Good Friday from a chilling perspective

I am a religious leader. I make it a top priority to carefully cultivate a love for God in my life. One of my other primary responsibilities is caring for the people I have been entrusted to guide.

It is a high calling and I do everything within my power to take it seriously. I’ve studied for hours on end. In an attempt to make my words match my actions, I’ve set up a series of rules to help me avoid the appearance of doing anything improper. Naturally, I demand that those who are following me observe the same code of ethics.

There are many threats to this way of life but perhaps the biggest is teachers who lead massive numbers of people astray. It happens all the time. Presumptive leaders tell the crowds what they WANT to hear instead of what they NEED to hear. This gives them a sizeable following. Then, they use that popularity as a way to control and manipulate.

I am always on the lookout for these imposters. I am vigilant about what others teach and compare it to what I have studied for years. If the two don’t match up, I have learned to take action quickly; our country, our independence and our way of life depend on it.

A little over three years ago, one of these false leaders rose from relative obscurity. From the very beginning I suspected that something was wrong with his teaching. He didn’t study under any religious professor but he spoke like a person with authority. He seemed to have unique power but if I didn’t know with certainty where he came from, how could I ever know the origin of his power?!

There were signs that he could be special. Huge crowds gathered because blind people started seeing with 20/20 vision and others who were never able to walk were running around. Thankfully, I knew all this was a façade. After all, occasionally he did these things on a day we weren’t supposed to do any work.

Sometimes this same man would tell people he forgave them of everything they had done wrong in life. This included all their outward behaviors as well as all the attitudes they held in their hearts. Obviously, no one can forgive these things except God.

Finally, this man had the audacity to claim he was equal with God. I knew it was the final straw. We had to take drastic measures to make sure this message didn’t spread further. The worst-case scenario seemed to be a plausible reality. The delicate balance of order and control we had worked diligently to foster with the government could come crumbling down.

Last night, my fellow religious leaders and I had the man arrested in the darkness in order to avoid a scene. When a mob brought him before our council, his fate was a foregone conclusion.

At first I was frustrated. We couldn’t get any witnesses to agree on a crime he had committed. Eventually though he slipped up like I knew he would. He claimed to be God in front of all of us! It was all we needed. We knew that we could convince the government that he was trying to start an insurrection and execute him.

It turns out, that was easier said than done. Government officials didn’t instantly see things our way. They tried using every tactic they could to release him but in a stroke of genius, we found the phrase that finally got them to cave…

“We have no king except for Caesar!”

We all know that only God is our true king but the ends justify the means, right? The man needed to be killed for his blasphemy.

A simple charge hung over him at his execution. He was a king.

Can you imagine if this man was alive? People might surrender to him. I might have to give up my right for influence and importance. His followers might value honoring him more than they value their country, their traditions or the relative peace and comfort we have created.

No. Like I said, I do everything within my power to take my job seriously.

 

Seven Haikus to Celebrate Spring

Creativity and productivity are not mutually exclusive.

A favorite book of mine from last year was written by one of the founders of Pixar, Ed Catmull. “Creativity Inc.” describes the rise of Pixar from a startup company founded on the outrageous idea that computers could be used to make animated films, into the creative force that produced blockbuster hits like “Toy Story”, “Cars”, “Monsters Inc.” and “Up”.

One of the major themes throughout the book is that creativity fuels innovation more effectively than focusing on production alone. When we give our brains the space to think creatively, it can help us develop solutions in totally separate areas.

Because I’d hate for all the lessons in that great book to go to waste (and because I had a hankering to write some haikus) here are seven haikus to celebrate the arrival of spring. 

Grow

Grass is green again

No more white stuff on the ground

My lawnmower waits

Feast

Rain turns dirt to mud

Worms slide across my driveway

It’s a bird buffet

Jacket

Temperatures climb

It’s not freezing anymore

Goodbye winter coat

Weber

Start ignition light

Flames rise beneath metal grates

Burgers. Ribs. Steak. Yum!

