Friday, October 31, 2014
Strange creatures roam the land these days. Being efficient, diligent, and productive, they are remarkably impressive . . . but beneath the surface they are suffering from a miserable malady. Compulsively driven with an obsessive desire to achieve, these creatures give themselves to labor like alcoholics give themselves to booze.
Workaholics. You will find them in every imaginable occupation, and unfortunately, they are usually successful. I say "unfortunately" because success only increases their drive. In sales, they are always at the top. In school, they are always in the books. In sports, they are always in the lead. In subjects, they are always in the know. To these creatures there is one and only one reason for existence—WORK.
This applies even to vacations! Give a workaholic an opportunity to get away for a few days and he will find a dozen logical reasons why it isn't possible. Force him to do so and he will wear himself down planning out each day, each mile, each step of the trip. Once there, he will begin to feel anxious after ten minutes of quiet relaxation. To the workaholic, unplanned moments are lethal . . . rest is senseless . . . enjoyable fun times are "irresponsible activities for children!" With a long, stinging whip, guilt—the inner taskmaster of the workaholic—pounds him into daily submission, whether he is at work, at home, at church, or at school.
This creature finally begins to show the cracks of his stress-ridden conscience. He becomes increasingly more demanding of himself and others—especially those nearest him. This neurotic intolerance slowly begins to isolate him. Muscular tics appear. His smile erodes into a frown. Performance and greater achievement become his security . . . and any setback or failure fractures his equilibrium.
As I write this I think of the need for balance. A measure of efficiency and discipline in life is absolutely healthy and necessary. Being faithful and dedicated to our work is commendable. "Redeeming the time" is biblical. But there is a point where we no longer enjoy ourselves. We can go to strange extremes—extremes that create inner functional disorders which turn us into slaves. We find ourselves blinded to other areas of life which are just as significant as our work—sometimes more! Harold R. Nelson, director of the Department of Pastoral Care at the Swedish Covenant Hospital in Chicago, describes this tendency that gives birth to workaholics:
All of us have our own ways of hating or degrading ourselves. You may do it by being a hard-working perfectionist, and I may do it by being a disorganized, lazy nonconformist. If all you know is "work and achieve," you may be consciously or unconsciously trying to prove your worth to yourself and others.
Well, let's discover if you are one of these strange creatures, okay? The following chart should help you determine the answer. Numbers one and two pretty well describe a workaholic. Number three is fairly well balanced. Numbers four and five—you've got other problems, but you are definitely not a workaholic.
Quality of Work
1) Leaps tall buildings with a single bound.
2) Must take a running start to leap over buildings.
3) Can leap over only short buildings.
4) Crashes into building when attempting to leap.
5) Cannot recognize buildings at all.
1) Is faster than a speeding bullet.
2) Is as fast as a speeding bullet.
3) Not quite as fast as a speeding bullet.
4) Would you believe a slow bullet?
5) Wounds self with bullet when attempting to fire.
1) Is stronger than a locomotive.
2) Is stronger than a bull elephant.
3) Is strong as a bull.
4) Shoots the bull.
5) Smells like a bull.
1) Talks with God directly.
2) Talks with angels.
3) Talks to himself.
4) Argues with himself.
5) Loses those arguments
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Are you what we might call a modern-day prophet, a tomorrow-thinker in a world of yesterday-dwellers? Or do you know somebody like that? Though often unpopular and unthanked, these people perform a vital role in society. They look at the future and issue precious warnings.
A legend dated around AD 89 states that the apostle John lost the first transcription of his apocalyptic vision. The account was preserved only by word of mouth, since the document was lost during the persecution of Domitian. In it a fifth horseman emerged. This rider actually led the other four, says the legend. You remember the other four: War, Pestilence, Famine, and Death. As the lead rider became nauseated by the deeds of his fellows, he pressed far ahead of them. He entered every village, every city, with a great cry and terrifying predictions. To the rulers of each place he warned of those who came hard behind him, and as proof, he showed them the blood on his own horse's hooves. Then, as always, he went on, for his urgency was great.
Behind him citizens fell into profound arguments. Some called him a liar. They said the blood was that of goats, not humans. Others considered him insane . . . and a few claimed he had not passed that way at all; they merely imagined him there. Theological, philosophical, and political debate abounded. In the end, no one said, "A prophet has been among us," so his warnings did not prevail. The four horsemen ultimately arrived, and as predicted, slew their three times tens of thousands.
Meanwhile, the legendary fifth horseman came to the outermost reaches of the earth and turned about, satisfied with his work. However, as he revisited one city after another—all now destroyed and desolate—he realized nothing he had said had made one bit of difference. Unrepentant, arrogant, indifferent, and disobedient, they had refused to act upon the truth they had been told. The legend concludes with the fifth horseman rejoining his companions. Together they slew all mankind and destroyed their cities.
And the identity of him who led? The name of him who warned, according to the legend?
Though often unpopular and unthanked, truthtellers play a vital role in society.
Tuesday, October 28, 2014
Have you noticed? Some people have the uncanny ability to see so far into tomorrow, you feel like you're operating in the shadows of yesterday. While you and I are evaluating where we've been, those forward-thinking people are forever exploring where we're going. Instead of reacting, they're on the offense . . . probing, innovating, analyzing, and warning—always warning. While we search for ways to settle in and find comfort on our sofa-like surroundings, they are confronting the consequences of reality, facing the music before we even realize the prelude has begun.
Prophets, I suppose we could call them . . . seers who frown while others yawn . . . restless, troubled, contemplative souls. They're not unlike the characters in a thought-jabbing cartoon published years ago. The whole message is contained in a single frame as the figures of a man and a woman are falling upside down through space.
"Gertrude," says the man, "we can't go on living like this!"
Those who slumber in the sleepy, warm twilight of sundown, finding a great deal of security in the mediocrity and predictability of sameness, cannot bring themselves to see either potential danger or possible tragedy. But those who see their world adrift, moving all too rapidly toward a bleak and disastrous dawn, shout across the chasm of complacency, "We can't go on living like this!"
