Category Archives: Encouraging Words From Dick Koehneke

After the Crying

By Dick Koehneke

When I was a child, my parents had a German saying they said to us children when our playing started to get a little too rough.  The English translation is, “After the laughing comes the crying.”  The saying proved true all too often!

The message of Easter is just the opposite:  “After the crying comes the laughing.”  God’s Word says:  “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.  He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.”  (Psalm 126:5-6)

Notice the words “tears” and “weeping” — not just frowning and scowling, but tears and weeping.  This is profound sorrow — deep sadness — the real thing.  Not just a rough patch or a bad day, but times of tragedy and catastrophe.  God’s Word does not avoid the subject of pain and sadness, because pain and sadness are unavoidable in life.

But notice also the words “songs of joy.”  Not just a smile or a happy face — not whispers of gladness, but songs of joy — real, exuberant, outrageous joy, pleasure and delight!  The psalm does not say, “He will return empty handed.”  It says he will return “carrying sheaves with him” — not just a stalk or two, but whole bundles of grain, as much as you can carry!  The harvest has come!  

When does the joyful harvest happen? It happens “after the crying.”  There is sadness in this fallen world.  Sorrow is a recurring and sometimes ongoing aspect of the sinful human condition.   Followers of Jesus are not insulated from suffering.  This is a sinful, wicked world, and we are smack dab in the middle of it.  When the whole picture is painted, when the whole story is told, when the clock of time ticks away its final second, the promise of Jesus in John 16:20 will come true finally and forever:  “Your sorrow will turn to joy!” 

Are you weeping because death has taken a loved one from you?  When my father died, my mother said she felt as though half of her body had been torn off.  The pain of grief can be excruciating. Sometimes it seems that the tears will never stop.  But here is the truth, straight from the Word of God: “Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Corinthians 15:20)  Those who have died trusting in Christ are now with the Lord in heaven.  The Lord Jesus Christ is with you here on earth.  Jesus has your loved one by one hand and you with the other.  When the time comes, He will take you to be with Him, and the reunion with your loved one will be forever.  After the sorrow comes inexpressible joy.

Since we’re not in heaven yet, what do we do while we’re in this sorrowful, sorrow-filled world?  Keep planting good seed, even when you’re crying.  Psalm 126 says, “Those who sow in tears . . .” It says, “He who goes out weeping, carrying seed . . .”

Keep planting, even when you’re crying.  Scripture says, “Do not be deceived; God cannot be mocked.  A man reaps what he sows.  The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.  Let us not become weary of doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:7-9)

Continue doing what is right, whether it is popular or not.  Keep honoring God, whether it is profitable or not.  Continue to obey God’s commands, whether it is convenient or not.  Keep trusting God’s promises, whether it is reasonable or not.  Be determined.  In fact, be stubborn about it!  Let’s see some sanctified stubbornness from the people of God.  Don’t give up because you don’t see results; we walk by faith, not by sight.  The wicked don’t get tired of doing evil!  Why should we get tired of doing good?  Keep planting good seed.

Perhaps there is sadness in your heart because you are trying to serve God, seeking to obey God’s commands, striving to do His will, and nothing seems to be working out.  The problem still exists; worse than that, people don’t seem to understand your actions.  They even attack your motives, accusing you of hypocrisy or weakness or self-righteousness.  God sees your heart.  God knows your motives.  God blesses faithfulness.  God honors obedience to His Word.  Keep planting, even when you’re crying.  

When will we see results?  When will the harvest come in?  It will come “at the proper time” — in God’s time, at the right time, in the fullness of time — not a moment before, not a moment after.  You don’t know when the harvest will come, but you know this:  You can’t harvest what you don’t plant.

Whatever God gives you to do, great or small, simple or complicated, public or private, do it with all your heart.  In your home, in your workplace, in school, in the community, wherever you are, however you feel, keep planting good seed to the glory of God.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ reminds us that our efforts are not pointless or wasted.  St. Paul was a man who knew something about trouble and suffering.  Here is what he has to say at the close of his majestic chapter on the resurrection:  “Thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore stand firm.  Let nothing move you.  Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (I Corinthians 15:57-58)  

“Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.  He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.”  “After the crying comes the laughing.”  That’s our heavenly Father’s promise to His dear children.  After Good Friday, Easter came.  Christ has ascended, and Christ will return.  We will see Him again, and our sorrow will turn to joy.  By faith in Christ, that joy is ours even now, today! 


