Two-Years Bittersweet

Last month I celebrated my two year anniversary here at World Concern.  Reflecting on the time strikes bittersweet.

World Concern, as a part of CRISTA Ministries, has offered me an incredible opportunity to learn.  I had two primary areas of study in this new job… 1) Deliberately walking with giving partners and 2) The field of global aid and relief.  I may have known something about the first, but the second has been a steep learning cure.  That learning curve is more significant because of the volume and velocity of today’s international relations and global poverty issues.

It has been sweet to work in this environment.  My grandfather was here at day one of CRISTA Ministries, then King’s Garden.  I have history.  The work is significant.  The sweetest gift has been the encouragement for me to use my gift.  What I do well is wanted, used and that flame is fanned.

Mason and DetroitAs sweet as the place, has been the people.  I get to work with some of the most amazing, loving, giving people across North America.  I’ve traveled to dozens of cities across the continent and been simply amazed by the World Concern donors.  They love Jesus and love others that many don’t even recognize.

So why bitter?  I touched on it a little bit in that last line.  There are so many people in the world today that need help and most of them are not even recognized by us in the western world.  It’s sad how little we hear about the poor and oppressed.  It’s sad how little we hear of the dark places of our world.

The bitterness has pushed me to place and people where I can encourage their engagement.  It’s added to the sweetness.  Maybe that is the point of “bittersweet.”


“Enough Leftover for Pizza”

We have a God that wants to bless us.  He is not afraid to hear our large prayers.  He is ready for our specific requests.  His only expectation is that we are attentive to the small details.  If we do so, he is ready to bless us with the big stuff.  You can read more on this topic from my recent post by clicking here.

As a follow up to that blog post, I wanted to share the following story.  It points to God’s provision and our work to be and pray specific.

I ran a training conference for a few hundred young leaders from around the world.  It was a residential conference, so the students lived in the dormitories on this beautiful, urban college campus.

Students came with a lot of luggage and large bags because this was a three-week training conference.  Coming from around the world, we were moving in students all day.  To make for an easy move-in, students propped open the exterior doors.  Once in their rooms, they opened windows to get fresh air in the rooms that had been vacated by the college students a few weeks earlier.

The hallways were full of laughter, smiles and conversations as these young leaders left their dorms for the general session across campus.  They left with so much excitment and expectation that they didn’t think about closing doors or windows on this beautiful college campus.

When the students returned to the dorms after the orientation, many found that their luggage and bags had been ransacked.  Opportunistic thieves came through propped open doors and open windows and had helped themselves to wallets.  The police said that they had probably been watching us move in all afternoon and when we left the doors open, they took advantage.

We worked through dinner gathering a list of what was stolen.  We were lucky that it was only wallets.  Clothing and computers had gone untouched.  The problem is that these young folks were planning on three weeks of spending money so they had a lot of cash.  At the end of dinner we announced that we would be taking an offering that night at chapel to help the students recover.

The speaker that night asked the students to give.  This was a newly forming community, so we didn’t know what to expect.  We had come up with a figure for how much we needed.  The speaker said, “We need $4,536.”  He could have said, “We need about forty-five hundred” or “We think we need about $4,536.”  Instead, he spoke boldly to the amount, boldly to the work of the investigators in aggregating the total and boldly to the need.  “Let’s pray for $4,536” and then he prayed and passed the baskets.

After chapel the leadership team gathered to count the cash.  These were young leaders in ministry.  They didn’t have much, so most of the giving was in ones, fives, tens and even coins.

We carefully added everything up.  First, groups of dollars, then groups of tens, groups of hundreds and thousands.  We worked to pull it all together like children having busted open piggy banks.

As we looked at the running total and the pile of money remaining, we all thought, through wry smiles, “We are going to land on exactly $4,536.”  Could that be?  Could this be some kind of amazing miracle?

Well, we didn’t land exact.  Our final total was $4,548.  We were $12 over.

The speaker didn’t let the possible miracle go unnoticed, he said to our team, “That is how God works.  He gives you exactly what you need and then enough for a pizza.”

Cards and wallets were found by police a few days later in the bushes near a casino.  There wasn’t any cash remaining.

We distributed the funds from the offering to the victims.  The story of the tally became lore during the three weeks.  It changed the way those students prayed, praying specifically.  It also changed our mindset when we all ate pizza.


