How to Give Your Child a Blessing and a Bright Future

Another World Series is over. I admit. I didn’t watch one game this year. Time did not allow. But I did read an article that caught my attention.

If you’re dressing up for Halloween anywhere in the Kansas City area, dress as Madison Bumgarner. He must be the Royal’s biggest nightmare. Two wins and a save helped the Giants to another World Series title.

What got me interested, admittedly a little late, was an article about his father. Living “somewhere east of Granite Falls, in the Appalachian foothills,” the interviewer tells a down-home story of Madison’s family.

His father, Kevin, had texted Madison after the eighth inning of Game 7. Madison had come in as a relief pitcher—rather than his usual role as a starter—to help clinch the series. Kevin’s text to his son read: “OMG. You’re so much more than awesome. To see you work on the mound reminds me of watching you in high school. You are willing yourself to perfection and dragging the team along with you. I couldn’t be more proud of your baseball accomplishments.” (You can read the full article here.)

The text reminded me of how important it is for parents to speak (or in this case, text) words of blessing to our children. Even when they are grown.

Here are some things to keep in mind when “blessing” your children:

  • Meaningful touch is important. Hugs, kisses, putting an arm around their shoulder when you affirm them or pray for them tells them you accept them. No matter what age they are.
  • Speak words to them. Some parents aren’t as comfortable with words. Maybe your parents did not say affirming, positive things to you. But you can learn. And it is crucial. Tell your kids that you love them. Tell them why you are proud of them. Tell them how they bring joy to your life.
  • Picture a special future for them. Help them see their future. Find what it is they are good at and are wanting to do and tell them you will do whatever you can to support them. Harry S. Truman once said, “I have found the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want to do and then advise them to do it.” Remember, it’s their future. It’s their life. Help them live it and not just the one you want.

And if you’re thinking, “I’ll get to that tomorrow” . . . don’t. Do it today. Kevin did not even wait until the game was over to send a word of blessing to Madison. He said, “I knew he wouldn’t read that text before the game was over but I wanted him to know this was what his daddy thought of him.”

Let your kids know what you think of them today. (And now I wish I had watched the Series!)

Question: What words do you need to say to your children today?


Practice Silence and Learn How to Speak

“Our ears are full!”

That’s what we used to tell our oldest son when he was a three-year-old on long trips. He was talking by the time he was nine months old. Once he started he rarely stopped.

Especially on trips. Especially on long trips. And there would be a time between mile 300 and 327 that it would hit us. We just needed some silence! The only thing we could tell him that seemed to make sense to him is “Our ears are full!”

Then he would stop talking for a while. (I’m not sure what a three-year-old thinks is going to happen if his parents’ ears are full and he says one more thing. Whatever it was he apparently didn’t want to find out.)

What I’ve come to learn in the years since is that our ears can be full but noise can also take up space in our souls that should be reserved for God.

Silence is what happens when our mind and spirit get still.

And for that to happen we have to ruthlessly eliminate the noise in our world. The dog is barking. The coffee is perking. Pandora is playing. The neighbors are yelling. Family is chattering. Those aren’t bad things. I point them out to help us realize how much sound there is around us.

Sound fills up the deep crevices of our emptiness. But it doesn’t fill our emptiness. Silence can. In silence we can hear God. “In quietness and trust is your strength” (Isa.30:15).

But it’s hard to find silence in a modern world. You can’t just disappear from your family and work. But you can take some steps towards silence. The first major step is in not speaking. Here are some “strengths” you’ll gain through silence:

  • Not speaking allows us to gain control over what we do speak so that we learn to not just automatically start blabbing.
  • Not speaking allows us to instead listen, observe and pay attention to others.
  • Not speaking helps us be less concerned about what others think of us and become comfortable with what God thinks of us.
  • Not speaking teaches us when to be quiet and when to speak.

Just try not speaking for a period of time and you will quickly discover how many words we utter daily that are really unnecessary. And you’ll find that when you do say something your words carry more weight.

Practice seeking silence in your life. You don’t want to find out what happens when your ears are full and the noise continues.

