The Ends Justifies the Means—Or Not?

The word “compromise” is one of the great paradoxes of life. At the very least, compromise is an insidious little devil, often appearing to be one thing in theory but, in practice, turning out to be quite another. However, it’s proven to be quite the popular pastime and, through the ages, has starred as the topic of many hours of covert discussion and/or toasty debate. In its various forms, the concept of compromise has turned up in fortune cookies, as themes in many great pieces of literature, and behind the closed doors of our illustrious halls of Congress. Moreover, depending upon whom you ask, compromise often functions under several other aliases, including cooperation, collaboration, and their more subtle and sinister associate, collusion. At any time, any of these, compromise included, can be found…

  • “working across the aisle.”
  • dishing a little “give and take.”
  • proposing to “meet halfway.”
  • back scratching—as in, “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.”
  • “going along to get along.”
  • settling for the “lesser of two evils.”
  • “agreeing to disagree…”
  • deciding to “look the other way.”

Now all of these proposals, on the surface, can present as civilized, mature, and even sophisticated means of interactions with others—and some are. But some are not—even though they’re pitched, sold, and marketed to be.

The End Justifies the Means?

So is compromise right or is it wrong? That depends. Is compromise being used to cooperate or to manipulate? Is it being used honestly or passive-aggressively?  Is it being used to truly resolve an issue or simply to avoid conflict?

Is it being used to advance one’s own self-interests?

If it is being used to our own benefit, then the price of compromise often involves some willingness to concede a moral value or two. Downplaying the income a bit to avoid paying the taxes? Ignoring the kid skipping homework because it’s just too exhausting to make him do it? Rounding the bases on date night to keep the boyfriend around? 

Increasingly, in our God-parched society, “the end justifies the means” has become an acceptable explanation for rationalizing a whole host of behaviors that grandma would never have approved.

In other words, as long as we achieve the desired outcome, it doesn’t matter what we have to do to reach our goal. And here’s the really sad part: many people don’t even try to “justify the means” anymore because much current thinking revolves around the idea that if you don’t do “whatever it takes” to get there, you’re just stupid. And you deserve to be told so.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had students insist that it’s not wrong to cheat on homework or tests because “making the grade” is the only thing that matters. Then they laugh. My response (after the eye roll) is usually that people who cheat on their spouses or end up in prison for corporate embezzlement generally didn’t start there. They started out compromising on smaller issues—like cheating on quizzes—and then worked their way up. Most Class A felonies are preceded by years of practicing misdemeanor offenses or relatively minor moral violations of conscience. Ask someone who’s fallen. They’ll tell you.

Who Are We Kidding?

Maybe the better question is, “Who are we not kidding?” Maybe we’re kidding ourselves but we’re absolutely not fooling God. Yes, he understands our need to meet that goal or to resolve that problem, but doing anything that we think warrants a little self-deception really doesn’t justify compromising the truth of what’s right and what’s wrong.

When we come to that critical moment in life where we either have to sacrifice our values or pay a price for upholding those values, then that’s when we have one of two choices. Do we make the deal or do we trust God?

We probably don’t have to think too hard to figure it out.

Still, there’s always the possibility that we’re not kidding ourselves about whether that “thing” is right or wrong; maybe we do know that what we’re about to do is morally incorrect. If that’s the case and we choose to do it anyway, then we’re kidding ourselves about something else: that we’ll get away with it. As Christians, we should know better. We will, after all, “reap what we sow.”

In God’s economy, the final end never justifies the current means.

“I Would Never…!”

Maybe we would and maybe we wouldn’t. And maybe it depends on the situation. Certainly, in situations where co-workers, spouses, friends, or community members need to work together to get something done, compromise is a necessity. After all, if you and the honey are buying a car and one of you wants a blue one and the other wants a red one, then by all means—compromise—get a purple one. No one will die. Sometimes, when working together on a solution to reach a goal is not an issue of compromising morals nor is it a manipulation tactic, then it’s just good, common sense.

But what if you’re not sure whether you’re crossing a line in compromising? What if it’s a high-stakes’ game? For example, what if the boss is pressuring you to fudge the “bottom line” on accounts so the company makes a little more profit—then what? If you don’t, your job might be at stake so then is it “not wrong”? After all, “the boss made me do it.” That’s a toughie, right? Not really. Nobody can “make” us do anything.

Joyce Meyer was once in that exact situation: she was being pressured by her boss to falsify records in order that the company she worked for might make more money. She refused. And look at her now—she’s an internationally-known Bible teacher. And why? Because when challenged with a test of character, she passed the test.

God rewards integrity.

There’s a difference between knowing what’s right to do and choosing what’s right to do. The knowing is the easy part—if we’re honest. Choosing right is often the hard part—definitely not the fun part. But that’s when we have another choice: trusting the Lord rather than fearing man. Joyce Meyer wouldn’t be teaching Biblical principles today if she hadn’t chosen to walk them out yesterday.

Destiny means compromise is not an option.

The Myth of the Mid-Life Crisis

What happens when we finally get what we’ve been working for during our 20s, 30s and into our 40s: The college degree or training is earned, the career success is launched, the college loans paid off, we have the marriage, the kids, the house, the car—it’s all happened. And we’re happy, right? The kids may have moved on, the house has been upgraded, the career promotions have happened, and there might even be money in the bank.

   But then what?