Pray Specific for Baggage Fees

This month at World Concern, we are praying for $1.96 million in new funding.  That is $1.96 million to be received in this 30-day month.

I had someone say, “Why not just pray for $2 million?”  I thought, “Because after the diligent work of our accounting and income processing people they have determined we need $1.96 million.”  He responded, “Have you met accountants?  You should pray for $2 million.”  Needless to say, this guy was in sales.

When I look at the Bible and the use of figures, numbers and currency, God does not round.  It wasn’t “about 10 disciples.”  They didn’t catch “around 150 fish.”  Baskets didn’t return with a “few loaves.”  Twelve, 153, 5 and 3, 70, 40 and a whole bunch of other numbers were used in exact figures in the Bible.

The God of the Bible is an exact God.  We aren’t whirling out into space on an approximation…”I’m glad that worked.”  He has numbered your days…God is not thinking you will live “for awhile.”  Recall that this is the Lord that knows the very number of hairs on your head.

In the Jewish mindset numbers were very specific.  They didn’t round up, down or simply change figures, because numbers meant something.  Specific numbers were important in the Biblical times, they were important to God and they should be important to us.

Figures may be intimidating.  Even as I share raising $1.96 million in one month, you may think, “Holy cow” (we’ll get to that).  By having an exact figure, we may miss the target and that is disappointing.  We don’t want to be disappointed, especially in our efforts, prayers or especially, God. Our figures are not intimidating to God.  He had a plan.  This is the Lord that owns the cattle on a thousand hills.  Most of the time we just need a cow.

This isn’t just about numbers, God also wants us to do the work.  The Bible is clear that if we are faithful with the small things, God will bless us with the big things.  J. Robert Clinton of Fuller Seminary calls it the 16:10 Principle.  It’s based on the verse, Luke 16:10, that says if you are faithful with the small things, you will be faithful with the big things.

Should you really expect God to answer your prayers for $1.96 million if you don’t even have the ability to truly know if you actually need $1.97m, $2m or $1.7m?  The scripture and personal experience has shown me that if you are not faithful with the small things, like being specific, God will not bless you with the big things of life.

For a time I was managing a number of ministry budgets that were in deficit.  This required a deep dive into ministry operations and budgeting.baggage.jpg

As I poured over budgets and talked to Executive Directors, there was one consistent.  They all had various issues, from lack of income to a bad hire to an event that lost money, that put them in the red.  But there was one expense that all of them had in common.  Each of these ministries had paid a baggage fee for a plane trip.

In their season of mandated money micromanagement, I asked, “Why?”  They responded, “It was just easy.,” “I didn’t have time to pack,” “Wasn’t sure what to do.”  This was the themes to the answers…a general lack of planning and inattention to the small things.

So then I started to look at surplus budgets in-similar organizations.  Those ministries did not have expenses for baggage fees or book orders from a local book store or a large Starbucks account bill (and Lord knows I like my Venti Frap).

Now does $25 for a baggage fee make a difference?  Not in $1.96 million.  What it pointed to is that they were not being thoughtful of the small things.  The thought was that $25 doesn’t matter.  They are correct.  It is a small amount.  It should not be sweated.  Yet, there should be a mindset that says, each little bit counts because it is all God’s and I will act and plan like that it true.

So the accountants have done the work.  We’ve check the figures.  We trust a big God.  And we are praying for $1.96 million this month.  Join in the fun.  Pray with us and let’s see what God does as we push to the end of the month.

Concussed by CEO Change

Unfortunately, I have had my share of concussions.  First, it was youth football.  Today its from packed snow while skiing and chip-seal while cycling.

I was recently diagnosed with another concussion.  The diagnose was three weeks after the head bang.  For a few weeks, I didn’t have good balance, forgot things and had higher levels of anger.  It was an odd existence first diagnosed by my wife’s observation and then the doctor’s examination.

The same time as my physcial concussion, our organization experienced a corporate concussing.  Our President and CEO of 12-years announced that, at 73-years old and having completed what he had set out to do, he would be moving on.  It was a bonk on the head of our busy business world.

Business GuyThis isn’t my first CEO transition.  I’ve been through others.  One was a violent bonk, after an SEC investigation and firing by the Board.  The other was a long process that still doesn’t seem entirely complete even though a new president is at the desk.  It may not have been violent but was no less challenging because of the length.

