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.

Scheduling goodwill

One of the key points in Grow Like Jesus is that we grow in “favor with man” by building relationships that move people closer to Christ. So our relationships should point others toward a relationship with Christ if they don’t know Him and a deeper relationship with Christ if they already know Him.

There are many ways to do that, of course, but today I’d like to discuss just one: Schedule goodwill.

I’m all for random acts of kindness. And, in fact, there’s never a wrong time to do the right thing. So I’m not suggesting that you only offer goodwill according to a schedule. You have an endless supply, so give it out whenever and wherever possible. But I am suggesting that you put some “goodwill giving” on your actual schedule.

There’s a common axiom in business that goes like this: Plan the work and work the plan. Apply that same concept to your goodwill. If you schedule some goodwill, you’re more likely give out some goodwill.

Audrey and I take a similar approach to prayer. While the circumstances of each day shape who and what we pray for, we also have a list we use to intentionally cover specific people, organizations, and issues in prayer. We plan the prayer and pray the plan.

I saw an opportunity to apply this to goodwill after a recent meeting with the college pastors at our church. Here’s the back story: My wife and I open our home to college students for a weekly Bible study. They lead it. We just provide a place and help out as needed. At a meeting for “host home families,” one of the college pastors suggested that we send an encouraging text each week to the group leader.

I loved the idea. But why stop with the leader of the college Bible study?

Since I’m one of those guys who tends to forget stuff, I decided to schedule a reminder to text or email a different person each day with an encouraging word. It’s literally on my calendar.

pixabay.com
pixabay.com

Here’s my schedule (subject to change):

Monday: A pastor.

Tuesday: A friend.

Wednesday: A college group leader.

Thursday: A missionary we support.

Friday: Someone in my small group.

It won’t take long to send these messages, so I might send five a day. That would be 25 encouraging messages a week.

We’ll see how it goes. Frankly, I tend to ebb and flow on such things. I’ll start strong and go through some dry spells. But if a message pops up every day on my calendar reminding me to encourage someone, chances are better that I’ll do it.

So what sort of goodwill can you fit on your schedule?

——————–

Click to buy Grow Like Jesus 

GLJ Cover

Does Life Have You Baffled?

A few weeks ago I bought a baffle. At the risk of getting all technical on you, it’s a cone-shaped thingy that goes on the pole that holds our bird feeders. It keeps squirrels from climbing the pole and eating all the bird seed.

It leaves the squirrels … you got it … baffled.

I no longer see squirrels lounging atop the bird feeders, but there always seems to be plenty of seed on the ground below. So the squirrels gather there for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Are they somehow shaking it down or just eating the table scraps from the birds?

Frankly, it has me … you got it … baffled.

When life leaves me baffled, I look for answers. For things like keeping squirrels out of the bird feeders, I turn to Gsquirrel baffleoogle. On worldly issues, it has all (well, most) of the answers. For important matters, I still turn to the Bible. It has all the answers, and I do mean all.

But as I wrote in Grow Like Jesus, God often provides us with a limited amount of direction. It’s as if He’s looking down on us and saying, “Here’s a few clues. Now you figure it out.”

On the hand, I don’t have much to figure out. My life has never been better. I have a wonderful wife, a great job, grown kids who mostly don’t need me, grand kids I can’t wait to see, and my biggest problem involves keeping squirrels from eating the bird food.

Yet, I’m still regularly baffled by many things of life where God is giving me limited specifics and mostly telling me to “figure it out.”

Here are some things that have had me baffled within the last week. Some go back months or even years. Regardless, I find no quick and clear answers; just the call to figure it out.

  • Why do so many people abandon or resist Christianity just because they see imperfect Christians representing a perfect Christ? What do they expect?
  • Why did God kill everyone at Jericho?
  • How do I make “speak the truth in love” more than a nice-sounding platitude?
  • Should I buy a gun before it’s illegal to do so?
  • Should I feel stupid that I didn’t even realize the Brits were thinking of leaving the European Union until a couple of days before it happened?
  • And should I feel even more stupid because I have no idea how that vote will likely impact my life?
  • How much of my work should be “my” projects versus “client” projects?
  • Why do I use the word “frankly” as a crutch in my writing?
  • Why do we try to shape God into an image that fits what we want and what we think is right?
  • Why do we park on a driveway and drive on parkway? (OK, I actually know the answer to that one.)
  • Trump or Clinton?

That’s just the short list. Frankly, I know God provides insights into everyone one of those questions, and, in some cases, the answers are clear if I’ll only look close enough or dig deep enough. But everything in life that leaves me baffled – from the squirrels to politics – has this in common: It’s in the hands of God. So whether I figure it out or not, I can trust that it will all work out. God is never baffled.

Isaiah 46:9-10

Remember the former things, those of long ago;
I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me.
I make known the end from the beginning,
from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say, ‘My purpose will stand,
and I will do all that I please.’

 

Lessons from the Flower Garden

When Audrey and I drove around town for the annual “garden tour,” we saw a variety of approaches with one thing in common: The owners had invested more than money; they had invested love.

