The Only Solution for Restless Hearts….

I believe we all possess an internal “homing device” similar as in animals such as birds, butterflies, salmon, etc. in which we as man subconsciously seek someone or something to worship. St Augustine says it well in his quote “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” There is no ultimate peace or satisfying fulfillment in life for man until this restless energy rests solely in accepting in faith Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and follow his teachings in Scripture with the appropriate obedient actions. Man with his inventions and selfish motives has buried, eradicated, and depressed his ability to enjoy this communion with the Trinity. I refer you to Ravi Zacharia’s book“Counterfeit gods” for greater details of this downward spiral in a culture lost in the “slough of despondency” as described in Pilgrim’s Progress, I believe to be the most published allegory ever in history.

An apology to you as readers is in order now as the basis for this whole post is based on a book likely none of you ever read, yet anyway. I first read it last November at the suggestion of my eldest son Ben to give me me further insights into considering a possible career as a Life Coach. It may seem unfair to have you read how this post now, about how this book has impacted my thinking and you don’t even have a clue what it’s about nor will I even attempt to summarize it.  Matthew Kelly has written many books and I have referenced several of them prior. This one, The Dream Manager, as for many who have read it, will tell you it permanently changes them, for the better, and again, I’ll not even try to summarize that phenomena.

When I finished the book, and was reflecting on the quick read as an allegory, I realized I too would never be the same. You already know of my auto accident September 18th and its spiritual significance. Now I am experiencing virtually another quantum leap by this Dream Manager book literally pouring gasoline on my flaming passion for teaching and enhancing communication skills at all levels for individuals of all ages, in business settings as well as in church revitalization. And Kelly has written more of similar consequence, the one I lean on heavily in the remainder of this post, is “The Seven Levels of Intimacy” as the primer for all communication skills. Ok, the apology is over and we’ll resume the effects of these two books. 

Perhaps you ask the question: Who, What, When, Where and How does one begin this “communion” or “encounter” with the Trinity, namely God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit? Traditionally, such an encounter can be as moving as Saul on the Damascus Road as recorded in Acts 9, or as abnormal as after an earthquake in a  Philippian jail found in Acts 16, or as strange as Howard Storm’s  NDE (near death experience) in a Paris Hospital while waiting for surgery transforming him from an avowed atheist tenured art professor to becoming a pastor as described in the “Imagine Heaven” book by John Burke. Or it can happen, as with me during 5th grade summer Bible school one evening with my parents in our living room before I went up to bed, Better yet though, what is your story?

There is no scarcity of books being written for growing the Kingdom and I am sure Kelly is well aware his business books exhibit a unique dual message; spot on for secular business wisdom as well as a unique unspoken Christian foundation for life. Similarly, I believe Jesus’s ministry of love is exemplified best by being a “faith facilitator” as opposed to being a “dictator” when we consider practically how the Christian faith is to be effectively encountered, especially in this culture. So, how can we best fulfill Matthew 28 to “Go therefore and make disciples?” First, you must know the term “disciple” to me implies significantly more “interactive involvement,” going far beyond that merely of making “converts.”  

I see the initial action bottom line from The Dream Manager book as encouraging readers whether in the marketplace or a church, to first, just write down their dreams. Most people find this simple task very difficult. I also happen to believe the process of dreaming and the realization of those dreams as witnessed in Kelly’s allegory, are best achieved among people actively taking St Augustine serious when he said “our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

Persons satisfied living in the consequences of their poor choices whether in relationships, habits, addictions, finances, etc. are continually struggling to survive rather than thrive. Such people may laugh or scoff at dreamers until they too miraculously catch a glimpse of their restless hearts finding their spiritual rest. True, they may still be struggling to survive but now with a glimpse of rest, perhaps for the first time ever in their life, they can visualize Hope, the end result or the payoff, for “hearts resting in you!”

And in time, these little flames of Hope as found among these “hearts resting in you”  will transition from merely “struggling to survive” to “learning to thrive,” all accomplished by simply understanding the divine plan and allowing our built-in homing device to find our rest in you. And often Hope matured, ultimately leads to pure Joy. So simple, but yet, so very profound.

So just how does this happen? I believe ultimately Joy can be found because dreams when conceived in a loving and caring atmosphere emphasizing the Hope that lies within us, will then be verbalized & shared positively changing not only the dreams originators, but everyone else who hears and witnesses the transitions. In time, the circle enlarges to their friends and family and hopefully you too will be included as the dream facilitator.

In the book, Kelly solicited material dreams from the Admiral employees, and truth be told, the non-material dreams arrived later, though well before the fifth anniversary of the employees enjoying their initial success.  Did you notice how soon the successful dreamers realized, that it was imperative for them to share their vision with other employees and family including even grandchildren and great grandchildren? And true, initially it often was just for the“goodies” but I am detecting, the successful dreamers soon realized, there was something much bigger and rewarding here being played out though I’m not sure many of them could have verbally identified the dynamics of this process.

But then, let’s back up and just consider how often do we fully realize the scope of God’s blessings to us each and every day? Too often, I’m totally oblivious! The bottom line of our consideration for this post and of these two books is the social dynamic of the exuberant sharing of our dreams as certainly being worth our examination for strengthening the foundations of all communications as well as growing and maturing both business and kingdom efforts, expansions, and enterprises.

This is the moment I need to point out there is another dimension in this intricate communicative process that Matthew Kelly shares in his book “The Seven Levels of Intimacy” (TSLOI) where the seven are identified as Cliches; Facts; Opinions; Hopes & Dreams; Feelings; Faults, Fears, & Failures; and Legitimate Needs.

Closely related to and on the heels of these seven levels, Kelly offers us these eight Journeys that we may begin though generally we are not even aware we’ve begun or are in pursuit. But as we mature in our communication skills and later review our progress, we will realize we are indeed enjoying the fruits of our labors. For example, Kelly says these Journey’s will transport us from: the Shallow to the Deep; the Irrelevant to the Relevant; the Illegitimate Desires to Legitimate Needs; Judgement to Acceptance;  Fear to Courage; False Self to True Self; Loneliness to Profound Companionship; and Isolation to Unity. Note how the above transitions of process “flesh out” the TSLOI. By connecting the dots of these forms of communication as outlined above, participants pursuing either their personal or corporate dreams whether in the marketplace or the church, I predict will eventually realize “our hearts were restless until they found their rest in you.”   

At this point I need to share some church history rather than more dream allegory. Yes, Peter preached and and on one day three thousand were saved. In recent centuries in this country, we’ve experienced such revivals. Perhaps on certain continents this still occurs. And I fully believe God could do it tomorrow in North America if he so chose.  As always the question on the table right now is what are we to do or be right now in response to the Great Commission? There is an unparalleled opportunity here for the church to grow, especially in a culture such as ours fraught with the pain of abuse whether racism, sexual, family, or even being denied housing, health care, employment or educational opportunities, etc. not even to mention the media circus that relentlessly pervades our lives socially and politically.

However, an “unparalleled opportunity for the church to grow” is not what I’m hearing and reading about in and around church circles today. I hear of “hospice care” for aging congregations, dwindling youth numbers, even now the “maturing” of congregants, formerly the financial backbone of a congregation, whom are loosing interest and no longer attending regularly. Neither have I mentioned the lack of Hope and Joy so readily observed I’m told,in nearly every congregation. Dying social clubs are really hard to maintain, let alone revive. This paragraph provides more than enough “example” of what we are being led to believe today is the “new reality” for the church now and into the beyond.

May I suggest an alternative to the above disparity and gloom? Simplistically the difference is whether you see your glass as half full or half empty. Truthfully, it is that simple. It is all in our perspective. The trillion dollar question though is what has happened to our Christian perspective? Either on the corporate organizational level or even sadder, for the individual congregant faithful all his life but now spiritually lonely without joy? How did we evidently get so corrupted so quickly? You may say it happened almost like a computer virus; suddenly it just appeared! Actually, not! Scripture has been predicting this falling away. We have been derailed by a host of devilish “good” ideas on many fronts, rather than now focusing specifically on “God,” and abiding in His word and offering our obedient actions as we worship Jesus, our King.1

I hear you saying, ‘Merlin, come on now. It will take much more than merely perspective to revitalize the church.’ Yes and No. Yes as said by Francis Chan in his book ‘Letters to the Churches’ on pg. 48 when he says “it is imperative that we differentiate between what we want and what God commands. Not that desires are all bad, but they must take a back seat to what He emphasizes.” Consider Paul’s words from I Cor 1:17 “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, less the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” Continuing in I Cor 2:1-5 “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”

Continuing in this vein, I quote Chan again on Pg. 52 “We’re not doing people any favors by pretending they are at the center of the universe. Either people will be awed by the sacred or they will not. If the sacred is not enough, then it is clear that the Spirit has not done a work in their lives. If the sheep don’t hear his voice, let them walk away. Don’t call out with your voice. By catering our worship to the worshippers and not to the Object of our worship, I fear we have created human-centered churches … Many of us make decisions based on what brings us the most pleasure. This is how we choose our homes, jobs, cars, clothes, food, and yes, even churches …. In essence, we want to know what God will tolerate rather than what he desires….Ignorance feels better than disobedience … Scripture is to be our starting point, not desire or tradition … What would please God most?”  

So yes, we may have much to change, but first we must understand God’s desire for our worship and then change accordingly. No, as I said prior it is quite simple, largely perspective. Let me begin by stating I find most Christians are quite negative in their outlook on life except for maybe that hour or two on Sunday when they show up in church. Let’s assume you get can get a significant discussion started about technology and our culture,  and I virtually guarantee you the average Christian over 50 will remind you of our country’s “glory days,” the rampant loss of morals, lack of integrity, etc. and all the negatives they are against. Seldom if ever, do we hear what really excites them about the opportunities Christians have today to be a positive witness for Jesus Christ on so many fronts. What a glorious time indeed it is to be alive and be faith facilitator!

Do you understand better now what I’m getting at when I say it’s largely perspective? Unfortunately, the prevalent doom and gloom in the minds and attitudes of many Christians when not within the walls of the church, whether subconscious or overt, is too often a spiritual downer to everyone these negative Christians  meet. This scenario is not scriptural nor desirable at all. Such negativity comes either from the negative influence of culture, or individual spiritual laziness and the subsequent lack of empowerment. I compare this negativity much like traveling to new surroundings without the comfort of GPS whereas the empowered  faith facilitators are totaling enjoying their guided trip within their spheres of influence.

