Inspiration

inspiration-01My head hurts. It’s not the kind of pain that needs medication or even a glass of water to cure. Inspiration is the relief I need. After starring at my MacBook Pro screen for several minutes I have decided that there is one elixir that will prime the creative process. I pack up my laptop and head towards the exit while pulling on my coat. It’s cold out there today. I lean into the door and feel the chilly breeze hit the exposed skin on my face and hands. What a difference a day makes here in Alberta. Just yesterday the snow was melting. I pick up the pace in an effort to get to the comfort of my car as quickly as possible.

The familiar beep notifies me at that my car was locked and is now unlocked. All too often I forget to the lock the doors. At least I got this right today. Reaching for the door handle I gingerly use my fingertips in a vain attempt to stay clean. Fail. My hand is coated in a grimy combination of wet dirt and salt from the underside of the handle. Great. I open the door, ducking my head and nestling into a very cold leather seat. Now what am I going to clean my hand with? Opening the glove compartment I see hand lotion, insurance papers, a Bible, phone charger and a pack of gum. No napkins in sight. I was sure I had some in here. I must have thrown them out the last time I cleaned the interior. This is one of the drawbacks of being a clean freak. Spaces may look organized but they lack preparedness for such an event. Note to self; buy some wet wipes. They are the Swiss Army knife of cleanliness and will come in handy when the kids are in the car. I decide to carefully grip the steering wheel with my palm, trying to avoid further mess.

Slipping the tiptronic gearbox into reverse with an almost imperceptible shimmy I glide out of my parking spot. As I engage the car into drive I use my muddy hand to pull the lever of my windshield washer fluid. I don’t want to get any filth on the lever, but I also don’t want to impair my vision. Sometimes a compromise must be struck. The wipers burst into action as the pale blue washer fluid cuts the dirt on the windshield. For the first few arcs of the wipers there is an audible scratch of the rubber blades cutting through the road grime, until finally the washer fluid has done it’s job of removing the bulk of it. Now all that’s left is the large spot at the base of my windshield on the drivers side and the strip at the top of my passenger side where the blade obviously doesn’t make contact with the windshield. This bothers me something fierce. Note to self: order the new wiper arms online-it’s way cheaper than the dealership.

Now on my way to my destination I turn on the radio. Without fail it’s set to the local sports station and all they can talk about is our team’s dismal play. I’m not sure why I subject myself to this inhumane torture. It must be out of bad habit. In this city it doesn’t matter what the time of year, hockey is the only topic that’s given any meaningful attention. My mind wanders. Searching. I need an idea! Then louder and with more urgency, Come on! I need an idea! With the flick of the signal light I check my shoulder and turn into a nondescript strip mall. Seems every strip mall in North America has a fast food restaurant, pedicurist and coffee shop. I look for the closest parking spot I can, but when nothing is available I pull through into a spot where I can make a quick getaway without needing to put my car into reverse. This is how spies park, or so I think.

I walk towards my destination. I don’t need a pedicure, but I am craving creative stimulation in a cup. I lean into the door and am met with a burst of warm air on my face followed by the tantalizing and invigorating smell of freshly ground coffee. Instantly I am hit with a bolt inspiration. I know what I will write about!

Crush Your Goals This Year!

DSC_0173Standing centre stage at the Citadel theatre, arms raised in exhilaration and joy, I drank in my 15 seconds of fame. I had never seen my abs before, but now I knew that the rumours were true; I really did have a six pack, and I had the confidence to show them off to everyone in the auditorium. All the hard work had paid off. I had achieved my goal of getting into the best shape of my life and competing in a physique competition. Regardless of my placing, I knew I was a winner, and it made all the protein shakes I had consumed in the past months taste sweeter than honey at that moment!
On the other hand, there was a bitter taste left when I badly missed my goal of completing my first book by the end of the year. I was disappointed at myself, and I felt that I had let down others who had cheered me on in my pursuit. I started well enough, writing on a consistent clip in the early morning and letting people know what I was doing as an added level of accountability. Then I missed a day, and another, and before I knew it I had fallen from my writer’s desk and I couldn’t get back up. Someone call the medics!

What was the difference maker between success and failure in reaching my goals?

PROCESS.

Focus on the Process, Not the Goal
When it comes to completing a goal I believe the number one factor in determining whether you will achieve it or not is a proven process. Each day I had my meals prepped so that I would never get hungry and be tempted to sabotage my diet at McDonald’s. I knew the exercises I would do and I wrote down every rep, set and weight lifted. Nothing was left to chance. I hired a knowledgable trainer at a considerable cost who would kick my butt if I slacked off. Rarely did I think about the competition day. I just knew if I didn’t compete hard today, I would never arrive in my best shape possible on competition day.
However, with my writing I was so focused on the goal of delivering a book by the end of the year that I got deflated. A few bad days of writing caused me to lose faith that I would be able to reach my goal. Then rather than push through, I avoided writing. Deadlines weren’t met and the dream died a slow and painful death.

