Category Archives: Discipleship

Truth and Grace: How to Share?

The C12 Group focused on the issue of trust in this month’s business segment. Trust is a foundational element of our relationships in the workplace, family, friends, churches, schools, government, military and pretty much anywhere two or more people interact. One of the first building blocks of trust is engaging with truth. In addition to engaging with truth is engaging with grace. We in America are certainly being challenged today to engage each other with truth and grace. The double edged sword of technology allows us to share our thoughts and opinions very easily, but also in a way that can be harsh and demeaning. How do we engage with each other, pointing out when the truth is being misunderstood, but doing it in a way that doesn’t damage or even sever the relationships that are important for us to keep?

Let’s start with man’s definition of each of these terms. As is common in the English language, there are nuances to the definition of a single word. From Merriam-Webster, the definition of truth: the real facts about something; the things that are true; sincerity in action, character, and utterance; the body of real things, events, and facts; a transcendent fundamental or spiritual reality. Again, from Merriam-Webster, the definition of grace (relevant to what I am sharing): unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification; disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency; the quality or state of being considerate or thoughtful.

For me, all truth starts with the foundational truths that God exists, that He created the universe, including us, that He has a plan for the human race and that we are active participants in that plan. The foundational source of these truths that God revealed to us is the Bible. Abraham Lincoln said, “In regard to this Great Book, I have but to say, it is the best gift God has given to man. All the good the Savior gave to the world was communicated through this book. But for it we could not know right from wrong. All things most desirable for man’s welfare, here and hereafter, are to be found portrayed in it.” Reply to Loyal Colored People of Baltimore upon Presentation of a Bible on September 7, 1864 (Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Volume 7:542). The apostle Paul writes in 2nd Timothy, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.” (2 Timothy 3:16 NLT).

When we engage in any relationship one of our tendencies is to assume wrong motives for the other person’s words or actions. This is especially true when engaging in social media, texting or emailing interactions because the amount of communication is very limited compared to an in person engagement with conversation and body language. There is a lot of personal history that we may know nothing about which has shaped this person’s view of the world and what truth they have been exposed to. This is one of the reasons I try to start new relationships, especially important ones, with sharing our respective life stories from birth to present day.

The foundational truth of grace is that God loves us so much that He gives us something we don’t deserve, eternity with Him, otherwise known as Heaven. That gift is only available through the acceptance of Jesus Christ as your personal lord and savior, which does require submission. Another aspect of that truth is that if we reject the gift, reject God and reject Jesus Christ as lord and savior, then we reject the outcome and will not spend eternity with Him, otherwise known as Hell. These are eternal decisions, not taken lightly. “And this is what God has testified: He has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life.” (1 John 5:11-12 NLT).

If we are Christians who have accepted these truths, then how do we conduct ourselves in these personal engagements, sharing truth and grace? The Bible gives us instructions to do that. “Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth.” (2 Timothy 2:25 NLT).

Returning to the point about understanding motives, let me give you a practical example. I intensely dislike cigarette smoking (note I prefer these terms instead of “hate” which is a strong word, often wrongly applied). What is my history with this issue that is affecting my view of smokers? I did not like cigarettes the first time I tried them as a teenager. The odor is quite intense in a bad way for me. And most importantly, it is a fact that cigarettes cause cancer. My grandmother and father both died of cancer (not from cigarettes) and my wife is a cancer survivor. I have been and am in relationships with people who smoke. I know that quitting is very difficult and I empathize with that difficulty. But, the outcome of not quitting could literally be death. When I have a crucial conversation with someone about their smoking habit, I try to engage them by sharing what has shaped by view and try to help them see the truth of what they are doing and the truth of the potential consequences to themselves and their families. I don’t like their actions, but I do in fact love them as people and I am trying to engage them in a way that demonstrates that.

The same methods can be applied to any relationship and any discussion of differing views. Let’s civilly and respectfully share our stories forming our views and in the process share the truths that God has and continues to reveal to us each day. There are many opportunities today to have these discussions around marriage and family; the role of government in our lives; the freedom to live out our faith every day in every place, not just one day in one place; interacting with the world; and abortion to name a few. I have previously written about a great book with practical advice on how to have these crucial conversations: https://marcjmartin.wordpress.com/2014/04/23/get-better-at-having-difficult-conversations/.

If you are a disciple of Christ, then fill yourself each day with God’s truths from the Bible so you can continue to grow in sharing the truth with grace. Gather with fellow disciples in groups of three or four regularly and challenge each other to grow in these areas. Pray for wisdom and discernment each day. “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.” (James 1:5 NLT).

If you are not a disciple of Christ, investigate these truths with an open heart and open mind. Thanks to technology (another gift from God) we can easily access many places to do that. The best source again is the Bible and you can start in the book of John: https://www.bible.com/bible/116/jhn.1.nlt. Talk to someone you know who is following Christ and you see that person living it out in a God honoring way. Feel free to contact me as well.

Here are some other resources:

http://www.timothykeller.com/books/the-reason-for-god

http://www.josh.org/resources/free-book-downloads/

http://godlife.com/

 

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Filed under Christian Life, Discipleship, Government, Self-improvement

Do You Have a Council of Counselors?

