Today, I have the privilege of presenting my first guest blog post over at Big B. Big B is the blog for an incredible young man named Brandon who is passionate about music, leadership, and God. I’ve connected with him on-line over the past couple of months, and I have been inspired by words. Please check out my post and please support Brandon by adding his blog to your regular reading.
Here’s an excerpt from my post:
It can be easy to fall into the trap of tunnel vision. We can all become so caught up in ourselves that we miss out on what’s happening to those around us. In many cases, we don’t even see those we walk by on the street or sit next to on the train. We live and operate in a world of me, me, me.
A recent family vacation to Canada took my family into Montreal for a day. There’s nothing like a vacation and a trip into a city to jolt one out of their routine and snap one to attention to things that matter. We had a wonderful time touring around Montreal. We saw many of the famous tourist sites including the market at Jean-Talon, the view of the city from the top of Mont Royal, Old Montreal, and the port. All these places were new and interesting, but I will always remember a brief encounter with a young man in a park near the home of the Montreal Canadians. Here’s how I remembered the encounter in my journal…
(If you’re interested in becoming a guest blogger on my blog, please leave me a comment. I’d love to connect with you. Also, I would certainly welcome other opportunities to be a guest blogger on your blog, so you can leave me a comment on that as well.)
As a little kid, I can remember having lots of questions about God, heaven, and life. I asked questions like, “Who created God?” and “Where did God come from?” I asked, “What was there before God created the heavens and the earth?” As I was driving home from work yesterday, I was reminded of my child-like curiousity. For some reason I questioned to myself, “What language will we speak in heaven?” and “How will we understand each other? Will we have decoders built in to our heavenly bodies?” I know these questions sound somewhat humorous, but it’s the jumping off point for many other questions that race around my head.
Last year at this time, I found my self asking God more questions as I stood by my wife as she battled the challenges of bipolar disorder. At one point, I asked “Why?” “Why would God allow us to go through this?” “Why is there bipolar disorder?” “Why doesn’t anyone talk about mental illness and the challenges that come to families as a result of these illnesses?” These questions still race around my head.
I think we all have questions for God that range across a wide spectrum from humorous to curiosity to doubt. Last night, I asked my men’s group what questions they have for God, and it was amusing and interesting to hear their responses.
How was God always there?
Where was God born?
Will I be able to fly in heaven?
If God is all knowing and all powerful, why would He need or desire our love?
Why do I ask why questions?
Will Jesus out trash-talk me?
Will I get full at the banquet table?
Are there bathrooms in heaven?
Do we eat in heaven?
Will all our questions be answered in heaven?
What it there to do in heaven?
Will I really be singing all day?
Do I have free will in heaven?
These were just a few of the questions that were brought up as we sat around the table. I think it can be healthy to ask questions. But there’s also a trust factor. I know that God is in control. I know that He knows what is best. I know that I’m not God. But I still have questions from time to time.
How about you? What questions do you have for God?
Conflict and confrontation are not my strong suit. I much prefer when things go well and people get along even when mistakes and obstacles must be overcome. Unfortunately, this is not the way it works. People have different opinions. People make mistakes. People have different personalities. And they don’t always get along. Conflict seems to be inevitable.
As a leader and manager, I am faced with conflict on a regular basis. I don’t have a choice to ignore it in hopes that the problems will just go away. I often have to confront conflict to help bring about resolution and to hopefully be an agent for positive change.
The Bible gives some pointers for handling conflict between believers in Matthew 18:15-20 which may give some insight for handling conflict in the secular workplace. Here are the pointers from Jesus:
1. Try to resolve the conflict just between the two parties in conflict (v. 15). Don’t bring anyone else into the conflict if it can be resolved first.
2. Bring the conflict to one or two other believers (v. 16). If the conflict cannot be resolved face-to-face in step 1, the Bible mandates trying to bring the conflict to a resolution through the help of a couple of believers.
3. Take the conflict before the church (v. 17). If all else fails, the Bible tells us to bring the conflict before the church. If the conflict cannot be resolved then the person may be removed from the church.
In the secular business world, I’m not always dealing with fellow believers. In reality, the construction industry can be full of some rather colorful and rough personalities. Having said this, I believe these standards from scripture can be helpful for handling conflict in the workplace. As leaders in the business world, here are some ideas for handling conflict:
1. Encourage face-to-face conversations between the conflicting parties. Often times, people are misunderstood. A meeting of this type should provide an opportunity for both parties to get their frustrations on the table. With reasonable individuals and situations, conflict can often be resolved here.
