The definition is simple, “the quality of being friendly, generous and considerate.”  It shouldn’t be that hard. But somehow, this one seems in short supply.  It’s often missing in the grocery store, neighborhoods, on the road, at work, and even in churches.  I just got a community-wide letter from the board president of our home-owners association asking for this one small thing in our community.  She had to write these words to a bunch of adults, “Road rage, abusive language, disrespect, and discourteous conduct are examples of unacceptable behavior by residents recently reported by both employees and residents.” Sad. Real. Sad. 

Kindness is the missing ingredient.  Sometimes we call it civility.  Affection, gentleness, warmth, concern and care are other words associated with kindness.  I called it simple.  But Dr. Karyn Hall wrote in a Psychology Today article, “Being kind often requires courage and strength.  Kindness is an interpersonal skill.”  She also stated in the same article that researchers have found kindness to be the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a marriage. 

At the church I started, our Lead Pastor, Cory Demmel, did a multi-part message series built around the topic of kindness.  We even sell the shirts that he wore when he spoke, “Dude. Be Kind.”  They’ve become popular around Southwest Florida.  You can even order one for yourself or a friend.  The proceeds go back into acts of kindness for our community.

A close up of a sign

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How are you doing on the kindness scale?  Are you more on the end of frequently impatient, grumpy, rude and disrespectful or are you closer to friendly, warm, gentle, generous and considerate?  Just remember, how you measure yourself might be different than what your spouse, your kids or your co-workers say.  Ask them if you are brave enough to seek the truth. 

There are different ways to practice kindness.  One way is simply to open your eyes and notice others who are in need of a kind word, a smile, opening a door, or helping carry a heavy load. Celebrating someone else’s success, giving honest compliments, sending a thank you, telling someone how grateful you are for them, paying for someone else’s coffee, refusing to gossip are all small ways to practice kindness.  Kindness is even about telling the truth in a gentle way so it is helpful to the other person. 

Do you treat yourself kindly?  Do you value you, and take care of yourself?  Do you speak and think kindly of yourself or are you harsh and hard on yourself?  Starting with yourself puts you in a better position and attitude to treat someone else kindly.  

Apostle Paul wrote much of the part of the Bible known as the New Testament.  In a book to Jesus-followers who lived in the town of Galatia, he wrote these contrasting words, “When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear…hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division…But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:19-23 NLT).  In other words, what is inside oozes out under pressure.  A God-focused life displays radically different fruit than a self-centered life.  God is always willing to come in and replace the junk with his best stuff if you just invite Him. 

Kindness is so much about being aware and intentional.  Ask God every day to build a speed bump between your brain and mouth.  Ask God to start replacing self-centeredness with other-focused characteristics described as the “Fruit of the Spirit” above.  Ask God daily for His help and His strength to respond to each person and situation with kindness.  Ask Him to fill you with His best.  He loves to answer those kind of prayers.  Your world will start changing.  Dude.  Be kind.

QUESTION: In which setting is kindness easiest for you? Hardest for you? I’d love for you drop a comment below. Thanks!

You thought it was supposed to be “Christmas in July,” right?  You’ve heard it for years.  Retailers promote buying in July with discounts, Christmas decorations and even Christmas music playing, trying to spark a mid-year surge of profits. I propose we change it to Thanksgiving in July.  Not that I’m a marketing expert.

I’m really talking about taking time in the middle of summer to be grateful.  In the middle of a stressful season filled with boatloads of griping and complaining about messed up vacation plans, required masks, lack of masks, quarantines, and other pandemic fallout, we should celebrate Thanksgiving. It’s the one day we try hard to complain less and think about all the things we are thankful for.   You know, sit at a table full of hot steaming food, and watch it get cold as everyone around the circle gives their obligatory list of things, they are grateful for.

We all want a happy life.  But did you know that a happy life doesn’t bring more gratitude?  Actually, it’s the other way around.  A life of gratitude brings a happy life.  Gratitude is an antidote to negative emotions.  Gratefulness neutralizes envy, hostility, anxiety, worry and irritation.  There is actually science to back it up.

In psychology, gratitude is the human way of acknowledging the good things of life.  Psychologists have defined gratitude as “a positive emotional response that we perceive on giving or receiving a benefit from someone” (Emmons & McCullough, 2004).  Thanking others, thanking ourselves, or thanking God will make us feel happier and have a healing effect on us.  Research data shows that positive emotions and thoughts bring enhanced moods, increased self-satisfaction, stronger immune systems, less body aches and pains, optimum blood pressure and cardiac functioning and better sleep-wake cycles.  Ultimately, the above benefits of gratitude also extend to social benefits of better communication, more empathy, stronger interpersonal relationships, more likeability by our peers and better teamwork with others.  

From a neuroscience perspective, when we express gratitude and receive the same, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin, the two crucial neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions, and they make us “feel good.”  They enhance our mood immediately, making us feel happy from the inside.  A “Counting Blessings vs Burdens” study conducted showed that keeping a gratitude journal reduced pain symptoms, improved sleep quality, and lowered stress compared to those who were keeping track of all the burdens they had to face each day. 

