Category Archives: Principles of Success

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Unicorn IIR-E-S-P-E-C-T

   One day, while discussing a book in class, I made the random observation that a gentlemen should open a door for a lady. The young men’s response?

   “Why should I? That’s dumb!”

   “She can do it herself!”

   “Is her arm broken??”

   I was astounded. Moreover, I was disappointed that most of the students, young ladies included, had never heard of the concept of a man holding a door for a lady. In fact, one of the girls became so outraged that she started yelling that she didn’t need some man to hold a door open for her; she was perfectly capable of handling it! So… I swallowed my amazement and calmly explained that such an action was simply a show of respect. Surely once they understood the reasoning, they’d be on board.

   Not so much. They laughed. Hysterically.

   By now I’m beginning to get suspicious. Could it be that this generation had no concept of what constitutes respect or, even more alarmingly, that even if they did grasp the idea, they had no intention of showing it? It would explain the chronic rudeness and even obscenities lobed at teachers and parents so frequently… So I tried another angle. Had they ever heard of rising when an elderly person entered a room or giving them their seat on the bus?

   They laughed some more, they uttered rude things, and they mimicked the elderly.

    “Why should I stand up for some old person?”

    “I’m not giving up my seat to some old f-rt! They can find their own seat!”

WHY IS COMMON DECENCY SO UNCOMMON?

   Well, I shut that right down, but later when I thought about it for two consecutive seconds, I began to realize something. Even though “Character Education” is the latest “cure all” in education, character itself is defined to students in generalities, not specifics. For example, in many schools, every month a new character trait is highlighted, such as “Respect,” “Caring,” “Trustworthiness,” and/or “Diligence.” However, students are not taught how, specifically, to demonstrate these character traits. For instance, during RESPECT month, are students encouraged to hold doors for each other, to write a “thank you” note for a gift, or even to say “please” and “thank you”? And while you might think that last one should be a given, you’d be surprised at how many times, after providing students with yet another pencil, they snatch it from your hand with no expression of gratitude whatsoever.

What would Miss Manners say? Better yet, what would Grandma say?

   Recently, I attended a dinner at a restaurant with about twenty others. Given the large group, it took a few minutes for everyone at the table to be served and I noted that nearly every person who had been served first waited to begin eating until everyone else had been served. (Yes, that’s a thing.) Moreover, I realized that while a few of the millennials at the table seemed a little baffled by the concept of waiting for others, they caught on when they realized what the “older folks” were doing and they complied. Why? Because an example had been set for them.

   Unfortunately, too often such examples seem to have fizzled out and our whole society suffers for it.

SO HOW DID IT ALL BEGIN?

   When I pondered the question of how it all started, I have to conclude that it first began during the “hippy movement” of the 60s and 70s when the idea of bucking authority was all the rage. Policemen were called “pigs,” “establishment” and cultural standards were “square,” and tantrums and protests for what was “unfair” became the norm. And for those who never outgrew those four-year-old manifestations, they procreated and passed on their version of “manners” to their offspring. Which is probably why now we have the elderly being neglected and abused more than ever, movements against law enforcement and the military, and rioting, burning and looting in the streets. In short, it’s not about being sensitive to others anymore—which is the essence of respect—but rather it’s more “all about me.”

WHEN WILL IT END?

   The answer is two-fold: when we begin implementing example and accountability. That’s basically all it takes to teach respect and manners to those who don’t have a clue what they mean. But one won’t work without the other. If we don’t set the example of what it means to be respectful, then those lacking respect won’t know what it looks like or how to do it. And if we don’t hold people accountable when they’re disrespectful, then they won’t be respectful. Why should they? Respect does require something of a sacrifice so why put yourself through it when it’s just easier to be selfish and rude? The bottom line is that respect has gone the way of the unicorn.

   It’s time to bring the unicorn back.

 

   

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Work Ethic 101

Lazy Person

WORK ETHIC 101

   Today was fun. I had to lecture my 8th graders (again) about working—which would be annoying enough in itself, but then I had to get attitude for requiring them to work in the first place. The nerve of me! However, I didn’t feel so badly about it when, the next period, I had to stop into another English teacher’s room and found her literally yelling at her students for the same thing: not working and then giving her attitude for actually expecting them to work. And I’m not talking about difficult work, either. What she and I both require of students is to read and write—and while they’re writing, to do basic things like capitalize sentences and names, use punctuation where appropriate, and spell words correctly. (This is 8th grade, mind you.) And I’m only talking about spelling basic words, not words like “ridiculousor “inappropriateor even “literate.  And forget knowing how to use quotation marks—that’s like asking them to explain the theory of relativity. But again, it’s because we teachers are so unreasonable, asking students to accomplish such monumental tasks. Not that, according to some parents, we’ve even bothered to teach those things in the first place. So, in a nutshell, it’s our fault. All of it.

