Transition, Transition, Transition

Today’s Coffee of Choice: Post Alley Dark Roast blend from Seattle’s Best Coffee (to give a strong push to my day and to help me get back to a regular blogging routine)

Today’s Scripture: He would speak the word to them with many parables like these, as they were able to understand. And He did not speak to them without a parable. Privately, however, He would explain everything to His own disciples. – Mark 4:33-34

It’s been a crazy season of transition for yours truly. My family and I are now located in a different part of the States. Boxes are still being unpacked after almost a year in a new home. Stress levels have been tested in the midst of a hectic summer. A new school district, a different job market, and a different routine are prevalent in our lives. It has been through this season that one thing has remained constant to me: The faithfulness of God in the midst of seasons of change.

I’ve been thinking, once again, about a term I was introduced to in college at a Cru leadership conference: Agape love. Honestly, in the season of stress I’ve found myself in, I’ve been shocked at the lack of faithfulness that can sometimes exist within a Christian church culture attempting to ooze answers to the general public. However, I think I am just relearning what it takes to be truly committed to following the example of Christ. I’m also rediscovering what His agape love for me is all about and learning to depend on him alone in the midst of life’s challenges.

For those of us who are Christians in more ways than church attendance and verbal affirmations, the friendship and love demonstrated to us by Christ’s life is vital to our personal growth. In a world where any excuse is found to demolish what real love and commitment should look like, it is essential to cling to the principles taught by Christ before His death and resurrection. I think that’s why, in the midst of major upheaval, I find myself reading through the Gospel of Mark once again. Mark has a succinct way of presenting the facts of Christ’s teachings. His writing also has a direct way of transitioning between events and parables… something I’m enjoying in the midst of a season where indirectness and foggy ideals have threatened to steal whatever joy the stress of the move has not touched yet.

The changes the disciples and Christ experienced in their own lives are highlighted throughout the book of Mark by simple descriptions and basic explanations that reflect the agape love Christ had for his closest followers. Today’s highlighted Scripture from Mark 4 references the immense care Christ took with those who stuck by him throughout the transitions of his own life. He taught with a method all of us love: Storytelling. He also took the time to explain the various metaphors and often complicated imagery contained in some of his parables to those who traveled with him. I believe he does the same with us in the midst of seasons where we are uprooted and planted elsewhere. In my case, he continues to use everyday lessons and parables to display his agape love and faithfulness despite the confusing examples I’m often presented with by those claiming to be his followers.

It is my prayer that, if you are in a season of change, you rediscover the faithfulness and care Christ has for you. Please comment below if you would like me to pray for you. Blessings!

Coffee Talk: Finding Balance in Christian Leadership with Carla Smith

Today’s Hot Drink of Choice: Bentley’s Pomegranate Green Tea because I already had my daily dose of coffee

Today’s Scripture: In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly. – Romans 12:6-8

If you’ve been following my blog as of late, you know I’ve been focusing on leadership. I’m in the personal throes of a crazy re-learning process of what it means to be the right kind of leader, especially within the Christian community. In the past, I’ve been on the receiving end of both amazing and horrible leadership. I don’t want to make the same mistakes I’ve seen happen at the hands of often sincere, but misled, leaders. Likewise, I also want to make sure I build on the strengths of positive experiences I’ve had with some incredible leaders over the years. In my quest to learn what it takes to lead with dedication and integrity, I petitioned the women’s ministry leader of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. In this season of our lives, my family and I call Emmanuel our home church. The woman I’d like to introduce you to, Carla Smith, is one busy individual in her leadership roles within the congregation.

Carla heads up the women’s ministry department at Emmanuel, provides full-time counseling there, and is very committed to her role as one of the church’s interpreters to the deaf. She is a mom, grandma, and lover of the creative. I constantly hear amazing things from women I’ve known who have been counseled or encouraged by her, and I’m looking forward to hearing what this humble, dedicated follower of Christ has to share with us today.

