Conduits of Grace

Fundamentalism motivates by fear – fear of loss, fear of separation and fear of displeasure and anger. For many years, my faith was rooted in fear. Two people changed that for me.

One was a professor in my undergraduate days at Miami Christian College, whom I didn’t like at first because she was a woman. Yes, I said that (remember, it was the early years?) Her name is Joyce Jones. My judgmental roots were so deep at the time I was struggling with my sister’s divorce and wondered whether I should even attend her wedding because I was, after all, a defender of God’s truth and ways. Arrogant, right? Joyce gently helped me realize that error in judgment that I was making. More importantly, she showed me that relationship trumped rules in that case. She also encouraged all of her students to read the book by J. I. Packer, “Knowing God.” I reread it even now. Thanks, Joyce!

The second is Steve Brown from Key Life. Steve was the former Pastor of the Key Biscayne Presbyterian Church in Key Biscayne, Florida. I didn’t like Steve when I first met him. As a matter of fact, I tuned him out during Spiritual Emphasis week at MCC because, are you ready, drumroll, please? He smoked a pipe!

A few years later, I connected with Steve and told him I didn’t like him at first. He allowed that many people didn’t. He then invited me to have lunch when I was in the area, I did. He was gracious, welcoming and as real as it gets. He accepted me and encouraged me as a young Pastor. His sage advice has guided me through some difficult times.

That was over 22 years ago. We stayed in touch for a few years over the phone and I even had him on a radio show that I was guest hosting at the time. Unfortunately, life happened and I lost personal touch with him but his influence remains.

And Joyce? She’s moved but at least there’s Facebook!

Growing up as a fundamentalist if you were divorced, you were done as far as ministry in the church. If you were a woman? You didn’t serve on Boards, that was up to the men. After all, there were rules.

And then there were the checklists. Every day, I thought I knew how much God loved me and approved of me based on what I did or didn’t do.

We weren’t supposed to smoke, drink, dance, listen to Rock and Roll music or go to movies. In some circles growing up (not mine) woman weren’t even allowed to wear pants (even though most times they were really the ones wearing the pants in the family but I digress).

My how things have changed for me. Don’t get me wrong, there is much I appreciate about the early years. Especially those who really invested in me.

But there are people who come along that really make an impact. They cause you to change, to grow and to never be the same. So I’m thankful for Steve and Joyce who were conduits of grace and love to a young man who thought, at the time, he knew better but now knows that he didn’t.

Through them, I learned God loves me where I am but doesn’t leave me there. I learned that God is more concerned about my relationship with him than whether I was crossing every “t” or dotting every “i.” And I learned that no matter how far I wandered from my Heavenly Father that he would come after me and always welcome me home even if I had been a disappointment or worse, made a mess of things.

We all grow and change. We make our mistakes and we learn from the good times and the bad. One thing is for sure, I’ve needed that grace over the years and need it more than ever today.

And if I need it, there’s a good chance that others do too. Let’s all be conduits of His grace. You may never know what a difference you can make!

There’s Something Better Than The Hustle & Grind

Hustle. There’s a renewed interest in this word and what it really means. It keeps popping up on Vlogs, Blogs, Podcasts, Articles, and Speeches.

Even one of my Rock and Roll (and business!) heroes of yesteryear recently wrote about it in a book. Several of the proponents of this “hustle & grind” philosophy of work and success encourage adherents to go without vacation, sleep little and sacrifice much only to be able to enjoy the fruits of their labor later. As much as I like and respect several of the evangelists preaching this message, I must disagree.

During my ministry over the past 25+ years, I have officiated at well over 1800 funerals and been at hundreds of bedsides sitting with people transitioning from this life to the next. I can tell you definitively that hustle and grind are not on the top of their list. No one has ever pulled me close on their deathbed and said, “I wish I would have spent more time at the office, bought more houses or had nicer cars. I wish I’d made more money.”

No, they talk about their regrets. Often, they regret spending too much time working, trying to please others, and living in fear. Many even feel unfulfilled wondering if their life mattered.

There’s a lesson for us. I believe that we have all been hardwired by our Creator to make a difference. It’s also true that this same Creator has entrusted you and me with our own DNA that makes us unique and one of a kind. That means that each of us has a distinct purpose and mission. Something that ONLY WE can do to leave this world a better place. Those who find that in this life have little regret going into the next one.

“Hustling & Grinding” aren’t necessarily a bad thing. We just shouldn’t sacrifice our mission and purpose on their altar. There’s more to this life. Much more.

One Person Can Change Everything – A Tribute To Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I hope you watched that. I did and couldn’t get through it without tearing up. This is the last speech Dr. King gave before his life was taken by an assassin’s bullet on April 4th, 1968. I was four years old.

He is only one of four men, outside of Jesus Christ, who have shaped my perspective on Leadership and Communication. The other three are Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan.

