Saturday, October 31, 2009

Sensing the Mood, and the Helix of History

I read a number of political blogs and columns on a regular basis, trying to be discerning about understanding the times and what we should do (see: men of Issachar) in order to lead our families well.

There is so much distressing news that it's not safe to read these things until you've spent time in the Word and are well-connected with our Lord.

I don't share much of what I read here on this blog because I fear I will discourage you more than encourage you. Two opinion pieces in the WSJ yesterday did seem worth relaying to you.

Peggy Noonan has a keen insight about the disheartened mindset of key leaders outside of Washington:

"The biggest threat to America right now is not government spending, huge deficits, foreign ownership of our debt, world terrorism, two wars, potential epidemics or nuts with nukes. The biggest long-term threat is that people are becoming and have become disheartened, that this condition is reaching critical mass, and that it afflicts most broadly and deeply those members of the American leadership class who are not in Washington, most especially those in business."

She points out that increasingly people doubt the problems we're facing can be solved. And at the same time many people in government roles do not seem to understand that what is good and strong about the US can be harmed.

I think this is spot-on analysis, and recommend the article to you. Like so many opinion pieces, Ms. Noonan does not provide a prescription or solution.

I have commented to a number of friends that it may be a painful and good thing if Americans recognized the limits of government "solutions." But it's hard to see a way out. There have been desperate times in our history before (1790s, the 1860s, the 1930s, the 1970s) when citizens believed the end of the US was near.

Victor Davis Hanson points out some similarities between the challenges President Obama has "inherited" and what President Truman inherited. I believe it's important to study history not because history precisely repeats itself, but because news is pretty much the same things happening to different people. Time is not circular, but I could argue it feels helical to us. We're on the same side of the helix as in the past, and so events look similar. History is available to us to study and learn from (if we will.)

What's Your Balance Beam Routine?

Terrific illustration from Francis Chan!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

How to Move Millions of Tons of Water

If you or I had to move millions of tons of water miles and miles across hill and dale, we'd need to engineer a big pipe system or caravan with a thousand water trucks. Water is heavy (8 and 1/3rd pounds per gallon).

How does God do it? He floats it above our heads.

And it's beautiful. (I doubt our approach would thrill any aesthete!)

Next time you feel burdened, consider that our amazing God floats tons of water over your head. He's got ways of carrying and moving burdens that we cannot match.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Raising Geniuses

I believe it's critical for fathers to inspire and develop children's abilities to make positive contributions for the world. Every child has enormous potential over his or her lifetime. There will be many day-to-day helps and services which will not be remembered 50 years from now, but will still be enormously helpful. And there can be some contributions which truly change lives and have disproportionately large impacts on the larger world.

Thomas Malthus ( 1766 - 1834) is most famous for his theory that continual increase in the world population would eventually cause food demand to outpace supply, and a collapse that would push the survivors back to subsistence farming conditions. Every time we have come close to what some thought was the "carrying capacity" of the planet, the human population continued to expand. Why? Two likely possibilities:

1. The Malthusian theory doesn't take into account the technological advances and productivity gains in food production. (In fairness, nearly all of the major productivity gains in agriculture occurred after his death.)
2. Malthus didn't understand the impact of geniuses.

I believe both are correct. Dads, let me talk with you about "genius."

Historically it's been a relatively small number of people who have made discoveries or developed technologies which have transformed the world. We look at Eli Whitney (cotton gin), Thomas Edison (electric lighting, audio recording), Alexander Graham Bell (telephone), Marconi (radio), Alexander Fleming (penicillin), Louis Pasteur (understanding of germ theory), and Albert Einstein (theory of relativity), and we think "Wow!" There are plenty of others.

Two things are true about these geniuses.

First, they were recognized as "geniuses" after they'd accomplished something, not before. Their "genius" status had more to do with willingness to try and take risks and work hard than it did raw intellectual or creative capacity.

Second, many of them would not have made your typical "most likely to do something great in life" list when they were children. Edison was considered unteachable by his teachers and so his mother home-schooled him. Einstein couldn't get a teaching job after he graduated from university (and he failed entrance exams the first place he applied). Fleming was considered a mediocre researcher.

As you help your children, don't lose sight of the FACT that you may be shepherding geniuses. Don't let them think they have no hope of doing great things. These are future mothers and fathers and pastors and missionaries and inventors and researchers and writers and creators and leaders.

