Tag Archives: purpose

starting to focus

blurred picture of andrew and allieI’m working on focus. I working on the questions that I need to ask myself about what I am doing, about whether, in fact, I am doing what I should be doing.

You know the feeling.

This is not asking about whether this is the right job or career or direction. Instead, this is about how to be more on target, more on task.

I’ve been reading two three books that are helping me this week to move toward focus. [Side note: between the time I started this post and the time I am finishing, a week later, I have forgotten what other book I was reading that was helping me focus.]

1.  Steve Farber tells a wonderful story, a leadership fable. And then, in the appendix, I found this sentence: “Love is your retention strategy.”  The Radical Leap: A Personal Lesson in Extreme Leadership.

Farber is talking about a variety of kinds of love, love of people, of an idea, of a vision. I need to focus it to people. But I realized when I read that sentence that for church, which is where I spend my time, love has to be the retention strategy. It’s core, it’s basic, it’s foundational.

2. Sometime before I read The Radical Leap, I was reading Sticky Church by Larry Osborne. Osborne is talking about how to close the back door for churches, to make them, as he says, sticky.

Basically, what we have done is to take most of the energy and resources we would have spent on special programming and front-door events and instead poured it into making our church more welcoming and sticky.

Once I gave up the dream of reaching everyone outside the church, I was suddenly free to focus on taking care of those who were already inside the church.

It sounds like Osborne is wanting to turn church into a club. That’s not the case. What he is wanting is to make them so loving that the word of mouth brings people in rather than huge marketing efforts.

Obviously, if I were writing reviews of these books, I would need to summarize more of their arguments and examples and systems. I’m not. I’m talking about focus. And from these two books come one focusing question to ask myself everyday:

“How did I close the back door by loving today?”

That is a focus that will actually make a difference. A quantifiable, justifiable, verifiable, life-changing difference.



walking away from success

Some of us humans are insecure.

Some of us humans like to hear praise from other people.

Some of us, when someone tells us that we are good at something, shift all our energy toward that thing.

Some of us, when we make that shift, are wrong.


Jesus is in his adopted hometown. He heals his best friend’s mother-in-law. After the sun goes down, the whole town gathers in front of the house. It probably wasn’t the whole town, just all the sick people and their families.

So Jesus healed a lot of them.

And then, sometime, he went to bed.

I’m guessing that a lot of the sick people camped out that night. I’m guessing that a lot more people showed up in the night.  Word of mouth is a wonderful thing. Word of mouth is something you can’t pay for. Word of mouth is the beginning of a movement.

So the next morning, when Peter looked out of his front window and saw a crowd waiting for his friend, he had to be excited.

He went to the guest bedroom and listened. No snoring. Maybe Jesus was a quiet sleeper. Peter waited awhile longer.

The noise was getting louder outside. Coughing and wheezing, moaning and groaning. Peter went to the guest bedroom again and listened. Nothing. He cleared his throat. No response. He risked a quiet, “Um, Jesus, would you like your breakfast fish grilled or fried?”



Peter looked in. And saw an empty bed.

Just then, a knock on the door and Andrew, Peter’s brother came in. And saw the look of panic on Peter’s face.

They started looking. The people outside started looking. Everyone was looking.

That’s what Simon told Jesus when they found him, anyway: “Everyone is looking for you.”

What they wanted to say was, “Whoa, Jesus. You got their attention. You got dugg. Everyone is following you. If we can harness this, you have it made. I’ll bet there’s a book deal in this. I’ll be you could get 3-4 books out of this one.”

The guys had it figured out. Jesus does back, heals a bunch of people and his career is set.

Jesus said no. Jesus said that they were going to other towns. Jesus said he had to preach to other people.

Although Jesus’ resume included “healer”, his business card did not. It probably said something like “telling people about the kingdom since we started it.”

(No wonder Simon Peter spent a lot of time on the road after that. He knew the size of the crowd in front of his house.)

But the challenge is a good one.

What success am I willing to walk away from for the sake of my purpose? What “could do” keeps me from my core “must do”?

And what about you?

From [Mark 1:29-39]


Oh yes. Where had Jesus been? Doing what he did regularly. He got up before sunrise to go away from the crowds. He needed the solitude. He needed to talk with his Dad. He needed to refresh his focus.

Time enough to change

Seconds and decades showed up in my brain last week.

I heard a report early in the week that at 6:59 pm (EST) on December 31, a second will be added to atomic clocks. This ‘leap second’ will account for the fact that the earth is slowing slightly.

I started thinking about seconds. I considered a post about what we could all do with our extra second. What would happen if everyone put their seconds together? Think of  the extra hours someone would have to  get something done before the end of the year.

