Credit Problems

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Good credit is essential for the up and coming capitalist. The average American needs it in order to function, and our economy depends on it. Some of us, though, feel as if credit is essential in another, non-financial realm:

Our relationships.

We are tempted to quantify what, how well, how often, and who we do it for in order to gain a measure of social capital. We then use this capital as leverage or an improper motivation for living well.

If we’re not careful, we’ll use recognition to motivate us to keep doing well or to put others in our debt. Like George Costanza in the classic Seinfeld episode, “The Calzone,” it’s not enough for us to place a tip in the tip jar, we need to be seen doing it.

I noticed the embarrassing reality in my own life just last week. An illness had been keeping my neighbor from getting his yard ready for an upcoming gathering, so I loaded the truck with equipment and headed over to do it for him.

Who wouldn’t?

But why was there a voice in my head imagining the words of gratitude that would soon come from him and his wife? Why did I want credit for helping? Where did that come from and worse yet, why did I nurse it?

How about you? Are you dealing with credit problems?

Credit Approval
I think we come wired from the factory to work, to help, to achieve, and to have those activities recognized. Early on in life, we experience the deep satisfaction of accomplishment or offering assistance. Completing a task, solving a problem, or contributing to the greater good resonates deep within us. Somewhere along the line, though, the intrinsic value of doing things well gets hijacked by the desire for external validation. We want someone else to notice and then complement us on what we’ve done. It’s not enough to fold the clothes or provide an encouraging word, we want credit for it. In his classic book, The Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster writes: “The flesh whines against service, but it screams against hidden service.” We crave recognition for doing good. At some point, the attaboys begin to outweigh the innate worth of behaving honorably, working hard, or offering a helping hand. Left unchecked, merit badge morality replaces genuine integrity.

Living on Credit
Mark Twain once said, “I can live for two months on a good complement.” But given the addictive nature of approval and affirmation, my guess is that soon Twain would desire those complements more often. Once we begin to give power to the raters and grade givers in our life, we transition from occasionally receiving credit to constantly desiring it. When you allow the number of “likes” on Facebook to determine the value of your vacation, restaurant, or photo, I think you’ve been infected. Once you post something in hopes that someone will like it — whether it means anything to you or not — you’ve got the full-blown illness. But social media users are not the only ones living on credit. Marriages, work places, even close relationships are also contaminated by mercenaries who contribute solely for ego compensation. But like it’s economic counterpart, living on credit creates an unhealthy dependence on more credit to make it until the next “paycheck.”

Giving Credit.
When we spend all our energy establishing credit, then living on it (or for it), we become less and less likely to give credit to others — especially when we sense a little scarcity. We treat it like a southerner does milk and batteries at the first threat of snow. The fear of missing out takes over so instead of giving it, we keep it to ourselves. But imagine how life would be if, instead of longing for credit and taking credit, we would look for ways to give it to someone else? How difficult is it for you to give credit to someone who deserves it; the person who had the idea, the one who did all the leg work, the behind the scenes guy? Or are you more likely to withhold it? It would be easier for a politician to admit a mistake than for some of us to acknowledge the contribution of someone else.

Credit Where Credit is Due.
I think looking for ways to affirm others, celebrate their contributions, and encourage your team — rather than monitoring your credit score — is the first step. If this seems difficult to you, I suggest starting small. Find somebody doing something right (make sure it’s something you couldn’t care less about) and acknowledge it. Then avoid the temptation to tell yourself what a great person you are for being so generous with your praise. Then, as Foster suggests, discipline yourself to serve, encourage, bless, etc. in secret.

Because, ultimately, it’s not about you.

I love the discipline and intentionality of the Baroque composer, J.S. Bach. Before he marked one note on the staff, Bach penned the letters JJ at the top of the first page. These letters were an abbreviation of a prayer he prayed before the composition, asking the Lord to help him declare His greatness through the music and desiring that it would bring joy to the Lord and to His people. He then ended each piece with the letters, SDG, Soli Deo Gloria. For the glory of God alone.

Change the Scorecard
What if you began your day by simply writing and meditating on the initials JJ, asking God to help you bring joy to Himself and joy to His people? And in the evening, just before you fire up the CPAP, review your day and ask if you lived it for the glory of God alone.

For He alone is worthy, Christ the Lord. John Francis Wade

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The Necessary Arrangement

I love the above clip from Apollo 13. For those guys, creating a carbon filter was, in fact, rocket science. But the greater challenge came (the square peg in a round hole) when they had to cobble one together using only the materials the crew had with them. Not what they wish they had. Not what the Soviets had. Not what they used to have. But what they actually had.

The first step towards a workable solution was to stop wasting their time complaining about limited resources, unfortunate events, or blaming someone else and develop a functional filter using the actual materials they had to work with.

A few years ago, I heard John Ortberg share some life-changing encouragement he received from Dallas Willard. He writes about it in his book Soul Keeping. I know this is an extended excerpt, but I think it’s worth reading:

I had a whole day to spend with Dallas. I told him that I felt frustrated because the people at the church I served were not changing more. I asked him what I needed to do to help our church experience greater levels of spiritual growth. Long pause . . . “You must arrange your days so that you are experiencing deep contentment, joy, and confidence in your everyday life with God.”

