Today’s chapter deals with discovering who you were meant to be. Ever wonder why God created you the way He did. David captures it well in his thoughts in Psalms – we really are pretty puny when compared to the majesty of God’s creation. I have been blessed to see some of the greatest of His creation – Niagara Falls, the Rockies, oceans, Iowa cornfields – and when I consider how I compare it is hardly a spec compared to His glory. But we can’t forget that we are “wonderfully and beautifully made”, a “child of God” that has been crafted like we are to be in relationship with the Father and each other. God built us for relationship and is the Master Designer. We are no mistake. And as I recall vividly from my days in Sunday school – God don’t make no junk. He just doesn’t. There are no mistakes from the Master’s hands. He didn’t forget to make us a certain way. Now society and our circumstances may cause us to lose that identity – as the major identity thief of all times – Satan – wants to rob us of that joy and reality. But He can’t steal it unless we let Him. God has his handprints all over us and we are His.
So what are we here on earth for? “For we are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works”. That’s what we were created for – at least a big part of it. We weren’t needed to breathe air and create carbon dioxide sitting on the sidelines of life. God has a plan for us. He really created us a certain way so we would love and serve others through that creation. He has given us gifts to share that are unique to us. He has provided us an opportunity to be part of His grand plan by living out our small little plan. God wants to use us to change the world we live in. But it doesn’t just happen. We need to keep first and foremost our legacy and heritage top of mind. That we are His and have been created to do stuff. We are destined to make an impact if we just let Him direct our paths. We have to stand against the identity theft and follow the path of serving others. God made us as we are for a reason. Don’t spend your time wishing you were different. Be grateful for what He has given you and get after it. That is how we will find the joy of creation in our lives.
Today wraps up the last reading from the love completely section of the OMTL book. And it is one that many of us struggle with – being willing to reveal our heart. Really let people see who we are and get a glimpse into our inner being. The problem in relationships is almost always around communication. We do it poorly, we don’t listen well, we aren’t complete in what we share – it causes frustration and then division and then things fall apart. And a big part of that comes down to a willingness to be transparent. We say things that are not explained and leave it up to the other person to figure out our motive or the basis for our comments. That sometimes happens because we don’t want to let them see what we are really thinking and the basis of our responses. We don’t want to be transparent from the heart. In my case, the problem is often I don’t really listen all that well. Since my 26 year old daughter was old enough to care if her daddy was listening, Laurie discovered early on she needed to help me focus in order to get me to listen. She used to get up early in the morning (which Nancy didn’t really like all that much), pop into our room and climb up on top of me and open my eyes with your little finger and ask “daddy are you in there”. At the time it was annoying and aggravating and I didn’t always respond at 5 or 5:30 AM with the love I should have. But she learned early on by my actions that I didn’t always seem focused on our interaction. She moved next to grabbing my face with both her hands and turning my head to look her in the eye. Still does that today on occasion when I am not paying attention. It does work – it gets me focused and causes me to see and understand that what she is doing and saying is important and I need to pay attention.
I tend to get distracted extremely easily. My attention chases the activity that is happening wherever I am. If there is a TV blaring, a radio playing, people moving around – I struggle to stay tuned in. If I am at my desk the guilt tells me I need to be multi-tasking (which we all know men cannot do at all) while on the phone with someone. After all, there is a mountain of paperwork that needs to be done. I have gotten to the point that when there is a call that needs my attention I move out from behind my desk to the other side where I can’t see the computer, or reach anything that is calling for me to get it done. Sort of a sad state of affairs that I can’t discipline myself better than that, but it is a confession – I fail here often. Does it matter? We have no idea just how important those interactions are. When we don’t return phone calls, we blow off emails, we treat people like they don’t exist – that sends a strong signal about our heart. When we only give them half our attention or lend only a partial ear, we tell them they really aren’t worth the time. And the danger to all that is that we are called to be the eyes and ears and arms and legs of the Father to touch people for eternity. How many will want to hear the message of Jesus when they find out that we are a Christian but treat them poorly? How many will line up to learn more about Jesus when they discover that how we live is their understanding of what being a believer is? Folks – we have a very important mission – a critical role in ministry – to be an extension of God’s love to the world. But not in some big macro way – in one on one and family and small group relationships dozens of times each day. We have to learn now to engage people from the heart. That means we are willing to expose our own shortcomings. I have some and many of you know them. The list is actually pretty long. But I have to be willing to risk my worry about what people will think to let them see Jesus in me. And that only happens when I connect through communication. Takes many forms – has many looks – but we have to get eyeball to eyeball and be real with those around us. You willing to go there? I hope so!
