Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Failure is a good thing?

I know that being raised as an Air Force brat with a dad that flew B-52’s that failure was something that wasn’t tolerated. As my dad would say a simple miscalculation could end up with a bomb being dropped at the wrong location or an aircraft crashing into a populated area. Yet, the reality, which my dad so much lived out, was that failure is a normal part of your life experience. He was quick to say that to ignore this meant that you most likely weren’t going to excel in life and would be living a lie. The opportunities for growth come when we own up to our weaknesses and failures in life.

I will be the first to admit that the male species has a very difficult time admitting to weakness and God forbid actual failure. I know that one of the crisis points in my life came when a small group of peers told me that I needed to step down and leave my position as pastor as the church was gearing up to build it’s sanctuary. There was a definite clash in vision, sense of direction and leadership skills. The end result was that I felt like a failure. Yet, through this experience the doors were opened for me to discover and pursue my real passion in life.  This would never have happened if I had stayed and fought a battle with a few leaders.

Last night I listened to a couple of friends talk about how failure had shaped their lives.  One is in his fourth year as a medical student who graduated from Cal-Berkley and is at University of Arizona Medical School and the other is a sophomore at Grand Canyon University studying theology. They both shared about crisis points in their lives when it seemed as if life had come to an abrupt halt.

My medical friend really didn’t have any clue about direction in life as he studied at Cal and was in a pressure cooker because of being Asian. He applied to medical school and initially was rejected. It would have been rather easy for him to just walk away. Now he’s in his forth year and sees the light at the end of the tunnel. My other friend grew up in lots of turmoil and brokenness. It would have been rather easy for him not to do anything with his life. The odds were that he should have dropped out and become part of a gang and drug culture of Miami.

Why is it so hard for everyone, myself included, to admit to our fear of failure? What steps must one make to be more equipped to acknowledge our ‘screw ups’ in life? This may sound rather simplistic but to just talk about it with your spouse, friend or partner at work. This doesn’t require massive training or a graduate degree. The challenge is that we have birthed a generation where communication has become totally non-verbal; yes social media has taken over, so it’s not easy to know how to express yourself face to face.

I believe one of the greatest experiences in life is to have that helping hand reach out to empower you out after you have slipped or literally fallen on your face. I can’t imagine what my life would have been like if I didn’t have a few close friends who stepped up to bat for me and then literally made my transition work. The sad thing is that I would have missed all of this if I had pretended to be ok when I wasn’t. It’s so easy to have someone throw out quotes from famous people who have persevered in life because I don’t view myself as being an Edison, Jobs or Gates type.

So failure can be a good thing when understanding friends and family choose to walk with us as we learn more about life and the adventurous opportunities that are before all of us!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Rejection - How do you handle it?

Yesterday one of my favorite little gals in our group celebrated her 10th birthday! Initially she hadn’t decided whether she was going to be sexist or have her special day be co-ed. Eventually her mom, with my encouragement, made it a girl’s only affair. The downside to this was that I was the bearer of bad tidings for a group of little guys who so much wanted to attended her party. Yes, a few of them had crushes on her. The look on Kobi’s face could kill! The next day all of them are still alive and ready to enjoy the day even though they missed out on the party, cake and a bag of candy or two.

The story of my little friend’s party is just a normal life circumstance. The challenge comes when we as adults have to face real rejection. The opportunity is to see rejection, the closing of a door as a pathway to seeing maybe a better possibility for tomorrow. I know in my life that one of the most ego deflating experiences became the opportunity to pursue what I really loved in life. I was in the middle of a leadership crisis where a few of my leaders wanted me to leave my church. This didn’t necessarily feel like anything to celebrate. I was upset, confused and not sure how to respond. You always have an opportunity to lash out, listen, reflect inwardly or just become an angry person.  I did all of that over a period of time before I received some great advice and TLC from a few friends and my better half.

What I learned through personal rejection in my life is that often I need to take responsibility for my actions or lack there of to realize that there might be something better down the road. Yes, today might ‘suck’ but ultimately I can discover that my bruises will heal and I will actually become a stronger person who is more capable of rising above life’s pettiness. Yet, the misfortune many experience is that they allow the little things, like not being invited to someone’s party or being fired as an excuse to play the victim card. This then gives us the rationale to go into hiding, pretend that we aren’t feeling great and then disappear into bitterness and hide inwardly to avoid everyone.

I had a totally different situation where a good friend had applied to get a better job and a pathway to a better life circumstances. The assumption was that because her others friends had gotten the job that it would be a slam-dunk. I was eagerly awaiting the acceptance e-mail and time for interview. The sad fact is that this person received the hey you have great qualifications letter but the present position is filled. So rejection and a sense of hopelessness followed for my friend. The difficulty was that my consoling him or her didn’t help. My personal stories or other life experiences didn’t make the job become open.

