Warning! This is not your typical Mother’s Day Tribute … for the time has come to set the record straight!

Perhaps you recently encountered my Triple D business card and you are thinking whatever happened to NSWS Labs and even the more recent Ohio Dairy Records? Best said, they’ve been replaced, and finally! That era of my life is no more. And assuredly, it was kept operational far longer than was either wise or even desirable. I enjoyed the people and most of the events but actually, when Ohio Dairy Records was sold off in 2001, I should have retooled then as I am doing now and stepped forth into new arenas.

Fact is though, I wasn’t prepared for such a transition then. I had not matured sufficiently and I’ll not bore you with all the details. Historically, even by middle school I already sensed a call from God on my life and during my sophomore year at Hesston (Oct ’67) while driving a college campus missionary from India (I keep wondering now if he knew Ravi Zacharias back then) to Tabor College one evening, he really got in my face about me needing to attend the annual Urbana IL Missions conference during Christmas break and I refused. Again, during the summer of ’73 while working maintenance at Starcraft evenings and Goshen General Hospital days as a lab tech, there was a national conference held on GC campus concerning the activity of the Holy Spirit in Mennonite congregations and again, I felt compelled to attend but again, I refused. Three distinct memorable refusals and countless others, of course, long forgotten!

Actually in 2001, soon after the sale of Ohio Dairy Records, I had been accepted at Ashland Seminary as that was what I always thought and said was next for me . My wife Loretta however, stepped forward then and quite wisely and truthfully informed me of what was very obvious to her at the time; I had greater responsibilities at home with our two younger sons for the next five years until they completed high school than I did for whatever Seminary might have tried  to prepare me for.  She wisely knew I wasn’t the father or husband I should have been then on my turf, and succinctly told me I had no business thinking I could be trained to help other fathers and husbands toe their lines either! Furthermore, she knew that it was really a heart problem with me, likely a unique variation of “congestive heart failure”, simply because my heart was so loaded down with all my past personal baggage (pure garbage actually) that I’d been carrying around for years in my egotistical workaholic stupor!

Now, you’re thinking, “Jeepers Merlin, I really didn’t want or need that much info. You’re pretty hard on yourself.” Fact is for all you readers, that was the Sunday School version, you really don’t want to hear the Saturday Night Live version! Unfortunately, Loretta discovered only days into our marriage that I was going to require far more retooling than she was capable of offering me on her own. 

So, she very wisely early on without any professional help, summoned Holy Spirit to help her honor her covenant commitment to me thus beginning a forty year process to restore and retool “Merlin” to the original design God had planned before I so selfishly upset the cart. And He did! She was the model wife never complaining and always seeking and praying for the healing of my heart. Spousal problems can exhibit many symptoms and chase you down many bunny trails, BUT from what we’ve observed, spousal problems virtually always begin with a heart condition. More often than not when peeling back the layers of hurt, the root cause was simple selfishness. Love is a choice. And if you’ve been following me recently, you gotta know I’m going to say “The Seven Levels of Intimacy” is the first secular book to read to really understand communication. Simply monumental.

Details of this forty year process are not relevant for this discussion. Fact is though, Loretta was relentless in providing me books, cassette tapes, then CD’s, and eventually both Kindle and Audible  to rehab me. Seriously now, do you know anyone who has been someone’s “project” for forty years? I can understand perhaps as a mother, but for a wife to stand in there day after day in hope that her vision for her husband would actually ever be accomplished. Seldom if ever!

Now, just take a moment longer and consider the gratitude I now have for her patience with me. Next, consider the remorse I feel now for the all pain I caused her! And the debt I owe her is simply staggering. Actually, as disciples of Christ, most of us were all in quite  similar circumstances with our former sinful state and the debt that was paid for our freedom and  the abundant life we now enjoy as we daily “recalculate our spiritual GPS” in Christ. Today when asked how I am, I frequently reply “I am a blessed man.” You likely thought it was from merely being able to walk again. You have absolutely no idea how blessed I really am on so many fronts!