   That’s the question that torments many people who’ve reached mid-life and beyond because, whether we consciously recognize it or not, the questions swirling through our minds are often filled with sadness and disappointment: What have I accomplished? What’s left to pursue? What other goals do I have? What’s left to do now except work the grind until retirement at 65-70—and then…?

   What’s the point of even getting up in the morning?

A Crisis by Any Other Name

    This particular phase of life goes by many different names—theMid-Life Crisis,” the “Empty Nest Syndrome,” and/or the “Great Depression.” And to ease the pain of it, people often turn to other pursuits—affairs, alcohol, divorce, aimless travel, reckless adventure, pursuit of youthfulness, spending sprees, or endless therapy. But none of these things really ease the pain of this season of life because it’s caused by one thing: emptiness.

   When we don’t have a goal or purpose to fulfill in life or a dream or destiny to chase, we often seek to fill that vast, fanged void with whatever it is we think will eliminate the emptiness and fulfill us: seeking a new relationship, ditching an old relationship, buying stuff, wandering the world, or even blotting out the pain with “just one” drink or pill—which becomes two or four or six… every day… as we waste away on some therapist’s couch rehashing our childhoods and blaming our mommies.

   But that’s not the answer.

The Fix

   So what is the solution to emptiness? It’s simple: purpose. We need a purpose to fulfill in order to give life meaning and without one, we often just wither away. But in order to find purpose, we need to understand the meaning of “seasons” our lives. The Word of God talks about these seasons, different times and ages to accomplish various tasks and goals.

   “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every activity under heaven—A time to give birth and a time to die; A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted; A time to kill and a time to heal; A time to tear down and a time to build up… I have seen the tasks which God has given the sons of men with which to occupy themselves… He has set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end…”  (Ecc. 3:1-3, 10-11)

   The Lord appoints our work and often, we understand what that is—in the early years; it’s to do what we all attempt to do: get started in life. We pursue a way to earn a living, find a spouse, raise children, get some stability—and then…? When we’ve accomplished that, we often think we’ve outlived our usefulness so we turn to other things. However, we have not outlived our influence nor our impact.

The reality is simply that we’ve completed one season in our lives and it’s time to explore the next season.

   The Lord has a purpose for us and a destiny for us to fulfill and here’s the kicker: We often don’t have time to pursue that destiny until we’re finished with the full-time task of raising a family and/or finishing a career.

The Wisdom of Age

   It’s interesting to note that many of the most famous movers and shakers in the Bible were people who got started pursuing their destinies later in life. And by later, I mean what our culture often considers “too late.” They also didn’t begin until they had a well-established relationship with God.

   Abraham and Sarah, for example, didn’t fulfill their destiny as the parents of many nations until well after Abraham was established financially—in other words, he was rich—and had come to know and trust his God. And they weren’t the only ones: Moses didn’t return to Israel to deliver the Israelites until he was 80 years old—and until after he came to know the real God. (Remember, he was raised as an Egyptian.) Noah didn’t start building the ark until he was 120 and by then, he was recognized as a man of God, and Paul the Apostle didn’t begin serving the Lord until after he’d studied the law for many years and then had a personal encounter with Jesus.

   The point is that age is not a factor, especially old age. Many cultures, particularly eastern cultures, revere their elderly much more so than western cultures. This is exceptionally smart since there’s a wisdom that comes with age which cannot be found in books. It’s called “experiential wisdom”. Sometimes, we really don’t know anything until we’ve walked through some things. And here’s the key: because of their wisdom, I believe this is why the Lord gives important tasks to people who are older; they have a greater understanding of how to fulfill their purposes and complete their assignments. Moreover—and this is the most significant thing—they’ve come to know and trust God through seasons of watching his faithfulness and learning his ways.

There’s a faith that’s built through years of walking with the Lord through good times and bad, learning that he never fails and that we can trust him—no matter what.

   That’s something that we often just don’t truly understand in the springtime of our lives. We know about God’s faithfulness but we haven’t been around long enough or through enough to really have tested it, to really know it.

Destiny

   It’s sometimes difficult to understand the eternal purpose for the work that we do for the Lord or for the assignments that he gives us, but then that’s why Ecclesiastes says that “God has set eternity in the hearts of men.” When the going gets tough, or the job seems too big or too boring or not significant enough, we can sense that there’s something bigger at play, more important in the big scheme of things than what we can see in the natural. If we’re doing what God has assigned us to do, there’s nothing mundane or useless about it. It might be a part of something bigger, something that we might not be able to discern—yet—but will someday. We will understand our purpose as a cog in the eternal wheel of destiny and so we will, someday, hear those precious words, “’Well done, thou good and faithful servant.’”

   If you believe you’ve reached the end of the path and you feel empty and irrelevant, then you’ve reached a crossroads in life. You can take the road that leads to a futile search for significance, or you can embark on a new season in your destiny, a path full of new assignments and eternal purpose.

   Mid-life does not have to be a crisis.  

Green-Eyed Monsters: Envy, Jealousy and Competition

You are a distinctive fingerprint in the limitless realm of creation. There is no one like you and there never will be. There was not meant to be. When God created you, he did it so you could fulfill a unique purpose that no one else can fill, and he handcrafted you to fit that purpose. He needs you to be that one-of-a-kind person because you’re irreplaceable.

   So why are you trying to be someone else?

Who Am I?  