Perhaps they are not upside down after all. They just seem that way. Thinking ahead keeps them topsy-turvy in their heads. While chatty, laughing tourists are taking snapshots of the lowlands with rose-colored filters, those lean, tough-minded climbers have scaled the rugged peaks. It gives them a stark view of what's ahead. Tomorrow's storm keeps them from enjoying today's lull. They're hard to live with, sometimes impossible to understand.
Robert Greenleaf, in his classic book Servant Leadership, recalls a story which grew out of Beethoven's composition, the C# Minor Quartet, Opus 131. When first played in the composer's lifetime, it appeared to be unlike anything the master had ever written before. "Ludwig," a friend asked, "what has happened? We don't understand you anymore." It is reported that Beethoven, with a sigh, replied, "I have said all that I have to say to my contemporaries; now I am speaking to the future."
If you are one of those seers, a tomorrow-thinker in a world of yesterday-dwellers, take heart. Realize that you must be true to yourself. While you may not be applauded for your warnings, you will be rewarded for your efforts. Just be patient with those who lack your zest and zeal. Say your piece, make your contribution, shout, if you must . . . but keep in mind that prophets were seldom heeded, rarely thanked, and never popular.
We'll talk more about this topic tomorrow.
Are you a tomorrow-thinker? Say the truth in love—even if it’s unheeded.
Sunday, October 26, 2014
Psalm 127: 4, 5
As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.
Beverly belonged to a large family. Friends of hers always told her how sorry they were for her being the middle child of nine, but she could never quite understand their sympathy. She lived having lots of sisters and brothers. They were all close, and she never felt lonely or unsupported. Contrary to her friends' belief that there would be less love because it was spread so thin, there was all the more. Beverly couldn't imagine being loved more than she was by her whole family.
God gave families as a blessing. Not only blood families, but church families also qualify as blessings of love. Anyone can belong to a family in God's world, for we are all His family. All it takes is to reach out to others. There is strength, safety, and joy in numbers. The closer we unite, the stronger we will be.
Prayer: Draw me close to my sisters and brothers in Christ, O Lord. Expand my family each and every day. Teach me to reach out to those around me. Fill me with a love that never fails. Amen.
Saturday, October 25, 2014
Some collegians think manual labor is the president of Mexico . . . until they graduate. Suddenly, the light dawns. Reality frowns. And that sheltered, brainy, fair-skinned, squint-eyed scholar who has majored in medieval literature and minored in Latin comes of age. He experiences a strange sensation deep within his abdomen two weeks after framing his diploma. Hunger. Remarkable motivation accompanies this feeling.
His attempts at finding employment prove futile. Those places that have an opening don't really need a guy with a master's in medieval lit. They can't even spell it. Who cares if a truck driver understands European poetry from the twelfth century? Or what does it matter if the fella stocking the shelves at Safeway can give you the ninth letter in the Latin alphabet? When it comes to landing a job, most employers are notoriously pragmatic and unsophisticated. They are looking for people who have more than academic, gray wrinkles between their ears. They really couldn't care less about how much a guy or gal knows. What they want is someone who can put to use the knowledge that's been gained, whether the field is geology or accounting, engineering or plumbing, physics or barbering, journalism or welding.
That doesn't just happen. People who are in great demand today are those who can see it in their imaginations—then pull it off. Those who can think—then follow through. Those who dress their daring dreams in practical denim workclothes. That takes a measure of gift, a pinch of skill, and a ton of discipline! Being practical requires that we traffic in reality, staying flexible at the intersections where stop-and-go lights flash. It also demands an understanding of others who are driving so as to avoid collisions.
Another mark of practicality is a constant awareness of time. The life of a practical person is fairly uncomplicated and usually methodical. The practical mind would rather meet a deadline and settle for limited objectives than accomplish the maximum and be late.
The favorite expressions of a practical soul often begin with "what?"
What does the job require?
What do you expect of me?
What is the deadline?
What are the techniques?
Or "how" . . .
How does it work?
How long will it take?
How much does it cost?
How fast can it go?
Dreamers don't mix too well with pragmatists. They irritate each other when they rub together . . . yet both are necessary. Take away the former and you've got a predictable and occasionally dull result. Remove the latter and you've got creative ideas without wheels, slick visions without handles . . . and you go broke trying to get it off the runway.
The Bible is full of men and women who dreamed dreams and saw visions. But they didn't stop there. They had faith, they were people who saw the impossible, and yet their feet were planted on planet earth.
Take Nehemiah. What a man! He had the task of rebuilding the stone wall around Jerusalem. He spent days thinking, praying, observing, dreaming, and planning. But was he ever practical! He organized a mob into work parties . . . he faced criticism realistically . . . he stayed at the task without putting out needless fires . . . he met deadlines . . . and he maintained the budget.
Or take Abigail. What a woman! She was married to a first-class fink, Nabal by name, alias Archie Bunker. Because of his lack of wisdom, his greed, prejudice, and selfishness, he aroused the ire of his employees. They laid plans to kill him. Being a woman of faith, Abigail thought through the plot, prayed, and planned. Then she did a remarkable thing. She catered a meal to those hungry, angry men. Smart gal! Because of her practicality, Nabal's life was saved and an angry band of men was calmed and turned back.
It is the practical person, writes Ralph Waldo Emerson, who becomes "a vein in times of terror that commands the admiration of the wisest." So true. Amazing thing about the practical person—he may not have the most fun or think the deepest thoughts, but he seldom goes hungry!
Just now finishing school? Looking for a job? Is this the reason you're discouraged? Remember this—dreams are great and visions are fun. But in the final analysis, when the bills come due, they'll be paid by manual labor. Labor . . . hard work forged in the furnace of practicality.
I encourage you . . . get with it. Be practical, that is.
The practical person may not have the most fun, but he seldom goes hungry.
