Taking Care of Business

Thomas Carlyle said, “Our main business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand.”

Vision is essential to leadership, as is seeing the big picture—no doubt about it. But great leaders also have the ability to see and do what is necessary today.

It’s the principle of first things first. Solomon said it as simply as it can be said: Develop your business first before building your house. (Proverbs 24:27)

This is what great leaders do. Where many flounder week to week, effective leaders make sure that, before anything else, top business gets done each day.

And they do this every day.

What’s your business? I mean your real business? What matters most to you? Is there anything on your agenda today that reflects this priority?

Long term vision is great, but we also need to make a habit of taking care of today’s business today.

How would you complete these two sentences?

1. My real business is __________.

2. I will develop it today by doing this: _______________.

If your real business is following Jesus, then do something today that makes you more like him. Give. Love. Serve. Forgive. Show mercy.

Develop your business (your real business) first, before doing anything else.

Moments of Grace

Moments of Grace

Joshua BellIn January 2007 the Washington Post conducted an experiment: What would happen if a world class musician performed elegant classical music on a priceless instrument in the Metro station of a major American city?

The city was Washington D.C.

The musician was Joshua Bell, who can earn upwards of $50,000 for an evening’s performance.

The instrument was a 300 year-old Stradivarius valued at $3.5 million.

The music included the works of Bach and other masters.

The experiment was captured on hidden camera.

So, what happened? How did people respond?

During Mr. Bell’s 45 minute performance, 1097 people passed by. 27 dropped spare change into his open violin case, for a total of $35. And seven of them stopped what they were doing to listen for at least one minute.

The other 1070 people hurried past, oblivious, uninterested, unmoved.

This experiment might offer hope to pastors and teachers who find themselves frustrated at the lack of response their timeless message too often receives.

But we must also ask ourselves: how many times a day does we do the same thing?

How many times do we encounter truth, beauty, and excellence, without giving it a second look? How many messages of hope do we ignore? How many demonstrations of grace do we disregard? How many divine appointments do we overlook?

Ezra wrote these words:

But now for a brief moment grace has been shown from the Lord our God, to leave us an escaped remnant and to give us a peg in His holy place, that our God may enlighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our bondage. (Ezra 9:8)

Let’s make an effort to recognize — and fully experience — those brief moments of grace God sends our way.

There were be at least few today. Will you see it?

The Power of a Clean Slate

The Power of a Clean Slate

In the movie Clean Slate, Dana Carvey plays a private detective involved in a murder investigation.

The problem is that he has anterograde amnesia and is unable to remember any details of his life from the day before. So each day, as he wakes up, he listens to a cassette tape reminding him of who he is and why he is here.

Just like Carvey’s character, sometimes it’s easy to forget day-after-day just who the real “you” is.

It’s not a bad idea to pick up his habit — to begin each day with a reminder of who you are and why you are here.

It’s a reminder that you don’t get from a cassette tape machine. You get it from the Word….

Who are you, then?

A child of God. A friend of Jesus. A new creation. Whole and complete. Forgiven. Accepted. Chosen. Renewed. Alive.
And that’s just the beginning.

Each new day is a clean slate, another chance to live the life God called you to live, to be the person he called you to be.

Forget yesterday. Remind yourself today of who you are in Christ, and who Christ is in you.

Let this be your identity. Let this determine who you are and what you do.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:23)

John Stott

A Life Well-Lived

One of the most influential leaders of the Christian church in the last century was a quiet and unassuming theologian named John Stott. He spent much of his life serving one church, All Souls Langham Place in London.

But he also served the global church. He preached all over the world.

He challenged evangelicals everywhere not just to preach the gospel boldly, but to live boldly and Biblically. He challenged us not only to tell the world about Jesus, but also to demonstrate the love of Jesus in caring for the poor and the disenfranchised.

Throughout his 70 year ministry he wrote several books. One of them, Basic Christianity, is a book that every believer should read.

When I think of a life well-lived, I think of John Stott. He lived well and he finished strong.

In the final days of his life, confined to bed, knowing the end was near, he asked for two things.

