What In The World Are You Here For?

One Simple Principle to Clarify Your Future

Have you ever felt like you were in the middle of something and didn’t know the next step to take? It’s a common problem, especially this time of the year.

I know exactly how you feel. I felt the same exact way while working construction after college. That’s right. Went to school for four years to study English and ended up running a jack hammer! At first it wasn’t all that bad. We worked out in the sun during the summer and the money was enough to even enjoy a want once in a while. Then came winter.

I believe there’s a simple reason why you may be feeling like your future is uncertain.

When we forget why we’re doing something, we lose our direction.

For example, ever gone into a room and forgotten why you were there? You don’t have to be a senior citizen for this to happen. The first thing you do is ask yourself “Why did I come in here?”

Nothing clarifies your present situation better than asking this question. When you’re happy with the answer to this question, you’ll find that your future becomes instantly clear.

Is it your job? One lady I know went to work to buy a vacuum cleaner. Thirty-five years later she was still working. That’s a whole other story, but maybe it’s time you asked yourself why you’re working the job you are right now. You may decide you’re doing it to provide for your family and create a better financial future for yourself. That’s fine. However, until you clarify why you’re working where you are right now, your future will be fuzzy and you’ll constantly lack direction.

Is it your marriage? You met the person of your dreams and it was Disney on earth. Then after you got married you were in hormone heaven for about a year. Now you realize the person you married has bad breath in the morning and actually uses toilet paper. Chances are you need to remember why you chose the path you did.

Perhaps it’s your kids. For years you dreamed of having them. You prayed for a boy and a girl. Now they’re teenagers and you often realize why some animals eat their own young. If someone asked you why you had them, what would you say?

Imagine if someone came up to you and said, “You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.” That’s what Jesus actually told a church in the book of Revelation, chapter two verse 3. Not too shabby.

However he followed up his words of praise with this statement, “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first” (Revelation 2:4). Ouch!

This church was doing a lot of things right. The problem was they were doing a lot of good things for the wrong reason. They had lost their why. They were “going through the motions”.

When it comes to love, we in the western world associate love with the ‘warm, fuzzy, feelings’. A cupid shoots you in the heart and then you….well you know the rest of the story.

The love talked about here is more practical. It’s agape love or a sacrificial love, the kind of love Jesus had when he sacrificed himself for you and I.

It wasn’t that the Ephesian church members hated Jesus. They were still doing a lot of great things. The problem was they weren’t loving others the way he loved them. They’d forgotten their why.

In the words of Gail Hyatt, “We lose our way, when we lose our why”.

Getting back to your job. If you’re wondering why you still work where you do and you decide you started doing it to provide for your family, why not put a picture of your family on your desk? It will help you remember your why, especially during the difficult and stressful times.

The same applies to other areas of your life. Surround yourself with physical reminders of your why. These small reminders will get you through the dark times….the times when you walk into the room and ask yourself why you came in there.

The warm, fuzzy, feelings are nice when they come, but most of the time, the only thing you’ll feel is pain as you step outside of your comfort zone. Many times the pain will come in the form of uneasiness. That’s alright, use it to keep yourself on the right path.

Many people believe that as they grow, there will be less pain and fewer setbacks and obstacles. I wish that were true. But in my own experience, each passing year brings with it new challenges and problems. As someone once said, “New levels, new devils”.

Knowing your why will help you see clearly as you navigate the darkness and emotional fog. Every time you’re tempted to throw in the towel because things are getting too hard or you don’t remember where you’re going, remember your why.

Remember, there is a great deal of sacrifice in life. Jesus sacrificed and he expects no less from us. The secret is that sacrificing your comforts, goods and resources for others brings great joy. When you do, you don’t lose anything, you gain just as a flame loses no power by lighting a candle.

Chances are if your candle is burning right now, you’re in a season when you need to remind yourself of your why. Once you do, things will be much more clear, especially this upcoming year.
The last thing you want to do is keep going through the motions and hoping for some form of relief. Take some time and get to the heart of the matter. Decide your why and write it down somewhere.

What is your why?

What To Do When You’ve Lost Everything

Thoughts On A Difficult Season

Have you ever had something just slip through your hands?  Maybe it was a dream or a rare opportunity.  Perhaps it was something you believed was going to be a source of joy.  Me too, so lets talk about it.

Of course, when I say everything, I mean something.  Something you valued highly.  Maybe it was your marriage, a job, a friendship, money, status, a child.  We both know none of these things are everything.  Important, yes!  Everything, no.  But at the time.  When you’re holding your heart in your hand and soul ache becomes your constant companion, it feels like everything, right?

However, when you repeatedly fail, but keep on going, you end up with something better than you had before the heartache.  You can call it what you want, but when you boil it down it’s called character.

We live in a world where if at first you don’t succeed, try something new.  When that becomes your mantra, you end up with a pile of half-hearted attempts and little character.  What happens is you never end up developing the skills that only come with time and practice.

I’m not going to break it all down into three steps for you.  I already know by the stats that my readers aren’t interested when I do that.  Instead I’m giving it to you as I see it based on personal experience.  Consider it more a talk over some coffee.  The truth is, I don’t know it all, but I do know this.  Chances are it’s the end of the year and you feel like you messed it up.

In fact, taking it a step farther, you might even feel like you blew it and there aren’t going to be any new opportunities next year.  The truth is you may be right.  Maybe there won’t be those same exact opportunities.  But maybe something better is on the way.

Lets face it, sometimes Cancer is terminal.  Sometimes we lose the good job and don’t get a better one.  Sometimes we lose the love of our life and end up doing life alone.  Sometimes our kids rebel and never come back.  Sometimes we fail the course and get dropped out of the program.  The question is, what are you going to do about it?

