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The Boomerang

I never saw it coming from Bruce. He was a retired businessman who agreed to drive Pam and I from the conference center to the hotel room we would staying at for the night so we could preach at his church on Sunday morning. He walked with a limp and didn’t have much to say during the conference. He and his wife quickly volunteered to drive us so I expected they would be nice people but I didn’t think his words would become the focus of my week.
Over lunch, Bruce told me, “The most important lesson I have learned in life is ‘in the same way you judge others, you will be judged.’ (Matthew 7:2) I grew up in a home of rejection. It was the one thing I could count on from my parents. I spent too much of my adult life judging that others would do the same thing. I judged my wife as someone who would reject me so I kept my distance emotionally. I judged people I did business with as people who would reject me so I was either overly cautious with them or overeager to please them. Amazingly, they all seemed to reject me when I needed them the most. I insured they would do the very thing I wanted them not to do.”
My first thought when he finished was, “the judgments we put on people are like boomerangs that are guaranteed to come back to us.” A flood of examples flew through my mind:
• The spouse who is consistently complaining about the immaturity of the other seems to constantly get immature reactions.
• The child who is consistently accused of being irresponsible, frustrates her parents with ongoing irresponsibility.
• The friends who talk about how mean other people are seem to be surrounded by mean people.
• The leader who complains about the lack of initiative among the employees is confused by the fact that no one takes initiative.
• The individual who refuses to forgive can always find someone close by who is emotionally unhealthy.
• The person who is afraid of failure, rejection or, abandonment is usually in close contact with people who trigger the fear.
I am not advocating that we ignore reality because there are harmful people in the world and we need to learn to set healthy boundaries that allow for personal growth and protect the most important people in our lives. But, I am also determined to see the potential in the people I care about and to train myself to focus on what they can be rather than on the imperfections we all possess and must wrestle with.
I want to be surrounded by responsible, compassionate, forward-thinking, innovative people. I, therefore, need to judge the people in my life as responsible, compassionate, forward-thinking and innovative. As I help them see these traits in themselves, they will, likewise, see those same traits in me.
Let the boomerang fly!


March On

I am amazed at the way ordinary discipline exposes me to extraordinary discoveries. It happens often with the regular reading of God’s word. It occurred just this morning with the reading of Judges 5. I almost skipped it because I thought, It is the song of Deborah after Barak defeated Sisera. I already read the story of how the army of Sisera was scattered by Barak’s men and how a woman named Jael drove a tent spike through Sisera’s head to secure the victory – that’s pretty crazy! I am sure the song is just a repeat.
After deliberating, I decided to read the song anyway and I encountered a phrase I am sure I have read before but this time it jumped out at me. “March on, my soul; be strong!” (Judges 5:21) Deborah and Barak were celebrating the remarkable victory God had given them. Prior to battle the odds were not good. They had a long track record of losing as Sisera “had cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years.” (Judges 4:3). God led to them to go into battle, however, and they won. Now it was time to celebrate and remind themselves that they could walk in victory. “March on, my soul; be strong!”
As soon as I read the statement, I realized it applies to so many situations in life. Many of you reading this have a long list of tasks you need to complete. The list is daunting and it is hard to imagine how you will ever get it done. “March on, my soul; be strong!”
Many of you are facing relational challenges that appear to be insurmountable. You have your own personal growth moving forward but someone you care about deeply (a spouse, a child, a family member or close friend) is operating somewhere between difficult and impossible. It is clear to you what this person ought to do but you are powerless to make them do it. “March on, my soul; be strong!”
Many of you are struggling with personal challenges that improve very little year to year. Nagging habits repeat themselves despite your desire to live differently. Addictions keep trying to lure you back. Unhealthy reactions to stressful events seem to take over before you have time to consider what you want to do. “March on, my soul; be strong!”
Still some of you are trying to sort out new career choices as your chosen path has been interrupted and is no longer available to you. “March on, my soul; be strong!” Or, you may be in a boring season of your career and it just feels long. You know this is where you should be but the days drag on. “March on, my soul; be strong!”
As if to fuel our resolve to stay strong, the song ends with a simple, motivating statement, “Then the land had peace forty years.” (Judges 5:31) The peace they experienced lasted twice as long as the time of oppression!
“March on, my soul; be strong!”

