The Good ‘ol Days Are Ahead of Us

I’m not one to pick on old people (hi Dad!) but I’ve been noticing a common refrain coming out of the 60 and older crowd (There, that’s my marker for old… old ain’t bad but it is… old).

It goes something like this,

“Things sure have changed. Back in my day, life was simpler. Back in my day, there was a right and wrong and we all knew the difference. The way this world is going… it makes me shudder.”

Lest I pick on the all you old ones, I see my generation grabbing this outlook and running with it. Where do we get this? Overly rosy history books? Stories from our grandparents about the “good ‘ol days?”. Perhaps it is the constant news telling us that marriage is in ruins, young people just want to smoke weed and play video games and terrorists are hiding in bushes.

good-days

By: Vic

The contrast to the present world circumstances is the shiny and rosy past.  Things were just better back then. The present, however, is dark and out of control. The future, we only speak of in whispers because it is unthinkably bad.

Fear grips us. Pessimism reigns supreme. Exasperated sighs can be heard across the land. What are we to do when the present is bad and the future is fear-inducing?

If you find yourself in that place, here’s a few thoughts to consider:

The past wasn’t so rosy.

I was recently in the United States for an extended visit. People were constantly warning me of how far America has fallen. I heard comments along these lines often.

I bit my tongue but wanted to say,

“Were those good ‘ol days when Rosa Parks couldn’t sit in the front of the bus because she was black? Was it when children worked in factories or when women couldn’t vote? Perhaps it was when we bought and sold slaves? When, precisely, were the good ‘ol days?”

My heart was not be snarky… but truly, we idealise the past. Let us remind ourselves that the past was not as rosy as we want to believe. Every single generation has had it’s challenges and mountains to climb. Every generation. Our current generation is no different.

In fact, if you read your history books (including the Bible) you will see that often, the past was much, much worse than how events are unfolding today. This perspective should re-assure us that our situation is not unique.

The fear can be real.

Even with this reminder, the fear can be real. The challenges can be intimidating. It’s ok to acknowledge that.

I think to be more accurate, though, I should say “I’m intimidated by the challenges today”. That is more in line with reality and empowering. I can’t change the situations but I can grow in my peace and trust in God. This gives hope and joy in the midst of trials.

We should not claim that, “I have a right to be trapped by fear because these world events are unprecedented!”. It is both a false statement and a dis-empowering one. My life and future is not controlled by circumstances “out there”. The reality is that God is sovereign and he can work in my life for peace and goodness. God can give us the wisdom to face our mountains.

The only response is light.

Today has challenges and so will tomorrow. What is our response?  All the more to trust God, continue to flourish, and stand against it by living lives that plan for a hope filled future. We should not stop having children (a very real consideration of many). We should not stop reaching out. We should not stop building towards the future.

Jesus revealed to us that the only way for darkness to flourish is the absence of light. As for me and my family, when we see darkness, I want our first response to be… let’s light a match! Not, it’s never been darker, run for the hills!

Hey, old people, help us out!

To those who are older and wiser: you do damage when you constantly paint the past as some utopia of flowers and daisies. Past generations, you got some things very right. Well done and thank you! You also faced challenges and often didn’t respond well. This isn’t being negative, this is actually being encouraging.

We need your stories of success and failure. It does not give us hope to hear that you had it all figured out and we are stuck with a society falling apart for the first time. It’s not true anyways, right? (see above for confirmation of this). Doesn’t scripture show us to not shrink back from telling both the victories and failures personally and corporately?

Here is what you can say,

“These days we are facing a lot of challenges. But, you know what? My generation faced a lot of challenges too. God has the wisdom and strength for you to lead us forward.”

Say that. Or something like it. Just please don’t say, “I long for the good ‘ol days when everything was perfect… too bad for you and those like you that messed it all up.” Definitely don’t say that.

What about you? Are you scared of the current state of the world? How could your perspective shift?

Dear Church, Give me Jesus.

I love the local church. Any one who is part of a local church has to love it (although the converse isn’t always true). There is no other choice in my mind. It is so imperfect and so messy that only love would ever keep us there.

I was raised a Pastors’ kids. When I say, “I grew up in church”, I mean it in the most literal of ways. I literally grew up in church. I slept under pews for my naps and ran wild through the building playing hide ‘n seek after school while my Dad finished up counselling sessions.

My history with church has been messy to say the least. I’ve seen the best and the worst. When people hear my story the response is always, “and you still go to church?! How is that possible?” Well, I’m not sure but I suppose only love could keep me there. (Ok, or stupidity but I like to think love.)

As I’ve gone from my childhood, through my teens, survived my twenties and am now finishing up my thirties. I’ve reached a place of both gratitude and honest acceptance of the realities of this dysfunctional and messy thing called church.

