Tag Archives: destiny

A Name Like A Crown Jewel

Crown Jewels - post

A NAME LIKE A CROWN JEWEL

   Shakespeare once said, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Maybe it would, but let’s say we called a rose a “blackwart”—who would ever want to smell one? The point? The name of your business or product is probably the most important decision you’ll ever make in terms of success. Why? Because most other bad decisions can get a do-over but once you name your business or product, you’re stuck with it—for better or worse. A bad name is, at best, a lame cliché and, at worst, can convey an impression you never intended. Great business/product names, on the other hand, intrigue people, set you apart from your competition, and convey exactly the right image. Some examples?

   Let’s say you’re a truck manufacturer and want to brand your newest truck as strong, tough, invincible—a real “man’s man” piece of machinery. Which name conveys that image best: a “Ramor an “F-350? Let’s face it—the Dodge Ram moniker was a real home run. Whether a Dodge or a Ford is, in reality, the better truck is not the point. Maybe a Ford is a better truck (I don’t know), but when you put the names head-to-head, a “Ram”—big horns and all—just sounds tougher. Besides, what’s a “350” convey, anyway? Nothing. It’s just a model number. So… “Ram”—big winner, “F-350″—not so much.

   Cosmetics? Which company brand sounds more appealing? Revlon? L’Oreal? Cover Girl? Well… isn’t the idea that make-up is supposed to make us all look like magazine cover girls? What else is it supposed to do? So Cover Girl was a brilliant pick. L’Oreal, being a French word (although I have no idea who it is or what it means), isn’t a horrible name. After all, all things French are supposed to be sophisticated, non? Revlon? Not even a factor.

   Other examples include Bird’s Eye (frozen vegetables). This is my question: Why on earth would you call a frozen vegetable company that?? It’s just disturbing. It makes me wonder what would be in that plastic bag. Green Giant, on the other hand, doesn’t have a lot to do with vegetables but a giant is an image you’re likely to remember at the grocery store—and, hey, it’s green…

   Recently, I discovered two service company names that were particularly bad, one using the word “creative” and the other “beautiful”. If that’s the best these businesses can do in terms of originality, I wouldn’t throw them any cash. Those words do nothing more than tell what the owners are trying to convey.

   So—how do you choose a fabulous name for your business or product? There are a few do’s and don’t’s.

   #1: Show, don’t tell. As with any good writing, adjectives are far inferior to actual images. Use an image in your name if possible because most people are visual thinkers and if they can see a picture in their minds, they’re more likely to remember your company name. Goes something like this: “Uh, you know, that restaurant with the moose in the name…?”

   If, for instance, you’re trying to convey “elegance” in a brand, do not (not, not, not) ev-er use that word. Don’t call your bridal shop “The Elegant Lady” (or some such lame thing); do something different. Use an image in the name that conveys elegance: think “The Velvet Boutique” or “Lace Gloves and Gowns”. A good example is “Victoria’s Secret” (as opposed to “Hildegard’s Secret”). Victoria is an elegant name, perhaps because of its connection with Queen Victoria, so the royal association is illustrated, not stated.

   Keep one important thing in mind: Most adjectives used in branding are overdone and therefore, entirely forgettable. And that’s not your objective. For example, Royal Caribbean Cruises means nothing. It’s supposed to convey (I guess) that guests are treated like highnesses but the word “royal” is so overused that it doesn’t even register when we hear it in a name. The same is true of words like “quality” (Quality Inns), “superior” (Superior Sound) or “luxury” (Luxury RV’s, Inc.)—and a million other sorry adjectives. Now, that said, occasionally an adjective will fit, simply because there is no image that will,  but in choosing one, make certain it’s not worn out and meaningless.

Most adjectives are the plague. Avoid them.

