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A Story of Two Journeys

Every Thursday for the last few months I’ve attended “Perk Up Thursdays.” It’s a networking group that is sponsored by the “Focus Suites,” a project of Southeast Community Colleges Entrepreneurship Center. It’s a great time and I’ve met some wonderful people. There is always a “spotlight speaker” at the event and last Thursday I got to be that person. Here’s a video of my presentation.

 

“Beware The Praying Hands”

This beautiful 16th-century pen and ink drawing of hands clasped in prayer by Albrecht Dürer is reputed to be “the most widely reproduced depiction of prayer in the Western world, found on posters, coffee mugs, mobile phones, and has been used as album artwork. Justin Bieber has a reproduction of the image tattooed on his left leg.” (Wikipedia article) I’ve seen sculptures of this image in homes as well. Several years ago, though, I heard an incredibly sad comment about this image. The person said, “Beware the praying hands.”

My wife, Suzi, and I were having dinner with friends in Minnesota. The husband was a painting contractor and while we were talking about his business, he told me that comment was widely circulated among his peers in several different construction trades. He said that “Christians,” who are most often the ones who would have this image in their homes, were the worst customers. Pause and let that sink in. It made my heart sink when I heard it. He said they were the most likely to try to get a cheaper price, most likely to complain about everything, and (get this) the most likely to stiff them on the bill. WHAT!? That was his experience and it’s sad.

Further Evidence

Lest we think his was an isolated situation, unfortunately, there is more. I have several stories similar to this one but I’ll share what I heard from my own niece and nephew who once worked as servers at a well-known restaurant. This was in another part of the country so we’re not just talking about people from Minnesota (my extended family lives in MN and there are many other wonderful people there).

My niece and nephew commented to Suzi and me that “Christians” were the worst customers (Hmm, a recurring theme). They told us that the after-church crowd on Sundays was the most disruptive, the most likely to ask for discounts, the most likely to complain, and the most likely (get ready for it) to stiff them on a tip. What in the world!? But the worst of all is the time when someone left what looked like a $20.00 bill folded on the table. When their colleague, who was not a Christian, picked up the “tip” it turned out to be a “gospel tract” inviting them to become a Christian. When you unfolded it, the words “Here’s your tip” were followed by the invitation. Really?

I’m not necessarily against leaving behind some helpful reading material. But, if you’re going to do that, then literally for God’s sake, you had better have been the best customer that server has ever had, you had better have made their day in some way through your interaction, and you had better have left a generous financial tip folded inside the reading material. There is a saying, “Empty bellies have no ears.”

Why?

Why would people who claim to be followers of Jesus behave this way? Jesus had thousands of people who followed him around to hang on his every word. They followed him around because he was generous, he healed people, he fed people, he spoke life into people, and I believe he had a winsome personality, especially with everyday folks.

Why, then, would those who follow him be “the worst customers?” I could be off base but here are two possible explanations:

  1. A misunderstanding of stewardship – Christians believe in being good stewards of one’s resources. The purpose of good stewardship, among other things, is to be sure you have plenty to share with others who may need their bellies filled. Some misinterpret stewardship as being cheap, or at least it comes across that way. I sometimes wonder if they serve “El Cheapo – the god of not nearly enough.” (that’s a play on one of the compound names of God in the Bible if you’re not familiar). Stewardship is a real thing but we don’t want to project a God that is cheap. Because He’s not!
  2. A misunderstanding of Grace – for a Christian, Grace is the undeserved favor of God first experienced in forgiveness. For some, though, Grace is treated like a license to be a jerk. After all, they may think, “Christians aren’t perfect, Just forgiven” (as one bumper sticker says). Grace, though, is also the energy God provides to live a Christlike life, that winsome, generous, life-giving kind of life. We don’t want to project a God who is a jerk, because He’s not!

A Counter-Example

Suzi and I were having dinner with a good size group of people at a burger and shake restaurant quite a few years ago (when $100 was a lot more money than it is today). Everyone in the group was a Christian. Our server came to take our order and it had some complications to it. We were ordering and having fun with her so, realizing we may have made it hard for her to get everything down correctly, we said, “If you get this order right, we’ll give you a $100 tip.” Once we said that, we knew we were going to give her the tip no matter what. But, guess what, she nailed it! We all but cheered for her and gave her high 5s.

