Category Archives: Doubting Your Vision?

God Is Watching.

gods-eye-nasa
“God’s Eye In the Sky” (NASA photo)

   Click.    The backdoor lock sprang and imperceptibly, the doorknob turned. Flashlight off, the intruder paused, listening for the piercing scream of an alarm and hearing none, nudged the door open a tiny crack. In slow motion, he peered around the edge of the door and then crept forward, a stealthy shadow, into the house.

   “Jesus is watching.”

   The man froze in mid-step, bulging eyes straining to distinguish the source of the soft, croaky voice floating from the thick darkness.

   “Jesus is watching.”

   The burglar drew in a sharp breath and then sighed in relief.

   It’s just a bird! A stupid, freakin’ bird!

   The man clicked on his flashlight and aimed it in the direction of the voice.

“Birdie,” he whispered, “it’s hunting season.”

    His light beam danced around the room and then stopped, catching the reflection of a pair of red, glowing eyes and a set of very white bared fangs.

   The voice croaked again. “Meet Jesus.”

   God is always watching. Whether that thought brings any comfort or not is another story entirely. But it should. The knowledge that when things go from wrong to very wrong, from a  small mishap or a disappointed expectation to a long-term heartache or a sudden tragedy, God is not unaware.

   “‘I have seen the anguish of my people in Egypt and have heard their cries [and] I have come down to deliver them . . . for I know their sorrows’” (Acts 7:34, LB; Exodus 3:7, NKJV).

   If you remember, the Israelites suffered as slaves under the cruel oppression of the Egyptians for 400 long years. And in all that time, God was silent.

   But God was watching.

   God witnessed every whipping, every beating, every deprivation, every shameful violation, and every degrading humiliation wrought upon the Israelites by their slave masters. God heard every mournful, wailing prayer, every desperate, sobbing plea for help, and every heart-splintering scream for deliverance as His children begged to be freed from the vicious brutality of the Egyptians. He also listened as the Israelites shouted at, bargained with, cussed out, and  even forsook Him for other gods because of His silence. For silent God was – for centuries.

   But why?

   God does nothing arbitrarily. God had a plan for the birth of a new nation, a people of His own to proclaim His name throughout the whole world. But before that could happen, that  people would be required to suffer slavery for 400 years at the hands of the most powerful gods known to man at that time. Nevertheless, throughout all of those  excruciating years, God never missed a single moment of the suffering of His people; He saw it all – the shredded flesh, the indelible scars, and the tears as numerous as the grains of sand upon the earth.

   Perhaps, in the midst of the pursuit of the destiny that you were 1000% certain God had called you to, things have gone terribly, terribly wrong. Maybe you struggle to find the strength to make it through just one more day. Or perhaps circumstances in life – your hopes and dreams – have simply not happened the way you had hoped they would happen and every day you feel that you’re sinking deeper and deeper into the dark and formless void of hopelessness and nothingness.

   Maybe you’ve ceased to dream at all.

   That’s how the Israelites felt. And my guess is that’s precisely how Moses felt after squandering  his identity as an exalted Egyptian prince and ending up instead a forgotten fugitive on the backside of the desert with nothing to his name except the rags on his back and a crooked staff in his hand.

   Even so, God never relinquished His watch over the Israelites or over Moses; night after night, year after year, decade after decade, He never failed to see. And in the end, God delivered His people in a way far more miraculous than they could ever have  imagined and, in doing so, proved Himself to be the God above every other god on earth.

   If you’re in that place, that desert where dreams die and destiny is destroyed, then hold to the truth that, in order to rise from the ashes, we must first walk through the fire. And should you find yourself in the flames, don’t lose sight of one thing: It’s all part of the plan. Nothing can happen or is happening that God does not see.

   Our God is the god of the Resurrection – and He’s watching you.

The One Thing God Cannot Do.

gavel-in-motion-iii    “So it shall be written; so it shall be done!”

   Who can forget those immortal words spoken by Rameses in the classic The Ten Commandments? In the movie, Rameses is in competition with Moses for the throne of Pharaoh and so after Moses builds a city for Pharaoh, a jealous Rameses vows, “’The city that he builds shall bear my name. So it shall be written. So it shall be done.’”

   In ancient cultures, people understood that when a king put a command or decree into writing, then that word would forever stand; even the king himself could not revoke it at a later date. Moreover, a decree by a king was not simply a careless word spoken in a moment of passion and then later revoked, but even if it was spoken carelessly, the king’s word would nonetheless become law and stand for all time.

