Category: Leadership

The “WELLS” we drink from

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Wells are not something we think about because we have ample clean water in this modern day culture of ours.

A well is basically a hole that has been drilled, bored or dug into the ground to access water. One of the first steps in establishing a healthy community is to ensure access to clean water. This clean water is necessary for drinking, sanitation and for irrigation. This requires someone dig a well, the people use the well and the well be protected from contamination and blockage. But my real interest in wells is not so much scientific or geological as it is metaphorical. I would have to credit former Morehouse College President Dr. Robert Franklin as the one who first got me thinking about wells when he established the expectations that all Morehouse Men must meet. Even in our daily conversations we subconsciously place a lot of emphasis on wells.

“All’s WELL that ends WELL”

“He’s alive and WELL”

“Leave WELL enough alone”

If we are going to do WELL, be WELL, represent WELL and finish WELL then someone is going to need to dig some WELLS, drink from those WELLS and maintain those WELLS. The Dominican priest and theologian Gustavo Gutierrez was correct when he said, “We Drink From Our Own Wells.” Could it be that our society is not healthy because one of the first steps to being healthy is clean water and in this modern culture of digital media, entertainment and influence we have begun ignoring our wells? I guess it is indeed true that “you never miss your water until your WELL runs dry.” What wells am I referring to?

Well ENGAGED – We must become more active and involved in our community and in the lives of our families. A lack of parenting coupled with complacency must be two of the more pressing issues of our day. When parents allow television programming to engage their child more than they do, there is a problem with the well. Television actually changes the way the brain develops, shortens attention span and even changes brain chemistry. Despite the digital craze around learning there is still no substitute for a caring adult in the life of a child.

Well EDUCATED – It is a “type of salvation.” No, education can’t get me to heaven but is sure makes the trip around earth a lot easier. The world is changing and we must keep pace. Education is vital to advance contributions to civic, political and community life. Education is necessary for its role in advancing social justice and to open the worlds of cultural and artistic excellence. Being well educated means being well read. It is too much we need to learn to ever have gaps of idle time. We should always have a book with us. Until we, as a society, value conjugating the verb “ to be” as valuable as running a touch down, dunking a basketball or gyrating on stage then the water of a respectful, balanced society will not flow.

Well EMPLOYED – Work will always be a tool for life fulfillment. I am grateful for the work ethic instilled in me by my parents. It is this work ethic that breaks the spirit of entitlement and ensures that we contribute to our surroundings. Everyone should be required to do something in the place they dwell in. If everyone in the home benefits from the environment then each person should have a definite, measurable and active role to play while there. It is dangerous to raise children who will become adults with an unrealistic, unmerited expectation of a favorable outcome at the hands of someone else. Watch how easy it is for a person to eat your food and leave the plate on the table or to walk past something on the floor or to leave a bed unmade.

Well ENTRUSTED – Integrity is always going to be en vogue. Whatever we do we should do it well and to the best of our ability. We should finish what we start; return things where we got them; pay back the money we borrow; keep our promises; be punctual; not allow circumstance to dictate our behavior; and just learn to show up.

Well EXPOSED – There is more to life than the family, county, city or school I grew up a part of. Until we learn to value experiences more than things we will forever be stuck in a shallow world that only the least desirable fish swim in. Exposure, especially through travel is a means of personal development and aids us in both appreciating where we come from while simultaneously creating in us a desire for better.

Well EXPRESSED – Before people really know us all they can do is see us and hear us, so self-expression through our wardrobe and our words become paramount. We have always worn clothes so I guess this well has just become contaminated and is evidenced when pajamas are worn in public; underclothes are readily displayed; sunglasses are worn inside; women abandon dresses and men disdain a blazer and tie. Compare the attire and apparel of the college students sitting at the Woolworth counter in 1960 to protest segregation and the college student of today or the clothing worn while crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge bridge-crossing compared to clothing today while just crossing the street sagging-pants

Our words are representing us no better. We must be well spoken and strive for meaningful and valuable conversation learning how to effectively communicate our complex emotions and ideas.

Well ESTABLISHED – This means we must become grounded enough and stable enough to be able to give back to our society. Whether we are a Jew embracing the Tikkun olam (Hebrew: תיקון עולם) meaning “repairing the world” or “perfecting the world; “ A Muslim paying Zakat (a proportion of surplus wealth which must be given on a yearly basis to poor and the needy) and voluntary charity; or A Christian loving our neighbor as ourselves and being our brothers keeper we all have a personal responsibility to be keepers of the wells that other people will drink from. When we are mindful of the wells we are digging and the wells we are drinking from I would imagine we could all say, “It is WELL with my soul.”

