Don’t Quote Me, Part II

This is the second of a two-part series on quotes. Today we look at a few leadership quotes that aren’t as great as they might first appear.

I’ve read Mere Christianity at least three times, and, yes, I’m a fan of almost all things C.S. Lewis. I’m also a habitual collector of quotes. That’s why it was disappointing to discover I had been misquoting the famous author.

The quote in question – “Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less” – is actually by Rick Warren, and I’ve read the book in which he wrote that line (The Purpose Drive Life, Page 339, although it’s worded slightly different). Yet, somewhere along the way I saw it attributed to Mere Christianity, and I began repeating the error. Such is the danger of sourcing quotes in a Google-driven world (see last week’s blog for more on this).

Accurately sourcing quotes is just one of the challenges we face in a world full of oft-repeated quotes. What’s even more important is whether the quotes offer wisdom, regardless of their source. I’ve found that not all quotes are created equal, especially quotes on leadership. Some quotes, like Warren’s line about humility, are rock-solid, foundational axioms upon which you can build your life and leadership. (Exhibit B: “Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.” – Steven Wright) Others, however, are dangerous because they are sort of true, which, of course, makes them sort of false. And you don’t want to build your life or your leadership around something that’s the slightest bit false.

So, with that in mind, here are five common sayings regarding leadership that need a critical eye before you fully adopt them.

  1. It’s all relative.

This is one of those convenient sayings that’s not really attributed to anyone in particular but that comes up frequently when people want to get out of an argument without admitting defeat. It contains just enough truth to get us through because, in fact, some things are relative.

Noted genius Albert Einstein, who knew a thing or two about relativity, explained it this way: “Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. That’s relativity.”

But just because some things are relative doesn’t mean that all things are relative. Strong leaders know that compromise is essential, but compromising on truth is fatal. They know that relativity never trumps truth.

Abraham Lincoln made this point nicely with this short quiz: “How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four – calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.”

  1. Anything worth doing is worth doing well.

This is another great saying that you probably first heard from dear old mom or dad when you applied lackluster effort to some simple chore around the house. It makes great sense and it gives you a worthy goal of doing great work. But progress often comes by trying and failing. If you only do things you can do well, you end up avoiding a great many things that would make you better. So, the best leaders push themselves and their teams toward perfection, but offer grace – to themselves, as well as to others – when failure gets in the way.

Steven Sample, the former president of the University of Southern California, explained it like this in The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership: “Anything worth doing at all is worth doing poorly. It may be worth more if it’s done well, but it’s worth something if it’s done poorly.”

  1. There are no stupid questions.

Seriously? Of course there are.

But it’s unlikely that you are stupid or that you work with stupid people. More likely, you (or them) are underinformed. If that’s the case, get to the root of the issue. Why are people asking poor questions? There’s probably a problem with your culture, your systems or your processes – or all three.

  1. There are no leadership experts, only experts on their own leadership.

The first time I heard this, I loved it. It felt so counterintuitively on target.

Then I slept. Morning brought clarity.

Yes, leadership experts write and speak and consult from their own experiences. They have biases. But that’s true of all of life. You don’t have to lead with a certain style, however, to become an expert on how that style works. In fact, you’ll benefit if you become an expert on as many leadership styles as possible.

A friend and I wrote a book about grit, which we defined as passionate perseverance toward a goal. We’re experts on our own grit (and lack thereof), but we also did research to become more informed about what grit looks like in anyone. We leaned heavily on another researcher’s work. That researcher is an expert on grit – and not just her grit. And she helped us elevate our understanding.

What’s important is that we each become experts when it comes to our personal leadership style. We can learn from all the experts to help us figure out how we can best lead, and then we can own that style. If we get really good at it, we can write our own book.

  1. We learn more from our failures than our successes.

There are plenty of variations on this.

Actress/activist Jane Fonda said, “You don’t learn from successes; you don’t learn from awards; you don’t learn from celebrity; you only learn from wounds and scars and mistakes and failures. And that’s the truth.”

In its review of The Wisdom of Failure by Laurence Weinzimmer and Jim McConoughey, businessinsider.com used this headline: “You Can Learn More From Failure Than Success.”

Samuel Smiles, a Scottish author, said, “We learn wisdom from failure much more than from success.”

Or go with economist Kenneth Boulding: “Nothing fails like success because we don’t learn from it. We learn only from failure.”

There’s no doubting the value of learning from our failures; indeed, they have very little value if we don’t learn from them. The fault lies in making the statement absolute with words like “more from” or “only.”