Question: When was the last time you spent a half hour in silence? How did it affect your soul?

Find Your Calling and then Find Encouragement

People want their lives to count for something. And yet for many their life is just a series of running from one task to the next, one appointment to another, and one diversion after diversion.

Ever been in that boat? There’s a lot of motion in your life but very little movement? Then what you need to find are two things: your calling and encouragement.

In his book Drucker & Me Bob Buford tells of the mentoring relationship he was fortunate to have with Peter Drucker, the well-known management consultant and author of modern management issues.

Buford writes that people need to find first of all “clarity in their calling.” The Bible tells us that there is some task that was “prepared beforehand” that we should walk in. There is something we are called to do in this life. We need to get clear on what that calling is.

For each of us there is a general calling we can be clear on. To live a holy and blameless life. To help usher in the ways of God into our world. (Think about it: if people actually lived according to the principles of God the earth would be an amazing place to live, wouldn’t it?) To bring justice and hope to the world.

But how each individual does that may be varied. That is what you have to get clear on. How does God want to use you in his story to shape history?

To decide that you need to look at:

  • Your skills.
  • Your training.
  • Your education.
  • Your passion.
  • Your interests.

Who is it that is doing something that you wish you could be a part of? That may be a clue in helping you get clear on your own calling.

Once you’ve pinpointed that you need to find an encourager or two. As Buford writes, “…someone to say, ‘You can do that. Let’s talk about it until it becomes clear’” (170). He lists four pieces of encouragement that will help you make a difference:

  • Permission to be who you are designed to be (as opposed to following someone else’s script written for you).
  • Acknowledgement when you do something well along the lines of your calling.
  • Applause in the form of recognition.
  • Accountability to moves you from “Good Intentions” to “Results and Performance.”

You are a one of a kind person. Find some quiet times to listen for your calling. Then find someone that can encourage you to live into your calling. Your life can count for something if you do.

Question: Who do you have in your life that can encourage you to live into your calling?

The One Thing You Can’t Lead Without

I had one of those mornings today. My calendar was planned out and I was following it closely.

But fifteen minutes into a staff meeting I got a call from the person I was to have lunch with. The lunch started sooner than I understood and I had to leave the staff meeting early. And I’m the one who had called the meeting.

Maybe you’re thinking, “What’s the big deal? Things happen.” And that thinking may be one of your problems as a leader.  Here’s why.

Doing what you say you will do when you say you’ll do it and in the way you said you were going to do it has to do with integrity. Integrity is who you are. I remember working out in a weight room a number of years ago. On the wall were motivational posters. The one that stuck with me was the one that read: “You are who you are when no one’s looking.” I might co-opt that phrase and say instead, “You are who you are by how you honor your word.”

A training process I am involved in—along with others from my church—called Compass Initiative (part of the Faithwalking Community) is helping me understand that there is a difference between keeping your word and honoring your word. You won’t always keep your word. You will give your word to something and then forget or, yes, at times “things happen” and you just can’t follow through. But you can honor your word.

So what do you do when you break your word but want to honor your word? Here are five steps we are learning that allow us to live with integrity.

  • Go to those who were impacted by the broken promise.
  • Acknowledge the broken promise.
  • Ask how that broken promise has impacted that person. Listen to what they have to say. Really listen.
  • Do what you need to do to make things right. After you feel the “sting” from how your broken promise has impacted them you can offer a sincere apology.
  • Re-promise with them and work to keep that promise.

If you say you’ll be on time, be on time. If you say you’ll show up for your kid’s game, be there. If you promise your spouse a weekend away, do it. If you say you’ll get a project done by a specific date, get it done.

And when you don’t, follow these five steps until you master them. If you think you live in integrity all the time start paying attention to your life. You’ll probably discover you don’t. But you can.

You’re probably wondering what I did with the staff meeting. I apologized and asked the other staff how it made them feel. They were gracious. (Maybe relieved that they could get on to something else!) We have staff meetings every week. But in other areas the consequence of broken integrity can be costly.

Jesus said, “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.’ Learn to do that. You have to if you want to lead well.

