Things I’ve Learned—And Not Always the Easy Way

Teddy Bear Looking out of Window

THINGS I’VE LEARNED—AND NOT ALWAYS THE EASY WAY

  1. God uses and multiplies the thing that’s already in your hand.
  2. You can do the right thing with the wrong attitude and it counts—because you’re trying to do the right thing.
  3. “Foregiveness” means giving something before it’s deserved. That thing is mercy.
  4. Time is the most precious commodity we have. And the clock is always ticking.
  5. “Fear of success” is not a thing. Fear of losing success is a thing.
  6. It’s better to try and fail than to live with the regret of never even having tried.
  7. Instant success often leads to inevitable failure—because we haven’t learned to manage the instant success.
  8. God is way is smarter than me.
  9. Hardheadedness is not proof of courage. Faithfulness is proof of courage.
  10. There’s a huge difference between being “done” and being “finished”.
  11. A liar might tell the truth. We’ll just never know.
  12. If you’re pursuing your destiny, sooner or later you will hit a wall. Your options are to go around it, dig under it, or blow it up. Just don’t go home.
  13. God doesn’t do social promotion. If we don’t learn it the first time, we’ll just keep repeating the lesson—again… and again…
  14. Disappointment will make you bitter if you let it. Bitterness is the cancer of the soul.
  15. Toffee cookies are really good.
  16. There will always be people who have it better than you and people who have it  worse. Which you focus on will determine the kind of person you become. 
  17. If you do the most good that you can with what you already have, you’ll discover your destiny.
  18. Some days the dream just ain’t behavin’.
  19. Life is not fair. If it were, we’d all be dead.
  20. Common sense is not that common anymore.
  21. Opportunity is a gift to be handled with gratitude.
  22. Life “on the shelf” is usually prep time for life in the spotlight.
  23. You can’t out-give God. But try anyway.
  24. A heart of flesh cannot be forged apart from trial and anguish.
  25. Silence is necessary for anything to make sense.
  26. No seed, no harvest.
  27. Tea cures everything.
  28. Loneliness is part of the human condition. Emptiness is optional.
  29. What we hear ourselves say is usually what we get ourselves.
  30. Correction is not rejection.
  31. Eternity is the great equalizer.
  32. The end does not justify the means. Ask anyone in prison.
  33. Words are a double-edged sword.
  34. In the end, “good enough” is only someone’s opinion.
  35. Santa is real.      

 

 

 

Two Words That Will Change Everything

Old couple kissing

TWO WORDS THAT WILL CHANGE EVERYTHING

   Recently I happened to see a teenager sitting at a table who was asked to get up and get a book. He never even looked up—he simply said, “Mom,” and mom, who was in another room, jumped up and hurried to get the book for him. I don’t recall that he even said “thank you”. Now, if I had to guess, I’d say that little scenario has been playing out for some time. And while I’d like to say it was rare, I can’t. We’ve all seen some version of the girl who sticks her hand out to dad and says, “Money.” There’s no real “please” involved or even if there is, it’s not really sincere. The expectation is that dad will fork over the money, no questions asked. And dad complies. Although he may have one question: “Is $25 enough?” (Probably not.)

   It’s so fun to be taken for granted, isn’t it? You’ve all probably experienced it at one time or another—having done a favor for or given to someone a few times and suddenly it becomes an expectation that your generosity will continue because—well, just because. That’s your function in life.

   Now I get the whole Christian thing about “not giving to get” and “going the extra mile” but we’re human, and when it becomes clear that another person is taking advantage of our kindness, it can sting. And that’s especially true when you’re really only trying to show love to someone and they’re just not getting the memo. It’s frustrating to say the least.

   But here’s the scary part: What if we’re one of those people? What if we’re the ones who don’t recognize the sacrifices being made for us by the people who care about us? Or even worse—what if we do know and we simply ignore them? What if we take for granted that those people who give us so much are just always going to be there because—well, why shouldn’t they? Husbands, wives, grandparents, children, friends, pastors, employers, co-workers—we don’t really need to say that we appreciate what they do—they’ll just know. Right?  Probably not. But here’s an even scarier thought: What if it’s not just people we take for granted? What if it’s God, too?

   I have to confess—more than once in the midst of worship, I’ve shifted into petition mode. Suddenly it goes from ministering to God’s heart and becomes about what I need. I drift from thanking the Lord for what He has given me and find myself asking for yet more.

But the fact is, God deserves our most sincere gratitude. And so do those who’ve been so kind to us.

