Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Rendering God’s actions invisible: Do you see what *He* sees?


"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."
-- Isaiah 55:8-9

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When God speaks, do you listen? Really, really listen?

Or do you filter His voice through standard operating procedures, acceptable business practices, common sense, how things are supposed to be done, what they taught you in business school, or the like?

Doing so essentially renders us deaf to His voice and blind to His provision.

Sometimes, God brings us the right people and the right solutions to fill our needs and we don’t see them because they don’t come to us according to our own expectations.

Maybe they seem a bit quirky. A little odd. Not what we deem proper. Too good to be true or the total opposite.

Whether people, ideas, or opportunities, we view them as somehow less than worthy of our attention and time. We ignore them, we dismiss them, and we miss God’s will as a result.

Then we wonder why things don’t seem to go as well as we believe they should.

After all, in our own eyes and our own way of thinking, we’ve listened to our heart and gut, followed best practices, and done everything right and by the book.

But, again, are you seeing people as God sees them? Are you discovering solutions as God reveals them?

Or, instead, are you simply leaning on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5), filtering people and ideas through your own limited and flawed expectations?

Who or what have you dismissed, tossed aside, pooh-poohed, labeled as weird, deemed unprofessional, or ignored recently?

Perhaps you need to put down that bestselling ministry how-to book, ignore the advice of the current hot management guru, lay aside all you think you know, and take a second look, doing so, this time, with the eyes, mind, and heart of Christ.

You just may be surprised at how well God is answering your prayers and bringing the best people and the better solutions to meet your needs. But not at all the way you expected.

Are you listening? Paying attention? Tuned in to the right frequency? Or is God having trouble getting through all your "proper" static?

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"For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself [your ideas, your way of doing things] more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself [your ideas, your way of doing things] with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you."
-- Romans 12:3



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Can you think of a time when you may have missed God's best for your situation because you deemed it not good enough or not the right solution? Or a time when you ignored the "right" way and went the "God" to better than expected results? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Cicada creativity: Quiet inspiration that sets ideas buzzing

I love cicadas. Their buzz adds just the right touch to summer.

This year marks the emergence of what’s dubbed Brood II.

Introverts are like cicadas sometimes; we mull out of sight then breakout in a big way!

I’ll explain, but first, let’s look at a few fun cicada facts.

Billions and billions

Various species of cicadas live in every continent in the world except Antarctica. Just like introverts, they are everywhere!

The periodical cicada is one of the world’s longest living insects, staying underground for 13 to 17 years. In the United States, periodical cicadas are classified in groups called Broods. There are 12 broods of 17-year cicadas, and 3 broods of 13-year cicadas.

Amazingly, each Brood emerges simultaneously from underground in different years, in different areas, and in massive numbers. How they know when to emerge is still a bit of a mystery.

It is being estimated that the surfacing cicadas in Brood II will reach into the billions or even trillions, outnumbering humans 600 to 1, primarily up and down the east coast.

That’s a lot of cicadas!It's being referred to as swarmageddon and cicadapocalypse.

These cicadas will make a lot of noise as they live out their brief, buzzy, above-ground lives that last mere weeks.

Many people don't like cicadas. Many people dismiss introverts.

Introvert oppression

Introverts don’t tend to be fast-thinking or quick-talking.

We listen. We mull. We consider.

This often doesn’t bode well for us in business situations where fast-talkers are prized.

In business, the chatty extrovert tends to be favored.

Jack and Suzy Welch acknowledged this by writing in a column, “companies are so tilted towards extroverts that introverts within them often experience a dynamic not unlike the one faced by many women and minorities.”

What they mean is introverts in business regularly face bias, bigotry, and oppression.

Sigh.

But the Welch’s then make the mistake in this same column of confusing extroversion with “authenticity.”

So, their final recommendation, and the one introverts are often confronted with, is to essentially deny our introversion and be more like those wonderful, flashy, perky, boisterous extroverts!

Frankly, that’s not particularly good advice.

It’s akin to telling a woman to be more like a man, or someone from a “minority” to be more like those in the “majority” to be liked, accepted, and successful. Get my drift?

Seriously. Think about it.

Not a good idea. Just ask your HR people.

Crazy like a cicada

What to do?

Simple.

Respect the introvert and our ways!

A quiet introvert is a working introvert. All that thinking and mulling is moving toward that “big idea” all the extroverts are grasping and clamoring for.

It may take longer for introverts to get there, but when we do, watch out!

It’s not unlike the emergence of the periodical cicada.

And, thus the comparison.

For years, you don’t see or hear the cicadas from a specific brood. But they are developing and maturing underground, waiting for that mysterious signal that will bring them to the surface in droves.

Once up, they buzz and click like nothing you’ve ever heard. It’s raucous and garners attention from the global media.

They are fascinating, attention-getting, buzz generators. They come on so strong, their natural predators can’t deal with them. This allows them to mate and proliferate.

Isn’t this the kind of overwhelming success you’d like to accomplish in business?

Forget about releasing your “inner extrovert” as the Welch’s advise; instead, you’d do better to cultivate and embrace your inner introvert.

