Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Making the Most of a New Year

There is much to worry us at the beginning of the new year: bombings in Russia ahead of the Sochi Olympics; health insurance questions; what will the economy do? It's a new year but the same questions remain.

It's a new year: it's that time when the Y will be packed with people - for about 3 weeks. I can put up with it for that long and then get back to having a lane to swim in and weights to lift without waiting. Just because a calendar page turns doesn't mean anything is new.

We all know that New Year's resolutions don't work. I've made them - you've made them. And we've all blown them.

If only it were as simple as flipping the page - or getting a new calendar. Wipe the slate clean and start from scratch. The problem is, we take ourselves into the new year. That's why shifting furniture, moving to a new job, making any kind of change often turns out to be the same. We're still there! We're still there with all our habits and hang-ups, with our blindspots and inconsistencies.

I've found some tools over the past couple of years that have helped me make the most of a new year rather than settling into old routines that didn't work before and won't work in a new year. We all know the definition of insanity:

Doing the same thing but hoping for a different result

How do you make 2014 different than other New Year's? You may find some of these helpful like I have:

1) Ask & Answer Questions. I follow a guy named Michael Hyatt. A few years ago he shared some questions to ask for the new year. I have found them helpful and then added a couple. I shared them recently at a dinner with friends and we had a great time with the first one: "If the last year of your life was a movie, what would the genre be?"

We quickly got off the "genre" and onto actual movies! "The Temple of Doom" - scary adventure with a good ending. I might have to add that twist to my list.

I added these questions for my own life, making a total of 10:

  • What leadership lessons did you learn in the past year?
  • What rhythms will you keep in the next year that were helpful during the last year?
  • What 2-4 things would you add to the next year and why do you think they will be helpful? Perhaps stated in the form of goals.

The point is not so much what questions you ask but do you ask questions that help you reflect and gain perspective? The principle I've learned for leveraging the new year: ask and answer some questions about my life and experiences and what I want in a new year.

2) Get a Coach. This past year I did something out of the box and insanely helpful. For my continuing education, I went through the training for an Executive Coach with Sherpa Coaching.
What I learned about myself was more impactful than the skills and strategies for coaching others. It made me a better leader, a better person, a better follow of Jesus.

Interestingly, the key to being a great coach is learning to ask great questions. Considering my first point, it may have fit more than I realized at the time.

There is great value in having someone who will help you get through what is tapping out your leadership abilities. This isn't about life coaching. Executive coaching is about getting rid of the business behaviors that keep holding you back. Home and personal life will benefit as well, but the focus is what's holding you back. We all need someone else to peer into our lives, underneath the outer shell, and help us break free.

The principle: deliberately engage with someone who will challenge your assumptions and give you the tools to climb the next mountain.

I have some guys in my life who help make sure I don't live a sloppy life. But the coaching piece takes it to a new level for a few months that gives life-long impact.

3) Subtract or stop something. I have found that a new year is a great time to jettison something that I don't want, that is holding me back from my goals. It might be a grudge or some unforgiveness. It might be a habit, even a relationship.

2013 brought some significant changes to my life, one of which hit the bank account. Taking a significant pay cut meant finding some ways to make up dollars. So I made a spreadsheet with the starting figure the amount we would be missing through the end of 2014. I'm proud to say we're making incredible progress thanks to the Lord's blessing.

But what I've found is that the presence of the spreadsheet keeps me emotionally anchored in the events of the past. I don't want that going into the new year. So I'm deleting it.

The principle: you don't have to change everything to change everything. Think systemically. Changing one thing in your life will automatically shift most other things.

Don't take everything with you into the new year. Gid rid of something. Don't try to make a list of all the things you think you want to get rid of because you won't get rid of anything. Target one thing.

4) Add something. A consistent encouragement I offer to people is go on a mission trip. Over 26 years, the evidence says that taking 1 or 2 weeks to enter into another culture has the potential to change a person's life forever. Adding something radically different than you've done before gives you new eyes to see life. It just might give you a new heart as well.

Choose something - a routine - a habit - challenge yourself. But first ask this question: What do I want to be different at the end of this new year? Choose something that will help you get there.

The principle: adding the right thing, just one thing, can set your life on a new trajectory. Draw yourself out of your comfort zone, like a mission trip.

What will be different in your life at the end of 2014? The choices you make today will help determine what it is. If you do nothing, then nothing will change.

Have a safe and happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Betrayal of Christmas

Candles and presents, shopping and lights, trees and food. Family, vacations, breaks from school and work all comprise the Christmas season....o, and, of course, Jesus too.

He's almost an afterthought in our consumeristic world. But He is more of a thought at this time than any other during a year. People do think of Jesus, if only a passing thought. It's why it's the best time to make a connection with those who have made it through another year without the influence of Jesus in their daily lives. I've encourged the Church I lead - The Park Church - to invite and actually bring their friends and relatives and co-workers to worship on the 23rd and 24th. To do anything else would be a betrayal of Christmas.

In the past few days, I've been encouraged and challenged by a most unlikely gathering of people. Their lives would possibly never connect except in "the cloud" and in this heart and mind from what I read. Together they've helped me think more deeply and see more clearly.

