Monthly Archives: November 2008

Dirt Mining or Gold Mining?

Interacting and working with people is a lot like mining for gold.

Gold miners must move tons of dirt to find a single ounce of gold. At the risk of overstating the obvious, they are never looking for the dirt. The gold is much more valuable.

Sometimes the good in people is hard to find because there is so much “dirt.” Negative behaviors, poor attitudes, sin, disappointments, miscommunication… The dirt may be all we can see. But that’s why miners have to dig for gold. It’s rarely just waiting for them on the surface.

With some people, the gold is deep down, but it’s guaranteed to be there. God never makes garbage; every human being has something (and usually a lot of somethings) to offer. You might be the first person to have the patience to dig for it. That means that it’s going to take some serious work to find it, but it also means that the payoff will be really worth it. You might find gold that the individual doesn’t even know he or she has.

People with less wisdom and less character go digging for dirt. Once they have made up their mind about an individual, they start to look for confirming evidence. They search diligently to find all the negative aspects about the person. What’s worse, they often tell others about the dirt, and then those people go dirt mining, too. With everyone kicking up dirt around a person, it’s unlikely that the gold will ever be found.

So which will it be for the people around you? Are you digging for dirt… or for gold?


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Filed under agape love, character, christianity, expectations, family, grace, Interpersonal, marriage, parenting, Relationships, selective perception, unconditional love

Response Time

What do these events have in common?

· A worldwide flood

· The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah

· Wrestling with Jacob

· The burning bush

· The plagues of Egypt

· Bread from Heaven

· The march around Jericho

· The bronze serpent

· Balaam’s donkey

· Making the sun stand still

· The sign of the fleece

· Healing Naaman’s leprosy in the river

· Making the sun go back ten degrees

· Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace

· The hand writing on the wall

· Jonah in the big fish

· The virgin birth

· Walking on water

· The transfiguration

· The cross

They were all done once or for a period of time and never repeated. These aren’t the only examples – just some of the most notable. God doesn’t seem to like to repeat Himself. And even when He does, He is being intentional in order to teach us something through comparison and contrast (e.g., there were two miraculous catches of fish, but the nets only threatened to break before Christ’s work had been completed on the cross).

Sometimes, we look to God’s Word for a formula that will tell us exactly what to expect from Him, but God won’t be put into a box. Most often, God is doing a new thing in a new way, but we miss it, because we are looking for Him in the place He showed up last time. As a result, our response time for joining Him in His work is pitifully slow. So slow, in fact, that He’s usually done before we get there.

I think God uses so much variety in how He does things, because He knows how quickly we tend to ritualize spiritual things. We want to capture and domesticate them, bring them within our comfort zone. As soon as we see God move, we write a book and proclaim “The Ten Easy Steps to…” We set up an altar and worship what He did rather than who He is.

God is predictable but only in the ways that matter. His character is unchanging, and His purposes are sure. He is always building His Kingdom, and He’s always looking for those who will join Him in the work. But His methods for accomplishing His purposes will change regularly.

We are better prepared to join Him in His work if we study the character of God rather than His interventions. We are more likely to know His will if we seek it out for ourselves rather than copying what we see other Christians or churches are doing. Then we will know the types of things He is likely to do even if we don’t know how He will accomplish them, and our response time will be dramatically improved.

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Filed under christianity, God's Will

The Serendipity Effect

What do the following things have in common?

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Coca Cola

Ivory Soap

The Leaning Tower of Pisa


Post-It Notes

Silly Putty

Give up?  They were all products of mistakes.  Had it not been for lack of planning, miscommunications, botched experiments or just plain irresponsibility, we wouldn’t have any of them.  (You can read their stories below.)  It’s called the Serendipity Effect, and it happens when you discover something new even though you were looking in a different direction.

But really, that’s oversimplifying the process.  A mistake doesn’t automatically turn into a breakthrough.  Certain conditions need to exist first.

1) An environment of accountability. If the person who made the mistake covers it up, its potential will never be discovered.

2) A blame-free culture. If mistakes are punished and those responsible labeled, it’s next to impossible to get individuals to act with accountability.

3) Individuals empowered to think creatively. Those closest to the mistake need to be able to exercise their possibility thinking when the error is made.  Teach them to ask questions like “What can this teach us?” and “How could we use this?” or “What problem does this solve?”

What would happen if we began to celebrate mistakes on our teams?  How would your team react if the next time they made a mistake, you said, “Fantastic!  I can’t wait to see what we’re going to learn from this.”  Their reaction might tell you a lot about the culture of blame or accountability on your team.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Mrs. Wakefield was making cookies one day at the Toll House Inn and realized she was out of chocolate.  She substituted baker’s chocolate and realized that it didn’t melt in the baking.

Coca Cola

Dr. Pemberton was trying to make a health tonic that would relieve headaches and stress.  (The early version probably did, since it included a derivative of the cocoa plant, and it aided sales as people became addicted to the drink’s effects.)  He took it to Jacob’s Pharmacy and asked Jacob to add water and ice to it, but Jacob accidentally added carbonated water.  The two men tasted the result and decided it would sell better as a fountain drink.