So let me suggest four things for Thanksgiving in July:

APPRECIATE YOURSELF.  It might be uncomfortable, but try standing in front of a mirror and speak out five good things to yourself.  It can be about your past achievements, your present efforts, your talents or your virtues.  Compliment yourself.  I’m betting you will actually feel better… once you get past the awkwardness.

KEEP A GRATITUDE JOURNAL.  Write down all the little and big things in life that you are thankful for.  There is power in words, so don’t overlook even the small things, no matter how unimportant they may seem.  You might want to choose these four categories:  1) Compliments that I would like to give myself today;  2) People I am grateful for;  3) Current challenges and what I’m learning from them; and 4) Significant assets of my life at present.

GRATITUDE VISITS.  We all have someone, whose unconditional support and help meant a lot to us.  We feel as if we “owe” our success to them.  I’m planning such a visit in a couple months in a northeastern state.  I’ve told him before, but he is close to 80 now, and I want to tell him again.  I know how wonderful it makes him feel and how it makes me feel.  If you can’t make a visit, make a phone call, send a text, or write a thank you note.

DEVELOP GRATITUDE HABITS.  We tend to have uphill hopes and dreams but downhill habits.  If you aren’t intentional, you will most likely gravitate toward complaining and negativity.  There are a lot of things that are negative about our world, especially right now.  If we focus on them, we will spiral downward and only see plenty to gripe about.  It will help to find a gratitude buddy for daily practice.  It can be God, your spouse, a child, a friend at work.  Set aside a few minutes every day to discuss the things you are thankful for.  I try to do that with God on my daily 2-mile sunrise walk.  Sharing thoughts of gratefulness with someone is a great way to strengthen this positive emotional habit in your life.  

“Grateful Brain” author, Alex Korb, writes about how we can wire our brains toward negativity or we can re-wire our brains toward positivity by consciously and intentionally practicing gratitude.  When we train our brains to tend toward positive emotions, we reduce anxiety and feelings of apprehension.  Other studies confirm that gratitude practices are effective for treating phobias like death anxiety, PTSD, social phobia, etc. This is why I’m promoting Thanksgiving in July.  

We need a whole lot more positivity in our community and world right now.  Choosing gratitude fosters adaptive coping mechanisms.  We are more resilient when we experience satisfaction, happiness and pleasure, thereby building inner strength to combat stress.  Will you join me in choosing gratitude so we together can make our workplaces, our homes and community a better place to live?  There are still a few days left in July.  Let’s start a new tradition of Thanksgiving in July, and…every day after!

QUESTION: Which one of the above four suggestions do you find easiest? Hardest? I’d love to hear from you in the comment section below.

You’ve been completely off the grid for the last 4-5 months if you haven’t heard the words COVID-19.  Every newscast, newspaper, nearly every government official and medical leader has been talking about it. Non-stop. It has changed the way we do nearly every part of our jobs, our shopping, our recreation and our life. The abbreviation, COVID-19, is based on this: ‘CO’ stands for corona, ‘VI’ stand for virus, ‘D’ stands for disease and the 19 stands for the year it was internationally identified.  On my wife’s lab test the other day, it showed up as SARS CORONAVIRUS 2 with a “Negative” result. 

Why the title COVID—20/20?  Because we have been blind-sided in 2020.  We often associate 2020 with vision.  20/20 vision is a term used to express normal visual acuity (the clarity or sharpness of vision) measured at a distance of 20 feet.  For example, if you have 20/40 vision, it means that the test subject sees at 20 feet what a person with “normal” vision sees at 40 feet.  20/20 is sometimes called “perfect vision” because no aids are required to see better.  But people can have better than 20/20 vision.  I used to see letters smaller than the general “20/20” size. Now, it takes my progressive prescription lenses to get me to 20/20.

Another popular phrase is, “Hindsight is 20/20.”  We see imperfectly looking forward, but we see perfectly when we look back after an event or a decision.  That phrase has made me look at our experiences through COVID-19 and wonder about what we are seeing as we look back.  I have five observations as I look back over my shoulder at the past several months. 

LEADERSHIP IS DIFFICULT.  Four decades of leadership has taught me a lot.  But the COVID crisis has reminded me that leadership isn’t for the faint of heart.  I knew it before.  But now I’m beyond sure of it.  It is difficult to lead a business, a department, a church, a nation, a platoon, a team, a city or even a family.  There will always be opposition, naysayers, resisters and slow adopters.  Every leadership decision today has pitfalls.  People will disagree.  Some will tell everyone else about why you made the wrong decision.  Some will refuse to follow.  Leadership is always hard but, leading through a crisis in these days, makes it downright difficult.  I learned this truth from Winston Churchill, “You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks.”  Keep on leading.

FEAR IS CONTAGIOUS.  From empty toilet paper shelves, every flush of a warm forehead, each tickle in the throat, conspiracy theories about the government implanting micro-chips in your brain through a virus test to several religious leaders proclaiming the end of the world is upon us.  Fear and anxiety are a virus of its own kind.  Panic and stress rise and fall with every news chart showing the rising or falling trends of new COVID cases.  We have seen this play out in cities, stock markets, workplaces, families, churches, among friends, and in families.  Fear has invaded nearly every crevice of our world over the last months.  Great leaders in countries, organizations and families, reduce fear through clarity and good communication.  We’ve seen some leaders at their best and some at their worst.

