Wednesday, May 30, 2012

We Need People

As creatures, we have needs. One of our needs is for other people. It has been said we have been created with a God shaped hole, but we also have a person shape hole. In the beginning of creation, God creates everything good. He pronounces everything good until in Genesis 2:18 he says, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suited to him.” Then God creates woman. This passage certainly points to marriage, but it also points to our fundamental need for other human beings. It is not good for us to be alone.

Here are some of the ways we need people.

1. Touch - We first and foremost need people for physical touch. If we are not held and touched when we are first born, we can die that is how bad we need touch. This need for touch does not go away.

2. To be understood – You and I have a fundamental need to be understood. We need to know that someone understands our perspective. Being understood connects us to other people.

3. Acceptance – We not only have a need for another person to understand us, but then to go further and accept us for our warts and weaknesses. Andy Stanley notes that acceptance paves the way to influence. It paves the way because it meets a deep need in us.

4. Spiritual growth – We grow in character through our relationships with other people. We learn to love by loving other people and putting up with their warts and weaknesses. The New Testament is full of instructions for spiritual growth that require relationships.

Those are a few ways in which we need people. What are some other ways you recognize your need for other human beings?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

We Need Jesus To Lead

It may sound obvious enough, but if you want to lead people spiritually, we need Jesus. In Acts 19, we learn that Paul is in Ephesus. God is doing extraordinary miracles through him. Some itinerant Jewish exorcists see the power of God working through Paul. Presumably they hear Paul doing amazing work by calling on the name of Jesus. These Jewish exorcists start copying Paul and try to engage in spiritual warfare against demons by saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.” They don’t really know Jesus. They have no intimacy with Jesus and they just are using his name. As a spiritual leader we can fall into a similar rut. We can speak about Jesus or talk about spiritual matters in religious language or look the part, but all out of intimacy with Jesus. When we fail to cultivate our own relationship with Jesus we really have no authority or ability to lead others. This is what happens to the Jewish preachers.

The evil spirit answers them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know but who are you.” Acts goes on to tell us that, “And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, so that they fled out of the house naked and wounded.” The story is on one hand comic. You can imagine these guys being utterly shocked when the possessed man speaks back to them. And they run away naked and wounded. On the other hand, it is tragic because it is a story that gets repeated in so much in ministry and Church leadership. People get burned out because they have put the work of ministry ahead of an intimate relationship with Christ and so they have nothing to offer.

Or worst happens, people continue to work for the Church and they get by on skill or charisma or personality running the Church but they no longer have anything to really offer people because their own relationship with Jesus is stagnant. Eventually Churches without spiritual leaders who follow Jesus become stagnant.

In John 15, Jesus says, “I am the vine you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he is it that bears much fruit for apart from me you can do nothing.” Jesus tells us pretty plainly that if we want to bear fruit as spiritual leaders we have to abide in him, remain in him, stay connected to him. Just as the branch receives nutrients and hydration and then can bear fruit, we receive the power and ability to produce fruit and produce disciples by remaining connected to him. On the other hand, apart from him we can do nothing. Apart from Jesus our works and our efforts are useless. We need him to lead others spiritually and no giftedness or ability on our part can make up for a lack of intimacy with Jesus.

If we don’t stay connected to Jesus either we will wind up beaten up and wounded like the itinerant Jewish exorcists or we will look successful superficially but not really produce fruit.

Why do we try and lead separately from Jesus?

Monday, April 23, 2012

God Provides

We are creatures and as creatures, we have needs. Our greatest and first need is for God. We especially need a relationship and intimacy with God. God desires intimacy with us and promises that if we will draw close to him and trust in him then he will meet all our other needs. Our neediness will either drive us closer to God or drive us further away from him. We will seek God and trust him to meet our needs or we will trust in things and wind up seeking them.

God promises to provide us with what we need. And he promises us himself. God’s providing for our needs and offering of himself go hand in hand. God will not meet our needs without offering us himself. And God meets our needs in order that we might know him. The story of the testing of Abraham so clearly illustrates this point.

God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Abraham had waited years and years for God to provide offspring and fulfill his promise to him. Then one day God asks Abraham to take his one and only son and sacrifice him. Abraham obeys, only telling Isaac that they are going on a journey to make a sacrifice to God. On the way up the mountain, Isaac asks Abraham, “Behold the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” (Genesis 22:7)

Abraham responds with a line that is so rich and has such depth it is impossible to do it justice in this blog post. Abraham responds, “God will provide HIMSELF the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” God will provide himself. God is our provider. He can meet all our needs. He can meet our need or food and shelter and basic security. He can provide the approval we crave and the money to pay our bills. In meeting our needs and coming through for us, he most wants to provide himself. As we seek God for himself, we will find our needs met and a deeper relationship with him. When we seek God just for stuff, we lose both. As CS Lewis said, “Aim for heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim for earth and you will miss both.” Aim for a relationship with God and you will find your needs met. Aim for just your needs and you will struggle just to meet your needs and you will miss out on God.

