Category Archives: Principles of Success

“No”—What A Concept!

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“NO”—WHAT A CONCEPT!

   When my kids were little (and even not so little), we played a little game. Not that it was all that fun but apparently they enjoyed it because they played it all the time. Evidently, the rules involved one or both of them—double-teaming is always an option—asking me for something to which I would say “no”. “No, you can’t stay up till midnight,” or “No, you can’t skip school to play video games,” or just plain “NO.” And that’s when the fun would happen. Basically, the object of the game was to get mom to say yes. And there were lots of strategies to win the game…

The Rules…

   There’d be the whining, as in, “C’MON, MOM! YOU PROMISED!” (I didn’t.) This tactic was often accompanied by puppy-dog eyes or followed up with, “I SWEAR I’LL NEVER ASK YOU FOR ANYTHING EVER AGAIN!” (If only…)

   There’d also be the begging. “PLEASE, CAN I, MOM?? CAN I, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEEEEEZE!”  “Maybe you can, but you may not.”

   There’d be the appeal to the Constitution. “THAT’S NOT FAIR—I HAVE RIGHTS!”  “Not until you’re 18. In the meantime, you’re suffering under the delusion that this is a democracy.”

   There’d be the guilt trip. “I’LL JUST DIE IF YOU DON’T BUY ME THE THOUSAND-DOLLAR SNEAKERS!”  “Problem solved. I guess you won’t need the sneakers.”

   There’d be the deal-making. “IF YOU LET ME GO WITH DAMIAN TO SHOOT BB’s AT OLD PEOPLE, I SWEAR I’LL TAKE OUT THE TRASH NEXT MONTH!”  “How about this for a compromise: You skip the devil’s spawn and take the trash out now.”

   There’d be the accusations. “YOU’RE THE WORST MOTHER ON EARTH!”  “And several planets.”

   There’d be the threats. “I’LL RUN AWAY FROM HOME!”  “And?”

   And as a last resort, there’d be the tantrum. This involved no real words (or none that I should publish)—although there would be yelling, much foot stomping, and even the occasional head bang on the wall (theirs, not mine). Ultimately, there’d be the evitable melt-into-a-puddle-on-the-floor scene. My response?

   “No means no.”

   It doesn’t mean “maybe,” it doesn’t mean “if we keep asking, she’ll cave,” and it certainly doesn’t mean mom didn’t really mean it.

   No means NO. Repeat as necessary.

There’s A Concept…

   Why is it so difficult for people to accept the concept of “NO”? And it’s not just children—although I see way too much of the above in school every single day. Rather, it’s also adults. And not only do adults not accept “no” from other human beings, but a “no” from God often also seems to be perceived as just another option in the salad bar of life.

   Still, while adults don’t throw tantrums per se over the word “no,” we do seem to have our own adult versions of rejecting a “NO” from God: Sure, we plead, we bargain, and we appeal to His “fairness,” but when that doesn’t work, some among us have even been known to try to lay a guilt trip on God by sobbing hysterically or punching a wall because, well—that’ll show Him. So, a tantrum is not entirely out of the question; it’ll just look a little differently than kids’ tantrums. Often an adult tantrum takes the form of the old-fashioned freeze-out: I just won’t talk to God for a while and that’ll show Him. And God’s response?

   “Sorry but—no.”

But What If We Don’t Like That?

   Too bad.

God’s Nature

   The Lord is unchangeable. That means that if we don’t like his “no,” it doesn’t matter; it’s not going to change. He doesn’t cave to the manipulation of deal-making, accusations, cold shoulders, tantrums or even the threats to quit him and go all atheist. Instead our choices are either that we adjust our attitudes and accept the “no” or—we don’t. There aren’t any other options. And if we reject his “no” and then plow on ahead to do or get that thing anyway, that means this: We will reap the consequences of rejecting his instructions. Why? Because he’s mean? No. We’ll reap the consequences because there are consequences to reap; God doesn’t say “no” just to amuse himself—he says “no” because there’s something bad lurking at the end of the shadowy tunnel. Deadly even.

It’s Hard

   We live in a culture where the word “no” doesn’t really mean “no.” Rather it’s a signal that it’s time to begin the negotiations—whatever manipulative form those might take. Nobody really means “no” anymore—so they say—which is why we now have the “Me Too” movement, the Anti-Bullying movement, and rioting in the streets: When we hear “no,” like spoiled children, we simply turn up the heat a couple hundred degrees to force the issue and get what we want. As a result, anarchy becomes the norm and—not to get too political—drug laws mean nothing, borders and boundaries mean nothing, and even crime convictions mean almost nothing.

