A Thanksgiving Prayer you are better off not praying

thanksgiving prayerAll across America, families who still pause to give thanks at Thanksgiving are gearing up for the big day of feast, family, and faith. Heads of families or those whom suspect they may be called on to “offer grace” may have already begun boning up on their prayer life. Some like it more rehearsed. No surprises. Eases the tension of suddenly being the only voice in the room and speaking on everyone’s behalf…to God! Others will confidently and boldly “wing it.”

There are those who acknowledge God, but only as a support, or an accomplice. They feel strongly about the fact that THEY provided this meal, this home, this haven of security for their family. Their prayer will likely reflect those sentiments.

There are others who use prayer time as a time to give God their resumè, to make sure He is actually aware of what a lucky stroke of genius it was to turn them loose on His creation to begin with. This is called pride. P-R-I-D-E, and it is particularly loathsome to God. Jesus gave the following example on how NOT to offer thanksgiving:

The Thanksgiving Prayer that isn’t

Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: 1“Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer : ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” ~Luke 18:9-14 (NLT)

Something like, “Hey, God! You ought to be so proud of You for making someone as special as me. I mean, just, Wow! I’m not like other people. I resist the temptations that trap so many. I have a good job. I work hard. I provide for my family. I am loyal to my wife and I could be, you know, out tom-catting…I mean, look at me!”

I know. It sounds ridiculous. And overboard. But I have heard prayers just about that absurd. Pride is the stumbling block over which the very best of us stumbles. You navigate your way through the minefields of dishonesty, disloyalty, adultery, etc…then you start thinking you are special.

God hates that.

Pride is a symptom of a deeper problem

The subject of pride is dealt with rather harshly in the Bible.

These six things the LORD hates,
Yes, seven are an abomination to Him: A proud look,
A lying tongue,
Hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that devises wicked plans,
Feet that are swift in running to evil, A false witness who speaks lies,
And one who r sows discord among brethren. ~Proverbs 6:16 (NKJV)

Pride goes before destruction,
and haughtiness before a fall. ~Proverbs 16:18 (NKJV)

Why is God so put out with the proud?

Pride is a symptom of self-righteousness and self-righteousness is a declaration of independence from God. God’s holiness is only satisfied by His own righteousness. His is the only righteousness He accepts. We are sinners by nature. Any righteousness we muster is fueled by the flesh, not by faith. That is why even the good we do can become a source of sin.

Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone s is in Christ, he is t a new creation; u old things have passed away; behold, all things have become v new. Now all things are of God, w who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are y ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become a the righteousness of God in Him. ~2 Corinthians 5:16-21

Salvation is an exchange of His righteousness for our sin. His righteousness is imputed to our account and our sin debt was imputed to His account and paid  in full by Christ at Calvary. There is no place for self-sufficiency or braggadocio here. There is no reason to tout our own righteous deeds.

But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. ~Isaiah 64:6 (KJV)

Since the filthy rags here mentioned are understood to be the cloths used to cover the infectious sores of the diseased, this is not a ringing endorsement of self-righteousness. It is seen as just a facade, a covering. The disease remains. That is where the blood of Christ comes in.

But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. ~ Philippians 3:7-11 (KJV)

The Problem with Pharisee’s Prayer

The overarching problem with this man’s prayer was that it came from a heart of pride, of self-reighteousness. Look at its content:

He touted his credentials

“I am not like everyone else.”

I am special. I am different. I am better.

In America, where we teach our children about American exceptionalism and the greatness of this nation, we have to be careful we don’t cross that line where we instill in them a sense of personal superiority by birthright. The path to righteousness is the same regardless of the place of your birth.

I was caught red-handed stealing a book from a store when I was about 12. I remember well the discipline meted out by my father.

I also remember him saying, “You do not behave this way. You are a Strother.”

I know what he meant by that. He wanted me to protect the “good” name of the family in the community. I did, however, behave that way that day – not because I was a Strother, but because I was a sinner. I still am. Justification is immediate at salvation. Sanctification and glorification are not.

He used comparisons

“I am not like everyone else and I am WAY better than that tax collector.”

Publicans (tax collectors) were seen as traitors to their people. They were Jews collecting taxes from their own people for the Roman crown. They were notorious for over-collecting to line their own pockets.

In the world’s eyes, a Pharisee following all the rules imposed by the Torah was surely better than a thieving scoundrel tax collector.

