Sunday, August 31, 2008

Offering Solutions Instead of Complaining

One of the reasons I've continued serving with FamilyLife is because of the vision I share with Dennis Rainey to try and offer solutions instead of complaints. I've often heard him say "Christians are known for what they are against. I want to be known for what I'm for." For instance, most Christians are known as being anti-abortion. While this is certainly true of myself and FamilyLife, we want to be known first for being pro-adoption. That's why FamilyLife started Hope for Orphans, a ministry that helps churches develop partnerships with orphanages and encourages them to begin adopting those orphans with the goal of emptying the orphanage. What if every Christian church in American were crying out to adopt the babies that are being aborted? Focusing on the solution would likely communicate more love while still taking a firm stand in opposition to abortion.

There are so many cultural issues that Christians take stands against without offering solutions. That's why I'm very excited about the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival. Doug Phillips began the festival to offer an alternetive to the film making machine in hollywood. Instead of complaining about what is offered, Mr. Phillips thought he should pursue a solution and offer a "revolution in film." Thus the beauty of their mission statement, which is "Reforming film, one frame at a time."

One of the more exciting things about this festival is that they are offering the largest single prize of any film festival of any kind ($100,000). This proves how serious they are about influencing Christian film makers to put out quality, competitive films.

Christian film is in an intersting position today. Bob Lepine analyzed the state of Christian film in his podcast Ear Reverent and especially reflected on rise of major motion picture studios developing "faith film" divisions. This largely rose out of their response to Mel Gibsons movie The Passion. When this movie came out, so many of the major studios were stunned that people would want to see such a film. They realized there is a huge untapped market to be reached. Make no mistake, their efforts to produce Christian films has very little, if anything to do with spreading the gospel. It is primarily about making money. But this is at least one concession from a media machine normally focused on pushing an agenda upon the culture at large, even if it is not what people want.

This is also true for books, as Vince Flynn noted when he stated that his first book, an eventual NY Times #1 best-seller, went through 60 rejection letters before he landed a publisher. He accredits the numerous rejections to his pro-war, pro-american postion in the book, ideas which many executives of major secular publishers oppose and do not want to publish.

So I applaud the efforts of Doug Phillips to provide an alternative, instead of just complaining about the options. This makes me reflect on the solutions I'm pursuing to the problems I endure. What things that insiprie complaining in your life could you begin praying about offering solutions for instead?

You can watch an interview with Doug Phillips about the festival here:

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Cross and the Swastika

While in Germany last summer, we set out on an adventure to visit the Nuremberg courthouse where the Nazi war criminals were tried. Unfortunately, we got lost in the city and by the time we found our bearings realized the museum had already closed. So we settled for some Turkish food (why is there so much Turkish food in Germany?) and headed back out on the road for our final destination of Prague, Czech Republic, one of the most amazing places I have ever been.

When I returned home, I noticed a book in our church library titled The Cross and the Swastika by Frederick Grossmith. What an odd title - what do the Cross and the Swastika have in common? Grossmith tells the story of the Nuremberg trial from the perspective of the chaplain. It's hard to imagine that anyone had the foresight to consider that these monsters could use a chaplain, but they did.

This story sheds new light on the word "grace" for me. This chaplain, Henry Gerecke, though internally disgusted with the men that committed such crimes, was 100% committed to serving them and proclaiming the gospel to them as long as the Lord would allow. This was no easy decision for him: his own family had been touched by the crimes of the Nazis. He recounts:

"I had plenty of excuses for bitterness toward them. I had been at the Dachau Concentration Camp, where my hand, touching a wall, had been smeared with the human blood seeping through. In England for 15 months I had ministered to the wounded and dying from the front lines. My eldest son had been literally ripped apaprt in the fighting. The second suffered severely in the Battle of the Bulge."

But he was able to come to grips with the gravity of his situation, "Slowly the men in Nuremberg became to me just lost souls, whom I was being asked to help. If, as never before, I could hate the sin, but love the sinner." He realized that the only way he would be able to genuinely minister to these men was to "summon the right Spirit worthy of a Christian" towards them.

Gerecke was chosen as chaplain for a variety of reasons, one being that he was fluent in German, and that his commitment to the gospel went beyond personal feelings. "I have been criticised for offering my hand to these men. Don't think it was easy for me. But I knew I could never win any of them to my way of thinking unless they liked me first. Furthermore, I was there as the representative of an all-loving father. The gesture did not mean that I made light of their malefactions. They soon found that out!"

