The Sign Guy Without A Sign

CarveLike most iPhone users, I have a love/hate relationship with Siri.  The guidance offered by her electronic vocal chords generally gnaws on my nerves while leaving me wondering why I subject my life’s traverse to a programmer in Northern California.

You’re familiar with the procedure:  Push and hold the “home” button and wait for her to acknowledge your summons…

“Beep, beep.”

“Take me to the nearest sign shop.”

“Did you say, ‘wine shop’”?

“No.  Take me to the nearest sign shop.”

After selecting the closest sign maker from her offerings, I obediently followed the cues to a site on Front Street.

We needed a sign to affix to the outside of our new church building in Butte, Montana.  A sign is important because it tells the public who you are and sets some expectation about what people can find inside.

Without much misdirection I arrived outside a building bearing 804 as the only other confirmation I had reached my destination.  Quickly scanning the building, I noticed a blinking “Open” sign in the window.  I exited my vehicle and after approaching the door, reached for the handle and pulled.  Being bested by a magnet in the top left corner sent my eyes looking for a solution.  “Push the button for service” was posted just above a metal box to the left of the door.  So, wanting service, I pushed the button.


“Can I come in?”

The faint hum of electricity granted me entrance into the building.

I immediately stood in a hallway.  Looking both directions, each way provided 20 feet of carpet leading to the next expanse.  A taller person might have missed the little red arrow affixed to the wall at knee level pointing would be adventurers to the left.

The customer at the service counter had long gray hair.  Not the gray you get for $8 at the local beauty college but the gray that absorbs light; dull, dingy – almost sepia like.  He was leaning in such a way that his center of gravity jumped through the service window to an employee with gauges the size of golf balls.  The millennial accessorized his mutilated ears with ingots thrust through his eye brows and lower lip.  He wore a black knitted cap with white paint screened deep into its fibers in the shape of a skull.  The gray-haired man was filling out what looked like a job application.

“Business is booming in Butte” I thought trying to find an explanation for why I was standing four deep in a line to order a sign.

Abstract art hung on the walls of the large, brightly lit room.  Scattered magazines lay on top of the forty-two inch round table at my rear.  One magazine in particular – you know, one of those oversized ones?  The cover image was a grunge guy leaning against a wall crossing his arms against his midriff.  Entertaining some way he paid for all that ink, I wondered how many banks owned his house.  I couldn’t help but notice the title at the top of the half-inch stack of high gloss paper all glued together that read, “Hanabis”.

“Ok, all I need now is your driver’s license.”

I watched as the man dipped into his back pocket to retrieve his billfold and hand over his identity.

As if my suspicion wasn’t already redlined, all the components of this experience: the door, the music, the old guy, the millennial, the abstract art, the over-sized magazine – it all came into focus when, in one rehearsed transaction, the younger handed the older…a green card.

“I’m in a marijuana shop…” , the synapses of my brain crashed together.

I caught eyes with the satiated gray-haired man as he silently hobbled past me.   Before the next customer could begin her personal iteration of a jackpot I asked, “Hey, is this a sign shop?”

“No, we’re medical marijuana.”

“Where’s the sign shop?”

“Next door.”

“Next door” was only a room full of unlabeled boxes and metal shelving.  Acting on the last remaining option, I exited the building.

One hundred feet away was a descending ramp leading to a rickety old door left open about two inches.  Peering inside took me to a place I remembered seeing on the 27 inch color TV in our living room when I was a kid watching Pinocchio.  The scene was dark and dusty.  The rays of luminance from the windows cast shadows on the concrete floor revealing the corkscrew shaves of wood – the evidence of effort from the man standing at the table in the center of the room.

A real life Geppetto, the sign maker wielded a wooden mallet and a chisel.

“Tick.”   “Tick.”   “Tick.”  Each instance sending more material to the cold floor.

The answer seemed obvious, but I was compelled to ask,  “Is this a sign shop?”

I entered the shop introducing myself with a smile and a handshake.  His strong, leathery hand was the antithesis of his face and voice.  We laughed together as I told him about my trip to the marijuana shop.  He indicated I wasn’t the first.

“You know why, John?  You’re the sign guy without a sign.  Your business isn’t properly marked.  Nothing outside promises I’ll get what I’m looking for – a sign.”

