Gratitude – Words that express our thanks

I am thrilled to be part of a fantastic writer’s group, Writers on the Rock. They aren’t concerned about being famous or writing the next best seller. They are just good people who want to make a difference with their words.

On this day, Thanksgiving 2014, we have published a collaborative project, “Gratitude.” Please feel free to download it here — Gratitude

And we would  be honored if you would share it.

Thank you friends.

All of out excuses. How about you?

I was once a Bible-breathing-on-fire young man, ready to change the world.

I did my share of shaking things up. But then life got in the way — Marriage. Kids. Jobs. Career. A mortgage. Soon, I had every excuses, every reasons why I couldn’t change the world.

And I’m still using them.

Only now, I use my past as an excuse, littered with selfishness and broken relationships. I have proven inadequacies, personal chinks in my armor that I know leave me vulnerable. I have doubts and uncertainties about my abilities. “Pick someone else,” I pray.

excuse

Indeed, if you are like me, we are all beset by sins and failures, fears and temptations. I hope to get a grip on the ball, but it slips out of my grasp.

Paul had a similar conversation with some first-century believers. He acknowledged all the excuses in 1 Cor 1:26-29. “Not many of you were wise by human standards. Not many of you were influential. Not many were of noble birth”

Well, that sums up most of the Christians I know. We are a ragtag group of nobodies.

“But God chose the foolish things of the world…He chose the weak things of the world…He chose the lowly and despised things of the world…”
Basically, we are without excuse, because we didn’t choose God. He chose us.
Being a Red Letter Believer means that you take on the words of Christ and you begin to not just believe in them, but you begin to live them out. When we begin to embrace them and flesh them out, we will see the world around you change. Those precious Words can redeem our schools, our workplaces, our governments and our planet.

Things are pretty bleak out there. Wars. Weather. Terrorism. Anger. Despair. It’s all around us and there is urgency for God’s elect to redeem the culture – to change the world.

So what’s my excuse?

Just because I don’t agree with you, doesn’t mean I hate you

Of all the words flung around carelessly these days – like love, sex, marriage, and selfie — perhaps none is more thoughtless than the modern use of “hate.”

Suddenly, any opposition to any idea or principle, regardless of the argument is deemed “hateful.”

For example, my friend Jack said he couldn’t make a wedding cake for two men. He would sell them anything else in his store, but his principles would not allow him to participate in something he felt was morally wrong. Jack the Baker became Jack the Hater. Those of us who know Jack know him to be honest, pure and most of all, loving.

I sat with someone I admire and we were talking about the resignation of Attorney General Eric Holder.  He said, “The haters have won.” Regardless of policy decision, political moves, and controversy, any disagreement with the man was thrown into the “hate pile.” I tilted my head. Do I hate him?

It’s on both sides of the aisle. Christians who feel slighted are using the “Don’t hate me bro” defense. I’ve heard people accuse others of hating Hobby Lobby – or Chik Fil A, because they oppose their stands on issues.

Can we stop the hate talk?

Taking a position on policy, or lifestyle, or decisions doesn’t mean that I am coming after your character. It’s quite probable that I can disagree with you and still like you  — even love you. Reasonable humans can do this .

Dumb decision. But I still love him

I love my sons with unshakable fortitude. Yet, I don’t agree with all they do. In fact, I shake my head sometimes and wonder what they are thinking! (even as my father wondered the same.) When I was angry at of one of him for driving my car off road while towing a canoe across the ice, I was completely justified as a parent and as a human. That was just plain dumb. Looking back, we all laugh at it now. But not once did I hate him for his bad decision.

If I think that a country should be able to define and enforce its border, it doesn’t mean I hate immigrants. If I think God defines marriage and not a court, I don’t hate same sex couples. If I think schools shouldn’t be afraid to talk about the concept of God in history, doesn’t mean I hate atheists. Candidates don’t hate children, old people, or women. Well, maybe a couple.

When the Bible tells me to love, it’s a matter of the heart and the soul.  It doesn’t mean that I need to make excuses for behavior or overlook a fallen nature. I love their person, their being regardless of how they act. We love because by doing so it might help them into a right relationship with God.

You see, it’s the world that has love and hate all messed up, not the church.  When the woman was ready to be stoned, Jesus by his persuasive logic of love caused the accusers to melt away. Out of compassion, out of love, he saved her life. But then he said, “Go and sin no more.”  He didn’t hate her, but he still told her change her ways. His love changed the conversation, and so can ours.