Ivory Soap

While mixing soap one day at the Proctor and Gamble Company, a man responsible for operating the soap-mixing machine went to lunch, forgetting to turn it off on his way out.  When he returned and realized his error, he found that the extra mixing had worked air into the soap.  Assuming that it was a small mistake, he sent the soap mixture on for hardening and packaging.  Within a few weeks, Proctor and Gamble was getting letters from customers asking for more of the “soap that floats.”

The Leaning Tower of Pisa

Pisano intended to build a bell tower in Pisa, Italy, in 1174.  However, during construction the soil beneath the tower began to loosen and the building efforts had to be stopped.  100 years later, construction resumed, but the tower began tilting more and more each year.  Even recent attempts to pump concrete underneath didn’t help.  To Pisano, the bell tower was a complete failure, but millions have been to see the tower who couldn’t name even one other tower in all of Europe (okay, maybe one other famous one in Paris).


Frank Epperson was eleven when he accidentally left his soda powder mixed with water in a cup outside his home.  Due to record low temperatures during the night, he awoke to find his drink frozen with the stirring stick still in it.  Many years later, he remembered his mistake and created Popsicles.

Post-It Notes

Scientist Spenser Silver was doing experiments to find stronger adhesives for 3M in 1970.  One experiment was a complete failure.  The adhesive was actually weaker rather than stronger.  Four years later, Arthur Fry, another 3M scientist was having trouble keeping his spot in his hymnal as he sang in his church’s choir.  He remembered his colleague’s weak adhesive and found that it worked terrifically for sticking and peeling off paper.

Silly Putty

The US government needed a synthetic rubber for airplane tires during World War II.  Scientist James Wright experimented with a rubbery substance by adding boric acid, and the result was bouncing rubber.  In 1949, he sold the rights to Peter Hodgson, who then marketed the rubber as a toy.

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Filed under Ideas, innovation, mistakes, paradigm shift

Checkers or Chess?

A few years ago, Marcus Buckingham, SVP of The Gallup Organization, and Donald O. Clifton, past chairman of the same, published their book Now, Discover Your Strengths.  Based on 25 years of research at Gallup, the premise of the book is that every person has a unique combination of strengths and that a performer’s greatest opportunities for improvement are not in developing his/her weaknesses but in honing his/her strengths.

To that end, they encourage managers to have “strength discussions” with every employee.  The purpose of a strength discussion is to identify what those unique combinations of strengths are and then work to give performers opportunities to operate in those strengths.  Their research has shown that most managers never have these kinds of discussions with their team members.  Instead, they manage their teams as if they were playing a game of checkers (with each employee representing an individual checker on the board).

They assume that if a group of employees are performing the same role within the organization that they only have a limited and identical number of moves that they can make to accomplish their objectives, i.e. the employees can only move forward diagonally on the same-colored squares.  If this is true, then training, supervising and motivating become easy and predictable.  Treat everyone the same, and you’ll get the same results with everyone.

On the other hand, the most successful managers were found to treat their team members as if they were pieces on a chess board.  The managers knew that each person had a different set of moves (strengths) that he/she could use to accomplish objectives.  If the manager tried to make a knight move like a rook, it would frustrate and confuse the knight.  He would be forced to operate in his weaknesses rather than in his strengths.  So, like master chess players, these managers spent time learning each person’s strongest moves before deploying him/her toward the objective.

If this is true, why don’t more managers operate from the “chess” model of management?  Simply stated, it’s because the “checkers” model is so much easier and takes much less time and effort from us.  Most of us mastered the basic strategies of checkers as children, but it takes a lifetime to become a master at chess.

P.S. Parents, I think there is wisdom here for us in how we help our children discover their strengths, too.

(S – Buckingham, Marcus & Donald O. Clifton.  Now, Discover Your Strengths.)

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Filed under expectations, family, Interpersonal, leadership, management, parenting, Relationships

Paradigm Shift

In 1968, the Swiss held 65% of the market share and 80% of the profits for watches. Today, they have less than 10% of the market share and less than 20% of the profits. What happened?


The Swiss in 1968 were considered, and rightly so, the world’s experts on making watches. All the best watches came from Switzerland. A Swiss watch was a real status symbol in 1968, and while it still is today, it’s lost much of its hold on us.

They were so good in fact, that the Swiss felt there was really only one way to build a good watch. They had pioneered it and perfected it and knew exactly how it was to be done. So, in 1967, when an innovative watchmaker invented the Quartz movement watch (which moves without gears or springs and doesn’t have to be wound up), they were blind to its potential. Convinced that the idea was not credible because it didn’t match their idea of what a watch is, they dismissed it.

Shortly thereafter, they gave the innovative watchmaker permission to display his invention at the World Watch Conference. At that conference were representatives from Seiko and Texas Instruments, who were not locked into the old paradigm about how a watch should be made. The rest is history.

A “paradigm” is a way of seeing things. By itself, it is neither good nor bad. The Swiss had a paradigm that good watches had gears. For centuries, they were right! They studied gears and perfected gears until they did gears better than anyone else. But the same paradigm that helped them become the recognized watchmaking experts of the world locked them into an outdated mode of thinking. When opportunity presented itself, they were no longer able to see it.

