Category Archives: Principles of Success

The Motive Trap

Glaring ManTHE MOTIVE TRAP

   As any good mystery or thriller writer knows, a potential criminal always has to have a motive for his crime. Let’s face it—blackmail, murder, kidnapping—none of them are very intriguing without a really juicy motive.

   Nevertheless, outside of criminal law, motives are often not even a factor in real life. But Jesus considers motives. In terms of Kingdom principle, motive is huge. When Jesus came along, he introduced a seismic shift in the understanding of motive between the Old and New Covenants. Under the OT law, for example, the Pharisees technically did everything right from straining knats to tithing their herbs. But still, Jesus called them “whitewashed tombs”. Why? Because their motives stank to high heaven: They were doing those things so that they could point to themselves as “righteous”. Yet when a widow had only a few pennies to give, he honored her because her motive was obviously to share with others, not just to give the minimum so she could check the tithe box.

   So what does this have to do with us? Two things. First, sometimes we beat ourselves up for having wrong motives when they’re not really wrong. Secondly, sometimes we judge other people’s motives and not only do we have no business doing that (unless we’re directly involved in the issue), but doing so can have very destructive consequences. Let’s take a look at several situations where the motive thing trips us up…

“Fake It Till You Make It!”

   Is that okay? Is it okay to act like you’ve forgiven someone or that you love people or whatever when you’re not really feeling it? Can you say, “Of course I forgive you” or “I love you” because you’re supposed to—but, well, you’re not really there yet?

   There are two camps: the “Absolutely not!” folks and the “Sure, it’s a start” folks. The “heck no!” people insist that to “fake it” for any reason is simply a lie and we should never! On the other side of the church is the philosophy that when we set our wills in gear, our emotions will follow, and that’s okay. We may not “feel” the love or the forgiveness in the moment but we’re trying to do what the Bible commands us to do.

   So what is the truth? Should we do the right thing simply because it’s the right thing—regardless of emotion? Or is that just unequivocally wrong—should we hold the hugs and the forgiveness until we’re really feeling it?

   The fact is, it’s pretty simple: It all boils down to our motives. Are we moving in faith toward real change or are we content just to coast through life going through the motions with no real transformation of heart?

   It’s not a trick question.

Parting With Our Cash

   Giving is not only a nice thing to do, but the Bible commands us to give. The thing is that in the OT, people were commanded to give a tenth of their income (a tithe), while in the NT, we’re instructed to give tithes as well as “offerings”—money over and above the ten percent. Of course, the word “offer” suggests that offerings are voluntary and they are: We don’t have to give them. However, if we do, there are those who insist that if our motive is “to give to get,” we may as well not give at all. Untrue. The Bible says that we’ll “reap what we sow” and that “The measure that you give will be the measure used to give back to you.” These scriptures imply that it’s okay to expect a return on what we give. How do I know?

   Because the principle of faith supersedes everything else.

   If we need provision or a return on an investment, we have two choices: We can sow our money into the world’s financial system such as the stock market, or we can sow it into the Kingdom of God. In the stock market, the general thinking is that while it can have its ups and downs, if you hang in there long enough, you’ll make some money. That means that investing in the world’s options will produce a return. And it’s not wrong to invest in the market—just not with our tithes and offerings; that money belongs to God. So, if we take that money and invest it in the Kingdom of God, are we guaranteed a return? Yes—because the Bible says so. However, many think that trusting in the Word of God is too risky an option so they don’t sow into Kingdom work. Conversely, those who do give to the Lord are trusting in God to provide a return on their investment. In other words, money talks. Wherever we choose to invest demonstrates that we have faith in that source.

The bottom line is this: Faith in God’s Word—for whatever reason—is never a wrong motive.

Using Our Gifts and Talents

   One of the most destructive judgments people can make is when they take it upon themselves to judge other people for using their God-given gifts and talents. This most often happens when a person’s destiny involves being visible or known. When a person steps out in confidence to do what God has called him or her to do, there are always going to be those judgmental busybodies who poke their heads up out of their holes to proclaim that this one or that one is “prideful”. We’ve all seen it. And it’s pathetic. Only the Lord can judge whether a person is being prideful or whether they’re simply moving, without apology, into their destinies. In order to prove we’re not prideful, do we have to go around feeling guilty for every success we’re blessed with? Absolutely not and those who insist that we do should probably check their own motives.

   Does this sound harsh? Perhaps, but judging people for being prideful has been the shipwreck of more destinies than we even want to know.

   Labeling motives as “prideful” has sidelined many a good and honest person for fear that, because someone says they’re prideful, then it must be true—so they quit.

   Here’s a fact: many Pharisees called Jesus names because he had the audacity to claim he was the Son of God and to forgive sin. And yet he didn’t apologize for it—he simply ignored them and moved in what he was born to do.

“Their Fruits”

   In terms of “judging” people for their fruit, here’s a good rule of thumb for deciding whether we need to be critiquing anybody: If the person’s words or actions don’t directly involve us (or they’re not trying to sell us something), we don’t need to be speculating on their motives. The only people who would need to do that are folks in authority whose job description includes “fruit inspector”—a pastor, parent, employer or District Attorney. Otherwise, other people’s motives are none of our business. Here’s a novel idea: If we think someone’s motives need an overhaul, pray for them.

   The end game is this: We need to be careful in judging ourselves and others for wrong motives. It’s destructive. There’s never been a tendency toward “wrong motives” that’s ever been cured by a beatdown. If we feel that anyone’s motives are in question, including our own, there’s only one Fruit Inspector we should be talking to.

   That’s the only way to be free of the motive trap.