Loretta has become very much an expert over the years securing pertinent materials to communicate truth to me, and yet, even today, selects over 90% of the books I read. This will no doubt change somewhat as I shift now into the coaching realm as I enter into conversations focusing on personal growth, relationships & transitions whether business &/or personal. I lovingly tell her that in our home she is the master coach in residence, and I’d not be surprised at all, and in deed, would welcome the opportunity for her to be involved with me in select assignments, considering the wealth of experience she brings to the table. Unlike me, she has invested well in life and is now content more than not, to just enjoy her retirement with purpose, and to do so, hopefully with me.

Coaching is well served by life-long learning on many fronts which I’ve been actually unknowingly  preparing for my entire life. People who know me and understand coaching, affirm coaching is a good fit for me. My spirit confirms it as well because coaching really is in essence now, the God given desire of my heart. And as I too approach retirement, coaching offers me flexibility in both scheduling and location.

 I have always enjoyed meeting new people and more recently, engaging them in meaningful conversations while in the throes of their challenges, whether they be in personal growth, relationships or transitions. For me to transition into coaching now, appears to be  my next “calling,” as it is so naturally occurring for me. With God’s continued leading and empowerment, we trust we will find it both rewarding and fulfilling for us and those with whom we walk.  

Blessings as YOU TOO GO FORTH>>>>                        Merlin

Consider This: Where does Healing Begin?

Matthew Kelly in his recent book “The Culture Solution” says there are two main reasons things don’t get done as needed in organizations. I include the next three paragraphs as they are necessary to introduce and better understand the intricacies of meaningful relationships as influenced by dreams, hopes, and expectations, (DsHs&Es), whether at home or in business. The following is verbatim from that book except my italicized comments in the last seven paragraphs. Enjoy!

First, leaders don’t create clear, mutually agreed upon, written expectations. Second, even if  #1 does get done, leaders and team members don’t hold each other accountable for those clearly defined written expectations. Most leaders think their team members know what is expected of them, and most people think they know what their leaders expect of them. Both assumptions are flawed. The result is the emergence of an expectations gap between leaders and direct reports.  

The hardest expectations to meet and fulfill are the ones you don’t even know about. Forget about products and customers for a minute – I have a five-year-old daughter. She has expectations of me, but many of them I would never know about if I didn’t talk to her about them, asking her questions, even probing a little, because her little heart and mind may not even be able to articulate them. And even then, as hard as I try, there will still be times when she thought something was going to happen and it didn’t. There is nothing quite so heart crushing as the unmet expectation of your five-year-old little girl.

Everyone in your life has expectations of you. And guess what, you have expectations of everyone in your life too. This is all natural and normal. But it is impossible to meet expectations that we don’t even know exist.

And we are just talking about expectations here; we haven’t even ventured into the arena of hopes and dreams. When “The Dream Manager” was first published, I was doing a workshop for a family business in California. The business had participants from three generations of the family. The grandparents had started the business, their children had carried it on, and their grandchildren were now working in it.

They were beautiful people. They were truly salt of the earth, as they say. Three generations of character on display: honest, fair, hard-working, generous, and loving, the kind of people you want to surround yourself with all the time.

During the morning session one of the exercises was to make a list of the individual dreams they had for themselves. There were about 80 family members in the room and after they made their list we went around the room and I asked each person to share just one of their dreams with everyone.

As we went through the exercise switching back-and-forth between generations, it became obvious that they were discovering things about each other they had never known. You could tell that what different family members shared surprised the others. Finally, we made our way to the patriarch and the matriarch of the family. The grandfather was a kind and gentle man, and he deferred to his wife to go first. It was clear that they had both lived rich and full lives, and I don’t think anyone in the room was prepared for what was about to happen.