So what is your usual response to rejection? Yes, most of us get mad, throw a pity party, scream at the cat, dog or our kid and then usually retreat back into our caves. (This is especially true for guys!) The opportunity is to take a day or so to let it roll off of you and then go back at it with more determination and persistence than ever. There isn’t any formula for turning rejection into success or believing that you will feel better about yourself after a good night’s rest. I know that many would agree that choosing to break out of your normal routine will help you process the hurt. It doesn’t mean that it will go away very soon. Yes, tomorrow is always an opportunity to decide to help someone and get your emotions off of your hurt and maybe discover that there is someone close to you that is hurting more than you.

Bottom line is that all of us will experience rejection at times. This is just part of the human condition. The opportunity is to allow the rejection to make us stronger and more capable of living life to it’s fullest. So forget retreating back into your cave or allowing Netflix to become your life!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Cheating? Why do you think you will get away with it VW, you or me?

This last week saw one of the biggest automakers get caught in an outright lie! I know that for my generation owning a VW Bug or Bus was considered cool! What became even more the rage was driving a diesel VW. The CEO of VW has been fired and it’s a matter of time before the consequences of falsifying emission tests will cost the company millions. So why did VW take such a huge risk? Why is it the case too often that all of us, myself included, are willing to fudge to such an extent that we could loose out on life?

I have a close friend who I’ve been helping with his or her work situation.  This individual did something so crazy I was ready to scream, YOU KNOW BETTER! My friend needed to be at work by a certain time and another friend had asked a favor. This favor involved selling back to retail stores stolen merchandise without receipts in exchange for gift cards. The end result was my friend almost got fired from his or her job for being late and could end up being arrested for shoplifting. WHY take the risk?

It’s one thing to commit what I call a sin of omission, forget to do something that you normally do instead of out right planning what I call a sin of commission. This is where you purposely plan to break the law with the assumption that if you don’t get caught everything will be ok.  It’s amazing to see how rampant cheating has become on college campuses. The pressure on getting high scores on college entrance exams means there is more likelihood that someone will figure out a way to hack into the system to either get the answers or ‘doctor’ your score.

Why do we have such a fascination with cheating? How could one of the major automakers and biggest businesses in the world actually believe that they wouldn’t get caught in falsifying emission tests and not have any consequences? I know as little kids we would challenge each other to steal candy from the 7-11 or Circle K. This is never ok but understandable considering the age. Yet, why do grown adults who should know better take a risk with their career and reputation?

Is it really worth taking the risk to steal or cheat? The assumption by many is that they believe they are truly above the law or have a hotline to God that prevents them from being susceptible to getting caught!  The reality for everyone is that the law doesn’t give favors to anyone whether you are a young kid with stolen candy in your pockets or a Fortune 500 company that has been doing business on the ‘sly’.

Whatever happened to the belief that hard work will pay off in the end? Why always keep looking for short cuts when you know that persistence and perseverance work?

Don’t get caught or what I should say is why even attempt to cheat?

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Relevance - does it matter?

The week most of the nation was glued to a debate amongst a large group of candidates for president. When it was all said and done the issue at hand is whether any of them are truly relevant to the normal people of today that make up America? I agree that it is very unlikely that a Billionaire will ever understand the struggles of a low wager earner. Much as someone who is a child of an immigrant or married to one gets it when it comes to being relevant to the concerns and problems with the broken immigration system.

I got into a very lively discussion with a good friend over the topic of whether the church and Jesus are relevant to today’s generation. The debate was a byproduct of my friend’s entrepreneurial skills of bringing a band from Oregon to do a show at his college, GCU. It was during their time together that my friend, Aundre, attempted to explain his vision for a business plan that would ultimately bring people of different backgrounds, religious views and political expressions together for the purpose of helping at risk youth and address social injustice. It was my young friend’s choice of a name for his LLC that got him into hot water with the 30 somethings in the band. He chose a name that has both a secular expression, from ancient Greek world and a modern day Christian term that is very popular. The word Koinonia refers to sharing together, having things in common or in today’s lingo building community around a purpose and mission.

My friend Aundre became incensed over the issue that it wasn’t possible to use a Christian name to do something that involved those outside the church. The real discussion that Aundre and I have tossed around for the last year is whether the church can be relevant to those on the outside if we don’t venture into their world and culture? We have to intentionally take the time to study the culture and language of those that are different from us if we are going to have an impact in their world. Sadly, the church has become so isolated and fearful of the world around it that we spend more time on the attack mode then having an openness to build bridges of understanding.

So is it possible to build bridges between a diverse group of people that have different racial backgrounds, religious or nonreligious views, educational and socio-economic settings? The real tension in the church over the last twenty years is whether or not Christians are called to separate themselves from the world around them to be purposely different. This mindset, which I believe is a misunderstanding of Jesus’ mission, has seen the church purposely go on the attack of culture and has created a climate of enmity that just magnifies the simple truth that Christians aren’t perfect, can be hypocrites and at times do more damage than good to the world around them. Often the church has viewed social justice causes as being synonymous with liberal paganism. The discussion next moved to how Jesus lived and what we can learn from his example?

