|December 30, 2012||The Secret of Happiness|
|December 22, 2012||The Little Things|
|December 16, 2012||A TON of Bricks|
|November 30, 2012||Simple Respect|
|November 24, 2012||Expectations of Leadership|
|November 17, 2012||Easy to Forget Until Gone|
|November 10, 2012||That Last Thirty-something Birthday|
|November 03, 2012||Generosity. How Generous Are You?|
|October 20, 2012||The Accuser and Me|
|October 13, 2012||My Friend Unconditional|
I once heard someone say, "I'd rather be happy than right." While I can't remember who said it or in what context, it stuck with me. I've seen too many arguments between people who were both equally convinced they were right and the other person was completely wrong. Even if one of them happens to be right, I doubt there would be much happiness in the relationship between the two of them.
If the secret to happiness were a single or several verses in the Bible, then I believe there would be a lot more happy people in this world. However, the opposite is true. I see people from all walks of life, rich and poor alike who are and are not happy. The "secret" isn't the presence or absence of money. We all know that, and so I conclude we've missed something somewhere along the way in the pursuit of happiness.
In truth, I believe the real secret to happiness is no secret at all. Being happy is just plain common sense and so obvious, that I believe there was no need to write it down in the form of instruction. Happiness just happens, if the right elements are in place.
Look at a child playing. Are they happy? Has anyone instructed them in such a way as "First, do this. Second, do that. Third, you must . . ." and so on? Nope. Children play. In case you haven't noticed before, as soon as adults interfere with rules and things, it kind of kills the fun the kids were having. Even without real toys, children find creative ways to play.
Just last week after I unpacked a box, there were these long pieces of styrofoam left over on the floor. Within minutes, these had been commandeered by my two little girls who had placed small toy animals in all the little crevices and were pushing them down the hallway. When I asked what they were doing, they explained to me that the animals were on a cruise. Huh? Styrofoam packing boards as cruise ships? Yet, there they were, playing away, and quite happy. No rules. No instructions. Just living from their hearts and imaginations.
As we grow into adults, we are actually taught to do the opposite of the very thing God programmed into us. We are taught to ignore the pleadings and desires of our hearts, and we are taught to follow rules, be responsible, and above all, ignore the imaginations and pleadings of your heart.
Without Christ in your life, maybe this is actually pretty good advice. However, as Christians, God has said that if we will delight in Him, then He will give us the desires of our HEART. (Psalm 37:4) Problem is, there is too much "Bible teaching" that you must do this and do that, wear this not that, act this way not that way, and then maybe, just maybe, God will be pleased with you and bless you.
That's all backwards! God wants us to delight in Him, recognize our kinship and relationship with Him, and as His children, our hearts desires will be fulfilled.
As a child lives from their heart and finds happiness in the discarded things of life, so we may as Christians find happiness living from our hearts. Not the heart of the old flesh that is "deceitful and desperately wicked" or the "heart of stone" that was part of the old man, but out of our new heart; the new heart God has given us to replace the heart of stone. (Eze 36:26) The heart God gave us when we were born again is not "deceitful and desperately wicked" but rather a new heart. Our new heart is a treasure to be guarded (Prov. 4:23) as something precious and valuable, because out of that new heart we may live a happy life.
The secret to happiness then, is to follow that new heart.
If time and money were no object, what would you do? First, discard the temporal things that may spring to mind like buying a new car, a new house, or traveling somewhere (that's the old heart speaking); for these are temporary. In your new heart, when you were born again, you were given a desire to do something special, something that would make the world a better place, something that would help others. If you could do anything in the world, when your new heart speaks, what is it you hear?
When we listen to the new heart God has given us, and begin to live in a way that fulfills the desires of that new heart, we not only find purpose and meaning in life, we find happiness. As a child finds happiness in discarded things that would be thrown away simply by following their own heart, so we as adults can find happiness in this life by following the desires of our new hearts. What are the desires of your new heart?
