Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Loners, Leaners, and Life-Givers

Despite the fact that there are more than seven billion uniquely created people on the Earth today, similarities exist among all of us – physical, emotional, behavioral, religious, intellectual, and many others.  But, when it comes to how we live our lives, I believe we can categorize people into three primary groups: loners, leaners, and life-givers. Let me explain.

Some people are staunchly independent.  Not just in their desire to accomplish things without anyone’s help, but with respect to their aversion to spending time with other people.  These are the people who don’t see much value in others.  They believe one of two things: either others are inferior to them, or that they are inferior (worthless) to others.  They have few, if any, meaningful relationships with other people, and only connect with others when they absolutely need to (or have to).  Further, they have a tendency to withdraw and isolate themselves – whether out of fear or indifference.  They are loners.

The second group of people is almost the polar opposite from the loner.  They are so consumed by fitting in, by being accepted by others, that they overly subject themselves to the thoughts and opinions of those around them.  They are worried about their appearance, about whether their ideas will be valued, and will at times compromise their beliefs and actions to feel acceptance.  Many of these types of people do not enjoy spending time alone – mostly because they find their identity in those with whom they associate.  These people often have opinions, but opt to keep them to themselves for fear they will create conflict, which could ultimately lead to a relational rift.  They are often peacekeepers, and desperately want to be liked by everybody.  If they believe someone has a negative opinion of them, it will gnaw at them incessantly. They are leaners. 

The third type of individual may slightly overlap into the loner or leaner category, but mostly they spend their lives absorbing experiences like a sponge.  They enjoy spending time with others, but also embrace the opportunities for reflection and devotion that is allowed by time spent alone.  Where the loner (superior/ inferior) or leaner (smothering, needy) can be a “life-sucker,” this type of person breathes life into others. They use the wisdom they have gleaned from others along the way to strengthen their connection to those around them.  They are not self-centered, but are others-centered.  They never allow an experience to be wasted.  They are joyful.  Others who spend time with them walk away refreshed and energized.  They are life-givers.

Are there seasons in life when we may be a loner or a leaner? Sure.  The difference is that the life-giver is resilient. He takes his desert experiences to learn from them and bless others, rather than using it as an excuse to “be mad at God” or bear a grudge, or as a justification for sin.

John Ortberg once wrote that there are two types of people: those who are living, and those who are waiting to live.  For the loner, living may mean wandering outside your comfort zone to surround yourself with others who can breathe life into you.  For the leaner, living may mean you need to spend time talking with God, finding your identity in Him rather than in those around you.  Perhaps you have become less concerned with the Creator, and more concerned with His creation.

We all aspire to be life-givers.  In order to do so, we must admit our weakness, and seek to fill our lives with the only thing that truly satisfies: Jesus Christ.  He was – and is – the ultimate Life-Giver. Through him, we can offer that same life, and hope, to others we see each day.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Laugh it Up!

This year marked the 20-year reunion for the graduating class of my high school.  I don’t talk about it too much, but I've been bitter since Senior Superlatives day, when I was the runner-up in the vote for "Wittiest" student among my peers. What did they know? I have always felt like I was robbed. There's no question I was the wittiest! Ironically, I was a distant 438th in the vote for "Mr. Humility."
That same year, at our Senior Class dinner/party, I did receive a pretty distinguished and unique honor: I was awarded the “Most Likely Not to Receive an Award” Award.  Seriously.  And, guess who presented that certificate to me: the girl who is now Mrs. C.A. Phillips!  Who’s laughing now?!!??! Bwaaaahahahaaaaaaa…

But, all maniacal laughter aside, I have always believed that my sense of humor - even at inopportune times - is an asset that has been genuinely beneficial over the course of my 38-plus years. And, I just confirmed that notion, as I took a "humor self-test" online at 

I scored a 60.  In real life, that is a failing grade.  But, on the sense of humor scale, I am up there with Robin Williams, Jerry Seinfeld, and people who voted for Obama.  Here’s the web site’s analysis of my responses:

Your wacky sense of humor rocks! It appears that you can laugh at just about anything, including yourself -which is way cool! And hey, if you can't laugh at yourself, who can you laugh at right? Just kidding. Of course you know you have to make sure you're not offending anyone right?! In any case, most people probably get a kick out of your wit and most likely love hanging out with you. We think you're pretty funny too!