My favorite gardener.
My favorite gardener.

We might not have the budget or the passion of the gardeners on that tour, but we still give it our best shot. Audrey provides the vision and creativity, and I’m available to help with some of the manual labor. Together, we do what we can to keep a few plants, flowers, shrubs, and herbs alive around our home.

Frankly, Audrey is much better at it than she admits. She takes the time to do the research, and that sets us up for success. Most of what we plant ends up growing and looking great, all to her credit. So when I walk on our back deck, down by our small pond, or across the front lawn, I see planters alive with color.

Now, if you know me at all, you’ve probably never thought of me as a flower. Maybe a weed. But not a flower. Still, when it comes to my spiritual health, I can relate to the various flowers around our house and to this entire process of getting things to grow.

Early Spring
Early Spring

So here are three lessons I think followers of Jesus can take from our flower gardens:

  1. The environment matters. Flowers need good soil, the right amount of sun, and just enough water. Otherwise, they get sick and sometimes they die. Likewise, we need a strong local church. We need to spend time each day feeding on things like prayer and time in God’s Word. We need to fill ourselves with the things of God so we can grow like Jesus.
  2. We need some Miracle Grow. I have no idea what is in Miracle Grow, but I know it works. We hook a bottle to the sprayer on our hose, soak our plants and flowers and watch them thrive. The Miracle Grow of our spiritual lives, of course, is the Holy Spirit. We don’t know how it works, either, but if we tap into it, our lives will thrive. Sadly, we often neglect to ask for help from the Holy Spirit. We’re too busy with life or we decide not to seek help from something we don’t fully understand. But for followers of Jesus, this powerful force is living within us and we can and should tap into it.
  3. We are all gardeners. We all own the responsibility for our personal spiritual growth. Our pastor doesn’t own it. Our spouse doesn’t own it. Our mentor doesn’t own it. But we’re also called to live in community. Flower gardens don’t thrive on their own. They need help. And while we should appreciate those who invest in us, we also need to invest in others, encourage them, and, at times, provide some wisdom that supports their growth.

Notice the one thing those lessons have in common: They don’t need money; they just need love.

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.

 

Three Ways Jesus Displayed Grit

Few qualities of success are more vital than grit. Some social scientist, in fact, consider it the essential quality.  So it comes as no surprise that Jesus had grit. And never was the grit of Jesus more evident than during the final week of his life.

How so? Well, to answer that question, let’s start with a definition.

In Forging Grit, co-author Mike Thompson and I define grit as the passion for getting something done and the fortitude to see it through even when obstacles seem overwhelming. That book is written to a business audience, but the definition applies in all areas of life. With that in mind, here are some ways Jesus modeled grit, especially during the week that ended with His death and resurrection:

Jesus knew His core. The wisdom of Jesus was grounded in His understanding of the scriptures and in His relationship with God the Father. He wasn’t guided by self-principles, but by God-principles. He knew who He was and whose He was. (See Luke 24:27, John 8:55, John 17:25, among others.)

Jesus knew His mission. God the Father sent Jesus to earth with a purpose, and Jesus never allowed Satan to distract Him from that purpose. He knew He would have to suffer to accomplish that purpose;  but He also knew that doing so would bring glory to God. (See John 8:14 and Luke 18:31-33, among others.)

Jesus embraced His passion. Passion literally means “suffering” and “enduring.” And Jesus displayed the ultimate passion in dying on the cross for the sins of the world. The obstacles can’t get more overwhelming than that. (See Mark 8:31 and Luke 22:42, among others.)

We read and hear plenty about Jesus around Easter, of course, and it’s worth remembering that His sacrifice for you and for me came with real pain and intense suffering. We can thank God that Jesus had the grit to endure it. Otherwise, all hope would be lost. And we can model what He lived by knowing our core, knowing our mission, and embracing our passion.

Beyond the Obvious: 3 Tips on Finding Rest

Every now and then I notice a wave of articles about research that has proven something we’ve always known. This week contribution? Drumroll, please … Rest matters.

Human beings need sleep. Our bodies need to recharge. We need a good eight hours of sleep, we’re told. And while people who get by on six often think they’re getting enough, research proves their performance suffers.

Followers of Jesus (and others who are scholars of the Old and New Testaments) are usually aware that rest is Biblical. God rested after creating the universe (Genesis 2:2-3), not because He was tired but to set an example (Mark 2:27). Jesus rested (Mark 4:38, 6:31) and promised we can find the ultimate rest in Him (Matthew 11:28-30).

In short, rest helps us stay fit mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually, which are all important when it comes to our spiritual growth.

So we should rest. Got it. But how?

If you’re like me, knowing what’s good for you and doing what’s good for you often are two different things. Forcing sleep is particularly challenging. Thankfully, I’m married to a wonderful woman who values rest and has taught me some tricks for sleeping more soundly.