Huh?

“No,” I corrected him. “I wasn’t asking about me. I was asking about other people. I was wondering what I need to make the church do. I was thinking about a book everyone should read, or a program everyone should go through, or a prayer system everyone should commit to.”

“Yes, Brother John,” he said with great patience and care. “I know you were thinking of those things. But that’s not what they need most. The main thing you will give your congregation — just like the main thing you will give to God — is the person you become. If your soul is unhealthy, you can’t help anybody…

“But how can I have total contentment, joy, and confidence?” I responded. “My work isn’t going nearly well enough. Lots of people are not happy with me. I am inadequate as a pastor, husband, and father. Every week I carry the burden of delivering a sermon and knowing I’ll have to feel the pain if it doesn’t go well.”

“I didn’t say you should experience total contentment, joy, and confidence in the remarkable adequacy of your competence or the amazingly successful circumstances of your life. It’s total contentment, joy, and confidence in your everyday experience of God. This alone is what makes a soul healthy. This is not your wife’s job. It’s not your elder’s job. It’s not your children’s job. It’s not your friend’s job. It’s your job.”  (p. 88 – 90).

Back at the ranch, let’s see if we can parse these two ideas together. Given what you have: an ordinary day, a wayward child, a looming foreclosure, an unrepentant spouse, a surprise diagnosis, an overbearing boss, an impossible schedule, slow wi-fi, a disappointing job review, or an irritable colon — whatever it is, whatever way the fallenness of humanity has landed on you — how can you arrange your day so that you can experience contentment, joy, and confidence in Jesus?

Do you really believe that you have all you need to develop a functional filter for the things that are suffocating you right now?

Do you really believe that His divine power has given you everything you need?

Could it be that instead of a better book, an inspiring sermon, a Piper quote, something meaty from Spurgeon or inspiring like Fresh Wind and Fresh Fire; rather than a purpose, rather than a break, could it be that at this point, God is allowing only the disappointing and broken things to fill the box you’re dumping on the table?

If so, how can you arrange your day so that you experience deep contentment, joy, and confidence in your everday walk with God?

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. Romans 15: 13 (ESV)

Impression Management

Our daughter is two weeks away from fall semester. A class this summer shortened her break, so she’s doing all she can to maximize these two weeks. Much like her folks, she’s managed to cram a lot of activity into a little bit of time. I asked her the other day how she was handling the busyness. Her answer was simple (and a bit convicting):

“Day two of dry shampoo.”

It took a while to register. In other words, life has been so hectic, her schedule so full, the demands on her time so high that basic hygiene has been neglected. She knows her hair is dirty, but instead of taking the time to wash it, she just throws something on it to make it look clean.

Dry shampoo is like mouthwash for your head. Applying it allows you to go about your business without letting others know that your hair is dirty. No shower needed. No soap. No water. No rinse and repeat. But with proper application a greasy bed head magically becomes a respectable do, and off you go.

So I started thinking a little bit about the dry shampoo in my life — not for bed head (a hat can handle that) — but spiritual or emotional or financial hygiene. What “products” do I use to give the appearance of cleanliness while neglecting the spiritual soap and water really needed for character formation? What about you? What in your life gives the appearance of godliness, but denies its power (2 Timothy 3:5)?

For some it could be going to church, yet not engaging. For others, it might be mindlessly reading through a devotional. How often do you “say grace” without really give thanks at a meal? Do you ever offer a general, cover your tail “forgive me my sins” when you pray? Is it important for you to “throw a little something” in the offering plate as it passes by?

How often have you sprinkled dry shampoo on a scalp that needs serious scrubbing? In what ways are you spraying Lysol on a spot that could use a little elbow grease?

Jesus seemed to have a thing about ceremonial washing. I don’t think He was against it, per se, as long as it was used properly, but many in His day began to believe that adherence to the ritual is what made them clean rather than addressing the source of their defilement. He challenged them to change their focus from outward signs of goodness to addressing issues of the heart.

I have a white coffee mug on a shelf in my office that says: “I love Jesus.” Like the picture above, it’s modeled after the I love New York t-shirts of the 70s & 80s, with a red heart representing the word “love”. I like to keep it up there because it serves as a reminder of the truth of that statement, as well as how often it’s not as true as I would like it to be. The mug looks like it just came out of the dishwasher, but upon close inspection (not too close or you may catch something) you’ll notice that inside the cup is nasty. The bottom third of the mug looks like something the Answers in Genesis crowd could use. It is covered with caked on, mold-embedded coffee that might contain a fossil or two.

The outside is clean, but the inside is foul. I noticed the unfinished cup of coffee about ten years ago and never cleaned it out. It’s been dusted regularly, but never rinsed. Never washed.

So instead of sandblasting the inside or just throwing the mug away, I leave it there to remind me of the importance of my heart. It calls attention to the recurring temptation to spend prime energy managing my image, working hard to look like a nice guy, faithful friend, compassionate listener, or fellow struggler — all the while dedicating little or no time to allow Christ to do that work in me.

