How I’m Going to Make My Holiday Meal More Interesting!

The most important questions in life can never be answered by anyone except oneself. — John Fowles

AreDeathtoStock_Food7 you anticipating drama as you gather with family for the holidays? Want to avert the drama without walking out of the room? Want to preempt the worn-out fish story you hear every year? Can your family do better than the same old, “What are you thankful for this year?”

Try asking questions. Everyone needs help talking to relatives they don’t see very often. Questions like these will help you steer the discussion where you would like.

Here are some to get you started…

  • Would you like to know the day you were going to die? If you did, what difference would it make?
  • What one thing, if it were to happen, would make you happier? Why?
  • Where would you like to go?
  • What historical figure would you like to have dinner with? Why?
  • If you had a time machine, where (and when) would you go?
  • If you could change anything about the past that wasn’t personal to you, what would it be?
  • In what ways did your life turn out like you thought it might? In what ways is it different than you planned?
  • What do you think life (maybe one aspect of life) will be like in 10 years? in 20?
  • Would you rather live by the beach or the mountains? Would you rather vacation in the beach or the mountains? Why?
  • What do you think is the best age to be? Why? (This is especially fun to ask kids).
  • What superpower would you most want to possess? Why? What superpower would you be most likely to abuse?
  • What piece of technology would you most dread living without?
  • If you won “A year’s worth of ____________”, what would you most want it to be?
  • What book did you most enjoy this past year? Why?
  • How does who you are today reflect who you were when you were 12?

Not every question will work with every person. But a good question asked at the right time could transform your Thanksgiving meal and make it a lot more fun!

(I tried this last night. I asked if you would like to know the day you would die question. My daughter said, “No. I’m not good with deadlines!”  Have fun.

Seven Deadly Sins of the New Year

No one sets out to sabotage themselves in the new year. No one says to themselves, “Self, I think I’ll make this year a terrible year…” Why then, do people end up having terrible years when they could have better ones. Here are a few reasons, sins that will sabotage your new year.

Laziness

This is most obvious half-way through January. Gyms stand empty again. The scale stays in the closet. They books gather dust on the night-stand. It is simply easier NOT to make the changes that will make the year better. So they don’t get made.

Bitterness

This shows up at the worst times in the worst possible ways. It ruins relationships. It drives compulsive habits. It requires medication or explodes in angry outbursts.

Carelessness

Lack of attention to detail, or simply not caring is a cousin of laziness. If I don’t care about other people, or don’t start caring and noticing pretty soon, my relationships will never improve. If I don’t really care about how much things cost, I’ll never save.

Pride

The mother of all other vices, this one reinforces every other bad habit. Thinking more highly of one’s self than is warranted promotes excuses, blaming, abuse, bragging, false humility, a sense of entitlement and all kinds of other things that are unpleasant to be around…and we can’t figure out why things aren’t getting better this year.

Foolishness

Foolishness takes all sorts of forms: incessant talking, boasting, being angry, choosing poor friends, and dishonesty. A fool and his money are soon parted…so are a fool and his friends. The pursuit of wisdom can prevent a lot of pain in 2015.

Lack of Self-Restraint

If you can’t postpone spending, you’ll never save. If you can’t limit eating, you’ll never lose weight. If you can’t stop yourself from watching TV, you’ll never read those books. When you cannot be your own master, someone else, or something else will be. And, that is usually bad.

Fear

Sometimes the problems with the New Year don’t come from what we do that we can’t make ourselves stop. Sometimes it comes from the things we don’t do because we are afraid. If fear is the saboteur, you may not even recognize the New Year got away from you until after its gone. And that is the saddest of all losses.

While you may not set New Year’s Resolutions, maybe you can avoid these things that will sabotage your success in the new year.

Why Would Anyone Judge Someone Else?

This morning I read Matthew 7:1, the most quoted verse in the Bible: “Judge not, that you be not judged.”

