“The Light You Think You Have…”

Beach at Night

“THE LIGHT YOU THINK YOU HAVE…”

   We’ve all been there: You just can’t tell us anything. “Don’t spend that much,” or “Don’t take that job,” or “Don’t date that person.”

   “Don’t touch that stove.”

   Why? Because we’ll get burnt.

   But we do it anyway. Why? Because we know better, we’re smarter, you’re dumber, we know people—the rationalizations go on and on. And we really believe them. Why?

   Because we’re blind.

   The problem with mental/emotional/spiritual blindness is that we don’t know we’re blind. We throttle forward, ignoring caution signs and stop signs and even rules or laws and then we hit the Big Wall. We crash. We burn. We take others down with us. And then we can’t figure out why.

   So—why? Why do we do it?

   Because we want what we want. We want that too-expensive house or car or wardrobe and so we go into debt to get it. We want that job because it it’s “fun” or it pays well or we get to travel. But we ignore the fact that maybe the “fun” puts us around bad influences or it pays well because it requires a certain, shall we say, talent for compromise or yes, we get to travel but we have to leave the fam home alone for half the year. We want to date that really hot guy or girl because, well—who wouldn’t? But then we find out we’re actually not immune to their rep for shredding hearts. But, hey—we got what we wanted. Right?

   Over the years, I’ve had my share of “what-in-the-heck-was-I-thinking??” moments. But looking back, I wasn’t thinking about anything except what I wanted. And why? Because I would be the one to make it work, to get that “thing” without any consequences, to beat the odds. I’m that good.

   That’s blindness.

   And if we look around, it’s everywhere. I see it with students making (very) poor choices, public figures saying things that make absolutely zero sense, and others violating spiritual or legal laws and yet still thinking something good could possibly happen.

   Blindness.

   So how do we keep from falling into the dark pit of ignorance, wreck and ruin? There are a few things…

   Thing #1: Listen to people who’ve “been there, done that.” There’s nothing more painful than watching someone you care about dancing merrily down a perilous path that you know from sad experience ends in devastation—and you can’t do thing one about it. So—if someone’s trying to tell us “don’t go there,” would it kill us at least to consider that they might possibly know what they’re talking about? Will we actually die if we at least hear them out? No.

Listening has never been proven fatal.

Thing #2: Look at who you’re listening to. If the advice you’re getting is coming from people with a good track record, then follow it. But if the advice you’re getting is coming from people who have not been especially wise with their own choices, then the better part of wisdom: “RUN!” The only exception to that rule would be people who’ve “been there, done that” and learned from it. (See above.) To follow the advice of others who’ve never made any good decisions themselves and yet still stand by them has a name—it’s called “the blind leading the blind.”

Thing #3: Check for Biblical principal. I know, I know—it sounds absolutely insane to suggest that there might possibly be something relevant in a book full of stuff that happened 2000+ years ago. But you’d be surprised to find that some principles never change, no matter how many blind people tell us they don’t apply anymore.

   “You reap what you sow” (Gal.6:7) comes to mind. (“You harvest what you plant,” “What goes around, comes around,” karma, etc.… You know the drill.) But some people act like they can do something harmful or stupid and something good will come from it. (I know—been there, done that.)

   “What a man thinks in his heart, so is he…” (Prov. 23:7). (What a person thinks about, they become.) Can we spend our days filling our minds and hearts with the stupid, the silly, the evil and not begin to think, at some point, that those things are okay? And then begin to imitate them? Short answer—no. (If you disagree, re-visit sowing and reaping.)

   “’Seek first the kingdom of God [His will and principles] and His righteousness, and [then] all these things [your heart’s desires] will be given to you’” (Matt.6:33 ). Bottom line: If we’re not asking God what He thinks about our decisions (hint: before we make them), then we can’t expect that He’ll bless what He doesn’t want us doing. That’s not hard to understand, right? You’d think. But I didn’t get it for a long time. Or wait—I did get it; I just didn’t want to do it. What if God didn’t want what I wanted? So dumb.

   We’ve all made stupid decisions but one of the dumbest is to refuse to listen to sources of good advice. That mindset is the #1 destroyer of destiny because it affects every other decision we make. The best thing we can do for our dreams and visions is to evaluate the “wisdom” we’ve been following and to consider its consequences.

   “Beware that the light you think you have is not really darkness” (Luke 11:35).

 

 

 

 

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Magic Words—For Good Or For Evil.

Words HurtMAGIC WORDS—FOR GOOD OR FOR EVIL

   What do you call a man who, when asked for food and drink by an army of 400 warriors, deliberately refuses them and then insults them?

   How about “fool”?

   Coincidently, that was the meaning of the name of Abigail’s husband, Nabal. Backstory (I Sam. 25): David and his mighty men, hungry and thirsty, had come upon Nabal’s men shearing his hundreds of sheep (Nabal was rich) and asked them for food and drink. Since David and his men had often protected Nabal’s herdsmen from danger, it therefore wasn’t asking too much for David to make such a request. What was unusual was for Nabal to refuse David—especially considering that Nabal was plenty rich enough to provide food for David and his men. And most especially considering that it was – well, David and his men. Four hundred of them. With swords.

   But—was Nabal’s foolish behavior really so coincidental?

