, ,

Better Stories Episode 1 :: Mike Masterman

,

A Glass Wall and Face Painting

Last week I had two very different experiences.

On Thursday I stopped in an office where I encountered a receptionist straight out of Monsters, Inc.

She sat behind her glass window with two holes–one for our voices and one for my money.  I began to talk with her and realized very quickly with the maintenance man and his industrial-sized vacuum running behind me it was going to be very difficult to hear her.  So, I expressed that… politely.

To which she simply gave me a flippant hand gesture and mumbled, “Well, then come closer.”

Then, on Friday, I flew from Pittsburgh to Detroit with a layover in Chicago’s Midway airport.  I took Southwest Airlines, who apparently have a large base out of Midway.  When I landed in Chicago I walked through the terminal to my next gate and saw a line of people parked in front of a table.  Just at their feet was a sign that said simply, “Free Face Painting – St. Patrick’s Day!”
As I grabbed a bite to eat in the airport these two incidents came together in my mind.  One very negative, and one very positive.  And you know what the reality was for these organizations?

The difference in my experience barely cost them anything.

Great service and great leadership are not a problem of lacking resources.  It’s a problem of lacking effort.

,

When You’re Just OK at Texting

I sat on a plane recently and once it landed the beeps and clicks of cell phones and seat belts began to fill the space as passengers reconnected to the busyness of their lives.  Just in front of me, I watched as a man began to frantically respond to a text message.  I could see his screen and the feverish nature of his fingers typing away.  I couldn’t read the words (and as you’re thinking, shouldn’t have creepily spied out his conversation), but I could tell he was struggling to get the message out.

He would type a few words, notice an error, delete words, and then try again.  This went on for several minutes until finally I watched him grew frustrated, erase the entire (multiple paragraphs-long) message, and simply type two letter as a response.

“Ok.”

Here’s the point.

There are times where an explanation may help, but simplicity is better.

In every organization I’ve ever been a part of I’ve found myself and others at times bringing unnecessary complexity to situations that were much more simple than we wanted to let them be.  There were debates that didn’t need to happen.  E-mails that could have been skipped.  We all felt these things were entirely necessary at the time, but the truth is simplicity would have been much better.

I’m not saying there isn’t a need for complexity at times; there is.  But what I am asking you right now is what are you doing as leaders with complexity that would be much more effective with simplicity?

, ,

When a Nightmare Takes 7 and Turns it Into 2

I have a 7-year old daughter who is fearless.  Fearless.  She’s already asked me if she can skydive with me.  Seriously.  She kills spiders when her mommy is too afraid.

Last week, we headed to bed and just before we laid down we heard her crying.  We walked in the room and quickly found her in that half-asleep, half-awake stupor of bad dreams.  I asked what was wrong and all she could say through her tears was, “I had a bad dream…”  We stayed for a few minutes and my wife asked her if she’d like to come sleep with us for a little while.

She did.  And she calmed down.  Complete and utter peace.

Now, it’s been probably three to four years since we’ve ended up with one of our children in our bed.  Our girls all share a room, so they are rarely afraid before falling asleep because they basically talk each other to death until they fall asleep.  But on this night, my seven-year old’s nightmare turned her back into a two or three-year old.

There’s this statement the writer of Psalm 4 makes that I’ve thought about, but never really experienced until this night with our youngest daughter.  It says this:

“In peace I will lie down and sleep,
    for you alone, Lord,
    make me dwell in safety.”  (Psalm 4:8)

I think if I’m honest I know exactly what it means to have so much fear that my heart goes backward in age.  I know, and I bet you do too, how invasive and pervasive fear can be in my life.  I know the nightmares that become realities and the tendency my body and mind have to shut down and leave me living life half awake.

And that’s where I think this Psalm starts to make sense.

For my seven-year old, the fear in her nightmare was only consolable by the presence of her parents.  And for us, in our fear, at times the only answer for our fear is the presence of our Heavenly Father.

That night, I held my daughter and whispered that she was okay until her heart grew quiet and she was able to rest.  And perhaps, in our fear at this very moment, our perfect Father is whispering the same thing to us.

