Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Broken Boxes

Christmas shopping. It's all the rage right? I noticed something this week as I watched people making their purchases: given a choice between a crushed box and a "perfect" box, they'll take the perfect every time.

Take a look next time you're at your local discount store. If a box has a dented corner, the shrink-wrap has a small tear, or the like, a shopper will rummage past it to find an undamaged package - even if there's a guarantee that the contents are undamaged. Are we that caught up in appearances and perception that we can't accept damaged packaging? I think the problem is not new.

There's an old story about the selection of a king. One by one, candidates passed by the prophet who was responsible for the choice. As the strong, handsome and mature prospects passed by, the prophet was required to reject each in turn. Finally, the youngest son was selected. The story is told in the Bible passage found in 1 Samuel 16. Verse 7 reads:

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or his stature, because I have rejected him. Man does not see what the Lord sees, for man sees what is visible, but the Lord sees the heart. 1 Sam 16:7 (HCSB)

You see the application don't you? It's so easy to get caught up in appearances that we fail to see the real value of person - the heart, the character, the integrity, the soul, the mind.

Have a merry Christmas. Take time to be consider the broken and crushed boxes around you. Be thankful for what's inside!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

OLD Daniel in the Lion's Den

Earlier in the fall, I enjoyed leading a group of men on a study in the book of Daniel. Now, I was born at Georgia Baptist Hospital (baptist at birth!) and have heard the story of Daniel in the lion’s den a lot of times. However, this fall, I learned something that I had missed all along.

All my life, I had pictured Daniel as a teenager when King Darius served him up to the lions for lunch. However, let’s do the math:

According to the Holman Bible Dictionary, Daniel was transported from Judah to Babylon in his early youth 605 B.C. The text does not indicate his precise age, but let’s assume he was in his early teens. Daniel remained in Babylon under the reign of Nebuchadnezzar (604-562 B.C.), Evil-Merodach (561-560 B.C.), Neriglissar (559-555 B.C.), Labashi-Marduk (555 B.C.), Nabonidus (555-539 B.C.) (who left son Belshazzar in charge while he was away), Cyrus (539-529 B.C.), Cambyses (529-522 B.C.), and finally, King Darius I, (522-486 B.C.).

If Daniel were, say 12 when exiled in 605, and were put into the lion’s den sometime after 522 B.C., he would have been in his 90’s when he faced the test! Daniel was faithful for nine decades – no wonder he had confidence in God.

The lessons you learned as a child take on new meaning with your life experiences. You learn new things. You have new frames of reference. When was the last time you read an old, favorite Bible story? Why not read it again with a goal to learn something new.

Friday, November 18, 2005

The grass is taller under the trampoline

We were out playing "glow-in-the-dark-football" last night and were finding ourselves dodging bird feeders, trees and the trampoline. Deciding to leave the trees where they are, we chose to relocate the bird feeders and trampoline. This morning, the circle of tall grass clearly indicates where the trampoline once stood. And I've already put the lawn mower up for the season...

A couple of weeks ago, I heard a song on the radio. I began to explain to my daughter that its important to be careful what you put into your head - what you listen to, and what you think often about (meditation). She looked at me with a puzzled look that seemed to ask, "What brought that on?" The puzzled look became a look of horror as I began singing along with the radio: "I remember when rock was young...."

Yes, I'm almost ashamed to admit, I remember the lyrics to "Crocodile Rock." And if I sat down at a piano, I just might be able to play it as well. There were some cruel jokes my high school years continue to visit upon me.

Ok, to sum it up, you have to be careful what you put into your head - and life. It takes work to keep the grass mowed in the hidden places. But its important to do both, for you never know when the trampoline will need to be moved, or you'll find yourself singing to yourself... Out loud... In public... Something you wish you could forget....

As Paul admonished in his letter to the Philippian church:

Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable - if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise - dwell on these things. (Philippians 4:8 HCSB)
Have a great weekend.

Friday, November 11, 2005

How much is riding on your Maxxis?

Do you, like me, take tires for granted. That is, until you're coasting down the Sidney Lanier Bridge... watching your speedometer creep up to 40 mph... in a crosswind... across the expansion joint... hearing a pop and hiss... feeling the rear tire get soft... on a bicycle?

That was my experience today. Just one of those things.

Thankful that I was able to coast to a stop, I walked to the bottom of the bridge to fix the flat. (Hey, some may say I'm dumb for being on the bridge on a bicycle anyway... but, I'm smart enough not to try a repair on the shoulder...)

As I rode home, I reflected that I normally do pay attention to tires, keeping them inflated, rotated and balance (unbalanced tires can sure be an irritant - but, that's a post for another day.)