  

 

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“Resurrection!”—Details at Eleven.

Tomb

“RESURRECTION!”—Details at Eleven

   My mother always used to say that it would’ve been so much easier to believe in Jesus if we’d lived when he lived. Me—not so much. In fact, I’m pretty certain I would’ve been in the Pharisee camp. I would’ve been afraid of being misled if I weren’t. Granted, Jesus did some pretty impressive miracles and no doubt he was an amazing prophet—maybe the best of the best—but the things he said?? Was it “safe” to believe in a man who claimed all kinds of outrageous things  but just didn’t appear to be what the Messiah was supposed to be? After all, that’s what the Pharisees said and that’s why they were paid the big bucks—to know those things. If I were alive back then, who would I have been to question them? What if Jesus wasn’t the Messiah? Certainly they would know that better than I. It was their job to rightly interpret the Scriptures.

   Except that they didn’t.

Jesus’ First Miracle

   Looking back, it’s no accident or coincidence that Jesus’ very first miracle was turning water into wine. His first public declaration was a prophetic act in which he brought new wine upon the earth, a harbinger of a new covenant between God and man. And how did he do it? In a way that would become his signature method of operation for everything he did: Not how we would expect.

   Nothing—not one single thing he ever did was done in a way that we could anticipate.

   New wine.

   Why did the Pharisees miss it? Apart from the fact that they were thoroughly corrupt, the reason is that they weren’t expecting “new wine.” Nor were they expecting any of the other unpredictable things that Jesus did.

   So what did Jesus do?

   Jesus said and did unprecedented things for one reason and one reason only: to save the Jewish people from their sin and he stopped at nothing to do that. But here’s what happened…

First Unpredictable Thing

   Jesus said he was the Son of God—not what anyone expected to hear; it was blasphemy and a capital offense. The problem with believing him—and the problem I might’ve had—is that this regular, blue-collar kind of guy just didn’t fit the profile of the coming king, the Son of David, the ruling Messiah. Everyone was expecting a real king with robes and a crown—and not one of thorns. But Jesus chose to upset the applecart (and the temple merchants’ tables) by appearing in a manner no one recognized. How could anyone even have imagined that the Son of the majestic God of Mount Sinai would materialize as an anonymous carpenter who would then choose to associate with the poor, the rejected, and the “unclean”? That was novel. But the Son of God came for a greater purpose than to conquer men. He came to change hearts. No one could have foreseen that.

   New wine.

Second Unpredictable Thing

   “’If you don’t eat my flesh and drink my blood, you can have no part in me.’”

   What?? WHAT??

   That was shamefully shocking and, yes—unexpected. And the day that Jesus proclaimed it, he lost many disciples. After all, had anyone ever said anything even halfway so outrageous? Miracles or no miracles, it just sounded wrong.

   The thing was, Jesus was speaking in a spiritual sense and a prophetic sense but few discerned that. I mean, who would? Such a declaration was unprecedented in Old Testament scripture. But Jesus was referring to a level of relationship with him that none, at that time, could even imagine. It was an entirely unfathomable idea.

   New wine.

Third Unpredictable Thing

   Jesus’ disciples thought he was coming to deliver Israel from Rome. And why wouldn’t they? Jesus had just told them at the last supper to round up swords. “Awesome!” they thought. “Finally—let’s go kill some Romans!” So when a man appeared trying to arrest Jesus, Peter did the logical thing: he cut off his ear. And what did Jesus do? He put the guy’s ear back on. Why? Because his mission was not simply to deliver his people from the tyranny of the Romans but rather to save them from eternal death in hell. But who knew? The disciples could not see beyond their desire to be free of the Romans and so Jesus’ irrational actions were a mystery—and a frustration—to them.

   New wine.

Fourth Unpredictable Thing

   “’On the third day, the Son of Man will rise again.’” By this time, even his disciples ignored his statement. Who knew whether he was speaking in parables again or not? After all, the “seed” that fell on “thorny ground” wasn’t really seed and the thorns weren’t really thorns. Plus, hadn’t he said that he would tear down the temple and rebuild it in three days? No doubt that was also some metaphor for who-knows-what? Their attitude was probably that if any of this stuff was really important, he’d get back around to it eventually in plain Aramaic.

   The fact was that Jesus meant that he was going to die a horrific death on a cross—which his disciples missed—and he was going to rise in three days—which they also missed. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have been baffled about why he’d allowed some guards to arrest him in the Garden of Gethsemane nor would they have been grieving after he died. They’d have been checking their watches. In short, they didn’t get it—any of it. They didn’t perceive the new covenant that was about to be birthed by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

   New wine.

New Wineskin or Old?

   Jesus has said that no one can put new wine into old wineskins because it would blow up the old wineskins and all would be lost (my translation). This means that new truth can only be received into hearts that understand that the “new wine” which the Lord brings won’t fit into the old wineskins of our old expectations. We cry out for God to do “a new thing” and then we don’t perceive it when he does. Moreover, the concept of “new wineskins” has nothing to do with how old we are; it has everything to do with whether or not we’re going to put God into a box and try to dictate whether a “new thing” is really him or whether we’ll declare it “not God.” In other words, will we be led by the Spirit of God or led by the spirit of the Pharisees?

   This Resurrection Day—and all of the days after it—let’s put aside the “old wine” of stale and obsolete expectations and receive the new wine that the Lord is ready to pour out.

   Just remember one thing: this new wine may not look like we think it will look.

 

 

 

 

 

More Than Conquerors?

King ArthurMORE THAN CONQUERORS

   “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us” (Romans 8:37 – KJ).