Or at least accommodate the ones who work for you.

Introvert wisdom


For those who know, the best whiskey is the longest aged whiskey. Often, the same is true with ideas.

Sometimes it’s best to set aside the rush and let things simmer, embracing your inner introvert and being crazy like a cicada! Or, taking steps to cultivate and encourage the wisdom of the introverts in your midst.

Here are five tips for managing introverts that will help them perform with excellence in your business:

  •  Set expectations: Unlike the periodical cicadas, you probably don’t have 13-17 years to wait before you need to act. Not to worry! People are different. Simply work out a reasonable schedule and clear plan with appropriate deadlines. Then work the plan and don’t shorten the timelines.
      
  • Let it brew: Once the plan is made, let the introverts go quiet. They’re working even though you won’t see a lot of activity. Remember, activity doesn’t equate to progress. In fact, a lot of activity can actually hide a lack of progress. Extroverts love smoke and mirrors! Introverts don’t.
     
  • Feed the mull: Introverts like to take in a lot of information as we consider ideas and solutions. This includes a lot of reading, some rambling conversation, site visits, and more. Give your introverts free rein to free range their information consumption.
     
  • Keep it quiet: Introverts prize quiet environments. The wrong kind of noise can be exceedingly distracting. Sometimes, we find that going to a Starbucks or the library or for a walk in the woods provides more fertile surroundings for thought development than a noisy, chat-filled office. Let us roam in the quiet.
     
  • Avoid pressure: Yes, it’s tempting to always check-in on progress, but don’t! Include a few places in your plan for check-ins and let this happen via email, or whatever method is most comfortable for the introverts on your team. Anything that smacks of pressure will shut an introvert down. However, don’t hesitate to insist on results within the deadlines and expectations based on the agreed-to plan.
     
Because of the strong bias toward extroverts, it will be hard to ignore them while the introverts mull. But that’s what you’ll need to do.

When, once a day, an excited, over-stimulated extrovert bounds into your office with “the answer” to all your problems, tell him to hold onto that thought until later, even if it kills them. It won’t.

What you’re likely to discover is that the hurried, spontaneous, extrovert-driven ideas will fizzle when put up against the seasoned, unhurried introvert–generated insights and solutions.

As I wrote in a previous blog post, "Trendspotting: Introverts, generalists, and wordsmiths rejoice!":
The value of introverts was clearly documented in 2001 with the publication of the book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't. Jim Collins wrote:
“Compared to high-profile leaders with big personalities who make headlines and become celebrities, the good-to-great leaders seem to have come from Mars. Self-effacing, quiet, reserved, even shy – these leaders are a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will. They are more like Lincoln and Socrates than Patton or Caesar.”
And this is a good thing.

Extrovert noise

Sometimes, the best way to advance is to stop, assess, and regroup. These are not the strengths or even the instincts of extroverts.

In her book, Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking, Susan Cain offers several examples and studies that show that in many companies the extroverts considered to be most charismatic may have the corner offices, the longer titles, the higher salaries, yet lack the performance to match!

One person laments that there’s often a “failure to distinguish between good presentation skills and true leadership ability.”

It’s not unusual for an extrovert to push their ideas by the sheer force of their charm. It’s a matter of ego and winning. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead! And then it all blows up.

Commenting on students in a notable business school, one professor stated, “The risk with our students is that they’re very good at getting their way. But that doesn’t mean they are going the right way.”

Moving forward by force of will is sometimes useful, but this is the exception and not the rule. It can push a company blindly into one bad mistake after another.

As another person quoted by Cain states, “Aggressive power beats you up; soft power wins you over.”

Can’t we all just get along?

The bottomline is that in every company and organization there exist both introverts and extroverts.

By one accounting, the population divides pretty equally among both personality types. However, because of the influence of our culture of personality, there is a strong bias against introverts that must be intentionally pushed back on.

Both types are good. Both types are needed. Both types must be afforded equal value.

This will mean that the extroverts will need to be held at bay to make room for the quiet strength of the introverts.

But when the introverts emerge with their ideas, they’ll make an impact as big or bigger than the cicadas of Brood II!



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So, do you agree or disagree? Are introverts oppressed while extroverts are blessed? Which are you? What kinds of good or bad experiences have you had at work?
If you want to learn more about cicadas, visit these sites:
A couple of excellent books about introverts:

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Quiet faith is still faith; so is hip-hop

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Roger posted a link on Facebook that I've been mulling ever since.

The link pointed to an article by Anthony Bradley titled “The ‘new legalism’” that included the subhead, “How the push to be ‘radical’ and ‘missional’ discourages ordinary people in ordinary places from doing ordinary things to the glory of God.”

Roger commented on the link saying, “Don't think you're ‘radical’ enough? Glorify God, no matter where you are placed, and you'll be just that.”

Some agreed. Some didn’t.

Radical versus the suburbanite

The term “radical” is a direct reference to the popular book by the same name authored by David Platt.

