Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Halfway

Today is June 30th (pretty much everywhere, except if you are on a different planet in this solar system and even then, it would still be June 30th here). What's the significance, the gentle reader may ask?

Simple. 2010 is halfway over today (Again, I realize that it's not truly halfway; it's only 181 days so the true "halfway point" will be July 4th. In months it is the halfway point. Deal with it).

Everything I intended to do this year is either halfway complete (highly unlikely) or is going to get truncated into the last 6 months (more likely). All the grandiose plans I had in January are, for the most part, still grandiose and (apparently) still stuck in January, waiting for me to engage the winch of activity and haul them up to the rest of the year.

How about you, dear reader? Where are your plans and goals? How about those items you intended to get to this year, that you made a commitment (dreaded words) to do? Were the milestones mapped out, the daily, weekly and monthly items in place as signs of where you were? Or, like me, did you just suddenly realize that it became a jumbled pile of things you wanted to do like the pile of clothes which, have run out of time to sort, you just starting cramming into the washer hoping the colors don't bleed?

Take heart. There's still half a year (or a bit more if you count by days). Get busy.

Carpe Diem.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Fingerprints of God

I'm sensing the fingerprints of God running over my life right now.
It's not something that I can directly point to:
No Red Sea split asunder, no fire from Heaven.
Instead, it's a gentle sense of things moving
in one direction seamlessly.

Seamlessly?
Exactly.
The effort that is may be intense, but there is no sense of the striving
that comes when I push things myself.
Just little petals opening on their own
until the fully bloomed flower has appeared, as if by magic.

It is amazing how that,
by letting God have His way,
life flows like a river
insteading of chopping like a sea.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Sound of Silence

Running late yesterday morning to Sunday School, I elected to drop off Nighen Gheal and step into a classroom to avoid disturbing my usual class. I picked up on my theme of courage, prayed, and opened my Bible.

As I sat there, reading in Exodus and Acts, I suddenly realized how quiet it was - beyond the hum of the air conditioning, nothing. I next realized how focused I was on God's Word, how my inner dialogue had quieted down and I was focused on what I was reading.

How is this? I have time at night and in the morning to read the Bible, with a quiet house when I do - yet I do not reach this quiet attitude of trust and focus.

I realized it is because when I am home reading God's word and praying are just another two items on my "To Do" list. I know I need to do it - but I also know that there are many other things that I "need" to do, so I push through as quickly as possible to get on to the next thing.

And I wonder why I feel so destitute of God so much of the time. He's become another "To Do" item to complete, rather than a relationship to build and enjoy.

Which says something about my priorities - and how they need to change.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Courage

"The mark of the great commander, the excellent leader, the tremendously successful person is courage, and courage is always expressed in the willingness to go forward, to face danger, to take risks with no guarantee of success. All great success is achieved as the result of offensive action, doing something different, and usually faster and more forcefully than your competitor can react. Fortunately, courage is a virtue that can be developed by exercising and practicing it whenever it is required." - Brian Tracy, Victory

Where is the concept of courage in the 21st Century? Where is the concept of courage in 21st Century Christianity? In our politics? In our morals? In our daily lives?

Among the aspects of a free people is the courage to be free. Freedom to believe, freedom to speak, freedom to act are not passive things. Inherently they are active - even the noun freedom indicates a state in which something can be done.

But we have come to treat them as one more item on a list that are heirs to rather than things to be exercised and preserved.

Courage is a difficult thing. It means going forward when all others may be against you, when circumstances may be against you, for that thing which is right and noble and just. As Christians, we should (above all) have courage, both because we know the Creator of the story and we know the ultimate ending.

But too often I find myself quiet when I should be speaking, laughing when I should remain silent, and standing still when I should be acting. Why? Because in the end, I too often lack the courage of my convictions.

Where is the witness of courageous Christians? Not somewhere overseas being persecuted (which is happening all too frequently these days), but here? And not the "poster child" types which the media takes glee in promoting as representative, but garden variety style Christians being true (but bold) for the Gospel?

I realize that they will never make the press the way the flamboyant (and easy targets) will, but surely we should hear something more of them?

Is it possible that we have relegated courage only to certain things and certain areas, or that we have been trained to do so? "Exercise your courage for this thing (which is noble because we as society define it so), but passively accept this (again, because we define it so)."

Could it be that we have traded relevance for courage, hoping that this will accomplish God's work? If so, we have taken a fool's bargain: if there are any historical or social movements where such a philosophy has worked, I cannot bring it to mind.

If so, then we need to repent - like we do for any other sin. We have placed too much trust in our methods, and not enough in our God. God commands us to be courageous, not relevant, and makes no promises as to the temporal results: the apostles were bold in testimony but were beaten, persecuted, and mostly martyred.