   For several years, I’ve been perplexed by Romans 8:37 and I’ve asked the Lord about it many times. “Lord, how is it possible to be ‘more than conquerors’? I mean, nothing is greater than a conqueror. Conquerors achieve victory in all things—what else is there to gain after victory? How then can we be greater?” Recently, the Lord answered my question and that revelation has made a total shift in my thinking. Here’s what He showed me:

“In all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.”

   A Conqueror gains victory over present conditions. An Overcomer brings victory to past circumstances.

   A Conqueror battles to win victory over others. An Overcomer battles to win victory over himself.

   A Conqueror battles with strength. An Overcomer battles with faith.

   A Conqueror takes territory. An Overcomer restores territory.

   A Conqueror defeats people. An Overcomer redeems people.

   A Conqueror requires submission. An Overcomer brings freedom.

   A Conqueror condemns the guilty. An Overcomer forgives the guilty.

   A Conqueror restrains violence. An Overcomer establishes peace.

   A Conqueror legislates righteousness. An Overcomer teaches wisdom.

   A Conqueror wounds in warfare. An Overcomer heals as warfare.

   A Conqueror battles in the physical realm against flesh and blood. An Overcomer battles in the Spirit against rulers, principalities and powers, and spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

   A Conqueror battles for an earthly kingdom. An Overcomer battles for an eternal kingdom.

   A Conqueror is good. An Overcomer is greater.

   We are more than Conquerors.

  

 

 

When God Is Silent

Lonely Man IIWHEN GOD IS SILENT

   I recently talked with a teenager I’ll call Dave who is not only angry at God, but claims not to believe in him at all. In other words, he quit God. This is because when Dave was younger and needed God in a very serious situation, he says God ignored him. He says he prayed and prayed and God refused to help him. Quite honestly, I didn’t know what to say to Dave because, while he didn’t share the situation with me, I sensed it went beyond your usual teenage trauma, and I didn’t want to give some pat answer that might trivialize his situation or pain. Lots of responses popped into my head about “God testing our faith” or “God using this when you’re older,” but I knew he wouldn’t understand. Lots of times as adults, we don’t understand: Why doesn’t God answer us when we need him so desperately and we’re praying our hearts out and yet all we hear is crickets?

Doesn’t God Care?

   This is one of the primary questions we ask when we’re hurting and God seemingly doesn’t answer: If God really cared about me, he’d answer my prayers, he’d deliver me.  

He’d show up.

   And yet, he doesn’t. At least, not in the way we would think. But in the midst of our pain and suffering—or, sometimes worse yet, the pain and suffering of someone we love—we see it that way. All we want is for the pain to stop. It might be physical pain, or illness, or emotional pain, or addiction, or broken relationships, or even perhaps a need for provision and yet we feel left hanging. God has let us down.

   But has he? There are some important principles to consider in those seasons of life that, whether they’re easy principles to accept or not, are true. I know. I’ve been through my share of heartache so I wouldn’t serve up some sorry cliché as an answer but, since the dust has settled, I have found some things to be truth.

Principle #1: God has a plan.

   We all know the scripture where God says, “’My ways are not your ways, and My thoughts not your thoughts,’” and we give it lip service. And we know the scripture that says, “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘Plans for good and not for evil, plans to give you a future and a hope.’” We nod our heads and exclaim, “We know that!” But when the pink slip comes or the kid goes prodigal or the marriage hits the fan or the diagnosis rocks us to the core, are we really thinking, “God has a plan!” Not probably. The thing is, he does. Still, because his way of thinking is far beyond our capacity to comprehend it, we don’t understand. Sometimes, after the fallout, we can look back and we get it, but in the season, we can feel abandoned and betrayed by the One who says he loves us. Maybe, like Dave, we quit God. After all, that’ll show him. But what’s it really show him? That we truly don’t believe anymore or that we’re trying to get through to him how devastated we are by his apparent tune-out? Sometimes we have a tantrum, much like a kid who yells at a parent, “I hate you.” But they don’t really. They just don’t understand their mom or dad’s thinking in the moment. You know what they say? “The older I get, the smarter my parents get.” Why? Because as we mature, we can see their big-picture reasoning for not giving us what we thought, as children, we had to have.

   Losing a loved one seems like the exception to the rule. “How can you say that God has a plan when my loved one died?” That was God’s plan?? That’s just insane!

   How dare you?

   I dare because I lost my mom before my second son was born. I dare because I watched her suffer terribly from lung and then brain cancer. I dare because I knew the pain and suffering my father endured, and I dare because my sons grew up without knowing their grandma. I dare because when I was going through one of the most painful times in my life, my mother was gone and my whole family had moved out of state.

   I dare because I get it.

   So what was God’s plan there? Sometimes it’s not about the person who died—here comes the cliché—they’re in a better place. Rather, sometimes it’s about us and how that tragedy changes us to change the world. Who knew that when John Walsh’s son was kidnapped and murdered, John would end up helping hundreds, if not thousands, of other children be saved by starting the TV show “America’s Most Wanted?” Who knew that after Abe Lincoln had lost election after election (probably close to a dozen), lost his fiancée and his parents, filed for bankruptcy, and had a nervous breakdown, that he would end up being the president who ended slavery in this nation? Who knew that Abraham and Sarah, after suffering the heartbreak and shame of infertility for decades would one day be the birth of a nation and the father and mother of millions of people who thrive to this day?

   God knew. And he knows his purpose for your tragedy and heartache, too.

Principle #2: God’s View Is Eternal.

