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Losers, Baseball, and Mindsets

This morning I had the privilege of sharing a morning devotion with 100 or so Regional Speech and Debate competitors from the NCFCA. I thought I'd post the "transcript" of that message here for those who may have missed the devotion as well as for those who simply need a word of encouragement. The message I had for them was tailored to the speech and debate competitor, but I think you'll find the overall theme can be applied to each of us in one way or another.

Take a good long look at the people around you--left, right, front, behind. You ALL have something in common and I bet you'll never guess what that is.

Go ahead. Take a guess.

Ready for the answer?

You are all losers.

That wasn’t very nice, was it?

Before you get too offended, let me clarify. I don't mean "Loser” as in the infamous L-shaped-hand-gesture-to-the-forehead, I mean that you've all lost. Repeatedly. Even the so-called "winners" in the room have lost far more often than they've won.

You've lost arguments. You've lost debate rounds. You've lost speech competitions. You've lost athletic events. You've lost. And losing can be tough.

Any baseball fans in the room today? I truly love baseball because Baseball players have to learn to cope with defeat more constantly than any other athlete.

If you know anything about baseball, you know that even the greatest players in history only have batting averages in the .300s. Ty Cobb’s lifetime batting average was .366. Ted Williams was .344. Babe Ruth: .342. Lou Gehrig: .340. Hank Aaron: .305. Mickey Mantle: .298.

That means that for every ten times these Hall-of-Famers got up to bat, they either struck out or batted out seven times. Seven out of ten times they failed. 70% fail rate. Wow.

Sports columnists Thomas Boswell once said:

“A losing streak can mount up on you so much quicker than a winning streak that it's a kind of terror that grips a team. It's like the spooky music that runs under baseball.”

So how do baseball players learn to deal with SO MUCH constant “failure” and loss?

It could be their superstitious nature. Or maybe they are just mentally deranged? Can they not see that getting out 7 out of 10 times is a horrible track record?

I think Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck has the answer.

Dweck has spent decades of research on achievement and success, which she wrote about in her book called Mindsets.

According to Dweck, mindsets are just beliefs—beliefs about yourself and your most basic qualities.
  • your intelligence,
  • your talents,
  • your personality.
QUESTION: Are these qualities simply fixed traits, carved in stone? ~OR~ are they things you can cultivate throughout your life? According to Dweck, your answer indicates whether or not you have a FIXED or GROWTH mindset.

In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities—intelligence, talent, etc.—are simply fixed traits. They spend their time PROVING those qualities over and over. Every situation is evaluated: Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected? Will I feel like a winner or a loser? And they have no strategy to deal with failure. They give up and move on to something easier.

By contrast, in a growth mindset, your qualities—the hand you’re dealt in life—is just the starting point for development. Someone with a growth mindset isn’t focused on PROVING but on IMPROVING. They believe everyone can change and grow through application and experience.

This growth mindset creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. People with a growth mindset understand that no one has ever accomplished great things—not Tchaikovsky or Ty Cobb—without years of passionate practice and learning.

Dweck argues—quite convincingly—that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life and what you will be able to accomplish.

Why waste time PROVING over and over how great you are, when you could be IMPROVING instead? Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them?

The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives—those times when the losses seem to be mounting up.

Listen to what the Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Phillipians (3:2-15, NET):

Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh!
For we are the circumcision, the ones who worship by the Spirit of God, exult in Christ Jesus, and do not rely on human credentials – though mine too are significant. If someone thinks he has good reasons to put confidence in human credentials, I have more:
I was circumcised on the eighth day, from the people of Israel and the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews.
I lived according to the law as a Pharisee.
In my zeal for God I persecuted the church.
According to the righteousness stipulated in the law I was blameless.
But these assets I have come to regard as liabilities because of Christ.
More than that, I now regard all things as liabilities compared to the far greater value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things – indeed, I regard them as dung!– that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not because I have my own righteousness derived from the law, but because I have the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness– a righteousness from God that is in fact based on Christ’s faithfulness.
My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already attained this – that is, I have not already been perfected – but I strive to lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus also laid hold of me.
Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have attained this. Instead I am single-minded: Forgetting the things that are behind and reaching out for the things that are ahead, with this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Therefore let those of us who are “perfect” embrace this point of view. If you think otherwise, God will reveal to you the error of your ways.

