The Cancer of Criticism

A few years ago I came across a radio show that disturbed me. The show was all about the answers to living wisely according to Scripture. Super idea. To live in keeping with Scripture is at the very center of what it takes to succeed. The problem was the host was the one who decided the precise way of seeing issues. It was a real “My way or the highway” perspective.

This guy’s answers to anyone who disagreed with him was to knock the heck out of them for being “Unbiblical, ” and sometimes that was true. More often than not, though, they were people who lived in the confines of Scripture but areas where he didn’t hold a value for this or that. Another way to put it – everyone is crazy except him. As the joke goes – a conversation between a mother and son in a Pennsylvania Amish family the kid says, “Mother, me thinks that only thee and me are saved, and I often wonder about thee!”

It’s that sort of criticism that breeds cancer between Believers and in the midst of entire congregations. When your attitude is that you have it together, but others don’t, then you are smug to the point of not being teachable. You show that you have the ultimate perspective. You pick up a sword with that attitude. When you do others in, before long you will do yourself in.

It was just a matter of time till this guy did himself in by criticizing the wrong person and his group. During a broadcast, he said something off the cuff that most would probably consider no biggie. At the end of the show he signed off as always with “See you tomorrow, ” but there never was a tomorrow.

He committed career suicide on live radio nationwide. The result – he lost his base and was removed from the network of several dozen syndicated stations around the country. He was never heard from again, that is until recently.

Recently this guy announced that he left the world of evangelical Christianity and joined another part of the Body of Christ. He is starting a daily show that focuses on his newfound faith.

He’s still a part of the Body of Christ, just in a radically different shape, history and in some cases, theology than what he’d preached before. Not only had he preached it – he expressed that his approach to Scripture and the Christian life was part and parcel of the biblical message. And now – a 180-degree flip-flop. He could not have made a more radical change.

In the world of human biology, we know certain foods and activities increase the risk of cancer. How do we lower the risk of dying of cancer? We just stop doing those things! Also, when you sense something is physically off, seek medical help.

Spiritual cancer works the same way. Each time you use it you infect yourself with cancer.

Drop the sword! Just let it go. Let God do for you want you cannot nor ever will be able to do the impossible – to take revenge – to put people in their place. Once you drop your sword you will surely pick it up – again and again – I know I do. I’ve bent over so many times to take up my sword, I now have back problems!

But still, each time I get it the only way to move forward is to drop it again. Then drop it again. Then drop it again. Repeat as many times a possible and move forward.

Walk by love!

Ask two questions each day

One of the biggest questions you as a leader need to ask, “Are those who report to me headed in the same direction as me?” That’s a question for everyone who reports to you.

No matter where you are now, I recommend you take a motto to heart. In fact, if you are looking for a tattoo worth getting this might be the perfect line.

“Trust but verify”

“Steve, you just have to trust me with these guys. Let me just do the job you assigned to me. I need the authority to do this, or I’m not going to succeed. If you don’t, I’m going to quit and get a job somewhere else.”

Those are the words of one of the leaders with whom I worked the most closely. I was stunned to hear that. On one hand, I wanted to fire him on the spot. I wanted to go for his jugular and asked myself which side would be the best to go after – his right or left one!

But as I mulled it over it was clear that even though he showed a harsh, even disrespectful message, it’d be difficult to replace him – (plus I didn’t relish the idea of spending years in jail for a second degree homicide conviction). I decided to flow with what he had in mind. It took a while to see what was going on, but eventually it was clear he was taking his part of the staff in a direction that what I wanted – one different than mine. I was in a Catch 22 conundrum – darned if I did and darned if I didn’t.

A business owner gave me the motto to keep in mind with 100% of managers we trust and empower.

“Trust but verify”

In short, this guy was saying, “Trust me, but don’t verify, and don’t ask too many questions.” Granted, he had a great love for the church. He also had a great love for me. More than once he echoed the sentiment of others that I can be like a “VW Beetle with a jet.”

When that attitude exists, it needs to be addressed immediately. It’s a common issue that deserves a conversation to clarify things with that employee.

Keep giving assignments. Also, keep clarifying what you want to see in terms of direction. Here’s the lesson I took away from it all – if those to whom you trust give a strong push back as you try to “Verify” then it’s time to find their replacement.

It’s tough to be the one who makes a role change but far more difficult to keep it going in the wrong direction. Their attitude can be subversive – all the more essential that you deal with them.

Are you a manager? Sometimes those you work with are innovators and it’s a bad idea to hinder them in any way.

Don’t chase after those who threaten to quit. Sometimes they are bluffing. Regardless, you are the leader, not them. They might truly quit. They will probably take their leadership style with them to another job. At least they are out of your hair.

Jesus’ thing, not yours or mine

“So you are still doing your kindness thing, huh? Good for you. God bless you, brother.”

Here’s a translation of what he asked: “You still doing your kindness thing?” This is also code for: “You’re still doing that kindness thing? It’s not what I’m about, but you just keep at it.” My wife Janie says it a little differently – “We tried the kindness and love thing, but we’ve moved on to this or that…”

Both of his statements are light years from the heart of Servant Evangelism. This is Jesus’ thing, not yours or mine. If it were Steve’s version of kindness it wouldn’t be all that kind!

Second, the “Kindness thing” is the core of the message of the Kingdom Jesus started.

It’s obvious to many, though not all, that the kindness of God and his are love at the center of the life of someone filled with the Spirit of God.

Jesus launched the Kingdom of God upon this world. All we do needs to be understood through the lens of Jesus life and words. He has always been about transforming the life of every person his Spirit touches.

Let’s focus on his kindness – the kindness of God that brings a radical life change” (Rom. 2:4, MSG) to all it touches.

8 Projects to try out this Fall

I’m often asked about the best projects for success. Whether it’s a warm and sunny area like Southern California, or Seattle where it apparently rains nearly half the time! There is always a great project in your midst. Here are a handful to try this fall. They are simple with few moving parts, so hopefully newcomers to outreach will feel comfortable.

$1 Carwash
We’ve mentioned free car washes, where we do a great job with a person’s car, then we give them a dollar for the privilege to show them God’s love in a practical way.

2. Rake leaves
You might be surprised at how fast a crew of 5 or so can rake the entire lawn of a medium sized house. It’s good to knock on the door before you rake. Some actually like to rake their own leaves. Bag the leaves and set them where they belong.

3. Mow after raking
Under leaves is often grass and that tends to be rather long.

4. Pick up debris
Branches, trash under shrubs, etc. Bag it. Put it by the curb.

5. Clean out rain gutters
This is more complicated. With this unless the house rather small, realistically you won’t have enough time to pull it off.

6. Wash dogs door to door
Dogs aren’t necessarily dirtier in the autumn, but with some dogs, depending on their coat of coat of hair, are only washed now and then. A good door to door wash might help them get past a winter wash. By the way, this is a great project to include kids with.

7. Coffee
Set up in front of a box store like BJ’s, Sam’s Club or Hobby Lobby are especially gracious about letting you set up in front of their stores. Simply talk to the manager earlier in the week.

8. Cookies
Home made cookies are the best, but Oreos are pretty popular as well.

When you connect with strangers who naturally ask why you are doing this. Assume they want your gift or service – “Have you _____ yet?”
The phrase that pays: “We’re doing this just to show God’s love in a practical way. We think this is the sort of thing Jesus would do!”

Veni, Vidi, Velcro (I came, I saw, I stuck around)

The Roman army was at its peak in Jesus’ generation. During this timeframe they were able to rule enormous parts of the world. Roman soldiers are along the lines of Marines, but all are lifers.

One way generals kept the morale and focus on the same page was to develop little sayings that summarized what they were all about. “veni, vidi, vici” is one they often used. It should read, “I came, I saw, I conquered.” The second version is just as important. Part of success is often just staying put in a geography. A verse from the Old Testament I particularly like is a reference to “The land of your anointing.”

