Saturday, December 08, 2007

Goal Tending

Chasing a career goal is rarely like we thought it would be. Instead of a clear path to achievement, we encounter unforeseen obstacles. (Imagine that!) Without some good far sightedness, our vision and courage can give way to doubt and disillusionment. As a result, we begin running in slow motion or wind up not running at all.

What we fail to see is that the very obstacles in our path are actually the courses needed for success. They must be confronted and overcome. The path to achievement usually goes through the cities of difficult people, unpleasant circumstances, and overwhelming odds. Just look at the road to the White House! Pressures determine and refine the quality of the product.

We need regular goal tending. That means setting a watch around that which is most important, making sure that activities are aiding our pursuit and not hampering. Our commitment to remain focused on our purpose is being tested.

Not only are the exercising of career disciplines important, but so too are the mental skills. And the mental part is perhaps the most important and most difficult. It is drive and persistence that fuel the everyday journey. We find out what we are made of by the way we view and tackle the obstacles to success. If we are surprised and offended by every unwelcome intruder, then we easily loose focus and become less effective. Perspective is everything. When we see challenges as tools being used to build and improve our character and competence, then there is a whole new purpose for them.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

What makes it matter

It could be a difficult performance, a special meal with guests, a highly anticipated holiday gathering, a sermon, a lesson taught, or even a final exam. So many events charge at us with growing speed only to shoot by in a blur, leaving us dejected and wondering if all the energy spent was worth it. Ninety-nine percent of the ordeal was in the preparing. Then in an instant it is over.

After the notes have been played and heard, the meal prepared and eaten, the company enjoyed, the sermon preached, the lesson finished, and the exam passed, we wonder what of lasting value was accomplished? What made it matter? Each of these are temporal. If our emphasis is on these, we are left only with a heavy sense of emptiness at the end.

What gives value to a performance is how it affects the listeners, the amount of growth that took place in the preparation, and the communication that flows from composer to performer to audience. Something more than notes should happen. The student is molded by who the teacher is as a person, as much as what he imparts. People and their lives matter more.

The food prepared likewise is about the people. There is labor to please and satisfy with a good meal. Having company is worth the effort when the goal is learning about them. Conversation is not all about us, but a deepening of friendships. The sermon will leave its mark on the hearers, but much more so when the one sharing it delights in his congregation. The value of the exam is the discipline in studying, and that which is learned and able to be applied.

Maybe our post-event let-down can be lessened if we begin by preparing to focus primarily on the people and that which lasts beyond the event. Things will quickly pass, but the people and things learned will last.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Two Houses

Probably the most unwelcome interruption in life is a funeral, hopefully not our own. This unscheduled event is not without benefits however. In fact, it always provides a much needed jolt in perspective. The world is quickly passing away along with all the things that so easily consume us. No wonder our lives are compared to withering grass and short lived vapors.

A funeral forces us to focus just for a moment on the eternal, before returning to fast-paced often temporal pursuits. The house of mourning has a way of readjusting our attitudes and priorities. Sobriety and reflection suddenly replace our eat-drink-and-be-merry mindset. We tend to walk away wiser.

Ecclesiastes contrasts two houses. Note the more profitable one. "It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart. Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning: but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth."

The advice of Solomon is to consider our behavior in light of life's brevity. "For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil." Moses also reflected in Psalm 90, "Teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom."

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Spying pen

Saw an add on craigslist for a ball point pen the other day, but no ordinary pen. It looks innocent enough, but it comes with a hidden camera able to see in detail up to 30 feet, or was it 300? It is also able to take video and relay it to wherever. Security when out of the room evidently. Some gift idea, sort of! When no one else is there, the pen sees.

The hidden camera concept reminded me of our responsibility to give an accounting of our stewardship to the One who sees at all times. We may pause to think twice about being viewed on security cams, but how much more to consider Him who said "nothing is hidden that shall not be revealed." "The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good."

Monday, November 19, 2007

A really bad elevator ride

Imagine yourself at the county court house. You're expected to appear before the judge as he is requiring from you an accounting of some important information. You definitely want to make a good impression.