Am I willing to be courageous for the Gospel?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Pettiness

I continue to be amazed at how petty I can be.

Oh, I'm better than I used to be of course - I don't hang on to things for hours on end like I used to do, grinding my teeth in frustration every time that person walks by or that situation is brought up again. I'm not as sharp with my tongue about things as I used to be, giving at least some semblance of thinking before I speak.

But none the less, pettiness continues to ooze out the ground of my soul. I find myself not just disagreeing, but attacking; not just unhappy, but combative; not just decisive, but reprimanding.

Why is this? Am I so insecure in my own skin that I need to have the "oneupsmanship"? Do I need vindication every time - if not in fact, then in word? Do I so need to be respected that I will engage in pettiness just to get sympathy or fit in?

When I write it like that, I am reminded of a character from C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce of an individual who has complained so much through life that they have literally turned into a grumble. By continuing to engage in pettiness, do I continue to become more petty until I am nothing but a petty, a small insignificant soul shrunken by my preoccupation only able to speak of the things that others do wrong?

I'm seen its opposite in pride: a bold pride, which tolerates no element of perceived slight or injustice or sense of being wrong. What it creates is a person who is passionate and bold of action but is (ironically) shrunken as a person: small, mean, often picking at the littlest of details or imagined slights.

Is life not grand enough - is God not majestic and glorious enough -am I not forgiven enough - that I have the need to focus on the smallest and least significant things?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

Quote: "Within 5 years, 80 percent of all products or services offered today will either be obsolete or significantly modified from their current form." - Brian Tracy, Victory

What is changeless and what is changing? This is a question which runs me over from time to time, especially brought to the forefront of my mind from quotes like the one above.

I've also read elsewhere that a similar ratio - 70-80% - of everything one learns in college has the same shelf life i.e. with 5 years, it has become obsolete or overridden. For me this was poignantly demonstrated in 1990, when Eastern Europe fell apart and the semester of class I took on Communist Party Structures fell into the waste heap of history.

In the business world with the advent of globalization this has become equally apparent: challenges and new products are coming from everywhere, 24 hours a day. Educated individuals - the "knowledge workers" - have the ability to easily move around, thus porting their knowledge from one location (or country) to another.

In the midst of this seeming cycle of change, adapt, or die how does one figure out what to keep and what to change?

Surely jettisoning everything old simply because it is new is not the answer. As Os Guinness has said, when the church attempts to become culturally relevant, it ties itself to the culture of the time and when the culture changes, the church will only speak to that particular culture, thus dooming itself to a slow and irrelevant death.

In education, the shunning of old ways of teaching for new does not seem to have significantly improved the output of students. Indeed, we are putting out more students which are less prepared than ever for a world where education and preparation is everything.

At the same time, old is not necessarily bad. Certainly in agriculture, local farms and the "organic food" movement have demonstrated that things can be done profitably, without some or all of the benefits of modernization, and still produce a quality product. And not all technology has gone on to significantly improve our lives - or even function correctly.

And this does not even touch on the most important items, the core values which we all hold as individuals - whether consciously or not. As The Preacher said in Ecclesiastes, "There is nothing new under the sun" - every potential for new social movements or new beliefs has been followed in history; we need only study it to learn from it.

So how do we navigate this brave new world, between the Scylla of "Change, Adapt or Die" and the Charybdis of "Change for the sake of change is not always good?"

We have to stop and think.

To simplify, it's exactly likes choosing a new technology. There are four questions to ask:

1) Why am I doing this? Will this result in an improvement, or am I just doing it because I want to look cool/be relevant/have the latest?

2) What am I replacing? Is what I am discarding truly obsolete?

3) What does history or experience tell me about this change? What are the potential or probable effects of this change?

4) Is it right? In my case, does this help me glorify God more or less?

Change is not bad and not in and of itself to be feared. But when we change for the sake of change, when we change for the sake of external appearance, when we change without pondering the impact, we will still change - but for the worse.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Realigning My Time and Objectives

I am struggling this week with (yet another) reorganization of how I use my time and how I schedule my goals at work.

One outcome of this reading I've doing on personal development and business (all thanks to Otis!) is that I am coming to see O So Clearly how I continue to fall short of the mark. Simply put - and every book you read on personal development or management will tell you this -you are a lot less effective and time savvy than you think.

As part of this exercise, I have restarted the practice at work of logging my time in increments. I've divided what I do into 10-12 broad categories and track it in 5 minute intervals. The results have been astounding - both in what takes my time up (3 broad areas have absorbed 75% of my time in the last two weeks) and how I spend my time (who knew that I liked to talk to people so much?).

