Humble Ambition

Cromwell, I charge thee, fling away ambition:
By that sin fell the angels; how can man, then,
The image of his Maker, hope to win by it?
– Cardinal Wolsey (Henry VIII: Act III, Scene 2)

What is the most ambitious thing you have ever done?

In late 2005, I drove fourteen hours away from everything that was familial and familiar only five days after my college graduation.  With no home, no work, no friends, no family, and no idea, I had been convinced by someone I had only seen in person for less than two weeks to spend Christmas with her and her immediate family.  Armed with only a dream to go to grad school, I agreed to go with her.  Only five days later, I asked her to marry me.  Maybe that was the most ambitious thing I’ve ever done.  I’m sure her saying, “Yes!” under the night sky in front of the boardwalk in Santa Cruz was the most ambitious thing she’s ever done.  I’ll have to ask her.

Ambition drives us and moves us.  It can fuel us to pursue a goal or dream that no one else sees except us.  For that reason, it almost always requires from us everything that we have to offer.  It calls us to examine ourselves and capitalize on the potential within us to bring to reality this dream.  For that reason, ambition can sometimes turn to arrogance or pride without too much persuasion.  I used to think that desiring to be an ambitious leader required so much faith in myself that there would be no room for humility or humbleness; that in order to achieve the dreams that God has put in my heart I would have to ignore or neglect His call to serve and to love and to be meek.


It turns out that being ambitious and leading ambitiously creates the perfect environment for humility.  Sanders has gently reminded me that, “when our ambition is to be effective in the service of God – to realize God’s highest potential for our lives – we can keep both of these [ideas: ambition and humility] in mind and hold them in tension.”  It is within this tension that I have begun to realize and learn how little I know.  God is showing me how much, or how little, I rely on Him and yet, He still invites me to join Him in the work that He is doing.  In that tension, God reveals, sometimes gently and sometimes sharply, how ill-suited we are for a number of things.  And yet, in those places, His quiet voice reminds us that the call to live with an honorable ambition has never been an easy one but it is a worthy one.  We are all called to develop our God-given talents, to make the most of our lives, to develop to the fullest our God-given powers and capacities.

May we fling away, not ambition, but fear.  May we embrace our highest potential for the service of God in His redemptive work in this world.  May we ask humbly, learn deeply, and act boldly.  Live and lead with a humble ambition.

Humble Ambition

Spiritual Leadership

spiritual-leadership-oswald-sandersAs I get older, I often find myself looking back at my younger self, wondering, “Why did you make that decision?  Why did you eat that food, have that drink?  What drove you to wear that outfit, get that haircut, say those words?  Why did you pick up Vernon Davis as your third round draft pick?”  Hindsight is always 20/20.  It’s especially true in leadership.  I often find myself reflecting on past decisions and choices in order to learn and to grow so that I can make wiser decisions or, at the very least, new mistakes.  Recently, I came across an old leadership book in my library.  It’s Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders.  I’ve decided to reread it, which is a humbling exercise.

I see what I highlighted and why I highlighted it and its shows me how much I’ve grown as a leader and how far I have yet to go.

As I continue to lead and grow in my leadership abilities, I have found it helpful to share what resonates with me as I read in hopes of encouraging other leaders out there.  It’s not that I think I have any answers.  Most of the time, I just have a bunch of questions.  Then, as I read from people who are wiser and less distracted and have life experience, I find some answers and newer questions.  If you have time, I would encourage you to skip this blog and read Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders instead.  If you find yourself with less time, I’ll be sharing my reflections and thoughts on each of Sanders’ thoughts on leadership and invite you to join me and share your thoughts.

May we all aspire to serve God by developing excellence in leadership.  May we lead out of our unique gifting and out of where God has brought us thus far.  May we not settle for where we are now but strive to grow in our effectiveness of leaders.  May we surround ourselves with better and more capable leaders, dead and alive, young and old, that we may grow and learn together.  May we lead with the glory of God in mind.

Happy Birthday, Mom!

I’ve known my mother my whole life.

She was there when I was born.  She held me when I cried and fed me when I was hungry.  She was there celebrating when I took my first step.  She was there grieving when the doctors thought I had 1927879_522898230691_8177_nleukemia.  She was cheering when I scored my first basketball goal.  She was crying when I broke my two front teeth on the court.  She was patient with me when I yelled at her and made her cry.  She pleaded with me when she thought I was doing drugs or making bad life decisions.  She woke up earlier to take me to band practice.  She stayed up late when I would leave the house and go to parties.  She woke up earlier to make us breakfast before she went to work.  She stayed out late to see me in plays.  She was there when I packed my car to move to the same city with a girl I hardly knew.  She was there when I married that same girl.  She drove fifteen hours to be there when my daughter was born.  She drove fifteen hours again when my son was born.

I’ve learned so much from my mother.

