Off to a Good Start

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Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22-23

With the Rio Olympics just over, the world got to watch Usain Bolt, the sprinter from Jamaica win three gold medals for the third time.  He won the 100 and 200 meter events and the 400-meter relay.  A remarkable career of nine gold medals by an engaging individual over three separate Olympics.  The defining photo of him occurred in the 100-meter semi-final race when he turned around and smiled at a camera ahead of his competition, even though he had not yet finished the race (https://www.theguardian.com/media/2016/aug/27/rio-2016-usain-bolt-getty-images-dawn-airey-bbc).  Usain Bolt knows that in a short race, getting off to a good start is critical because fractions of a second means the difference between winning and losing.  In life, winning is not a matter of fractions of a second, but in our attitudes as we face what life throws at us.

We get a fresh start each day when we wake up.  How well our day gets started often is a function of how well we are prepared.  Some days we get off to great starts, and others, well, sometimes we don’t.  Recently, a college friend of my wife sent us a prayer that my wife read to me which really resonated with me as a way to get a good start spiritually every day.  The prayer has no attribution, so I cannot tell you who created it.  Here it is:

O God, this morning I have come into the quietness and stillness of your presence to begin this day so that out of this moment I make take with me a quiet SERENITY which will last me through the rough and tumble of this day’s life. I have come to you to find WISDOM so that today I may not make any foolish mistakes, but will make decisions based on your direction.

I have come to you to find PEACE so that nothing may worry or upset me all through the day and I may approach each challenge with inner strength. I have come to you to find LOVE so that all through the day nothing may make me bitter or unforgiving or unkind and that I may approach each person with the spirit of love and compassion.

I have come to begin the day with YOU, to continue it with YOU, and to end it with YOU, so that it will be a day which will have in it nothing to regret and everything to cherish. Lord, help me to remember that every morning is a new beginning..…. a precious gift, and that nothing can happen to me today that YOU and I, standing together in the strength YOU impart, can’t handle. Make of this day a lovely work of art – to your glory.

Hear this morning prayer, in Christ’s name and by His power.  AMEN

Just as Jesus gave us the Lord’s prayer as a model prayer, you might consider making this your model prayer to start your day.  It contains all that is needed to get off to a good start.

Bill Mann

WORSHIP:   Sis and I enjoy listening to the following song every morning.  It also helps in kickstarting our day.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H1XrbuOoKFw

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Perspective

 

 

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For wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her”.  Proverbs 8:11

One of my favorite stories comes from a supposed naval encounter of a battleship at sea in the time before GPS and other technology provided instant navigation information.  As the story goes, the event takes place in poor weather, and the officer on deck of the ship sees a light, and believing they are on a collision course with another ship, sends the following message:  “Please divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid a collision.”

The reply:  “We recommend that YOU change YOUR course fifteen degrees south to avoid a collision.”  The ship responded:  “This is the Captain in the United States Navy.  I say again, Divert your course.    The response:  “No, I suggest you divert YOUR course 15 degrees south.”

Finally, the captain, having lost patience sends this message:  “THIS IS THE CAPTAIN OF A BATTLESHIP IN THE UNITED STATES NAVY ONE OF THE LARGEST SHIPS IN THE ATLANTIC FLEET.  I DEMAND YOU CHANGE YOUR COURSE 15 DEGREES NORTH.  THAT’S ONE-FIVE DEGREES SOUTH OR MEASURES WILL BE TAKEN TO ENSURE OUR SAFETY.”

The response:  “Sir, this is Seaman First Class of the Coast Guard.  This is a lighthouse. It’s your call.”

I’m not sure about you, but I can identify with the Captain. The Captain thought he knew all the facts.  He had the experience to know that his ship was on a collision course with what he thought was another ship, and most likely a smaller ship than his.  He thought he knew everything based on his training and experience.  But he was wrong because he didn’t consider that his assumptions were wrong:  lighthouses don’t change course, but ships do.

I used to think I “knew” it all, too.  I put it this way:  When I was 20, I thought I knew everything.  When I turned 30, I KNEW I knew everything.  When I turned 40, I realized that I wasn’t too bright at 20 or 30. Now that I am in my 70’s, I know that I wasn’t such a bright bulb in my 40’s, and that the confidence of my knowledge when I was younger was not the same as wisdom which comes from experience.

The perspective of youth is based on knowledge, not experience. The first time I actually mentored a young man, I told him two things in our very first time together:  1) It’s what you don’t know that can hurt you, and 2) It’s a lot easier to learn from the experience (and mistakes) of others, and I’ve made 100’s of mistakes so I have a lot to tell you. He asked if I would illustrate the first statement, which actually surprised me, so I came up with this illustration:  “As a task, I want you to go capture a cat.  Not complicated.  So, you go out to accomplish that, and return later in the day to tell me that I didn’t tell you that the cat was actually a lion, not a small house cat.  That’s what you didn’t know, and had you known that, you would have done things differently.”    Over the years, this young man ended up working for me, and I would smile when he would stop by my office after being surprised by something new and saying “I wish I had known that.”