The results of being in that land are generally marked by:
– personal fulfillment
– the favor of God is clearly upon you
– strong love for your community

Looking back at what happened with the Vineyard church Janie and I started, it is clear there was a revival happening. Are you in the land of your anointing? Maybe that land is the unique in life focus God has given you, whether gifts that are clearly ministry or mostly in the business world.

Resist the temptation to bail on something that doesn’t seem to be “Blessed” right now. Wisdom is that you move on once you can see there is literally no way to move forward toward you based on what you know to be true. If you work at McDonald’s and have the aspiration to become the manager of that location, but your regional person tells you there is no way that will ever happen—in that setting it’s wisdom to bail. You are probably wasting time that you could be investing in something else.

Find the anointed part God has in front of you.
Commit to that place or ministry.
God will do the work as we faithfully continue to show up.

Have you made a fool of yourself lately?

To phrase it that way may seem a little sideways. Instead think of it as, “I made a human of myself.”

Leaders spend energy worrying about the appearance of things – or at least how they think others see our lives and what we do. Drop your guard. Choose transparency. Make a genuine connection with someone and see how much more fruit that will bring your direction. When you throw caution to the wind, to go right to the edge of foolishness, which is code for being an actual human. Sometimes we confuse the positive of “Humanness” with the assumption that we must be professional at work at all times.

We can choose to drop our worry and instead not play it safe all the time. As we do that we will no longer come across as aloof. We will look less corporate – most of the time a good thing! We can mistakenly think of that way to see as being a “Professional.”

When we wrongly persuade ourselves it’s never good to ever come across as a fool, then we shut down a relationship bridge that will help others relate to others to us.

Oh yeah, they already worry about themselves coming across as a fool. Welcome them into your life as one who is more like them than they thought. It’s more powerful to follow a leader who is real and is okay if they seem foolish – in other words, someone who is like them, not all that different than them.

The Tragedy of Half Conversations

How many times have you had a conversation that unintentionally went sideways? The chances are that when one of those happens, you feel sorry that your real heart didn’t come across.

You know you’ve had one of those when ideas come to you like, “If I’d only said ___, then I would have expressed myself far better, and end of it would have turned out better.”

Communication is never an exact science. There is no way that we can translate from our hearts, through our words, through the air to their ears, to their hearts and expect your original message will be the same. If there is a sense of conflict involved in it, it’s unlikely your first attitude will come even close to what the other person takes to heart.

For me, some of those conversations have been so damaging to both them and me, for years afterward the memory of what was said then heard becomes like a skip in the record. We may not even know what was meant by the other person. On the Beatles White Album, one cut is a man saying, “Number nine. Number nine. Number nine” dozens of times until it fades away. I’ve heard that album dozens of times beginning when I was still in high school. After decades I still don’t know what they meant with that cut. “What the heck is number nine anyway? Who is number nine?” One thing is for sure – those words repeated over and over. Half conversations are like that – both a mystery, confusion and sadly something that it’s hard to forget.

When we have enough conversations like that, chances are good you will find it distracting to the point of distraction toward that person. To your surprise, what started out as a short conversation got out of control then ended up with an even more difficult situation than when you began. So what is a person to do to get past that happening?

When a conversation is heading that direction, put a lid on it and agree to meet again at a better time to share thoughts. On the spot schedule that conversation. Tell that person, “This discussion seems to be going into the ditch, for me anyway. Let’s connect at this time and continue it, for my sake if nothing.” If we don’t put a lid on a conversation like that, the further the conversation goes, the greater the misunderstanding will be. In the meantime gather your clarified thoughts as succinctly as possible. Before you reconnect, ask God to wisdom to both of you. Ask God to give you the right words – ones that will clear, loving and wise.

It may feel great to pummel the other person; perhaps they deserve it with the quick wit.

The only way for both parties to win is to put a lid on it and agree to a later conversation. In the meantime, both of you can cool down and hopefully “Speak the truth in love” as Paul puts it.

Why are these actors no longer cast in movies?

Have you been on the hunt for info online and then, found it or not, a popup article catches your eye? The one I stumbled across claimed to know why certain actors aren’t in the acting business any longer.

