When real life gets tough …

Job/career. Family. Church/volunteer activities. The foundation underneath all three of those pillars is my faith in Christ.

Thank you, Stephen R. Covey, for helping me discover that about myself.

A long time ago, I read Covey’s book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” One of the seven habits includes writing a personal mission statement. He offers guidelines on how to do that (habit 2: Begin with the end in mind).

http://www.bookrags.com/studyguide-the-7-habits-of-highly-effective-people/?gclid=CPPh5OWPz9MCFQMcaQodpsAP4g#gsc.tab=0

I discovered that my life has those three pillars, with my faith as the bedrock of each. Over time, I’ve seen cracks in all three pillars, some cracks bigger than others. My faith has kept the pillars from crashing down.

Covey’s first habit is “Be Proactive.” One of the subheads in that chapter is “Act or be acted upon.”

It’s so easy to reject that advice, to say it takes too much effort, or the results may not turn out the way we want them to.

But the alternative is even worse. I know people who choose not to engage life at all, unless absolutely necessary. We spend so much of our energy trying to escape real life, because real life is hard. It often doesn’t go the way we’d like it to.

So, we set up alternative worlds:

  • Pokémon.
  • Movies and TV shows, sometimes.
  • The casino. (Do you really expect something for nothing, a big jackpot for an output of a few dollars? The American Dream has never been about that.)
  • Social media. Many of us interact only with people who have views similar to ours. Hey there: Look up from your device to see the world around you.

Not all “escapes” are bad things. Sometimes we need to refresh ourselves for the real life we find ourselves in.

But even in our own fantasy worlds, we should follow the values we’ve decided are worth keeping.

I can’t say I’ve always done this. I know the theory, but putting it into practice is hard.

My job/career pillar was the first to take a hit. A big hit. I had a great job that allowed my wife to be a stay-at-home mom for our three sons. After 24 years with the same company, my job was eliminated as the company downsized.

Over the past eight years, I’ve had six jobs in three states, and twice was out of work for 11 months. When stuff like that happens, you find out whether your personal mission statement is written well or not. Was I prepared to handle such a major shake-up in my life?

Yes and no. It’s been a major struggle, since as a man I feel the need to provide for my family, and I’m convinced I’ll never have a “secure” job again. Any company, any career, any job can disappear. When Jesus said build your treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21), he wasn’t kidding. Treasures on this earth can be taken away very quickly.

That’s real life.

Because I’m married, my wife has taken this roller coaster ride with me. When I get an out-of-state job, she comes to the new town not knowing a soul, and with no connections. It takes time to find a niche, to make a house a home, to begin to feel settled in a new community. We’re still working all that out. It hasn’t been easy, and still isn’t.

In a new place, we have to find new social opportunities as well. These also take time.

Our faith is a huge help in these situations. We can find brothers and sisters in Christ, who read the same Bible and follow it, no matter where we go. Instant connection. It takes time to develop friendships, but having faith in God can ease that transition.

I like to put my faith into practice, to get involved in the community where I live. I was a leader in the Saginaw County (Mich.) CROP Hunger Walk for many years, an annual 10-kilometer event that raises money and awareness for hunger issues locally and around the world. Here in Elyria, Ohio, there is a CROP walk, but the leaders here aren’t passionate about it. In Saginaw, it was a nearly year-round event as we sought new ways to reach people and connect with the community. Here, the committee meets once, the same people show up, the same people walk, they raise some money and they’re done.

They don’t need me.

I’m not one to force myself on people. Perhaps I should have tried to light a fire under them, but I didn’t feel the passion myself to do that. So I let it go.

I also enjoy mentoring elementary school students. I did that for a year here, then the program disappeared. I recently started mentoring a fourth-grader at a school in Cleveland, a half-hour down the highway.

Why do that? Because volunteering is one of the pillars of my life. I need to do things like that to feel fulfilled.

Covey says we should tweak our personal mission statements every so often, even though the main points remain the same. I haven’t tweaked mine in years. My statement has become a part of me, guiding me through uncertain times.

I’d encourage you to write a mission statement of your own, if you haven’t already done so. It will be different than mine is, for sure, possibly very different. That’s a good thing.

What gets you up in the morning? Where do you find meaning in life? You won’t find it in any fantasy world.

Time to get real.

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Jesus not running for office

They say that in polite society, we shouldn’t talk about politics or religion. Well, let’s break all the rules and talk about both. At the same time.

No, I’m not going to talk about Donald Trump and the Christian vote. Let’s tackle something bigger, with longer-lasting consequences.
Jesus Christ is not a political figure. He had – and has – a much wider purpose than that.

Some people try to politicize Jesus, claiming that He stands for their political or social viewpoint. He hates gay marriage and abortion so He must be Republican, right? He’s all about love and wouldn’t judge anyone, so He favors the Democrats, right?

You and I can make the Bible say just about anything we want it to. We do that by emphasizing certain parts of it and ignoring the rest.