But all of our righteousnesses are as filthy rags to God. The law was never meant to justify anyone. It was meant as a guide for morality and as proof that we all fail. We all fall short.

You may be better than your siblings, your neighbors, the drug addict on the street corner, all the fools who voted for Obama, etc…

But you really aren’t.

The sinner’s prayer

That tax collector prayed a much different prayer. He knew he had nothing to recommend him to a holy God…nothing but regret and repentance and the desire for God’s mercy, the desire to experience a change he could not himself effect.

“God be merciful to me a sinner.”

God heard that prayer. He honored it.

Thanksgiving begins with humility

We are thankful when we recognize benefits we didn’t earn and we don’t deserve.

What do you say we let thanksgiving rule our hearts this Thanksgiving? What if it was the beginning of a new way of looking at ourselves, at others, and at the God we claim to love and serve?

What if we finally stopped to realize…

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. ~James 1:17

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

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I, Tom Sawyer: The True Adventures of an American Youth | Part One: Billy Jack, Buford Pusser, and me

I grew up with a Bible in one hand and a copy of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer  in the other. If I had a third hand it would have held a football. A fourth would have had a baseball glove on it. A fifth and sixth would have clamped the handlebar grips of my Huffy bicycle. Mine was the all-American youth in all-Texas towns with names like Mineral Wells, Strawn, and Sansom Park. I had adventures with all-American boys with names like Robert Bunnell, Johnny Caudle, and Troy Henager.

There were other towns and other kids sprinkled in along the way. Together, they conspired to engage me in adventures that, in many ways, remain as vivid in the theater of my mind as they were in the days of their doing.

For posterity’s sake, and because I enjoy the reliving and re-telling of them, I have decided to share some of my adventures (I do not know how many yet) on this blog. If you are entertained by them, I am gratified. If you are not entertained by them, I am, so that will have to suffice. If you read them and they remind you of your own adventures, by all means, share them.

Enough with the small talk. Hop in this time machine with me and let’s rewind to the clock to 1971.

Billy Jack, Buford Pusser, and me


Thou Shalt Not!

I was raised Baptist.

By Baptist, I do not mean the “liberal” Southern Baptist version. I mean the version of my grandfather W.A. Henager and my dad William David Strother. I mean the KJV 1611 version. I mean the version that preached – and by preached, I mean foam-at-the-mouth preached – against long hair on men, women wearing pants (or anything that wasn’t a skirt, dress or ((God help us)) culottes), Rock and Roll music, and MOVIES.

Most of the “Thou shalt nots” would not bother me until I hit about thirteen. But the movie thing had me quietly seething and plotting my revenge as early as 1971, when I was ten.

I know it was 1971, not because I have Hyperthymesia, but because I have Internet and Google and IMDb and can verify that as the year Billy Jack starring Tom Laughlin came out. My best friend Robert Bunnell, a couple years my senior, had gotten to see that movie because his parents had not at that time imposed the theater ban on their three boys.

Billy Jack was an ex-Green Beret Hapkido expert who fought to defend the hippie-themed “Freedom School” from townspeople who did not approve of their counterculture ways. Billy Jack was actually the second of four movies featuring the Tom Laughlin character. It would fail in theaters in 1971, but would be re-released in 1973 and catch fire, raking in $40 million at the box office. Billy Jack would become a cult hero. After that second release, every boy in Mineral Wells, it seemed, except me had seen the movie and could practice his Hapkido moves on his friends or foes…or thin air.

My pal Robert was a renowned fighter. I know he worked a few of Billy Jack’s moves into a scuffle or two.

I felt like such a loser. I couldn’t do any sweet Billy Jack moves. I had never seen one.

I missed Billy Jack twice!

Walking Tall, Running Fast!

Then came Buford Pusser. In 1973, the movie every red-blooded, God-fearing, butt-kicking, snuff-dipping Texas boy had to see was Walking Tall, featuring Joe Don Baker as Buford Hayes Pusser, the sheriff of McNair County, Tennesse from 1964-1970. It was a true story about a sure-‘nough, club-wielding bad-ass good guy.

By the Spring of 1973, my parents had changed neither their religious affiliation nor their minds about going to the theater. So what if that was the only place a boy could see Buford Pusser walk tall? It was a den of debauchery and all manner of wickedness and I was not to darken its doors. (They needn’t forbid my attendance of drive-in theaters yet, since neither I nor any of my friends were anywhere near old enough to manage that.)

