Men Of The World Whose Portion Is This Life

Image via Thinkstock

Image via Thinkstock

Framers in the construction business talk about the discomfort they feel the first few times they climb a rickety scaffold and begin nailing lumber twenty-five feet off the ground. Until they “get their legs” these workers are timid, shaky, and uncomfortable that far in the air. “But,” they say, “if you do it long enough, you’ll get used to it.”

So much so that after a while they really don’t give it much thought.

I guess that makes sense. The body has a way of adapting to the harshest of environments. Repeated exposure tends to lessen the effect of adverse conditions. Over time people will become comfortable in the most miserable of circumstances. Working at the landfill. Cleaning up at the slaughter-house. Driving a manure spreader. Watching soccer.

Sometimes the progression is slow, but it happens. The unbearable becomes uncomfortable, and eventually unnoticeable.

Just as the body has a way of adapting with exposure, the heart has a way of acclimatizing, as well. The conscience can be anesthetized. The soul can numbed. Repeated subjection to “worldly things” desensitizes us to corruption. If we’re not careful, eventually we’ll be unfazed by the unthinkable. In his book, The Sacred Romance, John Eldredge suggests that the worst thing to happen to humanity was not the Fall.

It’s that we’ve gotten used to it.

A Prayer Request

In Psalm 17 David asks, like many times before, for protection from his enemies. But in verse 14 he asks for another type of shielding. He asks for protection from men of the world whose portion is this life (MOTWWPITL). Just as the body adapts over time to aversive environments, he knows his soul will whither or harden if allowed to marinate in the mindset of those who lack an eternal perspective. He knows that if he gives these men access to his heart, his values will erode and his character will suffer. MOTWWPITL are a bit like raunchy movies, some video games, and Facebook stalking.

Exposure to them scratches the rebellious itch but doesn’t bring the guilt that comes with actually engaging sketchy behavior. But David realizes the second-hand smoke of enjoying the stories of MOTWWPITL is just as cancerous as taking a drag. He doesn’t want his heart to be affected by their twisted sense of morality.

Who knows, some day he may think that sleeping with another man’s wife then having him murdered might be ok.

Subtle Shifts

MOTWWPITL affect our thinking, our decisions, and what drives our hearts, but they aren’t ominous or threatening. They don’t drive creeper vans or hang out in dark alleys. They don’t come across as slackers or losers. In fact, they look like you and me (with better hair and teeth) — only they just seem to have it together. They can be gregarious and engaging, care-free and heroic, connected and cool. They look like poster boys for the good life.

But they aren’t life-giving.

MOTWWPITL are driven by power, reputation, conquests, and materialism. They live for the moment and try to make things happen. But for some reason, they make these qualities seem real attractive.

How Does this Look in the Mirror?

I can get so caught up in the aura of MOTWWPITL that it’s also hard to see what happens inside of me. But if I start to pay attention, I’ll notice a shift. I’ll realize how much more I think about stuff and how I wish I had the money to buy more stuff or better quality stuff. I won’t believe that new stuff has a short shelf life, but trust that the sugar high of new toys will last for all 72 payments.

I’ll see people for their utility or influence rather than eternal souls made in the image of God.

I’ll worry about image and perception.

I’ll become less grateful.

I’ll begin to value intelligence over wisdom, status over state, connections over relationships, image over character, and contacts over friends.

I’m less grateful for what I have and feel like the kid who can’t enjoy a single scoop of ice cream because the guy sitting next to him has a double.

I’ll actually entertain the thought that the fruit of this world has greater value than the fruit of the Spirit.

And, if you’re not careful, you will, too.

Immerse yourself in late-night infomercials and before long you’ll move from skeptic to miracle bamboo pillow owner. Hang out with men of this world whose portion is this life and you will notice subtle shifts in your perspective, beliefs and behavior.

What can you do to keep your soul from drifting?

Ask yourself these questions:

What ear-tickling, ego-appealing, soul-numbing conversations are you gravitating towards?

Who or what are you giving access to your heart? What compromises have you made as a result?

What lies about the good life and contentment are you telling yourself?

Are you clear who the MOTWWPITL are in your world?

What are you going to do about it?

A House Divided Differentiated


Have you seen these “House Divided” license plates? They are fairly popular here in the south where allegiance to college teams runs deep. You don’t have to travel far to hear Go Dogs, Roll Tide, War Eagle, Rocky Top, Hold that Tiger, Go Gators, or whatever it is they say at Vanderbilt.

These custom creations serve to inform the general public that the Mr. & Mrs. of said vehicle root for different schools and that their converse loyalty has created an unresolvable tension.

Surely not.

I love the concept — and I get it — but I think there is a better word than “divided”. Divided insinuates a breech, chasm, or tear. It implies that an unresolvable conflict has separated that which should be whole. If taken literally, the license plate suggests that each spouse’s allegiance to their school trumps the promises they’ve made to one another.

Is There A Better Word than “Divided”?

I think a better, healthier word to describe two people committed to one another yet maintaining their own personality, perspective, and preferences would be “differentiated”. That’s really what the folks with these plates are implying. Differentiation is a good thing. In his book, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix, Edwin Friedman writes that differentiation means the capacity to become oneself out of one’s self, with minimum reactivity to the positions or reactivity of others. Differentiation is charting one’s own way by means of one’s own internal guidance system, rather than perpetually eyeing the “scope” to see where others are at. 

