Nick At Night – Part Three

We are looking at the civil conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. This is the first of three recorded connections that this religious leader and teacher had with Jesus.

We started with seeing that “What the World Needs Now Is Love” …

Then we had a look at the fact that in His conversation with Nicodemus Jesus:

Went straight to the point speaking the truth in love

And that the Spirit of God is always moving and we partner with Him in the work of winning the lost

Today – Let’s look at a third element in this civil conversation between the Lord and Nicodemus.

Patience – Even When They Don’t Understand

After Nicodemus asked, “How can this be?” Jesus continued to talk with him and explained Himself in quite some detail, Even though Nicodemus was a teacher of the law and should have been able to grasp these concepts. Even though, by all appearances, his conversion was nowhere in sight.

And what we learn from Christ’s approach and demeanour is that be must be patient with others, even when they don’t understand. 

Jesus patiently took Nicodemus back to a familiar story in the Old Testament – Numbers 21 – to explain salvation. The people of God were complaining when they should have been rejoicing because God had delivered them from captivity in Egypt and was leading them to the promised land.

They questioned Moses’s leadership abilities.

They didn’t like the monotonous and dry food. 

They began to second-guess leaving a life of slavery in Egypt.

And they began to infect the camp with poisonous words

So the Lord sent real, live snakes into their midst, to do literally the very thing the people were guilty of doing figuratively: poisoning. Many of the Israelites died. Those who were left realized their sin and went to Moses to repent. They knew they were doomed and beyond hope.

In recounting this story, Jesus reminded Nicodemus how Moses lifted up a bronze snake on a pole and whoever looked upon that snake would live. Just as He did with His “born again” statement earlier, Jesus was juxtaposing the physical with the spiritual. In fact, He told Nicodemus that He was speaking about heavenly things: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him” (John 3:14-15).

Jesus was patient with Nicodemus as He led him to the truth of the Gospel. We are called to do the same in our civil conversations with others. It may look like they don’t understand. It may look like they are never going to receive it. But God has called us to lift up Jesus so that He can draw all people to Him (John 12:32). That is our only job. That is all we have to worry about.

More and more every day, our world is becoming so divided and confused. Like the Israelites who had snakes in the midst of the camp, it may seem as though we are all doomed.

Our only hope is Jesus Christ.

In everything we do, in every conversation we have, we believers must be loving, patient, truthful, and above all, lift Jesus so that the entire would will believe. 

More next time… 

Nick At Night – Part Two

We are looking at the civil conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus recorded for us in John’s gospel, chapter three. On May 12th we saw that “What the World Needs Now Is Love” and that Christians often fail to show love. We often don’t share the Gospel of the Kingdom because we fear upsetting others or having them reject us. And, often Christians have an adversarial attitude to those who are not believers. Being defensive and antagonistic. 

Then yesterday, “Nick At Night – Part One” we saw that Jesus lovingly shares with Nicodemus his need to be born again. And that Jesus went ‘straight to the point’.

The second thing we notice in the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus is that “The Spirit Is Always Moving.”

Jesus says to Nicodemus, “The winds blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).

Nicodemus asked, “How can this be?” (verse 9) The reason he asked this question is because he was convinced that the law was what saved a person.

But since the law cannot save, there was a restlessness in Nicodemus’s soul. Despite the fact that he was a “law man” – and had money, fame, power, position, and religion – he was empty inside. He was searching. He didn’t know why he was searching. He didn’t know why he was feeling what he was feeling.

I imagine Jesus was trying to quiet the noice in Nicodemus’s mind and heart by saying, “Shh! Listen to the sound of the wind. The Holy Spirit of God is drawing you toward something that can save.”

And here’s the best part: even though Nicodemus came searching for Jesus that night, it was actually Jesus via the Holy Spirit who was searching for Nicodemus.

Do you remember the story in the Bible about a man named Zacchaeus who was small in stature? He climbed up a tree to look for Jesus, who was passing through the town of Jericho. Jesus looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5).

Let me ask you a question: Was Zacchaeus searching for Jesus, or was Jesus searching for Zacchaeus? Even though Zacchaeus was a wealthy tax collector, a “sinner” by everyone else’s account, he was valuable to the Lord. Jesus was looking for him and wanted to be a guest in his home. After encountering the Lord, Zacchaeus repented of his sins, vowing to give half of what he owned to the poor and pay restitution to anyone he had cheated in the past.

