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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!

When the Heart Turns

I received an interesting (and enjoyable) compliment yesterday. I met with a man who was frustrated in his relationship with his wife and acted out a couple days prior to our meeting. He said things that were unfortunate which gave his wife the impression that things were in deep trouble. I knew the history of this couple and I have seen this man growing consistently for the past few months so I suspected there was quite a bit of hope for them. When I got together with him it was clear to me he really did want to have a successful marriage.
We talked about the patterns in their relationship that tend to catch him unaware and spark an angry response. We explored the decisions he was making that caused his well-being to be determined by his wife’s responses which was putting pressure on her to “act right” all the time. We reviewed the way a marriage relationship is different than the other relationships in our lives and we set new strategies for helping it go smoother.
None of this was new information as we had spoken about these things before. There was, however, a different response. The compliment I received was, “I don’t know what you did but my husband is a completely different person than the one who left for work. It is miraculous.” I have been at this long enough to know that it wasn’t anything I did. It was the condition of this man’s heart. He was motivated to figure it out. He truly wanted to know and was open to whatever it would take to have a healthy, loving, productive relationship. I have known for a long time that when people’s hearts are open, I appear to be brilliant. When their hearts are closed, I don’t seem to know much at all.
Heart From HandsIt was a good reminder to me of Proverbs 22:17, “Pay attention and turn your ear to the sayings of the wise; apply your heart to what I teach.” Regardless of how people respond the sayings are wise and the teaching is true. Change, however, happens when people accept wisdom with an open heart. This is where it gets exciting because matters of the heart move quickly. A man (or woman) with a soft, responsive heart is one breakthrough away from positive transformation that will extend his influence and draw people to him. A man (or woman) with a stubborn heart is likewise one breakthrough away from complicated setbacks that threaten his relationships and push people away. In either case, the important thing is the condition of the heart and the heart can change quickly.
Many of us have people in our lives who frustrate us, annoy us, disappoint us or simply refuse to do what we know is right. Our tendency is to monitor their behavior in a sincere attempt to get them to act correctly. If the problem is a lack of training, this is helpful as in the case of parents training their children. If the problem, however, is a matter of the heart, it is better to commit this person to prayer and wait for God to turn their hearts because when the heart turns, it is miraculous.
Jesus, give us the humility to keep our hearts soft before you.

A New Look at Faithfulness

I gained a new appreciation for what it means to be faithful as I was talking to my youngest son this past weekend. He is in his senior year in college and this will be his last year playing football. It makes for a year of mixed emotions. He is playing better than he ever has but it will all come to an end soon. I have been watching my sons compete in athletics for over 20 years but we are now in the final lap. His older brothers have made the transition from competitor to leader in their chosen fields and I know my youngest will be doing that soon. But for now, I have one more season to cheer and build memories.
They had a very good game on Saturday. They played a quality team and won the game 31-10. My son plays defense so I rejoiced with him that they only allowed the other team to score one touchdown. As we talked about the play on Sunday, he said, “It was an option play which means all of us need to keep our assignments. The only way to stop the option is for each of us to do what we are supposed to do and trust everyone else on the team to do what they are supposed to do. If anyone tries to do someone else’s job, it usually results in a big play for the other team and that is exactly what happened.”
“I desire to do your will, my God; your law is within my heart.” (Psalm 40:8) The conversation has lingered for me as it encouraged me to think through my assignment in life. I did a quick survey of the way God created me and I came up with this list:
I am a man.
I am the only husband Pam has ever known.
I am a dad to three young men.
I am Papa to three young children.
I am the youngest son of 83 year-old parents.
I am an author.
I am a pastor at heart
I care about helping people develop skills that improve their decisions and relationships.
I love helping church ministries get stronger.
I love to exercise.
I love simple solutions that work.
Based on these characteristics that God placed in me, I have work to do, people to love, responsibilities to fulfill and talents to develop. The problem is that I see more needs around me than I am capable of addressing. There are financial processes that need to be developed. There are products that need to be created. There are vital relationships that need training and repair. There are lessons that need to be taught, decisions that need to be guided, self-destructive habits that need to be replaced and defeating attitudes that need to be challenged. And these are just in the lives of the people I call family. Beyond that, there is a world of people who grew up in challenging homes and now lack the skills that are necessary to live a calmly productive life that leads to quality relationships and satisfying accomplishments. If I allow it, I can be tempted to think I have to do more than I am capable of doing.
The reality is that I have my assignment. I am called to love my wife, encourage my kids, invest in my grandkids, fulfill my ministry and develop the gifts and talents God decided to give me. Beyond that, I need to trust that others will take their care of their assignments through the grace and power of God.
Jesus, give me a firm resolve to do what I have been assigned to do in my life and grant me the humility to believe that you can empower others to take care of their assignments better than I could.

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.