   So what if this Thanksgiving, we went beyond the redundant verbal recitations of what we’re grateful for? What if we actually did something to demonstrate how thankful we are for that person, act of kindness or gift? Perhaps we could take a moment and write a “thank you” card or make that long-overdue phone call—one which really expresses our heartfelt appreciation and love for the people who’ve stood by us and helped us out? We all know someone to whom we owe a debt of gratitude. Why not pay it?   

   This Thanksgiving, let’s do the right thing and say a simple, “Thank you for everything you’ve done for me. I can’t tell you what it’s meant to me.”

   I can tell you what it will mean to them.

The Thanksgiving Blues—Or Not…

Family Feud at Thanksgiving

THE THANKSGIVING BLUES—OR NOT…

   Ask a bunch of different people what Thanksgiving is all about and you’ll get a bunch of different answers:

   DAVID (the college kid): “It’s about the turkey! And the mashed potatoes and the green bean thingy…”

   GRANDMA: “No, no! It’s all about tradition. We always use the good china and make giblet stuffing—what?? You didn’t put the giblets in the stuffing?? But it’s tradition—oh, I feel faint…”

   DAVID: “… and the homemade cranberry sauce and the sweet potato casserole…”

   TINY TOM: “Thanksgiving is when Santa comes to the mall!”

   GRANDPA: “No, dang it! It’s all about football! And one of these years Detroit is going to win!”

   UNCLE MIKE (spitting adult beverage across the room): “Bahahahaha!”

   AUNT CLARA: “It’s about decorating for Christmas! We put the tree up and the lights on and the elves on the shelves—.”

   DAD: “It’s a vacation—five days off!”

   HALEY (9th grade diva): Sigh, followed by eye roll. “Don’t you people know anything? It’s all about shopping. Black Friday starts on Thursday and runs through Saturday and then takes a break till Cyber-Monday—except for the malls open on Sunday…”

   DAVID: “… and the pumpkin pie! And apple pie and pecan pie and chocolate pie—”

   GRANDMA: “I still feel faint… maybe a little eggnog with a wee nip… What?? It’s tradition!”

   HALEY: “… then Cyber Monday runs till April…”

   TINY TOM: “It’s about Santa Claus!”

   MOM: “Thanksgiving is all about family…”

   In our culture today, the common mantra is that Thanksgiving is “all about family”. But it’s not. Nor is it about the hundred other things it’s morphed into: football, shopping, stuffing ourselves silly or gearing up for Christmas. It’s about one thing—giving thanks to God for all He’s blessed us with. It’s about gratitude for all those things we take for granted—things that so many people in other countries would give their right arms for: peace, safety, food, shelter, heat and hot water, free education. Here’s what I thank God for everyday: a home—warm and safe. Food to eat that we don’t have to hunt or plead for. Clean water to drink that we don’t have to walk miles to get every day. And then there’s the country we live in—the United States of America—the greatest country in the world. No, it’s not perfect, but it’s paradise compared to some of the countries I’ve lived in and visited as an ex-military brat. I thank God for our freedoms: we worship as we like, we can live or travel anywhere we choose, we can vote and have a voice in our government, and we have the right to speak freely and even to protest our government officials. And I can tell you—that doesn’t happen in a lot of countries.

   It’s really eye-opening to think about how different our lives would be if we didn’t have those  things.

There will always be those who have more than we have and those who have less than we have. Which we focus on will determine whether we’re  grateful or bitter.

   Around the holidays, it might be difficult to find anything to feel thankful for. Maybe we don’t have family or maybe ours is not exactly the flawless family we see so much of on television. Consequently, we can fall for the myth that everyone else has a “perfect” holiday and so we’re left to suffer the soul-splintering pain of what we don’t have. As a result, any feelings of gratitude are often overshadowed by the grief of loneliness or other losses—and that grief can be devastating.

   But what if we took a moment to look at everything we do have? As I tell my sons and students, there are always going to be those who have more than we have and those who have less than we have. Which we focus on will determine whether we’re grateful or bitter. Whether we have a happy life or a miserable one depends on one thing: our attitude. It’s a choice.

   Choose gratitude—and have a happy Thanksgiving.

 

  

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

  

  

  

  

  

  

                   

      

  

  

  

  

Your God Moment.

Road-Pier in Fog

YOUR GOD MOMENT.

   One night many years ago, I was praying and pleading with God for the salvation of a loved one. (I’ll call him Ben.) I’d been doing this for more than a year and suddenly, in the middle of a sentence, the Lord said to me, “Ask me for anything in the whole world you want.” Now this was quite a shock because the God (I thought) I knew just didn’t give that kind of a blank check. Still, within less than a nano-second, a couple of possibilities stampeded through my mind. But—which to pick? It basically boiled down to one of two things—should I ask for Ben’s salvation because he needed it so much? Or should I ask for my mom whom doctors had warned “might” have a very serious problem? I was torn. There could be grave consequences if I made the wrong choice, but I came to this conclusion (and don’t think it was easy): Since my mom already knew the Lord, the worst case scenario for her would be to go to heaven. (It would be the rest of us who would suffer.) Worst case scenario for Ben would be that he’d most definitely go elsewhere.