Impression management is dry shampoo in my life.

Interestingly, overuse of dry shampoo can lead to hair loss and / or serious scalp issues. Likewise, relying on superficial, quick fix solutions for issues of the heart is not only wrong, it can make whatever situation you’re covering worse.  In Matthew 23, Jesus calls out the Scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy. I think He was irritated by their phoniness and angered at how they treated those they were called to lead. But I think He was heartbroken by what it was doing to their soul. 

What’s the dry shampoo of your life?

What areas of your spiritual hygiene are you neglecting by some veneer of righteousness?

What’s on the inside of your cup?

Are you willing to come clean and allow Jesus to do the work in you?

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. Matthew 23: 25 & 26 (ESV)

 

The Paradox of Perfect

He has three ways to hit the ball: good, very good and perfect. And he doesn’t like the first two. He thinks he can only win with perfect. Which is nonsense. Pete Cowen on 2016 British Open winner Henrik Stenson.

Have you ever seen this little ditty on one of those motivational posters:

In the culture of excellence, good is the enemy of great.

Leadership gurus have made a mint repackaging this gem in conferences, books, and productivity resources. The pithy saying is designed to encourage organizations to develop a mindset of innovation and improvement, to keep pedaling, never settle, and maximize productivity.

I understand the be all you can be, take no prisoners, there’s more in you, you can do better than that rah rah, and I’ve benefitted from it’s encouragement. The challenge for peak performance has been really helpful for me personally, but sometimes I wonder a bit about it’s effect on people — and on the churches they attend.

An unintentional consequence of this idea that good is the enemy of great is that, for some, great has become the enemy of good.

Some folks live in a constant state of frustration and disappointment — even in areas of competence — because good is never good enough.

A kindergarten teacher told me about inadvertently sending one of her students into a tailspin. What was the catalyst for his meltdown?

She told him he was a good boy.

That was it. That’s what sent him over the edge. When he stopped sobbing and gained coherency, she asked him what was wrong. Head still down, he groused: “I can’t be a good boy. I’ve got to be a great boy.”

What ever happened to good? Is it now unacceptable to be a good parent, a good cook, a good singer, a good teacher, a good friend, a good spouse, or good at your job?

Why do we think we can only win with perfect?

For Stenson, it’s one missed putt. One overcooked 5 iron. One tee ball in the water. That’s all it takes to wreck perfect. You and I may play a different sport, but the resulting frustration of wanting, yet not achieving perfection is the same. Our aggravation then leaks onto those close to us. We become either a slave driver for whom nothing is ever good enough or the adult version of that kid in grade school who cried after making a 99 on a science test.

Both of whom tend to suck all the oxygen out of the room.

Why do we think we can only win with perfect?

While I can’t imagine being able to hit a 3-wood 300 yards, I can relate to Stenson’s mindset. I know the battle and how stifling perfectionism can be. I know the resulting internal dialogue when the ideal and the real are miles apart. I know the resignation that comes from recognizing you’ve got to get better. That sobering realization that how you are doing things now is not going to take you where you want to be. And the accompanying little voice that says you’ll never be good enough.

How about you? Do you ever find yourself feeling like you, the organization you lead, or the church you attend can only win with perfect?

Maybe you’ve started to focus more on outcomes than the process. I remember an interview with former Atlanta Brave, Greg Maddox. After an unprecedented run of quality starts during which he seemed unhittable, Greg resisted taking credit for outcomes. His reply, though about pitching, is a wonderful reminder for anything we do: “My job is to make good pitches.” He didn’t say his job was to pitch a perfect game. His job was to make good pitches. Keep doing that and good things will happen.

Maybe you’ve confused the vessel with the treasure. In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul describes Christians as clay pots who happen to hold a priceless treasure. Paul says the reason the treasure is hidden in these “earthen vessels” is so that onlookers won’t confuse God’s power with the natural ability of those through whom He works. But sometimes we pots begin to give a little too much credit to the prettier or more skilled pots in our world. After a while, those pots begin to believe their own press and the attention turns from the greatness of God to the awesomeness of the parent, the discipline a friend, or the ability of the pastor. We start to value slick over broken, flashy over faithful, cool over character. And then wish our lives somehow measured up.

Maybe you lack faith. I get the fact that a leader must keep his crew from settling for mediocrity. Parents want their kids to succeed. Those who lead churches are also afraid of complacency. We want each member to offer their very best to God, to give their all for the One who gave all. Time is limited. The stakes are high. Eternity is in the balance. But at what point does our yearning for perfection become Babel-esque? At what point does “We can do it” become “It all depends on us.” We have a role to play, but it’s not ultimately up to us. The psalmist reminds us that Unless the Lord builds the house, it’s laborers work in vain. (Psalm 127: 1)

Maybe you’ve confused your understanding of the gospel. Rather than living in response to the excellencies of Christ, excellence has become your functional savior. It’s easy to begin to put more value on what we do for God than what He’s done for us. I love that often quoted phrase from Dallas Willard. Grace is not opposed to effort. It is opposed to earning. We are to make every effort to grow in grace and knowledge, to pursue holiness, to live in obedience, but these efforts are in response to what God has done, not to make us better in His sight.

