What About the Corner?
My wife, Kris, recently wrote a book dealing with life’s struggles prior to the time of triumph in one’s life. Her book, titled “There Had Better Be a Corner,” highlights how life can seem so unfair, yet there always must be a redeeming resolution to life’s edgier side. Her title came from the oft-repeated phrase the dear old saints usually said as their attempts at encouragement only reinforced her wall of despair. “Don’t worry dear, God has a blessing for you just around the corner.” One day, she simply looked at me and said, “There had better be a corner!”
She realized that if God planted the dream in her heart, then He would certainly provide the opportunity to develop that God-given potential. Years later, her leadership paved the way for many women (and men) to see beyond their present state of pain and hardship and dare to ask God to plant a dream in their hearts. If He plants it, they must water it with preparation for the blessings just ‘around the corner.’ He is faithful and desires for His children to fulfill the dreams He gave them.
No matter what your present plight, it is a part of God’s plan to make you into the quality of person who truly pleases Him. Nothing has ever happened in your life without first receiving His stamp of approval. Maybe you have not reached the corner where you see the drastic turn from pain to productiveness. It’s there. Don’t quit. You’re closer than you think.
Kris’ book link: https://bit.ly/CornerByKris
“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” Matthew 6:33
When a Plan Comes Together
Hannibal Hayes, leader of TV’s famous “A-Team” in the 1980’s, immortalized the phrase, “I like it when a plan comes together.” His rag-tag team was short on respect but long on ingenuity. They could improvise, adapt, and overcome in any situation forced upon them by the writers of the sit-com. They always triumphed the cause of the underdog.
Forty-seven years of ministry scenarios made me feel like the underdog. I often wondered if God really knew about my times of weakness and despair. Surely, He would step in any moment and rescue me from my own myopic perspective.
Looking back, I know for certain that God keeps good books. He has seen every tear and heard every cry of every heart that has ever wondered if one’s present lot held any significance. He knows only too well that we will get to the end of ourselves and then cry out to Him.
I’ve adopted a phrase that was inspired by Hayes' famous line from the 80’s. I like it when God’s plan comes together. Along the way there will be times when we question His moves and motives. He is never late, nor will He ruin His perfect record on us. Much of His plan remains hidden from our understanding until we truly need to know just what He wants to bring together.
Here’s the kicker. Everything that has happened in our life and ministry has happened to bring us to this very point in history. Either we trust Him to bring about the perfect plan or we do not. There’s not much room to wiggle here. This is where our faith gets revealed and where it transitions from theory to reality.
I believe God has brought each of us to this pivotal place in history. We may or may not have a great heritage and a noble past. But we have a future to seize and ground to take back from the enemy. We have decisions to make and visions to cast.
As we look back on this time in our history five or ten years from now, my fervent prayer is that we have heard the Father and trusted Him to bring His plan together.
Understand Your Worth
Dubbed the most lopsided trade in Major League Baseball history, the Mets traded pitcher Nolan Ryan to the Angels for shortstop Jim Fregosi. The Mets cited Ryan’s control problems and considered him more of a liability than an asset. Bad decision.
While with the Angels, Nolan Ryan won 138 games, threw 4 no-hitters, captured 7 American League strikeout titles, and led the league in shutouts twice. Ryan continued his pitching dominance after his trade to the Rangers and threw his seventh no-hitter at age 44. His 108.1 MPH fastball cemented his name on the speed roster of pitchers for all recorded time. (Clocked with radar during a practice.)
In contrast, Jim Fregosi faded from view as a player in only a few short years. He coached four major league teams and won a National League pennant with the Phillies in 1993, but his reputation as a player never entered the same orbit as Ryan’s.
The original trade to the Angels proved that Ryan only needed time to understand his pitching prowess and harness its potential. He gained control and confidence. The rest is history.
The worst decision we can make is to disregard dormant potential in either ourselves or others—only to regret a hastily made assessment that results in trading away our God-given potential for a paltry gain.
Determine to discover the special gifts God gave you and offer them back to Him. Whatever we give to God, He’ll give back with power and purpose.
“Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them:”
Masterpiece of the Broken
God always seems to see the big picture. I am reminded of the rebuilding of Jerusalem's walls under Nehemiah. Some of the rubble stones were charred from fire and lay in a heap with the other stones.
The workers who rebuilt the wall used everything, put the broken pieces back in place, and did not apologize for the way things looked. Obviously, it drew sarcastic comments from the detractors who were squatters and did not want the wall rebuilt.
But the images I keep thinking about are the charred stones.
Imagine what the wall must have looked like—charred stones intermingled with the clean ones, producing a speckled effect from a distance. In the end, it did not matter whether the stones carried a layer of soot produced by a destructive fire. It only mattered that they had not been discarded and were being used in equal amounts with the other stones.