Monday, April 16, 2012

God Is Quirky

Our God has a personality. The God of the Bible isn’t vanilla. He isn’t some ubiquitous force. As I read Scripture, especially as I have been reading the prophets recently, I have been learning to appreciate more God’s personality, especially the personality of our heavenly Father. Through the prophets, we see he gets angry, pissed off really and yet will go to any lengths to communicate his love for us. So often this personality gets lost in Church world or worst professional Church people or theologians will be embarrassed by passages of Scripture that really show God’s personality. Our God has a personality. Think of some of the things he told his prophets to do. He told Hosea to marry a prostitute so that he could show the Israelites they had prostituted themselves by chasing after protection from foreign gods and foreign nations. He told Jeremiah to put on underwear, then bury it and dig it up after a period of time to show how intimate he had wanted a relationship with them, but the relationship had deteriorated. I love this line in the 48th chapter of Isaiah. It says, “Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One O Israel: ‘I am the Lord your God, who teaches you to profit, who leads you in the way you should go. O that you had listened to my commandments!’” I love that. You can hear the frustration in God’s voice that people will just not listen to him and do what is for their own good. As a parent, I often feel the same way with their kids. If we are growing more intimate with God, we are getting to know more his personality. We grow closer to God when we read Scripture in a way in which we see God is quirky, he is playful. Why do you think we are more comfortable with a vanilla God? What do you think of calling God quirky?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Why Don't We See Our Need For God?

Over the last few weeks, I have blogged about how we are creatures with needs. Our health, our spiritual growth and overall success in life are greatly affected by how we meet those needs. As I have tried to write about our need for God, I have struggled to articulate why we need God. I have been reading Safe People by John Townsend and Henry Cloud and it helped me clear up the struggle. They write, “God has created all of us incomplete, in adequate, and in need of a huge shopping list of ingredients that we cannot provide ourselves…Deep within, all of us hate the idea of having to need other, having to ask for what we don’t have, having to bow the knee to God.” Basically, it is difficult because I am prideful. In general, we are prideful creatures who really don’t like admitting our needs. And often when we do admit our needs, we make it sound like others owe it to us. We need God more than anything else, but because we are so wounded by original sin, it is most difficult to see our deep need for God. Food and clothing and shelter and our physical needs we see pretty clearly. Our soul’s need for God is obscured by our pride and spiritual blindness. As I reflect on my prayer recently, I am not sure I have been really seeking God. I’ve had quiet time, but I think I have been looking for answers to problems more than I have been looking for God. I have put my needs for solutions to problems ahead of my need for God. Our souls desperately need God, but we have to continually reawaken that need because in our pride we will lose sight of our need for God and act like practical atheists. Do you agree that pride blinds us of our greatest need for God?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Principle of Yesterday

What happens today is the result of my actions yesterday. I am trying to drill that principle into my head. As simple as that principle sounds, I forget it. I especially forget it when I have a bad day of writing. I will stare at the screen and struggle to put thoughts together. I feel like I am wasting time. When I come home from work and my wife Mia asks how my day was, “I say frustrating. Or OK.” Then nine times out of ten when I go back the next day to write, things click. Suddenly, I have something to say. A good day of writing usually follows a bad day of writing or a day of struggle. If something comes easily to me, it is usually because an idea has been marinating in my mind for a while. The struggle of yesterday or past thought and reflection has become fruitful today.

The same thing happens in my spiritual life. I will pray today for something and expect God to act. Recently, I fasted for something and expected to see results from God that same day. What was I thinking? That is not how God works. We offer to him and then it usually God responds in his time, not ours, but it is rarely instant. This is why Scripture tells us over and over again to wait upon the Lord.

In an age of instant gratification and communication, we find it very difficult to remember that today was shaped yesterday. You reap what you sow. Whatever you have today is the result of yesterday’s actions. Yesterday may mean literally yesterday or a week ago or a month ago or a year ago.

Knowing that today is formed by yesterday, I offer two practical piece of advice.
One, don’t allow the feelings of struggle to defeat you. Struggle today often brings fruit tomorrow. The next time I struggle writing, I am going to remind myself that it is part of the process and that most likely my next attempt will bear fruit.