I try to pay attention to other things as well - time with God, family. Rest. Exercise (well at least I want to...) 'cause I know what's riding on my "Maxxis" - me. And when the hazards come, as they surely will, I want to maximize my chance of success.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

1st Grade Smiles

Is there anything "cuter" than a first grade smile? You see a young girl or boy and you think "she (or) he looks like about first grade..." Then she opens her mouth and there's that big gap! You say "you sure are big for a first grader!" and the smile grows wider, the shoulders are thrown back and you can watch her spirits lift.

Then there's the tongue... pressed against the back of the teeth, it bulges through the gap. Oh, and milkshake straws just seem to fit through the gap.

Mischief and giggles. Both escape through the gap. As does the amazement and wonder that the little one is growing up.

Somehow, I think Jesus had a cute "first grade smile." Perhaps he was called the Aramaic equation of "snaggle-tooth." And he met it in stride. Laughing all the way to eternity.

What's the parallel in the Christian's life? What can God see that is tangilble evidence of our growth? I wonder if He looks at us with a similar pleasure. Thots?

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Church Signs (an occasional series)

On a church sign: "Aspire to Inspire before you Expire"

We all have aspirations don't we? ambitions, desires, ultimate and lofty goals. To aspire is to stretch your wings and soar.

Inspire. That's a word that has meaning far beyond the way it's sometimes used today. To inspire is to "fill with enlivening or exalting emotion, stimulate to action or be the cause or source of something." I think there are people I'll meet today who need to be enlivened, spurred on to action and, if I fill that role for them - inspire them, will achieve great things as a result.

Uh, oh. Expire. We don't want to think about it do we? But our time is limited. Once a minute passes, it cannot be reclaimed. Our lives, minute by minute, are opportunities to inspire others. don't miss the opportunity.

"Let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works" is a phrase found in the Bible (Hebrews 10:24). That seems to be a good word.

Join me in making it my ambition and goal to encourage and enliven others now, while we still can!

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Asking and pausing

A year or so ago, I signed up for "The TelE-Sales Hot Tips of the Week" e-letter and found many tips for building relationships of influence. This week, the tip was especially relevant to teaching and bears repeating in this space:

One of the best ways to learn about your prospect or customer [or learner] is using a pause at two points in your questioning: after you've asked the question, and after the listener has answered.

Not just a brief pause, but a 2-3 second pause. Here are some of the benefits of this technique.

1. You won't feel compelled to continue talking after asking the question if you force yourself to pause. People don't always immediately answer, and pausing gives them the opportunity to think a bit.
2. The number and length of responses will increase. People feel more comfortable when you give them time to frame their answers, which will likely be more comprehensive.
3. The amount of unsolicited information will increase. By not jumping in immediately after they've answered, they're given a little time to contemplate what they've just said, which may prompt additional comments.
4. You'll have more time to understand what they've said. Since you know you're going to pause, you can spend all of your listening time focused on the message, not on what you will say next.
5. You'll have more time to formulate your next comment. You can use your pause time to develop your next question or statement, which will be more meaningful, since you'll possess more relevant information.
Force yourself to pause after your question, and after they answer... Practice this on the phone and in all areas of your life. You'll find you get more information than you ever have.

Source: Art Sobczak, President, Business By Phone Inc. 13254 Stevens St., Omaha, NE 68137, (402) 895-9399. To sign up for TelE-Sales Tips weekly e-letter, go to www.BusinessByPhone.com and enter your email address.

In working with teachers, I've found there are two significant barriers to pausing after asking. The first is a fear of silence. In our culture, it seems that we view silences as voids to be filled. Perhaps they are, but I've found it beneficial to let others fill them for us. The second barrier is our tendency as teachers to provide answers. Yet, each of us would probably agree that the most significant learning occurs when the learner discovers the answer for herself.

The extraordinary often emerges from the pauses. Ask, pause, and listen.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

A breath of fresh air

My wife was "encouraging" our son to turn off the Playstation yesterday and go outside to play. "You need to get some fresh air," she said to him.

He walked across the room, opened the door, stuck his head outside and took a deep breath. "How many breaths do I need?" he asked.

I wonder how often we approach God the same way. A couple of breaths and we're ready to go back to what we were doing.

Take some time today to fill your lungs. Go outside and play. Spend some time with God. Breath deeply.

Monday, October 17, 2005

A few links for Bible Teachers

I was planning for a conference this weekend on training Bible study leaders and collected a few links that are useful ideas and resources to build community, communicate and prepare for Bible study. They are posted here both for the benefit of those I'll meet Saturday as well as for anyone else who happens to drop by!

