Monday, September 28, 2009

Valuable lessons learned from Robert E. Lee

My son Tim, an experienced forester, is an admirer of Robert E. Lee. When he learned how much I liked the new book on character by Alabama Chief Justice Drayton Nabers Jr., he suggested we swap books.

He wanted me to read one of his favorite books – Robert E. Lee On Leadership by H. W. Crocker III. I found it a delightful book, full of Lee’s “secrets” for successful leaders and fascinating stories of his courageous leadership during the cruel war between the South and the North.

It has been fun to note the passages highlighted by Tim and to celebrate his desire to be a good leader and a man of exemplary character like his mentor Lee. Tim will never lead an army but he has become a man whose strength of character is worthy of imitation.

General Lee was known as “the Grey Fox.” The blue-coated “hounds” of General Ulysses S. Grant failed repeatedly in their attempts to trap Lee. Though usually outnumbered two to one, Lee inspired his troops to stymie the Union Army throughout the war. Even though his men were tattered and hungry, their stinging assaults inflicted 50,000 casualties on the Federals in a single month – May, 1864.

Still, in the end the North’s superiority led at last to Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House. Crocker describes in his book the incredible cost of the war to General Lee:

“A successful soldier, he was not used to defeat. Now he had lost his home, his career, and virtually all his worldly goods – including his carefully harbored savings and investments. Worse, he had suffered the premature death of a daughter, a daughter-in-law, two grandchildren, and countless colleagues and friends.

“A patriot who had devoted his life to the service of his country, who venerated George Washington, who was the son of a Revolutionary War hero (‘Light Horse Harry’ Lee), and who had married Martha Washington’s great-granddaughter, was now deprived of his citizenship and liable to be tried for treason. His home state of Virginia was under occupation, its citizens deprived of their rights, its fields, towns, and cities devastated by the Union’s policy of total war.

“And yet . . . and yet, Lee was not defeated. Soon after the war’s end, he was increasingly regarded not merely as a military genius but as someone to be venerated by the South and by the North, to be venerated, indeed, throughout the Western world as a great man.”

I hope this lengthy quote will whet your appetite enough that you will want to read this good book. Crocker generated my profound admiration for the man Winston Churchill called “one of the noblest Americans who ever lived, and one of the greatest captains known to the annals of war.”

The author provides many examples to support his claim that Lee’s greatness sprang not from what he did but from what he was, and the way he lived. Lee was not merely a military genius; he was a gentleman, so much so that even his enemies admired him.

Douglas Southall Freeman, who wrote a four-volume biography of General Lee, wrote this concluding remark, “I have been fully repaid by being privileged to live, as it were, for more than a decade in the company of a great gentleman.”

One of Crocker’s conclusions is worth noting: “In our own materialistic age, we can especially benefit from Lee’s example of leadership, which reminds us that ultimately what matters is not how much money we have made, how many businesses we have led or acquired, how many jobs we have created, or how many ‘toys’ we have accumulated, but who we are.”

Lee, Crocker observes, “is an ever-present reminder that we can be much more.”

There are indeed many valuable lessons that Robert E. Lee can teach us about how to live a noble life! I commend Crocker’s book to anyone wishing to live a truly successful life. @

When your feelings are hurt you can process the pain and move on

If someone hurts your feelings now and then, relax. No need to panic. It is simply a reminder that you are a human being. You are not alone. It happens to everybody. Chances are it will happen again. That’s life.

The only way to avoid such pain is to live in a cocoon, shut off from people. But that is impossible. None of us can live alone on an island. And even if we could the pain of loneliness would be worse than that of having our feelings hurt. To relate to people is to run the risk of being offended.

What can we do to heal the wounds caused by the behavior or comments of other people? Let me offer some suggestions out of my own experience.

First, give the other person the benefit of the doubt. There is always a chance that the offender was not attacking you but someone else. The offensive comment may not have been aimed at you. If you can believe that the person’s barb was not meant for you, it will help you to cope with the sting.

