The Parable of the Turtle

Turtle 2

I love the old maxim about risk-taking: “Behold the turtle. He only makes progress when he sticks his neck out.” You see, although you may feel safer while tucked away in your thick protective shell, you’ll never get anywhere in life. Your fears  will block your fulfillment, and your comfort  will turn into your coffin.

I’m convinced that fear is holding many people back from the necessary steps to make progress, enjoy life, or have a significant impact. My fellow baby boomers are especially prone to this common trap. We took risks in our younger days, some of which paid off, while others were brought devastating losses. But now we find it all too easy to play it safe and hedge our bets.

If you’ve talked with any financial planners recently, they’ve probably advised you to limit your risks as you get older. Be safe. Be conservative. Hang on to what you have. Don’t be too adventurous in your investments.

But those same advisors will admit that you’re unlikely to receive a substantial return on those “safe” investments. Small risk, small rewards. No risk, no rewards.

The same is true about our spiritual lives. Remember Jesus’ story about the guy who decided to bury his assets instead of risk losing them? Sadly for him, he ended up losing them in the end anyway (Matthew 25:14-28).

No decision could be riskier or more shortsighted than to opt for a risk-free life. First of all, such a life is impossible to find, since there will always be risks along the way. And even if you somehow succeeded in eliminating all risks, your life would be incredibly boring and unproductive.

Several decades ago, God gave me a vivid mental picture while I was praying. I saw myself playing poker, and I had amassed a very large stack of chips. Suddenly, however, I pushed the entire stack to the middle of the table and shouted, “ALL IN!”

Hmmm… I can’t help wondering if I would still be willing to take such a risk today. Although I claim to be entrusting my entire life to the Lord, lately I’ve only been giving Him the chips I’m willing to lose. And while I’ve succeeded in minimizing my risks, my rewards clearly have diminished as well.

As a student of the Bible, I’ve concluded that we need to grasp a couple of important lessons about risk-taking:

  • If God truly has told us to do something, obeying Him doesn’t constitute a “risk.” Before walking on the water, Peter wisely sought and received a green light from Jesus. Things were going fantastic at first, as they always do when we trust and obey. Peter only ran into trouble when he took his eyes off the Lord (Matthew 14:25-32).
  • Often we must take a step of faith, even when we have no direct guidance from God or assurances about the outcome. I love the story of Jonathan’s plan to defeat the Philistines, despite his lack of resources and manpower. His message to his armor bearer shows a commitment to do “the right thing,” even though God hadn’t told him what to do nor promised him victory: “Come and let us cross over to the garrison ofthese uncircumcised; perhaps the Lord will work for us, for the Lord is not restrained to save by many or by few” (1 Samuel 14:6). What a challenging statement this is for those of us who want ironclad assurance from God before we embark on any endeavor. He doesn’t always work that way! Sometimes we need to “take a chance” on a noble venture, hoping God will come through for us.

After they each took a bold step of faith, Peter and Jonathan both received supernatural assistance. Peter had gotten direct encouragement from the Lord in his quest to walk on water. Jonathan, in contrast, trusted God and hoped for victory solely by virtue of his worthwhile mission.

When was the last time YOU took a significant risk, relying on God’s help? Like Peter, has Jesus been beckoning you to take a seemingly risky step, leaving the safety of your “boat”? Or do you find yourself in a situation more like Jonathan, where your heart says to take action, despite an uncertain future?

One thing for sure: You don’t want to be like the turtle who allowed fear to keep him hiding in his shell. If you’re trusting God with your life, you’ll need to stick your neck out from time to time. Your life will surely be more exciting and fulfilling that way.

The Bible is pretty clear that God prefers risk-takers to those who insist on playing it safe. Yes, when you take risks there will be some losses as well as gains. But if you ever start to sink among the roaring waves, He will lift you up again—and I bet He will even applaud your effort.

 

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A ‘Little by Little’ Strategy for Progress in 2016

By nature, I’m an “all in” sort of guy. One of my favorite mantras is “The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.” So when I set an objective, I’m always looking for the quickest and most direct route to get there.

Lots of us guys are like that. We don’t just want a new car that can get us to our destination, we’re looking for how fast it can take us from 0 to 60 mph.

