You’re Half Way There

Today’s memo goes back a few years. I look at it each year around the end of June, and I’ve even used it as a Monday Memo a time or two.

It’s a good reminder for this year, as well.

We’ve just about reached the mid-way point in 2020. Wednesday marks a new beginning, with a half year behind us, and a half year to go.

Have you thought about what the remaining months can be?

Earl Nightingale noted that if you will spend one hour a day on the same subject for five years, you can become expert on that subject.

True, no doubt. But for now, forget about five years and an hour a day.

Think instead about the next six months, thirty minutes a day.

Think about the potential that exists. What kind of headway could you make in one area of your life? Maybe attaining expert status is not realistic, but serious progress is.

• You could become conversationally proficient in a second language.

• You could learn to play the guitar; in six months you can reach the level of “decent.”

• You could walk 300+ miles.

• You could get in great physical shape.

• You could do a masters-level study of your favorite subject, such as church history.

• You could dig in-depth into one of the gospels or one of Paul’s letters, until you own it.

As one called to preach the good news, can you imagine how 30 minutes a day of focused effort could make a difference in your ability to communicate? What if, every day for the next 180 days, you devoted a half-hour to working on your craft? Can you imagine how the difference would be played out in the results you see?

The next 180 days will come and go, along with this 90 hour block of time. How will you invest it?

Some will watch 90 more hours staring at their phone. Some will catch an additional 90 hours of zzzzs. Some will do whatever they feel like doing at the moment.

And you? If you’re willing to take the road less traveled, you can use these moments each day to move forward in the calling God has placed on your life. 

“The hands of the diligent will rule.” (Proverbs 12:24)

A Princess in Disguise

Today’s memo is about Sarah Culberson.

Sarah was born in 1976 in West Virginia. After being placed in foster care for a year, she was adopted into a loving family — the Culbersons. Both parents were teachers. She grew up active in the United Methodist Church.

Sarah had always wondered about her heritage, so after graduating from college, she hired a private investigator to find her biological parents.

Her birth mom, she discovered, had died of cancer in the early nineties.

But it was what she learned about her birth father that changed her life forever.

As it turns out, Sarah wasn’t just a young woman from West Virginia. She was royalty. A princess.

Her father was now a ruling member of the Mende tribe in Sierra Leone. They began to correspond, and soon he invited her to Africa to meet her family.

When she arrived she received a royal welcome, with hundreds coming to greet her.

She kept asking herself: “What did I do to deserve this? I’m just Sarah from West Virginia.”

But she’s not just Sarah from West Virginia. She was born Princess Esther Elizabeth; that’s who she is. She had lived her life not knowing that she was a member of a ruling class — a princess in disguise. And then she discovered her true heritage.

Today, Sarah lives an amazing life. After pursuing a career in acting, she now works in education, she’s a public speaker, and she maintains close ties to both of her communities and both of her families. (Here is her website)

I love this story because it is — incredibly — similar to our story. We, too, have a royal heritage. We’re king’s kids, you could say.

And yet some believers remain unaware of who they really are.

The Apostle Peter said…

You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9)

Today, take a moment to consider who you are in Christ, and who he has made you to be.

______________

The photograph of Princess Sarah Culberson by Elunaman is licensed under Creative Commons.

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.

More Than Conquering

Recently I was reading about the 1938-39 University of Tennessee Volunteers football team — legends in NCAA history.

In ‘38 they went 11-0, won the SEC, beat Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, and claimed the National Championship. They didn’t merely win, they conquered.

The following year they went 10-0 in the regular season — undefeated, untied, and un-scored-upon. Not a touchdown, not a field goal, not a safety. Every game ended in a shut-out.

That’s not merely conquering. That’s more than conquering.

This is the phrase Paul used in Romans 8 to describe how we can approach life:

In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:37)

It’s a great phrase, but the truth is that many of us don’t feel like we’re more-than-conquering anything right now. We’re more-than-overwhelmed with challenges we never saw coming — creating hardship in the present and filling the future with uncertainty.

For many, Paul’s assurance seems just beyond our grasp. But the answer is closer than it seems, and it’s closer than it often feels.

The Bible is filled with promises from a loving Father who is always near, who comforts us in our sorrow, strengthens us in our weakness, and lifts us up when we are down.

There may be battles, and more than a few close calls, but our victory is assured.

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)

Rewriting the Story

It’s not uncommon, when an author is writing a novel, or a filmmaker is preparing a movie, that the story will change before the final product hits the streets.

Sometimes it has something to do with the characters, sometimes it has something to do with the plot, but most of the time it has something to do with the ending. The creative forces behind the story take a second look and decide: This needs a better ending.

ROCKY

Rocky was Sylvester Stallone’s first big movie. He was not only the star, he wrote the script. However, his first version of the story was quite a bit different than the one that finally made its way into the theaters.

