Closing Down the Pet Store

Are Annoyances Ruling Your Life?

Pets are supposed to be good for us, but I’m convinced there’s at least one pet we should never adopt. In fact, we should get rid of the ones we own: The pet peeve.

We all have them, right? Those things that get under our skin and irritate the dickens out of us. Sometimes I think I have enough peeves to open a pet store.

I’ve learned, however, that these pets cause me nothing but misery. They seem harmless at first, but eventually they affect my attitude and my attitude affects my actions. So I go from mildly annoyed by something to increasingly frustrated to that guy who over-reacts, usually by saying or doing something I regret.

Ever wonder if Jesus had pet peeves? We know He got angry, like when the priests allowed the temple to become a “den of thieves” (Matthew 21:13). And we know He spoke plainly about sin and righteousness, never backing away from God’s truth. But we also know that Jesus grew in “favor” with man (Luke 2:52), which, in part, indicates that He didn’t have unnecessary annoyances with the people around Him.

He was critical of the self-righteous, religious hypocrites. But maybe He was even more annoyed by His disciples when they showed a lack of faith or when they fell asleep when they should have been praying. And I can only imagine how frustrating it is for Him to watch over my life. Yet, I don’t get the sense that the religious hypocrites or His disciples got under His skin, and I’m confident in the grace he continues to shower on me.

It’s the word “unnecessary,” I think, that sets Jesus apart from the rest of this on this matter. Where most of us allow people and circumstances to unnecessarily push our proverbial buttons, Jesus was and is calm, patient and kind, filled with compassion and grace. When Jesus was upset, it was always with good reason. Me? Not so much. How about you?

Right now, my two prevailing pet peeves are bad drivers and poor customer service. In fact, I told a friend the other day that I believe until I learned to be more Christ-like when dealing with unhelpful customer service calls, God will continue to allow me to have more customer service issues.

Not surprisingly, when I began to focus on being a nicer customer, two things happened. One, I didn’t get as frustrated with the inept customer service reps. And, two, I found myself dealing more often with friendly and helpful customer service reps. Strange how my attitude toward others impacted their attitude toward me.

I’ve been praying lately about dealing with my pet peeves – about getting rid of the ones I own and not adopting new ones. And I’ve found two questions help me adjust my attitude when I find myself unnecessarily annoyed by life:

  1. Am I abiding in Christ? If I’m abiding in Christ, I’m connected to what matters, not what’s unnecessary. If I’m not, then I recognize the need to surrender to him, re-connect with him, and stick close to him.
  2. Am I holding on to something that belongs to God? Pet peeves are a form of worry. They represent something outside of my control, but not outside of God’s control. When I let go of them and give them to God, he invariably takes them away.

It may take some time, but I’m hoping to close down this pet store.


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Are You Equipped for Discipleship?

Do you have an equipment issue?

A friend and I once co-created a phrase that I’ve always found to hold true when facing a challenge: “It’s an equipment issue. And if you have the right equipment, you won’t have an issue.”

The thought came to us during a hot summer camping trip. We were sitting in our beat-up lawn chairs outside our hand-me-down tents, when we noticed an impressive camper pulling into a nearby site. It had bikes on the back. It had a satellite on the top. The owner soon unfurled a canopy that provided shade, and fans that produced a breeze. It had all the comforts of home. In other words, it had the right equipment, so the owners had no issues (at least when it came to comfort).

I recalled this little truism again this week while hanging a new swing from a tree by our home. The first tree didn’t work out too well, so I was moving it to another that’s on the vacant, tree-covered lot next to our house. This tree was perfect, except for one thing: It had given root to a small but pretty tall tree at its base that was growing at an angle so that the top of it was directly under the limb from which I wanted to hang the swing.

So, the first order of business was to cut down this tree, which was, oh, maybe 6-8 inches in diameter. Since my chainsaw was in need of minor repairs, I was using a bow saw. It took a little effort, but down came the tree.

Next problem: That sucker was heavy and its branches were getting hung up in the brush when I tried to move it. After a few failed attempts to drag it away, I decided to cut it into smaller chunks. In the process, I broke my saw blade. After a few more failed attempts to drag it off, I used some heavy-duty loppers to cut away some branches and lightened the load enough so that I could move it.

In short, what would have taken me five minutes with a chainsaw took me about 25 minutes with equipment that wasn’t made for this particular job.

It doesn’t matter if you’re cutting a tree or climbing Mt. Everest, it pays to use the right equipment. And the same is true in discipleship.

If I want to grow like Jesus and help others grow like Jesus, then I can’t use loppers when I need a chainsaw. I have to put on the armor of God and prepare for the challenges I face. I have to read God’s Word and open my heart to revelations from God. I have to listen to godly pastors who teach truth. I have to act on the promptings of the Spirit. I have seek and heed the godly counsel my wife provides. I have to invest in the things that equip me for the life God has given me. And if I use the right equipment, there is no issue.


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Creating a Style Guide for Life

Creating a Style Guide for Life

You might not immediately make the connection between a newspaper’s new style rule and how we go about our personal development journey, but the connection is there. Trust me.

Regular readers of The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the statewide newspaper in Arkansas and my former employer, might have noticed a change in recent weeks in how the paper refers to the state’s largest and best-known university. The new style guide apparently requires that at some point in the article the author refer to it as the “University of Arkansas, Fayetteville,” even in the sports section after a first reference of “the Arkansas Razorbacks.”