   Yes, I know: “We have the mind of Christ.” But that doesn’t mean that every day, in all things, we understand God’s eternal mindset. Our stunted perspective limits our understanding of why trials and tribulations happen. Here’s one thing I do know:

This life on earth is just the beginning of our eternities—our missions and our purposes do not end when we die.

   Therefore, what we endure on this earth will have consequences for others after we die. Sometimes these consequences are evident while we’re alive on earth, sometimes they’re not evident on earth until after we die, and sometimes they’re not ever evident on earth; they affect eternity. Chew on that.

Principle #3: God Loves You!

   You may not feel it now—in fact, you may doubt it now, but nonetheless, it’s true. Our emotions and limited understanding do not shape reality or change the truth that God loves us more than we can possibly imagine. Even if we’ve pitched that fit and called God names and quit him in the midst of our confusion and pain, he still loves us.

   He still loves you.

   How do I know? Because there was a day when God purposefully created you. You weren’t just part of some mass package of human beings that fell off some random assembly line, but there was a moment when God deliberately and uniquely created you because he wanted you. And that’s the truth.

   One day we’ll understand the mysteries of the pain and tears that we suffer now and we’ll even understand the reason for God’s silence on occasion. Sometimes it’s simply so that we’ll dig deeper to know him more and believe it or not, knowing him trumps every other thing on earth.

   In those moments when God is silent, know that he will not forever be. There’ll come a day—even in this lifetime—when we’ll hear him say, “Well done, thou good and faithful one.” And that’s all that will matter.

 

 

 

 

 

That Festering Wound

Cracked Doll Face FREE

THAT FESTERING WOUND

   When I was a kid, I had a habit of skinning my knees, after which the same routine would follow: I would cry, mom would wash the wound, smother it in mercurochrome and put a bandage on it. But then somehow the bandage would come off (I have no idea how). From there, you guessed it—I would get the wound dirty and it would get infected and fester.

   Did you know that can happen to our souls?

   If we become wounded and that gash is not properly dealt with, it can become infected and fester, leading to bitterness. And bitterness is a cancer that can lead to the destruction of our souls (mind, will and emotions). But hang on—there is a fix…

Causes of Wounds

   But before we can talk about the remedy for an infection in our souls, we need to define a couple of things. First, what would cause the kinds of wounds that can lead to bitterness? Unfortunately, because we live in a fallen world, there are many. The following is a list of the most common, but it is by no means comprehensive.

  •  Abuse—mental, physical, and/or emotional. Abuse includes domestic situations, bullying in school or on social media, and chronic fear caused by any number of situations. Wounds caused by abuse of any kind can, of course, run the gamut from occasional and/or relatively mild to frequent and/or severe. Regardless, the primary wound abuse causes is shame, which is huge. Self-doubt/hatred, fear and chronic mistrust are also possible consequences.
  • Betrayal. To be betrayed means that someone we trusted has misused that trust and consequently, relationship has been broken. And whether betrayal occurs between people in a marriage, a family, a friendship, a business, or a church (to name a few), it causes a deep and excruciating pain. This pain includes feelings of grief combined with anger and sadness. Betrayal is a tough pill to swallow because the injured party is often powerless to change the situation or to heal the relationship. That power is all in the hands of the betrayer.
  • Feelings of Inferiority. Notice I said “feelings” of inferiority. Our feelings of not “measuring up” are not the reality; rather they are caused by the expectations we or others impose upon us. If we compare ourselves to others in terms of looks, opportunity, social standing, income, family or any other thing, we’re always going to find those who have it better and that’s where the infection happens. Two of the ten commandments say not to covet your neighbor’s anything—spouse, house, job—you name it. That’s because jealousy, envy, and covetousness all cause feelings of inferiority. “What’s wrong with me that I don’t have that?” And you’d better bet that mindset portends bitterness.  
Symptoms

   There are many symptoms of bitterness but these several are particularly destructive: chronic and/or explosive anger, resentment, chronic complaining, blaming others, refusal to forgive, and an attitude of entitlement. I could take a fair amount of words explaining these but I don’t need to.

Bitterness boils down to two core beliefs: Someone else is responsible for my pain, and I’m entitled to reparations for my pain.

In other words, whether or not you’re responsible for what caused my pain, you’re going to have to make amends, pay damages, or make restitution for it. Bitterness very often expects innocent people to compensate for our hard times and if they don’t, well then, they’re just unfair and insensitive.

   I once heard someone say that their ex-spouse had failed to provide them with something in the previous marriage that they’d had to have. As a result, that person swore that in their next marriage, that deficit would be made up. That declaration left me with two questions: Will their new spouse be expected to compensate for a wound from a previous marriage? And will the new spouse have any say in that demand?

   A dangerous attitude of entitlement sounds like this: What I didn’t get before, someone else owes me now.

The Fix

   So is there a treatment for bitterness? Yes, but it’s probably not a quick fix and I’m not going to lie and say it’ll be easy. But if you’re fed up with the pain of bitterness, then you have two choices: deal with the temporary pain of the healing process or continue to live with the excruciating pain to yourself and others of not dealing with your bitterness. I don’t mean to sound harsh, but the truth will set you free. So…