But not everything in life works like that…

  • If it took you two decades to put on those extra pounds, you won’t be able to remove them in two days.
  • If you’ve been on a downward spiral of debt for years, you’ll have to be patient as you make the necessary changes to dig yourself out.
  • If you’ve allowed your muscles to deteriorate since the beginning of the century, a week at the gym isn’t going to immediately turn things around.

I know, it’s hard to accept the reality that some things take time. Ever since the invention of the microwave oven, our understanding of goal-setting has been skewed. Why can’t we make the changes in our lives as fast as it takes to cook a bag of microwave popcorn?

As another year begins, I find myself (as always) trying to figure out my objectives. You probably have been doing that too. As we dive into 2016, I’m trusting that we’re right on the brink of some wonderful changes and progress. Today I feel the same kind of excitement the Israelites must have felt when they were about to enter into their Promised Land.

But I’m also reminded of a word of caution God gave His people as they prepared to enter into their place of new beginnings (Exodus 23:28-3). Even though He had prepared a great land for them to enter and enjoy, He made certain things clear about what they would experience in the process:

  1. They would encounter enemies and obstacles (v. 28). No matter what you hope to achieve in the new year, it’s certain that you will have to overcome some hurdles along the way.
  2. They would have to view possession of the Promised Land as a long-term process, not a quick and easy event (v. 29). As Christians we’re sometimes so wrapped up in one-time events and breakthroughs that we don’t commit ourselves to persevere for the long haul. Let’s remember: We’re in a marathon, not a sprint.
  3. Although God would help them in this journey of faith, they would have to recognize that their progress would come “little by little” (v. 30). I’ll admit, I don’t really like this. I would prefer God to always give us progress as a quantum leap. But that is seldom how things work. Yes, if you starve yourself for 40 days, you can say you’ve lost weight. But the “little by little” plan is far healthier and works better in the long run.

So, my friend, I hope you’ll be patient and persistent as you pursue your objectives for the new year. Little by little, the Promised Land can be yours.

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The Power of Full Dis-Engagement

One of the top concepts in the corporate world these days is “the power of full engagement.” It’s a paradigm for managing your personal or organizational energy, and I think you would find it very helpful.

But recently I’ve been learning about the flipside of that concept: the power of full DISENGAGEMENT.

Let me explain why this is so important…

My baby blue 1976 Fiat was the favorite car I’ve ever owned. With 5-speed manual transmission and a responsive engine, it was a complete blast to drive.

But sometimes my Fiat was so much fun that I forgot to press the clutch before changing gears. The result was a horrible grinding sound, not to mention considerable embarrassment on my part. And occasionally my failure to press the clutch even resulted in the engine stalling.

Lately I’ve realized that God is getting me ready for a new season in my life, and I’ve thought about the lesson I learned years ago with that old Fiat: If you’re going to make a smooth transition from one gear (or season) to the next, you’d better press the clutch first.

In many ways, this seems a great paradox. In order to be fully engaged with the next gear, you must first take time to be fully disengaged  from your present gear. Shortcuts simply don’t work. In fact, shortcuts will eventually cause permanent damage to the gears.

No one modeled the power of disengagement better than Jesus. When He saw that His disciples were facing burnout because of never-ending activity, He instructed them to “come apart” to a quiet place and get some rest (Mark 6:31 KJV). Then and now, those who don’t intentionally disengage from their daily grind on a regular basis will eventually “come apart” (i.e., fall apart) in unpleasant, unintentional ways.

Jesus realized the POWER in disengagement, especially when we use that time to better engage with our Heavenly Father. We repeatedly see Him disengaging from the crowds, and even from His disciples, to go pray in the wilderness or on top of a mountain. What was the result of such times? Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14).

Isn’t that beautiful? After Jesus purposefully disengaged for a while, He was able to reengage with new strength and power.

Today, do you find yourself anticipating a new season in your life, but unsure how to get there? Or perhaps you feel stuck in “second gear,” unable to move on. Or maybe you keep hearing a loud screeching sound every time you try to move from one gear to the next.