Thank you so much for being willing to share your heart with those who follow my blog, Carla! It means a lot that you would take time out of your busy schedule to give your perspective on a topic I find needs addressed in an effective and relevant manner within Christian circles. Let’s start off by talking about the positive aspects of leadership. What is one of the most rewarding moments you have experienced as a leader?
I have had many rewarding moments as well as difficult ones, but the rewarding moments can be summarized best by saying they are the times when people respond to God’s leading and obey Him. When this happens it results in so many encouraging victories: a family is restored, someone is able to forgive and let go of the bitterness in their heart, people are able to stand against the anxiety or depression battling for their hearts, or a person accepts the beautiful gift of salvation… just to name a few. When God allows me to be a witness to these moments, I’m humbled and reminded that God doesn’t NEED me to do His work. He invites me to be a part of it, which includes experiencing these rewarding moments.

It is truly amazing to witness God’s life-changing nature firsthand in the lives of those you encourage and lead! It’s so important to maintain a healthy balance while working with others so you can be used as effectively as possible in this process. What is your favorite way to unwind in the midst of a leader’s hectic schedule?
A few of the most simple things one can do to unwind in the midst of chaos is to learn to take small moments to breathe deep, to laugh out loud, and to take a moment to enjoy something beautiful. These can all be done in a short time, but can help us re-center our thoughts and release tension. When I have more time at home, I love to be creative. Sewing or baking something allows me to live out my identity as a child of the Creator. I am also an avid reader. I strongly believe that all leaders will be readers. This too can help me unwind as well as help me learn and grow.

I love your practical suggestions and your belief that all leaders are readers! Let’s dig into the idea of finding balance in leadership a little bit more. What advice would you give to someone juggling multiple leadership roles?
I once was blessed to have a conversation with Stuart Briscoe, an author, speaker, and pastor, at a seminar I attended regarding this very question. He enlightened me by saying that balance is the process of trying to make two opposing forces equal. As a believer, all of life is ministry, so the parts of our lives are not opposing. Thus, trying to ‘balance’ all these areas is not what we need to do. What we need to do is find the ‘rhythm’ that helps us step away with the Lord and then engage with other people whether our own family, or people at our work, in the church, and in our neighborhoods. Finding rhythm in your life is like learning to dance with God. When He moves, we must learn to move and keep in step with Him. When He stops, we are to stop and rest too. We also must learn that there are daily, weekly, and yearly rhythms we need to engage in as well as rhythms of abiding, pruning, and bearing fruit. The more we learn how to live in rhythm with the Lord, the more healthy we will be physically, spiritually, and mentally, and our ministries we be able to bear more fruit as well.

Wow! I could stop my questions right there and have enough to chew on for weeks! I love the image of life being a dance where we follow the Lord’s lead and finding balance as a leader by finding our rhythm! On that amazing note, let’s talk about aspects of leadership that may challenge any rhythm or flow we may find in our role. What is, in your opinion, the most difficult aspect of being a leader?
There are two things that come to my mind that have been difficult aspects of being a leader for me. First, I have had to learn that not everyone will like you or agree with you, but my job is not to try to get everyone to like or agree with me. I am to be obedient to the Lord regardless of the outcome. If you have a personality that wants to please people, this will be a tough lesson to learn, but not impossible. We are responsible to do the best we can to live at peace with all people, but we are not responsible for people and their choices. We must recognize the boundaries between what is our responsibility and what is the other person’s. We must make our own choices dependent on God’s leading as opposed to what man may want us to do or say. The other difficult aspect is learning a healthy rhythm of work and rest, just like Jesus did. Throughout the Gospels we can see Jesus retreating by Himself to pray and be with His Father and then re-engaging with people– many people– all day long. He is not pushed around by their needs and desires because He has spent time getting direction from God. It is often difficult for those in leadership to learn the rhythm that is healthy and God honoring.

