Photo Friday- You Have No Excuse!

Photo taken at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens by the author

I snapped this picture while walking with the twins at the zoo on the day after Thanksgiving. A beautiful flower, might be a golden rain tree, but exquisite in color and unique with its upright form. The zoo is a great place to see and appreciate the diversity of life. It is also a bit depressing to me to see these magnificent animals in cages for a lifetime of display. I am sure that they would all choose freedom in lieu of a life of protection and easy meals.

I believe that the incredible diversity and breathtaking beauty of nature points directly to the Creator. If everything was based on mere chance and natural selection, I believe we would see certain species dominate and we would miss the huge display of thousands, really millions, of unique species, crazy colors and beautiful shapes and designs. Chance would not result in this level of diversity.

When the scientists were mapping out the human genome, one of the lead scientists had an “ah ha!” moment in which he recognized that someone designed the DNA. It’s like seeing a precision machined part and recognizing that this part could not just occur naturally. He saw the fingerprints of the Creator. He recognized that it was too intricate and precise to happen by chance. He was an atheist before this discovery but this “ah ha” moment completely changed his view on the existence of the Creator.

In the first chapter of the book of Romans, the scriptures declare that we have “no excuse” to deny the existence of the Creator. His work is breathtaking, delicate, massive, complicated, and orderly. He created as an artist works to create unique beauty for pleasure. He made our world both practical and beautiful. Without the artist touch, everything would resort to simply plain and practical.

I have witnessed beautiful flowers growing up through the debris next to a pile of trash in the inner city. I have heard birds singing in a burned out forest. The beauty of the Creator will overcome the ugly and our abuse of the land.

He hasn’t put His brushes down. The Creator continues to amaze with each and every sunset.

Don’t you see him?

He’s calling you to spend time with Him. Walk with the Creator in the cool of the morning. You have no excuse. He wants you.

YOU are his greatest masterpiece!

No Regrets Monday- Dreams or Responsibility?

This is a quick series of short Monday posts reviewing some of the regrets that folks commonly have when they reach the twilights of their lives. Enjoy!

“I wish I would have followed my dreams instead of doing what was responsible and expected of me.”

When I was in about middle school, I took a standardized test that was supposed to help me determine what my career choice should be based on my current likes and dislikes. I think it was called the Army Test. This was your typical fill in the bubble type test and it went through a bunch of questions where I would chose the item that suited me and what I enjoyed doing. At the end of the test, the results came back with two career choices- Home Builder and Forest Ranger.

So these may seem pretty normal except my father owned a construction business. I was already doing the “Home Builder” thing. I remember being a bit disappointed about this choice. I felt like- duh? What good was that answer? Yet, in retrospect, it may have reinforced my choice to pursue construction as a career.

Even as a boy, I had always loved the outdoors. I loved to fish and spend time in the woods so the other choice also seemed to fit. I also remember pondering that the Forest Ranger path would result in a much lower wage. Seemed like the only responsible choice was the Home Builder.

I don’t dislike construction, but I still feel that pull of the outdoors and the wilderness. In fact, getting out into the woods is my “go to” way to recharge. My way to cope with the stress and the monotony is to disappear into the woods into its breathtaking beauty:

Where it is quiet.

Where I can think.

Where things are in perfect order.

Where I can breathe.

Where I can recharge.

Construction has been good to me but I sometimes wonder about what may have happened if I had taken the Forest Ranger route. Maybe I would be more relaxed. Maybe I would have smiled more. Maybe I would have been more excited getting to work each day. Maybe my relationships would have been better. Maybe the forest is where I really belong.

The real risk in life is sometimes doing what your heart is telling you- not your head. Yet we often equate risk only to money or expectations. But life is more than just money and what other folks expect of you.

There is a reason we dream. There is a reason to the connection. I can’t go back, however, what I know now is this. Do everything you can and in our power to follow your dreams!

No regrets!

Bad Things Will Happen

When I was young and cocky, I would brag to others that when I was pulled over by the police, I would always get out of the car. I didn’t like them standing next to the car talking down to me. I felt like it was insulting. Then there was a time when I was pulled over and I got out of the car and the policeman, with his hand on his weapon, ordered me to get back in my car.