I’d be willing to guess this is a very difficult time of year for you.  Along with the normal stresses of life, you’re now wondering how you’re going to get it all done this month.  You’re wondering how you’re going to pay for it all or if there even will be an all.  You’re wondering what troubles you may face this upcoming year.

Here’s a tip.  You’re more than the things you say, think or do.  The enemy wants you to think that’s not true.  He wants you to think that everything you own and achieve is all that matters.  If your dream doesn’t come true, he wants you to think it’s because you’re a failure.  That’s not true.  If your dream doesn’t come true, maybe it’s because it wasn’t God’s dream for you or you just need to keep pushing.

So what do you do when your dream doesn’t come true?  I’m glad you asked.  What do parents tell their kids when the kids don’t get what they want?  Wait until we get home (just kidding).  No, what we tell our kids is maybe next time.  That’s not saying ‘yes’ and that’s not saying ‘no’.  It recognizes the fact that the future is a mystery.  Not always unknowable, but a mystery.

Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived- next to Jesus- wrote, “I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.”  Ecclesiastes 9:11.

Clearly, sometimes despite your best efforts, you don’t get what you seek.  It’s not because you aren’t fast or strong or brilliant, it’s just the way life is.  The good news is if you aren’t all of those things, you still have a chance.  So if you’re not winning, celebrate with those who are!

Once a farmer prayed to God because he had a humungous rock in his field that he could not move.  God told the farmer to go out into the field and push on the rock each day for twenty minutes each day.  The farmer did.  For twenty years!  And still the rock didn’t move an inch.  Finally, he cried out to God because he was unable to budge it after all of his time and hard work.  God answered him and said, “I never asked you to move the rock, I just wanted you to push on it.  I can move it anytime I want!”

Maybe God isn’t expecting you to move the rock in your field just yet.  Maybe all he wants you to do is push on it for awhile.  When you do, many things will happen.  Ultimately, you’ll end up a whole lot stronger than you were to begin with.  Maybe there are others like your spouse and children who are watching and deciding what they’re going to do when they face difficult circumstances in the future.

At the end of the day, there are many people out there who “made it” without any effort on their part.  If you were to ask most of them how they did, they’d probably tell you they did it on their own.  Yet many of these same people, though successful, are not able to duplicate the process.

The truth is, you haven’t lost everything.  Yes, it feels that way right now, but in time you’ll see it’s not true. That’s not down playing your loss or your pain.  They’re both real.  However, if what’s been lost cannot be regained, you need to acknowledge that and move on.  With a little persistence, you might look over the next ridge and see your dream standing there looking back at you!

What To Do Before You Do Anything

You Need To Do This Well To Excel

Imagine walking through the mall this month and someone walks up to you and kisses you and tells you that they love you? Today we’re going to talk about why that might not be so weird in the day and age that we live in.

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If it was a complete stranger, you’d probably be shocked! If however, it was your spouse you’d think it was totally natural. Why? It all has to do with context. Given the context of marriage and your relationship at that time, your spouse has the right to kiss you and express their love for you. A stranger does not have that right.

Context may not sound like such a big deal at first glance, but it’s implications are far reaching. If you err in evaluating context as a leader, it can cost you greatly. In fact, with the advent of social media and the world we live in, it may be one of the greatest skills a leader should concentrate on.

For example, how easy is it to take a text the wrong way?  Even if the person sending it uses emoticons, their message can still be cloudy or misinterpreted, right?

As a leader, understanding your context is very important. Ask any pastor who has gone to a conference, came home, and tried to implement everything they learned. They assumed that just because something was working for another leader in California, the same would work for them in New York. Usually that’s not the case, because each context is different.

So how do you discover your context. It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time. You need to do your research. A great example of a group who attempted to do that is found in Numbers 13 and 14. In these chapters, Moses sent 12 spies into the land of Canaan to discover the quality of the land and its resources. He also wanted to see what kind of opposition they were going to face if they decided to overtake it. They were “doing their homework”.

Again, the importance of context can’t be overstated. This is especially true when interpreting the scriptures. As you study them, you need to ask important questions. What is the historical context? What is the literary context? What is the cultural context? Any preacher will tell you that until you’ve done that, you’re not ready to preach a sermon.

Taking this a step further, context is everything in relationships and leadership, world events, politics, etc.

When we lift words or conversations out of context, they lose their meaning. For example, a conversation with your spouse might be perfectly acceptable in private, but having that same conversation in public might not be.

Again, you might totally misunderstand a statement someone makes on social media and decide to disagree. Having a conversation with that person over coffee or on the phone is probably a lot more appropriate than berating them in public.

When interpreting context, it’s so important to examine the source. It’s a little different when your four year old gets mad and says they hate you than it is when a four year employee says the same words.

As a leader, it’s so important to determine context. Your ability to do so, can make the difference between a long and fulfilling career and a short one.

I wonder how many arguments with our loved ones might be eliminated if we took the time to step back and look at the context in the given situation.

I wonder how much more peace we’d have if we walked away from conversations with our peers and interpreted their words based on the context of our friendship with them.

I wonder how much easier parenting would be if we looked at the actions and words of our children through the grid work of context.

What happens is that as we go through life, the words of those we love and their actions have the potential to derail our happiness if we fail to understand context. If we’re not careful, a one time event can be interpreted as a final straw. If we’re not careful, we can decide to burn all bridges based on a single event when someone we love was simply angry or immature. Lets face it, none of us are perfect. We all make mistakes.

