Planning

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For the last several years I have replaced the idea of New Year’s Resolutions with a focus on one single idea – my one word  to help frame the kind of direction I sense the Lord leading me to steer my life toward in the coming year. Previous ideas for My One Word have included Finish, Lean, and One. What’s interesting is that those ideas are still, to one degree or another, relevant and a part of my soul’s DNA.

Last year the theme was Advance! You can read more about that here.  And let me just say, advance I did! On three fronts in particular, 2015 represented major moves forward, mostly in areas of ministry and career development.

One really good thing that arose out of that has been the establishment of LifeVesting International – a mission organization designed to mobilize the church to multiply the Church. We are launching our first series of trips this year to Thailand, and I am thrilled to see where that is going.

May I just say, however, that by the end of the year, I was about advanced out. Frankly, I started the year not nearly as enthusiastic about the One Word idea as I had in previous years. And in terms of what the One Word would actually be, there was nothing really compelling or inspiring.

I thought about the word “READ” because every year at this time I get inspired to read more.

That deafening sound you hear of silence… or crickets… yeah, that’s about how much enthusiasm and passion that idea generated.

But to this point – a few days into January – there was nothing compelling.

And that may actually be the point. [click to continue…]

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Making the right choice

It’s been a couple of years now since I repented of New Year’s resolutions.  I knew it was time when somebody asked me about mine a few years ago and I said, “Oh, you know, the usual.”

(Totally irrelevant side note:  Wouldn’t be funny to go into a gym today or tomorrow and find some dude who’s built like a tank and who looks like he’s lifting one and say to him as those muscles rip through his shirt – “Ya’ know, those New Year’s resolutions never really work.”  Anyway…)

That’s why when somebody introduced me to Mike Ashcroft’s idea and book a few years ago it really hit a nerve.  The idea is very simple:  Build your year around one simple word – one theme that describes who or where you want to be at the end of the year.  What amazes me is how easy it is to land on a theme based on what I call my descants of the soul – the themes that seem to be repeating themselves in my life recently.

In 2011, my one word was Finish!  I didn’t finish a lot, but it was exciting to think about.  Lean was the word in 2013.   And my one word for 2014 was One.  Both have been helpful in shaping my thinking and focus for the year.

This one is different.  It’s more of a call to action, and frankly, a part of me doesn’t like it.  I’ve reached a point in my life where a significant part of me is screaming out for quiet, simplicity, retreat, and life on the porch.

Not time for that yet. [click to continue…]

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Leadership TestIn his profile of University of Alabama quarterback A. J. McCarron, John Wertheim describes a scene that took place when the record-setting quarterback first arrived and joined the team as an 18-year-old freshman.

At his first intrasquad scrimmage McCarron was grouped with walk-ons, facing the defensive starters.  He was sacked early and often, and wasn’t happy about it. He didn’t even remove his cleats before marching into Coach Nick Saban’s office afterward.

“I need to talk to you,” he snapped.

“O.K.,” said Saban.

“You want me to show you what I can do, how I can play? Well, I can’t do s— when you put me with walk-ons who can’t even block. I don’t understand why you don’t put me with the [starters].”

“Why? Because today we were testing your leadership,” Saban said, barely looking up. “And you failed. Miserably.”

Life is filled with little tests (and big ones), and they aren’t always what they seem. Tests of faith. Tests of skill or knowledge. Tests of character.  Tests of performance. And yes, tests of leadership.

Most of these tests reveal themselves in the rearview mirror, not in the windshield. It’s only after the fact that we can truly see them for what they are.  What we can do, however, is use hindsight to identify when others faced tests of leadership and learn from their successes or “miserable failures.”  Here are five ways to recognize when your leadership was being tested: [click to continue…]

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“It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” – Yogi Berra

Uncertain FutureHad any punked-out plans lately?  Any disappointments or unforeseen disasters?  Have you lost someone dear to you or had your dreams shoved back into your face?

Have you noticed how the news seems to report more on what may happen than what just happened?  Here’s a headline from Wednesday:  With Dow Industrials at Record Highs, When Will Gravity Take Hold?  Sheesh!  Even the good news begs for more bad news.

Or try this one:  Have you ever had something surprise you with such joy, so much delirium that you had no clue what to do next?

It was Benjamin Franklin who first said that in this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.  And yet we try, because nobody likes uncertainty.  So what do you do when you’re standing face-to-face with a completely unpredictable future?  You can offer money to people who promise to reduce your uncertainty – policemen, politicians, preachers, and “prophets.”  You can bury your head in the sand and hope tomorrow never comes.  Or you can find a way to confront your uncertainties with God’s power and courage.

Lessons from Paul’s Travel Plans

Now just to be clear, I’m not just referring to bracing for imminent disaster or catastrophic losses.  I mean even those every-day surprises and disappointments.  One source that has always been an example to me is the Apostle Paul.  At the end of his first letter to the Corinthians, he runs through a list of travel plans.  Travel plans!  In the Bible!  What’s his travel agenda doing in God’s holy book?  Check this out: [click to continue…]

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Oil WaterI think Peter was left handed.

I’m referring, of course, to Simon Peter of the New Testament, not Peter Gabriel, Paul and Mary’s friend Peter, or Laurence J. Peter of The Peter Principle.