   Perhaps not. It’s difficult to imagine the impact of growing up and hearing yourself called “fool” every time anyone mentioned your name. Consequently, Nabal might simply have become convinced that that’s all he would ever be—whether he tried otherwise or not. So (I’m speculating), consciously or not, Nabal began to act the fool.

   That’s what’s known as a “word curse”; we tend to become what we’re told we are. Jesus referred to such words as “idle words” and said that we’ll be held accountable for every idle word we speak. Why? Because people believe what they hear about themselves—for good or for evil.

   Take Jacob, for example, who was born grasping his twin brother’s heel (Gen. 25). His parents named him Jacob, meaning “one who takes by the heel” or “supplants”. They must (I speculate) have jokingly surmised that, at birth, Jacob was trying to pull his brother back so he could be the first out the door, the firstborn. Thus, he was trying to “supplant” his brother, which means “to trip up or overthrow”. Now, imagine Jacob hearing that story his whole life; possibly he came to feel that one day he would, in fact, supplant or replace his brother. By the time he did deliberately set out to steal his brother’s first-born status, was it really a surprise to anyone?

   So—what are you saying about yourself? About your goals and visions? Are you saying, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”? Or are you saying, “I’m not good enough or smart enough or attractive enough or financially stable enough or experienced enough or—whatever—enough?”

What are you hearing you call yourself?

   Is it fool? Or liar/deceiver? How about stupid? Ugly? Loser? Worthless? Evil? Failure? Hopeless? If so, you need to get a new vision of yourself.

   “Yeah,” you say, “been there, heard that. But I just can’t.” 

   Why? Jesus died to give you a new vision of yourself. And if His death isn’t powerful enough to re-write your identity, then Christ died for nothing.

   Of course, you don’t believe that. So do you really believe then that there is any “case” too impossible for the Lord to re-define, to make new? Of course not. But you have to believe that that power applies to you. Is that always easy? No—as Jacob proves…

   I should point out here that Jacob was not a nice person. Not only does he deliberately deceive his father and steal his brother’s birthright (Gen. 27) but, after a nasty conflict with his father-in-law over wages, he decides to take all his wives and children and return to his homeland. Fair enough. However, on the way, he’s afraid of running into his brother Esau (!) and so packs up a bunch of presents for him and sends all of them, along with his wives and children, across the river ahead of him.

   Not exactly a model of integrity.

   But what happens next always kind of baffled me. Jacob is all by himself at camp when God appears as a man and wrestles with him until dawn. Jacob refuses to let the man go until he blesses Jacob—which he does, giving Jacob a new name: Israel, “he who struggles with God” because, the man says, “you’ve wrestled with God and won.”

   So Jacob wrestled with God. But why?

   Given the circumstances, I doubt Jacob was wrestling for the sport of it. He was angry; he was desperate. Perhaps he had a few questions for God and he wasn’t letting go until he got some answers: 

   “Why did You let them name me ‘deceiver’? Why does dad love Esau more than me? Why did You let Laban trick me into marrying Leah when I’d worked seven years to marry Rachel? Why did You let Laban try to cheat me out of my wages? What if Esau wants to kill me??”  And on and on.

   The fact is, Jacob had some issues with God. Proof of this is that in all the years prior to that night, Jacob had always addressed God as “the God of my grandfather Abraham and my father Isaac;” he never called God his God.

   Until that night. That’s the night Jacob finally met the Lord personally, and God immediately changed his name to Israel, “the prince of God”. Jacob needed to get a new image of himself, a new identity, and a new vision.

   At the end of his journey, Jacob built an altar to the Lord called, “El-Elohe-Israel,” meaning “God, the God of Israel”. His God. Jacob finally knew God for himself and had grabbed hold of the vision of himself that God had of him. And it was after that happened that Israel began to fulfill his destiny.

   Stop looking at the old you. Stop thinking and saying that Jesus’ death can’t “fix” or change you.

If you can’t believe the good things God says about you, wrestle with Him until you can.  Don’t let go of God until His vision of you becomes your vision of you.

   The most important vision you will ever have is the vision God has, not just for you, but of you.

  

 

 

Do You Know It—Or Do You Feel It?

Chess PiecesDO YOU KNOW IT—OR DO YOU FEEL IT?

   Carol was contemplating buying a stove from a nationwide appliance store but had a couple of questions about the particular model she’d been looking at so she tracked down a friendly salesperson and asked if he could help her. Of course he could. This is how the conversation went:

   CAROL: Since this stove has a different kind of heating element in the oven, does it tend to take a shorter amount of time to cook, say, a turkey or about the same amount of time? It says it’s a “time saver”. What does that mean, exactly?

   SALESPERSON: Oh—what’s your name? Carol? Carol, you’ll love this oven! You’ll be able to cook a turkey in less time which means you’ll have more time to spend with your children watching, say, the Macy’s Parade on Thanksgiving! You do have children, don’t you? I noticed your ring.

   CAROL: Yes, I do but—

   SALESPERSON: And I bet they’re the cutest little kids!

   CAROL: Actually, they’re in their 20’s. Can you just tell me how long—?

   SALESPERSON: I bet you feel really proud of them.

