Monday, September 27, 2010

You Can't?

What's your story about yourself?
Is your story mostly full of what you've been told you can't do? Or do you have a track record of what you can do? Are you a "can't" or "can" kind of person? At work, at home, at church, at school - you'll get presented with challenges, problems, big frustrations that will stretch you and require you to step up or sit down.

A part of you will want to quit, to complain, to resist - you can't see yourself overcoming. But there's another side of you that wants to succeed, you want to achieve, you want to accomplish - you want to think you can. You're just not sure if you have it in you, you don't like how hard the scenario has become, you're a little afraid of what might happen if you fail.

Becoming indispensable in your marriage, with your kids, where you work, at your school, in your church, where you live - it's about focusing on what you can do. There will be a thousand problems you'll have to work through in the next year - don't let the painful problems of life deter you from doing the next right thing. A linchpin helps the people around them do the next right thing - even when it's really hard, even when others think they can't do it.

Don't tell me you can't be a better husband or wife.

Don't tell me you can't be a better father or mother.

Don't tell me you can't be a better son or daughter.

Don't tell me you can't make a better contribution at work.

Don't tell me you can't make a bigger difference in your church.

Don't tell me you can't improve your efforts at school.

Don't tell me you can't strengthen your relationship.

Maybe you don't want to because it's too hard, or you don't feel like it's worth it, or you're too tired to keep trying. But can't? You can't become indispensable? You can't become a linchpin? Really?

You can.

Here's an excerpt from Godin's book, Linchpin. Read it...

At the age of four, you were an artist.
And at seven, you were a poet.
And by the time you were twelve, if you had a lemonade stand, you were an entrepreneur.
Of course you can do something that matters. I guess I'm wondering if you want to.

There may be a voice in your head that is ready to announce that you can't possibly do what I'm describing. You don't have what it takes; you're not smart enough or trained enough or (sheesh) gifted enough to pull this off.

I'd like to ask for a simple clarification.

You can't - or you don't want to?

I'll accept the second. It's quite possible that you don't want to. It's possible that making this commitment is too scary or too much work. It's possible that it appears too risky to put yourself on the line and make a commitment to becoming indispensable. A commitment like this raises the bar, and for some people, that might be too high.

Perhaps you don't want to because it feels financially irresponsible. I think that's an error in judgment on your part, since becoming a linchpin is in fact the most responsible choice you can make. But that's your call, and if you decide you don't want to, fine with me.

But can't?

I don't buy that for a second.

~ Seth Godin, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?, p32

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Sweatrags and Workaprons

Do you ever feel powerless?

Do ever wish that someone would come along, help lift you up out of your situation, help you start over?

Do you ever wonder why God doesn't do more to help you out of your powerlessness?

God has a way of meeting people in their powerlessness, but it's often in unexpected ways. In the ancient Middle East where Paul traveled and preached, to be sick or crippled was a guarantee of poverty and hardship. As if life weren't difficult enough, you became a burden on others, you were forced to beg and starve, you eked out some kind of existence on the margins of society.

When Paul showed up in Ephesus to preach the gospel, he set up shop. He was a leather-man by trade, making tents to make ends meet. At the end of the work day, he'd close up shop and head over to the synagogue to argue and converse with his fellow Jews. For whatever reason, some Christians snuck into Paul's workspace and swiped his sweatrags and filthy workaprons. In an unpredictable move, they headed out for the slums and streetcorners, tracking down all their friends and neighbors who were sick, crippled, and demon-possessed. Taking the sweatrag or workapron, they'd touch the skin of whoever they found, the result was complete healing, freedom, new start!

Why did God do it this way? One thing we've learned about God, whatever he does - it requires faith. He's not going to work in you, through you, or for you in such a way that you don't need to trust him more. The Christians who were prompted to sneak into Paul's shop had to trust the Spirit that this crazy idea would work. The beggars had to trust that the sweatrag would bring about a new beginning. People who heard the story had to have faith that it was true. To trust Jesus is the whole point!

Do you want to be used by God to help others? 

Do you ever wish God would do powerful things through you on behalf of the powerless? 

