I was reading an interview with a well-known leader who explained how he never spoke first in meetings. Instead, he always started with a question.
I was immediately reminded of the questions Jesus asked in the New Testament. Some could think of Jesus primarily as a preacher or teacher, but so much of the New Testament records his conversations with individuals. He asked over one hundred questions during these encounters. Here are a few of my favorites:
Why are you so afraid? (Matthew 8:26)
Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? (Matthew 9:4)
Who do you say I am? (Matthew 16:15)
What is it you want? (Matthew 20:21)
What do you want me to do for you? (Mark 10:51)
Do you want to get well? (John 5:6)
These questions seem pretty straightforward, but they go so much deeper. I spent some time reflecting on each of them in the last few days, and as I ruminated on these questions in my own life, I landed on two things I’d recommend for you that have helped me grow deeper in my relationship with Jesus.
First, consider asking more questions in your relationships with others. Great questions asked in a curious and caring tone can change the nature of the relationships we all have. Now remember, this won’t work if it is a tactic or if you’re not particularly interested in the person or the answer. Instead, you have to engage and have sincere interest in their answers.
Secondly, answer for yourself Jesus’ six questions above. Find a quiet place and take some time to think on them and answer truthfully. Write down your answers (Jesus said if we ask, we will receive). For me, these questions provoked some really hard thinking. Maybe they will do the same for you.
May the Lord bless you and give grace as you grow in your relationship with Him.
Every year for the past thirty years I have gone fly fishing. For the last ten years, I’ve fished with a great friend named Larry. We choose a river somewhere in Montana, hang out, and fish all-day every-day for a week. And I mean fish. We hire a guide some days or go by ourselves and wade in the river on others. Either way, we get up early in the morning and fish until dark. It is one of the few times each year that I have no responsibility and nothing I have to do. It is a completely restorative time. That is why I keep going back.
I am a doer. I like working and accomplishing things, whether it is at CRISTA or at home. I can’t sit still for long. So, during the first few days of this year’s fishing trip I set out as usual to catch (and release) as many fish as I could. About the third day it dawned on me: “I don’t have to hurry anymore or get anything done today.” I challenged myself to go slow and enjoy the experience.
I sat by the river and told myself to relax and stay put for an hour. To make sure I didn’t move too soon, I timed myself at first. I found a flat rock where I could keep my feet in the cool water. I noticed a dark dipper bird diving underneath the water to feed on bugs. Then I saw a kingfisher dive from a tree branch to scoop up a fish in its beak. Amazing. Then, an osprey dove straight into the river and came up with a large fish, returning to its nest on top of a dead tree to feed its young. I reveled in the beauty of the mountains, the sky, and the river as it flowed cool and clear.
I began to thank God for the beauty of His creation. His presence slowly enveloped me. Spontaneously I asked Him, “What do You want me to do with the rest of my life to serve You?” Like a lightning bolt the stunning answer came. “Nothing.”
“Really God, nothing?” “Yes, nothing. Just be with Me,” He said.
A few days later, I returned home and sat with my wife Kathleen in our family room to debrief the time. While I was gone, she had different grandkids over each day. They all have such unique personalities, which makes them so special. One wanted to go play sports, another shopping, some exploring, others staying home.
Then, she stopped and contemplated one very special moment. When Kathleen asked one of our grandsons what he wanted to do, he came over to her, gave her a big hug, and said, “Grammy, I love you and I just want to be with you.” It was the highlight of her week.
I hope you get the connection between our relationship with God and my wife’s experience with our grandson. God doesn’t need anything. He doesn’t need us to do anything for Him. He simply wants us to be with Him and experience the lavish love he has bestowed on us through His creation and in His Son, Jesus Christ.
I John 3:1 “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God…”
The definition of ‘lavish’ is to expend or give in great amounts or without limit. This word is used six times in the Bible. Very few humans can love like this, if any. Understanding and accepting the love of God and knowing through faith that we are His sons and daughters, regardless of what we do or don’t do, is a transforming experience. Learning to accept and live into this lavish-love is a life-long journey.
We are adopted sons and daughters of the Creator of the universe. We have been given unending love out of the limitless resources of His personhood. My prayer for you and me is that we can rest in the lavish love of God, knowing that there is nothing we need to do but accept that it’s all we need.
