HE>i

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He must become greater; I must become less.” John 3:30

I recently started seeing the above logo on bumper stickers. Yesterday I saw it painted on the back window of a car.  It took me a moment the first time I saw it to decipher the sign “>” which is used in math to signify “greater than”.  It turns out that there is company in Hawaii that developed this logo to mean that “He” (Jesus) must increase and “I” must decrease.

It’s actually a clothing company with two stores in Hawaii and one in Newport Beach, CA that makes hats and other accessories using the logo HE>i. The owners came up with the idea in 2003 when they were trying to develop a catchy logo for the store that would fit on a Nokia mobile phone screen. The greater than sign (“>”) reminded them of John 3:30 and their friends encouraged them to do something with it so they started making hats, shirts and stickers, and also event clothing for Christian concerts.  On its web page, the owners describe their purpose:

“Our purpose is to produce quality clothing and accessories to encourage, inspire, and share the good news of our savior, Jesus. We do our best to create simple and original products that provide opportunities for people to share the good news with anyone who asks about our simple logo. Most people have a story about when they first discovered what our logo (HE>I) means – either by figuring it out on their own or having someone share the meaning with them. We love hearing personal stories about how God has used our simple logo to bless and encourage different people around the world!”

And no, this is not a shameless promotion for this company or its products, but it is an affirmation of how people can creatively exhibit their faith in the workplace in a non-threatening and inspiring way.    I love this approach – kind of like a modern day sign of the fish to be a witness to others.  What I think is interesting is that we are now seeing this logo on the East Coast of the United States on cars which means that it has gained traction in the marketplace.

The only parallel in my own experience of being creative was in figuring out how to be a Christian lawyer to non-Christian clients and colleagues.  That took a little ingenuity due to strict rules of professional conduct.  In the latter years of my practice I stumbled on an easy way to introduce Christianity into the conversation.  I would tell new clients that although I charged for actual work that I performed for them on an hourly basis, I would add them to my list of clients that I prayed for every day – no charge. Just part of the service.  I told them this even regardless of whether I knew if they were Christians or not.  If asked, which I usually was, I would tell them that I prayed a prayer modeled on the Prayer of Jabez,  an obscure Old Testament prayer found in 1 Chronicles 4:9-10  made popular by Rick Warren who wrote a book about it several years ago. I did this for many years and no one ever said “No, don’t pray for us.” More often, I was asked what the Prayer of Jabez was about, which started a different conversation.

The challenge here is for you to be creative in your witness to those around you – in the marketplace or social gatherings.  Try and think of something unique that introduces Christianity into the conversation so that it becomes part of the dialogue, instead of a discussion which is only held in Church or at a bible study.  You may not be able to think of something like HE>i, but you might get a sticker from the company and use it as a conversation piece.  It might lead to a life saving conversation.

You can get HE>i stickers here: http://hegreaterthani.com/collections/stickers

Bill Mann

 

 

 

Sensei

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I worked for a large international law firm that had offices in Asia including Tokyo, Beijing and Hong Kong.  A large part of the firm’s practice was with Japanese clients and we had 38 Japanese speaking attorneys in our firm at one time.  Over a period of ten years with that firm, I learned a lot about the Japanese culture and language. Recently, I was preparing a Power Point presentation on Mentoring the Next Generation, and was struggling to think of a visual way to describe what a mentor looks like to a generation of people who have not seen one in action.  My daughter came up with idea of using the Karate Kid, a popular movie in which Mr. Miyagi plays the part of an older Japanese Sensei who teaches his protege, Daniel, the art of Karate.   It was a natural one word description of a mentor that most people could grasp, even if they didn’t know what a Sensei was.

Sensei actually means “one who was born before another”.  In most Asian cultures, age and maturity are esteemed values and characteristics.  Less so in the western world.

In its use, the term Sensei has a deeper meaning of someone who teaches based on wisdom, age and experience.  It has the sense of someone walking along side another and being a teacher or advocate. In Japan, an older lawyer was considered a Sensei and clients come to them for advice on matters other than legal issues.  They respected the wisdom that comes from maturity.  In the western culture, the terms Sensei is a good example of a mentor – someone who comes alongside another to impart wisdom that comes from his life experiences, education and training.

