Monthly Archives: May 2009

Naked Lobster

Ever thought about how a lobster grows?  Because of its rigid shell, the larger it gets, the more uncomfortable the lobster becomes.  Eventually, it has to shed its old shell in order to grow a new, roomier model.  This process is repeated multiple times (as many as 25 times over the first 5-7 years of its life) until it reaches its maximum size.

During the 48 hours or so that the lobster is shell-less, it’s in grave danger.  One hungry tourist with a cup of melted butter….  Or…the lobster could be eaten by any of its other natural predators.  For the lobster, there is no growth without risk.

I see two lessons for us in the story of the naked lobster:

·        You won’t grow without taking some risks.
·        You won’t grow without leaving something familiar behind.

But where the lobster operates on instinct to shed his shell, we have to operate on courage.  Unfortunately, many of us struggle to face up to hard changes.  It’s difficult to leave our comfort zone for the scary unknown.  Success is not assured.  Failure is likely.  Why would we want to leave what’s been working for us for so long?

And the truth is, we don’t always have to.  Sometimes, business as usual (BAU) will get us by.  But that’s all it usually does.  If we want to grow…  If we want to do great things for God… We are going to have to leave the familiar for something better.  We can’t continue to stay in our cramped, little shell convincing ourselves that it isn’t so uncomfortable after all.  We’ve got to feel the pinch and make the move.


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Filed under Change, comfort zone, determination, Fear, growth, habits, motivation, sacrifice

Like a Thief in the Night

In the sixth and seventh centuries B.C., Sardis was the capital city in the kingdom of Lydia (now Turkey).  It was the convergence of five trade routes and incredibly wealthy as a result.  Legend had it that King Midas washed himself in the Pactolus River that flowed next to the city in order to rid himself of the golden touch that plagued him.  As a result, the river was said to run with gold and bring riches to the people of Sardis.

The city protected its wealth in a citadel on an acropolis atop a fortified hill that rose one thousand feet above the plain.  Steep cliffs surrounded the city on three sides, and there was only one point of access, a narrow neck of land to the south.  Because of its natural defensibility, the city was called, “Sardis, the Impregnable.”

The king and the people believed that they were invulnerable while within the citadel.  They had turned away many would-be conquerors who tried to lay siege to the wealthy city over the years.  But twice, the city was conquered, and ironically, both overthrows occurred in exactly the same way.

Cyrus of Persia was the first to successfully overcome the stronghold in 547 B.C.  Fourteen days after laying siege to Sardis, Cyrus instructed his officers to tell all the soldiers that the first man to scale the wall would earn a reward.  Many men rushed to make it up the wall, but none succeeded.  Then, a soldier named Hyroeades remembered that he had witnessed one of the Lydians accidentally drop his helmet over the side of the wall the previous day.  Thinking he was unobserved, the soldier had come down the wall at the point that had seemed most dangerous and inaccessible to the Persians.

Because of the tremendous height of the cliffs at this point of the wall, the Lydians posted no guard above it.  Gathering his courage, Hyroeades retraced the soldier’s path and ascended the steep cliff.  Once the Persians realized it was possible, many more followed and joined Hyroeades in sacking the city.

Three hundred years later, in 214 B.C., Sardis was captured again in the exact same way by the army of Antiochus the Great of Syria.  His men scaled the wall at the steepest point and found it unguarded at the top.

While the people slept securely and unaware inside their fortress, Sardis was twice conquered by armies who came like a thief in the night.  The kings and the people assumed that no one would attack them where it was obvious that they were strong.  They became complacent in their vigilance and only invested their soldiers in their weaker areas.

Like Sardis, we become vulnerable when we make the mistake of thinking we no longer need to post a guard against temptation.  When we believe that we have mastered a particular temptation, we are in for a surprise.  We can’t stop “building our walls and guarding our gates.” It’s a lifelong process. When Satan sees that we took our guard down, he’ll tempt us in that very area.

I distinctly remember a men’s group meeting where a brother in Christ confessed to an affair he had been having. Convicted by that evening’s study, he trembled as he unburdened his heart before us. He asked for our prayers to help him end the affair and tell his wife.

