Tuesday, September 30, 2008

You can't fix politicians either

I have wanted to blog on the economy, but to be honest, I only know enough about it to be dangerous. I don't know whether or not the bailout plan was right, but here's what I know: politicians practice CYA decision-making, and care more about getting elected than getting it right.

Monday, September 29, 2008

You can't fix stupid

"When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, the people groan." Pr 29.2

I think that sometimes we Christians have an equation like this one:

Persecution/negative comments = What the Bible says about righteous living being persecuted.

But the reality is this:

Persecution/negative comments = Natural consequences of doing something stupid.

When believers do something stupid, the critique we get IS NOT persecution. If we offer bad leadership, bad politics, bad thinking, bad philosophy, bad and/or stupid [fill in the blank], the critique we get is deserved.

This proverb seems to say that wicked leadership will be obviously bad to people, but when there is an increase in righteousness, the people will like it. That is not to take away anything from real persecution--it exists and should be pointed out for what it is. But when we are obnoxious instead of graceful, judgmental instead of loving, shouting from a distance instead of building relationships, we are being stupid, and the critique is deserved.

As my friend says, "you can't fix stupid."

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Some fun, some serious...

"Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips." Pr 27.2

This is great advice. It's always better for others to sing your praises, cuz then you don't look arrogant or prideful. There's only one thing wrong with following this proverb:

What if no one says anything good about you?

I guess then you can go back to Pr 17.8 and offer someone a bribe to praise you in public...

"...do not go to your brother's house in the day of your calamity." Pr 27.10b

Hmm, should I have turned my brother away during Hurrican Ike? No, of course not. This is a great example of missing the point of the proverb. I deliberately skipped the first half of the verse, which says "Do not forsake your friend and your father's friend..." The thought I have is this--we should work to be the kind of people who help in troubled times. We will all need other's help in times of calamity, and when we need help we should seek it. But as followers of Jesus we can make a difference in the world when we are individually and collectively ready to help in times of trouble.

One of my favorite proverbs: "Whoever blesses his neighbor with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, will be counted as cursing." 27.14. Can I get an "amen" from you non-morning folks?

Whoops, I guess the bribe thing won't work. 27.21 says "The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and a man is tested by his praise." It seems that praise for us--or the lack thereof--are parts of the refining process God has. Hmm, I guess that means I should not take praise or the lack of praise personally. It has nothing to do with my identity. It is something God uses to shape me into a better man.

Finally, on the economy:

"Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds, for riches do not last forever, and does a crown endure to all generations? When the grass is gone and the new growth appears and the vegetation of the mountains is gathered, the lambs will provide your clothing, and the goats the price of a field. There will be enough goats' milk for your food, for the food of your household and maintenance for your girls." 27.23-27

I have two or three times sat down to blog about the economic situation in the US. The truth is I have no idea what is right. I feel like some bailout is necessary, but giving carte blanche to this administration is still a bad idea. It's a bad idea for any administration, because power does corrupt. It's why the leadership style of Jesus-followers is about service and sacrifice, not power and authority. But I digress.

The ecomony breathes, just like the cycle of grass disappearing then the new growth appears. We have staved off any significant downturns for nearly 30 years. We have almost no one left who lived through the Great Depression. Maybe we're near another significantly difficult time. Maybe not. I have no idea. But I know that God is on his throne and cares deeply for all of us, especially the poor. So we should prepare for difficult times, but never hoard away from the poor. There will always be enough for "the maintenance of your girls."

And as you know if you have daughters, that is plenty.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Fools and sluggards are bad--but there are worse things

I have always loves Proverbs 26. It's a great example of setting someone up for conviction, just luring them into a trap to see their own sin. The first 11 verses are all these statements about a fool--purposeless, loveless, moralless; they are just worthless people. We shouldn't honor them, shouldn't listen to them, shouldn't give them the time of day. And as you read them you think, "man, I'm glad I'm not a fool. I'm a lot better than that. I think I'm wiser than that."

Then you get to verse 12: "Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him."

Yikes! Didn't see that coming...

I just think the word sluggard is cool. When was the last time you used that in casual conversation?

And finally, for a jokester like me, the proverb that squelches the fun: "Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows and death is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, 'I am only joking!'" So should I give up trying to trick people for fun?

