Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Pushups and Crunches, Risk and Reputation

In my typical workout, I will do some pushups and crunches among my other exercises. It seems like I dread the pushups more than any other exercise. I used to put them off until last.

Crunches, on the other hand, are not too bad. I feel like I could do varieties of crunches for an hour or more. Not that I actually have, of course.

Upon reflection, I have discovered why I prefer the ab exercise. When I do crunches and need a rest, I just lie on my back and catch my breath. I crank it back up when I'm ready. Even if I give out, mid-crunch, I just flop back. It's no big deal.

Pushups, however, require more effort. When you stop between reps, you are really in plank, an isometric exercise. When you are resting, you are not fully resting. And, if you give out while doing pushups, you fall flat on your face. That can hurt your pride as well as your nose.

A mid-stroke fail looks much worse in a pushup than a crunch. No wonder I prefer crunches. The pushup may provide more fitness payoff, but it provides far more humiliation when my muscles reach fatigue. No one wants to be seen falling flat on his face.

This same principle applies to risks and rewards. The riskier a plan, the greater the payoff may be. But, the riskier an endeavor, the worse it looks when one fails. This is also a principle of economics: the greater the risk, the greater the potential reward, and the greater the potential catastrophe.

When a risky ministry succeeds, the payoff for the kingdom is huge: changed lives, people trusting Jesus, a high profile picture of the power of God. And when a risky ministry fails, you fall flat on your face. It hurts. It's embarrassing. It's public.

The success of a low risk, crunch-type ministry doesn't pay off much. A few people are challenged. Some get a new perspective. Some people might even come to Christ. That's not bad. It's better than nothing. Then, when a low risk ministry fails, we just stop the ministry. No harm, no foul. We don't miss a beat. No one ever knows that we blew it, or it fell apart.

In ministry, it's easy to pick the crunch-type projects. Low risk, maybe some reward. But no embarrassment when it crashes. And so we see the low risk ministries prevail, and the kingdom of God looks like a controlled playground kingdom--very safe, not much action. Our reputations are kept intact.

But if God be for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31) Why wouldn't we risk it all? Why wouldn't we go for it?

Risky ministry is dangerous. This is the kind of ministry God would have us embrace. These are the pushups of the spiritual world. They cost more, take longer, require more faith, and bring the kingdom with power.

I'm looking for some pushup, God-sized challenges. Just don't laugh at me when I fall on my face. And cheer for Jesus, if something goes right.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Honey, Do Get a Better Attitude

A few days ago my wife shared with me a "to do" list of household projects. These are items we need to do by early summer. There were items on the list that I expected, and some that were a surprise. In all fairness, these projects need to be done.

However, my initial reaction to some of the items was not good. How can I get out of that? How can we put it off until it's too late? How can we do that on the cheap? How can I make the kids handle that?

Of course I did not say any of that out loud. I'm not that stupid. I nodded, and quietly began my plan of selective execution of the list.

On Sunday, a friend told me that his wife had given him a similar list. He immediately created a spreadsheet with costs and deadlines, so that the entire list could be fulfilled with time to spare.

Yeah. I saw my silly, petty, selfish, lazy, sneaky self in that moment. And I have since told my wife that we need to make a spreadsheet.

A little repentance is good for the soul. And it really helps a marriage, too.

Now, I really need to jump on that list...

Monday, April 18, 2016

Why do you want to believe that?

I have to give credit to Dr. Laura Schlessinger for a penetrating question she asked a caller years ago on her radio show. The caller explained her situation, then described her conclusion that someone was against her. The host questioned the caller's conclusions, based on the evidence presented. There was not enough evidence for the ill will perceived by the caller.

The doctor realized that the caller was choosing to believe something, even without sufficient evidence. The real question was why the caller would want to believe something negative.

I have come to ask myself this question regularly. Why do I want to believe my wife would forget that important thing? Why do I want to believe that this person would stand me up for an appointment? Why do I want to believe that God would delight in my failure?

If we ask ourselves this question, we can catch ourselves in our prejudicial thinking. We can become more objective, and actually come closer to the truth.

To account for bias in the media, we can ask ourselves why we want to believe certain news reports. When I hear a negative report about that politician I don't like, I'm all too eager to believe it. But when I hear a negative report about one that I favor, I give him/her the benefit of the doubt. In my limited experience with the media -- as a local newspaper reporter, as the subject of articles, and as a consumer -- I realize how inaccurate news reports can be. Even so
, there are some things that I want to believe and others that I don't. That's true for all of us, whether we want to admit it or not.

We can also ask this question about others. On occasion it may be appropriate to come right out and ask the question. But more often, we can use that question to help us understand others' points of view. Why does she think I'm angry? Why does he think I'm trying to trick him? Why does he think so-and-so hates him?

