I don’t know why, but I have always struggled more with receiving than giving. A friend of mine said it is a form of pride. With friends like that who needs enemies? Be that as it may, I just find it awkward to receive gifts from others. I love to give them. Generosity is actually a blessing to me. It’s in getting where I freeze up. Sometimes, especially if the gift is exceptionally generous, I have a hard time coming up with the right words. I have even had to go back later and try to give a better thank you and an apology.
Many years ago when times were very hard in Ghana, I preached at a poor village far in the north. It was summer and the heat of the Sahara was making itself felt in a terrible way. Still the people stood without a murmur for a lengthy service. Their response to the sermon was moving to say the least, and afterward several village elders made speeches thanking me for coming. The last man to the platform said the village wanted to bless me. At that, a woman came
I once visited a pastor who had sawed the legs off the visitor’s chair in his study. He said that intimidated those who sat there, made them feel small, peering over the edge of the desk like insignificant children. This same man told me that when he met a business leader for lunch, he was always a bit late. His reasoning was that the less important person always waits of the greater. What folly! What prideful, manipulative, silly games! Is it any wonder that later some of those businessmen over which he had towered and whom he had made to wait voted him out in a major church revolt?
On April 18, a terrorist bomb exploded in a bus in South Jerusalem wounding 21 Israeli citizens, some quite seriously. Delighted to see civilians wounded and maimed, Hamas was quick to praise the attack and promised more. A spokesman for the terror organization said it was "the first of many" such attacks to be perpetrated in the future.
That must be troubling and galling for Israelis to hear, but it was hardly the unkindest cut of all. That stab in the back came from US Vice President, Joe Biden who rushed into the post attack trauma with the comforting pronouncement that Palestinian murderers are not entirely to blame for their atrocities. It seems Biden has come to the mind boggling conclusion that blame for Palestinian murder lies at the door of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his policies.
No man is an island. Good alliances in life can be a source of empowerment and resources for advancement. But bad alliances can be a destructive source of great pain. There are many things that can make for bad “partnerships,” and I use the term loosely to mean top staff, high-level employees, and business partners.
Partners with vastly different values and visions, partners with bad morals and bad marriages, and partners whose work ethic are at odds with yours make for long, drought-stricken campaigns. Even partners whose personalities are irritating, despite their helpfulness or even spirituality, can dry up the water in a valley faster than you think.
I always advise engaged or nearly engaged couples to think on these same things. Look past his curly hair; that will fall out one day. Look past her cute little figure. Four babies in eight years can cause that to disappear like flowers in a magic show.
Look past those things and see that mildly bothersome, tiny little habit that just barely makes you wince to notice it on a date today. In a dry and barren valley, years from now, when the curly hair and cute figure are gone with the wind, that habit, that irritating, monstrous huge habit will remain, looming like Mount St. Helens ready to erupt and blow the top of off the whole thing. Take the partner, take the habit too. Both may be in your life for a long time.
Honesty is correct relationship with the highest level of reality. God Himself is ultimate reality. Truth is sacred because departure from truth is departure from God. The issue of truth is crucial to what we believe to be true about God and life.
Satan is a liar and the father of lies. Those who operate in right relationship to ultimate truth live in right relationship to who God is. They reflect on the character of their Father. Those who deal in deception reveal who their true father is. Satan is the father of and the center of all deception on this earth.
There are two kinds of dishonest communication. The first is simulation; the second is dissimulation. Simulation is to seem to be what we are not. Dissimulation is to seem not to be what we are.
I love basketball, but March Madness doesn't usually affect me, or should I say INFECT me, all that much. I like the intensity of basketball. I especially enjoy it if one of the teams has some particular meaning to me. I served as the president of two universities where basketball fever was pretty intense. I certainly got intense. Referees! What can I say? But that's for another column. Even so, I do not get all that revved up over bracketology. I seldom watch very many of the NCAA tournament games because I almost never have an emotional investment in any of the teams. However, I do occasionally find myself ensconced in my Archie Bunker recliner with a night off, plenty of not very healthy snacks and the relaxed mindset to just enjoy a game that's not likely to give me a heart attack, horrible refereeing notwithstanding.
