Thursday, July 31, 2008

Improvement Can Be Tough

It's easy to do the status quo. To get by. Do what you've always done.

But, what about when you're tired of things being "average." Sick of just being decent? Ready to take the next step. To go from "the norm" to "the exceptional"?

It's not easy. Especially when you've been doing certain things for a long time. And, double-especially when there are a lot of people involved.

Many times, we'll see something that can be much greater than it currently is. We see what it COULD be. We see the potential.

At the same time, we see the obstacles. The long uphill battle that confronts us if we begin to implement changes. The toes of those we care about and work with that we may have to step on gingerly (or maybe a good steel-toed boot to the shin). There are lots of reasons to give up before you ever start.

But, while change is certainly work, almost always the rewards will outweigh the challenges we face, particularly if we seek God's guidance in the process. We have no promises of success when we make changes, tweaks, and improvements to the things we do. But, having the right heart, and the right attitude will pay dividends.

It's likely that in your family, your organization, or your personal life, you recognize areas that can be taken to the next level. But, you also see road blocks. You see the bridges that can burn, the finances that can be squandered, and the long hours you may have to invest.

I encourage you to pray about these things. Identify people you can trust and confide in along the way. Develop a plan. And remain (or try to become) humble.

If you trust God as the Lord of your life, you need to know that He is your biggest fan. He wants you to succeed infinitely more than you do yourself. And, He'll be with you as you make changes - sometimes bold ones - to set a higher standard for yourself and those around you.

But, it may be tough. Strike that. It will almost certainly be tough.

James 1:2-5 says this: know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. (NIV)

Persevere, seek God's wisdom, and know He has a plan for you.

Don't settle.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Putting on the Uni

Imagine that you have just signed a contract to pitch for the Atlanta Braves (Lord knows they could use all the help they can get right now). You meet with General Manager Frank Wren, and you seal the deal in ink. You're now on the active roster. You're an Atlanta Brave.

Now, let's say you head down to the dugout, then out onto the field. You're immediately taken down by security. You struggle and exclaim, "but I am an Atlanta Brave!!" But, that doesn't stop them from slapping handcuffs on you and carting you off the field.

You signed the contract, right? So, that makes you a Brave! Why in the world would you be humiliated like that in front of the home faithful? Simple: You hadn't yet put on the uniform. While putting your John Hancock on the contract in the front office made you an Atlanta Braves player, you are only identified as an Atlanta Brave when you put on the uniform.

This is what we teach our people at NorthStar Church. You seal your eternal future the moment you choose Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Nothing can take that away. But, how do you share this publicly? Do you stand on the street corner and blare it to passersby? Well, you could. But, the Bible is clear in telling us that the best way to profess our faith in Jesus Christ is to walk the waters of baptism.

As followers of Christ, baptism is our uniform. It's how others are able to identify us with the One who came to save us by dying on the cross.

Baptism doesn't save you. Only your faith in Jesus as God's one and only son can do that. Instead, like a wedding ring, baptism is an outward sign of an inward commitment. It's a way for you to stand in front of others and boldly claim that you belong to Jesus.

This past Sunday, 97 people put on their uniform for the very first time and were baptized at Lake Allatoona following our church picnic. It is always a moving thing to see people put themselves aside and obediently walk into the water to proclaim that God is #1 in their lives. And, we had nearly 700 people there to celebrate with them! It was awesome!

If you've accepted Christ, but have never taken the next step and been baptized, pray about it. Allow God to move you closer to Him, and to use you as a witness to others who need Him, too!

Put on the uni!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Summer Daze, August Rush

I don't know about you, but perhaps this year more than any other, my summer has disappeared quickly before my very eyes. After all, we're less than three weeks away from school starting back. Yikes!

Our family truly cherishes summer, and we do our best to take advantage of the time off (well, for the kids, anyway). We let the kids to camps, Adventure Week at church, swim at the pool, and - of course - vacation! We work hard, but give every effort to play harder.

