Caught Not Taught


You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance,  persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. 2 Timothy 3:10

This post started with a conversation on IM with my pastor friend, Benvictor Ojongmanyinkongho,  from Limbe, Cameroon.   Yes, that’s his real name. I refer to him as Benvictor “Alphabet”.  Benvictor said “Mentoring is about catching through observation and experiencing through relationships.”

We were preparing for a mentoring conference in Nigeria. We were together in Lome, Togo last year with 30 West African leaders from 12 countries.  I spoke on mentoring to millennials and brought John Mark, age 23,  with me.  I had been meeting with him for several months as his mentor.  He is pictured above with Kwame, our translator from Togo.

Our travel to Togo was anything but ordinary. Our flight to Brussels was delayed by 2 hours, resulting in a missed flight to Togo. We were re-booked on AirMaroc  and spent the next 8 hours in the Brussels airport. Our AirMaroc flight was also delayed 2 hours, causing us to miss our connecting flight to Togo in Casablanca. We didn’t realize it at the time, but the next flight to Togo wouldn’t be until 3 days later.

I won’t bore you with the details of being stranded in Casablanca. AirMaroc did a miserable job in keeping us informed; they did a better job in putting us up for free at a nice hotel, the Atlas Sky.  It was labeled a “4-Star” hotel, but I think they gave themselves that rating.  John Mark agrees, although, in fairness, we weren’t exactly “roughing it.”

After several trips from the Hotel to the airport trying to get rebooked, including another cancelled flight at 11 pm the next evening, we settled in to make the best of our circumstances.  John Mark, at one point, mentioned that he had never had a travel experience like this before. I responded that it was new to me, too, even though I was an experienced world traveler.

I figured out that we could rent a taxi for a day for $50.  Our hotel was 20 miles from Casablanca. I came up with a list of sites and places to see, and we took two taxi trips touring Casablanca. The taxis took us from place to place on my list, waiting nearby while we investigated the locale.

On day three, we arrived in Togo at 2:30 am in the morning. We navigated getting a visa from the corrupt immigration folks who didn’t want to give us any change back for paying in U.S. currency. We were owed about US$40.  I finally got change in the local currency, which was fine by me.

While I did get a little upset at the airline (for the record, never, ever, fly AirMaroc if you can avoid it), we survived our 3-day unplanned diversion to Morocco. When we got to Togo, our days were packed with meetings and presentations from other leaders. There was little time to interact with John Mark due to the tight schedule of the sessions.

On our return flight, I asked John Mark what he got out of our trip. Thinking he would say something about meeting new people and making friends in Togo, he surprised me by saying his best experience was hanging out with me and exploring Casablanca together.

His comment made me realize that the real purpose of our travel odyssey was to spend valuable time together. He was able to observe me face adversity – the difficulty of dealing with an airline that cared little about customer service and was antagonistic when we tried to re-book on another airline.

Which brings me to the point of this story. Much of life is caught, not taught. I believe this is especially true for millennials who have such short attention spans. Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets, said it this way: “Kids don’t learn from what you try to teach them. They learn from who you are.”  Good stuff.

I brought John Mark along with me to Togo to let him experience a very different culture and meet new friends.  I never dreamed we would have an unintended stay in Morocco, but obviously, God had other plans.

In three days, we got to know each other and developed a deeper relationship. I am convinced of that it wouldn’t have happened had we made all of our flights on time.

Many of my generation considering mentoring are intimidated, for no reason, really. The anxiety comes from doing something new.  Yet, developing a relationship with someone from the next generation is all that is required.

The challenge for mentors is to develop deeper relationships with your mentees. They can see you as you are, not as you might be trying to project. If they see you as authentic and real, you will have made great progress in your rapport with one another.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  I will resist suggesting that a mentor get stuck in Casablanca for three days with his mentee, but I think a mentor should creatively figure out ways to spend time just doing life together. That could be by going to a sporting event or concert together.