Second, if you are certain that the hurtful words were directed at you, then try to excuse the offender for some sensible reason. Perhaps the person had hemorrhoids or was stressed out by marital problems. Maybe the person’s friends at work have been giving him a bad time and he was just passing on the pain.

Third, remain calm. Do not overreact. Try to understand what motivated the attack upon you. Had you made remarks that triggered the offender’s anger? Before you put all the blame on the other person, make an honest effort to determine if you helped to create the problem.

Fourth, try not to nurse your hurt feelings and make a mountain out of a molehill. So your feelings were hurt; get over it. Grab yourself by the nap of the neck and put the problem behind you. Bounce back. Refuse to let the acid tongue of another person ruin your day.

Fifth, examine your shirt sleeves. You may be wearing your feelings on your sleeves. If you decide that is true, then ask the good Lord to give you a tougher skin, like the hide of an elephant. Decide that you will not be so easily offended next time.

Sixth, forgive the person who hurt you. Do it in your heart first. Then, as soon as you have cooled down, share how you feel with the person who hurt your feelings. Say something like, "What you said really hurt me, but I value our friendship. If I have done or said something that was offensive to you, I want to ask you to forgive me."

Seventh, resist the temptation to begin sending cryptic messages to the offender. Life is too short to waste time sending hidden messages in the hope that people can read your mind. If you have something to say, say it, and if possible, say it graciously. Leave the barbs for the fence. Speak truthfully but speak in love. Otherwise you may make an enemy.

Eighth, if offering forgiveness is difficult for you, then be sure you never sin. You may be sitting in the holier-than-thou seat. Be careful not to assume that you are the innocent one who has been injured by the hateful offender. There is a good chance you are not innocent. You offend people too. You are capable of speaking carelessly or sharply when you are suffering from heartburn or some other agitation. Because you also can be offensive, you can forgive those who offend you.

Ninth, seal your lips about the incident. It only gets worse when you start telling your friends about the terrible thing someone has done to hurt your precious feelings. Much talk will hinder repair and recovery.

If you keep the matter to yourself, you will not drag your friends into a problem which none of them need, and which none of them can solve for you. Give your friends a break; don’t burden them what may be a minor problem for you.

Tenth, move on with your life. Focus on beautiful things. Your life is too short to spend a lot of time wrestling with issues that have no eternal value.

Choose to enjoy yourself. Enjoy your friends. Enjoy life. Live. Laugh. Love. Forgive. Reconcile. Leave your hurt feelings choking in a cloud of dust! And one final thing: remember to ask forgiveness from the people whose feelings you have hurt! @