These words have been used in such phrases as: "It's the little things that matter"; "Little things mean a lot." We've also heard that "It's the small details that matter"; and "There are no small/little jobs."
While we understand the meaning behind these words because they ring true, most men want to slay the giants of the world while leaving the small details and "little things" to other people. Even though we as men know that "little things" matter, we do not really want to concern ourselves with them if we don't absolutely have to. I've seen some men, and you have probably met or know one or two, who seem to act with the belief that they are above "little things" and their talent is wasted on trivial matters.
The problem with that perception is this:
will become big things.
Think about it.
When I look back on my life, I sincerely appreciate the big things done on my behalf. In reality, there are very few. However, my mind is filled with memory after memory of small things this person or that person may have done that sent my mind thinking in a different direction. Sometimes it was a small kindness of word or deed that turned a bad day into something more bearable, or even put a smile on my face in the midst of some storm.
As a man, I understand the mindset that wants to look for the great challenges. We want to have the determination of a Pioneer or great Explorer, traveling into uncharted places, to find some place no man has ever stood and plant our own feet as we survey some wild, untamed landscape. To be sure, it is this mindset that is fueling a desire to put mankind on Mars some day. It will probably happen in my lifetime, too.
As a father, none of this kind of thinking has changed. I have a family with a wife and two daughters, and still there is the desire to find a purpose and do something really great with my life.
That's when a voice whispered to my heart,
"Little things become big things."
At first I wondered what it meant. My mind recalled all the sayings I mentioned before, but to me, little things were still little things. While important in their own way, they just helped accomplish some greater purpose where someone else eventually claimed credit. I understand little things are still needed in their own way, but I must admit, something within me wanted to know that my life would matter in some greater way, somehow.
Coming home late from work one night this week from my second job, the thought that "little things become big things" was still clanging around in my head. Then I thought of my two daughters. They are growing up fast, and the thought that my oldest is going to turn 10 years old soon brought the realization that my time with her in my home is growing smaller. Then I understood.
I called my wife. Both girls were already headed to bed, they were just waiting up to say goodnight to me. I asked my wife to tell our oldest daughter to get dressed and get ready to go somewhere. When I came home, I changed clothes, and drove off with my oldest daughter. She started asking question after question about where we were going, what we were doing, and why. We stopped at a tiny little restaurant and I said, "Here we are!"
She was a little confused.
We went inside, asked for a small order of fried cheese sticks, and a couple of small sodas, and just talked for a little while.
It was dark outside. It was very late at night. The restaurant was virtually empty. We had the place almost completely to ourselves, but best of all, we just sat and talked. Mostly I just listened.
Then, as we talked she sighed a little bit. I could tell something was bothering her. I decided a little prodding was needed here as I asked, "What is it?" She looked up at me with something of a serious look in hers eyes and replied, "Are you sure you want to hear this?"
The rest of that conversation will remain between us.
It was a little conversation, in a little restaurant, with a little girl, but as we talked I realized that someday, little things really will become big things. Little kids will grow up to be big adults, and with them all their "little things" whether good or bad, will become "big things" in their adult life.
If you really want to do something really big and great with your life, just look to your children.
Those little things, someday, will become big things.
I woke up Friday, still feeling worn out from a very long road trip that saw me crossing into six states outside of Alabama. I started my day like everyone else I suppose, but it was hectic and busy. A news alert crossed my phone. Something about a shooting. I swiped it away and continued working. Dove into the batch of folders that needed my attention and began working on numbers for job quotes. My phone kept buzzing with the same alert. The words I recognized were "Conn." (for Connecticut) and "shooting" as in someone somewhere had apparently shot a gun, probably at someone. I swiped the news alert away again.
Over and over again this same news alert kept popping up. "Shooting" "Conn." were there with each alert that kept coming and I began to get annoyed. I remember thinking to myself "Enough already! I get it! There's been a shooting!" I made a mental note to myself to see if there were some way to reconfigure my phone to somehow reject incoming news alerts that repeated themselves over and over again. Toward the end of my day, still busy trying to get things wrapped up, and laying aside those things that would have to be done later, my mind began to focus on the clock. Soon as work was over I had to grab something quick to eat and leave to my second job.