Gain from Pain

By Dick Koehneke

In many congregations last weekend (the second Sunday in Lent), the Epistle was from Romans chapter 5.  In the first five verses the apostle Paul says that we are able to rejoice in our sufferings.  He goes on to say that suffering produces endurance, which produces character, which produces hope; and hope does not disappoint us, because we know that God loves us.  The cross of Christ proves that God loves us.  The suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are the source of our hope and our joy.

What is suffering?  Suffering is anything that hurts.  It includes physical pain and illness, but not only that.  Suffering can come because of rejection – grief – financial problems – disappointment – loneliness – and more.  Suffering is anything that hurts in any area of your life.

By God’s grace and the work of the Holy Spirit in us, pain can lead to gain.  Suffering can produce some valuable results for our faith and life.  Here are some that occur to me on the basis of God’s Word.  When we experience pain and hardship of any kind:

  1. We learn to trust God’s grace and not our works. Our relationship with God can become performance-oriented and production-driven. When that happens, we start to labor under the pressure of earning God’s favor, an impossible task.  Suffering can reduce our capacity to perform.  God’s grace removes the pressure to produce.  We put our trust in God, not ourselves.   

“God said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

  1. We discover or re-discover the faithfulness of God. Suffering doesn’t mean that God has abandoned us. His character is changeless.  He is with us and for us all the time, not only in the good times.

“I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.  I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.  Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:  Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.’ ” (Lamentations 3:19-24)

  1. We become less attached to this passing world. When things are going well, it’s easy to think this world is our home. We can forget that we are pilgrims here.  Our home is in heaven with God.

“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him.  For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.  The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.” (1 John 2:15-17)

  1. We look forward to the glory that is to come. Romans 8:18 does not trivialize our pain but points us to the magnificence of our future glory in the presence of God. Heaven is not “a better place.”  The word “better” implies comparison.  There is no comparison.   

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”  (Romans 8:18)

  1. We learn to appreciate the concern and care that we receive from others. We learn the skill of receiving care.  Our need for help gives the people around us an opportunity to exercise their love muscles, and that’s a good thing for them to do.

“I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.  Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles.”  (Philippians 4:10, 14)

  1. We develop greater compassion for others who are hurting. When you have gone through something painful, you understand how it feels. God can use your pain to prepare you to be a messenger of compassion to someone else who is hurting.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

  1. We become more grateful to our suffering Savior.

“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.  He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.  When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.  He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.  For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”  (1 Peter 2:21-25)

God bless you in these days of Lent as we contemplate the suffering and death of Christ and prepare to rejoice in His glorious resurrection! 


“The Younger Generation”: iGen

By Dick Koehneke

Some people call today’s young people “the younger generation.”  A researcher, wife, mother of three daughters (ages 6, 9, and 12), professor and author named Jean Twenge (she holds a Ph.D. in psychology ) has another name for the younger generation:  iGen.  It stands for “Internet Generation” and it refers to people born beginning in 1995, the year the Internet was born.  Her special focus is on people currently in middle school and high school, as well as college age, so there’s some overlap with the youngest part of the Millennial generation.

Her new book, published in 2017 by Simon & Schuster, is titled iGen.  It’s important reading for anyone who wants to understand “the younger generation.”  Her findings are based on four major research studies that have been going on for decades.  All told, they have surveyed 11 million people.  She writes, “By comparing one generation to another at the same age, we can observe the views of young people about themselves, rather than relying on older people’s reflections of a time gone by.  We can see differences that are due to cultural changes and not to age.  These surveys show that young people now are quite different from young people in previous decades.”  The year 2011 is the year when “everything started to change in the survey data.”  She points out that 2011 was the year when smartphones began to come into widespread use. 

Her basic thesis is that this generation has grown up with the Internet, social media, and smartphones.  As Dr. Twenge puts it, “This generation is the ideal place to look for trends that will shape our culture in the years to come, as its members are very young but still old enough to express their views and report on their experiences.”  She writes, “They socialize in completely new ways, reject once sacred social taboos, and want different things from their lives and careers.  They are obsessed with safety and fearful of their economic futures.  They have no patience for inequality based on gender, race, or sexual orientation.  They are at the forefront of the worst mental health crisis in decades, with rates of teen depression and suicide skyrocketing since 2011.”     