Or maybe it’s really true… I wonder if feeling that we can only win with perfect is actually a misguided response to an eternal truth. I wonder if our hunger for flawlessness and passion for untamed beauty speak to the truth that God has set eternity in our hearts. I wonder if this love of perfect is driven by a recognition down deep in our souls that this is not our home. Sometimes we respond by trying to make heaven here on earth, by ordering our lives to protect us from the pain of this fallen world. Yes, it’s true. The reality is that Henrik Stenson, the church, our homes, our friends, you and me personally can only win with perfect. It’s just that our perfection is not what wins.

It’s His.

Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? …This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant.
The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost[b] those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever. Hebrews 7: 11; 22 – 28 (ESV)

 

 

Much Ado About Nothing

Image via shutterstock

I’m writing this from the porch of the home we stay in during our annual trip to the beach. Even though I’m not a big swim in the ocean guy or a bury me up to my face in the sand guy, I love the beach. Sunrises and sunsets. Reading. Walks with my wife. Time with my family. Great seafood. Endless snacking. Paying too much for golf.

We’re fortunate to be in a house near the beach access. Door to shore is a two-minute trip max. (You can make it back in 30 seconds if you really have to go.)

No one is up yet so things are relatively quiet, but pretty soon the crew will roll out of bed to start getting ready for a day at the ocean.

It won’t be quiet long.

A significant amount of prep work happens before we head out for the day. One of the reasons we love the beach is because it’s a perfect place to do nothing, decompress, chill, relax.

But I’m amazed at all we have to do a lot in order to do nothing.

Here’s a glimpse at what’s about to happen around here before we head out:

  • Send scout down early to secure prime spot. The scout must carry and assemble shade tent and strategically place a few beach chairs. The tent is heavy and difficult to assemble without help, but he’s considered a slacker if he doesn’t return to help carry the rest of the junk.
  • Load beach bag. Include towels, sunscreen, ziplock bag for shark teeth, books, Kindle, phone, ear buds, snacks, tee shirts, hats, and chapstick.
  • Pack cooler with drinks and ice. Make sure you have a variety of flavors, something for everyone. Oops, that reminds me. We’ll need a bag for trash, too.
  • Blow up rafts and / or inner tube. Put sand toys in mesh tote bag.
  • Apply sunscreen. We’re 30 SPFers now. I remember when applying 8 meant that you weren’t interested in tanning. Maybe somebody should look into that global warming thing.
  • Load all in wagon and head down to the beach.
  • Most importantly, prepare yourself emotionally for a return trip twenty minutes in when someone asks for the frisbee or football or bocce ball set or kite or skimboard or…

That’s what getting ready to do nothing looks like here. Maybe your family has a similar routine.

Now think about how this compares to the energy you give prepping for a normal day, a day filled with appointments and projects, deadlines and decisions, coworkers and clients, tough conversations and unreasonable expectations.

It seems like most of us give more thought to what we need fishing or camping or hunting or for a day at the beach than we give to ordinary days. You know, the days we are building our life on. Instead of taking the time to think through the day and make preparation for it, most of us shower, grab a cup of coffee, and hit the road with no real thought about what we’ll need for days that matter.

At the beach, you know you’ll need sunscreen and appropriate clothing. You’ll consider the importance of hydration and calories and activity. You’ll realize that the best way to maximize your time on the beach is to be intentional about what happens before you go.

What if this year, in addition to a tan and a few extra pounds, you bring home a new mindset? What if you decided to approach normal days with the same intentionality you do with vacation?

Question: How would a normal work day be different for you if you spent a little time preparing for it?

Think through your day. What will you need to pack in order to make it more productive? What preparations can you make to avoid getting burned today? How can you maximize it? How can you avoid mindlessly heading to work without giving any thought to what you’ll need?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this quote from Dallas Willard: A disciple is not a person who has things under control, or knows a lot of things. Disciples simply are people who are constantly revising their affairs to carry through on their decision to follow Jesus. 

Better question: If you are a follower of Jesus, what if you began your day by thinking about what you’ll need to “revise your affairs and carry through on (your) decision to follow Him?” How would this mindset change the way you approach your day? How would it affect your decisions, change the way you view your job, or the way you talk with your coworkers?

I’m about to head out to the beach. Experience has taught me that most of the items listed above are essential components for a good day in the sun.

Some of you are about to head out to work. Experience has taught you what you’ll need to make this day matter. Spend the necessary time getting ready.

Your family will thank you,

So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it. Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way. Colossians 3: 12 – 17 (MSG)

Packing Tips For Travelers

 

This photo was taken at the baggage claim area at Atlanta’s Hartsfield airport. The massive mound of luggage serves as a visual representation of a great truth: people travel with a lot of baggage.