Pope Francis has intrigued and challenged much of the world with his fresh simplicity and heart for the poor. In responding recently to a headline grabbing critic, he said concerning the bad side of capitalism:
The promise was that when the glass was full, it would overflow, benefiting the poor. But what happens instead, is that when the glass is full, it magically gets bigger nothing ever comes out for the poor.
Our lives were meant to overflow, not simply increase in the capacity to hold - hoard - hang onto. It's a betrayal of our Creator when we enlarge ourselves, making us impotent to transform the world.

John Bogle helped me traverse the financial needs of college and early marriage. We've never met, nor do I expect to, but due to my father's good guess (oops, savvy investment prowess), The Vanguard Group, founded by Bogle, would be a important part of my life. In a recent article out of Harvard Business Review, the author commented on Bogle's ability to make even what is intended to be about him, to be about others. It was not a surprise. That's been the way he's scaled the ladder of greatness. 

When others on Wall Street we're enthralled only with making themselves richer, Bogle got rich (but not to the same degree he could have) by putting the consumer first. Without going into the whole story which you can read here (HBR Blog), Bogle's moves actually created an inability to amass enormous wealth on the scale of most financial execs on Wall Street, due in major part to concentrating on the mass of normal, everyday investors. It's made him a legend of enormous influence. He made it not about himself.

I finished a book on a recent trip, The GO Point, by Michael Useem. He gathered together 50 decison making templates, or axioms/principles, for better decisions. In the sixth chapter, Transcending Personal Profit, he writes:
Nor do American values, especially business culture, actively promote self-sacrifice in the interest of the common good. Yet no capacity is more essential for attaining the right go point. (183).
He goes through some of the glaring historical opposites like Enron and Tyco. In essence, the leader who doesn't have the interests of the customer first, has betrayed what he or she was supposed to do. In other words, "it's not about you."

In this soup for the soul I found myself drifting toward thoughts of Christmas. When we seek to gain all we can no matter what the impact, we are betraying the heart of the One who created us. He is a giving God first and foremost. I've never felt put in second place. Christmas is a celebration of His self-sacrifice (a thought often reserved for Easter) to become like us so that we might be with Him. When we put self-serving above self-sacrifice, we're in the same seat as Herod who wanted nothing else than to hold onto power, threatened by the baby born King.

I wonder. Do we perpetuate a self-serving Christmas when we have our children make gift lists, as if that has become the first thought of the season? Do our modern Christmas celebrations take us down a path Jesus wouldn't travel? I fear we become unknowing participants in a conspiracy perpetuated each Advent season to stuff our trees and our stomachs, effectively enlarging the glass that was intended to hold only so much so that it could overflow to the poor.

Live more simply so others might simply live. It's the theme we're trying to live in my home. It's the focus we're bringing to our community through our Church. It's one way to make sure our lives overflow rather than simply allowing the glass grow. Send me a note if you'd like to learn more. Together we can change our world - one life at a time.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Live Simply - A Christmas Carol

On Thanksgiving weekend we enjoyed A Christmas Carol @ the Playhouse in the Park here in Cincinnati. I've seen it several times over the years, an inconsistent family tradition. This year I heard the story anew, with fresh ears, the words filtering through Live Simply. Live Simply is simple:

live more simply so others might simply live

The words of Dickens' story rang at a new depth to my heart. I had never seen the extent to which Scrooge's obsession with gaining wealth ruined his relationships and ultimately his life, until that Christmas Eve was interrupted by those other worldly visitors.

"what good does it do for a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul"

I was drawn away in my thoughts as I listened and watched Scrooge throw away the love of his life for the pursuit of riches. The play perfectly contrasted the elder Scrooge watching the younger one make such a blunder that would lead to misery. How wonderful - and gut-wrenching - is the gift of hindsight!

Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into
many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people
into ruin and destruction.
- 1 Timothy 6:9

With our move this summer to the a new town, new house, new church, new surroundings we have had the opportunity to make decisions about some of our worldly possessions. Perhaps it's because the process of cleaning out my parent's house (albeit 5 years ago yet fresh in my mind) was a shock to how much stuff we keep that we don't need. Now my father-in-law is moving and the process begins again. And this church doesn't have an office so all those things have to come into the house and there simply isn't room. How quickly we become attached to our things!

Live Simply is about a lifestyle shift. It goes against our consumer mindset. What I am calling for is a radical shift, not a seasonal placation for our hearts. When living more simply is caged in the Advent season, I don't think it goes far enough. Living Simply is year round thinking. It is behavior that transcends a season and embraces a life.

Here are some things you might consider:

  • sponsor a child in Haiti (or somewhere else) through Starfish Kids. It can become a year round project for the family - praying for your child and making plans to visit him or her.
  • Cut in half what you would normally spend on Christmas gifts. Or go all the way and give no gifts.
  • Send a note to relatives and friends and tell them you've made a donation to Live Simply in their honor. Make that your gift to them.

Living simply for us means buying used cars, using coupons at restaurants, combining trips, eating in and so many other daily decisions. It's our daily decisions that lead to simplicity, giving us the margin to be generous. Living simply year round keeps Scrooge from encroaching on our hearts.

