Many years went by when a signal went out far and wide to report the death of Joseph. Many arrived to visit his home and walk the grounds to see the place where they had buried his ashes. The place on the trail had been prepared many years in advance. The marker there said, “Parts of trail may be impassible. Yeah right!” The marker made all who knew Joseph to smile. Those who were random visitors would be perplexed. Shaking his head and smiling Samuel noticed the perplexed look on some children.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” one of the kids asked their mother who also looked baffled. Samuel continued to shake his head and debated whether he should admit that he was eaves dropping or not. He wondered if it was his place to tell the story. Samuel scratched his balding head and nodded to his wife and she too shook her head. She had heard the story too many times and really didn’t want to hear it again. However, she did like the expression on Samuel’s face when he told it. This was his first of many visits to Tranquility.
Clearing his throat, Samuel asked, “I’m sorry but I couldn’t help but overhear the question. I know the answer if you would like to hear it?” The little family sat down on a bench.
“When Joseph was a young man he was out on a vacation with his wife, kids and his in-laws. As part of the adventure they stopped by a state park that had been a routine part of his wife’s childhood. There was a lake and the day was really beautiful. They had not come prepared to do any swimming, but someone noticed that there was a nature trail that went all the way around the lake. After some consultation whether or not the kids could make the 1.2-mile adventure it was decided to give it a shot. The youngest could be carried a bit and they would take turns if it really came to that. It was not long from the trail head when they saw a sign that said that ‘Parts of trail may be impassible.’ Joseph looked at his wife and kids and another meeting was called. After some laughter it was decided that if it really was impassible, they could just turn around. They would go as far as they could. Several times along the trail they came across a log or a small stream of water. Every time that they came to one of these ‘obstacles’ Joseph would laugh and say, ‘Part so trail might be impassible, yeah right.’ Joseph when he told the story would stop there to say that many times there are signs that seem like the trail ahead will be impassible and that we should simply turn around. Most of these are fakes and lies. If God has called you to go around the lake, then go around the lake. No matter how many signs tell you that ‘parts of trail may be impassible’ you must just say, ‘Yeah right.’ As the troopers continued around the trail, they came to a place that was actually a raging stream flooded by some recent rains. By the looks of it there was no way to get past this one. That is when they noticed that the park rangers were in the process of building a bridge and had laid two logs across the stream. Another meeting was called. They had already hiked a little better than mile. The children had been carried much of the way. Everyone was starting to get tired. ‘Let’s go for it.’ Joseph climbed up on the log and scooted his way across as the family rested. He wanted to make sure that this was the only part of the trail that was actually impassible. Coming back and having confirmed that if they got past this that they might get a little wet, but there was only a short hike from finishing the trip. Joseph scooted with his boys across. His daughter made her own way. Soon his wife, taking off her shoes, meanders over the log and safely arrived on the other side. The in-laws also carefully made their way over. Joseph would say that there actually is no such thing as an impassible trail. Sometimes you must get creative to get around, under or over and obstacle. Over the years I heard him say many times, ‘Parts of trail may be impassible, yeah right!”
Other visitors arrived over the course of the year. Eric stopped by to pay respects during a visit back to the states from the Uganda where he, his wife and kids had been living as missionaries. Eric was now disciplined and healthy. His family was stable and enjoyed the stability that comes from an adventurous and stable family.
Julie was among the first to hike the trail. Her life was unbelievable. After five years of running the 50’s restaurant as part owner, her partner turned over the whole operation to her. She had launched out and added a medieval restaurant that did not succeed. With the encouragement of her husband she invested in theme dining opportunities of all kinds. She had one that was a replica of a 1920’s club with swing music that was very successful. The 50s and 80s themes were always popular and did well. She added in movie themed attractions and now was passing on much of the day to day operations onto her daughter.
Sarah never came to see Tranquility. Rarely did she even think of Joseph as she now was the CEO of a major hotel chain. Long since divorced she was lonely and even though she often put a happy mask on everywhere she went, she was secretly miserable. Her husband Mike though had come many times. After the divorce he took Joseph’s course and was now remarried and owned a small construction business that mostly did remodels. He was fully content.
Now you my friend. What will be your story? How should we tell your tale? Invest in yourself and experience a full and complete life. Invest wisely.
4am. Joseph’s alarm went off with a cricket’s chirp that he had trained himself to wake up to but also did not disturb his wife’s sleep. Quietly as possible he crept into the living room and drank down a vitamin packed drink. He had been drinking this nearly every day for years and he felt as though it was building up his immune system. In his mind he tried to shift his self-talk. Left to itself his mind was trying to convince him that this morning discipline stuff was a waste of time. His mind directed him to go back to sleep. Joseph pushed back the temptation but still questioned himself. He had been doing this for years and could not really see any major benefits from getting up early. But he did recognize that those days where he gave into the voice and went back to sleep that he was not as productive.
Making his way to the couch Joseph opened his prayer book and cried out to God on behalf of people that he had met over the years. Often, he would also include some prewritten prayers. In the morning this seemed to help him overcome prayer ADHD. With his mind focused his real purpose of this time was not really a shopping list of needs to bring to his Creator, but rather a deep desire to connect and be able to hear from God.
His final prayer of this morning session always was the same. From the prophet Samuel he had learned to pray out, “Speak Lord your servant is listening.” He would pray that and purposely try to empty his mind so that he might hear that still small voice.
Joseph then put on his work out clothes that he had set out the night before. He loved this time of year because he did not need any winter gear. Sliding on his headphones, Joseph met his dog outside of the garage. Together they walked through the woods where Joseph did fifteen pull ups and then walked back through the woods to his garage. Stopping on the driveway Joseph pushed himself to do fifty push ups and then started running. As he ran his headphones played podcasts that taught him more about being a Godly leader. Often these podcasts challenged him to be a better father, a better husband or more. Nearly every day while he was running the country roads whether through these podcasts or just flitting along, he would receive an answer to that last prayer. God would speak. Joseph answered as the prophet Isaiah had, “Here I am Lord, send me.” Joseph was always touched when he heard from God. Usually it was encouragement from His Savior to continue in the work. Occasionally, it was correction or even direction of things to do that day. By the time he returned to his house he knew that he needed to get to his journal to take some notes. But first he fed his wife’s chickens.
After journaling, he would realize that he simply could not do what God had called him to do so he prayed the third part of the prayer. “Fill me with a double portion of your Spirit.” He had added that several years prior when he had read that the prophet Elisha had made that request of his own mentor.
Joseph then opened the Bible and read five psalms, one proverb and six pages of Scripture. Then he sat back and meditated on what He had just read. Were there any fresh insights? Anything new? In the silence Joseph listened. He desperately wanted to hear from God clearly every day however sometimes he was just too distracted. While he was certain God was speaking, he simply could not hear Him through the noise. Breathing in deep, Joseph tried to still his mind and focus. This morning he had read about Moses losing his temper with the children of Israel. Amid that frustration, Moses had struck the rock instead of speaking to it. With that act of disobedience Moses had lost his opportunity to lead the people into the promised land. Joseph sighed. How many times had he snapped or become sarcastic as he had tried to lead organizations or even something like his small little classes? Joseph wept.
Before breakfast, Joseph opened up his phone and one of his favorite apps that would tell him about some country in the world with specific prayer requests. This never failed to make him wish to be able to travel the world and share the Gospel with the lost or encourage believers in foreign lands. “Maybe someday.” Joseph journaled his remaining thoughts and went to the kitchen.
While he thought maybe variety might be better, Joseph liked the simplicity of fried eggs and because of the chickens they typically had plenty in stock. The silence of the house soothed him as he slowly chewed his food and thought about the day ahead. When he was finished with the meal, he would do the dishes as an act of service. He never wanted his wife to have to do his dishes in the morning.
Grabbing a cup of coffee Joseph opened his laptop and opened the local paper. Skimming different articles would grab his attention as he sipped his coffee. “The world is definitely broken,” he thought as he so often did while reading the news. The pain and heartache that he would read about as only marginally offset by the fun stories about fairs or achievements of locals.
The paper complete, Joseph would again pull out his journal and ask himself some personal questions based on Scriptures that he had pulled together over the years. He was terrified of being like so many that simply checked the box of calling themselves Christians. He was determined to live His faith but wanted to do this daily self-check to ensure that he was on track. With a deep breath, Joseph grabbed a professional magazine and read a few articles before turning on the coffee for his wife. At exactly six am he would deliver the coffee to the table beside her, kiss her on the forehead and move slowly out of the bedroom.
After reading a few more articles, Joseph again pulled out his journal and reviewed some memory verses and worked on memorizing a few more. At exactly six-thirty, Joseph started getting ready for the day.
The alarm clock was blaring and the lump under the covers was not moving. Clothing was strewn all about the room. An investigator would have thought the whole room was a crime scene. One of those plug-in air fresheners was giving it all it had but was failing miserably as the stench of sweaty clothes and body odor was overwhelming. The lump suddenly groaned and rolled over. Eric struck the alarm and looked at the alarm. His eyes tried to focus on the digital numbers, but they remained blurry. Blinking several times and seeming to have his answer he tried to think what day it might be. For a moment, Eric thought that it was Saturday and his heart swelled with joy and just a touch of annoyance at having left his alarm on. As he laid back down on his pillow, he suddenly realized that it was Tuesday and he needed to get going. He always planned his life so that he got the maximum amount of sleep. After almost twenty minutes he rolled out of bed and looked around the room for clean clothes to wear. Not finding any he pulled what smelled the least worst from a pile in the corner of the room and got ready.
Sunshine filled the room. Julie jumped out of bed. Unlike most people, she loved mornings. There was nothing that gave her more bliss than sitting on her back patio with a cup of coffee and she raced to the kitchen to get things rolling. She was almost dancing as she emptied the filter and the grounds from yesterday into the trashcan. Opening the cabinet where she kept the coffee she stared with unbelief. Quickly she grabbed a chair to look more clearly into the shelving where she kept the coffee. “No, no, no.” With horror she realized that there were no coffee nor coffee filters. Her mind took her back to the day before and she remembered that she had used the last of the coffee. Looking at the wastebasket, Julie considered for a moment using the old grounds but decided against it. If she hurried, she could stop by the coffee shop on her way to class.
Sarah and Mike sat in front of Pastor Dumas. Pastor Dumas was in his early sixties and very energetic, not just for his age but for any age. He was impeccably dressed though it was early in the day. For over thirty years he had been leading this church through seasons of storms and seasons of rejoicing for years. He had done countless counseling sessions over the years. Most were of the prenatal variety. He always thought that was important but also knew that most would not do so if he had not made it a requirement to be married at the church. Many times, he tried to convince couples that they really needed ongoing marriage counseling. Most couples seem to wait until there was an overwhelming amount of pain before coming to him or one of the other pastors for help. Pastor Dumas, himself, had been married for thirty-five years now. As he sat across from this couple, he reflected on all of the times that he had invited relationship experts to speak into his marriage. He had the habit of talking to couples that had been married for several decades and garner as much advise that he could gather. Overall, he was happy with his marriage but always sought to improve it.
Typically, in situations like this one of the couples, usually the guy, would be stoic and sit with his arms crossed as if he was angry. Most of the time his appearance of anger was just a cover for his feeling of failure because he could not fix his marriage problem. Additionally, he was not sure what the problem was that he could not fix. She had tried to explain it, but it made no sense. He saw himself as sacrificing and giving to his wife. He almost always saw himself as a great provider. Now the woman was always unpredictable. She might be crying but in recent years that was not typical. Now what was more typical was that she would by angry.
However, today was not typical. Both Mike and Sarah were crying. Pastor Dumas cleared his throat and allowed them a moment to try to gather themselves. A few minutes went by and what had started as light weeping had evolved into deep sobs. A few minutes later they were both into ugly cries of agony. Pastor Dumas prayed quietly and chose not to interrupt.
The last night of any class was always a struggle for Joseph. Relationships would continue. He still had contact with students from many of his early classes. As he recalled his flawed teaching, his sometimes lack of attention it was amazing that any of those early classes had any success. But despite his own efforts many had achieved a measure of their hopes and dreams. With many he could update information as it became available. It gave him great comfort to realize while still not perfect, he had been able to continue to learn and grow consistently over the years. If the students received nothing else, ultimately if they could realize that deliberate investment into their own growth paid exponential dividends.
The students were somber as they came in. They too could sense that this was the end of something and unlike graduations tonight there was a deep sorrow almost a feeling of grief. Tonight, nobody grabbed any snacks and only Sarah took a cup of tea.
“Let’s say that I was to offer you a job. This job would require you to work 1 hour a day. Reasonable sweat will be spent on this job. I will tell you that it is doable but not cushy. The entire project will only last about 30 days. On day one I will pay you one penny. Each day I would double the amount that I paid you the day before. How many of you would take that job?”
They all seemed to be doing the math in their heads. Samuel was the first to volunteer. Julie scrunched up her face and hummed quietly to herself. The others ultimately reluctantly decided to play along.
“So, on day one you get your penny and go home. Likely you are thinking this just is not worth it so you might contemplate quitting. But that would be a mistake.” Joseph smiled and paused for dramatic effect.
“On day two you get two pennies. Again, it simply does not seem worth it. Then the next day you get a whopping four cents. This is hard work now. You are feeling like you are getting nowhere. But hang in there. When you get to day 20 you will be getting $5242.88 for that hour. Not too bad. We still have ten working days left! Day thirty will give you $5,368,709.12 for that one hour of work. My friends that is what habits are like. Developing habits and including them in your life will bring you happier relationships. They will bring you better health, better knowledge and wisdom. I must also warn you though that negative habits and even no discipline also works in a similar fashion. The only real difference is that instead of a paycheck at the end you get the bill. The first few days of a bad habit don’t seem to negatively impact you that much. But ultimately they kill you.”
The students seemed to have new appreciation for the discipline of healthy habits and smiled broadly, even Julie seemed to grasp how this might benefit her.
“These habits should be built over time so that you can learn to manage them and be added to in a way that is not exhausting. Remember these are new skills. Additionally, unless you are professional athlete, but even then, you should strive to be well rounded. Everyone can benefit from some physical disciplines. Things like exercise, nutrition and rest can deeply impact all other areas. But also include relationship habits. These might include reading books, listening to podcasts and then practicing the things that they talk about in those programs.”
Sarah considered that and thought about how Mike had started bringing her coffee, holding doors and taking her on dates again. He would listen to her. Maybe that is where he got that stuff, she thought.
“You should set up habits to build your social skills, your work skills and your knowledge base. But again, don’t try to do too much all at once. Some of these habits could be daily, others weekly or monthly or even annual.”
After a season of questions and answers, Joseph prayed a blessing over each one and asked God to encourage them and help them all to grow.
“A realization that I recently as I was reading through the Scriptures.” Joseph took a deep breath.
