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Facts of the Matter

A weekly letter of encouragement and challenge to business and professional men and women

Archive for May, 2006

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

THE ONE THING (Part #1)+

  THE ONE THING  (Part #1)+ 

Today we define ourselves and our sense of worth by our busyness.  In fact we are enslaved by it. We are so preoccupied with the future that we cannot trust or enjoy the moment.  The media and other powerful forces in society create an atmosphere of chronic emergency, false expectations and continual needs.  Thus the Spirit of God is stifled from freely flowing through us in order to renew and empower us. As a result we feel manipulated, exploited and pushed around by people who dont take us seriously and by forces outside our control. Increasingly, we experience a sense of resentment, a paralyzing feeling of disconnectedness, isolation, fragmentation, loneliness and anger. Ultimately we become depressed, lose heart and grow cynical.

What is the answer? Well, Jesus intends that we move from bowing to the many voices and demands of our age to focusing on the One Thing: Knowing him. (Phil. 3:7; Matt. 6:33; Lk. 10:41) In a world intent on seducing you and me into conformity, we will not do and experience the One Thing without a sense of desperation and the cultivation of discipline. Discipline is the flip side of discipleship.  It is only through the spiritual disciplines that we become sensitive to the gentle, small voice of God and experience true spiritual life with God. (I Kin. 19:9-13) The very essence of real prayer is listening to the voice of God in an atmosphere of solitude, only made possible by creating space in our lives from the noise and pressure of the world. We have to exercise patience because developing attentiveness to the voice of God is an art form, if you please, that is learned over time.  The reality of it is that we are not inclined toward solitude because being alone with ourselves and God can prove to be frightening. But cultivate it we must.

On a personal note: Over forty years ago a deep sense of desperation led me to pursue this One Thing which has been at the core of my life ever since. The other morning in my time alone with God, for example, I prayerfully meditated over John 6:35-40. Three wonderful truths emerged that may help us in our effort to pursue the One Thing, living as we do in this intensely secularized and pressurized society:

Then Jesus said, I am the bread that gives life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.  But as I told you before, you have seen me and still don’t believe. The Father gives me my people. Every one of them will come to me, and I will always accept them. I came down from heaven to do what God wants me to do, not what I want to do. Here is what the One who sent me wants me to do: I must not lose even one whom God gave me, but I must raise them all on the last day. Those who see the Son and believe in him have eternal life, and I will raise them on the last day. This is what my Father wants."  (CEV)

  I am fulfilled because Jesus quenches my deepest thirst and hungernow and forever: I am the bread that gives life! No one who comes to me will ever be hungry. No one who has faith in me will ever be thirsty.  (Jn. 6:35 CEV) Therefore I do not need to chase after the gods of this world to experience inner satisfaction.

  I am accepted because Jesus allows me to come to him without fear of rejection:  Everything and everyone that the Father has given me will come to me, and I won’t turn any of them away.  (Jn. 6:37 CEV) Therefore I dont need to expend my life trying to prove anything to him or anyone.

  I am secure because Jesus protects me from being lost: [The Father] wants to make certain that none of the ones he has given me will be lost. Instead, he wants me to raise them to life on the last day.  (Jn. 6:39 CEV) Therefore I can rest in the fact that he will see me through until that Day. (Phil. 1:6)

QUESTION:  Are you desperate and disciplined enough to seek the One Thing.  If not, what will it take?

+ Many seed thoughts for this article are drawn from Making All Things New Henri J. M. Nouwen Harper and Row, 1981

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

THREE QUESTIONS I NEED TO HAVE ANSWERED

All any of us really want is to be loved. To belong. – This, the wistful sigh of a young professional woman, adrift in the concrete jungle of New York City after being impregnated and jilted. Well, that was a line from a movie on the tube the other night. Yet true to life.  As my wife and I settle into a new neighborhood and begin to observe life beneath the surface of folks who initially appeared to have it all together, we are discovering intense personal and family struggles. What seems and what is are worlds apart. It is becoming increasingly evident that many are searching illusively for love and meaning which can only partially be fulfilled in lives separated from God. Much of their vacuous existence has to do with failing to understand several truths that are essential to making sense out of life:

Who am I?  This has to do with my identify: On the day of his calling, God informed Jeremiah, Before I formed you in the womb I knew you… Isaiah spoke similarly, Before I was born the Lord called me; from my birth he has made mention of my name (Jer. 1:5a; Isa. 49:1b) (See Gal. 1:5) 

How many people do you and I know who spend their lives trying to figure out who they are, often by trying to prove they are someone. They already are someone in Gods eyes, but dont know it! (Isa. 43:4; Jn. 1:9) Those who are anchored in Christ and his promises know who they are:  Loved by God from all eternity. (Jer. 31:3)  Because there is nothing to prove, I can rest in him, and live life in a sane manner as God unfolds his plan for my life.

