The Basic Incompatibility of Men & Women

Attractive young hipster couple on white background

A friend was surprised by my reply when he said that he and his wife were incompatible.

“Of course you are!” I said. “Apart from a miracle by God, men and women are inherently incompatible.”

“Hmmm… a miracle from God?” he wondered aloud.

Then I told this friend the result of my informal study on the subject. “Based on personal observations and lots of statistics, there aren’t nearly enough couples who ever receive that miracle from God,” I opined.

I recounted a conversation I’d overheard between two men, one divorced and the other married.

The divorced man was complaining about his lonely lot in life, all caused by the fact that his wife had left him for another man. Although he apparently thought he would get some sympathy from his married friend, that’s not at all how the conversation went.

“Don’t you realize, there are MILLIONS of men who would gladly  trade places with you?!” the married friend told him.

So sad, but so true. Not only are many people unhappily divorced, but there are also countless people who are unhappily married.

Remember what I said about needing a miracle from God in order to have a different outcome than this?

When I look at what the Bible says about this difficult subject, here’s what I conclude: God made men and women inherently different, but not inherently incompatible. The incompatibility didn’t begin until sin and selfishness entered the equation in Genesis 3.

You know the story. Eve was deceived  by the serpent into disobeying God and tasting the forbidden fruit, but Adam apparently did so quite intentionally. Why? My guess is that he didn’t want to be separated from Eve, the wife he dearly loved.

But here’s where the story gets quite ironic. By disobeying God in order to be with his wife, Adam created an ongoing state of friction (incompatibility) within the marital bond.

We see this when the Lord confronted Adam about his disobedience. Instead of immediately repenting and accepting responsibility, Adam chose to throw Eve under the bus, blaming her for his decision: “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate” (Genesis 3:12). And notice that Adam found a way to blame the Lord  as well…

By choosing to embrace the woman instead of obeying God, Adam unwittingly created a barrier to his relationship with both. Apart from a miracle, there would never be harmony again between men and women, or between humankind and God.

But thank God for His miracles! Through the cross of His Son Jesus, He broke down the wall of separation and alienation, making it possible for us to freely enter His presence.

That same cross solves the incompatibility between men and women. You see, the only hope for marital bliss is for the partners to die to themselves. Like Jesus, they must set aside their own interests and lay down their lives for each other.

The good news is that God makes this miracle readily available to those who will embrace the cross. Yes, it ultimately takes TWO to have a happy marriage, but it always starts with ONE. Someone has to take the first step, trusting God to work His miracles in their partner’s heart as well.

Are you willing to go first? You never know whether a miracle might come, replacing incompatibility with harmony, and maybe even some bliss.

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2 Men Who Were Stuck

pig-in-mud

Once upon a time, two men were stuck. The men were brothers—sons of the same Father. Yet they were as different as day and night.

Although both were stuck, the men were stuck in very different ways. And one of the brothers never did seem to realize how stuck he had become.

If we pick up the story in the middle, we find one of these men stuck in a pigpen. A dirty, filthy, stinky, slippery pigpen. After growing up in a privileged home, he had so squandered his opportunities that he seemed to have no future at all.

Meanwhile, his older brother was playing it safe. Proud that he’d never made reckless decisions like his foolish brother, this man was dependable…faithful…hard-working…exemplary in every way. Never causing any trouble, he was the kind of son any father would delight in having.

And the father in the story was a good father—a very  good father. Right to the end, he loved both of his sons, even the one who got stuck hanging out with pigs.

Against all odds, the seemingly hopeless brother came to his senses. He got unstuck. He humbled himself and came home to his father.

At this point, something quite remarkable happened. Instead of chastising his wasteful son for living life in a pigpen, the father threw a big party. No expense was spared in this massive and joyous celebration of the younger son’s improbable return.

Even though the father was overjoyed, the older brother was not. In fact, he was angry. So angry that he refused to join in the festivities. So angry that he refused to enter the father’s house. So angry that he missed out on the great celebration.