Gerecke recalls his meetings with each of the men who were on trial, and does his best to summarize where he felt those men stood before God as their final hours on earth waned. Some seemed to have been truly repentant for their actions. Others were clearly defiant and had no interest in Gerecke's message. Ultimately, only God knows the true heart condition and final destination of each of these men.

One of the men that escaped death at those trials, Albert Speer, was interviewed years later by the author of this book (Grossmith). When asked to reflect on Gerecke, Grossmith noted that Speer "leaned further back into his chair, deep in thought and staring at the wall above my head. 'Henry Gerecke', he said slowly, with feeling, 'was a man with a warm heart... he cared.'"

Grossmith recalled the effect Gerecke's ministry had on Speer: "Speer spent 20 year in Spandau Prison, Berlin, and during that time read and studied eighteen large volumes of theology, such was the fruit of Gerecke's ministry and his desire for the truth of God's Word. Speer told me that he couldn't explain the change which came into his life when he accepted Christ; many times he had tried to understand it. There was a church in the Bavarian mountains he retreated to for a brief spell away from home surrounding in order to pray and meditate. 'Without Pastor Gerecke', he said, 'I could never have got through those days at Nuremberg.'"

Gerecke returned to Illinois after the trials to serve as a prison chaplain. He died 15 years to the day after arriving in Nuremberg, and the Illinois prisoners were devastated by his death. The prison Warden received special permission to hold a funeral service in the prison yard. "more than eight hundred convicts filed past the coffin. 'There were tears' the Warden said. He also believed it was the first time in Illinois, and possibly in the nation, that arrangements had been made for prisoners to pay tribute to an individual."

If you read the book, it is sure to produce a wide variety of emotions. For me, the primary emotion was sorrow. The entire thing should never have occurred or escalated to the level it did.

I'd also recommend a movie about the final days in Hitler's bunker. It is based on the interviews with his personal secretary, who survived the war and was in the main Nazi bunker until it was evacuated after Hitler's death. It is in German (with subtitles) and is called "Downfall." (FYI - there are some inappropriate scenes in this movie.)

Watching this movie and reading this book reminded me of a quote I once heard: "all that it takes for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing." Realize that every small decision in your life is a test of your integrity.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

How To Receive Updates From this Blog

If you would like to receive updates from this blog, or any other blogs, but do not regularly check the Internet, then you may want to consider one of the following two options.

The first is to sign up through email. You can do this by simply entering your email address in the box on the top right side of the home page of this blog.

The second option is to use a news reader service. A "reader" is simply a program that collects news updates for you (much like an email program collects emails). The benefit of using a reader is that you can have news/updates delivered to one location, without having to take the time to check a number of websites. It is like having the mail delivered to your door instead of making separate trips to the electric company, water company and phone company to pick up your bills.

How To Use a Reader
To get started with a reader, first select the type of reader you want to use. There are a number of readers available. I use Google reader (because I also use the Google email service, called Gmail). It is fairly easy to use and gives a variety of options for organizing the information in your reader. Bloglines is also a popular reader service, as well as Yahoo.

This is simplified on this site because you can subscribe to these feed readers by simply clicking on the link on my blog that says “Subscribe to OneManTrying” and offers the option of “Posts” or “All Comments.” Click on the “Posts” button and select one of the services. The reader service will then walk you through the set up process.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Hold On Loosely

Six years ago, I was working in Little Rock, Arkansas and in need of a new briefcase. I began the search for the new manly accessory, a search that was likely to last months as I sorted through the vast array of attache options.

While walking through the office one day, I began admiring the over sized man purse of a co-worker friend of mine, Wes Ward. After a few days of contemplation, I asked him where he bought it and he said "Here, you can have it. I have another one at home." Have it? Really?

This is briefcase: (Notice the lovely embroidered logo that attracts attention from other business travelers in the airport).

When I asked him why he was willing to give it up, and he told me this story: "When I worked at Moody, I complimented one of my co-workers ties. He immediately took it off and gave it to me, commenting that he had plenty of other ties at home that he didn't wear. I've often thought of that experience and wondered if I could hold loosely to my possessions in the same way he did."