   We all have a destiny for which God created us, and in preparation for that destiny, he made us with a whole list of specifics in mind. Our appearance on this planet at this specific time in history is not an accident, nor is the year we were born. That means that, as of 2021, we are exactly the age he needs us to be in order to accomplish the purpose for which we were intended. Let me translate that: You’re not too old. It’s like Moses wasn’t too old, nor Abraham or Sarah or Noah—nor was Abe Lincoln or Albert Einstein or Mother Teresa—or thousands of others I could name if I knew their names.

   Nor was anything else about you an accident. You’re exactly the gender he needs you to be, the race you were meant to be, and you look exactly as you were meant to look: height, build, hair color, skin color, eye color, features—all of it. Moreover, you have the talents and abilities you were meant to have, whether you’re creatively “right-brained,” analytically “left-brained,” or a “whole-brained” mix of the two. If you’re musical, you were meant to be—and here’s a fact: If you’re not musically gifted, it’s because the Lord has something else for you to do. And it’s the same with anything else: If you have the talent to do it, it’s because you’re supposed to use that gift, and if you’re not gifted in that area, it’s very likely because you’re not supposed to be doing that thing. (“Not gifted” and latent, undeveloped talent are two different things; if you have the gift, you are supposed to develop the gift.)

   So why are we trying to be someone else? Why are we beating ourselves up because we don’t look like that person, can’t play piano like the other person, or give a speech like the guy in Congress?

ENVY is wanting what someone else has; JEALOUSY is wanting to be what someone else is; and COMPETITION is the vicious pursuit of either one.

But What If I Can…?  

   But what if we are supposed to be doing the same thing as someone else? We might be. But I guarantee, if we are, we won’t be a carbon copy of that person because we’re meant to complete that assignment or fulfill that purpose in our own unique way. In other words, no two writers or contractors or fathers or business owners or counselors or pastors (fill in the blank) will ever do “it” the same way—whatever “it” is.

   Here’s a simple illustration but imagine, if you will, a doctor who’s supposed to be an orthopedic doctor (bone doc) deciding that he’s jealous of the heart surgeon down the street so he’s going to operate on hearts. Sure, he might go to school and become a surgeon, but will he be as good as the cardiac surgeon who’s doing it because he’s uniquely gifted to do that kind of surgery and because his heart is in it? And will the bone doc fulfill his purpose while he’s trying to compete with the other heart doctor?

   Who will touch the lives the bone doc was supposed to touch?

Destiny Road  

   Maybe you’re not the same kind of parent your mom or dad was. I’m not. My mother could have been nominated for sainthood and I know no one who would disagree with that. But I’m not her. Mom and I are about as different as mothers can get—which isn’t to say I’m a bad mother—but there’s probably a reason we have different operating systems: Mom raised two girls and I raised two boys. We probably needed to be different kinds of moms. Teachers are the same way. I know of no high school teacher who would want to be left alone in a room for five minutes with first graders. We just don’t get them. (My mom would have.) Conversely, first grade teachers probably equate walking a high school hallway about the same way they’d rate a stroll through inner city Chicago at 3am.

   Jealousy, envy and competition get us nowhere but lost on the road to our destinies as we wander here and detour there trying to be a person or fulfill a role we were never created for. Our personalities, abilities, past experiences, upbringing, physical characteristics, and dreams and passions all point to a specific pathway for each of us to take in fulfilling our purposes in life. We do have a choice. But if we choose not to take the route God has created us for or if we choose to try to imitate someone else, then something tragic will happen.

   The world will be a poorer place for it.

Bitterness vs. Destiny

When I was a kid, I had a habit of skinning my knees, after which the same routine ensued: I would cry, mom would wash the wound, smother it in mercurochrome and put a bandage on it. But then somehow the bandage would come off (I have no idea how). From there, you guessed it—I would get the wound dirty and it would get infected and fester.

   Did you know that can happen to our souls?

   If we become wounded and that gash is not properly dealt with, it can become infected and fester, leading to bitterness. And bitterness is a cancer that can lead to the destruction of our souls (mind, will and emotions). But hang on—there is a fix…

Causes of Wounds

   But before we can talk about the remedy for an infection in our souls, we need to define a couple of things. First, what would cause the kinds of wounds that can lead to bitterness? Unfortunately, because we live in a fallen world, there are many. The following is a list of the most common, but it is by no means comprehensive.

Abuse—mental, physical, and/or emotional. Abuse includes domestic situations, bullying in school or on social media, and chronic fear caused by any number of situations. Wounds caused by abuse of any kind can, of course, run the gamut from occasional and/or relatively mild to frequent and/or severe. Regardless, the primary wound abuse causes is shame, which is huge. Self-doubt/hatred, fear and chronic mistrust are also possible consequences.

Betrayal. To be betrayed means that someone we trusted has misused that trust or and consequently, relationship has been broken. And whether betrayal occurs between people in a marriage, a family, a friendship, a business, or a church (to name a few), it causes a deep and excruciating pain. This pain includes feelings of anger combined with despair and sadness. Betrayal is a tough pill to swallow because the injured party is often powerless to change the situation or to heal the relationship. That power is all in the hands of the betrayer.

Feelings of Inferiority. Notice I said “feelings” of inferiority. Our feelings of not “measuring up” are not the reality; rather they are caused by the expectations we or others impose upon us. If we compare ourselves to others in terms of looks, opportunity, social standing, income, family or any other thing, we’re always going to find those who have it better and that’s where the infection happens. Two of the ten commandments say not to covet your neighbor’s anything—spouse, house, job—you name it. That’s because jealousy, envy, and covetousness all cause feelings of inferiority. “What’s wrong with me that I don’t have that?” And you’d better bet that mindset portends bitterness.