Most people remember Karate Kid for scenes where Daniel, the protégé  was told to “wax on…wax off” polishing a car.   He didn’t see the connection of the exercise which would help him become better at Karate, a martial art.  It seemed senseless to him at the time, yet valuable later on.  Another favorite scene is when Mr. Miyagi attempts to catch a fly with his chopstix and says that someone who can “catch  a fly with chopstix can accomplish anything”. Daniel asks if he has ever caught one and his response was “Not yet.”

Through a Sensei, one can gather wisdom and perspective which is only gained through their experience. As Albert Einstein said:

Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first,  the lesson afterwards.”

I met a young lawyer who was struggling in a profession that he was not sure is what he wanted to do in life. A Christian counselor introduced us.  I told him I would be willing to spend time with him, but wanted for him to know one thing up front:  I told him that it was a lot easier in life to learn from the mistakes of others, and that I had made hundreds and had a lot to tell him. You see, I had the lessons of hard knocks – the “tests” of life where I could reflect on what the lesson was afterwards.

When I talk to potential mentors everywhere in the world, they all seem to react with the same questions: “I’m too busy. “I don’t know how.” “I need training.” “Nobody ever asked me.”  Or the best: “I don’t have anything to offer.”

My response is the same:  if you have gray hair, you are equipped to mentor. You’ve been trained.  You have experienced life’s lessons the hard way, and just being a willing sounding board to the next generation is valuable asset to them.  You just have to be willing to listen which communicates several things:  I believe in you.  You are not alone. And most importantly, it can be done!

My challenge is for those who have not experienced being a mentor for whatever reason.  Conservatively, 80% of the millennials and the next generation are crying out for you to show up and walk along side them.  To invest in the lives of another is one of the most rewarding thing you can do.  It is selfless, but the rewards are eternal.

Bill Mann

 

 

Seventeen Inches

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For those who don’t know much about baseball, home plate is pictured above, and the pitcher has to throw the baseball over the plate in order to get a strike.  Hitters, on the other hand, have to defend home plate by trying to hit the pitch, and if they get three strikes (either by swinging at a pitch, or by letting a ball that is a strike pass them by) they are out and the next hitter comes up.  Not terribly complicated.

John Scolinas was a baseball coach in Southern California who was legendary at the college level.  At a Coaches convention in Nashville in 1996 in front of 4,000 other coaches, the 78-year-old Scolinas gave a speech that is the inspiration for this reflection.  He had a home plate draped around his neck.

He started by asking the coaches in the audience how wide home plate was in little league, then high school baseball, then in college. the minor leagues and finally at the professional level.  The answer was the same:  the plate is seventeen inches wide at all levels of baseball.

He went on to say, that if a pitcher can’t get it over the plate to make a strike, one doesn’t go and widen the plate to make it easier for him.  You don’t make it 20 inches just to help out a pitcher who can’t thrown the ball over the regular home plate.

He asked his audience what happens when your star baseball player violates the rules – he shows up late for practice or he violates some other team policy.  Is he held accountable or are the rules changed to fit him?, or “Do we widen home plate?”

On the back side of the plate draped around his neck was a picture of a home.  “This is the problem with our homes today.  With our marriages…with our discipline. We don’t teach accountability to our kids, and there are no consequences for failing to meet standards. We widen the plate!”

He went on to extend the metaphor to our schools where the quality of education has declined and teachers have been stripped of the tools they need to be successful to educate and discipline young people.  “We are allowing others to widen home plate.  Where is that getting us.”

He went on to take on the church were powerful people in authority have taken advantage of children, only to have the “atrocity” swept under the rug.  “Our church leaders are widening home plate!”

“If I am lucky,” Coach Scolinos concluded, “you will remember one thing from this old coach today. It is this: if we fail to hold ourselves to a higher standard, a standard of what we know to be right; if we fail to hold our spouses and our children to the same standards, if we are unwilling or unable to provide a consequence when they do not meet the standard; and if our schools and churches and our government fail to hold themselves accountable to those they serve, there is but one thing to look forward to …”

With that, he held home plate in front of his chest, turned it around, and revealed its dark black backside. “… dark days ahead.”