Friday, October 24, 2014
"Don't garble the message!"
If I heard that once during Marine boot camp, I must've heard it four dozen times. Again and again, our outfit was warned against hearing one thing, then passing on a slightly different version. You know, changing the message by altering the meaning a tad. It's so easy to do, isn't it? Especially when it's filtered through several minds, then pushed through each mouth. It is amazing how the original story, report, or command appears after it has gone through its verbal metamorphosis.
Consider the following:
A colonel issued this directive to his executive officer:
Tomorrow evening at approximately 2000 hours, Halley's Comet will be visible in this area, an event which occurs only once every seventy-five years. Have the men fall out in the battalion area in fatigues, and I will explain this rare phenomenon to them. In case of rain we will not be able to see anything, so assemble the men in the theatre and I will show them films of it.
Executive officer to company commander:
By the order of the colonel, tomorrow at 2000 hours, Halley's Comet will appear above the battalion area. If it rains fall the men out in fatigues; then march to the theatre where the rare phenomenon will take place, something which occurs only once every seventy-five years.
Company commander to lieutenant:
By order of the colonel in fatigues at 2000 hours tomorrow evening, the phenomenal Halley's Comet will appear in the theatre. In case of rain in the battalion area, the colonel will give another order, something which occurs once every seventy-five years.
Lieutenant to sergeant:
Tomorrow at 2000 hours, the colonel, in fatigues, will appear in the theatre with Halley's Comet, something which happens every seventy-five years. If it rains, the colonel will order the comet into the battalion area.
Sergeant to squad:
When it rains tomorrow at 2000 hours, the phenomenal seventy-five-year-old General Halley, accompanied by the colonel, will drive his Comet through the battalion area theatre in fatigues.
Garbled messages aren't unique to the military. They provide the perfect fuel for gossip sessions and just the right ingredient for slanderous slams. Garbled messages are dangerous; they can ruin our relationships and hurt our homes. God's style of communication doesn't leave much margin for generalities or mixed messages. Let's strive to speak the truth, accurately and in love, shall we? We'll talk more about miscommunication tomorrow.
Garbled messages provide fuel for gossip and slander. Speak the truth in love.
Thursday, October 23, 2014
Once upon a time life was simple and uncomplicated. Oh sure, there were struggles and problems, but they weren't all that complex. Good and evil did battle with each other. So did willpower and laziness. Right fought against wrong in the main event and not too many folks remained neutral. There was a clear, unmistakable line between winning and losing . . . victory and defeat . . . accomplishment and failure . . . actual war between opposing forces and peace, real peace—not smoldering, game-playing peace.
Sometimes we hated ourselves and we openly confessed our guilt and shame. On other occasions we tightened our belts, did the hard thing, and we made it happen. We felt proud of our determination and we passed on that pride to our young. They even believed in us! A marriage was for keeps. A job was for work. A crime was for punishment. Irresponsibility was frowned on, a broken promise was inexcusable, adultery was a scandal, hardship was endured, extra effort was admired and applauded.
Then, ever so slowly, the fog rolled in.
All the evils of the world, once black as tar, turned strange shades of gray. Instead of our seeing them clearly as wrong or someone's fault, they became fuzzy . . . and ultimately "explainable." Which, being interpreted, means "excusable." And the outworking of all this is a remarkable twist, a subtle switching of roles.
It's now the guilty (you'll excuse the expression) who is more protected than the victim. It's the one who protests an act of violence who is frowned upon, not the doer of the deed. It's the guy who uses words like discipline and diligence and integrity and blame and shame who is the weirdo, not the one who has developed the scientific gift of explanation and rationalization.
"If a drunk driver kills my wife or cripples my kids, how dare I hate him? We all know alchoholism is a disease and nobody gets a disease on purpose. But if I do hate him and if I'm caught up with such rage that I kill the driver, you can't be angry with me. After all, wasn't I suffering from temporary insanity? (That's a brief disease . . . like the flu.)"
Explanations abound, everything from poor toilet training and unfair parents to oppressive work conditions and governmental rip-offs. Sometimes in my more maddening moments I entertain crazy "what if" ideas. What if we were suddenly stripped of our twenty-first century maladies and "scientific" explanations? What if there was a resurgence of such dated phrases as:
"I have decided to . . ."
"I will . . ."
"I will no longer . . ."
"I am wrong . . ."
"Starting today, I won't . . ."
That would mean saying farewell to foggy terms like:
"I am thinking about it . . ."
"I'm working on it . . ." and,
"Someday I plan to . . ."
which psychologists, pastors, and counselors worth their salt realize mean little more than, "I'm working out some great excuse for not doing it."
How do I know? I've learned those phrases too! And occasionally, when I get cornered by a hard set of facts, I dip into my bag just like you do—especially if I'm not ready to come to terms with my own responsibility. Out come those handy little guilt-relieving "explanations."
Little by little I'm learning just how enamored I was of all those catch phrases that made me forget I was on a sinking ship.
Let me level with you. And I say this for one reason only—to encourage you to replace explanations with decisions and actions. If I had continued giving in to those lame excuses, my marriage would not have held together, my ministry would have become mediocre, I would never have finished one book I wanted to write, I would not have a close friend, I would have jumped from job to job because of the pressure, and I would still be a fat slob.
Jesus was right. After telling His disciples how to live fulfilled lives, He put the clincher on it by adding, "If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them" (John 13:17, emphasis added).
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
1 Jehovah is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? Jehovah is the strength of my life; Of whom shall I be afraid?
2 When evil-doers came upon me to eat up my flesh, Even mine adversaries and my foes, they stumbled and fell.
3 Though a host should encamp against me, My heart shall not fear: Though war should rise against me, Even then will I be confident.
4 One thing have I asked of Jehovah, that will I seek after; That I may dwell in the house of Jehovah all the days of my life, To behold the beauty of Jehovah, And to inquire in his temple.
