Jul 312014

When Life Seems Out of Control

I sat on the beach and watched my son play in the ocean. “I’ll be fine, Dad,” he told me. But he didn’t have a clue what he was talking about.

At the age of six, Silas has no idea of what the ocean can do. Sharks make for an intriguing video; he thinks he can swim away. Waves are to be ridden; he doesn’t know they could sweep him away. Rip currents are as unknown to him as they are unseen to the rest of us.

As he played in the ocean, my son was living at the first level of awareness. Level one of awareness says, “I control the ocean.” Since he could jump the swells, ride the waves, and do whatever he wanted in the water on that calm day, my son foolishly assumed he was in control. In the same way, many of us come to the foolish conclusion that we control our lives.  (See: You Chose This–A Reflection on Time Management)

Because nothing bad has happened to us and since we can navigate life in a calm season, we think we are in charge. Not only is this naive about our own lives, it often leads to judgment toward others. If we control our lives then others must control theirs. So if something bad happens to them, it’s their fault. Poverty, illness, broken relationships are not viewed in the context of systems, cultures, or bad circumstances. They are seen as life choices. We foolishly believe since we aren’t poor or sick, other people shouldn’t choose to be either.

It won’t take much to shake Silas from his 6-year-old logic to a more mature view. A big enough wave, strong enough current, or a sudden storm will raise his awareness. Level two awareness says, “The ocean controls me.” Anyone with a little experience in the water knows a human does not control the ocean, the ocean controls them. We might be able to play in the water, ride the waves, and explore the marine-life, but we do not control the ocean. The ocean can do with us whatever it wants. Every sea captain knows this. Every person living on the beach understands this. This is the second level of awareness—the ocean controls us. (See: God Controls Even Our Darkest Days)

It’s easy for this world to feel out of our control. A bad diagnosis, an unexplained job loss, a broken relationship, the death of a parent, the illness of a spouse or child, can open our eyes to our own inability. It can be a hopeless feeling. To go from feeling in total control to realizing our absolute lack of control is one of life’s most frightening experiences. But it is the trip of maturity. Believing we control everything is foolish. Knowing we control very little is much more wise.

Finally, there is a third level of awareness. Many people spend their lives either arrogantly believing they are in control of this world or dreadfully existing in the belief that their lives are held in the balance of fate. But a few realize the deepest of life’s truths. Level three of awareness says, “God’s in control of the ocean.”

While the world is not under our control, we are not bound by the whims of nature. God is more powerful than nature. Life often does not make sense, however, that does not mean there is no sense to life. God’s sovereign control over his creation ensures meaning and purpose. We are reminded of God’s habit of bringing good even out of the most evil of circumstances. (See: You Control What Matters Most)

Living in level one of awareness is the epitome of arrogance and ignorance. It will ensure foolish action on our part and unfair judgment toward others.

Living in level two of awareness results in deep apathy and despair. It will lead us to passivity and an overwhelming sense of the vanity of life.

Living in level three of awareness gives us hope and meaning. It requires faith in every circumstance of life, but it allows us endurance no matter what comes our way.

If you foolishly believe you are in control of everything in your life—wake up. You aren’t that powerful.

If you sadly believe there is no purpose for the things in your life—look up. Life has more design than you think.

If you rightly believe God is in control of all things—speak up. The world needs to hear of your faith even in the midst of difficult circumstances.

For more, See:

My First Response to a Natural Disaster

Karma or Grace?

Jul 302014

The Greatest Aspect of Sex (or What a Horny Teenager Could Never Know)

In a healthy marriage, the greatest aspect of sex is giving pleasure.

Nothing epitomizes the highest ideals of Christian marriage as each spouse submitting their own desires in an attempt to give pleasure to the other and all within the confines of a committed, life-long relationship.

It’s the highest idea, but it’s not the norm. (See: Are You Having Enough Sex?)

In too many relationships, sex becomes the symptom of a broken relationship. Feelings are hurt; intentions are questioned; trust is destroyed; and each partner begins to look out for him or herself at the expense of the other.

Consider the two contrasts:

In one relationship each spouse submits their own desires to the desires of the other in a hope to give pleasure.

