The Right Questions

“The uncreative mind can spot wrong answers, but it takes a creative mind to spot wrong questions.” —Sir Anthony Jay

This has always been a challenge for me—maybe for you, too. I can easily spot when someone gives me a wrong answer, but it’s harder to spot when I’ve asked a wrong question. It could very well be that the answer I’m hearing is correct in light of the question I asked.

But spotting wrong questions requires a humility on my part to admit I may be wrong. Spotting wrong questions requires creativity, a new way of looking at things.

There is a short story about the life of King Abijah recorded in 2 Chronicles 13 in the Bible. Abijah is the second king to reign in Judah after the 10 northern tribes had seceded. He is vastly outmanned and out-spent by King Jeroboam of the northern tribes (called Israel). When it comes to a battle between north and south, Abijah can only field half as many men as Jeroboam.

Yet it is Abijah who takes charge of the battlefield before the fighting begins. He climbs to the top of Mount Zemaraim to make sure all of the northern tribes can hear him. The wrong question would have been, “Which side is God on: Israel’s or Judah’s?” The correct question which Abijah must have asked and answered for himself—is, “Are we on God’s side?

Abijah begins to recount how God chose for a descendant of David to sit on the throne (Abijah), but northern Israel was following a rebel (Jeroboam). God intended for the descendants of Aaron to oversee the sacrifices and religious practices; Judah was doing this, but Israel had their own priests. God was to be worshipped exclusively; Judah was doing this, but Jeroboam made golden calves for Israel to worship.

So Abijah correctly concludes, “God is with us; He is our leader.”

Abijah didn’t assume God was with Judah. Abijah didn’t ask, “Does God lead us or them?” Abijah asked, “Are we doing the things that God has asked of us?” Since Judah was following God, Abijah could then state with confidence, “God is with us.”

The question is not, “Is God on your side?” It’s better to ask, “Am I on God’s side?

The question is not, “What would Jesus do if He was here?” It’s better to ask, “What did Jesus already do that I can follow?

What questions are you asking? Change your questions and you just may change your life.

Gentle Restoration

I’m struggling with this one. I have a dear friend who is perplexed by an ongoing drug addiction. He appeared to have it under control until things in his life started spiraling out of his control, and he gave in to his old habit again.

So the Bible says that if one of my brothers slips up I’m supposed to restore him gently. How exactly does one do that? I bounced between so many emotions during the last 48 hours: anger at this addiction, sorrow for what my friend is going through, heaviness at what he’s doing to himself and his family, hatred at the devil for his evil tricks, and a passion to see him whole and healthy and free again. Then my own thoughts have baffled me: “How do I gently restore my brother? What does restoration look like?”

Restoration is an interesting Greek word. It can mean setting a broken bone; mending torn fishing nets; manning a fleet of ships; or supplying an army with its provisions.

Restoration is NOT canceling a debt or removing the consequence for someone’s actions. I like what Dave Anderson wrote, “One of the best lessons you can teach your people is that when they choose a behavior they choose the consequences for that behavior.”

Restoration is feeling the pain of what’s been broken or defeated, learning the lesson from that, and then repairing the break or deficiency in such a way that it won’t break or be defeated again. I have the responsibility and the privilege of doing some mending for my friend.

What about gentle? Over time this word has come to mean something like wishy-washy, no backbone, no guts. Gentle originates from the Latin word gentilis which means belonging to the same family or clan. To be gentle is to be strong enough to respond in a controlled manner to someone who is just like me. Gentleness is strength under control.

I hope I’m gentle enough to restore my friend, to mend what is broken in him so he never has to be defeated by this addiction again. He has some consequences to face. But I am committed to helping him carry this heavy load all the way to the finish line.

Check it out—

Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:1-2)

Gentle restoration is hard work. But it’s so worth the effort!

If you have any thoughts on how to gently restore a friend, I’d love to have you share them with me in the comments section.

What’s Your Work?

When I’m at business functions, I along with all of the other attendees are typically walking around with the “Hello, My Name Is” label stuck to my chest. The idea is that as I shake hands with new people I can glance down and say, “Nice to meet you, uh, Bob!”

Nine times out of ten, after the initial introduction is made the very next question people have for me is, “So, what do you do?” All of us usually give an answer related to our jobs: I’m a pastor, I’m a graphic designer, I’m a teacher, I’m a blogger, etc. Yes, that’s what you do; that’s your job. But what do you work at?

