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.




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, 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.

Finding Wisdom in Troubling Times

Deciding on a blog topic isn’t always easy, and not always because you feel like you have nothing worth saying. I seldom have writer’s block. More often, I have writer’s fire hydrant. And the Charlottesville violence left me overwhelmed with opinions and ideas regarding racism, monuments, statues, hatred, evil, protests, politics and all sorts of other things that were spewing forth from my mind.

How can I write everything I’m thinking and feeling? How can I contribute beyond all the other voices? What should I say and how should I say it?

Then I re-read Proverbs 8, one of my favorite books in the scriptures. Rather than doting on the symptoms of the problems we face in this world, it speaks to the cure for the root cause of our disease. It won’t tell you if statues should come down in your town’s square, what you should or shouldn’t write on Facebook, or specifically how to respond to friends and neighbors who look or think differently than you. But it will tell you how to put yourself in a position to find those answers.

Proverbs 8 is 36 beautiful verses, 33 of which are poetically written in the personified voice of wisdom. Jesus grew in wisdom (Luke 2:52), and the troubles in our lives and in this world are rooted in a lack of wisdom. Eve took that first bite of the forbidden fruit because she lacked wisdom. Adam stood passively beside her, ignoring his responsibility as a husband, because he lacked wisdom. Racists in America and terrorists in Europe drive cars into crowds because they lack wisdom. So, when wisdom speaks, we should listen.

Here’s some of what you’ll learn about wisdom when you leave this blog and read Proverbs 8 for yourself:

  • She raises her voice and takes a stand.
  • She detests wickedness.
  • She is just and righteous.
  • She is more valuable than silver, gold or rubies.
  • She dwells with prudence.
  • She isn’t the same thing as knowledge, but she possesses knowledge … and discretion.
  • There are things she hates … evil, pride, arrogance, perverse speech.
  • Her insights are powerful.
  • Those who seek her, find her.
  • She was the “first” of the Lord’s works and present for creation.
  • She brings a blessing to those who keep her ways.
  • She is the path toward life; without her, the path leads to death.

Wisdom isn’t synonymous for Christ or God the Father or the Holy Spirit, but the Trinity possesses and provides wisdom to draw us to Jesus and to strengthen our relationship with God. The wisest thing we can do is surrender our lives to Christ, and then we can begin to really grow in wisdom because we’re listening to Him, not to our flesh. As we navigate the troubling times in which we live, we need this wisdom more than ever.

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Tips for Life … from Me and some Harvard Grads

Lessons for Grads …

We interrupt the original iteration of this message to graduates due to what possibly could be a Divine course correction. Maybe not a new course, but at least an updated direction. This blog, you see, was first-draft finished when some unrelated research landed me at an expected website with a mother lode of wisdom — for recent graduates, for me, and for anyone. So I feel the need to share it.

When the Harvard Business School Class of 1963 was planning its 50 reunion, organizers asked class members to jot down advice they would pass along to future generations. The answers became a book and website by Arthur Buerk called If I Knew Then. The collection is filled with great advice from successful people (a two-term governor, a U.S. senator, and several CEOs and executives with Fortune 500 companies). It also caught my attention because I was born in 1963, back when the average price of home was $12,650 and these graduates would command an average starting salary of $9,500 a year (according to Bloomberg).

You can look up the mostly short, practical snippets of advice by author or by these topics: careers, marriage and family, business, leadership, wealth, growing older, charity and spirituality, happiness and success, turning points, and life’s lessons.


Here’s one on “marriage and family”: “Marriage is an 80-20 partnership, on both sides. If you each understand that, you always go out of your way to please your spouse. When both partners do that, you have a happy marriage. The greatest gift you can give your children is to love one another.” – Donald P. Nielsen

Or this one from the “happiness and success” chapter: “I think about all my blessings and keep an attitude of gratitude. Success is leaving this world better than when I arrived.” – Robert McNutt

Or how about this one from the “life’s lessons” chapter: “Have fun. You’ll be dead a long time.” – Anonymous (Who knew Anonymous was a Harvard grad?)

