Lessons from Sweet Potatoes & Fish Poop

I was recently in Honduras working on some mission projects.  Part of my itinerary involved some time at Orphanage Emmanuel, by far my favorite orphanage project in the world.  As part of their quest to be as lean and self-sustaining as possible (with 600 kids you have to maximize ingenuity!), they have constructed such practical things as livestock, above-ground tilapia farm in a greenhouse, hydroponic facilities for vegetables and an expanding farm for produce.  The tilapia farm is the newest gem and what’s great about it is that in addition to thousands of pounds of quality protein for the kiddos every few months, the waste material is harvested as a renewable supply of fertilizer for the hydroponics and general farming operation.  I was impressed!

While there the brilliantly innovative director, Wade, shared a recent lesson learned which had profound implications, metaphorically, for so much of life.  In the rush of excitement to use this new-found fertilizer from the tilapia, they had begun to generously fertilize their high production plants, like sweet potatoes.  In fact, hoping to develop a high yield strategy for sweet potatoes to become a nutritional staple for the facility, they planted tons of sweet potatoes with lots of fish poop to enhance it.  Almost immediately they saw the results – incredible plants!  Foliage that was gorgeous, lush, blooming rich flowers and clearly becoming a powerhouse of a plant.  Or so they thought.  Harvest time came.  Those incredible plants on the surface produced NO potatoes in the ground!

Potatoes need regular soil, water and periodic lack of nutrition to trigger the process of creating deeper roots and deposits of nitrates which ultimately become the vegetable prize desired.  The excessive abundance and ease of the nutrients in the soil actually impeded the fruit production of the plant and instead it became a decorative showcase with no actual value for the kids.  This was not easily undone, because the soil was now highly fortified.  So it is will take a series of seasons of intentionally drawing out the nutrients from those fields before it can serve to grow high yield potatoes again.

Sometimes adversity is our friend.  Stress cultivates strength.  Lack breeds ingenuity and innovation.  Often ease, comfort and excess yields topical beauty but shallow or deficient roots.  We often blindly put too much energy into stress mitigation, comfort maximization, trial avoidance (not talking about wisdom here, obviously!) and miss the very mission of life (hint: which isn’t just to bypass as much pain as possible).

What do you take away from this story?

 

Optical Delusions

We place so much confidence in what our senses tell us.  We know that some of our senses are less reliable than others – stuff that tastes good is often not so good for us, stuff that tastes, well, “less than good,” is supposedly great for us.  Our rear view mirrors tell us “objects may be closer than they appear,” so our vision is easily distorted.  If our physical senses are so easily betrayed, compromised or limited…how much so our supernatural, spiritual senses?  We *feel* alone.  We see ‘no way this can work out.’ We feel hopeless, overwhelmed, “forced to do X because I had no other choice,” and a series of “logical” and “just the facts” conclusions.

What if we’re wrong?

Like icebergs, there is a lot of reality we do NOT see!

 

One of my favorite Bible stories is in 2 Kings 6, verses 8-23.  The King of Aram (modern day Syria) is determined to put a stop to the work of Elisha, a prophet who was foiling his plans for domination.  He takes a massive force and lays siege to the small town where Elisha is staying.  Elisha’s helper takes a look outside and sees the small town literally surrounded by a massive enemy force determined to destroy them.

What are “the facts?”  Clearly there IS an enemy.  The forces are vast!  Elisha and the citizens ARE outnumbered.  This is CLEARLY a massacre about to happen.  All senses correctly corroborate the gut feeling everyone is experiencing: we’re going to lose, get captured or likely die!

The story pivots as Elisha (let’s call him Cool Cal for fun) prays in verse 17 for God to open the eyes of this anxiety-stricken fellow.  The FULL reality does not reveal that the enemy is an illusion, that the forces are less than assessed nor that they are the clear underdog – but that there is MORE than “meets the eye.”  God had in waiting an entire battalion of angelic forces poised and waiting to bring a supernatural remedy.  The story turns almost comedic as Elisha then prays for God to confuse the enemy and then leads them to a humorous and non-violent conclusion.

Where do we need the same prayer?  Where do we need to have the prayer of “God, let me see not just what I see as real, but what YOU are doing in this!?”  We need to pray and live with eyes to truly see beyond what is clearly visible.