   #2: Clichés are invisible. Much like adjectives, clichés are also overdone and under-effective. We tune them out. One of the worst is “Think outside the box.” That’s supposed to mean “be original” but it’s really so overused that it’s become an ironic joke. If a cliché is even to be considered, it must be given a twist. For example, Taco Bell did exactly the right thing with that same overused cliché in their tagline when they gave it a new spin. “Think Outside the Bun” is brilliant! It makes us stop and pay attention when we recognize that they changed up a burnt-out old adage and so we actually hear the message (which is entirely the point). The fact that “box” translates nicely to “bun” is what makes the idea so ingenious; they’re saying “Be original—get a tortilla instead of a bun”—except that they say it without telling it. It’s perfect.

   #3: Pay attention to what you’re saying. A while back, I saw a sign for a company called “Irregardless”. May I just say—there is no such word. (The word is “regardless”.) The fact that they either don’t know that that’s not a word or didn’t care enough to find out before attaching it to their brand makes me think that they’re probably careless at best and, at worst, not especially knowledgeable. Probably not the impression they were aiming for.

   It’s all about image.

   #4: CHECK THE COMPETITION! Unfortunately, if you love a name, chances are someone else might have loved it first. For example, “Trendsetter Events” is a company name being used by several event-planning businesses around the country. And even though the domain name TrendsetterEvents.com is not being used (because it’s for sale for a ridiculous amount of money), there are soooo many other businesses starting with “Trendsetter” that you’d want to avoid it entirely. Moreover, even if your dot.com is available for a reasonable price, check to make sure it’s not already being used on Facebook or Twitter. Sometimes people never buy the domain name but use your favorite company name with the dot.com on social media.

   Bottom line: The very last thing you want is for potential customers to confuse you with another company.

   Branding your business is exciting and can be lots of fun. Just make certain you take the time necessary to make yourself stand out from others, not just in your industry but from other companies everywhere.

You can have the best product or service in the world but if your name and brand don’t convey that image, it won’t sell. Period.

   So—put on your thinking headgear, test drive some ideas, and then survey friends and potential customers; get feedback.

   Remember, your product or service is like that infamous apple in the Garden of Eden. It’s your job to charm people into feeling that they would pay any price to have it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Broken Hearts, Broken Toys

Toy Man on Piano

BROKEN HEARTS, BROKEN TOYS

   Ever felt like a broken toy? Parts missing? Batteries dead? Scratches or dents or bruises? Ever felt like you’d be better off just retreating to some distant corner and staying there—like a worn out doll relegated to a dusty shelf?

   Life Truth #23: It’s very difficult to get anything done with a broken heart.

   More destinies have been turned to ashes by broken hearts than perhaps even fears of failure. Why? Because brokenness affects our ability to function—and function we must in the dream-chasing biz. But how do we know if we’re broken-hearted? It might not be as easy to recognize as we think because a broken heart doesn’t always look the way we’ve been taught that a broken heart should look.

   First of all, we tend to think of damaged hearts as resulting primarily from the loss of a relationship—a bad breakup, a divorce, or a death. And then we suppose that the main symptoms of a broken heart are grief and depression, characterized mainly by sadness and tears. Lots of tears. And while those causes and effects can often be telltale signs of a broken heart, the sad fact is that shattered hearts many times command a much wider realm of ruined sentiment.

   As with any other broken object, a heart, when damaged, doesn’t work properly—or even at all. And because the heart is recognized to be the seat of all emotion, that means that all feelings originating in the heart are crushed as well. Love turns to malice, trust to fear, hope to despair, and gladness to sorrow. But that’s not all of it. What about those emotions that we don’t associate with broken hearts—like cynicism? “Like that’ll ever happen!”

   Bitterness? “She gets all the breaks! And me? I got nothing!”

   Apathy? “Who cares, anyway? It’s not like it matters.”

   Procrastination? “Maybe tomorrow. Maybe…”

   Panic? “But what if…??” (Fill in the blank.)

   Inferiority? “I’m not good enough, and I’ll never be.”

   Anger? All of the above, only louder, with lots of slammed doors and shattered glass.

   If our emotions are crushed, then our heart is broken.