The millennial generation is desperate for mature people to come besides them and provide them the wisdom that comes from experience.  What some people worry about in being a mentor is not having the answers.  A mentor doesn’t have to have all the answers; their role is to provide a different perspective which, by asking questions such as “Have you considered a different option?”, will aid the protégé see things from a different vantage point.

My challenge is for those who have a lot of life experiences (that’s a graceful way of saying you have reached some maturity), to invest in the next generation by spending time with them and helping guide them.  You don’t have to have answers – in fact, a good mentor generally just asks questions to challenge the thinking of the mentee. You might be an aunt, uncle or just a friend, but some 80% of today’s millennials are looking for you to be their sounding board.  You can fill that role in someone’s life.  It will be one of the most rewarding things you have ever done.

Bill Mann

(The picture above is of my granddaughter (Hannah) in Zermatt, Switzerland this past summer.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Free Days

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‘For when we came into Macedonia, we had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside, fears within.  But God, who comforts the downcast [or depressed], comforted us by the coming of Titus,  2 Corinthians 7:5-8

This post is about taking time off – resting as it were.  Rest is the key to restoration – an ability to renew ourselves – physically, spiritually and emotionally.  Several years ago, a group of my colleagues joined together and took a course which was aimed at entrepreneurs and was designed to help them become better at what they did.  It was called Focus Four.

One of the four basic concepts to being successful at achieving your goals was the idea of a “free day.”  A free day involved a day in which you performed no work related to your occupation.  Taking a day off to play golf with a client didn’t count, for example.

The idea of the program was to make yourself more efficient at what you did by improving the processes and people around you so that you increased the number of free days on your calendar.  When you planned your schedule for the next three months, you actually set goals of the number of free days during a given month.

Central to this concept was that a rested and restored individual could continue to be at their peak when they functioned at work.

The concept validated the idea that rest is required in order to continue to be productive. There is a misconception that as long as you are enjoying what you do, you can work as long and as hard as you want and never burnout.

Having experienced burnout personally and worked with dozens of people over the past 25 years, I can personally say that this is false.  Any work that includes frustration, conflict and stress, without proper emotional and psychological refueling can be instrumental to causing burnout.  When I am talking about “burnout”, I am referring to a condition where the body is so overloaded that it is incapable of functioning properly – it often is accompanied by clinical depression, physical symptoms, substance abuse and an inability to mentally function properly.  I experienced it twice, so that makes me an expert.  There may be lots of things that you might want to become an expert at,  but this is not one of them.

Several years ago, Bill Hybels, the Senior pastor at Willow Creek Community Church, a mega-church in Illinois, experienced burnout.  His description of his experience is consistent with my experience.  He said that all humans have “tanks’ that have to be filled – physical (through nourishment and exercise), spiritual, and emotional.

He paid attention to the first two, but ignored his emotional “tank” to his detriment.  He was interviewed in Christianity Today last year about schedules, replenishment, burnout and “strategic neglect.”  In the interview, he describes burnout as the same as “hitting a wall at high velocity”.

Pastors and leaders are notorious at ignoring their limits, often with predictable results.  Even Jesus took time off to be alone.  Hybels puts it this way:  “[..] I give leaders a gentle but serious warning.  If you sustain unsafe levels of speed long enough, something terrible is going to happen.”  

Even the Apostle Paul had his limits as chronicled in 2 Corinthians 7:5-6, which is the only recorded biblical burnout I have found.  Some versions translate the word “downcast” as “depressed.”  The symptoms are listed – physcally worn out, harassed-facing physical and mental conflicts and depression.

These are all symptoms of burnout, but note the emphasis on the emotional battle – the “fears within”.   Paul endured incredible physical torment during his ministry – there is a list of what endured later in 2 Corinthians 11::24-28, including stoning, lashings, three shipwrecks, beatings with rods, starvation and lack of sleep, and constantly facing all kinds of dangers.

Paul goes on in verse 28 to say that the equal of all that physical punishment was the “daily pressure of my concern for all the churches.”  Again, your emotional health is important.

The challenge here is to maintain a balance in your life – one which includes taking time off to fill your emotional tank – taking off “free days” as it were.  If you have a mentor, he would be the first to embrace this as a healthy lifestyle – one which includes sufficient free days to maintain proper emotional health.

You can start by planning free days, which is getting harder as technology keeps us constantly connected through our cell phones with email at our fingertips.  As a starter, try going a complete day without a cell phone.  You might like it.