If you'd like to participate in The Park Church's Live Simply Project, consider a financial gift which will go to help build a house in Haiti and support a local shelter called Bernie's Place. Our address is: 5788 Zoar Rd, Morrow, Ohio 45152. Clearly mark your envelope and check "live simply." Together we're going to change our world and our own lives along with it.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Live Simply Project

Christmas is the season for: indulging? serving? giving? shopping? debt? family? Which would you say reflects your life?

For the past 10 years my family has been installing braces around our hearts, inner braces that are able to resist the onslaught of our culture that screams: "buy, buy, buy." We're not the only ones. The Live Simply Project is about this choice: "live more simply so others might simply live." For us it's been a call back to the basics, back to the heart of Christmas and the heart of God, whose heart is near to the poor.

Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt
for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the
needy honors God. (Proverbs 14:31)

I'm not about to proclaim that we do it right or even very well. We have a very long way to go. We're on a journey. We started as young parents who were cash flow poor as the average are. We limited our Christmas gifts to 3 per child: "Jesus got 3, we get 3." It was a simple way to keep costs down. More importantly it helped keep Jesus in the open rather than buried beneath a tree full of presents.

We realized we couldn't stuff our tree with presents and say we honor God with our lives.

10 years ago we launched The Live Simply Project in the church we served. The premise was and remains simple: spend less on Christmas, less on ourselves, and give that portion away to the poorest of the poor. It was life-changing for us and those we served. The goal was for lifestyle change not just an isolated seasonal act of generosity.

Choosing to live more simply so others might simply live goes way beyond scattered acts of sacrifice, seasonal decisions of serving and helpful acts of kindness. Those are all good things to do, values to teach our children. But too often our acts of generosity are self-centered. We give what we no longer want. When a food pantry needs donations, I go through my own pantry and find those things that have been there a while and I'm probably not going to eat. When I give that which has no value to me it's not generosity.

Self-centered generosity is looking for the feeling that comes from doing a good deed, but with no lifestyle change in our behavior. Self-centered generosity is scattered individual acts. 

Two good friends run Sherpa Executive Coaching. Their formula is simple: business skills + business behavior = impact on business. They deal with the behavior part of the formula, recognizing that when our behaviors change, our impact changes. If a leader only works on their skills, which is a good thing, but there is no change in behavior, the behaviors will put a lid on their impact. Long term change means a change in behavior, in what a leader does.

Choosing to live more simply is more than working out our "serve others" muscles for a few hours during the Season. The lifestyle decision is more than giving away something additional to what we already buy rather than dialing back the purchases (in both amount and quantity). Lifestyle change is year round change. It's a change in our basic behaviors.

Live Simply is a journey we are on, not a destination to which we will probably ever arrive. The evidence is all around us with our move of 5 months ago. We gave away and sold so much while packing. Then we sold and gave away so much more as we unpacked. We have way too much stuff!

We gathered a lot of it because we were trying to fill a void in our lives but found the accumulation of things left us empty. The void is filled only through changing our behavior, our lifestyle. Live Simply. When our hearts are motivated in June to live in such a way that we can respond generously in December, we've taken some steps down the pathway to living more simply.

This year @ The Park Church, we are moving down the pathway of the Live Simply Project. It starts with giving away the offerings on Christmas Eve Eve (contemporary @ 7 p.m.) and Christmas Eve (traditional @ 7 p.m.). It doesn't matter what our church financial state might be, we will not keep any of it for ourselves. 50% will go to build a house in Haiti for a family still in a refugee camp from the 2010 earthquake. The Park is sending a team of 17 in June. The other 50% will go to a local ministry yet to be determined as of today. We want to partner with a ministry year round not just during the season. Another option also exists - to sponsor a child in Haiti through Starfish Kids.

Stores are opening on Thanksgiving morning this year. The push to accumulate is encrouching, pushing against us to shape us. What behaviors in your life will brace you against the onslaught?

I enjoy the Phillips translation (notice the British spelling) of the New Testament, especially these verses from Romans 12:1-2...

With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers, as an act of intelligent worship, to give him your bodies, as a living sacrifice, consecrated to him and acceptable by him. Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.

Something must provide in us braces against the encrouching culture. Live Simply helps us do that and more. Through the decision to live more simply we press back and change our world. I can't change the whole world, but I can change one life and through that life the world will change.

If you'd like to give toward Live Simply this year through The Park, our address is: 5788 Zoar Rd, Morrow, Ohio 45152. Clearly mark your envelope and check "live simply." Together we're going to change our world and our own lives along with it.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

FISU, World University Games & national anthems

After fielding multiple questions about why there are no national anthems at the medal ceremonies and instead only the FISU Anthem, I asked. Here's what I know.

FISU is committed to putting on a cultural and educational event and to stay away from as much politics as possible. Therefore, it will only be the FISU Anthem that is played. It's actually a fairly depressing song - from what I can tell it's based off an old drinking song. But that could be wrong - remember, you can't trust everything you find on the Internet!