Trust the Transformation

I recently had the privilege of meeting with a young man (I will call him Steve) who had been through a transformational moment in his life. He grew up in a Christian environment and was friendly toward Jesus. I would describe him as one of those guys who waves to Jesus. They like Jesus and they speak kindly of Him but they want to keep Him at a comfortable distance because they aren’t ready to yield to His leadership. Then it happened. He was confronted with the reality of his life and his need for a Savior. He became deeply aware of his personal inadequacies and wanted to find something better than what he had been experiencing. As God so often does, He brought along an individual at the right time to invite Steve to a Bible study and the change began.
My friend gave himself wholeheartedly to the process of growth and he discovered what he had heard others talk about. The Bible came alive for him. It seemed every time he read something, it was meant directly for him. Every story had application for his life today. Prayer began to be a conversation between him and his Savior rather than a religious exercise. His goals in life somehow shifted from self-centered pursuits to serving others.
It was clear to me that God’s hand of favor is upon this young man and that a plan is developing. This young man is being groomed for some position of influence. There is a group of people who need the kind of leadership Steve is capable of and he is being equipped to be their leader. In time, all of us who know him will understand it but right now it simply looks like enthusiasm.
For many, it will be hard to accept the legitimacy of the transformation because they remember his earlier years. I even had the opportunity to meet one of his friends and gave a short report of what was going on. His friend’s face twisted in surprise as he blurted out, “Steve? Really? I would have never expected that from him.”
People had a similar reaction to Jesus in Luke 4. Jesus grew up in Nazareth. He was a child there. He was a teenager there. He was a young man beginning his career there. Then He turned 30 and his public ministry began. “He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom.” (v. 16) As part of His ministry, He read from the book of Isaiah and gave His commentary. At first, “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips.” But then they got to thinking, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” (v. 22)
Unfortunately, they couldn’t get past their memory of Him as a child. Rather than recognize that Jesus had transitioned from the preparation phase to the action phase, they limited His influence in their lives.
It is a great challenge to each of us. It is hard to judge from childhood, and even the teen years, who someone will be as an adult. May god give us all the grace to trust in the transformation He does in the lives of the people we are surrounded by.

The Power of Who

We all become like the people we spend time with. In a warning, the Bible states the principle as, “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’” (1 Corinthians 15:33) In an inspiring challenge, the Bible proclaims, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” (Hebrews 13:7) The principle is the same, “Who we hang around with affects who we become.”
This is one of the major themes of the book of Judges. In chapter 3, we are reminded that:
• Our relationships shape our spiritual convictions. “They [the Israelites] took their [previous inhabitants of Canaan] daughters in marriage and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods.” (v. 6) It has long been known that men are greatly influenced by the women in their lives. Even in “modern times” studies show that men tend to change their behavior when they are around women so that they become less competitive, gentler in their conversation and more careful about their attitudes and behaviors. Women, on the other hand, do not change their ways of interacting and behaving much when they are around males. For the nation of Israel, this meant that the men shifted to the spiritual heritage of their wives much more often than the wives were won over.
On a side note, this is one of the reasons men get so angry with women. They are incredibly influenced by the most important women in their lives and they get defensive when that influence doesn’t feel right. Too often men then overreact. It is not right for us men to do this but it is a common reaction. It would be better for us to calmly communicate and learn to negotiate effectively but history has shown that it is an advanced skill for most men.
On another side note, we need to keep proclaiming for the benefit of those who are not married that “Who” you choose has the potential to determine “What” you will believe.
• Our relationships shape our morals. “The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD; they forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs.” (v. 7) The people of Israel didn’t set out to make God angry and make bad choices. They didn’t make it their goal to be rebellious or “do evil.” They simply failed to see the consequences of being intimate with people who didn’t share their convictions in life. We are certainly on the earth to be an influence for good. If we want to maintain that influence, we need to choose as our closest allies those who share our moral convictions. It has always been my goal to be friends with people who disagree with me but I am determined that my closest friends will hold tightly to the lifestyle choices I depend on.
• Our relationships shape our opportunities. “He raised up for them a deliverer, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, who saved them . . . So the land had peace for forty years.” (v. 9-11) The people did better simply because of the presence of Othniel. He was a leader. He had a clear vision of what the nation ought to do. He was solid in his convictions, steady in his morals and sold out to the mission. The rest of the people gained confidence from him and discovered a new way of life.
Lord, remind us today that who we choose to align our lives with will greatly determine what we are capable of in life.

