You Are More Influential Than You Realize: Take An Influence Inventory

As many of you know, I’m writing a book on influence, specifically on ways we make or break our influence in other’s lives. Personal edits are almost done, and then it’s off to a professional editor. More on that soon!

Public Domain PC: Free Pixabay Images

But the truth is, many people minimize their influence, not realizing how many people or groups they influence (or have the potential to influence). It’s hard to consider ways we might be hurting or helping others if we tend to minimize our connections.

For those of us who think, “I don’t really have a lot of influence,” I’ve got an exercise for you: take an influence inventory. And for those of you who know you have more connections, taking an influence inventory is a powerful way of remembering your responsibility and growing your intentionality.

Take an Influence Inventory

Public Domain PC: Free Pixabay Images

First, start in close. Who are your primary relationships? Family, close friends, people you’ve worked with for awhile–these are the ones who come to mind first.

Move out from there. Who do you see less frequently? This could be a neighbour that you only chat with over the fence once in a while, or a person you rarely meet–but you do have connections of some kind.

Next, what groups are you part of? There’s the ones that you regularly see, such as at church or a hobby group.  These are societies or sports teams or service groups, addiction support groups and small groups of various kinds. And don’t forget your online forums, which, for some of you, are places you have significant voice.

Within those groups, consider the nature of your participation. Are you in leadership? Do you have a role within that group? Are you considered knowledgeable? Are you trusted? Are you able to be heard and to suggest changes? Are you a donor? A mover-shaker?

And then think of those who watch you from some distance. Nephews, nieces, kids of friends, community members at large, clerks at stores you frequent, servers at restaurants, customers–some of whom you may not be fully aware.

Don’t forget to include people that you’ve struggled with. A strained relationship at work or in the neighbourhood, someone you’ve not seen eye to eye with online or in conversation. You have more influence than you can imagine in those relationships because of how you can choose to go forward in your relationship with them.

Think of non-human relationships in which you have influence: the soil around your house, the air you breathe, the local watersheds, as well as the animals, birds and pollinators who live near you.

What about potentialities? Consider local initiatives you could support, artists you could encourage, youth you could mentor, events you could sponsor and people you could love.

I’m guessing that by now, you’ve got quite a list. Even those of you who thought you had little influence have probably amassed a sizeable inventory.

And what about your Heavenly Father, the one who made you and dwells in you by the Holy Spirit? For the Father is responsive to us, and has asked us to come to him, to express our concerns, to ask him for what we need. Surely, in some mysterious way, you have influence upon him?

Now step back: How big is your list? Are you stunned by the size of your inventory? Who did you miss? What surprised you? What other categories and relationships came to mind that I didn’t suggest?

Reality check: We all have influence–some more, some less, but everyone’s got it. We all have the ability to help others grow, or to hinder people from growing, either actively or passively. And the first step toward better influence is acknowledging who is within our sphere of influence.

Consider your list. I’m guessing there’s quite a few names on it. It might even be a bit overwhelming. To make it actionable, identify just a few of those relationships to give more focused attention. Make sure to include both the obvious relationships, as well as potential relationships and difficult ones, too. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you to a relationship that you have been avoiding, in which you really could have good influence. Maybe circle 3-5 relationships in which you will invest time and energy over the next months.

And then pray for how God might move you to increase your influence. It could start as simply as an email or phone call. Perhaps it will mean hanging out a little longer after church or when you drop your kids off at the bus. Maybe it will require something more intentional, like asking a youth out for a coffee or signing up to serve in a ministry or service group. Let the Spirit guide you on that, but do choose to lean into a few of these relationships with more intentionality.

For those who were already aware of their influence, and perhaps a bit overwhelmed by it, what were the relationships that surprised you as you brainstormed your inventory? I know I found a few. Someone you’ve neglected. An area you’ve not been thinking about. It could be that God is using this exercise to recall someone or something to your attention, and you can now give it more of your influence and leadership.

We all have influence. Clarifying who is getting it (and who can get more) helps us become more intentional and specific about the nature of our influence, which is the first step in our reflection on all the ways we can make, or break, the influence we have in other’s lives.

 

Afraid of Muslims? How Christians Should, and Should Not, Be Viewing their Muslim Neighbours

Not a week goes by that I don’t end up in a conversation with Christians expressing some kind fear about Muslims.

