Coexist

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“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[s] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Matthew 4:43,44

I suspect many have seen the COEXIST bumper sticker on cars.  While the idea of living in peaceful co-existence is laudable, the bumper sticker causes me some heartburn for several reasons. The actual bumper sticker uses symbols to show this multiculturalism. The “C” is replaced by a crescent moon, an ancient symbol of Islam. The “O” has been replaced with a sign adopted by the British anti-nuclear movement in the 1960’s. The “x” is the star of David, associated with Judaism. The “I” is the ankh, an ancient Egyptian symbol adopted by neo-pagans as a symbol of wisdom and strength. The “S” is a taijitu, a Taoist symbol in Asian cultures representing the difference between Yin (shady forces) and Yang (sunny forces). The “T”, of course is the Christian cross.

I did a little research to see what the definition of “coexist” was and also what was intended.  The Urban Dictionary came up with what I consider to be the best definition:

“Coexist:  A campaign ……..promoting the end of discrimination against all religions, as well as all discrimination. For Jews, Buddhists, Christians, Atheists, Blacks, Whites, Homosexuals — everyone to get along. To coexist. “

Nothing in that definition gets me very upset.  But there’s more:  it is actually a belief system which claims tolerance, but actually is a doctrine in the absolute belief that all religions are the same and ultimately equal, which on its face is contradictory – you cannot reconcile contrary doctrines of conservative Islam and Christianity.  Believers in COEXIST will try and impose this absolute belief on any religious system despite absolute contrary doctrines.  It essentially says that there are no religious absolutes – for Christians, that would mean that there is no absolute truth.  That’s what gets me on edge.  It’s subtle, and seems innocuous on its face, but it is deceptive and also self-contradictory.  Here’s a dialogue to illustrate that last statement:

“Q:  You have a COEXIST bumper sticker?

A:  Yes, I don’t think that any religion has an exclusive claim to the truth.

Q: But isn’t that an exclusive claim that only that belief is true?”

The other thing that bothers me about the bumper sticker is the naïveté from which it is derived.  I guess part of that reaction comes from the 1960’s where the Hippie generation in America espoused “peace” using the peace symbol for the “O” in COEXIST.  While I consider peace as a high cultural value, the difficulty I have is that there are some on this planet who don’t want peace.   Islamic terrorists, for example, don’t want peace.  They want a Caliphate and Jihad which means killing infidels who disagree with their version of Islam.  There can be no peace with a terrorist whose goal is to kill you, often killing themselves in the process.  I recently hosted a friend from Nigeria, who said that in the past 10 years, there had been 40 terrorist attacks or bombings in his hometown of Jos, Nigeria.  Just after he left the U.S. to return to his country, there was a solo terrorist attack which killed 49 in an Orlando, Florida, nightclub and wounded 53 more.  This is the eighth terrorist attack in the US since the terrorist flew airplanes into the World Trade Towers in New York City and the Pentagon in 2001.

Christianity believes in absolutes, and in a culture where the next generation does not believe in truth, getting them to understand what absolute truth is a challenge.  It clearly means that we have to develop new strategies for “passing it on” to the next generation.  While talking to a group of pastors recently about this issue, I suggested that relational evangelism still works, and one pastor said that this was the model from the very beginning, and that we are now returning to the biblical model.  The next generation can be reached by developing a relationship with them – mentoring is one way – in which you earn the right to speak into their life.  Until you earn that right, they won’t listen.

So, our challenge is clear.  We need to be aware of subtle diversions like COEXIST which seem innocent on their face, but actually undercut Christian theology.  All religions are not the same.  Allah is not the same as God who is a triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are commanded to love our neighbors, and even our enemies, but we aren’t to water down the gospel in doing so.   Your opportunity is out there:  there is in the next generation out there waiting for you to mentor and develop a relationship with.  Do it today.  It may have eternal implications.