5 For in the day of trouble he will keep me secretly in his pavilion: In the covert of his tabernacle will he hide me; He will lift me up upon a rock.
6 And now shall my head be lifted up above mine enemies round about me. And I will offer in his tabernacle sacrifices of joy; I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto Jehovah.
Saturday, October 18, 2014
On October 12, 1972, a Fairchild F-227 of the Uruguayan Air Force was chartered by an amateur rugby team. The plan? To fly from Montevideo to Santiago, Chile . . . a flight pattern which required flying over the rugged Andes. There were forty-five on board, including the crew. Bad weather brought the plane down in Mendoza, a small Argentinian town. Since the weather improved the following morning, the Fairchild set off again, flying south to the Planchon Pass. They would never make their destination.
At 3:21 p.m. the pilot reported to Air Traffic Control in Santiago that he was over the Pass of Planchon.
At 3:24 p.m. he reported their plane was over a small town in Chile named Curico. He was authorized to turn north and begin his descent to the airport of Pudahuel.
At 3:30 p.m. he reported his height—15,000 feet.
When Santiago control tower spoke to the F-227 one minute later, there was no reply . . . nor would there be for the next ten weeks. An extreme dilemma had transpired.
Several things made search attempts futile. The Andes are a vast, treacherous, and confusing range. The top of the plane was white, making it impossible to spot from the air. Heavy snowfalls caused the vessel to blend into its surroundings. There was little chance that the plane would ever be found, and less chance still that any of the forty-five passengers and crew could have lived through the fall.
Ten weeks later, a Chilean peasant tending his cattle in a remote valley deep in the Andes spotted two gaunt, bearded figures in the distance. They made wild gestures. They fell to their knees as though in supplication, but the peasant, fearing they were terrorists, fled the scene. The next day, however, he returned and noticed the two strangers were still there across the river. He approached the bank of the river, wrapped some paper and a pen into a handkerchief and tossed it to the other side.
When it was thrown back by the bedraggled figures, these words had been written with a quivering hand:
I come from a plane that fell in the mountains. I am Uruguayan . . .
Those who endured the ordeal had done so because of a radical adjustment. They had become cannibals. Instead of starving to death, they decided to strip thin layers of skin off the frozen bodies of the victims and survive by eating the flesh of those who had once been their friends and teammates. It was literally a life-or-death, albeit painful, decision. But because of it, sixteen survived and were rescued. Their story is told in a book that bears an appropriate one-word title—Alive.
It's possible that you find yourself cornered today. Although you are not lost in the foreseen Andes, you feel gripped with fear because your situation is extreme. It's time to get control of your finances. Or break off that compromising relationship. Or say yes to God's clear leading. Or come to terms with your priorities. Or get your career in gear. It's no time for a mild and easy shift. The dilemma is extreme and the only solution is a radical one.
You've thought it through and you've considered all the alternatives. Your throat is sore from praying and your eyes burn from weeping. You know it's right, but you're scared. Really scared. Initially, somebody won't understand and you'll not be able to explain. Yet you are convinced it's best . . . it will glorify God . . . it can be supported by scriptural principles . . . and it's right.
So? So quit procrastinating and do it.
Had Christ not taken a drastic step, sinners like us would've never survived the fall. We would never have been rescued. We would be permanently lost. The cross was God's incredible response to our extreme dilemma. Christ did something radical.
Now it's your turn. Get with it.
Friday, October 17, 2014
Extreme dilemmas are usually solved by radical adjustments. It used to be called "fighting fire with fire." Minor alterations won't do. If the situation is getting completely out of hand, a slight modification won't cut it. It's get-with-it time.
If the tumor is the size of a grapefruit, taking a handful of vitamins three times a week isn't the answer.
If the foundation has shifted so much that the walls are cracking and the windows won't close, the place needs more than a paint job.
If the ship is sinking and the storm is getting stronger, it's time to do something much more decisive than dialogue.
If the church is emptying because needs are going unmet, singing hymns and preaching longer sermons won't do the trick.
If the family isn't talking, serving more meals is hardly the way to turn things around.
The most radical alternative may sometimes be the most practical. These will not be the most popular or enjoyable decisions . . . or the most diplomatic.
Radical adjustments make waves, not friends. Heads sometimes roll and hearts often break. The uninvolved public seldom understands or agrees, especially at the outset. But the strange thing is that radical adjustments, more often than not, make pretty good sense when reconsidered through the rearview mirror. After the fact, stone-throwing critics ultimately nod their approval . . . calling the decision "courageous" or even "visionary." What the critics usually overlook is just how painful the drastic decision really was.
Are you facing dire circumstances today? Are you paralyzed with fear as you consider a radical adjustment that God wants you to make? You're not alone. Tomorrow I'll share with you a story of people who encountered an extreme situation in which their only choice was to make a radical adjustment. For now, commit again to the Lord the radical step which you believe He wants you to take. As you do, listen to His words to His servant in Joshua 1:9.
Thursday, October 16, 2014
2 Corinthians 5:17
Yesterday, we talked about innovative people, and I mentioned that there are a whole lot more innovative people around than any of us can imagine. Could you be one of them?
Let's take a little test and see. I have Earl Nightingale to thank for this list of twenty-five traits generally found in creative, innovative people. No, relax. You don't need all twenty-five . . . but if you have most of them, you may be closer than you think.
Drive—a high degree of motivation
Courage—tenacity and persistence
Goals—a sense of direction
Knowledge—and a thirst for it
Chance taking—willingness to risk failure
Enterprise—willing to tackle tough jobs
Persuasion—ability to sell
Patient yet impatient—patient with others, yet impatient with the status quo
Adaptability—capable of change
Perfectionism—seek to achieve excellence
Humor—ability to laugh at self and others
Versatility—broad interests and skills
Curiosity—interested in people and things
Individualism—self-esteem and self-sufficiency
Realism/idealism—occupied by reality but guided by ideals
Imagination—seeking new ideas, combinations, and relationships
Okay, that's enough. I told you creative thinking was hard work! But there is something even harder . . . and that's change. It's admitting the need, being honest and humble enough to face the facts, then secure enough to consider new ideas, methods, or devices, to pull it off. Swallowing our pride shouldn't be that difficult, since that's what we eat all day.
