Rest For The Powerless

sleep

Little kids and sleep is a really tricky combination.  There are times when I fight like crazy to keep them awake so I won’t have to fight like crazy to make them go to bed that night.  There are nights when they just pass out in my arms and there are nights when the whole bedtime routine is an exhausting battle of wits and wills.  From what I can tell, most parents who boast about how great their kids sleep are lying…the bags under your eyes and venti coffee in your hand is what gives it away, in case you’re wondering!

Yet, there’s something about little kids sleeping that is so captivating to our adult minds and souls.  It’s not what keeps them up at night.  It’s what doesn’t keep them up at night…stress and worry.  Our amazement is compounded by how truly powerless they are.  There they lay, no ability to take care of themselves, no clue what tomorrow will bring, no control over even the smallest aspect of their days.  Yet, it doesn’t seem to bother them at all.

We, on the other hand, are experts at laying awake.  The more powerless we feel, the more sleep we lose.  And let’s be honest, there are a lot of situations in our lives that make us feel powerless: our health, a wayward child, the status of a relationship.  All to often, we feel powerless at work, powerless over our future, even powerless over the direction our country is taking.  Power feels like it belongs to someone else – teachers, professors, bosses, shareholders, politicians, whoever…just not us.

If you’re tracking with me, I want you to know there’s hope.  It comes from a Persian King named Ahasuerus in the Book of Esther.  We’ve been talking a lot about him at Restoration City the last couple of weeks and he’s helping me sleep better.  In the world’s eyes, Ahasuerus was a really big deal.  He ran the Persian Empire, which stretched from Ethiopia to India in those days.  The whole thing was massive – 127 provinces worth of massive.  And Ahasuerus was a fool.  This political giant was comically inept.  He enters the story as a drunken mess and things only get worse from there.  The man can’t make a decision to save his life, even when it comes to his own family.  He gets suckered into exterminating the Jews for a cheap bribe and then changes his mind because of two good meals and the possibility of sex.  Yes, he takes out a guy who seems to be threatening his wife but even that feels more like “don’t play with my toys” than “I’ll fight for her honor.”  The guy is a clown.  Yet, God uses him for his purposes.

There are some obvious parallels to our world (insert Election 2016 commentary on comically inept political giants).  But that isn’t the only link.  It also has to do with our jobs, our relationships and our finances.  It has to do with the powerless places in our lives.  The places that keep us up at night with stress and worry.

The Bible doesn’t try to talk us out of that feeling of powerlessness.  In fact, the Bible helps us see that we’re all more powerless than we imagined.  But it does hold out the promise that all of life is playing out under the watchful eye of the Almighty.  God was working through the King of Persia to accomplish His will.  Guess what?  He’s doing the same thing through your boss/landlord/professor.  Yes, even the clueless one who seems intent on doing you harm.

We lay awake at night because we’re terrified we don’t have what it takes.  Yet, our kids sleep just fine knowing they don’t have what it takes.  Their hope and security is in the power of another.  So is ours.  His name is Jesus and He holds everything together by the power of His will.  Nothing can separate you from His love.  He holds the world in His hands and He’s moving His plans and purposes forward.  Trust Him.  He won’t let you down.  And He just might help you sleep through the night.

Leaders Are Delegators

White Board

As we bring our “Live From Love” series to a close, we’re spending two weeks focusing on the life of the Old Testament King Josiah, the only man in the Scriptures described as loving “the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might.“(2 Kings 23:25)  This past Sunday we talked about how our love for God leads to a life of ongoing repentance.  In doing that, we skipped over some leadership development gold in 2 Kings 22:3-7 that I want to pick up on today.  You’ll see it pretty easily as you read the text:

In the eighteenth year of King Josiah, the king sent Shaphan the son of Azaliah, son of Meshullam, the secretary, to the house of the Lord, saying, “Go up to Hilkiah the high priest, that he may count the money that has been brought into the house of the Lord, which the keepers of the threshold have collected from the people.  And let it be given into the hand of the workmen who have the oversight of the house of the Lord, and let them give it to the workmen who are at the house of the Lord, repairing the house (that is, to the carpenters, and to the builders, and to the masons), and let them use it for buying timber and quarried stone to repair the house. But no accounting shall be asked from them for the money that is delivered into their hand, for they deal honestly.”

Josiah is a master delegator.  He empowers a team to do what he could never do on his own.  He’s able to inspire a group of people to work together to accomplish a goal, which is foundational to effective leadership.  Perhaps this kind of delegation is expected when renovating a temple – no one can do that on their own!  But the reality is that we need to practice this kind of delegation frequently in our lives as leaders.  Think of all the things we do every week as a church: lead 10 different community groups, load in and load out production equipment, lead worship, preach a sermon, disciple kids, serve our community, administer an organization, reach college students in DC, etc, etc, etc…  I don’t think there’s one of us that really think we can do any one of those tasks on our own.  But all too often we find ourselves trying to do what we know is impossible – take on a massive project without anyone else’s help.  