I know there are some — and you may be quick to point them out — that have blurred the lines between disagreement and hate. Yup. They are there. But they are not me. They are not my Lord.

Winter PeaceThis quote by Rick Warren just about sums it up:

 “Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.”

Six Flags. Seven Principles. One Love.

Can a company in today’s cutthroat world actually run on biblical principles – and prosper? Can an organization be guided by faith and still be sensitive to a diverse world? Can you take the words of Jesus and put them in a corporate setting?

There is a company that’s doing precisely that– Herschend Family Entertainment, which runs 26 theme parks such as Dollywood and Stone Mountain.

Joel Manby is the CEO and cheerleader for a relationship-based organization that makes a difference in it’s employees lives, resulting in a better experience for its customers.

Manby appeared last year on CBS’ Undercover Boss where he wowed audiences with his personable, relatable style of servant-leadership.

He also wrote the book, Love Works: Seven Timeless Principles for Effective Leaders

Notice – it doesn’t say, “Love Work.”  Love is not the verb. Love is the noun. Works is the verb. Can love really work at your organization?

How odd to use this word in the corporate environment. But after reading the book and seeing the examples, I think this could really revolutionize any business – big or small. It could even change an entire society.

Jesus’ primary command to his followers was to love God. The second command was to love others, even as he loved us.

Love is good in church and in home and with interpersonal lives, but it doesn’t always transfer to the organization level. This book shows you how.

“The way I lead shows that God is at work in my life,” writes Manby.

Manby’s previous corporate experience included stints at GM, Saturn and Saab. There it was all about metrics, numbers, productivity and output. There was very little talk about love – except to keep it out of the workroom.

In the book, he reveals that Hershend still has  need to be responsible to the investors – they still need to measure popcorn sales and make sure the workhours match the workload. But love permeates every number and every employee interaction.

“Treating someone with love regardless of how you feel about that person is a very powerful principle. . .It can make us great spouses, great parents, and great friends. Great leaders too.”

Manby says this. “I define personal success as being consistent to my own personal mission statement:  to love God and love others.”

The company has seven principles for success, and you’ll see the gospel infused in every one of them:

  1. Be patient—demonstrate self-control in difficult situations.
  2. Be kind—show encouragement and enthusiasm.
  3. Be trusting—place confidence in those around you.
  4. Be unselfish—think of yourself less.
  5. Be truthful—define reality corporately and individually.
  6. Be forgiving—release the grip of the grudge.
  7. Be dedicated—stick to your values in all circumstances.

 Manby emphasizes that employees don’t have to people of faith or Christians. But they do have to exhibit loving behavior as displayed in the seven principles.

“The rest takes care of itself,” he writes.

Every day, Manby writes a personal note to an employee, thanking them. “They have powerful impact. They reinforce good behavior.”

The company has a Share it Forward fund. Employee donations are matched by the company and those pooled monies are used to take care of employee needs. Last year more than 800 families received assistance from vehicles to funds for medical care to bereavement travel.

Not a CEO or in a leadership role? Manby doesn’t let you off the hook. His last chapter has a challenge. “It’s up to you.”

“Any employee at any level has the power to make a difference with love.”

“Dedication to leading with love isn’t just a theory; it’s living out organization-wide processes that identify and measure the necessary behaviors.  It’s one thing to talk about values like leading with love, but it’s another thing to deliver on those values, especially in tough times.  That is what dedication is all about.  Leaders who are dedicated to the attributes of love outlined in this book while getting strong financial results will certainly place themselves in a unique but very successful minority in business, government, and the nonprofit world.  Dedication is the fuel we need to drive toward our goal: to lead with love today, tomorrow, and forever.”

This post is in response to the High Calling’s quest for the Best Book’s for Business. What other books have influenced you? I encourage you to join the conversation here and at the High Calling.

HAVE YOU EVER SEEN LOVE AT YOUR PLACE OF EMPLOYMENT?

Is Christianity a waste?

Sometimes I look at this life I’m living, trying to make righteous choices, and the doubts creep in. I wonder if it’s just a waste of time when I could be enjoying the full fruits of this world.

After all, the world looks like they are having fun. Unbridled by the tenants of faith and the threat of sin, shame, and punishment, they do what they want. Morality is what you define it to be.