I was 11 and wouldn’t hit 12 for another six months the night Robert Bunnell, Johnny Caudle, a fellow named David (a friend of Robert’s whom I do not remember well), and I set out to execute my plan to see Buford Pusser. Walking Tall was showing at the drive-in, which was on 180, the main east-west drag through town. The theatre was out past the hospital, which meant it was on the western outskirts of town. We were at Robert’s house on Kiowa Drive, in a housing edition known as Fairfield Acres, about three miles north and east of downtown. I measure the distance on Google maps while prepping for this telling. My calculations put the theatre 5.7 miles from the little three bedroom, brick house with a carport. Under that carport, as the sun made its last fuss in the jagged hills-that-seemed-like-mountains-to-me-then, I pressed my case for going to the movies.

“How far is it?” asked Johnny.

“‘Bout four or five miles,” mused Robert.

Johnny whistled.

“That’s a hike.”

“Yup,” offered Dave, the outlier.

I remember better what they said than what I said. I know I was in a fevered fit to do it. I know I carried the day. I know that, as soon as darkness had fallen on Fairfield Acres, four boys set out on foot to see what was sure to become the most inspiring movie of their lives. Never mind it was a drive-in and the oldest among us was not yet 14. Never mind we had no car. Never mind Johnny was in from Strawn, spending the weekend with me, and David was from somewhere in town and neither had a bicycle with him, which meant we were afoot. Never mind any of that.

The plan was as simple as it was brilliant. We would be as stealthy as possible while keeping a brisk pace. Keep out of the glow of streetlights and parking lots. Stay well off of Highway 180 – the main east-west drag through town – where the random cop might be driving.

The theater screen had its back to the main street, of course. There were the arced rows of parking spots, each with pole holding the speaker, which the patron would hook on the window of his car to get the movie sound. In the middle of the back three rows was the cantina where the tubs of buttered popcorn, hot dogs, cokes and such could be purchased. A chain link fence enclosed the back of the theater lot. Beyond it was a field where the grass was allowed to grow free and tall…tall enough for a boy to lie on his stomach and watch the movie undetected. Out play was to circled around towards the back, where darkness would cover us, climb through the barbed wire fence of the field, sneak across the field until we reached a good spot with a clear view, and watch Buford Pusser kick ass.

“We won’t even be able to hear what they’re saying,” complained Johnny.

Johnny Caudle was from the tiny town of Strawn, which could be completely traipsed without covering 5.7 miles. He was not enthusiastic about the adventure, which surprised me, because, when I had lived in Strawn and my dad pastored the little church his family attended there, Johnny had proved to be one of the most adventuresome and trouble-seeking pals I had encountered.

“So?” Says I. “It’s an action movie, man. We will see the action.”

“Yeah. You can figure out what they’re saying good enough,” offered Robert.

At least Robert was all in. Maybe it was just for me that he was doing it. He was like that. Tough as a boot. Mean as a snake. Hard-boiled. His knuckles were numb-chucks. His boots were Thor’s Hammer in duplicate. You might want to fight. You wouldn’t want to fight Robert.

He was kind and generous to a fault. Our friendship is halfway through it fifth decade now and he still fits that description. True blue.

Honestly, the walk to the theater, as fraught with potential and imaginary danger as it was for four boys who were definitely NOT where any of their parents expected them to be, turned out to be rather pedestrian (sorry for grabbing the low-hanging pun fruit) uneventful. I don’t remember much about it at all until we were there, wriggling as quietly as possible between the horizontal lines of barbed wire. I remember I snagged my left arm, just above the inside of my wrist, on the barbed wire. In fact, I just stopped typing to find the faint-but-still-with-me scar the barb left.

Once through the fence, a little blood brook running down my wrist and drip, drip, dripping from my thumb, we crouched. The weather was cool and the sky was so starless and tar black, you might have concluded, if you were an apostate and willing to make such musings, that even God was inclined to aid in our dereliction. We moved like an Apache war party through the waist deep grass. We made no more noise than the wind itself might have made blowing across the same field. Only the wind was absent and the only rustle of grass was boy-caused.

