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Life Lessons from Carlisle

Stewart Ave   

     Recently, in a car service on the way to the Atlanta Airport, I found myself with a remarkably talkative driver named Carlisle. Evidently he fancied himself something of a tour guide and social commentator as well as a shuttle driver. Always impressed by folks who add the little extras, I turned off my cell phone and listened. He was jolly, knowledgeable and something of an asphalt philosopher.

     "This street here that we on now is named Metropolitan Parkway. That's the new name. It didn't used to be named that. It used to be named Stewart Avenue and it was one of the worst places in Atlanta. Drugs, prostitution, crime; you name it, it was on Stewart Avenue."

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Brand Recovery

R    

A man on an airplane told me his organization was considering hiring on a "brand consultant." This interested me since branding and brand recovery is something I teach on at the National Institute of Christian Leadership. As we talked further, however, I realized that he had several words very confused: brand, logo and tag line. Since that conversation I have come to realize that many folks, even in some sophisticated businesses, suffer considerable confusion in this area. What my friend actually was hiring was a "logo design expert." It was not my job to define terms without being asked and our snippet of a conversation certainly did not afford us the time. What I couldn't help wondering was if the company he was consulting with was confused. Surely the consultants will clarify the terms in the course of the contract. For the purpose of today's Notebook: some brief definitions are in order.

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The Anointing of God and The Fear of "Book Larnin' "

Butler Library, Columbia
    Fear of formal education has long existed on the part of some in the Christian world. Unfortunately this has gained and maintained traction because of well-documented "failures of mission" at some major, and shall we say famous, institutions. Their retreat from the values and original purposes that brought them into being have been the subject of broad research and commentary. No one can deny that schools such as Harvard and Yale have drifted far from the dock where they were once moored. Liberals call this drift "maturity." The rest of us see ever so clearly that it is the extinguishing of the lamp lit there at the start.

     The Harvard story and many others like it have not made it easy to advocate for higher education, and continuing education, especially in the ministry. Likewise, some in the Christian world, having seen what happened in such schools, have assumed an adversarial posture with ministerial education as a whole. In a culture where education is revered, ministers can marginalize themselves by their lack. I heard someone say recently that, "Letters after your name don't make you any smarter or more anointed." True. Oh, so true.

     On the other hand those very letters may open doors. There may be entire populations that prove unreachable by ministers without formal education. Cosmopolitan congregations have a right to expect the pastor to know the difference

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Why Go to Israel and Why Go Now?

Israel Flag

     I believe in Israel. It's not just that I'm pro-Israel, which I am. I believe in Israel as a modern historical miracle of the first order. For two thousand years the entire world had written Israel off as a once and never again ancient kingdom. Israel, they thought, had been swallowed up forever by bigger and better nations and had been left on the cutting room floor of history. Persia, Egypt, Rome and Turkey as well as every other ancient empire devoured the biblical homeland of the Jewish people like bread. The Crusaders tried to make Jerusalem into a European capital with a Christian king. Saladin made it a Muslim city, and the Ottoman Empire claimed Judea as a conquered possession.

     Every great conqueror from Alexander the Great to Genghis Khan to Napoleon Bonaparte and even General Allenby felt some unexplainable lust to conquer Jerusalem and what had once been Israel. Why? What is the irresistible attraction that compels mighty nations and empires to ache to plant their flag in tiny Israel, especially in Jerusalem?

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Chicken Little, the Feds, and "Misleading Ideas"

Chicken Little, the Feds, and "Misleading Ideas"

     This week marks the first year of The Leader's Notebook. That means I've posted 52 blogs on a variety of topics from current events to leadership to management to religion. A fraternity (or sorority) of 300-500 regular readers has developed and I am honored that they read so consistently.

     Thank you to all those readers. I hope you will stay with me for year number two and PLEASE tell you friends in the real world and in twitter-sphere about The Leader's Notebook.

     I thought I would write this anniversary blog on some jolly idea that would brighten every reader's day. Then I read a press release that rocked my day. Hoping it was not correct, or, more likely, that I had simply misunderstood its implications, I was reluctant to play Chicken Little without confirmation and clarification.