One, to hear Handel’s Messiah again and again.

Two, for a friend to read again and again from one book of the Bible: 2 Timothy.

Like the Apostle Paul, John Stott was prepared to say…

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:7)

I think that’s what we all want to be able to say. The good new is that anyone can.

No life need be summarized with a wistful phrase of regret. Anyone can go out on top. I’m not talking about going out rich or going out famous. I’m talking about going out content. Satisfied. Full of joy, hope, and expectation.

The best time to consider this, of course, is sooner, not later.

And here’s more good news.

It’s never too late. It’s never too late to start fighting the good fight. It’s never too late to become who you might have been.

Leaders like John Stott can inspire us all to stay in the race, or even get in the race … to live every moment as if it matters for all eternity — because every moment does.

Here’s to finishing well. And to making today count toward that end.

Marie Byrd Land

Two Steps to Taking Charge

It’s amazing that even today, surrounded as we are by satellite technology, there are places on planet Earth that remain unexplored and uncharted.

And, even more amazing, places that remain unclaimed.

Such as Marie Byrd Land, named in honor of the Admiral’s wife. It’s located in West Antarctica, and covers an area of 620,000 square miles — that’s more than twice the size of Texas. Though it has been partially explored, no sovereign nation has laid claim to it.

I guess that means it’s up for grabs. If you’re looking for a new place to call home, keep it in mind. Especially if you like a mild summer. Average temperature in July is right around 14° Fahrenheit. Winter is a bit cooler, they say.

Far more significant than Marie Byrd Land, I can think of yet another territory that remains unexplored, uncharted, and even unclaimed.

It’s the week that lies ahead. Your week. Whenever you like, you can claim it as your own and make of it what you want.

As each new Monday comes your way, a new world of opportunity opens up. Just as we begin the new year with a new resolve to accomplish greater things, we can begin each new week with new resolutions and new plans.

Adding and subtracting.

As you stake your claim for the seven days, consider how these two questions might help you chart your course.

a.) What is one thing I need to subtract from my life? Which sin … which self-defeating behavior … which destructive attitude shall I get serious about leaving behind, once and for all — starting this week?

b.) What is one thing  I need to add to my life? Which new approach of faith … which new step of obedience … which brand new attitude do I need to begin to demonstrate — starting this week?

We lay claim on our lives by doing with intention the best things, and making every effort to abandon the worst things. Adding one and subtracting the other each and every week is a good place to start.

Make this week your week: yours to claim, yours to own, yours to live.

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14)

Called to be a Craftsman

Called To Be a Craftsman

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building up others according to their need… (Ephesians 4:29)

The Greek word translated building up means, in its most literal context, to construct a house, or repair a house, or remodel, renovate, and restore a house.

Paul is saying, then, that in every conversation we should strive to say only that which will build and repair — only that which will make the other person stronger and the situation better.

My Job in De-Construction.

Years ago I took part in a ministry project that involved the renovation of an old house.

Actually, my role wasn’t in the renovation side of things. I was in the group that went in with sledge hammers. It was our job to tear down walls and bust out floors. A lot of fun, I must admit.

When we were finished, the place was a shambles — because that’s what sledgehammers tend to leave behind.

Then came the guys who really know something about construction to begin making the place look new.

When their work was done, it was a marvel to behold.

Of course, I never kidded myself into thinking that I really had anything to do with the end result. I was just a lug with a sledgehammer — the extent of my construction skills.

It was the craftsmen who turned the shambles into a showplace.

Here’s my point.

There are many who think it’s their job, in conversation, to be the sledgehammer. They imagine themselves to be foreman on God’s verbal demolition crew.

But that’s not who you’re called to be.

Your job, rather, is to be a craftsman: to rebuild and renovate with the words you speak.

Solomon said…

There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise bring healing. (Proverbs 12:18)

It takes no skill at all to swing a sledge hammer. Neither to tear people apart with your words. They’re both about the same.

But a craftsman knows how to build. And rebuild. And renovate and restore.

That’s our job.

