Posted by: Don Linnen | 31 August 2019

Good Times…

…And bad times. Grandma likes to read about good times. The general public likes to watch a train wreck.

Two guys, one named Keller, the other, Solomon, got me to thinking about this lately. They identify prosperity and adversity as two great tests. I never think much about the good times of prosperity as a test. Aren’t all rich people happy?

Read the words of the next sentence slowly and carefully. Solomon said “The wages of the righteous is life, but the earnings of the wicked are sin and death… (Proverbs 10:16).  

Keller parsed that sentence well in his book, God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life (p. 241, Kindle Edition). To paraphrase that much better author: If proud people get wild success, if the greedy get stinking rich, and the lusty ones get anything they want anytime they want, it only confirms their illusions about their ability to achieve their own happiness. THAT will inevitably lead to total despair in the end when all these supposed paradises decay, and life leaves them in a box canyon. No where to go. Nothing to drink.

Keep on drinking your expensive drink of choice. It will never satisfy your thirst. You might give living water a try. It won’t let you down.

13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:13-14

Jesus really did live. He really did say that. His living water really can make a difference before – or after – a train wreck.

Posted by: Don Linnen | 31 July 2019

25K Mornings

As much as I’d like to ruminate about long, early-morning runs around White Rock Lake, this isn’t about that.

James Clear recently provoked my mind with his excellent post: “You Get 25,000 Mornings as an Adult: Here are 8 Ways to Not Waste Them.”

Most folks in this country now live to be about 80 years old – give or take a few years dependent upon habits, genes, gender, privilege, and a few other variables. If we grow up by age 18 (talk about a variable) and decent healthcare stretches us out to 86, we have 68 years or nearly 25,000 days as an adult.

That’s 25,000 days of choices. A blog post on that many decisions over a lifetime could turn into an epic (or not-so epic) tome. This is just about beginning each morning.

How you start the day is critical. My suggestions are different than Mr. Clear’s. He’s spent more time on research and writing than I. I’ve lived longer than he. And because my remaining mornings are statistically fewer, they have significantly grown in value.

Loosely modifying and significantly reprioritizing his list of 8 strategies, here are a few that I’ve found important to make the most of my mornings:

  1. I have to prepare the night before (Clear’s #2) since I usually I don’t wake up till I’m backing out of the driveway. Plans made the night before are actually recognized by my brain while my body is still waking up. Knowing what to wear and eat while I’m half asleep at zero dark thirty or even seven thirty in the morning, saves some brain energy for real decisions later in the day. [Pro Tip: if your backpack feels lighter when you walk to the car – it really is. Packing your laptop the night before ensures you don’t get that second feeling of a light backpack when you’re fully awake and walking into work 30 minutes later.]
  2. A “pre-game routine” (Clear’s #8) is critical to me. Not exactly like before every at bat, free throw, or penalty kick, but if I prepare for what’s next with thoughtful habits, I’m a lot more ready for what’s ahead. Some routines I occasionally skip to check my flexibility. But if I miss a few minutes of early morning quiet time spent in prayer and study, things just seem a little off the rest of the day. [Pro Tip: if you do choose to ponder on something you worship (everyone does), be careful not to choose something that will let you down.]
  3. Eating as a reward (Clear’s #7) is where Mr. Clear and I clearly diverge. Breakfast is not to be missed for any reason – even before a hard, early morning workout (just get up earlier). The most important meal of the day, it is a reward for any morning – preferably to be followed by a second breakfast at 9am and, for those of us who relate to Hobbits, Elevenses before a late lunch. [Pro Tip: French Toast Neat at Snooze is INCREDIBLE – but not that good before an early run.]
  4. Premeditated focus is my last strategy. It’s a combo of Clear’s remaining five strategies. I cannot just focus. I need help. I can ignore the phone for 45 minutes. It’s less intrusive for me than email. I can avoid looking at email for a few hours – as long as I don’t open it when I first sit down. (They’ll call or text if it’s that important.) I must plan my focus. Similar but different than Mr. Clear’s #1, I use time to manage my energy. A timer on my laptop helps me focus on a single, important task and reminds me when to get up and move. I have to move on a regular basis or my focus gets really unfocused. [Pro Tip: Be Focused on a Mac set for 35 minute work sessions and 4 minute short breaks may be worth a try.]

This post is mostly for those of us who have 25,000 or fewer mornings left in our lives. But what about someone under 18 years old who does this? Will it give them an unfair advantage over their peers?

What about someone over 80 years old? Are they playing with house money?

Imagine the very young teamed up with the very old to make the most of every morning. If you’re an “adult” between those age groups – GET  OUT  OF  THE  WAY.

Posted by: Don Linnen | 28 June 2019

Trends

Trends this red hot minute in June 2019 are reflected by 323K tweets for the top 10 subjects trending on Twitter and 3.15B hits for the word “trend” on a Google search.