, ,

My Day was Better Because of Boba Tea

 

Before last Friday I had no idea what boba tea was.  Turns out, it’s a thing.  Like, a big thing.

Last week my wife and I celebrated our 15-year anniversary (a couple months late) by taking a cruise out of California and then spending an extra two days in Los Angeles.  On Friday we found one of the coolest little farmer’s markets I’ve ever seen.

This market was an experience in sensory overload.  The smells, the colors, and the diversity of languages and cultures happening all around us were an overwhelmingly rich way to spend an hour.  From crepes made by a French family to authentic Italian pizza to fresh seafood hauled out of the Pacific that day, I was mesmerized by this place.

Then there was the tea shop.

It was a chilly morning, so I went looking for hot tea and found a sweet little Asian woman with over a hundred different types of tea.  I did the best I could to order two cups of what sounded good and this lady simply asked me the following question…

“Do you want boba?”

As with any legitimate Star Wars fan my mind immediately conjured images of a bounty hunter with a sweet mask and awesome gun, but that wasn’t who she meant.

Turns out, boba tea (or bubble tea) is a concoction of tea with “chewy tapioca balls and fruit jelly”.  At the point she asked if I preferred the boba(s)(?) in my tea, I didn’t know this.  All I knew was I was in the middle of one of the most diverse and eclectic places I’d ever seen and I wanted to show just how cultured I really was.

“Absolutely,” I said.

Boba tastes like I imagine fish eyeballs to taste.

I spent the remainder of my drink doing my best to siphon the liquid off the gelled tapioca and not let any of it touch my mouth.  The tea was good.  The other stuff, not so much.

About the time I finished my tea, I felt a tiny hand tap my shoulder.  I turned to see a boy of no more than 9 or 10 years old with skin a bit darker than my own looking in my eyes.  He asked simply…

“Excuse me sir, where did you find your boba tea?”

I pointed him in the right direction and watched as he was so excited to find the treat that I had been repulsed by.

This was just a moment.  A simple, nondescript instant in my day that really shouldn’t have stood out.  But for whatever reason, it did.  In fact, I haven’t stopped thinking about it.  That brief minute where I drank a tea I didn’t like and a little boy from a different culture than my own searched for a tea he loved keeps coming back.

It is next to impossible in recent days to access news of any sort without someone trying to convince us of which “side” is right, or more loving, or more just.  But, this constant cycle of shouting and persuasion is doing little except dividing and frustrating us as a humanity.

All that to say, this post has nothing to do with politics.  But it does have something to do with an understanding of God’s kingdom that, in the end part of Scriptures paints a picture of a land with open borders where the people of that land offer praise to Jesus the Lamb:

And they sang a new song, saying:
“You are worthy to take the scroll

    and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
    and with your blood you purchased for God
    persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,

    and they will reign on the earth.”  (Revelation 5:9-10)

So here’s the simple conclusions this moment in a farmer’s market in California revealed to me:

My day was better because that little boy tugged on my arm.  And I didn’t agree with his opinion.
My day was better because of listening to the diversity of languages swirling in that place.
My week was better better because of the several staff I met on our cruise ship who had come from the Philippines, parts of Africa, Mexico, and Europe.
My week was better because I walked a street in Ensenada, Mexico and felt completely out of place.

And yes, my week was better because I even tried boba tea.

I guess I wonder what “better’s” we miss because we don’t feel comfortable with what’s around us.

 

, ,

The Tension of these Times

I will never forget a flight back to the DC from Nairobi, Kenya. As we boarded the plane one of the flight attendants told me and the two pastors I was traveling with that there were a group of Somalian refugees on this plane. She was preparing us, because these refugees had never flown and did not understand the etiquette of planes, etc. She wanted us to be aware.
 
We boarded the plane and my heart broke as I walked down the aisle and saw about 10-15 Somalian CHILDREN. None of them were more than 12 years old. They looked frightened, unsure, and yet also perhaps a little hopeful.
 