“When I was a little girl growing up, I never dreamed my life could have been as wonderful as it has been. We have never lived a lavish life, not because we didn’t have plenty of money, but because we decided very early on in our success that simplicity was one of life‘s overlooked riches. So, as I sit here this morning and listen to you all speak about your hopes and dreams, I am so happy for the lives that you have before you, and you know Papa and I will do anything we can to help you fulfill your dreams. For myself, my joy comes from watching you fulfill your dreams, but I do have one dream….

As she uttered these words, the room got very quiet; in fact I’m not even sure I have ever seen a room get so silent so quickly. Some people leaned in and others unconsciously moved toward the edge of their seats. Then she continued, “For my whole life, I have always wanted to go to New York City and see a Broadway show.“

There was a collective gasp from the group. They were thinking so loudly you could hear them. How did we miss this? How is this possible? And of course, the dark realization that in all these years nobody had ever asked her what her dreams were. They looked over toward papa, as they called him, and tears were streaming down his face. His anguished expression said, “I have failed my beloved.“

One week later they had her on a plane to New York, accompanied by three of her children, five of her grandchildren, and her loving and devoted husband. She saw five Broadway shows, ate at some fabulous restaurants, and fulfilled a lifelong dream.

Now,here’s the point. Most people have never had someone ask them what their dreams are. It is one of humanity’s relationship blind spots. Why don’t you change that for somebody special to you today? Maybe start with your spouse? Your kids? Listen hard! Their future (and yours too) depends on it!

Perhaps this is the appropriate time for me to share something that I am just now beginning to learn. Think with me here as I will try to explain. What are your dreams, hopes, & expectations (DsHs&Es)? Be careful now not to merely think of your material wants and needs for frequently the truly miraculous DsHs&Es are spiritual in nature and not merely confined to touch, sight or accomplishment. Very few adults today (as could I) can even tell you three of their DsHs&Es, let alone any details. Perhaps this is made more difficult because we are so influenced by today’s “get real and grow up now”  instant gratification culture. It seems the prevailing premise today for virtually everything is NOW; to wait and deny oneself is a pain and totally unnecessary.

So, perhaps one “fix” is as simple as giving ourselves permission to think creatively, (you know, we were given profound intellect and scientists are being more impressed daily) especially when it’s a vision for ourselves, perish that thought!  Research proves and the Bible states and implies frequently, we become what we think about. Science again, is verifying that in new dimensions daily! I maintain a component in an active vibrant prayer life is envisioning not only what “should be” but with God’s help what “could be” for ourselves and others by divine intervention.

Consider the potential of our prayers if we first engage our minds in seeking to understand the desires of not only our hearts, but also the heart of God. And then together, for those whom we pray that God would “touch” as only He can …. But shame on us!  For, far too often, we’ve not even actively pursued God’s DsHs&Es for ourselves, let alone engaged in any meaningful conversation with our spouse, significant other, family & friends about the DsHs&Es God has planted (or desires to plant) in their minds. And we wonder why our “prayers” don’t seem to go anywhere?

I’m guessing most persons in your sphere of influence are so struggling just to survive in their daily “arena” of living, that for them to even think, there may be someone else who would even care about their DsHs&Es (even if they could identify them when they do“surface,”) and then to meaningfully dialogue with them about pursuing their DsHs&Es, and hopefully in time, to pray with them and for them, as they are pursued.

Books are written on this stuff everyday. I say keep it simple, as Tony Souder does in his book “Pray For Me:The Prayer Champion’s Guide to Essential Prayer for the Next (I say ALL) Generation(s), when he says daily “Father, open my eyes so that I may see you more clearly, savor you more fully, and share you more freely.”

Blessings as YOU GO FORTH, hopefully with Renewed Vision for the Dreams, Hopes, and Expectations of your life and others, today, tomorrow and beyond>>>>             Merlin

PS:  I compare acquiring and implementing your personal vision for your own DsHs&Es prior to sharing with or instructing others, as similar to the importance of being instructed on an airplane to always first put on your own oxygen mask before helping anyone else; only in this case, helping involves “becoming an empowered knowledgeable life giving participant also on the journey home,” and not merely the neighbor in the adjoining seat with the necessary skill to capture the momentary sustenance, oxygen. Now,  can you see your big picture and the importance of DsHs&Es in the healing of humanity more clearly?

