Some Things You’re Just Not Supposed to Talk About.

Firestorm AzDude

SOME THINGS YOU’RE JUST NOT SUPPOSED TO TALK ABOUT.

   Did you know that hell doesn’t exist? I didn’t either but it’s on the internet. And apparently some pastor is preaching it, so it must be true. And who am I to argue with a pastor? I think his premise is that God is not that “mean”—he would never create such a horrific place. But, having been to Baltimore, I’m not so sure.

   Rhetoric aside—there is a hell. Unfortunately, I wish I were joking about the existence of pastors preaching that hell isn’t real but, sadly, that’s no lie; they’re out there.  Furthermore, the concept of hell is not the only foundational principle in scripture that they’ve decided needs a little makeover—there are many more. So, just for the sake argument (because—why not?), let’s see how well those revisions stand up to a little truth and common sense.

Hell—Yes or No?

   The fact is that there are a growing number of churches where the concept of hell has been banished from doctrine altogether based on the flawed assertion that because God is love, then he would never be capable of creating a place designed for the sole purpose of torturing poor, unsuspecting humanoids. If I may say—that contention makes about as much sense as AOC on a good day. Here’s why:

  • If there’s no hell, then Christ died to save us from—what?
  • The existence of hell does not negate God’s love for mankind. In fact, if He didn’t love people, why would he have endured any death for mankind much less the unreservedly horrific crucifixion he bore on the Cross?
  • On a personal note, just because I don’t let you into my house with mud on your shoes, doesn’t mean I don’t love you; you just have to lose the mud on your shoes and you’re in. Likewise, just because God doesn’t let you into his throne room with sin on your soul, doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you. It does mean He is “of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look upon sin” (Hab. 1:13); it does not mean He could just tolerate sin if He felt like it. Moreover, He did die so that you could be cleansed from sin. So then, if He can have no intimacy with sin, and if He died so that you could be cleansed of it, what more do you want from Him? But regardless, bottom line—his house, his rules.
The Word of God—Is It or Isn’t It?

   Another little pet rationalization made by those who don’t like what’s in the Bible is that it isn’t really God’s Word anyway so why do we have to do anything it says? You don’t. It’s a free country. Just remember that freedom of choice does not equate to freedom from consequences.

   Some years ago, in the midst of a particularly long and painful season of life, I experienced a crisis of faith in which I realized that if I were going to walk the difficult path God was asking me to walk, I needed to know that He was truly real. However, I knew I couldn’t be certain of that unless I really believed, beyond a doubt, that His Word had actually been written by Him and not “coauthored” or altered or made up entirely. In short, I asked Him to prove to me that He actually wrote the Bible. (Yep, I did that.) And He did prove it. Within one week, I heard the same teaching from Josh McDowell and Charles Stanley on the impossible mathematical odds of prophecy in the Bible coming to pass through sheer coincidence. Break it down:

  • First, the Bible contains three types of prophecy: predictions concerning the nation of Israel and the Jewish people; Old Testament predictions identifying the coming Messiah; and End-Time prophecy.
  • There are over 300 Messianic prophecies in the Bible and the odds of just eight of those 300 happening randomly by chance are one in 1023 (that’s a 1 followed by 23 zeroes).
  • The odds of the whole 300 happening through sheer chance are literally impossible to calculate.
  • No other holy book from any other religion contains prophecy validating its divine authorship.

The bottom line is that a person has to have more faith to believe that many prophecies could possibly have come to pass through random coincidence than simply to believe that there is truly a God who predicted those events in the Bible, thereby proving that He wrote his Word.

The “Good Person” Myth

   I used to believe that there was some cosmic scale in heaven and when we die, somehow God manages to pile our good deeds on one side of the scale and our bad deeds on the other, and whichever way the scales tipped would determine where we’d spend eternity. And let’s face it—unless we grew up in bubble wrap, we all thought that at some point. Moreover, just about every other religion bows to some version of the “good person” dogma. Reincarnation, for example, is the same deal except that you have unlimited lifetimes to straighten out your karma. (But did you ever wonder: If you’re really bad in your last life and come back as, say, a cockroach in the next, how do you work your way up from there? By being the best cockroach you can be?)

Here’s the problem with the “good person” argument: If we could be “good enough,” then Christ died for nothing.

   Think about it: If any of us could possibly be good enough to get into heaven without any supernatural intervention, then wouldn’t God just let us do it? Why would He have sent His son to suffer and die? After all, what parent would even consider sending their child to die in the first place, much less for someone who didn’t need it?

   So that must mean we do need it.

And… So What?

   We may not think that this whole concept of people twisting the truth of the Word is really all that prevalent and so it’s not really that big a deal—right?

   So wrong.

   Altering the truth of the Word of God equates to one thing: deception. And this deception is wide-spread and becoming more so every day. And that makes it a very big deal.

   The real truth is that however we think about these three concepts in this life—the authenticity of the Bible, the reality of hell, and the method by which we are saved from hell—these will affect how we live and how we teach others to live. And it will affect something else as well: our eternal destinies. Can we afford to get that wrong?

   Maybe it’s time we talk about it.

 

 

(pic by AzDude)

 

 

 

The Myth of “Self-Esteem”

Self-Esteem

THE MYTH OF “SELF-ESTEEM”

     Without self-esteem, we cannot have the kind of authentic self-confidence needed to drive our dreams and visions. But for all the talk about it, what really is “self-esteem” anyway? The dictionary defines it as “a liking and respect for oneself”. The problem is that achieving self-esteem seems to have been so over-emphasized in recent decades that, for many, it now qualifies as an end in itself. However, the fact is that self-esteem is a consequence of other actions, not a goal which can be realized independently.

Self-Esteem Is Owed—Or Not?