Question: Is there any place in your life today where you have broken your word? If so, follow these steps and honor your word today.

How to Be Thankful for Mondays Too

It’s TGIF day. Some say the term originated with an Akron, Ohio disc jockey in the early 70’s. Regardless, some feel very thankful to have somehow made it to the end of the work week. Others may have been thankful for every day of the week. The difference between the two may have had only to do with whether they were merely “busy” or whether they “prioritized” their week.

“Busy” is the new currency of status in America. Listen for it. Ask the question “How are you doing?” and the common answer is: “Oh, I’m busy, but I’m making it.” Truthfully, do you want to tell someone that you don’t have enough to do? Or that you’ve got things in order and you are on schedule to take a nice break?

But wouldn’t the second scenario make every day a TGI_____ day? You can learn to live that way. Here’s how:

  • Begin by pausing and taking a long view of your life. What is it you want to accomplish over the long haul? How do you want to be remembered? Then back up and make sure you are doing the daily, weekly, monthly things that will lead to the fulfillment of that vision. A life is built one day at a time. If you live your days well your life will be lived well.
  • Then take inventory of what the most important things that need to be done in your week are. That means you will have to eliminate the non-important as ruthlessly as a pest control worker eliminates bugs. You don’t want them around. You’ve got more important things to do. Exterminate the time-wasters.
  • Determine that you will prioritize what goes on your schedule. Start with the big things that have to be done every week. You have your work and your family. Start with those. What else? Schedule time for those things and then fill in the rest of your week purposefully.
  • Then change your verbiage. Instead of telling people you are too busy for something say “My schedule is already prioritized for this week.” They won’t know how to respond. And it may cause them to pause and think about their own schedule.

The Apostle Paul reminds his readers to “make the best use of the time.” A person who is doing that is not busy. They may have a full schedule but it is prioritized.

And they are thankful for every day, not just Fridays. So find some time over the weekend to slow your pace. Prioritize the next week before it arrives. And begin the work week with these words, “Thank goodness it’s Monday!”

People will think you are crazy. That’s O.K. At least they’ll know you’re not busy.

Question: What time-wasters do you need to eliminate from your schedule? What big things are you neglecting that you need to prioritize?

How Small Changes Can Lead to a Big Life

Hush Puppies had mostly disappeared. Sales of the comfortable shoes were down to 30,000 pairs a year, sold in small town outlet stores and mom and pop shops.

But then something strange happened. Between late 1994 and early 1995, sales shot up to 430,000 pairs. The next year four times that amount was sold. And the year after that sales went even higher.

What shot Hush Puppies sales to the stratosphere? Marketing campaign? New design? Famous spokesperson?

None of the above. Here’s what happened. A handful of kids in the East Village and Soho sections of Manhattan started wearing the shoes simply because no one else was. Others in the clubs and bars of the area saw them, wanted them, and more were bought.

Manhattan designers—seeing the local popularity of the shoes—began using the shoes in their shows. Before anyone could see it coming, sales skyrocketed and Hush Puppies were once again a staple of the young American male wardrobe.

Malcolm Gladwell recounts this story and explains what happened with the title of his book, “The Tipping Point.” Hush Puppies passed a certain point of popularity, a point he calls “the tipping point,” and sales took off.

Gladwell says there are three principles present when the tipping point occurs.

  • First, there is contagious behavior that begins with a few.
  • Next, there are little changes that have big effects.
  • And finally, the changes happen in a hurry.

We live in a “want it now” culture. And in our “want” we have missed the importance of small things that make a big difference. Jesus put it this way in a story he told.

The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.

Small beginnings did not frustrate Jesus. He expected them. He knew that if a few got the small things their lives would change. They would become big lives that could help others. Connected to other big lives, a kingdom would be expanded.

Focusing on the “big” end result can keep us from making the “small” changes now that will get us there.

Doubt creeps in. Negativity stifles creativity. We become overwhelmed and immobilized instead of organized and energized.

What are the small things you need to do that will make a difference? Find those. Stick to them. And watch for the tipping point in your life.