Then you'll need to trust him more when he gives you prompts to do the little things for others during the day. You'll have to dig deeper for more faith to take the risk to be more generous, more gracious, more patient, more forgiving, more open-hearted. If you want to be helpful to others in the name of Jesus, you'll have to be willing to sacrifice, endure more hardship - even suffer for the Name of Jesus. Nothing great is ever done in the name of Jesus without walking through the valley of the shadow of death.

You have friends who are afraid, alone, confused, frustrated, beaten down, wandering. (If you don't have friends like that, then shame on you.) Don't be scared to help them. Be open to what unexpected things God might prompt you to do to meet them in their powerlessness. Only by God's strength can you help lift them up and out of their dire circumstances. Through the wisdom of God, the compassion of Christ and the guidance of the Spirit, we believers can do great things to help our neighbors, family, friends and enemies.

But do you want God to do great things through you? 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Think About Failure Differently

You might fail.

Of course you might. In fact you will. Not all the time, certainly, but more than you'd like.

And when you fail, then what?

Successful people are successful for one simple reason: they think about failure differently.

Successful people learn from failure, but the lesson they learn is a different one.  They don't learn that they shouldn't have tried in the first place, and they don't learn that they are always right and the world is wrong and the don't learn that they are losers. They learn that the tactics they used didn't work or that the person they used them on didn't respond.

You become a winner because you're good at losing.

The hard part about losing is that you might permit it to give strength to the resistance, that you might believe that you don't deserve to win, that you might, in some dark corner of your soul, give up.


~ Seth Godin, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?, pgs 114-115

What have you been failing at lately? 

What are you telling yourself about those failures? Is it hardening your heart? Is it weakening your knees? Is it sapping your strength?

Do you permit yourself to fail? Do you hold the bar of perfection above your head? Or have you too easily accepted failure, are you too comfortable with it? It's just become a way of life.

Failure is always an option, but so is success. You can choose to set yourself up for failure, or you can choose to set yourself up for success. You can fail as you figure out success, or you can fail with no real intent on success. You can get help and work towards being more successful in your relationships and tasks of life, and experience failure along the way. Or you can not reach out for help, not try to make some good changes in your life, and thus fail - just like you were afraid you would do.

Don't beat yourself up over your failures. Learn from them. And then move on, try to do something different next time. Just don't give up on those people and tasks - the ones that need you to succeed.

Think about failure differently.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Sneering & the Resurrection

In the religious world, new ideas are not welcome. Religion relies heavily on tradition. Religion also needs power. New ideas challenge the accepted tradition, and they undermine existing power structures. Jesus challenged the religion of his people, he confronted many of their traditions and he subverted their power structures. Paul challenged the religion of many pagans, and he threatened their power structures. Jesus did this through reinterpreting Torah through this command: Love God and Love Your Neighbor as yourself. Paul did this through preaching about the resurrection of Jesus.

Paul shows up in Athens one day, a religious Greek city chock full of idols to their many, many, many gods and goddesses. This is too much for Paul. As he wanders around, his heart fills up with righteous anger and deep compassion. Idolatry is a form of slavery. Somebody, somewhere is benefitting from the masses devotion to deities that don't exist. Idolatry dulls your mind and heart to the truth, it provides false explanations for why the world is the way it is. Idolatry focuses on religious fear and submission and fate and chance and despair.

And Paul can see through the deception. As a Jew, he grew up with a fierce devotion to YHWH, and thus a strong belief in monotheism - there are no other gods but the LORD. As a Christian, Paul had come to terms with the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah of Israel. In light of these beliefs and events, Paul couldn't stay quiet about all the alters to Zeus and Hermes and Apollo and Poseidon and Artemis and Aphrodite and on and on and on.

Luke presents a summary version of what Paul actually said there in Athens, in the marketplace. Paul confronted their religions, he confronted their beliefs about the gods and goddesses, and he presented a compelling vision of the God of Israel, the one True God. As smart as Paul was, his response was still mixed - some believed, some wanted to hear more before making a decision, and others sneered. Here's what interesting: the sneering started when Paul got to the resurrection. Why?

Hardly anybody believed in resurrection. When you die, you die. Maybe there's reincarnation, but once your body quits, that's it. Maybe your soul will live on in some shady underworld, or wander the dark places of the earth in exile, but there is no bodily resurrection. Or is there?

