Misfortunes Good Gifts

Misfortune Mountain

Everyone experiences misfortune and crisis, without exception. It is our human condition. Calamities don’t have to define our lives; in fact, in God’s hands, they refine.

In a commencement address to his son’s high school graduating class, Justice John Roberts refused just to wish them “good luck”. Instead he hoped for something better – misfortunes.

He hoped they would be treated unfairly to know the value of justice; they would experience betrayal to know the importance of loyalty; they would be lonely so as not to take friends for granted; they would have bad luck to understand neither their success or other’s failures were completely deserved; that from time to time opponents would gloat over their failure to know the importance of sportsmanship; that they would be ignored to know the importance of listening to others; and to have just enough pain to learn compassion.

He wasn’t concerned if his hopes would be achieved; in fact, he was confident they would happen.

THE BEST IN THE BAD. We all experience good and bad in life. However, it is in our bad experiences, our crises, and our misfortunates where the “best” can happen to us. Why? Because as Albert Einstein said, “Adversity introduces a man to himself.”

“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purposes.” Romans 8:28

The past few blogs have been about finding our role, our core purposes in life. Our specific experiences are the primary tools the Holy Spirit uses to refine us. It is the difficulties, trials, tragedies, and troubles of life that are most effective; but only, if we let them.

WELCOME LIKE A FRIEND. We can resent or resign ourselves to these “unwelcome intruders” when they happen. But, then they will begin to define our lives, they will be a rude guest taking control. If we willingly welcome them as a “friend”, embrace them, and put them to use, they become the chisels that will shape our character.

Recently, in a TED talk Matt Weinstein shared his story about losing all his wealth in the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme. He was bitter, angry, and lost until he realized it wasn’t what happened to them that matter, it was how they were reacting.

He told his wife, “Bernie may have stolen our money, but we can’t let him steal our lives.” His talk emphasizes the things that all, spiritual or not, know really matter about being a human being.

HOW MUCH MORE? If the secular world can see these things, how much more as Christians should we be able to let triumph emerge out of tragedy? It is God’s purpose for all to flourish. How much more, in the triumph of the cross and the power of the Holy Spirit, can “all things work together for good for those of us who love the Lord”? We should be a light to the world.

Remember the story of Joseph in Genesis (chapters 37-50)? His brothers literally sell him out; his Egyptian employer’s wife incriminates him and gets him thrown in jail. Through a number of circumstances involving his cellmates, this “ex-con” eventually ends up working for the Pharaoh, in charge of the distribution of food during a global famine. Eventually the brothers who betrayed him show up before him.

After the death of their father, Jacob, the brothers fearfully come to him seeking forgiveness and offer to be his slaves. Joseph’s response, “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today.” (Genesis 50:20)

“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him.” Psalm 91:14-15

GOD’S POWER TRANSCENDS ALL. He governs the universe in its entirety. He is greater than life and death. His activity is not just a “coping” mechanism to endure this temporal life. It is a proactive participation in the unveiling of his kingdom in our “forty acres”. An unveiling that is a foreshadowing of the eternal future we will experience together.

This is why Paul is able to say we can boast in our sufferings (Romans 5:3-5) and James tells us to count trials as all joy (James 1:2-3) or Peter reassures us to rejoice even though we grieve (1 Peter 1:6).

“LEAD ON, LORD JESUS!” This is living faith. These acts are our expression of faith. We hear God’s voice and his particular message to us in these trials. We gain more than we lose.

We grow in confidence of God’s great love. We are refined and transformed more into his likeness. And, when the next trial comes we say.

“Lead on, Lord Jesus, lead on!”

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Abilities, Affinity, Opportunity

All are called to God’s mission. Each has a special vocation. Individually we have a one-of-a-kind role to play that will never be repeated. It helps when we’ve figured it out. It beats wandering aimlessly through life, or just reacting to what comes our way.

