Tuesday, June 29, 2010

"Isaac Newton" by Mitch Stokes will challenge your socks off!

If you want to be motivated and challenged by the story of an incredible life, "Isaac Newton" by Mitch Stokes will leave you fascinated by how much one man can contribute in a lifetime.

A part of the "Christian Encounters" series published by Thomas Nelson, this little book tells the story of Sir Isaac Newton, the greatest figure in the history of mathematics and science ... but don't let that scare you! The book is an easy, enjoyable read about the man, not the math!

Any reader can find themselves challenged and motivated reading about how Newton accomplished some of the greatest scientific and mathematical discoveries by the age of 24. Even though Newton spent his life as a philosopher, physicist, inventor and astronomer, his work was motivated by his faith. Newton didn't simply believe theology and science could exist harmoniously, but rather science was a key way of explaining theology. Although Newton wasn't known as a great theologian, he wrote extensively more about theology and religion than all of his other work combined.

This very private man, who avoided the spotlight and waited years to share with the world his greatest discoveries, was a towering intellect complete with all the flaws of any ordinary person. It will leave you wondering just how much you can contribute to humanity if you tried half as hard as Newton did.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Friday, June 25, 2010

The necessary ingredient for change ...

Do you remember when MTV was actually a television channel featuring music videos?

MTV has long since changed its content, currently offering very little in the way of music programming. It now offers a variety of programs, including several "reality" type shows targeted to younger audiences. One of the shows is called "Made." This reality show features a teen who wants to change something about themselves; they want to be "made" into someone other than who they are. The science whiz girl wants to become a beauty queen, the ordinary girl wants to become a lead singer of her own rock band, and the nerd wants to become king of his high school prom.

They want to be made into someone they think would be better than who they currently are.

In order to achieve the transformation, the teen is assigned a "Made Coach" who puts together a plan for bringing about the change the teen says they want. However, in most of the shows, very soon after starting their transformation program with the coach, they start rebelling against what is being expected of them to make the necessary changes. They quickly discover that to become someone different --- to so improve themselves that they actually change --- takes a lot of hard work and diligence on their part.

Most of the persons featured on the program start out wishing they were different but fight against the change required to be different. Critical to their success is the persistent challenge they face from their coaches.

What these teens go through on "Made" is very similar to what many of us experience in real life. We often wish we were different, but many of us don't go beyond wishing. When we actually do step out to pursue change, we tend to be quick to push against the challenges we face.

Yet challenge is key to making any change in our lives. Without being challenged either by ourselves, God, someone else, or changing circumstances, we usually will stay in our comfort zone. Change, growth, or any type of personal development, must have some kind of impetus --- a source of challenge --- for us to respond to in order for us to be motivated enough to do the work necessary to grow, achieve, or make significant changes in who we are.

Whether we grow into being someone different, someone better, or achieve the things we want to accomplish, depends on how we respond to the challenges we face in life. The more we push back the challenges that come our way, the less we'll change, the less we'll grow, and the less we will accomplish. But when we embrace life's challenges, and take them on with diligence, we can learn, change, grow, and achieve our greater potential.

What sources of challenge do you have in your life? How do you respond to the challenges you face?


Friday, June 18, 2010

He's not a midget, he's just shrinking ...

Have you ever noticed how children's books are often great places to discover nuggets of wisdom?

One of my favorite such books is "The Shrinking of Treehorn" by Florence Parry Heide. The book tells the unusual story of a little boy named Treehorn who, one morning, awoke to discover that he was shrinking.

As he continued to shrink, the only person who noticed that he was getting smaller was his mother, yet she didn't try to do much about the situation (after all, what do you do if your son is shrinking?). Even as Treehorn shrank so much he could hardly see the top of the dinner table while sitting in his chair, his father didn't notice the change in his son until Treehorn's mother brought it to his attention, and then the father's response was simply to scold Treehorn to make sure he wasn't shrinking "on purpose."

As Treehorn made his way through his day ... and continued to shrink ... no one noticed. Not his friends. Not the school bus driver. Not his school teacher. Not the school principal. No one noticed. Some thought something was different about him, but couldn't quite pinpoint what it was until Treehorn tried to explain that he was shrinking.

Even then, no one really seemed to notice.

Or care.

Fortunately, whatever it was that made Treehorn shrink went away and he soon found himself back to his former, regular size again.

But then, one morning, he awoke to discover he was turning green.

His hands were green. His arms were green. His face was green. He was green all over!