It must have looked like a patchwork of odds and ends yet produced strength enough to accomplish the enormous objective of providing safety for those within its boundaries.
God uses the discarded, burnt-out remnants of humanity to achieve His masterpieces in the lives of those who call him Father. He uses the unlikely, the wounded, and the rejects to do what only He can do—produce a masterpiece whose ingredients are as unalike as possible—just to show He can.
And he spoke before his brethren and the army of Samaria, and said, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they fortify themselves? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they complete it in a day? Will they revive the stones from the heaps of rubbish—stones that are burned?” Neh. 4:2
It's the Masterpiece of the Broken.
Last One Out of the Water
The movie, “Jaws,” unleashed a whole new phobia upon its viewing audience. A giant shark entered the territorial waters of Amity Island and began wreaking havoc and terror on the vacationing citizens whose only preoccupation was to enjoy the beach and swim in the ocean.
Sherriff Brody, played by Roy Scheider, a marine biologist played by Richard Dreyfuss, and a crusty old sailor named Quint, played by Robert Shaw, mounted an effort to hunt down the giant fish and secure the necessary safety for the beaching citizens.
The three men set out in Quint’s boat and soon found they’d overestimated their ability to kill the giant predator. As their boat slowly sank, Quint entertained the other two men with a story from his days in the U.S. Navy aboard the U.S.S. Indianapolis—a ship that had been hit by a Japanese torpedo. The naval vessel sank in just twelve minutes.
Many men had been killed by the blast and the rest deposited into the angry ocean. The men formed a circle and held onto each other, but one by one, became prey to a large school of sharks. Of the 900 men in the water, only 316 survived. Estimates placed the shark attack count at over 150 men—the largest shark attack in history.
Quint told the men that for him, the time his fear rose to its highest was when, as the last man pulled from the water by a rescue vessel, he feared he would become the sharks’ last meal. It was at that moment he realized his life could end with a single snap of the predator’s jaws.
Quint’s fictional story holds great truth. Perhaps you’ve been deposited into murky waters and sharks seem to be circling, waiting for the precise time to devour you. You see others rescued but wonder if you’ll ever escape the thing in life that threatens to pull you under and eat you.
Know this. God knows where you are. Nothing will ever happen in your life that has not first gained his permission. That simply means his rescue has already been put into action. Place your trust on him.
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, Nor shall the flame scorch you.”
Following a Fixed Point
My brother, Jon, once posted some thoughts about the moral compass of our conscience . . .
"It’s a moral compass that’s aligned with the true north of God’s own standards for right and wrong," he pointed out.
I couldn't help remembering a unique practice I adopted a several years ago. As I spent many hours in board meetings and committees, I decided that I needed a reminder of an eternal value.
I never will forget the first time I used this unique reminder. I arrived at a board meeting at about the usual time. Others were preparing their places at the table with an assortment of folders, computers, and other gadgets. After I had my folders in place and ready for the meeting, I reached into my brief case and retrieved a small compass which I promptly laid on the table directly in front of where I sat.
After a short moment, I discovered an uneasy feeling at having to eventually explain my choice of "gadgets." I was sure that someone would say something, but the morning went by and nobody said a word. I remember the relief I felt at not having to explain. My practice continued for several years without a single inquiry. Finally, someone asked me, "Jim, why do you always have a compass on the table?" I had forgotten the uneasiness of my first few meetings when I was just sure someone would want an explanation. "Are you lost?" they asked, trying to bring some levity to their curiosity.
I looked across the table and started my explanation. The room was filling with board members following a needed break in the meeting. As we returned to our chairs, I could tell another board member was also curious but would never venture into the potential "gotcha" waters. Then another member tuned his ears to hear the explanation.
"It is only a reminder that there is always a fixed point in the decision-making process. This little compass always points north--wherever it is--always north. We have a fixed point in Jesus Christ. He is always the same--never changes. We can always depend on Him to give us direction when we are lost. We deal with a lot of issues here and, I don't know about you guys, but I need to know there is a fixed point to which we can keep coming back."
That was all I said. Nobody laughed or inquired further. The meeting started again as I sat staring at the compass, evaluating my explanation.
We need to know there is a fixed point in life. People easily lose their way as hope disappears from their once confident life. Jesus Christ is that fixed point and He will never point us in the wrong direction. We can depend on His unfailing love and guidance.
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your paths." Proverbs 3:5-6
What You Fear the Most
Director James Cameron produced an ocean adventure epic costing 69.5 million dollars and was called, ‘The Abyss.’ In his 1989 story, a team of oceanographers worked on the ocean floor in a laboratory designed for deep-water exploration. As I recall, the movie was one of the first of its kind in which they took CGI (computer generated imagery) to the next level in entertainment. I sat mesmerized by the imagery on the screen and felt fully ‘submerged’ in its story line. In short, the story was about their encounter with a life form that emerged from a giant ocean canyon they referred to as the ‘abyss.’