   So what do we do with a broken heart? Will time mend it, as the old wives tell it? Do we go all stoic and harden our hearts, filling our days and minds with endless busyness so we don’t have time to feel the pain? Or do we simply readjust our expectations to reflect “reality”? After all, only fools dare to dream. We could. But I guarantee that if we do, the heart shrivels, the vision fades, and the destiny dies.

   So then—what?

   First, we need to recognize the scope of our heartbreak and that the non-traditional emotions we feel could be evidence that we were hurt far more than we understood or acknowledged. We need to grasp that every one of the above emotions can be a symptom of grief; we don’t all have the same personalities and how one person grieves can be very different from how someone—or anyone—else expresses grief. Maybe you cry and maybe you don’t. Maybe you swear and punch walls. Maybe you sit and stare at the TV. Maybe you drink. Maybe you yell at the kids. Maybe you don’t do anything—and you used to.

   Moreover, all kinds of experiences can cause heartbreak, not just relationship issues. Perhaps a job loss has tanked, not just our bank account, but also our self-esteem. Maybe it’s unfair and we’re angry. Or maybe repeated rejections from coaches or agents or publishers or prospective employers or producers or even colleges has broken us down until we’ve lost all self-confidence or ability to try ever again. Maybe it’s inevitable that those ballerina slippers or that pen or that business proposal or that football simply end up where they’ve always belonged—in the trashcan.

The slow bleed of slashed expectations has slain more than one heart.

   Here’s what you need to know: You are not incompetent if you failed. You are not stupid if you missed the mark. And you are not an idiot if you slip on those dancing shoes again or pick up that pen or revise that proposal or re-inflate that football—or even say “yes” to that unexpected invitation to a cup of coffee.

   You are not a fool if you dare to dream again.

   Maybe you need to revise your dream or even to find a new dream. That’s okay. More than one of us has chased the wrong dream sometime or another. (And some of us perhaps more than once…) The main thing is to get a vision to do something that makes life sweet again. A dream is a guaranteed cure for a broken heart. So get one—and then as the song says, “Tell your heart to beat again.”

   You are not a broken toy.

 

 

 

 

10 Easy Ways to Shipwreck Your Destiny

Shipwreck II

10 EASY WAYS TO SHIPWRECK YOUR DESTINY

   Sometimes we spend vast amounts of energy trying to rocket-launch our dreams and fulfill our destinies. We drive hard, burn the midnight oil (especially as writers), and 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 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 “shoulds” that we don’t recognize when we’re doing the “should nots”. In other words, there are some Biblical principles which, when violated, will shipwreck any good thing we’re trying to do.

   Thing #1: Put God first.  In other words, we cannot put our dreams, visions or destinies before God. Jesus says, ‘”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 he supplies whatever we might need. Period.

   Thing #2: Misusing Authority. I Peter 3:7 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: A “weaker” person is defined as anyone who is under the authority of another person. Furthermore, everyone in authority is held accountable for how they treat the “weaker” people under their authority. Whether it be a child, student, employee, or congregation member, the warning is real: If we abuse or treat poorly people under our authority, we can’t then wonder why our prayers concerning our dreams and destiny are having no effect.

   Thing #3: Disobedience. 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 Deuteronomy when God gives several “if—then” consequences to his people for both blessings and curses. In short, obedience = blessing and disobedience = curses, and one of those curses is hindered prayer. “’And your heaven that is over your head shall be brass, and the earth that is under you shall be iron.’” (vs. 23-28). While in context this curse for disobedience refers to a lack of rain, Matthew Henry makes the point that the curse impacts all things affecting the person, not just rain. Disobedience causes God’s deafness for everything from pleas for relief from curses to petitions for blessings.

     Thing #4: Lack of Love. Lack of love, particularly in a practical sense, hinders prayer. God has always had a soft spot for underdogs whom he vows to protect and vindicate. In Isaiah 58:6-12, the Lord clearly indicates that our actions impact 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 upon 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. For 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.