In other words, when in relationships, well-differentiated people give of themselves without losing themselves. They are together, but not fused; unified, but not uniform; devoted, though different.

The defining element of their relationship is their shared commitment to one another, not a demand for sameness. Some couples, however, have a tough time fleshing this out and find themselves struggling with the tension that results when someone they care for becomes a vegan, gets a tattoo, joins the NRA, or doesn’t want to watch Dancing with the Stars.

Since they view contrary stances or opinions as rebellion or lack of commitment, the default for poorly differentiated people is to demand primary allegiance to secondary issues. Commitment to the relationship is demonstrated by compliance, hoop jumping, and towing the party line rather than mutual love, concern, and support. In poorly differentiated people, love must be proven over and over. Any deviation from the script is suspect and cause for alarm.

Another House…

While you’ll never see one on the silver Altima parked in front of you at Chick-Fil-A, the “House Divided” plate exists in church world, as well. Instead of college football teams, poorly differentiated church folk can believe houses are “divided” over the silliest of secondary issues. When commitment to the primary purpose of the church is not clear or embraced, violations of smaller, less important issues take on disproportionate significance.

Since listing a few common secondary issues might cause an increase in your blood pressure, I’ll resist the temptation to mention them here. I’d rather encourage you with a familiar saying. I first came across this while reading some of Rick Warren’s material and later learned that it was/is the motto of the Moravian Church:

In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.

This is something I’ve known for quite a while, but I haven’t really begun to own it until recently. I want to be the guy who’s been given grace, whose contrary opinion has been heard and validated. I’d like to be valued and accepted if I hold a different view-point or propose an alternate strategy. But I’m afraid I’ve discovered something deep within me that resists extending this same grace to others. My default (poorly differentiated) reaction to the twinge in the gut I feel when someone holds a position different from mine is defensiveness or just to dismiss them as clueless. I’m learning though, that this default can be changed when I pause to remind myself of our rock solid shared commitment to the essentials.

I’m also learning what giving liberty looks like, how unsettling it feels initially, but how freeing and faith-full it is making me. I may not like it when a friend pulls for another team. I may get irritated if his team wins or become irritating when mine does, but none of that trumps our love for and commitment to our friendship. I may question a brother about a decision or his position on an issue, but when I trust him, those questions become more about the position he has taken than his motives or allegiance.

And even when things just don’t get all buttoned up perfectly or resolve neatly, what does it mean to respond with love?

And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it. Colossians 3:14 (MSG)

Consider This:

How prone are you to major on the minors?

What does unity in essentials look like in your organization or relationships?

How can you become well-differentiated in your relationships?



How to Fall Down and Get Back Up Again


A bunch of accident-prone little guys doing what they do best: incurring severe injury.

Image via Thinkstock

In a recent interview on the StoryBrand Podcast, Winter Olympic gold medalist Scott Hamilton talked about the first thing he teaches new students at his ice skating academy.

He teaches them how to fall and how to get back up again.

For some reason that really resonated with me. Right out of the gate he’s letting them know that falling is inevitable. Sometimes a skater falls because of limited ability, faulty equipment, or misunderstanding. Or maybe they fall because they are just beginning.  Sometimes falls occur while trying something new or because of carelessness.

But regardless of circumstance or situation falls happen because falling is part of the process. It’s one of the ways we learn and grow.

Hamilton wants to instill this mindset early in his students because falling can be incredibly discouraging — especially when it looks like everyone else seems to be skating perfectly. He knows that confidence, competence, and improvement will only come if the skaters learn to get back up again. He doesn’t want them to enjoy falling and he certainly doesn’t want them to skate recklessly or not give their best, but he wants to remove the sting & stigma of taking a tumble.

Lesson 1: If you fall, you get back up.

Lesson 2: You try it again.

If you’ve ever watched any figure skating on TV, you know how one slip up can ruin a program, how one miscue can mean the difference between first and fifth place. But Hamilton doesn’t want the fear of falling to keep his students from pushing themselves to be the best they can be. He wants to free them from the paralysing inertia that can accompany early setbacks.

Don’t worry about it or fret over it. And please don’t give up. Falling is a natural part of learning new things.

As he spoke, I started thinking about some of the tumbles I’ve taken in life. A few of those spills left me gun-shy and discouraged — kind of a middle-aged version of that life alert lady who had “fallen and can’t get up.” Then other times, it wasn’t an actual fall that was my undoing, but the fear that it might happen. My unwillingness to risk an “epic fail” has kept me from trying new things or taking a chance for fear that I will somehow mess up. For some reason the comfort of sitting it out seems to be better than risking full engagement.

Ultimately my thoughts led me to the church. How are we doing at helping people learn how to fall and how to get back up again? Unfortunately, when I look at how most churches respond to the face plants people experience in life I see more of my own cooky thoughts about falling than actually helping people navigate the trials of life. What if, instead of distancing, shaming or immobilizing, your church and my church took seriously the call to help people learn how to fall and how to get back up again?

What if we stepped out of the judges’ booth and onto the ice? What if we knew how to cheer the effort and encourage the next run? What if we didn’t just sing, but actually heeded Chris Rice’s encouragement in Untitled Hymn to “fall on Jesus”? Remember that verse?