Process is a Daily Discipline
If you don’t brush your teeth daily there is a good chance that you will have a pretty mean, rotten and incomplete set of fangs in a matter of time. Daily discipline doesn’t need to be drudgery, it can be absolutely liberating if you let it. I got used to morning cardio sessions, chicken breast and broccoli. I started to feel energized, and because I was in a routine, I always knew what the next step would be. I loved it (except when the sugar cravings really hit me around Easter!) and got tremendous satisfaction seeing my body transform right before my eyes. Even random people would stop me in the gym to ask me what I was doing differently. Bonus!
Meanwhile, back at the laptop, after a few missed writing sessions I got used to sleeping in a bit or doing other things with my time. Netflix became more important that writing, and I let myself slide completely out of any formal routine of writing. Without a consistent time to get my thoughts out, the battery drained completely and the screen went dark.

If you are trying to complete a goal or two this year, ask yourself the following question:
Am I more focused on the goal or the process?

One day at a time, may this be your year of accomplishing great things. Remember, if you want to reach the Payoff, you will have to go through the Process.

Now about that book I was writing…

Hard Skin, Soft Heart

hard skin soft heartSometimes it sucks being a Christian leader.

Many days there is more wading through garbage than triumphal procession.

A visionary dreamer saved his entire family and the the nation of Egypt from the brink of starvation through wise decision making. A passionate and dedicated young man defeats an army when he slays a giant, and then plays his heart out to soothe his stressed out king. An upright Jew exiled in a foreign country refuses to slide into moral decay. Instead he uses his leadership acumen to help his captive nation flourish. A man of common pedigree bursts into the spotlight when he teaches with an uncommon authority that stumps the educated and draws the masses, performing miracles that had not been seen since the days of Elisha.

You would think that they would be paid handsomely for their actions. Accolades, awards…ticker tape parades.

Think again.

Joseph was beaten by his own brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused and forgotten to rot in a jail cell. David spent a decade dodging spears and running for his life. Daniel is framed by his enemies and thrown to the lions. Jesus is betrayed by one of his closest “friends” and is nailed to a Roman cross.

So why are we surprised when our best intentions are skewed and those we think should have our back end up stabbing us in it?

In his final days on earth, Jesus gathered his disciples and gave them a pep talk to encourage them before he left the earth. I don’t think it was very comforting. In fact, it was almost comical how bleak it was. Jesus promised the disciples that they would be hated by the world because he was also hated. They would be persecuted, thrown out of the synagogues, killed, scattered and experience many trials and sorrows (John ch. 15, 16). As an encore he exclaimed, “Take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Basically Jesus says, “This is going to happen, but I have already won, and I am with you…so live with courage.”

So Christian leader, when you experience people trash-talking you, trying to undermine you, or flat out doing whatever they can to destroy you, keep these things in mind:

Don’t be Surprised
Jesus promised this would happen (remember the bit where he said “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first” John 15:18). Even Christians can be very worldly, and ‘friendly fire’ always hurts the most. The next time you encounter troubles, don’t let it surprise you. Instead, be ready for it so that you can deal with it in a healthy manner.

Don’t Fight Fire with Fire
What impresses me most about the strong leaders of the Bible and today is that they refuse to fight back in the same manner they are being attacked. Joseph never treated his brothers to a beat down in Egypt, David never threw a spear back at Saul’s crowned head, and Jesus prayed “father forgive them for they know not what they are doing” to those who brutally nailed him to the cross. Anger and vengeance can only lead to a hardening of the heart. You end up becoming what you hate. And when your main role is to lead people to a growing relationship with Jesus, there is no room for it.

Don’t Stop Doing What is Good
When we have been attacked it is easy to start to shut down and protect ourselves from any vulnerability. When you do this you may very well face much less attack, but you will also be rendered ineffective. Let God sort out the details of who is in the right and wrong. In the meantime, keep moving forward. Put yourself out there, and you will make a much bigger impact than if you live your leadership life on an island of insecurity. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we don’t give up” (Galatians 6:9). These are good words to live by written by the Apostle Paul, a man who knew what it was like to be trash-talked, beaten and misunderstood.

Yes, being a Christian leader sometimes sucks. But there is nothing else I would rather do. When I feel like I have been put through a spin cycle, I am reminded that I need thick skin to fend off the attacks of others, and a soft heart to continue to pour out the love of Jesus to those who need it most.