FLEXIBILITY WINS EVERY TIME.  I love the ways I’ve seen flexibility demonstrated.  Car manufacturers who switched to making respirators.  An Ohio Amish-owned home goods manufacturer converting to construct surgical masks.  Innovative parents who quickly adapted to home-school teachers.  Churches transitioning from in-person worship to online worship.  Restaurants moving from table service to curbside pick-up.  Flexibility is the key characteristic needed to avoid breaking.  Those who are flexible can usually survive and even thrive during crisis.  The inflexible will always struggle to just survive.

STRESS REVEALS WHAT IS INSIDE.  It is often thought that stress makes a person stronger or develops more character.  I disagree.  I really believe that what is already on the inside is actually squeezed out or brought to the surface when we are under pressure.  Author Robert McKee writes, “True character is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure – the greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation.”Jesus put it this way, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart.  For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Luke 6:45).  My point is, the stress and pressure of today’s challenge is revealing a lot of astounding acts of kindness, generosity, compassion and… just the opposite.

EMOTIONAL MATURITY IS IN SHORT SUPPLY.  I have to admit that I’ve been deeply disappointed by the lack of emotionally healthy responses to our world situation.  I’m saddened the current COVID crisis has too often turned into a politicized mud-slinging free-for-all.  I’ve watched the personal preferences of a few elevated to life-anchoring principles that everyone should be adopting.  I’ll be so bold to just call it emotional and spiritual immaturity when I watch people repeatedly drawing battle lines about sometimes trivial matters and proclaiming, they are offended by everyone on the other side of the line they’ve put in the sand.  Whatever happened to calm healthy conversations about the pros and cons of a particular view, a political position or a personal belief? Most everyone wants an either/or position and aren’t willing to come up with a both/and solution (previous blog).  I love the fact that one of my long-time pastor friends recently said, “As a follower of Jesus, I don’t look through either red or blue glasses, I see through purple glasses.”  He didn’t bash one political party or the other.  He can see both and. He wasn’t out to prove one was right and the other wrong.  Both have positives and negatives.  That is emotional maturity.  

So, how is your vision? Looking back over the last months, have you had an “I” exam?  Are there any of these 5 that you might need to give some attention to in your life? What would the people closest to you say?  Have any of these five made an appearance?  Occasionally?  Frequently?  Honest assessment is important. There is no change or growth without self-awareness.  And remember, there is no growth in comfort and no comfort in growth.  Blessings on the journey!

Love to have your comments for more conversation below…

My daily sunrise routine includes walking 2 miles in my neighborhood while listening to podcasts or book summaries, enjoying the beauty of God’s sky-painting, reflecting on my life and my relationships and praying for others. A recent podcast got my attention.  It was titled “2 Questions to Grow Your Business.”  One of my mentors from afar, Andy Stanley, was interviewing Jeff Henderson about a recent book he authored.  As I listened, I was struck by the fact that these two questions were applicable in pretty much every area of life: personal success, marriage, parenting, leadership in business, non-profits, or churches.  In every area we want to grow and win in, we need to know the answers to these two important questions. 

1.    What Do You Want to be Known For?

2.    What Are You Known For?

A sunrise on a recent morning walk.

The first question is really about your purpose and mission in life. What legacy do you want to leave?  What do you want people to say about you at your memorial service?  How do you want to be remembered?  My written tag line/mission statement is: “To Inspire TransforMissional Living in Others.”  Basically, I want to be known as a person who encourages and inspires people to live a God-transformed life that is intentional and on purpose.

The second question is the harder one of the two.  What am I really known for?  Honestly, how big is the gap between my wish and reality?  If I want to be known as a loving and caring person but many people know me as hateful and harsh, there is a problem.  A huge gap.  If I want to be known as a level-headed emotionally healthy parent, there is a big discrepancy if all my kids and others see is a “fly-off-the-handle” reactionary and explosive dad. In the business world, Henderson says, “When what you want to be known for is what you are actually known for, you create a free sales force through word-of-mouth advertising, which creates the healthiest form of growth.”  In other words, there is a very small gap between what your mission is and how customers see your company.  You don’t have to just talk about how great your product or service is, everyone is already telling others about your superior product or service.

It is necessary to answer the first question before you can accurately answer the second.  Have you slowed down from the fast pace of life to adequately contemplate what you really do want to be known for?  Or are you just so busy doing that you haven’t thought about being?  Don’t forget, we are human beings and not human doings. It is critical to keep the end in mind.  What outcome do you want from your parenting, your career, your marriage, your business, your non-profit, etc.?  If you have no clear picture of what the ending should look like, then you will have no idea what to do to get there.  There’s an old Columbian Proverb that says, “If you don’t know where you are coming from, and you don’t know where you are going, then any bus will do.”  Have you spent time crafting a mission statement for your life?  Have you written down the key characteristics that you want your children to embody when they become adults?  Have you thought about the things you want people to say about you at your retirement party?  Even more sobering, your funeral?  Here’s a link to some further exploration on this topic.