I laughed. I would spend my extra second writing. Then I would ask you to give up that second and many more to read this silliness. So I didn’t write.

Last Thursday, I started reading about deliberate practice. (See Tim Walker’s collection of deliberate practice resources). This concept is from research into what makes experts experts. What seems more important than talent is intentional, planned, stretching, deliberate practice. Four things stand out right now:

  • It takes at least 10 years to become world class.
  • It takes daily action during that 10 years.
  • The focus of practice is technique more than outcome.
  • You have to commit.

I started thinking this weekend about what I want to be able to do well in 10 years. What do I want to be known for? What do I want to understand then–about myself, about God, about how to live one for the other–that I need to start considering now?

Many of us are looking at the past year, thinking about what we didn’t get done. We are looking at the next year and trying to plan what to do. I’m wondering whether I need to think smaller and larger.

How can I use today’s seconds to be who I want to be in a decade?

not much year left

At the beginning of the year, I wrote an 8 ways post about goals and about accomplishing stuff (January 1, 2008) . With a month left in the year, I went back to that post to see what I had said, to see how I was doing.

I realized that the original post is worth reviewing as we get to the end of 2008. There is still time to redeem the time.

1. Ask yourself or your partner in accomplishing life, “list three words for the year.”
Rather than giving you a roadmap, these can give your heart direction for the year. (One of our words for the year is “smaller”, reflecting a desire to live more simply with many fewer purchases.) [This was a great idea, except that I don’t remember all three words. One was “smaller,” one was “simpler,” and one may have been “finish.” I’m hoping it was because this has been a year of finishing some things.]

2. Identify month-long rather than year-long goals.
This year I set a goal for August, for thirty days of posting. It was achievable because it was sustainable. I did the same for Advent. I’m planning it again for Lent. [The lent project turned into a group project, which was great And I’m finishing two months of posting tomorrow. And I’m still working with shorter-term goals. What about you?]

3. Talk next to rather than across from a guy.
Nancy realized that part of our success in walking and talking this year came because we weren’t looking at each other. I’m certainly not opposed to looking at my wife–quite the contrary. However, it is easier to talk while side by side. (The real principle here is that we need to make progress comfortable).

4. If “purposes” or “directions” are more helpful than “goals”, great.
Progress is more important than language.

5. Interact with people.
I’ve been stretched by conversations this year in ways that I never would have imagined at the beginning of the year. I think differently than I did…and so do some of the people that I’ve talked with. And the truth? Our projects may fail or fizzle, but the more we are deepening in relationships, with both other humans and with God, the less significant those projects are. [This has been ever more a year of meeting people and talking with people. And of having to remember how important that is.]

6. Let goals masquerade as things you want to do.
You think, “I want to read that particular book.” Do it. Then you will have read something, grown your world, given yourself something to talk with others about, challenged your thinking, and kept either a library or bookstore in business. (And here are some books to consider…from my “bookstore” or I could loan them to you)

7. Tell other people about what you are wanting to do in as direct or vague a way as you want to be held accountable.
There are a bunch of people who are really tired of hearing that we’ve been walking. The more we talked about it, however, the more we knew we needed to keep going. And as we were at the mall this morning, we noticed a couple we know who have decided to walk at the mall. So we’ll keep talking about walking. [They didn’t keep walking. We have. But I am also sure that we need to tell people our core goals. Or we’ll forget them.]

8. Forget about lists. Just live.
(Although ironically, just living can turn into a whole collection of 8 ways lists.)


Advent starts on Monday, December 1 (at least my book does). You could make one of your goals to use an advent calendar or book.

My advent ebook is available as a FREE downloadable pdf, advent2008, (Right click on the link to the left and save the file to your computer). Or leave me a comment and I can email it to you. It’s also a digital book on yudu.

looking back – 4 things (part 1)

looking back

This post was first published February 12, 2007)

The leadership of our church started talking about what we value. In a couple of conversations, we developed two lists of core values, with a lot of overlap. And then as we met, we started talking about what we want to be known for, about what four things we want people to know about us, about what we would say in 15 seconds about our church.

It was a great exercise, because we have a bunch of people who really care about church NOT being church or playing church. We want to be, well, “a Biblically-based, caring community, worshiping God and reaching people for Christ.”

In this statement are actually FIVE things, but that’s okay.

First, we want to be a community. There are many things that a church could be: family, club, party, team, association, therapy group. What we are saying is that we pick community. We want to be about relationships that matter, about people coming and going but desiring to put down roots, about interdependence, about different ages and skills and abilities and interests but something in common. We want to be.