Who Cares Anyway?

   Not all students are apathetic, of course, but too many students just don’t think anything they learn in school (or don’t learn) matters a hill of coffee beans anyway. So part of our endless lectures—as was the case today—are to try to inform students about why they need to care. Not that we haven’t had that conversation countless times before. (Wish I had even a nickel for every time we’ve had to have that little chat.) But part of the revelation we try to impart to students is the fact that employers do care. They care very much.

   It turns out that the English teacher and I have both had the same experience before we went into teaching; we’ve both been responsible for hiring. Consequently, both of us have played the same game: trash can basketball with myriads of applications. I am not exaggerating when I say that words on applications are misspelled, punctuation (if even present) is used incorrectly, and sentences are not capitalized. True story. And we told students why they should care now—because in high school, if you can’t pass all of your NYS Regents exams, you won’t graduate.

If you don’t graduate, you can’t even get a job flipping burgers at McD’s anymore.

   No lie. Recently, I’ve seen a number of signs in windows for entry-level fast food and retail jobs requiring a high-school diploma. Nevertheless, the idea that employers might actually want to hire people who can read, communicate effectively and legibly in writing, and count without a calculator—well, we just made that up. We’re lying to students. Employers don’t really care about any of that…

The Challenge Is Real.

   I’ve had a number of conversations with employers and business owners who regularly lament the fact that they can’t find employees who show up for work on time (or show up at all), know how to follow directions, or even expect to have to put forth effort on the job. Not making that up, either. Ask some of them. And while I’d like to say it’s gotten better, I can’t. The challenge of finding good employees has only gotten worse.

   Recently, I saw a show on television where an expert in the corporate world was giving advice about what to do and not do at a job interview. One thing not to do? Tell the employers that you’re really not a morning person and so they shouldn’t expect you before 11am. Really. Other issues? Not showing up for the interview on time, wearing jeans to the interview, and looking at your phone during the interview. Sad but true.

Cause and Effect

   So why are students and young adults having such a hard time grasping the concept of hard work? There are a number of reasons.

   First on my list is a thing called “social promotion” where students are passed through grades K-8 without having to pass their grade levels or courses. If you’re not in the field of education, you might not know this is happening but it is and has been for many years. Moreover, it’s happening in public schools all around the country and so what this philosophy is breeding is truckloads of kids who don’t believe they are required work in high school, college or the workplace. And why should they? They aren’t required to work in their formative years in school so unless parents are instilling a work ethic at home—which is increasingly a challenge for them—kids aren’t learning it anywhere. I’ve actually had students tell me that they don’t have to do any work because they know they’ll pass anyway, even if—and I’ve seen this—they have zeroes in all their classes. A few days ago I even had one student say to me, “I figured out in 6th grade that I don’t have to do any work and I’ll still pass.” The result?

Students and young people have essentially been programmed that they don’t have to do anything to succeed. Rather, it’s our job to accommodate them.

   Hence the “participation trophies” and rioting in the streets because people don’t get what they demand.

The Solution?

   Honestly, I don’t know the solution for the whole system. All I do know is that until we start holding students accountable with consequences, all of the “real life is coming” lectures in the world won’t do the trick. However, I can say to whomever is willing to listen: There are principles of success in the world that will work for anyone willing to implement them. The primary principle of success is work ethic. Period. The fact is that I have never seen—never—someone who worked hard and didn’t succeed. And it doesn’t make any difference how old you are, what race, gender or creed; if you’re willing to work hard, you will be successful. Of course, that doesn’t mean that folks start out at the top of the heap, but point out the hardest worker in any organization or business, and it doesn’t take a crystal ball to predict who gets promoted.

   And the amazing thing is, that’s all it takes.

   It’s really very simple. To achieve success, to fulfill our destinies, and to make a difference really only requires one thing: a willingness to put our shoulders to the plow and work it. If we don’t have that mindset, all of the education, talent and connections in the world aren’t going to “bring” us success.