She says that this generation is “addicted to their phones, and they know it.  It’s clear that most teens (and adults) would be better off if they spent less time with their screens.”  She quotes one teenage girl speaking to the author of another book:  “Social media is destroying our lives, but [we don’t go off it] because then we would have no life.” 

If that’s not a working definition of addiction, I don’t know what is.

There are many valuable insights and excellent suggestions in her book.  Here’s one:  Put off giving your child a cell phone for as long as possible.  When you do get one for your child in middle school at the earliest, make it an old school flip phone, not a smartphone. 

One of her main points is that today’s young people are more connected than ever electronically, but they are isolated and lonely when it comes to meaningful face to face communication.  It strikes me that now, more than ever, there may be a need and an opportunity for Christians to teach, practice and live the Incarnation:  “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” (John 1:14)  God wasn’t – and isn’t – content with communicating with disembodied words.  God uses flesh and blood people to reach people “in the flesh” with His truth and love.  “Long ago, in many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son.”  (Hebrews 1:1-2)

How can we reach out to these precious young people, not only by using social media in creative and constructive ways, but also by going out of our way, moving out of our comfort zones, to see them and hear them and touch them?  That’s what God did for us in the person of His Son.  And that’s what God wants to do through us in the world today.  As Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (John 20:21)  I can’t recall who said it, but it goes something like this:  “Jesus is God with skin on, and we are Jesus with skin on.”  

Dr. Twenge ends her book this way:  “If they [the iGen’ers] can shake themselves free of the constant clutch of their phones and shrug off the heavy cloak of their fear, they can still fly.  And the rest of us will be there, cheering them on.”

God loves the iGen’ers!  We can help them shake free of their phones and shrug off their fears as we share Jesus with them and show Jesus to them.  Doing so will make a Christ-like difference in their lives, in the world they will lead and shape, and in the world to come.      







Speaking Up About Mental Health

By Dick Koehneke

As the new year begins, I invite you to think purposefully and creatively about ways the local church can be a safe place for conversations about issues related to mental health.  At least one in five Americans (possibly as many as one in four) is experiencing some form of mental illness right now:  depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, ADHD, phobias, OCD, bipolar disorders, PTSD and others – in addition to such behavioral health issues as substance abuse, addictions, and eating disorders.  Mental and behavioral health issues directly or indirectly affect many of us and the people we serve. 

Many people struggling with mental and behavioral illness turn to their pastor first for help.  Yet most pastors (62 % in a recent survey) do not feel equipped to identify such illnesses and make appropriate referrals.  In another recent survey, 45% of regular church attenders said they believed they would not be welcome in their congregations if they acknowledged that they are having a mental health issue.  Ponder that one for a moment.  You may want to read it again.   

We need to silence the stigma around mental illness and start (or continue and expand) the conversation about ways to help.     

On November 8 in Fort Wayne, Indiana some 550 people from 125 congregations attended an all-day conference titled “Speak Up:  A Conference on the Church and Mental Health.”  This was the first conference on this topic in this geographical area.  More would have attended, but the conference center’s capacity is 550.  The primary sponsor of the conference was The Lutheran Foundation of northeast Indiana, with support and participation by several other organizations and groups. 

The conference task force developed this purpose statement for the conference:  “In the Spirit of Christ, we encourage the Christian faith community to speak openly about mental health in ways that lead to practical expressions of care and companionship for all.”  There were four key words for the conference:  Awareness, Education, Resources, and Action.  The first three were strongly in evidence at the conference.  Now comes the “Action” part!  Here are some resources that were shared at the conference  to help us take action. is a website with this purpose statement:  “This website is a resource for clergy designed to provide you with the information, tools and training needed to effectively assist individuals with mental health difficulties such as anxiety disorders, bipolar disorders, and depressive disorders who may seek your support.”  It’s a gold mine of information and resources for pastors and other people who want to be helpful to individuals dealing with mental health issues.  The website is supported by the Hope and Healing Center and Institute in Houston, TX.  Dr. Matthew Stanford is the Institute’s CEO.  He was one of the two excellent main speakers at the November 8 Conference, speaking about “A Clinical and Biblical Perspective on Mental Illness.” 