Broken to Better

bitter-or-better“You are going to be such a better preacher because of this.”

These were not comforting words. I still had scars on my arm and was not sleeping well in an empty bed.

Of course my goal for the last ten years had been to develop the technical skills of preaching, coupled with the power of the Holy Spirit to inspire, encourage, and motivate people to grow in their faith. To think that people could see that I would become better at this should have been encouraging to me early in my pastoral ministry life. People actually thought I had potential!

But it wasn’t encouraging. Not even close.

You see, this was said to me not long after my wife Sheri had just died in a car accident. A good-hearted person was trying to cheer me up, and in the course of conversation had reasoned that God took Sheri because I needed to be a better preacher and have a more powerful ministry. I put on my best “thank you for your kind words” face, and managed to get out of the room before lashing out with an angry tirade and perhaps even an uppercut to the chops. Some people just don’t get it.

I believe that every hurt we go through can and will be redeemed for good-if we let it.

I could have easily turned away from God and others in this time of grief, deciding to forgo a life of ministry for something else. If God couldn’t hear the anguished prayers of a pastor, what hope did anyone have? Why go on with the Christian charade? But I made a decision not to get stuck and wallow in my pain forever. Instead, this is what I did:

I got Better instead of Bitter.

There were so many unanswered questions, and many of the answers I got weren’t very satisfactory, like the one I just described. But I knew that there would never be any good reason that I could come up with for losing Sheri. Instead I decided to focus on what I knew to be true. I took the words of Jesus and the hope of resurrection seriously. Instead of wallowing in pity, I shared my story. It was therapeutic. And it helped a lot of people, including me

I Comforted Others.

The Apostle Paul told the Corinthians “God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others” (1:3-4). Through my process of grieving there were many who genuinely comforted me with words and actions unlike Job’s friends. And because of all of the love and compassion I received in the dark times I decided that I would not waste my hurt. I would pass on the comfort I received to others. I have spent time at conferences, retreats, and counseling sessions sharing my story with people who needed hope when they feel helpless. And I always leave a better person for doing it.

I decided to offer more Love and less Advice.

One of the greatest gifts I was given in my time of grief was a congregation who had been coached by the pastoral staff to “Give Mike and hug, tell him you love him, and don’t give him advice.” Most people took those words to heart and it was a beautiful gift. Most days I just needed to know that there were people in my life who cared about me.

Advice can ring hollow. Hugs rarely do.

I think I am a better preacher for what I have gone through. Not because of the tragedy, but in spite of it. God has taken my brokenness and made something beautiful.

What brokenness might God want to redeem to make your life beautiful?

 

 

Concealing or Revealing?

12562511033_cef1da644b_m“Can someone please remove the tubes from this photo?”

Photo editing software has morphed to such a point that it is hard to tell if what you are seeing is the real thing or simply someone’s wild imagination being played out in digital media. It used to be that if you wanted to pass off a muscular body as your own you would need to cut your face out of an existing printed photo and tape it on to a magazine clipping of Mr. Olympia. This rudimentary technique could also be used to change the location of the photo, the friends you are with or the activity being done. This may be funny, but hardly convincing.

Now airbrushed photos are the norm, not only for movie stars, but also even for family photos. Want to take off ten pounds? Done. Want to get rid of that zit. Zapped. You get the picture. Now almost any amateur digital artist can cook up or alter images in an effort to go viral with their creation. A convincing or shocking photo may get millions of hits, some people immediately being sucked in and forwarding the photo as a shocking truth while others see through the electronic veneer of paint brushes and erasers.

Rarely does an enhanced photo reveal more than it conceals or elicit such an outpouring of emotion as an Ohio father’s plea to have members of the Reddit online community help remove the tubes from his daughter Sophia’s picture.

She had never been without tubes.

And her parents would never have a memory of her without them. Sophia lost her battle to cancer on July 10. She was still an infant. Every memory, every photo they had of her included tubes in her mouth and hands, with a special brace that wrapped from cheek to cheek, like a football helmet mask, to keep the tube from being pushed out of her tiny mouth.

Those tubes kept Sophia alive, but they weren’t a natural part of her. Instead, they partially concealed her.

Thanks to the Reddit social community, technology, much like the tubes that allowed Sophia to breathe during her brief moments on earth, brought the real her to life in an astonishing way. Like a photo that stops you in your tracks, the photo of Sophia lying contented without tubes took my breath away. And moistened my eyes.

Now her parents are able to create a memory of their precious daughter and her true beauty fully revealed.

People who never knew Sophia or her family gave a gift to them. Some sketching pictures, others editing, and still others just pouring out their soul to the grieving family. They helped a dad and family re-write a page in an otherwise painful chapter of life.

