The Power of the ‘Who’ Question

My good friend Tommy Spaulding wrote a blog a few weeks ago, and he agreed to let me share it as a guest post. I found it a wonderful illustration of how we all should strive to grow like Jesus in our own unique ways. Tommy is a best-selling author and an even better public speaker. If you run a company or organization and need someone to keynote your event, give him a call. You won’t regret it.

Now, on with the blog …

By Tommy Spaulding, Oct. 12, 2017
Tommy Spaulding

Yesterday was my fathers’ 75th birthday.  The greatest man I’ve been blessed to know.  My two sisters and I flew to upstate New York to surprise him on his special day.  These are the words I wrote in his birthday card.

Dear Dad,

Like Father – Like Son.  Many hear those words all the time.  “Your son is just like you!”  “You’re the spitting image of your father!”  But, Dad, you and I are different in so many ways.

I love to travel the world – you do not.

I am organized – you are not.

I am a risk taker – you are not.

I am an entrepreneur – you are not.

I love sports – you do not.

I’m driven – you are not.

I’m adventurous – you are not.

I am an extrovert – you are not.

And I love sushi, golf and rock concerts – you do not!

The list goes on and on.

The beauty in all these differences is that you have many talents and attributes that I don’t have.  But there is one amazing thing in my life that we have in common. It has brought me the most happiness and the most success.  And I learned it from you.  LOVE.

I learned to love from you, Dad.  To receive love.  To give love.

I remember when I was a young kid and would come home from school.  Most parents would ask, “What did you do today?” “What did you accomplish?”  You never asked me those questions.  Instead, you always asked, “Who did you bless today?”  “Who did you love and serve?” The “what” never mattered to you, Dad.  You only cared about the “who.”

Who did you bless today?  Who did you love and serve?

Those two questions have changed my life.  They define who I have become.  They have directed my career.  They have made me into the husband, father and friend I am today.

Thank you, Dad, for not being like all the other parents.  Thank you for always asking me the “who” questions and not the “what” questions.

Makes me proud to say…. Like Father – Like Son.

Happy 75th Birthday.  I love you!

Your son,

Tommy

Maybe today can be the day that we stop asking our kids, our employees and our colleagues all the “what” questions. What did you do today?  What did you accomplish?  And we start asking all the “who” questions.  Who did you bless today?  Who did you love and serve?  My guess is that it will change your work and your life, just as it has changed mine.

Eliminate Barriers with this Simple 5-Point Discipleship Plan

Discipleship relationships can feel structured and demanding, which, I believe, is why so many men avoid them.

We didn’t care much for homework when we were students, and now we’re overwhelmed with overdue to-do lists from work. Some of those to-do’s feel burdensome, and others we enjoy, but they all take time and energy. Marriage, family, and church bring additional commitments, including, perhaps, a group Bible study or two. It’s all good stuff. But sometimes the last thing we want is one more “thing” that requires preparation and the burning of intellectual and emotional energy.

There are times when we want or need an in-depth study as a part of a discipleship relationship. The accompanying commitment and hard work are the only way to produce meaningful results. But there are stages in life when the best discipleship relationship is simple and has very few barriers to entry. So how do you make that type of relationship meaningful? After all, if it’s not producing spiritual growth, it’s not discipleship.

One option that’s worked for me is to provide a few basic talking-point options that can guide a discussion. For instance, here’s a five-point plan I’ve used:

  • A problem (some specific challenge you’re facing)
  • A promise (a verse of Scripture to which you’re clinging for hope)
  • A praise (something for which you’re thankful)
  • An action (something you are committing to do)
  • An insight (something you’ve learned that you’d like to share)

The group or individual commits to thinking through these and comes to our meetings ready to discuss at least two of them. Most guys can read over that list and come up with responses to all of them on the spot. It’s also an easy list to review throughout the week. Discussing these topics almost always leads to some deep and fruitful conversations, which, in turn, leads to spiritual growth.

If you’re looking for a simple structure that’s not a barrier to a discipleship commitment, perhaps this approach will help. Feel free to jot these down. Maybe take a photo and save it on your phone. Then, find someone you can discuss them with each week. And, if you use them, let me know how it turns out.

Simplifying Discipleship

Go and make disciples.