Speaking on “Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission” was Amy Simpson, the other main conference speaker.  She is an author, speaker, and leadership coach who lives in the Chicago area.  You may want to be in touch with her to discuss how she could be a resource for you.  Here’s her website:

A new resource to support pastors was introduced at the conference.  It’s the Full Strength Network, a nondenominational Christian organization serving pastors and their families.  Here’s their website:  If you’re a pastor or a member of a pastor’s family, or if you’re someone who cares about the wellbeing of pastors and their families, please pay it a visit.  I think you’ll want to come back often.  Their motto is:  “Healthy pastors lead healthy churches.  Healthy churches change the world.” 

In the new year of 2018 let’s silence the stigma surrounding mental illness.  Let’s speak openly about mental health in ways that lead to practical expressions of care and companionship for all.  God grant His abundant blessings to you and through you to the people whose lives you touch! 

Don’t Be Afraid

By Dick Koehneke

“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.  And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’ ” (Luke 2:8-11)

This is the fourth in a series of four articles on speakers at the August 10-11 Global Leadership Summit organized by the Willow Creek Association of Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago.  This article is about the message of Gary Haugen, founder and CEO of International Justice Mission, a world-wide agency rescuing victims of violence, exploitation, slavery and oppression.  Gary’s work puts him and his staff in some threatening and dangerous situations.  Their website is

Gary’s message to leaders was “Do Not Be Afraid.”  As we prepare to celebrate Christmas, I think “Do Not Be Afraid” is a good theme to conclude this series of articles.  Think of the angel’s first words to the shepherds on the night that Christ was born.  Think of the many times that our Lord tells us, “Don’t be afraid” and how frequently that command is repeated in Scripture.  God knows how easily we can become fearful, so He repeats the instruction again and again and again:  “Do not be afraid.” 

Here are some of Gary Haugen’s main points.  [My comments are in brackets.]

  1. Fear is the silent destroyer of dreams. Fear prevents learning from turning into action. Fear destroys the love that inspires the dream and replaces love with a preoccupation with self.  Many dreams are destroyed simply by a leader’s everyday anxieties and insecuritites.  


[“What’s going to happen to me?  How will this affect me?  If I do this, what will people think of me?”  These are dream-destroying questions that often replace love with self-absorption.  Fear of taking action produces inaction, the safe way to go.  It’s the easy way that leads to mediocrity.  How much do we learn from not doing anything?  How many lives do we touch with Christ’s love and truth when our focus is on self?  How many dreams come true without some level of risk?]

  1. Relentlessly inventory your own fears. We must do this if we want the dream to survive and thrive. We may not be fully aware of what we’re really afraid of.  Set aside time for regular self-examination of your real fears.  Regularly, routinely ask yourself, “What am I really anxious about?”  At International Justice Mission, everyone sits silently for half an hour every morning at 8:30.  Gary says, “In silence, worries and insecurities will bubble to the surface.  But if you are practiced at it, God brings insight, self-awareness, and steadiness of soul.”   

[This is not a pleasant task.  It’s much more fun to “think positive” and “be upbeat.”  It takes self-discipline to assess our fears and anxieties so that we can deal with them honestly and give God space and time to give us hope and courage.  In the physical realm, we shouldn’t ignore the nagging cough, the sore that won’t heal, the pain that won’t go away.  Neither should we ignore the fears that affect us and afflict us emotionally and spiritually.  We acknowledge our fears and offer them to the Lord so that He can give us the peace that is beyond all understanding.  You’re not alone in your fears.  Why would God have taken so many opportunities in His Word to say “Don’t be afraid” if you were the only fearful person on earth?  We’re all afraid of something(s).] 

  1. Switch from playing defense to playing offense. No great dream has ever been built on fear of what might go wrong. Great dreams are built on the hope of what might go right.  Don’t be more impressed with what people are getting wrong in the world than you are with what God is getting right.  Leaders play defense when they keep repeating the narrative of fear and victimization.  We need to advance into what is broken and bring redemption. 

