The Honking of Encouragement

Geese typically travel long distances together in a V formation, with one flying in front of the rest, designated as the leader. This formation serves to minimize wind resistance, making it possible for the flock to conserve energy.

Since the one in front is prone to tire from the burden of facing the wind alone, the group will rotate flight leaders from time to time.

After the change, the one who has taken the lead — who had previously been moving in momentum with the rest of the group — now suddenly feels the full force of the strong wind.

This is where the honking comes in.

Ornithologists say that the geese honk during flight to support and encourage the one currently in front, as in: “We’re behind you. You’re doing a great job. Keep it up.”

Let’s remember, then, that the ones we work with — especially those leading / serving in an area new to them — will benefit most from our words of encouragement.

When someone steps up to do their part, it’s not enough for the rest of the team to coast. Let’s offer up a honk or two in support of those who are making the greater effort.

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

Problems & Solutions = Problems & Solutions

In the mid-19th century, fire trucks were typically pulled by horses. At the fire house, the horses were kept downstairs, while the firemen slept and ate upstairs.

• This led to a problem: When the horses could smell food being prepared, they wanted some. So they would frequently climb the stairs to see for themselves what’s on the stove.

• This led to a solution: Fire stations began to install spiral staircases, too narrow for a horse to navigate. This kept the horses safely on the lower level.

• This led to a problem: A dozen firemen trying to race down a spiral staircase at 3:00 in the morning was neither safe nor quick.

• This led to a solution: Chicago-based fire fighter Captain David Kenyon is credited with the invention of the fire pole: Safer, faster, more efficient.

Following Chicago’s lead, the Boston Fire Department soon installed a fire pole. It wasn’t long before other departments throughout the land heard about this innovation, and began using them, too. You could say the idea spread like … I don’t know … what would be a good analogy here?

Here’s my point.

Problems rarely come with a one-step-and-this-settles-it-forever solution. The best solution to one problem will often present corresponding challenges in another area.

So what do you do? Abandon a good “first-step” idea?

No, you continue to adapt. You continue to confront the follow-up challenges that come along.

That’s part of being a leader: solving one problem after another. It’s not always the most enjoyable line-item in our job description, but it’s often the most necessary.

The end result for fire stations across the nation is that the fire pole is a much faster method of getting to the lower level — faster than even a traditional set of steps. And when you’re on your way to a fire, every second counts.

Facing problems day-in and day-out can be tedious, it’s true. However, solving them one-by-one makes everything better for everyone.

And more than likely, that’s much of what your job entails.

The Price We Pay for the Right Words to Say

Do not believe that he who seeks to comfort you lives untroubled among the simple and quiet words that sometimes do you good.

His life has much difficulty and sadness and remains far behind yours. Were it otherwise he would never have been able to find those words.”

— Rainer Maria Rilke
Letters to a Young Poet


This quote from the 19th century Bohemian poet makes me think, first, of the life Christ lived for us.

He was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. We sometimes forget.

He did not consider equality with God as something to cling to, but instead he humbled himself, taking on the nature of a servant, becoming obedient, even to the point of death.

He was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities. He suffered for our sins, that by his stripes we may be healed.

And it is this attitude of humble, sacrificial service that Paul calls us to imitate.

I also think of how Rilke’s words apply to those in ministry, especially the preaching / teaching ministry.

It is through the struggles we face and the challenges we endure that God is able to give us the necessary words that can offer strength and hope to others.

We’re often tempted to ask, “Why is it necessary that I endure this hardship?”

Let’s consider the answer might be: “Because the people you’re called to serve will someday need to learn, from you, how to overcome this same kind of challenge.”

3 Characteristics of Critics (and Your Best Response)

We’ve all heard what Elbert Hubbard said:

“To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.”

However, for those called to do kingdom work, this just isn’t an option.  The truth is, we’ll all be criticized. We just need to learn how to deal with it.

Samuel Goldwyn, founder of MGM Studios, gave his people the following advice:

“Don’t pay any attention to the critics. Don’t even ignore them!”

As impossible as that sounds, I think I know what he meant.

A good example of enduring criticism can be seen in David.

You remember the story of how the Philistine Goliath stood before the Israelite army, defying them day after day to defeat him in battle. No one believed he could be conquered; the Bible says that they were all “dismayed and shaken.”

