Imagine!

What is your favorite word? You have over a million to choose from if you consider the total number of English words. If your list is limited to the most commonly used words, then your choices slim down to around 170,000. Each individual uses only between 20,000 and 30,000 words so your favorite probably comes from your version of that list.  The most commonly used word in the English language is the word “the.” I’ve used it 5 times in this paragraph. It’s not my favorite but it’s very useful.

I have a good friend whose favorite word is “Imagine.” He has a wood carving of the word prominently displayed in his work area. Imagine is a good word and it’s moving up my list of favorites lately. Imagine is what we do with our imagination.

Not Just For Kids

Sometimes we associate things like imagination and wonder with children. We smile while we watch them take off in a rocket ship made from the cardboard box the new dishwasher came in, or when we see them staring for a long time at a bug. What happens to that in us?

I heard the story of a school administrator who asked a large group of kindergarten students, “How many of you can draw?” Almost every hand went up. Then he asked the same question of a similar size group of High School Seniors. Only 4 or 5 hands went up. Why the difference? Reality set in? Maybe. In his famous TED Talk called “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” Sir Ken Robinson suggests that we systematically stifle and kill creativity in people by the way we teach. Creativity is the outward expression of imagination.

Stephen Covey said, “Everything is created twice. First in the mind and then physically.” Before you ever pound a nail to build a home, you first draw up blueprints. Even before the blueprints, which are a physical picture of the house, you imagine how you want it to be. Then you draw it, then you build it. So, imagination is more than just kid’s stuff.  We use it all the time.

What Is Imagination?

I haven’t called “Word Nerd Alert!” in a while so here we go. The online dictionary definition of Imagination is – “the faculty or action of forming new ideas, or images or concepts of external objects not present to the senses.” In other words, it’s the ability to picture things in your mind’s eye that are not present in physical reality.

Think of a dog. What came to mind? I can guarantee you it wasn’t the letters D-O-G. It was a picture of a dog.  Maybe it was your dog or a neighbor’s dog or the dog you had when you were growing up. But it was a picture.

How many external doors do you have in your house? Chances are you don’t have that number memorized so how would you be able to answer that question? You can walk around the inside and outside of your house in your mind (imagination) and “see” the doors so you can count them.

We use our imaginations all the time. If you think about it, we couldn’t drive anywhere or give someone directions without using our imagination, without mentally picturing the route. In fact, when we give directions, we’re attempting to transfer the picture in our mind to the other person’s mind so they can get where they’re wanting to go. Interesting.

What’s The Point?

We use our imaginations all the time. But, the vast majority of the time, we’re using them descriptively. We use them to recreate in our minds a picture of what we’ve experienced in physical reality.

The difference between most of us and the people we think of as “creative” is that those people, creatives, use their imaginations “prescriptively.” They use their imagination to make a picture in their minds of what they would like to see in physical reality. As the online dictionary definition of imagination said, forming new ideas or new concepts or new physical objects.  Then they get busy creating it the second time in physical reality.

It’s like one of those TV shows where teams compete with each other to make the best cake. Those teams get an idea in their minds of what their cake will look like, then they start working with what they have to make the physical version of what they imagined.

What might happen if more of us dared to use our imaginations prescriptively again? What if we spent some time making pictures in our minds of positive things we would like to see? Imagine!

Six “Cs” of Company Communication – Part 2

Last week I started this series on company communication with some definitions (imagine that!). I shared the definitions of the words “company,” “communicate,” and “Inform(ation).” I also pointed out that the “company” for which these “Cs” are relevant is any group of people. These are just principles of good communication.

When I arrived at my last job I interviewed each of the leaders on my team with the same questions. One of those questions was “what one thing could we improve that would make the biggest difference.” People gave several answers to that question, but the number one answer was “communication.” That would be the answer in many organizations.

Research shows that time spent on calls, emails, and meetings has increased by 25 percent to 50 percent in the last two decades. It also reveals that while companies host an average of 61 meetings per month, an estimated $37 billion is wasted annually due to employee misunderstanding (including actions or errors of omission by employees who have misunderstood or were misinformed about company policies, business processes, job function or a combination of the three) in … corporations in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Last week we talked about good communication is clear and concrete. This week we look at two more Cs of good communication.

Concise

The definition of “Concise” is – “giving a lot of information clearly and in a few words.” In fact “Clear and Concise” are often used together. Clear speaks to how understandable the communication is while concise is about how long it is.