The biggest difference was that, in the original draft, Rocky didn’t just lose the fight to Apollo Creed, he threw the fight — for money — so that he could afford to purchase a pet shop for Adrian.

Stallone eventually realized that this is not something a noble character would do — and this particular twist doesn’t inspire a sequel — so the ending was changed.

STAR WARS

The Star Wars franchise has seen several changes along the way.

For example, Luke Skywalker’s name originally was Luke Starkiller. And the name of the third installment was originally Revenge of the Jedi, not Return of the Jedi.

There were even posters printed and a trailer prepared with that title, before it was officially changed. There are still “Revenge” posters floating around out there. You can buy an original on Ebay for a few thousand dollars, or you can buy a copy of the original at Wal-Mart for about ten dollars.

The biggest change in the third installment of the series is that George Lucas intended for Han Solo to die at the end. It’s been said that he changed the outcome because he was afraid that the death of Han Solo might negatively affect merchandising.

I don’t know about that, but it is true that the way the story ended — with the big Ewok gala — was more uplifting.

THE NEED FOR A REWRITE

I’m saying that sometimes the writer’s original idea for the story and the characters and the ending is not the same as the writer’s final idea. As it goes through edit upon edit, rewrite after rewrite, the story gets better, and stronger, and more meaningful.

This is why it could be said that great stories aren’t written, they’re rewritten. It takes more than one pass at a manuscript to get it right, to make it as good as it can be.

ONE SONG SAYS IT ALL

There’s an old Southern Gospel song that I love. The title says it all: Mercy Rewrote My Life. It tells about a man whose life was moving in the wrong direction, full of sin and confusion, heartache and despair, until he discovered God’s powerful grace, and “Mercy Rewrote My Life.”

It’s a song that everyone can sing, a story that each of us can tell.

This is the message of the Christmas season. It is the message of the gospel. God sent his Son Jesus Christ into the world to change the story of humankind, to rewrite history one life at a time, through his mercy and his grace.

That’s Gratitude For You

A grandmother was watching her grandchild play on the beach when a huge wave came along and carried him out to sea.

She cried out, “Please God, save my only grandson. I beg of you, bring him back.”

Suddenly another big wave came along and tossed the boy back onto the beach, good as new.

The grandmother looked up to heaven and said: “He had a hat!”

That’s gratitude for you.

Have you noticed that there are some who just can’t be satisfied? There are some — and I’m talking about you and me sometimes — who have a hard time expressing gratitude.

Or even feeling it.

In 2001 Stephen Post, a medical school professor of bioethics, created a research group called the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love, dedicated to testing and measuring the effects of love, gratitude, and other positive caring emotions in human life.

Dr. Post’s research has discovered that spending 15 minutes a day focused on things you’re grateful for can have the following effects on our physical health:

1. It increases your body’s natural antibodies.
2. It increases mental capacity and reduces vulnerability to depression.
3. It creates a physiological state of resonance, improving your blood pressure and heart rate.

That’s gratitude for you. It not only lifts up the recipient, it also gives life to the one expressing it.

This is why we’re told time and time again in scripture to give thanks: A thankful heart puts us in right alignment with God and one another.

Paul wrote…

And always be thankful. Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts.

And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father. (Colossians 3:15-17)

There. That’s gratitude for you.

Choose Your Chair

As a teenager, Luciano Pavarotti had more than one good idea about his future, and more than one option to pursue.

He loved sports, and dreamed of being a football goalkeeper (what others would call a soccer goalie).

He loved teaching, and was attracted to the security this profession offered.

And, of course, he loved to sing.

When an elite professional tenor offered to take him as a student without cost, Pavarotti faced a decision: Which future should he choose?

His father said to him, “Luciano, if you try to sit on two chairs, you will fall between them. For life, you must choose one chair.”

Pavarotti later told Guideposts: “I chose one. It took seven years of study and frustration before I made my first professional appearance. It took another seven to reach the Metropolitan Opera. And now I think whether it’s laying bricks, writing a book — whatever we choose — we should give ourselves to it. Commitment, that’s the key. Choose one chair.

Of all the words written by the Apostle Paul, perhaps his most powerful phrase is: “But this one thing I do.”

Everything about Paul’s life pointed in one direction. Everything he did led him to one chair. His prize was doing what God had called him to do — to know Jesus and to make Jesus known.

Life is a reverse of the game Musical Chairs, in which there are more players than places to sit. You have lots of chairs to choose from. Those who live life best are those who have the courage to choose one chair.

Have you chosen yours?

Who Needs a Team?

On May 26, 1959, Pittsburgh Pirate pitcher Harvey Haddix accomplished something no one else in baseball has accomplished. He pitched 12 perfect innings in a game against the Milwaukee Braves.

It was enough to set a record, but it wasn’t enough to get a win.

The score was tied at zero in the bottom of the 13th when the Braves’ lead off hitter reached first on an error. Two batters later, Joe Adcock knocked in the winning run.