  • You must forgive. If you refuse, then you won’t be free of the fruits of your festering wound: anger, resentment, blame, entitlement, etc. As some wise soul once remarked—refusing to forgive is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Won’t happen. However, don’t confuse forgiveness with trust. If a person is not trustworthy, you can disengage and forgive from a distance. Forgiveness does not mean you have to trust them again. It does mean you have to be willing to say to the Lord, “Please don’t punish them on my account.” If you can say that, you’ve forgiven them. Forgiveness is not an emotion, it’s an act of the will. Don’t wait for a gooey emotion as proof that your forgiveness was sincere. Just mean what you say to God and you’ve accomplished forgiveness.
  • Stop complaining. Maybe you did get the short end of the stick. Maybe others do have it better than you. However, two things are true: Complaining will never be rewarded by God nor will it get you anything. Thanksgiving will. That’s why gratitude for what you have is so precious to the Lord—especially in the midst of hard times—because you’re focused on what He has already done for you, not what someone else has done to you. That’s why it’s called “a sacrifice of praise”—because it’s hard. Still, God deserves our gratitude, no matter what.
  • Stop criticizing. Sometimes bitterness causes us to have a critical spirit. This means that we don’t see the good that people do but rather we’re always critiquing them for their faults, errors, and misjudgments. We need to stop it. Look for the good in people and if you really can’t see any, pray for them. And pray for yourself, that you will be able to see it.   Everyone suffers wounds but sometimes we play the “my pain is worse than your pain” game. That’s bitterness. What difference does it make? And if we really think our pain is worse than that of others, do we really want other people to experience the suffering that we have? Here’s a fact: That won’t heal your wound.
End Game.

   I said that being healed of a festering wound would not be easy but it’s well worth the work. Who wouldn’t want to be free of bitterness and pain? And once we are, nothing will be able to stand in the way of fulfilling the destiny to which we’ve been called.

   Don’t let a festering wound end your game. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Orphan Spirit Mask

Mask IV

THE ORPHAN SPIRIT MASK

   I used to work with a woman I’ll call Shana. She was one of those teachers who loved  kids and would slave over lesson plans to educate them to the best of her ability. She was a truly fabulous teacher. The tragedy was, she didn’t believe that. Not when she received stellar evaluations, not when she got rave reviews from students and parents, not even when her students did well on standardized state tests—which is no small feat. But still, she doubted herself. And why? Because Hannah exhibited many of the symptoms of an “orphan spirit.”

What’s an “Orphan Spirit”?

   An orphan, by simple definition, is someone who is parentless. Therefore, anyone—man or woman—with an orphan spirit is a person who, though they might have parents, was never properly nurtured by a father (or a mother, although an absent or uninvolved father is more common). And while it’s often possible for one parent to offer the nurture and encouragement necessary to fill that gap, other times it’s not enough. (I say this as a single mom so I’m not disrespecting single parents.) But a missing or emotionally-absent parent is not the only situation which can result in an orphan spirit; it’s possible to grow up in a family with a mom and a dad and still have an orphan spirit.

   How is that possible?

   An orphan spirit is caused by a lack of intimacy with a father figure (or mother). However, we often discuss an orphan spirit in terms of a missing or distant father because that scenario is, sadly, too common in our society. For the sake of simplicity in this article, I’ll refer primarily to fathers but these circumstances would also apply to mothers. I’ve seen people whose mother was not functioning as a nurturer so they feel like orphans as well.

   So how does a person know whether they’re suffering from an orphan spirit? There are many symptoms and while it’s possible to exhibit any one of these and not have an orphan spirit, a majority of symptoms might invite a closer look…

Symptom #1: Relating to Dad

   Since the root cause is a lack of real intimacy with a dad, one of the indicators of that  would be an inability or lack of desire to address or refer to one’s father in intimate terms like “dad,” “daddy” or “papa.” “Father,” which is less intimate, might be the only acknowledgement or reference it feels appropriate to make—or even that one can bring themselves to say. This inability to really feel as though a father is a “dad” or “daddy” might then make it very difficult for a person with an orphan spirit to address God as “Abba.” If a person feels distant from their own father, it might be that they feel a distance between themselves and God as well.

   This is a problem if an orphan spirit can only feel a limited level of intimacy with God and everyone else they know is talking about their wonderful, amazing, fulfilling relationship with Him. This discrepancy can make that person feel as though God is rejecting them because they’re just “not feeling” it. And this can lead to all kinds of problems, including a deep-seated fear of condemnation. One with an orphan spirit may even need constant reassurance that he or she is really “saved.” Because they can’t “get there” in terms of intimacy with God, they may feel like they’re lost.

   If that’s you, you are not lost and God loves you—whether you can feel it or not.

   The first step in healing this symptom is simply to say to God, “I believe you love me whether I can feel it or not, and I’m trusting you to help me get there.” Recognize that God understands that one with an orphan spirit has been hurt by someone else—and that may well be a generational thing—so be assured: it’s not your fault and The Lord is not going to punish you for it.

Symptom #2: A Continuous Need for Reassurance

   People with an orphan spirit who did not receive encouragement from a parent will feel a need to find it elsewhere. We all need encouragement. But because a person with that spirit never received it and therefore lacks confidence, they may feel that they don’t measure up and so they need someone to reassure them that they do.

   Let’s be clear: People with orphan spirits inhabit all walks of life, including the very successful. It’s not that people with these insecurities never achieve; they often do. But it’s because they’re often driven to succeed, hoping that success will make them finally feel whole. By “whole,” I mean accepted and “normal.”

   Feeling “normal” is a struggle for folks with an orphan spirit. Especially in churches where often families are intact and the constant message is that a nuclear family is the only “normal” kind of family. So let’s be clear about something else: while a nuclear family is optimal for all of the reasons we’re discussing, one is not abnormal because they didn’t grow up in one, big, happy family. Period.

Symptom #3: Shyness or Isolation?