If there was any doubt that Jesus was in fact looking for Zacchaeus, what the Lord declared next should clear things up: “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:9-10).

The Spirit of God moved in the heart of a wealthy tax collector to climb that tree in Jericho in order to catch a glimpse of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world., As we have already discovered, God’s Spirit also moved in the heart of Nicodemus to seek out Jesus for the answers to his questions. 

Behind the scenes, this very moment, the Spirit of God is moving! He blows wherever He wants to. As you approach casual conversations with others, I hope you will take comfort in the fact that God’s Spirit is always moving and wooing – even in folks you think would never be saved. 

Author Russell Moore penned this powerful statement:

“The next Billy Graham might be passed out drunk in a fraternity house right now. The next Charles Spurgeon might be making posters for a Gay Pride March right now. The next Mother Teresa might be managing an abortion clinic right now.. But the Spirit of God can turn all that around. And seems to delight to do so.”

Don’t ever doubt whom God can reach or whom God can save!

Right now there are people in your life – and perhaps even folks not yet met – who are restless just like Nicodemus. They are wondering what it means to be born again. There is an emptiness in their hearts that the law, or self-righteousness, or money, or power, or fame, or relationships, or drugs, or alcohol cannot fill. The Spirit of God could be reaching out to them through you. Let this amazing truth be your confidence as you initiate civil conversations with them about matters of faith. 

More tomorrow…

Nick At Night – Part One

Last time (Blog: What the World Needs Now – May 12th, 2020) we looked at the fact that what the world really needs from those of us who call ourselves Christians is love. This love will be seen first in the way we talk with people. In other words, knowing how to have civil conversations where we can express the Gospel while treating people with dignity and respect. We saw some examples: Philip and the Ethiopian, Peter and Cornelius; Jesus and the woman at the well, Paul and Lydia, as well as Jesus and Nicodemus.

Nicodemus was someone you might meet for the first time and think, He’ll never become a Christian. The guy had political influence and clout. He represented the status quo. He was wealthy. A guardian of the rules. A keeper of the laws.

Were you raised in (or have you ever been to) a legalistic church? The kind of church that emphasized “keeping the rules” – lots and lots of rules! Sadly, sometimes even “unwritten” rules are considered biblical.

Nicodemus most likely subscribed to all kinds of unwritten laws as a teacher to Israel. He represents the people who believe that by keeping all the rules they are somehow saved or made righteous. And yet Nicodemus came to Jesus at night because he was probable very intrigued by Him. He wanted to learn more about Him and the things He had been teaching. So Nicodemus said, “Rabbi,” which means “teacher,” and the conversation began.

“Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him (John 3:2).

There are a few things I want to highlight within Jesus and Nicodemus’s exchange and conversation that will be immediately helpful to you as your share your faith.

1> Straight to the point

Jesus was willing to have a civil conversation with Nicodemus, but He also got straight to the point, as we see in the third verse of John 3. It could have been because it was late at night and Jesus was too tired for small talk. But it probably had more to do with Jesus’s desire to see Nicodemus saved. He pulled no punches. He did not shy away from this opportunity to converse with one of Israel’s most important political and religious leaders.

He said to Nicodemus, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the Kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

That’s pretty direct. Nicodemus heard this phrase born again and he couldn’t figure it out; he didn’t understand it. So he asked the question heard around the the evangelical world: “How can someone be born when they are old? Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” (John 3:4)

Jesus answered, and once again, He did not mince words: “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (John 3:5-6).

And what He meant by that was that Nicodemus had already been born physically; he needed to be born spiritually. Nick at night still didn’t get it, but to be fair, consider where we are in history: Jesus hadn’t died on the cross yet, the day of Pentecost was still three years away, and the church hadn’t started yet. There were no baptisteries, no communion trays, and no crosses on church buildings. Jesus was speaking somewhat prophetically when He pointed out the truth about being born of water and the Spirit. 

No wonder Nicodemus didn’t understand. I’m not sure he was suppose to understand. Even mature Christians today have difficulty understanding this text! But Jesus laid everything out directly anyway.