Fear that they are coming here.

Fear that they are moving in.

Fear that they are taking over.

This fear is crazy. Why? Because the idea that Christians should be motivated by fear of others is antithetical to the Spirit of God in us and the mission into which Jesus commissioned us. We are not fearful–we are faithful. We go where Jesus sends us and we receive, with joy, anyone we come into contact with, in the name and grace of Jesus, even if (especially if!) they do not follow Jesus and hold a different belief system than we do. Swing open the door.

As I think about the fear I hear, 5 reflections come to my mind. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.
  1. First of all, we’ve been sending missionaries into Islamic countries for decades, giving literally millions of dollars so that Christians can go where few others have gone and usually under the guise of something other than mission work. Now the very people we’ve been trying to reach, at incredible financial and personal cost, are coming to us. Muslims are living next door to us, working in the next cubicle, riding on the same bus, and playing on the same soccer team (and you definitely want them on your soccer team!).  Hello, world. Hello, missional opportunity.
  2. Secondly, and this is so important: Muslims are not a theoretical belief system. Muslims are people, just like every other human being out there. Muslims live and love and work and hurt and desire and sin and betray and fail, just like you and I do. Muslims are loved and lovely. Yes, there are some nasty Muslims out there. There are Islamic extremists who do evil things, which we all deplore, including most Muslims. And guess what?There are some nasty Hindus, nasty Buddhists, nasty Jews and–yes, you can be sure of that–nasty Christians out there, too. People can be nasty, and out of anyone, Christians should be the first to acknowledge that reality, starting with our own confession of personal nastiness. But there are also wonderful, caring, hospitable, interesting, amazing people out there, people of multiple different faiths, including Islam, people worthy of your love, people you can trust with your lives. Hello, friend.
  3. And thirdly, Muslims are coming to know Jesus in droves. In a sweeping move of God worldwide, more Muslims are coming to confess Jesus as Lord than any other time in history, more even within the last 25 years since the origin of Islam.  Want to know more? Read A Wind in the House of Islam by David Garrison and get a whole new perspective on what God is doing. Need to be inspired by a compelling personal story? Read Nabeel Qureshi’s book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus.  Hello, Spirit of God moving over the world! Bring it on.
  4. And fourth: most, if not all, of the people from whom I hear fear have never met a Muslim, have never enjoyed a meal in a Muslim home or welcomed a Muslim family into theirs. And they have certainly never engaged in a vigorous conversation with a Muslim friend about faith, which is so much fun and so rewarding. Their fear of Muslims, then, is not based upon personal relationship, but upon news media, television preachers and fear-mongering tales of people “out there” coming “over here.” That whole vision is not sourced by the Jesus who went into Samaria to love the hated enemy, who forgave his violent enemies and died for us while we were yet sinners; it’s not sourced by the good news we believe and share and sacrifice for. Even more fundamentally, it’s not rooted in the fact that each and every human being has been created in God’s image and is worthy of love. As followers of Jesus, we do not stay home in fear; we move forward in relationship, with the good news in hand and heart. We open up our doors. Hello, neighbour.
  5. And fifth, embracing Muslims does not mean agreeing with Islam. What a silly idea. Every day we embrace and love people who think and believe differently than we do (or at least I hope we do). We do not make our love contingent upon shared belief! Where in the world did we get the idea that loving Muslims, caring for Muslims, standing against violence toward Muslims, laying down our lives for Muslims is somehow an endorsement of their belief system? Again, if you know a Muslim and have engaged in any kind of conversation with one about faith, you would know how foolish that idea is. No, in fact, we can embrace Muslims as friends and disagree on beliefs, the most important difference being our belief about the person of Jesus Christ as the Son of God, his work on the cross, his death and resurrection. Every other difference, without exception, pales to this central difference about Jesus’ identity (which, by the way, is the central difference between Mormonism and Christianity, The Watchtower Society and Christianity, Judaism and Christianity, Hinduism and Christianity, Buddhism and Christianity–you get the point.) What I love about Muslims is their willingness to engage the faith conversation, rigorously and without rancour. Coming from a worldview that does not separate religion, politics and life, Muslims are not shy to talk about faith, whereas us Westerners, having long lived in a compartmentalized world of privatized faith, quail at such confident conversation. Hello, conversation!

