An Accidental Meeting?


I’m at a meeting in Bangkok this week, and today was our first day.  When I walked into the conference room, there was an elderly English man talking with one of my team members.

Turns out (stay with me while I connect the dots), he just relocated to Bangkok with his wife for some work she does.  They haven’t found a church yet, so when he was walking past the Bangkok Christian Guesthouse and saw that a church met there on Sundays, he went in to inquire about it at the front desk.

As he was about to leave, he asked if by chance they had ever heard of an organization called Compassion.  (Compassion is the Christian ministry that I work with, and we help poor children in developing nations around the world by working through the local church.)  The man had sponsored a child in Thailand for many years through us and wanted to get in touch with us to see if we knew any recent information about her.

The person at the desk thought he was part of our meeting and said, “Compassion is tomorrow, not today.”  Surprised and a little confused, he asked some questions and found out we were having a meeting at the guesthouse, so he returned this morning to talk with us, tell us stories about his sponsored child and show us her picture.

He doesn’t sponsor her anymore, because she is now 27 years old, but we took his information and are going to see if the Thai office can get the former sponsored child and her sponsors connected.

Some people believe in coincidences.  I don’t.  It was no accident that this man wandered past our hotel the day before we got here.  God was planning a reunion!

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Don’t Miss the Meaning


Many of us go through life having experiences but missing their meaning.  If you believe Romans 8:28, then you know that God uses ALL things for the good of those who love Him.  He uses good experiences and bad.  They are a tool to shape us more like Christ and a test to reveal the quality of our heart.

But we are so busy!  Most of us don’t take the time to stop and reflect.  We have the experience but miss the meaning because we moved on to the next stimulating activity or responsibility in our lives.  It’s like going on an incredible trip to a distant country, having fantastic experiences pregnant with significance for our lives and then packing them into our suitcase for the trip home.  When we arrive, we leave the suitcase in a corner unopened and grab a new, empty suitcase, where we will pack in all the potentially meaningful experiences of today.

But when will we ever find the time to unpack?  Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow…

It’s very optimistic of us to think that things will slow down tomorrow so that we can pull out all the great experiences of the past to reminisce and learn their deep truths, but it probably won’t happen.  And who knows?  Yesterday’s experiences might have an expiration date.  God may have given them to us right before we needed them.  By the time we stop to examine them, they might taste very bitter to us as we realize how much we needed them when we had an opportunity or were put to the test.

The key responsibility of parents, mentors and supervisors is to help their children, their mentees or their staff unpack the lessons that experience is meant to teach them.  By creating space in busy schedules, these leaders help their followers learn the importance of fully receiving each experience that God gives them.  They contextualize by adding their insights and their own lessons learned; they ask questions to reveal the hidden value of seemingly meaningless circumstances; they challenge their followers to ask “why” until God’s purpose is revealed.

If you are in a leadership role, stop working so much and start coaching more.  Most of us in leadership roles are too busy with our own responsibilities to unpack lessons with our followers.  It’s great if you are shoulder-to-shoulder with them, having the experience together, but even more important is being face-to-face, examining what’s in their suitcase.

The question is, do you care about them enough to want them to grow and learn and develop as God intends?  If so, don’t waste anymore of the teachable moments He sends you.

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Filed under coaching, discipleship, Fathering, Gleaning, growth, leadership, learning, management, mentoring, parenting

Inside-Out


My youngest son often puts his shirts on inside-out. Not a big deal. I’ve done it when I was in a rush to get somewhere. But even when I tell him he is inside-out, he doesn’t care. He’s content to go around all day with his shirt tag announcing that he can’t dress himself.

I was thinking about my son as I read Matthew 23 this morning, because Jesus also liked to turn things inside-out. In the passage, He is dealing out the “seven woes” to the teachers of the law and the Pharisees, and He criticizes them for “cleaning the outside of the cup or dish” while the inside is full of nastiness. To drive home His point, He compares them to freshly painted tombs filled with dead men’s bones. They look good on the outside, but they reek of death inside.