[Courage is not the absence of fear.  Courage is taking action in the face of our fear.  Courage involves going toward the source of the problem, not running from it.  That’s what police officers and firefighters do, and that’s what leaders need to do as well.  There’s a saying in football, “The best defense is a good offense.”  When your team has the football, the other team can’t score.  We need to keep the devil on his heels.  Let’s be the kind of people who, when we get out of bed and put our feet on the floor, the devil says, “Oh no, not again!”]   

  1. Forge a community of courage around you. Lone rangers do not make great dreams come true, except in the movies. The strength of a loving community protects dreams from fear.  Jesus didn’t go it alone, although he could have; he forged a community of men and women around him, thus giving us an example to follow.  The bad news is that fear is contagious.  The good news is that courage is contagious too.  Shortly after he said, “Let not your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid” (John 14:27) Jesus said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12) 

[A loving community reduces our fear and enlarges our courage.  I can’t think of a better way to put it than this:  “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.  And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.  Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.  So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.  By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.  There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.  We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:13-19)  God loves you with a love that is perfect, unconditional, absolute, and eternal.  His love is stronger than our fears.  Don’t be afraid!]

God grant us all a courageous Christmas! 

Leading through the Uncomfortable

By Dick Koehneke

This is the third in a series of four articles on speakers at the August 10-11 Global Leadership Summit organized by the Willow Creek Association of Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago.  This article is about the message of Bryan Stevenson, an activist and lawyer who has dedicated his career to helping poor people and people in prison through his leadership of the Equal Justice Initiative.  In his speech on effective leadership he made four key points.  As we celebrate the Reformation 500th, I’m reminded that Martin Luther did all four of these things to one degree or another.   

[My comments are in brackets.]

  1. Get close to the people you are serving. Proximity enhances leadership. When you get close to the people you are serving and the problems they are having, you begin to understand the nuances and subtleties of the situation.  But the problem is that most of us have been taught to stay away from “the bad parts of town.” 

[Martin Luther left the monastery and got close to all sorts of people.  Leading from a distance is much more comfortable than leading from up close.  As someone has said, “I’m a very Godly person until I encounter another person.”  The pulpit and the podium provide a safe distance from which to analyze problems and proclaim solutions.  Getting close to people is risky; it means I might have to change my thinking and maybe even realize that what I’ve been thinking has been wrong.  The people who have made the biggest positive difference in my life were (are) willing to take the risk of coming close to me.  Is that true for you?]

  1. Change the narratives that sustain the problems we are trying to address. When we as a nation declared war on drugs, we decided that drug-dependent people are not patients in need of care; they are criminals who need to be in jail. We use the criminal justice system to deal with the problem of drug abuse and addiction.  We need to change the narrative from incarceration to treatment.  

[Luther changed the narrative on a ton of things.  What are the narratives that sustain the problems we Christians are trying to address?  How do we view people who do not know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord?  Do we try to put ourselves in their shoes in order to understand them?  Or do we label them and stereotype them in the broad category of “unbelievers”?  When I feel that someone has labeled or stereotyped me in some way I am not as likely to be as receptive to their communication as I am if I feel they affirm me as an individual person with my own history, needs, wants, strengths and weaknesses.  How is it with you?]

  1. Stay hopeful. Hopelessness is the enemy of effective leadership. Hope gets you to stand up when others tell you to sit down, to speak when others say be quiet.  It takes courage to stay hopeful in the face of daunting circumstances, but it is our hope that will save us. 

[Christian hope and human optimism are two different things.  Optimism says, “Hang in there; things will get better.”  Christian hope says, “No matter what happens, I believe God is working out His purposes, and I will continue to trust and serve Him.”  That was the conviction that sustained Martin Luther. We need to make sure our hope is consistent with God’s Word and His will, not based on personal preferences or fantasies of some sort.  We need to stay in contact with trusted, mature Christian people who will let us know whether we are really working in hope or are laboring under delusions.  Someone wrote, “Overconfidence gives you the courage to act on your faulty convictions.”  Make sure you are hopeful, not overconfident.]

  1. Be willing to do uncomfortable things. The best leaders are willing to do things that are uncomfortable. As humans, we are biologically wired to do what is comfortable.  But positive changes occur only when people are willing to do uncomfortable things.  Leaders have to position themselves in uncomfortable places.  We need to connect with our own brokenness, which makes us very uncomfortable.  That’s how we identify with the brokenness of the people we are trying to serve.  Effective leadership is not measured by how we treat the rich and powerful, but by how we treat the poor and neglected. 