     Self-esteem is not something that anyone can provide for another person. And yet that’s what our society has been trying to do for a long time. Trophies for participation, grades no lower than a B, promotions based on criteria other than performance, and “freebies” doled out right and left are all giving many people a sense of superiority for accomplishing very little, if anything. Unfortunately, the consequence of this mentality has not fostered success for people, but rather a sense of being entitled to success simply because one exists.

     The tragedy is that when people take no opportunity to earn success, then they likewise have no opportunity to respect or esteem themselves.

     While it’s true that self-esteem is necessary to possess the self-confidence we need to pursue our goals and visions, that only happens when a person has three things which, together, are the true recipe for self-esteem.

Thing One: Accountability

     First of all, before any other thing, people need to learn that they are accountable for their own actions, and then they need to understand that if they are not, consequences will follow. Unfortunately, many in our society seem to feel that it’s “mean” to hold folks accountable for their behavior.

     I remember years ago when I was a know-nothing student teacher covering a study hall one day with a very large group of students who set out to take advantage of the know-nothing student teacher. (Talk about being thrown to the lions.) Two girls in particular went out of their way to be disruptive and rude and the more they were asked to stop, the more they laughed and cranked up the behavior. They didn’t think I could or would do anything about it. Unfortunately for them, I had been told by another teacher that if I had any problems with students, I could assign them a Saturday detention. Knowing this, I was nice enough even to warn the girls what their next Saturday might look like. Evidently, they didn’t believe me and pretty much dared me to go there. So I went there.

     It turns out that these two particular young ladies were members of the school’s ski club. And on Saturday that particular ski club was going skiing. None of my business. Until the school principal came to me with the girls in tow, explaining how sorry they were and that they would like very much to go on the ski trip. They even cried to prove the point.

     Now if their behavior hadn’t been so deliberately in-your-face, I’m sure I would’ve said some version of no harm, no foul; have a good time. However, that not being the case – at all – I said no, that they needed to serve their time. I was looking down the road at what they would learn if they were sent merrily up the ski slope: that their atrocious behavior held no consequence and that they would never be held accountable for it. Future consequences for bad behavior could, after all, be far more serious. Unfortunately for me, the principal did not see it my way. To the best of my recollection, he was not happy with me. He believed that it was more important that these girls have fun than that they learn accountability. The girls did serve their time and I’m pretty certain that, to this day, they have not forgotten the experience. I like to think that once they had children of their own (it happened that long ago), they would’ve seen the situation in a different light. At least I hope.

Thing Two: Responsibility 

     In order to foster a sense of self-esteem, a person needs sole responsibility for a job, a chore or an assignment of some kind. It is this kind of responsibility which gives a person a chance to earn success through hard work, problem-solving, right choices, overcoming challenges to motivation, and perseverance.

     It is that success that fosters self-esteem.  

     But what if a person is not able to achieve success? What if she fails? The fact is that sometimes – especially if a person is not particularly trying to succeed – she needs to be allowed to fail. Sometimes the success lies in the dusting off and beginning again. It’s these situations which teach us that we have what it takes to persevere, and it’s that discovery which breeds self-respect. However, if a person has someone continually rescuing them from failure or even from having to work hard, that discovery is never made.  A person who has no responsibility for anything cannot truly earn success, and it is that earned success which actually gives a person a sense of self-esteem.

Thing Three: Acceptance

     A person certainly needs the acceptance of others in order to have self-esteem; making him responsible for his own actions or for a job of some kind does not mean that he doesn’t need support. The challenge to others is for that support not to become enabling. But for a person to know that he is accepted for who he is and supported as he “tries his wings” is essential to a sense of self-esteem. If a person works his tail off and yet cannot find acceptance and support, he may come to believe that working longer and harder is the only path to acceptance. In the meantime, his developing sense of self-esteem becomes based on performance: he is only valuable for what he does and not for who he is. The good news to anyone suffering from a lack of acceptance and support is that we have a Father in heaven who is happy to provide those for us.

     If a person is continually rescued from disappointment and failure or simply allowed to quit when things get tough, he will develop a belief that that rescue or that “freebie” is owed to him. Furthermore, if he is not given a responsibility to hone his character, he will never experience true success. Finally, if he does not have the healthy support of those he respects, he will conclude that his worth is only based on what he can produce.

     True “self-esteem” does not have to be propped up with trophies, compliments or the approval of others. It’s evidence of self-respect.

     And that’s a gift only you can give yourself.  

 

 

The Quest: to “Find Yourself”

Hippies

THE QUEST: TO “FIND YOURSELF”

Legend has it that during the renowned decades of the 60’s and 70’s, a cultural movement was birthed to “find” oneself. Now this being a noble quest, it was generally only embarked upon by those brave souls willing to cast aside the leaden anchors of “the establishment” for the vast poppy fields of some multi-dimensional utopia. And the fearless soldiers willing to pioneer this mission? They were known as “hippies”—those heroic spirits who faithfully preached the gospel of “free love,” mind-expanding substances, and marathon meditations at communes overseen by the latest guru-du-jour. Consequently, LSD provoked excursions into realms of “higher consciousness;” Jimi Hendrix supplied the psychedelic melodies to accompany those trips; and “love” and “peace” embraced all who engaged in the evolution of humankind to a higher spiritual dimension. And why again? All to answer the eons-old question: “Why am I here?” But—did it work?

No.

The Quest

This mission to find one’s purpose in life is nothing new. Since the dawn of time, cavemen have etched their artistic queries into the nearest rock wall while millions of years later, in a static-filled broadcast from the moon, astronauts would announce their solution to that intangible question: “One small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.” But a giant leap toward what? Toward the answer to that galling mystery: “What is my purpose in life?”