   Another painful symptom of an orphan spirit is shyness. This usually occurs because orphan spirits, often unconsciously, simply do not believe that people will like or accept them. As a result, they can feel that they don’t belong and they wait for others to reach out and prove to them that they do. The problem is that sometimes (many times?) others simply don’t realize that the person is suffering from a feeling of “not belonging” because those longing for relationship never reach out to be included in various activities.

   I remember once having a conversation with one of my sons who is very outgoing and makes friends easily and that day it hit me why. I said to him, “You just expect that people are going to like you, don’t you?” He looked at me like I had two heads and said, “Well, yeah.”

   Now, I’m not saying that everyone who’s shy has an orphan spirit but it is a symptom for those who do. As someone who is somewhat reticent by nature, it was a real revelation to me that it was okay to have the viewpoint that my son has. It’s okay to reach out to others and seek to be included. In fact, that’s the key to removing the orphan spirit mask.

Is There Hope?

   There’s always hope. And for those with an orphan spirit, sometimes it simply helps to diagnose the problem and know that you’re “normal” and that you’re “feelings” are not the reality of the situation. People do want to get to know you and you do have gifts and talents, whether others recognize you for them or not. And the most important thing is this: it doesn’t matter how you “feel.”

   You are loved.

What’s In the Box?

Christmas Present Wrapped in Gold and Silver

WHAT’S IN THE BOX??

   Ever watch a kid take a shiny new toy out of a box, toss it aside and then proceed to play with the box? We laugh hysterically and then try to convince the kidlet to play with the toy instead. Why? Because we know that the toy really is so much better than the box—especially if we’ve spent precious time and hard-earned money to make that toy happen. So why can’t the kid simply see that the toy is much more valuable than a lump of cardboard that eventually rips, tears, and wears out?

   Why can’t we see that?

The Hard Truth

   We “play with the box” all the time. We would never admit it but we often don’t see what’s on the inside of a person—their heart—but rather we focus on the shiny box that the person comes in. For example, who would make the better pastor? The slick, well-educated, well-dressed guy who knows all the big vocab words and can preach in fluent Greek? Or the unassuming guy who’s never been to Bible college, prefers Levis to Ralph Lauren, and occasionally even splits an infinitive or two while preaching? It could be either one because here’s the issue—it’s the heart, not the packaging, that matters.

   BoxDisclaimer: Now I am not, not, NOT saying that the well-dressed, put-together person doesn’t have a heart of gold or that he average, not-outwardly-sparkly person automatically has a heart like David. The fact is, God has nothing against nice packaging; David was a pretty good-looking guy if I’m reading the right translation. What I am saying is that the heart is the crux of the matter, and the “box” doesn’t always tell the whole story—one way or the other.

Want Proof?

   Take Einstein, for example. We’ve all seen pics of him. So who would think, at first glance, that the guy with the wild, unkempt hair, rumpled clothes, and messy office would turn out to be one of the most brilliant minds in all of human history? (And no, despite what Ancient Aliens’ scientists say, Einstein was not an extraterrestrial from another planet.)

   But go back even further. When Einstein was just a kid in grammar school, the package wasn’t looking so good then, either. In school, his teachers didn’t think he’d ever amount to anything other than a failure. He couldn’t do simple math nor could he even make change from a dollar bill. But it turns out that what was “in the box” was so much more intelligent than the average humanoid that Einstein couldn’t comprehend our infant math.

   Who knew?

Those who took the time to look inside the box. They knew.

Other Boxes…

   So… how else do we honor the “box” more than its contents? Let us count the ways…   Assuming both candidates are equally qualified, who gets the job after the interview? Is it the smiley person with the most polished briefcase or the shy one with the biggest heart? Given that it takes a little more time than an interview to discern an inward thing like a heart, the outward package might win the day.

   Or which politicians get the vote? I’d love to be able to say that everyone educates themselves on candidates’ positions, but I’d be lying. There’s a reason politicians get stylists and makeovers and public-speaking coaches—because so many people vote for the “box”—the appearance of the candidate—rather than the character and ideas inside the box.

   Who gets the date? Enough said.

   Who gets the picture? The point is that the next time we judge the character or the capability of a person by focusing solely on the box he or she comes in, we should back up and take another run at it. “Don’t judge a book by its cover” is a cliché that makes the point entirely: without a shiny cover, no one even picks up the book anymore. But what are they missing?

   Boxes wear out eventually. What’s in them only grows more precious with time.

Gold—Or Dust?

Gold Glitter

GOLD—OR DUST?  

    In 2014, Paige, a single mom of three in Colorado, fought to keep the upscale house and six acres she’d been awarded after a divorce but it wasn’t easy for her. Most times Paige worked two and three jobs to make ends meet. Still, those didn’t generate enough cash to pay the pricy $6000-per-month mortgage so she tried several small businesses from home, including a daycare center. Even so—you guessed it—still not enough $.

   Finally, Paige decided she had to do something different to make the money she needed and so, quietly, without confiding in family or friends, she adopted the name “Carrie” and opened an escort agency featuring services like dancing and stripping. In college, Carrie had earned over $400,000 a year while “dancing” so she knew there was a lucrative market for an escort service. And lucrative it was because at last Carrie was able to earn the kind of money she needed in order to maintain the home and lifestyle she and her children wanted to have. Sadly, however, after about a year of living this double life, Carrie disappeared without a trace.

   The night Carrie didn’t return home, her nanny assumed that she had been working late again as she so often did, but when she didn’t return at all, police were notified and a search begun. Eventually, Carrie’s abandoned vehicle was found but she was not—for five years. But in the course of the investigation into her disappearance, her computer revealed the secret which Carrie had taken such pains to conceal: When police began to track the large sums of money she was suddenly earning, they discovered Carrie’s escort agency.