     Today's Notebook is a plea really, more than a commentary. I am asking someone to tell me that what I'm about to write is not really happening. I'm pleading for exactly that.

      A relatively quiet news item caught my eye and after reading it I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Literally. The further I read the more concerned I became. I have not heard one main line newscaster or pundit sound an alarm. Perhaps they are and I'm just not hearing them. Maybe there are sober-minded folks in the media and in politics who are screaming bloody murder and I'm just not in the right place at the right time to hear them. I certainly hope so.

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The Supernatural Power of Loyalty

Loyalty

    The redemptive grace of loyalty is so powerful that it can literally fill any situation with healing and miraculous blessings. Any force that powerful, however, cannot be violated without dire consequences. There are few virtues in the kingdom more honored by God that loyalty. Absalom’s doom was sealed by his disloyalty to David, but David’s loyalty to an unworthy Saul confirmed his destiny for the throne.

    In the household of Naaman, a Syrian general, there lived a young Jewish slave girl. She had been captured by a Syrian raiding party. Stolen from her family, alone in a foreign land, she served as a personal slave to Naaman’s wife, hardly a circumstance to inspire loyalty. Even the most outwardly obedient slave might murder his master mentally. Yet

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Heaven is Hopeless

Jesus Feeds 5000
     Ok, I want some interaction on this blog. Maybe help is a better word. I'm formulating a list of outrageous theological statements, or statements that at least sound outrageous at first glance. I have come up with a burgeoning list but I want more. Today's Notebook is a tease, or perhaps a plea. Today I will briefly discuss just a few of the outrageous truths on my list in an attempt to prime the pump of public participation. A dear friend of mine, whose day-to-day thoughts are pretty outrageous, has contributed already. What I'm requesting is that you read these and add some truths of your own. I may cobble them together into a small book. I may use them in teaching. I may just amuse myself and some of my more outrageous friends.

     The idea is this. Make statements that are right but do not sound right, or may not sound right until they are explained. The more outrageous they sound the better. The thing is, though, they have to be true. Anybody can think up outrageous theological nonsense. The question is, can you think up outrageous sounding truth? Here are a few sample "outrageous truths." Read these and then let me see your contributions. How outrageous are you?

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Jesus: CEO

Jesus Feeds 5000

     At a diverse variety of organizations, across a span of about forty-five years, I experienced leadership at many levels. Nearly twenty years of that time was spent as a CEO, leading organizations with a combined total of about a thousand employees and combined annual budgets of nearly $200M. Throughout that time I was constantly trying to understand better what my real job was. I know that sounds awful. Am I saying that I never knew what I was doing in those positions? Absolutely not.

     I am saying I have dedicated myself to trying to understand and teach the various roles of the senior leader. Not the formal duties written out and filed somewhere and pretty much taken for granted. I don't mean specified duties such as

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Physics and Leadership: The Passion and The Pit Crew

Nascar

      An interest in physics, of all things, is one of the lesser eccentricities of my life. Let me be clear. I am not saying I understand physics. I am simply interested in some aspects of it in the same way I am drawn to opera, which I am, and which is yet another somewhat embarrassing admission. I am certainly no opera aficionado. It's just something that appeals for reasons I cannot fully explain. Often in a language I cannot understand with absolutely unsingable music, opera is a fascinating display of complex staging, antique-sounding music and bizarre costumes all passionately over-done, way over the top, in a way that somehow intrigues me. You just haven't lived until you seen “In the Hall of the Mountain King.” Valkyries? Oh, yeah!

      Physics has become something like that to me. It is in a language I do not speak. I grant you that. But when I hear it spoken, I am drawn to it. Go figure. This is a late in life aberration. I certainly do not cherish happy memories of the

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Rockets Over Houston

Hamas Rocket

     Ever heard the proverbial statement that there are two sides to everything? I'm sure you have. The only problem is that is not always true. In fact, it is frequently not true. Instead the old saying is often used as camouflage by the person or persons in the wrong.