And, while we are often in a daze during the summer with all that's going on, it cranks up even more in the August rush. We are coasting along in fourth gear right now, but we'll go into overdrive in just a few weeks - both at work and with our kids' school activities.

So, with all that's going on, how in the world do you maintain balance? How do you squeeze it all in? Is there any way to prioritize things in such a way that you don't compromise your sanity or the time you invest in the lives of your family?

That's what we'll be talking about at NorthStar beginning August 10 with our sermon series entitled
August Rush. We all have the petal to the metal. So, what we've got to do is look at what God has to say about our schedules, our priorities, our families, and our mental health as we navigate our way through the craziness.

I hope you'll be able to join us for
August Rush, and see how God can clear up even the most muddled of pictures if you involve Him in all that you do!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Are You Invisible?

One of the greatest minds in the marketing world is Seth Godin. I have read a couple of his books over the past year, and I think he truly has an amazing gift for helping individuals and organizations understand how things work in our consumer-minded 21st century culture.

Perhaps the biggest lesson I have learned from Godin is this: If you are not remarkable, you are invisible. Think about that for a moment. You can be pretty darn good at something, but irrelevant at the same time. In baseball, you can be a .285 hitter, blast 20 homers, and knock in 80 runs, and make a great living. But, most people won't know much about you - because while those are decent numbers, they are not remarkable.

The same goes in business. You can have a successful company, and you can have your mar
ket share, and you can continue to make widgets, but unless you have done something that no other company has, you will likely never take things to the next level.

Godin says that being remarkable is what separates people, organizations, churches - anyone. And, the thing is, you can be remarkably BAD and still be remarkable. You may do something so crazy, so pathetic, so idiotic, that you (or your company) actually benefit from it from a publicity standpoint - which often leads to success in the back account department.

Almost all of us are quite at ease in our respective comfort zones. But, it's those people who continue to push forward EVEN WHEN things are going well who become remarkable.

I heard a friend relate a story this morning that goes hand-in-hand with this line of thought. He was saying that one of his friends was recently told that the average person will buy a new car every 2 1/2 years. His friend's response: "Well, my wife and I are trying really hard not to be

What a great word for all of us. You can be exceptional if you'll just separate yourself from all the ordinary folks. In order to do that, you'll need to discover what Godin calls "the purple cow."

Here's Godin's explanation of this phenomenon:
Cows, after you've seen one, or two, or ten, are boring. A Purple Cow, that would be something. Purple Cow describes something phenomenal, something counterintuitive and exciting and flat out unbelievable. Every day, consumers come face to face with a lot of boring stuff-a lot of brown cows-but you can bet they won't forget a Purple Cow. And it's not a marketing function that you can slap on to your product or service. Purple Cow is inherent. It's built right in, or it's not there. Period.

Now, let out a big MOOOOOOOOOO...and try to discover the Purple Cow within you!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Insider Terms Create Outsiders

Don't you just hate it when you are sitting at a table with folks engaged in a conversation, and the parties gabbing use lingo that's foreign to you, drop names unfamiliar to you, and laugh at inside jokes that are meaningless to you? How does that make you feel? Do you feel closer to these people, or do you feel like you are being pushed to the edge? Do you feel included, or do you feel insignificant?

I tend to watch ESPN quite a bit. Probably too much. And, in some ways, that network feels like home to me as I channel surf. I know the names and the faces, and I am pretty familiar with the terminology being thrown about on a daily basis. But one thing that continues to rub me the wrong way is their overuse of nicknames when talking to one another.

The other night during the Home Run Derby, announcers kept "tossing it back" to their fellow reporters and TV personalities by constantly using nicknames for one another. It really made me angry.

Baseball Tonight host Karl Ravich was continually referred to as "Ravi." Chris Berman, the long-time stalwart of ESPN, and since 1979 has been the face of the network, is always called "Boomer." John Kruk, former MLB first baseman for the Phillies and Padres is now called "Krukie."