Today’s chapter talks about the impact of being thankful. I know it is an area I take for granted far too often. First I often am going so fast I miss the event completely in the first place, and secondly, when I do see something I should be thankful for, I excuse myself from doing the right thing because I am “too busy”. That is pathetic. Giving thanks is something I need to really make sure I do. I say it often but don’t really go the extra mile to express it well. Remember the 10 lepers Jesus healed – only one came back to say thanks. But unfortunately that probably is about the reality – only 10% of people really stop to thank God for what He has and is doing in their lives. Never mind what He has already promised to do in the future too. We have so much to be grateful for. We need to get with it on this one and be sure to take time to appreciate one another but also to let our God know how grateful we are for all His blessings. We get far too focused on self – on me and my life. That prevents us from noticing and expressing thanks to those who touch us and make our lives all they are. Time for a gut check here. We need to give thanks……for the little stuff and the big things. They are all worthy of our gratitude and thanksgiving!
Our chapter today is about people who irritate us. Now I’m not going to call you out in my email today as you already know who you are. J Just kidding…..but we all have folks like that in our lives. We love them deeply but they just drive us crazy – continually rub us the wrong way. We are related to some of them, maybe married to that person, maybe they are the fruit of our loins (how’s that for a fancy way to say kids and no it didn’t say fruit of the loom). Sandpaper is really necessary. You know what happens without it – we get slivers and then it festers and gets infected and all can be avoided if we use some sandpaper and take the rough edges off first. God allows some sandpaper in our lives to help get us ready for the tasks He has for us to do. Eph 2:10 tells us that we “are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works”. Note it doesn’t say we were created to sit on the sidelines and watch others do good works. We are created to be in the game. But God has to craft us to get us ready to really perform and thus come the sandpaper people in our lives. Rather than see them as irritations or unnecessary – we need to see them as God’s tool to move us toward perfection. We all have rough edges that need to go.
The chapter identifies a few types of people in our lives that may irritate us (but be needed):
1. Measuring tape – always letting you know when you don’t quite cut it
2. Hammer – push their agenda and force their way
3. Knife – really good at cutting people down
4. Vise Grips – just won’t let go
5. Grinders – explosive personalities just waiting to go off and send sparks flying
6. Mowers – cut a wide swath tearing down plans of others
7. Hatchets – small chops but hold on to the past forever
8. Putty – no consistency or backbone
So why are there so many irritating people in my life? God makes us all unique. We can chose to focus on each other’s flaws and faults, or we can see it from God’s perspective and realize that He created each of us uniquely to fit together in the same toolbox. Yes we get sawdust in our eye from others, but as scripture says we need to worry about the “log in our own eye” before trying to take the spec out of another. We need each other. There are days we will wonder and doubt that. But we do and we are created to be God’s tool to help each other become like Jesus. Are you willing to let that happen? Are you willing to let others be the sandpaper you need to get you closer to being Jesus with skin on for those in your patch?
Today our chapter is about resolving conflicts in our relationships. So some of you are ready to tune out and run already. Very few of us like to even get remotely close to this area of life. We hate having to deal with issues with other people. So we just avoid it, or run from it, or ignore it. But conflict will happen. With every relationship we have, there will be a time when we don’t see eye to eye. Why? Because God created us as unique individuals with different perspectives on life and no one will always see it your way. I have told Nancy over and over that we would never have any issues if she just sees it my way. But that would lead to disaster because I will admit that some days I am just plain wrong. There is no other person on this earth that will always agree with you. If they say they do they are not really speaking their heart. It doesn’t happen so we need to address conflict. There are five ways people do that:
1. Rope a dope fighters – “no way” resolvers who avoid conflict at all costs
2. Knockout artists – who believe it is their way or the highway and fight until they win
3. Take-the-fall fighters – who throw in the towel early and always give in
4. One-two punchers – want a give and take solution that is 50/50
5. Sparring partner – who is committed to being a teammate and helping their partner
We have to learn to fight fair. It will happen and it usually boils down to communication. I can vividly recall when I have done some unfair fighting with my bride. Sometimes in the past I have pushed her so far she threw something at me and I confess I had it coming. The good news is she never has been that good throwing and she missed, but that should have been enough to wake this boy up that I was not really treating her the way I should. Of course, it was never my fault that we were fighting in the first place because she was just too slow in coming to my position. But God has taught me over the years that I was an idiot and should have been hit between the eyes with a big rock instead of dodging her shoe that was flying at me. The other bad thing I can recall is throwing out the “d” word when I was really fighting unfair. Using the word divorce is like throwing a grenade at your spouse. It is never appropriate in the heat of a battle and has to be off limits. That is like attacking below the belt and trying to control emotions. It will always backfire and never build up and lead to restoration. The reality is that most fights are not a matter of right and wrong but a willingness to humbly accept the fact that you are less than perfect. We need to get past that and realize we are not nearly as perfect as we want to believe and seek forgiveness and reconciliation. That is what God calls us to do. Not just at home either – but in every relationship we have. Are you willing to do that? Are you going to commit to fighting fair?