Second, develop the practice of reviewing the past day, past week, past month or past quarter. About 4 to 5 times a week as part of my prayer time, I go through the past day and go through my activities and thoughts. I ask God to help me see them in his light. Then I am aware how the events of yesterday may impact my day. I am also trying to get away four times a year to look back on my journal, so I can review what has happened and recalibrate my life.

What did you do yesterday that you are feeling the impact today?

Monday, March 26, 2012

What Delights God

Thus says the Lord: "Let not the wise man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches, but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth; for in these things I delight." - Jeremiah 9:23-24

We need God. As creatures we need our Creator. We need intimacy with God otherwise our souls will shrivel. To have intimacy with God requires we know his heart. In Jeremiah, God reveals his heart. He tells us the things that bring him delight. Whatever delights us says so much about us.

God tells us we don’t need first of all money or power or great wisdom, we need to know his heart and what delights him. So to understand the heart of God and have intimacy with him we learn that is a God of steadfast love.

We learn that he is a God of steadfast love. His love for us cannot be shaken or moved. He accepts us even when we fail. He sees us warts and all and loves us anyway. Some one once said grace is the reality that we are all bastards but God loves us anyway. We need to know God accepts us and will remain steadfast in his love, otherwise we will begin to look for approval in unhealthy ways.
God is a God who practices justice. God is practicing putting the world in right order. God delights in wrongs being righted. He delights when the poor and the disadvantaged are cared for.

God is a God of righteousness. God delights in putting us back in right relationship with him. He delights in changing and transforming us into a person that can stand before him and be reconciled to him.

We need to know these aspects of God’s heart because otherwise we will go completely off track. If we fail to know God is a God of steadfast love, we run from him when we make mistakes. If we fail to know God is a God of justice, we fail to know him through the poor. If we fail to see God as a God who practices righteous then we tend to try and change ourselves instead of relying in his power.

Monday, March 19, 2012

We Need God

I started a blog series last week called “Needy.” Human beings are creatures and as created beings we have needs. Our lives are greatly affected by how we choose to meet our most basic needs. We can go wrong in meeting our need by denying our needs and thus starving ourselves, confusing wants for needs or by meeting our needs in ways that never really satisfy us.

Our most basic need is for God. By need God, I don't mean just for him to provide for us but for relationship with him. We need to be present with him and simply allow him to speak to our hearts. CS Lewis writes that our souls have been made to run on God the way cars run on gasoline. Augustine said, “Our souls are restless until they rest in you.”

As I write that, it seems like a very Christian thing to say and yet we don’t always live our lives with an awareness of our need for God. God is so humble that he sustains us even when we live ignorant of him. Even though “in him we live and move and have our being” he will allow us to live in ignorance that he is sustaining us.

We deny and forget our need for God and wind up starving our souls. And so we turn to counterfeit gods and turn to idols when our souls desperately desire to connect with the true and living God. We turn to money or sex or pleasure or sports for what God alone can give. We try and fill our God shaped hole with anything and everything other than God. And in doing so we only find ourselves hungrier in our souls.

Personally, when I am praying and talking to God on a regular basis, I become more and more aware of my desperate need for God. Actually it is when I am praying regularly and then miss a day of prayer that my soul begins to say with David, “As a deer long for flowing streams, so longs my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” – (Psalm 42:1-2a)

When are you aware of your need for God? Why do we forget this basic need?

Thursday, March 15, 2012


I am starting a new topic today, which you can tell from the subject is called “Needy.” This is a concept that has been coming back to me from time to time and now is the time to write about it. Humans are creatures. We have been created and all created things have needs. We have needs if we are to simply survive and we have needs if we are to thrive.

Our needs can be used for good or for bad. We have a need for food and sustenance. That need will either drive us to eat healthy food or to fill our stomachs with junk food that may satisfy our hunger pangs but not really meet our basic need. We have a need for intimacy. Either that need can drive us to healthy relationships or to unhealthy habits or to use manipulation. Using our needs against us is one of the basic tools of the devil to tempt us towards evil. The first temptation Jesus faced was to turn stones into bread. He was tempted to meet a real need in an immoral way. On the other hand, God in story after story and teaching after teaching tries to pound it into our thick skulls that if we place our trust in him, then he will meet our needs.

As tough as many people want to sound, I so often hear neediness as an excuse to do what is wrong. People will lie, cheat, steal or justify some action of that kind because they need to make a buck and they have no other choice and they are just living in reality. In order to live a Christ centered life and as true disciples, we have to come face to face with our needs. We have to acknowledge our real needs. We humbly have to acknowledge our needs and then trust in our heavenly Father to meet them. It is that simple and that difficult.