I love what you have shared with us so far! There has been so much wisdom in it. What advice would you give to anyone desiring to enter any level of leadership? Is there a Scripture you can think of that goes with that advice?
Honestly, leadership is not something I ever desired, but there was a definite moment I sensed God’s call to it. So my first response would be to tell someone not to seek it out, but make sure they are called by the Lord to it. When you look at many of the leaders in Scripture, they were not trying to figure out a way to become a leader. They were just busy doing the work at hand when God approached them and called them to leadership (i.e. David in the fields with his sheep, the disciples working as fishermen). Knowing we are called to leadership will also help us keep going when things get rough because our purpose is in pleasing and obeying the Lord. Romans 12:6-8 and I Peter 4:10-11 says that we all have different gifts according to what the Holy Spirit has given us. Whatever we are called to do, whether serving or teaching or encouraging people or leading people, we are to do it to the best of our ability so that God receives the glory. God will provide the grace we need to accomplish HIS work. This requires humility on our part to accept what we are called to and to do our best whether it’s a large or small job. Mother Teresa is quoted as saying, ‘How do I love God? By doing beautifully the work I have been given to do, by doing simply that which God has entrusted to me in whatever form it takes.’

That’s an amazing point to end on, Carla! Thank you so much for your time and perspective. I look forward to being able to thank you in person with your choice of tea or coffee too!

Which parts of Carla’s answers did you, my blog audience, find helpful?

Coffee Talk: Maintaining Emotional Strength in Leadership with Wendy Blight

Today’s Coffee of Choice: Starbucks Blonde Willow Blend

Today’s Scripture: You will guard him and keep him in perfect and constant peace whose mind [both its inclination and its character] is stayed on You, because he commits himself to You, leans on You, and hopes confidently in You. – Isaiah 26:3, AMP

I first encountered today’s guest during a Proverbs 31 online bible study with Melissa Taylor. As part of the study, all of the participants who purchased a book directly from Proverbs 31 Ministries received an autographed copy. This was before I was involved with Proverbs 31 in any way. I just happened to stumble upon Melissa Taylor’s site in a time when I couldn’t commit to any Bible studies through my local church. The book, Hidden Joy in a Dark Corner: The Transforming Power of God’s Story, arrived with the author’s signature and a Scripture which became so meaningful to me at that time of my life. I found out later that Wendy Blight, the author, had prayed over each book sent out as she signed them.

As I’ve gotten to know Wendy better, I’ve discovered her to be one of the sweetest, most sincere Christian leaders I’ve met in a long time. Her heart to lead women to the feet of Christ is one I admire. She facilitates a very successful small group ministry in her home church in Charlotte, North Carolina, and, because of her heart to lead women and her powerful story of survival, has been featured on Oprah Radio, The 700 Club, Family Life Today with Dr. Dennis Rainey, Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss, and Building Relationships with Dr. Gary Chapman. Her book details her journey from fear to freedom and offers a step-by-step Scriptural path to physical, spiritual, and emotional wholeness. Along with being a writer, Wendy is on staff with Proverbs 31 as a speaker. She is also a wife, a mom, and, a former Texas lawyer. (If practicing law in Dallas, Texas doesn’t command respect, I don’t know what would!) I have asked her to share about an aspect of one of the “Five C’s of Leadership” I am always interested in: maintaining emotional strength while leading with character.

Wendy, thank you so much for being here with us today. Your perseverance and heart to reach out to women is such an example to me. I know you have learned a lot about what it means to have strength in leadership, particularly emotional strength, and I want to talk about that today. Let’s start off our discussion by talking about the difficulties involved with this. What do you see as the single most difficult emotional aspect of being a Christian leader?
So much of ministry is a blessing, but I do experience times of great weariness. The time I invest in writing as well as studying, praying for Bible studies, and ministry planning takes much out of me mentally, physically and spiritually. But God is so faithful. He always provides encouragement and rest through His Word and through precious friends He has stationed around me to be my Aaron and hold me close in prayer.

When you are discouraged and still have to follow through on leadership responsibilities, how do you push through to accomplish everything those you lead depend on you for?
Spending time in God’s Word and in prayer is vital. Calling upon godly friends to pray alongside me is also essential in this process. There is no better way to overcome discouragement. When women are counting on you, when deadlines are looming, you need a “sure thing.” Prayer and “the Word” are always a “sure thing!”

I love your focus on prayer and Scripture! I’m sure you have seen many benefits of maintaining these priorities. What have you found to be the most rewarding aspect of Christian leadership?
Investing in women’s lives for eternity! My single most favorite part of leadership is raising up leaders to walk alongside me so that together we work as a team to bring God’s living and active word to broken and hurting women. This is one of my favorite things about being a part of Proverbs 31 Ministries. I love the incredible stories of transformation that come from these relationships. There is no greater joy!