Summarize your point. Provide background or additional information upon request.  One communication technique I learned in healthcare is the SBAR. That stands for

  • Situation – a brief statement of the problem
  • Background – pertinent information about the development of the problem
  • Assessment – analysis and consideration of options (what you found or think)
  • Recommendation/Request – action you want taken

That’s one guide to help you organize your thoughts. Organized thinking is easier to make concise. I found a writing guide put out by Stanford University that offers great tips for writing clearly and concisely. It’s geared toward technical writing which is often the most unclear so it’s helpful for those of us trying to communicate non-technical information. Some of their tips, to whet your appetite, include:

  1. Avoid unnecessary fancy words; use straight-forward words
  2. Replace vague words with specific ones
  3. Eliminate unnecessary words
  4. Replace multiple negatives with affirmatives
  5. Use active voice construction when appropriate

There are more tips and they all have examples. I downloaded the paper and plan to use it as a reference in the future. You’ll have to let me know if my writing improves!

Complete

This might sound like a contradiction. I just suggested using as few words as possible to be concise. Now I’m suggesting you leave nothing out. Which is it? Well, it’s both.  the definition of “Concise” was “to give a lot of information . . . in a few words.” Complete communication is about what you choose to include.

We sometimes skew information by leaving parts out. When we do that our communication is biased in favor of our point of view or of what we want. Biased communication is often detectable and diminishes trust. You may have heard the term “fake news.” That’s what people will think of you if your communication is found to be incomplete, especially if your omissions tend to alter the hearer’s perception of reality.

Concise is about sharing as much as you can in as few words as possible. Complete is about making your communication as real as possible. The more accurately your communication reflects reality, especially if it doesn’t put you in the best light, the more people will trust what you say.

Be clear. Be Concrete. Be Concise. Be Complete. Next week we’ll finish out this series with the final two Cs of Company Communication.

Six “Cs” of Company Communication – Part 1

This post is the first in a 3-part series on “Company Communication.” If you’ve read my blog or know me, you know I’m a word nerd. I like to look up the definitions of specific words to help me grasp larger concepts. Well, I’m going full-on word nerd right now. To frame this series I want to define three terms.

The first is “company.” Here’s the definition right from the web.

  1. a commercial business.
    “a shipping company”
  2. the fact or condition of being with another or others, especially in a way that provides friendship and enjoyment.
    “I could do with some company”

I chose to call this series “Company Communication” because of the larger meaning of the word Company. The “Cs” I want to talk about apply to all communication, not just corporate or organizational communication. They apply in whatever company we keep.

The next definition is of “Communicate.” Here’s the web definition summarized;

to convey, share, transmit, impart, pass on information. It comes from the Latin Communis meaning common or shared. Communication has happened when two or more people share a common mind about a subject.

Finally, I find the definition of “Inform” fascinating which, in turn, makes the noun form “information” equally interesting:

“Inform” comes from two Latin words in – into and forma – shape and means “to form or shape the mind.” “Information” is that which shapes or forms the mind. 

So, this series is about how a company of people can arrive at a shared understanding of something. It’s about how one person’s or group’s understanding, needs, point of view, expectation, etc. can be duplicated in the mind of another person or group. This could be fun!

Here are two of the six “Cs” of Company Communication:

Clear

Why would anyone want to let you form their mind? When put like that it sounds ominous. Be clear about your purpose. Are you reporting facts? Are you wanting to ask for something? Are you preparing  to set an expectation?  People are much more willing to respond to your “what” when they understand your “why.”  Good communication begins with understanding what you’re trying to accomplish with it.

Being clear also means being direct.  I mean direct in the sense of the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Some people use “direct” to mean blunt or as an excuse for being discourteous. I just mean don’t meander about when you’re communicating.  Trying to cover too much or going on tangents is confusing.

My wife, Suzi,  has accused me of going to Genesis to provide the context for anything. She means I talk too much. I try to provide too much information and it can become confusing. So this is a lesson I’m learning. For me it requires a little planning. When I want to communicate, I need to think through the clearest way to do it.

Concrete

Concrete is solid and hard and holds up under weight. Concrete communication is not soft or fluffy or vague. It avoids words like “always” and “never.”  Concrete communication doesn’t talk about “everyone” or “nobody.” It is specific and factual. Concrete communication is based on observations and understanding, not hunches and feelings. When you use vague generalizations like “always” and “never” you are usually automatically wrong because someone will be able to point out an exception.