Aloe

 Gorgeous day outside

Wear the least clothes possible

First sunburn this year

Retreat

 Flowers start to bloom

Stretching from their winter sleep

Oh no! It’s snow. Retreat.

Tissues

Fresh Air. Breathe it in.

Pollen floats. Sniffle. Sneeze. Sneeze.

Time to take Zyrtec

All right. I’m no T.S. Elliot but it’s fun to try for a day. It also feels strangely energizing.

The next time you need to be really productive, try writing a couple of haikus, painting on a canvas, or even making up your own song (depending on your musical talent, you might want to keep the performance to the shower). Giving yourself permission to be creative in one area might have added benefits in others.

Ten Leadership Lessons

You might not consider yourself a leader but chances are at some point in your life you will be asked to lead others. No matter if the context is work, school, sports or your family, a valuable question to ask yourself is, “what does it look like to lead well?”

Thankfully, I’ve had many gifted and loving people pour into my life over the years. They have shown me what leadership looks like by their words and actions.

As I reflect on what they have taught me, here are ten important lessons I’ve learned about leadership through the influence of others.

  1. Love the People you lead

 Leadership is not primarily about tasks. It is about people.

Opening up your heart to the people you are responsible to lead can be scary. It takes time and emotional energy. It also hurts more when people move on. On the flip side, there is more joy, connectedness and contentment than if you keep your heart closed off.

  1. Keep your priorities straight

 The pursuit of success can blind us to what is truly important in life. I talk to a lot of guys in their 50’s and 60’s who wish they would have spent more time with their wife and kids instead of running after the next promotion.

I can either look at my marriage and family as a hindrance or my primary place to lead well. When I get the order right, I find myself thriving in both places. When I don’t, well…it’s not where I want to live.

  1. It’s not about you

If you are leading people to yourself and how great you are, you are leading them to the wrong place. People need to be engaged in a mission greater than themselves. That mission is not you.

 Also…don’t take yourself too seriously.

  1. More is caught than taught

This doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for formal training in leadership. Practical instruction is always important. However, what really sticks with people isn’t what you taught them on an intellectual level, it’s how you treated them and how you interacted with the world around you.

  1. Leaders are Learners

The phrase, “Leaders are readers” is also popular. I’ve always got a couple of books I am working through (usually very slowly!) but learning includes more than books. Listening to podcasts, radio, reading blogs and watching movies can all be excellent ways to learn. Even better…take time to listen to people. You might be surprised at what you discover.

  1. Keep the main thing, the main thing

It is extremely easy to get distracted from my primary focus. There are a lot of “good” things that I can do. I need to constantly remember the vision before me and filter my decisions through that.

  1. If you want to lead, follow

Someone wise once told me, “The best leaders have learned to be the best followers”. That’s a great way to evaluate the leadership potential of others as well as a great statement to reflect on.

Once someone lets “leader” become an identity rather than a role, it almost always creates issues.

  1. Don’t ask people to do things you aren’t willing to do

Pretty straightforward but surprisingly not that common.

That doesn’t mean that leaders should ALWAYS be doing what everyone else is doing. There are certainly times that leadership requires a different focus. Still, true leaders aren’t afraid to roll their sleeves up and get dirty.

  1. As goes the leader, so goes the movement

Every organization, business, church etc. will take on the personality and values of the leader.

When I was working for Wegmans, I noticed that every store had a different “vibe” even though they each carried the same products and had the same systems in place. I eventually came to realize that this personality was based more on the store manager than anything else.

If you want what you are leading to be healthy, YOU must pursue health in your own life.

  1. Stay Thankful

No one appreciates being around people who are ungrateful. We all know this instinctively. Yet because leading requires thinking about a better future thankfulness can slowly evaporate like a puddle on a hot summer day.

Taking time to write a “thank you” note, an email of gratitude or simply saying “Thank you, so much!” face to face can do a lot to keep thankfulness alive and well in your heart.

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Those are some of my favorites. There are definitely a lot more!

How about you? What do you think of that list? Is there anything you would add/subtract? I’d love to hear what you think!