The Apostle Paul did not have a fixed mindset. He did NOT believe that who he was and what he was capable of was fixed, written in stone. He believed in a God who makes change and growth possible—and so he determined to continue learning, continue growing, and continue IMPROVING!

I challenge you: when you walk into a room today and prepare to debate or give a speech, check your mindset. Are you going in there to PROVE yourself to be a winner (fixed mindset)


Are you stepping in that room and looking at those judges, that moment, as one more chance to IMPROVE yourself—to become a better speaker, a better debater?

If you choose the latter, you have already won, regardless of how you score on the judges ballots.

Medals, awards, certificates … these are all great. But let’s be honest: They have no value in and of themselves. You can’t resell them—even on Craigs List—for more than a buck a piece. But IMPROVING yourself, LEARNING to be a better speaker than you were, a better debater than you were, that knowledge is a priceless treasure that will profoundly impact your life—far more than any trophy or award ever will!

Say this with me:
  • Always learning!
  • Always growing!
  • Always Improving!
Now go learn. Grow. Improve. Always.

More Bible Passages

For those who would like to explore this topic from a biblical perspective, I encourage you to meditate on the following passages of Scripture:
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Are You a Spiritual Diabetic?

According to Healthline.com, “29.1 million people in the United States have diabetes, 8.1 million of whom may be undiagnosed and unaware of their condition. In adults 20 and older, more than one in every 10 people suffers from diabetes.”

Type 2 diabetes is a disease that affects the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels. As a result, those levels can become dangerously high, potentially damaging nerves, skin, eyes, kidneys, and bladder.

That’s why diabetics are told to monitor what they eat and drink. A cupcake can pose a real risk under the right conditions. But what about “all the good stuff” they have to miss out on? Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, Valentine's Day … those may have come and gone, but there are plenty more holidays on the way, and holidays often bring indulgences at social gatherings. Should diabetics be expected to “miss out” on what “everyone else” at the big shin-dig is enjoying?

In a word, yes. It is the sacrifice they must make in order to stay focused on the "mission" of better health. To quote Count Rugen from The Princess Bride: “If you haven't got your health, then you haven't got anything.”

The truth us, we are all diabetics, spiritually speaking. Our bodies are flawed. They do not have the ability to regulate themselves and stay on track. That’s why we need Christ. That's why we need God's Word. Oftentimes it is incredibly tempting as believers to see things that the rest of the world is indulging in and think, They look like they are having so much fun. No one is getting hurt. No laws are being broken. Can’t I just do what they are doing? What could it hurt?

Please ... stop excusing disobedience. Furthermore, don’t mistake God’s amazing grace for His approval. Yes, God is long-suffering. But think of how much healthier we could be if we just learned to obey God's Word. In other words, what if instead of having a "missing out" mindset we chose instead to have a "mission-oriented" mindset? Think about it.
  • They look like they are having so much fun. No one is getting hurt. No laws are being broken. Can’t I just do what they are doing? What could it hurt? Have you ever felt this way?
  • Why is the thought of “missing out” so compelling? Why do we care?
  • What would you say are the most common things that the world wants us to think we are “missing out on”?
Throughout the Old Testament, Israel often found some lame excuse to try and justify their disobedience or to excuse them from submitting to God’s will. We’d do well to learn from their mistakes.
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Do you consider yourself to be a "lucky" person? How about a "blessed" person?

In 2000, recording artist Rachel Lampa released a song that you may remember:

“I am blessed / I am blessed / From when I rise up in the morning / 'Till I lay my head to rest.”

Are you blessed? Perhaps more importantly, what exactly does that mean? What sort of “proof” does that conjure up in your mind? Do you think of your family? Your job? Your great hair or flawless tan?

It’s interesting when we look at Matthew 5:1-12, some of Jesus’ remarks about the "blessed" are so counter-intuitive: Poor in spirit; mournful; persecuted; insulted. It's doubtful that very many of us would call ourselves "blessed" in these contexts.

There’s even more shocking stuff tucked away in these so-called “beatitudes” of the blessed. The Greek word is makarios, which means “fortunate, well off, happy.” It isn't a particularly religious word at all (especially when compared to eulogia). It describes someone who is in an enviable or "fortunate" position. It corresponds to the Hebrew asar and connotes someone whose paths are straight. In other words, no matter what, in the end, everything always seems to work out for this guy or gal. In the immortal proclamation of Napoleon Dynamite: “Lu-cky-y-y!”

