Shame and the Art of Lawn Maintenance

I love taking care of my lawn. The mowing, the fertilizing, the seeding – all of it. I get great gratification in making my grass shorter, my edges sharper. My lawn fills me with a sense of pride.

I probably can’t say the same for my neighbors. They don’t seem to care much about their lawn. Perhaps they accomplish that sense of pride in another way. Whatever. I know it’s not from mowing. It can’t be! Because they never mow.

One day I decided to “motivate” my neighbors into mowing their lawn, seeing as it had been weeks since they had done anything in the yard. So when I got to the front yard, the side that butts up against their property, I lowered the mower extra low and cut my grass extra short to show how extra tall their grass had gotten. I was hoping they’d see how bad their lawn really looked in comparison to my immaculately cared for landscaping and actually do something about it – like mow.

Guess what? It worked!

The very next day I heard the unmistakable whir of a lawn mower. I ran to the window and peaked out. There was my neighbor, sweating in the mid-August sun and cutting their lawn! Success!

What was I really doing? I was using shame to get what I wanted. I was shaming my neighbor into mowing their lawn according to my own desires and expectations. So let’s face it, I’m a horrible neighbor. But I’m now a neighbor who doesn’t have to look at an unsightly lawn.

We use shame all the time to motivate people. Those before/after photos on the P90X commercials are all about shame. Talk shows like Dr. Phil are all about shame. Pinterest! Pinterest is all about shame. You’re not a real mom unless you macramé the DIY picture frame to put your kids first-day-of-school pictures in.

But if shame is such a great motivator, why doesn’t God use it? You may think he does because you hear about shame a lot at church or in Christian blogs online. But when I read the Bible, I don’t see God using shame. He uses something else all together. And you can’t get out of the first story in the Bible before you see it.

In Genesis 3 Adam and Eve mess up big time. They do the one thing God told them not to do. And their response? They feel shame. They go and hide from God. But what does God do? He comes looking for them! Instead of shame, God uses love – the love of a father looking for his children. They felt shame and it drove them away from their creator. But when people feel shame, God comes looking for them.

When we play the shame game, no one wins. But we play it anyway, don’t we? We play it because of one solid fact: It Works! It worked with my neighbor, it usually works with our kids, and it definitely works with our employees. But just because it works doesn’t mean it’s actually good. Take a look at how God thinks about shame:

“Instead of your shame
you will receive a double portion,
and instead of disgrace
you will rejoice in your inheritance.
And so you will inherit a double portion in your land,
and everlasting joy will be yours.”

Isaiah 61:7

Instead of shame, God uses love – loving us through his grace and accepting us into his family! And it’s a double portion! Not just a little or one helping of grace. He piles on the grace and tells us to come back for seconds!

When we finally see that God’s love has released us from shame, maybe we can stop using shame on others. Maybe we can start leading with grace because it works too. But it works double time. When you’re shamed, you may start to behave better. But you behave better when you receive grace too. The difference is shame drives us away but grace draws us near. Shame terminates a relationship but grace increases our capacity to love and be loved.

When have you felt shame recently? Did you deserve it? How about the last time you shamed someone else. What could you have done differently?

How To Tell Great Stories: 3 Ingredients

If you’re going to talk, please tell us something interesting. The best way to make your talk interesting is to tell a story. Since we were cavemen scratching lines on the walls of caves, we have been storytellers. And the best messages are those that include great stories.

Storytelling is vital to any message. And if it’s important, then we have to ask “What makes a great story?” How do we tell compelling stories so that our audience knows what we’re thinking, hears what we’re saying, and follows through with action? Here are three ingredients that every story must have in order to be a great story.

1. It’s Relatable

Each story should be instantly relatable to your audience so they can pick it up and make it their own. If they can’t see themselves in the story, then they’ll likely check out.

The most relatable stories are those from everyday life. A story about dropping the kids off at school, going grocery shopping, paying your taxes, or even mowing the lawn. Most people in your audience will be able to relate to these stories almost automatically. The mundane can seem boring, but when told from the right angle these stories are very compelling.

Even if the subject of the story is unfamiliar to your audience – like the story of a professional athlete, a noble prize winning scientist, or an ancient ruler – it can still be relatable if you tell it from the standpoint of the person. A great story is one that gets into the life of the audience and walks around a bit.

2. It’s Relevant

What is relevance? It’s a connection to a greater truth. You might have had a very interesting experience while on vacation. Okay, you can tell the story…but why? What’s the purpose? What greater truth did you learn in the experience that you want to share with us?

