Life In The Fast Lane

August 21, 2017

Life in the fast lane, surely makes you lose your mind.

Following a quick visit to Houston on business last week, I was on vacation in Michigan combined with a wedding in Grand Rapids on Saturday. I ran out of time, so no post Friday.

Watching people’s clothing choices (including mine) at a resort is always interesting.

I see a guy wearing a tee shirt that proclaims “Fast Lane.” No further explanation. Like restaurant or bar or something.

The first thing I think of is the Eagles. He was a hard-headed man, he was brutally handsome. She was terminally pretty.

What a way with words.

What a thing to proclaim on a shirt.

If this was a proclaimation of life in the fast lane, did the wearer know that the song is sarcastic? Or prophetic?

But we all can get caught up in a version of the fast lane–hopefully without drugs, alcohol, and a death wish.

Suddenly we look at the week ahead, or weeks ahead, and everything is filled. We are going to be running here, meeting there, classes, visits, vacation, business. 

When are we going to breathe.

That’s when we need to recall “Be still and know that I am God” from Psalm 46. Another translation says “stop your striving” in place of “be still”. 

What I need is a reminder to stop and take a few deep breaths.

Only then can I refocus and remember to just tackle one thing at a time. Or as the first self-help guru/management consultant I heard some 40 years ago said, “Try…easy.”

And maybe take care about the message you proclaim to others.

Good Leaders Have Great Observation Skills

August 17, 2017

Leaders are observers.

I was a new college graduate. I thought it would be smart to take a year off before graduate school and make some money since I was paying my own way.

A teaching position opened. I had zero training for the position. But in those days, there was an acute shortage of teachers. All I had was a degree. No training. Protestant religion applying for a position in a Catholic school. No knowledge of the developmental psychology of 13-year-olds. Pure geek. And I became the new 7th grade social studies and writing teacher at a Catholic school.

So I went in to check out my room and met Mr. Carder, one of the other 7th grade teachers (the other two were nuns). We were each to have 40 students in our classes. Mr. Carder began talking about his previous class. It dawned on me that he knew the names and mannerisms of each of his previous 40 students.

Wow, I thought. That’ll be a challenge. And it was.

Somewhere in the Bible is the phrase “Looking but not seeing”. 

Aren’t we often afflicted with that disease.

We think we are watching the road as we drive, but then we can’t remember a thing about the route.

We thought we were awake while walking along the street, but we didn’t see the homeless person or the mother struggling with kids and packages.

We see the people on our committee or organization, but we really have no clue about where they are in life. Are they connected and committed? Is there an agenda? Or a problem?

Let that phrase not apply to us.

Finding Accountability in Our Work

August 16, 2017

Henry Cloud, psychologist and author, gave one of the best talks on leadership and accountability I’ve ever heard last week at Willow Creek Community Church.

He begins with a story.

Seems a man with a plan–to start a new company, that is–talked with a friend about his wish to start a company. The friend wrote a name on a card and told him to call this business consultant.

The consultant listened to him and asked him about advisors. I need a marketing person, a tech person, a sales person, said the budding entrepreneur. The consultant told him that really he should find five people he respected. He should ask them to meet with him weekly for breakfast. These people should hold him accountable for the actions it would take to start a business.

The guy thought, I need sales and marketing, not a support group. So he shunned the advice. 

He had funding. He had a business plan. He failed in a year.

Who holds you accountable. Who is your small group of advisors who ask how you’re doing on all the little activities it takes to succeed.

Interestingly, Andy Stanley talked last week about Solomon’s son Rheoboam who shunned the wise advice of the elders and took the advice of his young buddies–and lost his kingdom.

I’ve known many people who could have had small groups of accountability partners, a support group, yet they didn’t accept the advice. Usually it was through pride–they wanted to prove they could succeed on their own.

Tip: we don’t succeed on our own. I know.

Another tip: Listen to Henry Cloud any chance you get.

Peace and Justice Over All

August 15, 2017

My political (and social, for that matter) view was developed in Civil Rights and honed by anti-war. Justice and peace.

I’ve learned from the Bible about the need for justice.

“Here is my servant, whom I have chosen,

my beloved, with whom my soul is well pleased.

I will put my Spirit upon him,

and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.

19 He will not wrangle or cry aloud,

nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets.

20 He will not break a bruised reed

or quench a smoldering wick

until he brings justice to victory.”