So here’s my revised first piece of advice to graduates of the Class of 2017 (high school, college or grad school): Go to the If I Knew Then website and spend at least an hour perusing these nuggets. Anonymous alone is worth the time and effort.

And what can I add to what these men and women had to say? Not much, perhaps, but I’ll try.

My suggestion to graduates, specifically to those who are followers of Jesus, starts with a simple but challenging idea: Own your faith. Whatever you believe, whatever you value, whatever shapes and defines your character, it won’t be real of meaningful unless you own it. You simply can’t get far on a faith that belongs to your parents, your peers, your co-workers, your teachers, or anyone else.

How do you own it? Here are a few tips:

Think Critically. Authors, teachers, pastors, professors, and the members of the Harvard Business School Class of 1963 all come at life with a worldview that shapes their agendas. When you read or hear messages, don’t embrace them on face value. We tend to look for things to confirm our biases and run from things that don’t (see Notre Dame’s recent graduation ceremony). We also tend to naturally believe those we see as “experts.” Be open-minded. If you test the messages you hear – those that sound great and those that don’t – you’ll end up owning what you believe and respecting the beliefs of others.

Test what you hear against what you know to be true, not just what the experts or science says is true (science is always changing its version of truth), but also on other factors, like what you see in the world around you. In my personal search, I began with the claim that the Bible is true. I looked at it critically and came to embrace that reality. Now I use the Bible as a filter for evaluating what others claim as truth.

Pray Fervently. You won’t find truth worth owning without some help, and the things of this world offer only the help of this world. Foundational truth begins in the spiritual realms, which makes it inherently mysterious. But those who ask God for revelation are promised a response. Knock and the door is opened. Seek and you will find. Ask and it will be given. Read through the Psalms and you’ll find example after example of the authors pleading with God for insight and revelation. They knew the value of the desperate pleas of God’s children.

Practice Luke 2:52 Discipleship. Jesus tells us to “go and make disciples,” and we don’t need to wait for some disciple to come along who will follow us. We can (and should) start with ourselves and then expand to others. Jesus grew in four key areas – wisdom, stature, favor with God, and favor with man. Growing in those four areas will strengthen the faith you own and prepare you to withstand the onslaughts that come against you.

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Searching for Wisdom in Seas of Trouble

Where are you getting your wisdom?

We live in an age of abundant information, but not-so-abundant truth. So it’s more important than ever to dip deep into the well of knowledge in ways that lead to real wisdom.

In Grow Like Jesus, I define wisdom as “knowledge and insight from God that benefits you and others and brings glory to God.” The Apostle James tells us where to find it: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (James 1:5)

Don’t stop there, however. James immediately adds a warning: “But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” (James 1:6)

So how do we sift through the waves and the winds of the modern tech-driven seas? When the world conspires to distort, distract, and deceive, here are some things I try to keep in mind that help me stay anchored to godly wisdom:

Expose yourself to different viewpoints.

The other day I watched a video of Mike Rowe (the Dirty Jobs guy) talking to businessman Charles Koch, and Koch offered this simple but difficult advice: “Listen, even to the other side.” He said he was quoting a philosophy that guided Holland to prosperity, but it’s also a take on the Latin phrase, audi alteram partem meaning “listen to the other side.”

This is increasingly rare in our world. It’s easier than ever to surround ourselves with people who look like us, think like us, and believe like us. So all we end up hearing is more of what we’ve always been thinking or saying.

If you agree with everything your friends say and everything you read on the Internet and everything you hear on television, then you need more friends and you need to read and listen to other sources. Don’t dump your old friends or old sources. Just invest in some new and different perspectives. You might learn something, and so might others.

Trust but verify (aka Google it).

This should go without saying, but, of course, it doesn’t, and that’s why I’m saying it: Just because we read it on the Internet doesn’t mean it’s true. When we read something or hear something that’s shaping our opinions, we no longer can take it at face value.

