Monthly Archives: August 2008

Skills on a Short Shelf

In a taxi ride to the Singapore airport, I met a taxi drive who claimed to have been a mechanic for Datsun “Z” race cars when he was a young man. (You know he had to be young, because they haven’t been called Datsun for years!) He told me that he once worked on one of Paul Newman’s race cars. In fact, he said, that same car was recently featured in an article in Car and Driver – same engine twenty years later.

The man said that he loved the work and loved living in the U.S., but while he was there, his father grew ill and died back in Singapore. Since his father owned a construction company, the young man had to come back to run it for his family. After twenty years, he sold the business, but he found that he couldn’t return to auto racing mechanics. In the time that he had been gone, everything had changed.

All the parts were now measured in millimeters instead of inches. But even if he had been able to quickly do the conversions in his head, it didn’t change the fact that cars are now run by computers. He boasted that he could stick his hand into a bucket of parts while blindfolded and tell you what each nut, each bolt, each washer was for. Not anymore. Everything had changed. Now, his wife teases him that he’s an expert in internal combustion engines, but he can’t even get his Honda Civic to start.

The pace of change is increasing. Technical knowledge is almost obsolete by the time you learn it. Things are moving that fast. If you don’t spend time every year updating your technical skill, it’s going to be old and outdated before you know it. Technical skills have a short shelf life.

Of more lasting value are interpersonal skills and knowledge.  These skills allow you to adapt to changing environment, because the principles they are based on don’t change.  What was effective advice for dealing with people when Dale Carnegie wrote his famous book (How to Win Friends and Influence People) is still effective today – seventy years later.  And there was nothing new in that book, either.  Many of the practices were ones Jesus preached about 2,000 years ago.

Allow my new friend’s experience to be a cautionary tale for you.  Invest your time and effort learning how to understand and interact with people, and you will always be able to find someone willing to invest in your talents.


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Filed under Interpersonal, learning, Relationships

He Equips the Called

You might have heard the statement, “God doesn’t call the equipped; He equips the called.” It’s true. What use has God for someone who already knows all the answers? What use has He for someone who doesn’t need His help? What glory does He get when we do it in our own power?

God wants us in our weakness, not our strength. He wants to do something through us that we can’t do on our own. When He does, He gets the glory.

“But God chose the foolish things of this world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of this world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are so that no one may boast before Him.”

(1 Corinthians 1:27-29)

His power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). If you’re in a spot where you never need to rely on God, it might be time for a move. You’re playing it safe, doing things inside your comfort zone. God wants you a little nervous. He wants you to feel ill-equipped. When you do, you know that He’ll have to show up if the job is going to get done. Perfect!

Think about Moses arguing about his public speaking ability with a burning bush or Isaiah worrying about his lips. Think about Mary, who had not yet been with a man, or Gideon needing reassurance about the battle before him. In their weakness, God showed His strength. The most powerful examples of God working through men and women come from the ill-equipped.

Peter’s life provides a good contrast. In the years of Jesus’ earthly ministry, Peter always had all the answers. He was proud and impulsive. I think God loved Peter’s impulsiveness, but He had to mold it so that it could be used. Peter’s ministry began only after he had been broken. When all his boasting came to naught, Peter had to admit that he wasn’t the Lord’s reliable defender. Ironically, out of Peter’s brokenness, God made him what he so wanted to be but couldn’t achieve in his own power.

If you want the Potter to use your clay, don’t take Him a finished product. What’s He going to do with that? It’s not moldable. It is rigid. Instead, take Him your misshapen lump. Let the Potter make of the lump what He wants to make. It may be what you’ve always hoped for, but it may be something entirely better.

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Filed under Challenges, christianity, God's Will, overcoming obstacles, Religion, Spiritual Growth, Spirituality, submission

The Value of the Valley

In my last post, I talked about the valley that follows our mountain-top experiences. The valley is valuable to us in our walk with God. And not just valuable, essential. If your entire life was made up of mountain-tops, they wouldn’t be mountain-tops; they would be one, long plateau.