The other thing this exercise has revealed is how truly abominable I am - and in fact, most everybody is - at sticking to objectives and goals while working in a dynamic environment. Things range from the "fire-fighting" mentality of dealing with the problem at hand to the "laser" mentality of focusing on one item to the exclusion of all other items that need attention. In both cases what has gone missing is the ability to accomplish a multitude of tasks over a variety of fronts for a long period of time - in other words, I have some ability to plan a strategy but apparently no ability to execute it.

The other interesting thing about this exercise is that I find that this is exactly reflected in my own personal life. My ability to manage my time and manage towards goals is no different at home than it is at the office - in other words, the perceived flaws are consistent throughout my life.

So here's the question: now that I have started to get a handle on how I spend my time, how do I align what I do with the level of importance that items should merit?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Enthusiasm

Enthusiasm.

It's lacking at my current place of work - not just among one or two people, but across departments and buildings. You can see it a number of ways: how early people show up (and how much more at an ordinary time they do now), how quickly they leave at the 8 hour mark, how items which used to not cause friction generate a considerable issue now.

So what is enthusiasm? How does one get it - or lose it?

Enthusiasm, per the www.merriam-webster.com definition, is "a strong excitement or feeling; something inspiring zeal or fervor." The root Greek word entheos literally means "in god", the idea that God is in you inspiring you.

So let's rephrase the question: what inspires strong excitement, feeling, zeal or fervor?

- Emotions.
- A Mission.
- A Purpose.
- Things we care about (whether significant or banal: sports, for example, can inspire a great deal of enthusiasm).

Interestingly, the common theme apparent to me as I look at these is that it involves a relationship between a person and something outside them, a connection in between their hearts and an idea or item that they feel, that becomes or is made important to them.

Is that is? That in our work, our lives, our relationships and our Christian walk we have failed to build a connection or relationship, that we presume that something important to us is important to all? Or could it be that we have become too lazy to build that relationship, seeking to substitute authority and power?

Be not mistaken. Building enthusiasm in others is hard. In essence, you are building that bridge between them and the thing that you want to create enthusiasm about. You have to convince different people of different backgrounds and concerns that this item is worthy of the relationship and worthy of the time that it will take to build it and the cost of getting there. It's finding new ways of restating the same thing, of finding different connections to help others connect with what you see.

It's difficult. It's long. But try going without the benefit of an enthusiastic group for a while and you discover how high the cost is for not building it in.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Mine! Mine!

I was reminded yesterday that my life is not my own - hasn't really been for a long period of time.

Yesterday, getting into the car to spend my carefully hoarded birthday money, the air conditioning on my car started to make a horrible grinding noise when idling. This was added to the starter on the van suddenly quitting the day before.

I had felt okay about it on Saturday - initially freaking out, I went through our finances and suddenly was feeling better about everything. Then, yesterday comes and I'm right back where I started from.

Initially I was angry, although I tried to control it. "It's mine, mine!" I screamed in my mind driving around yesterday thinking grim thoughts about other places that we could cut to make sure the work was paid for and I got to salvage something. Then I was reminded of a saying Larry Burkett used: "God promises to meet our needs, but not necessarily our wants". The very reason that I had that money may be to pay for this without crippling our family budget.

But those wants - picking up a theme I had been mulling over this weekend - extended not just to money but to fundamental root of life itself, time. I tend to regard my time at work as my own, the payment that I get for having to commute to and work at a place I don't particularly care for. The reality is (much like my money) my time is not really for me: it's for my God and my family. That's the reason I have it.

If I start from that perspective it changes everything: when I leave for work, what I do before work, what I do after work (i.e. what do I do while my kids are still awake), what goals I set for myself with hope of achieving.

If I don't get to do all my projects before I die, it has little eternal impact. If I fail to serve God and lead my family, it has a huge eternal impact.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Thought for the Day

"Though I felt much dulness, and want of a spirit in prayer this week; yet I had some glimpses of the excellency of divine things; and especially one morning, in secret meditation and prayer, the excellency and beauty of holiness, as a likeliness to the glorious God, was so discovered to me, that I began to long earnestly to be in that world where holiness dwells in perfection. I seemed to long for this perfect holiness, no so much for the sake of my own happiness (although I saw clearly that this was the greatest, yea, the only happiness of the soul) as that I might please God, live entirely to him, and glorify him to the utmost stretch of my rational powers and capacities."
- Diary of David Brainerd, entry for 17 May 1747; The Life and Diary of Daivd Brainerd, Missionary to the Indians by Jonathan Edwards

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Family Goals

The Ravishing Mrs. TB and I were talking, among other things, about goals for our family - and how we don't seem to have any.

