“Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man.”Benjamin Franklin
I meet with a group of guys every Friday morning. We call ourselves DIBs which stands for Dudes In the Basement, because we met in someone’s basement the first four years of our existence. We are into year five of a twenty year commitment, and we have a tradition. (After five years, I think it’s safe to call it a tradition.)
Every year around this time, we take turns sharing our word for the new year. We each take 10-15 minutes to share about our new word. Each guy shares why they selected the word and what they expect to experience as a result of this word. It usually takes two or three meetings to get through everyone.
At least once in the middle of the year and then again at the end of the year, we take time again to go through our words for the year. It’s an opportunity to see how God has been working in light of the word we each selected at the beginning of the year. In some cases, it is a chance to provide accountability to one another.
I have found this “tradition” to be extremely beneficial. Choosing a word for the year provides an added sense of purpose and direction for the year. I do not choose my word lightly. I pray about my choice. I seek direction from others in my life including my wife. I want it to be meaningful. I want my word to be helpful as I STRETCH throughout the year.
This gets me to 2020. I’ve heard many people say they are going to use the word “vision” as their word for 2020 – as in 20/20 vision. Get it? This is not the word I choose – although I don’t think it’s wrong to have vision or to have that as your word for 2020.
My word for 2020 is blessing – or blessed. I guess that’s really two words.
Why did I select blessing (or blessed)?
2019 had a lot of challenges for me. Without going into detail, I think there may have been times where I allowed those challenges to cloud my view of God’s working in my life. In other words, I too often failed to see God’s blessings in my life – even when I faced challenges of many kinds. I don’t want to be like this. I want to see life with positivity. I want to have a grateful heart. And want to be alert and aware of the blessings in my life.
In addition while I am blessed, I want to make sure I am intentional in being a blessing for others. This could mean a kind word expressed in a conversation, a handwritten note of appreciation, a helping hand, or many other acts of kindness, generosity, and blessing.
Ephesians 5:15-16 and Colossians 4:5-6 both talk about making the most of every opportunity. I want to make sure I make the most of every opportunity to see God’s blessing in my life and to be a blessing to others.
“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”Ephesians 5:15-16 (NIV)
“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”Colossians 4:5-6 (NIV)
One way I will be tracking this is my consistently writing down three wins (or three blessings) I have experienced each day. God’s abundant blessings are happening all the time. It’s time for me (and maybe for you) to open my eyes – to see God’s hand in my life.
“Always keep your head up, because if it’s down you won’t be able to see the blessings that have been placed in your life.”Anonymous
“Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.”Albert Einstein
Success can look so different for each one of us.
As a leader at a large company, I see success often defined by numbers – profit, revenue, order intake, market share, etc. These KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) provide an indication of how well we are doing from a business standpoint. My team is seen as successful when we meet or exceed the targets set for us related to these KPIs.
I am part of a mastermind group for entrepreneurs facilitated by Ellory Wells. This is a place where I have the opportunity to be encouraged, challenged, and held accountable for some things I am pursuing outside of my job. I specifically have used this group to help me find success for my writing, for my Guatemala pursuits, and for the Stretched Men Group. There are people in Ellory’s mastermind group who are pursuing other entrepreneurial pursuits – digital marketing business, vacation rental business, pest control business, copy writing business, etc.
On our call this week, we were asked to share our biggest wins from 2019. Others on the call began sharing about the financial growth they had experienced in 2019 or the growth in their client base or email list they saw in 2019. As I listened to these wins, I quickly began to feel inadequate. I began to feel like a failure. My “side hustle” pursuits had not led to a significant financial gain. In fact, I’ve probably spent more money in my side pursuits than I’ve earned from a financial standpoint. Accountants would refer to these pursuits as a hobby as opposed to a business.
As I was listened to the wins of my peers, I began to think about what I would share. How do I define success when it comes to these pursuits? Then it hit me. My success was directly related to people and the change I was able to see in others – or help others see in their lives. Here’s what I shared with the group:
After I shared these wins with the other people on the mastermind call, there was an initial silence. Then the people on the call began to share their thoughts on my wins. They shared their own feelings of inadequacy upon hearing how people’s lives had been impacted this past year through my “entrepreneurial pursuits.” They affirmed me and the steps I was taking outside of my corporate job to impact the world. They showed me that I actually had a successful year.
“The foundation stones for a balanced success are honesty, character, integrity, faith, love and loyalty.”Zig Ziglar
Success is not just a number. It’s not a certain balance in your bank account. It’s not just about market share. It’s not about how well you are doing compared to your competitors.