I recently enjoyed just such an evening when North Carolina played Notre Dame. North Carolina won and won pretty handily but that is not what got my attention. Both teams were wonderfully talented. I suspect several future NBA players were on the court that night. At least one player could probably play there right now. Yet neither was that what really engaged me. Great players. Excellent coaches. A terrific game. Yet I was enthralled with something else.
Perhaps, even probably, you have never connected meekness and success. In fact, you only really need meekness when you are successful and powerful. Meekness is the virtue of the victor, not the defeated. Misunderstood by many, meekness is often thought to be only for weaklings. Nothing could be further from the truth. Meekness is the supreme virtue of leadership without which power becomes oppression. Meekness is power under control. Christianity itself is a contradiction that turns topside down the world’s understanding of what it means to be successful.
Now in all virtues there is what might be called the conviction of virtue. That is what we believe to be true about it. Then there is its theater of operation. That is, some circumstance is necessary to put the virtue in action. Fear, for example, must be present or courage cannot be called into action. In the same way, the rise to power calls for the virtue of meekness.
"Bodies at rest remain at rest. Bodies in motion remain in motion."
Sound familiar? I am quite certain you have heard and quoted Newton's First Law of Motion many times. Nowadays it is most often quoted in respect to exercise, which, since I am disinclined to do myself, I find irritating. Yet, it is actually one of the most important laws of physics.
This law explains, among other things, why seat belts are important. In a moving vehicle, your body is also moving. Hence, if the vehicle stops your body wants to keep moving ---- right out through the windshield!
Newton's Second Law of Motion is not so oft-quoted, but you know it by common sense or at least by observation.
"An object at rest will not begin to move without the application of an unbalanced force, and neither will a body in motion change speed or direction without just such an unbalanced force."
Ok. So what? And how, exactly does any of that apply to leadership?
The National Institute of Christian Leadership was carefully designed with practicality as its preeminent and presiding value. I have developed every page of the NICL material with one idea as my true north. Keep it practical. That was the foundation upon which the NICL was created and it remains my singular determination. I continue to tweak the dials, constantly trying to enrich the material, add to it, carve out the superfluous, and improve the presentation.
This year-long program is now fuller and better and uses more sophisticated technology than ever. There are, for example, well over 275 individual graphic presentations from which the lectures are presented. Hundreds of leaders in business, the ministry, education and even politics have attended and graduated. Many have gone on to seek graduate degrees from multiple universities.
Three college presidents have attended. An Oklahoma state senator attended, as have pastors of mega churches and, in fact, churches of every size. Business persons from real estate to publishing to construction have attended and found the NICL invaluable. Students have commuted (four times in the year of the NICL) from multiple countries including Brunei, Myanmar, Albania, Israel, Canada and Australia among others.
Why? That is a serious question. Why do leaders who are incredibly busy with jobs and companies and large ministries take the time to attend the NICL and subsequently describe the program as "the most important educational experience of my life?” Why would the founder and owner of one of the world's most prominent Christian publishing companies say the NICL "transformed my company?" Why are more than one hundred pastors bringing the Institute to Australia in 2016? Why?
“His servants shall serve him” (Revelation 22:3)
God only knows the billions of dollars and countless kilowatts of emotional and psychological energy that have been wasted by people in search of purpose. Many plunge through relationships, jobs and avocations in a frantic madness that is both terrifying and tragic to watch.
A weekend farmer who once lived near us let his new BMW roll backward into his lake. How this happened we were never quite sure, but he swore he had backed up into the lake to get his fishing gear out of the trunk. When he got out to go around to the trunk, he accidentally left the car in reverse. At least that was his story.
What we do know is that he then backed up his new tractor to the lake in order to tow out the submerged BMW. When he got down to attach the two chain, the tractor rolled back onto the BMW, smashing the front in and driving it even further into the muddy lake bottom.
Unwilling to admit defeat, he then ran a line underneath the tractor from a winch on the the rear to the crossbeam on the barn. But the weight of the tractor, now hopelessly enmeshed in the bumper and grill of the nearly destroyed luxury car, was greater than he realized. He watched with horror as the winch inexorably cranked the line in under the tractor, pulling the barn roof into the lake on top of the two stranded vehicles.
