God’s Plans for Us

“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 NIV)

That certainly proved true for my wife Mary and me. As we discussed in our book “Spiritual Entrepreneurship – Fulfilling Your God-Ordained Destiny”, we discovered that God’s plans for those who love and obey him go far beyond our mortal lives in this present universe. This realization radically changed our outlook on life. And once we developed a willingness to go wherever God led us and to do whatever he asked us to do, we learned that God had a plan for our lives that was more challenging that our own plans, but also far more exciting and rewarding. In the process we were afforded opportunities to go places (including all 50 of the United States and over 60 foreign countries) and do things that went far beyond what we had expected for ourselves.

In my case, however, God’s blessings began long before I had made a firm commitment to follow Jesus. While in college I began to overcome my natural shyness and aversion to risk-taking and to venture out from my comfort zone. This led to my discovery of strengths which were instrumental in my ability to step out and assume leadership roles, beginning with my election as chapter president of my social fraternity. At that point my self-confidence was based on my newly discovered personal traits and not on a knowledge of who I was in God’s eyes and what I was capable of becoming with his help.

My position as a social fraternity president was then instrumental in overcoming my future wife’s initial (not very positive) impression of me when I invited her to participate in the Texas-OU weekend festivities. Within nine months after that we were engaged and 18 months later we were married. That was when God’s plans for our lives began to become into focus.

My wife was not a Christian when I married her and I was a poor excuse for one. But God began to change that when Mary met a young lady at what is now The University of Texas at Arlington who, after months of probing discussions, led her to make a profession of faith in Christ. He then began to work on me through her. At her insistence we began to attend church (I had not attended regularly since I left home for college and she never had). Then on the weekend of our fifth wedding anniversary we attended a Lay Witness Mission at our church and both made a commitment to follow Jesus Christ wherever he led us to go. And that was when God began to lead us on a path of discovery, challenge, excitement and fulfillment.

Within three years thereafter, we set out from our Texas home on a journey together which continued for more than 44 years. And God’s blessings on us began to multiply. Mary was able to begin a career in academia that would see her become the first female faculty member of the Louisiana State University Marketing Department and culminate in her retirement from Amberton University as Professor Emeritus (sic) 34 years later. In the process she was honored as Outstanding Young Woman for the State of Louisiana for 1979 and in 1982 became the first faculty member hired for the newly instituted College of Business Administration of what is now Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia. She also served as President of the Southern Marketing Association (now the Society for Marketing Advancement) while at LSU.

After our return to the DFW area in 1985 she had the opportunity to serve as Senior Project Manager for Marketing Services for Compucon, Inc., a subsidiary of A.C. Nielsen Company, providing consulting services to firms in the developing wireless telecommunications industry, where she gained “real world” marketing experience and learned a great deal about the then-  coming revolution in wireless communications introduced by cell phones and accelerated by smart phones. After Compucon was sold by Nielsen and became Spectrum Planning, Inc. she served as Director of Communications Information Services for that company, while also providing marketing consultation to Syndics Research as an independent contractor. After a few years she decided to return to academia (her first love) and became a Marketing and Management Professor at Amber (now Amberton) University, from which she retired in 2007. All in all she had a long and varied career, breaking gender barriers and achieving firsts in several areas. None of this would have been possible had we not taken the plunge and moved to Baton Rouge in 1973.

Best of all, though she was diagnosed with an incurable autoimmune disease of the liver in 1990, with a prognosis of one to three years to live without a liver transplant, she lived another 27 years without ever receiving that transplant. She not only lived to see our daughter grow to maturity, following in her footsteps by earning two degrees in marketing, but also to see Jennifer married to a wonderful young man with whom she will celebrate 25 years of marriage next February, and to be around for the birth of our two grandsons and have the opportunity to see them grow into their teen years, becoming fine young men themselves. A life full of God’s blessings indeed.

As for me, those blessings began to come early and have continued to this day. In the summer of 1968, only two years after my graduation from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in aerospace engineering, while I was working as a fuselage design engineer on the LTV A-7 Corsair II, a carrier-based light attack aircraft for the U.S. Navy, I was selected to be part of an engineering support team for the retrofit trial installation of a new instrument carrier landing system (ICLS) on early model A-7’s. This work took place at the Jacksonville, Florida Naval Air Station and was a dream come true for me. I had an older friend who was a project manager on the
A-7 program and who had the opportunity to travel to the Naval Air Station Patuxent River (known as NAS Pax River) in Maryland to observe A-7 flight test operations and out to sea on aircraft carriers to observe A-7 carrier operations. My ambition was to eventually become a project manager so I could do the same, and, although I never had that opportunity this was a close second. To top off the experience, since it was in the summer my wife took time off from her university studies and went with me. We drove from Texas to Florida so had a car available for her while I was at work, so she was not stuck at the Howard Johnson’s we were staying. And, although I was working 6-day, 60-hour weeks, we spent every Sunday exploring along the eastern seaboard from south Florida to the Okefenokee Swamp at the Florida-Georgia border. This experience helped fuel our developing passion for travel, which we indulged in for the remainder of our marriage. Our last trip together was to Mobile, Alabama and Pensacola, Florida in June of 2017, just six months prior to her death in December 2017.

