Change the World: A true story  (find your own moral)

He was an older gentleman with nicely trimmed white hair and a beard, and he sat comfortably on a milk crate backed against the outer wall of a building along 8th Avenue near Columbus Circle in Manhattan.

He had a cigarette in his mouth, a paperback book in his left hand, and a plastic cup partially filled with change in his left hand. As he read his book, he shook the cup in hopes that someone passing by might take notice and contribute to his cause.

I stood about 30 feet away as I waited for a friend to emerge from the subway station. People passed by in typical New York fashion, each en route somewhere and ignoring the world along the way.

Then a young man emerged from the subway station, tapped my shoulder and asked if I had a quarter. “I only need one quarter,” he added. I told him the truth: “I don’t have a quarter.” And he was moving on before the final word left my lips.

He walked to the next person he saw, a young woman who was lighting a cigarette, and he asked her for a smoke. She handed him the carton in her hand, which had one cigarette remaining. He took it, she lit it for him, and he moved quickly on his way without a word. As he left, he tossed the empty carton against the wall just a few feet from the man on the crate.

The man looked up from his book, glanced at the carton, and then walked over and picked it up.

“There’s a trash can right there,” he said as he walked by me, “and that guy just throws it on the sidewalk.”

I can’t explain exactly why his actions moved me the way they did, but I handed him a dollar bill as he walked back.

“God bless you,” I said, and I meant it.

“Thank you,” he said, and he seemed to mean it, too.

Then he walked to the crate, sat back down, and began reading his book.


Click to buy Grow Like Jesus 


Grow Like Kittens

Last week, Audrey and I went by the local animal shelter and adopted a couple of kittens. It hasn’t taken Tuck and Tessa long to make themselves at home, but they’re still rather young – less than two months old – so they have plenty to learn. That’s part of the fun of kittens: Watching them explore this crazy new world and joyfully learn how to function in it.

So, here’s how they’re doing so far with a few key kitten skills …

  • Stalking/Pouncing – Tuck, B-plus; Tessa, A-minus
  • Vertical Leap – Tuck, C-plus; Tessa, C
  • Curiosity – Tuck, A; Tessa, A
  • Obedience – Tuck, B; Tessa, B-minus
  • Climbing – Tuck, B; Tessa, B-minus
  • Cuddling – Tuck, B; Tessa, A
  • Potty Training – Tuck, A; Tessa, A (OK, one of them probably deserves a B, but we’re not sure which, and it was just that one time)
  • Sibling Wrestling – Tuck, B; Tessa, A

As you can see, they are quite advanced for seven weeks old.

Photo by me
Photo by me

Eventually, of course, kittens turn into cats, and life no longer is all fun and games. Adulthood takes over. Growth and learning seem to plateau. They settle into routines. They have real jobs with real to-do lists: Eat, sleep, patrol for mice, demand affection from humans, repeat.

Sometimes, I can relate. I’m not sure about cats, but I’m certain Jesus calls us to something more. Adulthood was never intended as a destination, but as a phase for more growth. Wherever we find ourselves in this journey of life, there’s always more to learn, always room to grow. That’s one of the broader points of Luke 2:52 and a big reason I wrote Grow Like Jesus. It seems clear to me that God is calling us to continually grow in wisdom, stature, favor with God, and favor with man.

So how are you doing? What are some key skills in your growth? How would you grade yourself in areas like prayer, time in God’s word, patience with others, dependence on God, healthy eating, exercise, relationship building, service to others, stalking/pouncing …?

OK, maybe not that last one. But whether you are newly born-again followers of Jesus or much further into your journey, the sanctification process never ends until you’re called home.

For me, the best part is that real growth in Christ always brings me joy. I’m like Tuck pulling on the drawstring of the window blind so that he hits the wind chime and makes it jingle. Life is mysterious and magical. I might not understand everything that’s going on around me, but I know life is good. I know God is good. And as I explore and grow, I think God watches and smiles.


Click to buy Grow Like Jesus 

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.


3 Keys to Life-changing Headlines!

Because “how-to” blogs are really popular and because I like to deviate from time to time from my norm, today I shall provide advice on how to write a great headline for blogs and online articles. Even if you don’t write blogs or online articles, you’ll no doubt find this information entertaining, if not life-changing. So read it and share it with a million of your friends.

As with my more faith-oriented blogs, I don’t claim to always practice what I preach. But when it comes to headlines, I do have some credibility. As a newspaper journalist in a former life, I sometimes wrote headlines for the print edition of the Arkansas Democrat. And, in fact, I even won an award for one.

That probably prompts at least three questions. 1.) “What’s a print edition?” 2.) “Do they really give awards for writing headlines?” And 2.) “OK, then, Mr. Smarty Pants, what won you the award?”

1987 Wimbledon Champion Pat Cash

So a print edition is like what you read online only it comes printed on paper. Some publications still provide this option, but more frequently they’re found only in museums. The answer to No. 2. Is, “Yes.” Well, I assume they still do. But I know they once did, because I’ve got a certificate in a box somewhere to prove it. And as for my award-winning headline, it described an Associated Press story about the 1987 men’s tennis championship at Wimbledon. You no doubt recall that Pat Cash upset Ivan Lendl, the Czechoslovakian who was ranked No. 1 in the world at the time. So the headline read: “Cash better than Czech at Wimbledon.”