Until then, no one even realized that the older brother had been stuck all along. No he wasn’t stuck in a pigpen, like his brother had been. He was stuck in the land of obligation and duty, of self-righteousness and religion.

How odd that the brother in the pigpen got set free, while the older brother remained stuck in his pride and bitterness right up to the end of the story.

How could such a thing happen? I think I know, because I too am an “older brother.”

You see, the younger brother came home, well aware of his need for the father’s mercy and grace.

The older brother sought to earn the father’s favor by hard work and moral uprightness. Despite years of serving diligently on his father’s estate, he never really entered into the joy of his father’s unmerited, unconditional love.

This story, told so beautifully by Jesus in Luke 15:11-32, has been on my mind a lot lately. This all started when I was asked an unusual question by an older man of God I had just met: “Jim, do you really know that God loves you?”  he asked quite earnestly.

How dare he ask a question like that?  I wondered. Didn’t he know I was saved back in 1969 and had basically served in some form of ministry ever since? Didn’t he know about the sermons I had preached, the books and blogs I had written, or the leaders I had discipled?

But as I sought to honestly answer his question, it became painfully clear that I had unwittingly become stuck in the same mindset as the older brother.

I had to admit that I felt God’s love only when He used me to preach a great sermon, write an inspirational blog post, or make a difference in someone’s life. When I did something “useful” in His kingdom.

It was all about good works, productivity, and merit—not about the amazing grace of the Heavenly Father who throws parties for His kids.

The good news is that God can’t wait to throw a party for you and me today. The bad news is that unless we humble our hearts and acknowledge our need for His grace, we’re in danger of sulking outside the door instead of entering in.

Do you see why this is one of the most important stories ever told? Our Father dearly loves both the prodigals and the older brothers. But often the prodigals are the only ones who really experience the fullness of that love.

How ironic that the brother who was stuck in the pigpen ended up getting unstuck, while his older brother remained stuck from the beginning of the story until its end.

Isn’t it strange that it’s often easier to get untangled from sin than it is to get unstuck from the clutches of works-based religious duty and obligation?

A few chapters earlier, Jesus explained that a person who’s forgiven much will love Him much, but a person who thinks they don’t need much forgiveness will only love Him a little (Luke 7:47).

In reality, we’ve ALL been forgiven much, and we’re all loved much by our Father. The trouble is, when we base our relationship with Him on our meritorious works, we miss out on the grace and can’t enter the party.

Lord, set us free from our elder brother tendencies. Let us experience Your loving embrace as the prodigal did.

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The Heresy of Unbalanced Truth

scale balance

Recently I attended a new church plant and was horrified by the young pastor’s message. His premise was that all Americans are rich in comparison to the rest of the world, and we should feel guilty about that. According to his perspective, our materialism is the biggest hindrance to living the normal Christian life.

Why was I so troubled by this pastor’s earnest sermon? He quoted lots of Bible passages along the way, including the story of the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-22) and the verse about not serving both God and Money (Matthew 6:24).

Much of my annoyance with this anti-materialistic rant stems from the fact that I used to preach almost exactly the same message. “Live for the kingdom, not for money!” I would passionately said. “And if you happen to have any money beyond your basic necessities, you should give it all away, just like Jesus told the rich young ruler.”

Hmmm… What’s the problem here? Isn’t this a sound Biblical perspective?

As I looked around at the pastor’s small, fledgling congregation, I saw that it was mostly composed of young people. My guess was that many of them were struggling just to pay their rent, utilities, and car payment. I could be wrong, but I didn’t spot a lot of rich young rulers that day. And by the looks of the cars in the parking lot, these weren’t extravagant spenders.

I took away several lessons from this church visit…

First, I concluded that even if a message is Biblically accurate, it may be the wrong message for a certain audience. If I had been preaching to the young congregation that day, I would have given a much different message. Instead of telling them they were too rich, I would endeavor to stir their faith that God wanted to bless them and meet all of their needs (Philippians 4:19).