Sometimes when believers are talking with someone who doesn’t know Christ, we beat around the bush. We use too many words. We preface or sugarcoat or water down the message. Jesus’s civil conversation with Nicodemus teaches us that sometimes we need to get straight to the point. This doesn’t mean you should be frantic, rude, or abrupt. Jesus was gentle and at ease as He shared the truth. He is the way, the truth and the life, after all, so it was probably completely natural to Him!

It may not be as natural to us, but you and I can learn to hone our message. As we practice sharing our testimony and the Gospel message, we will learn to cut out all the hemming and hawing and get down to what’s most important: the simple story of Christ’s transforming love. 

More next time…

 

Discouraged?

Have you ever felt discouraged? I know I have. And, it has not always hit when things were not going well or I was feeling emotionally down. Discouragement can come your way no matter what is currently happening in your life. 

I was recently reading the book of Nehemiah in the Old Testament section of the Bible. A good story of God moving strongly and powerfully in the life of a young man who was taken from his home nation and became a slave in a foreign empire that did not believe in the God he worshipped and served. Eventually he earns the respect and trust of the ruler and becomes a key member of the ruler’s household. In time, he hears about what is left of his own nation’s capital, Jerusalem. It wounds him deeply that the city is in ruins and so is the temple within the city. 

He prays and feels God calling him to go and bring the people together to rebuild the city and the temple beginning with the wall that surrounds all major cities of that day as a means of protection. So, he heads off with the ruler’s blessing and letters of introduction. He has everything he will need to rebuild supplied to him. The people are favourable to the plan and join him in rebuilding. They have the wall half built. So, progress is being made and people can see things coming together. 

In the process, Nehemiah has faced some fairly strong and regular opposition to the plan and to the work being done. He handles it wisely and in both a very co-operative and gracious way. But the people are all aware of the constant opposition to this work God has called them to accomplish. In fact, they are surrounded by nations that are enemies of the Jewish nation. As the opposition continues to grow and threaten the work, those rebuilding the wall and the city work with a sword in one hand ready to defend what they are doing. 

But the people become discouraged … 

Rebuilding – whether it is a walled city or your life, ministry, family, business – can be exciting for a little while, but when the initial excitement fades and opposition arises, it can get discouraging really fast. Nehemiah 4:10 says, “Then the people of Judah began to complain. ‘The workers are getting tired, and there is so much rubble to be moved. We will never be able to build the wall by ourselves.’”

When you work hard for a while and you are blasted with ridicule, resistance, and rumours, you’re going to get discouraged! When does that normally kick in? Discouragement usually creeps in around the halfway point. Verse 6 states, “The wall was completed to half its height around the entire city.”

How many of you have projects around your house that are half finished? We can all relate to the sources of the people’s discouragement in the book of Nehemiah. 

1> The first one is FATIGUE. 

“The workers are getting tired…” When you are tired, you lose your edge to fight off discouragement and opposition. 

2> The second one is FRUSTRATION

“There is so much rubble to be moved…” They actually were making a lot of progress, but the task felt overwhelming at the moment.

3> The third source of discouragement is FAILURE

“We will never be able to build the wall by ourselves”

4> The fourth one is FEAR

“They will come from all directions and attack us” (Nehemiah 4:12)

Beware of these four things that can stop our rebuilding process dead in its tracks. Take some time as you think through some of the projects you have half accomplished … and nail down why you never completed them. What was the source of your discouragement – fatigue, frustration, failure, or fear .. or maybe a combination of two or there of them. 

And, then look at the current condition of your walk with Jesus and your general overall spiritual health and well being. Discouraged? Why? And what can you do to get over the half-time slump? 

Being Honest With Yourself!

Our biggest enemy if often not the devil. It is ourself. We are not being deceived by him or by others. We deceives ourselves. We fail to look at ourselves – what we believe, how we live, our attitude, our thoughts, our morals, our values, our perspective on life, and our priorities. We don’t want to look at ourselves or examine what’s in our heart because we might not like what we find. 

But, I believe that in God’s Kingdom it a season for honest and deep reflection about the lives we live and what we think is important and not important. It is time to be honest with yourself. 

Are you not tired of pretending? Living to please others? Acting a part? Doing everything to cover up who you really are? Is it not time to stop hiding from yourself and thus from others. It is time to be who God created and called you to be. It is time to decide to live for an audience of ONE.