Success is about impact. Success is about effectively using the time, the resources, and the talents you have been given.
As we head into the time of year when many of us (including me) take time to set goals for the year ahead, I encourage you to think about what kind of impact you want to have. I encourage you to consider how you can effectively use your time, your resources, and your skills and experience. Set goals that align with this definition of success.
My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments, for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you. Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.Proverbs 3:1-6 (ESV)
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”Martin Luther King, Jr.
At one time or another, we have all been wronged in such a way that we lose hope, we feel a fracture in our relationships, and we fight the natural response that seeks revenge.
The more we succumb to our natural inclinations towards revenge, anger, retaliation, and blame, the deeper we find ourselves in the pit imprisoned by our failure to forgive.
Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, lets go of negative emotions such as resentment and vengeance (however justified it might be), and with an increased ability to wish the offender well.Wikipedia – Forgiveness
When we withhold forgiveness, our humanness somehow believes we are getting back at our enemy for their words or actions that violated us. In reality, our failure to forgive is hurting us more than we realize.
I love this quote from Maya Angelou:
“It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.”Maya Angelou
Forgiveness is a gift. It’s a gift to ourselves. When we forgive, we open the door to freedom. We find a freedom to let go of the past, a freedom to look forward to the future with hope, and a freedom that comes from letting go of our relentless pursuit of trying to even the score with our enemies.
We all need this gift. We need this freedom.
And this is why I encourage you to consider forgiveness.
I’ll confess forgiveness doesn’t always come easy at first, but the more we practice forgiveness the easier it becomes. Developing a discipline of forgiveness produces the freedom we all need.
And one more thing, don’t forget that we too need forgiveness. We need to be forgiven. We are all messed up, screwed up people. With this in mind, I’m thankful for a God who forgives.
Jesus implies (okay, he says it pretty clearly) that if we want to be forgiven, we must forgive others.
“But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”Jesus – Matthew 6:15 (NIV)
In other words, when we forgive others we find our own freedom and forgiveness.
I don’t know how you’ve been violated. I don’t know how you’ve been wronged. I don’t know how you’ve been mistreated, profaned, desecrated, or falsely accused. But I know as hard as it may seem, forgiveness is the way. I encourage you to forgive.
Imagine how differently your world would be if you were able to experience the freedom that comes when you forgive others. Imagine the new time and energy you would have for renewing thoughts, activities, and conversations that you have wasted by holding a grudge.
The climb might be tough and challenging, but the view is worth it. There is purpose for that pain; you just can’t see it right away.Victoria Arlen
Life can be pretty tough sometimes.
Seriously, we all face tough times. Life can be real hard.
We face health issues. We face job challenges. We face obstacles in our relationships. We face family disagreements. We face financial failures. We face hardships of many kinds.
No one is immune from tough times.
When we face troubles and tribulations in life, it can be easy to doubt, to become angry, to give up. These are natural responses. And I don’t blame you!
I’ve gone through times of struggle – I may even be going through one of those times right now. I’ve had these responses. But I’ve also been comforted by God’s Word, because the Bible provides some clear encouragement for times when we face trouble – for times when the s@#t hits the fan.
Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.James 1:2-4 (NLT)
James encourages us to have joy in our troubles. He reminds us that the hardships provide us with a path towards maturity.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV)
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.Romans 8:28 (NIV)
There isn’t a promise of ease in any of these passages. There’s no promise that we will fully understand the challenges we face in life. There’s no guarantee of a nice bow on the situations we encounter. But there is a promise of God working – in ALL things.
As you face troubles in your life, I encourage you to trust and lean on God and His understanding. He will make your path straight. God’s straight path may not seem straight to us at first, but I’ve seen over and over again that God knows what He’s doing.
This week, Nick Foles, the quarterback who led the Eagles to a victory in Super Bowl LII, recently spoke to reporters about his return to the starting line-up for the Jacksonville Jaguars. He was injured during the first game of the season, and he could easily have given up or blamed God for the trouble he faced after coming to play for a new team. Here’s how Nick dealt with his trouble:
Not sure I can say it any better than that.
The next time the s@#t hits the fan in your life, remember this – God is great and so is his faithfulness.
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. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”Lamentations 3:22-24 (NIV)
“Asking questions is the first way to begin change.”Kubbra Sait
When was the last time you took time to get to know someone?
I’m not talking about a two minute exchange of name, occupation, and a few other surface level pieces of information. I’m asking about sitting down for a longer stretch of time and having a conversation that goes deeper.
In our busy, hectic, me-focused world, we too often brush by opportunities to get to know others.
I’m guilty of this, and I’m guessing many of you are guilty as well.