And that brings me to my second conclusion: Most heresies are not an absence of truth, but they’re merely unbalanced truth. The pastor said many things I fully agree with. For example, he told his flock that material things never bring a person true and lasting happiness. Very true.

But the problem is what he failed  to say. He shared the truth, but it wasn’t the whole truth. And because of that, I’m convinced it misrepresented the heart of God.  

A few days after this church service, I had lunch with the pastor. He’s a pretty humble guy and received it well when I told him his message was heretical.

I explained that he had missed a key point in the rich young ruler story. How could Jesus demand that this man sell everything he had and give the money to the poor? Take a closer look at what He said: “Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Mark 10:21).

You see, Jesus’ goal was not to turn the rich man into a poor man. To the contrary, He wanted the rich man to have true and lasting riches—“treasure in heaven.”

From cover to cover, the Bible is a book about God’s desire to have a covenant relationship with His people. What does that mean? Among other things, it means that EVERYTHING we have belongs to Him, and EVERYTHING He has belongs to us as His beloved children.

This explains why the disciples readily dropped their fishing nets and left their boats in order to follow Jesus (Luke 5:1-11). They had just seen Him supply them with a miraculous catch of fish. They “forsook all and followed Him” because they saw they could trust Him to abundantly meet all their needs!

So I agree with the young pastor that we should lay all of our earthly possessions at the feet of Jesus. In fact, that’s a great thing to do on a daily basis.

However, the point of laying things down is to enter into a covenant relationship with Jesus (2 Corinthians 8:9). Once we’ve laid our possessions on the altar, He usually tells us to take them into our hands again so we can make an impact on a lost and needy world (Matthew 14:15-21).

Does your Heavenly Father want to bless you? Absolutely! And for two distinct reasons: because He loves you, and because He wants you to be a blessing to others (Genesis 12:2).

My visit to the new church plant was a reminder that we must be careful in handling Scripture, making sure we’re “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Even the devil quotes the Bible, after all (Matthew 4:1-11). As a former attorney, I’m keenly aware of how dangerous it is to only present one side of a case, while conveniently ignoring any contrary facts.

Our Savior was full of grace, but also of truth (John 1:14). He opened the pathway to heaven, but also warned people of the dangers of hell. And yes, He cautioned us not to be controlled by a quest for earthly possessions—even as He promised to give us an abundant life (John 10:10).

I’m convinced the truth will set you free today (John 8:32), especially if you embrace the whole truth and nothing but the truth. So help us, God.

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Your Whac-a-Mole Options

whac-a-mole-arcade boys

When a friend recently asked me how I was doing, my response was troubling.

“My body and mind seem to be slowing down,” I said, “but my responsibilities seem to be speeding up. That’s a bad combination!”

As I later reflected on that conversation, the Whac-a-Mole arcade game came to mind. As the game begins, the moles pop up fairly slowly, but their speed continually increases until the game finally ends.

This prompted me to think of a story about three young boys who took different approaches when they played Whac-a-Mole at the county fair one day…

The first boy just did his best. As the moles first began to emerge, he had little trouble whacking each one. But by the final moments of the game, the moles were getting the better of him. Unable to keep up with the frantic speed, he became exasperated.

The second boy, after watching the plight of his friend, came up with a clever plan to foil the pesky moles. After easily whacking a few moles at the beginning of the game, he calmly went to the back of the machine and pulled the power cord before things got out of hand.

“Why did you do that?!” his friends demanded. “You can’t just stop the game in the middle.”

“I outsmarted those moles,” the boy explained. “I cut the game off before the speed got too fast for me.”

But his two friends pointed out the folly of his logic. By pulling the plug, he had ended his chance of scoring any more points. Yes, he had avoided the frustration and feeling of failure that comes when you can’t keep up—but this impulsive act had diminished his final score.

The third boy had watched his two friends and devised a better solution. He alertly noticed a speed control on the side of the Whac-a-Mole game, and he turned it to the slow, “senior citizen” mode. All the moles still popped up, but practically in slow motion. This young man ended up getting the highest score, because he could easily keep up with the speed.