The truth is, we can learn just as much from our successes as our failures. We often learn more from our failures simply because we spend more time analyzing them, while we only celebrate our successes. If we spent as much time thinking about what we did to succeed, we’d likely learn a great deal.

Don’t Quote Me

This is the first of a two-part series on quotes. Today we look at the dark side of collecting quotes.

There’s no empirical evidence to support this claim, but some believe that a guy named Adam holds the distinction of being the first human to start a collection of things.

Adam, as the story goes, lived in the way-back times – like “in the beginning.” And as a side benefit to being the first man on the planet, he got to name all the animals. So, he collected and named them.

“Fuzzy little critter with a fluffy tail eating a nut? I’ll call you a squirrel. Next …”

Since that time, people have been obsessed with collecting things – big things like land or even countries, small things like stamps, rare things like old coins, expensive things like fine art, and weird things like Christmas villages.

Me, I collect quotes.

I know what you’re thinking – “You can’t sell those on eBay.” And you’re right. Quotes don’t bring much on the open market. You aren’t going to retire off what you make from the shoebox full of them in your parents’ attic (although there was one fella who wrote a book based on just such a shoebox).

Still, I like quotes – quotes from movies and books and speeches and articles and historical texts – so I collect them. I keep most of them in Word documents arranged in folders on my computer. I have an entire document, for instance, just for quotes by comedian Steven Wright. (I suspect you’re suddenly thinking that collecting Christmas villages isn’t so strange.)

I’m not the world’s only quote-aholic, however – far from it. There are plenty of us out there, as evidenced by all the places to find quotes on any topic online. Dozens of sites are devoted to it. You can buy books of quotes. There’s no shortage of them in framed photos with eagles and mountains in the background. And you can flip open almost any nonfiction book (and some fiction books) and find quotes at the start of each chapter. Or go to any presentation by a speaker or corporate trainer, and you’ll no doubt see quotes scattered throughout their mind-numbing PowerPoint presentations.

Quotes on leadership – and most quotes relate somehow to leadership – are particularly popular.

In short, if you’re gonna collect something, quotes are a low-budget option with a high utilitarian value.

Ah, but quotes have their dark side. Yes, they do.

For starters, we’ve become overly dependent upon them, especially in business. We live in a world where original ideas are scarce, so we lean on the quotes of others to express our ideas for us. Rather than push ourselves toward a little creativity, we hit the easy button: Google me up a quote!

Another problem with quotes is that they can make fibbers of us because, news flash, Google isn’t perfect. The liars and the lazy roam the Internet like gnats, and they mix with the incompetent to infect the entire system with a truth-killing virus that spreads like a plague.

Yes, that description is a bit heavy, but I didn’t edit it out of this blog because, well, I really liked it. Feel free to quote me on it. But remember this: when “sourcing” a quote, a quick Google search is a sure way to bad attribution. So, make sure I’m the one who really said it.

Next week, Part II: Why the best advice on leadership sometimes isn’t so good after all.

Beyond Symptoms: Getting to the root of our problems

What’s the root of your problem?

I ask because we’ve become a symptoms-focused culture. Maybe it’s always been this way, but it certainly is now. We look at a problem and gravitate toward addressing the most obvious symptoms while doing little for the disease.

I don’t have to look any further than a mirror to find a guilty party.

For instance, my wife and I adopted a couple of kittens about 14 months ago. They lived inside through their first winter, which spoiled them more than a little. They’ve been mostly outside cats since the spring and full-time outside cats since we got a new couch this summer.

Here’s the problem: Because we live in a wooded hillside area, our property is visited by any number of wild critters, including raccoons. These black-eyed bandits are fond of cat food, so they regularly make themselves at home on our back deck. One of my solutions has been to trap them (cat food makes great bait) and then release them several miles from our home. But God has provided a seemingly endless supply of raccoons in our woods, and I’m getting a bit tired of hauling them off.

The root of the problem is that raccoons will always find their way to this free and easy food source. The best solution, of course, is to limit their food supply by not leaving cat food outside after dark. It’s a hassle to remember, but much less of a hassle than becoming a taxi service for the area’s raccoon population.

Maybe we treat the symptoms because we don’t know of a cure for the disease. I can’t eradicate all raccoons or change their desire for cat food. Despite advances in modern medicine, doctors often can’t do much more than address the symptoms of our ailments. Or, maybe we know the cure — which is sometimes true in medicine — but we find it easier or more convenient to treat the symptoms and just live with the disease. That’s why we wear clothes that make us look a little thinner rather than eating healthy food and exercising. Or, maybe we focus on the symptom because it gives the appearance of progress. Perception is better than reality.

