5 leadership truths I’ve learned from my children
1. Don’t root your identity in what people think
2. Have fun
I’m a man. A husband. A father. A pastor. A Millennial. A Jesus follower. A Crossfitter. A coffee guy. A wanna-be tech enthusiast. A Tennessean-born-and-raised-Californian.
Any one of those could be a stereotype. Every one of them is.
Please don’t categorize me. It may help you to process things more quickly, make decisions and move ‘forward.’ But I’m not simply the caricature of any of them. Don’t short circuit me into a stereotype so that you feel more comfortable.
Husbands are dumb. Fathers are absent. Millennials are entitled. Jesus followers are judgmental. Coffee guys are irresponsible with their money. Pastors are narrow minded bigots. Cross fitters have cult like intensity. Men are chauvinists. Californians are skin-deep. Tennesseans are rednecks.
Maybe, just maybe, I’m going to destroy your mold for who you think I am. Because God has created me unique. I’m not a category. I’m not a group. I’m me. With all of my idiosyncrasies, my tendencies toward sin, my quirks, and my gifts. My experiences, both good and bad, have deeply shaped who I am, how I lead, and how I interact with you.
I’m not the dad that used to live in this house. I’m not the husband you saw growing up. I’m not the pastor you watched once on TV. I’m not the Crossfitter who will yell at you because you’re not doing your burpee to standard. And I’m not the bumbling man you see on TV. I’m not a typical Californian…but I do have a little redneck in me. 🙂
I am a husband that loves his wife and a dad that loves his kids. I am a Crossfitter that cares deeply about my own physical health. I love serving other people coffee nearly as much as I enjoy consuming it. I love Jesus with everything I am, but if you’re not also a Jesus follower we can still be friends. I’m not going to boycott you.
When you get to know someone, and their story, perceptions change. Nobody is the sum of their caricatures.
If you want to be able to lead people, learn their story.
If you want to be able to speak hope to people, learn their story.
If you want to be able to love people, learn their story.
If you want to be able to change culture, learn people’s stories.
If you’re a Jesus follower, you’re called to love. In fact, that’s how the world knows that we follow Jesus.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:34-35
You cannot truly love someone you do not know.
If you’re married, do you get your spouse a gift?
Or do you forego the gift? Because, after all, you don’t really need anything, right? Or…well…this is a time to get other people gifts. Or…our budget just won’t allow it.
Is it really that important to get your spouse a gift? Or can we just skip it and focus on others? Do we really need to focus so inwardly?
Yes. Yes, you do.
If you’re married, you better get your spouse a gift for Christmas. [Tweet that]
I remember in premarital counseling, my pastor told me something about my then-fiance, now-wife. It was over a decade ago that he spoke the words, but I’ll never forget them.
Your spouse is God’s gift to you. They are your treasure. Treat them like they are. – R. Sing Oldham
If something is my treasure, I’m going to do whatever it takes to find, and keep, my treasure. I’m going to guard it. I’m going to protect it. I’m going to go out of my way to value it because it’s valuable! At the end of the day, I’m going to…treasure it.
One thing that I tell couples when I counsel is that a key to remaining happily married is to continue to date your spouse. Look for moments to steal away. Snag a kiss. Go out of your way to make the mundane special. Go on dates. Do little things to show them you love them. Do big things. Do tiny things. Do medium-sized things. But whatever you do, continue to date them. Continue to get to know them. Spend your life getting to know, and love, your spouse increasingly.
I got gifts for Laura when I dated her. I wanted her to know just how much I loved her. Just how much I treasured her. I wanted her to know how special she was to me. I wanted to impress her with the gifts I got. I wanted her to know I knew her well, and that I understood what made her tick and what she valued.
Just because we’re married now doesn’t mean I should want to impress her less. Yes, we’re committed. She’s not going anywhere and neither am I. But if I really love her, I ought to go out of my way to show her.
I ought to get creative. Think out of the box. Listen to her when she says what she likes and what she thinks looks good to her.
Sure, my wife may not “need” anything. She may not even say she “wants” anything. But it would make no sense for me to go shopping for hours, stretching my brain and my budget, to buy stuff for others without buying something for the one I love the most on this earth.
You’d better get your spouse a Christmas gift before you run out of money and ideas. [Tweet that]
I’m not saying you have to get something expensive. Not at all! It has very little to do with a dollar amount, and everything to do with your heart, your motivation, and how well you’ve listened and know your spouse.
Gifts that show you’ve listened well are more valuable than expensive ones. [Tweet that]
And those you love the most should get the best, most thoughtful gifts of all.
What do you think?
I’d finished getting ready for work one early morning, ready to walk out the door, when I heard a little cry from my newborn. So I set my bag down and walked back into the room to make sure she was okay. She seemed fine, so I gave her one last hug and kiss. I was ready to put her back in her crib when it happened.