Go ahead and give it a whirl. Take one of those many things that keeps dragging you under and search for a creative way to solve the problem. And don't quit until it's done . . . and that smile of relief returns to your face.
I know you can do it! You did it before and it worked. And that problem was so huge you could hardly continue. Then came the change . . . the most important decision you ever made based on the most innovative combination ever devised. A man. A cross. Blood. And belief.
God defines it: "The introduction of something new . . . a new birth."
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Webster defines it: "The introduction of something new . . . a new idea, method, or device." When we innovate, we change, we flex. We approach the standard operating procedure, not like a soft-footed Native American scout sneaking up on a deer by the brook, but rather like Wild Bill Hickok in a saloon with both guns blazing.
It takes guts to innovate, because it requires creative thinking. Thinking is hard enough, but creative thinking—ah, that's work! To get the juices squirting, you have to be dissatisfied with the status quo.
Take photography, for example. For years, the same old procedure . . . which required long periods of delay. Nobody even thought about hurrying up the process. Not until a guy named Edwin Land formed a company with a funny name—Polaroid.
Sometimes innovation is forced on us. Take December 7, 1941. We got caught with our military pants down. Before American planes could get airborne, or even out of the hangar, most of them were destroyed. We were forced to ask the obvious: "How can we get the planes out of the hangars fast?"
A fellow by the name of Mitchell solved the problem in a most innovative way. He simply turned the question upside down and asked the unobvious: "How can we get the hangar away from the planes—fast?" The result (after the inevitable laughter and rejection) was a two-piece hangar. Each section was mounted on wheels with sufficient power to separate the two at thirty-five miles an hour . . . which enabled the fighter planes to take off in several different directions.Fast.
Now, you're thinking: Land and Mitchell are geniuses. And you are ready to toss in Newton and Bell and Edison and Ford and the Wright brothers. And you're also telling yourself that there aren't many of those gifted people spread around. Granted, those men might very well qualify as geniuses . . . but if you ask them, they'll tell you another story. J. C. Penney once observed, "Geniuses themselves don't talk about the gift of genius; they just talk about hard work and long hours." It's the old one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration answer.
Let's have four "greats" take the stand and testify. These are their actual words:
Michelangelo: "If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery; it wouldn't seem so wonderful after all."
Thomas Carlyle: "Genius is the capacity for taking infinite pains."
Ignancy Jan Paderewski: "A genius? Perhaps, but before I was a genius I was a drudge."
Alexander Hamilton: "All the genius I may have is merely the fruit of labor and thought."
Are innovative people really that rare? Not if you listen to Sheldon David, TRW's former vice president:
The capacity to exercise a relatively high degree of imagination, ingenuity, and creativity in the solution of organizational problems is widely, not narrowly, distributed in the population.
You know what that says to me? It says there are a whole lot more innovative people (who currently see themselves only as "drudges") than any of us can imagine. In fact, you may very well be one of them!
We'll look into that tomorrow. You might be surprised at what you discover.
Monday, October 13, 2014
Become a Spiritual Risk Taker
No matter how small or insignificant we feel at times, God can turn our resources and talents into something substantial for His glory. When Elijah's water source in Kerith Ravine dried up, God sent him to the pagan, and potentially hostile, city of Zarephath. Even if the plan didn't make sense to Elijah, he trusted God's sovereignty.
During that time, God gave Elijah the opportunity to minister to a Phoenician widow and her son. "Then the word of the Lord came to him: ‘Go at once to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there. I have commanded a widow in that place to supply you with food'" (1 Kings 17:8-9).
When Elijah first approached the widow at the city gates, he asked her for water and bread, just as the Lord instructed him to do, even though she explained she had only enough for her last meal. "‘As surely as the Lord your God lives,' she replied, ‘I don't have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die'" (1 Kings 17:12).
Elijah could have responded that he would not impose on the poverty-stricken widow. He could have asked God for better accommodations. He could have complained that the widow was not only poor, but also a pagan Gentile. Instead, Elijah followed God's commands and God used his faith to make a difference in that family. Elijah believed and trusted God's promise that, "‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord gives rain on the land'" (1 Kings 17:14b).
Elijah did not randomly call on a person to shelter and feed him. God had already told him about the widow, and Elijah knew that if she were to be a part of God's plan, then God was preparing her heart as well. Elijah understood that when God makes a plan, He also makes the way for it to happen. Therefore, Elijah did not worry about the details, the danger he was in at Zarephath or the grumbling in his stomach. God told him to go to the widow, and Elijah obeyed.
Even though the widow had resigned herself to death by starvation, God supernaturally multiplied her small amount of flour and oil so that the jars never ran empty during Elijah's stay. The Lord took Elijah's faith and the widow's paltry resources and transformed them into big blessings.
Throughout his time of hiding, Elijah looked past his circumstances to God's faithful provision. Elijah's faith was securely rooted in his trust in God's promises. But many of us focus more on our troubles than we do on the God who can deliver us. When we face scarcity, do we forget the times that God has provided for us in the past? When we face great obstacles, do we forget that God desires to help us? When we stumble, why do we forget that God is always there to pick us up?
Many of us are willing to take risks in our business deals or in adventurous sports, but few of us are spiritual risk takers. Few of us are willing to place our total trust in God's promises instead of our own plans.
God wants to see unwavering faith and complete trust in Him. No matter what our circumstances, God will use us if we are willing to follow Him and to step out in faith. When we recognize that we are nothing, and God is everything, God moves into action through us. We are little, but God can do much through us.
Is there something holding you back from following God in complete faith? Confess to the Lord the things that you are keeping from Him, and seek His help to release control of these areas in your life.
Sunday, October 12, 2014
He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber.
