Tuesday, October 15, 2013

My first glimpse of success redefined

My first job loss was a result of the impersonal injustice of big business.

I had attained a job that I knew was the start of a long, successful career. While well aware that there was a merger on the horizon; having to relocated was the only impact I saw it having on me. Two weeks after my promotion, the official announcement was made. My hard earned position in the Information Technology Department of a large utility company was gone. It was so hard going to work knowing, once the the merger was complete, my job would no longer exist. I had put so much time and effort into climbing this mountain and soon I'd find myself right back where I'd started. I have described it as getting kicked off the mountain right as I made it to the top. That's much too personal. Though it is something that can't happen, it's more accurate to say that the mountain vanished from beneath me. Regardless of which grand metaphor I used, the result was the same. I was at the bottom looking up at 14 years of lost progress. When I told the doctor this, he said I had two options: stay there or start climbing again.

My second job loss was a result of having the wrong response to my first job loss.

I decided to climb again, but climbing was too slow. I now had experience that would allow me to fly to, and beyond, my prior level of success. The dogged determination I had, to make short work of recreating my past success, was unrealistic and destructive. I had so many opportunities to admit that it was time to stop and re-evaluate. Five years into my second attempt to conquer the career mountain, I found myself telling a doctor that my anxiety level at work made me feel like I was on a plane that was about to crash. The doctor leaned forward, looked me directly in the eye, and told me "Steven, it already crashed." His reply was kind, but firm and matter-of-fact. As much as I willed it aloft, that particular plane was now forever incapable of flight. I had survived the crash but there was no getting back on that plane and picking up where I had left off. So, now I'm wandering around in the wreckage of 19 years of striving for career success wondering how I ended up back at the beginning yet again.

It took took reaching the point of attempting suicide to make me decide it wasn't worth it to drive myself with the false notion that anything short of my prior success was failure. I was still struggling with the fact that I'd had already achieved success and had it taken from me. I would have rather never had it to begin with. I attended a mental health support group to help me come to terms with the injustice, loss, and aftermath.

I was told that I was not only a problem person. I was also a solution person. 

I needed others help. Others needed my help.

That was my first glimpse of success redefined.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Is your hope inside out?

Hope is a tricky word.

A common use of the word is the hope that something goes the way we want it to. I hope the Oakland Raiders win the Super Bowl this season. Since the last time they came close was the 2002 season, which ended in a lopsided Tampa Bay Buccaneers 48 Oakland Raiders 21 loss in Super Bowl XXXVII, I invest very little of myself in that hope. That way when they're out of the playoff picture midway through the season the letdown is easier to take.

Then there's the hope that life will get better. That advice was casually given at almost every mental health support group meeting I was a part of. Sure, it's good advice to tell someone to have a positive outlook on the future. Can we guarantee them their life will get better though? And even if it does, that hope is worthless beyond life on this earth

Hope takes on a whole new meaning when applied to religion. Ask 500 religious people what gives them hope of eternal life in Heaven and you may not get the same answer twice. That alone has caused me to use the Bible as my sole base of truth; not any religious teaching, church, or denomination. That said I am a Baptist. There are many distinctions that cause me to proudly proclaim myself a Baptist; however, to stand before God with "I'm a Baptist" as my hope of eternal life in Heaven; that alone won't impress Him. Hope that devotion to any teaching, church, or denomination will earn entrance into God's eternal Kingdom will be exposed as misplaced hope.

I've covered 3 distinct forms of hope and still no eternal hope. This is where religion has made a confused mess of the simple, straightforward answer to the only source of eternal hope God gives us in His Word. There are millions of religious people, from the unenthusiastic to the devout, who speak the name of Jesus, know about Jesus, and do good deeds in Jesus' name. They have all the outward signs of a person God would welcome into Heaven. But all they have is religion. They have changed the outside but not allowed God to change them from the inside out. They have a misplaced hope that what they do and say will suffice. 

Matthew 7:21-23 reads:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you; away from me, you evildoers!’

 I see these as the 3 scariest verses in the Bible. If there is anything worse than having no hope it is having false hope. I have good friends that know a lot about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit but, best as I can tell, don't know God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. How sad that the "Lord" doesn't know them.