I’ve been thinking about this over the past couple of days. And what got me thinking were two “interruptions” to my job.

On Wednesday night I was teaching a Bible study. I was just getting to the pay-off—the part of the lesson where the attendees would really be challenged to apply the lesson to their real-life situations—when my lesson was interrupted. A friend had slipped out of his seat and was standing at the back. All of a sudden he was clutching his chest and saying, “I need help!” Immediately my lesson stopped, I was at his side trying to recall some of my medical training, and then asking someone to call 911.

I didn’t finish my “job” on Wednesday evening, but I did my work as a friend.

Today I had planned to devote the better part of my day to preparing a message for Sunday morning. It’s my “job” as a pastor to come to church prepared with a timely, relevant message. But after talking with a friend on the phone, I could hear the heavy despondency in his voice, and I knew I needed to go see him face-to-face.

I put my job on hold to go do my work as a friend.

Bill Hybels wrote, “Keep the ‘church’ in church work.” My work—as a member of the Church, as a friend—should always trump my “job.”

The Apostle Paul wrote, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).

At the end of my life, I don’t think God is going to ask me how good my sermons were. But He is going to ask me how well I did my work as His servant.

Then the King will say to those on His right, “Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed Me. I was thirsty, and you gave Me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited Me into your home. I was naked, and you gave Me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for Me. I was in prison, and you visited Me. … I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these My brothers and sisters, you were doing it to Me!” (Matthew 25:34-36, 40).

How’s your work going today?

4 x 4

Have you ever heard the statement, “He’s so thick-headed you have to hit him over the head with a 4-by-4 to get his attention”? Sometimes I’m that guy.

Okay, I’m not that dense (or maybe you should check with Betsy on that), but sometimes I do need some help. Especially in the area of setting and accomplishing goals.

So Betsy and I are working on something new. We picked four goals to accomplish in the next four weeks (4 goals x 4 weeks = 4×4).

We took one verse of Scripture about the life of Jesus as our guide: And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men (Luke 2:52). This one verse shows the balanced way in which Jesus grew, so we have set our four goals in these areas:

  • Wisdom—a mental goal
  • Stature—a physical goal
  • Favor with God—a spiritual goal
  • Favor with men—an emotional/social goal

Even though we’re only four days into our first week, having this 4×4 is really keeping me motivated and on task. I’ll give you an update when we’ve finished our four weeks.

Another thought that’s keeping me focused during this is what’s happening in me during the process of pursuing these 4×4 goals. Zig Ziglar said it this way, “What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.”

Do you have any big goals you’re working on? What do you do to keep yourself motivated and focused on your goals?

I Like People With Less

You would probably think that if I needed counsel or advice I would seek out someone who is well educated in the area I need help. I should probably find an expert in the matter that’s troubling me. It seems somewhat counterintuitive, but I am finding that those who know less can actually help me more.

Listen to C.S. Lewis, “The fellow-pupil can help more than the master because he knows less. The difficulty we want him to explain is one he has recently met.” He can help me more because he knows less.

I know this tends to be true when one of my children asks me to help them with something in their homework, or a friend asks my help on a computer problem she is experiencing. Because I have already worked out the steps, I no longer have to proceed sequentially; that is, I don’t have to go from Step A to Step B to Step C, and so on until I get to the answer. Because of my past experience, I can jump right to Step K.

Great for me. Totally unhelpful to those asking for my advice. In essence, I’m doing all of their thinking for them. I haven’t taught them anything, except that I’ll do their work for them.

Lately, I’ve been spending quite a bit of time with a friend who is thinking about what it means to have a relationship with Jesus. He has very, very little church background, so I have been forced to go back to Step A with him, because Steps K, L, M, and the like would make no sense to him.

This is why I love being around the unchurched, the dechurched, and the never-churched. This is why I love talking to and listening to teenagers and 20-somethings who are new to their relationship with Jesus. These fellow pupils are so recently going through situations that it really makes me pause to go back to my beginnings.

Try it yourself. There is some great wisdom in those who have “been there done that.” But I’m also getting some great insights from those who are “here now doing this.”

A Silly Dream World Or The Real Deal?

