A different look at every day issues.

Hot Wings 'N Things

Once a week, my wife visits her mother in another city in the Tampa Bay area. She’s usually gone overnight and returns the afternoon of the next day. Her absence used to set the stage for an indulgence in one of my favorite foods—spicy hot wingslots of them!

I like hot wings. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. In fact, I can have a tail-gating party with myself right in my own living room during one of my favorite team’s football games. (I usually do not invite guests because that cuts down on the wing supply.) But that’s ok . . . I can cheer in stereo and make up for the low tailgater numbers. 

I hope you can detect the over-emphasis on my love for hot wings, but everybody has a weakness, right? After all, aren’t we all entitled to some indulgence to keep our eyes from crossing? Wouldn’t want to end up like that!

Actually, self-indulgence is a killer. (THAT was sure a change of pace!!) True . . . self-indulgence is a killer whose prey includes those whose appetites rule their lives. I’m not just talking about food. Anything that indulges the mind or body fits into the category of lethal choices. We make lots of them because they’re subtle and usually do not carry an immediate consequence. Rather, they offer sensory satisfaction that fuels our drive to indulge and de-sensitize our good judgment.

While my love for hot wings is epic, I also know that I cannot allow myself to let that appetite over-ride my balance in decision-making. (But, you must admit, that’s easier said than done.) Additionally, I am no longer a young man and my body cannot deal with the constant bombardment of spice and lard like it could at a younger age. My body’s metabolism has changed and so must my choices in food. When I was younger, I could eat as much of anything I wanted—and often did. My problem was not drinking or smoking or drug use. It was food—even though I did not consider it a problem until the consequences started emerging.

So, then . . . is the issue to make right choices about things we once took for granted, or must we begin to gain a wider perspective about the choices we make earlier in life? I think “earlier in life” gets the vote. The sooner a person engages in constructive decision-making, the sooner he or she puts to rest the things that tend to cause problems later in life. You can see the consequences of poor choices all around you every day.

My wife had to watch her weight early in our marriage, but I didn’t have a thing to worry about because my metabolism allowed me to pig out on anything I wanted. She began making the right choices then, and today enjoys a svelte and fit figure. Now, I’m the one who has to really watch the caloric count. It could have been easier if I’d started when she did earlier in life. Funny how that rings of poetic justice!

I contend that if a person began to make choices based upon an understanding of the future consequences or benefits of those choices, more decisions would be made that produce a richer, fuller life.

My goal is to grow old with the wife of my youth. To do that, I must continue to make better choices about the appetites I once allowed to rule my life. It’s all a matter of perspective—getting things into the right focus. It’s about making right choices and being able to live with the satisfaction those choices produce.

The Empty Stall Stigma

The whole issue of productivity can be boiled down to what is used and what is not. Busyness for busyness sake is not productivity. Neither does the hand of the idle nor the belly of the sluggard compliment a job well done or an enterprise fully accomplished. Yet, these two diametrically opposed sides of the coin have much more in common than the initial inspection would reveal.
It is true that the empty stall gathers no mess. It is also true that a rolling stone gathers no moss and that a parked car saves wear and tear on the tires while increasing gas mileage. An un-watered lawn saves water and an un-vacuumed room stirs no dust.
This train of thought leads only to abuse through non-use. More is at stake here than is easily observable because it is hidden behind the perception that ‘safe’ is alright. After all, nothing will be lost if nothing is placed at risk—right?
The gifts, talents, and abilities that God has given to us were given for a reason. He wants to accomplish two things—the development of His resources and the deployment of His servants. Neither can take place in a venue of safety. Man’s propensity for safety stalls everything that God seeks to do in the life of a believer that—somewhere along the line—told God that they are His and that they will go wherever He wants them to go and do whatever He wants. But, they settle into a predictable lifestyle that yields neither fruit nor adventure
That’s right, I said ‘adventure.’ God wants us on the edge of our seats just waiting for what He reveals—just ahead—around the corner. He wants us dependent upon Him for directions through the things that will shape us into vessels He can use—in His way, in His time. No predictability here!
Proverbs 14:4 says, "An empty stall stays clean," but the second half of the verse says,  “but no income comes from an empty stall.”
The question I face is this—“What will I do with my stall?” Will I keep it clean and safe and predictable or will I invite people and events that will change its pristine d├ęcor and, perhaps, leave a mess. Will my stall show signs of use and be a friendly place for those who need God’s touch or will it resemble one of those museum displays of a room where so-and-so used to sit and reflect on who knows what?
What will be the epitaph when all is said and done? Will more be said than done?