And great truths aren’t always learned through great experiences. Sometimes the most mundane of stories can have a huge impact when it’s relevant to your audience’s life. Maybe you learned something about God’s love while coaching your son’s t-ball game. Or perhaps you found a new angle on grace while walking to your car in a busy parking lot. Those stories work because they are relevant, and they are relevant because they connect your audience to that greater truth.

3. It’s Remembered

I’ve read my fair share of police reports in my day. That’s because once upon a time I was an insurance adjuster. It always struck me how boring police reports were. They contain just the facts, ma’am. But when I would speak to someone involved in the accident, that’s when it got good! I got all the juicy details. And that’s when a mundane story turned into a memorable one.

If you want your story to be remember, you have to include details. Just giving us a list of facts about an event isn’t story telling – it’s a police report. But when you add in the details – the sights and sounds, the smells that were there – people transport themselves to the scene. And those are the times they remember your story.

When using stories in your message it’s always important to not lose sight of the end goal – the point of your message. But when your story is relatable, relevant, and remembered, it’s so much easier for that story to polish the point your making.

What are some to the best stories you’ve heard in a message? What made them so memorable?

The Worst Most Wonderful

My dog is the worst. This summer she dug up flowers, tomato plants, and part of a tree stump. Then, while tossing her a Frisbee, she went rogue and tore up that too! She’s the worst! She shreds her tennis balls, dumps our trash, and barks at the slightest sound from outside.

My dog is the worst…but she’s also wonderful. My kids think she’s wonderful when she cuddles with them in bed on a lazy Saturday morning. My wife thinks the way she wiggles when she greets us at the door is wonderful. And I think it’s wonderful that she’s only ever content when I’m home, faithfully at my side and confirming me as alpha male. I love her! My dog is the worst most wonderful dog in the world.

We, as people, are really the worst. I know I can be. For all my good marks, there are the bad ones too. I suffer from the lazy. I’d much rather sit on the couch with a bag of chips and an old movie on than do just about anything else around the house or outside the house. I also say things that I shouldn’t say when I shouldn’t say them. That’s just two things on a long list that make me the worst.

Kids are the worst too, aren’t they? If you’re a teacher you know this is true. There’s at least one kid in class who is the worst! He’s loud and disruptive. He’s constantly sent to the counselor’s office because of his behavior. He drops pencils in the middle of tests, writes cuss words in all the text books, and tries to poison the class hamster just for fun. And when you call his parents in to talk about it, what do they do? Nothing. Why? Because they think he’s just wonderful.

But we are wonderful. I know I’m wonderful because I’m a child of God and he tells me I’m wonderful. It’s not that my good points outweigh my bad points. It’s not that God just ignores all my bad points. It’s that I may be the worst, but I’m also wonderful and that’s what God cares about. I’m the worst most wonderful

There was a man in the Bible who was the worst most wonderful. His name was David and he was a great king. But he was pretty bad too. He was a man of warfare whose hands were so stained by blood that God said he couldn’t build the temple. He was a liar and a cheat. He slept with his good friend’s wife, then had the guy killed to cover it up! The worst!

But he was also wonderful. He wrote many of the Psalms that we still sing today, songs of praise and love to God. I always think of David as chosen, the one anointed by God to be king. And because he was anointed he was going to be accepted by God no matter what. Like that parent who won’t accept their kid is a troublemaker because he’s so wonderful around the house.

I’ve often heard that he was considered the “apple of God’s eye.” Do you know where that comes from? I always assumed that some prophet told David, “You are the apple of God’s eye!” Or maybe God himself spoke it to good King David in a dream. But then one day I found it in the Bible. It’s in Psalm 17.

6 I call on you, my God, for you will answer me;
turn your ear to me and hear my prayer.
Show me the wonders of your great love,
you who save by your right hand
those who take refuge in you from their foes.
Keep me as the apple of your eye;
hide me in the shadow of your wings

Did you catch it? He wasn’t told that he was the apple of God’s eye. He asked God to make him the apple of his eye. He was the apple of God’s eye because he asked to be. And God responded by telling him, “You’re my son and your throne will last forever!”

David wasn’t the apple of God’s eye because he met some supernatural checklist or because he was such a good person. God didn’t take all of David’s good stuff and outweigh it over his bad stuff. Nor did he ignore David’s bad stuff. God didn’t give David some special ability to follow every single commandment in Deuteronomy either. No, David was the apple of God’s eye because God loved him. And God loves you.

Whenever you feel like the worst – whether it’s from someone else trying to make you feel that way or your own emotions leading you down that path – remember that you’re wonderful too! God is like that parent of a problem child, looking at you every time you screw up, and saying, “Yeah, but you’re wonderful to me.” God loves you. He sees the wonderful in you when it’s hidden under the worst. He knows you better than he knows yourself, so he knows your potential and your promise. He knows all of it and he loves you. Because you are the worst most wonderful to God.