2. Sometimes it’s necessary to get a mediator involved. Here’s where I would suggest getting involved along with another manager. If the two parties in conflict are let by different individuals, it would make sense to get the other manager involved. The managers should facilitate a discussion in an effort to bring resolution. This may take a couple of meetings, but it shouldn’t drag out.
3. If all else fails HR (Human Resources) and higher level leadership may need to get involved to drive a resolution. The may mean a change in assignment(s) for one or both parties. Or it may represent a more drastic transition towards other employment opportunities inside or outside the company.
4. In all cases, rumors should be avoided. As leaders, managers should squash any rumors. Rumors only lead to further conflict.
Handling conflict can be a real challenge, but leaders must deal with it head on. I wish I could say I always get it right. I’m certainly challenged and stretched by this topic.
What tips would you add for leaders to follow in handling workplace conflict?
Getting back into the swing of things following nine days of vacation can be a real challenge. I especially felt this Monday and Tuesday as I was playing catch up on e-mails, phone calls, and required meetings. I feel like I have a lot to learn about how to transition from vacations and other breaks back into the routines of work and family activities. There’s got to be a way to keep the refreshment alive. There should be some ways to prevent post vacation burnout.
Some ideas come to mind:
1. Schedule margins in your schedule to breath and to relax even if it’s just for 15 minutes. This is challenging for me – especially at work where I am on call all the time for help in making decisions or for scheduling resources. I have tried to make it a habit to step out of the office for a few minutes at lunch time. This gives me a chance to get some fresh air, to touch base with my wife on her day, and to catch my breath before heading into the afternoon.
2. Keep thoughts of vacation alive by talking about your vacation and sharing pictures. I love to hear about the vacation adventures of my co-workers, and I like to share my stories as well. I love what I do at my job most of the time, and I really appreciate when our personal interests and adventures intersect with work.
3. Discard or put aside e-mails and other correspondence that are not important, are not urgent, and can be put off until later or not read at all. I know this can be challenging as it requires a discerning filter, but it’s important. In today’s information driven world, we have to relearn that it’s okay to miss out on some things. We don’t need to know every piece of information out there. What did we do before computers and the internet?
4. Compose a “to-do-list” and use it to prioritize tasks that must be attended to with greater urgency. A “to-do-list” can be helpful in documenting the things in our head. It can minimize the feeling of stress that comes from not knowing where to start.
5. Be intentional about continuing activities that provide refreshment and renewal. Leanne and I have taken a few evening strolls through our small town since returning from vacation. It may seem simple, but these walks have provided relaxation along with time together.
I wish I could say that we have it all figures out and that these five steps are easy to follow and an easy answer to overcoming post vacation burnout. But I can’t say these things. Life after vacation can be crazy – but I’m so glad we got away.
What tips do you have for transitioning from vacation back to everyday life?
Blogging has brought several new friends into my life. One of them is Jason Fountain. Today, I’m blessed to share a guest post by Jason. Jason is an educator who blogs about living an intentional life. I have enjoyed his writing and the communication that we have shared. Jason shares his current STRETCHING story with us below. Please check out his blog here.
(If you’re interested in guest posting on my blog, please drop me a comment. I’d love to connect with you.)
John Maxwell relates a story shared by sociologist Anthony Campolo. Campolo tells about a group of 50 people over the age of 90 years old who were asked one question: If you could live your life over again, what would you do differently?
The question was open-ended and the people’s answers were varied. However, three ideas consistently emerged.
1. If I had it to do over again, I would reflect more.
2. If I had it to do over again, I would risk more.
3. If I had it to do over again, I would do more things that would live on after I am dead.
I want to share with you an idea that can help you begin to accomplish all three of these goals TODAY.
I love the title of Jon’s blog – Stretched. I think much of our life is spent stretching – whether we choose the stretching or it chooses us. Recently, I’ve chosen a purposeful “stretch.” Back in April, after at least a year of talking about it, I started a blog.
Little did I know, then, what a rollercoaster of emotions were in store for me. I knew that it would be challenging to write solid content that would be meaningful, but I don’t believe that I was quite ready for the grind of continually facing a blank document on the computer screen.
A blank piece of paper is open to so many possibilities, yet appears so daunting.