(By the way, I work for an agricultural corporation. Today most hunger is because of poor logistics or war or political decisions. We're on a mission to double the productivity for grains by 2050, or else we will likely see famine as a result of too little food. With today's technologies, the amount of arable land is roughly constant worldwide. I'm praying for a future genius will come up with a way to increase the amount of arable land we have to work with.)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

If Atheists Were Right

Doug Wilson completely destroys the foundational arguments for atheism. Here's just one paragraph as an example:

"If the atheist is right, then I am not a Christian because I have mistaken beliefs, but am rather a Christian because that is what these chemicals would always do in this arrangement and at this temperature. The problem is that this atheistic assumption does the very same thing to the atheist's case for atheism. The atheist gives us an account of all things which makes it impossible for us to believe that any account of all things could possibly be true. But no account of things can be tenable unless it provides us with the preconditions that make it possible for our "accounting" to represent genuine insight. Atheism fails to do this, and the failure is a spectacular one. Nor does atheism allow us to have any fixed ethical standard, or the possibility of beauty."

(I'm sure my politically liberal minded friends will be shocked to see me referring to an article on Huffington Post :-)

Friday, October 23, 2009

You've Never Seen a Fan Like This Before

This fan is just WAY cool!

It’s also a good example of innovative thinking and technological breakthroughs that human beings can drive. Malthusians (who think there are too many people on the planet) often miss the reality that the ideas and implementation power to make the world better for everyone are carried by those human beings they don’t think should be permitted.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Two Kinds of Brokenness Before God

As a leader you'll need to help people recognize there are two kinds of brokenness before God, and distinguish between them.

Scott Rodgers gives very helpful counsel:

"First, brokenness can be the result of sin. We’ve messed everything up and now, life is just broken. Second, brokenness can be the result of surrender. We’ve submitted ourselves to the purposes of God so much that we are experiencing pain; the pain of selflessness, submission, being misunderstood, etc.

It’s critical we don’t confuse the two. We need to stop saying, “God is breaking me,” when we’re really just breaking ourselves by repeating destructive, sinful behavior. And, if you’re experiencing brokenness as the result of surrender, lean into it; you’re going through a process of transformation.

Help. I’m broken and I can’t get up. I’m flat on my back. My sin is great. Lord, please forgive me and restore me.

Help. I’m broken and I can’t get up. I’m on my knees. My surrender is great. Lord, please give me the strength to stay the course."

To some degree the people you minister to will experience both, though not at the same time. It's important to help people see which is the proper response to their situation -- and in neither situation do we have the right to blame God for anything.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Devotion: Set It Before Them

We’re familiar with Jesus feeding the 5000 (see Mark 6) and the 4000 (see Mark 8), but God has been miraculously feeding people throughout history. He provided manna to sustain the children of Israel in the wilderness, and water from rocks. There are multiple accounts in the Old Testament where God provides food for people in need. Here we have the record of God providing bread for a hundred men in the midst of a famine:

A man came from Baal Shalishah, bringing the man of God [Elisha] twenty loaves of barley bread baked from the first ripe grain, along with some heads of new grain. "Give it to the people to eat," Elisha said.
"How can I set this before a hundred men?" his servant asked.
But Elisha answered, "Give it to the people to eat. For this is what the LORD says: 'They will eat and have some left over.' " Then he set it before them, and they ate and had some left over, according to the word of the LORD.
2 Kings 4:42-44

Today I’d like to draw your attention to the phrase “set it before them.” This is obedience in action, passing along God’s provision for their needs. God gets the glory, and we get to participate in the miracle. No boasting allowed! (see 1 Corinthians 3:21 about boasting) Note that God could have caused barley loaves to appear on everyone’s plate – but He chose to use someone to serve. He still operates this way today.

Our Lord orchestrates many situations – both everyday and extraordinary – so that you and I are given something in order to serve others.

We are blessed with food and clothing and shelter. Our families, friends, and even enemies need these things. Our task? Set it before them.

We have the fullness of God’s peace, and experience grace upon grace from the Lord, encouraged daily by fresh mercies. Our task? Set it before them.

In Christ we have power to rejoice and laugh, and mourn with those in pain. Our task? Set it before them.

We have the Gospel message itself. Our task? Set it before them.

In all these things we see the pattern: God provides, and we set it before others.

