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Capture their hearts…online

In the Christian cultural discussion of men’s leadership, I think there is sometimes too little emphasis on the father-daughter relationship, and too little willingness to enter the battle for their hearts on their turf. Yes, it’s important for sons to see dad as a clearly visible mentor...

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Blessings have to be received, not just given

Posted by Kevin Harper | Posted in Relationships | Posted on 06-17-2013

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How many people in the world are showered with daily blessings by God, but never acknowledge them, or even reject them as blessings entirely? This is something everyone does, believer or not. God blesses us far more abundantly than we give him credit for. How does that rejection or non-acknowledgement of our blessings play out in our relationship with God?

I think to best understand that, we should think about how we feel when we give a gift, or show kindness, or express our feelings of love, and it goes unacknowledged by that person. It hurts, doesn’t it? You put a lot of thought and love into a relationship, and when your overtures get no response, or worse, are rejected in bold, bright colors, it doesn’t feel good. It makes you wonder where the relationship really stands. Is their heart in it at all?

That broken hearted feeling has to be what God feels when we don’t acknowledge his outpouring of blessings in our lives. When we receive a good and perfect gift from the Father of Lights, and instead chalk it up to fate, or the laws of nature (who enforces those laws, anyway?), or our own hard work, it must be disappointing. It must break his heart to know his love went unnoticed and unacknowledged.

I’m resolved to not let God’s love or anyone else’s go unacknowledged. I want to not only shower more blessings on those around me, but get better at receiving blessings from them, because that in turn blesses them. Do I notice the little things my wife or kids are doing for me? Maybe their way of expressing love, or “thank you,” or “I’m sorry,” isn’t what I want it to be. Maybe I’m a 3 page letter sort of person, and maybe they’re a 3 word text sort of person. But am I noticing their efforts anyway? We could all resolve to do better at blessing, and receiving blessings from, those we love.

Capture their hearts…online

Posted by Kevin Harper | Posted in Fathers, Men's Leadership | Posted on 05-13-2013

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Dear Daughters, if I could give you one thing in life, I would give you the ability to see yourselves through my eyes. Only then would you realize how truly beautiful and loved you are.  Love, DadIn the Christian cultural discussion of men’s leadership, I think there is sometimes too little emphasis on the father-daughter relationship, and too little willingness to enter the battle for their hearts on their turf. Yes, it’s important for sons to see dad as a clearly visible mentor and leader. But our relationship with our daughters needs a lot more care and maintenance than most dads probably suspect. Let’s put it this way: A dad can’t really give his daughter away at her wedding if her heart wasn’t his to give in the first place.

The worst thing a father can do is cede the battleground of his daughter’s heart to the pop-culture. Online influences will pull at her, encouraging unhealthy relationships and emotions, promoting exactly the wrong advice to deal with the confusing whirl of emotions on her path from little girl to young woman. I’ve seen so many fathers who have given up trying to talk to their girls for reasons ranging from hostile attitudes to simply not being able to relate to each other. All the more reason not to give up the quest to capture their hearts.

Failure is not an option. Your daughter’s happiness in a life-long marriage may very well be at stake, because remember, her relationship with you is going to heavily influence her choice of a husband and how she relates to him. She’ll either see your example and run toward that type of character in a mate, or despise you—fairly or unfairly—and run the opposite way.

Don’t waste these years. Do a full court press to win her heart, or win it back if you feel like you’ve lost it. It can be done, and although it will be painful, it will be worth it. Show humility and flexibility. Exert your parental authority when needed, but wear her down and win her over with kindness, compassion and understanding. And by all means, if she’s old enough to be online to any degree, engage with her there as much as you can. Being a positive influence online is as important as it is in the home when face to face at the dinner table.

In the hyper-connected world we all live in now, ceding technology to the enemy is to lay down on the battlefield and accept defeat. Technology is both a wonderful thing when used as a tool for building healthy relationships, and an incredibly dangerous tool to enable people to disengage from one another on a personal level. As one who makes a living online, I know firsthand that the Internet (and by extension, mobile communications and social networking in general) is fraught with danger, and disaster lurks around every corner online. Whatever limits you choose to set for your teens, I believe it is important not to step away from the battlefield of their heart and let the social influences of either shallow friends or outright strangers steal them away.