Often what happens is we either deny our needs or we try to satisfy our needs with something that really doesn’t fit. The image that comes to my mind is when a little kid tries to put a square block in a star shaped whole.

Another problem is that we fail to grasp our hierarchy of needs and make lesser needs the most important. Our most important need is really for God, but we will put other things ahead of him. We also misunderstand desires for need. Many things we think we need are really just desires or appetites we must learn to discipline.

Our neediness will either work for us or against us. God intends that our neediness drive us to him and to a greater trusting relationship with him. The devil tries to leverage our neediness away from God. So much of success in our spiritual life comes from understanding this battle going on.

What would you characterize as our most important needs?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Eisenhower vs. Rommel II

In my post, last week I mentioned I was reading Stephen Ambrose’s D Day. Ambrose took a chapter to compare and contrast Dwight Eisenhower and Erwin Rommel. Although Rommel was a genius of great resolve, Eisenhower proved superior because of two skills. The first skill was his ability to lead himself and therefore lead his men emotionally. He remained positive in front of his men. His positive nature flowed down to his men. To read more about Eisenhower’s optimism read my blog from March 6.

Eisenhower was also superior to Rommel because he understood the value of delegation and team work. He pulled together the British and American forces. He was excellent at delegating and managing large egos like Patton and Montgomery. Rommel was more of a “genius with a thousand helpers” while Eisenhower knew how to bring smart and capable people around him. It was his ability to build a team that won him the position to be the supreme commander of the Allied Forces. Stephen Ambrose writes, “his never flagging instance on working together was the single most important reason for his selection.”

In looking at these two characteristics of Eisenhower, they seem very compatible. Leaders who value team and the people around them are going to pay attention to how their mood is affecting the morale of the people around them. Both of Eisenhower’s strengths show that to become a better leader, we must forget about ourselves and humbly put others first.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Eisenhower vs. Rommel

I have been working my way through D-Day by Stephen Ambrose. One of the chapters compares and contrasts Dwight Eisenhower and Erwin Rommel. Eisenhower and Rommel both shared some similar traits. Both liked dogs. Both chose very simple places for their headquarters. Each one would rather have built something rather than destroy in war. However, when it came to their approach to leadership they differed a bit. Rommel was a great genius, but Eisenhower was a superior leader for two major reasons. I’ll share the first one in this post and the second in a later post.

While Rommel was very pessimistic, Eisenhower had an incredible optimism. After a defeat in Fall of 1942, Rommel said to one of his young commanders, “That’s the end.” Eisenhower on the other hand said, “optimism and pessimism are infectious and they spread more rapidly from the head downward than in any direction.” Realizing how great his mood affected his men, he said, “With this clear realization, I firmly determined that my mannerisms and speech in public would always reflect the cheerful certainty of victory – that any pessimism and discouragement I might ever feel would be resolved for my pillow.” Eisenhower could confront the brutal facts with unwavering optimism that he would succeed.
To lead others well, we must learn how to lead our own emotions. It also requires humility to put others welfare ahead of our own need to express our emotion. I must admit I struggle to live this out. I left a meeting a few weeks ago after receiving some brutal facts and made some comments that revealed some of my frustration about those facts. As a parent, I often lose my temper with my kids when they don’t listen to me. Or I come home from a bad day at work and allow my mood to affect my home life.

So as a fellow struggler, I am learning two lessons when it comes to being a good emotional leader. First, apologize when I blow it. When my mood negatively affects my kids or volunteers, I have gone back and apologized for it. As I apologize, I am admitting my mood affects them and it reminds me that is not the person I want to be.

Second, I am learning to battle out the negativity on my knees and give it to God. Eisenhower brought his pessimism and discouragement to the pillow, David would yell at God in the Psalms. With all due respect to Eisenhower, I think David’s approach is better. I’m not as good as Eisenhower. Vent your frustrations and pessimism to God. He can handle it and somehow it seems to just make things better.

How do you handle pessimism and disappointment?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Winning Beats Losing III

When talking about winning or success, the assumption can be that it means that everything will always go right and mistakes cannot or will not be made. We think that those who succeed always got it right. This is a big misconception.

Failure must be embraced as part of the process of winning if we are to succeed at anything. As Captain Haddock says in the Tintin movie, “Don’t let your failures defeat you.” Unfortunately, fear of failure is one of the greatest obstacles to success. I know this is a fear I continue to struggle with.