In the other relationship each spouse demands their own desires at the expense of the other in a hope to get pleasure.

Of course the result is that when each spouse attempts to give pleasure rather than seek it, they both give it and receive it.

When each spouse demands to receive pleasure rather than give it, neither give or receive.

Submission is risky business. Whenever we put the well-being of another above ourselves, we run the risk of someone taking advantage of us, exploiting us, and taking us for granted.

It’s a way of life into which no one should rush. There is too much pain and evil in the world to quickly submit yourself to someone else. This type of relationship should only be pursued as trust is established and one’s heart has been fully shown.

Yet no sexual relationship should exist except one built on mutual submission. (See: Three Types of Sex Every Married Couple Should Have)

This is why sex should be saved for marriage. It’s only after a person is found worthy of me devoting my entire life to them that they should become the object of my sexual desire.

Once trust is built and commitments are made, a couple should then pursue after a relationship in which sex becomes about giving pleasure to the other.

It never starts there for a man. It might for a woman, but never for a man. A sexual relationship always begins for a man with the man thinking of his own pleasure. But as he matures and experiences the joy of bringing pleasure to his wife, his attitude and desire should change. (See: What Your Husband Wants From You In Bed)

As he begins to desire fulfilling his wife’s desire, his wife can let down her guard and begin to submit her desire to his. When both spouses make the pleasure of the other their highest goal, sex reaches a new level of intimacy and meaning.

This should be the pursuit of every couple.

No couple will ever fully arrive. If you ever think you have sex (or any aspect of marriage) figured out, something will happen to bring you back to earth. However, you can make progress. You can grow and mature in experience and understanding so that seeking the pleasure of the other is the highest goal. (See: What I Tell College Students About Married Sex)

Sadly, many couples never reach this level of sexual intimacy because they give up. They either settle into a one-sided sexual relationship which ignores the pleasure of one spouse, or they devolve into a sexless marriage where neither spouse is finding any satisfaction. This is an unacceptable outcome. Unless there is an unusual circumstance, a couple should never accept a sexless or ‘hardly any sex’ relationship. It was not God’s design and it is not his intent.

Notice the travesty which is a sexless relationship. Not only is a spouse denied sexual pleasure, but they are also denied the greatest aspect of sex—giving pleasure to their spouse. When marriages do not focus on pleasing one another, they can only devolve into focusing on getting pleasure for self. The result is failed intimacy, selfishness, a lack of service, abuse, manipulation, and an absence of love. (See: I Wouldn’t Sleep With You Either)

But when a couple experiences the joys of pleasing one another sexually, not only does their intimacy grow, but also that joy ripples into every other area of life.

It’s a funny thing about sex. After sex, I’m more likely to clean the kitchen, mow the yard, watch the kids, etc. I don’t mean to be more willing to do those things; I simply am more willing. The reason? Sex connects me with my wife which causes my brain to think more about what would bring her pleasure. And sometimes picking up the dirty clothes from around the bed brings her as much pleasure as anything which might happen in the bed.

While it should never be the intention, finding ways to please your spouse outside of the bedroom makes it more likely your spouse will find ways to please you in the bedroom. It’s not a quid pro quo; it’s simply the development of thoughtfulness and affection which influences every area of the relationship. (See: ‘Please’ and ‘Thank You’ Matter as Much as Sex)

The greatest aspect of sex is not receiving pleasure, it is giving pleasure. When a couple can submit their own desires in order to fulfill the desire of their spouse, they will find a deeply meaningful sexual experience. It’s a truth only the most committed of couples could ever know.

For More, See:

The 24 Hour Sex Rule

This Is Only for Women, Men Shouldn’t Read

Jul 292014

What If The Church Honored Sunday?

For as long as anyone remembered the tournament had been held Thursday through Sunday. The first day was a practice round and the competition was the next three days, culminating with the final round of golf being on Sunday.

But when the new committee met, someone asked, “What if we held the tournament Thursday through Saturday?” They suggested moving the practice round to be played whenever the participants wanted and to move the competition to Thursday through Saturday. By ending on Saturday, Sunday would be free for players to spend the day with family and in the habit of many of the new committee members, attend church. (See: Three Lies Christians Tell Themselves)

It had never been done that way, but the committee was willing to give it a try. And it was a roaring success. A few people grumbled, but a few people always grumbled. Most of the participants appreciated the move and the tournament field was as large as it had ever been.