What WELLS would you add to my list to ensure our society remain healthy? I welcome your feedback.

Determined To Thrive

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For a season of my life I worked as a Pharmacy Technician in a local hospital while paying my way through college. My job was to fill prescription drug orders for inpatients. One of my assigned areas was the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. It was not uncommon to read on the patient record the diagnosis, FTT. FTT was short for Failure To Thrive. When a child is below a healthy weight and shows evidence of being underdeveloped he/she is given this diagnosis. Typically FTT is discovered during infancy and can be a result of any number of causes. What is interesting is that even if you have many healthy organs and normal operating systems, the entire person is still considered FTT.

Such is the case with many of us. We have areas in our lives where things are in order and operating in a healthy manner yet there is still that underlying issue that has consistently gone unaddressed and as a result we fail to thrive. Consider the potential impact of a toothache. Your heart, lungs and every major organ in your body could be operating perfectly. But an aching tooth could easily render you ineffective, distracted and uncomfortable. In the same way we must address as a lifestyle our wholistic health. What does it mean to thrive? To thrive is “to increase in stature; grow vigorously; to prosper in any undertaking.”

We are all familiar with the expression, “taking two steps forward and one back.” Thriving is about addressing the entire person. Thriving is about ensuring we continue taking steps forward and when we must take a step back it is part of an intentional strategy to exponentially and synergistically improve our lives. Thriving is about cultivating the entire person, specifically:

  • Spiritually because only a Biblically based value system and personal relationship with God is able to empower us in a way that stands the test of both time and eternity. Our value system cannot be built on the shaky foundation of culture, politics, race or socioeconomics. Only a foundation of truth is solid enough to not collapse under the weight of personal agenda, bigotry and injustice.
  • Physically because God still places his Spirit inside of a body. When we are sick, tired or out of shape it has an adverse effect on how we perform tasks and responsibilities. What I put in my body; where I take my body; Who I let touch my body and what I do with my body all impact to what extent I thrive.
  • Emotionally because it is unhealthy to ignore our emotions and they’re ability to be used by God to assist us in decision making. Although we should not make emotional decision we should also not make decisions before we have taken the time to inventory, assess and address our feelings. Grief, anger, fear, joy, trust are all God given. Learning to process our emotions is a necessary practice.
  • Socially because relationships matter. The state of our family matters, as do our friendships and casual fellowships. Those we spend time with have a powerful and valuable “banking property.” We give them “card access” to our time, feelings, dreams, resources, ideas, experiences and mind and on a regular basis and in many instances a daily basis, transactions are being made. If we wouldn’t trust a person to our ATM card with the pin we should question why we give them access to our personal resources that are much more valuable than money. Our time should be spent with those who already value themselves, are willing to make an investment in others and are willing to participate in a mutually beneficial relationship.
  • Intellectually because good decision-making requires critical thinking and the ability to synthesize a variety of data. Reading and exposure to multiple facets of life and the world around us ensures we understand our options and the consequences to our choices.
  • Financially because it costs money to live in this society. Without the ability to knowledgeably earn, invest, spend and give we place ourselves in a perpetual cycle of “time for money.” Eventually we run out of money before we run out of time. The objective is for our money to outlast our time.

You might be now wondering, “How in the world do I balance all of this?” This is perhaps one of the most practical aspects of Christianity. Our Christian beliefs are holistic. We believe that everything is within the purposes of God and the care and growth of the total person is in perfect harmony with God’s redemptive purposes. More and more I am convinced that we dishonor the name of Christ when we “cherry pick” the aspect of life we are most proficient at and ignore the others in some ritual of self-glorification. The man who manages his money wisely but ignores his obesity is no more justified than the man who is in great physical health but refuses to pay his debts. The church protesting abortion but ignoring racism and injustice is no more validated than the church protesting racism and injustice but ignoring abortion. The Deacon who teaches Sunday school but pays his employees poorly is no more justified than the member who misses Sunday school so they can work overtime. It is this lack of balance that is causing our failure to thrive.

Will you join me with a lifestyle change that will result in our determination to thrive?

What will you do to thrive? What area of your life is lacking and has the greatest potential to cause you to FTT?

I welcome your feedback.