He challenges them to clean up their insides first, because when the inside is clean, the outside will become clean, too. Jesus is saying that if they will change their character, their behavior will follow. If they change their WHO, their DO will soon match.

I’m guilty of making the same mistakes as the Pharisees sometimes. I clean up my behaviors, because I want to be seen as a godly Christian. I want people to think highly of me for the way I follow God. But the problem is that it’s difficult to keep the act going when I’m not on stage. Behind the curtains with my family and even more in private moments or times of stress, I step out of character, and I find myself leading two lives. A “hypocrite” (the Greek word for “actor” that Jesus used to label false spiritual leaders) like the Pharisees.

I’ve tried outside-in for years, and it doesn’t work. Who I am has to change first, and this means changing my heart. It’s got to happen from the inside-out.

I find this clean-up project to be exhausting, but the great news is that I don’t have to do it alone. Jesus is ready to roll-up His sleeves if I invite Him to join me. And honestly, I can’t do it without Him. Jesus is the Project Manager. He plans the work and works the plan. I’m just the assistant, and I have two main roles: invite Him onto the worksite each day and follow His directions.

Inside-out work is exceedingly slow and exceedingly difficult. It never goes as fast as I want it to, and it always requires lots of challenging situations that Jesus uses as a tool to shape my character and a test to reveal the quality of my heart. It’s a project that won’t be done until I join the Project Manager in heaven, but I’m encouraged by this Scripture:

“Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)

Maybe my son is the one who has got it right. Pay less attention to how you look on the outside and more attention to being the right person on the inside. Wear your shirt inside-out every once in awhile, and you will find that life is a lot more fun when you don’t pretend to be someone you are not.

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Filed under Attitude, Authenticity, Change, character, Christ, christianity, comfort zone, comparison, deception, discipleship, discipline, growth, heart, Jesus, modeling, obedience, performance, Religion, righteousness, rules, sanctification, spiritual disciplines, Spiritual Growth

I Don’t Know Whether to Laugh or Cry


Feeling a little stressed lately?  Time for a science lesson.

According to Dr. William Frey of the Dry Eye and Tear Research Center in Minneapolis, 85% of women and 73% of men reported feeling better after crying while under emotional stress.  The lacrimal gland in the eyes regulates tear secretion.  It also concentrates manganese, a necessary mineral related to moods, and tears remove this concentrated mineral from the body.

Dr. Frey’s research shows that the concentration of manganese is 30 times greater in tears than what is found in the blood.  The reason that is interesting is that autopsies of chronic depressives have revealed heavy concentrations of manganese in the brain that don’t appear in the brains of non-depressives.  As a result, manganese is believed to have a direct link to depression.  Tears clean the mineral out of the body, so tears are thought to be an effective, natural way of preventing depression from occurring.

Other studies have found that healthy people are more likely to cry and have a positive attitude toward tears than those with ulcers or colitis, two conditions thought to be stress-related.  And children who suffer from an inherited disease called familial dysautonomia have two things in common: they can’t produce tears, and they have an extremely low tolerance for emotional stress.

But if you don’t feel much like crying, try a good laugh.

Laughter helps to lower the potent stress hormone cortisol, which can cause bone loss and suppress the immune system.  Laughter also increases the production of endorphins, which combat fatigue and depression. Laughter can in the long-term reduce blood pressure and slow heart rate, as well, leaving you feeling calm and peaceful.

Adults tend to take things (and themselves) too seriously.  How often do you hear of a child with stress-related disorders?  Hopefully not too often.  Laughter may be the reason.  Studies show that children laugh on the average 400 times per day. Adults, by contrast, only laugh an average of fifteen times per day!  We’ve got some catching up to do!

So, if you want to reduce your stress level, run to the video store tonight and check out a movie that will make you laugh until you cry.