So why is there so much fear? And how can we overturn this fear and embrace the mission Jesus has charged us with, by the power of the Spirit given to us? Only by getting the gospel right, engaging the mission Jesus has given us, and loving the neighbours he sends us.

We’ve got to get this right. Fear has no place in the life of the Spirit-filled, missionary-sent church of Jesus Christ. Have some faith in the work of God, creating this mighty move of people in the world today. The lives of our Muslim neighbours depends upon our love for them. Come on. Let’s go. Oh wait, they are already here. Now we can invite them over.

Pounced on by Pharisees for Partying with Prodigals? Here’s why that’s a good sign.

If you are reaching the kind of people Jesus reached, you’ll get the kind of opposition Jesus got. It’s just true.

In the good news stories about Jesus, religious people would watch and wait for Jesus to make a mistake so they could pounce on him, accusing him of wrongdoing. And what kind of mistakes would Jesus make, you might ask? Oh, you know, just the standard ones: healing a guy with a debilitating disease, restoring a lame man, casting out a demon. You know, those kinds of mistakes.

And then there was the most awful error of all: Jesus’ seeming indifference to the lifestyles and beliefs of people he’d party with–people with nasty reputations, law-breakers, compromising collaborators, deviants and crooks, disgusting wretches (as they were seen). You know, the kind of people we usually don’t want hanging around the kids.

If you take his mission seriously, and begin to love on and connect with people far away from Jesus, speaking their language and hanging in their hoods, you will draw fire from folks who figure you’ve gone off the deep end. You’ll raise the ire of the very same people who found Jesus so off-putting. (And the same ones who ended up killing him, I might add.)

It’s par for the missional course. We should expect it. In fact, more than expect it: if we aren’t getting any push back, we should be wondering who we are missing–who we are failing to reach. Because if we never face opposition from the religiously uptight, there’s a pretty strong chance that we are not taking the risks necessary to reach the people that no one else is reaching. Mission done in Jesus’ way raises religious red flags.

So don’t be disheartened by opposition, when you are loving those Jesus loved. Don’t be discouraged by heat when it comes from people who have never stepped out from their cozy cliques. Don’t be fazed by the voices who claim purity when they’ve never stepped out into the mud to help those who are stuck.

Just keep loving as Jesus loved.

Keep connecting as Jesus connected.

Keep sharing your life with others as Jesus shared his life with you.

And let’s see the prodigals return, the lost found, the broken healed, and the outcasts included.

And what’s that sound we hear over the din of the prodigal party or the murmur of Pharisaic disapproval?

Only the voice of Jesus, cheering us on.

 

Got Strings Attached? Then it’s time to rethink your service to others.

Can we serve with no strings attached?

Is that even possible? Can we meet the needs of others with no other agenda than showing them God’s love?

We’d like to think so, but it’s funny how hard that can be.

Truth is, it’s easy to get turned around when it comes to helping others. Without intending to, our service to others can become a way of making them behave properly, believe rightly, and act accordingly. We measure the effectiveness of our service by the desired response. We can even hold out whatever we are offering (from food to friendship) as a reward for certain responses rather than as a free gift pointing them towards God.

Jesus calls us servants who wash dirty feet, giving freely from what we’ve been given. We don’t serve and then demand recompense, be it in the form of gratitude, faith, or even life change. We don’t help just once, maybe twice, but no more should our service not invoke the expected response. We keep showing up, keep loving, keep serving–as we have been served by Jesus and by others.

It’s not that we don’t want people to experience life change. We do. It’s not that we aren’t hoping for some kind of response to the love of their Creator for them. Of course we are. But we are loving others as Christ loved us–unconditional, long-suffering, open-hearted, hospitable– inviting people to take a step toward love without smacking them if they are a bit slow to respond or rejecting them if they don’t come at all.

In the church space, it’s easy to get this all mixed up. We offer a program to help people, but people seem content to stay where they are. And we want results! We reach out to show love for a particular community, and we feel uneasy if we aren’t able to identify the specific effects we are having.

