Civil War II . . .?

disunity

“”Nothing will be impossible for them!’”

Wouldn’t we all love to hear those words? They speak of unity and unity is a major principle of success. Disunity is a major cause of failure. But how much do we really think about unity? We don’t really think about it at all – unless we’re noticing division.

Division is much easier to spot. Let’s face it – this country is rampant with division. We see it everywhere:

Political Division. With the presidential election looming ever closer, Republications and Democrats are literally at each other’s throats. Not surprising though. When are they not? What is surprising – and devastating to our nation – is the division within the parties. Why? Because that creates so much more division among average citizens. Of course conservatives and liberals are going to clash. It’s their job. But when we see conservatives biting each other’s heads off and democrats doing the same among themselves, then it’s past time to pay attention. However, more on that later.

Racial Division. Dare I go there? There has, unfortunately, always been racial divide – although there has been progress. I don’t think anyone can argue legitimately that race relations have not improved since MLK, Jr. But are they where they need to be? Of course not, not saying that. That being said, the racial divide in this country is only getting worse as we see cities burn in protest to racial inequalities, both real and perceived.

It’s division on a grand scale.

The burning and destruction of cities are causing inter-racial divides as well as more general racial division. And is that the goal? While some people are protesting peacefully, others are coming from outside of those communities and burning, rioting and looting the very homes and businesses of the people that they claim to be trying to help.

Is that unity?

But let’s say protestors did only burn properties outside of inner cities – would that really solve race relations in this nation? Not a chance. Then what is the point of it? And who’s going to suffer the most if the divisions are not resolved? The very people who suffer now – only more so. The point is that racial and inter-racial violence is a graphic illustration of how division never does anything but cause more destruction and tragedy.

Economic Division. Increasingly, we’re seeing resentment and even hatred being spewed toward those who don’t “pay their fair share” in taxes. It’s generally one political party who’s criticizing the other for being “too rich”. On the other side of the divide, the “rich” (unclear where that line begins and ends) – many of whom are business owners – respond by making the claim that they did earn the money and it therefore belongs to them. The other political party is responsible for that perspective. And it doesn’t look as though that stalemate will be resolved anytime soon.

So – who’s right and who’s wrong?

Hear me now: while I have my own opinions, who’s right or wrong on these issues is not, not, not my point in this post.

My point is that division equals destruction – every time. It’s a law – like gravity. And it’s a neutral law – it applies to those doing evil as well as to those doing good.

Success because of unity does not just happen to good people or to those with good intentions. Any group of people who is unified will achieve success – whether or not they are nice people.  

It is imperative that we get this. If we do not, the United States of America is done.

If we look back through history, every victory, movement, breakthrough, or advancement that has ever been achieved has happened through the cooperation of people working together – whether the goals realized have been for good or for evil.

Unity equals success. And division equals chaos and destruction. Period. The consequences of disunity in any arena – government, places of employment, churches, schools, marriages and families – will, 100 percent of the time, result in FAILURE.

The Bible relates a story early in the history of civilization in which all people spoke a common language and so agreed (key unity word) to build a city and a “tower that reaches to the heavens”. Now God noticed this plan and, for reasons of His own, decided that the tower was not a good idea. He said, “’If as one people they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them’” (Gen. 11:6). (I’m guessing God had some intel on what “they planned to do”.) The point? It was their unity that made “nothing impossible” for the people. Now, would God have intervened in their plans if those plans had been for good and not for evil? Knowing God, probably not – which proves the point that unity among people breeds success – even if the goals are not noble ones.

What does this mean for our nation? Simply this: we need to unify if we’re ever going to survive. We almost didn’t survive as a nation during the Civil War during which well over a half million people died (620,000 to be exact). I fear that if the United States of America wages Civil War II, millions more will die than did in the first war. And because fewer and fewer children are even being taught about the Civil War anymore, they don’t see the potential train wreck just ahead.

Am I being too dramatic? If you think so, ask yourself this: If this nation does not become unified, “One nation, under God, with justice and liberty for all”, where will we end up? Can this fighting and burning and destruction continue? Can our Constitution and the rights it guarantees survive this political disunity ? And if we can’t stop fighting among ourselves, how on earth will we ever manage to defeat any threats from the outside of the U.S.? We must consider that question as well because at this point, we’re so divided that we can’t even agree that there are any outside threats to the United States.

So what? you say. Who cares anyway?

You will. We all will. And our children will.

So what can we do? We need to care – now – care enough to unify with our neighbor, with our co-worker, with each other. We need to fight for “one nation” – not with insults and hatred and firebombs, but with our unified attitudes and words and actions. We need to remember the good that this nation has in common. And we need to do it now.