This month I attended Seattle Urban Academy’s (SUA) “Miracle Event.” This is the annual dinner celebrating God’s work at SUA while raising support to keep it thriving. You might think it is hard to schedule a miracle. Yet every year I walk away feeling like I just experienced more than one.
Seattle Urban Academy is a positive, educational community where students at risk develop academic, social, and spiritual maturity to graduate from high school and transition to higher education and sustained employment. Do you want to hear some incredible statistics? Take this:
Nationally, an average of 10% of at-risk students complete a post-graduate program. But at Seattle Urban Academy, 80% of graduates who enter a four year college, junior college or an employment training program complete their endeavor. Now that is a miracle.
The school is small by design. Average attendance is 35 students. This year nine students will graduate. Two have received a full ride scholarship to Whitworth University in Spokane, Wash., and six others are going to accredited universities and community colleges this coming fall. Again, more miracles.
Some other miracles we have seen at SUA:
96% of SUA seniors graduate
91% of SUA graduates go on to higher education or sustained employment within a year of graduation.
65% of SUA graduates are employed vs. 25% of Washington-state youth
New enrollees earn an average of 278% more credit their first quarter at SUA than the average credit earned per quarter at their previous schools.
God is at work, and it is such a privilege to be part of the miracle story he is writing through SUA.
President & CEO of CRISTA Ministries
2 Corinthians 2:12 – 6:13 is the apostle Paul’s summary of Christ’s work on earth. This is a significant passage that goes deep. It is a section referred to as “The New Covenant.” Paul calls us ambassadors, fellow workers with God, servants of God. Ambassadors speak with the full authority of the Head of State (Jesus for us) but they do so under his direct guidance. Ambassadors do not wander off on their own and then ask for him to ‘ok’ their decisions.
God has a purpose not just in the big sense but in our everyday lives. We are not on a mission for God, we are on a mission with God, directed by the Holy Spirit in our daily lives. We are empowered when we welcome His Spirit into everything we do, looking to Him for direction and understanding. We do not get our joy primarily from what He accomplishes through us, but in experiencing a deepening relationship with Him.
Our annual Prayer Week at CRISTA is coming up February 2nd–6th, 2015. At CRISTA, we firmly believe that God wants to align our vision with His calling through prayer. The purpose of Prayer Week is to collectively lift up and entrust CRISTA Ministries at the beginning of the year and pray boldly and specifically about how God will use us through our ministries to bring glory and honor to Him.
I invite you to join me in the events and programs during Prayer Week in February, praying on your own or as a group during the week and then continuing throughout the year.
How will you join Prayer Week this year? See the schedule below and mark your schedule!
A leader within CRISTA Ministries said to me recently, “Transparency is almost always your best friend.” I have been thinking a lot about the concept of transparency, and what the Bible has to say about it. In a day and age when everyone seems to calculate their statements and responses in order to project the image they want — or not offend others, or gain votes, or win trust — I am realizing more and more the accuracy of the biblical teaching from Ephesians 4:15: “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.”
Speaking the truth in love is not an easy thing for most of us. Actually pulling this off requires us to:
• Walk in humility. Romans 12:3, “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” How we communicate openly and honestly is just as important as what we communicate. The tone of humility and grace helps pave the way for openness on the part of others.
• Have a team of people you trust to help you see reality and gain wisdom. No one sees the whole picture. No one knows the truth completely. A group of people around us helps us see things from others’ perspectives. I John 1:7 says, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” This fellowship not only keeps us in the light, but it helps us speak the truth in love.
• Speak the truth as you see it with courage and a tone of tenderness. Ephesians 4:15 says, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.”
• Be open to others who speak the truth to you. Not being defensive personally or professionally is a sign of spiritual and emotional maturity. Proverbs 18:2 says, “Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions.”
I want to help others in my life grow and become everything God made them to be. Building a Christian ministry that reflects God’s desire to bring His Kingdom down to earth is a challenge, but it is well worth it.
I aspire to be transparent in conversations with my family and friends. I hope you noted that this is a lifestyle – it is not about adopting this as a tactic that rings hollow to those we are engaged with. I know how freeing and how challenging it can be to be open and honest in your communication with others. There is always some risk! Yet the other options just don’t sound that good to me.