Ah, yes. An ode to the odorless stall. 

Leadership at the End of the Limb

It is easy to talk about faith in generic terms. That is safe and even predictable. If we all agree in general terms but do not allow ourselves to get too far out on the limb, we only maintain a theoretical substitute for the real thing. Many—even most—have settled for the operation of faith within the context of their own ability. That is called management—not faith.

Faith drives vision. Vision builds the bridge to one’s preferred future. It is at this point that leaders must realize they were called by God to do more than just preside over the status-quo.

It is at this juncture of understanding and conviction that leaders must become familiar with the end of the limb. It is not a place of comfort. Nor is it a place of irresponsibility. It is the place they get to see first-hand just what God can really do if given the chance.

Anyone who has been around me for very long has discovered that I don’t like getting bogged down in details. I’m not ashamed to admit my focus problem. Don’t get me wrong, it’s just not in my nature to haggle over minor issues when there is a bigger issue—at least in my thinking—on the table. Haggling over minor issues keeps true leadership from engaging and bringing change or growth to an organization.

Leaders must always provide an example of fruitfulness in their own lives and ministries. They can never be effective if they only offer theory but have never led a model of health.

There are a few thoughts about fruitfulness that bring the whole imperative for visionary leadership into focus. It’s simple and I am sure I am not the only one to have received this epiphany, but it is relevant to justifying our existence.
  • Fruit grows at the end of the branch, not up close to the trunk;
  • The trunk represents management; the end of the branches represents vision fueled by faith;
  • Growth takes place at the end of the branches;
  • A tree gets most of its sunlight at the branch’s end—not close to the trunk;
  • Sunlight represents revelation and occurs where the fruit grows; 
Here’s my pitch line: we need to spend more time at the end of the branch. That’s the area that represents faith and that’s the area where fruitfulness will occur.
    We have all heard the phrase, “going out on a limb.” We usually infer that to do so is irresponsible and reckless, when in fact, it is where we will experience fruitfulness—both in our lives and ministries. 

    One final thought – offered by Craig Van Gelder in his book, Ministry of the Missional Church. He points out that when organizational loyalty is lost, one of the available options is to heighten compliance with rules and procedures. That option also accompanies down-sizing and the management of organizational entropy (gradual death).

    My question is this: Are we experiencing faith at the end of the limb or are we hugging the trunk? Leadership that provides impetus is leadership that is willing to go out on a limb. 

    "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing."  John 15:5


    Life Got You Up a Ladder?

    The beginning of a new year always produces a myriad of half-hearted resolutions usually to give the illusion of determination and self-betterment. Believe me, I’ve heard the same promises made year after year—usually to lose weight, get in shape, or enact some kind of self-discipline not previously adhered to for more than two or three weeks. By February it is business (and life) as usual. The desire to be better people doesn’t come from the heart. It comes from a socially reinforced plan of action that resembles a fitness center’s advertisement for new business. Doing the right thing for the right reasons is a matter of the human heart.

    Steven Covey’s book,
    Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, discusses the dilemma of people who work all their lives to climb the social or corporate ladder and then find out their ladder was against the wrong building all along. His point underscores the need to maintain priorities—the right priorities—if we are to make an impact on our world. Right priorities produce effective people. Ladder climbers are after reportable statistics, not lasting results.