What I saw on the final day of competition, I think, was the epitome of what FISU wants. Sure, the Russians far outstripped the rest of their competitors in medals. It's their home turf and they should bring out their best, as long as they are within the boundaries of being eligible to compete. Did every swimmer want to win? Absolutely. Were there national rivalries - you bet! But it was the last day that summed it up for me. No pictures to show that I know of. Perhaps that's the way it should be.

It was after the final medal ceremony for the Men's 400 Medley Relay. 1st was Russia - 2nd was Japan - 3rd was the United States. The athletes received their medals, came down off the podium, stood under the large screen for pictures, then marched down the far side of the pool. There, lined up, were the U.S. coaches and the Japanese coaches and many of their swimmers. There could have been others but I was sitting in the opposite corner.

The teams were marching in 2nd, 1st and 3rd order, per their position on the medal stand. The U.S. coaches began high-fives with the Japanese, then the Russians, before getting to their swimmers. Then the Japanese formed one of those tunnels. It appeared to me that the Russian swimmers weren't going to follow the Japanese through, but with some encouragement, they did. So did the Americans. That was it. The language of sport transcending politics and things that might divide us.

I read this afternoon a silly news article about one politician suggesting a boycott be considered for the Sochi Olympics. Hogwash! Never should anything like that be considered or done again. Sport can go above and beyond the things that divide us. I experienced it as a swimmer - I've seen it as a coach - I've observed it as a parent and now as an official.

I was proud of the way the U.S. swimmers and coaches conducted themselves but never more so than in that final gesture. Many probably did not see the U.S. men congratulate the Russian relay behind the blocks. Few outside of the Aquatic Palace saw the congratulatory tunnel and hand slapping. Swimmers were glad, coaches were smiling.

Then of course, the Special Olympics athletes who swam a 50 free at the very end. It's great to get gold. It's wonderful to be recognized. Who doesn't enjoy that? It's sport that bridges a gap, communicates across cultures, helps us mend some fences and move forward.

I'm by no means a proponent of "everyone think happy thoughts at the same time and the world will be a better place." I am a believer that our commonalities are far more than our differences.

Here in Russia I've seen the same things I've seen around the world - couples holding hands, people waiting for a bus, shopping malls with the same things we have in the U.S., restaurants, parks and grandparents enjoying grandchildren as they play around a fountain. The people want the same things. The politics and approach to life are different. 

We bridged gaps as officials. We couldn't speak the same language with our tongues but we did speak the same language around the pool deck. There are significant implications in that for the follower of Jesus. That's for another post.

It's been an awesome journey - so far. Off to St. Petersburg for a couple of days, then onto Tallinn, Estonia for 2 days where I'll get to share in a church service, touch base with a Seminary, spend time with my friend Taavet (a student at Asbury Seminary) and then finally home, which I miss. 

Monday, July 15, 2013


Every trip it seems I compose at least one blog about the food I've eaten. I'm pretty adventuresome, will try most anything once - once being the important term when considering things like haggis!

So here are some photos of some of the foods with as much explanation as I can remember

This is a salmon medallion with round fries. That is not asparagus but some kind of garnish for presentation.

Here is a top notch and simple dish of rice with seafood, topped with sesame seeds. Very delicious

We've visited a particular restaurant twice, and probably will return tomorrow for one last good meal. This is 5 kinds of sushi, including: salmon, eel & squid. Very delicious.

A salmon strip on a bed of vegetable salsa. Nicely spiced.

Steak tournedo with mashed potatoes and a few "fat chips." Literally called "fat chips" in the menus - probably why I pulled them out and didn't eat them!

This is the "national soup" of Tartarstan. Simply vegetables and some lamb. Nice spices.

We stumbled upon a really nice Italian place. We were the only two people there for a late lunch and I got this "sea gift pizza." The crust was delicious as was the meat: shrimp, squid, octopus tenacles, a fish (forget the name) and olives. It was good. I ate all but one piece. But I wouldn't get it again. Too "fishy" for pizza for me.

A nice cheese plate with some walnuts and grapes. The dish in the middle is honey, which was very good on the brie, which my companion wasn't as fond of. :)

A marvelous brownie with a liquid chocolate filling with ice cream. The grape-like fruit is apparently good for mental acuity as well as your heart. It was powerfully tart but I still don't know its name.

A chocolate covered mousse with some banana cake inside. Very good.

So that's some of the good food so far. Another week's worth to come and you can bet it'll be something different each day.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Men & Women - the same all around the world

I've noticed something in my travels - so many things are different in different cultures. I've been reminded here in Russia, relationships between men and women are far more similar than different. Let me give you some simple examples:

Last night before Finals, as the officials were lining up to march out, some of the ladies took it as their responsibility to make sure I looked my best. They straightened my collar and my tie and insisted that for the marching out, I had to button all 3 buttons on my suit jacket. I didn't want to but I did after they insisted, all the while talking about me and laughing a little. When I looked down the line at the other men, the ladies promptly got after them......and the men complied!

Is that not what happens around the world? Maybe men generally have less awareness of fashion or perhaps presentation. Women see it as their duty to make sure everyone is in line.