“David is recorded in the Bible as being a man after God’s own heart. I guess I always thought that he was just born that way. My soul was perplexed because he was definitely not a man after God’s own heart when he did the whole Bathsheba thing. So I kept reading and rereading. I meditated on those passages and I asked God to bring understanding to how this could be. David was a man and if he is a man after God’s own heart the standard seems low. But then God took me to the final prayer of David.”
Joseph pulled his tattered Bible out and turned to 1 Chronicles and began to read from verse 10.
David praised the Lord in the presence of the whole assembly, saying,
“Praise be to you, Lord, the God of our father Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all. Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.
“But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand. We are foreigners and strangers in your sight, as were all our ancestors. Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope. Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your Holy Name comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you. I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity. All these things I have given willingly and with honest intent. And now I have seen with joy how willingly your people who are here have given to you. Lord, the God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac and Israel, keep these desires and thoughts in the hearts of your people forever, and keep their hearts loyal to you. And give my son Solomon the wholehearted devotion to keep your commands, statutes and decrees and to do everything to build the palatial structure for which I have provided.” Then David said to the whole assembly, “Praise the Lord your God.” So they all praised the Lord, the God of their fathers; they bowed down, prostrating themselves before the Lord and the king.
“What I see in that prayer is a man of praise. I see a man of humility. I see a man that trusts God for all things. We see a man of gratitude and so much more. That is the conclusion to His life. That is where we actually see him as a man after God’s own heart. I know that some of you struggle with the whole concept of God. But that is the ultimate target when you are making your life plans. When you are establishing these habits and living a full and abundant life. I encourage you not to simply do habits to do habits. Experiment try new things and build a productive life. I believe in you.”
All of the students were crying a little now. Saying their goodbyes, they all made their way through the door. Joseph left all alone, also wept.
While all of them had assorted plans they decided to stick together and went to a small Mexican restaurant to eat together. None of them felt like going home just yet.
Eric did great Joseph impersonations. Julie told stories about her childhood and ultimately told everyone about her work opportunity. Life was looking up for all of them. After much laughter and some tears, they all went home.
Project 1: List 1 thing that you could do daily spiritually, on thing physically, one thing mentally and one thing socially that would help focus you in all four areas.
Project 2: Create a series of promises to yourself to do those daily. Example: When the alarm goes off, I will get out of bed and walk to the living room. When I walk into the living room in the morning, I will drink 16 ounces of water, after I drink 16 ounces of water I will read my Bible, etc.
Project 3: Consider your living and dead guy council. What are some of their daily habits?
Project 4: Consider those closest to you. What are their daily habits?
The news was grim. Eric watched in horror as he saw his neighborhood on the news cast. For most of the week he had been hanging out at his parent’s house. That was clearly the house three doors down from where his apartment was. The image captured his attention. His mind began to spin as he listened to what the newscaster was saying.
“Mrs. Johnson appears to have died in her sleep more than a week ago. Neighbors had started to notice that her normally immaculate yard was getting scruffy, but they had attributed it to the bad weather. When, Charles, the mailman noticed that her mail had built up to such a degree that he could not put any more in, he called the police to check things out.”
“I’ve walked past that home 100s of times.” Eric began to process what he was hearing. “Would anybody notice if I was missing for a week? I don’t get that much mail normally; would it take 2 weeks to discover my rotting corpse?” He could feel his heart pounding as he considered what it all might mean. His anxiety nearly exploded out of his chest, so he put on his coat and went for a walk. In the park he watched kids play. Smiled as squirrels avoided dogs and people. “I need to make some new choices, or they will forget about me.” Eric walked faster through the chilled air. “What if I died today? What was my purpose? Why was I born?” Now Eric was doing laps around the park almost like he was pacing as he meditated on these questions. Suddenly he came to a stop. “What can I contribute to the world so that it is better when I leave than it is today?” When he returned home, he pulled out his journal and began to capture all of these thoughts.
The diner was hopping tonight. Nearly every booth was filled and even the counter had nearly every seat filled. In the corner the juke box was playing a random song. Julie raced table to table and back to the kitchen. It seemed everyone had a special order, and this was testing her memory. Since she took the job last year, she had prided herself on being able to simply remember everyone’s order without taking notes. Customers would be amazed that she would deliver the correct plate to the correct person every time. But when everyone had special requests this pushed her ability to a higher level. While she could not imagine doing this the rest of her life she really did love it when it was this busy. She loved to watch people and often by the time the customers left she knew where they worked and how things were going at school or on the basketball court. Often, she would see people from their first date to their wedding day. Twice she was invited to the wedding. She knew that if she did this long enough that she would also see them bring in their children and maybe even help celebrate retirements. Julie loved everything about the interactions. Typically, at the end of the night she was so pumped up by the conversations, the laughter and the stories that she could not sleep for several hours. Relationships made her come alive.
Sarah was unnaturally quiet all week at work. Faithfully, she came early and left late but her heart was not into it. Since she was the boss nobody said much to her unless she spoke first. Typically, she loved this feeling of significance. But this week it made her feel lonely. Her guilt was growing as she considered what she had done. Closing the door and pulling down the shades she tried to focus in on the weekly reports that were due by the end of the day. Her email box was empty. She checked the system since that was so unusual. “Nope, its working.” The whole thing felt weird. “Did someone find out about the affair and are working on drumming me out? If I am not the general manager of this place than who am I? I’m just Sarah.” Sarah started chewing on her pen. “They would never fire me for something like that. This is the modern era. Certainly, we are past all of that. But what if I don’t get promoted? What if I do lose this job for some reason?” Sarah again checked the numbers. The hotel was running well. Customer satisfaction was up based on the online survey. Compared to last year the hotel was running closer to capacity. Costs were down. “I’ve got nothing to worry about.” Regardless the thought had been planted in her head. “Who am I if I don’t have a title?”
The wind blew a stack of papers across the field. Behind it was a young man in a dark suit chasing after the papers that seemed to taunt him. Samuel was not one for cursing but words that he never used were on tip of his tongue. He had just set his notebook down for a moment so that he can arrange some things in his hands. It really had only been a few seconds. Then the calm breeze decided it was time to frustrate all his plans. These papers were floating down the street. He felt anger well up inside of him. From the corner of his eye he noticed a couple at a café laughing and assumed that they were laughing at him. That was why he always tried to keep things in order so that nobody had a reason to laugh at him. Samuel memorized their faces while he grabbed one paper while stepping on another. Someday he would be in a position to make those people pay for laughing at him. He was certain of that.
Joseph spent a pleasant day with his wife. While he did not always understand why some art was so valuable and something that in his way of thinking looked very similar was deemed to be garbage by the experts. They sipped coffee and laughed much and remembered trips to other museums and other historic sites. Over lunch they held hands and remembered many of the times they had sat in these very seats and simply spent time together. They had been married for over thirty years and Joseph was planning on many more. Even though he knew she hated o have him make a fuss about her, he loved to hold doors for her. When they sat down to eat he pulled out her chair and allowed her to order first. He deeply loved her and focused this time on her and wanted more than anything for her to be happy.
The week passed quickly, and the little class was again finding their places around the living room. Joseph smiled and as normal he asked them all about their week. He was in fact very curious about how they might be applying or not applying the lessons that he had shared already. Joseph was also looking for clues for how he could best serve them and help them rise to be all that they were designed to be.
While he knew that he must ultimately get to a point where he would share some fresh material, he felt that he was constructing life plans and habits and must ensure that the foundations were solid. For the past couple of weeks, he knew things were shifting. Struggle is how you build muscle. That did not concern him. He hoped that they would face challenges. Among his greatest desires with each class is that they would discover a living breathing Jesus inside of them and they would allow Him to come out and show Himself to them. Rarely did that happen during the class but the seeds and the watering often allowed that to happen in his students sometimes years down the line. Joseph knew better than to try to force it. Simply allow the Holy Spirit to speak and move inside of them.
After much laughter and some tears, Joseph looked lovingly at each one of them. “Together we have developed dreams and some basic plans on how to get there. Each of you has worked on some reasons to motivate you to achieve those dreams. All of that is very powerful and in theory keep you on track.”
Joseph paused and took a deep breath. After sipping his tea, he continued, “Why is it then that we can so easily get distracted?”
Clearing his throat Samuel chimed in, “The apostle Paul basically says that it is sin in us that is stronger than we are that makes us do wicked things. Normally I have thought of wickedness as flagrant crimes against God and man. Things like murder, rape and theft. But as I think about it that is unlikely what Paul is talking about. While Paul was an accessory to murder it seems unlikely that he is dealing with that sort of sin when he is writing his letters. It is likely that he is wrestling with thought sins and even simple obedience to God sorts of issues.”
“Talk to me about simple obedience?” Joseph asked
“I imagine Paul might have gotten tired of getting shipwrecked, beat up, rejected and despised. It seems likely that there were days that he imagined that he had taken a different course and was comfortably living in Jerusalem in the Sanhedrin. Those sorts of comfort thoughts can keep us from obeying God when He calls us to be uncomfortable.”
Joseph was ready to go on but Samuel continued.
“I have often found comfort in my daily routines and then failed to obey God’s simple directives of stopping long enough to visit with a hurting friend of relative. Other times I missed God’s command to rest so did not operate at peak performance. Those routines are not bad in themselves but when the comfort of them keep me from obeying God I am living in wickedness.”
Impressed, Joseph looked over the students. “Wickedness seems a bit strong, but all disobedience is sin so maybe it is appropriate. How about others? What distracts you?”
They all looked at each other and then were very deliberate with not looking at each other. Julie and Eric both put food in their mouths so that they had an excuse not to answer.
“I want to matter.” Sarah looked at everyone to make sure that she was not being rude.
“I want to matter to the community, to my family and to my corporate bosses. I hate being dismissed or forgotten. I desire to be recognized when I show up at conferences or at meetings of other hotel managers. Nothing would make me happier than to walk into a room with theme music playing.”
They all laughed at the image.
“I want to be loved. No that’s not quite it. I want to be cherished.” Julie spoke softly and then went on. “I want to matter to those around me. My deepest desire is to love and be loved. I want to be accepted. But deep down I struggle because I believe that if people really knew me that they simply could not love me nor like me.” Now Julie was a bit weepy. “I know that I put on a mask regularly. I don’t want people to see that I am angry or sad. Nobody really wants to be around a negative Nellie.” Sarah comforted Julie with a gentle pat on the arm.
Eric took a deep drink of water to clear his throat from the carrot sticks that he was eating. “I want the world to be better when I leave it than I found it. I remember being a Boy Scout and the scout master would make us clean up trash when we left the campsite. He made us pick it up even if it was not ours. I want my life to matter to future generations. Sometimes though it all seems so pointless and impossible, so I settle for doing nothing. Why do I do that? I either want to change the world or stay in bed. That seems crazy to me.”
Everyone was watching Eric as he stood up to walk around as he spoke.
“I think of things that I should be doing. This dream sheet, my journal are filled with ideas. But I wonder ‘Who am I? I can’t do any of that.’ For years I would have these visions of greatness and occasionally, I would try something. Typically, it would not come anywhere close to what I was imagining, and I would feel like a failure. I would then go back to be a clown or more often hiding behind my own incompetence.”
“George Washington lost more battles in his lifetime than he won. Winston Churchill said, ‘Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.’ The only real failure happens when you give up. I noticed that all of you walked in here tonight.” Joseph paused to let them all take in that thought.
The whole group smiled a smile that seemed to say, “So what?”
“You likely don’t remember much about learning to walk. But have any of you had the privilege of watching a baby learn to walk?”
They all nodded.
“How many times was that baby given the chance to learn to walk?”
“Maybe six times? Twenty? The right answer is they kept trying until they figured it out. Nobody tells that baby that since they failed a dozen times that they should simply quit trying. My friends we continue to encourage kids to learn to walk, tie their shoes and more and we do not let them simply quit. Yet as adults we quit so easily. Keep trying.”
Joseph let that thought settle.
“Now back to the original question. Why do we do what we do or what we don’t do? There are actually many reasons. Some comes from the way that God wired us. Other reasons come from lessons learned or more accurately how we have interpreted those events from our past. It is important as we go on to consistently examine your heart to discover why you do what you do. For those things that have a positive impact our analysis should help us learn how to do it more. For those things that we need to change the understanding will help us figure things out and maybe make those changes long lasting.”
Again, Joseph let the words just hang out there.
“Julie many of your everyday choices come back to your strong need to be loved. You desire connection above all of your other needs. Yes, you have other needs but number one is your desire for love and connection. You fear losing that so as you say, you put on a mask.”
Julie wept quietly.
“Samuel you like predictability. You love things to be certain. Yes, you too have other needs, but you are most comfortable when there is a formula or a pattern. Understand that your primary need is certainty but Julie yours is love and connection. Is there certainty in love?”
“No,” Julie whispered.
“True. We all need to understand that we all have different primary needs and we will do whatever it takes to meet those needs. The needs in themselves are never the issue. It is always in how we meet those needs that causes us trouble. But it is these needs that makes us all so unique. I wonder if knowing this about these two and what you have learned about each other this evening makes you think less or more of each other?”
The room remained silent as all of the students considered the ramifications of that statement.
“Let me answer my question. We do what we do in an effort to meet these needs. These are not wants or desires. These are very real needs and we must meet them. Everything in us desires to meet those needs. We can meet those needs in ways that honor God or dishonor Him. That is our choice. Again you must continually meet all of these needs to continue to function and progress. But some will be more important to you than others. Let me list out for you the needs. Now these come from many different leaders and often have different headings but I like to use speaker Tony Robbin’s list as I think it is the most usable.
Contribution: This is the need to leave the world better than you found it. Often your thoughts will revolve around legacy and building into other people, places or movements that will outlast you.
Significance: This is the need to matter right now. Choices here are directed toward the moment and that people will consider that you matter.
Growth: Is the need to be constantly getting better, healthier and stronger.
Love and Connection: This is the need to have others near you that love you; warts and all.
Certainty: Is the need to have some predictability in your life
Un Certainty: Is the need to have some unpredictability in your life so that you don’t get bored.
Everyday and every moment you are consciously or unconsciously trying to meet these needs. This order that I gave is the order that I have discovered that I try to meet these needs. Each of you have an order that you desire to have your needs met. Additionally, even if you have the same order as someone how you define getting those needs met varies. You may have heard of Gary Chapman’s Love Languages. How you like to receive love will come in different ways. The same could be said for all these needs. This week I would like you to consider how you are meeting these needs in good and bad ways.”
Tonight’s lesson created much more conversation and discussion and after thirty minutes and many yawns the students all left.