   And what does this have to do with us? Just this: If you’ve ever received a word or promise from the Lord concerning your destiny, it will come to pass.

   “’God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?’” (Num. 23;19)

   In Scripture, God gives us several examples of this principle in order to prove the gravity of the point. Despite even rash words uttered by kings, those kings were not able to revoke their words at a later date – even though they might want to.

   In the book of Esther, for example, we’re told that King Xerxes gave a seven-day banquet in Susa during which the men drank “as much as they pleased”. After several days of drinking, it is probably safe to conclude that Xerxes was “much in his cups” so he decides to send for Queen Vashti for a little entertainment. Xerxes orders that the queen appear, complete with the royal crown on her head, so that he could show off her beauty to all of the men gathered. However, Queen Vashti refuses to appear (1:11-12).

   Now while commentators offer various explanations for this refusal of hers – some rather interesting – we don’t really know why she didn’t show. Some say that the order by the king included instructions for Queen Vashti to appear wearing only the crown (which, admittedly, would show off all her beauty); others say that it was a grievous breach of custom for a woman to appear before an assembly of men; and still others say that Vashti was having the equivalent of a hissy fit and refused to be treated like a mindless Barbie doll.

   I doubt the latter.

   When she doesn’t appear – whatever the reason – Xerxes is angry and demands to know what penalty the law provides for a queen who refuses to obey the king’s orders. His officials, concerned that Vashti’s example would give the wives of the kingdom permission to disrespect their own husbands, counsel the king to issue a written decree that Queen Vashti should be forever banished from the king’s presence and a new queen should be chosen. Xerxes, thinking this suggestion makes good sense, sends letters to every province in his empire proclaiming that every husband should be the ruler of his home (1:19-22). In other words, he put it in writing.

   Nevertheless, the Bible tells us that “when Xerxes’ anger cooled,” he begins to think about Vashti and the decree he had made, the implication being that he regrets his decision to banish her. Still, he cannot revoke the decree so his officials suggest a beauty pageant to find another queen (2:1-4).

   Fast forward several months after Esther is chosen to be the new queen: Haman, who hated the Jews, talks Xerxes into issuing a written decree to have them all killed on a certain date. Xerxes, not realizing that Esther is Jewish, agrees and, once again, puts his decree into writing and sends it far and wide throughout the kingdom (3:8-15). Later, once he discovers that his beloved Esther is Jewish and, along with her people, will be slaughtered, he grieves because he can’t revoke any decree that he has put into writing. In order to solve the problem, he has to issue a new decree giving the Jews permission to defend themselves (chapter 8). The king specifically tells Esther and Mordecai, “’But remember that whatever is written in the king’s name and sealed with his ring can never be revoked’” (8:8).

   Revoking his Word is the one thing God cannot do.

    “’For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it’” (Is. 55:10-11).  

   Has God made you a promise concerning your future? Do not take it lightly for God does not promise what he does not fulfill.

   “For the vision is yet for the appointed time; it hastens toward the goal and it will not fail. Though it tarries, wait for it; for it will certainly come, it will not delay” (Hab. 2:3).

   Prepare for it.

  

Lessons From the Manger

mary-and-gabriel

     As we close out Christmas 2016, one more lesson from the manger: Even in the perfect will of God, things can go very wrong. At least – from our perspective. But just because it’s “going wrong” doesn’t mean it’s not God. Let’s break it down.

     The archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary with a message that God had chosen her to be the mother of the Son of God. Then he asked if she was willing. Many times I have written about Mary’s response: “’May it be done unto me as you have said.’” This essentially means that Mary was giving the okay to being a pregnant – and unmarried – woman in a society not at all warmhearted to such a situation.

     Mary’s response fascinates me – such faith in the midst of a very clear cost to her: we know what Mary must have foreseen before she agreed. No doubt she’d be branded a liar regarding the whole angel tale, plus she’d have a knock-down, drag-out fight with mom and dad. And that would be the best-case scenario. At worst, she’d be disowned by her parents and she’d no doubt lose Joseph after being branded an adulteress. (She was engaged to Joseph which, in the Jewish society, was as good as married.) Following that, her prospects for a husband would be less than zero, and she might also find herself ex-communicated from the village or even stoned to death after the birth of the baby.

     Her words humble me. Would I be able to trust God if He asked such a momentous thing of me? Of course, I would like to think so, but . . .