A simple switch, few complaints, and anyone who wanted to attend church on Sunday was free to do so.

What if every Christian charged with putting on an event on the weekend considered how Sunday morning could be protected for the sake of worship and the family?

The Church Often Curses Culture

I could probably get a thousand Facebook likes if I posted something about the demise of culture. It’s become the church’s favorite past time—to curse where we are headed. While culture isn’t any worse today than it has ever been (and in many ways it is better), if you listen to many church people, things have never been worse. (See: Why I Can’t Say ‘America’s Going to Hell in a Handbasket’)

But the Church Often Follows Culture

Even as the church curses culture, we also follow it. We don’t just follow it when culture is being dictated to us, but we sadly follow it when we are in charge. It’s one thing when a committee filled with unbelievers, unknowingly or without concern for the Bible, schedules an event for Sunday morning. I wish it didn’t happen, but it does. However, it is a radically different story when Christians lead organizations or committees and we mimic the culture by booking the events at the same time an unbeliever would book them. When an unbeliever isn’t concerned about protecting Sunday morning worship that is one thing, but when Christians equally fail to protect it, we have a different problem. (See: Jesus Isn’t as Conservative or Liberal as You Think)

What If We Shaped Culture?

What if we took a different approach? What if Christians used their influence to protect Sunday morning? What if we brainstormed new ways to hold events?

What if we started with us? If unbelievers plan events, they will obviously hold events on Sunday morning. I wish it wasn’t so, but it is. However, what if believers planned differently? What if we did everything within our influence and power to show a different way? (See: 6+1, The First Math Problem We Should Teach Our Kids)

If Sunday must be used, why not consider the afternoon instead of the morning?

If Saturday isn’t enough for the event, what about using Friday night instead of Sunday morning?

If court or field space is limited, what about partnering with another school or neighboring town?

What if the church protected Sunday morning?

Sadly, it is never considered.

A few years ago our Mother’s Day attendance was not as well-attended as it usually is. I was confused. Mother’s Day is traditionally the second-most attended Sunday of the spring, but this particular day did not see a spike in attendance. Noticing who was not in attendance that day, I researched where they were. I discovered there was a youth baseball tournament.

I wasn’t surprised. Our culture has lost its ability to show respect and value in nearly every area so it only made sense that Mother’s Day was no longer set aside for mothers. Yet what shocked me was the location of the tournament. It was being held at the Church League baseball fields.

Consider: church attendance was hurt because of a baseball tournament at the Church League baseball fields. It would be laughable if it wasn’t so sad. (See: Parenting, Sports, and the Gospel)

We curse the direction of culture, yet the church acts no differently.

What if we started to make different choices?

What if the golf tournament was held on Sunday afternoons?

What if the marathon was run on Saturday instead of Sunday?

What if the baseball tournament fielded less teams in order to take Sunday morning off?

What if the church, just the church, made a little effort to protect Sunday morning?

It might just remind us that our faith is important.

It might show our kids that some things are more important than their activities.

It might put sports and fun in their proper context.

It might show our culture that we take our faith seriously.

We can’t control everyone, but we can control ourselves. The church can choose what we do. What would happen if we started valuing those things which we claim are important?

 

Jul 282014

You Control What Matters Most

You control your character. No one else is in charge of it and no one else can dictate it other than you.

Most leaders live in a fascinating dilemma. Others see them as controlling everything, but they feel as though they are in control of nothing.

A novice looks at a professional surfer and foolishly concludes the surfer is in control. While the surfer might be controlling his body and the board, clearly the ocean is in charge. The surfer has learned to navigate with the ocean, but the ocean can do whatever it wishes with the surfer. (See: What Should a Leader C.A.R.E. About)

So it is with leadership. Rarely are leaders in charge of anything even though a majority of onlookers and followers falsely conclude they are in charge of everything.

The coach is supposed to win, but one injury to a key player can make winning impossible.

The CEO is called to meet Wall Street expectations but the CEO neither sets the expectations nor controls the global economy which largely determines if those expectations are met.

