Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Foul Tips

I don't profess to be some marketing guru, but a thought occurred to me today. Many of us spend hours brainstorming ways to communicate our business or organization's wares, only to see that a particular "stunt" or campaign his virtually no effect.

In baseball terms, sometimes when we are at the plate trying to hit 'em out of the park, we just swing and get a foul tip. We don't get a base hit, and we don't strike out. We just manage to make contact, which has little or no effect on the outcome...except that we earn the opportunity to take another hack in the batter's box.

It can be frustrating to implement new ideas, and share your vision with your audience, only to revisit the drawing board because nothing sticks.

As it pertains to ministry, we can generate some pretty amazing graphics, sing amazing worship songs, deliver sermons with passion and fervor, and give people the warm fuzzies. But, unless we have given people ways to apply what they see, hear, and learn it's pointless. It's a foul tip.

At NorthStar, we have more meetings than you probably care to know - specifically designed to help equip people and provide relevant ways for them to apply their faith to real life. Sometimes, we flop. Our hours of creative brainstorming, mind wrestling, and debating don't always translate into practical and easy paths to the life change we so desperately desire to see in the hearts of God's people.

But, when we go through each sermon series and tie in ministry opportunities, ways to connect with God, ways to serve others, actions to display God's love - then we all win! That's when the foul tips become seeing eye singles, ground-rule doubles, and the occasional stand-up triple. It's about getting runners on base, then letting God "knock 'em in."

And, when we get a Home Run, we know it was God - not us - who was in the batter's box. Because no one wants to see positive life change, and His word applied in peoples' lives more than He!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Mixed Messages

If I had only been able to reach my digital camera in time. We were driving down to Florida's gulf coast earlier this month, and I saw something pretty funny - and quite confusing.

We were in Alabama (where else?) and parked on the side of a hill along Hwy. 331 was an old conversion van.
The van stuck out like a sore thumb (remember, not too surprising since we were in South Alabama), so I had to look at it. As we neared the van, I was able to read the white shoe polish writing on the front windshield:

$1,000 Firm OBO

Now, it could just be me, but when you say something is a firm price, that usually means that you are not willing to negotiate. So, basically, the seller of said van was wanting to be up front with potential buyers that he wanted to get $1,000 for the van - that he was not willing to yield on that issue...well, unless of course the buyer didn't really want to pay that price, in which case he'd consider a lower offer...your BEST offer.

Plain and simple, this is a mixed message. Confusing to the passersby because the sign paints two conflicting messages.

We live in a world where we see this all too often. The tragic thing is that it's not 1978 conversion vans. It's people. Men and women who send a mixed message to those with whom they come into contact. People who, on the surface, are kind and pleasant and well-meaning, but who, in reality, are just as self-centered and rotten as the "average" person.

And, I am no different many times. I can easily get caught up in the emotion of the moment when things don't go my way and completely erase any positive witness I can provide for those around me. For example, missing flights really tends to bring out the hidden beast within - just ask my wife!

Even as followers of Christ, we can often be so blinded by our own circumstances that we fail to see the myriad opportunities we have to show someone who Jesus is through our words and actions. It's in those times of adversity that we really have the chance to make the longest-lasting impact on someone else - good and, often times, bad.

But, responses to circumstances is not the only mixed signal we can send. We do it in many other ways. It can be someone who claims to have a "servant's heart," but who always takes the best for himself - the best parking spot, the best place in line in the grocery store, the best seat at the table in the restaurant.

It can be someone who claims to love the Lord and her family, but who dresses inappropriately to attract an inordinate amount of attention to herself. In fact, I recently read a t-shirt that read "Modest is Hottest." You don't see that too often. And, as a married man, I resent women who reveal too much. I mean, it's impossible for a man to not notice these things. But, women often complain that guys gawk and stare too much. Here's the truth - we don't plan to gawk. We'd prefer not to. OK, enough on that subject - you catch my drift.

The bottom line is that we have to work hard - and work constantly - to make sure our hearts, words, and actions line up. That we are not sending mixed signals to a world so desperately seeking truth and authenticity.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Wicked Cool!

Last night, Amy and I went to see Wicked at the Fabulous Fox Theatre in Atlanta. What an incredible show! Totally blew me away. Amy and I have had the privilege to see many of the best Broadway shows, and Wicked ranks at or near the very top of the list!

If you have not seen this incredible show, you need to try and get some tickets. It's playing at the Fox until November 2, then - POOF - it's gone. Even if Ticketmaster doesn't have tickets available, check out Craig's List - you will find plenty of tickets for sale on there!