   When we compromise the word “no,” chaos and lawlessness rule—in our families, in our schools, and certainly in our streets. Moreover, the refusal to accept a “no” will destroy us as well; we’ll morph to self-centered and selfish little people having maturity levels on par with a titsey fly. The result across the board? Wrecked and ruined lives. And all because we refuse to accept the word “no.”

   The word “no”—regardless of whether it’s decreed from God, mom or Uncle Sam—is often all that stands between us and abject misery.

   Perhaps it’s time we pay a little more homage to the word “NO”.

 

 

 

 

  

  

No Death, No Resurrection.

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NO DEATH, NO RESURRECTION.  

   In my twenties, I lost a job. I worked as a receptionist at a place with a sales’ force which received tons of phone calls from clients—mostly not very nice people. These folks would call regarding something they weren’t at all happy about and would demand, in very loud and angry tones, to talk to this one or that one—and half the time they wouldn’t even identify themselves. To make matters worse, many times when I picked up the phone, they’d start yelling at me so I’d just connect them to the offending party.  To add to the fun, the sales manager was a jerk. In fact, he was the poster child for “jerk” (“child” being the appropriate word). Others barely tolerated him because he was indiscriminately arrogant and rude to everyone—although it did seem that those with the least important jobs were treated to the most tyrannical tirades.

   Regardless, the other part of my job was to type stuff—which was much easier since the typewriter had a much more pleasant disposition. So one day, this sales manager came in and tossed a paper at me, ordering me to type it. He said it was some kind of description of a house he was building or buying or something and for me to get it done immediately. Did I mention that he also said it was the original and that there were no copies? I looked at the pile of things I needed to type for the office and then at his paper and politely suggested that after I got all of the work-related things done, I’d be happy to do his personal typing. Well, that didn’t fly. He turned bright red, threw up his arms and began to shout that I would do it and I’d do it now.

   I kind of didn’t. The other unfortunate thing that happened was that while I was away from my desk for a moment, someone took it. Apparently, it was done by one or two anonymous people who hated him and had decided that a little payback was in order…

People Skills 101

   Long story short—he fired me. And all of his other meltdowns paled in comparison to that day. He didn’t believe I hadn’t lost it but, I have to say (and I know this isn’t very nice), that if I had to get fired, it couldn’t have been for a better reason.

   Still, I had a problem—no paycheck. And it’s difficult to get a recommendation for a new job when you’ve been fired. Needless to say, I was somewhat panicked but I ended up doing something I would never have done if I hadn’t lost that job. I went back to school and got a graduate degree in education. I didn’t do it the next day—I prayed and began to research costs, available programs, and the length of time it would take, but God showed me all of that and confirmed over and over that that was the path I was supposed to pursue. Two months later, I was in school.

   Bottom line? I wouldn’t be a teacher now if I hadn’t been fired then.

It Takes A Death

   Sometimes it takes a death before something new can be birthed—especially in God’s economy. It’s all part of the “New Wine” I mentioned a few months ago: God often does things in ways that we’d never predict—not in a million years. He uses new methods that require us to lay down our old ways of speculating about how we think he’s going to work in order to be able to wrap our heads around the new way he’s doing that new thing. In other words, we need to have a “new wineskin” mindset in order to receive the new thing he’s working out. We won’t always understand what he’s doing or how he’s doing it, but that’s why it’s called “new;” it hasn’t been experienced before.

   One of the ways he brings about a “new thing” is to kill off the “old thing”. This means  we end up experiencing the death of something we hold dear: a job, a ministry, a business, a book in process—any endeavor or dream that we’ve poured our hearts and souls into and suddenly—poof—it’s gone. And during the symbolic three days before the resurrection, we grieve, we despair, we doubt ourselves, we quit—in other words, we have no idea what’s happening and even less idea what’s about to happen.

   In short, we have not the slightest conception that that death might mean the birth of something lifechanging.

But How Do We Really Know?

   The thing about walking in faith is that we really don’t know. We don’t know what will happen in the future and so, after the death of a dream, we often envision only the worst: everlasting failure, pain and regret. However, we’re forgetting one thing:

To have faith doesn’t mean we have to summon, like cash, some random amount of belief that we can use to pay for whatever we want.

   There’re no price tags in heaven saying, “A new job costs this amount of faith” or “A healing is that much.” But we act like that. Have I prayed enough? Have I “believed” enough? Have I recited the right number of scriptures? But what’s enough?

   A grain of mustard seed.

   Jesus said that if we have the faith of a mustard seed, we can move mountains—symbolic for the impossible. The essence of faith is simply this: Do I trust God? If we believe that we have a heavenly father who truly loves us, then what do we have to fear? If one thing doesn’t work out, something else will. Which of us, as parents, would deliberately do harm to our children? Which of us looks around and says, “What can I do to hurt them today?” Still, even if we did have bad parents, we need to remember that we’re sons of a Father-King who has said, “’Even if your mother and father abandon you, I will not forsake you.’”