I pray you enjoy your discipleship journey into your uncharted waters until “your restless heart rests in Him.” As said prior, this will be a Journey through the Seven Levels of Intimacy and then progressing from the:

Shallow to the Deep,

Irrelevant to the Relevant,

Illegitimate Desires to Legitimate Needs,

Judgement to Acceptance,

Fear to Courage,

False Self to True Self,

Loneliness to Profound Companionship,

And Isolation to Unity!      

These eight destinations deserve your mental “savoring,” then dreaming, and if you do get inspired, YOU will want to read the book and then implement the ten steps at the end, getting you well down the road towards becoming Kelly’s best-possible-version-of-yourself while helping others become the-best-possible-version-of-themselves as well!

Blessings as you too begin to dream about becoming the-best-possible-version-of-you in the peace and rest only God can provide as YOU GO FORTH FACILITATING DISCIPLES>>>>          Merlin

Personal Insights From The Wednesday Past!

I am not kidding! This morning after a particularly disappointing Wednesday, I set out to do exactly what I wanted to do for once, just as I had decided prior to going to sleep! Even though I have some self-imposed writing deadlines beckoning strongly … and letters to write to some new book friends about the US, I knew this morning it was time to work outside; I really needed some therapy time. I’m sure you can relate but the fact is for most of you not enjoying retirement or at least a “wind-down phase” in preparation for such,  you seldom can allow yourself such a “personal passion day” (PPD). And you will indeed be amused (or not!) at just how I spent those “I want to do it my way” hours last Thursday!

You are likely beginning to realize now that one aspect of my life’s passion is creating, whether it be writing, or verbally communicating what I’d written prior, to people who I desire to be in relationship with, to enjoy hearing their response to whatever I’ve communicated so as to broaden my understanding and appreciation of them. Just as you may admire an athlete, a musician, or a particular craftsman, I have always admired skilled orators.

Strange now that at 70 years, I can say that I greatly admired one particular Bible scholar and radio speaker, even though his name escaped me recently, and not so much for his eloquence though he was a skilled and polished communicator, but I remembered him solely for his actions, whom I only observed one time. This person was Warren Wiersbe, author of more than 80 books, including his recent autobiography“Be Myself: Memoirs of a Bridgebuilder,” former pastor of the historic Chicago Moody Church and later radio pastor of Back-To-The-Bible Broadcasts. In fact, I can’t tell you now a thing he said that evening when I first heard him in person, but what he did prior to speaking, I’ll never forget as long as I live. When we arrived, he was down in the pews and aisles meeting and greeting folks as they filled the sanctuary of seven doors. Long time pastor of Kidron Mennonite Church, Bill Deweiler, had invited Wiersbe to speak that evening in the late ‘80’s, and no doubt quite a number of NE Ohio folks familiar with Wiersbe from his radio broadcasts on WCRF were in attendance, so he was completely in his  “element” of meeting and greeting his many friends from over the years. And for some unknown reason, that action by him that evening 40 years ago, really impressed me. So much so that his action precluded me even remembering for certain who this person was; as initially, I had him narrowed to three when Ruth set me straight. I knew his identity was with either Moody Bible or Back to the Bible and I was partially correct on both counts. But the point I want to make here is: it was the action I remembered that spoke volumes, not the man’s name or his ability with words. Perhaps that is the kind of disciple I wish to be. My identity is not at all important. Only my actions and possibly words in rare occasions, pointing whoever whenever wherever & however to being discipled by the Master of this universe, is of any significance. I have just began to read “The Thirteenth Disciple” by Paul Stutzman. Perhaps I’ll learn more from him about becoming a disciple in “late bloom!” to which he alludes.

I just now googled Warren’s name and found his first quote of the ten listed, taken from his “Be” series of commentaries to be as follows: “Each member in the body of Christ is important (I Cor. 12:12-31), and we all need one another and to minister to one another. Since there’s no competition in the work of the Lord (John 4:34-38; I Cor. 3:5-9), there’s no need for us to promote ourselves. The important thing is that God receives the glory.” from his Be Available: Judges. Interesting man indeed and I will be reading his autobiography soon.

So let’s return to the pervading question; just how  was I going to bless myself this Thursday by “doing it my way?” Certainly not by meeting and greeting! It should be no surprise then since I not only admire orators but enjoy reading, that I’d have my ear buds in and be listening to some form of encouragement. The disappointments of Wednesday inflicted their subtle attacks on my perception of my character as well as the understanding that nine month’s work had just possibly got flushed. I am continually tempted to take negative events that could possibly be connected to my actions as a reflection of me.

Before going to sleep Wednesday evening, I decided my therapy Thursday would be physical work in order to clear my head, as well as to get my strength and agility back.I didn’t even consider either a driving or shooting range for my emotional release; no, I needed physical work doing something positive and hard. I worked off my disappointments and rare anger as a boy, either by doing chores among the Holsteins or by cutting wood. Both were for room and board when younger but later, I cut wood for myself and money. That was a double win! Besides I didn’t have access to or money for either ranges, clubs or guns. Lucky me!

 I know God never wastes actions; ultimately, mistakes whether caused by us or others, can glorify God and build both character and virtue in us. If upon realization of the error, repentance and forgiveness is sought; restoration and renewal will be enjoyed. Already before going to sleep Wednesday evening, God reminded of a similar caper in my life, actually way back in April of ‘74, months  after we were married, when I did something far more stupid than what I was stewing over with God now for perhaps wasting my time? What I didn’t remember when sharing my memory of this caper In Sterling IL with Loretta, was that she was not even aware of the deception I’d instigated before leaving!  So very interesting how God so timely restored my memory after 45 years. That was His part in my restorative therapy! The rest was up to me. As St Augustine said, “God provides the wind, man must raise the sail.”

As you know, I do write with numerous bunny trails continually cropping up. Today, professional writers may use side bars offering you a choice to read or abstain. As of yet, mine are embedded in the script making such choices impossible. For example, I keep throwing you these historical clips that factually have contributed to making me who I am today … and help you understand perhaps why I write the way I do. But allow me another clip before we move into the garage.

Being 70 now, and actually this clip has nothing to do with our age, as much as it does with all of us finally realizing we are on “borrowed” time; and that will do one of two things to you and I in our psyche. Either, we’ll submit to the pressures that surround us, or we will rise up and resist those pressures. I do not believe there is a middle ground. Merely going with the flow of what you’ve planted and invested so far  in your life to date, whether young or old, is in my opinion, submission to mediocrity. For examples of rising up and resisting the pressures of, I’ll just mention two here, aging and poor investments. The effects of aging are largely determined by our investments of lifestyle, including our habits of good nutrition, adequate exercise and rest, avoiding or at least relieving stress, etc. Poor investments may trigger financial thoughts but even more importantly, are our relational investments on all fronts; with God, family, friends, acquaintances, as well as people you have not even met yet.

Personally, I’ve chosen to rise up and resist. But having said that, please realize, that we each possess a vast diversity of abilities when it comes to rising up and resisting. And generally rising and resisting (definitely not your typical R &R) is a journey that involves all of life and our continual change dependent on our readings, experiences and education.   

The whole point to this “clip,” is to tell you one way of many that I “seize my day” daily and that is by strategic intervention to secure a dynamic existence, or, a fulfilled and joyful life. The culture out there is in direct opposition to me or anyone accomplishing that! There are numerous ways to secure your dynamic existence but I am best acquainted with electronic enhancements such as audible books or YouTube, whether listening to scripture, podcasts, sermons, or uplifting  books that instill within me the desire to invest in myself and others as we together pursue becoming the best possible versions of ourselves; as well as enable you to become the best possible version of yourself. And I do these activities precisely, as many of you do, in our mentally unproductive times during physical chores, exercise, driving, or even while working if I’m doing rote meaningless tasks such as in my simple milk microbiology lab.

Some of you may contend you need your quiet space, and are not about to buy into this electronic invasion no matter how good the material. And I certainly will not go up against you on this point. But I am asking you honestly to consider  what you think about during your quiet times before you snooze. If after you reflect, God speaks and you take notes, you’re likely on track for significant spiritual growth and I applaud you!

So finally upon going out into the garage, I was greeted by all the tasks since my accident that needed my attention; Christmas decorations totes, boxes to be knocked down for recycling, and items to put away that only I knew where, and by all means, sweep the floor. I had attempted two cleanups prior in the garage, the first in December from a wheel chair. Not easy but I did later get pretty good at vacuuming carpet in the house traffic areas from a wheelchair. The second time was later in January on my feet,  but my strength was so limited. Today though, I felt I was well on my way to being normal by September 18, 2019.

I had taken the Prius out of the garage earlier but not the Explorer … and of course, its battery was dead from sitting too long, but that was soon rectified and in less than two hours, the garage premises were good for the moment at least.

Next on the list after the garage, were the two “bridges,” actually ramps that Chet Miller had built for me on our patio so Loretta could wheel me into the house. The therapy folks of course had to do their inspection of our home before they would discharge me, necessitating Loretta hauling me out to our home. They met us here, as I recall a day or two prior my discharge, with a list of tasks, including handrails on the bridges, which never happened! But it was only today I fully appreciated Chet’s  efforts when I closely examined his work.

You see, as I came out onto the patio area, which actually has three levels, I was  first confronted with what do I do with these bridges. Loretta wanted them removed, as did I, because they totally mess up the summer seating. No offense Chet, because you had followed my instructions precisely when I said I really don’t care what they look like, just make them simple and functional out of the scrap lumber upstairs in the barn as they’re just temporary anyway. 