I don’t know what their stories were. I don’t know what their religious beliefs were. I don’t know where they are now. I don’t know if any of those children pose a threat to my safety or the safety of this country.
 
But I know I was proud to be on that plane with those children. And on that day, I was really proud to be an American.
 
I read this article this morning about Evangelical responses to the issues of refugees being discussed by the Trump administration in the past few days.  I’d encourage you to take some time to read it.
 
Christians… the climate of our country today–at least the climate we see on the surface of social and news media–is fragile. We stand as followers of Christ, with an opportunity to perhaps demonstrate our love and presence of the Spirit in more tangible ways than ever before.
 
The old quote, “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words,” is perhaps more relevant than ever before. Maybe we should be a little quieter in these months and these moments. Perhaps we should spend less time skimming the media streams and more time doing what my good friends are doing this weekend, simply hosting a dinner with friends and strangers to have conversations in love. Perhaps now, more than ever, we could become people who throw really good parties and bring joy to a stressed-out world.
 
And as we do that, we can never lose sight of the biblical commands to care for the orphan, the widow, and the foreigner.
 
Scott Arbeiter, President of World Relief, the National Association of Evangelical’s compassionate arm ministering to refugees says this in the article above:
 
“The question for the American Christian is: Will we speak out on behalf of those who are running from the very terror that we are rightly trying to put an end to?” he asked. “People who are running from Mosul and Aleppo and a thousand other places on fire?
 
“Would we be willing to accept giving up a 1 in 3 billion chance of our safety in order to make room for them?” he continued. “Or would we say, ‘I am not willing to give up even the smallest fraction of my safety to welcome people who have been vetted very carefully, who have been proven as a remarkable population of people. Will I not make room for them?’”
 
“We have never had an opportunity like we have right now to reach people who are coming to our shores, in many cases from places we have no access to,” said Arbeiter. “The risk that we have right now is that we are closing the doors to the very people that we say we want to share the gospel with.”
 
The church needs voices more than ever. Prophetic voices. Shepherding voices. Truth and love voices. But perhaps the greatest voice we can offer is one that has been coated in the presence and tangible demonstration of God’s love.
,

What Do You Do When a Cat’s Falling Out of Your Car?

Okay, full disclosure.  I’m more of a dog person than a cat person.  But, that in no way makes me take the situation I’m about to describe lightly.  This was a true moment with true tension.  And, if you’re a cat lover know that the stress you’ll feel in reading this is exactly what I felt when I witnessed it.

There was this moment a few weeks ago.  I had spent the morning working from McDonald’s.  I’m not a fan of the food, but the free wifi and bottomless drinks are good for someone with a mobile office.

After a couple hours of morning productivity I packed it up and began to walk back to my truck.  As I headed toward my vehicle I saw another car (potentially a member of the Junky Car Club) slowly heading toward the exit in the parking lot.  It took me a minute to fully recognize what I was seeing, but when it hit me it was a series of realizations bubbling up like the fizz of a fine champagne:

1 – The back door of that car is open.  The back door on the passenger side of that car is swinging open.

2 – Maybe they’re hauling a push mower.  I’ve seen people do that.  Haul a push mower and leave the trunk bungee tied so it doesn’t bounce around but they can still fit the push mower in.

3 – Wait, that always happens in the trunk, not the back seat.

4 – The back passenger side door of that car is open.  And there’s something sticking out.

5 – Good Lord.  The back door of that car is open and that’s a cat carrier hanging halfway out.

6 – What in God’s name should I do?

At this point I began to jog toward the car, waving my arms and shouting at the driver to stop.  “Ma’am!  Ma’am!  Ma’am!”  All the while thinking of my next sentence… “Um, your back door is open.”  “Um, your cat is about to fall out of your car.”  “Um, are you a complete idiot?  You door is open and your cat’s going to fall out!”

Just as I was nearing the car and my brain was continuing to register how clueless this driver truly was the car pulled out onto the road and headed north.

I have no idea what happened to the cat.  And I did pray for the cat that day.
Now, the point.