There was also the occasional crunch of dead grass or stray twigs beneath our sneakers. But other than that, we moved like ghosts on the prairie, unseen and unheard by all…

Except the hounds of Hell. I do not know how many of them there were, nor what breed. Some howled. Others barked. And from somewhere in the distance they came charging towards the Apaches in the grass. I had managed to stamp out a place in the grass and lower myself to my stomach, rest my chin in my hands and watch about two minutes of the movie before the man-eaters began their baying, barking, and barreling towards us. This was followed by a spotlight being waved across the field back and forth, occasionally flashing its blinding brilliance into my silver dollar eyes.

“Hey, there!” The shout was from an annoyed male. He was, no doubt, the one behind the searchlight.

“Hot damn! They seen us! They seen us!”

That was Robert, who was already upright, his long, lanky legs flinging him the direction we had come.

Each of us was on his feet and in full sprint for the barbed wire. The dogs had come from far enough away that, even though they were closing fast, they would not reach us before we all made it through, under or over the fence. Coming, I had snagged my arm. Going, I ripped my jeans. I did not stop to assess the damage.

We ran for our very lives, putting as much distance between ourselves, the spotlighter, the dogs, and for all we knew, the cops. No escaped convict ever ran with more desperation than I did that night. The thing that mortified me most about the prospect of being caught was facing my dad. Give me prison. Hard labor. Banish me to Patmos, like they did St. John.

Just don’t tell Dad.

The return journey to Robert’s house was the weary march of retreat by defeated warriors. Five plus miles to cover on blistered feet. And for what?

Except for Johnny’s incessant complaining and “I told ya” speeches, we walked in silence.

Somewhere behind us, Buford Pusser and his big stick were cleaning up a county to the delight of popcorn-devouring revelers. The lucky ones in their muscle cars with their arms around cuddling girlfriends knew nothing of the Adventure Boys and their failed mission.

So, I missed a movie. (Never mind. I saw it at least a half dozen times in the ensuing years.)

I made a memory, and that has entertained and sustained me far better than any old movie across the decades of my adventure-life.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.


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God bless A.V. Henderson


Of all the preachers I have known and interacted with in my life, if I had to name a favorite, it would be Dr. A.V. Henderson. Dr. Henderson married my grandparents and was their pastor in Merkel, Texas a long, long time ago. His mastery of the pulpit eventually took him to the pastorate of the historic Temple Baptist Church, Detroit, MI, which was, at the time, one of the five largest churches in America, once pastored by the inimitable J. Frank Norris.

Henderson would also later serve as the president of Baptist Bible College in Springfield, MO., which I would attend in the early 1980s.
templeYou have heard the term “preaching machine?” Well, if that is a complimentary term, then Henderson was a preaching machine if ever one existed, though there was nothing mechanical in his manner or delivery.
Every preacher knows that, when you are speaking to an unfamiliar crowd, there is a bit of “warm-up” required. You have to establish a rapport with the people. Dr. Henderson never bothered warming up a crowd. He walked to the pulpit preaching…and you were drawn in – a moth to the light. There was something in the way pure eloquence would pour from that warm, west Texas cadence that was utterly captivating. He spoke with power, purpose and clarity. His knowledge of the subject was always supreme and his ability to make even the most uninformed “see” what he was saying was unmatched.
People said you could set your watch by Dr. Henderson’s sermons.
“Twenty minutes on the dot.”
He never preached long, but he said enough in those 20 minutes to keep your mind and heart engaged for that many hours. He left you wanting more, but he gave you enough and then some.

I imagined, as I watched him perform the divine art from my perch on the platform, that even Heaven’s angels stopped their activities to listen to that man expound the Word and glorify their Lord.

One of the highlights of my life was when, as a young pastor in Paris, Texas, I was able to bring Dr. Henderson to preach a meeting at my church. He preached in Paris, Texas to a few hundred the same way he preached in Detroit to thousands. I imagined, as I watched him performing the divine art from my perch on the platform, that even Heaven’s angels hushed themselves to listen to that anointed man expound the Word and glorify their Lord.

God bless the preachers who craft sermons with care, bathe them in tears, boil them in zeal, and deliver them in the Spirit.

I have buried the lead here, I guess, but I don’t care. This isn’t a news article. I want you to know what I think about him when I tell you that he is now 96 years old, living in Mount Pleasant, Texas, and has Leukemia. My sister attends the church he and his wife attend. She told me this morning of his condition. Doctors will not be treating it due to his advanced age and frailty. The lovely Mrs. Henderson is there by his side, where she has been for more than 70 years!
God bless the pulpiteers whose hearts are as great as their words are eloquent. God bless the preachers whose lives match their sermons. God bless the men who stand in the gap and make up the hedge. God bless the preachers who craft sermons with care, bathe them in tears, boil them in zeal, and deliver them in the Spirit.
God bless AV Henderson, whom I love.