Anyway, so I was reading in our playbill last night about the story behind the story. The author of the novel (which was adapted into the Broadway production), Gregory Maguire, was intrigued by the subject of evil - how someone - or something - ends up being labeled as "evil" - or wicked. Maguire recalls a time back during the first Gulf War, when Saddam Hussein was compared to Adolf Hitler in a newspaper headline. And, based on the headline, he was already influenced to think about Hussein in a certain way - before he read a line of the article.

Maguire continued to ponder the nature of evil - what caused it, and the fact that behind every evil person or deed, is a story. In essence, there's more to who someone is than what appears on the surface.

He had been searching for a way to explore the questions he was raising, and wanted to find a universal figure with whom many people could identify. So, he determined that next to Adolf Hitler, the scariest person of his generation was the Wicked Witch of the West.

“The more I thought about it, the more I thought how perfect she was because everyone knows her, but no one knows anything about her. I mean, we know she’s a lean, green, flying machine, but we don’t know her history.”

And, although he was apprehensive about tackling such a predominant figure in literary and cinematic history, he forged ahead with the novel that would ultimately become Wicked.

“The story was appealing from the beginning,” Maguire says. “I would tell friends that I was writing a book that would tell Wizard of Oz from the witch’s point of view and they were very interested."

Interesting is an understatement. The story is fascinating. And completely unconventional. It stirs the soul in so many different ways - through humor, romance, anger, mystery, and the expression of freedom.

In the end, Wicked struck a chord within me. When confronted with evil - whether on TV, in the news, or with people around me, I will have a tough time simply chalking it up to "they're bad people." There's a story behind the story. There are factors involved that we don't see, and don't know.

And, I'll be reminded that what (or who) is wicked today, wasn't always.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Worship Ain't Just Singing defines the word worship as follows: reverent honor and homage paid to God or a sacred personage, or to any object regarded as sacred.

As far as I can tell, and correct me if I am wrong, the words "singing" or "song" are not mentioned here. I mean, singing is certainly one way we can worship. But, it's merely one of many ways we can do it.

I was listening to a podcast, and the speaker made the following comment: "Song guys have hijacked that word (worship). It is not theirs. When they say 'Join me in worship,' I say, 'nuh-uh...I'll join you in singing, and maybe some of us will worship.'"

I gotta say that I agree. Just because you are singing does not mean you are worshiping. I am A-#1 guilty of this. I find my mind wandering all the time during "worship." The worship leader may or may not be worshiping, but his primary goal (or job or calling) is to direct people towards God's holiness and love and forgiveness through song.

Worship takes many forms. If you want my honest opinion, we ought to worship the Lord in all that we do. Does that mean I have to walk around throwing out Bible verses and exhortations ad nauseum? No. But, it means I need to point people to Christ through my attitude, my actions, my words, my expressions, my everything.

Tough to do.

I distinctly remember a worship leader making the comment one time in a service that his prayer was that we (as a church body) would worship God and be as enthusiastic about Him as we are about our favorite sports teams. In fact, he made reference to a huge victory just the night before by the Georgia Bulldogs (my team of choice).

That comment has stayed with me because I want the same thing. Not just for our church, but for ME! I want to be more excited by what God is doing in my life, and in the lives of those around me, than I do about the SEC standings or an acrobatic Knowshon Moreno touchdown dive. But, the truth is that it doesn't always happen that way.

The verb tense of worship is: to feel an adoring reverence or regard for (any person or thing).We have lots of idols in our lives, don't we? We may not sing about them or bow down to them, but they are things we worship. Things into which we pour the best parts of our beings. Things to which we give ourselves away.

We were, in fact, created to worship. Not things. Not other humans. But God, and God alone.

It's OK to get pumped about your favorite team, or your favorite actor's new movie, or a new song from your favorite band, or a new book from your favorite author. It's not a big deal if you appreciate the finer things in life. But, we've got to put it all in perspective. Those things will not last, and those things cannot sustain you when you are at the bottom of the pit.

Lavish words of honor and praise on your Maker, your Savior, your Redeemer. Be kind to others because He loves you. Give because He has so blessed you. Serve because He serves you. Worship Him, and watch Him transform you from the inside out!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Uncommon Courtesy

One of the things that really irritates me is being in a meeting, or at a lunch appointment, and the other person excuses himself or herself to answer their cell phone, or to return emails on their PDA - or worse, takes the phone call at the restaurant table.