10 Life Lessons from March Madness

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Who doesn’t love the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, better known as March Madness? There was a time in my life that I would be able to attend many of the games in person but the demands of pastoral ministry in North Carolina have left that near impossible these past nine years. So, like many NCAA enthusiasts I am resigned to living out the excitement at home as I check my brackets on a weekly basis. The odds makers stated that eighty percent of everyone that completed a bracket had lost after the first game. My final four brackets had Florida vs. Virginia in the South and East and Baylor vs. Michigan in the West and Midwest with Florida wining it all. I still predict Florida to win it all but I must say I am still a sucker for the underdog so for the fun of it I am giving Kentucky my vote. But the real value of the NCAA Tournament for me is in the life lessons. The games were more meaningful for me to watch, as I stayed clued in for how I could relate it back to everyday life. As you watch the Final Four consider some of these lessons:

  1. I don’t always get to play another game. So often in life we approach our opportunities, friendships and relationships like we always have tomorrow. There is a day called, “too late” when we no longer get to pursue our greatest dreams, hopes and aspirations. While you are still playing (have life) pursue your greatest hopes now, while you can.
  2. Games are won when the basics are mastered. I remember my father teaching me how to dribble a basketball when I was a very small child. He placed folding chairs in the basement of our home teaching me to dribble with both hands. Yes, we see remarkable plays but the team that can make free throws, dribble, pass, play solid defense and make few mistakes is going to win the game. Like life, games are won not based on sensational play but solid and stable play. Spend your life being solid, making few mistakes and being accountable and responsible on the court of life.
  3. My weakest areas must be developed. I am sure we have all seen games lost over missed free throws or low percentage shooting. In life, we assume that our strength in an area will automatically compensate for my weakness in another. This is not true. I have seen preachers with great style but no substance. This is always a formula for long- term failure. Each of us must identify where we are weak and then develop a strategy for strengthening that area. It is in the strengthening of our weaknesses that we take the strain off of our strengths. This is essential because when our strengths get strained they get reduced to weaknesses.
  4. My mental game is as important as my physical game. Have you ever seen players make mental mistakes? Of course. This is usually a result of fatigue or frustration. Games are lost when our head is not in it. This is where compartmentalization comes in. We must learn to focus on the matter at hand. Admittedly, this is a difficult discipline. I am learning this requires a regular purging of the emotions that are not associated with my current activity. In basketball this means not allowing the frustration of the last play to hinder me on this next possession. Keep the past in the past. Keep the present in the right container remembering that not everything even deserves a container.
  5. Learn to anticipate what’s next. Rebounding is so important in basketball because you can’t score without the ball. Time of possession in every sport is important. Anticipating when and where the ball is coming off the rim or backboard is required to be a good rebounder. So often in life opportunities pass us by because we had no clue what was about to happen next. One reason I have learned to pay attention to politics is that very little happens over night. A new or expanded highway may take five or ten years to complete but the result is a subsequent increase in real estate values. When we have an idea of what is next we can be in place ahead of time and benefit from good positioning.
  6. Assists matter. One of my old basketball coaches would remind us that there needed to be “three touches” before someone shot the ball. Nobody likes a “ball hog.” When I was running ball in North Philadelphia, it was not uncommon to hear someone say, “Give up the rock, man.” In basketball and in life we must learn to share the ball and to help other people score. We all win when the people we share life and experiences with succeed.
  7. Expect the unexpected. In any NCAA game an upset is possible. A key player can be injured or just have a bad game or some ninth or tenth man could get hot from just past the arc and have the game of his life. Yes, anything is possible. I am learning to live my life with a spirit of expectation and anticipation because any day could just be the day when the unthinkable and unexplainable occurs in my life. I look forward to that day.
  8. A work ethic is essential. Hustle, man! I loathe seeing an easy score because an opposing team didn’t hustle down the court. I learned from my father the value of hard work. The game is played on both sides of the court and both require our absolute best efforts. Too often we turn in marginal or sub-par performances because we simply didn’t give it our best.
  9. Don’t wait until game day to make the play. I remember be a young minister laying out my Bible on the iron board and preaching my sermon in the mirror. I still made mistakes in the pulpit but I made fewer of them because I was already working on the plays. Practice. Practice. Practice. And remember it is not practice that makes the master but perfect practice makes the master.
  10. Everyone needs a coach. Those players aren’t out there by themselves and we are not in this life by ourselves.They have people to develop their skills, draw up plays and evaluate their performance. All of us need people in our lives to evaluate us on the court of life. With each passing day I am learning the value of having people that can speak into my life and that I will actually listen to. They are making me better.

Who did you have winning the NCAA Championship?

What life lesson have you learned?

I welcome your feedback.

The Twelfth Man

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Admittedly, I am not a huge football fan although I do like the game. My point is I don’t like it enough to write a blog about it as I am far from an expert and certainly not a sports columnist. However, something occurred in professional football this past Monday night and I felt compelled to write about it. The irony is what occurred was probably more about what happened in the stadium than on the field.