For instance, one of the news sources I’ve struggled with recently is Fast Company. I’ve long been a fan of this magazine for its cutting-edge take on business and leadership. In recent years, however, it’s become more and more politicized, agenda-driven, and untrustworthy.

There might come a time when I stop reading it, but I don’t want to throw out the baby with the bath water. Eight out of every 10 articles I read on Fast Company is pretty good, and the others have some good in them if I’m willing to sift a little to find it. On the other hand, I don’t trust it as much as I once did, because I know there’s a not-so-hidden motive behind every headline.

For instance, the American Institute for Architects (AIA) released a statement saying it would work with President-elect Donald Trump to “address the issues our country faces, particularly strengthening the nation’s aging infrastructure.” Sounds like a good idea. But it caused the architecture community to erupt in debate, according to a Fast Company story. The headline was: “Trump’s Election Fractures The Architecture Community.”

When I dug deeper, it was clear that some architects weren’t happy. But there was no indication that there was a consensus of dissent. No research had been done. All we know is that and one industry newspaper released a statement and that some people expressed their displeasure on social media (big news, there, right?). The more I checked the facts, the more I realized Fast Company was partially accurate.

Blogs, news outlets, Twitter feeds, Facebook posts … they all play loose with the facts. People paint with a broad brush that’s coated in the hues that color their agenda. Some lie. Others distort. A few just mess up because they aren’t careful enough. So consider the source, test their facts, do a little research and then see where that leaves you. The more you know, the more likely you are to get to the truth that you need to actually shape your way of thinking.

Use the right filters.

Who wants to drink dirty water? When you expose yourself to other viewpoints, however, you’ll no doubt get some junk along the way. Filter what you read and learn through other reliable sources, but also through godly friends, prayer, and, most of all, Biblical truth.

Return to James 1:5-6 often. Ask God for wisdom and believe.  Then trust God for the results; He always delivers.


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7 Trust Biscuits to Feed the Soul

My work tends to go through cycles. That’s the life of an entrepreneur, especially an independent contractor. So, for the most part, I don’t worry and I don’t get stressed out by the ebb and flow. For the most part.

In reality, my worry/stress levels are just like my business: They run in cycles.

Earlier this summer, I wrapped up some projects and my client work slowed a bit. I counted it as a blessing. It allowed me to catch up in some other areas where I had fallen behind. As the summer moved on, however, I began to foresee a time in the not too distant future when our trickling cash flow would leave our revenue pond nearly empty.

I didn’t panic, but my prayers for “new work” took on a greater intensity. And at times I allowed worry and stress to creep into my life.

When I’m in that situation, every opportunity looks good, and it’s crazy hard for me to say “no” to any work that comes my way. And new opportunities came my way. God, as always, provides. In an ironic twist – because we all know God loves ironic twists – one of the new projects involves helping people deal with stress. For the record, I’m the student not the teacher.

Anyway, you might think that new opportunities lowered my stress and worry level. Instead, here’s what happened next: I was thankful for the new work, of course, but I now had multiple projects with multiple deadlines and multiple people to please. I went from worried we wouldn’t survive to worried I couldn’t deliver. How sad is that?

What I needed, I realized, was some nourishment in my soul. I needed what I call trust biscuits. God’s word is full of them – wonderful nuggets that remind us that He’s real, that He cares about us, that there’s more to life than, well, life.

Here are seven you can chew on over the next week:

  1. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:19
  2. “Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.” – Psalm 9:10
  3. “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” – Psalm 20:7
  4. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” – Proverbs 3:5-6
  5. “Those who trust in their riches will fail, but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf.” – Proverbs 11:28
  6. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” – Romans 15:13
  7. “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” — Philippians 4:12


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Grow older but don’t stop growing

Confession: There are times when I feel like taking a break from making myself a better person.

It can be hard work, after all, this whole sanctification thing. Sometimes I see some fruit from all the work and sometimes I don’t. Either way, it can be draining. So there are times when I’d like to coast … to put life on cruise control.