Symptoms of Bitterness

   There are many symptoms of bitterness but these several are particularly destructive: chronic and/or explosive anger, resentment, chronic complaining, blaming others, refusal to forgive, and an attitude of entitlement. I could take a fair amount of words explaining these but…

Bitterness boils down to two core beliefs: Someone else is responsible for my pain, and I’m entitled to pay back for my pain.

In other words, whether or not you’re responsible for what caused the pain, you’re going to have to make amends, pay damages, make restitution for it. Bitterness very often expects, perhaps unconsciously, innocent people to compensate for their hard times and if they don’t, well then, something’s wrong with them.

   I was recently told by someone that what their partner had failed to provide in a previous marriage would be compensated for their next marriage. It left me with two questions: Will their new spouse be expected to make up for a wound from a previous marriage? And will the new spouse have a say in that demand? This is a dangerous attitude of entitlement: What I didn’t get before, someone else is going to give me now.

The Fix

   So is there a treatment for bitterness? Yes, but it’s probably not a quick fix and I’m not going to lie and say it’ll be easy. But if you’re fed up with the pain of bitterness, then you have two choices: Deal with the temporary pain of the healing process or continue to live with the excruciating pain to yourself and others of not dealing with your bitterness. I don’t mean to sound harsh, but the truth will set you free. So…

You must forgive. If you refuse, then you won’t be free of your festering wounds: anger, resentment, blame, entitlement, etc. As some wise soul once pointed out—refusing to forgive is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Won’t happen.

Now don’t confuse forgiveness with trust. If a person is not trustworthy, you can disengage and forgive from a distance. Forgiveness does not mean you have to trust them again. It does mean you have to be willing to say to the Lord, “Please don’t punish them on my account.” If you can say that, you’ve forgiven them. Forgiveness is not an emotion, it’s an act of the will. Don’t wait for a gooey emotion as proof you’ve forgiven. Just mean what you say to God and you’ve forgiven.

Stop complaining. Maybe you did get the short end of the stick. Maybe others do have it better than you. However, two things are clear: complaining will never be rewarded by God and nor will it get you anything. Thanksgiving will. That’s why gratitude for what you have is so precious to the Lord—especially in the midst of hard times—because you’re focused on what He has already done, not what someone else has done to you. That’s why it’s called “a sacrifice of praise”—because it’s hard but God deserves our gratitude, no matter what.

Stop criticizing. Sometimes bitterness causes us to have a critical spirit. This means that we don’t see the good that people do but rather we are always critiquing them for their faults, errors, and misjudgments. We need to stop it. Look for the good in people and if you really can’t see any, pray for them. And pray for yourself, that you will be able to see it.

End Game.

   Everyone suffers wounds but sometimes we play the “my pain is worse than your pain” game. That’s bitterness. What difference does it make? And if we really think our pain is worse than that of others, do we really want other people to experience the suffering that we have? Here’s a fact: That won’t heal your wound.

   I said that being healed of a festering wound would not be easy but it’s well worth the work. Who wouldn’t want to be free of bitterness and pain? And once we are, nothing will be able to stand in the way of fulfilling the destiny to which we’ve been called.

   It’s time.

Grace—The Fire Power of God

There was a time in my life when I went to confession, having been told by the good nuns (and they were good), that I would receive “grace” for going and that the more I went to confession, the more grace I would get. That was all fine and good – except that I didn’t really have any idea what grace was.

For the most part, I reasoned that grace was synonymous with mercy. Makes sense, right? I mean, you confess your sins and you have to receive mercy in order to be forgiven. The only problem was, I couldn’t understand how you could get “more” mercy; either you had it or you didn’t have it; either your sins were forgiven—or they weren’t. How could they be more forgiven or less forgiven?

What??

Now while I didn’t lose a lot of sleep over the issue, it was certainly a mystery. But I filed it away in the back of my mind and figured that some far off day when I finally got to heaven, some angel or saint would no doubt explain it to me. (It would, I thought, probably be Apostle Paul since he was always declaring “grace and peace” to someone or other.) However, that day came sooner than I thought – and not from Paul. One day as I was sitting in church mostly listening, I heard a woman begin to teach on the difference between grace and mercy. My ears perked up.

Simply put, mercy is defined as not getting what we do deserve – for example, punishment for sin, while grace is defined as getting what we do not deserve –  in this case, the power and ability to accomplish whatever it is we need to do.

I took a moment and thought about that. Suddenly it all began to make sense: Mercy and grace are not the same thing. Mercy is the forgiveness of sin, and grace is the power to overcome sin.

Grace is not just some vague, wimpy, “nice” little Christian concept. Grace is the fire-power of God.

Think about that.

What Is Grace For?

Grace is the power of God to accomplish and achieve the extraordinary, the supernatural, even the impossible things we are called to do in order to fulfill our destinies.  

The fact is that grace, like faith, is an actual substance, a “thing” which we can receive from God in order to accomplish whatever it is He has called us to do. And although it’s probably an insufficient analogy, I like to think of grace as a tool without which we can’t get the job done. Can we split wood without an axe or saw? Can we drive without a vehicle? Can we communicate without language?      

Can we fulfill our destinies without the fire of God’s grace empowering our lives?

Possibly, but not well. But that’s all right because God says, “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (Romans 12:9).

Have you ever been so frustrated trying to achieve your calling, your destiny, that you just can’t seem to do what you feel you’ve been called to do? Have you even doubted that calling?