And like a newborn baby
Don’t be afraid to crawl
And remember when you walk
Sometimes we fall, so
Fall on Jesus
Fall on Jesus
Fall on Jesus and live!

Then reality hit me. The Bible does talk about how to fall and how to get back up again. It just doesn’t get as much press as the end times, what marriage is, or the fact that God knows the plans He has for us, but it’s in there.

It’s called confession and repentance.

How do you fall? Confess your sins to the Father.

How do you get back up again? Repent.

What does it look like to fall on Jesus? It’s confession. Agree with God that sin is sin. More importantly, agree with God that your sin is sin. It’s not just that you’re having a bad day or that everyone is doing it. Confession is not to rationalize, blame, deny, or make excuses. It is to agree with God that sin is sin.

How do you get back up? You repent. Repentance is a change of heart, a change of mind, a change of direction, a change of behavior. It’s when you recognize the error of your ways, stop, and change course. Repentance is not self pity, remorse, or regret. It’s not trying to do something else better in order make up for or draw attention away from the fact that you’ve fallen. It is a change of heart, mind, and direction.

And repentance is not a one time deal. Martin Luther opened up his 95 Theses with these words: When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” ( Matthew 4:17 ), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance. Repentance is an ongoing part of the growth process.

A skater who falls during a competition doesn’t stay on the ice. He or she gets back up and finishes the program. In the same way, the next time you fall, overreact, or voice an unkind word. The next time you make a mistake or experience a lapse in judgement, confess and repent.

No program is flawless. There’s always room for improvement. The only epic fail is not getting back up again.

How do you fall? Confess.

How do you get back up again? Repent.

And skate on.



Three Good (and Three Not So Good) Reasons for Innovation

The nation’s largest asian food chain made news this month by pairing their General Tso’s Chicken with the “chork”, the first fork & chopsticks in one utensil. The master of the combination platter is now making available the first East meets West combination fast food gadget.

While it could be viewed as a publicity stunt, or a way to deflect attention from the fact that they are way late to the General Tso’s Chicken party, the reaction seems to be favorable.

But I’ve got a few reservations and its introduction has caused me to wonder…

Am I now going to eat at Panda Express more often because they have the chork? Is this an actual problem that needed to be solved? What did the initial prototypes look like? What did the focus group REALLY say about the chork?

Is this ultimately paving the way for Panda Express to announce a new Asian / American / Indian fusion restaurant called Chork & Mehndi?

I’m looking forward to Jim Gaffigan’s take on this idea.

Ok, so I’m a bit skeptical, but someone thought it was a good product to introduce. You may not be in the restaurant business, but chances are you are going to be called on for innovation, as well. It will be up to you to introduce a new product, idea, or strategy for your organization. So when is an idea worth pursuing?

Here are three good reasons to do so, along with three not so good ones:

     1. To Solve a Problem. 

The chork could be a cost-cutting measure. Maybe the bean counters at Panda Express think that providing both a fork and chopsticks is excessive. So, in an effort to cut back, they decided to combine them into one utensil. Maybe their researchers discovered that most of their customers begin with chopsticks, but finish with the fork and would value a utensil that did both. Or, maybe they were looking for a way to introduce their version of General Tso’s that would increase the likelihood people would try it. Most people who eat Genaral Tso’s have their prefered provider and Panda Express believes the chork will make them try theirs.

What problem does your new idea address? How will that new strategy, hire, or program help you get to the next level?

     2.  To Promote Your Mission.

One aspect of Panda Express’ mission statement is to deliver exceptional dining experiences. Perhaps they believe frustration with chopsticks is an obstacle to customer satisfaction. Incorporating the chork helps them address this issue.

How is this new idea helping clarify or promote the vision, mission, or values of your organization?

     3.  To Empower or Equip Your People

Americans have been eating Chinese takeout food for decades, and as the YouTube video describes, we’ve still failed to master chopsticks. Maybe the higher-ups at Panda Express view the chork as an onramp to chopstick adoption. Or perhaps they see the chork as the perfect all-in-one tool that will enable consumers to enjoy every aspect of Chinese – American dining.

How is your new idea empowering or equipping your people? In what ways is it helping them do their job or increase their competence and confidence?

The not so good…

     1. To Appease a Critic.

My grandmother used to say that some folks wouldn’t be happy even if they were tasters in a pie factory. A critic will always be a critic and having something to complain about is like oxygen for them. Chances are the people most dissatisfied in your organization today were the same ones who were dissatisfied last year and five years before that. You’ll never make them happy. It’s not that their perceptions and suggestions are inaccurate — the critics are often spot on — it’s that trying to make them happy is the wrong reason to start something new. I’d be willing to wager that if the chork was introduced to appease a critic, that person or group of people are griping right now because of the color, ad campaign, cost, pace of production, or E. All of the above.

Is your idea in actuality motivated by an urge to get someone off your back?

     2. To be Trendy.

Note to self, if you are looking around to see what the others are doing or what will “appeal to the young people”, you’ve already missed it. Since trends change quickly, introducing something just to be trendy is a short-term fix. It’s like copying someone else’s homework. You may get by initially, but you are hamstringing yourself down the road. Plus, there’s rarely buy-in from the organization. If Panda Express introduced the chork because they believe portmanteaus are trendy — see Whopperito, Brexit, and botox — it will have a fantabulously short run.

