Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Review - A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

I didn't quite know what to expect from Donald Miller's brand new book "A Million Miles in a Thousand Years." I read 'Blue Like Jazz', perhaps too quickly, and thought it interesting but not altogether helpful or compelling. But with the buzz surrounding his new book, I was glad to get an advance review copy from Thomas Nelson Publishers. The book far exceeded my expectations...

The subtitle itself tells a tale - "What I Learned While Editing My Life." Miller's new book actually is a story about becoming the editor for a screen adaptation of his previous book "Blue Like Jazz", which itself was a mixture of autobiography and philosophy. Essentially then, Miller gets the chance to "edit" his own life's story! In doing so he explores some fascinating ideas on what it means for your life to be a story, what makes for a good life story, and the relationship between a character in a story and the author (or in this case, Author).

Donald Miller's writing is very engaging; it really was difficult to put the book down. There was a compelling interplay between what was going on in his own mind, the travails of the main character's pseudo-life, and what it means for you the reader to be writing your own life story. It's rare for a story to be this effective in quietly encouraging the reader to examine his own life and where it's going. The phrase "the character is what he does" really struck me, as I'm a man too often caught up in reflection instead of action. The former if it does not lead to the latter, is of little value.

A key theme running throughout the book is that "at the heart of a good story is a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it." Without the struggle, without the conflict, the story simply isn't worth telling. When I finished reading the book I was somewhat disappointed that there was not really any discussion about what constitutes a worthy goal for the character to pursue. If a person or a character wants something that is a selfish adventure or doesn't touch the lives of others, what kind of story is that? I felt that same unease I had while reading Blue Like Jazz - is it enough to point out problems without directing toward a solution? Ultimately, while that's an important question it's not the one Miller is looking to address in this book, so I won't hold it against him; I give it a full five-stars. My advice: Treat the book as a mirror, not a compass. Fans of Miller will love this book; those who've never heard of him or who had reservations about "Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality" should still check it out. The potentially best thing about Miller's book is that it might offer you a second chance at life, the first time around.

You can read an excerpt from "A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life", or you can find it at Amazon or other retailers.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Connecting with People Requires Energy

John Maxwell is getting interactive with his upcoming book "Everyone Communicates, Few Connect." He has been posting a chapter of the book in progress each week, getting feedback from readers. This week he shared an exceptionally strong chapter entitled 'Connecting Always Requires Energy .'

So far in the book he has talked about the importance of the need to connect with people to be an effective leader and communicator, how connecting is really all about the needs of others, and that communications go far beyond words. Because this is a work in progress for Maxwell, and because the posts are only available for a week, I can't provide any quotes from the post. But his emphasis on Chapter 4 this week is that no matter what your personality type, no matter if you consider yourself a people-person or not, connecting with others is something you can do, though it takes energy. This energy must be focused and strategic, so John shares several excellent tips for doing this. What I found exciting was that the ideas and encouragement on how to be a better communicator and connect with others are useful even for those of us who consider ourselves introverts. Check out Maxwell's chapter online, and be sure to do it this week!

Friday, September 11, 2009

What is Wrong with being a Leader?

I've been reading a lot in the past few years on leadership, trying to understand how to better encourage and equip others to make a difference with their lives. While everyone knows there are good leaders and bad leaders, I've never heard anyone question the value of being a leader, or trying to develop leaders... until this month.

In thinking about leadership development, I've had discussions (face to face and online) in which others I respect question the idea of leadership development. Others are uncomfortable with the very word 'leader', refusing to be called a leader, or considering it reflective of a dangerous mindset - a leader being someone who (sees themself as) 'above' others. These folks are bright, younger, and have a great desire to help others, so I'm left scratching my head wondering "What is wrong with being a leader?" What's the stigma? Is it semantics? A generational thing? Distrust of 'old school' authoritarian _styles_ of leadership? Or am I missing something important?

I have a feeling that much of the discomfort with 'being' a leader is a having a mental picture of a leader as someone in a role or position, telling other people what to do, without their best interests at heart. In this view, leaderhip = power. The 'effectiveness' is a leader is the ability to make people do what they don't want to do. Their style of leadership is probably the one more prevalent in days past: authoritarian, directive. The leader is the boss, the person in charge, and they tell others what to do, and their goal usually includes moving 'the organization' forward. If that's what people think of as a leader, and if leadership development is training people to be like this to meet corporate goals, then I'm with them - I sure don't want to be _that_ kind of leader!

When I think of the term leader, I think of someone who cares about other people, and influences them towards some towards the achievement of a worthy common goal. The authority of a good leader comes not from their position, but from their character, vision, competency, and care for those they lead. From a biblical perspective, the only legitimate form of leadership is servant leadership. Ken Blanchard describes two parts to servant leadership - The first is: Values, Vision, Direction - what's important to us and where are we headed because of this? The second is: how do you turn the pyramid upside down, how do you serve others? That's how Jesus led, and how He wants us to lead. This view doesn't eliminate hierarchy per se, but changes the nature of what it means to be a leader.

