Monthly Archives: December 2008

The Center of All Christianity


Someone asked me the other day where I was from before I moved to Thailand, and I told them that we had most recently lived in Colorado Springs, CO.  “Oh yeah,” he said, “isn’t that the center of all Christianity?”  He was making a joke about the number of Christian organizations based in Colorado Springs, and there are many.  In fact, when my wife and I made the decision to move to Colorado Springs, we did so because we found a list online of 108 different ministries that had their headquarters there.

I got to thinking about his comment later on.  Is it a good thing to have a “center of all Christianity?”  Yes, but only if the center is Christ, Himself.  Otherwise, I would say it’s a decidedly bad thing.  Why would Christians want to isolate themselves to one place on the planet?  Wouldn’t that limit our effectiveness everywhere else?  Sure, it would attract lots of Christians to come live there (like me, for instance), and you can have collaboration between ministries and such, but then it would also be easier for people who didn’t like Christians to avoid them.

I think we do this (isolate ourselves) quite often.  We have Christian communities and Christian schools and Christian friends and Christian groups that we belong to.  We have Christian music and Christian radio stations, Christian movies, Christian authors, Christian bookstores, Christian TV stations and Christian websites.  I participate in and partake of these just like many other Christians, but is it the best thing for us to do?  Have we asked ourselves why everything needs to be “Christian” before we will be part of it?

It’s probably about comfort zones and safety.  If you are a Christian, other Christians are safe and comfortable (mostly).  Those who aren’t Christian are a little scary.  They do things that we aren’t supposed to do, and they speak a different language than our carefully crafted Christianese.  It’s hard to find anything in common with non-Christians, because they don’t go to the same bookstores or listen to the same radio stations or have the same friends that we do.  And when we are around them, we feel like we should be evangelizing or something, and if we aren’t, we feel guilty.  It’s hard to enjoy ourselves when we feel like we have to draw them closer to God every time we meet.

But maybe we have become too “Christian” to be relevant.  We are like a giant lump in the cake batter – safe from the messiness outside but a little dry and dusty.  If we are going to make a difference in this world, we are going to have to leave the lump and start mixing with the world.  I’m not saying that we need to start sinning so that we can understand those outside the Body of Christ, but I am saying that we need to look for the common ground we have with non-Christians.

There is some outstanding music out there that won’t corrupt our hearts and minds even though it’s not overtly Christian.  (Some of it is produced by Christian artists who are trying to reach the world by not wearing the Christian label.)  Some movies (a little harder to find) uplift the soul, bring injustice into the light or celebrate what’s good about life.  Many authors are writing incredible books that will help you build a bridge of discussion to an unbeliever.

Instead of creating a Christian group for our favorite hobby or sport, we should join someone else’s.  Rather than attend church every time the doors open, we should find opportunities to interact with our communities.  When we throw parties, organize a potluck or hold a neighborhood yard sale, we ought to try to invite non-Christians to participate.

And the rule for all these interactions should be that we don’t “try” to evangelize anyone.  God does the evangelizing.  We should just be ourselves.  We should enjoy the company of our non-Christian friends without any agenda to win them to Christ.  God will work out all those details; He’s just saving a little piece for us to do.  Sometimes that will include openly sharing our faith, but most of the time He is going to use things from our lives that we would never expect in order to break up hard hearts and plant eternal seeds.

We are part of the batter; He’s the Cook.  All we’ve got to do is blend.

Leave a comment

Filed under Body of Christ, christianity, comfort zone, contact, evangelism, impact, Inconvenience, isolation, Relationships

An Incredible Lover


I once had a college professor who would regularly descend into self-interested monologues rather than delivering the content of the course (of course, which one didn’t, right?).  One time, he told us that one of his primary goals as a parent was to help his son become an incredible lover.  This professor was rather impressed by his own sexual prowess and thought his son should be instructed to carry on the legacy.

I know you are probably curious about exactly how he planned to do that, but we were all too creeped out to ask any follow-up questions.  I’m afraid his mentoring strategy will have to remain a secret, but if it makes you feel any better, I don’t think he was a deviant – just odd.