As the Seattle Seahawks went about an easy defeat of the New Orleans Saints a sound was heard from the 68,000+ fans in the stadium. This sound was so loud it actually registered the equivalent of a 1 or 2-magnitude earthquake. The University of Washington operates a seismometer near the stadium that was able to register the stomping of the crowd as an actual earthquake. It reportedly was so loud in that stadium that another 12 more decibels would have resulted in ear drums beginning to rupture. This is the power of the twelfth man.

In a football game, each team is allowed eleven players on the field. When the fans in the stadium begin to harness their energy in the form of cheering, clapping and stomping, it results in the effect of an additional player being on the field, thus the term “twelfth man.” It teaches us that the presence of fans can have a profound impact on performance. It got me to thinking how much more productive our lives might be with the presence of people or several people who were there to encourage us, inspire us and motivate us. Too few of us have a cheering squad or a fan base to help keep us energized. Too often the activity on the sidelines of life can be that of criticism, cynicism and complaint. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.” I am convinced that most people are just a single step or decision away from significant life change, yet just prior to taking the step they get discouraged. It is the presence of the twelfth man, that encourager, which will make the difference. Encouragement is so necessary that not even God leaves His will, anointing and his favor alone without it. I know that this is a possibly highly controversial statement but the Book of Acts proves this point. Barnabas was called the “son of encouragement” and he played a critical role in motivating others during the formation of the early church.

Consider these techniques to become that force of encouragement for someone or said another way, the playbook for the twelfth man:

Point. Point out what people are doing right and not just what they are doing wrong. Too often we are slow to speak when something is right but quick to speak when something is wrong. As you witness a person growing, making good choices or even their attitude improving, it is a motivator when you point it out to them. Words are very impactful. A kind and encouraging word can take a person far on their journey while a harsh word could be the proverbial nail in their coffin.

Pray. We can’t always be present with the people we desire to inspire nor can we always get them on the phone so when these times of physical distance are present, pray for them. I am learning that prayer transcends both place and time. A prayer that is whispered to God today may stay suspended in the atmosphere for years until God is ready to move on it. This means prayer is never a wasted activity. I do caution you to be honest regarding whom you are praying for. If you tell someone that you are praying for them, then please be praying for them. It is encouraging to know that others are sharing their personal God moments with us.

Purge. Take something off of someone. Discouragement is often a result of workload, fatigue and failure. Too often we stand idle gazing at the juggling act while never offering to take one of the balls up in the air ourselves. In similar fashion purging is about being careful what we add to the plate of other people. I am certain we can all think of many examples when someone else could have been asked and not the person we see who is already overloaded and burdened down.

I am convinced that many people who had great potential, promise and purpose never fully evolved into all that was possible because they were missing one thing – the twelfth man. The game changes when the encourager is missing.

Who has been your twelfth man and who are you the twelfth man for?

A Wasted Mind

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The slogan, “A Mind is a Terrible Thing To Waste,” has remained unchanged for more than three decades. Launched in 1972 to encourage Americans to support the United Negro College Fund, this campaign has helped raise billions of dollars and has helped to graduate more than 350,000 minority students from college. One of my former mentors, now deceased Pastor, Congressman and UNCF President, William “Bill” Gray probably did more to champion these efforts than anyone in history. Now this slogan has become part of the American vernacular and the one that I blog about today.

In this writing I would like to encourage us to be diligent and intentional about not wasting our mind.

The mind is complex. Nerves reach from your brain to your face, ears, eyes, nose, and spinal cord… and from the spinal cord to the rest of your body. Sensory nerves gather information from the environment around you; send that information to the spinal cord, which then speeds the message to the brain. The brain then makes sense of that message and fires off a response. Motor neurons deliver the instructions from the brain to the rest of your body. The spinal cord, made of a bundle of nerves running up and down the spine, is similar to a superhighway, speeding messages to and from the brain at every second. In any given second there could be an accident on this “neurological superhighway.” Since the traffic is already heavy, it would be smart to be selective around what you allow to enter onto this highway.

The Bible is clear in it’s teaching that how a man thinks determines what manner of man he really is. Proverbs 23:7 tells us, “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he…

John Milton, the famed 17th century English writer of Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, wrote – “The mind is it’s own place and in the mind we can make heaven of Hell or hell from Heaven.”

The mind is very important! Whatever a person focuses his mind upon is what that person reproduces in his life!  We need to monitor what’s on our mind.