A leader then is first of all a servant, one who cares about others and helping to draw out the best from them. A leader believes in others, encourages them, and helps people come together to get something good done. The vision may come from the leader, or it might arise from those they serve, but they will cast that vision and clarify the goal such that it inspires others to action. For an effective leader, earning trust and being authentic are critical factors. Leadership = influence by serving.  It's inherrently relational.

Friends, if you influence others, if others look to you, if you want to bring out the best in others, you are a leader. The key questions (as they seem to me) are: What kind of leader are you going to be? Will you be a servant leader? How will you lead others to do great things? In what direction are you leading them? How effective are you? What do you need to do (or to be) to be more effective?

Why do we need leaders? I really like Mac Lake's comments on this at his blog today:
"Leaders make things happen.  Leaders change things.  Leaders question “what is” and dream of “what could be”.  Leaders learn from the past but lean toward the future.  Leaders are bent toward seeing possibilities and potential.  Leaders stir discontent, make people think and build teams that birth new realities.   Leaders are criticized but don’t give up.  Leaders push through obstacles, persist through discouragement and pay the price for the cause.  Leaders understand the journey is just as important as the destination.  Leaders take people where they’ve never been before."

So, does servant leadership sound like something that is worthwhile, or am I still missing something? If the former, I want to help people understand what it means to be a 'leader', not throw away the term; if the latter, I have much to learn. Or are objections to the term 'leader' due to rejection of authoritarian styles, or is it more than that - is it from a postmodern view that views any kind of hierarchy as inherrently dangerous?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

One Thing I Know

This Sunday Pastor Chuck shared on the story in John 9 about the man born blind who was healed by Jesus. He was grilled by the so-called religious leaders about how this couldn't be a miracle, on how Jesus was wrong to heal on the Sabbath, or that Jesus was a sinner. In the end, how did the man respond? Verse 25 tells us...

"I don't know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!"

It's a simple story. Faith. Jesus. Response that leads to action. Healing. Worship.

I have a pretty small story to share this morning along these lines. Last night I was reading "The Air I Breathe: Worship as a Way of Life" by Louis Giglio. It talked about the proper response to understanding who God is and what He has done for us - giving our whole life to Him as an act of worship. Not singing, not saying you'll do something, but acting as if the phrase "You're my Lord and I love You!" were really true. I made a decision and a small but deliberate act of obedience, and just spent some time in prayer and praise. Then off to bed. Just before turning in, I felt led to pray for healing for my shoulder which has been bothering me for two weeks. Advil, heating pad, cremes, nothing was helping. I think it's a big knot in my muscle. Anyway, simple prayer for that, knowing God can easily heal that if He wishes, and loving Him whether He chooses to or not.

This morning, I get up, stretch, here something like a crinkling/uncrinkling sound in that area. Hmmm, that's odd. I move it around. Pain is gone from that spot. Other pains in my body still there :)

I'll leave it to you to explain away or praise God with me, but I'm going to respond with worship, a public 'Thank you Lord!', and this comment: "Who God fully is or how He works, I don't know, but this I know - last night and the past two weeks I was in a ton of pain. I prayed, I obeyed when He told me to do something, and this morning I am not hurting."  The timing is interesting - today I plan to watch as much as I can of a conference called "TheNines" which is several dozen amazing people sharing for nine minutes each whatever is on their heart that they wish they could tell pastors and church leaders across the country. It will be a major blessing to those with faith that God moves and he wants to work in and through you! If interested, you can watch too -- it's at http://thenines.leadnet.org/

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Review - Love and Respect

"Love and Respect" is a new book by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs - one with a simple and practical message for those looking to strengthen their marriage.
"A wife has one driving need - to feel loved. What that need is met, she is happy. A husband has one driving need - to feel respected. When that need is met, he is happy. When either of these needs isn't met, things get crazy. Love and Respect reveals why spouses react negatively to each other, and how they can deal with such conflict quickly, easily and biblically." [back cover]
I just finished reading a review copy provided by Thomas Nelson, and found the book to be both challenging and helpful. Challenging in that my model for how I am to love my wife is how Jesus loves the church, helpful in that it describes the 'Crazy Cycle' of conflict that so easily arises and how to break that cycle. Too often we think or act along the lines of "I'll love my wife when..." or "I'll love her as long as... or if..." On the flip side is often found "He's not treating me right, how can I possibly respect him?" or "Well I'll respect him once he starts...". These are examples of conditional love and conditional respect.

The Bible calls Christians to something more in Ephesians 5:33, which is the central verse of the book: "However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband." Eggerichs explains what this looks like. Unconditional love and unconditional respect mean you don’t wait for the other person to ‘get it right’ first. You just do it. Don’t look for your reward from him, from her. God will reward your faithfulness – and that’s what it is, really – obedience to God’s Word. The only way we can love or respect unconditionally is by not basing it on the other person’s response, but doing it as an outpouring of love to God, especially when they don’t deserve it. The book may not be for everyone; readers who don't share this world view will likely view the book as a bit archaic, simplistic. Those who believe it 'in their heads' but don't know how to put it into practice will however find the book encouraging.

Love & Respect is available at Amazon and other book retailers; it's produced by Focus on the Family. If you find yourself 'stuck in the Crazy Cycle and want to understand some practical biblical principles to get out of this cycle, check it out.