Benedict was the best butler the Trumbells had ever had. Never had they been treated with such care and concern. Benedict really seemed to care that they were comfortable. They never had to ring twice for his services. He was always right there when they wanted him. He prided himself on doing his job well, and it showed.
As absurd as it seems, God is willing to wait on us, to make sure that we have all we need. The Lord of all life came to earth, and in His time, He stooped to washing His friends' feet; a job usually reserved for the lowliest of slaves. God came to earth to serve us so that we might learn how to serve others. We are to be ready to serve whenever the occasion arises. When we serve untiringly, we show the world the glory of God and make His Gospel a reality.
Prayer: I fear that too often I am asleep at the switch, Lord. Make me ready to serve and to give. Teach me to think less of myself and more of others. Amen.
Friday, October 10, 2014
Yesterday, we visited David as he faced off against Goliath. Refusing to accept his brothers' rationalizations or listen to the giant's threats, David saw through the Philistine strategy and withstood it through sheer, solid faith.
You know the outcome. With a well-worn leather sling and a smooth stone, and unbending confidence in his mighty God, David introduced Goliath and all the Philistine hordes to the Lord of hosts, whose name they had blasphemed long enough. The account concludes with a profound statement:
Thus David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, and he struck the Philistine and killed him; but there was no sword in David's hand. (1 Samuel 17:50)
What an interesting counterstrategy! To this day, two timeless truths of giant warfare live on. Both are as appropriate today as they were in the days of Goliath.
Prevailing over giants isn't accomplished by using their technique. That's "lesson one" for all of us. Goliath might have been mistaken for the battleship Missouri with all his noise and bronze. Not David . . . he didn't even carry a sword! His greatest piece of armor, the lethal weapon that made him unique and gave him victory, was his inner shield of faith. It kept him free from fear, it made him hard of hearing threats, it gave him cool composure amidst chaos, and it cleared his vision.
Conquering giants isn't accomplished without great skill and discipline. To be God's warrior, to fight His way, demands much more expertise and control than one can imagine. Using the sling and stone of the Spirit is a far more delicate thing than swinging the club of the flesh. But oh, how sweet is the victory when the stone finds its mark . . . and how final.
Are you facing a giant?
Chances are you've already bumped into one or more of them this week. Is the intimidation reaching unbearable proportions? Do your ears ache from their constant threats? Don't run . . . but don't try a bigger club, either. Be like David. Turn your Goliath over to Jehovah, the giant-killer. Explain to your powerful God how anxious you are for Him to win this victory for a change—not the giant and not you.
Then load up your sling, soldier, and don't forget the stones. You're in for the time of your life.
Thursday, October 9, 2014
1 Samuel 17:50
Goliath reminds me of the cross-eyed discus thrower. He didn't set any records . . . but he sure kept the crowd awake!
Day after day, he paraded along the slopes of the Valley of Elah throwing out threats and belching blasphemies across the creek with a basso-profundo voice like twenty out-of-tune tubas. He was not only ugly, he was huge, well over nine feet tall in his stocking feet. His armor included a bronze coat of mail weighing two hundred pounds, a solid-iron spear (the head alone weighed twenty-five pounds), and a big bronze helmet. Add another club, bronze leggings and boots, plus that face of his . . . and you've got the makings of a shoo-in linebacker for the Chicago Bears or next season's center for UCLA's starting five. Pity the poor private who drew duty as Goliath's shield bearer! It was about as suicidal as a novice drifting into the Devil's Triangle on a hang glider. Goliath, you see, was the pride of Philistia; and if you didn't believe it, all you had to do was ask him, or ask Saul's army (if you could find them).
Paralyzed and hypnotized, the camp of the Israelites sat galvanized in their tents. The only noise heard from the Hebrew troops was the knocking of their knees or the chattering of their teeth—in unison. Goliath was, up to that point, eminently successful with his basic strategy of intimidation. His threats boomed across the valley with chilling regularity, producing the desired result: fear. The inspired record informs us that those monotonous blasts from the giant's mouth sounded forth every morning and every evening for forty long days. The dawn of that forty-first day, however, was the beginning of the end for the giant from Gath.
Some ten miles away, a handsome, muscular teenager—the runt in a family of eight boys—was sent on an errand by his father. That innocent errand proved to be an epochal event in Jewish history. Fresh from the wilderness, the sheep trails, and more important, from the awesome presence of God, David stopped and stared in disbelief when he reached the battleground.
For a young man whose unsullied character had been nursed in solitude and spawned in secret acts of bravery, the scene before him was staggering. The young shepherd simply could not believe his eyes. Refusing to accept his brothers' rationalizations or listen to the giant's threats, David saw through the Philistine strategy and withstood it through sheer, solid faith. He knew His God could handle any threat.
Are you facing a giant today? Tomorrow we'll learn from David two timeless truths about giant warfare.
Wednesday, October 8, 2014
The Cave of Adullam was no Holiday Inn.
It was a wicked refugee camp . . . a dark vault on the side of a cliff that reached deeply into a hill. Huddled in this clammy cavern were 400 losers—a mob of miserable humanity. They came from all over and wound up all together. Listen to the account:
Everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered. . . . There were about four hundred men. (1 Samuel 22:2)
The original Mafia. They all had one thing in common—a bad record. The place smelled like the Rams' locker room and sounded like an Army barracks. You can bet not one of those guys ever heard Gothard's principles on handling irritations. They were so tough they'd make Al Capone sleep with a night-light. They were gross. Anybody who got near that gang stayed as quiet as a roomful of nuns. They had a quaint name for those who crossed their paths . . . victims.