The better you understand your context, the more you’ll be able to help those you love and serve.

Moses sent out spies to get the information he needed. That might be o.k. if you’re looking to start a new business or a church. But if you’re looking to better understand someone, having a conversation with them might be a better place to start.

Spending time with people is also a great way to better understand your context. When you do, be sure to occasionally ask questions to get the information you need.

If your a leader, you might even consider sending out a survey through a company like surveymonkey.com.

What are the local customs of the people you serve? There’s a difference between the customs of people in Las Vegas, Nevada and people who live in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Cultures also vary from place to place. While this may seem like commonsense, it’s an important consideration when determining your context.

One last thing to remember is that the experts aren’t always right. Remember the 12 spies we talked about? Only 2 out of 12 of them came back with an accurate report about the Promised Land! Here we see that the majority is not always correct. While having a team is a great way to build a consensus, as a leader, you’ll have to make the best decision possible regardless of the consensus.

Again, it wouldn’t be odd if you were in the Mall and your spouse came up to you and kissed you and told you they love you. That would be perfectly natural in that setting. However, if a stranger did the exact same thing, it would be more than just plain weird, it would be unnatural. Great leaders know this and act accordingly. They do their thinking and decision making based on the context they are operating within and lead people accordingly. Call it discernment, call it heart, call it what you want, contextual thinking is powerful!

The Clear And Simple Solution To Every Problem

Wrestle the Bear

During a morning walk with my friend, he shared a bit of wisdom, “There’s a clear and simple solution to every problem….and it’s usually wrong!”

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A little over two years ago, my wife took our minivan to the dealership and they told her it was going to cost about six hundred dollars just to pull apart the dash to see what was wrong and restore the heat.  We were stymied.  After all, the “experts” had spoken on the issue and that was that.

Fast forward two years and my wife threw down the gauntlet and said it was time to replace the vehicle.  No problem, but I’m the worse salesman in the world and told everyone interested in the van what was wrong with it.  I sleep really good at night though :-).  However, despite my honesty, we were having a hard time selling the van.  Not too many people want a vehicle without heat in the Northeast.  Go figure!

Long story short, after many hours of trouble shooting and repeated attempts, I discovered what was wrong and fixed it!  The motor that works the mixer door under the dash had died, leaving the flap closed so that no heat could enter the ductwork.  The van now has luxurious heat….it’s like sitting in front of a fireplace and it cost me zero dollars to repair.  Want to buy it?

I don’t know what challenge or problem you’re facing right now, but I do know one thing.   There’s a clear and simple solution to your problem and it’s usually wrong.  That’s not to say that some things aren’t easy to figure out.  However, long, ongoing issues are evidence that the solution you’re in need of may take some time and wisdom, not to mention repeated attempts.  But one thing is for sure, if you do nothing, nothing will change.

Most of us, however, do SOMETHING.  The problem is we don’t do enough of something.

We go to the gym….for a week.  We date our spouse once a week….for a month.  We go back to school….for a semester.  The problem is we’re starting and stopping so much that we never follow through with anything.  Then a pattern of giving up begins.  And it gets easier and easier to keep giving up.  Eventually, the least little bit of resistance is enough to ground our dreams and plans.  Unfortunately, our kids watch us and catch the disease

Here are just a few thoughts on problem solving.

Walk away from the problem.  Not permanently, but temporarily.  Take a break.  Take a walk.  Unplug  until you are able to come back to the problem with fresh eyes and a refreshed spirit.  My grandfather, a wise old farmer, taught me this trick years ago and trust me, there are plenty of conundrums when you own a farm.  So stop doing the same thing over and over and getting worn out.  Take a break.  Maybe you need to research your problem a bit more.  Maybe this challenge is a valuable education in disguise.  The knowledge it has to teach you may be helpful for years to come.

Pray.  This one ought to come before walking away from the problem.  However, if you’re like me, it’s fitting.  I can’t count the times I’ve attempted something then prayed.  In the words of Jesus’ half-brother James, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5).  Pound for pound, there’s a lot of wisdom packed in that verse.  Ask God specifically to provide you with a clear and simple solution to your problem.

Wait.  Not to work on the problem, but for the solution.  Sometimes it’s only a matter of time.  I know an innocent guy who spent years in prison before he was finally freed.  In the meantime, he used his gifts as best as he could and further developed his character.  In the meantime, his patience muscle grew.  His name was Joseph and you can read about him in Genesis chapters 37-50.  As a pastor, I constantly tell people, “It took you years to get in the mess you’re in and it may take just as long to get things straightened out”.  Attending church one Sunday isn’t going to solve all of your problems, stick around for the long haul.

Remember, there’s a clear and simple solution to every problem, and it’s usually wrong.

Simple solutions take the form of flight.  It’s much easier to run from the bears in our lives than to attack them….or so it seems.  Eventually the bears catch up with us and we still have to face them.  It takes a lot less energy to face your problems than to run from them.

You know the story.  A man was missing from home for six months!  That’s a long time.  Finally, his wife heard a knock at the door and she opened it to find her husband standing there in filthy rags.  One shoe was missing.  “What happened?”, she asked.  “Well,” he replied, “I got chased by a bear for two weeks.”  “Chased by a bear for two weeks?  You’ve been gone for six months!  Where were you the rest of the time?” she asked.  “Well, I’ve been walking back!”, he answered.

We can run from our problems and to be quite honest, it feels pretty good sometimes.  However, most of the time we’re better off committing to solving our problems rather than running from them.  In the words of my good friend, “There’s a clear and simple solution to every problem, and it’s usually wrong.”

