Does Life Have You Baffled?

A few weeks ago I bought a baffle. At the risk of getting all technical on you, it’s a cone-shaped thingy that goes on the pole that holds our bird feeders. It keeps squirrels from climbing the pole and eating all the bird seed.

It leaves the squirrels … you got it … baffled.

I no longer see squirrels lounging atop the bird feeders, but there always seems to be plenty of seed on the ground below. So the squirrels gather there for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Are they somehow shaking it down or just eating the table scraps from the birds?

Frankly, it has me … you got it … baffled.

When life leaves me baffled, I look for answers. For things like keeping squirrels out of the bird feeders, I turn to Gsquirrel baffleoogle. On worldly issues, it has all (well, most) of the answers. For important matters, I still turn to the Bible. It has all the answers, and I do mean all.

But as I wrote in Grow Like Jesus, God often provides us with a limited amount of direction. It’s as if He’s looking down on us and saying, “Here’s a few clues. Now you figure it out.”

On the hand, I don’t have much to figure out. My life has never been better. I have a wonderful wife, a great job, grown kids who mostly don’t need me, grand kids I can’t wait to see, and my biggest problem involves keeping squirrels from eating the bird food.

Yet, I’m still regularly baffled by many things of life where God is giving me limited specifics and mostly telling me to “figure it out.”

Here are some things that have had me baffled within the last week. Some go back months or even years. Regardless, I find no quick and clear answers; just the call to figure it out.

  • Why do so many people abandon or resist Christianity just because they see imperfect Christians representing a perfect Christ? What do they expect?
  • Why did God kill everyone at Jericho?
  • How do I make “speak the truth in love” more than a nice-sounding platitude?
  • Should I buy a gun before it’s illegal to do so?
  • Should I feel stupid that I didn’t even realize the Brits were thinking of leaving the European Union until a couple of days before it happened?
  • And should I feel even more stupid because I have no idea how that vote will likely impact my life?
  • How much of my work should be “my” projects versus “client” projects?
  • Why do I use the word “frankly” as a crutch in my writing?
  • Why do we try to shape God into an image that fits what we want and what we think is right?
  • Why do we park on a driveway and drive on parkway? (OK, I actually know the answer to that one.)
  • Trump or Clinton?

That’s just the short list. Frankly, I know God provides insights into everyone one of those questions, and, in some cases, the answers are clear if I’ll only look close enough or dig deep enough. But everything in life that leaves me baffled – from the squirrels to politics – has this in common: It’s in the hands of God. So whether I figure it out or not, I can trust that it will all work out. God is never baffled.

Isaiah 46:9-10

Remember the former things, those of long ago;
I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me.
I make known the end from the beginning,
from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say, ‘My purpose will stand,
and I will do all that I please.’

 

Lessons from the Flower Garden

When Audrey and I drove around town for the annual “garden tour,” we saw a variety of approaches with one thing in common: The owners had invested more than money; they had invested love.

My favorite gardener.
My favorite gardener.

We might not have the budget or the passion of the gardeners on that tour, but we still give it our best shot. Audrey provides the vision and creativity, and I’m available to help with some of the manual labor. Together, we do what we can to keep a few plants, flowers, shrubs, and herbs alive around our home.

Frankly, Audrey is much better at it than she admits. She takes the time to do the research, and that sets us up for success. Most of what we plant ends up growing and looking great, all to her credit. So when I walk on our back deck, down by our small pond, or across the front lawn, I see planters alive with color.

Now, if you know me at all, you’ve probably never thought of me as a flower. Maybe a weed. But not a flower. Still, when it comes to my spiritual health, I can relate to the various flowers around our house and to this entire process of getting things to grow.

Early Spring
Early Spring

So here are three lessons I think followers of Jesus can take from our flower gardens:

  1. The environment matters. Flowers need good soil, the right amount of sun, and just enough water. Otherwise, they get sick and sometimes they die. Likewise, we need a strong local church. We need to spend time each day feeding on things like prayer and time in God’s Word. We need to fill ourselves with the things of God so we can grow like Jesus.
  2. We need some Miracle Grow. I have no idea what is in Miracle Grow, but I know it works. We hook a bottle to the sprayer on our hose, soak our plants and flowers and watch them thrive. The Miracle Grow of our spiritual lives, of course, is the Holy Spirit. We don’t know how it works, either, but if we tap into it, our lives will thrive. Sadly, we often neglect to ask for help from the Holy Spirit. We’re too busy with life or we decide not to seek help from something we don’t fully understand. But for followers of Jesus, this powerful force is living within us and we can and should tap into it.
  3. We are all gardeners. We all own the responsibility for our personal spiritual growth. Our pastor doesn’t own it. Our spouse doesn’t own it. Our mentor doesn’t own it. But we’re also called to live in community. Flower gardens don’t thrive on their own. They need help. And while we should appreciate those who invest in us, we also need to invest in others, encourage them, and, at times, provide some wisdom that supports their growth.