Then afterwards, when most people had changed out of their uniforms and into street clothes, I noticed something else. Shoes. Women around the world are all about their shoes. Tons of different styles and each checking out the others shoes.

God has created us with some internal wiring. Imagine what we men would look like if the women around us didn't see it as their personal duty to make sure we look presentable?

But seriously, we see it in creation, back in Genesis. There is an order to our world. He created them "male and female." Even in the curses of the Fall in Genesis 3 there is an order and we see it at work every day.

God's world has built-in ways and consequences. We violate His created boundaries at our own peril. When we choose God's ways, then He is able to bless us. Able to....He always wants to but when we make a choice to live outside what He has set up, we live in trouble and peril. For instance, when someone chooses to smoke there is a likelihood they will contract lung cancer. God didn't cause it but there is a "built-in" (is judgment too harsh a word). We "reap what we sow." I don't mean to imply that bad things only happen when we do something bad. Bad things can happen when others around us choose to injure or even destroy us through no fault of our own.

Imagine a world where there was fidelity in marriage, where honesty, transparency and integrity were high values. These are some of God's boundaries. Violating them creates bad things in and around our lives.

We may not understand or even always like God's created order but try living within its boundaries - that's where He can bless us. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Clearing it up

I had a great time yesterday officiating in Lane 2 for these World University Games. It was at the beginning of finals that something became clear. The official in lane 2 who was sort of "in charge of me" was trying to tell me something about the clipboards we each had. When I didn't get the hand motions, the lady behind her chimed in with the same words. They each said the words slower and with more defined hand motions. I still didn't get it. We laughed and then I called Evgeny over for some interpretation. They simply wanted to communicate that the clipboard should stay at the seat since we'd be walking back and forth between each heat, whether a semi-final or a final.

No matter how clearly the words were said. No matter how slowly or how emphatic the hand motions. Whether it was said with a smile or not didn't make a difference. I simply couldn't understand the words. An interpreter became the medium through which I was able to understand.

I began to wonder about how I communicate the Good News of Jesus. Do I sometimes just try to say it slower, more deliberately and with greater hand motions? But what's needed is an interpreter. That interpreter has to be me - it is the call of every Christ-follower. The main goal is that the Gospel is understood not that we use certain words or means to communicate. If Jesus is not understood then we have not communicated.

In 1 Corinthians 9:22b-23, Paul lays out the goal and challenge of communicating the Gospel:

"I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do this for the sake of the Gospel, that I may share in its blessings."

I have often found myself committed to a certain method or approach rather than the need to communicate. It can't be about where I'm most comfortable. It always has to be about the one who needs to hear. I certainly know my strengths and where I am best but I should never become so rigid that I'm not willing to be flexible. I am called to be the one who shifts words and methods in order for Jesus to be known.

At The Park Church, (www.theparkchurch.com), we have above the main doors: "Come as you are." It's a commitment to meet people where they are. So many churches say the same words, each week trying to be more clear and precise with them (or not) but communication doesn't happen. We are called to adapt for the sake of the Gospel. We are God's interpreters to the world in which we live.

At work, at home, in the gym or at school - the location doesn't matter. As Christ-followers we are all interpreters for the Gospel. It's not the exclusive realm of the Church or of Pastors. I could be in a totally different career and be just as passionate and effective for Jesus. 

What will you do today to communicate more clearly?

My Canadian friend, Paul, and I are off deck today, planning to see some of Kazan. I'm sure I'll have stories to tell.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Day 1 - WUG - Kazan 2013

Took a good long walk today between sessions, enjoying some of the city on a breezy, nice afternoon. Walking past lots of shops and a few restaurants, I decided to walk into a store. First surprise was not being allowed to carry anything in, including my water bottle, which was kindly locked up in the lockers at the entrance. Second surprise was it was all women's clothing! I didn't stay long. I'm not too smart about some things but one thing I know, it's dangerous for a man to buy clothes for a woman.

There seems to be the usual excitement side and normal day side of life as in any city hosting a large sporting event. Many workers going about their normal day and many stopping in the official Universiade kiosks at a couple of street corners.

Being in a city with a radically different alphabet gives me the feeling of being alone. I recognize very little, although am learning a few words, such as those that indicate a restaurant. At least I know where to eat - and apparently buy women's clothes!

Life goes on. I could feel like "we" at the Universiade are at the center of city life in Kazan. The busses and cars for transportation are all around. The shields that surround construction sites are themed with the Games. The big new venues stand in contrast to the older apartment buildings which used to be the last things from the road to the river. Now the Universiade is.

"In all labor there is profit, but idle chatter leads only to poverty." (Proverbs 14:23)

Idle hands did not build these venues, and they are the ones keeping this city buzzing. Hard work beings great reward, God reminds us over and over in His Word. I saw it today. How is it in your life? I was told, as you were, growing up that "idle hands are the devil's workshop." I've seen it in my life. Hands can be busy on technology, but really idle and get us into trouble. One of the values we wanted to instill in our children was a good work ethic. It's a central part to a Godly life. As is paying attention to a Sabbath rest.

Back to "work" I go for finals. The U.S. did well today, qualifying every swimmer back for finals. Team USA cheered loudly each time. They were good proud moments for me, as was the Russian cheering when they're relay teams both set Universiade records for them.

