The Last Castle


A few weeks ago, Chris and I rented a movie starring Robert Redford entitled, The Last Castle. We watched the movie mid-week, so I went into the experience with low expectations. (We typically save the really good DVDs till the weekend.) I was pleasantly surprised by the meaning infused into the plot line.

The Last Castle is one of the best leadership movies I’ve ever seen. The plot unfolds in a maximum security military prison where tough, primarily uneducated inmates serve time for crimes committed while wearing the uniform of the United States Military. The crux of the film is the fight between two leaders, both attempting to secure the followership of inmates but for completely different reasons.

The Warden attempts to maintain control of the prison with an iron fist, questionable tactics and vicious forms of cruelty. His goal is to minimize the self-esteem of the inmates.

The second leader, a highly decorated general of the U.S. Army named Eugene Irwin, was stripped of his rank and sentenced to extended imprisonment in the facility. With more education and leadership gifts than his fellow inmates, he quickly earns their respect by investing in their individual lives. Soon he begins battling the Warden in an attempt to improve conditions for other prisoners.

The way these two leaders approach their “followers” is drastically different. The Warden rationalizes his abuse of power by saying he needs only to look at the inmates’ records to reassure himself they are no longer soldiers but criminals. He sees the worst in the prisoners, focusing on their past mistakes and squelching their future prospects. His degrading approach minimizes their ability to grow, thus ensuring his continued dictatorship.

In contrast, the wise general quickly earns the camaraderie, admiration and follower-ship of his fellow inmates by calling out the best in them. He values them, attempts to help them better their own lives and celebrates both their past and their future potential. While the Warden considers each prisoner the same (every inmate as a worthless sub-human being), the general helps inmates work together by appreciating each other’s unique contribution.

When an influential, confident leader is highly regarded by others, it never ceases to amaze me how much self-worth they can lend to others when they choose to be a servant leader rather than self-righteous ruler. There’s power in seeing the best in others.

Long story short… there are powerful leadership lessons to be snagged from this movie. And, for non-leadership geeks, it’s still entertaining.




Lessons Learned from the JFK Museum

I had a quirky childhood fascination with John F. Kennedy. In the third grade, I read a book about him and my fascination quickly grew to the point where friends and relatives began giving me historical JFK memorabilia as gifts. Thinking this is weird? So am I.

Luckily I outgrew this hobby and it’s been a long time since I’ve read much about the Kennedys. But while we were in Boston, it seemed logical to visit the world renowned JFK Library and Museum, rekindling fond memories of my childhood hobby. Our trip to the museum was fantastic for many reasons, not the least of which was the building, located right on the ocean!

During our tour, I was reminded why I once liked JFK so much. He initiated programs like the Peace Corps, which challenged young adults to live selflessly in their early years to help third world countries overcome poverty, illiteracy and disease. During his presidency, Kennedy launched initiatives to increase the quality of care given to the mentally disabled and, most notably, was an advocate for civil rights. As a captivating communicator and visionary leader, JFK provided hope for the world. Too bad his personal integrity didn’t match his political prowess. JFK’s legacy is forever tainted by his sexual misconduct.

I walked away from the museum reminded of three key principles:

  1. God often allows immoral people to make positive contributions to the world.
  2. We can try to hide immorality, but our sin will eventually surface, leaving our legacy tainted.
  3. Satan will work hard to tempt great people who possess world-changing power.

I’m always saddened when I see leaders stumble into moral failure. Lesson learned: we must always be alert to Satan’s schemes, allowing God to use us because of our character, not in spite of it.

I may never impact our country the way JFK did. But I hope I can stand before God some day with my integrity intact.



Would You Rather?

My husband, Chris, is a jr. high minister. Consequently, he knows tons of car games and riddles meant to keep jr. high kids occupied on road trips or while standing in line at Six Flags. If you’ve never been on a road trip with Chris, he’s quite entertaining.