   Thing #5: Unconfessed sin.  The prophet Habakkuk says to God, “’Your eyes are too pure [even] to look upon evil; you cannot tolerate sin’” (1:13). “Tolerate” is a little mild for the translation. The KJ version says, “’You cannot [even] look upon 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).

Therefore, since prayer is interaction with God (and God cannot interact with sin), then unconfessed sin results in unanswered prayers.

   However, confession of sin restores fellowship with God. For example, King David committed adultery with Bathsheba, lied about it, and then killed her husband, Uriah, to cover it up. Now if anyone should have had their prayers tuned out by God, it would be someone who’d done all that. But David repented of his sin, pleading, “’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…’” (Ps. 51:9-10, LB). After David confessed his sin, God was able to interact with him again.

Thing #6: Unforgiveness. In Matt. 18, we’re told the parable of the servant who was forgiven by his master but who wouldn’t forgive his fellow servant. The master finds out and says to him, “‘Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?'” He goes on to tell the servant that because he would not forgive another, he would not be forgiven. Therefore, if we refuse to forgive and so are not forgiven ourselves, we  carry sin, and this renders God unable to answer our prayers. (Reference #5 above.)

   Thing #7: “Evil speech.”  Our words can be another hindrance to prayer. Gossip, slander, accusation, arguing, lying, complaining—all of these can impede our 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 admonishes, “’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 your lips from telling lies’” (3:9).

   Thing #8: Pride.  This is another no-no if we’d like our prayers answered. We all know pride is bad—no surprise there. For example, Naaman implored the prophet Elisha to pray for his healing from leprosy, but when Elisha told Naaman to go and dip in the Jordan River seven times, Naaman thought that ridiculous and refused. His pride got in the way. Consequently, he didn’t have his petition for healing granted 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 #9: 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. 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 anarchy ensues and societies are destroyed when people rebel against 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 answered prayer results in blessing.

   Thing #10: Have faith in God, not in faith itself. “Having faith” is not about how much faith we have, it’s about whether or not we trust God. Period. The problem is that sometimes we treat faith like heaven’s money; if we just get enough of it, we can cash it in for whatever we want. But it doesn’t work that way. That’s because 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.

   Bottom line: We are not saved by works—not disputing that—and the idea here is not to bring fear or condemnation but freedom and success. But the success of the works that we are called to do on this earth (our destinies) certainly depends upon whether or not we obey the principles affecting answers to prayer.

   If you’re feeling like your prayers are bouncing off of that “brass ceiling,” then how do you undo the hindrances to prayer that you might have unknowingly activated? It’s simple: a sincere and heartfelt, “Lord, I’m sorry for…” will open the heavens to you. “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer” (I Peter 3:12).

   That’s a promise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

That Thing That Matters

Teddy Bear Looking out of Window

   Today I looked around my classroom and my eye caught some words posted on my board: HAVE, DO, and ARE. (For the record, you “have” a noun, you “do” a verb, and you “are” an adjective.) Those words got me thinking—are we defined by what we have, by what we do, or by what we are? And who defines us? Or—does it matter?

   It should matter because who defines us and as what shapes how we see ourselves, which, in turn, determines whether we believe we can fulfill our destinies—or not.

   So—are we defined by what we have?

 Do we have a car? What kind? New or not new? Pretty or not pretty? Luxury or basic? Don’t tell me people don’t “feel” a certain way when they buy a vehicle. Proud? Ashamed? Envious? Disappointed? And what about our clothes? Do we “feel” the same way when we’re wearing our finest suit or dress as when we’re dressed in casual clothes? And let’s not forget money. Lots or little? Savings in the bank or living paycheck-to-paycheck? Retirement pension? 401K? Or not? Do we feel secure or scared? Grateful or frustrated? Do we own a house? How big a house? Where is it located? Is it as nice as our neighbors’ houses? Or—do we not have a house?  Where we live often has something to do with how we think about ourselves. Not always, of course, but can we honestly say that nobody judges themselves of the basis of where they live? I know that once upon a time, I did…

   Are we defined by what we have?

