Oppression or Generosity

small__12328603084Recently I spent some time on the South side of Chicago. I came face to face with some of the poorest of the poor. I learned new terms like “food desert” and “structural violence.” I encountered suspicion, friendliness, despair, joy, community, and poverty. I have not gotten over my day in the hood. How do I consider the poor? What is my attitude? As a leader, what is my responsibility?


Proverbs 14:31 states, “Whoever oppresses a poor man insults His maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.”

Oppression and generosity, two completely antithetical notions.

The objects of both of these expressions are the poor, the needy.

These are the disenfranchised, the marginalized of our society–of any society. The problem is that the poor are made in the image of God too.

If you want to insult God, then certainly engage in oppression of the poor whom He created.

If you want to honor or glorify God then show generosity to the same. 

The Hebrew word for “oppress” can mean to press upon, defraud, violate, to drink up, to exploit, or to crush. Oppression usually results from one person despising another person. When you despise someone you hold them in contempt–you see them as insignificant. But the value of being created trumps the value the world places on a person. That is why the concept of creation matters–it gives inherent value.

The Hebrew word for “generosity” can mean to properly stoop in kindness to one in an inferior position, to favor, or to move to favor.

Are the poor and marginalized in an inferior position?


Are they insignificant?

No, they have created value!

Generosity is not primarily transactional.

It is relational.

It is advocational. 

I am still in process in my understanding of what it looks like to oppress or to be generous. Even my apathy might be a form of oppression. It certainly leads to ambivalence concerning my generosity.

The mandate is to show generosity–in my learning, my attitude, and through all of my resources.

What will you do?

(photo credit)

Sarah Hale & Thanksgiving

imgresSarah Josepha Hale is often referred to as the Godmother of Thanksgiving. This New Hampshire woman, who was born in 1788, worked tirelessly to see Thanksgiving become a nationally recognized holiday in America. Hale was a successful writer and editor and is credited with penning the famous nursery rhyme “Mary Had A Little Lamb.” Hale labored for 17 years to see Thanksgiving become a national holiday, which was finally declared so in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln.

There were two strong themes to why Hale believed this to be a necessary annual event in the life of our nation. One was to draw our attention to God as the source of all blessings. Here is an excerpt from one of her writings to lobby for the holiday.

“THE FOURTH OF JULY is the exponent of independence and civil
freedom. THANKSGIVING DAY is the national pledge of Christian faith
in God, acknowledging him as the dispenser of blessings. These two
festivals should be joyfully and universally observed throughout our
whole country, and thus incorporated in our habits of thought as
inseparable from American life.” (1852)

The other theme was the unifying nature of a holiday focused on giving thanks for a nation that was drifting apart. Here is another excerpt that highlights this concern.

“it would be better to have the day so fixed by the expression of public
sentiment that no discord would be possible, but, from Maine to Mexico,
from Plymouth Rock to Sunset Sea, the hymn of thanksgiving should be
simultaneously raised, as the pledge of brotherhood in the enjoyment of
God‟s blessings during the year.“ (1854)

Of course her emphasis on this point was all too salient as the Civil War began a few years later.

But I believe Sarah Hale understood something important about the nature of giving thanks. To show gratitude to anyone is to acknowledge that we are not self sufficient. To see a whole group of people focused on giving thanks at the same time can have a unifying effect. It takes our eyes off of ourselves and places them somewhere else. It rightly places them on a Holy God and His provision. It acknowledges His self sufficiency and His common grace in sustaining us all. To celebrate this as a national holiday is meant to demonstrate more than a reason for food and family. It is meant to see our need for God and others. Take some time today to consider His blessings, personally and corporately.

Happy Thanksgiving!

5 for Leadership (11/23/13)

small__7181077141Here is a fresh 5 for your Thanksgiving Day week. There are some more thoughtful posts in this edition in light of some of the anniversaries we experienced this past week. All of them have implications for leadership.

9 Things You Should Know About C.S. Lewis  November 22nd marked not only the 50th anniversary of the death of JFK, but also the 50th anniversary of the death of C.S. Lewis. “Today is the 50th anniversary of the death of Clive Staples Lewis, one of the most well known, widely read, and often quoted Christian author of modern times. Here are nine things you should know about the author and apologist who has been called “The Apostle to the Skeptics.”