Our thinking affects how we feel. In you are experiencing frequent emotional ups and downs, your feelings reveal where your mind is focused. Not only does our thinking affect how we feel, it determines our final destiny. How is this possible? Thoughts become words. Words become actions. Actions become habits. Habits determine character. Character drives your destiny. In a very real way our thoughts become self- fulfilled prophesies so we must guard what we think about. Here are three “mind wasters” to be aware of:

 Indifference is a waste of your mind

This happens when we refuse to think about anything. Our minds are muscles that must be exercised. As I travel nationally there seems to be an increase of people that simply don’t desire to build their mind. I am learning that we must “do the hard work” of not being idle in the mind. With the rise of social media, videos and television it is so easy to find us attracted to entertaining people who are also empty people. When I leave the home each day I put some effort into how I look. In the same way there should be effort put into what’s in and on our minds. If my shoes are filled with feet, my shirt filled with a chest, arms and a neck and my pants with a waste and hips and legs then shouldn’t my head be filled with a fully formed and functioning mind? Care about what’s on your mind.

 Ignorance is a waste of your mind

I don’t know if there is a more fertile place for negativity and failure to incubate than in ignorance. My personal definition for ignorance is a “dark place in my mind.” It is difficult to make good, healthy choices if we are stumbling around in darkness. Yet, the moment light is introduced it changes my entire landscape. It is important that we develop our minds both wide and deep. There should be some areas of interest that we possess detailed information (deep) and there should be many areas that we know something about – enough to hold an intelligent conversation or at least ask a relevant question (wide). What little do you know a lot about and what a lot do you know a little about?

 Inundation is a waste of your mind

To be inundated is to be overwhelmed or flooded by things or people to be dealt with. When the activity of our mind is more about what I am thinking about then it is about what I am doing with my thoughts then I have arrived at an unhealthy state of mind. Too often we get so absorbed and taken over by our thought patterns that it leaves us incapacitated and incapable of moving forward. Healthy thoughts don’t keep us in the bed feeling sorry for ourselves but rather motivate us to get out the bed and to do something significant with this life we have been given. The lowest form of our thinking is about people followed by events. The highest form of our thinking is around concepts and opportunities. Be careful when your thought life has you so preoccupied with individuals that there is no room for ideas.

Perhaps you can identify an activity or characteristic of a wasted mind. What are you doing to keep from wasting your mind? Please share in the comments area of my blog and thank you for reading.

I’m A Quitter

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The older I get and I suppose the wiser I become I see that much of the wisdom of my youth was flawed and stifling to my growth. Incessantly it was drilled into my young mind that, “quitters never win” or “nobody likes a quitter.” It seemed sound advice but I have learned that the opposite is true. You need to be a quitter to win. And so I confess to the world and hope you will also that, “I’m a quitter.”

The kind of quitting I am talking about isn’t about weakness but rather about strength. It isn’t about defeat but rather victory. It isn’t about giving up but rather finding a way to continue on. I had no idea I was living a life of such disillusionment. I was really living in a world of pretend perfection and every time I discovered something wasn’t really perfect, and after all what is, I was ready to give up that thing rather than to just quit believing my own illusions. So when we discover that our child, spouse, mate, church, Pastor, parent or career isn’t perfect we don’t quit the relationship but instead we quit having the illusion of perfection.

Just quit!

I can’t begin to tell you how often I prayed for God to give me strength and to be totally transparent often I did not feel like He did and I could never understand why. Now, I know it was because God never strengthens us in support of the wrong things only the right things. Let me illustrate this point. In the Gospel of Luke chapter 22 Jesus goes to the Mount of Olives to pray. When he arrives he prays “this cup pass from me.” Meaning I want to quit doing my assignment. Then when he announces he instead will quit desiring his own will we are told that an angel comes to strengthen him. He is not strengthened to quit the assignment he is only strengthened when he quits to the thing that is holding him back. The problem wasn’t his assignment of the cross. His problem was his own will. Only when we die to the right things can we live for the right things.

Such is the case in our lives. We also will go through seasons of wanting to walk away which means we will come to the point of recognizing the only way to move forward is to quit. The problem surfaces when we don’t spend the additional time being clear what exactly we should be quitting. So when these moments of quitting come, I should not quit the marriage, the relationship, the church or the ministry. Instead I should quit listening to gossip, quit being arrogant, quit being sensitive, quit being judgmental, quit having a critical spirit, quit being defensive, quit lying, quit looking for my worth apart from God. This one simple yet profound strategy can and will save you from years of heartache.  Have you ever notice how often the same emotions and challenges occur even though the relationship or the church or the job is different? This is because the real issue wasn’t what you were in. The real issues were those things surrounding it that was stealing the life from it. Here are four thoughts to help you die to the right things.