And, a week or so ago, I tuned in for a Sunday night baseball game and heard Erin Andrews, who is ESPN's new darling of the dugout and sideline interview, sent it "back to you, O.B." It took me a moment, but I realize she was referring to commentator Dave O'Brien.

The point is, when you use your insider nicknames and terminology, you turn people off. You make them feel like outsiders, when your goal should always be to invite them in and build relationships with them - even through the TV airwaves.

With respect to your church or organization, your network of friends, and even those you would consider acquaintances, do your best to tear down bridges to building community. Avoid using language that will alienate people, and instead do your best to genuinely try to involve them in the conversation. Be careful about using nicknames and abbreviations for things that are not obvious to everyone in the room (or on the TV or radio). And, never ever be patronizing and make false assumptions.

People want to belong, and ever more than that they want to FEEL welcomed. Analyze your personal communication style and decide if you could do a better job of putting others at ease and creating an atmosphere of INCLUSION rather than one of EXCLUSION.

No one likes to be - or FEEL - like an outsider.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

When You're Done is Usually When God Begins

If you didn't have a chance to catch the Home Run Derby last night, you missed it. I mean, yeah, you missed a bunch of baseballs flying out of Yankee Stadium, but more than that you missed perhaps the baseball story of the year - maybe the greatest story in the history of the sport. That remains to be seen.

Josh Hamilton, the 27-year old slugger for the Texas Rangers, showed the world he's much more than a great ball player: he's a beacon. For the past several years, Hamilton has been about as obscure a figure in sports as one could be. He would have been completely unknown if it hadn't been for his widely publicized addictions to drugs and alcohol.

But, Hamilton made the choice a couple years ago to recommit his life to Christ and allow God to transform him from the inside-out. Take a moment and read this story about how God never gave up on Hamilton - or on his marriage.


Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Always Being Right Can Be Wrong

I'm one of those people who likes to be right. It gives me satisfaction to know that I have come up with a correct answer, or that my sage advice turned out to be on the money.

It's actually something I struggle with every day. I have this deep-down urge to be validated, and I want people to recognize me when I have something valuable to add.

But, as you know, constantly wanting (or needing) to be right has an incredibly high price tag associated with it. In the best circumstances, it leads to people regarding you as the "know it all." In the most severe cases, it leads to people not wanting to be around you at all. Essentially, the "know it all" is excommunicated from each and every group of which they once were a part.

Now, it hasn't nearly gotten that bad in my case, but I've seen it happen. In fact, I am sure all of us know of at least one person in our family or circle of friends who immediately can turn any joyful time into a tense situation. These kind of people suck the life out of everyone around them. They are joy-stealers. More than that, they are just plain miserable to be around.

When we make the choice to value our being "right" over the relationships we have with others, everyone suffers. When we always make things about who's right, who's wrong, who's best, who's worst, who knows the most, and who knows nothing, the consequences can be - and usually are - life-altering.

In the beginning this may not have been a big deal. But the occasional tiff - over time - can easily develop into a pattern of behavior that includes countless put-downs, ridicules, mockeries, and patronizing words that cannot be unsaid or undone. All because the "right" person or persons no longer sees others as valuable and meaningful.

Instead, they want the light shone on themselves. And, that's exactly what they get - more than they ever wanted. Because now the light shines so bright on them that they can no longer see others. And, as we all know, light exposes the things we try so desperately to hide sometimes.

The next time you are in an argument, or even if it's a friendly wager, fight the urge to be egotistical. Instead, be humble - genuinely humble - and refuse to steal others' joy.

Because there's something a whole lot more important than being right: being loved.

Monday, July 7, 2008


If you follow the Atlanta Braves, or Major League Baseball for that matter, you probably heard that outfielder Jeff Francoeur was sent down to the minors last week to the Double-A Mississippi Braves.

Francoeur has been mired in a brutal slump, and is all out of whack. He has changed his batting stance a couple of times, and had even started growing a beard (often a sign of a player who is in a slump - they refuse to shave until they get out of it).