Later will be too late.

 

 

 

 

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“Fair?” Not.

expectations

Many people think life should be fair. It isn’t. Life is hard. Hal Urban makes these points in his great book Life’s Greatest Lessons. The fact is, expecting life to be fair is a very dangerous proposition. But then – why do we have to be told this?

The reality is that even though we “know,” in general, that life isn’t fair, when it comes to us personally, we often expect it to be. And because we don’t really accept that life is not fair, then we can become angry when life slaps us upside the head and proves the point. Job loss, financial crisis, relationship problems, and health issues are some major “not fairs” in life. Eventually, when we’re angry about life’s unfairness long enough and we can’t “make” it fair (according to our standards), then we can lose hope that anything will ever change. If we go there, depression sets in.

Is it “fair” that we’re not billionaires like Cuban or Gates? Some would say a resounding “NO!” But is it fair that we weren’t born in a third-world country where mothers can’t feed their children? No. Is it fair that ever since I broke my leg when I was fourteen, I can’t bend it quite as far as I once could? I didn’t used to think so – until I saw a video of Nick Vujicic who doesn’t have any legs (or arms).

Is that fair?

Back in the day when I had very little money, I was on a tight grocery budget. Very tight. Chicken, ground beef and pasta in some form or another were common. Then one day, my sister visited and she needed “a few” things so we went grocery shopping where she proceeded to fill her cart with all kinds of things I considered “extras” – salsa and chips, steak, baked goods, fresh fruits, et cetera. I had the usual: chicken legs, eggs, bread, milk and bologna. Once she left, I was in tears. God and I had a little “chat” during which I explained to Him (rather loudly) how “unfair” it was that she could afford steak and all I could afford was chicken. I was sick of chicken. But to this day, I still remember exactly where I was when God responded to my little tirade; I was literally mid-step between my living room and kitchen.

“Have you ever gone hungry?”

Suddenly I was in tears for another reason. “No, Lord,” I whispered, red with shame, “I haven’t.”

How unfair is that when millions of people in the world are hungry every day?

The fact is that our expectations shape our perspectives all the time. If we “expect” things to be one way or the other and they’re not, we’ll live our lives in disappointment and bitterness.

My mother died of cancer 23 years ago. My father died two years ago. However, one of the things I’ll always remember about the two of them is that they had the kind of marriage that everyone dreams of. They were best friends, treated each other with respect and never failed to show love and appreciation to the other. As a consequence, they virtually never fought; in all the years they were married, they only had two fights. So what did I expect when I got married? Exactly. I thought it was the end of the marriage if a couple had an argument; I’d just never seen it happen. Why is that important? Because since my expectations for a good marriage were so unrealistic, I was very disappointed. That meant that any “intense fellowship” my husband and I had was, to my mind, a major crisis.

It was all so unfair!

Was it unfair? Or were my expectations just unrealistic? No and yes. The point is that if we have unrealistic expectations in life, then we’re going to label lots of things “unfair!”. And when we go through life thinking we’ve gotten the short end of the stick, we can become literally heart sick.

What are some of these heart-breaking expectations? How about the big media lie – that every woman should be beautiful and if we’re not, well, then we need to be “fixed”. Take Marie Osmond and her NutriSystem campaign for example. She’s 56ish (by my estimation) and looks like she’s 30. The implication is that spending big bucks for NutriSystem every month is going to make any 56-year-old look 30.

Now there’s an expectation looking for a disappointment.

I’d love to be the copywriter for that NutriSystem TV ad. The fine print would read: “Personal trainer, plastic surgeon, private cosmetologist, hair and make-up designer, wardrobe specialist, and video/photo editor are not included with this offer.”

Is it “fair” that Marie can afford to look like that and the rest of us – not so much? Personally, I don’t think it is fair, but then, I would be wrong.

The larger point is that unrealistic expectations about what’s “fair” and “unfair” can have us wasting valuable time chasing things in life that are never going to happen. When Jesus said, “’In this world you will have tribulation,’” he said it for a reason. To expect that we won’t have trials, tribulations, losses, crises, and heartaches and breaks is just plain – well, let’s say “naïve” – it sounds better.

The next time you feel disappointed, ask yourself, “What was I really expecting?” After you identify your expectations in that situation, find out from yourself whether those expectations were realistic or not. Sometimes we beat ourselves up for things that were never possible to begin with. Once we realize that, we can cut ourselves a break for not being able to achieve those impossible goals.

