Do You Have a SUSTAINABILITY Problem?

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I had never given much thought to the issue of “sustainability” until my daughter entered the master’s program in Urban Planning at the University of California Irvine. Abbie helped me see that while some activities appear to work satisfactorily in the short term, they cannot be successfully sustained down the road.

Perhaps you think of sustainability mostly in terms of environmental issues, but I’ve come to realize the wisdom of applying the sustainability question to just about every area of life.

First, I started getting invitations to free seminars by financial planners who wanted to sign me up for help with my retirement planning. I soon discovered that every planner’s goal was to paint a dire, self-serving picture: Without their help in growing my nest egg, my current standard of living was unsustainable.

And then a number of my friends embarked on dating relationships with women who lived in other cities, states, or even countries. They had met their soulmate, they assured me, and I was very happy for them. But I couldn’t help but wonder about the sustainability question.

Recently I’ve also found myself paying more attention to people’s eating habits. In my younger days, I was a big fan of Krispy Kreme donuts, fast food, and the Golden Corral buffet. But now I see the price many of us baby boomers are paying for our lack of nutritional restraint in previous years. Of course, eating junk food won’t kill you in the short run—but it’s not a sustainable lifestyle if you want a healthy future.

As I seek to apply the sustainability question to these practical areas like finances, relationships, and nutrition, I’m seeing how this approach leads to greater maturity. While immature people take little thought for the future as they seek to satisfy their immediate desires, those who are mature understand the great virtue of delayed gratification.

Inevitably, there are consequences  to our lifestyle choices, even choices that seem rather small and insignificant at the time. Often, though, the full consequences aren’t seen until many years down the road.

As you survey your life today, do you detect any sustainability problems? Are you engaging in activities, habits, or expenditures in the short run that will bring about negative outcomes to your long-term happiness?

The good news is that you don’t really need a master’s degree to recognize the wisdom of the sustainability question. You just need maturity and self-discipline.

Ironically, this issue of self-control brings us full-circle—right back to Urban Planning. Solomon warns in Proverbs 25:28, “A person without self-control is like a city with broken-down walls.”  You see, self-control and sustainability go hand in hand. The walls of our lives—and ultimately our cities—are broken down when we sacrifice our future for the pleasures of the moment.

Solomon adds in Proverbs 16:32, “Better to be patient than powerful; better to have self-control than to conquer a city.” Before we can successfully tackle the problems of our cities, we must first receive God’s help in conquering ourselves.

My prayer for you today is that, filled with God’s goodness and love, you’ll find joy that’s sustainable all the days of your life—and into eternity as well (Psalm 23:6).

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5 Strategies for Overcoming Stress Overload

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Stress often gets a bad rap. It’s not always bad. Our goal should certainly not be a “stress-free” life, for that kind of existence would be extremely boring and unproductive.

Just as a guitar string needs some “stress” in order to be in proper tune, so do we. If you strum a guitar string that is too tight, it’s liable to snap. But the same is true if the string is too loose. Whether too tight or too loose, if the string is out of tune it becomes more vulnerable to damage.

Of course, a few people have the gift of perfect pitch, able to keep their strings under exactly the right tension. But most of us need to use a guitar tuner or some other device that lets us know how the string is supposed to sound. Instead of the subjective approach, just tuning the instrument by ear, we need an objective standard to synchronize with.

I hope your life is well-tuned today, with just the right amount of stress. But if you’re anything like me, your tendency is to keep juggling more and more balls until you’re in danger of stress overload. Eventually you hit the breaking point, and it’s like the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Over many decades of life and ministry, I’ve become somewhat of an expert in detecting and diffusing stress overload—mostly because I’ve so often been its victim.

Here are 5 of the top strategies I’ve discovered for overcoming this commonly recurring problem:

  1. Remember that God is God, and you’re not.

This principle is so basic, yet so deep. At the root of all stress overload is the human inclination to forget that God is on the throne of the universe. Throughout the Scriptures, we’re told to be still and know that HE is God (Psalm 46:10). We’re reminded that the government of creation is on HIS shoulders rather than ours (Isaiah 9:6-7). And we’re invited to cast our cares upon Him (1 Peter 5:7) and find rest for our soul (Matthew 11:28-30).

