The 4pm Battle

ImageIt’s four o’clock in the afternoon, and my mind is teaming up with the treadmill next to me busting my chops about working out. I’m in a phase at the moment of seeing exercise as a mortal enemy. It’s the holiday season, for cryin’ out loud! I think I’m entitled to a little pecan pie and dressing and Christmas cookies and…okay, so maybe more than a little. My jeans are nagging reminders that it’s time to break out of this sweat-averse frame of mind and “bring it!”

I’m reminded of how my annual ebb and flow of healthy eating and exercise is much like relationships. You can really get in a groove with a relationship, and things hum along. Then it becomes so familiar, so automatic, that it becomes a little cold. When you realize that coolness has set in, you slow your efforts to keep it moving forward. Next, it gets a bit stale, kind of like fruitcake that’s been left out too long. Now, you have reached a point of decision: do you just keep sitting around, making no effort, or do you get up and make a fresh start to revitalize the relationship? One choice leads to the potential death of the relationship; the other leads to growth and moving it forward.

Just like a healthy lifestyle, healthy relationships require constant attention. You’ve got to be willing to work hard and practice self-discipline to keep them going and growing. You must take initiative, reach out, go out of your way, allow inconvenience into your life, and put the other person first (are you sweating yet?).  Like working on your body, working on your relationships builds strength and endurance into your life. What relationship do you need to invest energy into today? Who are you thinking about that needs you to “get off the couch?” The results make it worth the effort!

Wow! I may have just talked myself into putting in some time on that treadmill after all.

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The 4pm Battle

ImageIt’s four o’clock in the afternoon, and my mind is teaming up with the treadmill next to me busting my chops about working out. I’m in a phase at the moment of seeing exercise as a mortal enemy. It’s the holiday season, for cryin’ out loud! I think I’m entitled to a little pecan pie and dressing and Christmas cookies and…okay, so maybe more than a little. My jeans are nagging reminders that it’s time to break out of this sweat-averse frame of mind and “bring it!”

I’m reminded of how my annual ebb and flow of healthy eating and exercise is much like relationships. You can really get in a groove with a relationship, and things hum along. Then it becomes so familiar, so automatic, that it becomes a little cold. When you realize that coolness has set in, you slow your efforts to keep it moving forward. Next, it gets a bit stale, kind of like fruitcake that’s been left out too long. Now, you have reached a point of decision: do you just keep sitting around, making no effort, or do you get up and make a fresh start to revitalize the relationship? One choice leads to the potential death of the relationship; the other leads to growth and moving it forward.

Just like a healthy lifestyle, healthy relationships require constant attention. You’ve got to be willing to work hard and practice self-discipline to keep them going and growing. You must take initiative, reach out, go out of your way, allow inconvenience into your life, and put the other person first (are you sweating yet?).  Like working on your body, working on your relationships builds strength and endurance into your life. What relationship do you need to invest energy into today? Who are you thinking about that needs you to “get off the couch?” The results make it worth the effort!

Wow! I may have just talked myself into putting in some time on that treadmill after all.

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Dream On

We all have our dreams, don’t we? You know what I’m talking about…that one thing that you keep thinking about doing “one of these days,” or when you “get around to it.” Maybe it’s starting your own business, moving to another area of the country, going back to school, or putting your passion and skills to work on something you really love. Sometimes your dreams can get you a little confused, usually when you share them with someone else. Perhaps that person discounts or belittles your dream. Sometimes you just second-guess yourself or doubt your own ability to actually make your dream a reality. Behind all these obstacles may be that nagging notion of wondering if you’re just being selfish by even entertaining such a dream. How can you know if your dream is really something worth pursuing?

I tend to believe that if you are wholeheartedly pursuing God and striving to align your life with His agenda, that God plants dreams in your heart that sprout and grow as time goes by. It could very well be that your dream was inspired by God Himself. If that’s the case, then pursuing that dream is not selfish at all–it’s reaching for the potential God designed for you! We sometimes interpret Psalm 37:4 (Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart) to mean that God will give us whatever our hearts desire, but that’s not the case. The psalmist is saying that if we pursue God with all our being, He will put His desires in our hearts. That means we will desire the very thing that God desires! That’s where the dream comes from: right from the heart of God.