The ironic thing is that despite our advances in technology, medicine, psychology, and philosophy, many millions world-wide still, like hysterical ants, run amok chasing the elusive answer to that burning question in all its universal forms:

  • Who am I?
  • Why was I born?
  • Where am I going?
  • How do I “find myself”?
  • What is my purpose in life?
The Answer  

The solution to this grand cosmic riddle is not so mysterious after all. In fact, the answers to these questions have been around longer even than all of the cathedrals, temples, and mosques built to answer them. Our purposes have been staring us in the face for over two thousand years. Here are just a few:

  • “’Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind, and soul… and love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matt. 22:37-39)
  • “’Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight the paths for him’” (Luke 3:4)
  • Feed the hungry and thirsty, clothe the naked, include the stranger, care for the sick, and visit those in prison. (Matt. 25:35-40)
  • “’Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation’” (Mark 16:15).
  • “…always stand for the truth” (II Cor. 13:8)

These are just a miniscule portion of the instructions given in the Word of God regarding what we’re supposed to be doing. Of course, the objection is usually some form of “Not everyone is called to do ministry.” Correct. However, everyone is called to do any or all of the above at any given time during any given day. We don’t have to be prophesied over, Bible-school educated, ordained, or “in ministry” to love God and people, to care for those who need our help, to share the Gospel or to stand for truth. Still, the ways we do this will be unique to the calling the Lord has given to each of us.

The War for the Culture

Years ago—I don’t know when—Lance Wallnau released a teaching on what he called the “Seven Mountains of Culture”. His premise is that every culture, past or present, is comprised of seven components of culture and that whoever “owns” these mountains, essentially rules the culture. (Since then, I’ve taken the liberty of adding an eighth mountain.) The eight mountains are the Church, the government, the family, the business/marketplace realm, education (PK-college), the media, the world of arts/entertainment and, I might add, the field of technology. With the rapid growth of industries like AI (Artificial Intelligence), robotics, and human engineering, we desperately need Christians in this industry as well as in every other one of the seven components of culture.

The point is that every one of us has been assigned by God to at least one of these mountains to fulfill, in some shape or form, the purposes listed above. If we teach or preach, it’s for the sake of sharing and standing in the truth of the Gospel. If we minister—whether in a church, a hospital, or a home—it’s for the sake of caring for people and meeting their needs. If we work in the business realm, it’s for the sake of helping to fund the kingdom of God.

There is no work that cannot benefit the Kingdom of God.

Your “Calling”

It doesn’t matter what you’re called to do, you have been specifically assigned by God to do that particular thing on the individual mountain he’s called you to. Moreover, your desire to do that thing is not an accident or a random occurrence but a God-ordained purpose for you to fulfill.

  • “’You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last…’” (John 15:16).
  • “Lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God” (Eph. 4:1).
  • “’We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned to us by the one who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work’” (John 9:4).

These scriptures are just a few of many confirming our assignments. Moreover, each of us has a Book of Destiny in heaven which, according to King David, contains a page outlining God’s purpose for each day of our lives. “…all my days were written in Your book and ordained for me before one of them came to be” (Ps. 139:16). Nevertheless, this does not mean that we have no free will in determining what happens in our lives; rather, the books of destiny indicate God’s intended will for our lives but we are free to reject those plans and purposes if we choose. However, the good news is that if we’re willing to ask him, God is more than happy to reveal our God-given destinies, including the culture mountains on which we are to accomplish those purposes.

There’s nothing more fulfilling than finding the will of God for our lives and then accomplishing that will. And it doesn’t take mind-altering drugs, a visit to the village psychic, or a trip up a mountain peak to confer with the Dalai Lama to figure out what we were born to do. Just open the book—the Word of God.  

That’s where you’ll “find yourself.”

 

 

 

Meanwhile—What We Don’t See…

God's Eye in Space 2
God’s Eye in Space (NASA)

   On June 29th, my son in California broke his finger playing football (boys!). The problem was the health insurance at his new job didn’t kick in until July 1st—sixty days after his date of hire. Given that, he had one of two bad choices: either pay hundreds of dollars out-of-pocket at the Urgent Care or tough it out and wait two days to get treatment—which is where he was leaning.

   My son moved to California in January 2018 after graduation from college and got his first job which provided health coverage. Then last summer, I removed him from my health insurance because he didn’t need it anymore. Or, at least I thought I did. Turns out I hadn’t taken him off my insurance but I didn’t realize that until a month ago—four weeks before his new insurance kicked in. Seems he’d been on my insurance all this time. Of course, we decided there was no reason to take him off until July 1st when his own insurance became official, although the odds of him getting sick or having some unfortunate accident were very slim… But still—there was the football. And we’re not stupid.

   Enter the broken finger.

Coincidence?

   While some would say it was a lucky coincidence I’d forgotten to remove him from my health insurance, I’d say not. Moreover, the timing of the revelation of my mistake was no coincidence either: If I’d realized the error sooner when he still had coverage at his old job, I would’ve removed him. But if I’d never discovered it, he still would’ve paid for the Urgent Care since he wouldn’t have told them he had insurance—because he didn’t even know it. So what happened?

   God happened.

   Somehow—I don’t know how—Aaron remained on the insurance and his treatment was covered (which is a good thing because he might need surgery). But how many times, when we have absolutely zero idea, is God working invisibly behind the scenes to work out some situation or prevent some problem that isn’t even on our radar yet? Or that never even happens at all because he is working behind the scenes?

It’s Happened Before…

   Time after time, we see this scenario unfold in the Bible. Take, for example, the Old Testament story of Hannah who wanted so badly to have a child but couldn’t. Still, she never stopped praying for a son and, in her desperation, promised God that if he’d give her one, she’d dedicate the child to the Lord. As a result, she became pregnant with Samuel, raised him till he was weaned and then, when he was only three, took him to Jerusalem and left him with the priest Eli to raise. Three years old! I can’t even imagine the grief she suffered in fulfilling her vow.

   But—the story doesn’t end there. The Bible tells us that Eli’s sons, who were also priests, were very wicked. They took the best cuts of meat offered to God, “treating the Lord’s offerings with contempt,” and they seduced the young women assisting at the  Temple entrance. And Eli did nothing about it.

  Meanwhile, the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favor with the Lord and with men” (I Sam. 2:26).

   Eventually, a prophet came to Eli with a word from the Lord that because of his sons’ sins and his own failure to correct or remove them, they would die on the same day. Furthermore, his family would never again serve as priests, and every member of his family would die a violent death before their time.

   The Bible says that in those days, the word of the Lord was rare and visions uncommon, but meanwhile, the boy Samuel was serving the Lord by assisting Eli” (3:1).

   “Meanwhile” indicates God’s silent work in Samuel behind the scenes to prepare a powerful prophet in the midst of an evil and godless culture. No one knew God was busy doing that but, for the first time in a very long time, a prophet was being raised up to bring the word of the Lord to a people who’d been in a spiritual drought for decades. In other words, when it looked like nothing was happening and God had abandoned his people, he was really quietly working the circumstances for their good.

The Prince of Egypt

   Joseph, the beloved son of Jacob, is another example of God’s invisible hand. After being sold by his brothers, he ended up a slave in Potipher’s house where it looked as though he would spend the rest of his life in lonely servitude. But meanwhile, in the middle of that tragic situation, he was learning the Egyptian language, culture, politics, and the protocols of the Egyptian noble class—that is, until he was thrown into prison, accused of a crime he didn’t even commit. Once there, he was thrust into the midst of a dungeon full of Class A felons but what did he do? The same thing he’d done in Potipher’s house: operated in his administrative and leadership skills until he was eventually put in charge of all of those reprobate prisoners. And meanwhile, as he was busy organizing them, he was learning how the other half lived: the ways of the Egyptian commoners, their dialects, and their ideals as well as their problems and concerns—all things which were pretty handy to know once he was promoted to the second-in-command of all of Egypt

We Don’t Know It Until We Know It.

   The thing about the “meanwhiles” of life is that we don’t know they’re in motion behind the scenes until one day when suddenly something happens and it all becomes clear: God was always at work, even when we couldn’t see it.

   I remember twenty years ago when, as a single mom, I began searching for a teaching job to support my two sons. I’d begun looking in February when it became clear that the private school I was at wouldn’t pay enough to support my kidlets, but summer came and still, nothing was happening. I had applied for positions and gone on interviews but it seemed there was always someone else with more experience or the job was temporary, et cetera. However, I didn’t have forever—time was running out; districts don’t usually hire year round so if you’re not snapped up by September, chances are you’ll wait another whole year. But I didn’t have another year and I was getting scared. How would I feed my children or keep the roof over their heads?

   One day in July, I cried out yet again to the Lord, desperately asking what the hold-up was. Suddenly, I saw a picture of a huge millstone turning, but very slowly. I wondered what on earth that meant and the Lord said to me, “The wheels are turning and the position you’re seeking is coming, but until then, I’m working on the other people involved.”

   Meanwhile.

   It turns out that someone who was eligible to retire had delayed turning in his paperwork but the Lord knew the position was going to open up in that district and that’s where he wanted me. However, the former teacher had needed a little nudging and God was behind the scenes doing it.  

   We never know…

   When it looks bleakest and it seems there’s nothing remotely on the horizon, what we don’t see is God all around us, doing what only he can do—working it all out. And he’s doing the same for you. Just believe.

   Your “meanwhile” is happening right now.

  

You Have the Right to Remain Silent—and to Speak Freely

The Constitution

YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT—OR TO SPEAK FREELY.

   Every year some students come to my classroom with the idea that the United States is a horrific nation, that it is unfair, unjust, and essentially, that it’s the worst place on the planet to live. Other students have no idea whatsoever what this nation stands for, the rights and liberties that we have by virtue of The Constitution of the United States and, in fact, they barely know what The Constitution is. As for The Bill of Rights, that’s not even on their radar. So—we have some frank and honest discussions about what this nation stands for, the rights that we have, and the importance of defending and protecting those rights because if they are taken away, we won’t get them back. Virtually none of the students know these rights. Consequently, because the language of The Bill of Rights is so archaic, we spend some time breaking it down.

The United States of America is the only nation in the world that guarantees these rights to its citizens.

The Purpose of The Bill of Rights

   The Bill of Rights contains the first 10 Amendments to The Constitution. It spells out Americans’ rights in relation to their government. It guarantees civil rights and liberties to the individual—like freedom of speech, press, and religion. It sets rules for due process of law and reserves all powers not delegated to the Federal Government to the people or the States. According to the National Archives, here is the breakdown of the rights that we have in this great nation:

The First Amendment
  • Contains the right to express ideas through speech and the press,
  • To assemble or gather with a group to protest or for other reasons,
  • To ask the government to fix problems,
  • To protect the right to religious beliefs and practices, and
  • To prevent the government from creating or favoring a religion.
The Second Amendment
  • Protects the right to keep (own) and bear arms (carry weapons).
The Third Amendment 
  • Prevents government from forcing homeowners to allow soldiers to use their homes. (Before the Revolutionary War, laws gave British soldiers the right to take over private homes.)
The Fourth Amendment 
  • Bars the government from unreasonable search and seizure of an individual or their private property. (The government must have a search warrant or grounds for arrest.)
The Fifth Amendment 
  • Provides several protections for people accused of crimes:
  • Serious criminal charges must be started by a grand jury,  
  • A person cannot be tried twice for the same offense (double jeopardy),
  • Property may not taken away without just compensation (fair payment),
  • People have the right against self-incrimination (testifying against themselves) and
  • People cannot be imprisoned without due process of law (fair procedures and trials).
The Sixth Amendment 
  • Provides additional protections to people accused of crimes:
  • The right to a speedy and public trial, trial by an impartial jury in criminal cases,
  • To be informed of criminal charges,
  • To be represented by a lawyer,
  • Witnesses must face the accused, and
  • The accused is allowed his or her own witnesses.
The Seventh Amendment 
  • Extends the right to a jury trial in Federal civil cases.
The Eighth Amendment 
  • Bars excessive bail and fines and cruel and unusual punishment.
The Ninth Amendment 
  • Specific rights in The Constitution do not mean that people do not have other rights that have not been spelled out.
The Tenth Amendment 
  • The Federal Government only has those powers delegated in The Constitution. If a right is not listed, it belongs to the states or to the people.
The Truth