And he did. I didn’t even know I had some of the heavy dimension pieces and as far as I could tell today, he only purchased two or three 1’x2’. But I’m getting ahead of my story. Actually, I first sat down to consider my options on the southern style rocking chair on the upper level that had contributed considerable history to our family. We had bought the chair in NC at a Cracker Barrel coming home in the early 90’s from Hilton Head. As I recall, Cracker Barrel was opening a lot of stores back then and we got well acquainted with this enterprising manager later one Saturday evening just before closing and learned these store managers were quite competitive with the other stores in their district. They had a record breaking Saturday, and evidently were ahead of the others, but still desired more sales to insure their honor. Fact is, we’d been looking at these rockers prior and on that evening, I think they were marked down $50., perhaps from $149 to $99, so we brought one home and helped them clinch their title. The rocker was a bit of a trick to fit in our Jimmy conversion van though, especially with the big Pioneer wagon and everything else.

But back to the bridge situation. Of course, I’d turned off the audible book for all this heavy rocking chair thinking because suddenly I had a dilemma. As I often do, I took a picture of the situation and then text it to my wife and our three sons. This was my text: “About to dismantle my most visible recent bridges of my life … certainly not going to burn them. I shall not need them again while I’m here! Is that determination? Or merely foolishness? I prefer to think wisdom. Blessings.”

But now, only twelve hours later, I find the wisdom comment as being quite presumptuous. Actually, when we built the addition in ’02, I was thinking we ought to make our home wheelchair accessible, in the event I ever needed such. But at the time, to do so would have required some major landscaping maneuvers and structural changes that were nigh impossible given our space constraints.

So today, before dismantling, I was thinking, what if I go down again for whatever reason (my record thus far for avoiding injuries stinks as I was on my back three times in the past 30 months and twice I needed a wheelchair for a month or longer ) and just when may I need  ramps again in order to get discharged to come home? The therapy folks kept wanting us to build this huge permanent monster structure with a much lower slope so I could self-navigate.

For me to self-navigate either up or down, was never conquered. It was just too steep and I would have needed rubber tires for traction. And when snow would blow in, it really got interesting. I never once even attempted going down myself. I could see the fatality caption: “Dalton man rolls wheelchair off ramp and breaks his neck.”

So what was my solution? I knew it had to go and as soon as I started dis-assembling, I realized Chet had already thought of that and had built the ramp bridges in components so they could be stored for a repeat performance if and when needed. He likely used four dozen wood screws and it was built tough enough to have served as bridges on a competitive dirt bike racing track. So the further I went in the tear down mode, the better I felt about retiring and storing it.

We speak loosely about burning our bridges to insure we do not have the option to retreat. And in my text, I said wisdom, but that actually was mostly foolishness. I may have great resolve and determination to not repeat my September 18 adventure, but actually, I have very little to do with a future similar incident regardless of my resolve or good intentions. Life happens and at my age and with my decreased agility and OI, things can go south quickly and force me to re-visit a wheelchair again. At least now we know the temporary structures are nearby and ready for access within an hour or two.

I’m sure some of you “curious George’s” are going to ask, “just which audible book were you listening to to counteract the negativity from the day prior, at least when you weren’t doing that heavy thinking for five minutes?” Actually, I do have a book I am returning to frequently in the past two weeks. I’m embarrassed to say this but I’ve “listened through” this book numerous times but have not yet read it or underlined it. Personally, I find reading a book so much more satisfying than merely listening to it but sometimes time only permits listening.

This book is by one of my favorite authors, John Bevere, and is titled “The Fear of the Lord: Discover the Key to Intimately Knowing God,” with four sub captions: Positions Your Heart to Receive Answers, Promises Divine Protection, Provides Clarity and Direction, and Produces Riches, Honor, and Life. It is strange how I’m so drawn to this one book recently but I do believe God knows both how fragile I am as a“late blooming” Christian. And he also knows the extent to which I need to more fully comprehend just how foundational  my understanding of the “Fear of the Lord” is to building a fulfilling joyful life.

You see, I always knew salvation was a free gift, one that I cannot earn, and that is true. However, and herein lies our challenge, neither can you or I retain it (salvation) if we do not give our entire life in exchange for it. Even a gift must be protected from being lost or stolen! John goes on to say “a true believer, a disciple, lays down his life completely for the Master. Disciples are steadfast to the end. Converts and onlookers may desire the benefits and blessings, but they lack the endurance to last to the end. Eventually they will fade away.”Jesus gave the Great Commission to “go therefore and make disciples of all the nations….”(Matt 28:19). Note again he commissioned us to make disciples , not merely converts.

I recently was reminded of two verses in Psalms that I have adopted for now as my verses of the 7th decade of my life. Psalms 145: 4 says, “One generation shall commend your works to another and shall declare your mighty acts.” Psalms 71: 17-18 says, “O God, from my youth you have taught me, (He taught but it was I who didn’t learn so well) and I still (perhaps I need to change it to read “I will still) proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.”

To this end may I be faithful. For His glory, my good, and hopefully, for your learning and enjoyment.

Blessings as you too GO FORTH BEING and MAKING DISCIPLES>>>>   Merlin

Of Course Strategy Matters!

Today I was recapping this chapter for a friend about to undertake a review of her company’s Strategic Plan, apparently a task requiring considerable personal time reading the materials provided prior to team meetings, etc. I find this book by Matthew Kelly, the Culture Solution: A Practical Guide to Building a Dynamic Culture So People Love Coming to Work and Accomplishing Great Things Together, captivating because both of its freshness and applicability to such a wide audience. Few of us have been corporate managers (actually Kelly prefers the term leaders, not managers, because that is precisely what is often missing) but we all do influence and ultimately determine the “flavor of our culture,” the immediate environment and the atmosphere about us, and today, way, way beyond our proximity as never before, and to think it’s happening  24/7/365…

So why this post now? Well, perhaps it’s because I am continually amazed at how God designed the lives of His Spirit empowered children to be so joyfully connected and broadly encompassed in fellowship on so many fronts; and then I am equally amazed at how the ultimately defeated Evil One, (who when coming against we the empowered, doesn’t have a leg to stand on), so successfully twists and misconstrues all that God has created for our enjoyment into idols merely for our entrapment and ultimate destruction. The culture promoted by the Evil One that you and I battle every day is not desirous of seeing you and I become the-best-version-of-ourselves, nor necessarily our businesses become the-best-version-of-themselves either. He quite frankly wants all of us to join him, eternally!

You know today culture is huge! Don’t kid yourself. Perhaps that is why Kelly devoted 46 pages in Chapter Four to Dynamic Culture. In this post, I have only touched on 8 of those pages. The second longest chapter is Five and is titled “It All Starts With Hiring.” And isn’t that the truth, as many of you can testify. Actually, I have read this book more from the perspective of Christian Outreach, Church Revitalization, and insight for my Personal Strategic Plan (PSP) and it is loaded with spiritual value, but I warn you, there isn’t one Bible verse quoted that I recall. Prove me wrong.  

Beginning on page 95.

“When Peter Drucker said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” the comment wasn’t intended to undermine the importance of strategy. Strategy is incredibly important. You cannot overestimate its importance, and that’s what makes the quote so powerful.

The very idea that something else was anywhere near as important as strategy initially stunned people. The statement was arresting. When it was first heard it would have felt like a category 6 earthquake to any organizational management expert. It is more relevant today than ever before, giving the growing dysfunction of employees personal lives. Whether Drucker said it or not, if he were alive today, he would probably say, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”

It is essential to understand that the more dysfunctional people’s lives become, the more critical healthy corporate cultures become. People do bring all the joy and misery of their personal lives to work. A Dynamic Culture needs to be able to absorb the dysfunction of people’s personal lives in a way that allows them to still perform their work at a high level. This is an incredibly complex thought, and one that I usually would not even include. It’s a topic someone should write a doctoral thesis on. It needs to be said, understood, and acted upon. Or we can continue to hide behind the nonsensical excuse that this is not a corporate responsibility. In nirvana that is true, but it’s probably best if we stay as closely connected to reality as possible.

Warning: if you are not in a leadership position, you may be tempted to check out now, thinking the topic of strategy doesn’t matter to your role. Please don’t make that mistake.

In the opening of the book I wrote: Too many books are written just for leaders; as a result, the message never makes it all the way through the organization. That’s why I specifically set out to write this book for everyone in your organization.

If you are not in a leadership role, there are dozens of reasons you should keep reading, but let me just give you the single most compelling reason. You may not have a leadership role in the business you work for but the most important business of your life is the business of your life itself. Anything you learn about corporate strategy should teach you to live your own life more strategically. Great businesses have Strategic Plans and they update them at least once a year.

The biggest project or venture you are running is your life. Do you have a plan? Most people don’t. They are just stumbling from one year to the next, hoping for the best. That is merely an observation, not a judgment. More than most, I have seen how brutal ordinary life can be, even in the suburbs of American cities. At the same time I want to encourage you to start developing a Personal Strategic Plan (PSP). The point is simple. Strategy and planning are important for organizations, and even more important for our lives and yet, most people spend more time planning their annual vacation than they spend planning their lives.

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” The maxim does not mean strategy doesn’t matter. There is no point having an exceptional culture and no strategy. And your organization will not withstand bad strategic decisions, regardless of how strong and healthy your culture is. But when you have a solid strategy, developing a Dynamic Culture is like adding steroids.

Is culture more important than strategy? There is obviously no point having the best culture in the world if you have a horrible strategy, and vice versa. Our goal should be to build a world class culture to execute a best-in-industry strategy.

So, the first point is: A great strategic plan can make all the difference. If you don’t have one, get one. If you have one, start using it. We will talk more about how to do that most effectively in the coming chapters.

The second point is: Where is culture in the plan? Most organizations leave it out. They focus on sales and marketing, manufacturing and sourcing, financial reports and the new product development, and other such things. But if you raise your hand when the plan is finished and say, “We say the culture is important and that we are committed to building a strong and healthy culture, but where is culture in our Strategic Plan?” you are likely be greeted by a very, very awkward silence.

Culture deserves a place in everything your organization does. Your organization deserves it. And not just any place – a primary place, a driving place. Everything your organization does affects culture, and culture affects everything your organization does. Culture should have a seat of honor at every planning meeting. Tape a sign that reads “Culture” to an empty chair and put that chair in place of honor at meetings. When it comes to culture, we either need to get serious or shut up and stop talking about it. But be warned, there are dire consequences to the latter and we have already seen how empty culture talk impacts employee and customer engagement.