What am I to do?  This has to do with my purpose: God informed Jeremiah, Before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations."  (Jer. 1:5) Clearly he was called to proclaim His message of love and repentance to a rebellious people.  Isaiah shared a similar assurance as to his purpose:  [God]formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself  (Isa. 49:5b) So why are we here? Primarily to know and love God and glorify him, as his salt and light to lost humanity.  (Phil. 3:8;Matt.22:37,38; 5:13,16)

Be assured, my friend that God has an individualized plan for you!  From all eternity he has known you and prepared you to be part of his grand design of knowing him and influencing others to know him.  It was he who chose your parents, your DNA, social background, educational opportunities, degree of athletic capability, the country in which you were born and raised, etc., etc. All part of his sovereign plan. The fulfillment of that plan may well be accomplished in the uncelebrated responsibilities of your daily life: Providing for your family, keeping the lawn mowed, conducting business in an ethical manner, loving the hurting people around you toward knowing Jesus, training up your progeny to become godly, responsible adults, etc., etc.

How am I to do it?  This has to do with his provision (as I fulfill his purpose): In the case of Jeremiah, God stated, Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land–against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you"  (Jer. 1:18,19a)  Surprisingly, the work of God starts with faith, not action.  Jesus stated, The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent."  The essence of fulfilling his calling is believing that God can be taken seriously in terms of provision, sufficiency, and enabling.  The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.  (I Thess. 5:24) On a personal note: I find that it is only as I immerse myself in unrushed times of prayerful meditation of the Scriptures, worship, and solitude that I receive the courage and eternal perspective to believe him, rest in him, and be led and empowered by him as his channel of ministry to others.

QUESTION:  Does the focus and tenor of your life reflect the fact that you are experiencing the answers to these three fundamental questions?  If not, what practical steps do you need to take in order to resolve the uncertainty?

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

BRANDON COMBS TRAINING PROGRAM

Many capable, successful business men and women whom God desires to use in his work are hobbled or more accurately, they are disqualified in terms of usability for one simple reason: Pride.  Highly gifted people who win in the cut throat world of business often find humility a pill the size of a golf ball to swallow.  The fact is, God hates pride and sets himself against those who push total dependence upon him to the side.

God gives strength to the humble but sets himself against the proud and haughty.  (Jms. 4:6)

Yesterday Brandon Combs+ called to give me an update on what was happening in his life.  Brandons a commanding figure, 63, powerfully built, athletic, immeasurably bright, educated, traveled, etc., etc.  Hes made a career of buying, selling, and re-structuring companies across America. A decade ago, he met Jesus and immediately set about to get every man in his city to Christ. His method of operation? The same as in business: Pile drive. Force issues. Scold the non-compliant. Induce a hearing through intimidation. Burn out your troops with exhaustive work. Just get the job done, whatever it takes. Along the way he nearly lost his marriage, and incurred several nasty lawsuits (related to his business) that cost him his net worth.  In the midst of his agony, but to his credit, he sought God and surrounded himself with godly mentors. Over a period of several years, God broke his pride and cleansed him from the core out. 

Yesterday on the phone with Brandon, I felt I was listening to a changed man. Rather than barking imperatives to his wife, he is now sensitively seeking to understand and honor her. Gone is the attitude of intimidation to get his ideas and agenda across. A new softness came through. A genuine humility.  Offers to serve Christ are now opening up that would make your mouth water. Certainly 2 Timothy 2:21 is being demonstrated through his life:

If a man cleanses himselfhe will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.

A close friend of mine who is a seasoned discipler and himself an extremely talented individual, was broken through a decade and a half of failure in a tough field of missionary service. Recently someone quoted him as saying, I only work with broken men. Apparently he has learned the futility of trying to mold proud, self-centered men. 

Young Joseph, the son of Jacob, was a brash, spoiled favored son. You know the story: Hes the boy with the multi- colored coat who dreamed of his brothers subservience to him and gloatingly informed them so. Remember them selling him to a caravan headed for Egypt and his years of languishing in prison for a crime he did not commit (adultery with Potifers wife)?  (Gen. 37:1-41:40) Psalm 105:17-19 gives us insight into his God-ordained training:

[God] sent a man before [the Nation Israel]–Joseph, sold as a slave.  [The Egyptians] bruised his feet with shackles, his neck was put in irons, till what [God] foretold came to pass,  till the word of the Lord proved him true.

That word, proved conveys the idea of purging away the impurities through refining, smelting and testing. Before God chose to use this young hot shot to deliver a nation,  he took him through a purifying process.

QUESTION:  Do you sense the hand of God on your life in fruitful service?  If not, is it time to take inventory on this issue of pride?  Is it possible that God might have a Brandon Combs/Joseph-type of training program in store for you? 

+ Name is changed to protect privacy

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

FIVE SUGGESTIONS FOR DADS ON HOW TO DEAL POSITIVELY WITH THEIR CHILDREN:

Is there a dad alive who does not want to do right by his children? Yet many, if not most dads struggle with at least two destructive patterns:

(1) Exasperating their children.  That is, overcorrecting and vexing them in a manner that provokes them to anger: Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. (Eph. 6:4)

(2)  Embittering their children. That is, being hard on them in a manner that provokes resentment, a feeling of inferiority, and loss of heart. Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged (Col. 3:21).