   If so, let me mention a few of the best people history has ever known: Take Jesus, for example. He didn’t have much and what he did have, he lost. In the end, all he was left with were splinters and thorns. And there was Mother Teresa—I don’t know what she had before she moved to India but once there, she gave it all away. I could cite dozens of others but the point is that neither of these people let what they didn’t have keep them from fulfilling what they did have—a destiny.

   We are not defined by what we have.

   Are we defined by what we do?

In a world where we’re pushed to “become something,” the world often defines for us what we “should” do. And that’s reinforced when we meet someone. Small talk usually includes a “So what do you do?” or “Where do you work?”

   Does it matter?

   Are we better people if we’re dentists rather than dental assistants? Do we have better character if we’re professors rather than teacher aides? Have we accomplished more in life if we’re the CEOs of corporations rather than small business owners? If we lose our credentials or our titles or our paychecks, are we lesser people?

   We are not defined by what we do.

   Let me repeat that—and not for those who don’t have the lucrative positions or incomes, but for those among us who might: we are not defined by our achievements. In other words, if we were to lose that position tomorrow, our circumstances might be different but we’re not—unless we define ourselves by what we do.

   I remember my father telling me that he’d once met one of the richest men in the country and that that man was one of the humblest, most down-to-earth people he’d ever met. Why? Because that man did not define himself by his money or position.

   Are we defined by what we “are”?

   There’s a question that haunts many: What are we? Are we rich or middle-class? Are we young or elderly? Are we married or never-married or divorced? Are we black or white or yellow or brown?

In a world where we are increasingly defined by our outward appearances and/or statuses, those things can too often determine how we think we should think, behave, and even feel.

   To complicate the problem, the dawn of DNA testing has some people finding that they are not who or what they thought they were. But does DNA really define what we are—or are not? The culture, traditions, and values that we’d grown up with—are they null and void if the DNA doesn’t line up?

   Can our DNA really disqualify us from belonging?

   And here’s the bigger question: What if (not like this could ever happen) we’re treated differently because of what we “are”; does that really make us different? Are we more or less of a person because we’re rich or poor or married or single or black or white or tall or short or blue-collar or white-collar?

   The fact is—and this is so often repeated that it’s almost a cliché (sadly) —we’re all children of God. Period. It doesn’t matter whether there’s money in the bank account or whether there’s even a bank account at all; it doesn’t matter whether we have a low IQ or we’re Albert Einstein; it doesn’t even matter whether we have wrinkles or not (honest!). Our identity never changes. But if we allow it to change, if we’re swayed by the opinions and prejudices of others, then we’ll never fulfill the destiny that we’re called to tackle. Look at it this way: How we were created was designed to perfectly equip us to accomplish that one thing we were created to do.

   It’s not about what we have, what we do or what we are; if it’s about anything at all, it’s about the character we display. And that’s the one thing that transcends all races, all statuses, all ages, and all abilities. To paraphrase the great Martin Luther King, Jr., we look forward to the day when we are not judged by the color of our skin… or [may I say] the ages of our bodies or the images in our mirrors or the bottom lines on our tax returns, but by the content of our characters.

   In defining ourselves, our character should be the one thing that determines what we have, what we do, and what we are.

   Our character is the one thing that matters.

 

You’re the Mirror On the Wall.

Ghost girl   Recently, two things happened that made me think. I was listening to a student lamenting, in tears, that her boyfriend had just broken up with her. What to say? Can’t really say he’s a jerk (might’ve thought it) and probably shouldn’t suggest that she’ll be over him in a month (a week?). So I said the only thing I could think of (that was true): “You’re such a pretty girl—he’s going to regret this!”

   Her response? “I am not pretty!”

   Me: “Are you kidding?? Yes, you are!” (And she is.)

   Her: “No, I’m ugly.”

   Me:  “Trust me—you’re beautiful! I wouldn’t lie about that.”