How much of your idea is fueled by a desire to be seen as relevant?

     3. Because We Haven’t Come Up With Something New in a While.

Organizations often feel pressure to be innovative — which is not a bad thing. But if they look to innovation for innovation’s sake and not for a better or more effective way to advance their vision, it’s just window dressing. New ideas, products, and projects make it look like the R & D boys are doing their job, but the reality is that they’ve just put a hole in the boat. If the new idea doesn’t help you achieve your mission, it will cause you to waste time, money, and energy just trying to keep the new product afloat.

Is this idea new for new’s sake, or is it actually beneficial for the organization?

Take some time to think about the new objectives, products, or programs you are thinking of developing or implementing for your organization and be willing to wrestle with the “why”. If your reasons fall more in line with the last three than the first, start over. You will be much better in the long run.

How a Letter and an Oil Change Caused Me to Reconsider How I Engage with People

UnknownA report from a recent physical came in the mail the other day and I was grateful to see a lot of WNLs. “WNL” is that abbreviation medical and behavioral professionals use to describe lab results, psychological profiles, and other inventories. It stands for “within normal limits.” If you see “WNL” in the result column, you’re good. Don’t worry about it. You may be quirky, but you’re not crazy. You may have a hint of whatever it is they are checking for, but nothing clinical or out of the ordinary.

We all have different levels of HDL, LDL, enzymes, platelets, neurotransmitters and the like that should all fall within an acceptable range. Your body may have more of a digestive enzyme than mine or lower blood sugar than I do, and those levels may cause you to feel differently or affect your energy, but if they are within normal limits, you shouldn’t obsess over them.

Ok, so that’s a really bad health lesson, but looking at those results caused me to think a bit about what would be considered WNL within a body at large. Not a larger body, but a body of people, like your church or family or workplace…

…or like the people I shared the waiting room with while having my car serviced recently. See if you recognize any of these folks:

Free refreshment sampler guy (gotta try ’em all)
Free refreshment pocketer guy (eat some now, save some for later)
Pacing, sighing, complaining out loud about the wait time and where she needed to be gal
Chronic smart phone checker gal
Make use of every available moment overachiever guy
Complementary newspaper destroyer gal
Change the TV channel to Fox News guy
Skip the privacy and convenience of home and remove chin hair with tweezers while sitting in waiting room full of people gal

Would you say that all of those were within normal limits? Probably. Odd, irritating, and maybe a little annoying, but other than the petty theft and public grooming, I think they were WNL. So, at what point are someone’s behaviors, attitudes, or eccentricities considered outside the boundaries of normal?  Better question: What keeps you, what keeps me from accepting and embracing those whose attitudes or actions are a bit quirky — not sinful, not evil, not rebellious — just a little odd?

In case you haven’t noticed (or looked in a mirror recently), perfect people don’t exist. They don’t exist in your family, your workplace, or your home. Along with a few annoying habits, we all carry levels of anxiety and anger, obsession and hurt, fear and phoniness, that can be traced back to Grandpa Adam.  Even the godliest, most disciplined among us have hints of dasterdliness, moodiness, and kookiness in our blood stream.

Yet God calls us to accept each other as we are; warts, buck teeth, and all.

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.              Romans 15: 7 (NIV)

Acceptance creates an environment for growth and an openness to instruction. Lack of acceptance leads to isolation, legalism, or hypocrisy.

Several years ago, I heard a guy from Lifeway named Jason Hayes talk about acceptance as the starting point of transformation. Once people feel accepted, they begin to be open to the truth of Scripture which changes their belief system which ultimately changes how they live. He encouraged church leaders to think of the progression this way:

Belong, Believe, Behave

He pointed out, however, the temptation we have to reverse this process by beginning with conformity. Here’s the message we end up sending: First, get your act together. Next, agree to our way of thinking. Then and only then will we’ll take you in.

Behave, Believe, Belong

This is not only a reversal, it’s backward thinking. Don’t get caught up in this mindset when it comes to engaging with others.


Acceptance is Not Conditional. We reject the Behave, Believe, Belong mindset and resist the urge to insist or subtly imply that someone change before we open up to them. We make the first move.

Acceptance Does Not Mean Tacit Approval. You may believe that if you really accept someone, you are condoning their actions. This was part of the Pharisees’ problem with Jesus. They saw His willingness to develop relationships with tax collectors and sinners as Him excusing their behavior. Even those closest to Him would raise their eyebrows or nervously chuckle when He chose not to sit with the cool kids at lunch.  It means I accept you as someone who matters to God and who was made in His image. And that I look beyond or beneath the quirks to see you as a fellow struggler and companion in the journey of faith.

Acceptance is Not Just Being Nice. Being nice is the PC way of non acceptance. I can “be nice” to the loud talker, or close talker, or guy who has to say the blessing before anyone eats a chip at the Mexican restaurant, and still not accept him. When I’m being nice, I’m actually choosing to not engage with someone, but somehow feel like I’ve done the right thing.