I was reminded of that day in class as I was reading The Purpose Driven Life with my oldest son the other day.  Chapter 16 is “What Matters Most,” and it starts with the sentence, “Life is all about love.”  Rick Warren points out that all the Ten Commandments are about love (the first four about loving God; the last six about loving your neighbor), and he draws from Paul’s writings to emphasize that anything we do without love is worthless.

Mother Teresa said, “It’s not what you do but how much love you put into it that matters,” and the longer I live, the more convinced of this I am.  All my other motives are self-serving, and I know that the things I do for myself are their own reward.  There will be no treasure stored up in heaven for me as a result of the things I do for myself – only for those things I lovingly do for God or for my neighbor.

So I find myself in the very strange position of having the exact same parenting goal as my Don Juan professor – only we are using different meanings of the word lover.  I can think of no better instruction and wisdom to pass along to my children than to help them become incredible lovers – lovers of God and lovers of their neighbors.

Incidentally, I shared this story with my son.  (I enjoy the shock value.)  He was sufficiently grossed out by the professor, and I told him he had no need to worry.  I wasn’t going to be sharing any gritty details about my love life with him – he’ll have to buy the book like everyone else.

Leave a comment

Filed under agape love, christianity, family, Goals, love, parenting, Relationships, sex, unconditional love

The Elephant in the Room


elephant-in-room

Ever had the experience of having an “elephant in the room?”  It’s what happens when there is something big and disturbing that we all know about but won’t discuss.  We stress over it; we pretend it’s not there; we go to great lengths to maneuver around it… all because we don’t know how to deal with it.

It’s Christmas, and many families will be gathering together to celebrate the holiday while simultaneously trying to step around the elephants that have accumulated in their relationships. Hoping for peace on earth and goodwill toward each other, they will bite their tongues as they enjoy Christmas dinner.  And doing their best to ensure a silent night, they will stick to only the safest topics for conversation.

Isn’t it exhausting?  Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all just be honest about the elephants?  And have we ever stopped to think about exactly how much elephant maintenance is costing us? The longer an elephant is allowed to stay, the more trust he eats.  The more trust he eats, the bigger he gets and the harder it is to get rid of him without doing some major damage to the relationships.

What if we sacrificed some of that peace and silence to do some important and needed work on our relationships this Christmas?  What if we prayed for God’s healing before our guests arrived or before we went over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house?  What if we humbled ourselves to be the first one to say, “I’m truly sorry,” to those who feel hurt?  What if we decided to put some forgiveness under the tree?

Maybe we could save our money this year, and purchase a gift that will only cost us our pride and the risk of stepping out of our comfort zone (and maybe a thrown plate or two).  Wouldn’t it be worth it?  Even if it ends in disaster (and I’m aware that it’s a good possibility with some of our families), the attempt would be precious to God, and there is no way to know how He will eventually use your sacrifice.

Blessings to you and yours!

Merry Christmas!

Michael


Leave a comment

Filed under accountability, agape love, Authenticity, Challenges, Christmas, comfort zone, communication, family, Interpersonal, love, overcoming obstacles, Relationships

Reset the Zero


Believe it or not, heating water from -1/2OC to +1/2 OC (1 degree) requires 80 times the energy that is required to heat water from +1 OC to +2 OC (1 degree).  Why so much difference?  It’s because changing ice to water (-1/2OC to +1/2 OC) requires a change in state.  When water changes state (from ice to liquid water or from liquid water to steam), all the energy (80 calories) goes into the state change.  None goes into heating the water.

When heating water, it takes 80 times the energy to go from a negative to a positive.  It’s not much different when you are working with people.  For example, consider a scale that ranges from -5 to +5 and measures influencing skills.  If you are coaching someone who feels he is a “-3” on the scale, he’s saying that he feels like he has none of the skill.  He’s so bad at it, that he’s in the negative range.

reset-the-zero-1To coach him to the point that he feels he is on the positive side of the scale is going to require enormous amounts of energy on his part and yours.  He will actually have to go through a “change in state” – from someone who has no influencing skills to someone who has some.  That’s a mental leap across a wide chasm.