Except for David. That's right. David. It became his responsibility to turn that mob into an organized, well-disciplined fighting force . . . mighty men of valor. Talk about a challenge! These weren't the filthy five, nor the nasty nine, nor the dirty dozen. Remember—there were 400 of these hard-luck hooligans. Shortly thereafter, their numbers swelled to 600. And David was the den mother for these desperados. He was general, master sergeant, and chaplain all rolled into one. David, "the sweet psalmist of Israel," became David the drill instructor. Needless to say, his battalion of 600 is not to be confused with the 600 who "rode into the valley of death" in Tennyson's Charge of the Light Brigade. The only place these guys had ridden was out of town, chased by their creditors . . . which turned David's men into predators.
Did he pull it off? Could a shepherd from Bethlehem assume command of such a nefarious band of ne'er-do-wells? Did he meet the challenge?
Indeed! In a brief period of time, he had the troops in shape—combat ready. Incredible as it seems, he was doing battle against the enemy forces using strategic maneuvers before the year was up. These were the very men who fought loyally by his side and gave him strong support when he became the king of Israel. They were called "the mighty men," and many of their names are listed in the Bible for heroism and dedication.
All of us face a challenge. For some of you, it's a business that has all the earmarks of disaster. For others, it's the challenge of schooling without adequate money, or a houseful of young lives to shape, or a wounded relationship, or a prolonged illness that lingers and hurts. Still others of you find yourself in leadership over a group of people who need constant direction and encouragement . . . and you're tired of the demands. Some of you endure employment in a company that lacks a lot.
Be encouraged! If David could handle that cave full of malcontents, you can tighten your belt and take on the challenge in your cave. Do you need strength? Peace? Wisdom? Direction? Discipline? Ask for it! God will hear you. He gives special attention to cries when they come out of caves.
Tuesday, October 7, 2014
One of the most encouraging things about new years, new weeks, and new days is the word new. Webster reveals its meaning: "refreshed, different from one of the same that has existed previously . . . unfamiliar."
Best of all, it's a place to start over. Refresh yourself. Change directions. Begin anew.
Yesterday, we discussed the first step in such a venture: determining where you are. It took spending time in a fish's belly for the prophet Jonah to see his own sin and rebellion. But that experience pointed him toward the right direction: obedience. You can find the full story in Jonah 1–4.
Just as there are few atheists in foxholes, so there are few rebels in fish stomachs. Perhaps you can identify rather easily with Jonah. This hasn't been your all-time-spiritual-high-plateau year, right? You've dodged and ducked, squirmed and squeaked your way through one Tarshish trip after another. But no more. You're tired. Exhausted says it better. Swallowed alive by your circumstances says it best. You feel oppressed, guilty, overused, and underdeveloped. You're not that old . . . but you've run a long way. Few moons but many miles. A subtle whisper in your ear says, "You're through. Finished. Burned out. Used up. You've been replaced . . . forgotten."
That's a lie! A carefully timed deception by the enemy of your soul. Look at what the prophet Joel wrote to all the Jonahs who may have been reading this book. God was speaking:
"I will make up to you for the years
That the swarming locust has eaten." (Joel 2:25)
If God can take a disobedient prophet, turn him around, and set him on fire spiritually, He can do the same with you. He is a Specialist at making something useful and beautiful out of something broken and confused.
Where are you? Start there. Openly and freely declare your need to the One who cares deeply. Don't hide a thing. Show God all those locust bites. He's ready to heal every one . . . if you're ready to run toward that Nineveh called tomorrow.
Monday, October 6, 2014
To start over, you have to know where you are. To get somewhere else, it's necessary to know where you're presently standing. That's true in a department store or a big church, on a freeway or a college campus . . . or in life, for that matter. Very, very seldom does anybody "just happen" to end up on the right road. The process involved in redirecting our lives is often painful, slow, and even confusing. Occasionally, it seems unbearable.
Take Jonah. (No one else wanted to.) He was prejudiced, bigoted, stubborn, openly rebellious, and spiritually insensitive. Other prophets ran to the Lord. He ran from Him. Others declared the promises of God with fervent zeal. Not Jonah. He was about as motivated as a six-hundred-pound grizzly in mid-January.
Somewhere down the line, the prophet got his inner directions cross-wired. He wound up, of all places, on a ship in the Mediterranean Sea bound for a place named Tarshish. That was due west. God had told him to go to Nineveh. That was due east. (That's like flying from Los Angeles to Berlin by way of Honolulu.) But Jonah never got to Tarshish, as you may remember. Through a traumatic chain of events, Jonah began to get his head together in the digestive tract of a gigantic fish.
What a place to start over! Slopping around in the seaweed and juices inside that monster, fishing for a match to find his way out, Jonah took a long, honest look at his short, dishonest life. For the first time in a long time, the prophet brushed up on his prayer life. He yelled for mercy. He recited psalms. He promised the Lord that he would keep his vow and get back on target. Only one creature on earth felt sicker than Jonah—the fish, in whose belly Jonah bellowed. Up came the prophet, who hit the road running—toward Nineveh.
Changing directions requires knowing where you are. It necessitates taking time to honestly admit your present condition. It means facing the music, standing alone inside the fish and coming to terms with those things that need attention, fishing in the seaweed for a match. Before you find your way out, you must determine where you are. Exactly. Once that is accomplished, you're ready to start over.
We'll talk more about that tomorrow.
Need to change directions? Know where you are and admit your present condition.
Sunday, October 5, 2014
"Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love." (v.1)
The love which flows in our hearts when we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit is not a general love but a specific one -- the love of Christ. This love dulls the edge of disappointment and enables us to be invulnerable to many things, not least a lack of appreciation. The poet was thinking of this high degree of love when he wrote: Love is not love Which alters when it alteration finds, Or bends with the remover to remove.
O, no! It is an ever fixed mark,That looks on tempests and is never shaken.
Let's follow this thought through a little more deeply. The nine ingredients of the fruit of the Spirit were all exemplified in Jesus' life on earth, and it is the present purpose of the Holy Spirit to engraft them into us as we abide in Christ and maintain a close, day-by-day relationship with Him. When we do this, the very first evidence will be that of agape love. This is not a give-and-take kind of love, a love that is reciprocal; it is a love that descends from above and is showered on the deserving and the undeserving, the agreeable and the disagreeable. Christians who dwell deeply in God find that they are changed from people who just love occasionally, when it is convenient, to people whose controlling purpose is love. Love becomes the organizing motive and power in their lives. Such love "never fails," for it always finds a way of expressing itself -- and when it expresses itself, it is itself the success.