My wife was out and about, so I called to see where she was and reminded her that I had to leave for my other job soon. She said she'd bring in some fast-food. Soon as she came home I grabbed a couple of the heavier bags of groceries and then began to eat while my wife and the girls unloaded the rest of the car. My phone buzzed again, glancing at it I just saw the two words I've been noticing all day and swiped it away again. I jumped in my car and barely made it to my second job on time. Things there were already hectic, so I jumped right in and began working.
My phone kept buzzing still.
After work that night, I drove home physically and mentally just spent. All I wanted was my nice cozy chair, something warm to eat and drink, and just to be around my family. My wife had allowed the girls to stay up late so I could be there to tuck them in and kiss them goodnight. As I walked in the front door, the girls were in the back room playing and my wife was glued to the news on TV. "Not like her to say nothing when I walk in the door," I thought to myself. "Is she mad at me or something?"
"Hey there! I'm home," I said testing the waters. "Glad you're home safe," my wife replied. "I've just now been able to watch the news about the shooting. I had to send the girls out of the room for a while so I could get the latest details." My response was to simply shrug it off and go to the refrigerator to see if there was anything leftover I could warm up and eat. "So there's been another shooting. Another idiot with a gun in Connecticut. Why is this news? I've been getting the alerts all day!"
That's when my wife unfolded the story for me as I sat next to her to watch the news. The real tragedy was not of another random shooting, but the killing of innocents. The stories of the first responders trained to handle horrific sights walking away shaken to their core. The flurry of activity as parents flooded the scene, some tightly hugging their children close to their chest as they walked away from the school. Some being sent to a volunteer firehouse to get the news they would never hold their children alive again. My daughters are 5 and 9 years old. It hit me like a ton of bricks. For the first time in my life I cried as I watched the news. Putting my children to bed that night was a very sobering, purposeful, and thankful moment.
Now, the story had my attention. All day long it had the attention of most of the nation and even the world. This morning I saw pictures of Pakistani children making a candlelight memorial for the slain children in America, and another of a row of black crosses on a beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The inevitable question of "why" comes to everyone's mind. To others, they will ask the same question of God; some with words of pleading and a desire to understand, some others with hate and disgust that a loving God could allow such a thing, if there was ever such a thing as God.
First, I will not pretend to know the mind of God. Second, I truly believe God could have stopped and intervened if He had chosen to do so. Why this event was allowed to unfold, I do not pretend to know, but there are two things I do know. First, there is evil in this world, and that evil manifests itself in the hearts of men with the free will to choose to do good or evil. Second, there was another great tragedy over 2,000 years ago. One that God in heaven not only allowed to happen, but chose to look away. As Jesus Christ hung on the cross, He too, cried out the word "why" and not just to the wind or the sky, but to his own Father in heaven.
Many people died by Roman crucifixion, but today the world only remembers the name of one of them. It was a horrific act of great torture and suffering, a terrible sacrifice of One who was totally innocent, but it has arrested the attention of the world for over 2,000 years now. Again, I do not pretend to have answers as to why God allowed the slaying of innocents in Connecticut, but I do know that it reminded me of One other innocent who died to save the souls of all mankind, and that we will be celebrating His birth around this time of year. The birth of One, born to die.
Respect is something we usually understand best when its missing. When its missing, it is obvious because we feel, in our bones, disrespected. You know what I mean. Its usually a comment someone makes or maybe some action. Its not the exact words they say, it is how they say them. Its the attitude. Condescending. Sarcastic. Biting.
On TV disrespect is what makes for good entertainment. In real life, disrespect is what makes for volatile situations, bad morale, and sudden outbursts that can leave others wondering "Where did that come from?" In talking with a business owner the other day about the issue of respect, he said he can hire people to do a job and train them to do it well, but he can't teach them respect. That has to come from their parents. I agree, and not only do I agree, to some degree it concerns me.