Today’s chapter in our daily reading may be the most important one to date, although I have certainly enjoyed this journey as have many of you that have shared. The topic is relationships. Mount Everest is a tall place – over 29000 feet – and high enough that it won’t sustain life at the top for long. Many die trying to achieve the quest of reaching the summit, and often without fantastic teamwork, If someone has a problem as they approach the summit, those on the team have to make a very tough decision. Either turn back to take their teammate down to safety, or if they leave them there while they continue to the top they almost always die. That is too often how we deal with relationships. Things WILL be difficult in any relationship. Why? Because every relationship is made up of at least two people and neither of them are perfect. The one exception is our relationship with God but even there, we are in it and certainly not perfect so even when God is, our relationship struggles because of our humanity. The book asks us to do a very important exercise and I want to encourage you to evaluate every relationship you are in this way. Are your marriage, family, friendships, work life, church life relationships:
1. Excellent (never been better)
2. OK (we get along but there is some tension)
3. Pretty rough (we’re in conflict and floundering)
4. Terrible (we’re not going to make it)
Don’t just do it for the good relationships – be honest and rate them all. How are you doing in this area of life. Why does it matter? Because God created us for relationship first of all and that is how we impact people secondly. If we fail at relationships we will struggle to bear fruit for the Father. It matters a lot.
The chapter calls out the three areas where most problems occur. We need to really consider which of these, if not all of them, are causing breakdowns in our relationships:
2. “Me first” attitude
Before you run off and say – those are my problems – let me assure you that I know better. They are problems for all of us. We all fail to communicate clearly and make many assumptions every day that people in our lives will just figure it out. We all are selfish and occasionally (if not regularly) get into a self centered attitude, and I know for certainty that if you breath and are alive you make some mistakes. It is the reality of life. None of us are perfect. So the real question is – what do we do with the imperfect people in a relationship. God’s plan is pretty simple – we ask forgiveness when we screw up and we exercise grace when someone else does. These things will destroy every relationship in our lives if we don’t learn to be like Jesus and live that way. I have to be willing to admit I am a failure and need forgiveness – I have to ask for it. I have to also accept that no one is perfect and extend grace for their shortcomings. Are you willing to live that way? If so, God will bless your relationships deeply. If not, life will be one lonely place to live………
Today’s lesson is all about a topic none of us like to address – forgiveness. We are pressed down because we fail to deal with the issues in our relationships. We pretend that our sins, faults and failures will somehow magically disappear. That we will in some way just move past it but it doesn’t happen. It eats us like a cancer and we become bitter and will struggle to find freedom. Jesus commands us to forgive. “Forgive as the Lord forgave you” is what Paul writes in Colossians. It is because our survival depends on it. Scripture teaches us that we should not carry anger more than 24 hours – we need to make things right. That is because it will quickly morph into bitterness. We sometimes believe if we hold on we can punish the other person but that is never the case. To forgive is to set a prisoner free and the prisoner is you. It is for our own sake we need to forgive. It is God’s plan and we need to get on board. So if you have someone you are holding a grudge against thinking you are in control, you are missing it completely. God wants us to set them free and as we do we find our own freedom.
Today we shift to the second part of our time – and talk about loving completely. Corrie Ten Boom said this: “The measure of a life, after all, is not its duration, but its donation”. How do you measure your life? How do you measure impact? The first line in the chapter today is something I say all the time: “when all is said and done, relationships are all that really matter”. I believe that. I know it to be true. But I struggle to make time to invest properly in them even knowing that. God created us to be in relationship. It all started in the garden when man was created – to be in relationship with Him. God went further and created woman to allow man to be in relationship in two ways – vertically with Him and horizontally with others. So this relationship thing is God’s idea from the beginning and the very basis for our creation. It is the essence of life.