Strange, right? Can you even imagine hearing these words: “Dude! Mr. Poor in spirit. You are lu-cky-y-y!” or “Whoa! Crying man. You are so-o-o lucky!” Weird. But keep in mind—not lucky as in some random chance of the cosmos or the result of owning a rabbit’s foot, but lucky as in being in the right place at the right time. How so? Because the Kingdom of heaven is near! Your circumstances are just right for the intervening grace of God. You will be comforted. You will inherit the earth. You will be satisfied. You will be shown mercy. You will see God. You will be called the children of God. If grace were a seed, your circumstances are the exact kind of soil that the blessings of God thrive in. “Lu-cky-y-y!”

Your circumstances may not make you feel very “lucky” or blessed, but you are, because you are a disciple of Christ, and each step of faith and obedience puts you in the right place the right time for God’s guidance and care. Lu-cky-y-y!
  • Have you ever thought about the beatitudes in this way? What do you like about it? What do you dislike?
  • Is this the kind of message that would appeal more to the person who seems to have been “born with a silver spoon in her mouth,” or to the person who is struggling?
  • Given the historical context, Jesus’ audience was most likely filled with those who were struggling—the poor, the lonely, the hurting. How do you think they responded to his message?
The beatitudes are the most well-known “blessed” verses, but there are plenty of others. If you really want to learn the secret to getting "lucky"—to being in the right place at the right time to experience God's blessings—take a look at these verses (opens a PDF via Google Drive)!
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Is God's Word Like a Map?

We have a small group of believers ranging in age from nine to 50-something that meet in our home each week for prayer, fellowship, a meal, and Bible study. The Bible study portion of our time together is very interactive. We read Scripture, we ask questions, we make observations; we wrestle and chew on the concepts that present themselves from God’s word. We rarely have any 3-point lesson plans to guide us. As you might imagine, that leads to some fun and interesting conversations, but it also leads to some really amazing “A-HA!” moments for our little community of faith.

Recently, we were discussing the concept of sin as “missing the mark.” The focus was on how we seem to be constantly getting off-target and on how God works to get us back on target. One of the teens in the group piped up and said, “So, it’s like a divine GPS! And God is constantly having to repeat the same patient phrase: ‘Rerouting…’”

Dr. Lee Roy Martin notes that the popular idea of God’s Word being a road map is not without merit, but it is “too impersonal.” It doesn’t take into account the fact that God has a purpose and plan for each of us. God interacts with us through His word, His Spirit, prayer, and more. A GPS (while still not perfect) is a much better analogy, I think, because it recognizes both the reality of a destination and the interaction along the way. Our challenge is in learning to recognize and trust His voice as He divinely directs our paths each day . . . hopefully without too much rerouting being necessary.
  • Has God ever spoken to you . . . not necessarily in an audible voice, but in a way that you were sure that it was Him?
  • Why do you suppose it seems so difficult at times to recognize God’s voice when He speaks?
  • Do you think God ever gets tired of having to constantly “reroute” us in order to keep us on track?
For deeper study, consider reading the story of Hannah and Samuel in 1 Samuel and consider how God’s providential guidance was at work in their lives.
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Facebook Newsfeed and the Misdirected Outrage of UnFans

Today I received a message from a “former” fan of one of the Pages I manage on Facebook. This particular page has over 85k Likes, so the volume of Messages and Notifications is pretty high. This particular message stood out, though:
“please stop sending messages.. i have unlike you and dont know why i keep getting posts”
This is one of those frustrating things about how Facebook works that most users do not understand. But she was nice enough in her message, and even if she had been hateful, I want to try and answer people in the kindest, most helpful way possible on behalf of my clients, so here is how I responded. Feel free to use this as a guide for the next time you receive a bit of "misdirected outrage" from a Facebook “un-fan” about seeing your posts in their newsfeed. Alternatively, if you are one of those who is frustrated because you keep seeing posts in your Newsfeed from Pages that you have "un-Liked" (or never Liked in the first place), these instructions will help you as well.
Our apologies, Beth, but we do not control what appears in your Newsfeed. Facebook makes those decisions for each person individually.