Actually, I imagine there are books are written on this single premise. Perhaps I just saved you some significant time!

Bricklayers, Janitors, and Easter

Matthew Kelly, a business consultant and author of The Culture Solution from which the following is taken, says “I find myself asking people certain questions all the time.” One of those questions is; “What do you do here?” I am amazed at how many employees cannot answer this question in a clear and concise way.

No doubt many of you heard the following story about the Notre-Dame Cathedral when construction had just begun. It was 1163 AD and a man was walking along the river Seine in Paris when he noticed a huge new building site. He approached the site and found men laying bricks. It was late in the afternoon and the workers were tired and sweating.

He asked one worker, “What are you building here?“ He replied, “I’m just laying bricks.“

He ask another worker, “What are you building here?“ The worker scoffed and said to the man, “Are you blind? I’m building a wall.“

Frustrated, the man began to walk away, but as he turned he bumped into one of the other men, who was also laying bricks. “What are you building here?“ he asked.

The builder stopped working. He stepped back and beckoned to the man to do the same. Then, looking up toward the sky he said, “We are building a cathedral.”

“Cathedrals are beautiful,“ the onlooker commented.

“You have never seen a cathedral this beautiful“ the bricklayer replied. “This will be the finest cathedral the world has ever seen. It will tower above the city, men and women will marvel at it, and people come from all over the world just to see it.“

It took 182 years to finish that Cathedral. Those who began building it never got to see it completed. It is 420 feet long, 157 feet wide, and 300 feet high,and with all of France’s rich history, incredible sites, and phenomenal art, it is still the most visited attraction in France each year. With 13 million annual visitors, that is almost twice as many as the Eiffel Tower and 4 million more than Louvre.

It is the Notre-Dame cathedral. Men and women of all faiths and no faith come to visit Notre-Dame de Paris and marvel at it. It is most unfortunate it suffered a devastating fire a week ago.

Mr. Kelly goes on to say that “I heard a very similar story about JFK while he was president and visiting a NASA facility. During the visit he saw a restroom down a side corridor and excused himself from the formal tour to use it.

Seeing a man mopping the floor, the president introduced himself and spoke briefly with the janitor, who beamed with pride at the unexpected opportunity. Noticing this, the president asked, “Do you enjoy your work here?“

“Oh, yes, Mr. President. It is an honor,“ the janitor replied.

“Most janitors probably don’t feel that way, I suspect,“ the president proposed.

“Well, Mr. President, I’m older than you, and it seems to me that more and more people just want to be served and don’t want to do any serving. But my father taught me that we are all here to serve one another, and we get our dignity and honor by serving.“

“What else do you do here?“ President Kennedy asked.

The janitor smiled. “I only do one thing here.“

“You mop floors all day?“ the president inquired.

“Nope,“ the janitor replied, smiling again. “People see me mopping floors, emptying trash cans, cleaning windows, but in my mind, I’m working to put a man on the moon.“

The president used the restroom and left. But as he got about 10 steps away from the janitor, he turned back to him and said, “Do you think we can do it? “

“Yes sir, Mr. President, I can see Neil-I mean, Mr. Armstrong, walking on the moon in my mind’s eye.” President Kennedy turned around, looked down, and smiled as he walked down the hallway to rejoin the dignitaries.

Mr. Kelly continues saying that when someone asks you, “What do you do here?“ there are really only two answers. Everyone should have both ready, and the awareness to know which is more appropriate at the time. 

1. The Aspirational Answer

We should all be able to answer the question like the bricklayer and the janitor: “We are building the finest cathedral the world has ever seen. ““I am working to put a man on the moon. “ The world is full of the ordinary, and it doesn’t need any more. The aspirational answer connects what we do each day with the larger mission of the team or organization.