So we is it so hard for us to spend time investing in relationships, or am I the only one who struggles with this. A lot of us, and I am including myself here, value relationships but fail to expend the time or energy to really take them to the next level. We were designed for intimacy with God and others but we don’t allow it to happen because of our schedules and selfish focus. Love can’t be bought – but it does carry a price – sacrifice. Jesus showed us the ultimate measure of love when He gave Himself for us on the Cross. If you want to know what real love is – just look at the cross. Then you can know you really understand if you are loving others. Paul tells us in Ephesians that he wanted us to be able to grasp “how wide and deep and long and high is the love of Christ”. If we can really understand the love that Jesus had for us – if we can get a glimpse of just how much God sacrificed for us – we can start to understand how to really love others. I have a lot to learn about love. I still don’t comprehend how much God loves me. If I could grasp that, it would change everything about the way I surrender my life to Him and the things I would do each day. We need to spend some time considering God’s love. “For God so loved the world that He gave……” Love is core to our beings, and the center of any relationship. We need to learn this and get our hearts right!
The feeling of being powerless is one that sometimes grabs hold of us, at least me. Circumstances crash in, things overwhelm, and I wonder how to make sense of it all. It is because I am trying to deal with it all in my power, rather than using the unlimited power of God. We have God’s power available to help us. But it often isn’t until we are past any hope of us dealing with life in our own strength that we really finally discover the power of God available to us. Scripture tells us that Jesus came so we could have “life in all its fullness” – that means an abundant life overflowing with great things. We have access to the same power “that raised Christ from the dead” as Paul tells us in Ephesians. Are you experiencing that today? If not, maybe it is time to quit trying to do it on your own and let God help you live that promise into reality.
But that doesn’t mean you won’t have a few crashes along the way. I love what Thomas Edison said while trying to invent electricity. “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work”. We just need to keep plugging along. We need to get up and keep moving. Fullness comes from being persistent in our pursuit of it. It comes when we keep beginning…. Consider the examples that are all over scripture of guys who had crashes during their pursuit of God and the fullness promised. Moses, David, Joseph, Peter – they all had some pretty big bumps that caused them to fall. So did virtually every other person that scripture talks about. But they all did the same thing – they got back up and kept pursuing God. Failure is never final, and the greatness of so many in scripture, and in life all around us, comes after failure when God picks us up and puts us back on track. But we have to be willing to begin again to walk with Him and to realize the power of the Cross that is available for us. We have to be willing to give up doing things my way, and let God have the controls and do them His way. Then we can plug into the ultimate power source and let God have His way in us and through us. That is when we move from being a powerless victim of our little world to one who is living and experiencing God’s promises. It only happens if we are willing to keep on when things get tough. But if we do, abundance is ahead. It is when I give up and let God that things really happen. I am the roadblock to so much of what God can and will do if I just get out of the way. Are you blocking God’s blessing in your life by hanging on and trying to do it alone? Let go, and let God!
Day seven talks about dreams. I don’t know about you, but this is one area I sometimes wrestle. I have lots of ideas and dreams, but figuring out when they are just mine versus being God’s dreams for me is a struggle. I love these general guidelines to remember about God’s dreams:
1. They will never go against His Word
2. They will always rise to the top of priority
3. They will always require faith
4. They will always make a difference in the lives of others
5. They will always come from your heart
God never wastes the resources He has created – He places dreams in our hearts – big dreams that can only be filled with His power and His help. We all have them. But often we shut down those dreams before they even sprout. How can that happen? Because we have an enemy that wants us to fail to execute God’s dreams for us. He has a clear mission for you and me – to “kill, steal and destroy” our lives. Part of his mission involves killing our dreams. He wants to keep us from pursuing them and often does that by planting doubt, making us impatient (which often works because we want them to happen NOW), making us afraid, causing us to worry and on it goes. But here is the real truth – NO PROBLEM can destroy God’s dream for your life. Only our willingness to buy into the lies of the enemy can derail us. God wants to do so much in and through us. He has unbelievable plans for us. I love what He promises in Jeremiah 29:11. “For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, `plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” What a promise. What a God we serve. Don’t stop dreaming or pursuing God’s dreams. He has so much for each of us. And one of the best ways to do it is by sharing those dreams with others that can encourage and help you. I was helped so much by the book “Dream Giver” by Bruce Wilkerson. You might pick that up and really ask God want He wants from your dreams.