We draw so many conclusions.  This marriage is stuck and will never be better.  The markets are falling so this business is hopeless.  S/He is so far gone, there’s no hope for them.  I was denied this job, the deal fell through, there is no buyer, so clearly we might as well pack up and head home now.  In passionate pursuit of a goal, how easily do we suffer target fixation?

Where are you like the servant in this story, paralyzed by the obvious and perhaps missing the supernatural?  Where do you operate under optical delusions – that what you see is all there is?

Stop Praying for God to Show Up

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What difference would it make if you knew you were not alone.  Ever.  What if you constantly had a super-power posse of characters who would put the Incredibles to shame with you everywhere?

A couple of stories in the Bible perplex me and I’m convinced, while legitimately historical scenes, they are insights into how many of us live too many of our days.  Here’s the rub…

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The Later Club

Regret is one of the most heart-breaking of human dispositions.  Repentance is the bedrock of a life in Christ, but regret is like repentance without the happy ending.  The epitaph of “I wish I had only, had never, I wonder what would have happened if, I know I should have, I always meant to” turns my stomach.  We all have them.  One of my vows at a young age was to live to have as few “shoulda/wish I hadn’t” incidents as possible.

Don’t surrender today to your yesterday, let His yesterday become your present future

One of the many beautiful aspects of the Gospel of Jesus is that it proclaims a perpetual present tense invitation to newness.  The call of Christ through His perfect work is a constant invitation to have new life NOW!  Like the whimsical sage Rafiki would aptly say, everything else is “in the past.”

Jesus tells an incredibly domestic story to illustrate this truth in the Gospel according to Matthew.  Simply put he describes a scene where a “good son” quickly agrees to follow his father’s instruction and claims good intention to do a task while a “rebellious son” declines the invitation.  The plot twist is that the story goes on to say while the “good son” had a good game in talk, he actually never followed through whereas the “bad son” had a change of heart and later actually did complete the request of his father.  Jesus says despite the initial lip service, it was the son who later actually did follow through on the request who was actually the “good son.”  The repentant, slow to get to his senses son was the illustration of the “true” son in the story.  This fabled son is the mascot for what should be an overwhelmingly subscribed to “Later Club” – a league of people who did not get it right the first, second, third or eighteenth time, but eventually saw the light by God’s grace and are following Jesus now.

Take encouragement.  Today is THE day.  It doesn’t matter how many days, months or years you’ve been ignoring doing “it” but today you can celebrate that God loves the “Later Club” who eventually turn and take the right action.

Carpe Diem.  Seize the day.

The How Matters

There’s a story in the Bible that is dark, disturbing and irksome to me.  It used to bother me historically – I didn’t like the facts of the story and found it rather confusing.  Then upon understanding it…it was worse, and I wondered why God even wanted it included for everyone to read about.

Oops. Didn’t mean for that to happen!

The story goes (liberally paraphrased) something like this…King David was this heroic “man’s man” who faithfully waited for over a decade to finally fulfill his destiny as King of all of Israel as appointed by God Himself.  David was like a Jesus-freak Da Vinci, a renaissance man extraordinaire–he was valiant, fearless, successful, a poet, a lyricist, a dancer, a faithful friend, a man of honor, and while he probably didn’t drink beer, we all know what kind he would drink if he did.  In recent history the ark of the covenant, the prized relic of the Hebrew faith had been moved around and was essentially in storage in a nice guys house.  David felt it was about time things were made right – the ark should be in the capitol city where everyone can appreciate it and he wanted to throw a giant festival celebrating God’s greatness.  To transport this golden icon from the hill country of Gibeah, he dispatches some of his finest men and a brand new cart with oxen to haul it to Jerusalem in a hurry.  While transporting it the oxen starts to trip and a guy named Uzzah reaches out to stabilize things and God zaps him dead on the spot.  Boom. End of story (not really, but might as well be).  Do not pass Go, do not collect $200, not a warning shot, not even “mostly dead.”