Which of these statements is more concrete? “You never take out the garbage.” Or, “I’ve noticed that you didn’t take the garbage out three times this month.” Well, if I took the garbage out once then “never” is wrong. It’s only an emotional accusation. But, three times out of four weeks is a 75% failure rate. The first statement feels more like an insult and I may become defensive and argumentative in response to it. The second is a statement of fact with actionable data. It provides a baseline for measuring improvement and I’m less likely to argue with facts. (NOTE: this story is fictional. Any similarity to actual situations is purely coincidental.)

Company Communication that is clear and concrete is far more useful than meandering or vague communication. Next week we’ll talk about two more “Cs” of Company Communication.

Connecting Requires Energy

In my course on employee engagement, I talk about “12 transformational dynamics of engagement.” Those 12 are listed under two types of activities, Challenge and Connection. The idea is that leaders who engage their people have a good balance between challenging them and connecting with them.  John Maxwell wrote a book called Everyone Communicates Few Connect in which he makes the point that connecting will increase your influence in every situation. That’s saying a lot because he makes the argument throughout his teaching that “leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.” So, connecting increases your leadership ability.

Over the next four posts, I plan to focus on two principles of connecting and then two practices of connecting. Today, the principle is that Connecting with People Requires Energy. If you type “connect meaning” into your browser, you’ll see that the definitions given start with the phrases, “bring together,” “join together,” and “link.” Those are very active phrases and action requires energy. Here are 4 ways to invest that energy in order to connect.

Initiative – Go First

If energy is involved, then someone is taking action. Connectors go first. I’ve read that inside the Walmart headquarters there hang many signs with inspiring and/or challenging statements. Here’s one that is particularly relevant.

“From this day forward, I solemnly promise and declare that every time a customer comes within ten feet of me, I will smile, look him in the eye, and greet him.”  —Sam Walton

That’s going first. I once worked with a healthcare system that had what they called the “10 – 5 rule.” If a member or guest came within 10 feet of you, you were to smile at them. If they came within 5 feet you should step back because of social distancing–I’m kidding. You should greet them verbally. It’s kind of fun to watch people’s faces when you do that. Most of the time their entire countenance transforms into a smile simply because you said, “Hello.”

Patience – Slow Down

You can’t connect if you’re in a hurry. When you are hurrying, you are pulling away. Someone has said that for emotional and spiritual health you should ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life. Here is an African proverb that reminds us of the power inherent in connection.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”

Henry David Thoreau reminds us that the power of connection requires patience.

“The man who goes alone can start today. But he who travels  with another must wait until the other is ready.”

If you want to go far and not be alone, then slow down. Slowing down requires the energy called intentionality.

Selflessness – Give

Connectors are givers. They readily give of their time, their energy, their knowledge, their skill, their talent, their presence. True givers give expecting nothing in return, they give for the sole benefit of the other person. Can you imagine a scenario where someone who readily gives of them-self doesn’t create connection?

Those definitions I shared at the beginning, bring together, join together, and link, almost imply that the parts that are connected become part of each other. Giving, then, would be a prerequisite.

Stamina – Recharge

Constant outflow of energy will lead to depletion if you have no way to recharge. As a person of faith, I look to Jesus as the greatest example of a connector in all history. Jesus regularly connected. Jesus regularly recharged. He often went to a solitary place to pray or pulled his disciples aside from the work to rest.

I like hanging out with my wife, having dinner with friends, spending time reading, driving alone with no radio. These are a few ways I recharge. How do you do it?

Leadership is Influence. Connecting expands your influence. Connecting doesn’t just happen because you show up. It requires constantly renewed energy. Go first, slow down, give, and recharge. The impact of that energy on you and the people you connect with will be an incredible multiplication of that energy.

“I Know My Rights!”

Whether shouted from the streets or from the political platform, we hear a lot about rights these days. Rights are important. We know we have certain inalienable rights such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (Declaration of Independence). We have the right to free speech, freedom of religion and peaceful assembly (1st amendment). We have the right to bear arms (2nd amendment). In addition to the rest of the Bill of Rights we specify human rights, civil rights, women’s rights, etc.

Rights

A right in this context is defined as “a moral or legal entitlement to have or obtain something or to act in a certain way.” Rights are a pillar of our Liberty. There’s another word that needs to be defined

Liberty (Freedom) – “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint, the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior, or political views.”