The house was looked dark as Sarah approached her house. That seemed unusual. Typically, her husband would be home, watching TV or even going to bed. No matter what he always left the lights on because he didn’t want her to stumble. She looked up and down the street to see if the power was still on. It seemed to be functioning everywhere else. As she approached the back door, she noticed flickering lights of candles creating a path from the door into the living room. Sarah was bewildered. Turning the handle and pulling the door quietly she walked in. On the counter where she always laid her keys, she saw a little bowl of chocolates. Taking one she moved slowly down the trail of candles. As she entered the dining room, she saw Mike in a full suit. She had not seen him in a suit since their wedding three years prior. Noticing his hands, she saw that they were clean. His nails were trimmed, and he looked nervous. Her memory went back to when they were dating. That was exactly the look he had on their first date. Though he had not been wearing a suit then and his hands were dirty. But that look of nervousness was the same. Sarah stepped into the room. “What’s all this?”
Mike looked down at his feet and then looked at her. “I realize that too often I neglect our marriage. I want to be the sort of man that you will come home to for another 47 years at least. I love you but I have not really acted much like it lately. I want to treat you like I did when we were dating. Actually, I want to treat you even better than that. I have not been the sort of man that you need. Will you forgive me?”
Now it was Sarah’s turn to look at her feet. A tear ran down her cheek. Her lips moved but no sound came out. Mike moved forward and showed her to her seat. In a flamboyant manner he removed the silver lid that had kept the dishes warm to reveal a first-class dinner. It was obvious that he had invested time in learning how to cook such a gourmet meal. With a touch of elegance, he poured her a glass of wine, watching her face the entire time. Classical music was playing in the background. Scanning the room she noticed the living room was clean. A smile and then tears began to flow steadily.
Mike motioned for her to eat. Then he asked her about her day. He wanted to know every detail. Who did she talk to? How did they make her feel? In a different environment it may have felt like an inquisition but today it felt like a man who was curious and wanted to know more about his bride. Sarah felt her heart swell.
Sarah shared stories about hotel guests and things left in rooms that were bizarre. They laughed. Several times things would come up that would remind them of some past adventure and misadventures that they had shared. When the meal was done, Mike grabbed a remote and changing the CD he beckoned her to stand. Taking her hand gently he led her to dance. After a few moments he said, “You never answered my question. Will you forgive me?”
Sarah stepped back and leading him to the couch she sat with him in silence. “Of course, I will forgive you. But I have something to tell you.”
The twenty-four-hour gym was mostly quiet when Eric arrived. He preferred it that way. He typically had felt that others in the gym were judging him because of his weight. Many times, he had pushed through that feeling of judgement but tonight he would not need to do so. He knew his biggest need was contribution but how did he meet his other needs? Eric raised the elevation on the treadmill and kept walking at a steady pace. While he was not sweating yet he felt his warm skin and continued to consider the other needs. He realized that somehow food and particularly junk food was filling his love and connection need. When he ate pie, he felt love. Why was that? His mind went to hard days at school when other kids were teasing him because of his weight. His mom always made him feel better by making him pies, cookies or cake. She too was overweight. Again, Eric pushed the elevation up. That junk food also met his certainty need. He always knew how he would feel when he binged. That is why he continued to medicate his own hurts and loneliness in food. Eric again raised the elevation. Now the treadmill was at a six, but Eric kept his pace. He was focused. Now with sweat glistening on his forehead, Eric thought about loneliness. His eyes started to glisten, and he fought back the emotion. He was determined not to cry in the middle of a workout. He never really felt accepted by his father. He was not close with his sister. His mother only knew to show him love through baking. Eric was totally alone. But was that truth? Whether it was or not did not really matter. That was how he felt. Everything he did, he did in the hope of healing this painful feeling of being alone. He realized that his clowning had been a way to keep folks at arm’s length. He had to let someone in. Eric lowered the elevation and stopped the treadmill. A short workout with the weights and he retired to the sauna for a good final sweat before going home.
“Really?” Julie tried hard not to squeal. She had been working in the diner for about three years and figured that she would always be a server, so the whole idea of being offered a management position shocked her. “Why me?”
John smoothed his Magnum PI mustache. “You understand that people don’t really come here for the food. They are here for an experience. You offer that by being fully alive and energetic. When I look at how you are interacting with the customers, I can imagine my mother serving the tables in the exact same way. You know that she started this restaurant, right?”
Julie remembered that John had mentioned that in the interview so long ago. “I offer you management of this restaurant while I go out and start another one, but this one based on the 80s. If you take the job you will actually be a part owner in both. You know that this will be full of unpredictability and uncertainty. You have been here when things are hopping and when things are dead. You realize that your paycheck will not be predicable so you will have to plan accordingly.”
Julie thought about her needs and realized that uncertainty was part of her make up. “I’ll take it.”
Three days later, Samuel was coming out of the gym when he noticed Sue, ex-girlfriend, getting out of her car. He watched her heading to the bookstore that was a couple of doors down from the gym in the strip mall. At first, he tried to hide a bit behind some parked cars. She had called him rigid and too predictable. Samuel really liked this girl and had thought she was the one. But after dating for about six months she had suddenly cut him off. One of her friends had told him that Sue really liked him but was bored silly. Reflecting on their six months, Samuel realized that they had gone on pretty much the exact same date every Friday night. His little love notes were pretty much the same words each time. No wonder she had dumped him. He liked and apparently needed certainty, but maybe a little uncertainty would suit him well. Remembering that she had recently dumped her latest boyfriend, Samuel started walking toward the book store.
Project 1: Speaker and author Tony Robbins defines 6 different human needs.(Contribution, Significance, Growth, Love and Connection, Certainty and Uncertainty) What is your personal priority order of meeting these needs.
Project 2: List out how you prefer to meet those needs either positively or negatively.
Project 3: Consider your living and dead guy council. How did they meet these 6 needs?
Project 4: Consider those closest to you. How can you help them meet their needs in a healthy productive way?
Eric sat on his couch and considered the assignments so far. He kept hearing the voice of his pastor saying something about God being in control. Deep down, he wondered why he was putting himself through all of this. If God was in control than all he had to do was sit back and do nothing and he would be out on the mission field at just the right time. He took a bite of a handful of chips. The bag was sitting on his belly as he played the lessons through his head. When Eric put his hand in the bag again, he noticed that he had nothing but crumbs on the tip of his fingers. He found this deeply distressing. Sighing he stood up, shook the titbits of the chips off his belly and walked to the kitchen to get another bag. Unfortunately, that empty bag represented the last of the snacks in the house.
for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things. Psalm 107:9
A seemingly random thought came on Eric. It is the will of God that I have good things to eat. If God is in control, why do I not have any snacks in this house? He prayed that he would open the cabinet over the fridge and there would be another bag of chips. He remembered hearing that when he prayed that he should be very specific in his prayers.
“Jesus, I know you love me. I would love to have some BBQ potato chips. You know the kind I like the best. Please provide these for me. I step out in faith and open the cupboard let them be sitting there waiting for me.” Eric smiled, shook some more crumbs from the crannies of his sweater and moved to the front of the fridge. Taking a deep breath and filled with belief and expectation, he reached his hand up and opened the cabinet door. He noticed that he had closed his eyes. Slowly he opened one eye and realized that he could only see the front of the shelf. With a bit of frustration, Eric went and found the kitchen chair so he could see the whole cupboard. Climbing up was tough and Eric felt that it was a bit wobblily. Abruptly, he remembered that he really didn’t like heights and became nervous. But he desired some chips and he had prayed for them so certainly they would be there, provided to him by the Jesus that his mother had taught him to trust. The same Jesus that was ridiculed by his father. Eric looked in and the cupboard was completely empty except for some dust.
Eric carefully made his way down from the chair. What was that Joseph had said about a parked car? Eric shook off that thought and wondered if God existed. His whole faith was being shaken by a bag of chips. How could he ever consider being a missionary like those that he had met in church if this minor thing was going to distract him and cause his faith to plummet?
If you faint in the day of trouble, your strength is small! -Proverbs 24:10
Tears began to form in Eric’s eyes. He felt like his whole life was a lie. If God cannot even produce a simple thing like chips how can he heal broken bones and lives? Looking over to the coffee table he noticed the Bible sitting there. On the cover in embossed lettering was his name. A smile crossed his face as he remembered receiving that at his high school graduation. At that point in his life he knew what he was going to be, and he had dreamed of carrying that very Bible in the jungles of South America or across the plains of Africa or even into the temples in Asia. That was almost two years ago, and that Bible had not traveled more than twenty miles from where it now sat.
For nearly two years, Eric had not really gone anywhere either. Whose fault was that? The only honest answer that he could come up with was himself. A story from the Bible began to play out in his head.
There was Jesus teaching for three days in the wilderness. It was then that he realized that some of the crowd was hungry. He asked his followers what it would take to feed them. Some doing the math figured out that the cost was more than was in the change purse. One of those followers brought a small boy who shared a few fish and some bread. Jesus realized that was enough to feed the entire crowd and asked the boy for his lunch. The boy hardly seemed to hesitate. He had been listening to the teacher and trusted him completely. With a big smile, the boy handed the whole basket to Jesus.
Jesus than did some organization of the crowd and praised His Father in Heaven and handed out the fish and the bread to the followers who in turn handed pieces out to the crowd. Each moment the food extended further and further into the crowd. Soon everyone had enough to eat and Jesus directed his followers to collect the leftovers. Doing so they had several baskets left over. It was then that the followers realized that the crowd was over 5000 people and yet this small lunch had been enough to feed them all and have more left over besides.
They were all amazed at what they had just seen. Whispers in the crowd also seemed to indicate that the people were realizing what just took place. They talked of making him king. The apostles liked that idea and thought about what that would mean for their future. That is why they were then surprised that the next directive from the teacher was to get in the boats and go to the other side of the lake while Jesus dismissed the crowd.
As Eric played out the story, he felt some hunger pains and wondered why Jesus would not do the same thing in his own life. But then he noticed that the whole story showed selflessness. The boy gave up his lunch. The followers handed out the food without taking care of their own hunger. Jesus gave up the kingdom that was being offered Him. Selflessness was at the root of the miracle.
Walking around the living room, Eric pondered all that he had heard over the past three weeks and what he was experiencing right at that moment. The living room was his track. He had no food in the house because he had failed to go to the store. While it was tempting to simply blame his roommates or even God, he was being selfish. It was time to do something with his life. It was time to take his future seriously. He had to reconsider his position on the role of God. He was also sure that there were other personal beliefs that were holding him back.
For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” 2 Thessalonians 3:10
Julie waited at the bus stop. As often happened the boredom of the wait drove her to fidget and then to start to dance around. Even though she was in her twenties she loved to watch her skirt spin out when she spun. Often she would laugh out loud as she danced to the music that was only in her head. She never worried what other people thought. “To each their own,” she would tell herself. Today, with headphones plugged into her ears she would sing along with songs that she had downloaded and cared little what anybody else had to say. She was considering dropping out of the class with Joseph. Joseph wanted her to live with a plan. That wasn’t life. She felt like a free spirit and wanted to suck the marrow out of life. Julie dully believed that creating a plan would drive all of the joy of living right out of her.
She had decided to join the class when her guidance counselor at the small college she attended recommended it. It sounded like fun. She also thought it might help her to decide what major she should declare. This was soon to be her third year there and had changed majors over ten times and still was not sure if she had made the right call. It was during a ranting of indecision that the counselor pointed her to Joseph.
But the whole idea of being constrained to a single plan and one set list of rules irritated her. “Who is he to decide morals for everyone else?” Julie thought of Sam and his focused ways and decided that she liked the carefree way of life of Eric more. “Everyone should decide on right and wrong themselves,” she spoke out loud. After the words came out, she looked around and was pleased to realize that she was still alone at the bus stop, so she spun again and smiled.
The bus was packed tighter than bark on a tree and Julie was forced to stand until an elderly man offered her, his seat. She thought that was nice and decided to take him up on it. After all she had been wearing these heels all day and wanted to sit for a spell. As the elderly man stood up a young man took the opportunity and jumped into the seat before Julie could get there. “Hey,” was all she could get out in protest. “I wanted the seat. Good things happen to those that recognize opportunity and seize it.” Julie was seething as she grabbed onto the standing rail and continued the journey.
She still had not gotten over the anger when she was suddenly thrown forward when the bus came to a screeching halt. From the floor of the bus she noticed all the trash under the seat. As Julie wiped the little bit of blood from her lip that she had bit. She heard the bus driver yelling at a driver that had run a stop sign. The elderly man reached down and helped her to her feet. He seemed familiar but she could not place where she would have met this man before. He handed her a handkerchief to wipe the blood off her lip. She noticed that she had some blood on her dress as well. She wept quietly because she really loved this dress but now it was dirty and was that, yes it was, a tear. This dress would never really be the same.
“The dress is ruined,” Julie muttered to herself multiple times. “Why did that jerk not follow the rules?” It was then that she caught herself. Everyone and everywhere has rules. She remembered in her home growing up that they had a rule about not wearing shoes in the house. They did that so that they would not wake up her dad who worked a night shift. It never seemed like a burden; it was a rule of love for her dad. She began to consider what the world would be like if there were no rules and she shivered.
When she stepped off the bus the driver asked her if she was ok. She nodded and kept walking. All she wanted to do now was get back to her apartment, kick off her shoes and take a nap before work.
Dixie’s diner was a throwback to a diner from the 1950s with a jukebox that played music from the era. All the waitresses wore poodle skirts. The menu had nothing on it but burgers, fries and milkshakes. The only thing that was not from the 1950s were the prices. But people were willing to pay the price to be taken back in time even if it was only for the moment. This evening the place was hopping, and Julie moved quickly to make sure that everyone received great service. She loved working there and it showed. With a smile she danced around customers and served them all with a smile. Each table would be amazed when she would take their orders without writing things down but would deliver them exactly as ordered anyway. It was hectic too because two of her coworkers had not bothered to show up for work. She wondered where they were. “People are just not responsible these days,” she thought.
At home that day she began rehearsing what she would say to Joseph when she quit the class. She wanted to make sure that he understood that his close-minded ways were not ok. Everyone should be free to live lives their own way. Who needed structure and a plan for their life? What was the fun in that? In fact, she realized that she felt judged and hurt by him and wanted to hurt him back just a bit.
As Julie felt an rage welling up in her, she decided that she needed to turn her brain off for a while and turned on the television. When the TV came on, the first face she saw was the elderly man from the bus. He was the newscaster. She must have seen his face in commercials because she never watched the news. Because of his face she decided to watch the broadcast.
The news was filled with stories of people doing their own thing. Some were robbing stores, stealing cars, hurting people and even a Politician that had been caught in an affair. Julie pondered all of this along with the events of the day. “If everyone does their own thing and are only thinking of themselves there will be times that they will hurt others. Maybe that is why there are rules for driving.” She thought how crazy it had been when she had been traveling in other countries where it seemed they had no driving laws. That had been truly scary. Maybe that was true in other areas. “Maybe, rules are not so bad.” The thought made her twist her hair and chew on her fingernails. Maybe structure is ok.