Greater blessings began to come after we took our first bold step and moved to Baton Rouge. Although my career in my initially chosen profession of aerospace engineering was cut short when we moved to Louisiana, I discovered that my skills, ability, experience and God-given gifts could be utilized to great advantage in other industries. I did not have a job when we made the move and wasn’t sure what I could do. But within a few months God led me to an engineering consulting firm that needed a Civil/Structural Engineer. I convinced them I could do the job and they hired me, although at a significantly lower salary than what I had been making in the aerospace industry. But with Mary’s salary we were actually better off financially.

The manufacturing industry did not require professional registration for its engineers, but the consulting industry did. Fortunately God had prepared me by having me obtain a Texas Professional Engineering license shortly before I left the state. The State of Louisiana granted me a Mechanical Engineering license by reciprocity, but I was doing Civil/Structural work now. So I studied and took the Civil Engineering exam to obtain that license also.

I had also received a Master of Business Administration degree from what is now North Texas University a few months before our move to Louisiana. (God’s preparation for what was to come) Within a year I was given the opportunity to become a project manager for my new firm, fulfilling my long-held desire. Over the next few years many unique opportunities came my way, broadening my experience and honing my skills. Although the company did not offer any training, I was able to learn enough on my own (OJT) about the engineering and architectural disciplines other than civil/structural to allow me to successfully manage multi-discipline teams. And the knowledge obtained from my MBA studies helped me to become proficient in the management skills needed to be effective in that role.

Many additional blessings followed, at least one of them quite unique.  As a non-student at Louisiana State University the only option open for me to be able to use the university library was for me to join the faculty wives club. There were not yet any other provisions for spouses of female faculty members. So I became a card-carrying member of that organization. Quite a distinction.

More exciting blessings for me as an aviation aficionado came as a result of my having project management responsibility for a series of projects my firm was designing for the Louisiana Department of Public Safety. They included a totally new headquarters campus for the DPS on the former Downtown Airport site in Baton Rouge and a number of troop and regional headquarters for the Louisiana State Police throughout the state. Interfacing with top officials of the DPS on a regular basis I came to know the Commandant of the Louisiana State Police on a first-name basis and had the opportunity to fly with him in State Police helicopters all over the state looking at potential new headquarters sites. And once, when bad weather grounded the helicopter while we were in north Louisiana, I was relayed in State Police patrol cars from region to region all the way back to Baton Rouge. Other blessing accrued which are too numerous to mention.

And when we moved to Virginia Beach, although my career with the Christian Broadcasting Network was cut short, God blessed me by preparing me for a third career yet some 15 years in the future. After leaving CBN I was unable to find another project management opportunity in the Tidewater area, having no contacts there to call upon. So I studied for and obtained a Realtor’s license and tried working with a young broker I met to market potential residential and commercial developments. I was working on straight commission and ending up going a full year without closing on any sales, although we came close several times. It was after a year of living on only my wife’s income that we decided to move back to the DFW area where I was able to quickly resume my project management career. That flourished for 14 years before I lost my job due to a severe downturn in my firm’s business which lasted for over a year. That was when my real estate experience came in handy as I went to work for a company doing commercial real estate due diligence. I had the opportunity to travel the country inspecting the type of properties I had helped design for the last 25 years and writing property condition assessment reports for our clients who were looking at purchasing them or were providing the financing for the purchase. I did this for the next 11 years until my retirement in 2010 at 68 years of age.

Mary and I would not have been able to receive all of the blessings we did had we not made the commitment to follow Christ wherever he led us and to do whatever he asked us to do. We had never imagined going all the places we were able to go, both as part of our jobs and because we could afford all the travel we enjoyed so much, or do all the things we got to do. Truly God’s plans for us were much greater than what we had planned. He knew our desires and our abilities much better than we did. All we had to do was trust him and respond to his call to follow him.

A MULTITUDE OF COUNSELORS

A good pastor friend of mine recently asked me what good and/or bad comments had been expressed to me regarding the loss of my wife Mary. I understood what he meant as I had recently read a book entitled, “Don’t Sing Songs to a Heavy Heart” by Dr. Kenneth C. Haugk, the co-founder of Stephen Ministries, an organization of long-term, confidential caregivers for hurting people. In it he gives advice on how to minister to people who have experienced the loss of a loved one, including what to say, what not to say and preferably to do more listening than talking. Many things that are said actually increase the pain, rather than helping to alleviate it. The best thing you can offer someone is just your presence if they want and need it and allowing them to talk if they want to.

