Tuesday, June 25, 2013

True confidence

If you believe in yourself, you can achieve anything. Visualize success and it will happen. Positive self-talk is the key. Go for the gold and let no one get in your way.

Those tips might help you develop a great jump shot or close that big sale, but they won’t make you a successful person. Have you noticed how many star athletes make a mess of their personal lives? The will to win is great in competition, but it tends to wreak havoc in relationships.

Belief in yourself as an exclusive guiding principle is a recipe for misery. That may sound like heresy in our age of self-worship, but the self is a particularly undependable little idol. What happens when you let yourself and others down? And you will, again and again.

Granted, self-confidence is an attractive, magnetic quality. Many leaders have it. They seem to know who they are and where they are going. Especially in times of chaos and confusion, we are drawn to them. We would follow them anywhere — even over a cliff, which is where some of them take us.

Julius Caesar was adored by his troops, whom he led to great victories in Britain, Gaul and elsewhere. But power went to his head. “I came, I saw, I conquered,” he famously declared after one glorious conquest. Governing Rome wasn’t quite as simple. When he took dictatorial power, delivering a fatal blow to the tottering Roman Republic, his opponents returned the favor by assassinating him on the Senate floor.

“Give us a king,” the Israelites cried out in the days of Samuel, many centuries before Caesar. For them, God Himself as divine king wasn’t enough; they wanted to be more like the nations around them. Samuel, a faithful servant of God and righteous judge of Israel, took their request to the Almighty. His response: “Listen to the voice of the people … for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them” (1 Samuel 8:7 NASB). They ended up with Saul, who accepted the crown reluctantly but held on to it violently — long after he had lost the blessing of the Lord.

Moral of the story: Choose your leaders carefully, starting with yourself. They all are fallible — except for Jesus Christ, the sinless One. In this world, seek role models who display authentic confidence, not the counterfeit kind.

“Confidence is not bravado, or swagger, or an overt pretense of bravery,” says Dharmesh Shah, software company founder, author and frequent blogger. “Confidence is not some bold or brash air of self-belief directed at others.”

In a recent article, Shah listed some qualities shared by “truly confident people.” His perspective and primary audience are business-oriented, but several of the qualities he highlighted have spiritual resonance:

 “They listen 10 times more than they speak. Bragging is a mask for insecurity. Truly confident people are quiet and unassuming. They already know what they think; they want to know what you think.”

 “They duck the spotlight so it shines on others. Perhaps it’s true they did the bulk of the work. Perhaps they really did overcome the major obstacles. Perhaps it’s true they turned a collection of disparate individuals into an incredibly high-performance team. … [But] truly confident people don’t need the glory … . They don’t need the validation of others, because true validation comes from within. So they stand back and celebrate their accomplishments through others. They let others shine — a confidence boost that helps those people become truly confident, too.”

 “They freely ask for help. Many people feel asking for help is a sign of weakness … . Confident people are secure enough to admit a weakness. … [Also], they know that when they seek help they pay the person they ask a huge compliment. Saying, ‘Can you help me?’ shows tremendous respect for that individual’s expertise and judgment.”

 “They don’t put down other people. Generally speaking, the people who like to gossip, who like to speak badly of others, do so because they hope by comparison to make themselves look better. The only comparison a truly confident person makes is to the person she was yesterday — and to the person she hopes to someday become.”

Ouch. I wish I could go back and change all the times I have failed to follow those wise guidelines because of insecurity, foolish pride or ego. Truly confident people are humble, teachable, eager to encourage others and help them grow, excited to reproduce and multiply success in the lives of others. That sounds like an effective disciple-maker to me. Compare Shah’s tips to the qualities of authentic love outlined by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NASB):

“Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

That is true confidence in action, because the object and source of true confidence is not ourselves but Christ.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Declassify the Gospel

The scandals currently engulfing the IRS, the National Security Agency (NSA), the Justice Department and other government agencies have something in common: information.