Acceptance is Not OptionalIt’s what we’re called to do. Sometimes it’s tough to engage with someone who rubs you the wrong way. Not to over spiritualize things, but it may be an act of faith or obedience to reach out and embrace someone who gets under your skin. Chances are that you are, or were at one time, an irritant in someone else’s life. And if that other person was/is spiritually mature, you may never have known the way you came across because they extended grace and accepted you.

The temptation to allow someone’s idiosyncracies, habits, or hangups to keep you from accepting them is strong. But in light of that person’s life story, they are probably within normal limits. Don’t let these annoyances keep you from connection. They need it and my guess is that you do, too.

 It is impossible to develop a holy life alone; you will develop into an oddity and a peculiarism, into something utterly unlike what God wants you to be. The only way to develop spiritually is to go into the society of God’s own children. Oswald Chambers




Are You Feeding the Beast?

close up photo of a deli meat sandwich with turkey

Image via Thinkstock

But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Romans 13:14 ESV)

“Always prepared.” That’s the Boy Scout motto.

“Semper peratus.” That’s the Coast Guard motto.

“Don’t do the little things, then stress about it.” That’s mine.

Ok, probably a default more than a motto, but if I’m not careful, that mindset can get wrapped around the axle of my life and cause the engine to overheat. I’ve always admired those folks who have it together, who do the little things that matter, and who prepare well because those things don’t come naturally to me.

When I read Paul’s words to the Romans about making no provision for the flesh, my default is to read it through that Boy Scout / Coast Guard / well-planned-out lens. It’s the idea that he’s talking about provision for the flesh as a willful act, something I set out to do. I think that’s part of Paul’s point, but not entirely. I think there are (at least) three ways we make provision for the flesh. If you find yourself struggling in an area of your life, ask yourself these questions:

Are you creating or inviting opportunities for sin?

Providing involves forethought and preparation, in outright rebellion I decide to create an environment or look for opportunities to sin. I choose to sit next to the office gossiper and bait him or her into an unhealthy discussion. I deliberately dredge up something from the past to irk my spouse. I scan the cable guide for an inappropriate movie or disable a content filter on my computer or mobile device. I make sure I visit the stock room when my coworkers are at lunch. I ponder and then post a hurtful or controversial comment on social media.

We’ve all been guilty of making provision for the flesh in some premeditated fashion.

Are you ignoring preventative maintenance?

We can also make provision through neglect. We can provide for the flesh by ignoring preventative or healthy things. If I leave food on the kitchen counter overnight, my neglect has made provision for ants or roaches. When I neglect the proper maintenance for my car, I make provision for it to breakdown. Likewise, when I neglect relationships, I make provision for misunderstanding.  When I fail to pray, withhold forgiveness, harbor a grudge, nurse a hurt, forgo time with the Lord, fudge on confession, refuse to be honest with our small group, or avoid responsibility, my neglect has created a condition that increases the likelihood of trouble.

But for some reason I get upset when the car breaks down…

Many times, however, I feed this beast another way.

This last approach is attractive because it allows me to be carnal, yet look spiritual. In the first category, we yield to our flesh’s hunger for the cheap and superficial and indulge in something we know is wrong. In the second, we refuse to do the routine maintenance needed to live life well. In the third….

Have you forgotten the most important thing?

We consciously resist temptation and are vigilant on the upkeep of our life, but failure comes when we omit the first part — when we fail to put on Christ.

This omission creates, as Paul says in 2 Timothy, an appearance of godliness that is powerless in the long run.

Depending on your peer group, upbringing, or personal discipline, this show can be impressive for a little while. But watch what happens when things don’t go your way, when life abandons the script you’ve written.

What happens internally when you’ve done everything right, but you don’t receive the “blessing” commensurate with such a flawless performance? Are you frustrated? Do you feel that God owes you?

On the other hand, what goes on inside when life works out the exactly the “way it should have?” Do you become prideful, self-righteous? Is there a part of you that feels you’re good deeds have entitled you to a good life?

Your responses to these situations may indicate a deeper issue. When we fail to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” we will find ourselves succombing to these two powerful temptations: avoiding the cross and seeking our own glory. (See how this hunger affected Peter at the end of Mark 8 and beginning of Chapter 9.)

When I neglect Christ’s call to die to myself daily, I forget that my life is to be about Him and His glory and it becomes all about me.

While it looks like I’m living for Him, the reality is that my actions are really self serving.  All the good deeds, kind words, and personal discipline come from a desire to make my life comfortable or to receive affirmation rather than from a desire to be obedient to Jesus.

In addition to the obvious sins of comission and omission that we are all familiar with, the flesh also screams for a cross avoiding, glory for self-seeking life. You cannot live a good-looking, self-gratifying, conflict-avoiding, people-pleasing, image-managing life without provision.

In what ways are you making provision for the flesh and feeding the beast?

Broken Things

imagesGolf fans will be watching “across the pond” this week as the world’s best gather at Royal Troon for the Open Championship. Zach Johnson, last year’s winner, just returned the Claret Jug — one of the most prized trophies in sports — after his ceremonial year with it. While the winner is expected to take care of it, the Claret Jug does not have to remain in a hermetically sealed vault and with 24-hour security. He can take it wherever he wants and it’s customary to take it as many places as possible. In fact, much has been said, written, and posted about what other champions have done with the jug, the places they’ve taken it, beverages (and food) they’ve consumed out of it, the people who’ve posed for pictures with it.