There are fashion trends, celebrity trends, and cat-video trends – all pretty much ignored by me. But most trends are not ignored.

Politicians vying for office follow any trend they believe will help them be elected. They may be well advised to discern if the trend makes sense, much less if it’s really good for people. Some just don’t care if it’s good for anyone as long as they can be elected to represent the people who want to follow a trend.

Businesses follow trends to make money. And they try to convince us to follow a trend so we will buy their offering.

Who bears responsibility for the results? Those trying to set trends or those responding to trends?

My friend, Andy, has worked for decades in the missions field. By necessity he must watch trends on migration, nationalism, emerging nations, and more. Each change in our world presents him with new challenges and new opportunities. Each deserves a response.

I love his insight on this: “We can respond to trends in several ways. First, we can ignore them. Second, we can fight them. Third, we can ride them. Fourth, we can turn them. It takes wisdom to know which to do. To complicate matters, today’s wise response might be tomorrow’s foolish response.” 

Dana Carvey played the “church lady,” Enid Strict, on Saturday Night Live in the late 1980s – before it became SNL.  Enid saw the devil creeping behind the scenes in every fad and cultural trend. The fact that Donald Duck wore no pants was just one proof to Enid of society’s decay. Her moral scorecard helped her choose hilarious fights in her response to real and imagined trends.

Trends are not all bad – except maybe for cat videos. New trends may be good ideas that replace older, bad ideas.

Think carefully and patiently before you respond to a trend. But you will respond. Just don’t be an Enid.

Posted by: Don Linnen | 31 May 2019

Why Ya Gonna Serve?

Any definition of a successful life must include service to others.  – George H. W. Bush

Two years ago the question was Who Ya Gonna Serve? Now I ask why.

At the end of the party tonight, young Eric asked me about how to become more involved in his community. Eric is an articulate, engaging engineer whose life in a thriving part of Boston is consumed by lots of work and a few work outs.

I eagerly encouraged him to find a local nonprofit and volunteer. And, as any doting father might, I reminded him of the bonus that a remarkable number of amazing, single women work at nonprofits. My motives were twofold: to help Eric serve his community; and to encourage him to find a cool woman to add a little balance to life – and maybe a life partner.

Eric knew the answer (at least my first one) before he asked the question. But he was stumped on what nonprofit to choose. I pressed him to define his passion – or at least intrigued concern – for a problem facing his community. To define his “why” in order to determine his “who” to serve.

My trusty friend, Jim Denison, raised the question of why when he wrote about service a couple of weeks ago. Without real honesty about the why (and who) we serve, he said we risk at least three pitfalls: 

  1. When we serve to impress others with our service – we serve ourselves.
  2. When praised for our service, there is a temptation to deflect that praise with humility in order to impress others with our humility thus – we serve ourselves.
  3. When we serve others to advance ourselves (or find a cute girlfriend), our service has a hollow core, that is – we serve ourselves.

Getting to why is vital. Making a list of who needs help can be daunting. There are soooo many needs in the world, the problems are overwhelming.

The answer preexists.  It is the question that must be discovered.  – Jonas Salk

To discover your why, list every problem that comes to mind. Build a mind map. Or borrow the one I built in 2006. Then refine those problems until you find a few that make your blood pump just a little faster.

When you understand what’s on your path from intrigued concern to passion, and where you sit on that path, you can define your why, and from there determine your who.

You may even perform a ‘root-cause analysis” (engineer speak) to find the problem behind the problems – the lowest common denominator of misery, failure, or fallen man depending upon your belief system.

You may serve many or just a few. Whatever you choose, you will make a difference.

To the world, you may just be one person;  but to one person, you may be the world.  – Josephine Billings

Posted by: Don Linnen | 29 April 2019

Core Values

Dear Maggie, Sabine, and Zadie,

Core values were a primary topic for me in the days before I arrived at your homes last week. Important ones for me are:

Excellence

Integrity

Leadership

Loyalty

Respect

Selfless Service

When you find an organization that holds those values at its core, you’ll be well served to spend more time in that organization and with people from that organization.

Posted by: Don Linnen | 2 March 2019

On the Subject of Fools

Beth Moore doesn’t follow me, but tweeted this about eight hours after my last post:

We will see Jesus.
Face to face.
The One we’ve longed for.
The hope of nations.
The sky will crack wide open
& there He’ll be.
And He will be so beautiful.
Majestic & so powerful.
And He will right every wrong.
Hold tight to your faith, O Saint.
It is no fool who trusts in Jesus.

Posted by: Don Linnen | 28 February 2019

So What is Foolishness?

Normally it takes me a few hours over a few days to prepare a blog post. Thanks to the Tim Keller devotional I mentioned in the last post, this one is easy. He did all the work. I just do a quick summary. It’s simple. I’m no fool.