   The bottom line is this: Success isn’t owed to anyone. It’s earned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Myth of the Fairy Godmother

Fairy GodmotherTHE MYTH OF THE FAIRY GODMOTHER

Today I had another in a looooong line of “discussions” with the usual 7th grade students about why they have to take a reading class in, well, 7th grade. They just don’t seem to get it—even though I’ve explained it every week since school began. (That would be at least 33 times in eight months. At least.) So, why are they still in reading? The bottom line is—they can’t read. However, that particular explanation is not one they seem to appreciate, so they keep asking the question as if one of these days, I’m going to change my answer to one they like. (I’m pretty certain, for some students, that strategy works at home.)

Nevertheless, the continuous whining about how they “HATE” to read, and declarations about how they’re not going to do it, and the inevitable arguments that follow about how they are not arguing with me—none of that would really matter—except that they’re completely missing one rather fundamental point. The excruciating pain of reading class would cease to exist if they would just learn to read.

Granted, that might take a little work and they would actually have to engage in that most unspeakable of deeds—completing an actual book—but the pain of that would be far less agonizing than spending their whole next year in an 8th grade reading class. Not that they really believe me when I tell them that will happen. But here’s the dirty little secret: no one gets out until they learn to read. Ask my current 8th graders.

Livin’ the Fairy Tale

We increasingly live in a world where people are separated into two camps: there are those who understand that, in order to achieve anything or for that dream to actually happen, you have to work—and there are those who either don’t know that or don’t care to know that. Their dreams are just “supposed” to come true and most of the time, it’s because someone else is supposed to make it happen for them. And guess who’s angry if the dream doesn’t just happen?

   The fact is, you are your own fairy godmother; you’re the one with the wand. If you choose not to use it, then the dream won’t happen. Period.

Why do people not want to work? Because work is, well, work. It requires sacrifice: it requires doing things we often don’t like, it requires long hours, it requires inconvenience, it requires putting up with unpleasant circumstances or (dare I say it?) people. It isn’t always fun. And it’s sad how “fun” seems to be the new standard these days in terms of which activities are of value and which are not.

In short, work is painful. We give up something now in order to get something later. That’s how it works. Or it doesn’t.

Midnight Is Coming…

We can play now—and then have to work twice as hard later. That’s painful—especially when everyone else we know is reaping success now because they didn’t play when it was time to work. (Ask my 7th and 8th graders.)

Working to save money comes to mind—or at least not spending gobs of it when you don’t have it to spend or you’ll need it later in life. We may not have enough to save early on but then we shouldn’t be spending what we don’t have. Want a reason? Because “later” always comes.

We can play now—and then regret a missed opportunity later. I’ve said it before and I’ll hammer on it again and again: there’s no pain greater than regret. That missed opportunity to go to school when you had the chance—or (here’s a thought) to learn something while you’re there. (I always tell kids that if you’re going to college to party, stay home; it’s stupid to take out loans to party.) Or skipping that job opportunity or business op because it would require too much work.  Opportunities take work!

The ridiculous idea that we can go through life without pain is more than just a stupid concept; it’s destructive. More and more people are becoming angry at the ludicrous idea that they must work to achieve. When people can’t handle the voluntary pain and sacrifice of hard work, then they end up with the inevitable pain and heartache of having declined the opportunity to work. And whether that involves working hard at a job, in school, at a relationship, or toward some other personal goal, it’s the same story: no pain, no gain.

Here’s the bottom line: you can endure good pain and reap the satisfaction and profits of it or you can suffer bad pain and reap the sorrow and tragedy of it. There aren’t any other choices.

As for your fairy godmother, she clocks out at midnight.

 

 

The Forgotten Key to Destiny

GrapesTHE FORGOTTEN KEY TO DESTINY 

   One spring when my kids were little, we planted a vegetable garden. They were all excited—until the veggies began to grow. We had planted carrots, squash and lettuce but for some reason, my son was expecting pumpkins. He cried when he found out that, well, there wouldn’t be any pumpkins sprouting that year. Why? Because we hadn’t planted any.

You Reap What You Sow.

   One of the interesting things about the principle of sowing and reaping is that, because of it, it’s not difficult to predict outcomes in any given situation. That’s because the first rule of sowing and reaping is “You reap what you sow.” In the natural realm, for example, when you plant carrot seeds, you get carrots. You don’t get pumpkins. No mystery there (unless you’re five).

   Still, some people have a very difficult time grasping the idea that what you sow in the spiritual/moral realm is also what you reap there. In other words, if you want good relationships with family and friends, you must first spend time caring for those people and relationships. It won’t happen by ignoring or mistreating people. On the flip side, it’s possible to end up with harvests you don’t want based on what you’ve done—or not done. If, for example, you don’t want to be in debt, then you can’t run up the cards. That’s all. You’ll reap the “laws of interest” and not to your benefit. There are dozens of other examples of folks sowing “bad seed” but expecting a good harvest, somehow deceiving themselves that the law of sowing and reaping will not apply in their situations.