While it’s important for fathers to set clear boundaries online, we shouldn’t be afraid to enter the battlefield of online communication on their terms. My wife and I are not ones to give our teens cell phones until they absolutely need it, and even then, we have plenty of rules and accountability commensurate with the level of maturity and trust each one displays. There is no “16 gets you a smart phone” or any rule like that. Responsibility is doled out based purely on the trust level of the relationship, and that’s an important life lesson for them.

One they have a phone, however, I believe it’s important to take full advantage of it as a tool to connect with them in a medium they are naturally drawn to. If you’ve allowed them to have a social network account (a decision that is going to vary based on the level of trust you’ve built up), then engage with them on it. Become a wizard at texting and touching base with them throughout your week. Send them verses or positive messages (hint: email is so last year). Tell them how beautiful they are. Like their photos on Instragram.

There is a fine line between stalking and micro-managing your girl’s social life on one hand, and building your online connection with them on the other, and that line isn’t going to be drawn at the same place for every father/daughter relationship. You may even decide to give them some online “space” so they have some level of privacy. But keep in mind that hearing from dad may not be as meaningless or undesirable to them as they let on at first.

If this is your first attempt to engage with them (or even if it’s not), there may be some awkwardness for awhile, and a need to talk things through and reach some understandings about your intentions. They need to be able to trust you with their heart, and that means being trustworthy and respectful of their feelings, even when you think your rational analysis of their feelings is more accurate. Remember that deep in the heart of every daughter is a little girl who wants to be honored and cherished by her daddy, and online mediums can be a good tool when face to face conversations are more difficult. Don’t let online communication be a substitute for face to face fellowship, but by all means, let use it as an ice-breaker in your effort to capture their hearts.

Untested resolve is just bravado

Posted by Kevin Harper | Posted in Men's Leadership | Posted on 09-29-2011

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There are times when our leadership roles, or at least our aspirations to influence our families, churches, and communities for good, have us feeling like we’re at the top of the world. This is a good feeling, and can be confidence-building, but it’s not always a healthy one. That’s because feeling like we’re at the top of the world makes us think for awhile that God…isn’t.

We all have down days. Sometimes those days can drag out into weeks. Times of financial hardship especially can bring this out in us men. They are reality.

But they are also necessary. All good and godly men have experienced those times when God is clearly saying “You’re not at the top of the food chain. I am.” And there’s a reason for that.

Those times are as important to our growth as leaders as the good times. We need to appreciate them, not fight them. Learn from them, but don’t let them define us. Impress into our memory what it feels like to be down so we can relate to others and pick them up when the opportunity arises.

Feeling like a failure…which is a common feeling for men…is a message from Satan, but learning that we are not on the throne is a message from The Divine. It’s all in how you look at it, and that’s the point.

It is not overstepping our bounds to question God and wonder what He’s doing. David did it many times in the Psalms:

“O LORD, the God who saves me, day and night I cry out before you. May my prayer come before you; turn your ear to my cry. For my soul is full of trouble and my life draws near the grave. … I am like a man without strength. … You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths. … You have taken from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to them. I am confined and cannot escape; my eyes are dim with grief. I call to you, O LORD, every day; I spread out my hands to you.” ~Psalm 88:1-9 (NIV)

“How long, LORD? Will You hide yourself forever? Will Your wrath burn like a fire? … LORD, where are Your former lovingkindnesses, which you swore to David in your truth?” ~Psalm 89:46-49 (NKJV)

God doesn’t mind the questions, as long as we’re looking to Him for the answers. As leaders, we need to understand that the times of darkness that plague our human existence are just there to grow us into the men God wants us to be. God knows that what doesn’t kill us, if we’re seeking His face, just makes us stronger.

Just as it is impossible to feel on the top of the world without ever experience life’s valleys, it’s also impossible to know the resolve of a true leader without that resolve ever being tested. Untested resolve is just bravado.