What was I thinking?! The quest for acceptance.

Do you want to be accepted by the people around you? Do you have a desire to be loved and valued? Congratulations! You are a human being. Or a very intelligent dog who has learned how to read. In that case, double congratulations!

I’ve heard it said, the only people who don’t care what other people think about them are sociopaths. That may seem bold but I think there is truth in that statement. Whether we admit it or not, most of us will do a lot to fit in.

Take for example, fashion trends. You can’t tell me the first reaction of most guys in the 60’s when they saw bell-bottom jeans was, “Wow! Now there’s the kind of jeans I’ve been dreaming of wearing my entire life!” Did men in the 70’s put on those polyester suits and say, “I am so comfortable! Why didn’t someone come up with this material sooner?”

I lived through the 80’s and 90’s. There was one summer when the cool trend was wearing boxers as shorts. Does that seem a little odd to me now? Ummm, yeah! How about all the flannel I owned in the 90’s? Was I preparing to be a lumberjack?

Fashion is just one of the ways that we try to fit in and gain acceptance of others. It can take on a myriad of other forms like the music we listen to, our academic excellence, work performance, the size of our house, how well our kids behave…the list goes on and on.

So how should we respond? Do we try to reach a state of enlightenment where we don’t care about acceptance anymore? I don’t think that is a healthy way to live either.

Although the image of the lone cowboy on a western prairie is an American icon, my guess is you wouldn’t want to talk to that guy after he hasn’t had interaction with anyone else for a year. His horse has probably convinced him of some pretty crazy stuff.

It feels vulnerable to admit that I care what other people think of me. It’s true. I want to be accepted and loved for who I am. Despite how awkward that is to say, I don’t think that desire is a negative thing. It becomes an issue when that yearning takes control of my life.

Acceptance from other people is like a can of Pringles. Each chip tastes really good but it doesn’t leave you satisfied. “Just one more” you say to yourself. Before you know it, all the chips are gone but the craving hasn’t left.

True validation can only come from a place beyond ourselves. We were created to experience community with other people AND God.

That’s one of the reasons I love the message of Christianity. Our acceptance isn’t based off what we do, it’s based off what Jesus has done.

When I let that truth sink in deeply in my soul, it brings a contentment I can’t get anywhere else.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Helping Doesn’t Help

“Wow! You are really a helper!” A counselor recently uttered those words to me. Inwardly, I thought “Why, thank you! It’s nice of you to notice.”

While the statement wasn’t spoken in a derogatory way, it also didn’t have the ring of a huge compliment. After a moment or two of reflection, I began to connect how having an awareness of the feelings of others can be an unbelievable blessing and an unwanted curse.

In my last post, I shared what I am learning about reaching out to the hurting people who are all around me. This seems odd to say, but there is actually a dark side to that type of compassion.

Helping others can be twisted and motivated by selfishness. Sounds kind of crazy right?!

Let me explain. Caring for people who are hurting can carry a sense of satisfaction for me. The look of appreciation in the eyes of someone who is truly grateful is rewarding. For the lack of a better term, it can be a “high”. It can be validating and give me a sense of respect that I desperately crave. My mixed motivations can be pretty ugly.

On top of that, there is another problem… helping is not always helpful.

When I try to help others who don’t want my assistance, I am robbing them of their individuality and freedom to choose. I could also be short circuiting growth opportunities in their life.

Some of the best moments of growth can occur when we are experiencing resistance or discomfort. Even as I type that sentence, I wish it wasn’t true! Going through difficulty in life is like hitting the gym. It’s painful but it can jumpstart your development.

When I rush to help people who aren’t ready, it’s like I’m at the gym watching someone bench press. Without even asking, I run over to their rescue. I repeatedly help them lift the weight without them even asking for a spot. That type of help is demoralizing and dehumanizing. Even if it does feel nice at the time, it doesn’t result in any change.