Why does all this matter? Well, scientific studies have proven that laughing people are more creative and more productive, and hence are better teammates in a work environment. Further, it has been shown that laughter can add up to eight years to someone's life! So, I’m really 30 in “laughter years”!

Here are some additional benefits of laughter, as posted by Lonnette Harrell on
·         Laughter reduces the level of stress hormones, and increases good hormones like endorphins, which act as natural painkillers
·         Laughter strengthens the immune system, leading to less sickness
·         Hearty laughter exercises the diaphragm, the abdominals, and stimulates the heart
·         One researcher found that it took ten minutes on a rowing machine to reach the heart rate produced by one minute of enthusiastic laughter
·         Studies by UM Medical Center in Baltimore found that laughter may prevent heart disease, and also lowers blood pressure

So, how do you think you'd do on a sense of humor test? Take a minute to take the 10-question exam and see where you stand. You can find it here:
If your score is above 50, then congrats! If you are hovering in the 30's or 40’s, then you may need to go roll a neighbor’s yard, inhale some helium and talk like a Munchkin, or rent the Naked Gun or Airplane! movies tonight.

Now, pull my finger.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Know Thyself

When I started on staff at NorthStar Church back in 2004, I completed a comprehensive personality profile.  The goal was to not only help our church management understand how I may best fit in, but also to help me understand myself a little better.

It has been nearly eight years, and I pulled out that file today.  I couldn't even remember if I still had it, and I was thankful that I was able to find it.  What I read was absolutely spot-on (well, probably 95 percent accurate).  Here are some highlights:
  • I like to develop people and build organizations
  • I am sensitive to criticism of my work
  • I influence people with my warmth
  • I prefer a "team approach"
  • I like quality social relationships
  • I like managers to make quick decisions
  • I like to be involved in the decision-making process
  • I will not be overlooked nor uninvolved
  • I am deadline-conscious
  • I have a positive sense of humor
  • I verbalize my feelings
  • I am a good mixer
  • I need systems to follow
  • I need strokes for my involvement
  • I need time for relating and socializing
  • I am a good "team player"
  • I enjoy participation in meetings on future planning
There's much more, but this list is dead-on when it comes to identifying ways to motivate me and to provide my ideal work environment.

Reading this list was a great way to remind me of how I need to fit in, but the report also gave me some valuable techniques on how to more positively interact with others, and how I can communicate more effectively with them.

If you've never completed one of these evaluations, I highly recommend it.  Perhaps you can even mention this to your employer as a "benefit" they can provide their employees and the organization as a whole.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

What God Did When Sid Slid

Click image to watch video highlight of "The Slide"

I remember the night.  I was glued to the TV with my best friend and college roommate at the University of Georgia that fateful October night in 1992.  All seemed hopeless.  It was Game 7, and the Braves were down 2-0 in the bottom of the 9th inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Doug Drabek had pitched masterfully - 8 shutout innings thus far.  

The Braves' half-inning started with a double deep into the right-field corner by Terry Pendleton.  David Justice then hits a routine ground ball to Jose Lind, the Gold Glove-winning second baseman.  He boots it.  Runners at 1st and 3rd.  Sid Bream then walks on four straight pitches.  Doug Drabek is pulled from the game.  Enter Stan Belinda.

Ron Gant hits a deep fly ball to the warning track, which plates the Braves' first run.  2-1 Pirates.  Catcher Damon Berryhill then walks to load the bases once more.  Pinch-hitter Brian Hunter then pops up to 2B, leaving the bases loaded with two outs.  

There was one player remaining on the bench.  A kid named Francisco Cabrera, who only had ten at-bats that entire season.  He steps in, and laces a pitch down the left-field line - foul into the stands.  The next pitch is up and out, but Cabrera reaches out and hammers it to left field.  Justice scores easily, but the slow-footed Sid Bream is hoofing it around third base.  He makes a wider turn than Braves fans would like to have seen.  Bonds fields in left center, then throws home...

