Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Sermon of the Week(s) (7/20 - 8/2, 2014) Matt Chandler on Gifts of the Spirit and a Critique of Cessationism

I listened to over a dozen sermons in the last couple weeks hoping to find one better than Chandler's from 7/20 entitled Eccentric and Faithful. (Every week is turning into Matt Chandler week on my blog.) Chandler is preaching on 1 Corinthians 12-13 and encouraging those in his church with the gifts of prophecy to use their gifts to edify the body (full transcript here). He does not believe prophecy means preaching or teaching, but in giving a word of knowledge. He explains his own experience with tongues and his exploration of spiritual gifts, critiquing cessationists-- those who believe the miraculous stopped when the Bible was "canonized."

"I have a ton of respect. I do not hate. I am not scared of, but I do strongly disagree with those who land in that camp. I find it to be biblically untenable. I'll show you from their very own argument. Again, I don't hate. I'm not afraid. I love very much a lot of men and women who land right here in this camp. I just don't see it as being biblically tenable. Let me show you that."

Chandler isn't going to set up "prophecy microphones" in his churches' aisles, but The Village Church has an organized system where someone who feels they have a prophetic word can write it down and submit it to the elders for presentation to the body. Or, in individual cases, Matt encourages them to approach the other believer in humility and present their word. But he encourages everyone to "test the spirits" using Scripture as the ultimate authority. 

It reminded me of the church we were members of in Texas, the pastor was known to occasionally have a word of knowledge about what was going on in someone's life. It's nice to hear this kind of message from someone held up as a Reformed, Southern Baptist, Nine Marks model.

Book Review (#70 of 2014) Duty by Robert M. Gates

One of the best memoirs I have ever read, especially by a Cabinet member. This is a helpful book both in terms of an example of both management and leadership; not only of Gates' styles and practices but also Bush and Obama's. I contrast this to Timothy Geithner's memoir which contained nothing in the way of describing leadership or management.

"I did not like my job," "I loathed the job," etc. Gates did not seek the job nor did he want to stay there. He became too emotionally involved (quite obvious if you saw the 60 Minutes interview with him) to make unbiased decisions about the "young men and women" he was trying his best to protect.

Gates was over an agency with 3.2 million employees and a $1 trillion budget. He gives insight into the management of that budget, as he was heavily involved (and praised) for cutting programs, pushing back against Congress' projects, and moving funding to programs that badly needed it.

When he went to Washington he sought the counsel of many, and I appreciated his sharing that process. Every good leader and manager learns from other leaders and managers. Gates already enjoyed bipartisan support and friendships from having served in seven previous administrations, Obama was the 8th President he served. He was also the first Secretary of Defense ever to work for consecutive Presidents from two different political parties. That makes this book an unprecedented read.

This book is very relevant to several current events, and I find that not enough commentators seem to have read Gates' memoirs.

Gates was a Russian history scholar which led him into the CIA in 1968. He understands Putin as one who longs for a previous version of Russian empire. Gates is critical of NATO's aggressive expansion in the 1990s, seeing it from Putin's point of view. He told Putin that he would not accept international criticism over moving troops from Texas to California, so he completely understood why Putin chafed at criticism of Russian bases in the Ukraine and Central Asia. He essentially predicts what Russian reaction would be if it saw Ukraine moving Westward.

Gates opposed the Obama Administration's desire to create a no-fly zone in Libya as a costly misuse of resources with unintended consequences. "I was stubborn, but not insubordinate." 
He (and allegedly Secretary of State Clinton) repeatedly criticizes the Administration's micromanagement of military actions as unprecedented compared to the seven previous administrations (except Nixon) under which Gates had worked.  Candidate Obama argued that the President did not have the authority to unilaterally order military action in a foreign country without an imminent threat to the U.S. Various lawyers from Defense and the State Department contended that he had no authority to engage forces in Libya for more than 60 days. President Obama instead sided with White House lawyers that argued that he could keep forces engaged there indefinitely. The micromanagement continued in other areas such as Hatian relief.

