Handling Disappointment

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One of my favorite lines from The Princess Bride, is Westley’s classic jab at Inigo Montoya, “Get used to disappointment.” It’s one of those lines that feels good to say, but not to hear. Most of us would rather be the suave, ok snarky, character who delivers that gem than the one to whom it’s addressed.

But at some point, all of us will suffer the heartburn of frustration. A sure promotion will go to a lesser deserving and / or younger coworker. The presentation software on your thumb drive will be a different version than the one on the computer at the regional office. Your favorite team will blow a 25 point lead and lose the Super Bowl.

How will you handle it? I guess that’s a loaded question. Your ability to manage disappointment probably depends on the situation and the level of the letdown. But regardless of its severity, a sure sign of unhealthiness is to respond to disappointment with one of these two extremes:

Some Guys Really Do Get Used to Disappointment (see Charlie Brown or a Vanderbilt fan)
Don’t be this guy, the everyman embodiment of learned helplessness. Living with a resigned, here we go again, defeated disposition is unhealthy. He shows up to work every day, clocks in, opens his toolbox or logs in to his computer, but he’s given up. His consistent inability to address disappointment has made made him feel powerless to affect change in himself or the system at large so he just disengages and never fights to overcome it. He hasn’t just accepted disappointment as part of life, he’s accepted it as his lot in life.

Some Guys Become Hypersensitive to Disappointment (see John McEnroe or Tony Stuart)
Don’t be this guy, either, a tortured soul who’s never accepted the fact that things actually go wrong. Umpires miss calls. Engines fail. The prize in the cereal box is never as cool as it looks on the picture. Instead of developing a resigned disposition like his lovable loser counterpart, this guy becomes a neurotic and abrasive curmudgeon no one wants to be around. Reactionary with little self awareness, he allows any slight — rain, a power outage, a change in meeting time, eleven nuggets in the twelve pack — to ruin his day (and in turn, everyone around him). It’s hard to know when something really disappoints him because everything disappoints him.

But there’s another option:

Some Guys See Disappointment as an Unwelcomed, but not Unexpected Part of the Process (see Randy Pausch, Louis Zamperini, Jim Abbott, or anyone you know who farms)
Strive to be this guy. He’s not immobilized by disappointment, or obsessed with it. He realizes that we live in a fallen world and things don’t always turn out the way he hoped. He knows that even though he can reduce its likelihood, at some point, disappointment is going to happen. But it doesn’t make him adversarial. It does’t keep him from engaging. He refuses to let setbacks deter him from doing the right thing or working to affect change. He sees sabotage for what it is and recognizes the reality of resistance. He exhibits self control, deep confidence in the process, and remarkable resilience.

The next time you experience disappointment, consider this:
Maybe disappointment is teaching you – What can you learn from this situation? Is your disappointment a catalyst for redirection or change? Maybe you’ve become a bit entitled or ungrateful. What is this season saying about your heart? Is it revealing misplaced priorities or affections? Sometimes disappointments are indicators of the fears or idols lodged deep in our hearts that color the lenses through which we see the world.

Maybe disappointment is testing you – Resistance is real. How bad do you want this? Are you willing to do what it takes to complete the task? Maybe the opposition or sabotage your experiencing is confirmation that you’re on the right track. Every worthwhile endeavor has an Organic Chemistry component — a seemingly insurmountable obstacle that weeds out the wannabes. Don’t be surprised. Double down your efforts and keep working.

Maybe disappointment is training you – There’s a great deal of truth the the old cliched idiom: no pain, no gain. It’s okay to ache. It’s okay to be frustrated. It’s okay to feel as if the world is against you. What’s not okay is to give up. You’ll be much more appreciative of the end result and better equipped for the future if you work through the difficulty. I love the story of man who visited a monastery for a personal retreat. A monk meets him at the gate, shows him around the grounds, and informs him of the daily schedule The brief orientation ends with the monk’s final recommendation: “If you need anything, let us know and we’ll teach you how to live without it.”