The inimitable Bill O'Reilly now fines his guests who use any of several shop worn phases. Notable among these is "at the end of the day." Whether they actually pay up, I have no way of knowing. It may be a "theoretical" fine. However, watching O'Reilly from a distance, one tends to think they pay before they leave the set. He does not seem the type to let such miscreants off with a scolding.
While I have no power or inclination to fine anyone, I find that there are several phrases which have worn out their welcome with me. Not the least wearisome of these is "passion." Apart from either romance with my wife or in reference to the Passion of Jesus, I hope never to use it again. It seems that folks everywhere now feel obligated to have a passion for something. Art, music and wine apparently top the acceptable list. I recently met a woman whose passion for Amish furniture would surely be shocking to the Amish.
No one is allowed to have an interest or, God forbid, a hobby. That would far too prosaic. No, it must be a passion. I am sure I will soon meet someone with a passion for passion fruit.
Where it becomes more than mildly irritating, however, is the way people talk about real life. Smug leadership gurus admonish us to "find our passion and pursue it." While I may understand what they mean, I cannot help but think how such a platitude must grate on the nerves of folks who
How very like David the king this statement is. David knew all about enemies. His whole life he was surrounded by enemies. The ravenous beasts who wanted his sheep were the enemies of his childhood. And what a childhood it was! After the lions and bears came Goliath, then Saul, the Philistines, the Ammonites, the Hittites, the Jebusites, palace plotters, one of his own sons, and finally, old age. When David wrote of enemies he knew whereof he spoke. He lived his life in the presence of enemies.
It is no wonder then that he speaks of God’s loving providence in the midst—not in the absence—of enemies. David never said God would give me a life without enemies. He did say that God has not forsaken me when gossipers and detractors and envious plotters are circling me like hungry wolves.
As a university president and as a businessman, I frequently needed cash flow projections from my chief financial officer. In order to understand those projections I had to know the assumptions they were based on. Likewise, the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23 are based on a certain set of assumptions.
Here are the seven assumptions of the Lord’s Prayer.
I am no fan of the "non-competitive culture" nonsense being cultivated in many schools today (especially elementary schools). In real life, competition is part of the human experience. In business, politics, sports or whatever, competition exists. In a silly effort to keep from damaging some child's self image, such efforts to shield him/her from the momentary pain of losing, actually fail to instill character. Setbacks, losses, the pain of not being the best or the first, is real life. How can a child learn to deal with that, to manage the emotions those moments engender, if they never feel the pain? I am opposed to giving winners and losers the same trophy. "Participation" trophies, so called, are anathema to me. The kid or team who wins gets the biggest trophy. Period. That's the way it is in real life and the sooner they learn it the better.
Having said that, the kid who gets the biggest trophy may not learn the biggest lesson. If they win too much, too often, too easily they may never learn it. I know the parents who take the losing child home have a difficult job to do. They have to manage that painful moment, encourage their child to try again harder, and reassure them they are loved irrespective of performance. However, their teaching task is not nearly so daunting as the parents of the constant winner.
Winning easily and consistently can translate inside a child's psyche to many really dangerous life views, such as:
David knew plenty about those seasons of life in which a soul needs to be restored. Following his terrible failure with Bathesheba, which by the way included not just adultery but a cover-up conspiracy and murder for hire, David's soul needed to be restored. After the Bathsheba episode, David's soul was wounded by his own sin, public embarrassment, deep personal shame, and a guilt-ridden conscience.
Ziklag was a very different kind of wound, but my suspicion is that when it was over his soul needed restoration. As we discussed in chapter 3, before he became king of Israel, David was the leader of a band of very dangerous
Here is a statement that should give no one a flicker of pause: Jesus was not a Christian. Jesus never knew a Christian or knew anyone that became a Christian until after His crucifixion. He was Jewish and all of His companions were Jewish. All of those He taught were Jewish except a very few scattered Gentile tourists, some in Syrophoenicia and here and there a Roman soldier. The prayer that we call The Lord’s Prayer is thoroughly Jewish, taught by a Jewish rabbi to a Jewish audience in Israel. Therefore, it is no surprise that the prayer is quite consistent with the main stream of Jewish prayer.