It is the time of year that we typically look back over the last twelve months and take stock of what went well and what didn’t quite measure up to our ideas of success. We hopefully spend some time using the lessons of the past and planning for future accomplishments in the coming year. This is an exercise successful business owners definitely engage in. The most fruitful ones have some form of a council to help them, not only during this annual evaluation and planning time, but on a regular basis.

Why should you have some kind of council of counselors? God tells us through His instructions to us in the Bible that we should have trustworthy people giving us advice. Proverbs 12:15 states it this way in the New Living Translation: “Fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to others.” There are many other such statements in Proverbs. As imperfect people, we tend to have weaknesses and blind spots that prevent us from making the right decision or doing the right thing 100% of the time. If we have some wise people around us as we go through life making these decisions and doing these things, they can hopefully help us avoid the wrong ones or at least make a proper course correction in the wake of mistakes.

Here are some suggestions from a C12 Group segment on how a Christian business owner can put together that helpful council of counselors:

■ Formal Board of Directors – common for large or public companies

■ Christian Peer Advisory Board – A group such as C12 provides a readymade format for asking and receiving counsel, being challenged by best practice ideas, and submitting issues and plans to other committed Christians for feedback. C12 also provides a degree of accountability, prayer, planning, and one-on-one counsel.

■ Council of Advisors – Another resource that can complement either of the prior two alternatives is meeting with a smaller group of trustworthy colleagues (often two to four local C12 members and/or church members). Real benefit can be generated by meeting together regularly for counsel, accountability, and prayer. Due to their informality and small size, a COA can provide an opportunity for deeper intimacy which many C12 members have found to be extremely helpful.

■ Mentor – More than teachers, mentors are generally role models with more experience or authority in areas where we desire to grow. Teachers impart knowledge; mentors impart life. Long-term mentors are difficult to come by, but they can be hugely beneficial.

If you aren’t a business owner you can still benefit from having a council of counselors. I’ve found that having a group of three additional people of the same sex that meet together at least twice a month for at least 90 minutes each time provide a good format for sharing life and getting advice on the challenges we all face. Having a small number of all men or all women in the group fosters a higher degree of transparency and trust that is difficult to achieve in a larger group of men and women.

As you gather together with your council, here are six common characteristics of finishing well that you could pose to them, asking if there is evidence of these characteristics in your life.

 The Six Common Characteristics of Finishing Well

Develop and fight to:

  1. Hold an Eternal Perspective. Don’t get caught up in the short term thinking of the culture. Eternity is considerably longer than even the longest life we could possibly have.
  2. Build Intimacy with Jesus Christ. In Philippians 4:13 we are told “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” A relationship requires time conversing. To converse with Jesus Christ you need to read His words in the Bible and spend time talking to Him through prayer.
  3. Maintain Self-Discipline. The self-discipline being raised here is avoiding “many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction” Timothy warns us about.
  4. Maintain Open and Accountable Relationships. This is a key part of having a council you can trust and be transparent with. They also need to be able to challenge you when you have a blind spot.
  5. Maintain a Teachable Spirit and a Lifetime of Learning. Proverbs 11:2 is one of a number of verses that tell us “Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” I can trace nearly all my worst mistakes back to pride and arrogance. I can trace nearly all of my successes to wisdom that came from someone else that I acted on.
  6. Maintain a Heart to Help Others Finish Well. Since others need a council of counselors, invest time, energy and prayer in being a wise counselor for someone else, sharing the benefits that you are receiving from your council.

Best wishes for a fruitful and blessed year, one that is focused on relationships, both earthly and eternal!

 

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Filed under Business, Christian Life, Coaching, Discipleship, Mentoring, Self-improvement

Do You Know Your Purpose?

“Christian CEO’s and business owners building great businesses for a greater purpose” is the C12 Group motto. That purpose that every C12 Group member and area chair shares is honoring God in the way we conduct our businesses and serving Him according to our talents and abilities. That purpose has an eternal perspective, which helps us when we are faced with challenges in this life, whether those challenges are in our businesses, our families, our churches or our communities. A greater purpose helps you overcome and it helps you deal with circumstances that prompt the question “Why?”

Do you have a purpose for your life? Is it to accumulate wealth or stuff? Is it to have the most pleasant life experience you can? Is it to be recognized as a leader in your community? These are all things our American culture promotes on a daily basis. If you hear it often enough, you can start to believe those are purposeful things, especially if you don’t have any other source of truth. So, where do you discover your purpose, where do you discover the truth? My answer is that it all starts with the Bible.

The Bible is what God has given us to begin to know Him and understand His plan for all of humanity, as well as our individual role in that plan. That plan applies to both here in the present on this Earth and in the future eternity. If you don’t believe in God I challenge you to read the Bible and see if your opinion changes. You don’t even need to read it all at first (everyone can gain wisdom from reading the entire Bible at some point in their life, preferably multiple times). Just read a few books in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. If you aren’t willing to take that step consider reading a book or two like “The Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel or “The Reason for God” by Tim Keller. If you aren’t much of a reader you could start with Josh McDowell’s web site providing answers to skeptic’s questions, http://www.josh.org/resources/study-research/answers-to-skeptics-questions/. If you truly want answers, seek out a Bible reading evangelical Christian in your community and invite them to coffee or lunch and begin a dialogue.