The teacher is held accountable for the test scores of students, but the teacher doesn’t control the home life, study habits, or attitudes of her students.

Leaders control far less than appearances lead others to believe. We are neither as powerful nor as in control as many think.

But we do have complete control over one thing—ourselves. (See: I’m Tired of Being Nice)

Ironically, the only control we actually have is the very area we often claim we do not control. We are quick to justify our actions, blame others, and claim we didn’t have the freedom of choice regarding our own desires. It’s denial because we are fully in control of ourselves.

So leaders want control of everything, have control over little, and in the one area in which their control is unquestioned, they are quick to claim they can’t help themselves. This is the state of leadership.

Yet the truth is evident—we are completely in charge of ourselves.

The control which we have over ourselves and the importance which character plays in leadership provides a tremendous opportunity.

Because character is the most important thing we can possess and because our character is something we have total control over, character should be the primary focus of every leader. (See: Why Are We Afraid of Change)

Leaders should focus on character in three specific ways:

We should focus on our character. Before we worry about anything else or anyone else, we should focus on the development of our personal character. It will last longer than any temporary issue and it is of more value than any temporary success or failure. No matter the future or shape of our career, our character is the one thing we will always carry with us.

We should focus on the character of those who work for us. Those whom we lead should know how important character is to us. We should make it known through word and action that we are more concerned with the character of those we lead than any outcome or result. While a leader may be hands-off on a variety of issues, we should always be very hands-on regarding issues of character for those who work for us.

We should focus on the character of our organization or team. Just as individuals display character, so do businesses, organizations, and teams. In the same way that character defines a person, it defines an organization as well. Leaders determine the character of a business or team. If they allow inappropriate behavior, either by encouraging it or turning a blind eye to it, they are developing bad character. Yet if they demand honesty, transparency, and integrity, they will develop good character. Too many leaders fail to realize that their organization has character and it must be nourished and guarded or it will decay.

Focusing on character isn’t just a moral imperative, it is also smart business and leadership. Economic conditions can change, work expectations are never the same, jobs come and go, but character is constant. No one else can dictate what character you have. You are in charge of you. (See: What Every Leader Should Look For)

By focusing on character, a leader can get the greatest return on his/her investment.

In leadership, character matters the most, which is good news since character might be the only thing you fully control.

Jul 252014

Sometimes You’ve Got to Mow the Driveway

A friend called me a few years ago. I felt the vibration in my pocket so I stopped what I was doing and answered the phone.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“Mowing the driveway,” I responded.

I didn’t even notice how odd the remark sounded until, in a confused voice, my friend asked me to repeat myself. I understood his confusion. Mowing the driveway is not a common task. (Site: Jesus, Leadership, and the Courage to Serve)

Driveways shouldn’t have to be mowed. The concrete should be solid enough or the asphalt sealed well enough that no weeds should be able to grow. That’s how a driveway should be, but that’s not always how a driveway is. Many times the concrete cracks and grass or weeds begin to grow. How a person deals with the weeds—round-up, weed eater, pulling them, etc—is up to the individual. I choose to mow them.

As a leader, parent, and spouse, there are ways things should be.

  • An agreed-upon rule should solve future disputes
  • Job descriptions should prevent things from falling through the cracks
  • People should do what they are hired to do
  • Children should obey what they’ve been told

Families, organizations, teams, and communities are supposed to work a certain way. But sometimes they don’t.

And when they don’t, leaders have a choice. (Site: Leadership, Leaves, and Why We Should Never Give Up)

Some choose denial. Unable to accept life in an unexpected form, some people choose to never see the negative things in life. They live in denial of anything being wrong. No matter how tall the weeds in the driveway, they choose to never see them.

Some choose entitlement. They see the problems, but they refuse to do anything about them. They have a job and mowing the driveway isn’t one of them. It wasn’t their fault the weeds grew and they refuse to do anything about them.

Some choose bitterness. They recognize things that should be different and choose to do something about them, but they do so with bitterness. They are angry someone else dropped the ball or outraged a procedure didn’t solve every problem. While they try to take care of the problem, the problem destroys their attitude.