Sure, I had options- I could ignore what he told me. I could argue with him. I could bargain with him. But then I saw his hand was on his weapon. I knew things would not go well if I didn’t listen to him. So, I got back in my car as he instructed me to do.

I am sure that he was thankful that I complied. I am sure he didn’t want problems. He wants to go home after his shift to his family. Being a policeman shouldn’t be a standoff. There should not be the thought that you can just push back and disobey. They are doing a very difficult and dangerous job and we should respect them for their service to the community.

If others in the news would have listened and complied with the police instructions, I suspect that we wouldn’t be where we are now. When you argue, slow walk or blatantly disobey direct orders from a policeman things just don’t go well. This decision provides an opportunity for things to escalate and get stupid. When you are told not to do something and you still do it, this disobedience trips a trigger in all of us. Think of how you feel when your children directly disobey you. It makes you angry, doesn’t it? Things just go better when you do what you are told to do.

This current attack on police authority will only embolden others to disobey police. This will likely have the exact opposite result in trying to prevent injuries and death during police interactions. A complete disregard for law and order will lead to MORE problems. If you disobey the police it’s likely that bad things will happen.

I have learned from decades of service that bad policies from emotional responses often result in very harmful unintended consequences. You hurt for those who are hurting. You want good things for them. You want progress. You want to see change. But emotional solutions rarely lead to effective results if you fail to consider the potential downstream consequences. This current attack on the police is destroying the lives of all law enforcement and potentially taking away security from the communities that need it most.

The statistics confirm a relatively small number of problems (15-25 unarmed deaths depending on the source of statistics in 2019) compared to millions of law enforcement interactions. About the same chance as getting hit by lightning. This is the “science” of the issue. Yes- there are bad actors in the police. Yes- we need to be better. We must make changes. But you don’t burn down your house to get rid of termites. Let’s seek out the bad actors and remove them from service. Let’s stop encouraging disobeying the police. Let’s stop the mob violence. Let’s support our police and let them do their job. They are our neighbors AND our family!

So what do you think? Are we helping thIS ISSUE or just causing more problems? Click on “Leave a Comment” and let me know what you think!

Weak Leader?

 

Great companies have a common characteristic. They have strong leaders. But what is strong leadership? I think if you ask ten different persons you will get ten different answers! I think an obvious sign of a strong leader is they generally have a group of very dedicated followers who understand their role in the overall vision for the company. I don’t believe that strong leadership is characterized by the volume of their bark or purely the degree at which they drive their team forward.  Being strong doesn’t mean being feared or intimidating.  

But what happens when you have a weak leader? A leader that struggles at making decisions or providing vision or hitting deadlines? Is this a sign that they don’t have the tools to lead? Although these and other signs may be a function of overall weakness, it may not be their fault. You may be the problem. You may be the barrier to their leadership strength. Here are a few ways you may be weakening the leaders below you.

Changing Work Priorities

You have placed this person in a leadership role in order to use their judgement on managing the staff and prioritizing assignments.  If you are directing their staff to complete items that you think have a higher priority without consulting them first you are undermining their authority.  This is sending a message to the team that your leader is not capable of prioritizing correctly and that they are incapable and you need to get involved.  The real reason may be that you have a control problem. If you must change priorities for the team, follow the organizational chart and stay in the chain of command.  Don’t manage folks just because you can.

Gossip

If you are having issues with a report and you are running your mouth to other folks in the organization, the gossip will obviously be damaging to that person’s credibility.  And you may be just plain wrong.  Don’t assume you have it all figured out.  Keep your mouth shut and go to the person and discuss your issues.  Give them an opportunity to explain and rebut your assumptions. Gossip is never the answer. 

Different Management Styles

Don’t assume that another person‘s management style is weak just because it’s not the same as the way you manage or lead.  The measurement is the results.  Is this person doing their job as a leader?  Are the folks that they are leading engaged and performing properly?

