Tag Archives: Opportunity

The Litmus Test

Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.
1 John 4:20 (NIV)

For a brief two-year period of my journey I worked as a youth pastor. I was not tremendously good at it. The evidence of this fact was the meeting requested one night by a few of the mothers in which they needed a legal pad to record all of the issues they had with me and my performance. It was a much-needed lesson in honesty and humility. Nevertheless, I loved the young people under my charge some of whom I still connect with from time to time.

I recall a young person in my charge from a fine, educated, upstanding white-collar family. I loved this young person and enjoyed the opportunity to build relationship. I recognized very quickly, however, that underneath a well maintained personal facade there hid a seething spirit of anger. It came out only on occasion, but when it did it was a scary thing to behold.

As time when on it was revealed to me that there was a generational spirit of hatred that descended through this young person’s father. There was hatred and suspicion of anything and anyone outside of the legalistic, straight-and-narrow norm. There was hatred of anyone and anything “different.” There was racial hatred, ethnic hatred, and you name it. What I eventually came to perceive was a warm-hearted, confused young person who was raging inside because of a very real spiritual conflict churning inside. I believe that everything this lovable, valuable and capable youth had been systematically taught to believe in the family system was at war with the truth John writes about in today’s chapter:

My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love—so you can’t know him if you don’t love.

I personally struggle with the concept of “litmus tests” as used in the political arena because it tends to reduce broadly complex people, issues and circumstances down to a singular thing. As I read this morning’s chapter, however, I couldn’t shake the fact that John is expanding on the “litmus test” that Jesus, Himself, provided: “They will know you are my followers if you love one another.” John simply takes that to the next step. If you have hatred inside you, you can’t possibly have received the love of God. When you experience the love of God, it transforms hatred into love.

This morning as I prepare for a day of presentations and coaching sessions I am thinking about the diverse group of people I have the privilege to train and coach. For the most part, they are very different from me racially, ethnically, in life experience, and circumstances. But what wonderful, lovable, valuable, and capable people. What an opportunity I have to make new friends, to inspire nervous young people in their first “real” job, to equip struggling leaders in their first managerial positions, to teach eternal truths that drive sound business principles, and to love others well.

There is so much hatred out there. Count me as a simple “grunt” in Love’s army.

As for the young person I referenced earlier in my post, I’m afraid I can only pray that love eventually won that battle. I’ve come to realize that we are constantly part of stories of which we will never get to know the end in this life journey.

Love well, friends.

Faith to Reach Out Amidst the Shame

“Then Jehoahaz sought the Lord’s favor, and the Lord listened to him….”
2 Kings 13:4a (NIV)

One of the things that I’ve learned in my years as a corporate coach is that most people are quite aware of their own faults. When I give someone the opportunity to assess themselves I find they are usually quite accurate about the opportunities they have to do better. In fact, I find that people usually have a harder time identifying their strengths even though they can provide a laundry list of their weaknesses. They are generally harder on themselves than I would ever be.

Along life’s journey I’ve found that it’s quite common for my guilt (i.e. “I keep messing up by thinking/saying/doing [fill in the blank]”) to sink into shame (i.e. “I’m such a hopeless case that I’m sure I’m so unlovable/unforgivable/unworthy that I don’t merit anyone’s love or forgiveness“). As I’ve spoken to people along my path I’ve found it quite common for people to feel convinced that God would never love them as they are or forgive them for the things they’ve done (or not done).

In today’s chapter, it is pointed out that Jehoahaz had, throughout his reign, continued to do what he knew was wrong in the eyes of God. He committing idolatry and allowed it to continue in the nation. Yet, Jehoahaz got to the point where he was willing to approach God, despite his guilt, and pour out his heart in seeking God’s favor. Despite Jehoahaz’s awful spiritual track record God listened. God loved. God granted Jehoahaz unmerited favor (e.g. “grace”) and provided deliverance.

This morning I’m reminded that there are times when God seems distant and remote, but it’s my own actions and emotions that have created the distance. Jehoahaz is a great reminder that I must have enough faith to approach God even when my guilt and shame have convinced me that I’m unworthy of doing so.

Chapter-a-Day Acts 3

source: elmago_delmar via Flickr

Peter saw his opportunity and addressed the crowd. Acts 3:12a (NLT)

So often, success begins with being aware of the opportunity and seizing it.  How many times each day to I have opportunity to love, to show kindness to a stranger, to do good, or to encourage someone? How often do I completely miss that opportunity?