E-mail and community building

Lesson Preparation

  • http://www.lifeway.com/sskickoff - Updated annually, this site includes resources such as the Five Step Formula for Sunday School Growth resource booklet in .PDF format, leadership training plans and evaluation tools for leaders of all age groups and How to Use Curriculum Guides
  • http://www.lifeway.com/SundaySchool - Gateway to articles and helps for teachers and leaders of all ages
  • http://www.lifeway.com/myextra - Supplmental teaching resources using current events to help make timely application of Bible truth
  • http://www.bibleteachingnotes.com – Published by Omar C. GarcĂ­a, Minister of Missions and Evangelism at Kingsland Baptist Church in Katy, Texas. Content for all Sunday School leaders including teaching notes, background, fellowship ideas, etc.
  • http://teachinglifewaylessons.blogspot.com/ - Published by an adult Bible teacher at Champion Forest Baptist Church in Houston, Texas. This teacher searches the web weekly for ideas, illustrations, stories, etc. to broaden the Bible study experience
  • http://www.joshhunt.com/sunday-school.htm - Updated questions to “get people talking” and resources for training
  • http://www.crosswalk.com/ - Gateway site to Bible study tools, articles and resources to build strong Christian leaders

Friday, October 07, 2005

Changes... changes... changes...

Been away for a while. We moved last week. After 12 days away from home, I arrived home at midnight on Sat the 24th. Movers came and packed us on Monday, loaded truck on Tuesday, closed on our house sale on Wednesday, drove to Brunswick, GA on Thursday, closed on our house purchase on Friday and moved in that afternoon. Not bad for a week, huh?

Ok, so what's so extraordinary about that? People move all the time, right? Well, yes, I guess so. But, I don't! :)

So, now we're living on the Ga coast. Just north of Brunswick. I awaken in the morning and look out the window across the famed "Marshes of Glynn" and see St. Simons Island in the distance.

I believe God created it... out of nothing at all.... Frankly, I think that's extraordinary.

Every new sunrise brings new opportunities. And if I don't go to bed, I'll miss mine in the morning.....

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Locked up?

Friday night, there was one of those knee-high, European, two-seater convertibles with the top down parked in the space across from me. I watched as a young man came out to the car, reached into his pocket for the keys, and yes, unlocked the door.

Ok, blonde jokes aside, why would someone lock a convertible with the top down? I haven't figured it out yet.

My best guess is habit. I get out of the car, I lock the door. Perhaps it would be the same if I had a convertible.

So, from the ordinary, comes the extraordinary. What are your habits? What are the little things that are so ingrained in your being that you do them without thinking? And, the bigger question: Are your habits helping you or hindering you.

Reading a time management book this week, I was reminded that if it's not important, don't do it. Redeem the time. Buy it back. Invest it in habits that help.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Speed Trap

I was out for a bike ride earlier this week and had just tucked myself onto the aero bars to get "low and fast" when I realized I was going just as fast as the cars in front of me. I watched the numbers on my bike computer begin to climb and recognized that if the folks in front of me didn't speed up, I'd have to scrub some speed. Slowly, they began to pull away from me, giving me some room to pedal and pick up more momentum.

Then I saw them. Two of Cobb's finest had parked their Harley's on the side of the road and were aiming their laser guns at each vehicle on the road.

As I passed them, one shouted out "33!"

I smiled and pedaled harder. The speed limit on this stretch is 35... it became a goal... and I reached it.

Amazing what a little word of encouragement, spoken at the appropriate time can do for one's attitude. Somehow, my workout seemed to go a little easier that day.

Who around you is laboring? Can you offer them an "atta boy?" It just might be that your encouragement is just what they need to press on or eke out a personal best.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

I have a friend....

While waiting recently for my flight from Atlanta to Hartford to board, I was pleasantly surprised to see a friend from church enter the waiting area. Realizing we were both headed to the same destination, we enjoyed a few moments of conversation in the waiting lounge until we boarded, taking our seats on opposite ends of the plane.

The flight was relatively uneventful and as we began our approach well after dark, I was amused by the conversation of several boisterous people who were returning from a Caribbean cruise.

"There's the airport."
"Where's the pilot going?"
"We're going in circles."
"We'll be up here all night."
"There's the casino... It's supposed to be on the other side of the plane."
"We're lost."

and so on... You get the idea. We're often surrounded by "armchair experts" who would want us to believe they know the game plan. There's an entire Old Testament book describing the story of a man named Job who had such an experience.