Another red flag for me is when I choose to serve others out of “an empty tank”. As any flight attendant will tell you, it’s important to “secure your own mask before assisting others”. I believe there are times when I can supernaturally help others even when I am emotionally, physically or spiritually drained but when this is a regular pattern of life, the results can be disastrous (believe me, I know from experience!). Simply put, I can’t give what I don’t have.

If you are a “helper” like me, you are probably tempted to believe that your assistance is essential for the world to continue to spin on its axis. The reality is I’m not the savior of the world and neither are you. My job is simply to follow the One who is.

When I am living in that reality, my helping can really help.

A note to the girl on campus, crying outside the gym

I saw you curled up in a corner outside the gym. It’s a spot where only someone desperate to escape the crowds would go. The window you were sitting next to is deceiving. You probably couldn’t see in, but I could see out. Don’t worry, I don’t think anyone else even noticed.

There was an undeniable look of pain on your face and tears were rolling down your cheeks. At first this startled me. I felt like I was peering into a very private moment.. Then, a sense of compassion hit me. I wanted to stop my workout to go outside and make sure you were OK. If it wasn’t for the fire alarm door standing in the way, I would have done it.

Then I began to think of what else I could do to help. Only one thing came to mind…pray. I don’t want to seem weird but it seemed like you could really use it. I also made up my mind that if you were still there in another minute or two, I would make my way out of the gym to where you were. It only took you about 30 more seconds for you to pick yourself up and move on. The gym is a complicated maze to escape. Even if I left when I first saw you, I probably wouldn’t have made it to you in time.

When you got up, many emotions filled me. I was sad to see you in pain. I was worried hoping that you would be all right. Interestingly enough, one my primary emotions was anger. I was angry at that door for separating us. There was someone in pain who I couldn’t reach because a barrier stood in the way.

I don’t assume you would want to talk with me even if I was able to make it past that door.   Still, it made me think of all the obstacles that stand in the way of me seeing and reaching out to people in need. Sometimes it’s self-centeredness. It is easy to look in the wall full of mirrors in the gym and stare impressed (or depressed) at what I see. Similarly, when my focus is on myself, I don’t consider what is happening in the world around me.

Other times, the fire exit doors are things like busyness or the next “important” thing on my calendar. I’m sure there are times when I miss people in pain because I’m too caught up in making it to the next meeting on time. It turns out, you taught me a very important lesson.

Most likely, you and I will never meet. I’ll probably never get to tell you this face to face but I want to let you know that at least for a brief moment in time, you had someone praying for you in your pain. Whether you realized it or not, you were not alone.

The same thing is true now. Even in the midst of your sorrow, you have someone who you can’t see who knows what you are going through. Unlike me, His love is unconditional and He can break through any door to meet you where you are. I pray that no matter what dark time you are walking through, you will experience the hope, joy and peace that only He can bring.

An open letter to my nine year old daughter about relationships

It’s always been tough to navigate the waters of relationships. I think it’s even tougher today. This is an open letter to my nine year old daughter as I try to help her understand what to look for….

Dear Daughter,

I love you!

Are you sick of hearing me say that? I’m sorry if it gets annoying. Someday soon, you’ll probably even roll your eyes when I utter those words. That’s OK. I get it. You’ve got a weird dad. I’m still going to keep on saying it anyway. Do you know why I’m never going to stop? Because, I love you, silly, that’s why!

There’s also another reason I try to tell you those three little words as often as I can. Someday, you are going to decide to get into a relationship with a guy. You’ve still got a lot of time before that happens (maybe until you are 40 or so) but when that day comes, I want you to recognize what true love really looks like.

I know I’m not a perfect dad. You know that better than anyone else. Still, I think a lot about what it looks like to be an example of a loving man in your life.

Here is my biggest piece of advice and my prayer for you when I think about your future… Please don’t settle for anyone less than the best for your life. You deserve the best!

Remember that time I bought you your first rose? It was the day you were born, so I understand if your memory is a bit foggy. I wrote you a little note and let you know that although a lot of other guys would probably give you flowers, I was excited to be the first. Right from the start, I wanted you to recognize that a true man will treat you with respect and honor.