It's a bit of a bizarre thing to consider - your family is, by default, something you spend much of your time immersed in, sort of like a fish living in the very thing that he breathes and draws nourishment from: he doesn't think of it as something outside of the way he lives every day. And sometimes we get so busy with what we think family goals are - earning a good living, having well behaved children, praying on a regular basis, spending "time" with our spouse - that we forget those are really activities, not goals to achieve; metrics, if you will, of "how" we're doing, not "what "we're doing.

The next curious thing is that even if we have goals, we may have them only internally to ourselves while thinking that they are best for the family. A goal is not a goal - really - unless all the participating parties are invested in it. I can say "I'd like to go to Disneyland" but unless everyone agrees and thereby makes the sacrifices to make it happen, it won't happen - even though I want it to and will act in my own way to see it fulfilled.

The final curious thing is that it's not something that is widely thought, I think. Businesses have goals, individuals have personal goals - but families often seem exempt or immune from this idea that "unless you know where you're going, you'll never get there". This is one thing I appreciate about Stephen Covey, the author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. He emphasizes goals ("Begin with the end in mind") not only for individuals, but for families as well.

So your family goals? Got them? Know them? Have written them down?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Fasting

I'm trying a fast today.

One thing I have realized as I have been reading and thinking this last week is that some spiritual activities in my life - prayer, reading Scripture - have come to take a great deal less importance than maybe they should have and certainly less than they should.

Along with these considerations, fasting came to the forefront, both for decision making as well as in general for seeking the will and guidance of God. Interestingly, most pre-20th century authors and biographies of Christians I have read used this practice - another example of something that seems to fallen off the bandwagon in the 20th Century.

So what am I fasting for? Guidance, of course - always guidance. But also an attempt, in my own broken way, to seek God's face more closely.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Rebellion and Submission

I had an interview yesterday.

It was for a manager position at a company located about 17 hours away. It was a good interview - in fact, the second best interview of my life in its challenges and questions.

In the end, the discussion came down to two things: 1) What guarantee is there that I won't move away again (I have a history of short stays at companies)? ; 2) What is my industry background and how do I compensate for the lack of a typical one?

We left the conversation at a "Let's think about it and touch bases next week." However, driving home after that, I had a keen sense that God wanted to talk to me about it - one of those "I don't know how, I just know" things.

So after dinner, after dishes, after the rabbits and grocery shopping, I came home and read the last two chapters of Lord, Change my Attitude Before It's Too Late by James MacDonald. The last two chapters were "Replacing an Attitude of Rebellion..." "...with an Attitude of Submission".

Ouch.

There it was, written by someone other than me. The key to my unhappiness, to my constant job changing, to a plethora of things I had faced at my previous church. Rebellion and Submission.

I have always thought that my job moves were normal, that they were good and necessary and smart on my part. Could it be that I changed jobs so much because I was in rebellion towards those who were over me?

Could it be that when I went to The Firm, it was in rebellion, ultimately to God, about where I was and what I was doing?

Could my job change from the last but one be the same thing?

And church in Old Home - how I clung to the idea of being an elder, or a deacon, or even a teacher. In ever case, they didn't work out - in fact, I clung to teaching even after I was told I would not be officially sponsored, even turning down opportunities to co-lead a larger group? Was it a rebellion against authority?

MacDonald makes the point that if we are in rebellion, we are ultimately in rebellion against God. If in rebellion, then we are out from His authority and if out from under His authority, we place ourselves in a position of great risk. Says MacDonald:

"I'm amazed at how many people's lives are nothing more than the sum total of decisions they've made to get out from under worthy authority - bad choices and their consequences that follow, often for the rest of their lives."

That's me.

My life is more defined by jobs I've left than jobs I've remained at, losses rather than gains (first The Firm, then our house - at a not unsubstantial sum of money), and ministries removed by God than exercised.

And here I am - miles from family and friends, no permanent home that we own, redlining financially - contemplating moving again? Uprooting my family even as they attempt to become established where they are?

Why? I can come up with lots of justifications: not liking the current sub-field of my employment, ethics, boredom, lack of resources, my management. But for a great many reasons, I'm forced to admit that I am simply in rebellion to the fact that I am not in charge and not "happy" or "fulfilled" on a daily basis.

So what do I do about this?

In a way it's amazingly simple: repent. In a way it's amazingly hard. Submit.

Submit. Submit to where God has placed me, under whom God has placed me. Submit to the fact that this "need" to move is simply a dream, a feeling, a real version of the rich inner fantasy life I have always had. There are no dragons to slay or worlds to explore; neither are there perfect jobs to be had.