   God’s command in Genesis that the plants and animals reproduce “after their own kind” is concrete proof that whatever kind of seed we plant will be the same kind we harvest. So it is in the spiritual/moral realm as well. Remember, “God is not mocked.” This means that we can’t pull one over on God with a violation of this principle. “What a man sows, so shall he reap.” End of story.

 Weeds

   The same is true with regard to what we don’t do: If we do not deliberately plant “good” seed, we can’t expect to get a harvest of something good. In the physical realm, for instance, whatever soil is not sowed with good seed results in weeds.

   I remember learning this lesson one spring after removing an above-ground swimming pool from my back yard. Doing so left a twenty-two foot circle of sand and dirt in its place. Not having a particularly green thumb, I was shocked at the size, variety and tenacity of weeds that quickly sprang up to fill this void. I plucked and pruned for weeks to no avail, until it finally dawned on me that I was violating the “nature-abhors-a-vacuum” principle and that if I wanted to be permanently rid of the weeds, I needed to re-sow that area with some-thing else.

   This applies to the spiritual/moral realm as well: If we want a harvest other than weeds, we need to sow deliberately into the areas in which we want to see a good return and we need to sow good seed—“good” as defined by the Word of God. The bottom line is that good harvests don’t  happen with no effort on our parts.

It’s difficult to reap a harvest if you haven’t sown any seed.

You Reap More Than You Sow.  

   The second rule of sowing and reaping is the fact that “You reap more than you sow.” This law also dates back to Genesis where God commanded all living things “to be fruitful and multiply.” Thus, inherent in an apple seed is, not just one other apple, but an entire tree full of apples—each containing many seeds of its own.

   Jesus emphasized this point about the quantity on the return of the seed that we sow as He taught about giving. “‘Give,'” he said, “‘and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured to you’” (Luke 6:38). In short, this means that while we will receive more than we’ve sown, how much more is essentially up to us. That might be good news and it might not, but that’s also up to us. 

   And the multiplication is not just about money. Something that parents need to pay attention to is how the seeds we sow are multiplied in our children. How many times have we heard that “whatever we do, our kids will do”? The fact is, not only will they do what we do, they’ll do it more frequently and more intensely. For instance, it’s not unknown for a child who hears his parents joke about cheating on taxes to conclude that there’s no difference between that and cheating on tests in school or even to cheat in marriage. For this reason, as parents, we need to think carefully about the choices we make for our children’s sake.

   The bottom line is that whatever we sow, whether wisely or foolishly will, sooner or later, result in an in-kind harvest bigger and more far-reaching than we’ve sown—which brings us to another principle of the Law of the Harvest…

You Reap Later Than You Sow.

   The third rule of sowing and reaping is that “You reap later than you sow.” Just as it takes time for seeds to grow, so it usually takes time for the consequences of our actions to manifest. What many people either don’t know or don’t want to know is that just because we don’t see the fruit of our actions immediately, doesn’t mean we’ll never see it at all. The point is, it may take some time for the seeds to bear fruit but they will—because that’s what seeds do. How long it takes, no one really knows. All we can say for certain is that some seeds in the physical realm, like lettuce, spring up and produce a harvest very quickly while other seeds, like acorns, take many years to grow up. Consequences are the same way. Driving too fast, for instance, will reap a harvest pretty quickly; it doesn’t take long for that red, flashing light to appear in your rearview mirror or for your insurance company to get wind of the situation and hike your rates. However, showing a consistent balance of love and discipline to an unusually strong-willed child can be disheartening because it can take so long, but there will be fruit—whether in this life or the next—and it will be good fruit.

Let us not grow weary of doing good, for at the right time we’ll reap a harvest—if we don’t give up” (Galatians 6:9).

    It is because of the truth of this spiritual principle that “we reap later than we sow” that the Bible encourages us that “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). We may not see the evidence of seed growth for a very long time, but that doesn’t mean we should give up if we are waiting for a harvest, nor does it mean that we should take for granted that we’ve gotten away with sin.

   We will always reap a harvest. We will reap the same thing we’ve sown; we will reap more than we’ve sown; and we will reap later than we’ve sown. “Whatever a man sows, so shall he reap.”

   Sow carefully.

 

 

 

 

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.

  

 

“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.