Our Freedom is one of the things we cherish most as Americans. It’s what we’re known for around the world, it’s why people from all over the globe are “Coming to America” in the words of the Neil Diamond song. It’s what our men and women in uniform have fought and died to preserve. It’s our way of life.

Our way of life is in danger. Our Freedom is threatened every day. I’m not talking about ISIS or North Korea. I’m not even talking about one political opponent or another. I’m talking about something much more close to home. “Freedom never lasts,” says Os Guinness, “because the greatest enemy to freedom is freedom.” Think about it. When everyone in society is free to act, speak, or think as they want, eventually one person’s “want” and another person’s “want” will come into conflict. That’s why we have laws. I’m free to do as I want, unless that freedom harms someone else. Then I am arrested for breaking the law (by the way, that’s when I have the right to remain silent). Wait a minute! That sounds like a limitation on my freedom. You can see how this begins to spiral.

This is why Benjamin Franklin said,

“Only a virtuous people are capable of Freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”

Our Rights, we have said, are a pillar of our Freedom. But they are not the only one. Like legs of a stool, there are three “Rs” that support and stabilize our Freedom. We’ve already mentioned Rights. There is also Responsibility (more on this in a moment) and Respect.

Respect

“Show some Respect!” “We demand Respect!” “I don’t get no respect!” Have you heard any of those? Let’s take a moment to define this one as well.

Respect – “a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.”

By this definition, Respect is not something one can demand from another. You can earn it by developing abilities, exhibiting qualities, or achieving something. But, it is not an entitlement or right as defined above. In fairness, Respect is used in a slightly different way in society these days. It seems to mean something like “behavior that acknowledges the value and worth of each person as endowed by our creator.” By even this definition, Respect cannot be demanded. It can be given. That’s the funny thing about Respect. We all want it, but you can’t get it unless you give it. It’s like a seed in the law of sowing and reaping which states, “You always reap what you sow, more than you sow, and in a different season than you sow.” So, there are two ways to get Respect. You can earn it or you can give it but you’ll not get it any other way. And, by the way, Fear is not the same as Respect.

Responsibility

Now to the third “R” – Responsibility

Let’s define this one, too.

Responsibility – “a duty or task that you are required or expected to do: something that you should do because it is morally right, legally required, etc.”

What are our responsibilities? That could become a very long list. So, let’s not think of it in terms of tasks. Let’s think of it like this. It is our Responsibility to become the kind of people Benjamin Franklin said are the only ones capable of a free society, a virtuous people. What does that mean? Here are a few suggested character qualities that might apply:

  • Loving – a people who genuinely care about the well-being of others.
  • Joyful – a people who find the silver lining in any dark cloud
  • Peaceable – a people who are both peace-loving and peace-making
  • Patient – a people who are willing and able to wait for those seeds of respect to grow
  • Kind – a people who go out of their way to “pay it forward.”
  • Good – a people who search for and act on ways to improve someone else’s situation
  • Faithful – a people who stick to their commitments even if it becomes inconvenient
  • Gentle – a people who are tender with the young, the old, the sick, etc.
  • Self-Controlled – a people who can keep themselves from doing what’s wrong and make themselves do what’s right.

These character qualities are collectively referred to as “the fruit of the Spirit” by the Apostle Paul. Interestingly, he goes on to say that when people have these characteristics there is no need for laws. (Galatians 5:22-23)

John Adams said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

We are in a dire situation. The stool of Freedom is teetering on one leg. As individuals, as families, as houses of worship, as communities, as a nation, we are overly focused on Rights, our own rights. It’s time for us to return our focus to Respect and Responsibility while at the same time defending each other’s rights. Our Freedom is at stake.

The Art of Pausing

We almost never watch live TV anymore. It’s liberating to watch if you want, what you want, when you want. Another liberating feature of modern TV is, whether your watching from a DVR or a streaming service, you can press “Pause” until the kids quiet down or while you take a snack (or potty) break or answer the phone. When sports come back, that’s one thing we’ll watch live, and you can even “pause” live TV like a game. Of course, one great thing about that is you can catch up by fast forwarding through the ads. I’ve even been known to fast forward between plays of a football game.