Now don’t hear me wrong: I do think as churches we need to think about how best we can help people move into a greater experience with the life, way and truth of Jesus. I think we need to get specific on our expectations and effectiveness. But I do not believe that means our love is limited to a program or a time-frame. Our love for others must reflect the ever-pursuing, always-inviting, never-giving-up love of Jesus Christ. And while we strive to be winsome and compelling in our invitation, we lean into love for each person without demanding that they meet our goals for evangelism or personal growth or life change.

We love, we serve, we invite, just as Jesus does for us. And we let the Holy Spirit lead us all.

 

 

Christmas: It’s the most generous time of the year

Generosity is a beautiful thing.

And at Christmas, generosity shines brightly in the Creston Valley. Over the last few weeks, I’ve enjoyed a front-row seat to the stunning heart of my community as gifts were given, money was donated, time was offered and energy was expended, all in the name of sharing the joy of Christmas. Through the Creston Valley Ministerial Association Christmas Hamper program, over 400 families received a joyful boost of Christmas cheer–all of it bubbling up and overflowing from the generous hearts and hands of Creston’s amazing people, churches and businesses. And that’s not all–numerous other programs also received incredible generosity this time of year, alleviating burdens and elevating joy during a season that can be very difficult for many.

Wrapping gifts and offering soup — it’s all part of the Christmas Hamper tradition!

Seeing this generosity makes me thankful to be here, to be a member of this community and a pastor in this great valley. In a corner of the world known for its abundance, its people abundantly share.

At Christmas, generosity flows. Some might say it’s just a seasonal thing, when hearts are warmer than normal, or perhaps have grown a size or two throughout the year. Perhaps there’s something in the air during this time of little light, something that makes us want to give back–we who have received so much.

Young and old, everyone gets involved in spreading Christmas joy!

But I also think generosity comes more easily during a season when we celebrate the greatest act of generosity the world has ever known: when the Father sent his Son to make the world right again, overturning darkness with the dawning of light. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son”–not because he had to or was forced to or didn’t have any other choice, but because the Father, in his generous love, is a Giver, giving. Whether fully acknowledged or not, Christmas time is a celebration of the ultimate gift given, from the most generous being ever.

“How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given.” And into the world of darkness, generosity shone. And it continues to shine, year after year, day after day, season through cycling season.

An amazing army of ready volunteers fill the hampers each year.

So thank you, Creston. Thank you for your generosity. Thank you for your kindness. Thank you for being people of abundance who share abundantly. And thank you for giving in a way that reflects the generosity of our Creator and our Giver. Christmas is a most generous time of year–may you both give generously and receive generosity in the true spirit of Christmas this year, and may we all know the ultimate gift given, on that silent night, for the peace of this world and the good of all humankind.

 

Get Ready: Someone Needs You Today

Okay, so you might already know this, but today you’re going to run into someone who needs you.  I’m not prescient–it happens every day.

They might need your help with a project, they might need your listening ear, they might just need your attention. They might need you to drive them somewhere. They might need your prayers. And yes, they might need you for longer than you’d hoped.

Will you be ready for them? Ready to receive? Ready to listen? Ready to pray, or serve, or smile?

Ready to take some time, letting their needs interrupt your needs–your need for space, your need to get where you were going, your need for privacy?

helpingWe are called to live in a way that imitates Jesus, to value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:3a-4)  I can’t think of how this “looking to the interests of others” over our own won’t somehow interrupt our own agendas or plans–seems kind of part and parcel to the whole thing. So, the question is, can we be ready for it? Can we tune our hearts in anticipation?  I think we can.

And one way we do that by asking the Holy Spirit, as we begin our day, to help us be ready for what he brings to us.

Here’s a prayer for us today: Holy Spirit, make me ready to receive whomever you send to me today, loving them with the grace you’ve given me, caring for them without pretense and without patronizing them. Help me to be open-hearted and available, patient and kind. Help me to see who you see. And may others see your love through me. 

Ok, are you ready now? On with the day. People are waiting.

 

How to Be Compassionate with Arrogant People

Confession time: I struggle with arrogant people.

They get under my skin and make me uglier than I care to admit. Whether it be chance conversations or sustained interactions, my heart can grow colder in the presence of someone who thinks more of themselves than I think they should.

Now, the truth is my reaction to another’s arrogance often reveals my own–I feel humbled and I try distancing myself to feel better. That is a problem in itself. When that happens, repentance is in order.