But when a ruddy-looking red-headed teenaged shepherd boy named David happened on the scene, he got the idea that he, by God’s power, could slay this giant.

When he said something about it, his own brother spoke with burning anger:

“Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the desert? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.” (1 Samuel 17:28)

David’s brother, Eliab, epitomizes the nature of critics. Here’s how.

• He was obsessed with the trivial. David was about to win a mighty battle for the glory of God, but Eliab was more concerned with the sheep.

Critics usually focus on the little picture, not the big picture.

• He made it personal. Eliab called David “conceited and wicked.”

This highlights the difference between criticism and advice. An advisor helps you evaluate your options and rethink your strategy. A critic just attacks your motives and condemns your character. As the poet Ezra Pound said…

“You can spot a bad critic when he starts by the discussing the poet and not the poem.”

• He underestimated David’s intentions. He said, “You came down here to watch the battle.”

No, David came to win the battle. He came to save the day. He was ready to do what brother Eliab and King Saul and the rest of the warriors weren’t: he was ready to risk his life for the opportunity to do something great for the glory of God. Eliab didn’t get that.

So what was David’s response?

“He then turned away to someone else and brought up the same matter.” (1 Samuel 17:29-30)

David didn’t get into a debate with his big brother about the purity of his motives or the extent of his vision. He didn’t even bother to explain what arrangements he made for the sheep. He just turned away from the criticism and talked to someone else.

And then, of course, he turned his attention to Goliath.

David had five smooth stones to work with. There was no point in wasting any of them on Eliab.
The temptation is to give critics more recognition than they deserve. The best response, however, is simply to turn away.

Turn your attention, instead, to doing that which God has called you to do.

Riding Third Class

Back when the west was being settled, the stagecoach was a common means of transportation. Some stagecoach companies offered three classes — even though the passengers sat in the same small compartment.

What was the difference? According to True West Magazine

First class passengers rode all the way.

Second class passengers had to get out and walk on steep grades.

Third class passengers not only had to walk, they also had to help push the carriage up the hills.

Do you see a connection to today?

The ministry of the kingdom of God has no first or second class passengers — those with limited involvement and limited responsibility.

We’re all third-class riders: we’re all called to get out, chip in, and do our part.

If a wagon wheel falls off or if there is a steep hill to maneuver — if there is any work at all to be done — our passenger status requires that we roll up our sleeves and get involved.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

All-Weather Friends

At any sporting event, you’ll find two types of spectators in the stands.

One is there to support the team — to cheer them on when they’re playing well and when they’re playing not so well. Win or lose, they wear the colors, they wave the banner, they remain loyal.

In contrast, there are always some who aren’t there to support the team, but to be entertained by the team.

When their side wins, they’ll gladly take the credit — as if they played a part.

When their side loses, they’re quick to boo and belittle their own players — as if they themselves could have done better.

My theory is that one’s attitude in the stands pretty much reflects one’s attitude in life.

You’re either loyal to those around you, rain or shine, offering support and encouragement through wins and losses … or you’re like the fair-weather fan waiting to pounce on someone’s mistake.

Think of how this attitude applies to your work, your church, even your relationships with your closest friends and family.

No doubt, the people in your life already hear enough booing, as it is. A sincere show of support on your part, a word of encouragement during a difficult time, has the power to inspire.

Fair-weather fans are a dime a dozen. Who needs another?

All-weather friends, on the other hand, are one in a million. Could this be you?

There are people in your life who need (and deserve) your all-weather loyalty, win or lose. Consider how you could cheer them on today.

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. (Proverbs 17:17)

Happiness Catches On

According to a study done by Harvard University and UCSD (University of California San Diego), happiness is contagious.

The research discovered that when a person becomes happy, friends living close by have 25 percent chance of becoming happy themselves. For next-door neighbors, the percentage possibility increases to 34 percent.

Nicholas Christakis, a professor at Harvard Medical School and the author of the study, said it this way: “Everyday interactions we have with other people are definitely contagious, in terms of happiness.”

What’s more, the happiness contagion extends beyond merely the people we encounter face-to-face; it includes up to three layers (or degrees) of contact — i.e., friends of friends of friends. (link to article)

I guess one lesson we can learn from this study is that it pays to surround yourself with happy people.