The “Pause” button obviously has many benefits when enjoying recorded or even live media. Less obvious, perhaps, but very important, are the benefits of pressing “Pause” to personal growth. Learning to pause allows growth to catch up with you. In other words, it’s in the pause that most growth happens. Leadership teacher, John Maxwell, has said, “Experience is not the best teacher, evaluated experience is the best teacher.” If experience alone made one better, then everyone who has been in the same job longer would be better than their “less experienced” colleagues. We know that’s not always the case. That’s because you need to evaluate and learn from your experience in order to grow, and you have to pause in order to evaluate.

The Power of the Pause

To “evaluate” means literally “to find the value.” Pausing provides the opportunity to reflect which means “to think deeply or carefully about.” If we take the time to think deeply and carefully about our experiences in order to find the value in them, that process is what turns experience into insight. Insight is the wisdom we gain from evaluating our experience and that wisdom is what guides us into a better future. That’s growth.

Pausing is essential to personal growth. But, when should I pause? I would recommend pausing at least at these times:

  1. The beginning of each day to go over the most important things in the day and your growth plan.
  2. At the end of each day to replay the crucial events of the day and evaluate them.
  3. At one point during the weekend to do the same for each week as you do daily
  4. Monthly as you change over your calendar, the exercise is the same for each frequency, you are just evaluating a larger arc of your experience
  5. An annual week or weekend to review and plan the whole year. My wife always chooses a word or short phrase for the coming year during the holidays. She lets us know that this is the year of …
  6. Finally, pause as immediately as you can after significant experiences.

Our society seems to get more and more frenetic by the year. Pausing can seem almost counter-intuitive. But, the more you do it, the more opportunity you give yourself to learn and grow.

Use your “I’s” When You Pause

Here are four approaches to your Pause time that may be helpful.

  1. Investigate – interrogate yourself and your experience to explore it’s value
  2. Incubate – I also call it percolating or marinating. The idea is to let thoughts and experiences grow to their full potential. You may want to lift the lid on that crockpot from time to time to see how their doing.
  3. Illuminate – here you actively place a value score on your experiences. Scoring them helps you seek out more of the higher value growth opportunities. Note: some of the highest value experiences can be painful ones which I do not recommend seeking out but value them highly.
  4. Illustrate – turn your evaluated experiences into lessons which you can share with others to help them grow. See #2 under “How to Re-set Your Value” from last week.

We have all had a life full of experiences. Some of those experiences have been good and some have been bad. Those of us who have grown and learned from our experiences are the ones who have taken the time to pause and reflect on them. Set an alarm on your phone for this evening that says, “Pause.” When it goes off, stop what you’re doing and take 5 minutes to reflect on one specific experience from today.

The Power of Connection – Part 1

During this COVID-19 “stay at home” directive our oldest daughter has been doing jigsaw puzzles. She’s done 3 or 4 1,000 piece puzzles. She gets the hard ones and dives right in. Pieces spread out over the dining room table she starts by hunting down the edge pieces and connects the border. Then she color coordinates piles of pieces and compares them to the picture on the box to find out where they belong. If you’ve ever done a puzzle like that, you know the thrill of finding where that piece belongs and connecting it.

The thrill of making connections is in more than just puzzles. It’s also there in relationships. You’ve heard someone say, “I think we made a real connection,” when talking about someone they’ve met, right? That comment is usually made with some positive emotion, isn’t it? Connection is an emotional level bond. The word “Connect” comes from Latin con – “with” and nectere – “to bind” leading to many definitions. One of those `is “to form a relationship or feel an affinity”

During this month I’d like to discuss connecting with people as an important part of our ability to lead. Communication is very important. Getting the right information to the right people at the right time is critical to getting things done. Bu there’s more to it.

I was at a senior leader meeting in Jackson Hole Wyoming several years ago. It was an annual event set up by the CEO of that company designed for strategic planning. At one of the sessions during this particular event, the CEO let the team know some people had been talking to him about buying the company. He shared from his heart about what the company meant to him personally (he had founded it) and why he wasn’t interested in selling.

That level of communication was a little out of character for him but he really connected with us in that moment. After that session I told the CEO that when he connected with us like that, we would walk through walls for him. There was a very different atmosphere on the team from that session on. We found more synergy and purpose and accomplished far more than had been expected for that retreat.

Principles of Connection

We are emotional beings at the core so sharing a common mind (which is what happens in communication) is more likely when we make a heart connection with people. You’ve heard the quote attributed to Theodore Roosevelt,

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

That’s true. And that leads to the first principle of connection. Connection begins with others. It begins with having the maturity to see and act on behalf of others. Immaturity is seeing and acting on behalf of myself alone. But, in the words of John Holmes, “It is well to remember that the entire universe, with one trifling exception, is composed of others.” It’s foolish then, isn’t it, to think that the universe should revolve around me.