If you have "unliked" the [brandX] page but are still seeing posts from us, it is likely that Facebook keeps showing you our posts because your Facebook friends have Liked, Commented, or Shared our posts. Here are the instructions on how to stop that from happening in the future. The next time you see a post from [brandX] in your Newsfeed, take the following steps:
  1. In the upper right corner of any [brandX] post which appears in your Newsfeed there will be a small, grey drop down arrow (looks like a lower case "v"). Click on it.
  2. In the drop-down list that appears, there should be an option to "Hide all from [brandX]. Stop seeing posts from this page." Click that button.
If that doesn't work, you'll need to use Facebook's "Help" feature for any additional troubleshooting on this issue.
So there you go. Problem solved ... maybe. Only Facebook really knows. Also, maybe I didn't give the best advice to this user. Did I leave something out? Are there reasons that she could still be seeing our posts that I failed to mention? Let me know in the comments. (And as always, please be nice.)

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The Story of Santa Claus, Part 1

Santa Claus is surely one of the most beloved figures of modern times. But did you know that he was perhaps even more beloved long before he acquired a fur-trimmed red suit, a big round belly, and nine flying reindeer to pull his sleigh? It’s true, the historical figure who would one day come to be known as Santa Claus was famous for his kindness and generosity. His story began less than 300 years after the resurrection of Christ in modern-day Turkey—just 500 miles or so up the coast from the boyhood home of the Apostle Paul. Even more fascinating is how his fame spread north and west, throughout Europe and eventually to America. From America, his fame spread all around the world so that today it is told in some form on every continent. As author William J. Bennet puts it, it is a “long and circuitous route,” so be prepared for a lot of history.

Nicholas of Myra

Our story begins with a little boy named Nicholas who grew up in Lycian Turkey, in a popular little seaport town called Patara. Unfortunately, our story also starts off sad. Nicholas’ parents became ill and died when Nicholas was still little. Thankfully, in a monastery not far from Patara, Nicholas had an uncle who would become his guardian. So Nicholas grew up much like the Biblical story of the prophet Samuel who spent his childhood in the Temple under the care of the High Priest, Eli. A key part of Nicholas’ history is that he was the sole heir to his parents’ substantial wealth. But Nicholas was clearly cut from a different cloth even early on. He didn’t really need or want the inheritance. Instead, he decided to give it all away! I don’t know about you, but I don’t know very many people who would give away their entire inheritance.

Scripture tells us in 2 Corinthians 9:7 that “each one of you should give just as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, because God loves a cheerful giver.” Without a doubt, Nicholas of Myra was one of history’s most cheerful givers! Perhaps the most well-known story of Nicholas’ largesse is the story of the three poor sisters. In those days, a dowry was part of the marriage process. Upon learning about the need, Nicholas devised a plan to slip out under the cover of night and drop a bag of gold through a window and into the home of the girls. (Some tales have the bags of gold dropping into the girls’ stockings that had been hung to dry.) He did this on three separate occasions—one bag of gold for each of the girls. The third time, he was caught by the father, but Nicholas made the grateful man promise not to reveal his identity. His act of charity would remain a secret.

Eventually, Nicholas became the Bishop of Myra. He loved and cared for the people with complete devotion, and soon his generosity and kindness became known far beyond the borders of Myra. When new sailors would come to town, they would learn the tales of Bishop Nicholas and then take them back to their own towns and families far away. Nicholas became quite famous. Too famous, perhaps, because when the Emperor Diocletian began his persecution of the Church, Nicholas was sought out, arrested and tortured for his faith in Christ. After more than five long years, Nicholas was finally released by a new Emperor named Constantine. As soon as he was released from prison, he went back to serving as bishop, and the stories of his life continued to grow and spread all over Europe. On December 6, 343, after becoming a very old, wise, loving man, Nicholas himself died. Today, paintings of Nicholas in a long red bishop’s robe and a full white beard can be seen all over the world.

While the similarities are striking, it still doesn't explain how Nicholas of Myra became Santa Claus. That's part two.

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12 Biblical Reasons to Give Thanks

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I certainly love it as much as I love Christmas (even though it doesn't get near the treatment that Christmas gets).