Of course I rise up within myself as I write this. Submit? Oh, indeed submit: submit to a job that dead ends, to a life of a job that you can tolerate and leaders who will command poorly. Submit to never getting ahead, of being what you are for the rest of your working life. Submit to whatever dreams you may have being laid waste in a foreign desert.

But that's where faith comes in.

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
and He will direct your path.
Be not wise in your own eyes:
Fear the Lord, and turn away from evil." - Proverbs 3:3-5

By submitting, one is putting one's faith in God. Faith that He can (and will) see and hear us. Faith that by bearing up, He is glorified - and we are rewarded.

I fear, of course. Fears of being trapped, fears of being useless, fears of (frankly) never getting financially ahead, fears of never doing anything that I want.

But God is good. The question is, will I submit - or continue in rebellion?

Monday, June 14, 2010

To Become the Enemy

"To become the enemy" means to think yourself in the enemy's position. In the world people tend to think of a robber trapped in a house as a fortified enemy. However, if we think of "becoming the enemy", we feel that the whole world is against us and that there is no escape. He who is shut inside is a pheasant. He who enters to arrest is a hawk. You must appreciate this.
In large scale strategy, people are always under the impression that the enemy is strong, and so tend to become cautious. But if you have good soldiers, and if you understand the principles of strategy, there is nothing to worry about.
In single combat you must put yourself in the enemy's position. If you think, "Here is a master of the Way, who knows the principles of strategy", then you will surely lose. You must consider this deeply." -Miyamoto Musashi, The Water Book, A Book of Five Rings.

How often do we let the perceptions of our opponents - be they people, things, movements, or our emotions - control how we react to them? How often do I let what I think they will do or what power I believe they have control what I do?

Often I build up events or forces or people to the point that I either fear to act or every time I act it is a great battle ready to be enacted. How seldom have I looked at their view - not precisely in empathy, but in seeing how they view me and the same circumstances we are in. Could it be in some situations - nay, in most - I am ceding the ability to act through my fear?

"He who is shut inside is a pheasant. He who enters to arrest is a hawk."

I must appreciate this.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Christian Effectiveness

Over the last two weeks, I have being acquainting/reacquainting myself with new friends and old. The new (courtesy of Otis): Mark Driscoll, Senior Pastor of Mars Hill (Vintage Jesus, Death by Love) and Matt Batterson, Lead Pastor of National Community Church (Primal: A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity); the old: Francis Schaeffer (Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life, He is There and He is Not Silent). It's not the first time I've read Schaeffer, but it is the first time for the others.

The other two - and at least one other author I've read, Joshua Harris (Stop Dating the Church) are, I would argue, indicative of a movement in Christianity: young (late twenties-mid thirties) pastors starting non-denominational missionary churches, culturally seeking young people in the twenties and thirties who have been "turned off" by traditional mainline denominations, seeking to reinvigorate Christianity. I think there is an argument to made that they are the logical extension of Schaeffer, who believed that the church needed to be involved in the culture around it - and influenced.

Based on what I know these gentlemen through secondhand knowledge and biographies, they are successful in attracting the demographic and have (I think -don't know if anyone has studied this) largely pioneered the use of "campus" locations, where the preaching pastor is broadcast to all locations allowing multiple members to benefit from their teaching.

My question - and this is a question not just for these gentlemen, but for all Christianity (especially in the United States) is: Are you effective?

Christian Effectiveness. There's an oxymoron. "We're Christian. We're dealing in spiritual matters. How can you suggest that we 'measure' how we're doing? It's a work of God, after all. It's not a mechanical thing."

That's true. Matters of God never can be precisely placed into categories or units. At the same time, a great deal of time an energy can be spent on a project, only to discover in the end that the project failed to have any impact or do what it was supposed to. One reason: There were no metrics in place to verify how the project was doing.

Let me be clear: I have enjoyed what I have read of this men. They appear to be orthodox, passionately in love with God, and have a heart for people. In the case of Driscoll and Batterson, they lead large groups of people in some of the most Christ-less cities in the nation.

But are they creating effective Christians?

What is an effective Christian? I ask this question in the context of a nation that more and more is pulling away from God rather than towards it. In the Old Testament, a revival in the Jewish faith and service to God is always followed by a societal impact. Time and time again in the Books of Kings and Chronicles, you see where the King of Israel (David, Solomon) and the Kings of Judah (Asa, Jehoshaphat, Joash & Uzziah [at least the first part of their lives], Hezekiah and Josiah) turn their hearts and their hearts of their people towards the Lord. Inevitably, pagan idols are thrown down and wicked practices are halted.

Can the same be said of us today?

Fine. If you want to measure effectivity, you need a metric. What is the Christian metric?