Who has certain information and for what purpose? How should they be able to obtain it? What should they know and when should they know it? And so on. “Big Data” offers enormous power to those with the resources to gather, analyze and use it, for good or ill. The challenge for free societies is to harness Big Data without allowing governments or corporations to become Big Brothers and manipulators.

Secrecy is another common element in the latest scandals. Public officials at every level of government, regardless of political affiliation, seem to have a compulsive need to classify information — regardless of its sensitivity. They’re not the only offenders. Questionable secrecy is common in the business world. Bureaucrats and managers who regard knowledge as power withhold important information from underlings who need it to do their jobs. It only hurts the companies they work for, but it’s almost impossible to eliminate. Why? Human nature. People love secrets.

But there’s a secrecy — or silence, to put it more accurately — that’s much worse than the bureaucratic brand. It has potentially eternal consequences, and it’s practiced consciously or unconsciously by many folks who claim to follow Christ. We have the most important information there is: Jesus is Lord and Savior of the world. But we don’t tell others He is the way, the truth and the life.

You can come up with any number of rationalizations. You aren’t good at one-on-one evangelism. It’s not your “gift.” You’re a sinner, so you don’t have the right to tell somebody else what to believe or how to live. You aren’t ready when the opportunity comes. The people you need to tell aren’t ready to hear it. They don’t want to hear it. They will reject you if you say something. Old-school evangelistic methods don’t work anymore. Blah, blah, blah. I’ve used ’em all. Still do from time to time.

These are excuses, not reasons. Yes, you need to live the Gospel in order to share it effectively. But that doesn’t mean you wait until you have eliminated all sin from your life to tell others how to find forgiveness. That day will never come. The real reasons we don’t tell everyone we know about the Good News of Jesus boil down to three: We’re afraid of the reaction we might get, we don’t care enough about others to tell them — or we don’t really believe Jesus is the only way to salvation. That last one is the heart of the matter. Unbelief and disobedience usually go hand in hand.

Larry Alex Taunton, an author and commentator who directs the Fixed Point Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to the public defense of Christianity, has debated many prominent atheists. In an excellent article for The Atlantic magazine, “Listening to Young Atheists: Lessons for a Stronger Christianity”, he reported on a project carried out by Fixed Point to interview members of college atheist organizations about their “journey to unbelief.”

Taunton expected the young nonbelievers to cite science, rationality, logic or the conflicting claims of major faiths as the sources of their rejection of religion in general and Christianity in particular. Many did so. But he was surprised by how many had grown up in church and left the fold — not because they felt it was oppressive or fanatical, but because they found it superficial and disconnected from its biblical origins.

“These students heard plenty of messages encouraging ‘social justice,’ community involvement, and ‘being good,’ but they seldom saw the relationship between that message, Jesus Christ, and the Bible,” Taunton reports. “Listen to Stephanie, a student at Northwestern: ‘The connection between Jesus and a person’s life was not clear.’ This is an incisive critique. She seems to have intuitively understood that the church does not exist simply to address social ills, but to proclaim the teachings of its founder, Jesus Christ, and their relevance to the world. Since Stephanie did not see that connection, she saw little incentive to stay.”

They also expressed respect for, if not agreement with, Christians who “unashamedly embraced biblical teaching.”

“I really can’t consider a Christian a good, moral person if he isn’t trying to convert me,” stated Michael, a political science major at Dartmouth.

According to Taunton, “This sentiment is not as unusual as you might think. It finds resonance in the well-publicized comments of Penn Jillette, the atheist illusionist and comedian: ‘I don't respect [believers] who don't proselytize. … If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward. … How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?’”

Good question. Believers in many places are willing to put their lives on the line to tell others about the eternal truth they have found. We’re hesitant to share it because it might make someone else (or us) uncomfortable. Our hesitance is hastening our own society’s destruction — and helps explain our half-hearted participation in taking the Gospel to all nations.

If you don’t have the compulsion to tell others that Jesus is Lord, do you really believe it yourself?