But what if you could show him that he already had some of the skill?  (as he most certainly does)  What if your reminded him that he already uses influencing skills when he’s talking to his peers about a common project or when he comes to you to ask for a better assignment.  Then, he doesn’t need a change in state.  He just needs to increase what he’s already got.

With water, once you change from ice to liquid water, all the hard work is done.  It only requires one calorie per degree to heat the water.  With people, the hard work is convincing them that they aren’t working from a state of lack.  They already have all the skills they need; they just need to increase them.  In effect, what you are doing is resetting the zero on their mental scale.  The same amount of influencing skills expressed this way would look like the scale below:

reset-the-zero-2

A +2 in the skill is much easier to build on than a -3.  Now, he’s got something to work with.  There’s an influencing skill muscle in there – he just needs to exercise it to make it stronger.

I frequently hear people make statements of lack such as, “I can’t speak in front of people;” “I can’t ever remember names;” “I’m not a people person;” “I don’t have any leadership ability.”  Statements like these allow people to abdicate responsibility for trying to develop these skills.  After all, if you don’t even have the raw materials for the skill, it’s not possible to ever have it.

Show them how they already have some of the skill, and you help them make a huge paradigm shift.  Instead of “strengths and weaknesses,” they start thinking in “greater and lesser strengths.”  Help them to reset their zero, and their eyes will be open to their potential.

(S – http://www.school-for-champions.com/science/heat_ice_steam.htm)

Leave a comment

Filed under Abundance, accountability, blame, Change, comfort zone, expectations, growth, mentoring, motivation, overcoming obstacles, paradigm shift, parenting, self-image

TTWWADI


Start with a cage containing five monkeys.  Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a set of stairs under it.  Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana. As soon as he touches the stairs, spray all of the monkeys with cold water.

After a while, another monkey makes an attempt with the same result – all the monkeys are sprayed with cold water.  Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it.

Now, turn off the cold water.  Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one.  The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs.  To his surprise and horror, all of the other monkeys attack him.  After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted.

Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a new one.  The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked.  The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm.

Again, replace a third original monkey with a new one.  The new one makes it to the stairs and is attacked as well.  Two of the four monkeys that beat him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs, or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.

After replacing the fourth and fifth original monkeys, all the monkeys that have been sprayed with cold water have been replaced.  Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs.  Why not?   Because as far as they know, that’s the way it’s always been around here.

Put people together for a long enough time, and we will repeat the illustration of the monkeys.  Seasoned veterans indoctrinate the up and comers.  While this process can save us time and wasted effort in meaningless pursuits, it can also kill creativity, innovation and ambition.  The up and comers are encouraged and pressured not to even try for new goals and new ways of doing things, because of the obstacles and failures experienced by the seasoned veterans.

TTWWADI (“That’s the way we’ve always done it.”) spells death to the spark of innovation and creativity that newcomers often bring.  TTWWADI spells a sometimes dangerous conformity.  If you’re a seasoned veteran, don’t be so quick to pick up the hose the next time one of the new monkeys reaches for the banana.

(NOTE: No monkeys were harmed during research for this article.)

1 Comment

Filed under Change, comfort zone, culture, Fear, Group dynamics, group think, innovation, learned helplessness, paradigm, social faux pas

The Loss of Dross


When a traditional silversmith works with silver, he must first remove the impurities from the rock.  He puts the ore in a crucible and then puts the crucible in a furnace.  The silver is roasted at over 1700o F (926 o C) until it melts.  Dross, a waste material made up of impurities in the silver, rises to the top.  The silversmith then skims it off the top, leaving the silver more pure.  He might need to repeat this process up to seven times to remove all the impurities, each time heating the metal until it melts before the dross comes to the top and can be easily removed.  When the silversmith can see the reflection of his image in the silver, he knows that it is pure.

If you’ve been feeling the heat lately, consider that you might be going through your own purification process.  The Center for Creative Leadership has studied leaders and what makes them successful, and they have found that Hardships account for 34% of a leader’s development experience.  In fact, Hardships teach us more than any of the other categories in their study (i.e. Challenging Assignments – 27%; Other People, like mentors, coaches and role-models – 22%; Other Events, like training, feedback, and success – 17%).