But God doesn’t work that way. If we decide what parts of God we like and which parts we don’t, then we are making ourselves to be God – and the true God is just our puppet, whatever we want Him to be.

No wonder God says He’s a jealous God (Exodus 34:14).

God has a much higher calling than to play these games. He is God, after all.

Jesus is God. This becomes clear in the gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him … And the Word became flesh and lived among us …” (John 1:1-3,14)

Therefore, Jesus also has a much higher calling than to play political games.

Let’s take a tour through the gospel of Matthew, written by that disciple of Jesus to an audience of Jews, to show that Jesus is not a political figure, even though other people tried to turn him into one.

First opponent: King Herod

Not long after Jesus’ birth, King Herod saw him as a future political enemy. Wise men from the East came to Jerusalem to pay homage to Jesus. “When King Herod heard this, he was frightened …” (Mat. 2:3) As a result, Herod tried to kill Jesus: “… for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” (Mat. 2:13)

Why would King Herod care about a baby, unless he saw the child as a threat to his own power?

In response, his parents, Mary and Joseph, fled the scene (Mat. 2:14) until Herod died and the threat was over.

First adult opponent: Satan

As an adult, Jesus could choose His own path. First up: Satan himself tempted Jesus in the wilderness (Mat. 4:1). Among other things, Satan offered Jesus authority over all the kingdoms of the world, “if you will fall down and worship me.” (Mat. 4:9) If Jesus wanted political power, He had the chance right there to be the greatest ruler this world has ever seen. Jesus turned him down cold: “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, Worship the Lord your God, and serve only Him.” (Mat. 4:10)

Blessings and faith

The Sermon on the Mount, recorded in chapters 5 through 7, records nothing political. He talks about blessings, salt and light, fulfilling the law, anger, lust, divorce, vows, retaliation, loving enemies, giving to the needy, prayer, fasting, money, worry, criticizing others, asking, heaven, fruit, and building our house on rock or sand.

These are spiritual issues. Jesus has a much different take on anger, lust, divorce and money, for example, than politicians do. Read the Sermon on the Mount and discover this for yourself.

Faith trumps politics

Next, Jesus encountered a Roman centurion, a military figure in that time period. Jesus praised this centurion for his faith (Mat. 8:5-13). Faith rises above politics in Jesus’ eyes.

Soon after, Jesus called Matthew, author of this book, and challenged him to “follow me.” Matthew was a tax collector (Mat. 9:9), a Jewish person employed by the Romans to tax the Jews, often unfairly. We think the IRS is evil; the IRS is nothing compared to the cheating, traitorous, overcharging tax collectors of Biblical times.

When Matthew left his job to follow Jesus, he made a permanent break. He lost his tax booth permanently. Faith trumped politics big-time in Matthew’s life.

Something old, something new

Next, Jesus told the disciples of John that the Holy Spirit is an entirely new game, not even a new take on the religious/political system of the day. “No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak, for the patch pulls away from the cloak, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” (Mat. 9:16-17)

Jesus brought an entirely new way of thinking and living to this Earth. It didn’t fit in with the old system; it required a different mindset and lifestyle.

This was radical then, and it’s radical today.

For example, the religious leaders had turned the Sabbath into a do-no-work-under-any-circumstances day, with a couple of loopholes. Jesus threw all that out and changed the game. Jesus let his disciples pick wheat on the Sabbath because they were hungry, and he healed a man’s hand on the Sabbath because He could (Mat. 12:1-14).

Next comes a chapter of parables, none of which are political: four soils, weeds, mustard seed, yeast, hidden treasure and a fishing net. Jesus is changing the mindset and lifestyle of His listeners, nothing less.

Misunderstanding the parade

Let’s jump to Palm Sunday. Jesus orchestrated a parade for His entrance to Jerusalem, even though He knew the religious leaders there wanted to kill him. He did not hide from his accusers at all.

Most interesting is the response of the general population. Those attending the parade shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Mat. 21:9)

Why “hosanna?” They wanted a military leader to overthrow oppressive Rome.

Hosanna, according to http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/hosanna/ is a joyful Aramaic exclamation of praise, apparently specific to the major Jewish religious festivals (especially Passover and Tabernacles) in which the Egyptian Hallel (Psalms 113-118) was recited. Originally an appeal for deliverance (Heb. hosia na, please see Psalm 118:25), it came in liturgical usage to serve as an expression of joy and praise for deliverance granted or anticipated. When Jesus came to Jerusalem for his final presentation of himself to Israel, the expression came readily to the lips of the Passover crowds. (emphasis added)

Hosanna is a military term of deliverance from oppression. Later in the week, when the crowd realized Jesus wasn’t going to do that, they ordered Him crucified (Mat. 27:15-26).

Jesus’ real purpose

One footnote during Holy Week: Jesus supported paying government taxes. “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mat. 22:21)

Jesus even supported the government leaders and their taxing authority as they were finalizing details to crucify Him. He did not change his “morals” just because His life was threatened. Who has that kind of moral backbone today?