Yesterday afternoon, I had an hour long ride with an Uber driver on my way back home from Bethlehem, PA (why I was in Bethlehem in need of a ride home is a whole other story). An hour is a long time to spend with someone you don’t know (at least that’s what I was thinking when I first sat down in the passenger seat of the car). I could have popped in my earbuds and listened to podcasts the whole time. I could have simply kept my mouth shut and enjoyed the scenery out the window. I could have wasted the opportunity to get to know the Uber driver I may never meet again.
Instead, I decided to talk to my driver. I decided to ask him questions and to listen to his story.
“Curiosity is the process of asking questions, genuine questions, that are not leading to an ask for something in return.”Brian Grazer
My driver’s name was Mohammed. He is 26 years old, he is from Northern Pakistan – near Afghanistan. He came to the United States four or five years ago. He now calls Nazareth, PA is home although he is living in a one bedroom apartment near Lehigh University where he is currently studying political science. He plans on going to law school after he graduates from Lehigh in another year and a half. To help save money, he attended community college for his first two years of college. That’s the surface level stuff.
As our drive continued, we began to broach deeper topics which included the differences between living in Pakistan and living in the United States. We talked about his family (he is one of seven children). He shared about his love for Pakistani food (particularly lamb and goat). I learned a little bit about his childhood about the fears associated with living where terrorism was a “regular” part of life.
Closer to my home, we began to talk about faith and religion. He asked me about my religion, and I then learned that he was a non-practicing Muslim. He was raised Muslim, and he is now in the process of reading the Koran and trying to determine his own path regarding this faith.
Before I knew it, we were pulling into my driveway. I think we could have talked for another hour or two – maybe longer.
The conversation was sparked by questions. We both asked each other questions as we drove on the highways and back roads to my home.
Mohammed and I are obviously very different – in our age, in our upbringing, in our faith. It would be easy to linger silently and uncomfortably because of these differences. Silence only leads to ignorance, and ignorance leads to stagnation and often conflict.
If we want to see positive change in this world, we must seek knowledge. In order to get knowledge, we must speak up, we must ask questions, and we must listen and learn to the answers we receive.
I’m so thankful for my Uber ride with Mohammed yesterday.
Imagine a world in which everyone asked questions to truly gain understanding. Imagine the change we would experience.
Change starts with you and me. Change starts by taking off our me-focused blinders. Change starts when we take time to listen and learn.
When was the last time you took time to get to know someone?
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”Jesus – Matthew 7:7 (NIV)
“The hottest place in hell will be reserved for those who said nothing during times of trouble.”Martin Luther King Jr.
I saw this quote at the end of a Rotary email I was reading yesterday afternoon. Then my wife and I went on a date last night and saw Harriet, a new movie about Harriet Tubman. The meaning of this quote echoed through my mind as I left the theater.
Harriet recognized she was living in a time of trouble in which slavery was alive and well and human life and freedom was not recognized as an equal right. Instead of enjoying freedom in Philadelphia once she escaped her own slavery in Maryland, she dedicated her life to helping others find freedom. She took action risking her life for the freedom of others.
The quote and the movie begs these questions:
These aren’t questions to brush over.
It’s easy to keep wearing our blinders – to keep our eyes and ears only on things in our “perfect” and “controlled” world. If we keep wearing our blindfolds and our earplugs, we can’t be accused of failing to act on what we didn’t see or hear.
It’s time to remove the blindfolds from our eyes and the earplugs from our ears. We are called to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God.
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.Micah 6:8 (NIV)
Perhaps it’s climate change, and we need to be more like Greta Thunberg, the 16 year-old Swedish teenager who is speaking up and taking action to bring attention to this trouble.
Perhaps it’s violence and life, and we need to be more like Shane Claiborne, the 44 year-old Philadelphia social activist who is taking action to end gun violence and to broaden the perspective on what it really means to be pro-life.
Perhaps it’s injustice being done to those in areas of conflict, and we need to be more like Bob Goff, the 60 year-old San Diego lawyer who is taking action around the world to help kids and women who are being impacted by conflict.
Imagine with me for a minute. Imagine how different the world would be if we began to really see and understand the trouble going on around us and if we began to take action to end the trouble we found.
I imagine a world where human life is valued – every human life from conception to the grave. I imagine a world where people take care of each other. I imagine a world where there is unity and collaboration. I imagine a world where people are more open to God because of how His people have shown them His love.
God, help us all to be alert to the trouble going on in our homes, in our communities, and in our world. And give us the clarity and the courage to take action.