I tend to be a person who gets lost in whatever it is I’m doing. It drives my wife crazy on a regular basis. She will often remind me of the invisible blinders I wear when I’m on task. More than annoying my wife, I fear that my single-minded focus on whatever task is at hand blinds me from opportunities of all kinds to make a positive difference in the day of a friend, a neighbor, or a stranger.

Today, I’m thinking about opportunities. I want to take the blinders off and see opportunities that present themselves to pass Jesus’ love and grace forward.

Chapter-a-Day Leviticus 17

Moses with the tablets of the Ten Commandments...
Image via Wikipedia

This is so the Israelites will bring to God the sacrifices that they’re in the habit of sacrificing out in the open fields. Leviticus 17:5a (MSG)

We are creatures of habit. In fact, we’re selfish creatures of habit. We want things the way we want them, and in a largely consumer-driven economy, we’re used to getting what we want, when we want it, how we want it served. I found out recently that our local body of Jesus followers is eliminating the worship service which Wendy and I have faithfully attended the past several years. It’s become our worship home and an integral part of this leg of our faith journey. We’ve built community there. We’ve connected to God and others there. We’ve grown spiritually and matured there. We’ve served God and others there.  Now, our service is being eliminated and two services will be offered at two different times in its place.

The news creates a heady mixture of emotions in me. Frustration and anger are easily identified emotions on the surface, but as I trace the emotions to their roots I find grief and the pain that comes from feeling slighted. I don’t think that this is a bad decision. In fact, I can see that it’s likely to be a good decision long-term for our church as a whole. Nevertheless, like a child I tend to react negatively when decisions are made inconsiderate of how it affects me or makes me feel. We are selfish creatures of habit in a consumer driven society. I’m used to having my feelings and expectations considered in surveys, discussed in focus groups, and catered to in products and services. When something is taken away from us irregardless of our feelings, we tend to get annoyed. Just last night Wendy complained to me about her facial scrub which was recently removed from the market by the people at Neutrogena and replaced with something she doesn’t like. We like what we like and we don’t want someone taking it away.

Even as I process these feelings I am fully aware that a change of course, whether freely chosen or forced upon me, leads to a change in scenery, a new perspective of the landscape, and new vistas which open up on the horizon. I will grieve what I leave behind, but am grateful for the rich seeds of faith this stretch of the journey has planted in me. Those seeds will continue to germinate and bear fruit in the months and years to come. A new course creates new opportunities, new challenges, and offers new promise. That’s exciting.

I think about these things this morning as I imagine the people of Israel who’ve lived their entire lives with no religious structure but those they developed on their own. Their lives in Egypt offered them an open market of gods and idols, sacrifices and practices to choose from. They had gotten used to worshipping whichever god they chose to worship in their tents, in their fields, or among their flocks. They were used to worshipping whichever god they wanted whenever and however they wanted. Now, Moses had forcefully delivered God’s religious rule book and it demanded that they only offer sacrifices to the one true God, whose name was so holy it could not be uttered, at one specified place in the prescribed fashion. I’m sure there was a large and angry outcry from among the people. We are, after all, selfish creatures of habit.

Today, I am at once grieving the loss that change brings and excited for the opportunity which it promises.

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Chapter-a-Day 1 Kings 5

Taylor in Morocco. Solomon responded, saying, "You know that David my father was not able to build a temple in honor of God because of the wars he had to fight on all sides, until God finally put them down. 1 Kings 5:3 (MSG)

My parents grew up in the shadow of the Great Depression and World War II. While the 1950s were a time of increasing prosperity and mobility in the United States, their resources were limited along with the opportunities to travel and experience other cultures. When I was a young man, I had the priviledge of being part of a great church youth group. We traveled the state on weekends performing choir concerts and sharing God's message with different churches. During summer breaks we did short-term missions to Kentucky, South Dakota and Mexico. I had opportunities my parents could not have dreamed about when they were my age. My daughters, before graduating from high school, have ventured on missions to some of the same places I went along with Thailand, Costa Rica, Romania and Morocco.

We have been blessed to have the same experience of Solomon, fulfilling dreams and opportunities that previous generations could scarcely fathom. While some might be intimidated or even fearful of the march of time and all the change that it affords, I'm excited about it. I'm excited for my children and the opportunities they have to share God's love and message around the world. I'm glad that they've had greater and more diverse experiences than I could have imagined at their age. I'm thrilled to think of the impact they will have on lives that they touch here and around the world.