Aldous Huxley: the prophet of our brave new digital dystopia  November 22nd was also the anniversary of the death of Aldous Huxley. He was a prolific writer of novels, short stories, and essays. In later life he became interested in spirituality but was also a self proclaimed agnostic. He was also known to engage in psychedelic drugs. He is probably best known as the author of Brave New World and was considered one of the great intellectuals of his time. This post was written on the 22nd by The Guardian.

JFK’s Legacy: The party’s over  This article comes from Reuters. “The current commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy raises one lingering question: What explains JFK’s enduring hold on the national imagination?” Was JFK the first great “Image President?” What role does image play in the realm of leadership?

Three Things Leaders Can Still Learn from JFK  I have highlighted Scott Eblin before and he writes a succinct, practical post on lessons to be learned from JFK’s legacy. Take a look.

The Final Interview of C.S. Lewis  “I drove to Cambridge, England, on May 7 [1963] to interview Mr. Clive Staples Lewis, author of The Screwtape Letters and one of the world’s most brilliant and widely read Christian authors. I hoped to learn from him how young men and women could be encouraged to take up the defense of the faith through the written word.” This is a fascinating glimpse of a very influential man–and a leader of great impact through writing.

There are the 5 for this week. Read, reflect, learn!

(photo credit)

D. L. Moody on Leadership

BI_DLMoody1Dwight L. Moody was an American evangelist in the 19th century. He founded the Northfield Schools in Massachusetts and both the Moody Bible Institute and the Moody Church in Chicago. Moody had no formal education beyond the 5th grade. He gave considerable time and energy to the YMCA. Moody gave much of his time and energy to the destitute of the city as well. He saw the unique contribution that women could make for the sake of the gospel and enlisted Emma Dryer to establish a training school for women. He was considered one of the greatest evangelists that has ever lived. He addressed larger audiences than any other man of his generation, both in America and abroad. His impact certainly out distanced his education, training and natural presence. He was used mightily of God to impact his generation.

Here are some quotes attributed to Moody that relate firmly to leadership. Notice how Moody had great focus, a singular focus, especially on character. Moody understood well that a man cannot lead beyond who he is on the inside.

Give me a man who says this one thing I do, and not those fifty things I dabble in.

We can stand affliction better than we can prosperity, for in prosperity we forget God.

What makes the Dead Sea dead? Because it is all the time receiving, never giving out anything. Why is it that many Christians are cold? Because they are all the time receiving, never giving out anything.

There are many of us that are willing to do great things for the Lord, but few of us are willing to do little things.

If I take care of my character, my reputation will take care of me.

A good example is far better than a good precept.

Preparation for old age should begin not later than one’s teens. A life which is empty of purpose until 65 will not suddenly become filled on retirement.

Character is what a man is in the dark.

Where I was born and where and how I have lived is unimportant. It is what I have done with where I have been that should be of interest.

Where one man reads the Bible, a hundred read you and me.

I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And that which I can do, by the grace of God, I will do.

Seeking to perpetuate one’s name on earth is like writing on the sand by the 
seashore; to be perpetual it must be written on eternal shores.

I have more trouble with D. L. Moody than with any other man I ever met.

Salvation is worth working for. It is worth a man’s going round the world on his hands and knees, climbing its mountains, crossing its valleys, swimming its rivers, going through all manner of hardship in order to attain it. But we do not get it in that way. It is to him who believes.

5 for Leadership (6/1/13)

images-2Here is a fresh 5 for the 1st day in June. This week we are looking at the benefits of EQ, QT, supernatural partnership, social entrepreneurship, and knowing our flaws.

10 Ideas Driving The Future of Social Entrepreneurship  This is a great article from Fast Company that highlights some creative thinking from the Skoll World Forum that recently ended in Oxford, England. These are trends and ideas worthy of our attention.

Partnering With God  This is an excellent post from the Gifted for Leadership blog. Dorothy Greco states, “Regardless of our experience, if we hope to produce good fruit for the long haul, we must prioritize our own leadership growth and personal transformation above leading others in the same. Failure to do so may result in both a withered soul and contaminated produce.” Are you continually being transformed in your leadership life?