For the most part, I know I was raised to be respectful. I say "Sir" and "Ma'am" appropriately to anyone regardless if they are older or younger than me. It was kind of beat into me as a kid. However, when I get that vibe that I've been disrespected, another side of me has been known to show. A side I am sad to say I am less than proud of. Usually afterward, I think to myself, "What if my kid had been here when that happened?" Chances are, I'd have kept them in mind and my own actions and words would have remained guarded. Such testing has happened on other occasions.
After my talk with the business owner about how it is the parent's responsibility to teach their kids, I imagined individuals in my life and how their upbringing might have contributed to the ways they treat others. For some, they overcame huge challenges to become something different than the way they were raised. Others, it seems, always want to use their upbringing as an excuse for their behavior. I started to wonder how I would feel if someone treated my children with disrespect, and to be honest, the feelings that welled up in me just imagining such an event were not pleasant. That is when another idea occurred to me. We teach our kids by our example, yet there is another reason to show respect to others. A bigger, much larger reason than "because you should."
My children are a product of my wife and I, and I know I could become very offended and defensive if I ever saw someone treating my child with disrespect. Now, take that a step further. There is a God in heaven who created us all. While we all have different backgrounds, different parents, and come from various social and economic areas of life, we are all creations of God. Ever wonder how God might feel when we disrespect one of His creations? To show disrespect towards someone, or to show disrespect for some effort they have made, whether we realize it or not, our actions and words in those moments directly offend and disrespect God, and are born out of a thankless heart towards a creation of Almighty God. OUCH!
People are people. Some of them will frustrate us, as we will frustrate others. However, even in frustration we can recognize the individual dignity of others, and show them some simple respect. Not because they may personally deserve it, but because they are a creation of God. As we would admire the beauty of a sunrise or sunset, or sit in wonder at the site of a full moon hanging in space above our earth, so we should understand that the same God that created those wonderful things created the wonder that is all mankind; each and every one of us.
My first introduction to leadership, what it is, what it isn't, and how it affects people and situations around the world came through several books I read by John Maxwell. I have read many other authors since then, but a couple of my favorites by John Maxwell are "The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership" and "Becoming a Person of Influence." Both are worth a read by anyone in any walk of life, not just current or aspiring leaders. I greatly appreciated his well researched insights into the world of leaders and leadership, and his own experiences and knowledge bridged a large gap in my life about my own expectations of good leaders, and enabled me to spot the bad ones even easier.
Still, being a "big name" leader is not something everyone is cut out to be. In truth, there are many people who simply desire good leadership in their lives. They have talents and abilities they want to put to good use, but they also want to know there is a good and noble purpose behind the motivations of the person in front leading the way. In short, whether we realize it or not, when people seek to contribute of themselves to a cause, they are really contributing to a purpose, a leader if you will, and there are expectations of the leader that must be met.
Working two jobs now, that idea really came to the fore in my second job. By day, I pretty much interact with professional people. They may rank high or low in the scales of society, but by and large they are business people with a very clear vision and focus of how personal interactions can affect profit and loss, and they are always keenly aware of the value of each dollar they spend. Whether their business is big or small, the people I usually deal with are usually very cautious about making any kind of decision, and their actions and decisions usually unfold over time. It is rare that even a very good decision is made in a moment.
However, in my other job, I deal consistently with entry level employees who are still cutting their teeth in working for a living. Over half the people I work with are under 25 years old, and at least two or three are still in high school. They are full of energy and usually a blur of motion going from one task to the next, but with that speed of action there is a cost in the process of thought, and sometimes relationships pay a price. To be thrown into this mix from my day job can be quite disorienting on a mental level, and finding myself under the charge of someone who loses their cool when things go haywire is not something I was expecting to handle.