Or is this more about trying to get out of bad behavior? When we get caught in something that looks bad, we like to play it off somehow. A good way is to say, "I was just foolin'. Didn't really mean that." As I'm trying to teach my children, our first response when we're in a situation where there is any chance we had some shortcoming in responsibility, we should own up to it immediately. No excuses, no playing it off. Just an honest, "You know, maybe I didn't think that through, and I'm sorry."

Just a thought.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The ol' switcharoo

I read Proverbs 24 before going to sleep tonight, and came across a good thought in verse 17:

"Do not rejoice when an enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles..."

Yes, I thought. This is good. The counter-cultural message of Jesus. Nonviolence, love for everyone, even enemies. We should all practice this.

Then I read verse 18:

"...lest the LORD see it and be displeased, and turn away his anger from him."

Okay, so let's see. If I want REALLY bad things to happen to my enemy, I should not be happy when they begin, cuz if I'm happy then God may think he's been too hard on the poor soul.

The proverbs really mess with me sometimes...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

God politics

Here's another CT article--this one a conversation between Chuck Colson, Shane Claiborne, and Greg Boyd about a Christian's approach to political engagement. Great stuff.


In the moment.

I just thought this was a great article. John Ortberg is awesome. From CT Online:

Redeemed Time, Lightened BurdensOur work is transformed by the way we approach it.by John Ortberg

"Redeem the time," Paul says, "for the days are evil."

Or maybe it's me.

I have been thinking a lot about two of Jesus' agricultural metaphors regarding ministry over the past few years.

First, "Put your hand to the plow and don't look back." And I have been doing that in my ministry. I have had an extremely strong conviction that I am to follow my calling in the place where I am and not waste energy thinking about other possibilities. I'm convinced I will grow in ways I would not otherwise if I put my hand to the plow and don't look back.

Second, "My yoke is easy and my burden is light." This one has been harder. I have faced difficult staff transitions and change navigation and new multi-site planting and fund-raising and often felt in over my head. I have often felt myself preoccupied and weighted down, and yet I feel as deeply called to what I'm doing as I ever have.

How do I put my hand to the plow but live with the easy yoke?

Several weeks ago my wife pulled me into the bedroom, closed the door, and said there were a few things she wanted to talk about. She said she was kind of afraid to bring them up. She had a list.

I was not happy that she had a list.

She began: "When our marriage is at its best, we are sharing it together. We share division of labor stuff. We partner together around the house;”our kids see this. We each know and care about details in each other's life and work. To be honest: it feels like that's been slipping. It feels like you have been becoming so preoccupied by all the things you have to do, by all the demands you think are on your shoulders, I'm kind of missing the you I most want."

Then she reminded me of a moment when we were dating. It was our second date. We went to "Dancing Waters," a little fountain outside Disneyland where the water jumps up and they shine colored lights on it. She chose because it was free, and I had no money.

At one point we were in the lobby in the Disneyland hotel. I was waiting for her to come out of the rest room. When she returned I said real loud: "I can't believe you kept me waiting here for two hours."

Her immediate comeback: "I wouldn't have to keep you waiting if you didn't insist on having your mother living with us all these years so I have to wait on her hand and foot..."

The whole lobby is listening now. It was better than Dancing Waters.

My immediate thought was: I like this girl...

Nanc reminded me of that moment.

She said: "When you are fully present like that, light, breezy, spontaneous, fun, ready to listen, alive to joy;I love that man. I need that man. I haven't seen that man around much lately."

It took me a couple days to process this talk, because pouting is more or less my spiritual gift, and I had to get that out of my system first.

But I thought about the kind of life she was describing. I know that life.

It's like I've been waiting for circumstances to change so I can live that kind of life.

I'm not waiting any more.

I started praying. God, I need some help. Ideas started to come. I need some wisdom, some accountability; and I watched God start to bring some of that into my life. I knew I needed either a therapist, a spiritual director, or an executive coach. And I finally landed on the best choice and started moving forward.

Mostly, though, it's a kind of inner adventure. The process looked like this:

I know the kind of life she's describing.

I want that life. It's painful to not live it.

I have been waiting for external circumstances to change, under the illusion that will usher me in to that kind of life.