A Long View of Life

Galatians 6:9 reads, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” It has always been easy to apply this verse to my life as I struggle with the realities of life. Work requires patience and perseverance. Owning a home is a constant relationship of maintenance. Helping others is a rollercoaster of victories and disappointments. It would not be difficult to become selfish if I didn’t keep in mind that this phase of life is short and God is faithful to reward us at the proper time.
It hadn’t occurred to me until today that this is a commentary on God’s relationship with His people. Early in the book of Judges, we discover that the people God cared most about are a difficult lot. “The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD . . . They forsook the LORD . . . They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They aroused the LORD’s anger.” (Judges 2:11-12) In an attempt to get their attention, “the LORD gave them into the hands of raiders who plundered them. He sold them into the hands of their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist. Whenever Israel went out to fight, the hand of the LORD was against them to defeat them, just as he had sworn to them.” (v. 14-15)
It would be easy to conclude at this point that the Israelites were not worth the effort. They were given the greatest privilege on earth. They knew God and had His personal protection, provision and partnership. They were guaranteed success and security as they cooperated with Him. Instead of embracing the privilege they despised it and sabotaged it. They rejected the One who truly loved them and had worked tirelessly to give them a good life. They trivialized the commitment they had made to one another to become involved in silly, self-destructive behavior. Even when life became hard for them, they refused to return to their senses.
Many of you who are reading this are starting to insert names because this scenario has been written over and over in the history of mankind. Spouses can be extremely difficult to love at various stages of their lives. Kids can be nearly impossible to raise at times. Friends can quickly change from comrades to competitors. As I work with people, the same question seems to rise regularly, “Should I hang in there with this person? Are they worth the effort?”
It is, without a doubt, an agonizing question that searches our souls to see how selfless we truly are. It has helped me to realize that God has gone before me in this venture. When the nation of Israel got to the point that “they were in great distress, then the LORD raised up judges.” (v. 15-16) He could have rejected them but instead He raised up judges. He could have given up on them but instead He raised up judges. And the people were ridiculous. “When the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their ancestors . . . They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.” (v. 19)
The question remains, why would God continue to love and protect these people? It was for the harvest! God knew that the Savior of the world would be born in the nation of Israel. Today they were hard to love but in due time they would become a blessing to the whole world.
Oh God, give us eyes to see the harvest when the ground seems too hard to plow and plant.