His message was clear: “Coaches, keep your players—no matter how good they are—your own children, and most of all, keep yourself at seventeen inches.”

Coach Scolinos died in 2009 at age 91.  His legacy was the changed lives of countless coaches and players he impacted.

If we are going to realize our full potential as a person, a community, a church, a state or a nation, we have to quit widening the plate.  That’s our challenge for today:  keeping our lives at seventeen inches.

Bill Mann

 

FURTHER STUDY: You can see his story here:  http://www.sperrybaseballlife.com/stay-at-17-inches/#sthash.omUsHI8s.dpuf

Tempus Fugit

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“I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain.  And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ “  Luke 12:12-19 (NIV)

Latin was a real problem to me as a language.  That course alone almost caused me to flunk out of my private high school that my father had paid a lot of money to send me to. I had never studied a foreign language before, much less one that had been dead for many centuries.  No one speaks Latin any more, so there is no real way to practice it with others (unless they are in your class, of course).  Still, what I learned has been helpful in a variety of contexts since Latin is the mother language to most of the romance languages – French, Italian, and Spanish.  It also is useful in English because many of our words are derived from Latin words.  It turned out being useful in law school, because many doctrines of the law which use Latin phrases, such as res ipsa loquitor, which literally translated means the facts (or the “thing”) speaks for itself.   That phrase is used in the law of negligence where on can infer from the nature of the accident or injury to show that a person was negligent without any other evidence.

Yesterday, I rode my bike for a nice long run and came across the barn pictured above. I had shown it to Timothy and Hannah Olonade when I gave them a quick tour of Pinehurst last week.  He couldn’t believe that horses, not people, lived in a structure so large.  Every time I pass this barn, I think of the above passage and its application.  In a way, the phrase res ipsa loquitor applies – the huge barn needs no additional commentary or explanation and it is a clear reminder of the values and motivations of its owner. Mind you, I am not knocking barns, even smaller ones, but this one in particular houses pleasure horses, not grains for others to eat in the future.  This barn is for the pleasure of the owner. Period.  It is a hobby.  It’s as if the owner said to himself I have all of the financial bases covered, so I am going to relax and enjoy my life and my horses.  On my way home, I passed a traffic accident at an intersection that I had passed through minutes before.  No one appeared to be hurt, but it reminded me as to how precious life is, and how we often take it for granted.

The Latin phrase in the title is a reminder of the second part of the Luke 12 passage.  We have a finite amount of time on this earth – and in the case of the owner of the barns in the scripture, God says that his life will end this very night.  Tempus fugit means “time flies” and the connotation of it is that time already spent is irretrievable.  You can’t get it back.

When my father died about 20 years ago, I spoke at his funeral and one of the things I said was that I wanted to live life without regrets.  Regrets of not saying something to someone or doing something for your family or friends.  Simple things:  telling your parents, your wife, children and grandchildren that you love them.  Since his death, I have added to my goal of living life without regrets the biblical concept of finishing well.  Retirement is not a scriptural concept – in fact retirement is not used in the Bible.  But you don’t have to wait until you are old and no longer working to finish well.

If you want to finish well in life, then you should finish well today!.

That’s my challenge to you – how are you going to finish well today?  We can’t change yesterday, but we can change what we do today. Ponder that thought so that you, too, can live life without regrets.

Bill Mann

 

 

 

 

 

 

Transparent or Translucent?

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Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”  (James 1:17)

Transparency is basically when light can pass through an object (like glass) and be undistorted.  In the spiritual realm, it is the condition of being truthful about oneself.  Translucent, on the other hand, means permitting light to pass through but diffusing it so that persons, objects, etc., on the opposite side are not clearly visible and are altered or distorted.

Glass that is translucent is opaque so that you can only see an outline of what is behind it. A shadow, or as James puts it, a “shifting shadow”.  That’s how we are with ourselves – we only want people (and God) to see what we want them to see, and hide the real details of our life or behavior.  We often put on a happy face when we are crying inside.

God, however, wants us to be transparent – where there is no covering up of things we don’t want others to see.  Yet people see our faults anyway, and we either ignore our faults by choice, or don’t see them at all.  We forget that God sees it all, just as Jesus did when questioning the Samaritan woman at the well about her husband.