So much for looking like Marie  . . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

Critical Thinking.

shakespeare-hamlet-cropped“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Eleanor Roosevelt said those words decades ago in the face of the great criticism faced by any First Lady. No one knows who said it but it’s true: “Everyone’s a critic.” And as we’re all painfully aware, criticism will come. Even if it’s constructive criticism, given gently, it can still hurt. Why? Because sometimes we’re faced with the realization that maybe our best isn’t good enough. Even so, no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.

Don’t give it.

What does it mean to give your consent? It means that you’re agreeing that you’re inferior. But here’s the truth: you are not inferior. What you have done or created may not be the best that’s ever been done or created, but what you do is not who you are.

Our worth is not based on what we can or cannot do.

Recently, I had some work critiqued and found it needed some major changes. That rocked my world because I’d put so much into it. So I went through the grief stage. Really?? (you’re thinking) Over that?? Yep, really – as with anything you put your heart and soul into: a song, a painting, a relationship, a job, a business. When you do the best you can do and the reviews aren’t stellar, it can trigger the inferior thing. The thing is not to get stuck there. As we seek to pursue our visions, we’re going to face criticism – some valid and some not. So how do we handle it?

Thing One: We need to take a little time and just breathe – get some perspective. Sometimes criticism is like a sucker punch: it’s unexpected and can leave us out of breath. But we can’t get stuck there; we can’t suffocate. We need to move onto the next stage.

Thing Two: We need to evaluate the criticism: is it valid or is it not? It may not be. If it’s not, move on. If it is, how much of it is valid? Once we get a handle on that – and we may need help doing that – then we have a choice to make. Are we going to reject the valid criticism and then stay stuck where we are? Because that’s a forever proposition. Or, are we going to move onto the next thing?

Thing Three: Admit that we need to change, adjust, improve. I always tell my kids that, in order to be grateful in hard times, it helps to look at those who aren’t as fortunate as you are and then to humble yourself and count your blessings. However, when we’re looking to process criticism, we can’t focus on who (we think) we’re better than just to make ourselves feel better. Rather, we have to focus on those who have achieved what we aspire to be, and we need to start asking questions. How did they get where they are? How do they deal with criticism? How do they keep motivated? And what, specifically, do they do that you don’t yet know how to do? Think of it this way: two year olds can’t do what ten year olds can do – but does that mean they never will? Just because we can’t do something now doesn’t mean we’ll never be able to do that thing.

We need to remind ourselves constantly that we are not what we do. That means that when what we do crashes and burns, who we are will not crash and burn with it. I’m a teacher but someday I won’t be. If I think I am what I do, I’ll never have the courage to retire and not be a teacher anymore – and that means I’ll never move onto the next chapter in my life.

We are not what we do. I have that written on a couple of post-it notes placed in strategic places because remembering that gives me the courage to keep on trying, to take a risk and to put my writing out there again. And again. And however many times it takes. Because what is life without risk?

Over.

 

 

Life’s Little “Pop Quizzes”

epic-fail

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

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

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

Did you flash a friendly smile at the guy in the snail-mobile or – uhm, not?

Did you sit your kid down and patiently explain why it’s rude to use “that” language – or did you ground them until they’re 45? Not that there’s anything wrong with a good, long grounding – as long as you smile sweetly and the neighbors down the street don’t hear you do it.

Did you thank the nice lady at the drive through and politely explain that the wallet is on the counter next to the lunch and the broken coffee maker? And did you flash a friendly peace sign at the guy behind you in line who’s honking his horn like a maniac on steroids? Or did you yell at the nice lady that they took too long with your order so you don’t want it now and then roar off, squealing your tires?

For me, as a teacher, my tests often involve high school students who never got the memo that there are just certain things guaranteed to spoil your classroom experience. Like pitching a full-fledged fit when the teacher has the gall to tell you that naptime is over and to get your head up off the desk or to turn around and stop talking to your neighbor or to stop throwing pencils or to stop texting in class – and forget telling me it’s your mother. True story. Yesterday. All in one 45-minute period. Did I pass the test? Probably not. Which is why later I was near tears when, out of the blue, my sister called.

“What’s wrong??”

“Nothing.”

“You’re lying.”

“Okay.”

“What happened?”

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

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

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

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

So – Rule #1 if you fail the test: admit it. We all have to do that. Or we get to take the truthfulness test again. And once we pass that test and admit what we’ve done, then we get to start all over with the original character test that we wouldn’t admit we’d failed. Ever hear of “life-long learning”? Well, now you have.

Point?

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

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

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

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

 

 

Just Believe It.

God’s Eye in Space (NASA)

gods-eye-nasa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your job?  Just believe it.

 

But- What If You Can??

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then work your magic.