Second (and last for this post), we want to be Biblically-based.

That has the potential to be scary. The Bible gets used in ways it was never intended and therein is great pain. However, what would happen if we looked at it, not as a book of lists or rules or strange names, but as a love letter.

What if God really exists and really cares about people like a groom cares about a bride? And what if the groom is a King and the bride is an abused slave girl? What if that groom wrote a bunch of letters to that bride, in the middle of her slavery, telling her that he loved her, saying what life in the court is like, telling her how to live in the courts of the King. What if he explained what happens to the people who are holding her in slavery? What if he told the stories of what love means. What if he wrote about his own love for her which caused him to give up his royal position and live in exile and die for her.

Would that slave girl look at those letters as rules or as expressions of love? Would she see a life more restrictive or a hope of freedom. Would she look in them for ways to restrict, or would she be reading them and saying to other slaves, “the prince is coming, he really does love me, he somehow smuggled food to me, he wants me.”

And what would a community that was built around love letters from the king look like?


“Looking Back” is an opportunity to republish posts which have mattered to me. They may matter to you, too.

Dental assisting

I got a crown yesterday. A filling had cracked and it was time to fix it. A couple weeks before I had the bad part done (with incredible amounts of novocaine). This appointment was merely for putting the $700 piece of metal in my mouth.

I walked in and sat down. The dental assistant said, “You have an iPod, don’t you?”

I do. She knows because it is my own pain reliever. I discovered that if I play David Crowder as loud as possible through the ear buds, I can’t hear the drill.

I told her that I did. She asked about charging it. She said that she had gotten the new iPod Skip. (She meant Shuffle). She tried to charge it at home but it kept flashing red. She brought it in to the office but wasn’t sure it was working. I asked where it was. We went to the front desk. She told me she had called tech support who said she needed to stop it before unplugging it. We stopped it. We unplugged it. I asked her about directions. It hadn’t come with any that she remembered. She hadn’t downloaded iTunes. I told her to start there when she got home.

We went back to the chair. I sat down and the dentist came and put the crown on. And I laughed at the fact that I was dental assisting.

I didn’t help much, I’m sure. I can figure out how to do things in the moment. I have an iPod mini (thank you again, Michael). I can run it, I can load songs, I’m listening to Yo Yo Ma right now. However, I don’t have the manual memorized and I have never used the new Shuffle. I can’t tell you how to do the installation nearly as well as I can show you. I can’t tell you all the steps nearly as well as I can help you think through the questions.

And that is the answer, for me, to yesterday’s question. I quoted Patrick Lencioni who has a character in a business fable ask “What is the one thing I do that really matters to the firm”. His character actually identified four things that he had to do as the CEO of a consulting firm: hiring an effective team; providing organization clarity; communicating that clarity; putting in place human systems to continue the process.

The point of the exercise is to identify what you are made to do, equipped to do, gifted to do, shaped to do. Having discovered that one or four things, the challenge is to learn how can you strip away the rest of the activities to focus on that thing. Because if you do that one thing well, even if you don’t get to other activities, you are invaluable to the firm.

For me, that one thing is helping people understand. I am a translator, not of languages, but of ideas. I can find metaphors that can illustrate. I can find threads of meaning. I can create pictures. I do it here all the time.

The danger for me is that I also like to do as part of that helping. I can get caught up in producing the video, in fixing the technology, in sorting through the details.

Here’s why that’s a danger: if I can help someone else understand, then they can do the fixing and I can help someone else understand something else.

I offer that understanding of me only to help you understand the point of the post yesterday.

What are you built to bring to the table, better than anyone else at your table?

Don’t get falsely modest. You know that you are better at gracious truth-telling. You know that you are capable of handling chaos that would drive others over the edge. You know that you can handle details. You can create powerful word pictures. You can synthesize ideas. You can encourage. You can love unlovable people. You can write in 5 words of poetry what other people spend essays to accomplish dimly.

And you are likely the only person with that one thing at your table. There are other poets, but not in your house. There are other synthesizers, but not in your firm. There are other detail people, but they are in other departments or churches or universes.

So what is the one thing or the three things?

And what is it that you get caught in, that keeps you from that one thing or those four things?

And what would it do for your firm or family or friends if you put your energy into doing your one thing or four things as well as you possibly can?

I wish I could have helped the dental assistant more. But I think I helped her understand.

I hope I helped you.

So, let’s try again. What’s are your one or two or four things?


This marks my 575th post. When I started blogging, I read that someone said you couldn’t talk about staying power as a blogger until you had 500 posts. By now, that number is probably higher. Ah well.

I’m just grateful you come by. And have contributed to the more than 1000 comments.

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