Stop and think about that for a minute.  Isn’t a sign guy without a sign very similar to a Christian without the outward evidence of an inward Christ?

Did you know you’re being watched?  Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of people are watching you and me looking for some external evidence of the goodness we so commonly profess.  But, what are people seeing? Well, that’s for you to control.  And, that’s the lesson learned from the sign guy who doesn’t have a sign.

PS.  I think I figured out what “Hanabis” is.  It must be the combination of hemp and canabis – Hanabis.


I met a guy a couple weeks ago named Richard in the Elkhorn Yacht Club parking lot on Thanksgiving day.  My eyes were fixed on him as he fiddled with some fishing gear at the tailgate of his rusty, vintage 1970’s Ford pickup.  After several minutes, I approached him and asked if I could take his picture.  Specifically I asked, “Sir, do you mind if I take your picture?”

“Yes, I mind” was his quick reply.

However dissatisfied with his answer, I compliantly said, “ok”.

As I was turning to walk away he asked, “Why do you want my picture?”

“It’s because you typify a sailor and I wanted a picture of a sailor.  And, I just think you look really cool.”

Responding to my compliment he said, “Ok, you can take my picture.”

I quickly snapped one shot trying to balance unfavorable luminance with Richard’s seeming crepuscular demeanor.

I put out my hand and while Richard reciprocated, I thanked him.  I mentioned living in Montana and being down at Moss Landing for Thanksgiving with my sister, a resident of California.

“Montana, hmm…Montana.  I think my son lives in Montana.  Is there a place there called, Palistal or Teliscal…?”

“You mean, Kalispell?”, I offered.

“Yeah, yeah…Kalispell.  That’s where he lives.”

Kalispell is in the northwest corner of Montana and a several hour drive from where I lay my head most nights.  It’s located seven miles from Flathead Lake and 31 miles from of Glacier National Park.  It’s a place known for ice-carved mountains and inviting beauty.

It didn’t take a detective to conclude Richard’s lack of relationship with his son.  I mean, he didn’t even know how to enunciate Kalispell…  Brining my hunch to fruition I said, “Richard, I’m just going to guess that you don’t know your son very well.  I never knew my father and it’s been the single biggest void of my life.  You need to know that it’s probably your son’s single biggest void also.”

It’s uncertain who was more stunned by my allegation.  I expected Richard to disregard my personal history lesson by getting back to his fishing tackle or worse, by throwing a hay-maker my way.  Yet, instead of enmity, Richard starred at me; obviously taken to a place 1200 miles north of our position.  He was engaged.  As he sat on the tailgate jutting out from the rear of his rust-bucket, I told him my story.  It’s a story that concludes with God, my heavenly Father, filling the void left by my earthly father.  It’s a story that illustrates God’s plan for my life through a relationship with Jesus Christ, my sin bearer.  It’s a story that offers forgiveness, understanding and hope for a better tomorrow.  It’s a beautiful story.

Our conversation ended two hours later with me inviting him to eat Thanksgiving dinner with my family.  His reaction confirmed he wouldn’t show.  He’s a loner who allowed me a rare opportunity to invade his isolation for just a couple of hours.  I encouraged him to call his son and to get reacquainted.  For Richard’s and his son’s sake, I hope he does.

The Seal That Is Changing My Life

Actually, all I could do is stare; mouth wide open getting angrier by the moment.  At a distance, the lonely seal just looked out of place, separated from the community almost as if it was ostracized.  A withdrawn seal among a community of seals – and I mean a community!  They were laying all over each other, busy and active, barking and jawing each other.  But not this one.  This one was different.  This one was detached.  This one was declining.

I recently got home from spending a week at Moss Landing over the Thanksgiving holiday.  Moss Landing is a small beach community about 10 miles north of Monterey on the central coast of California.  It’s a striking place with rocky waterfronts, coarse, sandy shores and thousands of barking sea lions.