Or am I?

How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?  – Proverbs 1:22 (ESV)

Keller finds five types of fools defined in the book of Proverbs: the mocker, the simple, the obstinate, the troublemaker, and the sluggard. Despite the obvious discomfort of descriptions that hit way too close to home, I press on with Keller’s explanations.

The mocker: “We live in a postmodern age that encourages deconstruction and in an internet age that makes mocking and scoffing easy and reasoned discourse difficult.”

The simple “believe anything [except for fake news – or maybe only their fake news]. Like children they may be over impressed by the spectacular and the dramatic, or they may need approval too much and so be taken in by forceful personalities who give it to them.”

The obstinate: “The main mark of fools is that they are opinionated, wise in their own eyes, unable to learn knowledge or be corrected.”

The troublemaker “stirs up tensions. This is someone who always feels the need to protest and complain rather than overlooking a slight or wrong. Their corrupt mouths produce deceptive omissions, half truths, and innuendo.”

The sluggard favors impulsiveness over delayed gratification. “He makes constant excuses for apparently small lapses but then is surprised when he is assaulted by poverty.”

Tempted as I am to list names and post video links to those I think most closely meet these definitions of a proverbial fool (there were 313M hits on my search for “fools”), I’m much better off reflecting on a mash of Keller’s prayers for each type of fool that I display.

Lord, help me to avoid the cynical air, internal scoffing, and frustrated superiority about how stupid everyone else is. Let me despise no one and respect everyone (and help me stop rolling my eyes).

Help me understand that lack of influence, sophistication, affluence, and coolness do not mean lack of wisdom.

Help me to overcome my natural obstinancy and be open to new ideas and criticism. Help me know when to be quiet and when to speak.

Help me to valiantly tell the truth, even when it’s not welcomed. But help me speak that truth in love and not in vengeance (and especially without being snarky).

And finally, Lord, help me to find the balance between the drive to succeed, accomplish, and please and my natural tendency to be lazy and do the easy thing the quick way (other than writing this post).

Keller says it so much better. Check out his Daily Devotions in the Book of Proverbs. Better yet, check out the real deal, the Book of Proverbs.

 

 

 

Posted by: Don Linnen | 31 January 2019

The Proverbial Fool

For the longest I thought a “proverbial fool” was simply a colorful description of people who just didn’t get it. Whatever “it” is.

Then I looked up “fool” in a thesaurus and found a few more descriptions (PG13 alert):

“idiot, ass, blockhead, dunce, dolt, ignoramus, imbecile, cretin, dullard, simpleton, moron, clod, nitwit, halfwit, dope, ninny, nincompoop, chump, dimwit, dingbat, dipstick, goober, coot, goon, dumbo, dummy, ditz, dumdum, fathead, butthead, numbskull, numbnuts, dunderhead, thickhead, airhead, flake, lamebrain, mouth-breather, zombie, nerd, peabrain, birdbrain, scissorbill, jughead, jerk, donkey, twit, goat, dork, twerp, lamer, schmuck, bozo, boob, turkey, schlep, chowderhead, dumbhead, goofball, goof, goofus, doofus, hoser, galoot, lummox, knuckle-dragger, klutz, putz, schlemiel, sap, meatball, dumb clucklook”

I always thought “nerd” indicated highly specialized intelligence and “goofball” and “turkey” were terms of endearment. Apparently I AM a fool. 

My devotional this year is Tim Keller’s excellent book on God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life. It’s a one year study of the book of Proverbs. In the first 16 days of January I gained a better understanding foolishness by first understanding wisdom.

Insert another name for me here ___________________ about it taking me more than two weeks to figure this out. Give me a break. It took me way more than two decades to get to this point.

Keller asserts that the main word for “wisdom” in Proverbs means making the right choice even when there are no clear moral laws telling you what to do. I hate it when there’s no list of answers posted somewhere.

Some decisions require knowledge; others, only compliance with rules. No Bible verse will tell you exactly who to marry, what job to take, what investment to make – or avoid at all costs, or where to live. And there are no moral laws against character flaws, but those flaws can make a mess of your life and those around you.

So what are the basics for wisdom? Keller highlights discipline, discernment, discretion, and knowledge as the common building blocks for a wise person.

Discipline often comes from suffering – from entering the struggle and hanging in, even though it’s not fun. Most of us opt for fun over suffering. Wisdom comes from taking a risk and learning from suffering often caused by mistakes. And it comes from hanging in there with a friend who confronts you over mistakes. 

Discernment comes from a recognition of shades of gray in a world clamoring for black and white (or red and blue). But it also comes from seeing more than just the gray. It’s developed by avoiding the hard, legalistic world of rule following AND a soft, relativistic world without absolutes. Wisdom comes from the insight to recognize multiple options when none are just right – and developing your heart to look into the hearts of others. 