Some choose leadership. A leader understands that life will always have problems. He knows no person is perfect, no policy is fool-proof, and life rarely goes exactly as it should. Because of this, some things will not be as they should be. Part of leadership is doing what you shouldn’t have to do.

Of course, leaders take responsibility for trying to improve systems. We shouldn’t repeatedly do the same task over and over, enabling the rule-breaker or removing the consequences from the lazy. We should improve policies and develop people to such an extent that weeds don’t repeatedly grown in the same unexpected places. (See: 7 Leadership Lessons from Gus Malzahn)

However, no leader, team, or system is flawless. There will always be surprises. And part of a leader’s job is to do things they shouldn’t have to do.

Leaders don’t live in denial—we see the problems.

Leaders don’t choose entitlement—we are only entitled to serve.

Leaders don’t choose bitterness—it’s a privilege to serve.

Leaders choose to deal with whatever needs to be confronted in order to move the mission, team, organization, family, or marriage forward.

On occasion, every leader, parent, and spouse will have to mow the driveway. We will have to do things which we shouldn’t have to do. It’s life. Do it, don’t grow bitter or weary in the process, try to find ways from preventing it from happening again, but don’t be surprised when it does. (See: Who Wants to Be a Leader)

Have a friend in leadership? Ask them to describe some common examples in their life of how they have to mow the driveway.

 

Jul 242014

‘God Is Love’ Doesn’t Mean What You Think

God is love.

These three words are from one of the simplest and most beautiful verses in the Bible. They describe God in the simplest of forms. But they leave us with a great misunderstanding of the character of God.

God is love. But what is love?

When God’s self-declaration of having the character of love is combined with our definition of love, we are left with a gross misunderstanding of the nature of God.

God is love, but we cannot assume we know what love is. In fact, when we assume the definition of love we are guaranteed to know neither the nature of love nor the character of God. Assuming the knowledge of love ensures we will never understand its true meaning. (See: A Dangerous Assumption About God’s Will)

For humanity to understand the true definition of love, we must have it shown to us. We cannot understand it on our own.

This is what Jesus did—he defined love. Yet often we fail to allow his life to influence our understanding of love.

For us, love is: (See: The Most Confident Christians)

  • blind acceptance
  • good feelings
  • an absence of tension

But for God, love has none of those qualities. (See: Never Confuse Acceptance for an Absence of Faith)

While God’s love may give blanket acceptance—he loves you no matter what you have done—it is not a blind acceptance. He knows you more than you know yourself and while he loves you in spite of what you have done, his love changes who you are.

While God’s love may bring good feelings, His love can also bring conviction, regret, and the desire to change. It can create an uncomfortableness and anything but good feelings.

While God’s love may bring peace, it does not always relieve the tension in our lives. It might actually increase it.

We are right in our understanding that God is love, but we are wrong is assuming we know what love is.

If God self-declared himself as love and fully exemplified what love is through Jesus Christ then everything Jesus does in the New Testament is love.

It was love that:

  • rebuked the Pharisees
  • told the adulteress woman to sin no more
  • warned his followers they would be hated
  • spoke about Hell

Those actions which reveal the love of Jesus would have little association with our modern-day understanding of love. (See: Three Lies Christians Tell Themselves)

“But God is Love”

The most common way I hear the phrase “God is love” in today’s culture is with the word “but” preceding it. One person proposes an action or thought and the other objects by saying, “but God is love.” The danger with the statement is it assumes what love is when the Bible reveals to us we have very little knowledge of the true nature of love.

A better question may be, “Is that loving?” When someone proposes a thought or action in the name of God, we can ask, “Is that loving?” It reminds us of our true ignorance and the answer we most need revealed to us. God has shown us he is love. Now we need to understand the full picture of what love is.

It’s a question we should ask far more often.

To say nothing as a friend makes horrific decisions as they “follow their heart.” Is that loving? Probably not.

To scream on the street corner at strangers that their actions are sinful. Is that loving? Clearly not.

So sometimes love: (See: Why You Don’t Submit to God)

clearly calls out sin and other times it does not.

screams and other times it is silent.

is stern and strict; other times it is soft.

Love is far more complex than we realize and many of our snap judgments regarding its nature are drastically wrong.