What am I “formed” to do? What gifts, skills, and abilities is the Spirit fostering in me? Where can I be of the best use, the most helpful? What is my core purpose, how can I be “the best version of myself”?

weaving-india“The fabric of civilization, like all fabrics, is made up of countless tiny threads – each thread the work of someone.” Lester De Koester

For most of us it is about career and occupation, where we spend sixty percent of our waking hours.

IT IS NOT ABOUT ME. Our vocation or career is not a personal project, it’s about God’s great mission to take what has gone wrong and do it right. As Christians, the perspective we are always working for our Father is our “north star”. It avoids the two dead ends of “working to live” and “living to work”. The first disengages from what God wants to do in the workplace and the second over engages making our career its own end. Either way, it puts the idol with a capital “I” into play.

We’ve each been redeemed to be coworkers in God’s great project! His love for us is wrapped in with a full participation in his purposes for his creation, our dignity, and human flourishing.

“For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” Ephesians 2:10

The last three blogs have shared truths that guide us in uncovering our vocation – cooperating with the Holy Spirit, recognizing the significance of all, and pursuing humility of heart.

The core of our particular calling is essential to our identity as a human person, made in the image of God. The unfolding of the particulars of our call can be subtle and evolving. Not as much a destination as a role we grow into. The specifics along the way may be varied, but a common trajectory usually emerges. Life’s road may be crooked, but his path is straight.

Identifying a core purpose helps us more effectively serve God and others for the good works “prepared beforehand to be our way of life”. Even though we pass through many roles and occupations, there usually emerges a real and constant expression of a specific call.

“THE SELF-MANAGED CAREER.” Twenty years ago I was asked to participate with a handful of employees in trying a program called “The Self-Managed Career”. It promised to help us discover our unique core purpose that would navigate us through an ever-changing occupational landscape.

No stone was left unturned. They used the imagery of a puzzle to summarize competencies, values, personality, strength and weaknesses, occupational peaks, etc.Self-Managed Career

My core purpose was one that proved true over the subsequent years. Two years later, in a business downturn, I left the company and ended up working for another company, went on to build a consultancy, started a new company with a partner, dissolve that company, reformulated my consultancy, got hired by a client, and eventually move into “retirement”, where I’m busy as ever. My core purpose hasn’t changed, it’s evolved, and it’s been expressed in many different ways.

NO BLACK BOX. Every consultant has a “black box”. It’s often a complex, proprietary but thorough process used to gather and organize input that magically delivers the answer to the client’s problem.

At the time, I had been a committed Christian for more than twenty years and involved in Christians in Commerce. The Self-Managed Career was helpful to think through, confirm, and quantify what I was becoming aware. However, while helpful, I didn’t really need this particular “black box”.

It’s not like God wants to keep us in the dark. He wants us to know, especially if we get it and are committed to it. (It being that we’re working for our Father.) This makes us “good and faithful servants”. (Matthew 25:14-30)

“By paths unknown I will guide them. I will turn darkness into light before them, and make crooked ways straight. These things I will do for them, and I will not forsake them.” Isaiah 42:16

All of the Self-Managed Career contained can be organized under three: abilities, affinity, and opportunities. By cooperating with the Holy Spirit, with the understanding of our significance in God’s plan, and possessing humility of heart, God will help us find our way. The Holy Spirit is our guarantee. (Ephesians 1:13)

What are our abilities? What do others say we’re good at? What has life’s experiences developed in me?

Affinity is where our heart is drawn. How is the Spirit encouraging us, or guiding us? What do we wish to pursue and what skills are we interested in developing?

Finally, what opportunities are being presented to us? If no one’s willing to hire us, pay for, or use us, it’s hard to turn it into a career.

Over a year ago, I told my story how these three came together…in spite of my own bad start. Abilities, affinity, and opportunities all played a part. But it wouldn’t been what God intended without the three keys, cooperating with the Holy Spirit, appreciating our significance in God’s plan, and fostering humility of heart.

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Humility of Heart

pottery1

What’s key to knowing our role in God’s mission to restore creation? What enables us to be teachable and cooperative? The answer is humility of heart.