Sometimes I think I accept the dysfunction of the church to easily. Other times I think I need more grace than I have. I have a lot of opinions about how things could be done on Sundays and the rest of the week. I mostly keep them to myself.

The past few years, though, one cry has been rising up within me that makes all others fade.

It is this: Church, give me Jesus.

Give me Jesus.
Show me who He is.
Enlarge my vision beyond what I know.
Shine all your lights on the breathtaking beauty of this divine man.
Help me to to go from seeing mere shadows of Him to being blinded by his grace.
Bring me down to the dusty roads he walked in the most normal of ways.
Help me to reach out to touch him, hear him and know Him.
Start with Jesus and end with Jesus.
Simply, give me Jesus.
Give me Jesus, simply.

A while back I was at a Christmas service and we began to sing songs as is done in church. Three songs in we had not once mentioned His precious name. Not once did we remind ourselves of who he was and is and will always be.

We sung of our great need. We sung of our determination to serve the whole world. We sung of our desire to be radical in our faith.

Church, I need Jesus.

When the church is at it’s best, Jesus is most clearly seen. When we are at our worst, Jesus is but a mere shadow. He is the clear picture of an invisible God. Show me that clear picture. I’m desperate for it. Don’t leave me desperate. Show me how it could possibly be true that my deepest longings could be satisfied in knowing a Jewish carpenter.

That’s my cry. That’s my longing. Give me Jesus.

Good Leaders Have Good Friends

It seems to me that so much of the dysfunctions of leadership that I have seen over and over (and over and over) could be avoided. Leaders who wound others, leaders who are caught up in sin, leaders who trip themselves up by their lack of self-awareness. All these things could be prevented… if only those leaders had a real friend.

Many leaders don’t have healthy friendships. I’m nervous around leaders whom I observe are not able to build and maintain healthy and true friendships.

Of course, I’ve heard all the excuses leaders make:

“People just want something from me”
“People don’t see me as their equal”
“People don’t understand my unique challenges”

So much isolation, deception and danger in each of those three phrases.

Leaders need friends because leaders are normal people. I think being a leader also adds unique urgency to having and maintaing healthy friendship.

Here are three qualities of friendship that leaders and everyone else needs:

Friends who wound.

Solomon once said “The wounds of a friend can be trusted”. We all need friends who don’t just encourage, they know it is safe to wound us. Wound us by telling us the gut-honest truth about ourselves. Wound us by calling us out on the antics we pull. Leader, so many of your present and future mistakes could be avoided if you just had a friend who would tell you the gut-honest truth. The truth your “followers” only dream of saying.

True friends do that because they have the safety and trust to do it. Plus, their job is not at stake by getting in your face. I bet if you told a friend about criticism you were receiving they might say, “Well, you have been grumpy lately and you get negative when you do that… I bet your people aren’t enjoying working under that, I wouldn’t!”

Leaders need friends who are willing to wound.

Friends who are around.

“Personal coaches” is a trend that can be dangerous if used inappropriately. I talked to a leader recently and asked how they are getting feedback. They replied, “Oh, I meet with the most amazing mentor and they are very honest with me.”

Here’s the problem with this approach. Those mentors and coaches are often a once-off meeting every other week. The coach has very little daily contact with you in real life, with the people you lead. The coach doesn’t have to sit through the horrendous meetings you lead. They don’t see how rude your tone of voice can come across. They don’t see how you shut down your people with passive-aggresive statements. When you are enduring criticism, you give your version of events to your coach or mentor. It’s one sided and deceptive.

A friend is someone who is around the day to day. They don’t see you just in a 1-hour appointment at an office or coffee shop. They see you with your family, they see your interactions with others in a very mundane way.

With true friends, we can’t just present one side of the story, because they see the whole thing. A friend knows our strengths and weaknesses. There is safety in that.

Leaders need friends who are around.

Friends who don’t leave.

You know what my definition of leadership is? Leadership is making mistakes publicly, one day at a time.

I cringe at the mistakes I have made. I feel grateful that people bothered to work with me when I was less than enjoyable to work with (to put it mildly).

Everyone makes mistakes but leaders make them publicly, day after day. You are a dangerous leader if you don’t know this.

So, how is one to survive? Through faithful friends who stick with us in good times and bad times.

People will come and go. Some staff  will join with high expectations of you and leave with total disappointment in your leadership. Leaders need friends who see our successes and encourage us. Leaders need friends who see our failures and stand by us saying, “don’t give up”.

This provides the stability and safety to rejoice in our victories and own our mistakes. Unconditional love tends to do that. Leaders who don’t have honest, long-term, and unconditional friends can tend to be insecure and insular. The sad thing is everyone else sees it but them.

Leaders need friends who don’t leave.

If you are a leader, do you have the friends needed to succeed in this journey?