[I love my comfort zone, and I think you probably love yours too.  Here’s the problem, as I heard someone say:  “If you’re completely comfortable, you’re probably not growing” – and you’re probably not leading creatively either.  Problems, challenges and crises force us out of our comfort zone into our growth zone.  It would be wonderful if we could grow comfortably, but for some reason that doesn’t seem to happen very often.  As the saying goes, “That’s why they call it growing PAINS.”  Am I willing to force myself out of my comfort zone into my growth zone?  Am I willing to lead others out of their comfort zones into their growth zones?  What about you?]      

Martin Luther is a good example for us.  Here’s the ultimate, perfect example of someone getting out of the comfort zone to get close to people who need help:  “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”  (2 Corinthians 8:9)

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8)

Not “How?” but “Wow!”

By Dick Koehneke

This is the second in a series of four articles on speakers at the August 10-11 Global Leadership Summit organized by the Willow Creek Association, broadcast from Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago.  This one is about Rev. Andy Stanley. 

Andy Stanley founded North Point Ministries in Atlanta more than 20 years ago.  Today, North Point Ministries is comprised of six churches in the Atlanta area and a worldwide network of 30 churches serving nearly 70,000 people every week.  The title of his presentation was “Uniquely Better.” 

Here are some of his comments that struck me as being especially helpful.  [I’ve added my comments in brackets.] 

  • “If you don’t know why something works, you won’t be able to fix it when it breaks.” [And you won’t know how to maintain it at peak performance and keep it from falling apart.]
  • “You may not develop the new ‘uniquely better’ but you can recognize it when you see it.” [Not every good idea has to be my idea. People shouldn’t have to convince me that it’s something I thought of.]
  • “The ‘uniquely better’ can be so unique that established, successful churches cannot believe it’s better.” [Success can be the enemy of innovation and improvement.  Every failure contains the seeds of the next success, someone has said.  It’s also true that every success contains the seeds of the next failure.]
  • “Our hope and duty as leaders is to create organizational cultures that recognize ‘uniquely better’ rather than resist it.” [There is sometimes a tendency to be inappropriately suspicious of other people’s ideas while being completely accepting of one’s own.  I believe it’s Ken Blanchard who said, “Don’t let your ego eat your brains.”]   
  • “Be a student before you are a critic. I will not criticize something I do not understand.  The more you are criticizing, the less you are learning.”  [Hmmm . . . How do you think you might apply those comments to yourself?  I know they apply to me.  It’s fairly easy to criticize something you don’t understand.  It’s also lazy and irresponsible.]
  • “Keep your eyes and your mind wide open. Listen to outsiders.  They are not bound by our assumptions.  Closed-minded leaders close minds.”  [I sometimes like to attend conferences and events that are not LCMS-sponsored (things like the Global Leadership Summit) because I meet different people and hear things said in fresh and challenging ways.  It feels like the windows are being thrown open and fresh air is coming into my lungs.  Not that “our beloved Synod” is stale, of course!] 
  • “Replace ‘How?’ with ‘Wow!’ Don’t HOW ideas to death; WOW them to life!”  [Encourage before you analyze.  If you feel yourself starting to analyze inside your head, encourage the other person some more.  Encouragement generates excitement, and excitement generates creative energy.  There will be plenty of time for analysis later.]

I hope Andy Stanley’s words will be challenging and encouraging to you, as they are to me. 

White Space: The Strategic Pause

By Dick Koehneke

Recently I attended the Global Leadership Summit. It’s an annual two-day event that’s broadcast from Willow Creek Community Church in the Chicago area. This year it reached more than 700 satellite locations around the world. Fort Wayne, Indiana, where I live, had the largest number of people anywhere under one roof: over 4,000 – yes, 4,000 of us!

There were 13 speakers who spoke for up to an hour each. All of them were excellent. Four of them touched me in special ways. Over the next four months in Rich and Charlie Resources I want to share their thoughts – and my observations – with you.