“The Wall”

broken-glassYou will hit a wall. There will be a point in the pursuit of your goals during which something goes wrong or people say you can’t do that thing or you feel overwhelmed with the scope of the task or you simply get tired of working, working, working and waiting for something to break your way. You’ll run into adversity or out of money, resources, time, energy – even faith.

 Welcome to “The Wall”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Rejection – and His Nine Other Brothers

SONY DSC

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

“I was never meant to do this.”

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

“There’s too much competition.”

“Who even cares anyway?”

“What was I thinking??”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can’t explain it – it just works.

Prayer Wreckers

Man in DespairWe all spend a lot of time and energy praying for all kinds of things – and some of those prayers are urgent, desperate prayers. But what if we’re sabotaging our own prayers? What if we’re doing something, even unconsciously, to negate them? Would we want to know that? Why wouldn’t we?

In my last post, “Ten Ways to Blow Up Your Destiny,” I introduced three things that will shipwreck our prayers. Today, I want to discuss the rest of the principles that we should know in order to not sideline our prayers.

Thing #1: Put God first. In other words, we cannot and should not put our dreams, visions or destinies before God. Jesus tells His followers, ‘”Your heavenly Father already knows all of your needs . . . Seek first his kingdom and righteousness, and all of these things will be given to you as well . . .’” (Matt. 6:33). Our “needs” are not just categorized as physical needs; we need all kinds of intervention for all kinds of things. No matter – same principle applies: the big “if-then” – if we put God first, then we get whatever we might need. Period.

Thing #2: Unconfessed sin. David proved that after he sinned with Bathsheba, lied about it, and then killed her husband, Uriah, to cover it up. Now, if anyone should have their prayers tuned out by God, it would be someone who’d done all of those things. But David repented of his sin (with a little persuasion from the prophet, Nathan). David pleaded to God: “’Don’t keep looking at my sin. Remove the stain of my guilt. Create in me a clean heart, O God, Renew a right spirit in me . . .’” (LB, Ps. 51:9-10). After David confessed his sin, God was able to interact with him again. Remember, Habakkuk says to God, “’Your eyes are too pure [even] to look on evil; you cannot tolerate sin’” (1:13). “Tolerate” is a little mild for the translation. The KJ version says, “’You cannot [even] look on sin’”.  And the word “cannot” in all translations means “cannot”. It doesn’t mean “might not” or “can-if-He-wants-to-but-just-doesn’t-want-to”. God is not able even to look at sin, much less have fellowship with someone in it (thus the reason Christ died – but that’s another post entirely). So – unconfessed sin = unanswered prayers.

Thing #3: Wrong response to authority. We see this principle in Paul’s warning to children to submit to and obey their parents and they’ll be blessed. Why? Because their parents are the authority over children. If they will submit to authority, then they will be blessed. But that warning about authority applies to all of us, not simply children.

And why does God feel so strongly about submission that He ties conditions to responses to authority? Because societies fall apart when people begin to blow off authorities.

(Watched the news lately?) So God has built into His principles the condition that if we submit to authority, then we will be blessed. And aren’t all answered prayers considered blessings? I know mine are.

Thing #4: Pride.  This is another no-no if we’d like our prayers answered. We all know pride is bad – no surprise there. For example, take Naaman who came to the prophet Elisha to petition (pray) for healing from leprosy. When Elisha told Naaman to go and dip in the Jordan River some times, Naaman thought that was ridiculous and refused. His pride got in the way. Consequently, he didn’t have his prayer for healing answered until he decided to humble himself and take a dip. Then his prayer was answered. “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (I Peter 5:5-6).

Thing #5: “Evil speech.”  Our words can be another problem if you’d like your prayers answered. Gossip, slander, accusation, arguing, lying, complaining – all of these can hinder prayers. Now, thank God for his mercy because who hasn’t, at the very least, complained? But for those who continue in these things without repentance, their prayers won’t accomplish much. Isaiah warns, “’If you do away with the pointing finger [accusation] and malicious talk . . . then your light will rise in the darkness and your night will become like the noonday [revelation]. The Lord will guide you always [direction]; He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land [provision] and will strengthen your frame [healing] . . .’” (58:9-11, interpretations mine). Peter says, “’If you want a happy life and good days, keep your tongue from speaking evil and keep your lips from telling lies’” (3:9).

Thing #6: Have faith in God, not in faith itself.  It’s not up to us to manufacture our faith and moreover, “having faith” is not about how much faith we have, it’s about whether or not we trust God. Why is this important? Two reasons: first, sometimes we treat faith like heaven’s money; if we just get enough of it, we can cash it in for whatever we want. Doesn’t work that way. Second, the essence of faith is the question: “Do I trust God – whether or not He answers my prayers the way I want Him to?” That’s vastly different than “Okay, God, here’s how much faith I have so here’s how I want You to answer my prayer.” Faith is not cash, and God is not a vending machine. If we think so, I think I can predict that our prayers won’t be very effective.