It was Thanksgiving day.  My sister was busily preparing a wonderful feast complete with roasted turkey, wild rice and mashed potatoes.  While she was crashing pots and pans in the kitchen, I wanted to witness crashing waves.  I knew there was a dock full of sea lions about a mile away, near Elkhorn Slough, so Selena and I headed there lugging our cameras.  We gingerly strolled up the pavement barely able to hear each other talk because of the noise and breeze produced by dozens of passing vehicles annoyingly hugging the shoulder.  About the time you get to the bridge spanning the Slough is the about the time you start hearing barking seals.  Halfway across the overpass you begin seeing literally hundreds of seals bathing in the sun.  We quickly made our way to the jagged shoreline taking dozens of pictures of these extremely social mammals.

It was fun to watch them interact with each other.  They were spry, energetic and playful.  I wondered for a moment what an existence would be like with not much to care about other than when the next meal would be brought in by the tide.  The next moment was spent observing the scars left from close encounters with propellers resident on many of their backs and sides.  It was while I was agonizing over their disfigurement that I noticed one disunited, motionless seal fixed on the very edge of the dock.  I had to get a closer look.

Aided by my new vantage point, I could see the problem; a wrapped fishing line had caused a one and a half inch laceration around the seals neck.  It was dying; all because of the carelessness of a fisherman too preoccupied to care about the peril his monofilament, with a tensile strength greater than steel,  would cause.  My stomach turned as my spirit burned.  Honestly, I cannot find the words to describe how angry I was at that moment.

As I was fantasizing about the slow, painful death of the careless fisherman with my steal-like hands wrapped around his neck, I was struck with a two by four of reality.  I’m no better, except my carelessness doesn’t include fishing line.  My imprint on the environment doesn’t look like a scar on the back of some seal in central California.  My signature is left on nature every time I don’t turn the water off while I’m brushing my teeth or drinking coffee from a paper cup all because it’s more convenient than a washable mug.  Every time I lazily leave lights on I’m wasting the resources of my world.

Today, I’m more “green” than I’ve ever been.  I’m changing my life.  I’m respecting the world that God created more today than I did before this painful experience.  I’m shutting the water off when I brush my teeth.  I’m turning lights off.  I’m using a washable, ceramic mug to drink my coffee around my office.  My footprint will be smaller now because of the careless death of a California Sea Lion.  Will you join me?

Click here to see pictures of more seals and surroundings of Moss Landing.

An Attitude of Ingratitude

How often do we find ourselves prompting our children to say, “thank you”?  Whenever they’re offered a treat from a friend or someone helps them out we find ourselves asking, “Now, what do you say?”  We want our children to be respectful and use good manners, which is why we teach them to say, “thank you”. It’s funny that we need to be taught to say something so simple.

On November 1st, 1990 Fox aired an episode of the The Simpson’s depicting the family sitting down for a meal.  Before they ate, Homer asks Bart to give thanks.  Here is what Bart prays, “Dear God, we paid for all this stuff ourselves, so thanks for nothing.”  Undoubtedly, the producers of the show intended Bart’s prayer to be amusing.  However, I don’t think they knew they were touching on the dark side of prosperity.

After the Exodus from Egypt, God instructed the nation of Israel that He would be leading them to the land already prepared for their habitation.  It would be a land flowing with milk and honey; a land filled with vineyards and olive groves that others had planted. But God warned them that with prosperity would come the danger of forgetting God.  They would be tempted to look around at their wealth and take credit for what God had given them.  It happened.

The same mentality exists today. We relish unprecedented wealth and yet we fail to recognize that its source is God.  Why?  The short answer is sin.  We take our wealth for granted.  We feel we deserve it.  We imagine that we created it.  We are guilty of the very thing God warned the Israelites of.  We have developed an attitude of ingratitude.

Although prosperity is a blessing from God, it can have a chilling effect on our love for Him and on our gratitude for His blessings. What is the remedy? Should we give everything we own away and take a vow of poverty? That might work temporarily but it does nothing at the heart level.  Here are four observances I have been weaving into the fabric of my life as I have been converging on the fourth Thursday of November:  1)  Thankful people focus on what they have – not what they don’t have.  2)  Thankful people admit they have more than they deserve.  3)  Thankful people know that thankfulness needs to be developed.  And, 4)  Thankful people gauge blessings by things other than money.

It’s vitally important to be thankful – not just one day a year, but every day because it needs to be the pattern of our lives.  To borrow a seemingly trite question, what are you thankful for?

Uncommon Freedom

A desire for freedom…it’s what causes every eighteen year old, who checked out at age sixteen, to get their own palace after graduation.  A desire for freedom is at the core of independence.