Early in his book on the life of the prophet, Jeremiah, Eugene Peterson fleshes out what God might have been saying to His discouraged follower. May we heed these words of challenge, as well:

Life is difficult Jeremiah. Are you going to quit at the first wave of opposition? Are you going to retreat when you find that there is more to life than finding three meals a day and a dry place to sleep at night? Are you going to run home the minute you find that the mass of men and women are more interested in keeping their feet warm than in living at risk to the glory of God? Are you going to live cautiously or courageously? I called you to live at your best, to pursue righteousness, to sustain a drive toward excellence. It is easier, I know, to be neurotic. It is easier to be parasitic. It is easier to relax in the embracing arms of The Average. Easier, but not better. Easier, but not more significant. Easier, but not more fulfilling. I called you to live a life of purpose far beyond what you think yourself capable of living and promised you adequate strength to fulfill your destiny. Now at the first sign of difficulty you are ready to quit. If you are fatigued by this run-of-the-mill crowd of apathetic mediocrities, what will you do when the real race starts, the race with the swift and determined horses of excellence? What is it you really want, Jeremiah? Do you want to shuffle along with the crowd, or run with the horses? from Run with the Horses, by Eugene Peterson (pp. 21 – 22)

One Stat I’d Like George Barna to Investigate

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I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. 3 John 1:9

The number of Americans who answer affirmatively to the poll question: “Do you attend church regularly?” has declined over the years. This reality is troubling to me, but there’s another trend that no one seems to be addressing. Non attenders get all the press, but I think an equally disturbing group are those who regularly sample the fare of several churches, but never settle on one.

On the surface, this “food court followership” looks helpful. Parents carefully investigate the ministries offered by local churches and make “healthy choices” for their family. Not one choice, one place to land, but choices. Instead of investing in the life of one body of believers, they hand-pick programs and attend ministries from multiple churches. They become religious consumers, instead of members of one body. Church a la carte may seem beneficial for the individual, but it keeps us from fulfilling the call of Christ.

One derivation of this idea of engaging only in activities that provide tangible (or custom) benefits is what I call “travel-ball church”.

While many travel-ball teams compete to win prestigious tournaments, the underlying goal of many of those involved — the reason parents spend loads of money and every weekend at Motel 6 — is not so the Austin All-Stars can bring home a trophy. It’s so that Taylor can get a scholarship. Winning is a wonderful byproduct, but it’s not the goal. The ultimate purpose of their investment is the development of their future Division 1 athlete, not the team. Travel-ball teams wear uniforms, have practice, and compete in tournaments, but many are more of a collection of good players than a team. Team goals take second place to individual achievement.

With travel-ball church, followers appear to join with other like-minded believers to be part of something greater than themselves. But in reality, it is less about the team and more about the development of the player. The motivation for involvement is what a church offers rather than how to help the church accomplish its mission. With travel-ball church, a “player’s” skill may improve, but intangible attributes like loyalty, self-sacrifice, service, and an understanding of a greater purpose are only given lip service. The church is viewed primarily as a place for self-improvement rather than the agent of Christ to advance His kingdom.

While I think the intention behind this mindset is not evil — the desire for growth is admirable — I think it reinforces a dangerous idea: Ultimately the church (team) is here for me as opposed to me being here for the church (team). Travel-ball church produces a large group of really gifted, yet disconnected people who wear the same jersey, but play their own game.

You get A-Rod, not Jeter; Carmelo, not LeBron; Diotrephes, not Demetrius.

Robert Mulholland writes about the result of allowing our felt needs to drive the bus of our religious devotion: What we (get) is some kind of pathological formation that is very privatized and individualized, a spiritualized form of self-actualization. Although such forms of spirituality may be very appealing to look at on the outside, quite comfortable in their easy conformity to the values and dynamics of our culture, they are like a whitewashed tomb that has deadness on the inside if they are not life-giving, healing and redemptive for others.
M. Robert Mulholland Jr.. Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation

“Life-giving, healing and redemptive for others.” In travel-ball church, I look for life-giving, healing, and redemptive, but I reject the “for others” part. Others are not the ones I walk with or the ones I serve, they are either my competition or they are there to help me improve.

If my own spiritual development is my primary motivation, I’ll never experience living in community or learning to extend grace. I’ll fail to see the value in weathering storms, working through difficulty, and learning to listen. I’ll want “others” to celebrate my wins, but I’ll be less invested in and somewhat jealous of theirs. I’ll become impatient with the process and unable to appreciate gradual, sustained change over time. I won’t learn how to love or serve or trust. Or forgive. I’ll be envious and thin-skinned. My time on “the bench” will be spent stewing or pouting, not encouraging or cheering others on. I’ll be the miserable embodiment of Jesus’ admonition: For whoever would save his life will lose it…

As Christians, we are to be followers of Jesus. Our primary commitment is to Christ and His mission. When our primary commitment gravitates away from Jesus and towards self-improvement, we’ll miss both.

…but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. (Mark 8: 35)

Teach Us to Pray

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I just found out the composer of Chopsticks was only 16 when he wrote it.

Shocker. I would have guessed much younger.

In all fairness, the original is probably more difficult than the two-fingered ditty everyone knows. Chopsticks is to the piano what Smoke on the Water is to the guitar — a song someone plays when they don’t really know how to play. For some, these simple tunes become onramps leading to a life of enjoying and making music, but not everyone.