God has revealed himself as love. Now he is in the process of showing me what the true nature of love actually is. (See: “God Called Me” vs. “I Want To”)

To assume knowledge is dangerous. To ignore God’s revelation is foolish. The wise action is to seek understanding regarding the true nature of love.

“God is love” doesn’t mean what you think. It means what God thinks.

Jul 232014

The Greatest Threat to Your Marriage

The boundary you are most tempted to ignore is the one you most need to observe.

Every marriage needs firm guardrails to protect the relationship. Without specific plans, clear boundaries, and general operating procedures, an individual leaves themselves open to a significant moral failure which will either greatly hinder the relationship or completely destroy it. (See: No Wonder You Don’t Love Each Other)

There are no exceptions. It’s not a guy issue or something a few people need to consider. It is a universal rule—every married person needs physical and emotional boundaries with people of the opposite sex.

A foolish person simply hopes they will have the will power to withstand every temptation which comes their way. A wise person knows their will power is limited and will put boundaries in place to lessen the number of temptations they face so that their strength is in full supply when they face temptation.

Happily married people have firm guardrails and they stick to them. (See: Spicing Up Married Sex By Learning from the Adulterer)

The greatest threat to your marriage is the moment you are tempted to ignore a normally respected boundary.

Your spouse has open access to your text messages, but there is one message you decide to delete.

You never have a meal with a person of the opposite sex, but this one time you want to make an exception.

You never lie to your spouse about where you are or who you are with, but on this occasion you are tempted to do so.

Wisdom creates boundaries but it also lives by them. The moment you are tempted to violate a normally held boundary with a person of the opposite sex, you should recognize the temptation, withstand it, and be on guard with that person.

Danger lies not in the place in which you think there is the most temptation, but in the place you are most likely to let down your guard. Physical and emotional affairs have far less to do with a specific person and far more to do with foolish decision-making and putting ourselves in places in which we are likely to succumb to temptation. (See: You Will Have an Affair If…)

Guardrails only work if they are lived by consistently and with great diligence. Our hearts are so deceptive that if we ever let down our guard, we will do so with the person or in the situation that we most need it.

With all the couples I have seen go through the chaos of an affair, I’ve never had a single person tell me, “I always knew I would do this.” Rare is the case in which a person plans on having an affair. Who in their right mind would cause such pain to their spouse, family, and community which an affair causes?

People do not have affairs in their right mind. They do so out of deception. They are lured into adultery and they make poor decisions without any consideration of the real consequences. What begins as a minor bending of normal rules or a simple exception to the usual operating procedures can lead to the destruction of one’s family, reputation, and life. (See: Three Myths About Adultery)

Show me the place (or the person with whom) you are not being diligent with your thoughts, actions, or attitudes and I’ll show you the place (or the person) which is the greatest threat to your marriage.

Talk with your spouse about which boundaries you both will live by as a couple, and then live by those boundaries.

What is a useful boundary you have with people of the opposite sex?

 

For more, see:

The Warning Sign of a Bad Marriage You Might Miss

What Your Husband Wants From You in Bed

I do

Jul 222014

Always Attend the Funeral

On a regular basis I stand before a grieving family, beside a casket, and speak about life and death. As I do, I’m always reminded I could be just 72 hours away from either sitting on the front row or lying in the casket.

We are all going to die. It’s a truth we know, but one we rarely realize. We live in denial of our mortality, in part, as a defense mechanism. The frailty of life could lead to great despair. To avoid the despair, we often live in denial.

Yet neither despair or denial are useful. While we shouldn’t live in a constant state of depression from the possibility of our death, we should live with an extreme awareness that our lives are temporary and our time is finite. (See: Read This Before You Die)

This is one of the benefits of regularly officiating funerals. While I could live in denial of the frailty of my life, I would have to work hard to do so. Because I regularly officiate funerals, I am regularly reminded of the frailty of life.

And it makes me a better pastor. It reminds me what is truly important. It puts into context the frustrations of life. It challenges me to fight for only those things which are truly important. It educates me on the pains and sorrows which are being endured by so many people.

But it doesn’t just help me do my job; hopefully it helps me become a better husband, father, and person.