Now, how can you determine if your dream is just a selfish preference or a desire from God? First, ask yourself, Will this dream make God smile? By that I mean, will making that dream a reality please and honor God? If you see God being glorified in it, He probably planted it in your heart. Next, does God confirm the pursuit of that dream by His Word and through other people? If He gave it to you, He will speak confirmation to you as you read the Bible and talk with other people He puts in your life. Finally, do you have a growing sense of peace and confidence about taking steps to fulfill that dream? If you know it will make God smile, and you’ve experienced confirmation, God gives peace and boldness to take those first steps, which can be the hardest. But you can move forward to fulfilling that dream.

Orient your entire life to God’s agenda, ask Him to put the desires of His heart into yours, then pursue that dream with all you’ve got. God is the ultimate Dream-Giver, so…dream on!

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Of Trees and Rocks

Have you seen those signs along the highway that say something like “Unlawful to Remove Trees or Plants Along Right of Way”? I think my parents are partially the reason for those signs coming into use. I remember as a kid when we would go on trips if they saw a tree sapling or unusual plant along the road, we’d pull over and dig it up, take it home, and plant it somewhere on our property. There is an oddly-shaped pine tree near my brother’s driveway that we uprooted years ago on a trip to Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I know now why Dad kept a folding camp shovel in the trunk of the car.

Also, we were prone to stop and pick up rocks, too. My Dad was a “rock hound” with his own rock polishing tumbler. If he saw a unique rock near the road while driving, we’d stop and load it in the trunk. If it was too big for the car, we’d come get my brothers and go back with the truck to retrieve it. We’d go on “rock hunting” expeditions on Sunday afternoons, looking through piles of gravel for uniquely shaped or colorful stones that he could polish and add to his collection of polished stones. There is still a pile of those big rocks we gathered at their house, and Mom still has many of those polished stones in a planter in the house.

I find myself picking through gravel in driveways sometimes, looking for those pretty little pieces of rock. I can’t say I have the urge to pull over and dig up botanical specimens, though. A fella could get shot doing things like that in Texas. They take their plants pretty seriously. Nevertheless, I like that I can see things of my Dad in myself. I take pride in the fact that some of his interests are my interests as well. In a similar way, I pray that characteristics of my heavenly Father find expression in my life. I just want others to see the love of God at work through me. The saying goes that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. In my case the pine cone doesn’t fall far from the pine tree that Dad dug up in Alabama.

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Southern Exposure

Our recent trip back to the Smoky Mountains of east Tennessee just reminds me of our rich Southern heritage. We who are blessed to be from Dixie have a unique culture all our own. No other region of the country can boast of such unity, understanding, and a widespread shared culture. You see things like “G.R.I.T.S.–Girls Raised In The South,” and decorative signs for your home that read “A.S.A.P.–As Southern As Possible.” I don’t think you’ll see any “Girls Raised In The North” merchandise or “As Northern As Possible” plaques in Toledo or Minneapolis.

We have our own styles of music, from country and bluegrass to rock and roll and blues. Oh, and the accent! From a northern point of view we all sound pretty much alike, but we know there are different accents by region of Dixie. My home state of Mississippi has at least two distinct accents, one in the north, the other in the south. We can spot a phony Hollywood Southern accent a mile away.

Hospitality is a big deal in Dixie. You sneeze in the Wal-Mart parking lot, and the door greeter will run out to say “God bless you!” along with every nearby shopper. Neighbors take care of each other and bring food over when someone isn’t feeling too well. Drivers still give a small friendly wave of acknowledgement to other drivers they meet on the two-lane roads. Our yards are generally not fenced in except to keep the neighbor’s cow out of your garden spot or to separate pasture from yard space.

Our word use and phrasing is unique as well. I grew up hearing my grandpa saying things like, Just put it in a poke (sack), and I’ll be back directly (soon). Comparative phrases like tighter than Dick’s hatband, lost as a ball in high weeds, and busier than a one-legged man in a kick fight were used to describe people we knew. Being tickled to death was not a terminal experience; it just meant you found something to be really funny, or that you were extremely pleased over something. My brother was on a business trip with people not from the South and made the comment about a local restaurant that “They were covered up last night.” His companions were bewildered by what he meant, imagining the restaurant underneath a large tarp. They asked for clarification, and he said he meant to say that the parking lot was full the previous evening, so it appeared to be a popular eating place.