When we left the restaurant, we stopped to watch through the front window. She went over to the table to see if we had kept our word. Some of her co-workers even went to the table with her. When she saw the $100 laying on the table, she grabbed it up and looked to see if any of us were still around. She saw us watching through the window and holding up the money mouthed, “Thank you!” We all smiled and gave her thumbs up.

We don’t always get it right, but that one was fun!

Live On Purpose

If you’re a follower of Jesus, live like you’re on stage all the time. I don’t mean act or be fake, I mean our lives are always on display. People watch and take note of how we behave. Be winsome, be generous (with resources and words), give, forgive, and speak life. There is enough around us that is negative. Let’s not feed that.

If you’re a business owner with a fish or a cross or praying hands in your logo or ad, make sure you’re striving to be the best in the business in all you do, with your employees, with your customers, and with your vendors. Don’t let people say of you, “beware the praying hands.” Jesus deserves the best representation we can give him. Make someone’s day!

Remembering Reagan

I was at the thrift store with Suzi the other day and I picked up a little hardback book that I just finished reading this morning. It was called The Deepest and Noblest Aspirations, The Wisdom of Ronald Reagan. I was partly nostalgic in picking it up because 1980, when he was first elected, was the first Presidential election when I was able to vote. Whether you agreed with him or not, it’s hard to argue his significance, especially when he won 49 states in the next election!

Also, here’s a quote from Barak Obama:

“Pride in our country, respect for our armed services, a healthy appreciation for the dangers beyond our borders, an insistence that there was no easy equivalence between East and West–in all this I had no quarrel with Reagan. And when the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, I had to give the old man his due, even if I never gave him my vote.”

The book is full of quotes under chapter titles like “On Sports, On Freedom, On Communism (the first three).” There is also one “On Leadership,” and, of course, one “On Humor.” Three specific quotes stood out to me in light of our times. Here they are:

On August 23, 1984, at the Republican National Convention, Reagan said,

“Of the four wars in my lifetime, none came about because the U.S. was too strong.”

On January 16, 1984, during an address to the Nation from the White House, Reagan said,

“History teaches us that wars begin when governments believe the price of aggression is cheap.”

During his announcement of candidacy for U.S. President on November 13, 1979, Reagan said,

“A troubled and afflicted mankind looks to us, pleading for us to keep our rendezvous with destiny; that we will uphold the principles of self-reliance, self-discipline, morality, and above all, responsible liberty for every individual that we will become that shining city on a hill. They tell us we must learn to live with less, and teach our children that their lives will be less full and prosperous than ours have been; that the America of the coming years will be a place where–because of our past excesses–it will be impossible to dream and make those dreams come true. I don’t believe that. And, I don’t believe you do, either. That is why I’m seeking the presidency. I cannot and will not stand by and see this great country destroy itself. Our leaders attempt to blame their failures on circumstances beyond their control, on false estimates by unknown, unidentifiable, experts who re-write modern history in an attempt to convince us our high standard of living–the result of thrift and hard work–is somehow selfish extravagance which we must renounce as we join in sharing scarcity. I don’t agree that our nation must resign itself to inevitable decline, yielding it’s proud position to other hands. I am totally unwilling to see this country fail in its obligation to itself and to the other free peoples of the world.”

Best.Boss.Ever.

I know! A lot of people don’t like the word “boss.” They think it sounds … well … “bossy,” as in “bossing people around” and “you’re not the boss of me!” and “I’m the boss so you have to do what I say.” I didn’t use to like the word either until I discovered that it can be used as a term of endearment.

When I was the director of an international school in China, many of the local Chinese staff referred to me as “Laoban” (boss). When leading teams in certain parts of the US many of my Spanish-speaking teammates would call me “Jefe” (boss). Even some of my English-speaking teammates have straight-up called me “boss.” None of those was being used derogatorily, they were used with genuine affection. So, I came to accept the word “boss” and even began to appreciate it because of what my teammates were communicating when using it.

Over the last 15 years or so I have used a specific question when I interview people regardless of the organizational level for which they were a candidate. That question is,

“Could you tell me about your best boss?”