WORSHIP:  As a reminder that it’s often not our conversation that is important, listen to the song titled “May My Words Be Few” by Matt Redman.

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“And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child…..Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?” 1 Kings 3:7.9

There is an expression which is used to describe people who instinctively make the right decision. It’s the French term “savoire faire”, and it means knowing what to do under the circumstances. You might have encountered someone with this gift. I wish I had it.  But most of us struggle making good decisions, particularly those big or critical ones.

For context, studies show that the next generation makes decisions based on emotion or whatever feels right. It’s subjective, not objective. They eschew decisions based on values, facts, science, reason or objective data. It’s a slippery slope, but it’s the slope that the next generation is camped on.

My friend, Jolene Erhlacher, recently did presentations to millennials on several college campuses. She asked the students whether they made decisions based on facts or emotions. Not surprisingly, approximately 80% said they based their decisions on emotion.

Vernon Law is quoted as saying: “Experience is a hard teacher because you get the test first and the lesson afterwards.” For many of us, we wish we had gotten the lesson before the experience. What is a better way to make good decisions other than basing them on what feels good?

Several principles may help the next generation (and the rest of us who don’t have savoire faire), particularly when a decision is in a gray area where there is no clear black and white. Here are some things that helped me deal with controversial or gray area decisions:

  1. Look for the big picture. An engineer client had a built-in prism in his mind when he made decisions. When held up to light, a prism displays a rainbow of colors. When it came to a decision, he would mentally hold his prism up to the light to see what color would come out.  He would get input from others and I watched him taking that input as if it was sunlight as he turned the prism in his head.  Put another way, try to see the big picture, not just from your vantage point but with input from others – particularly a mentor. It will help you see an issue from a perspective that you might not have on your own. Hearing the “other side” to a decision may not change the outcome, but at least you will have considered all sides. As I have often said, it’s what we don’t know that hurts us, so seeking counsel of others may help avoid making a poor decision.I wrote about this in a post entitled We is Better than Me which described the pitfalls of going it alone in life.
  2. Assume the best in others. This is a John Maxwell idea: treat everyone with respect and honor and don’t burn bridges. He usually took the high road, often when it was not deserved by others.  That means you “need to believe the best about others”, as Tim Elmore puts it. Granted, people will let you down, but in the long run, showing confidence in someone pays dividends. My wife is the best at this. She is such a positive person that she always sees the good in everyone.
  3. Think long-term. This was drilled into me by a friend of mine, Floyd Green, who was part of a group of men that I met with consistently for 25 years. We were the “spiritual board of directors” for each other. Floyd maintained that best decisions were made when he looked at the long-term consequences rather than the short-term benefit. It’s easy to make knee jerk decisions based on short-term results, without considering all the facts. Advertisers presses us to think about only today. Sadly, that pressure has resulted in huge student debt which now approaches $1.4 trillion dollars in the U.S. Students bought into the message of “Learn now; pay later” without thinking about what the cost will be later.
  4. Seek a win-win solution. Life is really a constant negotiation if you think about it. Just think about how a group decides where you might go out to eat. You put your preferences out there, but often you don’t get your way. I went through a workship on negotiation during my law career. One of the exercises involved a set of facts about a certain transaction between two parties. You were instructed to negotiate on behalf of one of the parties to get the best result for your party. Your workshop opponent in the exercise was instructed to do the same for the opposite party. You were free to choose your specific negotiating style.  One style might be to negotiate in a way so that you would only accept total victory and not make any concessions to the other side. That’s a win-lose Not surprisingly, the most successful results were achieved when the participants negotiated with a win-win style. This forces you to think about the other sides goals and objectives and to try to to develop ideas that will benefit each party.
  5. Do the “right” thing. If a decision involves choosing between doing the right thing or cutting a corner by doing something that advances your interests ahead of another inappropriately, my personal experience is that you are better off doing the right thing, even if it is inconvenient. Some decisions may affect everyone but may not please everyone. Using your power or position to take advantage of another is not the right thing. For me, let’s just say you sleep better at night.
  6. Pray for Wisdom. Most Christians would agree that Solomon was one of the wisest people in Scripture. Yet, even he felt intimidated about making decisions as a young King.  Solomon’s prayer for wisdom is found in 1 Kings 3. He needed guidance from above, and so do we. The Holy Spirit is a great resource and we often overlook His guidance. I prayed Solomon’s prayer daily during my career because my day consisted of having to make important decisions affecting my clients or staff that were difficult or complicated.