I was in and out of the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport this week.  On my way to Concourse “A”, and walking through Concourse “C”, I noticed a middle-aged woman performing ballet in the midsection of the concourse while passerby’s struggled to avoid her flailing arms and legs.  Three thoughts expeditiously came to mind as I scurried by on the moving walkway, 1)  boy, that lady’s crazy, 2) wow, she must really like ballet and/or is really bored, and/or really needs some exercise; she even performed a pirouette as I glided by chuckling, and 3) she must be secure in who she is and is discharging a level of freedom, that most, including myself, refuse.  Perhaps she’d found the symmetry of all three.  However, 50%, 25%, and 25%, respectively, isn’t really symmetry – it just means she’s crazy…

That whole scene got me thinking about freedom.  Let’s define the term from Webster’s Dictionary.  Freedom:  the state of being free or at liberty rather than in confinement or under restraint.  Since the debacle in the Garden every person, society, and culture has been pursuing freedom.  But, freedom from what?

Adam and Eve started a dual paradox by resisting God’s command that actually led to bondage (paradox one).  And now this inherited, sin inspired bondage can only be rectified by submission (paradox two).  In other words, because of sin we are only truly free in as much as we submit to God through a relationship with Jesus Christ.  The Bible says in John 8:36, “If the Son has set you free, you will be free indeed.”  That’s the essence of the Gospel and it’s authentic freedom…


In 1957, Leave It To Beaver premiered on CBS portraying the ideal family to 171 million Americans glued to 47 million televisions in 39 million homes.  A few months later, American Bandstand, hosted by Dick Clark, goes national when it moved from Philadelphia to Los Angeles and Studio “B”.  Dwight D. Eisenhower was President.  The Pink Flamingo was created by Union Products worker, Don Featherstone.  The Gyrating rocker, Elvis Presley, emerges as one of the world’s first rock stars.  The most popular toys?  Slinkys, Hula Hoops and Frisbees. The children’s book, “Cat in the Hat” is written by Theodore Geisel as Dr. Suess and Mr. Whipple begins selling us Squeezably Soft Charmin.  Eveready markets the first AA alkaline batteries for use in portable transistor radios – cutting edge technology on both counts.

Prices were much different:  The average car sold for $2749 while the average production worker made $82.32 per week.  The cost of a first rate postage stamp was only 3 cents.  The average cost of a new house was $12,200 while the cost of renting a like home was $90 a month.  Gasoline was 24 cents a gallon.  Bacon was 60 cents a pound.  Eggs 28 cents a dozen.

A decade before my birth, 1957 was also the last year a child born in America was permitted to openly pray at the beginning of a school day in the nation’s public school system.  On June 25, l962, 39 million students were forbidden to do what they and their predecessors had been doing since the founding of our nation.  This has come at a tremendous price. The New York school children, which prompted the Engel vs. Vitale ruling, had simply prayed: “Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence on Thee and beg Thy blessing over us, our parents, our teachers and our nation.”  America has experienced radical decline in each of the four areas of the children’s prayer: youth, family, education, national life.

In a subsequent ruling, Abington Township School District v. Schempp, the Supreme Court of the United States declared school-sponsored Bible reading in public schools in the United States to be unconstitutional on June 17, 1963.  This too, has been costly.

Today we face what seems to be a hopeless condition in America.  Gross immorality has engulfed the land.  Crime has taken over the streets.  Sexual promiscuity and perversion fills every corner of society.  Drunkenness and drug abuse is everywhere.  God has been rejected by most of our citizens.  How far the United States has drifted?

The only hope for turning this nation back to God is for those of us who claim the name of Christ to turn back to God.  God said in 2 Chronicles 7:14. “If my people which are called by My name will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, I will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”  Let’s start praying, seeking and turning today…

In-flight Communication

“Now you can truly connect anywhere!  Keep in touch with the world below, even as you fly high above it.  Easy Wi-Fi connectivity keeps you close to what matters.  Get online in 3 easy steps…”  This was the heading and compelling statement on the card the airline dude handed me as I stepped onto the Boeing 757 bound for Minneapolis from Detroit.  I was tempted by the cards promise to keep me connected but for $9.95 I decided it wasn’t worth it.  I was planning on using my Mac to catch up on some computing tasks during the two hour flight, but connection to the WorldWideWeb wasn’t necessary.