Saturday, September 19, 2009

A new phrase that afflicts our daily conversations

I am amazed at how commonplace the phrase, “No problem,” has suddenly become in daily conversations. If you haven’t heard it more than ten times this week, then you must have been vacationing on the moon.
Everywhere I turn someone responds to me by saying, “No problem.” For the life of me, I cannot explain the widespread usage of these two words.
Did I miss an act of Congress requiring the public to start using this phrase? Did Lucy popularize it by saying it to Charlie Brown? Did the Pope mandate its use? Did Billy Graham get it started in his crusades?
Was it in a song by Hank Williams or Elvis Presley? Whatever its source, I missed it.
I wonder if our Hispanic friends gave us this phrase. In Costa Rica my friends there responded to almost every need by saying, “Small problem.” But what they meant was, “We have a solution to the problem.” So it seems unlikely that we have changed “Small problem” to “No problem.”
No matter where the phrase came from, it is apparently here to stay, like it or not. Actually I like it sometimes.
If I ask a clerk in a store to direct me to the electronics department, it seems appropriate for the clerk to say, “No problem,” and then give me directions.
If I return an item I purchased to exchange it for something else, it seems alright to have the clerk say, “No problem,” and assist me with the matter.
In another setting I may interrupt a colleague at work and say, “Do you have a minute?” More often than not he or she will reply by saying, “No problem,” and I find no fault with that.
In the context of these examples, the phrase seems to be a shortened version of “I have no problem assisting you with your concern or your need.”
What bothers me is that its usage has gone wild. People are using this phrase in settings where it simply makes no sense.
Here is an example. In a restaurant the waitress asks what I would like to drink. I reply, “Sweet tea please.” And she says, “No problem,” and walks away.
Soon the waitress returns with the tea. As she puts it down on the table, I say, “Thank you.” Again she says, “No problem.”
When I tell the waitress what I want to eat, she says it again, “No problem.”
A few minutes later she brings my food and I say, “Thank you.” And believe it or not, once again she says, “No problem.”
By this time I am so tired of hearing the phrase that I am on the verge of trying to create a problem!
I have tried to analyze what people mean by this phrase, and what words were used before the phrase was coined.
Some people must mean, “I am happy to be of assistance to you.” Or perhaps, “Even though I have other things to do, I am willing to stop and gladly help you.”
Such usage seem perfectly reasonable to me.
But I have a problem with the phrase being used as a substitute for “You are welcome,” the traditional response to “Thank you.” In that context, “No problem” makes no sense.
The good news about this new phrase that has wormed its way into a thousand daily conversations is that no one seems to use it to be offensive. Nor does its use stir any feelings except possibly mild appreciation for the service rendered.
In time I suppose I can get used to it. After all I have learned not to be bothered by other meaningless phrases such as “How you doing?” or “Stop by sometime.”
We do sometimes afflict our conversations with a lot of hollow and insincere phrases in an effort to be “nice” to others, when what we really mean is, “I am so busy that I really don’t have time to squeeze you into my schedule.”
I guess the best thing for me to do is to stop fretting about how many times a day I hear the phrase and simply say to myself, “No problem.”
I hope you don’t have a problem with that solution. If you do, then all I can say is, “No problem.” @

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Our Mission Team was exhausted upon our arrival in Lusaka, Zambia, in July, 2006. But we soon forgot about being tired as we began our ten days of working with Alfred and Muumbe Kalemba. Those days of service and discovery were among the most rewarding of our lives. We still thank God for allowing us to make the journey and team up with our Zambian family in the service of Christ. Now we often given thanks for the privilege of being partners in the gospel with the Kalembo family as they minister to orphans there and strive to help their people find grace, health and strength for a better life.
The freedom we enjoy as Americans must not be taken for granted

Wars stain the pages of all recorded history. The human race has never found a way to live in peace. Twice America has fought in “the war to end all wars,” but wars continue to the present hour.
The issue in most wars has been land. Japan is a good example. The Japanese felt they needed to expand their territory. Germany is another example; Hitler wanted to rule the world, not just his homeland.
When one nation attempts to conquer another, people rise up in anger to protect their freedom. Some wars last for years, resulting in unbelievable bloodshed. Most people feel their freedom is precious and worth dying for if necessary.
People with power and money have always wanted servants or slaves. We all know the sad story of slavery in America. That story illustrates the truth that slavery has never been popular among the slaves. The Jews hated their enslavement to the Egyptians and later to the Babylonians. Slavery in America was insufferable to the blacks who were shipped over like cattle from Africa.
Sooner or later oppressed people will rebel against their oppressors. The simple truth is that people have an innate desire to be free. People of my persuasion believe that inherent desire for freedom springs from the fact that all people are created in the image of God. Our Maker has planted within the human heart the longing for self-determination, or to put it more simply, liberty.
When Jesus announced to a stunned synagogue crowd his mission in life, he said he had come to proclaim freedom for captives. He spoke to Jews who longed to be free of the harsh heel of the Roman Empire.
Across the centuries men and women have fought and died for freedom. In the 14th Century William Wallace of Scotland fought against injustice and died trying to free his people from the English tyrants. Who can ever forget the breathtaking moment when Wallace (Mel Gibson in Braveheart) raised his sword and screamed the word “Freedom!”? Wallace’s fellow patriots went on after Wallace’s death to win Scottish freedom, but at the cost of thousands of lives.
In churches across the land the men and women who fought and died for our country are often remembered in prayer. Prayers are offered for our troops who are in harm’s way. These brave men and women deserve our support and prayers regardless of our position on the present wars.
Like many Americans I have relatives and friends serving in the military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. I want our troops to come home as soon as possible. I have questions about the war now raging in Afghanistan. . However, I do believe we are engaged in a global war against terrorists who want to destroy, and eventually control, our land.
The conflict in which we are engaged is much bigger than most people imagine. As the most powerful nation in the world, America cannot turn a deaf ear to the millions of oppressed people in the world who long to experience the freedoms we enjoy in the United States. We stand to lose our own freedom if we refuse to help other nations defend their own freedom. And we shall surely face the wrath of God if we turn our back on Israel, the nation that remains precious to our Sovereign God.
In our church we sing songs about freedom, songs like “God Bless America,” “America the Beautiful,” and “Proud to be an American.” We will sing with gratitude to God about our “sweet land of liberty,” the land precious to us because it is the “land where our fathers died.”
We sometimes sing a prayer to God, pleading for his help with this sincere request: “long may our land be bright with freedom’s holy light; protect us by thy might, great God, our King.” Surely no nation can long enjoy freedom without the help of almighty God who makes freedom possible. @
Must I explain all my secrets until no mystery remains?