A good Strategic Plan brings confidence to the culture. Confidence – now, that is something people can smell on their leaders. No amount of perfume or cologne can overshadow that smell. It is impossible to overestimate what that confidence means to an organization. Have you ever been around an elite athlete who has lost his or her confidence after an injury? It’s not pretty. Everyone around him is on eggshells in the gym, on the field, in the cafeteria…

Great cultures are confident and humble at the same time. They are so confident, they don’t need pretense, and so they very naturally embrace humility. A great product, service, leader, and strategy can all contribute to building confidence in an organization, but it is the culture that sustains organizational confidence.

Does strategy matter? Of course it does. It matters a great deal. But whatever your product or service is, whatever your strategy is, whatever your goals and mission are, nothing is more essential in accomplishing them than a strong, healthy, vibrant Dynamic Culture. We have to stop seeing culture as something that is at odds with strategy. They should be best friends. By forming strong connections between strategy and culture, and making Mission King (Chapter Two), you give everyone a clear sense of the what, the how, and the why.

The quintessential question is: Will culture be part of our strategy, or will strategy be part of our culture? The answer is both. It is not a one-way street.

Mission is King and both strategy and culture serve it. Strategy is a short-term way an organization accomplishes its mission. Culture should be included in every Strategic Plan. If you separate culture from strategy, you run the risk of culture going rogue and usurping the mission of the organization.

Who you are is infinitely more important than what you do. This is true for people and organizations. Wise organizations allow who they are to determine what they do. Strong, healthy, dynamic, and enduring organizations adopt strategies that are a natural extension of their mission and culture. Strategy is what they do, mission and culture is who they are.

This powerful alignment of culture and strategy will create a competitive advantage of monumental proportions. An organization that takes this single idea seriously dominates its competition in attracting talent. An organization where Mission is King and culture is central is so much stronger, healthier, more vibrant, and more dynamic than its competition. This type of organization deals with challenges and conflict in a very different way than its competition. And perhaps most convincingly, in a world where the speed of change has become immeasurable, an organization that makes Mission King and forms this powerful alliance between culture and strategy deals with change infinitely more effectively than its competition. The most obvious example of this is that everyone is not waiting around for the king to make the decisions about everything. As a culture matures in healthy and effective ways, more people are empowered to make more and more decisions.

For too long, and in too many organizations of every type, culture has been considered the weak, unprofitable, distracting little brother to strategy. Not so. Real strength, enduring profitability, extraordinary employee engagement, and the next great idea that carries your organization in the future are so much more likely to flow from a Dynamic Culture. The little brother has grown up and it turns out he is a genius. His name is Dynamic Culture.

Every organization needs a strategic plan. Napoleon reportedly said, “Those who fail to plan can plan to fail.“ He was right, but he failed anyway. Great plans spring forth from Dynamic Cultures. Napoleon had the wrong vision and values. He was culturally bankrupt. He wouldn’t have been able to run a fast-food restaurant, let alone a nation. We are talking about a man who re-instituted slavery just eight years after it had been abolished; divorced his wife because she didn’t give birth to a son; deprived women of their individual rights; rigged elections to continue his dictatorial regime; censored and then took control of the press; was self-congratulatory; sacrificed the lives of 500,000 men to invade Russia even after his advisers warned him that would be the cost; a man who said, “I care only for people who are useful to me – and only so long as they are useful.”

Napoleon had a plan, but his strategy was self-serving and his culture was sick because his values were sick. These are just some of the reasons he failed. It is not enough just to have a plan. It is not enough just to have a strategy, even if it is a good one. Without a Dynamic Culture you are susceptible to failure. Sooner or later, a competitor will emerge who integrates mission, strategy and culture, and that competitor will crush all others.

Every organization needs a strategic plan, and part of that plan should be the creation and the growth of a dynamic culture. Your first Strategic Plan can be simple, but let it be driven by who you are (values and culture) and not just what you do or how you do it (strategy).”

Merlin writing now, so as I reflect on the above paragraphs, I considered changing the subtitle word “work” to “church,” making it read “So People Would Love Coming to Church and Accomplishing Great Things Together!” Actually, that book is already written and is known as the Bible and is our Strategic Plan. Unlike corporate America, virtually everyone has a copy but still few possess a working knowledge of its contents and we need not worry about performing the annual updates.

However, maintaining a Dynamic Culture from this book, the Bible, has been quite problematic in the past two centuries in Western Europe and North America with a negative correlation between wealth and self-centered higher education, whereas on other continents, once it’s introduced, are developing their Christian Culture rapidly and the plan is flourishing!

I am reminded of the word “entitlement”, which I first recall in my use in ’75 in the social services realm when I worked briefly in “comprehensive health planning.” The word “entitlement” now is even part of the North American church culture, not perhaps overtly, but individually we all struggle with rationalizing our extravagant lifestyles compared to 95% of the world. So much so, that we become spiritually out of tune, tempted to think our culture and our goodness is sufficient, and perhaps, we are not even capable of verbalizing our personal mission, let alone have we ever committed our Strategic Plan to paper with our spouse and family. And to think I have been pointing fingers at businesses that are not communicating with their employees! What have I been doing under my roof? So what effect does this “spiritual ignorance, actually disobedience”  have on me, my family, church, and the subsequent culture dynamics? Likely not much different than in the business world. Perhaps Hospice Care follows entitlement. Sounds better than the Revelation scenario.

Seriously, how many Bibles do you have? Including access on phones and computers? How many times have you read it through? Do you read it frequently? Do you study it sufficiently to even check translations? See how similar the constituents of churches and businesses are? If you are a Christian and own a business today, you need this book. If you are an employee, ask to borrow your employers copy. If he doesn’t have one, buy him one but read it first. That is real “entitlement!” Blessings as you reflect on writing your Strategic Personal Plan and share it around your table. Then you will be “entitled” to watch the Dynamic Culture take shape and new life come forth>>>>       Merlin  

Hilton Head Island: First at 40, Now at 70!

It is interesting to visit a favorite vacation spot after being absent for nearly 20 years. During the 90’s, we spent many of our summer vacations on the island. It seems numerous NE Ohio residents had invested in condos on the island whom in turn rented them to their friends and neighbors creating blocks of Ohio plates in the parking lots about the island. Such vacations were affordable, within 12 hours driving time of home, and greatly appreciated by the kids for the expansive beaches and decent waves, if for only one week each year.

Prior, we always drove straight thru. This time we did it in two days which elevated the trip a quantum leap for enjoyment, but also more expense for lodging and food…but on the positive side, it is an opportunity to experience a new community and its culture and food in route, particularly if you get creative in finding lodging and food away from the franchises, such as a bed and breakfast.

On the island, our twenty year absence visually revealed its growth. This time we visited for the first time the National Game Refuge, thanks to Teddy Roosevelt, the first of its kind, near Savannah GA, within sight of the new bridge and the shipping docks. We spotted 13 alligators on our drive thru today. One day we toured the Coastal Discovery Museum, a 68 acre portion of a plantation on the island, converted to an amazing collection of paintings and crafts from local artists, to elaborate walkways out over the lowlands demonstrating the habitat for the life cycles of crabs and oysters, and numerous displays detailing the islands various stages of its historical accounts since it was discovered.

I find it strange now to realize just how recently this island has become so developed for tourism. The first bridge was built in ’56 at a cost of 1.5 million which was replaced in ’82 by a 4 lane structure. I cannot recall any place in that I have personally witnessed such a change in the past 30 years (1989-2019) that really only began its tourist development 30 years prior (1959-1989). The airport opened in 1967.

So, I’m sitting here in the Disney complex in unit 1822 with the door open to the porch looking out over the salt water lagoon as the sun sets. We have three huge bedrooms; two up, one down, 4 baths. We are enjoying Loretta’s brother Larry(Debbie) generosity as they are Disney members, who invited Loretta’s oldest brother, Ken(Linda) and younger brother, Everette, and Loretta and I here for a week of renewal and relaxation. A year ago Loretta and I invited everyone to join us in Hawaii for 5 days but Ken and Linda were not able because of Ken’s recent surgery then. We have not yet decided what we’ll attempt next year.

And just as the local economy and geography of the island has undergone startling transformations, so have we as a family; not so much as an expansion of numbers necessarily, as many of you are so accustomed, as much as it is that our physical appearances have changed. Aging is not kind but we are all blessed with good health currently, though for a few of us, our mobility is currently challenged.

As you can imagine, I utilized my spare time to read. I learned on the way down that I can read very comfortably in the back seat of the car on my tablet so I finished reading and underlining both John Eldredge’s book, All Things New, as well as Imagine Heaven. Two recent acquisitions from Matthew Kelly,  A Call to Joy, and Resisting Happiness, were quickly devoured and between the four, I experienced a delightful smorgasbord indeed that I will savor for weeks to come. Truth told, I don’t think I’ve ever  witnessed such an understanding of truth from a 24 year old author as Matthew was when he penned A Call To Joy: Living In The Presence Of God.

Several quotes from it that I’ll pass along to you are:

“Only two things exist in eternity: Joy and misery”

“You will not be any happier today than you were yesterday, unless you do something different, at least in a different manner, with a different state of mind or heart.”

“Your fears are a passport to a new state, to a higher level, to a greater joy.”

“What you become is more important than what you do.”

Kelly  repeatedly drives home the importance of “loving our fellowman into the kingdom”as “they”  are the only investment we can send ahead into eternity as equity in exchange for our heavenly rewards in the second judgement, a  point also under girding the message from Imagine Heaven in the last two paragraphs of Chapter One.

“In the western world, we live for retirement. We have a vision, a mental picture in our imaginations, of what retirement will be like — home, vacations, hobbies, and time to spend with the people we love. Because we can picture it, we will work for it, save for it, sacrifice for it. There is nothing wrong with retirement, but it lasts only a few decades at best.