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Everything all the time

I was spending some of Saturday’s rainy morning sorting through Amazon Prime, downloading “free” music, when I came across an album title that resonated with me. It is a Band of Horses album. It’s title? “Everything all the time.” And it got me thinking.

We have created a world for ourselves and our progeny where we must fill every available waking moment with something. I imagine a Friday night cheer squad leading a lusty crowd in the everything all the time chant…

“What do we want?”


“When do we want it?”


Think about it. We get on a plane for a three-hour flight and the thought of 180 minutes stationary, in the company of strangers, zipping across God’s vast sky, alone with our own thoughts is just too much. So, airlines accommodate us with in-flight movies, Wi-Fi, snacks, booze… God forbid we have “nothing to do.”

We can’t drive to work without being tempted by the allure of Facebook updates and texts from friends. Waiting for a table at our favorite restaurant is just too much. So, we grab our phones and blow up Facebook, Twitter, or a friend’s phone. We have become the worst possible combination of the bratty Veruca and the gluttonous Gunter in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

“I want it, Daddy. I want it now!”


Not so long ago, I was a middle school teacher…and the father of three girls dashing through childhood. I have observed that the worst thing ever for most kids then and now is to be “bored.” I tried to battle this in my kids by telling them, again and again, that “bored” people are boring people. If you have a fertile imagination, you need never be bored. But mine is a withering, weak voice drowned by the ever-accommodating advancements of technology. Convenience. Accessibility. That’s the ticket.



What do we want?


And when do we want it?

All the time!

Here is an observable fact regarding the human condition: There is a massive difference between being filled and being fulfilled. To be filled, you must receive. It requires intake. It doesn’t matter if you are talking about the tangible, like food, or the intangible, like entertainment. No matter how full you get, you will soon need to be refilled. Again. And again.

Fulfillment is something else entirely. Fulfillment is not gained by receiving, but giving. It is not the result of intake, but output. When Thanksgiving comes in a few weeks, plenty of us will stuff ourselves with turkey. We will be filled. But a few will serve others, maybe at a homeless facility or a hospital. Those few will be fulfilled.

Fulfilled > filled.

[Fulfillment is drenched in sweat and bathed in tears. Fulfillment has calloused hands, a sore back, and blistered feet.]

Fulfilled doesn’t need everything all the time. It needs little more than opportunity – the opportunity to invest time, talent, or treasure. That kind of opportunity is pretty much everywhere…all the time. Fulfillment is drenched in sweat and bathed in tears. Fulfillment has calloused hands, a sore back, and blistered feet. Fulfillment has broad shoulders and a big heart.

Fulfillment empties itself and goes to bed full.

Fulfillment is what it means to have everything all the time.


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Passersby: remembering not to forget those you met along the way

Arriving at the office before 8 AM, I am among the first in the BB&T building. The parking lot is empty, except for three or four vehicles strategically parked in the scant shady spots. The early bird gets the shade…and the windshield presents from careless birds.

I’m alone on the elevator for the short ride to the top (3rd) floor. Turn on the coffee machine. Drop off my backpack in the office. Head for the kitchen for a coffee cup.

Returning from the kitchen and past the reception area, the young man whose name I have never gotten, but with whom I have shared a few laughs and almost-daily greetings, has arrived, looking sharp, sounding as pleasant as ever. We exchange pleasantries and I pause to hope good things for him. I don’t bother mentioning that this may well be the last time our paths cross. It’s been a year in this office and I am about to take a four-day weekend. When I return, our company offices will have moved from North Dallas to Las Colinas.

So, I take an extra minute to talk with my nameless friend. I take a minute to commit that friendly face to memory —and hope I remember not to forget him and so many other faces of the passersby.

Now, I am thinking about how it is with life. So few people with whom we connect are actually with us throughout the journey. Many more there are that walk with us awhile. A coworker here, a fellow student there. A neighbor in a neighborhood we abandon for greener pastures. Some we know and interact with for a few years. Some are relationships spanning just months or weeks, or a few seconds on an elevator, or a morning cup of courage at a crowded coffee shop.