Some folks are content just to know one song.

But there’s a difference between learning to play a song and learning to make music.

We do that sort of thing all the time. I can’t dance, but when my daughter gets married, I’ll probably join the list of uncoordinated dads who spend a few bucks on lessons to dance with their daughter on her wedding day. I have no desire to learn to dance. I just want to learn a dance. I’m not interested in enrolling in a knot-tying extensive. I just want to make sure our Christmas tree makes the three hour trip from the tree farm to our house.

But for the important things in life, we need to learn more than one song.

In John 11, Jesus’ disciples come to him with a request. “Teach us to pray.”

Here’s what they didn’t say: “Teach us a prayer. Lord, can you give us something we can use in multiple applications. Fancy words would be nice, as well. When we’re called on to pray — especially in front of people — we want to be prepared. We don’t really want to be pray-ers, so would you teach us a prayer?”

No. Their experience with Jesus stoked a hunger for something deeper, more meaningful, more important. Would you teach us what it means to have a prayerful disposition? Would you help us come to the place in our life where prayer is the default posture of our heart? Would you challenge us to establish a pattern of deep communion with the Creator of the universe and Lover of our souls? We want to experience the unshakable faith and confidence that comes from a deep prayer life.

They asked Jesus to teach them to pray, not to give them a prayer. Yet, often times His modern disciples treat The Lord’s Prayer more as prescriptive than descriptive. Some prefer to call it the model prayer rather than The Lord’s Prayer. I love that. Jesus is providing an example. He’s offering his disciples a few things to consider or areas to address when they pray, not giving them the exact words to say.

The idea is not to learn this prayer, but to pray.

Jesus had harsh criticism for those whose words expressed a devotion deeper than their hearts. If He had given them a prayer, I wonder if that’s what would have happened. I wonder if they would have repeated it so often that after a while they could recite it without even considering what they were saying…

I think that happened to me.

Our church just finished using The Lord’s Prayer as a guide for our January prayer emphasis. As we were going through each section, I began to realize how often I’ve prayed it without thought, mindlessly repeating those familiar words when prompted rather than earnestly offering them from the heart. It seemed like the only time my attention was heightened to what I was saying was during a corporate recitation. When I pray The Lord’s Prayer with others, there’s always a brief, awkward little pause as we approach the “forgive us” section.  I’m never really sure whether to use “trespasses” or “debts” so I tend to hang back a little until I’m sure where the crowd is going. But other than that, I can be guilty of repeating what I’ve memorized.

Kind of like Chopsticks.

I don’t want to be a one song pray-er, but it’s easy to get into a rut. This prayer emphasis challenged me and I, in turn, would like to challenge you. Does your prayer time look more like you’re reciting the pledge of allegiance than addressing the Almighty? Does it sound like you’re filling out a benevolent form letter rather than attending to the Father? Thank You for this day and for________. Help _________, bless _________, heal _______. Forgive me for ___________. Amen.

Do you want to play a song or do you want to make music? Let me encourage you to consider upping your prayer game for 2017. There are tons of great resources out there and I’ll list a few of my favorites. But these and $1.98 will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks if you don’t put them into practice.

A Diary of Private Prayer, John Baillie
Face to Face: Praying the Scriptures for Intimate Worship, by Ken Boa
Moments with the Savior, by Ken Gire
Prayer, by Richard Foster
Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, by Tim Keller
The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayer and Devotions, by Arthur Bennett
With Christ in the School of Prayer, by Andrew Murray

Let me know of others you find helpful.

Why Small Groups Should Matter to Men

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I read another disappointingly predictable (and I believe inaccurate) article the other day explaining why men don’t like small groups. One of the reasons, according to the author, is that men are fixers.

Men indeed do a lot of fixing and are bent toward problem solving, but I think that’s a bit simplistic. Saying that a man doesn’t want to go to a small group because he’s a fixer is similar to saying that a woman doesn’t want to join one because she’s a worrier.

Fixing things is not who men are, it’s one of the ways we cope. And I believe that bent towards wanting to make things right should make small groups more attractive to men, not less.

Think about where this coping mechanism comes from. Men come wired from the factory to be builders, cultivators, developers. We’re designed to work. We love projects and progress and piddling. We are at our best spending energy and effort trying to make life better, easier, or more fun.

The nature of the post-Fall world, however, fights against this. Ever since Adam and Eve ate us out of house and home, we’ve wrestled with the untamable growth of thorns and thistles that wreak havoc on every field to which we set the plow.

Pipes burst. Relationships sour. Markets crash. Systems fail. Bodies age.