So, to make a long (and very exciting) story short, the team member played by Ed Harris decided to risk his life to see how far down the abyss went. There were additional factors that weighed into his decision, but for brevity’s sake, let’s leave him there for now . . . falling deeper and deeper into the canyon.
Life is like that. We encounter abnormalities that threaten to sink us and drag us into an abyss. We might even feel helpless as we free-fall downward into what can only be our worst imaginations.
Believe it or not, God designed these times to teach us to trust him more. While we rarely appreciate the experience in real time, hindsight always teaches us that God will not let us crash into something at the bottom of the abyss in which we find ourselves descending. The lesson takes place during the free-fall. It is then that we encounter the sustaining power of a father who loves us too much to treat us in a reckless manner.
Back to The Abyss. Eventually, Ed Harris hit the bottom of the abyss. There, beautiful creatures took him on board an alien spacecraft and saved his life. That’s the Cliff Notes version. What he feared the most was what saved his life.
The lessons we learn during our apparent free-fall are the lessons that will save our lives and prove that God really does know what he is doing and that he loves us more than we could ever imagine.
Remember, nothing ever happens in your life without first gaining his permission.
Keep the Plates Spinning
At least five decades ago, I watched a program on TV featuring a man spinning plates on the end of a long stick. He gradually added plates until he had seven or eight plates spinning atop the balancing sticks. As he added plates, he’d need to spin the plates already spinning—keeping them from slowing down and falling off the sticks. His routine morphed into a man frantically trying to get a dozen or so plates spinning at once while keeping them all from falling. Eventually, he lost the battle in his attempt to spin a record number.
Life can be like that. Really. We can manage our day-to-day activities until the requirement to do more faces us squarely and tells us that unless we can rise to the occasion, all will be lost.
Life’s successes do not depend upon our determination to sacrifice ourselves and wear out from exhaustion. Rather, life has a rhythm—a cadence that paces our onward progress toward successful accomplishments.
Stop spinning the plates. Slow down long enough to hear the Father’s heart. Your plate spinning deafens your ear to His heart. Anything that obliterates His voice from your ear places you at risk of missing the most important accomplishment of all—the impartation of His love and grace in your troubled life.
You don’t need to do what He does not require of you. You may, indeed, be missing His challenge to something great that doesn’t include spinning plates.
The Pain of Overload
Those were the words of David Tate, 180-pound safety for the 1990 Chicago Bears. He was not referring to getting blocked on a play. He was referring to the good-natured rivalry between the smaller defensive backs and the defensive line of the Bears.
One day, 320-pound William “the Fridge” Perry caught Tate and collapsed on top of him. As if that were not enough, 270-pound Richard Dent, 275 pound Dan Hampton, and 270 pound Steve McMichael joined Perry in squishing the much smaller Tate. That’s 1135 pounds of pain! More than half a ton! Tate later replied, “I don’t think those guys know how heavy they really are!”
Life has a way of weighing us down and pinning us to its playing field. We feel hard pressed with the responsibilities of life—not to mention the things that occur without warning. It seems that surprises come in multiples—one thing after another and usually on top of what is already weighing you down.
Jesus told us that we could trust Him to take us through life’s toughest trials. In Matthew 11:28-30, He said,
“Come to Me, all you who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
When life hits you and pins you down and when you think the very life is being crushed out of you, look to Jesus Christ and trust Him for the strength to come through victorious! He’s already been crushed and bruised beyond what we will ever have to experience.
The Eye of the Storm
As we prepare for another hurricane, I heard a song by Ryan Stevenson – “The Eye of the Storm.” I could not help but listen as the lyrics articulated what we face in the immediate future – a hurricane of uncertain trajectory! Every part of our state of Florida could be impacted. Yet, the song had been written prior to the state’s latest storm. Interesting. I think the providence of God played in there somewhere . . . just in time.
I am reminded that storms are not optional. They are a part of the natural system of the earth. They produce scenarios that really challenge individual thought and reason. I weary of people saying that God has judged our state by sending a storm to wash away things He doesn’t like. That's just nonsense.
A storm is a storm. Period. What God DOES want to accomplish, however, is to get people to work together and believe the best in each other. Watching neighbor helping neighbor pleases the Father. It is then that the very best impulses emerge from our fallen human nature.
We are forced to take inventory of what is important in life and, in those moments when the pain of overload threatens our willingness to go on, He is right there . . . in the middle of the storm.