   I’m happy to report that by the time we finish decoding The Bill of Rights, students have a new appreciation for the United States. The fact is that America is the only nation in the world to guarantee these rights to its citizens. Millions of us will be forever grateful for the sacrifices made by our forefathers to give us this great document, but more than anything, I am grateful to the Lord for birthing this great nation 243 years ago today. So may I say—

Happy Birthday, America—and many, many more!!

 

“No”—What A Concept!

Frustrated-guitar

“NO”—WHAT A CONCEPT!

   When my kids were little (and even not so little), we played a little game. Not that it was all that fun but apparently they enjoyed it because they played it all the time. Evidently, the rules involved one or both of them—double-teaming is always an option—asking me for something to which I would say “no”. “No, you can’t stay up till midnight,” or “No, you can’t skip school to play video games,” or just plain “NO.” And that’s when the fun would happen. Basically, the object of the game was to get mom to say yes. And there were lots of strategies to win the game…

The Rules…

   There’d be the whining, as in, “C’MON, MOM! YOU PROMISED!” (I didn’t.) This tactic was often accompanied by puppy-dog eyes or followed up with, “I SWEAR I’LL NEVER ASK YOU FOR ANYTHING EVER AGAIN!” (If only…)

   There’d also be the begging. “PLEASE, CAN I, MOM?? CAN I, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEEEEEZE!”  “Maybe you can, but you may not.”

   There’d be the appeal to the Constitution. “THAT’S NOT FAIR—I HAVE RIGHTS!”  “Not until you’re 18. In the meantime, you’re suffering under the delusion that this is a democracy.”

   There’d be the guilt trip. “I’LL JUST DIE IF YOU DON’T BUY ME THE THOUSAND-DOLLAR SNEAKERS!”  “Problem solved. I guess you won’t need the sneakers.”

   There’d be the deal-making. “IF YOU LET ME GO WITH DAMIAN TO SHOOT BB’s AT OLD PEOPLE, I SWEAR I’LL TAKE OUT THE TRASH NEXT MONTH!”  “How about this for a compromise: You skip the devil’s spawn and take the trash out now.”

   There’d be the accusations. “YOU’RE THE WORST MOTHER ON EARTH!”  “And several planets.”

   There’d be the threats. “I’LL RUN AWAY FROM HOME!”  “And?”

   And as a last resort, there’d be the tantrum. This involved no real words (or none that I should publish)—although there would be yelling, much foot stomping, and even the occasional head bang on the wall (theirs, not mine). Ultimately, there’d be the evitable melt-into-a-puddle-on-the-floor scene. My response?

   “No means no.”

   It doesn’t mean “maybe,” it doesn’t mean “if we keep asking, she’ll cave,” and it certainly doesn’t mean mom didn’t really mean it.

   No means NO. Repeat as necessary.

There’s A Concept…

   Why is it so difficult for people to accept the concept of “NO”? And it’s not just children—although I see way too much of the above in school every single day. Rather, it’s also adults. And not only do adults not accept “no” from other human beings, but a “no” from God often also seems to be perceived as just another option in the salad bar of life.

   Still, while adults don’t throw tantrums per se over the word “no,” we do seem to have our own adult versions of rejecting a “NO” from God: Sure, we plead, we bargain, and we appeal to His “fairness,” but when that doesn’t work, some among us have even been known to try to lay a guilt trip on God by sobbing hysterically or punching a wall because, well—that’ll show Him. So, a tantrum is not entirely out of the question; it’ll just look a little differently than kids’ tantrums. Often an adult tantrum takes the form of the old-fashioned freeze-out: I just won’t talk to God for a while and that’ll show Him. And God’s response?

   “Sorry but—no.”

But What If We Don’t Like That?

   Too bad.

God’s Nature

   The Lord is unchangeable. That means that if we don’t like his “no,” it doesn’t matter; it’s not going to change. He doesn’t cave to the manipulation of deal-making, accusations, cold shoulders, tantrums or even the threats to quit him and go all atheist. Instead our choices are either that we adjust our attitudes and accept the “no” or—we don’t. There aren’t any other options. And if we reject his “no” and then plow on ahead to do or get that thing anyway, that means this: We will reap the consequences of rejecting his instructions. Why? Because he’s mean? No. We’ll reap the consequences because there are consequences to reap; God doesn’t say “no” just to amuse himself—he says “no” because there’s something bad lurking at the end of the shadowy tunnel. Deadly even.

It’s Hard

   We live in a culture where the word “no” doesn’t really mean “no.” Rather it’s a signal that it’s time to begin the negotiations—whatever manipulative form those might take. Nobody really means “no” anymore—so they say—which is why we now have the “Me Too” movement, the Anti-Bullying movement, and rioting in the streets: When we hear “no,” like spoiled children, we simply turn up the heat a couple hundred degrees to force the issue and get what we want. As a result, anarchy becomes the norm and—not to get too political—drug laws mean nothing, borders and boundaries mean nothing, and even crime convictions mean almost nothing.