Even if he doesn’t do anything immoral, unethical, or criminal, if left unchecked, a man’s life erodes. Marriage becomes joyless and predictable. Mealtimes become more about table manners than connection. Vacations are undermined by financial pressures and unrealistic expectations. Work is more about pleasing suits and jumping through hoops than making a difference.

When a man fails to understand that these obstacles are part of life, he will begin to see them as his life. He moves from cultivator to obstacle fixer guy. A small group can help him recalibrate his focus, deal appropriately with weeds, and pursue a life that matters.

Small Groups Provide Tools (Let him see how this will help him)
Men love tools — especially those that help accomplish something that interests him. A faster computer, stronger truck, longer driver, sharper knife. You name it, he’s looking for anything that will give him an edge or increase productivity. A wise mans also looks for tools of the trade; non-physical, yet indispensable knowledge that benefits his work. He’ll spend hours learning best practices, proven methods, and innovative concepts to upgrade his toolbox and increase his competence. A wiser man will realize the importance of investing in his spiritual life, as well.  Involvement in a small group can help a man understand the importance of Scripture and incorporate its truth in his life in order to be “thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:17)

Small Groups Provide Teammates (Let him know he’s not alone)
While men are often too prideful to ask for help, they value teammates — other like-minded men who join together for a common cause. They love sports leagues, car clubs, BBQ teams, 7:45 am coffee at the corner store, the VFW lodge, and the Rotary Club. They resonate with phrases like: shoulder to shoulder, band of brothers, stand in the gap, pick me up, I’ve got your back. Small groups provide a place for men to join with others in like-minded pursuit who will encourage them to do their best. Men love the camaraderie and connection of a team. They love being challenged to reach deeper and try harder. They love a place to process life and bounce ideas off of men in similar situations who will not judge or reject them. Ironically, men love being ragged on by their team and giving it back. The transcript of locker room conversations might cause one to question whether or not these guys really care for each other, but they do. Humor helps them deliver and cope with truths that may be difficult to hear. (Ragging, by the way, is different from nagging, but that’s another post.)
Small Groups Provide Encouragement (Let him know he can keep going)
A while back, I hit the wall. A perfect storm of reactivity, arrogance, incompetence, and sabotage left me in a deep hole. The resulting funk from the fallout pervaded everything and I felt like a failure relationally, professionally, spiritually, emotionally, and any other “ly” you can think of. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t snap out of it. The cloud was so thick I couldn’t tell if the funk was discoloring everything in my world or if I was actually seeing clearly for the first time what a phony I really was. The light broke through during a Sunday morning worship service. Early in the service, a member of the congregation came to the podium. I don’t know if he was making an announcement or there to lead in prayer, but his first three words were like water to a man in the desert.

“Don’t give up.”

Don’t give up. I needed to hear that. Men need to hear that. Under the masks of competence, confidence, and good-ole-boy-ness, most men are struggling. They worry about job reviews, consumer debt, and who their daughter is dating.  They experience health scares and layoffs, distant spouses and an erosion of ability. Those who avoid numbing the struggle with pornography and substance abuse may turn to the behavioral narcotics of busyness, perfectionism, and people pleasing. But it’s avoidance all the same.  Small groups provide a man with encouragement to avoid these dead-end roads and stay the course “spurring one another on to love and good works.” (Hebrews 10:24)

Small Groups Provide Focus (Let him know he was made for more than this, but probably not the more he’s thinking of)
The Westminster Catechism states that the chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. Sounds easy enough, but a man needs to be reminded of this over and over. Further, he must understand that God is to be glorified while he addresses his trouble, not after. Most guys believe they can give attention to the “spiritual stuff” in their lives once their marriage gets straightened out, or they find a better job, or get through a rough patch with their teenager. Men must be encouraged to wrestle with the question: How can I glorify God where I am right now? In this marriage, in this job, with these children. He must be challenged to remember that the life he has is the “garden” in which he has been placed to tend and cultivate. And whatever he does (and wherever he does it) he should “do it all to the glory of God.” (Colossians 3:17)

If you know some guys who’ve rejected the idea of a small group, I want to encourage them to reconsider. These groups can serve as workshops to help them assess and address the issues they face and provide a safe place to work on building a life that matters.

Was 2016 a Liberty Bowl Year for You?

shutterstock_529249063The word “liberty” should be appealing, right? I would guess that it stirs up good feelings for most Americans. When I read about liberty in a history book, I think of the incredible freedom we have as a nation. When I read of it in Galatians I think of what a game changer the Gospel is. And the more I ponder the liberty I’ve been afforded as an American and a Christian, I’m humbled by the tremendous sacrifice that made both possible.