As you enter the building and step onto the elevator, you are joined by several people. They are then forced to listen while you begin to complain about the great inconvenience of your appointment. Furthermore you begin to unload every criticism you have ever had about this particular judge with his many harsh verdicts. The ride to the judge's floor seems to take forever. All the while you don't cease voicing your dissatisfaction with your lot in life, as if somehow everything is the judge's fault. The more you vent, the angrier you become.

The elevator door finally opens and your captive audience goes their way, certainly glad not to have to hear anymore of your rants. Then as you approach the place of your appointment, you suddenly notice to your horror that the man standing at your side in the elevator just a moment ago is the judge you are scheduled to meet! Your incriminating words are history, and their damage has been done. It's too late to retrieve them, for they have been heard by the judge himself.

"The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity; so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. Therewith bless we God, and therewith curse we men." (James 3:6,9)

"Be ye also patient; establish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh. Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door." (James 5:8,9)

"Wherefore we labor, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ." (II Cor. 5:9,10)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

A Career in Perspective

Any career in the fast lane demands total commitment. Excellence always requires time, energy and the eliminating of competing interests. Sacrificing for success is part of what defines it. The problem is balance, priorities and perspective. Crossing the finish line isn't the only assignment, and winning the prize isn't everything.

Once we have found our lane we tend to go all out and press for that mark with eyes only on the goal. The thinking is "People don't care if Jack is a dull boy. His work made him what he is, and it is worth every sacrifice!" Well, Jack happens to be who he is, and he is not his work. Not only is Jack greater than his work, but he is also more important. The quality of a person will define his work, not the reverse. Hard to grasp is the idea that the better the person is, the better his work will be.

In the obsession to achieve success, we must realize that the most successful and fulfilled competitors have been running in more than one lane for a long time. Life does exist outside of universities, office buildings, practice rooms and concert halls. Each facet of life has its race, and the success of one part is dependant upon the success of the others. A career is a long time to have only one focus. Fulfillment seems to involve giving our best to all that has been put before us.

It's Not So Far Away

That job we set our sights on as college freshmen seems a lifetime away. Still emotionally in high school, we don't realize the importance and brevity of 4 or 6 years of study. Once the excitement of our "freedom" wears off, we see the reality of that job market looming closer. It seems to gain speed as it races in our direction. What is done in preparation now has a huge impact on our effectiveness after graduation. It all matters.

Looking back just eight years or so, it was Suzuki violin, piano lessons, the odd trumpet lesson, playing together as a family on occasions, recitals and the usual agenda in junior and high school grades. Then some extra private lessons, summer music excursions, chamber music opportunities, and before we knew it an audition for Curtis and Cleveland Institute. Almost over night we left behind boyhood, and saw a competitor fast getting ready for some terrific opportunities.

Then in just a couple of days it all changed. The horizon suddenly jumped miles closer. Next year was college! Bills began, along with many "classrooms." Those classrooms were much more than academic. Such is growth. Life is more than the practice room and the concert stage. Preparation for that had also begun years before. As was mentioned by a good friend to his son, "You're the ship we have been building. Now we're sending you out to sea to see if you can float." Gee thanks, Dad!

Fast forward in a blur just 4 years plus a couple of months and that future job horizon is here! The little fellow spilling cereal on purpose and improvising improvements to those Suzuki songs is now ready to leave college to take his first job in the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra viola section. After being one of the top 2, Wes played one week with them and was selected to take up his belongings and assume his first job beginning this May.

We blink, and it all changes so fast. We can't control the approaching horizon, but we can do our best to prepare.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Guilty, innocent, or in between?

Our answers and responses usually indicate far more than the words we speak. A politician who suddenly becomes upset and even angry at a simple question has just told us a lot about himself. A sarcastic defensive retort tells everyone that there just might be something to the charge. If we're innocent, then there's no need for an emotional response. Good leaders shouldn't be easily provoked, and doing the right thing needs no defense.

Old Testament Scripture gives a good test for discerning truth or lie. The person in question was given bitter dust to eat. If he had been lying, strong physical symptoms would be his dead give away. If he had been truthful, the dust would have no effect. His immune system proved strong enough to withstand the test. The guilty succumb while the innocent are unscathed.

Living with guilt and bitterness soon evidences itself and affects all of our dealings. Jesus said that which enters a man does not defile him, but that which comes out. Whatever we allow in makes its home and will soon produces its fruit, good or bad. No amount of stoic self control will succeed in masking the true self. The damage is done internally and externally.