Notice the one thing those lessons have in common: They don’t need money; they just need love.

Some bird-brain ideas on fighting sin

My wife and I were on an evening walk through a nearby neighborhood recently when we noticed something different about the front entryways of a few of the homes: Hanging birds.

An owl here, a crow there.

Not real birds, mind you. Fake birds. But at first glance, they looked real, not to mention somewhat gruesome, hanging above the front porches. Their purpose? To scare away other birds.

These are modern homes with brick exteriors and nicely landscaped lawns, but some of them have narrow but tall entry porches. Birds apparently like to nest on the light fixtures, so some homeowners hang the fake birds as a deterrent.James 4_7

That wouldn’t be my solution of choice, but I appreciate that effort. They know that if they don’t take action, the problem won’t likely fly away on its own.

The same is true with sin and temptation. It can start as a nuisance, but if we don’t proactively deal with it, temptation and sin can move in and take up residency in our lives. Before long, we turn a blind eye to it, acting as if it’s not even there. But unlike the birds in the porches, sin and temptation will take over our entire house.

So how do we prevent it? Well, we could try hanging fake birds or cloves of garlic, but those types of options only invite more trouble.

Scripture, of course, is filled with great solutions. I’m drawn to a simple formula found in James 4:1-10 that I can sum up with one word: Humility.

A lack of humility (aka pride) leads to all sorts of trouble and strife, James points out, while God “shows favor to the humble.” Pride draws us toward temptations and into sin. Humility takes us toward the protective wing of God.

To develop humility, we can follow the pattern in James 4:7 – “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

This is tough advice, at least for me.

First, submit to God. The world tells us to follow our hearts, but God says are hearts are deceitful. If we submit to our hearts or to anything other than God, birds of selfishness begin building their nests. Humility requires a selflessness that’s experienced only when we’re fully surrendered to something outside of ourselves. That something is God. Anything else is an idol.

Second, resist the devil. Even when we’re fully surrendered, the devil will tempt us and we have to actively resist. Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:10-18 to put on the “full armor of God,” and he then advocates truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, the Holy Spirit, the Bible, prayer.

Take a few moments each day to identify the temptations and sins in your life, then take proactive measures to shoo them off your porch. No hanging birds. Just God. “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (James 4:10)

Ali and Kemp: Two Stories of Grit

I’ve been thinking a good bit lately about two former professional athletes: Mohammad Ali and Steve Kemp. That might seem like a strange combination, but Ali and Kemp have this in common: Grit.

You probably have an intuitive understanding of grit. You’ve seen it in someone (perhaps yourself). And you’ve seen it lacking in someone (perhaps yourself). Here’s how Mike Thompson and I defined it in Forging Grit, a fictional story that illustrates this critical quality for leadership success: Grit is a passion for getting something done and the fortitude to see it through even when obstacles seem overwhelming.

Grit marked Ali’s life, and it’s still marking Kemp’s. Kempali

You know of Mohammad Ali. He was The Champ. The Greatest. The iconic boxer with a flair for words died last week after suffering for years from Parkinson’s disease. As I read some of the many tributes about his life, I was regularly reminded of his grit, inside the ring and out. He had natural talent, but he knew what it meant to work hard and push through challenges to reach his lofty goals.

“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it,” he once said. “Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”

And what about the grit of Steve Kemp?

Frankly, I had never given much thought to Kemp’s grit until last week when his daughter, who works for our publisher, sent Mike and me an email with her dad’s reaction to the book.

Kemp was the first overall pick in the 1976 draft, and he spent more than a decade as an outfielder in the big leagues. But a line drive during batting practice in 1983 shattered his eye socket and knocked his playing career off its Hall-of-Fame track. He played a few more years, but the injury severely damaged his depth perception and he was never the same on the field.

Kemp has been redefining himself ever since. He’s in his 60s now, and he would tell you that life without baseball hasn’t been easy for a guy whose world once revolved around the sport. He said in his email that he was inspired by the book because he knows he needs grit more than ever. “I really think God wanted me to read this book at this very moment,” he told his daughter.

Ali and Kemp both experienced success in athletics at least in part because they had grit to go along with their talent. Like many of us, they might have taken it for granted at times, especially at the height of their success. But their grit really defined them when they lost their ability to compete in the sweet spots of their respective skills. In other words, they needed grit most when they were most outside of their comfort zones.