What it tells me (even if it's not true) is that the phone call is more important than the time you are spending with me. It makes one feel somewhat insignificant.

Now, I am not getting onto the guy whose wife is 8.95 months pregnant, and he could get "the call" at any moment to head to the hospital (or home to get his wife!). I'm talking about pretty much any other scenario, however.

You may say, "But, I HAVE to answer my phone or return my emails - at any given moment! My job - or my life - depends on it!"

I say, "Wake up! Reality check!" Even though you may THINK you are that important, you're not! Or, if you think every phone call you receive it the MOST's NOT!

And, here's some inside info: that person who is waiting for you to come and sit back down at the table - the one you want to impress with how "needed" you are - is actually put off by your actions.

Now, before you get all huffy, I am not saying that you should never answer your phone during your meeting. I'm saying you shouldn't even bring your phone to the meeting. Leave it in your car, or in your office. That way you're not tempted to answer it when it rings (or dings - with a text or email).

You may say, "the horrors!" You think there's no way you can pull that one off. But, maybe you need to try.

I made a personal rule a couple years ago that I would not bring my phone with me to a lunch appointment or a meeting. If I am just going out with friends or co-workers that I see every day, I allow myself to bring it on occasion. Or, if I ride to lunch in someone else's car, and I don't feel comfortable leaving it in their vehicle, I may take it inside. But, I still rarely answer it if it rings.

For the love of Pete, I implore the "Crackberry" and cell phone addicts to please...step away from the phone! Be present - fully present - with those with whom you are spending your precious time.

It's an uncommon courtesy, and a choice you will rarely - if ever - regret making.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Hang in There

The instability of the financial landscape over the past couple weeks has been rather unsettling, but it should really not be a huge surprise to anyone. Things like this happen.

I mean, a year ago, the Dow was over 14,000 points, and everyone was thriving. But, we all know that the stock market has its ups and downs, and after a prolonged period of artificial highs, the market always adjusts to correct itself.

That means down times. Slipping prices. And, at times, plummets in your 401K or portfolio.

I have listened to both Clark Howard and Dave Ramsey this past week, and they are in complete agreement on how to handle our current "crisis": just hang tight.

Howard and Ramsey each have said that everyone should continue (or start) to contribute to their retirement plans and mutual funds. The low times are the BEST times to buy!

Remember, if you have stocks or mutual funds, you own shares. Your shares hold certain values at certain times, depending on the market. You have not "lost" any money UNTIL you sell and "cash out" at a lower rate than what you initially paid for your shares.

So, here's a good question: Why in the world would you sell stocks and funds now? Why would you cash out at a time when stocks are 35 percent lower than they were a year ago? You don't! You buy!

Even if you are no longer contributing, Clark Howard says to stay the course. He points out that despite the volatile nature of Wall Street, we really only see a handful of huge gains throughout the year. And, we can rarely predict when these dramatic spikes will happen. So, Howard strongly advises people to keep their money where it is, because if you take it out, you are likely to miss the GREAT days that really create those big jumps in the value of your funds.

Here's a headline that I just read from today's news:

Dow posts big gains in early trading

If you were one of those who pulled your money out last week, you missed out on the 311 point surge the Dow had immediately after opening this morning (we'll see where it ends up at the end of the day).

Here's some advice: do not look at your 401(k) statement more than once per year. Especially if you are under 50 years old. You will have your money there until you are at least 59 years old, and perhaps until 63 or 65. So, it doesn't matter what happens right this minute.

Just hang in there. And buy-buy-buy!!!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Impressions of Catalyst '08

OK, so I just got home from my second Catalyst experience. For those of you who have never heard about Catalyst, it is an annual leadership conference, primarily geared for today's Christian leaders in ministry and business. It's a three-day deal held at Gwinnett Arena in NE Atlanta.

Here are my thoughts on Catlyst 2008, while they are fresh in my mind:
  • The place was packed out! There were more than 12,000 people who crammed in this year. Any time you get that many passionate people together for worship and teaching, it's pretty amazing!
  • As always, the worship experience at Catalyst was incredible. Say what you will about "concert-style" worship, but when you have 12,000 voices in unison praising God, it is powerful.
  • Steve Fee and his band were top-notch! If you have never heard about Steve Fee, or have not yet picked up his newest CD, I'd say it's a "must."
  • We got a unique surprise on Thursday, when Switchfoot lead singer John Foreman came out and shared one of his original (yet to be released) worship songs. Great stuff!
  • My favorite speakers this year: Steven Furtick, Dave Ramsey, Matt Chandler, and Seth Godin. Of course, Andy Stanley was outstanding, but he speaks every year.
  • Perhaps the most moving experience at this year's conference was when TNT's Ernie Johnson, Jr. interviewed William P. Young, author of the New York Times bestseller, The Shack.
  • Learned that the most analytical authors make the poorest oral communicators. They have great information to share, but reading their books is preferable to hearing them speak.
  • The "sick" popper from Fox's So, You Think You Can Dance? came out and worked the stage with his amazing skills. His name is Robert Muraine, and he is sensational!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Being Tardy isn't a Party