Emotional Intelligence: The Leadership Difference Maker  More and more leaders are seeing the need for greater EQ, not just IQ. But what is EQ and how can it be a benefit to grow in this area? Here is a good post on the Linked2Leadership blog to bring clarity to the topic.

Quiet Time: The Introvert’s 5 Keys to Influence  This post comes from Mary Jo Asmus’ blog, Aspire. As a guest writer, Jennifer Kahnweiler argues for purposeful disengagement as a key to greater creativity, energy, understanding, focus and freshness. Her points are for everyone. Take a look.

Why You Can’t See Your Biggest Flaws  This final post comes from Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. Every leader needs to continually grow. Part of that growth is being able to see your flaws. How does that happen? Here are three excellent principles for seeing progress through the gospel.

There are the 5 for this week. Lead well!

My Top Posts for May

UnknownHere are the five most popular posts from my blog for the month of May.

Delegation vs Empowerment  “Delegation largely raises up followers-empowerment raises up leaders.” This post is always near the top. This is a critical topic for every leader.

Observations on a Good Leader  Here are five observed qualities that are essential to good leadership. Are you learning from those who lead you? What are you learning that will make you a better leader?

Rumsfeld on Meetings  This contains eight highly practical principles towards the function of better meetings. These thoughts are derived from a new book by Donald Rumsfeld, the former U.S. Secretary of Defense.

Do You Need a Dose of Rejection Therapy?  What have you learned from rejection? Every leader faces this potentially crippling enemy. Jia Jiang has taken on the personal assignment of unmasking this impostor. This 12 minute video will surely inspire you.

Are You a Leader Who Can Be Led?  “The leader who cannot be led is a leader who is focused solely on self. The question a leader must continually ask is, ‘Why do I lead?'” Here are some principles from the book of Zechariah in the Bible.

There are the top 5 for May. Thanks so much for reading this blog and adding to the conversation through your comments. Let’s keep the learning going.


A Memorial Day Story: A Soldier’s Hideaway

MN-AC753_BIRKMA_G_20130522164515Today we remember those who fought and those who died to keep us free.

I love stories that bring to life those heroic acts. Sometimes the hero is not only the soldier in uniform, but the citizen who provided aid. Such is the case of Roger Birkman. During WWII, American pilots made many bombing runs between England and Germany before the Normandy invasion. Roger Birkman piloted a B-17 and was returning from a mission when his plane was shot down by German artillery over Belgium. All ten members of the crew parachuted out of the failing aircraft and found themselves on the ground in enemy territory. Belgium farmers immediately came to Birkman’s rescue and initiated a process of hiding him from the German occupiers. In particular, one couple, Georges and Marie Smet, sheltered Birkman until after D-Day.

Upon reflection Roger Birkman stated, “They saved my life and their house made me invisible.”

That too is an act of heroism. This was a dangerous act on behalf of a foreigner. This is a story of salvation and friendship. This is the story of an American hero and a Belgium hero who worked together to help procure freedom for many. Here is the rest of the story as recorded in the Wall Street Journal. It is worth reading and reflecting upon during this special day.

P.S. Roger Birkman is an organizational psychologist and the creator of the Birkman Assessment Method. This is a well used and profitable tool for the discovery of personal and team strengths towards leadership.

Leader Learning: Born on 3rd Base

images-2Recently I was in Kansas City with my fellow executive team members to meet and do some strategic planning. We were also there to interact with the Kansas City Coalition. I work for Cru, a global Christian non-profit organization. I serve with a team of people who are currently trying to rethink what a Christian presence means for city flourishing. The Kansas City Coalition is a new gathering of some 14 different people and agencies who are working together to solve some critical systemic problems within their city. As a team, we are on a high learning curve. We need to learn from others who have been caring for the city longer than we have. This was a great opportunity for us.

In two different settings, we were able to hear and interact with urban pastors, government leaders, non-profit agencies striving to meet specific needs, and everyday citizens. I have been reflecting on those meetings for several days.

My conclusion: I am ignorant!

As a middle class, suburban, white leader, I have very little idea what it means to live and lead in an urban context towards lasting change.  I am confident that God cares about the city. I also hold a strong conviction that only the gospel of Christ can truly change lives. But I am also sure that the gospel is both message and actions that represent the love of Christ meant to be lived out towards the whole of a city. I am personally on a high learning curve. Leaders must remain active learners of their context. I want to share with you some of the words and concepts that became stuck in my brain as I interacted with these committed people.

