The Lonely Years

Man in Alley - FREETHE LONELY YEARS

   We all want to fulfill our destinies, to do that thing we were born to do, and to hear, in the end, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” The thing is, we often don’t realize what we’re asking. Do we really comprehend that destiny chasing is going to involve a prep time—probably long, most likely painful, and definitely lonely? We’re required to “learn the ropes,” “do the grind,” “burn the midnight oil,” and “stay the course” —often in the midst of confusion, fear, fatigue, disappointment, isolation and even pain.

   Now are we still willing to sign on to fulfill that mission in life?

   You know what they say: “The greater the destiny, the longer the prep time.” And it’s true. We can—and will—spend years preparing educationally, spiritually and character-wise.

   Training: For instance, what job or ministry doesn’t involve some type of training, whether it’s a formal post-secondary ed program, an internship, or simply a period of “working your way up” the ladder to more responsibility? Guess what? All of that takes time—usually years.

   Joseph (Jacob’s son) spent years as a slave in Potiphar’s house in Egypt. Little did he know that he, a Hebrew, was being trained by God in Egyptian culture, language, and customs as well as in how to manage a large household (think business) and how to conduct himself around Egyptian nobility. But then it got worse. Joseph was sent to prison for years after being falsely accused of attempted rape. And what was the point of that little time-out? He learned how the “other half” lived: the working class, the poor, and the helpless. He encouraged them, supervised them, and set an example for them. All of these “chance” misfortunes were really God’s way of preparing Joseph to assist Pharaoh in leading and managing the economics of a nation he previously knew nothing about.

   Trust: What calling doesn’t involve developing a solid and grounded understanding of who God is, a revelation of our identity in Him, a trust in Him that can’t be shaken, and a faith to move mountains?

   King David, before he was king, spent sixteen years running from King Saul who wanted to kill him. And what had David done? Nothing. King Saul was simply jealous of God’s call upon David’s life. So David spent years running for his life and hiding in caves. He was often hungry, scared, and lonely.

   Nevertheless, he learned what we all need to learn in order to fulfill our destinies: an unequivocal and unshakable faith in God—no matter what. No matter that, every day, his life was in danger. No matter that he had powerful enemies, besides Saul. No matter that he was responsible for the care, feeding and safety of hundreds of warriors and their families.

   No matter what, David learned unwavering faithfulness, steadfastness, and trust in God.

   Character-building: What calling doesn’t involve everyone’s favorite: developing character and integrity? We can (and will) spend years while God “skims the dross” of our moral character until the gold shines through. Why? Because those who chase their destinies without concern for the quality of their morals, values, and principles first will often corrupt themselves and then have no qualms about destroying others. Sad, but true.

   Moses endured forty years of character-building on the backside of the desert after murdering a Hebrew and fleeing for his life. He’d been raised in Pharaoh’s own household with all of the advantages that that brought with it and probably (I’m speculating) had a pretty healthy estimate of himself by his 40th birthday. From forty to eighty, he ended up tending sheep—probably not what he had envisioned himself doing; he ended up married to a shepherd girl—a far cry from the Egyptian princess he probably would have married; and he ended up leading a nation of poor, fugitive slaves—probably not the sophisticated and cultured nation he had intended to lead. But in the end, the Bible says that Moses was the humblest man who ever lived.

The serious problem is that if we don’t know that God will spend whatever time it takes training us for our destinies before launching us into them, we can fall prey to some very destructive mindsets which can then easily derail us in the end.

   Mindset #1: “I made a mistake—if I were supposed to be doing this thing, it wouldn’t be so hard or take so long.” Not true. Building knowledge of our work, trust in our God, and developing of our character takes time. Period. Whether something is easy or not is not the compass as to whether it’s God’s will for our lives. Ask David.

   Mindset #2: If I were supposed to be doing this thing, there wouldn’t be so much spiritual warfare. Wrong. Maybe. Sometimes what we attribute to “the devil attacking” is really not. Sometimes things go wrong because we’ve violated a Biblical principle about how to do that thing. Sometimes it might be that other people are simply misbehaving and their behavior affects us. Sometimes it might be that we simply live in a fallen world and things go wrong.

   However, that said, it might be an enemy attack. If so, that is NOT an indication that you’re not supposed to be doing what you believe you were called to do. While the devil can’t tell the future (which is dependent upon your choices), he can see what it is you’re planning and preparing to do. Remember, his mission is to “kill, steal and destroy” and so, chances are that he’ll at least try to wreck your dream—once anyway. And the bigger threat your destiny is to him, the more he’s likely to try.

   Do not quit.