Am I saying you have to confess all your garbage in from of the whole church? No. With some issues, that might be what God requires of you. But with most personal matters, it’ll be wiser to divulge them only to a small, trusted circle of friends or a lone accountability partner. But this I know, playing the fugitive from the truth about yourself will never bring you lasting peace or freedom to live a full and fulfilling life.

The problem is that it is easier to stay the way you are – to coast and live an average, complacent life. You could avoid risk and keep acting. That’s what most Christians (and even the general population) do. In fact, you’ll often be rewarded for faking it. No one will complain. The status quo is always comfortable. You’ll blend in. Even though you know you were created to stand out.

But if you are sick of shallow, empty relationships – if you’re craving deep, sincere community – then you are going to have to take a chance, to risk it. You’ll risk harsh judgments, misunderstandings, criticism. But think about the reward. Imagine living in the freedom and liberty of fully knowing yourself and being really known by others. Dream about releasing guilt, shame, fear, and doubts. See yourself closer to God – and the people around you – than you’ve ever been before.

The choice is yours: Life as it has been, or life as it should be and could become. 

It is my goal to live the most authentic, transparent, vulnerable life a Christ follower can. And here is what I’ve found. Some people don’t like me. But that would be the case no matter what, wouldn’t it? On the other hand, others not only like me, they love me deeply. And the don’t love the image I once portrayed. They love the real me who God created. And, I love them. But most importantly, I have come to really love myself – love who I am and who I am becoming. 

The more honest I have become with God, myself, and His people, the richer and deeper my relationships have grown. In the past, I was always afraid of being ‘found out’. I lived in constant fear of people seeing the cracks in my character, of not measuring up. But not anymore. I overcame my fear because I took a chance. And I’ll continue to take obedient, truthful chances. The more I have come to know and love myself (as imperfect as I may be), the more real God has become to me and the greater love I have for those I relate to. 

The road to honesty and integrity is the path I choose to take. I won’t play it safe. And neither should you. In fact, you can’t play it safe and please God. The Bible says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). And walking in faith is always a risk.

Even when our faith is small, God can do great things. As we step out with the faith we now have; as we take that first step toward living a life free of fear … and secrets… and doubts… and insecurities, we will find a deep freedom we have not experienced before. And we will live a life of honesty and integrity. A life pleasing to God. The life you were created to live. 

Friend! Really?

The relational impact of social media and technology has redefined the word friend. Once upon a time, even just a decade ago, when someone said they were your friend, you both understood what that meant: you shared interests, understood each other’s goals, and enjoyed doing life together. Things are no longer that simple. You can have dozens – even hundreds – of friends that you’ve never met IRL (in real life). They may follow you on social media, or vice versa, without really knowing who you are or what makes you tick.

The average North American has more than three hundred Facebook friends, but only two people that they consider close friends. And this is one-third fewer friends than the average person had just twenty-five years ago.

Also, according to the American Sociological Review, a quarter of Americans (that’s about eighty million people) say they have zero – nada, goose egg, none at all – close friends. 

Why the decline? While there are all sorts of theories, we can summarize four main reasons that people have fewer friends now:

        • People are working more. The more hours people work, the fewer hours they relate socially. More and more people say their closest friends are those they work with because they’re less able to develop or maintain friendships outside of work.
        • People are moving more frequently. In our mobile economy, people don’t stay in one place as long as they used to, so they aren’t becoming as close as they once did.
        • People are getting divorced more often. One spouse gets the couch, the table, and the television, while the other gets the recliner, the refrigerator, the bed. Just as they divvy up possessions, couples often divide their friends, who tend to side with one  over the other.
        • People are talking more online and less in person. While we know the benefits of social media, communicating online has many downsides as well. Many people carefully filter what they share with others so they can present only their best selves, making it much more difficult to be authentic in their real-world relationships.

Even as most of us are engaged in far more online activity now, many of us are experiencing less personal intimacy. For example, many people, when their phone rings, don’t answer, letting it go to voicemail instead. If the caller leaves a message, we may listen to it later, at our convenience, then reply with a text if we feel like it. That lets us stay in control of the ‘conversation’.

And this is hitting us in too many ways to count. I know people who check their Facebook page in the middle of the night because they feel alone. They may have seven hundred Facebook friends, but not one close friends in normal life.