Totally confused? Please read the simple truth that we have made so complex.

1 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. . . (I Corinthians 15:1-4)

The gospel - so many people hope in so many other things to get them into Heaven; and it is those very things that are distractions from the simple truth of the gospel. Which is that Christ became a man, was crucified to pay the penalty for their sins, had his body buried for three days, and was raised to life conquering sin and death for all mankind.

We cannot save ourselves by changing our behavior, talk, or look. That is all external and does nothing about our internal sin problem. Only our acceptance of Jesus’ sacrifice for us allows God to save us and change us from the inside out.

Is your hope inside out? If not, it is a misplaced external hope that leads to Hell. There is no polite way to say it. The simple truth of the gospel is now complex mix of truth and error due to man's attempts to make it more palatable.

It's hard to admit that there is nothing we can do to earn a righteous standing before God. It's even harder to admit we are deserving of eternity in Hell. Don't let your pride make you pay your own sin debt. Accept the simple gospel truth that the Lord Jesus Christ has paid that debt for you.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Delight, Commit, Trust

Delight thyself also in the Lord: and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart. 
Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in Him; and He shall bring it to pass. (Psalm 37:4,5 KJV)

I love this promise but it took me quite some time to understand it. It's so easy to focus on getting the desires of our hearts from God that we overlook our part of this promise: delight, commit, trust. And just what are the desires of our hearts anyway?

Delight – How do you delight in the Lord? I delight in other things. Why is delight in the Lord such a hard concept? The tendency to over-spiritualize anything having to do with God made me think it was some righteous prayer or act that would show God my delight in Him. God has taught me to simply delight in Him more than I delight in anyone or anything else. However, to simply delight in Him more than anything else, is not at all simple. 

Commit – Who commits to anything? That implies forever, no turning back, no 30-day free trial. Like a cliff dive, you either do it or you don’t. You don’t dive then change your mind in mid-air. You’re either all in or all out. There is no prenuptial. There is no escape clause. There is nothing worse than one foot on the water and one foot in the boat. Jesus wants one of two admissions. Completely admit you’re too afraid to step out on the water with Him or completely admit that only He can keep you on top of the waves, but you're stepping out onto them anyway. I have done what is impossible for a simple man like me. That is when I am most alive. I have also done what is natural for a simple man like me; focused my attention on the waves. That is when I am least alive. Either way I have walked away from the boat. There is no such thing as being out of the boat but still close enough to jump back in if you panic. Water gives you nothing to push off of so you may as well turn your back to the boat, face Jesus, and start walking until you hear, “well done”.

Trust – Is anyone worthy of trust? Human wisdom says hold on to something tangible. God says let go of it. Are you at the end of your rope? It’s more painful to hold on than it is to let go. But to let go requires trust in someone who can navigate the results of you no longer having whatever it is you let go of. Only the the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are worthy of that kind of trust.

Desires – Human desires cannot be forever fulfilled. The void you try to fill is a bottomless pit. All attempts to fill it with things this world offers lead to frustration and hopelessness. The only way to forever fulfill the desires of our hearts is to align our plans and goals for our lives with God’s. That requires a 180 degree turn. There is no turn less than or greater than 180 that will lead us to that life. The shortest route to that life is a straight line in the complete opposite direction that our human nature takes us. Jesus continues to call to us, “this way”, as we drift off the narrow path, meander down dead ends, walk in circles, or just plain stop. Why God cares so deeply that He won’t give up on us is beyond my comprehension. Thank God for His patience with us.

Delight, commit, trust sounds like a lot of effort on our part, more than we can do. That's where amazing grace comes in. God knows that even our best efforts to delight, commit, and trust will fall far short. That's where the best two words in these verses come in - "He shall". I am so relieved that the "He shall" does not only apply to giving me the desires of my heart. "He shall" align the desires of my heart with the desires of His heart for me, through the work of the Holy Spirit in me. "He shall" give me the ability to delight, commit, and trust as I should. "He shall" because without Him I can't.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Power of One

The thought that it only takes one good break to make it big has crossed my mind quite a few times. Most of those times were in my teens. Go figure.