When Paul presents the idea of resurrection, insisting that Jesus of Nazareth had plenty of eyewitnesses to give account of the event, people snort and sneer. Incredulous!

But what if there is a bodily resurrection? What then? And what if Jesus really was resurrected, what then? We don't know all that Paul said in his address to the Athenians, but we know they were startled by the idea of resurrection. They were probably rattled by everything Paul said, since his challenge to them went to the core of everything they believed. Paul presented to them a new way of seeing the world, another set of lens through which to perceive reality.

Below is a list of the different ideas/beliefs that came up in Paul's sermon. Read through them and make a note of what your position would be on each one of them. Get a sense of what you believe, how strongly you believe it, and consider the "so what" factor. From Paul's point of view, what you believe shapes how you live. For him, the "so what" factor was huge. As you work your way through the list, consider how strong the connection is between what you currently believe about God and how you live in everyday life.

God’s Existence Can Be Proven Beyond Doubt
****Proven With Some Doubt

I am Convinced of God’s Existence
****Kind of Convinced
****Completely Unconvinced

I Am Convinced that the Invisible God Can be Known
****Kind of Convinced
****Completely Unconvinced

I Am Convinced that the Untouchable God Wants to be Found
****Kind of Convinced
****Completely Unconvinced

I Am Convinced that God Is Always Near to Everyone Everywhere
****Kind of Convinced
****Completely Unconvinced

I Currently Feel Very Close to God
***Feel Somewhat Close
***Feel Somewhat Distant
***Feel Distant
***Feel Far Away
***No Feeling

I Am Convinced that God Created the Universe and Set it in Motion
****Kind of Convinced
****Completely Unconvinced

I Am Convinced that God Wants Us to Always Do What is Good and Right
****Kind of Convinced
****Completely Unconvinced

I Am Convinced that God Will Always Help Us Always Do What is Good and Right
****Kind of Convinced
****Completely Unconvinced

I Am Convinced that God Will Someday Set Everything Right
****Kind of Convinced
****Completely Unconvinced

I Am Convinced that God Resurrected Jesus From the Dead
****Kind of Convinced
****Completely Unconvinced

I Am Convinced that Jesus’ Resurrection Began God’s Setting Everything Right
****Kind of Convinced
****Completely Unconvinced

I Am Convinced that God Works through Jesus-ians to Set Things Right
****Kind of Convinced
****Completely Unconvinced

I Am Convinced that Someday God Will Resurrect Me From the Dead
****Kind of Convinced
****Completely Unconvinced

I Am Convinced that Jesus Will Someday Judge Us According to All Our Deeds
****Kind of Convinced
****Completely Unconvinced

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Soccer in the Rain

It was a beautiful week. Sunshine. Blue skies. Pleasant breeze. And then Saturday woke up grey. As we loaded up the van, the sprinkling started. As we pulled up to the soccer fields, the rain came down harder. A wet field is always more fun for soccer then a dry one, but it's lousy for the fans! Fortunately, the kids were happy just to be out with their friends, ready to run around kick the soccer ball.

This is our team. I'm the coach, Emma's my assistant coach, and Eli is Emma's assistant. 

I'm not sure what my assistant coach is doing. 
The team is practicing their long kicks.

Levi is all smiles - he's got some classmates on his team, 
plus a friend from the spring soccer team!

I put my assistant and her assistant to work. They had to stand still next to the pylon. 
The players had to run at the goal and shoot the ball between my assistant coaches. 
Eli did a great job of being a statue. Emma had a hard time keeping still.

The best part of the soccer game? The snacks at the end!
After an hour of soccer, we were all pretty wet. Isaac played the last quarter with his coat on. 
Poor Aunt Faye was more wet then Levi, and she had an umbrella!

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Your Story

Everybody has an interesting story. It's the details that make your life fascinating. The details of the risks that you have taken, the pains you have inflicted, the hardships you have endured, the adventures you have attempted, the struggles you have embraced, the tensions you live with - this is what makes your story compelling.

When Paul meets Timothy, he invites this mama's boy to leave home and join them on their trek through the wastelands and craggy trails of central Turkey. Timothy tended towards timidity, but his mama let him go, and his story was never the same. When Paul meets Lydia, he invites her to trust Jesus - the risky next step for a pagan woman who had become a believer in the God of Israel. She's a prosperous merchant in the market for royal purple dye. She runs in circles of competitive wealth, she's without a family, and she is lonely. Her story is never the same after she joins the way of Jesus.