How To Tell Your Story

Helping People Rise

As a pastor, I’m acutely aware that we live in a day and age when people are highly critical of others and lenient on themselves.  No, it doesn’t help that some people make themselves easy targets by their stupid behavior, but that’s no excuse to excuse ourselves.  Remember, when you point the finger at someone else, there are 3 fingers pointing back at you.

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Now imagine standing before a King and accusing him of murder!  I know a guy who did just that.  They funny thing is, he was a murderer himself.

I never really thought about it, but I suppose the legal system is much more lenient than it once was.  How else could the apostle Paul have killed Christians and gotten away with it?  In some ways, his freedom, was a daily reminder of God’s grace.  And isn’t it funny to think that the accurate charges against Paul were dropped, yet he was brought up on false charges?

The man Paul stood before was named Agrippa.  You can read about him in Acts 12 where he is referred to as Herod Agrippa.  He’s the same guy who had James- the half brother of Jesus killed- and had Peter imprisoned.  Paul has the chance to speak with him on his way to Rome.  Ironically, Paul is more concerned with Agrippa’s welfare than he is with his own,  and he uses the opportunity to rescue Agrippa from the coming judgment.

In a nutshell, Paul shares the story of how he was an over zealous murderer who had an encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus.  He tells Agrippa Jesus asked him why he was persecuting him and how he repented.  Jesus then orders Paul to witness for him and serve.

Here are three reminders from Paul.

One, the ground is level at the cross.  If we’re going to help others, we have to come along side and remind them that we know what it’s like to be in the same exact mess they’re in when it comes to their standing before God.  If you don’t think it’s really that bad, may I remind you that- like Paul- you’ve killed someone!  That’s right.  Because of your sin, Jesus had to die.  We tend to forget that fact.  When we do, it’s awful easy to look down our noses at others.  However, when we’re reminded of our own plight, it’s much easier to be compassionate with others.

Two, love doesn’t leave people where it finds them.  The scriptures quote Agrippa saying that he was almost convinced to be a Christian.  That’s still a huge leap for someone who seemingly was hardened to God’s love before the interview.  While Paul doesn’t exactly say so, I don’t imagine it was very difficult for him to figure out that Paul was empathizing with him.  The story he told Agrippa was a picture, and then Paul provides illustrations to open a window.  Finally, Paul’s story allows Agrippa to look in the mirror and see himself.  Specifically, he sees himself in Paul’s story and realizes he’ll have to pay a penalty for his own actions if he doesn’t repent.  However, Paul doesn’t leave him there.  He insinuates that just as he once had a bleak and painful future because of his actions, there was a solution!

Three, Paul offers his listener hope!  Someone once said when people tell you about their problems, tell them about your hope.  Paul does just that.  He tells the King that a glorious future awaits him if he will amend his ways.  Agrippa doesn’t have to remain a slave to his passions and lusts, a life of purpose and service is his for the taking!  Friend, whatever you do, don’t leave people in the dark.  Open the door and let the light break in!  Invite them out into the bright clean air of life and freedom.  Be careful that you don’t get so caught up in seeing people as they are that you fail to see their potential.

I don’t know that Agrippa ever became a believer.  But I do know that he had every opportunity because of Paul’s love for him.

Not everybody you share with is going to accept your gift, but that shouldn’t stop you from sharing.  What if you determined, right now, to never stop inviting people to heaven?  And while you’re at it, what if you followed Paul’s example.

To recap, Paul admitted his own guilt and unworthiness.  He says, “Look, I’ve messed up too!  Big time.  I thought I knew it all, and I did every thing in my power to harm and kill others.”

Second, Paul shared about the hope Jesus offered him, despite of what Paul had done.

Third, Paul invited Agrippa to receive the same forgiveness he had received.

Look, in my earlier days as a Christian, I did my fair share of pointing the finger at others while forgetting what it felt like to be in their shoes.  That’s not to say, people don’t need to know the truth.  But the truth without love leads to condemnation.  I’m sorry to say, there have been times when I told the truth, but left people in the dark without any hope because I wasn’t compassionate or got too hung up on focusing on the sin tethering them to the ground.  Jesus wants to cut people free so that they can rise indefinitely.  Their is no ceiling to our potential because of what Jesus did on the cross.

Paul says, “Man, I was such a phony!  I had it all fixed up on the outside, but inside, every thing was a mess.  I had people killed.  True love doesn’t do that.  Now love lives inside me and the last thing I want to do is harm someone, let alone kill them”. (My paraphrase).

Ultimately, the reason we like putting the spotlight on other people’s sin and shortcomings is because it takes it off our own.  Instead, what if every time we were confronted with the sin of others, we were reminded of our own?  And what if instead of condemning others, we used the reminder as an opportunity to share the good news of Jesus and provided an opportunity for them to find ultimate freedom?  You do that when you tell your story in such a way that others are able to relate to it personally.

Paul was no dummy.  He wrote at least thirteen books in the New Testament.  If while his life was in danger he used the opportunity to save someone else rather than preserve himself, what’s stopping you and I on a daily basis?  Especially considering the fact that most of the time our lives aren’t in danger.  You see, the real person who was in trouble, though he was vulnerable, wasn’t Paul.  It was Agrippa who was tottering on the edge of destruction.  And so are many of the people we meet on a daily basis.  So let’s be like Paul and help them.  Tell your story and when you do, God may just allow others to see themselves in it.

What To Do When Your Sky Is Falling

Have you ever had one of those days when it seemed like the whole world was conspiring against you? I have and it’s no fun. Here’s what I do when I feel like the sky is falling.

