Aug 31, 2011

The Blindness of an Angry Leader

I used to live next to an angry man when I was a young child in Huntington Beach. He was known as “Captain Bob” and dressed, swore and drank like a sailor. He spent his retirement combing the beaches and decorating his house with the treasures he found. His house was amazing. It was a literal jungle with ponds, harpoons, anchors and a bamboo forest. All of my friends and I loved to play in his “Jungle Cruise” like backyard imagining we were soldiers at war in the thickets of Vietnam. Our admittance into his jungle sanctuary was rarely allowed but, when it did happen, we knew we could only be there until he got into one of his infamous drunken moods. When that occurred, the very air he exhaled would become fueled with the fire from his rage. 

We all knew he was an angry person, but he was able to keep it somewhat at bay during his first couple of glasses of Jack and Coke. Yet, when his fourth delivered its full effect upon him, out popped the demon. He usually began yelling at his wife or kicking his cats. His teenage sons would try and calm him down, but they would get slapped upside their head.  That was our key to run home as fast as we could. For even though we would play war in the backyard jungle against a pretend enemy, none of us could handle the reality of an enraged man at war with his family.  

I’m sure all of us have people in our lives that we know have an anger issue. Some of them don’t have a drinking problem, like the Captain, but they still carry their anger before them. Many of these angry individuals have learned to be highly successful and have accomplished an extensive resume of great accomplishments. However, being a strong leader with a healthy ego is not the same thing as being a person with considerable anger who uses fear and manipulation to obtain their goals.

Currently, I am completing my Doctorate thesis on church leadership.  One of the facets of this project is to develop a clear understanding of dysfunctional leaders with the hope to develop a plan to bring health, forgiveness, and restoration back into their lives. Outside of a simple lack of skills and incompetence, there are classic temptations that leaders, if they succumb, will fail. Those, as most can guess, are the temptations of money, sex, and power. 

Under the umbrella of those main trouble spots lie emotional reactions, root causes, hurt, and blatant dysfunctions that can erode the fabric of a leader’s integrity. Four of those that appear to be prominent in church leaders are jealousy, guilt, shame, and anger. This week I have been studying the dark side of leaders who suffer with anger and would like to share my top ten favorite insights on this subject. Let me know what you of them.  

1. They have a debt problem. Not a financial one, per se, but a serious belief/feeling that someone owes them. Perhaps, their father left them as a child, certain accomplishments in sports were not obtained, or a career change, not of their own doing, hindered them from becoming what they believe they are entitled to. 

2. They struggle with intimacy. The very understanding of the word intimacy means vulnerability. Those with great anger are not willing to be vulnerable to anyone. That would show weakness. Being weak opens up the door for someone to take advantage of them, break a trust, let them down, or see them for who they really are. 

3. They blame a person not they system. Rather than look in the mirror of the system of which they have developed, they will find a person to place all of the blame upon. This person becomes a scapegoat of their own broken system.

4. They expect their employees to constantly have a “What Would Their Boss Do” mindset. Personal growth, creativity, leading of the Spirit, and even heartfelt convictions are to take second place to the mold placed upon them by their leader. This has a tendency to be played out but never discussed. 

5. They deny they have an anger problem. In fact, they might readily argue that if they indeed have this problem, others would have told them about it.

6. They are left in the dark because no one is willing to tell them the truth. Part of the reason no one tells them the truth is out of learned behavior. Perhaps, they once told the truth and had a body appendage removed as a result. By observation of how others on the staff treat the leader provide clues as to how to behave. Fear is a great immobilizer. 

7. They will not give grace to people who fail. Failure, especially of those who pose a threat or show great competency, will be given minimal grace. They can become “dead” to the leaders or written off as a pathetic underling. 

8. They fantasize about arguing with those who anger them. Having constant mental conversations that “tell off” certain people frequent their minds. Or they may spend a lot of time developing sharp and cutting phrases in which to annihilate people they believe owe them. 

9. They attract employees who are more concerned with making their bosses happy than doing what is best for the organization. These employees become enablers, as well, and, if confronted with such an accusation, might respond with the belief that making their boss happy is what is best for the organization. 

10. They deal with anger toward others primarily by sniping them (making sarcastic comments/attacking them in public), throwing the kitchen sink at them (bring up many problems not pertaining to the issue at hand), or simply blame them for everything.  Then, they build up their army of devotees to join the “casting out” of the person they believe to be in debt to them. 


(The above list is formulated from many books, blogs, and podcasts that I’ve been studying as of late. There are actually dozens of more facts to mention, but these are the ones that have stood out to me today. I’ll post my sources soon ... a lot of which comes from Andy Stanley, Leadership Network, Out of Ur, etc.) 

Aug 16, 2011

When Your Church is Surfing in Waveless and Shallow Waters: Oh, the placidity of it all!