But Dr. King is at the top of that list.

He taught me that words matter and that one person’s words can have an extraordinary impact on future generations.

He taught me that God uses flawed humans to accomplish great things. And that one person, working for a cause greater than himself/herself can silence their critics and create lasting change.

He taught me to look at people from the inside out and not from the outside in.

He taught me that it’s not about you, it’s about the greater good.

I’m better, we’re better because he lived.

It’s up to each of us to leave this world better than we found it and we can start today.

It’s up to us to “Let freedom ring.” Each of us can do our part.

Introductions Matter

It’s happened to anyone who must do any modicum of public speaking. The person who schedules the talk says, “Send me over a bio and I will give it to the person who will introduce you.” Simple enough, at least it’s supposed to be! But when the time comes the introduction is usually botched, boring or both.

How one does the introduction determines how quickly the speaker gets his or her ideas off of the launch pad and to their destination.

It’s true of any introduction really. Introducing someone to another creates a connection between two people (or 200).

Proper introductions bring context. And context provides a backdrop to the communication which is about to occur. As such, it infuses it with meaning and emphasizes its importance. Context helps to bring what was in the background of the listener’s mind to the forefront.

More importantly, a good introduction gives credibility. Credibility shouldn’t be assumed, ever. Especially if the audience of one or more is unfamiliar with the person being introduced. This important credentialing helps to highlight their authority and empathy which in turn, solidifies the connection.

A relationship can’t begin, a sale can’t be made and a speech can’t be given without the right introduction.

Introductions really do matter. And the right introduction, whether in person, from the platform or in writing, can make all the difference.

When Someone Pushes Your Buttons

My buttons were pushed, I admit it and I’m not proud of it. I’m getting better, though, because I’m able to acknowledge it less than 24 hours after it happened.

But when it happened, I wasn’t happy.

I went to a local restaurant in my city, a restaurant that I frequent.

They were hosting a fundraiser in which a portion of everyone’s check was being donated to help a local family that had a serious medical need.

I went out to lend my support.

The place was packed. Good news for the fundraiser, bad news for me. Shortly after I got my drink and ordered my food, I decided that I would take it to go.

I went up to the bar to let the owner/manager know.

I said, “__________do you know if they put that food order in? If not cancel it. If so, I’ll take it to go.”

And that’s when he copped the attitude! He told me in no uncertain terms he was going as fast as he could. That he put the order in as soon as I had given it to him. That he was doing his best. He was clearly frustrated and seemed to think that I was pushing him to hurry my order along.

He came over and set the check down rather forcefully in front of me. I looked at him, and that’s when something snapped inside of me.

I left the restaurant vowing to never come back. Who did I make that vow to? Just about everyone who would listen to me via text or in person for the rest of the evening!

Thankfully, I stopped myself short from taking the case to social media!

I’m supposed to know better. I understand psychology, grief, and human behavior. I know what makes people tick and what ticks them off. I speak and write about motivation and emotional intelligence. I’m a Pastor. And yet still, it happened.

Why did this bother me so badly in the first place? I don’t know. Maybe there is something from my past, some psychological hiccup that causes my buttons to be pushed in situations like this one.

But I woke up this morning with a different perspective, a gentle reminder of sorts.

A truth that I forgot last night.

“Everyone has a story.”

Perhaps he had financial pressures. Maybe he was busier than normal and that caused undue stress. Or maybe something happened with one of his kids.

The possibilities are endless. What I do know is that when I began to realize there might be more to his story, my agitation immediately softened.

I guess we all have those moments, moments when we get irritated over something insignificant. But somehow, it pushes our buttons and we instantly become angry, intolerant and impatient.

The challenge? To recognize when those buttons are being pushed as soon as it happens. And when it does, stop, take a deep breath and remember, “everyone has a story.” There’s more to what’s happening at that moment than what we see.

It might just soften us right away and prevent the additional whirlwind from occurring.

For me, it’s worth a try.

The Grind In Between

I have one job first thing in the morning. It’s an important one. In fact, it is key to making the rest of the day count. If I fail, it could impact countless lives and alter the destinies of many with whom we come into contact.

What is it? It’s the coffee. It’s my job to make the coffee. Don’t scoff or gnash your teeth at me, I take it seriously. And I’ve reduced it to an art.

What? You think I’m making a big deal about brewing coffee? Well, it’s essential if you are a coffee snob like me. So much so, that every morning I’m home I grind my own coffee beans. I know, impressive right?

Here’s how it goes on a normal day. I wake up about 15 minutes before my wife, carefully measure the correct number of scoops of beans, fill the grinder and the water reservoir then press the button. Then, I wait. (Told you it was an art!)

But the other day things went south. I broke my routine and prepped the coffee the night before since we were getting up earlier than normal. I set it and forgot it, literally!