   CAROL: Yes, but I just want to know

   SALESPERSON: Right. How long it takes. Imagine yourself on Thanksgiving Day: you’re sitting around the dinner table with your delightful family, Tom Turkey placed in the center of your beautiful table, all golden-brown and crispy, surrounded by mountains of fluffy mashed potatoes, delectable candied yams and, of course, Grandma’s green bean casserole! (He grins like an idiot.) How does make you feel?

   CAROL (feeling like she wants to wrap her hands around his neck): Can you just tell me how long it would take??

   SALESPERSON: Huh? How long what would take?

   Unfortunately, Carol, who is a “facts” person, has encountered Bob, a “feelings” person. And what Bob unfortunately doesn’t understand is that facts people just want the info in any given situation—the intel and the stats—and if they have a question along the way, answer it. Get straight to the point, forget the bunny trails or the pointless trips down memory lane—just get to the bottom line.

   Feelings people, on the other hand, are all about the emotions any given person, product or situation will evoke. What feelings are generated and what “gut” reaction does the listener have? Feelings people make decisions based on which emotion presents itself in the midst of the decision-making process. If it’s a warm and fuzzy feeling, they’re all in. If it doesn’t “feel right,” they’re all out. Not that feelings people don’t appreciate facts, but they’re commonly more intuition-driven than facts people.

   The problem, as you’ve probably guessed, is when the two meet. The conversation can range anywhere from polite disagreement to a scenario reminiscent of a meeting between a match and gasoline. Our current political climate is a vivid example: people are either for or against current politicians (pick one) based on what they’ve done OR on the emotions they spark. Facts people don’t want to hear about how “mean” a politician is if what he/she has done is beneficial; on the flip side, feelings people don’t want to hear  what a politician has accomplished for good if they don’t like him/her as a person. And never the two shall meet.

   Why is this important?

Because whether we’re selling a product or service, sharing the Gospel or writing a book, it’s not about what we think is importantit is entirely about what the audience or consumer thinks is important.

   I once had a pastor tell me that, “without exception,” people accept Christ and Christianity based on feeling the love of God. I tried to share my experience, saying that the reason I was persuaded to become a Christian was because I’d researched the facts of the Word of God until I was convinced that the Bible was truth. Then I felt comfortable responding to what it said. He told me I was wrong. I didn’t understand, at the time, why he would say that, but now I understand that his approach to sharing Christ was based on what he responds to—feelings. But to be perfectly fair, I had done the same: when I would talk to people about the Lord, I would immediately default to the facts proving the Bible. It had actually never occurred to me that people would believe God loved them without first finding out whether they could trust the source that said so. But that was me. Now I’ve learned to start simply by asking people what their questions and/or concerns are, no matter what the topic. Those are what need to be addressed, not what I think needs to be addressed.

   If we’re wise, we’ll take this understanding of how people approach any given topic and use it to really communicate with people. If we’re promoting a product, we need to find out what customers care about—how the product works or how they’ll feel when they own it. If we’re sharing the Gospel, we’d better understand what concerns our listeners most: historical facts or feeling loved and accepted. If we’re writing a book, we need to understand whether our readers want to be informed or entertained.

   Ford has approached its ad campaign for trucks by presenting the facts and statistics about their vehicles and the awards they’ve won. Subaru, on the other hand, has done the opposite: all of their ad campaigns are image/feelings-based. Their tagline is “Love—It’s What Makes A Subaru.” Not my cup of tea but it appears to be working. The interesting thing is that most consumers of trucks are men and most decision-makers regarding the purchase of SUV’s are women (who, advertising tycoons believe, influence their husbands).

   Whether we’re authors, ministry leaders, biz people or simply people trying to connect effectively with others, we should take stock of two things: how we think and how our audience thinks.

   It could make a world of difference. And that’s a fact. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Fruit of the Poisonous Tree”

Fruit of the Poisonous Tree

“THE FRUIT OF THE POISONOUS TREE”

   We’ve all heard the old saying, “The end justifies the means.” That means it doesn’t matter how you get what you want, as long as you get it. You can lie, cheat, steal, hurt people, destroy lives—whatever—as long as you accomplish what you set out to do. On the flip side, a reference to “the fruit of the poisonous tree” is a legal doctrine which means that if the way you get or achieve something is illegal—lying, cheating, stealing—then the results of those methods are inadmissible in court.

   But why should we care what’s accepted in court or not? We’re not lawyers and few of us will ever have to go into a courtroom. Or so we think.

   The fact is that God is a god of justice and therefore, He operates in an actual courtroom in heaven. Moreover, He responds to us as if we were in a court of law—because we are.

   The point? “The fruit of the poisonous tree.” Since God is a just judge, how we do things is a top priority to Him. In heaven’s courtroom, the end does not justify the means. In other words, God pays close attention to what we do to accomplish our goals—even if they’re good goals—and He absolutely will not bless any endeavor which is accomplished dishonestly or in a way that takes advantage of or harms other people. The results or “fruit” of a “poisonous” method of doing business (whatever biz you’re up to) is not acceptable in God’s courtroom. We can try to justify our actions to anyone who will listen—including the person in the mirror—but if our actions or behaviors are dishonest or detrimental, then God will not only not bless our work, but He’ll oppose it.

