When the Director Yells ‘Action’

Imagine you’re on a movie set.

The director yells “action.” The actor delivers the line. The director yells “Cut.” The angle wasn’t quite right. Adjustments are made and they try again.

The director yells “action.” The actor delivers the line. This time he fumbles a phrase. The director yells “cut” and they try again.

The director yells “action.” The actor delivers the line. Again, the director yells “cut.” We’re getting a shadow. Let’s try again.

The director yells “action.” The actor delivers the line. “Cut, cut, cut.” The words were right, but there’s something missing. We need to feel it more. Let’s try again.

The director yells “action.” The actor delivers the line. The director yells “cut.” Not bad, this time. I think we can use this one, but let’s do a few more, just in case.

It can be exhausting, saying the same words again and again, expressing the same emotion again and again, striving for the same result again and again.

This is why Randall Wallace, screenwriter of Braveheart, said that the most exciting day of your life is your first day on a movie set, and the most boring day of your life is your second day on a movie set. Making movies is tedious work.

Is it worth it? Any actor would say, “Yes!”

Our lives are made up of one take after another, one attempt after another to do our job and meet our obligations and fulfill our purpose with excellence.

How many takes does it take to get it right?

It takes as many as it takes.

Sometimes it all comes together on the first try. And sometimes you have try again and again and again.

Others see only the end result. But we know what was left on the cutting room floor. We know it’s not always as easy as it looks.

Is it worth it? Absolutely.

Every day is a new day. A new take. A new chance to get it right, to deliver the performance of our lives. This day deserves the best you have to give.

Are you ready?

“Action.”

And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good. (2 Thessalonians 3:13)

The Never Again List

Every one I know has had to celebrate Christmas this year in a modified manner. People didn’t travel. Families didn’t get together. Fewer presents were passed around. (One young man told me, “This year my family decided we could only afford to draw each other pictures and write each other poems.”)

That’s how it was in 2020.

I’m sure we’ve all taken a ‘count your blessings‘ approach to the season, making the best of it, being thankful for what we have, rather than focusing on what’s been left out.

This is a good idea, of course, but I would also suggest that we resolve in the coming year to adopt a new attitude: Never Again.

As in:

Never Again will I take for granted the things that were missed or the things that were lost this year.

This year I know people who are unemployed. Others have lost their business. They will never again take a job for granted, and will likely never again complain about having to work for a paycheck, even when the conditions are less than perfect.

This year I know some who are without a home. Never again will they take for granted having four walls to call their own.

This year I know some who are spending this Christmas by themselves, without their kids and grandkids, for the first time in decades. They will never again take for granted a family get together.

We have all survived — maybe even taken in stride — the many required adjustments this season. That’s what most people do, especially those whose lives are built on a foundation of faith.

But it’s OK to feel the absence of that which has been lost this year.

And now is a good time to decide: Never again will I overlook even the smallest of God’s many blessings in my life. When God restores what was lacking this year, as he most certainly will, I will take notice, I will give him thanks, and I will treasure the gift of his goodness.

Cry out, “Save us, God our Savior; gather us and deliver us from the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name, and glory in your praise.” (1 Chronicles 16:35)

Merry Christmas!

A Shortage of Trees / A Lack of Vision

This may sound like a Christmas illustration, but it’s not. It’s a vision illustration.

There has been a Christmas tree shortage off and on for the last few years. And it could last a couple years more.

Why the shortage? Drout? Fire? Pandemic?

There are several suspects in the case, but the primary reason can be traced back to the recession of 2008, when fewer people bought trees — a trend which continued for a couple of years.

Since fewer were buying, tree harvesters planted fewer trees, thinking the need was dwindling.

As the economy began making gains, business picked up again … but short-sighted harvesters weren’t prepared. They had forgotten that there is a difference between a temporary lull and a long-term shift in consumer behavior.

Something similar can be said for ministry.

This is a temporary situation that we face today. But the lull won’t last. It requires our attention, to be sure. It requires that we be flexible in our plans and procedures.

But, as we deal with the ‘now’ all around us, let’s not be lulled. Let’s not lose sight of our vision. We must continue to look ahead, and plan forward, just as God has called us to do.

This moment in time is temporary. Our mission is long-term. Let’s make sure we’re ready when new opportunities for ministry come our way.

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. (1 Corinthians 16:13)

The Picture Perfect Promise of Christmas

I love Christmas cards. Especially the traditional kind.

Like a snow covered landscape, with a cozy cottage nestled in the woods. In the window you see the decorated tree. The smoke rising from the chimney tells you there’s a fire inside. You can almost feel the warmth; you can almost smell the gingerbread and pumpkin pie.