I don’t feel the same, however, about the Liberty Bowl. Much to the chagrin of their fan base, that’s where Georgia ended their year. The Bulldog faithful had hoped the hiring of a new coach was all they needed to make a more prestigious bowl. Something actually played in January would’ve been nice.

Not so fast my friend.

My guess is that unless you live in Memphis or are a Vanderbilt fan, you’re not high the Liberty Bowl either. It’s the Check Cola of bowl games. In July, liberty means freedom. In December, it means second-tier bowl. It is synonymous with under achievement, a big “Needs Improvement” on the report card. Having your team play in the Liberty Bowl is like receiving a J.C. Penny’s gift card on Christmas morning while your siblings got one from Nordstrom, Amazon, or Cabela’s.

You may not be a college football fan, but hang with me because my guess is that you’ve had some Liberty Bowl appearances in your life, as well — maybe even this year. You’ve underachieved. You’ve gone through a stretch of regrettable decisions, a time where the difference between what you had hoped would happen and what you actually experienced was disappointing, a time where you had to settle, set aside your dreams, accept reality. Or, maybe like Georgia, you mistakenly believed that the path to the next level was as simple as one difficult decision.

If 2016 was a Liberty Bowl year for you, how are you looking to approach this new year? Here are a few suggestions:

Be Clear About Your Tier —  Before you spend time wallowing in self-pity or developing a game plan for 2017 in reaction mode, make sure your disappointment is more about reality than ego. College football makes second-tier bowls fairly obvious, but second-tier lives can be super subjective. Your assessment should be based on good living, not on subscribing to someone else’s definition of the good life. For instance, if a Liberty Bowl life for you is more about a home, a car, an income, or where you’re kids go to school than who you are in that home and car, how you spend that salary, or what you are teaching your children, you’re looking at the wrong measuring stick. Economic and cultural metrics are like Disney World. There’s always another level just a notch higher with more perks and greater access than the MagicBand you have on your already over-extended wrist. If you let that stick in your craw, you’ll have a tough stay. And, PS, you’ll never be satisfied.

Make Assessments Not Judgements — The game changer for you could be in realizing the difference between being disappointed and seeing yourself as a disappointment. Either one can be tough to swallow, but judgements tend to be paralysing or self-fulfilling prophesies. Going to a second-tier bowl doesn’t make you a second-tier person, but it should serve as a catalyst for evaluation and change. As you reflect on 2016, ask yourself these questions: What went well? What didn’t? What aspects of the disappointing stretch were directly related to my efforts? Which ones were beyond my control? Is there anything in my life am I pretending not to see? Are there any unhealthy patterns in my work ethic or in my relationships? How are things emotionally, physically, and spiritually? Most people are unwilling to ask themselves the tough questions. Fewer are honest with their answers. Don’t be that guy. Spend some significant time in evaluation. It will give you clarity as well as specific areas to address.

Devise a Plan for the Next Season  — Once you’re clear on areas to improve, develop a plan to address them. Leadership gurus advise clients to quantify their objectives in order to track progress. Realize, however, that’s not always possible. But the more you can quantify, the more likely you are to see improvement. For those non-quantifyable areas, develop specific actions or tasks that lead to change. For instance, “changing your office culture” may be difficult to quantify, but you can work on increasing the behaviors and activities that improve the attitude and atmosphere of your workplace and reducing those that add to the tension.

Work the Plan — Then wake up and work it again. For some reason, most of us get the fact that it takes more than one push up or sit up to become physically fit, but we believe other areas of life will somehow show significant improvement as soon as we begin to behave differently. Remember, you will encounter internal as well as external resistance to any change you try to implement. Prepare yourself emotionally. Instead of being derailed by the resistance, see it as confirmation that you are headed in the right direction.

Unless, of course, you’re not. Then we’ll probably see you again in Memphis. But that’s ok. It’s all part of the process. Keep working the plan. Change takes time. Don’t give up. Keep clarifying, assessing, planning, and working. You’ll get there sooner than you think and you will value it more.

Happy New Year!

What Not to Wear — Craig Sager Edition

sagerLate December is customarily the time media outlets trot out their “Best of” lists for the year — best movies, best sports moments, best books, etc. These year-in-review specials also highlight the careers and achievements of those who passed away during that year.

Craig Sager is likely to be high on the 2016 edition. Craig died a few weeks ago, ending his fierce three-year battle with leukemia. He began his broadcast career in local TV and  worked his way up to a national position at CNN, but Sager is best known for his most recent gig — NBA sideline reporter for TNT.

As the sideline guy, Sager was easily identified by his iconic suits and sport coats. At first glance, they looked a bit like a mashup of costumes from Liberace, the Lawrence Welk show, and Soul Train, but he was meticulous about every piece.  Sager loved quality workmanship and would usually try to incorporate the colors of the home team or something about the host city in his custom-made ensemble.

