Abundant Living Vol. XIX, Issue 44

“To each one of us grace has been given.”  – Ephesians 4:7 

Sometimes I have these flashbacks, like ghosts from the past, about stupid things I have done in my life, including things I should have done but didn’t.  Regrets!  We all have them I assume, but I’ve got some real doozies.  “Stop reminding me!” I sometimes yell back at the ghosts in my head.  “I know what I did, and I’ve regretted it ever since.” In some cases I have even been reconciled with those I have harmed or disappointed, and I have certainly received forgiveness from God.  True, yet the flashbacks appear anyway.

Some would say those flashbacks are nothing but the Devil playing with my head, trying to convince me I’m not good enough, a bad person, a failure.  And for a while I even buy into it.  But then my more rational memory takes me a little deeper into those ghost stories, beyond the misdeeds themselves, to the many times I was saved from what could have been serious consequences from those misdeeds – harm to myself or others, fights, broken relationships, traffic tickets, financial problems, or worse.  Not that I have gotten by with everything I ever did wrong, but I certainly skated by more times than I deserve, for which such favor can only be attributed to God’s grace.

Recently, an old friend posted a quote on social media, a prayer actually, that is so profound I have it placed visibly on my desk to remind me of all the graces I have received through the years.  “God has protected me more times than I can count,” it says, “So I can only imagine the times I’ve been rescued that I don’t even know about.  Thank you. God. for always being there, even when I don’t know it.  Amen!”

Sometimes when I dig even deeper into those flashbacks I discover something else; that not only have I been rescued by God’s grace, but in many cases God has redeemed those misdeeds through the valuable, albeit painful lessons I have learned, lessons that have formed me into a better husband, a better father, grandfather, neighbor, friend, and citizen, a more kind and understanding human being.

“To each one of us grace has been given,” sometimes even through those ghosts that haunt us from the past; for God can transform anything – and anyone – into good.  So, thank you God for your amazing grace, even when we are not aware of it.  Amen!

Abundant Living Vol. XIX, Issue 43

“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”  Proverbs 27:17 

Tuesday mornings at 7:30 a.m. you will almost always find me hanging out with the same small group of men.  We’ve been meeting together for over twenty years, nowadays mostly by Zoom, yet unlike what you might think it is not a bunch guys drinking coffee and gabbing about sports and politics – far from it in fact.  No, we meet for a specific purpose with a strict agenda that begins with a brief prayer after which each of us share three things:  (1) what is going on in our relationship with God; (2) what each of us is studying to increase his knowledge and understanding; and (3) what we are doing individually to help someone else, or to make the community and the world a better place.  That hour on Tuesday morning is without question the most inspiring and powerful time I spend during my week, which is why I seldom miss.  Nothing I do influences and holds me accountable for the way I live my life from week to week more than spending time with that group of friends.  It is for me as the old Proverb so wisely proclaims, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” 

That Tuesday group also serves to keep me centered in my professional life of executive coaching which is also tied directly to the old proverb.  Although, often misperceived as advisors, counselors, or consultants who are experts in a particular field, coaches instead are men and women whose primary function is to sharpen others as iron sharpens iron.  And as much as those of us engaged in this profession receive pleasure from watching our clients hone their abilities to become more effective at what they do, we often discover, ironically, that we too have been sharpened.  For me it is a rare instance when at the conclusion of meeting with a coaching client I have not benefited as much if not more than my client has.  And the more I have experienced this dual benefit the more I have come to firmly believe that when people meet together for the purpose of open, authentic and serious dialogue, and are fully present with each other with open hearts and listening ears, the result will inevitably be that both are sharpened – just as iron sharpens iron.

How blessed I am to have a group of friends who gather weekly to sharpen each other, and what a privilege to work in a profession whose function is to do the same.

Abundant Living Vol. XIX, Issue 42

“A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” – Luke 12:15 

Many years ago several of us were sitting around fantasizing about winning the lottery, when one of our colleagues remarked that it was a good thing that he had not won the lottery and become rich, because “if I was rich,” he mused, “I would become a really sorry human being.”  A roar of laughter filled the room when he said that because we all knew, just as he knew about himself, that he was already a scoundrel anyway, and sudden wealth was not going to change that, only turn him into a worse scoundrel.

In a profound parable Jesus tells about a man whose farmland produced an enormous crop one year, big enough that it was like winning the lottery.  All that was required of him at that point was to build bigger barns to store away his harvest, then sit back and enjoy his good fortune the rest of his life – eat, drink, and be merry; that is, until he was reminded just how brief this frivolous lifestyle, of being a sorry human being, was going to last.  Whether that meant he was literally going to die, or simply become so disgusted with himself that whatever happiness he thought he would gain from his newly found wealth would quickly lead to misery instead.