Fuzzy Or Changing Goals

Have you been completely clear about what the goals are and what items are most important?  Do you change the priorities often?  If the person is unsure or in a constant state of flux, how can you hold them responsible for anything?  Provide clear objectives and be consistent.

Competition

Do you feel that this person is a threat to you?  This may sound strange since they are actually below you in the organizational chart.  Does this person intimidate you?  Are they sometimes more knowledgeable in some areas.  Do they just grind you?  Do they have a great following in the workplace?  This should be all positive, however some folks can be very insecure, have big egos or are narcissistic and will fight you or anyone else to “win”.  Just remember that you are both on the same team!  Showcase your talent and let your people grow in influence.  Don’t hold them down.  When they grow and prosper, you grow and prosper too!

Undermining Authority

Do you allow folks to come directly to you instead of their direct report?  This can be a situation where “If dad says no, go ask mom!”  Don’t provide direction or approve a decisions downstream.  Always push them back into the chain of command.  By directly managing people downstream you are undermining their authority.  You are directly weakening their leadership.

I am sure there are more examples of this kind of behavior that destroys the strength of their leadership.  If you want strong leaders, it is up to you to empower them!  Support them by respecting the chain of command and the organizational chart.  Give them all the tools they need to be successful.  Do not direct their people even if you are the owner of the company.  Support them in front of the rest of the company.  If you have issues with them, discuss the issues privately.  Respect them and their work and they will grow in strength and effectiveness.   Quite often the true “weak leader” is the person you see in the mirror!

Have you experienced this before?  Click on “Leave a Comment” and tell me your story!

This is what happens after the riots

That’s a picture of me sitting on the front porch of our very modest house on the west side of Detroit in 1964.  This was a typical working class neighborhood of story and a half houses- autoworkers, policemen, construction workers, mechanics- a classic Detroit blue collar neighborhood.  This was a vibrant time for Detroit.  The auto companies were booming and Motown was at its peak.  The streets were filled with kids playing baseball, riding bikes, playing tag and laughter.  I loved our neighborhood.  There was always something fun going on.  It was a safe place and I had a lot of friends.

All of this was disrupted by the riots that occurred in 1967 in Detroit.  I was six years old and I remember the fear that swept through our neighborhood.  Even though the majority of the unrest was in other sections of Detroit, my parents were concerned about letting us out of the house.  The following year, the Detroit Tigers won the World Series and I remember the uneasiness in the car during a trip downtown to celebrate the victory.  We took security for granted and my parents were not prepared to deal with this uncertainty.

Shortly after the riots, my father made the decision to move out of the City.  After a search for a new home, we moved about 25 miles north of Detroit into the suburbs.  This decision was not an easy one.  We loved our neighborhood and the area where we lived.  We were close to much of our family.  We were close to shopping and parks and all the things that we liked.  But the area did not feel safe anymore.  

So my family joined in the exodus to the suburbs along with countless other families and businesses.  After the riots, the political leadership shifted more progressive and what followed was a series of administrations characterized by corruption and mismanagement.  The exodus of people and businesses and poor leadership destroyed the City that I remember.  Detroit is now a shell of what it once was.  Over a hundred years of success and wealth left the City, mostly to the suburbs.  Detroit was once a beacon of prosperity and the fourth largest city in the country.

I worry about the effects of the current unrest, political division and the anarchist groups in our country.  There are already reports in real estate publications of an exodus to the suburbs in New York City fueled by the current unrest and the COVID situation.  If given the choice, security is something most families will not compromise.  When people and businesses leave, the tax base erodes and this starts a financial spiral downward that is nearly impossible to stop.  Additionally, in today’s business environment, most folks are no longer forced to live or work in a particular area.  We are now extremely mobile.  We can pick up and move.  For many of us, we have found that as long as we have an internet signal, we can work.  There are no concrete reasons requiring that you stay in the city.  