I learned from Jesus about breaking racial and social barriers. Take, for example the story we call the Good Samaritan. Jesus taught that the “second law”, which James calls the “royal law”, is to love your neighbor as yourself. And who is our neighbor? Not only those of the same race or religion, but also those whom we are raised to despise.

Commenting on current social / political events is a sure way to invite trolls. And I have refrained from talking about the events in Virginia over the weekend. But…

Is the guy who yells “Fire” in a crowded theater protected by free speech rights?

No.

With every right is a responsibility. There are no free rights.

People who stir up violent passions through demonizing people with different color of skin or of a different gender are like that guy yelling Fire. Acting with great irresponsibility.

I cry a little inside every time I hear people I know and often respect making casual, yet disparaging, remarks about black people, Spanish people, Middle Eastern people. And then they talk about church and pray to their god.

Growing in Christian maturity includes learning to consider what we say before we say it (see James). We are commanded (by Paul) to build up people, not tear them down. 

And to work for peace and justice.

If Only You Paid Attention To My Commands

August 14, 2017

If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your well-being like the waves of the sea. Isaiah 48:18, NIV

We have been discussing Jesus’ discussion/debate with “the Jews” as John called the group of adversaries in the Temple.

Jesus kept telling them that God sent him and that what he had been teaching was directed by God. And Jesus said his truth would set us free.

So, I asked, what is free?

Free did not mean libertarianism–that I can do whatever I want, whenever I want, to whomever I want. That would be sort of an American response, right? I am free from constraint.

However, we would be hard pressed to prove that from Jesus’ words. He immediately begins talking about sin.

We can be free from a life as a slave to sin. Drifting from whim to whim, emotion to emotion. A life of feeling guilty and trying to drown that guilt with drugs, alcohol, sex, whatever.

We can be free to live with “peace like a river” and “well-being like the waves of the sea.

So, I asked, what is truth?

It’s not a proposition that I agree with and force others to agree with. It is a relationship with the living Jesus who lived, who died, who lived again.

We keep forgetting about living with God in relationship, not in fear of a God of eternal punishment if we don’t measure up to his rules.

An email came this morning with this quote from Isaiah. I like that thought. Sounds just like something Jesus said. Sounds like something I can live with.

And you?

All It Takes Is A Smile

August 11, 2017

I was running along the path out at the park the other day. Three women were walking toward me. They were walking at a fast pace while talking boisterously, animated hands, loud but not obnoxious. Actually like most groups of women I see in the morning. Out with friends getting some exercise.

We greeted each other. Nothing special. I always say hi to people I meet on the trail.

They all said hi. But the one I remember (and I don’t think I know any of their names even though it’s a small town) is the one with the joyful smile. 

Isn’t it true that meeting someone who has a pleasant, genuine smile can make your day?

Maybe you are not awake yet. Or lost in thoughts and withdrawn.

Its like the times I’ve broken some of the tension in a queue at a gate when weather interferes with our convenience on a trip and you’re rescheduling. Offer the frustrated person a smile and greeting.

Maybe we can all make it one of life’s little gifts to offer a genuine smile when we greet people.

Breaking Their Attention To Focus On Something Else

August 10, 2017

We were hiking along a path in the woods and hills.

Family with 2-year-old coming toward us. Kid is cranky and letting everyone know.

We meet on the path. Kid looks at me, still trying to cry and scream. I say something to him. He looks. Breaks his attention. He stops crying. 

But, we pass and he remembers he was trying to get something out of dad–probably a ride. Back to crying.

Reminded me of the one time that one of my kids threw a tantrum at the check out lane of a grocery. She’s laying there screaming. I call out, “Whose kid is that?” Broke her attention and focus. 

I like breaking people’s focus trying to get them to focus on something else–preferably something better.

I think Jesus was a master of that. He’d say something that was on a different plane than the one his companion was on. They’d have to stop and refocus. Some were good at that, many were not.

When you study Jesus’ words, you need to keep that in mind.

Also a life tip. When you find yourself focusing on something depressing or fearful or agitating, purposely choose to think about something else. (Probably not a therapy for clinical problems, but it works for me.) Break your own focus and attention.

He Who Has Ears To Hear

August 9, 2017

Have you ever used the phrase, “Hiding in plain sight”?

You were searching, and there it was on the table, out in the open, right there for you to see?

Or you are solving a problem and realize the answer is right before you?

A good joke take you down one path only to spring into an entirely different direction with the punch line.