   Carrie had found a way to make money—lots of money—but the pursuit of it had cost her everything—even her life.

Chasing the Dream

   Every day, myriads of people pursue their dream of making money, lots of money. And they do. They become rich and successful—which is not a bad thing—unless there is no end game in sight. In other words, at what point is the money goal realized? How much money is enough? Enough to pay the bills? To retire comfortably? More? A million? Ten? A hundred? More?

   Then what?

   That’s the question we all come to: After fulfilling our monetary goals, then what do we do? Chase more? And for what purpose? To make even more?

   Why?

   Is amassing money with no end in sight a goal in itself? If so, is there a point to that? The Bible warns that we “‘cannot serve God and money at the same time’” (emphasis mine).

   Often we think that we control our money but the hard fact of the matter is that money can control us. And that means that we literally become servants to our money.

   We think we “rule” over money but the Bible says that if we choose money over God, we “serve” money—which means money is our master, it is not our servant. And if that’s the case, then money calls the shots and we will do whatever money requires us to do. As did Carrie.

The Cost

   And that’s not all. Service to anyone or thing requires a cost, and that means that whatever we’re serving, we’re sacrificing for. We all know that serving God requires sacrifice; God is straight up about that and tells us to count the cost. However, serving $ requires sacrifice as well—and who thinks to count the cost of that? Did Carrie? I daresay she did not. Or maybe she did. Maybe she considered the possibility that running an escort service might entail a risk, but evidently she calculated it a risk worth taking. Still, danger wasn’t her only gamble. Carrie made other sacrifices for money as well. And so do we.

   What else are we willing to sacrifice for the love of money? Our time? The pursuit of bucks will cost us that. Our families and relationships? That’s an old story. We all know it happens—to other people. And that’s the big lie that we tell ourselves: “Those things won’t happen to me; I’m smarter than that.” What that really means is that we think we’re too intelligent to “allow” the love and pursuit of $ to suck us dry. We’re aware of the risks but we’ll avoid them. Really? How do we do that? Do we set limits on how long we’ll spend pursuing money—or does time evaporate and before we know it, decades have slipped into oblivion? Do we set limits on the amount of money we’re chasing—or does every new tax bracket require more dollars to keep up the lifestyle required to earn the next tax bracket? Expanding the business, the house, the car? How much money fulfills the dream?

   And then what?

The End Game

   After half a lifetime of watching folks on the hamster wheel chasing the dollars day after day, year after year, I have one question: Are we chasing money for eternal purposes—or just chasing it?

   The older I get, the more aware I am of one thing: Some future day we all will stand before God, each one of us, and offer to him whatever “crown” we’ve managed to achieve, accomplish or amass—and what will it be? Will it be something of eternal value, of “gold” and “precious stone”? Souls won, misery relieved, the Gospel financed? Or will it be what the Bible calls “stubble” and “rust”? Maybe billions of dollars, sitting in the bank, waiting to be used—for what? To build theme parks or office buildings or restaurants? Or perhaps we achieve fame and a worldwide platform to proclaim—what? The latest fashion trend or blockbuster movie or money-making scheme?

   When it’s all said and done, what will be our crown? A crumbling roller coaster on a rotting boardwalk or a thousand souls fed and then won because they were fed? Where are we investing the treasure we’ve been given? Or are we?

   “‘Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’.” Where is our treasure? Where is our heart?

   Whatever has our heart, has us.

To Finish—or Not to Finish…?

Start-Finish

TO FINISH—OR NOT TO FINISH…?

   Hailey was a writer. I say was because she wrote but she never quite finished anything she wrote. She’d begun three different books: two were novels and one was a non-fiction book on eating healthy (when you can’t afford “healthy” food). However, if you asked her, she didn’t quit—she just postponed finishing. She would finish when the time was more convenient.  

SOMEDAY…

   On the road to our destiny, the concept of “someday” is a pothole the size of Montana. Basically, it’s the excuse we give ourselves to procrastinate. And why do we do that? Fear. We’re afraid that either we can’t finish that book or business proposal or degree or—fill-in-the-blank—or we’re afraid that if we do, somehow our work will fail or be rejected. The concept of “just not good enough” haunts our dreams and shipwrecks our destinies. However, there are some things we can do to help us to get unstuck.

REMEMBER WHO IS CHOSEN.

   God has this sometimes disturbing habit of choosing those who feel least equipped to do the job. That right there can be a stumbling block to many of us because when we struggle to accomplish that assignment, we feel inadequate and unworthy. Then we convince ourselves that we can never succeed and so we “postpone”. But the truth is, we really quit. We would never admit that because we know that quitting is evil but we never quite get back to it. However, we’re forgetting one thing: God is with us.

   Remember Moses? We think of him as the greatest prophet in the Bible—and he was—but the truth is, but when the Lord called him, he was a murderer and a fugitive. But still, God chose him to be the deliverer of Israel. However, what was Moses’ response when God first had that little chat with him? “I can’t. No one would listen to me. And if they did listen, who would believe me? Besides, I can’t speak.” As the story goes, God refuted each of these arguments but Moses was still scared. Finally, he said to God, “’I’ll go if you go with me.’” The Lord’s response? “’I will go with you.’”

ASSIGNMENTS

   God will go with us, too. In fact, he never expects us to do our assignments alone. That’s why he often picks those least likely to succeed; it’s specifically because he wants to partner with us to do that thing he’s assigned to us.

And make no mistake: that’s exactly what it means when God calls us—it’s an “assignment”. It’s not a hobby, it’s not a pastime, it’s not a toy. It’s a destiny for a specific purpose—and that’s to change the world.