Several years ago, I went on a two-day spiritual retreat with several men, the purpose of which was for each of us to listen to God’s voice in an undistracted environment at a Christian retreat center.  It would be a silent retreat – we only interacted verbally during meal time and in the evening when we had a time for sharing.  I ended up feeling under a conviction that God wanted me to deal with sin in my life but I was reluctant to focus on my sins.

I initially procrastinated and spent time reading passages in the bible with the hope that something else more refreshing would occupy my time.  Nothing came, so I finally took out a note pad and started writing a list of my past sins and transgressions. My junk.  By the time I got to the third page (single space, I might add), I felt like I was just getting warmed up.  It was actually pretty depressing.

I finally took a break and took a walk in the sylvan woods of the retreat center and had a real conversation with God about why he wanted me to make my long list which was still incomplete.  After several minutes into my walk, His answer became clear, just as if He had spoken to me.  God wanted me to face my many imperfections, and in doing so, He let me know that He could still use me, imperfect though I was.

That was a breakthrough for me – I really felt like I did some serious business with God at that retreat and He taught me a lot about submission to His will, not my own.  I was transparent with myself, probably for the first time in my life.

I felt like a burden had been lifted, yet I knew that I still had some work to do – after all, in John 8, when confronted by the woman caught in adultery by the Pharisees, Jesus did not condemn her, but He told her to go and “sin no more.”  God never leaves us where we are – he wants us to show progress in our lives, and I still have a lot of work to do.

Have you been transparent to God and yourself, or have you been living in shifting shadows where the world only sees what you want it to see?  Do you have a friend with whom you have a relationship deep enough to withstand the test of personal failure?  If you have no one with whom you can trust, you are fooling yourself that you can live life alone with no one to confide in and be accountable.

As Solomon rightly says in Ecclesiastes 4, “Two are better than one.”  Today is a good day to get started in transparency, so that your sins of your past do not become your sins of tomorrow.  Find someone as an accountability partner.

Bill Mann

The Finish Line

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Blessed be his glorious name forever; may his glory fill the whole earth. Amen and Amen. Psalm 72:19

We often are asked to pray for different functions, whether it be for a meal,  a gathering in a group or even in church.  Sometimes the audience is mixed with believers and non-believers. We tend to rush through it without much thought of content or impact.  Often we end it with something like “In Jesus name we pray. Amen.”  Often the ending is almost carelessly added on, almost as if by rote.

But it is the last line of the prayer – the “Finish Line” if you will, that contains the power of the prayer.   Often we end prayers with “In Jesus Name, Amen” without much thought as to why we do it – it’s just a routine, after all.  Or is it?  Actually, the Finish Line is the energy that drives the power of the prayer, much as gas is the energy that powers the engine of a car.  Without gas, you have a car standing still and going nowhere.  Sure, it’s a car (or the metaphor – a prayer), but it is not going anywhere.

Several years ago, at a luncheon co-sponsored by my law firm, I was asked to do an invocation before people ate their meal.  The featured guest at the affair was a professor of Economics from a nearby University who was well known and a popular speaker.  In my prayer, I asked God to bless the group and their respective businesses, but also thanked God  for owning everything we possess as a reminder that our prosperity comes from Him and that we should remember His blessings in our daily lives.  I ended the prayer with “In Jesus Name I pray.  Amen.”   A Jewish associate of mine came up to me afterwards and said that he was not happy that I ended the prayer that way and that he could have joined in the prayer if I had left the “Finish Line” off.  This conversation took place long before being politically correct was popular.  Even so, I understood his perspective to someone who doesn’t know the Messiah.

I wrestled with that issue for some time. It was one of the first times in my early Christian life where I felt challenged on what was the appropriate thing to do in those circumstances.  Should I be careful and water it down into some neutral ending such as “In His name we pray” where there is enough ambiguity of whether I am referring to God or to Jesus?  If I did that, I might not offend our Jewish friends.  It took me a while to come up with the correct answer as to how we should end prayers.