But you know what else is helping me grow in compassion? Recognizing that behind much of the arrogance we see in others is a deep self-loathing, emptiness.

Early in my pastoral ministry I spent quite a lot of time with a young man who, by anyone’s casual definition, was one of the most arrogant, boastful, self-centred people you’ve ever met.  I kid you not–every conversation was an illumination of his amazing-ness. You almost always left feeling smaller. But as I spent more time with him, I began to see things that changed my view of him, gaping holes in his heart that grew my compassion for him. I realized that this man, who most people pushed away, desperately needed love.

And I’ve seen that since, many times over.

When interacting with arrogant people, here’s what I’ve noticed that has helped me react less defensively and love more intentionally. Maybe it’s not true of every arrogant person we meet, but I’ve been astonished at how often these really are the case.

5 Things About Arrogant People That Helps Grow My Compassion

  1. Arrogant people are often compensating for deep wounds. Behind all the one-upping and positioning is often a person who has been deeply hurt–much of their actions are an attempt to dull that searing pain. Shocking stories of abuse, neglect and harm lurk within.
  2. Arrogant people are often filled with self-loathing. Even though it may not feel like it, all the self-congratulating stories, the incessant boasting, the constant attempts to get you to see them as “better”–all of it–flows from a deep-seated conviction that they are worthless.
  3. Arrogant people are often desperate for someone to notice them. Yes, they make it tough for themselves. Yes, they misplace where they need the attention. But if you can look past what they are saying with their lips and see what they are screaming from their hearts, you will often see someone who feels invisible and unnoticed.hiding behind a facade
  4. Arrogant people often put up false-fronts to hide the true vacuum within. Because they feel empty and worthless and unlovable, arrogant people try to impress you with things they’ve achieved–what else do they have?
  5. Arrogant people are usually deeply deceived. The thing is, they don’t think they are being arrogant. They lack self-awareness and don’t realize how their actions push people away, which in turn feeds more deeply into their own hurt, their self-loathing, and their feelings of invisibility and emptiness. Remembering this makes me more gentle in my approach.

So what can we do? How can we become more compassionate toward arrogant people? 

  1. Be patient with them. Stay in relationship. It’s so easy to push away, ignore and avoid. Which is what many people do. Be the person who stays connected, believing that over time, you will begin to see and love this person as Jesus does.
  2. Be honest with them without getting defensive. I don’t think it’s wrong to say, when appropriate, “You know, when you tell me stories like that, you make me feel small and defensive. I don’t want to react that way to you.”  
  3. Don’t join the game. Refuse to match their boastful story with one of your own. Focus on what is really true, what truly matters. Don’t let the way they make you feel in the moment determine how you speak and act.
  4. Look past the facade and hear what they are saying with their hearts. Then speak to that. For example, “I want you to know that I don’t care for you because you are successful or pretty or smart. I care for you because you are made in the image of God.” 
  5. Pray. Pray for them to experience God’s deep, transforming love. And ask the Holy Spirit to help you show them unconditional love.

Let me ask you:

  • How have you typically responded to arrogant people?

  • What has been helped you become more compassionate toward them?

 

We Need More Noticers

We need more noticers in the church.

“Noticers.”

The red squiggle is declaring this a new word . . . 🙂 so I’m breaking ground today. We need more noticers!

As a pastor, I am keenly aware of how much I miss–miss people, miss cues, miss opportunities, miss seeing who is right there in front of me. I miss people who desperately need to be noticed.

Oh, I don’t miss all the time (thankfully!). But still, I miss more than I catch. Which is okay. Why? Because I’m not supposed to catch everything.

We are. 

Become a noticer!
One of the things we admire about Sherlock is his uncanny ability to notice what everyone else fails to see. We can develop that ability, and together see much more!

That’s right–as the church, we need to be noticing what is often ignored. Which is why we need to be developing the spiritual gift of noticing as a community. Noticing the ignored, noticing the ones who are hurting, noticing the confused, the awkward, the numb. Noticing the new, the uninvited, the tentative.

To be people who catch more than miss, we need to turn up our commitment of notice. This spiritual gift must be employed whenever we gather as a church, as well as when we scatter into the community. It will make a huge difference in people’s lives.

I know that becoming a better noticer is challenging, so here’s a few suggestions to get us started.