Gates worried about the influence of the Israelis and the Saudis in the Bush White House. He did not want to attack Iran, basically sees himself as getting the administration out of that jam. Only time he "lost his cool" was with King Abdullah, who was waxing forth about the weakness of the U.S. and how he wanted the U.S. to protect Saudi Arabia by attacking Iran. Gates did not like talk of sacrifice of U.S. men & women when the Saudis were willing to sacrifice nothing. Abdullah described Gates as "turning over the table" in the meeting.  Abdullah thanked him for his candor and said it was the first time he actually knew the Administration's true position. Gates writes that the State Department recommended Obama not say much during Iran's Green Revolution, but in hindsight he thinks the Administration should have been more vocal in support of the protests.

Gates also worked to reform the Department of Veteran Affairs after scandals involving mistreatment of soldiers. He worried that his successor would not be up to the task of keeping VA's feet to the fire to reform. He particularly worked on better information flow going to veterans who were seeking care in a complicated system. He does not have high praise for VA.

There is little insight into Syria, but Gates opposed open American assistance for the Israelis in bombing a Syrian nuclear facility in 2007, which Israel later did itself.

He never directly criticizes Rumsfeld or other predecessors, but it's clear he felt he'd inherited a mismanaged mess. Besides the VA messes, Afghanistan had gotten woefully little attention and too many programs pushed by congressmen eager for jobs and votes had been unopposed.

Gates entered the Bush Administration after serving on the Iraq Study Group that, among other things, recommended a large increase in troop presence to stem the violence. He admired Bush's courage for going with "the surge" after most of the top generals opposed it. Gates cites the acquisition and further development of armored MRAP vehicles as his biggest personal accomplishment, saving hundreds of lives and limbs from IEDs. He was frustrated in pushing against his commanders who did not want the vehicle. I think he felt we did the best we could in Iraq, providing security and an opportunity for the fledgling democracy to get off the ground, but knew it was always too much to expect the Iraqis to build a functioning democracy and federal government the likes of which it had never seen before. He never trumpets political successes in Iraq the way Bush and Condoleeza Rice do in their memoirs.

Obama disappointed Gates in being different on issues as a candidate than he was as President. He felt that Obama campaigned on more attention for Afghanistan but that, once in office, Obama never had "passion for the mission." Gates laments that Joe Biden decided to be an even stronger influence on the President than Dick Cheney had been, something contrary to what Biden had said during the campaign. Biden and other staffers were constantly putting articles and opinions in front of Obama to argue that his generals were borderline insubordinate and trying to undermine confidence in the White House. Gates heard Obama say "I am giving an order," which he'd never known a President or any other civilian leader (including Secretary of Defense) say. Gates was offended by the statement and writes that it shows Obama and Biden's unfamiliarity with military culture.

In Obama's defense, he did agree to a troop surge. "The mission" in Afghanistan was never quite clear, which Gates also admits. Is it building a strong central government? Defeating the Taliban (which is ultimately impossible)? Gates admits that in some situations it is impossible to "win" but very possible to "lose," which he was afraid of in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Gates just hated how much domestic politics played into Obama's decisions and how all actions were so micromanaged. He felt the Stanley McChrystal affair was inevitable. Biden and other advisers were just looking for an opportunity for Obama to take a public action that would show that he was "in charge" over his military leadership.Gates was sickened by the politics and wanted to resign in 2010. He and Admiral Mullen are repeatedly put in awkward situations as the young Obama team criticizes Bush-era decisions that Gates and Mullen were instrumental in influencing. Biden seems eager to abandon Afghanistan altogether.

He contrast's Obama's lack of desire to forge working relationships with other foreign leaders with that of Bush and other presidents. But both Bush and Obama made decisions that went against their political base, decisions for which Gates has "utmost respect." However, the Obama White House was in campaign mode and put much more weight on domestic political concerns than the Bush team. Gates' harshest criticism of Obama comes from Obama having broken his word to Gates twice in the budget process, after Gates had worked out numbers with both Obama and the OMB director (both Orszag and Lew).One time, Obama gave Gates an expensive bottle of vodka and an apology for "driving him to drink." He felt Obama also went against his word in the process of repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell. Obama was frustrated with procedure and enforcement of laws he believed were wrong. (This is disturbing to me as the President should not feel above the law, didn't we learn this problem with Nixon?) "I'm the leader of the free world and I can't do anything," Obama is quoted as saying. Gates writes that Obama is pragmatic, thoughtful and professional in his anger, his feelings always passed quickly.