Some examples of instructive hardships include:

  • Failures and mistakes
  • Missed opportunities
  • Conflict in relationships or with organizations
  • Extended periods of stress
  • Employee performance problems
  • Personal traumas

Hard times tend to bring our weaknesses to the surface, forcing us to deal with them.  When we struggle, we find we need to abandon qualities that make us ineffective in order to get through the fire.  Being in the crucible teaches us humility, an essential quality in an effective leader.  Unchecked success leads to arrogance.  Failure reminds us that we are human and helps us understand the imperfections of others.

God allows difficult times of trial in our lives, because He loves us.  He knows that time in the crucible will surface some of our selfishness, independence, pride, meanness of spirit, impatience and any other quality that keeps us from reflecting His image.  Once He has skimmed this dross off of us, He  evaluates us to see how much of Himself He can see in us.  If the fire didn’t surface much dross, He sometimes needs to turn up the heat.

According to an old maxim, “That which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”  It’s true, but only if you allow yourself to learn from the trial.  As a friend of mine often says, don’t go through the experience and miss the meaning.  What is the purpose of the refining fire in your life?

Remove the dross from the silver, and out comes material for the silversmith.

(Proverbs 25:4)

1 Comment

Filed under Challenges, Hardship, mistakes, sin, Suffering, Trials, Valley

The Thrilla in Manila


On a hot summer night in September, 1975, two men met in a 20’ by 20’ ring near the city of Manila in the Philippines.  It was their third meeting, and it had the world’s attention.  Smokin’ Joe Frazier vs. Muhammad Ali.

Frazier had won the first fight on points in fifteen rounds.  It was Ali’s first loss as a professional boxer, and it was a slugfest.  Both fighters had to go to the hospital afterward, and Frazier couldn’t fight again for another ten months.

Ali had taken the second fight on points in twelve rounds three years later.  Then in 1974, Ali became Heavyweight Champion of the World when he knocked out George Foreman at the “Rumble in the Jungle.”  Thus the stage was set for the Frazier-Ali rematch.

In what has been called perhaps the greatest fight of all time, two boxers brought it all to the ring for fourteen rounds.  Most commentators give the first four rounds to Ali, with his precision hits to Frazier’s head.  The next five are typically said to have been dominated by the powerful and determined Frazier.  But during the last four rounds, Ali pummeled Frazier until he was spitting blood and almost blind because of the swelling around his eyes.  He could no longer even see the punches coming.

When the fourteenth round ended, both fighters stumbled to their corners.  Ali told his corner team to cut off his gloves and throw in the towel.  He had taken 440 blows from one of the best fighters in the world.  He was dehydrated by the heat and so weak that he could hardly stand.  Later he would say that the fight was “the closest thing to dyin’ that I know of.”  But instead of cutting off his gloves, Ali’s trainer ignored him.  He wiped his face and sponged him down to prepare him for the final three minutes of the fight.

Could Ali have gone one more round against Frazier?  No one knows for sure.  At the same time Ali was asking his trainer to “cut ‘em off,” Frazier’s trainer was evaluating his fighter.  When the bell rang for the fifteenth and final round, Frazier tried to get up, but his trainer, concerned for the fighter’s health, stopped him, cut off his gloves and said, “Sit down, son.  It’s all over.  No one will ever forget what you did here today.”

As someone has said, “Failure is the path of least persistence.”  You never know.  Sometimes the forces you are up against are just about to “cut off the gloves.”  Sometimes the Enemy is just as exhausted and discouraged as you are.  While you’ve been taking a beating, keep in mind that He may just be watching to see whether or not you will quit first.  A show of determination and persistence may be all it takes to convince him that you can’t be beat, that you’ve tapped into a limitless Power Source that guarantees your ultimate success.

Keep fighting the good fight, and encourage those around you to do the same.

Leave a comment

Filed under Challenges, determination, overcoming obstacles, Persistence, Suffering, Trials