I'm not helping anyone when I get weighted down. I will actually lead better when I do it with "lightness of being." It's how I was wired up.

And then, this thought: I can do this. I can set aside the weight of unfinished tasks and unsolved problems when I come home. I can be fully present and alive even though everything around me is not settled down. Each moment I can choose this; I can ask God's help with it.

And it's been like a mini-revival. I find myself thinking, when problems arise, bring it on. Each problem is, among other things, an opportunity to exercise this muscle, to make it stronger. And if I forget in one moment, I can begin again with God the next.

I've been struck by how this can be done by anyone, anywhere.

I was on a shuttle bus at the airport. And I noticed the driver for the car rental company. That can be a stressful, thankless task.

But this guy was a delight. He would be scanning curbside, looking for whoever needed a ride. He told those of us in the shuttle: "I'm always looking; looking for eyes; sometimes people are running late; I want to get them. Hup, there's another one!"

We were cheering him on when he'd pick up another customer. He would hop out and grab people's luggage before they could lift it. He was like the Michael Phelps of shuttle drivers. Then he'd say: "Well, we're off. I'm going to get you to your cars as soon as I can."

He created such a little community of joy on that bus, people didn't want to get off. We wanted to ride to the terminal a second time just to be treated that way.

I realized I have my own little bus to drive. And I want to drive it like him.

I want to live with my hand on the plow.

I want to live under the easy yoke.

I want to redeem the time.

John Ortberg is editor at large of Leadership and pastor of Menlo Park (California) Presbyterian Church.
To respond to this article, write to Newsletter@LeadershipJournal.net.
Copyright © 2008 by the author or Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal.Click here for reprint information on Leadership Journal.September 22, 2008

A hot commodity

"Buy truth, and do not sell it; buy wisdom, instruction and understanding." Pr 23.23

Truth and wisdom, instruction and understanding--these are the commodities worth investing in! Today's market fluctuations and economic uncertainties don't affect what is wise, what is worth knowing and doing. These "stocks" do not decrease in value--there are no downturns in the wisdom market.

A man once found a treasure in a field...

Monday, September 22, 2008

The friend of kings

"He who loves purity of heart, and whose speech is gracious, will have the king as his friend." Proverbs 22.11

I have read and practiced this verse for years. It seems to be the biblical version of "how to win friends and influence people." Two things are listed--purity of heart, graciousness of speech.

Purity of heart is about focus, about the "one thing." Remember in "City Slickers" when Billy Crystal asks Jack Palance what the secret of life was, the crusty cowboy called "Curly" holds up his finger. "Your finger?" asks Crystal? "No, find one thing, and do it well."

When our heart if focused on the "one thing" of the kingdom of heaven, it stands out. People take note.

Graciousness of speech is about valuing the people you talk to, and treating them as more important than yourself. It is about eye contact, listening, and genuine concern. It is never about shouting from a distance, the characteristic of all too much of today's Christian leadership in the US.

In short, being the friend of kings is about relationship. Being the kind of person, day in and out, whose heart is focused on the kingdom and who speech reflects concern for the other person.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


The Americans won back the Ryder Cup for the first time since 1999. The young guys led the way, with Anthonly Kim beating Sergio Garcia 5&4 in the 1st match, Hunter Mahan holing a huge putt on 17 to take a 1up lead (even though in his excitement he hit it in the water and lost 18 to halve the match. The point that sealed it was long-knocking J.B. Holmes, who consistently drove it over 350 yards.

But my favorite was definitely Boo Weekley, who was also everyone else's favorite. The down home southerner who would rather hunt than golf golfed his ball like no one's business.

The only real disappointment was Phil Mickelson's poor play at another Ryder Cup. Can't wait until Celtic Manor in Wales in October of 2010 to see if we can repeat.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Getting in a hurry

I am notorious for getting in a hurry to get certain things done. But there is something to be said for doing it right:

"Desire without knowledge is not good, and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way." Pr 19.2

The young are full of passion, ready to change the world. But passion alone can't do it. Knowledge is required. The knowledge on where to go is of primary value--it comes before the passion to go. Passion is vital, but subservient to knowledge.

Another of today's proverbs is about not getting in a hurry to be mad:

"Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense." 19.11

I hope I have good sense. It's not a personality trait, although I'm sure some people are naturally less likely to get angry than others. Good sense is learned behavior. It has to be practiced. Maybe that's why those people that drive you crazy are still in your life--God's growing your good sense muscles...

"Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed." 19.17

We are just stewards of our stuff, God is the Owner. However God looks at our generosity to those in need as lending to him money. Amazing. We get "double credit" by giving to the poor--once from the experience with them and once from God. And God pays us back.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The power of relationship

You know relationship makes the world go 'round. But today's proverb has this gem:

"Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment." Pr 18.1

You cannot serve God alone. To be alone is to seek your own desire, and eventually your judgments will fail. That's not to say you don't need alone time--we do just like Jesus did. But our alone time recharges us to be with people; reconnects us to the still small voice of God. It is not an end to itself. Life is lived only in community.

"A fool's lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating." Pr 18.6

This verse would have been helpful for me to have memorized as a kid. "Really mom, I was only following the biblical mandate when I hit Johnny..."

Finally, another relationship thought: "If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame." Pr 18.13

Abba, may I be a hearer and a listener to my neighbor, and a doer to meet his needs.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Better at positive deviation

I finally took some time to read lately, and finished up BETTER: A SURGEON'S NOTES ON PERFORMANCE by Atul Gawande. I really recommend this book as a good read on how we all might improve performance in what we do. It's different from the typical business book, mostly cuz it's about medical stuff.

It's divided into 3 sections on 3 topics: diligence, doing right, and ingenuity. Each section has chapters filled with real life medical stories; some that will amaze you, and some that will scare you! Like, why did doctors in the 19th century resist the idea that washing your hands between patients was a good thing? And why aren't they better at doing it today? Gawande is a good writer and researched his stories well, going from historical situations to medicine in the Iraq war to doctors helping with executions to dramatic improvements in treating cystic fibrosis.

The overarching concept is the idea of becoming a positive deviant, and the book ends with 5 suggestions for becoming one:

1. Ask an unscripted question. Make a connection, a humanity touch.

2. Don't complain.

3. Count something. If you count something you find interesting, you will learn something interesting.

4. Write something. Choose your audience and write something.

5. Change.

Here's to positive deviants everywhere!

Burning, bribes and bubbling over

A few thoughts from Proverbs 17:

"The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the LORD tests hearts." (3)

Don't you just love tests? Tests of the heart burn; they refine. They bring into the light the junk that doesn't belong, so they embarrass us. They make us feel guilty. But they are a necessary part of the purification process.

"A bribe is like a magic stone in the eyes of the one who gives it; wherever he turns he prospers." (8) Hmm. This is one of those proverbs that I wonder about. Is the writer promoting the use of bribes? Did bribes have both positive and negative connotations in those days? Verse 23 talks about accepting a "bribe from the bosom" or a bribe given in secret--are bribes okay if they are done with full disclosure?

And finally, this gem for personal obedience: "The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so quit before the quarrel breaks out." (13) We have seen in the past few years what damage water can do when it gets let out of its boundaries. Just ask folks in New Orleans or Galveston (actually, don't ask them. Just pray for them and serve their needs!) Quarreling has similar effects on relationships. So I'm making a resolution today--I don't need to win arguments, especially with my wife. And I don't even need to always feel the need to make a point. Or to rub in a point. Or to hammer in a point until those with lesser points agree with me.

Yikes, the proverbs can be convicting...

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Ordinary people

Earlier I was reading the Leadership Weekly online newsletter. Marshall Shelley (who by the way wrote a book EVERY pastor and leader should read called "Well Intentioned Dragons") mentioned how amazed he was at Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt--weren't we all! He asks a great question though--do we let amazing standouts in the kingdom keep us ordinary people from stepping up?

Then I read my Monday Morning Memo from Roy Williams, the Wizard of Ads. Yes, I know it's Thursday. So I'm a slow reader sometimes.

Here's something from that:

I’ve encountered dozens of business owners who believed in their hearts they had extraordinary employees.

None of them ever did.

"Properly enforced systems, methods, policies and procedures allow a company to get exceptional actions from ordinary people. If your business requires you to attract and retain extraordinary people, you’ve got a dangerous business model."

I think he's right. You don't have to be extraordinary to do amazing things.

In fact, if you read the Bible, extraordinary often just gets in the way.