  1.  Know yourself. We all know what gives us life. We know what wears us out and what excites us. Retain that which gives you life and remove that which doesn’t. For example, does your church give you life? Probably, yes! Does the gossip you hear in the church give you life? Probably, not! Then quit! Quit gossip but not church. You can go through this same exercise with every other relationship and activity in your life.
  2. Don’t be arrogant. We exercise certain arrogance when we have convinced ourselves that we don’t need to experience any suffering, pain or loss. Think about the advice we get, “you don’t need to go through that.” Well, maybe what I should be dying to be not this temporary feeling of pain but this permanent attitude I have developed that life is only beautiful and never hard. Remember, there is a season for everything.
  3. It’s okay to be vulnerable. We have a need to be powerful, strong and self-reliant. When we are controlled by this attitude of always being against something and having to always stand up for ourselves and something then we miss the opportunity to show those that matter in our lives that we are safe and approachable.
  4. It’s okay to be wrong. Many of us will win the argument and the debate but it will cost us the relationship. Instead of dying to the relationship perhaps we could die to our need to always be right.

I’m a quitter. I quit letting anger, fear, bitterness, resentment and sin introduce me, make decisions for me and represent me to others. Too many of us are not known apart from these emotions. When you finally quit you will not lose your self but rather you will finally have a self. We are the sum total of all we allow to live in our lives. It’s time to die to the right things.

What are you going to quit? I welcome your feedback.

The Power of Words

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Thank you so much for helping me. I love you.  Girl, you are fine. I am so proud of you. You’re important to me. I don’t know how I would live without you. You are wearing that dress. Will you marry me?  We are having a baby.

I hate you. You’re just like your father. You will never amount to anything.  I wish I were dead. You make me sick. I want a divorce. Just leave me alone.

Words have power don’t they? So we must be careful both what we choose to say and what we choose to hear. Since we know degraded speech diminishes us and others we must work hard not to engage in it and not to allow anger or even truth be the permission or excuse to say something that causes pain to someone else.

This is particularly important because we live in a word-saturated, word-celebrating and word-wary culture. In the book of Genesis, in the pages of the creation account, God speaks the world into existence. So, it seems that words have the potential to form worlds. Words are indeed powerful.

Words can build up or destroy, hurt or heal, join or sever, placate or incite.  In nursery school we learned the playground rhyme “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” There’s not an ounce of truth in that.

This week I spoke hurtful words and this week I received hurtful words. Well, every week I receive hurtful words but some weeks are worse than others. Although I apologized I realize that there are some things that simply cannot be returned like a missed opportunity or a shot arrow, our words cannot be returned once they are released.

Careers and marriages and friendships can be ruined when those arrows are shot.  People can be driven to illness or suicide when they face the reality that the loss of their reputations can never be compensated.  The Book of Proverbs sums it all up, I think without much exaggeration:  “Life and death are in the power of the tongue.”

I am incessantly criticized for my transparency but I view amongst other things this blog as a type of catharsis. As I experience both the good and not so good in this life I know it can only help self and others that I share the learning. So, here are three considerations regarding our words that I am freshly reminded of.

  1. My words should reveal what I truly desire. Starting today what we desire for others and ourselves and what we think about them should be communicated by what comes out of our mouth. Even when this means a failure to satisfy. But remember, if you don’t want it then don’t speak it.
  2. My words should provide the direction for where I am going.  Our words can build people up or they can absolutely tear them to shreds. With one word of hope or encouragement we can speak truth into a person’s heart calling them back to life so they might reach their full potential. If you want joy or peace or hope directed in your life then speak that and not negativity, criticism or cynicism.
  3. My words should often delight the hearer. People should want to hear you speak because your words are helpful, hopeful, inspiring, life giving and encouraging. This doesn’t mean I have to be full of compliments but it does mean I must speak in a way that leaves the hearer with a sense of dignity, empowerment and self-confidence.

What is coming out of your mouth? How would the people who know you best describe the words that come from your mouth? Our words reveal our hearts and we cannot avoid what’s true of our hearts. There is no masquerading or hiding from our words. They really do speak for themselves.

What are words creating in your life? Your tongue or someone else’s tongue will steer the course of your life. Control your tongue and control the tongues you let around you. Once your mouth is in control, your life will begin to be in control.  

It doesn’t take much to get you off course. Simple phrases like, “I feel like I’m about to die,” can be harmful. A small flame can become a great fire. Remember that negative statements amplify your problems.  The words you conceive in your heart and speak out of your mouth release a spiritual force like dynamite. Your words can rearrange and change things.

If like me you’ve spoken negative words, make a course correction. Repent, and begin making positive confessions.

 Dear Lord, I realize that there is power in the words that I speak. I pray that my words will build up not tear down, bless rather than curse, encourage not discourage. Let my mouth be filled with good. I pray that the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart will be acceptable in your sight.