  1. Change your diet. My wife and I generally eat a healthy diet based on The Daniel Plan. I’ve not only lost weight with this approach, but I sleep much better. Research tells us (the obvious) that there’s a high correlation between sleep apnea and obesity, so dieting and exercising to promote physical health also ends up promoting better rest.
  2. Fix your routine. Left to my own desires, I’d stay up late watching television or working or playing games on the computer or ipad. But because I’m married to someone smarter than me, I go to bed relatively early and around the same time each night. I try not to drink anything within a few hours of bedtime. And we turn off all electronics at least 30 minutes before we get ready for bed. We pray together during this time. And if it’s nice enough, we walk out on our deck and stargaze for several minutes. (Note: We don’t have a television in our bedroom, something I highly recommend for anyone who wants a healthy marriage.)
  3. Talk to Jesus. Inevitably, we all have those nights when we struggle to fall asleep or when we wake up and can’t go back to sleep. Our thoughts race around from stressful topic to stressful topic. We problem solve. We pre-schedule work. Or we slip into negative scenario building where we waste time imaging the worst things that can happen. A friend of mine taught me that these are perfect opportunities to talk to Jesus. “If I’m having a hard time going to sleep,” he told me, “I figure Jesus must want to tell me something.” Tell Jesus what’s on your mind. Ask Him what He wants to tell you. Have a conversation with the Word. And you’ll be amazed at how often you soon will find rest in His peace.

Note: Here’s a link to 68 verses that touch on rest.

 

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?

My Platform Dilemma

I grew up in the racially diverse community of Marianna, Arkansas, and in the 1970s, aka my formative years, platform shoes were popular among many people.

Stacks, we called them.

I knew several people who wore them, boys and girls, including some who even had platform tennis shoes. I thought they were the coolest things ever. They looked cool and they made you taller. Not me, mind you. White guys didn’t wear stacks. I’m still not sure why, but it still makes me sad.

Thirty-plus years later, platforms are popular, and not just the kind you wear. Now days, you need a “platform” to grow your “personal brand” so you can market yourself in the digital age and make some money off the “Internet of Everything.”

Platforms are measured in things like, well, … likes. And followers. And re-tweets. And shares. And klout scores.

Some people naturally have platforms: Entertainers. Sports stars. Politicians. Speakers. Famous authors. Preachers.

Missing from that list? Me.

I’ve spent most of my life blissfully in the background. Frankly, I’m in no hurry to find fame. It scares me. I’m not worthy of it, and I’m pretty confident I couldn’t handle it.

So this brings me to what I call my “platform dilemma.” I have been involved with a couple of books that are about to hit the market. I wrote one and co-authored the other because I believed I was given a message to share that would help people.

That’s not a bad reason. I didn’t write them to get rich. I’m not opposed to getting rich, but that’s not why I wrote the books. But books are darn near worthless if they aren’t read. So I want people to read these books and, hopefully, gain something positive from them.

Since I don’t have a substantial platform (or own platform shoes), I’m going to count on something even better to get the word out about these books: God. I’ll try to do my part, because, as the saying goes, hope is not a strategy. So I have a website and I post stuff on social media. But I’ll trust God for the results.

I figure that what ever my “platform,” it’s big enough that God can use it. If people read the books and like them, they’ll share them with others. They’ll buy copies for their friends and co-workers. They’ll donate copies of Grow Like Jesus to their church. They’ll buy copies of Forging Grit for their work teams. They’ll talk about them on social media. They’ll do all sorts of things to spread the word and the message.

Their platforms will become a platform for the books. It’ll be just like junior high school. But I’ll be happy, not sad.

 

Sit Down and Grow

One of the most important steps we can take if we want to grow like Jesus is to simply spend time with Jesus. I know, it makes sense in a way that makes you say, “Well, duh.” But in light of the obvious truth we have to ask an obvious question: Why don’t we actually do it?

It’s not like God isn’t available to anyone who wants to spend time with Him. Ask and you will receive. Knock and the door shall be opened. God is there – everywhere, all the time. Omnipresent.

I know a man who claimed to have a near-death experience. You know the kind: The doctors said he was gone. Call-the-hearse-dead. Then, mysteriously, he was alive again. As far as I know, he’s the only person alive who claims to have died and then didn’t write a book about it. But he did tell me that while he was “out of body,” he spent part of the time sitting on a log visiting with Jesus.

I neither believe his story nor doubt his story. He was, as they say, eccentric, but in a believable sort of way. But I do believe we don’t have to die (or nearly die) to talk to Jesus. He gave us the Holy Spirit. He gave us the Bible. He gave us prayer. So if we want to grow like Jesus, we can start by sitting down and talking with Him. Not just to Him, but with Him. The means we talk some and we listen a lot. Then we obey.

We don’t spend more time with Jesus, frankly, because we think we have better ways to spend our time. Harsh, but true. We’d rather sleep a little later, work a little longer, play a little harder. We have things to do, places to go, people to see. Color me guilty. But when those “things to do” don’t include spending time with Jesus, we miss a chance to connect with the God of the universe and experience real spiritual growth.

Bill Hybels, the pastor at Willow Creek in Chicagoland, tells a great story of how life-changing it can be to pull up a chair and spend some time with Jesus. Here’s a link to the 10-minute video. Watch the video, then pull up a chair and spend some time with Jesus.