Here are some photos from yesterday. Thanks, Tim, for the tip.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Catching up

Today's phrase has been "catching up."

6 a.m. to bed is not something I think I even did in college! Maybe a High School Prom night but definitely a strange time for me to turn in. I had some sleep to catch up on, especially after giving my heart a start in the Frankfurt airport. I had to catch up to my phone, which I walked away from to find some food.

When I couldn't find it, I pulled out the iPad and FaceTimed my phone. A nice lady from Lufthansa answered, we laughed (me somewhat nervously), she told me where to meet her and after 15 minutes of walking through that humongous airport, I hugged her, said "Thank you," and sat down.

The Organizing Committee (OC) has done a great job preparing for us, uniforming us and providing great transportation. Volunteers are everywhere and have been very helpful. I even had my altered suit jacket and pants delivered to my room today. Now they're looking for shoes that fit even though I told them I brought other white shoes, "just in case." But I feel like I've been catching up the whole time so far.

Paul, from Canada, is the only other English speaking swim official. A few of the head referees can converse with us but the majority of officials speak only Russian and since we speak only English, I think we're going to get to know each other well this week.

Kazan (emphasis on the first syllable) is a city of contrasts. The vestiges of the old Soviet society with rows of similar buildings is here and then the stark contrast to these fabulous new facilities. Paved streets lead into mud ones after the rain today. Exquisite dining next to high end shopping, bistros (where we ate tonight) and small stores line the Main Street in a similar fashion to most European cities.

We did some catching up on our directions and didn't get lost once, my family might be surprised (but I was with Paul the whole time).

Paul and I will be Reserve officials tomorrow, the first day of swimming, meaning a lot of sitting, being ready to step in if there is a disaqualification call, but otherwise observing the Russian  Federation protocols so we are more prepared to be part of the team for the balance of the meet. We both agreed that was a good call on their part! We'll be catching up with what to do so we don't stick out but can blend in.

Still waiting for my bag to catch up with me. It may be a miracle if it does.

I haven't figured out how to add photos from this iPad. Check out my Facebook page for those.

More tomorrow after prelims.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Over the River & Through the Woods

The first leg of my journey to Kazan, Russia, and the World University Games, was full of excitement almost from the get go. It included my first run through an airport. After all flights on United we're cancelled to Chicago, Polk Travel came to the rescue with a seat on Delta - of course in a different terminal. Downstairs, upstairs, across canyons and chasms to reach a desk, to meet up with a nice young lady, who asked for my boarding pass - the ones I left at United as I sprinted away! The one with my baggage claim number on it. The bag which as of last night had gone nowhere, we think.

Once in Chicago, everyone was very helpful until Lufthansa announced their policy of 1 bag per person and under 10 kg. So I had to check my carry on while still having my backpack. And my first thought was: "I sure hope the clothes I'm supposed to get in Kazan fit!" With the difference in European and U.S. sizes my size 10 shoe could be a child's! Perhaps at least the one bag will arrive safely.

The best part perhaps so far - scoring an exit row on a 747! A very restful nights sleep ensued.
Now a 7 hour layover in Frankfurt. What things to eat - where to find power - make sure I don't sleep through boarding!

For your viewing pleasure, some video from Kazan and the 2013 Universiade. I tried to locate the Opening Ceremonies.......this will have to do. 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Beatitudes, Part 1

My 2013 personal Bible Study is being spent in the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5-7. I'm taking my time, verse by verse, word by word, phrase by phrase. Reading some books alongside is really adding depth to the study. What I'm not doing is taking these chapters as possibly self-contained but rather as a part of the larger Gospel of Matthew. Good Bible Study always considers a chapter or a verse in the context of the larger whole, otherwise bad interpretations will lead to usually unfortunate consequences. I'm well past the Beatitudes but have returned again to consider them and decided to share.

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed = “happy, fortunate"

poor = “destitute, lacking, needy”

in spirit = “draw a breathe,” from the OT “ruach
= “the life principle springing from God”

My friend, Dr. Bob Utley, wrote some insightful words on the phrase "poor in spirit"

"It was often used of a beggar who was dependent on a provider. In the OT this implied hope in God alone! Matthew makes it clear that this does not refer to physical poverty, but to spiritual inadequacy. Man must recognize God's adequacy and his own inadequacy."

"Poor in spirit" also seems to be related to a Hebrew phrase. If my research is right (and it may not be because I don't remember any Hebrew from my 4 week crash course in Seminary), this is an abbreviated idiom that refers to the "poor and crippled in spirit" from Isaiah 66:2. It refers to those that have come to the end of their own strength.

When I add this to the definition of "spirit" being the word used for the breathe breathed into Adam, I can hear Jesus' voice speaking to the condition of my soul. To be poor in spirit means lacking in the necessary life breathe that can only come from God. I'm not sure if this is the best translation in my own words but what comes to mind is: "Blessed and fortunate are those who get knocked on their butt and are able to realize they have nothing in themselves that is good. When that happens, you're on your way to the Kingdom."