Afterward, a few of us met with him to discuss what needed to happen next. At one point, he referred to another member of our group, who had confessed to an affair approximately six months earlier. My friend said, “When I heard him talk about his affair, I said to myself, ‘That will never happen to me.’” Only a few weeks after thinking that thought, my friend was deep into sin and deception as he cheated on his wife.

An unguarded strength is our greatest weakness.

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Filed under Compromise, gates, spiritual warfare, temptation

Getting the Golden Eggs

Aesop once told a fable about a farmer who had a goose that laid golden eggs.  At first, the farmer was amazed and glad for his good fortune, but before long, he became greedy.  He was no longer satisfied with getting just one golden egg each day, he wanted all the golden eggs immediately!

He cut off the goose’s head and reached down inside the animal to find the cache of golden eggs.  But to his great disappointment, he found that there were no golden eggs stored inside the goose.  Even worse, he had destroyed his ability to create the golden eggs when he killed the goose.

The fable serves as a good analogy for what sometimes happens at work and in ministry.  You and your staff are the goose.  The work you produce is the golden egg that benefits the company or ministry and keeps it profitable and effective.  Of course, everyone wants as many golden eggs from the goose as possible.

Remember, though, that it is possible to kill the goose by working it too hard.  If you have been putting in outrageous hours lately or requiring them from your team, you may be killing the goose.  When your body wears down, you will likely be so fatigued or sick that you cannot produce the golden eggs again until you start taking care of yourself.  If you work your staff too hard, they may decide to go lay their eggs somewhere else.

If you are in ministry, it’s good to remember that the golden eggs only come in God’s timing and according to His purpose.  Working harder and longer in order to accomplish more and can be a subtle and seductive temptation, but at some point, we go beyond trying to achieve a “God thing” and end up with just a “good thing.”  Our golden eggs come out silver or bronze or worse.

God doesn’t need us to produce the golden eggs.  He lets us join Him in the work, because it brings Him pleasure to see us grow and develop and take satisfaction in a job well done.  But if we don’t take good care of the goose, God may decide to do the laying.

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Filed under Daily walk, delayed gratification, God's Will

Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway

Once, when General George Patton was praised for his bravery in battle, he said, “Sir, I am not a brave man — the truth is, I am an utter craven coward.  I have never been within the sound of gunshot or in sight of battle in my whole life that I wasn’t so scared that I had sweat in the palms of my hands, but I have learned early in my life never to take counsel of my fears.”

Patton didn’t somehow turn off his fear.  He stopped listening to it, and he learned to push through it.  I’ve found that successful people consistently do this.  They feel the fear and do it anyway.

Two years ago, my oldest son and I went to the Royal Gorge with the express purpose of riding the Royal Rush Skycoaster.  Named the “scariest skycoaster in the world,” the Royal Rush Skycoaster pulls you up 100 feet in the air by cable and then drops you.  You swing out over the Royal Gorge at a speed of 50 mph and hang over the Arkansas River 1,200 feet below.

I was so scared that it made me sick to think about doing it.  This wasn’t our first time to the park, you understand.  We had been there months before, and the kids wanted to ride “the swing.”  Dad chickened out.

This time, however, I was determined.  Chandler had just turned thirteen, and this was an important part of an elaborate series of challenges that Dad was calling “Chandler’s induction into manhood.”  I could hardly ask him to do it if I wasn’t going to participate.  I’m not ready to have him take over the title of “man of the house” just yet.