We learn our greatest lessons in the valley. A number of years ago, the Center for Creative Leadership did a study of CEOs leading Fortune 100 companies. They asked them, “What experiences have you had that taught you something you use today as a leader?” The results were interesting.

When they analyzed all the experiences, they found that they could be grouped into four types: Hardships, Challenging Assignments, Relationship Events and Other Events.

  • Hardships involved demotions, terminations, difficult employee problems, personal traumas, failures, and serious negative feedback. In other words, valley experiences that ended badly.
  • Challenging Assignments involved turn-around jobs, start-up operations, and huge increases in scope and scale. In other words, valley experiences that ended with success.
  • Relationship Events involved contact with mentors, role-models, coaches and other influential people.
  • Other Events involved early job experiences, personal events, parenting and other miscellaneous experiences.

The majority (61%) of the useful leadership lessons these CEO’s had learned in their lives came from difficult experiences. Some turned out well and others didn’t, but both made lasting impressions on the CEO’s and taught them important things that they were still using at the time of the survey.

But that’s just a business example. Think about your life and where the most useful lessons have come from, and you will probably find that they weren’t learned on top of the mountain; they were learned in the valleys of your life.

Or consider the heroes of Scripture.

  • Abraham learned to wait on the Lord during the 25 years between God’s promise to make him the father of a nation and the birth of Isaac.
  • Joseph learned how to administrate during his years as a slave and in prison.
  • David learned how to lead as he led his mighty men through the wilderness with King Saul at their heals.
  • Daniel learned to trust in God in a foreign land while he served several pagan kings.
  • Peter learned to submit to God’s plan and timing only after he failed to live up to his boasts and denied his Lord three times.

These heroes became heroes because God used the difficult times in their lives to mold and shape them.  He uses our difficult times in the same way.  There’s value in the valley.

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Filed under Challenges, christianity, learning, overcoming obstacles, Religion, Spiritual Growth, Spirituality, Suffering

After the Mountain-top

I’m just returning from summer camp this year. Every year for the past ten years, I’ve gone to Texas in either June or July to participate in a camp for abused and neglected children. It’s always a mountain-top experience for me. I feel more focused, more attuned with God during the days and weeks leading up to camp and during the week of camp. My quiet times are great. I don’t struggle as much with sin. I hear God speaking to my heart clearly and unmistakably.

But after camp, I typically experience a letdown, a spiritual time of randomness. I may go for days or even weeks without spending quality time with the Lord. I fall into sinful patterns that I thought I had licked. I feel guilty and unfocused – spiritually lethargic. Why does this happen?

I think it has much to do with not having a specific goal on which to attach my spiritual disciplines. Before camp, everything is focused on getting my heart ready to minister to the kids. After camp, I lose my motivation. It’s not that I believe the spiritual disciplines are only worth doing in preparation for an event, but I just find it easier to do them when I’ve got my eyes on a goal. I have more energy to do them. I have more delight in doing them.

Another reason coming off the mountain is so difficult is because I put every ounce of energy into the mountaintop. When it’s over, I am physically, mentally and emotionally drained. I think my spirit is still full of energy, but it gets trumped by my lack of resources in other areas. After camp, I go into a bit of a walking coma until my resources are replenished.

I think this pattern is mirrored in Scripture:

  • Moses spent a month and a half communing with God on Mount Sinai and getting the ten commandments on stone tablets, but when he descended the mountain to rejoin the Israelites, he found that his brother had opened an idol-worshiping night club.
  • Elijah showed up the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah in an old-fashioned show-down on top of Mount Carmel.  Then, he accurately predicted the weather (the greatest miracle in all the Bible), but he didn’t get much time to celebrate.  Jezebel took out a contract on his life, and Elijah became so discouraged that he prayed God would end his meteorologist career.