I have been very fortunate to be associated with a host of people who have known both me and my wife, some for a number of years. They nearly all told me how much they had loved and appreciated Mary and how much they also missed her. I don’t remember anyone offering me any ill-chosen platitudes. And they have been there when I needed someone to talk to.

That being said, Shane’s question also got me to thinking about the value of sound advice. As the Scripture says,

“Without counsel, plans go awry, but in the multitude of counselors they are established.” (Proverbs 15:22 NKJV)

So I thought about the positive and negative advice I have received from people over the years. Once again, in thinking back over my life to date, I can say that on the whole I have received more good than bad advice, some of which I have ignored to my own peril.  The worst advice my wife and I ever received came from our friends at church who, in the Fall of 1973, told us we should forget about my leaving my chosen career behind and moving from the DFW area to Baton Rouge, Louisiana so Mary could begin her career in academia. Their only reason being that in doing so we would be “violating divine order.” Had we taken this advice we would have missed out on the challenging and rewarding journey on which the Lord lead us for the next 44 years. Fortunately, as we described in “Spiritual Entrepreneurship – Fulfilling Your God-Ordained Destiny”, we sought further guidance by making out a list of all the reasons we could think of for making the move and another list of all the reasons for not going and sharing them with our pastor.  He briefly scanned the list and without a moment’s hesitation said, “What are you waiting for?  The only reasons you have for not going are emotional, not practical.  You have much to gain and very little to lose by taking this opportunity.  I hate to see you leave, but my advice for you is to go.”  And so our life of adventure began in earnest.

Nine years later, with Mary and me both firmly established in our careers (mine being in a different field from the original), we were considering leaving Baton Rouge just as Mary was about to become a tenured professor in order to take on a new challenge in Virginia Beach, Virginia. This time our current pastor told us he thought this was not a good idea. We decided to go in spite of his advice. Then when we got to Virginia Beach and started looking for a house, our realtor advised us not to purchase, but to rent, until we were certain we would be there for the long haul. Once again we ignored the advice and purchased a new home with the final closing contingent on the sale of our home in Baton Rouge. A year later our Baton Rouge home was still not sold, and since we could not close on the sale on the Virginia Beach home, we were forced to move out into a rental property as we  had been previously advised. After making two house payments for a year we had nothing to show for it. Shortly after that our Baton Rouge home finally sold, but within the next few months I lost my job. Then, after I had gone without a salary for 12 months, we decided to move back to the DFW area. Fortunately we had not tried to buy another home. Lesson learned (the hard way).

A word of caution here. It is important that we not ignore good advice, but it is equally important that we not accept and act on bad advice. Good advice can help us avoid costly mistakes, while taking bad advice can be disastrous. Two good examples of this are found in the Bible.

The 3rd chapter of I Kings records that when Solomon was made king of Israel he asked God to give him a discerning heart to govern the people and to distinguish between right and wrong. God was pleased with this request and granted Solomon not only a wise and discerning heart but also wealth and honor and long life. So Solomon became arguably the wisest and richest man who ever lived.

In spite of this, however, in the later years of his life he became jaded and wrote:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”  (Ecclesiastes 1:2 NIV)

Then he listed all of his great accomplishments and said:

“I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me. I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil.

Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.

Then I turned my thoughts to consider wisdom, and also madness and folly. What more can the king’s successor do than what has already been done?

I saw that wisdom is better than folly, just as light is better than darkness.

The wise have eyes in their heads, while the fool walks in the darkness; but I came to realize that the same fate overtakes them both.

Then I said to myself, “The fate of the fool will overtake me also. What then do I gain by being wise?” I said to myself, “This too is meaningless.”

For the wise, like the fool, will not be long remembered; the days have already come when both have been forgotten. Like the fool, the wise too must die!

So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”  (Ecclesiastes 2:9-11 NIV)

This negative attitude clouded his mind and caused him to lose perspective. And in the process he lost his love for God and God’s ways.

“King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter—Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites.

They were from nations about which the LORD had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love.

He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray.

As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been.”  (I Kings 11:1-4 NIV)

So in the end it was said of him:

“Was it not because of marriages like these that Solomon king of Israel sinned? Among the many nations there was no king like him. He was loved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel, but even he was led into sin by foreign women.” (Nehemiah 13:26 NIV)

And Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, who succeeded him on the throne of Israel fared even worse than his father. When he was made king the people of Israel came to him and said:

“Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but now lighten the harsh labor and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you.”

Rehoboam answered, “Go away for three days and then come back to me.” So the people went away. Then King Rehoboam consulted the elders who had served his father Solomon during his lifetime. “How would you advise me to answer these people?” he asked. They replied, “If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your servants.”