     The wife beater tells the arresting officer, “There's two sides to everything.”

     No there is not. Not in that case anyway.

     When a mutinous associate pastor walks off with half the church and plants a new church down the block, there are not two sides to that. An inescapable ethical reality presides over that story. Any claim of "justification" is silenced.

     The old saw about two sides is just plain not always right. In my childhood in Texas I grew up hearing another proverb, a better one. It goes like this: “Right is right and wrong ain't nothing.”

     I invite you to go back and read my column, A Parable of Presbyterians and Palestinians dated June 25, 2014 here. It was written before Hamas started its most recent rocket bombardment of the civilian population of Israel. Since 2001,

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The Strikeout King

The Strikeout King

         Last night the Major League Baseball All-Stars played. Everybody imagines that at some moment of great struggle they will heroically rise to the occasion and be that shining champion so adored by the masses, tipping their hat to the cheering throng. Every one of us has fantasized of stepping to the plate and "jacking one out of the park" in an All-Star game. Perhaps not in baseball, but in ballet or business or some endeavor or another. No one daydreams of striking out. The Leaders' Notebook today is not for the untarnished winners. Today's blog is dedicated to all those who have ever

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Worthy Dreamers

Worthy Dreamers


Excerpt from
DREAM
by Dr. Mark Rutland

The word dream is used variously to mean both that product of the subconscious mind while we sleep and the conscious fruit of the mind that dares actively to envision that which is not. Both are valid uses of the word, and the two are not as disparate as many think.

Joseph dreamed a dream in his sleep, Martin Luther King Jr. in his soul. “I have a dream” is perhaps the most exhilarating, attractive, dangerous, wondrous announcement we can make about ourselves. Intimidated or inspired, repulsed or magnetized, the world responds to a dream received. The power of a dream received can polarize a society, transform a culture, start a work or end an evil.

A dream transmitted, even transmitted by heaven, is useless without a willing receptor. Even so, there are unanswerables. For example, is God constantly granting dreams to the many, and only a few receive? What makes God

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David Wins Again

Hobby Lobby

     The recent decision of the United States Supreme Court in the Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius case is incredibly important and wonderful news for all who love religious liberty. However, some have misunderstood its significance. I am indescribably opposed to the entirety of The Affordable Care Act (read Obamacare). It is arguably the single worst piece of legislation in the USA since Reconstruction. I hope the entire law will be repealed. I am saying all that so that no reader will misunderstand what I say next.

     The Hobby Lobby win is important not because the Obamacare law itself is wrong-headed, which it certainly is, but because the section on contraception and, most importantly, abortive prescriptions, is unconscionable and utterly unconstitutional. No matter what anyone thinks of Obamacare as a whole, liberals, democrats, republicans and conservatives should be horrified that that portion of the law was ever passed. Likewise, all who love liberty should rejoice that it was struck down.

     This decision upholds again that the government cannot force private parties to buy products which violate their consciences. If this case had failed in the Supreme Court it could have paved the way for the government to force us to pay for anything it deemed worthy irrespective of our conscience. In my opinion the entire Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional but this section was absolutely terrifying in its implications. What if the

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A Parable of Presbyterians and Palestinians

Jerusalem

     Imagine that your next door neighbor, without asking your permission, cut down all the trees in your back yard. In response, you built a privacy fence between your house and his and replanted the trees. Now imagine that he organized others in your subdivision to protest against your fence. The HOA charged you with being "un-neighborly" and demanded that you take down the fence. When you mention the trees, you are told, "Well, that was unfortunate but you provoked it. In theory we are opposed to that regrettable tree-cutting episode but that was then. This is now, and now we demand the fence be taken down."

     "What if he does it again?" you demand. "He is still throwing beer cans and garbage over the fence into my yard. Nearly every day. My children are afraid to play in the back yard. If I remove the fence he will just come back in and do worse. What do you say about that?"