  • Jesus peeled back His humanity to reveal a glimpse of His glory to Peter, James and John on a mountain.  They had to be stoked coming back down.  They had been arguing with the others about who was the greatest, and now it looked like Jesus had tipped His hat in their direction.  But when they reached the bottom, everything was chaos.  The disciples had been trying unsuccessfully to cast a demon out of a boy, and Jesus had to step in to clean up their mess.  Goodbye spiritual high.  Hello real world!

The time on the mountain is a blessing.  God allows us to participate in His work, and He teaches us many things while we are with Him there.  It’s easy to completely spend ourselves in the experience, but it’s unwise, because when we are done on the mountain, we have to return to the valley.  God teaches us on top of the mountain and then tests us in the valley.  He wants to know if we can use what we’ve learned.

In the valley, God’s tests move what He’s taught us from our heads to our hearts.  When the lessons are only in our heads, the Enemy will come and try to snatch them away (like the bird in the Parable of the Sower).  But through the testing, God can plant them deeply in our hearts, where they will grow and produce an abundant harvest.  If we anticipate the Enemy’s attempt to steal our seeds and save some fight for this test, we will be much better prepared to leave the mountain-top.

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Filed under Challenges, christianity, expectations, overcoming obstacles, Religion, Spiritual Growth, Spirituality

In Search of Kong

I visited Indonesia this week and was met at the airport by a staff member from our local office. While we were waiting for the driver to arrive, we talked about some of the things Indonesia is known for. I was surprised to learn that the legendary King Kong was supposed to have lived on one of the many islands of Indonesia, and I said, “Oh, I want to see King Kong! How cool would that be to tell my kids?”

I was kidding, of course. Just making conversation. If I had only known the chain of events that one comment would put into motion…

You need to know something about the Indonesian people…they are very gracious. Exorbitantly gracious. So gracious that if you express even casual interest in something, they will give it to you or buy it for you. I had experienced this on previous trips, but I had forgotten.

After I said that I wanted to see King Kong, that staff member must have passed it on to the country director. Since Kong died at the end of the movie, she decided that she would arrange for me to see the next best thing – the orangutans of Borneo. I was informed the next morning at breakfast that I was indeed going to be able to see really large apes on this trip.

“Uh, okay….well, as long as it doesn’t inconvenience you. I was just kidding about the Kong thing.”

But it was no use. I should have known there was no dissuading them from their hospitality. They delight in blessing their guests. We had a three-hour drive to get to where we were going for the day. Along the way, we took a detour to the Orangutan Reintroduction Project.

When we got there, one of the staff members stepped out of the car to talk with the security guards. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t let us in, because we didn’t have reservations 24-hours in advance. They told us that we could go to their administrative office and seek permission, so we did. But despite our team’s excellent negotiations, they wouldn’t let us in either.

I assured my hosts that it was perfectly fine. I hadn’t had my heart set on seeing the orangutans. I thought that was the end of it.

The next morning, I was informed at breakfast that I was indeed going to be able to see really large apes on this trip.  We would be stopping by the zoo on our way to the airport.

“Uh, okay…you know, we don’t have to go out of our way. If the other guys would rather go straight to the airport…”

But again, it was no use. Forces more powerful than my protests were at work. So, we went to the zoo.

It was only thirty or so minutes out of the way. Unfortunately, when we got there, we were told that the zoo was closed on Fridays. Unbelievable!

But my friends were not deterred. Handing the security guard a small love offering, they convinced him to open the gate for us.

Then, we had the run of the park. There was no one else around, so I got a personal meet and greet with “orangutan” (which means incidentally, “man of the forest”).

At first, he wasn’t too interested in friendship with the “man of the suburbs,” but then….an olive branch!

And before you knew it, we were thumb wrestling…

He was much better than me (but he kinda cheated by always going after the cuticle and all).

So, I didn’t find Kong, but I made a friend with the man of the forest. And I learned a good lesson about being careful what I say in front of my very gracious Indonesian hosts.  (Next time, I’m going to tell them how much I like their laptop.)


