I Don’t Know

I would offer these words readily if I returned to the pastorate today. I remember a radio show (kids, that’s what we listened to before podcasts!) when I was in college where people called and asked the host their questions about the Bible, theology, spiritual living, etc. The host then drew on his command of memorized Bible verses, theological training, and spiritual insight to give them the answer they need to their questions. My friends and I came away impressed with how much this guy knew. At the time I thought, “That’s who I want to be. A guy who has all the answers to people’s burning questions. What can be more spiritual than that?”

As a young pastor myself, I often felt the pressure to have the answers. Congregation members come to pastors with spiritual questions relating to the challenges they face in their lives. Sometimes they want to know what the Bible says. Sometimes they want to know what it means. Sometimes they hope it justifies their decisions. Sometimes they want it to condemn the actions of others. And on it goes. One thing you can be sure—there’s always a question behind the question. And I felt compelled to have the answer.

In preaching sermons I always felt I had to answer the questions around difficult passages of the Bible. Truthfully, it’s common to spend hours studying the Bible and to come away with more questions than answers. But when I stood up Sunday morning, I believed I had to present the answers rather than the questions. From time to time, I would hold Q&A sessions with our college group—my own chance to play Bible Answer Man. I saw it as a chance to hear what issues were on people’s minds. And it was a chance to show my theological knowledge and build my credibility.

As a business leader at Lisa Leonard Designs over the last seven years I have had the privilege to travel around the country and around the world. I have talked with many fascinating people from different countries, religions and walks of life. I’ve heard a whole different set of questions than anyone asks in the Church.

I’ve taken an even bigger journey into the inner recesses of my own heart and soul. I see how badly I needed to prove myself as a pastor—to me and to everyone around me. I’ve mined the cavernous voids inside me driving me to possess the answers and solve people’s problems. My insecurities prevented me from the deepest levels of honesty with myself and therefore with others. This limited my ability to show up with others. My need for approval prevented me from uttering the honest truth. Three simple words. I don’t know.

Worst of all, my need to be a Pastor with all the answers prevented me from being a guy with honest questions. In studying the Bible, I was often so concerned to find the answers I rarely took time to understand my own questions. When the Bible doesn’t readily make sense, questions open up possibilities. Answers shut it down and make the text manageable again. In listening to people, I was so focused on coming up with the answers, I didn’t take time to listen to their questions. I missed the chance to ask how they see their own situation. Or to ask what they think they should do. Or to even to challenge them to sit with their own question a while longer. During Q&A, perhaps I should have turned the table and asked the students questions to help us learn from each other.

A mentor tells me in ancient Jewish schools the question at the end of the day differs from our dinner time conversations today. It’s common to ask our children, “What did you learn at school today?” The question around the Jewish table was, “What questions did you ask today?” The idea being, the quality of your learning is based on the quality of your questions. Today I try to live my life and run our business by asking more questions and having fewer answers.

If I were to return to the pastorate, I would ask more questions and offer fewer answers. As a CEO, I strive to ask questions and admit I am not the omni-competent leader. As a dad, raising young men, my favorite conversations begin with Matthias’s questions. Sometime he needs advice, but usually he needs a listening ear and guidance to work out the issue himself. I am trying to ask more questions these days.  Most of all, I hope have gained the humility to simply say, “I don’t know.”

How to Communicate So You’re Heard

What_They_HearCommunication is what the other person hears.

Earlier this week I was on the receiving end of a customer service transaction that reminded me of one of my big lessons from 2013. Simply put, communication is what the other person hears. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say that what I was trying to communicate was NOT what was being heard. The moment she heard what would make the transaction easier for her as the employee, she stopped communicating what would be easier for me as the customer.

A musician friend taught me the concept of musical dynamics this past summer (note: I am not a musician and so will surely get this at least partly wrong). Musical dynamics are the way a listener hears music. It’s why when you hear that high school band play they sound like a wall of muddy notes slipping down past your ears. Each band member plays his instrument like they’re the star of the show. The drummer plays louder and harder. The guitarist cranks her amp to be heard over the drums. The singer yells over the guitar and drums.

When a Beatles song comes on every person in the room wants to move to the beat. It’s crisp. Each person plays his role in the band—hitting each note, beat, and harmony with perfection. That’s musical dynamics. It can be fun for musicians to play for themselves like the high school band. But when musicians have great dynamics, it’s nearly magical for the listener.