Treehorn sighed and then decided he wouldn't mention to anyone that he was green. After all, he reasoned to himself, "... if I don't say anything, no one will notice."

Chances are, some time in your life you have found yourself on both sides of Treehorn's experience.

Maybe you have had glaringly obvious challenges in your life that no one seemed to notice or care about. Perhaps you weren't shrinking, but you might as well have been considering the impact. Yet no one said anything, no one inquired about you, no one did anything for you. Or even if they did, no one really cared.

Well, Someone did notice and care!

David wrote this about God in Psalm 139:7-12:

"7 I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence! 8 If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there. 9 If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, 10 even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me. 11 I could ask the darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night— 12 but even in darkness I cannot hide from you. To you the night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are the same to you."

Matthew wrote this: "29 What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. 30 And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows" (Matthew 10:29-31).

Whatever was --- or is --- going on in your life, even if no one else sees or cares, GOD DOES! He sees everything about you and your life, He cares deeply, and He responds.

But how about you?

Do you notice those around you who are shrinking from the burdens of life? Do you see those who are green with emptiness, or pain, or need who are right in front of you? Do you respond to the people in your life who need someone who not only sees, and not only has feelings of care, but who need someone to help them through the shrinking or the changing colors in their lives? Do others have to tell you they are shrinking or green before you notice their need? And then, do you respond?

For all the Treehorns out there, the proverb says, "There are 'friends' who destroy each other, but a real friend sticks closer than a brother" (Proverbs 18:24). That friend is Jesus, who is waiting for you to share with Him whatever is going on in your life.

And for all those with Treehorns in their lives, be that friend who "... sticks closer than a brother."


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

How to build an A-Team ...

After an extended period of recruiting, you have finally pulled together a great team. You've been able to nab some of the best talent in various areas and now, by pooling all this talent and skill together, you expect great things for the future.

So it's time to hold your first meeting as a team. You gather in the conference room, greet everyone warmly with a broad smile, then hold hands and sing a stirring version of "Michael Row Your Boat Ashore."

Great meeting, right?

Of course not, but that's what many leaders might as well do once they've assembled a talented team together considering what they actually do with the talent they recruit.

So often, leaders focus so intensely on creating consensus from their pool of talent that they actually squelch the ability for the talents, skills, and experiences of their team members to come out. We're so afraid of hurting feelings that we don't create an environment where great ideas can be created by challenging each other to greater levels of thought and creativity.

Rarely do truly great ideas come from a first suggestion. But when talented people challenge each others' thinking, mediocre ideas can sometimes be polished into something great. To be able to accomplish that, you have to build an environment in which ideas are not only welcome, but constructively challenging ideas is expected by team members.

Great teams are not personality neutral. If you really want to get the best from your team members, give them the freedom to be who they are among their teammates, rather than trying to remove personalities. The result may be more raucous interactions, but the outcome will likely be talented individuals bringing their A-game and having that challenged to its best potential by other talented teammates. Cohesion as a team of talent who respect, but challenge and support one another, will consistently render better results than a team forced into leader-driven consensus.

How are you encouraging your team members to bring their talent, skills, experience and honest assessments to the attention of your team? Are you focused on talented cohesion, or peaceful consensus?


Friday, June 11, 2010

This teen girl schools us ...

You've spent time with a friend and, upon going your own way, you turn and say "Take care!"

We say it often ...

"Good to see you again, take care!"

"Look forward to seeing you again, take care!"

"Hope things go well for you, take care!"

"Take care" seems to roll off our tongues and out our mouths without much consideration of what we're really saying.

The problem most people have isn't in "taking care." Looking after our comfort, guarding against challenges, and keeping things as smooth as possible are commonplace for most people. We're good at "taking care."

But the results of "taking care" are often disappointing. Maybe we keep from rocking the boat, but we don't get far from the dock either. Persistently "taking care" keeps us from a greater engagement in life. It results in our playing it safe, which is a fast way of losing out on our greatest dreams in life.

Instead of encouraging each other with "take care," we would do better to challenge each other to "take a risk," "go for it," "give it a try," "rethink things," or any number of ways we can positively challenge each other to really, truly, fully engage in living life.

You cannot do that simply by "taking care."

That's a lesson 16-year-old Abby Sunderland has already learned.