That is when a truth of leadership struck me that I have only read about before, but only now had a chance to actually experience. The positional leader in a situation is not necessarily the real leader. Keep in mind, we all have expectations of our leaders, and when a leader fails to meet our expectations, the opportunity for the real leader to step forward arises. During a moment of momentary crisis, the positional leader in the room lost his cool. His temper showed, words were exchanged, frustrations were physically evident, and tension filled the room to the brink of explosion. It was at that very moment that a very firm, very calm voice took over the room. The voice was not loud, but it immediately commanded respect, and within seconds order was restored, decisive action was taken, the tension died, and the crisis was averted.
Later, the particulars of the situation were worked out between individuals, and new ways of handling things were set in order to be sure such a crisis never happened again. Through it all, I learned who the real leader was in that moment. The leader was not the "person in charge" everyone took orders from, the leader was the one who fulfilled the expectations of leadership by everyone in the room. Wherever you happen to be in life, whether you are "in charge" or not is not what matters. Just think for a moment what expectations you have of people in leadership positions over you. Are they meeting them? If not, chances are, you don't really see them as much of a leader. Who is meeting your expectations of leadership in the different areas of your life; at church, at work, at home? As a man, are you meeting the expectations of those you seek to lead?
Ever get up to leave a room to go get something only to get where you know you were going and forget what it was you went in there for? Mildly frustrating would be one way I would describe it. I'm standing there in the room. I know I'm here to get something, and yet it is as though whatever it was I went there to get is now playing a game of hide and seek with me, laughing uncontrollably from behind some object in the room.
Forgetting can be a good and a bad thing. On the good side, it is good if we can forget how someone wronged us, or forget some small debt that we just chalk up to charity. On the bad side, well, let's just say some people seem to have memories that never go away and are all too eager to remind others about events of the past.
There is another type of forgetfulness though that goes on every second of every day, and it happens to each and every one of us whether we realize it or not. It is when we forget to be thankful.
This last couple of weeks now, I have been fighting an illness that literally left me on my back some few days pleading for the return of Christ just so I could finally get a new body. I'm not going to go into all the details, but let's just say it was really bad. Thing is, I'm constantly thanking God for my family, for my health, and for the things God has provided. However, I never really realized just exactly what I was thanking God for until it was gone.
I slept off most of the sickness, but in my moments of wakefulness feeling weak and exhausted, it occurred to me again and again that it was not necessarily the presence of health I had been really thanking God for, it was the absence of all THIS - the sickness. Now, with my health gone, it became the most important thing I wanted at that moment. All my other plans that week that I had lined out to be accomplished just didn't seem to compare to my desire just to feel well again.
As the week progressed, the news each night hit me a little bit differently than before. News is usually bad anyway, but now I was watching it with a different perspective. Where being sick made me realize that what I had been thanking God for was not so much health but the absence of sickness, I saw images on the news that made me realize a few other things. You see, in thanking God for my health each day, at some point I had actually forgotten what it felt like to be really sick - until my health was suddenly gone from me. So, instead of thanking God for my home, my job, my family, and "all the wonderful things He has given me", I'm going to try something a little bit different.
I am thankful that my home is not a pile of rubble destroyed by a hurricane a couple months just before Christmas. I am thankful that I do not have to sit in the dark and cold, and that my home is not missing heat or electricity. I am thankful that I am not burying a child or other loved one who died because of a storm. I am thankful I do not have to stand in long lines to pay for food or gasoline - at any price. I am thankful I do not have to run and hide in a shelter when air raid sirens scream warnings that missiles are in the air heading towards my town. I am thankful I am not one of over 18,000 people who cannot go to work because my company has closed.
In short, I am also thankful for getting sick these past weeks, and for the perspective it helped me realize: it is not good enough just to be thankful for what you have. That is easy. However, if you really want to experience the kind of gratitude that comes with a new perspective, imagine life without those things. Imagine your life in the news today.
