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What Ever Happened to “Thank You”?

Have you noticed how few people say “Thank you“? There’s a gaping hole in social civility?

Without implying any noble purpose, virtue, or chivalry to myself, let me share some examples of ingratitude that I’ve experienced recently. Within just the past week I’ve held doors open for women, seniors, people with their arms full, and a couple young mothers with strollers. I’ve purchased goods and services from people and organizations when I could just as easily have made the purchases from someone else. I’ve responded to lost tourists’ requests for directions. I’ve let other drivers have the right-of-way when the rules of the road according right-of-way to me. (Did you know there are rules that define who has and who has not got the right of way? Yep.)

What do think happened? In almost every single situation, nada… nothing… zip. Silence, not a smile or even a non-verbal nod of the head.

I even broke my stride to try to help a guy patrolling a parking lot looking for someone who spoke Italian. I don’t speak Italian, but I tried to help him anyway until he told me in English that he worked for Armani, was flying back to Italy “tonight”, didn’t want to have to carry some extra weight and bulk back to Italy and would give the four leather jackets he had in his trunk for the low, low price of… well, you get the picture. What did I get for trying to help? Not even a whispered grazie.

I can’t imagine this past week has produced sadder examples of ingratitude than any other week might produce. We seem to live in a perpetual state of ingratitude.

According to Merriam-Webster ingratitude means ”forgetfulness of or poor return for kindness received”.  Ingratitude seems to be epidemic in Western societies, even among Christians. This is a serious problem. There’s more is at stake than merely bad etiquette. Ingratitude is a spiritual issue; and a spiritual issue that inhibits Godly change.

Recently I heard Jim Cantelon say, “Do you know how you can know you’re living in God’s purposes and living out your calling in Christ? One thing… gratitude. You’ll be full of gratitude.

When we demonstrate ingratitude, whether rooted in forgetfulness or haste, we not only offend people, we offend the Triune God of grace and glory. God’s people should be bursting with gratitude; instead many seem bridled by busyness. We should be infused with the conduct of the Creator who took time to lift lowly loaves of bread. Instead many are harried by haste.

A failure to say ‘thanks’ in appropriate situations is a far more serious problem than a case of bad etiquette. I believe this neglect is but an outward sign of an inner problem. We’ll look at this issue more in subsequent posts.

For now, ask yourself, “Am I grateful?” Your answer reveals much more than your manners.

Interview: Annie Downs – Part II of IV

Our interview guest is author, Annie Downs:

In this second of four episodes you’ll hear Annie talking about:

  • The contents of Annie’s book, From Head to Foot: All of You Living All for Him
  • How she decided what to include in and what to omit from the content; questions of personal disclosure and transparency

Make sure your speakers are turned on and your volume is turned up.

Episode Length: 26:29

Did you know these things about Annie?

  • Annie was a school teacher with a great love for children and young people.
  • Began writing by journaling and then as a blogger.
  • From Head to Foot: All of You Living All for Him is styled as a memoir. The book is deeply personal, touching and delightfully humorous.
  • Annie’s first book has been a huge success, so much so that Annie has been taken on by a major publishing house and is already working on her next book
  • Annie is a biblically-rooted and engaging conference and camp speaker with a great passion for young people.
  • Annie spent several months in 2011 ministering in Scotland.

Browse or subscribe to Annie F. Downs’ blog at http://annieblogs.com/.

You can contact Annie directly by going to Annie’s blog, clicking on the Contact tab at the top, and then fill in the Contact Me contact form.

Personal Note: If you have a daughter, grand-daughter, niece, or know of some other young Christian woman, pass along this podcast link and Annie’s contact information.

New is Normal – Beware

Monday – a new Monday too. Imagine that – a brand new Monday. God isn’t giving you an old Monday. God doesn’t make us suffer through Bill Murray’s Hollywood version Groundhog Days.

It’s really not that unusual when you stop to think about it. In fact, it happens every week – every brand Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and so on all wrapped up nicely in a brand new week. Look around… new is everywhere.

Now think about the implications of God-given newness. It’s true. God made ‘new’. Just like everything God made, new can be used or new can be abused.

Deuteronomy 32 is a remarkable chapter about newness. The chapter begins in verses 1 and 2 with words of instruction and assurance, bursting with promise…

“Listen, O heavens, and I will speak!
Hear, O earth, the words that I say!
Let my teaching fall on you like rain;
let my speech settle like dew.
Let my words fall like rain on tender grass,
like gentle showers on young plants.”