“But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it?
– Luke 14:28
Julie looked at her bookshelf and read through the titles. Most of the books dealt with things of the occult or were romance novels. She then noticed a Bible. “How did that get there?” She pulled it from the shelf and dusted it off a bit. Carelessly she flipped through the pages. She stopped in the Gospel of Luke 9:51 where it says, “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” Jesus had a destination in mind. He knew what was going to happen in Jerusalem, but he went there on purpose. He had a plan. Her thoughts took her in multiple random places at once. She had heard that verse many times before but suddenly she realized that He went to Jerusalem to die. From the teaching she had picked up from Vacation Bible School she knew that He had done that to pay for her sins. In fact, it was the vacation Bible School where she had gotten this Bible. She remembered praying a prayer. How old was she then? Maybe eight. Her parents had dismissed the whole thing when she told them about what happened. They said it was just emotion and to not worry too much about it. Julie’s parents never let her near that church again. But now she wondered about what they had taught her. Couldn’t these people be right? If there was a plan for the life of Jesus could there not be a plan for her life. She fell asleep considering that.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11
Sarah threw back the last of her third energy drink. She had only two more meetings to go and she could get to work on this worksheet that Joseph had given her. All day she had been thinking through what she would write. Her imagination took her on the road to supervise other hotels in the same chain. She stopped walking for a moment. The thought of being a regional manager was exciting. But why stop there. She was very good at what she did in this hotel. Shouldn’t she consider being the CEO of the whole company? If she gave it, her all she could be in a position like that in maybe ten or fifteen years at the most. She would have to talk her husband into moving, but with the big pay raise that would be easy to do. He was in construction and of course he could do that anywhere. The story flooded her soul with great joy. In her imagination he happily gave up the house that he had inherited from his mother. She sat down hurriedly in the board room to prepare for the marketing meeting and reflected on her new faith. How would that impact her dream? This business could be cutthroat. If she followed the way of this Jesus, an obvious pacifist, how could she ever get to the top? Would she have to choose between career and God? But what she had felt at church that night was so real. All the hurt of never being good enough had melted away when she prayed at the altar. That man with the mustache prayed with her and gave her a Bible. He encouraged her to read the Gospel of John over and over. She had done as she was told, and it filled her with a great hunger to know more. Daily she was watching Bible teaching videos on the internet. Last month she had signed up for online Bible classes. In addition to becoming a hotel CEO she thought she could also be a pastor of a mega church. She could have it all. Or could she?
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. Matthew 6:24
While most of the marketing for the company came from the national office each hotel had its own budget to build business up locally. Sarah had done better than any of the other hotels in the chain because she had the best team. They came up with great ideas consistently. Sarah typically loved this meeting more than most because there would be lots of laughs and always gave great results. Today, though, she had too much to do to deal with some of the unfocused banter that typically was a part of the process. She wanted to fill the hotel for the next several months so that she could get promoted. Sarah knew that if she could just have a booked hotel through the summer that in the fall the regional manager position would be hers.
Joining the team for this meeting was a man from the corporate office that Sarah had met only once. He was fit and wore very expensive suits. She had noticed that he had arrived in a brand-new Mercedes. Oh, she wanted that car. Sarah worked hard throughout the meeting to stay focused knowing that this man would carry stories about her to the corporate office.
After the meeting he invited Sarah out to dinner. She smiled and accepted the invitation. “I have one more meeting and I will need to make a couple of calls first. Say 6:00?” “Great I will pick you up. I have reservations at that new French restaurant just out of town.” Sarah tried to hide the fact that she was impressed. She would never get her burger and fries husband to ever eat at such a fancy place. “That will work, see you then.”
Her last meeting was a routine meeting with the maintenance director to check the status of several projects that were in motion. Sarah called her husband to let him know that she was going to be working late. That did not surprise him. She was surprised though when he said he would be going to the Bible study with the guys from the church. They had both become Christians about the same time, but he had not really done much since that time. She shrugged and felt less guilty about not telling the whole truth. It looked like her long-term plan was going to happen faster than she thought.
What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Mark 8:36
Sam was tired but full of excitement. He loved the project of planning for his future. The problem was how to put it into words that did not put him to sleep. Sam always sat in the same place in the library when he had work like this to do. The uncomfortable chair and stale smell of old books usually kept his mind from wandering. But tonight, he kept thinking about all of the people he saw today with strange colored hair, piercings and other things that he just knew made it difficult for them to find work. He could not figure out why they would not simply clean up, get a haircut and go out to find meaningful work. For a few moments he felt himself getting irritated. Scratching his head, he noticed a carving in the table. “Where did that come from?” He had sat at this table nearly every evening since he was old enough to come to the library alone. Then he noticed that the carving was of some faded initials. There was also a date that indicated that the carving had been there since long before he was born. Delicately he ran his fingers over the faded carving and thought about the flawed table. “Why did I never notice that before?” He realized that despite the flaw the table functioned as a table. Looking at the initials again he smiled as he realized that the initials would have been the same as his parents before they were married.
Sam went to write his ultimate dream and then stopped. Most of his dreams seemed so grandiose and impossible. He thought of all his flaws. Doctors had told his parents not to expect too much from him because of some complications during his birth. They had initially raised him with little expectations. This had led him to be lazy and he gave little effort to school or even games. Nothing seemed to matter to young Sam. Then one day a teacher told him that he could be anything that he wanted to be, he just had to work at it. That started him on the road to where he was today. He had succeeded in school despite his flaws, just like this table. Remembering his earlier anger, he thought of those with tattoos and different looks and decided that maybe they too could be successful.
Ephesians 2:8-9 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that no one can boast.
Sam started writing his ultimate dream and then quickly worked through the rest of the worksheet. He felt inspired suddenly and wanted to work to help others succeed in life. Deep down, he still doubted that he could help. Almost out loud though he wondered, “What if …”
Joseph prepared some small snacks for his class. He wondered about their dreams and hopes. Conversations had given him some indications. The stories were always his favorite part of these classes. As he deliberately arranged the crackers and the slices of cheese on the platter, Joseph thought of the stories of the past. So many lives, so many hopes. He knew that God was creative but some of these stories, visions really, were mind blowing. Dreams of being an explorer for one. A professor had been in his first class. That one came from a high school dropout. It took a decade, but she had pulled it off. That one guy wanted to be a celebrity chef. He wasn’t there yet, but he was working in a fancy restaurant downtown. So many dreams. What would happen to this class?
This week they were all there except Sarah. Joseph felt concern but shook it off. “We will go ahead and start. This week you will do most of the talking. I want to hear your dreams.”
Joseph looked at each of the faces as they either sipped tea or munched on a cracker not wanting to make noise. “While you will be mostly reading your ultimate vision for your life story, I want you to feel free to ad lib. Tell the story with emotion. If you did not do so add elements that include all five senses in your story. That will make it more real. Who would like to go first?”
They all looked at each other. Slowly, Sam put his cup down and opened his notebook and read. Everybody in the room listened without judgement and seemed to enjoy the story. Each person took their turn telling that ultimate vision of the story.
“Now that you have this vision in place. What are the things in your life that might make that dream seem unlikely to take place?”
Eric cleared his throat and with his eyes closed spoke quietly. He seemed to be holding back a whimper as he said, “The girl in my vision won’t have anything to do with me.” “What makes you say that,” asked Joseph. “She likes guys who are confident and good looking. You know beefcake guys who lift weights. I mean look at me.” Everyone in the room looked away. “She wants to marry someone who can provide for her, be smart, funny and will put her first.” “You are funny,” Julie threw out there.
The room was quiet. “Do you know that, that is her list? Even if it is, you can be all those things if it is important to you,” Joseph began. “I read a story about a man who knew for many decades that he should eat better and exercise more. One day he survived a heart attack, and then he realized that he must eat right and exercise. Do you know what happened?” Pausing to take a bite of cracker, Joseph continued, “He ate right and exercised. He had to turn his should into a must. Suddenly he found that he had the time and the energy to make that happen. He no longer had an excuse that sounded reasonable.” Eric looked a little embarrassed as he used his sleeve to wipe away a tear.
“Eric, you are not alone. We all have false beliefs that hold us back. We have many negative thoughts that hold us back.”
Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life. -Proverbs 4:23
“For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, And He was saying, “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. Deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. -Mark 7:20-22
Joseph listened as they each shared personal weaknesses and concerns. Even Sam shared a bit about his judgmental attitude might be something that would keep him from fulfilling his dream. “Your homework this week is to do a complete inventory of your life. When people talk about not having the resources to get to their dreams, they often mean money. But in truth, understand, it is really a lack of resourcefulness that holds people back. When you think of resources think of skills, relationships or really anything that might help propel you toward your dream.
The class engaged in some small talk and then left.
Project 1: List out all the limiting beliefs that you might have.
Project 2: List out all your personal weaknesses.
Project 3: List out all your personal strengths.
Project 4: List out all your resources and potential resources.
Project 5: Read your Ultimate vision to a group of trusted friends and ask them to help you to refine it.
Sarah gazed around the restaurant. She could get used to this. The server had placed the napkin for her, gently and politely on her lap. From their table they could overlook most of the city. It was a clear night and the stars were putting on a show. She took a deep breath. The smell was of money and power. Her glass was never empty. She had made some girlish joke about, Estefan trying to make her drunk. In her recent memory she did not remember laughing so much or having such a good time. As course after course were served, she shared more and more about her life’s dreams and what she intended to accomplish professionally. Estefan moved his chair to sit closer to her. For just a moment she started to complain but thought better of it. He was a good-looking man. Delicately she rested her head on his shoulder. Suddenly she noticed her left hand and felt self-conscious. Though her mind was a bit cloudy from all the rich foods and the wine and the atmosphere, her hand would not lie. She was a married woman. Estefan looked at her hand and took it in his. Slowly, he moved in front of her face. Together they gazed at it in silence.
He kissed her gently on the neck. “Does this ring mean anything?” Sarah was not sure how to answer it. Her mind was swimming in emotions and excitement. Maybe it was the wine. She was so uncertain of how to answer.
“Through all of your stories of dreams and desires you have not mentioned a man of any kind? Is this ring something just to keep men away?”
Eric reflected on his ultimate goal that he had written. Who did he need to be to be the man to live that dream? He tried to picture it. In his heart he had already selected the girl. What did she want in a man? Really, he had no clue. He assumed that she would want a strong athlete and hard worker. All he felt that he had to offer was humor and a knack for quoting movie lines at just the right moment. Certainly, she would want a man that would make her laugh. As he reflected on the whole situation it dawned on him that he really did not know her at all. What if she was mean to people or was secretly on drugs or something? In that moment, Eric had some clarity. First, he would construct the type of girl that could go on the mission field with him. What skills, talents and personality traits were needed to live that sort of adventure with him? What kind of mother did he want for his someday kids? The epiphany became more real as he realized that while he needed her to be healthy enough to take on the rigors of missionary life, her appearance mattered little. He also realized in that moment that he was not healthy enough for the rigors of missionary life. He would need to make some changes as well. He thought of the character traits a woman of God who also felt called to the mission field might appreciate. Eric reflected on the Godly men of the Bible and started to make a list of those traits that he would need to develop. Suddenly, his ultimate dream story took on a new life. Excitement filled his soul. It was not long before the notebook was full of thoughts, questions to investigate and Scripture references. He passed most of the night fantasizing about this future life and could hardly sleep.
The smell of incense and flowers filled Julie’s apartment. She had intended to talk to Joseph and quit the group. But something strange was happening to her. She stared at the lava lamp and zoned out trying to clear her mind. What was it that she really wanted? Joseph had listened to her concerns and honestly her fears so attentively. She had expected him to lash out at her and attack her views. Julie had never met anyone quite like Joseph. When she tried to steer the conversation away from rules and more importantly away from God, Joseph had delicately brought the conversation back to her ultimate dream. How could she have her dream without a course to get there? Would she be able to get there on her own or would she need a guide that had been there before her? Of course, he was talking about Jesus. Nobody had ever really referred to him as a guide but that seemed to fit in with her theology. Deep down she liked that image. Reluctantly she pulled out the Bible from that vacation Bible School from so long ago and started reading.
A quick stop by the office to check messages is what she had told herself. It was after 2:00 am but it was not unusual for her to stop in during the early morning. Though, she was there of one reason only, it was to make sure that there was no evidence of the evening she had just shared with Estefan. Sarah was reasonably certain that nobody she knew saw her at the restaurant. They had chosen an out of the way hotel for their triste so that seemed covered up as well. She felt more certain that the future looked bright for her, however, she needed to bide her time. Less than 24 hours ago she had been a faithful wife who was learning how to be a Godly woman. Now it seemed to be unwinding. If she could simply keep it together for a few more months than she could get the promotion. Her mind went to the group that she had missed. Sarah started to rehearse the lie that she would tell Joseph later that day. One last look in the mirror and she made her way home where she could sneak into bed quietly next to her husband and he would be none the wiser.
Joseph woke up early as he usually did. This never got easier, but he knew that he needed this time to be able to clearly hear the voice of Jesus. His experience told him that the world was a loud place and that God liked to talk quietly. One had to be still to hear His voice. Sitting on the couch in front of the cold fireplace he imagined Jesus sitting on the couch with him. “Make me useful for your service today. Guide me as I read Your Holy Word. Show me how to live Your Word today. Shape my character, shape my will, make me like You. Fill me with Your Holy Spirit that I might serve You faithfully.” Joseph took a deep breath and listened more with his heart than with his ears. He loved the quiet of the house at this hour. Consciously he breathed in deeply and followed his exhalations. After several breaths he opened his Bible and read a portion of Psalms and Proverbs and then read some other passages. Taking his pen, he wrote the words that he was hearing. “Life and death are in the tongue. Truth and lies shape the future. True life is seen clearest next to death.” Joseph put his pen down and took another deep breath. He wondered what that could all mean.
Samuel had slept well but still felt tired when he woke up. Over the years he had built a series of personal rules that usually got him out of bed. “If your alarm goes off, you will stand up and turn it off. If you turn off your alarm you will go to your living room and read your Bible that you set out the night before. If you read your Bible you will journal. If you journal you will pray.” The rules were relentless and typically pushed him out of bed and into a productive life. But today he shut the alarm off and then crawled back under the covers. He wasn’t sick. Today, he just decided that it simply did not matter. “People can be successful no matter how they live their lives. People simply watch tv all day and never shower or leave the couch. Yet they seem to make it just fine.” Sam could remember a lady that had gone to his church. She moved the fridge and microwave next to her recliner so that she would not have to get up for anything except to go the bathroom. She had once joked that if she could figure out a way to get the toilet into the living room and be as comfortable as her recliner (which she slept in) she would never get up. She did so little with her life and felt content. With all that he was doing he had to wonder why did he not feel content? What was he missing? He had no peace. No real joy. Just constant effort. Just yesterday he had decided that even the lost, the odd, the strange had great purpose. He had determined that he would not judge them nor feel hostility toward them. But what did that mean for him? Could he waste his life like many of them did? He laid there in bed and tried to fall back asleep.
