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Persistence on the Imperfect Path

This week has been an interesting reminder of the imperfect journey of life. Everyone I encountered along the way has a dream for their future and undying hope that life is going to turn out well for them. One man is highly dedicated to his career and wants to rise to the top of his professions. One mom is working tirelessly to help her kids discover their talents, navigate their education and overcome their obstacles. Another couple will tell you boldly they want to have an excellent relationship with open communication and cooperative decision-making.
At the same time, everyone I encountered was confronted with either a circumstance or an attitude that was holding them back. The businessman has a couple of habits in his life that are counterproductive to his dream which include keeping his passions in focus and responding with something other than anger to situations that are frustrating. The mom was upset because she often gets angry with the people she loves when they don’t live up to her expectations. She doesn’t want to give up her dream but she doesn’t want to be angry with her family for the next decade. The couple honestly admitted they run at very different paces and have started to resent one another for their differences.
BumperSticker(2)I am sure I noticed these folks because they are a mirror of my life. I love my life, I adore my wife and I am proud of my kids. At the same time, I get frustrated with managing finances, integrating with Pam’s spontaneous scheduling and trying to prioritize the relentless tasks of life. Like you, I keep looking for an easier solution.
For all of us who are willing to accept that life is an imperfect journey, Jesus has some strategic advice in Luke 11:9-10, “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” According to the context, Jesus is telling us to keep on asking, keep on seeking, and keep on knocking because some things in life only get accomplished through audacious persistence. As a pastor, I would love to present to you a simple, easy plan for becoming spiritual mature. As an author, I would love to give couples and parents a quick path to family unity and strength. As a concerned friend, I would love to tell you that one of the quick fix programs for weight loss and physical conditioning would actually turn you into an athlete in just 7 minutes a day. That is not the real path of life, however. The real path of life is a mixture of fun and frustration, accomplishment and agony.
I am not sure what you are facing this week but I am confident it has an element of imperfection to it that will require persistence to stay on the path despite the obstacles, frustrations, setbacks and inefficiencies involved. I’ll see you on the path as we keep asking, keep seeking and keep knocking!

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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!

Big Roots

I had the “opportunity” to do some landscaping work at my parents’ house this past weekend. My parents are getting to the age where they cannot do this kind of work themselves so my siblings and I decided to help them out. The project involved creating a large planter section at the base of a short hill which would provide my mom with a level area to practice her interest in growing drought resistant plants. My son and I agreed to prep the area for new planting, which is a nice way to say we were going to do a lot of digging and contouring.
Tree RootsIt didn’t take long for us to encounter some impressive roots in the ground. There are a number of trees in the area that have, over time, extended their roots over a large area. The small roots were easy to deal with but not all the roots were small. Some of the support structure had grown to between 2 and 3 inches in diameter and took great effort to clear out in anticipation of a new collection of plants.
The amazing thing is that these big roots started out little. When the trees were planted many years before, the roots were thin and contained in a root ball that had to be carefully buried in the ground, fertilized, watered and watched over until it established itself in its new location. With time and care, however, they were solid, stable and difficult to dislodge.
It reminded me of the truth of Galatians 6:8-9. “. . . whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” When the Holy Spirit enters our lives at the point of salvation, He gets planted in our lives as a seed with the potential of developing a strong, stable and pervasive influence over our souls. God has set up the system in an interactive way so that when we “sow to please the Spirit” His influence grows. Just like the roots we battled to remove this past weekend, the power of the Spirit can grow in our lives as we engage in the activities that nourish our relationship with Him.
The key is consistency. Trees need consistent water, fertilizer and sunshine over time to grow strong. In the same way, there are consistent activities in our lives that I have found helpful in sowing to the Spirit:
• Regular exposure to the Word of God through reading, studying and hearing it taught.
• Interactive prayer where we share what is on our hearts and quietly listen.
• Doing what is obvious. There is much in our spiritual journeys that has an element of mystery to it but there is also a lot that is clear and obvious. Our willingness to do what is obvious keeps our spirits cooperative to the bigger things God has in store for us.
• Pay attention to God’s word. When verses make you feel better, be encouraged by them. When verses bother you, ask, “What area of change in my life is this verse pointing to?”
Like most of you, I wish I could develop strong roots quickly. The fact is they take unremarkable routines practiced over time.
Jesus, help me today to “not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest.”