This is a theme we can follow through the Scripture:

"I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.” - Psalm 16:2

I see it in Paul's description in Romans 7:18 "For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out."

The good that is in us is there because of the presence of Jesus. We cannot manufacture it. We cannot will it into being. Only through an outpouring of God's Spirit can our "poor spirit" breathe new life.

At Easter I will be starting a new message series titled: "Unexpected." It will take a short journey through the Bible touching on a few of the unexpected things that can happen and what we can learn about ourselves and about God. It's on those unexpected detours and in those delays that we find some new things. Perhaps it's those unexpected things that remind us we are poor of spirit and therefore truly blessed.

Do you know you are "poor in spirit?" What new life is God breathing into you because of it?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A Few Things I've Learned from Using Evernote

As I spend some time purging, organizing and sorting (did I mention purging), I've run across a wealth of teaching, training, challenge and encouragement I forgot I had. I'm on a paperless crusade thanks to Evernote (if you want to learn more about using this tool, I'd suggest starting with Michael Hyatt's blog posts). This electronic filing cabinet puts all that learning, all that reading, all that studying, at my finger tips. Since December I've scanned over 5 GB of information, nearly emptying my paper filing cabinet. The two shelves of 3-ring binders, one for each book of the Bible, chock full of sermons, study notes, teachings and Seminary notes are now empty. All scanned and accessible.

Here are some lessons I've learned:

1. Thank you Asbury! I am so thankful that my alma mater is Asbury Seminary. I have colleagues who have kept little to nothing from their schools. I found Asbury to be relevant then and 95% of it still relevant today. The Inductive Bible Study classes were so practical and still provide me today with a wealth of insight and knowledge. I've practiced that approach in my personal Bible Study but scanning in all those notes really helped refresh my heart and encouraged me to press on. The notes from Dr. David Seamands' class on Pastoral Counseling - WOW! Asbury Seminary class notes are the ones I didn't throw out after scanning. Thank you Asbury!

2. Focus on foundations not fads. I went through phases in ministry and could follow them by the articles and notes I kept. Honestly, this was tough to swallow. I saw what I would now see as fads, not long-term helpful ministry foundations. It made me ask the question: What am I focusing on today that will be gone tomorrow?

3. Purging is important. I threw away a lot of stuff that I didn't scan. I kept too much. So I'm asking how I can be more discerning? Using Evernote doesn't change my ability to keep things I don't need. In fact, I just deleted a handful of notes I realized I didn't need to keep.

4. Information is good - Access is necessary. Possessing information and having access to that information are two different things. Evernote gives me access to the notes from books I've read (I have several ministry servants type up notes of quotes), articles from magazines such as Harvard Business Review and Leadership, significant and insightful blog posts and more. The most immediate impact has been to my teaching role. Evernote has provided a powerful search engine for the words, articles and books that God has brought my way. Of course, having access to information and actually using it are two different things as well!

Here's one example of some great teaching and encouragement that had been buried in paper files. I'm glad I kept it. I'm really glad I now have access to it!

From the World Methodist Conference in Brighton, England 2001 - a teaching with late British evangelist Rob Frost: "Communicating the Gospel in Today's World."

1. You need a burden for the lost otherwise you won't have the heart to continue

2. All evangelism must be church based      
--> During the 1st century of Methodism it reached the unchurched      
--> During the 2nd century of Methodism it switched to Sunday School, reaching people within. The invention of Sunday School turned out to be a a detrimental shift in focus from evangelism by individuals through relationships in the community to an internal job of the church.

3. Evangelism must be incarnational - be where people are - Jesus touched, healed, was in the crowd and mixed with outcasts

4. Evangelism must reach the unreached not the already churched or saved - John Wesley liked to say that we should "go to those who need you the most."

5. Evangelism must invite people to belong - not just 4 steps - it's a relationship - evangelism moves people in a relationship of trust

6. Evangelism must be culturally relevant - can't reach surfers in a suit

7. Evangelism must address felt needs: meaning, security, loneliness, spirituality

Evernote has been a tool to help me uncover hidden gems. What could you do with it?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A Relationship Toolbox - Conflict

The number one indicator of relationship health in marriage is how a couple handles conflict. That's what the research says.

Last weekend at Cornerstone Church we completed our Relationship Toolbox with this addition of handling conflict well. The five tools - forgiveness, choices, sex, money & conflict - are the essential building blocks of healthy, God-honoring relationships. Get these wrong and relationships will implode (or explode). Get them right and they provide the atmosphere, soil and fertilizer for growing a great relationship.

I don't always handle conflict well. I tend to be one of those that fights - versus flees. If there is need for a discussion due to a disagreement, I'll walk across the hall or set up a meeting to discuss it. I won't talk with someone else about it. But there are times when it just doesn't matter. A peace-maker will avoid conflict. Neither is the best approach. Running to conflict and running from conflict are both problematic. There is a happy medium to be found. Here's some of how I find that place:

1. Conflict is not bad. Many Christ-followers have this idea that harmony and peace are the highest goals of God's Kingdom. The Bible doesn't support that. Just read Acts 15 and we find two conflicts, one of which was so severe that it divided the world's first missionary team, Paul and Barnabas. God used the conflict to double the number of missionary teams and so the Gospel won and that's what mattered most.

