Sunday, April 10, 2016

Are we on a path for a reason?



Friday is my favorite day of the week.

Not for the reasons most would think though, the end of the work week. Rather, it is the day I get to dig into the Word with some genuine people in my men's Bible study group. We read a chapter a day in a specific book, looking for promises God has already granted us, for which we give thanks, and for other promises yet to be fulfilled for which we praise God for this gift and to keep us our eyes open for the time that those promises are fulfilled. It is an amazing frame of reference in which to read the Bible with a context and find just how much God must love us! There are an mazing amount gifts and promises He has given us!


This past Friday we were reading Romans 14. Paul writes to us commenting on the legalism which catches people up in judging others based on what, in this case, they eat or don't eat out of their religious beliefs. Paul asks "who are we to judge" and the answer is no one! We cannot judge, should not judge nor should we talk down to someone because they have specific dietary values for their faith.

As we were wrapping up, Mike Brown mentioned verse 23 caught his attention for personal reasons and explained to us that it meant to him we are each on our own path given some people have dietary needs due to health conditions and how some people choose to follow that path (and follow the Doctor's directives in this example and avoid foods they shouldn't eat) while others decide to not take their path.

The Holy Spirit then spoke to me very clearly how this is analagous to our journey as a believer. So many times we have heard how God has made us uniquely US, we should not try to be someone we are not. Our DNA is unique, our strengths and weakenesses are unique, even our fingerprints are unique. We are unique spiritual beings on a human journey while we are on earth, and we are each on our own, unique path, experiencing chance encounters of various situations and people meant to impact us or we are to impact them. When we refuse to follow that path, we are not only denying God, we are cheating other people with regards to the experience God would have had for them.

Not only that, but we are also cheating ourselves of eternal gifts from God for our obedience and spreading His Word as a disciple, and the sense of peace that only comes from being in the step with your Lord.

Each has a path, allegorically speaking, but that "path" has several areas we need to focus on- personal, professional and spiritual. The key is communicating with God on a daily basis to better ascertain what He is saying to you through the Holy Spirit and to consult Him when you make key decisions. By doing so, you will innately know where you are supposed to be, what you are supposed to do, and perhaps most importantly, what you are supposed to say during your journey.


Monday, February 22, 2016

Just how unique are each of us made in the image of God?




For the last dozen years I have been a disciple of strengths-based work and understanding what I am called to do. Chances are you have not heard of strengths-based work or, at best, you are not familiar with it.  

For the uninitiated, simply put, strengths-based work means I focus on what I AM GOOD AT, not what I am poorly fit to do.

This past weekend I attended a seminar at Gateway Church in Southlake, TX, to get a better handle on my Christian identity and to my surprise, they embraced the Gallup Strengths Finder and a spiritual gifts finder hand in hand to help plot my course. 

During my time in sales with Johnson & Johnson EVERY field ride was the same- NEGATIVE. I would hear things like “You know anatomy & procedure very well,  you know instrumentation, you are very good with your customers, BUT we wish you were better at this or that.” These items on their wish list were invariably clerical in nature- minutiae if you will, that did not enhance my relationship, sales or customer service. Just one area to work on to make me a more-rounded employee. It frustrated me and my colleagues no end because at the time, no one knew any better. Today, many are still laboring under these arcane ideas. 

The Gallup organization breaks strengths into 35 areas or terms. For me, my top 5 are Context, Responsibility, Belief, Includer, Woo. Few people have the same strengths as me in the same order. So few in fact, if we extend it to my top 6 and looked at the nearly 7 billion people on earth, we might find 220 people with the very same strengths in the same descending order. 

Let’s look at the top 8- there would be approximately .0026 people in the entire world with the same top 8 strengths, in the same descending order as me. Statistically speaking, not even ONE person!

Now, extrapolate that out to all 35 strengths….   

In case you are wondering how to figure that out, it is simple multiplication with the possible remaining variables. In other words, 35x34x33x32x31…. all the way down to 1. Does that give you a sense to the size of that number? HUGE. In astronomical terms, it would probably be measured in light years!

Well, that’s all well and good- so what?