Chris owns a student ministry resource that’s particularly interesting– a series of books called “Would You Rather?” These are discussion questions meant to keep groups thinking and connecting about off-the-wall, hypothetical decisions. Would you rather lose your big toe or your index finger? Would you rather have no sense of humor or no common sense? They’re goofy, they’re fun and thankfully they’re imaginary scenarios!

Sometimes the questions are more serious. Here’s my personal favorite– Would you rather spend three years planting churches with the Apostle Paul or spend 30 minutes with Jesus?

I’m a proponent of the three years of church planting with Paul. It seems like the most selfless option. I already know Christ and can’t wait to spend an eternity with him. I’m concerned about the millions of people who will never have that opportunity.

Chris (and nearly everyone else we’ve talked to) readily votes for the 30 minutes with Jesus option, based on the argument that nothing could be better than spending time with the Son of God.

But seriously folks… what greater honor is there than getting beat down for the cause of Christ? I don’t want to be a Martha, but what’s 30 minutes of personal time with Jesus if millions are separated from him forever?

This has been a humorously heated debate at many a dinner party at the Sandel house in the past. Some have all but convinced me I’m a bad person for choosing Paul over Jesus. Maybe I am. Yeeks! Glad these questions are hypothetical.

How about you? Would you rather spend three years planting churches with the Apostle Paul or spend 30 minutes with Jesus?

Volunteer Excellence

We’ve been roaming around Pennsylvania historic sites recently. The early summer drive around Gettysburg was magnificent, our stroll around Valley Forge was informative and our historic tour around patriotic Philadelphia was enlightening. (If you ever head to Philly, check out Independence Hall, The Liberty Bell and a Philly Cheesesteak Sandwich.)

At each stop, we’ve encountered both volunteers and paid staff who specialize in assistings tourists in maximizing their experiences. Some of these guides have been fantastic, going out of their way to leave their post and show us around. These people totally make the experience! They ooze enthusiasm about the historical site where they’re serving.

We met a historical park ranger at Independence Hall today who went the extra mile to do out-of-the ordinary things for us. He had an accute knowledge of his enviornment and was an articulate communicator about the history of this major historical marker.

In comparison, we had another tour guide at a nearby site who stumbled over his words, which were dispassionate at best. He communicated minimal knowledge about his surroundings. It really detracted from the experience.

I’m reminded what a key role volunteers play on Sunday mornings in the local church. Invaluable are greeters who leave their post to show a guest around. Priceless are servant-leaders who ooze with passion about their church, know what’s happening in various ministry areas and go out of their way to maximize the experience of each guest.

Church staff and volunteers alike honor God when they bring their A-game each and every week. There’s no letting up. You never know who might be visiting for the first time and the impact you can have in even the shortest interaction.

Bad Decisions

For the next week, I’ll be traveling to big cities on the east coast as part of a week long road trip vacation with Chris.

Today was our first day on the road and we departed shortly after church. We stopped for dinner in Ohio, which presented an excellent opportunity to enjoy Skyline Chili. If you’ve never had Skyline, where have you been? It’s unique, tasty and can only be found in states east of Illinois. I’m a fan of the 4-way with beans– a delictable combination of spaghetti noodles, chili, beans and lots-o-cheese.

My husband, Chris is a multi-tasker and enjoys eating while we drive. But Chris doesn’t care for Skyline so he picked up a fast food meal at another restaurant.

Skyline is a dine-in kind of place. A 4-way is typically quite messy and unflattering to eat. But, I couldn’t pass up a Skyline opportunity and Chris wanted to get on the road, so I agreed to get mine to-go.

Look at the picture. This is clearly a bad idea waiting to happen.

Here’s what I’ve learned about bad decisions– On the surface, they always seem like great ideas. Deep down, I’m always leery. Something in my gut says, “Alert! alert! This decision could result in messy and unfortunate results.” Note: You should always listen to this voice, lest you end up with Skyline down your pants and an upset stomach later.