I tried some crazy things to try to make it happen: submitted song lyrics to a fly-by-night record company, wrote a trivia book, and created a game. The record company recorded my song for $350 and it was awful. Then they sang Take the Money and Run. The trivia book never left the house but at least I didn't lose money on that venture. The game I still hold out hope for but that's another story.

I did eventually get my big break. I landed a great job. Hardly anything you could call making it big but it did put me on the fast track to success with a large utility company. I remember attending a financial seminar where I was asked where I worked and was told I wouldn't ever have to worry about losing my job. After all people will always need utilities. What he and I both failed to think about is that it only takes one bad break to make you have to start all over again. And that is exactly what happened. A couple weeks after a change in job title had me doing the same job for more money, the bottom fell out.

One decision, one word would wipe out 14 years of climbing the company ladder.

    MER     GER

This was my first encounter with the power of one. I fought back for a while but could not recover from this blow. Depression set in and I sank deep. At my low point I made one powerful decision of my own; to take my life. Fortunately, God would have none of that. My pride would not allow me to seek help. God was, and always will be, more powerful than my pride. He brought me back to my senses and gave me the ability to swallow my pride.  

From that moment til this I have been learning about and making use of (though not as often as I should) the power of The One - My Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I don't need that one good break to make it big. I don't need to regain what that one bad break took from me. I need Jesus. His power is greater than anything, good or bad, that life brings my way.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Your need to grieve your loss

Abundant Life After Loss

God's timing is always perfect. It is no accident that I am writing on loss the same day a study of the book of Job came to an end. It is natural to compare one person's loss to another's. But what comes natural is typically not the right thing to do. Can you imagine the result if we were to compare our loss to Job's? We would heap the guilt of considering our relatively small loss worthy of causing us grief and pain on top of proper grief and pain. Here are a few things well meaning advisers might say that lead us to compare one loss to another. 

Cheer up. It could be worse.

Look on the bright side. 
You still have. . .

You think that's bad? 
Miss Fortune lost. . . 

Yeah, I went through the exact same situation. You will be fine.

All these do is downplay your need to grieve your loss. When loss strikes it doesn't matter if it could be worse, what's on the bright side, what Miss Fortune lost, or what the result of some one else's exact same situation was. And does anyone ever go through the exact same situation? Only if they are experiencing it with you; and even then it will impact each person differently. 

So, if comparing our loss to a greater loss isn't helpful; then what is?

For the one who has suffered the loss: 1) Express your loss to someone you trust - if they go down comparison road find someone else. Do not minimize or deny the loss and keep it bottled up inside. 2) Keep living - don't make the loss greater by letting it negatively impact your future. 3) Stay in contact with positive people who will allow you to work through the grief. 

After the first of several job losses I attempted to jump over the grief and go straight to the better life on the other side. What a huge mistake! My attempt to instantly make life better resulted in disaster. In addition to that, I only delayed the grieving process. Ten years later I acknowledged and grieved the loss and only then could I move on from it. After being bottled up for ten years it was one ugly mess to deal with; far worse than if I'd dealt with it immediately.

For those in support roles: 1) Listen more, talk less. 2) Be prepared to be inconvenienced - the dam of emotions may break in the middle of the night. That's when they will need you most. Give them permission to - No - make them promise to contact you anytime day or night when their flood of grief rushes in. 3) Follow up and be there for the long haul. No one gets through loss overnight.

Easy as 1, 2, 3? Not at all! Every situation has it's own nuances which must be taken into consideration. Some people may need a friendly kick in the behind. Others may require hospitalization, medication, and counseling. I needed both and more.

What everyone needs is genuine love, compassion, and care. The ultimate source of this is Jesus. It is our duty and privilege to share with others the love, compassion, and care He has lavished on us.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The importance of positive reminders

 Abundant Life After Loss 

Of the four words in this blog's subtitle after seems to be the least important. I see it as the most important. It is something you continue to live with and it can be difficult to put in the past. It is harder still to keep it there.

My initial job loss happened over a decade ago and the aftereffects of that one event still impact me today. This is true of nearly every loss. Loss can be moved on from but can't be restored. I found another job. In some ways it is better. In some ways it is worse. The bottom line is that it is not the same.