The whole story gave me theological whiplash.  Contextually, David was riding high after some amazing God-given victories.  Everything was going up and up, he was “God’s man” doing “God’s work” for Pete’s sake (who is this Pete we blame anyway?)!  This was the crescendo moment where David was going to light the fireworks and celebrate.  The sound of shattered glass and record screeching when Uzzah dies halts the party.  What happened?  Why? If you dig into the context it all becomes clear quite quickly.  You see, God had given incredibly specific instructions about how, who and when to move the ark (Numbers 4).  Clear warning about the hazard of disregarding the instructions were clearly given.  What happened was David was so caught up in his own success, glorious plans to serve God and the timeline for things he had decided upon that he cut a corner.  The “old fashioned way” of transporting the ark would have taken days possibly, when a quick cart ride fueled by a 200-ox power motor would get it done in hours.  The efficient option was obvious.  It was a good plan, a good motive, but the wrong way.  God is a god of excellence, beauty, purpose and story – but efficiency is not His chief value.

Moral of the Story: The “how” matters.  Like it or not, David is responsible for the death of Uzzah because David let efficiency and timeline trump method and holiness.  That’s the high stakes of leadership.  You can be right but wrong in the Valley of the How, and not only “wrong,” but people can literally die.  Let that sober you as a leader!  The ends do not justify the means.  Process and purpose matter.  The Jesus Way is just as critical as the Jesus Why & Where.

This bothers me, because I like efficiency.  The shortest distance between 2 places is a straight line.  But how many epic stories in the Bible have straight line narratives?  Abraham from Ur to Canaan?  Hebrews from Cush to Jerusalem?  David from anointing to the throne?  Paul’s missionary journeys?  The assault on Jericho?  The record shows that our God is not one of efficiency, that the how matters and that we disregard the “way” at not only our peril but that of the teams we lead.

Q: Where do you need to be more diligent in the “how” and the way of your leadership?

Dull Blades = no bueno!

In Solomon’s melodramatic manifesto, Ecclesiastes, he says “take time to sharpen the saw.”  This simple morsel of leadership counsel from the “wisest man who ever lived,” is so simply stated it’s easily missed.  As leaders, this verse in our Bible should be triple highlighted and underscored for good measure!  We are all inclined to get so busy pushing the rock uphill that when we lose our edge we try to make up for it with effort.

I work with CEOs and senior leaders in San Antonio as part of a national platform called the C12 Group.  At the center of our mission is to see transformation brought to cities through the marketplace as business leaders “lead where THEY are” to the glory of God.  The single greatest hurdle for most of these leaders?  Time, vision, exhaustion, isolation, concession…dull blades.  So busy working IN their businesses they never step back and work ON their business, never step back and “sharpen the saw” of their leadership, refresh the vision of their purpose, to take Haggai’s tip to “take a look at your life” seriously.

Part of how we accomplish our mission is precisely breaking that rut and pulling leaders out of the weeds for 1 day each month as a “business Sabbath” where we can work on the big picture.  While there are many tools (including this Faith & Business Toolkit I’m making available for YOU), the key is intentional time.

For the past 6 years we’ve made a staple of this rhythm the Global Leadership Summit, and this year over 300 market leaders are attending the Summit together.  2 days, a bajillion brilliant faculty members, an infusion of leadership chutzpah and – most powerfully – the space in which to invite God to “ring our bell” as Hybels says.  Each year it happens.  The mountaintop moments we each experience at the Summit provides the conviction, inspiration and new thinking to then embed in our monthly accountability process to see real mission lived out.  We sharpen the saw and (surprise, surprise) the fields start to get plowed, the work begins to advance, and mission becomes less of a horizon and more of an already-not-quite-yet reality.

Dull blades are no bueno.  You can hurt yourself.  You can hurt those you lead,  You can waste time, energy, and opportunity.  If we’re going to “lead where we are,” we have got to take the time to work ON the business of our leadership.

Will you be joining us at the Summit this year?  How do YOU sharpen the saw regularly?  What’s your strategy for working ON your business instead of always IN it?  How do you take your team away from the trees to step back and think about the forest annually?

Find out more about the Summit HERE.

The Rebellion of Close Enough for Me

It had been 2, long, incredible years.  The adventure was feeling routine, the magnificent rather mundane and people were tired.  They had come so far, escaped so much destruction…was it really worth risking everything to press on?  This is the reality of Kadesh Barnea.