   For example, if students cheat on a test, they may score a 100 but I won’t give it to them. They’ll get a zero. That’s the penalty for cheating because the end does not “justify the means”. Of course, that all hinges on whether or not I’m smart enough to catch them, but I don’t recommend judging what we can “get away with” with God in terms of what we can pull over on other human beings. I’m not God and I don’t have the advantage of omniscience the way He does. In other words, just because I don’t see it, doesn’t mean He won’t.

   But how’s this work in terms of the bigger picture? Let’s say a student “gets away with it” the first time. Okay, but one, two or even three things will happen: One, he’ll get caught cheating somewhere down the line, sooner or later, because no liar is that smart. Two, if he doesn’t get caught in school, he’ll move onto other methods of cheating in life: on taxes, on timesheets, on a spouse. Why wouldn’t he? And three, his character will become completely corrupted because in his mind, the end truly does “justify the means.” Why shouldn’t it? It always has.

   Except that it won’t, always.

   This principle of “the fruit of the poisonous tree” applies to all aspects of life. Are we trying to have a good relationship with others? Then we’d best be doing right by them—whether they can see everything we’re doing or not. In business? We’d better treat our customers and employees well because we’re not really the boss or the CEO of our business, God is. And he’s watching His employees: us. Whether we get promoted or not has everything to do with how we operate because God is more concerned with our actions than the results we achieve.

   He can make us succeed at anything He wants us to succeed at; our success is not His primary concern. That would be our character.

   Do we really win when we destroy trust, relationships and character to achieve an end? And will God let that go on forever? No, because here’s a principle: “We reap what we sow.” (We harvest what we plant.) If we sow a poisonous tree (from our sinful behavior), our own fruit will end up poisoning us. But if we sow a good tree, our own fruit will bless us and all who come after us.

   The bottom line is that the end will never justify the means in God’s eyes. And that’s because God’s not just concerned with the end-game, He’s more concerned with how the game is played.

   In His book, that’s all that determines a winner.

 

 

 

 

 

The Myth of the Weed-Eating Squash

Squash

THE MYTH OF THE WEED-EATING SQUASH

   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”.

   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 why are people overspending, going into debt, and struggling? One answer is that the 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.

 

 

 

 

 

How To Launch A Platform In Five Minutes Or Less—Really.

Spotlight II

HOW TO LAUNCH A PLATFORM IN FIVE MINUTES OR LESS—REALLY.

   One day shortly before the 2016 election, I was listening to a radio talk show when a young woman called to comment on something the host was saying. I’d tell you who it was but it really doesn’t matter; pick a host with a live, syndicated, nationwide talk show with tens of millions of listeners and you get the idea. But here’s what happened: In the course of the discussion, the young woman mentioned that she had a blog, although she didn’t presume to plug it (it would’ve been deleted on the 7-second delay) and so the host sort of sighed and then asked whether she’d like to mention the name of her blog. Well, who wouldn’t? So she did. (Although it took four mentions before listeners could really catch the domain name because she had “blogspot” or some silly thing in the name. Don’t do that.) At any rate, she finally gets the site name out, makes her comment and hangs up. The host sighs again and says, “Of course, her site will crash because right now millions of people are trying to get on there, but give it a little time and she’ll be up and running again.”

   Platform launched!!

   The iconic “platform”—it goes by many names: your “soapbox,” your “arena,” your “spotlight.” Shakespeare said it best. “’All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players…’” (As You Like It).  But is that a good thing or a bad thing? Is it good or bad that, according to Will, we’re all on a “stage” trying to “make it”? What stage? And make what?

  No doubt Will was being sarcastic but maybe he was just a writer who saw the reality of the theatre market of his time: Write something the public will like—and pretend to like it. Maybe he was railing against the “platform” requirements of his day. Granted, he didn’t have much in the way of social media to work with but still, early on, even he was required to grow a following in order for his plays to be enacted on stage. He felt the burn. And it’s a Catch 22, is it not? Unless you have “name recognition” or a “social following” or a “platform,” you can’t get a record deal or get published or find a business investor. In other words, unless you’ve already achieved some sort of recognition, you can’t do the thing that would get you the recognition. And why?

   Money.

   Annoying? Maybe, but it’s not about the money; who doesn’t want some? I can’t blame the producers or the publishers or the investors. But I guess what started me thinking about this whole “platform” thing was a blog post I recently read (by a guy whose name I can’t remember) about the essential futility of even trying to build a platform. Evidently he’s a writer who’s achieved some sort of success, but he said that in spite of all the years he’s spent blogging and tweeting and making Youtube videos, it really doesn’t much work. And since that’s the case (he said), we should really only do those platform-building things we enjoy because in the end, it’s all just a waste of time anyway.

   Don’t get me wrong—I really don’t have any problem with the concept of building a platform so you can sell that CD or book or business. What I have a problem with is how you’re supposed to do it. Spending days and weeks and months tweeting and commenting and posting video bites is not my idea of tons of fun. Or any fun. Instead, being a former advertising/promotions’ person, I happen to believe there are easier and more effective ways to build name recognition and platform. Just plain advertising, for example, works. That’s why it’s been around since the dawn of time. (What do you think those cave drawings were for?)

Let’s be honest: The care and feeding of a platform is going to cost you either time or money. Which do you value more?