Humility of heart focuses us on who we are and where we are. It allows us to acknowledge that human existence is torn and infected by sin. It’s a realization that may be difficult to accept but is essential to our freedom. God is God and we are not (who we are). This world is not all there is (where we are). Humility is not a virtue, it’s an awareness.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Proverbs 3:5

We can easily, quickly, and often deceive ourselves even as we try to sincerely follow the Lord. Our passions, desires, and preconceived notions often will lead us astray. I recall a decision made years ago regarding starting a business venture with another individual. I sincerely wanted to do God’s will. I prayed fervently, and, I thought, sincerely about it.

However, in looking back at the decision, I was “blind” to the red flags that I could clearly see in hindsight. I was predisposed to a specific answer. I wasn’t as transparent with others who advised me. I was out of touch with my true motivations. Dissolving the business a year and half later could have been avoided. The experience taught me a lot.

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern the will of God – what is good, acceptable, and perfect.” Romans 12:2

It’s important to realize as Christians we operate on an inverse logic to the world. As mentioned elsewhere, we give to receive; sacrifice to gain; give up what we crave to receive what we desire; success leads to the greatest failure which is pride and failure leads to the greatest success which is humility; to fulfill ourselves we need to forget ourselves; and to find ourselves you need to lose ourselves.

Humility fosters detachment and detachment fosters objectivity. In our culture there are many things that wrap their tentacles around us, security, success, accolades, comfort, convenience, my time, my way, control, and on and on. As “good” as these look they’re fleeting, deceptive, and lead us down dark paths. We sell our freedom when we buy into these false “goods”. A high and fatal price to pay.

All true good comes from God because God is the source of all goodness. Our very ability to realize this is a gift from God.

What originates with in us is flawed, self-centered, and self-serving. Humility opens us to setting aside our own self-image, conceits, and the desire to bend reality to our will. Without true humility, it’s hard to acknowledge we could be wrong, deluded, or driven by self-serving desires.

“Yet, O Lord, you are our Father, we are the clay, and our potter, we are the work of your hand.” Isaiah 64:8

It has been said adversity introduces man to himself. Adversity is usually fueled by our own rebellious, sinful nature, both individual and corporate. Adversity can be a humbling experience, but in the Potter’s hands it is freeing and formative. With our cooperation, his love is able to transform us.

Cooperation is a key word. All good and all grace comes from God. For our part cooperation is required, like clay on the potter wheel. What guides the Potter’s hands is love, personal love for the “you” we are.

Next week: Realizing our gifts and abilities.

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Discovering Our Significance

Significance 1

In spite of being 1 in 180 billion, each of us has significance – meaning, importance, and is worthy of attention. This is because each has a unique role to play in God’s mission of restoring all things.

We have a one-of-a-kind fit and function creating our significance. It is not the significance awarded by the world. A significance which is competitive and comparative. It isn’t derived from our utility, competencies, or positions. It’s about the “you” we are.

The starting point is that each one is personally loved and affirmed by God because we are. It’s not the generic humanity he loves; it’s the specific human being we are. This starting point of being loved makes the two greatest commandments – love God and one another – obvious.

We can resist or outright refuse to respond to this love and avoid discovering our fullest significance in self-giving love, but it won’t prevent God’s mission.

THE BEST NEWS OF ALL

The best news is that the Holy Spirit gives us everything we need to find our way and do our part.

Our significance is fully realized by our participation in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:3-4). The Holy Spirit provides all we need to transform us and guide us. He looks at us and sees our significance, our fit and function, our worth. No matter who we are, the difficulties we face, the circumstances of our lives, he is with us and adaptable.

It’s not a role that needs to be of great worldly value; to the world it might be a role as small as a mustard seed. God alone sees the significant part we play with a particular network of individuals and circumstances unique to us.