They listed a dozen or so players—most of whom I’ve seen in years gone by, but seem to be out of sight now. Maybe they were right—something happened to put a dent in their careers.

Most of them did something stupid that wasn’t connected with an acting part—“extracurricular” activities got to them. After they had done it, sadly they tried to give feeble excuses for their actions. None of those listed were willing to be transparent and own their stuff.

There’s a lesson there for us as leaders. Just by being a leader of any sort, a leader of any sized influence, you will never be out of the limelight again. Read the last part of that sentence again—“You will never be out of the limelight again.”

Another way to put it is, “You will never get away with anything again.” The technology of our age will see to it that that will never happen.

Unavoidable truth, yet take it to heart. When it comes time to step into something dumb, think twice—then think twice again. Then do it a third time. That’s a lot of thinking twice, but in most cases, that’s a word of wisdom.

Breaking Free From Selfishness

When you scratch the surface appearance of things, selfishness is at the root of insecurity, fear, and doubt. A selfish person is usually insecure and full of doubt. Specifically, the fear is that the good idea or practice is the only one they have or will ever have, so they justify hoarding the bit they have. The selfish person often has the motto, “I’d better keep close track of this one thing. It’s probably the only one I’ll ever get.” There is no hope, no more money, no more opportunity. Just like Mr. Scrooge, they can justify their crazy way of thinking by convincing themselves they need the item or idea more than anyone else. The ironic part of the situation is that it’s as we give away the part we’ve been hoarding that we grow to greater success.

When we do outreach those, we serve sometimes ask how who covers this or that we give. I steer clear of any cliche answer about God providing, which is right of course, but they’ve heard this before. I’ve begun to say, “Oh, we want to give everything away. In fact, we hope to go bankrupt by giving everything away.” Of course, that starts a discussion about our seeming backward way of seeing reality.

When we have the confidence to boost someone else and have no expectation of repayment we change as well as the receiver. There is a connection between an internal free-flowing economy and credibility. That approach to life creates a mindset of abundance, not scarcity. When you give away your money, your funds, your insights, and confidence, all you need will flow to you.

Will go bankrupt if we give everything away? Try it and see what happens. You’ll be surprised, maybe even shocked, at the reverse economy of God as amazing supply flows into your life.

A Tribute to Carrie Fisher and Prozac

She knew something was off kilter when she woke up a night to find she was in the middle of a busy street in Mexico City in only a nightgown. She had no recollection of how she got there from Los Angeles.

In therapy, she discovered she was severely bi-polar. Without medication extreme levels of bipolarity can end in tragedy as hers could have. The medication that worked best for her was Prozac. The two of them started a lifelong healing “relationship” that lasted until her end.

Like highly creative people can sometimes be, Carrie was a little quirky. Some called her “High maintenance.” At times her creativity was maybe even more than just a tad quirky. Her request was that her cremated remains be inside a giant green and white plastic capsule identical of her good “friend” Prozac.

What does the life of Carrie Fisher have to say to those of us who are carriers of the “Kindness of God that brings a radical life change.” (Rom. 2:4) Is there room in my church and my life for those who are highly creative but are pegged as simply odd with no understanding of the life-giving deposits they can bring.

Over the past twenty-plus years, I’ve been around the church about as much as anyone I know. I’ve spoken at hundreds of weekend services, etc.

As I see it, we need lots of Carrie’s to show up, to challenge us to think and live differently than we’ve grown used to, as ineffective as the status quo may be.

I want the Carrie Fisher’s of the world today to come into my church and feel 100% loved, encouraged and accepted with no questions asked. God will deal with all the details with his power they need for life change to happen. Our assignment is to love regardless.

“Our calling is to accept everyone, even if we don’t necessarily approve of the way they live.”

People are looking for change like never before in history. They don’t want to turn over a new leaf. They are hungry for an entirely new tree! Radical life change is what everyone is looking for, even if they can’t express their need in those words. Let’s keep in mind that all change comes down to this: Only God can change any human life.

“God, we invite you to send us the scads of “Carrie’s” you want in your family. Here are our heart and our hands. Use them oh God, to bring your life change to the ends of the world you’ve given us.”