Mike rolled over and realized that Sarah was already in the shower. He wondered when she had gotten home. Quickly he jumped up and ran into the kitchen so that he could have her cup of coffee ready when she came out. As the coffee brewed, he made the bed and left a prewritten love note on her pillow. The guys had said he needed to woo his wife just like they were dating. He took that to heart. Too often he had been too tired to care when he got off work. “Construction work was for the young,” he had often told himself. During the small group meeting with the guys last night he was seriously thinking about going back to school so that maybe he could be a supervisor or maybe even own his own business. Those guys were deeply inspiring him. He had over ten years of experience. All he needed was a chance. More importantly though he loved Sarah. He could not imagine even trying something risky like that without her. Every day he would need to win her heart first, then he would start working toward a successful future. Carefully he stirred in some of her favorite creamer and placed the cup on the table. Mike heard the shower shut off and waited for her to arrive in the kitchen. He was excited. Strangely he felt like they really were dating again.
It was almost noon when Samuel finally rolled out of bed. He had missed most of his classes. Sitting on the couch he popped open a bag of cookies and started to eat them and thought, “This is not right.” Setting the bag on the couch he went back to the kitchen and grabbed a tub of ice cream and a spoon. “How can I have cookies without ice cream?” After a short search through Netflix he found a series that he had heard a bit about and pressed play. He was checking out for the rest of the day. Maybe he would check out for the rest of his life. Who would notice? Who would care?
Over the course of the week Eric had become a new man. Excitement oozed out of him everywhere he went. The clothes he was wearing were clean. He did some research and had an interview with a doctor’s office. It was not exactly what he had in mind for a life career, but what it did offer was an education on how the medical system worked. His thoughts were that he might use some of that knowledge when he was on the mission field. At the very least it would not hurt him any. He had practiced the interview with his sister and a girl from their church. They gave him pointers and helped him fix himself up. Eric was surprised when they introduced him to a man at the church who knew the interviewer and gave some detailed advice that would help. All week Eric was up early, eating healthy and living a disciplined life. Every day he reflected on his someday family, his someday ministry and his someday home. The very thought of it excited him. But he knew that it would not magically happen just because he wished for it.
Mike knew that something was not quite right but could not put his finger on it. Sarah and he had gone to church on Sunday and while she typically was very sociable and a force to be reckoned with, this week she seemed to just check the box. Mike held every door for her, had gotten her flowers and wooed her the way they had when they were dating. The difference now was that he was doing it all for Jesus. It did not seem to have any effect on Sarah. Regardless of what they were doing she would make an excuse to go to work, just to check on things.
Sarah sat in her office rewriting her ultimate dream. She realized that her entire dream sheet was all about her career and her health. She read it several times. It was obvious what was missing but for some reason she just could not write in a husband, children or friends. This ultimate picture used to make her happy, but now it seemed lonely and made her abundantly sad. She also realized that her plans all rested on her force of personality. There was no need to learn and grow. Ultimately, she would be left behind. She saw a cap even to her career. With a snap of her earphones she went back to work on her ultimate plan. Tonight, she would rework this and then meet with Joseph before the next gathering. Everything in her told her she needed to get back on track. But would that make her happy?
For four days, Samuel did not shower or shave. He ordered in food and did not leave his house. Over that time, he had gone through more series on Netflix than he could count. On a trip back to the bathroom he noticed his dream sheet on his dresser. After a quick reading and a deep sigh, he went into the bathroom. Looking in the mirror he simply stared at the person that was there. “Who is that guy? What am I doing?” Completing the business that caused him to go into the bathroom in the first place he grabbed that dream sheet and began reading. “This is NOT who I want to be. Where have I been?” Samuel looked at his phone and took note of the day. He could not figure out what he had been doing. It seemed like he had only checked out for a few hours, but days had gone by. Samuel went back into the bathroom and brushed his teeth, shaved and showered and put on real clothes. He felt like himself again. Grabbing his notebook and his goal sheet, Samuel went out to the park to rewrite his sheet. This time he put down some character traits that he wanted to see the fruit of in his life. As he worked on the sheet the sun warmed his skin and made him feel joyful. A sense of excitement was being rekindled.
On Saturday Julie went to the library and wrote down every rule that she liked. The progress went slow at first. Rules always seemed like a drudgery. First, she can only think of how some rules worked well like traffic rules. But then she realized that she had personal rules that she just did. She had a rule that she did not eat meat. There were other food rules like no onions in her potato salad and though she never thought of it as rule, she had cereal for breakfast every day. She had rules against dating guys named Matt but really did not know why. She never kissed on the first date and only dated guys taller than her. Not once in her life had she turned away from a stray animal. She had a rule against public bathrooms in gas stations. Ultimately the rules filled several pages of her notebook.
She took the notebook to her apartment and read through it and marked those that she really felt had no lasting impact. Others though she realized were shaping much of her life. Most she had created for herself. What did that mean? Julie was a rule maker. She laughed at the thought. But who did these rules make her to be? Julie chewed on her pen as she thought through what all that meant and reworked her ultimate dream. These rules had not been deliberate, but they were part of her. “Was that the Holy Spirit guiding her?” Most of the rules did not have any obvious Spiritual elements but Joseph had said that all things belong to God. Her new dream statement was very deliberate and as she reread it a smile snuck out of her. Putting the notebook down she started to dance around. Joy crept into her soul.
There were storm warnings on Thursday night, but they did not seem serious enough to cancel the class, so Joseph prepared the living room. That morning he had met with Sarah and they had talked about her absence. He didn’t know where she really had been, but he was confident that her excuse was a lie. Since he wasn’t certain he decided not to press the issue. Quickly he worked through the lesson on limiting beliefs. Because they had been talking about her lack of relationships, he shared that many people make an agreement with themselves that they cannot depend on anyone. Those that make agreements like that typically are hard driving individuals that end up alone. “I used to be much like that. But then one day I realized that if I kept going that way, I would be in the nursing home with no one to visit me. The image has stuck with me when I fell myself isolating or taking on too much.” Sarah smiled knowingly. “You have talked about confession. What if a confession might derail the ultimate plan? I mean, can’t you just change directions and move on?” “The truth will always come to light. The real question is this. Do you want to be in control of the timing of that? My experience is that the truth typically comes out at the least opportune time. A time when it might cause the most damage. But let’s say you get away with it. Your life will be built on sand. Character requires confession. Character can survive the storms that are guaranteed to come.” Again, Sarah nodded thoughtfully and thanked Joseph for his time. “See you tonight.”
Now Joseph was slowly sipping some iced tea and meditating on the love of Jesus. “How patient you are with us Lord. Again, and again we fail you yet you never give up on us. How is that possible? You say that we will do greater works than you did. How is that possible? You forgave men who were in the process of killing you. You love us. Thank you.” Joseph realized that he was crying. “What is wrong with you? You, old fool! This is not new information.” Then a voice spoke. “You must be soft and hard. Lives are in the balance.” A knock on the door interrupted his thoughts.
All four of the students piled in and quickly found a place to be comfortable. Joseph had set out snacks and tea as per usual but tonight it didn’t look like anybody was too interested in them. Something seemed different. Joseph had heard their revised mission and figured out that they finally had found purpose.
“If you find purpose you can overcome nearly any obstacle. When you look through history you see President Franklin Delano Roosevelt overcome polio to become president. His raw ambition overcame what should have stopped the man. Others overcome rough starts, difficult middles and other unexpected moments. It is good to have your destination in mind. Just a reminder though. Your destination may still look different than you are currently imagining it. Life is funny that way. God is in control of our lives and our world. Regardless, now you know where to aim the nose of your airplane as you move forward.”
Each of them talked a bit about their successes of failures for the week. Sarah remained mostly quiet but did throw in that her husband had suddenly become strangely romantic.
“Sometimes when we change, we motivate others. Sometimes our changes make others feel like failures, so they try to pull us down. Other times, others change because they are just ready to change. It’s hard to say.” Joseph looked over the group.
“Now that you have a destination. You have an X on your map. Unfortunately, our map is incomplete.”
Everyone looked at Joseph with a measure of bewilderment.
“There is a million dollars in gold at a certain location. What do you want to know first?”
“Where is it?” stated as a question by Eric.
“Good first question. That is what you have done with your ultimate dream. Now what would be your second question?”
“How do I get there?” asked Samuel
“Very good. That is what we need to figure out next. You may start the journey but go the entire wrong way. Many years ago, my family and I moved across the country. We knew the destination. We had been there. But the land in between? Not so much.” We pulled out an old school paper map. After some intensive study we picked several landmarks.”
“Why didn’t you use GPS?” asked Sarah.
“Mostly because we didn’t have that as an option at that point in history. Remember that I am ancient. At least I did not have to depend on the stars.” Joseph smiled, “There were large areas that even today have spotty cell phone reception. Sometimes a paper map is the only dependable guide. Anyway, that is all beside the point. We picked out some markers that reminded us that we needed to turn, or we needed to stop for the night or whatever.”
Everyone nodded understanding.
“There were other signs along the way that were also a clue that we were on the right road even though they were not a part of the plan. Some said welcome to this state or that state. I didn’t think much of it at the time but if we would have been welcomed to a state that was not on our route we would have known to stop and redirect.”
“So, we are back to a plan?” asked Julie
“Yes, that is how we are going to get the gold. But realize that this is not a rigid map. There were opportunities along the way for side adventures. We visited monuments, parks and more. While we had an ultimate destination, it was critical that we enjoyed the journey.”
Julie looked a bit relieved.
“Your next project will be to consider what life will potentially look like as you head out on your journey to get the gold. Create a landmark about three years out and then another six months out. Both of those will let you know that you are on track or way off course. It will be easier to make a course correction at six months than to get to the end of your life and realize that you are on the wrong continent.”
The whole group smiled.
“Just like the ultimate dream these need to be told as if they are really happening. Write them as a fantasy using all five senses. Imagine that it is really happening, and you have taken a time machine to that location and are observing the events. Do not say things like ‘I hope to …’ or I expect to…’ These are really happening and write it as such. Additionally, your six-month vision should be leading toward your three-year vision which in turn should be leading toward your ultimate dream. Throw in adventure and fun.”
Samuel was drawing a sketch and Joseph noticed it.
“By the way. This does not need to be in words only. Pictures will serve you well in telling your story.”
All the students did some work on their visions while Joseph drank some tea and thoughtfully watched them.
After a few moments he interrupted the furious scribbling.
“You will be able to do some more writing on that later; I think you get the idea. In your journal though I want you to take a moment again to consider the behaviors and actions that you have power over, that might prevent you from accomplishing your vision in any of these segments. You might need to consider character flaws that you are aware of, maybe sins that you have committed.” Joseph noticed their confusion
“What you are looking for are possible roadblocks, obstacles. These might make the going more difficult. I caution you. This part of the exercise can be discouraging. But if your passion is strong enough there is no obstacle that cannot be bypassed or overcome.”
The class looked skeptical.
“I once worked with a woman who had been a nurse. When I met her she was a hot mess. She had been fired for taking medications from patients for her own use. Her addiction had so ruled her life that her family had kicked her out of the house. After a season of relapse and countless conversations she finally had the upper hand on this addiction. Her heart was to get back to nursing. However, she had a felony on her record because of the thieving and some other choices she had made in her addiction. She told me that it was hopeless. This was a legal barrier that in her imagination could not be overcome. I wish I could tell you that I had received some sort of divine revelation that set her free and help her get her nursing license back. All I told her was to investigate it.”
“That’s all that I had. I had been a medic in the Army but really, I know nothing about how medical licensing and such works. My friends, when you are done here some of you will go on to help others. At least I hope so. Understand that it would be impossible to be an expert in every field. It takes humility to be able to tell someone that you don’t know. Humility is a superpower that will empower you. It would have been easy for me to tell her to just trust God and go try anyway. What happened is that she investigated the situation. Her own passion pushed her forward through phone calls, emails and website searches. After several weeks of discouragement, she sat next to me with a huge smile. It turns out that she could take a couple of classes and within a year she could be a surgical nurse. She discovered there was a route to get her previous license reinstated but it would cost more than she wanted to invest in time and treasure. Her smile was there because the two classes were cheaper than it would cost to get the old license reinstated and this new option potentially paid more.”
They all celebrated as if they knew the woman.
“This obstacle had taken her to a better place than if she simply gave up or followed some trite words of wisdom from a fool.”
“What about diseases or some sort of disability?”
“Nothing can stop you if you want it bad enough. I have met one legged mountain climbers. I challenge you to watch the para Olympics. These men and women have incredible skills and can run faster and do things that those with all of their limbs fail to accomplish.” Joseph was silent for a moment, “Disease can be a motivator. Your time on earth might be limited so what do you have to lose? If I am going to die next week than I better start living right now and not waste a moment. Just take a moment and brainstorm some of the obstacles.”
Joseph looked around. None of the students looked directly at him. Sarah seemed to be blushing slightly the others just looked uncomfortable as they wrote.
“Now my purpose here is not to create shame. Shame is a powerful tool of the enemy to make us believe that we are unworthy. But we can also use this feeling to resolve to make things right so that our sins, that will always be found out, do not derail us as we get closer to our dream.”
“Are there any negative emotions?” asked Samuel.
“Not really. Emotions are for our benefit. They might be warnings. They might be a release of tension or serve some other purpose. Now what we do with those emotions and the roots of those emotions might be fraught with evil. That is why we talked about the self-inventory last week. We must take time to routinely examine our motives and make them right before God.”
After a few moments, Joseph continued.
“Now we must work on the final piece for this life plan. This will be your three-month goals. This is different than the vision statements in that these need to be very specific. No statement of get healthier here. Rather something more detailed like run a mile in eight minutes or less.”
“I could never do that,” mentioned Eric.
“Maybe or maybe not. I think if you trained and worked at it you might be able to do more than you think. Past failures are not a picture of your future.”
“This goal or as I like to think of it your result also needs to be measurable. You must know for certain if you pulled it off or not. This could be reading twelve books. If you read a book a week this is doable. But the point here is that in three months you will have a list of twelve books that you have read, or you did not complete the goal. Make sense?”
They all nodded.
“How many goals?”
“You should have three to five at most. These need to challenge you but also meet some more requirements. These must be attainable. Too many people make promises to their future self that are impossible. You might say three months from now that you will drop two hundred pounds. That is specific and measurable. You might be able to pull it off by cutting off a leg or something but generally there are very few healthy ways to pull that off. Now I want to say that the physical are easiest to describe here so that is why I focus on fitness. That is not the real target. These goals can be any of the other areas we talked about on your ultimate vision.”