I have always been competitive. As a kid, I had a friend who did much better in school than I did. (We are still good friends.) After every test and report card we would compare grades. He would always come out ahead. After a while I expected to lose to him and decided not to study as much as he did. In my mind, I thought, “I could get grades like Bres if I wanted to but I just choose to not study as much as he does.” The reality was I feared that even if I studied all out, I still wouldn’t do as well as Bres (short for Breslin – everybody was called by their last name. I was Corc.) In reality, Bres just had a better work ethic and I let the fear of failure defeat me.

Recently, I began writing a letter to myself at the instruction of my leadership coach. The letter was to list what I will achieve this year. The idea of the letter is that I could read it a year from now and celebrate the victories. Instead of writing assertively, I couched my words carefully to cushion myself for failure. I said things like, “I hope you will be at your ideal weight.” And “You should have spent time with your kids.” I did this instead of being assertive and saying, “You will have lost weight.” My letter reflected my fear of failure.

Seth Godin says, “If failure is not an option than neither is success.” If we are too afraid to positively assert our goals and try bold things that might not work, we will never be successful, we will not win. Winning by its nature means we have to risk losing. In sports, two teams or individuals compete knowing there is a possibility they may lose. It is that tension which brings a dynamism and drama to sporting events. The team that never steps on the field will never win a game or experience the thrill of winning.

If we are not risking failure, we aren’t trying. And to risk failure means we will fail at times. If we wish to win, we must embrace failure as part of the process of winning and success.

As a person who fears failure I return to Teddy Roosevelt to inspire me to get over fear. He said, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or how the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” – Citizenship in a Republic

How do you overcome a fear of failure?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Winning Beats Losing II

I have been thinking about my blog from Wednesday, February 8. In reflecting on it, I thought there were a few things I would like to add when it comes to our attitude and winning.

First, I would add that winning and succeeding and what that looks like will be different for different churches depending on their circumstances or context. A little church in a country town and its success looks much different than a church’s success in an affluent suburban town. If a person has a mountain of debt, winning and succeeding is going to look much different than someone who has a fully funded emergency fund.

Second, even though I like to win, I must add that sometimes I don’t like to do the things I know will make me successful. I choose self-defeating behaviors. I have been trying to lose weight in the New Year and get down to my ideal weight. When I started a 90 day plan to lose weight I planned to give up alcohol and coffee except for a few special occasions during that time. The special occasions have multiplied and I am not reaching my goals because I am choosing to drink coffee and alcohol. I am choosing self-defeating behaviors.
We all face times when we may say we want to win and succeed at something but don’t give our maximum effort or cheat ourselves. Sometimes we even subtly sabotage ourselves because we fear failure and if hold back in some way then we have an excuse for not making our goal. In those cases we have to look in the mirror and tell ourselves, “You are the problem.” Losers blame their circumstances and others for failure. People who win are willing to take responsibility for their failures, including their fear of failure.

Third, I by no means want to play down the importance of grace when it comes to success and winning. We cannot succeed without grace. When it comes to getting to the next place as individuals or organizations, we need outside help. If we already had the capacity to get to the next level, we would be there. We need God’s grace that comes both mystically through prayer and the sacraments and very tangibly through the help of other people. Grace is available to those who chose to avail themselves of it. The choice is ours.

Fourth and last, I think we have to overcome a culture of losing. Individually that means overcoming a mentality that says, “I am always going to be broke. I am always going to be at this weight. I am never going to have a great relationship with my spouse or kids.” Many Catholic churches have developed a culture of mediocrity and losing. They say, “No one wants to come to Mass anymore. This next generation just isn’t interested in God.” These are excuses to fail that come from a culture of losing. The way we fight a losing mentality or culture is to stop believing the lies and to get some quick wins and celebrate them.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Winning Beats Losing

I like to win. Winning is fun. And if you don’t want to win atsomething or succeed at it, then why even attempt it? This is why Vince Lombardi said, “Winning isn’t everything, it is the only thing.” Many people wrongly misinterpret that quote to mean you should steal and cheat to get ahead. Lombardi didn’t mean that at all. He meant the reason his players practiced and worked hard was to succeed. Lombardi loved to win and he won 5 NFL championships because winning wasn’t everything it was the only thing.

Recently, I have been going through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University again. Dave over and over again will say, “That’s how you win.” Dave’s passion is to help people win or succeed with money. He has failed with money and knows what does not work. He discovered what did work and put it into practice. He won with money because he likes winning.