   God has only our good at heart. That means that if there is a death of a dream, there will be the resurrection of a new dream—it just might not be the one we thought it would be. But there can be no resurrection without a death.

   And that’s how we know.

 

Say What??

free-angry-man.jpgSAY WHAT??

   Real-life scenario (with changed names): Jack comes flying into the kitchen, ranting that the cable was out and he was missing the Cowboys beat up on the Patriots (on par with a blue moon). Jess, his wife, asks whether he remembered to pay the overdue cable bill.

   Jack snorts. “The cable bill is not overdue.”

   “Well, yeah, it is,” Jess says. “We got a late notice three weeks ago and you said that it had slipped your mind and you’d take care of it.”

   “I did not.” Jack’s face flushes rather red. “I didn’t even know it was overdue.”

   “Jack, I remember you stood right there and promised to pay it. The cable company probably disconnected the service.”

   Jack turns up the volume. “I did not say I was going to pay the cable bill—I didn’t even know about it!”

   “Jack, stop yelling. You obviously forgot.”

   Jack utters a naughty word. “I DID NOT SAY THAT!”

   Sixteen-year-old Jonathan wanders into the kitchen. “You did, dad. I heard you say it.”

   “You’re both wrong!” Jack slams the door on his way out.

I Should Say What??

   Why can’t Jack simply admit he was wrong about the cable bill? Apart from the fact that he’s probably ticked that he’s missing the game, what’s the problem with simply manning up and telling the truth? Jack knows he messed up. Jess knows Jack messed up. And Jack knows Jess knows Jack messed up. So who’s Jack trying to convince?

   Himself.

   There’s an odd dynamic at play when someone can’t admit they’re wrong: They often take extreme measures to insist that they’re not in error, that someone else is wrong and that whatever the problem is, it’s not their fault. And in the process, things can get ugly. The ritual of self-defense in the face of perceived accusation is one of nature’s most ferocious exhibitions. In fact, it can get quite bloody.

   But why?

Moral Failure Or Mistake?

   In order to comprehend why people go to all the trouble to defend themselves in the face of the clearly indefensible has more to do with the psychology of self-image than anything else.

The fact is that people who cannot admit they’re wrong when they know they are is because they haven’t learned to distinguish the difference between being wrong about something and feeling that there’s something wrong with them for having made a blunder.

   The unconscious message they hear in their heads is on par with “I’m stupid or I wouldn’t have made a mistake,” or “I’m an inferior person for having made an error.” In other words, they personalize their mistakes, interpreting them as evidence of an internal character flaw or intellectual inferiority rather than an external action like a simple misjudgment.

   I once tutored a student who would make math mistakes then fly into a rage, replete with yelling, fist pounding and swearing, all the while screaming, “I’m so stupid! I’m so stupid!” Any attempts to comfort him with the notion that he wasn’t stupid and that the whole point of school was to learn things he didn’t already know, fell on deaf ears.

   The fact is that being wrong is not a moral failure and therefore, it doesn’t qualify as evidence of such.

   Having said that, I’m not suggesting that the tantrums people throw to avoid their own self-condemnation, especially if they’re violent demonstrations, should be dismissed. As the saying goes, “That’s not okay.” Therefore, the tantrums are the issue, not necessarily the mistake. Still, regardless of the extremes to which people will go to avoid seeing themselves as deficient in some way, the dynamics are the same: People who cannot admit they’re wrong are defending their self-images, not their mistakes.

The Paradox.

   While there will always be those people who will rub it in your face should you dare to admit you’re wrong, it helps to realize that there’s something more wrong with them for needing to do that than there is with you for having erred. “I told you so” is evidence, at best, of insecurity and, at worst, it’s indicative of a mean streak. To want to make people feel badly about themselves is cruel.

   Nevertheless, those people are (hopefully) not the norm. Regardless, the fact is—and here’s the paradox—people will generally not only forgive you for admitting you’re wrong, but they’ll admire you for having the good character to do it.

   Isn’t that odd? Still, it’s the truth. We all know that admitting we’re wrong is not always easy, but it is generally well received; it demonstrates that not only are we not deficient in some internal way, but rather that we’re mature, reasonable, and humble human beings. And humble is huge. Regardless of whether people are consciously aware of it, we respect someone with the humility to admit when they’ve messed up. So—that being the case, why don’t more of us cop to being wrong when the shoe fits? Fascinating question.  Maybe because it can be a scary proposition?  If that’s the case and you need a little courage, consider that practicing the “W word” when the situation warrants may well help you to see yourself in a more positive light. After all, it takes a person of character to admit fault. And one more thing…

   Uttering the words “I was wrong” has never been listed on any certificate as an official cause of death.