Blogging has stretched me in ways that I never imagined.
I want to share four lessons (about life) that I have learned since I began blogging.
1. Blogging teaches discipline.
I consider myself a fairly disciplined person, but blogging has taken this to a new level. Blogging is not an endeavor that can be undertaken every so often. It is a discipline. Steven Pressfield says in his book, The Work of Art, that the hardest part of writing is not the writing, it’s sitting down to write.
There are always fifty things other than writing vying for my attention. But, blogging has taught me to quiet those distractions and focus on the task at hand. There are days that I want to quit and days that I feel as if I could write forever. Managing that tension has been a “stretch” for me.
2. Blogging sifts your beliefs.
I am pretty solid and consistent in my beliefs. If any of you read my blog you know that the bedrock of my life is Jesus Christ. It’s much easier to talk about Christ with my “circle” than it is to write about Him in a blog post that is out there for the world to view. In fact, bearing your soul is a little overwhelming.
Beyond my religious views, blogging forces me to work through most all of my beliefs. If I write about goal-setting or any other facet of intentional living, I really have to narrow my focus and work on being concise in my delivery. This only occurs when I am crystal clear on my thoughts.
Several times I have written a blog and then did not post it because I lacked a strong conviction about it. Before I hit the publish button, I need to believe it. Attempting to present an articulate stance on an issue has really stretched me as well.
3. Blogging is more about me than producing content for others.
When I first started blogging, I was very concerned about how I thought others would perceive my thoughts and my writing. I still worry about this, but in the few short months that I’ve been blogging I have become more focused on recording what I believe about life.
If I focus on others, then I try to copycat my blogging heroes and write as they would write and about topics that they would write about. The problem with this approach is that I am not them – I am me. For me to enjoy the process of blogging, I have to be me. If others latch on to my voice, then great. If they don’t, then I know blogging is not my future.
The longer I blog the more comfortable I become in showing more of who I really am. And that is the only way to really put my “voice” out there. Balancing this desire to write for others with the need to be “me” has been a major stretch.
4. Blogging records my thoughts for myself and others.
Finally, blogging is providing me the chance to record a part of “me” for my future self. Every time I write a post I am really just recording my life lessons so that I don’t forget them. As I continue to blog, more and more life lessons that I have forgotten from my past seem to surface. The process of blogging has really been a mining project for me.
I’m also blogging so that parts of my life will be recorded for my future kids. Every time I write I want to be comfortable with my future children reading my thoughts. From this vantage point, I write with a purpose – something bigger than just blogging. Thinking about preserving my words for the future has stretched me as well.
So…are YOU ready to start a blog? For me, it has truly been one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences that I’ve ever undertaken. To say that the last three and a half months have stretched me would be a gross understatement.
If you really want to reflect more, risk more, and leave a legacy, think about starting your own blog. It won’t be easy, but I guarantee it will stretch you in ways you never imagined.
QUESTION: Is there something in your life stretching you right now? How do you manage the tension?
Today, I’m honored to present another guest blogger. Terri Stone is the Director of Pastoral Care at my church. I’ve had the privilege of serving with Terri over the past several years, and I’ve met few people who can connect and remember people like Terri. Today, Terri shares her current STRETCHING story with us. Enjoy!
(If you’re interested in guest posting on my blog, please drop me a comment. I’d love to connect with you.)
I’ve spent the last 11 years stretching. I should be good and warmed up; ready for anything. Serving on the ministry staff at my church has given me the opportunity to do more things and meet more people than I ever imagined I would in my lifetime. Being in the mix of a fast growing church has had me “burning the midnight oil” for a very long time. I have to be clear, though, and say that no one demanded I burn the midnight oil; I chose to burn it myself. My personality is one that needs to be busy from sunrise to sunset or I feel like a useless, lazy, non-contributing person. Crazy, I know.
I’ve had a few different jobs in my tenure at the church. I’ve seen staff members come; and I’ve seen them go off to do awesome things. I’ve been part of large outreach events, classes, small groups, Sunday services, baptisms, mission trips, and capital campaigns…and this is the short list. The thought of having enough time in the day to get everything done has been unheard of. This was the case until recently. I’m now in the job where I’m perfectly gifted to serve. I’m no longer involved in every single thing that happens at the church being pulled in a million different directions. Now my days are focused, helping people with their spiritual questions, life struggles and personal needs. I have time to think and pray, plan and strategize about how to build a new ministry from the ground up.