Then I re-read Daniel 6.

You might remember Daniel 6 as the chapter that tells us about his trip to the lions’ den, and that’s a great story. But what’s easy to forget is that Daniel was probably in his 80s when this story took place.

And what was the octogenarian doing? Growing.

Check it out: As Daniel reached what most of us would see as the twilight of life, King Darius took over. Great time to slip out of the leadership limelight, right? But not Daniel. He was one of the top three commissioners and he supervised dozens of satraps who were in charge of running the day-to-day aspects of the kingdom. In fact, Daniel was such a great leader that the king planned to appoint him over the entire kingdom. (Daniel 6:3)

Why was he such a good leader?

First, he had an “extraordinary spirit.” (Daniel 6:3)

Second, he was trustworthy (not corrupt). (Daniel 6:4)

Third, he was diligent (not negligent). (Daniel 6:4)

And while this impressed the king, it ticked off Daniel’s peers. So they conspired against him, tricked the king, and used the elderly Daniel’s faith against him. The result? Daniel became lion food, or so it appeared. You know the story. God saved Daniel, those evil peers (and their families) ended up as dinner for the lions, and King Darius sang the praises of Daniel’s God.

What we see in Daniel is a man who never put his life on cruise control. He continued to grow in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man. (Luke 2:52) He worked with excellence. He maintained a vibrant prayer life. He strengthened his fellowship with God. And he held firm to his faith. So when he was put to the test, guess what happened? He was ready … because he never stopped growing.


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Is Luke 2:52 a Gold Medal Verse?

Luke 2:52 provides a clear, simple model for growing like Jesus, but does it apply only to the development of our faith? Or does it also help us grow in other areas, like in our work or as leaders in our homes and communities?

Think, for instance, about the Olympics. How might Luke 2:52 provide counsel for these elite athletes?

Wisdom: Jesus grew in wisdom that was rooted in a fear of the Lord, and the result was that he made “smart” choices. Olympic athletes don’t just dive in a pool and swim hard or jump on a bike and pedal fast. They study their event and their opponents. They contemplate strategies. They do their best to come up with a wise plan that gives them the best chance to win.

Stature: Jesus took care of his physical body, and obviously this is a high priority for elite athletes. Some of them, in fact, bring personal trainers and nutritionist with them to the Games.

Favor with God: Many Olympians don’t have a relationship with Jesus, so they aren’t intentionally growing in the grace of God. Most, if not all of them, however, compete for something bigger than themselves, especially at the Olympics. Elite athletes generally recognize that their talent is a gift, not a right. They compete to honor their countries and to honor their gifts.

Favor with man: Elite athletes, even those competing as soloists, need other people – coaches, teammates, family and friends. Building strong relationships provides encouragement and motivation.

For followers of Jesus, of course, growing in our faith is fundamental to every area of our lives. It’s not “a priority,” it’s “the priority. So practicing Luke 2:52 looks similar but different to athletes who call Jesus their Savior and Lord.

Consider David Boudia and Steele Johnson, the American duo who won a silver medal in men’s synchronized diving. If you watched them, you know they are in great physical shape. They take care of their bodies. You also can see that they have a relationship that lifts each other up and helps each other grow closer to Christ. And their fear of the Lord gives them not only the wisdom to make smart decisions about how to compete, but about how to live and how to view success.

In their post-event interview with NBC’s Kelli Stavast, both athletes were able to not only praise God for their blessings, but to put that praise in a context that non-believers could appreciate.

NBC screenshot
NBC screenshot

“When my mind is on this, thinking I’m defined by this, then my mind goes crazy,” Boudia said about the Games. “But we both know our identity is in Christ.”

Steele took that idea even further.

“The fact that I was going into this event knowing that my identity is rooted in Christ and not what the result of this competition is just gave me peace,” he said. “It gave me ease, and it let me enjoy the contest. If something went great, I was happy. If something didn’t go great, I could still find joy because I’m at the Olympics competing with the best person, the best mentor, just one of the best people to be around.