I agree with you, Wendy. Seeing women’s lives transformed from darkness and brokenness into what they were really meant to be is one of my favorite things to witness also! How have you been able to use personal emotional victories to enhance these vital relationships with the women you lead?
Sharing stories of God’s great provision is one way I use these victories. For a leader to know she is not alone helps her get through difficult times and emotional lows. Hearing how God brought someone else through gives just the encouragement a leader needs. Although it is not related to my “emotional victories,” I feel the time I spend every week in prayer for the women I lead definitely enhances our relationship and encourages them in their role as a leader.

Wendy, I appreciate you taking a few moments of your time to share your perspective with us. I keep your book on hand when I need to brush up on my own “emotional strength,” and I also like to bless others with it as well.

If you are interested in receiving a copy of Wendy’s book, Hidden Joy in a Dark Corner: The Transforming Power of God’s Story, please comment on this blog. I will give away one copy to everyone who comments by midnight of 1/31/13. Please make sure you include a valid way of reaching you so I can get you the book. I will not use your information for anything other than this giveaway. Thanks for reading my blog, and God bless you!


Coffee Talk: Tim Burt Gets Real About Leadership

Today’s Coffee of Choice: Starbucks Caramel Macchiato

Today’s Scripture: Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Mark 6:31 (NIV)

Our local Starbucks has a corner I often hide in when I’m sitting down to talk one-on-one with someone. There’s something about being focused on the person in front of you and stilling your mind as much as possible while you concentrate on what they’re saying that lends itself to much better conversation. Imagine, if you will, sitting down with me across from someone whose life has been full of amazing successes and leadership opportunities. What would you ask them? What would you talk to them about?

Tim Burt

Today’s guest is Tim Burt. That name may mean nothing to you initially, but to me he’s a hero. He’s the guy that invented the first fold-down commercial infant changing table now used worldwide in public restrooms. (I can hear all the parents out there yelling a big THANK YOU with me!)

Perhaps you have heard of Tim. He’s an Associate Pastor at Living Word Christian Center in Minnesota, which is a church with over 10,000 members. He’s also one of Minnesota’s top Tweeters, one of the top 55 blogging pastors, and a former employee of Northwest Airlines. Tim and his wife, Renee, created a small group ministry when LWCC only had 800 members. Today, Tim’s responsibilities include managing the over 200 small groups now in existence at the church. He also oversees the Visitor and Member Relations Department, Leadership and Volunteer Development, and the Pastoral Care Department. In his spare time, Pastor Tim serves as the Minnesota State Director of Christians United for Israel. His blog, Fresh Manna, is one I pay attention to. Now that you know who you’re getting ready to hear from, let’s dive in!

Thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to invest in those who follow my blog, Tim. I look forward to hearing your perspective. Let’s start off by talking about balance, which is a big issue for many leaders out there. How do you balance your leadership responsibilities with a healthy routine in other parts of your life?
I am a leader at all times no matter where I am at. Leadership is something that is in you that you walk out every minute of your day. It is not an on/off light switch because, if it were that, then much of your leadership is pretense. If you think about Jesus, He was who He was at all times.  Living this way makes it easy because it’s who you are, not something you act out. Being a leader does not get in the way of laughing, enjoying time off, spending time with your wife and children, or anything else. It just means you walk prudently, with discernment, and with a servant’s heart in any situation.

I appreciate your perspective, Tim! It’s important to be genuine as a leader, and, you’re right, leadership is not something we should turn on and off. What is your favorite way to unwind in the midst of your schedule?
My wife and I have purposed from the beginning of our marriage to create a date every week. Sometimes that is as simple as a breakfast or coffee at a coffee-house. Sometimes it’s more. We get away, get completely caught up in the details of each other’s life, and then we solve all the problems of the world. Of course this is an exaggeration… but it feels like that, and it has been wonderfully therapeutic for us. We also try to pray together most every day about the situations in our life, in the lives of others, and in our jobs. This gives us great confidence that God is helping us in every situation. I also am a gardener (award-winning) and I was a marathon runner for many years.