My wife discovered this recently in an unexpected conversation with an octogenarian. His pronounced limp and orthopedic boot gave indication of a broken foot, but she soon discovered his greater pain came from a broken heart. His wife of 54 years had recently passed away and my wife’s tender concern was all he needed to unload. He concluded about forty-five minutes of tearful reflection, by saying, “I just miss her” and then thanked my wife for listening.

He’s carrying a lot of baggage.

Every person we meet has a backstory, a trunk full of experiences and secrets, hurts and mistakes, offenses and slights. They’re buckling under the weight of expectation and regret. Bruised and broken, yet “fine” if you ask them, many of the people we encounter every day are over extended financially, over scheduled, concerned about their children, are in lifeless marriages, and find no fulfillment at work.

Church, the internet, and consumerism are three popular rest stops for the weighed down traveler. Oftentimes, the church tells them how they should be doing. Social media paints a picture of how others are doing so well. Broadcast media pushes instant fixes for three low monthly payments. Instead of providing relief, the shoulds, comparisons, and impulse purchases add to the load.

What can you do to help?

Be Aware — Start with you. If you’re serious about Paul’s admonition to bear another’s burden (Galatians 6), the first thing you must do is own your junk. What “unclaimed baggage” (aka denial) are you allowing to weigh you down? Take it out. Look at it. Bring it before the Lord and come clean. If we could somehow create physical representations of all the psychological baggage most of us tote, we’d look like Nathan Johnson (Steve Martin) at the end of The Jerk, rambling down the sidewalk encumbered by all of the needless junk we cling to. The load makes it impossible to move or function freely, yet, like Nathan, we kept piling on more. How much are you carrying? Is there part of you that tries to relieve emotional, spiritual, financial, or relational burdens by adding more? The author of Hebrews (12:1) encourages us to lay aside the heavy burdens of life and the entanglements of sin in order to live the life we’ve been called to live.

Be Discerning. Helping someone during a rough patch is biblical. Loading up the wagon of your life with their issues is co-dependency.

Be a friend — not a TSA agent. I have a well-meaning friend who tends to be TSAish about my life. He’s a bit cavalier about going through my stuff, and sometimes he’s too personal and invasive. His rubber glove interrogations are uncomfortable one on one, but he has a knack for rummaging through the carry on of my life in front of others. He thinks he’s helping, but in actuality he’s adding to the pile. And in the process, he’s lessoning the likelihood of me talking with him further, which is too bad, because there’s often validity in his observations. Just because most folks travel with baggage, doesn’t mean you have the right to go digging through their stuff. Once you begin to deal with your own issues, you’ll be amazed (but sometimes it’s just projection) at how much your friends are carrying. Your newfound freedom and keen perception will make you an instant expert in baggage owning, but tread lightly. Spend a little time enjoying the freedom before you enlist as an advocate for traveling light. If you make significant changes that stick, people will notice and at some point, a friend will ask you about the change. When they do, speak to them respectfully and in private.

Be patient — Realize some people are not ready to unload. In the airport, people mark their baggage to make it easily identifiable. In life, people become identified by their baggage. Like Linus and his ever-present blanket, our baggage can serve as security as well as identity. Mental health professionals have given common descriptions to some of these roles: the scapegoat, the hero, the victim, the martyr, etc. Some folks carry their dysfunction as a badge of honor. I love the question Jesus asks the man by the pool of Bethesda in John 5: “Do you want to get well?” Some folks aren’t ready to give up their blanket.

Be a Witness — Understand your roll. As friends, we are called to lend a hand and offer help. We are called to bend down, shoulder, and help carry a burden that’s not our own. In so doing, we offer needed relief, but understand that the relief is only temporary. We can offer relief, but only Jesus can offer redemption. Encourage your friend to take his or her burdens to the cross and leave them there. One of the great descriptors of Jesus is that of sin bearer. Peter writes: He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 1 Peter 2: 24 (ESV)

Lay down your burdens, lay down your shame. All who are broken lift up your face. O wanderer come home, you’re not too far. So lay down your hurt, lay down your heart. Come as you are.

 

 

Why Our Efforts to Understand Often Fall Short

image via shutterstock

Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticize them, you’re a mile away from them and you have their shoes.  Jack Handey

That quote cracks me up, but I didn’t hear the Jack Handey version from SNL. Rather, it came from a friend who recounted hearing it on an episode of Car Talk. Either way, I love the humorous turn it takes.

The punchline lands well not just because it’s clever, but because there’s a dark place inside each of us that would rather get even than do the hard work of empathy. Instead of pressing towards understanding, many times we settle for pretend empathy or passive aggressive revenge disguised as empathy.

This approach is ingenious to us because it looks noble, and it has a hint of humor, yet the bad guy gets it in the end.

But the book of Proverbs calls it foolish.

A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.

Proverbs 18: 2

When we think of foolishness, most of us imagine the blithering idiot painted in the second half of this verse. If we haven’t been that guy, we’ve surely been left speechless by the idiotic drivel of the neighborhood conspiracy theorist, the clueless co-worker, or the talk show blowhard. We’ve had to “unfollow” a friend whose Facebook rants regressed from annoying to psychotic. We’ve read with disbelief some of the deranged comments posted to online news articles. We know this fool well.