“What else is needed to make these goals good.”
“These need to be realistic. While I want you to dream, I also don’t want you to give yourself superhuman powers.”
They all laughed.
“These also need to be time focused which I am giving you with the three-month timeline. These results also need to be exciting. You should read the result and imagine yourself crossing the finish line and be very excited. Finally, these goals need to be relevant. They need to lead toward your six month or three year or ultimate vision in some way.”
“Can you give some ideas on what spiritual goals might look like?”
“Well let me give some further insight as there are really two types of goals that you might choose to develop. There are achievement goals. These are things like running a 5K in less than 40 minutes. But there are also habit goals. This could be something like establish the habit of reading through my Bible every year or praying every day.”
“That makes sense.”
“Ok from there you will look over the goals and write out your purpose for achieving that result. The more reasons the better. I say that because some days you simply will not care. You will need more than will power. Why are you waking up early? Why are you studying? These purposes should be long and short term. Finally, what are all the tasks that you might do to accomplish that result. Do this for each of your goals.”
Joseph let them work for several minutes while he quietly sipped his tea and prayed for God to give them divine direction. They worked diligently for about 20 minutes and then started to pack up. The sound of wind beating against the house startled them all.
Julie looked out the window, “Looks like we are getting wet tonight.”
They all looked a bit dejected. Samuel seemed to be thinking. “I needed a fresh shower anyway.”
“You can say that again,” chuckled Julie.
“I can give everybody a ride home. If I slide off the road it might be good to have some muscle to help out,” Sarah said shaking her keys.
The troupe left together.
What they had experienced at Joseph’s was just the beginning of the storm. They had all barely made in home in time before the real storm hit. None of them could remember experiencing such a storm. They were all glad for a roof over their heads and towels to dry off when they got in the door.
Samuel kept thinking about the storm. “What is my foundation in the storm.” He had always thought that it was the church. He did know the Sunday school answer that always seemed to fit, “Jesus.” But what did that mean? Samuel laid back on his bed and thought deeply. His mind began wrestling with the thought. “What does it mean for Jesus to be the foundation of life.” Samuel understood that Jesus could help him in church. That seemed obvious. Why was it that he could not even remember what the preacher talked about last Sunday? He knew that he had a pretty solid checklist of behaviors that would put him in good standing with God. At least he had been taught that these were good and solid behaviors that Christians should be exhibiting. Why was it that he knew all the right answers but still felt no peace? “Well God, what does it mean to make Jesus my rock?”
The room seemed silent. Samuel could hear his own breathing and little else. He closed his eyes and tried to picture what Jesus looked like. Though he was pretty sure he did not look like the Hollywood versions nor the paintings that the ancient artists had drawn up, that was all that he had to go on. That was the image he used. “Again, he asked, What does it mean to live with Jesus as my rock.”
In his mind, Samuel began to see verses pass across his mind as if he were reading his Bible. He seemed to be reading several passages and seeing them for the first time. He saw crowds insulting Jesus and in several incidents coming to kill Him. Even though Jesus slipped away it was obvious that He was rejected and hated by the establishment of His time. “Will you be rejected for my sake? Will you be scorned and hated in my name?”
Samuel’s eyes popped open. He looked around the room. Nobody was there. Once more, Samuel closed his eyes and tried to reflect on Jesus again but this time all he could see was himself in a Sunday school class. The teacher was someone not much older than him. He recognized the scene. He knew what was coming. The teacher was twisting Scripture to fit a doctrine. Samuel saw where the lesson was going and knew that this was a false teaching. In fact, Samuel believed that this teaching was more in line with the temptations offered by Satan to Jesus than to real truth. Yet, he was afraid to confront this teacher because he knew that he would be shunned and unpopular for standing his ground. Others taught different forms of oppression and justified hate in the name of Jesus. Samuel seemed to hear several other voices as if they were a storm in themselves. Samuel wept.
Squealing with glee, Julie twirled in the downpour. Again, and again she spun around just letting the rain drench her and run from her nose. Her heart raced with joy. She stood back in awe at the lightening and then braced for the thunder. When it finally came, she decided it might be time to go inside.
With his mind in a flutter, Eric wrote ferociously. For hours he simply wrote the details of all his dreams. His heart was on fire as he captured the finest details of his other fantasies. He had different colors of pens and as his mind came up with questions, he would write them down. The storm had passed but none of that mattered to him. Eric was focused. He drew pictures, he had arrows connecting assorted seemingly random thoughts. Somehow the arrows all made it make sense. Possessed by the inspiration he wrote and wrote until he noticed the sun was peaking beneath the curtains. With a deep satisfaction, he closed his journal and sat back. Though he had missed an entire night of sleep, he was more awake than ever. Ten minutes later Eric was at the coffee shop ordering his favorite and then walking through the park. He was living in a bit of a daze.
When Sarah returned home her husband was watching a movie, so she sidled up next to him and had a seat on the couch. Mike looked confused but pleased. He couldn’t remember the last time that she simply stopped and spent time with him. With his arm around her he took a deep relaxing breath. The past several days he had felt like something was wrong but now, maybe, it would all be ok. Silently, under his breath Mike thanked God and kissed Sarah gently on her forehead.
Project 1: Considering your ultimate dream. Fill out the goal setting worksheet to include your three year and six month goals. These should be somewhere between here and your ultimate dream. Tell the story.
Project 2: Set two habit goals and two achievement goals that you WILL accomplish over the next three months. This is your result. These should stretch you but not TOO much.
Project 3: Write out all of the reasons why this goal MUST get done over this next three months. The more reasons the better.
Project 4: Write out all of the actions that you will be taking to get that result.
Over the course of the week it seemed all of the students had contacted Joseph about the difference between the values of week one and the non-negotiable of week 2. Four times in different ways Joseph shared this mind exercise.
Imagine that you are the captain on a vessel. You have a strong value for human life. Hidden on board are several children who are Jewish and it is 1936. The German navy boards your ship knowing that you have historically been a smuggler. You also have a value of honesty. Which one of these two values wins out for you? This is the difference.
Julie had drawn beautiful pictures and clever words to capture what she was thinking throughout project one. She actually enjoyed adding color and the lack of structure really spoke to her. Where she struggled was coming up with a phrase to bring it all together. Ultimately her statement included using art to help those who were hurting.
Sam was very structured and wrote out long answers and was very focused on this. But he too struggled with putting it all into words. He needed the creative side of human nature and was lacking the ability. The day before the next gathering he actually called Julie and asked her to have coffee with him so she could help him word what he was trying to say. They had a great time and Sam was able to help her put some structure to her wording as well.
Eric did not even really begin the work until an hour before the group was to meet. All week he was distracted and confused. He liked to relax and enjoy life. Most days he felt guilty that he was doing so little. At church last Sunday the minister talked about the Grace of God and that God’s grace covers over a multitude of sins. Eric figured that laziness was a sin and God could do the work for him. When he presented his personal constitution to Joseph he noticed the disappointment in his eyes. Joseph tried to play it down by saying they would talk later in the week.
Sarah had an incredible but impossible ethos statement. Of course, if she never slept and ate on the move, she could pull it all off. Maybe if God blessed her with some superhuman powers she would do the miraculous. Joseph knew that he would have to help her to home in on the essence of what God would want for her.
A few hours before the gathering, Joseph sat quietly dreaming of his ultimate future. In the dream he was walking with his wife toward an incredible venue. At this point the vision was only about 20 years away and he has come a very long way on this heroic quest that he developed so long ago. In the vision it is a beautiful day. The air is cool and fresh, and his bride is looking incredible. He is walking in his military dress blues. Their hands are intertwined as they walk toward the double doors. Gently he pulls the door open and ushers her inside. There they are greeted by room full of people. The faces are familiar. As they walk through the crowd each face comes with a distinct memory. His mind is sharp even though he is almost 75 years old. While the crowd is very encouraging there are three faces that he is looking for above all others. Suddenly he sees them. His children are moving toward him. Tears fill his eyes as he sees them with their families. All three are living God honoring lives and have put together this party to honor their parent’s 50th wedding anniversary. The date is May 17, 2047. Joseph and his bride are led to the head table and they sit surrounded by love and applause. Stories of lives impacted and how the world is different because of this couple are filling the room.
When it is time to eat, they are called upon to go through the line first. The menu he knows matches the buffet lines that he had enjoyed at weddings as a child. His mouth waters as he can almost taste the food as well as the memories of childhood joys. When the meal is complete, he is dancing with his wife. Polkas and laughter envelop the room. Soon the evening is ending and they return to this home. This home that is paid off and in great shape is powered entirely off the grid.
The dream comforts him as he prepares for the evening ahead. Truth be told he walks through this vision often. It keeps him on track. Some moments when temptation comes his way, he knows that a misstep could wipe away the dream. He has eaten right and exercised so that he will be in the best possible shape to dance with his much younger wife.
Tonight, Joseph will share his life vision with the class and encourage them to do the same.
All four students were present and ready to go on time this week. Joseph had talked with Sarah about her tardiness and how disrespectful that he thought that was. He was gentle but strong. Eric was there actually wearing nice slacks and a button-down shirt. His face was fresh and clean. He looked ready for an interview. Joseph had talked with him during the week during a discussion on values. Eric had said that he wanted to take on the behaviors like the professional that he dreamed of becoming. Joseph encouraged him to dress like his dream was already coming true. Sam was there with a notebook ready to do his part. He still had not put together an accountability team but had some ideas of people to talk to. Julie also did not really have a very solid list of prospects. But she knew one person that she would talk to this week that might be able to help her more than most.
“Last week we talked about knowing yourself. Some of you have discovered that you really don’t know much about who you are.”
Joseph looked around but did not allow his eyes to sit on any one person. Tonight, we will begin exploring where you are going.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. –Jeremiah 29:11
“Now I know that each of you have differing views on God. But I must share with you up front that I feel deeply that God has a plan for each of our lives. What we will put together this week is not really something that you will or even can create. What you will construct is a vision, God’s vision for your life. We will begin exploring this vision and then use it to shape the direction of our lives. As we create the vision, we will capture the heart of God.”
Sam stopped writing and asked, “I like that. But how do we know that the vision that we create is from God. Our own imaginations can be pretty powerful.”
We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. -2 Corinthians 10:5
“That is true. Our own ambitions and desires often get in the way of who we really need to become. God created us for a purpose. While I might be given a glimpse of His vision for the lives of my family or even my students; only you and God will know the truth. That is why it is so important to know yourself. Examine yourself and be totally honest. Have others speak into your life. He speaks through other people and of course His Word. Circumstances can also awaken his vision for you as well. Also, as you create the story that tells of your future life, understand that God may withhold some portions of the dream from you for now. Later, when you have grown and matured, He will share more.”
Joseph then shared the vision for his life. Throughout the telling of the story he paused to point out the critical nature of some of the details. Throughout the vision he was envisioning who he was physically, mentally, spiritually and socially.
And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. -Luke 2:52
“Also notice as I told the story I attempted to include all of my senses. The more real that you make the vision, the more likely you are to live your life in such a way to fulfill it.”
Julie coughed as a way of breaking in and interrupting.
“If this is God’s plan than do, we really need to do anything to make it happen. I mean in theory I can simply believe, and it will come true in His timing.”
“On one level you are correct. But that is not really the way that it works. You see God gives us the vision and the privilege of working to make it come to pass. While it appears that we are creating a destination, the truth is that really what we are creating is a journey filled with fun and adventure. We know that in the end the good guys win, but the fun is in seeing how we get there.”
In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. –James 2:17
“One year I moved my family from the state of Washington to Oklahoma. Consider that Washington was me knowing myself. While living in the Northwest, God showed me much about who He was and who I was. He worked with me and developed me. When the time was right, He called me to move. That is the lesson from last week. Now I am asking you to develop a picture of what Oklahoma looks like. Where is your destination that you are going to take your moving truck and all your belongings to?
Something else that is significant is that along the way there were road signs. These were often helpful. By seeing the signs, I knew if I was on track or not. If I looked up and the sign said welcome to New York I would have realized that I had missed a turn somewhere. Once you complete the story of your ultimate life it is critical that you take some time to make some road signs so that you know if you are heading the right way or not. I suggest looking at your life three years from now as well as one year from now. Again, the more realistic and the more senses that you incorporate into your story the more likely it is to come true.”
There was much discussion and stories told of moving experiences. Soon the laughter died out and all the students went home to begin capturing their dreams.
Project 1: Write out the story of your ultimate dream for your life. Make sure to include elements from your whole self, Physical, Mental, Spiritual, Social, Professional, Housing, Parenting. While still being somewhat realistic, do not hold yourself back. Dream big. Include all of your senses and work to experience as much of the story as possible.
Project 2: Do the same as project 1 but now look just 3 years into the future and create a second story there with the same criteria. Make sure that this story is leading you toward the ultimate dream of your life. Put dates and times to some parts of the story.
Project 3: Do the same as project 2 but now look just one year into the future. Make sure to consider how the dream a year from now feeds into your dream for five years from now. For example, if you want to graduate college with a four-year degree on your five-year plan. Then part of the picture in your one-year plan would be to include research and exploration toward that dream of college.
Project 4: Review at least a portion of your values list every day this week and journal how you are doing.
Project 5: Officially create a little team to help hold you accountable to your values this week.
Lesson 3 Who are you? Developing a Personal Constitution
Over the past week Joseph has had follow up conversations with all of his students. Discussions around values and faith have come up often.
Joseph met with Eric a couple of times this week. Eric holds firmly that if God wants him on the mission field and he is certain that God does, then Eric can sit on the couch eating chips and playing video games and God will make it happen. Joseph agreed that God was fully capable of doing whatever He wanted. But he reminded Eric that even God typically chooses not to drive a parked car. There are lots of things God can do, but He won’t.
Sarah is very concerned with getting it all right and perfect. She seems terrified to make a mistake so has called Joseph several times and sent many drafts of the values list. Joseph has attempted to calm her concerns. The list is a beginning. Over time God will reveal other Scriptures and her life experiences will give other opportunities to establish a standard for living a righteous and holy life. In fact, over time the list of values should become more challenging and push us in many ways.
Sam is certain that he is right and here he is likely on target. Where he is strong on the values portion, he is very reluctant to gather others to call him on his choices. The whole accountability thing scares him quite a bit. Joseph talked about those men and women who coach super stars. These people that they are coaching are incredible, yet they take input from the coach so that they can become or remain the best in the world at their craft. While nobody really likes to have their flaws called out or told that their might be a better way, they know that if they want to excel they must take feedback.
Talking with Julie though out the week was a bit like trying to control a kite in a tornado. Her mind raced quickly from one idea to another without ever landing. Joseph worked to help her focus on a few key values that seemed to really speak to her. While she states that she is open to accountability, she is having trouble finding anyone that she trusts.