This past week I kicked off my last thirty-something birthday, and I am now living out the 40th year of my life on my way to the big 4-0. You see, I was reminded by a friend that I have completed 39 years so I’m actually living my 40th year, and although this is technically true, I’m still going with 39 if anyone asks about my age. Call me sentimental, but I think this is a very good tradition, and one I have no intention of fighting. I’m even thinking of staying 39 a little bit longer. You know, as in being 39 for another 20 years or so. I know at least one person who has been able to pull it off successfully. Eh. Ok. Maybe not.
These past few days, echoes from my past have come to visit me; advice I was given, things I said about “old people.” Some of these things are somewhat comforting, and others not so much.
“Whatever you’re doing when you’re 40 you’ll likely be doing the rest of your life.” Looking around the day it was told to me, it caused me to look forward on the timeline. What would I be doing when I was 40? Would I really want to be doing whatever that happened to be for the rest of my life? Ah, worry about that one later. I’ve plenty of time. Today: (gulp)
“Never write a book until you’re 40. Whatever you would write before then will seem immature to your experienced 40-year-old self, and you’d wish you could go back and change it with your mature perspective on life.” This advice was given by a published writer. I thought it was good advice at the time, but when I told it to someone else they said, “Hogwash. Just write. You can go back and change anything anytime you want when you get older.” I guess the thought that a reputation for bad writing because you were too immature never occurred to this guy, and come to think of it, he was never published and I don’t see any of his writings anywhere. At all.
“Before 40 you will be productive, but even babies are very productive yet we don’t really congratulate them for it. We tend to throw most of it away with our noses cringed. The years between 40 and 60 will be the most effective of your life. It’s far better to be effective than just merely very productive.” That baby analogy really hit home when I had kids. Children are, at the very least, VERY productive on any scale and on a number of different levels. They can be so very productive at the most inappropriate moments. At least mine have been, and the truth is, I know a lot of young people and twentysomethings that would also fit the description of “very productive, but not so very effective”. I wonder why that is exactly, and then I wonder why all the 40 year old effective-productive people don’t get a medal for it. I mean, come on. Someone should start a business giving medals to anyone who hits the big 4-0. I’ll be ready to pick up mine sometime around this time next year. Keep me posted.
“When you hit 40 you lose your eyesight. One day you can read labels and fine print perfectly fine, and the next day you’re reading everything holding it at a distance.” I must admit, this is another one that I never really understood. How can holding something farther away make it easier to read, especially if it is fine print? Well, low and behold, I know exactly how that works now. I’m not even actually 40 yet, and I’m wondering who flipped my switch a little early on this one, but it’s true. I suddenly noticed just the other day that the date on a penny is far easier to read when I hold it farther away, and that’s when the echo came to me. That was one I really didn’t see coming.
So, here I am, 39 years gone by and technically on my 40th year. Someone flipped my switch on the eyesight thing a little early, but that’s ok. I’ve still not actually written a book yet, but there is one in the works, and I guess it is something I can look forward to doing over the next decade or so. I still don’t know about the whole “career” thing as I don’t know if I actually have what most would consider a career, so the jury is still out on that one. I’m hoping I get a double dose of whatever it is that kicks in on the effective-productive angle, and that’s another one I won’t mind taking a little early either. As for the medal, just hold on to it for me. I’m not quite ready to put “one foot in the grave” just yet, nor am I ready to roll “over the hill” right at the moment.
That day will come, but until then, I’m going to enjoy staying thirtysomething “ahhhhhhhh, just a little bit longer.” (cue the music)
I have a feeling that most people, if asked if they were generous or not, would probably give a middle of the road answer. I believe only a very few people would willingly describe themselves as being miserly. I also believe that few people would want to ascribe to themselves the title of "Most Generous Person." Still, there is a tendency there, on a personal level, to think more of ourselves than is actually true.
To be truly generous is defined as giving without thought of anything in return. Keep that in mind, because there are people in this world who make a living based on the generosity of others. Maybe there are people who have even depended on your personal ability to be generous or not. Truth is, when a waiter at a restaurant services your table, many of us want to tip based on the ticket amount, or how well we are served. Not that there is anything wrong with either of those methods, but if that is what you base your tip on, then you are not being generous. Why? See the definition again and ask yourself this question, "Am I tipping based on something I am getting?" If you answer "yes" then you are not giving without expectation, and you have not been generous with your money.
However, the opposite can be said of the waiter, or even a pizza delivery driver. These people serve without any real expectation of anything in return. Of course, they certainly hope that good or timely service will make someone more willing to tip more, but their service is not predicated on whether or not you tip well, or at all. Their level of service will be the same for you as with any other customer. For this service, they are paid lower than the minimum wage per hour because the owner of the pizza place or the manager of the restaurant knows they will make money in tips. Their ability to make a living then, is dependent upon people who may or may not be generous in giving a tip.
You see, very recently I've been in the position of seeing the working side of someone who has to work for tips to make a living. This person has a family, two kids, one car, and cannot make enough at his regular job so now he works two. One of those jobs is delivering pizzas. In talking with him one night about how things went, he described the nights and the people he meets like a roller coaster ride. "It has it's ups and downs. Sometimes people can be very rude and give you nothing, but other times people can be very generous. I guess it all really matters what mood they're in when you get there." I asked him about the "delivery fee" pizza places add on to orders, and he shared with me that the store collects a high percentage of that fee, for what he didn't know, but out of any delivery fee he only made a little more than 50% and that wasn't enough to pay for the gas and wear and tear on his car.
I then asked him why he continued to do it. He replied, "I don't have a choice. In the end, I just depend on the generosity of others." We talked some more, but it really had me thinking about all the tips I'd ever left in my life. Turns out, I don't think I'm as generous of a person as I like to think I am. Often times I've based tips on the level of service I received, and again, I would not be critical of anyone who did that, but it is worth noting that doing so does not make you generous.
To be truly generous, you have to give with no thought of reward or return of any kind. With that definition in mind, how generous are you really not just with tips to delivery drivers or those who serve you at restaurants, but how generous are you with your time to other people who have nothing to give back to you in return? How generous are you with the talent or talents God has given you? How generous are you with your kids, your wife, your extended family? How generous are you really?
At various times in life people seem to get around to questions like, "Who am I? Why am I here? What is my purpose? Why did God create me?" These are great questions, and in exploring them people have found purpose and fulfillment in life. The problem is, I don't think it happens to enough people, and truth be told, I'm not really all that sure very many people ever get there. The reasons we do not get there can be varied, but on the whole I think there is one in particular that will ring true for more than most.
I've been on a spiritual walkabout this past year. I had felt the Lord pulling on my heart for quite some time when finally I resigned my position at my home church in March, and after finishing out the year for transitional reasons, I left my home church in December 2011. I thought I would immediately begin the task at hand that I had felt the Lord put on my heart, but something happened. It was as though I had been running full steam as fast as I could in one direction, and then suddenly the power went out in my life. It reminded me of a time in school when a lot of the kids in class were being too noisy and the teacher could not get their attention. Instead of getting loud, she walked over and turned off the lights in the classroom. The class obliged her by immediately going silent and looking around.
That's how I felt spiritually, too. There was all this noise and commotion in my spiritual life. I was all about getting things done, moving to the next task, and working feverishly to finish to begin the next. The leap had been made out of my home church to begin something new once again, and in all the noise that was going on in my spiritual life, God turned out the lights. I stopped everything I was doing, and everything went silent. Then, in the deafening silence, came the questions, and to help me answer them came The Accuser.
The Accuser pointed to everything I had ever done bad in my life. Every sin, every improper thought, and every selfish motivation was brought front and center to my attention. Than came the last questions "How could God ever use someone like you? After what you have done, how could you ever even think God would ever use you?"
I must admit, I was thrown. For so long I had been going through the motions of what I thought a Christian should do, it never occurred to me that maybe I was not qualified for doing these things in the eyes of my God. Shame filled my heart, and I began to search deeper into the depths of my soul for answers, for something in me knew that The Accuser had only painted an incomplete picture of my life.
Months passed as I wandered in what felt to me like a spiritual desert. My family and I visited church after church, but to be honest, in nearly every one of them I merely saw mirror images of myself. Hollow people without purpose, saved by grace and on the way to heaven, but only present in church to fulfill some internal obligation or pressure of guilt. Some wore masks of smiles and expressed joy with words and expressions, but I found very few with the internal joy and peace that radiates from them and fills a room.
As I visited churches, I was not sure where all this was going. I was so sure of what God's plan was for my life at one time. I had all the right plans and all the right intentions, but now I stood wondering why the lights went out. As time passed, even The Accuser had fallen silent. Months went by, and then at a moment when I felt I was most alone in my spiritual wilderness, God began to speak once again to my heart. This time, in complete silence, I was able to really listen.
I was reminded that I am God's son. As God's son I am here because God desires a relationship with me. My purpose in life is to simply be God's son, and enjoy that relationship with Him. In the end, He created me to be myself, and no one else. If I would simply do that, then I would accomplish God's purpose for my life. God then took me back to the picture of my life painted incomplete by The Accuser. I did not want to go there. I resisted. I tried to look away, but when I walked upon that picture, I realized God had finished the incomplete painting of my life. From corner to corner and top to bottom it was covered solid in red, for the blood of Christ had covered it all.
As I looked upon my life God spoke. "Where is your Accuser now?" There was silence. I now see that my life had always been one of Christian busy-ness, and one that almost always neglected my relationship with God. It turns out, this also is the answer for the problems people face in life. Trying to do what is right is not the answer to what is wrong. Getting back in a relationship with God should be our first priority. When that happens to an individual, personal revival is the result. When it happens to a congregation, church revival is the result. When it happens to a nation, a great awakening will occur.
It is a difficult task to see yourself for who you really are. Self-assessment is not easy, and I would say it is especially more difficult for men. We always want to see, and quite easily do see more often than not, the best in ourselves. We always want to think we are right, and even in our own moments of self-deprecation we think we are humble. We are capable of simultaneously admitting we have faults and seeing the faults of others who offend us as far more egregious. It is a rare man indeed who can see himself for who he really is.
When couples are angry at each other, it is far easier for them to see the changes the other person needs to make in order to "fix" the situation. In one breath admitting they may be at fault for some part of the division that exists, each is internally insisting that their position is due to the actions of the other person, and so it is the other person who must give way, change, and make amends, in order to make things better.
It's not just in close relationships where men have this trouble either. I have seen men walking around who should be embarrassed by the way they have presented themselves in public, but the problem is, they do not see a problem with it. Whether it is the way they dress, the way they talk with others, or their own behaviors, they do not see a need for change because they cannot see themselves for who they really are. In fact, "Reality TV" has built up an entertainment industry around this fact.
If we are going to be genuine and truthful with ourselves, we need to admit we need someone else for help in assessing where we are in life. This is where that friend, unconditional, becomes of great value. If you have a real friend, try stepping into their life for a few minutes to ask them to give you a reality check of the type of person you really are. Remember, this should be a friendship without condition, and one where your friend will keep your best interest at heart while still being completely honest with you even when they know it is going to hurt.
Have you ever seen the making of a sword? The process is quite brutal at times. The process is one of continuous heating and folding of metal that is beaten by weighted hammers against an anvil. Over and over again this process goes. The blade slowly takes shape from a block of iron into a length of metal that is then put to a grinder, and slowly, over time the process becomes more and more delicate as the final blade takes form. In the end, a lethal instrument ready for battle is the result.
This is what the Bible means when it says in Proverbs 27:17 "Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend." That is what a real friend will do for you. When iron sharpens iron there is friction, there is heat, and sparks fly while there is a whittling away of rough bumps so that a razor's edge may be attained and the blade that results will be far more useful and effective in the end. A friend unconditional will not tell you what you want to hear, but they will tell you what you need to hear while still accepting you for who you are right now. In the end, when really good friends do this for each other on a consistent basis, they are both changed into someone far more effective and useful.