Discretion comes from a keenly developed sense of prudence. That doesn’t mean avoiding risk. While discernment is a form of insight, discretion is a form of foresight. Since I’m writing this for Maggie, Sabine, and Zadie, I slightly restate what I learned in pilot training many decades ago: an excellent pilot is one who uses her excellent judgement to avoid situations that require use of her excellent skill and her excellent knowledge.

Finally there’s knowledge. Knowledge is not everything, but it is something. We can be moral but still unwise. We can be knowledgeable but still foolish. There can be knowledge without wisdom. There can be no wisdom without knowledge. Proverbs calls earnestly for us to add to our learning. The study never ends. 

Keller concludes: “Wisdom is wedding thought and experience to become competent with regard to the realities of life.” And it’s about study. A life of continuous learning – especially in a world of rapid change. Keller contends that true wisdom requires deep knowledge of the Scriptures.

My knowledge is far from deep; my wisdom, far from true. Maybe this dig into just one book of the Bible will help.

Next time: the proverbial fool.

Hint: I’m thinking of someone else in January 2019, but need to look in the mirror first.

 

Posted by: Don Linnen | 31 December 2018

Choose Wisely

In a rare brush with fame earlier this month, I met Rick Warren. He was a keynote speaker for an excellent conference at Saddleback Church in Southern California

Later in the week he was part of a panel on fear and faith. In the middle of telling a heart-wrenching story of devastation in his own life, he paused to teach the audience of 500. He cannot stop teaching no matter how many tears are flowing. What follows is his one-minute lesson.

He said that everyone needs four types of people in their lives: mentors, models, partners, and friends.

  1. You need several mentors. Like today’s modern sports teams that have different coaches that know different things really well, you need six or seven coaches. Don’t be satisfied with just one mentor.
  2. You need role models, preferably dead ones. It sometimes takes years after the obituary to determine if your heroine’s life was as worthy as advertised. It’s far more convincing to emulate a life that has had no moral failures – and much easier to explain when asked the inevitable “why?”
  3. You need partners of faith who work with you. People with both a work ethic and fruit of the spirit to make your job more than a job.
  4. Finally, you need a small group (that you don’t lead) of friends who won’t ever walk out on you and who will always walk with you when times are tough.

The devastation Rick shared was the suicide of his son. He took us through the long minutes while he and his wife waited for help to arrive. Shortly after the first responders were there, close friends started showing up.

There was nothing for their friends to say. They just held the Warrens. “The deeper the pain, the fewer words needed” – another teachable moment for Rick. The friends stayed literally by their side for weeks.

Later in the conference week or maybe the month – it’s been a long month – I heard someone say that each of us grows to be like the five people with whom we spend the most time.

Aside from your dependents, who are the five people you hang out with the most? Are you like them? Is that a good thing? 

Mentors, models, partners, and friends.

Choose wisely.

Posted by: Don Linnen | 30 November 2018

The Hard Part

1 Corinthians 13 is a favored bible passage read at many weddings. It’s the “love” text that many starry-eyed people claim to believe. I’m not sure they really think about the hard part in the middle.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

There’s that word “endure,” a synonym for “persevere.” It applies to all of life, not just to love. A Jack Miller devotional in November contends the Corinthians passage begins with patience and ends with perseverance, as if to say, “Don’t quit in-between.”

You start a race fresh. You grind it out in the middle. You end it happily tired and satisfied – especially if you’ve prepared. If the contest affects yourself or others, it may be more important. If you win a seven-overtime football game, there may be more positive consequences – for the time being. 

But a 5K race or a 5-hour football game are just short simulations for the time from our birth to death. The hard part is somewhere in the middle. The first 20 years. The middle 60 years. The last 5 years. Don’t quit in between. 

A recent tweet by Jack Gross listed 10 Qualities All Successful People Share (That Have Nothing to Do With Talent).  Those qualities are:

  1. Be on time
  2. Work ethic
  3. Effort
  4. Body language
  5. Energy
  6. Attitude
  7. Passion
  8. Being coachable
  9. Doing extra
  10. Being prepared

Good stuff. Maybe click bait. Nevertheless, a worthy list. But I don’t see endure or persevere anywhere on the list.

I don’t see persist, continue, carry on, go on, keep going, struggle on, hammer away, be determined, follow through, keep at it, press on, be tenacious, stand fast, hold on, go the distance, stay the course, plod on, stop at nothing, leave no stone unturned.

Can you really do the 10 things to succeed on that list when the going gets tough – or boring – or uncomfortable – or unhappy? Can you do those things when you suffer?

The very good news of the gospel tells us to rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint those who receive God’s love.

There will be a grind. A word to reflect how you handle it needs to be added to your list for success.

 

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