When people meet with you they have the same questions of you that you have of them, namely:

  1. Do you care for me? (or, What do you think of me?)
  2. Can you help me?
  3. Can I trust you?

That first one may seem a bit odd. But question #5 on the Gallup Organization’s Employee Engagement survey asks, “Does your supervisor, or someone at work seem to care about you as a person?” The very presence of that question on a 12 question survey signals how important this is. When people feel valued, they connect. When they don’t feel valued they remain disengaged.

So, the first principle of connection is to value others and to let them know you value them. What can you do today to let someone know you value them?

Celebrating 100!

This is the 100th post for Engager Dynamics! Whoo Whoo … celebrate good times, c’mon!” I love that song! Anyway, it’s the 100th post since I’ve been numbering them like I currently do. I write my posts in Evernote then copy and paste them into my website engagerdynamics.com with wordpress. WordPress automatically posts them to LinkedIn and I paste the link into my facebook profile manually since facebook stopped allowing automatic postings awhile ago. I recently created a facebook business page for Engager Dynamics and am working on improving that. I said “at least since I’ve been numbering them the way I do” because WordPress tells me I’ve actually posted 107 times. That’s because I posted a few extras in the middle of the week that I numbered with an “a” after the main post number.

What’s It All About?

I’ve been providing contracted services to clients in multiple industries for over 20 years. In some of those engagements we provided staff who were supervised by the client’s leadership team. It was particularly clear in those situations how strongly lack of engagement negatively impacted the business. I’ve observed that same negative impact within organizations I’ve worked for as well as within partner organizations. Those who really engage are rare and that bothers me. So, I decided to add value by sharing some important truths I’ve learned along the way and that’s what got me started with this blog.

I normally post every Monday morning before 6 AM on the west coast. In my second post, nearly two years ago, I defined what I mean by Engager Dynamics. In short, this blog is about the things we can do to connect or engage with people at work in ways that improve relationships and organizational outcomes. The posts fall into four main categories;

  1. Engager Dynamics (the core actions that lead to engagement)
  2. Leadership (topics a little more broadly about leadership)
  3. Habit Formation (how to make a habit of doing the good stuff)
  4.  Listening (a skill so critical it deserves its own category)

You can find the last 15 posts in each category listed on my “Posts by Category” page. Some of them overlap and there is another category on that page called “Words.” I call myself a word nerd, and this category captures posts where I share a specific word definition or two regardless of the main topic.

What’s Next?

Over the last few years I’ve developed a training that has been well received by several clients. The training focuses on the specific actions leaders can take to engage with their people. I’ve been refining the training lately and recently did an informal poll of readers to see which title would be more interesting. I had two choices 1. “Best.Boss.Ever. – How to Be the Best Boss Your People Will Ever Have” or 2. “The 12 Transformational Laws of Engagement.” Just over 70% preferred number 2.

The next question is delivery method. In addition to offering the training in person, I’d like to make it available more widely. I wonder how people might prefer to receive it. I could present it in an e-book, or as an audio file series, or as a series of videos. What do you think? If you were interested in a teaching on “The 12 Transformational Laws of Engagement,” how would you prefer to receive it? Thanks in advance for letting me know.

God’s Indescribable Gift

There was a problem with the audio on Sunday so they won’t be posting the video of the talk. With my apologies, here’s the gist of what I spoke about.

Have you ever received a gift that left you speechless? It was so extravagant, or so unexpected, or so personal, or so … that you didn’t have words.

Suzi and I were childless for the first six years of our marriage and had more than one miscarriage. God gave us a family through the miracle of adoption. That’s how we felt each time we looked into the face of one of our adopted children for the first time.

That’s also how I felt that night on December 7, 1979 under the lightly falling snow on the corner of Dearborn and Chestnut Streets in Chicago when I asked Suzi to marry me and she said, “Yes”.

Paul had that reaction in 2CO 9:15. He is writing about financial assistance to those in need. That leads him to talk about how God supplies and he ends with the exclamation “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift”. The gift he’s talking about is called in another translation “unspeakable.” It’s unutterable, it’s inexpressible, it’s incomprehensible, it’s extraordinary because it’s paradoxical. Let me show you what I mean. Here are four Paradoxes of God’s Indescribable Gift …

This gift is given to everyone but only a few receive it

You could say It has been delivered to every front porch (or version thereof) on the planet – in fact it’s said to be knocking at the door, but many people don’t receive it, Why?