 

 

 

 

50 Years

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Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” Ephesians 5:25

Fifty years is a half a century.  That’s a long time.  Fifty years ago in 1966, my family and my wife’s family were gathering in a small western North Carolina town for our wedding.  It seems so long ago, yet I have strong memories of those days.  I had just finished my first year in law school – Sis and I opted to wait until that year was behind me before we got married.  Good decision!   The first year in law school at that time was considered a “shakeout” year – the professors were intentionally hard so that they could quickly weed out those who couldn’t make it.  I don’t remember much of that year, other than I had to study constantly.  Our marriage might have turned out differently had we chosen to get married before I went to graduate school.

Back to Shelby, North Carolina, my wife’s home town, where she grew up with her two brothers and parents.  It’s a small town near Charlotte, North Carolina – originally a mill town with five different textile mills in the era before textiles went overseas to countries that had cheaper labor. It was a bygone era – she grew up in a community where everyone knew everyone else – they not only knew you, but they knew your family – your father, your mother, your siblings, your uncles and aunts.  Families lived in the area for most of their lives.  There weren’t a lot of transients moving in and out.  On the other hand, I grew up in a New Jersey suburb outside of New York City, where your neighbor was from somewhere else, and often moved away after a job change or relocation to another office in another state.  A lot of flux in community rather than a stable rural environment where my wife grew up.

Our mutual pledge, when we got engaged was that I wouldn’t try and take her to live in New York so long as she didn’t try and make me live in Shelby.  For me, that was an easy commitment, because I didn’t want to return to New York and the transient commuter life I had seen my father and mother endure.  My father worked in New York City, some 20 miles away, and he left the house early in the morning to catch his train for a 90 minute commute to his office in New York City . He returned home well after 6 pm most nights.  I was not interested in that, nor was I prepared for the opposite end of the spectrum which would have been Shelby.

So, here we are closing in our 50th anniversary on Saturday.  I marvel how we made it.  It probably was because I became a Christian at age 38 –  a product of the prayers of my wife for 17 years.  It was a game changer for me, and had a profound impact on my life and our marriage from that point on. Even so,  we never envisioned all of the milestones that we would encounter:  the birth of our three children and two miscarriages along the way;  the empty nest when our youngest child left the house for college;  the first marriage of our eldest son some 21 years ago, followed by the second son and finally the marriage of our daughter 11 years ago; the death of our parents along the way;  health issues including cancer, hip replacement surgery, and a back operation; the birth of the first of 9 grandchildren followed by the others.  My youngest son recently turned 40 which I find hard to stomach.

How did we survive life’s tumults where others failed and got divorced?  Hard to answer that, although we’ve tried.  Perhaps the best answer is what Ruth Graham said when asked if she ever considered divorcing her husband, Billy Graham: “Did I consider divorce? – never!  Murder? Yes, several times.”  I think that might take the “until death do us part” portion of our marriage vows to an extreme.

What we find interesting is that we never pictured ourselves at our 50th anniversary, having three children with strong marriages to wonderful spouses and nine grandkids ranging from 6 to 16.  When you get married, you tend to think short term – like, “what are we going to do today”?  For us, I think success in marriage is a day-to-day thing.  The future is now – if you want to be successful long term, try and be successful today.  Short term goals produce long term results.

There are lots of things that helped us along the way, but three things that worked for us and may guide you:  1) Laugh more – have a sense of humor and be able to laugh at yourself;  2) Become better friends, not just spouses.  That may mean finding things that both of you can enjoy together; 3) Extend grace to each other regularly.  We all fail in life (I am adept at saying stupid things), and living in a grace environment where you don’t get pounded into the ground for failing expectations of your spouse is essential.

Most marriages fail when ego gets involved – “it’s all about me!”  “I’m not happy,” or “I’m not getting what ‘I’ want”.  In successful marriages, it’s all about your spouse.  That’s a very different mindset.  My challenge to all who read this:  if you want your marriage to last fifty years, simply love your spouse today.  Wash, rinse and repeat that again tomorrow, and so on.  Pretty simple formula but it has worked for us for 50 years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Get it? Got It! Good!