I gotta be honest. I debated as to whether or not I was going to write about this subject. But, it’s a subject I see becoming more relevant each and every day. It’s not just something that concerns me, but a habit or behavior that has consequences far beyond just aggravating someone.

It’s called chronic tardiness. Always being late. Making people wait on you and for you. For everything.

In my younger years, I would have a tendency to be late from time to time. Never a habitual problem, but I would often fail to give myself ample time to arrive at my destination in a timely fashion. And, even when I did, I was getting there at the exact time – never giving myself a cushion.

What are the consequences of constantly being late? Well, if you are the one who is always running behind, then there are several things that result. First, you are likely always in a rush. And, because of this, you cannot help but cut corners – relationally, professionally, and emotionally.

You are never able to slow down to invest in the lives of others. You are working on hyper-drive to complete tasks that warrant more focus. And, you cannot possibly develop the necessary passion for people or endeavors that are the most meaningful to you. There’s a ripple effect here.

Second, you damage relationships. As if hurting yourself professionally isn’t enough when you are always late, you lose credibility with others when you constantly hold them up. Once or twice in a blue moon is certainly not a big deal. But, when you cannot honor others by being somewhere on time, it’s rude. And, it’s selfish.

Look, I am not talking about getting caught in an unexpected traffic jam. And, I am not talking about arriving late because of an unforeseen family issue. I am speaking specifically about folks who are not only late all the time for everything, but those who refuse to make necessary modifications in their schedules or behaviors to begin to kick the habit.

There is an old saying that goes, “Better an hour too soon than a minute too late.”

If we all began living this way, the changes would be remarkable. You see, for some reason we believe that we are only making the most of our time if we are cramming more and more into it. But, this isn’t true. If I have three things going on in my day, and I add three more, what happens? Each of the six tasks suffers. My plate becomes heavy, and the investment I can make into each agenda item becomes more watered down. And, on top of it all, I am forced to hurry, compromising my ability to effectively complete each one.

If, instead of running around like mad, we began to value others’ (and our own) schedules by arriving early, we would increase productivity and lower our stress. And, we might even be able to slow down enough to catch the things that truly matter to us - the things that we are flying by when we are only concerned about our destination, and not the journey.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Common Problems, Uncommon Faith

We have a series that begins this week at NorthStar that is centered around one of my favorite characters in the Bible. He's a guy whose most extraordinary trait was his unwavering confidence that God was always near no matter the circumstances in which he found himself.

This is a dude who, as far as we know, did nothing wrong. No, he wasn't sinless, but we never read about any immorality or poor choices in his life. He loved people. He thought about others. He planned ahead. He was forgiving. He was compassionate.

Despite his loving nature, his life was marked by wrongdoing - and he was the one who was repeatedly wronged! He was thrown into a pit and left for dead. He was sold into slavery. He was framed for rape. He was thrown into prison. He was forgotten by those he helped.

But, this man never lost hope. He persevered through constant misfortune. What separated him from the rest of the world at that time was his unshakable faith in his God.

By the world's standards, he was average. There was nothing outwardly about him that suggested he was - or ever would be - anyone who would ever amount to much of anything. But, while others may not have noticed anything special in him, God was at work developing the person who would save an entire nation from a devastating famine.

Who was this guy? He was the oldest son of Jacob's beloved Rachel, and he was favored by his dad over all of his 11 brothers. He was a dreamer, and he was the ultimate model of integrity. His name was Joseph. And, though we regard him as someone who was larger than life, the fact is that he was just an Everyday Joe.

He was a normal guy who was the victim of some pretty incredible injustices. But, it was his uncommon faith in an omnipotent God that changed his life - and the entire nation of Egypt - forever.

Join us beginning October 5 at NorthStar for a four-part series called Everyday Joe, and find out Joseph's secret to finding peace and claiming victory in some of life's most desperate circumstances.