     With all of the potential for tragedy in this situation, I imagine no one believed Mary when she said her pregnancy was the will of God. Surely (we tend to think), God’s will would never be fraught with so much shame, disgrace and controversy! Right? Moreover (we also tend to think), God would never ask so much of one of His children. “Therefore,” (we conclude) “this can’t be God!” Hammer down.

     And yet . . .

     Fast forward several months: Mary visits Elizabeth. Now we don’t really know whether Mary would’ve visited Elizabeth anyway or whether Mary was “encouraged” to get out of Dodge. But bottom line: growing up, I’m certain that while Mary imagined, as all young girls do, what her future marriage and motherhood would be like, I’m fairly certain she never, in her wildest nightmares, ever imagined this little scenario. Nevertheless, in the midst of the shame and trauma, Joseph and Mary do get married. And the sigh of relief is heard throughout the land: certainly the worst is over . . .

     Well, maybe . . . not. Suddenly, Joseph is faced with a rather unexpected census requiring that he and Mary travel to Bethlehem – and Mary nine months pregnant and riding on a donkey and in winter. I can hear her mother now:“Are you sure this is God?? This can’t be God!”

     It was though. And while Mary and Joseph were no doubt wondering at the timing of things, they were certain that God would get them both to Bethlehem safely and provide a nice place for them to stay . . .

     However, God had different plans. And they didn’t involve a warm, clean, private hotel room or a competent mid-wife or even a relative or two to drop by with a congratulatory bouquet. No. Rather, Jesus was born unattended in the midst of winter in a cold, dark stable, surrounded, not by loving family, but by smelly cows, sheep, and maybe a chicken or two.

     Do you ever wonder whether Joseph may have had a moment of doubt? Certainly God’s plan to bring the Messiah into the world would be less complicated and – scary? Mary would, of course, reassure Joseph, and they would conclude that now that the baby had come, things would surely be easier. Right?

     Except for King Herod.

     The next thing Joseph and Mary know, they’re headed across the desert – on a donkey – fleeing a king who’d vowed to kill their baby.

     God – ?

     Joseph, Mary and Jesus stayed in Egypt for several years before returning to Israel after the death of Herod. In all that time, they lived far away from family and friends and from everything familiar to them. The people were foreign, the food was foreign, the customs were foreign – even the language must’ve been a challenge. Plus, Mary and Joseph would’ve had to find a whole new place to live and Joseph would’ve had to find a job to support his young family. Moreover, they were far from their temple and the free worship of the one true God, living in the middle of a pagan nation full of idol worshippers.

     Was this God-forsaken country any place to raise the Son of God??

     Would God really do that?

     Hindsight being what it is, we now know that all of that was God, and we can see His plan and purpose in the midst of all the seeming nonsensical circumstances that surrounded the birth of Jesus Christ. Is it possible, then, that God’s plans for our destinies might possibly be laced, here and there, with bits and pieces of unrest, trauma, drama, fear, conflict, danger – even tragedy?

     Yes.

     The fact is, chasing our God-given destiny is not for the faint of heart.

     But from that long-ago manger, we can receive the assurance of knowing that just because a situation is not problem-free doesn’t mean it’s not God.

     Mary’s situation makes me wonder: What happens when God presents us with a choice to pursue a destiny that will, no doubt, change our lives forever – no matter our response? If we agree to God’s request, will we be able to handle what is sure to come: the unforeseen circumstances, the hard challenges – even the scorching tests of faith? On the other hand, if we refuse, will we be able to live with the regret? We know the answer.

     “May it be done unto me as you have said.”

 

 

 

 

 

Who’s Driving the Dream?

hamster-wheel

Ever felt like that little hamster on the wheel, going around and around and around and going – nowhere? You might have. At any given point in time, how many people are trying to:

  • Compete with 100 other people for that one job opening?
  • Win a once-in-a-lifetime part in that play, musical, TV show or movie?
  • Fight for that academic scholarship against hundreds of other students?
  • Write that #1 Billboard hit song – along with 5000 other songwriters?
  • Grab the market share against your competitors for – whatever you’re selling?
  • Captivate that literary agent that 600 other writers are trying to get to first?
  • Battle for that one spot on the team against the best of the best?
  • Earn that job promotion that a dozen other people also want?
  • Build that platform – just to get noticed?
  • Grow that church or ministry – because that’s what’s expected?

Sometimes chasing our dreams can run the emotional gamut from frustrating to disheartening to depressing – even to hopeless. We work and work and work, only to find that our best seems not to be good enough. We’re in constant competition, hustling, burning the candle at both ends, enduring the grind – day after day, month after month, even year after year. Then comes the day that we simply have to admit it: we just can’t cut it. So what then?