Communication is what the other person hears. A band communicates through music. A preacher communicates through words and illustrations. Retailers communicate through marketing. People communicate by our words and behaviors.

To communicate well, we have to be other-focused. We have to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes to hear what they hear, see what they see, and experience what they experience. It changes the dynamics of every interaction.

In your interactions this week, listen to yourself through the other person’s ears. Watch your face and your body language through the other person’s eyes.  Then ask, “Am I communicating to get my message out, or to have it received?”

I’d love to know—what have you found that helps you communicate well?

Seven Men and the Secret of Their Greatness

George-Washington-Great-ManDo you seek out examples for your life? 2013 renewed my desire to read biographies and find worthy examples from whom to learn. It’s easy to see great men and women and to think, “I could never do something like that. I don’t have the…education, money, intelligence, connections, skills…that they have.” One of my great take-a-ways from the book Mindset this year (see my post here) is that we have a choice when we see examples of success—we can feel threatened by them, or we can find lessons and inspiration from them.

I’ve read biographies for many years to learn from great people of the past and present. This year, I began to engage with them afresh to learn from people who made a significant difference in the world—especially because of and for the sake of the gospel.

I closed out the year reading the excellent Seven Men and the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas. I read Metaxas’s biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer in 2012 and loved it. When I saw this quick character study on these seven men, I knew it would be a great read and that Metaxas would handle these men in a way that showed what made them great—including their humanity and flaws. I was not disappointed. I commend the book especially for men and dads of boys looking for worthy models for themselves and their sons to follow. These seven men were great in the history of the world and were driven by their understanding of God’s grace in their lives. Consider these brief highlights:

George Washington—An ambitious, even arrogant young man who sought the highest possible leadership roles. But, the only man in history to lay aside his power after conquering the superpower of his day.

William Wilberforce—A self-centered, self-aggrandizing politician who schmoozed his way into high position in the British Parliament.  After coming to faith, he campaigned for decades for the abolition of the slave trade in England, France, Spain and the Americas, the abolition of slavery in Engalnd, the fair treatment of animals (in the 1700’s people!), the dignity of  workers and more.

Eric Liddell—Famous for his refusal to run the Olympics on the Sabbath because of his faith, Liddell showed his faith more profoundly by looking after the children in a concentration camp while a missionary in China. He died in their service.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer—The genius German theologian who saw the German’s treatment of the Jews in WWII through the lens of the racial segregation in America. Pastor Bonhoeffer was executed for his role in the Valkerie plot to kill Hitler.

Jackie Robinson—The talented athlete whose record of standing up to racial injustice  and stats won him a place on Branch Ricky’s Brooklyn Dodgers to break the color barrier in baseball. Robinson and Ricky took Jesus at his word, “To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either.

Pope John Paul II—A poor Polish kid, Karol Wojtyla,  who grew up in the shadow of Hitler’s Germany and quietly rose in the ranks of the Roman Catholic Church by resisting communism’s , investing in teenagers, writing theological treatises on sex, and human dignity. Wojtyla, unexpectedly elected Pope, became one of the 20th century’s most well-known advocates for the oppressed, reconciliation between religious groups, and personal devotion to the Lord.

Charles W. Colson—The power-hungry and ruthless special counsel to President Nixon who was arrested and imprisoned for his significant role in the Watergate scandal that took down the President of the United States. On meeting Jesus (just prior to his imprisonment), Colson realized that his life was to be given in the service of his fellow inmates—proclaiming to the gospel and equipping them to live it out behind bars. Even developing robust worldview resources to reach people before they had committed their crimes.

I am thankful for Metaxas’s work in bringing these heroes to life. In our day, we need realistic portraits of heroes for ourselves and for our children. I plan to share these stories with David and Matthias in the days ahead that they might have real life examples of those who lived out a deep understanding of God’s grace and his redemption of His world.

Question: What have you read in the past year that inspired you?