If you can relate to any of these symptoms, I encourage you to discover—or rediscover, like I have—the power of full disengagement. Leave your friends and family for a few days. Disconnect from your work responsibilities, your smart phone, and your social media. Find a place to quiet your heart and rest.

As you take time to disengage and be still, you’ll experience the powerful message of Psalm 46:10: He is God—and you’re not! That is really, really good news, isn’t it?

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I would love to preach at your church or conference, be a consultant to your leadership team, or help your organization navigate the waters of transition. You can reach me at info@JimBuchan.com.

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A Strange Kind of Anchor

If you’re like me, the word “anchor” has some negative connotations. For example, dictionaries say an anchor is a device for preventing or restricting a ship’s motion. I certainly don’t relish the thought of having my motion prevented or restricted, do you?

Another undesirable connotation of “anchor” is that it either ties you to where you ARE (your present circumstances) or where you’ve BEEN (your past). In either case, that kind of anchor sounds very dreary to me. Who wants to remain stuck to their present circumstances or their past?

However, the Bible describes a very different  kind of anchor, one that connects us to a hope-filled future instead of to our present or our past:

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf (Hebrews 6:19-20).

While faith is a “now” kind of reality (Hebrews 11:1), hope is an optimistic attitude about our future. The writer here says God wants us to have His supernatural hope as “an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”

Look at how revolutionary this is. While maritime anchors lock a ship in place and prevent progress, this spiritual kind of anchor is tethered to the positive future God has promised us (Jeremiah 29:11).

How do we know this? Because we’re told the anchor goes before us, tied to “our forerunner, Jesus.” It’s not an anchor that settles for our present circumstances. Quite the contrary, it’s an anchor that’s pulling us toward a whole new realm of living.

Also notice that our spiritual hope isn’t supposed to be based on anything we see around us. Just as a ship’s anchor disappears below the water line, the hope described here “enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain.”  This hope isn’t locked in to any kind of earthly circumstances or events, but rather to God’s destiny for us in the unseen realm (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

Just as an earthly anchor will prevent a ship from drifting, an anchor of hope serves the same purpose. Yet there’s a key difference. If you pull on a maritime anchor, you will go nowhere. But when you pull on your anchor of hope, you’re propelled forward  into more intimacy with Jesus and greater fulfillment of His plan for your life.

Even on cloudy days when your circumstances look bleak, you can count on this anchor to hold. Your Forerunner has already overcome death and defeat, and He’s the One your hope must be constantly anchored to.

May your soul find rest in Him today as He draws you forward into His presence and His purpose.

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Get Off Your Merry-Go-Round!

If you need a turnaround in some area of your life today, perhaps you can profit from the wisdom of NBA star Tracy McGrady when he was recovering from injuries and a shooting slump. Trying to explain his new outlook, he told the sports reporters, “My career was sputtering until I did a 360 and got headed in the right direction.”

I never was a math genius, but I know enough to realize that a 360-degree turnaround would be sending McGrady in exactly the same direction as he was headed before.

Many people make this same mistake. They think they’re making a turnaround, when actually they’re just spinning in circles. Plenty of motion, but not much progress. In the end, nothing has really changed. Yes, they turned things around 360 degrees, but what they needed was a 180-degree  course correction.

I’ve discovered that I’m not a big fan of things that go in circles. Even though I live in Charlotte—the heart of NASCAR country—I’ve never understood people’s fascination with cars that travel hundreds of miles at incredible speeds, only to end up several hours later in exactly the same spot as they began.

I’ve also become disenchanted with merry-go-rounds, electric train sets, hamster wheels, and treading water in a swimming pool. Isn’t it better to invest our time and energy into things where we can see PROGRESS instead of pointless repetition?

But I’ve known lots of people who never seem to get offer their merry-go-round or hamster wheel. If you run into them a decade from now, you can be certain they’ll be right where you left them. How sad.

One of the things I love about walking with God is that it’s a life of CHANGE and PROGRESS, rather than circles and stagnation. We’re called to leave Egypt and journey to the Promised Land—not taking the circular route that leads us back to Egypt or on a 40-year trek in the wilderness.

If TVs had been invented during the days of Moses, the circular journey of the Israelites could have been televised as some kind of reality show. Instead of NASCAR’s Daytona 500, it could have been called “The Israelite 40.”