Gates also has harsh criticism for Congress, even though he maintains a respect for their role. He laments the current "scorched earth" battle between Congress and the White House for political points. He admits that both Congress and the media treated him very kindly compared to other high-ranking officials. He had good relationships with both parties, including with Secretary of State Clinton. Both Obama and Gates treated Gates with "great generosity."

In the end, Gates hung on because of the kids on the battlefield. It was awkward him to meet A&M graduates to whom he had handed diplomas to (as President of Texas A&M) on the battlefield. He was not above weeping in front of them.This is a great memoir of someone who hated his job yet did it remarkably well and had unprecedented bipartisan respect. 5 stars, must read.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Morning Rituals

I listen to several podcasts (like Tim Ferriss, fitness podcasts, etc.) and read sites like Lifehacker that encourage productivity, creativity, and efficiency. Most of the podcasts feature interviews with creative entrepreneurs and authors on how they focus their energies and get the most from their day. There has been a common theme related to morning routines, and I wanted to share some ideas I've read/heard lately from these sources, in no particular order:

  • Meditation. These are usually non-Christian sources but they find having a "quiet time" in the morning of meditation and journaling helpful. 
  • Never check email first thing in the morning. Emails make you reactive rather than productive. It is a "soul killer." 
  • Make a list of 6-10 things that you're most thankful for. 
  • Write down the top three things you're worried about that day. 
  • Write down the #1 thing you need to accomplish today in order to be able to say "This was a good day." That's what you need to focus on today.
  • Write down your core values. This should be a concise list. 
  • Write down the #1 thing you need to stop doing in your life. This is a daily reminder to change habits. 
  • Make a list of areas in which you will not compromise on today. 
  • Write out your numbers for the day as a reminder (could be your goal number of push-ups, how many random people you give compliments to, etc.) 
I don't journal and probably never will, but I find mentally working through these lists can be helpful. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Book Review (#69 of 2014) Tribes by Seth Godin

Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us
This is a fantastic look at leadership in the 21st century.

"How was your day? If your answer is 'fine," then I don't think you were leading" (P. 133). 

One criticism is that it's a little bit too repetitive, it could have been even shorter with a few less name-drops and anecdotes.
One unusual insight is that Godin may hit the nail on the head for why we see an increasingly polarized culture. Godin remarks that your tribe should be exclusive. If someone else wants something slightly different, you shouldn't compromise. Let them go start their own tribe; keep yours exclusive. By not compromising you'll have fewer, but more hard-core and committed followers. Don't care about numbers, focus instead on "fans." Sound a little bit like the Republican Party (and various other organizations happy to be made up of an increasingly small but "pure" group) lately to anyone? 

The book: 
Godin is exhorting the reader to step out and lead, motivated by a particular idea (or set of ideas) that people can understand and get behind. To set forth on a Jerry Maguire-like manifesto that people can rally behind, assuring the reader that there are plenty thinking the same things you are that are just waiting for someone else to step out and lead. " about creating change that you believe in"  (47).
It's easier than ever to form a tribe and bind them together. "Local" is relative. Examples are given from Facebook and Twitter, it's easier than ever for your tribe to communicate with one another and to work together to promote the tribe and attract more interested followers. People are also increasingly looking for "the thrill of the new," which is also essential to understanding leadership today (p.16). Gone are the days when stability and consistency were the way to go.
Factories focusing on routine, rote activity, and standard practices used to provide life-long careers, but no longer. "What you won't find in a factory is a motivated tribe making a difference.  And what you won't find waiting outside the factory is a tribe of customers, excited about what's to come" (p. 112).