My entire life my mother has behind me, supporting me, encouraging me, loving me, and challenging me.  She was always there in the background, 10400297_7624090644_9314_nnever drawing attention to herself but always being the first one willing to help out if necessary.  She was always giving out of what little she had.  She taught me discipline.  She taught me love.  She taught me grace.  She taught me hope.  She taught me how to be grateful for what I had.  She taught me not to take things for granted.  She taught me what it looks like to always be there for being who you love who will inadvertently hurt you because she had not just one boy but four and boys can be jerks sometimes.  She taught me what it looks like to wait for fruit of the labor of love to be harvested after decades and not just after dinner.

I’m still learning from my mother.

She teaches me the value of laughter.  She teaches me the value of home.  She teaches me the value of love.  She teaches me the value of acceptance.  She teaches me the value of parenting.  She teaches me the value of a shared meal.  She teaches me the value of hugs.  She teaches me the value of hard work.  She teaches me the value of giving.  She teaches me the value of sharing.  She teaches me the value of a cup of coffee and ice cream after a long day.  She teaches me the value of time spent with family.  My mother teaches me so much and I know that she will one day teach me how to let go.  She will teach me how to endure.  She will teach me how to remember.  She will teach me how to create.  She will teach me how to hope.  And now, I see the cycle starting over again with her grandchildren.  It is such a wonderful and humbling experience and I’m blessed that I get to see it start over again.

10387189_10152490926730645_6892918563564137815_oI’ve known my mother my whole life.  I know that she’s not perfect.  I know that she’s not everything she wants to be.  I know that she’s made mistakes.  But I know that’s what makes her human.  And in light of all those truths, she still pursues her identity of mother with compassion, endurance, grace, and love.  For that reason, I am celebrating her life today.   I wish I could share with you her story.  But it’s not mine to share.  All I have is my story and my life.  But you should know that her influence runs through like the threads in a cloth.

I am a mommy’s boy.  I am my mother’s son.  I love you mom!! Happy Birthday!



Experiential Transformation

Experiences are the context for transformation.  Knowledge in action creates an experience. When we put into practice what we know, and consequently what we believe, it creates the context for encounters that change our life.

Knowledge is culturally defined as the facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject.  If our lives are experiences that are the result of our present knowledge being put into action, then we are always acquiring knowledge of some kind.  This is our reality.  So knowledge is that stuff we learn and information we have and things we believe.  Knowledge can be intimidating when we consider the body of information presently available to us to access and process.  If we’re not careful, we can spend our entire lives simply sifting through everything at our fingertips without having it change us.  That fear of never knowing the full picture because there is too much information, never being able to process it enough, and never putting it into action can stop even the heartiest person from trying to think thoroughly about an issue.  In that sense, knowledge can be intimidating.  But knowledge alone doesn’t change us.  Experiences change us.  Experiences are the result of knowledge put into action.

Action is simple.  It is the process of doing something, typically to achieve an aim.  I used to think that my life was segregated by those moments I lived in action and those I didn’t live in action.  So when I thought of action, I would ask myself, “When are you doing something?”  I’ve since learned a better question to guide me through the process.  It is “when are you NOT doing something?” When we look at our lives through that question, we realize that we live in continuous action.  Everything we do is action.  The question is what we’re attempting to accomplish through our actions.  That can be as personal as spiritual growth or as  economic as building a corporation.  We are never living life in a place of inaction. Doing nothing is still doing something.  If this is true, then our lives are actually being shaped by our current knowledge being put into action everyday.  We create experiences for ourselves on a daily basis.  Why is this important?

I think this is important for us to think about because I fear that many of us don’t consider how our lives are presently being shaped and formed constantly.  If experience is the context for transformation, then what we may or may not realize is that we are being shaped everyday by something into something.  I think for many of us, a transformational experience is associated more with a momentous or even cathartic event:  a message we hear, movie we see, a trip we take, or a cause we participate in.   As a result, we think about transformation more like a hole being created by dynamite than a canyon being formed by a river.  That comparison clearly shows us the difference.  One takes centuries while the other takes minutes.  One shapes along natural contours while the other is invasive.  For one, progress is indiscernible and for other, it is undeniable.  I don’t want to deny that we all have those recognizable shifts for ourselves.  I just don’t think they’re accidental.

So what’s the point of all us?

As people of faith, we believe God uses everyday experiences to shape us.  But I believe God gives us more freedom to shape those experiences than we believe or want to acknowledge.  How do we long to be shaped and how are we participating with God in that shaping process?

We believe that God can use exceptional experiences to transform our souls in discernible ways.  But I believe that God also gives us more time to change than we give ourselves.  How can we trust God in the process while recognizing the progress without feeling discouraged in the meantime?

God loves us because of what Jesus has done for us.  He loves us enough to call us from where we were.  He loves us enough to take us where we are.  He loves us enough to call us forward to whom He longs for us to become.  Trust our Lord God and His work.  He is faithful.

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