Category Archives: Society

5 for Leadership (8/10/12)

Today’s 5 will expose you to some new authors for me.  I have included a powerful leadership story, some great leadership principles, and some timely leadership quotes.  Enjoy.

Red Marbles and a Very Kind Leader  You must read this post.  I found it on the Teamwork and Leadership blog.  It is the story of personal leadership with influence and great generosity.  For me it highlights well that all leadership is influence and that generosity in leadership is often a forgotten component.

Overcoming The Fear of Asking  Are you an inquisitive leader?  If not, why not?  This is something I struggle with at times.  I either think that I am wasting someone else’s time or I fall into the trap that I don’t have time to be an asking leader.  This post from the Leadership Solutions blog provides some very practical reasons and practices for becoming a more inquisitive leader.

Leadership By Choice  I have often highlighted the Leading Blog for it’s quality content.  This offering is a simple four part evaluation to better determine if you are leading with great intentionality.  It is a brief summary of a book written by Eric Papp.  I think all four parts are critical and worthy of our reflection.

Can A Church Be Both Attractional and Missional?  This comes from Tony Morgan’s blog and is an interview with Dave Ferguson.  Dave and Alan Hirsch recently co-authored a book entitled On The Verge.  This is an insightful interview on this ongoing and very important topic.  It will give you a taste of the book.

Leadership Summit: Bill Hybels  The well known Willow Creek Leadership Summit is currently in progress.  I returned to Tony Morgan’s blog for this offering because he has been capturing some of the key principles and quotes from the summit for our digestion.  Here is Tony’s gleanings from Bill’s opening address.

There are the 5 for this week.  Lead well!

The Nature of Freedom

Today we celebrate our freedom as a nation.  It was on this day in 1776 that we declared our independence.  It was also exactly a year ago today that my family and I returned to the U.S. after spending five years in Florence, Italy.  Living in Italy will provide you with a fresh perspective on time.  Our house in Florence was over 800 years old.  Living in Italy will also give you a new understanding of what rightly accompanies freedom.

Merriam-Webster defines freedom as “the absence of necessity, coercion or constraint in choice or action.”  I would quickly argue that the dictionary is only half right.  This definition is incomplete.  This definition of freedom only trumpets the notion of personal rights.  This definition feeds our “do whatever we please” mentality.  This definition holds sway over our republic in the 21st century.  But it is not the definition our founding fathers had in mind and it is a definition that places us at the center of the universe.  But if we believe that there is something greater, someone greater-who actually created the universe, created each one of us, and brought this nation into being by His sovereign choice, then there is another necessary piece to this definition.  The Puritans who came to this country long before we actually became a nation understood this part of freedom as being our necessary responsibilities.  To claim personal rights is to necessarily be claimed by personal and corporate responsibilities.  Freedom is not simply to do what you want but it is also to do what you ought.  This is implicit if we are created beings.  If we are not, then by all means, there should be absolutely no constraints on our actions.  But if we have created value then we are beholding to that Creator to live in such a way that brings respect and honor to Him.

The Apostle Paul in Galatians 5:1 says, For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.  There is a freedom that is greater than national freedom-and that is freedom from slavery to sin and selfishness.  Faith in Jesus Christ sets us free from “have to” that only leads to enslaved obligation.  Paul goes on to say in verse 13, For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.  Not only through Christ are we set free from slavery to sin but we are given a new calling-a calling to serve.  You can only truly serve others when you are free from preoccupation with self.  This is a freedom that contains beautiful spiritual rights and holy, selfless “oughtness.”  This kind of selfless love is meant for our neighbor, our community, and our nation.  But it only flows from a deep spiritual freedom that can be found in Jesus Christ.  Celebrate our nations birthday and contemplate what it truly means to be free!

What is Fairness?

I rarely write about social/cultural issues on this blog but I have been bothered during this political season about the concept of “fairness.” This term is being used frequently by our President as leverage for raising taxes on the rich-that they might pay “their fair share.”  It is being used as a common refrain by the Republican party as a counter attack about the “50%” of the population that pay no tax at all-“is that fair?”

What is fairness?  How are we to think on that word and therefore decide who is telling the truth.  “Fairness” according to Merriam-Webster is something which is marked by “impartiality and honesty-free from self interest, prejudice or favoritism.”  At least that is one central piece of the definition.  And it is this piece that I think is missing in the debate.  I’m sorry, but I don’t really trust either side when it comes to impartiality and honesty.  I don’t believe that either side does not have some self interest, prejudice or favoritism at stake in this matter.  Apparently many Americans share my point of view.  In the most recent RealClearPolitics poll, 78% of Americans disapprove of the job that Congress is doing.  According to RCP polls Americans are split right down the middle on the President’s job approval-47% approve and 47% disapprove.  Confidence is waning.

Fairness, as it is being bandied about in political circles today, is arbitrary.  What is fair for one does not seem fair for another.  It is idealogical in nature.  And I have never seen a political landscape so divided along idealogical lines in my lifetime.  We are being hoodwinked into thinking about “fairness” when we should be considering “justice.”