Basically I prefer openness to secrecy. I like honesty. It wears well on the people who will tell you, without rancor, what they really think. I like them more than the folks who simply smile and leave you wondering what they think.
The impersonal nature of our culture troubles me. The “super” stores sell us stuff for less money but they have robbed us of something valuable. In the Mom and Pop stores we could ask Pop how a certain gadget might work. We knew Pop and Pop knew us. But no more. The “super” store clerks have no desire to know who you are; they just want your money. If what you bought does not work, do not come back crying about it to us; contact the manufacturer in Hong Kong.
I gave up on the big chain drug stores for that reason. I pay a little more for my medicine at a small independent store but I am willing to do that because Barney knows my name. I want the person who sells me drugs that can kill me to know who I am. I want to be more than a customer. I want to be on a first-name basis with my druggist.
But I must admit I do like a little anonymity. There are times when I rather enjoy being just another man in the crowd. Obscurity is not all bad. Obviously no one wishes to be “known” all the time. Famous people must cherish moments of solitude when they are free from public scrutiny.
This raises the question in my own mind: just how personal am I willing to become? An old story comes to mind. One Sunday only one man showed up for church. The pastor preached his full sermon, all 30 minutes of it. Afterward he asked the one man in the audience what he thought about his message. The man replied, “Well, it was not bad, preacher, but it did seem a bit personal.”
Any preacher worth his salt wants his hearers to feel he is talking directly to them. A pastor knows he was on target when a parishioner says to him after church, “Preacher, you have been reading my mail.” One man said to me recently, “How about preaching about somebody else’s sins one Sunday? You have been stepping on my toes for three weeks now!”
Actually secrecy is less and less possible in our society. There is a website now that has collected a lot of information about many of us. I entered my name and was surprised to see how accurately the site listed the addresses of places I lived years ago. I understand you can request that they remove information about you from the site. I chose to ignore doing that out of indifference. Who cares?
After all, Big Brother in Washington knows almost everything there is to know about most of us. Few people are able to fly under the government’s radar. Then there are at least three credit bureaus that are ready and willing to reveal your credit history to banks and businesses. And you never know, unless you ask, that they have done it.
All of us have secrets and there is a certain freedom gained from exposing our secrets to the light of day. I found as a pastor that it helps people identify with you if you will admit your own sins. Some preachers are reluctant to admit their humanity. They want people to think that clergy are above sin.
On my last Sunday in a church I was leaving, a woman said to me, “I am going to miss you. You are the only preacher I have ever known who was a sinner.” That may have been so, but I think she meant that I was the only preacher she had ever heard admit being a sinner.
To become a truly authentic person, must I share all my secrets? To be honest, I would rather not. I am not sure I am ready for total exposure. I want to cling to a little mystery a while longer.
But I reckon it is a losing battle. Finally mystery will yield to openness and truth. I might as well accept it. That is the only way I can explain what Jesus meant when he said, “What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight.” That means, in the end daylight wins. + + +