Baseball-One former pastor who is now a key leader with the Coalition said this, “I was born on 3rd base, but I was acting like I had hit a triple.” The sports analogy worked instantly for me. He too was a white, middle class leader. He understood that he had been born into privilege in many ways. He came from a good socio economic background. He grew up in a stable family. He was well educated. He did not have to work for any of these things. They came easily and naturally. Then he began to look at real needs and what it would take to meet them. He explained that he understood that not everyone has the same opportunities. Not all are as privileged.

Cycles-“A course or series of events that recur regularly and usually lead back to the starting point.” That well describes what seems to be a normal feature of the inner city. One presenter after another talked about cycles and breaking cycles. If cycles are not broken, flourishing does not happen. Cycles of illiteracy, homelessness, unhealthy food, trafficking, abandonment, drugs. Unbroken cycles are devastating. Cycles must be broken. People cannot keep returning to the same starting point.

Longevity-All of the presenters agreed that longevity is a must when ministering in the city. Nothing changes quickly. It takes time. Breaking cycles takes time. You must take a long view toward progress to see transformation.

Relationships-There are wounds in the city. There is distrust. There is division between cities and suburbs. Relationships are a must. Good relationships. Trusting relationships. All of the presenters agreed that trust is earned through faithful relationships. One person at a time. One neighborhood at a time.

Serving-Several of the presenters said that it is common for churches, agencies, and well meaning individuals to want to help those who are hurting in the inner city. But “help” is the wrong approach. Help is often defined by the helper, that which makes the helper feel good. People in the city need dignity. They need to be served, not helped. We need to approach from below and not above.

Sustainable-I was struck how each of the presenters, in their own way, had arrived at lasting, sustainable solutions towards the problems they wanted to solve. One urban pastor had partnered with the Kellog company to provide healthy food at a reasonable price through a grocery store located in his church. A woman dedicated to stopping human trafficking has appeared before Congress on several occasions to change the victim laws in our land. A pastor spoke passionately about how he realized that he and his staff must move into the very neighborhood they wanted to serve. They could not do so from far away. These are solutions that can last and produce real change.

Gospel-Not all of the presenters were Christians. But all agreed that there was evidence that the gospel message lived out and proclaimed changed lives.

What are you learning from your context?


Jonathan Edwards on Leadership

images-2Jonathan Edwards was a revered New England preacher, theologian, and missionary of the 18th century. He is still considered to have possessed one of the greatest minds this country has ever witnessed. He was a graduate of Yale University and one of the influencers of the 1st Great Awakening. He penned such notable works as A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, The Life and Diary of David Brainerd, and A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God. The Jonathan Edwards Center at the Yale University Library contains nearly all of his works online and makes them accesible.

Edwards was a leader. His influence was broad and lasts until this very day. He established a practice of having apprentice ministers live in his home and in the homes of other older ministers. This created a dynamic legacy of New England pastors. Certainly much of Edward’s vast influence came through his writing, and does so still today. He challenged much of the popular thinking of his day. Edwards was also widely known for his great acts of charity, even in buying a negro slave girl to secure her freedom. He and his wife Sarah regularly opened their home to those in need. He was no stranger to criticism, as no true leader ever should be. His profound influence was in both word and deed.

Here are some quotes that I took from his writings that I believe relate to the life of every leader.

Of all the knowledge that we can ever obtain, the knowledge of God, and the knowledge of ourselves, are the most important.

Resolved, never to do anything which I should be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life.

A truly humble man is sensible of his natural distance from God; of his dependence on Him; of the insufficiency of his own power and wisdom; and that it is by God’s power that he is upheld and provided for, and that he needs God’s wisdom to lead and guide him, and His might to enable him to do what he ought to do for Him.

Resolved, that I will live so, as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.

Seek not to grow in knowledge chiefly for the sake of applause, and to enable you to dispute with others; but seek it for the benefit of your souls.

Nothing sets a person so much out of the devil’s reach as humility.