   Mindset #3: If I were supposed to be doing this thing, I’d be better at it or more talented or it would come easier. Probably not. God loves to take the weak, the uneducated, the not talented (in that area) and raise them up to do what, for them, would be impossible in the natural. For example, how many stories have I heard through the years about people who were terrified to speak in public—and God made them preachers? Or people who hate to write—and God had them write a book? Or people who had trouble in school—and God made them teachers? Et cetera, etc… And why does God do it this way? So that He gets the glory for what we do, not ourselves nor our natural talents. Message? If you can’t do that thing, don’t assume God won’t prepare you to do that thing.

   Bottom line: If it’s a desire of your heart, no matter how impossible or difficult it seems, most likely God put it there and wants you to fulfill the destiny connected to it.

   Do the math. God + you = success.

 

  

Tantrums, Meltdowns and Nuclear Options

Man crying II   TANTRUMS, MELTDOWNS AND NUCLEAR OPTIONS

   My homework policy is posted, in giant letters, right up at the front of my classroom: “Just Do It.”  I like it. It’s succinct and to the point: no excuses, no procrastinating, no blowing it off – just get it done.

   Nevertheless, sometimes we have a problem getting it done – whatever “it” is. Just because we reach adult status does not mean we never have the temptation to dodge the boring, the hard or the seemingly pointless. There are all kinds of things in life that we would prefer to put off, avoid or skip entirely. Nevertheless, we can’t. Those things are not optional; they’re mandatory “must-do’s”, meaning there will be consequences if we don’t do them. And they won’t be good.

   I remember in graduate school, I had to do a final thesis paper on the influence that writing has on students’ reading. The problem was, I wanted to do that paper about as much as I wanted to spend a week cleaning outhouses. However, that mattered not. So I took a stab at it. And then another. And another. Then I raged and then I cried and then I took numerous naps. It’s not that I couldn’t do the paper; I just didn’t want to. I simply did not want to have to spend weeks wading through countless boring articles trying to find which would best prove the point, and then spend another couple of weeks writing it all up. I knew there was a connection between writing and reading. My professors knew there was a connection. So why did I have to prove it?

   That was my first excuse.

   My second excuse was that it was hard. (It really wasn’t.) My third excuse was that nobody really cared anyway. I know I barely cared. But when I couldn’t think of any more excuses, I realized there was one truth which I was ignoring entirely to my own peril: without the dumb paper, I wouldn’t graduate.

   Sometimes we simply don’t want to do that thing we have to do and what’s more – no one can make us!

   Except us.

   Sometimes we just need to push through the frustration, the tears, the rage, the pain. Still, beginning can be the hardest part of doing anything – even if it’s something we really want or need to do. But why is beginning the most difficult part?

   Reason #1: It might take some time before I see any results. The fact is, it’s hard to get up and running, doing the difficult thing and persevering when we may not see results for some time. Dieting comes to mind; many folks put off losing those pounds because it will probably be at least a few weeks before the scale tips in the right direction. Where’s the fast-track to that?? The unwelcome truth is that it takes time to do some things: earning the promotion, building the business, getting the degree, or writing the book. Building credit? Toning or buffing up? How about training those kidlets? (Ever wonder whether you’re going to survive that little endeavor?) How about building – or rebuilding – that relationship? You know what they say . . . “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

   Where would we be today if Rome – the first democratic republic in history – had never been built?

Reason #2: It’s too much work! Usually the things we want to avoid are not easy things. They might well be quick but not easy. Ever have to apologize for that thing you wish you’d never said or done? Shouldn’t take that long, but . . . Or what about the “E” word: “exercise”? Twenty minutes a day isn’t a lifetime but lifting those weights or running a mile can feel that way. Passing that course? How about cleaning the house or revamping the landscape or de-cluttering the attic, garage and/or basement? Work all. Rebuilding trust in a relationship might involve all kinds of hoops to jump through – high ones. Climbing the corporate ladder? That takes toil and endurance. Or how about this: writing the book perhaps wasn’t hard but the editing, the revision, and then rewriting the revision? And let’s not forget the querying, the platform building, and the promotion. There’s work.

   My son summed it all up rather nicely with a little sign that says, “Do what’s right, not what’s easy.”

Reason #3: I might fail. Maybe. But those who never even try have already failed. There’s failing in disgrace: never attempting that thing or quitting when it gets hard, and there’s failing with honor: you gave it your best.

   Your dream: Could it take a long time? Will it be hard? Might you fail?. Probably. Yes. Maybe. But the longer it takes and the harder it is and the more risk of failure, then the bigger the payoff, the reward, the satisfaction. But regardless of any other thing you gain, perhaps the biggest bonus to you will be a brand new confidence that you can, that you do have what it takes and that, from now on, there’s nothing you can’t do. That alone makes it all worthwhile.

   Just do it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“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).

 

 

 

 

Magic Words—For Good Or For Evil.

Word FistMAGIC 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.