Yes, I’m proud to be from the South. I suppose any person could say they’re proud to be from wherever they grew up, but that’s what is so great about our country. We are a nation of diversity and variety, and our patriotism runs deep. It’s just a blessing to be an American…especially from Dixie.

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Staff Affection

A friend who managed several gas station convenience stores once said something that stuck with me. In his characteristic slow drawl, he said, “You can’t hire a good cashier and train her to be friendly; you hire a friendly person and train her to be a good cashier.” Pretty sage advice for a business dealing face to face with customers all day. But that advice fits in other areas of life, too.

Churches go about staff-building by creating a position they think they need, then they go try to find someone to fill it. We have convinced ourselves we just can’t be a real church without a pastor/minister/director for every ministry or age group, or we want to keep up with the programs of the church down the street. The Church, Inc. structure demands a staff-led environment. We need professionals to head up the critical ministries of the church, so when a new position is created, or a current position opens up, we go headhunting to find the best possible person for the job.

We’re going about it backwards. Start with the people God has already placed in your church, and design leadership roles around them. Those gifted individuals will guide you to what God wants done. Start with the passion and gifting of your people. I really believe God wants to use the people He has already placed in a church to lead it (Eph. 4:11-12). When we think we have to start sifting through resumes and go looking for a trained professional from somewhere else (“God’s man” as we term it), we’re just perpetuating the notion that church is a business. I’m not saying at all that God won’t lead a church to look outside for leadership, just that we should not think that’s the only option. The Head of the church knows what He wants done and who He has best equipped to do it in each church. We get ahead of God or we miss entirely what He wants to do through His people.

Build on the passions, skills, and gifts of your people. Train them, then release them.

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Leader Identity

Do you know that account in the Bible where Paul and Barnabas get into a heated disagreement over taking a kid named John Mark with them when they were about to go back for another round of planting the gospel and encouraging fresh churches (Acts 15:36-41)? The few sentences that describe this incident may not communicate the emotional impact of the personalies involved. First, we have Paul, a strong-minded “git-‘er-done” high D personality. Then, there’s Barnabas, the likeable gentle-spirited encourager. We have two extremes on the very first mission team in church history. Yeah, that’s gonna work out just great! You put together a former Pharisee with a nasty reputation for breaking kneecaps, and Barnabas, a Jew with Hellenistic upbringing outside the land of his ancestors and you’ve got a partnership made in heaven.  Actually, that’s how it turned out..I mean, only God could put two such individuals together and it work.

With which character in that account do you most readily identify?  Paul, the general? Barnabas, the advocate? Or how about John Mark, the backpeddler? You know which one you are! If you’re a Paul, you think the Barnabases are weak and unfocused. If you’re a Barnabas, you might think the Pauls are abrasive, distant, uncaring. Truth is, whether we’re a Paul or a Barnabas, we each need to take on certain characteristics of the other.  Pauls, you need to pay more attention to people development and exercise patience.  Barnabases, you need to make the hard choices and deal head-on with issues.  One is not better than the other; each balances the other.  That’s why God put these two guys together; they made for a balanced team in their strengths and weaknesses in the time they were together.

However, you are not given a pass to say, “Well, I’m a Paul-type personality” or “a Barnabas-type personality” to excuse your lack of certain traits needed to be a more balanced leader.  Paul was wrong about John Mark.  But Barnabas could have been just as wrong about him, too.  It turns out that as Paul was near the end of his life he commented how valuable John Mark was to him personally (2 Tim. 4:11).  Have you ever noticed how Paul seemed to mellow out just a bit in his dealings with individuals the older he got?  He starts out in-your-face, take it or leave it, then transitions to a kinder, gentler Paul.  I think the same may have happened with Barnabas, just in reverse.  I suspect he got bolder as he got older.  Not that he became a grumpy old man, but that his gentle, people-pleaser way became tempered by a willingness to be the bad guy when necessary.  I think that process is true of any of us.  As we grow in our understanding of the gospel and our passion for God and people, it has a way of creating a holy balance in our core of being and relating.

Consider one more thing: you need a “Paul” in your life, someone who will confront and challenge you.  You also need a “Barnabas,” because you might be John Mark!  But you may also need to be a “Paul” or a “Barnabas” for someone else.  Seek to find balance in your approach to leading and relating to people.

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