What are the lessons in this story?

  • If you play Whac-a-Mole at the regular speed, you’re likely to become overwhelmed and frustrated at the end.
  • When you become overwhelmed and frustrated, at times you might feel tempted to simply pull the plug.
  • But the better solution is to adjust the speed control, acknowledging that you aren’t as fast as you used to be.

You’re probably thinking at this point, “Jim, I see no way to adjust the speed control in my life. The ‘moles’ just keep popping up, totally out of my control.”

Believe me, I’ve had similar thoughts. Finding life’s “speed control” seems difficult, if not impossible.

But here are a few thoughts that can liberate you from your Whac-a-Mole dilemma…

  1. First, consider this amazing truth: Some of the “moles” popping up can simply be ignored!

Like a batter in baseball, you mustn’t swing at every pitch people throw at you. You have to be patient…know the pitches you can hit…and say “no” to curveballs that are out of your strike zone.

  1. Next, you need to acknowledge that you’re not Superman or Superwoman.

Yes, it’s humbling to admit you need to slow down life’s Whac-a-Mole game a bit. But that option is preferable to going insane or simply pulling the plug.

  1. Finally, you need to recognize that God has given you permission to rest…to take Sabbaths and vacations…and simple to SLOW DOWN.

“Slow down. Take a deep breath. What’s the hurry? Why wear yourself out? Just what are you after anyway?” (Jeremiah 2:25 MSG).

What great advice! Slow down. Take a deep breath. Quit being in such a hurry.

As I’ve reflected on the lessons I learned from the Whac-a-Mole story, I find myself meditating on this great principle from Scripture: “Only in returning to Me and resting in Me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength” (Isaiah 30:15 NLT).

As we return to the Lord and learn to rest in His presence, life will slow down a bit. Noise will give way to quietness. New strength will come, and confidence will rise. We might even enjoy life—really enjoy life—for the first time in years.

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Lessons When Your ‘Clicker’ Goes Bad

Clicker

For the past few years, I’ve used a “clicker” to control the PowerPoint slides when I preach. In the old days I had to wait for the guy in the sound booth to advance my slides, but no more!

Being in control is exhilarating, so it’s no wonder I love the PowerPoint clickers. Best of all, they eliminate the need to rely on anyone else to help me while I preach. I can do it all by myself, and I like it that way.

When I was preparing for a ministry trip in Ohio a few months ago, I purchased a fancy new clicker that had a longer range and some additional bells and whistles. I couldn’t wait to use it for the first time, and I shared my excitement with the church where I was preaching.

“This will be the first time I use my new PowerPoint clicker,” I told them with pride. “I love these clickers, because they allow me to be in complete control. It’s so cool not having to wait for the slides to move and not having to rely on anyone else.”

But when I pushed the button on my new clicker, nothing happened. The slides wouldn’t advance. Something was wrong with my beautiful clicker, and I had absolutely no ability to change what was on the screen.

But of course, I’m always looking for a “prop” to illustrate my messages, so I didn’t miss a beat.

“Well, I guess my defective clicker is a parable about life,” I said sheepishly. “We all like to think we’re in control of the events in our lives, but control is just an illusion. Only God is fully in control, and we must patiently submit to His sovereignty.”

Since then, I’ve concluded there are some things we can learn when our “clicker” goes bad and we can’t change the slide on the screen.

Although I’ve never thought of myself as a control freak, the defective clicker revealed how much I’ve been seduced by a misguided pursuit of control. It also exposed my dysfunctional quest for self-reliance, never wanting to feel dependent on anyone else. The Bible says God created us to live in community and cooperation, mutually dependent on one another to fulfill His purposes (1 Corinthians 12). Yet that is hard for independent folks like me.

Perhaps, like me, you’re more of a control freak than you’d like to admit. If so, I encourage you to buy a PowerPoint clicker—but make sure it’s one that works.

With a functional clicker, you’ll be able to move your slides forward and backward to your heart’s delight. You can even use the included laser pointer to emphasize what you’re trying to say. I’m sure people will be impressed!