I'm persuaded that if we dig below the surface, we can see what's really going on at the heart level. We might have more understanding and compassion, for ourselves and for others.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Rock Bottom for Worriers

Twelve-steppers know that real change for addicts only happens when one reaches rock bottom. How low can you go? You only know when you reach that lowest possible place in your life. You can no longer fight. You can only give up. The consequences of your actions have become so severe that you can no longer pass the blame off on someone else. You finally own your problem.

When you are down, flat on your back, you have nowhere to look but up. You are helpless, crying out for help, because you can no longer handle it.

An alcoholic may reach rock bottom when she has killed another driver. A drug addict may get there when his crack buddy dies of an overdose. A sex addict may get there when he contracts an STD.

What if you are addicted to worry? What could cause you to reach rock bottom?

Some worriers are fixers. You worry about things until you figure out how to fix them. Then you worry until your fix them. Or you worry until the situation blows over. Or you worry until some other hero comes in to save the day.

Worry has seemed to work for you. If you didn't worry, everything would fall apart. Other people should thank you for worrying. But they rarely do.

You rationalize: Your worry is not hurting anyone else. You can stop anytime you want. Everybody worries about something. You deserve to worry because of all your responsibility. It's just your temperament to worry.

Is there a 12-Step program for worriers? Is it an addiction?

Worriers can reach rock bottom. It hurts. It is depressing. Rock bottom comes with a circumstance that is completely beyond your control, so severe that there is no way out and no turning back.

You finally realize that your worry won't help. (It never has, but you've never admitted that.)

You realize that your effort cannot fix it.

You are finally flat on your back, powerless, forced to look up.

God loves you enough to allow you to face that rock bottom. He is freeing you from your addiction to worry. Not over your worry yet? Then this is not rock bottom.

Look out.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Boss, Freedom, Politics, and Bathrooms

The Boss has made it official.  We now have a national debate about who can use the Boys' and Girls' rooms.  Seriously.  If you take a step back and think about it, this is beyond silly.  Who is going to check people as they enter restrooms?  Are we going to have government employed bathroom monitors?  You only thought the TSA frisking was invasive.

The City of Charlotte merely expanded its anti-discrimination policies regarding public restroom use to include sexual orientation and gender identity.  They want to be as open as possible to all kinds of people.  I could not find the exact wording of the ordinance on line, but articles indicate that its most controversial provisions allow people to use the public restrooms that best suit their preferences.  Thus, cross-dressing and transgender people could use restrooms normally designated for the opposite sex.  Oddly, the term "opposite sex" itself seems unclear in this context.  For the bisexual community, apparently they could use which ever restroom suits them on any particular day. 

Making everyone feel welcome doesn't happen without a lot of effort.

My opinion is that Charlotte should handle its own bathroom rules.  (I also believe that their new ordinance is irresponsible, confusing, and potentially dangerous.  The city could set itself up for lawsuits alleging that their ordinance allowed for sexual assault.  Charlotte joins the chorus of celebrating any and every form of sexual expression.  If it is sexual expression, it is good.  If you don't like it, then you are backward and bigoted.)

The story gets even more twisted at the state level.  I did find the verbiage of House Bill 2.  It is five pages of minding other people's business.  It begins with definitions of various kinds of restrooms and biological sex.  Then it spells out exactly who can use which restrooms.  And it has some other provisions limiting discrimination lawsuits.

When you boil it down, the whole issue revolves around Freedom.  Freedom is a tricky thing.

  • Some want everyone to have the freedom to live as they please regarding sexual expression.
  • Some businesses want the freedom to keep their customers feeling safe in their restrooms.
  • Some want to retain the freedom for businesses by taking the away cities' freedom to set the rules.
It seems that someone's freedoms must be curtailed.  Which freedom is the most important? 
  • The freedom of individuals to express their sexual identities?  
  • The freedom of business owners to set rules for their bathrooms? 
  • The freedom of municipalities to set ordinances for their cities? 
As these freedoms compete, there seems to be a wave of support for the first freedom.  Entertainers, sports leagues, and corporations have all condemned the law, and pulled back from connections with NC.  The governments of Charlotte and the State of North Carolina have effectively driven a wedge deep into our society.  Public pressure makes it difficult to stay out of the debate.  One is either a bigot or pervert.  Choose your side.

Notice that everyone wants to tell other people what to do. 
  • You public places must let me express my sexuality as I see fit.  If that bothers you, that's your problem.
  • You businesses must let customers use any bathroom they choose.  If your customers object, then that's too bad.
  • You municipalities can't make ordinances that we state legislators don't approve of.  We can overrule any law you make.
Our culture sounds like 7-year-olds pointing fingers and screaming, "Make her do what I want!"  It's all about me getting what I want, and I want other people to do what suits me.

Mature dialogue would result in people making responsible choices for themselves.  It would involve a sincere desire for understanding others' points of view.  It would result in caring for people more than caring for an agenda.