Surrender.

When we reach the point where we despair of ever “making it” (because that’s what our culture tells us we have to do), then perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate what it is we’re trying to do. Maybe we’re putting too much pressure on ourselves. Maybe we weren’t “meant to be” the next Bill Gates or Miss America or Stephen King or Paul Ryan or even Paul the Apostle. So then the question remains: If we don’t hit the pinnacle of whatever it is we do, does that mean we’ve “missed it” – “it” being our destiny? Just what were we meant to be anyway?

Faithful.

Over two thousand years ago, a young Jewish girl, a true “nobody”, was visited by the angel Gabrielle who gave her the choice of being the mother of the Messiah – or not. (It’s always about the choice.) Now, I’m certain that Mary counted the cost before she consented to become pregnant as a single woman – that never worked out well for unmarried Jewish girls. Unlike today, an unmarried pregnant woman in that culture was a huge scandal so it wasn’t difficult for Mary to imagine the disgrace and the consequences: at best, she would be shunned by everyone she knew, ridiculed by everyone she didn’t know, her betrothal to Joseph would be history, and she could look forward to life as an “old maid”. Worst case scenario: she would be stoned to death. Mary faced a capitol punishment for what was considered a very grievous crime in her day. Pretty sure that wasn’t her dream. Yet Mary’s response?

“’I am the Lord’s servant. May it be unto me as you have said’” (Luke 1:38).

If we can truly say those words, if we can accept whatever the scope of the destiny that the Lord has for us, then we’ll find peace in the midst of whatever happens with our dreams – or doesn’t happen. We’ll find perspective in the midst of the overwhelming odds of “making it”. We can let go of the competition, secure in the knowledge that, as long as we do our best, God will open the doors that need to be opened and light up the paths that we need to be on. We can get off the hamster wheel and stop pounding on closed doors. If we listen, we’ll hear the voice of the Lord give us one step at a time, one assignment at a time in their due seasons and, ultimately then, we’ll find that we have fulfilled the destiny assigned to us. It won’t be Stephen King’s destiny or Miss America’s or Bill Gates’, not even Paul the Apostle’s; those are their destinies, decreed from the beginning of time by the One who assigns destiny to each of us before we’re born.

Does this mean that we don’t work hard or that we give up because we’re not “the star” in our field? No. It means that we submit our desires and dreams and talents to the Lord and then watch what He does. If we’ll truly do that, then we’ll find that His dreams for us are far more fulfilling than our own visions could ever have been. Why? Because His destiny for us is filled with eternal purpose – purposes that, as Mary discovered, are way beyond anything we could ever come close to imagining.

And to be part of that eternal plan – isn’t that the truest dream come true?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Moon Still Sets.

soldier-on-battlefield

The sky shone turquoise after the storm, aquamarine like the ocean, translucent clouds of sea foam drifting across the heavens. A hawk soared, high above the ground, and circled back to the woods beneath. Sunbeams danced like spotlights on the tops of trees. Below, a forest of tall maples ringed a field on three sides, silver leaves glinting in the bright sunlight, a thousand shining swords waving in triumph.

On the ground, boot prints in a sea of muck ran with trickles of water mingled with streams of blood. Bodies lay strewn about the field, army green and mud brown and blood red. One figure, on his knees in the mud, blood dripping from his forehead, stared blindly, mind rejecting what eyes were seeing.

Somewhere in the distance, a songbird chirped.

In a multitude of corners of the earth, death descends in a multitude of forms, and life or hope or both come to a screeching halt – and yet, the sun still shines. Hearts shatter and dreams fade, and yet people sail by, unaware and laughing. The moon still sets and the sun still rises. Brides still walk the aisles, and grooms still stand, smiling. Wedding bells still ring.

Death stalks, tragedy calls, faith withers away, and still, mercilessly, the planet spins, the seconds tick by, and the heartbeat of life never falters.

It all seems so cruel.

When we suffer, our lives are interrupted and altered, sometimes permanently. And while others might notice and whisper words of comfort and even shed tears of sympathy at our pain, eventually they return to their own lives. But it’s hard to understand; the world will never be the same. How can people behave as though it will?? That’s the pain of it.