The result? Our giving allows other people to experience God’s provision, and disciplines us more and more into Christ-likeness. Jesus Christ is the ultimate expression of giving in order to save people and glorify God.

So I encourage you today to look for opportunities to give from what God has provided you and set it before others. The world rarely understands how much you have to share, but they will recognize God’s love and power when you do.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Real Men Handle Criticism Well

There are a handful of issues that men need to consistently address in leadership roles, none of them following a 1-2-3 formula. One of those is handling criticism.

Leaders get criticized. You can wish it weren't true, but leaders don't waste time on fantasies. You can choose to complain about it, but leaders don't miss opportunities to look for feedback that helps them sharpen their craft.

I can't write on this any better than some others have done. Here are some recommended articles for you to print off and mark up:

Dealing with Critics
Criticism 101
The Top 10 List for Handling Criticism

The issue becomes putting these ideas into practice in your life. Our pride makes this hard. That's where I find prayer is usually needed the most -- dealing with my pride first.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Lessons from Robert Rogers on Ending Well

One of the most interesting biographies I've read in some time is War on the Run: The Epic Story of Robert Rogers and the Conquest of America's First Frontier. Fascinating man, pivotal events in the history of the North American continent.

Robert Rogers lived an amazing life, with many accomplishments, in a tumultuous period of history. His physical exploits were legendary in his own time and even today would be difficult to duplicate with modern clothing and equipment. His leadership and cross-cultural expertise (his treatment of Indians, for example) were uncharacteristically noble for the time. You can learn a good deal about Robert Rogers at this Wikipedia page.

But apart from one history buff and some former military friends (Rogers Rules for Rangers are still part of the official Ranger Handbook and practiced today), no one seems to know about him.

For the first 3/4ths of the biography I was puzzled about this. "How can I not have heard about all this in history classes at school? Why isn't he more celebrated?"

And then I began reading about his decisions after 1768. He pretty much abandoned his family, and pursued selfish ambitions. He drank heavily later in life and was in and out of prison. He didn't side with the Americans during the Revolutionary War and retained his status as Major in the British Army. He caught Nathan Hale as a spy.

In sum: Rogers didn't end well. And American history remembers him little after 1768 because he was on the "wrong" side of the victors. (Had Rogers sided with the Revolution, American schoolchildren today might learn more about him.)

This kind of story should give men -- men like you and me -- pause for thought. Let's commit to making decisions daily towards ending well.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Muslim Populations

From a new Pew study titled "Mapping the Global Muslim Population":

"A comprehensive demographic study of more than 200 countries finds that there are 1.57 billion Muslims of all ages living in the world today, representing 23% of an estimated 2009 world population of 6.8 billion.

While Muslims are found on all five inhabited continents, more than 60% of the global Muslim population is in Asia and about 20% is in the Middle East and North Africa. However, the Middle East-North Africa region has the highest percentage of Muslim-majority countries. Indeed, more than half of the 20 countries and territories in that region have populations that are approximately 95% Muslim or greater.

More than 300 million Muslims, or one-fifth of the world's Muslim population, live in countries where Islam is not the majority religion. These minority Muslim populations are often quite large. India, for example, has the third-largest population of Muslims worldwide. China has more Muslims than Syria, while Russia is home to more Muslims than Jordan and Libya combined.

Of the total Muslim population, 10-13% are Shia Muslims and 87-90% are Sunni Muslims. Most Shias (between 68% and 80%) live in just four countries: Iran, Pakistan, India and Iraq."

The most popular boys' name in 2009 in London is Mohammed.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Thinking Differently About Education

Education is by definition an inefficient process.

You should also be in education mode. My grandfather told me as a boy, "The day you stop learning is the day you die."

Our most fundamental problem is not that we lack teachers, but not enough people see themselves as students. A person who is in "learning mode" -- irrespective of age or prior experience -- discovers that every person and every situation functions as a teacher to the one who has "ears to hear."

Josh Kaufman outlines a completely different approach to earning an undergrad degree in "How to Obtain an Accredited Undergraduate Degree in 1 Year for $4,000." The idea here is basically to test out of classes by passing CLEP exams.

Check this out even if you're not looking for an improved option to obtaining a degree, because the lessons here underscore a critical capability for the 21st century: mastering new information and skills. The old paradigms for conveying knowledge are much more limited than the avenues available today.