But Rehoboam rejected the advice the elders gave him and consulted the young men who had grown up with him and were serving him. He asked them, “What is your advice? … The young men who had grown up with him replied, “These people have said to you, ‘Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but make our yoke lighter.’ Now tell them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist. My father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.’ ”

That is exactly what he did, and as a result all but two of the tribes of Israel revolted against him and those ten tribes chose Jeroboam as their king. Only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin remained loyal to David’s royal line which ruled from Jerusalem. The ten northern tribes disdained Jerusalem and set up their own capital and established a new center of worship in Shiloh.

After this split the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah fought periodic wars against one another and both were eventually conquered by foreign armies and their inhabitants carried away into captivity in foreign lands. Truly disastrous results from following bad advice.

As for me my wife Mary was my wisest counselor, as she knew me best. Throughout our marriage she continued to both challenge and encourage me to become the best that I could be. I am who I am today largely because of her. And now that she is no longer with me, I am fortunate enough to have several people who have known me for a number of years and who provide the same kind of challenge and encouragement. I have come to seek and ponder their advice before making any important decisions. And my life is better because of them.

 

 

 

Faith, Hope and Love

The latest wave of mass shootings at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in California, the Walmart at the mall in El Paso, Texas and the Oregon entertainment district in Dayton, Ohio resulting in at least 34 deaths, including 2 of the gunmen, and injuring another 64 people has stirred up a hornets nest in both the mass media and social media. All three of these attacks occurred within the space of about a week. A fourth tragedy was averted when a grandmother in Lubbock, Texas persuaded her teenage grandson, who was planning to “shoot up a hotel” and “then commit suicide by cop”, to instead visit a hospital and seek treatment. He was subsequently arrested by FBI and ATF special agents.

Despite the fact that all three mass shootings were carried out by young, white male U.S. citizens who were apparently using legally purchased assault rifles (as was the fourth planned assault), the majority reaction in both forms of the media has consisted of calls for legislative action of some sort while pointing the finger of blame at one political or ideological party or another, or some hated individual or group. Pointing at anyone but ourselves that is.

The truth, I believe, is that we are the real problem. A problem that stricter gun and/or border control cannot resolve. It is matter of the heart and mind. As Richard Rohr has said,

“People’s hearts must change before structures can change. This change is the basis of genuine reform and renewal.” 1

The first word Jesus spoke in beginning his ministry was “Repent”. The Greek word used to translate this call from the Aramaic Jesus spoke is “metanoia”, meaning “change your mind”. In other words, change the way you look at things, the worldview through which you filter everything you see, hear and feel. I have likened this to trying to see things the way God sees them.

As Richard Rohr has said:

”God refuses to be known in the way we usually know other objects. God can only be known by loving God…To love God is to love what God loves. To love God means to love everything…no exceptions.” 2

Throughout his ministry Jesus strove to get across to people the difference between their worldview and God’s. He kept saying, “You have heard it said…. but I say to you…” something completely different. For instance,

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors (read the IRS) doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48 NIV)

But do we love our enemies and those who rail against us in the media? I see little evidence of that. We tend to fire back words of hate and condemnation at those with whom we disagree. The art of civil discourse is sadly lacking in today’s society it seems. And that is the root cause of the evil we see acted out so often these days.

Much of society lives in fear: fear of what the future (or even the present) holds for the economy, the way of life to which we are accustomed, our safety and the safety of our children. Mass shootings, stock market dives and massive immigration (legal and illegal) fuel this fear. The seeming inability of our government (much less ourselves) to control the course of events often leads to a feeling of despair (helplessness and hopelessness). At some point this despair turns to anger and hatred of whomever and whatever we deem to be responsible for our dilemma. We see this acted out in all the vituperative language being flung about and ultimately in the acts of violence that seem to be almost every day occurrences.

So what is the answer? The antidote for fear, despair and hatred is simply what the Apostle Paul said to the church at Corinth,

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (I Corinthians 13:13 NIV)

Our faith should cause us to trust that God will take care of us, for he has said, “I know the plans I have for you … plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV) When we realize that we should have no fear of what we see happening around us and therefore no reason to be angry. And we should be sharing this good news with others we see who are fearful, despairing and angry. In doing so we are showing them love.

When faith has replaced our fear, and hope our despair, then we can act in love, rather than anger and hatred. As Christians we are taught that God is “slow to anger and abounding in love” (Psalm 103:8 NIV) and that we are to be like him, “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19 NIV), because “A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient calms a quarrel” (Proverbs 15:18 NIV). So let’s learn to take the time to listen to what those who differ from us are saying and try to understand where they are coming from. And let’s be slow to respond to them, and when we do, let’s replace our angry words with kinder ones. Then maybe we can help to tone down the rhetoric, relieving society’s anger and hatred, healing the sharp divisions that are rending the fabric of our lives and restoring peace and tranquility to our land.