The Power of a Good Book

ImageI grew up in a home with books – lots of them. Our furniture was old and tattered. Our roof leaked. Our hardwood pine floors had splinters the size of Popsicle sticks. But we had bookshelves filled with books. Admittedly, I didn’t enjoy reading as a child…UNTIL. Until I heard someone say, “if you want to keep something from a black man then put it in a book.” The last thing I wanted was anything to be kept from me so I consulted the most veracious reader I knew – my father. My father was always reading three books. One he kept in the bathroom; one he kept on the nightstand next to his bed; one he kept in the living room on the arm of his chair. Well, that was forty years ago and I have read between three and five books per month, every month since then. It is requirements that I have passed on to my children, one I relentlessly share to my congregation and the one I implore you adopt beginning today.

 Cicero said, “A room without books is like a body without a soul.”

 Mark Twain said, “The person who does not read has no advantage over the person who cannot read.”

 Tahereh Mafi said, “I spent my life folded between the pages of books. In the absence of human relationships I formed bonds with paper characters. I lived love and loss through stories threaded in history; I experienced adolescence by association. My world is one interwoven web of words, stringing limb-to-limb, bone to sinew, thoughts and images all together. I am a being comprised of letters, a character created by sentences, a figment of imagination formed through fiction.”

 There is power in a good book.

To this day I teach my own children and now encourage you to ask those you spend time with a simple question – “What are you currently reading?” If there is a blank stare or too long a hesitation before they answer then consider surrounding yourself with people who feed their mind and not just their body. Books accomplish at least four things in our lives.

  1. Books develop our skills. I have learned to paint, cook, and work on my motorcycle and many other things simply by reading.
  2. Books enlarge our territory. By turning the pages of a book you can visit any place, any planet and spend time with any people without the need of a plane ticket or hotel reservation. Your greatest escape will always be found in the pages of a book. This is the reason the movie is never as good as the book.
  3. Books heal our soul. The soul houses my intellect, will and emotions. All three of these areas of our person can be cared for in the pages of a book – especially my favorite book, The Holy Bible.
  4. Books shape our opinions. We live in a society where critical thinking and analytical problem solving are no longer encouraged. A society where we would rather be told what to do then how to figure out the solution for myself. As we develop an appetite for reading we also develop our opinions and gather information on a range of subjects and issues. This one fact alone will create a more responsible citizenry.

If you need proof beyond me of the power of a good book then consult the greatest book ever written – The Bible. In it is a story of an African male who is found reading. He was an Ethiopian eunuch who was reading because clearly he had an itch that needed to be scratched. You see he was looking for answers. His quest took him to take a pilgrimage to the Holy City where he visited the temple, participated in worship, had conversations with key leaders and personnel and left feeling disappointed, unfulfilled and frustrated by materialism, political arguments, and legalism. The change occurred when he picked up a book. That book had every answer he needed and it forever changed his life.

 There is indeed power in a good book.

 If you should need a good action plan for reading in your home then simply start by replacing one hour per day of any other regular activity (preferably television watching) with reading.Here are some recommendations from our summer family lists over the years:

For youth and teens

Charlotte’s Web – E.B. White

The Giving Tree – Shel Silverstein

Holes – Louis Sachar

The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien

Jonathon Livingston Seagull – Richard Bach

The Fault in our Stars – John Green (this is my daughter Jada’s favorite book)

Paper Towns – John Green

Stamina – Derek Anderson

To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

Night – Elie Wiesel

Romeo and Juliet – William Shakespeare

 Non-Fiction

Famine in the Land – Steven Lawson

Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell

Saving Eutychus – Millar and Campbell

God’s Politics – Jim Wallis

Holy Ambition – Chip Ingram

The Coming Jobs War – Jim Clifton

America the Beautiful – Dr. Ben Carson

The Souls of Black Folk – W.E.B. DuBois

What book are you reading? What book would you recommend? Your feedback is welcomed.

Get A Life

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As you know I spent a week in Orlando with three of my children and while they enjoyed the theme parks I attended 35 hours of intensive teaching on Leadership Excellence. Many insights came from my time with the leadership team at Walt Disney Company and I am excited about the transferable concepts that came from my time there. However, one insight was innately personal and struck me harder than others. Two days into the course it hit me like a ton of legos (see A Lego Life) that my church has a legacy but I do not. While I was busy over the past eight years of my life drilling down on making sure the church had a powerful vision statement, I was not nearly as deliberate of ensuring I had a personal vision statement.