To get good answers to the second question, a couple things come to mind.  Self-Awareness. Fearless Feedback.  Without those two, the answer to “What are you known for?” will be based on wishful thinking.  Most of us go to online to Google, Yelp, Amazon, etc. for reviews before we buy a product or do business with a company.  We won’t buy a 2-star rated product. What if someone could pull up a quick list of personal reviews for me or you?  What would be the tone of those reviews?  While it’s tempting, I really don’t even want to know the first impressions of others.  The best feedback to give me the helpful answers I need for this second question will come from those who’ve known me well for decades.  The coveted answers that will help me measure the gap between what I want to be and what I actually am will come from my spouse, my kids, my co-workers and closest friends.  Most of us are pretty good at impressing people from a distance.  But it’s those who live with us or are around us nearly 24-7 who should be invited to give fearless feedback to raise our level of self-awareness.  It’s not always comfortable to hear from that adjacent group, but they can help us close the gap between the dreams of what we want to be and the reality of who we are. Then real growth and progress is made.  

All of us want to win!  We want to be successful in our careers, our homes and communities.  Start with these two strategic questions above.  Then, seek to discover the answers.  You will be astonished at how this intentionality will pay off in your life now, and in the future.

QUESTION:  If you know the answer to Question #1, do you mind sharing it in the Comment section below?  If not, I would love to hear what your next step is toward getting the answer to questions 1 & 2. 

Over three decades ago, I heard three phrases that have shaped and sustained my life.  These three simple two-word statements burrowed deep into my soul and became my life practice.  They have kept my life in proper balance and in a positive tension.  They have preserved my physical, emotional, spiritual and relational health.  Divert daily.  Withdraw weekly. Abandon annually.  That’s it.  Those six words.  Those three phrases.

In my particular career, I’ve read that over 1,500 pastors leave the ministry every month.  Other studies show it is may be as low as 250 pastors leave their ministerial calling each month. Even that is too much.  Other careers have similar or worse statistics.  The careers with the highest burnout rates are (Descending Order): Physician, Nurse, Social Worker, Teacher, School Principal, Attorney, Police Officer, Public Accounting, Fast Food and Retail. Every career has its unique stress associated with it.  The point is not to talk about the stress.  Let me unpack the three phrases above that have kept me in the game and on the playing field for over 40 years now.

DIVERT DAILY – None of us are designed to go 24/7.  We all will benefit from diverting daily.  If we hit the ground running and go non-stop all day and fall asleep on the couch (while still engaged in our work), we will greatly increase our chance of burnout.   This is a simple way to keep rhythm in your life.  

God did this.  Every day He stopped to look at what He had created and diverted from working to look at the galaxies, the earth, the mountains, waterfalls he was molding and said, “It is good!”  Every day, we need to divert from our work to invest in our relationship with God, our families and friends.  Diverting every day to exercise, eat healthy and sleep is important.  We would benefit from a practice of diverting from our devices for awhile each day.  How are you doing at diverting from the busyness of your work?

WITHDRAW WEEKLY – All we have to do is look at God from the creation and we will see this pattern.  Work 6, rest 1.  Work 6, rest 1.  Work 6, rest 1. The introduction of Shabbat (Sabbath) models the rythmn of at least one 24 hour block of time out of every seven days to stop, rest, delight and contemplate.  This weekly withdrawal from our busyness is certain to make us healthier and more productive.  It is a routine that helps us to realize that our value is not in what we possess or produce.  Our value if found in who we are.  We truly are human BEings and not human DOings.   

Check yourself.  Are you comfortable about building the “doing of nothing“ into your schedule each week?  Are you good with nothing measurable being accomplished one day a week?  If not, you may be a slave of productivity and performance.  God has designed you to take a day each week to do what recharges, refreshes, and renews you. He also invites us to spend time acknowledging Him and recharging our spiritual batteries in an extended way beyond the daily times.

ABANDON ANNUALLY – In America, we left a record number of unused vacation days on the table last year.  768 million of them to be exact.  We have become too busy to take vacations.  At least once a year (I need more than one each year), we should abandon the daily and weekly routines of work and do something totally different.  And I think that means we don’t just take our work with us and change our location of work.  Abandoning means letting go of the usual, and leaving it behind.  Maybe shutting down the email and social media is a place to start.  It often takes us several days to start to defrag our minds so we stop thinking about our work.  And then we usually start re-engaging our minds with our work on before we ever get back on the job.  Therefore, this time of abandonment of our work needs to be a stretch of at least a week or two to get a significant recharge of our emotional and physical batteries.

How are you doing with this one?  I’m grateful that some workplaces are requiring people to take vacations and not to just skip them year after year and hope to get a big vacation payout at the end.  We will be much healthier and productive workers if we’ve had some time to abandon annually. 

These six words.  These three phrases.  They have regularly reminded me and helped me to creatively manage the tensions of an often stressful calling and career.  I’m praying they will help you as well. 

QUESTION: What have you found that helps you the most in keeping the proper tension between busyness and rest? (I’d love to hear from you in the comment section below.)