Notes:

  1. Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation, Monday, August 5, 2019: Meditations@cac.org
  2. Rohr, Richard, August 17, 2016 blog: https://cac.org/seeing-gods-eyes-2016-08-17/

 

Surrender and Die

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the young German pastor who was executed in 1945 for his participation in the resistance movement against the Nazi regime, said,

“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

And Bonhoeffer practiced what he preached, ultimately sacrificing his life by taking action against the evil he saw being practiced by the Nazis. He took seriously what Jesus had said,

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”

He had been a major force in establishing the Confessing Church, whose pastors openly spoke out against the attempts of the Nazis to replace the gospel of Christ with the dogmas of Nazism in the German church and who passed laws to exclude Jews and other “misfits” from German society. However, he grew increasingly disappointed in the Confessing Church’s failure to take more aggressive action, to go beyond merely professing (confessing) the Christian gospel. He took to heart the words of the apostle James, who said’

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? …

In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. 

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 

The Nazi regime with all of its horrors may be long gone, but the racial hatred and social injustice that it preached are still alive and well in our society today. And there have been and will be those who oppose it, not only with words, but also by their actions. One such person was Martin Luther King, Jr., who, like Bonhoeffer before him, suffered martyrdom as a result of his words and actions. Dr. King demonstrated his faith by his deeds, for as he said,

“Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.”

His emphasis was on not only saying the right things, but of doing them.

A major aspect of Christ’s ministry was his focus on highlighting and opposing the social injustice in the society of his time. But there is a deeper aspect to his call to follow him by losing our lives for him. That is the pathway by which we receive the abundant, everlasting life that he promises us.

That is not a one-time dying, as in martyrdom, but an ongoing process through which God transforms us, who are created in his image, into his likeness. That is, not only in form, but also in thoughts and actions. God wants us to see the world and each other as he sees us and to act in the world and toward others as he acts. That transformation takes time and patience, both on our part and God’s.

Jesus began his public proclamation with the call that is usually translated as “Repent.”  The Greek word was “metanoia” meaning a “change of mind” and “regret/remorse.” The challenge was to let go of our egoistic, self-centered mind set and to look at things from God’s perspective. As the Apostle Paul said.

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!”

In order to accomplish this, Paul said, “I die daily.”

Richard Rohr speaks of surrendering (and dying to) our False Self in order to discover our True Self in God. He quotes Cynthia Bourgeault as saying,

“Jesus teaches the art of metanoia or “going into the larger mind.” Underlying all his teaching is a clarion call to a radical shift in consciousness: away from the alienation and polarization of the egoic operating system and into the unified field of divine abundance that can be perceived only through the heart…

Jesus was not a priest or a prophet in the usual sense of those terms. Rather, he was a wisdom teacher. He stayed close to the ground of wisdom: the transformation of human consciousness…

How do we put on the mind of Christ? How do we learn to respond to the world with that same wholeness and healing love? That’s what Christian orthodoxy really is all about. It’s not about right belief; it’s about right practice…

The hallmark of this awareness is that it sees no separation—not between God and humans, not between humans and other humans. These are indeed Jesus’ two core teachings, underlying everything he says and does…

“Love your neighbor as yourself”—as a continuation of your very own being. It’s a complete seeing that your neighbor is you…

We come into existence with a binary egoic operating system already installed. We can make the choice to upgrade to a non-dual operating system…

Everything Jesus did, he did by self-emptying. He emptied himself and descended into human form. And he emptied himself still further, “even unto death on the cross.”

Rohr sums this up by saying,

“I often say that we do not think ourselves into a new way of living, but we live ourselves into a new way of thinking. I’m not suggesting that theory and theology are unimportant; but I believe that faith is more about how we live on a daily basis than making verbal assent to this or that idea…

At times our evangelical fervor has come at the cost of spiritual formation. For this reason, we can end up with a church full of believers, but followers of Jesus can be hard to come by.

My personal take on all of this is reduce Christ’s call on my life to

“Surrender and die.”

And I am striving to do this on a daily basis.

Developing an Eternal Perspective

As I draw ever closer to the end of my sojourn on earth (my mortal life), I find myself developing an eternal perspective. Or rather, I find God developing it in me. We human beings, bound as we are by the shackles of time to the present moment, can only look to the past as we remember it and try to envision what the future will hold for us. The latter is a futile exercise as we cannot accurately predict what lies ahead. We find ourselves constantly amazed by what befalls us. God, on the other hand, is not only always with us (and in us) at the present moment, but also outside of time in the eternal realm where he has always dwelt. He is thus able to see the end, as well as the beginning of time, so knows exactly what the future will bring us. As a result of this he chooses to view us as the person he has created us to be, and is in the process of transforming us into – that is, a creature in his own image (how we look) and likeness (how we act). So when he looks at us he sees the image and likeness of himself, clothed in robes of his own righteousness. That is how he can lavish his unconditional love on us, regardless of what state we currently find ourselves in. He sees who we will be, not what we have been and are now. I don’t know about you, but that is very comforting to me as imperfect as I am.

That also challenges me to see other people as God sees them (that is, who he is making them to be). Since God loves all of his creation, I must also love all of his creatures, no matter how imperfect they appear to me in the present moment. I must share in God’s eternal perspective.