“In the eye of the storm, You remain in control;
And in the middle of the war, You guard my soul;
You alone are the anchor, When my sails are torn;
Your love surrounds me, In the eye of the storm.”
(A special thanks to Ryan Stevenson!)
“I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. (24) Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 7:21-23, 25)
The interesting thing about the “resident evil” Paul speaks about in vv. 21-23 is that it not only produces awareness of the sinful nature still at work within us which tries to disconnect us from the Father’s love, but it also produces debilitating guilt. In my experience, the guilt issue does more damage to our confidence in Christ’s love than anything else.
That the sin nature will always be at work within us is a given and we will always struggle with its vacillating frequency of expression. Yet, the guilt issue is the deal breaker for most Christians who cannot understand why they still have sinful urgings and occasionally lapse into carnality. Subsequently, the question of heaven-readiness makes a person feel like a boat anchor stuck on the bottom of the lake. We fear getting left behind and wonder if we will ever truly rise above the grip of the old nature.
The only thing God wants us to take away from this portion of scripture is the provision of 7:25—Jesus Christ. Paul simply states the answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. God made everything about us and he delights in our fellowship. Yet the old nature still lobs explosive salvos into our thinking via outside stimuli and watches our reaction to the thought bombs.
The fact that our sinful nature can still come out of hiding and raise its ugly head occasionally is reason enough to be sober about the possibilities and effects of yielding to its occasional lure. We cannot let our guard down nor can we grant the enemy diplomatic immunity.
Some may choose to live in guilt because they feel they deserve its oppressive presence as penance for their misdeeds. But God has provided an answer. That answer is Jesus Christ—his full presence in our lives and his strength at work against the lies of the enemy.
What’s the issue? The sin we commit or the guilt we allow?
Remember, guilt comes from the enemy, but grace comes to the repentant heart from a loving Father.
The Shadow of Discouragement
It comes silently and lurks just outside of our awareness. It waits patiently for the precise time, knowing it will come.
It cherishes its mission and is master of instilling doubts and fear in a healthy heart.
Its effectiveness is especially lethal during times of illness or fatigue as dropped defenses ensure easy prey.
It speaks to the heart of one who falters, insinuating God’s broken promises and disregard for one’s condition.
It lines the heart with doubt and infects the soul with poisonous lies.
It seeks to dim the awareness of God’s radiance and blocks out the rays of optimism and hope.
It boasts of futility and questions the resolve to finish at all—let alone the determination to finish strong.
It is a well-worn tool, used for centuries to pry into a man’s heart and deflate good intentions.
It clouds the purpose of a life and injures perspective. It blurs focus and inflicts double vision.
Its overwhelming and ever-increasing weight hides in the back-pack of responsibility.
Its price tag is easy credit with compounding interest.
It is the sound of a single note played at a deafening pitch, blocking out life’s melodies of joy.
It feeds on fruitless activities and misplaced priorities.
It convinces of the need to change venue without realizing the vision.
Its credentials boast countless successes in human failure.
It feeds on despair and punctuates disappointment.
It suggests the abandonment of goals and argues the validity of work ethic while dousing the heart with ice water.
It seeks to annihilate one’s future with promises of doom and disappointment.
It scoffs at the resolve to shake free and reinforces its hold on the hapless heart. It robs courage and peddles fear—replacing hope with the gloom of uncertainty.
It pastes itself like a poster in one’s heart and mind as a constant reminder of its presence.
It knows when to leave dormancy and sap existing life.
It is ever resourceful—constantly changing to blend with our lives and avoid detection.
Discouragement is the enemy’s “main drain” in the lives of those who are determined to go the distance but lack the stamina.
God knows all about the enemy’s strategy. He knows all about our weariness and disappointments. His strength sustains us through trials and fears. His great love compels us to receive His promises as relief from the assaults of the enemy. We have borne the yoke of discouragement far too long.
Psalm 55:22 tells us;
Cast your burden on the Lord, and He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved.
Receive a promise—His promise—that will never be affected by the power of discouragement nor will it give way to an enemy who knows no mercy.
What Really Matters Will Not Be Lost
If I were to ask you, "What event comes to mind when I say shipwreck?" Most immediately refer to the sinking of the Titanic while, it’s loss of life paled in comparison to the Lusitania (1,924), the Wilhelm Gustloff (9,300), or the Dona Paz (4,386).
One such disaster stands out among the others as truly unique. It is the sinking of the Andrea Doria in July 1956, Italy's finest and most luxurious ocean cruiser ever. Its amenities included state-of-the-art technology and a unique double hull to ensure its unsinkability. It had made the trans-oceanic trip exactly 100 times and was now nearing New York Harbor early the morning of July 26. At the same time, the Swedish American cruiser, Stockholm, with its bow heavily reinforced for ice breaking, was leaving the harbor. There, in the dense fog off Nantucket Island, a maritime disaster was about to be written into the history books.
