“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:11-13 ESV).
The 2010 Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints had the words, “Finish Strong” stenciled on their t-shirts as the post-season began. With a fabulous and memorable season so far, and with home field advantage to boot, the coaches and fans alike wanted to ensure there was no let down in play. The shirts were a reminder for the team to “Finish Strong.”
And they did. But just two years after winning the Super Bowl, the NFL levied devastating penalties on certain coaches, management, and players dating back to the 2009/2010 season for ethical violations. A city and a region that had celebrated joyously now grieved collectively with deep sadness, anger, doubt, disbelief, and feelings of helplessness. Rebuilding and restoration remains a work in process.
The idea to “finish strong” is one that resonates deeply in our country, and probably connects us emotionally to everyone on the planet; who wants to finish weak? When our lives, or a particular calling or task are reaching a conclusion, don’t we all want to go out with a bang and not a whimper? Don’t we all want to believe that victory can be snatched from the jaws of defeat?
In Jeremiah 29, God told the Judeans who had been overcome and deported into captivity to Babylon, that they would be restored again. But those hearing the message of hope also knew that their defeat, their current troubles, were from the hand of the same God who had judged them severely for years of disobedience and sin. Like it or not, they had to come to grips with a God of hope and judgment, righteousness and mercy.
And they did return to Jerusalem. God again spoke to them through prophets, but in about 400 BCE, God’s voice became silent.
At the birth of Jesus, the Jewish people were living in their homeland but under the control of the Roman government and not as an autonomous nation; a restoration had occurred, but not to the glory of the former days. Into this scene of political unrest and uncertainty, of conflicting beliefs and practices, and a type of internal captivity, Jesus came and preached a new message of hope and restoration.
Jesus proclaimed that God was going to change things on earth forever. In a sense, Jesus was delivering a message that everyone has the opportunity to finish strong, measured both temporally (in attitude, joy, hope, and peace regardless present circumstances) and eternally, by joining Him and the Father in heaven, becoming partakers with Him of everlasting life and union with God. But He also spoke the truth, and called all persons, the powerful and the weak, to repent from their sins and turn again to God; and Sin can be an unpleasant topic.
On a particular black Friday, Jesus was crucified between two criminals; a crowd of mostly skeptics heckled Him about His grandiose claims of being “one” with the Father and challenging Him to work miracles now. Some of His followers were also in the crowd of onlookers, standing in their own agony as they watched the person they had come to believe in and to love suffering on the cross.
Then on the first Easter Sunday, Jesus rose from the dead. His resurrection emboldened His followers, and through the power and the gift of the Holy Spirit, Jesus was and continues to be preached throughout the world. His messages of temporal and eternal hope are real and vibrant promises that are effective and powerful, for those who remember them, and who stay close to Him who is the “author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).
Every follower of Jesus has been assured that they will finish strong; faith in Jesus is the key and sufficient ingredient and He will honor it. A failure to believe in Jesus will also be honored by Him, both temporally and eternally, and no matter how such persons perceive their ending will be, it will not be strong. How long, after all, does a dying thought in the mind of an atheist last?
The year 2015 has so far proven to be a year of interesting and tumultuous unrest and uncertainty in our nation. Riots, murders, and laws passed and overturned. The stridency of voices shouting differences of opinion are shrill and discordant. As a Christian, it saddens me to see such disharmony at work in our country because it reveals we are drifting as a “people” away from God. C. S. Lewis said, “God can’t give us peace and happiness apart from Himself because there is no such thing.”
For many, the idea of America becoming a “secular” nation seems bold and enlightening; for Christians it is one of deep sorrow. One of my pastors recently astutely observed these troubling times are indicative of deep spiritual problems (Sin) that entered into all mankind with Adam and Eve’s disobedience, but the secular world cannot understand this. Perhaps seeking to bring order to chaos, or hoping to be altruistic or, above all else, seeking to change outcomes, the secular world strives to reach some peace, but in my view they are trying to solve algebra with a cookbook—their paradigm is all wrong.
We are all, apparently, still standing on that hill in Jerusalem, staring at a Savior with deep and disparate feelings—some harboring celebration at overcoming a person who dared to speak about truth and light and how to live life in a better way—a life aligned with the will of God—and others confused and dismayed that their firm foundation seems about to slip away, ignobly going the way of the Dodo bird.
My pastor suggests believers should view the world through biblical lenses. I agree; Christians who remain sharply focused on a biblical world-view stand in the hope of Jesus and His victory, certain that He is working out His plans for our futures. We then preach the good news that He preached, and the same truths, whether such messages are delivered in good times or bad, or by messengers who are imperfect in their delivery.