Moses had led a hoard of millions of refugees from under the dominion of the world’s singular superpower, across a hostile wilderness with the vision of a “promised land.”  People had died along the away, lessons had been learned, and now the entire community could see what they had been waiting for – it was right over “there.”  Kadesh Barnea is where Moses sent out the spies to scout out the land and plan their invasion.  Kadesh Barnea is where the rescued Egyptian slaves told God “No, that’s alright.  We’ve come far enough.  It’s not worth it to us to risk going where you are taking us.  I think we can take it from here.  Your leadership is no longer required.”  That place is where a 2 year journey of preparation was converted into a 40 year sentence in a desert penitentiary.

Kadesh Barnea may be unfamiliar words in your mental geography, but it is a very familiar place for all of us.  Kadesh Barnea is a picture of when we settle for 90%, for almost there, for “better than it was, practically there, I could get used to this, I’ve been in worse, it’s a lot better than some have it or I had it growing up.”  It’s comfortable compromise in the shade trees of our fears (failure, loss) and idols (mmmm Egyptian food, comfortable houses, a 401k, peace of mind).

You can’t be 90% alive, why would you settle for 90% “there”?

Kadesh Barnea…get close enough, so far from what it was, “practically there” but without the risk.  Settling for 90%.   It’s pandemic.  In marriages, in our followship of Jesus, in our leadership of teams, in attacking issues…we leave the last 10% because we just frankly wonder if it’s worth the sweat, risk of failure, and price tag.  That 10% is the breeding ground for all kinds of rebellion, because it represents a me-centered decision matrix, a “on my terms, when I think it’s ‘worth’ it or ‘looks smart’ I will do something” territory.  History shouts to us that despite the rationale of this thinking – it never, never turns out well!  You don’t want a “close enough” mindset from your surgeon, accountant, NASA QA auditor, mechanic, pharmacist or construction worker.  Why would we live our lives and faith that way?

Q: where are you camped out at Kadesh Barnea, aware of God calling you to take another step but resting on your “distance travelled thus far” and justifying the questionable ROI of proceeding?

Delayed Communication is Lethal

When there’s a mist in the pulpit, there’s a fog in the pews! (Homiletic Proverb)

There were 2,100 casualties in the Battle of New Orleans.  Future President of the fledgling American Experiment, Andrew Jackson, proved his valor in the heat of numerous battles throughout a campaign along the coastal regions of a young country against hostile cousins from across the pond (Great Britain).

It was a waste.  People died in vain.  Soldiers woke up and faced death on a daily basis for no good reason.  Why?  Nearly 6 weeks earlier the war had ended.  The Treaty of Ghent had been executed by the crowned prince of England and the American ambassador ending a bloody rift that we read about as the War of 1812It took nearly 6 weeks for the news of peace to reach the battlefields of the frontier.

I’m sure a decision maker in Washington informed the generals and admirals to “pass along the news” and a cascade of relays happened from commanders to officers to field personnel across dozens of organizations.  Somebody had “sent a memo” and it was truly en route.  Yes there were bloody mornings where thousands of soldiers contemplated never seeing their family again in the face of battle in a war that was technically over – but the bullets were no less real.

This piece of history has fascinated me for years.  It seems such a powerful picture of what happens in our companies, churches and our journey of faith.  Organizationally this happens today.  Individually we live this.  We advance policies that are expired by new vision and strategies.  We try to manage issues by the flesh when the Spirit of the Living God is at work in us.  We hold grudges and view people as they once were oblivious to transformations that have happened outside of our purview.

How do you fight this in your leadership?  What are you doing to prevent a Battle of New Orleans tragedy in your organization, your team, your life?

Wild Ass Chases to Zuph and Divine Meanderings

A familiar Bible story was highlighted for me by a friend through a leadership-followship lens that really resonated with some of my own journey with God.

In 1 Samuel 9 we find the story of Samuel anointing the Saul as the first king of Israel.  If you read the chapter and step back you see a great example of how God will often times lead us into divine intersection points with such obscure conspiracy that we are totally aloof about it until after the fact.  God simultaneously tells Samuel that He has picked out the right person for this unprecedented job and will provide him shortly.  To accomplish that God has the donkeys of Kish run off, resulting in Kish’s young son, Saul, being sent out with a group to find them.  This quest ultimately leads them to Zuph, where they decide to offer some money to the prophet of God for direction (enter Samuel).