Paul also gives a humility check. Being quick to critically condemn others only indicates that we are just as guilty. The critical, negative spirit, the cutting words and angry responses only serve to condemn ourselves and prove to others that control is an issue.

Unfortunately even partial guilt can produce the same defensive tendencies. Teflon works best with an unflawed surface. Nothing sticks. Power, influence and health are nice benefits for remaining not guilty. Thanks to the Lord for being the only one who can wipe the slate clean and produce an immune system that enjoys innocense.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Teflon man

They used to call Ronald Reagan the Teflon Man. No matter what charges they threw at him, nothing would stick. Charming and good natured, he easily disarmed his harshest critics, usually turning the tables on them. His sense of humor along with strong confidence in who he was and in what he believed proved to be his great strengths.

Doctors tell us that were it not for healthy immune systems we would easily succumb to every viruse and disease. We actually are exposed to, and even carry many of these potential killers. However, "the terrain is everything. The microbe is nothing". Weaken the terrain, and the microbe takes over. Strengthen resistance and the disease never has a chance.

The concept works in politics and in medicine. How about personally, spiritually and socially? Life comes at us steadily with all its annoyances, problems and imperfections. How we manage them is the key. Or better, how we view them is crucial. And what purposes are attached to all of these intrusions? Are we allowing them to strengthen or weaken us? Are we resistant as teflon, or attractive as a magnet? Are we able to deal with stuff, or are we felled by every one of life's blows? The perspective we choose determines everything.

Take Joseph in Genesis, who suffered injustices that would easily overwhelm most of us. His summary: "You meant it for evil, God used it for good." Ten of the spies sent to appraise the promise land feared the obstacles and the enemies. Only two viewed the same evidence confidently confirming that God had promised it to them. David saw the same Philistine giant that his brothers and the whole Israeli army saw. However his perspective was different. Cowardice, doubt and negativity had no chance to thrive. He seemed immune to them.

James tells us to welcome the various unpleasantries of life with joy, because of the strength and endurance they can produce. But again, it is how we look at them that counts. Paul learned that when he was weak, Christ's strength then became his strength. Gladly then he would rejoice in the face of exasperating difficulties. Peter says that it takes fire to refine gold. The greater the heat, the more the impurities are purged. Similarly the church has always thrived under intense persecution. A solution to a proper response is seeing a bigger picture than the problem, and finding its purpose.

In short, all of the difficulties are designed by God to show his children the sin-resistant nature He has given. He doesn't make it impossible for the Christian to sin. He makes it possible for the Christian not to sin. Sin shouldn't find a home in us. What appears as intense trials are sent to prove to us what strength has already been given. That strength is there to resist by nature a fleshly response. It is the Word that builds faith, and faith strengthens the immune system.

Like Ronald Reagan, the believer finds a peaceful, calm strength in the face of even the most trying of circumstances.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

How awesome is this place!

Another thing is noticed in the passage about Jacob in Genesis 28. He had seen that the Lord was right there and marveled that he did not know it. Now Jacob exclaimed, "How dreadful, or awesome, is this place. This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven."

More than seeing that God was actually there and active on his behalf, was his realization of the seriousness of what was happening. We can agree that God surely is working, but have little or no emotion or awareness of the holy ground we are on. If nothing changes, we haven't gotten it. In other words, our response should be: Wow, I didn't realize all that was going on. This is amazing! Things cannot stay the same. "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."

Moses found himself confronted with God's presense at the burning bush. God, declaring it holy ground, said "remove thy shoes". His life was about to change dramatically. Isaiah fell in fear at the vision of the presense of the Lord. Likewise Joshua before the captain of the Lord's host. Holy encounters produced new men. For Jacob, the many layers of his thick-skinned stubborness were being steadily and patiently pealed away by the Lord, not brutally but gently.

There seem to be two lessons learned that night. The first: The Lord was there and he knew it not. The second: Since the Lord was right there and intimately involved in hour by hour, day by day events, Jacob determined to see God as his protector and provider for the rest of his life. It was a life becoming less about himself and more about his God. Things were changing, not because he had to, but because he was deeply affected by the awesomeness of God and wanted to.