  • Some reject it – they mark it “Return to sender” because they don’t trust the giver or they’re angry with him for something that happened to them. They don’t realize God is not the author of bad things and is the one waiting to help
  • Some don’t know about it – someone needs to tell them what that knocking is at the front door.
  • Some don’t “need” it – what do you give the person who has everything?
  • Some ignore it – they have no time, or no interest

In John 1:12 the disciple John says that to all who do receive this gift, God gave the right to become children of God. When you adopt a child, you appear in court and the judge asks you if you are willingly receiving this child into your family with all the rights, privileges, and access of a fully legal member of the family including being heir to your estate. The answer, of course, is YES! John is saying that those who receive his gift have the full rights, privileges and access to God as a fully legal child including being heirs to the throne of heaven!

This gift is absolutely free, but it will cost you everything

You can’t buy it – this offer is not available in stores (or online for that matter) You can’t get it at Amazon, there is no auction on e-Bay, Wal-Mart doesn’t carry it. You won’t find it at Nordstrom. Even Neiman Marcus doesn’t carry it. The price is too high. You couldn’t afford it. No one but God could afford to pay for it.

You can’t earn it. In Luke 18 a young man came to Jesus and asked, “What must I do to [earn the gift]?” Jesus gave him an answer not to say, “Do this and you’ll earn it,” but to demonstrate how impossible it is to earn the gift.

You can’t bargain for it – You’ve heard of foxhole conversions, “God, if you get me out of this, I’ll start going to church (or whatever the promise might be)!” That doesn’t work. Neither does God say, ‘ll give you this gift if you do that for me. It’s not a quid pro quo transaction.

When you receive it, and you have to actively receive this gift. You have to sign for it at the door. There is no auto deposit. When you receive this gift, it changes you. This is not a gift you can just stick in your back pocket, or hang around your neck, or put up in the closet. When you take hold of this gift, it takes hold of you. It gets inside your head. It gets inside your heart and begins to change you from the inside out. In one place, the bible says just looking at this gift transforms you. The word “transform” is metamorphosis. Just like a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly, this gift begins to transform your character.

You could say this gift will cost you who you are today to become who you were meant to be. That will Cost you time. It will cost you energy. It will cost you money. It may cost you friends. It has cost many their lives. Read Hebrews 11 in the New Testament, or Foxe’s book of Martyrs. Many of you know the story of Jim Elliott.

When you receive this gift, it also changes your trajectory. People who do not receive it are on a trajectory away from God. But this gift

  • Redeems your life from bondage
  • Restores your soul
  • Remakes your brokenness
  • Resurrects you from spiritual deadness, and
  • Returns you to the one who gave it forever

This gift is given to you, but it is not for you

You’re supposed to re-gift this gift. The words from a song that plays at Christmas are, “Last Christmas I gave you my heart. The very next day, you gave it away.” In the song that’s a bad thing, but God says “Yes! Give it away the very next day, and the day after that, and the day after that.

None of God’s gits is intended to flow into you like a reservoir, they’re all intended to flow through you like a river to benefit others. 1 Peter 4:10 says, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”

One of the ironies of this gift is that it grows in value as you give it away. You reap all the benefits of the gift and as you give it away, you get more of it. It’s truly the gift that keeps on giving.

This gift is not a what It’s a whom

This gift is not a thing. Some treat it like an insurance policy, or like a certificate of membership is some club.

This is God’s gift of Jesus and all he is and does and has and brings when he is received. In the Bible names are significant. They speak of character and position and resources. Jesus is called by many names in the Bible. At this time of year we think especially of “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” I love the title King; King of Kings and Lord of Lords. In the front of my journal I’ve written, “I serve at the pleasure of the King.”

In 1981, Suzi and I were in our first year of marriage. It was my senior year at Moody Bible Institute. In February of that year, Suzi and I attended Moody’s Founder’s week, a week long Bible conference. During one of the sessions we attended, S.M. Lockridge spoke. His message was entitled, “Amen.” During that message he delivered this now famous description of the indescribable Jesus! It’s been memorialized as a modernized video here

During that video, pastor Lockridge asked several times, “Do you know him?” At this Christmas time I wonder, too, have you opened the door and signed for the gift God has delivered to you? There would be no better time than now.