The presence of conflict doesn't mean Jesus has left the relationship. When more than one human being is present, there are going to be disagreements and conflicts. Most are easily worked through, like the personal preference ones (paint colors, music, food, etc....). Some are more serious, which leads to the second thing.

2. Focus on the relationship. When the conflict is bigger than a personal preference it can easily escalate. As soon as I focus on myself, I lose sight of the bigger prize - the relationship itself. In marriage, if my wife loses, I lose because WE lost. Being in relationship with someone, whether in the strong covenant of marriage or the bond of friendship, means we are choosing to set some of our wants and desires aside in order to grab hold of the benefits of the relationship. In marriage it is a much bigger deal as "two become one" and we no longer belong to ourselves. When my wife wins, we win.

3. Speak less and listen more. I tend to become defensive. The best defense I've found against defensiveness is to shut up. Proverbs 10:19 says: "Where words are many sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise." It's one of my favorite verses because I need it so much. Conflict always ends better when I listen. If the other party insists on winning then I can walk away with peace in my heart if I've practiced this verse.

4. Ask the right questions. The use of "why" tends to heighten the defenses because it goes straight to the core of our being. On the other hand, asking "what" keeps the doors and windows open. "What led to this approach?" instead of "Why did you do this?" can help conflict lead to something productive rather than destructive.

5. Stay in the room. This is a favorite phrase of my friend, Dan. It is rich with wisdom. God's desire is that every relationship head toward redemption. It doesn't mean people have to agree on everything. It does mean that you remain at the table, engaged in the relationship. Leave the room and you forfeit the right to speak into or about the relationship with integrity.

We leave the room in all kinds of ways: raising your voice; making all-encompassing accusations with words like "all the time" or "everyone"; phrases like: "I dare you....."; and physically leaving the room (office, workplace, relationship).

One of my favorite insights into leadership came from the late Yankees manager, Billy Martin. When asked, "How do you manage a baseball team?" he answered:
There are 25 guys on the team. 5 of them love everything you do and would follow you to hell with a squirt-gun. 5 of them hate everything you do until the day you resign. 15 just want to play ball. Who would you listen to?
Conflict doesn't mean you can't lead. It just might be a matter of figuring out who to listen to the most.

Conflict is inevitable. How we handle it can either help us mature or it will isolate us. We made this last in the series because conflict comes up in the other three areas more frequently than any others. We made forgiveness the foundation because we all must learn to walk in forgiveness every day. If I know how much I'm loved and have been forgiven, I can easily forgive others, on the spot, on a daily basis.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Relationship Toolbox - Money

At Cornerstone this coming weekend (January 27th) we're continuing our series on the 5 key things we must get right to build healthy, God-honoring relationships. Money is our focus. Get money wrong and it can mess up everything, preventing the cohesion needed to stay together whether as friends or spouses.

1 Timothy 6:10 “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”
When we are more eager for money than we are for Jesus we will wander from our faith and inherit “many griefs.” The original Greek word refers to "pain of body and mind; to have sorrow."

For our culture, the invention of the credit card has brought more pain than anything else because it's brought the one thing that limits our lives more than anything else – DEBT! The pursuit of things has created in our culture a love for money. And it has brought all kinds of pain or body and mind to those who live to be a consumer.

The more debt we incur the more our lives are determined ahead of time. When we go into debt it means we're pledged to pay for a certain period of time into the future. Our time is determined ahead of time and our options are limited. Debt forces us to decline the options God brings our way.

Money is the number 1 conflict issue in marriage. Second is sex and third is family relationships, especially with in-laws. We have to get money right in order to grow healthy marriages and strong friendships.

My wife and I made a couple of commitments early on in marriage that I think have made a difference:

1. She takes care of the books. This is important - really important. For one thing I'm not very good at math!! She has done a great job navigating our financial journey.

2. Tithe first. We are committed to giving 10% and more to Kingdom ministry. It's the minimum God expects of us. We put 10% into the local church and then give on top of that to things like building campaigns, the Live Simply Project, missionary support and more.

3. Buy used cars. 90% of the cars we've ever bought have been used. We don't care what color they are, what kind of seats they have, whether or not they have bells and whistles. We care about safety and gas mileage. We know if we spend less on cars we'll have more to spend on other things, including the surprises God might bring our way.

4. Pay cash as often as possible. We've loved the invention of the debit card. We can keep better track of our spending but also not make it a credit card purchase. We've also finally gotten to the point of being able to pay cash for cars.

5. Pay off credit cards each month. We're not into carrying credit card debt. One of the ways we limit this is to follow rule: always walk away before a big purchase, take time to think. We try not to buy on impulse.

6. Save. After we tithe we save, we pay ourselves. A good rule of thumb we've tried - but not always been able to do - is 10% tithe - 10% savings - 80% spending. As we age and have more spendable income we plan to increase the first two.

Money is a tool provided by God to sustain our lives and build His Kingdom. Use it well and life can flourish. It's not a matter of how much you have but what you do with what you have. How are you doing?