Jesus seemed to always be at odds with the educated religious elite that controlled the culture of Jewish religious practice and thought. Jesus wasn’t against the laws of the Tora or the Old Testament but ultimately came to explain them by living them out and fulfilling them. The difficulty then and now is that we are too quick to make the assumption that our way or interpretation is the only correct expression of God’s way of living. Jesus often took a conciliatory approach to those that had been condemned by religious elite’s understanding of the law. Jesus chose to not pick up a rock to stone an adulterous woman but instead diffused the situation.  He did something radical and put the spotlight back on the men who most likely had committed adultery with the woman and urged them to do some self-examination. His hand of forgiveness stretched out to the woman and even to her accusers.

The difficulty today is that most truly see this tension of us and them when it comes to how Christians live out their faith expressions. If I get involved with someone that is a hardcore pagan I might get influenced by them? If I befriend a gay or lesbian I might have my reputation tarnished or be pulled into the LGBTQ community? What if I invite into my home someone of a totally different racial background isn’t possible that they might ‘case’ my house and have their friends come back and rob me? The discussion with Aundre and the band came to this point of the purpose in Christ’s coming. Did Jesus come to seek and save the lost, forgotten and broken or did he come to establish an elite educated theologically correct group that have all of the answers?

I believe that Jesus has always been relevant to the culture of his day and to ours. The difficulty is that Christians are the ones who are his representatives in the world of today. We, including myself, have done a poor job of being like him, instead we have created a Jesus who looks like us, talks like us and wears the same clothes. We have ended up either looking like the culture around us or have chosen to condemn the cultural expression of today without much interaction with those outside of the church. Most outside the church view Christianity as being out of touch and incapable of understanding their life stories.

So is it possible to purposely choose to create bridges to different people groups that represent the spectrum by giving them opportunities to work together in a positive constructive way to see the world became a better place? My friend Aundre and I would hope and pray so. Yet, there is a tension in the church that at times would portray the world as a lost cause that we should abandon and seek refuge in the mountains waiting for Jesus to return. 

So is it possible for the church of today to be relevant to the world around it?

Sunday, September 13, 2015

What's your life focus? Fame, fortune, fun, family or faith?

Yesterday I had one of those life-shocking moments where I saw a post from a friend on FB about another friend who had just died the night before. I was in tears trying to grasp what had happened to someone that truly stood for the great things in life. As I considered what most people pursue in life usually is fame, fortune and having fun. Don’t get me wrong there is nothing wrong with fame, fortune or fun if it makes a difference in the world. I spent most of the day in a haze not understanding the why question of my friend’s untimely premature death.

I spent the morning with a group of friends handing out food and clothing to some men, women and teens that live on the street. They have a mixed story as to why they are living on the street and their dreams to have some fortune, forget fame and maybe to have fun in their very difficult life. I had a good friend share with my group of 40 helpers, from a couple of churches along with my college interns, what it was like to be hopeless and on the street. The impact of Shelley sharing her story was that all of a sudden fame, fortune and fun were left behind for understanding the importance of having a family and a living faith.

It struck me as I connected with another friend who shared that our mutual friend had just died from a very aggressive form of pancreatic cancer.  The dialogue that took place after the initial update was a real focus on what makes life matters the most comes down to genuine relationships. What clearly jumped out at you as you read my friend’s FB page was an ongoing series of posts that talked about what a special friend, humble servant and incredible pastor, husband, dad, brother and grandpa he had been. Again, I was crying not over fame, fortune or having fun but someone that exhibited the true essence of life that showed the impact the right focus in life can have on a family and a community!

That evening we joined our son and his wife for a College football game between ASU and our college Cal-Poly San Luis Obispo.  There was big hype for the season opener for the local team the Sundevils! The news and media showed how much fun the locals had with tailgating from as early as 5am in the morning. The game was a must win as ASU had lost their first game the week before. This became bigger than life because football is about fame and fortune with fun being thrown in for the fans when their team wins.

What was rather amusing for a short time was that the underdogs, my college team, had actually taken control of the game and tied the score. The game was in stall mode for about 10 minutes before the Sundevils took over and rightfully won the game. We left before the Devils stampeded our Mustangs and as we walked back to the parking garage what struck me was how my friend’s life truly deserved the fireworks that had gone off every time the home team scored.

How much of your life and mine is spent attempting to gain fame and fortune or at least dream about it? I know that ultimately most don’t confuse fame, fortune or fun as being more important than family and faith. Yet, what stood out to me was that it’s so easy to have our heart’s focus, which few can see, on thinking that fame and fortune do matter more at times than our family and our faith.  I was privileged to read an email that my friend’s son had written about his father after he had passed and gone home to glory. What made this special was that you could see a son who was so proud of his dad who had redefined fame and fortune to equate with being a humble servant leader.

What’s your life focus?