Our challenge is to help the next generation advance beyond their default emotional decision-making process. Seven decades on this earth has taught me that decisions based on a feel-good or emotional bases are often disasters.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  Helping your mentee make better decisions may be one of the highest and best uses of a mentor. Your experience, objectivity and perspective may be an invaluable resource to a generation that defaults to making decisions on emotion.

FURTHER STUDY:  Solomon’s Prayer for Wisdom:

Iain King wrote a book entitled “How to Make Decisions – And Be Right All the Time.”  The last part of the title is intentional satire because it is impossible to be right all the time. A summary of the book can be found here.

A post on “We is Better than Me“: the benefits of having a close friend or mentor in your life:

WORSHIP:  The song “Lord, I need you” by Chris Tomlin reminds us how much we need God’s help in making decisions: Chris Tomlin – Lord I Need You – YouTube

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Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.  Romans 12:2

I recently had to remove a large pine tree that was over 100 feet high which was infested with beetles that killed it in 30 days.  My tree expert noted that beetles start at the top of the tree.  Reminds me of how our heads (at the top) can poison the rest of our bodies if infected by the wrong things.

I have alluded to “living in a Romans 1 culture” in recent posts. You can read Romans 1:18-24 to see how God let the Roman culture devolve into depravity and moral decay. The Old Testament parallel is the story of Daniel who was in captivity in Babylon. Both stories demonstrate the pressure of the faithful to absorb and adopt to their culture around them.

History shows that the Roman Empire was destroyed from within. I can’t help but think about the comparison to our present circumstances.  We are now living in a post-Christian era, where the next generation has no biblical moorings when it comes to morality.

Even those with some biblical background are woefully unprepared. According to a recent Barna poll, less than half of churchgoers recognized the term “the Great Commission” from Matthew 28:18-20.  Another 6% said they weren’t sure. That is quite sad, actually, because it means that even those that attend Church are almost biblically illiterate.

The Barna poll goes on to show only 17% of the respondents knew what the Great Commission was, and another 25% had “heard of it but didn’t know what it was.”  Age was a factor in the response. 29% of “Elders” knew what it was, compared to 17% of Generation Z and 10% of millennials.

Those are disturbing numbers to me. I’m disappointed that older adults didn’t fare better. But it reinforces the observation that if they are biblically illiterate, it should not be surprising that the next generation is even worse off.

Paul’s letter to the Romans encouraged Christians to advance the Gospel in a culture that was even more depraved than what we may have seen today. Paul wrote a template of how to survive and thrive in the midst of moral decay. His letter is instructive today.

Paul starts in Romans 12:2 with the word “conform” in the opening line when he says not to “conform to the pattern of this world.”  “Conform” in the Greek means that we change our mind and character according to another’s pattern.  The influence comes from outside us – our cultural environment or secular worldview.

The“world” is where we live.  It’s our community, family, place of worship and our workplace. It’s the schools that we attend to be educated.  It’s the people we communicate with, often on social media. Sadly, our educational institutions are providing bad or no guidance on what Christianity and its moral values are all about.

A look at our college life provides insights into how far we have veered off course morally. A recent article described experts in academia warning that students are “going off the rails” and that they lack intellectual curiosity.  I won’t go into the statistics, but one poll cited in the article reflected that 82% of seniors in college had sex outside of marriage.