Players, announcers, and coaches had plenty to say about his fancy threads.  Kevin Garnett told him to burn them, Charles Barkley said he looked like a pimp, and Gregg Popovich routinely shook his head in embarrassment. But to say that the clothes made the man would be selling Sager short.

Those who knew him were interested in or intrigued by his clothes, but they were impacted by his life.

Sager was a sideline reporter. Not a play-by-play guy, not an anchor. He didn’t have a radio show or long-cut features on ESPN. Sideline reporters aren’t exactly known for their substance and usually fall into one of these general categories:  homer (see Loran Smith), Captain Obvious (Tony Siragusa), a former athlete working his way up to the booth (long list), or a young attractive female (longer list).  Viewers tend to view them as irrelevant or eye candy. Players and coaches see them as irritants. Media-types, as second-tier talent.

Sager, however, saw it as an opportunity to make a difference.

Most guys hate to be on the sidelines. I get that. Athletes want to be in the game, not holding a clipboard or still wearing warm ups. Reporters want to be reporting, not relegated to four twenty-second bites. But at some point, all of us will spend some time on the sidelines, behind the scenes, out of the spotlight. We’ll be in the room, but not at the table. On the roster, but not in the game.

How will you spend it?

Will you stew? Will you pout and become a cancer in the locker room? Will you abandon ship?

Or will you flourish?

Sager realized that sideline reporter was the position he was asked to play, so he did, and he was all in. Totally engaged. Fully invested. He took his job seriously and was determined to do the best he could. He developed relationships with players and coaches. He interacted with them off the court. He treated people with respect. Once, hearing that a player was suicidal, Sager headed to a strip club where the man was hold up and talked him out of it. He posted bail for a celebrity, donated thousands to charity, and encouraged superstar athletes to excel at home as husbands and fathers.

He bloomed where he was planted.

Sager was recognized by his outfits, but he was known for his professionalism, kindness, and character. Much was made about Sager’s wardrobe, but I’m impressed by what he chose not to wear. It would have been easy for him to put on cynicism, apathy, or disengagement. Resentment wears real well in the professional world, as does jealousy, position jockeying, and back stabbing, but Sager chose to leave them on the rack.

While you may not look to Craig Sager for fashion advice, you’d be wise to copy his professionalism. When you find yourself on the sidelines, try these on:

Engagement:  It’s possible to be invested even if you’re not in the game. Resist the urge to be disinterested or uninvolved. Discover what you can do or how you can advance the cause where you are.

Giving your best effort: Fans are frustrated by teams that play down to the level of their competition. So are professionals. Refuse to coast or give less than your best — especially if you feel your team is not really utilizing your strengths. Hustle. Play til the whistle. Then do it again.

Reframing: Refuse to view your time on the sidelines as a demotion. See it as an opportunity. What if David pouted while tending sheep? What if Joseph decided to just exist through prison? What if Barnabas phoned it in after “being released” from Paul’s team?

Respectfulness: Respect is slow-cooked. It can’t be manufactured or microwaved. Like roast beef, deep respect takes time to develop. When your “airtime” is limited, you might be tempted to mug for the camera, try to steal the show. Remember,  clicks, likes, tweets, sound bites, highlights, are fine, but they are momentary. See them for what they are. Don’t live for them.

Before you lay out your clothes for work tomorrow, think about Craig Sager, and others like him who embodied professionalism and dress accordingly.

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. Colossians 3: 12 – 14 (MSG)

Sometimes You Just Need a Little Clarity

booksLet them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man. Psalm 107:8 (ESV)

A good friend used to greet me with these words: “Hey man, good to see you. Tell me what God is doing in your life.” It was his way of encouraging me in my walk with the Lord, but early on, I didn’t know what to say. Correction, most of the time I didn’t know what to say.

Honestly, for most of my life, I equated what God was doing with what I was doing. In other words, I felt like the only time I had a good answer was if I was on a Billy Graham-like spiritual hot streak during which I checked off all the appropriate spiritual boxes and then nailed the bonus section. If I could tell him about serving the poor, powerful prayer times, yielding not to temptation, or cold-call witnessing to the guy bagging my groceries, I felt like God was really doing something.

Otherwise, not so much.

His encouragement felt more like a spiritual pop quiz on a day I hadn’t done my homework. If I wasn’t “Desiring God”, “Shepherding My Child’s Heart” or living a “Radical” life, I would feel the need to give him a spiritual dodge, a vague response, or a stress-related excuse for backsliding.

