We all go through transitions in life. Some are natural and inevitable, like the transition from one stage of life to another. Some are forced upon us in a way by changing circumstances, like a job relocation or job loss, the death of a loved one, or a life-changing illness. Some transitions we choose consciously and intentionally, such as the transition from paper to paperless, from a PC to a Mac., or from being single to being married. We encounter various transitions with both joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain, clarity and confusion. Regardless of whether a transition is viewed as positive or negative, transitions are difficult at some level and filled with opportunities for either personal growth or personal stalemate.

I recently found myself in a period of transition. I’m about three months into transitioning from 33 years of local church ministry to an independent ministry of preaching, teaching, and pastoral coaching. Although, This was not a transition I anticipated and intentionally planned for years in advance, it was a decision I made with intentionality, forethought, and obedience to the Lord. Still, it hasn’t been easy, which I came to see as an opportunity for growth that I didn’t want to waste. It also occurred to me that if I’m going to be a coach to others going through change and transition, I’d better understand my own experience. So, I began to give a lot of thought to the questions: “What lessons can I take from this unique period in my life?” and “What have I learned so far?”

For the next several weeks or so, I’m going to be writing about lessons I’ve learned in transition, so far. Maybe you can relate to some of the things I’ll be writing about and add to it. I’d love to hear your thoughts, and I hope if you’re currently in a period of transition, something I share might be an encouragement to you.

 

Ruins and Rebuilding

August 24, 2011

Surrounded by gravestones and standing tall and defiant, are the ominously beautiful brick remains of Biggin Church, just outside the city limits of Moncks Corner. The history of Biggin Church is one of tragic events, natural and man-made. The building was erected in 1712 as the church of St. John’s Parish, an Anglican congregation of early prominence. Among its vestrymen were General William Moultrie and Henry Laurens, key figures of the Colonial period and the American Revolution. The first building was destroyed by fire in 1755 and rebuilt in 1761. It was burned again by the British during the War of Independence and rebuilt. It was ransacked by Union soldiers and striped of its interior fixtures and valuables during the Civil War. Finally, it was destroyed by a forest fire in 1886, never to be rebuilt again. The Biggin Church ruins remain today as a monument of sorts to the sad history of a promising center of Christian worship and work that didn’t last. One supposes that the parishioners made the decision that rebuilding wasn’t worth it and moved on to others places of worship.

While new churches are being built and new congregations are forming are things to celebrate, I pray that parishioners in older churches will recognize that their churches are worth rebuilding. The fact is there are many churches in ruin today. Their buildings are just fine, but the life has gone out of them. We desperate need new churches, but we desperately need to rebuild and renew our existing churches as well. We don’t need more monuments to the past. We need more “living stones” being rebuilt and renewed to advance the cause of Christ.

(Adapted from Past, Present, and Forever)

 

Grace is not a real place, geographically. Grace is a real place, spiritually. Getting there and realizing the benefits of citizenship is a journey. We arrive at this wholly unfamiliar place by faith, like arriving at the city limits of a strange and sprawling metropolis. In a way, we’re there, but not there in all its fullness. We still have a long way to go, so much to learn, and so much to discover about this city of Grace.

There are wonders to behold; surprises to experience; mysteries to discover; miracles to embrace; riches to enjoy; love to be shared; freedom to be found; and so much peace to be gained. Worship there is unbounded.

The journey to Grace is like no other journey you’ll ever take. Most trips require packing everything you think you’ll need, and most of us pack more than we need, and it becomes a burden. This journey requires no packing at all. In fact, it requires an unpacking. So leave all that baggage behind. All the stuff you think you need, you don’t! It just gets in the way. It holds you back. It weighs you down. Unpack those bags and get going. Grace awaits!

(Adapted from Jake’s Journey: From Guilt to Grace)

Journey From Guilt to Grace

August 17, 2011

The way of Christ is a journey from a place of Guilt to a place of Grace.Guilt is not a real place, geographically. It is a real place, spiritually. Guilt is not a bad place to be temporarily, but it is a terrible place to live permanently.

Guilt is a place of condition. We’re all born and raised in Guilt because we’re all born in sin and raised under the law of sin and death. That’s our condition.