Not just a little dribble of a spit-up. I mean full-on, projectile vomit all over me. Which, if you were wondering, is a great way to start your day. It’s delightful, really.
Then the whole situation get even better.
Because she didn’t just throw up on me. She threw up on herself.
She started wailing, crying big ole alligator tears while simultaneously pushing out her bottom lip, which started shaking in frustration and sadness and discomfort. You’d have felt sorry for her, like I did. I’m sure of it.
As I was working to clean her up, her crying woke up the rest of the house. Lovely.
I finally got her cleaned up, snuggled back in her sleeper, and nestled back in her crib.
At which point I realized that the vomit all over me was unnaturally cold.
I love my baby girl, but that was disgusting. Warm vomit is bad enough. But to have it on you so long that it actually gets cold? That’s another level gross. If you haven’t experienced it, just trust me. I won’t wish it on you.
Love may be found in the happy, pleasant moments. But I believe it’s realized in the vomit.
We are the vomit-y little newborn. Our lives are a mess. We have broken marriages, broken relationships, and a streak of pride we’re embarrassed to admit because we’re too prideful.
We’ve got a past we want to hide. A present we try to sensationalize. And a future we’re entirely uncertain of.
We’re addicted to attention. To positive reinforcement. To the “perfect” image of ourselves we think we have to live up to.
We are too lazy. Too disciplined. Too hidden. Too open.
We eat too much. Too little.
We enjoy life too much. Or not enough.
Even on our good days, our righteousness is sprinkled with, “What’s in this for me?” or “I wonder what others will think of me?” or “Will I get paid for this?” or “These people need me because I’m so awesome.”
Our generosity has an edge of hesitating, momentary greed at best. At worst it’s mixed with a self-serving, looking-down-your-nose pride.
We’re not perfect. Not at all.
And Love acknowledges that. It doesn’t look at the vomit and say, “Mmmm…yummy.” Love acknowledges our nastiness and loves anyway.
Love recognizes the nasty and dives in.
Love doesn’t act like you’re perfect. It acknowledges how gross you are, yet loves you still.
Love doesn’t act like it’s not hurt. Like it doesn’t smell the stink. It sees the vomit on you. On it. On the floor. And in the fibers of the carpet.
And whispers hope as it wipes our dirty face.
God is Love. (1 John 4:8)
We look at our lives and wonder why, if God truly does see all of our junk, He’d still love us. We’re sitting in our own filth. Helpless. Hopeless. And afraid. It’s as if God looks at us in that moment and says,
Go to work now? And miss out on an opportunity to show you love once again? To let you see your dirt, and show you that I still love you? Miss out on an opportunity to wipe your face clean, put new clothes on you, and tuck you back in? Not. A. Chance. I’m your dad, and I love you no matter what.
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. – The Apostle Paul, Romans 5:6-8
Love may be found in the happy, pleasant moments. But I believe it’s also found in the vomit.
I’ve been asked so many times, since I’ve made the move to Long Hollow, if I like my role and enjoy the church.
I answer with a resounding, “Yes!” Every time.
I have a Nike+ running watch that tracks distance, pace, calories, and GPS. I wear it while I run, and it gives me instant feedback. When I’m done running, I plug it into my computer, and it tracks my progress over time.
It’s really a great piece of equipment.
But mine started messing up.
And I began to get pretty frustrated. I’ve had the watch for a year-and-a-half or more, so I just knew that when I called customer service I was going to be told, “Sorry…you’re outside of the warranty period. There’s nothing we can do. We wish we could help.”
When I called, I was blown away by what I heard on the other end. (here’s the gist)
Hey Mr. Reed, I understand your problem. I’m so sorry that’s happening. I know how frustrating that must be. I’m a runner myself, and I use a watch just like yours. I want mine to work every time. Let’s try a few things. If they don’t work, we’ll work on getting you a replacement.
They were already promising something that most companies would only use in cases of extremely irate customers. They actually established a relationship in the first 30 seconds, and already offered customer service superior to 99% of other companies I’ve ever talked to over the phone.
You know what that translates into for me?
I’m a Nike customer for life.
I’m going to buy Nike shoes. Use Nike watches. Wear Nike socks. Eat Nike spaghetti.
Because I believe that they care about, and will take care of, me. I believe they’re passionate about their product…and that they’re going to stand behind and replace it if something happens. My customer experience with them has made me a customer for life. Even though other companies may make a better running shoe, come out with a cooler watch, or release a whole new line of socks designed for people just like me.
I just became a loyal Nike customer. Even though I may disagree with Nike’s core principles. May not support the same initiatives that they support. And if I were to sit down and have a conversation about morality with them, I’m sure I’d find myself on a different page than they are.
I’m loyal to them because of my customer service experience.