In 1986, I started an organization that has been in almost constant flux for over three decades.  Some love it.  Others abhor it.  I’ve often told those who were having a difficult time adjusting, the one sure thing you can count on at Cape Christian, is change.  Change is inevitable.  It happens to everyone.  If this year has taught us anything, we can’t prepare for everything.  As a leader, college and graduate school couldn’t adequately prepare me for this. Every day is a new opportunity for something unusual to happen. 

I must adapt accordingly. It’s scary. Uncomfortable. It stretches me. My friend Jenni Catron says, “Leadership growth is contingent on our ability to keep ourselves slightly uncomfortable.  It’s in the discomfort where we continue to learn and grow.”  Most of us want comfort, not discomfort. We all naturally gravitate toward comfort. But the reality is, there’s no comfort in growth and no growth in comfort.  I have no idea who I heard it from, but I wrote it in my “quote” notes about a year ago, “All living things grow, all growing things change, if you aren’t growing then you are dying.”

Andy Stanley wrote this, “You are perfectly positioned now to continue getting the same results you have been getting.”  Are you totally satisfied with the results you have been getting?  My guess is that many of us wish for different results.  We want better marriages, higher compensation, less stress on the job, more internal peace, improved health, a closer relationship to God, greater fitness and so on.  Basically, most everyone of us wants better results in some area of life than we are currently receiving.

There is one thing central to getting better results.  Change.  It is the key.  Doing the very same things you are doing now, will not bring improved results.  Status quo will not bring enhancement.  Business as usual, will not bring progression. Author Bruce Van Horn writes, “If you don’t intentionally choose how to live your life, you are actually choosing to let your life be driven by circumstances.”  Change that produces different results is based in intentionality.  My pastor, Cory Demmel, puts it this way: “We have uphill hopes and downhill habits.”  

Change is hard.  New Year’s resolutions almost always fail.  We are creatures of habit.  In a Harvard Business Review article, Tony Schwartz (CEO of The Energy Project) contends that 95% of our behaviors are habitual. Only 5% of our choices are intentional. Schwartz suggests that most of us wildly overvalue our will and discipline. He goes on to propose that our changes must rely less on our prefrontal cortex and more on co-opting the primitive parts of our brains in which habits are formed.  Put simply, the more behaviors are ritualized and routinized — in the form of a deliberate practice — the less energy they require to launch, and the more they recur automatically.

Let me wrap up with 5 things I’ve adapted from Tony Schwartz that will help you make change:

1. Be Specific. Imagine a typical wish to start to “exercise regularly.” It’s a prescription for failure. You have a vastly higher chance for success if you decide in advance the days and times, and precisely what you’re going to do each day.  I have my 2 mile walk on my calendar for each morning at 5:30.  If something makes me miss it, I have alternative times.  The same thing for “spend more time with my spouse.” Set a day and time for a weekly date, or time to talk each day or whatever.  Put it on the calendar.  Be precise and specific will dramatically increase your odds of success.

2. One at a time. Take on one new challenge at a time.  Too many changes at one time will likely lead to no changes at all.  Computers can run several programs simultaneously.  We humans do best when we take on one thing at a time, sequentially.  

3. Not too much, not too little. Too often we make the mistaking of biting off more than we can chew. Trying to make a radical change at one time can lead to giving up.  Choose a small step.  Instead of trying to lose 50 lbs., go for 5 lbs.  Once you can keep that first five off, go for a second five.  You will eventually get to 50 and be able to maintain at that level.  Quick and radical weight loss plans usually lead to rebounding back to a worse situation. 

It’s also easy to go to the other extreme, and take on too little.  The only way to truly grow is to challenge your current comfort zone. The trick is finding a middle ground — pushing yourself hard enough that you get some real gain, but not too much that you find yourself unwilling to stay at it.

4. What we resist persists.  Think about sitting in front of a plate of fragrant chocolate chip cookies over an extended period of time. Diets fail the vast majority of time because they’re typically built around regularly resisting food we enjoy eating. Eventually, we run up against our limited reservoir of self-control.  For dieters, keep food you don’t want to eat out of sight, and focus your diet instead on what you are going to eat, at which times, and in what portion sizes. The less you have to think about what to do, the more successful you’re likely to be.

5. Keep the faith.  Change is hard. It is painful. And you will experience failure at times. The average person launches a change effort six separate times before it finally takes. Perseverance is needed.  But for me, “keeping the faith” also means that I leverage faith in a God who is bigger, stronger and wiser than I.  God is all about transformation and change for us.  He too wants us to be our best selves.  He gives us many invitations to lean into Him and His strength.  A relationship with God is the greatest motivation and source of change.  He offers supernatural power to do things we will fail at on our own.    

There is so much more I could say about change and the challenges of changing my life.  The above five are a starting place but not nearly everything that needs to be said.  Right now, in our nation, there is so much emphasis about changing things.  And it is correct that we should work toward change in our nation on several fronts that are being highlighted right now.  But let’s not forget what Russian writer Leo Tolstoy said, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”  Change in our nation begins with me.  My heart. My attitudes.  My actions.  My life. My habits.  My relationships.  I must be the change that is needed.  My prayer today is simply: “Lord, show me one thing that I could change in my life today that would effect change in the world around me. Amen.”