This also has ramifications nationally. If the country takes a turn towards socialism and the central government balloons in both size and control (along with taxes), we may see another exodus.  This will be an exodus out of the United States.  This shift would be a result of a lack of financial security and a loss of the personal liberties that have been the trademarks and success story of the U.S.  We have seen this occur in our hemisphere with Cuba and Venezuela as they shifted to communism and socialism. During these changes, countless businesses and families left their homes for security in the U.S.  There are also plenty of U.S. ex-pats all over the world that have made the move to other countries for various reasons, so this option has been proven to be realistic.  In today’s world and global economy, The U.S. is now competing with other countries for the residency of our U.S. citizens and businesses.  Security is not something to mess with.  Families and businesses will not tolerate conditions that are either unsafe or insecure.  

So what happens after the riots?  The exodus.  You can’t expect people to tolerate insecure environments when they can find peace and prosperity somewhere else.  Let’s hope and pray that the current unrest and uncertainty ends so we can avoid the downward spiral that has historically followed these events.  

So what do you think?  Do you think history will repeat itself to see an exodus if security is in question?  Click on “Leave a Comment” and let me know what you think!

All In!

Are you a better employee if you put in super long hours and spend most of your waking moments at the office?  Is this the best measure of your worth and your engagement?

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Photo by Petri R on Unsplash

One of my mentors early in my career was always the first in the office in the morning and the last to leave each night.  Worked EVERY Saturday and some Sundays.  This put incredible stress on me to try to work what would appear to be reasonable hours in comparison to this guy who was a freak and also my boss.  I lived about 45 minutes to an hour from the office depending on traffic which added additional stress to the equation. He was only 15 minutes to his house.  I was not adverse to putting in the hours (clarify salary position) but I always felt that it was never enough.  I came from an hourly tradesman position working outside and I worked nearly every Saturday in order to make up for rain days or short days.  I needed to get a full paycheck.  I had a family and bills.  I was conditioned to work the hours and “pay my dues” as folks like to call it.

Shortly after leaving the company I found out that my mentor was getting a divorce.  I’m sure there was a story to this with lots of moving parts but I know that his work hours were a big contributor to this outcome.  He was an absent husband and father.  He poured his entire life into his work and spent nearly all of his waking hours in the office.

After this event he abruptly changed his work hours.  Too late for his marriage, however, he began to work more normal hours and abandoned the “all in” appearance that had defined his past work history.

So what does “all in”  look like to you?

Are you judged in a large part by the hours that you put in?

Do you think hours are a true measure of your performance or engagement?

Can you be “all in” and still work normal work hours?

I’ve witnessed a variety of viewpoints on this subject.  Some folks use work hours to measure value, commitment and engagement to an organization.   It’s an easy measurement.  Either you are sitting at your desk or your not.  I had a report years ago who never showed up on Saturday and my boss was convinced that they were not engaged and lacked future value based on the lack of Saturday attendance.  I approached this employee and suggested that they begin to come in on Saturdays and make sure that they were seen by the boss in order to get “attendance credit”.  Almost immediately there was a change in attitude by the boss.  He felt that there was a big change when it was simply window dressing.

Then I have seen employees who lay down the law early and makes sure that everyone knows what comes first in their lives- family, kids, church, charity work, hobbies, etc.  It seems like they can get a pass if they make it clear early on and stand firm.  They can be successful in the organization and still leave at 5:01 every day.  In a very strange way it doesn’t seem fair- does it?

So what’s the point here?  I don’t believe you should rate your employees performance or engagement based on work hours.  Base your judgement on the production of quality work product- period.  If they are able to produce in standard work hours then be content and happy for them.  They will have a better life and work balance will make them a better employee in the long run.  Putting pressure on them to work longer hours and take on an unrealistic amount of work will eventually lead to burn out.  And probably an empty seat.  My instruction to employees who work a ridiculous amount of hours is:  GO HOME!  See your family.  Have fun.  Unwind and relax.

You are not a slave- you have a life.  The work will be there when you return.

What do you think?  Have you seen someone burn out due to crazy hours?  Do you think time at your desk is an accurate measure of worth?  Click on “leave a comment” and let me know what you think!  

 

Do it Afraid

Fear is a funny thing. It has a way of freezing us up. Our natural instincts kick in and the result is that we will stop our movement and progress.