This example of selflessness inspired Wes to do the same with others. And his example was a humbling encouragement to me. It wasn't long after that when a friend of mine admired a small pocket knife I was carrying at church. I had PLENTY of other knives at home, so I knew right then I could give it to him, and it was a great delight to do so.

Now the old "Ambassador" briefcase has run it's course and I was overwhelmingly pleased with it, but wanted more space. So when my parents called and said they wanted to buy me a new briefcase, I went with this one:

Here's the comparison:

Here's the question for you, and thus the point of this post. Are you prepared to give away that special item you just can't do without (even though you have three more at home) the next time someone asks about it? Try it, and you'll be amazed at the joy you'll find from holding loosely to your possessions.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Simple Pleasures

My two favorite people, enjoying the afternoon together with a snack, watching some serious construction.

Friday, August 22, 2008

A Concise History of Christian Thought

If you are a Church History fan, then there is a book that is a must have for you this year. A Concise History of Christian Thought is amazingly concise (hence the name) and readable. The book is a total of 336 pages, yet covers a wide array of significant figures and events in Christian history. Most topics are covered in 1-2 pages, and include direct quotes from the author in question.

In this book you'll learn some of the following fascinating facts about church history:
  • As a teenager, Origen (185-253) was set on following his father into martyrdom. The only thing that hindered him was that his mother had hidden his clothes! Origen also made the first attempt at writing a 'systematic theology' for the early church.
  • Peter Abelard (1079-1141), considered "the most brilliant thinker of the twelfth century," began tutoring the teenage daughter of the director of the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. They fell madly in love and the daughter, Heloise, became pregnant. Abelard decided to secretly marry Heloise, but her father felt betrayed, and put Heloise in a convent. He then sent a special group of visitors to Abelard's house, who made sure he would never impregnate another (There is an entire book available on this romance called Heloise and Abelard.)
  • Peter Lombard (1099-1160), a prodigy of Abelard's, wrote a book called The Sentences. Writing a commentary on this book became the standard preparation for a doctorate of theology until well after the Reformation.
  • Jan Hus (1372-1415) of Prague, a leader of the Bohemian reformers and a supporter of Wyclif's, was burned at the stake for his stance against the institutionalized church. His writings were a precursor to the reformation of the 1500's. (Luther was condemned by the church in part because he confirmed some of Hus's and Wyclif's teachings).
  • Martin Luther, the father of the reformation, avoided execution because a prince in Germany agreed to hide him in a castle for a full year.
  • The "five points of Calvinism" were not summarized by Calvin, but compiled at the Synod of Dort (1618-1619) in response to the 5 points the Arminians had drafted to summarize their beliefs. (Calvin died in 1564).
  • Robert Bellarmine (1542, 1621), the namesake of Bellarmine College in Louisville, spent his life defending Catholicism against the protestant 'heretics.' In 1616 he was charged with the awkward task of informing Galileo that the Inquisition had decided it was the earth, and not the sun, that was the center of the universe (Glad they cleared that one up).
There's tons of great information in here, and it is a great reference work. Ever been in a conversation where someone drops the name of an obscure theologian? Well if you have this book you can go home and learn about them in a couple of pages.

A Picture of the Jan Hus statue from our trip to Prague last summer
(The statue was being renovated).

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A New Way to Work

In 1995 I worked as an intern for Colgate-Palmolive.
The environment was so intense, I remember feeling guilty for taking enought time to myself to go to the bathroom. Everyone was so focused, work consumed every moment, and no one actually dared to use their entire 30 minute lunch.

Because of this experience, I remember telling a friend of mine to "arrive 10 min before the boss and leave 10 min after if you want to succeed." The sad part was, I was right. It was great advice, because of the way people tend to view accomplishment. Notice my advice said nothing about actually working. The key to success was to appear to be working. But are you accomplishing anything by merely planting your butt in a chair? Are you getting work done because someone can see you sitting in a cube? No way. Time is a horrible way to meaure success. But most managers do, so employees learn to play the game. That's why people who aren't doing anything are able to stay in the system for years on end. But the reality is, we live in a day and age with phone and internet where you can be anywhere and get your work done.