   Will advertising take some cash? Absolutely, but you know what they say: “You have to spend money to make money.” And that’s true. But face it—you’re spending it anyway, aren’t you? Buying your own books or CD’s to pass out, or giving away a free product or service so people know you exist? Of course, that’s how the game is played. But what if, instead of spending $ that way, you spent it on a publicist who would get you on radio or TV?

   I once heard a publisher talk about how a writer invested in a publicist who got a very famous TV commentator (think ten million viewers) to do a five-minute plug of the author’s book; the very next day, it sold 18,000 copies. And how much did it cost the writer? Only three thousand dollars! (If you’re not aware, that’s an incredible deal.) Throw in a couple more grand for the publicist and the writer essentially bought an instant platform and name recognition for under 5K. Think that’s too much? Every day in this country, thousands of people spend ten times that much starting up businesses. Promotion is simply part of the cost of doing business and your book or CD or work-from-home “cottage industry” is a business.

   Next question: “Just how am I supposed to get the money to do this, Missy? I ain’t rich, you know!” I know. Neither am I. But how many weeks or months would you have a work a part-time job to bank a few thousand dollars? Not too many. Not as many years as you’ll spend tweeting and commenting and posting quotes on Instagram. Or, just do what the girl did: Call a famous show and plug your site. Just make certain before you do it that you have a web or blog and a Twitter account and a FB page because those are the tools you’ll need to take that five minutes of instant stardom and turn it into a permanent platform. But however you get the world’s attention, just make darn sure that when folks come looking for you, they find something—content or product-wise—that makes them want to come back for more. Like the girl did.

   She’s my hero.

 

 

 

Burlap Weddings: A Symbol of Something Larger?

Burlap Wedding

 BURLAP WEDDINGS: A SYMBOL OF SOMETHING LARGER?

   Respect is the foundation for love and without respect, there can be no love. There may be relationship, but there won’t be love. There may be compliance or service but there won’t be love. There may even be nice words or the occasional hug, but there still won’t be love. Why? Because if we don’t respect a person, it’s much more difficult to like them. And if we don’t like someone, it’s nearly impossible to love them. (Except for mothers; mothers can love anyone.)      

   Right now, the very fabric of our society is being shredded for want of respect among its members. Lack of respect breeds all manner of nasty sentiments and behaviors in people: resentment, rebellion, gossip and slander, arrogance, and certainly division. And the key factor in all of it? Many people who refuse to show respect toward a person (or persons) feel entitled to their behavior. And the rationale? The person hasn’t “earned” it.

So—the big debate surrounding respect: Is it owed or is it earned?

   Once upon a time, respect was the default position toward another simply because he or she was a fellow human being. “Please,” “thank you,” and “after you” were all common expressions. But not so much anymore. Is it so surprising then that civility has seemed to go the way of the wringer washer and the icebox? Too often people fail even to pay each other the basic courtesy of polite listening, especially in view of a difference of opinion. Instead, the arguing ensues, along with name-calling, a generous helping of mockery and, in some not-so-extreme-anymore cases, even violence results.

   It’s interesting (to me, at least) to talk to teens today and pick their brains about respect. Almost without exception, they’re adamant that they will respect an adult only if they feel that that adult deserves their respect. Then I move on to share stories of a “once-upon-a-time” when gentlemen would show respect to ladies by opening doors for them or holding a chair for them to be seated. After much face-making and expressions of disgust, I inevitably hear comments from boys like, “That’s stupid!” and “She can hold her own door!” Girls, for their parts, sometimes get downright belligerent at the thought that they should endure a man holding a door for them. “I can do it myself!” seems to be the consensus. And forget standing when an elderly person enters a room—how dare anyone even suggest anything so demeaning! (“Why should I stand up for some old person?”) I know. So outrageous.

   Nevertheless, it was once widely believed that respect was owed to a position because of the authority it represented more so than to the person occupying the position. For example, students would show respect to teachers simply because they were teachers or the public would show respect to policemen simply because they were policemen. Note I said folks would “show” respect, not necessarily feel it. Today that’s all changed.

   Many people now believe that their inward feelings are the criteria for determining whether or not one shows respect, not any outward criteria like job or position.

   Ask any parent, pastor, teacher, principal, judge or policeman—anyone charged with enforcing rules or maintaining order—and they will tell you that positional authority is now passé. People will respect authority only when they “like” the person holding the position of authority.

   Respect for positional authority seems to be much out of vogue these days.

   Okay, disclaimer: That’s not to say that authority should never be challenged because left unchecked, bad things happen. But is an auto-default to disrespect and ridicule and rebellion the only answer? Only if we want division to rule and reign in the marriage or the family or the streets or the nation.

   So is that what people really want? Do people want to be living in a barbarian climate where respect and civility are deceased and the funeral long over? Do people really like to see screaming and rioting and chaos in the public squares? I don’t believe so. And here’s why: In the past ten years, a trend has surfaced in the wedding industry—which, you wouldn’t think, would be at all related to respect (and which, for the life of me, at first I couldn’t explain). But I believe this trend is much indicative of something larger happening in our nation.

   The wedding industry is being overrun with burlap and mason jars as wedding décor.

   Why on earth, I wondered, would brides prefer burlap tablecloths over satin, or mason jars over crystal? Especially on the one day in a lifetime which is elevated above all others? Wouldn’t brides want something unique on their wedding day? Wouldn’t they want something dazzling, something exquisite, something thoroughly uncommon to honor the concept of matrimony?