Eventually, after we’re crushed and broken, wounded and scarred by the demons and daggers of disappointment and death, we come to understand that no one really can bear the pain of it for us. Words like “heartbreak” and “grief” become empty expressions, clichés that are tossed like chips in a casino to describe our pain. And yet, they don’t. Moreover, when those words are coupled with that cruelest of all words – “loneliness” – we experience the reason that tragedy disfigures our souls forever: we have to bear it alone.

And yet we don’t.

There is one who can bear it with us – has already born it for us – Jesus Christ. Now I realize that some – maybe many of my followers perhaps don’t subscribe to Christ – and I get that. Yet I can’t disguise the hope that we have who do believe: that Christ has taken away the sting of death – and yes, of life, too. People demand to know why bad things happen to good people. Why not? It’s a reasonable question. And yet the answer seems not to satisfy many. Yet I can’t change the answer nor can I give you a better one. The fact is, and the answer is, that we live in a fallen world. Sin has made a way for pain and heartache and death. So – how is that fair? If there’s a God, just what kind of person is he that he would allow any of this? Where is he in all of this?

On the cross. Or – he was. He died to take away the pain of life and the finality of death. What more could he do? But then he rose. And when he did, he replaced death with everlasting joy and peace and yes, that most elusive of all pursuits – happiness.

I remember once going to the funeral of a woman who had taken her own life. I didn’t know her well but I cried until my eyes were swollen shut; I couldn’t stop. I cried that she had had so much pain and so little hope that she had had no other answer than to end her life to stop the pain. When my father died, I barely cried at all. I cried briefly because I’ll miss him, but I’ll see him again; of that I have no doubt. In the meantime, he’s “in a better place” – another cliché that we throw around. No, actually, he’s in a place that is so far beyond “better” that no human being can even comprehend it. If we can imagine a world not wrecked by sin, it’s a start. No anger, no sadness, no fear, no envy, no malice, no bigotry, no pain, no desperation, no hopeless, no depression, no self-hatred, no despair, no war, no disease, no crime, no perversion, no unimaginable atrocity – no tears, no heartbreak, no death of any kind.

Erase all of that – and then imagine a place of beauty beyond anything we’ve ever seen. People who’ve visited heaven, who’ve died and been revived, describe heaven as a place having colors we’ve never seen, sound beyond our spectrum, music we can’t produce, and light that is brighter than any sun. But the best thing of all – from my viewpoint anyway – is that heaven is a place of new beginnings, a place where the mistakes we’ve made are erased and the wrongs we’ve done to others are healed, a place where we can start all over – and get it right!

Heaven is a place of do-overs.

In the midst of heart-wrenching pain, what does it hurt to believe – especially when there are those of us who can testify that we’ve never been disappointed by believing? What’s the risk? When you think about it, there isn’t any.

Just believe. It’s okay.

 

 

 

 

 

Just Believe It.

God’s Eye in Space (NASA)

gods-eye-nasa

Have you ever gotten a promise from God – and then you’re not certain you’ve gotten a promise from God? Probably. You get a word somehow – from the Bible, a sermon, another person – and you know it’s for you. God is speaking the very thing to you that you’ve been praying about or that’s been your heart’s desire or that you wondered if, someday, you could do. But then that promise seems too good to be true – and you begin to wonder . . .

“Did I really hear that? Or did I imagine it?” It happens. We begin to doubt our ability to hear God. Then we become afraid to believe what we’ve heard because – well, what if we’re wrong??

Gideon certainly had this problem. God told him that he would be the one used to lead Israel into battle against its enemies and Gideon, who was the least likely in all of Israel to be chosen to lead anything, wasn’t quite sure he’d heard correctly. So, he initiated the “fleece” test. You’ve heard of that? A “fleece” is any test we throw out to God asking Him to prove Himself to us. Can you imagine?? (But we’ve all done it.) So Gideon put out a sheep’s fleece and asked God to make it dry despite the dew and then to do the opposite: wet and no dew. Gideon needed to be absolutely certain it was God who had said to go and fight. He was afraid he’d heard incorrectly. But, as it turns out, he had heard right; God did speak to him to lead Israel into battle and promised him he would win. Which then caused Gideon to say:

 “Who? Me? I don’t deserve a promise like that!” No one does – but that’s our perspective, not God’s. If you randomly open to any given page in the Bible, odds are you’re going to find God choosing someone inconsequential to do something quite consequential. Reference Abraham, Moses (after he’d been banished to the desert), Esther, Joseph, Gideon, David, Rahab, most prophets, Mary, Peter, Mary Magdalene, Matt the tax collector – you get the idea. Somebody has to do great things. Why not you? And if your promise has to do with receiving a heart’s desire – getting married, having a child, doing any specific thing – remember that God stands behind those promises, too. Both Sarah and Hannah desired to have a child and both did. In addition, Jesus healed many people whose desire was for wholeness or deliverance; He even answered prayers to raise the dead. God wants to give you your heart’s desire.