It seems like such a straightforward statement, and Jesus was clear in Matthew 28:19 that it’s not an optional activity. Yet the Church seems to struggle with the concept. When we take a fresh look at it, however, we can see that “making disciples” doesn’t have to be that hard.

I didn’t realize there was an issue until I began paying closer attention following a couple of conversations with friends. Six or eight months ago, I began praying about an idea I’ve had for a discipleship website that would provide a one-stop shop for resources, content and discussions on the topic. To vet and develop the idea, I started talking to people who are smarter than me. During one conversation, the guy across the table said something like, “Not many men are as involved in discipleship as you are.” He wasn’t feeding me ego biscuits; he was painting the bleak reality of how little is done when it comes to discipleship. And the more I’ve looked into it, the more I agree.

A month or so later, I mentioned my website idea to another friend. He liked the idea but said he probably wouldn’t use the site because he isn’t involved in discipleship. About a week later, however, he mentioned that he was coming back from an early morning Bible study where he (at age 59) had been the only guy not in his 20s. It had never dawned on him that spending time studying the Bible with those young guys was discipleship.

That’s when it hit me: Not enough men are involved in discipleship, and some are involved without even knowing it. In both cases, part of the problem is that too many people are intimidated by what they think discipleship involves. Most of them have over-complicated the definition.

So, here’s a simple definition of discipleship: Helping people grow like Jesus.

With that definition, discipleship can include evangelism, or what I call spiritually mentoring someone toward a relationship with Christ. For followers of Jesus, discipleship becomes all about sanctification – the refining process God puts us through until we join Him in heaven, or growing like Jesus. And we “make disciples” when we help ourselves or someone else experience that growth.

To become obedient to Matthew 28:19:

  1. Ask God to provide an opportunity to spend time with someone or a group of someones with the purpose of helping each other grow like Jesus.
  2. Act in obedience when (not if) that opportunity comes.

That’s it. It can be one-on-one meetings over coffee. It can be a small-group Bible study. It can be a discussion at halftime of a football game or while helping a buddy with a chore. It can look however you want, so long as it’s intentional and there’s an effort to teach obedience to the commands of Christ. (Matthew 28:20)

It’s really not complicated or scary. You aren’t responsible for the results – God is. And you don’t have to do it alone (because Jesus has promised to be with you). Can you ask for a better helper than God? So, go and make disciples. Let that step of obedience become the next step in your growth.

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The Blog God Spiked

Several weeks ago, I wrote two blogs and scheduled them to post while Audrey and I were on vacation. When we returned, I realized one of them never posted. One of two things happened. I didn’t schedule it properly or my really, really smart, hi-tech blog posting system malfunctioned. You decide.

Last week, I reread the blog and decided to use it. I polished it up, sent it to a friend for proofing, and then reread it one last time yesterday morning with plans to post it today. That’s when it hit me: Don’t post this blog.

There’s nothing wrong with the content itself. Actually, I rather liked it. It wasn’t particularly deep, but it reflected my warped sense of humor and made a decent point about how leaders can use manual labor (e.g., not typing) to clear their minds and spark some creativity.

Then something dawned on me. About the time that blog was originally scheduled to post, someone I know died while doing the exact hard work I had described. I suddenly imagined his friends and family reading this tongue-in-cheek blog and finding no humor in it at all. My heart sank, but my spirits quickly lifted. There’s no greater feeling than to realize the hand of God somehow intervened in your life. I’ve experienced it in some big ways – like with the birth of my children or the day I realized Audrey was “the one” for me.

So, today’s blog is about the blog I didn’t write. The one God spiked for me – twice.

We never know when God will allow us to see how He is intervening, but our response should always be the same: Thank you, thank you, thank you.


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The Sins of My Writing

Spellcheck says everything’s good. But I’ve learned not to fully trust spellcheck. So, I read over it – one … last … time …

Yep, all looks good. I hit send or print or whatever pushes my writings into public view. In this particular case, it’s a blog post.

I’m never sure how many folks will read my blog, but I hope it’s well received by all who invest five minutes of their lives. I put my heart and soul into it and, frankly, I believe the content and writing is some of my better work. Perhaps it will have a positive impact. That’s always the goal – to get people to think and act in ways that help them grow like Jesus.

So off goes the post into the cyber world, released and free. And I move on to other things.