It occurred to me to ask, why would anyone judge someone else? What is it that makes this instruction necessary? I can think of a few reasons:

  • Because I’ve been faced with the similar choice and chose otherwise. When faced with the same information, I acted differently than you did. Our different response to the facts bothers me.
  • Because my conscience requires something yours does not. I have judged myself as unable or unfree to enjoy your liberty, so my first reaction is that you shouldn’t be free either.
  • Because I have the same problem, but it is secret. If you are “out there” I am going to be “out there” and I don’t want to be. Maybe you won’t be if I condemn you.
  • Because I am afraid of what will happen if you are right. What if your choice, which is different than mine is right and mine is unsccessful?
  • Because I will look better if you are shown to be wrong. At the heart of most judgment is pride. Whether it’s true or not, I ‘m inclined to believe I’ve taken the high ground.

Can you think of any other possible motives for judging someone else?

Getting People On Your Side

Did you ever have the feeling that the whole world is against you? Well, sometimes it is! I’ve learned that people oppose you for one of two reasons, one good and one not so good.

Arguing

That’s a Bad Idea!

They oppose you because you have a dumb idea. People legitimately oppose weak proposals, bad ideas, mistakes, wrong opinions. You wouldn’t want your friends to humor you if your idea falls in that category. They are doing you a favor by opposing you. When someone lets you know you are wrong they are acting as your friend. Early in my ministry one of our elder meetings was going to fall on April 1. The chairman of the board had wonderful (read devious) sense of humor. We conspired to create a plan to show appreciation to the ministry workers by inviting them to come to the elders meeting. We were, however, going to invite them with something like this, “It has come to the attention of the elders that there are some issues in your ministry that we need to talk about.” Our intent was to get them a little nervous, have them come to the meeting and then say, “April Fools! It has come to our attention that we need to express our heartfelt thanks to you. I asked my dad on the phone what he thought of the plan and what he would do if he received a note like that. He simply said, “I’d quit.” Nothing more. I realized he was not on board with my idea because it was a foolish one that certainly wasn’t worth the risk. People oppose good ideas, though, for yet another reason. People will oppose good ideas and bad ideas if they are not brought into the process. When they are simply told the way things will be, normal people take time to adjust. Or, they don’t adjust. Either way they push back. Deliver the news and expect trouble.

Involve me!

How do you involve people in the process? How do you preempt that natural resistance? How do you get people cheering for you instead of rooting against you? Here are a few simple ways.

  • Vote early and often. As soon as you realize you need to change, as soon as you recognize you have a decision to make, start talking about it. Give people as much lead time as possible. Bring it up frequently so no one can complain that they’ve never heard of this.
  • Ask questions. Solicit feedback. “What do you think I should do?” “What would you do if you were me?” How would you recommend I do this?” “Do you know any resources that will help me?”
  • Take the extra step. I think the reason not to involve other people is that it takes longer. It is more work. It slows you down. I would suggest, however, that it isn’t as much work as dealing with the opposition you might get because you didn’t take the extra step to involve them earlier.
  • Give them responsibility. The fastest way to get someone on your side is, well, to ask them to be on your side. Give them something they can do to help you. Not only will it help you, it will give them some investment in the success of the outcome. They will pull for your instead of against you.

It really doesn’t matter if you are changing a multi-million dollar corporation or changing plans for your family vacation, taking a few extra steps to get people on your side will pay big dividends.

How To Write A Sensitive Email

You've Got Mail!I remember talking with my wife about the purchase of our first computer connected to the internet. She said, “What’s the internet? And why do we need it?” I tried to explain that we were going to need to email somebody sometime. “What’s email,” she replied!

While that seems like a distant memory it’s not that long ago. Email has been the bane of my existence ever since! Moral of the story: Always listen to your wife!

The first principle of using email for sensitive information is this:

Don’t!

Email may be the worst form of sensitive communication, but sometimes you have to write a sensitive one anyway. On February 18, 2013, an email leaked from a Walmart executive that caused their stock price to plummet. That was one expensive email! Chances you will write an email that will cost you, too, are pretty high!