However, let me warn you against false expectations. You still won’t be able to control your spouse, your kids, your boss, the weather, the stock market, or most other circumstances in your life.

But you still might find the clicker helpful. Even if you’re unable to control anything else in your life, you hopefully can at least move your PowerPoint slides.

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The Straw That Broke the Camel’s Back

camel-1a

Have you ever reached the breaking point? Sometimes you can see it coming, but often it sneaks up and catches you unaware.

Running late to the office on a recent Friday morning, I was carrying my laptop computer case, a huge glass of iced tea, and an apple as I left my kitchen. At the last moment, my computer case slipped, causing me to spill a large portion of the iced tea.

Although this was an incredibly minor event, I reacted as if it was the end of the world. I was irate at myself, not just for spilling the tea, but for reacting in such a dramatic and childish way.

What had just happened? An old proverb immediately came to mind about “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

This was a busy morning, capping off a busy and stressful week. I seemed to go from one deadline to another…one meeting to another…one emergency to another…and one friend after another who needed my listening ear and words of encouragement.

I had handled the load so  well all along the way—until my rush to get to the office caused me to spill my tea.

Like the camel in the proverb, I had seemingly been doing an admirable job of carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders. One responsibility after another was loaded on my back, and I accepted each one without flinching or complaining. In fact, I carried the heavy load as a badge of honor, smugly concluding that few people could do what I was doing.

But my perspective was rudely jerked back to reality when I spilled my iced tea. It suddenly became obvious that I’d unwittingly allowed myself to approach dangerously close to the breaking point. The tea incident was as insignificant as a piece of straw would be to a camel—yet it shattered the illusion of my invincibility.

Camels are known for their ability to carry heavy loads for long distances. We celebrate their knack for going many weeks without the need for water.

But even a camel has a breaking point.

Even a camel must maintain proper margins or risk an eventual breakdown.

Right when you think the camel has unlimited capacity, the final straw causes it to reach its limit.

If you are getting close to the breaking point, you are surely not alone. Countless people today are living on the edge, brutally overloading their body, mind, and emotions.

Even though some of our responsibilities are unavoidable, I’ve concluded that many of the burdens we carry are completely unnecessary—the result of our unwillingness to say “no” when we’re in danger of reaching our breaking point.

Two thousand years before I spilled my iced tea that Friday morning, Jesus was reaching out to help me and you shoulder our heavy loads:

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light  (Matthew 11:28-30).

When was the last time you experienced this kind of peace and rest? You don’t have to wait until you spill your iced tea before you accept Jesus’ amazing offer. Cast your heavy burdens on Him today, and you’ll breathe a whole lot easier.

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My Misguided Venture into Organic Gardening

Tomato

Two months ago, I enthusiastically ventured into the world of organic gardening. It was a very modest beginning, planting a small tomato seedling some friends had given me.

I was scheduled to be out of town for a week, but I fully expected to see some tomatoes when I returned. However, no such luck. The seedling had grown, but no tomatoes could be found.

My friends assured me this was normal. “Tomatoes don’t grow overnight!” they explained with a grin.

Despite their explanation, I was disappointed to have to wait so long for tomatoes to appear on my plant. I had planted it in good soil, with plenty of sunlight and water. Why was it growing so slowly?

As I’ve reflected on the source of my disappointment, I think it may stem from the story of “Jack and the Beanstalk,” one of my favorite tales as a child. When Jack’s “magic beans” were thrown on the ground one night, he woke up to a HUGE beanstalk the very next morning.

How cool was that?

Even better, Jack was able to capture a goose that laid golden eggs during one of his trips up the beanstalk. His magic seeds enabled him to get rich—and to get rich quick!

So now you see why I was disappointed that my tomatoes got off to a slow start. I was comparing my experience to Jack’s beanstalk, not realizing that normal seeds require patience  in addition to good soil, water, and sunlight.

The Bible has a lot to say about seeds, growth, and harvests. Yes, we’re promised that we will reap whatever we sow (Galatians 6:7). But we’re also warned against “growing weary” in our seed-sowing, “for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart”  (v. 9).