The next morning I awoke and went downstairs to pour the coffee. There was only one thing that seemed a bit off, I couldn’t smell the aroma. I thought maybe it was just me. I went over and touched the thermos container and it was hot. I grabbed my coffee cup highly anticipating that first sip. I poured and – it was hot, clear water.

Guess who did everything but put the beans in the grinder? This guy!

I made it again. When my wife heard the grinder she asked me what had happened I simply said, “I’m not telling you!” I was embarrassed. I did come clean later on and we had a good laugh about it.

I should have known something was wrong when there was no aroma. There’s nothing like the smell of fresh coffee. In fact, the aroma is richest during the roasting and the brewing. But in between the grinding must occur. You can’t get from the roasting phase to the brewing phase without it.

There is such a parallel to life. It’s what happens between the roasting and brewing that makes it all possible, and that’s the grinding.

The grind is the part of life that everyone has to do but no one likes. Why?
Far too many people are looking for shortcuts in life. Quick ways to find their purpose and fulfill it. Fast ways to make money online. Rapid-fire techniques to infuse their life with the romance they deserve.

“Take a pill, read a book, attend a seminar and all the secrets of success can be yours!” the advertisements promise.

They don’t tell us about the grinding. That’s the late nights, the broken promises, the lost sales, the crumbled relationships and at times, the shattered dreams.

We can’t brew something important with our lives without the grind. It doesn’t mean you have to relish pain or do a happy dance when you experience adversity. What it does mean though is the best aroma of your life will likely come out of those moments.

Sometimes you will get tired of the grind and feel like giving up. You may wonder why everything seems so hard. So, what do you do when that grind seems unbearable? Keep going. God will brew something spectacular out of it all.

And remember most of all, you just can’t get to the good stuff without the grind.

The Dishwasher and a Lesson In Communication

Recently, I opened my dishwasher only to find that water had pooled in the bottom of it. It wasn’t draining “No big deal I thought, I got this. I can fix it!” That’s where things took a horrible turn. I journeyed to the local hardware store at which a gentleman encouraged me to purchase a snake and run it to the drain assuring me that it would take care of everything.

I tried to use the snake but it got stuck. In fact, it was so stuck that I had to leave it overnight and come back to it the next morning.

The next day I did what every self-proclaimed DIY expert does, I Googled it! Thankfully, there was some instruction as to how I could get the snake unstuck. It worked.

It was at that point that I called a local repair person who thankfully, showed up quickly. He proceeded to disconnect the drain line from the garbage disposal shook it and said, “Usually I can break the clog loose by doing this.” He went on to say “if I can’t, I have to replace the entire line.” He then said, “Well, at least you didn’t try and put a snake in there. I can’t tell you how many people try and do that.” Gulp.

He freed the line and what came out was, in a word, disgusting. I inquired as to how I could keep it from happening again. For one, he suggested that I quit listening to the commercials peddling an automatic dishwasher soap that is so strong it is unnecessary to prewash one’s dishes! So, every dish should be rinsed before it is placed into the dishwasher. Got it.

He also told me that once a month I should run the dishwasher with a cup of apple cider vinegar and it would keep the line cleaned. Simple, really. A little attention would save a lot of trouble in the future.

$65.00 and about 15 minutes later, he was gone.

There’s a lesson here for communication in business and life. It’s your job to make sure what you are saying is clean and neat so that the “other” understands the exact message you are trying to get across. It should be clear, crisp and easy to grasp.

If you don’t the line of communication gets clogged, then things get backed up. And neither is good in business or personal relationships.

How To Blame Less (Podcast)

It’s easy to play the blame game and harder to take personal responsibility. In this episode, Bob talks about what it takes in order to “Blame Less” and do more. Taking responsibility is a necessary bedrock to getting your message heard. Listen and share. You can also subscribe to the podcasts in iTunes.

7 Tips To Deal With Conflict

Conflict. It seems like there is no shortage of it these days either in person or online. Conflict in relationships, whether business or personal are a part of life. What’s the best way to handle it?

What follows is a list of seven quick tips that will help you navigate your way through any conflict with which you are dealing. They’re quick but effective.

1. Take a pause. Take a breath, take a walk, take a chill pill but think before you speak or post.

2. Ask questions. And don’t do it so you can form your argument, do it to find out who the person really is.

3. Don’t assume. You know what the word assume means but we still do it. Stop!

4. Be grateful. That’s right, thank them for their opinion or better, look for something you can appreciate about them or about their perspective.

5. Listen. Watch tone, mood, and expression. Listen to understand not argue.

6. Don’t get personal. Avoid saying “You” too much thus sounding like you are preaching. They can go to church for that.

7. Don’t respond. This may be your best option. keep your mouth shut and your fingers away from the keyboard. After all, you don’t need to respond all the time, now do you?