Take another look at the rankings of YOUR strengths. Since there are so many variables and combinations, can you not see how unique YOU are? How amazingly designed YOU are?

Can you now see the tragedy the business world has perpetrated against us and perpetuated in trying to help us with our “weaknesses” and not focusing on the strengths God gave each of us? The paradigm is revolutionary and breathtaking. 

Rather than continually striving to be something you can NEVER BE, God has intended us to find work and even ministry using that which we are already anointed with and in which we will find fulfillment, and thus peace and a restful heart.

The other thing I found fascinating about this class was how we can use science to confirm God's Intelligent Design! Too many people have failed to understand the argument and have learned they have to choose BETWEEN God and science, but that is a topic for another conversation.


What are you waiting for? Find your strengths and change your life today!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Perspective on the Parable of the Prodigal Son

Most of us have heard the story of the prodigal son from Luke 15. Superficially it is a story about greed, shortsightedness and then humility, and one most people feel they don't identify with.  It is the stories like this which make me realize when I speak with someone who has "read the Bible" and it was nothing more than a history book, I know they did not read the Bible with the influence of the Holy Spirit. As I reviewed this chapter in Luke again this morning, the Holy Spirit revealed still more to me despite the numerous sermons I have heard on the topic over the years. Some of what I am about to share is sharing previous revelation from sermons, but there were several salients points brought to my attention as well that I wish to share.

In verse 12 we read the younger of two brothers approaches their father and says I would really like to have my inheritance now (basically so he can enjoy it before HE becomes an old man). What he is really saying to his dad is "I wish you were dead NOW so I could have what is coming to me." Wow- what a sentiment to a father whom has loved and nurtured him in great comfort!

But notice the father does not rebuke him, try to persuade him otherwise or decline him. Rather, he divides his wealth between the two brothers.  Notice also the father does not weep for his son despite the ugliness he received from his youngest son.  I think this is because the father knew his son's heart and he would soon run through all his wealth because he was prodigal and had no foresight of the future. A reckless child, if you will. I think he knew the son would be destitute and back home soon.

Once the impertinent youth ventures from the rural area where life is relatively inexpensive and he goes to a big city, he lives an apparent life of partying and fool-hardiness to satisfy his heart. Soon, the money gone and severe famine bring this young man to his knees. Starving, he accepts a job feeding pigs garbage and refuse, or slop.

If you have ever been around slop, you know how vile it smells, and knowing Jesus is talking to Jews, the lowest form of animal is a pig, we get a sense of just how desperate a situation the prodigal son is in. He soon realizes these animals are eating better than him, even his father's slaves have it better off than him so it is not a hard decision to finally admit in humility the error of his ways and beg forgiveness of his father so he might be a lowly slave.

In other words, the son has NO idea just how much his father loves him, and the depths of his forgiveness for his son.

As the son approaches home from afar, the father sees him and is so overcome with joy that his lost son is now home what does he do? He RUNS to the son.  Again, realizing this is to a Jewish audience, the significance of his running is not lost on Jesus' audience. What it illustrates is the dignity of an elder Jewish man running, like a little boy, to bring his son to comfort and embrace him is an extremely powerful analogy of course to how much our Father rejoices when we turn our back on our prodigal lives and return to His embrace.

The son begs forgiveness and asks to be put to work, but alas, the father will have none of it! A robe is given him, a ring and sandals, and then a calf is sacrificed for a great party in the son's return. Symbolically that means there is a party when a child accepts the Kingdom and the blood of Jesus.

Meanwhile, the elder son is so busy with his works, he does not even notice his own flesh and blood returning. He is so focused doing what he thinks is right he fails to rejoice in this victory of his father. Instead, his pride makes him angry and will not permit him to enter the feast to honor his brother's return.

I must admit, I can certainly identify with this visceral reaction of the flesh. I have been wronged by believer and non-believer alike, and the flesh wants revenge but the Holy Spirit thankfully whispers to me to let it go and love nonetheless. (He is also kind enough to remind me I have offended others) which certainly helps me manage the bitter taste in my mouth.