   I puzzled over the trend until my brain hurt; it just didn’t make any sense. Then one day, as I was talking with a girl about her preference for “rustic,” it hit me: it wasn’t just the burlap she wanted, it was the idea behind the burlap. It was the yearning for “the good old days,” the return to more simplistic morals and values—or maybe a return to morals and values in the first place. Burlap symbolized, to her, all the nostalgic ideals so lacking in our society today—honor, commitment and, yes, respect.

   Maybe the concept of respect is not a shiny, new “modern” idea. Maybe it’s more old-fashioned but—here’s a thought—maybe it’s not the threat to civilization many presume it to be. In fact, maybe it’s even okay (dare I say “right”) to respect our spouses and pastors and policeman once more. Maybe respect really is the foundation of civilization the way we once believed it to be. So if that’s true, let’s all lift a mason jar to the possibility that the notion of respect might, in fact, be back in style.

   Perhaps the concept of respect actually deserves a little respect of its own.

 

 

 

 

   

You Can’t Do What You Can’t Do—Until You Do What You Can.

Ben White PhotosYOU CAN’T DO WHAT YOU CAN’T—UNTIL YOU DO WHAT YOU CAN.

   Picture this: a ten-month old, precariously gripping the edge of a coffee table, contemplates the wisdom of letting go and testing this new mode of transportation: feet. As daddy coaxes and coos, Little Guy finally decides “What the heck!” and lets go, tipping and toddling his way toward the goal line, thereby achieving his longest distance ever—1.5 steps! It would’ve been two steps if his toe hadn’t gotten in the way, but daddy doesn’t care—tears are drizzling, video is streaming, and Little Guy is an immediate FB superstar. To celebrate, daddy immediately signs him up for Pee Wee football. After all, he has a month to train.

   What?

   How about this: Joey, a 7th grader, gets an A on his first biology test. The next day, he applies to med school.

   Dumb? Probably. But still, hundreds, thousands—even millions of people do it every day: get ahead of themselves. Of course, the average 7th grader doesn’t apply to med school, and I can’t remember the last time a toddler scored a TD, but others jump right into things they’re not remotely ready for.

   Remember, you can’t do what you can’t do until you first do what you can do. In other words, we’ll blow up the big dream if we don’t first do the time developing the skills we have.

   Maybe we think we can jump right into the big time, but we won’t stay there long.

   “Do not despise the day of small beginnings for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin” (Zech. 4:10).

   A lifelong relationship begins with a “hello”. A business begins with the very first customer. A mighty oak tree begins with a small acorn. Writing a book begins with the first word. A concert pianist begins with “Chopsticks”. Losing pounds begins with the first day of the diet. A dynasty begins with one man and one woman.

   God rarely begins a person on the highway to his or her destiny in a big way. Not that He can’t, but there is much to be learned on the road from small to big. And depending on what our dreams and destinies are, lessons will vary.

   For example, how to manage people is a big lesson for anyone wanting to head up an organization, manage a department or own their own business. Businesses rarely begin with more than a handful of employees so that owners learn how to hire wisely, manage workers with the right balance of respect and authority, and handle personnel problems. Imagine trying to learn all of that with dozens of employees.

   Or a military service member—he or she begins as the lowest-ranked soldier or officer and grows into more responsibility through promotion. To begin as an admiral or general would probably not work.

   Many other examples come to mind. Talents for writing or music or art must be developed; one begins small, writing for a school paper, performing a music recital, or painting a school mural.

   “Do not despise the day of small beginnings.”

   We often want to start big and then get frustrated when we can’t. Or, we get tired of working, practicing, doing and re-doing and so we quit, thinking the dream will never happen. But here’s a principle: The bigger the destiny, the longer the prep time. Oak trees take decades to become full grown. Masters take decades to perfect their crafts. Multi-million dollar companies take years to become that profitable.

   The fact is that to appreciate the value of “small beginnings,” we have to realize that all of life is about “becoming.”

   We make the mistake of asking children what they want to “be” when they grow up. Rather we should be asking them what they want to “become.” Small distinction but the message is huge: “becoming” takes time and work.

   The Bible’s King David, for example, spent years by himself learning to shepherd sheep and fight lions and bears. Afterward, he spent 16 years hiding in caves from Saul who wanted to kill him. What did he learn from all that trauma?  Warfare, leadership and honor. And what did he become?  A mighty warrior and a king.

   Both Joseph and Esther are examples as well.

   Joseph was sold into slavery to a rich Egyptian (not fair), during which time he rose to favor for his ability to organize, grow, and prosper his master’s entire estate and business. Esther, likewise, was kidnapped and cast into a Persian king’s harem in an impossible-odds contest to become his queen (also not fair). But what did both Joseph and Esther learn in their prisons? They mastered the foreign languages, cultures, customs, and upper class etiquette of a foreign people. In addition, Joseph learned large-scale people management and government leadership skills because God was training him to become an administrator and Egypt’s second in command to Pharaoh. Esther learned a great deal about how to navigate the politics of a royal court—intel she needed in order to function as queen and save her people from total annihilation.

   So—what do David, Joseph and Esther all have in common?