Question: What is one little change you can make today that could have a big effect in your life?

Find the Door to Life in an Unexpected Place

Darryl is a friend of mine. He’s one of the last people who will let you down. You see, Darryl works for a funeral home.

Darryl’s role reminds people there is more to life than we often acknowledge. He spends his time near death and cemeteries. Most of us don’t.

In the past graveyards were found near the church building. It was a sobering reminder that what was talked about inside the church had a direct bearing on where you’d be someday outside the church.

We try not to think about it. But one ancient writer won’t let us. He says, “A good name is better than precious ointment and the day of death, than the day of birth. It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting; For this is the end of everyone, and the living will lay it to heart.”

When is it ever better to go to the house of mourning than the house of feasting? When we realize that death can open the window to life. The wise sage gives us some grave reminders of how to live a better life.

  • He says to begin with the end in mind. I’ve been to many funerals. I’ve even conducted them. Each time you are reminded that someday people will be talking about you. Don’t you want to make it easy for them to say good things about you? “A good name is better…”

This author says to enjoy the pleasures of life. He’s no kill-joy. He says to love life: the love you find, good drink, good food, clothes, perfumes, and even our youth. He just wants us to remember that someday these things won’t matter. Begin with the end in mind.

  • Then risk a change. You can write a different story than the one you are writing today. What changes would you make to your plot? What adventures would you script in that you’ve been afraid to attempt? How would you add more of what you’re missing right now into your life?

Nadine Stair was an 85-year old patient of Bernie Siegel. She was facing death and so went to the house of mourning to think about her life. She wrote these words:

“If I had my life to live over I would take more chances, I would take more trips, I would scale more mountains, I would swim more rivers, and I would watch more sunsets.

. . . I would have more actual troubles and fewer imaginary ones.

. . . And I would ride more merry-go-rounds, and catch more gold rings, and greet more people, and pick more flowers. And dance more often.

If I had it to do all over again. But you see, I don’t.[1]

But if you’re reading this, you do. Go to the house of mourning. Begin with the end in mind. Risk a change. You’ve only got one life to love.

[1] Bernie Siegel, Peace, Love and Healing: Bodymind Communication and the Path to Self-Healing (New York: Harper and Row), 1989) 245-46.

Question: What risk would you take to write a better life story?

Apprenticeship with Jesus: Learning to Live Like the Master (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2009)

We don’t use the word “apprentice” as much as they did in years gone by. We talk about having a mentor or a coach but seldom do we learn as an apprentice from a “Master Teacher.”

Maybe that’s why so many people would say they believe in Jesus as their Lord but so few would be confident in saying that they live like Jesus.

Gary Moon believes that the difference is that so much of our Christian life has to do with intellect rather than experience. Apprentices experienced life and learning with their teacher. And that is precisely what a disciple is: an apprentice or “learner” who studies with a Master teacher.

The first time this became clear to me was in West Texas. A man at our church was a blacksmith at Ft. Concho. I had never met a blacksmith. I had seen them in movies and TV Westerns. So I asked him how he became a blacksmith. His answer? He “apprenticed” with a Master “Smithy.”

That’s what Gary Moon helps us do in this much-needed resource. It lays out a 30-day experience of walking with Jesus and practicing the life that Jesus lives. You can read the book and be encouraged and gain some wisdom. But the book will do its best work if you actually practice the “apprentice activites” at the end of each chapter.

The first activity may be the most difficult. Moon writes:

Our first to-do will be to get to our day planners before anyone else can.

When was the last time you had an experience with Jesus? Grab a copy of this book and have one. And see if your life isn’t better in 30 days.


Save One Life, Save the World

It was December of 1938. Nicholas Winton had planned to take a ski trip to Switzerland. He was a 29-year-old London stockbroker when he received a phone call from his friend Martin Blake asking him to cancel his holiday and come to Prague.

Thousands of refugees were placed in camps there and were living in appalling conditions. These people were enemies of Hitler and they needed help.