More surprising by far is that Psalm 23, written by King David a thousand years before Jesus was born, is more similar to Christian prayers, at least in one important way. Most Jewish prayers are corporate in nature; that is, they are usually plural in their language. The Lord’s Prayer is a perfect example. “Our Father . . .” “Give us . . .” “Forgive us . . .” This is characteristic of most Jewish prayers, especially liturgical prayers, which are commonly about the Jewish people, the land, the nation, or the family.
"Quitters never win, and winners never quit."
That shop-worn saying denounces quitters and quitting in no uncertain terms. As is true of most folk proverbs, there is a mixture of truth and error in it. Certainly, quitting too soon, giving up the minute the going gets a bit rough is a sure sign of an undeveloped character. For example, we have become a nation of marriage quitters. Instead of hacking through the rough jungle of marital hurt with the machetes of counseling and perseverance and forgiveness, Americans rush to quit. For many, the default position is to bail out without even considering the possibility of doing the hard work to get through whatever tangled mess their marriage is in -- regardless of who got them there.
If quitting means diving for the escape hatch at the first sign of hardship, well, such quitters as that will seldom win. Often, quite often, great leaders must stay the course when the winds are contrary. Encouraging the team while coming up with new strategies, great leaders can steer the ship on through the storms of adversity. Many times victory is just ahead for those who hang in there.
On the other hand, the proverbial wisdom about quitting can sometimes be an ego trap to keep leadership heading straight toward disaster. Lurking in dark side of perseverance is a stubborn refusal to listen to face reality or wise counsel. Sometimes quitting is the right thing to do. Even as I wrote that last sentence I could hear the complaints. I should probably stop right here, but I refuse to quit. While it may be true that quitters never win, it is also true that sometimes winners quit.
Here are a few thoughts on quitting.
When I was in undergraduate school, my Western Literature professor was a young firebrand atheist who made no secret of his disdain for religion. One day in class someone asked him what he thought was the greatest single poem ever written. He shocked us all when he answered Psalm 23.
“We thought you were an atheist,” someone called out.
“I am,” he answered. “Two years ago our baby died. My wife is a Catholic and insisted on having a priest do the funeral. I did not want any such thing, and I was very angry at her and that old priest. At the grave he prayed Psalm 23 and I, who believe not one word of it, felt deeply moved. Some unexplainable wave of comfort swept over me. I don’t believe in God but I believe in poetry. Any poem that can move you like that, against your will, is great poetry.”
When Seutonious, the Roman historian, explained the downfall and death of Marc Anthony, he blamed a flaw in Anthony's character as much as the strategy of his enemy, Octavian. In his pathology of Anthony's astonishing political and military collapse, the historian of the Caesars employed an intriguing Greek word. Literally translated, eklusis simply means to unstring a bow. Figuratively, however, it implies a loss of focus and the resulting loss of energy.
When a bow is strung, energy is in the bow. Unstrung, it loses all its energy. An unstrung bow is hardly more than a stick with a string attached. The energy is in the tension, in the taught string and the bent bow. Furthermore, a strung bow is ready to be used for its purpose. Unstrung, the bow is unprepared for much of any immediate use. Between the unstrung bow and the launching of the arrow, there is now a missing step of preparation and the restoration of energy.
This "unstringing" process is often a matter of distraction. Living in luxury in the Eastern half of the Roman Empire, indulging himself with Cleopatra, and according to Seutonious, frequently staying drunk, Marc Anthony quite obviously forgot the point. Soft, distracted and unprepared, Anthony, could not hope to defeat the ferociously energetic and obsessively focused enemy, who was to become Caesar Augustus.
With the upcoming release of my new book, 21 Seconds to Change Your World, I thought it would be a great opportunity to share an excerpt. Below is the foreword, written by my friend, Mark Batterson. I am so grateful for his kind words and I hope this book will be a blessing to you. To order your copy please visit 21secondsbook.com.
Foreword by Mark Batterson
Have you ever heard someone talk about how their entire life changed—their entire life saved—because they had a thought that was just out of character enough to think upon it and act upon it?