What if we became a people who have vision for the ultimate Life to come? What if it’s true that this life is merely a tiny taste on the tip of our tongues of the feast of Life yet to come?What if Heaven is going to be better than your wildest dreams? And what if how you live really does matter for the Life to come? That would change how we live, work, love, sacrifice – wouldn’t it? That’s what I pray will happen for you as you get a clearer picture of Heaven…”  

Consider Kelly’s second most recent book, Resisting Happiness: A true story about why we sabotage ourselves, feel overwhelmed, set aside our dreams, and lack the courage to simply be ourselves…. And how to start choosing happiness again! This little 37 chapter 186 page easy read is a spiritual powerhouse in helping us overcome resistance which is summed up well at the end of the first chapter,“The first lesson is that you never defeat resistance once and for all! It is a daily battle.” The remaining 36 chapters each have a Key Point and an Action Step to insure your daily victories. Not to even mention his quotes! Such as near the end of chapter 25, “Any type of inner slavery limits our ability to love ourselves, to love God, and to love others.” Well said indeed. Thanks for reading.

Blessings as YOU GO FORTH LOVING GOD & LOVING OTHERS>>>>   Merlin

Convalescence and Family Reunions

Greetings everyone!

I am happy to report that Dr Ficco, the surgeon who artfully reassembled my September 18 “impact exploded” R ankle, released me from his care on March 5th very pleased with its progress. Initially, the x-rays indicated it may a difficult fix, and I’m grateful for all the prayers, and quite likely, some divine intervention that occurred.

Loretta indeed performed magnificently on the home front revamping the micro lab as two days prior the accident, the old computer had crashed necessitating both  a new computer and software program. We also at that time switched to using Petri Film rather than agar and petri dishes, and Loretta accomplished that transition all on her own with me coaching from Aultman via FaceTime on our phones.

But then, after 21 days in the hospital and rehab, I went home and life really got complicated for Loretta. No longer could she just visit me and go home, but now she had to endure me in close proximity while I convalesced at home literally waiting on me hand and foot, never complaining but very near total exhaustion. Life did improve January 1 when I was able to stand and walk again, and three weeks after that, I was off ibuprofen.

I have heard from other couples that when the husband retires and suddenly is home 24-7, that major relational eruptions can occur, so just imagine the added stress by injecting into that equation, a helpless but quite demanding convalescing house bound husband for four months! We are happy to report we did actually survive, and now indeed are anticipating thriving together, particularly, if I can just quit inflicting new injuries. Needless to say, she and her cousin Beth, will soon embark on numerous trips during the next six months, some that were even on the books prior, as she so well deserves for her stint of “Home Alone with …… husband.” And yes, of course I’d like to replace Beth, but I am still working part time, and quite frankly, am very glad to have the work and able to do it, while I anticipate my next adventure.

Also, I’m happy to report during her recent 16 days in Honduras, with CAMO, Central America Medical Outreach, my ankles really began to improve. Prior I was quite distraught in that it hurt so much to walk. I tried to push hard during therapy (finished March 1) by walking in the woods and fields to loosen up the ankles to no avail. And then on a nice day two weeks ago, I decided rather than just walking, I’d start cleaning up all the branches and twigs in the areas I mow, so I got out my rake and went to work, thinking how this raking was indeed a new experience for me but likely good for the upper body muscles as well as for the ankles. Normally, since Loretta got me a Stihl Back Pak when I turned 50, the rake was retired and all the leaves, sticks, etc.,  were either moved by air or chopped up by the mower. And several days later, I noticed walking was much easier. On our recent two snow days when I used the snowblower, I averaged over 10 miles according to my tracker, normally 5-7 miles. So I am much encouraged in the past week and do believe now that by this September I will experience a complete recovery.

I am so very thankful for the health I now enjoy and can better identify with the persons who experience Near Death Experiences (NDE’s).  Frequently they express this ever present thankful understanding of being spared and for what purpose? Such thoughts just occur as we view our life to-date in our rear view mirror, but of greater significance, is how do we live out the remainder of our lives, now better realizing the fragility of life, its experiences and relationships on all levels.

As you’ve heard me say before, Loretta several weeks ago again, said “you need to listen to this book.” This time it was “Imagine Heaven”by engineer and now pastor, John Burke. So while I was walking the fields, the woods, I’d be listening to this Imagine Heaven book. I found it utterly fascinating. In fact, I listened to it twice  and today ordered the Kindle version so I can underline and more easily refer to the Biblical references he uses.

If you’ve been reading my blog, you know this recovering workaholic has; no, now it’s had, an attitude, such that I figured I’d have all of eternity to discover and experience heaven, which should be more than sufficient, therefore an excuse to keep focusing on the here and now that I thought was of greater importance. To a degree, that may be true but the problem was, I refused to understand at all, that I was not investing well in the here and now, to even get close, to ever experiencing the family reunion of all times waiting for each of us in heaven. And I can just hear you saying, “I could care less about a future family reunion, even if it were in heaven. Just three hours with those still here that Sunday afternoon last summer at Cousin Mary’s did me in. I even left early, thank you very much.”

If that remotely describes you, you really do need a change of scenery, perspective, reality, etc., and Imagine Heaven will certainly open your eyes and maybe, your seldom or underused imagination. Christians ought to be the most imaginative folks you can meet on this planet; although I’m not always so convinced. Seriously, how are we to go about living by faith without an imagination? And some of us are such Thomas’s “except we see the ….” We may think we see here on earth, but I understand earthly 3-D and color is very bland and boring compared to heavenly dimensions and colors, and we won’t need the media there either, since we may communicate without words, but instantly by thoughts. And here we thought the internet and Wi-Fi was neat, though quite addictive for the unimaginative; there totally outdated and not needed!

Now you know where to look at least. The Bible and Burke provides the interesting accounts and the scripture verses. Handy for us being so unimaginative, you know! Thanks for reading. Google the book and download the free sample. Take your imagination out of storage!             Blessings as YOU GO FORTH>>>>                   Merlin

How To Get That Transformed View Of Self

Congratulations! You’ve persevered through the three prior posts of these admonitions from Paul to finding the ever illusive path to true Christian joy. I remember well the flood of freedom that swept over me when I first envisioned and understood the importance of becoming a gospel-humble person in my spirit, soul and body, my heart mind and will, borrowing from John Eldredge in Moving Mountains. I’m praying now for even greater revelations for you.

How did Paul get this blessed self-forgetfulness? He does tell us – but we have to look carefully. First he says, ‘I don’t care what you think; but I don’t care what I think.’ In other words, he does not look to them for the verdict nor, does he look to himself for the verdict. Then he says ‘My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent’. The word translated ‘innocent’ comes the word ‘justify’. The word for ‘justify’ is the same one he uses throughout Romans and Galatians. Here Paul is saying that even if his conscience is clear, that does not justify him.

What Paul is looking for, what Madonna is looking for, what we are all looking for, is an ultimate verdict that we are important and valuable. We look for that ultimate verdict every day in all the situations and people around us. And that means that every single day, we are on trial. Everyday, we put ourselves back in a courtroom. But do you notice how Paul says that he does not care what the Corinthians think of him or what any human court thinks? It is odd that he is talking about courts – after all the Corinthians are not a court. He is talking metaphorically, I think. And he is saying that the problem with self esteem – whether it is high or low – is that every single day, we are in the courtroom. Every single single day we are on trial. That is the way everyone’s identity works. In the courtroom, you have the prosecution and the defense. And everything we do is providing evidence for the prosecution or evidence for the defense. Some days we feel we are winning the trial and other days we feel we are losing it. But Paul says that he has found the secret. The trial is over for him. He is out of the courtroom. It is gone. It is over. Because the ultimate verdict is in.

Now how could that be? Paul put it very simply. He knows that they cannot justify him. He knows that he cannot justify himself. And what does he say? He says that it is the Lord who judges him. It is only His opinion that counts.

Do you realize that it is only in the gospel of Jesus Christ that you get the verdict before the performance? The atheist might say that they get their self-image from being a good person. They are a good person and they hope that eventually they will get a verdict that confirms that they are a good person. Performance leads to the verdict. For the Buddhist too, performance leads to the verdict. If you a Muslim, performance leads to a verdict. All this means that every day, you are in the courtroom, every day you are on trial. That is the problem. But Paul is saying that in Christianity, the verdict leads to performance. It is not the performance that leads to the verdict. In Christianity, the moment we believe, God says ‘This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.’ Or take Romans 8:1 which says ‘Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’. In Christianity, the moment we believe, God imputes Christ’s perfect performance to us as if it were our own, and adopts us into his family. In other words, God can say to us just as He once said to Christ, ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’You see, the verdict is in. And now I perform on the basis of the verdict. Because he loves me and accepts me, I do not have to do things just to build up my resume. I do not have to do things to make me look good. I can do things for the joy of doing them. I can help people to help people – not so I can feel better about myself, not so I can fill up the emptiness.

With every other form of identity and every other ‘badge’ or accolade we might award ourselves, it is always the case of the verdict coming from the performance. We might find security in labeling ourselves a good person, a free person, a religious person, a moral person. Whatever it is, it is always the same: performance leads to the verdict. But the verdict never comes. Madonna said so, and she should know. Madonna has done things that you and I are never going to do – and it is still not enough. Madonna has heaps of talent, she has tremendous guts. But even Madonna, despite everything she has done, says that she has still not found the ultimate verdict she is looking for. The performance never gets the ultimate verdict.

But in Christianity, the verdict can give you the performance. Yes, the verdict can give you the performance. How can that be? Here is Paul’s answer: He is out of the courtroom, he is out of the trial. How? Because Jesus Christ went on trial instead. Jesus went into the courtroom. He was on trial. It was an unjust trial in a kangaroo court – but he did not complain. Like the lamb before the shearers, He was silent. He was struck, beaten, put to death. Why? As our substitute. He took the condemnation we deserve; He faced the trial that should be ours so we do not have to face any more trials. So I simply need to ask God to accept me because of what the Lord Jesus has done. Then, the only person whose opinion counts looks at me and He finds me more valuable than all the jewels in the earth.    

How can we worry about being snubbed now? How can we worry about being ignored now? How can we care that much about what we look like in the mirror?

Let me say a word to those for whom this is all new. You may wished you believed this. Here is what I would say – some people have never understood the difference between Christian identity and any other kind of identity. They would call themselves a Christian, they consider their behavior to be on the upper end of the scale, they go to church and they hope that one day God will take them home. Let me say that Christian identity operates totally differently from any other kind of identity. Self-forgetfulness takes you out of the courtroom. The trial is over. The verdict is in. Perhaps that is new to you. Keep looking. Keep digging. Keep asking questions. There is a lot to discover. I have covered a lot of ground in a short space. There are lots of pieces of the jigsaw to put together – why did Jesus have to die? Why did He rise from the dead? Was He really the Son of God? Keep looking until you understand the whole picture.