I just finished reading a book called Why Work [Stinks] and How to Fix it. (It's not 'Stinks', but I think their word is tacky, so I'm not putting it on this blog.) They present a ROWE: Results-Only-Work-Environment that BestBuy has been gradually implementing over the years. Their basic premise: do whatever you want, whenever you want, as long as your work gets done. In this setting, gone are the days of submitting a request to go out of the office to a dentist appointment, or feeling guilty for leaving at 4:30, even though your work is done. And LONG GONE are the days when people are able to appear as if their working just because their backside is in a chair. The bottom line is results. Are you getting your job done? Then you get to stay (or leave, or whatever you want to do). If you're not getting your job done, you're fired. It's that simple.

My favorite guideline to this environment is that "all meetings are optional." Have you ever been invited to a meeting that could have been summarized in a five bullet point email? One more hour flushed down the toilet, but it was considered 'work' by everyone in the room. Jack Welch said it well: When you're meeting, you're not working. Meetings have some value, but they are not work, they are simply communication. This rule pulls the rug out from under those perpetual meeting organizers that invite eveyrone as a power play. Now no meeting is planned without a clear agenda and outcome, out of fear of rejection from the invitees.

I imagine the concept of a ROWE makes most people skepitcal. So check out the book and notice their stats on productivity. They have hard data showing that people in a ROWE are more productive, happier, and healthier. What else could an employer want? If you ran a company and someone said "I can guarantee to make your employees more productive, happier, and healthier", wouldn't you listen? Not only that, but good employees in a ROWE are more likely to stay with their company. Involuntary turnover rates PLUMMETED.

It's almost ironic that most people go to college and experience an environment of complete freedom, one that is specifically designed to prepare people for a career, and yet the business world is anti-personal responsibility. In college, you attend class if you want, you decide what's important, you can do your homework when you want - as long as you get it done. We're taught to manage our own time, then we go into the work force and what happens? You can only work from 8-5, with a 30 min lunch break and a couple of potty breaks.

But shouldn't you be treated like an adult at work of all places? Help be a part of creating a revolution in the work place. Kick guilt out the door and bring trust back in. Read the book, or check out the authors' website, and pass it along to every manager or employer you can.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Arguing is Good for Marriage

Like to argue? Who doesn't? Actually, a number of people hate it. An article in the Idaho Press-Tribune proposes that arguing is not only a part of marriage, but it is beneficial to marriage.

Personally, I think there is a better way to state it. Most people view the word "arguing" as negative. Arguing implies that things have gone ugly - someone has lost control or moved beyond reason in their attitude or tone. It seems better to say that 'debate' is good for marriage. Not only is debate good, it is essential to a healthy marriage. Healthy debate helps you resolve differences and develop a set of shared common values. Couples that avoid debate are short-circuiting the maturation of their relationship and the "oneness" God intends in marriage.

The article offers these helpful guidelines for fighting fair:

There are many rules to the concept of marital conflict. For instance, don’t bring up the past, don’t belittle or shame the other person, keep it between you two and don’t bring in reinforcements, take one issue at a time, and stay with it until you feel you have heard one another.

Well said. Too many couples try to bring up every little issue in the world when 'debating' a difference. Stick to one issue and solve it, then move on to others.

The article closes with this advice:

Always remember that this is the person you have announced you love! Treat them tenderly even in the midst of conflict, and remember you will always have conflict, and much of it will be over the same issues.

Reminds me of a phrase we heard at a FamilyLife conference (shameless plug) in our first month of marriage: "Your mate is not your enemy." Remember that you are on the same team - you are not enemies.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Breakfast of Champions

Think you eat a hearty breakfast? How does your morning meal compare to an Olympians? Here's what gold-medal swimmer Michael Phelps eats on an average morning:

"three fried-egg sandwiches loaded with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, fried onions and mayonnaise. He follows that up with two cups of coffee, a five-egg omelet, a bowl of grits, three slices of French toast topped with powdered sugar and three chocolate-chip pancakes."

He will consume a total of 12,000 calories by the end of the day - almost 5 times what the average man eats. You can read the rest of his daily diet here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Don't Waffle on the Altar

Where else can you watch a 'chef' smoke a cigarette and cook your steak at the same time? Only at the awful waffle: The place of legends, where burnt out college students gather after finals and over the hill rock stars pick fights. Yes it is the Mecca of mediocre, where dreams are made, scattered, smothered, covered, or however you like. Not only are dreams made, but you can find the person of your dreams and marry them as well. This couple met while working at Waffle House and felt it was only fitting to tie the apron knot there. Watch their memorable slide show.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

What would you do if your spouse would not speak to you... for THREE YEARS?