    People change by keeping the right priorities and become successful—not by climbing a ladder, but by
    learning to serve others. Anything else will leave us high up a ladder with no way to get down except to fail at the thing to which we’ve devoted so much time and energy. Realization that a lifetime had been spent up the wrong ladder always produces a sense of regret and remorse at having given one’s life doing what was expected instead of what God really designed for life to be.

    Where’s your ladder? Is what you are doing motivated by our Father or by a sense of dutiful endeavor that demands all you have, who’s insatiable appetite keeps pulling you into its black hole, and produces nothing eternal? Does your life or ministry resemble a ladder climb with no end in sight? That is not what God demands of you. His plan is to lead you into a life of adventure, not push you into harm’s way or up some rickety ladder. He doesn’t want your productivity. He wants your clean heart. That’s all—just your clean heart. It’s there He can speak to you and guide the actions that come from having spent time with him.

    Jim Beaird

    Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, And uphold me by Your generous Spirit. Psalm 51:10-12

    Integrity's Irony

    The pace of the rush hour traffic slowed to a crawl and then to a dead stop. Horns began playing their usual obnoxious symphony and nerves strained to stay contained. Jockeying for lanes quickly became a test of nerves and courtesy as the morning’s complement of type A’s made their presence felt.

    One such Type A honked at a middle-aged man trying to merge right. Then, he made an
    obscene gesture reinforced with unnecessary profanity. The man could only watch as the younger man inserted himself into the spot. Fortunately, the driver right behind the young man slowed, letting him merge.

    Ten minutes later, the older gentleman entered the parking garage, found his designated spot, and approached the elevator. As the doors opened, he was surprised to see the elevator nearly full. Suddenly, from behind him, the
    same young man pushed past him and took the remaining spot. As the doors closed, he thought, “That is the young man who flipped me off this morning.” He smiled silently to himself and hoped the irony would play out to his favor.

    Once inside his office, his secretary handed him a folder and said, “A young man is here to
    interview for the opening." After pouring himself a fresh cup of hot coffee and taking his place behind his desk, the secretary ushered the young man into his office. You guessed it—the rude young man from the traffic jam and elevator. The interview began with an introduction and a handshake. He motioned for the young man to sit in the chair in front of his large wooden desk. He smiled to himself as he watched the young man shift nervously in his seat.

    He asked the young man several questions—all of which were answered to his satisfaction. He had
    graduated in the top three of his class, had impeccable credentials, seemed to be bright—but still had not been able to land a job nearly a year after school.

    Finally, the man looked at the young applicant and asked, “Why do you want a job here? With your credentials and grades, I would have thought you’d apply at a larger firm.”

    The younger man
    sat silently for a brief moment and then said, “It’s been much more difficult than I had suspected it would be. Most of my friends—even those who graduated below me—now have jobs they enjoy. But, I . . .” His eyes fell to the floor and his demeanor conveyed the impression that he had endured many disappointing interviews—with nothing to show for his efforts. He continued, “But I seem to always make the short list and then . . .”

    “And then you don’t get hired, right?” He paused
    to let his words sink in and then pressed his point. “This morning in traffic, I was the person in the blue car you flipped off. Do you remember? Then again at the elevator in the garage, you pushed past me—even after I had already been waiting.” His words fell hard and the young man knew this would be one time he would not even make the short list. “That’s not the kind of person I want to represent my company.”

    After a long moment, the young man lifted his eyes and looked directly into the man’s face. “You are right. . . I’m sorry. . . I thought I was going to be late. I let the traffic get to me . . . I sincerely apologize,” he said as he reached down to retrieve his case. “I won’t take any more of your time. Thank you for taking the time to see me.” He
    stood to leave, but the man said, “The interview is not over until I say it’s over. Please sit,” he said, motioning to the chair.