Then comes that email from a loving friend who gently points out the typo. Not just a random typo, but a typo in the lead (or, if you prefer, the lede). Sure, it’s the second paragraph, but it’s still part of the lead. First word of the first sentence in the second paragraph – standing out like a zit on the forehead of a teenager on prom night. Image should be imagine. Spellcheck won’t catch that, by the way.

I sigh. I thank my friend. I update the post on my website, although by now I suspect that everyone who will read it already has, and I’m certain that each of them snickered at the whiff. Another shot across the bow of my credibility. My insecure self whispers: See, I told you. You’re a hack. This is why you’ll never really make it as a writer.

Little things have always risen up to bite my writing in big ways, and especially spelling. I misspelled water in an elementary school spelling bee, and a high school teacher told me I’d never be a good writer because I was such a poor speller. As a cub reporter for a newspaper, one of my egregious spelling errors resulted in an editor getting chewed out. And I once misspelled a billionaire’s name in a magazine article.

But image instead of imagine wasn’t really a spelling error. I know how to spell imagine without looking it up. It was more of an oversight. It’s one of those words that this writer’s eyes – those eyes that have become all too comfortable with the content – are prone to see as correct, even when it is not. Reading it one more time seldom matters. I look at image and see imagine.

Unless you, too, write professionally or have some other form of OCD, you might think this is much ado about nothing. You’d say that chances are, very few people noticed, and those who did probably didn’t care. Maybe. But I care. And I suspect there’s something in your life – in everyone’s life – that you care deeply about doing well but that you fail at from time to time.

What then? Grace. Forgiveness. Growth.

In my experience, it’s all but impossible to grow like Jesus when I’m wallowing in self-pity that’s swimming in self-doubt. I have to remind myself that Christ died for my sins, that I am forgiven, and that I can walk and live in that forgiveness.

When Jesus encountered and confronted sinners, He never condoned their sins. He offered forgiveness and commanded them to stop their sinful behaviors. (See John 5:14 or John 8:11) So even with something as seemingly trivial as a mental error/typo/misspelling, I am compelled to admit my mistake, embrace forgiveness and try to avoid repeating that mistake.

How? I’ll be more aware of that word, but I’m also investing in a copy editor. Every writer needs one. I’ve avoided it because, well, it’s an expense – either I’m paying someone money or I’m imposing on a friendship. But I work with clients all the time who want to avoid this expense, and I always tell them that doing so is a huge mistake. Every writer needs an editor, usually more than one. It’s time to heed my own advice.

We all need others to help us walk through this broken world – someone who helps us edit our lives. That was a key point of the image/imagine post. And while we’ll never get it totally right, that type of discipleship helps us walk more comfortably in the peace and joy that come from grace and forgiveness.

(Note: My good friend and super wordsmith James Gilzow edited this piece, and I assure you it’s better now than it was when I sent it to him!)


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Our Sanctification Puzzle

Sanctification lives at the heart of the Grow Like Jesus message, and it’s something we do both individually and in the context of our relationships with others.

Imagine a jigsaw puzzle with pieces that never stay the same but that somehow always fit together. We never know how or when our lives might provide the right fit for others or how and when someone else might provide the right fit for us. But we know we need each other to fully grow like Jesus. Our sanctification puzzle is incomplete, of course, without Jesus. His presence fills the voids and gaps, heals the wounds, and makes all things new. But He regularly uses broken human pieces during our earthly journey.

This helps me see myself and others in a different light. My sin nature often tugs at me to judge first and seek understanding later. When I remember that God might use me to somehow contribute to someone else’s sanctification puzzle, or that He might use someone else to grow me, then I become much more empathetic and far less judgmental. I want to know the other person’s pains, baggage, joys, and experiences. I want to understand who that person is and why, not focus on his outward appearance or actions. And I want him to understand who I am and how God has transformed me and is transforming me.

The Me Piece

The biggest, most complex and complicated part of my sanctification puzzle is me. My sanctification begins with my attention to my personal walk with and growth in Jesus. No one else owns it or is responsible for it. When God confronted Adam and Eve for their sins in the garden, Adam immediately blamed Eve and God. The woman you gave me – that’s the problem! (See Genesis 3:12) God, of course, knew better. Like Adam, we can’t shift responsibility for who we are and how we live. We have to own it so we can fully surrender it.