This doesn’t seem strategic to me!

Here’s Saul thinking “what a waste of my time, chasing stupid donkeys who ran off to who knows where! Now we’re about to lose our money on a prophet I’ve never met, all to just get my dad’s donkey’s back. Sheesh.”  Some literary license being taken I concede, but you have to imagine Saul was not seeing any divine purpose in scouring the countryside to Zuph in chase of some donkeys.  Yet, it was exactly at the historical intersection of Zuph that God turned the world upside down on Saul and began to unfold a chapter in His divine conspiracy.

Sometimes we chase seeming donkeys and there is not any obvious purpose. Sometimes it’s not until we reach a proverbial Zuph that timing and perspective align adequately to allow us to even see purpose.  I’ve chased similar donkeys to Chicago, to San Antonio, to slums in Honduras and repeatedly find divine conspiracies abounding in these meanderings.

It’s worth stopping to prayerfully consider when ‘waste of time’ detours are actually divine conspiracy donkey chases and when we might be entering a Zuph of significant intersection. Of course, then there’s just wild goose chases that we put ourselves on….been on any good donkey chases in your journey?  Care to share?

The Wisest Man Warns of “MORE”

It was Solomon who first said, “there’s nothing new under the sun.”  Three thousand years later and it’s still true.  In that same text, the book called “Ecclesiastes” in the Bible, Solomon goes on to speak into something that cuts right to the heart of every entrepreneur’s seductive paradox: how much, why, at what cost, and for what gain to pursue “more.”

Check out the power punches and incredibly relevant insights into the human condition Solomon weaves through Ecclesiastes 4:4-8…

v4 – And I saw that all labor and all achievement spring from man’s envy of his neighbor.  This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

Hamster Wheel to El Dorado

How true is that!  How much of our treadmill pace is set by peers who are not running to the same destination we are and yet we want the same path, the same vehicle, the same stuff?  How much stress is bought into socially and not part of necessarily our calling, mission, need, or even healthy want?  Where is envy conveniently repackaged as “normal” causing you to chase your tail or “the wind” as Solomon says?

v6 – …Better 1 handful with tranquility than 2 handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind.

Better a little less than what you could achieve/attain at full speed with the gift of peace, freedom, tranquility than maximum wealth or achievement at the cost of your soul.  Jesus would later say, “what does it really profit a man if you gain the entire world but lose your soul in the process?”  Are we willing to accept less than the king of the mountain status but have real life along the way?  Are we okay letting go with 1 hand so that we might receive the gift we cannot otherwise?  What might that cost you right now, or has it cost you?

v7 – Again I saw something meaningless under the sun: there was a man all ALONE; he had neither son nor brother.  There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his current wealth.  “For whom am I toiling,” he asked, “and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?”  This too is meaningless – this is a miserable business!

The insatiable quest for El Dorado, for this “just a little bit more” as Rockefeller would say is required to satisfy the “more” track always requires family, friends, ministry, community and spiritual sacrifice on the altar.  Only to leave mass graves of lonely, isolated leaders with stuff and no joy.  What’s the point?  At what point will we stop to look around and go “why am I doing this? Why am I paying this price? Who said? Who’s this really for and what’s this really about?”

Nothing new, but man that observation by King Solomon sure cuts as if he was giving a TED talk in 2013!

I was re-studying this area of Scripture recently and did not believe it was ironically apropos with the segment material we covered in our board meetings recently.  This is part of the heart of what we strive against in C12.  Sometimes the insidious “more” bug takes on religious garb and can look like ministry even.  It’s part of why we need community, a tribe, a table of ongoing accountability to help us not drift into this ancient pattern.

I’m proud to serve alongside entrepreneurs seeking to steward not hoard, to advance hope not conquer territory, to pour out and not store up, to spread light not attract it, and to do it together!  Let us not grow weary or complacent in this great mission together.

Press on my friends!  Let’s live with NO REGRETS.  No EXCUSES.  What if we stopped living in cosmic insubordination?