Want to give a gift today? Reveal yourself. Open yourself up to another. Fight the urge to conceal. You may pave the way for them to do the same to you. In that moment something tremendously powerful happens. You begin to use brush strokes that reveal the true beauty hidden on a human canvas.

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Guaranteed Ways to Avoid Eating your Words

Alphabet SoupMy mind screamed out “Why did you just say that?”

There is that critical moment in a conversation when words hang heavy in mid-air like rain clouds about to unleash a torrential downpour of destruction, and you can do nothing except wait for the damage report. Maybe you’ve been in that situation with a friend or co-worker. You get passionate about a certain subject, and before you know it you have spoken words that can’t take back. Even if apologies are begged for and forgiveness is granted, the words will forever be etched in granite, never to be erased completely from memory.

As a fairly young leader I was in a boardroom when I felt my temperature rising with each passing minute. The discussion centered around where money was going to be spent on a Youth Centre that was being built. There was casual discussion about sending old chairs to the Youth Centre while buying new ones for the church. I must have been in a bad mood that day. I was likely hungry, or tired, or maybe I just didn’t want to be given the hand me downs. In an instant my temper flared and I blurted out my feelings about getting the “seconds” instead of buying the best for the Centre. I was fired up.

And as soon as I made my point I knew I had made a big mistake.

I was promptly put in my place by a gentleman who reminded me (in a passionate tone that eclipsed my own) how several people had sacrificially given hundreds of thousands of dollars for this project. They cared about the youth, and I better not forget that.

I instantly flushed hot with embarrassment and shame. He was right. I was wrong. I couldn’t apologize fast enough, but I also couldn’t undo what I had said. Thankfully this man was wise and graceful, and let it slide. But I still remember to this day.

“Be quick to listen slow to speak” are the words of wisdom from James 1:19. This can sound like an impossible task for an extrovert like me who needs to say things out loud in order to process them. However, wisdom calls out that there are things that must be done to “rein in” our tongues.

Here are a few practical tools to avoid foot-in-mouth disease:

*Remember that not all discussions need your engagement. Mom said it best; “When you can’t say nuthin’ good, don’t say nuthin’ at all.” Often attempts to reason with boardroom bullies amounts to “casting our pearls before swine.” Know when you have a receptive audience and when you are simply engaged in an exercise in futility.

*Have a few sounding boards that you can bounce ideas off of in safety…other than your boss, spouse, parent, or anyone you may have conflict with.

*Take a time out. I have avoided saying many dumb things by simply biting my tongue till it bleeds and counting to ten.

*When you do speak, make sure it is flavored with truth AND love! Truth without love is mean spirited. And love without truth is often deceptive. Both need to be in balance. You can say hard things in a soft way. Before you take a swing, put on some gloves.

Don’t get caught trying to stuff words back in your mouth. Listen. Wait. Then if you must, speak with truth and love.

 

I’d love to hear any ways that you avoid the distasteful delicacy of eating your words, or any personal reflection you have on this topic.

Leverage for Life

leverage-resized-600It’s interesting to me how often I focus on what I don’t have at my disposal rather than what I do have in spades, or even in pretty humbling amounts.

In an amazing real-life object lesson in 2 Kings 4, the prophet Elisha has an encounter with a poor, widowed woman and her two sons. They are in debt up to their eyeballs and creditors are about to take her sons as payment. This would be a death sentence not only emotionally for this woman, but also physically. Without sons to support her it is unlikely that she would have lived long. She was broken (grieving the loss of a husband), broke (without any money), and about to break (Could she live without the comfort and love of her sons?).

Perhaps you’ve been there. You are out of options, your back’s against the wall and it seems like there is little way out. At those times we tend to focus on what we don’t have rather than what we do. Elisha zeros in on her situation and asks her what she has in her house. This was Mother Hubbard’s cupboard in real life. All she had was a small jar of olive oil. What good could that be? And yet, with what she has a miracle occurs. It is multiplied over and over. So much so that she is able to sell the oil she has poured into empty containers from her house and those borrowed from her neighbors, covering her debts and leaving enough to live on for the next little while.

I’m sure you would like a miracle like that to happen in your life. But I think the cool part of the miracle is that what little she had is what was used to bring the miracle. Elisha used something of hers, as well as the resources of friends to provide the miracle (it was, in fact, many of their pots that she poured the excess oil into).

In your life, what might you be able to leverage, be it ever so small, to produce a miracle?

-Time

-Savings

-Specific talent

-Connections

I have found that God often wants to use the “little” I have to make a “lot” happen.

So what do you have in your house? Don’t squander it. Put it to good use!