Verses 9-14 recount God’s goodness, provision, and generosity…

“For the people of Israel belong to the Lord;
Jacob is his special possession.
He found them in a desert land,
in an empty, howling wasteland.
He surrounded them and watched over them;
he guarded them as he would guard his own eyes.
Like an eagle that rouses her chicks
and hovers over her young,
so he spread his wings to take them up
and carried them safely on his pinions.
The Lord alone guided them;
they followed no foreign gods.
He let them ride over the highlands
and feast on the crops of the fields.
He nourished them with honey from the rock
and olive oil from the stony ground.
He fed them yogurt from the herd
and milk from the flock,
together with the fat of lambs.
He gave them choice rams from Bashan, and goats,
together with the choicest wheat.
You drank the finest wine,
made from the juice of grapes.”

Remarkable – day after new day God noticed and nourished with perpetual newness. Yet like a child wanting to be tickled, fickle hearts soon found God’s newness stale. In a short verse, Scripture provides a ‘newness warning’ that’s easily missed. The New Living Translation (verses 15-18) wraps a powerful truth in a revealing irony that we need to notice.

But Israel soon became fat and unruly;
the people grew heavy, plump, and stuffed!
Then they abandoned the God who had made them;
they made light of the Rock of their salvation.
They stirred up his jealousy by worshiping foreign gods;
they provoked his fury with detestable deeds.
They offered sacrifices to demons, which are not God,
to gods they had not known before,
to new gods only recently arrived,
to gods their ancestors had never feared.
You neglected the Rock who had fathered you;
you forgot the God who had given you birth.

“To new gods only recently arrived.” Ouch is an understatement. Did these new gods come bubble wrapped? The tendency for trivializing and tinkering can be tempting. In a Burger King world of ‘have it your way’ (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJMsFGH4eoQ), we can be easily lulled from newness into me-ness. (No, I am not implying Burger King is responsible for or complicit in a me-ness movement.) We’re enveloped in a cultural shift to me-ness. None of us is exempt from such me-ness tendencies.

With each new day comes the promise of new hope and possibilities. In the midst of those possibilities lies the possibility for us to turn – one degree at a time – to our own ways ‘neglecting the Rock’. It’s essential for us to consciously keep our eyes on the God who gave us birth.

A prudent practice for those who take change seriously is check carefully in the midst of newness to ensure our eyes are fixed firmly on the Author and Finisher of our faith – that we are receiving God’s newness and not our poor, wrong, sometimes even evil substitutions.

When the Ground Moves Beneath our Feet

What can we do when our world changes in ways beyond our controls and beyond our comprehensions?

No sound system. No vestments. No platform. No liturgy. No apparent theological credentials. Yet, God is pleased and touched when people pray in simple honesty, faith, and confidence in him, who is the Merciful God who created heaven and earth.

(NOTE: There is a short commercial at the beginning of this video. The 15 or so seconds delay is worth the wait.)

 

 

I couldn’t help but weep as I watched and listened to these young people pray. May this prayer be so in each us and descriptive of us all.

Keep looking up…

Simplicity On the Far Side of Complexity

In our pursuit of seeking Wisdom for a Change, I don’t ever want to be simplistic. If (or should I say when) I am, challenge me. Iron sharpens iron.

Former U.S. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “I wouldn’t give a fig for the simplicity on this side of complexity, but would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” I seek in this blog to find and share simplicity on the far side of complexity.

Yet, let’s face it, change is complex. Understanding change is neither simple nor easy. James O’Toole cautions against practicing “the most dangerous exercise of simplicity: unidimensional thinking in a multi-dimensional world.” So, how can we discover Wisdom for a Change?

Check out this example of using a visualization to gain understanding into a complex issue. I refer you to The Billion Dollar-o-Gram 2009 courtesy of David McCandless @ informationisbeautiful.net.

http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/visualizations/the-billion-dollar-o-gram-2009/ I encourage you also to click on http://bit.ly/bndollar to see all the data in the visualization and more.

Now, as serious Christ followers, what can we discern from the The Billion Dollar-o-Gram? What are the missional implications of such insights?

Information can contribute to greater wisdom. What’s the value of greater wisdom is we fail to gain understanding about our calling?

By the way, I’d recommend obtaining a copy of Leading Change: The Argument for Values-Based Leadership (New York: Ballantine Books: A division of Random House, Inc, 1995) by James O’Toole.

Change Initiative Guidelines

Established guidelines improve the quality and consistency of study in any. And, every practitioner needs more than just best practices; diligent practitioners need best praxes! The study of change is no exception.

In the coming few weeks I’ll share a half dozen or so guidelines that can help you avoid the pratfalls and pitfalls that seem inevitable when processing – or even contemplating – change.

Now remember, guidelines aren’t rigid rules. Guidelines need not only to be comprehended, but apprehended. So don’t just use the guidelines, use your noggin.