Nathan the prophet, speaking for God, told David, “’Go and do all that is in your heart.’”

“What if God changes His mind about what He promised me?” I don’t believe God does that – primarily based on what He says about changing His mind: “God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” (Num. 23:19). Translation: If God has given you a promise, it will happen.

The Lord gives us an interesting illustration in the Word to make the point that His word is unchanging, trustworthy, and reliable. Both King Xerxes in the book of Esther and King Nebuchadnezzar in the book of Daniel gave commands they later regretted. Xerxes gave a command allowing the slaughter of all Jewish people (not knowing Esther was Jewish), and Nebuchadnezzar gave a command to put to death anyone who insisted on worshiping anyone other than himself (not knowing Daniel had done this). However, having given the commands, even the kings could not revoke their own word. So if the word of mere man was so invariable, how much more the Word of God? As the Lord says about His own word: “’As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it’” (Is. 55: 10-11). Period.

“But what if I can’t do it??” Abraham expressed this fear right after God had promised him “the land,” saying, “’O Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it [the land]?’” (Gen. 15:8). Abraham wasn’t questioning God’s faithfulness to His promise. Rather, Abraham was afraid that he wouldn’t be able to live up to the promise and “gain possession of it”. He didn’t understand that it wasn’t up to him to fulfill the promise – it was God’s work to do. In fact, the Lord goes on to tell Abraham that this possession of the land would happen long after he had died and that it would be His doing, not Abe’s. “’To your descendents I give this land . . .’” (vs. 18-19). If you’re worried about whether you “can do it,” remember God’s word to Zerubbabel: “’Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty’” (Zech 4:6).

If you’ve received a promise from God regarding a dream, a vision, a destiny, count on it because the thing is this: the fulfillment of that promise does not depend on you; it depends on God.

Your job?  Just believe it.

 

But- What If You Can??

mysterious“Potential.” It’s a word we both love and we hate, depending on our expectations. If we expect we’re good at something (meaning “great”), then to hear someone say we “have potential” can set off a firestorm. Potential?? What “potential”? I already rock!

Well, maybe not quite. But you could rock – without the attitude. (Did I say that . . .?)

On the other hand, if we don’t have any idea we’re good at something, then to hear someone say that we have potential is huge. “Really?? Me?? Potential?”  “I have potential . . .!”    

I remember when I was a kid, people always used to tell me two things: “You draw really well” and “You should take drawing lessons.” Now, I could not, for the life of me, figure out why I needed drawing lessons if I could already draw “really well”. (I was young.) What I didn’t understand is that I had a talent for drawing that needed to be developed. I had potential.

So, let’s fast forward through the years. Let’s say we were told we had potential and we did work it and now we’ve taken the plunge and “put it out there” – whatever it is. It could be a song, a biz plan, a sports tryout, a book, a proposal at work, whatever; we’ve put our heart and soul into it. And then let’s say it’s not received with the “Halleluiah, it’s here!” that we’d hoped to hear. What if, to our shock and amazement, we’re actually confronted with criticism about how to change/improve our work? When that happens, we will hear the critique one of two ways: we’ll either hear, “You can do this; just re-work this part or tweak that part.” Or we can hear, “That’s terrible! What were you thinking?? You’re horrible at that!”

But here’s what we need to hear: There’s a massive difference between being unable to do that thing and being uneducated about doing that thing.

In other words, not knowing how to do something is vastly different than not being able to do it.

I am certain that when receiving criticism, we often take it to mean that we’re being told we’re just not good enough and even that we’ll never be good enough. We end up believing that we “just don’t have what it takes” and sadly, sometimes, we quit. However, in reality, that’s not at all what’s being said.

Recently, this was brought home to me when I discovered the existence of a writing technique that editors love and expect to see – and which I knew nothing about. So I read up on it and then began to re-read my own fiction, looking for this technique. I discovered that I was weak in this area and that, while I’d “accidently” used it, I wasn’t using it deliberately or consistently enough. Did I feel stupid? Absolutely – the “how could I have missed that??” kind of stupid. For about five minutes. Then I had to get over it and get back to work. I had to learn about it and start practicing it.