The big leadership disconnect

Posted by Kevin Harper | Posted in Men's Leadership | Posted on 01-12-2010

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There is a glaring disconnect between men’s interest in leading grand enterprises like multi-million dollar corporations, non-profits, and political campaigns, and their interest in leading their families. We gravitate toward the one, and think these pursuits worthy of our utmost attention as if lives depended on us–and to be sure, they do–yet we run from the other with unholy fear.

How many politicians have you seen in the news who have built great followings with soaring speeches and pleasant words, but who set low bars for moral and spiritual leadership at home? Broken marriages and ruined family relationships are the result, because there is no one who sees the disconnect better than those who know him best. The disconnect invariably affects the worldly empire he has built, and like a wrecking ball, destroys the tower of good will that was once enjoyed.

The reason the disconnect occurs is that we men tend to compartmentalize our lives into various “profiles.” We create multiple profiles, not unlike the personal identities, or avatars, used for social networking sites. For one, we create a more business-like profile. For another, we relax a bit and talk about more personal things. If we’re really bold, we’ll mention God in one of them.

I think this tendency to compartmentalize is an organizational tool God built into us to allow us to do great things. There is certainly something within the male psyche that wants to go out and conquer the world, and the ability to leave our home life at home when we enter the competitive business world assists us in that. But is that really the ideal for men wanting to imitate the leadership model of Jesus Christ?

While there is certainly a place for presenting ourselves differently to different audiences (think Paul preaching on Mars’ Hill), it’s a worthy goal to infuse all of our social identities, whether as a businessman, employee, church leader, or head of household, with the leadership character and boldness of Jesus. We should not be ashamed to wear the name of Christ publicly and profusely, and more importantly, live the life of one who bears that name.

Does that mean we’ll always live up to the Gold Standard of leadership? Of course not. Nor does failure mean we’re not truly a believer, or saved, or a good husband or father. But as we integrate the message of the cross into every compartment of our lives, we make progress toward our overreaching goal of being a leader 24/7, not just in the workplace.

What column are you in on the balance sheet?

Posted by Kevin Harper | Posted in Men's Leadership | Posted on 12-11-2009

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When you add up your influence on those around you, would you say you’re in the asset column or liability column? Are you a credit or a debit? Do you contribute to the “bottom line” of those you lead (and we all lead someone, whether we want to or not), or do you drain “cash flow” from that bottom line by squandering the opportunities you’ve been given?

Put leadership into financial terms and it seems so much more meaningful, doesn’t it? If your life is a budget, where are your cash resources going each month? Are there holes in your budget that need to be tightened up so you don’t waste precious cash in a tough economy?

And a tough economy it is. If the collective leadership of American men are accounted for on a balance sheet, the country is bleeding red ink and living on the productivity of just a few leaders-some of whom are fleecing their followers unscrupulously. That’s the thing about leadership. When we don’t step up to our responsibilities, there will always be those who will step up in our place. But we may not appreciate the direction they take us.

We American men have become so complacent that maybe we deserve what we’ve become. We have squandered authority, leadership, and influence, parting with it as easily as profit on a home sold during the peak of the real estate bubble. But just as we suddenly remember to look under the couch for spare change when spending money becomes a little more scarce, we’re now in a position of looking far and wide for good leaders. Unfortunately, sometimes we’re just stuck with “spare change.”

Don’t lose heart, however. There are valuable lessons from the history of Israel found in the Old Testament. Often, Israel would lose its generational memory and slip into dark, leaderless periods, only to rebound when things got bad enough for a leader to emerge. Some of those leaders-or judges, as the Bible calls them-were better than others, but they all had God’s blessing and a mission to restore the Israelite nation.

That’s where we’re at in America right now. It is a dark moment, to be sure. But if we start now cultivating a new generation of godly leaders, future generations will be impacted more than we even imagine.

Authority is not the same as influence

Posted by Kevin Harper | Posted in Men's Leadership | Posted on 12-10-2009

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The guy who abuses the loyalty of his wife, kids, or employees out of a sense of superiority or privilege is a fool, squandering his ability to have any positive influence over them. That’s because authority in theory does not guarantee influence in reality. A police office may have a badge that gives him authority, but if he’s dealing with a drug dealer who doesn’t respect that authority, his influence is nil.