And then there’s everyone else. Since the beginning of time, it’s estimated that more than 8 billion people have made a decision to follow Christ. Since 1934, the number of Christians increased by 1300 percent while the world’s population grew only 400 percent. Forsaking all, they have given up worldly pleasure, progress and modernism. Did they miss out too?

There are currently around 3.7 million churches around the world. They meet in schools, big cathedrals, strip malls, suburban campuses, and city parks. Multiply that number by the services last week. Sermons prepared. Songs sung. Bulletins printed. Nurseries staffed. Are we wasting real estate, time and effort? 

Worldwide, there a 320,000 full-time Christian workers in the mission field. We have another 5.4 million full-time Christian workers at home. Are we wasting resources? 

The current budget of all Christian ministries tops $163 billion a year. The total cost of outreach averages $330,000 for each and every newly baptized person. Are we wasting money? 

Approximately 83 million Bibles are distributed globally per year. There are six million books about Christianity in print today. Are we wasting paper and trees?  

Ever since the first century, Christians have been martyred for their faith. Some estimate more than 70 million have been killed for the sake of their belief in Christ. And in this supposedly enlightened age of tolerance, more than 100 million Christians around the globe are currently suffering persecution and 170,000 are killed each year. Are we wasting precious life? 

Jesus himself was a man of great attraction and persuasive power. He could have thrown the Romans out of Israel, ruled with peace and given the Jews back their land. Instead, he ended up tacked to a crude piece of wood. Was his time on earth wasted?

The Apostle Paul even suggested that all of this was futile, and that “we, of all people, would be pitied.” 

“If,” he says, “Christ were not raised from the dead.”  But he was and that changes everything.

That’s my one good reason.

Every life. Every sermon. Every book. Every dollar. Every prayer. Every moment.

It’s not a waste, because He lives.

English: A cross close to the church in Grense...

The cross

I can be great (But it’s not what you think)

I always had this belief that I would be successful.

This belief was instilled in by a mother who was a high school dropout, married at 17, and had lived a modest, yet decidedly meager life.

But in her sons, she saw greatness.

She pushed me to memorize the math tables that swirled in my head. She turned off the TV and stuck books in front of my square eyes. The B plus was a sign of failure. The second-place wasn’t good enough. She never relented in telling us that we weren’t like the other kids.

“You can do better.”

Doctor. Pilot.

"Greatness"

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Scientist.

Any of those professions would be fine with her.

But there were the realities. And they were biggies. I couldn’t stand the sight of blood. I was color blind and could never fly. I couldn’t figure out physics.

I wasn’t ready to concede. After all, I wasn’t normal like the other kids, or so I thought. Let’s just say, I didn’t have self-esteem issues.  I swallowed a lot of that medicine, actually believing that I was above average, special, and skilled.

The great pretender

I depended on my ability and was frustrated when I was told I “couldn’t.” So I began to pretend I was all of those things. Confidence is one thing, but pride is another. And it’s a very thin line to walk.

Now, at this ripe middle age, I’m at the point where I’m comfortable in my own skin. I laugh about my inabilities. If my abilities aren’t so hot, that’s fine. But I still feel the fire to do something, to be somebody.But reading the red letters really tells me something.

If you want to be great,” He said. “Learn to the be servant of all.

Now, I wanna be great, but in a different way. And that will chase away the negative frustrations and usher in joy.

A Letter to My Younger Self – The 10 Percent Rule

I come from a long line of thriftiness.

Perhaps it was the fact that my father’s kin were Norwegian peasant farmers who staked a claim in the hard North Dakota soil, planting beets and potatoes, hoping to make a living. They endured the ups and downs of dusty, dry summers and frigid, windy winters. They cobbled and they scrimped and saved.

Photo by Jennifer Dukes Lee

My mother’s side were Polish Jews, escaping Europe with little but their wits and small bags of precious stones to their names. Most of them died with about the same possessions they brough into this world.

Both forks of the family lived through world wars, depressions and recessions. Both sides had periods of plenty, followed by years of scarcity. Feast always seemed to prepare for famine.

Every generation had worn its sorrow, sung its song of woe. And yet, they had unshakable faith backed up by remarkable thrift.

So I came along, a single river combing the two streams. I was full of the American dream, my eyes dancing with opportunity. I saw the sleek Lincolns in magazines and the new houses being built on the edge of town and the shiny Florsheim shoes the men at the bank wore. I was ready to break the chain of my forefathers and live a little. After all, I was 18,  a head full of steam and a high-school diploma in my pocket. .