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You [Timothy], however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings” 2 Timothy 3:10

Anyone who has sat in a class listening to a lecture (or, in a church listening to the message) knows how hard it is to remember the content.  It you took notes, then you might remember more.   I recently was preparing a message to give in a church in Nairobi, and one of my close friends who is gifted in the art of communication told me that the audience won’t remember 85% of what I said.  “That’s a little disappointing”, I thought, but it did help me to craft my message so that there were several memorable lines that could be easily remembered.

It turns out that the 15% retention rate might be high according to others who have studied learning.  In fact, a 5% retention is a better retention rate according to some experts.  The average retention rate of different teaching methods, according to the NTL Institute,  is:

Lecture                       5%

Reading                     10%

Audio Visual              20%

Discussion Group    50%

Practice by Doing    75%

Teaching Others      90%

The NTL Institute (www.ntl.org) is a non-profit educational institution which came up with a “learning pyramid” which graphically shows learning retention based on the above teaching methods.  After I studied the above chart, it made sense to me because a lot of what I tried to learn by sitting in a classroom never really “stuck” in my head. I never really “Got it!“.   If I took notes, I did better because I could study them, but just listening to a lecture wasn’t my best method of learning.  For pastors, a sermon is the equivalent of a lecture, so it might be a surprise that what a pastor says is not remembered very well.  It’s really not the audience’s fault:  even someone paying attention will not remember a majority of the message.  When I spoke in Kenya last year, I made a point of trying to make a memorable phrase which I repeated several times.  Several months afterwards, the Bishop who was in attendance told me that people remembered what I said by those short memorable phrases which was encouraging.

The leadership training that we do at MentorLink uses the discussion group format – even our Institute training involves a small group people discussing the content. We do not lecture on purpose.  As one of our participants in the Institute recently said, I already am familiar with the content, but I learn most from the experiences of others.  We emphasize mentoring as a discipline which encourages exercises where the menthe or protege learns by doing, not just by reading or listening.  One of the goals of MentorLink is to duplicate and multiply leaders, so at the end of the day, we encourage our leaders to effectively “teach” others.  As you can see from the chart, each of those steps results in enhanced retention and learning.

Finally, look at how Jesus “taught” the disciples.  He didn’t hold class or gave homework assignments.  He walked around with them and gave observations on life lessons as they occurred.  Even then, just when you thought the disciples “Got it”, they would come up short in their understanding which shows that even their learning curve was not perfect.

My challenge for today is to think about your “teaching” style and consider whether it needs modification so that your audience actually learns something and retains it.  Does your “lecture” or sermon need to be modified to make it more memorable?  Can you come up with creative phrases to aid the listener in remembering the major points.  Paul taught Timothy by his “way of life“, not just verbally. Do you need to mentor where your teaching is in a small group or one on one and your audience can observe your way of life?  Remember: the purpose of “teaching” is learning, and if no learning is happening, then you might consider changing how you communicate or employing other methods to insure real learning is taking place.  That would be “Good“.

Bill Mann

Promise Keepers 2.0

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As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.

Proverbs 27:17

In the U.S. starting in 1991, Promise Keepers was a Christian  men’s movement that hit its height in the mid-1990’s. It still exists today (https://promisekeepers.org). It had a profound impact on those who attended the  events which were usually conducted in large stadiums capable of seating 50,000 or more in cities around the country.  The organizers of Promise Keepers realized a little late that they had not planned for a strategic follow-up.  The events got men excited about God, but once the event was over, many who attended lost their excitement and really missed growing in their faith walk.  I attended one of the events with my eldest son in Washington, D.C., in the mid-1990’s, and can confirm that they created a remarkable lineup of outstanding speakers and music.   Men came from the events with a mountain top experience but soon returned to the valleys of their lives without much having changed.

As a result, Promise Keepers started to create books and other resources to fill in the  post-event void.  One such resources was a book written by Howard Hendricks and his son, Bill, entitled As Iron Sharpens IronBuilding Character in a Mentoring Relationship which came out in 1995 and which I still consider one of the best books on the topic.   It encourages men into mentoring relationships with more mature men as an effort to provide accountability and deep relationships.  As Tony Evans says in his comment in the preface to the book:  “Mentoring is not an option;  it is a necessity.”