   DO NOT underestimate your calling, your assignment, your destiny. It’s crucial to the kingdom of God. And what’s more, it’s possible.

WILL IT BE HARD?

   Of course it will be hard. There’s always a learning curve and much of what God expects us to do initially after he calls us is to train. That’s right—after he calls us. He doesn’t expect us to perform perfectly from the start. And there’s an encouragement.

   When I first began writing fiction, I thought I knew how. Little did I know, I knew almost nothing. The last few years have been a combination of learning and crying. Just when I think I know enough to be good enough, I find out I have something else to learn. Eventually, I’ll know enough and have practiced enough that I’ll be “good enough,” but does that mean I won’t have anything else to learn? Absolutely not. And neither will you. If you’re not confident that you can succeed, educate yourself and practice until you can. But here’s the truth: “Hard” is not, not, NOT an indicator of whether you should be doing that thing. The only thing that is an indicator is whether or not God has called you to do it. Period. The end.

THE “S” WORD.

   Don’t be scared. Okay, be scared but don’t quit. As Joyce Meyer always says, “’Do it afraid.’” Fear is not a sign that you should quit because since when are emotions a reliable indicator? Nor is fear a good excuse to quit. What’s more, fear is not permission to procrastinate or to postpone your assignment. So the next time you’re tempted to lay down the assignment “for a while,” there might be one thing you’re forgetting.

   “Someday” never comes.

 

Life’s Little “Pop Quizzes”

Epic Fail

POP QUIZ

   Last week I had “a day”. And we all know what that means: a day full of annoyances, conflict, disappointment, headaches and things breaking down—and mental breakdowns are not unheard of. It’s a day where all kinds of fun things happen. For example, you’re running late—and the snail-on-wheels in front of you doesn’t quite seem to grasp that. And of course something has to break—and it has to be the coffeemaker. Or (my personal favorite) your kids decide your life isn’t exciting enough and needs a little drama—and they’re happy to fix that for you. They’re so helpful that way. Or you forget your lunch so you roll through the drive-through only to discover you don’t have your wallet. But no worries—you know where it is. It’s sitting on the kitchen counter—right next to your lunch and the broken coffee maker. And to top it all off, you get to work (late) and pull up the document you’d worked on for a week and saved—or thought you saved…

   All you can do at that point is to look up at the sky and inquire, “Is there a point here??”

Those Little Tests…

   Well, yes, actually there is. It’s one of life’s little “pop quizzes”, the let’s-see-how-much-you’ve-learned-character test that God loves to spring on us from time to time. And while I’d much prefer the paper and pencil version of that particular test (it’s easier), God seems to prefer the more “show, don’t tell” type of test. That’s the test that seems to go something like this:

   Did you flash a friendly smile at the guy in the snail-mobile or flash him something else?

   Did you sit your kid down and patiently explain why it’s rude to use “that” language—or did you ground them until they’re 45? Not that there’s anything wrong with a good, long grounding—as long as you smile sweetly and keep the decree under ten decibels.

   Did you thank the nice lady at the drive through and politely explain that the wallet is on the counter next to the lunch and the broken coffee maker? Or did you yell at the nice lady that they took too long with your order so you don’t want it now and then roar off, squealing your tires?

It Gets Personal

   For me, as a teacher, my tests often involve high school students who never got the memo that there are just certain things guaranteed to spoil your classroom experience. Like pitching a full-fledged fit when the teacher has the gall to tell you that naptime is over and to get your head up off the desk or to turn around and stop talking to your neighbor or to stop throwing pencils or to stop texting in class—and forget telling me it’s your mother. True story. Last week. All in one 42-minute period. Did I pass the test? Probably not. Which is why later I was near tears when, out of the blue, my sister called.

   “What’s wrong??”

   “Nothing.”

   “You’re lying.”

   “Okay.”

   “What happened?”

   So I told her what happened. What happened was I failed the test. I sort of let the little cherubs know I was not happy. Loudly. And I knew that it didn’t matter what they had done; I’d failed. Know what my sister said?

   “‘To whom much is given, much is required.’”

   Great. I would’ve preferred, “This too shall pass.”

   The thing about these little pop quizzes is that God tailor-makes them all. For some it’s the patience test; for some it’s the “love the least of these” test; for some it’s the giving-money test; for some it’s the scrub-the-toilet-servant test; for some it’s the gossip test—et cetera. And guess what else? God doesn’t do social promotions. It doesn’t matter to God how long it takes us to pass our ICE’s (Individualized Character Tests) —God has all eternity.

Rule #1

   So—first thing: if you fail the test, admit it. We all have to do that. Or we get to take the truthfulness test again. And once we pass that test and admit what we’ve done, then we get to start all over with the original character test that we wouldn’t admit we’d failed. Ever hear of “life-long learning”? Well, now you have.

   Point?

Don’t get discouraged when you get a failing grade on your pop character quiz. It means God’s working.

   Honestly? That was the one thing that made me feel better—the idea that the difficult circumstances were for a purpose. I know I learned something—for me it wasn’t about what I said because it wasn’t unreasonable. The point is how I said it. I learned that there’s a wrong way to say the right thing.  

   Will I have to take this little quiz again? I hope not—but, yes. Then I can move onto the next grade. More lessons, more quizzes. Do I like that? Not really. But then I consider the alternative: no more lessons—and no more transformation. And never again being entrusted with more. Of course, God is a gentleman; He won’t teach us anything without our permission. So what’s our answer?

   If we want to be entrusted with the bigger things that lead to fulfilling our destinies, then there can only be one answer.

   What was your pop quiz?