People around the world are listening to the news today awaiting the rescue of Sunderlund who is now adrift all alone in the Indian Ocean. Abby set sail in her family's 40-foot yacht on January 23 to capture the world record of being the youngest person to sail solo around the world (a record briefly held by her then 17-year-old brother last year). She soon ran into equipment problems and had to stop for repairs. She gave up the goal of setting the record in April, but instead of "taking care" she continued on her journey. She recently ran into more trouble as her boat faced 30-foot waves in the Indian Ocean. The result was a broken mast, leaving her adrift and in need of rescue.

Much of the discussion surrounding Sunderlund is the wisdom of her parents allowing someone so young to take on such a monumental challenge alone. With that issue aside, what I find truly impressive is the courage and zeal for living that Abby displays. When you think of the "average" teen girl in Southern California, you don't usually think of someone so adventurous, so courageous, so skilled, that she would face the rigors of sailing a 40-foot boat all alone around the world. Regardless of your take on her story, Abby isn't one to sit and watch life go by.

Instead of "taking care," she's taking a risk to live out her dream. That 16-year-old girl is already displaying more raw courage than many of us will ever demonstrate in our lifetimes.

Long before Abby found herself in trouble in her boat, the disciples of Jesus had their own challenge with a raging storm. In Matthew 14, we read about the disciples struggling against strong winds and fighting heavy waves as they attempted to cross to the other side of the lake. In the middle of the storm, they spot Jesus walking on the water toward them. At first they were frightened that they were seeing a ghost. Jesus called out to them to calm their fears. That's when Peter spoke up, and we read the following account in Matthew 14:28-31:

"28 Then Peter called to him, 'Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.' 29 'Yes, come,' Jesus said. So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. 'Save me, Lord!' he shouted. 31 Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. 'You have so little faith,' Jesus said. 'Why did you doubt me?'"

Many focus on Peter's failure by sinking in the water when he let his fears get the best of him. But that's missing a big part of the story. Instead of "taking care," instead of playing it safe and staying in the boat like the others did, Peter engaged. He stepped out of the boat in the midst of a storm when he didn't have to. Walking on water wasn't the only way to verify it was really Jesus he was seeing. But Peter took a risk.

Among all the men who made that trip in the boat that night, who's faith do you think grew the most? Of them all, Peter would best understand what is really possible if, by faith and by keeping our eyes on Jesus, we do more than "take care" but actually step out of the boat and take courage.

In your journey in life, are you "taking care" or taking courage? Are you clinging to the boat, or stepping out of it to walk with Jesus on the waters of life?


Thursday, June 10, 2010

What are you hatching up?

Watching a baby chicken slowly, laboriously break its way free from the egg engulfing it is an amazing thing to watch.

With a hunger for life, the little creature struggles valiantly to escape from its shell to enter into a free life.

When I was a kid, there was a period of time my family lived on a small farm in Northern California. The place was complete with the "standard" farm animals, including chickens. For some reason, some of the hens wouldn't always "brood" on their nest of eggs, so we had to place some of the eggs in an incubator to provide the necessary consistent heat so the eggs would hatch. Without that warm environment, the little chicks would never break out of their eggs and live freely.

I think the church is a type of "spiritual incubator." It's a place where anyone can come who is engulfed with things that inhibit them from living freely in Christ. Provided with an environment consistently warm with the love of God enables us to break free from our inhibitors so we can freely become everything God has designed us to be.

That's how it should be, yet too many churches are more like inhibitors rather than incubators. Too often, Christians attempt to hold others back by placing their own demands on the lives of others in an attempt to constrain them. Kind of like moving a baby chick from one egg to another.

This has been a problem since the church began. In Acts 15:1-35, we see the story of how Gentiles were being converted to the Christian faith, yet some believers (who were still part of the sect of the Pharisees) insisted these Gentile converts be circumsized and follow the law of Moses. What they were really saying was, "Unless you become like us, you cannot become a part of us!"

When Paul and Barnabas heard about these demands, they argued vehemently against them. So a contingent of men, including Paul and Barnabas, were sent to Jerusalem to discuss the matter with the apostles and elders. Upon hearing what was happening, the leadership agreed with Paul and Barnabas, and suggested some restraint regarding certain behaviors. They issued a letter which stated in part, "... 28 For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay no greater burden on you than these few requirements: 29 You must abstain from eating food offered to idols, from consuming blood or the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality. If you do this, you will do well. Farewell” (Acts 15:28-29).