What’s funny about all this is that I’m as close to what matters as I want to be; assuming that ‘what matters’ is my relationship with God.  At any given moment I’m connected to Him through prayer.

During a recent meeting, I was watching a bird perched on a tree branch through a nearby window.  It was there the entire 90 minute session so I assumed it was sleeping.  Have you ever watched a bird sleeping on its perch and never fall off?   How does it manage to do this?  The secret is the tendons in the bird’s legs.  They are so designed that when the leg is bent at the knee, the claws contract and grip like a vice.  The claws refuse to let go until the knees are unbent again.   Interesting that a bent knee provides so much support for a bird don’t you think?

All this leads to me a question:  Do I have a habit of regular prayer – knee bending prayer?  Do you?  I am not asking if our prayers are perfect or if we’re negligent at times.  But is prayer a habit?  Here’s a quick list of habits you might have:  Sleeping, eating, exercising, recreating, going to work, going to school, taking a shower, shaving, spending time with friends…  But what about prayer?  Do you have regular habit of spending time with God during prayer?  If not, are you ready to start?

If you are not sure how to pray, don’t despair!  Prayer is simply having a  conversation with God just like you would have a conversation with anyone.   It’s great to have conversations with the Creator of the universe and make requests of Him but it’s also great to take time to listen.  Just like being connected to the internet provides upload and download capabilities for your computer or other type of device, prayer allows us to upload (pray for requests) and download (listening to what He would say to us) in our relationship with God.   And, the best part is you don’t need $9.95 to get connected – you just need a moment.

GPS, episode 2

I was in South Bend, Indiana for the second time in about a month’s time.  My previous trip was spent mostly feeling lost as I navigated this unfamiliar city.  For this second trip, I borrowed a GPS to aid me.  It was enormously helpful and gave me the confidence of a local driving around town.  For three days, I assuredly drove from my hotel to Granger Community Church to attend meetings and all over the area looking for things to photograph during free time.

On Saturday morning, I vacated my double queen room at 5:00am for my return flight and punched the coordinates to the South Bend Regional airport into the GPS.  Leaving the parking lot of the hotel, I immediately took a left turn to the intersection and was intending to take a right hand turn.  I had been to the airport before and knew the general direction.  Instead, the GPS was pulling me to the left in what seemed to be the opposite direction.  Trusting the GPS and being alone in the intersection, I literally put my rented Nissan Xterra in reverse, backed up and got in the left turn lane.  I was happily on my way.

Driving, I was thinking about the long day ahead of me; in and out of three airports on my way to Billings as the GPS led me down one familiar road to another.  After ten minutes of obedient driving, I started noticing that I was headed downtown and toward the Notre Dame University campus.  The night before I attended mass at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at Notre Dame so the road was fresh in my memory.  The thought occurred to me that I must have entered the coordinates for the campus instead of the airport.  I quickly pulled over to check the GPS and was surprised that South Bend Regional Airport was in fact my destination.  I was confused.  I had been to the airport before and this was not the way I went before.  My confidence in the GPS was beginning to wane.  My brain started mounting resistance to the prompts I received from the voice in the little box labeled Magellan.  I seemed to be going in a dizzying array of circles in the down town corridor.  I started getting mad.

Driving a rental, I knew I needed to fill the fuel tank before returning the vehicle to Avis.  I stopped at the only gas station open for business.  I was running my card at the pump when I noticed a young man walking my direction and talking on a cell phone.  As he passed on the sidewalk alongside the row of pumps, I heard him leaving a voice message on the other line.  He continued walking past me about 50 feet before turning around.  He approached me saying, “You’re someone that can pray for me.”  Surprised by his statement, I questioned, “How do you know that?”  “God told me”, was his immediate reply.  I asked him to tell me what was going on.  The story he relayed to me broke my heart.  He told me that his daughter was born the day before and there were complications with her digestive system.  He said her stomach was too small and the size was causing her to vomit.  Doctors wouldn’t let her go home because she had been aspirating the vomit and it was too dangerous.  Having not slept much in the hospital, this young man decided to go on a walk and God led him to me.  Or did God lead me to him?