     "What do we say to that? We say you should move. We cannot condone what he does to damage your yard or endanger your children, but on the other hand, you have a better car than he does, your yard is landscaped much more

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An Open Letter

National Institute of Christian Leadership

      The Leader's Notebook today is different from anything I have ever posted before. It is, on the one hand, quite clearly an advertisement. I hope it will entice you to attend the National Institute of Christian Leadership. On the other hand, I also want you to know about this Institute even if you never attend. In the first place, it may be that someone you care about would benefit greatly from this program.

     I also just want you to know about one of Global Servants' most successful and productive programs. Many of my readers' only connection is through this blog. While I am delighted for such folks, I also want every reader to understand

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Leadership Secrets of a Good Interview

Leadership Secrets of a Good Interview

     Every employer has made or eventually will make a bad hire. If you already have this unhappy box checked, welcome to the club. If you have not yet made an unfortunate choice, your seat at the table awaits you. It's probably just a matter of time. If you have made a bad hire and you are merely living in denial, its time to face the truth and "man up."

     Having said all that, I want to offer a few insights on the interview process, which thoughts, I believe, can he helpful in making good hiring decisions. No system is infallible. I know that. However, when I have carefully followed a few simple

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HGTV and the Coliseum: Back to the Future

HGTV and the Coliseum

This week's Leaders' Notebook is something of a departure. It is actually more of a historical/cultural commentary than a leadership piece.  I wrote this article for publication elsewhere but it will be a while before it comes out, so I thought I would let you get a chance to read it first.

     It is difficult to separate tradition from history with regard to the various waves of persecution endured by Christians under the Roman Empire. The numbers of Christians crucified and thrown to wild beasts may be exaggerated, as some maintain. Perhaps. That this happened in some numbers is undeniable. The first emperor to launch an official state-

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The VA Hospital Crisis: The Danger in Bureaucratic Back Alleys

The VA Hosptial Crisis

       An administrative snarl can tangle the line in any large organization, and the larger it is, the more likely the mess. No matter how carefully plans are made, regardless of the policies and procedures in place, and despite all management practices, someone somewhere down in the belly of the beast can drop a monkey wrench in the works and do serious damage.

     The full-time federal work force has now surpassed 2.5 million employees. In other words there is a full-time federal employee for every 121 Americans. That is a massive work force managed by a vast and complicated bureaucracy. One can only imagine how easy it might be for a non-productive worker to hide bad practices or even criminal activity in the entrails of such a monster. Given such a mass of humanity and the very human tendency to sin, it is inevitable that some

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"Not Your Father's Oldsmobile" - A Cautionary Tale

Excerpt from
RELAUNCH: HOW TO STAGE AN ORGANIZATIONAL COMEBACK
by Dr. Mark Rutland


The demise of Oldsmobile is a textbook example of a company getting ahead of itself and changing its message before it had a new market to align with the new message. Management at Oldsmobile realized that it had a specific market that wanted a specific kind of car. For decades they had been convinced that there would always be people who wanted Oldsmobiles, and that those people would always want Oldsmobiles to look like Oldsmobiles. They did quite well with that market. The problem was that they were securing a growing share of a shrinking market. The people who wanted Oldsmobiles were elderly, and they were dying. Young people didn't want Oldsmobiles.

Seeing the handwriting on the wall, Oldsmobile hired an advertising agency to create a last-gasp, hail-Mary campaign to

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There's No Such Thing as Overstating Vision

Excerpt from
RELAUNCH: HOW TO STAGE AN ORGANIZATIONAL COMEBACK
by Dr. Mark Rutland

In fascinating slow-motion photography, Dr. Mike Wheatland, a professor at the University of Syndney specializing in solar astrophysics demonstrated the quite surprising movement of a suspended Slinky. Holding the Slinky at the top, he let it hang straight down, unfurled as it were. He then let go. The slow- motion photography proved that for a time (brief though it was) the bottom end did not fall. The Slinky collapsed from the top down. The sections at the top began to contract while the bottom stayed where it was.

 

This was caused, he explained, because the information that the slinky was no longer held in place at the top took some period of time to reach the bottom. In fact, by the time that information did reach the bottom it was distorted. The very top

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