But what the sons says next is quite revealing to me. He confronts his father and says I have "slaved" here while my brother has partied, yet you never gave me so much as a goat to enjoy with my friends."

REALLY? I'm sorry, sir, but I believe just a few short verses ago you inherited 2/3 of your father's wealth, and have continued to work it. While he may want to use the example of "like a slave" to describe his efforts, I submit that is the responsibility of a landowner. He is sustaining his wealth and livelihood by working. His pride has blinded him, making him feel he is the better son and more deserving of the father's love and adoration. I am so thankful my God does not think that way! It shows the imperfection of our flesh

But as always, there is more. He clearly missed how much HIS father loved him because he felt HE should have been recognized for doing his job! His responsibility as the eldest is to work the land and livestock! He is angry in his heart because his father never thanked him for what he had done or for his loyalty. I wonder, just how many times did he thank his father for the love and comfort he enjoyed?That is to say, the eldest sought recognition for his works!

He was not doing his works for the right reason- he was doing it out of duty and not faith.  This is where I think many of us are prodigal ourselves. We often get mired in a worldly situation and lose control of ourselves and find us behaving, at least in one manner or another, like the prodigal son. Yet the Almighty Father welcomes us with open arms every time we turn our back on the world and look to Him. The sooner we do that and realize the depth of His love for each and everyone of us, the sooner we will realize and experience this love. The eldest son obviously led a life not nearly as fulfilled as God intended, but because he was focused on his efforts and not on the Lord, he missed out on so many blessings.

So I ask in closing, which son was truly lost? How many blessings are waiting for you right now?

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Forgiveness first requires the wound to be addressed

Before a splinter wound can begin healing, the infection must first be treated.
Watching my friend Jason Hillier (@jasonhillier) deliver a terrific sermon on forgiveness today, a real-world illustration help me better understand a basic tenet of Christianity that many of us believers may not fully understand how to process or to completely forgive someone for their transgression against us.

I know from a personal standpoint I may have "forgiven"someone in the past but never really addressed, or processed what happened, how I felt about it and how I would move forward. As a result, the usual human reaction of "I will forgive but not forget" rears it's head and I may say I "forgive" but without fully addressing the underlying issue, am I truly forgiving the other person?

Consider the illustration above. By design, the human body rejects an offending foreign object like a splinter. The process begins with anti-bodies surrounding the site to mitigate infection. From there, the body starts to reject the foreign object to the surface, or encapsulate it in scar tissue. Now if we were to put a bandage on top of the splinter wound, we would cover it up, but the pain will still be there and will continue to be sensitive as the wound festers. Our first reaction is to simply bandage the wound but that is only a superficial treatment.  Below the surface is where the real offense lies and that is where it needs to be addressed.

By bandaging the wound, we are in effect, only covering something up rather than getting to the root of the matter. However, if we dig in and take hold of that splinter and remove it, the healing process can begin immediately and the pain from the infection is dramatically reduced. The human body can now naturally heal itself from the inside out.

In other words, in my estimation, until I fully engage the who, what and why of what offended me, my forgiveness is only superficial, can continue to cause pain and not permit me to process, forgive and move on as Jesus has done for me.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Symbolism Surrounding Peter's Denial of Christ


 



Today as my wife and I listened to another powerful message from Pastor John Stickl at Valley Creek Church, God opened my eyes to some amazing revelations when he was continuing a series titled "It is Finished", (It is Finished, Separation), (It is Finished, Striving) (It is Finished, Shame) a reference to Christ's last words on earth as he was crucified. That simple phrase, just four syllables, so indelibly changed out relationship with God. The series has been very enlightening and full of hope, but more on that at another time.

Last Sunday May 4th, John spoke of how Jesus told Peter how he would deny him 3 times before the cock crowed. Peter, a large strong and powerful man because of his many years of fishing, was petulent and rash, assured Jesus he would not. In fact John would deny you before me. Everyone else maybe but never me. Not surprisingly he of course denied Christ 3 times, once to a servant girl who wasn't even an adolescent. The third time he denied Him, the cock crowed and Peter locked eyes with Jesus.

Can you imagine the shame and pain he felt? Peter ran away, in pain and anguish, crying, and returned to his fishing, no doubt trying to forget what had just happened.