God’s leading and timing is amazing.  Just over 18 years ago, my son Jared was born with complications.  I could completely relate to this young man’s plight.  We prayed together for the health of the baby and his young wife.  I also prayed that God would bless him in the midst of this turmoil.  He thanked me and confidently continued walking in his original direction.  I climbed into the Xterra.  Driving away from the gas station and watching the young man walk down the sidewalk as I passed, it all suddenly made sense.  God had orchestrated that meeting.  For some reason I was supposed to pray with that guy.

Here’s an important lesson about following God.  While I was questioning the functionality of the GPS, God led me to the exact place He wanted me.  There have been times in my life that God did and/or allowed things I do not understand.  There have also been times God led me in a direction that at first seemed confusing.  During those confusing times, while my brain begins to mount resistance, I really have two options:  I can strike out on my own trusting my wisdom or I can stay His course and trust His wisdom.  I’d like to say that I always do the later but it’s simply not the case.  My wisdom usually leads me to a place that leaves me looking for the nearest exit.  Trusting God to help us navigate this life means complete reliance on Him – just like I trusted the GPS to get me to the South Bend Regional Airport – which it did, albeit the long way…  Trusting Him even though I feel confused and lost sometimes.  I guess it’s all part of the adventure.

To see pictures of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart that I took the night before, click here.


As I prepare for the four trips I have scheduled this month, I am reminded of an adventure I had with my good friend Tim Weidlich a few months ago.  We were in Chicago attending meetings at Willow Creek Community Church in preparation for the Global Leadership Summit.  Since Harvest Church was a host site for the Summit, we transacted a flight plan that conveniently brought us within 20 miles of South Barrington where Willow’s main campus is located.  Being a seasoned road warrior, Tim brought and installed his GPS on the windshield of our rented Ford Focus.  We made haste out of the parking lot armed with verbal directions to the Interstate given by the gate attendant employed by Thrifty.  En route, I attempted to program the GPS with the address to our hotel.  Having never programed a GPS before, I struggled.  Tim finally took over and had it programed in short order while we drove to South Barrington.  After the 20 minute drive and with the Hilton Garden Inn in clear sight from the Interstate, I laughed.  Actually, we didn’t need the GPS after all.

Later that evening we left the hotel to attend a meeting at Willow.  Leaving the parking lot, Tim programmed the GPS with Willow as our destination.  Both of us, having been to Willow before, we knew that getting there started with a right turn out of the parking lot.  Two minutes later, we approached the sign and subsequent road into the church parking lot. Again, we didn’t really need the GPS.

After the meeting, I needed to go to the store to get a few items that I neglected to bring on the trip.  Within a few minutes we had the GPS programmed to find the nearest grocery store.  Actually, the GPS worked perfectly and led us right to Jewel-Osco.  I easily found what I needed, paid the clerk and left the store.  Sitting in the vehicle again, Tim programmed the GPS with the hotel information.  The gentle, soothing voice told us to take a right out of the parking lot and another right on the road immediately beyond the store property.  We obediently followed the voice commands and were led through one residential neighborhood after another.  Driving a little father took us past a dimly lit park and by some really great homes.  A few blocks later we were instructed to take another right.  Amongst the conversation, the low light and a couple hard swigs from our recently purchased bottles of water, we noticed the Jewel-Osco on our right – again.  The Garmin had led us around the block and a subsequent left turn on the road the led us to the store from the hotel.  I was puzzled, we should have just gone left in the first place out of the parking lot.  I flippantly yelled, “God’s my GPS”.  We laughed but those words had some pretty serious undertones.

Real time question: What or who guides your life?  What impulse or piquing inspires you?  If you’re truly a Christ-follower, the answer to those questions become obvious.  Our allowance of or submission to Christ’s guidance is what sets those following Christ apart from those who aren’t.  Another question:  How does God guide us or become our GPS?  I think there is much interest in this subject among evangelical Christians.  However, the surprising thing is that the Bible says very little about how God guides his people.  In fact, God does not promise to use any other means to guide us other than His Spirit and His word, the Bible.