   They all made the best of their humble situations by doing the best they could do. They exhibited grace, excellence and honor despite long seasons of obscurity, opposition, grueling work, and demanding tests of faith. But here’s the endgame: each was promoted to royalty.

   Not one of them despised their days of small beginnings nor did they reject the prep time critical to the success of their assignments from the Lord.

   Lesson? Don’t be discouraged at the small beginnings of your dream or destiny. Granted, it can seem overwhelming when you envision how far you have to go but, as Michael Hyatt says, “Just do the next thing in front of you.”

   The bottom line: You can’t do what you were called to do later until you learn to build on what you can do now.

           

           

 

“You’re Just Not Good Enough.”

MercyMe II

“YOU’RE JUST NOT GOOD ENOUGH.”

   Recently I saw the movie I Can Only Imagine about Bart Millard who co-founded the band MercyMe and wrote that incredible song. The thing is, he wasn’t supposed to be able to do that. His whole childhood, he was brutally abused by a father who regularly beat him to a pulp and served it up with a blistering side of condemnation for his hopes and dreams. “You can’t do that” and “You’re not good enough” were never-ending proclamations over Bart. Not that mom helped any; she abandoned Bart when he was ten, leaving him all alone with his abusive father.

   Still, Bart never gave up on his dreams. Being a big guy, he played football in high school and dreamed of a career in the NFL—until the day he suffered a grave injury, ending that dream. Dad’s only comment? “You were never good enough anyway.”

   God wasn’t kidding when he says, ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways’” (Is. 55:8). This means that God’s thoughts are incomprehensible to us and, as a result, many times we can’t make sense of why he does what he does.

Moreover, God loves to take what we think we know and dump those assumptions on their heads.

   For example, we know what we’re good at, our strengths, our talents, our giftings—and we play to those. Nothing wrong with that. But then along comes God and decides that what we really need to be doing is that one thing we have no talent for, we’re terrified of doing, we’ve failed at doing, and/or we’ve been told we’ll never be “good enough” to succeed at doing.

   Fast forward:  While recovering, Bart is persuaded (by a pretty girl—no surprise) to join a chorus class—where he refuses to sing—which is how he ends up being the sound techie for the choir. Ironically enough, his music teacher overhears Bart singing one day and so, without his knowledge, casts him into the lead of “Oklahoma”. Bart is livid but she refuses to take no for an answer and a star is born. But does dad come to hear Bart sing? Of course not.

   Finally comes the day when Bart graduates and moves out. He and the band go on the road, and eventually, MercyMe begins to gain some recognition and a fan base. One night, several top record execs show up at one of their shows to check them out and Bart and his boys are so excited; this would be their big break! The execs’ response? “You’re not good enough. You just don’t have what it takes.” And they weren’t even nice about it!

   What was that? It seemed that God had steered Bart from the path he’d chosen for himself—football—and detoured him to the path, the destiny, that God had for him—music. Then it all blew up into nothing. But why?

   Sound familiar?

   Moses experienced the same. God told him to go back to Egypt to speak to Pharaoh and warn him to “let My people go.” Moses’ response? “You’ve got the wrong guy!” Then he began to list all the reasons he wasn’t qualified to deliver any message to Pharaoh: He’d been rejected by the Hebrews, he couldn’t speak well, and Pharaoh would never listen to him anyway. In fact, Moses protested for so long that God finally allowed his brother Aaron to be Moses’ spokesperson.

   So Moses and Aaron traveled all the way back to Egypt and appeared before Pharaoh, delivered the mail, and Pharaoh, terrified, immediately released all of the Israelites to Moses.

   Right?

   Wrong. Nothing went right in that little scenario. Pharaoh was livid and the Israelites ended up working harder and being treated more brutally than ever before.

   Ever had that happen?

   Have you ever argued with God about why you’re not qualified to do that thing he’s obviously calling you to do? Not talented enough? No degree? Might get laughed at? Disqualified because of your past? How about you just don’t want to?

   Here’s a thought: Don’t ever tell God what you won’t do; I think he takes that as a personal challenge.

   When I was in junior high and high school, I hated it. I was bullied mercilessly back in the day when there was no help for victims except “suck up and deal.” That didn’t work for me and so I graduated hoping and praying that college would be different and I’d never again have to relive the terrors that I’d survived during those years. And when I say “survived,” I’m not exaggerating. At 14, I was pushed out in front of a car and spent 2½ months in the hospital with a head injury and in traction with a busted femur. So when God called me to teach high school, I was less than compliant.

   Looking back, it’s interesting that he didn’t even bring it up until long after I’d already graduated from college—ten years after high school. Even so, once I went back to college for an education degree, I had, of course, to student teach. And that experience turned out to be such a nightmare that, once through it, I was absolutely and unequivocally over it. The students had behaved so badly—deliberately rebellious and disruptive and actually downright mean—that I finished out the eight weeks and never looked back.

   I was done.

   I’d obviously misheard God and been mistaken—horribly mistaken—to think that he would call me to go anywhere near a school ever again. And so I didn’t teach for ten years after that.

   But still… God never stopped calling. He allowed me to wander and hide during those years but he never quit.

   “God’s gifts and call are irrevocable” (Heb. 11:29)—no matter how far we run, how badly we feel, or how terrified we are. 