For the world to really get better, however, each of us needs to do the hard work of addressing the true root of our problems: We’re sinners.

We can mask that reality and find all sorts of ways to justify it or explain it away, but the truth of it will always gnaw at us and prevent us from living as we’re called to live.

How do we treat this disease? We call on the Great Physician and then follow His prescriptions. Only God can take away our sins. He’ll do it if we ask, but we still have to live as fallen creatures until He brings us home. In the meantime, we can treat our disease through obedience to Him. That includes disciplines like prayer, the study of His Word, fellowship and worship with other believers, and submission to His authority over every aspect of our lives.

Those things aren’t easy, but they are essential to our spiritual health.

Treating the symptoms of our spiritual illness isn’t a bad thing, it’s just incomplete. We don’t have to do one or the other; we can address both at the same time. But if we never address the root of the problem, we’ll spend the rest of our lives treating symptoms that only get worse over time.

What the Secular World Misses from David and Goliath

David’s victory over Goliath is one of the world’s favorite and most revisited Biblical stories, perhaps because it’s so easy to draw secular lessons while ignoring the story’s main point.

Most folks know the story of the young shepherd rising to the challenge of the 6-foot-9ish champion from the Philistine army and slaying him with a stone from his sling. And there are all sorts of lessons to be learned from it.

For instance, Jay Coen Gilbert, co-founder of B Lab, sees David as an agent for bold change. He used the story recently as a battle cry for leaders to create a new Renaissance by building more socially responsible businesses. “David made a choice,” Gilbert writes. “A choice to embrace risk and act, despite the long odds.” And he paraphrases the great Martin Luther King, Jr., saying, “The future does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability; the future is created – it is created first in thought, next in commitment and last, and most importantly, in action.” Then he ends by calling his readers – the Davids (and Donnas) of our world – to action. “What is the future you want to create?” he writes. “Now, act to make it so.”

It’s all good stuff. I find myself nodding in agreement. But I also see the gaping hole – the critical missing piece from Gilbert’s otherwise fine essay.

Or, consider the TedTalk by the ever-popular Malcom Gladwell. He flips the script in a fascinating way, making the case that David, in fact, was not the underdog in the story, and that we often give giants too much credit and ourselves too little.

Cue applause. Great stuff.

Gladwell’s theory about why Goliath was really the underdog is open to debate, but much of it certainly is plausible. And his overriding lesson is valid, even if you can poke a few holes in the premise behind it. Yet, he, too, leaves out the key point and thus the most enduring lesson for us all.

In reading the story, it’s worth remembering that practice pays off, that we must embrace risk and take bold actions to achieve significant success, that looks can be deceiving, that even giants have weaknesses, and that underdogs (perceived or real) can win the day if they have the necessary skills, courage and self-confidence. But don’t stop there. Remember why David felt compelled to fight. Why he had courage. And why he won.

He fought because he was appalled that the Philistine had insulted God. “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” he asks in 1 Samuel 17: 26.

He had courage because he knew he had the skills to win and, more importantly, because he knew God was with him. “The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine,” he says in 1 Samuel 17:37.

And he won because he put his faith in God and gave Him the glory. “All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves,” he says in 1 Samuel 17:47, “for the battle is the Lord’s, and He will give all of you into our hands.”

So, you can leave God out of the story and still learn some valuable life lessons. But you’ll miss the point.

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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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Singing to the Lord

When I became a follower of Christ in the early 1990s, I noticed something about the music of my youth: I still enjoyed it, but I listened to it differently. I heard messages, both positive and negative, that I’d never noticed in my secular state of mind.

My youth was mostly in the 1970s, which everyone knows was the greatest decade. Sure, there was disco, but there was also (to name a few) Pink Floyd, Ted Nugent, Led Zeppelin, The Guess Who, Rod Stewart, the Temptations, James Taylor, the Rolling Stones, Al Green, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Willie Nelson, the Commodores, the Eagles, Waylon Jennings, and some guy named Elvis (until Aug. 16, 1977).

Most of those artists, with the exception of Elvis, have this in common: You don’t hear their hits in church. But many of the world’s most popular songs would work rather well in church if we simply looked at, listened to and sang them differently. That’s because many are love songs or songs about struggle, hope, forgiveness and pain – the topics, for instance, that we see scattered throughout the Psalms.