As we grow like Jesus, we continually find ourselves outside of our comfort zones. Sometimes God takes us there and other times we go on our own and He uses the circumstances to prune us, shape us, and bring us to some better bloom. Some flowers wither at the first sign of a nearby weed. Others develop grit and bloom where they’re planted.

The formula for developing that grit includes finding a passion for something bigger than yourself. For followers of Christ, that something is Jesus. He gives us hope for something beyond this world. In fact, grit without Jesus is dangerous because it can lead to self-reliance rather than God-dependence. Ultimately, the passion that fuels our grit needs to flow from our love of God and faith in Jesus. With that, the things we accomplish – in business, in athletics and in life – can have eternal value.


ForgingGrit_FC-Web (1)Note: Forging Grit launched this week and is available online and at many bookstores.

 

How to Grow Some Civil Discourse

“Just shut up!” she explained. “This is our show, and we’ll talk about whatever we want!”

Just grow up, I thought. Then I pushed a button and, voila, I was listening to something else on the radio.

So there you have it: A snapshot of a typical “discussion” in modern America. Whether it’s talk radio, social media, blogs, opinion pieces in the newspaper, political rallies or – if they still exists – old fashion conversations at the water cooler or dinner table, we seem to have lost our capacity for civil discourse around tough issues.

from pixabay.com
from pixabay.com

Instead, we draw battle lines and close our hearts, minds, and ears to anyone who disagrees with us. Then we commence to spouting snotty rhetoric that draws applause from our friends and inflames our opponents (who are listening only for the purpose of becoming inflamed).

Civil discourse, by the way, is that archaic term that means “conversations intended to enhance understanding.” And it’s an area where we all need to grow like Jesus.

If you think this is a problem only among “others,” then I’d encourage you to look around. I see it all the time, and not just from the jerks of this world. I see it from people who are generally good-hearted, well-meaning, and kind … until they get on Facebook and start talking about things like which public restrooms a person should use. I see it from liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, followers of Jesus, atheists, Muslims, Jews, gays, straights, hybrids … well, from everyone.

Yes, I also see it from me. And if you think my words can be bad, you should hear what’s in my heart sometimes.

As I listen in on the social and political debates of our day – whether it’s Clinton/Trump or the great bathroom debate – I often find myself wondering how we all can be so insensitive toward each other’s views. And, frankly, it often seems that the people who are the loudest when preaching tolerance are also the most firm when trying to shut down the voices of their opponents.

When Luke 2:52 tells us Jesus grew in “favor with man,” it doesn’t mean everyone liked Him or agreed with Him. Clearly, that wasn’t the case. But if we want to do our part to restore civil discourse in our country (and the world), we can learn a lot (OK, everything) from the Master about how to enhance understanding.

Here are some high-level areas where I believe we all have an opportunity to grow if we want to change the discourse of history:

  • Avoid Trivial Pursuits – It’s easy to trivialize issues or people rather than engaging them in a thoughtful, meaningful way. The idea is to marginalize those souls who think differently and to diminish the validity of their viewpoints. It’s an elitist attitude that dehumanizes people. It results in false comparisons (“This is just like water fountains in the 1950s!”) and dismissive jabs (“Only sensible people would disagree on this, so who cares what people on the fringe think?”)
  • Chase the Truth – Pilate posed a question for the ages when he said, “What is truth?” (See John 18:38) Like many of us today, he seemed to be asking rhetorically, because Jesus just had given him the answer. Jesus: “In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (See John 18:37) If we lean into the truth of God’s Word, we will have something worth sharing to anyone who might listen – not because we’re smarter or more righteous, but because we’re sharing the Word of God and not our emotion-based opinions.
  • Embrace Grace – Most people don’t have a relationship with Jesus, so it’s unreasonable to expect them to understand or embrace His truth. If you’re a follower of Jesus, you can beat them over the head with it. You can shout it at them. Or, you can grow like Jesus and offer grace and love as you try to model God’s truth. Jesus never sacrificed the truth, but He displayed an amazing sense of empathy as He reached into the hearts of people with love.

Growing in these areas, by the way, won’t ensure that you will win any arguments. Indeed, if you stand on Biblical truth in America, you’ll likely stand on unpopular side of most debates. So the last and most difficult thing I would recommend is that you surrender your desire to win. Let go, and let God, as the saying goes. Leave the results to Jesus, just as He surrendered the results of His life to the Father.

For me, that’s the most challenging idea of all. I want to be understood. If you understand me, after all, surely you will agree me. But growth without surrender only produces weeds.

Bonus

As I wrote this, I came across a podcast by Michael Hyatt that offers some tactical approaches to improving your civil discourse: Click here to see it.

Encore Episode: How to Lead Transformational Conversations [Podcast]