I love that you are focused on date nights every week and praying together with your wife. It’s important to maintain a solid relationship with the person you’re walking through life with. Getting into nature and running are definitely two good ways to de-stress also. Let’s talk about faith and leadership for a minute. What is the hardest aspect of being a Christian leader?
Speaking in regards to Christian leaders in the secular workplace, I think the hardest aspect of being a Christian leader is living life by a higher standard–the standard of God’s word–while the rest of the world does not hold themselves to that standard. As Christian leaders, we are called to be a light and to model Christ-like behavior and attitude, or those watching us cry “foul….” That means emotional stability, maturity in handling conflict, carefully watching the words we choose and speak, offering forgiveness and grace, and walking in integrity are all going to be a part of our life. The benefit is that holding ourself to this kind of standard builds godly character in us and helps us mature in our leadership. Promotion and blessing will follow those that take their Christ-like leadership seriously.

What kind of response to your leadership from those you influence as a Christian do you find encouraging? Is there anything that’s ever discouraging to you in Christian leadership?
I am constantly encouraged by those I influence through my leadership. Rarely does a day go by that I do not receive some form of communication of appreciation for how my leadership and ministry helps their life. I keep them in a folder to remember when I am busy beating myself up over something or losing sight of my effectiveness.

The discouraging part would be that not everyone that you lead is in good shape, highly functional, or ready to be led. Sometimes people misinterpret your purpose or motives as they did Jesus. People can be mean when they want to and, when they let you have it, primarily born out of problems in their own life, it can hurt. But, the longer you are in ministry, the more grace there hopefully is to understand them, not take it personally, continue to love them, and try to help them by not reacting with anything other than love.

I’m so glad you mentioned having a grace perspective as a leader! I’m sure you have seen many benefits from maintaining that focus. What is one of the most rewarding moments you have experienced?
My wife and I walk in a leadership role influencing large numbers of people continuously. We have sacrificed a great deal of our life toward the service of others. And yet, in all that we’ve given, we’ve most always received a steady stream of warm, kind, thankful feedback that continuously encourages and motivates us to do more. I have had many experiences that have been rewarding, but I do remember a young businessman that I was mentoring a little here and a little there for years. He truly matured into a fine businessman that became very successful. One day he showed up at the door of my house asking if he could share a few minutes with me. He then told me how much I had helped him in His life and how God had used me to help shape who he had become. He then gave me a gift– a very precious and costly gift of appreciation. This wasn’t about the gift, but his heart in this action. Very few people back their words up the way he did. That made this gift the most precious gift I’ve ever received– again, not because of the value, but because of his heart in this gift.
I’m glad you have been encouraged forward in leadership in every step of your journey, Tim! I know there are many who have benefitted from your perseverance. It is my prayer God continues to encourage you and your wife as you give of yourselves and your time for the sake of others. Thank you so much for joining me today, and God bless you.


Coffee Talk: Choosing Hope, Part 1

Today’s Coffee of Choice: Archer Farms Christmas Blend, black

Today’s Scripture: Delayed hope makes the heart sick, but fulfilled desire is a tree of life. – Proverbs 13:12

I was planning on doing a blog series on hope this week in honor of the Christmas holiday. In light of the events at Sanday Hook Elementary this past Friday, I felt even more compelled to share some thoughts on the subject. Please click on the video below to hear the first part of a series about choosing hope in the midst of hardship. Below my vlog you will also find a few links from my blogroll meant to bring extra encouragement and counsel in the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook. Please also join me in committing to pray for all those affected by the shooting throughout the holidays by stopping by my Facebook page and writing a prayer on my note entitled “Prayers for Newtown.”

Blogroll Highlights

A new addition to my blogroll, Laurie Coombs, shares her heart on what it means to practically respond to those who are left in the aftermath of a horrific act of violence. Writing from raw personal experience, Laurie brings a voice to the emotions felt after such a tragedy and provides a short, wisdom-filled list on how to sensitively reach out to those affected. Click on her picture to go to her thoughts on the tragedy at Sandy Hook.

Connecticut Shooting: How Do We Respond?