As a foreshadow of how He acts with you and me today, Jesus pursued his disciples and came upon Peter fishing, Jesus calls out to the men on the boat in John 21:5 asking "Children, have you caught any fish?" to which they answered "No." Jesus then tells them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. Following His direction they cast the net on the other side and caught so many fish they were unable to easily pull it into their boat.
That's when God revealed to me somethings I had not seen before in this passage, and the significance of this simple interaction was quite stunning to me.

The first thing that struck me was when they stopped relying on their EARTHLY knowledge their catch was far greater than they could have hoped for, and in fact more than they could handle. Understanding how these men thought, I can only imagine their amazement at how this stranger could so impact their results despite their many years of experience. And oh, by the way, the width of the boat being no greater than maybe 15 feet seemingly was all the difference in the world. Amazing.  But such is what happens when we stop thinking and using the world experience we have and LISTEN to what God would have us to do WHEN He would have us do it.

Second, He of course changed WHERE they fished, and perhaps even to teach them to go one more time even though they thought they had already tried that place. Perhaps the place was right but the timing was not, underscoring the importance of everything being in God's timing, and how He reveals to us what we need when we need it.  This of course a key part of the Lord's Prayer: "Give us this day our daily bread". Give us today the Word You would have me to hear and sustain me.

Third, I think it was clear this was a hint of things to come, when Jesus told Peter to follow Him and He would make him a fisher of men. The catch they experienced with Jesus' direction was greater than they alone could handle. So prophetic about what the future held for the work they were about to embark upon, and the groundwork they were about to lay.  Just as God promised Abraham in Genesis 15:5 your descendants will be more numerous than the stars in the sky

Lastly, I thought about the significance of the previous stories about Jesus blessing a couple of fish and feeding thousands. How far then would these "fish" (the men the disciples had shared the Gospel of Jesus Christ with and brought into the fold of believers) the disciples caught and brought to the Lord go with the blessings of Jesus? How many lives would they impact with His Word and guidance? How much light from His Kingdom would they be able to bring?

Far enough to fulfill the prophecy He gave Abraham. And then some.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

A lack of Grace: 5 Things we can Learn When Someone Expects Perfection in us

Learn from the past and quickly leave it there
to look to the future
When we seek or expect perfection in others we encounter in life we set ourselves up for disappointment and the other person for failure. This past week a customer made that abundantly clear to me.

As an internet or e-commerce director, my responsibility is to drive my store's profitability through a digital medium: To put our best foot forward through a customer's perspective via our website, email communication or the phone. A basic part of the email standpoint is to use effective email directly to each individual per their inquiry (basically to ensure we answer any question a potential customer may have given us) or to use a mass emailing to elicit a response. Mass emailing must be targeted unless I want to run the risk of a high opt-out rate which would lead to ISP's or Internet Service Providers like Yahoo!, MSN and AOL to view our IP address as a SPAM generator.  This I do and have done for years. In fact, I have probably sent out more than 500,000 emails in my career to prospective and current customers. This week was much the same as any other communication.

For those of you in a position of responsibility, you know you have many distractions- your people, contemporaries, supervisors, owners, manufacturers, customers, your daily process, etc., etc., etc.  In other words, MANY distractions. For those of you who are not supervisors, you have many distractions as well: Life, home, friends, etc. I am no different.

With the Christmas holiday right around the corner and then the end of the year next, I had been aiming to send out a mass email to our unsold prospects, and had been trying all day to get it written and compiled before it was too late in the day on Monday the 23rd of December. Unfortunately, I had been unable to complete this task due to many distractions until around 4:00 that afternoon. Long after I knew people would be reading this email at their morning break at work.

A couple of hours later, I received a very threatening voice mail on my mobile phone that if I wanted "my side of the story" to be heard on a "national article about the dealership" and to be named in it myself, I was to call back before the end of the night.  I normally don't do well when people try to threaten me- after having been under direct fire before words have little effect in causing me any anxiety. Out of managerial duty and curiosity I returned the call and the person confirmed it was him- we shall call him Larry.