“What is ‘real’? How do you define ‘real’? If real is what you can feel, smell, taste, and see, then ‘real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain. … Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?” —“Morpheus” in The Matrix

We are created in God’s image. God is eternal and unrestricted, yet we are contained in finite bodies and constrained to the time-space dimension of our universe. That hardly seems “real.” Yet our souls—the “real” part of us—were made to be timeless and unbound. It seems like a dream, and yet sounds real.

To help humanity navigate the dream-real state in which we find ourselves, God gave us incredible insights into His Word: the Bible. The answers to our dream-real questions are there if we’re willing to search for them.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “What we see when we think we are looking into the depths of Scripture may sometimes be only the reflection of our own silly faces.” The Apostle James talks about God’s Word as a mirror in his letter to the church (1:22-25). In this, I see three people.

(1) One who never looks in the mirror; one who simply accepts what’s presented to him. Again “Morpheus” comes close: “You have the look of a man who accepts what he sees because he is expecting to wake up.” James says this is a man who attends church regularly, but never applies what he hears. In fact, he probably never even hears anything other than what he thinks the pastor said. That man is silly, shallow, and stunted in his spiritual growth (if there is even any growth at all!).

(2) One who looks in the mirror but doesn’t do anything about what he sees. He hears the Word of God at church and perhaps even reads his Bible often at home; he knows all the stories and how everything should be. But he, too, never makes any changes in his spiritual “appearance.” He is content with where he is. If he ever feels the pull of desire that there could be more real to his dream-real world, he quickly explains it away. He is at the same spiritual maturity level today as he was years ago.

(3) One who looks into the mirror, recognizes that he is silly-looking, and then does something about it. It’s hard work and often this man feels like he’s not growing because he continues to see his silly face reflected back to him. As Albert Einstein noted, “As a sphere of light increases, so does the circumference of darkness around it.”

James says only this third man has been freed from his dream-real constraints and is called blessed by God. Only he is beginning to understand how to make the dream real.

In which category are you? Are you brave enough to look into the depths of God’s Word and see your silly face? Are you willing to make the changes the Bible shows you to free your soul?

Homemade = Heartmade

God gave you a gift of 86,400 seconds today. Have you used one to say “I love you”?

My favorite Father’s Day gifts are the homemade, personalized cards that my children make for me. Throughout the years I’ve kept a number of those close to me as bookmarkers or framed reminders on my desk. To me homemade = heartmade.

Yesterday one of my children gave me a card which had this heart-tugging line: “I love you so very because you love me.” And then there was this P.S.: “Don’t stop loving.”

On Father’s Day or Mother’s Day or birthdays, it seems easy to express our love. After a hospital stay or a near-death experience, it seems required to express our love. And that’s as it should be. But what about all the “normal” days in between?

I believe one of the greatest gifts I can give my family is a personalized, “heartmade” gift that tells the recipient that I’m thinking about them. In other words, I need to be actively and deliberately finding ways to express my heartmade love to those close to me every day.

Of the 86,400 seconds I have today, it will only take me a few seconds to:

  • Text “I love you”
  • Give a gentle squeeze or love pat as they walk by
  • Jot a quick note to pack in someone’s lunch
  • Buy their favorite candy as I’m checking out of the store
  • Stick a friendly Post-It note message to their bathroom mirror
  • Start or end their day with a hug

As Gertrude Stein wrote, “Silent gratitude isn’t very much use to anyone.”

Don’t make those close to you GUESS you love them, make sure they KNOW you love them. It only takes a second or two.

How will you use your 86,400 seconds today?

Sharper Thoughts

John Maxwell said, “Some of my best thinking has been done by others.” I believe that what Dr. Maxwell was saying is that our creative thoughts can become even better when someone else helps sharpen them.

King Solomon, a pretty fair thinker himself, said the same thing when he wrote, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). In other words, you need some pretty sharp people to help you think better thoughts, sharper thoughts.

Check out what John Stuart Mill wrote in On Liberty

“Nor is it enough that he should hear the arguments of adversaries from his own teachers, presented as they state them, and accompanied by what they offer as refutations. That is not the way to do justice to the arguments, or bring them into real contact with his own mind. He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them; who defend them in earnest, and do their very utmost for them. He must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form; he must feel the whole force of the difficulty which the true view of the subject has to encounter and dispose of; else he will never really possess himself of the portion of truth which meets and removes that difficulty. Ninety-nine in a hundred of what are called educated men are in this condition; even of those who can argue fluently for their opinions. Their conclusion may be true, but it might be false for anything they know: they have never thrown themselves into the mental position of those who think differently from them, and considered what such persons may have to say; and consequently they do not, in any proper sense of the word, know the doctrine which they themselves profess.”