We see Sid pumping his arms, chugging and willing himself toward home plate.  The throw from Bonds is up the first-base side of home plate.  Catcher Mike Lavalierre has to reach for the throw.  Justice and Otis Nixon are begging for Bream to get there...waving their arms up and down, urging him to get down.  And Sid slides...

We hold our breath and lift up a prayer...SAFE!  And, the immortal words of Skip Caray ring in our ears..."Braves win!  Braves win!  Braves win!  Braves win!...Braves Win!"

The Braves commemorated "The Slide" this past weekend at Turner Field.  On the stage were Sid Bream, Francisco Cabrera, and home plate umpire Randy Marsh.  After the brief ceremony - which took me back to my college apartment to relive those amazing moments - Sid Bream addressed the 30,000+ fans gathered at Turner Field.

I am paraphrasing here, but what Sid Bream shared was something along these lines:

"If we were to go back and do it over again, I am sure Bobby Cox would have put in a pitcher to pinch-run for me.  Things may have been done differently.  But, God had a plan.  He knew that when I scored that I would be able to stand up and tell thousands of people about my personal relationship with my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."

When Sid slid, the Braves won.  But, more than that, God received glory, and many more people - through Sid Bream's testimony - got to hear about a Savior who often enjoys taking the world by surprise - even by allowing the slowest player on the team to score the most dramatic game-winning run in franchise history.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Parenting for Dummies

Am I the “World’s Best Parent”?  Heck no!  But, I believe I have enough common sense to be among the top 10 percent or so.  At the very least, I am not in the bottom ten percent.  Comforting, I know.

The old adage that “anyone can make a baby, but not everyone can be a parent” is absolutely true.  I have seen some awful parenting over the years – and I have only been a parent myself for 12 years now.  Those of you who have been parents much longer have seen far worse that I have in my dozen years as a dad.

Recently, my wife and I went to see the movie The Grey, starring Liam Neeson.  I didn’t realize it until we were seated in the theater, but the movie is rated R.  As the previews were beginning to roll, I saw a young dad bring in his son, who looked to be about five years old.  They sat on the front row.  At almost the same time, I looked to my left, and saw a mom and dad being seated with their son, who may have been ten years old.  I just shook my head.  

Finally, just as the movie was beginning, two young couples (reeking of cigarette smoke – that is another topic for another day) slithered into the row in front of us.  One of the couples had their daughter with them, and she was maybe four or five years old.  I felt SO uncomfortable knowing that this little girl was going to be subjected to this movie – and I hadn’t even seen the movie yet!  The parents likely didn’t want to get a baby-sitter, and thought it was “wise” to bring the daughter on their gore-and-profanity-laced double-date.

Without giving away anything in the movie, there are brutal sequences of blood and violence.  Wolves are attaching the survivors of a plane crash, and it’s not a pretty site.  Further, the dialogue between the men is enough to make anyone blush.  Some of it is humorous, but some of it is also too vulgar for 30-somethings to hear, much less preschoolers.  It was difficult at times concentrating on the movie, when these idiot parents had their young children sitting in the theater.

Irresponsible parents are everywhere.  It’s more frightening than the hundreds of people who are texting and driving all around you on the roads.  These “adults” are making poor decisions that also personally affect the hearts and minds of their very own children.  It shouldn’t be a shock that many kids parent themselves these days.  They’ve never been introduced to any guardrails in their lives to keep them on the right track.  And, whether you agree or not, kids need boundaries.  Further still, they WANT boundaries!

My wife and I have a rule about movies.  Our kids – ages 11 and 7 – do NOT ever see R-rated movies.  Sometimes, we will allow them to see PG-13 movies, but only when we have seen them first, or if we have investigated them enough to know there is no sex, very mild language, and no drug use.  For example, they can see the Harry Potter movies with us, or Pirates of the Caribbean-type movies.  But, we are still very selective of the PG-13 movies.