But what about the first half of this verse?

Just because you may not be driving everyone crazy with your wacky opinions, don’t think you’re immune from foolishness. While the second half of this Proverb deals with what a fool says, the first half exposes his inward posture. Solomon lays bare the indifferent mindset of a fool. How are you doing with that? Do you take pleasure in understanding? Is seeking first to understand (thanks Stephen Covey) part of your DNA? Are there times when you are more concerned with being right than getting it right, with being heard rather than listening?

Solomon says failing or refusing to understand is another indicator of a fool.

Ok, so with that, I’m busted.

If a fool finds no pleasure in understanding, I’ve been a foolish computer user, lawn mower operator, and kitchen appliance owner. I have zero desire to understand most things mechanical.

Most of my foolishness, however, has been revealed through relationships. I’ve been a foolish friend, a foolish husband, and a foolish parent. Some of that folly has been expressed vocally, but more often than not, it’s been demonstrated in my unwillingness to understand a person, their predicament, or their point of view.

While I’m sure I’ve used the passive aggressive revenge mentioned above, that’s not normally my MO. I usually settle for some of these inferior (foolish) substitutes. See if any of these sound familiar to you:

Sometimes I confuse knowing about with understanding. You may know what’s going on in someone’s life, you may see aspects of their dilemma they’ve missed, you may have even traveled down a similar road, but that doesn’t mean you understand. Knowing facts, having an outside perspective, or sharing a similar experience does not equal understanding. If you keep inserting yourself or your perspective into their circumstance, you’re not understanding.

Sometimes I mistake labeling for understanding. Personality inventories, socioeconomic categories, generational generalizations (see millennial) have been great tools to aid with understanding, but if we’re not careful we’ll use these to label rather than understand. When we stereotype or assign motive to an individual based on his or her affinity group, we’ve failed to do the work of understanding. If you find yourself defaulting to labels or stereotypes, i.e. women driver, typical liberal, yankee, etc., you’re not understanding.

Sometimes I think figuring someone out is understanding. When we view someone as a problem to be solved rather than a person to be loved, learned from, or valued, we’ve crossed the line. “I’ve I’ve figured you out.” is self-protective and keeps us from engaging. If you’re first reaction is to problem solve, you may not be understanding.

Sometimes I equate tolerating with and understanding. Many of us politely disengage when faced with a person whose outlook or disposition differs from ours. We give a weak, corners up, no teeth, non eye squinting smile, but inwardly, we’re disengaged or even dismissive. We get riled up at the word “tolerance”, but are unaware of or unmoved by the foolishness and arrogance of tolerating. If you feel morally superior because of the energy you’ve expended “putting up with” someone, you’re not understanding.

Sometimes I work to understand — somewhat reluctantly. I think this is where the rubber meets the road for most of us. We know that understanding is important. We know that it is God honoring, so we do all we can to be obedient. But this, too, could be an indicator of foolishness. Solomon’s words highlight the difference between dutiful obedience and actually finding pleasure in understanding.

What would it look like for you to find pleasure in understanding? I love the internal charge I get when someone laughs at a comment I make. Sometimes I feel good when I make a drop the mic, end of discussion point. We’re wired to derive pleasure from saying something funny, getting our point across, overcoming objectives, ending discussions, but part of the re-wiring of sanctification is God working in us to delight in doing his will. Doing the right thing is good. Delighting in doing the right thing is godly.

Understand?

The One Time It’s OK to be Off Base

Watching some kids play the other day made me yearn a bit for the uncluttered and carefree life of a 10 year-old. Not for long, mind you, but I did reminisce a bit. While their playground was a far cry from the rickety swing set with unanchored poles and a slide so hot you could fry an egg on it equipment I grew up with, not much had changed on the playground. They were still playing some of the same games we played as a kids and assumed the same roles (captain, first picked, last picked, guy who refused to play because he wasn’t a captain, guy who tried to talk guy who wasn’t ask to be captain into playing anyway).

Watching them interact caused me to think about some of the other kids on my elementary school playground. You probably remember some a version of these guys as well: The guy who built the best fort. The fastest guy. The natural leader. The guy who could make the best machine gun noise and knew all about WWII weaponry. The guy who thought he was cool because simply because his older brother was. The guy who thought he did a good impression of Vinnie Barbarino from Welcome Back Kotter, but not really. Not even close.

And the guy who was always the first to scream, “Not it!”

What was up with that guy? Was he afraid? Was he risk averse? Maybe he equated being “it” with being a failure. Maybe he valued comfort over adventure. Maybe he was just a weenie and couldn’t help it. For whatever reason, he never wanted to be it.

As a result, he would never venture too far off base — no more than arm’s length. Sometimes he’d step off base just a little and taunt whoever happened to be it. Sometimes he would just stay on the base.

And he never got tagged.