 For many of us we walk into corporations every day and  we see in the hallways, corridors, on printed material and websites, “Our Vision is…” Yet, most of the people (that would be us) reading these statements have not gone through this process themselves.

If the vision statement of a company speaks to why that company exists, it would not be a stretch to say a vision statement is a statement of the life of that company. That vision statement is communicating, “we as a company or organization have a life to…” Could it be the lack of a vision statement could be communicating a lack of life? If so, the lack of my personal vision statement is telling me to get a life.

As you read this I encourage you to do the same soul searching that I went through this week. Before I share my personal vision statement let me share a few considerations on what to think about.

  1. Guard rails. Your vision statement makes sure you stay on the road. It gives you the freedom to cross lanes but the safety of making sure as traffic, road blocks, accidents and detours surface in your life you never lose perspective on where you are headed.
  2. One long trip. Each of us gets one long road trip on this journey called life. While the destination matters the decisions I make and relationships I build along the way will count in the end. Our legacy is really the sum total or the aggregate of everything that happens on that journey. My vision statement reminds me that everything counts for something but nothing counts for everything.
  3. Drives my actions. When Charles Colton, the 18th century English cleric said, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” he wasn’t talking about imitating good intentions but rather imitating certain behaviors. It’s interesting how “we judge ourselves based upon our intentions while others judge us based upon our behaviors.” A vision statement ensures that we are not just going to be “fondly remembered”, but “actively emulated.”

I encourage you to write your vision for your life now so that other people can read it later. Get a life! And remember, even if you don’t take the time to go through this exercise none of us will be exempt from leaving something behind. I can either communicate what I want to live for or trust others to decide for me what I lived for.

My personal vision statement is

“To strive to leave a legacy of having lived with integrity, invested in family, inspired humanity while evolving inwardly ”

A Lego Life

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This week I am at Walt Disney World attending the Disney Institute. The Disney Institute is the professional development arm of The Walt Disney Company. They offer intensive classes to business professionals to assist in engaging in best practices and real life business solutions that facilitate corporate culture change. Simply put I want to be the best Pastor and CEO possible, which require I sharpen my skills in a lot of areas. I am participating in the Leadership Excellence Institute. Almost my entire professional life I have made it a practice to invest in my development. I am cautious of people who spend time vacationing, shopping, facebooking, twittering, dancing, and doing all the fun social things but never schedule time to learn to do what they do better and to expose themselves to people that are exponentially more successful than they in some discipline or interest. Who can’t learn something from Disney? After all they have a lot more visitors on Sunday than our church does.

As much as I am able I try to combine my personal and my professional life. I know for most people this is frowned upon but I am learning that my worlds can be BOTH connected and compartmentalized. I am learning the extreme ends of an issue have usually gone a little too far. My calling is too important to exclude my family from it and my family is too important to exclude my calling from it. Don’t get me wrong I do believe in compartmentalization. There is no way I know to succeed in life without the ability to isolate and focus on difficult issues apart from everything else or as I like to say to know what gets your full-time focus at any given moment. When things fit then connect them and when they don’t.. Well they don’t. There will always be paradoxes between our professional and personal lives. The key is to know when they connect and when they don’t. I call this the “Lego life.” As you know Legos are a construction toy that consists of interlocking blocks.

As my children and I walked through Downtown Disney we encountered the Lego store. It’s amazing what you can build with Lego blocks. I took a picture of three of my children in the midst of a figure built with Lego blocks and it triggered some thoughts for me.

  1. Greatness is built with small pieces. Huge images and significant accomplishments are created with the connecting of seemingly insignificant resources. Too often we wait look past the small resources we have when in reality we may very likely have enough of them to build something grand. Use what you have and don’t assume you don’t already have what you need.
  2. There is no substitute for vision. The pieces don’t look like what they were formed into but someone saw it. Two people can be given the exact same pieces or the exact resources and create two different realities. It all depends on what each of them sees. May we begin immediately to expand our vision? Let’s begin seeing more in our children, family, friends, churches and communities.
  3. Everything versus something. There is no debate that we don’t always have what is needed to create everything but we are never expected to build everything but rather something. Too often the something crowd get squeezed out by the everything crowd. Stop trying to do everything and begin doing something. Walt Disney, Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King, Jr. are not known because of everything they did but rather because of something they did. What’s your something?
  4. Diversity has power beyond us. Consider all the shapes and colors that Lego blocks come in. No one piece can make anything more than itself. If I want to be a part of something bigger than me it will require others that are nothing like me. The most unaccomplished people are those who insist on doing it with those with their same “look.”

We are all a living Lego. We have the potential to be a part of something larger than us and to build something that others will be in awe of. What are you building with what you have been given and what are you a part of that is larger than you?

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