   When we compromise the word “no,” chaos and lawlessness rule—in our families, in our schools, and certainly in our streets. Moreover, the refusal to accept a “no” will destroy us as well; we’ll morph to self-centered and selfish little people having maturity levels on par with a titsey fly. The result across the board? Wrecked and ruined lives. And all because we refuse to accept the word “no.”

   The word “no”—regardless of whether it’s decreed from God, mom or Uncle Sam—is often all that stands between us and abject misery.

   Perhaps it’s time we pay a little more homage to the word “NO”.

 

 

 

 

  

  

No Death, No Resurrection.

Resurrection

NO DEATH, NO RESURRECTION.  

   In my twenties, I lost a job. I worked as a receptionist at a place with a sales’ force which received tons of phone calls from clients—mostly not very nice people. These folks would call regarding something they weren’t at all happy about and would demand, in very loud and angry tones, to talk to this one or that one—and half the time they wouldn’t even identify themselves. To make matters worse, many times when I picked up the phone, they’d start yelling at me so I’d just connect them to the offending party.  To add to the fun, the sales manager was a jerk. In fact, he was the poster child for “jerk” (“child” being the appropriate word). Others barely tolerated him because he was indiscriminately arrogant and rude to everyone—although it did seem that those with the least important jobs were treated to the most tyrannical tirades.

   Regardless, the other part of my job was to type stuff—which was much easier since the typewriter had a much more pleasant disposition. So one day, this sales manager came in and tossed a paper at me, ordering me to type it. He said it was some kind of description of a house he was building or buying or something and for me to get it done immediately. Did I mention that he also said it was the original and that there were no copies? I looked at the pile of things I needed to type for the office and then at his paper and politely suggested that after I got all of the work-related things done, I’d be happy to do his personal typing. Well, that didn’t fly. He turned bright red, threw up his arms and began to shout that I would do it and I’d do it now.

   I kind of didn’t. The other unfortunate thing that happened was that while I was away from my desk for a moment, someone took it. Apparently, it was done by one or two anonymous people who hated him and had decided that a little payback was in order…

People Skills 101

   Long story short—he fired me. And all of his other meltdowns paled in comparison to that day. He didn’t believe I hadn’t lost it but, I have to say (and I know this isn’t very nice), that if I had to get fired, it couldn’t have been for a better reason.

   Still, I had a problem—no paycheck. And it’s difficult to get a recommendation for a new job when you’ve been fired. Needless to say, I was somewhat panicked but I ended up doing something I would never have done if I hadn’t lost that job. I went back to school and got a graduate degree in education. I didn’t do it the next day—I prayed and began to research costs, available programs, and the length of time it would take, but God showed me all of that and confirmed over and over that that was the path I was supposed to pursue. Two months later, I was in school.

   Bottom line? I wouldn’t be a teacher now if I hadn’t been fired then.

It Takes A Death

   Sometimes it takes a death before something new can be birthed—especially in God’s economy. It’s all part of the “New Wine” I mentioned a few months ago: God often does things in ways that we’d never predict—not in a million years. He uses new methods that require us to lay down our old ways of speculating about how we think he’s going to work in order to be able to wrap our heads around the new way he’s doing that new thing. In other words, we need to have a “new wineskin” mindset in order to receive the new thing he’s working out. We won’t always understand what he’s doing or how he’s doing it, but that’s why it’s called “new;” it hasn’t been experienced before.

   One of the ways he brings about a “new thing” is to kill off the “old thing”. This means  we end up experiencing the death of something we hold dear: a job, a ministry, a business, a book in process—any endeavor or dream that we’ve poured our hearts and souls into and suddenly—poof—it’s gone. And during the symbolic three days before the resurrection, we grieve, we despair, we doubt ourselves, we quit—in other words, we have no idea what’s happening and even less idea what’s about to happen.

   In short, we have not the slightest conception that that death might mean the birth of something lifechanging.

But How Do We Really Know?

   The thing about walking in faith is that we really don’t know. We don’t know what will happen in the future and so, after the death of a dream, we often envision only the worst: everlasting failure, pain and regret. However, we’re forgetting one thing:

To have faith doesn’t mean we have to summon, like cash, some random amount of belief that we can use to pay for whatever we want.

   There’re no price tags in heaven saying, “A new job costs this amount of faith” or “A healing is that much.” But we act like that. Have I prayed enough? Have I “believed” enough? Have I recited the right number of scriptures? But what’s enough?

   A grain of mustard seed.

   Jesus said that if we have the faith of a mustard seed, we can move mountains—symbolic for the impossible. The essence of faith is simply this: Do I trust God? If we believe that we have a heavenly father who truly loves us, then what do we have to fear? If one thing doesn’t work out, something else will. Which of us, as parents, would deliberately do harm to our children? Which of us looks around and says, “What can I do to hurt them today?” Still, even if we did have bad parents, we need to remember that we’re sons of a Father-King who has said, “’Even if your mother and father abandon you, I will not forsake you.’”

   God has only our good at heart. That means that if there is a death of a dream, there will be the resurrection of a new dream—it just might not be the one we thought it would be. But there can be no resurrection without a death.

   And that’s how we know.

 

Say What??

free-angry-man.jpgSAY WHAT??

   Real-life scenario (with changed names): Jack comes flying into the kitchen, ranting that the cable was out and he was missing the Cowboys beat up on the Patriots (on par with a blue moon). Jess, his wife, asks whether he remembered to pay the overdue cable bill.

   Jack snorts. “The cable bill is not overdue.”

   “Well, yeah, it is,” Jess says. “We got a late notice three weeks ago and you said that it had slipped your mind and you’d take care of it.”