Sometime around then my grandmother died and I was pressed into helping clean out her house. She had grocery store bags neatly stacked in a corner and rubber bands from the newspaper in tidy coil. Bread twist ties were in a little jar. Old buttons were harvested from clothes too thin to wear. Everything was repurposed. Everything was useful – again.

In her kitchen, above the little table where she kept rows of lined books that detailed every penny spent was a laminated sign. It said,

“Save 10 percent. Give 10 percent to God. Spend the rest with great joy.”

If only I knew then, what I know now

I proceeded to live my young adult life as a I pleased, squandering the wisdom of my relations. I spent money  I didn’t have on things I didn’t need. Student debt. Car loans. Bigger houses than anyone in my family had ever owned.

And now, as I am looking at retirement in few years, I’m thinking just how wise that advice in the frame was — in retrospect of course. I wish I would have lived that lesson. If only I would have unrolled a letter to myself, written from the future me, that gave the same message of thrift, life would have been different.

  • I would have learned obedience and trust in God.
  • I would have put more money away for the rainy days and the sunny days of retirement.
  • I would have learned my heart would follow my treasure.

If only I could write a letter to my younger self.

Share Your Story – A Community Link-Up

So how about you?  What kind of letter would you write to a younger you? Would you give career advice? Workplace suggestions? Educational ideas? Maybe you would warn the younger you about finances, family, and friends. You can’t go back in time, but the experience you share might just be able someone else. The Bible is clear that we need to learn from our elders. So let’s pull up chairs, lean in close and share our stories.

Over  at the High Calling we are looking for people to part of the conversation. Using the prompt, “A Letter to my Younger Self,” write your story on your blog sometime before Aug 24, 2014 and then share it using the linkup tool over there. If you don’t have a blog, just drop over there and share your thoughts in the comments.

We’ll read all of your stories and chose a few of them to feature right here at The High Calling next week.

Submission Guidelines

Make sure your story is 600 words or fewer. Good storytelling is a must. Follow the theme as closely as possible, while still exercising your God-given creativity. Read past High Calling features to get a feel of our style and focus.

Publish your piece on your blog and submit your piece along with the URL on the link-up below byAug 24, 2014  in order to be considered for a featured spot.

Independence Day

“I am so sorry.” The words came slowly, like a hardened tube of glue, squeezed out slowly from the bottom.

His eyes brimmed with tears and he shook with shame. He wore the tattoos that showed his company pride, battles fought in a far-away land. But the biggest fight of his life was being fought in front a group of strangers that he had wronged.

“I can’t drink. I shouldn’t drink. It makes … do things.” That was an understatement. In the middle of the night he and two others had burst into our campsite, screaming, full of anger. One girl in our party was sleeping in the back of a pickup. They put their lights into her face, full of assumption and hate. The liquor screamed terrible things.

Others came out, rushing to her defense. Some tried talking sense, but there was no point in reasoning with senselessness.

All three were veterans and were quite vocal that they had fought for our freedom to camp that weekend.  It’s true – that our rights come at heavy price. But these men wore their heroism like chains.

They all rushed off into the night. But this one crawled back the next morning, his head heavy with the wooden affect of the drink. Still, he had to set things right.

The father of the daughter stood close to the man – smelling the stale breath, hearing the confession.

It wasn’t easily received. After all, his daughter had been threatened. Terrible words were spoken.  But the dad uttered the words. “I forgive you.” But he followed up with the most difficult question for the man to wrestle with. “Do you know why?”

—-

Peter came to Jesus, complaining of repeat offenders. The same people, who never learned their lesson it seemed. Always saying the wrong thing. Always doing the wrong thing. At some point, “we have to cut them off, right?”  Peter suggested a limit of seven. That seems generous enough.

But Jesus shook his head at the suggestion. Seven times seventy. A figure that connotes an unending supply of forgiveness, modeled after the Father.

—-

We try to find a rule for others to live by and then an escape clause when it applies to us. Our debt wiped off the board, but so unwilling to extend the same grace to others.

When we don’t forgive, we are handed off to the jailer. Trapped by our own pride and stubbornness. Smug, we may be right, but we are prisoners.