My 50th Anniversary gift to my wife is to take a cruise to Alaska, which will start this weekend when we fly to Anchorage on Sunday.  My wife asked if I was going to write this blog while on the trip.  I told her I hadn’t thought about it, but she said that she wanted our trip to be a total vacation for the two of us – to have “free days” together.  Even though I enjoy doing these blogs, I really didn’t argue.  Accordingly, I will resume the posts when I return in the third week of August.  I guess you could say I am taking my own advice.

Bill Mann

If you want to read the interview with Bill Hybels in Christianity Today, it can be found here: http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2015/winter/secret-of-strategic-neglect.html

 

 

 

Changed Price Tags

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“Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.” Psalm 71:18

This topic has been ruminating in my mind for several years.  It addresses some of the root causes of why the millennials are different from prior generations.  I have found that the profile of the American millennials is somewhat universal.  The next generations in Africa and Asia often act like and think like the American millennial.  The title suggests that the values (or price tags) of the millennials has changed over time and gives some glimpse into the causes, at least for America.

My title comes from Tony Compolo, a well-known Christian sociologist from Philadelphia, who authored a book entitled Who Switched the Price Tags several years ago in the late 1980’s. As the title suggests, Tony explores how culture and demographics, over time, changes even if at an imperceptible rate.  In America, the changes didn’t happen overnight but, over the course of a century, family dynamics were transformed by the shift from rural to urban environments.  His research included a lengthy visit to live on farm in the Midwest and observe what life looks like in rural America at the end of the century.  In 1900, America’s population consisted of 80% living in a rural environment and 20% lived in urban centers.  By the end of the 20th century, that had reversed, with 80% of our population living in or near a city and only 20% in a rural area.

His observations give a penetrating glimpse at how that statistical change has been an influence in shaping the millennials today even though it was written before most millennials today were born.  On the farm and in a rural context, farm life provided schedules that dictated how life was lived. For example, the average family unit consisted of 5 or more people – two adults and 3 or 4 children versus an average of 1.2 children per family today.  Everyone including the children at an appropriate age had jobs to do to around the farm, whether it was milking cows or helping in the fields.  Each member of the family was actually a positive economic benefit to the family because their work helped the productivity of the farm which is how they earned a living.  They also observed daily rhythms of life and ate meals together.  Dinner was always at 6 pm, and if you missed it, you were on your own and your absence only meant there was more food for everyone else.  No exceptions.  My daughter calls this “YOYO” – You’re On Your Own.

Fast forward to 2000 where the average family has evolved to the point that meals together is a luxury. In fact, in the average home, mealtime revolves around the children’s schedules – their soccer practice, dance recital, and other extra-curricular activities.  And most parents would admit that their children do not have a positive economic impact; quite the contrary, they have a negative impact.  Compolo goes on to lament that we have raised a generation of kids who have been catered to all of their life by their parents.   Their parents unwittingly have indulged them to the point that their kids don’t want to become adults because of this pampering.  And Tony soberly adds: “Who can blame them?”.  Why would they want to become adults in that kind of environment?

Another book written in the 1990’s by Gail Sheehy entitled New Passages gives a look at these changes from a slightly different perspectiveIt was a rewrite of a book entitled Passages which was written in the early 1980’s, and she decided to revisit her thesis 10 years later to see if it was still valid.   The author observes that the social benchmarks of aging have all been pushed back or changed significantly by at least 10 years.  We used to consider 21 as being the age when an adolescent is considered an adult.  Studies by Pew and Barna now show that adolescence now extends into the late 20’s and for some, into their early 30’s.

Middle age was previously identified with being in your 40’s, and it now starts in your 50’s.  The age of 65 was the accepted benchmark for being “old” since it was often associated with retirement age.  At the time I first read this book, I think I had just turned 50, and was delighted to know that I had gotten 10 years back and was just entering middle age!   Both books, in their own way, point to some of the causes of the attitudes and lives of today’s next generation – a generation that has a prolonged adolescence because they don’t want to be adults.  While these books were written before many of today’s millennials had been born, they are instructive as to why this next generation is different from prior ones.

A humorous take at the millennials is on the video – it points out the wanderings of the millennials but ends on a sober note:

https://www.youtube.com/embed/hLpE1Pa8vvI?autoplay=1&autohide=1&showinfo=0&iv_load_policy=3&rel=0

So the challenge here is to assess how we help the next generation – the millennials – become adults. In his book, Compolo pushes us to “risk more, reflect more, and do things of lasting value.” I’m not sure that as parents, much will change in your household.  As most parents readily will agree, when your child becomes an adolescent, they become “deaf” overnight, and they will often tune out their parents’ advice.

But the adolescent (in their 20’s) has a strong interest in listening to another adult – a mature person who is not related to them – who will be authentic with them and help them along their path.  That person may be you – you may be the mentor that they are looking for, although it never occurred to you that you could be an influence in some young person’s life.  Take time to pray about helping someone in the next generation – you are in a position to influence their life’s trajectory and can be that resource that puts them on track.

Bill Mann