After all we’re talking about wisdom, not just words.

Cultural Artifacts and Christmas

In the previous posting I wrote, “Cultural artifacts are the ‘things’ a group uses to become a group, function as a group, and survive as a group. In the Christian context, cultural artifacts are intended to be tools, not treasures. Unfortunately, even our most incidental and peripheral tools can become treasured tools and ultimately objects of worship.”

I’ve also noted that cultural artifacts are both products of social constructions and contributors to the initiation, perpetuation, and enculturation of social constructs. This is true of our Christmas thoughts and practices.

This Christmas set aside some time to contemplate the subject and object of Christmas. Consider the extent to which Christmas-related cultural artifacts and social constructs have become the subjects and objects of love and devotion rather than the One of whom these things are to point us.

There is nothing wrong with cultural artifacts or social constructs, providing these ‘things’ are recognized merely as tools and not as treasures which we refuse to hold lightly. Have a blessed Christmas season with the ones you love focused on the One whom we worship and adore.

Cultural Artifacts – Part 2

Following the previous post… cultural artifacts are the ‘things’ a group uses to become a group, function as a group, and survive as a group. In the Christian context, cultural artifacts are intended to be tools, not treasures. Unfortunately, even our most incidental and peripheral tools can become treasured tools and ultimately objects of worship. Understanding more about how cultural artifacts develop and the morph into objects of our worship is vital to correcting dangerous attitudes and behaviors.

Whenever a social group creates vocabulary, develops a protocol, introduces a practice, or acquires an object, the group invariably creates, modifies, or fortifies its existing beliefs, behaviors, and experiences. These consequences may overtly relate to the cultural artifact. Often relationships between cultural artifacts and social construct are not so obvious.

Regardless, a social group’s cultural artifacts can tell others immediately or at some later time about the group’s creator and the group’s members as it communicates a social construct.

As we will see, not only are cultural artifacts products of social constructions; cultural artifacts contribute to the initiation, perpetuation, and enculturation of social constructs.

Thoughtful, faithful Christians must learn to distinguish between cultural artifacts that lead us and others to higher ground from artifacts that chain us to tableland. We need to know the difference between social constructs that are life-giving from those that are Spirit-smothering; and we need to discern between implicit understandings that are God-glorifying and understandings that conceal covert idols.

Cultural Artifacts – Part 1

A social construct is an institutionalized “cultural artifact” invented, created, or evolved – whether consciously or unconsciously – by participants of a social group.

Cultural artifacts may be tangible or intangible. All that is necessary for a cultural artifact to exist is for a social group’s participants to agree and then behave as if it the cultural artifact exists. This acceptance leads to the group members behaving in accordance with certain associated protocols or standards.

We can think of cultural artifacts as something characteristic of or resulting from a particular:

* Human institution (e.g., denominations)
* Period (e.g., medieval or modern)
* Trend (plainsong or praise choruses)
* Object (e.g., pipe organs or electric guitars), or
* Practice (e.g., paedobaptism or adult baptism).

Cultural artifacts are designed or developed consciously or unconsciously. In turn, such artifacts are used by social groups (e.g., a Bible study group, a church board, a ministry team, a congregation, or a denomination) to meet the group’s re-occurring needs (e.g., to communicate, solve problems, express itself, or otherwise communicate important meanings that are essential to its existence and feelings of well-being).

Repetition

Whether by conscious commission or oblivious omission, change process leaders often confuse others with mixed messages. Ironically, I’ve found when interviewing or observing leaders, few leaders believe they are prone to this – or at least will fess up to doing this.

Yet, observation suggests the problem is chronic. I suspect mixed messages occur for a variety of reasons. Here a few common causes:

1. In an attempt to avoid alarming people, setting off bells, offending some or alienating others, leaders often obfuscate the purpose and content of contemplated change(s).
2. Leaders may not be sure themselves of what they’re thinking, making it very difficult to communicate clearly, coherently or cogently to anyone else.
3. Leaders underestimate the power of words and phrases. So, regardless of a communicator’s awareness or intentions, even when communicators use similar words or reference common content, specific points and constant expressions are missing, and messages seem mixed.

Politicians call this staying on message. Marketers call this differentiating. Educators call this continuous reinforcement. Broadcasters refer a sting as a repetitive device that signals meaning. My son Andrew, who has a keen interest in psychology, refers to this as construct fixity.

Over the next few postings we’ll examine why repetition of sounds, images, words, phrases, and even annunciation are vital tools in processing change. Notably, in our quest for wisdom, we’ll gain insights from some experts, including Moses and even some contemporary political characters.

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