"This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." His daily life was God's business. His life was His house and His gate. What comforting and encouraging news! That was the truth for Jacob, and it is just as true for us.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

What we see in others

"Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh. . . .if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." The believer has been changed by God who now sees Christ in us, a sweet smelling savor. There has been major heart surgery, actually a transplant, and an exchange has been made: His righteousness for our sins. We have been given a new identity. We have been made ambassadors with the ministry of reconciliation, and again, amazingly given the righteousness of Christ himself. (II Corinthians 5)

With these things in mind, we are told to henceforth know no one after the flesh. The critical argumentative nature has been dealt with at the cross. Why do we take up our old dead attitudes towards each other? These things ought not so to be, as James says. We frequently behave as though nothing has changed. What an insult to the One who brought about our conversion from those old ways!

I was struck by that phrase in verse 16 of chapter 5 of II Corinthians. Our dealings with each other as believers have a new dimension, new thought patterns, and a new way of speaking. Hasty cruel degrading speech is replaced with patience, long suffering, understanding, compassion, forgiveness, and in general giving each other a break. Instead of being quick to think and say the worst of someone, God gives us the ability to see the best and to edify. Anyone can tear down. We have all been trained well at that.

Rare it is that turbulant situations are met with calm, peaceable wisdom. That is what God does. That is the response that only He can cause to become perfectly natural and normal. The cross is his perfect remedy for our needy speech condition. "Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips." Ps. 141.3

It is not a short-lived determination to avoid speaking ill, but a reminder that the old man who complains and criticizes has been dealt a death blow. That is no longer us! The "real us" has been changed. When we see in ourselves the work of Christ in transforming our behavior, we can then see the same amazing work in others.

Monday, July 09, 2007

And I Knew it Not

Life couldn't have been better, and yet he didn't get it. Security was his, a marvelous inheritance, counsel, guidance, protection, everything he could think to ask for. Still he didn't quite grasp it, and did not comprehend all of the guarantees that were his. He was living as though he didn't believe it. This is Jacob of Genesis 28:10-19.

It took a dream to wake him to the dimension that he had not seen. The dream from the Lord showed him that he had been and would continue to be in the presence of God for the rest of his life. Angels were seen busy in communication to and from the heavens in the very place where Jacob stood. Above all stood the Lord reminding Jacob that He was the God of Abraham and Isaac. All of the land would be given to him and to his children. Blessings would follow him as well as God's presence and his divine protection. "I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of."

His response: "Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not." This was the dream that was not a dream. This was Jacob's wake-up call. How could he have missed all of this? What was he thinking? "He was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place? This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven."

The timing is interesting. Jacob would need this encounter with the Lord in light of the events that he was about to face. The reality was that God was ever-present and very active in all of Jacob's daily activities. "I am with thee, and will keep thee in all the places whither thou goest." He is hands-on and sovereign in all of the affairs of men. Too often oblivious to his presence, we behave like little children covering our eyes thinking that our parents can't see us. And like Jacob we awake from our sleep and say in amazement, "Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not."

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

It All Matters

I have my trumpet issues, or "items" as I like to say, my family items, my church things, etc. Each area tends to have it's own little life. Maybe this compartmentalizing of our lives was born out of the structure of our public school education. First period was science, next, social studies, gym, French, band, Latin, algebra, etc. I did well in some, and miserable in others. Success and failure were only separated by mere minutes as the bell rang and we were off to either triumph or trauma. My high school days were usually lived in a state of exuberance followed by exasperation. Unfortunately this view of life continued well after graduation. Some items were important and mattered while others were ignored. How many hard classes would we rather just skip?

One of the neat things we've been learning recently is probably what should have been learned long ago. Call it Life 101. Sadly some basic things have taken most of a life time for me to begin to grasp. My life as God sees it is not all divided into subjects, nor is it to be micro-managed by me. He has been revealing his deep affection well before those days of algebra and band. My day is all about his attention on me for the purpose of me acknowledging his hand in life's every detail. It is in these details, good and difficult, that He shows His gifts and implanted abilities. He is the teacher of faith in his contant working in symphony rehearsals, teaching of students, living with family, and learning to live with difficult scenarios. Sadly it is so easy to turn a blind eye to his plans as they are unfolding in our daily routines.