“So, God’s given us a cool opportunity, and I’m glad I could’ve come away with an Olympic silver medal in my first ever event.”

When we grow in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man, we might not always win the gold medal or get the promotion at work. But, like Boudia and Johnson, we can face whatever comes our way with peace and share that peace with everyone around us.

(Click here to watch the NBC interview with Boudia and Johnson.)


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4 Ways to Deal with Modern Goliaths

Some stories never grow old. No matter how many times I read them, they always teach me something new. And even if I’m learning the same lesson for the second, third, or forth time, it still seems fresh. It seems the older I get, the more I need reminders about the lessons I’ve learned before.

Take, for instance, 1 Samuel 17, the chapter in the older testament that tells the familiar story of David and Goliath. We all know this one, right? You didn’t even have to attend a church, synagogue or mosque to hear it.

So what can we learn, or re-learn, from this story that applies to our lives today?


As my wife and I reread it recently, it struck me that our culture is filled with warriors standing in loud and open defiance of the living God. They aren’t physically big, but their presence is huge and intimidating – like a nearly 10-foot-tall warrior dressed in full armor and holding a huge spear.

They come out each day on social media, in blogs, in newspaper columns, on television talk shows, at protest marches, at political rallies, in courtrooms, and at work. They shout, in effect, “This day I defy the armies of Israel!” (1 Samuel 17:10) And they tell anyone who follows Jesus, “Come here … and I will give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!” (1 Samuel 17:44)

So what can we do about the Goliaths in our lives?

Well, it’s not a good idea (aka not Biblical) to stick a smooth stone in their jagged foreheads. But we don’t have to model David’s approach exactly to benefits from his story. So here are some non-violent lessons we can learn from the shepherd rock-thrower:

Recognize evil as evil.

David showed up at the scene to bring supplies to his brothers and check up on them for his father. When he heard Goliath’s rant, he knew it was evil and he said so.

“What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel?” he said. “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Samuel 17:26)

He immediately saw the need to take action and wondered why no one (including his brothers) was doing something. Too often we turn a blind eye to evil rather than confronting it in some proactive way. We sit around like Saul’s army and complain about it, but we don’t do anything.

Sharpen our skillsets.

When King Saul pointed out that David was smaller and far less experienced as a warrior than Goliath, David pointed out that he had some mad skills of his own. As a shepherd, he had defeated lions and bears. “This uncircumcised Philistine,” he said, “will be like one of them…” (1 Samuel 17:36)

If David had spent his days sitting on a rock eating pomegranates, he wouldn’t have been much of a shepherd – and he wouldn’t have been ready for Goliath.

When we face evil in our world, we don’t need skills with a sling. But other shepherding skills could come in handy. We need to be intellectually sharp, for instance, and skilled in emotional intelligence. These are some of the ways Jesus grew “in wisdom.” (Luke 2:52)

Fight for God, not ourselves.

David knew there was a reward attached to victory over Goliath, but he also knew he was fighting to defend God’s honor, not his own. And while he was confident in his ability to fight this battle, he knew victory would come from God – as it always had.

“The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear,” he said, “will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.” (1 Samuel 17:37)

And he told Goliath, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. … All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.” (1 Samuel 17:45, 47)

Act in faith.

When Goliath “moved closer to attack him,” David didn’t run away or even stand and wait for the battle to come to him. He “ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him.” (1 Samuel 17: 48) There was no doubt or fear in his heart because he knew God was on his side. Win or lose, his life was in God’s hands.

We know from 1 Samuel 16:13 that Samuel had anointed David and, so, the Spirit of the Lord was upon him. We also know that as followers of Jesus, that same Spirit lives within us. (Acts 2:38) If we walk in that Spirit, we know He will lead us. He will help us recognize evil when it defies God, and he’ll help us respond in truth and love, trusting God for the results and giving God the glory.

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.’