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Take for instance, the upcoming election. Many believe it’s the end of the world. One bumper sticker I saw the other day, pretty well sums up how many people are feeling. It read, “Giant Meteor 2016- Hope for the Future!

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to vote as the Lord leads and open the windows on November 10th. Chances are, the birds will still be singing.

“Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God? But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: you are of more value than many sparrows”. Luke 12:6-7

When we start caring about ourselves more than we ought to, we have a tendency to forget about how much God cares for us!

Sparrows are one of the smallest birds, yet the scriptures tell us that although they are of little value in man’s eyes, they are of great value to him! In fact, not one of them is forgotten before him.

Right now, it may seem like your sky is falling, but you need to know that God cares for you. Not just you in general, but all of your details. Your health, finances, children, marriage, job….God’s got you covered. So even if your sky does fall, you can be sure God’s ready to do something about it.

Someone once said 9 out of 10 problems coming down the road at us, end up in the ditch. I don’t know how true that is, but in my own experience it sounds about right. Usually the problems we face are actually opportunities in disguise.

If you’ll only wait one more day, you may be surprised how quickly things can change in 24 hours. This isn’t just speculation, I’m speaking from experience.

Remember George in “It’s a Wonderful Life”? George was the kind of guy who put everybody before himself.  He even decided against college to fill his father’s vacated C.E.O position at the home town bank.  One day his uncle misplaces the bank’s deposit and the town finds out about it. The next day, they all come to withdraw their money and the bank goes belly up. To make matters worse, George is at his breaking point and mistreats his family and gets into an argument with his wife, so he goes out into a ferocious snow storm.

Now angry and hopeless, George gets drunk and crashes his car into an oak tree. In fact, things get so bad, he contemplates suicide. Just as he is ready to jump into the icy river, his angel, jumps in before him. Now rather than thinking of suicide, George jumps in to the frigid waters to rescue his angel. Up until this point, George has been thinking about nobody but himself.

How about you? Is the decision you are about to make based on what is best for your family and friends or is it all about you? Right now, it feels like you have to take matters into your own hands. Right now, you probably just want to start feeling better and happier.  Would you do yourself a favor?

Sleep on it.

Don’t find out the hard way like George did that it pays to stay at home. You don’t have to go somewhere else and start a new family to be loved.  God loves you right where you are. What you need to do is trust him and wait.

Here’s a prayer to get you started.  “God, treat us kindly. You’re our only hope. First thing in the morning, be there for us! When things go bad, help us out!” Isaiah 33:2 (The Message).  Notice Isaiah sees himself as part of a larger group.  He doesn’t just pray for himself, he prays for others also.  We’re all in the same boat.    I’ll bet there are many others feeling the pressure just as much if not more than you are.  Don’t just pray for yourself, pray for them.

Chances are things didn’t get this bad over night and it’s going to take some time to rectify. If God has preserved you this long, wouldn’t you agree he’s capable of doing so a while longer. Do something rash and your sky just might fall. Instead trust God is going to keep your sky from falling. He’s pretty good at that you know.  The sky is not falling, Henny Penny.  It was just an acorn.

“He is before all things, and by him all things consist.” Colossians 1:17

Get Radical About Your Future

Retooling the Power of Vision

“Judy, we don’t smoke anymore!”, my friend told his wife 50 something years ago.

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Up until that time they’d both smoked about a pack a day.  However, my friend decided that needed to change.  While I don’t necessarily agree with his deciding for both himself and his wife, I do believe it was a wise choice.  They never smoked another cigarette in their lifetimes.

So what’s your future look like?  Do you believe things are going to change, or are your expectations low?  If you’re going to win, you need to begin preparing now. Here’s how to start.

When I first thought about pursuing a Doctorate, I was often discouraged because it was so easy to imagine failure. The work would be too hard. I wouldn’t have time. I’d miss a deadline. In an instant, everything I’d worked for would crumble in an instant. Ultimately, I’d fail out of the program. Sound familiar?

Lets face it, the things you envision tend to come true. So if you want to win, you have to start by deciding what that’s going to look like. In the words of a poet, “This is all a daydream we dreamed long ago.” In most cases, you began the journey to your current location and vocation years ago. So if you envision yourself doing something different in the future, you have to start picturing what that looks like today.

The problem is, there are real and imagined enemies, between you and your dreams!

Meanwhile….Challenge+Action Plan= Success!

That’s right, there are many imaginary enemies you have to defeat, let alone real ones, but you can do it. My brother and I went camping with my Dad when we were kids and we were thoroughly convinced there was a Bear outside the tent the entire night. We saw his shadow and heard him. In reality it was just my Dad and his buddy talking late into the night around the campfire.  Even as grownups, it’s easy to imagine there are Bears outside our tents.

Meanwhile, challenges aren’t unique to only you, we all face them. The good news is 9 out of 10 fears coming down the road toward us, end up in the ditch. Likewise, the fanged enemies we do end up coming face to face with are toothless by the time they reach us. There’s always a Cyclops between you and your dreams, you just have to figure out what it looks like to overcome him. Call it mental preparation, psyching yourself up…whatever works for you. You can achieve success but only after you take the time to size up your challenge and develop a game plan.

Nevertheless, before you’re ready to conquer your real enemies, you have to defeat your imaginary ones. Kids do it all the time. They have no problem imagining themselves overcoming their enemies. In fact, they all see themselves as the good guy overcoming evil. A stick becomes a sword and they conquer their enemy every time, single handedly. Things change as they get older.