It’s sad that most of us live in a world of microwaves and fast-food drive-throughs instead of seeds and harvests. We expect instant gratification and immediate results. And if the tomatoes don’t appear right away, we’re tempted to quit watering the plant.

Perhaps, like me, you’ve planted some things and are still waiting for the fruit to come. Let’s not lose heart! Let’s keep watering and fertilizing the seeds, confident of a positive outcome down the road.

No, I can’t promise you overnight success and a huge beanstalk tomorrow morning. But God has promised that if you’re faithful to do your part, in “due season” your harvest will surely come.

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Captured by the Green-Eyed Monster

cute furry alien

I never thought it would happen to me. I can’t remember ever envying someone who had a bigger house…a faster car…a higher salary…or a corner office. Nor did it bother me that I wasn’t part of the envied “1%.”

So it shocked me recently when I found myself in the clutches of the Green-Eyed Monster—a term originating in Shakespeare’s play, Othello: “O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; it is the green-ey’d monster, which doth mock the meat it feeds on.”

A number of events the past few months confirmed that I’ve been afflicted with this terrible disease. Although material things still aren’t the focus of my jealousy, several incidents pushed other  buttons that brought out the Green-Eyed Monster in me…

  • I ran into an old friend who now preaches in churches and conferences around the world. In contrast to his apparent success, I have very few open doors for ministry, despite my love of preaching. It puzzled me that he’s had so many opportunities, when I was sure  I could preach as well, or even better.
  • I spent time with a man who, like me, is a ghostwriter for other authors. I found myself extremely envious of the fact that people were actually reading  the books he wrote (in contrast to my books, read by hardly anyone). And in addition to being jealous of the best-selling books he was producing, I groaned as he boasted about the huge fees he received for each book, exponentially higher than my rates.
  • I read about a pastor a few hours away who was impacting thousands of young people through a church he planted. At my advanced age, I’ve concluded that the only reason to live is to find ways to pour my life into the next generation. Convinced that it’s a waste of time trying to change Baby Boomers, I’m frustrated that I don’t have more opportunities to disciple young believers.

As I’ve looked back at these three incidents, I see a pattern. For the most part, the Green-Eyed Monster didn’t rear its ugly head because of envying people’s money or status—instead, I envied their impact. The most important thing in my life is still to impact the world for Jesus, and I was jealous of those who were doing that more effectively than I was.

There’s a lot you could psychoanalyze in my perspective. Some of my friends have pointed out that I’m much too performance-focused. They’ve confronted me about basing my self-image on my accomplishments rather than on God’s unconditional love for me.

I’m sure my friends are correct in their observation. I’m praying for the Lord to remedy this.

But in each of the three incidents that triggered my bout with envy, something later happened that put everything in an entirely different light…

  • I heard reports that my preacher friend had virtually begged  one church to have him come and speak. This greatly offended the pastor, and made my friend seem like a real jerk, desperate for honorariums. Perhaps his life isn’t so great after all.
  • The ghostwriter did a book project for a ministry I know in another state, and his work was deemed to be substandard. The man also turned out to be very difficult to work with, a real turn-off for the ministry that had hired him for the project.
  • The pastor who built such a successful outreach to young people was revealed to have a serious alcohol problem. The board removed him from his pastorate until he could get help, and for now his ministry is over.

Isn’t it strange that we often envy people who don’t have such a great life after all? We’re jealous of the image they project, but things look entirely different when the curtain is pulled back.

Because of these experiences, I’m no longer envious of the three men who triggered my Green-Eyed Monster experiences. I would rather be me  than them.

Yet I’m still struggling with envy of another kind: I’m “envious” to be more like the person God created me to be. I want to be more like Jesus (Romans 8:29, Luke 6:40), and more like the Jim Buchan envisioned by my Heavenly Father when He created me.

One more thing…

A few years ago, I was telling my friend Bernard about all the things I didn’t like about my life. I thought I had made a pretty good case for why he should feel sorry for me, but Bernard was much too wise to fall into that trap.