But maybe you are in a different position – you believe the gospel; you have done so for years. But … and it is a big ‘but’ … every day you find yourself sucked back into the courtroom. You do not feel you are living like Paul says. You are getting sucked back in. All I can tell you is that we have to re-live the gospel every time we pray. We have to re-live it every time we go to church. We have to re-live the gospel on the spot and ask ourselves what we are doing in the courtroom. We should not be there. The court is adjourned.

Like Paul, we can say, ‘I don’t care what you think. I don’t even care what I think. I only care what the Lord thinks.’ And he has said, ‘Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’, and ‘You are my beloved child in whom I am well pleased’. Live out of that.

Thoughts & Questions For Reflection

If you are new to Christianity, why not read the Gospel of Mark and ask God to show you the truth about Jesus – particularly His death on the cross. If you know any Christians, perhaps you could ask them to talk to about it.

Or you may use the words of Psalm 139 in prayer. Ask God to show you your heart. Ask him to show you the places you look for self-worth and the ways you try to find your sense of identity.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23,24

Could you explain to someone else how the gospel can (and should) transform our sense of identity? How much do you experience that transformed sense of identity? In what way’s has God’s Word encouraged you or challenged you? Pray about it.

Pray that God would give you what you need to enable you to develop true gospel-humility and the freedom of self-forgetfulness.

In addition, I suggest two of his many books for greater clarity, The Reason For God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, and Making Sense of God : Finding God in the Modern World.        Blessings As YOU GO FORTH>>>>                           Merlin

The Transformed View Of Self

Be aware this third post is the longest of the four, as taken from Keller’s book, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness as it details the meat and the essence of the spiritual truths that Paul alone describes in detail as the path to true Christian joy. I rejoice that both Paul and Tim Keller persevered in order that we too, might better understand and then experience this elusive joy, as Christ followers. Enjoy. 

See what he says. In verses 1 and 2, he reminds them that he is a minister and that he has a job to do. But then he tells them that, with regard to that role, he cares very little if he is judged by them or any human court (vv. 3, 4). The word translated ‘judge’ here has the same meaning as the word ‘verdict.’ It is the thing Madonna craves – that elusive verdict or stamp of approval. Paul does not look to the Corinthians – or to any human court – for the verdict that he is somebody.

So Paul is saying to the Corinthians that he does not care what they think about him. He does not  care what anybody thinks about him. In fact, his identity owes nothing to what people say. It is as if he is saying, ‘I don’t care what you think. I don’t care what anybody thinks.’ Paul’s self-worth, his self-regard, his identity is not tied in any way to their verdict and evaluation of him.

 Paul’s identity may not be tied to other people’s opinion of him – but how do we reach the point where we are not controlled by what people think about us? How do you think we get there? Most people would say it is very obvious. Practically every counselor I know would say that it should nor matter what other people think of us. They tell us that we should not be living according to what other people say. It should not be their standards that count. It should not matter what they think about us. The only thing that should concern me is what I think about me. It is not about other people’s standards. I should only mind about what I think my standards should be. I should choose my own standards. So the counselors’ advice is ‘Decide who you want to be and then be it’ because it only matters what you think about yourself.

If some one has a problem with low self-esteem we, in our modern world, seem to have only one way of dealing with it. That is remedying it with high self-esteem. We tell someone that they need to see that they are a great person, they need to see how wonderful they are. We tell them to look at all the great things they have accomplished. We tell them they just need to stop worrying about what people say about them. We tell them they need to set their own standards and accomplish them – and then make their own evaluation of themselves.

Paul’s approach could not be more different. He cares very little if he is judged by the Corinthians or by any human court. And then he goes one step further: he will nor even judge himself. It is as if he says, ‘I don’t care what you think– but I don’t care what I think. I have a very low opinion of your opinion of me – but I have a very low opinion of my opinion of me.’ The fact that he has a clear conscience makes no difference. Look carefully at what he says in verse 4. ‘My conscience may be clear – but that does not make me innocent.’ His conscience may be clear – but he knows that even if he does have a clear conscience, that does not necessarily mean he is innocent. Hitler may have had a clear conscience, but it does not mean he was innocent.

What would Paul say to those who tell him to set his own standards? He would say it is a trap. A trap that he will not fall into. You see, it is a trap to say we should not worry about everyone else’s standards, just set our own. That’s not an answer. Boosting our self-esteem by living up to our own standards or someone else’s sounds like a great solution. But it does not deliver. It cannot deliver. I cannot live up to my parents’ standards – that makes me feel terrible. I cannot live up to your standards – and that makes me feel terrible. I cannot live up to society’s standards and that makes me feel terrible. I cannot live up to other societies’ standards – that makes me feel terrible. Perhaps the solution is to set my own standards? But I cannot keep them either – and that makes me feel terrible, unless I set incredibly low standards. Are low standards a solution? Not at all. That makes me feel terrible because I realize I am the type of person who has low standards. Trying to boost our self-esteem by trying to live up to our own standards or someone else’s is a trap. It is not an answer.

So Paul does not look to the Corinthians for his identity. He does not go to them for a verdict that he is a ‘somebody’. He does not get that sense of identity from them. But he does not get it from himself either. He knows that trying to find self esteem by living up to a certain set of standards is a trap. Now we start to discover where Paul finds that sense of self, that sense of identity. Be warned! At this point, he moves right off our map. He moves into territory that we know nothing about.

Paul was a man of incredible stature. I think it would be hard to disagree with the view that he is one of the six or seven most influential leaders in the history of the human race. One of the most influential in history. He had enormous ballast, tremendous influence, incredible confidence. He moved ahead and nothing fazed him. And yet in I Timothy, he says ‘Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I’m chief’ (I Timothy 1:15 NKJV). Not I was chief, but I am chief. Or ‘I am the worst’. This is off our maps. We are not used to someone who has incredible confidence volunteering the opinion that they are one of the worst people. We are not used to someone who is totally honest and totally aware of all sorts of moral flaws – yet has incredible poise and confidence.

We cannot do that. Do you know why? Because we are judging ourselves. But Paul will not do that. When he says that he does not let the Corinthians judge him nor will he judge himself, he is saying that he knows about his sins but he does not connect them to himself and his identity. His sins and his identity are not connected. He refuses to play that game. He does not see a sin and let it destroy his sense of identity. He will not make a connection. Neither does he see an accomplishment and congratulate himself. He sees all kinds of sins in himself – and all kinds of accomplishments too – but he refuses to connect them with himself or his identity. So, although he knows himself to be the chief of sinners, that fact is not going to stop him from doing the things that he is called to do. 

We could not be more different than Paul. If I think of myself as a bad person, I do not have any confidence. If I think of myself as a sinner, as someone who is filled with pride, someone filled with lust and anger and greed and all the little things that Paul said he is filled with, I have no confidence. No, because we are judging ourselves. We set our standards and then we condemn ourselves. The ego will never be satisfied that way. Never!

Paul is saying something astounding. ‘I don’t care what you think and I don’t care what I think.’ He is bringing us into new territory that we know nothing about. His ego is not puffed up, it is filled up. He is talking about humility – although I hate using the word ‘humility’ because this is nothing like our idea of humility. Paul is saying that he has reached a place where his ego draws no more attention to itself than any other part of his body. He has reached the place where he is not thinking of himself anymore. When he does something wrong or something good, he does not connect it to himself anymore.

C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity makes a brilliant observation about gospel-humility at the very end on his chapter on pride. If we were to meet a truly humble person, Lewis says, we would never come away from meeting them thinking they were humble. They would not be always telling us they were a nobody (because a person who keeps saying they are a nobody is actually a self-obsessed person). The thing we would remember from meeting a truly gospel-humble person is how much they seemed to be totally interested in us. Because the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less.

Gospel-humility is not needing to think about myself. Not needing to connect things to myself. It is an end to such thoughts as, ‘I’m in this room with these people, does that make me look good? Do I want to be here?’ True gospel-humility means I stop connecting every experience, every conversation, with myself. In fact, I stop thinking about myself. The freedom of self-forgetfulness. The blessed rest that only self-forgetfulness brings.

True gospel-humility means an ego that is not puffed up but filled up. This is totally unique. Are we talking about high self-esteem? No. So it is low self-esteem? Certainly not. It is not about self-esteem. Paul refuses to play that game. He says ‘I don’t care about your opinion but, I don’t care that much about my opinion’ – and that is the secret.

A truly gospel-humble person is not a self-hating person or a self-loving person, but a gospel – humble person. The truly gospel-humble person is a self-forgetful person whose ego is just like his or her toes. It just works. It does not draw attention to itself. The toes just work, the ego just works. Neither draws attention to itself.

Here is one little test. The self-forgetful person would never be hurt particularly badly by criticism. It would not devastate them, it would it would not keep them up late, it would not bother them. Why? Because a person who is devastated by criticism is putting too much value on what other people think, on other people’s opinions. The world tells the person who is thin-skinned and devastated by criticism to deal with it by saying ‘who cares what they think? I know what I think. Who cares what the rabble thinks? It doesn’t bother me.’ People are either devastated by criticism – or they are not devastated by criticism because they do not listen to it. They will not listen to it or learn from it because they do not care about it. They know who they are and what they think. In other words, our only solution to low esteem is pride. But that is no solution. Both low self-esteem and pride are horrible nuisances to our own future and to everyone around us.

The person who is self-forgetful is the complete opposite. When someone whose ego is not puffed up but filled up gets criticism, it does not devastate them. They listen to it and see it as an opportunity to change. Sounds idealistic? The more we get to understand the gospel, the more we want to change. Friends, wouldn’t you  want to be a person who does not need honor – nor is afraid of it? Someone who does not lust for recognition – nor, on the other hand, is frightened to death of it? Don’t you want to be the kind of person who, when they see themselves in a mirror or reflected in a shop window, does not admire what they see but does not cringe either? Wouldn’t you like to be the type of person who, in their imaginary life, does not sit around fantasizing about hitting self-esteem home-runs, daydreaming about successes that gives them the edge over others? Or perhaps you tend to beat yourself up and to be tormented by regrets. Wouldn’t you like to be free of them? Wouldn’t you like to be the skater who wins the silver, and yet is thrilled about those three triple jumps the gold medal winner did? To love it the way you love a sunrise?Just to love the fact that it was done? For it not to matter whether it was their success or your success. Not to care if they did it or you did it? You are as happy that they did it as if you had done it yourself – because you are just so happy to see it.