Do you believe God exists but you don’t see Him active in your life or you’ve experienced loss and can’t understand why God is letting that happen to you? Again, you need to invest some time and effort in searching for answers. God doesn’t turn His back on us, but He also doesn’t always grab us by the shoulders and turn us around when we turn our back on Him (that free will thing, He can’t force us to love Him). A book written by a pastor who lost his adult son in an accident may be helpful, it is “Hope For Hurting Hearts” by Greg Laurie. Another is Tim Keller’s “Walking with God through Pain and Suffering”. Keller and his wife both have experienced life changing diseases. The previously mentioned books and web site are still relevant for you as well. That coffee with a Christian idea is a good one for you too.

What about you who are Christ followers but don’t have your purpose figured out? The first question I would ask you is how much time do you spend with God on a daily basis? What kind of relationship do you expect to have with someone if you never talk to Him or listen to Him? I realize it’s a little harder because He is invisible and very rarely audibly speaks to anyone, but it’s worth the effort. Don’t just show up for an hour or two on Sunday and expect the relationship to be the same as when you spend time every day reading His Word (the Bible) and talking to Him about the things in your life (prayer). There are plenty of Bible reading plans available to help you develop a new habit. Bible.com offers apps for multiple platforms. One of the best books on prayer that I have recently read is Philip Yancey’s “Prayer, Does It Make Any Difference?” Instead of the coffee with a Christian idea, you need to make a bit more of a commitment, get together with two or three other Christ followers (men with men and women with women for transparency reasons) who all want to live out their purpose and help each other discover how to do that (it’s called discipleship).

Here are some other ways I stay plugged into what God wants me to know about His will for my life (in addition to the daily Bible reading and prayer):

  • Going to a Sunday service where I worship Him and give thanks for His provision, listen to some Bible teaching from someone who studies the Bible for a living and spend time in community with other Christ followers.
  • Listening to Christian music that is uplifting as well as sometimes challenging.
  • Listening to other Bible teachers in addition to the one I listen to on Sunday (Greg Laurie is one of my favorites, http://www.harvest.org/radio/ways-to-listen.html)
  • Reading books like the ones I’ve shared.
  • Spending time with other men on a regular basis encouraging and challenging each other.

I hope you find your purpose and more importantly I hope you find God through the person of Jesus Christ, not just for this brief time on Earth, but for all of eternity. Eternity without being in God’s presence will be horrific and I don’t wish that on anyone.

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Do You Need Business Advice? Where Do You Get Yours?

If you are a business owner do you find it challenging to run that business successfully? Do things always go just as planned? Do you have week after week of your employees doing everything with excellence and exceeding expectations? Do your customers never complain and pay you early? Do your suppliers and vendors always deliver the products and services you need on time and on budget?

If these things are happening in your business every day, then please contact me so I can come to work for you! I don’t know any business owner who consistently experiences this kind of success. I didn’t experience it when I ran my IT company of twenty plus employees and I don’t consistently experience it now, even as a sole proprietor without any employees. The reality is that because the world is broken by sin, our businesses will always be broken too.

That doesn’t mean we should just give up and go home. We still have to provide for ourselves and our families. As business owners we also have an obligation to provide for our employees and their families. It will be a struggle at times, sometimes easier than others, but still a struggle.

So, given we will struggle at times, where do we get help and advice for those times? If you are a learning leader you probably spend time reading the latest business books and articles. That is one method that I agree with and encourage all leaders to do. But, as a Christian business owner the first source should be the Bible. The Bible itself tells us through the writing of Paul that it is the first place we should turn. In 2 Timothy 3:16-17 he tells us:

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.”

So, how do we apply that exhortation in our business? First, you need to be familiar with what’s in the Bible so you can apply the wisdom as you need it facing the challenges of the day. That means reading it regularly, ideally daily. The typical Bible is about 2,000 pages and some of it is not real easy to understand, so it requires a life-long study approach. A reading of the Old Testament will help you to understand how stubborn and thick-headed we can be.

The most valuable Bible book for a business owner is the book of Proverbs. Last year I read all 31 chapters in Proverbs each month and benefited greatly from reading it twelve times in a row. The first seven verses of the first chapter tell us why this is a good idea:

“These are the proverbs of Solomon, David’s son, king of Israel. Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline, to help them understand the insights of the wise. Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives, to help them do what is right, just, and fair. These proverbs will give insight to the simple, knowledge and discernment to the young. Let the wise listen to these proverbs and become even wiser. Let those with understanding receive guidance by exploring the meaning in these proverbs and parables, the words of the wise and their riddles. Fear of the lord is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.”

The next source of advice and counsel is trustworthy, like minded advisers as Proverbs 15:22 tells us:

“Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many advisers bring success.”

The C12 Group is one great place to find these advisers. The members of the groups are there to give and get good advice and to hold and be held accountable. They want to do the right things in order to be successful and more importantly, to do them in a God honoring way. They know the people around the table have the same values and will be transparent when sharing problems and honest when giving advice. The C12 Group also provides a structured framework at the monthly meeting to help the members share their issues and get that valuable advice. We have the added benefit of a morning full of biblical and business content to read and discuss, increasing our knowledge every month.