Personal Security

I have the privilege of traveling quite a bit for my career. I am often asked the question by friends, “Are you ever afraid to get on an airplane and fly?” I appreciate the inquiry because it comes from people who sincerely care about me and my family. They want me to be safe and would like me to be around for a long time. It also makes sense since an airplane is basically a flying building with precious human cargo and mishaps can happen.
My response is usually something like, “I believe I will be on earth just as long as God’s purpose for me is in play. I trust that God will provide personal security for me. It also appears to me that when God’s plan for me is finished, it will be time to go. For me, this explains why some people survive the most horrendous circumstances while others lose their lives in some of the most benign ways.”
The apostle Paul experienced God’s personal security in Acts 27. He was being transported to Rome to stand trial before Caesar. As was the custom of the day, he was traveling by boat. It was, however, late Fall which means it was common for storms to arise and wreak havoc with ships trying to cross from Asia Minor to Europe. As sailing became increasing rough, Paul said to those on board, “’Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also.’ But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship.” (v. 10-11)
Things went from bad to worse so the crew took every human step they knew to lighten the load, strengthen the ship and steer to safety. When all these attempts failed, Luke reported the morale aboard ship in verse 20, “When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved.” From a human point of view, their lives were over and there was nothing they could do about it.
From a divine point of view, however, God wasn’t done with Paul. “Paul stood up before them and said: ‘Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss. But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me and said, “Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.”’” (v. 21-24)
If you finish the story, you will discover that the ship was indeed lost but the lives of all aboard were spared. I remember when I heard John MacArthur, teacher on the radio program Grace to You, say something to the effect, “If the people aboard this plane realized that I am being protected by Almighty God until His plan for my life is complete, they would thank me for being on board because it means their lives are protected also.”
So, I face my day today with courage. God has a plan for my life and will provide the personal security that is necessary for that plan to be completed. Since the same is true for you also, may God give each us the assurance that we can face whatever today ushers in because God is graciously and powerfully watching over us.

In the Company of Kings

I feel like I met a superstar this morning. I am reading Acts 25 and, if I didn’t know better, I would have thought that the Apostle Paul was an elite member of the privileged class. He has already appeared before Felix (a Roman governor appointed to oversee the province of Judea) to share his story and pronounce the truth of the gospel. Now he appears before Festus who succeeded Felix as the governor of the region (v. 6-10). When it was obvious that a plot was in place to ambush Paul, the apostle appealed to Caesar which created a scenario that would take him to Rome to appear before the supreme commander of his day. This made the situation more complicated so Festus convened an elaborate gathering that included King Agrippa, who ruled in Israel under the authority of Festus, his wife, Bernice and “the high-ranking military officers and the prominent men of the city” (v. 23).
Paul was not meeting with all these custodians of influence, however, because of his success or his standing in the community. He was proclaiming the greatest message on earth to them because he was falsely accused of a crime, was waiting patiently in prison for a reasonable hearing and was having to tell his story over and over since there was no real basis for the charges against him. His apparent difficulties had opened doors of opportunity that were not possible in the course of his “normal” life.
I admire Paul for what he was doing but I don’t really like the principle—even though I know it is true. The trials of our lives create opportunities if we are willing to see them!
I would not have the compassion I have if I had not grown up around a fearful, controlling mom. I love her, I believe she meant well and I am glad to have a relationship with her today. It was frustrating and irritating but going through the developmental years of my life in an atmosphere of harsh fear opened my eyes to the hidden pain that many people carry. I was either going to become resentful or resolved to help. Thank God that Jesus gave me the will to help others. As I have told the story over and over I am amazed at the number of people who told me, “I grew up in a home like yours. I think we might be related!”
The day my 6 year-old son was missing for 6 hours settled the issue of whether I believed God was truly good. I had reached the point where I didn’t think I would see him again or, if I did, he would not be in good shape. I had to ask the question, “If I lose my son or find out he has been abused or killed, will I still believe that God is a good God who loves without limit?” It is an easy question to answer when things are going well. It is a much different question to answer when faced with tragedy. I am fortunate because I got my son back (He was playing in a storm drain with a friend). But I can remember the moment like it was yesterday when, through tears, I concluded that God was good regardless of what life may throw my way.
I am certainly not asking for difficult circumstances beyond my control to enter my life. That would be crazy. I do, however, trust that God will give me the grace to see the opportunities that exist in the midst of the difficult chapters of life since I live in a world that is filled with both victories and setbacks.
Jesus, I don’t relish the fact that we all face circumstances beyond our control. I do rejoice, however, that you can turn those same situations into moments of influence, strength and hope. Thanks for being there every step of the journey!