This is not to say that life centers around our success and comfort. It's not about getting all A's, but growing to trust Him when the best we can do is a C. His will doesn't center around our lives, but our lives are made for His will. He doesn't fit into our world, but we are brought to participate in his plan for the ages, a much bigger and better picture.

The lesson that is slowly being learned is that it all matters. All that comes our way has its well-intended purpose, and is orchestrated for our best as it fits into God's ongoing plan. It is not about what I can control, what I prefer, what I like or dislike. He is conforming us to Christ and he is using all the events of my schedule to draw my attention to Him. When that begins to sink in, it is supernaturally reflected in our responses to all of our items in life. We have been signed up for those irritating classrooms to develop our trust in Him, and to strengthen us for the rest of life in His plan. From his perspective, all of our items are good, and they all matter.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

When Growth Hurts

When doesn't it hurt, is the question? I wonder if our concept of growth is skewed, or maybe even totally opposite of what the ideal conditions are as designed by God. Doesn't the gardener know the best growing conditions for his garden? When did the vegetables ever resist the gardener's plans? Does the clay complain that the potter doesn't know what he is doing?

Scenario #1: Warm and fuzzy things make us feel like we have become strong. Life is good only when it is pain-free. This view says that growth happens when we look back after storms and smile at how God took us through. "My, how you've grown. How sweet!" says grandma! But mom's take is quite different. Her view from day-to-day is probably a much less sweet perspective. This grandparental view is not wrong, but there is much more involved in growth than a fond admiration for the end product. How much deeper the appreciation when the pressures have been borne well. Mom and Dad would be quick to point out the constant growing pains of consistent disciplined training with its necessary corrections, reproofs, and non-stop instructions! Absolutely nothing negative intended towards grandparents, (I am one). But without the tough training of the parents, we might lean towards a pain-free, problem-sparing upbringing. What kind of maturity would result in a struggle-free adolescence? A weak and whiny adulthood.

Scenario #2: Pain happens, and pressures do their pressing on everybody. But agonizing struggles ultimately produce peaceable fruits of righteousness when the gardener is trusted, and when the potter is patiently allowed to do his molding. Remembering the bigger picture, even when the vice seems to be twisting ever tighter, is our best medicine. God's purpose in pressure is refining, maturing, strenthening, and even chastening those he loves. Without seeing his purpose, our responses only frustrate and drive us to further defiance. Without realizing it, we further twist those vice grips.

If life is about growth, then the hurting never stops! It is our view of it that must change. The book of Psalms was written by those who learned to deal with enormous pressures and yet managed to genuinely rejoice on a regular basis. Growth will hurt, but it has its intended purpose. We can survive only with the supernatural help of our Owner. Without any problems, we would have no needs. Our weaknesses serve to show us our desperate dependance on our Creator. His strength, he says, is made perfect in our weakness, (our hurting). The more we hurt, the greater his readiness to reveal Himself in the midst of it all.

Be encouraged. When life hurts, He is growing us. Sometimes we say, "not so fast, please!" But He never gives more than we can handle. He prescribes for us exactly what we need. His fruit soon ripens, and the lumpy clay soon becomes a valuable vessel of honor. Are we not of more value to Him than fruit and pottery?

Saturday, February 24, 2007

No Make-Up Needed!

I heard a singer from the Metropolitan Opera interviewed who recalled that in one of his early roles he was selected partly because he would need little if any make-up for the stage! He already "was" that character with no external cosmetics needed. He was ideal for the part.

Psalm 43:5 states that God is the help of our countenance. Unlike the singer, our countenance needs even more than make-up. It requires a total make-over! The verse also says that our soul is in despair, troubled, and disturbed. We need far more than just external maintenance. We need a new power source, a new heart.

This is where God takes over. He must supply from the inside that which externals can only try to imitate or mask. He generates the authentic character of Christ from the very heart. No make-up needed! What you see is what is real. The radiance of His Person is generated from Almighty God in the very innermost parts of our being. Such is the work of God himself. No grease paint, masks or play-acting required. In fact, why try to fake what only our Creator can design? Anything else is hypocritical, phoney and unconvincing.

The point: look to the One who operates on the heart from which all the issues of life emanate. The countenance reflects His mighty work which is done not from without, but from within by Him alone. "He is the help (and sustainer) of my countenance, and my God."