If you don’t have access to a C12 Group in your geography then try to find some other Christian business owners, six to twelve would be a good number, and commit to meeting once a month and share your issues. I recommend starting that meeting with a devotional. If you don’t have any other business content, then half a day should be enough time for the issues sharing.

Read your Bible every day, pray without ceasing and regularly get wise counsel from other Christian business owners and you will be better equipped to meet the challenges you will face today and tomorrow!

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Want to Hear From God Every Day?

One of the questions we chairs ask our C12 Group members each month in our one on one coaching sessions is “How’s your personal walk?” In other words, are you reading the Bible and praying on a regular basis (ideally daily)?

Fortunately, this is a habit that I was taught and developed after becoming a Christ follower in my 30’s. I read a portion of the Bible on a daily basis. The first thing I did after I bought my first Bible, a New International Version (NIV) Study Bible, was read through the New Testament. It took me about a year. Then I read through the whole Bible. The first time I did that it took me close to three years. Since then I’ve read the New Testament a few more times and the Old Testament one more time in its entirety. One effective way was using a New Living Translation (NLT) Two Year Bible, which provided the Bible broken into daily readings of an Old Testament passage, a portion of Psalms, a portion of Proverbs and a New Testament passage.

With the advent of the Youversion.com (www.bible.com) app from LifeChurch.tv (www.lifechurch.tv) I’ve taken advantage of online reading plans. Last year I used the Project 3:45+ plan. It’s a New Testament in one year reading plan “Plus” adding a Psalm or Proverb every day and selected readings from the Old Testament five days per week. This year I’ve been doing shorter plans, sometimes two at a time, for variety and content. I’ve completed a 30 day Daily Devotions with Greg Laurie (one of my favorite Bible teachers), My Utmost for His Highest (30 days of Oswald Chambers’ devotionals), and The Art of Celebration (7 days of short passages, a devotional and a music video from Rend Collective). Currently I am in an 89 day plan from LCBC Church called Major Beliefs. It’s one chapter a day, sharing major beliefs from the Bible.

One of the features of the Youversion.com app I use and enjoy is the highlighting feature. You can use different colors to highlight and all of your highlighting is synchronized across your devices within your account. I use a different color each year, highlighting while I am reading at home and while listening to teaching at church.

Why is this habit so important to me? If you proclaim that you are following someone’s teaching, how can you effectively do that without reading that teaching? Jesus words to us are printed in the Bible, and since I haven’t memorized every single one of his words, I need to read them on a continual basis. We need to read the entire Bible because it lays out the story of how God created us, how we turned from Him repeatedly and how He has given us a way to come back into a relationship with Him, not only in this life, but for all of eternity. The Bible is also how God speaks to me personally. It’s how I receive His instructions to live my life as a Christ follower, husband, father, grandfather and business owner. It’s how He encourages me when I need it, demonstrating His promises. We can’t hear God audibly speaking to us, so reading His Word on a daily basis is the best way to engage in conversation. We speak to Him through prayer and He speaks to us through the Bible. That’s why I try to do both together on a daily basis.

Here are some passages from His Word attesting to what I have written.

Joyful are people of integrity, who follow the instructions of the lord. Joyful are those who obey his laws and search for him with all their hearts. Psalms 119:1-2 NLT

Every word of God proves true. He is a shield to all who come to him for protection. Proverbs 30:5

In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

What impact has it had on my life? Here are some of the changes in my life before choosing to actively follow Christ and after.

Before After
I was lord of my life (selfish). Jesus Christ is Lord of my life (submitting servant).
Purpose of work was to make money. Purpose of work is to build God’s kingdom.
Money was only used to buy stuff. Money is used to fund ministry and help the poor.
I didn’t give of my time to anyone or any organization. I serve on boards, in the community and go on mission trips abroad.
Hoped I was going to Heaven (not sure what it was or if I was good enough) Sure I’m going to Heaven (that’s in God’s presence for eternity and I’m not good enough, but Jesus paid my way in)

I don’t share these to trumpet how good I am, I share them to show the transformation that Christ makes in a person and how the Bible helps to live it out. If you aren’t reading the Bible every day, you are missing an opportunity for God to speak to you every day, transforming you a little bit at a time.

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Are You Coaching, Mentoring, Discipling?

The last couple years of being a C12 Chair has given me a greater awareness and appreciation for the value of good coaching, mentoring and discipling. It was a recent topic in our February advisory board meeting content, specifically in our devotion time, focused on this verse from 2 Timothy 2:2 You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others.” Some of the questions we discussed included:

What specific things do you do or might do to apply this principle in your business?

Practically speaking, how can we track our effectiveness in developing next generation ministry leadership using life-on-life discipleship, mentoring and delegation?

As usual there were great ideas shared among the group of Christian business owners who form the C12 groups. One of the resources offered by the C12 Group to the members is the Leaders Program materials from C12 member Troy Meachum of ACR Supply Company. I will share some of the elements of Troy’s program, as well as my own suggestions on how to implement a coaching, mentoring or discipling offering in your business or your church or your neighborhood.