Filed under communication, funny, grace, humor, Interpersonal, Just for fun, Relationships

The Amazing Chinese Bamboo Plant

The Chinese Bamboo plant starts from a tiny seed. You plant the seed in the dirt, and you water the seed. Very little seems to happen the first year. Despite your efforts, only a tiny shoot pokes out of the ground.

So…..the second year you water and fertilize and protect the seed…..Nothing happens.

So…..the third year you water and fertilize and protect the seed…..Nothing happens.

So…..the fourth year you water and fertilize and protect the seed…..Nothing happens.

So…..the fifth year you water and fertilize and protect the seed.….Finally, during the fifth year, the Chinese Bamboo plant begins to grow. In fact, it grows 90 feet tall in just 6 weeks!

The question is, did it grow 90 feet in six weeks or in five years? The answer, of course, is that it grew 90 feet in five years. It took five years to grow the root system that would one day support a 90-foot plant.

People are often like the Chinese Bamboo plant. We invest hours and hours trying to develop ourselves or others, and nothing happens.  We spend years discipling our children to follow the Lord, but…..nothing happens.   We hold countless meetings with our staff members to coach them in the development of their strengths and developmental areas, but…….nothing happens. We redouble our efforts to help a friend make better decisions, but…….nothing happens.

If you’re like most people, you will be tempted to give up. Don’t do it! If you give up, the seeds you planted will die. But if you continue to care for the seeds, one day (when you least expect it) the results of your labor will seem to magically appear overnight!

If the Chinese Bamboo plant immediately shot up 90 feet in the first year, one strong wind would blow it down. By growing deep before it grows tall, it gains the strength it needs to withstand the force of heavy winds. Similarly, lasting growth starts on the inside of people. It’s difficult to see that change is taking place, but this is a necessary process. The growing they do on the inside creates strength of character and conviction.

Don’t give up hope! Your efforts will be rewarded!  Once the root system is established, your growth or the growth of those you are coaching will spring up seemingly overnight!


Filed under Change, christianity, expectations, Religion, Spiritual Growth, Spirituality, Teaching

Prayer Radar

Though most of the world doesn’t know it, we are in a spiritual war. Good battles Evil every day in the unseen realm to claim the territory of men’s and women’s hearts. Angels take their orders from the Almighty General, who, despite His unlimited strength and wisdom, often waits for our prayers to determine where to attack. Those prayers signal to the General what we think are the prime targets in the fight.

If you are a Christian, you’ve been dropped behind enemy lines. Your mission: to save as many prisoners of war as possible before the war ends. But before you get discouraged by the immensity of the mission you’ve been assigned, know that God doesn’t expect you to save them all yourself. He has a plan, and you have been strategically placed to execute your part.

Your primary weapon is prayer, but you can’t effectively pray for everyone you meet. God has placed certain people in your life – both Christians and non-Christians – and those are the ones God expects you to pray for. These people are on your Prayer Radar.

Take out a pencil and a sheet of paper, and draw four concentric circles like the ones shown below. This will give you three donuts and a donut hole. Label these as shown with the words “Family,” “Friends,” “Associates,” and “Others.”

Now, write names of these people inside each of the appropriate circles.  “Family” and “Friends” are probably self-explanatory.  “Associates” might be people that you work with, your neighbors or just people that you come in contact with on a regular or semi-regular basis.  “Others” are people that you don’t come in contact with regularly but whom God has placed on your heart for some reason.  They could include leaders, politicians, entertainers, missionaries, church leaders or world figures (to name a few).

Continue to ask God to bring names to mind of people He has placed on your Prayer Radar. There are no accidents when it comes to the people around you. God put you in their midst for a reason. You were either sent to cover their six (watch their backs if they are already Christians in the battle), or you were sent to rescue them from the Enemy.

Pray for those on your Prayer Radar every day, or select a particular group to focus on each day of the week.  Then watch to see how God works in their lives.  It will be transformational for them and for you.


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Filed under agape love, christianity, Covering, family, God's Will, Interpersonal, love, prayer, Relationships, Religion, spiritual warfare, Spirituality, unconditional love