Mentoring is a topic I’ve written and thought about for well over 25 years. Even before Promise Keepers, a group of men in my town in 1986 had come together to meet for lunch or breakfast on a weekly basis. We shared each other’s lives: our activities, challenges, successes and failures The original concept was for each of the men to have a personal board of directors – a group of other men to whom they were to report and get input.

The idea is similar to landing an airplane.  When a plane is in the process of landing, there are instruments and air traffic controllers on radar to tell the pilot if he is off course, either  high or too low on the glide path, or if the speed of his plane is correct.  Each “director’ was to be an instrument or  “air traffic controller” to give constant feedback in order to keep each other on the right path and make a safe landing.

I initially called this concept the “Integrity Group” when I first wrote about peer mentoring.   Integrity is a word that comes from the Greek word integer which means “that which cannot be divided.”  The central idea is that one’s spiritual and Christian life cannot be separated from who we are in secular life.  Many of us tend to compartmental­ize our lives – that is, we tend to break our lives into separate compartments such as our business life, our social life, our family life, our exercise life, our spiritual life, etc.  Having “integrity” in our lives means that we are one and the same in all situations, whether at home, at work, at church, in private, and in our relation­ships. Someone has said that integrity means doing right even if no one is watching or would know you didn’t.

Put in a more different way, integrity is doing what God wants you to do.  Having said that, God does not want us to do things in isolation; He wants us to do it in community with others.  We need those strong relationships around us to keep us within the guard rails of life, or to use my analogy above, to make sure we have safe landings.  No one is perfect – in fact, as imperfect people we struggle in life to deal with our imperfections, and we really shouldn’t try and do that alone.  As I have said many times, being isolated is an invitation to disaster – in isolation, you are just an accident waiting to happen. A train wreck, as it were. Pastors are particularly vulnerable.  I have found them to be the most isolated of anyone in the Church, and they desperately need someone to be a sounding board for their life.  Over my years, I have found that most failures by ministers has one thing in common:  the minister was accountable to no one.  There was no one watching on radar to tell him he was flying too fast, too low or off course.  The resulting crash was inevitable.

Today’s millennial (or the next generation) is desperately seeking mentors, but our unscientific polling reveals that mature mentors are scarce.  There is a distinct supply/demand imbalance.  The vast majority of next generation (in the 80 to 90% range) would like to interact with someone more mature at a heart level, yet estimates are that the mature mentors represent less than 5% of that generation.  That’s not enough mentors to go around.  One possible alternative is to explore peer mentoring.

I have continued to meet with two other men of approximately the same age who committed to one another to make it a priority to meet.  We have done so weekly for close to 24 years.  It has been a powerful influence on each of our lives, careers and families.

My challenge to the next generation is to find a mature mentor, or failing that, seek and find similarly minded friends who desire to have their own personal board of directors and mentor each other in a peer group.   Consider meeting in a small group of 3 to 4 and work on mentoring one another.  Sharing one another’s lives, burdens, problems and issues is an invaluable tool in your toolkit of helping you do what God wants you to do.  My challenge to pastors is similar:  find at least one other person to be a peer mentor to whom you can be accountable.  Make time on your schedule to interact on a consistent basis.  This may save you and your ministry from failure.

Bill Mann

If you are interested in getting more practical input on this topic, please comment or email me at otterpater@nc.rr.com.  I can address practical suggestions for forming a peer mentoring group as well as providing resources and books to assist you in getting started.

 

 

 

Younger Next Year

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Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” Ephesians 4:29 (Excerpt From: Tony Dungy. “The One Year Uncommon Life Daily Challenge”)

This may be the most challenging devotional I have attempted because the topic is difficult.  It emphasizes paying attention to your health – your fitness, as it were.  There’s lots of reasons for it – if we are to be a witness for Christ, then Jesus would have us consider our lifestyle which includes our appearance, not just how we act.  Our sedentary lifestyles have, over time, made us a culture of either out-of-shape, or overweight, or worse.