QUESTION: Of the 5 things, which one do you find the easiest? The hardest? (I’d love for you to put them in the comment section below.)

A few years ago, I heard three statements that got my attention:

Mature people can disagree without being disagreeable. 

Mature people can learn to have unity without uniformity.

Mature people can walk hand in hand without seeing eye to eye.

The immediate question for me at the time was this.  Am I mature?  There are many measurements  and types of maturity.  Physical, emotional and spiritual are three areas that immediately come to mind.  And, the three statements above speak to a combination:  Relational maturity, emotional maturity and spiritual maturity.  

Could we agree that our nation is demonstrating a boatload of immaturity right now?  From side to side, top to bottom, there are plenty of examples where people aren’t just disagreeing on issues and solutions to the issues we face, they are just plain disagreeable.  It’s evident if you are on social media, watching the news, or in conversation.  Maturity is scarce.

There’s no way to cover all aspects of developing maturity in all of these areas in this short writing.  Becoming mature is actually a life-long journey of intentionality.  However, as with anything else, we have to start somewhere. Let me offer three tools that are helping me along the pathway to maturity.

LISTEN WELLWhen I was getting my undergraduate degree in social work, I remember repeated exercises on “active listening.”  Even though those classes were decades ago, I remember phrases such as, “Help me to understand…,” “What I hear you saying is…” and more.  We were coached on body language and self-awareness.  Listening well, takes a lot of effort.  There are habits to break if we grew up in an environment where interrupting others was the norm.  And on top of it, we can listen faster than most people can speak.  In that time gap, we are often formulating our rebuttal as the other person speaks instead of intently trying to understand the heart, the emotion and the true meaning behind their words.  Even on the national scene right now with all of the intense conversations about race relations and the use of force by police, what if we were as passionate about feeling someone else’s pain or hearing their fears as much as we are about being right and giving our opinion?  What if someone actually sat down with a cop or their spouse and children and listened carefully?  I’ve been trying to listen as a long-time police chaplain.  And in an area I haven’t listened as well, I’ve scheduled a lunch with a black leader in our community to just listen to his story.  And I’ve asked him for his counsel on what I as a white leader can do that might be helpful right now.  Listening without defending is always crucial. 

SPEAK CAREFULLY — Our words have the power of life or death.  We must install speed bumps between our brain and our mouths.  We don’t make the world brighter by blowing out everyone else’s candle.  This Biblical advice is golden.  “Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger.” (James 1:19-20 The Message).  And guess what else I’ve been learning.  I really don’t have to attend every argument I’m invited to.  Many times I choose not to speak if I’ve carefully considered all of those who might be listening and I’ve determined that what I have to say may do more harm than good.

CHECK YOUR HEART — Jesus spoke this truth: “A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart” (Luke 6:45 NLT).  Our words always reveal what is inside. Almost nothing I’ve ever done out of raw, unfiltered emotion turned out well.  The concept of ‘’following your heart” is well-intended but hogwash.  Following your heart lands you in the ditch.  Listening to your heart, being aware of your emotions, taking your own feelings into account as reference points…yes.  But just reacting is rarely good.  If you’re in the hospital and you hear the nurses say, “he’s having a reaction to the medicine,” that’s not good. But if you hear, “he’s responding to the medication,” you probably feel better.  Reacting is usually from the heart.  Responding involves the head and the heart.  Check your heart.  

God’s primary work is transforming hearts.  But God isn’t a bully.  He only transforms people who invite Him to do that.  And God will help us with developing the kind of heart that wants to listen better and to speak more carefully.  I’m living proof of His guidance, help, and transformative power on my road toward maturity.  I’m grateful. 

QUESTION: Which of the three tools toward maturity is most natural and easiest for you? Which one is harder? I’d love to have you Comment below.

One of the best sticky statements I’ve ever heard in a speech was from my colleague, Cory Demmel.  He was sharing the sad news of a popular church leader who had fallen far short of his calling.  Cory’s repeated line was about “Living Both/And in an Either/Or World.”  He was making sure our church understood that this former leader accomplished both good things and made bad choices. If you think about it, having a both/and perspective, is difficult.  Especially, when we live in a culture that leans toward Either/Or. 

So much of the tension we are feeling in our nation right now is focused around either/or.  We are pushed to take a side.  Polarization and divisive language are up front and center.  It is obvious in politics.  Love and hate words abound.  Right or left?  Conservative or liberal?  Republican or Democrat?  CNN or Fox?  We’ve also been hearing this polarity in relationship to the pandemic.  Shut everything down or go on as normal?  Require a mask or don’t tell me what to do?  Masses are dying or it’s really no worse than the flu.  It’s a conspiracy by a political party, a intentionally created virus by a foreign country designed to affect the upcoming presidential election, it’s the judgement of God on our world or it’s just a natural occurrence that happens about every century.  We also witness this schism in the semantics used to describe a person’s view toward law enforcement: pro-police or anti-police. Opposite ends of a continuum.  Media follows the pattern.  Sound bites from the far ends of a spectrum.  We live in a time when most want to put us in either this box, or that box.  Black or white.  Either or. 