In order to develop the spiritual gift of noticing, we need to:
  1. Ask God to give us his ability to notice what we normally miss, and the courage to respond to what he shows us. This really is a God-thing, and he will lead us to notice who he want us to see. We’ll find that he’s given us what we need to meet that person where they are at. Ask him.
  2. Slow down enough to see. You know how the faster we travel, the less we enjoy the scenery? The same is true here: The faster we move, the less we notice. We’ve got to slow ourselves down so that we can notice and respond to the people we would normally race past.
  3. Don’t just go to who we know. We all love our friends, and we gravitate toward those who are familiar and safe. I get it. But if we are to notice those no one else is seeing, we need to discipline ourselves to walk past our own comfort zones and into the unfamiliar and the new (and sometimes awkward!). In the context of a worship gathering, where someone could think you are ignoring them (!), talk about it with your friends–tell them that immediately following the benediction, you are going to focus on people who are on the fringes and are not being included, and that you will catch up with them later. They will understand! And hopefully they will join you in the challenge.
  4. Remember: You can’t notice everyone! Neither can I. But together, with God’s help, we can notice many more than we’ll miss–people who need to know God sees them, that they are loved, that they are welcomed and included and valued. More noticers = more noticed.

Are you up for the challenge? We need this more than ever–in our workplaces, schools, coffee shops and restaurants. We need this when we gather for worship and when we scatter for witness. The unnoticed are everywhere–but so are we!

Take action: This week, with God’s help, notice someone you would normally have missed. Ask the Spirit to give you guidance, and then do what he says. Pray for them, say hi, chat it up, serve them, just be chill–whatever seems right.  By noticing those we would normally have ignored, we’ll show and receive love in ways that really count.

Be noticers!

 

 

Goodbye, fear. Hello, love.

We were born for love, yet we often shrink back in fear.

We are afraid.

Afraid of what? Rejection, disregard, intimacy, judgment, or just being known as someone who needs to be loved (as though that’s strange). Perhaps we are fearful of being used or abused (again), fearful of the discomfort that can come when someone else really needs our love, fearful of being discovered for who we really are.

Fear cripples love.

But, as the Scripture tell us, perfect love casts out fear.  Isn’t that interesting? The anti-dote to fear, which will keep us from truly loving others, is perfect love itself. God’s love, being poured into our lives, enables us to reject fear and love others.

the-more-loved-we-know-we-are-by-the-fatherThe fear that keeps us from loving others is overcome not by muscling past our fears of others and the ways we might get hurt (because we will still get hurt when we love); fear is overcome by turning towards the perfect love of the Father, and letting his love for us expel all the fear in us. The more loved we know we are by the Father, the less fearful we become in our relationships with others. We know that, no matter what happens, we are loved–no human being can alter that. And though hurt and rejection and pain is still real and difficult, it no longer determines our ability to love others–that is given to us by the Father himself, determined by his love for us.

How can we reject fear and love others? By letting God love us, soaking in the truth of his immeasurable, eternal, faithful heart, the heart in which we find our true home. Living from that place of beauty and belonging, we can love, love, love–and love some more.

Goodbye, fear. Hello, love.

goodbye-fear

 

The power of something tiny, in the hands of Jesus

From Jesus’ perspective, small holds incredible potential. From mustard seeds to little children, rag-tag fishermen to permeating yeast, the kingdom of his Father often lies hidden within something almost no one notices. A cup of cold water, an encouraging word, care given to stranger–all holding transformative potential, each seemingly tiny actions unnoticed by all.Helping

We often think that in order to be significant, we must do big things for God–that Jesus is only concerned about news worthy actions. But it’s just not true. Jesus cares about the little actions done for the least and the neglected, lived out in the everyday. He cares about the lonely hours a mother interacts with her toddler, the simple courtesies offered to a work-mate, the kindness given to a person whom everyone ignores. And somehow, even mysteriously, Jesus amplifies their effects, making tiny actions of generosity into mountain-moving, kingdom-forming exponentialities.

So don’t be thrown by the size of your life, how minuscule we feel as we faithfully love, serve and give within almost total obscurity. Jesus sees, and Jesus is creating a masterpiece in us and through us, taking our tiniest offerings and making his world beautiful again.

Kindness