“Jim, don’t you realize that millions of people would gladly trade places with you?!” he said.

How ironic. Despite my complaints and my envy of others, millions of people would be envious if they saw the life God has given me. I guess one of the best ways to slay the Green-Eyed Monster is to be grateful for the life I already have.

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The Downside of Being a Goal-Setter

goal setting 2

I’ve been a goal-setter for as long as I can remember. Whenever I got a “B” on my report card, my dad and I would sit down and come up with a plan for getting an “A” the next time. And when my batting average fell below 300 on my middle school baseball team, we would spend extra time hitting balls in the batting cage.

After I gave my life to Christ at age 18, I found Bible passages that seemed to endorse my enthusiastic approach to goal-setting. I quickly embraced Paul’s statement about forgetting the successes of the past and pressing on toward a calling that was always “upward” (Philippians 3:3-14).

I also was influenced by motivational speakers and self-help gurus who warned that “If you don’t set a goal, you will hit it every time,” and “People don’t plan to fail, they just fail to plan.”

But now, at this advanced stage in my life, I’m rethinking my approach to goal-setting. I find myself disregarding the promotional emails I receive every from authors wanting to sell me on their “revolutionary” new approaches to better goal-setting.

Maybe I’m just feeling too tired for all of this goal-setting hype. But some recent events in the lives of other people have also given me quite a wakeup call. Could it be that my goal-setting approach has been off-balance all these years?

When Perry Noble was removed as pastor of New Spring Church because of alcohol problems, some of the “back story” really caught my attention. Perry clearly was an amazing goal-setter, and this helped to make him wildly successful. His church was one of the largest in the country, with 30,000 people over 17 cities.

Yet it turns out that Perry wasn’t satisfied by this incredible achievement. In fact, he wasn’t even close to his ultimate goal of having a following of “100,000 or more.”

Wow. A goal for New Spring to grow to “100,000 people or more.” This was goal-setting on steroids. Although I’ve tended to be driven by ever-higher goals, I’ve never driven myself anywhere near this extent.

A friend pointed out to me that Perry Noble probably wouldn’t have reached 30,000 members in his church if he hadn’t aimed at 100,000. Perhaps so. But I’m wondering if he also wouldn’t have had a problem with alcohol…

So I’m working on a new approach to setting goals. Here are some of my preliminary thoughts for your consideration:

  1. Make sure you involve God in setting your goals. A few years ago, one of my divorced friends set a goal of “finding a new wife in the next 12 months.” Although I’m sure his intentions were good, the result wasn’t. He should have spent more time consulting with the Lord before setting such an audacious goal.
  2. Make sure you’re looking to God to help you reach your goal. Even if you have a correct, God-given objective, you’ll end up frustrated if you try to attain the goal through your own strength and ingenuity. The Lord not only wants to show you His will, but He also wants to work through you to accomplish that goal (Philippians 2:13).
  3. See your goal through the dual lenses of quantity and quality. Numerical goals are important, but too many leaders and churches judge their success only on the basis of numbers. Hey, wouldn’t you tend to feel successful if your church had 30,000 people, like Perry Noble’s? Yet Jesus saw things much differently. Knowing that the crowds would come and go, His central objectives were to (1) do the Father’s will and (2) pour His life into some true disciples (John 8:29, John 6:60-71). Even after three years of Jesus’ ministry, only 120 people showed up for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
  4. Resist the urge to compare yourself to others. If you compare your church to the size of Perry Noble’s, you will undoubtedly get depressed. No wonder the Bible warns us against comparing ourselves with others (2 Corinthians 10:12). Listen to me on this: If you’ve been faithful, you’ve been successful. But even as I encourage you on this profound truth, I know there will be many times when I’ll need people like you to remind me to apply this principle to my own life.
  5. Healthy things grow, but they don’t grow by striving. I’ve visited many churches that have done well in gaining numbers, but there’s clearly a spirit of “striving” in the air. The pastor, staff, and volunteers all seem entirely exhausted and burnt out—a symptom that they’ve achieved their objectives with self-effort rather than abiding in Christ and waiting on the wind of His Spirit (John 15:1-5, Isaiah 40:28-31).