Stephanie Clayton, a counselor and speaker, addresses what it means to pray for peace as a parent of a small child struggling to process through the events of last week in her blog entitled, “Praying Peace in the Light of Brokenness.”Praying Peace in the Light of Brokenness

Christmas Giveaway

—If you comment on this blog, you have a chance to win the book (A Kauffman Amish Christmas Collection by bestselling author Amy Clipston) and hot cranberry juice/apple cider spice mix (Nosewarmer Punch) pictured above! Make sure you include your email in your comment in case you win. If you prefer anonymity with that, hop over to my Facebook page and message me. I DO NOT use your email in any other way than to let you know you won! The giveaway ends at midnight on 12/21/12 so I can get these to you by Christmas.

If you comment on this blog, you have a chance to win the book (A Kauffman Amish Christmas Collection by bestselling author Amy Clipston) and hot cranberry juice/apple cider spice mix (Nosewarmer Punch) pictured above! Make sure you include your email in your comment in case you win. If you prefer anonymity with that, hop over to my Facebook page and message me. I DO NOT use your email in any other way than to let you know you won! The giveaway ends at midnight on 12/21/12 so I can get these to you by Christmas.

Coffee Talk: All You Need Is Love

Today’s Coffee of Choice: Dunkin’ Donuts Medium Roast blend with Peppermint Mocha creamer

Today’s Scripture: Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. – 1 Corinthians 13:13

There’s a common theme that’s been running through my crazy life lately. I’ve been blown away by the opportunities, blessings, and random Christmas shopping bargains I’ve been presented with. I’ve had to make some decisions in the midst, though, and they haven’t been easy ones. All of it has forced me to reevaluate what I really want my life to be about at this point in time. Though all the details of the decisions I must make have not worked themselves out, I have realized there is nothing that can top the best opportunity, the five pounds that have been shed, or the amazing bargain I found last week at Target like the love of Christ. As most of you who follow this blog know, my life has not been perfect. Yet, in His amazing grace, God has seen fit to let me experience the fullness of life anyway. The places I’ve been and the people I’ve met in the past decade or so have been fantastic. I wouldn’t trade any pain I’ve had to walk through to recognize the reality of a true relationship with Christ for any bargain the world has to offer me. It’s the heartache I’ve experienced that’s made me recognize real joy and spurred me toward being an example of God’s faithfulness to the countless people who need a tangible example of it.

The theme that’s been running through my mind and life lately is the simple truth that all you need, really need, is love. Not the surface, how-ya-doin’-have-you-bought-that-new-car yet kind of conversational compassion, but the deep, life-changing, all-out, unconditional, bear hug kind of love. Unfortunately, I’ve had some really crappy examples of love in my life. The most hurtful of these have come from people who celebrate the amazing example of the love of Christ right alongside of me in church. As a result, I’ve made up my mind to not be one of those Christians who discourages people away from the arms of Christ by their judgment and lack of follow-through. It means sometimes holding my tongue when I just want to yell in anger at those who totally miss what it means to walk in the compassion of Christ, and it means making a conscious choice to humble myself before God every single day (sometimes multiple times a day). It also means making sure my priorities are right. Nothing I do should ever be about people recognizing how awesome that thing I’ve done is. It should always, ALWAYS point to Christ’s example. Even those who don’t actively follow the ways of Christ have admitted to me that his life was one of the most amazingly sacrificial of anyone who has ever walked the earth. And his crazy sacrifice occurred because he loved from a real perspective, not a surface, what-can-you-do-for-me-in-return perspective.

This blog (and the video that follows) is a challenge to myself and those of you who are reading and watching while you sip your coffee. It’s a challenge to love with reckless abandon from here on out in your life… no matter what the cost. As we enter a season when schedules and crazy relatives often get the best of us, will you join me in loving those around you unconditionally?

Coffee Talk: Thanksgiving Thoughts

Today’s Hot Drink of Choice: Harvest Coffee Cider

Today’s Scripture: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. – 1 Thes. 5:16-18 (NRSV)

It’s time for me to share some thoughts via a vlog with you, my wonderful blog community. Here’s hoping my kitchen table ramblings help bring focus and encouragement to your day! Happy Thanksgiving!