    As the young man took his seat, the older man said, “I have more to say.” As the two sat for a moment, he began, “You were rude and arrogant. That might be prerequisites for some jobs, but I stress
    building relationships with clients by living and working with integrity—putting the needs of others before my own—and giving an honest effort to making my little corner of the world a better place. I am interested in someone working here who represents the interests of this company and conducts himself in a manner that engenders my trust. Above all else, he must possess the integrity that demonstrates his desire to grow into a productive and useful part of this team”

    The words seemed almost canned, except that the young man’s attention was riveted to each word.
    Why is he taking this time with me? Didn’t I already kill this deal in traffic?

    Sensing he had made his point, the man leaned forward and said, “Young man, do you believe you
    have it in you to do that?”

    Stunned at the sudden shift in the older man’s composure, he now sensed something he had not sensed before, but he couldn’t put his finger on just what it was. “Do you?” the older man pressed.

    glimmer of hope appeared out of nowhere as the man awaited his answer. “Sir, I don’t know if I possess those qualities right now, but I’d like the opportunity to work under someone who does—if that makes sense . . I feel I have a lot to learn, and . . . I also feel I have a lot to offer,” he said as his voice trailed off.

    “Young man, thank you for your honesty. See, you
    do have the makings of the kind of person I’m looking for. You could have given me the answer I wanted to hear, but instead, you were truthful, you showed integrity,” he said as he rose from his seat and extended his hand.

    Thinking the interview was over and that he had just sealed his own fate, the young man rose and took the extended hand. The two shook hands and then the younger turned to leave.

    “Oh, I have one more question for you,” he said as the young man neared the office’s door. “Can you start on Monday?”

    In the Safety of the Hollow

    Arrows filled the air around them as they struggled from their dead horses in search of safety. It would soon be sundown and their tormentors would honor the cover of darkness. Yet, for now, an all-out attack made the prospect of life seem remote. The two cowboys found themselves stumbling over rocks and dead wood in a dried creek bank as they fled from the certain death of the Crow raiding party. With painful certainty an arrow found its mark in the chest of the younger of the two as he turned to match force with force. The older, wiser man knew from experience that his only hope for survival lay in finding a hiding place where he could clear his head and rest his weary body.

    Grabbing his partner’s canteen and scurrying toward a thicket for momentary cover, he silently rejoiced in his discovery of a hollow in the side of the creek bank just beyond the brush. There, at least for now, he could
    enjoy the cool and concealed safety he desperately sought. From his place of refuge he could see the body of his partner who was a gambler and accustomed to facing and playing the odds. This time the odds were against him as he paid the ante with his life.

    It was a western mini-series on network TV. I watched spellbound as I found myself captivated by a story of the lives and times of men on a cattle drive through hostile Indian territory. There were
    no guarantees of safety - only the dreaded uncertainty of facing life moment by moment and being ready to fight to maintain the delicate right to live.

    Safety for the survivor lay in a cool concealment where his attackers could not get to him without being exposed to the deadly aim of a western Sharpshooter in the steady hand of a seasoned veteran. For now he was safe. For now he rested.

    This scenario describes much of life today as
    we find ourselves running for cover from the demands and pressures inherent in our activities. Many meet an untimely demise as they try to match force with force. The certainty of life’s pursuit set in the context of the uncertainty of its demands claims many a hapless victim who has not discovered the safety of the hollow.

    There is a spiritual truth here that we cannot ignore. There is a
    time to fight and a time to seek refuge. A time to use force and a time to retreat.

    Contrary to the ethics of
    Christian service and commitment which, in the minds of many are driven by a sense of duty and guilt, there is no sin in having to leave the fight to seek refuge. Those who have discovered the sabbatical rest that comes from dwelling under the shadow of the Almighty will attest to its life-giving qualities.