2. The Practical Answer

The second answer is more practical. It is disturbing to me how many people cannot clearly and concisely describe their role within an organization. I overheard one of my executive assistants a few weeks ago speaking with a visitor. “So, what do you do here?“ the visitor asked.

“I am Mr. Kelly’s executive assistant,“ she replied.

“OK, but what does that mean day-to-day? What is it that you actually do? “The guest pressed her.

“My role is to do anything that will make Mr. Kelly‘s role and life easier, so he can focus on doing the things that only he can do. Sometimes that means managing his schedule and sometimes it just is making sure he has something to eat for lunch.“

The visitor wasn’t finished. “But tell me truthfully, what’s the hardest part of your role?“

“Saying no gracefully,“ my assistant replied. “I spend a lot of time saying no to people. “

“What do you do here?” Get clear about that. Why? Lots of reasons, least of which is in case someone asks you. When you can answer the question, you will perform your role at a much higher level. If you don’t like the answer to the question, you probably don’t like your role, and you should do something about that because life is short. There are many people who woke up this morning who won’t go to bed tonight, and many who will go to bed tonight but not awake in the morning.

AND so, I, Merlin writing now, ask myself once more, as I have more in the past six months than ever prior in my life, “Just what am I doing here? What is my purpose?”

I tend to believe we all need a “big picture” answer (the aspirational component) regardless of our age, and more so, the older we become, just to help us focus and maintain our emotional health. I suspect many of us if we’re really honest with ourselves, tend to  avoid this mental exercise of contemplating “Why am I here or what do I do?” When we’re younger and working two jobs, raising a family, we have plenty of activities to hide behind but do understand, we’re not talking about your trivial pursuits that consume both your energy and time, but rather what is the foundation of your very existence, what  is it that continues to propel and sustain you through financial losses, relationship blow-ups, premature deaths, vocational transitions not of your choosing, a wayward child, etc.?

Perhaps I read too much spirituality into some of these business books, but truth be told, I’m concerned too many of us in the pews this Easter Weekend or even weekly, really  need to work on answering these two Kingdom Building questions; aspirationally, and practically. Do we even know, no, lets ask rather, have we ever looked for, searched extensively for hours, to find out the “big picture” for our life in light of God’s supreme sacrifice of his Son in that kangaroo court on a cruel Roman cross that we will gather in worship to commemorate later today?

We’re not merely members of a social club here, such as with motorcycles or gardening or a high school drama club, but rather we’ve been purchased, redeemed, provided a remedy, etc. from our sin by that one weekend in history by the death and resurrection of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. And to think, after that supreme sacrifice to set me free from all my past, present, and future sin, that I just may be at a loss for words (or even thoughts) concerning my life’s purpose in “laying bricks” in God’s Kingdom? I guess the devil doesn’t really have much to worry about from me provided I never get Holy Spirit inspired and transformed so as “work out my salvation in fear and trembling.”         

So what are we doing here? I suggest you take a page or so in your tablet and just write out what he brings to mind and in time, you’ll craft a succinct statement of your Kingdom purpose, including your talents and desires. Because if you are a transformed and empowered Christian, your personal brand will include being committed, coachable, aware, of indisputable value, unique, and of course, one hopes, always a professional.

Happy Easter and Blessings as You Go Forth With Purpose>>>>           Merlin

The Fisherman

Taken From Matthew Kelly’s “OFF Balance: Getting Beyond the Work-Life Balance Myth to Personal and Professional Satisfaction, pages 1-4.

Once upon a time there was an investment banker. He lived in New York City, was phenomenally successful, and made a ton of money. But his life was busy, noisy, and very stressful.