(S – Center for Traditional Medicine, 560 First Street, Suite 204, Lake Oswego, Oregon 97034, 503-636-2734, http://www.myctm.org/NP08.html)

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Filed under Attitude, brain, discomfort, emotions, fatigue, funny, health, humor, pressure, Sharpening the Saw, Suffering

There’s a WOMAN in my bathroom!


One of the most difficult challenges of living in Asia for me?  There is always a woman in the men’s public restrooms.  I appreciate that she is there to make the place as clean and comfortable as possible, but why is she always inside?

And she doesn’t leave when I come in.  She sticks around while all the men do their business, sometimes mopping around our feet while we go.

I think it’s because women don’t know about the male code related to bathrooms.  We have certain unwritten rules that all men observe.  I don’t know if we learn them from our dads or from inconspicuous observation, but we all know them:

  • Always skip at least one urinal between men.
  • If the only open urinal is between two men, use the stall.
  • Don’t talk to the guy next to you unless you know each other well.
  • Eyes to the front, elevated approximately 110 degrees.
  • Never shake hands in the restroom.

But the most important rule is….Don’t hang around if you are done with your business.  It’s creepy.  Get in and get out.  Quickly.  That’s the rule.  I don’t even like it when there is a male custodian in the restroom.

Of course, I know what my wife will say when she reads this post.  The woman is there to supervise the men, because no matter how old we get or how much practice we’ve had, we still miss the bowl.

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Filed under accountability, Challenges, culture, Culture Shock, discomfort, funny, humor

Keeping Up with the Joneses


Roberto Goizueta, the former Chairman of Coca-Cola, asked a question of his senior managers:

“What is our market share?”

“45%,” came the confident reply.

“How many ounces of liquid does a human being need to drink a day?”  Goizueta asked.

“64 ounces a day,” someone offered.

“On average, how many ounces of all our products does a person drink per day?” Goizueta asked.

“2 ounces,” said one of the executives.

“What’s our market share?” came his final question.

While I don’t think we should allow Coca-Cola to convince us to replace water in our diet with their products, I do think Goizueta’s question was visionary!  He saw that his leaders were operating under a limiting belief – that we only have to be better than our biggest competitor (in Coca-Cola’s case, it was PepsiCo).  He gave the executives a larger playing field.  In effect, he said, Pepsi is irrelevant.  Stop measuring our success by how we compare to our competition.  Start measuring our success by how we compare to our potential.

What a paradigm shift!  The problem with comparing yourself with others is that you only have to stay one step ahead to feel good about yourself.  If the one to whom you are comparing yourself starts to slide, you can slide, too, and still feel good about where you are in relation to your competition.  (See graphic below.)

You might say, “At least we’re not as bad as them!”  Or, “Yes, we’re slipping, but so is everyone else.”  That may numb the pain, but the truth is, you’ve lost your edge.  The sooner you admit it, the sooner you can get back into the game.

On a personal level, comparing yourself to your friends, coworkers or neighbors can become an excuse for not living according to God’s standard and calling on your life.  While you’ve got your eyes fixed on everyone around you, you will almost invariably start to drift away from where God wants you to be.  Where they are is irrelevant to your walk with the Lord.

It’s true that if you focus on those that are ahead of you in the areas you want to grow, it can motivate you to higher levels of performance, but be careful even about these types of comparisons.  They are dangerous for a few reasons:

  • If your competition slips or lets up for any reason, you might be tempted to, as well.
  • If a change takes them out of your life, you might lose your motivation for growth.
  • If they get too far ahead of you, you might get discouraged and give up.
  • And even if they motivate you to higher levels, ask yourself if you are really doing it for the right reasons.  Is it to look good to others, to feel like you are better than others, to “win”….or is it to live by a high standard or to please God?

Keeping up with the Joneses is a losing battle and only serves to distract you from the fulfillment of your greatness.  Let the Smiths or the Petersons take on the Joneses.  Compete with yourself until you reach your full potential.