And while I absolutely love how I’m serving, it’s been one of the most challenging things I’ve encountered in ministry. The task list has changed. The “to do” list has become the “who list.” To say the least, this new place in ministry has me stretching in ways that I’m not used to stretching.
I think about the story, in Luke’s Gospel, of the two sisters, Martha and Mary. Martha welcomes Jesus and his crew into her home where she and her sister promptly choose two different approaches to their interaction with Jesus. Martha fusses with taking care of the needs of her guests while Mary ignores all the others and all the preparations so she can hang out with Jesus. Martha complains asking Jesus to tell her sister to help. Jesus’ response is not what she expects, “Martha, Martha,”…“you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
What I’ve come to realize is that I’ve been like that complaining sister! I’ve been busy “doing” ministry; all the while fussing about something or somebody. For someone like me, it’s strange not to have a task list a mile long of what must get done. Having more tasks than I can handle has always equaled value. But Jesus is saying there’s a better way. The better way has me stretching to be contemplative, to be quiet, to be more prayerful and to listen. In doing so, I’ll actually be better prepared to do the people things, “who list” things God has for me to do.
I think there’s a great lesson in the story for all of us. Jesus needs us to be with him first before we can really do what he has for us to do. After reading the story in Luke 10, there are some questions we need to ask ourselves. Am I serving Jesus in the right way for the right reasons? Is my busyness “for Jesus” to impress others with all I have to do? What will it take to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen so we can learn his better way for us?
Examine your service to Jesus and others. Invite him to show you what he truly desires the outcome of your time with him to be.
I have the privilege today of presenting guest blogger, Jeff Whitebread. Jeff (or Pumpernickel as I like to call him) is a good friend and sincere brother. Jeff is just starting his own blog (see the link below), and he has so generously volunteered to share his current STRETCHING story here.
(If you’re interested in guest posting on my blog, please drop me a comment. I’d love to connect with you.)
It certainly is a pleasure to be a guest contributor on my good friend’s blog. In sticking with the theme of being stretched, it is always helpful when I consider God’s purpose in stretching my life. For when I focus on life’s circumstances, I can often feel overwhelmed and find myself being swept away in moments of despair. For in the midst of life’s turmoil, I can feel as if I am being pulled apart from the inside, as if a part of me is dying. I am left with these nagging thoughts. Why does God make life so hard? If life is this hard, am I doing something wrong?
Romans 8:28-29 says,
(28) 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. (29) For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
As I read this passage, an obvious truth jumps out from V28. God works all things for the good of those who love him, not some things or most things. God is working every single thing in my life out for my good. If I love God, then I can take this truth to the bank. I can believe this truth and live according to this truth. But wait, not everything that happens to me appears to be good, and here my story of being stretched begins.
When I was told, I was losing my job several weeks ago my first reaction was not, “thank you God this is so good.” It was a shock. I had to pick my jaw up off the table. Now, you must understand, I knew my job was going to end. I have been working for an insurance company that has been going out of business since 2001. When I started working for this company, it had 6,000 employees, and now it has only 150. During this 11 year process, I have seen God reawaken my heart and set a desire to serve him in the full-time ministry. I have viewed these last several years as a time of transition, as a time of preparation to leave the IT field and serve God where He calls.
As God began to open and close doors in my life, I developed a plan for how things were going to work out. I began thinking about how I was going to transition from working as an IT geek to being a missionary to our elected officials in Harrisburg. It was a smooth transition, it was neat and clean and in truth it required little risk and even less faith. After all, I will be serving the Lord; He would certainly bless such pure intentions. What I failed to see and what God is teaching me and stretching me to understand is this truth. God has a different purpose in mind. While I am focused on the destination, God’s laser beam focus is on me as an individual.
Let’s take a step back and ask ourselves, how does God define the word “good” in v28? We quickly realize through life’s circumstances that God is not working in our lives the way we might desire Him to work. He is doing something strange to us; He is taking us places we have no interest going. Our hearts cry out as we try to make sense of the situations we face. You see V29 tells us the goal, the good thing God is doing in our lives. What God desires for us, what He is working to accomplish through every situation and circumstance we face is to become like Jesus. This is what He wants; this is what He is doing. When we face the hard times in life we can hold onto this truth – this difficult and challenging situation is in my life because God is doing something good. His purpose for me is to be conformed to the image of His Son. He is working in my life and taking me through the hard time because his desire is that Christ may be formed in my life.