   “I did not.” Jack’s face flushes rather red. “I didn’t even know it was overdue.”

   “Jack, I remember you stood right there and promised to pay it. The cable company probably disconnected the service.”

   Jack turns up the volume. “I did not say I was going to pay the cable bill—I didn’t even know about it!”

   “Jack, stop yelling. You obviously forgot.”

   Jack utters a naughty word. “I DID NOT SAY THAT!”

   Sixteen-year-old Jonathan wanders into the kitchen. “You did, dad. I heard you say it.”

   “You’re both wrong!” Jack slams the door on his way out.

I Should Say What??

   Why can’t Jack simply admit he was wrong about the cable bill? Apart from the fact that he’s probably ticked that he’s missing the game, what’s the problem with simply manning up and telling the truth? Jack knows he messed up. Jess knows Jack messed up. And Jack knows Jess knows Jack messed up. So who’s Jack trying to convince?

   Himself.

   There’s an odd dynamic at play when someone can’t admit they’re wrong: They often take extreme measures to insist that they’re not in error, that someone else is wrong and that whatever the problem is, it’s not their fault. And in the process, things can get ugly. The ritual of self-defense in the face of perceived accusation is one of nature’s most ferocious exhibitions. In fact, it can get quite bloody.

   But why?

Moral Failure Or Mistake?

   In order to comprehend why people go to all the trouble to defend themselves in the face of the clearly indefensible has more to do with the psychology of self-image than anything else.

The fact is that people who cannot admit they’re wrong when they know they are is because they haven’t learned to distinguish the difference between being wrong about something and feeling that there’s something wrong with them for having made a blunder.

   The unconscious message they hear in their heads is on par with “I’m stupid or I wouldn’t have made a mistake,” or “I’m an inferior person for having made an error.” In other words, they personalize their mistakes, interpreting them as evidence of an internal character flaw or intellectual inferiority rather than an external action like a simple misjudgment.

   I once tutored a student who would make math mistakes then fly into a rage, replete with yelling, fist pounding and swearing, all the while screaming, “I’m so stupid! I’m so stupid!” Any attempts to comfort him with the notion that he wasn’t stupid and that the whole point of school was to learn things he didn’t already know, fell on deaf ears.

   The fact is that being wrong is not a moral failure and therefore, it doesn’t qualify as evidence of such.

   Having said that, I’m not suggesting that the tantrums people throw to avoid their own self-condemnation, especially if they’re violent demonstrations, should be dismissed. As the saying goes, “That’s not okay.” Therefore, the tantrums are the issue, not necessarily the mistake. Still, regardless of the extremes to which people will go to avoid seeing themselves as deficient in some way, the dynamics are the same: People who cannot admit they’re wrong are defending their self-images, not their mistakes.

The Paradox.

   While there will always be those people who will rub it in your face should you dare to admit you’re wrong, it helps to realize that there’s something more wrong with them for needing to do that than there is with you for having erred. “I told you so” is evidence, at best, of insecurity and, at worst, it’s indicative of a mean streak. To want to make people feel badly about themselves is cruel.

   Nevertheless, those people are (hopefully) not the norm. Regardless, the fact is—and here’s the paradox—people will generally not only forgive you for admitting you’re wrong, but they’ll admire you for having the good character to do it.

   Isn’t that odd? Still, it’s the truth. We all know that admitting we’re wrong is not always easy, but it is generally well received; it demonstrates that not only are we not deficient in some internal way, but rather that we’re mature, reasonable, and humble human beings. And humble is huge. Regardless of whether people are consciously aware of it, we respect someone with the humility to admit when they’ve messed up. So—that being the case, why don’t more of us cop to being wrong when the shoe fits? Fascinating question.  Maybe because it can be a scary proposition?  If that’s the case and you need a little courage, consider that practicing the “W word” when the situation warrants may well help you to see yourself in a more positive light. After all, it takes a person of character to admit fault. And one more thing…

   Uttering the words “I was wrong” has never been listed on any certificate as an official cause of death.

  

If Not for Shelby…

Stalker IIIIF NOT FOR SHELBY…

So Rick got perp-walked out today, hand-cuffs and all, apparently for dipping into the employee association account to the tune of a felony-level little sum which, if not for Shelby, we’d never have known about (although you’d think, after three years, we’d have known about it). And if not for Shelby, who’d have guessed that Ashley’s notary license was purchased on-line (and for only $59.99)? Not me. We’d also never have known that Sarah’s bruises weren’t really from a car accident, like she’d said. Turns out a seat belt imprint on your neck doesn’t really leave four purple stripes around your throat—but, according to Shelby, an ex does.

Thank goodness for Shelby. If not for Shelby, we’d never have known that Marissa in billing hasn’t spoken to Kelly in production for almost three years. Apparently, it’s something about Kelly’s husband who used to coach Marissa’s son’s soccer team but wouldn’t give him enough field time. Marissa said it was because Kelly’s husband didn’t like “little Jackie” (ple-eeze!) and Kelly said it was because little Jackie couldn’t keep track of which end of the field he was supposed to kick the ball to.

So unfortunate.

And then there’s the mysterious case of Jonathan’s hunting buddy… If not for Shelby, no one would ever have known that Jonathan’s “hunting buddy” —the one he meets up with a few times a year for a “guys only” hunting weekend—really isn’t qualified to be on that weekend (if you get my drift) although there’s no intel yet on “his” identity. (Not that Saint Wifey has a clue, either.)

No doubt Shelby will uncover further information. We wait with baited breath.

Shelby came to us about six months ago, our latest company intern, a perky little thing, if you like that sort. But she talks non-stop; I don’t know how she ever gets any work done. Still, I guess it makes some semblance of sense that she’s a social media major—she certainly is social. But she talks incessantly: sports and politics with the guys—as if anyone really cares who does or doesn’t take a knee—and she gets the girls all rabid about which stores jack their regular prices before the “Really Big Sale”. Even the witches from HR (who think they’re better than everybody else because they have access)—she even gets them chit-chatting about stupid stuff.