I have a friend who says that an expert is someone who knows more and more about less and less. While there are definitely benefits to expertise, one of its main drawbacks is that it is change-averse. Experts resists change, because change means they won’t be the experts anymore. The expert will often take a stand on old ideas and resist new ones in order to protect the kingdom he worked so hard to build. But like it or not, old kingdoms are just castles in the sand. By the time you get them finished, the tides of change come and wash them away.

If you are the recognized expert in an area, challenge yourself to spread out. Pursue knowledge in other areas. Allow yourself to consider other peoples’ points of view. Test your assumptions to make sure they are still solid. And by all means, listen closely to the innovative “watchmakers” who come to share their ideas with you.

(Info Source – Joel Barker, Futurist)


Filed under Change, comfort zone, expectations, expertise, learning, paradigm shift, selective perception

Flickering Candle

He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle.
He will bring justice to all who have been wronged.
(Isaiah 42:3 NLT)

Thank goodness!  I spend most of my time flickering and bending in the winds of my circumstances.  I’m a poor witness to the faithfulness and trustworthiness of God.  I put my faith in my money, my knowledge and my own efforts long before I turn to God for help.

My inconstancy is partially due to wrongs done to me at different stages of my life, but most of it is simply fear, selfishness and bad choices on my part.

Still, Jesus won’t crush me or put out my flame.  His patience and His love know no end, and He sees the potential me even though it is a long way off.  He is willing to wait for me to stand up straight against trial and shine brightly in the face of the storms of life.

He can afford to wait because His purposes are sure, and His sovereignty is complete.  I am confident of this, “that He who began a good work in (me) will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 1:6 NIV)

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Filed under agape love, christianity, God's Will, grace, justice, mercy, mistakes, Persistence, sanctification, Spirituality, unconditional love

Loy Krathong

What’s worse than a traffic jam after a professional sporting event?  A people jam after Loy Krathong!

A few weeks ago in Chiang Mai, my family joined thousands of Thais and thousands of visiting and resident farangs to celebrate a Buddhist holiday.  We aren’t Buddhist, but this is a BIG holiday in Thailand, and we saw it as an opportunity to build some bridges and understand the culture better.

The holiday is celebrated in several ways.  Krathongs (an elaborate, little raft carrying a candle, incense and (sometimes) hair and fingernail clippings) are lit and put in the river or other waterways to symbolize the release of anger, grudges and defilements.  Fireworks and firecrackers are set off, and beauty contests are held.  But the part that we participated in was the release of the khom fai, a type of hot-air lantern.

lighting-the-khom fai-1 lighting-the-khom fai-2 lighting-the-khom-fai watching-the-lanterns-go

Near Maejo University in Chiang Mai, thousands upon thousands of these lanterns are released in unison and out of unison, and they light up the sky like a fresh, new Milky Way.

new-milky-way1 new-milky-way-2 new-milky-way-3 new-milky-way-4

The sight is amazing!  And the lanterns are fun to light (except when you get the ones made with wax, and they drip hot wax on the people below for thirty yards after you let them go).  Everyone had a good time sharing the celebration with the Thais.

Since this is an amateur sport, it should come as no surprise that some lanterns endangered some lives:

But then A11 told us she had to go.  We started to beat a hasty retreat and quickly found ourselves in a grinding, surging, waiting, jostling, immobilizing, pushing throng of people.  Some were coming, and some were going, but really neither were doing much coming or going.  It was the thickest people jam I’ve ever been stuck in.

grind-5 grind-6

It was a people compactor – especially for the kids.  I’m not sure exactly how they were breathing.


Trying to keep all three kids close to us, my wife and I were soon separated.  She had all three of them at first, but a couple of surges later, I found my oldest son next to me after he had been separated from the others.  We had very little say in who went where.  The throng had a mind of its own.



For 30-45 minutes, we hardly moved.  A conga line of entertaining but very pushy older Thai women forced their way into any open space as they laughed and barked out orders to those around them, but still they didn’t go far.  People on the outer edges of the mass set off firecrackers and fireworks that threatened to trigger a fight or flight response when they exploded, but no one lost their cool.  These were Thais, and they tend to take everything with a smile.

I lost sight of my wife and other two children about the time we started moving.  After a few shuffling steps, I realized why we were so stuck – there were so many people trying to get into the park that the thousands going out had to exit single file.  I felt like a kidney stone having to passing through such a tiny canal.  Reaching open air felt exhilarating!

It took my son and me some time to catch up to the rest of the family.  They were so happy to be free, I think they must have broken into a sprint.  We saw an ambulance arrive while we were trying to find them and wondered how they were ever going to get to the person who needed them.  Maybe the crowd could let the sick/hurt person body surf on top and just pass him along to the paramedics.


I’m not much of a “crowd person,” so the experience stretched me a bit, but I do have to admit that it did bring me closer to my Thai neighbors (a little too close maybe).

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Filed under contact, Culture Shock, Interpersonal, missions, Relationships, Religion