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Your Music

I arrived safe and sound in Harare, Zimbabwe yesterday. I'm still getting settled and I'm already off today to a remote site for a two-day retreat. I'll write more in coming days concerning the conditions here and what God is doing in spite of it all. But for now, let's talk a bit about purpose.

Michael Jones, a gifted pianist, author, speaker and educator tells the story of how he went from being a consultant to a famous pianist. One day someone heard Mr. Jones playing the piano in a Toronto hotel lobby, something he did as a hobby while he traveled. The man approached him and asked Mr. Jones an important question:

The man asked, "Do you work at the hotel?" I said, "Oh, no, no, no. I'm a consultant. I'm busy trying to change the world." To my disappointment, he didn't seem at all impressed by that. Then he asked, "How many other people do this kind of consulting work that you do?" I said, "Well, probably 20 or 30, I would guess, in the Toronto area." And then he looked at me, and at that moment what I most recall about the meeting was how clear and sober his eyes appeared, from how he seemed a few minutes before. He said, "Who's going to play that music if you don't play it yourself?"

I felt that question drop in a way that I had not heard a question drop inside of me before. I realized it was a question for which I had no answer. . . Then he stood up, a little uneasy, and steadied himself by putting his hand on my shoulder, and said, "This is your gift -- don't waste it." Meanwhile I sat on the piano bench, stunned by the question and the sense that it had just changed my life. Who will play my music? I asked myself.

So I want to ask you the same question: Who will play your "music" if you don't? Who will write the book, build the business empire, take the missions trip, compose the play or fulfill your destiny if you don't? Are there others who can do what you are doing now, while something only you can do remains undone?

Michael Jones concluded that no one would play his music if he didn't. He overcame his fear, as he tells it, of going broke, being ignored or failing and went on to sell two million copies of his piano recordings. I am not guaranteeing this measure of success, for that is in God's hands. But I can promise you the same sense of adventure and fulfillment if you let go of the familiar to embrace the unknown as you follow your dream.

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Last night, I spoke to a group of 16 people about purpose. The meeting was put together by a Monday Memo reader, who is an American. She and her husband moved here 10 years ago and stayed to do business. In fact, half the people present were Americans. It was a fantastic meeting that we found hard to end!

It was moving that three women who have had strokes early in life were present, the organizer being one of them. People in their 30's and 40's aren't "supposed" to have strokes, but they do. And to hear how the stroke has impacted their lives and purpose was powerful. I was privileged to hear from them; I hope they were blessed to hear from me. Almost everyone in the meeting signed up for a one-on-one purpose session when I return.

My trip here wasn't without its challenges. We were delayed two hours out of Amsterdam. By the time I cleared customs, rented a car, drove to the hotel and got something to eat, it was 4 am! Then I had a pretty full day of activities yesterday, culminating in last night's meeting. But I feel good and today I am on off to Zimbabwe. Before I go I have a breakfast PurposeQuest meeting with a purpose partner who relocated from Zimbabwe to South Africa last year.

How grateful I am to be on the PurposeQuest trail, meeting so many fascinating people and hearing what God is doing in their lives. What is God doing in your life where purpose is concerned? Feel free to write and let us know.

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I left New York's Kennedy Airport last night for Johannesburg through Amsterdam. To my surprise, KLM upgraded me to first class! First class is, well, it's first class! You get the best china and can select from three main entrees on the menu. They wait on you hand and foot and even gave us a Delph knickknack as a momento of our Atlantic crossing.

I landed in Amsterdam at 7:30 am local time (1:30 am New York time). I now have a three-hour layover, since my next flight is delayed an hour. I tried for another upgrade, but this flight isn't nearly full. When that's the case, they seldom upgrade anyone. But that means there will be plenty of seats, so I should be able to get a whole row to myself. That means I can sleep and do the work I have scheduled to do on the plane.

I love plane time. I put my earplugs in and go to work. I also get some sleep and usually work on my laptop until my battery runs down (the computer's, not my personal battery). I also do a lot of reading on planes.

I will arrive in Jo'burg tonight at 10:30 pm and, after I clear customs, will rent a car (I almost always use Avis in Africa) and drive to the Sandton area of town. I am used to driving on the left side of the road now and getting around Johannesburg is like getting around New York, even easier. I just have to remember to "think left and look right" as I drive.

I will write more from Johannesburg.