“Justice” as it is defined by Merriam-Webster means “the administration of law” and “conformity to truth, fact or reason.”  Justice has a measuring line.  Justice has a standard.  Justice forces you to determine where you truly are in the argument.  It is not arbitrary-at least not be definition.  And therein lies the problem with human fairness or justice.  We are inherently unfair and unjust.  We are arbitrary about all things because we are inherently selfish and self preserving.

To have true “fairness” and “justice” there has to be a true standard.  A universal standard.  There has to be a universal law and lawgiver that is righteous-so that justice can prevail.

Consider the following from the Bible:  Romans 3:22-26                                                   For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.  This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he passed over former sins.  It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

To rise above our self centeredness we have to admit our need for the just law giver who graciously provided our redemption through the cross.  We will never get to “fair” or “just” any other way.

5 for Leadership

Here is “5 for Leadership” for the 3rd week in March. I hope you will be informed and encouraged.

One Thing Every Young Leader Needs To Hear This is a post from Ben Reed and was found on This is a web site aimed directly at the Millennial generation of leaders and quite insightful. Ben is a pastor in Tennessee and offers some good thoughts for young leaders-and one phrase of encouragement they must hear. By the way, Ben’s web site is worth a look too and the link is at the bottom of the post.

Why I am Leaving Goldman Sachs This is an oped piece from the NY Times. The author is Greg Smith who has been an Executive Director with Goldman-until today. This is worth the read and has been trending on Facebook and Twitter. I love how it speaks to leadership culture and integrity.

6 Characteristics of Spiritual Leaders I often highlight what Michael Hyatt writes. If you missed this post this week-here’s a second chance. Hyatt distinguishes between spiritual leadership and other forms of organizational leadership and then offers six functions or traits of a true spiritual leader.

Good Churchmanship This comes from Tim Challies, who is well known in reformed circles. I really enjoy his blog and is one of the few to which I subscribe. Tim is a thoughtful writer and I really like this post that compares sportsmanship with churchmanship-and what has been lost with both concepts. This is a good read for the leader and follower.

The Empire of Entitlement This final post is from Pete Wilson who is the pastor at Cross Point Church in Nashville. Pete writes a great exhortation about the dangers of our culture of entitlement-and how it can really threaten our leadership. He highlights Deuteronomy 8 and reminds us well that there is one God-and it is not us.

There are 5 for this week-lead well!

Changing America

I have been back in the States for exactly eight weeks.  My family and I spent the past five years living in Florence, Italy.  For some time now, we have all heard how fast culture is changing.  The rate of change is astounding and can leave you wondering how you will ever functionally survive.  I thought I would take some time to share my initial observations on what has changed in America since I left in 2006.  Mind you, these are just my impressions-I have nothing to factually back these up.  Some of it is meant to be light hearted-some of it is meant to stir your thinking.

TV sets have become exponentially bigger, while, for some reason, soft drink cans have become exponentially smaller.

The cereal isle at the grocery store use to take up only half the shelf space-now, apparently, we need something like 113 brands that take up the whole aisle.  Do we really need that much cereal?!?

Taco Bell is still reconfiguring the same five ingredients and giving it a new name as a brand new fast food creation.  (This represents only a change in creative marketing.)

Any food concoction at a restaurant claiming to be Italian, isn’t.  Trust me. (The change here is that we no longer have 1st generation Italians to keep it right)

Restaurant prices and used car prices have increased significantly while we were gone-all other things seem to have remained about the same.  I guess this means that we will soon have to drive really old cars and eat only at home-hmmm, sounds like my childhood-which wasn’t all bad.

In the church world the “distributive model” has become all the rage.  And we have become even more casual in our dress for church-my grandmother would have “had a fit.”  (I was never sure what a “fit” was-but she said it a lot)

Due to the economic debacle of 2008 it is almost impossible to get a mortgage loan now-not because the money is not there or institutions don’t want to lend it-but because of all the new lending regulations.  My loan officer knows things about me I didn’t know.  I think the lawmakers targeted the wrong audience in their zeal for protection.

American pop culture (meaning movies, music, TV, etc.) has become even more mindless and hedonistic.  The problem I see is more and more people think these broadcast messages  represent real life.  We seem to value entertainment and pleasure over substance and character more than ever.

There seems to be a profound sense of fear and growing hopelessness among our populous.  The three recurrent themes I hear behind this are global terrorism, economic gloom and a government that is unable to govern.  These three might represent three of our most significant idols as Americans: security, wealth and democracy.

The one, never changing constant:  We are still a people in need of a Savior.

I will have more observations as we continue to transition back to our home country.  And maybe they will be more profound and more accurate-maybe.  What do you think has changed in the last five years?  Please comment.

The Culture of Horn Honking

This is simply meant to be a light-hearted post–nothing worthy of deep thought or reflection.  I am an American who lives in Italy and just returned from a 13 day visit to India.  I am fascinated by different cultures and how societies work.  You can often pick up on differences by how different cultures utilize similar means. For this post I will explore the use of the car horn.