We’re connected, yet we feel lonelier than ever.

Poverty used to mean only one thing. Now sociologists are acknowledging at least three types of poverty. The three divisions of poverty that you see mentioned often are:

      • Material poverty: the lack of basic needs
      • Spiritual poverty: the lack of eternal meaning
      • Relational poverty: the lack of intimate friendships

This third one seems to have taken many people by surprise. But if you think about it, you may realize that it’s true of you as well. Something is wrong. Something is missing. You might even acknowledge that it isn’t actually a something but a someone. 

Based on where you are right now, the decision you most need to make may be to connect. Really Connect. And invest in having a real friend. 

Be Confident – Be You

The Bible states and God says, “So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded” (Hebrews 10:35). Of course, our confidence is in Him and what He is doing in us and through us. On our journey with Jesus, as we discover who we are, we also learn what He has called us to do for Him and His Kingdom.

As we gain confidence in Him and thus who we are “in Christ” and what He has called us to do then we can reach the stage where we can relax and be confident and comfortable. You can “be confident in who you are, and comfortable with who you’re not.” In other words, you truly discover yourself – the real you that God created. And, you are then able to sort out and settle many of the issues that keep you from living a full and fulfilling life. You can separate what God expects of you and from you from what others expect and even demand. Your life-focus becomes much sharper and you stop wasting time trying to impress people or ‘keeping up with the Jones.’ You are too busy keeping up with Jesus and all that He is revealing to you about you. 

This means you can just be yourself. Being someone and thus something you’re not is exhausting. No one wins. You are plastic in your relationships. Conversations remain shallow and boring. You fear doing new things that might disturb the false ‘you’ that you have been projecting for years. You are fearful that if people really got to know you they would not like you and would reject you … walking away permanently. You live with that fear. You live ‘timid’ and afraid. As a result, you remain relationally unhealthy. And, never discover the real you; never experience what a healthy relationship is like; how life-giving and freeing it can be.

If you want to change and discover the real you and live with confidence … remember that if you cling to what got you to this point you will fail to evolve, and you will continue to be the you that you were never meant to be. 

However, if you want to create something that matters, for both yourself and others, you have to start where you are, with who you are and what you have. You can’t just jump into what you want and who God wants you to be. There are lots of small steps that you will need to take.The first being the way you see life, see yourself, and see what you do. To change your perspective you definitely need to push past your comfort zone. Get out of your rut no matter how comfortable that rut may be.

Remember this: Comfort zones are the places where dreams and hope go to die.

So, where others see the mundane and minimize it, you will need to see the possibility and maximize it. You will need to decide to live in “change mode” for the rest of your life, starting right now! You must stop thinking and believing small. I understand that what makes smallness difficult to overcome is that it feels easier and more comfortable than pressing forward into the new you and much bigger dreams. Just remember, comfort zones are the places where dreams and a better future go to die. Where the better you is buried and never discovered. You need to decide that no matter what happens you are going to move forward in the opposite direction to where you are currently headed.

Live fearlessly. Don’t allow past disappointments to abort today’s possibilities. See that everything is working together for your good. Don’t be petty.  Look for the good in everything. Find people – build relationships with people who love you, will stick with you, encourage you, and will be there for you regardless. There are relationships out there that are priceless. But they will be products of your own willingness to press into people, believe in them, love, take risks, and be open to the possibility of friendships and relationships that are open and transparent. 

Begin the journey and be yourself – the real you. Remember, being someone and thus something you’re not is exhausting. 

Take Responsibility

Adam and Eve were the first finger-pointing couple on the planet. When things went wrong, Adam said to God, “It’s the woman’s fault.” Eve said, “It’s the devil’s fault.” Ever since then humanity has become experts in making excuses, playing the victim, and shifting the blame. Owning our story means that we own our relationships fully and completely. 

Now you may be thinking, “A relationship is a two-way street. How can I be accountable for a relationship when the other person is being a complete jerk? Or, they are not responding and refuse to be engaged in the relationship? Or when they are unreasonable, irrational, and impossible to talk to?