Now, people (like Godin) start little companies fully expecting them to fail, or expecting them to have a brief period of glorious success before the world/market/technology changes and it's time to move on. Godin encourages fearlessness, writing that most people actually fear criticism rather than failure. Failure and being wrong aren't fatal, they're helpful. "The only thing that makes people and organizations great is their willingness to be not great along the way" (p. 286).
Marketing has also never been easier or cheaper; it's easy to spread your idea and your tribe's story. Don't try to market to your rivals or enemies, focus instead on those who are likely to come over to your side. Focus your efforts on those who are already in your tribe, making others eager to join the tribe themselves. (Sound a little like Jesus in John 17:20-23?)

There are plenty of overt messages for the Church and faith-based entities in this book:
"Tribes are about faith--about belief in an idea and in a community. And they are grounded in respect and admiration for the leader of the tribe and for other members as well" (p. 35). But, the best leaders "reflect the light onto their teams...don't want the attention, but they use unite the tribe and to reinforce its sense of purpose" (p. 140).

Godin contrasts a "fundamentalist" and a "curious person." The fundamentalist will reject any new information that might not fit into his religion, whereas the curious explores first and embraces the tension between new information and his religion before making an informed judgment (p. 174). Curious people are the ones who lead the "brainwashed masses" who have stopped moving.

Religion is a two-edged sword to Godin. Religion is the structure that helps support the idea of the tribe and helps to unite them in their common beliefs. But religion is also self-serving in that it is designed to prevent change and adaptation, even at the expense of our faith. Once established, it becomes easy to label as "heretic" anyone who challenges the status quo (p. 217-218). "Challenge religion and people wonder if you're challenging their faith," how many times have I run into that in my life? (p. 219). Godin's examples of creating religion around faith are Steve Jobs and Apple, Phil Knight and Nike.

Godin is careful to contrast leadership and management. Management reacts, while leaders respond or, better yet, initiate (p. 230). The only truly distinguishing characteristic of a leader is a decision to step out and lead.

I give this book 4 stars out of 5. Highly recommend it.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Book Review (#68 of 2014) The One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard and Spenser Johnson

The One Minute Manager
This short book is a classic that everyone should read. It outlines a simplistic approach to management that calls for managers to empower their employees while fostering open and positive communication. This is a book on management, not leadership. There is no information on whether or how a One Minute Manager communicates the company's vision, his own vision, or holds departmental meetings. My highlights:

"The One Minute Manager always makes it clear what our responsibilities are and what we are being held accountable for...(he) feels that a goal, and its performance standard, should take no more than 250 words to express. He insists that anyone be able to read it within a minute."

You create goals for the most important tasks-- for the 20% of your tasks that are 80% of your productivity or key responsibilities. If there is a special project that comes up, you set another concise goal for it. The manager doesn't micromanage, the manager and employee agree upon the goal and it's up to the employee to figure out how best to accomplish it.

One-Minute Praisings:
"Tell people up front that you are going to let them know how they are doing. 2. Praise people immediately. 3. Tell  people  what  they  did  right—be specific. 4. Tell people how good you feel about what they did right,  and how it helps the organization and the other people who work there. 5. Stop for a moment of silence to let them “feel” how good you feel. 6. Encourage them to do more of the same. 7. Shake hands or touch people in a way that makes it clear that you support their success in the organization."

One-Minute Reprimands:
"1. Tell people beforehand that you are going to let them know how they are doing and in no uncertain terms. 2. Reprimand people immediately. 3. Tell people what they did wrong—be specific. 4. Tell people how you feel about what they did wrong—and in no uncertain terms. 5. Stop for a few seconds of uncomfortable silence to let them feel how you feel. 6. Shake hands, or touch them in a way that lets them know you are honestly on their side. 7. Remind them how much you value them. 8. Reaffirm that you think well of them but not of their performance in this situation. 9. Realize that when the reprimand is over, it's over."

Every reprimand has two parts, the initial pointing out of the error and the personal affirmation at the end: "If you are first tough on the behavior, and then supportive of the person, it works."

Goals Begin Behaviors
Consequences Maintain Behavior
Also, the One Minute Manager never repeats himself as that's a waste of valuable time. That'd be nice but most bosses I've had tend to forget both what they've said and what I have previously told them.

Here's the summary diagram: