Friday, June 30, 2006

Faith, Courage, and Opportunity

1 After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, it came to pass that the LORD spoke to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, saying: 2 “Moses My servant is dead. Now therefore, arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them—the children of Israel. 3 Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given you, as I said to Moses. 4 From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the River Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your territory. 5 No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life; as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you. 6 Be strong and of good courage, for to this people you shall divide as an inheritance the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. 7 Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. 8 This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:1-9 (NKJV)

I was thinking this morning about opportunity. How many times do we have opportunity, and we fail to seize it? How many times do we see opportunity, and we think it's too much, and we fear, because it overwhelms us? Or how many times do we simply miss opportunity because we are out of position, not prepared, out of shape, or anemic?

I have had missed opportunities all my life, for all of the above reasons. All of a sudden though, here I am, almost 49 years of age, and God continues to lay opportunity before me. And all of a sudden, I realize my whole life has been a preparation for this moment. The book of Joshua opens with Israel, which had been in the desert for 40 years, at the doorstep of Canaan, the promised land. I'm not sure how old Joshua was - perhaps he was near my age, perhaps a little older. Nevertheless, God had prepared him for this very moment, as he had been in training as Moses' successor for many years. He was no longer the understudy or the assistant; he was now the leader.

I realize I am now in a similar position. I no longer have a manager or a leader, and I am now at the doorstep of my promised land. And there are giants in the land, and the people are strong - the cities are fortified and very large. The clusters of grapes are so large it takes two people to carry them. But I see a land I am able to take - one that is "exceedingly good" (Num 14:7), and one that the Lord will give me.

I find it interesting that the charge and promise God gave to Joshua, " strong and courageous... I will be with you...I will not leave you nor forsake you...," was given because God knew Joshua had already seen, and had previously declared, " not rebel against the Lord, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread.. the Lord is with us. Do not fear them." (Num 14:9) Joshua already had faith; not in himself, but in the Lord. He was prepared - spiritually, emotionally, and physically. He was not intimidated by the size of the opportunity, the people, or the land. And he was not discouraged by everyone else's whining.

God honors faith - even more so, His faith meets ours and increases it exponetially. He allows us to do things others deemed impossible. He lets us see what everyone else declares too big, too overwhelming, or too strong, and declare it "exceedingly good."

Friends, I've made a decision - a choice - to declare the land in front of me as "exceedingly good," and I will not fear what others have reported before me. I will not rebel against the Lord, nor fear the people of the land, for they are my bread; their protection has departed from them, and the Lord is with me. I will not fear them.

Is there an opportunity before you right now? I can assure you, right now, you have either just missed an opportunity, or you are at the doorstep of one, or you are in the land, seizing the opportunity. I would encourage you, do not fear; the Lord is with you. Lay hold of that opportunity and enjoy what God has for you.

"For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope." Jeremiah 29:11

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Conquering Fear and the Performance Trap

About a month or so ago, I had a revelation that was life-changing. This revelation came about as the product of about a 3 year bad mood. When I learned my father had terminal cancer, I started hating everyone and everything. I began to cut people off, and distance myself from friends, family, and anyone who I was remotely close to. I became a loner, and I just wanted everyone to leave me alone.

This was hard to do, considering the fact that I worked in the public, was a member of several community committees, and ministered at church. Outwardly, I maintained a fa├žade, but inwardly, I was totally separated; detached from my surroundings. Anytime I was around people, I could hardly wait to get away from them, and I cherished moments when I was totally alone - not having to talk to anyone, or deal with personalities, issues, or anything of substance.

For the most part, I was nice, continued to smile and function in a “normal” manner. People had no clue what was brewing inside of me. Even those I am somewhat close to had, at best, only a vague idea of my condition, and probably attributed my sudden seriousness to my having to deal with a sick parent. Even now, if I mention this mood to someone who was around me during that time, they would look at me like I was nuts, because no one knew.

My change actually began sometime around February, when I left my last firm. I met a man on the racquetball court, John Garcia, who asked me, “So what do you do?” Rather than the standard reply of, I’m a stockbroker,” I took my time to think about what it is that I really do. It was a challenge to me, but freeing to tell someone that I help people grow their assets, save on taxes, and maximize their retirement incomes. For once in my life, I understood I was more than just a stock order taker….more than just a mutual fund sale person… more than just a financial planner. His reply to me was, “That’s fantastic! We need more people like that!”

I found out he is a motivational speaker, an author, a cancer survivor, and a Christian. I made an immediate connection with John, and that day, I knew my life had changed. I woke up the next morning and decided I was not going to be in a bad mood any more. Three years was long enough.