Following several critical errors by the boats' captains and crew, the Stockholm slammed into the side of the Andrea Doria. As the two giant vessels sat motionless in the water, the Andrea Doria's fuel tanks filled with 500 tons of sea water. The bow of the Stockholm had slashed through both of her hulls, and she began to list sharply to one side. A distress signal was immediately sent out and all but 52 people were saved.
The thing that makes this story incredible was not the relatively low loss of life from both ships, but a unique rescue no one has been able to explain. After the Stockholm had been towed back into New York Harbor, workers began to inspect its damaged bow. There, in the twisted beams of iron and steel, they found a young girl. The interesting thing about this girl was that she had been a passenger on the Andrea Doria. As the two ships collided, she was clawed from her sleeping compartment and deposited in the bow of the Stockholm. It took several days to reunite her with her grief-stricken mother. She is Linda Morgan, stepdaughter of the famous ABC correspondent Edward P. Morgan. Her younger sister was killed.
There are apparent shipwrecks in marriages, occupations, relationships, and ministries. There are times when you may feel you've already slipped beneath the waves. A catastrophe may have changed the course of your life and you couldn't understand why it came about and how it could ever fit into His plan for your life.
You might even feel like the little girl, Linda Morgan, who was literally clawed from her place of safety on the Andrea Doria and deposited amid massive wreckage in another vessel. Your former feelings of safety and security evaporated in the aftermath of the circumstance that left you feeling shipwrecked and broken.
Let me tell you what the Apostle Paul told those aboard the rapidly sinking ship that was supposed to take him to Rome (Acts 27:1-27). The storm will soon be over and what really matters will not be lost.
Additionally, you are God's chosen vessels--ships that carry the good news through the storms of life bringing hope and healing to those who desperately need to know God cares.
God has not left us, nor will he abandon ship when life sends us a tsunami. Nothing has happened in your life that has not first received his permission. The power of his love will both sustain you and keep you when you think all is lost.
Remember, your storm will soon be over and what really matters will not be lost.
The pace of the rush hour traffic slowed to a crawl and then to a dead stop. Horns began playing their usual obnoxious symphony and nerves strained to stay contained. Jockeying for lanes quickly became a test of nerves and courtesy as the morning’s complement of type A’s made their presence felt.
One such Type A honked at a middle-aged man trying to merge right. Then, he made an obscene gesture reinforced with unnecessary profanity. The man could only watch as the younger man inserted himself into the spot. Fortunately, the driver right behind the young man slowed, letting him merge.
Ten minutes later, the older gentleman entered the parking garage, found his designated spot, and approached the elevator. As the doors opened, he was surprised to see the elevator nearly full. Suddenly, from behind him, the same young man pushed past him and took the remaining spot. As the doors closed, he thought, “That is the young man who flipped me off this morning.” He smiled silently to himself and hoped the irony would play out to his favor.
Once inside his office, his secretary handed him a folder and said, “A young man is here to interview for the opening." After pouring himself a fresh cup of hot coffee and taking his place behind his desk, the secretary ushered the young man into his office. You guessed it—the rude young man from the traffic jam and elevator. The interview began with an introduction and a handshake. He motioned for the young man to sit in the chair in front of his large wooden desk. He smiled to himself as he watched the young man shift nervously in his seat.
He asked the young man several questions—all of which were answered to his satisfaction. He had graduated in the top three of his class, had impeccable credentials, seemed to be bright—but still had not been able to land a job nearly a year after school.
Finally, the man looked at the young applicant and asked, “Why do you want a job here? With your credentials and grades, I would have thought you’d apply at a larger firm.”
The younger man sat silently for a brief moment and then said, “It’s been much more difficult than I had suspected it would be. Most of my friends—even those who graduated below me—now have jobs they enjoy. But, I . . .” His eyes fell to the floor and his demeanor conveyed the impression that he had endured many disappointing interviews—with nothing to show for his efforts. He continued, “But I seem to always make the short list and then . . .”
“And then you don’t get hired, right?” He paused to let his words sink in and then pressed his point. “This morning in traffic, I was the person in the blue car you flipped off. Do you remember? Then again at the elevator in the garage, you pushed past me—even after I had already been waiting.” His words fell hard and the young man knew this would be one time he would not even make the short list. “That’s not the kind of person I want to represent my company.”
After a long moment, the young man lifted his eyes and looked directly into the man’s face. “You are right. . . I’m sorry. . . I thought I was going to be late. I let the traffic get to me . . . I sincerely apologize,” he said as he reached down to retrieve his case. “I won’t take any more of your time. Thank you for taking the time to see me.” He stood to leave, but the man said, “The interview is not over until I say it’s over. Please sit,” he said, motioning to the chair.