When we are unaware of our mortality, we lose the context of our lives. Issues which lack importance can seem important. Actions and activities which should be the most important in our lives can be seen as insignificant. (For two funny looks at a funeral read: Ashes to Ashes and And After the Funeral She Hit Him in the Nuts)

Show me someone living in denial of their mortality and I’ll show you someone who is incapable of identifying what has real value.

For this reason, you should always attend the funeral.

When a friend, loved one, acquaintance, co-worker, or neighbor dies, you should always attend the funeral.

Not only is it respectful of the dead and shows support for the family, but it also serves as a reminder to you that you are not immortal.

Without being reminded we will get so wrapped up into our day-to-day lives that we will forget the truth about humanity—our lives are fleeting. Left to ourselves, we will never face the deep truths of life. The issue of the day will trump the issue of life and we will live in a constant state of denial.

I routinely see it. A person lives for decades unaware of the common-sense truth that one day he will die. Then suddenly, through a tragedy, diagnosis or illness, he is shaken to the core. He is unprepared because he hasn’t regularly dealt with his own frailty. (See: How Some Soar Through Suffering)

We need reminders. While those reminders can come in several forms, attending funerals is one of the best.

As we watch a person’s life in pictures, hear of their successes and failures, see their grieving family, and interact with their hurting friends, we are reminded that death is a universal experience. It will challenge us to consider our priorities and passions. Are we doing what is important? Are we loving what should be loved? Are we living our lives in such a way that we will have very few regrets when life ends?

These questions do not get asked unless we are reminded of the brevity of life. (See: I Almost Died Rear-ending a Hearse)

It is tempting to skip a funeral. We live lives with too many demands and expectations. Skipping a funeral buys us an hour we often cannot afford to lose. However, when we skip a funeral we might gain an hour, but we lose a perspective which only the experience of grief can bring.

Funerals offer two important reminders:

1. They remind us of the sweetness of life. It’s easy to take life for granted. Attending a funeral can awaken our senses to the simple beauties of our everyday lives—the love of a spouse or child, the kindness of a friend, the beauty of a sunny day, the satisfaction of a job well done, etc. Eulogies, funeral sermons, and pictures rarely recount the topics which often dominate our normal days. Instead, they focus on many of the things which we take for granted. Death calls attention to what is truly important in life. Seeing it in another person’s life can help us realize it in our own lives.

2. They remind us of the vanity of life. We often give value to the wrong things. Attending a funeral can remind us that money, houses, and other possessions do not really matter. They cannot save us from tragedy and they do not bring a true sense of identity or meaning. They remind us of things we often overvalue; job titles, 401k balances, win/loss records, and a variety of other issues which get our focus in everyday life do not seem nearly as important as someone lies  in a casket.

Funeral attendance is declining in many cultures. In the days of old, entire towns would shut down when a person died. Today, many friends and some family do not even take off an hour to show their respects. Not only does this disrespect the dead and their grieving families, but it also has a profound influence on our lives. When we remove ourselves from death and grief, we are often deceived into thinking it will not impact us.

 

Jul 212014

Three Things Every Employee Should Do

I’m unaware of any good boss who would debate the following advice. It is a universal way to experience success at work, further your career, find value and purpose in what you are doing, and garner respect from those for whom you work.

If you will do the following three things over and over again, there will be no limit on your career.

1. Identify a problem.

2. Determine a solution.

3. Offer to take responsibility for the implementation of your solution.

When repeated, those three steps produce an invaluable employee. (See: Work and Rest)

The problem is that few employees ever move past step one.

Anybody can identify a problem. You probably have a whole list of problems you have identified about your work, boss, co-workers, family, children, community, church, country, and every other group or organization in your life. Problems are everywhere and it does not require any skill or training to identify them.

Sadly, most people believe problem identification is a gift. They think it is the service they can best offer to those around them. They foolishly believe no one sees the problems like they do and by simply naming the problems they have contributed all they need to contribute. (See: The Devil Doesn’t Need an Advocate)

This is the root cause of many employee/employer frustrations. The employee believes they have identified the problems which the employer should fix. The employer believes the employee is stating the obvious and is unwilling to do what really matters.