And that brings me to another point. Time is but a temporary construct that will one day come to an end when God’s plan is completed. (Revelation 10:6, 7) We will all then be in the eternal realm together. In the meantime most of us will pass through death into that realm beforehand. There is therefore no reason to fear death. It is merely an early passage from the temporal to the eternal state. That too is a most comforting thought.

To summarize then, developing an eternal perspective prepares me for eternal life by showing me who we will all be when we are together in that realm, and challenges me in the present moment to live my life as if we were all there already. That, dear friends, is the kingdom of God in the midst of us on earth.

The Awesome Extent of God’s Love

The deeper my experience of God’s love grows, the more I find my perspective broadening and becoming more inclusive, rather than exclusive. I am beginning to appreciate more why the Apostle Paul said:

And I pray that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled with the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17-19 NIV)

As Paul says, this love surpasses all knowledge. I am finding you have to experience God’s love to even begin to understand it. It’s not something you can reason out in your mind. As Richard Rohr has said:

God refuses to be known in the way we usually know other objects. God can only be known by loving God…To love God is to love what God loves. To love God means to love everything…no exceptions.

So I am on a journey of learning to love God by loving who and what God loves, which is everyone and everything. After all, God created everything to reflect his glory and majesty. Mankind is even created in God’s own image. In this process my understanding of God’s wrath is gradually evolving also. I am beginning to believe that I have had a serious misunderstanding of it.

For instance, when God told Adam and Eve not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because they would die, he was not saying “If you do that I will kill you”. He was saying “If you do that it will kill you”. More like telling a child not to touch a hot stove. It’s not that the parent will punish them for touching it, but that the hot stove will burn them.

So when the Bible says, “The wages of sin is death” in the King James Version, it doesn’t mean that God will slay you for your sin. It means more like the way the Complete Jewish Bible puts it, “For what one earns from sin is death; but eternal life is what one receives as a free gift from God, in union with the Messiah Yeshua, our Lord”.

Jesus died on the cross in our place to pay the price of death that sin (not God) demanded of us. And Christ’s substitutionary death was not in response to Adam’s fall and the death which was released as a result. No, God knew from the beginning that if he gave mankind free will they would make bad choices. So he made provision for correcting our mistakes before he created us. Jesus is the “Lamb slain before the foundation of the world”. His love for his creation was so great the he paid the wages of sin himself on our behalf.

And that’s not all. Jesus was incarnated in human flesh to demonstrate to us God’s true nature – that is Love. For God is Love. So when Jesus invited us to follow him, he was inviting us to imitate God’s love by our love for God and for all of his creation. That is why he told us to love even our enemies – because God loves them as well as us. And we should also treat all of God’s other living creatures, as well as the earth itself, with love and respect, for God loves them too.

As I said, I am gradually learning to love people who are much different than me, including those who have beliefs that are sometimes at odds with what I believe. And not only are some of my beliefs changing as a result of listening to what others believe, but in examining my own beliefs I am sometimes gaining a better understanding of why I believe them.

Now, as my perspective is broadening and becoming more inclusive, you can argue at me if you wish. But I will not argue with you. If you ask me, I will tell you what I believe now. But I will not try to impose my beliefs on you. It is up to you to decide what you believe, so that you know the reason you believe that.

Our Life of Adventure

My wife Mary and I had an exciting and adventurous life together for nearly 53 years. It began in January 1965 when we were married after dating for about 18 months. At first our lives were not much different from other young couples of that time. Things began to change, however, beginning on the weekend of our 5th wedding anniversary. While attending a program at our church led by laypeople much like us, we noticed a difference in their lives. They had a joyous and energetic approach to life that they attributed to their commitment to the lordship of Jesus Christ and to following his will for their lives. We were captivated by their enthusiasm and wanted what they had for ourselves. So we both made our own commitment to Christ’s lordship and began to seek his will for us also.

The only immediate change was a sense that our lives had a purpose beyond what we had previously imagined. Gradually that sense led us to more earnestly seek what plans God had for us. Although we were making small changes in our approach to life, our first big challenge came three years later. My chosen profession in the aerospace industry was rapidly losing its allure due to cutbacks in government spending and company consolidations throughout the entire industry. At the same time, Mary was completing the requirements for a PhD in Marketing and began receiving offers from out of state universities regarding a position on their faculty. After long and prayerful consideration, and with the encouragement of our pastor, we decided that I would terminate my employment and we would move from north Texas to south Louisiana so that Mary could begin her academic career as a member of the Louisiana State University faculty.

That was the first step in what proved to be an exciting and rewarding series of adventures that took us from Louisiana to Virginia and back to Texas and through a series of careers in several different industries for both of us. In the process we learned that our talents, skills, experience and God-given gifts could be applied in different ways in many diverse situations. All that was required was a willingness to go wherever God led us and to do whatever he asked us to do. In the process of so doing we learned that God had a plan for our lives that was more challenging that our own plans, but also far more exciting and rewarding. In the process we were afforded opportunities to go places (including all 50 of the United States and some 60 foreign countries) and do things that went far beyond what we had expected for ourselves.