Growing up, Thanksgiving was the day when my Mom's side of the family got together. It was always a huge meal with lots of people. Of the "big three" (Food, Family, Faith), the first two were always associated with Thanksgiving. But the "faith" aspect of Thanksgiving wasn't really ignited in me until 1986. I was still a new Christian and learning how to have a different outlook on life. Then along came Back to the Street, by Petra. It was the first album to be produced by John and Dino Elefante and the first to feature new lead singer John Schlitt. The entire album is amazing, but the last song, Thankful Heart, really impacted me. 

I have a thankful heart
That you have given me
And it can only come from you...
Help me be a man of God
A man who's after your own heart
Help me show my gratitude
And keep in me a thankful heart
I want to be someone who lives with an "attitude of gratitude," and so Thanksgiving is an opportunity each year for me to sort of "recalibrate" and prepare myself to enjoy the Christmas season in a truly non-commercial, non-material manner. 

This year I started thinking, what does the Bible have to say about thankfulness? Many of my Facebook friends participate in the activity of making a daily post to identify their thankfulness for something or someone. That's fantastic. A few years ago, I started the "Say Thanks" campaign on Facebook and each year try to get a few more people to participate. Also fantastic. But I felt like some element was still missing. So I did the study and found that the Bible did have a lot to add to this conversation. Here are twelve Biblical reasons to give thanks:

  1. Scripture Commands It. 1 Chronicles 16:8 says, "Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done." Psalms 100:4 says we are to "Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. Need more? See also Psalms 105:1; Isaiah 12:4; and Colossians 3:17.
  2. Because of His Righteousness. "I will give thanks to the LORD because of his righteousness and will sing praise to the name of the LORD Most High" (Psalms 7:17).
  3. For His Laws. What would cause someone to want to get out of a nice warm bed at midnight? Psalms 119:62 says,"At midnight I rise to give you thanks for your righteous laws."
  4. Because His Name Is Near. "We give thanks to you, O God, we give thanks, for your Name is near; men tell of your wonderful deeds" (Psalms 75:1). This is the most fascinating reason I found. I think, as believers, many of us have really missed out on the power of knowing some of the many names Scripture uses for God. His names reveal His character—and in many cases, His promises to us. To have that kind of knowledge near (handy) is something for which we should truly be thankful.
  5. Because He Reigns. The twenty-four elders of Revelations 11:17 fell prostrate before the Lord and had this to say: "We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign."
  6. For His Deliverance. "Save us, O God our Savior; gather us and deliver us from the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name, that we may glory in your praise" (1 Chronicles 16:35). Later, Psalms 106:47 would repeat this almost word-for-word.
  7. For Answered Prayer. The Psalmist gave thanks because the Lord answered his prayer for salvation (Psalms 118:21). And in his second letter to the believers in Corinth, Paul said "many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many."
  8. For Christ and the Victory He Gives. In 1 Corinthians Paul writes, "But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (15:57). And then in his second letter he echoes that sentiment, saying, "But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him (2:14). In 2 Corinthians 9:15 he calls this an "indescribable gift!"
  9. For His Love and Deeds. When Scripture uses the same phrase multiple times (even in Psalms), it's worth giving a bit of extra attention to: "Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men" (Psalms 107:8, 15, 21, 31).
  10. Because His Love and Mercy Endures Forever! This is a big one. 1 Chronicles 16:34 says it outright: "Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever." Then in verse 41, people were "chosen and designated by name" to give thanks in this fashion. When Solomon moved the Ark into the Temple (2 Chronicles 5:13) he had a full band and choir on-hand to sing this phrase, and then "the temple of the LORD was filled" with the glory of the Lord. We see this same phrase used contextually in 2 Chronicles 7:3, 6; and in 20:21. The Psalmist repeats it eight times (Psalms 106:1; 107:1; 118:1, 29; 136:1-3). And finally, the prophet Jeremiah records the phrase in 33:11 as a prophetic promise from the Lord concerning what one day will again be heard in Israel.
  11. For Other Believers. In his letters to both the Ephesian and Roman Christians, Paul takes time to give thanks for other believers (Ephesians 1:16; Romans 6:17).
  12. For Everything! This may be the hardest reason to give thanks. Ephesians 5:20 says we should be "always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." 1 Thessalonians 5:18 backs that up saying that we should "give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." That's for the good and the bad, the highlights and lowlights. Of course, it is easier when you make reasons 1-11 a matter of lifestyle. 
This year, as you prepare for Thanksgiving Day, I encourage you to spend some time meditating on each of these reasons to give thanks according to Scripture itself.
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