Not matter how strong, smart, creative, or resilient you might be, you will do a terrible job trying to be God. So if you feel like you’ve been given “more than you can handle” today, it may be because you’re trying to shoulder responsibilities that only God Himself is qualified to handle.

I’ll never forget my Grandma Fraggiotti singing her favorite hymn, “I Need Thee Every Hour.” The song’s beautiful message somehow was even more penetrating when sung in Grandma’s distinct German accent.

  1. Recognize you’re not called upon to solve every problem and meet every need.

I’ve often fallen prey to stress overload because of trying to do everyone else’s job for them. Years ago I used to love playing volleyball during our church picnics. I was, in all humility, better than most of the other players, so I frequently tried to cover their positions as well as my own. Although I usually was successful doing this for a while, the ball would typically end up falling right where I myself was supposed to be. I was so overextended covering other people’s assignments, that I too often failed to cover my own.

I love John the Baptist’s reply when people asked about his identity. “I am not the Christ!” he told them (John 1:20). You and I need to remember that profound truth as well. We are not the whole body of Christ, but simply a part. In order to fulfill our true identity, we need to be very clear on who we are NOT.

On several occasions, people tried to get Jesus involved in situations He knew He wasn’t called to handle (e.g., Luke 12:13-14). At other times, He refused to fit into other people’s timeframe, because He realized His time had not yet come (John 7:2-8, John 11:3-6).

You will surely succumb to stress overload if you’re always allowing other people’s procrastination to constitute an emergency on your part. Likewise, you must learn to say “no” when you discern that people have an agenda for you that’s not God’s agenda.

  1. Focus your attention on the needs of today, rather than excessively dwelling on baggage of the past or events in the future.

One of my mother’s favorite Bible verses was Matthew 6:34: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Much of our stress comes either from trying to change yesterday (which is impossible) or worrying about situations that may or may not occur tomorrow.

Remember: God only promises to give us enough grace and strength for TODAY. When tomorrow comes, we’ll have the strength we need then too. But we’ll inevitably find ourselves overwhelmed if we attempt to shoulder the cares of yesterday, today, and tomorrow all at the same time.

  1. Remember the Sabbath principle.

God designed humankind to experience a rhythm of work and rest (Exodus 20:8-11). You weren’t made to work 24/7, nor even 24/6. You need to get adequate daily sleep and set aside consistent time each week for rest and revitalization.

Stress overload is also reduced when you take time to exercise, have fun, and do other activities that provide “energy in.” Stephen Covey refers to this principle as “sharpening the saw.” Few things are as stressful as trying to carry out our responsibilities in life when we’re feeling drained and empty.

  1. Periodically disengage from the cares of life for several days in a row.

While a weekly Sabbath rest break is vital to overcoming stress overload, sometimes we need more than that. I periodically come to places in my life when I need a personal retreat, vacation, or even a sabbatical.

To paraphrase Jesus’ words in Mark 6:31, “You need to come apart so that you won’t fall apart!” He and His disciples were hard workers, pouring their lives out for others. But He also modeled the importance of regularly getting away from the grind of ministry in order to gain new perspective, recharge our spiritual batteries, and regain our emotional vitality.

My favorite car ever was a baby blue 1976 Fiat. But it was a stick shift, and sometimes I forgot to push the clutch when shifting gears. The result was a terrible grinding sound, as the moving gears collided. I learned a valuable lesson from that car: Whenever I’m about to make a major shift or transition in my life, I need to “push the clutch” and momentarily disengage the gears.

By implementing these 5 strategies, you can experience a life of greater balance, joy, and longevity. Instead of operating on overload, your stress level will become like the strings of a finely tuned musical instrument.

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The Perils of Being a Good Juggler

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I have an exceptional ability to juggle lots of balls at the same time. I don’t mean literal balls. My hand-and-eye coordination isn’t good enough for that. But, better than most people, I’m able to successfully juggle multiple projects, activities, and relationships.

Many of my best friends are only able to focus on one project at a time. Sometimes I envy them, for being a good juggler is both a blessing and a curse.