Some bring a blessing. Maybe it is a needed smile or a hug when your shoulders are stooped with sorrow. Some bring trouble or a burden…and it takes the passing and perspective of time to realize that even those were a blessing. They made you stronger or forced you to stand up and be counted…or maybe even to rethink your position or your attitude.

I believe in design. I believe in divine control. I believe in the sovereignty of God.

Consequently, I do not believe in accidents. I do believe things happen that are out of our control. I do believe in unintentional occurrences. I know that from the human vantage point, there are plenty of things that can only be explained as accidents. But that is how it appears from where we sit.

God knows better.

If that is the case, there are no accidental meetings in life’s journey. It also follows that none of them are inconsequential.

As I approach the milestone of my 54th birthday, I am aware that there are thousands of people I have encountered along the way whose faces I will never recall, whose names I may have never known. Voiceless faces. Faceless voices. Faded memories.

I am also aware of those with whom I walked but a short while a long-but-unforgotten time ago. I think of them now and again…and smile…or wince…or bat a tear. There are those I assumed would always be a part of my life, but for reasons that range from my own stupidity to sheer circumstance, they have become memories…precious, painful memories.

I thank God for the people He put in my life years ago and still remain. Paramount among them is my wife of 35 years. Through shadow and sunlight, in deepest valleys and on the mountains of praise and joy, she has been – and remains – the truest and most faithful friend I have ever known…and so much more. There are my daughters…whose lights shine more brightly than mine ever has, whose laughter has filled my soul with joy, whose strength never ceases to amaze me. I think of our families, Donya’s and mine, characters all of them…but characters with character, who know how to love and give and stay. Let me mention my great friends Keith and Debbie Day, who once derailed a train in the Arizona mountains just to get to us. (And that is just one story I haven’t the time to tell. It would take a 1,000 page book to tell you all of the adventures we have enjoyed together.)

And then there is my best childhood friend, Robert Bunnell, the toughest and tenderest man I know. The trouble we found together would make Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer green with envy. I am going to head for east Texas, where Robert is working, tomorrow and add another page to that adventure series.

These folks are the stickers. They stick with a fellow, come Hell or high water…and believe me when I say I have weathered both. Thinking of them is easy. Thanking God for them is natural.

But let me pause a moment at the desk in the reception area on the third floor of the building I will leave forever today and say, “Thank You, Lord, for the passersby. And may I live so they will do the same when they think of me.”


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Learning Management Skills from Mary Poppins

Everything I needed to know about management I learned from Mary Poppins.

It was the mid-’80s. My two oldest daughters were little girls and Disney Channel was the new player on cable television. Consequently, there was lots of Winnie the Pooh, Robin Hood, Summer Magic…and Mary Poppins being played in our house. My wife and I watched these and other Disney movies with our girls over and over.

You can learn a lot from Walt Disney. Turns out, you can learn a lot about management from P.L Travers (author) and Disney’s takes on her seminal character Mary Poppins, who by her own assessment was “practically perfect in every way.”

Here, then, are the key management principles I learned from Mary Poppins.

“Well begun is half done.”

This was Mary’s assertion to her two charges when helping them deal with making order out of the chaos of their messy playroom.

Preparation is the key here. Plan your work; then, work your plan. Another adage I have found to be true is this: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

Getting off to a fast start is vital to success. If you fall behind out of the gate, you spend the rest of the race (or work week) playing catch up, which requires more energy and produces less certain results.

  1. Formulate your plan, big picture and for each team member.
  2. Present the plan so that every team member understands his/her role.
  3. Execute the plan.
  4. Evaluate the progress.

“A spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down”

Inevitably, a manager will have to take actions or deliver a message that is unpopular and unwelcome. Whether it is a reprimand or honest evaluation of a team member’s under-performance, unless you are a sadist (or a jerk), this is not going to be your favorite part of management. A little well-placed sugar can sure help your team swallow the bitter pill.

  1. Vocalize their value. Let him know the value he brings to the team…and don’t be vague. Be specific. Let the person know you have observed and are cognizant of the value they bring to the team. When the children complained of their father to Mary Poppins, she made certain they knew just what he did for them, the sacrifices he made, the value he brought to their lives.
  2. Acknowledge their achievements. So, they dropped the ball on this one, but remember how they came through last week? Remind them of that. You noticed. You appreciated it. It mattered.
  3. Eliminate their excuses. Excuses accomplish nothing. They  only serve to shift responsibility, cloud the real issue, and keep us on the path of failure.
  4. Recognize the reason. An excuse for failure is a cop-out. That doesn’t mean there is no legitimate reason. If you don’t know why someone failed, then you won’t know how to help them succeed.