The Us Piece

The next most critical piece of my sanctification puzzle is my wife. God gave her to me, and me to her. While some pieces of our puzzle come and go, this one is ever-present. She adds to my growth, and I contribute to hers. She is my helpmate, which clearly means this: I need help! And I’m called to love her as Christ loves the church, which is no small deal – I am called to give myself up for her to make her holy, to cleanse her by the washing with water through the word, to present her as radiant, without stain or wrinkle or blemish, but holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5:25-27). What an awesome privilege and responsibility when it comes to her growth!

The Others Piece

Finally, there are those pieces of my sanctification puzzle that involve “others.” Some are regular parts of my life, like my family and closest friends. Others are people I know but interact with less frequently. And others still are simply divine appointments – people God places in my life for a short period and then they’re gone. They all shape my spiritual growth, if I’m open to how God wants to use them. And I have an opportunity provided by God to fit some need of theirs, but it’s up to me to embrace that opportunity.

Every day, our puzzle pieces change. We’re reshaped by our experiences. Our needs are different. Our opportunities for growth are different. And what we have to offer others is different. Our challenge is to figure out how we all fit together for the glory of God as we strive to grow like Jesus.


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Father’s Day Forgiveness

Father’s Day is coming up, so I thought I’d share a gift idea. It’s something you can give to your dad even if your father, like mine, is no longer alive. The gift: Forgiveness.

My wife and I have a blended family with seven children, and all of them were adults when we married in 2010. I’ve never been hard to please when it comes to gifts, so I’m more than satisfied with a call or text from my four kids on Father’s Day. But a few weeks ago I sent them a photo of a gift idea, and I’ve included it in this blog.

Would you want this suit for Father’s Day?

It was a joke, of course. That suit just doesn’t … well … suit me.

But it got me to thinking about what I really want from my kids. And what I really want, if I’m to be totally vulnerable and transparent, is forgiveness. It costs nothing but it’s often really hard to give or to receive.

Forgiveness for what, you ask? Every father has experienced failure. Many of us come across as superheroes at times, especially when our kids are young, but we inevitably come up short. Sinners sin. And sins that disappoint the people we love are particularly painful.

But we don’t have to sin to need forgiveness. Fathers instinctively want to protect and take care of our children, and sometimes we simply can’t. Sometimes life is beyond our control and we have no words and can take no actions that will “make it better.” We might understand this intellectually, but we still feel like we’ve let them down. People pleasers, of which I’m often one, know that it’s possible to do nothing wrong, to feel totally “in the right,” and yet still feel guilty because we simply didn’t do enough. My identity is in Christ, of course, so I shouldn’t feel this guilt. But all too often I do.

Sometimes the guilt we feel isn’t based in reality – we think we’ve let them down, but they don’t really feel that way. And sometimes it’s totally based in reality. I know I disappointed my kids when my first marriage ended, but I think I disappointed them even more when I remarried – not because they don’t like my wife, but because it happened so soon after the divorce. They were still grieving the end of something, and I was celebrating an amazing and totally unexpected grace gift from God. I’m in no way advocating divorce. If that’s your struggle, surrender it to God, seek some qualified Biblical-based help, and don’t give up. But if you’ve already experienced divorce, God won’t walk away from you. I can tell you that my marriage is an incredible story of God’s redemptive grace. It is impossible to overstate what God has done in me through this marriage – how Audrey makes me a better husband, father, man, and follower of Jesus.

Over time (it’s been six-and-a-half years), I think all of my children have seen that. We’ve all moved onward. We have good relationships with each other. I know they love me, and they know I love them. But sometimes I feel a void I can’t explain, and I connect it back to my struggle with unforgiveness. It’s a “me” problem, not a “them” problem. I hold onto my guilt even when I’m not guilty and even when I’m guilty and I’ve been forgiven. Maybe it’s just me, but I think other dads do this, too. We find it very hard to forgive ourselves, to live in forgiveness. So while we work to display confidence and strength, there’s a part of us that longs to know that our kids are OK with the imperfections we’ve displayed and the disappointments we’ve caused. We long to experience forgiveness.

Yes, forgiveness is an experience. It often begins with words, but real forgiveness is reflected in attitudes and actions lived consistently over time. This is why forgiveness is redemptive. It makes things new and right. It’s liberating both to the one who gives and the one who receives. It is an expression of real love and true grace. I know, because I’ve experienced its most powerful form. Christ forgave me of my sins, past, present, and future. And He gave me a second chance at a godly marriage. I never feel more loved than when I look into the eyes of my wife, not just by her but by God, because I know how undeserving I am to have this marriage. That’s the power of forgiveness.