Somewhere around you, right now… your church, your organization, your team, your family… somewhere under your influence has a freaking cat carrier hanging out of the car problem.  And you’re either truly oblivious or pretending it isn’t real.  And it’s time to deal with it.

You’re 3 1/2 days into a new year.  Stop ignoring what everyone else sees and go fix it before you leave a cat laying on the side of the road.

, , ,

You Should Be Cheating Part 2

So, a couple weeks ago I started a series here called You Should Be Cheating.  You can read Part 1 to catch up.  The heart of this series is simply challenging leaders to consider the fact that we have a limited amount of time and a limited amount of resources, and when we live like we have more than we actually do we end up burnt out, overcommitted, or sacrificing the people we love for the sake of productivity.

I referenced Andy Stanley’s great little book called Choosing to Cheat, and began to lay out five principles that I think pave the way for healthy rhythms and rest and an ability to “cheat” on the right things in life.

The second principle of healthy cheating is simply this:

Live like Jesus owns your time, because he does.

There’s this passage of Scripture in Luke 6.  Jesus is carrying out his ministry in a culture that deeply understands rules, rituals, and expectations for productivity.  The Jewish world has a deep awareness that God set up rules when it came to Sabbath, and these rules spelled out a whole system that had been turned into legalistic assumptions.

So it’s in this world where we find Jesus making two conscious choices on the Sabbath–to eat grain they had just picked and to heal a man with a crippled hand.

Now, in my mind there is a certain beauty to these stories.  Imagine being in a small group with Jesus, taking a walk through the fields and grabbing a handful of grain kernels to eat and continuing your journey.  Then, imagine a man whose hand has been shriveled with deformity, and all at once Jesus asks him to stand up and stretch out his hand.  And it is healed.

And Jesus is criticized, by the religious elite, for breaking the Sabbath.  He utters these simple words:

“The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

Now, I don’t live today with a set legalism to my periods of rest.  I don’t mind doing yard work or cleaning up the house on my days off.  But you know what I do?

I live like my time is owned by me.  I live, week in and week out, as if my productivity is dependent on my management.  I stress when there isn’t enough time and I worry that I can’t get it all done.  I pursue efficiency and avoid interruption and run myself ragged until “rest” becomes a consequence rather than a condition.

The Son of Man is still Lord of the Sabbath.

In reality, our time does not belong to us.  It is not owned by us and we do not even deserve it.  We can continue to live and function as if our way of doing things is the best way possible and the only way things will work out; and time and again we will crash, burn out, and wear out the ones around us who matter most in this life because of our constant pace.

So, in choosing to cheat we must learn to learn to live like Jesus owns our time.

Because he does.

What would it take for you to surrender your time?  What would it mean for you to lean on his rhythm rather than your own?  What would happen if you reoriented your schedule to truly enjoy a period of Sabbath each and every single week?

As I’m sitting here, there is a beckon to stop blogging and return to what I was doing.  You see, in about 3 weeks I have my comprehensive exams for the PhD program I’m pursuing.  And in this pursuit, the beckon to keep reading, keep studying, keep driving is more endless than anything I’ve ever studied.  But this choice to reflect, to read the stories of Jesus and let him remind me that he’s in control of my time, has brought a greater deal of peace than I’ve had in weeks.  So for what it’s worth… my own shriveled hands (or over-studied brain) has suddenly found a bit of healing on this somewhat quiet morning… simply because I chose to cheat.

,

Flying Like the Giggling Kid

I was on a plane not too long ago.  It was a small plane flying out of West Virginia (most planes flying out of West Virginia are small).  So, on this cloudy day as we came down through the clouds prepping for landing it was quite bumpy.

I hate bumpy on a plane.

But in these bumpy moments as I was pushing away waves of nausea I heard this growing decibel of a giggle.  It slowly got louder and louder until it took over the drone of this plane’s engines and the silence of its passengers.

Giggles.

All the way down through the clouds building to a crescendo as the wheels touched down and the clicking seat belts ended the flight.

And you know what happened?

Others began to laugh.
Passengers became participants.
Strangers became community.

And we all made it through the bumps.

May we lead like the giggling kid on the plane.