This leads perfectly into the first of my tips for blog/article headline writing, which, to be clear, is different from writing headlines for print editions of a newspaper.

  1. Make it clever. If that were easy, of course, we’d all do it more often, and not just in headlines. As it is, some of us try and most of us fail. But keep trying even if you keep failing. Filter your attempts through a lame-o-meter. My personal lame-o-meter isn’t very accurate, so I usually ask for a second opinion from my wife. Most headlines don’t survive a good lame-o-meter, which is why so few headlines are clever.
  2. Make a practical promise. For the most part, this involves creating a list in your blog or article and then selling that list at the start of the headline. Fast Company is great at this. I get regular emails from Fast Company that woo me into their content. One such email included headlines that promised, among other things, “Two items that …,” “Four steps to …,” “9 methods of …,” and “Three easy steps for …” But there are other ways do to this. That same Fast Company email also had headlines that included “a surprisingly simple trick for…” and the ever-popular “How to …” and “When to …”
  3. Make an aspirational promise. It’s great to promise practical advice, but it needs to take readers someplace they want to go. It has to meet their so-called “felt needs.” Again, I turn to the masters, Fast Company, for my examples. Their articles/blogs promised to help me be more productive, be happier, have more breakthrough ideas, lead more effective meetings, be a better listener, avoided a wasted day, boost my productivity, embrace uncertainty, and choose my career path. And that was just from one email!

If you can somehow combine a practical promise, an aspirational promise, and just the right dash of cleverness, well, then you have yourself a winner. It will lead to “opens” and “visits” and “clicks” for all the content you “curate.” And it will change your life!

Lessons from a Baptismal God Moment

Did you hate going to church as a kid? Not me. I hung out with friends in Sunday School, played hang man or connect the dots on the bulletin during “big church,” and then my family went home and ate Mom’s awesome pot roast for lunch. What wasn’t to like?

I later spent more than a decade as an agnostic, not because I didn’t like going to church but because I was avoiding God. Thankfully, God is persistent in His pursuit of His lost sheep.

My wife and I are blessed to regularly attend an amazing local church, but it’s very different from when I was a kid. We now have small groups instead of Sunday School, I actually take notes (usually on the “communication card”), and we eat out for lunch. But I love going to church more than ever, and here’s why: I love the God moments.

I’ve experienced these throughout my spiritual journey and at four great local churches. The most recent was on a recent Sunday when a family member waded into the warm hot tub waters next to the stage and a pastor dunked him in front of everyone who was attending the 11:30 service.

The baptism itself was a God moment. Jeremy, my step-son-in-law, is nearly 40 years old, comes from what anyone would describe as a dysfunctional family, and spent much of his life trapped in the addictive pleasures of the world. To watch God work in his life and create transformation that seemed so impossible has been awe-inspiring, to say the least.JeremyBaptism

This was the second family baptism for us in less than a year. One of our granddaughters, at the age of 8, gave her life to Jesus and was baptized in the swimming pool of the Boys and Girls Club that’s converted into a church each Sunday. Clearly God can reach us at any age and under any circumstances!

Jeremy’s baptism wasn’t the only God-moment of that particular service, however. Jeremy had been talking about baptism for several months, but one thing or another seemed to delay it. Was it Satan? Or was it God’s timing? I don’t know, but I know God allowed Jeremy to experience baptism on a day when much of the message was about sanctification.

Jeff Crawford did a magnificent job unpacking Philippians 2:12-18. There’s not room here to share all the lessons, but three things stood out as great messages for a new believer like Jeremy and as wonderful reminders for all of us who want to grow like Jesus.

Salvation is a journey. In Grow Like Jesus, I write that “Faith in Christ is a one-time decision that leads to a lifetime of growth.” Or, as Jeff pointed out, there’s an ongoing aspect of salvation. It happens in the past (the moment when we are saved), present (our sanctification), and future (our eventual glorification when Jesus returns). So when Paul says to “work out your salvation” (verse 12), he’s not talking about “earning” it. He’s talking about living it—growing to be more like Jesus.

Salvation is eternal. One of Jeremy’s battles centered on assurance of salvation. He was confident he would stumble. His “fear and trembling” (verse 12) was of his own abilities, but God showed him he couldn’t lose his salvation. At the same time, we should live it out with paramount respect and awe for the God of the universe.

Salvation is “work-out-able.” How do we work out our salvation? Verses 14-18 offer some tips. Don’t complain (verse 14), let God’s light shine in you and through you (verse 15), study the Bible (verse 16), serve others as an expression of your faith (verse 17), and be glad and joyful in how God works in you and others (verse 18).

I left church that Sunday thankful for the lessons I learned and in awe of a God whose timing is perfect, who, indeed, works all things for His good, and who allows us to regularly experience God moments. Take a moment and thank Him for all the God moments you’ve experienced.