   Now before I get tons of hate mail for being so shallow as to focus exclusively on her outward appearance, we all know (and let’s not pretend we don’t) that when a breakup happens, a girl needs a little boost to her confidence—and “you’re such a nice girl” doesn’t quite cut it. So I told her the truth: that she’s a beautiful girl and that whatever the breakup was about, it wasn’t about that. What amazed me was that she not only didn’t know she’s pretty, but she truly thought of herself as ugly.

   Fast forward to a different day—I was working with another girl who was trying to make up work for a failed English class so that she could get the course credit and graduate. In the course of our conversation, she informed me how “dumb” she was.

   Me: “No, you’re not!”

   Her: “Yes, I am. That’s why I failed English. I’m dumb!”

   Me: “No, you failed English because you never went to class or did enough seat time to learn the material. That’s very different from not being able to learn the material. So—what did you learn from not going to class?”

   Her: “That I can’t pass English?”

   Me: “See? You’re not dumb.”

   Lesson to me? So many people see themselves as inadequate or unworthy or “dumb” or “ugly” or useless or “bad” or as epic fails. And these destructive self-images have led to an epidemic of depression, despair, hopelessness, and even rage. Then, because of attempts to lessen or mask those feelings, we’ve seen an exponential explosion of alcoholism, drug abuse, “relationship hopping” and worse.

   It’s tragic that the only moments of relief, “happiness” or seeming hope some people ever experience is from a needle in the arm or the bottom of a bottle.

   And so?

   And so it’s time for us to step up and share with people what they obviously don’t yet know: “You have a destiny. You were born for a reason, and you have a purpose to fulfill.” Period. ”

We don’t need a PhD or a biblical degree or permission from our mommies, our pastors or the U.S. Senate to do it. If we have a voice, then we are qualified to encourage another human being.

   And know what else?

   That’s your destiny.

   We may each encourage others in different ways, but we can all do it. Maybe it’s a written word of encouragement—a card or a text; maybe it’s a plate of cookies or a simple thumbs-up. Maybe it’s a present—a paint set because you see a talent for art or a set of tools because someone is a budding builder. Maybe it’s an encouragement regarding some personality trait that’s somehow not being used as intended…

   Many times I’ve pulled aside a disruptive student and told him that he has leadership skills—he’s just using them the wrong way. Or the kid who loves to argue—a future lawyer? Just today I informed a student that he has the potential to make a lot of money someday in a courtroom because of his ability to argue the spots off a leopard. (Although I did have to break it to him that that wasn’t happening today.)

   We can all do it—tell someone they have a destiny; too many people just don’t believe that they’ve been planted on this rock for a reason, for a specific purpose that no one else will ever be able to fulfill. They simply don’t think they really matter all that much.

   Still, I can hear it now—dismal echoes of doom wafting across the miles: “But I can’t! I’m no good at that!” However, the truth is that you could be. How much talent does it take to pat someone on the back and tell him “great job” or to write a note letting someone know you’re thinking of her or to cheer someone along as he does the scary job interview thing?  The point is, you can do it. And you should. Someone, somewhere, needs you.

   You do know that, don’t you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That Moment of Destiny

Esther 2

   THAT MOMENT OF DESTINY.  At least once in our lives, there comes a moment when we have to say something that, once said, will change everything, forever. Moreover, we know that once we say that thing, we can’t unsay it or take it back or get a do-over. We may fight with ourselves over saying it—but we lose. We may try to talk ourselves out of it—but we fail. We may try to delay the inevitable—but we can’t. We may wish that things could stay the same—except we know that they’ll never be the same again.

But we also know one other thing—the only thing worse than things changing forever will be if they don’t.

   I’ll never be able to prove it but I believe Queen Esther felt that way. Do you ever wonder why, after inviting King Xerxes to the very special banquet she’d prepared to set the stage to petition him to save her people and herself, she didn’t say a word that night—except “’Will you come to another banquet tomorrow?’”