Owning your relationship doesn’t mean you are responsible for what other people do. It means that you accept responsibility for everything you do and for everything you bring into the relationship:

        • Your attitudes
        • Your feelings and emotions
        • Your perspective
        • Your body language
        • Your words
        • Your tone of voice
        • Your investment

Rather than playing the victim, passing the blame, or making excuses, you take full responsibility to be the best you that you can be.

By the way, if this sounds risky and daring, this is just a reminder that you cannot live a full life if you are being guarded and playing it safe. Life at its fullest is about being open, vulnerable, and risking exposure. Owning every part of our story means we make a move when there’s no guarantee of the outcome.

If you want your relationships to be healthy and strong, one of the best things you can do is to have a full-ownership policy, where you take personal responsibility and ownership of your relationships. Scripture tells us that there’s power in agreement and that “two are better than one” (Ecclesiastes 4:9), meaning that the more people in a relationship do this, the stronger and healthier the relationship is. But if we’re going to own our story, we can’t wait for others to adopt an ownership mindset; we have to do it whether anyone else does or not. “Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can do with your own life” (Galatians 6:5 The Message Version).

This means taking full ownership of your life and relationships. Not 50 percent, not 80 percent, but 100 percent ownership. I’m not saying this is easy, because it’s not. In fact, most of us have been conditioned to place the responsibility for our lives on something or someone other than ourselves.

Going all in will always, without fail, create an all-in kind of harvest. This doesn’t mean every idea works or every plan works. It doesn’t mean every relationship with be long-term and healthy. It simply means that we are wholeheartedly committed to the relationships we have and do our best to bring them into a place of health where they are mutually beneficial. It means that  wholehearted commitment always creates an outcome that far exceeds that of a partial, cautious, guarded approach. Scripture teaches us, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord” (Colossians 3:23).

All in. Not holding back, not keeping score, not waiting to see what others will do. Not tentative, not calculated, not having an agenda. But instead, facing outward, being eager, being ready to serve, being helpful, speaking encouragement, extending hospitality, being always considerate, being kind, and being generous. Being vulnerable is being all in when there is no guarantee of the outcome. 

It’s time to take responsibility and ownership for our life and stop blaming others for what we are experiencing in life. 

Choosing a Mentor – Part One

Personal growth should be the number one priority of all believers who are serious about following Jesus and reaching their divine purpose in life. Since I began my walk with the Lord over 43 years ago I have had a series of mentors.

At first, I simply grabbed hold or anyone who was willing to impart information into my life. This was good as I was a young believer and gained a great deal from other more mature believers and leaders. But this was a scattershot approach. Although I learned a lot I did not achieve the traction that I had hoped for. Then I figured out that I needed to focus my growth on my areas of personal strength: relationships, communications, teaching, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. When I did that, my effectiveness in growth started to increase. Most of my early mentors were authors whose books I devoured.

Through one of my mentors I started to learn to glean from what I was studying. Resources have little value unless you can pull from them the essentials that you need. That meant learning that I didn’t have to finish a book simply because I started it. I could read only the portions that I needed and deemed important at the time. I learned how to take useful notes, gather quotes, and, most importantly, reflect on what I was learning. I often summarized what I learned and wrote follow-up points inside the front and back covers of a book that was significant and life-changing for me. And, I learned to collect, categorize, and file stories and quotes every day. I also put into practice anything I learned at my earliest opportunity.

Of course, all of that is so much easier now with a good laptop computer or a tablet. And, even today, these disciplines are still part of my daily routine. I read several books a week, I listen to podcasts and watch You Tube videos of good preaching or interviews with people I admire and can learn from. However, I also learned early in my professional life and ministry that personal growth without the benefit of personal mentors could take me only so far. If I wanted to become the leader and teacher that I desired to be – and believed that God had created and called me to become – I needed to find models who were ahead of me to learn from. Why? Because it is hard to improve when you have no one but yourself to follow. 

I have learned a lot from people I have never met or met briefly. Reading helps you to grow and gain from the experience and wisdom of others who have written books and shared their hard earned lessons with the reader. Most people who decide to grow personally find their first motors in the pages of books. That is a great place to start. For that matter, it’s a great place to continue. I am still learning from dozens of people every year that I will never meet. But at some point, you must find personal, in-person, models too. If you follow only yourself, you will find yourself going in circles.