EACH IS SIGNIFICANT

In the view of God, our significance isn’t based on our intelligence, talents, power, or position. Each of us is significant, important, and worthy of his attention in our own way. This includes the mentally and physically impaired, the unfortunate, the damaged and oppressed, the ridiculed and mocked, the rejected and unloved. God weaves us all together and makes use of us without compromising any of us. All are of value to him for who we are.

God, our creator, comes to us right where we are and establishes a personal and intimate relationship with us. It is a relationship that engages us in his work in the world. This explains why every believer can live the humblest, most unknown lives and feel happy and fulfilled. Life in Christ alone fills the deepest desires of our heart and lasts forever.

“The Spirit of the Lord shall rest on him – the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord – his delight is the fear of the Lord.” Isaiah 11:2

Sharing in his divine nature, he provides us with wisdom, knowledge, and understanding as we grow in our relationship with the Lord. He provides courage and fortitude. He gives us counsel, the ability to discern right from wrong, to seek God’s will, to see what honestly is motivating us – the Spirit or the flesh, the kingdom or the world.

Finally, he gives us the capability to keep God at the center of our lives, worshiping him alone. As he becomes the “treasure of our heart” all other finite treasures fade away and lose their hold on us.

TO BE CONTINUED: Next week the key to our cooperation.

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The Essential Helper: Bonus

As a complement to this week’s blog, some thoughts from Blessed Elena Guerra on the Holy Spirit.  St. John XXIII defined her as the “Apostle of the Holy Spirit”.

“All the help for the sanctification of souls come from the Holy Spirit. From the Holy Spirit comes the grace which makes the precious seed of virtue germinate in our hearts.  From the Holy Spirit comes that divine fire which nourishes and makes good desires grow and mature into works of perfection.

Holy Spirit“From the Holy Spirit proceeds that supernatural light which shows souls the way and lightens the path that should lead them to heaven. From the Holy Spirit comes that ardor of good will which induces one to holy generosity.

“From the Holy Spirit comes that gentle charity which unites the human heart to God. From the Holy Spirit comes that peace which is necessary to make progress in good works.  From the Holy Spirit comes the consolations which recreate and strengthen the spirit, sustain sorrow and urge it on to the most difficult undertakings.’

“It is the Holy Spirit who makes saints; to aspire toward such a lofty destiny and not be devotees of the Holy Spirit is a contradiction. Is there anything better than to be guided and sustained by Love?

“It is the Holy Spirit who, with his omnipotent virtue, performs in us that good which sometimes seems to us impossible, and requires nothing else from us but our cooperation.”

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The Essential Helper

Waterfalls

Three blind women are enjoying an afternoon at the conservatory. They hear the rustle of someone nearby. One of them turns towards the sound and asks if someone is there. He acknowledges his presence and she asks him to do them a favor. “Would you be willing to take a picture of us?”

Confused, he agrees. The woman reaches into her purse and pulls out a camera. She wants him to take a picture of them in front of the flowers. Doing so, he gives the camera back.

“I don’t mean to be rude, but could you tell me what you’re going to do with this picture?”

“We’re going to have it developed,” she says, “ And, give it to a sighted friend of ours to open our eyes to all we can’t see, how our clothes look, what the flowers and plants look like, the appearance of the conservatory, and where we are in it. We want to have her help us add to what we can only smell, hear, and feel.”

We don’t see as well as we think. We have our blind spots formed by prejudices, preconceived notions, assumptions, and more. We need a guide to help us see what we can’t see for ourselves. Someone who knows the terrain and us better than we do.

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever.” John 14:16 ESV

The Greek term Paraclete is also translated advocate and counselor. It is the promise of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us and leading us. In my early twenties I uncovered this “buried treasure”. While a year earlier, I had made a critical pivot in my life; it was the release of the Spirit that would make real, substantive change.

INDISPENSABLE GUIDE

The Holy Spirit is an indispensable guide in personally helping us answer and apply life’s most critical questions. What is the meaning of life? What is our personal fit and function in the world around us?