 

10 Ways to Live a Life Worth Living

10_Way_to_Live_a_Life_Worth_LivingI recently turned 40 and have been taking stock of my life—where I’ve been, where I am, and where I want to go. It’s been both challenging and energizing. Maybe you can relate? To be honest, I’m in process, but thought I would share my current thoughts about ways to live a life worth living. Here’s my list:

  1. Invest in the mundane. I tend to want to avoid things like doing dishes, changing diapers, taking out the trash, and helping to make dinner. But doing mundane tasks builds a character that’s other-focused and helpful.
  2. Read more. I heard recently that the typical college grad doesn’t read after college. Bill Gates never graduated, but carries (and constantly reads) three bags of books with him as he travels! Which one is better?
  3. Exercise regularly. I know everyone says this. But it’s true. Without being intentional, I sit in front of a computer all day long. I recently joined Gymnazo to be intentional about working out 3-4 times a week.
  4. Invest in people.  It’s easy to spend the day focused on getting tasks done. But I’ve noticed days where I make time to be with people and listen to them and hear their stories are better.
  5. Eat well.  I’m not a foody. I hate kale and kombucha. Still, I know that eating predominantly yellow—especially processed food (french fries, chips, cookies, pasta)—isn’t good for me. I need to eat foods that are green and blue and purple in much higher quantities than I prefer. So do you.
  6. Share. I’ve noticed the people I regard most highly are those who share kindness, contacts and knowledge most freely (for more see Love is the Killer App by Tim Sanders).
  7. Commit to growth. If you think you avoid challenges, you think effort is a waste of time, or you take criticism personally, then you’re a lot like me—and many others! We want to prove ourselves. Read Mindset and let Stanford professor Carol Dweck inspire you to grow.
  8. Block out Sabbath time. We all need time to re-focus, rejuvenate, relax and re-energize. Schedule this time into your week. First.
  9. Work smarter not harder. Working hard is good, not enough. You need a team to help you—whether at work, or at home, or in your personal life. Life is a team sport. There’s a reason Ecclesiastes says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” (Eccl 4:9-10)
  10. Change your story. As Americans we live by a story where we make ourselves the star of the show. Its true that we face challenges, but through the pursuit of our dreams we can finally create the kind of life we always wanted. The Bible tells a different story. It says Jesus is the star of the show. We rebelled against him, but he is pursuing us to create the kind of life we really need—one that surpasses the life we always wanted. And it will last forever. This story humbles me, but it frees me (and you!) to join Him in a life worth living.

Question: What would make your list of ways to live a life worth living? You can leave a comment below.

Hitting Roadblocks

Churchill-painting-at-the-EaselEver find yourself trying to get momentum on a project only to be continually foiled by hitting roadblocks? I do. Lots of things can get in the way.

Fear

Procrastination

Laziness

Fear (of failure, of success, that there’s not enough money, that people will laugh)

Responsibilities

Distractions

Poor planning

Lack of skill

That voice that says you can’t do it

Did I mention fear yet?

I struggle with each of these demons. A recent issue for me is what I call bandwidth. I notice my ability to think shuts down long before my body does. When I was writing my dissertation it was difficult to do all the things I needed to do in the office. Right now, we’re in a busy season at the office. That makes it challenging to give myself to other parts of my life—family, my spiritual life, continued learning.

It’s a reminder to me of our limitations as human beings. I like having multiple irons in the fire and moving from one thing to another. I usually read multiple books simultaneously. I often have projects within my projects in each sphere of life I inhabit. The danger in all this is the potential failure to acknowledge the opportunity cost associated with taking on so much at one time. It’s obvious that time limits our ability to complete projects. We all know our skill, experience, education and talents affect what we can accomplish within a given time frame. What we often neglect to consider is the capacity of our bandwidth (you might call it your mental energy, ability to think, or other things) for a given type of task and overwhelm ourselves in one area. (I’ve heard that Winston Churchill liked to paint and do brickwork to relax and get a break from the meetings and reading and writing he did.)

I’m learning to re-prioritize my time such that I establish Sabbath time, priority time and response time each week. Honestly, this way of approaching my life is a new thing. But it’s revolutionary. I no longer feel guilty for taking the time I need to recharge and re-energize. I also don’t feel guilty for closing my door, turning off my email and working on the things that matter most—FIRST. Now, when I am in response-mode, I am free to give myself to others and their needs. This is new, but I’m excited and will keep you posted!

What do you do when you hit roadblocks?