So, as I wrote last week, I’m puzzling out Jesus’ comments about who he is as reported by John (chapters 6, 7, 8).  I thought, why was Jesus talking in riddles?

Then I re-read the passages several times. This time, I filtered out all the background noise and focused only on what Jesus said. And it came to me, he wasn’t speaking in riddles. The answer is right there. Hiding in plain sight.

Jesus plainly said, using the “code words” that his audience at the Temple should have known well, that he came from God and was indeed the Son of God.

Test it. It’s right there. Only his listeners were entirely focused on another thought. They were thinking and indeed entirely focused on the things of this world. Jesus, as always, was focusing the discussion on the spiritual world.

It’s like Matthew records (13:13), “This is why I speak in parables: ‘Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.’ ” Jesus here is quoting from Isaiah (and probably other places, as well).

Take this example from the prophet (Isaiah 6:9), “Go and tell this people: ‘Be ever hearing but never understanding; be ever seeing but never perceiving.’ ”

Don’t be that guy.

Writing is Thinking and Thinking is Creativity Expressed

August 8, 2017

“Some say English instruction must get back to the basics, with a focus on grammar. But won’t that stifle a student’s personal voice?”

I saw this lede in The New York Times yesterday. 

I remember the movement by some probably well meaning, if overly sentimental, teachers who thought that first just let students of whatever age just write ideas and not worry about spelling or grammar. Then they would be creative.

That is just so much [crap].

Writing is communicating thoughts, ideas, opinions. It may be in prose, fiction, or poetry. All can be creative. 

In poetry writing (I’ve actually published a couple in my life), you learn that free verse is the hardest to write because it is too easy to drift. You learn to write in a structure, and it sets you free. Try writing Haiku. Three lines–five syllables, seven syllables, five syllables. Or write in ballad structure. It is great practice for the mind.

Use an outline or mind map to organize thoughts. When someone reads what you say, they can understand where you’re going.

Grammar is important for conveying meaning.

A bear walks into a bar. He orders a sandwich and eats it. Pulls out a gun. Shoots the bartender. Leaves. He left a guide book to bears on the bar. It said–Bears eat, shoots, and leaves. (There is a book by that title.) Had it said bears eat shoots and leaves, the meaning would be entirely different. And the bartender wouldn’t be nursing a bullet wound.

Clear thinking and clear writing may not be a spiritual discipline as defined by my guides–Richard Foster and Dallas Willard–but it should be.

God knows this. A long time ago he was forming a society out of a group of people raised as slaves. He gave them the 10 commandments and other laws to teach them how to live. Later he said that the laws should be written on their hearts–in other words we live out the rules as a natural part of our lives. From structure to freedom.

I Don’t Believe In That God Either

August 7, 2017

“I don’t believe in God.”

“Tell me about the god you don’t believe in.”

“Oh, I don’t believe in that god, either.”

Gene Appel (Eastside Christian Church, Orange County, CA) and Andy Stanley (North Point Community Church, suburban Atlanta) have each done a teaching series on the topic. Yesterday I heard another take on the subject rolling up an entire series into one talk.

You know, you have what I have called the “Great Vending Machine in the Sky” God. Granted James tells us (and it’s in several other places as well) that if you ask with enough faith, you’ll receive. But what happens when you drop in your four quarters, press the buttons, and the bag gets stuck against the window. You can see it, but you can’t get it. Now you blame that God and cease to believe.

Or the political god who cares about which political party you vote for. Vote the wrong party and you’re going to hell. Just a personal observation here–I haven’t found either Democrat or Republican in the Bible yet. I’ll keep searching, but after 50 years of study I doubt that I find it. But if you teach that, then you only reach 50% of the people that God wants you to reach–since he wants us to reach out to everyone.

Going back to my conversation–

I love the second sentence. Without threatening, we just try to draw out a conversation about God. 

How many of us would just jump in with a monologue about our god? Then pull out John 3:16 or another favorite verse. And tell them they are going to hell. And then leave. And they thing, there goes yet another judgemental Christian. Why would I want to be like them?

More than 30 years of my career have been devoted to definitions. Even now, I’ll be in an interview with some technology expert and they will throw out a word. I think, Hmm, I think I understand that word, but what does she really mean by it? I’ll say, At the risk of seeming ignorant, what do you mean by that word? 

Often that leads into a wonderful conversation and I get a deep explanation of the topic.

Works with God conversations, too. “Could you describe the god you don’t believe in.” Followed by “Oh, could I tell you about a different God–one who seeks a relationship not a subject.”