Our Creator has a great mission unfolding around us. He has a particular part for us to play. We are each created with a purpose and have worth in this great mission. No part, no purpose is too small or insignificant. In fact, some of the most hidden and obscure parts play a greater role than the more visible. The Holy Spirit is our essential guide who alone fits it together so it functions towards God’s great mission.

COOPERATION REQUIRED

We do not believe in a distant, detached, disengaged God. This belief is unsustainable in the face of the reality of his Spirit dwelling within us, guiding us, encouraging us, and bringing us together to share in the Trinity’s mission.

“His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness…[so that we] may become participants of the divine nature.” 1 Peter 1:3-4

The working of the Holy Spirit in our lives takes time. Most importantly, it takes cooperation. Our Father respects our dignity and does not coerce us. It’s clear that all that is good comes from God and his grace, but it does require our willing cooperation. The Holy Spirit is the love of God, ready to be released, so that he can freely flow through us.

“But whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:14

Jesus describes this Spirit of love as living water and it’s a perfect descriptor for the Spirit being released in our lives. In the beginning, as the water begins flowing it is muddy and cloudy, as it washes away the muck and refuse of previous bad choices. But, as we cooperate more this water of life becomes clearer and purer, with fewer impurities and more refreshing.

“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” John 7:37-38

As we cooperate with the life of the Spirit, God builds up his kingdom in us. It surpasses all our expectations. Like the mustard seed which is the smallest seed of all, it’s been sown and planted in us, now it sprouts, grows and becomes taller and fuller, so that others make their home in it (Mark 4:31-32). All that is required is we cooperate with the removal of all the obstacles impeding its growth.

LED BY THE SPIRIT OF GOD

Over time the reign of God becomes stronger, more powerful. As he works in our lives we are able to entrust ourselves more to his power. Jesus’ life illustrates this complete trust.

In Mark’s two-verse account of the Temptation of Jesus (Mark 1:12-13), he says the Spirit “drove” Jesus into the desert. The actual Greek word “ekbállei” is stronger than that; it means the Spirit “throws” Jesus into the desert. Jesus cooperation and trust was such he allowed the Spirit of God to throw him into the desert.

It is only possible to fully find our purpose and role in God’s plan when the Holy Spirit is leading us. It is his guidance and his power that is essential to fully participate in God’s call to personally do our part as a steward of God’s creation and add to the restoration of his kingdom.

It is not possible with mere human effort or will power. It is only possible by our cooperating with the Holy Spirit working in us. Good intentions, personal talents, and hard work are not enough. It takes the power of the Holy Spirit and our willingness to cooperate.

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Snapshot Podcast Series 4

 

Image - Presentation 4 - Operating in the Fruit of the SpiritChristians should exhibit the characteristics of the best workers in the world. The fruit of the Spirit exhibits these characteristics. Good intentions, personal talents, and hard work alone will not make these characteristics a reality. Only the Holy Spirit makes this possible. Our Father wants the Spirit to be present in us and his power released in our lives.

Snapshot Podcasts share the experiences of other coworkers and provide insights designed to help you apply them to your own situation. Listen to them during your commute, or whenever convenient.

Snapshot Podcast 16: For a Purpose

Jack has learned how to align his career as an insurance broker with his greater purpose. Why, in Christ, the humblest, most unknown life can feel fulfilled and happy.

Snapshot Podcast 17: A Clean Start

An angry customer throws a pair of pants at Joe. It’s what the Holy Spirit has done in Joe that makes all the difference in the customer’s life and future.

Snapshot Podcast 18: Be a Peace Broker

Two people get into a heated argument at work. One powerful way to make a difference at work is to be a peacemaker.

Snapshot Podcast 19: Humility at Work

Jennifer isn’t sure if the young man will make it in his job, she discovers a new approach to help. This podcast looks at the role of humility towards superiors, peers, and subordinates.

Snapshot Podcast 20: Mercy’s Ambassador

Bob was angry with Steve. He had lost thousands due to Steve’s misdeeds. Visiting him in prison, Bob discovers that the mercy of God is a two-way street for both of them.

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