Most fields are always changing and evolving – medicine, education, engineering, politics, the arts; there are always new theories, new truths, and new trends blowing up what’s “always worked”. But I’ve discovered that when we think our thing has hit a standstill, then we’re probably missing something. And when a new trend happens and we’re unaware it, we can mistakenly conclude that “I can’t do” when what we should be saying is, “I need to learn to do.”

“Potential” – talent, ability, aptitude, whatever we call it – never disappears. What might disappear is the mindset needed to keep it fresh, relevant and effective. The thing is, you’ve got the talent; just develop it.

Then work your magic.

Rejection – and His Nine Other Brothers

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Rejection. Burnout. Depression. Intimidation. Inferiority. Doubt. Apathy. Inadequacy. Fear. Failure. How many of these fun rides have you been on? At times it seems as if whenever we’re trying to accomplish something worthwhile, we get hit with one of these. Or all ten. And then come the voices . . .

“I was never meant to do this.”

“I’m just not good enough. I’ll never be good enough.”

“There’s too much competition.”

“Who even cares anyway?”

“What was I thinking??”

If we listen to these voices long enough, the only realistic option seems to be to drink the kool-aid and quit.

So – how do we overcome the demons that haunt our attempts to do that thing we were born to do? We’ve heard it all; that’s what makes it so hard. None of what we’ve heard really helps us get back on that horse and drive.

  1. “Thomas Edison failed ninety million times!” (How does that help me?)
  2. “Einstein couldn’t count simple change – and he overcame!” (Yeah, and he had an IQ of 250.)
  3. “You were born for this!” (Apparently so were 20 million other people.)
  4. “Winners never quit and quitters never win!” (Tell it to smokers.)
  5. “Just do it!” (I’m trying to do it!)
  6. “Trying is just an excuse not to do!” (I’m confused. Don’t try?)
  7. “What would Jesus do?” (A miracle?)

So – what really will help? What are the magic words that can banish rejection, inadequacy, depression and all their minions? I don’t have any idea. But I can tell you what you can do. And it’s not call up all your girls/buddies and blow up the town or call in sick for a week on a quick trip to the Bahamas or go into massive debt with shopping therapy. No. Here’s what works: stop and do something that will accomplish a goal quickly, something you’ll feel good about when it’s done, something that, whenever you look at it, will make you feel competent.

Recently, I experienced a less-than-encouraging response to something I’d written – and had spent an inordinate amount of time writing – and candidly, I was very discouraged. So after an appropriate period of mourning, I looked around the house and realized that the magic Home Improvement fairy hadn’t visited while I’d been busy at the keyboard tuning everything else out. It dawned on me that the pine tree branches hanging down way too low over the driveway weren’t going to spring up out of the way with snow piled on top of them. I also had the profound revelation that my snow plow guy and his truck might not appreciate that. At all. So I found a small electric saw, a step ladder and got up into that tree and began to cut wood. When I was finished, the tree looked great and I knew the plow guy would probably charge me less. But here’s the key thing: I felt better. And just maybe I could take another shot at writing. After all, if I can trim some branches from a tree, I can certainly write, right?

Perhaps for you it’s to clean out that closet that no one’s ventured into for a quarter century or cook a nice dinner for your family or clean up your computer files or take authority over the lawn. Whatever it is, give yourself a visual that will get your head out of the fog of depression and remind you of how capable you are.

Sometimes we just need a re-set. We need to get away from the disappointment of failed expectations and experience the success of doing something that proves we’re capable of accomplishment. Remember – oddly enough, that that validation will come as a result of work, not play. Playing at a time like that doesn’t really accomplish anything productive and so can end up just making us feel like procrastinators. And that’s not going to help. So – if you want to feel better about yourself, grab the mop or the mower and get to work.

I can’t explain it – it just works.

To Quit or Not to Quit? That is the Question.

Grandfather Clock           Ever feel like you just want to throw in the towel? You’ve worked, labored, toiled at some particular thing for a long time – weeks, months, even years – and suddenly, you come to the realization that it was all a waste of time. Or you think it was. Isaiah thought so. Isaiah knew that the Lord had called him to speak for Him and yet still, he doubted the impact of his calling and labor: “’I have labored to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing . . .’” (49:4a).

            Isaiah felt like many of us when we give years of our lives to some dream and then it all falls apart. It’s devastating. It could be sowing into a career, a ministry, a business; it could be something we’ve been striving to create or to build – it could be any dream or vision fused with our hearts.

           And the emotional train wreck is not the only problem. After we hit the Big Wall, we find ourselves stuck on the question: “Is this just a temporary setback in the will of God or have I been on the wrong track the entire time?”