College is described a “parent funded motel party” featuring no-holds barred promiscuity. A University of Virginia professor is quoted as saying “many problems seen today would not exist if even just dormitories were single-sex.”

A recent course offering at George Washington University in Washington, DC offers a multi-cultural diversity course that includes a discussion of “Christian privilege.” The course description says that Christians enjoy a privileged, easier life than their non-Christian counterparts.

The premise of the course denies the reality that Christian face daily oppression around the world. To me, the course shows what some “in the world” think and are willing to teach at our best Universities.  This is junk academia that is being advanced in lots of places.

So, how does a Christian thrive in this environment?

Paul’s solution to the Christians in Rome is to renew your mind.  The word for “renewing” in the Greek means “renovation” or “a complete change for the better”. You know what a renovation looks like:  you remove the junk of the past and replace it with something new and better.  The picture above shows the “before” of our mind before the transformation has occurred.

What is so misunderstood is that anyone, even the worst monster, can find redemption in Christ. No matter what junk you have in your head or what you have done, you will find that God’s grace is like a spiritual eraser that helps rid you of your past. It’s still your past, but you have a new beginning point. A clean slate.

Pretty straightforward advice.  How do you survive in a world of moral decay?  You start with the basics by refusing to accept the message of the world, and by relying on the Holy Spirit and your own personal devotional life.   You can replace the “junk” in your mind that you have absorbed from a culture that has run off of the rails.

Having been a Christian for over 30 years, I can honestly say that my faith walk with Christ has grown in direct proportion to the amount of biblical knowledge I’ve garnered over the years. There is no shortcut.  It takes discipline and commitment. Sometimes it takes a mentor or friend to help you along the way as an encourager.  We are commanded to make disciples, and this is part of the process.

That’s the challenge for today’s mentors.  We are now encountering a generation that has limited biblical knowledge, and much of what they have been taught by secular education is wrong or misleading. They need to be shown a way to renovate their minds so that they can make wise decisions for their lives. Don’t be afraid to ask them what aspect of their life needs renovation.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:   The next generation is looking for authentic Christianity which has been lived out.  They will often learn more from who you are than what you say. Still, you need to press mentees to “renovate” their minds with the Word of God.

FURTHER STUDY: Moral decline as one of the “main causes” for the fall of the Roman Empire:

Barna Poll on 51% of Churchgoers have not heard about the Great Commission:

Campus life going off the rails:

University of Tennessee – Knoxville has a “Sex Week” which includes a workshop on sex toys:

George Washington University course on diversity training including Christian Privilege:

WORSHIP:  Listen to “Anchor” which reminds us what the hope we have in Christ: Anchor – Hillsong Live (Worship song with Lyrics) 2013 New Album …

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Happiness – 2


 And I saw that all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.  Ecclesiastes 4:4

I’ve wrote a post on this topic over a year ago.  A recent article on The Huffington Post stated how there are “over 75 million Google search results for the term and 40,000 happiness-related books available for purchase on Amazon … And it’s not necessarily helping us to become any happier.”

A couple of articles caught my attention which has brought me back to this topic. It caused me to think of the lyrics to the country and western song by Waylon Jennings which goes “searching for love in all the wrong places.” Just substitute “happiness” for “love” and you get the point.

The first story comes from Yale University, an Ivy league college in New Haven, Connecticut. Just out of curiosity, what would you think is the most popular course at this institution?  English? Philosophy? A terrific history course?  Nope. None of the above.

The answer is Psych 157: Psychology and the Good Life taught by Laurie Santos. Almost one-fourth of the entire undergraduate school has signed up for this course.  In her own words, she “tries to teach students how to lead a happier, more satisfying life in the twice-weekly lectures.”  Mind you, all of these students are classified as millennials.

Why so popular?  Well, a recent study in 2013 by Yale found that more than half of the undergraduates have sought mental health care since being enrolled. That is fairly consistent with other studies of millennials which have shown a dramatic increase in depression and suicide in this age group.