Sticky Influence

Over the years, I have developed an interest in helping people work through the major transition points of their lives. It has become evident that midlife is one of those developmental passages that we don’t talk enough about. We are all familiar with adolescence and resources abound for the retirement years but the preparation phase for the second half of life gets little attention. Within the last month I met a physician who said to me, “I think there should be a training course that everyone goes through as they approach midlife. So many people seem to just go crazy during that time.” The interesting thing about this statement is that we weren’t talking about midlife at the time. It had simply been on his mind and he wanted to talk about it.
I have discovered that this transition is all about influence. Since most of us anticipate living into our eighties (compared to life expectancy of early sixties during the 1960s), the influence curve of our lives has shifted. Our greatest potential for influence occurs now during the years from 50 to 70. Since I am in this stage of life, it has become a major theme in my heart. That is why I think Judges 2:10 stirred my heart when I read it this morning, “After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel.” Joshua had faithfully led the nation of Israel into the Promised Land. Along with Caleb, they unified the people with enthusiasm, direction and conviction. Their faith was real and their lifestyles reflected spiritual strength. The next generation didn’t catch it, however, and that bothers me. During my twenties and thirties, I was primarily concerned with my productivity. How was I going to make a living? How was I going to be productive enough to keep up with the needs of my family? How could I discover God’s will for my life?
The forties shifted my focus and I started asking different questions. How am I going to help others discover God’s will for their lives? How will the world be a better place because I was alive? How can I help my grandkids and great grandkids discover a vibrant faith and quality lives?
I believe Judges 2:10 contains the formula. First, I need to pray diligently for those I want to influence. The potential always exists for another generation to rise up who does not know the Lord. Loving God is always a matter of the heart that comes down to a personal decision by every individual. At some point, everyone I love will be confronted with the remarkable love and grace of Jesus. I can help them hear the message but I can’t decide for them. I have resorted, therefore, to begging God for the hearts of the next generations. I ask Him consistently to have an encounter with each of them and I pray they will have soft hearts when it happens.
The second part of the formula is to tell the stories because the potential also exists that the next generation will not know what God has done. Part of this is a matter of the heart but part of it is in how we tell our history. When the things God has done are told with a context of “I remember when . . .” they are relegated to history. It is easy to conclude that He used to do those things or He had to do those things because we needed more help than the modern world. The stories ought to be told with an attitude of “let me tell you who God is.” His working in our lives is simply a preview of what He is going to do in their lives. As a result, we ought to work on telling the stories with a sense of anticipation and enthusiasm. The stories have influence when they are aimed at building anticipation of what He is going to do next rather than on what He used to do.
Lord, help us live in such a way that those who come behind us know you and the way you work!

When You Love What Must Be Done

Blessing or Burden?

Every time I read 1 John 5:3 I stop for a few seconds. “In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.“ When I read this as a young man, it sounded strange but now that I have a family, it makes much more sense. Over the holidays, I had the privilege to spend time with my kids and grandkids. Since we all live in different cities, there was a lot of work to do to get everyone in the same place. Since my three sons are athletic, there was a lot of work to do to keep everyone fed. Since my grandchildren are 4 and 2, there was a lot of work to do just to keep them entertained and to clean up behind them. Some of the tasks that were required to make our time together possible were:
• Make airline arrangements.
• Prepare the car for travel.
• Pack the car with 5 people’s suitcases and Christmas presents.
• Pack clothes, etc. for a week away from home.
• Buy groceries for 9.
• Clean up toys.
• Prepare 8 dinners, 8 lunches and 9 breakfasts for 9.
• Clean up toys.
• Do dishes 18 times.
• Clean up toys.
• Prepare bread to feed ducks, help my granddaughters get their winter coats on, walk to the lake.
• Carry one of my granddaughters for ½ mile
• Feed ducks at the lake.
• Build a snowman.
• Help my granddaughters slide down a small snow hill.
• Walk back from the lake.
• Carry one of my granddaughters uphill for ½ mile.
And on it goes . . . .
The amazing thing is that none of this seemed hard because I love the people I was doing this for. And that made all the difference. When I am connected to my loved ones and have a mutual environment of love, the work is not burdensome. I simply do what needs to be done without feeling put upon. In the same way, when my love for God is clear, anything He asks of me seems like a privilege rather than a command. The problem comes when I lose focus or connection. Then I feel used, taken advantage of and manipulated. The work hasn’t changed but the weight of the work certainly feels heavier.
I have also noticed a correlation with my profession. When I love what I do, it doesn’t seem like work. When I dislike what I must do, it feels like a chore. I saw this in action over one of the lunches I shared with my family. Two of my sons got out a pad of paper and a pen and started strategizing over football. One of them is coaching in high school and the other one is playing in college. The coach wanted to sharpen his skill so he was asking the player to help him evaluate their defensive scheme. Technically, they were working but you would have never known it watching them. They were animated, energetic and fully engrossed in the conversation. They love what they do so it was not a burden.
The challenge for me now is to allow discomfort to be a reminder. When the work I must do for my family feels like a burden, it means I have lost connection with them. When the work I must do for my profession feels like a burden, it means I have lost sight of the privilege of productivity. When the work I must do in my spiritual growth feels like a burden, I have lost touch with the love God has for me.
May love overshadow everything we need to do this week!