You, my reader. What are your struggles in considering your values? Is your life blowing in the wind or are you heading toward a defined target? Remember that what you are building may end up in a career or a marriage but really the target is to build character. What character must you have to live the life that you really want?
It was early morning and Joseph sat quietly slowly drinking his coffee and considering what week 2 might look like. He visualized the students and their struggles. When he had first decided to try to help people, he would become frustrated with their struggles. “How difficult can it be to write down who you are and who you want to be?” In those days he would become frustrated. More than once he decided that he simply did not have the skills to be able to teach these skills that had come so easy to him. It had been in those moments where he had heard the voice of God challenging him to grow in patience. The Holy Spirit nudged him toward creativity so that he could find new ways to communicate the material. Jesus, himself, spoke to Joseph through His Word and His example. For the most part the apostles really didn’t understand much of what Jesus was teaching until later after the resurrection and mostly after the Holy Spirit came to them and filled them in the upper room. Change take time.
Now on the morning of the next gathering; Joseph prepared himself by reflecting on his own Ethos Statement. This is the essence of who he is. While over time our values adjust with maturity our ethos is the core of who we are. This statement will include a personal mission statement, a key Scripture verse, some key words to describe who you are and some nonnegotiable statements of our values. In tonight’s training, the class will create a personal constitution. This document will give a solid baseline for the rest of their lives.
“Father show me who I am in Your sight. When I look at myself, I see a tired and weak man with great dreams but little to show for it. Some have called me hateful names in the past. Others hate me because I take a stand for you. Some hate me because they simply disagree with my philosophy of life. Some days I feel like I am falling short. Jesus, help me to be the man that you have designed me to be. Often, I am impatient. I do not show the love for the lost as I should. I can be greedy and selfish on so many occasions. I lust, I have hateful thoughts, I am full of judgment. Holy Spirit purify me. Wash me, cleanse me. As I open Your Word to me, let me know it, hear it and apply it.”
Joseph read a chapter of Proverbs, 5 Psalms and several pages of Scripture. Carefully he listened for anything that God might be telling him. Today, God seemed to be encouraging Him to listen. He sat, listened through the silence. The cat landed on the ground across the living room and took up her position near the fire. With a deep breath, Joseph closed his eyes and strained his ears to hear. The wind seemed to whisper to him as it shook the leaves right outside the back door. Peace washed over his soul and Joseph considered his life. He was tired. But there was much to do. Every student was important. Not only those that showed up in his living room from time to time but also those that had heard his recordings and read his books. “One more, Father. Just one more!”
As the first glimmer of the sun showed itself, Joseph could hear the Father say, “I know you. I am pleased with you. You are my son. I love you more than you can comprehend. Those feelings that you are describing come from My enemy. They come from your flesh. Do not listen to them. Focus on me. Listen to my Word. Obey.”
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” –Jeremiah 1:5
Throughout the day Joseph played and worked and enjoyed the beauty of God’s creation around him. He would walk through the woods close to his house and listen for the Father to speak. He reflected on his life verse, Micah 6:8.
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. –Micah 6:8
As evening approached the students appeared. The teacher was ready. While Joseph was in the kitchen preparing some snacks the students all found their places. Tonight, they all seemed a bit subdued. Joseph smiled as he noticed that they had all chosen the same seats as they did the week previous.
Sipping the tea, they discussed the assignments from the week prior. This assignment had been easy for some but more difficult for others. Sam looked at those who had found it challenging as if they were idiots. As if he could read Sam’s mind, Joseph began.
“One day the beaver called forth all of the animals of the kingdom and said that they would have a contest to determine who would be the new ruler of all. The best and brightest of all the various species of creatures were all there. This contest would have only one event said the beaver. All the animals considered the possibilities. The fish hoped that it was a swimming event. The monkey hoped that it was a climbing event. The crocodile and the lion both hoped that there would be a meal involved. All the birds hoped that it was a flying event. Finally, the beaver spoke, “Are we agreed that the winner is the ruler and we all will obey our new king?” All agreed and ready to begin. Stillness rested over the forest as they awaited the announcement. “The contest will be to build the strongest dam across the river.” While the birds could make a nest, the idea of a dam to span the river seemed beyond their ability. Most of the creatures had no idea. By nightfall the beaver was the new king of the forest.”
The students laughed but not out loud. A gleam crossed the eyes of Joseph.
“Now realize that if the event had included hunting on land, the lion would have won. If the event would have included swimming a fish certainly would be the new ruler. What if the event had been hunting in the river, the crocodile would have taken the prize? My point is that we all have our strengths. God has created us that way. He did that so that we would depend on each other. If we all had the same strengths some of us would not be needed.”
Sam looked as if he had been punched in the gut. No one looked around. Each was looking within themselves and feeling ashamed. They had all made judgments about each other.
“On this side of Heaven, perfection alludes us. Often, we fear those things that we do not understand. We are trapped by a desire to be known. Yet, at the same time we are convinced that if others knew us, they would neither love us nor like us. Consider this flesh.” Joseph lightly touched the skin on his forearm. After a short pause he also lightly brushed the skin on his face. “It is a temporary structure. Many of the relationships that we find so dear today simply will not matter tomorrow.”
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. 2 Corinthians 5:1
“If my wife were here, she would show you pictures of me in the 80s with a mullet. Oh, I thought I was so cool. I got my hair done like that to impress a girl. Today, I don’t even remember her name. This body is simply a costume that covers over our true selves. Our true selves can be found in our souls. What is in your soul? What was God’s plan for you? This is what we are looking to discover this week. Would you be the beaver who was clever enough to speak first so that the contest would favor him? Maybe you would want to be the lion or one of the birds. Regardless, we are examining deep within us to discover who we are. First, recognize that all of mankind is made in the image of God. We are image bearers whether we believe in Him or not.”
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27
“When you choose to sin, to disobey any part of the Word of God you are choosing to mar that image. It might be just a smudge, but the image is now incomplete. Incompleteness causes pain and suffering.”
Julie stood up and walked thoughtfully to the back of the room. She wanted to speak but was not sure how to word her question. A look of anguish crossed and re-crossed her face as she considered different ways of asking the question.
“But we think different in this room. Each of us belongs to different churches. What of other faith groups or even non-faith groups? They all point out sin. But they all define it different. What is sin in one culture is honored in another.” She then gave some examples. These differences have led to wars and all sorts of vile acts. How can we say that any one path is correct? I think it is best to pick and choose what is right from all of the faiths.”
Joseph scratched his chin, thoughtfully. In the evening his normally clean-shaven face would start to have the beginnings of whiskers. With the dim light in the room, no one would notice that but for some reason it disturbed him tonight. Insecurity spoke to Joseph’s heart as he prepared his answer. He desired to honor God with his answer. This girl was wide open. In some ways this was a blessing for her. She was highly teachable, mold-able. However, he was concerned. Being open to anything can be dangerous. There are many who would twist this openness toward evil. An image of Julie in an abusive relationship crossed his mind. Deep was calling to deep within him. This was a key moment for Julie. He longed to set her free from the lies of the enemy.
“What you say is true. The Bible has indeed been used to justify racism, slavery and oppression of every type. It breaks my heart.”
A single tear slid down his face.
“Many take single passages and hold them dear. Anything that disagrees with their understanding of that passage or that belief is totally discarded. While they accept the idea of the love of Christ, they do not practice it. While God calls us to serve one another. They choose to serve themselves in the name of God. This is false teaching.”
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. –James 1:22
“The Scriptures teach that we actually have two vile enemies. One is Lucifer or Satan. Most are familiar with him and what he represents. He is very real. It is foolishness to deny his reality. He wants to destroy you. But he is not alone. Your other enemy is your flesh. Your flesh is totally focused on itself. Constantly this flesh, this costume of our souls, is calling out for pleasure and a freedom from pain. The flesh will lie, steal and cheat if need be to gratify its own desires.”
…but I beat my body and bring it into submission, lest by any means, after I have preached to others, I myself should be rejected. -1 Corinthians 9:27
“The truth is that this flesh is dead. It is true though that sometimes, it forgets. Sometimes when that flesh wakes from its slumber it seeks to commit to sin and justify it by twisting Scripture. Remember that when Jesus was tempted the devil, himself, also used Scripture. “
The students seemed to recall that portion of Scripture. Julie looked around the room. “But that still does not answer my question. I mean Sam would call drinking a sin. My church says that is ok. What do we do with things like that?”
“First let me clarify something. So far, I have only stated that we are all made in the image of God. Sin does mar that image. However, there is more than simply being an image bearer of the King. There must be more. Even Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin were made in the image of God. Yet it seems apparent that they made choices that marred that image. Consider that it is not only the large intense sins that mar the image but even sins that we consider minor that mar the image. Do you want to know if an action is sinful? Examine the Scriptures and find the truth. Also look to see if it causes hurt.”
It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall. -Romans 14:21
“When we put our mind on the benefit of the soul of others, we make different choices out of love. I had an aunt that I loved dearly. She was beautiful and fun. She had an addiction to alcohol that kept tearing her apart. Because she was a hard worker, she often would get promoted wherever she was working. However, ultimately, she would relapse and become less dependable and ultimately lose her job. She would have to start over. Treatment would help for a season, but the issue kept coming back. Ultimately, she drank herself to death. In those days I did not have any real understanding of addiction recovery. Today, I understand more. She would come to a family function and would be determined to stay sober. She used the skills she learned in treatment and support groups. My family was like your church, Julie, they saw nothing wrong with alcohol. The assumption that we all had was that since we were not forcing anyone to drink that it was ok. My drinking was not hurting anyone. She would be strong for a while but before the night was over, she was drunk and someone would have to drive her home. Consider what love would have done at those family functions. Out of love we would have chosen not to drink. If we would have made that choice and asked what we could do to help her. Maybe, just maybe she would be alive. So, when we are looking to see what sin is, ask what would love do or not do. All of Scripture is there to help us figure out what love would do.”
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, -2 Timothy 3:16
“While we are all image bearers, we are not all equal. Some have chosen to be adopted by the King. What do we call those that are the sons and daughters of a king?”
The students looked at Joseph. While it was a simple question, they were not sure if he was really asking them. Ultimately, Julie answered. “Royalty. Prince or Princess.”
“That is correct. In the church world we call them the saved. These are the ones that are destines for Heaven.”
Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God– -John 1:12
“While the image bearer identity is given to all without question; the opportunity to accept our royal position is up to us.”
Joseph stopped and looked around the room. A large smile crossed his lips and he took a sip from his cup of tea.
“I am in a room of royalty. While you are of noble blood, never forget that all men are made in the image of God. Seek compassion, seek to love the lowly. When you choose to hate, you choose to hate the King.”
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ –Mathew 25:40
“That is the beginning of identity. If you cannot accept that truth than the rest of what we are trying to do here may be more difficult. You see you are more than the roles that you play, more than what this flesh presents. To be honest you are even more than whatever mission that you perceive God has for you.”
The students were quiet and thoughtful. Each studied the fire in deep thought.
After a moment of purposeful silence, Joseph looked around the room. Casually, he moved to light a couple of candles. On the kitchen table and the dining room table were large pieces of paper and colored pencils, crayons and markers. Tonight, we are going to begin working on helping you discover who you really are. What we are looking for is how God sees you? I am not talking about what others in this room think about you. Instead we are seeking what God thinks of you. Specifically, tonight we hope to discover at least a small taste of what he has in mind for you.” Joseph plugged his phone into some speakers and started some classical music. “Tonight, you need to be creative. Creativity is an attribute of God. Because you are made in His image, you too have this attribute. Sit where you like, I have some supplies there for you to begin your work.”
Each of the students found a place. I am going to ask you some questions and as I say them, I want you to write. I have provided journals and paper if you prefer to communicate in pictures. After each question I am going to give you five minutes. Write of draw for the entire time. Do not stop until I tell you to. When five minutes have passed, I will ask another question. You must not go back and try to clean up past work. Does everyone understand?
Question 1: Imagine you are at a funeral. You recognize many people, but you are uncertain whose funeral it is. As you make your way up toward the front you realize that this is your own funeral. A close relative is getting up to speak. What will they say? Write what you hope they would say.
Question 2: A casual acquaintance is getting up to speak next. What do you want them to say?
Question 3: A business associate speaks next. What do you want them to say?
Question 4: A follower, someone who has worked for you is next to speak. What do you want them to say?
Question 5: Now think back to your childhood. Maybe you are five or six years old. Describe that life. Most people lose their childhood dreams as five or six. What did you want to be when you grew up?
Question 6: List 10 things that you are good at. Don’t try to be modest here. Write an honest list of 10 things that you can do well. Quickly now you only have 5 minutes.
Question 7: List 5 things that you are passionate about.
Question 8: Fantasy moment: List all that you can in the next five minutes of things you would like to own if money was no object.
Question 9: Fantasy Moment part 2: List all that you can in the next five minutes of things you would like to do or places you would like to go.
Question 10: Fantasy Moment part 3: List all that you can in the next five minutes all of the people you would like to meet.
Question 11: For the next 5 minutes write down all of the non negotiable values in your life.
Take a break and go for a little walk. You and the other students feel a little glassy eyed and mentally a bit tired. You walk around for a few moments and you try to shut your brain down. Likely you are thinking of something that you wish that you would have liked to have written down. This is not a test so you can go back and write those things in.
Now look through your pictures and stories and lists. What are the common denominators? Do you see any themes emerge? Take a moment and capture your theme in one or two sentences. Here is mine currently.
Joseph noticed that the students were excited and tired all at the same time. I believe that is enough for tonight. Too many people rush their lives and never establish a solid direction for their lives. Take this home with you and continue to nurture this statement. Also do the remaining projects over the course of the next week. Again, I know that you are capable of doing this much quicker. But a roast taste better than fast food any day. Take your time. What you are creating is a personal constitution. This will be your guide. This statement will change in wording and focus over time. But today you have begun your journey to be capable of living like a hero.
Project 2: Consider Bible verses that speak to the themes of your statement. Find several and consider them all over the course of the week. By the end of the week select one to be your key verse.
Project 3: Looking back through your notes; what are key words that you would like to be used at your funeral?
Project 4: Those non-negotiable values. Add that to your sheet.
The students appeared to
be ready so Joseph began. “I am thrilled
that you have all made it. Tonight we
will take some time discussing getting to know truth about who you really
are. Most people are in denial about who
they really are or are deceived.”
Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith. – 2 Corinthians 13:5
Sam was nodding as he
thought about all of the people that he knew that were simply in denial that
they were wasting their lives. Those
people made Sam sick and he felt his skin grow hot as he considered them in
anger. Eric sat smiling. Julie looked at her hands and bit her lip a
little bit. Sarah wrote down every word.