General George C. Marshall, chief of staff of the Army during World War II, created the largest army the world had ever seen (13 million soldiers) in the shortest time possible. General Omar Bradley tells of being called into Marshall’s office in 1939, a week after the outbreak of war in Europe. Marshall was disappointed in Bradley, “You haven’t disagreed with a single thing I have done all week!” Marshall wanted to make sure he was doing his very best so he was calling on another sharp comrade to challenge his thinking.

Do you have some sharp people around you? Do you listen to those who disagree with you? If you do, your creative thoughts can become even sharper.

Doing Thinking Doing

To think or to act? That is the question. Or maybe the question should be, which comes first: the thinking or the acting? Do I think about something and then go do it? Or do I do something first and then think about what I’ve done and how I could do it better next time?

The answer, I believe, is yes.

You could be the most creative thinker in the world, your thoughts could be off on another plane, but if you do nothing with what you’re thinking, all of those great insights are wasted.

On the other hand, many people hold to the axiom that experience is the best teacher, so they just do and do and do. But experience is not the teacher; we only learn when we stop to think about what we’ve done.

William Wilberforce was already a rising star in British politics when he experienced a deeper understanding of his relationship to God. Suddenly this man of word and action wanted to do nothing more than meditate on the greatness of God. Wilberforce believed that he could best serve God by withdrawing from society and simply thinking about God.

His good friend and future prime minister William Pitt disagreed. Pitt wrote to Wilberforce, “Why then this preparation of solitude which can hardly avoid tincturing the mind either with melancholy or superstition? … Surely the principles as well as the practice of Christianity are simple and lead not to meditation but to action.” Or as the line from Amazing Grace has it, “We humbly suggest you can do both.”

I love Oswald Chambers’ counsel—

“God will never allow us to divide our lives into sacred and secular, into study and activity. We generally think of a student as one who shuts himself up and studies in a reflective way, but that is never revealed in God’s book. A Christian’s thinking ought to be done in activities, not in reflection, because we only come to right discernment in activities.”

Whether it starts with thinking or starts with action, successful thinking-doing must include both. Think about it → act on it → think about your results → do it again better than last time.

Paul wrote to the Romans how thinking and action work together when he said, “for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right” (Romans 2:5 NLT). The Amplified Bible renders this phrase, “their consciences (sense of right and wrong) also bear witness; and their decisions (their arguments of reason, their condemning or approving thoughts) will accuse or perhaps defend and excuse them.”

Think about it → do it → think about it → do it = the pattern for success.

I’ll Make You An Offer You Can’t Refuse (Book Review)

I'll Make You An Offer You Can't RefuseOkay, I’ll be honest with you, the title of Michael Franzese’s latest book sounds like a cliché—I’ll Make You An Offer You Can’t Refuse. Sounds like a line right out of “The Godfather” or “Goodfellas,” right? But if you’re involved in the world of business, Mr. Franzese’s book is exactly that: an offer (book) you can’t refuse. From how to craft a business plan, to picking the right people, to learning how to negotiate the best deals, Mr. Franzese uses his years of wiseguy street-smarts to give you an advantage.

From the very first page, this book engaged me because I felt like I was having a conversation with the author. His style is very relaxed, and his stories about his business successes and failures are compelling. It’s not often that a business book reads like a novel, but I’ll Make You An Offer does just that.

Throughout all of his lessons, Mr. Franzese makes the contrast between the principles spelled out in the mobster’s bible (The Prince by Machiavelli) and principles articulated in the Holy Bible (specifically the writings of Solomon). Although he learned his strategies from his years in La Cosa Nostra (“this thing of ours” or the mob life), he makes a strong case his strategies will work in the legit life. The difference is the motivation that drives the strategies: Machiavellian or biblical.

“A dictionary definition of success says it’s ‘the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors.’ … But dictionary definitions are like sausage casings. It all depends on what you stuff inside” (quote from page 144).

Whether you are just getting started in a new business venture, or whether you are not satisfied with the results of your current business venture, you will find invaluable strategies here to help you. This former mob boss truly does make you an offer you can’t refuse.

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