In the previous post, I wrote about Joe Maddon’s assertion that rest might be the next panacea in Major League Baseball — and how it just might be the next panacea in your life. I’m guessing that idea didn’t land well with some of you sleep-deprived, caffeine-driven, perfectionistic over achievers.  Frenetic activity and busyness are badges of honor for many of you and in some level tied to your worth, so the idea of disengaging to reboot or replenish was met with a great deal of internal resistance.

On the other hand, some of you welcomed the idea. You realized that the pace you are on is not sustainable or is heading for a crash. You decided that recharging the battery is an important element for those who want long term success. If so, I hope you’ll make the effort to include more of it in your life.

But it’s the last subset that I want to challenge today. Some of you welcomed the idea of rest because you are looking for a reason (excuse) to be lazy. An acceptable reason to stay close to the base. Newsflash: a key component of the work – rest rhythm is actually work. It’s not just the rest and then more rest rhythm. Work involves effort, engagement, sweat. Skin in the game.

Are you the “not it guy” when it comes to work? What’s keeping you from engaging?
Why are you phoning it in? What are you afraid of? Are you willing to roll up your sleeves and get in the game?

Or are there other areas in your life where you’re the first to scream “Not it!”? Where else are you staying close to the base? Getting tagged is simply part of the game — and part of life.

Bottom line, if you’ve never been tagged, you’ve never really been in the game.

Not being tagged means you’ve never taken a risk or taken a stand or taken one for the team. It means you’ve never allowed the sting of defeat to motivate you to get better, try harder, or push yourself.

It means you’re playing it safe, staying close to home, unwilling to try something new. It means you’re letting fear and insecurity drive the bus.

It means you’ve resolved to be mediocre.

If you live by conviction, you’re going to get tagged. If you step out in faith, take a risk, try something new, you’re going to get tagged. If you’re married, if you’re a parent, if you decide to have that tough conversation, you’re going to get tagged. Trusting, being vulnerable, confessing, being transparent, taking risks, standing up, setting boundaries, volunteering all take you further off base.

Do them anyway. Take the plunge.

If you’ve never been tagged by a coworker or supervisor or coach or family member. If you’ve never been tagged by life, you’re playing it too safe. And you’re probably not in the game.

Have you become a middle age version of the weenie who used to always scream, “Not it!”? Don’t be that guy.

Maybe you’re stymied by a fear of failure, afraid to make a mistake. You may associate getting tagged with losing, but I’m not sure that’s accurate. Losing is what happens to those who never play. Getting tagged is simply part of the game.

Tag. You’re it.

Now get after it.

You Don’t Need to Be a Chicago Cub to Learn from Joe Maddon — and, PS: Try Not to Suck

If you’re burning the candle at both ends, you’re not as bright as you think you are.
Rick Warren

I was one of those guys who jumped on the Cubs bandwagon back in October. As a life-long Braves fan, I was already following former Braves David Ross and Jason Hayward, but as the playoffs progressed, I became more interested in the Chicago’s run at history. I also began to admire their manager, Joe Maddon. Known for his unconventional style and clever quips (called Maddonisms), Maddon has captured the hearts of Cubs fans, the allegiance of his players, and the respect of his peers. His unconventional style made him interesting to the masses, but it was the success of his philosophy with Tampa Bay and Anaheim that caused other managers to take notice. Theo Epstein did, as well, and hired him to lead the Cubs.

Maddon is a colorful character, but don’t let his unorthodox style lull you into believing he’s a slacker. He is masterful leader.

During spring training last year, Maddon reportedly wrote the following seven challenges for the 2016 season during a whiteboard talk. He reasoned that for the Cubs to be successful — not in the moment, not for a season, but to develop a culture of success — they would need to understand and embody these seven keys:

1)  Embrace the Target
2)  We All Have to Set Aside our Personal Agendas
3)  All do Our Jobs
4)  Know We are Not Perfect
5)  We are our Own Little Planet and Rotate Around the Same Goal.
6)  Do Simple Better
7)  The Process is Fearless

The one quote that stuck with fans did not come from the whiteboard, however. The most famous Maddonism was uttered to a player who reportedly asked the manager what he needed to do to be a major leaguer. Maddon replied, “Try not to suck.”

“Try not to suck.” became the rallying cry for the season. Maddon skillfully used his seven challenges to illustrate what not sucking looked like. Teams that suck fail to embrace the target. Teams that suck are plagued with egos and personal agendas. Teams that suck have players who refuse to accept their role, and on it goes. This one phrase became the catchall for 2016 and helped the Cubs stay focused on the seven challenges and ultimately break a 108 year title drought.

Leadership junkies love this stuff. I love this stuff. The default reaction for many of us is to go Michael Scott on our team, hold a meeting or retreat, and repackage Maddon’s seven challenges, or worse yet, roll out a stolen, lamely tweaked version of the most trendy, like: “Try not to stink.” Cherry picking from someone else’s creativity is a common temptation, but it often lacks context, legwork, and understanding.