Have you ever just wanted to quit?

There’s fire for that.

FOMO: Fear of Missing Out

FOMO is really a thing. It’s a malady of the mind most generally characterized by a feverish inclination—perhaps even an obsession—to act upon a particular “opportunity” before it’s deemed the dreaded “TOO LATE!” Symptoms of FOMO often include anxiety and indecisiveness leading to irritability, insomnia, irrationality and, in extreme cases, a nasty rash.

Fear of missing out.

Exemptions

There are no exemptions. FOMO is an affliction to which no age, nationality, race, religion, gender, social status or economic rank is immune. And there is no vaccine. A person with FOMO is hijacked with the terror of missing that “once-in-a-lifetime” gig, often referenced in places like Wall Street (probably the most famous of all high-stakes casinos), on college campuses (epidemic among first-semester freshmen), amongst indiscriminate news junkies, and perhaps most notably, in singles’ bars.

While usually not fatal, FOMO has been known to lead to poverty, drunken episodes followed by indeterminate blackouts and miserable hangovers, night terrors involving Russian collusion in pre-K classrooms, and marriage/children/divorce (or just children). Currently there is no cure for FOMO so people exhibiting symptoms—especially bad decision-making—should be quarantined without electronic devices to aid in making bad decisions until such time as the fever passes. Unfortunately, this could take months. Or maybe it never passes.

But God.

As with most horror movies involving most monsters, any prospect driven by FOMO never really ends well. And we know that. Mostly. Nevertheless, we chase that “opportunity” anyway—even when every alarm in our heads is blasting like a Cat 5 tornado siren but still, we’re compelled to ignore that warning and chase the impending disaster. And why? Because we want that thing—whatever “that thing” is—and we know deep down that if we wait to hear from God, he’ll tell us to pass on that particular prospect. So we cover our ears and plow forward.

Never underestimate the human tendency toward self-deception.

The Hardest Thing

Fear, as we know, is the opposite of faith, and faith is the ability to trust God—no matter what. Faith equals trust. The problem is that sometimes we have less trouble trusting God to do something he tells us to do than to not do something he says to wait on. And why?

Because we’re afraid of missing out.

Eve was afraid of missing out in the Garden of Eden when the devil convinced her that God was withholding knowledge from her—the knowledge of good and evil. So, instead of doing any fact checking on his little accusation, Eve ate the magic apple that was supposed to infuse her with vast knowledge, understanding and insight. And we all know how that ended. Ironically, her IQ probably dropped several hundred points as she munched away.

FOMO often leads to heartbreaking losses in many areas: prosperity, reputation, love, opportunity—and most tragically, a loss of destiny. Or it changes a destiny forever. Abraham had received a promise from God that he would have a son with Sarah and birth an entire nation. However, it didn’t happen by the time Abraham thought it should and so he arranged to have a son with a younger woman. Eventually, Sarah had a son but the damage had already been done: Both of Abraham’s sons, Ishmael and Isaac, fathered nations and the Arabs and Jews have been at war ever since. And why? Because Abraham suffered from a severe case of FOMO—fear of missing out.

The 21st Century

I wish I could say that FOMO is a thing of the past and that, as Christians led by the Spirit of God, we’re past all that. And we would be—if we listened to God. However, listening for God’s permission is often difficult, especially when we have a deadline to meet or that “opportunity” will—POOF—vanish. Instead, motivated by fear, we close our eyes, grit our teeth, and plunge all in.

Here’s the bottom line: God is more interested in what we’re learning than in what we’re getting.

And, given that, it doesn’t take a crystal ball to predict that God may allow that “opportunity” to crash and burn so that we don’t get the mistaken impression that any day we ignore God’s input is going to be a good one. God will not reinforce the idea that fear should be our motivator over faith. Let’s remember that as we’re destiny chasing.

The Wall

   This past year, I hit a wall. I had a huge disappointment in terms of a goal I’d been working toward for months—and frankly, it was crushing. I questioned everything I thought I knew about anything: What I was doing, what I was supposed to be doing, what God wanted me doing—or didn’t want me doing. Now I find myself at a crossroads: to continue or not to continue—that is the question. In seeking the answer, I returned to what I know. Here’s what I know…

   Sometime, somewhere, we’ll encounter some massive roadblock. I will. You will. There will be a point in the pursuit of your goals during which something goes wrong or people say you can’t do that thing or you feel overwhelmed with the scope of the task or you simply get tired of working, working, working and waiting for something to break your way. You’ll run into adversity or out of money, resources, time, energy—even faith.

    Welcome to “The Wall”.

The Wall is any seemingly insurmountable obstacle, which, by definition, simply means “game over”. Walls come in all shapes and sizes: the bank account,the lack of training, the glass ceiling, the adversary or just plain failure. So the question then becomes—then what? Is the game over? Is the dream dead? Was the vision only a mirage? Is our very destiny teetering on the precipice of doom? Maybe.

The War Room

   But before you throw in the proverbial towel, it’s time to hit the War Room. Now, I’m not talking about the war room in the movie War Room—although stopping by that room to pray is highly recommended. But no, I’m talking about your other war room—the one which every military general has, the one in which your strategy is conceived, planned, and from there, implemented.  It’s the room in which you “map the dream,” “plan the work and then work the plan” and, sometimes, “go back to the drawing board”.

Everybody who’s ever achieved his destiny has a “War Room”.