Such is man’s nature, that he is very inactive and lazy unless he is influenced by some affection, either love or hatred, desire, hope, fear, or some other. These affections we see to be the springs that set men agoing, in all the affairs of life, and engage them in all their pursuits: these are the things that put men forward, and carry them along.

Love is the sum of all virtue, and love disposes us to good.

I assert that nothing ever comes to pass without a cause.

Temples have their images; and we see what influence they have always had over a great part of mankind. But, in truth, the ideas and images in men’s minds are the invisible powers that constantly govern them; and to these they all pay universally a ready submission.

A man of a right spirit is not a man of narrow and private views, but is greatly interested and concerned for the good of the community to which he belongs, and particularly of the city or village in which he resides, and for the true welfare of the society of which he is a member.

Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will.

Exposed Leaders

showImageThe team that I serve on just returned from attending the Q Conference in Los Angeles. It was a great two and half days of over stimulation. Q was started by Gabe Lyons. His stated purpose is, “Q educates the church and cultural leaders on their role and opportunity to embody the gospel in public life.” The tag line from the Q Ideas web site is “Ideas for the common good.” This was my 1st experience with Q and, upon evaluation, I believe they delivered. Every presentation was either 3 minutes, 9 minutes, or 18 minutes in length. They were powerful and varied. We heard messages on the power of story, child trafficking, the North Korean underground railroad, sexual economics, freedom inside of limits, the power of infographics, the cure for homelessness, surfing, and much more. There were over 40 presentations in two and half days. There were Q & A sessions with the presenters, there were round table discussions, and there was ample opportunity to meet unique and passionate leaders from all over the country who are fully engaged in our culture. It was a rich time of learning and understanding.

As I have begun to reflect on my experience at Q, I have seen afresh the great value in leaders being exposed to contexts outside their own.

All of us as leaders need to be exposed to new and different ways of thinking. We need to meet and engage with people who will challenge our categories. It is easy to stay inside the walls of our own understanding and never realize that needs abound right outside our gates. I am convinced that our team will be learning from this experience for sometime to come. It will certainly change how we approach our task. I know it will alter some of my fast held viewpoints.IMG_5347

Here are four reasons for the absolute necessity of leaders and teams placing themselves in challenging environments that are not their own:

1. To help us evaluate our own paradigms. It is easy to have tunnel vision. Leaders rightly are focused on their cause and their perceived solutions. But when you are exposed to new insights and different vantage points there is a natural evaluation that takes place. It is a healthy one. It doesn’t mean that you will quit your leadership role and take up a new cause–necessarily. But it certainly might lead you to fresh understanding and new solutions. You might see things in a whole new light which could lead to much greater effectiveness.

2. To stimulate our learning towards other’s paradigms. I know very little about North Korea except what I see on TV. I was unaware of some of the brutality that is taking place daily. I knew nothing of a vast underground railroad that is helping people make it to freedom. I have never thought much about the clothing industry and how it affects a woman’s identity. I have not rightly valued the virtue of modesty and dignity and all of their good consequences in a sex crazed world. I have never considered deeply that freedom and creativity actually arise from limits. I need to see life and culture through the lens of others. I need to have my limited perspective challenged. I will be better for it. Being exposed to another paradigm creates a learning opportunity I regularly need.

3. To humbly enter in as one among many. Its easy to feel like a big deal within your own organizational culture. That is the “beneficial” side of comparison. But when you get around a bunch of leaders who are half your age and changing the world . . . well, its humbling. When you talk to leaders who are 20 years older than you and you see the fire in their eyes . . . well, its humbling. And its inspiring. And it instills hope. It is invigorating. You gain a much grander view of God and His work in the world. And you realize that you are one part of the body of Christ. A significant part . . . but only a part. I think that is a good vantage point for leading boldly, but humbly into the future.

4. To personally meet and dialogue with leaders that are as passionate as you are . . . about something else. You and I do not have a corner on vision, passion, and drive. There are many gifted leaders out there who definitely feel called into human need. They are using their craft to bring light into a dark world. They are calling others to join them as vital participants to make a difference . . . just as I long to do. I need their callings and values to rub off on me. And I think they need me too. That is one of the great values of engagement and dialogue.

There are many good environments from which to choose to gain this type of exposure.

An unexposed leader will all to quickly become myopic and proud.

Will you join me for Q Nashville?