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The Greatest Gift

A friend recently said to me, “No one ever looks happy when they are running.” Since I have included running as part of my plan to stay in shape, the comment caught my attention. I like the results of running but he is right that I never look happy while I am in the process. In fact, I looked back at a few pictures that another friend took of me while I was running on the beach. I was doing the right thing (exercising) and I was in a beautiful place (Cannon Beach, OR) but as you can tell from the pictures I wasn’t exactly enjoying it.
BillRunningAs I have reflected on his statement, I realized forgiveness is the same way. It is possibly the most important activity of our lives. Ephesians 3:7 informs us, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.” As an act of grace, Jesus took our place and paid the price for the wrong in our lives. Each of us is painfully aware of deficiencies within. We think the wrong things, we harbor self-defeating attitudes, we fight back desires in our hearts that are neither good nor noble. And periodically these internal struggles turn into behavior that harms relationships we care about.
As a result, being forgiven is the first step in developing a healthy relationship with God and others. Jesus didn’t look happy when he was sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane. He didn’t look happy when He was being scourged. He didn’t look happy when He was sacrificing His life on the cross. He did it because the results were worth it to Him.
This is the legacy of our faith. Forgiveness creates renewed hearts, renewed relationships and renewed freedom to pursue excellence. It is never enjoyable in the process but it is always effective in its impact. Consider Joseph and his brothers in Genesis 50. At the death of their father, the brothers were rightfully worried, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” (v. 15) In honest contrition they said to Joseph, “Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father . . . we are your slaves.” (v. 17-18) Despite the heartache, disappointments and injustices Joseph went through, he concluded in his heart that forgiveness was a better course than vengeance. “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (v. 19-21)
When God was thinking about the greatest gift He could give to mankind, He decided to give us complete forgiveness that would free us from condemnation and launch us into a pursuit of excellence that comes from a heart that is liberated to dream and take risks. He did it because the results were worth it to Him!

What Has God Been Doing?

We all have “pet peeves,” “hot buttons,” and “areas of intense focus” that capture our attention to the point we think everyone should share our level of interest in the topic. Today’s topic is one of those for me and I would like to get your feedback. The “hot button” for me is a conviction that the question, “What has God been doing in my life?” is one of life’s great privileges. Ephesians 2:10 states, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Philippians 2:13 echoes this same thought, “for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

It seems inescapable to me then that God has been working in each of our lives from 10 Best Decisions a Leader Can Makethe beginning to lead us in the pursuit of His will. Even before we knew He was at work, He was busy shaping, molding and redeeming situations to develop passion in our hearts for something I believe there are a number of ways you can look back on your life to discover what God has been about. You can look at your strongest memories, your life altering decisions, the consistent interests of your heart, your choice of friends, etc. One of the ways is also to look at the leaders you have been inclined to follow. In The 10 Best Decisions a Leader Can Make, I share the short list of those leaders in my life as a way of discovering your place in the plan. I have included a short excerpt to illustrate:

“We can all describe the journey of our lives by the leaders who have impacted us.
In third grade, Mrs. Svoboda taught me that math could be fun. She was energetic about math concepts and instituted a number of competitive games to help those of us with natural aptitude excel in our development. It was the first time in my life that learning captured the same sense of adventure as athletic competition . . .

In fifth grade, I was assigned to Mr. Foladare’s class. His body was mildly deformed from a childhood malady, but it never stopped him from doing what was on his heart. He taught with focus and enthusiasm that made me want to learn . . . Even though he was only five foot six, he coached an elite club basketball team that consistently played in tournament championships. He was tough-minded, energetic, and determined that obstacles would not hold him back . . .

Coach Pitts started [freshman] basketball practice that year with the statement, “You are going to be the toughest, hardest working team in our league. You may end up liking me or hating me by the end of the season, but you will be the most determined basketball players around.” I wasn’t even sure at the time why it got my attention. I do know, however, that my time with Coach Pitts better prepared me for the realities of life . . .

Coach Howell was a high-school football coach in the mold of Paul “Bear” Bryant. He wasn’t the most personable man I have ever met, but he knew how to win. He taught me that success is not just about talent. It’s about maintaining discipline in the midst of adversity. It’s about adjusting to challenges with a clear view of your goal and cultivating a mindset of believing you will succeed despite the forces trying to keep you from it . . .

Pastor Jack Peacock taught me the power of building authentic networks. He had an uncanny ability to connect with rugged men . . .