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We will overthink the situation.
We will seek the comfortable route or outcome.
We will avoid the fear and go around it.

I am not saying that fear is a bad thing. We have been conditioned to avoid fear for safety purposes. I am sure you remember some of the advice from your Mom.

Don’t play in he road…
The burner is still hot…
Make sure that I know where you are at all times…
Don’t go with strangers…

All of these are good advice. We should not proceed recklessly.  But one of her primary purposes as a parent was to simply keep you safe. While safety is important, I’m not sure that our primary focus on safety and what is secure and predictable is always healthy in the long run.

I have learned through the years that significant growth comes from pushing through the fear by doing it afraid. This is from a guy who is more cautious by nature so this “pushing through” is not easy for me. My tendencies are to visualize and analyze the things that could go wrong.  I have learned that there is a point where you just need to go and conquer the “what ifs”.

Kathy and I have served all over the world and in the inner city and have become accustomed to serving in environments that are viewed by others as unsafe. We are cautious and careful when we are in these environments.  We remain aware of our surroundings and do not proceed in areas alone.  Yet we have learned to push down the feelings of fear that will strangle the ability to move forward and serve. Our faith certainly contributes to our boldness and we have reached a conclusion that we have to go past and conquer the fear.

Your fear area may be public speaking.  It may be leading others.  It may be preforming a task that you don’t think you can accomplish.

Next time you are fearful to move forward, take a deep breath and push through it. Once you have stepped out it will be easier the next time. Fear has a way of fencing us in. There is life beyond the barrier and your world will get bigger and more rewarding. Go ahead.  Move forward.  Do it afraid!

So have you experienced the thrill of overcoming a fear?  Please click on “leave a comment” and let me hear your story!

What Easter Means To Me.

So what is Easter?  The start of spring?   Easter eggs and the Easter bunny.  Baskets filled with candy?  What a strange group of things bloomed out of a holiday of faith.  I guess Christmas is not much better.  Santa Clause and Christmas trees?  All of these have a history and although they are probably harmless, they tend to water down and distort the true basis for the holidays.

 

So what does Easter mean to me?  A few facets of my faith and feelings about Easter without the churchy talk:

Easter gives me purpose

If it was not for my faith, I would live, gather and die like everyone else and that would be it.  My goals would be focused on the relatively short period that we inhabit the Earth and would concentrate on accumulating, enjoyments and self-focus.  However, I know there is more.  The Bible says that we are wired for eternity.  We know there has to be more.  While this life can be great at times, there is also a lot of pain that goes along with it.  We live in a world without real order.  Without things being fair or honest.  A jumbled up mess.  I am looking forward to order and justice.  A place where everything is right.  Easter reminds me that there is a place that is right and this is but a stop along the way.

Easter helps me belong

I belong to the largest family that has ever existed.  A family of people who think alike.  A family with a vision of what true life is all about.  That takes care of one another.  That helps you when you are down.  A family that puts others ahead of themselves.

Easter means all things are new

Easter is like the morning.  A new day has begun.  Yesterday was tough.  I screwed up.  I made some stupid mistakes.  But then the sun comes up.  And it is a new day.  A new start.  The old is gone and the new is here.  Easter washes away the dirt of the past and makes all things new.  Like a shiny penny.  The way it should be.

Easter gives me focus

The opportunity to get my mind off of myself.  To really see others and their needs first.  To love others more than myself.  Easter gives me an orientation where I am no longer the center of my universe.  I can focus on others and I can stop thinking about my situation, wants and needs.

Easter is peace

I can relax in the realization that I do not need to worry.  I do not need to try to do it all.  I do not need all of the answers.  I can trust.  I can let things go.  I do not have to guide and control.  I can relax.  It will be fine.  I will be fine.  This is the basis of faith.

I will admit that I am still a work in progress.  I still struggle sometimes, but I know when I look back I see progress.  When I look forward, I see a path.  The Easter message is one of hope.  It is a message of love.  And purpose, belonging, renewal, vision and peace.

I hope you can see this and truly grasp the power of the Easter message.  