Jesus had one purpose in coming to Earth: to make His Father personal, to offer intimate relationship with Himself to us. That’s it.

Jesus’ mission and ministry were 100 percent spiritual. Politicians and religious leaders could not kill him or defeat him, although they tried. Jesus had – and still has – a much higher calling.

This is good news! As Jesus taught, we are so much better than what we’ve become. It’s time we started living like it.

 

For further reading:

http://archives.relevantmagazine.com/god/deeper-walk/blog/19069-jesus-is-not-political

The journey and the destination

Is it about the journey or the destination?

A friend posted this scenic saying the other day about the journey, and I questioned it. I said life is about both – the journey and the destination. If there’s no destination, what’s the point of the journey?

My friend’s response:

 

So can you tell me what your destination is? And once you get there, then what? I know I have goals set to get me places, but the goals will never stop; otherwise I wouldn’t feel like I was growing as a person. Therefore, I don’t really have a destination because it’s so much bigger than that.

 

I see what she’s getting at. I have goals as well that will never stop. Even if I achieve a goal, others will remain. That’s how we grow as individuals. I’m with her 100 percent on that.

But the destination is the big picture. We need to think big thoughts sometimes. What is our purpose? What are we doing on this Earth, anyway?

A goal is a desired outcome. A destination is a place where someone is going.

We can have many goals. But where are we going?

John Maxwell, a leadership expert I respect greatly, offers this perspective:

 

What matters more, the journey, or the destination? If you only focus on the journey, you lack direction and motivation, and if you focus solely on your destination, you can miss the life lessons and memories along the way. Plus, you often discover through your journey that your final destination isn’t exactly the same as it was when you started.

 

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/what-journey-you-john-c-maxwell?trk=v-feed&lipi=urn%3Ali%3Apage%3Ad_flagship3_feed%3Bhg6PJcNa16FIVgVp5FKDOQ%3D%3D

Interesting. The destination of our lives may change as we continue the journey, Maxwell claims. As we experience life, we discover new paths and journeys – and perhaps a new place where we want to go.

For most of my adult life, my journey was smooth and relatively easy. I had a secure job that paid the bills with money left over, my wife and I raised three healthy and active sons, we all were involved in a few extracurricular activities – life was full, fun and worth living.

Then, as our boys were heading off to college, my job was eliminated. Since then, I’ve held six jobs in seven years in three states.

The journey got bumpy.

god's plan

I never would have met the friend I quoted at the start of this article if my life had not taken those unexpected twists and turns.

 

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. (1 Cor. 9:24)

 

Every runner runs to win the race (unless you’re in the Boston Marathon, in which case you’re just trying to finish – when the finish line becomes the destination).

My friend poses an interesting question: Once I get to my destination, then what? When I reach the finish line, what comes next?

Her first question gets to the heart of the matter: Can you tell me what your destination is?

I can.

My destination is heaven. As long as I am alive on Planet Earth, I won’t get there. So there’s no chance of reaching my destination while I’m still on this journey.

Why, then, pursue an unattainable place?

Because the destination is attainable. Just not in this life. And if I don’t pursue heaven, I won’t get there.

 

Therefore, my dear friends … continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. (Philippians 2:12)

 

This doesn’t mean I have to earn salvation. No, salvation is a gift from God. But if I am “saved,” then my life will reflect it. My goals will change. My journey will take a different – and better and more meaningful – course.

I have to pursue God continually.

 

Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? (Romans 6:1)

 

This earthly life is not about me. I’ve written about that previously in this blog. I am a tiny piece of the puzzle that God is putting together. But God thinks I’m an important piece, worth having around.

This is true for you too.

The least we can do in response to God’s love – even when those closest to us hurt us, or even when we don’t feel worthy of God’s love – is to say thanks and try to do things He would enjoy. That’s the way we treat those we love on this Earth, isn’t it? We try to do things they enjoy.

This is the journey.

The destination is to live not only for God, but with God.

The alternative?

To live without God. Ever.

There’s no middle ground. We might think there’s a purgatory or something like that, but there isn’t. God is tapping on our hearts. We say yes or no.

That determines our ultimate destination.

We can’t pursue anything bigger than that. Destinations we pursue here on Earth will end someday. Each of us will die one day. That’s a guarantee.

We don’t like to think about that, but the end is coming. Hopefully later rather than sooner, but …

Maxwell profiled a husband and wife who spent a lot of time studying their purpose in life. They offer this conclusion:

 

To those starting out on their own personal journey to find their purpose, the couple gave this advice: “Know that this is your journey. It’s a path to follow, not a destination. Once you realize that you are on a journey of your own, you can stop comparing yourself to others and celebrate their wins, knowing that yours are coming. Someone else winning helps you, it doesn’t take away from you. There is more than enough for all of us to win.” Are you winning in your life right now? Or are you too busy comparing your life to others and feeling let down? The journey, and the destination, are yours to choose.

 

Enjoy the ride. Pursue your destination. See you at the finish line.