As the busy fall season begins, I thought it would be timely for me to tell you about Juliet Funt’s message: “White Space: The Strategic Pause.” She is the founder and CEO of WhiteSpace at Work. She says, “We live in the age of ‘busyness’ which is really overload. Our work styles are all exertion and no thoughtfulness. We are too busy to figure out how to become less busy.” That last sentence is a beauty!

Today’s success-oriented culture seems to place a high value on “being busy.” It’s almost like if you’re not busy, you’re not worth much. My question is: Busy doing what? Here’s another question that’s even more important: Busy getting what done? Effort is not the same thing as accomplishment.  

I ask those questions with no claim of superior insight. For many years I thought that I needed to have a jam-packed schedule to show that I was a hard worker. I didn’t want anyone to outwork me. The idea of “white space” didn’t really enter my mind. Not very smart, right?

How different the lifestyle of “busyness” is from the approach that our Lord Jesus took. I can’t find anywhere in the Gospels where he was frantic or in a hurry. He experienced great pressure for sure, but he always gave himself time to pray and reflect in the presence of the heavenly Father. He was perfectly responsive to the needs of every person and situation that he encountered. He was calm in the midst of the storms, both literally and figuratively.    

Juliet Funt defines white space as “a strategic pause between activities” and observes that “you don’t really need long stretches of time.” She says, “White space has no rules or goals. It gives us time and space to think the ‘unthunk thought.’” She says that it’s not the same as meditation, mind-wandering, or mindfulness. You gain white space by becoming conscious of “the thieves of productivity” and “defeating them with specific questions.”

These “thieves of productivity” are four “core forces” that she says are good in themselves but when pushed too far can become corrupted: Drive, Excellence, Information, and Activity. Drive becomes Overdrive. Excellence turns into Perfectionism. Information becomes Information Overload. Activity becomes Frenzy. These four thieves “lure us into a pace and pressure that can actually lower our effectiveness,” she says.

You defeat the thieves by asking good questions. Here are the questions related to each thief.

Drive/Overdrive: “What can I let go of?”

Excellence/Perfectionism: “When is ‘good enough’ good enough?”

Information/Information Overload: “What do I truly need to know?”

Activity/Frenzy: “What deserves my attention now?”

I think those are REALLY good questions.

“Do not become a servant of any of the four core forces,” she says. “Know yourself and which ones are most likely to be corrupted in your life. Don’t serve them; make them serve you.”

Here’s the thought that crossed my mind: Our loving Lord doesn’t want us to fall into the trap of compulsively thinking we have to work harder and harder in the use of our gifts to justify our calling or even our existence on the planet. We recognize that our gifts and talents can become corrupted into workaholism or arrogant pride of performance. Faithfulness is not the same as busyness.

I guess I’m saying this: Know yourself. Appreciate yourself. Thank God that He made you. Let Him work through you. You’re not the generator; you’re the cable.

A question I’m asking church workers and lay leaders these days is this: “How can we honor and encourage self-care as much as we honor and encourage hard work?” If we don’t take care of ourselves, our hard work will not last long. Or it may continue to be hard work – but not good work.

I don’t know how it is with you, but when I start feeling like a martyr or a victim, I’m no fun at all to be around. If I’m miserable, I want you to join me, and I’ll find some really good passive-aggressive ways to make that happen. Sound familiar? Maybe not. It’s probably just me, don’t you think?          

Give yourself time to be. God’s Word does not say that “anyone who is in Christ is a busy person who works very hard.” It says, “Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation.” Who you are means more to God than what you do. Give yourself time for being, not doing. “White space” is one very good way to take care of yourself so that you can continue to be your best self in the vocations in which God is calling you to serve and honor Him.

Obvious Joy

By Dick Koehneke

Not very long ago I was talking with a man who had retired from the Air Force after a long and distinguished career. His service had caused him and his family to move multiple times over the years.  He had been a member of eight or ten different Lutheran congregations, as I recall, and I’m sure he was a faithful member of each one. 

I asked him, “What’s the most important quality you look for in a pastor?” He thought for just a moment and then responded, “Obvious joy in his work.”   

Frankly, that’s not what I was expecting. I thought his answer would be something along the lines of sound theology, good preaching, positive leadership, relational skills, and so on.  I know that he honored all those skills and qualities.  But the thing that mattered most to him was “obvious joy.”