O Father, I see that in expressing love, I become more loving even if the other person doesn't accept my love. I cannot fail in love even if love seems to fail in accomplishing the desired end. I am so thankful. Amen.
Saturday, October 4, 2014
In Hebrews 4:13, there is a powerful statement concerning God,
And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.
In this verse, we are taught that God sees what we do, and He sees the intent of what we do. That leads to one thing: total accountability.
There is no getting out of giving an account for our lives before God. We will all stand before Him. And at that time, there will be no shifting; there will be no saying one thing and thinking something else inside. Everything will be laid bare.
God sees everything all the time. Everything is open and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account. You just can't get away from God.
The Scripture says in Proverbs 15:3, The eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.
But God also sees the very intent of our heart. When Samuel was sent by God to anoint a new king over Israel, and he was at the house of Jesse, Jesse had his big strapping son pass by. As Samuel looked at this guy he thought, "Surely this is the Lord's anointed."
But God said, "I rejected this one. For the Lord does not see as man sees. Man looks on the outward appearance. But the Lord looks upon the heart."
Our intent can be right, but we can really mess up. God looks on our heart, and if our intent is right, He judges us according to our intent, not according to the mistakes we may have made. But, if the intent of our heart was not pure, God judges us according to that.
Wednesday, October 1, 2014
2 Timothy 3:16–17
A small bottle containing urine sat upon the desk of Sir William Osler. He was then the eminent professor of medicine at Oxford University. Sitting before him was a classroom full of young, wide-eyed medical students listening to his lecture on the importance of observing details. To emphasize his point, he reached down and picked up the bottle. Holding it high, he announced:
This bottle contains a sample for analysis. It's often possible by tasting it to determine the disease from which the patient suffers.
Suiting action to words, he dipped a finger into the fluid and then into his mouth, as he continued—
Now I am going to pass the bottle around. Each of you please do exactly as I did. Perhaps we can learn the importance of this technique and diagnose the case.
The bottle made its way from row to row as each student gingerly poked his finger in and bravely sampled the contents with a frown. Dr. Osler then retrieved the bottle and startled his students with the words:
Gentlemen, now you will understand what I mean when I speak about details. Had you been observant you would have seen that I put my index finger into the bottle but my middle finger into my mouth!
There is much to be learned from that true story, especially regarding you and your Bible. Time and again I have heard the complaint, "But I just don't get anything out of the Bible. I read it and ask God to show me His truth, but nothing happens!" Or people will occasionally say, "When I read that passage you preached on today, I wondered, 'How in the world will he get anything out of this?' I really can't understand why I can't see what is there."
I've got good news—you can! But you will have to open your eyes and think. You will need to force yourself to observe, to take notice, to read the Scriptures like a detective examining the evidence, to discipline yourself to become saturated with the particulars of the passage. Since such attention to details will supply you with the raw materials you must have to interpret God's Word accurately, I strongly advise you to begin today.
Think of your eyes as searchlights. Become a glutton for details in everyday life. Don't glance at birds—see sparrows. Don't smell flowers, observe the hyacinth, the fuchsia, the tulip. Don't consider a tree—look at a willow or a birch. Don't watch cars, notice Fords or Pontiacs and Toyotas. Don't simply hear others' words—listen for feelings and picture detailed concepts. Stop collecting the garbage of generalities and start stretching your mental muscles in the gymnasium of in-depth perception.
Most folks read through the Bible and casually notice birds, plants, trees, and wind. But not you! Aim higher than that.
Open the Song of Solomon and hear the liquid call of the turtledove.
Taste the pungent mandrakes of Genesis 30.
Smell the sweet cedarwood in 1 Kings.
Feel the salty blast of Euraquilo—that violent northeastern wind sweeping across the pages of Acts 27.
And when you stand in a hallowed place like Gethsemane, be aware! That Man who kneels among the gnarled and twisted trunks of the ancient olive trees is doing more than praying—He is pouring out His very soul before the Father. Don't leave until you see His blood mingle with sweat and tears. Those are your sins He faces—it is the prospect of your punishment that tears at His soul. Don't just glance at that scene—see Him!
The eternal Book of all books deserves a second look.
Nobody is a whole chain. Each one is a link. But take away one link and the chain is broken.
Nobody is a whole team. Each one is a player. But take away one player and the game is forfeited.
Nobody is a whole orchestra. Each one is a musician. But take away one musician and the symphony is incomplete.
Nobody is a whole play. Each one is an actor. But take away one actor and the performance suffers.
Nobody is a whole hospital. Each one is a part of the staff. But take away one person and it isn't long before the patient can tell.
Cars are composed of numerous parts. Each one is connected to and dependent upon the other. Even if a tiny screw comes loose and falls out of the carburetor, it can bring the whole vehicle to a stop.
You guessed it. We need each other. You need someone and someone needs you. Isolated islands we're not. To make this thing called life work, we gotta lean and support. And relate and respond. And give and take. And confess and forgive. And reach out and embrace. And release and rely.
Especially in God's family . . . where working together is Plan A for survival. And since we're so different (thanks to the way God built us), love and acceptance are not optional luxuries. Neither is tolerance. Or understanding. Or patience. You know all those things you need from others when your humanity crowds out your divinity.
In other words:
Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God's people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. (Romans 12:10–13 NLT)
Why? Because each one of us is worth it. Even when we don't act like it or feel like it or deserve it.
Since none of us is a whole, independent, self-sufficient, supercapable, all-powerful hotshot, let's quit acting like we are. Life's lonely enough without our playing that silly role.
The game's over. Let's link up.
In God's family, working together in love and acceptance is Plan A for survival