Do you see why I hate circular journeys? The Israelites experienced this insanity long before Einstein or some other 20th century philosopher defined it as “Doing the same thing over and over, but expecting different results.”

Yet lately I’ve been reevaluating my position on this. The Lord eventually did  bring Joshua and the Israelites BACK to the place where they first boarded the merry-go-round instead of entering the Promised Land. The sight of this place must have brought back terrifying memories to Joshua, for God and the Israelites had to spend most of Joshua chapter 1 trying to alleviate his fears: Have I not commanded you?”  the Lord said to him, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go”  (Joshua 1:9).

How ironic. God had brought Joshua and the Israelites back full circle—360 degrees, as Tracy McGrady might say. He did this in order to heal them, restore them, and prepare them to move forward  into the place of their destiny.

The same “full circle” principle is found in John 21, when Peter and the other disciples tried to return to fishing after Jesus’ death. The Lord appeared to them and gave them a miracle catch of fish—reminiscent of the scene when He first called them to follow Him in Luke 5:1-11. The cure for their failure, discouragement, and bewilderment was to take them full circle and remind them of their original calling.

So perhaps Jesus wants to bring you back to your first love today or back to the kind of miraculous, joy-filled life you experienced when you first encountered Him. Just as He prescribed a 360-degree turnaround to the Ephesian Christians in Revelation 2:5, maybe He’s speaking a similar message to you: Turn back to Me and do the works you did at first.”

No, the goal certainly isn’t to go in endless circles. But sometimes you have to return back so you ultimately can move forward. You have to be healed from your fears and failures, so you can be launched into a whole new level of faith and fruitfulness.

 

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It’s All About Trajectory

“How are you doing today?” That’s the question I’ve often asked people over the years.

But I’ve concluded that this is probably the wrong question. I’m thinking of trying out a new query for the people I encounter:

“How’s your TRAJECTORY today?”

This is a much better question, isn’t it? Although I hope you’re having a good day, it’s much more important that the overall trajectory of your life is upward.

Perhaps your finances aren’t great  today, but hopefully they are better  than they used to be. You may not be in perfect  health, but I pray you’re keeping those New Year’s Resolutions to make your health better  than last year.

And the real  question about your marriage or your relationships with your kids is not how they’re doing right now. Instead, the question is whether you are sowing positive seeds today for a better trajectory tomorrow.

Not to get political, but I certainly wish Congress could pass a law to improve the President’s State of the Union addresses. Let’s get rid of all the campaigning, platitudes, and promises, focusing instead on one key question:

What is our national TRAJECTORY?

Perhaps we could even change the name of this speech to “The Trajectory  of the Union Address.” What do you think?

A Trajectory of the Union speech would have to give an explanation for the current trajectory of the nation’s economy, national debt, defense, and moral and spiritual climate. And to borrow a word from the Green Movement, we must ask whether the current trajectory is SUSTAINABLE.

For example, is it sustainable  for the United States to continue borrowing 40 cents of every dollar it spends? Try that with your own  budget sometime, and see how long you can keep it up.

How long has it been since you’ve applied the sustainability question to the various facets of your life? Maybe it’s time to ask whether your employer’s cash flow is on a sustainable path. Or perhaps you have to face the question of whether your church is on an upward trajectory, stuck on a plateau, or declining—with everyone just getting old and dying off.

Trajectory is a Biblical concept, after all. The pathway of a righteous person is supposed to shine “ever brighter” (Proverbs 4:18). As we grow in our relationship with the Lord, our trajectory should be a transformation from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18). And since our destiny is to become like Jesus, we should show evidence of becoming more like Him every day (Romans 8:29, 1 John 3:2-3, 2 Peter 1:5-8).

Perhaps you’ve experienced times of failure in the past, but you can’t allow that to determine your trajectory today. And no matter how things are going at the moment, remember that you are called “UPWARD”  (Philippians 3:13-14).

If you’re not happy with your life’s trajectory today, there’s good news. We serve the God of resurrection and new beginnings. He can take a tailspin and turn it around.

But the trajectory question is a reality check. You can’t keep doing the same things and expect different results.

 

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