Based on our life experiences as a married couple with dual professional careers, Mary and I developed the concept that we call spiritual entrepreneurship. The challenges we faced in fulfilling the requirements of two separate careers without neglecting our family obligations led us to the principles and practices of this concept.
For the full story of what spiritual entrepreneurship is and how Mary and I came to discover its principles our new book, “Spiritual Entrepreneurship – Fulfilling Your God-ordained Destiny” is now available in both paperback and Kindle versions on Amazon: http://amzn.to/2yFVBYM
P.S.
Mary passed away in December 2017, three months after the book was published. She is continuing her journey in the heavenly realm. In the meantime, the earthly adventure continues for me.

Grief and Gratitude

I am currently reading “The Collision of Grief and Gratitude: A pursuit of sacred light”, a book comprised of 366 daily Facebook posts by author Rosanne Liesveld, beginning a week after the sudden and unexpected death of her husband Curt. Her first post was to express her gratitude for her son, John, who came to her side following his father’s death and said, “Mom, I will be there for you for anything you will ever need.” She followed the next day with a tribute to her daughter, Anne, and then over the next few days she expressed her gratitude for Curt’s family and the colleagues in her workplace. Other people were thanked in subsequent days.

Rosanne said she felt better after writing each of these short messages and soon realized that she needed to “look hard for some gratitude each day, no matter how miserable, angry, weak, or confused” she felt. She knew that “when I communicated my deepest and most authentic feelings, I ended up feeling better.” Even more she said “when I searched for the grain of gratitude I could face the day. Day by day by day, that revelation of grief and the hunt for gratitude changed me.”

Then she discovered that it changed others too, many of whom suggested she put these Facebook posts together into a book. Which she did. The posts for many days are full of gratitude for people, places and things that brought comfort and joy to Rosanne. On other days the posts mostly express the grief, fears and exhaustion she feels. But in any event they were therapeutic for her.

As I read her words I understand something of what she is feeling. I, too, have feelings of sadness and a sense of loss since my wife Mary’s passing last December. Her passing, while not as sudden and unexpected as Curt’s, was nevertheless traumatic for me. I screamed and cried when the realization first hit me that I would see her no more in this mortal life and that I was left alone, totally bereft of her companionship. And it has been quite cathartic for me to express my feelings and experiences in these blog posts.

It has been nearly six months now since Mary’s passing and I am settling into a new routine that occupies most of my time with pleasant activities. These activities, for the most part in the company of my family and the friends who have come around me in support, leave little time for outright grief. There are still days, however, when that grief catches me off guard. Today has been one of those days.

I was enjoying a turtle pecan cluster Blizzard (Mary’s favorite) at Dairy Queen, prior to my going down to the Dallas Theater Center, where Mary and I have had season tickets for a number of years, to see the last play of the 2017-2018 season. Although I was looking forward to the experience, I was suddenly blind-sided by a tidal wave of grief and a deep sense of loneliness. These hit me occasionally when I am at or near a place that Mary and I enjoyed going to, although it doesn’t stop me from going there. I was at a loss at that moment for any feeling of gratitude, even though most days I can find any number of things to be grateful for.

And then I remembered the totally unexpected blessing I received straight out of the blue last Wednesday. It was haircut day for me and I was just leaving Plano Barbers on 15th Street in downtown Plano, where James Russell, Jr. has been cutting my hair for some 30 years. He now does the best he can with what little I have to work with. Anyway, as I stepped out of the barber shop onto the sidewalk, I noticed a group of three middle-aged African-American (pardon me if that is not PC) ladies who had met and were laughing and exchanging hugs with one another. They were occupying most of the width of the sidewalk, but as I approached them, rather than saying “Excuse me” and trying to slip past them, I found myself saying something like “Where does the line form for hugs?” They looked at this old white dude for a second and then the lady in the middle of the three said loudly “Group hug!” and the three of them embraced me warmly, as we all laughed. As I stepped back I shook my head and said “Ye have not because ye ask not.” At which the middle lady said “You got that right” and gave me a high five.

As I started on down the street toward where my car was parked, I looked back at them and said, “Thank you ladies. You just made my day!” And indeed they had. Continuing on down the street I felt that I was joined by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in my happy dance. Surely that heartfelt expression of companionship and joy from total strangers was a little slice of what heaven will be like. Remembering that elevated me out of the slough of grief and self-pity. Thank you, Father! I am once again filled with gratitude.