There also are many songs that, on the surface, seem like they would work great in church but have a message devoid of any really good news. “Take Me To Church” by Andrew Hozier-Byrne is an ode to some weird obsession with a woman. You don’t want that church. “Imagine,” the classic hit by John Lennon, paints a vision of hopelessness. No heaven? No, thank you. “I Did It My Way” by Frank Sinatra (or, if you prefer, by Elvis)? Well, I don’t want to do it the world’s way, but my way is pretty flawed, too. How about God’s way?

There are a great many popular songs, however, that we could retrofit for church. Some are faith-based songs by secular artists. Some work if you sing them to or for the Lord (and perhaps with a minor tweak or two in the lyrics). I brainstormed a few dozen one day when I should have been working, and here, in no particular order, are 12 of them:

  1. “When Love Comes to Town” by U2 and BB King. Or almost any other U2 song – “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking for” or “Yahweh.”
  2. “Jesus is Just Alright” by the Doobie Brothers
  3. “You Are So Beautiful” by Joe Cocker
  4. “Bless the Broken Road” by Rascal Flatts
  5. “Forever and Ever, Amen” by Randy Travis
  6. “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” by Stevie Wonder
  7. “Always and Forever” by Luther Vandross (or Lionel Richie)
  8. “Power of Love” by Huey Lewis and the News
  9. “Spirit in the Sky” by Norman Greenbaum
  10. “I Want to Know What Love Is” by Foreigner
  11. “Because You Loved Me” by Celine Dion
  12. “Can’t Help Falling in Love” by Elvis

Don’t get me wrong – I love the old hymns, and I’m a fan of praise and worship music, too. I’m pretty eclectic in my musical tastes. I’m not suggesting we sing any of these songs in church; I’m just saying we could. What matters isn’t the musical style, it’s the state of our hearts. Worship isn’t music. It’s a state of life.

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Training my brain on scripture

I read recently about the ways technology is changing our brains. For instance, easy access to information is training our brain to “index” rather than “retain” information. Makes sense.

I can still remember my family’s home phone number from when I was growing up, but who bothers to memorize a phone number these days? And all that time I spent memorizing sports records seems like such a waste now that anything we want or need to know is easily found with a quick and simple Internet search. We just need to know the key search words that will lead us to the facts. Or the fake news, as the case may be.

In many ways, this is awesome. There’s only so much room in my head for information, useless or otherwise, so I’m OK with keeping most of it stored on a hard drive or the cloud or wherever it is Google stores such things. If I need it – say, to win an important argument about who is the all-time leading scorer in NAIA men’s basketball history – I know where, or at least how, to find it.

On the other hand, I’ve come to recognize the value of the basic disciplines my parents tried so hard to instill into my ever-resistant soul when I was growing up.

For instance, I argued for years that it was pointless to make my bed each morning when, as was plainly obvious to anyone, I would mess it up again that evening. Why not keep it perpetually prepared for my impending slumber? As an adult, however, I’ve discovered that making the bed each day provides a nice sense of order in the midst of my sometimes chaotic life. Plus, it makes my wife happy. I retain many of my youthful slob-like tendencies, but I find comfort in knowing things are well ordered. Things have a place and they are in their place.

Retaining knowledge is as important as ever. Very often, I hear arguments on the political debates of our day that are weakly rooted in quick Google searches that led to unverified articles that shade the truth and do little more than promote confirmation bias. But retaining knowledge requires discipline, and some of us, myself included, aren’t particularly good at it.

This is frustrating at times, but never more than when I’m trying to remember a Bible verse. Of all the things we should memorize, scripture should top the list. Yet, I stink at this discipline. I’m not bad at remembering what scripture says, but I fail miserably at quoting it chapter and verse. I’ve used a journal, index cards and an app. I memorize verses for a few weeks or months, but then they slip away.

That’s OK, though, because I know I never want to become just an indexer of God’s word. I want to keep it in my heart. So, I’ll keep at it and do the best I can. If I forget the chapter and verse but remember the gist of the message, I figure I’ve gained something important. I might not have every pillow fluffed perfectly and properly placed, but I’ve made my bed.

Trivial side note: I was a cub reporter working for the Arkansas Democrat in the late 1980s when someone on the sports copy desk asked the question, “Who’s the NAIA’s all-time leading scorer in men’s basketball?” There was no Google, so I reached for the NAIA media guide. Before I could flip a page, Robert Yates, a college kid working with us part-time, said, “Bevo Francis.” And he was right. Two other players have since surpassed Francis on the career scoring list. But Francis still holds the record for most points in a game, scoring 113 for Rio Grande (Ohio) in a 1954 game against Hillsdale (Mich.).

Clarence “Bevo” Francis

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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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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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