I learned a lot about a person from their answer to that question. I learned, for example, how they like to be managed. But, I also learned a lot about great leadership from those answers. There are some pretty good bosses out there. There are some bad ones, too (I also asked people to tell me about them). But the good ones have these two things in common.

  1. They found a way to CONNECT with their people-as people.
  2. They were able to CHALLENGE their people to become and achieve more than they thought possible.

If you lay those two qualities down on a grid with CONNECT as the horizontal axis and CHALLENGE as the vertical axis, that will give you a 4-quadrant matrix that describes what kind of boss you are. The best bosses are well into the upper right quadrant of that matrix which is called “The Engager.” They CONNECT and they CHALLENGE.

When Leaders are Engagers, they have those qualities people use to describe their best boss. Do you want to be the best boss your people have ever had? Reply “boss” in the comments to let me know you do.

Accomplished!

The late CEO of PRIDE Industries, Mike Zigler, loved to tell stories about employees who would come up to him in the hall at the office with a big grin on their face, pull out a utility bill, hold it up to his face and say, “Mike, I paid this!” You see, Mike personified the mission of PRIDE Industries which is to create employment for people with disabilities. Those stories were about people who, because of their disability, had never had a job before. They were proud to have accomplished paying their first utility bill on their own, so they just had to tell Mike! And he loved it!

I had a conversation just the other day with another leader. She has quite a story of her own. She is a recovering addict who spent at least a year living homeless on the streets. She has clearly turned her life around. She not only got a job and kept it, but she has advanced past the level of lead to assistant manager and is doing a great job. Part of our conversation was about what motivates her to work hard even when it doesn’t always feel like her peers are pulling the same load. She said that she loves the feeling of accomplishment so much that she will get up and do what she may not feel like doing but needs to be done even if nobody else is doing it. That’s the “Do side of Self-Control.”

What Does It Mean?

To “accomplish” means to achieve or complete successfully. I think we all love to complete things successfully. That’s why so many people go into lines of work that produce a product that you can step back at the end of the day, look at, and say, “I did that.” Whether you’re baking bread, building houses or bridges or skyscrapers, or writing a book, there is a feeling of pleasure in finishing it. I even feel that when I close the cover on a book I’ve just finished reading. Accomplishment feels good.

Why does it feel so good to accomplish something? There is a physiological explanation. The brain releases dopamine, a hormone associated with both motivation and happiness, in anticipation of reward. So when you plan and know you’re going to work for something, you’re in a biological position to feel good. Each milestone gives you another dopamine hit, which makes you want to keep going with the job. Another reason is that accomplishment taps into one of our intrinsic motivators – Autonomy. Completion of each task can make us feel better about ourselves because it proves to us that we’re in control of our own destiny and competent enough to achieve our goals. We did something.

What Does It Mean to You?

Thomas Edison once said, “There ain’t no rules around here! We’re trying to accomplish some[thing]!” John Maxwell included that quote in his book Leadershift: The 11 Essential Changes Every Leader Must Embrace. It’s in his chapter on the shift from “Maintaining to Creating” where he’s talking about mental blocks to making that shift. The specific mental block in view where he quotes Edison is the one that says, “Follow the Rules.” After quoting Edison, Maxwell adds the following note, “Most revolutionary ideas have been disruptive violations of set rules.”

I can hear people of a certain personality type cheering and saying, “Yes! Let’s break some rules and get something new done!” But I can also hear others saying, “No, no, no, no, the rules are our friends. They’re there for a reason.” Accomplishment for each of those people will look different from the other. But it is still accomplishment and it still feels good. Do you check a box or do you cross the item off your list? Have you ever written something down that you already finished just so you could feel the pleasure of checking the box or crossing it off? It feels good to finish something.

Since it feels so good to accomplish something (and who doesn’t like to feel good?), let me leave you with two questions. First, why wouldn’t you organize your day around accomplishing things? Second, why wouldn’t you celebrate those accomplishments in some way? Here’s a bonus question for you leaders (BTW leadership is influence, if you have influence in anyone’s life, you’re a leader). Why wouldn’t you celebrate the accomplishments of those you lead?

Courage!