Why is it important to provide this kind of leadership and do it well? For a business the benefits can be significant. “Training increases productivity 22%, when paired with coaching it increases productivity 88% to 400%.” (International Personnel Management Association, 2001)

The Leaders Program at ACR Supply Company has a formal application process for participants. The mentoring is done by CEO Troy Meachum in two three hour sessions each month. Each person participating commits to reading one book each month as part of the program. Troy’s program includes topics like self-knowledge and emotional intelligence, teamwork and cooperation, communication and feedback, stress management and work-life balance, influence, conflict resolution, developing others, and leading change. Troy’s goal as CEO is to spend 50% of his time coaching and mentoring staff.

If you are intimidated by the size and scope of what Troy is doing in his business, I suggest you start on a smaller scale. If I were to implement this in a business similar to the one I used to own (about 25 people on staff), I would start with 2 or 3 people. The group should meet every other week for at least two hours each time. The relationship building process is key and will take time, especially for employees to be honest and transparent with a business owner or senior manager. Each person should start with taking about 30 minutes to share their life story, where they were born and raised, their family life, their school life, their faith life. The coach should be the first to share, setting the tone for honesty and transparency. Our childhood shapes so much of who and what we are and most of us in business leadership roles know little to nothing about that time in the lives of our employees.

The list of topics from Troy’s program would be an excellent framework to use. C12 Group members could use segment topics or the recommended resource bibliography in their member binder to create a monthly topic for the coaching times. Incorporating a personality profile such as DISC would be a good tool for these sessions as well, helping your staff recognize the different ways people think and communicate. As you take your people through this time, be patient and be flexible, be aware of where they are at and their individual growth. Speed up or slow down if necessary, don’t be rigid about sticking with the program you designed. Share your successes and failures from your years of experience. Model for them humility and a desire for life-long learning.

You can use these same principles in a discipleship group focused on growing the members’ spiritual maturity. Again, keep the size small, 2 or 3 plus the mentor and of the same sex as the mentor. Start with the same life story approach to build trust. Cityteam,  http://www.cityteam.org/dmm/, has a discipleship resource called “Discovering God” that is good for a new believer. I was part of a group that used Greg Ogden’s Discipleship Essentials, http://www.gregogden.com/books.htm, and found it to be another good resource. One caveat for the Ogden book is that there is a lot of homework in each chapter and I would suggest cutting out the additional reading in each chapter, sticking to the Bible passages and verse memorization. Another alternative would be to take two sessions for every chapter in Discipleship Essentials.

In all of these models you and the people who are being coached, mentored or discipled need to commit to at least 12 months and ideally to 24 months. A covenant should be presented and signed by all participants as well.

If you are a leader, then you need to be doing this with others. Get started!

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Obedience or Duty? Is There a Difference When Serving God?

Is there a difference between obedience and duty when you are doing something for God? What is the definition of “obey”? Merriam-Webster offers this definition: to do what someone tells you to do or what a rule, law, etc., says you must do. This definition of “obedient” conveys what I believe when I think about being obedient to God: submissive to the restraint or command of authority.  Here is what Merriam-Webster has to say about duty:

1)      Conduct due to parents and superiors

2)      Obligatory tasks, conduct, service, or functions that arise from one’s position 

3)      A moral or legal obligation.

What has prompted me write about two English words that are close in meaning? One is my experience on a missions trip to Indonesia this January and the second is devotion from Oswald Chambers that I read shortly after my return.  This was my third trip to Indonesia since July 2009. Our church has a partnership with a national church planting organization and we have sent small teams of three to six people to help them with a retreat that they have for their staff every two to three years. I have led all three teams that have gone. Usually we provide some teaching at this retreat. This year we also helped provide child care for thirty children between the ages of two and seventeen. The travel to get there is quite demanding, usually a short flight to a major hub like Minneapolis or Chicago followed by approximately thirteen hours in the air to Tokyo followed by a two hour layover then a seven hour flight to Singapore followed by a six or more hour layover followed by a one hour flight followed by a three to five hour drive to the retreat site. Sometimes there is an overnight hotel stay before the last road trip. Adding up the time, it is roughly 40 hours of non-stop travel with very little opportunity for a full night’s sleep. This particular trip was a little more challenging as the first short flight was cancelled and we ended up driving to Chicago three and a half hours then starting our flights. We also had our Singapore to Indonesia leg cancelled two days in a row and had to find an alternative airline to get there at all.

I was not excited about going on the trip this time, primarily because the physical demands of the travel from 2011 were still fairly fresh in my mind. I also do not like the hot and humid climate, even when it’s subzero here in Wisconsin. I felt a “duty” to our church planting partners to make the trip again. I felt I was being “obedient” to God to offer to lead and recruit a team. The work being done by the Indonesians is important and their efforts are being blessed by God, especially in a very dark place. My leadership skills were tested by the travel challenges we faced getting there. The team responded well and the Indonesian partners appreciated our efforts once we got there. We did have an impact on the children and their parents as well.  While on the trip and since coming home I have been conflicted about my future role in this partnership and about returning in a few years. Reading this passage from Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost of His Highest devotion a few days after my return has me wrestling with this even more:

“If we do something simply out of a sense of duty, we are trying to live up to a standard that competes with Jesus Christ. We become a prideful, arrogant person, thinking we know what to do in every situation. We have put our sense of duty on the throne of our life, instead of enthroning the resurrection life of Jesus. We are not told to “walk in the light” of our conscience or in the light of a sense of duty, but to “walk in the light as He is in the light . . .” (1 John 1:7). When we do something out of a sense of duty, it is easy to explain the reasons for our actions to others. But when we do something out of obedience to the Lord, there can be no other explanation—just obedience.”