The same thing is true in our churches.
If you want to make loyal “customers,” (people who don’t just show up once, but come back regularly) that doesn’t start in the pulpit. That doesn’t start with your theology.*
People could care less about where you stand on the authorship of the book of Hebrews or how long it took to create the Earth. They don’t even care what you believe about the Bible.
…they could care less about your theology.** What you believe doesn’t matter to them. All that matters is their “customer service” experience:
That’s scary, isn’t it? It means that a church with terrible theology, that doesn’t look to Jesus as the answer to hope, grace, mercy, and truth, could swoop in and convince people that their message is life-changing. Because they love people and help them feel cared for.
Your theology isn’t the reason that a visitor is going to stay. Or leave. At least not initially.
You want to fulfill the Great Commission, but you won’t get people to hang around long enough to soak it in unless you give an eye to people’s “customer service” experience.
Does your church have an eye for customer service? What do they do to show people they love them week in and week out?
*this is really a theological issue at heart, though. What you believe about our God who loves us despite our sin, who gives us His best (Jesus) to cover our worst drives this others-first behavior. But the specifics about what you believe theologically don’t matter as much to new folks.
**theology matters immensely. What you believe is of primary importance in the local church. And it drives what we do each and every week. But it doesn’t matter to people when they’re on the outside of faith, or when life has fallen apart. “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” – Theodore Roosevelt
When we sat down for dinner, I assumed it was going to be a dinner just alike any other. Turns out it would be a dinner like no other.
Rex isn’t a particularly picky eater. He tends to eat whatever we put in front of him. Partly because of his taste buds. And partly because he knows that if he doesn’t eat the dinner my wife and I made, we’re not making him anything else.
This particular night, we were having sweet potato fries as a side. We’d sliced fresh sweet potatoes, drizzled them with olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt, and roasted them in the oven. The sweet aroma weaved its way through the house.
When we sat down to eat, Rex ate his meat, but didn’t want to eat the fries. I told him that he needed to eat at least a few of them. So he pushed them around on his plate, wrongly thinking I’d believe he’d eaten them. “I don’t like orange fries,” he said.
The battle began.
“Rex, you just have to eat 4.”
The battle continued.
Then I saw it happening, but I didn’t believe it. I thought he was faking it, because he’d done it before, trying one more time to get out of eating the sweet potato fries. He started retching a little, talking between heaves: “I really don’t like orange fries.”
“Buddy, you’re going to eat 4 before you leave this table.”
Then it happened. At the exact moment I’d decided to get on his level and remind him that he’s not getting anything else for dinner…no dessert…no…and I never finished that last sentence before I saw his supper again. He cried. And I wanted to.
I gently wiped his face and hands, and helped him change out of his clothes. I took his plate to the sink, and told him we’d probably had enough dinner tonight. Me, included.
Then I wiped my face off. My mouth out. My hands off. And I put on a fresh change of clothes, too.
That moment reminded how much Jesus loves me. He loves me enough to take on the mess of my sin. To bear it for me. Because even my best is like a “filthy rag.” (Isaiah 64:6)
He loves me enough to take on the shame of my sin. To look foolish so I don’t eternally have to. (Tweet that)
Every time I’m short with my son I’m reminded again of my stench.
Every time my pride rears it’s ugly head I’m given another glimpse into the dense layers of grace God offers us in Jesus. (Tweet that)
Every time I just care about myself, ignoring the needs of others, I see my stink one more time. Because Jesus doesn’t ignore me. (Tweet that)
Even when I commit the same stupid sin. Again.
Even when I’m less than the husband I should be. Again.
Every time I wallow in my guilt and shame, Jesus comes along and gently wipes my face off. Takes my plate to the sink. And gets me a new change of clothes. He sends me to the living room and says, “It’s ok. That’s enough for tonight. You’re all clean now.”
Once again He affirms His love for me. His love never fails. (Psalm 136:1)
Even when he wears your supper. (Tweet that)
Our imaginations are powerful machines. They have a great way of spinning possible scenarios out of control. They play into the fears that have taken root in our hearts and minds, pouring gasoline and igniting them into a raging fire.
Our imagination is great at exacerbating our fears, making them feel worse and worse, feeding what helps them grow: more fear.
But what if God had a different idea for our imaginations? What if there was a better way to use them?
Check this out:
May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. – the Apostle Paul, Ephesians 3:19-20
This passage speaks directly to the heart of our fears and imaginations. How?
1. The opposite of fear is love. It’s a love that’s “too great to understand fully.” Because when you’re loved, fear can make no nest. I remind my son of this all of the time when he’s afraid. He’ll call me from his room at night, when it’s dark and quiet. “Dad?? Can you come here??”