What if Jesus wrote you a Letter?

Here’s the question that kept me up one night: What if Jesus wrote me a letter?

Seems simple. Not scary. Sort of cool, right? Who wouldn’t want a letter from the Son of God?

Without question, I’d love to get such a letter. But I can’t say for sure that I’d like everything it might say. In fact, it could be especially difficult to take, and that’s why the question was keeping me up that night.

Audrey and I had been reading the letters to the churches in the book of Revelation, so naturally we noticed that a few of them easily could be letters to the church in America. That’s when it hit me: What if Jesus wrote a letter like this to me? I am the church in America, or at least part of it. Would he find something good in me? Would he call me lukewarm? How would he challenge me to live differently?

With that in mind, I recalled a little writing exercise I learned several years ago during a parent’s weekend at Rollins College. A professor found himself in a room of assembled ne’er-do-wells—dads, moms, and other interested parties. The prof either wanted to give us a taste of what his students typically experienced, or he just needed a way to kill some time before lunch. Regardless, he gave us an assignment: Write a letter to yourself from someone you love but who is no longer living. If you can do this, he explained, you can write fiction, because fiction is something we make up based on what our experiences tell us might happen.

I wrote a letter from my dad to me, and I thoroughly enjoyed the exercise.

So as I considered the letters Jesus wrote to the churches, I mentally wrote a letter from Jesus to me. Was it fiction? I don’t know. I asked the Holy Spirit for some help, so I believe there was some inspiration and, well, revelation, involved.

Here’s what I learned: There’s room for improvement.

Well, duh!

I felt affirmation about some areas of my life, but I also felt the pangs of conviction. I felt like God wanted me to experience Him more in two or three specific areas. I shared this with Audrey and asked her to pray with me, asking God to show us what “change” would look like and provide opportunities to pursue it. Frankly, I’m still not so sure how well I’m living it out, but I’m doing my best to trust God to show me the way each day.

So if Jesus wrote you a letter, what would it say? And how will you respond?

Layers from the Word

layers“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” – Hebrews 4:12

The more I’ve re-read this verse, the more layers I’ve discover. Consider:
+ The word of God is alive — but not just alive, it’s active. It could be alive and passive, much as my faith sometimes seems to be. But it is actively doing things.
+ So how is it active? What actions does it take? It penetrates my very soul and spirit, my joints, my bones. Not only that, it actually judges my thoughts and attitudes.
+ How does it do that? How do words on a page become active? I get that they penetrate, but that happens when I reflect on them and allow my soul and spirit to understand their meaning. But it’s more than that. The word of God actually judges my thoughts and attitudes and it convicts me in ways that are beyond my own reasoning.
+ Is this the work of the Holy Spirit? Or is this Jesus? Or both? The Hebrews passage doesn’t capitalize “word,” but it’s the same Greek word — logos. And we know that one of the names given to Jesus was the Word.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. “ — John 1:1-3
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” — John 1:14

Note from A Greek philosopher named Heraclitus first used the term Logos around 600 B.C. to designate the divine reason or plan which coordinates a changing universe.

An Untoward Generation

My wife and I read a prayer in a devotional one morning that asked God’s assistance in the lives of children in “a crooked and untoward generation.” Now, when you see the phrase “untoward generation” you immediately know this wasn’t written yesterday. But you also no doubt know that today’s generation is as “crooked and untoward” as any in history, including the one in the 1600s when Jeremy Taylor penned the prayer.

What also hasn’t changed much in the last 600 years is the needs of our children. Taylor, an English cleric known for his poetic writing style, asks God to give children “healthful bodies, understanding souls, and sanctified spirits, that they may be thy servants and thy children all their days.”

Then he prays for their protection, which is where you see this literary gem: “So order the accidents of their lives, that by good education, careful tutors, holy examples, innocent company, prudent counsel, and thy restraining grace, their duty to thee may be secured in the midst of a crooked and untoward generation.”

The accidents of their lives. Yep, our children will make mistakes and poor choices. We want those “accidents” to lead them somewhere holy. Good education. Yep, want them to learn the right stuff. Careful tutors, holy examples, innocent company, prudent counsel. Yep, we want some good influences around them. And, of course, restraining grace. Yep, we want God’s grace to shower them.

We immediately prayed this for our children, who are grown, but also for our grandchildren. Later, upon reflection, I prayed it for myself.

Note: If you want more from Jeremy Taylor, there’s plenty on the internet. That prayer is in several compilation books, including The Whole Works of the Right Rev. Jeremey Taylor, Volume III. If you’re a Kindle type of person, you can pick up several of Taylor’s books for as little as 99 cents.


What you’ve stumbled upon…

Several years ago I was inspired to write a book about Luke 2:52. Eventually, I actually did it. Then I started the journey of trying to get it published. By God’s grace, it appears it will be available in April through Elevate Publishing. This blog serves as a way for me to share some thoughts with readers and potential readers of that book. It’s a baby blog today, so check back often. It will grow.