Because if it’s the “wrong track,” that means we’ve wasted the only real commodity we’ve got in this life: time.

            The problem is – which is it? The distinction is huge. The difference makes all the difference.

            As Christians, we put a great deal of stock into “seeking the will of God” – as well we should. However, when things don’t pan out, then we’re often in doubt: Was it ever God’s will that I pursue this dream? Or was it not? (Of course the assumption is that we did ask first.) Nevertheless, whether it was the will of God or not, we have the same two choices: We can persevere – or we can quit. However, if we know that pursuing that thing is the will of God, then quitting is not an option. We’re going to push through because the encouragement we have is that we’re not on the wrong track – we’ve just hit a temporary obstacle. But if it’s not the will of God, it would be stupid to persevere with something that God was never in to begin with. So then the fundamental question remains: was it God or was it not God?

            What if we really just don’t know?

            Back to Isaiah. Granted, Isaiah had the advantage of having heard from the Lord in the first place that what he was doing was what he was called to do. So knowing that, he was able to say, “’Yet I leave it all in the Lord’s hand; I will trust God for my reward’” (41:4b). But when we haven’t heard directly from the Lord about what we’re doing – and let’s say we did sincerely ask – then what? Do we fight through or do we back up?  Fascinating question.

            There’s always the option of putting “the dream” on the shelf. If it’s God’s will that we get back to it, then we won’t have to dig through the trash to find it. If it’s not God’s will that we ever pick it up again – well, then, it dies on the shelf.

            I have to believe that somewhere along the way, God will show us which it is. And really, isn’t that what Isaiah did?

            Sometimes it’s time to leave a dream behind, to move on, to begin a new thing. And sometimes it’s time to persevere, to fight forward, and to keep that thing alive. In the meantime, dealing with the devastation of loss is excruciating – whether it’s temporary or permanent.

           “’Yet I leave it all in the Lord’s hand . . .’”

           The critical thing is this: do not quit moving forward. If you’re not be able to move forward with that vision, then seek God for a new one and move forward with that. Just do not let the loss take you completely out. Because then, guess who wins?

           It’s not you.

Does Your Dream Need A “Do-Over”?

            Do-over-button Have you ever had days when the “same ol’, same ol’” feels like it’s just sucking the life right out of you? Have you ever felt like you’ve “missed it” somehow – destroyed the destiny you might’ve had by making a wrong choice, a huge error, or even just wasting time? 

            Have you ever looked up to the sky and asked, “Why am I even here?”

            We’ve all been there. But the fact is, it’s never too late to discover your destiny or to make course corrections and get back on track to it.  How?  Because our God is a God of “do-overs”!

            Look at Moses who got a do-over after killing a man (his fault).  Look at Joseph who got a do-over after spending 22 years in prison (not his fault).  Whether you’re ten or eighty, God has a destiny for you.  And it’s a good destiny – one that will give your years life and your life purpose.  It will get you out of bed and excited to get moving every morning.  And it will allow you to know that you’re making a real difference in the world which, essentially, adds up to “eternal purpose”.

            I’m reminded of a young woman who had moved to a new town and had no job or money or husband (he’d died); all she had was an old woman to take care of and no food to feed her.

            Eventually, the woman got a job harvesting in the fields, barely making any money, and really just living off of what she was able to pick from the fields and take home.  And she did this day in and day out, day in and day out, day in and . . . you get the idea; you’ve been there.

            By now, you realize I mean Ruth.  But did you ever wonder what she was thinking during those long, hot hours in the fields?

            How did I get here? Did I make the wrong choice?  What will happen if I can’t work anymore?  Why won’t anyone talk to me?  Where would I be if I’d stayed in Moab?  Will I die here . . . ?

            Long story short: Ruth had no idea that she had an incredible destiny, that someday she’d marry a rich man and eventually be counted as the great-great grandmother of King David!  Nor did Joseph, rotting away in prison, ever dream that he’d be in charge of all of Egypt.  Nor did Moses, a murderer and fugitive, in his wildest dreams, ever imagine that one day he’d be the deliverer of the entire nation of Israel.

            It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, didn’t do or tried to do and failed – God has a plan for your life, a purpose, a destiny – and it’s a good one.  And only you can fulfill it.  No one else in all the earth has the combination of talent, ability, mindset, personality and life experience that you have. You, and only you, can fulfill the purpose for which God planted you on this planet.

            Think about that.