The statistics in the U.S. are alarming.  According to the Los Angeles County of Public Health, 42% of children in school are obese or overweight. Studies done by the Robert Wood Foundation determined that more than a third of adults (34.9%) were obese and two-thirds of adults were overweight in 2011-2012.  The same studies from 2015 notes that sixty percent (60%) of adults do not get enough activity to realize health benefits.  (http://stateofobesity.org/rates/). It doesn’t take much to connect the dots – if the adults in the family are overweight or lead sedentary lifestyles, their example gets passed on to their children.  Being overweight is connected to a variety of medical conditions including diabetes and hypertension, many of which can shorten peoples’ life expectancy.

In our culture, appearance matters.   A person who lacks self-discipline in their appearance has to overcome that in order to be a positive witness for Christ.  Discipline is something that the Bible speaks about frequently, but not necessarily about fitness, per se.  No matter how strong your faith is or how eloquent you can be, an unattractive appearance is a turn-off to people.  I know this is not politically correct, but I am just being honest here.

My purpose here is not to be critical but to bring hope to those who might need a little encouragement to change their lifestyles.  The title of this devotional is actually from a bestseller book written by a doctor and one of his patients.  The actual title is Younger Next Year:  Live Strong, Fit and Sexy – Until You’re 80 and Beyond, by Dr. Henry Lodge and Chris Crowley.  The premise of the book is that, as we age, our bodies change.  Starting in our 40’s, our bodies experience aging effects, which, if not counteracted by proper activity and nutrition, will cause one to have a slow decline in our overall health.  There is a cure, however: maintain an active lifestyle and you can actually stop the decline until you die.  The good news is that even if you haven’t been active since your 40’s, you can regain a lot of the decline by becoming active again.  This isn’t rocket science folks.  The bottom line is that being active has a positive effect on your health.  The book comes in two versions, one for women (pink) and one for men (yellow).   I actually bought copies for everyone in my office some years ago to try and encourage those around me to be conscious of their health.  It was the best money I’ve spent.

My son-in-law, Ben Fischer, is a doctor in Raleigh, NC and several years ago he initiated a program called the Fischer Project for his patients. He invited them to attend a highly structured 13-week program where they would learn to exercise and obtain information on leading a healthy lifestyle.  He was assisted by a nutritionist and a physical trainer.  The local YMCA provided a free 3-month membership.  His goal was to help his patients develop healthy habits of eating and exercise.  Eventually, Blue Cross, a local health insurer, backed the program and recently told him that his program got the best results of any that they had seen.  Again, all he was really doing was encouraging his patients to take charge of their lives and encourage some self-discipline. He tells his patients that he could always medicate their maladies, but if they would spend time in the Fischer Project, he could reduce or totally eliminate some of their symptoms.  It worked.  The program is now in its 7th year, and his patients are healthier as a result.

Throughout scripture, we are instructed to have self-discipline – not just in learning scripture on a daily basis, but in our lifestyle.   Paul exhorts us to train and to run the race well in 1 Corinthians 9:24:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.”

The picture above is of my oldest son, Bill III and me when I was just getting into biking a couple of years ago.  He pushed me, and as a result, I have worked hard to expand my range and am now able to do 45 miles at a time. If I can do it, so can you. I also don’t miss the extra 25 pounds that I had a year ago.

So, my challenge is pretty clear.  How is your self-discipline?  Do you need some encouragement to live a healthy lifestyle?  You might read Younger Next Year to encourage you and give you steps that you can take to turn back your biological clock.  You will be glad you did, and your family will too.  They get the benefit of having you around longer as well as your being able to participate in family activities that you might not have been able to before.  At a minimum, you can be an example to your children and family so you can pass along healthy lifestyle habits to the next generation.

Bill Mann

 

Amazon carries Younger Next Year in paperback and audiobooks:

https://www.amazon.com/Younger-Next-Year-Strong-Beyond/dp/076114773X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1464806438&sr=8-1&keywords=younger+next+year