As I opened myself up to the scary prospect of enjoying my life again, I also began to pray in a different direction. I began to ask the Lord for peace. I began to ask him to change me, and get me out of the trap I had been in for so long. I actually realized the direction I had taken and the path I was on was leading me nowhere. I also saw that I had been in a pattern of self-destruction by isolating myself, and that was not healthy.

Not long after that, I met another person who helped me see even more. Here’s the part about the revelation – I made an appointment with a Life Coach, Bobby, who writes at Kingdom Life Coaching Resources. (Well worth reading this blog daily…) We met one morning at my kitchen table, over a couple of pots of coffee. As we spoke, he asked me some direct questions about faith and fear. I realized all of my life had been motivated by fear: fear of performing well enough to make myself look good – for my father, my teachers, my bosses, my wife, my kids, my church…yada yada yada… I came to the understanding that all of my 48 years I had struggled with the fear of someone finding out that maybe I really wasn’t who I appeared to be. Since things came so easily to me, I always felt like I was “lucky” or cut corners – and if people really knew who I was, or what I had done to get there – that they wouldn’t like me, or they would think less of me.

There is a scripture that says, “We are God’s workmanship, created for good works in Christ.” Back in 60’s and 70’s, in the era of “Jesus Freaks,” there was a saying that went, “God didn’t make junk.” We are created by a perfect God, who endowed us with purpose, power, and provision. We don’t need to perform. All we need to do is “BE.”

One of the good things that came out of my “funk” is that I discovered I have a purpose.  It is multi-faceted, but amazingly simple. God created me to GIVE –whether it be through my writing, my painting, my sculpture, my mechanical ability, or my knowledge of financial planning, He created me to give.

He also created me to LOVE. I realized (this all happened that one morning, inside of 2 hours over 2 pots of coffee) the reason I didn’t like people all my life is because I didn’t really like myself. I was disappointed in myself, and perpetuated a cycle of self-destructive behavior and habits that just created shame and guilt. I lived with the fear of “being outed.” So I kept people at a distance, justifying it with a self-righteous and critical attitude. Once I accepted the fact that Jesus loves me just where I am, I began to pray for compassion. And God healed my hard heart, allowed me to have a heart of compassion, and set me free.

Finally, He created me to fulfill my purpose. Not through PERFORMANCE, as I had tried in the past, but through FAITH in the knowledge that Christ put everything in me to fulfill that purpose, and He gives me the power to make it happen. Also, when I operate in FAITH, I no longer have to FEAR, because God loves me, no matter what.

For the first time in 48 years, I actually LIKE people – even more so, I LOVE people, and am willing to listen to them, because that’s who God made me to be.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Happy Father's Day - reposted


These things I remember about my dad:
He taught me how to enjoy life with a good sense of humor
He had the best corny jokes
He was not afraid to be sensitive
He challenged me without pushing me
He was proud of me
He encouraged me to work hard and enjoy the rewards
He let me try new things and mess up on my own, but then he showed me how to get back on track without doing it for me
He taught me not to take things at face value, but to look things up myself if I wanted to know for sure
He took an interest in my schoolwork
He showed me how to use a slide rule (I'm providing a link because someone - a 20-something - I was talking to didn't know what a slide rule was)
He taught me how to reason and had a better way to solve math problems than the way the book was trying to show me
He could do complex calculations in his head
He was at all the band functions and always told me he had a good time
He loved my mom
He loved to bring her flowers
He helped me learn all my knots in Boy Scouts
He showed me how to set up a tent
He showed me how to start a good fire
He took us camping every summer
He cooked a mean brisket
He told each one of us that we were his favorite son/daughter (and he meant it)
He was more concerned about his impact than an impression
He cared about his profession and taught hundreds of men and women professional courses
He took life seriously but he could joke about anything
He had an opinion about everything
He let you know his opinions
He was the only one alive that could beat me in Scrabble (hahaha, Margie, you never will!!!)
He did the hardest crossword puzzles in ink
He taught me it was OK to be smarter than my teachers (well, I WAS)
He always dressed better than anyone else in the room
He had the coolest ties
He wore black silk pajamas after his surgery
He never let on that he was sick
He fought to the end
He died with a smile

I loved my dad, and I miss him deeply. He was my mentor and my friend, and I will always have his impression on my life. He didn't always do everything right (he would argue with me on that) but he did everything the best way he could.
I've recently learned some things about myself because of the close relationship I had with him. I wish he was still here, because there's so much I would still like to ask him. The problem is, I took so much for granted when he was here. Even though I knew for at least 6 months that his condition would lead to his death, I didn't spend near enough time with him to ask everything I needed to. Some things went to the grave with him, and I'll have to figure them out myself.
Happy Father's Day, Dad... I miss you.