Another lesson is that you have the power to spread goodwill to those beyond your immediate circle — even to those you don’t personally know.

Let’s remember Paul’s words…

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)

Let your graciousness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. (Philippians 4:5)

Like happiness, mercy and kindness catches on. It’s up to us to fan the flame.

Your Most Important Decisions

The most important decisions you make are the decisions you make every day. Much more so than the one-time decisions — even the big ones.

For example, getting married is a major one-time decision. And the decision you make today to love your wife today as Christ loved the church is in many ways more important.

Choosing a career path or taking a job is a major one-time decision. And the decision you make today to do your work as unto the Lord today is more important still.

Giving your life to Christ is the greatest one-time decision you’ll ever make. Yet even greater is the decision you make today to follow him today.

How many times do we decide each day? 

According to the numbers I’ve seen, somewhere between 5000 and 35000. (A Cornell study says we make more than 200 daily decisions about food alone.)

Most decisions are made on auto-pilot. The best ones, however, need to be made intentionally, because our daily decisions give those big-time one-time decisions the meaning they deserve.

Or they take away their meaning all together.

Today you will decide — thousands and thousands and thousands of times — what to do with your time, what to eat, what to read, what to buy, what to wear, what to talk about, what to think about, and then what to give a second thought about.

Today you’ll also decide how you’ll speak to the ones you love, how you’ll do your job, how you’ll live out purpose — and many other things that will matter forever.

Before you let habit kick in, give yourself a second to think about what this decision means and where it will take you.

I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Life Takes a Team

Today’s reading is an illustration from a sermon I preached back in the nineties … and the principle is still true.

On July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, he was the focus of attention for the entire planet. Even today, his is the name most associated with the moon voyage. His statement “One small step for man…” will never be forgotten.

What often is forgotten, however, is that the Apollo expedition succeeded because a team of committed individuals sacrificed day and night for years to make it happen. Neil Armstrong was only one of 218,000 people involved.

He may have gotten most of the recognition, but he would be the first to tell you that it was a team effort.

The County Fair.

There’s a story about a horse-pulling contest held at a county fair.

The second place winner pulled a sled of 1000 pounds.

The first place winner pulled a sled of 1500 pounds.

But when the two horses were teamed up, together they pulled 4000 pounds of weight.

Life is a team sport. God intends for us to work together in order to achieve success.

It’s as Helen Keller said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

And as Solomon said…

“Two can stand back to back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple braided cord is not easily broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:12)

Do you want to accomplish more each day? Resist the temptation to go it alone. Look for ways to help those around you pull more weight.

Number One Reason Americans Go To Church

The Number One Reason Americans Go To Church

According to a Gallup poll, the number one reason Americans attend church is to hear Biblical preaching.

And the numbers are high: 83 percent of Protestant worshipers cited sermons that “teach you more about scripture” as a major factor in why they go to church.

Almost as many — eighty percent — cited the importance of practical application, ie: teaching that connects our faith to daily life.

Biblical preaching ranks above kids’ programs, outreach, and social activities.

And it ranks way above music. Only 38 percent consider the worship band and/or choir a major factor.

What’s the lesson here?

Preach the Bible every week. The best way to do this is to build each sermon around one text, supported with supplemental texts.

During the introduction, provide relevant backstory on the passage. This need not be a seminary-level history lesson. Just enough information about the author, characters, and cultural surroundings so that your listeners can place the text in its proper context. This can usually be done in a couple of minutes.

Pull major points of your message — and especially your main idea — from the text.

As often as possible, preach through an entire book of the Bible. A good way to begin this practice is to cover a chapter a week, especially if many of your listeners don’t have much of a foundation in the Word. This will enable you to get through books quickly, helping your listeners establish a general knowledge of Scripture, which will prepare them for deeper studies.

However, even when you’re not preaching through a book of the Bible, always keep the first point in mind: Build each message around one Biblical text, drawing your points from it.

Christianity Today also published an article related to this Gallop survey.

The Art of Giving Advice

The Fine Art of Giving Advice

Have you ever noticed how other people’s lives seem so easy to figure out? Their problems are so well defined, the solutions so clear-cut — unlike your own problems, which are complicated and nuanced.

This is certainly the case with me sometimes.