Country Church

Results Unknown

W.A. CriswellThere’s a story in W.A. Criswell’s biography that illustrates how you can never measure the impact of your ministry.

Dr. Criswell tells about the day of his conversion: It was Autumn, 1920. His church was holding a revival and W.A. received permission to skip school to attend a special mid-day meeting.

At the close of the service, he responded to the invitation and accepted Christ as his Savior.

Seven years later he was licensed to preach. He soon began a lifetime of ministry, including 55 years as pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas. He wrote more than 50 books, led untold thousands to Christ, trained hundreds for the ministry. He was one of the most influential pastors in America during the 20th century.

But this story is really about the man who preached that 1920 revival which changed the course of Criswell’s life.

His name was John Hicks. He had been a guest in the Criswell’s home during the two week revival, and young W.A. had been greatly impressed with the evangelist’s manner and character. This admiration compelled the 10 year old boy to attend every service and hang on every word the preacher spoke.

Years later, as Hicks lay dying in Baylor Hospital, his friend Wallace Basset sat with him during his final moments. Hicks said, “Wallace, my life is over, my preaching days are done, and I’ve never done anything for Jesus. I’ve failed, Wallace. I’ve failed.”

Apparently John Hicks never knew about the special contribution he had made to the kingdom of God: how one revival meeting held in a small Texas town — and specifically one sermon preached on an Autumn morning — touched the heart of a young boy who would, in turn, touch the lives of millions in the years to come.

The words of Paul come to mind:

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)

Maybe you can’t see the full results of your ministry at this moment. Maybe today it seems that your years of sacrifice and hard work resemble next to nothing.

The truth is that you’ve accomplished things that you don’t know about — things you may never know about this side of glory.

During these days when measurable results remain elusive, be steadfast. do not give in to despair. God is using you in ways that you cannot see.

Eagle Soaring

The Eagle and the Hippo

Carl Sandburg said, “There is an eagle in me that wants to soar, and there is a hippopotamus in me that wants to wallow in the mud.”

He may not have known it, but he was describing the Christian life. It’s our dual nature, as Paul talked about…

I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another law at work in me that is at war with my mind. This law wins the fight and makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. (Romans 7:22-23)

Everyday you must choose: Will I live according to the new nature, or the old? Will I soar with the eagles, or wallow in the mud?

Your decision determines everything: How you greet the day. How you direct your thoughts. How you talk to — or talk about — your co-workers. How you spend your spare change and how you spend your spare time. And on and on.

Every day — every moment of every day — you have the power to choose your environment: the clear blue sky or the local hippo hangout.

You have a key to both places, and access is unrestricted. It just depends on where you prefer to be.

Remember today that God is calling you upward.

From an ‘A’ to an ‘A-Plus’

In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul urges the church to lead holy lives. He commends them on the great love they have for others, and then he says…

Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more. (1 Thessalonians 4:10)

He’s saying, in effect, “This is an area where you’re making an A. Good job. See if you can bump it up to an A-Plus.

He’s reminding us to strengthen our strengths.

Too often our focus is limited to those things we don’t do well. We spend so much time and effort covering up our weaknesses, we neglect the task of building our strengths. We should never be content with any aspect of our personal growth; there’s room for improvement in every area.

Which things do you do well? If Paul were writing to you, or to your church, consider in which area he might say, “Way to go. Keep it up. Reach higher.”

If you, like the Thessalonians, excel in love, make it your aim to excel all the more. If you’re gifted in leadership, continue to refine your leadership skills.

And for those whose ministry is preaching and teaching, we should always be looking for ways to take our communication skills to the next level.

Excellence covers all aspects of the Christian life. Weak areas need to be made strong, to be sure. But let’s not forget that the strong areas need to be made stronger.

Today, consider what you do well, and give thought to how you may “do so more and more.” See if you can turn that A into an A-Plus.

John Wooden

Legend or Critic?

Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden was once asked his opinion of former Indiana coach Bobby Knight. Wooden would only respond…

“I think Bob Knight is an outstanding teacher of the game of basketball, but I don’t approve of his methods. But I’m not a judge, and I’m not judging Bob Knight. There is so much bad in the best of us and so much good in the worst of us, it hardly behooves me to talk about the rest of us.”

I think he understood what Henry Kaiser once said, “When your work speaks for itself, don’t interrupt.”

Wooden, who passed away in 2010 at the age of 99, has shown us what a legend looks like.

He was not only a gentlemen on the court, he also set records that may never be broken. His 10 national championships, his 88 game winning streak, his phenomenal winning percentage, the players he groomed for stardom in the NBA — this is his legacy; he had no reason to add the title of “outspoken critic” to the list.

NO TIME FOR TALK

In your life and mine, in your work and mine, there are a number of potential (even so-called “valid”) targets of our own outspoken criticism.

If we’re not careful, they can take up all of our time and attention.

And if we’re not careful, we can be sidetracked into thinking that our opinions are more important than our actions.

It’s what you do that ultimately makes a difference. Talk isn’t enough. Opinions aren’t enough. Criticism, no matter how on-target or how well-articulated, is never enough.

You prove who you are by the way that you live.

Paul asked…

So why do you condemn another Christian? Why do you look down on another Christian? Remember, each of us will stand personally before the judgment seat of God. (Romans 14:10)

Let’s strive, then, toward leaving a legacy built not upon our estimation of others, but upon our own measurable accomplishments.

Criticize less, do more.

That’s what a legend looks like.

Encourage One Another Daily

Who Needs Encouragement

Truett CathyTruett Cathy (founder of Chic-fil-A) once said, “How do you identify someone who needs encouragement? Answer: That person is breathing.”

You can be sure that every person you encounter today will benefit from a good word. You may not be able to solve their problems, but you can give them a little extra fuel for their journey.

How do you offer encouragement? Here are a handful of suggestions.

Remember that you can’t give encouragement when you’re talking about yourself. Especially when you’re talking about your problems. Sometimes we try to give others a little perspective on their problems by telling them how bad ours are. It doesn’t help.

Point out what they’re doing right. They probably already know what isn’t working, and they probably already know what they’re doing wrong. Tell them what is working. Tell them something good about themselves. Don’t worry, they won’t get big-headed about it.

Tell them what you see for them in the future. Tell them how things can be. Remind them of what God can do, how he can transform any situation for his glory, how he can transform any person into the image of Christ, how he can use anyone to accomplish his purpose.

Give them an example. An example other than yourself, that is. Tell them about a friend who had a similar problem and was able to overcome it. Or how a business leader dealt with adversity. Or how another Christian’s perseverance ultimately paid off. Tell them a story that will give them hope.

Offer to help them fine-tune their strategy. When you say, “If you ever want feedback on anything, I’m here to give it,” they will probably come to you for feedback — if they sense your sincerity. It is then that you can ever-so-gently point out the things they’re doing wrong. It is then that you can help them improve their approach and correct their mistakes.

Just remember: first, they need encouragement.

Isaiah said…

Encourage the exhausted, and strengthen the feeble. Say to those with an anxious heart, “Take courage, fear not. Behold your God will come with vengeance; the recompense of God will come, but he will save you.” (Isaiah 35:3-4)

Loud and Clear

Loud and Clear

When it comes to living a life of wisdom, no one can use the excuse, “I didn’t know, I didn’t hear, I was left out of the loop.”

Wisdom isn’t a whisper in the distance; her voice booms in the present tense — from the street where you live — louder, even, than all surrounding noise.

Wisdom is there to be heard for those who will hear.

The problem is not that we are unable to hear what wisdom says. It’s that we are, too often, unwilling to do what wisdom would have us do. That’s what is holding us back.

Wisdom shouts in the streets. She cries out in the public square.

She calls to the crowds along the main street, to those gathered in front of the city gate: 

“How long, you simpletons, will you insist on being simpleminded? How long will you mockers relish your mocking? How long will you fools hate knowledge? 

Come and listen to my counsel. I’ll share my heart with you and make you wise.” (Proverbs 1:20-23 NLT)