  

“The Fault In Our Stars”

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“THE FAULT IN OUR STARS” (Julius Caesar)

   By the time I was five years old, I’d had stitches in my head four times. I’d also been knocked silly by a baseball bat. Apparently, the first time it happened, I was three-ish (don’t remember) when I fell off a picnic table and hit my head on the corner. Another time I decided I must have a pretty little stone lying in the street—which wouldn’t have been a particularly remarkable thing except that I was sitting in a little red wagon speeding down the road when I reached over the side of it to get the pretty little stone. Forehead on pavement. Then there was the time my three-year-old sister picked up a putting iron, looked me in the eye and said, “I’m going to hit you with this.” I laughed. She hit me. And the worst part? My father wouldn’t believe a little three-year-old would ever do such a thing. That hurt worse than the stitches. (The doctor didn’t believe me either.) The next time, I was entertaining myself by climbing onto the back of our living room couch and sliding down the front onto the seat. It was fun. Until I climbed up there, lost my balance, tipped over backwards, and crashed through the window. Add to that the head injury the time I was 14 and got hit with a car, and I guess I’ve had stitches north of my neck five times.

To Risk Or Not to Risk?

   But why? Because I was reckless. I shouldn’t have climbed onto the picnic table or leaned out of the wagon or laughed at my sister or been sliding down the furniture or tried to beat a car across the road in the first place. But I did all of that—it was my nature (emphasis on was).

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” (Shakespeare)

   Thankfully, I’ve wised up and learned that there are some things you just shouldn’t try, but the point is, that “forward drive” is a personality trait which lends itself, even now, to a willingness to take a chance. I generally don’t dive right in anymore without thinking through the consequences, but it’s okay to take a risk—sometimes.

   One the other hand, it’s possible for a person to be too cautious to the point that he or she is frightened to take any risks at all. Generally, cautious, risk-shy folks are often not just afraid an endeavor won’t work out—they’re afraid it will destroy them. The two points of view seem to be the difference between the glass being half-empty or half-full. For risk takers, it’s always half-full; things will “just” work out. The more cautious among us are glass half-empty people; “What if this happens or that happens?”

And the Answer Is…?

   A nice balance is what’s called an “acceptable risk”. It’s the willingness to take that risk after the homework has been done—and this is key—the risks have been elevated. In other words, what can I afford to lose if the risk tanks? How much money can I afford to lose if the investment or business launch or whatever doesn’t work out? If it’s an amount that won’t ruin my life or get me in debt or bankrupt me, then it’s “acceptable”. What about the risk to relationships? Is the endeavor something that might stress or destroy a relationship? Personal, business, or ministry reputations should also be a factor: Is what I’m thinking of doing going to damage the integrity of anything valuable to me? Relocation might be a factor in a risky decision: Who would a move affect besides myself? The more components we consider, the more “acceptable” any risk becomes should we choose to take it.

But What About “Faith”?

   Obviously, the whole premise of faith is that we are willing to trust the Lord enough to take a risk without any guarantee that we might not fail—and fail hard. So how do we know whether to weigh the risks before an endeavor or to dive right in and call it “faith”?

Here’s the key: Have we truly heard from the Lord about whether or not to take that risk?

   Of course waiting for that certainty can be an issue for impatient risk-takers who may just want to jump out of the boat before really taking the time to hear what God is saying about that potential peril. Peter was like that. He was often three steps ahead of the Lord—and often that didn’t work out too well for him. He jumped out of the boat and then sank. He slashed off the ear of a man who was trying to arrest Jesus. And when he should’ve taken a risk of faith, he caved. After Jesus had been arrested, Peter denied knowing him out of fear of being arrested himself—or worse. For the same reason, he abandoned Jesus at the cross.

   Where was his risk-taking nature then?

So Is It God—Or Not?

    What if we really don’t know whether we’ve heard from God and there’s a hard deadline looming to make a decision? There’s one principle we can start with when we’re trying to figure out whether our perceived “green light” is really from God: Is the risk one that will benefit his kingdom? Now that doesn’t mean the endeavor has to be ministry per se, but whatever the risky proposition is, it should somehow further God’s plans and purposes. If not, then it’s probably not a risk God would be leading us to take. Nevertheless, here’s the thing: If he is calling us to “get out of the boat” and walk on water—then we need to obey.

   If we do, then one thing I know: He will catch us if we fall.

  

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

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R-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.

 

   

Work Ethic 101

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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

GlindaTHE 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

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THE 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.