Recently I heard (second-hand, so apologies if I’ve distorted the facts) of a wonderful story reported by the Golf Channel. At some point this year, the jug accompanied Johnson to a corporate function in Minnesota. I’m not sure how, but while he was there, the base of it came off. Like it came apart, all the way off, broken, messed up. One piece became two.

Oh (no)!

Could you imagine what was running through his mind when he realized that he had broken golf’s most sacred trophy? Panic? Embarrassment? Mild hysteria?

Have you ever broken something precious? Not just something physical, think a little broader like a promise or a rule? Have you ever been the reason for a broken dream or a broken heart? Have you broken a vow or betrayed a trust? Have you ever felt the heaviness, hopelessness, and shame that comes when you realize that your actions or insensitivity or carelessness may have caused irreparable damage?

Back to Zach…

After a frantic search, Johnson actually found a highly regarded silversmith in Minnesota. So he gathered the pieces and took them to the shop with a one-in-a-million hope that the guy could fix it. While showing the damage to the man, Johnson reiterated how important it was for the item to be repaired properly and repeatedly stressed its value, but refrained from telling him what it was. None of this, however, seemed to register. (Imagine the frustration you felt when the so-called expert showed little interest and even less urgency in your emergency and then triple it.)

About the time he realized that he needed to come clean with the man in order for him to understand the magnitude of the situation, the silversmith reportedly looked at Johnson and said,

“Yes, I know. It’s the Claret Jug. I’ve worked on it before.”

It just so happened that a previous Open champion and Minnesota native (Tom Lehman) broke the darn thing almost 20 years ago and took it to the same silversmith who repaired it so well that no one even noticed the break. Imagine how comforting those words were to Johnson. Imagine how his perspective changed knowing that he brought in something of immense value but broken to someone who had seen and fixed it before.

I wonder if the silversmith was Zach’s first call. If it were me, I’d have tried Gorilla glue, looked for a how-to welding video on YouTube, or something even more boneheaded and made the situation worse.

Valued, but broken. That’s us. At some point all of us will feel crushed under the weight of the sin, sorrow, and brokenness in our lives and have this foreboding sense that the damage is irreparable. But our attempts to fix it with behavioral duct tape and Gorilla glue will just make it worse. I love these lines from Broken Things, by Julie Miller:

So beyond repair, nothing I could do
I tried to fix it myself
But it was only worse when I got through…

…Well, I heard that you make old things new
So I give these pieces up to you
If you want it, you can have my heart

After the panic or denial or failed self-improvement attempt, we bring all of our guilt, shame, and embarrassment to the Cross of Christ in hopes that He can do something with it. He can and He will. The Gospels are full of examples of Jesus’ compassion to and healing of the broken. He offers forgiveness and the promise of a new life in Him. Not just repaired, but made new.

Valued but broken. You may be there right now. In fact, you may feel that you’ve wrecked things so badly that there is no value left.

That’s not true. Take your brokenness to the Father. Confess it all to Him and ask for His forgiveness and healing.

Bring the pieces to Him and don’t worry about the mess you’ve made.

He’s seen it before.


Three Ineffective Coaching Paradigms

imagesWith the passing of Pat Summitt and Buddy Ryan, the ongoing saga of Jurgen Klinsmann, and a recent feel good story on ESPN, I’ve been reminded recently of the importance of having — and in my mind, being — a good coach. Think about the different coaches you’ve had throughout your life, and not just those guys who wore polyester blend shorts with a supportive waist band. Some of the “team leaders” you’ve served under probably never played sports. In fact, one of the best coaches I ever worked with had zero athletic ability and even less interest, but he was Wooden-esque in his circle of influence.

I’ve also had a few dolts, as well. Most of them were good people with credentials and experience, but they were ineffective and sometimes destructive as leaders. Some of their failures can be attributed to a lack of ability, but I think for most of them, it was an issue of misplaced energy. At some point on the coaching road, they got off at the wrong exit and never recalibrated.

Most of us desire to be an effective, top-tier coach, but if we’re not careful frustration, circumstance, or insecurity will grab the wheel and I’ll be on an off-ramp headed toward one of these unproductive paradigms:

The Critic / Complainer

The fully formed Critic / Complainer appears more in Hollywood than in real life, but his miserable persona leads teams all across the land.  The Critic / Complainer is constantly at odds with the officials, the fans, his staff, his players, and probably his family. Oblivious to any positivity or good fortune, the Critic / Complainer drones on and on about never catching a break and how the system is out to get him. Instead of coaching, instructing, or leading, he grouses about being understaffed and underfunded. He wonders aloud about how impossible it is to compete with mediocre talent and an incompetent administration. This chronic negativity is contagious and it spills over into his coaching. Imagine what it would be like to play for the Critic / Complainer. How well would you perform for one whose go to motivation technique is public humiliation? How often would you give your best effort? How much team spirit would you feel? Unfortunately, there are times I see some shades of this dysfunction in the mirror. A string of negative events that lead to stinking thinking is what makes getting off at this exit tempting for me, but don’t take the bait. Do whatever it takes to get out of your head and back to the task at hand.