If that’s you, then take a few minutes to consider the model Josiah gives us for effective delegation.  His delegation is anchored in four key principles:

Clear Vision

Josiah doesn’t leave it up to his team to decide what they’re going to accomplish.  He fills the vision vacuum – they’re going to repair the temple.  And He’s not just envisioning a minor facelift.  They’re going to have to buy timber and quarried stone to get this done.  He’s speaking into the aim and the scope of the project.  That’s what good leaders do.  Some leaders are so afraid of being called a micro-manager that they abdicate this part of the process.  That’s not leadership.  It’s the exact opposite.  It’s abdicating leadership to someone else who will fill the vision vacuum you’re perpetuating.

Adequate Resources

Some leaders thing it’s enough to walk into a meeting, drop a little vision bomb and then check out completely.  Not so fast there, little leader!  Maybe you and your team have worked together for so long that they can take your vision and run with it.  But you always need to stay engaged around the fundamental question of whether or not the team has the resources they need to execute the vision.  Josiah deploys money, senior aids and resources to the project.  He gives the team what they need to get the job done!  That seems so simple when we read it in the abstract but I can’t tell you how many times I see leaders set their people up for failure by casting some glorious vision that the team has no chance of achieving because they lack the resources (money, time, people, skills, training or tools) they need to get it done.  That’s not leadership.  That’s just frustrating people.

Freedom To Execute

As much as Josiah leans into the vision and resource conversation, he leans out of the strategy and tactics conversation.  He realizes that the carpenters, builders and masons know a heck of a lot more about renovating a temple than he does.  So, he does one of the hardest things for a leader to do.  He shuts his mouth and lets others take it from there.  He lets his team do the job he’s called them to do and he gets out of their way.  If you violate this principle, this is when people will call you a micro-manager.  To put it even more bluntly, this is when you prove that you aren’t really a leader.  You’re more of a taskmaster with a lot of assistants.  Trust me, you don’t want to go down that road.  You can’t possibly be an expert on every area of a project.  So, if you insist on calling all the shots, you’re insisting on an inferior result.

Trust

In a leadership move that must have driven his accounting department crazy, Josiah tells the workers not to worry about saving their receipts.  He trusts them to buy the right materials, in the right quantity to get the job done.  He trusts they aren’t going to take some home for their back patio.  He trusts that they aren’t going to be lining Uncle Al’s pockets with some kickbacks.  He gives them cash and tells them to get it done.

Granted, most of us aren’t going to go that far (and good stewardship requires some financial integrity) but don’t miss out on the significance of what Josiah is doing.  He’s looking for concrete ways to tell his guys that he trusts them.  Most leaders pay lip service to the idea of trusting their people.  Josiah knew he needed to find specific ways to communicate that trust.  In his case, that meant no receipts.  In ours it might mean allowing people to make decisions, be flexible in their work schedules, feel valued even when they make a mistake or not have us hovering over their shoulders every minute of the day.

Josiah shows us what it looks like for a leader to lean in at the right time and lean out at the right time.  He does it all to bring about a goal far beyond what he could do on his own.  That’s God’s call for all of us who are leaders.  Let’s follow Josiah’s example and be real delegators.

Moving & The Will Of God

Winding Road

Last week, Laura and I moved our family to a new apartment in search of more space for our soon-to-be family of five.  So, that means I’ve spent the last couple of days carrying boxes, cleaning out the old place, carrying boxes, unpacking those boxes and carrying a few more boxes!

But I’m not writing to grumble about moving.

I’m writing in the hopes that the journey our family has been on for the last few months will be helpful for you as you follow God in your life.  I’m writing because Laura and I never thought we would end up living in a mid-rise apartment in the west end of Alexandria.  Yet, that’s exactly where the Lord has us.

And it all goes back to December 8, 2015.

I remember being in the gym that morning, doing my best not to die on the treadmill, listening to a podcast and praying/thinking through the day ahead.  Later that afternoon I was going to be meeting with a group of Southern Baptist pastors interested in supporting church plants in DC.  So, I was getting my vision caster/fundraiser game face on.  As part of that, I was mentally rehearsing stats about how many people live in this area, how quickly it is growing, etc…  I was getting more and more excited to tell these pastors about the mission field God had called us to.  And then all of a sudden, I felt like Laura and I should be doing more to reach our community.  I remembered my conversations with the leaders of a ministry called Apartment Life and felt like God might be leading Laura and I to move into an apartment in the Crystal City/Pentagon City area through this ministry.  That was a stretch for us – we had been renting a row house and weren’t thrilled about going to an apartment (our kids are loud and we didn’t want to live underneath someone running a makeshift dance studio in the apartment above us!).  But we felt like it was how the Lord was leading.