As the young man took his seat, the older man said, “I have more to say.” As the two sat for a moment, he began, “You were rude and arrogant. That might be prerequisites for some jobs, but I stress building relationships with clients by living and working with integrity—putting the needs of others before my own—and giving an honest effort to making my little corner of the world a better place. I am interested in someone working here who represents the interests of this company and conducts himself in a manner that engenders my trust. Above all else, he must possess the integrity that demonstrates his desire to grow into a productive and useful part of this team”
The words seemed almost canned, except that the young man’s attention was riveted to each word. Why is he taking this time with me? Didn’t I already kill this deal in traffic?
Sensing he had made his point, the man leaned forward and said, “Young man, do you believe you have it in you to do that?”
Stunned at the sudden shift in the older man’s composure, he now sensed something he had not sensed before, but he couldn’t put his finger on just what it was. “Do you?” the older man pressed.
A glimmer of hope appeared out of nowhere as the man awaited his answer. “Sir, I don’t know if I possess those qualities right now, but I’d like the opportunity to work under someone who does—if that makes sense . . I feel I have a lot to learn, and . . . I also feel I have a lot to offer,” he said as his voice trailed off.
“Young man, thank you for your honesty. See, you do have the makings of the kind of person I’m looking for. You could have given me the answer I wanted to hear, but instead, you were truthful, you showed integrity,” he said as he rose from his seat and extended his hand.
Thinking the interview was over and that he had just sealed his own fate, the young man rose and took the extended hand. The two shook hands and then the younger turned to leave.
“Oh, I have one more question for you,” he said as the young man neared the office’s door. “Can you start on Monday?”
That Sinking Feeling
The western banks of the Hudson River in New York used to be the anchorage point for dozens of WW II battle ships. For decades their shells bobbed lifelessly as they awaited the inevitable time when they would be dragged out to sea and used for target practice or simply sunk.
These ships once sailed the wartime oceans filled with fuel, munitions, and supplies that would launch an army into the heart of the Axis empire. But, for the last several decades, they have simply been a shadow of their former usage.
Several years ago I talked with a man I considered influential to my work ethic. He was on my short list of people I allowed to speak into my life. I looked forward to hearing his inspiration as we exchanged greetings and began our impromptu discussion. But as we talked, he shared his disappointments in not receiving credit for things he’d accomplished. I noted the far-away look in his eyes as he recounted the things he did—mostly for others, and all for the Kingdom of God. Others had been honored—he had not. In his senior years he became a cynical man. I was shocked at the bitterness that seeped from deep within his soul.
I realized he was like those ships—once useful, now overlooked in his contribution to the lives of countless others. He appeared to be waiting for the time when he could be taken to sea and sunk. The passion was gone from his voice—the glint from his eye.
Yet, I knew him as a man full of passion—full of purpose. He was the type of individual who inspired others to reach for greatness. He never accepted excuses—a no nonsense kind of guy. He affected the lives of all who dared to risk the inevitable challenges they knew came from simply being in his presence. He made people want to try harder—to excel at life and ministry. Now, he visibly mirrored a passionless heart.
I couldn’t help but wonder if his perspective would have been different if he knew the real impact he had on so many younger men who emulated his style and drive.
I remember mostly the pace of his life and the things he accomplished. I remember his excellent Bible studies—the kind that makes a person say, “Wow! I never saw that before!” But I also remember watching him look down, shake his head in apparent futility, and walk away muttering something to himself as if trying come to grips with his disappointment.
If you haven’t guessed by now, I believe that how we end up is more important than how we start out. My dear friend lost something along the way that he never recovered. In his final years he lived without the acclaim he rightly should have enjoyed, yet he finished his race just ahead of the dark cloud that had nearly engulfed him earlier.
I feel inspired anew just thinking of how I wanted to please him and gain his approval. Yet, through his foray into despair, he taught me not to look to men for the approval that can only come from God . . . I think he knows that now.
Obstacles: Do They Block You or Build You?
The only thing about our journey through life (upon which we can depend) is that we will face obstacles along the way. I wish I could say that there is a viable option in which we can determine both the severity of the obstacle and its duration.
Obstacles (also known as challenges, trials, tests, tribulations, etc.) are what shape and mold us into a useful part of humanity. If nobody accepted the challenge of an obstacle and simply sat down and crossed arms, nothing of value would be learned or modeled for others.
Obstacles shape us in several ways. I know . . . who wants to be shaped by the difficulties inserted into our life? Probably nobody. However, obstacles are a part of life, and we must learn to capitalize on the potential personal gain one can experience through head-on confrontation with whatever seeks to block our progress.