When Paul is confronted by a slavegirl who tells fortunes, he sets her free. Her story transitions swiftly from a life of cruelty to one of open possibilities. While she is still steeped in poverty, she is welcomed to walk into a new way of life - it's likely she was welcomed by Lydia. When Paul is approached by the pleading jailer for a way to be saved, the irony is not lost on him. The jailer stays a jailer, but he does so with a changed heart, a new perspective on what humans can become in the midst of adversity.

Paul becomes a catalyst for life-change - his entry into someone's story inevitably results in a new chapter. Whatever the story has been, it becomes obvious that the next set of paragraphs can head in another direction. The beginning of the story is the source of the tension and pain, and the transitioning sentences only serve to heighten the interest in the story: now that Jesus has come into the picture, what is possible?

Where ever you are at in your story, whether you think it's been a boring life, or an unfair one; whether you think your story is too full of shame for Jesus to enter into or if you're feeling pretty good about your story and have no real need for Him - God's still there on the margins. Timothy grew up in the synagogues, Lydia was a pagan long before she became a follower of Israel's God. The slavegirl was abused for too long before she discovered Paul, and the jailer had put in a lot of time before his moment of crisis. Even with all those long chapters where it seemed that God was nonexistent, or even against them, at some point Jesus intervened. Through Paul. Through someone who had their own pain-filled, tension-full story.

If Jesus is part of your story, let him use your story to help others open up to the way of Jesus. If your story has it's own chapters of hardships, but you're still a little skeptical about the whole Jesus-thing, don't discount the stories of those who have found hope and healing through Jesus. The stories are out there of how Jesus changes the direction of a story.

And when you need some changes in the plot of your life, God will be there to show you the way. Through someone you probably already know, someone how you care about, someone you respect, someone who's story can be helpful to you.

Are You Indispensable at Work?

This book is different. It's about a choice and it's about your life. This choice doesn't require you to quit your job, though it challenges you to rethink how you do your job.

The system we grew up with is a mess. It's falling apart at the seams and a lot of people I care about are in pain because the things we thought would work don't. Every day I meet people who have so much to give but have been bullied enough or frightened enough to hold it back. They have become victims, pawns in a senseless system that uses them up and undervalues them.

It's time to stop complying with the system and draw your own map.

Stop settling for what is good enough and start creating art that matters. Stop asking what's in it for you and start giving gifts that change people. Then, and only then, will you have achieved your potential.

For hundreds of years, the population has been seduced, scammed, and brainwashed into fitting in, following instructions, and exchanging a day's work for a day's pay. That era has come to an end and just in time.

You have brilliance in you, and your contribution is valuable, and the art you create is precious. Only you can do it, and you must. I'm hoping you'll stand up and choose to make a difference.

I like my work. I have a great job. And yet there is still the need to be reminded: create art that matters! There are those times where I get focused on the numbers, on the pay, on the benefits - on what I get out of my work. But I know that what makes my job most meaningful to me flows out of the meaningful work I do for others. And Seth Godin is imploring us to make our work a gift of art that makes a difference.

Whatever your job is, you can do it with a smile and a touch of humanity, you can go the extra mile - not because you want job security or to brown-nose the customer or impress your fellow employees. You perceive your tasks as opportunities to present a gift to the recipient because you don't want to feel like a cog in a wheel, you want to be fully human. You do your job with an attitude of art: there is craftsmanship involved in the details of your work, in how you interact with other humans.

Either you settle and punch the clock and gripe about your boss, OR you view your job as a platform to impact the lives of other humans, speaking words of kindness and helpfulness, serving customers and fellow employees with dignity and respect. The workplace doesn't have to beat you down, you don't have to let others suck your humanity out of you. You can make a choice - that is what makes you full alive!

This is what makes you a Linchpin, that indispensable person at work - your attitude, your humanity, your gifts. For some of you, it won't take much effort to stand out and become indispensable. For others, your efforts at becoming a Linchpin will raise the bar for everyone - and that's the kind of difference that makes you indispensable. Because of you, stuff happens, good stuff - stuff that comes from the choices you make with your attitude, your artwork.