with. But I'm praying for them every day, there is a lot on their shoulders.

There are people who help you to grieve and listen to your aches and longings, people to give you a bath, to hold your hand or do your toe nails, call in the volunteers who work magic themselves. People who help us to stay on track and look over our shoulder at the right time and others who coach us through some really hard spots.

All in all, it is Teamwork and I'm delighted to see that is still exists and very happy to be a part of it.

So that's what's been happening with me in a nutshell. My wife and I have made the decision to stay in Lincoln and we couldn't be more happy about it. And I would add, what a great woman she is. The greatest gift a man could receive, God gave to me almost 4 decades ago. She is more than a Proverbs 31 woman, she's a slice of heaven.

So that's a quick catchup on us. Back to work then.

Spring in Nebraska

They're talking about us in Carolina it seems. I was wondering about the Corn and Wheat crop myself as I travel by the fields that seems untouched. But I guess we are not to far behind schedule, at least according to our eastern friends.

Steadfastness

James 1:2-4, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete lacking in nothing.”

I like the idea of steadfastness. When your back is up against the wall, the wall is fast and easy. It's there and it's not going anywhere. You might feel trapped, on the ropes, bruised and beaten up. You might feel like your way of escape is blocked, and it is. You are forced to stand your ground. Your body is tired and your mind is fading in and out.

Somewhere inside, deep in your brain, deep in your heart, a song begins to play, faint at first, a few beats, a note or two. Then a line and a chorus. Your heart starts to find its beat again. You learn to use the wall. The wall becomes a friend. It helps you stand in place. In fact, the wall becomes part of your team, and whatever is in front of you best be careful for now your inability to escape is turned into your ability to fight with the wall at your back as an ally.

Turn and face the aggression, the opposition and the fear. Stand with the wall at your back and sing out, This far and no further. As Popeye was famous for, "I can stands it no more." Pop in the can of spinach and take on the light work before you. Stand fast in the steadfastness. Move forward even. Thrive. Chase down the demons. Become the moving wall. Sing and watch the fortified walls fall.

This steadfastness, this loyalty, this devotion will complete you, as James said. It will mature you. It will build you, from the inside out. James died steadfastly loyal to his God and to His friend and Creator, Jesus. A spirit rose inside of Him that made him invincible, with God at his side, and his rear guard, his wall.

Staying Small is the Easy Path

"There is no passion to be found playing small--in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living."

Nelson Mandela

Many of us need life advice, not job advice. We need to live and produce and serve. We are most likely capable of more, sometimes much more than we are currently producing. Many are stuck in their routine. Day in and day out they do the same thing at work, come home and eat, watch some television and call it a night, as if their lives were scripted for them and all they need to do is to follow the script.

Because of the high unemployment today above 6% and worse for young folks, many are taking a new look at employment as a means to a fulfilling life. They are questioning and reshaping how they work and how often they work and what they work at.

Like Mandela, they are not looking to go to work so much as they are to act out their passion. They refuse to think small. Maybe you should too. Your life may never be the same once you make the switch from small to passion.

Narcissism Epidemic?

A pair of interviews with W. Keith Campbell, author of The Narcissism Epidemic.

Narcissism is like a flu that you give to everyone around you and then you feel good that they get it. It reinforces the narcissist in his or her notions and view that they are superior to others around them. I've worked with a few true Narcissists over the years and observed how much turnover in their relationships there was. They truly use people to promote themselves. If you are in the whirlpool of a narcissist, these two videos might help you identify what's happening and why. Dealing with a narcissist is about as challenging as trying to ride a whale and I'm not sure it's worth it, but you might be trying to work with or might even be married to one. So what do you do? These two videos might help.

Church Stuck?

In Ministry magazine David Ripley wrote about plateaued and declining churches and the reason he feels that they are stuck. Good article and I think he's on to something. I don't think it's the only reason and his corrective will not turn around all of those churches, but your church might be one that needs his prescription. Take a look if you feel your church is declining or not doing well.