Five Positives per Day

When I wrote my last blog entry, I mentioned that “a friend of mine is known for saying, ‘Everybody faces five problems per day. The way you respond to those challenges will determine the quality of that day and, when you add those days up, they will determine the quality of your life.'”
One of my sons responded to me and asked, “What 5 positive things happened yesterday?” It is as much a part of the message of Psalm 34 as having a clear perspective on the real struggles of life. Verses 8-10 read, “Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. Fear the LORD, you his holy people, for those who fear him lack nothing. The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.”
So here we go. Yesterday I was with a group of men at a Men’s Summit in Central Ohio. Here is my short list of the positive things that happened:
• We started the morning with strong, energetic worship. The worship band consisted of a drummer, a keyboard player, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass guitar, violin, steel guitar and three singers. The room was filled with music and the enthusiasm infected the crowd.
• A dad pulled me aside and said, “Thanks for this weekend. My 19 year-old and 23 year-old sons were riveted on what you had said. It was so exciting for me to see that.”
• A 65 year-old man shared, “1 year ago I had a liver and kidney transplant. The surgery was half as long as the doctors expected and my recovery has gone better than they expected. I believe God still has an adventure for me and I am going to be looking for it this year.”
• At the end of the summit, men jumped in to help break down the sound and projection equipment for the 10 person worship team and the work was accomplished in 30 minutes – without breaking anything!
• The men bought books. It is true that “leaders are readers” but it is also true that men’s groups don’t normally buy a lot of books. This collection of men were the exception and I am excited to hear the reports going forward of what God is going to do among them.
Yesterday was one of those highlight days we get every once in a while so I expect today to be a little different. But, the God who orchestrated yesterday is the same God who is planning today. So far, I have my health, the coffee maker worked and I am still fascinated with my wife. That’s not a bad start. I am going to honor my son’s request and keep looking for positive things that are going to happen around me. I already know I am going to face some challenges because it is a very full day but I am confident in God’s promise, “The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.” (v. 10)
Jesus, give me realistic eyes today. Help me not turn away from, or be surprised by, the challenges of the day. At the same time, remind me of the good things you are bringing to my life.

Five Problems a Day

A friend of mine is known for saying, “Everybody faces five problems per day. The way you respond to those challenges will determine the quality of that day and, when you add those days up, they will determine the quality of your life.” The first time I heard him say it I thought, That sounds kind of pessimistic. Why would anyone want to anticipate five problems every day? At the same time, something about the statement resonated with me and refused to go away. So, I began to observe my own life to see if it was a true statement and I have concluded there is a lot of truth in what my friend proclaimed to us on a regular basis.
King David even echoed this thought in Psalm 34:19, “The righteous person may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all.” David was rejoicing over the fact that a ridiculous plan to act insane before a rival king had actually worked to save his life. On the surface the idea was ludicrous and it would require God to lead Achish king of Gath to conclude David was no longer a threat because he had lost his mind. (Check out the story in 1 Samuel 21:10-14). David was on the run. He had been rejected by King Saul. Saul’s intention to kill him has been confirmed by his best friend Jonathan. He was traveling alone, seeking a new plan and needing to restart his life since the king he served was now opposed to him. In his vulnerable state, his simplistic plan had been honored by God and his life was spared.
Then I thought about my day yesterday and I asked, What troubles did I face?
1. The tree limb that broke and covered my driveway needed to be cleared.
2. I had more phone calls to make than was possible.
3. Team members of a project we are working on needed to have details clarified.
4. Cash flow issues required challenging financial decisions.
5. I had to fight back personal fear in my career pursuit.
I have to admit, the last one surprised me. I have not been prone to feelings of fear since I met Jesus as my Savior. I think it is because I grew up in a home that was dominated by fear and I was determined to find a way to overcome it in my life. Almost every decision in my family of origin was characterized by fear in some way. My mom even sincerely parented out of fear and tried to keep me motivated by saying things like, “You shouldn’t do that. You don’t have what it takes. It is too dangerous.”
One of the choices I made as a young adult was to take refuge in an organization. I liked that because it provided structure, teamwork and a collection of talented people who could cover for one another. In the second half of life, however, I have chosen to work freelance and build a business with my wife. It is exciting and challenging and has almost unlimited potential for helping others but it lacks structure. In fact, the only structure it has is the one I impose upon it. Predictably, there are aspects of this kind of work that are uncomfortable to me and for the past few days the pressure has been on to be good at the areas I am most uncomfortable with. I had to fight back the thought that maybe I really don’t have what it takes to make this work, even though there is plenty of evidence to the contrary. So when I read, “I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears,” (Psalm 34:4) it got my attention.
Looking back, yesterday turned out pretty well because I was able to overcome the 5 challenges that were a part of my world. Today, I am praying for the wisdom and strength to face down the next five.