What is your biggest fear? I don’t mean a phobia like fear of heights, fear of spiders, or fear of public speaking. I’m asking about more common fears like the fear of loneliness, or the fear of rejection, failure, inadequacy, or the fear of being physically hurt or even the fear of uncertainty or meaninglessness. Fear unconsciously (or consciously!) blocks us from so much in life. Did one of those fears stand out to you when you read it? That, then, may be your biggest fear. But, this post isn’t about fear. It’s about courage.

Courage

I had to start with a brief mention of fear because fear plays prominently in the definition of courage. Courage, in the online dictionary,  is “The ability to do something that frightens one.” Or, as Theodore Roosevelt said, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.” That’s a powerful statement. Some people have said that courage is the willingness to act in spite of fear. No disagreement here, but Roosevelt’s quote seems powerful to me because it talks about why someone might overcome fear to take action.

That raises another question. What’s important to you? Another way of asking that question might be, what do you consider valuable? Setting aside for a minute valuable stuff, is your family valuable to you? Is safety and security? Your job? What about other valuable things also known as values, like integrity, love, honor, humility? These are questions we must answer if, by Roosevelt’s definition, we ever hope to be courageous. Which of us, after all, has never fantasized about being a “hero?”

Categories of Courage

Since the very definition of courage contains a clear reference to fear, it seems reasonable that categories of courage would align with a list of various fears. But, I think it’s helpful to consider them this way. Here are a few categories of courage:

  1. Physical Courage – this is when you assess that something else is more important than your physical safety and security. Our first responders and military, for example, have made a career out of this assessment.
  2. Social Courage – this is when you assess that something else is more important than your social comfort or sense of belonging. Leaders need social courage when they ask their people to believe in and follow them.
  3. Moral Courage – this is when you assess that your convictions are more important than your social standing, your job, or, in some cases, even your life. Religious martyrs and social activists require moral courage.
  4.  Intellectual Courage – this is when you assess that something else is more important than being right or being part of the “in” crowd. Truth seekers require intellectual courage.

Did one of those descriptions draw you in? Can you see yourself being a physical hero? Maybe. Or what about a social hero, or a moral hero, or an intellectual hero? And that’s not an exhaustive list. The point is that courageous people are clear on what’s most important to them.

A Call to Courage

It was after dark one evening 25 years ago. I was the brand new pastor of a small church in a small town outside Lincoln, Nebraska. Suzi, the kids, and I had just arrived home from a visit to central Illinois where we had lived and pastored previously. The drive was seven and a half hours so we were ready to settle in for the evening. Right after we arrived home we got a call telling us a dear friend who was a member of our previous church had passed away while we were driving home. We had just visited with him on our trip. He was ill but we didn’t expect him to go that quickly.

In the midst of our road weariness and grief, the phone rang again. This time it was a member of our new church. There had been a terrible car accident involving teenage boys from our small community. She was calling from the hospital, “almost the whole town is here,” she said.

“Are either of the other pastors there?” I asked. There were two other churches in town and I wondered if pastoral care was available.

“Yes,” she answered. But it was clear she wanted her church to be officially represented, too. I understood that, of course.

It would be a 25 to 30 minute drive to the hospital in Lincoln. That’s no big deal in and of itself. Being called upon to serve in these situations despite personal tiredness and grief was what I signed up for so that wasn’t part of my struggle. But I did struggle. None of the families involved were from our church and I was afraid that my showing up, the new pastor of the “other” church, might appear morbid. It might appear like I was trying to horn in on the community’s grief to benefit myself or our church in some way.

The Rest of the Story

I made a decision. Serving those people with injured children and answering the call of the person from my church was more important than my fears. I put those in God’s hands and headed to the hospital. By the time I arrived, providentially, everyone else had gone home. Only the parents of the injured boys were still there. I had uninterrupted access to the single dad of one boy and the mother and father of the other. I did my best to offer grace, compassion, prayer, and any other support they would need in the coming days.

It was a genuine tragedy. The single dad lost his son. The parents of the other boy eventually brought him home but he would never be the same due to traumatic brain injury. In the days before those outcomes were known, the people of our church stepped up to serve those families and the community in amazing ways. The result of their actions opened doors to ministry in that community that had previously not been opened. I was a small part of a big thing God did in those days. Had I not done my part, He would have found another way, but I’m grateful to have participated.

Every day may present an opportunity to overcome some fear. If we focus on what’s most important to us, get clear on that, I believe we’ll become more courageous.