Almost anyone can successfully juggle one ball from hand to hand. And with a little practice, most people can handle two or three balls. Juggling four or five balls is far more difficult, though. Even if you can juggle four or five balls for a short period, the problem is sustainability.

I’ve found that when you’re a good juggler, people keep giving you more balls. It’s not really their fault, but your boss, spouse, kids, and friends seem to think your capacity is unlimited. So you go from juggling one ball…to two…to three…to four. And everything goes splendidly at first.

Yet when you’re a good juggler, you inevitably end up with one more ball than you can handle. Sadly, you seldom see how hazardous this progression is—not until ALL the balls end up on the floor.

Those of us who are good jugglers typically end up juggling many of the wrong  balls. We have a hard time saying NO. Instead of prioritizing and focusing, we try convincing people of our nearly superhuman abilities.

There’s an old gospel song that says, “He’s got the whole world in His hands.” The challenge for good jugglers is that we often forget Who this song is referring to. God is able to simultaneously juggle all the balls in the universe—but we’re not God.

If you’re a good juggler like me, my heart goes out to you. As the Scriptures advise, I hope you’ll learn to cast your cares on the Lord, remembering that He’s the only limitless juggler. May you regularly seek His wisdom on which balls are meant for you, and which ones aren’t.

If you’ve taken on too many balls, running the risk of dropping them all, I pray you’ll recognize your precarious situation before it’s too late. In the end, you’ll be far more productive—and much happier—if you focus on your true calling. That’s where you’ll find God’s grace and strength.

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Wearing Tom Brady’s Jersey (& Other Craziness)

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I grew up in the era of Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown, and I’m convinced he was the best football player of all time. Yet I never had a Jim Brown jersey. In fact, except for the players who were actually on the team, I don’t remember people wearing NFL jerseys back then.

From Boston to Houston this weekend, thousands of people will be wearing Tom Brady jerseys. Last year our hometown Carolina Panthers were in the Super Bowl, so Cam Newton jerseys were a big thing. Sadly, Cam didn’t play so well in the Super Bowl—nor ever since, for that matter. His jersey sales have probably declined as a result.

Frankly, I don’t really get the jersey thing. When someone wears a New England #12 jersey, everyone can tell it’s not the real  Tom Brady. It’s an impostor…a wannabe. No one is impressed by impersonators, nor is anyone fooled when you wear the jersey of your favorite sports star.

So what’s the point of wearing someone else’s jersey?

The Bible has some interesting examples of this principle…

King Saul tried to give David his armor to wear, but the young man realized the armor simply didn’t fit. It was the king’s  “jersey,” not his own. So David decided to go against Goliath instead with his own armaments—a slingshot and five smooth stones. He explained to Saul that he preferred to use weapons he’d already tested in his own life, when defeating lions and bears (1 Samuel 17).

In another case, Jesus rebuked the believers in Sardis for not living up to the label on their jersey:  “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead”  (Revelation 3:1).

You see, it’s considered hypocrisy when you have a great name on your jersey, but your lifestyle doesn’t match. Perhaps that’s the true meaning of the 10 Commandments precept, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” (Exodus 20:7). Instead of being a rule against profanity, perhaps the deeper meaning is that we shouldn’t wear the Lord’s name on our jersey if we’re not committed to seeking His will.

Putting Jesus’ name on your jersey is not something to do lightly. As the apostle Paul warned, “Everyone who names the name of the Lord must turn away from unrighteousness” (2 Timothy 2:19 HCSB).

Nevertheless, the Bible says that as believers we’ve “clothed” ourselves with Christ—we’ve willingly taken His name and put on His jersey (Galatians 3:27 NASB). And even though NFL jerseys are expensive, wearing the name of Jesus is certainly a much more expensive and courageous step than wearing Tom Brady’s jersey.

There’s something we desperately need in order to successfully wear the name of Christ. We must heed His offer to be clothed with “power from on high” (Luke 24:49 NASB). To live as true Christians, we must be anointed—like our Savior—with the power of the Holy Spirit.

Wearing Tom Brady’s jersey will never enable you to become like him. But when you clothe yourself with Christ and the power of His Spirit, you’ll increasingly be transformed into His likeness (Romans 8:29). That bodes well for winning your personal Super Bowl.   