I remember someone bringing a surfboard to a lake once. They didn't even have a boat or jetski to pull it through the placid waters. The owner just went out and paddled on it.  He let others have a go but it wasn't quite that fun. It was more fun to just swim.  A surfboard needs waves and deep water to truly be appreciated.  When I was a kid in Huntington Beach I would watch the surfers near the pier. The waves, at least the ones worth riding, would come in ... well ... waves. The surfers would bide their time and wait for one worth riding. Of course, there was always a pecking order to who had been waiting the longest or whose territory it was to ride that wave. However, in between those waves the surfers would just sit on their board looking ... well ... bored.  They would gather in little clusters and talk with one another. Some would grow impatient and take whatever measly wave came their way. Some days there were no big waves to be had. On others, the big waves would be in generous amounts. Yet, on those days when the big wave would take it's sweet time before making an appearance, the surfers would sit upon their boards and watch, socialize, and wait.  

Catching the wave is an art. People use this analogy in many areas of life. Like when musicians notice when their band is starting to catch a wave and hop on it with hopes that it lasts a long time.  Or in sports, when a team's momentum gets going going to a fever pitch and they find themselves on a wave toward victory. (If no victory happens, at least they might get a wave or two from the crowd in the stands).  Church's catch waves as well. Growth, excitement, energy, and life flourish in a church when they catch a wave and ride it well. Perhaps a program, an evangelism event, great worship, or a timely Word from God launches them onto a wave. Hopefully, it lasts a good long time.

What we all know is that waves are not caught in shallow water.  Lakes are not going to produce waves worthy of surfing. (Though, believe it or not, people actually surf the Great Lakes). Also, ocean waves are not in our control. Spiritually speaking, the Lord creates the waves and His people are supposed to catch them and ride them when they appear. Some of us grow impatient and will ride any piddly wave that comes by in hopes that God will turn it into a great wave. Others might try and ride a big wave that breaks too close to the shore, or near coral and such, and should only be ridden by professionals. Some churches that stay too close to the shore, in the shallow part, will only experience a slight impact of the waves that churches that decided to head out into the deeper parts have already experienced or are currently riding. 

All of this is to say three things: 

First, when there are no waves things can get boring. We'll tend to socialize and constantly look toward areas where big waves might be happening.  But if the Lord is sending no waves our way, then we need to deal with that reality the best we can and pray for surf.  We can look across our area that is inbetween waves and see others gathering together.  We can paddle over to them and socialize, dig their bigger groups, enjoy their coffee, listen to their music, and hear them speak, but if there are no waves, then we are not surfing.  

Second, we need to be mindful, watchful, a have a heart that's willing to learn how to ride the big waves. Because they will eventually come and if our church is not willing to ride them or embrace the adventure that they bring, then we're going to crash and burn. That means we need to head out to deeper water and wait. By deeper, as you can easily guess, I mean spiritually, emotionally, mentally, physically, experientially, communicatively, and prayerfully deeper. Financially as well ... but not in the debt-sense of deep but, rather, deep wells of resource. 

Third, we need to make sure we do not lose hope or grow bored while waiting for that wave to come. It's easy to do.  I assume that most of us want to be part of something great, bigger than ourselves, and have a critical role in making that happen. Being antsy or bored when that is not going on in our lives comes with the territory. That is when many of us might discern the times and our location and seek other churches to see if their waves are any better. Yet, if you know your supposed to be surfing in the church you're at, then prepare for the next wave until it comes. Pray to God for it. In the meantime talk with and love on the others who are also in your part of the ocean. Live life well. 

So, until that wave comes, be discerning and full of wisdom about what to do. Here's a couple verses to think on:  

Luke 12:56 "Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?" 

1 Chronicles 12:32 "...from Issachar, men who understood the times and knew what Israel should do..."

Aug 12, 2011

When God Deceives

How blasphemous it is to think about the Lord deceiving us. Here's something a bit harsher to envision: rape. If Billy Graham (for lack of a great number of spiritual figures most of us can appreciate) stood before the masses and prayed accusatory remarks that God had seduced him toward a place and raped him of his innocence, would not the world be aghast?  Yet this infamous accusation was delivered by none other than the Prophet Jeremiah saying, "You deceived me, LORD, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me." (Jer 20:7) The Hebrew word pittitani, "you have deceived me," means to entice, deceive and/or persuade. It is used in the same context of when a man seduces a woman.
The whole point of Jeremiah's lament was that he knew God had called him to a prophetic ministry with his people but he did not know that they would reject him and treat him so poorly.  Jeremiah believed God had promised him something and did not deliver.  Have you ever experienced that before?  I've got stock in that market.
Just like when God spoke to Moses during their discussion next to the bush that continually burned but was not consumed, he had heard God's promise to take him and the Israelites to the Promised Land. What he failed to mention was the 40 years of wandering in the desert in between said promise and its fulfillment. That in between time, our desert experiences, are simply miserable. However, those in between moments are the places where trust is forged. Visions of the Israelites are hopefully filling your mind now.  Such like the times they complained about having to eat mana for a few years just about the time they discovered the Promised Land. The desert times are filled with tests, trials, persecutions, miracles, and deep prayer. Even though we know that God's Spirit whispers to us to trust Him regardless of circumstances, the tractor beams of bitterness and complaint pull us toward their joyless ooze of despair.
So if you feel that you're in a place where God has both led and abandoned you, so much so that, perhaps, you wish you were dead, then rejoice for you are in good company. All of the spiritual fountainheads of the Bible have been to such a place, wished for death, and poured out their heartfelt complaints to God.  Even Jesus in the Garden told God that it was too much to bear. Here's the good news about being real with our heart's condition with God: He's big enough, and loving enough, to handle our heart's pain.
This reminds me of that famous Bible passage, loved by millions, ... "... and it came to pass."  One day this realm of in between will fade away.  The best thing to do in the meantime is to listen to Jesus' brother's advice and to count it joy when trials of all kinds come our way.  Choosing to trust and to have joy definitely outshines the other option.  Plus, we all know, deep down, that God will prove faithful again and again and again and again .... etc.
But, man, doesn't it just suck in the meantime?