   Backstory: King Xerxes, world ruler of Persia, is persuaded to make a rash decree that, on an appointed day eight months from then, anyone who cared to could go on a killing spree to slaughter and obliterate all Jews anywhere in the Persian empire (all 127 different countries of it). The man behind that suggestion to the king was the wicked Haman who hated all Jews everywhere. Little does he know, though, that Queen Esther is Jewish. The problem is that the king doesn’t know it either. And the bigger problem is that, were he to find out, he still wouldn’t be able to cancel the decree because, according to Persian law, once a king made a decree, even he could not revoke it afterward. So—Esther sets out to educate the king as to what this means for her and her people: unequivocal annihilation of the Jewish race. However, in order to plead her case, Esther must approach the king in the throne room uninvited, which is simply not done. Queen or no queen, she could be executed for such presumption should the king not extend to her the scepter of mercy. But she knows that.

   Nevertheless, Esther approaches the king and he extends the scepter and promises to grant her petition, even up to half his kingdom. But does she tell him of the plot against herself and her people? Not quite yet…

   Many believe that Esther held her tongue because Haman was such a powerful political figure, even more powerful than she—which meant that she wasn’t out of danger quite yet. So instead of accusing Haman in the courtroom, she moves the battle to her own turf, to her own private apartments. Fair enough. But having done so, then she still doesn’t tell the king that she, his beloved queen, is about to die. (And don’t think Haman wouldn’t have had her killed.)

   Why doesn’t she?

   I don’t believe Esther was silent because she was afraid of dying; she’d already come to terms with the possibility that her destiny might require her to sacrifice her life when she resolved that “’If I perish, I perish.’” I suspect rather that Esther postponed the conversation simply because she knew that no matter what happened after she told the king her story—whether he believed her or not—things in the kingdom would never be the same again. And Esther wanted just one more night of intimacy, of peace, of normalcy with her husband.

   Have we ever done that? Have we ever avoided that moment of destiny because, no matter how we respond, nothing will ever be the same again?

   That “moment of destiny” is often our greatest test. When faced with the most challenging moment of our lives, what will we say?

   A chaste, unmarried, Jewish virgin is told by the angel Gabriel that God had chosen her to be the mother of the Messiah. Wouldn’t that be every young Jewish maiden’s dream? Maybe. But Mary knows what happens to unmarried pregnant women: outcast, abandoned, even stoned to death—so what will she say? It’s her moment of destiny, and Mary responds, “’Let it be done unto me as you have said.’” Regardless of her answer though, Mary knew nothing could ever be the same again. She would either be the most honored woman of all time—or the most disgraced.

   Abraham was commanded by God to take his son Isaac and sacrifice him on the altar. As he takes his son and goes, Isaac asks him why they weren’t bringing an animal for the sacrifice. That moment—knowing his beloved son was the sacrifice—was the most heart-shattering moment of Abraham’s life and his greatest test; what would he say? “’God will provide the sacrifice.’” Even so, Abraham knew that, regardless of his answer, nothing would ever be the same again. I suspect he might have feared that he would go home either without his son or without his God.

   And Jesus. When faced with his moment of destiny in the Garden of Gethsemane, he asks God to take the cup of crucifixion from him but then says, “’Not my will but your will be done.’” He knew full well what would happen if he submitted to his Father’s plan of salvation—he would die an excruciatingly painful death. And he knew full well what would happen to us if he did not. One way or the other, he knew that nothing would ever be the same again.

   You will have your moment of destiny. What will you say?

 

 

 

God Is Watching.

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

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

   “Jesus is watching.”

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

   “Jesus is watching.”

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

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

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

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

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

   The voice croaked again. “Meet Jesus.”

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

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

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

   But God was watching.

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

   But why?

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

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

   Maybe you’ve ceased to dream at all.

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

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

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

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

“The 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?

 

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 . . .”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            What if we really just don’t know?

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

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

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

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

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

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

           It’s not you.