How have you felt rejected by people in the past, made to feel like you’re the worst? How has God made you feel wonderful?

Words that Work

It’s been about a year since Robin Williams left us. Many people still miss him. Not just his humor but his amazing words that encouraged us and made us dream big. One quote from him that’s been circulating lately is not his, it’s his character’s from Dead Poets Society:

“No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.”

That’s what I’m all about – words and ideas. I love to create words that represent great ideas. I love to help other people turn their thoughts into words into actions. And since I work with words, I need to use words that work. That’s what led me to the recent classic by Frank Luntz Words that Work. Taking from his long history as a political strategist, Luntz shares some great insights into how to use words to produce results.

The main idea of his book is that it doesn’t matter what you say, it matters what your audience hears. That’s so important, especially as we try to shrink the communications gap. When our words work, they are focused at brining a clear message to the masses.

From the book, here are his ten rules of effective language:

  1. Simplicity: Use Small Words
  2. Brevity: Use Short Sentences
  3. Credibility is as Important as Philosophy
  4. Consistency Matters
  5. Novelty: Offer Something New
  6. Sound and Texture Matter
  7. Speak Aspirationally
  8. Visualize
  9. Ask a Question
  10. Provide Context and Explain Relevance

Some of these I don’t think fit so well with sermons (#5 and #8 for instance), but some are incredibly helpful (#3 and #10!).

Does this list pique your interest? Want to know more? Go ahead and grab the book! It’s a great read and will definitely help you hone your message skills.

Sweatin’ to the Small Stuff …or How I worry about worrying.

I worry about worrying. I’m anxious about my anxiety. I’m really worried that I’ll pass my anxiety complex onto my daughter. She worries a lot. There’s a lot of hand wagging when things aren’t going her way. Then she has a little freak out. Of course I wag my hands and freak out sometimes too.

A lot of the advice I hear on worry comes from Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:25-34). “I tell you, don’t worry about a thing.” Now, that usually gets put this way: “See, Jesus commands us not to worry. It’s a commandment. So, if you worry – that’s sin!” Which makes those of us who worry just worry more. “I’m worried…now I’m worried that I’m sinning!”

Another little piece of advice that doesn’t really work is this one: Don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s all small stuff. Here’s the thing – No. No, it’s not all small stuff. Some stuff is big stuff. Some stuff will have major ramifications in your life. You actually do have the right to worry about the big stuff.

I’ve been thinking about some friends of mine who have been going through some big stuff lately. Their son has an autoimmune disorder. It’s genetic in nature and the only real relief is a bone marrow transplant. They are equal parts thankful for the opportunity to extend his life and give him a fighting chance, and worried that the chemotherapy will be harmful. They’re literally putting poison into their son’s body to try to cure him.

Then I think about my worries. My friends have every right to sweat their stuff in comparison to mine, but they don’t. At least they don’t let us see it. They share their concerns and heartache, but every time I talk to them they have a smile in their voice and a hopeful outlook. If you ask me how I’m doing on any given day – and I’m honest – you’d think I’ve got a lot to worry about. I don’t. Not when I compare my stuff to other people’s stuff.

That’s one thing that I always try keep in mind – my stuff is small when I compare it to other people’s stuff. And no matter how big your stuff is, you can always find someone else who has bigger stuff. So, it’s not all small stuff, but your stuff is small in comparison to other people’s stuff.

I think that’s what the writer of Hebrews was getting at in chapter 12. “Consider Jesus who endured such opposition from sinners and died on the cross, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” In other words, when we compare our suffering to the Lord’s suffering, our suffering is minor. But this isn’t about a command to stop worrying. It’s about not losing heart. It’s about having hope in the face of your overwhelming circumstances.

Is hope the opposite of worry? Maybe. Or maybe it’s just the better response to worry. Instead of losing it, freaking out, and wagging our hands, we should calm down, take a breath, invite God’s Spirit to comfort us and give us hope.

When Jesus said, “Don’t worry!” he followed it up this:

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:34)

Each day you’ve got stuff. Big stuff, small stuff, medium stuff. Don’t worry about tomorrow…not because there’s nothing to worry about, but because there’s enough to worry about today! Deal with today’s issues today and then hope for tomorrow.

So, let’s rewrite that whole statement about small stuff – Don’t sweat the small stuff, because there’s plenty of big stuff to sweat about. And even when you sweat the big stuff, have hope that tomorrow will be better than today.

How do you keep from worrying? When have you sweated the small stuff when you shouldn’t have?