As we age, we lose our imagination. It seems like most of us start out brave, but after a few setbacks, we lose heart. Before you know it, we’ve lost our ability to envision success. Is it any wonder we don’t succeed?

Here are some tips for reimagining your future.

First, Consider David.  What separated David from his contemporaries was his ability to envision success. Call it what you want, faith, confidence, the results are the same. Stepping up to face Goliath was as natural as breathing for David. He had spent years out in the fields fighting enemies both real and imagined. In fact, when he talked with King Saul he talked about how he had struck a marauding lion and a bear at the same time and then killed them, while watching his flocks by night. Then when it’s time to face Goliath, the same chain of events happen. David unleashes his slingshot and strikes Goliath in the forehead with a stone. He then slays him with a sword, Goliath’s own sword, in fact. Hmmmm….a coincidence? I don’t think so. When Goliath’s companions witnessed his death, they fled. Face your greatest fear and your smaller ones will flee the scene too!

Second, Challenge+Action Plan= Success.  Focus on the results and nothing will change. Focus on the changes that need to take place and you’ll achieve your results.

Three, Get radical. Radical change leads to radical results. If you take the slow road, it’s going to take you longer to get there every time. The bible emphasizes quick change. We’re to take off our old garments and put new ones on. For most people, changing clothes doesn’t take a week, it happens in a matter of minutes. Stop envisioning failure and start imagining success.

Four, Inflate yourself and deflate your enemy. David’s father, brothers and even the King himself, discouraged him. Not only that, they emphasized Goliath’s greatness and size! Good thing David didn’t listen. If you ignore those who would discourage you and trust God, you can achieve the unimaginable.

Five. Get rid of fear and start living by faith. The scriptures state “the just shall live by faith” (4x). If the bible says something once, it’s enough. When it says the same thing four times, you can be sure it means business. In the world we live in, it’s easy to imagine the sky is falling. The only antidote is faith. Rather than Fearing Everything and Running, Face Everything And Rise. What does that look like? It looks like you imagining yourself doing great things, not failing.

Six, Play the movie of what it looks like to succeed. Michael Phelps does before every race and it shows. He even imagined what it would look like to win if his goggles fell off as he was nearing the finish line. They did, eventually, and he still won the race.

I’ve often wondered what God meant when he said that David was a man after his own heart. I’m beginning to think that God meant David possessed from his youth the ability to easily imagine himself coming out on top with God’s power. I very well may be wrong. However, there’s no denying the fact that David had mountain moving faith! If it’s impossible to please God without faith, it follows that God’s heart sings when he watches us walk by faith despite our circumstances.

Goliath, on the other hand, was also confident and no doubt had a difficult time envisioning defeat. The difference is, unlike David, Goliath’s faith was in his own strength and abilities, not God’s! The rest is history.

If you’re working on an advanced degree, imagine what it’s going to look like to walk across the stage on graduation day. Better yet, imagine how good you’re going to feel when your achieve your accomplishment.

Is there an area you’ve been imagining failure? What does the reverse look like? It may be your career, your marriage, your relationship with your children. Fear will paralyze you. Stop worrying about how you’re going to lose your job, your wife and your kid and start thinking about what it looks like to win. Take the steps necessary to avoid that type of outcome. Imagine yourself retiring with a sense of accomplishment with your wife at your side and your grown kids celebrating with you. David struck his fears head on and slew them and so can you!

How To Deal With Difficult People

The Truth about E.G.R's

In an ideal world, you would get along with everyone you meet. But as you know, that’s not always the case. Here’s what I’m finding helpful these days.

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Maybe it’s a boss or a relative, or maybe a neighbor or someone else close to home that is hard to love at times. Today, these people are often referred to as E.G.R’s or Extra Grace Required people. Maybe, just maybe, that phrase instantly rings a bell and you’re picturing that person right now. Try as you might, when you see them coming down the hall at work, you look for a side door to escape.

At times, it may even seem that God surrounds you with a bunch of these porcupine people! They’re not just in the workplace, but at the super market, in the line for gas, on the school board, in the locker room and sometimes even in your home!

Or, if you’re not the person who has a hard time getting along with everyone, you know someone who does. We all know at least one Grinch who hates everyone and is very vocal about it. Guess what? If they talk poorly about everyone they know, they also talk poorly about you when you’re not around. Kind of a bummer, yes, but true. Intuitively, you’ve probably already know that. The fact is, when everyone else is a jerk, in most cases, you’re the jerk.

If you’re lost, let me explain. These days, when I have a hard time extending grace to those who need it, I immediately remind myself how much grace I need myself.

Grace by definition is a free, unmerited favor. Something you get although you’ve done nothing to deserve it. We see it in Jesus and the price he paid on the cross for us. He died for us before we were ever born, not because we were good, but because he knew we would need forgiveness. He didn’t punish us to make us better. No, he took the punishment himself and forgave us and that’s what makes us better.

When I’m cruel to those who are cruel to me, that doesn’t help them or make them better. It starts a vicious cycle. It’s like the proverbial dog who chases its tail. Rather than harming those who harm me, my best recourse is to treat them the way Jesus treats me on a daily basis. I need to treat them the way I would want to be treated if I were in their shoes.

This includes our spouses. It’s so easy to note all of our spouses personal flaws and overlook our own. However, these days when I find myself being critical of others, I’m learning to look in the mirror and remember my own need for grace and mercy.

Right about now, if you’re feeling bad about yourself, remember this,  God loves you and there’s nothing you can do to make him love you any more. Likewise, there’s nothing you’ve done that will make him love you any less!