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Love-Starved but Love-Resistant

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I recently discovered a strange phenomenon: People who are the most starved for love usually are resistant to receiving love when it’s offered to them.

This is like California or Texas after a long-term drought. When rain finally comes, the ground is so hard that it can’t properly soak up the water. Instead of being a blessing, the rain sometimes causes a flood!

Have you ever tried to show love to someone who was extremely love-starved? If so, the person probably either rejected your love or latched onto it in a completely unhealthy way. If you doubt me on this, talk to some of your friends who’ve ventured into the world of online dating…

The love-resistant principle is illustrated in the life of one of the Bible’s most fascinating characters, Mephibosheth. This son of Jonathan was crippled at age five and after his father’s death on the same day, he was exiled to a desolate wasteland called Lo Debar.

One day King David started wondering if any of Saul and Jonathan’s heirs remained, and he was told about this woeful, exiled prince (2 Samuel 9). David was intent on finding this forgotten young man and showing him kindness.

But although kindness was something Mephibosheth desperately needed, there was just one problem: this crippled son of David’s friend Jonathan was love-resistant. Like a Type 2 diabetic who’s insulin-resistant despite needing more insulin, he was emotionally unable to absorb the very thing he so clearly needed.

We really shouldn’t be too surprised. For several years this man had grown up in squalor and hopelessness. Lame in both legs, he was completely dependent on others. Day after day, his condition reminded him of his great loss, which occurred at no fault of his own.

So what happened when Mephibosheth was brought before the king?

Shuffling and stammering, not looking him in the eye, Mephibosheth said, “Who am I that you pay attention to a stray dog like me?” (v. 8 MSG).

How sad. After years of deprivation, this dispirited, love-starved man judged himself to be a loser, unworthy of kindness from the king or anyone else. Instead of being heir to the throne, now he felt of no more value than a stray dog!

Can you blame him? After all, he couldn’t hold a job…couldn’t produce anything…couldn’t even walk! In the eyes of most people in that period of time, he was WORTHLESS, plain and simple—and that’s how he saw himself as well.

As the story makes clear, Mephibosheth was crippled in both of his feet. But if we read between the lines, we realize that he was even more crippled emotionally. Instead of seeing himself as a prince, he was a pauper, completely unlovable.

Oh, but David’s love—like God’s love for us—was not to be denied. Despite the deplorable condition of this man, both physically and psychologically, the king persisted in his plan to RESTORE him to what he had lost.

That’s good news, because we’ve ALL suffered losses of various kinds. Thankfully, King Jesus offers to bring us from Lo Debar, bringing us restoration rather than judgment.

This story has a beautiful conclusion: “So Mephibosheth dwelt in Jerusalem, for he ate continually at the king’s table” (v. 13). No longer dwelling in the spiritual wasteland of Lo Debar, the crippled prince once again ate at the king’s table, just like one of David’s sons.

Are you starving for love today? Remember the story of this dejected young man whose hard emotional shell finally gave way to the relentless kindness of God. When you let the King shower you with His love, it will open the corridors of your heart to experience love from other people as well.

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Job’s Melancholy Birthday

Job's birthday

At my age, birthdays are something I would prefer to forget rather than celebrate. Yet the greetings of “HAPPY BIRTHDAY” continue, and I’m always grateful for the nice sentiments.

This got me thinking of the story of Job. He had a happy life at the beginning and the end, but the middle was pretty rough.

Thankfully, we don’t have to get stuck in the middle of the story.

At one point, Job was not a big fan of his birthday. A season of incredibly severe trials had begun, and he cursed the day he was born:

Obliterate the day I was born.
    Blank out the night I was conceived!
Let it be a black hole in space.
    May God above forget it ever happened.
    Erase it from the books!
May the day of my birth be buried in deep darkness,
    shrouded by the fog,
    swallowed by the night.
And the night of my conception—the devil take it!
    Rip the date off the calendar,
    delete it from the almanac.
Oh, turn that night into pure nothingness—
    no sounds of pleasure from that night, ever!
May those who are good at cursing curse that day
(Job 3:1-10 MSG).