One frustrating aspect about giving advice is summed up in the old saying, “Advice is least heeded when most needed.”

In fact, in a letter Lord Chesterton wrote to his son in 1770, he said, “I wish to God that you had as much pleasure in following my advice, as I have in giving it to you.”

See, parents? Not much has changed in the last couple of centuries.

ADVICE-GIVING GUIDELINES

During those times when others do turn to you for advice, here are six guidelines to go by.

1. Wait till you’re asked.

It’s tempting to jump in and tell others exactly what they need to do to get their lives straightened out — after all, their problems are begging for your expert touch. However, unasked-for advice is really thinly-veiled criticism. It usually goes ignored.

George Washington wrote, “Give not advice without being asked, and [then], do it briefly.”

2. Speak from experience.

One evening during dinner with friends, a member of our group began telling another how she could improve some aspects of her web consulting and design business.

Her business did, in fact, need improvement, but with all due respect to the volunteer advisor, though his words may have been well-intentioned, he didn’t really know what he was talking about. He had never been in business for himself, had never been a consultant, and knew nothing about design. Other than that, he was an expert.

The truth is, if you haven’t been there, you’re not in a position to tell someone else how to get there.

3. Attack the problem, not the person.

“You’re lazy, disorganized and inefficient,” isn’t good advice. It’s not even advice. It’s merely an observation, and probably not an accurate one.

Understand that when a person seeks advice, he or she has made an important (and laudable) step in the right direction. Make sure, then, that your counsel focuses on pointing out the possible solution, rather than dwelling on the other person’s faults and foibles.

4. Focus on what needs to be done, which actions need to be taken.

People need to know today what they can do today to start solving the problem today. Telling someone what they could have done yesterday or what they should have been doing all along is only telling them what they already know.

It’s easy to point out the obvious; identifying workable solutions requires wisdom.

5. Don’t hesitate to tell the truth.

When someone comes to you for advice, they need to hear the truth.

This part of the process is often difficult, and it should be. If it hurts them to hear it, it should hurt you to say it. But you do need to say it — for their own good.

It’s like the time Eli went to Samuel, asking him about the vision God had given him. The Bible says that Samuel was afraid to tell Eli, but Eli insisted, “Tell me everything.”  1 Samuel 3:18 says, “So Samuel told Eli everything, he didn’t hold anything back.” [NLT]

Those who come to you for counsel deserve the same. Tell them the truth. But be sure you’re telling them the empowering, solution-focused truth.

6. The rest is up to them.

If they have done their job, you are only one of many from whom they sought advice, because “many advisers make victory sure.” (Proverbs 11:14 NIV)

Maybe they’ll follow your advice, maybe they’ll choose to act on the advice of someone else.

You cannot take responsibility for their problems, or their actions, but you can offer your best wisdom on what actions they should take. That’s as much as you can do, and it’s all you need to do.

OUR SOLEMN OBLIGATION

The ability to give good advice is as valuable as it is rare. That’s why consultants — the good ones, the ones who get results — are well paid. Giving good advice is not as easy as it looks.

Remember the words of Solomon: The godly give good advice. (Proverbs 10:21 NLT)

When someone asks for your input, they have paid you an enormous compliment. It is our solemn obligation to approach the task seriously, thoughtfully, carefully and prayerfully.

Encourage one another

In Need of a Nudge?

Researchers at San Diego State University looked at whether a simple sign could persuade people to better choices.

For 10 non-consecutive days they posted a sign in front of an airport escalator encouraging travelers to take the stairs instead. Some examples:

• Please reserve the escalator for those who need it.

• Don’t lose time, lose weight. Use the stairs.

• If you want to feel younger, act younger. Step it up! Use the stairs.

The result? On days when the sign was present, twice as many people took the stairs.

Significantly, the prompts appeared to work for all types: those who exercise frequently and those who never exercise were both persuaded to take the stairs this time — because of the sign.

Sometimes all you need is a little nudge. Maybe a note strategically placed near the refrigerator, near the door, near your computer, near your sofa, near your Bible is all you need to make the next good decision. Who knows? It could work.

Those close to you could sometimes use a nudge, too. (A nudge, not a nag.) Most people know what they need to do — and they really want to do it — but apparently it helps to be reminded.

Let’s see if we can make it habit to remind ourselves and gently remind one another.

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)