What I read in Chambers’ comments is that the difference between “obedience” to the Lord and “duty” is my motivation. Even if I have that right, it is not easy for me to discern what my true motivation is for going on this trip, much less my motivation for being involved in our church partnership with the church planters. I would like to think my motivations are pure and submissive to the Lord, not prideful and arrogant, but I’m not completely sure, primarily because of my role as “team leader”. I did not enjoy the challenges of the trip, but I did get satisfaction out of my teammates’ compliments as we returned home. My ego was also fed by the appreciation and gratitude of our partners in Indonesia. Was my behavior and conduct God honoring or Marc honoring?

I wish I could say I have this figured out. I guess the fact that I am still wrestling with it is a good sign that I haven’t completely come down on the prideful side of this discussion. I do want to be obedient to my Lord and Savior. I feel a strong sense of duty to be a soldier in this ongoing battle that we Christ followers are actively involved in. My nine years in the U.S. Air Force may have contributed to that heightened sense of duty. My prayer is that I can balance both concepts in being a servant of Jesus Christ in every aspect of my life, including my business. My prayer is that you also have a similar struggle.

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So Who is This Baby Jesus?

Is your view of Jesus the baby in the manger in the nativity scene?  The one described in “Away in a Manger”:

Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,
The little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head.

While certainly an accurate picture of Jesus at that point in His life, what about the other titles given Him this time of year in other Christmas carols: Messiah, King, Lord, Prince of Peace, Emmanuel, Savior? What do those really mean? What do you think of when you sing those words or hear them on the radio?  These hymns are based on the biblical description of Jesus Christ. Here’s one passage many people are familiar with from Luke, chapter 2:

8That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

What is the good news that will bring joy to all people? That a baby was born? What does “The Savior” really mean? What about these lyrics from “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”?

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new born King,
peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”

What is He King of? When will there be peace on Earth? Who are the sinners and how will they be reconciled with God? The Bible tells us He is the King of All Kings, which means no one in history, past, present or future is higher than Jesus Christ. Here is a description of Him from Revelation, chapter 19, as John was shown a glimpse of the future return of Jesus.

11Then I saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. Its rider was named Faithful and True, for he judges fairly and wages a righteous war. 12His eyes were like flames of fire, and on his head were many crowns. A name was written on him that no one understood except himself. 13He wore a robe dipped in blood, and his title was the Word of God. 14The armies of heaven, dressed in the finest of pure white linen, followed him on white horses. 15From his mouth came a sharp sword to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod. He will release the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty, like juice flowing from a winepress. 16On his robe at his thigh was written this title: King of all kings and Lord of all lords.

A little different picture than the sweet baby in a manger don’t you think?  This is the King Jesus, the one the world will see again in person someday. There won’t be peace on Earth until after He returns. The rest of Revelation explains this, I urge you to read it.

In between the baby and the King of All Kings is another depiction of Jesus from Isaiah 53:

2My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot,

like a root in dry ground.

There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance,

nothing to attract us to him.

3He was despised and rejected—

a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.

We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.

He was despised, and we did not care.

4Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;

it was our sorrows that weighed him down.

And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,

a punishment for his own sins!

5But he was pierced for our rebellion,

crushed for our sins.

He was beaten so we could be whole.

He was whipped so we could be healed.

 This is the Jesus who died on the cross so that verse from “O Come All Ye Faithful” can be fulfilled. The sinners are us, every person who was ever born. The reconciliation, or the restoration of the relationship with God, was done by Jesus when He died. That’s what it means when you read or hear the statement “Jesus died for the sins of the world”. What you may not realize is that is a personal statement, relevant for you, it’s not a blanket condition for everyone. He’s not Savior of the world in a global sense, He’s Savior of each and every individual person on the globe, at least for those who choose to accept His offer of salvation.

That’s the part we often miss at this time of year. We are joyful that Jesus Christ was born, but do we really understand that we need to accept His offer of salvation? This offer requires us to individually, one by one, accept the fact that He is God, He is the Lord of All Lords, He is the King of All Kings. This  requires acceptance of that truth, submission to Him, and a change of heart on your part. There are millions that have done so before you, so if you have not done it the beauty is that you don’t have to have anyone lead you through it, you can do directly to Jesus Christ, Son of God, who is God, all by yourself, just by asking Him to forgive you and asking Him to be your personal Lord, King and Savior.  If you aren’t quite there yet, then read the Word, the Bible for yourself or find someone like me who has made this choice and ask them your questions. We who have made this choice want everyone to be with us in Heaven, that’s the Good News Luke wrote about!

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Huddle Up!

Huddle Up! is a command heard regularly this time of year, shouted out by football quarterbacks and coaches across the U.S. Here are couple definitions of huddle from Merriam-Webster: 1) to come close together in a group or 2) to come together to talk about something privately. In the last couple of years I have found myself participating in various huddles and found them to be highly impactful on my life. And fortunately, they haven’t had to occur on the football field, where someone my age would definitely find himself in trouble.