Wow. An extreme reaction, don’t you think? But at that moment Job had forgotten his past blessings and wasn’t anticipating a better life in the days ahead.

I hope you  never have a melancholic birthday like Job was experiencing. But even if you do, his story provides good news—a happy ending!

God blessed Job’s later life even more than his earlier life…Job lived on another 140 years, living to see his children and grandchildren—four generations of them! Then he died—an old man, a full life (Job 42:12-17 MSG).

How cool that 140 years after Job wanted his life to end, everything had changed. He was experiencing a full, blessed life, all the way to the end.

So…I hope all your birthdays are happy ones. But even if they aren’t, you can find hope and comfort in the story of Job. God is a God of turnarounds and new beginnings. Your “later life” can be even more blessed than your earlier life!

Like Job, you may be facing pain in your body or losses of your property and relationships. But we’re told that “God restored his fortune—and then doubled it!” (Job 42:10 MSG). Yes, Job got double for all his trouble.

It may take 42 chapters, as it did for Job, but your story can have a happy ending too. You don’t have to get stuck in a melancholic birthday. The Lord can restore what you’ve lost—and even given you more.

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Defusing Your Emotional Land Mines

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My friend Ron is a divorced man in his 50s who has ventured into the world of online dating the past few years. He’s a good man who sincerely would like to find a new wife. But although he’s met a number of good prospects, each new relationship has exploded after a month or two, often suddenly and unexpectedly.

Ron typically explains the breakup in terms of “overemotional” or “hypersensitive” women. “They all say on their online profile that they’re baggage-free and drama-free,” he tells me with a grimace, “but they all have issues. They’re either kidding themselves or outright lying.”

Hmmm…interesting that guys always think it’s the women who have all the baggage.

While pondering Ron’s puzzling experiences, I remembered a news report I saw on the problem of land mines in Cambodia and Vietnam. Although the wars there ended decades ago, numerous land mines still remain, maiming and killing many innocent people each year.

The more I thought about these hazardous military land mines, the more I understood about the emotional land mines contributing to Ron’s situation.

A land mine is defined as “an explosive charge concealed just under the surface of the ground, designed to be detonated by pressure.” A minefield typically looks like an ordinary, harmless piece of land. It’s only when pressure is applied that the hidden mines are detonated, usually by completely innocent people who’ve unwittingly entered the danger zone.

So why haven’t all the unexploded bombs in Southeast Asia been removed by this time? Unfortunately, the people who laid the mines have often forgotten where they are. It’s a slow process to detect the unexploded mines with metal detectors or other devices, and great care must be taken not to unintentionally detonate the bombs while attempting to remove them.

Poor Ron, I thought to myself as I understood what had been happening. And even worse, I felt extremely sorry for the women he had dated. None of them deserved any of this.

But here are the sad facts about emotional minefields…

Just as the unexploded mines in Cambodia and Vietnam are the result of wars occurring 30, 40, or 50 years ago, we’ve all sustained emotional scars as we’ve walked through life. Many of them happened during our childhood, sometimes so early that we don’t even consciously remember the event. Other scars happened in our teen years or through shrapnel from a failed marriage.

Just like military land mines, our emotional land mines are detonated by pressure. At times the pressure comes through something like a health crisis, lost job, or financial setback. But as in Ron’s case, emotional land mines are frequently ignited when a person embarks on a close personal relationship.

Usually everything seems fine in the early stage of a relationship. But greater intimacy brings greater pressure. Like a ticking time bomb, the relationship is destined for detonation unless it can successfully cross the minefield of unresolved issues of the past.

Nothing is more bewildering than to detonate a land mine. One minute you’re walking innocently on a seemingly safe roadway, and the next minute you find yourself bleeding from an unforeseen explosion. You didn’t anticipate it…didn’t deserve it…but it happened anyway.

Although I’ve usually seen myself as an emotionally healthy person, I’ve been deeply jarred by Ron’s story. I’m horrified by the thought that my emotional land mines could detonate unexpectedly, doing great damage to someone I care about.

If you’re like Ron, hoping for a healthy new relationship, you should pray to find someone with lots of unconditional love. Why? Because land mines will inevitably be exposed in time. And to paraphrase 1 Peter 4:8, “Love covers a multitude of land mines.”