If there’s anything you’re doing to earn his love and acceptance, stop! While grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning. Rather than doing more for God, it’s time to start doing less if you’re doing what you’re doing to earn his favor, rather than to express your thankfulness.

I used to think being a Christian was all about how much I gave or read the bible or went to church.  While these disciplines are important, they are to be an expression of my love for God, not a measure of how much he loves me.  For example if I miss church or a time in the morning reading his word or I’m ugly with my wife, it’s so easy to start believing God doesn’t love me that much.  I’ve heard it said that ‘religion is all about what you do, and Christianity is about what has been done’. Taking that a bit further, if you ever get to the point where you think being a Christian is all about what you do, you’re done.

So who have you been denying grace while expecting grace from them in return? What if you decided to extend grace not only to them, but every one you meet?

Extending grace to those who don’t deserve it is not only a Christ like thing to do, it’s also the grown up thing to do. Maybe the person you’re dealing with doesn’t know how to be kind to people who mistreat them because they’ve never been treated that way themselves. Maybe their whole life has been spent trying to earn love and acceptance. Perhaps they started young and believed they had to be a good son or daughter to earn their parents love.

According to the world we live in, everything has to be earned. The world says you have to earn love, you earn money, you earn a degree, you earn a title.  There’s no denying the importance and value of all these efforts.  However, if you reflect, you’ll realize that you can’t work hard enough to earn all of the things you have. For instance, how do you work to earn oxygen, or good looks, or health, or our children? Though we often take these things for granted, they are priceless! There’s nothing you can do to earn them, they’re free gifts.  God loans them to us to enjoy and treasure, not because we deserve them, but because he is soooo good!

In reality, we’re all E.G.R people! We sin, just as easily as water rolls off a ducks back. We are not perfect, especially if we’re trying to be. What we really are, is people who not only need to extend grace, but people who need grace….on a daily basis, moment by moment, hour by hour. The good news is that it is available through Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross some two thousand years ago. You don’t have to wait to receive it next week or next year.  He is alive and well and extending it each moment.  There’s nothing you can do to earn it. You simply receive it and share it with others. So what are you waiting for?

 

A New Way to Learn

A Concept that Will Change Your Approach to Learning

We all pride ourselves on what we’ve learned, but few of us know how to learn. Let me explain. It may have never occurred to you, but you’ve inherited your approach to learning from others, especially teachers.  Here is a technique that will make learning fun and exciting for you and those you teach.

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Like a dancer who responds to the motions of their partner, as learners we doc e doe with our teachers. The goal in most cases is to remember everything they teach relying solely on rote memorization. In the meantime, we often miss out on the principles behind the lessons and how it all ties together. Like the one student told his teacher who bumped into him in the hall, “Don’t touch me, Doc! I’ve been cramming all night and I don’t want anything to leak out!”.

This type of learning isn’t much fun. In fact, not much learning is taking place at all. The information that is memorized for tests is soon forgotten once the final exam is complete. There’s a better way and here it is.

Take the information you learn and weave it into what you already know. For example, Jesus taught Peter how to become a fisher of men in Luke 5. How did he do it? By building on what Peter already knew as a professional fisherman. In effect, Jesus said, “Peter, the principles required to reach others for me are very similar to the ones used to catch fish with a net.”

I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about it, but most of us have no clue how to fish with a net. Sure we get the general idea, but like any other craft, there are fine nuances and techniques.  Today we fish with fishing poles. There’s a difference. Why did Jesus teach as he did in this particular instance? He was using the things Peter already knew as a foundation to teach him something new.

In another instance, Jesus said that reaching others for him is like looking for a lost coin. The householder lights a candle and sweeps the entire house until she finds what she’s looking for. And when she does, she rejoices and calls her friends, Jesus said.  See Luke 15.

While people today do look for lost things, they no longer have to light a candle, they just hit the switch. Therefore, while the lessons Jesus taught are just as relevant as ever, as a teacher you have to think of new and creative ways of presenting them. For example, how would you explain soul winning to a group of factory workers? Kindergartners? If you want to teach like Jesus did, you have to share your lesson in such a way that people can understand it based on their own personal experience. And if you want to learn, a great way is to relate what you’re learning to what you already know.

This type of learning is also great because it allows you to tie ideas together based on what you already know. Therefore, it’s easier to remember new information.

For example, lets say you had to remember five new things. What if you were to visualize the route you take to work each day, in particular, five landmarks along the way. Now, place each piece of information at each spot along your journey, in your mind.

Create whatever visualization it takes to remember the information. In fact, the sillier your pictures, the more memorable.

At the end of the day, it’s amazing how many subjects are related. You may not understand Calculus, but maybe you’ve mastered music. As you learn Calculus, think about how it relates to the lessons you’ve learned about music.

These are just some examples to get you thinking. You do whatever it takes for you to make learning enjoyable and memorable. The true test of IQ is not what you know, but how fast you’re able to learn. Study different ways and find out what’s most effective. Maybe you’re a visual learner or an audio learner, knowing your style will help you advance faster. Better yet, combine as many senses as you can when learning something new. The more senses you use, the more likely you are to remember what you’ve learned.

In Luke 5 Jesus told Peter, “Fear not, from henceforth thou shalt catch men.”  What Jesus was telling Peter is, “Look, this is a high water mark for you.  Things are going to be different from here on out after this lesson.  You didn’t just leave the shore like every other time, you launched out into something new!”.

Then, years later, after Peter had caught many fish, he said this, “But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, establish, strengthen, settle you” (1 Peter 5:10).  That word perfect is katartizo and it means to mend, make whole, complete.  Kind of like a net with holes in it.  In Luke 5 Peter and others were cleaning their nets.  Jesus told them it was time to use the nets and the nets even broke according to verse 6, due to their miraculous catch of fish.  So why would Jesus command the disciples to use their nets if he knew they were going to be broken?