You’ve probably heard of the New York Times bestseller Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, and It’s All Small Stuff by Dr. Richard Carlson. I copied this snippet from the book’s Amazon listing: “Are the little things in life driving you crazy? Isn’t it time you put these small annoyances into perspective once and for all?”
This #1 New York Times bestseller offers suggestions for daily changes that can add up to a more relaxed, stress-free life. Richard Carlson reveals ways to calm down, live in the present moment, let others have the glory at times, lower your tolerance to stress, trust your intuitions, and ultimately live each day as if it might be your last.
I have not read this book, but I get the point and agree with it.
But the title of this blog, “Every Little Thing Means a Lot,” is also true.
Everything communicates. Our body language, the tone of our voice, the exact content of the words we use. The font, the color and the size of the words we read. The accuracy of the things we say. The things we do, the things we don’t do.
I have an appreciation for good lawyers, because this is something they grasp. Details matter so much that they get paid real money to worry about them.
Leaders need to pay attention to the details.
Don’t sign anything you have not read or don’t understand. Ugh. It is hard work to go the extra mile with proofing. It takes time and most often the document is fine anyway. When you have a leadership role in your family or at work, know and act like signing something means you are acknowledging its value.
Send well-written and well thought-out thank you notes. Few people do this anymore, even fewer make them sound personal. When I receive these and they are well done, I become more of a fan of the person who sent it.
Make good on your word. Do what you say. Through your follow-through, trust is built or diminished. Quit saying you will call someone to get together when you never intend to. This habit quickly wears down trust. I keep a note card in my pocket and write down what I promise.
Remember birthdays, anniversaries and important dates.
Learn people’s names. One of the most important words we hear is the sound of our own names.
While walking around our campus I witnessed one of our Vice Presidents bend down and pick up some litter and throw it in the trash. This was not in the job description, but man, was I impressed!
A person I work with on campus always rises when someone enters their office. This shows value and appreciation for the person paying a visit. I am trying to do the same thing.
The list could go on. Make your own. My point is that these things may seem small to us, but to others they will probably have a big effect. Have fun doing random acts that make a big difference.
The closer you get to Jesus, the more powerful you become as a leader.
A man asked the Pope, “How can you actually do more when you’re spending so much time alone?” The Pope's answer was, “How can I get anything done without being on God’s agenda every moment of the day?”
The value in our own walk with Christ is not only to make us into all that He desires for us to become, but to be the light of the world. We are called to make a difference in this life, and the closer our walk with Jesus, the bigger difference we will make in a world that desperately needs hope and love.
Why is this?
Jesus was the most powerful leader who has ever walked this earth. I would define ‘powerful leadership’ as both how many followers you have, and the effect you have on others’ lives for the good. Jesus wins hands-down on this measurement. Therefore, we need to learn how Jesus led, and get our power, insight and direction from Him.
The problem is that the Bible is very clear that “God’s ways are not our ways” (Isaiah 55:8). Here are some things the Bible challenges us with in regards to powerful leadership:
Humility trumps lording over people.
Great leaders know it is not about them, but about inspiring followers to a transforming vision.
Wisdom comes from multiple voices. Listening trumps talking.
The things we see are not the real and important things. The unseen things are more valuable than we know.
You cannot fake leadership. In the end we are all “found out.” Leaders know that the biggest challenge they have is in leading themselves, not others. Leading is just as much about who you are as what you do.
You can’t lead without knowing those you lead and being known by your close followers. This, in turn, casts a big shadow. When you make a point to know your team, they are more likely to do the same with the people around them.
You can do nothing of eternal importance without being grafted into Jesus who is the fruit-producing vine. We are only the branches. (John 15)
An intimate relationship with Jesus that is lived out daily, moment by moment, is the whole ballgame.
What is your reaction to these leadership concepts? Many of these I have heard and believed for a long time. But these truisms only empower you as a leader when you actually put them into practice, constantly and faithfully working them into your daily life. We know from experience that this is a nonstop battle. Our own humanity works against this and the evil in our world tries to interfere with the transforming process that Jesus wants to carry out in the lives of leaders.
As President and C.E.O. of CRISTA Ministries, it is my hope that every one of our leaders sees the purpose and value of walking the narrow path. We do this by recognizing that everything we do, great or small, has great significance.
Someone once asked the Pope how he is able to carry the burden of his office and to get so much done in a day. His answer was that he rises early and prays for five hours before he starts the day. “How can you actually do more when you’re spending so much time alone?” came the reply. The simply answer was, “how can I get anything done without being on God’s agenda every moment of the day?”
Jesus called this the narrow gate. I want to be a leader who goes through that gate!
Each year we have held an annual week of prayer at CRISTA. CRISTA was founded on prayer and has a long history of inviting God into our conversations on a daily basis. We hold various prayer times throughout the year but we always begin the new year with a week of focus on prayer. We are serious about prayer. The purpose is to both align the mission with His will and to ask for His blessings on our mission. We gather in various venues throughout this special week, sponsoring prayer walks to focus on each ministry and ending the week with a four hour corporate prayer and fasting session Friday afternoon on January 10. This is very important as we look back and reflect on God’s blessings and rededicate ourselves to the mission of loving God by serving people.
Our theme verse this year is (John 15:4) “Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” Although this is a pretty clear admonition from the lips of Jesus Himself, it does not seem to me to be an easy thing to pull off. The idea of remaining in Him is far more than a tip of the hat to God in our morning devotions. It is an all encompassing, personally transforming, minute by minute experience of putting out trust in God and living like we have done so 24/7. Religious activity does not have the aroma of abundant life. Only the Spirit of God, as He works through those who are “all in” will quench the inner vacancy that God but in every persons heart. At CRISTA we are trying our best to create a corporate culture that fans the flames of the work of Christ among us and through us.
The employee and customer service experience is what defines CRISTA’s culture. Our mission to love God by serving people comes to life through our staff and volunteers.
Our employees are professionals who are passionate about growing in their personal relationship with Jesus both personally and in relationship with their colleagues. Every division meets weekly for a time to look at God’s word and pray together. It is a common experience to stop and pray with each other, with those we are serving and just about anyone else. We are acutely aware of our need for God’s Spirit to work in and through us.
In each of our ministries, the people we serve, whether they are students at Kings or Seattle Urban Academy, seniors who live on our campus, radio listeners, veterinarians, the poor in communities around the world, or guests at our two camps, they all experience highly professional, deeply engaged, passionate followers of Jesus.
People here are called to do this work. We pour time and training into them in order to help them grow and learn. We hold each other accountable in caring ways because we understand we are all flawed human beings. We “speak the truth in love.” The results are in our own lives and in the lives of those we serve.
CRISTA will continue to grow and build on our 67 years of exceptional service to every community we are in across the United States and around the world.
2013 should be a banner year at CRISTA Ministries. We are beginning the new year with CRISTA Prayer Week, January 3-9, 2013. We are working hard to include our entire world-wide ministries. We will start this week with a special devotion at Schirmer Auditorium on Thursday morning and conclude on the following Wednesday, January 9 with prayer walks around the campus. On Friday night you will find many of us gathering in Reimer library for a prayer and fasting event from 6:00 pm until midnight.
Our theme verse for 2013 is Romans 12:2, Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. This verse reminds us that we have a special mission to accomplish – to live out God’s will in each one of us and through CRISTA as a whole.
CRISTA Prayer Week’s primary purpose is not to collect a huge list of prayer requests to ask God to grant. Intercession and petition are very important, but first and foremost this is a week to remind us about our relationship with Christ, our calling to daily be in His presences, to worship and adore Him, and to ask Him to be the one who guides and leads us. We are seeking to know Him and His will for us, focusing on those this year, and then ask Him for the desires of our heart.
There is nothing more important than this for CRISTA in this special week. I hope everyone in our community will enthusiastically participate. Many of our individual ministries will schedule prayer time with their team. I hope the kids at all our schools will learn more about prayer, I hope all our senior residents set aside special times to pray, I hope our listeners in broadcasting in the Northwest, Canada and Texas will pray with us, Camps will join in and all our overseas offices for World Concern and CVM will participate.
The exercise of prayer is hard work. It takes commitment. It takes faith. It takes time. Whether you are a staff member at CRISTA, a volunteer, a church partner or a donor, I encourage you to be part of this by participating in one of the events or participating in your own way privately.