I encourage you to think about systematic education on some front that interests you. Here are two examples of what I've done, so you see what I'm talking about:

1. In 2008 I tackled reading every book on the Personal MBA Reading List in less than one year as a project -- learned even more than I expected to, and I really enjoyed the challenge.

2. Earlier in 2009 I read through Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology. This helped sharpen my thinking about some areas, and gave me a better grounding for the teaching I do.

In past years I've invested focused time on learning about the neurobiology and psychology of learning, Judaic culture in Christ's time, persuasive writing, military strategy, etc.

So think about areas that you could learn more about, and how that will help you in the future. Make sure they interest you at some deep level, so you'll be able to stick with a learning plan. Then creatively think through how to tap into information sources (reading, audios, videos, in person connections), and make a commitment to follow-through. Remember: we tend to overestimate how much we can do in a day or a week, and vastly underestimate what we can accomplish in a year or five years.

Bible? Cell phone?

What would happen if we treated our Bibles like we treat our Cell Phones?

What if we carried it around in our pockets and purses?

What if we turned back to go get it if we forgot it?

What if we flipped through it several times a day?

What if we used it to receive messages from the text?

What if we treated it like we couldn’t live without it?

What if we gave it to kids as gifts?

What if we used it as we traveled?

What if we used it in case of emergencies?

What if we upgraded it to get the latest version?

At least we’d never have to worry about our Bible being disconnected. Jesus has already paid the bill for eternity.

HT: Barry Brown

Friday, October 09, 2009

What Jesus Didn't Say

A convenient way to expanding your understanding is asking the question: what wasn't said here? As you study the Bible, you can ask, "What does this NOT say?"

I really enjoyed this list of 14 Things Jesus Didn't Say by Perry Noble -- especially #1, #7, and #9. This would make a very interesting family conversation around the dinner table.

#1 – “They will know you are my disciples by your theology, and the arrogance that accompanies it.” (John 13:35)

#2 – “Dream really small dreams and make sure you never ask for anything big!” (John 14:12-14, Psalm 2:8)

#3 – “If someone doesn’t believe just like you believe…make sure to do all you can to attack, criticize and beat them down as much as possible.” (Mark 9:38-41)

#4 – “Be tolerant of everyone…I am one of the many ways to God.” (John 14:6)

#5 – “Make sure you make the church about you…that you are served well…please, don’t do anything that might cause you any type of inconvenience. My goal is for you to be happy!” (Matthew 20:28, Luke 9:23-24)

#6 – “Please, whatever you do, DO NOT tell people the good news…keep it to yourself! The reason I died on the cross is so that you could get into really small groups of people and talk about ‘deep things’ that aren’t going to help anyone when it comes to eternity.” (Matthew 28:20, Mark 16:15, Luke 24:48, John 20:21, Acts 1:8, Romans 10:14, Romans 10:17)

#7 – “Don’t EVER try anything new…don’t ever take a risk…don’t ever take a step of faith. Be AVERAGE!” (Isaiah 43:18-19, Hebrews 11:1, Hebrews 11:6)

#8 – “You can follow me and it will not impact your money at all!” (Matthew 6:19-24)

#9 – “Pray a prayer to get out of hell…and then live however you want.” (John 14:15, John 14:21)

#10 – “You can do it without me!” (John 15:5)

#11 – “I don’t expect you OR your church to be fruitful in any way.” (John 15:4)

#12 – “Isolate yourself from the world!” (John 17:15)

#13 – “Make sure there is a time when you question my word because it will one day be no longer relevant.” (Luke 21:33)

#14 – “Stop crying out to me in desperation…can’t you see I’m busy.” (Mark 10:46-52)


D.A. Carson on Kingdom

Useful thoughts here. I appreciate D.A. Carson's careful, thoughtful presentations.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Dad-O-Matic Project

There is a very interesting blog for dads, titled "Dad-O-Matic." It's an ensemble project from many well-read bloggers, all on the theme of being a dad.

Since it's not the work of a single person, you have a wide range of perspectives. Not all are written from a Christian worldview, by the way. There are helpful advice and insights.

We learn complex skills like parenting through instruction, practice, and association. Dad-O-Matic helps with the instruction a little, but more with association (albeit in digital form). The more you associate with good dads, the better dad you're likely to become.