How about taking a personal inventory to see if you in fact exasperate or embitter your children:

  Do you continue to push your children when you have already made your point?

  Do you ask more of your children than they are capable of handling or comprehending?

  Do you utilize poor timing in trying to guide or correct your children when their need at that moment is support and encouragement?

  Do you show more interest in your childs performance scholastic, athletic, or even church than in their life?

  Do you demand respect while not giving it?

Five strategies that may help us fathers from exasperating or embittering our children:

(1)  Be for your children: Your children need to know you are their biggest fan; that you are there for them; that you want to be close to them. In a word, they need to experience your unconditional love when they are anything but loveable. (Lk. 22:31,32; Jn. 21)

(2) Listen to their reasons: Given your years of experience, it is often difficult to listen to the voice of inexperience and youth. Yet, your children deserve the respect of a complete hearing which will help you grasp their point of view, will communicate your respect for them, and will help build their confidence.

(3)  Stay calm: Take a deep breath, step back, offer a prayer and put a zipper on your mouth.  (Psa. 141:3; Pro. 17:27; Jms. 1:19,20)

(4)  Ask questions: Most men are pretty good at giving advice or diagnosing their kids problems. All the more reason we need to learn to ask questions and really listen before jumping to conclusions in offering solutions or counsel.  Such an approach often opens dialogue toward mutual resolution. (Pro. 18:13)

  (5)  Communicate without attacking: For example, I feel frustrated by what looks like lying is more likely to open the door for discussion than You lied to me!  The key is to not judge intent or motive. Gently sharing with your child how his words or actions affect you and others will help avoid conflict, defensiveness and exasperation. It also may open the door to an open and honest exchange that will help him identify his error and the best course of action for change. (I Pet. 3:8-11; Col. 3:12-14)

Conclusion: I cant help but wonder if at the root of much family conflict is our monumental world class male egos.  Because we Dads are king of the mountain, we are all too capable of demanding Swiss watch perfection from our children. Could it be that God will take us to the woodshed unless we possess a broken humble spirit in how we choose to relate to our children.

+Key ideas derived from On the Home Front by Chap Clark, Discipleship Journal, Issue 137, 2003; page 84

Wednesday, May 3, 2006

JUST WHAT ARE WE, AS FOLLOWERS OF JESUS CHRIST TO BE ABOUT? (Part #3)

In the last two issues of the Facts, we have talked about evangelizing the lost, and establishing the saved.  In this issue we will conclude our series as we discuss equipping the believer to become a laborer for the Kingdom and Glory of God.

 

  (1) Evangelize (Col. 1:28,29)  (2) Establish (Col.2:6,7; Isa. 37:31)

 

  (4) Laborer (Matt. 9:36,37)  (3) Equip (2Tim3:16,17;  Eph. 4:11.12)

EquipThe word equip, or prepare in Ephesians 4:11 16 conveys the idea of training, or perfecting believers to do the work of the ministry, which primarily involves the winning of the lost and discipling  (building up) the saved. It is the process of preparing Gods people to serve Christ ministry wise.  According to verses 11 and 12, this responsibility is primarily the task of the church leadership.  My personal belief is that the preparation for ministry in all probably involves equipping believers in the word of God (2 Tim. 3:16, 17) and helping them discover and utilize their gift(s).  (Rom.12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12-14; Eph. 4:11-16; I Pet. 3:8-11)

It was [God] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.  (Eph. 4:11- 16)

Laborer:  As a person becomes established in their faith, and equipped to do the ministry, they are increasingly prepared as a laborer for the work of God.  The term laborer is derived from the Greek word egrates and conveys the idea of a toiler, a teacher, or a workman.  The New Testament communicates three important truths about laborers:

  • Laborers are in short supply.  Thus, we are to ask the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into His harvest.  Prayer therefore is central to raising up laborers.  (Matt. 9:37,38)
  • Laborers approved of God are skilled in handling the word of God. (2 Tim. 2:24-26)
  • Laborers gain little prestige or recognition for their endeavors.  God however holds them in high regard. (Matt. 20:1-15; 1 Cor. 4:13; Matt. 25:21-23)

Conclusion:  Today, most careful students of the Church conclude that we, the Body of Christ are in serious trouble.  Few truly live righteous, Christ honoring lives. Even fewer are having any appreciable effect on bringing the lost to a knowledge of Christ, not to mention developing converts into mature laborers.  If you claim to be a committed follower of Christ, it behooves you to carefully think through on the implications of Gods imperatives not only to live righteously, but to intentionally and intelligently seek to win the lost and invest in the lives of the saved to the end that they in turn become established, equipped laborers for His Kingdom and Glory.  Simply being busy for God totally misses his plan for your life in terms of accomplishing anything of eternal significance relative to the Kingdom and Glory of God.  (I Cor. 3:10-15)

QUESTION:  Do you have a thought through plan on how to equip a person, and are you willing to pay the price of laboring to see it through?