Obstacles take many forms. They can be rejection, character assault, or even prescribed training like our armed forces utilize to harden and shape those charged with keeping us safe and free. Obstacles can also take the form of repeated detours that leave us questioning our original travel plans though life.
Here are several questions you can ask yourself when faced with an obstacle.
What am I supposed to learn from this roadblock?
Am I on the right path?
Is my timing in God’s will?
Is this roadblock a divine protection keeping me from disaster?
Have I sought God’s will for my life, and did I listen when He revealed it?
Am I determined to face each obstacle with a willingness to overcome it?
Do I look at each obstacle as a sign that I’m not supposed to go that way?
Do the obstacles keep me in a continual state of defeat?
However, re-read the list above and really think about how they might represent your attitude toward obstacles. This article’s intent is to bring light on those things that may be keeping you from realizing your God-given potential.
Old Ruts Won't Take You to New Places
As I walked down the wooded path near the river, I noticed a pair of parallel ruts that seemed to go on forever. The wheel channels had deepened from years of use. As I thought about those ruts, I imagined a horse-drawn buggy with a tired horse pulling it and walking between the ruts.
The well-worn path offered no resistance. The driver did not have to steer. The deep ruts literally locked the wheels in their channels.
Occasionally, the ruts became shallower, allowing the buggy to break free if necessary. But when that happened, the buggy tipped and jarred and tossed its load around. The driver had to hang on for dear life and the horse had to pull harder. Once free of the ruts, the driver could take the carriage wherever he wanted to go.
There are several observations that accompany this thought.
1. Roads are nice, but without maintenance usually become ruts.
2. Ruts come in pairs—breaking free requires a second effort.
3. Being in a rut takes you to the same place every time and requires little of the driver.
4. Ruts develop from years of repetition.
Gaining a new sense of direction and purpose requires a second effort to break free of the second rut.
The second rut is the hardest rut from which to break free. Why? Because all four wheels follow the curvature of the ruts. One set of wheels still rolls between the ruts and the other set is free of the ruts. Breaking free of the ruts altogether becomes the objective.
However, another “tipping” awaits the second effort. This is precisely where most drivers either go back into the path provided by the ruts or they give the second effort—usually the hardest part—to break completely free of the rutted path. The second rut tips the wagon the most and presents the greatest danger to the driver, the wagon, and the horse.
The idea of being in a rut garners little thought because those who drive the wagon usually feel they earned the right to put the wagon on autopilot right there in the ruts.
Just remember, ruts dictate direction and negate creativity. They become “long graves” with a predictable death to those locked in their grip. Breaking free requires courage, vision, and determination to cut a new path to God.
If you feel locked in a rut and your joy in life seems non-existent, determine to break free from the old rut and carve a new path to a preferred future.
Old ruts won't take you to new places.
“Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; Shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43:19
When Life Catches You At Low Tide
As we crossed the Tampa Bay bridge on our way to the airport, I noticed that the tide was out, and the water had receded several hundred feet from the shore. Hundreds of birds flocked to the extended shoreline as a veritable feast of creatures lay flip-flopping in the sunlight, trying to get to the water and escape their hungry pursuers. Everything has a purpose, I thought, as we continued our drive to the airport.
The scene was one I'd seen hundreds of times--low tide meant feeding time for sea gulls, herons and other birds intent upon keeping the balance of nature on an even keel. I'd never given it a second thought, except to simply note its periodic and predictable occurrence.
As I drove, my mind would not let loose of the familiar scene. Then it occurred to me that God chose the simple things--even in nature--to demonstrate his ability to guide us through life. For instance, the tide is caused by the moon's gravitational pull upon the earth. As the earth rotates, tides shift around the world, and millions of creatures either get fed or get fed upon.
The low tide demonstrates how an eternal force can have an effect upon our world. While it may be one way in which God shows his care for an infinite number of aquatic creatures, it represents only a tiny percentage of his involvement in his creation.
We all experience low-tide periods in our lives. The safety of the shoreline suddenly gets displaced by something outside of our control and we simply flip-flop in the newly inflicted discomfort trying to regain our familiar and safe surroundings. Life's low tide provides a balance only God can orchestrate into a time of growth and purpose.
High tide follows low tide. Up times follow down times. Victory follows adversity. Perhaps something outside your immediate sphere of influence proves to be detrimental to the order of your neat and predictable life. Whatever you find yourself going through at this time is not permanent--it's just God allowing times in which your character gets tested and your resolve to follow through becomes solidified. Tough times produce tough people.
God loves us too much to allow comfort and security to rob us of the opportunity for growth. The secret is to understand the purpose of the low tides.
Nature's tide responds to the pull of the moon; ours--the SON!!