The Curator

Unlike his negative counterpart, the Curator is usually a really nice guy, but he functions a bit like a Depression baby. A master recruiter, the Curator is obsessed with finding and keeping top quality talent. He may be a smooth talker and a great recruiter, but he is a hoarder of resources. Since he firmly believes that success more about the Jims and Joes than X’s and O’s, he ’s constantly on the lookout the best players hoping to entice them to join his squad– even if they’re on another team. Always on the lookout for low hanging fruit, the Curator has and plays favorites. He compares. He stores. He polishes. He shops. What he doesn’t do is develop. Any success he achieves is from reloading rather than rebuilding — because he doesn’t know how. Securing talent is more valued than developing it. There is not a system of helping team members develop and grow, rather an ongoing cycle of relying on ability and replacing

When a team member stumbles, the Curator’s default question is “Who can I get to replace him?” rather than “How can I help him?”

While he doesn’t believe anyone notices, the Curator also has a pecking order. He gives preferential treatment to team members he sees as irreplaceable giving more time to the priceless pieces of his collection. He spends little time, however, with the non-superstars or “coaching up” his team.

Once your team experiences a little success, the pressure to replicate those results or “move to the next level” increases; or you may find yourself in a “win now” environment. Either way,  you’ll be tempted to short-circuit the organic process of development or trade the people who got you there for better talent. Don’t fall for this trap. Coach, don’t curate.

The Commentator

The Commentator is the Cliff Claven of coaches and the one with whom I am most familiar. He talks a good game, knows people, reads books. He’s up to date on all the latest techniques and strategies, but he spends more time with those activities than investing in his players or implementing a strategy. He can explain blocking schemes, the nuances of the game, the mindset of players, and the latest motivational techniques. He attends conferences, goes to camps, and watches videos. He’s well-informed but not high-performing. Unfortunately, this can be my default. I’m afraid this ineffective paradigm is the easiest for me to fall into because all of this activity seems like work and progress, but without implementation information is useless. Peter Drucker’s quote “The best plan is only good intentions unless it degenerates into work.” nails the Achilles heal of the Commentator. How are you doing at actually working your plan?

All of us have areas of responsibility in which we function like a coach. We are called on to develop strategies, lead others, or aid in their development. Chances are you will be calling the plays or blowing the whistle or developing a game plan in some capacity. What kind of coach will you be? Where is your energy going? Will it be put to effective use, or will it cause you to fall into one of these ineffective paradigms?

If you feel like you can never catch a break; if you’re always frustrated with you team and find it hard to celebrate wins or even see progress, you may be a more of a Critic / Complainer more than a coach.

If you find yourself depending on low hanging fruit. If you don’t have the time for player development. If you don’t know how to engage the novice or help one of your team members improve after receiving a negative review, you may be more of a Curator than a Coach.

If you talk a better game than you play; if you know more about your job than how to do your job, you may be more of a Commentator than a Coach.

But if there is any part of you that believes in coaching, you know that you don’t have to stay on this path. Determine where your energy is going and begin now to eliminate unhealthy patterns and implement new practices.

Your team is waiting.




Fit for Life

AtlasI hate moving stuff — especially heavy stuff. The good news is that there are enough life hacks and cheats to provide a work around for most of the weaknesses in my life. Auto correct, navigation systems, a skilled sound guy, Google, and the greatest wife in the world allow me to feign competence on most days, but there’s no real work around for the fact that I’m going to need help on my end of a refrigerator.

It’s always good to have a strong guy around for moving stuff. It doesn’t matter if he’s a country strong sort of guy or one of those millet and kale eating CrossFit types. You need these dudes around because apparently there’s a law that says a picture can remain in one place for decades, but heavy stuff must be moved regularly.

Otherwise, you might just have to get strong on your own.

In a letter to his young friend Timothy, the Apostle Paul makes a reference to the value of athletic training. In his day, the importance of fitness was part of the Greek ethos and he compares the dedication necessary for the athletic arena to another type of training.  He writes: Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. 1 Timothy 4: 7 – 8.

At some level he’s saying, “One of these days, Timothy, you are going to be on the heavy end of life, and I (Paul) won’t be there to help shoulder the load. It’s going to be on you.”

So be ready.

And while there is value in being able to open the pickle jar, run a 10K, or pick up a piano, Paul says that being strong in faith has value in all things. So work on that, Timothy. Put in the effort needed to grow in grace. Train yourself to be godly.

The same holds true for us. Life can be heavy – relationally, emotionally, spiritually, socially, financially, vocationally, and any other “ly” you can think of. Sometimes the burden of the moment seems overwhelming and our spiritual knees begin to buckle. When the lesser angel of our nature whispers in our ear, the default for many of us is to look for an easy way out, a life hack, or help from someone with spiritual muscle. But at some point, it will be on us, on you or on me to do the heavy lifting of conviction.

The strength to be a person of integrity, to resist temptation, and to stay the course isn’t found in a gym, but the process is similar. Character, endurance, and patience are built by concentrated effort. If left unaddressed, anger or lust or greed or selfish ambition will overwhelm you. Most folks don’t become a grease fire over night. The inevitable demise is due to the cumulative effect of neglect and compromise. Train yourself to be godly. One push up in and of itself is of little value, but string a bunch of them together over time and you will experience the benefit.

What would it take for you to get up off the couch of spiritual neglect and engage in training in godliness? Paul says that godliness has value in all things. Do you believe that?