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Jesus Was a Servant Leader

GreenleafpowerEight years ago, I read Robert Greenleaf’s seminal book, The Power of Servant Leadership. When I started reading, I couldn’t put it down. Quite frankly, that book took my breath away (and still does). I have tried to read everything and anything on servant leadership since that time, and all of it has served to sharpen my leadership focus and teaching. I was surprised to find that most of the books on servant leadership were not written by church leaders, but rather business leaders. This surprised me, since I knew that Jesus initiated the servant leadership message. Yet somehow the servant leadership message had escaped or circumvented the church. I determined at that point to introduce or reintroduce the message wherever and whenever possible.

To do this, I’ve reflected on what the Bible and Jesus had to say about servant leadership. More importantly, I studied what Jesus did as a servant leader. Here are some of my findings:

1. Jesus had no official title or position. He was called rabbi, which means teacher, yet he had no synagogue that he used as a base. He was an itinerate teacher in His three years of ministry work.

2. Jesus built no organization. Jesus had followers, but He never tried to formalize His network. He was content to teach, travel, heal and train leaders.

3. Jesus did not recruit followers to a paid position. Instead, Jesus recruited people to fulfill their purpose. He never promised a salary or benefits, yet He never apologized to anyone for calling them to do what they were created to do. Jesus never recruited anyone through guilt or manipulation, but through love.

4. Jesus was content to teach and model. Jesus influenced people by what He taught and how He lived. He did everything He could to deflect attention from Himself to God the Father. Jesus never put pressure on anyone to follow Him. In fact, He discouraged some who wanted to do so. He sent them home to live their lives and share their testimony of He had helped them.

5. Jesus never clarified who He was. When people asked Jesus who He was, He asked them, “Who do you think I am?” He never took time to defend Himself from false accusations, but stayed focused on His purpose.

I determined after reading Greenleaf's book and studying Jesus' life that I wanted to be a servant leader. And that has led me to evaluate my life and make changes that would allow me to do so. But I saw that God began to prepare me for servant-leadership a long time ago. I’ve never had a high position in any organization. When I was a pastor, I was happiest traveling and teaching. I now have an organization that allows me to teach through my books, personal appearances and website, but there are no employees. The purpose message has influenced many and I believe that the best is yet to come. But I have done all this without a title or formal team and I believe I was able to do it all because of my decision to become a servant-leader like (but certainly not equal to) my Lord and Master.

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Last night my wife, daughter and I decided to drive to New York City after our Thanksgiving dinner. Our daughter lives here now (at 8th Avenue and 21st Street in Manhattan) and we have always enjoyed our time in the the Big Apple.

We ate dinner tonight in Little Italy at Taormina's Restaurant and then had dessert at Ferrara's, an Italian dessert speciality restaurant. Ferrara's is a family favorite and tradition whenever we are in New York. Often we walk over to Chinatown from Little Italy, but tonight we decided not to do that. But we did walk through Saks Fifth Avenue on, where else, Fifth Avenue, right next door to St. Patrick's Cathedral. We walked over to the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center but the official lighting isn't until next week.

Earlier in the day, we went to see the Broadway show Rent, which has enjoyed a 10-year run in New York. The show itself is a modern rendition of Puccini's classic opera La Boheme. The movie rendition also premiered today, so we thought we would enjoy being in touch with the times to see the show. We were wrong.

As you would expect, the cast is young and talented. The theater was packed and the music was hard rock. I always enjoy live theater, but this show was a bit much, trying to deal with HIV/AIDS, homelessness, homosexuality (male and female) and drugs. The characters were portrayed as noble victims as they lived out their ignoble lives. I could feel the audience pulling for these wayward youth as they tried to find hope in a hopeless world.

During the whole performance, I kept thinking of the verse in 1 Peter 1:18: "For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers." The characters in the play led empty lives. One died, one almost died and the rest were wandering aimlessly, trying to leave their mark as artists, friends and lovers. It was a tragic depiction of the modern, godless condition.

Perhaps most tragic of all were the row of teenagers sitting behind us, all of which were 15 or 16 years old. They sang all the music, cheered for the characters and laughed at the vulgar and double-meaning references. I prayed for them and I came away ready to continue the work of reaching as many as possible for Jesus.

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What Makes You Cry?

Purpose involves passion. I don't think you can fulfill a purpose for which you aren't passionate. Passion is a driving force that activates your creativity and will to do something. Tears of joy and sorrow often accompany that passion as you respond and make yourself vulnerable and available to a need that exists in the world. The first time I spoke about purpose, people in the room wept. That is how I knew I was "on to something." I have seen many more cry over the years.