Or the scene with the rosy-cheeked carolers gathered on the front steps of a neighbor’s home. You can imagine how their angelic voices would fill the crisp winter air as they sing…

Silent night, holy night.
All is calm, all is bright…

When I see pictures such as these, I think: What a beautiful world to live in.

But that’s not the world where many find themselves today. Instead of peace and tranquility, they’re surrounded by heartache and pain, even darkness and despair. For many, the dream drawn on canvas seems forever out of reach.

While we hope for a world that we cannot create, we continue to live in a world we cannot escape.

This is why we need Jesus.

He came to change that which we cannot change for ourselves. He came to turn something ugly into something beautiful. He came to…

…comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion — to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. (Isaiah 61:2-3)

Oh, how I love to read these words.

Maybe today you see only ashes — but there is a crown of beauty waiting for you. The oil of gladness. A garment of praise.

The most idyllic scene you can imagine, he came to make real. Not just for a moment, captured in time, but for all eternity.

Merry Christmas!

Friends & Health & Happiness

In The Pursuit of Happiness, David Myers cites research demonstrating that once creature comforts are in place, there is a very weak link between income and happiness.

Neither do citizens of the wealthiest nations experience more happiness than those in developing countries.

In fact, rates of depression and alcoholism have increased in the United States since World War II, in spite of our having experienced unprecedented economic growth.

Money just can’t guarantee happiness.

However, a good circle of friends pretty much does guarantee happiness.

According to a survey from the National Opinion Research Center, the more friends you have, the happier you are.

Other studies show that close relationships promote health.

Author Robert Putnam says, “Social isolation is as big a risk factor for death as smoking. Your chances of dying in the next 12 months are halved by joining a group. By far, the biggest component of happiness is how connected you are.”

It’s been said, “Money is like a glove. Friendship is like your hand. One is useful, the other essential.”

The lesson here is: Make Friends. As the cliché goes, it will add years to your life and life to your years.

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!
(Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)

Hebrews 10:36

Which Will It Be?

In a boxing match, when a fighter is too beat up to continue, what does he do?

Instead of getting back into the ring when the bell signals the next round, he tosses in his towel. The towel admits defeat. It says, “I quit. I lose. I’m done.”

But there’s another phrase from the world of boxing to consider.

In the good old days, it used to be that spectators at a boxing match would be invited to come out of the stands and have a go at one of the pros.

In the noisy, smoke-filled arena, some courageous man would make it official by throwing his hat into the ring. The only way to get it back was to step onto the canvas and take on the champ.

In other words, to throw your hat into the ring was to accept a challenge from which you could not back down.

I think you know where I’m going with this.

Each day, in every area of your life that matters, you hold in one hand your hat, in the other hand a towel.

Each day, by your actions and your attitudes, you throw one or the other into the ring.

It’s either your towel or hat.

Which will it be today?

Make it your hat.

You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. (Hebrews 10:36)

The Top of the Fence Post

Alex Haley, author of Roots, had a picture on his office wall of a turtle sitting on a fence post.

He said the picture was there to remind him of an important lesson: If you see a turtle on a fence post, you know he had some help getting there.

Haley said, “Every time I’m tempted to think, ‘Aren’t I marvelous? Look at all I’ve accomplished!’ I look at that picture and remember how this turtle — me — got up on that post.”

(By the way, the turtle-on-the-post illustration has been spun countless ways; I like Haley’s the best.)

This is a good time of the year to take the time to say thank you to the ones — and, specifically, the One — who helped you make it to the top of the post.

Obviously, we begin by giving thanks to the Father for all that he has done.

But let’s not forget also to say thanks to those who play a part in bringing his goodness our way.

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now… (Philippians 1:3-5)

Is there someone to whom you can say ‘thank you’ today?

Settling in for the Long Haul

When John Grisham got the idea to write his first novel, he was a practicing attorney with a heavy caseload and the full-time obligations of family life.

He had a story that he wanted to tell, but there was no easy way to get it done. He knew he couldn’t crank out a novel in a few short weeks, like Stephen King and James Patterson seem to do.

So he decided to do what he could: he would go to the office an hour early each day and write one page.

One page a day. This way, he could finish his first draft in about a year.

And that’s how it played out.

The book was called A Time to Kill. It found its way to a publisher, became a best-seller, and then a popular movie, and it launched an impressive writing career.

This happened because John Grisham made the intentional choice to settle in for the long haul, focused on doing today what needs to be done.

This means that on the days he didn’t feel like writing, he wrote anyway.

And when he wasn’t sure what should happen next in the story, he kept on writing.