You see, “Amen” doesn’t just mean something like “I’m done.  That’s it.  Prayer is over.”   It’s not punctuation.  In fact, Amen (Ah-mane) is an ancient Hebrew word that is kept intact into the New Testament Greek and it means “Yes.  So be it!  Let this be done!”   It is authoritative and a declaration like a command, not a perfunctory ending like “talk to you later” at the end of a phone call.

In Jesus name” is even more of a declaration and command.  It is invoking the authority of the ruler of the universe and His power to affirm what we have just prayed.  In the spiritual world, what makes prayer effective is that it runs on God’s authority through Jesus.  That’s an essential secret to prayer and without it, our prayers are reduced in their effectiveness.

Jesus gave insights on this in several places; one is in Matthew 28:18 where he said:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

If you let that sink in, you realize what an impact you are having by not praying in your own strength, but praying with all authority in the heavenly and spiritual realms.  That’s real power.  But Jesus didn’t stop there by describing his authority.  He tells us several times on how to claim that authority in your prayers.

In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.”  John 16:23 (NIV)

My challenge today is for you to consider that the man who knew best has told us how to invoke his kingdom in our prayer life.  May you be mindful of that when you have the opportunity to pray in public or in private.  Praying “In Jesus Name” invokes the power of the the Almighty through Jesus.  That’s a lot of power in just three words.

 

 

 

 

We is Better than Me

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Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. ……….But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.  Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.”  Ecclesiastes 4:9-12.

The emphasis throughout both the New and Old Testament is that life is better lived in relationship with another.  I came across athe following quote that is attributed to C.S. Lewis:

The safest road to hell is the gradual one . . . the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts. This is why it’s so dangerous to do life alone.” 

A quote from a resident of a halfway house in Darien Connecticut put it this way:

The mind alone is a bad neighborhood.”

A 2015 study done in the U.K. found that a majority of the men surveyed (51%) had two or fewer friends, and 15% had no friends. None.  Nada.  Zip.  That’s hard to imagine.   According to C.S. Lewis, they are leading a dangerous life. It’s so easy in life to do things solo – without any aid from our friends.  We live in community with one another – in fact, most of the New Testament deals with how our Christian life is to play out on the horizontal field with other people.  Christianity is an individual decision,  but it is also a team sport.

So, who is on your team?  Do you have a friend – someone who knows you inside and out – the good, the bad, the ugly, including what your spiritual and thought life, and what junk you have in the trunk of your car (or “boot”, as it is called in other parts of the world)?  The British survey is sobering, but it really is even worse, because their definition of a “friend” really doesn’t go beyond an acquaintance with whom you share a common interest.  That’s not the friend that will stick by you through thick and thin, and will help you up when you have failed or fallen down or had a serious setback of circumstances.

The passage from Ecclesiastes above is one of the many scriptures that follows the theme of what I call the “principle of the twos” in the Bible.   Another one is found in Proverb 27:17: “Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits of another.”  I have met with two men weekly for the past 24 years.  It is an intentional and covenantal relationship. Over time, we have shared each others ups and downs, successes and failures, trials and tribulations, and rejoiced at each others accomplishments for the kingdom. It’s second nature to us to be transparent with our lives and challenges.  I am really saddened how few other men have what we have experienced over a long time.

The majority of men I meet disregard the principle that life is best lived in community, unfortunately to their detriment. As the title says, “We is better than Me”.   Pastors are often the biggest offenders and yet the most vulnerable. They put moats around their lives and become insulated from others because of their position.   But that’s not how Jesus modeled it when he sent out the seventy-two disciples in Luke 10.  He sent them out two by two with a reason. This was their first “road trip”. Had I been advising Jesus, I would have suggested that it might make strategic sense to send them out individually because they would have covered more territory.  But Jesus had more wisdom than me, knowing full well that sending them in twos was more important than getting more geographical coverage.

I have long been known as an advocate of having someone else in your life (other than your spouse) to whom you can confide in and be accountable to.  The evil one doesn’t attack us in groups:  he isolates us and takes us down when we are alone.  Satan doesn’t influence a group to go out and collectively commit adultery.  It happens when we are isolated.

If you don’t have one or more close friends that you can be transparent with, you risk violating the biblical principle of the twos, and as C.S. Lewis suggests, you are in danger.  I encourage you to find one today.

Bill Mann