Bob Bell was a corporate leader I watched from a distance. He was extremely busy with his career and family so he didn’t have much time to give, but the way he handled his life and business was attractive to me. An associate of his told me one day, “Bob was in charge of investigating safety reports in our company. He was always tough, but he was always fair.”

Jim Conway convinced me that having a full-fledged ministry and raising a healthy family could be done at the same time . . . Despite a difficult childhood, he was positive, energetic, and ambitious.”

From these leaders I discovered that I am drawn to help people with real issues in their lives, environments that are competitive, learning significant information, balancing solid relationships with a standard of truth and overcoming obstacles with tenacity. These have become major themes in my life that drive my decisions and help me sort out my priorities because I am passionate about them.

It seems to me, however, that people in general have a hard time “seeing” what God has been doing. They can report the news of their lives but have trouble identifying the themes that are supposed to capture their hearts and focus their efforts.
This is where I would like your input. As you look back at your life, can you identify the themes, convictions, and interests that God has been trying to weave into your heart? I look forward to your insight – Thanks!

Hearts and Minds Need Guarded

I am intrigued by the number of times being a soldier is referred to in the Bible. Just this morning, I read Ephesians 6:10-18. “Be strong in the Lord . . . Put on the full armor of God . . . stand against the devil’s schemes . . . our struggle is . . . against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” And it goes on.
Just like you, I wish life was not this harsh. I am not saying I don’t want life to be competitive because I love competition. Athletic contests, overcoming personal limitations, closing a deal or acquiring a seemingly impossible opportunity are awesome experiences in life. I just wish it wasn’t so destructive. There are schemes in our world that are bent on ruining us, not just winning the race.
As a result, I have come to accept that in my pursuit of life, I need to dress for battle—everyday! As I read this morning, the thought that stuck was, “I need to protect my heart and my mind if I am going to win in life.” The breastplate of righteousness is designed to protect the heart (and vital organs) of the soldier from frontal attacks. The helmet of salvation is designed to protect the head from downward blows of a sword.
I think the reason this stuck out to me was because of how real it was for me this week. Just this week, I have had to protect my heart from the following:
• Two good friends of mine are struggling with serious illnesses. Neither of them have made much progress despite my constant prayers for them.
• I found out another good friend had a stroke. This has been a looming thing in my life ever since my dad had a stroke when he was 48. I am in better shape than my dad was at my age. I eat better than my dad did at my age. I generally take better care of myself than he did. Still, every time I come across one of my peers who has suffered a stroke, I have to fight back the fear that it could be me.
• I have had a very strenuous week. It has been good stuff but it has been a lot of stuff. My first pastor used to refer to times like this as “eating oatmeal out of an exhaust pipe.” In the strain, I found myself impatient, insensitive and intensely focused. It was hard to care about the people I care about this week.
Then I got to pondering about the thoughts I had to fight off this week because they just weren’t true.
• The financial challenges you deal with are evidence that God doesn’t really love you as much as you think he does.
• You will never be back in shape. Your goal of running 8 minute miles will never happen for you.
• The risks you are taking in your career right now are the beginning of disaster. Who do you think you are that God would come through for you?
• It is just too much. Between your career, your home, your personal interactions and your family responsibilities, there is just too much.
I recognize that all of these are lies in the scheme of a dark world to discourage me from accomplishing what I was put on earth to do. Knowing that, however, doesn’t make them go away. I have to fight against them and beat them down so they don’t become the definition of my journey. My heart and my mind need to be guarded. Just as a solder puts on armor to guard himself and a football player puts on shoulder pads and a helmet to keep him safe in the contest, I need the breastplate to righteousness and the helmet of salvation.
Oh Jesus, flood my life with the right thoughts and the right decisions so I can win the contest before me.