Update: 2006 - Another year has passed since my dad left to be with the Lord. ALthough I still miss him, the pain of his death has been easier to bear. I've grown in these last 2 years, and I realize how precious and short this life is. I am understanding how important it is to have strong relationships with other men who can encourage me, bless me, and keep me accountable. And I am relying more and more upon the voice of my Father, God to lead me through this life. I thank God for the relationship I had with my dad while he was alive, but even more for the relationship we both have with Him. Happy Father's Day to you dads out there - Kansas Bob, Matt, Bobby - and all you guys that encourage me.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

It's that time of year again

This is Texas…and it’s not even summer yet. Yep – hot weather, rattlesnakes, and cold Shiner Bock. I guarantee you can feel every degree of that heat. It was every bit of 100 deg. F today.

I love it.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Jimmy the Boss, Guido, and Little Ray


Pete came to JC and asked, “Lord, how much slack do I cut my brother and let him backstab me over and over? The dude’s pushed my buttons seven times already, ain’t that enough?" JC took a breath and told him, "You ain’t even close, little bro, try it another 500 times. Let me tell you what it’s like, man, if you’re gonna walk this walk. There was a man named Jimmy the Boss and he was out collecting his accounts. Guido had a meeting with the Boss, and he was nervous, because he owed the Boss some serious coin: close to 100 grand, and he couldn’t pay. He’d been ducking him for a while, but now it was crunch-time. He was trying to figure out a way to ask the Boss for a little time, but even then, he knew the debt was too large.
When the Boss showed up, Guido was pretty edgy, because the Boss had some of the other family with him. “Let’s take a little ride,” said one of the Boss’s men, holding open the limo’s door. Guido got in, and as the door shut behind him, the limo took off. There he was, face to face with the Boss, who was preparing to deal with one of his most faithful men in his organization.
“So whatabout the cash, Guido? It’s over a year’s pay for you. Since you can’t pay, you know what I gotta do. It’s strictly business, Guido, it’s not personal.” The Boss ordered cement shoes for Guido, and then to have his family picked up to settle the debt. Guido fell on his knees, kissed the Boss’s ring and begged, “Give me a little more time, Boss, and I’ll pay every dime. You know I’m good for it.”
Jimmy the Boss was soft on Guido, so he told his boys to let him go, and then told Guido. “Fugetaboudit…someday I may need to ask a favor of you.” So Guido split and found Little Ray Smalls, who owed him about fifty bucks. He knocked Little Ray in the knees and said, “Pay up, you loser!” Little Ray fell on the ground, kissed Guido’s hand and begged for mercy, just as Guido had done. But he would not have mercy and ordered his boys to break his fingers until he could pay his debt. When his boys saw what he was doing, they went and ratted Guido out to Jimmy the Boss.
So the Boss had Guido picked up again, and said, “You ain’t right, Guido, I cut you slack because you showed me respect, and this is what you do to Little Ray? The Boss cut Guido off right there and ordered his men to work him over until he paid back all that was due.
That’s how it is, Pete. You ain’t gonna get no slack if you can’t cut your brother no slack."
(Paraphrased, Matthew 18:21-35)

This is a story that centers on three things: forgiveness, mercy, and remembering where we came from. I wonder why Peter came and asked this question of Jesus. What was going on with him? Who had offended him? Or, was it just a hypothetical question? But Jesus went to the heart of the matter quickly, telling Peter, the kingdom of heaven is like this…
The story itself is a paradox. Why, we wonder, does a man who has just been forgiven of a huge debt, turn right around and not show mercy from someone who used the same course of begging for mercy as he did, and for a much smaller amount? Looking at it from the third person, we may even be indignant and judgmental of this servant. Yet, in reality, many times we are guilty of doing this very thing. We tend to want judgment for others and mercy for ourselves.
We forget we were once lost, apart from God, and had to ask forgiveness and mercy. We are offended by the lost people around us, and even worse, our Christian brothers and sisters. It’s been said that the “Army of God” is the only army that regularly shoots its own soldiers. The bickering and backbiting in the church is a disgrace, and it’s no wonder that the world wonders where the hope is. It’s interesting that Peter asked about forgiving a “brother” who offended him.
The principle of “seventy times seven” is not a formula to give us a limit on the number of times someone can offend us before we don’t have to any more. Forgiveness, by its nature means we no longer hold the offense against the offender any longer. So, in a sense, technically, it is as if he had never sinned or offended us. Isn’t that how God handles our sin when we confess and ask for mercy?
I think though, that the master in this story probably was wise enough to not ever trust the servant with such a large account again, and might not have allowed further credit unwisely, unless he was again willing to lose it all. We need to exercise wisdom in forgiveness. Forgiveness does not mean we just blindly trust the offender again, at least not until the offender can rebuild trust. In other words, we may forgive an abuser, but not allow that person back to cause more abuse. That’s another issue.
God’s grace was enough to forgive my sin, as great as it has been. Who am I to hold judgment on another for something less than I did to offend God?