Aug 10, 2011

John Wesley's Got the Blues

Here's a quote from John Wesley's journal written on a Tuesday during the 24th of January in the smoking cool year of 1738:  

" I went to America, to convert the Indians; but oh! who shall convert me? who, what is he that will deliver me from this evil heart of mischief? I have a fair summer religion. I can talk well; nay, and believe myself, while no danger is near; but let death look me in the face, and my spirit is troubled."

With an inkling of the seed that fell among the rocks, he realizes how his faith falters whenever the threat of death permeates his general vacinity.  Certain death, with all its smoldering determination, awaits us all. I hope to be able to face it like a true man of God when the time comes. But I'm sure I'll freak out.  Some of us might welcome a hero's death that could be brilliantly portrayed someday by the famous hollywood elite. However, I'm sure I'll just choke on a chicken bone. Some deaths that literally freak the crud right out of me are: shark attack, waking up in the middle of a brain surgery, or getting stuck watching the Kardashian's marathon. Oooh, shudder!  

It's funny how Jesus calls on us to die to ourselves, Paul call on us to live for Christ, and Satan wants to devour us all. Our eternal condition and placement is constantly surrounded by the promise of death. Paul tells us that Christ has removed the sting of death (sin) for us.  I'm sure it's still going to be miserable. I like Woody Allen's quote:  "I'm not afraid to die, I just don't want to be there when it happens." I'm with him.  Unless, of course, my death causes millions of people to wish they were in my place.  That would be quite a death. No idea what that would look like. Perhaps, Braveheart? Nope. Captain Jack Sparrow? Nope. Harry Potter? Nope. Obi Wan Kenobi? Hmmm. That one might just work for me. 

As for Wesley, I appreciate his honest admittance of fear.  It's easy for believers to praise God when surrounded by a crowd of people in agreement.  To have a heart that praises Him through the difficult times, in the face of trials, threats, and the possibility of death before we win the lottery, go to Hawaii, get married, watch our grandchildren grow up, pay off our school loans, ... well, maybe not the school loans ... is something worth striving and praying for. Such an attitude, I'm sure, can only stem from a life that seeks to know and be known by God.  

Wesley died at the good ol' ripe age of 87 in the year 1791. In 2009, an independent film company made a movie about him that wasn't half bad. (So I've been told). Who knows? Maybe one day they'll make a movie about your life and death.  If that's the case, I hope you don't die from choking on a chicken bone. That would be just silly. 

Aug 9, 2011

Reflections on Saving the World

After another night's dreams of zombie-filled apocalyptic despair, I decided on two things: 1) I've got to stop watching horror flicks before bed and ... 2) Stanislav Petrov deserves his own private island.  

For those who do not know who Stanislav is, the saying goes that we all owe him our lives. On September 26, 1983 Petrov, a Soviet ballistics officer, noticed all the flashing monitors indicating that 5 nuclear missiles had been launched by the U.S. and were heading toward Russia. He, knowing the greatness, or lack thereof, of Russian technology, decided to do nothing.  He determined that it must have been a glitch of some sort and declared it to be a false alarm. Had he decided to go along with what the alarms were telling him he would have given the "all clear" to retaliate--ergo, setting in motion a holocaust of the nuclear persuasion.  Stan is the man who did nothing and saved the world.  What a guy.  

As a preacher, I am quick to see all of the sermon fodder that such a story creates. I could discuss how seeing is not always believing and that we should be patient, using discernment in troubling situations. Or I could even bash believers who take the Stanislav approach to evangelism, in these Last Days, and admonish those who choose such an attitude not to sit around and do nothing but, rather, to get their little keester melons out there and proclaim the Good News.  

Today, however, I am just taking the story at face value.  Petrov found just reason to declare the incoming missile alert as false.  He knew that Russian early warning missile detection technology was subpar. Coupling that with his belief that if America were going to launch missiles at his country, they would launch thousands down upon their ushanka wearing heads instead of a measly five. Petrov did not really do nothing, as many like to talk about. Stanislav chose to risk his country's safety by using his logic and gut instinct and declaring the warnings as false. That man deserves an island.