Throughout our approach, I simply settled into my seat and listened to those around me. "What do they know?" I thought to myself.

I knew we had nothing to worry about. For you see, my friend was the pilot. And when you know and have faith in the pilot, you can just relax and enjoy the ride.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Seven minutes a day

I read the following guide to a "seven minute in the morning devotional time" in a Stand Firm magazine:
  • A half minute of prayer for guidance;
  • Four minutes reading the Bible; and
  • Two-and-a-half minutes to pray through the acronym ACTS: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication.

No doubt, investing seven minutes a day in these activities shapes the way I approach each day.

I recently added a morning stretching routine (that takes about seven minutes) which help me wake up and provide some physical benefit as well.

Seven minutes a day. I'd guess there are a lot of seven minute blocks of time that, for most of us, pass by in the most ordinary of ways. I wonder what extraordinary results might occur if we selected a few blocks of time and invested them intentionally.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Out of towels

A few weeks ago, my son and I had breakfast together at a national chain restaurant known for their breakfast menu. As we prepared to leave, we stepped into the men's room to wash the syrup from our hands. We turned from the sink to note that there were no towels in the dispenser. This proved not to be a major problem for either an eight year old or his dad!

Passing the cash register and thinking I might be helpful, I paused to tell Larry - the epitome of a manager of such a chain - that "you're out of towels in the men's room."

His reply was interesting. "Thanks. I was waiting for them to run out."

All the way to the car, I thought through his comment. Larry was apparently watching the bottom line and saving a few cents by making sure that he used every towel on the roll. However, as a customer, I found myself wishing he had committed these same few cents into customer service. It seems a little short-sighted.

As we drove away, I tried to help my son understand the difference between an expense and an investment, with limited success I'm sure.

I also realized that My relationship with God is sometimes like that. I try to wring every bit of encouragement from my last experience with Him. Perhaps you've experienced something similar with personal renewal. You find yourself going too far too fast for too long as you wait for the roll to empty before replacing it.

Make an investment. Change the towel roll.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Is Christian an adjective or a noun?

I know, it's a little thing, but that's the point of this blog. Little things sometimes have large impact.

In the pastor's sermon this morning, he shared an illustration of a gangster who became a Christian. As time passed, he demonstrated little in the way of life change between the way he lived before and after his decision. When asked why, his reply was along the lines of "I've met Christian doctors, Christian lawyers and Christian businessmen. Why can't I be a Christian gangster?"

Not a bad question, huh? This prompted the idea that the gangster considers the term "Christian" to be an adjective. And I've heard others express the same thought, just never thought of it that way.

If Christian is an adjective, it modifies what follows. That's not bad, however, if it is a noun, it describes something deeper. It describes one's very being. Nouns both exist and do something. The term then describes one's identity and actions. And the action must be congruent with the characteristics of the identity.

In this case, it seems to me that it's better to be a noun than an adjective. Just a thought. A little ordinary perhaps, but as I think about it, it becomes extraordinary.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

They like me there....

We were in Michigan last week visiting my wife's parents. Sunday, we visited The Orchard, a new church in Traverse City. As we were leaving the building my 8-year old son asked, "Can we come back here next time we come to Grandma's?"

"Why do you want to come back? Because you got to watch TV?" my wife asked.

"Well, yeah," he replied, "and the people want me to come back." We talked more about the experience later in the day and my son also volunteered that "they like me there."

Wouldn't it be great to go to a place where people want you to come back? And, where they like you? Try church. If you're near Traverse City, go to The Orchard. Or in Marietta, GA, try Burnt Hickory.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Thanks Jess!

I have heard about blogs. Even read a few. But never had one. Until today.

My friend Jess, a wonderful young lady who seeks above all to follow God as best as she knows how, sent me an e-mail with a link to her blog. If you want to take a peek, it's here or follow the link at the left. She said it was easy. And I believed her.

She was right.

That's the spirit of Neal's Notepad. An ordinary e-mail. An extraordinary result. See, Jason encouraged Jess to get a blog. And I chose to follow in her footsteps.

You'll never know where your influence will end, once you start the ball rolling. Thanks, Jess and Jason.

P.S. You can do this too. There's a link at the top of the page.... ;)

Neal's Notepad lives again....

Several years ago, a weekly e-mail went out to a number of people whom I had met from across the world under the banner of "Thought for the Week." Over time, it became "Neal's Notepad." For the last couple of years, the Notepad was blank. Today, it lives again. It can be found here: at http://nealznotez.blogspot.com.

Drop in regularly. Let's learn to see the extraordinary emerge from the ordinary.