Larry started on a line of questioning like he was an attorney so I was quickly on the guard, and I asked him what he in fact did for a living. He informed me he writes articles for national magazines like Time and such. Terrific.

I asked how I could help him and he started to tell me how I had lied to him. Okay sir, you now have my attention.

"How did I do that to you?" I asked.

"By emailing me that I had previously made an inquiry by email to buy a car.  I had not had I?"

"No sir, you did not. I see you were in for service previously, and had not made an inquiry about a purchase. That was my mistake."

But he persisted and again said I lied to him. I told him I had made a mistake and it was an oversight for which I held myself responsible.

The third time he called me a liar I pushed back hard. "THAT is enough!" I said. "You will not call me a liar again. I have owned up to the mistake, I have apologized repeatedly, what more can I do? What more do you want from me?"

It was at that exact moment I realized I was being attacked by evil. God had given me the patience and words to endure this withering assault against my character, my store, my job and my family.

His mood instantly changed and we spent the next 30 minutes talking about his experiences while photographing various topics. I viewed his website and some of his images and I couldn't help but think to myself "I'm the liar?" Every one of his photos were no doubt photographed with high performance SLR cameras with filters to capitalize and emphasize the lighting. Perhaps even digital manipulation.

In other words, every one of those photographs, as they were depicted, never truly happened.  Ironic.

I even went on to edify him, lauding his vast experience and accomplishments, and thanked him for his insight and bringing this to my attention. I don't think he knew quite what to do.

After hanging up I was quite upset, not quite angry, but still shaken. Surprisingly, I was not nearly as agitated as I would have ordinarily been.

When my GM came in the following day, I knew he was going to be calling the customer back so I gave him back-fill from my experience and he just smirked, shaking his head.  He went on to tell me how this "gentleman" came to be our customer.

He had come in just a couple of days before I started in August, and complained about how he was not treated well with two of our competitive stores, one of which has written a book on customer service. He had come in for a major service and insisted on meeting the mechanics whom would be working on his car. Not a bad idea.

Bending over backwards to earn his business, Ken asked the customer if our manufacturer had offered him any sort of coupon for his experience and he said no, they had not. So Ken then directs the service department to sell the service at cost for him.  Then right in front of Ken, this person pulls out a $500 coupon from the manufacturer and hands it to the service writer.

"Wait, I thought you said they didn't give you a coupon" my GM asked him.

"Oh yeah, well, I bitched a little more and they sent me one. I just want to get the best deal possible."

No, you just wanted to lie and steal from a company in the auspices of good faith.

This made me even angrier than I was before. A low-life scum bag like this accuses ME of lying. Someone who has never amounted to much of anything, probably never will, trying to pull someone else down to make himself feel better. His inflated resume is just that- inflated. Surely someone whom has contributed to TIME magazine for example would rank somewhere in search results, but no. The ONLY references I could find for him were the aforementioned website of his and an introductory page about him on an equine-focused website.

It is clear this person is devoid of a moral compass and peace. He is clearly hurting and probably doesn't know why. All I can do is forgive him and pray for him.

Some lessons to take from this encounter:

  1. Hurting people hurt other people. 
  2. The more someone tells you how great they are, the less likely it is they have accomplished anything they are building up in your mind.
  3. Liars think other people lie. (Or at least think sales people will sit quietly and take it)
  4. God extends us grace though we do not deserve it. Some people expect perfection from others and extend no grace. Perhaps they enjoy seeing the other person fail or they are purposely creating an environment to exploit to their advantage.
  5. Even when confronted with a situation like this, with His word and guidance, a Christian can defend themselves AND not destroy the other person with their spoken word.



Friday, February 7, 2014

The 50/50 Proposition of a Marriage


Ask people recently married or are engaged to be married if they think marriage is a 50/50 proposition and odds are they will say absolutely. It takes effort on both parties' sides to make a marriage go.

Partially true. It does take effort from both parties involved, but it takes far more than 50%- it takes your all! Marriage is not about your half or your spouse's half; it's about ALL OF BOTH OF YOU. When two become one, that now equals 200% so for you math majors out there, 50/50 in a marriage means someone is missing in that relationship! All in is what it takes! (This is precisely why it is not for the faint of heart and should not be entered into lightly- it is a personal challenge to grow and improve yourself every day.)