Decisive Influence

Ephesians 6:4 states, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” There are two words used in this passage that describe the influence of a parent:
Training is a word that means “child training.” It is built around the idea of giving discipline until they develop self-discipline. The goal is to raise up self-directed adults who possess self-control. Early on, they lack this ability so we, as parents, make decisions for them and then gradually release the responsibility to them as they are ready.
Instruction literally means, “training by word.” It has the force of coaching and includes the use of whatever means are necessary to get results. It can, therefore, include teaching, reproof, challenges, reminders, growth strategies, etc. The goal is to help the people we love discover their God-given dream and develop the skills necessary to live it out.
What strikes me about both of these approaches is they are other-centered and they are built around decisions. We are trying to get kids to decide to be self-disciplined and to live out their potential. If I want to maximize my impact on my kids and grandkids then, I need to give them as much decision-making authority as they can handle.
This was especially clear to me as my middle son, Zach, was getting ready to enter high school. We have told all our kids, “When you become a teenager, you need to be busy. So, in addition to school, you need to be involved in two extracurricular activities.” As is common when you have an older brother, he wanted his own identity but he went too far with it. I would ask him, “What do you want to do when you get to high school?”
“I don’t know but I don’t want to be like Brock.”
His motto in life became, “If Brock likes it, I hate it.”
“Do you want to play football?”
“Why not?”
“Because Brock plays football.”
“Do you want to be in student leadership?”
“Why not?”
“Because Brock does that?”
This went on forever and, despite my best efforts, I couldn’t get him to decide what he wanted to do. He would only decide that he didn’t want to do anything his brother was doing. I started looking for any means at my disposal to get him to make a healthy decision. I knew that if he entered the turbulent high school years with this attitude, it would not go well. In desperation, I had a sit down meeting with him.
“Zachery, the way you are thinking about your life right now is not good. You keep telling me what you don’t want to be but you aren’t deciding what you do want to be. I can’t really trust you right now to make the right decisions so I need to take action. You have a choice. You can either change the way you are approaching this or I can go to high school with you.”
I knew the message got across because his eyes got as big as basketballs. You could hear the thoughts racing across his mind, “You wouldn’t do that, would you? That would be so embarrassing. I would be the biggest loser in my school.”
I was desperately praying he changed because the last thing I wanted to do was go back to high school! It didn’t take long for him to figure it out. He did play football in high school and then did something his oldest brother would never consider—he became a competitive cheerleader, which eventually led to a college scholarship. It turned out to be a great choice for him.
Lord, give us all wisdom to make decisions that develop self-control and help us reach our potential.

Figuring Out Father

A friend recently asked me, “If your father wasn’t a good role model, is it hard to figure out how to relate to God as your Heavenly Father?” It is such a good question because we all assume God is kind of like our dads. Intellectually, we know that He is perfect, wise and loving but our emotions don’t always listen to our minds. We spent our most formative years adjusting to our dads so our impression of what it means to be a father is ingrained in our instincts. If your dad was a solid example, this is good news. Your understanding of God as your Heavenly Father will be healthy, dependable and encouraging. If, however, your dad was unpredictable, severely inconsistent, uninvolved or non-existent, you have a lot to overcome.
This question was hovering in my mind when I read Ephesians 5:17-20 today. I noticed in this passage a number of truths about God as our Dad that I want to hold onto and make instinctive:
• He wants us to find and fulfill our unique contribution to life. “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” God has a will and it includes us. His will is mature, focused and effective. That is why the opposite of it is referred to as foolishness. God knows who you are and what you were designed for. As a faithful Father, He is working to help you discover your purpose.
• He wants us to be energetic and powerful. “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” When someone is under the influence of alcohol, he says things he wouldn’t normally say, does things he wouldn’t normally do and has a boldness about him that is not characteristic of his ordinary life. In the same way, the Holy Spirit was put in us by our Father to give us words, actions and attitudes that can influence others.
• He wants us to have healthy relationships. The natural result of being under the influence of the Holy Spirit is we speak “to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit.” And we will “sing and make music from your heart to the Lord.” This doesn’t mean we walk around singing all the time and answering everyone with music. It does mean we will naturally encourage others to grow and we will seek to include Jesus in our lives in a daily, natural way.
• He wants us to have a positive, grateful attitude. “. . . always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Zig Ziglar is famous for saying, “A positive attitude will not allow you to everything. But a positive attitude will allow you to do everything better than a negative attitude will.”
These are things all of our dads ought to have equipped us for in life. Some of you reading this can rejoice because your dad did that for you. Others of you just feel a void. We can all move forward from here, however. We can learn from God’s word the truth about God as our Father and we can help the next generation get a head start.