I love spending time with you too. Our daddy-daughter dates are times I will always remember. Going ice-skating with you a few weeks ago, was so much fun! We must have looked really funny while we were holding hands and trying not to fall on our bum bums. You inspired me by your determination to improve with every time around the ice. If any guy doesn’t appreciate your growth or doesn’t just love being with you, please drop that guy’s hand and get out of that rink as fast as you can!

 Every now and then, you hear me tell you, “You are beautiful just the way you are!” I should probably tell you that more often because I want you to know in your soul that there’s nothing you could do to make you more beautiful. You will always be beautiful. Magazines, T.V. and the movies will try to get you to think that you need to change your outward appearance to be acceptable. Please ignore those messages! If a guy tries to get you to believe that, he is a jerk (I use the word “jerk” because you are nine years old, if you were older, I would use something stronger).

Finally, you might think that I chose the nickname “Precious” for you by accident, but it was on purpose. I’ve called you that name since you were little because I want you to know that’s exactly what you are. Not only do I think that, your Heavenly Dad thinks that. If you find someone who stays connected with that same Dad in heaven, he will see you as a precious woman too. .

I guess what I am trying to say is…

“I love you!”

Find someone who never gets sick of telling you those words and who treats you like he means it. In the meantime, I promise to keep on trying to set the example in the best way I can.

Love,

Dad

Three Weird Documentaries Worth Watching

I remember a time in the distant past when there was only one shot at seeing a show. If you weren’t sitting in front of your T.V. during that time, you had to wait an entire WEEK to see another episode! Heck, during my senior year in college, my roomates and I intentionally planned our schedules around “The Price is Right”.

Now, thanks to the marvels of modern technology, the “T.V. Guide” is a relic from the stone age. What were we back then? Neanderthals?!!

With all of the options, however, can come paralyzation. It’s not uncommon for me to waste an entire half hour scrolling through my options on Amazon Prime. Next time you find yourself in that situation, here are 3 rather obscure documentaries that are fun and thought provoking.

Sriracha 

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I love Sriracha hot sauce! It is as versatile as it is tasty. Yet, I never stopped to think “Where does this stuff come from?”

“Sriracha” is the story of how the recipe of a man from Vietnam changed the culinary world. It is informational, heartwarming and inspiring. Whether you like to spice up your food with the dark red concoction or not, you will probably finish the documentary believing that a great idea can come from anywhere.

 

Mission to Lars

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What does it mean to be a person with value? For many years, a man with special needs had been largely neglected by his siblings. Then one day, his sister (a reporter) and his brother (a documentary maker) decided to make his ultimate dream come true…meeting the drummer from Metallica!

You don’t need to love the Heavy Metal band for this documentary to hit home (although it doesn’t hurt). More than anything it is a story of love, persistence and the worth of every human being.

 

 

Chicken People

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You’ve probably heard of the Westminster Dog Show, but did you know there is a similar event for…Chickens?!! There are people who dedicate their lives to creating the perfect chicken.

At first I felt crazy for even watching this documentary but about mid way through, I started to see the world through the eyes of these “Chicken People”. Scary, I know!

It made me realize there are areas of my life that people would probably call insane if they hung around me for long enough. After watching this movie, you might start to realize we all try to distract ourselves in one way or another. Some of our diversions are just more socially acceptable.

Wide Right: Facing Failure

This Sunday, millions of people will tune in to watch the Super Bowl. As a Bills fan, I can’t watch the big game without thinking about January 27th, 1991. It was a long time ago but the memory is seared into my mind like the lines on a perfectly grilled steak.

In their first Super Bowl appearance, the Bills were part of a gridiron battle for the ages. Despite being behind, Jim Kelly and the Bills offense orchestrated a last minute drive to put the Bills within field goal range. With only a few seconds left in the game, it all came down to a field goal. A successful kick would give the Bills their first championship, while a miss would mean victory for their opponents, the New York Giants .