Also take some time, as I’ve been doing recently, to let God search your heart and expose hidden scars and forgotten minefields. You owe this to yourself and to those you love. Don’t let past wars and traumas sabotage the happiness of your present and future relationships.

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Reminded About Who I Really Am

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Have you ever had a “voice from the past” remind you about important aspects of who God created you to be?

That’s what happened recently when I was contacted by Matthew Donovan, a friend I hadn’t seen in the nearly 20 years since he moved away from Charlotte. We were able to spend several hours together at the Panera Bread Company, catching up on things and then praying for each other.

Part of the conversation was especially illuminating for me…

“Have you been speaking at many churches lately, Jim?” Matthew asked. Back when we were hanging out in the 1990s, he once traveled with me to minister in a church near Houston, Texas. I preached, he led worship, then we prayed for people and gave some input to the pastor. It was a very memorable and impactful time.

“No, I rarely speak at churches these days, Matthew,” I admitted. “Although I love to preach, the opportunities have been very few.”

“What about being a church consultant?” he queried. “You always enjoyed that sort of thing.”

“No, I’m not doing much of that either,” I said.

“Well, I know you’ve always had a heart to mentor young leaders,” Matthew reminded me. Back in the 1990s, he was one of those young leaders I tried to help and encourage.

“I have a few young guys I get together with, Matthew. Yet I surely would like to impact a lot more.”

You can pretty much see where the conversation was headed, but Matthew went on to ask a final question about my current activities.

“Have you written some good books in recent years, Jim?” he wanted to know. I think he may have remembered that I wrote my classic book on leadership many years ago, Walking the Leadership Highway—Without Becoming Roadkill!

“I’m writing more books than ever, Matthew,” I told him, “but only as a ghostwriter, not as the author.”

Our conversation was a surreal experience for me. Through his questions, my friend was reminding me of the person I used to be in days gone by. He was painting a clear and challenging picture of the Jim Buchan he used to know.

Reflecting on my time with Matthew, I’ve concluded that the Jim Buchan of today still has the very same passions, but somehow I’ve gotten off track the past decade or so. To make matters worse, I’m not really sure HOW I got off track, nor do I fully know what it will take to reverse course and revitalize my diminished vision and functionality.

At this point in the blog, you’re probably expecting me to write about some epiphany I’ve had about how to regain my lost calling. Well…stay tuned. Right now I don’t have any solution other than drawing near to the Lord and listening for His instructions on my new assignments. It’s clear that returning to my true calling must begin by a return to my “first love,” my personal relationship with Him (Revelation 2:1-4).

Surely I’m not the only one who has ever experienced this troubling sense of having drifted from my spiritual gifts and true calling. In fact, Paul advised his protégé Timothy, “Fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you”  (2 Timothy 1:6 NLT). Our spiritual embers inevitably grow cold in time if we neglect to maintain them.

What about you? Like King David, can you truly say you are serving the purpose of God in your own generation? (Acts 13:36 NASB) Are you serving in your true spiritual gifts and making the maximum impact on the lives of others?

If you have some advice for me on how to get back on track, I would love to hear from you. We’re in this together, after all. And I’m still hoping the rest of our life can be the best of our life.

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Rediscovering My ‘True North’

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When I was a kid, we didn’t have all the cool video games and technology of today. Some of my most memorable toys were marbles, magnifying glasses, and gyroscopes.

Recently when I was praying, God spoke a powerful message to me through two of my other childhood toys: a compass and a magnet.

First, I recalled the amazing attributes of a compass. When set on a level surface, the needle rather mysteriously points to “true north.” Somehow the compass detects and automatically points toward the invisible magnet field emitted by the North Pole.

But as I pondered this wondrous ability, the picture changed. I saw a compass surrounded by various magnets. The needle was spinning, no longer able to discern the correct direction of true north.

Like this compass, I realized I was in danger of losing my sense of true north. When I gave my life to Jesus and His Spirit came into my heart, I was given an internal guidance system much like a compass. And whenever I look time to quiet my heart and rid myself of external distractions, my spirit automatically pointed toward the Lord and my true north calling.