Monday, October 05, 2009

Boys and Weapons and Sticks

I've been called sexist and primitive and backwards, but I do believe there are fundamental differences in the ways boys and girls are wired.

Matt Chandler said in a sermon that boys are "made to build things and break things. And girls can make any two objects friends."

Boys can make anything into a weapon. I've seen boys pop the heads off Barbie Dolls and declare them "hand grenades." If you hear the sound of simulated Star Wars laser blasters ("Pew! Pew! Pew!") in church, it's going to be coming from a boy squinting down his finger. I'm old enough that we said "bang." Knives. Bows and arrows. Ropes. Whips. Hammers. Screwdriver? "Watch me stick this screwdriver in that tree!"

And of course boys love sticks. Walking sticks. Sticks to beat things with. Sticks that become weapons in imagination. As we grow up our sticks get bigger and more sophisticated. In one sense, our ICBMs are a big stick.

(I acknowledge there are girls who love sticks and rocks, too. The kid with the most accurate arm in the West Virginia holler where I grew up was a girl name Glenna. She killed more than one squirrel with a rock. But the fact is that very few girls are like this, and nearly all boys are.)

Boys love to challenge one another. Sometimes over the stupidest stuff. It doesn't suprise me at all that the last words of many a man were "That's nothing, hold my beer and watch this!" Can you even imagine a girl or grown women saying that?

I know many mom's who are just horrified about their son's tendency towards weapons and fighting. And their husbands often feel pressure to "tame" their son.

My counsel: don't fight it, channel it.

Channel this energy into being prepared to stand against evil and defend innocents and the weak. You need to model this yourself, but also instruct them.

A good strategy is to watch movies with your boys (Sergeant York, The Green Berets, The Patriot, Brave Heart, Gladiator, Saving Private Ryan, and others -- yes, your son may not be old enough yet) and talk with them about how men behave in these difficult situations. This means you watch a scene together, stop the movie, and talk about it. Let the movie be a conversation starter.

The idea is to fill their imagination with fighting against evil, and persevering in the right cause, to serve and protect others. That's ultimately what all this drive in boys is about.

Read more in my earlier post, What Fathers Should Teach Their Sons.

P.S. If there are movies that you recommend, add them in the comments below.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

John Newton on Controversy

John Newton wrote much, much more than the hymn "Amazing Grace." I recently came across this short letter he wrote to a friend, which people have titled "On Controversy."

In this letter Newton counsels a minister friend who wants to publish an article criticizing another man for his theological positions.

I recommend you read "On Controversy" for two reasons:

1. It's well written, sound, and timeless advice on handling disagreements.
2. It taps into a useful approach for thinking through our actions -- how will this affect your 'opponent,' the public, and ourselves? It's good to see the public included as second, ahead of ourselves, since we are ambassadors for Jesus Christ.

Note: though written from a Calvinist perspective, there is wise counsel here for any Christian.

HT: Between Two Worlds

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Freedom = Simple Answers + Courage

We're all prone to look for easy answers. (Witness the billions spent on get-rich-quick and weight-loss schemes.)

These are difficult days for many of us, if not personally then in our communities and nations. There are complex and complicated problems, and the easy answers tend to make things worse over a period of time than better. One wonders at times if solutions are going to be like solving Rubik's cube -- it's going to look worse than at the start, but eventually comes out right.

Intuition tends to lead us astray. Wise husbands and fathers and leaders look to revelation and proven wisdom.

I invite you to consider these quotes:

“There are no easy answers, but there are simple answers. We must have the courage to what is morally right.” -- Ronald Reagan

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." – John 8:31-32
(Please note the context of this oft-misused verse!)

"I wouldn't give a fig for simplicity on the near side of complexity, but would give my right arm for simplicity on the far side of complexity." -- Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., (The US Supreme Court justice, not his father the author)

Freedom = Simple Answers + Courage + willingness to go through complexity to reach simplicity.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

How Motivation Works

Watch this video for some counter intuitive results from psychological studies on how incentives and rewards actually work. It's dependent on the type of work involved.

Dan Pink's presentation is worth watching. Though geared toward a business situation, I encourage you leaders and dads to think about how this applies in your family, and in church/civic leadership situations.

By the way, there are MANY fascinating TED talks available, well worth scanning. I subscribe to their blog feed as a way to keep a stream of incoming new ideas. Finally, you can learn a lot about how to do effective presentations by watching these talks.