Winning is better than losing. Unfortunately, I have discovered that not everyone likes winning or will do what it takes to win. A few days ago I had a conversation with someone from the archdiocese. He was talking about how many people in the Catholic Church don’t like mega churches. He said his response is, “What don’t you like about mega churches? That they are bringing people to faith in Christ?” The point is that many people don’t like mega churches because they are winning. They are winning at making disciples. They are succeeding in core business.

Whenever we see someone winning with money or business or in relationships or in business or in Church world or in any endeavor, we have one of three options: we can learn from them, ignore them or mock them. When we ignore or mock them, we are essentially saying, “I like losing and I don’t want to win.” The Bible calls people who like losing “scoffers.” Psalm 1 says, “Happy are they who do not sit in the company of scoffers.” Scoffers criticize and they mock but they never do anything great.

Hans von Balthazar said holiness can be killed but it cannot be refuted. Likewise, winning can be criticized and mocked, but it cannot be refuted.

Our larger Church culture is losing because to some degree we like losing. We have become comfortable with losing. What is needed is a generation that hungers and thirsts to win for Christ. Our losing culture is largely self-inflicted and does not need to be. The revival of the Catholic Church will come when enough people want to win and find a holy discontent with losing.

Do you believe God wants his Church to win?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Not Fair

As a staff we have been rereading Good to Great by Jim Collins. Reading it again and discussing it has been refreshing and insightful. The book is excellent and simply a must read for anyone who leads an organization in any endeavor, including a local Church.

In one chapter, Collins describes great companies as having a “culture of discipline.” He compares Kimberly-Clark , who had the courage to sell all their paper mills and invest in consumer products like Kleenex with another company in the same industry.

He writes, “I had an interesting conversation with some executives from a company in the paper business. It’s a good company, note yet a great one, and they had competed directly with Kimberly-Clark before Kimberly transformed into a consumer company. Out of curiosity, I asked what they thought of Kimberly-Clark."

‘What Kimberly did is not fair,” they said.”
‘Not fair?’ I looked quizzical.
“Oh, sure, they’ve become a much more successful company. But, you know, if we’d sold our paper business and become a powerful consumer company, we could have been great, too. But we just have too much invested in it, and we couldn’t bring ourselves to do it.’”

Essentially this executive admitted his company didn’t have the discipline and the courage to change. They lacked the courage to change what they knew would lead to certain success.

Success and winning when we apply our minds to it is really predictable. In my business of running a local Church, we have been successful, but what we do is not rocket science. We are not any more talented or smarter than anyone else. We have simply followed and learned from successful models and applied them to our setting.

The sad reality of the local Church is that there could be so many more successful parishes if more leaders had the humility, discipline and courage to simply go where God is blessing and what God is doing.

Do you think I am oversimplifying the matter? Or do you agree we just need more Churches willing to follow the principles and practices that are winning?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


Growing up I always wanted to be on championship teams. My most fervent prayers as a kid were for my baseball, basketball and football teams to win the championships. I remember time and time again begging God that our team would win it all. I especially remember one year praying for my baseball team and begging God for a miracle when the song “All I Need Is a Miracle” by Mike and the Mechanics was on the radio. Our team didn’t win that year.

I’m not sure what it reveals about my character, but I never desired to be the star on any team. I did desire to play a role and be an important element in a team’s success. I desired to make a difference and matter, while enjoying the contributions of other members.

The desire to be on a winning team remains in me. It is incredibly satisfying to be a part of success where you contribute your talents and enjoy the gifts and talents of others. At the same time, I think teams are so difficult to achieve. Our ego gets in the way. We can easily start thinking more about our contributions or our needs rather than the good of the whole team.

I’m not sure I have anything to offer on the mechanics of how a team works. But I do know no solo effort can ever be as satisfying as a team effort. It feels good to achieve results, but it is always better sharing victories than achieving them alone.

Tonight I got to witness a great team effort by our small groups team. People came together, worked hard and created a great environment. Winning feels good. Winning with others feels better.

What great experiences have you had working on a team? What do you think is the secret to creating a great team effort?

Monday, January 30, 2012

Mentors At A Distance

This past weekend I drove to Connecticut to visit my in-laws. To prepare for the drive I packed up some CD’s to help make the time more constructive. Included in my stash was Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. Dave has become my financial mentor at a distance. As I was listening to him I started thinking that I have developed a few mentors for various areas of my life.

There are a few signs that someone has become a mentor at a distance. One sign is that I begin to call the person by his first name. The mentors are like friends. I have a relationship with them (even if they don’t have a relationship with me.) I can say to my wife, “I was listening to Dave and…” and she won’t say, “Dave who.” She knows I mean Dave Ramsey.