In the U.S. I will argue that Americans largely use their horns to warn or complain. We honk when we want to make people aware of danger.  We honk when we feel a great wrong has been done to us on the road.  Someone has violated the law (as we see it) or someone has made us very angry with their driving methods.  But on the whole (maybe apart from New York City) we are not a culture that regularly communicates through our car horns.  That is different from Italy and India.

I have lived in Italy for the past five years.  And now we are actually in transition to return to our home culture in the U.S.  Italians love their cars and their car horns.  It was a little unsettling when we first moved here to constantly hear car horns.  My observation is that Italians use the horn as a regular means of communication-but mainly out of being annoyed.  If you wait more than two seconds after a traffic light has turned green, you will get a long blast from a car horn behind you.  Italians are a very passionate people.  Therefore their communication is passionate as well-verbally and through their car horns.  But it doesn’t mean anything negative.  They simply express their “in the moment” feelings readily.  The car horn is just an extension of their present feelings.  You have to understand this here or you will think everyone is simply rude.  But they are not-they are just temporarily annoyed with you and letting you know-you can still be best friends and enjoy a cappuccino together.

India has almost a billion people.  Apparently, every one of them owns a car.  I have never seen this kind of traffic or heard so many horns in my life.  But my observation is that the communication pattern is different.  Americans honk out of anger and “injustice.”  Italians honk out of annoyance and to simply express their temporary emotion.  Indians see driving like Americans see snow skiing.  At least this is my grid for understanding their “car honking” culture.  It is like an American snow skier simply saying “on your left” or “on your right.”  Skiing etiquette dictates that you let the skier in front of you know that you are about to pass them on the hill and to let them know which side you are on.  I think it is the same way for Indians.  They drive all over the road and use any lane available to them-no matter which way the direction of traffic is suppose to be going.  But they will clearly let you know that they are “on your left” or “on your right.”  Their facial expressions never change-for the honker or the one being honked at.  The trucks even have hand painted signs on the back that say “please honk.”  They are not angry or annoyed.  They are not informing you of some law you have broken.  They are just using skiing etiquette.  For the passive passenger-like me-the whole experience can be quite frightening and confusing.  But once you see how skilled the average Indian driver is to navigate traffic in his own context-and you see more clearly the “horn honking culture” at work-you can relax-a little!    That is just how I see it.

Here’s to life in the fast lane, going the same direction, seat belts buckled, using our horns to their greatest end!

Idolatry & Society

About a week ago I posed a question on Facebook: How does idolatry in any form impact a society?  I have been pondering this for a while.

Random House defines idolatry in two ways.  The first definition is the one that naturally comes to mind-“the religious worship of idols.”  And this is where we tend to leave our notions of idolatry-completely in the religious realm among an unsofisticated people group.  But the other definition is “excessive or blind adoration, reverence or devotion.”  This is the definition that has me thinking about every person’s idolatry and the collective effect on a society.  I hold a conviction that every person on the planet was created to worship-and therefore we will demonstrate our adoration, reverence or devotion towards someone or something.  I think this is actually quite observable.  Simply monitor over time where people put their time, energy and money.  You will end up at their object of worship.  And I believe that whatever we worship helps to shape our character and has a profound impact on all those with whom we interact.  Therefore a society will be impacted by that which we give our reverence and devotion to.  I received several responses to my Facebook question.  There were some really thoughtful and challenging comments.  Here is a glimpse at my thought process so far.

1. We will adore that which we worship. I would argue by definition that if we give our devotion and reverence towards a concept, an object, a person, or a pursuit-that rightfully it will turn into a passion.  So if we align out time, talent and energy towards making money-we will eventually love money.  If we give ourselves completely to success, we will feel jaded if we don’t achieve it-like an illusive lover.

2. We will defend that which we worship. Once we have tasted that which we have longed for it is almost impossible to go back.  So if our object of worship feels threatened then we will defend it with all that we have.  I have seen this with men who make sex their god.  It is amazing to see the extent some will go in pursuit and defense of their idol.  Sometimes we glamorize those who do this with a principle-like the pursuit of freedom.  That seems like a worthy devotion.  As Americans we even call it an inalienable right.  Yet, as good as it is, there have been some pretty heinous things done in the name of freedom.  True?

3. We become like that which we worship. Here is the harshest reality.  Devotion over time brings conformity.  It’s why we observe old married couples looking so much alike.  The problem lies when our devotion is aimed at inanimate objects or concepts.  Becoming like money or sex or even freedom is not pretty.  The Bible in Psalm 135 says, “The idols of the nations are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.  They have mouths, but do not speak; they have eyes, but do not see; they have ears, but do not hear, nor is there any breath in their mouths.  Those who make them become like them,
so do all who trust in them!”

So how does this impact a society?  I’m not totally sure.  This is what I am still thinking about.  But I believe that if there truly is a Creator and we are the created-then to worship other creations instead of the Creator will only lead to competition, selfish ambition, confusion, and injustice.  Read the headlines any given day.  Our worship has to go somewhere.  If it goes towards a perfect Creator then we have the ability to express His love, justice, mercy and compassion-for His sake alone.  If it goes towards something less-we can only express our limitations in broken ways.

I’m still in process . . . what are your thoughts?