Not unlike a concussion on a person, an organization is impacted…

Lack of Balance — Everyone can feel a little out of whack with a CEO transition.  The higher you go in the chain, the more the unbalance.  People wonder about their own job.  There can be a general lack of security.

Memory Loss — In wondering about the future, organizations can drift.  “Will our mission objectives change?”  People can put mission work on hold or even lose sight all together as they spend their energy on future thinking rather than current implementation.  “Should I do this if our leadership is changing?”

Anger — Yes, anger.  Some internal employees won’t be considered for the job and they think they should be.  Some won’t like the selection.  Insiders may even apply and get mad for not getting the job.  There can be frustration, disappointment and outright anger.

So what do you do?  How shall you respond in the midst of a transition?

I couldn’t find a concussion protocol in the Bible, but I did find Jesus, Inc., a Family of Ministries, being rocked.  It’s in Mark 4 starting at verse 35.

35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36a Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. 

Jesus kept moving.  He didn’t look to be the new CEO of the crowd.  He knew his mission and he kept after it.  The next step in the Great Mission was to step into a boat.  What is your next step in your portion of the organization?

36b There were also other boats with him. 

You may want to invite other people into this transition period with you.  Gather advisers that have experience in managing change.  Ask for their help.  Ask them to pray.  This is a key season, you will  need as much help as you can get.

Not all boats are there to help.  Some are just there to watch …criticize …complain …critique.  I wish this wasn’t the case, but it is true.  Everyone one, fans and critics, are watching your organization in this season.  You are being watched, please act like it.

37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.

This boat is in a serious storm.  There is a strong possibility that it may sink.  Your organization probably will not fold during this season.  That would be rare.  This is none the less a very serious time for your mission and you should act as such.  Your firm is in a furious squall.  Everyone needs to be aware and on-point, doing top notch work.

38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion.

Jesus was asleep.  While in the storm, he was doing the very human act of napping.  Everyone does it.  Not a big deal.  You will notice in the life of Jesus that some of his most human of activities are followed by the most miraculous of results.  Take for example, his death.

HirinBossman Twog a new CEO is a very human task.  Every corporation does it, some many times.  A proper view of a CEO hiring is that this will be more than just a human act.  This will be an chance to take a human action and move the organization into miraculous opportunities.

38b The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

The disciples called on Jesus.  There is no more important action.  In the midst of your corporate transition or your own personal insecurity around a transition, call on Jesus.  He is the great teacher who is ready and available to help.

I also find it interesting that they ask if he “cares.”  Not “Save us!” or “Get up!” but “Do you care?”  In the midst of a transition, those in your organization will  wonder if anyone, including their boss and peers, cares.  Show you care.  Say you care.  I have a personal aspiration during our current transition to tell two dudes a day, “I love you.”  It’s important for folks to know that someone cares.

39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!”  Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

The result of calling on Jesus was a miracle.  It doesn’t say that the wind and waves simply died down.  No.  Everything went immediately calm.  Jesus is going to do (actually is doing) miracles in your organization, especially in this season.  Be on the look out for them.  What amazing thing is God going to do?  Note them.  Talk about them.  Celebrate them.  They are going to happen (again, they already are).

40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”  41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

At the end of this interaction, the disciples are left asking “Who is this?”  They were afraid of a storm but when they saw what Jesus did, they had a great fear.

My hope is that when you get to the other side of this CEO transition that every individual will be moved to exclaim, “Wow!”  Ask, “How did that happen?”  And consider the greatest question ever asked, the only question that will be answered by every person – today, yesterday or tomorrow – “Who is this?”

So in summary, how should we live in our corporate concussed state?

  1.  Keep Moving.  Keep after it!
  2.  Call on Others.  Ask people for help.
  3.  Recognize the Season.  It’s a key time…and YOU get to be a part of it.
  4.  Look for Jesus in Simple, Human Activity.
  5.  Call on Jesus.  Pray.
  6.  Look for Miracles.  Jesus will respond and stuff will happen.
  7.  Take time to to consider, “Who is this?”

Your organization may be “concussed” during this CEO transition but…

A boat with Jesus in it may be swamped but will not go down.

A bush with God in it may burn but will not be consumed.

A tribe of God may wander but will not be lost.

And a organization with Jesus Christ at the center may be concussed by transition but as they work through it will come to know the truth of  “Who is this?”