One of the core principles of the course is that millennials are finding that their quest to obtain happiness by achievement – winning an award, getting a high grade, or landing a prestigious internship – has nothing to do with achieving happiness. As Santos notes, scientists have gotten it all wrong on our intuition on what makes us happy.

Put another way:  stuff and awards don’t make one happy. Pretty basic, and something Solomon thought about back in Ecclesiastes when he said it was all just chasing after the wind.  As a staff writer for the Yale newspaper put it:  this is a student’s “Cry for Help.”

The second story is the recent Gallop study of 2.5 million Americans to determine their “subjective well-being”, which is a euphemism for happiness.

The bottom line of the study is that we aren’t happy, and that there is a disturbing decline in our nation’s sense of well-being. “The overall decline (in 2017) was driven by worsening emotional health, social well-being and purpose well-being.”

I’ve always said Solomon was a pretty smart guy.  History bears that out. The above passage from Ecclesiastes 4 really hits it on the head. We all are wired to compete for accomplishments. We aren’t happy coming in second, or third, or even last. We are motivated by comparison to others. Yet, both stories say that this is “chasing after the wind”.

Even if you achieve the accomplishment you always wanted, it is not a ticket to happiness.

Alannah Mayez, a Yale student who put it this way: “In reality, a lot of us are anxious, stressed, unhappy, numb.”   She went on to say that many of peers are so tired that they numb their emotions “so they can focus on their work, the next step, the next accomplishment.”

As I read these stories,  I can’t resist but saying that one solution may be overlooked, and it’s the spiritual one.  When one is grounded spiritually, life’s purpose becomes clearer, and you realize a purpose outside of yourself.

Based on my own experience of becoming a Christian at age 38, life gets better with Christ at the center. As James Emory White notes, “Every life would be better with a deep and clear sense of true north in terms of navigating what’s right and wrong, true and false, good and bad.”

Studies confirm that people are searching for happiness in all the wrong places, and that a quest for money and possessions is unlikely to achieve it. According to Inc. Magazine, 50% of your ability to achieve happiness is hard-wired into your genetics which you can’t change. Only 10% is a result of environment.

On the other hand, 40% is due to “intentional activity” which gets me back to my point on having purpose in your life. To do that, the author suggests three things to focus on.

The first is to align your activity with your values, gifts, talents and passions. Secondly, it suggests that one should do “random acts of kindness.”  Third, and not least, is to “count your blessings”. Be grateful for who you are and what life experiences you have had.

Those are good suggestions, particularly for the next generation who have isolated themselves from real relationships due to their digital habits and have increased rates of depression and suicide.  No wonder they are interested in finding happiness.

Our challenge with the next generation is to get below the surface and find out what is driving them.  Part of that is to find out how developed they are in their spiritual life, and also to help them find their purpose.

God has put them on earth for a purpose – He has gifted each of us with unique talents, gifts, passions and desires for a purpose.  It is the role of the older generation to lend a hand in helping the next generation discover their purpose.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY: One of the best things a mentor can do is to help a mentee ascertain what God’s purpose is for their lives. A person with a clear vision is usually well centered for dealing with the ups and downs of life.

FURTHER STUDY: A copy of the Psych 157 Course Description:

The Yale Daily described the Psych 157 course as “It’s a Cry for Help”:

The 2017 Gallop Poll on well-being:

WSJ Article correlating stress and social environment to general health:

An article in Inc. Magazine titled “Looking for Happiness in all the Wrong Places”:

WORSHIP:  Listen to the song “Sweeter” where the lyrics tell us that “every day with you, Lord, is sweeter than the day before”.

Sweeter Than the Day Before Cindy Cruse Ratcliff ~ Lakewood …

COMMENT:  I would be delighted at comments on this or any other post. You can comment by clicking on the icon at the top of the page or emailing me at

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