Coffee Pot Speech in a Fire Hose World

My coffee pot has been speaking to me.

Not literally, of course. No need to call in the folks with the white coats, at least not yet. It’s speaking to me as a metaphor, which, come to think of it, is pretty common in my life. I see metaphors all around me – in nature, in mental images, in concepts, and in inanimate objects such as coffee pots – and they speak to me.

What’s the coffee pot saying, you ask?

The best way I can describe it is by quoting Proverbs 15:28 – “The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil.”

The coffee pot, in other words, has become my personal metaphor for controlling my speech. Good coffee begins with good beans. But what happens if you don’t filter your coffee? Regardless of the quality of the beans, the pot gushes bitter junk you can’t drink and that you would never serve to anyone.

My words also need a filter. Just because I’m thinking something, doesn’t mean I need to say it. And when I need to say something, I am wise to filter it appropriately. But we live in a world where many people seem to think their mouths should be an open fire hose rather than a filtered coffee pot. We are tempted daily to gush every opinion with little regard for if it will help or damage our spiritual health or our relationships with others.

Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), so it’s not surprising that the Bible has plenty to say about the value of filtering our speech. Here are a few reasons it tells me to value coffee pot speech:

It brings healing, not pain. Proverbs 12:18 says, “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

It benefits others. Ephesians 4:29 says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” And Proverbs 15:4 says, “The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.”

It strengthens relationships. Proverbs 17:9 says, “Whoever would foster love covers an offense, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.” And Proverbs 26:10 says, “Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down.”

It leads to wisdom and wise responses. Colossians 4:6 says, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

It’s a form of self-protection. Proverbs 21:23 says, “Those who guard their mouths and tongues keep themselves from calamity.” And Proverbs 10:19 says, “Sin is not ended by multiplying words, but the prudent hold their tongues.”

It’s for my good. 1 Peter 3:10 says, “For, ‘Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech.’” And Matthew 15:11 says, “What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”

I have found a simple truth about my coffee pot. The quality of the coffee it makes depends largely on the quality of the coffee I put into it and whether I use a good filter to block the impurities. That’s what I want from my speech, as well.

 

 

 

Staying Engaged in the Imperfect Church

The pastor was teaching about the importance of staying engaged in a strong local church, and he provided three reasons/warnings why people typically disengage. It was the 11:30 a.m. service, and we were sitting along an aisle, second row from the very back, in the less-than-a-year-old worship center. In front of us were two teens, one who was texting throughout much of the service. Behind us were two teens who spent the service talking, giggling, and kicking the back of my seat.

These distractions were helpful reminders that I love my church even when it’s not perfectly meeting my needs. It occurred to me, in fact, that there is at least one reason not listed by the pastor that we disengage from the church – the church tends to let us down in all sorts of ways because the church is filled with imperfect people. Pastors, staff, fellow members … they might say something that offends us, fail to show appreciation or support for things we’re doing or trying to do, act unprofessionally in small ways like not responding to emails … We get our feelings hurt because, of course, the world, including the church, is supposed to meet our needs, right? But, as the pastor aptly put it, only Jesus meets all of our needs. Only Jesus is perfect. The rest of us are prone to error.

http://www.freeimages.com/

I’ve been guilty of selfish frustration with the imperfect church, so I’m seeking forgiveness. One, I know I contribute greatly to that imperfection. Two, I know how much God blesses me and my family through our church. Heartfelt worship … Biblical teaching … amazing leadership … Godly men and women serving selflessly out of love for Jesus … the list goes on and on. God even uses the imperfections to teach me things like patience, forgiveness, self-awareness, and the importance of loving one another when it’s not easy – like when some is kicking the back of my seat.

Caution in a Wild, Wild World

We have some guests staying with us for the next few months, and they include two dogs and a cat. We already have two cats, so you might imagine that our wild kingdom is in a state of adjustment. It reminds me that living in a so-called civilized society sometimes numbs us to the reality that it’s a dangerous world. Animals recognize the potential threats around them, and they proceed with caution. Perhaps too much fear, but better safe than sorry seems to be their approach. Humans, on the other hand, often fail to recognize the dangers around us until it’s too late, usually because it’s cloaked as something fun and exciting. That’s the way of sin. Guard your heart. Let in only what honors God.

Feeding Sheep

A familiar piece of scripture took on some new meaning for me recently. It’s one of my favorite things about a life with Christ … this reality that He’s always teaching me fresh things that I need by helping me see something new in His everlasting, never-changing Word. On this particular day, I was reflecting on a conversation Jesus had with Peter. You can find it in John 21:15-19. Jesus keeps asking if Peter loves Him, and Peter keeps saying yes. Each time, Jesus adds a simple command: Feed my sheep.

This is a great passage that sets up Peter’s role in the Church, and it also speaks clearly to each of us today: If we love Jesus, then we’re compelled to feed His sheep.

I’ve always thought of “His sheep” as the people I encounter each day — anyone and everyone. I still believe that’s the case. On this day, however, the meaning felt more specific, more personal. If I love Jesus, I will feed His sheep. So, if I love my wife, it also makes sense that I will feed her sheep … I will feed the ones she takes care of and loves dearly. This reality strengthened my commitment for how I’m called to love my wife’s children — my stepchildren. When we married, I made a commitment to love and care for her children just as I love and care for mine. But now I see it in a more powerful light. When I “feed” them, I’m showing my love for her and for Christ.

For me, this raised an interesting question: Who do I love and how am I feeding their sheep? I love my family — my mom, my dad, my siblings, my children, my stepchildren, my grandchildren … I will feed their sheep. I love my friends. I will feed their sheep. I love no one on earth more than I love my wife. I will feed her sheep. And, most of all, I love Jesus. I will feed His sheep.

Give it a rest, he said

I’m a fan of transparency … of saying what I think and not just what sounds nice or what others want to hear. So here’s my daily dose of transparency: I’m swamped, and I need a break from this blog.

I love writing it. I’m thankful for the folks who read it. But the truth is, it doesn’t contribute much to the bottom line of my business. I don’t write it so that I can become famous or wealthy. I write it for two reasons: One, it’s good practice. Two, it’s an outlet for expressing ideas that somewhere deep in my heart I believe can add value to the lives of people who read it.

I don’t know how much value it actually provides to others, but for me the main value is this: It allows me to do something I love for no other reason than because I love it. That’s huge. But when I get stressed over my self-imposed deadlines and my commitment to write a blog every week, then I lose some of the joy that comes from writing it. I need a balance. I need the accountability that drives me to write but without the pressure that steals the joy from it.

For nearly a year, I’ve been praying about how to re-shape this website — growlikejesus.com — into something more useful to the world around me. I’ve thought of turning it into a portal site that provides resources for discipleship, which would open it up to more contributors and reduce the need for me to write as much. But God hasn’t opened the doors to make that happen. And I’ve thought of making it more of a home base for my writing business. For now, I’m leaving it as it is, but I’m cutting back on my blogging. I’m going to shoot for two a month, but it might be one. Really, I’m going to attempt to write as time allows and the Spirit commands. We shall see how often turns out to be.

In the meantime, I will leave you with this quote that I hope expresses how I feel about those who regularly read this blog: “Piglet noticed that even though he had a very small heart, it could hold a rather large amount of gratitude.” ― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

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.

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.

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.