That is a good question - one I'm not sure I have a full grasp on. I have some initial thoughts though:

Matthew 28: 19-20 - The Great Commission:
a) Make disciples of all nations (What's a disciple? How do we make one?)
b) Baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (What
is baptism? What does it represent? How do we do it in the way that Christ intended?)
c) Teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you (What things did Christ
command? What does "observe them" mean?)

Matthew 22: 34-40 (also Mark 12: 28-34) - The Greatest Commandment
a) You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your
mind/strength (What does it mean to love God with all of these?)
b) You shall love your neighbor as yourself? (Who is my neighbor? How do I love myself?
How should I love them?)

Acts 2: 40-47 - Growth of the Church, especially verse 42
"They continued steadfastly in"
a) The apostles' doctrine (What was the doctrine of the apostles?)
b) Fellowship (How is fellowship used here? What does it mean?)
c) The breaking of bread (How do we do communion? How should we do it?)
d) In prayers (How did they pray? What did they pray? How do we do these two things?)
e) How do we "continue steadfastly in these things?

This is an incomplete list to be sure and I've no idea how we would objectively measure or apply these metrics. I suspect that the book of Acts - as the history of the early church - would give us the greatest guidance in what the early church considered an "effective witness of Christ".

But we have to start somewhere. More is not always better, and the Bible clearly teaches that a change in people's hearts is reflected primarily in their lives and secondarily in their culture. To the degree that nothing has changed in ourselves or in our culture, I submit that the church has lost its effectiveness -its qualities of salt and light, and therefore its witness.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Surprise!

This morning it suddenly became time for my periodic blog backup (periodic in the sense that I've only done it once before). It's an unsophisticated process - copying the webpage by month, watching the cursor scroll down to the bottom, then transferring it to a Word document and pasting it. Rinse and repeat.

Out of a sense of curiosity as I did this, I decided to calculate the word count. It's a rough guess of course, and I had to create a calculation to deduct those items that I don't author but blogspot pastes in. Still, I was curious as to the amount of words.

Estmate as of 11 June 2010: 503,130 words.

Surprise!

I say surprise because this actually stuns me. I have convinced myself that I may be able to write small things, but I could never write something as long as a book. Too many words, don't you know.

The reality of this morning is yes, I could. The roadblock I have to get around is that it's not all written at one time, but one word at a time, day by day.

It's not in the parts, but in the whole that we see the sum of our efforts.

Friday, June 11, 2010

People Who Fight People

I find myself in a constant struggle between how I should act with people and how I do act with people.

I am no different than so many other people: I tend to like and react well to those who like me, and tend to dislike and not react well to those who dislike me. Further, I often find myself in conversations about those with whom I have difficult relations - the "banding together against a common foe."

But in the big picture is that good? Is that Christlike?

There often seems to be a fine line between disagreement and dislike, especially in the employment environment. I can - and often do - disagree profoundly with managers and coworkers, yet it often does not achieve the level of a personal affront or indignity. We get up, we go on our way, and we do our jobs without rancor or distrust.

But other times it results in precisely all of those things: we disagree profoundly, we are affronted, and we leave in rancor or with anger - often not about the situation itself, but about how it was handled.

So what's a Christian to do?

How does one pursue the common calling all Christians while grappling with the extingencies of personal relations on a day to day basis?

The key - perhaps - is grace.

Grace realizes that God has dealt generously with me even though I did not deserve it. Grace realizes that most of the people I deal with on a daily basis are broken and sinful, even as I am broken and sinful. Grace realizes that a host of factors - youth, age, experience, inexperience - contribute to how individuals see others and the world around them. And grace realizes that what's important is not the here and now, not the one upsmanship of daily life, but rather than coming of eternity and where these people we laugh with, laugh at, argue with, amuse, and become angry at are going to be without Christ.

I am far from a master at this, but realization is the first step in dealing with a problem. I need to look through the problems created to see the individuals underneath.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Flying Home

Venus blazes white
as a ribbon of azure
sits above dark clouds.

Strands of gray cotton
block out the lights of living:
Descending to earth.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Priorities

"Courage rather than analysis dictates the truly important rules for identifying priorities:

- Pick the future as against the past;
- Focus on opportunity rather than on problem;
- Choose your own direction - rather than climb on the bandwagon;
- Aim high, aim for something that will make a difference, rather than for something that is "safe" and easy to do."

- Peter Drucker, The Effective Executive (p. 111)

How do we identify priorities in our lives? How do we identify what we will spend our time on?

At least for myself, too often I let my priorities be dictated by either 1) the circumstances around me; and 2) other people. And this is not just true in my work environment - it's true in every aspect of my life.