Having spooned in the sugar, don’t forget to give the medicine. The sandwich theory works well. Start positive. Give the bad news. End positive.

Encourage Imagination

Mary Poppins opened the imagination of the children and the adults around her. She helped them see the world, not as it was, but as it could be, as she saw it – a place of magic and wonder.

Every corporation has processes. That’s important. It keeps people “on the same page” and moving in the same direction.

People, however, are not machines. They have ideas, desires, hopes, dreams. Allow for imagination and you may find a better way, a new process that is more efficient and effective.

Working hard is great. Working smart is greater. I have heard – and repeated – that laziness is the mother of all invention. I don’t mean lazy people invent stuff. They don’t. I mean hard working people with imagination, determination, and the desire to accomplish as much or more in less time invent things like the wheel…and the Internet.

Make it their idea

When Mary Poppins sent the children off to work with their father George Banks, she actually made him believe it was HIS idea.

The true genius of leadership (which is greater even than management) is getting those you lead to own your leadership as if it was their idea to begin with.

President Harry Truman said, “There is no limit to what you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.”

“There is no limit to what you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.”

You have to decide whether you want to feed your own ego and toot your own horn or actually build a productive team.

Don’t forget the magic

As straight-laced and proper as Mary Poppins was, she believed in the magic of laughter and imagination. She wasn’t afraid of a tea party on the ceiling. She let the children see the fun and funny side of the nanny…BUT…and this is important…she NEVER lost her dignity. Whether having tea on the ceiling or riding merry-go-round ponies on a fox hunt, Mary knew how to have fun without relinquishing her role as the leader, as a person to be respected and followed.

If you can manage like Mary, you can make believers…and magic.

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of words and wordsmiths, a warning

In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise. ~Proverbs 10:19 (NKJV)

From childhood, I wanted to be a preacher. The strongest influences on my life were pastors and evangelists. I had not entered double digits in age when I began to understand the power of a well-spoken word. I was still that boy when I started practicing my craft, first at home, with my sister and her dolls being the coerced-but-captive audience and not long after, the Wednesday night church crowd.

I was a church novelty. Old ladies would pinch my cheek and say how great it was God had chosen one so young to preach his word.

I experienced the power of the spoken word early. It would be years before I came to appreciate even more the power of the word not spoken.

We are masters of the unsaid words, but slaves of those we let slip out. ~Winston Churchill

Words have been my life…for better and for worse. They have been my greatest contribution and my besetting sin. I have seldom said too little, but often said too much.

No less a Christian influence than John Calvin is reported to have said, “I consider looseness with words no less of a defect than looseness of the bowels.”

My obsession with preaching and public speaking in general inevitably led me to the written word. I soon found that when I wrote a better sermon, I preached a better sermon. I found that, by writing my sermons and speeches ahead of time, crafting them, carving them down, culling out the superfluous, I became more effective as a speaker.

I learned the importance and the impact of silence. Mark Twain, the favorite author of my youth, was a renowned public speaker. He was as popular for that as he was his timeless writings. Twain said, “The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.”

As enamored as I was with bursts of eloquence dancing and darting across the flower-strewn fields of imagination, I was surprised to learn that the finest speeches, the ones most remembered, were short and simple. Perhaps the greatest speech in American history, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, was only 272 words. One would only need about five minutes to deliver it.

From Robert G. Lee’s sermon “Payday Someday” to Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the hands of an angry God,” the most powerful sermons have been simple to understand. One need not own a Lexicon, a dictionary, or a thesaurus to feel their impact. Even Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount can be delivered effectively in under 15 minutes and is easily understood.

I have found that one of the most effective tools a speaker or writer has at his disposal is the editor functions in your favorite word processing application. Leave those unnecessary words on the cutting board. Carve out the fat. Write it. Tighten it. Then, tighten it some more.

Not only will you find you are a more effective communicator this way, you will avoid the sins so often attending unfiltered communication.

Say less. Mean it more.

A word is not the same with one writer as with another.  One tears it from his guts.  The other pulls it out of his overcoat pocket. ~Charles Peguy

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver. ~Proverbs 25:11

Whether they lead to love or war, to peace or conflict, let your words be true representatives of your heart.



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