One of my huddles is a group of five men who get together once a week for breakfast and share each other’s lives and spend a little time discussing the Bible or biblical principles. Some of the group members have been doing this for over ten years. We have enjoyed eating together, having laughs, sometimes at each other’s expense (that seems to be a guy thing) and helping each other through life’s trials by encouraging and challenging each other. We all go to the same church, which is what brought us together.

Another huddle is my C12 Group, which I’ve been building over the last two years. This group is a group of Christian business owners who come together once a month for a full day meeting to learn from the materials C12 provides and from each other. We also spend time discussing the Bible and biblical principles, how they apply to our businesses and our lives. We also spend time encouraging and challenging each other.

The third huddle I am participating in is another group of six men who meet via web conference twice a month and in person once a month. This group is focused on the topic of discipleship and developing ourselves in the roles of disciple makers. We use some tools to help guide our discussions to focus on meaningful events in our lives, trying to understand what God is saying to us through those events and how we should respond.

Differences between these huddles include the structure, format, size of group, time length and frequency. Similarities between these huddles include intentionality, transparency, honesty and commitment. The goals of participating in these huddles are to be a better person and to be a better Christ follower. These goals are accomplished through learning from the materials (especially the Bible), gaining wisdom from the advice and counsel of the members, and being encouraged and prayed for by those same guys.

I highly recommend you join or start a “huddle” to gain some of the same benefits I have experienced. A few suggestions on getting started; keep it small (3 to 6) and all the same gender so you can easily build trust needed for honesty and transparency, use the Bible as the center point of all discussions, begin with each member telling their life story, meet two to four times a month for 90 minutes or two hours, and have some diversity of life experience and maturity.

Even here in our prosperous and free USA life can be challenging. In fact, if you are actively following Christ, you should expect it. Get some support in those battles from faithful friends and mine the wisdom God has provided us through the Bible. If you want some help getting started feel free to contact me for ideas and resources.

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Get Your Daily Dose of Wisdom

This year I have been using a Bible reading plan called Project 345+ to help me meet my goal of reading from the Bible on a daily basis. The Project 345+ plan includes a reading from the book of Proverbs every day and with 31 chapters in Proverbs you get to start over almost every month, like today. Reading the book of Proverbs so many times this year has really impressed upon me how much wisdom there is for every one of us, regardless of age, gender, family role or work role. I’d like to share some of the passages I have highlighted in my readings, grouped by some major themes. I hope you find them as beneficial as I have this year. The verses quoted are from the New Living Translation.

This is just a small portion of the great wisdom available in not only Proverbs, but the rest of the Bible. If you read something here that challenges or upsets you, consider this verse from chapter 19 of Proverbs; “People ruin their lives by their own foolishness and then are angry at the Lord” and these from 2 Timothy 3; “16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 17 God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.” Read more of these from the source and read from it every day. Youversion.com has many reading plans to choose from, including 3 day plans and 1 year plans. You will see change in yourself if you make that commitment.

The book begins with a description of the purpose of Proverbs:

1:1 These are the proverbs of Solomon, David’s son, king of Israel. 2 Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline, to help them understand the insights of the wise. 3 Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives, to help them do what is right, just, and fair. 4 These proverbs will give insight to the simple, knowledge and discernment to the young. 5 Let the wise listen to these proverbs and become even wiser. Let those with understanding receive guidance 6 by exploring the meaning in these proverbs and parables, the words of the wise and their riddles. 7 Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.

Benefits of gaining wisdom:

2:6 For the Lord grants wisdom! From his mouth come knowledge and understanding. 7 He grants a treasure of common sense to the honest. He is a shield to those who walk with integrity. 8 He guards the paths of the just and protects those who are faithful to him. 9 Then you will understand what is right, just, and fair, and you will find the right way to go. 10 For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will fill you with joy. 11 Wise choices will watch over you. Understanding will keep you safe. 12 Wisdom will save you from evil people, from those whose words are twisted.

3:1 My child, never forget the things I have taught you. Store my commands in your heart. 2 If you do this, you will live many years, and your life will be satisfying. 3 Never let loyalty and kindness leave you! Tie them around your neck as a reminder. Write them deep within your heart. 4 Then you will find favor with both God and people, and you will earn a good reputation. 5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. 6 Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. 7 Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom. Instead, fear the Lord and turn away from evil.

4:10 My child, listen to me and do as I say, and you will have a long, good life. 11 I will teach you wisdom’s ways and lead you in straight paths. 12 When you walk, you won’t be held back; when you run, you won’t stumble. 13 Take hold of my instructions; don’t let them go. Guard them, for they are the key to life.

8:10 Choose my instruction rather than silver, and knowledge rather than pure gold. 11 For wisdom is far more valuable than rubies. Nothing you desire can compare with it.

8:32 “And so, my children, listen to me, for all who follow my ways are joyful. 33 Listen to my instruction and be wise. Don’t ignore it.

9:11 Wisdom will multiply your days and add years to your life. 12 If you become wise, you will be the one to benefit. If you scorn wisdom, you will be the one to suffer.

15:22 Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many advisers bring success.

15:31 If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise.