Another sign someone has become a mentor at a distance is that I consider what he would say or recommend about a decision I am making. If I can envision Dave Ramsey getting in my face about a financial decision, I know it isn’t right and need to rethink it.

Tony Horton has become my exercise and eating mentor. Over last year I dropped 30 pounds doing P 90 X and this year have started doing P90X 2. Without his program there is no way I would have lost the weight I did. Looking at his materials inspires me to work out harder and eat healthier.

Henry Cloud is my counselor and psychologist from a distance. Henry Cloud has written great books especially “Integrity” and “Necessary Endings.”

Andy Stanley is my spiritual mentor. I have learned a great deal listening to his messages about how to practically walk with Christ. His wisdom for living is outstanding.

Who are your mentors at a distance? Is there an area of your life you want to improve, but find yourself failing time and time again? If you found some mentors, even at a distance it may go a long way in achieving your goals.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Stand Up To Bullies

I was in so many fights in Middle School I can’t even count them. Actually, to call them fights would be a misnomer. In a fight, two people participate. Bullying is probably the more accurate term. For whatever reason, many kids throughout my Middle School years wanted to pick on me. I am convinced my reticence to ever fight back led to more skirmishes. Ironically, my own desire for peace at any cost brought fights in my direction. Most times, I would suddenly find myself staring face to face with someone who had some problem with me. The “fight” would usually last 30 seconds to a minute. The other guy would throw his punches, get his aggression out. I essentially would take it. The “fight” would be over. As I said, bullying is the proper term. I never really cared so much about taking the punches. I just wanted the conflict to be over.

One time I fought back. Essentially, a kid kept picking on me day after day. He threw rocks at me. He pushed me and I just took it. I didn’t fight back. Finally, after a few days, I had a Popeye moment in which I said, “That’s all I can stands I can’t stands no more.” I went home and told my parents at dinner that I would probably be in a fight the next day because this kid kept picking on me. My dad to his credit gave me permission to defend myself. The next day the kid came up and punched me in the face and then I unleashed about 15 to 20 punches on him. He never bothered again.

At the end of the day, all evil is essentially bullying. Bullies look tough and talk tough, but once you stand up to them, they will eventually wilt. The devil and all the demons cause havoc when no one stands up to them. Edmund Burke said, “All evil needs to do to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Leadership often requires us to simply stand up to bullies.

The devil is a bully. John Eldredge notes that he especially tries to bully the wounded areas of our hearts. Isaiah 14:16-17 says that one day we will look on the devil and say, “Is this the man who made the earth tremble, who shook kingdoms, who made the world like a desert and overthrew its cities, who did not let the prisoners go home?” Until then, if you and I wish to lead, we must recognize that we must stand up to the bullying of the devil. We must stand up to the bullying of evil wherever we recognize it. If we don’t stand up to bullies, we give them permission to beat us up and to beat others up as well.

Do you have any experience of bullying? Do you believe in the Devil? Do you agree he is just a big bully?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Growth Requires Intense Experiences And Daily Habits

We are midway through the first month of the year. I continue to reflect on goals and plans for the year. Recently, I took a day away to set some goals for the year and ways in which I hope to grow. On my time away, I took a post blog post by Michael Hyatt that resonated with me a while back. In the post he advocated putting aside days in your calendar for intense growth such as going on retreats and improving skills in a compressed amount of time. Exposing ourselves to intense experiences helps us go further faster.

As I was taking a walk, I thought about Hyatt’s suggestion. At the same time I was thinking about Jim Collins description of the 20 mile march in his book Great by Choice. Collins says that great companies are very disciplined in their approach to setting goals. They neither stretch themselves too much or challenge themselves too little. They find the sweet spot. So which is the right approach? Intensive Times or disciplined, consistent efforts?

As is so often the case, both are true. Growth and success come from occasional intense efforts and daily disciplined investments in the right accounts.

When it comes to spiritual growth, I have found intense, compress expeirnces very important to my relationship with God. Intense retreats or time away can accomplish some things in our spiritual lives that we could never on our own. When doing youth ministry, I would see kids connect with God on a much deeper level at conferences and work camps.

With family, week or two week vacations are so important. They create experiences that help bond us together. From the focused time together we allow more time for conversations and laughter that get squeezed out in daily life.

On the other hand, intermittent intense experiences are not enough to sustain faith or any relationship. Daily and consistent deposits are necessary. Prayer and acting on what we discover in prayer, slowly changes us into the men and women God has created us to be. Talking with my wife on a daily basis, interacting with my kids in small ways builds our relationship and builds our family. Improving in any skill simply takes disciplined effort on a daily basis. You can’t write well or play the piano or get good at a sport just through some intense times. You need daily practice.