Let me remind us that we must learn to live both/and in an either/or world if we are going to resolve the frictions.  All of us tend to have a natural or learned bias toward being more comfortable on one side of center.  Both are a mindset.  One is more rigid.  One more flexible.  One focuses easily on creating a new future and the other hangs on to protecting the past.  Let me suggest that we can intentionally develop the skill of both/and living in an either/or world.  It starts with a mindset.

People aren’t either good or bad.  Most pastors and spiritual leaders exemplify integrity and walk the talk, but a few do not.  Most cops are good and handle the pressures of every encounter with non-bias and appropriate use of force, but a few have not.  Most of those trying to make an important statement through peaceful protests are passionately expressing their desire for the well-being of all people in our country, a few are violent and destructive.  Most of the people I walk alongside of genuinely make an effort to treat everyone as made in the image of God, but some are prejudiced.  Our country has made positive strides toward equality and opportunity for all people, yet we are not where we need to be.  It is both and.  Both political parties have ideologies that are good for all people in our nation.  Some politicians haven’t represented the ideals of their party accurately.  We have both and.  To lessen our relational tensions, we must move our mindset away from categorizing everything as an either/or situation, viewpoint or position and become intentional about finding the both/and part of the incident, the opinion, or the way of looking at someone’s behavior.

Jesus was the epitome of both/and living.  One of his friends, John, wrote this description: “And the Word (Jesus) became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:14-17).  Grace and truth were always a tension that Jesus managed in his relationships.  He spoke truth and yet showed grace.  The religious leaders always wanted to know which box he was in, grace OR truth?  Grace OR law?  He continually confounded, irritated and rattled them with both:  grace AND truth.  Not grace OR truth.  I’m learning that the only way to be effective and faithful to the example of Jesus is to be both an image of grace and a voice of truth.

For decades now, I’ve been trying to learn and live the way of Jesus in all areas of my life.  It shapes my view of everything.  It creates my worldview.  My political view.  My relational view.  My connection to Jesus helps me to live both/and in an either/or world.  Every incident I witness or read about, leads me to be intentional about looking for the both/and instead of settling for the either/or.  With Jesus as my mentor, I can usually see some truth on both sides of an issue and still offer grace to those on both extremes of the continuum.  I don’t have to polarize grace on one end and truth on the other.  I’m seeking to live at the intersection of grace and truth.  I’ve come to believe that grace and truth can both be offered in the same breath, the same sentence, the same smile and the same action.  

But friends, this is what I am learning.  It’s hard work managing the tension of both/and.  It’s much easier to drift toward either/or.  Sharing opinionated posts on social media that represent your side of the continuum is easy-peasy.  Thoroughly thinking through how sharing that same post might come across to those of a different family heritage, cultural upbringing, faith story, political leaning or career choice takes loads of effort.  Spouting off statistics is easy.  Careful listening to understand the pain in someone else’s story is hard work.  Putting labels on groupings of people is easy.  Getting to know someone well enough to understand their heart and intention takes time and energy. Both/and is complicated.  Either/or is simple.  

I’ve chosen to take the more difficult path. I’m trying to be intentional with speaking grace and truth.  I’m using the phrase, “Help me to understand…”  as a more integral part of my vocabulary when I experience relational tensions.  I’m installing a speed bump between my brain and my mouth.  I’m reading and rereading my posts, my comments, and my emails before I click on “Send.”  I ask other wise people to read my responses to an explosive situation before sending them.  And sometimes, that review and reflective process, causes me to actually hit the “delete” button.  Will you join me on the journey of living both/and in an either/or world? 

QUESTION:  What is the one area that is easiest for you to choose both/and?  Where do you find it the hardest?  I’d love to hear your comments below.

I have learned I don’t agree with everyone. And everyone doesn’t agree with me.  Have you noticed that we are at an all-time high when it comes to disagreement in our country?  We have oodles of tension right now regarding the pandemic, politics, and racism.  Social media is burning up with claims of all sorts of conspiracies, gross incompetency, diminishing individual freedoms and police brutality. Arguments, caustic put-downs, and name-calling has become the norm for some who seem to spend their day on Facebook.

When I encounter people with whom I disagree, I could say “shame on them,” and while that might be funny, it isn’t fair. I’ve been wrong many times before. Many times. Just ask my wife or my kids.

Over the years, as I’ve taken time to listen and get to know people different from me, I’ve realized I often have as much in common with them as I have differences.  Most of us are closer to alignment than the news media or politics might describe.  Everyone seems to love to push people to one side or the other of the continuum.  Of course, there are people who are extreme in their viewpoints, but even they probably share some common desires and ideas.

One blogger I follow, Ron Edmonson, recently gave me a good summarized view of simple reminders that I’ve been trying to build into my life during these contentious times.  Here’s what helps me and maybe it will help you too.  While I usually try to avoid assumptions because they often lead me toward premature and unfair judgement of others, these are things I can probably assume about most people with whom I might usually disagree: 

  • They know things I don’t know.  I don’t have to agree with everything they think to learn something from them. I can always eat the meat and spit out the bones.  Emotionally mature people can disagree without being disagreeable. 