Our message of a risen Lord is foolishness to unbelievers, but is the power of salvation to those who believe (1 Corinthians 1:18). Finish strong!
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9 ESV).
The trouble in Baltimore has been difficult to watch, let alone comprehend from a distance. The tragic death of Freddie Gray, the rioting and continuing civil unrest has prompted many persons—family, friends, neighbors, bystanders, journalists, politicians, and public servants—to voice impassioned and heartfelt opinions about the disintegration of community we have witnessed. Passion is heard in voices, pain is seen in faces, but reconciliation and healing seems distant.
Is it reasonable to imagine problems like those in Baltimore can be solved by human reason or action? Against so much history, polarization, and entrenchment by all sides, can hope be found?
Do you remember the song “From a Distance,” recorded by Bette Midler and written by Julie Gold? In beautiful melody it reminds us that we are part of one world, one creation, and that “God is watching us from a distance.” And country music artist Ronnie Dunn recorded a similar song of hope and reconciliation entitled “Bleed Red” by Andrew M. Dorff. Songs and poetry display deep truths because they impact us in our quiet and personal space—a place of reflection and soul searching.
God does see all, and not just from a distance; He is close and personal to our lives. Jesus bled on a cross because of the “lost-ness” of the human race. And Jesus promised us the Holy Spirit to help us in our weakness as we strive to live lives that are righteous and holy as He is righteous and holy. Our part is to allow Him to shape us and mold us to become more like Him and less like who we are apart from Him.
The Bible has a lot to say about human interaction and transformation. Here are some passages for your consideration:
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8 ESV).
“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil” (Psalm 37:7-8 ESV).
“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” (Romans 12:9-13 ESV).
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:14-18 ESV).
“Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (Ephesians 4:25-27 ESV).
“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31- 32 ESV).
“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12 ESV).
“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15-16 NIV).
Once, a “religious” man asked Jesus the requirement to inherit eternal life. Jesus did not respond but instead asked the man’s opinion, and the man said: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27 NIV). Jesus acknowledged the answer was good, but the man continued, asking “who” his neighbor was. In reply, Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-35) and upon hearing it the man concluded rightly that the “neighbor” in the parable was the man who showed mercy. Jesus told the man to go and do likewise.
The first Thursday of every May is designated our National Day of Prayer; this year it fell on May 7th. Such a proclamation is symbolic, but at its core is the understanding that we need God, that in every real and true sense, apart from God we can do nothing—either individually or collectively. Through prayer, Christians can “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:19 NIV).
Our world, viewed from a distance and hanging in the sky, is perfect. But the transformation we desire for our “up close” and “imperfect” world is personal, requiring our careful, specific, and heartfelt prayerful attention. Today and every day, pray for our country. Pray for peace and for peacemakers to step forward. Pray for our communities and leaders. Pray for those hurting and oppressed. Pray for our neighbors who are as broken and lost and helpless as we are, who want to do the right and good thing but cannot seem to do it. Above all, pray for wisdom; that out of diverse points of view Good Samaritans will emerge for injured Baltimore.
The truth is, apart from God we can do nothing; but mercy and grace in time of need is a promise worth pursuing.
Thank you, Jesus!
“And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’” (Romans 10:15 ESV).
Have you ever wondered if what you do really matters in the big scheme of things? People want to know they have a purpose in life—they want to know that “who” they are and what they do matters somehow in the great scheme of things. If there is a universal question on the mind and in the heart of every human being it is this: “Who am I?” The question is an old one. It was on Eve’s mind in the Garden of Eden at the dawn of time when the serpent enticed her to consider that she could be someone else if she only ate from the tree. On a basic level, Eve was dissatisfied with “who” she thought she was; Eve wanted to be more. We continue to ask ourselves the same questions today: “Who am I and does my life matter?”
You might think that Christians would find a question about life’s meaning to be foolish, but surveys reveal that Christians often struggle with harmonizing their principles of faith with their everyday lives. George Barna, an author and researcher of Christian trends, noted in his Top Trends of 2011 survey that only one fifth of Christians say they live life in a way that makes them completely dependent on God. Barna also noted that 84% of 18-29 year olds admit they have no idea how the Bible applies to their field or professional interests.
The inner tension a Christian feels when their lives are out of sync with what God wants and desires for them is unlike any other feeling or conflict. It is persistent although it is gentle. God is relentless when it comes to shaping His people into the image of Christ. He will not ignore their work lives any more than He will ignore their personal life. Life is life to God. God desires to have a relationship with His people.