“We are not our best perched at the summit,” someone once said.  “We are climbers, at our best when the way is steep.”  My former colleague never won the lottery.  Neither did he ever cease as far as I know from being a scoundrel.  But there is one thing I always admired about him, that despite his many character flaws, he realized that he would never find satisfaction by reaching the summit, only by staying engaged in the climb.   By his own admission, had he won the lottery he would likely have become an even worse scoundrel than he already was.  Deep down I don’t think he ever had a serious desire to win the lottery anyway.  He was a climber, after all, who was much happier working and staying in the game, which he did most of the remainder of his life.

Jesus’ parable reminds us that the good life has nothing to do with being wealthy, which of course is the exact opposite from the message we hear from a society in which advertisers spend billions of dollars to try to entice us to believe that if we have more and buy more we will be happier and more fulfilled.  Don’t fall for it, was Jesus’ message, for “a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

Abundant Living Vol. XIX, Issue 41

“Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.”  – Deuteronomy 30:19 

Porter, the large, lovable family dog belonging to our son and daughter-in-law, once was left alone in the house while the family went out shopping, so he decided to take advantage of the situation by doing a little grocery shopping of his own.  After somehow managing to nose open the pantry door he spied a brand new bag of flour which he promptly snatched off the shelf, dragging it into the family room where he commenced to tear it open and scatter white flour all over the furniture and carpet.

You can just imagine the scolding Porter received from Mom and Dad when they returned home and discovered his mischief.  “Bad dog!  Bad dog!” they yelled over and over as they endeavored to clean it up, until finally our granddaughter Olive, who was probably about four at the time, had heard enough and spoke up in his defense.  “But Mommy,” she said, “Porter is not really a bad puppy-dog, he just makes bad choices.”

Ah, my granddaughter the great philosopher!  Haven’t we all at one time or another, upon gaining some new freedom, made a big mess, a big boo-boo, not because we are bad people, we just made bad choices?  I certainly have.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that most of the bad things that have happened to me in my life have been the result of my own bad choices.  Likewise, I can attribute most of the good things to either good choices I have made on my own or others have made on my behalf.  As I reflect on my life today in weighing the bad choices versus the good, I’m thankful to report that miraculously the scales have tipped in favor of the good.

After leading the Israelites on their long journey out of Egyptian bondage, Moses cautioned the Israelites about the choices they make in their newly gained freedom.  “I set before you today life and prosperity,” he warned them, either that or “death and destruction.”  It was their choice.

“This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you,” Moses went on, “that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.  Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.”  Either we choose to raid the pantry and leave a big mess, like Porter, or we choose what is noble and good, making the world a better place for all.

Abundant Living Vol. XIX, Issue 40

“A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.” 

– Proverbs 11:25 

Following the great London fire in 1666, the famed architect Christopher Wren was commissioned to rebuild the historic St. Paul’s Cathedral that had been destroyed by the fire.  One day Wren was walking around and noticed a couple of bricklayers high upon a scaffold.  “What are you doing up there?” he yelled. The first responded that he was laying bricks so he could feed his family.  But the other exclaimed, “I am a cathedral builder, and I am rebuilding this great cathedral to The Almighty.”

It occurred to me in revisiting this real-life parable that if this project was so important it could only be entrusted to one of the world’s greatest architects, it stands to reason that the work itself could only be entrusted to artisans and craftsmen who were tops in their field as well.  In other words, those two bricklayers were no common laborers, they were the best money could buy, men who graduated at the head of their class from the bricklayer academy.  If both were excellent at what they did, had the same skill level and produced the same high-quality results, and even earned the same pay, how is it one seemed to have a different purpose in his work than the other?  And did it even matter?

Having worked in a sales organization for many years, much like the famous architect, I often observed the same disparity among salespeople who had comparable education, knowledge, and ability.  Some worked only for the commissions they earned.  Others, though, worked to serve their clients. Why did one have a different purpose in work than the other, I often wondered?  And did it even matter?

The Proverb assures us that “A generous man will prosper,” and those who work to serve others are by nature generous people.  But let’s be honest.  We all know plenty of thoughtless, greedy, self-centered people who are prosperous.  Except the Proverb does not end there.  It goes on to explain that “he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.”  So, I can’t help but believe the cathedral-builder-bricklayer, even though he earned the same paycheck, went home at night more fulfilled than the other guy.  Nor do I believe God created any of us to just be a bricklayer, or a salesperson, or an architect; rather each of us is called to a higher purpose in whatever our endeavors.