Over these past few weeks, Francoeur has been taking some poor hacks at pitches nowhere near the strike zone. This is exactly the type of hitter that opposing pitchers love to face. The pitcher has the upper-hand because the hitter has absolutely no confidence. And, worse, the hitter is desperate to get a base knock and hopefully shake the funk off his swing - so he swings at everything!

Seeing that Francoeur's troubles were getting worse by the day, the Braves optioned him to Double-A, where the outfielder last played in 2005, before being called up in August that season. I'm sure he hoped to never go back.

Nonetheless, Francoeur spent a whopping three days in Mississippi, and proceeded to go 7-for-13, including a 4-for-5 performance on Sunday. I heard this afternoon that the Braves have recalled Francoeur, and he will be joining the team in Los Angeles for the beginning of their series with the Dodgers.

Now, I am not a Major League player, coach, or scout. But, I'd bet that Francoeur didn't have to be taught anything he didn't already know in those three days in Mississippi. What he did hear, however, were REMINDERS. He didn't need to hear what he was doing wrong, or how NOT to hit the ball. He needed to be reminded of what made him successful in 2005 and 2006.

The same goes for us when we hit the skids. Too often we attend seminars or hire consultants or even ask friends for sound advice, when what we really need is a reminder. A pat on the back, and some encouraging words, and a brief refresher course is often the panacea that eludes us when we are trying to grind it out on our own.

I am a huge fan of Jeff Francoeur. He gives it his all on the field, but he's an even greater role model for kids looking for someone to show them how to battle adversity. I pray his 3-day sojourn helps him turn his season around, and ignites the Braves offense for the second half.

Now, if they could only be reminded what worked in 1995...

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


There's two segments of society in America. The Nows and the Laters.

The Nows are those who want everything, well, NOW. Instant gratification is their game. They pass up the larger payoff LATER for the smaller reward that is right in front of them.

My kids would fall into this category. From time to time, we'll have an exchange that goes a little something like this:

Kids: "Dad, can we have __________?"

Dad: "Well, why don't you wait until such-and-such time, and we'll make a special trip to such-and-such place, and you can have _______________!"

Kids: "But, we want it NOOOOOOOWWWW Can we please? Please. Please. (jumping and smiling)."

Dad: "Well, it's up to you. But, you'll get a bigger/ better ___________ if you wait."

Kids: (puzzled look, like they have no clue what it means to wait for something) "I want THIS one. Brother: "Me too. I want THIS one" (more jumping and smiling, and now clapping and cheering).

And, I just shake my head. I know what the wise choice is, but they see what's right in front of them.

Adults are NOWs also. In fact, I'd bet 90% of adults are NOWs in the United States. They want to get a ________ now and surrender the best that could come later.

It's most often witnessed in material possessions, but it doesn't have to be. It can be compromising myself relationally NOW for what "feels right" instead of making a wise choice and waiting. It could be saying or acting upon something on the spur of the moment or whim, rather than planning and pressing the pause button.

A small percentage of people are LATERs. Later people are typically not emotional in making decisions. They are pragmatic, calculating, and see the big picture. They pass up instant gratification for the big payoff in the long run. They are visionaries for what could and should be. The one drawback to LATERs is that they may pass up a great opportunity in front of their eyes because they fear it could prevent them from attaining their long-term goal. In other words, the risk rarely outweighs the rewards.

So, which category do you fall into? Do you have a tendency to get caught up in the moment and lose sight of what you COULD have later? Or, do you typically weigh the pros and cons all across the board, waiting patiently to make the absolute best decision possible?

In all honesty, in today's world, most people are likely both NOW and LATER people. They want - and often get - the best of both worlds. And, that is why 90% or more are truly "NOW" people. Because NOW people will look at LATER people and think, "I'll get THIS now, but in a couple years, I'll get THAT. I'll upgrade. So, I don't need to wait."

The Bible tells us that those who wait for God's best for their lives will receive the greatest rewards - perhaps not on earth - but in eternity.

In terms of eternity, I think I'd rather be a LATER than a NOW.

How about you?