In 1998, I was watching a television documentary about the suffering of women in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime. I remember praying, “Lord, why am I crying? If you need someone to go to Afghanistan, I’m willing.” In 2003, I received an invitation to go to Afghanistan from people I didn’t even know. I went and it changed my life and the course of my work.

My point is that tears often go hand in hand with purpose. What makes you cry? I’m not talking only about tears of sorrow. Can you sit and listen to a certain kind of music and cry? Do you cry during a sad movie? Cry with joy when someone is blessed? If you do, then you need to ask yourself and the Lord, “Why am I crying?” The answers may surprise you and hold clues that will help you clarify your purpose. And if sharing those answers will help you in your PurposeQuest, feel free to write and let us know what they are.

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I Left My Heart in San Francisco

This past Monday I visited my son, John III, in San Francisco.  He moved there six months ago, having lived in Hawaii for four years prior to that.  We had a great day together and I hope to visit him again soon.  He lives in a nice part of town near Haight Ashbury, the old hippie hangout of the 60's and 70's.  In fact, right across the street from where he lives is Kezar Stadium, the original home of the San Francisco 49ers football team.  The stadium was demolished and rebuilt into its current and smaller configuration in 1989.  I hadn't heard the name Kezar since I was in elementary school.  That made me feel old.

We drove around the city and John directed me to Fort Point, which is directly under the Golden Gate Bridge.  We took some cool photos of us with the bridge as our backdrop.  Then we went to eat where John works.  John is a waiter and quite good at it, I might add.  The name of his restaurant is Shanghai 1930, an upscale Chinese restaurant on the edge of the financial district.  The food was great and I met all the people he works with (I thought maybe he was the only non-Chinese, but he isn't). 

I think San Francisco is the most naturally beautiful city in the U.S.  I love the hills (they are steep), the bridges are breathtaking (The Golden Gate is the best known but I think the Bay Bridge is more impressive), the food is super (Chinatown and seafood), the weather is quirky (cold to hot on the same day in different parts of the city), the nearby sites unique (the sequioa forest, the redwoods, Napa wine country, Monterrey Aquarium to name a few), and the cable cars quaint.  I much prefer northern California to southern and I hated to only spend one day there on this trip.  But I'll be back, and having a son there makes that statement all the more do-able. 

Who Cares?

You may wonder why I write about my personal travels. I have several reasons. First, I want you to know how enjoyable fulfilling your purpose can be. I love to travel and, as I have pursued my purpose, God has granted me the desire of my heart. I was in Temecula last Saturday and had a series of one-on-one purpose meetings. During each one, I had this overwhelming sense of joy and happiness. I knew that this was where I was supposed to be and that I was doing what I was supposed to do. I was a happy man!

Second, I want to make you envious, not necessarily of my travels, but of how much I am enjoying the Lord and what I do. I want you to say to yourself, "There is a man who is in his purpose. If he can do it, I can do it. If God did it for him, as ordinary as he is, then God can do it for me." If you were to think like that, you would be correct. And I hope that it would inspire you to pay the price to pursue and fulfill your purpose. I don't care whether travel is part of your purpose or not. I just want you to find it and do it--purpose that is.

Third, I am still learning how to write, trying to improve my skills. This blog gives me the opportunity to observe my daily activities more closely and then write about them in what I hope is an entertaining manner. I am also experimenting with trying to be funny when I write. A few years ago, my son said to me, "Dad, you are one of the funniest men I know. But your writings don't reflect that and I think they should." I took that to heart and I am practicing on you. I hope you don't mind. (I can hear you thinking, "So when does he make me laugh?")

Finally, I know that you may want to travel more. I have people tell me all the time, "You are living my dream." And I respond, "Don't settle for that. Live your own dream." I want to write and give you the inside scoop on what life on the road is like. And it is wonderful! Hard but exhilarating! If I could figure out a way to bring my wife with me (or if she would come), I would never go home. I would live out of a hotel and suitcase.

So please indulge these feeble efforts to describe to you my life and world. It's only fair that if I share mine, you should share yours. So please write and tell us what energizes you. Better yet, start your own blog and begin the process of sharing your life with other people.