If I look at the list that Drucker has above, I find that I fall down in all aspects:

1) I tend to focus on the past in the sense that I tend to accrete additional priorities instead of making a list and then discarding ones that are no longer relevant or important. In that sense, I am a "pack rat" of priorities instead of pruning out ones that are no longer relevant.

2) I tend to focus on problems - what can't be done - rather than opportunities - what can be done.

3) I have tended to often jump on the projects and priorities of others rather than choosing my own priorities. The Firm is one example of this: if I truly examine things in the light of honesty, what I find is that a large part of my wanting to do it was the "fear" that I would be left behind in a success rather than being truly convinced that this was the way I should go in my life. Uisdean Ruadh has often commented to me in the regard that I have more often chosen the roads of others than the road of myself.

4) I am often trapped between my desire to want to make a difference and contribution against the reality that I need to be "practical". The two often seem at odds with each other: that which can make a difference is often different from the "safe" path of life.

The good news is, one can change one's priorities.

I find myself at an interesting crossroads of my life: in a place in which we are removed from family yet we like, in a job that is not outstanding but can be borne and improved, in many ways at the point of "restarting" large portions of our spiritual, financial, and personal lives.

What a great time to re-examine my priorities - and take action.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Atypical

Today is an atypical morning.

Due to travel arrangements, I did not get up at my usual time of 4:45 AM. I did not begin my rituals of praying, making coffee, reading until 5:30 AM and eating breakfast, nor at 5:30 AM did I feed the rabbits. I didn't get on the computer at 5:40 AM and blog or scan the news, get in the shower at 6:15 AM and leave the house by 6:35 AM.

An atypical morning.

The whole thing is somewhat revealing in its atypicalness - it is amazing how just doing the same things in a slightly different order or at a slightly different time seems to completely upset my state of mind. Instead of traveling in the typical paths, it's as if the mind is off on it's own erratic course: starting out straight then crashing into one curve in the road followed by careening into the other side, all accompanied by fireworks and "The 1812 Overture".

But in atypicality (is that even a word) lies the seeds of brilliance.

A rut, it has been said, is a grave with both ends kicked out. Scheduling is great - in fact, I could use more of it in my work life where I am constantly torn hither and yon by individuals and needs which are not directly my own. At the same time, there's a subtle change - so subtle I wonder if one is conscious of it - that changes a schedule to the way we've always done it, then to a rut, then to a collapse into a heap if one thing is out of order. Only the occasional (or not so occasional) atypical moment stops us in our tracks, makes us halt and look around us - and in that looking, to see possibilities and ideas and the wildflowers on the side of the road that we would never see.

So here I'll sit, drinking coffee long after I would be typically gone from home, looking for that insight and those wildflowers on the side of the road.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Sanctified

"And for their sake I sanctify Myself, that they may also be sanctified by the truth." - John 17:19

This verse leapt out at me this morning as I did my morning New Testament reading - again, one of those verses that has been there the whole time, but never spoke to me before.

Sanctification - the process of being set aside and progressively being made more holy - is one which permeates both the Old and New Testament. It is what God seeks of His children, a process in which we participate but do not originate or complete, and enables us to become even brighter lights in a dark world.

So the sanctification aspect did not catch my eye.

What did catch my eye was the statement "For their sakes I sanctify Myself."

I am constantly reminded - indeed overwhelmed - by all that Christ has done for me. But here's another thing - sanctifying Himself, making Himself holy right before his arrest and crucifixion. And why? "That they also may be sanctified by the truth" -as John MacArthur says, "He was totally set apart for the Father's will. he did that in order that believers might be set apart to God by the truth He brought."

Truth. Christ died that we might be set apart by the truth He brought, setting us apart by the death He came to suffer for those who could not save themselves. To mull this over, to realize the implications of a perfect God surrendering His Son to die for the likes of us, should once again overwhelm us with grace and a true sense of unworthiness.

He died to sanctify you.

What have you done for Him today?

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Friday, June 04, 2010

Managing

In midst of a downhill avalanche of paperwork commonly known as "tasks" at work yesterday, I happened to look at the business card that I keep by my phone to remind of me of my phone number, I happened to catch my title: "Manager".

What, I thought, is a manager? One who manages of course. So what is managing?

Per Webster: "To exercise executive, administrative and supervisory direction of."

Funny I thought, since that doesn't really seem to be what I do.

I am trapped in the role of "working manager", a role that I believe has become more common in the current economic situation. Essentially this is the practice of giving a title of authority while expecting one to function as one being managed as well. It's not just setting goals and directing the overall pace or movement of a department, it's doing the ordinary yet important work of the department as well.

It makes it difficult when pronouncements come down from time to time about "this needs to be done" or "Why haven't you accomplished this - you're X department." In my heart of hearts I want to scream "How can I manage anything when I to busy trying to ensure that things get done?"