“If your habits don’t line up with your dream, then you need to either change your habits or change your dream.”John Maxwell
I was on a more consistent writing streak until I hit two weekends in a row of travel and I failed to write a blog post. This weekend, I’m back home, and I’m excited to get back to writing!
We all get derailed from time to time. In other words, something or someone comes along that interrupts our routine or our habit.
“Feeling sorry for yourself, and your present condition, is not only a waste of energy but the worst habit you could possibly have.”Dale Carnegie
Sometimes a break in routine can provide the refreshment and inspiration we need to keep going. And sometimes a break in routine totally throws us for a loop or even causes us to go down a completely different path all together.
The opportunity to get back to writing today is just what I needed. It has given me the chance to tap into a part of my brain that isn’t used during my work week. Writing has given me the opportunity to slow down and to think. And hopefully, writing today provided encouragement to someone reading this post.
What do you do when you experience an interruption in your routine? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
This is the day the Lord has brought about.Psalm 118:24 (NET Bible)
We will be happy and rejoice in it.
“You have to find what sparks a light in you so that you in your own way can illuminate the world.”Oprah Winfrey
Work has been pretty intense lately. I’m in the process of helping my department finish out the fiscal year. In addition, this is also the time for annual performance reviews. On top of that, we are concentrating on building our staff to address the growing workload.
I’m pretty serious about my business, and sometimes the stress and seriousness of my job is worn on my face. In other words, my eyes can show the fatigue I’m experiencing in my leadership role, and my mouth shows a frown more frequently than a smile.
Last week, I had the opportunity to do something different. I traveled to Grove City College to participate in their annual career fair. At the career fair, I met so many bright students who are preparing to leave their mark on this world. I was able to share with passion and enthusiasm about the benefits of working for my company.
I also had the opportunity to connect with engineering teaching staff. We discussed ways to help students be better prepared to enter the working world. These conversations included the possibility of sponsoring a senior design project and the possibility of teaching as an adjunct professor.
I came back home exhausted from the travel, but I also came back exhilarated by the experience and the conversations with students, business leaders and recruiters, and college teaching staff.
On Friday afternoon, I was sharing my experiences at Grove City College with a co-worker when she stopped me. She said, “You are smiling! You are so happy! When you started sharing about your experiences and future opportunities your face lit up!”
Her words left a mark on me.
Too often, we go about life failing to find and follow the things that really light us up. We operate under a sense of duty or even under a sense of desperation. We miss out on living life to the fullest, and we miss out doing the things that make us smile and make us happy.
Work is a four lettered word, but it doesn’t have to be a four letter word in a bad sense. Our work is an opportunity to live out our passion, to bring glory to God, and to impact the world.
I have heard it said (and I’ve even said it myself) that work isn’t called fun for a reason – it’s called work. I think we may be missing the mark when we fall into the trap of repeating this and believing this perspective.
Our work should bring us joy. It should be something that brings us a sense of satisfaction and a sense of purpose.
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.Colossians 3:23-24
When we re-position our perspective on work, we will rediscover our passion and purpose for our jobs. When we work for the Lord, we find passion and pu-rpose that matters.
What happens when our job is challenging? What happens when we are discouraged with our job? Mel Lawrenz provides some excellent insight:
“Do you have a difficult and discouraging job? Many do. Genesis 3:17-19 tells us that our work sometimes is not like tending a nice garden, but working the difficult, stubborn fields full of thorns. If you feel sometimes as though you slog through your job just to put bread on the table, know this: there is dignity in accomplishing just that.”Mel Lawrenz, Work in the Bible—Thoughts for Labor Day Weekend
Sometimes a difficult and discouraging job can also be an indication that we need a change. It may be time to find a new job all together, or it may be time to find something else to add to your work. In either case, I think it’s healthy to take time to learn more about what lights you up.
This is where I would recommend experimenting with different types of work. I’d also recommend talking to those around you – they will tell you things about yourself you never realized. They will be able to see your face light up when you land on the right thing.
As you head into this new week, I want to encourage you to consider your current job. Does it light you up? If so, great! Keep at it!
If your job doesn’t light you up. Begin to ask why. Begin the process of figuring out what does light you up. Once you’ve figured that out then take the next step to make it happen. In my case, I’m beginning the process of writing a syllabus or two for courses I may teach as an adjunct professor.
Imagine a world where more people were working in their areas of passion. Imagine a world where people did work that brought light to their faces. We would have more people finding happiness. We would see an impact on the world – a world illuminated.