In retrospect, what I think I should have said was this: “What is God doing in my life? He is extending His steadfast love. He is showering me with grace, pursuing me in love, challenging my heart, and drawing me to Himself. He’s forgiving, revealing, and providing. He’s remaining faithful.”

What is God doing in my life? He’s being Himself. As a result He’s in the process of making me more like Jesus.

So maybe the better question would have been (and really still is): What am I doing in response?

Am I ignoring? Is there part of me that takes God’s redemptive work and steadfast love for granted? Do I seek to cultivate an awareness of God in my everyday life?  Do I relish communion with Him, or do I live as if I have God on retainer, hoping He’s available when I need to get out of a jam. Do I live as if He has no claim on my everyday life or interest in my everyday decisions. Am I following Jesus or am I asking Him to follow me?

Am I rebelling? And am I clear about what that looks like? Just because I’m not living like the prodigal doesn’t mean I’m not resisting God’s leading or not obeying His word. Are there areas of my life that I’m not willing to surrender? Am I harboring a grudge, withholding forgiveness, nursing an unhealthy attitude? And do I feel justified in any of these?

Am I cooperating or consuming? This is a really tough one. I know when I’ve really blown it. I know when I live in outright rebellion, but there’s part of me that needs more clarity on what walking with God really looks like between Sundays. One of the greatest temptations for me is to confuse consuming spiritual resources with cooperating with God’s work in my life. There’s part of me that “feels” more obedient when I’m listening to a Tim Keller sermon or reading a John Ortberg book or attending my small group than when I stop what I’m doing and fully attend to the person who dropped by the office or choose to extend grace to one who is working against me behind the scenes. I can be like the business person who thinks attending seminars or reading Fast Company is changing his business. Nothing happens without implementation. When we consume Christian services (read books, listen to podcasts, join a small group) but fail to incorporate the Truth we learn into our lives, we are actually being uncooperative.

Am I grateful? Am I becoming more aware of my own sinfulness and God’s great love? Am I becoming increasingly aware of His incredible provision? Am I making time to recount “His wondrous works to the children of man?”

How are you responding to God’s work in your life?

Make me to know your ways, O LORD;
teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all the day long.

Psalm 25:4-5 (ESV)

 

What do Flossing and Thanksgiving Have In Common?

floss

So yesterday I went for my regularly scheduled dental cleaning and checkup. Have you ever noticed the difference in the demeanor of those there for a cleaning and those awaiting more extensive (and potentially uncomfortable) procedures?

I was one of the calm ones.

Anyway, after they called me back and fitted me with that bib thing, the hygienist began asking me the normal questions: Any change in medication since last visit? Any new aches or hot/cold sensitivity with your teeth? Are you flossing daily?

No, no, and no.

Floss? Daily? Really? Who does that? I still haven’t used up the free floss sample from three years ago. In fact, after installing a crown on one of my molars, the dentist wanted to make sure there was enough space for me to floss between it and the neighboring tooth. I said, “Listen. Don’t ask me. You need to make sure the hygienist can floss between them. She’s the only one who ever does.” For me, flossing is either done on that annual visit or when I get something in there I can’t ignore.

Otherwise, it’s brush and go.

So during that awkward silence after my candor and her raised eyebrow look of disappointment, I started thinking about what Thanksgiving and that annual cleaning have in common. For many of us, Thanksgiving is really the only time of year we are intentionally thankful — except for the times we “get something in there we can’t ignore.” When unexpected good things happen, most of us give a shout out of thanks. A note of encouragement, an unexpected gift, or a moment of clarity about how blessed we truly are can elicit a sense of gratitude, but most of us rarely make time for gratitude every day.

It’s just brush and go. And we wonder why we are never satisfied.

Gratitude is dental floss for the entitled. The regular practice of thankfulness leads to a greater awareness of the countless ways we’ve been blessed, an appreciation for the little things, and a deeper sense of contentment. One of the benefits of this practice, according to the old hymn, is that we will be surprised at all the Lord has done in our lives.

And, I think it reduces plaque buildup on your heart.

Without a regular practice of thankfulness, we will become our own version of the delusional reality TV star who is not only ungrateful, but unaware of his or her own cluelessness (anosognosia). Further, the more unappreciative we are with the little things in life, the more likely it is that we will be unaffected by the big ones.

Don’t be that guy.

I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving and that you will indeed carve out some time and reflect on how the Lord has blessed you this year. And after finish your 3,000 calorie meal, plop down in the recliner, grab the newspaper, and start reading through the Black Friday ads about all the deals that happen only once a year, commit to make thankfulness something you cultivate all year long.

Four out of five dentists approve.

 

 

 

What’s Draining Your Battery?

Discharged battery warning light in car dashboard. 3D rendered illustration.