It is easy to adopt a negative, my life will never be the same, attitude. It is true that, after major loss, life never will be the same. There are many reminders of how past loss is impacting present circumstances. They make the task of putting loss in the past, and keeping it there, seem impossible. Grief over loss is healthy. Living the rest of your life in the shadow of loss is not. Loss must not be allowed to control the present and ruin the future. If allowed, loss becomes an anchor that prevents your life from moving forward. The longer the anchor is down the harder it is to pull up.

Overcoming a major loss takes great resolve to adopt a positive attitude; despite current circumstances and nagging reminders. The best way I have found to do this is to remind myself that my life will never be the same but this does not mean it will always be worse. Loss has a way of creating tunnel vision. The loss looms large and the abundance of life's positives get pushed off to the side unseen. The positives are there. They are hard to see and you may need a friend to point them out at first. As your view broadens the positives will take up more and more of your vision until loss, while still there, is less and less your focal point.

Daily positive reminders are also a must. Get a book of Bible promises, journal your blessings, spend time with good friends, and attend church regularly. Read how much Jesus loves you in the Bible. This is His love letter to you. Reply in prayers of love and thanksgiving to Him. There is hope in Him. When hope is regained abundant life AFTER loss can be seen clearly. Trade in the anchor of loss and anchor your life to Jesus Christ. He is the only anchor that holds regardless of what storms of life you encounter.

God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary.

Hebrews 6:18,19 (New Living Translation)

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Life is. . .

Abundant Life After Loss

There is a long list of words and phrases used to describe life. The results of my "life is" Google search on New Year's Day morning 2013 began with:

Life is beautiful                                   
Life is good

Life is short

Life is like a camera

Life is a highway

Life is like a box of chocolates
These are true, to a point. Let's insert the unspoken "always" and see how they sound. The top two are now false statements regardless of your life status. Out of the last four, Forest Gump's mama has the best chance of passing the "always" test. What other "life is" quotes come to mind? Do they pass the "always" test? I am quite surprised that none of the negative statements about life were at the top of the list. We all know they're out there in record numbers though. They also become false when the unspoken "always" is added.

Take another look at my Google search results. There is nothing here to anchor life to. Four are positive thinking that won't hold when life gets ugly, bad, you take your last shot, or you run out of highway. The other two speak to the uncertainty about the amount of life we have left and what it will give us. Anchor your life to one of these or the vast majority others and it becomes subject to chance. These also lack any hope beyond life on planet earth.

Fortunately, Google (or any other search engine) isn't our only source of answers to what life is. God gave us  the Bible, to not only to give us the broad answer, but to give us every answer we need to live an abundant life on this earth; and an unfathomable eternal life afterward. Find a Bible with a good concordance or find an online Bible and search for life. I am interested in what you find. Please let me know by using the space for comments below. Other comments on life and all Jesus has to say about it are welcomed also. 

The Bible has much to say about life; it all comes back to one answer though. LIFE IS JESUS!

Without Him we have no hope. You may have "the good life" but when you die and stand before God nothing you had or did will matter. God will be concerned with only one thing. Did you accept my Son Jesus' sacrifice for your sin? Did you make Him your Savior and Lord? 

John 3:16 says: God so loved the (people of the) world that He gave His one and only Son (to die in your place) that whosoever (that means you) believes in (Jesus) should not perish but have everlasting LIFE. 

John 14:6 says: I (Jesus) am the Way, the Truth, and the LIFE: no one comes to (God) the Father but by me.

I John 5:12 says: Anyone that has the Son (Jesus) has LIFE; and anyone that has not the Son of God has not LIFE

Do you have a personal relationship with God's Son Jesus? If not, start that relationship now. Simply accept God's gift to you in prayer right where you are.

Ephesians 2:8 says: By grace are you saved through faith; and not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.

Romans 10:9 says: If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord (of your life), and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved (from the penalty of your sins; which is death).

Jesus died for all mankind. It is not too much that He asks us to give our lives in return for Him. That is the only way to have a life on this earth that has meaning and purpose now and in eternity.

Please let me know if you accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior. I will celebrate with you and let you know more about this new life you have.