Guilt is a place of condemnation. It is the feeling of condemnation, but it is more than a mere feeling. It is a fact. We all stand in condemnation before we ever stand in Grace, justified through our faith in Jesus. Under the law of sin, we are condemned to die. In fact, before we put our faith in Jesus we are “dead in trespasses and sins.” Guilt is a fact first and a feeling second. For that reason, Guilt is not a bad place to be. It is the conviction of sin – the feeling of guilt –  that drives us to seek God our Savior who draws us to himself and bids us to access Grace by faith in his Son who gave his life as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Once we become Christ followers, we are on a journey to the fullness of God’s grace. We no longer live in Guilt and its condemnation. However, the feeling of guilt remains with us because we still sin. This feeling of guilt is a part of the gift of grace. It means that the Holy Spirit yet has the ear of our consciences as we listen to the Spirit of Truth and confess our sins, admitting our guilt, and repent so that our journey to Grace may continue in joy.

(Adapted from Jake’s Journey: From Guilt to Grace)

Loneliness in Leadership

August 15, 2011

The saying, “It’s lonely at the top” reflects the fact that part of the nature of leadership is a sense of being all alone – a kind of loneliness. Some leaders are better equipped emotionally to deal with the lonely feelings and challenges of leadership than others. Some leaders even seem to thrive in times of loneliness. Carl Sandburg wrote, “Shakespeare, Leonardo da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, and Lincoln never saw a movie, heard a radio, or looked at TV. They had a ‘loneliness’ and knew what to do with it. They were not afraid of being lonely, because they knew that was when the creative mood in them would work.”

Other leaders, many pastors included, are not so inclined to accept this loneliness and use it to their advantage. We identify more with Albert Einstein who once said, “It is strange to be known so universally and yet be so lonely.” (It may be the only way we identify with Einstein!) While none of us are universally known like Einstein, we are widely known in the church and community simply because of the position we hold as pastor, yet we are lonely, in part, because we are known for our position more than we are known as a person.

The demands of leadership create and even require times of loneliness. On the other hand, the loneliness of leadership demands real, life-giving friendships and deep relationships with those who know and love us as people first and  leaders second.

(Adapted from The Pickled Priest and the Perishing Parish.)

Study Long; Study Wrong

August 12, 2011

While I was in seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, I worked for Sears. My first job there was as a porter, which is another term for janitor. One of my fellow janitors was an older Black gentleman named Buster Williams. Buster and I became good friends. Buster not only taught me how to be a porter, he taught me how to play dominoes. Now dominoes is big in Texas, like everything else! On our lunch break we’d go to the employee break room almost daily and play a game.

Buster was an expert dominoes player, having played all his life. I was a complete novice. When it was his turn to make a move and lay a domino down, there was no hesitation. However, when it was my turn to move, many times I’d have to think and study and try to figure out the best move available to me. During those long pauses, Buster would sit patiently across the table smiling. But if I took longer than necessary, he would often throw out a saying I’d never heard before. It was his gentle way of hurrying the game along given the short time we had to play. He’d say, “Study long; study wrong,” the suggestion being that if I overanalyzed the situation, I was going to make the wrong move. More times than not, it proved to be true.

In leadership, analysis paralysis can be costly. We make a lot of wrong decisions in haste, no doubt. But we also waste golden, God-given opportunities in our hesitation, or simply end up making the wrong move altogether.

Horizons

August 1, 2011

In case you’ve never been there, let me tell you that Texas really is a big state. When Elliott and I first drove out to Texas where I attended seminary, we were overwhelmed by the landscape. For many, many miles through East Texas, the scenery looked so familiar that we were wondering what was so different. Like most of the Southeast, pine trees dominated the landscape, but then near Fort Worth, the Gateway to the West, there was a dramatic change. Suddenly the horizon expanded in every direction. We could see forever. There were no trees except for some scruffy, drab mesquite trees along fence lines and shallow ravines. It was late in the day and the Sun was setting low in the sky, and Elliott and I knew we were definitely in Texas. One of the things that enthralled me about Texas was its big sky, a seemingly limitless horizon. Here in the Lowcountry, the tall pines of our thick forests limit our horizon. In life and in faith, we are often limited in our horizons by various things that obstruct our vision—the thick forests of our surroundings. They block the big picture, the beauty, and the boundless possibilities. So instead of living large, as they say, we live small, because our horizons are so obscured and our faith so fenced in. I love trees. Give me trees, tall pines, rather than those dumpy, unattractive mesquite trees, but let me see the distant horizon, the beauty, and the boundless possibilities of life that faith makes us able to see. I love what the Bible says in I Corinthians 2:9. “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” We all need a Texas experience, especially if we have never seen the big picture of life in Christ. What’s obstructing your horizon?