You will probably say that you do not know anybody like that. But this is the possibility for you and me if we keep going where Paul is going. I can start to enjoy things that are not about me. My work is not about me, my skating is not about me, my romance is not about me, my dating is not about me. I can actually enjoy things for what they are. They are not just for my resume. They are just not to look good on my college or job application. They are not just a way of filling up emptiness. Wouldn’t you want that? This is off our map. This is gospel-humility, blessed self-forgetfulness. Not thinking more of myself as in modern cultures, or less of myself as in traditional cultures. Simply thinking of myself less.

The final chapter is titled ‘How To Get That Transformed View Of Self.’ and will post in a week, March 1. Perhaps today we use the word ‘transformed’ in church circles rather loosely. The dictionary defines it ‘to make a thorough or dramatic change in the form, appearance, or character of’ … but if and when one’s ‘self’ is transformed, what then is obvious? More than merely form, appearance & character? Is there yet another dimension?                Blessings As YOU GO Forth>>>>    Merlin

“Here I AM Lord”

For some weeks this prayer has been written ready to go. Finally today have I been compelled to share it with you now. Constant communion with the Trinity is our lifeline. Perhaps we are wasting time being busy with many “good endeavors” while totally ignoring the essence of the gospel detailed in Matt 28:19-20 to “Go therefore, make disciples, baptizing, teaching…. and behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” We are to be “faith facilitators” to all we meet, perhaps a bit more than than the “quiet of the land,” the exception being Psalm 46:10 “Be still and know….” 

I understand that another lengthy post and the fact it is a prayer, may stretch some of you. For some time, I’ve employed the use of written prayers in my devotional periods, whether written by me to be inclusive of the diversity of my daily burden; OR, perhaps as the prayer below, that I view more as a positioning or a posturing prayer; providing me a glimpse of life’s big picture and the magnificence of just merely being in the audience, but yet, fully empowered!

I garnered the prayer below from John Eldridge recently and the credits follow the prayer. I must admit, at first it was long and verbally awkward, but now, I look forward to its introduction to my time of communion, savoring its words and phrases as he says repeatedly, ”over my spirit, soul, and body, heart, mind, and will.” Enjoy the test drive. Please email me if you desire a Word doc. be sent you. merlin.erb@gmail.com

“My dear Lord Jesus, I come to you now to be restored in you, renewed in you, to receive your life and your love and all the grace and mercy I so desperately need this day. I honor you as my Lord, and I surrender every aspect and dimension of my life to you. I give you my spirit, soul, and body, my heart, mind , and will. I cover myself with your blood  — my spirit, soul, and body, my heart, mind, and will. I will ask your Holy Spirit to restore me in you, renew me in you, and lead me in this time of prayer. In all that I now pray, I stand in total agreement with your Spirit and with all those praying for me by the Spirit of God, and by Spirit of God alone.

Dearest God– holy and victorious Trinity – you alone are worthy of all my worship, my heart’s devotion, all my praise, all my trust, and all the glory of my life. I love you, I worship you, I give myself over to you in my heart’s search for life. You alone are Life. and you have become my life. I renounce all other gods, every idol , and I give to you, God, the place in my heart and in my life that you truly deserve. This is all about you and not about me. You are the Hero of this story, and I belong to you. I ask your forgiveness for my every sin. Search me, know me, and reveal to me where you are working in my life, and grant to me the grace of your healing and deliverance, a deep and true repentance.

Heavenly Father, thank you for loving me and choosing me before you made the world. You are my true Father – my Creator, redeemer, sustainer – and the true end of all things, including my life. I love you, I trust you, I worship you. I give myself over to you, Father, to be one with you as Jesus is one with you. Thank you for proving your love for me by sending Jesus. I receive him and all his life and all his work which you ordained for me. Thank you for including me in Christ, forgiving me my sins, granting me his righteousness, making me complete in him. Thank you for making me alive with Christ, raising me with him, seating me with him at your right hand, establishing me in his authority, and anointing me with your love and your kingdom. I receive it all with thanks and give it claim to my life, — my spirit, soul, and body, my heart, my mind, and will.

Jesus, thank you for coming to ransom me with your own life.. I love you, I worship you, I trust you. I give myself over to you to be one with you in all things. I receive all the work and triumph of your cross, death, blood, and sacrifice for me, through which my every sin is atoned for; I am ransomed and delivered from the kingdom of darkness; transferred to your kingdom; my sin nature is removed and my heart circumcised unto God; and every claim being made against me is cancelled and disarmed. I take my place now in your cross and death, dying with you to sin, to my flesh, to this world, to the evil one and his kingdom. I take up the cross and crucify my flesh with all its pride, arrogance, unbelief, an idolatry ( and anything else you are currently struggling with). I put off the old man. Apply to me all the work and triumph in your cross, death, blood, and sacrifice; I receive it with thanks and give it total claim to my spirit, soul, and body, my heart, mind, and will.

Jesus, I also sincerely receive you as my Life, and I receive all the work and triumph in your resurrection, through which you have conquered sin, death, judgement, and the evil one. Death has no power over you, nor does any foul thing. And I have been raised with you to a new life, to live your life  — dead to sin and alive to God. I take my place now in your resurrection and in your life, and I give my life to you to live your life. I am saved by your life. I reign in life through your life. I receive your hope, love, joy, and faith; your beauty, goodness, trueness; your wisdom, power, and strength; your holiness and integrity in all things. Apply to me all the works and triumph in your resurrection – I receive it with thanks, and I give it total claim to my spirit, soul, and body, my heart, mind, and will.

Jesus I also sincerely receive you as my authority, rule, and dominion, my everlasting victory against Satan and his kingdom, and my ability to bring your kingdom at all times and in every way. I receive all the work and triumph in your ascension, through which Satan has been judged and cast down, and all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to you. All authority in the heavenly realms and all authority on this earth has been given you, Jesus – and you are worthy to receive all glory and honor, power and dominion, now and forever. I take my place now in your authority and in your throne, through which I have been raised with you to the right hand of the Father and established in your authority. I give myself to you, to reign with you always. Apply to me all the work and triumph in your authority and your throne; I receive it with thanks and I give it total claim to my spirit, soul, and body, my heart, mind, and will.

I now bring the authority, rule and dominion of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the full work of Christ, over my life today: over my home, my household, my work, over all my kingdom, and domain. I bring the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ and the full work of Christ against every foul and unclean spirit coming against me. (You might need to name them – what has been attacking you?) I cut them off in the name of the Lord; I bind and banish them from me and from my kingdom now, in the mighty name of Jesus Christ. I bring the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ and the full work of Christ against every foul power and black art. I also bring the full work of Christ between me and every person, and I allow only the love of God and only the Spirit of God between us.

Holy Spirit,thank you for coming. I love you, I worship you, I trust you. I receive all the work and triumph in Pentecost, through which you have come; you have clothed me with power on high; sealed me in Christ; become my union with the Father and the Son; the Spirit of truth in me, the life of God in me; my counselor, comforter,strength, and guide. I honor you as Lord, and I fully give to you every aspect and dimension of my spirit, soul, and body, my heart, mind, and will – to be filled with you, to walk in step with you in all things. Fill me afresh, Holy Spirit. Restore my union with the Father and the Son. Lead me into all truth, anoint me for all of my life and walk and calling, and lead me deeper into Jesus today. I receive you with thanks, and I give you total claim to my life.

Heavenly Father, thank you for granting to me every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus. I claim the riches in Christ Jesus over my life today. I bring the blood of Christ once more over my spirit, soul, and body, over my heart, mind and will. I put on the full armor of God: the belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, shoes of the gospel, helmet of salvation; I take up the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit, and I choose to be strong in the Lord and in the strength of your might, to pray at all times in the Spirit.

Jesus, thank you for your angels. I summon them in the name of Jesus Christ and instruct them to destroy all that is raised against me, to establish your kingdom over me, to guard me day and night. I ask you to send forth your Spirit to raise up prayer and intercession for me. I now call forth the kingdom of God throughout my home, my household, my kingdom and domain, in the  authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving all glory and honor and thanks to him. In Jesus’ name, Amen.   

Taken verbatim from John Eldridge’s book “Moving Mountains: Praying With Passion, Confidence, and Authority” See Chapter Nine for the details surrounding John’s rationale and intent for the paragraphs above. For more prayers, see also the Appendices beginning page 232. Or go to www.ransomedheart.com

The Natural Condition of the Human Ego

Today we begin reading Chapter One of Tim Keller’s three chapter book, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness: The Path to True Christian Joy. The Introduction posted last week and the final two chapters will post on subsequent Fridays. In my estimation, this is a monumental little book we’d best understand if we’re serious about enjoying the trip and finishing strong whether we claim to follow Jesus or not. And yes, it does require multiple reads. Why else do you think Tim Keller was able to start from scratch a staunchly Biblical based church of 4000 comprised of predominately professional intellectuals in their thirties in NYC, specifically Manhattan? He presents Truth simply but sometimes our minds have difficulty absorbing the depths, hence the necessity of multiple reads!

In verse 6, Paul urges the Corinthians to have no more pride in one person over another. Nothing new, we may think. Of course, pride is inappropriate. But we need to realize the word Paul uses here for pride is not the hubris word for pride, but physio. It is an unusual word. Paul uses it here and another five times in this particular book and once in Colossians  2. You will not find it anywhere else in the Bible as it is used only by Paul. Many commentators now realize it is a special theme of Paul.

By using this particular word, Paul is trying to teach these Corinthians something about the human ego. This word used here for pride literally means to be over inflated, swollen, distended beyond its proper size. It is related to to the word for ‘bellows’. It is very evocative. It brings to mind a rather painful image of an organ in the human body, an organ that is distended because so much air has been pumped into it. So much air, that it is over inflated and ready to burst. It is swollen, inflamed and extended past it proper size. And that, says Paul, is the condition of the natural human ego.