So I screwed my courage to the sticking point, and I laid my credit card down on the counter.  (“What am I doing?  I’m going to pay for this?”) A few minutes later, we were strapping into our harnesses.  (“Hey! Watch the hands, buddy!”) Then we were watching other victims as we waited in line for our turn.  (“She’s screaming.  Why’s she screaming?”) Then we were getting clipped to the cable.  (“Stop talking to your co-worker, and FOCUS!  These are our lives you’re dealing with.”) Then we were being towed into the air.  (“I made a mistake!  I made a mistake!  I want down now…Mommy!”) Then the tiny, tiny, little man on the ground was yelling, “3…2…1…PULL!” and my son was yanking the ripcord.  (–Censored–)

But then, an amazing thing happened.  All that fear – the stomach-churning, knee-knocking, panic-inducing fear – was gone!  Where it had been, there was now exhilaration!  I was overwhelmed with feelings of excitement, gratitude (“Thank you, God!  Thank you, God!”), awe, peace and freedom.  They let us swing out over the gorge six or seven times, and I thoroughly enjoyed staring into 1,200 feet of abyss.  Two minutes after we got off the ride, my son looked at me with a spark in his eye and said, “Let’s do it again!”  And we did.

I learned some important things about fear that day:

•    Fear (spelled F.E.A.R.) is usually based on False Expectations Appearing Real. (It was highly unlikely that we were going to be the first people to be flung into the gorge, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it.)
•    Taking a realistic look at the worst-case scenario often puts F.E.A.R. in its proper perspective. (Death wasn’t the worst thing that could happen to us.  Both of us already have an exit strategy.)
•    Having a partner in scary situations gives us courage. (As Chandler and I debriefed the event, we both said that having the other one with us calmed the nerves.)
•    Making a first investment in doing something scary makes it harder to back out. (Once I had put $50 into the experience, there was no way I was getting out of line.)
•    Humor kills F.E.A.R. (As we stood in line, we made lame jokes and laughed nervously with the people in front of us.  As long as we were laughing, we forgot how much we wanted to get away.)
•    F.E.A.R. has a thin skin. (It took very little action to push through the membrane of F.E.A.R.  The worst part of the ride was my active imagination.  Once I did something, the F.E.A.R. was gone.)

•    Facing your F.E.A.R.s resets your courage border. (After the ride, some of the F.E.A.R.s I’ve been dealing with lately seemed silly in comparison to what I had just been through.  I’mactually excited about applying what I learned about F.E.A.R. in those situations, too.  My courage border gained some real estate that day.)

While there are times when fear is an important defense mechanism that keeps us from winning a Darwin Award, most of the time, it interferes with us becoming all we were created to be.  Stop taking counsel of your fears.  What would you do if you were not afraid?

Then, go and do it!  Do it! Do it now!  Feel the F.E.A.R. and do it anyway!

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Filed under Challenges, comfort zone, faith, Fear, trust

Harder Than It Has To Be

I went bowling a few days ago with my youngest son.  We played a tendon-stretching seven games before calling it quits and abandoning our last three paid-for games.

When we started, I asked my nine-year-old if he wanted me to have them put up the bumpers.  (No way!  Bumpers are for babies!) Game one – 34 points.  Game two – 26 points.  (Sure you don’t want the bumpers, son? – No, Dad.  Bumpers are for babies.) Game three – 22 points.  (How about those bumpers, buddy?  Nope.  Bumpers are for babies.) Game four – 7 points.  (I think the bumpers would be a good idea, son. – Uh uh….bumpers are for babies.)  Game 5 – 6 points, made in one, lucky roll sandwiched between 19 gutter balls.

His body language said it all.  Discouragement.  Frustration.  Defeat.  I tried my best to pep him out of it, to give him some pointers that would help – nothing did.  But sometimes it just takes a third party’s permission to help us see the alternative.  One of the bowling alley attendants saw my son’s struggles and offered to put up the bumpers.  (Sure, I guess…)

Game 6 – 100 points.  Game 7 – 96 points.

His body language said it all.  Excitement!  Enthusiasm!  New life!

Sometimes we make things harder than they have to be.  We set up “bumpers are for babies” rules and force ourselves to live by them, but they lead us into failure after failure.  A wife has a rule about having to be the house cleaner her mother was even though it’s not her strength.  A husband has a rule about being the handyman that his dad was even though it’s not his gift.

  • “I must make straight A’s.”
  • “I must do it all myself.”
  • “We can’t ever have an argument.”
  • “Our kids have to be perfect and impressive like the Johnson kids.”
  • “I have to be a size 8.”
  • “Everyone has to like me.”
  • “I’ve got to live up to my brother’s reputation.”
  • “I have to prove myself to them.”