So, once a year, he would leave the city and go down to a small coastal village in Mexico. For two weeks he would rest, relax, and allow himself to be rejuvenated. One day he was standing on the pier just before lunch, looking out to sea, when he noticed a small fishing boat coming in to dock. He thought this was a little strange because most of the fishermen stayed out late into the afternoon so they could catch as many fish as possible before coming in and preparing the fish for market.

Curiosity overcame him so he walked over to where the fishing boat was about to dock. Looking into the boat, he saw just one fisherman and several large yellow fin tuna.

“How long did it take you to catch those fish?” he said to the fisherman.

“Not very long,“ the fisherman replied with a smile.

“Is there something wrong with your boat?“ the American asked.

“Oh, no,” the fisherman said. “In 13 years I have never had a problem with the boat.”
The American was a little perplexed, so he asked the fisherman, “Why don’t you stay out there longer and catch more fish?”

The fisherman smiled again and said, “This is plenty here for my family right now. Some of the fish we can eat, and the others we can sell or trade for the other things we need.” 

“But it’s not even lunchtime. What do you do with the rest of your time?”

“In the morning,” the fisherman explained, “I like to sleep late. When I wake I fish a little, mostly just for the pleasure of fishing. In the afternoon I play with my children and take siesta with my wife. In the evenings I have dinner with my family. And then, when my children are sleeping, I stroll into the village, or I sip wine and play guitar with my friends.”

The American scoffed and said, “I’m a Harvard MBA and I can help you.“

The fisherman was a little skeptical, but nonetheless he obliged and asked, “How? “

“You should fish longer every day,” the American counseled, “late into the afternoon. This way  you will catch more fish and make more money, and you can buy a bigger boat. With the bigger boat you will catch even more fish and make even more money, and then you can buy another boat and hire another man to work the second boat.“

“But what then?“ the fisherman inquired. “Oh, we are just getting started! With two boats you’ll catch even more fish and make even more money, and before you know it you’ll have a whole fleet of boats and every man in the village looking for work will come to you.“

“But what then?“ the fisherman asked.

“Before too long, you can cut out the middleman, sell your fish direct to the cannery, and make more money.

As your fleet of boats continues to expand you can build your own cannery. And before you know it, you’ll be able to leave the small coastal village, move to Mexico City, and manager your expanding enterprise.“

“But what then? “the fisherman persisted.

“Well, then you can begin to ship your fish to different parts of the world. Down into Asian and Australia and up into North America. And as demand grows for your fish, you can leave Mexico City, move to Los Angeles, open a distribution plant there, and begin to ship your fish to Europe and every corner of the globe.“

“But what then?“ the fisherman asked again.

The Americancontinued, “by then your business will be one of the great ventures of the industry. You can move to New York City and manage your empire from the epicenter of the business world. “

“How long will this all take?” the fisherman asked.

“Twenty-five, maybe thirty years,“ the banker explained.

“But what will I do then?” the fisherman asked.

The American’s eyes lit up like a Christmas tree. “That’s the best part,“ he said. “When the time is just right, you can go down to Wall Street, list your business as a public company, offer an IPO, and make millions and millions of dollars.“

“Millions?“ the fisherman asked.

“More money than you ever dreamed you could earn in ten lifetimes,“ the American explained.

“But what then?“ the fisherman asked.

The American didn’t know what to say. He had reached his climax. He was stumped. But then a thought crossed his mind and triggered an idea, and he turned once more to the fisherman and spoke.

“Well, then you could move to a small coastal village, you could sleep late, you could fish just for the pleasure of fishing, in the afternoons you could take siesta with your wife, in the evenings you could have dinner with your family, and then you could stroll into the village and sip wine and play guitar with your friends…

So why this story? Would you really like to live as this fisherman? Most of you likely could if you chose to, and it is not the money that’s stopping you, but it is “everything” you’d have to give up. If all the cards were on the table, we’d say no to the fisherman’s life. Imagine life with no technology, electricity, heating or AC, never seen a dentist, has no health plan, never eats out, maybe can read, certainly doesn’t drive even a Prius, and his dear wife of many siestas (I like that), makes and repairs his few clothes; but he does enjoy his life … and family, and he really knows how to fix a tasty meal of fish, and frequently too!