Oh, I’m sure his mama beat it out of him since left handedness was considered a disability, if not a sign of evil back in the day.  But evidence of Peter’s right-brained dominance abound…  [click to continue…]

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PuzzleKnow what’s always messed me up with New Year’s resolutions?  New Year’s Day is a holiday.  So all those goals and new beginnings typically start around January 2 and I’m already a day behind.  Then I need to put up Christmas stuff and I’m two days behind.  I’m getting tired just thinking about it.  So I need some mental rest from the holidays.  Three days behind.

So this year I brightened up and decided that this will take a bit more planning and thought. And yes, I’m talking slap-dab in the middle of the Christmas holidays.

So I’m writing this to myself, but inviting you to come along for the fun.  Here are ten suggestions to prepare for the coming year – do all these by December 31, and you can have New Year’s Day off.  I know, I know!  You’re welcome! Click here to get started

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On Interstate 40 in New Mexico, between Albuquerque and Santa Rosa, you’ll find an exit at the 226 mile marker.

That’s about it.

A bridge and four exit and entrance lanes.  That’s all.

There is no food, phone, gas or camping opportunity.  No tourist traps so common on this major cross-country artery.  Nothing.

Okay, but at least there’s a highway number or the name of some road, right?  I mean, plenty of Interstate exits offer no services, but at least they name the road or the destination like Owassa, Hope Hull, or Tucumcari.  What’s the name of this road?

There isn’t one.

Where does it lead?

Nowhere.

The sign simply says, “Exit 226.” [click to continue…]

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Somewhere not far from you, in an undisclosed location (they like to keep it that way), a group of ants is planning for winter.  Methodically, laboriously, they’re hauling whatever it is that ants eat into a safe place.  Though I’m sure they’re tempted to nibble on the profits, they resist the temptation to consume today.  Instinctively they know that they must work now for the time when either they can’t work, or there won’t be resources available.

In the Middle East there dwells a little furry critter – something like a cross between a chipmunk and a badger.  (In other words, he sings like an angel, but he’s in a really bad mood!)  Seriously, this little mammal is something like a Rocky Mountain version of a prairie dog.  He has no natural defenses, yet easily protects himself from predators.  His secret?  He makes his home in the little crags between the rocks.  There he remains safe while his enemies get a sore nose.

[click to continue…]

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The call or opportunity to lead is a call or opportunity for conflict.  I doubt if I’m the first to tell you that, but if so, well, sorry.  That’s certainly true on an interpersonal or team level.   It’s also true organization-wide.  Whether you’re leading a church or a business, a nonprofit or an institution, a state or a nation, the bigger they are, the harder they brawl.  Or squall.

If your goal is to avoid conflict at all costs, let somebody else take the leadership roles, because what you’re saying is that you don’t want to influence anybody.

Assuming you’re still reading, let’s assume that the idea of conflict hasn’t scared you off – at least not yet.  I have good news.  Some of the greatest demonstrations of leadership in history took place when someone rose to face the challenge of seemingly impossible conflicts.  So if your organization is facing competing values and visions, wise leadership can help make it stronger and more successful than ever.  If it’s true that conflict is the moment of truth in any relationship (and I think it is), then the way you lead your organization to face those conflicts sets the course of the organization, sometimes for years.

It’s important to remember that the people in your organization have brains, hearts, and feelings, just as you do.  Resistance to your or the organization’s direction is a way of saying you haven’t communicated the vision clearly.  Or maybe you haven’t anticipated their objections or their priorities.  Maybe you have yet to earn the trust of the people.  Or maybe they are insecure in the roles in which you are asking them to perform.

Here are five ways to work with – not against – the members of your organization to turn conflicts into jumping off points. [click to continue…]

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I don’t know what else to call them.  But if they were all in the same vicinity or neighborhood, they’d be part of a ghost town.  They’re usually uninhabitable, with windows and doors gone or broken, and the roof letting in morning sunshine.

There’s at least one near you somewhere, but it may not be as easy to see as the hundreds that dot the wide open landscape near where I live.

Abandoned, but never empty.  For lack of a better term, I call them ghost houses.

Not haunted houses, though I’d rather not wander into one of these things after dark.  Broad open daylight either, for that matter.

Once upon a time these places provided a home for families.  Now they sit empty.  Sometimes the reason is obvious; sometimes it doesn’t make sense at all. Just in the last week I’ve seen several once-lovely and spacious homes now left to the elements, vandals, and critters.

Maybe someone died, and left no heir.  Maybe business dried up or sold out and forced a move.  Maybe the place got tied up in some sort of disagreement in court or with a bank.

Regardless, the end result is the same – empty, eroding testaments to lost usefulness and life.

Oh, if they could talk!  Oh, if they could teach us!

Call me weird (okay, who said that?).  But what started as a years-long fascination has led me to visit and photograph over 200 of these old places over the last week.  Most were houses.  But there are also old stores, gas stations, barns, schools, and even a few abandoned churches.

Some are part of the three certifiable ghost towns I’ve visited (a story for another day).  Most stand alone on the edge of town or in the middle of nowhere.

Nobody built one of these planning for them to sit desolate.  But sit they do.  And while the ghost houses have lost their primary purpose because nobody can actually live or work in them anymore, they being dead still speak.

And no, they’re not hollering, “Boo!”

They’re teaching some powerful lessons that speak to us as individuals and leaders, churches and organizations. [click to continue…]

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