It buttressed in my mind my comment yesterday about managing myself because I make the same errors. Managing, at some level, requires an idea of where we are going (that's leadership ) in order to regulate how we get there. No leadership: we tend to follow the path of least resistance. No management: progress towards the goal is lost because no-one is directing how we get there (this paragraph is largely based on Stephen Covey's The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People; I direct you there for a more full discussion).

So what does this mean on a day to day level? I'm not sure - except I have come to the realization that what is happening now is not working and if I want to move on to the next stage of anything, something has to change.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Change Your (L)Attitude

"Whether you think you can succeed or think you can fail, you're right." - Henry Ford

Fear Mor had his "Eat with Senior Management" lunch yesterday - one of those items in which senior management has lunch with employees after they've been at the company for a certain amount of time in order to get a sense of what employees are thinking. Being who he is, Fear Mor popped off the question of what the future of the company was, where we were going. What he was met with was silence, followed by stumbling and groping for answer - generalities without any specifics.

Not a confidence builder in any sense of the word.

But important - an important reminder that for any of us as individuals, we cannot (in the end) rely on any other humans to do what we need to do. The question is fair of leadership of any organization - what's our purpose, where are we headed - but the question is equally fair of myself as well - what's my purpose, where am I headed.

It requires a fundamental rethinking of how we view our own lives - a change of attitude, if you will, about the responsibility each of us shares for our own lives. In other words, the responsibility for where I am, and where I am going, is in the end my own.

This is a hard thing for many (including myself) to accept as responsibility is often associated with the power to execute. "I can't do anything about that" one may whine "because I am only a lowly employee/student/person and don't have the power to influence the direction or purpose of my company/school/relationship".

In many cases I'd actually agree with that sentiment - we don't the power to change the place where we are or many of the conditions under which we live or work. But we do have the power to change both our attitude (in the fact that we are responsible for where we're going) and our latitude (where we work, go to school, with whom we have relationships).

I'm not saying it is easy, nor am I saying that changing our attitude or our latitude can happen overnight. But neither is it an accurate and fair statement to say that we cannot change them at all.

Both our attitude and our latitude are either controlled by ourselves or others. In one case we act as free individuals, in the other we act as slaves.

What's your (l)attitude this morning?

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Two Paths

I was confronted this morning as I walked with the specter of two career paths - two paths of which I have not had to choose from for some time.

On one path is the journey of the comfortable, of that which I know today, of working with individuals I enjoy in an environment I know. The chances of achievement are low, in fact probably nil, and the growth that will occur there is minimal, but it is comfortable and known and I like it.

On the other path is the journey of the uncomfortable, of leaving that which is known (and let's be honest - to some extent which I have created), of moving into an environment which will probably be more challenging - but where the chances of achievement are much higher and the growth potential much greater.

I feel that I am facing, in a small way, the initial conceptual challenge that those who move on always feel: do I stay here where I am comfortable, or do I grow? I suppose it's the same concept that moved Lincoln from Illinois or any actor or actress from their hometown to their first theater.

And it's not even a geographical move per se - it's an intellectual move which agrees with and embraces the concept that growth is more important than comfort, and achievement is more important than coasting.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Taking It To The Next Level

This whole question of goals, motivation and purpose has been gnawing at my brain all weekend. A lot of it, I gather, is really due to that fabulous video that was in my last post. Some it, I suppose as well, is due to the fact that in two days I will have reached my one year mark at New Job and New Home, thereby meeting all my contractual obligations and setting the stage for investigating new things with a clean conscience if I so desire.

But I suppose that the wretched Otis is also to blame - in working through concepts for a new blog, he commented "So you're ready to take your writing up to the next level?" I had to correct him a bit - the new blog is professionally related and will not be connected with this essentially on-line journal - but his words stuck with me.

Taking it to the next level.

I'm confronted by this at work as well, as I continue to begin to come into contact with those younger than I who have exceeded my position and my education. I look at where I am and what I do and them and their situation, and realize that there is a level of comfort I have allowed to enter my job which is preventing me from moving forward.

Again, taking it to the next level.

How much of our life becomes rote, a rut (also described as "a grave with two ends kicked out), because we become willing to believe that comfort is our end goal, not striving to better ourselves - not just (or even only) in the material sense, but in the personal and spiritual sense as well? If I fail to challenge myself to higher achievement, it follows that I will fail to lift those around me up to that higher level as well.

It's June - almost mid-year, and a fabulous time to reexamine those goals set at the beginning of the year (for a fabulous article by Jeffrey Gitomer about goals, go here). With half the year left, will I take it up to the next level - or wonder why I am still where I am?