I’ve not read it yet, so I can’t really comment on its themes beyond how Bradley characterized them in his article. He claims those pushing the “radical” agenda have created an “unfortunate message” that says “you cannot live a meaningful Christian life in the suburbs.”

I have heard people speak to this and read articles in Christian periodicals that make this claim ring true.

I’ve also read a few books that were wrapped around the “missional” theme. Bradley labels the missional movement as being somewhat narcissistic. Not sure I agree, but that’s for another post.

In his article, Bradley seems to be claiming these themes merge into a movement for a kind of “radical Christianity” that pushes for every Christian to engage in dramatic, visible, vocal, very risk-taking actions. But they are doing so merely in a  “reactionary” manner to what is viewed as a placid – and therefore somehow less than holy – suburban lifestyle.

Bradley is onto something but I'm not sure he realizes what it is.

Your faith is too loud

Growing up in a Pentecostal church, I was frequently faced with loud, fervent exhortations to, essentially, be Christian, well, louder. I was supposed to be more vocal about my faith, even to the point of being somewhat confrontational, or, as it were, radical.

I tried. God knows I tried.

But frankly, I didn’t feel fruitful as much as obnoxious in my attempts to turn up the volume. It was a manner of being faithful that just didn’t fit. Yet, I felt guilty and like I was failing. I thought something must be wrong with me.

Now I know better.

I’m an introvert. Introverts can be radical, but you probably wouldn’t notice it. We’re very quiet and low-key about it.

Bradley’s article kicked off with a reference to Paul’s directive given in 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 to, “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody” (NIV).

Bradley bristles at what he sees as the push of the missional radicalists against this call to quiet living.

Frankly, I think Bradley is right. And so are the missional radicalists.

It’s just that each is not right for everyone in the same ways.

The foolish battle for being the better

The rub here is that each of us is made “fearfully and wonderfully” in a variety of personalities and styles. A huge part of this was intentional and some is probably influenced by the Fall.

The upshot is that we are all different.

Some are extroverts. Some are introverts. But all are God’s people.

As Paul beautifully explained in 1 Corinthians 12, we are all part of one Body (Christ) and indwelt by one Spirit, and that “the body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body” (12:12, NIV).

The rub is that extroverts have little patience for us, their quieter brethren, while we introverts find them very off-putting.

The truth is that we need each other and it would be helpful to really understand this truth.

Be joyfully who you are as He made you

As an introvert, I have no reason to feel guilty about not being drawn to more in-your-face types of ministry. I can be quite effective in many other, quieter, more solitary ways.

It’s not that I can’t get up and deliver a sermon or do a bit of face-to-face evangelism – I’ve done both and more – it’s just that these are not what I’ve been primarily SHAPEd* for and they exhaust me. Although, I'd take the preaching over the door-to-door any day!

(*SHAPE is a great acronym about which you can read more here: Who you were is okay – in Christ.)

In fact, as an aside, while many deride the existence of a variety of different churches, I see it differently. The proliferation of churches is, in part, an expression of the diversity of believers. The variety ensures that there is a church for everyone to plug into. It means that if you aren’t in a church, you really have no excuse; you just haven’t searched hard enough to find one that fits who you are in God’s image.

So, all that to say this: Quiet faith is still faith. It doesn’t have to be shouted to be real or effective. And just because it’s loud doesn’t make it better.

It’s okay to live a quiet faith in the suburbs or a loud, hip-hop faith in the city. Neither is to be considered a more holy way than the other.

Each of us, just as we are, has a place in God’s Kingdom, now and forever.

Let’s not turn our noses up at our differences, but rather embrace them as the precious gifts from God that they are.

But I wouldn't mind if you were a tad quieter about it.



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So, do you agree or disagree? Are quiet, settled, suburbanite Christians okay or not? Are loud, city-dwelling hip-hopping believers to be preferred or shunned? Feel free to weigh in!
Here are a couple of good books on the subject:

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Monday, May 13, 2013

Haiku Ramblings: Cicadas (#PoetryMonday*)

CICADA I
Sleeping underground
you sense the sleepy silence
of summer, then rise.

CICADA II
Your skin shed clings on
as you crawl higher or fly.
Stop. Coded buzzing.

CICADA III
Summer mercury,
blood red, filling the glass tube,
brings heat and your song.

CICADA IV
Aliens beneath
naked summer feet and sun
awake and conquer.

CICADA V
Strange skins cling on trees,
witness of resurrection
from years underground.

CICADA VI
Like us you live most
asleep in the darkened earth
awakening late.


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 It's PoMo! To learn about PoMo, click here and then scroll down.
These haiku (Or is it haikus or haikii? The plural is troublesome.) are not new. They are included in my one collection of poetry, the revised version: The Godtouch (paper, hardcover, or Kindle). While Chesterton laments the absence of poetry about cheese, there seems to be only a few poems, that I've found, specifically about cicadas as well. But still more about cicadas than there are about cheese.

I love cicadas. It's not really summer until they sing. Although, in some areas as will happen this year, an emergence of a particularly large Brood can apparently be annoying.

Anyway, these six haiku/s/ii are my small way of thanking the cicada for their soothing presence as they emerge each summer.