   Don’t have a war room? Maybe you do. War rooms go by other names, too: board rooms, conference rooms, “think tank” rooms—all places where people meet to brainstorm, “hash out,” and make decisions regarding ideas, problems/solutions, and tactics. Chances are very good that you have one at work or even at home. It’s where the dream/vision/goal is tracked, nurtured and, if necessary, revised, repackaged, re-marketed and re-released.

   But mostly, the war room is the place where you go when you need to fight through and you need the resources to help you to fight through. It’s where you come up with a strategy to get around The Wall—somehow, some way: climb over it, dig under it, tunnel through it or, my personal favorite, blow it up.    

Seeing the Future

So what’s a war room like? Well, if you’ve ever seen one, there are maps all over the room – lots of them. That’s because winning a war requires taking territory and maps are essential for determining which territories you already possess and which you want to possess. In terms of our dreams and visions, a map then would be the equivalent of a vision board or a goal chart. What are our goals? Which ones have we already achieved? Which ones do we want to achieve? These goals need to be clearly articulated and clearly visible.

   Sometimes the best way to depict a goal is through a picture. Some people, in pursuing their fitness goals, post pics of people who have the waistline or muscle mass they want to have. Or someone who’s trying to save money toward a goal might post a picture of a car or house or vacation spot. Someone working toward a career goal might post a picture of someone doing the job she wants or even (you’ll think I’m so shallow) the salary she’ll earn. Use pictures or statistics or words to illustrate your goals – just make them visible.

   Next you need a plan: how, specifically, will you achieve your goal? In our school district, I’m part of a team which designs and implements what we call, appropriately enough, our district-wide “Strategic Plan.” We meet in a conference room and everything. But the point is we create a plan with goals, steps for meeting those goals, and a timeframe within which those goals should be met. We meet occasionally to evaluate and, if necessary, tweak the plan.

“What If…?”

But what if you hit The Wall—what then? First and foremost – define the problem. What is it, how serious is it, who’s involved and who or what might be impacted? Next, what are all of the potential consequences of the problem? Go to worse-case scenarios: what happens if? And don’t skip any of them. Odd as it sounds, I like this step; I like mapping out all of the potential problems with a vision and/or the ways that a dream could fail. Why? Because it’s really true that the fear of the unknown is scarier than the actual reality. In other words, in identifying the ways something could go wrong, we often find that the worst-case scenarios aren’t as bad as we might have imagined. And, as importantly, it gives us a chance to plan strategies “just in case” the worst happens.

   For example, what if we own a business and we run short of money to keep it going? Brainstorm: What are worst-case scenarios? Would we have to close up shop? Would failure mean bankruptcy? What are the possible ways to get more money? Loans or investors or partnerships? What’s the game plan if we can’t get more those ways? Cut backs on products/services or staff? A raise in prices on products/services? Point? Don’t wait until you hit The Wall to try to solve the problem—especially if pre-consideration of potential problems might prevent them.

   Does all of those “presupposing” make you a worrywart or pessimist? Not necessarily—unless after considering what might happen, you walk around expecting it to happen. For example, before I bought any stocks (not that I have a lot), I considered the possibility that, given the market’s history, it might crash before I retire (someday). Does that mean I expect it to crash; do I go to bed scared at night? No. It simply means I haven’t invested more than I can afford to lose.

“Acceptable Risk”

    “Acceptable risk”—another war room strategy: What can you afford to lose without resulting in total failure or ruin? Think resources: money, time, energy? Are relationships or health at risk, etc.?

    All of these considerations are why we need a war room to offset The Wall. Obstacles will happen. Even Jesus said tribulation would come. So get ready for it.

   What’s going down when you and The Wall collide? Will it be you—or the wall?

The Myth of the Weed-Eating Vegetable

Squash

THE MYTH OF THE WEED-EATING VEGETABLE

   Wouldn’t it be great if you could rub a little circle of wax on the hood of your car—and it spread to whole the rest of your car? Wouldn’t it be great if you could plant a few squash plants in the corner of your yard—and they choked out all the weeds on the whole rest of the property? Wouldn’t it be great if you never exercised ever—and your body just atrophied into rock-solid muscle?

   Not going to happen.

   Why? Because this world is wired for ruin, death, and decay. Now, I’m not trying to nuke your day, but it helps to note that we live in a fallen world and so one of the principles of success in any endeavor this side of the wormfest is that we have to stay on top of the wreck and ruin. Whether your goal is to achieve in the physical, spiritual or emotional realms, we have to “mind the farm,” so to speak. With the exception of Divine intervention, things don’t “just happen,” “fall into place,” or “work themselves out”.

   Don’t believe me? Let the electricity bill, mortgage, and car payments go and see if those simply “fall into place”. Forget about that annoying rust on your undercarriage and see if that just “works itself out”. Forget about whether your supervisor thinks you’re doing a good job and see if your paycheck “just happens”.

No Toil = Trouble

Work is way over-hyped, anyway. I mean, who needs to study for a test? We all know “remembering” is a given. And why worry about cleaning houses, doing laundry or even showering? We all know people and things just morph from dirty to clean. And relationships? None of that “touchy-feely-emotional” stuff is really necessary; people “just know” they’re loved—unless you tell them they aren’t. Right?

   The assumption in all of these instances is that the job or the relationship or the possession won’t suffer if it’s neglected; it’ll at least maintain.

But that’s a bad assumption because in a fallen world, nothing maintains; things have to be maintained.