I've heard it said that "Communication is the lifeblood of an organization." So it goes with marriage. The statement has been made to me before that finances are the number one reason couples divorce. Finances are not the problem, they are the symptom of a lack of authentic, productive communication.

If communication brings life, then silence is deadly. That's why this article about a couple who didn't speak to one another for THREE YEARS, even though they lived in the same house, blew me away. The wife says the breakthrough came when she stopped looking at her husbands faults, stopped trying to change him, and forgave him for everything he had done wrong in their marriage.

Reflecting on this story brought much gratitude for my wife and the institution of marriage.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Boy Builds House

I have always been astounded by men who are able to build their own house. The amount of different construction competencies required to complete such a task is mind boggling to say the least. It is purely amazing that a man can accomplish such a feat, but a for a boy, such a task would be simply impossible… right?

Here is a story of a young man who started building his own house at the age of 13. That idea alone makes for an amazing story, but the article tells more about the boys motivation for building the house:

"David made it clear that his mission was to build the home. This would mean that when God sent him the woman of his dreams, David would be ready to take action, to provide for her and to have a family. The decision to build a home meant tough choices. And David acknowledged that he was making a conscious choice to forgo teenage years of a dating culture, team sports, and entertainment, in exchange for making sacrifices for a woman and a future that would be years away."

A refreshing story in a culture where many teens are more devoted to staring at screens than taking on a challenge of this magnitude. The Harris brothers would be proud.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

British History During the Puritan Era

The Puritans are often painted as a particularly pious people, generaly described as overly harsh and legalistic. As with any movement, that was certainly the case with some who claimed the title, but the Puritan movement encompased so much more than a law abiding philosophy.

Most people are not aware that the term "Puritan" technically applies to an era that only lasted about 100 years in Britian. The term was applied much like the way we would use "Evangelical" today - it has both religous and political conotations (except the 'conotations' were more of a life and death issue in England).

If you want to hear a good, concise history of the Puritan movement, I recommend two excellent lectures by J.I. Packer, who is also the author of the classic work Knowing God.

You can listen to his lectures on Puritan History by searching "History and Theology of the Puritans" in the iTunes store.(Click on the Red box to get the lectures in their proper order)
If you download the lecture titled "The Puritan Identity 02" and start at the 15 minute mark, you will get about 30 minutes worth of puritan/English history (even though he says it will only take him 3 minutes). I thought it was well done and interesting. The lecture goes into the next file, so you will need to download it as well (titled "Puritan Theological Concerns 01").

I think this link will take you directly to the files in itunes (it will automatically open itunes):

Packer has also written an entire book on the Puritans, called A Quest for Godliness, which he draws upon for the content of these lectures.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Read More in Less Time

Want to read more in less time? There are hundreds of websites and books that offer tips and ideas for increasing your reading speed (ironically, I've been reading a book called How to Speed Read off and on for over 12 years now and have yet to finish it), but there's really only a few things you need to know about speed reading: Shorten eye movement, read in context, and keep moving.

I've been reading a number of puritan authors this year (see "Join the Puritan Challenge" button on the right side of this blog). The reading is excellent, but as you can imagine, the puritan language can be tedious at times.

So Here's a trick I've been using lately that is especially helpful with books that are more challenging to read:

I set a timer for 5 minutes, first thing in the morning, and read as fast as I can, forcing out all distractions during those 5 minutes. When I say fast, I mean your eyes should be moving so fast it feels like they are about to fly off the page, faster than you have ever read before. Five minutes may not sound like much, but In that short amount of time, I cover 7-9 pages a day from challenging works, which becomes 240 pages a month, which is the average length for a book. By doing this you can read 12 books a year, which is far bellow what most people read in a year. And since it is just 5 minutes, your concentration stays heightened and comprehension is actually higher than when reading at a slower rate. You can try this with any book, though I've found it doesn't work as well with fiction, nor do I desire to speed read fiction since the story is my timer with fiction. You will likely cover more than 7-9 pages when reading non-puritan authors (I'm thinking I should apply this method to my unfinished speed reading book). Try it and see if it works.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Marriage Keeps You Sane

Some say marriage will make you crazy.
But now there's new evidence that proves the opposite: Staying married can actually help keep you out of the loony house.

Read the article here.