Next post I’ll finish this up; there are three more principles for praying effectively and, if disregarded, will negate our prayers. In the meantime, lest we become overwhelmed with all of the ways we can shipwreck our prayers, let’s simply remember to begin our prayers with a sincere, “Lord, I’m sorry for . . .”

 

Ten Ways to Blow Up Your Dreams.

 Man PrayingSometimes we spend vast amounts of energy trying to rocket-launch our dreams and fulfill our destinies. We drive hard, we burn the midnight oil (especially as writers), and we follow the experts, trying to do everything they say. Now I’m not knocking the experts; they’re experts for a reason. But sometimes in spite of the sacrifice of time, the worry and fret (c’mon – you do), and the fervent prayers, things just don’t happen like they’re supposed to. And the frustrating part is that there seems to be no rhyme or reason as to why. Right?

But there may be a reason. Sometimes we spend so much time trying to pursue the “should’s” that we don’t recognize when we’re doing the “should not’s”. In other words, there are some Biblical principles which, when violated, will shipwreck any good thing we’re trying to do. I’ve identified ten of those principles. And while I won’t get to all of them in this post without writing a book, I’ll try to do it in the next couple of posts.

It all started when I began to think about the scripture in I Peter 3:7 which admonishes husbands to treat their wives with understanding and respect “as the weaker partner . . . so that nothing will hinder your prayers”. Now forget the debate over whether wives are the “weaker partner” – not the point here. The point is a larger one: just as I was feeling relieved that God was holding husbands accountable, the Lord tapped me on the shoulder and directed my attention to the following: a “weaker” person is defined as anyone who is under the authority of another person. Furthermore, He pointed out that anyone in authority is held accountable for how they treat the “weaker” people under their authority.

Anytime we have authority over someone else, whether it be a child, a student, an employee, or a congregation member and we fail to treat that person with respect and do right by them, then our prayers are hindered.

We’ve all heard the term “brass heaven,” meaning, essentially, that our prayers are “bouncing off the ceiling” or blocked. A “brass heaven” is referred to in Deut. 28:23: “’And your heaven that is over your head shall be brass, and the earth that is under you shall be iron.’” While in context this curse for disobedience to God refers to a lack of rain, Matthew Henry makes the point that the curse affects everything pertaining to the person, not just rain. Disobedience causes God’s deafness to pleas for relief from curses and to petitions for blessings.

Now, for those who would argue that, in Christ, we’re no longer under any curses, you would be correct. However, Peter’s warning to people in authority regarding prayers being hindered is obviously given to Christians, meaning us, even after we’ve received Christ.

The warning is real: don’t abuse or even treat poorly people under your authority and then wonder why your prayers concerning your dreams and destiny are having no effect.

Another reason related to prayers being hindered is a lack of love, particularly in a practical sense. God has always had a soft spot for underdogs and vows to protect and vindicate them – and we know (or should know) that God always keeps His promises. In Isaiah 58:6-12, the Lord clearly indicates that our actions equal our consequences. The “’fast [sacrifice] that God has chosen [is to] loose the cords/chains of injustice . . . untie the cords of the yoke . . . set the oppressed free . . . share food with the hungry . . . shelter the wanderers [homeless] . . . clothe the naked . . .’” The Living Bible expands on this principle: “’Stop oppressing those who work for you. Treat them fairly and give them what they earn.’” And the result? Then you will have revelation, healing, righteousness, protection and “’Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and He will say: Here I am’” (vs. 8-9).             

The lesson: we reap what we sow and if we sow mercy, then God answers our prayers.

Need an example? A Roman centurion asked Jesus to come and heal his servant and the Jewish elders “earnestly implored Him [Jesus], saying, ‘He is worthy for You to grant this to him; for he loves our nation and it was he who built us our synagogue’” (Luke 7:1-5). As a result of the centurion’s love-in-action, Jesus listened to the man’s petition and went to his house.

Bottom line: we are not saved by works – not disputing that in the slightest. But the success of the works that we are called to do on this earth (i.e. – our destinies) certainly depend on whether or not we obey the principles affecting answers to our prayers. If we’re feeling like we’re under that “brass ceiling,” we need to consider whether we’re doing the “if’s” so that God can do the “then’s”.

If we are, then God’s ears are attentive to our prayers (I Peter 3:12).

 

 

DRIVE YOUR VISION.