So, I wish you happy goal-setting, my friend. But don’t forget that the Father loves you, no matter what your earthly achievements may be (Matthew 3:16-17). Remember to cease striving, always recognizing that He’s God and you’re not (Psalm 46:10). And if, like Perry Noble, you’re dealing with personal issues behind the scenes, take time to disengage from the rat race. Get the help you need so you can finish well.

One more thing…

My son Ben is finishing his final college class this week. The past few years, I’ve been telling him not to worry about grades. “Just shoot for a ‘C’ Ben!” I regularly say.

Despite my encouragement not to sweat the grades, Ben has been getting “A’s” lately. He tells me goal-setting is a good thing, and perhaps he’s right. But I’m really not so sure anymore.

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What to Do When the Brook Dries Up

 

brook dried up 2

One of the most baffling experiences in life is when you’ve sincerely endeavored to follow God’s will, only to find that His provision seems to be drying up. Yet this is something experienced by just about everyone at one point or another.

Even the prophet Elijah faced this. The Lord had given him explicit instructions to go to the Brook Cherith, “And it will be that you shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there” (1 Kings 17:2-7).

There’s an old maxim that says, “Where God guides, He provides,” and this was Elijah’s experience for many days as he sat by the brook. Plenty of clean, cool water to drink, and the ravens brought him bread and meat twice a day. It was a pretty nice life, carefree in every way.

But when God wants to bring us to an important transition point, He often allows our “brook” to dry up. This is bewildering, because we’re certain the Lord has used the brook to provide for us in the past. We’ve been following His will, and it’s hard to imagine our carefree life ever coming to an end.

However, through no fault of Elijah, his circumstances began to change: “It happened after a while that the brook dried up, because there had been no rain in the land”  (v. 7).

Ironically, the brook dried up as the direct result of Elijah’s obedience  in telling King Ahab there would be no rain “except at my word”  (v. 1). Without rain, it was only a matter of time before the brook would run out of water—but all of this was part of God’s plan.

Perhaps you can relate to Elijah’s experience. Maybe the job that provided income for you and your family for many years is drying up. Or the thriving church that once nurtured your faith is now a lifeless pile of dry bones. Or perhaps you find yourself in a marriage that has grown cold and dry, with no solution in sight.

So, what can you do when your brook dries up?  How should you react when some life-giving stream of God’s blessing is no longer bringing you the provision and nourishment you need?

Here are some thoughts…

  1. Thank God for how He used the brook in past seasons of your life. Instead of cursing the dry creek bed, be grateful for the sustenance it once brought you.
  2. Be grateful that a new season—with fresh provision—is right around the corner. When your brook starts to dry up, you should get excited instead of depressed! Since the Lord has promised to be your provider in every season, you can look at the future with great anticipation.
  3. Let go of any false nostalgia about the “good old days” when the brook was full of water. Yes, God used the brook to bless you in the past, but now you can trust Him for even BETTER things in your future. Don’t let past blessings become an idol that hinders you from embracing the next season of your life.
  4. Listen for a new set of instructions. Elijah knew God had told him to go to the Brook Cherith—and Elijah had obeyed. But now it was time for some new instructions, which God was faithful to provide: “Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. See, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you’” (vs. 8-9). If you want a fresh start, you will need to listen for fresh directions from the Lord. The new instructions may cause you even greater bewilderment, and I’m sure Elijah wondered how some widow he’d never met was going to provide for him. Are you willing to trust God anyway?

Here’s a brief prophetic thought on this important message: The world is entering a season when many of the “brooks” we’ve been relying upon are going to dry up. It has never been more crucial to trust God and obey His instructions. If we do, the new season can be far better than the previous one. If we don’t, we could find ourselves sitting next to a dry creek bed, wondering what happened to the water and the ravens.

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