Image via Thinkstock

One of our vehicles has a problem. It’s often slow to start first thing in the morning, and some days it won’t start at all. For a while I just thought it wasn’t a morning vehicle, but actually, there’s an electrical issue. Something is slowly drawing current from the battery throughout the night — kind of like an electrical leaky faucet — so that by morning, there’s not enough power to start the car. Even though the load on the battery barely registers on the multimeter, it’s enough to deplete it completely over time.

All of the obvious agents have been addressed. Interior lights, car chargers, and anti-theft mechanisms, etc. have been turned off and the mechanic has begun the tedious process of discovering what’s causing the drain.

He’s trying to determine why it’s really on when it’s supposed to be off.

Maybe you can relate. You may not have a parasitic battery drain (thanks, Google), but you may be like most folks nowadays who find it more and more difficult to shut down work once they leave the office. You log off your computer, turn out the lights, lock the door and head for home, but something work related is still pulling an emotional current and it’s sucking the life out of you. Some of the activities are so innocuous that the load is barely noticeable, but it’s there. And it is slowly draining you all through the weekend.

And you wonder why it’s becoming harder to start on Monday morning.

So what’s draining your battery? What’s still on when you’re supposed to be off? Ironically, the answer(s) to this mystery may be found in one of the chief culprits — your smart phone. If you want to eliminate the parasitic drains on your days off, do to your heart what you often do to reduce the drain on the battery of your smartphone:

Shut Down the Apps

How many programs are still running in your heart and mind when you clock out?  How many problems or projects are still requiring your energy when you leave the office? The more of that you carry with you, the greater the drain on your battery. While perfectionists, Type As, those who equate productivity with self-worth or wear busyness as a badge of honor are the poster children of running too many apps, I think the real drain happens in the lives of the procrastinators. The productive types actually receive a little boost by keeping all the balls in the air. The unfinished work of the procrastinator, however, draws a greater current. Thinking about what needs to be done, creating diversions, dealing with the guilt of wasting valuable time, then dreading the return to the growing to do list zaps the energy needed to get out from under the mountain of the unfinished.

Don’t Allow Push Notifications

That chirp, ping, vibration, or customized ring doesn’t just alert you to a new email, tweet, post, or whatever. It hijacks your attention and diverts your energy. When we give others 24 hour access to our lives, we are setting ourselves up to be drawn back into work. Taking a five-minute phone call could turn into two hours of work. How often do you allow an email or text to capture your attention when you’re off? How often does that one notification trigger something else work-related in your brain? Better question: How often are you really glad you took that call?

Turn off Wi-Fi

Just as your phone constantly searches for available Wi-Fi, sometimes our work brain is constantly looking for solutions, connections, or new business. Working your magic at the office, in conference calls, and even on the golf course is wonderful. But when you’re scanning the crowd for prospects at your kid’s baseball game or checking your phone while on a date with your spouse, you’ve crossed the line.

Lower the Brightness setting (auto vs. full)

In other words, take it down a notch. You’re not at work. Stop acting like it. Turn off the computer. Let that call go to voicemail. As Rick Warren says, “If you’re burning the candle at both ends, you’re not as bright as you think you are.”

Lower Location Settings

You don’t really need to give everyone 24 hour access. Responding to texts, answering phone calls, or replying to emails quickly sends a message to those you work with. That message is this: Go ahead and dump your urgent issue on me even if it could or should wait til Monday. I wonder who enjoys the weekend more when you step out of a family dinner to hear Ralph’s latest concern?

Use Airplane Mode

What if you viewed your days off like a commercial airline flight? (Without the long security lines, overpriced food, and xenophobia) I mean that time where, by the law of the land, you must disable the elements of your phone that keep you connected to the outside world. What if you were to develop the discipline of entering a time at home during which you could not use your phone until you “land”?

So think honestly about your days off. Are they more about catching up or resting up? Are work related issues siphoning much-needed resources?  Are you fully present with your family, able to engage in a hobby, literally enthused about your faith, or are work related issues siphoning your ability to attend?  Are you functionally absent though physically present?  Do you really know what a good day off is supposed to be like?

I was reminded of one recently. About two weeks ago, I took a Monday off only because I needed to burn a vacation day. It was unplanned and last-minute and marvelous — like the first night’s sleep on a CPAP machine marvelous. I had gotten so used to my days off apnea, that I forgot how refreshing and restorative that time can be. It caused me to do a little inventory about my weekends to discover the apps that I need to shut down in order to recharge for the week.

I hope you’ll do that as well. Take some time this weekend to see what’s running behind the scenes. See if you can uncover what is draining your battery.

And turn them off.

 

 

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?

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