18:15 Intelligent people are always ready to learn. Their ears are open for knowledge.

30:5 Every word of God proves true. He is a shield to all who come to him for protection. 6 Do not add to his words, or he may rebuke you and expose you as a liar.

 Stewardship:

3:9 Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the best part of everything you produce. 10 Then he will fill your barns with grain, and your vats will overflow with good wine.

10:16 The earnings of the godly enhance their lives, but evil people squander their money on sin.

11:24 Give freely and become more wealthy; be stingy and lose everything. 25 The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.

21:26 Some people are always greedy for more, but the godly love to give!

23:4 Don’t wear yourself out trying to get rich. Be wise enough to know when to quit.

30:8 First, help me never to tell a lie. Second, give me neither poverty nor riches! Give me just enough to satisfy my needs. 9 For if I grow rich, I may deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?” And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God’s holy name.

 Caring for others:

3:27 Do not withhold good from those who deserve it when it’s in your power to help them.

11:30 The seeds of good deeds become a tree of life; a wise person wins friends.

14:31 Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, but helping the poor honors him.

19:17 If you help the poor, you are lending to the Lord— and he will repay you!

22:9 Blessed are those who are generous, because they feed the poor.

28:27 Whoever gives to the poor will lack nothing, but those who close their eyes to poverty will be cursed.

 Work is worthy:

5:10 A little extra sleep, a little more slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest— 11 then poverty will pounce on you like a bandit; scarcity will attack you like an armed robber.

10:26 Lazy people irritate their employers, like vinegar to the teeth or smoke in the eyes.

21:5 Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity, but hasty shortcuts lead to poverty.

27:18 As workers who tend a fig tree are allowed to eat the fruit, so workers who protect their employer’s interests will be rewarded.

28:19 A hard worker has plenty of food, but a person who chases fantasies ends up in poverty.

Evidence and repercussions of foolish behavior (mostly via your words):

10:8 The wise are glad to be instructed, but babbling fools fall flat on their faces.

10:14 Wise people treasure knowledge, but the babbling of a fool invites disaster.

10:19 Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut.

10:32 The lips of the godly speak helpful words, but the mouth of the wicked speaks perverse words.

11:12 It is foolish to belittle one’s neighbor; a sensible person keeps quiet. 13 A gossip goes around telling secrets, but those who are trustworthy can keep a confidence. 14 Without wise leadership, a nation falls; there is safety in having many advisers.

12:15 Fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to others. 16 A fool is quick-tempered, but a wise person stays calm when insulted.

12:23 The wise don’t make a show of their knowledge, but fools broadcast their foolishness.

13:3 Those who control their tongue will have a long life; opening your mouth can ruin everything. 4 Lazy people want much but get little, but those who work hard will prosper.

14:16 The wise are cautious and avoid danger; fools plunge ahead with reckless confidence.

14:29 People with understanding control their anger; a hot temper shows great foolishness.

15:1 A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.

17:27 A truly wise person uses few words; a person with understanding is even-tempered. 28 Even fools are thought wise when they keep silent; with their mouths shut, they seem intelligent.

18:13 Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish.

19:3 People ruin their lives by their own foolishness and then are angry at the Lord.

20:1 Wine produces mockers; alcohol leads to brawls. Those led astray by drink cannot be wise.

28:2 When there is moral rot within a nation, its government topples easily. But wise and knowledgeable leaders bring stability.

29:11 Fools vent their anger, but the wise quietly hold it back.

Family conflict, children and parenting:

1:8 My child, listen when your father corrects you. Don’t neglect your mother’s instruction.

4:1 My children, listen when your father corrects you. Pay attention and learn good judgment, 2 for I am giving you good guidance. Don’t turn away from my instructions.

6:20 My son, obey your father’s commands, and don’t neglect your mother’s instruction.

13:1 A wise child accepts a parent’s discipline; a mocker refuses to listen to correction.

13:24 Those who spare the rod of discipline hate their children. Those who love their children care enough to discipline them.

15:5 Only a fool despises a parent’s discipline; whoever learns from correction is wise.

17:1 Better a dry crust eaten in peace than a house filled with feasting—and conflict.

18:22 The man who finds a wife finds a treasure, and he receives favor from the Lord.

19:13 A foolish child is a calamity to a father; a quarrelsome wife is as annoying as constant dripping. 14 Fathers can give their sons an inheritance of houses and wealth, but only the Lord can give an understanding wife.

19:18 Discipline your children while there is hope. Otherwise you will ruin their lives.

20:7 The godly walk with integrity; blessed are their children who follow them.

21:19 It’s better to live alone in the desert than with a quarrelsome, complaining wife.

22:6 Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.

22:15 A youngster’s heart is filled with foolishness, but physical discipline will drive it far away.

23:13 Don’t fail to discipline your children. They won’t die if you spank them. 14 Physical discipline may well save them from death.

27:15 A quarrelsome wife is as annoying as constant dripping on a rainy day. 16 Stopping her complaints is like trying to stop the wind or trying to hold something with greased hands.

29:15 To discipline a child produces wisdom, but a mother is disgraced by an undisciplined child.

31:10 Who can find a virtuous and capable wife? She is more precious than rubies. 11 Her husband can trust her, and she will greatly enrich his life. 12 She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.

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