If you absolutely must send an email that includes sensitive information, here are principles to remember:

  • Every email has a life of its own. You never know who will forward it.
  • Names live on. Don’t say something about someone that could harm them if it fell into the wrong hands.
  • The context of the reader is not the context of the sender in time, place, thought. Every person will have a different take on the information. They will receive it without any external input. They will have had a bad day, maybe.
  • Your email is a permanent record. It is searchable, recoverable and someone will be able to use it in the future whether you want them to or not.
  • Not all the intended recipients will read it. Email will never be a fail-safe form of communication because not everyone you expect to read will actually open it and read it. Yes, you may be able to track who did and who didn’t, but it will never match eye contact and Q & A for delivery confirmation.
  • Make sure the people who may be affected by your email see it before it is public. Let them have a chance to speak into it for clarity and safety.
  • Let the email sit for a day.
  • Expect it will be misread. Provide a feedback loop. Make sure a follow-up plan is in place when people need to talk about the information you sent.

When in doubt, find a different way to communicate the information. Or, go back to a computer that isn’t connected to the internet…

Bless Your Neighbors

Dave Ferguson shared some good ideas on the Verge Blog this week. It struck me as an easy way to think about the relationship building process. He gave 5 key activities:

B- Begin with prayer. We want you to ask, ‘God how do you want me to bless the people in the places you’ve sent me to?’
L- Listen. Don’t talk, but listen to people, their struggles, their pains, in the places God sent you.
E- Eat. You can’t just check this off. It’s not quick. You have to have a meal with people or a cup of coffee. It builds relationships.
S- Serve. If you listen with people and you eat with people they will tell you how to love them and you’ll know how to serve them.
S- Story. When the time is right, now we talk and we share the story of how Jesus changed our life.

Who will you bless this week?

Making Goals Stick

It’s January second, that’s about when some of my New Year’s Resolutions begin to get a bad case of the wobbles. By late in the week, I’m already chocolate, I don’t have time to read that chapter I promised myself I would and the credit card bill for the money I’ve already spent uses up all my “good-intention” money that was supposed to go to savings.

It makes me ask, “How can I keep this from happening? Is there anything I can to do make goals stick?

2013Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The truth is, I do what I do because I do it. I act the way I do for reasons. I’m not aware of the reasons and don’t always understand them. But, last year’s behaviors I want to change now, come from somewhere!

Simply stated, if I can change the reasons I behave like I do, I can permanently change my behavior.

  • At one level, that means assessing my motivations, my reasons, for doing things. Do I have a sufficient motivation for the change. Is there enough pain in the past or promise in the future to support my change?
  • More than that, though, how is my life arranged to support my new goal? The reason I crave chocolate may be that I’ve always had it in my desk drawer. It might be that I don’t eat a good breakfast. I may have to change something upstream of the actual resolution before I’ll be able to keep it.
  • Still farther upstream, is there something in the stream that is poisoning it before it has the opportunity to water my resolution? Do I have an emotional commitment to the status quo that I’m unaware of? Maybe I eat chocolate as comfort food when I argue with my wife. Maybe the reason I have kept chocolate in my desk drawer is so that I can have control of one pleasure in my life, something I was deprived of as a child. So, I’ve held on to that one thing and now it is hurting me.

It seems to me that I have to take a look at the causes of my current behavior and address those if I ever hope to see substantive change. The whole process of goal setting is important because it forces us to do just that. And, if it doesn’t, it will be just an annual exercise in futility and status quo.

What Would a “Christian” New Year’s Resolution Look Like?

Most New Year’s Resolutions may be reduced to wishes that next year will be better than last year. At least that is what my annual weight-loss, book-reading, and money-saving resolutions amount to.

The new year is the time when we assess the past and figure out what we want to change. Then, we do our best to make a statement about the change we want. And finally, we try harder, for at least a while.

2013Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Anyone can do that. Some can even do better. They actually set goals they achieve!

In other words, for all the prayer, reflection and meditation that Christians put into their goal setting, the goals themselves look very much like goals that any one, regardless of their beliefs, could set. If a New Year’s Resolution itself is void of belief, or indistinct with regard to its relation to Christ, where is the glory for Christ in that? What would be God’s motivation for aiding us in that endeavor?