So whatever you get your dad – a tie, a good book, a loud suit, or anything else – you might also give him this: Help him experience forgiveness.

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Lessons from a Bad Golf Joke

What I learned from Bubba Watson

Bubba Watson didn’t have much to say when he failed to make the cut at last week’s Masters golf tournament, so he made a joke that he later admitted was as bad as his game. Watson, who has won the tournament twice, told a reporter after shooting a 78 in Friday’s round that, “Golf is tough; I don’t know if you’ve ever played it. But writing articles is easy.”

As you might expect, sports journalists fired back. That’s because sports journalists tend to only have a sense of humor when it’s aimed at someone else. I know, because I once was a sports journalist. At any rate, Watson later apologized, saying, “Obviously I made a bad joke, just like I played bad golf this week.”

Good for him. But even if he intended it as a joke, that doesn’t mean he was wrong. I’ve played golf. And I’ve written articles. I’ve never done either with Masters-level quality, but I can tell you that writing an article is far easier than hitting a 5-iron with accuracy, especially with thousands of people watching and a 30-mile-an-hour wind blowing. And I don’t care how poorly you write, you still probably write better than you play golf. Because, as Watson pointed out, golf is hard. If I shot at 78 at Augusta National, by the way, I’d be leaping for joy – even if I only played the front nine.

In my never-ended quest to learn something from everything, I reflected on this little slice (no pun intended) of American history and asked myself, “What can I learn from all of this?”

Mostly, it was a reminder: Don’t take myself too seriously. Don’t take offense too easily. Forgive others who take themselves too seriously. And don’t play golf for a living.

 

Getting Out of the Silo

Engaging the Culture Helps Us Grow Like Jesus

There are days when I’m tempted to disconnect from some of my friends on Facebook, mainly the ones who regularly post opinions with which I almost never agree. Then I remember two important truths: One, I love them for who they are, not what they do or how they think, and, two, they help me grow like Jesus. So I resist the temptation to isolate myself in a silo of like-minded thinkers, of which there are very few.

We live in a divisive age. It feels more divisive than any era in history, but that’s probably because we’re living it, not reading about it. The fact it, other ages and eras were plenty divisive. But that doesn’t negate our current sad state of affairs. And the worst thing we can do if we want to promote unity is separate more and more from each other.

Not that that unity is the ultimate goal. It would be nice, and I’m all for it. But the bigger goal is the discovery of truth – not my truth or your truth, but the truth. Unity around lies creates a smooth path toward collective destruction. (See the Jonestown mass suicide for Exhibit A. For a more slippery-slope example, see the “decline of thinking” in American higher education.)

As followers of Jesus, our spiritual growth depends on deepening our relationship with Christ. Jesus is The Truth we seek. And none of us – not one among us – has a lock on understanding Truth. A.T. Robertson put it this way in The Minister and His Greek New Testament: “Scholarship, real scholarship, seeks to find the truth. That is its reward. The Christian scholar finds the same joy in truth and he is not uneasy that the foundations will be destroyed.”

We live in an age, however, when the priority for many people seems to focus on protecting their personal truth, which invariably is based on their feelings and emotions, not facts or logic. The last thing they want is the opinions, fact-based or not, of those who disagree with them. The most troubling examples of this are found in our universities, where many schools no longer invite speakers who disagree with the faculty’s ideologies or, if they do, they protest, lead riots, and, in some cases, attack people who support the speaker. (See Middlebury College as Exhibit A.) More and more, it seems people are protesting for the sake of protest. At Middlebury College, faculty and students admitted that they’d actually never read anything written by Charles Murry, the social scientist speaker they were protesting.

As I noted in a previous blog, it seems we’ve lost our desire (and the necessary skills) for civil discourse. What we need, in my humble opinion, is more friends who don’t agree with us on everything. Not so we can yell and scream at them on social media in some misguided attempt to “win” them to “our truth,” but so that we can listen to them, talk to them, and learn from them in a shared pursuit of the Truth.

As followers of Jesus, the divisive world around us should send us deeper in to the Word of God and into communication with God. Then if and when we engage the world around us, perhaps others would seek that Truth, as well. And if they seek, they will find.

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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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