All in is a popular term in the poker vernacular for when a player pushes all his chips into the center of the table on one hand thinking he has the best hand or hoping to bluff his way into winning. Either way, the saying is cliche's and perhaps a bit trite for this discussion, but I trust the visual image of someone betting a fortune on one poker hand by going "all in" is illustrative enough to make my point.

Marriage is all about being all in. If it were not then anyone could suffice with half-effort. Even athletes conditioning themselves for a game don't give half efforts. They run through the line every time or they get to do it again.  Why would we insist marriage be any different?

Marriage is defined in the Bible as the union of one man and one woman into one relationship. Perhaps this constructs a vision I am "half" of this marriage thus that is all I need to give, half.  Let us consider this for a moment to be fair. "I am going to give half of myself to my wife." Think on that for a moment. Is that fair and equitable or, is it selfish? Furthermore, if this is truly how marriage is "supposed to be" then which, pre' tel, half would any normal human being give to their spouse? Their best? Hardly. We would give our second best half. The leftovers. We are naturally selfish so this thought process is a bit awkward at first, contrary to the natural laws of survival. Thus the greatest commandment of all: Love your Lord with ALL your heart, mind and soul, and love your neighbors as you love yourself.

Ask yourself if your spouse deserves your best or your second-best efforts. For me, that answer is plain as the sun rising in the east; she not only deserves my best, she deserves better than I can deliver, but that is a topic for another day.

It is by no accident the phrase "...for better or worse" are in most all wedding vows for God knows our hearts. He knows we are inherently selfish and will commit foolish selfish acts out of self-love yet we promise to love our spouse unconditionally through it all. The only way that can happen is if we are all in ourselves, having left nothing on the table as it were. For times when I am weak my wife carries me and I her.  In times of illness we nurture each other.We are magnificently different from each other yet equal since we are both completely and unconditionally devoted to each other. Because of this we both are secure in each other's decisions and abilities to be in society and not cause angst or jealousy in the other.

Jesus gave us illustrations of this principle Himself when He "married the church" or died on the cross. He did not leave anything on the table for us to do or to complete in his stead. He was fully committed to each of us and the church for He so loves us. There is nothing more we could do other than follow the example set forth. There is comfort in that thought for me.

The best way we have discovered for this to happen is to invite God into our relationship to form a trinity in our holy matrimony. Three legs in your relationship will strengthen that bond beyond what might attack your marriage. Consider the rope below: It is made of 3 strands for optimal strength. Not two, not four or five, THREE. They are interwoven so one cord can lean on the other two in times of stress and to lend it's strength when all are challenged simultaneously while under a load of tension. There is another kernel of knowledge here, just below the surface: Tensile strength is a geometrically progressive function of diameter or cross section of the member(s) involved in the strength to resist tension. While it is obvious combining three equal strands of rope is going to be larger than an individual strand, the overall diameter is where this increase in strength takes place. Remember Pi(r2)? The surface area of a circle grows exponentially with an increase in radius? So too will your marriage when you increase your radius (or faith) and place a greater emphasis on relying upon God to help grow you and at the same time increase that radius as well.  It is also well to note ropes not under tension tend to last longer than ropes that are! You can see the ones that are under tension for they appear rigid and tight, perhaps fraying at one or multiple points.


My wife has been such a blessing to me over the years. We have literally grown "old" together. We met at the age of 16 and have been together ever since- over 30 years. We have grown emotionally and spiritually through the many trials we have experienced because we have chosen to. When faced with a challenge, we have two choices: face it head on hand in hand with each other or step aside and let our partner take the brunt of it. The latter of course is a selfish and unloving act, one more concerned about being right (the good half) than being supportive and leads directly to resentment and anger. (Not to mention heavy loads are always easier to bear with help!) We are all guilty of this from time to time, but at the end of the day wise is he/she who embraces his/her spouse at the expense of being right. 

How can you improve YOUR relationship and make room for God in it?