“Our goal here is to
examine our choices, to consider who we want to be and where we really
are. But for this to be effective you
are going to have to be honest. We are
going to have to go to others in our lives and ask them to be really honest
with us.” Joseph looked at the students
and they seemed to be tracking but none looked too sure. “Consider those reality talent shows that are
often on television. Often times there
are people who are on the show to make us laugh because they obviously have no
talent. They are there to sing, but they
simply are unable to sing on key. They
look like fools and we all get a good chance to laugh at them.” All of the students began to laugh and
snicker. “I, too, used to watch the
beginning of the season of these shows just to see the talentless look foolish. But I realized one day that these people are
serious. Nobody told them that they
could not sing. They never listened to
themselves. No one ever seriously helped
them to discover their real talents.
These people established their hopes and dreams on a lie.”
Suddenly the students
look a bit embarrassed. “It would have
been better if someone had loved them enough to tell them that they lacked a
talent for singing but maybe pointed out something they could do well. At the very least someone that loved these unfortunate
people and could have directed them to singing lessons.”
All of the students
smiled. Julie squirmed a little bit and
then raised her hand. With a nod from Joseph
she coughed and then said, “My mom tells me that I can be whatever I want to be
and nobody should tell me what I can or cannot do. I mean who am I to tell someone that they
cannot sing. Have you heard some of the
professionals out there?”
Joseph considered her
words with a smile. “There is truth in
that statement. Some professionals get
to the top we know not how. Ultimately
God takes the unqualified for great tasks and then qualifies them later
on. Think of Moses when he was
called. He was an 80 year old shepherd
who had been out of the Egypt mainstream for 40 years. Or consider Gideon who was actually hiding
when the angel called him, ‘Mighty warrior.’”
Julie looked pleased with herself.
She looked around to see if anyone else noticed how smart she was. People had always looked at her as a beauty
but no brains.
“While all of that is
true, how would you feel if your family told you constantly that you were the
best singer in the world and then they convinced you to go on one of those
shows?” Julie cringed a little bit. “We must find people who are looking out for
our best interests not just what we want.
If we can sing, we need someone to help us get better. Like an Olympic athlete, needs a coach. We need one in all areas of our lives. If we have a tin ear we need someone to
lovingly help us find that area that we are gifted in so that we can spend our
time developing the gifts God has given us and not waste time with those areas
where we are not designed to live in. While it is true that amazing and surprising
things come into your life despite a lack of talent, it is better to focus on
the talents that you do have.”
Sarah chewed on her pen
and stared into the fire.
“But I am getting
sidetracked. Career and talent issues
are only one area where we must be honest with ourselves. We must look at our whole being. History shows people who might have been
great leaders but were terrible husbands and fathers. Others might have been brilliant educators
but terrible in social situations. For our
efforts to be effective we must look at our entire being. All of us are much more than simply
professionals or parents or children. We
are living breathing human beings that long to grow physically, mentally,
Spiritually and socially.
And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. Luke 2:52
Additionally, we have
values that we live by and hold others accountable to uphold yet often we fall
short in these areas ourselves.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? –Matthew 7:3
Most do not do this on
purpose. We just tend to look out of the
window rather than take any time to look in the mirror. One of your assignments this week is to
create a list of all of the values that you either live by, or would like to
live by. I suggest that you start with
those things that you most dislike about others.” Joseph looked around at all of the
students. His eyes rested on Sam. Joseph stared at him until Sam looked down at
the ground. Joseph then made his way
around the room looking at each one until they looked away.
“I have friends that are
fighting for the environment who drive SUVs to rallies where they leave trash
everywhere. I have been to churches
where they teach on acceptance and grace but also shun those who have committed
crimes or smell funny. Most people are
not even living up to their own standards, much less those of others. What I am challenging you to do is to become
true to yourself.”
“Why would someone not
live up to their own standards?” Sam asked in a whisper as if he did not mean
to speak it out loud.
“The most common reason
is fear. We live life fully terrified of
what others think of us. Confrontation
is something that most people are not comfortable with so we go with the
flow. We are also afraid to establish
our own values. Every child starts out
by taking on the values of those that are raising them. However, there comes a time where the child
must decide if those are his or her values or not. This is again where we must be honest. Is this a value that is really important to
me or did I inherit it from my parents?”
“How do we make such a
list?” Sarah had stopped writing.
“I include specific Bible
verses like the ten commandments. I want
others not to break them so I need to check myself to make sure that I don’t
violate them myself. It would be good to
point out that with that one I hold myself to Jesus’ definition of murder and
adultery. That is the higher standard. I encourage you to aim high.”
Sam was writing quickly
and Joseph waited for him to come to a stop.
“I also include things
from my past that I have found to be a good standard to live by. These include things like the Boy Scout laws
and military leadership principles.
Anything that establishes a standard will work well.
“How would I have time to
do anything else?” Eric asked.
“We don’t need to
evaluate every single value every single day.
Make a list and take about five to ten minutes every day to evaluate how
you are doing. By the way you need to journal
this examination. It is too easy to
phone it in if you only do it in your own mind.”
Joseph stopped for a
moment and shifted the logs on the fire.
He gave everyone a few moments to refresh their tea. Eric pulled a donut out of his pocket and
took a big bite. Jelly squirted out one
side and ran down the front of his sweatshirt. He wiped it up with his sleeve
and finished the rest of the donut.
Julie thought it was pretty funny and moved from the fireplace next to
Eric on the couch.
“So we start with
evaluating ourselves, from there we need to find others to speak into our
lives. People who know what we are
trying to achieve and will help us get there.
I read once of a young man who decided that he wanted to be a big league
baseball player when he was eleven years old.
The truth is that the professional sports dream is common among boys
that age. Why is it that so few make
Eric shrugged. Sam looked
around, “Most people just lack talent.”
“That is true. I went to high school with a guy who had the
talent but he never made it. I am going
to suggest that they most typically lack the discipline and the coaching. This young man joined three different
baseball teams. He was very deliberate
in who he chose to coach him. One was an
expert at strategy; another was an expert at batting and the third an expert on
defense. Ultimately, each of these held
him accountable to do whatever it took to become a professional. Think of all
of the areas of your life where you want to get better. These people holding you accountable can make
a real difference in your growth.
Finding specific experts for assorted parts of your life is good. But you also need some folks who are helping
you to stay balanced. I suggest two or
three folks that will call on you periodically and see how you are doing. They need to be close enough to you to see
your life. My wife does some of this for
me. I also have others that I have
personally invited to challenge me.”
skeptical. Julie was obviously
struggling with the concept. “I can’t
think of anyone that would say anything negative about me.”
“We need people that will
speak honestly into our lives. We need
people that can tell us when we are living hurtful lives and we won’t spend all
of our time defending ourselves. We are
great at justifying all of our mistakes and sins. While we must evaluate ourselves we must find
other voices who can tell us truth when we are too blind to see it. Do you have anyone that can call out any
incongruities in your life?”
As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. –Proverbs 27:17
“There is one final group
that you should develop to help you get to know yourself and also help hold you
accountable. I call this group my dead
All of the students
“Being dead is not
required of course. In fact one of mine is alive. But I have a group of thirteen people from
history that I have spent time studying their lives and I try to consider how
they would approach any challenge that I am facing. For example one of these for me is Jesus. He is my one living member of the
council. I ask the simple question,
‘What would Jesus do?’ I consider any
situations that He had that would be similar.
I also look at others and consider what they might do. Sometimes my council will disagree. Mother Theresa and Genghis Khan rarely
agree. Beethoven despises Napoleon so
that makes for interesting conversation in my mind.”
After a short time of
questions and answers Sarah clarified the assignment for week one. The list is below in the worksheet. Sam closed week one in prayer.
Lesson 1 Worksheet Getting to know yourself
For those hard chargers
out there, I know that you can do this whole worksheet in one sitting. But take the full week to fine tune, to
improve and really design your life change plan.
Project 1: Find living/ breathing mentors: This week you can take this as far as you are
able. But at least make the list of
potential men and women who can help you.
Consider people to help you in all of the following areas. Also consider a list for special situation
mentors, for example: you are looking to buy a house or move to another
Write your list of
potential mentors. They do not need to
have it all together. But they should be
highly qualified to instruct you in whatever area that you asking them to mentor
you in. Notice there is space for three names in each category. This serves two purposes. 1) In case one does not work out you have a
plan B and a plan C. Feel free to move
to plan Z if needed. 2) Once you
complete your time with one, it might be beneficial to find a second or third
mentor to continue your development.
Joseph gently strokes his
beard and considers the men and women he is about to invest his own life
into. A gentle light from the small fire
in the fireplace highlights the whispers of gray in his hair. These men and women are coming to him in
order to find purpose and meaning to their lives. Yet, he realizes that the purpose and meaning
is already there, within them. It was
planted by God like seeds in the garden.
However, they have forgotten or were never told how to care for the
soil, how to enrich their lives so that the seed could take root. He has been taught and has entered into the
training developed over many years by warrior monks like him. The training is not always easy, and the
results are uncertain. But what is
certain is that living life on purpose adds life to life, joy to joy and lessens
the sorrows of tragedy. He wonders how
he will train these men and women. How
many will make it even through their year with him. Haunting his thoughts are the others in years
past who he failed to reach, who misunderstood his directed jabs into their
hearts. How often has he failed? The number is too many to count, yet he
continues to tell himself that he will not quit trying. Surrender is not part of his life story; nor
anything that can gain a foothold in his character. He teaches and trains this next batch of
leaders for a broken world because he doesn’t know how long he has left.
Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. –Psalm 90:12
Knowing that our current life
as we know it will be short lived creates two distinct benefits. First, it forces us to enjoy the pleasures of
today instead of wasting the time on frivolous dreams of the future. Additionally, it causes us not to give up
hope in the midst of crisis because we know that this too will pass. Secondly, it keeps us humble. Today you may have been the big hero but
tomorrow comes when many will have forgotten your efforts of the past. Many who love us today will hate us
tomorrow. Additionally, it causes us not
to feel distress in our mistakes. The
mistakes that we made today will be forgotten and the pain will cease. We must press on.
These lessons must be passed
onto the next generation or they will waste their lives. These are the sorts of thoughts that cross
through Joseph’s mind as he awaits the arrival of this mentoring group. This year’s group includes 2 men, 2 women and
you, the reader.
One of the men is named Eric. He is young and a dreamer. His childhood was filled with challenges due to the fact that his father was a drug addict and a criminal. His mother however was raised in the church and chose to raise her children to love Jesus. Seeing the roller coaster ride of addicted life alongside the stable and loving life of his mother made the choice to live life as a Christian easy. But that was the only easy choice. His only male role model was lazy and seemed to thrive on schemes to outwit government and blame others for his difficulties. Eric realized that this would not work if he was to fulfill his dream of becoming a missionary. Unfortunately, the dream was not very realistic at the moment. How could Eric make it in the third world when he was often sick and lacked the motivation to get going to do what needed to be done to become a missionary? An additional challenge for Eric is that his picture of the mission field was painted by romantic pictures of bringing the light to an expecting crowd of eagerly awaiting heathen ready to accept the Gospel in a heartbeat.
Joseph smiled as he thought of Eric.
When he was young, while not a Christian, he too had dreams of shaping
the world and lived in a similar fantasy.
Back then Joseph thought that he was a great gift to the world and that
all of his dreams could come true simply because he wanted them to come
true. The idea that he might have to
work for them was totally foreign. He
searched his heart for the right words to share with this young man that work
is good, that the pains of his past could shape him and that he will need to
make some lifestyle choices if he wanted his dreams to come true.
Sarah was a new believer in Christ.
Over the years she had been a classic over achiever and rarely failed at
anything. Sarah was hardworking and
brilliant causing her to be promoted faster than any of her peers. With a mild case on insomnia she had been
able to study and work harder than anyone else.
When she became a Christian her first move was to sign up for college
courses so that she could quickly become a minister. Even there, she excelled and rarely received
anything short of perfection on her tests.
Again Joseph saw himself in
her. At one point in his life he had
been taking 25 semester hours, leading a mission’s team, a local ministry team,
participating in everything that ROTC had to offer and had made time to woo his
to be wife. During that time he rarely
slept more than 5 hours a night and pushed himself not only to survive but
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; -Psalm 46:10
For those who have discovered that hard work pays it becomes its own
addiction. Sarah would provide the
opposite challenge that Eric poses for Joseph.
How does one teach someone to simply stop, breathe and learn to hear
The other man in the group was
named Samuel. Samuel had been a believer
in Christ for as long as he could remember.
His family was loving and caring.
They taught him many great things that he still appreciates even
today. Many of Samuel’s friends have
taken to calling him Sam, but his mother still calls him Samuel. Sam’s life has been defined by his
church. Three times a week he was in
church. Other nights he could be found
diligently searching the Scriptures for truth and guidance for his future. While Sam has a constant smile; inside he
stews over the evil that he sees around him.
He burns with hate for those who deliberately live in sin and he prays
for destruction to come upon them.
When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them. –Luke 9:54-55
hates sin. Not for the sin itself but
more for how it destroys life. Every sin
known to man hurts people. Think of
theft and how it robs you not only of material things but also peace of
mind. A break in can steal a feeling of
security that is hard to restore. With
that in mind Sam’s mindset seems right to Joseph. However, the hatred that brews within Sam is
a recipe that deters love and grace. Joseph
longs to teach Sam, grace as God meant it to be.
other woman is named Julie. Julie’s
parents had been hippies in the 60s and came to faith as part of the Jesus
movement. They showed love to everyone
regardless of their background. Julie is
easygoing and fun to be around. Julie is
not a part of any standard church. Her
family prays in their living room and sings songs of faith. Each week they seek to learn how to be
tolerant and loving to people. Her
father often attends services of other faiths and believes that essentially all
roads lead to Heaven. He has passed on
the idea to Julie that while we should try to live a good and wholesome lives;
Heaven is open to all who try to be good people. Julie has embraced the idea that grace covers
up all sin and we should be tolerant of everyone. That is unless you are legalistic than you
are evil in her mind.
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” -Acts 4:12
We live in a world were
tolerance is taught as moral value and that we need to accept people and all
perceived truth as relevant. This often
creates challenges for the man or woman of faith who believes the Scriptures
that Jesus is the only way to Heaven.
Men and women of God who believe that God does have some laws that we
should follow, are often labeled as narrow minded and obscure. Joseph considers how he will speak to this
precious and loving young lady in a way that will show the error of her ways without
disturbing her love for people.
Finally, dear reader there is you. I don’t know you. But as you read this book you may find parts
of you in Eric, Sarah, Sam or Julie. It
is possible that you are nothing like them.
But as you engage with them, ask yourself the same questions and mediate
on the same truths and discover what God has for you.
Assignment: Write out your story in just
a paragraph or two. Who are you? Where do you fit in as far as overworked or
lazy? How about where you typically ride
in the battle between Truth and Grace?
What is your perception of you?
What do others think of you?