The eyes of the world were on Scott Norwood as he walked onto the field. His reliable leg had kicked countless pigskins through bright yellow bars like the ones in front of him. Yet, he had  to know that all those other successful kicks would be a distant memory compared to his current task.  THIS moment would be remembered for years to come.

It was no chip shot. 47 yards is definitely a makeable distance for an NFL kicker but also within the range of kicks that are missed on a fairly regular basis. After what seemed like an eternity, the ball was finally snapped. The kick traveled up into the air. It had more than enough distance but sailed past the right upright… No good!

The Giants won the game. The words “Wide Right” still haunt every Bills fan to this day. I imagine those words also follow Scott Norwood around wherever he goes.

Perhaps nothing tests our sense of identity and worth more than failure.

Seeing ourselves through the lens of our accomplishments is as common in our society as breathing air. In many ways, the most important document we own is our resume. It validates all of the gifts, talents and strengths we bring to the table. A resume isn’t inherently a bad thing but a “resume centered life” is marked by continual striving, discontent and constant comparison. Failure is always lurking at the door waiting to destroy everything you have worked so hard to build.

Even though I’ve never attempted a Super Bowl winning kick, I can still identify with Scott Norwood. I’ve failed a lot in life. I have to make a constant decision not to let the “Wide Right” moments of life define me.

Instead, I want to see myself the way that God sees me. My true worth isn’t rooted in what I do. I am loved and accepted for who I am.

Drew Huyn, a pastor from NYC, talks about seven implications of Jesus sacrifice for us. He puts it this way…

We are fully loved.
We are fully accepted.
We have nothing to prove.
We have nothing to lose.
We have nothing to hide.
We are free to make mistakes.
We have nothing to fear.

I doubt I’ll ever like failure but I want to live with the freedom that comes from realizing my worth isn’t wrapped up in my “wide right” moments.

If you’d like to hear more of my thoughts about this topic, feel free to watch a talk I gave at Browncroft Community Church a couple of years ago. You can find the link here.

 

 

 

Lessons You Learn When You Get the Flu

Sickness is inevitable. Literally, none of us is immune. Yet I always find it a complete shock when I find myself in a feverish state, shivering under a pile of blankets on the couch.

This week, I came down with the dreaded flu. I followed my typical pattern of alternating between complete despair and delirium. Only people who have seen the Netflix show “Stranger Things” will understand this but whenever I closed my eyes for the first two days, I had visions that I was in the “Upside down world”.

Rather than waste an experience like that, I thought I would share a few of the lessons that I learned. Here they are in no particular order.

We live in a broken world

Things are not as they should be. A lot of us recognize this intellectually but the experience of sickness drives it home in a way that simply thinking about it can’t.

During the week, my friend Jim sent me an article with the title “Death is Never Natural”. It was a piece about how all death should shock us and make us feel uncomfortable. God didn’t design our world with death as a part of the plan. Each of us innately knows that in our core.

Sickness touches on the same theme. It is part of living in a broken world and reminds us that the beautiful design we were created for has been marred. We long to live in the world as it used to be.

Life goes on without me

I often overestimate my importance. This hit me as I was waiting in my car in the Wegmans parking lot. My wife Laura was picking up my Tamiflu prescription because I was too embarrassed to go into the store with the mask I was given at the doctor’s office (I looked like a walking emoji). I observed all the people walking by and thought to myself, “How are these people functioning?!”

When I’m not sick, my life is often filled with running around from one activity to the next. Honestly, a lot of the time I think all this hectic movement is really important. It’s only when I can’t do it all, I realize I’m not as critical to world survival as I like to imagine.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure

Like a lot of guys, I like to think I have the invincibility of Wolverine or Superman. Why get a flu shot? My finely tuned body will heal itself right away or any virus will simply bounce right off me.

Bad news. I’m not Wolverine or Superman. I’m not even Antman. I have no superpowers. The humility to admit that ahead of time and get a flu shot would have made this whole ordeal a LOT different. There is strength in humility.

The truth about walking with God is sometimes our biggest lessons come in the times when we are at our lowest.

Now get out there and get your flu shot!