When countless agents and publishers said “No thanks” to his first round of queries, he continued to write.

He settled in for the long haul.

There’s a verse in Proverbs that speaks to this.

Steady plodding brings prosperity; hasty speculation brings poverty. (Proverbs 21:5)

It may not seem all that exciting, but if you have any hope of accomplishing what you hope to accomplish, and becoming the person you hope to become, today just might be mainly about plodding along.

Practice Days

In his book Today Matters, John Maxwell talks about asking legendary basketball coach John Wooden, who had won 10 NCAA championships while at UCLA, what he missed most about coaching.

Wooden’s response?

PRACTICE.

He missed practice the most.

He said, “What you do in practice determines your level of success. I used to tell my players, ‘You have to give 100% everyday. Whatever you don’t give, you can’t make up for tomorrow. If you give only 75% today, you can’t give 125% tomorrow to make up for it.'”

Much of what we’ll do today could be labeled ‘practice,’ though we’re more likely to call it preparation: preparing for the next meeting, the next message, the next service.

It’s amazing how much life consists of getting ready. Wooden’s words remind us that we don’t have the luxury of coasting through these “non-game days.”

Even our practice days deserve 100%.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters. (Colossians 3:23)

The Science of Happiness

Good morning, friends. In the past few weeks I have posted a few memos about happiness, for a good reason: There are many who think that their happiness in life — especially now — is determined by elements beyond their control.

This isn’t the case. An individual’s level of happiness is almost entirely up to them.

True, some factors can make happiness a bit of a challenge at times, but it’s never beyond our reach.

According to a recent CNET article, the idea that happiness is built in and can’t be changed is a misconception. It really is up to you, and your willingness to tend to five key areas:

• Build meaningful relationships with friends and family.
• Demonstrate kindness toward others.
• Show compassion for yourself and others.
• Express gratitude.
• Focus on the present moment, rather than obsessing about the past or fretting over the future.

Emiliana Simon-Thomas, who teaches a course called The Science of Happiness at UC Berkeley, says that happiness doesn’t mean you feel pure joy and cheerfulness every hour of every day.

She says, “People who pursue happiness in that sort of belief system end up being less happy than people who define happiness in a more overarching, quality-of-life way.”

Happiness means accepting negative experiences and having the skills to deal with them as you continue moving forward.

What some might call happiness, the Bible calls joy. It’s more than a good feeling caused by a good moment. It’s deep enough to endure difficult days.

It’s a choice that we make, again and again.

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24)

The Secret to Happiness

What is the secret to happiness? 

The list of nominees is the same for almost everyone: income, health, family, success.

Results of a Harvard study, however, indicate that the answer is none of the above.

What is it, then?

Volunteering to help others. Another way to say it: Serving.

Research conducted by Dr. Eric Kim concludes that people over the age of 50 who volunteer to help others for at least 2 hours a week have a higher sense of well-being than those who don’t.

And it goes beyond a sense of well-being. Helping others is a catalyst toward other lifestyle benefits, such as lower risk of death, a lesser chance of health-related complications, and increased physical activity.

Dr. Kim says that serving others doesn’t just strengthen communities, it also “enriches our own lives by strengthening our bonds to others, helping us feel a sense of purpose and well-being, and protecting us from feelings of loneliness, depression, and hopelessness.”

Maybe this is one reason why Jesus said that it is more blessed to give than receive: Your gift of service to others come back your way, in full measure, even running over. [Acts 20:35, Luke 6:38]

In the words of King Solomon…

Those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed. (Proverbs 11:25)

Ideas Waiting to be Recognized

In last week’s memo I talked about the “gratitude ball” that Duke University used for motivation during their NCAA championship run in 2015.

The idea was implemented by head coach, Mike Krzyzewski.

It’s important to note, however, that the idea didn’t start with him. It came from the associate head coach, Jeff Capel.

Krzyzewski realized right away it would be an effective motivational strategy, so he grabbed hold of the suggestion and made the most of it.

I like everything about the way Krzyzewski handled this.

First, he fostered a leadership environment where assistants and associates felt free to share their ideas.

Second, he recognized a good idea when he heard it, and he was willing to put it to work — even though it wasn’t his idea.

Third, he made it a point to give Capel the credit he deserved.

This is how effective leaders do it.

The simple truth is, if every workable idea has to come from you and you alone, your leadership efforts will always want for workable ideas.

But if you’re willing to listen, and willing to take a risk on someone else’s suggestion, and wiling to give credit when it credit is due, the team you lead will reap the rewards.

There are brilliant ideas all around you, ready to be recognized, waiting to be acted upon. Could there be one nearby that you have overlooked?