Step one is easy.

Step two is more difficult. (See: Never Try to Prove Yourself)

Identifying a solution is the difference between being useful or useless. Rare is the case in which an employer needs another person on staff to simply point out problems. By themselves, any good boss can identify enough problems to keep everyone busy.

While problems are obvious, solutions are hidden. They require observation, discernment, the ability to look past the obvious, and critical thinking. Solutions require us to combine our experience, understanding, knowledge, and wisdom. For many people, determining a solution is such hard work, they give up.

Yet for those who are willing to do the work, they will always have a place to work. Solutions are hard and having people who can find solutions is a valuable resource for any employer.

Step two is difficult, but valuable. (See: How to Determine What to Do–at Work, in Marriage, and in Life)

However, step three is what sets apart great employees from everyone else.

Finding a problem is easy. Identifying a solution is difficult. Being willing to take responsibility for the implementation of a solution is brave.

For every ten employees who identify a problem, only one of them is willing to do the work to find a solution. But for every ten employees who do the work to find a solution, only one of them is brave enough to take responsibility for implementing the idea.

Responsibility is something we naturally refrain from taking. It is too risky. As long as all we do is sit back and name problems, when a problem is fixed we can say “I told you so.” When a solution fails, we can claim “It’s not our fault.” (See: You Always Have an Excuse)

Taking responsibility requires courage. We are putting ourselves in the firing line. If things don’t work, the problem identifiers will point to us as the problem.

Implementing solutions guarantees failure. No one succeeds with every idea. If problems were easily solved, we wouldn’t have so many problems. Few people have the courage necessary to fail, yet good employers want employees who have such courage.

I would far rather have an employee who regularly tries and fails than one who never attempts anything.

Having the courage to take responsibility for implementing a solution garners the respect by true leaders. While bad companies and bad leaders may scapegoat those who do step three, good companies and good bosses will reward them.

There are three basic steps to becoming an extraordinary employee and the good news is that nearly every person is already 33% of the way to becoming such an employee. You already identify problems. Now determine a solution and offer to take responsibility for implementing the solution.

Jul 182014

Thank You (and a Funny Friday Flashback)

All I can say is “thank you.” Those two words are radically inadequate. They are the same words I say when someone passes me the ketchup or moves their leg so I can pass by them in an aisle. Yet these are the only two words I have.

Thank you, Jenny, for being my wife.

Today is Jenny’s birthday. I won’t tell you the number since that is not my story to tell. I can tell you that I am 36 and she’s not much older. Having said that, I can also tell you I may not live to be her age.

Regular readers of these articles know Jenny as their best friend. For 410 posts over the past 16 months, Jenny has edited every word. She has read over 325,000 words and made them better. Without her, many of these articles would be unreadable. (And after she reads this post, she will open her laptop and correct the errors in this post.)

She has done this task five nights a week for 80 weeks with the hopes of bettering marriages, assisting parents, and encouraging faith. Everything you need to know about Jenny can be defined in her work with this website:

  • She unselfishly serves on a daily basis.
  • She expects no credit.
  • She serves people she has never met as though she is serving her best friends.

For that, I say thank you. And Happy Birthday.

In honor of Jenny, here are the top five Funny Friday posts which involve Jenny. She is the one who encouraged me to write the Funny Friday posts which I did for most of 2013 until I ran out of funny material. But these are some of my favorites:

1. The Preacher’s Wife: Being the wife of a preacher is an odd gig. Jenny does it well, but one time she made me think she might consider murdering me.

2. A Small Fire, a Can of Gasoline, and a Test of my Manhood: I nearly killed myself the month before the birth of our first child, but I felt like a man doing it.

3. On George Straight, A First Kiss, and Seminary Women: How many people are willing to write about their first kiss? You won’t believe what song was playing when that kiss occurred.

4. Bad Sax and Things Never to Tell Your Son: “Ask your father,” is rarely a good answer when your son asks “what is bad sax?”

5. On Faking Communion and a Prescription to Drink: Jenny once faked communion and I was appalled. Who fakes communion?

Enjoy the look back on Funny Friday. If you see any grammatical mistakes, let Jenny know. But if you do, also wish her a happy birthday.

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