“Hey buddy. It’s okay. You’re safe. Daddy loves you so much, and I’m not going to let anything happen to you. And even more important than that, ‘God is bigger than the boogie man…'” (we sing a little Veggie Tales song together)
2. Perfect love casts out fear. 1 John reminds us that “perfect love expels all fear.” (1 John 4:18) Fear can’t make a roost where love has rooted.
3. With love comes power. Power from the loving God. Power to conquer our fears, because they don’t hold power over us anymore. Power to punch our fears right in the throat.
4. Through that power, God can accomplish more through us than we can even think. Try to think of how God could use your fear right now. Go ahead. Now ask God to do that. God’s already got something bigger planned. It’s going to blow your mind.
5. Your fear isn’t even about you. What God’s going to do isn’t even on your radar. God’s going to use it to change your future. He’s going to comfort you, and give you courage, and remind you how powerful He is…so that someone else can see and feel the love and power of God through you and your story.
God can use your fears to do amazing things, affecting your life and the lives of others. He can help you grow through them, and become all you were intended to be in Christ. But we’ve got to be creative, and use our imaginations not to constantly spin the worst-case scenario.
But to spin the best, most mind-blowing scenario possible.
And know that God can do more.
Trust God. Rebuke fear. Dream bigger.
Me: How many days did it take God to create everything?
Rex (my 4 year old son): 3?
Me: No, 6.
Rex: Oh. That’s a lot of days.
See, my son fully believed that the God he’s been learning about could’ve made everything in 3 days. That God was big enough and powerful enough and quick enough to make everything his eyes have ever come in contact with…in just 3 days. Why would He need 6? Why would it take Him a whole 6 days to make the earth, the animals, the trees, and the water?
He’s so awesome, He could do it in 3 if He wanted.
I’m so encouraged by Rex’s faith. He believes that God is bigger than even I say He is.
About that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?”
Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. – Matthew 18:1-4
Our faith, the faith of a rational, college-educated, enlightened adult is much less, isn’t it? It’s not quite as quick to believe. Not quite as quick to take that step of faith. A little more sluggish to accept the unacceptable, and grasp the miracles.
We’re a little slower than our kids are.
May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. – Ephesians 3:19-20
Faith is believing in what we can’t see. It’s trusting God for what He’s promised rather than what we’ve seen come true.
God can change your marriage. God can use you. God can use her. He can forgive you. He can use your addiction, and the victory you’re going to enjoy, to serve others.
It’s time you stopped believing lies. Stop believing the haters in your life. Stop listening to the voices that beat you up.
Start trusting in the promises given to you in the Bible. Start trusting in the One who loves you on your worst days. (Romans 5:6) Start believing the One who wants to give you life. (John 10:10) Star believing the One who loved you first. (1 John 4:19)
Normal is the enemy of a full life.
And for me, life was normal.
I was a sophomore in high school, and nothing was shaking.
But Washington, D.C. changed everything.
It was late summer, and I was knee deep in summer assignments. Normal.
Practicing hard for my team’s upcoming Fall season. Normal
Cutting yards for a bit of cash. Normal.
I had signed up to tag along with our youth group to go on Mission Fuge, a camp in Washington, D.C. I’d gone to summer church camp since I was in 5th grade. Normal.
When we hit the ground in D.C., planning our week out and scoping the work we’d be doing. We were going to be working with some local kids doing, basically, a “Vacation Bible School” with them for a week.
“I got this in the bag,” I thought. I’d done VBS stuff before. I could throw that hat on. And I could rock it.
The following 5 days, though, unwrapped poverty like I’d never seen it. And it wasn’t “poverty” asking for my money and looking a little creepy. It was poverty that looked like me. Poverty that wanted to play basketball. Brokenness that I could be going to school with. Brokenness that broke my heart.
For the first time in my life, “poverty” wasn’t a problem that was simply a nuisance sitting on the side of the interstate begging for booze money. It was a real person. These were real problems with real needs…and God used me, in a minuscule way, to meet those needs. And the Gospel I knew became the Gospel I lived. No longer was “compassion” just what Jesus did on the cross. “Compassion” was what I offered because my King led the way. “Love your neighbor” wasn’t simply the 5th point of a sermon on what I had to do…it was the compelling force breaking my heart and mending others’.
Turns out God used that week to shape the hearts of a handful of teenage guys, like myself. He used that week to drive us to search our own hearts and, over the course of the next two years of high school, God would solidify a small group of guys and prepare us for great work ahead. From that group, 4 would go on to full-time vocational ministry. All because we weren’t satisfied with the “normal” high school experience, the “normal” church experience, or the “normal” relationship with God.
You never know when abnormal is going to happen. Sometimes we choose it. Sometimes it’s chosen for us.
When it happens, thank the Lord. Because Jesus didn’t come to offer us a normal life. He came to give us life to the full. (John 10:10)
Time to embrace the abnormal.