The Question(s) of Evil

When we observe the atrocities committed by terrorists such as those of ISIS or note the continuing string of mass shootings in our churches, schools and other public places, we often ask “Where is God while this is going on?” or “Why does God allow so much evil in the world?”. The answer, however, lies within us and not with God. We should be asking “Why do WE allow so much evil in this world?”. After all, God created humankind with free will, the ability to make choices. And why would he do that? Perhaps because he loves us deeply and wants us to love him in return and he knows that we cannot truly love someone (that is fully commit ourselves to them) unless we have the ability to choose whether to do so or not. If we were compelled to love God our love would not be true love. And perhaps also because God knew that we could not really appreciate goodness unless we had experienced evil.

So God placed Adam and Eve in an idyllic garden in the midst of which was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and told them not to eat of its fruit, because if they did they would die. He wasn’t saying that if they ate of the fruit he would kill them. He was warning them that if they did, it would kill them. (He of course knew all along what would happen and set in motion a plan to restore them to life.)

All was well as Adam and Eve enjoyed an intimate fellowship with God there in Eden, remaining innocent children, fully obedient to their heavenly father. Until, that is, the snake told them that God wasn’t being honest with them, because he knew that they wouldn’t die from eating the fruit, but would become like God himself. It was a bald faced lie, of course, a lie that we still too often believe, that if we become knowledgeable enough we can become godlike. And so, sure enough, they ate of the fruit and suddenly lost their innocence, becoming ashamed of their nakedness. And they became estranged from God, hiding from him in fear. Not wanting them to then be able to eat of the tree of life and so live in this condition forever he then banished them from the garden. In essence he kicked them out of home and told them they would have to fend for themselves from now on. They had made a decision to disregard his advice, so now they should use their newfound knowledge of good and evil to make their own decisions. He of course would still be available to counsel them if they asked him to, but it was entirely up to them.

Within one generation mankind experienced jealousy that led to hatred and murder and a journey began that has continued to this day, plumbing the depths of evil and depravity, as well as soaring to heights of goodness expressed in love for others, sometimes including self-sacrifice to the point of dying so others can live. And because God’s plan was executed in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have also discovered that we can be born anew into eternal life and enjoy fellowship with God once again. However, choices between good and evil remain with us. We make them every day of our lives.

So when evil occurs we can either blame God, absolving ourselves thereby of responsibility. Or we can ask, “Why does mankind allow such evil to exist?”, still absolving ourselves of responsibility. Or better yet, we can ask “Why do I allow such evil to exist?”. As Rabbi Lawrence Kushner says in his book “God was in this Place and I, i did not know”:

“God’s ubiquity (omnipresence) does not mean that God is therefore in the business of causing, intending, or even tolerating human misery. Correcting those things is the business of human beings. That is why God made human beings in the first place.”

Acceptance, with Thanksgiving

I have written before about giving thanks always for all things (https://spiritual-entrepreneurship.com/category/mythoughts/page/3/) but I have recently been faced with another challenge to that with my wife Mary’s passing in December. Although I have recognized that she is still with me in spirit (https://spiritual-entrepreneurship.com/2018/03/10/) and that life goes on for me (https://spiritual-entrepreneurship.com/2018/02/06/), I am still in the process of accepting, with thanksgiving, this new phase of my life. We were recently counseled in the grief group I participate in that we should relinquish our grasp on the past (or rather that the past has on us) in order to reach out to the potential for new relationships (and, I would add, new adventures). As we discussed, this does not need to be immediate, or as they say “cold turkey”, but it does eventually need to be complete. In other words, we need to be unbound from the past and let go to the present and the future.

Now I relinquished my responsibility for caring for Mary’s well-being and needs when I realized it was time to let her go. That happened when the doctors at the hospital on her final visit informed me she had told them she was “ready to meet her Maker”. It was not easy for me after having borne that responsibility for over 54 years, but I realized it was in her best interest to be in the presence of Jesus, so I let her go. I was able to accept the reality of this, and with thanksgiving that her pain and suffering were over. I have not, however, relinquished my memories of our life together, and frankly do not believe that is possible, or even necessary for that matter.

I now am beginning to realize that I must relinquish any wishful or wistful thoughts about a prolonging of my life with Mary. That time, as wonderful as it was, is passed. There is no turning back the clock. That means that I must fully accept my present circumstances for what they are, as well as whatever glimpses I have of what the future may hold. That is the reality of my life. And as the days go by I am finding I can do that with thanksgiving. New vistas are beginning to open before me that promise challenging and exciting opportunities. I am beginning to appreciate what the Apostle Paul meant when he said “For I would that all men were even as I myself.” because he no longer had (if he ever did) any responsibility for a wife and family and was free to go wherever God led him and to do whatever God asked him to do.

So I am increasingly thankful to be at a similar point in my life where I will be able to experience whatever adventures God may have in store for me with nothing to hold me back. As I grow nearer to the finish line of my life I want to be able to say that I expended my last ounce of energy and my last breath fulfilling my God-ordained destiny. After all, as has been said “”Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body,but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming — WOW– What a Ride!”