The world inhabitants in the Old Testament looked forward to a time when God would send His Spirit on all his people.  It says in Ezekiel 36, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” (Ezek 36:26-27)  In the New Testament, this hope is fulfilled.  Jesus, the risen Christ, pours out the Spirit on his people (Acts 2:33).  The New Testament tells us that all Christians receive God’s Spirit as a guarantee of their relationship with God (Rom 8:5-7Gal 4:6Eph 2:18).

How then, does God, the Spirit, promise to guide us?  The answer is simple: by the sword of the Spirit, the Bible (Eph 6:17).  God speaks to us by His word.  He tells, directs, encourages, advises, commands, informs, reveals and exhorts us to live His way.  The Spirit takes this word and applies it to our hearts.  He awakens a response in us and leads us to put it into practice.  This may sound very dull and pedestrian, but God speaks to us in words, and these words have been written down.  This is not very mystical or magical or spectacular, so it lacks some fascination for unspiritual minds.  When we look at what the Bible says about itself, we find a consistent pattern of promises that God will continue to guide his people by His word.  You could actually say that God’s word is a GPS guiding us in this life.  I hope you’re letting God guide you…

A Narrowed Focus

I recently went bowling for the first time in about a decade.  And, the only “bowling” I’ve really done the last couple years has been in front of the wide-screen in my basement.  Trading analog for digital, too bad my Wii bowling scores didn’t follow me to the hardwood crafted into the lanes between Shepherd and Billings, Montana.  I only displaced 86 pins my first game; no strikes and only one spare.  As we began the second game, I knew something needed to change…

The Greek poet Archilochus wrote: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”  Isaiah Berlin’s famous essay “The Hedgehog and the Fox” based on Archilochus’ quote analyzes the differences between foxes and hedgehogs.  Berlin believed people can be classified as either foxes or hedgehogs.

In the fox and hedgehog parable, the fox is always trying to get the hedgehog.  Day after day, the fox is in pursuit of the hedgehog, devising means to catch the hedgehog.  The fox is, by all appearances, a highly intelligent, crafty and resourceful creature.  Indeed, compared to the rather dull hedgehog, the fox appears to have every advantage.  The hedgehog is a small, awkward animal that lives a simple life and spends his days taking care of his den and finding food.  Each day, the fox tries a new scheme to catch the hedgehog and each time the hedgehog simply bundles up into a ball of sharp spikes—foiling the fox’s attempts.

Berlin believed foxes “pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory, connected, if at all, only in some de facto way, for some psychological or physiological cause, related by no moral or aesthetic principle.”  As a consequence of this outlook, foxes “lead lives, perform acts, and entertain ideas that are centrifugal rather than centripetal, their thought is scattered or diffused, moving on many levels, seizing upon the essence of a vast variety of experiences and objects for what they are in themselves, without consciously or unconsciously, seeking to fit them into, or exclude them from, any one unchanging, all-embracing, sometimes self-contradictory and incomplete, at times fanatical, unitary inner vision.”

In contrast, Berlin believed hedgehogs “relate everything to a single central vision, one system less or more coherent or articulate, in terms of which they understand, think and feel-a single, universal, organizing principle in terms of which alone all that they are and say has significance….”

Jim Collins, a noted management theorist and a former professor at Stanford Business School, discusses the concept of the hedgehog and the fox based on Berlin’s famous essay in his book, Good to Great:  Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t. Collins notes his conclusions formed from Berlin’s essay by Princeton professor Marvin Bressler during his interview with him:  “You know what separates those who make the biggest impact from all the others who are just as smart?  They’re hedgehogs.  Those who leave the biggest footprints, said Bressler, have thousands calling after them, ‘Good idea, but you went too far!”

To be clear, hedgehogs are not stupid; quite the contrary.  They understand the essence of profound insight is simplicity.  No, the hedgehogs are not simpletons.  They have a piercing insight that allows them to see through complexity and discern underlying patterns.  Hedgehogs see what is essential, and ignore the rest.

As simple (or complicated) as it sounds, I applied the principle of the hedgehog to my bowling game; I simply narrowed my focus.  The first game was spend looking at the pins, hoping I was holding the ball correctly, timing my stride and tossing the 16 lb. resin orb down the lane.  I determined that the essential during this second game wasn’t necessarily the pins (however, my ultimate target) but the markers just beyond the foul line.  Focusing on them provided me with four strikes, two spares and a score of 158 during the second game.  Instant feedback!