Would it be of value to you to be someone who routinely blesses those who curse you?

…to be a genuine encourager, an enthusiastic servant, and a faithful witness?

…to be the kind of person who isn’t afraid of bad news, whose heart is firm trusting the Lord?

…to be one who is not haunted by your past sins and failures or to be able to forgive another from your heart?

…to be able to take every thought captive or to no longer be a slave to your anger?

…to you to be able to genuinely enjoy the success of another or to experience deep joy and contentment in your everyday life?

…to be worry free and to be fair and equitable in your dealings with others?

…to be non judgemental, to live life with an eternal perspective?

There are no work arounds for the life of faith. It must be lived, worked out, and prayed through. Paul lays out a wonderful framework for developing spritual strength in 1 Timothy 4. Take some time this week to read that chapter then begin to incorportate those habits in your life.

Train yourself to be godly. Godliness has value in all things.



Life on Repeat

repeatWhoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends. Proverbs 17:9 (ESV)

A friend left town three years ago in the wake of an ugly divorce. The emotional trap door he fell through after the breakup dropped him into a cesspool of anger, self-pity, and depression that permeated everything. The once happy-go-lucky guy became a walking “Donnie Downer” who managed to work his woundedness into every conversation. His constant negativity alienated friends and drove away others who were trying to help. We met for lunch a while back to catch up. I was hoping that the time away and a fresh start had given him a little space to heal. It hadn’t. He was still savoring the toxic stew he’d been served years earlier. Same anger, same excuses, same blame, same bitterness. Same reluctance to look in the mirror. None of it had gone away. In fact I believe it had gotten worse.

It was obvious that even though he left town, he carried all the baggage with him. Instead of using the distance to gain perspective and work on himself, he remained stuck in the rut of bitterness by replaying the hurt.

It was life on repeat.

Unhealthy pattens like this are easy to see in others, but can be difficult to notice in the mirror — especially when the offense is not as severe as the one my friend experienced. But on further review, I can see shades of some of his unhealthy patterns in my own life. Proverbs 17: 9 says: Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends. (ESV) There’s part of me that has a difficult time covering an offense. How bout you? Are you more prone to repeat a matter than seeking love and getting past the hurt?

I realize this verse was written 3,000 years before being offended was common — when it took more than chalk graffiti to get a rise out of your neighbor — but I think it still holds powerful wisdom for us today. In this era of heightened sensitivity, many of us have a difficult time smoothing things over. See if you can detect any of these unhealthy responses to offense in your life:

Repeating the Matter to Someone Else 

Gossip is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of repeating the matter and it is a sure-fire way of separating close friends. Instead of talking with the offender, I talk about them — usually in unhealthy ways. Rather than doing the tough work of repairing the relationship, I spend time building a case or creating alliances by “repeating the matter.” Gossip is so appealing because it makes us feel better about ourselves as well as providing an attractive illusion of being “open and honest” with someone — but it’s an unstable foundation for relationship. If what I enjoy most about your company is the fact that we can talk about others, I never really learn about you, nor am I vulnerable about myself. If you have this sort of relationship with another, watch what happens when the issue that brought you together gets resolved. You will either spend less time with this person or you will find something or someone else to talk about because there really wasn’t much relationship there to begin with.

Repeating the Matter to Yourself 

Another way to repeat a matter is to continue to mull it over and over in your head. When you are offended, how much time do you spend replaying the conversation, reliving the hurt, remembering even more aspects of the encounter that support why you feel offended? Rehearsing the offense over and over in your mind picks at the scab, plays with the wound, and delays healing. You can’t cover an offense if you are constantly picking at it and nursing the hurt. What do you tell yourself after you’ve been offended? Are you more likely to build a case to justify your anger, hurt, and disappointment, or are you more likely to think clearly?

Repeating the Matter by Doing What You Always Do

The most common way we repeat a matter is to succumb to our default way of responding to insult or injury. Since the characters who offend us and situations that bind us are so varied, we sometimes fail to look at the one consistent variable: how we respond. Avoiding, withdrawing to punish, the silent treatment, withholding affection or affirmation, are common responses to those who push our buttons. Others lash out, verbally reprimand or engage in some sort of escape behavior. Offenses and offenders vary, but what doesn’t change is your go to coping style. Same ballgame, different player. What is your go to coping style?

In his book Generation to Generation, Edwin Friedman provides this wonderful insight: as long as individuals focus primarily on the toxicity of (the other’s) behavior instead of what makes (him or her) vulnerable, they will fail to realize that it is a far healthier response to work on their own (responses) as a way of immunizing them against insult. Actually, such responses accomplish more than self-protection, they also tend to modify the insulting behavior.

What if, instead of focussing on the people who bind your cheese or the ways they went about doing it you chose to focus on the ways you respond? What if you worked more toward forgiving than repeating?

Michael Bungay Stainer (in his book, The Coaching Habit) offers a simple, yet powerful framework for change to help identify and stop those negative coping styles that we keep repeating:

When _________ happens, instead of __________, I will ____________.

What you put in that instead of blank is your life on repeat. This three-step gem seems like common sense, but it’s not common practice for most folks. If you find yourself stuck in the rut of life on repeat, reflect on your responses more than the offense and decide to respond differently.


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