   And the word “maintain” doesn’t even imply “progress;” to maintain simply means to keep something from devolving or degenerating or dying. To make progress, we have to work even harder than we do simply to maintain the status quo. So—it all equates to work.

   But c’monwho doesn’t know that?

   Really? So why don’t we do the work? The bottom line is because we don’t want to do it; work, after all, takes work. So we procrastinate and we postpone and we neglect and we ignore our negligence—until it’s too late to fix that problem or take that opportunity or even to achieve that destiny.

Target #1: Relationships.

One thing we wreck through neglect is relationships, not just with people, but with God. Neglecting to read his Word or worship or pray are all things which will sever our personal lifeline to God; we kid ourselves that we’ll “get to it eventually” and so, sadly, we never really get to know him at all. Moreover, our neglect of time with him puts an end to receiving the direction, guidance and/or provision we need in order to fulfill our assigned purposes in life.

   Satisfying relationships with people don’t just happen, either. We’ve all heard of the book The Five Love Languages. If not, the premise is that everyone has one love language which, when spoken to him/her, makes them feel loved. These love languages include words of affirmation, acts of thoughtfulness, gifts, touch, and time spent together. Point? Neglecting to fill the “love language tank” of your loved one and then expecting the relationship to blossom is on par with filling your car’s gas tank once in New York and expecting to make it to L.A. without filling it ever again. Not happening.

Target #2: Finances.

Money is another thing that requires deliberate attention. If we neglect to budget, for example, bills won’t get paid and the savings account will be empty. Nor is there any magic fairy dust we can sprinkle on the credit cards to make the debt disappear. (Sorry.) Of course, this all sounds so elementary that it’s almost insulting to point out but… if it were so simple, then no one would be overspending, going into debt, and struggling. The reason? Things that were supposed to “work themselves out” in terms of money, didn’t.

Target #3: Success.

Did you know that if success is achieved, it can also be lost? Achieving that weight loss—and then neglecting to eat right once the goal has been achieved? So disheartening… Or one year sober? Five years? Ten years? Amazing accomplishment! But then to neglect the vigilance it took to maintain sobriety for all of those months and years is a tragic tale told the world over… Or the midnight oil burned for decades to build the business and the reputation and the financial success—all now casualties of health neglected in favor of fortune and fame…

   To neglect a thing is all that’s required for that thing to go downhill in a hurry—and the same is true of our destinies. I don’t know who said it but, “If we’re not moving forward, we’re falling behind.” If we’re not being proactive and taking ground, then we’re forced to be reactive, to try to clean up the mess we’ve allowed to accumulate and the ground we’ve lost through avoidance, carelessness, and negligence.

   The bottom line is this: If we’re trying to avoid work, the fact is that it takes a whole lot more work to have to go back and attempt to fix the rotten fruit of our laziness than it does simply to do the work the right way in the first place.

   Life is a garden. And while it would be nice if I didn’t have to weed my garden, until my squash starts doing it for me, that’s what’s on the agenda in this lifetime.

2021: From the Ashes

Sunset Tree

      Once upon a mountain top, three little trees stood and dreamed of what they wanted to become when they grew up.

   The first little tree looked up at the stars and said: “I want to hold treasure. I want to be covered with gold and filled with precious stones. I’ll be the most beautiful treasure chest in the world!”

   The second little tree looked out at the small stream trickling by on its way to the ocean. “I want to be traveling mighty waters and carrying powerful kings. I’ll be the strongest ship in the world!”

   The third little tree looked down into the valley below where busy men and women worked in a busy town. “I don’t want to leave the mountain top at all. I want to grow so tall that when people stop to look at me, they’ll raise their eyes to heaven and think of God. I will be the tallest tree in the world.”

   Years passed. The rain came, the sun shone, and the little trees grew tall. One day three woodcutters climbed the mountain. The first woodcutter looked at the first tree and said, “This tree is beautiful. It is perfect for me.” With a swoop of his shining axe, the first tree fell.

   “Now I shall be made into a beautiful chest. I shall hold wonderful treasure!” the first tree said.

   The second woodcutter looked at the second tree and said, “This tree is strong. It is perfect for me.” With a swoop of his shining axe, the second tree fell.

   “Now I shall sail mighty waters!” thought the second tree. “I shall be a strong ship for mighty kings!”

   The third tree felt her heart sink when the last woodcutter looked her way. She stood straight and tall and pointed bravely to heaven. But the woodcutter never even looked up. “Any kind of tree will do for me,” he muttered. With a swoop of his shining axe, the third tree fell.

   The first tree rejoiced when the woodcutter brought her to a carpenter’s shop. But the carpenter fashioned the tree into a feedbox for animals. The once beautiful tree was not covered with gold nor with treasure. She was coated with sawdust and filled with hay for hungry farm animals.

   The second tree smiled when the woodcutter took her to a shipyard, but no mighty sailing ship was made that day. Instead, the once strong tree was hammered and sawed into a simple fishing boat. She was too small and too weak to sail on an ocean or even a river; instead, she was taken to a little lake.

   The third tree was confused when the woodcutter cut her into strong beams and left her in a lumberyard. “What happened?” the once-tall tree wondered. “All I ever wanted was to stay on the mountain top and point to God.

   Many, many weeks and months and years passed. The three trees nearly forgot their dreams.

But one night, golden starlight poured over the first tree as a young woman placed her newborn baby in the feedbox.

   “I wish I could make a cradle for him,” her husband whispered.