As a writer, editor, and former newspaper hack, I understand all too well how and why such silly policies are created. I can’t tell you the specifics of this one, but it no doubt involved many meetings and a great deal of hand-wringing. And after all that debate, the editors arrived at what is, without question, an awful result.

Why? They lost focus on what really matters.

To some, the purpose of a style guide is to create consistency in the written language. But that’s just one result, not the real purpose. The real purpose is to help readers better understand what they are reading. This policy neither creates consistency nor helps the reader. Just the opposite, in fact.

For starters, the policy creates what I call “reader roadblock.” It introduces unnecessary words that forces me-the-reader to pause and ask, “What up with that?” before moving forward without a logical or reasonable answer. So it’s a waste of space and it’s a waste of my time. Second, it doesn’t create consistency because the paper doesn’t apply the same style to other universities. For instance, it doesn’t refer to the “University of Kentucky, Lexington” or the “University of Arkansas, Little Rock” or “Arkansas State University, Jonesboro.”

One day shortly after the paper adopted this new style, I noticed a story about the “University of Arkansas, Fayetteville” defeating “IUPUI” in a softball game. I can assure you that at least 99 percent of the ADG’s readers know that the Arkansas Razorbacks represent the Fayetteville campus of the University of Arkansas, but almost none know what IUPUI stands for (Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis).

So what’s all this have to do with personal growth, you ask? Well, we all do the same thing in our lives. We see a small issue in our life and become consumed with finding a solution that ends up creating more problems than it solves, all because we lose focus on what really matters. We stubbornly hold to some viewpoint, refusing to let go, and we find ourselves on the slippery slope toward legalism.

We all need structure, discipline and boundaries in our lives. We all need the equivalent of a “style guide” to help us order our worlds. For me, that guide is the Bible. But when I lose focus on what really matters – to love God and love others, to grow like Jesus and produce Kingdom fruit – then I soon find myself obsessing about things that ultimately don’t matter. I’m not saying there’s anything in the Bible that doesn’t matter. I’m saying that we don’t need to complicate it with guidelines that solve problems that don’t really exist.


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When it’s time to ACT

Sometimes I send myself an email to remind me to do something. It’s usually an idea I want to pursue or a concept I want to include in something that I’m writing. But if I don’t follow up on it quickly, I tend to forget why it mattered in the first place.

This week I was trying to decipher just such a note when I realized the irony of my efforts. The note was two lines. Here it is …

Line 1: “I should. I need to. I want to.”

Line 2: “ACT! Admit. Commit. Try.”

Did I get that from someone else? Or did I come up with it on my own? I have no idea. And what was I thinking or going through when I jotted down those words? Again, I have no idea.

Here’s what I know: There are times when it’s easy to focus on what we should do, what we need to do, and what we want to do – but then to never do it. Like acting on a note you sent yourself that tells you to ACT. Ironic.

I knew, however, that there was some good medicine in those two lines, so I did my best to take it.

Admit what? Maybe that I’m not doing what I should do, need to do, and want to do. Confession is always a good place to start. It sets up repentance, which leads to positive change.

Commit to what? Well, for one thing, commit to my commitment. Sometimes I need to mentally promise to do something so that I’ll hold myself accountable to it. I need to commit to taking something from the “good idea” stage to the “it’s going to happen” stage.

Try what? Something. Anything. Ready, fire, aim! Doing anything – even if it feels unproductive – is the first step toward turning nothing into something. The surest way to go nowhere is to do nothing. A false start is often better than no start at all.

And now you understand what it took to write this blog. There may have been a deeper, more profound meaning to those two lines way back whenever it was that I jotted them down. There might have been some incredible spiritual truth. Whatever it might have been, I’ll never know. But by simply doing what my note suggested, I learned something, I got unstuck, and I got something done.


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Don’t Call Yourself a Leader

There is only One leader, and it’s not you.

The Bible is filled with examples of great leaders and with lessons on great leadership. And, yet, we still often view and practice leadership in ways that are diametrically opposed to what Scripture teaches.
Blame it on our sin nature. We’re selfish, prideful, and easily attracted to the limelight. So leadership naturally becomes about things like being in charge, getting our way, controlling situations, accomplishing goals, and getting credit.
Jesus had something to say about these types of leaders. In Matthew 23, they are the scribes and the Pharisees who talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. Jesus looks them squarely in the heart, and here’s what He sees: They want to be noticed and crave seats of honor and respect. They are hypocrites.
After describing these leaders, Jesus makes an interesting statement: “Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” (Matthew 23:10-12)
When the Bible talks in positive terms about leadership, it describes fathers who take care of their children, women who take care of their families, shepherds who tend to their flock, rulers with gentle hands, strength, courage, faithfulness, humility, love …
It doesn’t describe visionaries who are masters of creating strategy and inspiring the masses to action. It doesn’t describe men or women standing on a stage embracing accolades. It doesn’t describe ruthless kings. Instead, it paints a picture of dependence. It paints a picture, first and foremost, of a follower – someone who has submitted his or her will to God and leads by humbly serving others.
We’re challenged almost daily to become better “leaders” – in our homes, in our jobs, in our churches, in our communities. It’s easy to think the heart of that challenge is to move others to action with our influence. But the real challenge is to take ourselves out of the equation and shepherd others by following the one true leader – Christ. It is His influence, not ours, that really matters.
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