Spiritual identity means we are not what we do or what people say about us. And we are not what we have. We are the beloved daughters and sons of God.Henri Nouwen
Last week, I was on a call with a couple of other colleagues from Mexico and the United States. We get together virtually once a month to encourage each other and to help each other navigate the leadership gantlet we all find ourselves in as leaders in our company.
During the call, one of the leaders confessed she was so consumed by her work that she had absolutely no life outside of work. She shared she was somewhat jealous of me, because of the active life I lead outside of my job. She has been an employee of the company for 25 years, and her work has become her identity.
It’s not uncommon for men to ask this question whenever they run into someone they don’t really know. What do you do?
Maybe you’re a doctor, a lawyer, a police officer, a preacher, an engineer, a businessman, an entrepreneur, a manager, or something else.
Here’s my initial answer to this question. I’m a husband, a father, a son, an uncle, a brother, an engineer, a manager, a leader, a writer, a speaker, a philanthropist, a Toastmaster, a Rotarian, a Pennsylvanian, an American, a friend. This list could go on.
What would happen if these things were taken away from me? How would I define myself?
When we define ourselves by our activities, our careers, our titles, our positions, our geographical homes, etc. we limit ourselves. This is not who we really are. We are more!
Recently, I saw Overcomer, the latest movie from the Kendrick Brothers. The movie encouraged me to look at my identity from a better angle. In the movie, one of the characters is encouraged to read Ephesians 1 and 2 to see who we really are through Christ.
Here’s what I discovered (or rediscovered) as a result of this exercise:
When your identity is found in Christ, your identity never changes. You are always a child of God.Tim Tebow
Let me ask you again. Who are you? How do you identify yourself? What defines you? Better yet, who defines you?
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.Ephesians 2:10
There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.Washington Irving
Many of those close to me know I like to play the “Hot Seat Game” with people. The game works best when there is a small group of people has some type of relationship with each other, and it’s important for there to be a commitment to confidentiality when a small group decides to play the “Hot Seat Game.”
In the game, an individual is put on the “Hot Seat.” The rules of the game permit anyone else to ask absolutely any question of the person in the Hot Seat. And the rules of the game also permit the person in the Hot Seat to please the fifth (or not answer) any question.
Typically, the “Hot Seat Game” starts with pretty basic questions: What’s your favorite color? Where were you born? How many pets have you had in your life?
From there the “Hot Seat Game” gets a little deeper: What are your biggest weaknesses? If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? Have you ever done anything illegal?
Finally, the “Hot Seat Game” can go right to the jugular: How is your spiritual life right now? How is your marriage? What is your biggest personal struggle with sin? And here is my favorite: When was the last time you cried and why?
I have witnessed grown men break down in tears as they have answered this last question. They’ve told stories of losing loved ones, of dealing with divorce, of missed opportunities with children.
I’m not a big crier. I just don’t cry all that often. I cried when I lost my grandparents. I shed tears when I we had to put our family dog to sleep. And I’ve admittedly shed a couple of tears at the end of a television show or a meaningful movie – like It’s A Wonderful Life.
I think lots of men are afraid to shed tears or they simply don’t know how to let down their guards – to expose their hearts.
As I reflect back on times when I have cried, I realize the tears actually brought relief. They gave expression to the grief, the stress, the pain, the sorrow, the joy, the thrill, the euphoria that I was experiencing at the time.
Yep. It was just a couple days ago when I had a small river of tears flowing down my left cheek.
The past few weeks have been an extremely busy, stressful, and exhausting time in my life. I have been battling a variety of challenging situations at work, and Leanne and I have been working together through a couple of tough transitions at home (don’t worry…our marriage is rock solid).
When I made it to Friday night, I suppose I was a bit more fragile than I realized. Leanne and I went to see the new Kendrick Brothers movie, Overcomer. The movie tells the story of a basketball/cross-country coach and a cross-country runner who are both struggling with their identities. Leanne and I both agree that the movie was fairly predictable, but we also agree that we would see it again (and again). The messages in the movie were pretty powerful.
At any rate, towards the end of the movie, tears started flowing down my left cheek. In a way, it was a sacred moment. The emotion evoked by the movie provided a place to release some of the other emotion from the past few weeks that had been bottled up inside me – emotion unexplained in words.
Crying is cleansing. There’s a reason for tears, happiness or sadness.Dionne Warwick
Crying is cleansing. I like that. Life can be so challenging, so diverse, so amazing and so difficult at the same time. Our tears help to wash and polish our lives. They bring definition and meaning to things we simply cannot express in any other way.
So here’s my question for you:
Figure it out for yourself. Write it down. Ponder this experience. Reflect. Then feel free to leave a comment if you are willing to share.
You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.Psalm 56:8 (NLT)