Fortunately Winton arrived. His personal motto was that “if something’s not impossible there must be a way of doing it.”[1]His motto was his strong suit. He had no experience in charitable work. No high-rank in the British military. He wasn’t an elected official.

He simply saw a need and found a way to help.

And help he did. He found foster homes for children. He found sponsorship money. He even got Germans to go along with his plan.

He coordinated his efforts from his home in London for the next nine months. In that time eight train evacuated 669 children with the last trainload leaving on August 2, 1939. The largest evacuation was scheduled for September 1, 1939 but Hitler invaded Poland and all borders controlled by Germany were closed.

When the war was over he didn’t tell anyone what he had done. Even his wife didn’t know until she discovered, in 1988, a scrapbook of his from 1939 in the attic. A detailed list of names was included which she shared with a Holocaust historian.

Then in 1988 a BBC program called That’s Life surprised him by staging a reunion of these now grown-up survivors and Winton. You can see a clip of that here. You can watch a 60 Minutes piece on Winton here.

669 children saved. But it is estimated that around 6,000 people around the world owe him their lives. The survivors gave him a ring inscribed with a line from the Talmud. It reads: “Save one life, save the world.”

You may not be a Nicholas Winton but you can make a difference. Follow his example:

  • Be available when there is a need. Winton changed his plans when a friend called for help.
  • Find a way to do what needs to be done. Winton believed there must be a way to get the job done.
  • Do what you can. Winton could have let the situation overwhelm him. Instead he got to work and did what he could.

Jesus said greater love has no man than to lay down his life for another. It may be your physical life. But it may be laying down a vacation plan to give your effort to a greater need. Or it may be merely giving a listening ear to someone who needs some direction in their life.

Winton gave something up to make a difference. You can do the same this week. Start with one life you can help. You never know how many more lives you will impact.

Question: What is one thing you can do this week to impact someone else’s life you know?


Challenge the Status Quo and Change the World

Steve Jobs was a revolutionary. He turned an industry around. He did it by doing things differently than how they were being done. His pitch was: “Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly. We just happen to make great computers.”

The early church was revolutionary. Their pitch could have been: “Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in Jesus and living differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by living lives that are beautifully designed and simple. We just happen to live generous lives.”

Those first followers of Jesus were said to have “turned the world upside down” in a very short time. How did they do that? Many factors were involved but the most dominant one is that they understood and practiced revolutionary generosity.

They challenged the status quo. They didn’t buy into their culture. People who merely conform to their culture never impact it. Something has to be radically different and unique.

They showed the people around them more of what life could be by not living in the way of the culture but instead living in the way of Jesus.

The story of Acts tells us that instead of acquiring things they got rid of things. They sold what they had and took the proceeds to the Apostles to take care of needs. Barnabas—called the “son of encouragement”—takes his extra property, sells it, and gives it to the Apostles and tells them to help others with it.

These people didn’t just give away the old shirts and dresses and shoes in their closets. Paul says in 2 Corinthians that one group—the Macedonian believers—gave even out of their poverty. These people had a vision for what God wanted his world to look like and, since they didn’t see it happening, they set out to do something about it. The early believers were generous out of their plenty and out of their poverty.

Want to be more generous? Here is how to get started:

  • It starts with a vision for God’s preferred future. We’ve got to see “what can be” so that when we see “what is” we are moved to act. There are two visions you can choose from. One is a vision of your preferred future. This vision has to do with your money being yours and a future you are creating for yourself. Another option is a vision of God’s preferred future. This vision has to do with seeing the money you have as God’s and a future he wants you to be involved in where no one lacks their basic needs, where people feel safe, and where communities are at peace.
  • A vision of God’s preferred future will lead you to a commitment to the discipline of simplicity. Jesus led a simple life and so can we. We have to recognize what our “needs” are and understand what our “wants” are. The “wants” are what get in our way of simplicity and generosity. Ask God where you have been excessive and where he wants you to redirect those resources to help create a better future that looks more like the one the Kingdom will fully bring.

Generosity can change your life. Better yet, it can turn the world upside down.

Question: How has your life changed by times you lived more simply so you could help others?