And to you and yours- Happy Easter!

Don’t forget to hit “Leave a Comment” and let me know what you think!  

So Who Are You Really Thankful For?

Kathy and I have been serving in a new homeless ministry (new for us) near our house for the past few months. Tuesday during a discipleship study at the mission while discussing thankfulness, I reached a conclusion regarding this subject.

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We all have things that are blessings in our lives. Our families. Our jobs. Our home. Our security.  Our things.  While many of these may be connected to to us due to choices we have made as we have lived our lives, the root of the blessing is the same.

We need to thank the Lord as he is the originator of all that we have.

This may be a great discussion for the thanksgiving table among your family. Do you really think that YOU originated all of these blessings or was it just luck?  The miracle of life, our amazing bodies and intellect, our strength and courage, our ability to love one another and take care of each other, the amazing and unexplainable things that have happened to all of us. Could luck really result in the what you have and your many blessings?

If that is the case we should call it Happy Luck Day!

As you go around the table and share what you are thankful for, ask your family who brought you this thing that you are sharing? Where did it come from? And where did this holiday (pastor called it by its original definition- holy day) come from?

By definition “thank you” is a response to a person.  You don’t thank a tree.

Everyone loves Thanksgiving. Everyone has things in their lives that they are thankful for. Our job is to remind them who is the author of all of these blessings!

Happy Thanksgiving!

So what are you most thankful for?  Do you understand who is the author of those blessings?  Click on “Leave a Comment and let me know what you think!

So You Want To Change The World?

I believe most of us are wired with a goal of doing something really big with our lives. Write a book. Get our name on a building. Develop something new. Make a mark on the world.  Do something really big.

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Big goals are great. They stretch us. They make us see over the horizon. As I have grown older and gained more wisdom, I have learned that big is relative. Kathy and I have traveled the world on mission trips trying to help organizations make the big impact. And what we have found is that change is really about the one person that you encounter. One moment. A single soul. A single life at a time.

 

This has been our recent revelation. We don’t tend to look big anymore. The truth is you cannot place a price on a soul. A life. A legacy. It’s priceless. The value is infinite. A single soul can shake eternity.

The photo above is a group of life changers. No miracle drugs, new innovations or amazing technology solutions. No senators or mayors or CEOs. This is a group of teachers who had a profound impact on my life. I won’t pick them out or use names, but there are three of my elementary/middle school teachers in this picture.

First, my science teacher. He was well liked by me and my friends and he laid the groundwork for my leadership style. You do not need to be a tyrant to lead people. You can lead with your heart. Its ok to let your feelings show. You can truly care and its a good thing! While learning from this teacher, we were able to develop a friendship that was a positive influence on my life. This teacher even took me and two of my friends on a weekend ski trip. This was on his time. Not a school thing. Just a weekend of fun. Impact? Yes- a life changer!

Second, my geography teacher. She would give us maps to color and require that we memorize the capitals of obscure countries. At the time I thought it was a giant waste of time. But later I learned that this memorization exercise was a precurser to what was required in college and beyond. She also showed me a picture of a great big world beyond my corner of the world. She introduced me to different cultures and political structures. I have become a lifelong student of geography and this was only possible from the effort of this lady. She changed my vision of the world. Opened up my eyes and expanded my horizon.  Big impact!

Third, my english teacher. She would spend countless hours diagramming sentences, correcting poor grammar and building my writing foundation, that has been a strength for me throughout my life. (ahem- please don’t grade this!) She taught me about rules and precision. She taught me that being perfect was really hard. A small mistake counts. And if you can communicate effectively, your life will be better. I am a direct product of her work. I have often been tasked by my employers to write because it comes easy to me and I understand the power of one word. I learned this from my english teacher. She put me on a road toward excellence in communication. And for this, I am eternally grateful.

These three teachers changed my life. They had a direct impact on my skills, abilities and my attitude about learning. They were instrumental in my personal value and pursuit of life-long learning.

So you want to change the world? I say do it one person at a time. No giant programs. Just one-on-one. Soul to soul.

Change the world?  Be a teacher and be a life changer!