Dumb parenting decisions are unfortunately not limited to the movie theaters.  Parents allow their kids to have entirely too many privileges without the child having to earn any of them.  Many parents also choose to “respect their kids’ privacy” by not sticking their nose in their children’s business.  They lie to themselves and say that their children and teens need their independence, but really it’s just laziness. And, it’s irresponsible. I’d much rather have my kid be mad at me for knowing what is going on, than to NOT know and be sorry later.

And the end of the day, it’s about common sense.  People just don’t use it.  And, they fail to consider the consequences of being a terrible parent.  They want to be buddies with their kids instead of providing loving discipline.

   A refusal to correct is a refusal to love;
   love your children by disciplining them.
  Proverbs 13:24 (Message)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Swallow Your Pride

It can be excruciating. Dreadful.  You may have a tendency to avoid it like The Plague.  Few things are as bitter as the humble pie that is digested when we do it.  It’s a word that we rarely use, but is called for often: apology.

Smart creatures we humans are.  So much so, that our tendency is to always believe we are correct.  About everything.  All the time.  Our guts tell us so, even if our hearts waver.

Perhaps you are having a friendly disagreement with a co-worker.  Soon, that laughter wanes into a wry smile, and then pretty soon that smile is gone, and the eyebrows furrow.  You are certain that you are right, and you will stake your life on it!  

This happened to me several years ago.  I was certain that UGA faced Penn State in the 1982 Sugar Bowl, and Pittsburgh in the 1983 Sugar Bowl.  I bantered about with a co-worker, who said I was wrong.  I was absolutely confident. But, so was he.  We were at an impasse.  What happens at an impasse of this nature?  Yep – a wager!

We went straight to the trusty ole internet.  I could taste victory.  I couldn’t wait to rub it in. The Sugar Bowl results from years past began to load on the page.  We scrolled down the page, and just like I fully expected…OH NO…wait a second…this can’t be!  So, we had to look at another web site, and another.  For the love of humanity…I was…w-w-wr-wro-wrong.  It still pains me to even type it.

Being humiliated by a co-worker is one thing, but what happens when it involves your spouse?  I’m sure you’ve never done this, but once or twice in my 15-year marriage, I’ve said or done something that hurt my spouse in some way.  Even today, my initial tendency is to defend myself and explain away the problem.  Interestingly, the more I turn into an attorney, the bigger the problem becomes.
Humbling yourself and apologizing to your spouse is difficult.  I’m slowly (too slowly, likely) learning that if I will just accept responsibility and offer a heart-felt apology, we both begin to heal.  Being “right” doesn’t really pay off like you think it will.  Trust me.

Spouses really have a tough time with this.  Each feels justified to act a certain way or do certain things.  My good friend Steve Roach once told me he could solve virtually every marriage conflict with three words: “Get over yourself.” 

Scripture is clear that we are to treat others how we want to be treated. When Paul wrote to the church at Caesarea Philippi, he encouraged them to “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3).

That is tough stuff right there.  But, when we refuse to apologize for things we’ve done wrong, we leave less room for forgiveness and grace to be offered.  Instead, hearts harden, and minds wonder.
It’s brutal to have to swallow your pride when it involves your husband or wife. No one enjoys it.  

But, I struggle the most with apologizing to my kids.  I don’t mean things like, “I’m sorry you didn’t get to eat dessert,” or “I’m sorry, we just don’t have time to watch a movie.”  I mean saying you’re sorry for treating them harshly or putting them down.

I tend to be mild-mannered, and have a long fuse.  But a couple times as a parent, I have said or done hurtful things to my kids.  On the two occasions I can recall this happening, my heart ached.  I knew I hurt my son, and it was unbearable to me.  I can remember on both occasions going up to his room, sitting beside him on the bed, looking him in the eyes and apologizing to him.  Each time, he said, “It’s OK dad, I forgive you.”  Not only did this make him feel better, but I knew each of our broken hearts had begun to mend rapidly.

Have you treated someone unfairly?  Have you been wrong? Did you say something that hurt somebody, and have let it linger far too long? Take’s Steve’s advice: get over yourself.   

Then, go apologize and experience the freedom offered through forgiveness!