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Filed under blame, Change, comparison, competition, Compromise, Daily walk, growth, Incentives, leadership, management, paradigm, paradigm shift, performance, Relationships, self-image, self-worth, Spiritual Growth, success, team, teambuilding

Thermopylae


Thermopylae is a narrow pass (about 50 feet wide) in ancient Greece, between Mount Oeta and the Malian Gulf.  It leads from Thessaly (Thessalia) into Locris.  In ancient times, it was the main route by which an invading army could penetrate from the north into southern Greece.

It is best known for being the site where King Leonidas I died with his 1400 men (of whom 300 were Spartans) during the Persian Wars as they attempted to stop Xerxes and the Persian invasion of Greece in 480 BC. When Xerxes arrived with his enormous contingent of soldiers (Herodotus estimated it at 2.6 million, but it probably wasn’t nearly that high), he expected the small group of Greeks to retreat in light of his superior numbers, but Leonidas and his men refused to move.  In fact, they appeared confident, even calm, in the face of certain death.  Xerxes tried to wait them out for four days, but they wouldn’t leave.

When fighting finally began, it took three days for Xerxes to defeat the Spartans.  The Greeks easily repelled the initial attacks on their position, for what they lacked in numbers, they made up in determination and strategy.  The Spartans believed in a code of courage and discipline.  Retreat and surrender were not options.  They made their stand at Thermopylae, because the narrow pass nullified the threat of Xerxes’ overwhelming numbers.  Further, Leonidas knew that the Persians’ shorter spears made them unable to engage the Greeks at close quarters.

Had it not been for betrayal by a fellow Greek, Leonidas and his men might have held off the Persians indefinitely, but Ephialtes, a Thessalonian, showed the Persians how to use a path over the mountain to attack the Greeks from behind.  Once betrayed, it was all but over for the Greeks.  Leonidas was killed as he helped defend the pass.  Xerxes then dispatched his 10,000 Immortals, an elite fighting group.  The remaining Greeks retreated to a small hillock, where they formed a circle around the body of Leonidas.

Xerxes asked for the body of Leonidas in return for sparing the lives of the remaining Spartans, but the brave warriors refused.  Xerxes didn’t want to command his men to close in on the Spartans, because it was clear that the Persian armies were afraid of the Spartans.  They had never seen such determination and reckless abandon.  The Spartans didn’t care about preserving their lives.  They only wished to die honorably and protect the body of their leader.  Faced with his soldiers’ reluctance to fight, Xerxes ordered his archers to shoot arrows into the dense circle of Spartans until the sky was blackened and every Spartan dead.

Why did Leonidas and the Spartans fight so hard even after the battle was clearly lost?  Leonidas took counsel of an oracle before the battle, who foretold that either Sparta would perish or one of her kings would perish. By his death, Leonidas hoped to sacrifice himself to save his city.  And as it turns out, he did.  While the Persians went on to take Athens, they had been delayed long enough at Thermopylae to allow the Greeks to regroup and reinforce.  Later in 480 BC, the Greek navy defeated the Persians at the Battle of Salamis, halting Xerxes’ advance on Greece and putting an end to his imperial ambitions.  Had the Greeks not be able to repel the Persians, the later contributions of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and other Greeks would never have been possible.

The Spartans had cohesion.  They stuck together no matter what the threat.  They didn’t do it because it was their job as soldiers.  They didn’t do it because of the paycheck.  They didn’t even do it just for their love and respect they had for their leader.  They did it, because they had a common purpose that was larger than all of them.  They had a unifying vision and a common enemy to that vision.

If you want the commitment of your team members, you’ve got to give them something worthy to fight for….a common purpose, a common enemy, something larger than the fading motivation of a paycheck.

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Filed under Challenges, commitment, conflict, determination, discipline, Engagement, failure, focus, leadership, management, motivation, overcoming obstacles, ownership, passion, performance, Persistence, pressure, priorities, purpose, sacrifice, team, teambuilding