When choosing mentors and models, you must be careful and be selective. There were these two derelicts sunning themselves on a park bench. The first guy said, “The reason I’m here is because I refused to listen to anyone.” The second guy responded, “The reason I’m here is because I listened to everyone.”

Neither course of action is helpful. You must be selective in who you choose as a mentor. From both the positive and negative experiences I haver had with mentors, I went looking for direction as to how to properly choose a mentor who would be a real benefit to me. One of my early mentors developed the following criteria to determine the ‘worthiness’ of a model for me to follow.

1> A good mentor is a worthy example

We become like the people we admire and the models we follow. For that reason, we should take great care when determining which people we ask to mentor us. They must not only display professional excellence and possess skill sets from which we can learn, they must also demonstrate character worthy of emulating.

Many athletes, celebrities, politicians, and business leaders today try to disavow being any kind of role model when others are already following them and mimicking their behaviour. They want people to separate their personal behaviour from their professional life, but such a division cannot really be made. Religious leader and author Gordon B. Hinckley advised,

“It is not wise, or even possible, to divorce private behaviour from public leadership – though there are those who have gone to great lengths to suggest that this is the only possible view of ‘enlightened’ individuals. They are wrong. They are deceived. By its very nature, true leadership carries with it the burden of being an example. Is it asking too much of any public officer, elected by his or her constituents, to stand tall and be a model before the people – not only in the ordinary aspects of leadership but in his or her behaviour? If values aren’t established and adhered to at the top, behaviour down the ranks is seriously jeopardized and undermined. Indeed, in any organization where such is the case – be it a family, a corporation, a society, or a nation – the values being neglected will in time disappear.”

As you look for role models and mentors, scrutinize their personal lives as carefully as their public performance. Your values will be influenced by theirs, so you shouldn’t be too casual who you choose to follow.

More next time….

Hammering Home Your Point – Part Two

We looked at the four Ts of preventing a crisis when dealing with relational issues (see yesterday’s blog – Hammering Home Your Point – Part One). Let’s talk today about trading in your hammer and then treating people with dignity and respect. 

Some people seem to think that a hammer is good for anything and everything. I guess you could say they take a hammering approach to life. This attitude is most often observed among high achievers. When they give something their full attention, they go at it full bore. That’s usually a good approach to tasks. It’s a terrible way to treat people, however. As psychologist Abraham Maslow observed: “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.” People require more judicious treatment than that.

If you desire to develop a softer touch with people, take the following advice to heart:

1> Let the past stay in the past

Resolve an issue when it occurs And once you have done that, don’t bring it up again. If you do bring it back up later, you are treating someone as a nail.

2> Ask yourself, is my reaction part of the problem?

When a person’s response is greater than the issue, the response is about something else. Don’t make things worse by overreacting.

3> Remember that actions are remembered long after words are forgotten

If you have a high school diploma or college degree, can you recall the message the commencement speaker delivered at your graduation? Or if you’re married, can you recite your wedding vows from memory? I’m guessing the answer to both questions is no. But I bet you do remember getting married and receiving your diploma. The way you treat people will stay with them a lot longer than the words you choose. Act accordingly.

4> Never let the situation mean more than the relationship

I believe that if I had not made my relationship with my wife a higher priority than always being right, we might not be married today. Relationships are based on bonding. The more important the relationship, the greater the bond.

5> Treat loved ones with unconditional love

Because ours is a society with lots of broken and dysfunctional individuals, many people never had good models of unconditional love. In “The Flight,” John Whit shared his perspective on where we fall short in our treatment of important people in our lives: “We gossip because we fail to love. When we love people, we don’t criticize them. If we love them, their failures hurt. We don’t advertise the sins of people we love any more than we advertise our own.”

6> Admit wrongs and ask forgiveness

Chicago mobster Al Capone reportedly said, “You can get farther with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone.” Despite the humour, I can tell you this: forgiveness is better. Admitting you’re wrong and asking for forgiveness can cover a multitude of sins. That approach is also one of the best ways to try to make things right when you find that you’ve used the hammer when you should not have.

The problem with most individuals who use the hammer all the time is that they may not know that they do it. If you might be one of them – let some people who know you well hold the mirror and tell you what they see. If you don’t believe them, do the same with your loved ones and friends. If you do that, you will find out whether you treat others as people or as nails. If you do the latter, then you need to make a change.