   The mother squeezed his hand and smiled as the starlight shone on the smooth and sturdy wood. “This manger is beautiful,” she said.

   In that moment, the first tree knew he was holding the greatest treasure in the world.

   One evening a tired traveler and his friends crowded into the old fishing boat. The traveler fell asleep as the second tree quietly sailed out into the lake. Soon a thundering and thrashing storm arose. The little tree shuddered. She knew she did not have the strength to carry so many passengers safely through with the wind and rain.

   The tired man awakened. He stood up, stretched out his hand and said, “Peace.” The storm stopped as quickly as it had begun. 

   Suddenly the second tree knew he was carrying the King of heaven and earth.

   One Friday morning, the third tree was startled when her beams were yanked from the forgotten woodpile. She flinched as she was carried through an angry, jeering crowd. She shuddered when soldiers nailed a man’s hands to her. She felt ugly and harsh and cruel.

   But on Sunday morning, when the sun rose and the earth trembled with joy beneath her, the third tree knew that God’s love had changed everything. It had made the third tree strong. And every time people thought of the third tree, they would think of God. That was better than being the tallest tree in the world.             (Source unknown)

  Whether you know it or not, you’re where you’re supposed to be.

   You’re in God’s plan.

The Night Jesus Left Home

Bethlehem Star IV

THE NIGHT JESUS LEFT HOME

   Jesus stepped into the throne room. Multitudes of blazing angels dropped to their knees, bowing their faces to the jeweled floors, wings covering their bodies. The symphonies of heaven—myriads of strings and flutes and voices from a dozen dimensions—all faded to a sudden hush. Crashing peals of thunder echoed to nothingness, and lightning flashed in blue and gold, then dimmed and winked out.

   All was silent.

   “Come here, Son.” The gentle words reverberated among the stars.

   Soft footsteps approached the throne. “This is the hour, Father.”

   “I know, Son. Let’s go to your favorite place.” God raised his hand and he and Jesus walked along a beach, quiet waves lapping the shoreline. A gull soared on the air currents high above the water, its lonely cry drifting on the breeze. Jesus stopped and watched. Then he turned, eyes blurred with tears.

   “Will I know you—at first, I mean?”

   “I’ll always be with you, Son, but at first, no. You’ll come to know me, as every other baby grows to do. You’ll grow in grace and truth and in my favor, but it will take time.”

   Jesus bent his head.

   “I’ll never leave you,” God whispered. “You know I love you, Son.”

   Jesus looked up and smiled through his tears. “’How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…’”

   God chuckled. “Holy Spirit will release those words one day.”

   “’I love thee to the depth and breadth and height My soul can reach.’” Jesus paused. “Do you think I’ll remember that poem?”

   God slowly shook His head. “No, Son. You’re leaving behind your omniscience to live in the flesh, with all of its limitations and weaknesses. Your knowledge will be confined to what your senses tell you, and to what you’ll learn on earth and through the Spirit as you grow, but you’ll not take your foreknowledge with you. You’ll live in one dimension in time.”

   Jesus stooped and drew in the sand.

   “Are you certain you want to do this, Son?” God’s voice was gentle. “I’ll not force you.”

   “I know, Father,” Jesus murmured. “I know.” He stood and brushed the sand from his fingers. “I only want what you want.” He scanned the water and the beach and the mountains beyond. “I want to remember this—somehow.”

   “Your father on earth loves beaches, too, Jesus—he watches the sun set over the sea almost every night. You’ll watch with him.”

   “Is he—is he like you, Father?” Jesus brushed a sandy tear from his cheek. “I hope he’s like you.”

   “Ahhh, Joseph. He’s a truly good man, Son—the best I could find. He doesn’t yet know he’s about to become a father, but he’ll be a good one. He’ll train you, protect you, provide for you, and he’ll love you as I love you.”

   “Is that even possible—that a human being can love so much?”

   “It will never cease to amaze you, Son, what the human heart can carry, and what it can bear. There are realms of beauty you have not yet fathomed within the heart of man.”

   “More beautiful than you, Father?”

   God smiled. “The heart of a human being is his most precious crown. And when he offers it to you, it’s priceless—worth far more than anything else in all of creation.”

   “I’ll miss you so much, Father.”

   “I’ll miss you, too, Son. I’ll be with you every moment of every day and night, but I’ll miss talking with you and—” God waved His hand, “this—with you.”

    He held out his arms. Jesus rushed into them, kissed his father’s cheek, and buried his head in his shoulder. Then he pulled back, cleared his throat and looked into his father’s eyes. “I promise I’ll talk to you every day, Father. I’ll find a spot, far from everyone else, and we’ll talk, just like we do now.”

   “Call on me whenever you need me, Son,” God said, His voice low.

   For a moment, neither spoke.

   Lightning flashed, and a giant archangel dropped from the sky, his wings tinged crimson in the twilight.

   “Here’s Gabriel. It’s time. I’ll send him to Mary first, then Holy Spirit will embrace her. Then… you’ll go…”

   Jesus closed his eyes and nodded.

  God motioned and Gabriel spread his wings and slipped through a portal to earth. A moment later, a shining silver streak of light bolted across the sky, and Holy Spirit splintered the portal and disappeared.

   Jesus touched his fingers to his lips. His face began to shine, growing brighter and brighter, until a blinding light burst into the night—a brilliant star shimmering in the darkness far above the earth.

   And so it began.

DRIVE YOUR VISION.