Because it is such an evocative and interesting metaphor, I think we are supposed to reflect on the image and what Paul is trying to say. Perhaps I can put it this way: I think the image suggests four things about the natural condition of the human ego: that it is empty, painful, busy, and fragile.

First, empty. The image points to the fact that  there is emptiness at the centre of the human ego. The ego that is puffed up and over-inflated has nothing at its centre. It is empty.

In his book Sickness Unto Death, Soren Kierkegaard says, it is the normal state of the human heart to build its identity around something else besides God. Spiritual pride is the illusion that we are competent to run our own lives, achieve our own sense of self-worth and find a purpose big enough to give us meaning without God. Soren Kierkegaard says the normal ego is built on something besides God. It searches for something that will give it a sense of worth, a sense of specialness and a sense of purpose and builds itself on that. And, of course, as we are often reminded, if you try to put anything in the middle of the place that was originally made for God, it is going to be too small. It is going to rattle around in there. So, the first thing about the human ego is that is empty.

And secondly, it is also painful. A distended and over-inflated ego is painful.

Have you ever thought about the fact that you do not notice your body until there is something wrong with it? When we are walking around, we are not usually thinking how fantastic our toes are feeling. Or how brilliantly our elbows are working today. We would only think about that if there had been previously  something wrong with them. That is because the parts of our body only draw attention to themselves if there is something wrong with them.

The ego often hurts. That is because it has something incredibly wrong with it. It is always drawing attention to itself – it does so every single day. It is always making us think about how we look and how we are treated. People sometimes say their feelings are hurt. It is the  ego that hurts – my sense of self, my identity. Our feelings are fine. It is my ego that hurts.

Walking around does not hurt my toes unless there is something wrong with them. My ego would not hurt unless there was something terribly wrong with it. Think about it. It is very hard to get through a whole day without feeling snubbed or ignored or feeling stupid or getting down on ourselves. That is because there is something wrong with my identity. There is something wrong with my sense of self. It is never happy. It is always drawing attention to itself.

So, first of all, it is empty. Secondly, because it is like a bloated stomach that is distended, it is also painful. And, thirdly, the ego is incredibly busy – in other words, it is always drawing attention to itself. It is incredibly busy  trying to fill the emptiness. And it is incredibly busy doing two things in particular – comparing and boasting. You can see them both in the passage. First of all, notice in verse 6 there is no full stop after the word pride. Paul does not say ‘Then you will not take pride in one man over  against another.’ That is the very essence of what it means to have normal human ego. The way the normal human ego tries to fill its emptiness and deal with its discomfort is by comparing itself to other people. All the time.

In his famous chapter on pride in Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis points out that pride is by nature competitive. It is competitiveness that is at the very heart of pride.

‘Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only having more of it than the next person. We say people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better- looking than others. If everyone else became equally rich, or clever, or good – looking there would be nothing to be proud about.’   

In other words, we are only proud of being more successful, more intelligent or more good – looking than the next person, and when we are in the presence of someone who is more successful, intelligent and good-looking than we are, we lose all pleasure in what we had. That is because we really had no pleasure in it. We were proud of it. As Lewis says, pride is the pleasure of having more than the next person. Pride is the pleasure  of being more than the next person. Lust may drive a man to sleep with a beautiful woman – but at least lust makes him want her.  Pride drives a man to sleep with a beautiful woman just to prove he can do it and to prove he can do it above the others. Pride destroys the ability to have any real pleasure from her.

When I was at school, my mother kept saying things like, ‘You know, honey, you ought to join the chess club.’ I would say, ‘Mum, I hate chess.’ ‘Yes, I know,’ she would say, ‘but it would look so good on your college application.’ She would try again. ‘Don’t they feed the homeless and hungry downtown, every Saturday morning? Why don’t you volunteer for that?’ ‘Mum,’ I’d say, ‘I hate that kind of thing.’ I would get the same response, ‘I know, honey, but it would look so good on your college application.’ So, at school, I did all kinds of things that I had absolutely no interest in doing for themselves. I was simply putting together a resume. That is what our egos are doing all the time. Doing jobs we have no pleasure in, doing diets we take no pleasure in. Doing all kinds of things, not for the pleasure of doing them, but because we are trying to put together  an impressive curriculum vitae. By comparing ourselves to other people and trying to make ourselves look better than others, we are boasting. Trying to recommend ourselves, trying to create a self-esteem resume because we are desperate to fill our sense of inadequacy and emptiness. The ego is so busy. So busy all the time.

And lastly, as well as empty and painful and busy, the ego is fragile. That is because anything that is over-inflated is in imminent danger of being deflated – like an over-inflated balloon.

If we are puffed up by air and not filled up with something solid, then to be over-inflated or deflated comes down to the same thing. A superiority complex and an inferiority complex are basically the same. They are both results of being over-inflated. The person with the superiority complex is over inflated and in danger of being deflated; the person with an inferiority complex is deflated already.  Someone with an inferiority complex will tell you they hate themselves and they will tell themselves they hate themselves.. They are deflated. To be deflated means you were previously inflated. Deflated, or in imminent danger of being deflated – it is all the same thing. And it makes the ego fragile.

Empty, painful, busy and, therefore fragile. Let me give you a perfect example of this. I am not trying to lift her up as being worse than other people at all. She actually shows a tremendous of self-awareness and I have a lot of admiration for her. But, if you want a perfect example of what I am talking about, here is an excerpt from an interview with Madonna in Vogue Magazine some time ago where she is talking about her career.

This is what she says:

‘My drive in life comes from a fear of being mediocre. That is always pushing me. I push past one spell of it and discover myself as a special human being but then I feel I am still mediocre and uninteresting unless I do something else. Because even though I have become somebody, I still have to prove that I am somebody. My struggle has never ended and I guess it never will.

I will tell you one thing: Madonna knows herself better than most of us know ourselves.Every time she accomplishes something, these are the kind of thoughts she has: ‘Now I have got the verdict that I am somebody. But the next day, I realize that unless I keep going, I am not. My ego cannot be satisfied. My sense of self, my desire for self-worth, my need to be sure I am somebody – it is not fulfilled. I keep thinking I have won it from what people have said about me and what the magazines and newspapers have written. But the next day, I have to go and look somewhere else. Why? Because my ego is insatiable. It’s a black hole. It doesn’t matter how much I throw into it, the cupboard is bare. I keep putting all sorts of things into it every morning, feeding it, and the next night it is bare. I have become somebody – but I still need to become ‘somebody.’ We might be tempted to think she is neurotic. No, she knows herself. She is ahead of most of us.

That is the normal state of the human self. It is what Paul is talking about to the Corinthians. All these people who are fighting over him and claiming a special relationship with him are showing tremendous amounts of pride. They are unable to enjoy the fact they know Paul. They have to use their relationship with him for one-upmanship over each other in the church.

Paul wants them to know the difference the gospel makes and how the gospel has transformed things for him. Look at verse 3 and 4. He shows them how the gospel has transformed his sense of self-worth, his sense of self -regard and his identity. His ego operates in a completely different way now.

I anticipate Chapter Two “The Transformed View of Self” will post Friday the 22nd. Blessings as YOU GO FORTH>>>>      Merlin

FYI

This little book in less than 7000 words has exerted major influence on me since I first read it  a year ago. I told a friend when he emailed me today that he was listening to his Kindle version, and perhaps you can identify with this though I hope not, but somehow I got my PhD in Self-Absorption before I was out of the third grade. Go figure! And this happened in a poverty stricken MN dairy farm family in an ultra-conservative WASPish Mennonite loving home totally free of today’s media crazed indulgences; BUT reading was greatly encouraged and my education was of paramount importance!

But even I in this desolate environment without electric until four, getting water in the house when I was eight and a bathroom when 11, must realize that by the time I was in the third grade, I was totally aware I was obsessed with personal success at all costs, and I masterminded manipulation in all areas of my young life; school activities, friendships whether in school or church or with siblings, constantly evaluating what cards to play when, so as to insure I got what I wanted. Early on I learned that excelling way over the top, particularly in school or chores, opened doors for selfish opportunities and indulgences the laggards could only dream of, and that selfish attitude, actually was nearly the ruination of my life. Period.

Today the word I believe put forth is entitlements … used for the financially challenged but I’m not talking financially, but rather, mentally and psychologically, where the likes of me when younger, perceived achievement and position permitted liberties to be taken in whatever forms (entitlements) that feed our quests at the moment. And yes, I understood this total Self-Absorption early on and unfortunately, never really understood what was happening until reading the likes of Tim Keller who is extremely skilled in presenting the gospel message to messed up pseudo intellectual minds such as myself. Today in the media we frequently see grown-up examples of me, such as the movers and shakers, getting caught in their webs; whether in academia, politics, business, medicine, church, etc.     

Now one more observation if you will and I hope this rocks all you parents and GP’s to your core, because if I was able in my childhood environment virtually devoid of any media influence ( except for weekly local newspaper, farm magazines, Readers Digest, Christian Living, Gospel Herald, radio (and Christian radio), to get so weird and selfish in my Self-Absorption, (not fully comprehending the significance of  such terms as we are discussing now, Self-Esteem, Ego, Self-Worth, Pride, Humility, etc.) THEN JUST CONSIDER what our youngsters and teens are contending with today. Consider just how pervasive the onslaught of the programming of their minds and intellect has been already and will continue to be from this culture. Is it fair to say perhaps we are just a tad deceived about whether they even know where the tools are to engage their future, not to mention if they can access (use) them effectively… Something to think about. The good news is we have access like never before in history to equip our youngsters and youth to engage now and destroy the likes of my self-absorption debacle and empower them with Truth and Wisdom.

This may be a short book but it is loaded with truths; simple actually, but it will take multiple exposures to fully comprehend and then utilize. This blog may not always be a walk in the park. Some of you will choose to ignore tackling the messages I’m compelled to share. I’ve been there and done that.. just never wore the T-shirt! Direction, Not Intention, Determines Destination!

I’ll post Chapter One, The Natural Condition of The Human Ego on Friday (15th) and the remaining two, on the Fridays following.

Blessings AS YOU GO Forth>>>>   Merlin