No Shame in Safety
Arrows filled the air around them as they struggled from their dead horses in search of safety. It would soon be sundown and their tormentors would honor the cover of darkness. Yet, for now, an all-out attack made the prospect of life seem remote. The two cowboys found themselves stumbling over rocks and dead wood in a dried creek bank as they fled from the certain death of the Crow raiding party. With painful certainty an arrow found its mark in the chest of the younger of the two as he turned to match force with force. The older, wiser man knew from experience that his only hope for survival lay in finding a hiding place where he could clear his head and rest his weary body.
Grabbing his partner’s canteen and scurrying toward a thicket for momentary cover, he silently rejoiced in his discovery of a hollow in the side of the creek bank just beyond the brush. There, at least for now, he could enjoy the cool and concealed safety he desperately sought. From his place of refuge, he could see the body of his partner who was a gambler and accustomed to facing and playing the odds. This time the odds were against him as he paid the ante with his life.
It was a western mini-series on network TV. I watched spellbound as I found myself captivated by a story of the lives and times of men on a cattle drive through hostile Indian territory. There were no guarantees of safety - only the dreaded uncertainty of facing life moment by moment and being ready to fight to maintain the delicate right to live.
Safety for the survivor lay in a cool concealment where his attackers could not get to him without being exposed to the deadly aim of a western Sharpshooter in the steady hand of a seasoned veteran. For now, he was safe. For now, he rested.
This scenario describes much of life today as we find ourselves running for cover from the demands and pressures inherent in our activities. Many meet an untimely demise as they try to match force with force. The certainty of life’s pursuit set in the context of the uncertainty of its demands claims many a hapless victim who has not discovered the safety of the hollow.
There is a spiritual truth here that we cannot ignore. There is a time to fight and a time to seek refuge. A time to use force and a time to retreat.
Contrary to the ethics of Christian service and commitment which, in the minds of many are driven by a sense of duty and guilt, there is no sin in having to leave the fight to seek refuge. Those who have discovered the sabbatical rest that comes from dwelling under the shadow of the Almighty will attest to its life-giving qualities.
During a bout with pastoral burnout a couple decades ago, God tucked me away in a safe place where the enemy could not finish me off. It was there I discovered that periodic rest and retreat are not sinful. It was there that God let me experience wholeness without warfare and safety without guilt. It was in that secret place where God became my refuge and protector. It was there that I first uttered, “the Lord is my refuge and fortress. In Him I will trust.”
He who dwells in the secret place of the most high shall abide under the shadow of the almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in Him I will trust.
Who Are You Going to Listen To?
My oldest son is an adventurer. He has climbed the 4 highest mountains on 3 different continents. His superb training and conditioning provide the needed edge to endure the harshest environmental elements on earth. He has camped in minus 40 degree temperatures and has endured the worst planet earth could offer.
His most recent adventure was climbing Mt. Everest - 29,029 feet.
While he was on Everest in April and May of 2011, he accomplished something only 3,000 other people have ever accomplished. He summited. While many thousands of climbers try to reach the peak, 99 percent of them fall short of reaching the highest pinnacle in the world.
He told me something I shall never forget. He watched many others begin the ascent but one by one, they decided to quit without ever reaching the summit. Just being on the mountain was enough for them. They began to listen to the voices that told them to quit. The voices said, “You are getting too tired. You might die up here.” He said he actually saw a man die on the trail to the top. When they die, they are left on the mountain, and he said he literally stepped over some bodies frozen into the snow and ice.
Climbing Mt. Everest takes about 60 days. Kyle said it was surprising how many people only wanted to say they had been on the mountain without ever reaching the summit—or even coming close. But he said, “Most quit because either they were not conditioned to even be on the mountain, or they lost the mind battle and started listening to others who were talking negatively and pulled their thought processes down with them. He went on to say, ". . . nobody who started talking negatively ever reached the top."
There are voices competing for your attention right now. How you respond to those voices determines how you will finish. Who are you going to listen to?
There are trials playing out in your lives right now. You might be entertaining the decision to give up and accept defeat. Who are you going to listen to?
Your sense of self-worth and self-esteem has been eroded by a relationship gone badly. You see no good in yourself or anybody else because you have believed the lies about the lack of possibilities. Who are you going to listen to?
The enemy of your soul wants to come between you and your promise. He’s injected thoughts of discouragement and doubt. Who are you going to listen to?
You are beginning to wonder if the dreams you had earlier in your life will ever come to pass. It was God who put those dreams in your heart and it is the enemy who wants you to give up on them. Who are you going to listen to?
The truth is, we condition ourselves to accept the worst in life instead of the best. We talk ourselves out of God’s richest blessings and build a whole theology around second best.
Who are you going to listen to?
Carbon Copy, book three of the Adrian Chandler Series, is now available for purchase.