I felt this tension in my life even though by worldly standards my career and business life were all headed in the “right” direction. But try as I might, I could neither shake the feelings nor ignore them. Something was missing; something in my life was incomplete. Others would speak of having a relationship with God, but my experience was an “awareness” of God, not a deep and personal relationship with Him.
My response was to pursue Him, to catch hold of Him, to spend time and energy with Him through reading the Bible, going to church, seeking out other like-minded persons to share questions and gain knowledge, listening to pastors and teachers exhort and encourage, and prayerfully reflecting and meditating on the majesty and beauty of God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. This journey is not over, but I can testify that my life has changed for the better.
A few years ago I felt an urge to write about my journey of discovery with God; about how He is not apart from our work and that a business leader cannot be the best that they can be apart from Him. This Blog and Website reflects some of my thoughts and observations, but today I am overjoyed to announce the publication of my book, What if Jesus Carried a Briefcase? Presently at the printer, paperback copies will be available the first week of June. But for electronic book readers, the book is now available on Kindle at http://www.amazon.com/What-Jesus-Carried-Briefcase-Devotional-ebook/dp/B00XD85MF4/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1431350628&sr=8-2&keywords=what+if+jesus+carried+a+briefcase.
If you have ever wondered if what you do really matters in the big scheme of things, or have questioned how to gain and apply godly wisdom in work situations, or have struggled to find peace amidst the tumult and uncertainty that all businesses operate within, it is my hope this book encourage you, uplifts you, and draws you nearer to God. I thank God for allowing me the opportunity to write this book. To Him be the glory and honor, now and forever.
“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” (1 Timothy 4:1-2 NIV).
How do you feel right now? Are you in season, where things are going well and the horizon is bright and sunny? Or does it seem that you are out of season—that things could be better, life more robust, problems less challenging, and relationships more sturdy?
I once heard a speaker say that “facts are pesky things.” At the time he was disabusing the audience of “opinions” we held on effective marketing programs he believed were unsupported by the “facts.” If “facts” are pesky, feelings are more so—they can be downright overwhelming.
I come home from work and my wife asks, “How was your day?” I am always torn between answering how the day felt to me as opposed to how much was actually accomplished in it. She is the same way when I query back to her. In human interaction, feelings carry great weight. Facts are, after all, without emotion; hard and cold, facts are a binary switch that is either yes or no, on or off, right or wrong. People, not so much. If I answer my wife with a feeling about how the day went it is a fact that any response from her about the “facts” is not helpful. And if I, a lummox about most “feelings” anyway, feel worse or misunderstood when facts are presented to me rather than messages of hope, heaven help her when I recite fact after fact after fact about just how well her day went with our homeschooled children, the management of the household, and the achievement of goals and objectives desired and sought after by her.
Feelings are like a giant battery. If we feel good, we have boundless energy, confidence, and enthusiasm. If we feel down, energy dissipates, confidence wanes, and alternatives are viewed pessimistically. Such a fact about feelings is important to know and remember; feelings are the lenses through which we interpret facts.
But facts really are pesky things. And if we can return to them, feelings can be brought out into the open and given great attention in a fashion that brings both comfort and energy.
Paul, in writing to his protégé Timothy, admonished him to do his job “in season and out of season.” We also must do our jobs in season and out of season. The old Patsy Cline song to stop the world and let me get off is nonsense. And if you are a leader—in your business, in your family, in your church, in your community, in your life—you must lead in season and out of season.
So, how do you feel, right now? Could you use a little factual “pick-me-up?”
Many organizations require employees to wear particular uniforms while at work. Sometimes the uniforms are for the protection of the employee as much as for identification with the employer’s business. As Christians, and particularly as Christian leaders, we also have a uniform designed for our protection. If we wear it, we will remember facts that replace negative feelings with feelings of hope and encouragement, even in difficult circumstances.
The Apostle Paul described this Christian uniform in Ephesians 6:11-18 using as a metaphor a Roman soldier’s uniform—belt of truth, shoes fitted for peace, breastplate of righteousness, helmet of salvation, shield of faith, and sword of truth. Each article of the uniform is important, but chief among them is the belt of truth, for by remembering the truths of our faith and our God, we can rightly discern how to interpret our feelings; we can acknowledge our feelings but not submit to them.
What are some truths about our God that we should remember daily? He is omniscient, omnipresent, all-powerful, sovereign, creator, self-sustaining, life-giving, trustworthy, true, good, merciful, just, always working to bring about all that He desires, full of love and never far from His children. Of this we can be certain: God is not apart from us. Jesus said “I am the vine, you are the branches” (John 15:5). Christians are part of God’s family, but closer than family—we are part of the body of Christ.