All these rules make life so difficult and discouraging.  They define failure and success in unrealistic ways that ignore how we were created.  Everyone can be good at something, but it’s not necessarily what your parents or your neighbors or the world says it should be.  It would be so much easier if we could just come to terms with our weak areas and start investing more time into our strengths.  It’s no fun trying to measure up to someone else’s yardstick.

Why is it that bumpers are only for babies?  Who says?  Why do I care what they think anyway?  Am I “bowling” to earn their approval or to enjoy the game?  I only get one trip to this bowling alley.  Why should I waste even a minute of it trying to be something I’m not?

If you’re rolling gutter ball after gutter ball in any area of your life, give yourself permission to throw up the bumpers.  Hire someone to clean your house or do your handywork.  Cross some unrealistic goals off your list.  Lower your expectations, and learn to like yourself exactly the way God made you.  Save your energy and your efforts for what you do best.  Your new motto is: Bumpers are Brilliant!

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Filed under acceptance, expectations, failure, guilt, self-image, self-worth

Broken Windows

Malcolm Gladwell tells the story of New York City’s sudden drop in crime-rate during the mid-1990’s in his book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. When David Gunn was hired as the New York City subway director in 1984, he had a plan to reduce crime by using the principles of the “Broken Window Theory.”

The Broken Window Theory states that if you walk by a building that has a broken window, you automatically make some assumptions about the people who own the building and are responsible for its upkeep.  They apparently don’t care enough about the building to keep it in good working order and aesthetically pleasing.

While only a small percentage of people would take the owner’s neglect as license to continue vandalizing the property, most of us wouldn’t feel the need to take special care to keep it clean, either.  If the owners don’t care, then why should you?  If the broken window goes unattended long enough, we begin to transfer our low opinion to the surrounding neighborhood.  We take less and less responsibility, and the environment gets worse and worse.

Gunn’s idea focused on reducing crime by eliminating graffiti on the subway cars as soon as it appeared.  Under his “Clean Car Program,” new cars were introduced to the system one-by-one.  At the end of their routes, they were inspected for vandalism.  If any graffiti was found, the car was immediately repainted before it was put back into service.  Whenever more extensive damage was evident, the car was pulled from the line until it could be reconditioned.  By 1989, every single car had been cleaned.

Gunn’s initiative was taken up by William Bratton when he was appointed chief of the Transit Authority Police in 1990.  Bratton cracked down on turnstile jumpers who tried to ride for free and brought about innovations in the way arrests were processed so that they could be handled more easily and on-site.  Originally, officers were skeptical and even pessimistic of the new measures, but it’s hard to argue with a 75% reduction in subway crime in less than a decade.  By sweating the small stuff, they had signaled to would-be criminals that they cared enough to put up a fight for their subways.

The Broken Window Theory applies in many ways around us.  Any time we don’t care enough to pay attention to the details with our own stuff, it won’t be long before others start to ignore them, as well.  A little neglect on our part is likely to bring about wholesale disregard from those who have less ownership than we do.  In this respect, the small stuff does matter.

I see the principle at work in my own home on a regular basis.  If something gets stacked on the dining room table and stays there for any length of time, everyone assumes that the table is now the designated “stuff dumping site.”  Before long, it’s a mountain of indiscriminate piles that give birth to even more piles while we sleep.

And if we have “broken windows” when the kids’ friends come over, it’s a lost cause to get them to clean up after themselves.  When it looks like my own family doesn’t even care if our rooms or living areas are clean, visitors revert to their baser instincts.  In other words, “let the chips (and salsa) fall where they may.”

So, my new motto is: “Keep your ‘windows’ in good repair, and you’ll save yourself housekeeping despair.”

(S – Gladwell, Malcolm.  The Tipping Point)

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Filed under accountability, ownership

Volcano Erupts in Chiang Mai

My daughter built a Mentos & Coke (actually Pepsi Max) volcano for extra credit in her science class.  She also tried to include a few smaller volcanoes using baking soda and vinegar, but those didn’t work so well.  Here’s the video.



Filed under family