As I face the realities of my life and think of how God is at work, my plan no longer makes sense. I cannot connect the dots. I did not expect to be out of a job for another 2-3 years, I thought I would be one of the last people employed in my company. Obviously, God had a different plan from mine. Now I face the fact of raising my support, of trusting God with opening people’s hearts toward this ministry. As I look for God to validate my call through the financial commitment of others, it is humbling, it is scary, and yet it is where God has placed me in my journey to follow Him. I can say through the eyes of faith it is good. Whether I end up in this ministry or serve God in some other area, no matter what happens to my family and the things we place our security on, God is working to create in me the image of His Son.
The book of Hebrews tells us that Jesus is crowned with glory and honor because He suffered death (Heb 2:9). The path our Lord went down was one of sacrifice and suffering, if this was required of our Lord, should we expect that to become like Him would require anything less for our lives. The worldly part of our heart cries out, “No! Please give us another way.” Yet the cross stands and proclaims that there is no other way in which we can serve our great and glorious King, Jesus the Christ. Is it easy? Never! Is it worth it? Every single moment, for God is actively working for the “good” of our lives.
Through the encouragement of Jon, I am being stretched in another area, I have decided to start blogging about this journey. If you would like to read my attempt to write about this journey, please check out On The Narrow Road.
All for the glory of God!
Where do you see Christ being formed in your life? How have you seen hard times actually used for good?
The generous heart of my daughter never ceases to amaze me. As you can see by the pictures, Hannah decided several months ago to grow her hair out, so she could donate to Locks of Love. Locks of Love provides wigs for children who are facing hair loss for various reasons. Hair is a big deal for girls, women, and kids. So when Hannah decided to have her hair cut so someone else could enjoy a head of hair, it was quite a sacrifice – at least in my mind.
It makes me think about true sacrifice. I am so often caught up in my own self interest. I don’t put others first. I’m thinking of me – instead of thinking of others. I often fall short when it comes to true sacrifice.
Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13) Jesus is the ultimate example of true sacrifice. He who was without sin laid down his life on the cross for us that we might be saved.
I’m thankful for Hannah’s example, it reminds me of Christ. It reminds me that I need to be sacrificial if I’m going to be a Christ follower. Thanks, Sweetie!
What does it really mean to make a sacrifice for someone? When was the last time you really sacrificed something for someone?
Friday night, we finished up three nights of Stretch. I have volunteered at this event for several years, and it amazes me how I learn something or am reminded of something every year. Here are some of the things that I learned/remembered:
1. Junior High or Middle School is an awkward stage of life. At Stretch this year, I saw kids who danced, kids with green glasses, kids with short shorts, kids in wheelchairs, and kids with crazy hats. I saw kids who thought they were cool and kids who weren’t so confident in themselves. I saw all kinds of different kids.
2. Many young teenagers are crying out for attention. They wear tight clothing. They style their hair to get attention. They act tough. They want people to recognize them.
3. Young people today are very wasteful. Maybe this is just the wasteful minority overshadowing the others, but I’m not so sure. I can’t believe how many half full soda cans and half eaten cheeseburgers and candy wrappers and water bottles I found lying around. Is this something learned at home or is this what happens when young kids have freedom (i.e. Lord of the Flies)?
4. Young teenagers need positive influences in their lives. Hearing the disrespect from many of these kids, it was obvious that many lacked this influence. Perhaps, it was just normal teenage rebellion, but I’m not so sure.
5. We have awesome volunteers at our church. They helped pull off an “extreme” event for over 350 middle school students. Wow! I love these people. It was so fun to talk with these volunteers and work with them in serving the middle school students. I was inspiring to see them as they served.
6. Young teenagers feel misunderstood. They need adults in their lives who can come alongside them. They need to know that somebody cares. They need someone who will listen to them.
7. We need to create events (like Stretch) that will attract people who are far from God. These types of activities can serve as springboards to helping them find God and starting them on a growth path.
8. Our churches need to focus on this age group. I am so thankful for April Tatta who leads the middle school ministry at our church. She brings an energy and a passion to this area that is so often overlooked. Kudos to April for leading such a great event!
I can’t wait for Stretch 2012!
How do you remember your middle school/junior high experience?