I’m told well under $200 per month could provide you this fisherman’s life as depicted. A mere $100,000 at 3% interest would be ample and you could give the fish away…or sleep later. But you know what, very few of my audience are likely even attracted to such a life. Oh, with some fudging as tourists we’d enjoy several weeks perhaps, but a year being that primitive reminds me too much of our neighbors in black who drive buggies and have lanes without gravel. Personally, even this fisherman’s life sounds heaps better than their existence! I admit and confess I am much too addicted to our cultural comforts! I know this because I grew up that way too, without the black, but English and in poverty!

But while we’re on the subject of life satisfaction, lets first define it as “the contentment and fulfillment that arise from the gratification of needs and desires.” Statistically, I understand many of us have given up on ever being vocationally satisfied and are merely existing “biding our time” until … Finishing that sentence with people is always interesting. Try it if you get the opportunity.

Perhaps the Fisherman story got you to dream for five minutes. You realize that honestly, you don’t really like your life right now, and the simplicity of fishing (or not) on the Mexican coast can’t be any worse, plus the serenity and beauty of the Pacific Ocean, Wow! So by now are we all tucked back into our Wayne Co. security blankets just singing its praises…. But a bit shocked perhaps how DISSATISFIED we found ourselves for the five minutes we were off in our dreamworld of something better!

Which is most interesting because we hadn’t even allowed ourselves to consider the possibility prior that just maybe we are not all that satisfied vocationally. Ouch, is that revealing or what? I’m going to tell you something I’ve learned recently the hard way; sometimes it is really good (and even downright necessary) to get in touch with our dis-satisfactions in life. Too often we can deceive ourselves right into oblivion, or worse. I am also now living by the premise I’m not nearly so concerned about what I happen to do for money, (or not do), or vocationally, etc., or perhaps I did do before retirement, as I am concerned about what I am becoming. As Christians, we must never forget it is all about the process. We are all on the journey. It is not about who we were, what we did prior, even what we are doing now. Rather it is all about who we are becoming.

So, let’s think a minute about the life you really want; perhaps it surfaced for several seconds during the story. To stimulate further thought, I’m going to pose you a series of seven questions I suggest you write down, post them for easy multiple daily sightings, as well as in your new Staples booklet (call it your God book, Dream book, Keep-Me-Honest-book, etc.) and reflect on them until you’ve got your answers. Next, just think about it all for several months; and write your thoughts down to track your processing. Then either email me for further instructions or buy the book.

1. What do you like about your life as it is today?

2. What don’t you like about your life as it is today?

3. Do you feel trapped by any of the things you don’t like about your life today?

4. If you went to the doctor next week and he told you that you were dying and had one year to live, what would you do for the next year?

5. If you inherited $10 Billion, what would you do with the rest of your life, and what would you do with the money?

6. What is holding you back from the life you really want?

7. If you could change three things about your life, what would they be?    

These seven may take several cups of coffee to even get you started good. I suggest you buy a $4 Staples booklet (sorta like the Moleskins but do not spend $20; they were on sale for $2 when I was in) and write down these questions. I hope this booklet stays as close as your Bible for the rest of your life. Only one question on a page though! Believe me, you’re going to need the space beneath for your notes if you are serious.

You know, too often we just don’t ever sit down and think about how we’re living. I hear most of us spend more time planning our vacations than we do our lives. That is not Biblical! I do believe too often we stumble into our culturally acceptable mode of living that is satisfying to us (compared to what though). Actually, the real issues of life and our mandate to be disciples (here and now, not someday I’ll..) is being lulled to sleep by the trivial busyness of merely economic survival soon followed by poor health, dysfunctional families, and too often, spiritual despair.    

More ideas on this next week. Blessings as YOU GO FORTH>>>>       Merlin

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.


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