However, life is full of external magnet fields. While the compass needle initially points northward, it can be swayed by relationships, addictions, materialism, stress, and busyness. Many of us end up trying to please people rather than God. Or our lives become consumed with the quest for a paycheck so we can pay our bills. Even the good  things in our lives can emit magnetic fields that divert us from God’s highest will.

Let’s be honest: the North Pole is a lot farther away than the external magnets around us. Yes, the Lord is very near to us (and even in us), but the attraction from what we see, feel, touch, and taste can appear much stronger at times. And the voices of people often drown out the voice of the Lord.

So how can you regain your sense of true north if your compass needle is spinning out of control? What can you do when you detect confusion in your heart about God’s plan and purpose?

Periodically, you must leave behind all the external distractions and take a personal retreat. You need to make sure your internal compass needle isn’t being influenced by anything other than the Spirit of God.

When can you take time to do that?

I know, it’s difficult to find time to rediscover your true north. But what’s the alternative? Do you want to continue living a life that lacks direction, impact, and satisfaction?

One of the great benefits of finding true north is that the other directions become clear as well. Once you know which way is north, it’s easy to find east, south, and west. Your relationships and priorities are much easier to sort out once you’ve established which way you’re headed.

When you rediscover your true north, you’ll no longer drift through life like a sleepwalker. No longer confused or purposeless, you’ll gain new appreciation for Solomon’s advice about finding divine direction:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6 NASB).

Straight paths are only possible if you’re clear about where you’re going. And your internal GPS will only function properly if you’ve first established which way north is.

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The Parable of My Unbalanced Tires

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A few years ago I purchased a new set of tires for my car. They weren’t the highest-rated tires, but they came with a 60,000-mile warranty, which seemed like a safe bet at the time.

As I drove away, I patted myself on the back for getting such a great deal. It was good to know I wouldn’t have to deal with buying tires again for at least 60,000 miles.

Everything was fine as I drove down the road, 25 mph, 35 mph, and 50 mph. But when I took my new tires on the freeway, my satisfaction soon turned to dismay. At 60 miles per hour, the car began to bounce and shake. Not a good feeling at all.

At first I wondered if the stretch of freeway just had some rough spots. But no, there was nothing wrong with the road.

It turned out that my shiny new tires were unbalanced and had hidden defects. Rather than surviving for 60,000 miles, I had to quickly return to the tire shop and replace them with some better tires.

Many lessons can be gleaned from this dismal experience. You probably would point out that, in some ways, I got what I paid for. In the end, I would have saved both money and time by purchasing better tires in the first place.

However, another lesson has come to mind lately: My defective, unbalanced, cheap tires would have been just fine if I was content to only drive 25 miles an hour!  There wasn’t a noticeable problem until I pushed down on the accelerator and embarked on the freeway.

Do you see why this lesson goes far beyond the automotive realm? Look at these examples:

  • A person’s career may seem to be doing quite well when it’s only moving at a slow speed. But what happens when the speed increases, the responsibilities build, and the expectations rise? If there are latent imbalances or defects in the person’s character or capabilities, they’re exposed by this added stress, often in rather shocking ways.
  • It’s dangerous for a person to be raised up in ministry based on their charisma and gifts, without sufficient regard to proven character and experience. The harsh roadway of ministry will inevitably reveal character flaws and vulnerabilities that weren’t apparent when the person was merely coasting down the road.
  • When a new relationship forms between a man and a woman, things often are relatively easy in the early stages. But when superficiality is replaced by vulnerability, the underlying dysfunctions come to the surface. High speed in a relationship tends to carry with it an even higher risk, as the personal weaknesses of each person come to light, often in startling ways.

How does all of this apply to your  life right now? Are you already experiencing some turbulence because of dysfunctions and imbalances in your foundation? Is everything going smoothly at the moment, yet you’re playing it safe because of fear that trouble may be ahead if you venture out at higher speeds?

Although there isn’t always an easy way to test your “tires” before entering the freeway, David had it right when he prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way” (Psalm 139:23-24 NASB).

You see, David was like a long-distance runner who knew he should get his heart checked out before trying to run a marathon. Lots of problems could be avoided if we prayed his prayer and followed his example.

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