  • I know things they don’t know.  Granted, it takes two people for mutual learning to occur, but I can only be responsible for my side of things.  The bottom line is, my experience, background, education, and environment shapes what I know. Or think I know. The same is true of you.
     
  • I almost never “win” when I make my goal to convince them I’m right.  People naturally become defensive of their positions.  That includes me, unless I discipline myself not to.  I remember the line of a short song we learned in high school choir: “If you convince me and I convince you, won’t there still be two points of view?”  The goal is not to have a winner and a loser.  Both are winners when there is better all-around understanding.
     
  • I can better engage people if they think I actually like them.  People respond better when I am trying to understand them. There’s an even better chance of having a positive dialogue if they experience love from me. 
     
  • Understanding another person’s perspective requires listening.  It involves an intentional attempt to hear what they are feeling as much as what they are saying.  King Solomon wrote, “A fool finds no pleasure in understanding, but delights in sharing his own opinion” (Proverbs 18:2).  Walking in the moccasins of another person isn’t easy.  It takes intentionality and asking questions.  We must find a way to do life with those who come from a different economic background, a different skin tone or a different faith journey.  And it takes asking questions that begin with “help me to understand…” to position us for empathetic understanding. 

  • At the end of the day, we want many of the same things.  We all want to be happy (and for our kids to be happy). We all want to make the world a better place. We all want respect. We all want to live in peace.  We may disagree on the best way to get there, but our end desire is usually going to be the same.

You may think I’m overly simplistic.  That’s okay with me.  But it seems to me the more we understand what each of us want, where we’ve developed our point of view, and how our own culture, demographics and beliefs shape our opinions, the better we can work through our differences to accomplish things of value for each of us.  We must not forget the words of Leo Tolstoy, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”  Reducing the tension and bringing peace to our world, starts with me.  And finally, Carl Bard says, “Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.”

QUESTION: Which one of these 6 parts do you find easiest? Which one is the most difficult? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.

Among all the greatest assets needed for work, relationships, and life—is this one that stands head and shoulders above the rest.  Let me be blunt.  Adaptability, now more than ever, is essential.  Change has been coming at record pace.  Some change is not our choiceit’s required. And some change we get to design, innovate, and build.  Either way, adaptability is at the top of the list: above knowledge, creative thinking dexterities, communication skills, negotiation talents or social proficiencies.

In the business world, adaptability means one is able to quickly respond to changing trends, innovation, destabilization, industry shifts and so forth.  This 2020 pandemic is separating the adaptable companies from the ones who cling to the way it has always been done.  The same is true of non-profits, churches, government agencies and more.

Adaptability also applies to our personal lives, our families and friendships. Are you adaptable? In his article in Forbes entitled, “14 Signs of an Adaptable Person,” Jeff Boss identifies the following traits of adaptable people: they experiment, see opportunity where others see failures, they are resourceful, they think ahead, don’t whine, talk to themselves, and don’t blame others. They also don’t claim fame, are curious, open their minds, see systems, and stay current.

Did you realize you can train yourself to be more adaptable?  If adaptability and flexibility aren’t your most natural traits, you can be intentional about increasing this asset in your skill portfolio.  Let me suggest several.

Intentionally Adjust Your Thought Process.  Be purposeful about letting go of the “Well, that’s the way we’ve always done it” mentality.  While change can be scary and intimidating, work at embracing it and look at change as an opportunity to improve, learn, and grow.  It can open the door to creativity as well.  This also means, however, being open to the thoughts and opinions of others and different perspectives.

Challenge Yourself Toward Risk-Taking.  Little progress is made without risk. For some, the idea of risk is so adverse that they will run from it as fast as they can, but taking risks is key to being adaptable. Start small.  If you always order the same thing on a menu at the same restaurant, order something new.  And then try a new restaurant the next time to increase the comfort of risk-taking. Buy a bold-colored shirt or blouse that is outside your go-to color palette.  Mix up your morning routine.  Whatever.  Try stepping outside your comfort zone. Vincent Van Gogh said, “Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.”

Embrace Learning.  As noted in the Forbes article above, people who are curious and stay current tend to be adaptable. This means you need to chase learning. Read up about new technologies and protocols in your chosen career.  Attend classes or sign up for webinars and blogs in a new area of interest.  Read an article or book from another field you know very little about.  Connect with colleagues who have adaptability and learn from them, read what they read, etc.

Pursue Humility.  Increasing this top-of-the-list asset of adaptability requires humility.  Arrogance ignores and rejects ideas from others – humility welcomes them.  Closed ears indicate arrogant hearts.  Inflexible people think they know everything they need to know.  Humility drives us toward improvement through learning.  My greatest hero is Jesus.  Here’s how He lived: Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human!  Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion. Philippians 2:5-8 (The Living Bible).  Humility is not only the way of Jesus and for His followers, it is common sense. None of us is an expert in everything, so we understand our limits and thus need unpretentiousness. Humility is also generative. It leads to new ideas. Humility has been formative for scientific investigation and for business theory and practice. The position of humility is where flourishing happens. Humility breeds adaptability.

Adaptability flows out of humility, learning, risk-taking and intentional adjustment of our thought processes.  Which of one of these four will you be intentional about today? (share it in the comment section below)

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