Do we always feel joyful? No, not when our joy is dependent on our situation or our performance.  If I’m joyful only when things are going well or when I think I’m doing well, that’s a problem, and that’s not the kind of joy that God wants us to have.  Besides, I might be fooling myself when I’m thinking things are going well or that I’m doing well.  Then my joy is based on illusion, not reality, and that’s not good at all.   

Think of the real reasons why we can be joyful. Our sins are forgiven.  We’re on our way to heaven.  The Lord is with us always.  We’re serving Him as we live our daily lives, and that fact gives meaning and purpose to the grandest strategies and the smallest details.   

Sure, there are people who (to use H. B. London’s term) are “joy-suckers.”   They are experts at turning smiles into frowns.  They don’t always realize they’re doing it.  That makes me wonder whether I am sometimes a “joy-sucker” in my relationships with other people.  When you’re unhappy with yourself, you can become critical of others over the least little things, thus sucking the joy out of their lives.  When you see room for improvement everywhere you look (except possibly in the mirror), you just might be a “joy-sucker.”  

I can’t control how other people act, but I can work at exercising self-control. Joy is contagious.  I want to be a person who turns frowns into smiles.  I want to be a “joy-filler.”  A “joy-filler” helps people to be “joy-full.”  That’s the kind of pastor that retired Air Force veteran appreciates.  That’s the sort of person other people want to be around.  As someone said, “If you’re feeling joy in your heart, tell your face about it!”      

Joyful self-control keeps us focused on the eternal victory we have in Christ, even when things aren’t going well in this world. Jesus taught in His parable that the weeds will keep growing alongside the wheat until the day when He returns in glory.  As He says, “In this world you will have trouble; but take heart, for I have overcome the world.”  The victory is already ours through faith in Christ.  We’re on the winning side.  That’s reason for joy in our hearts – and more than enough reason for obvious joy in our work.   

The Three “I Words”

By Dick Koehneke

A few years ago Focus on the Family conducted a survey of pastors.  It revealed that many pastors feel one or more of three “I words”: 

Isolated.  Inadequate.  Insecure.  Here are my brief reflections on those three words. 

Isolated:  the sense that no one really knows what you’re going through.  Those who do know, really don’t understand.  If anyone does understand, the person probably doesn’t care.  That’s what you’re feeling.  You think you’re all on your own. 

The feeling of isolation is not always based on external factors.  You can be in a rural ministry and not feel isolated, and you can be in a large urban ministry and feel totally alone.  Parish ministry in and of itself can lead to a feeling of isolation on the part of the pastor.  As an older pastor told me many years ago, “Loneliness comes with the territory.” 

Inadequate:  the feeling that you’re really not up to the job, that you don’t have what it takes, that your abilities are not a good match for the challenges and opportunities of your ministry.  For me, true happiness in ministry is when your talents and gifts match the needs of the ministry you serve.  The opposite of that is inadequacy, which produces great anxiety and sadness. 

Some pastors feel inadequate when it comes to counseling, and that feeling may be a good thing.  It’s not good when a pastor tries to help someone who has a problem beyond the pastor’s competence.  But when there are no places or people to turn to, and referral is not possible, the feeling of inadequacy can intensify to intolerable levels.  You feel like you have to get out.         

Insecure:  the sensation that the other shoe is always about to drop, that you’re only a couple of key people away from the premature and abrupt end of your ministry in that congregation.  This feeling is made worse by a tendency in some places to view the pastor as a hired employee, not a called servant of God.  It’s compounded by the financial issues that face many pastors and their families, often as a result of massive educational debt. 

Insecurity makes a pastor reluctant to commit unconditionally to the ministry to which God has called him.  He waits for other people to do something to make him feel more secure.  He holds back.  Or he becomes more aggressive and confrontational.  He’s not his best self.  The insecurity intensifies, both as an internal emotion and as an external reality.  It can be a death spiral of a ministry.   

How do you deal with those three sensations?  The answer is complicated and personal.  Here are three Scriptures among many that I have found helpful.  Please ponder them deeply. 

Isolation:  Jesus says, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  (Matthew 28:20)

Inadequacy:  “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit.”  (2 Corinthians 3:5-6)

Insecurity:  “Having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.  For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.”  (2 Corinthians 4:1,5)