Objectively Subjective

“My eighteen year old daughter asked me, ‘How can I tell if a young man I am interested in is the man I ought to marry?’ What would you tell her?” I was curious to know how serious the relationship was so I hesitated in answering. It was quite possible the daughter was in an unhealthy relationship and her dad was looking for ammunition to get her away from a current young man. It was also possible this was a sincere question from an emerging young lady. This concerned dad must have seen what he thought was confusion on my part because he asked me, “Is there even an answer to the question or am I just on my own to figure it out?”
I shared with him that there are both objective and subjective factors to consider. On the objective side, there are character issues to look at. I encouraged him to have his daughter make a list of the traits she was looking for in a man she would consider spending her life with. There are numerous passages in the Bible that discuss the importance of personal character. Ephesians 5 is one such passage that encourages each of us to pursue the following convictions:
• Persistent love. “Walk in the ways of love, just as Christ loved us.” (v. 2) This is the kind of love that willingly sacrifices and looks out for the best interests of others. It is not, “I love because I want something from you.” It is, “I love because that is who I am.”
• Moral excellence. “Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality.” (v. 3) People who can be trusted for a lifetime have the powerful passions of their life under control. It is not that we want our desires and drive in life numbed. We just want to have the forces of our life focused on healthy, encouraging, productive activities rather than selfish gratification.
• Ethical encouragement. “Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.” (v. 4) The Holy Spirit who is in us has a positive attitude and looks for ways to build others up. Words are either powerful allies or destructive weapons and we must each decide how we are going use them.
• Committed to truth. “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.” (v. 8 ) When we meet Jesus, we encounter the source of truth and we get exposed to everything that is true about life. If we are going to be consistent in our relationship with Him, we will seek to apply truth to our lives on a regular basis.
This is a short list of the type of character God is trying to build in us. The list can certainly get so long that no one can ever measure up, but it is helpful to identify key character traits that make for healthy relationships. Then ask the questions, “Am I growing in these areas myself?” and “Am I willing to wait for someone who is also growing in these areas?”
The pursuit doesn’t stop with the objective list, however. We all have subjective preferences that include personality, body type, sense of humor, sense of purpose, career pursuit and social interest. I encourage young people to boldly identify these subjective preferences because they are a big part of what attracts us to other people. When the objective list and the subjective list converge in a relationship, we have strong confidence it has what it takes to build a life together. Of course, there are no 100 percent guarantees in any relationship because we are confronted with significant decisions every year that have the power to alter our lives. It is, however, likely that people of solid character who are attracted to each other for good reasons are going to decide to work through the issues of life together rather than use them against each other.
God, give us both objective and subjective wisdom in our relational choices.


I get in a lot of conversations with people who are dealing with chaos. I believe I get in these discussions because it so common that it affects all of our lives. The chaotic behavior comes in two forms. The first is from the initiator. If you know your Bible at all, you know that people are not right. Our natures are corrupt and we tend toward self-centered and self-destructive choices. The easiest trait to develop in someone is selfishness. As a result, people regularly do things that just don’t make sense. Consider just a few examples of the kinds of things people passionately do that defy logic:
• We get intensely mad at the people we love the most.
• We yell at our kids not to yell at us.
• We spend money we don’t have.
• We use alcohol and drugs to either lower stress or hide from the real world.
• We get defensive when the people who care about us the most try to help us get better.
• We try to control the behavior and decisions of others.
Some of these things are bad but some are well-intentioned and noble. The problem is that none of them matches the way God created life.
The second kind of chaos comes from the responders. It is undeniable that people do hurtful, unhealthy and unproductive things. Unfortunately, it is common for those affected by the unhealthy decisions to respond just as chaotically. Consider just a few of the responses that likewise don’t make sense intellectually:
• We present rational arguments for why people should not act irrationally.
• We negotiate with people who are not thinking clearly.
• We ask, “What can I do to change this person’s behavior.”
• We spend lots of time pointing out how wrong the other person’s choices are.
• We dwell on the type of lifestyle the other person ought to be following.
As a result, we become just as chaotic in our thinking, emotional reactions, lack of personal growth and expended energy as the person we are upset with.
If we are to be victorious, we must move from chaotic to constructive (C2C). The key question for us becomes, “Regardless of circumstances and the choices of others, what type of person do I want to be?” Paul emphasized this approach to life in Ephesians 4:1, “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” We have received a life of peace, patience, gentleness, humility, unity, power, faith, intimacy with God, willing sacrifice, reliance on truth and inexhaustible love. The eternal, infinite God deposited His life in us through the presence of the Holy Spirit. We literally have the opportunity to live a life beyond our own needs or abilities. The wisdom we need to make constructive choices, the strength we need to give constructive responses, and the hope we need to build a constructive future already reside within us. We just need to trust in it and choose to walk worthy rather than fall into the chaos around us. It is a tough thing to do but so is walking in chaos!