The leaders encouraged avoidance of certain behaviors, but removed the demands of conforming to the likeness of those who would put upon them burdens that Christ had died to free them of. This stand removed inhibitors to freedom in Christ and instead would provide an environment where faith and freedom in Christ would be warmly encouraged.

Today, we still try to inhibit others by placing upon them "greater burdens" than Christ requires. We want new converts to look, act, sound, behave, and think like us in order to be a part of "us." But God wants us to be who He has created us to be, and to be transformed to be like Jesus, not like us.

When it comes to interacting with those who enter into your fellowship, are you an inhibitor of following after Christ, or an incubator of faith and freedom in Christ?


Monday, June 7, 2010

The more we know, the dumber we get?

With ever-expanding sources of information in a booming "Information Age," some people are actually making poorer decisions.


Because they are making more decisions based on "information" rather than substantiated fact or truth.

Information can be a pool of anything: untested ideas, gossip, opinion, partial truths, sound truth, sales pitches, someone's preferences, lies, slander, or any variety of tidbits published or broadcast as information, and much of the information is dispersed without any fact-checking done prior to dissemination. With the deluge of information available to anyone, some are failing to distinguish between what is truth, and what isn't, but are simply making decisions based on information in front of them.

The result is more people making decisions, or even building whole opinions, on topics based on information they rely on without knowing the source(s) of information, or intent of the source, or even bothering to check where the information comes from, and whether or not it's accurate.

For example, we've already developed a mindset that if we need data from which to craft a decision, we "just Google it." For many, what Google churns out is what they form their opinions --- and decisions --- from. Yet, Google is just a channel for accessing a mass of information, not a provider of sorted, searched data with only reliable, wholly true results provided to the inquirer.

Christians are no exception to this sloppy use of information. By making decisions from simple information, many Christians are living their lives based on what they think the Bible says, rather than what it actually says.

For example, every day I see hundreds of "Christian platitudes" tweeted on Twitter or posted to Facebook or blog sites, many (if not a large majority) of which are biblically inaccurate. But they sound good and make people feel good, and so people embrace them as biblical guidance. Once when discussing with a "Twitter friend" a biblically inaccurate platitude he had shared, he commented that his tweet wasn't off "much." I pointed out that Satan was off "just a little" regarding truth in his conversation with Eve in the Garden, and the result was catastrophic.

A little false information taken as truth can be ruinous to a life, a relationship, a family, or a church or organization.

To avoid calamitous decision-making, we can learn a lesson about how to filter new information from a people who, long ago, were faced with new info that would be life-changing for them. The story of how the Bereans responded to new teaching is told in Acts 17:10-12, "10 That very night the believers sent Paul and Silas to Berea. When they arrived there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. 11 And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth. 12 As a result, many Jews believed, as did many of the prominent Greek women and men."

The Bereans were very responsive to Paul and Silas, yet they did not allow their responsiveness to make them sloppy with their decision-making. They listened to Paul's message, but then they diligently searched the scriptures every day to make sure the information they were receiving was true. Unlike many today, the Bereans made sure they lived their lives based on what the scriptures actually said, not simply what they thought it said.

What do you do with information you receive? How do you make decisions from information made available to you? What role, if any, does the Bible play in how you shape your opinions and make decisions?


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Leading with a Closed Door Policy ...

Every leader should establish a clear "Closed Door Policy" with those they work with.

We've been told repeatedly that good leaders maintain open door policies, yet we've never been given a good rationale as to why. The result is that leaders are routinely interrupted whenever anyone wants to talk or has a question.

That doesn't sound so bad, after all leaders need to be available. But too much availability hinders the productivity of the leader, reduces the problem-solving abilities and creativity of those working with the leader, and thus lessens the quality of everyone's work.

A better course is to clearly establish and explain how a closed door policy works. The leader explains that more often than not, he or she works with the door open. And when the door is open, others are free to stop by with their questions or to seek whatever assistance is needed from the leader.

However, there are times when a leader will close his door. Sometimes the leader needs to have an uninterrupted period of time to focus on his own work. The door will be closed during this time. There are also times where more sensitive issues will be discussed, and the door will be closed during these times as well. When the door is closed, the leader should not be interrupted unless there is an urgent matter that must have his immediate attention. If it's not urgent, it can wait until the leader makes him/herself available again.

A closed door policy helps the leader create the much needed focused time for his own work and is a means of encouraging others to be more effective and creative with their own problem-solving skills.

With such a policy clearly explained and understood by everyone, a leader can feel comfortable about occasionally closing the door and getting some work done!