The point is, like the nets we use, Jesus allows us to be broken for his glory to show us and others that he is able to mend us!  No broken nets, no mending.  Now as Peter reflects on the goodness of God, he is once again overwhelmed by the magnificent grace of God.  The strength, Peter realizes, to work for God is not his own, but a free gift.  Yes, Peter must exercise in his own power, but ultimately, God is in that power from beginning to end.  He is both the source and the finisher.  Our only responsibility is to drop the nets, it is God’s responsibility to fill them!

Paul had this to say to his student Timothy about the importance of teaching, “Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.  And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” 2 Timothy 2:1-2.  You have all the resources to teach because of the grace of God, Paul says.  So teach others, who teach others, and the cycle continues.

In both of these examples, there is one common thread.  Peter emphasizes the importance of grace and so does Paul.  Therefore, it is obvious that many if not all good teachers wrestle with a sense that they are unworthy to teach due to their own failure and sins.  How about you?  Do you often feel undeserving?

The next time you feel incapable of learning or teaching, remind yourself of the goodness and grace of God.  We are all unworthy in our own measure, however, because of the manifest grace of God, we can learn and grow.  In fact, when you grow to a certain point, teaching- or sharing with others what you’ve learned- is a natural result or by product.

What circumstances in your life has God been using to teach you?  When Jesus wanted to teach Peter how to be a leader of men, he used Peter’s natural affinity for fishing to show him what that looked like.  When Paul was equipping Timothy -who apparently felt unworthy- he reminded him that unless he received the grace of God, he could not multiply himself in others.  Again, if you’re facing a feeling of unworthiness, maybe, just maybe, God wants you to see the holes in your net so that he can mend you.  Have fun fishing!

Muck and Mire, Blowing Up Your Life, and the Cost of Growth

What if you wanted to get to the other side of the canyon and the bridge was blown up?

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We often think of learning as mountain climbing. With this minset, it’s hard to get started. First you have to climb the mountain and then you get to the summit. Up there it’s easy and it’s effortless to descend on the other side.

But if you really think about it, it’s more like a ravine. It’s easy to get started, then you plateau and there’s a climb to the finish.

Yes, you can glide across, but you’re not going to learn much. Yes, you could build a bridge, but who really has the time? Besides, you’re not looking to get back to where you are now. Your path keeps moving forward beyond. So you have to do what most people are unwilling to do. You have to walk through the vallley, knowing full well there may be muck and mire to tread through. Real learning is hard work. No ifs ands or buts. It’s easy to get down into the valley, but many won’t venture because they know there’s only one way out once they do and that requires sweat.

So what if you look at the muck and mire as part of the package and decide to risk blowing up your life anyway. That would be foolish. True faith requires risk, but that doesn’t mean risk that isn’t calculations. Even Wile E. Coyote had enough sense to put his designs to capture the Road Runner on paper. They never worked, but it’s still a good idea.

Blowing Up Your Life and the C.O.G

Instead of blowing up your life, what if you looked at your next venture as an experiment. For example, you could experiment with growing your organization by 10% in the next month, or learning a new skill such as Calligraphy or C.A.D. Rather than looking at it as something to be feared, what if you decided it’s just an experiment. But not just any experiment, an ultra- experiment. Which means you’re going to do the hard work of getting down into the ravine and getting out the other side, mud, mire and all. Maybe you’re not burned out right now, just under challenged.

Yes, growth will cost you, but the rewards are worth it. Your discipline and dedication may keep you from doing all of the things you’d like to do right now, but discipline will help you do in the future what can’t be achieved by simply trying. No amount of trying compares to discipline.

If you don’t pay the cost of growth now, you’ll pay later in the form of regret. As Henry Cloud says, ‘Pay now, play later or play now and pay later’.

Now, back to going through the ravine. The reason people don’t like to get down into the mess is because they think it’s going to take too much time and energy. For many people, the thought of spending 4 years in pursuit of a degree or 6 months studying a subject is too long. In some cases it may be. So why not focus on just 4-6 weeks? Remember, it’s just an experiment. For example, you can decide to teach yourself a subject for the next 4-6 weeks. There are plenty of free and/or inexpensive resources online and at the library.

Or you could decide to talk with every expert you know on the subject. That’s faster in some cases because someone can be a very wise thinker and not be able to put their thoughts on paper.

Whatever you do, you’ll need three things.

A goal.  Decide what you want to learn ahead of time. Be specific. I want to learn three ways to effectively reach my community with the gospel is specific. I want to learn more about Evangelism is not so specific.

Next, you need a strategy. I’m going to read 6 books on Evangelism is specific. I’m going to read some books on Evangelism is not so specific. Your plan will only work if you work your plan and a failure to plan is a plan to fail.

Action. The best plan is just some words on a piece of paper unless you implement it. I’m going to spend 1 hour each night researching is specific. I’m going to read a little bit every night is not.

If you’re going to learn, you’re going to have to go through the muck and the mire. There are lions and tigers and bears out there and wishful thinking doesn’t just make them go away. No, you don’t have to blow up your life in the process. Take 1 class rather than three each semester if taking more is going to have a negative impact on your marriage. But whatever you do, realize ahead of time it is going to cost you. Growth does not come free but it’s worth every effort.

What ultra-experiment are you considering and what difficulties, risks and costs do you see in your future? Please comment below and I’ll do my best to respond to as many people as possible.