So when setting our goals for the year, we have to look to see if we have both a plan for a couple of intense periods of growth or investment as well as putting time in our daily schedule for skills and relationships we want to cultivate.

Do you have some times of intense growth planned for the year? Vacations, conferences, workshops? What are the habits you need to put into your life to grow in the year ahead?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Grace - It's Personal

A few weeks ago I had a project to do around the house that wasn’t an emergency but had to get done. It was something above my pay grade and abilities. (By the way it doesn’t take much to get there. I’m not very handy.) So I called a friend of mine to see if he could come and help me. When I asked if he had any time to help me, he responded in a way that caught me completely off guard and even disturbed me a bit. He answered, “I’ll make time for you.”

As strange as it sounds, I felt disturbed and a little bothered. I know, I know it makes no sense. Don’t we all desire friends that will rearrange their schedule for us, who love us enough to make time for us? Yes, theoretically, but to be hit with it face to face is completely humbling. In a sense I didn’t want him to come and help me, but to be something he would do for anyone. I wanted him to say sure it is no big deal. It was quite another thing for him to come and help me just out of friendship with nothing in return. It was completely gratuitous on his part.

In reflecting on this part, I realize there is a part of us that doesn’t want grace , especially a very personal grace. Maybe we don’t want this personal grace because it is so humbling. Yes, Jesus died for us and saved the whole world through his death. When I am lumped in with the rest of humanity, I don’t feel like it is all that personal. I don’t feel that it necessarily it was my sin that nailed him to the cross. But when I sink in that grace is incredibly personal. That all the ways we experience God’s grace, including the cross, God like my friend says, “I would do it for you.” That’s humbling and as that thought crosses my mind and sinks into my heart tears well up.

Over and over again, every single day God puts opportunities before us to receive his grace and says, “I would do it for you.” When we come face to face with that reality, its humbling and amazing.

Monday, January 2, 2012

What the New Roman Missal Taught Me About Leadership

Over the last month, the Church introduced the New Roman Missal into English speaking countries. Personally, I don’t have much of an opinion about it. However, in adjusting to the new translation I have been reminded about one important aspect of leadership.
A day before Christmas Eve we celebrated Mass at the Timoinium Fairgrounds where we held our Christmas Eve Masses. We celebrated a Mass with a few people from staff as well as some volunteer ministers. The purpose of the Mass was consecrate the space (the Cow Palace) as well as the hosts that would be given for Communion. As we went through the Mass, often we were at a loss as how to respond. At one point I said to our pastor as he waited for us to respond, “We don’t know what to say.”

I have had this experience with the New Roman Missal - people just not responding because they are uncertain and unclear about what they are supposed to say. I have found myself hesitating even on responses that have not changed, responses I have said for over thirty years. With the new changes, there creeps in a little bit of doubt about what to say so I say nothing.

So how does this apply to leadership?

Uncertainty tends to lead to inaction and so if we want people to act confidently, then it is important as leaders to be incredibly clear about our expectations for people. Clarity and certainty lead to action. Uncertainty and ambiguity leads to inaction or even worst counterproductive action. One of the chief jobs of leadership is creating certainty.

As a manager or supervisor this means being clear about what an employee needs to accomplish, as well as what authority a person has to accomplish the task. Clarity means defining the problem that needs to be solved by a team. It means clarifying wins, so teams work confidently trying to accomplish the same goals. As a parent it means setting clear rules for our kids and being clear about their behavior at the dinner table, when going to bed and about fulfilling their school work. It means giving them a clear structure.

At the end of the day it is about clarity of communication - communicating with both our words and actions. As I write about this, I recognize I am not very good at this. I tend to think people can read my mind. Before leaving to visit my parents at Thanksgiving, I was getting frustrated with my kids because I didn’t think they were helping us get out the door. My wife asked me, “What do you want them to do?” I said, "I don’t know." So if I was unclear about what I wanted them to do obviously they were as well. It was poor leadership on my part to get mad at them when I hadn't communicated clear expectations.

So the first step to creating clarity is for us as leaders to identify what we are asking others to do. Then communicate it clearly, recognizing, we cannot over communicate when it comes to setting clear expectations. Before we blame employees or kids for not doing what we asked them to do we need to examine if we know what we want them to do and have communicated it very clearly.

Where have you seen uncertainty lead to inaction? How do you communicate clear expectations?