What would a distinctly Christian New Year’s Resolution look like? One way of looking at it would be this: A Christian New Year’s Resolution is one an unconverted person would never attempt!

This would include two sorts of resolutions:

  • First, the content of the resolution itself would be something that no unconverted person would be interested in attempting. Reading the Bible through in a year, for instance, or give away more than a tithe of your income. Why would an unconverted person attempt that? While I can conceive of reasons, but the reality is that the resolution itself requires motivation that comes from grace or else it will be almost impossible to stick with
  • Second, the resolution is so audacious and aims so clearly for glory to God that to attempt it under your own power, like the resolutions listed above would be ridiculous. Goals, or resolutions, like leading two friends to Christ, establishing three neighborhood Bible studies, or starting a church, cannot successfully be completed without grace from outside. If God works, those things might happen. If God doesn’t work, it won’t matter how much I work, because those require some level of supernatural power.

While I don’t want people to be fat, or waste money, or never read a book, I can’t help but wonder, what would 2013 look like if we had more distinctly Christian goals? What if we used our New Year’s Resolutions to ratchet up our God-dependence rather than our self-dependence?

My Experience of Ecclesiastes

WaitingI have spent the past several months immersed in the book of Ecclesiastes. For those who haven’t read it, this book is vastly different than anything else I have ever read.

It reads like someone who has been trapped in a video game that he can’t win. The best he can do is to lose then restart the game, knowing he’ll lose again.  Meaningless, it’s all meaningless.

Though that is his tone, it has been good for me. I thought it would be worthwhile to summarize why it has been good for me since it doesn’t appear good on the face of it. Here are a few of the ways Ecclesiastes has been good for me:

  • It has reminded me that my friends who are living a life under the sun, apart from God, are stuck in a video game they can’t win. They don’t always recognize the pathos of their situation, but the writer of Ecclesiastes is very clear about it. I need to be aware of their struggle, sensitive to it, and compassionate. I have news that can deliver them, not just from hell, but from the futility of this present existence!
  • It forced me struggle with the meaning of Scripture. How can an inspired writer of the Bible be so negative? I got that question a lot. Peter Enns, in his fabulous but depressing commentary calls it “the Counterpoint” of scripture. Here are some of his thoughts:
The counterpoint of Scripture is part of Scripture and hence should be very much part of any discussion of Scripture and its role in the church. To think otherwise betrays common sense. It is important, therefore, to remember that the counterpoint must be incorporated into a doctrine of Scripture as counterpoint, however offensive or challenging that might be. The theology of Ecclesiastes or job or the lament psalms must be allowed to provide their own diverse voices to the discussion. They cannot be tamed in the interest of familiar or comfortable formulations.
The task is to try to understand how counterpoint functions as Scripture.
By allowing the counterpoint to have its say, we are allowing Scripture to embody for the church a disposition that, apparently (if one takes inspiration seriously), God himself seems very interested to have embodied. What is embodied in Scripture by the presence of counterpoint? It is a posture of conversation and honest engagement with life and with God himself. This is no small matter for anyone who has lived long enough to see the very practical challenges to one’s faith that are so common to all Christians. Scripture is not simply a top-down document that reveals to us God’s will. It is also a God-authorized, documented, painful articulation of what is in store for those who follow God. (Kindle Edition, Location 2822-2827)
  • Ecclesiastes brought me face-to-face with my idols. Yes, that’s the problem. I didn’t think they were idols. Yet, as I interacted week after week with pleasure, work, relationships and wealth I found myself downcast. I realized I had been placing my hope for happiness in these objects and they are not built to satisfy at that level.
  • The confrontation with death at every turn in the book of Ecclesiastes has colored my experience with a major shoulder surgery. I am writing this with a sling on my shoulder. Thankfully it was not as painful as I was led to expect, but nonetheless it is a significant inconvenience and weakens this decaying body even more. I found it very hard not to descend into despair in anticipation of the pain of surgery and in the immediate recovery. Ecclesiastes reminded me I should expect life in this broken world to be full of pain and any other expectation was another form of absurd, unrealistic idolatry.