—-

One by one we gathered around this young vet, a man shaken by war, running from the demons of his memory. First one hand, then another. A dozen hands praying over his torture, casting back the voices in the name of One who’s name caused them to tremble.

Eyes wet we opened them to a dawn of forgiveness.

We all went about our way, hoping to settle into the fun of the day, after all it was the 4th of July Day.

We spent the day on the water and laughing. In the evening the BBQ  sent smoke signals to the sky, telling the world that we were celebrating Independence Day.

It was hard to shake the drama from the previous evening.  None of us knew where that man really was, we were hopeful that he would be finding the healing of forgiveness.

Freedom

Photo by David Rupert

As the darkness came, there would be no fireworks display, a price for being in the mountains and the dry tinder. But one boy at the campsite created his own show, waving a sparkler around and around in a happy dance. He yelled loud enough for the world to hear one word.

“Freedom!”

Patience: How to Embrace This Place

Have you ever avoided any mention of tomorrow because you can’t even get through today? Forget thriving through life. You just want to survive. All the hopes and dreams you want are elusive. Like the Psalmist, you ask, “How long must we wait?”

Where is this land of milk and honey? Where is the blessing? Where is the healing?  There’s no joy, because you are in the desert. Suddenly all the happy Scripture verses and trite bits of encouragement seem terribly hollow.Music doesn’t cheer. Books no longer intrigue you. Friends bore you. Teachings sound inconsequential.

There’s no doubt in your mind that you heard the call – it was clear and loud. But it’s been a long time and here you are, waiting on a miracle, hoping for a sign, asking for a whisper.

And there’s nothing.

patience

Who wants to wait?

Waiting is no fun. And I admit, in these times we don’t want for anything. We want expedited shipping and instant updates and up-the-minute status reports. Technology has taken the lessons out of life.

I remember when I got my learner’s permit. I was 15 1/2. And those six months before I could my license were excruciating. I was ready right now!  I was tall enough. I was smart enough. And how difficult could this driving thing be? That is, until I scraped my parents station wagon against a street sign. I wasn’t ready.

So I had to wait another three months. And I learned the rules of the road. I learned how to use mirrors. I learned how to anticipate. But most of all, I learned how to wait.

Patience1

 

Embrace this place.

Before David was the king of Israel, he oversaw his father’s flocks. No amount of pleading could ever drown out the bleating. The sheep just wouldn’t listen. It had to be a miserable life for a precocious little boy.

Often alone, he would write songs and poetry. He talked to God. He was a loner’s loner.

So when Jessie lined his sons up for the prophet to anoint, David was left out of the pickings. Still, Samuel knew there was another — a boy who was nothing to look at on the outside, but was just right for the job on the inside. David was annointed as King. But he didn’t ride a processional back to the palace. He didn’t get his pick of servants or have people start kissing his ring. He went back to the sheep, and there toiled for 15 years.

That’s a long time to wait. Even though he was annointed, he wasn’t ready. He was only 15 — still on a learners permit. He needed to learn how to lead and to fight and to trust God. And those lessons don’t come with a six-month permit.

Pastor Andrew Mattrone preached out of this passage last week. And he encouraged all of us to not flee from our aloneness, to be patient in our season, to wait on God. He talked about the now-ancient process of developing film.  “Trust the developer,” he said

I remember dropping film off at the Fotomat booth in the parking lot outside of Safeway. It would take 5-7 days before the prints came back. Overnight processing came at a premium. Now we have digital – instant photos. Andrew reminded me that we no longer appreciate the time it took for a good photo. There was a process – from tray to tray that couldn’t be rushed.

patienceSoon, Polaroid photos were a hit – because you could have your picture in just a minute. Skip the development process, even though the resulting photo was garbage. “At least I didn’t have to wait.” What other sacrifices am I making, simply because I’m impatient?

God is more about the process. We are more about the instant. We want the image of ourselves to be perfect … right now.

As Andrew said, “God has to do a work in you before he can do a work through you.”

Are you in a dark place, waiting for the developer to finish so you can see the light of day? Andrew gave three pieces of advice. Be faithful. Be obedient. Trust God.

“Embrace this place”

Or as David Carradine was told in the 70’s TV hit, Kung Fu

“Patience Grasshopper”

Patience

Many thanks to Andrew Mattrone for preaching this message. As a young man, I can see God’s hand on you. Continue to wait on him. When you feel discouraged, remember this word that God gave you.