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A Hidden Wholeness

I promised a while back to do a more comprehensive review of Parker Palmer's book, A Hidden Wholeness. There are two Quaker writers that have impacted my life. One is Robert Greenleaf, the originator of the servant-leadership message, and the other is Palmer.

The Quakers are a religious group founded by George Fox in the 17th century. Fox's central dogma was that of the inner light, communicated directly to the individual soul by Christ. They became known as Quakers because they would gather and wait on the Lord to see who had a message from Him. When they received their message, they would often shake or "quake," thus the name Quakers. For the most part, Quakers are pacifists and still exist, known in some circles as the Society of Friends.

From his Quaker influence, Palmer urges that we work to develop circles of trust with people who aren't trying to fix us, but rather support us as we embark on our journey to find and comprehend our inner truth. While discussing how he has faciliated many such circles, Palmer makes some thought provoking statements, such as:

1. "Secularism denies true self by regarding us as raw material. Moralism--the pious partner in this odd couple--achieves the same end by translating "self" into "selfishness" and insisting that we banish the word from our vocabulary. The whole problem with our society, the moralists claim, is that too many people are out for themselves at the expense of everyone else. This New Age emphasis on self-fulfillment, this constant "cult of me," is the root casue of the fragmentation of community that we see all around us. Or so the moralists argue" Palmer disagrees with this conclusion and argues that "whatever we do to care for true self is, in the long run, a gift to the world."

2. Palmer likens the true self to a wild animal, which is tough and resilient, but shy and not eager for public view. We must learn to support one another in this illusive search for meaning and purpose, careful not to "frighten off" the shy animal of inner wholeness.

3. Palmer quotes a poem by Emily Dickinson, which states,

"Tell all the Truth, but tell it slant--

Success in Circuit lies

Too bright for our infirm Delight

The Truth's superb surprise"

He tries to make the point here that we need to help lead and guide others into an awareness of who they are and not force or confront issues head-on. I thought his emphasis on subtlety as we work with one another is an excellent point, contrasted by our tendency at times to share the whole truth whether another can bear it or not.

4. Finally, Palmer urges the reader to live with the questions, quoting Rainer Maria Rilke: "Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves . . . Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer." I have been emphasizing for quite some time that quality questions lead to quality answers and a quality life. We need to learn how to hold onto our questions and not rush the answers.

There are so many other things I could quote from the book. I have to admit that Palmer's total reliance on the individual's ability to grasp the truth from within makes it seem like our conscience is infallible and the inner journey always leads to the correct path. I think Scripture teaches that the conscience or inner man is not infallible and needs to be educated. I am also not that confident that our sin doesn't more often than not taint our inner conclusions--more often than Palmer would like to admit. But for the most part, I enjoy all of Palmer's books and would recommend this one to you with enthusiasm.

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Miss Me?

It has been four days since I have made an entry on this site. Did you miss me? Never mind; don't answer that. At any rate, I missed writing but noticed a definite increase in the number of people who wrote me. I always enjoy reading what you have to say.

I was in Temecula, California this past weekend, working with my friends Ted and Tami Miller at CrossRoads Church. CrossRoads is a growing church and Ted and Tami are trying to build something that will impact their area for the Lord. I would say they are doing a very good job. They are young, energetic, and open to the purpose message. While here, I spoke to a business person's luncheon, spoke at both Sunday morning services, met with the church staff to give the pastor feedback on what I heard and saw, and had five purposequest assessments.

Temecula is a growing area, halfway between San Diego and Los Angeles. Many people have left the craziness of those two metropolitan areas to come to somewhere more peaceful and less hectic. The problem is that all the people who have come to Temecula have helped make it a hectic, traffic-infested area. I left my hotel at 5:30 am to get to the San Diego airport before the bad traffic accumulated. Unfortunately, I didn't leave early enough! But I am finally at the airport and heading to San Francisco to visit with my son, John.

I always enjoy coming to southern California and I always enjoy leaving. I love the food--I ate "real" Mexican food twice, sushi once and had my traditional In 'N Out burger (this is a chain that sells only hamburgers and shakes, with a logo and color scheme that looks suspiciously familiar to McDonald's. But the burger is exceptional for a large chain). I love the scenery (the mountains and coastline are awesome) and the cross-cultural mix with the Latin influence is really cool. But the people are a bit crazy and the pace, smog and traffic all combine to give me a headache. So I've had my fix and now I'm ready to go home. But before I do, I must visit my number one son, who is now 28 and living in the Bay Area. Northern California, here I come!

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