   Maybe God is calling you to a destiny that is nothing short of impossible. Maybe you are uneducated. Maybe you have failed before. Maybe you have grown up hearing how you “can’t” because you’re “just not good enough.”

   None of that matters to God. He sees only the gold buried deep inside of you, the “diamond in the rough,” the beautiful pearl that’s taken decades to form.

   He sees you. And he’s chosen you. Only you can do that job or write that book or run that business or parent that child or impact that group of people the way he wants it done.

   But only you can answer his call; no one else can do it for you. Don’t look back someday and regret that you didn’t say yes, that you didn’t at least try that thing he’s created you to do. And on the journey, no matter how scary, just remember one thing: It’s up to you to say yes. After that, it’s all on him.

   But that’s another principle for another day…

  

  

 

 

 

The Key to Destiny

Key in DoorTHE KEY TO DESTINY

   Alex couldn’t stand the sight of it—one more baby, another young mother—at the mall, at the grocery store, in the park where she sometimes wandered, imagining her child on that little slide. Everywhere she went, babies in strollers in the neighborhood, in car seats at the gas station, in the nursery at church. Alex wanted a child—she’d shared how much—but for her, it was not to be. She and her husband had tried, almost from their wedding day, but still, no baby. There was only cruel disappointment as months turned into years and a decade passed.

   But one day, that all changed—but not for any reason Alex could ever have foreseen. It happened when she learned about the Biblical law of “sowing and reaping”: “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked. A man reaps what he sows” (Gal. 6:7). Essentially, this means that we harvest what we plant. This is a foundational truth in both the physical and spiritual realms, also known as the “Principle of Return” or the “Principle of Reciprocity” (derived from the word “receiving”). In short, how we implement this law will determine whether we succeed or fail in the pursuit of our dreams and destinies.

As Biblical laws go, “sowing and reaping” is huge.

   However, most people are not aware of the scope of its effect; many understand that this truth impacts finances—monetary giving results in a financial return—but many don’t realize it also influences all other areas in life. Yes—all. Here’s why:

   Principle #1: You reap because you sow. Every farmer knows that in order to produce a crop, he must first plant seed. If he chooses not to plant seed, he won’t reap a harvest. Period. There is, after all, nothing there to grow and multiply. And while we might think that fact would be a no-brainer, many is the person who plants no seed in some area and yet expects a harvest in that area. Take finances for example: a person might be fervently petitioning God for provision, yet gives no money in donations or offerings; in essence, he plants no seed. That would be one reason for no harvest.

   Principle #2: You reap what you sow. Every farmer also knows that if you want carrots, you plant carrot seeds. You don’t plant watermelon seeds or bean seeds or a coconut. If you need money, you give money—and you give it first. We do not reap before we plant. That’s all. Moreover—and this is crucial—this principle applies to anything we sow: if we sow anger (or kindness), we will reap anger (or kindness) from others. If we sow division (or unity), we will reap division (or unity) among groups. If we sow unhealthy habits, we will reap illness, disease and even death. If we sow healthy habits, we will sow health—mental, emotional and physical. The problem is that many people sow bad seed, but still expect a good harvest and are totally dumbfounded when they reap disaster.

   Principle #3: You reap more than you sow. Farmers also know that seed is multiplied after it is sown. For example, one apple seed produces an entire apple tree, itself bearing hundreds of apples, each apple producing multiple seeds. The same is true in the spiritual realm: Whatever we sow, we will reap as a multiplied harvest. That’s great if we’ve planted good seed, but if we’ve sown bad seed, then we will reap pain, loss, disaster and regret—lots of it. Furthermore, if we don’t plant anything, we’ll reap nothing but drought. In other words, say we sow neglect in a relationship, chances are good that we won’t just reap reciprocal neglect; we may well reap a loss of the relationship. Still, some people think they can “get away” with sowing bad behavior because they don’t see a bad return on their bad seed. Yet.

   Principle #4: You reap later than you sow. Seeds take time to grow and crops take time to manifest. That’s why we have “seasons”; there is planting time and harvest time. We don’t harvest in the spring, meaning we don’t harvest immediately after we plant. The same is true in the spiritual realm; harvests take time. But—and this is key—a crop will appear. We will reap the consequences of our actions. Moreover, just as some seeds take longer than others to produce—beans sprout in weeks; oaks take decades—some actions take longer to manifest consequences than others. Lesson? Just because a harvest doesn’t happen immediately, doesn’t mean it’s not coming. This is good news for folks awaiting a good harvest produced from good seed. It’s not particularly good news for those who’ve sown wrong seed.

   So what of Alex? After she grasped the law of sowing and reaping, she decided to host a baby shower for every pregnant woman in her church—no lie. In short, she sowed the kind of seed she wanted to produce. Within a period of time, she became pregnant and had a child and I believe she now has two children. She sowed seed into the lives of others of the kind she wanted to reproduce, and she was blessed with a “harvest” of that seed.

If you take nothing else away from this principle, understand this: If you sow no seed, you will not—you cannot—reap any harvest. A crop cannot grow where it has not been planted.

   Need money? Give money. Want to get married? Bless others in their marriages. Want to see loved ones saved? Pray for others’ loved ones. Want success in business or school? Help others to succeed in theirs. It’s not difficult.

It is your key to destiny.

   

 

 

  

  

DRIVE YOUR VISION.