   “Lord,” I cried, “I don’t want Ben to go to hell!”

   “You got it,” the Lord said.

   “But God,” I asked (still not quite sure what was happening), “what if I’d asked you for a Porsche or something?”

   “I knew you wouldn’t ask for anything outside of My will.”

   And that was the end of the conversation. (True story.)

   Now you might be thinking that I only thought I’d heard God say that. I get that. However, in order for any of us to be able to imagine something, we first have to be able to conceive that thing as a possibility in the first place. However, in my wildest imagination, I’d never dreamed it was even remotely possible that God would make an offer like that—to anyone. Well, maybe to Mother Teresa but she hadn’t been in the room. But as for me? It wasn’t even on my radar.

   So—would God really say that?

   Yes.

   It’s strange how sometimes we don’t see things in the Bible—even when they’re right under our noses. It was sometime later that I was reading the Word and noticed that Jesus made a similar offer to people—and more than once. In Luke, a blind beggar called out to Jesus, “’Son of David, have mercy on me.’” Jesus’ response?

   “’What do you want me to do for you?’” (18:41).

   Implicit in that question is the idea that Jesus was willing to give the man whatever he was about to ask for. Otherwise, what would be the point of Jesus even asking that question? So He could say, “Oh, no—thought you wanted something else. Sorry, you can’t have that.” Of course, being Jesus, He already knew that the man was going to ask for healing, and He knew He was going to give it to him. So then, what was the point of Jesus asking the question if He already knew what the man was going to ask?

   So that he—and we—could hear Jesus ask it.

   Jesus wants us to know that which we don’t dare to think: that He would actually give us anything our hearts desire. And why? Because we’re His and because He loves us.

   But what if we misuse God’s unfathomable grace? Is His offer permission for us to run amok with any old request? No. Nowhere in Jesus’ question, “What can I do for you?” is the implication that we can ask to burn down the house and it’ll be done for us. What the Word does say is that God will give us our heart’s desires—after we first “delight ourselves in the Lord” (Ps, 37:4). It’s an offer God makes when He discerns that we can “handle” the request. The truth is that when we “delight ourselves in the Lord,” we become so changed that whatever our hearts’ desires turn out to be, they’ll be pleasing to Him and in line with His will.

   In the story of Esther, she went before King Xerxes to make a request. Now, being queen, that shouldn’t have been a problem but as court etiquette goes, one doesn’t just appear before a king without an invite—such audacity could be a capital offense. Nevertheless, Queen Esther was desperate and approached the king without a summons. Of course, that was scandalous and shocking to the court because essentially what Esther did in appearing before the king without permission was to disrespect the king’s rules. And since King Xerxes’ first wife had been disgraced and dis-appointed as queen for disrespecting an order from the king, the power-hungry nobles of Xerxes’ court were probably watching very closely to see whether the king would show weakness by allowing a “mere” woman to dishonor him (again) or whether he would show strength and put her in her place. And what did the king do? Not only did he hold out to Esther the royal scepter (which, in king-land means “I spare your life”) but he also said to her the unthinkable: “’What is it you desire, Esther? I will give you up to half my kingdom.’”

   Now there’s a man who loves his wife.

   Jesus loves us the same way. I wish I’d known that all those years ago because then I would have understood another thing, too. I would have understood that I could have asked the Lord for both of my heart’s desires: Ben’s salvation and my mother’s healing. I wouldn’t have had to choose between the two. But I didn’t know because I really didn’t understand just how much God loves me and how great His mercy is.

   When your moment comes, don’t doubt it—don’t stand around wondering if it’s really God. It is. In that moment when the heavens open up and God says, “Ask me for anything in the whole world you want,” know one thing: You. Are. Loved. In that moment, the royal scepter is being held out to you, inviting you to come boldly to the throne of grace and to make your petition to the Lord of all creation.

   In that moment, God is waiting—for you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Wall

The Wall IITHE WALL  

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

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

    Welcome to “The Wall”.

   The Wall is any seemingly insurmountable obstacle, which, by definition, simply means “game over”. So the question then becomes—then what? Is the game over? Is the dream dead? Was the vision only a mirage? Is our very destiny teetering on the precipice of doom? Maybe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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