Which leads me to believe Shelby could chat up a telephone pole if she really wanted to. (Who knows what she talks to when no one else is around?) Last week in the break room, for example, she actually had Meghan (the HR queen bee) melting down over some boyfriend or other—and the dead pine tree in my yard is more communicative than Meghan is. I didn’t even know Meghan wasn’t still married. Or maybe she is…

I’d really part with a fair amount of cash to know how Shelby does it.

Like yesterday, she let slip that Cam in accounting was interviewing for a new job.

“He tell you that?”

She rolled her eyes. “Of course not.”

“Then how—”

“It’s the tie. Cam never wears a tie.”

He doesn’t?

It’s bizarre what Shelby knows—she’s either got some kind of super-human spider-sense or she’s a bonafide stalker. Although I don’t know which is creepier. Still, if not for Shelby, we would never have known half the stuff that goes on behind the scenes around here. It’s such a shame that she had to go and fall all the way down those concrete steps in the basement stairwell. I’ve always said those stairs were too steep and that one day, someone was going to fall down them and break their neck.

Now we’ll never find out who Jonathan’s “hunting buddy” really is…

 

 

 

 

“The Fault In Our Stars”

Big Bang 4

“THE FAULT IN OUR STARS” (Julius Caesar)

   By the time I was five years old, I’d had stitches in my head four times. I’d also been knocked silly by a baseball bat. Apparently, the first time it happened, I was three-ish (don’t remember) when I fell off a picnic table and hit my head on the corner. Another time I decided I must have a pretty little stone lying in the street—which wouldn’t have been a particularly remarkable thing except that I was sitting in a little red wagon speeding down the road when I reached over the side of it to get the pretty little stone. Forehead on pavement. Then there was the time my three-year-old sister picked up a putting iron, looked me in the eye and said, “I’m going to hit you with this.” I laughed. She hit me. And the worst part? My father wouldn’t believe a little three-year-old would ever do such a thing. That hurt worse than the stitches. (The doctor didn’t believe me either.) The next time, I was entertaining myself by climbing onto the back of our living room couch and sliding down the front onto the seat. It was fun. Until I climbed up there, lost my balance, tipped over backwards, and crashed through the window. Add to that the head injury the time I was 14 and got hit with a car, and I guess I’ve had stitches north of my neck five times.

To Risk Or Not to Risk?

   But why? Because I was reckless. I shouldn’t have climbed onto the picnic table or leaned out of the wagon or laughed at my sister or been sliding down the furniture or tried to beat a car across the road in the first place. But I did all of that—it was my nature (emphasis on was).

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” (Shakespeare)

   Thankfully, I’ve wised up and learned that there are some things you just shouldn’t try, but the point is, that “forward drive” is a personality trait which lends itself, even now, to a willingness to take a chance. I generally don’t dive right in anymore without thinking through the consequences, but it’s okay to take a risk—sometimes.

   One the other hand, it’s possible for a person to be too cautious to the point that he or she is frightened to take any risks at all. Generally, cautious, risk-shy folks are often not just afraid an endeavor won’t work out—they’re afraid it will destroy them. The two points of view seem to be the difference between the glass being half-empty or half-full. For risk takers, it’s always half-full; things will “just” work out. The more cautious among us are glass half-empty people; “What if this happens or that happens?”

And the Answer Is…?

   A nice balance is what’s called an “acceptable risk”. It’s the willingness to take that risk after the homework has been done—and this is key—the risks have been elevated. In other words, what can I afford to lose if the risk tanks? How much money can I afford to lose if the investment or business launch or whatever doesn’t work out? If it’s an amount that won’t ruin my life or get me in debt or bankrupt me, then it’s “acceptable”. What about the risk to relationships? Is the endeavor something that might stress or destroy a relationship? Personal, business, or ministry reputations should also be a factor: Is what I’m thinking of doing going to damage the integrity of anything valuable to me? Relocation might be a factor in a risky decision: Who would a move affect besides myself? The more components we consider, the more “acceptable” any risk becomes should we choose to take it.

But What About “Faith”?

   Obviously, the whole premise of faith is that we are willing to trust the Lord enough to take a risk without any guarantee that we might not fail—and fail hard. So how do we know whether to weigh the risks before an endeavor or to dive right in and call it “faith”?

Here’s the key: Have we truly heard from the Lord about whether or not to take that risk?

   Of course waiting for that certainty can be an issue for impatient risk-takers who may just want to jump out of the boat before really taking the time to hear what God is saying about that potential peril. Peter was like that. He was often three steps ahead of the Lord—and often that didn’t work out too well for him. He jumped out of the boat and then sank. He slashed off the ear of a man who was trying to arrest Jesus. And when he should’ve taken a risk of faith, he caved. After Jesus had been arrested, Peter denied knowing him out of fear of being arrested himself—or worse. For the same reason, he abandoned Jesus at the cross.

   Where was his risk-taking nature then?

So Is It God—Or Not?

    What if we really don’t know whether we’ve heard from God and there’s a hard deadline looming to make a decision? There’s one principle we can start with when we’re trying to figure out whether our perceived “green light” is really from God: Is the risk one that will benefit his kingdom? Now that doesn’t mean the endeavor has to be ministry per se, but whatever the risky proposition is, it should somehow further God’s plans and purposes. If not, then it’s probably not a risk God would be leading us to take. Nevertheless, here’s the thing: If he is calling us to “get out of the boat” and walk on water—then we need to obey.

   If we do, then one thing I know: He will catch us if we fall.

  

DRIVE YOUR VISION.