    During a bout with pastoral
    burnout a couple decades ago, God tucked me away in a safe place where the enemy could not finish me off. It was there I discovered that periodic rest and retreat are not sinful. It was there that God let me experience wholeness without warfare and safety without guilt. It was in that secret place where God became my refuge and protector. It was there that I first uttered, the Lord is my refuge and fortress. In Him I will trust.

    He who dwells in the secret place of the most high shall abide under the shadow of the almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in Him I will trust.
    Psalm 91:1-2

    The Heart of the Matter

    Symptoms are often a window to something more dangerous. We can gamble with the odds or we can find out what the symptoms might reveal. A few years ago I had an important decision to make. Prompted by a tightness in my chest and motivated by a family history of heart disease, I decided to pay the doctor a visit. After several tests, it was determined that there was a slight abnormality that required an angiogram—just to be sure.

    The day came for the procedure. I was amazed at the elaborate procedure for looking into a man’s heart—cameras and everything. As I lay there on the table, I could see the real-time video of what was taking place inside my heart. The doctors performed with precision and expertise. I had to trust them implicitly and place my life in their hands. All this because I listened to a few symptoms and decided to have it checked out.

    Of course, you know what’s coming. You’re wondering when I intend to make this less of a vignette of my life and more of a spiritually charged insight. I admit, while laying there for the several hours the procedure and recovery required, my mind was drawn to several life parallels and relevant perspectives. I wondered what would have happened if I had ignored the signs of possible trouble and not made myself accountable to my wife, my doctor, and now, you.

    I came away with a reinforcement of what I teach and believe about life and ministry. There are certain times when we have to allow God to look into our heart and reveal things that might be blocking His will. Then we have to allow Him to perform the necessary surgery on our souls if we intend to finish strong. Denial is a deadly form of pride that keeps us from enjoying the mercy, favor and care of our Father. Only a fool lives in denial, but a wise man takes action before it is too late.

    Our lives and ministries demand that we live pro-actively—ahead of circumstances that could negatively affect us and others. We must allow those tests which not only reveal character, but shape our destiny. That is the real heart of the matter.

    "The Cutting Edge"

    There is an old saying. It asks, "Why work hard when you can work smart?" We do not generally experience a loss of things to do. Appointments, schedules, tasks, commitments, etc. demand our attention and often drain our energy away from serving the Lord with all our heart.

    It seems that when our personal ax gets dull we lose our efficiency and effectiveness. A sharp cutting-edge offensive yields to a maintenance existence that often robs us of creativity and growth. We spend time applying bandages rather than good judgment. A subtle relationship with the mistress of "second-best" robs us of our first love and clouds our perspective.

    A personal inventory should reveal the condition of the ax's edge. From time to time we must inspect the cutting edge of our lives. If the edge is dull, we can continue to work at what we're doing, but with less efficiency and much more effort. While dealing with the topic of ministry effectiveness, Evangelist Benny Hinn once said, “Dull edges produce blistered hands, sore backs and bruised trees.” A natural application to this insight is that we can grow weary in well-doing and that we can hurt those to whom we minister.

    Where is the fine line that divides a strong and healthy work ethic from a diseased and misapplied concept of productivity? If the truth were known, can we live with the demands we place upon ourselves?

    The secret is in the cutting edge. It must be sharp and free of debris. It must be checked often for nicks and gouges. A rough file must often be used to smooth out a damaged area. Then the same surface must be exposed to the smooth, honing stone to restore its razored leading edge.

    Frequent inspection of our life's cutting edge insures more effectiveness and less "down-time". The lack of joy in one's life generally characterizes the impact of allowing their cutting edge to dull. They use more strength to accomplish what was once easy. The joy has gone out of their service to the Lord.

    My point of application is simply to be honest enough to submit to a personal inventory under the loving guidance of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps you can learn to "work smart instead of working so hard."

    "If the axe is dull, and one does not sharpen the edge, then he must use more strength; but wisdom brings success." Ecclesiastes 10:10