Jesus knew that moral authority was a more effective tool of leadership than authority granted from on high. Moral authority is real influence, and can’t be bought, sold, or granted. It can only be earned.

God granted Jesus dominion over mankind, but Jesus earned the influence he had over his disciples over the course of thirty years on earth. He lived, loved, taught, and served. He earned the trust of his followers through a consistent example of sacrificial leadership that placed his followers needs over his own. All of the authority of God Almighty couldn’t accomplish what Jesus’ years of sacrificial ministry accomplished: loyalty and lasting personal influence.

Think about this:

  1. Over whom did Jesus have authority?
  2. On whom did Jesus have an influence?

They are not necessarily the same people. As God, Jesus had authority over all of his creation. As a leader, he had influence only over those who respected him and therefore were interested in responding to his message.

Jesus had authority given to him by God the Father, yet some chose to reject that authority. He did speak authoritatively:

Matthew 7:28-29 – When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.

But the Chief Shepherd lowered himself to become a sheep. In so doing, Jesus left an indelible mark on humanity that has lasted for over two millennia.

Being on the roster is not the same as being in the game

Posted by Kevin Harper | Posted in Men's Leadership | Posted on 12-09-2009

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The leader who never asserts his authority has none. That’s not to say that leaders should exercise authority arbitrarily, just for the purpose of maintaining power or control. That is a manipulative strategy of Machiavellian tyrants, not Christlike servant-leaders.

Nevertheless, a leader can’t be a wallflower, never speaking up when it’s his turn to set the pace or direction for those who look up to him. Who is he pretending to lead if he has no influence when the chips are down?

When you think about it, everyone has influence. The question is, do we recognize it and use it for good? Consequently, there’s no such thing as the absence of leadership, only the absence of positive leadership. Leadership, like nature, abhors a vacuum.

To put it into sports terms, if we fail to step up to the plate when it’s our turn at bat, we are actually walking away from our responsibility and our team. Wow, what a concept. Maybe that will get us off the couch and into the game.

What a disgrace it would be in a ball game for a hitter to sit paralyzed on the bench out of fear or laziness when it’s his turn at bat. Sure, someone will step in and take his place. The pitch will go to someone, but it won’t be him. The game will go on, but no thanks to the would-be hitter.

If his inaction is a disgrace to his team and to his career, how much more of a disgrace it is when we sit out the areas of life that actually matter–like providing godly leadership to our families when they need it. Now there’s a fast-pitch worth trying to hit out of the park!

We are all leaders in some respect, from the dad who desperately needs to be respected by his family, coworkers, or employees, but is instead relegated to irrelevance by his inaction, to the mom who desperately needs her kids to listen to her when she speaks, but instead feels like she’s talking through–or to–a massive concrete wall.

The course of action in both situations is to take action. Speak with authority, don’t walk away from it. Step up to the plate and be the one in front taking the fast-pitch for the team. Being on the roster is not the same as being in the game.

Is the world in heap-big trouble?

Posted by Kevin Harper | Posted in Men's Leadership | Posted on 12-08-2009

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The topic of men’s leadership has been near and dear to my heart for years. I was not a born leader, and the older I get, the more I learn that few people are. Yet in so many roles in life, men will be put into leadership positions. It is not a question of if but when.

All men (and women, although that’s not the subject of this blog) are called to lead in some way, whether as the heads of our families, as employees responsible for getting a task done, or as guys who stuck their hands up at the wrong time at church and thus “volunteered” to head up the next big outreach project.

I believe there is a crisis of men’s leadership in this nation as so many of us have come to believe the pop culture image of ourselves as idiots who are only interested in munching chips in front of TV while watching football. Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing wrong with munching chips in front of the TV while watching football anymore than there’s anything wrong with our wives enjoying a tear-jerking chick flick every now and then. But if that is all either sex amounts to, the world is in heap-big-trouble.

Oh yeah, I think it already is. Maybe that’s the problem.

More to follow…and thanks for reading! I welcome your thoughtful comments here.