So, Laura and I started down the road of getting plugged in with Apartment Life.  We did applications and interviews.  We introduced the ministry to the church one Sunday morning.  I told the whole church Laura and I had applied and wanted to serve as a CARES Team through this ministry.  We were accepted into the program and totally believed this was God’s next step for us as a family.

But by the middle of April, it was starting to look like Apartment Life wasn’t going to have a community to place us in.  Honestly, I wasn’t worried.  I totally expected the Lord to pull something out at the last minute.  But by the beginning of May, that was looking less and less likely.  And we knew we needed to be out of our old place by May 31st.  Unsure of what else to do, we started looking for other places – including apartments.  Honestly, we probably never would have included apartments in our search if it wasn’t for the months of praying for Apartment Life.

Finding out that we’re having our third child this fall made it really clear we needed to move.  We knew we needed more space and didn’t have a lot of room to increase our budget.  So, we started looking.  And getting frustrated.  And discouraged.  And concerned. There wasn’t anything available in the time frame we needed!

Finally, we found the place we’re in now.  It meant we had to leave the Del Ray neighborhood that we loved so much.  But it’s the best option for our family in this season of life.  So, we moved in last week.

That story is in some ways very boring – we thought we were going to serve with a ministry, God closed a door, so we did something else.  But I’m also hoping it’s helpful in at least two ways:

  1.  Don’t be afraid of messing up God’s plan.  Clearly, Apartment Life wasn’t the Lord’s will for our family in this season.  We really thought it was, were excited to serve, prayed for God to open doors and did everything we could think of to help open those doors.  But as Job writes, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” (Job 42:2)  Don’t worry.  You aren’t going to mess up God’s plan for your life.
  2. Go for it.  That means we have the freedom to go for it more often.  I would rather live my life trying to make things happen and trusting God to close doors than waiting idly for God to open doors.  I don’t regret trying to get placed through Apartment Life or feel badly that it didn’t work out.  I like knowing we went for it, put ourselves out there and did everything we could to leverage our lives for the sake of mission.

More often than not, this is what it looks like to follow Jesus – an unexpected road to an unexpected destination.  Even when the road doesn’t make sense, we can trust the One leading us and know that He’s in control and unfolding our lives according to His plans.

The Boys

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Jack & Aidan

It’s hard to believe Aidan is already seven days old.  A week ago, I was holding him for the first time.  Today, I can’t imagine life without him.  I remember being amazed when Jack was born how quickly I fell in love with him.  I’m happy to say the same holds true the second time around.  I love those little boys with a love I never knew was possible.

In a couple of days, Jack will turn two. Until then, Laura and I get the joy of saying we have two boys under the age of two.  As a total aside, it’s pretty hilarious to see the looks of sympathy, pity and confusion we get from people when we say that!

Jack and Aidan both need their diapers changed constantly.  Neither one can feed themselves.  They don’t have a clue what’s in their best interest.  Crying is common.  Sleep is frequent for them but rare for us.

They are also incredibly joyful, trusting, loving and happy little people.  Jack can’t get enough of Aidan, constantly wants to know where he is and will go ballistic if you try putting him to bed before he can kiss Aidan goodnight.  Aidan is a little trooper who has already made a huge mark on our family.

They are totally helpless but totally trusting.  Inadequate but have everything provided for them.  Selfish but loved.  Sacred but safe.

And Jesus tells you and me we must see ourselves the same way to enter the kingdom of God, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.“(Mt. 18:3)  That runs deeply against our human nature.  It’s wired into us to grow up, be good at something and earn your place in life.  Jesus invites us into something different – the wonder of grace.

The gospel is the story of a perfect God becoming sin on the cross so that sinners could become perfected in God’s sight through faith in Jesus.  God doesn’t expect us to get our lives together, impress Him and earn His favor.  He’s totally certain we could never do that on our own.  He’s comfortable with our helplessness, our inadequacy, our fears and our selfishness.  He offers us life not because we’ve earned it but because He’s earned it on our behalf.

So many of us strive to act like we have it all together.  Maybe we’re trying to impress others and maybe we’re trying to impress God.  Either way, it’s exhausting. And unnecessary.

I don’t hate Jack and Aidan because they need Laura and I.  If anything, it makes me love them more.  I love being strong for them, teaching them, lifting them and protecting them.

But I also love knowing I have a Father in heaven who is strong when I am weak (2 Cor. 12:9), who fights for me (Ex. 14:14) and who will provide for me (Mt. 6:26).  Honestly, I don’t think I could be strong for my boys if God wasn’t strong for me.  That’s our privilege as followers of Christ – to “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.“(Heb. 4:16)

It’s okay to come to God as a helpless child.  In fact, it’s the only way to ever find Him.