Paul’s admonishment of Timothy to preach in season and out of season is remarkable since Timothy was a minister of Jesus, instructed by Paul, fully equipped to proclaim the message, an eye-witness to the remarkable work of Paul and the growth of Christianity in spite of all its enemies. Yet Paul knew that even Timothy would have bad days, where feelings as well as circumstances would not be in his favor. In those days, Timothy would have to call upon his memory of God’s awesome power and mercy, His loving-kindness and goodness, to restore his feelings of hope. We are no different.
“And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5 NIV).
If you are out of season, remember that God stands with you and for you. Be encouraged, full of hope, and lift up your countenance. Spring is just around the corner.
“There are three things that are never satisfied, four that never say, ‘Enough!’: the grave, the barren womb, land, which is never satisfied with water, and fire, which never says ‘Enough!’” (Proverbs 30:15b-16 ESV).
“The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water’” (John 4:15 ESV).
My son Jeremy, at the time about ten years old, looked a little green around the gills. He had come with me on a “mystery shopping” excursion to Jacksonville, Florida, and as we drove away from the drive-through window of the fourth of ten restaurants we were to visit that day, I noticed him staring dubiously at the full size combo meal and other items he had just ordered. It was about 11:30 a.m., and the prospect of eating six more meals had him flummoxed. I decided to share with him the concept of single bite tasting rather than entire sandwich consumption. We might not have discussed it then, but his full belly provided an object lesson in the law of diminishing returns—in this case cheeseburgers and fries had lost their appeal fairly quickly.
In economics, the law of diminishing returns posits that continually adding one factor of a productive process while holding all others constant will eventually lead to a reduced level of output, expressed either in absolute terms or in efficiency. For example, in my restaurants, adding additional employees to each shift will eventually result in employees bumping into one another, thereby becoming less efficient in preparing food and serving guests than doing the same work with fewer employees.
Empirically, the law of diminishing returns is proved correct; yet we personally are prone to disdain its wisdom whenever our desires overpower our wisdom. “Too much of a good thing” is how excess is often characterized but not condemned. Addictions and addictive behaviors ignore the law of diminishing returns, as do most sensual pleasures.
God created us to have longings and desires for many things (cf. Psalm 37:4), thus “desires” are not intrinsically bad. Desires are incredibly strong motivators of behavior, driving us to pursue the objects of our desire. Say you desire to play a musical instrument. To realize that desire, you must find an instrument, an instructor or texts, and practice. If you invest time in the effort, you will learn to play. The same process applies to, well, everything I can think of that springs into being from a “desire” (including desires that are unhealthy and ungodly—say pornography, for example or extra-marital affairs, or cheating at a game or business enterprise).
Yet, within the pursuit of our desires, we can experience times of diminishing returns. If you practice for hours and hours your concentration at some point will diminish, or your muscles will fatigue. At some point, you need to rest from your labors. This is common sense. But a true desire that is not merely an infatuation, will resume after a time of rest with the same rigor and enthusiasm it once had—the desire is not diminished.
The same can be said about desires that are attached to emotions. We love our spouses (we desire to be with them), but we also enjoy time alone. We love our children, but we also enjoy time away from them. We love our pets, but can’t “pet” them every hour of the day. We enjoy a sunset, or sunrise, or sitting by a mountain brook on a cool spring day, but we can’t and won’t enjoy sitting there forever. Yet, we do not have a one and done attitude about such things either; spouses, children, pets, and nature, all of these things become important and breath-taking to us over and over and over. Such life-time desires seldom experience any permanent period of diminishing returns.
At some point, if you are a Christian, you felt a strong desire to know God, to be embraced by His love and to know His salvation by claiming Jesus as your God and Savior. But let me ask you, where are you now in your desire to know more and more about God; to have Him become more and more a part of your life; and to increasingly work to please Him and conform to His will? Are you doing the work, or do you feel like your relationship with God is in a time of diminishing returns and you have backed off of reading the Bible, going to church, praying, and contemplating God’s plans for you?
If you have backed off some, perhaps even been a “backslider,” let me encourage you to renew your desire to know God. The book of Ephesians (1:3-19) enumerates the many blessings that have already been granted to Christians: blessed with every spiritual blessing (none are withheld); made holy; adopted as sons and daughters; redeemed and forgiven of sins; made aware of God’s purposes; received an inheritance; and given the Holy Spirit as a seal and promise of our future in eternity.
God is Sovereign. He knows your intimate desires. He knows your particular gifts because He gave them to you. He is working to fulfill your desires. The Psalmist says, “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4 NIV).
God’s power is without limits. The Apostle Paul summarized God’s overarching plan of good will when he said, “(God) is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20 NIV).
Immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. With God there is no diminishing return; rather, there is abundance.