The Braves took the game, 1-0. And Haddix took the loss. The Pirates had men on base all afternoon — more than a dozen altogether — but they couldn’t manage to get anyone across home plate.

And so, with no help from the offense, Haddix’s brilliant record-setting performance wound up in the “L” side of the ledger.

Nothing Takes the Place of Teamwork

Today many leaders are convinced if they themselves can maintain a certain level of brilliance, it will be enough to guarantee the success they’re looking for.

While brilliance won’t exactly work against you, it will never take the place of teamwork. You’re not enough by yourself.

Whatever it is you’re trying to do, you can’t do it alone. You need a team — a team of team players.

Solomon wrote…

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up… Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:10, 12)

I encourage you to remind those on your team today that you’re committed to doing your part, that you’ve got their back, and you’re thankful that they’ve got yours.

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)

The Power of Words

The Power of Words

When you’re sick and you visit the doctor, what’s the first thing he nearly always says?

“Let me see your tongue.”

It seems like a doctor is able to tell what’s wrong with you just by looking at your tongue, doesn’t it?

This is also true in a spiritual sense. Your tongue has the ability to spread poison throughout your life, and it can infect everyone around you.

That’s why James gives a solemn warning about the tongue: It is full of wickedness that can ruin your whole life. (James 3:6 NLT)

It doesn’t have to be that way. There’s a way to prevent — and sometimes reverse — the damage.

Instead of speaking words that belittle, you can make an effort to speak words that bless.

Instead of using words that hurt, you can offer words that heal.

Instead of resorting to criticism, you can aim for encouragement.

And when you miss the mark on any of these, you can say, “I’m sorry.”

The tongue is powerful, not only in its ability to wreak havoc, but in its ability to build up others in every conversation. And in the process, it has the power to create lasting change.

Those who control their tongues can also control themselves in every other way (James 3:3 NLT)

What if, today, we made it our objective to speak words of hope, healing and encouragement in every conversation?

Bobby Leach

A Legend of the Fall

Bobby Leach achieved fame and fortune when, at the age of 53, he went over Niagara Falls in a barrel.

After recuperating from his injuries, Bobby toured North America and the UK with the historic barrel in tow, recounting the experience for enthusiastic audiences in circus tents and lecture halls.

Leach had been a lifelong circus performer, so daredevil stunts were nothing new to him. Even into his sixties he was attempting crazy things, such as swimming across whirlpool rapids.

So how did he die?

He was the victim of a banana peel. No kidding. He slipped on it, injuring his leg. The leg became infected, leading to gangrene, requiring an amputation, but it was too late. He died within a couple of months.

It’s the little things…

Is it strange that the man who could survive Niagara Falls in a barrel couldn’t survive a banana peel?

Actually, no.

More often than not, it’s the little things that beat us. It’s because they catch us off guard. When you know you’re going over the falls in a barrel, you’re fully prepared and prayed up. Something as mundane as walking across the room, however, you’re likely to think you’ve got it handled.

That’s when we’re likely to slip.

And that’s why Paul said…

So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! (1 Corinthians 10:12)

I wonder how that banana peel got to Mr. Leach. Did he see it and think that the mere skin of a fruit couldn’t hurt him? Or was he simply not paying attention? Either way, the mistake proved fatal.

Think about the banana peels you encounter throughout the day. A missed devotional. A half-hearted effort at work. Spending without thinking. Carelessness in conversation. Neglecting those most important to you.

These things are more malicious than they appear. If you’re not careful, they can make you fall.

It works both ways…

The flip side of the coin is that these little things also have the potential to take you to the next level. Jesus explained it …

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” (Luke 16:10)

And he said…

“You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.” (Matthew 25:21)

You will encounter many banana peels today. Or they could be stepping stones. Pay attention to each one, remembering that how you deal with this little thing will lead to the next big thing in your life.

[This post first appeared in 2012]
Many Mentors. One Father.

Many Mentors. One Father.

Jack Elway, former football coach of Stanford University and father of Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway, was once asked how he dealt with being an expert in the same field his son had chosen as a profession.

Jack’s response was: “In your son’s life he’ll have many mentors, many coaches, many men to teach and motivate and correct him. He’ll have only one father. All you have to do is love him.”

Reading this quote (in Randall Wallace’s book, Living the Braveheart Life) reminded me of something I had heard John Elway say years earlier.

After his second Super Bowl loss — if you’re a Bronco fan, you’ll remember those first two Super Bowls qualified as embarrassing — the younger Elway was, of course, devastated. It wasn’t merely a team loss; John himself hadn’t played up to par.

That evening his father visited him. He didn’t break down his son’s performance or offer any advice. He just sat with him.

It was one of those moments in which Jack knew that his son didn’t need a coach. He needed a dad.

Fathers, there are many roles you will play in the lives of your sons and daughters. Keep in mind that your greatest role is to let them know that they are loved, always, as we are loved by our Heavenly Father.

As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. (Psalm 103:13)