For instance, Maddon usually declares American Legion Week sometime in late August. During this week, players are required to show up at the ballpark just before game time — much like Maddon did when he played American Legion ball during the summer as a teenager. No batting practice, no grounders, no fungos. Thieving this idea for your team might be a nice gimmick, but it won’t be as effective if you don’t really believe that down time can actually be productive in the long run.

Maddon explains: “Guys work way too long physically, and I think it reaches a point of diminishing returns.” He said. “I think that the next big panacea regarding success in Major League Baseball is going to be the word, “rest”. Everybody’s looking for data, information, studying (the) swing, (they) practice ground balls. (I say,) no, come (to the park) later. Take a break. Don’t be out there as long. Be fresher physically. Your mind is going to be fresher. Lombardi nailed it when he said, ‘Fatigue makes cowards out of all of us.’”

The big panacea for your world might be the word “rest”, as well. But before you take this idea and develop your version of American Legion Week, it would be wise to determine if rest is something you really value. Otherwise, it will be seen as a gimmick or an insignificant add on.

Yesterday was Easter. For many followers of Jesus, the reality of the resurrection has revolutionized how they live their lives, affecting every area. For others, Easter is the one Sunday a year they attend church. The resurrection of Jesus has no impact on their daily life, no influence in their decisions, no claim on their character.

When you advocate rest only one week out of the year — because you think it’s a cool idea — but never push its importance any other time, you send a mixed message to your people. You’re like the Easter only church goer. The banner says you value rest, but your team members know differently.

Sometimes I like to mess with people in my office by asking them if they are on a break. More times than not, they get defensive, as if breaks are for smokers or people who can’t run a mile without stopping. No one has yet to admit to taking a break.

But they will gladly disclose how busy or overworked they are.

Like Maddon, I think non-stop activity reaches a point of diminishing returns. You can push Snickers bars and Five Hour Energy all you want, but at some point, you’ve got to let the ground lie fallow. A sustainable work / rest rhythm must become part of your culture, not just a trick or trendy idea.

Do you encourage your team to rest?

Do you encourage that in yourself?

What are you sacrificing in the long-term by overloading your team in the short-term?

Do you believe that rest might be the next big panacea in your world?

When Was the Last Time You Tossed Your Cookies?

Image via Shutterstock

Accordingly, the greatest need you and I have—the greatest need of collective humanity—is renovation of our heart. That spiritual place within us from which outlook, choices, and actions come has been formed by a world away from God. Now it must be transformed. Dallas Willard, in Renovation of the Heart

I just deleted the cookies from my laptop. Over 4,000 of those cyber informants had been baking in my internet browser since the last time I cleared them. For a while I wondered why ads would pop up for stores or products I have no interest in. Then I realized they were coming from sites I visited during our online Christmas shopping spree. It kind of freaked me out, honestly, and I started to wonder if Amazon is reading my file.

Then I realized, yes they are in fact reading my file.

We all have a browsing history — sites we visit, searches we make, ads we click on. Retailers track where we go online, what we purchase, how often we visit, and how long we stay. Companies use this critical information to determine which products we are more likely to buy and place ads for them in pop ups or banners to lure us into purchasing.

Our habits shape the market, then the market shapes our habits.

Realizing that your shopping tendencies and internet activity are being monitored should seem a bit creepy and invasive and maybe cause for alarm. But if you limit your concern to legal rights of privacy, you may be missing a bigger issue:

What is being planted in you?

What if you worried less about the cookies those sites plant on your computer and more about the ones they plant in your psyche? You may be able to erase your browsing history, but there are some things you can’t unsee. Some places you can’t unvisit. Some ways of seeing others that you can’t get over quickly.

Pornography is the greatest culprit here, but if that’s not your issue, don’t think you are immune to being influenced. What kind of cookies do you think a fascination with celebrity gossip, pop culture, and “Eight Hidden Dangers of Jello – Number Three Will Blow Your Mind,” plant in your soul? Add to that a regular perusal of social media, the Schadenfreude of epic fails, and an unending quest to confirm political biases, and it doesn’t take long to have one’s perspective changed by the cluttered cache of his or her mind.

Consider these questions:

What cookies are currently baking in your soul?

What jokes are you allowing to land and linger?

What are your eyes seeing that clouds your vision?

What are your ears hearing that drowns out the voice of Truth?

And maybe the best question of all: Are you willing to come clean?
Just because you’ve erased the internet history on your computer doesn’t mean it’s gone from your mind. Covering your tracks will not clean your soul. Jesus wants to clean our history, not clear it. You may need to come clean with Him and ask for His forgiveness and healing.

Last question: Are you willing to change your habits? Not just toss your cookies, but change your habits. Our habits shape these cookies, then these cookies shape us. About 3,000 years before Al Gore even thought of inventing the internet, King Solomon admonished his young apprentices: Above all else guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Proverbs 4:23 (NIV) We would do well to heed his warning, as well. What images, ideas, or mindsets you are giving access to your heart? As Willard noted above, if we are not careful, our outlook, choices, and actions will be formed by a world that is far from God.

My concern about retailers subversively influencing my purchasing habits caused me to think deeper about what I’m allowng to affect my soul.

How about you?

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